Thursday, February 25, 2010

Memories of Dr. Cerra

Frank is a very likable guy. Quick with the quip and the smile.

Very rapid responses to emails and he obviously reads his own.

Any time I've asked to see him, he's agreed. Even at 7 am.

Unfortunately I disagree with him on a lot of things. Just search for Cerra in this blog. I got 43 hits.

But I hope Frank has a happy retirement - he deserves it!

In his honor I repost a little story that appeared here some time ago - when the University of St. Thomas was considering starting a medical school:

Friday, July 6, 2007

Bonzo Nights or

A Midsommer Nights Dreame

Mr. Bonzo always has trouble getting a good night’s sleep on the Fourth of July. The firecrackers remind him of gunshots and wars, and people he knew long ago who died in battle unnecessarily. They still do.

This Fourth was no different except for a party featuring Filipino cuisine at the house of some friends, Tom and Andy. Maybe it was the cuisine or the pear cider or Mrs. Bonzo and the lovely Linda, but Bonzo, who rarely dreams, had a dream. Maybe it was a hallucination, who knows? Rough notes upon awakening needed to be sanitized and converted to what passes for Bonzo English.

Disclaimer: Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Tom and Andy, young brothers who have established an up-and-coming non-profit organization, enter the large industrial complex of Gopher Boat and Docks (GBD). They are here to visit their Uncle Frank and his business associate, Aunt Debby, in order to have lunch with them at the Village Walk, a nearby restaurant.

A guard escorts them to Uncle Frank’s big office in the Dock Rehab Building. Frank is the VP for R&D at GBD. Inside Uncle Frank and Aunt Debby have been engaged in a heated discussion about how to reverse the submarining fortunes of “the Docks” as they like to refer to their business.

Frank is sitting behind a computer, holding a Diet Coke in one hand, and a mouse in the other. “The Docks used to be a very good operation, we coulda been contenders, but lookaddis now, we’re number thirty-eight and sinking. Whadda we gonna do about dis, Debby, huh? Youse duh technical director of duh Docks division, howbout youse commin up wid a scheme dat puts us back up to, let's say for grins and giggles, number twenty. Our Prez has told duh stockholders dat duh company overall is going to be number tree in the woild. Ain’t dat a yuk? He knows that it will be difficult for Docks to go from thirty-eight to three, but can yuh have a work plan, as dem consultants like to say, by the foist of November? Twenty is about as lowball as we can get away with. After all, Legal is at twenty. Dey are tryin to make us look bad.”

Debby, gulped her Pepsi hard and responded: “Well of course I can do that Frank. As you know, for the right price, I can do anything. Why don’t I contact that consulting firm Frick and Frack? You know them, they’ve done a lot of work for us. They are an ethical consulting firm and their motto is: ‘We can help you justify anything short of larceny.’ I’m sure they can come up with just the plan to get us from thirty-eight to twenty in five years. They can also justify the numbers and come up with a laundry list of new buildings and personnel we need to give those bonzos over in Finance.”

Frank responds with a puzzled look: “Ah, Debby, don’t get all ethical on me. Do we have to use Frick and Frack? They are pansies. Always tellin us we can’t do stuff because we’ll get in trouble.”

To which Debby responded: “Now Frank, you know that we have been in trouble before with those folks from Not Invented Here. That was larceny and we can't do it again. Heads rolled over that one. You'll recall that my predecessor Goliath Black had to resign his Directorship and took a pasteurization position in the skunkworks. Talk about Scooter skating! Goliath was way ahead of his time. Occasionally you still see him skating around in his little white coat. At least Frick and Frack have kept us out of further trouble with Not Invented Here."

Frank, who has been busily integrating the discussion into his latest powerpoint presentation, replied: “Dats why I hired youse Debbie. Youse did not just fall off the turnip truck even though youse came from Kansas. Youse always knows the right consultants to finger. Managers here at The Docks need that skill. That’s why we are where we are today, doin what it is we do, thinkin creative and outtada box, marchin toward greatness, building new buildings, prioritizin our ambitious aspirations, followin da mission, followin da mission, followin da ..”

“Frank, Frank,” Debby said smiling and interrupting, “Your recording is stuck, turn it off and save it for those chumps over in Finance or maybe the dockworkers.” “You’re preaching to the converted, I know how to talk the talk and avoid walking the walk - just like you.”

“Like I said,” Frank replied, “dat’s why I hired youse.”

At this point Tom and Andy arrive and knock loudly.

“Uncle Frank, Uncle Frank, we’re here and ready to walk to the Walk.” said Tom in a loud voice.

