Monday, March 26, 2012

I Went to the Animal Fair

Somewhere, buried deep within my early childhood memories is this nonsensical poem. I am still trying to make sense of it.

Animal Fair

I went to the animal fair,
The birds and the beasts were there,
The big baboon by the light of the moon
Was combing his auburn hair.
The monkey bumped the skunk,
And sat on the elephant's trunk;
The elephant sneezed and fell to his knees,
And that was the end of the monk!

The monk!
Monk seal, from wikipedia*

What's the Monk?

The monk, a seal from Hawaii,
That swims in the mighty ocean sea.
He smiles for the camera,
but brother I'll tell ya,
Life is not all lobsters and squid.

There are nets to avoid,
And marine debris
that clogs the briny sea.
What's more,
I have been hunted, for sure.
'Til I am nearly extinct.

I wish I had been born a mink.
Not a monk!

Hawaiian monk seals live remotely in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The island of Midway is included in this group. Hawaiians call the seal `Ilio holo I ka uaua, which means, "dog that runs in rough water." Read more.

I imagine the anonymous author of The Animal Fair was a seafaring man who traveled the world from Africa to Asia and in between. I hope that he didn't hunt for Monk seals.

* Image of Monk seal from Wikipedia. Photo by Kent Backman of Monachus schauinslandi (Hawaiian Monk Seal) underwater at Five Fathom Pinnacle, Hawaii, 2009.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Scent of a Woman

Scent of a Woman - remember the 1992 film that tells the story of a preparatory school student who takes a job as an assistant to an irascible, blind, medically retired Army officer? It stars Chris O'Donnell as the student and Al Pacino as the cranky retired Army officer. It is a remake of the 1974 Italian movie Profumo di donna.

Movies imitate life. And Movies are about a lot of things, as is life. Surely, this movie was about a coming of age moment for Charlie Simms, Chris O'Donnell's character. Friends, teachers, code of honor, success, and all that. But simultaneously the movie deals with the emotional issues surrounding Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, Pacino's character. Blind and useless to anyone, he tackles life's most basic issue, to be or not to be.

Who can forget the memorable weekend visit of Charlie and Lt. Col. Slade to New York City? The stay in the Waldorf Astoria? The tango? "Whooyaa." And, of course, Slade - yes blind Slade - in a crazy testosterone driven drive in a Ferrari through the streets of New York City? Slade depending on Charlie for directions. Charlie quaking in his seat, Slade relishing the thrill. Slade begins speeding, attracting the attention of a police officer, who Slade manages to appease without giving away his blindness.

Management is all about direction and decision. Managers give direction and, in return, depend on others for direction. Managers make decisions that often mean life or death for a business. And business is just a fast Ferrari speeding through the narrow streets of New York. And whether the business crashes or not depends on the communication between driver and passenger.

As a manager, I often feel like Lt. Col. Frank Slade's character. Blind and out of control I make decisions depending on the direction that I get from those who are along for the ride. Employees are sometimes afraid to speak. Afraid of offending or saying the wrong thing. Afraid of being blamed for the crash that may come when things get out of control. Instead, it is safer to sit in the passenger seat quietly and gaze out the window.

Life is for the most part all about others. Whether we want it that way or not, we depend on others.

Managers know that. And blind Slade understood it best. Throughout the movie, Slade directed and yet was moved along by others. Just for fun, here is a scene from the movie. The music is Carlos Gardel's tango Por una Cabeza, danced by Slade and a charming companion portrayed by Gabrielle Anwar.

Don't forget the memorable line that Pacino delivers when O'Donnell's character tries to order a beer from a suspicious waiter. "Schlitz, no Schlitz, Blatz, no Blatz, improvise." That's another life lesson.