Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Case Study

Could it be that competing in the global market place has gotten a lot harder since the 70's, so chief executives who have to deal with that are getting paid more?

At the same time it's gotten easier to pump milk so the wage for that has decreased.
Edwin Drood
Of the multitude of things I know absolutely nothing about, the dairy wholesaler's market is one I really haven't thought anything about. An article this past weekend in The Washington Post on the growth in executive compensation at Dean Foods, comparing it to the stagnant wages of workers at the same company, prompted the above reply. I thought rather than dismiss out of hand the contention that the differences in the trajectory of pay between the CEO and workers were understandable and morally and socially acceptable, I would investigate the case in particular to see if it were, in fact, true. Edwin offered a falsifiable set of conditions by which understanding the question is possible. I thought, why not use those as a way of seeing if he was right or wrong.

The initial source is the Post piece itself. It begins by outlining the compensation for the chief executive at a precursor of Dean Foods.
It was the 1970s, and the chief executive of a leading U.S. dairy company, Kenneth J. Douglas, lived the good life. He earned the equivalent of about $1 million today. He and his family moved from a three-bedroom home to a four-bedroom home, about a half-mile away, in River Forest, Ill., an upscale Chicago suburb. He joined a country club. The company gave him a Cadillac. The money was good enough, in fact, that he sometimes turned down raises.
So, this is the set of initial conditions posited - the wholesaler in question was the nation's largest; the executive in question lived a more-than-modest life of the upper-middle-class rather than the truly wealthy. This description is contrasted as follows:
Forty years later, the trappings at the top of Dean Foods, as at most U.S. big companies, are more lavish. The current chief executive, Gregg L. Engles, averages 10 times as much in compensation as Douglas did, or about $10 million in a typical year. He owns a $6 million home in an elite suburb of Dallas and 64 acres near Vail, Colo., an area he frequently visits. He belongs to as many as four golf clubs at a time — two in Texas and two in Colorado. While Douglas’s office sat on the second floor of a milk distribution center, Engles’s stylish new headquarters occupies the top nine floors of a 41-story Dallas office tower. When Engles leaves town, he takes the company’s $10 million Challenger 604 jet, which is largely dedicated to his needs, both business and personal.
This is the set of current conditions. Getting from then to now is the matter at hand.

The article posits another set of conditions that is part of the story:
Over the period from the ’70s until today, while pay for Dean Foods chief executives was rising 10 times over, wages for the unionized workers actually declined slightly. The hourly wage rate for the people who process, pasteurize and package the milk at the company’s dairies declined by 9 percent in real terms, according to union contract records. It is now about $23 an hour.

The Dean Foods website, linked above, does not include a history of the company. While not necessarily reliable, Wikipedia does have the advantage of footnotes with links in order to check the information presented. Dean Foods has a Wiki page, that skips over the beginnings of Deans in my neck of the woods as a small dairy distribution company to 2001 when Suiza Foods, a Dallas-based conglomerate, purchased it and changed the name from Suiza to Deans. The list of product names it either names or licenses is long:
Dean Foods produces soy milk in the United States under the name Dean Foods and (Sun Soy). organic milk is marketed under the brand Horizon Organic.

White Wave Foods is the distributor for Silk soy milk, Horizon Organic dairy products, International Delight creamer, some Land O'Lakes dairy products, Hershey's milk products,[citation needed] and Stōk espresso shots.

The company's TofuTown brand and its various tofu products were acquired by the Hain Celestial Group in June 2007.

Dean Foods owns many other brand names, such as Alta Dena, Barbe's, Barber's, Berkeley Farms, Borden, Broughton Foods Company, Brown's Dairy, Country Fresh, Creamland, Dairy Ease, Gandy's, Garelick Farms, Jilbert's Dairy, Lehigh Valley Dairy Farms, Liberty Dairy, Louis Trauth, Mayfield Dairy, McArthur Dairy, Meadow Brook, Meadow Gold, Model Dairy, Oak Farms, PET Dairy, Price's, Purity, Reiter, Robinson Dairy, Schenkel's, Schepps, Swiss Farms (formerly Wengert's Dairy of Lebanon, Pennsylvania), T.G. Lee, and Tuscan Dairy Farms.[citation needed]

Dean Foods licenses the Land O'Lakes brand, which markets creamers and fluid dairy products.[12]
Not included in this list is the Wal-Mart name-brand, Great Value milk. As someone who unloads pallets of GV milk off a Deans delivery truck, take my word for it - even if they don't own the license for the name, they distribute it, probably from plants in which different labels are slapped on different milk jugs.