“Come in, come in, youse two, I am just finishing up a business discussion wid your Aunt Debby. It's our general policy not to walk to the Walk, that's for the little people like youse, so howabouts we orders out. What would youse guys like? We usually have beluga and Veuve, but whadda youse guys want?” Frank graciously inquired.

“Well, Uncle Frank, our tastes are not quite as expensive as yours, if you don’t want to walk to the Walk, perhaps we could have your personal assistant or Aunt Debbie’s chief of staff phone it in? “ said Andy.

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Frank graciously responded, “I think I’ll have a General Tso’s chicken with a side of spaghet wid marinara. Howzabout you, Debbie?”

“I’m on a diet Frank, the Rochester diet, I’ll just have a yogurt and a round fruit.” said Debbie.

“And youse boys, youse are so hot to walk to the Walk, whaddaya want?” inquired Frank graciously.

“Well,” said Andy, “I know that Tom wants some Singapore curried noodles and I’d like some egg rolls and a cup of sweet and sour.”

“What’s wid you boys? Here youse has duh chance for a nice fancy lunch and you wimp out on us. You got to get up to duh piggy trough when youse got da opportunity. Youse knows the saying about lean years an fat years, capish?” Frank graciously responded. He then summoned his assistant, Teri, to phone in the orders.

“Well boys, while we’re waitin for the grub, you gots anyting on your little minds to talk about?” Frank inquired graciously. “Maybe youse would like a pop while we’re waitin, you know, chill duh pipes so we can make jubjub. Whadill it be? Coke or Pepsi? Ah boys, the eternal question. Youse knows I'm sort of a philosopher and thats one of the subjects I devote my freetime to contemplatin. Sortalike 'To be, or not to be?' By the way, I’d kinda 'preciate it if youse would keep it on the qt that we got Pepsi in here. Duh Docks is a Coke only establishment, but your Aunt Debbie here got a gig wid Pepsi and so she likes to have a can now and then.”

“Uncle Frank,” replied Tom, “you know that stuff is bad for you. Rots your teeth. You finally quit smoking and now you're into drinking pop. What kind of example is that for the children? And Aunt Debbie, what are you doing drinking the stuff. You should know better. With your new bionic parts, you’re in a lot better shape than Uncle Frank. “

“Actually, boys” responded Debbie, “I hate the stuff.” “But for a hundred grand I’ll take a swig now and then. Just like those non-smoking movie stars who will smoke in a film if the price is right. This reminds me, Frank, did you know the contract renewal for pop at the Docks is coming up? I was thinking of challenging the Prez to an arm-wrestling match. If I win it’s Pepsi, he wins - Coke. What do you think?”

“Now Debby, youse got tuh watch out. I know you’re feelin all perky with the new bionic parts, but you got to remember that Our Prez Ruby is a jock from way back. Why he was the captain of his high school crew. It breaks his heart that GBD keeps coming in last in the annual BoatWorks Regatta. He keeps muttering: ‘We’re number one, we’re number one.’ Besides youse godda watchout for conflict of interest. Howse would it look if we allasudden went over to Pepsi, with you on the board of directors and knockin down a hundred grand last year? I tink we butts out.”

Turning to Tom and Andy, Frank graciously said: “So like I was sayin, boys, whats on youse little minds?”

“Uncle Frank,” Tom responded, “As you know we have started a non-profit organization, The Alliance for Edisonian Studies. Our goal is to encourage people to fend for themselves, to learn new entrepreneurial techniques always of course in an ethical fashion. Unofficially we call our operation EthicsRUs. We even have the Tomb of the Unknown Entrepreneur on one of our campuses. You really ought to come over and see it. It’s quite a sight.”

“Well tank you boys, but I godda be frank with youse, pardone the little punyay. I hear rumors on the street that I don’t like... Something about you gettin into da ring with GBD. I’m sure this can't be true, right? This talk is all just a liddle misunderstanding?"

“Well, er, uh,” stammered Andy, "that’s why we are here today seeking your wise counsel about our plans for the future. We wouldn’t want to do anything without running it by you, Uncle Frank, so that’s why we wanted to see you.”

“I am flattered that youse bright boys would seek my wise counsel, but of course that’s the right thing for youse to do. Tiny brains consult big brains, capish? Anyting else would be, ah, not very smart and might lead youse to have a liddle, shall we say...accident?” responded Frank, graciously.

“Well Uncle Frank,” continued Tom, “we were thinking about starting up a little entrepreneurial operation in the, uh, canoe business.”

