Obliging with a few observations

My 10th grade teacher, Sidney B. Simon, made us come up with 10 different “observations” every day, which we put in the can on his desk.

The more profound the observation, the better you did. Some of them could be quite quirky. For example, “Why does the obese lady sitting across from you on the subway always have blond hair?” Or, “Why is a certain word misspelled on the poster across the street from the school?” It isn’t easy to come up with an “observation” — try it. I believe it is a great exercise to ward off dementia, like the crossword craze sweeping the country.

Here are a few observations.

Did you ever notice that the lower the income, the more prone to obesity the population is? Try adding up the calories the next time you’re eating fast food. Try finding anything healthy to eat in an all-night gas station. Not all rich people are thin and fit, but you had better believe gym memberships and personal trainers don’t come cheap. That’s why Bob Norris and the late Ed Jaffe are slated for sainthood. They made sure that everyone would get a chance to keep fit.

Have you ever noticed that some agencies of government call or write to ask you for money? Do you think some of the recipients of these letters are afraid that if they don’t pay up, the police or fire departments will be slow to show up? I’m sure that fear is misplaced. I’ve never paid up and I’ve always received great service from both departments.

Have you ever noticed how complicated things get? To plow or not to plow? Many of us on the Hill get down into Great Barrington through the trestle under the railroad tracks at the end of Castle Hill Avenue. For the first time I can remember, that access has been cut off because snow was allowed to accumulate.

The property under the trestle belongs to a private owner, Dale Culleton, who says that the people of the town are assured a right of way. It then gets very complicated. Culleton is offering the town of Great Barrington the building over the railroad tracks. The railroad owns the tracks but hasn’t repaired the building, which Culleton owns but doesn’t want. He told me that if the town takes the building, they will have more clout with the railroad. It seems to me that the town should take the building at its annual town meeting.

Things get even more complicated. Culleton has not been allowed to build the parking garage he has wanted to build for years at the bottom of the adjoining hill. Just when you think you understand it all, it turns out there’s another layer.

Did you ever notice that you make some of your worst decisions when you haven’t stopped to think things through? We hear that New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg met Cathie Black, his choice to succeed New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, at a cocktail party. Black, who had virtually no experience in education, was a major player in the publishing industry at the Hearst Corp.

Bloomberg hit a home run with Klein the lawyer, and thought a successful publishing executive might be another outsider who could bring her management skills to education reform. Wrong!

Just as Vivian Schiller failed at NPR by opening her mouth at the wrong time, Black really screwed up. In order to be named chancellor, Black had to get a waiver from New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner. Now apparently he has announced his departure after just a few years.

I guess this means that we should just keep our mouths shut at cocktail parties. Hey, I feel tipsy after two glasses of wine.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 4/9/11

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