According to Wikinvest, Deans Foods "is the largest processor and distributor of milk and other dairy products in the U.S., with products sold under more than 50 familiar local and regional brands and a wide array of private labels.[1]" They were so described in the late 1970's, so the question still remains - is "competition in our contemporary market" more difficult? Even when Deans was a regional operation, it was the largest dairy wholesaler in the country. Now that it is an international conglomerate with plants and distribution networks in both the United States and the United Kingdom, not only distributing dairy products but selling in-house and licensed brands of dairy and associated products, has its market share been the result of executive business sense or the purchase of a variety of brands?

If you click on the "BRANDS" at the top of the Deans Foods homepage, you will find a list of national brands it owns or licenses - from Horizon and Silk and International Delight and Land-o'-Lakes - to the regional brands it either distributes or owns. The only regions of the country it doesn't seem to have control of regional brands is the lower Midwest (Missouri, Arkansas) and the Pacific Northwest. With control over leading national brands (we love Land-o'-Lakes salted creamery butter in our house), however, this lack of local and regional control is not as big an issue as it might otherwise be.

According to Wikinvest, Deans "is the largest processor and distributor of milk and other dairy products in the U.S., with products sold under more than 50 familiar local and regional brands and a wide array of private labels.[1]"
Dean Foods manufactures and distributes dairy food products to retailers, distributors, foodservice outlets, schools and governmental entities across the United States. Both the Dairy Group and WhiteWave Foods are heavily dependent on its main customer, Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), which accounted for 21% of the Dairy Group’s 2009 net sales.[2]

Both the Dairy Group and WhiteWave Foods use Dean’s extensive direct store delivery system, or DSD, which transports products from processing facility to customers’ stores via refrigerated trucks. Dean’s ownership of such an expansive DSD system has made it the only national dairy beverage company in the U.S.
If they are "the only national dairy beverage company in the U.S.", where is the competition?

In March of this year, Deans Foods and Justice Department reached a settlement in an anti-trust action brought when Deans planned to purchase a Wisconsin dairy. According to The Wall Street Journal:
The Dean Foods case was part of the effort by the Justice Department, under the Obama administration, to step-up antitrust enforcements in the agriculture sector, which has undergone rapid consolidation in recent years.

The deal was too small to be reportable to the government. However, the Justice Department moved to block it anyway after deciding it would eliminate competition between the two companies in the sale of milk to schools and stores in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.

"The proposed settlements restore competition so that school children and consumers in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, will pay lower prices for their milk," said Christine Varney, the head of the Justice Department's antitrust division.

Dallas-based Dean Foods said it agreed to settle the cases— which were also brought by the attorneys general of Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan— to avoid the time and expense of fighting them.

"We continue to believe that our acquisition of the Foremost Farms assets in Wisconsin supported competition and benefitted consumers," the company said. "However, because ongoing litigation is expensive, distracting and brings uncertainty to our business, we believe that this resolution is in the best interest" of employees, shareholders and consumers.

Dean Foods bought the Foremost unit in April 2009, including its dairy processing plants in Waukesha and De Pere, Wis. The company said the proposed settlement, which must still be approved by a judge, allowed it to keep the De Pere plant.
Rather than concentrate on product improvement, Deans Foods has dealt with competition in the time-honored fashion of high- and late capitalism: eliminate it by buying it. From the days of Rockefeller buying out other oil refineries in the Cleavland, OH, area, then buying controlling interests in various railroads in order to control the shipping prices for distributing its products, the best way to ensure continued high market share has not been competition, as the theory of capitalism claims, but to get rid of competition as inefficient, reducing not only marketing and R&D costs, but creating broader efficiencies in what was once known as vertical market control (like Deans fleet of trucks or Standard Oil's fleet of railroads from the Lehigh Valley RR, for which my grandfather worked his entire adult life to the Pennsylvania, B&O, and other larger national rail lines).

