Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The doctor will see you now. He will?

By Dick Hirsch
I had a memorable experience at the doctor’s office recently. It wasn’t exactly a bad experience, but it surely qualifies as unique.
First I should admit that I left home in such haste that I forgot to take any reading material. I quit reading the magazines you find in doctors’ waiting rooms years ago because all the publications were outdated, tattered and concerned with a variety of subjects so esoteric that they appealed to a very limited audience. So I learned to take my own reading material whenever waiting would be involved.
But this time I forgot and when I realized my mistake I looked through some of the doctor’s magazines, found the usual hapless collection, nothing remotely current, and cursed my forgetfulness. I finally started doing a crossword puzzle from an old newspaper I found scrunched at the bottom of a pile of vintage copies of the Reader’s Digest and Exploring Your Inner Self. As I was pondering the meaning of a seven letter word for “encamp,” I was interrupted by a young woman named Allison who had a stethoscope around her neck.
“Come with me, please,” Allison said, and I offered no resistance.
I had never been to this doctor before; I believe I am feeling fine, and my first question was “Why am I here?” I was referred by my primary practitioner, who had concluded there was nothing wrong with me but was apparently seeking confirmation of that opinion.
Allison led me through several corridors to our destination, an examining room, where she asked me all the usual questions I had answered in writing on the questionnaire; birth date, marital status, employment, exercise habits, etc. She weighed me. I hate being weighed with my shoes on. She took my temperature, my blood pressure, asked me about any allergies, and told me the doctor would join me soon. She left.
In my excitement about leaving the waiting room, I had forgotten to take the crossword puzzle, so I was sitting alone and forlorn in one of those sterile appearing examining rooms. I waited. Long. I couldn’t pace back and forth because the room was too small and I feared stubbing my toe on the far wall. Just as a feeling of desperation was about to grab me, there came a polite knock on the door. I answered. “Come in,” I said.
I expected the doctor. But no, in walked Maria, a personable women with a friendly smile, a stethoscope, a pocket full of tongue depressors and an ID badge that identified her as a Physician’s Assistant.
“The doctor will be right along,” she said. “Are you feeling okay?” she asked. I must have been presenting symptoms of impatience, but I was too polite to tell her.
She opened a manila folder which I suspected contained some information about me, and then asked me all the usual questions I had answered in writing on the questionnaire; birth date, marital status, employment, exercise habits, etc. She weighed me. I hate being weighed with my shoes on. She took my temperature, my blood pressure, asked me about any allergies, and told me the doctor would join me very soon. She left. I have never enjoyed being shunted from one examining room to the next and being left alone to consider all the serious maladies that have been uncovered in those rooms.
I wish I could report exactly how long it was before there was another knock on the door. It was probably no more than 10 minutes, it just seemed longer. The door opened and in came Maria again, still smiling and carrying my folder, only this time she was not alone. Following her was a man in a white lab coat who introduced himself as THE DOCTOR. Maria sat at a small desk in the corner and the doctor stood as we chatted. She retained possession of the chart.
We exchanged pleasantries, and I waited expectantly for him to ask me to remove my shirt, my pants or both. He asked me how I felt. I said fine. He seemed to approve. He said my test results looked normal and asked me how I felt about red meat. I told him I felt okay about red meat, but rarely ate any. We chatted about eating habits, his and mine. Then he clapped me on the back, said I was “on the right track,” and left. I never did remove clothing, he never examined me. Having no exam in an examining room qualifies as unforgettable on the medical chart I keep.


