Once I drank too much with a group of important clients. Somewhat over-refreshed, I staggered to my hotel room, threw off my clothes and collapsed on the bed. At 3am I was awakened by an urgent need to pee. I staggered to the bathroom door, opened it and as it clicked shut behind me, I realized it was not the bathroom door at all, but the door to my hotel room. Slowly the extent of my predicament dawned on me. I was standing stark naked in a hotel hallway, bathed in the brightest light, no ID, no room key, no money, clients sleeping in the rooms all around, nowhere to hide. At that moment I heard the elevator tone pinging down the hallway. …
AS IF TO DEMONSTRATE AN ECLIPSE
by Billy Collins
I pick an orange from a wicker basket
and place it on the table
to represent the sun.
Then down at the other end
a blue and white marble
becomes the earth
and nearby I lay the little moon of an aspirin.
I get a glass from a cabinet,
open a bottle of wine,
then I sit in a ladder-back chair,
a benevolent god presiding
over a miniature creation myth,
and I begin to sing
a homemade canticle of thanks
for this perfect little arrangement,
for not making the earth too hot or cold
not making it spin too fast or…
There is no such thing as an ordinary life. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy and a tragedy.
If you are born in New Zealand you are born blessed, for the closest river to your place of birth becomes your river, the closest mountain, your mountain. The pull of your mountain, your maunga, is powerful, and hard to resist. But when you grow up fatherless at the end of the railroad you grow up wondering what lies at the other end of the line. So one night when still a boy I gathered all my strength and broke free from the pull of my maunga. …
I’m writing this the weekend before election day. Over 90 million citizens have already voted. I see now that Biden is going to win the presidency. Trump is doomed. When your popularity rating is down around 43%, millions of people are not voting early on your behalf. Besides, no-one who held their nose and voted for Hillary is going to vote for him now — new voters will be additive to that tally, and enough to put Biden over the top.
At this point last time around, support for Hillary in key midwestern states was crumbling so fast the polls couldn’t keep up. In desperation she flew to the once-solidly Democratic state of Wisconsin — for the first and only time in her campaign — but it was too late. Not so this time around. Certain races are tightening of course, and Pennsylvania is a worry, but Biden’s support is holding firm in key states and he has several paths to the 270 electoral college votes needed for victory. …
1955. Jasper lives on the farm up the hill behind our house. We start school on the same day. I get told off for talking to him in class. The nun tells Jasper he’s a good boy, that it’s not his fault. It is going to be like this for a long time; me, unsettled, on the outside, him, effortless charm, cool before they call it that, getting away with murder
1965. Now that my father is dead, I am dispatched to boarding school. Jasper persuades his mother to have me at their place for lunch Sundays. His father is a glowering presence at the end of the table, another soul scarred by the war. His mother is Irish like my mother, they both like white linen tablecloths. I am lucky, we have become good friends, Jasper and me, standing shoulder to shoulder against a menacing Catholic world. …
It’s a fact. In the end, most companies die. If you don’t believe me, look at the top 50 companies 25 years ago , and then look at the list from last year. Sure, product life cycles come and go, mergers and acquisitions happen all the time, but there’s no natural or market rationale for business extinction. Rather, companies do themselves in. Blinkered by their own success, with cultures characterized by hubris and self-certainty, they succumb to new competition or changing market dynamics that everybody else but them can see.
Take daily newspapers for example. For 50 years the holding companies that owned them were prized value stocks because they were seen to be stable monopolies that reliably posted healthy profits year over year, with gross margins that often exceeded 25%. But predictable profitability is almost always fatal without leadership committed to constantly testing the assumptions on which it is based. When challenged in the past, very few newspaper companies had successfully migrated from one media platform to the next. Most had dismissed radio. Then they missed television. Then cable. They always simply assumed they were in the newspaper business… forever. Permanently. Even when the internet came along and unpacked their content bundle — and all the financial value it had produced — they just kept on keeping on, with the same product bundle for the same broad, unqualified audience. …
On the morning of September 1, 1939 the engineer in charge of the British Broadcasting Corporation transmission towers at Alexandra Palace in London got up from his morning tea to answer the phone. On the line was the head of BBC Television himself. “You will switch off television service immediately,” he said. Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, declared war on Nazi Germany just two days later. Great Britain was preparing for war. If the towers were powered down they could not act as homing beacons for the Luftwaffe bombers everyone knew were coming.
As that call came in, the BBC was broadcasting a Mickey Mouse cartoon called “Mickey’s Gala Premiere.” Without warning the cartoon stopped and a continuity announcer called Mr. Alvar Liddell appeared on the screen, sitting behind a desk, dressed as was the custom then in black bow tie and morning coat. In sonorous tones he explained that the television service was about to be suspended. “Good day and may God bless you all,” he said when he was done. …
In ancient Greece there was an official called the “Remembrancer.” His job was to remind people of what they would have liked to forget. Usually he told them unpleasant tales of hubris and greed. Now that I’ve hit the age of 70, I like to think that’s my job, at least as far as the newspaper business is concerned, and I do it not merely to pile on, and not merely because there are good stories to be found there. No, I do it in the hope that lessons might perhaps be learned. …
Business, more than any other occupation, is a continual dealing with the future; it is a continual calculation, an instinctive exercise in foresight
— Henry Robinson Luce
It’s nearly 2 o’clock on a Friday afternoon. As you pull into your spot in the parking lot, it occurs to you that your workload is a lot lighter than what the other guys at the country club are carrying. You’ve just turned 60. The years are going by quickly now but there’s still a spring in your step. You practice a couple of half-swings as you walk down the corridor, you’ll play well tomorrow if you can get your short game going. 1996 has been a great year, and based on the budgets you’ve been looking at, 1997 will be even better. …
I have plenty of food snob pals who moan while sucking on a bit of wagyu beef and whimper when presented with a foamy combination of rhubarb and dandelion, but despite having the best vegetable garden here on Georgetown Island in Maine, my old friend Dan was not one of them. He liked to keep things simple. Since he was unmarried and his crusty manner had run off his brothers and sister and most of his friends, a nice lady here was worried one Thanksgiving that he might be lonely. So she invited him to dinner with her family. “Want me to bring anything?” he asked. “Some of your famous vegetables,” she said. Old Dan showed up bang on time on Thanksgiving morning and thrust an enormous package of frozen peas into her startled hands. …