So, does the current CEO of Deans Foods "deserve" a salary and benefits that dwarf his predecessor from a generation ago? In the first place, the name "Deans Foods" and its regional visibility in the Upper Midwest is all that remains of the former regional, but still largest in the nation, wholesaler of dairy and related products. Having been purchased by another company, who changed their name for reasons of market recognition, Deans Foods no longer exists in the same way it did in 1979. As CEO of a multi-national with huge market share through purchase and license of a variety of products and the largest DSD network of any wholesaler, one could argue that a larger compensation package is called for.

What about those stagnant wages for workers? In the first instance, these aren't dairy farmers, now a pretty high-tech industry, although also still labor intensive. Rather, the workers in question are the folks who work in Deans plants (including one just up the road in Harvard, IL) who have not seen a concomitant rise in pay with the rise in market penetration by Dean Foods.

Why is that?

According to this USAToday story from April - one of many I could cite:
At a time most employees can barely remember their last substantial raise, median CEO pay jumped 27% in 2010 as the executives’ compensation started working its way back to prerecession levels, a USA TODAY analysis of data from GovernanceMetrics International found. Workers in private industry, meanwhile, saw their compensation grow just 2.1% in the 12 months ended December 2010, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
So, it isn't just Deans Foods. Trends across business show modest (at best) increases in worker pay even as executive pay rises rapidly.

The reasons for this disparity seem to escape analysis. The trend crosses industry barriers, matters of competitiveness, and even shareholder return. Considering the bonuses and salaries awarded to the large banks that brought the entire world economy teetering on the edge of collapse, there is no link between performance and compensation. High rates of pay for executives and senior management have entered the realm of entitlement, rather than linked to any measurable results.

This glance - and it has only been a glance, blogs being the medium they are - at Deans Foods as a way of asking whether or not higher compensation has yielded, in this case, at least a couple tentative answers. First, it is not a matter of the CEO "working harder", nor of the demands of competition. Considering the CEO's sole desire seems to be purchasing rival dairies, including regional dairies and distributors, while both successful and a commonplace in business, it is hardly akin to any theory of capitalism with which I am familiar (monopoly does have its advantages, but folks usually support competition rather than its elimination when touting the virtues of the market). Furthermore, since the case of Dean's reflect national trends in the differences between executive pay and worker pay, one cannot set it to the specifics of Deans Foods, the market in dairy production and distribution, or the vagaries of milk production. The question, still unanswered, is the source of the disparity, and whether or not it creates sustainable socio-economic conditions.

According the the CIA's Gini Index in its World Factbook, the United States income distribution levels are slightly better than those of Jamaica, Uganda, and The Philippines, and slightly worse than Cameroon, Cote D'Ivoire, and Iran. We are thirty-ninth overall, with number one, Namibia, being the country with the greatest disparity in wealth. Considering Cote D'Ivoire is undergoing a civil war, this isn't exactly a good sign; considering our levels of maldistribution of wealth rival most of the developing world, that poses a challenge to any who defend the continued efficacy of untrammeled capitalism and a free political system.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Not Here For An Argument

I saw the link to this article this past Sunday, but with a crazy week, it has only been right now I've turned my attention to it. In sum, just read it, because it says everything I have tried to say on the subject, only better. It pretty much reflects where I stand on the whole issue of "argument". Rather than convince anyone of anything, I just state what I believe to be the case, with whatever facts I can dredge up along the way that convict me of my views. You can take it or leave it, but by and large I really don't care.

The whole goal is to present an alternative way of viewing the world, and consequently of living in it. You don't like it? Well, it's no skin off my nose, and the door is always open if you change your mind. Don't believe for one moment that the stuff you say to me is going to alter my own course, however. Not being interested in argument includes not being interested in the arguments of others. Since it isn't about being right, but living for others; since it isn't about me in any manner, fashion, or form, but about God and neighbor, that is where my heart lies, and that is the goal.

We all have a lot of work to do to make the world more livable. Rather than figure out who's right and who's wrong, I am far more interested in finding ways of doing that, and presenting them as possibilities. Anyone who wishes to join along, the more the merrier. I have no interest any more in using labels - conservative, liberal, fundamentalist, what-have-you. I am far more interested in seeking ways all of us, together, can get together and work together to get out of the hole in to which we have dug ourselves. Standing around arguing over whose fault it is we are in this particular hole, listening to those who insist if we only keep digging we'll get out of it, choosing sides, calling names - those are all games. I'm not interested in games.