Friday, March 16, 2007

A new home for the elephants

By Dick Hirsch
I was still riding around in a stroller when I paid my first visit to the Elephant House at the Buffalo Zoo. In good weather, my mother would take me for walks, and since we lived in the neighborhood, the zoo was a regular destination.
I know my parents thought I was a smart kid, but, to be perfectly honest, I was not too articulate at that point. I couldn’t yet speak English or any other language. But my senses were working just fine, and when we went passed the polar bears and entered the home of the elephants, I distinctly remember asking my mother the following question:
“Wadsvbn eotain shrudlu ghkcus clasdesm?”
Now I knew what I was trying to say, but most people wouldn’t have been able to understand. Mothers are in a different category. Since she had been spending a lot of time with me, she figured out what I was asking.
“Those are elephants, Richard.”
So that’s an elephant. Gosh, they’re big and funny looking, I thought, all gray and wrinkled.
Then I asked another question. I should mention that even at that early age, I was curious. I always had another question. As it turned out, I’ve been asking questions ever since, and I’m much better at asking questions than answering them. My second question was:
“Veshti nulpri chingrala susti nostrila?”
“What do you mean?” mother replied. She must not have heard me because the place was crowded with parents and children, and I spoke in a teeny voice in those days. So I repeated myself, talking more distinctly this time:
“Veshti nulpri chingrala susti nostrila?”
“Oh, yes,” she said, “it does smell bad in here but that’s not because the elephants need a bath or because the house is dirty. It’s because it is crowded and the elephants don’t have a lot of room to move around. When they’re outside they don’t smell badly at all.”
I found that explanation satisfactory, but I didn’t like the smell that permeated the place. I pointed toward the exit.
“Gah oouden gaschmick alors” I said, a clear directive to vacate the elephant house and reach fresh air. She understood. She turned the stroller toward the door and out we went to a setting where a man, or a boy, could take a deep breath and revel in the experience.
That was my first memory of the Elephant House, and I don’t mind admitting it was daunting. Phew. But although the atmospheric conditions shocked me at the time, the elephants intrigued me, so uniquely large and seemingly docile, but very agile for such big animals. I quickly was able to disregard the aromatic hazards involved in a visit and placed the elephants near the top of my list of favorite places at the zoo or elsewhere.
Soon I outgrew the stroller and found other modes of transportation around the grounds of the zoo, first on a tricycle, later on a bicycle, and still later on a series of cars. I always visited the elephants and was always captivated by them, and I still am.
The big news on Parkside Avenue is that a fundraising campaign is starting to raise $1 million to bring the Elephant House, which opened mn 1912, up to standards acceptable to the National Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Three Asian elephants are now in residence, and it is overcrowded.
In the days of my childhood, there were two elephants and the big one was Jumbo. Or was it Dumbo or Gumbo? I can’t be sure, but he was clearly one of the stars of the ongoing drama at the zoo. There was a big cult of personality at the time.
The big celebrity was Eddie, the chimpanzee, who lived at the zoo for many years, and generated a scrapbook full of clippings. He was a character who delighted at least two generations with his antics. Then, as he entered the golden years, his personality changed. He became cranky, demonstrating a lack of respect for those who would stand at his cage urging him to perform. He was aggressive and would throw things at his audience, a no-no in zoo etiquette.
The elephants, however, have always seemed mild-mannered and gracious. The new design will create opportunities for visitors to be close to the elephants when trainers are on duty. I stopped in recently and heard a spectator in a stroller observe:
“Likrat chabat lchu vneilcha.” I didn’t understand what she was saying, but she seemed to be enjoying himself.


Monday, March 05, 2007

Albright-Knox ignored a lesson of history

By Dick Hirsch
As we have all learned as students of public affairs, the coverup can sometimes be worse than the crime or the episode. So it was with the Nixon bunch and the Watergate burglary, with President Clinton and his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky and with Scooter Libby, the assistant to Vice President Cheney, for his role in the leaking of information about the CIA agent-wife of a Bush Administration critic.
And so it is with Louis Grachos, the director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Board of Directors of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, the body that has governed the gallery since its founding in 1862.
They all engaged in a coverup over a period of months, a conspiracy of silence, to arrange the auction sale of some 200 artworks from the permanent collection of the Albright-Knox.
By any legal definition, that is not a crime. It will be remembered as an episode. Museums do have the right to sell pieces from their collections for various reasons. Sometimes a curator might decide a particular painting or sculpture is so similar in content and execution to another work by the same artist in the collection that it can be sacrificed without negative impact. That piece could be sold and the proceeds used for a strategic purchase to fill a gap in the collection. On other occasions, a museum might have questions about the authenticity of a work and decide to dispose of it. Selling a work is an accepted practice in the museum world and seldom does it come to public attention.
But the scenario at the Albright-Knox is different because of its size, involving the auction of a substantial number of mostly older works. The claim is that the items---among them Greek, Roman, Asian, Egyptian and others---have little or no relevance in the collection of an institution that has gained international prominence for its foresight in purchasing the art of today and tomorrow.
That was the explanation and as soon as the plan was announced it inflamed the passions of countless art lovers, none of whom could have known precisely what they were screaming about, since the museum never defined what was planned by declining to release the list.
What a classic public relations snafu that turned out to be. The simple truth is that the Albright-Knox is clearing out its attic.
Why didn’t they explain that in the beginning? It would have calmed the raging waters. History tells us that Buffalo people cling to the old and are suspicious of change. Remember the enormous fuss over Fort Makowski, that proposal to build a low brick wall around Niagara Square? Or how about the plan for the Peace Bridge?
Somebody on that board should have alerted the group to the dangers inherent in their strategy, not the act of cleaning the attic, but the failure to explain it promptly and fully and to provide a list of the works to be sold.
Who knows, they may have even arranged an exhibition of those pieces so the public could see exactly what was going. I know people who were apprehensive since the initial announcement, worried about the fate about certain favored works.
When the list was finally made public, three months after the announcement of the planned sale, people looked and found it was primarily things that haven’t been seen in years. That isn’t a reflection of their quality; rather it is a commentary on their relevance in the Albright-Knox collection. Since that is just about what the gallery has contended since the outset, can we agree that immediate full disclosure would have made the process less painful?
There is still strong opposition to the sale, the most vocal group being lead by Carl Dennis, a poet and professor of English at the University at Buffalo. They have insinuated they may take legal action to try to block the auctions.
Meanwhile, the gallery predicts it could raise at least $15 million that could be used for the purchase of contemporary works. The gallery has a $58 million endowment, some of which can be used for acquisitions, but in a rising art market officials felt the need for more cash. At this moment, there are no benefactors of the stature of Seymour H. Knox or A. Conger Goodyear, so the board decided it had to use a different money-raising technique. But it kept the details of the plan to sellå a secret, providing one more example of a coverup that became worse than the episode.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Selling bathing suits during a blizzard

