Sunday, November 30, 2014

248 Quiz Answer

Antonio is the title character in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. He is a kind and generous merchant who has his financial interests tied up in overseas shipments when the play begins.
Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "U" is for "Universal")
I wrote the following compact little scenelet, thinking it might remind you of a well-known play.  Which play?

“Look, speaking as your accountant, you shouldn’t be making financial decisions without me.  Now, is this true?  You loaned a man enough money to get married and buy a house?  How much did you give him?”

“Well, it was a substantial amount.  But he’s my best friend.  I was glad to be able to help out.”

“Again, how much did you give him?”

“You don’t understand.  I didn’t give him anything.  He’s taking out a loan and I just signed a paper that I’d guarantee that the loan is paid back on time.”

“You guaranteed his loan?  You do realize you’re just about broke?  And the loan is for how much?”

“Six hundred.”

“Ouch.  I know you’re not talking six hundred dollars.  If there’s real estate involved you must mean six hundred big ones, six hundred thousand.”

“Yes, but there’s no risk involved.  I don’t have the money right now, but if there’s any problem I’ll soon have enough coming in that will more than cover that amount.” 

“God, the way you handle finance.  Look, there’s a basic rule in Accounting 101: don’t guarantee anybody you’ll pay thousands of bucks at a time when you don’t have two nickels to rub together.”

“I know all that.  But if you’ve got collateral…”

“Oh, collateral.  That’s different.  What is the collateral?”

“You remember Universal Shipping?”


“That shipping company that was neglected and in a state of collapse a couple of years ago so I bought it for peanuts.  You thought it was a foolish move.”

“Ah yes, so is it solvent now, bringing in lots of peanuts?”

“You know something?  I think you’re jealous.  You want to be the know-it-all accountant and it kills you that I’m capable of pulling off some great deals all by myself.”

“We’ll see.  But again, what is the collateral?”

“Universal Shipping – my company – has got a container ship, the ‘Universal Star,’ that is headed home and loaded with several million bucks worth of stuff.  She’s on the high seas right now and when she ties up in port it'll be a jubilant moment because I’d be able to easily pay off that loan a few times over.”

“The ‘Universal Star’?  Isn’t that the ship the Somali pirates have taken over?  Just heard it on the news.”

“What!?  The Somali..?”

“Pirates.  Maybe they like peanuts.  But if the ship doesn’t make it here, what will you do about that loan guarantee?”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.) 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Berowne's 247

(Looks like a virus has got hold of my blog.  I hope you'll be tolerant; I apologize if it looks screwed-up this week.)
    The Original Team: the Four “A”s
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "T" is for "Team")

No quiz this week.  Berowne is back with another bit of personal history.

For those of you who have had the dubious pleasure of following this blog over the past year or two may know, I used to work in the film business.

As a cinematographer I was destined never to be listed among the great names in the history of moom pitchas, but I managed to get by.

I began, as so many do in this field, with little film jobs for business: training movies, employee-relations, safety films, technical instruction, top executives issuing vital – or kinda vital – messages , and of course the potential gold mine for the struggling cinematographer: Public Relations films.

Every business of any size in this land seems to need a PR film to distribute to an eagerly waiting world.  They aren’t hard to write and produce since they’re pretty much all the same.

The message they put across is that we’re better than the other companies, losers mostly, who are in the same field.  We have better products, better customer relations, better business philosophy, und so weiter.

But what distinguishes our outfit - what makes us the leader – is our key ingredient…

(Here we should have music: cymbals crashing or something similar,)

Our people!

Yes, it’s the people who work here who have made us the envy of the entire industry.  (Presumably those other outfits have orangutans).

Well, after some years of this, I hopefully wanted to try something else.  I made a film on my own, no sponsor - someone I'd have to distrust - to deal with.  To my surprise, it turned out well and a top film company, United Artists, took it for national distribution.

I went to meet the folks at UA.  They introduced me around and then asked if I’d like to see a bit of history.

I said of course.  They showed me an office that looked as though it had seen many years of service.  This, they explained, is where the team, the original four artists, signed the papers that formed the new company back in 1919.

That was a bit of a shock.  Because I knew enough about that outfit to know who those four folks were.  They were united and no question, they were artists.  There’s a picture of them at the beginning of this post.

That’s Doug Fairbanks there on the left, then Mary Pickford.  Next to her is the one and only Charlie Chaplin, with D W Griffith on the right.

They were the “A” in “UA.”

I’m well aware that a large portion of our younger population today may not have heard of all of them, but for older types like me those were some of the founding virtuosi of the art of the cinema.  Standing in that office, I had the feeling that their spirits lived on.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

246 Quiz Answer

Alicia Florrick of the TV series “The Good Wife”
(As played by Julianna Margulies)
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "S" is for "Stress")

I’m hoping you’ll know, or at least have heard of, this young woman.

 “Young” woman?  Well, she’s in her forties, and for someone my age that’s young.

I have come to realize that she’s a perfect model of the many gals of our time who “want it all.”  They want a high-powered, and high-paying, job and they want to have a thriving marriage and to be a successful parent too.

She manages – almost - to do this.  But it’s obvious her marriage isn’t as thriving as it could be, and her kids are having a rocky adolescence.