“WTF, Tommy” responded Frank graciously. “Yuh knows dat duh Docks turns out canoes. Yuh wouldn’t want to compete wid us. Dat might be dangerous to yer health. I wouldn’t want to have to worry about youse. Youse is my own flesh and blood.”

“But Uncle Frank,” Andy replied in a hopeful tone, “You’ve told us before that canoes are a minor piece of your action. The big dough is in yachts and destroyers, you said. Your researchers in the skunkworks are topnotch engineers and designers. Why you even told us that canoes are a nuisance. We’d be taking the burden of producing canoes away from you so that you can concentrate on big boats and make that R&D pay off. Maybe you could become the third largest operation in the world if you didn’t have to worry about the piddly stuff? How about it Uncle Frank?”

“The answer is no, boys. I am shocked, shocked dat youse would think I’d let you get away wid dis. First of all, building a canoe factory is going to cost youse a lot of money which you ain’t got. Second you would be duplicating existing facilities, and not only that but MY existing facilities. And third, as I said before, this would be dangerous to your health.” Frank graciously responded.

“But Uncle Frank,” Andy pleaded, “We were just over at Midwest Mountaineering and the canoes are flying off the shelves, except for the expensive Kevlar ones that you make. The low priced aluminum and polymer canoes are out of there as fast as they can bring them in. The manager told us that we could make a killing and that he could sell everything that we could produce. Also, we’ve found an old factory cheap that would allow us to get into the business pretty reasonably. So, how about it?”

“Boys, you harda hearing?" Frank graciously responded. “Building more canoes ain’t gonna solve the problem. We already got enough canoes. Since folks don’t buy our Kevlar canoes, then there’s obviously no canoe shortage. Let em paddle Kevlar or else shut up about this shortage. Besides, if we used the canoes we got in the right way, we wouldn’t need any more. Dat’s why we are where we are today, doin what it is we do, thinkin creative and outtada box, marchin toward greatness, building new buildings, prioritizin our ambitious aspirations..”

“So boys, I’ll leave youse wid someting to think about in your tiny liddle brains since youse asked me for my wise counsel. I tinks you should figure out a way solve this canoe problem. Notice that I said problem and not shortage. So why don’t you start turnin out what I’m gonna call canoe quarterbacks. Aint dat creative? But dat’s what I do, after all. Dat’s why all of the Docks reports to me, including your Aunt Debbie. Dats why dey call me da decider. Anyhoo, dese canoe quarterbacks can make sure that the canoes are being used efficiently so that this canoe problem goes away, capish?” Frank graciously asked.

“But Uncle Frank,” Tom replied, “There IS a canoe shortage and this quarterback stuff is just your typical blowoff. No one in their right mind would start a canoe quarterback school. What if we were to start building canoes specifically designed for children, how about that?”

“Nope,” responded Frank graciously, “We’se already in dat business and are building a new factory. Unfortunately there is another group of unethical thugs already in the business. Dey are ALSO building a new factory, so we sure as shootin don’t need you boys into da mix. “

“So Uncle Frank,” said Andy, “Does this mean you are duplicating the children’s canoe factory by building another one? You just told us that we shouldn’t build a canoe factory because that would duplicate your operation. Somehow this seems contradictory?”

“Nah, not at all boys,” Frank graciously responded. "I do a lotta readin. I'm a particular fan of Alice in Wonderland - dat's my favorite book. Somewhere in dere it says, and I'm gonna have to paraphrase: 'When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.' Don't youse guys ever forget dat. It's a powerful concept. Can get you outta lot of tight squeezes, shall we say."

“OK, boys, it's comin up on nap time, so I’ll make youse an offer youse can’t refuse, walk on over to the Walk and have your lunch there. Dat General Tso’s and spaghet wid marinara is on me. I’m gonna have my usual lunch of beluga and Veuve after my nap. Tink about whad I said and stop back when you have come to your senses. Don’t take too long to decide or I’ll have to send over my tailor, Angelo, to fit youse for Portland overcoats. Ha, ha, ha, boys. Don’t go all white and faint on me. That was just a little of my famous humor and good cheer, capish?” Frank graciously said while escorting Tom and Andy to the door.

Outside Tom and Andy walked to the Walk as the color slowly returned to their faces. “Wow, that was a close one” said Tom, “good thing we’ve already talked to Frick and Frack. They've run the numbers and we're in the canoe business. They’re also going to take out Angelo. Since that wouldn't be larceny, it's not against policy. It makes you feel proud to do business with consultants who believe in ethical behavior.”

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