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Sunday, March 27, 2005

Narrow Band Friendships

In our compartmentalized world, it is common to establish limited, "narrow band" friendships with people. An example might be a bunch of guys that play basketball on Sunday afternoons and talk only about basketball and rarely see each other off the court. "Broadband" friendships - relationships that include detailed knowledge of your friend's life, opinions, history, etc. - are becoming less common, I think. "Narrow Band" is safer, less prone to disagreements. The Democrat can sit in at a blues jam with a Republican, a Communist and a Libertarian and there will be no political arguments. A Catholic, a Protestant and a Jew can be on the same bowling team and have no ecumenical issues.

Is this a good thing? A tight community or a family is wrapped up in broadband connections. Everyone is messing in everyone's business. Unusual behavior or changes in routine are noticed. If someone misses work and falls silent, a friend stops by the house to check vital signs. "Narrow band" means more personal space, more gaps between people. Less conflict, perhaps. Less love, perhaps.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Attack of the Bad Back

On Thursday, my beloved wife Consuelo succumbed to the wheedling of our 9 year old daughter and began to move her into a new, larger bedroom. She schlepped a heavy old bed about 20 feet from one room to the other. When I got home, her back was feeling achy. By Friday morning, she was crippled up with back spasms - walking was out of the question; she had to crawl on all fours to get to the dang bathroom. She was in terrific pain.

I wanted to carry her, but she would have none of that. She was like a wounded animal - best to keep your distance. We visited her doctor, who prescribed Valium. On Saturday, Connie's back was worse. We went to the emergency room and she received an IV of valium and other goodies. She went from miserable to buzzed in 10 seconds. The drugs allowed her to function. Since Connie had a gallery opening on Friday night, she was determined to be on her feet, schmoozing with the guests. We had about 300 people at the show in our home-based gallery on Friday, and my wife, the gallery queen, made the scene - back spasms be damned. She curated a one-person show of Anne Ponce's work. It was a smash hit - we sold some paintings and had loads of fun with many good folks. But on Sunday, Connie paid the piper.

Flat on the back all day Sunday, still crippled up today - mi esposa esta infirma. I am "on call." We are heading to the physical therapist tomorrow. This, too, shall pass. It is hard to see my wife in such pain. Moral - don't take your back for granted.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Harmonica Khan Tearing it Up. Posted by Hello

Harmonica Khan is Gone

Another real blues man has left us here in Chicago. Harmonica Khan has passed at age 70. This man was a piece of living history. He played a chugging style on the harmonica, and broke up his playing with whoops and hollers. His singing was hoarse and urgent, his face would twist into grimaces and his eyes bugged out of his head as if he were astonished at his own behavior. He played the bones, he brought a plywood panel to his gigs so he could tap dance while sitting down. He would lay on his back and honk through the harp while bicycling his legs like Lance Armstrong.

Harmonica Khan was born George Meares in 1934. He grew up in North Carolina and shuttled up to the northeast to work day jobs and nightclub gigs. He finally hit Chicago in the late 1960's. He was a regular performer at some of the great old clubs - the Trocadero on South Indiana and Pepper's on 43rd.

Harmonica Khan would get in trouble from time to time. He drank and would get into fights. He did a little time for his escapades. Then, in 1976, he killed a man during a fight in the lobby of the LaSalle Plaza Hotel; he was sentenced to 25 to 75 years. He kept playing when he was incarcerated at Stateville; he even was on a record called "Jammin' the Joint" back in 1985. He was finally paroled in 2002 and resumed his career as a blues man in Chicago.

I have seen him perform several times; he was always delightful. He lived the last few years clean - he joined the Moorish Science Temple and changed his name to Meares-El. And he was just about to break out when he died - I heard rumors that he had, or was about to get, a record deal.

Harmonica Khan lived the real blues, and he paid the price in Stateville. I am going to miss this man. Eternal peace to you, Harmonica Khan.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Auction Dynamics

Have you ever attended a high-stakes auction? I'm talking about one of those situations where the bidders raise paddles and the auctioneer doesn't chatter like a guy selling livestock at the county fair. Once in a while, a weird tension and excitement fills the room. Bidders get competitive & aggressive and it feels like a fight might break out. This is the environment that investment bankers attempt to create when they are trying to sell a company.

My two partners and I have been working on a deal since last August. The company that has hired us is a neat little finance firm that is quite profitable. We thought that many banks would be interested. We took it to market last fall, and the market basically yawned. People were too busy with other deals that needed to close prior to year-end or it was too small or too big or too different or too far away - the excuses were all over the map. Two out of the three bidders submitted sealed bids that were ridculously low. The third bidder, who submitted a very high price, pulled out suddenly. We had no viable course of action, so we pulled the deal off the market. The amount of effort we all invested in this effort was huge. Was it all for naught?

After the 2004 financials were compiled, we updated our offering materials and went out to market again. Our client was fatigued. The CEO of the finance firm had basically lost faith in his investment bankers. He expected to get crappy bids again, and he was preparing to continue on as an independent firm for the foreseeable future. Bids were due on Wednesday. We received many strong bids!! I am relieved and excited.

Now, we bankers earn our fees. We must investigate the bidders and qualify each one; we have to interrogate each bidder to shake out any sneaky aspects of the proposals, and we have to "walk up" the bids by emphasizing (very carefully) how competitive the process has become. Our compensation is tied to the sale price of the company - we are motivated. If we do well, this one deal will generate enough income to make our year.

The auction dynamics here are different than the paddle-raising, high-end affair. None of the bidders knows what the other players have bid. The investment bankers sit on information (to protect our client's interests). We jawbone and set demands; we strive to get the bidders fully engaged; emotionally invested in the opportunity. We also try to pick a buyer that will match our client's non-monetary goals - keep the company intact, no lay-offs, and so forth.

I think we are going to pull this off.