Sometimes she has to stop and wonder if this having-it-all stuff is a bit toxic, if it's really worth it.  She works in the legal field and her days are crammed with meetings - and some of the meetings can get pretty fiery - and when the meetings stop the writing work begins: a never-ending stream of memos and reports.  And the phone calls go on all day.

When she’s finally home she’s involved in her kids’ sporting events, music lessons, family meals, school problems, etc.

Of course, there are a great many folks throughout the land who would wonder, what’s she complaining about?  What if she had our notoriously difficult life – like, for example, where’s our next meal coming from?  Because it’s simply a fact that she is living a life of affluence.

She is very well paid for her work and, here’s the kicker, her husband is - the Governor!  He makes a few bob in that line of work too, so as far as finances go the family is doing fine.

But still, I have to wonder how long she can keep this up.  She loves her job, she loves her family, she loves her business career, and yes, she even likes the money.  What she does not love is the stress and strain and the idea that one of these days she may collapse and have to take a year or two off just to recover.

I don’t know if it makes her story any more believable if I tell you that she isn’t actually a person, she’s a fictional character. 

Who is she?

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

245 Quiz Answer


(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "R" is for "rare")

Two chaps are talking about an old friend.  Who’s the friend?

“Al told me to say hello.”

“Great!  Tell him hello back.  I haven’t seen Al in years!  How’s he doing?”

“Oh, okay I guess.  He found a place with a government agency, the patent office.  Crucial work, I suppose, but not much in the way of salary.  And really boring.”

“That’s kinda surprising.  Back in school we all thought Al was the one who was going to go places, right?”

“Yeah, it’s a bit depressing.  I went to visit him at work.  You wouldn’t believe – checking out applications, making copies, answering letters.  Tons of paper.  Looked to me like it was secretarial stuff.”

“And he had the best grades in our class.  Well, at least he’s working.”

“To top it off, he got a malignant note from management that said he had just been passed over for promotion.  They told him he didn’t seem to be capable of understanding modern technology like typewriters.”

“Well. It’s a new century; he’s gotta be able to understand typewriters because they’re soon going to be everywhere.”

“I felt he should quit, but it took him a year or so of yearning just to get this job; he’ll hang on to it.  He has hobbies and other interests in his private life.”

“Hobbies?  Like what?”

“Well, you know Al, he’s different; he’s kind of rare.  He was always secretive, always involved in things that he claimed were important but that none of us could understand.  All part of an act, I guess.”

“I heard he got married.”

“Right.  But if you run into him don’t bring that up; he’d rather not talk about it.  I guess he wasn’t a perfect husband but worse, he was far from a perfect father too.  They had a kid, a little girl, but Al had the baby sent off to be taken care of by someone else; he never even saw her!”


“I don’t know if I should be saying this, but I’m a bit worried about Al’s – well, his mental stability.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, last time I saw him he told me he spent weeks thinking about the connection between space and time.  Sounded a bit loony to me, but I was too polite to mention it.”

The answer will be posted Saturday.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Berowne's 244

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "Q" is for "quizless")

Berowne's weekly quiz is quizless this week, because I wanted to tell you the following story.

I wanted to write you about a certain mother-in-law.  I found her life fascinating.  I thought you might find it interesting, too.

Let’s zip back, via time travel, a few hundred years or so to the court of Catherine the Great, Empress of all Russia.
Though she became the Russian Empress, she was from Germany and her actual name was Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg.  No wonder she preferred Catherine.

Among her other activities in Russia, and believe me there were many, she started the first school for women in Russian history.  It was called Smolny.  It was a remarkable institution, pictured above, there on the right, as it looked in the 1700s.
Now, still using our time-travel device, we zip forward to the early 20th century.  Smolny was now firmly established as an institution of learning for young ladies of the Russian nobility.  As the Russians put it, a “school for noble maidens.”  Reason I find this all so interesting is that one of the noble maidens was to become my mother-in-law.

(You knew Berowne would get around to working himself in here somewhere.)

She was a member of the minor nobility because her father was a major general of the Czar’s army.

In the year 1917 she was just seventeen years old, and it was in that year that her pleasant, cosseted life was met with disaster.  She was devastated to learn that her father was assassinated by his own troops and the country was taken over by Soviets and one Vladimir Lenin. 

She and her mother were in great danger just by being there – after all, the revolutionaries slaughtered the entire royal family - so they had to quickly leave the country.  I can only imagine what that 17-year-old girl must have gone through; all she had known was a highly sheltered, almost gossamer, existence.  They struggled desperately to get to Istanbul, then finally, years later, to Paris.

Paris was chock-full of Russian refugees from the revolution; folks whose social position had plummeted - grand dukes working as headwaiters, generals driving taxis.
It’s ironic that back in Russia Lenin, looking around for a suitable headquarters for him and for what was to become the Soviet HQ of the world-wide Russian Revolutionary empire, settled on this famous girls’ school, Smolny.

I have to be honest; after I married into the family I had mother-in-law troubles.  She could, at times, be difficult.  So, it might easily be said, could I.  But then I would remember the incredible life she had led and I would do my best to avoid causing her too many present-day problems.

She has been gone for many years now, but I don’t think she would mind my telling you her remarkable story.

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