By Dick Hirsch
Like most of the rest of us, Deborah Leavitt has heard plenty of well intentioned business advice, including warnings about trying to sell ice to eskimos or carrying coal to Newcastle.
She has ignored all the cautionary suggestions and embarked on her mission, dedicated to the art and science of selling bathing suits during the winter in Western New York. On a recent day during the frigid weeks of early February, when temperatures were in the single digits and wind chill readings were capturing headlines, she was busy selling swim suits in Buffalo. The snow was eddying in unpredictable fashion, closing schools and blocking roads, but she was busy selling bathing suits.
She sells year around, of course, but January and February are her biggest months by far. Go figure. Yes, her slowest time is around the Fourth of July.
It all started about seven years ago when Deborah, who lives in Olean, was a regular in the pool at the YMCA on Wayne Street. Three mornings a week she would join her class for a program of water exercise.
“The water is a terrific place to exercise, even if you’re not the greatest swimmer,” she said. “So I would do resistance exercises, and various stretches and movements, all designed to keep you fit, flexible and slim.”
Many of the women knew that years earlier she had operated a dress shop in Olean. They began complaining to her about the difficulty they had in selecting swim suits. They began suggesting she return to the retail business and sell bathing suits.
One of the undeniable facts of life is that few people, men or women, look as good in a bathing suit as they would like. I’ve known many men, for example, who would walk along the beach struggling to hold their breath and suck in their gut.
“Yes,” agreed Deborah, “there is no doubt that buying a swim suit is one of the most intimidating things a woman has to do.”
She took that into consideration, along with all the other difficult lessons of retail, and went ahead and founded Swimwear on the Go, an operation with a difference. She takes the merchandise to health clubs and fitness centers.
“I started with an inventory of about three dozen samples,” she recalled. “Now we have an inventory of 6,000 suits from about 75 manufacturers.”
It works this way: Deborah and her partner, Robert Givan, make appointments at exercise facilities with pools around western and central New York and parts of Pennsylvania. They travel from place to place in a motor home, pulling a 27-foot trailer loaded with swimsuits, bathing caps, wraps, goggles and related items. They might spend two days in Buffalo, a couple days in Rochester, then off to Syracuse and locations in between. At this point, they have relationships with about 60 different places. Just recently she had an inquiry from Scranton, Pennsylvania, asking when Swimwear on the Go could make a stop there.
“To tell the truth I never thought swim wear could be a profitable venture, but I decided to do it anyway because I like retail and I love working with people,” she said.
Most of her customers---about 90 percent---are women, since many men don’t consider bathing suits to be a fashion item. Some are satisfied to jump in wearing a pair of gym shorts or old Bermuda shorts. Nevertheless, she does carry a full line for men and children. She promotes styles described as “Sarong, Surplice, Swimdress, Tankini, Bikini and more,” and sells them for $49, which she says is considerably below most stores. The most popular size Deborah sells is a 14 and her customers are generally modest and conservative, although she has merchandise for every taste and figure.
Her proudest boast is her ability to fit women some of whom are a little big here and a little small there, if you get the picture. When she sets up her display, she unloads racks containing about 2,000 suits, an eye-popping display.
“I professionally fit every woman to make her look her best,” she said. “When they buy a suit, they feel good about it because I don’t think anybody can fit a swimsuit like I do.”
Swimwear on the Go has been in business since 2000 and has become a profitable enterprise. In addition to the road show agenda, there is a retail store in Olean. Only one problem remains unsolved: Deborah Leavitt has no time to put on a suit and jump in the pool.