God loves this world, and we are to reflect that love in our life and work in this world. For other people. For the planet God has given us for safekeeping, and which we are trashing at a horrendous rate. If you believe those things, and really don't care about being right or wrong, moral or immoral, just serving God and loving others, this is the place to be.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Choices We Face

One of the remarkable insights provided by Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism was the prevalence in the mid- to late-1970's of what Lasch called "survival literature". The category "survival" permeated every aspect of American life - from cooking to politics to business. The apocalyptic sentiment was rampant at a time of declining wages, stagnant economic growth, and the beginning of the decline of American post-WWII international political hegemony. The choices, it seemed, were no longer accommodation to a new set of realities. Instead, the choices were either ignore the reality and pretend we were a powerful nation still growing, still full of possibility or surrender to the inevitable collapse, eking out whatever meager remnants could be salvaged from the wreckage.

I wonder what Lasch would have made of our times? With our economy in a shambles, shuffling through stagnation to the edge of collapse; our political system deadlocked on trivia and irrelevancies; entrenched yet already irrelevant power structures demanding the maintenance of the political and economic and social status quo or risk the threat of the collapse that always seems to be around the next corner. Unlike forty years ago, when the problems we currently face were still either nascent or perhaps even theoretical, the challenges we currently face are, in fact, quite dire, limiting our choices should be desire to continue to exist, even if in a different form.

Among the many pieces of the puzzle challenging us to decide to act or not for our common survival is the release a few days ago from a group called the International Program on the State of the Oceans (IPSO). The summary of a recent workshop held at Oxford University, the IPSO report is dire, indeed.
The 3 day workshop, co-sponsored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), looked at the latest science across different disciplines.

The 27 participants from 18 organisations in 6 countries produced a grave assessment of current threats — and a stark conclusion about future risks to marine and human life if the current trajectory of damage continues: that the world's ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.

Delegates called for urgent and unequivocal action to halt further declines in ocean health.
The report summary is available as a .pdf document, but the main findings include the effect of human activity upon warming, acidification, and anoxia. Further, while the changes the scientific literature tracks are consistent with the IPCC findings, some are actually more rapid than predicted, presenting a grave threat, including mass extinction.

Cheery thought, that.

So, as with so much else, we are presented with evidence that is forcing us to make serious choices. Yet we do not have any structures in place - not politically, not socially - to deal responsibly with the choices with which we are confronted. At some point, when the worst does begin to occur, someone, somewhere, will insist, "How could we have known?" Well, we did know. It is up to us, the people, to lead on this, if we care anything at all about all life on this planet doing more than just surviving.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Clarence Clemons, R.I.P.

I was saddened to hear that Bruce Springsteen's longtime saxophone player, Clarence Clemons, passed away from complications from a stroke.

I was even more sad to hear he was 69 years old.


Good God, we really are getting old. All of us.

Rest in peace, Big Man. Something tells me you were greeted by someone yelling, "It's the Master of DisASter!" If you blow the solo in "Jungleland", remember it helped a little kid understand what a good rock-and-roll sax solo could be.

Oh, and Clemons didn't just play with Bruce. He also toured with Jerry.

Some randomness, what do you say?

Tears in My Eyes - Uriah Heep
Brokedown Palace - The Dead (Allstate Arena, 5/5/09)
El Becko - Jeff Beck
Die Young - Black Sabbath
Feuer Frei - Rammstein
Stinkfist - Tool
Orbits - Miles Davis Quintet
Lift Me Up - Yes
Frame by Frame - King Crimson
Mint Car - The Cure

Thanks to David Dye and The World Cafe for turning me on to Elbow. A little bit of Peter Gabriel, but a whole lot of Elbow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Wages Of Sin

Why don't I care about gay marriage as a "moral issue"? Because of stuff like this:
The largest single chunk of the highest-income earners, it turns out, are executives and other managers in firms, according to a landmark analysis of tax returns by economists Jon Bakija, Adam Cole and Bradley T. Heim. These are not just executives from Wall Street, either, but from companies in even relatively mundane fields such as the milk business.


