Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Wire, A Birthday, and My Depression, etc.

There's not much room left on the TiVo these days, what with my kids' recording "America's Funniest Home Videos," "Smash Lab" and "Mythbusters" and my wife loading it down with "House," "Ugly Betty," "America's Next Super-Fantastic Anorexic Super-Model" and "What Not To Wear Because it Makes You Look Like A Frumpy Cow." I've got a few "Real Times" on there, but consistently the show I look most forward to seeing showing up with an unviewed episode is HBO's "The Wire," a long-running series chronicling the corrupt, depressing city of Baltimore.

This is "The Wire's" last year, and I'm sorry to say I've come late to the party. The show is written in epic story arcs that can last several seasons; each year the writers have concentrated on a particular theme about life in Baltimore. In the first season, the ghetto drug trade was featured; season two centered on unions and corruption on the docks. Other seasons have looked at dirty politics and a broken inner-city school system. Characters may be central to the show for many episodes in a row, then disappear for a couple of years. Clearly, the creators of the show have urged patience in viewers in letting story lines develop, ebb and flow, blossom and retreat, and redevelop. This isn't a show you can just sit down one evening and "get."

So I'm at a disadvantage in watching "The Wire." This year's theme, the final theme, is the media, and how it fails in its obligations to the city. Having worked in big-city newsrooms in my previous life the storylines are all too real to me: the falling advertising and circulations in the face of "new media; staff cutbacks and editors being charged with doing"more with less" by newspaper executives; reporters tempted to make up quotes knowing their sources are protected, and sometimes making up entire stories out of thin air. One of the show's creators, David Simon, was once a police reporter for the Baltimore Sun, and his experiences have made for some incredible newsroom moments. The series pulls no punches in its contempt for management at the Baltimore Sun, depicting it as a floundering member of the fourth estate filled with spineless managing editors, awards-obsessed executive editors, and a newsroom whose spirit is broken despite the efforts of a hard-driving but compassionate (sounds like a cliche, I know) city editor who has serve as a buffer between the bullshit of newsroom corporate politics and his reporters.

Wikipedia, as usual, is a good place to turn to for background on the show.

I'm really bummed I missed the first several years, and that my local Blockbuster doesn't carry it on the shelves. It's truly worth whipping out the VISA card at Best Buy to get caught up on. I can't believe I didn't pay more attention to it earlier on. . .this may be last-season hype by the critics I've read, but all of them hold it in higher esteem than even the "Sopranos," which is really saying something.

Happy Seventh Birthday!
And a shout-out today to oldest son E., who turns seven. He's gonna crap when he opens his birthday present from us tonight and sees a three-foot-high Apollo Saturn V rocket, complete with separating stages, extractable Lunar Module, and countdown and launch sounds and vibrating first stage. I'm sure he'll have trouble falling asleep, as he'll want to stay up late and play with it. Wagers are being taken, though, as to how long it'll be before he loses a vital piece of the rocket. It's tough being six---er, seven.

Bye Bye, Wendy's Guy
Guess Wendy's is dropping their ad campaign featuring the guy in the red Wendy's pigtail wigs. " To wit: ""It was a love it or hate it kind of spot," said Bob Holtcamp, Wendy's vice president of brand marketing." And guess which way people felt about it? Oooookday. Next topic!

I Thought It Was Just ME!
I feel better now. Research has shown that adults around the world are their most miserable and depressed in their forties. Seems you're at your happiest in your 20s and 70s, and most beaten-down when you're. . .well, my age. Things seem to get better when your kids move out of the house.

Okay, I can't blame ALL my depression on the kids. . .
Seems the middle-class is poorer than it used to be. Here's a news flash. Ya pay your bills and there's nothing left over. That must be why I'm selling my earthly possessions one at a time on e-bay--to pay the bills. I'd sell my blood, but that would require spending $$$ on gasoline to drive to the blood center, and it'd just defeat the whole purpose of it all.

Our raise at work last year put around $20 a day more take home in my pocket. . .that's around $220 a pay period. But I don't know where it went. The credit card balances aren't that much lower. The car still needs to be repaired. Where does it go? My kid wonders why I work all week but when we do go out to dinner I don't have any loose change for him to play air hockey or get a gumball. "Why don't you have any money?" he asks. I wonder that myself. I never SEE any of the money I make. It goes from my employer's bank account into mine, and from there right into the accounts of the mortgage bank, the power company, the grocery store. I don't think E's ever seen a $20 bill. Close up. I don't get it. . . .

Hey, We Got Our Bonus!
My employer announced yet another record Fourth Quarter Profit yesterday. Record earnings! Life is good on the railroad, even with the upcoming economic clouds. And arriving in the bank today (again, unseen, except in the ledger) is this year's "Performance Bonus." And guess what? It's far, far less than it was last year. But the company earned more than ever before? And stock prices are strong? How can that be, then? Well, here's how it works: After being surprised last year when everyone earned big bonuses because the company performed far in excess of expectations in all segments our bonuses are calculated against (something like 250% of plan), top management decided that THAT WAS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN AGAIN, and raised the performance bar so high that there was no way in hell we'd ever be so well rewarded ever again (this year, we're only 38% of plan). Oops, their bad that things went better than expected. So this year, the Man has stuck it to us.

I won't cry and complain about it as much as many of my co-workers. I don't count on my bonus as part of my salary, being a lowly union donkey (unlike the low-level managers who make less than I do on a base salary but are promised that the higher bonuses they get will make up for the shortfall). I realize that I, as an employee, am completely expendable--like a widget, a necessary evil, a cog in the machine of production. The company doesn't exist to make MY life comfortable. . it exists to take care of the shareholder. So, if my fellow employees feel they aren't being adequately compensated, I suggest they take that bonus and spend it all on company stock. Then they can cheer on the directors as they cut, cut, cut, look the otherway on bonehead decisions, and reward us stockholders with bigger dividends.

Let's look at it this way:
My salary last year? Around $65,000. My bonus this year? $1235.
Our CEO's cash compensation, 2006? $13.4 million, with another $68 million on stock options sitting on the table.

Okay, cheer up, it's almost the weekend.

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