Over the period from the ’70s until today, while pay for Dean Foods chief executives was rising 10 times over, wages for the unionized workers actually declined slightly. The hourly wage rate for the people who process, pasteurize and package the milk at the company’s dairies declined by 9 percent in real terms, according to union contract records. It is now about $23 an hour.
This is what is tearing apart our country. Not two men wanting to be called spouses because they live together, wanting that relationship legally recognized by the state as a social good from which both corporate parties - the state and the couple - can benefit. It is the simple reality of stagnant worker wages, grossly overcompensated corporate senior management, and no social or legal mechanisms in place to check either trend. That is why we are on the brink of economic collapse.

There are solutions, and they are actually known. Support for unionization of the workplace, with a legal infrastructure to support organization and collective bargaining. Higher corporate taxes, as well as higher marginal tax rates for the wealthy. Reinstituting the estate tax as well as the capital gains taxes at the levels they were at in the 1970's and early 1980's, encouraging charitable giving as well as less risky investment behavior.

For some reason, however, the disgusting disparity in wealth and its gaudy display are not seen as social evils to be battled, but rather social goods to be pursued. We are told, ad nauseum, that any time we point out the disparity and its corrosive effects on the social contract we are engaged in "class warfare". People who have much to gain from joining the ranks of such a conflict say stuff like this, repeating words they heard somewhere else, thoughtless automatons in our nation's downfall.

Gay marriage? It's becoming the law of the land, and it is only showing that we as a people are both smarter and more open than we used to be. Checking corporate extravagance and the underlying greed that drives it? That's not a sin!

That's the American way.

Questions That Interest Me

I will admit that my interests tend to wander from specific matters related to being a Christian in our contemporary world. At least, to others, that may seem to be the case. Since all the ways we divide up our world in to little compartments are largely fake, however, I tend to see continuities where others raise their eyebrows and wonder, "What in the world are you talking about?"

Fellow blogger Dan Trabue has one of those posts designed to drag the homo-haters out of their holes. It is working, too. The same tired arguments. The same sentences, typed for the thousandth time by the same people playing their appointed roles. It isn't even necessary to read specific comments to know beforehand how different people are going to respond. Which is not to say that Dan's question is unimportant, although I believe it is so for reasons other than one's he may entertain. Rather, the internet and blogging is a medium not designed for careful, thoughtful analysis of important matters. Rather, it allows people who do not know one another to play verbal games. For all I know, the folks taking up various positions at Dan's do not believe a word they are typing; they may just be enjoying the game.

Let them play.

I am currently reading Medieval Cosmology, selections from Pierre Duhem's massive, multi-volume history of western scientific thought from the patristics to the Renaissance. The subjects are arranged topically - infinity, place, time, the void, the plurality of world - and cover the period, roughly speaking, from St. Thomas and the condemnations of 1277 through the early Renaissance. Writing during the First World War (and never fully completed because Duhem was not a well man and died before he could finish it), Duhem's thesis was simple enough. Rather than view the various scientific discoveries of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as revolutions in thought, we need to see them as events on in intellectual continuum. Physics didn't begin with Newton, but Aristotle. Astronomy did not begin with Copernicus, but Aristotle. It was the rediscovery of Aristotle, and the adaptation of his thought to the neo-Platonism of the middle years of the Christian era that created the intellectual milieu that led, in steps variously large and small, to the discoveries of what we call "the scientific revolution".

In order to make his case, however, Duhem had to place in evidence huge amounts of material that was unknown outside the narrow precincts of Scholastic studies and those folks interested in the 14th century arguments known as the conflict between the ancients (those who followed in Aquinas' footsteps and stuck close to Aristotle) and the moderns (the nominalists and their students, from Ockham through Peter of Spain and Albert of Saxony). Many of the people reviewed by Duhem were virtually unknown except to a few specialists - Robert Grosseteste and Jean Buridan, Albert of Saxony and a 14th century Merton College Fellow named Swineshead - and their views on these matters largely unexplored until Duhem put the pieces together.

Do I agree with Duhem's thesis? I cannot say one way or another. What I do think is important, however, is understanding what people used to believe and think and teach. First of all, learning stuff like this is its own reward. More knowledge, no matter how seemingly trivial or irrelevant to many people, is always preferable to less. Second, considering the intensity of the debates, the fact that so much of late Scholasticism flowed from a series of condemnations of various pieces of Thomistic thought in 1277, it gives contemporary readers a perspective on our own controversies. Finally, how can we understand who we are if we have no idea of our roots?

These are the questions that interest me. This is why I'm wading through the dense sophistry and dialectic of late Scholasticism, rather than engaging in a shouting match over gay marriage (which is not to say I haven't posted a couple comments; rather, I have tried to change the subject). I have limited time and resources as it is, and I think it would be far better used exploring matters of interest to me, than playing a part in an internet set-piece whose structure and content I am already familiar with.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Name Dropping

In February, 1983, my brother was in an automobile accident. He spent close to three weeks in a hospital in Ithaca, NY. Of the many trips we made to Ithaca in that time, one was just my father and me. Dad could always fill the quiet of a forty-minute car ride with questions about classmates, talk of books, what-have-you. We reached a cross roads outside Ithaca and he broke in to a rare moment of nostalgia (unlike my mother, Dad really didn't talk a whole lot about his childhood, at least when I was under the age of 18; apparently he decided it was rated "R" or something . . .). "I remember hitchhiking down this road when I was in college," he said.

"Really," I said, being at that point in my life incapable of picturing a younger version of my father doing anything as remotely un-Dad-like as hitchhiking.

"A couple friends and I decided to go to Binghamton for a party. One of my friends had a friend there who lived with his parents, and they were away."

It was getting more interesting by the minute. A couple years later, having experienced a few college-age parties myself, I would understand even more what he was talking about.

The next question was more in the way of chatter on my part. "Do you remember who they were?"

"Well, the friend was Richard Deacon. We were hitching to Binghamton to go to Rod Serling's house for a party."

For the first, but not the last time in my life, I was quite literally speechless.

For those who may not remember the name, Richard Deacon played Dick Van Dyke's boss on his eponymous show. Rod Serling, well, if you don't know the name, you can stop reading now.

When my father graduated from Waverly High School in 1939, he received some money to study violin at an institute affiliated with Carnegie Hall in New York. When I started college - a bare few months after the aforementioned conversation - he told me that his father wanted him to go to Syracuse University and study journalism. He mentioned this because we had met one of the music performance professors at Alfred University, and Dad confessed to me that he had wanted me to study piano, then recounted his own struggles with his parents as a way of reminding both of us that being a parent includes letting our children make their own choices.

When he arrived in New York City, he ditched his fiddle and took up classes in theater. Since it was all paid for, it didn't really matter all that much, although it probably didn't please either George or Grace (he always referred to his parents by their first names). A tiny bit of his story from that time came to my attention several years later.

I was back at the homestead for a visit at some point in the early 1990's, and saw Dad was reading Kirk Douglas' memoir, Ragpicker's Son. He had a page toward the front of the book marked and since it wasn't hidden away somewhere, I checked out what it might be. Douglas was recounting his early time learning theater, and how cold his first year was. Being poor, he couldn't afford a proper jacket, and he writes in the book that another classmate of his, "Betty", gave him one. Betty would change her name in a couple years, impressing millions of American men when she says to Humphrey Bogart, "You know how to whistle, don't you? You put your lips together and blow." Apparently, Bogart was impressed, too, because he married her, only her name then was Lauren.

I asked Dad why he had marked that particular passage, and he gave me a funny look - angry? frustrated? ironic? - and said, "That was my coat." See, Dad's roommate at the time he was studying theater and acting was this really dirt-poor son of Russian immigrants. He decided to call himself Kirk. The only reason "Betty" spoke to this poor rag-picker's son at all was because he was friends with my father, with whom she was friendly (although he would tell me later that she was, well, let's just say an unpleasant person, highly ambitious, quite willing to discard some and latch on to others whom she felt might help her get what she wanted; when I told him that I thought she was among the more beautiful women in Hollywood from that era, he said she was even more beautiful in person).

At that point, I had known about my father's associations with all sorts of folks whose names were well-known. I had even known that he and the actor who would become Kirk Douglas had roomed together in New York during his first stretch of time living there. When my grandmother died in July, 1984, she left behind 95 years of collected mementos through which her three surviving children had to spend years sifting. Among them were more photos than you could shake a stick at. At home for Christmas break later that year, one night Dad was sitting in his usual chair, photos scattered about the living room in various piles. I asked if I could look at some of them - you always asked in my house before you touched anything - and he said, "Of course." I was glancing through some that appeared to be a group of young people sitting at a restaurant. One made me stop short, because in the picture was my grandmother - much younger, of course - sitting next to a young man with chiseled good looks, his dimpled chin recognizable immediately. It was then I learned about Dad's friendship with Kirk Douglas.

My grandparents suffered much less than many families during the Great Depression because my grandfather never lost his job. In 1931, when many people were abandoning the land, he bought a hundred acres and a house in Lockwood, NY, about seven miles north of Waverly. I think he did it because living in the big red house on Waverly Street had become intolerable to his wife, inconsolable after the death of their oldest son three years previously. My father's family was hardly wealthy, but having a job, farm hands, extra cash was a rare thing for far too many people at the time. Douglas, coming from extreme poverty and looking it, aroused a bit of pity on the part of my grandmother, who told my father to give him his, Dad's, old coat and she would buy him a new one. Thus the source of the coat which Douglas either misremembered coming from Lauren Bacall, or perhaps simply erased by father, who had not become a household name, from the record of his life.

The picture was from a party thrown by some of Dad's theater friends after he got out of the Army in 1946. He was struggling with the decision of either going back to New York or returning to Ithaca College and finishing his degree. He told our English class that his early experience in theater taught him how important education was; so many of the other young hopefuls around him had college degrees. He realized that he wouldn't make it unless he got some education, for the simple reason they got the better parts. He had hopped back and forth between New York and Ithaca between 1939 and 1945 when he entered the Army, with an autumn in Hollywood trying to get a studio contract. He ended up going to Ithaca, putting him on a road to that hitchhiking trip to Rod Serling's. Before then, though, he had a little party thrown for him, and someone took some pictures, including one of my grandmother sitting and laughing at a table with, among others Kirk Douglas.

In the late 1940's, after college but before he settled in to his decision to teach, he was back in New York City, the hub of early television. He did some work on Playhouse One and some of those other anthology shows. I remember him telling me about an appearance with Boris Karloff. Karloff was a Capt. Bligh type, with my father an equally unpleasant leader of a gang of mutineers. He told me he had to do the entire thing shirtless, his skin oiled and dirty to look tanned. The set was a cutaway of an old sailing ship, cramped, and extremely hot, he said.

He was in a summer company in Rhode Island in the 1950's that featured Eva Gabor (let's just say she was not well-liked by the company), Claude Rains ("Hark, I hear the Assyrians!"; my father missed his cue, having fallen asleep standing up backstage waiting for it, and Rains had to scream the line three time before he dashed on stage; he apologized to Rains after the performance, to which Capt. Renault replied, "That's OK, Dan. The show is a piece of shit, anyway.") It was there my father worked with an aging, but still vital, Mae West, laughing about the young "bodyguard" she dragged behind her on an invisible leash.

While I was growing up, my father did community theater work, summer stock at Bristol Valley Playhouse in Naples. In the early 1990's he landed the role of Sam Clemens' father-in-law at the Mark Twain musical drama in Elmira. Later he would work at Cider Mill Playhouse in Endicott, finally landing a part in the Caucasian Chalk Circle in Ithaca, probably the late-life role of which he was most proud (I remember hearing that he kissed another man full on the mouth in that show, not something light but a good old-fashioned snog, and thinking that his acting skills had to be top-notch; there are just some things I cannot picture my father doing, and that's four of them).

Both my parents led the most interesting lives before they met, married, and settled down to the impossible task of raising a family, and I had always wanted to live that same kind of life - living in all sorts of places, meeting interesting people - and now, looking back, I think I did. There is a part of me that has always been a little in awe of the life my father led before he ended up settling down, marrying my mother, spending the bulk of his working years teaching - the old Van Etten school, Sayre High School, Tioga Center High School, then Waverly High School, from 1964 until he retired in 1988 - with his summers spent in various locations doing odd jobs (mowing at a Christmas Tree farm outside Athens,PA has always been one my favorite jobs he did), working at a local furniture store, a hardware/automotive store. On this Father's Day, I just wanted to honor the life Daniel Safford led in the real passion of his life. Whether he ever was frustrated by not achieving the kind of recognition, not to mention financial independence, some of his acquaintances achieved I cannot answer; that's one of those questions I have always been afraid to ask him. All the same, more than anything else he did, I know Dad was always happiest under the lights, a crowd in front of him. I want to remember him that way.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. Love you.

Virtual Tin Cup

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