Thursday, February 21, 2002

End Runs

Prediction: Disclosure fever prompted by the Enron scandal will subside.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 21, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Now that Enron has gone bankrupt and is having its dirty linen aired before Congress, disclosure is all the rage.

Disclosure will expose the secret dealings of corporate executives. Disclosure will prevent future Enrons. Disclosure will make corporate accounting and financial statements "transparent" so that investors can prosper. Disclosure will make public corporations and their boards of directors more accountable.

Bull.

Message to any corporate executive who is actually sweating this stuff: Relax. The fever will subside. Your salaries, stock options, and sweetheart deals are safe. Everything will be pretty much as it was.

All disclosure, like all politics, is local. What matters in Memphis is not what The New York Times, The Washington Post, or CBS Evening News says. What matters is what appears in the pages and programs of our local news outlets.

On that score, consider a few of the local financial stories that have not made the daily news.

There was the Edward S. Lampert story. Lampert is a money manager. You would think that a nice-looking 39-year-old guy who acquires almost one-third of the stock in AutoZone (our second-largest corporation), bullies his way onto the board of directors, forces the board to bring in new management (which jacks the stock price from $28 to $75 in one year), puts on a red sweater (good visuals), and sits in front of a roomful of employees and stockholders at the open-to-the-public annual meeting on Front Street, Memphis, U.S.A., might be news. But you would be wrong.

A couple of years ago, Tom Garrott and some other executives at National Commerce Bancorporation fixed themselves a nice little $26 million compensation package when the bank merged with another in North Carolina. It was known as a golden bungee cord, because, unlike a golden parachute, the execs got to keep their jobs. All the details were spelled out in the proxy statement. Some stockholders and old geezers at the North Carolina bank were pretty upset. But barely a word of it appeared in the daily news or the local business press.

Nonprofit organizations play a huge role in Memphis. Nonprofits are not just about widows and orphans and floods and food baskets for the needy. Memphis Country Club is a nonprofit. Rhodes College is a nonprofit. The Memphis Development Foundation which runs The Orpheum is a nonprofit. The Memphis Redbirds Baseball Foundation is a nonprofit.

Congress and IRS make nonprofits disclose their tax forms. It says so right on the front page: This form shall be open to public inspection. If you're a respectable news organization, you're supposed to take a look once in a while. But don't tell our local news hawks. It isn't news that a nonprofit can spend nearly twice as much on two salaries as it does on program services or that a nonprofit executive can make twice as much as the mayor of Memphis for running a theater or that a small-college president can make more than any of his peers or that nonprofit boards can be as chock-full of friends and neighbors and cronies and buddies as the boards of some of our local corporations.

Every year public corporations publish something called a proxy statement. It lists the salaries, stock options, and lots of other interesting stuff about the top executives and the way they run the business. Any local news organization that devotes time or space to the Enron story without giving equal or greater time to trying to clearly summarize and present the same details about local executives and corporations should have its press pass revoked.

Tunica is about to celebrate the 10th anniversary of riverboat gaming in Mississippi. This week one local television station weighed in with a breathless feature about the wonderful things that happened to Tunica. Gosh, you wouldn't think $4 million a month in casino taxes for a county with a stable population of 10,000 people would do that, would you? Was there one word about anything besides jobs and new buildings? In a word, no.

Disclosure is only part of the story. What really matters is agenda-setting, which is a fancy way of saying you're supposed to put the good stuff out where people can see it. That goes for corporations, nonprofits, and the Memphis media. CEOs can be candid and up-front about their financials or they can couch information in jargon or gibberish or bury it in the back of a proxy statement or footnote. The media can dig it out or demand it or opt for pablum and national stories. No one is excused. Weeklies and monthlies have the luxury of time. Dailies and broadcasters have the benefit of immediacy and hours of air time.

The Internet has done wonders for disclosure. Documents are easier to access. Experts and soreheads are easier to find. Message boards are full of scuttlebutt. National papers like The New York Times and The Washington Post are free and full of great stories.

But you, readers and viewers, shouldn't have to go there. You should eat at home and demand some meat in your diet.

Friday, February 15, 2002

Enron: The Local Angle

Morgan to industry: disclose; Morgan to investors: pay attention.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 15, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Allen Morgan Jr. is CEO of Morgan Keegan and 2002 chairman of the Securities Industries Association (SIA). As chairman of the trade association, one of his jobs is promoting public trust and confidence in the industry. In the wake of Enron's collapse, he agreed to a question-and-answer session with The Memphis Flyer.

Flyer: There's a perception that Enron and other companies treat accounting rules the way they treat tax laws: If it isn't expressly forbidden, it's okay. What do you say?

Morgan: I am not an expert in accounting, so I think it is difficult for me to comment. I do think that by and large U.S. companies are managed with honesty and a commitment to ethical principles. If they deceive investors, investors will sell their holdings, resulting in the company's demise.

What is your personal reaction to the Enron officers now appearing before Congress?

I think the collapse of Enron, based on news reports, resulted from errors in accounting. I think it is too early to tell who was at fault, and I would not want to speculate on who was responsible and who wasn't. I think Enron is causing Capitol Hill and the regulators, particularly Security and Exchange Commission chairman [Harvey L.] Pitt, to ask a lot of tough questions about accounting practices, disclosure obligations, and the oversight system that is supposed to protect investors against fraud.

What is the industry doing to shore up public trust and confidence?

Over the last six years the industry, through the SIA, has been monitoring the concerns of investors, and it has found that the public's trust and confidence in our industry and our capital markets remain strong. An SIA survey last November found that 91 percent of investors remained satisfied with their brokers' services, down from 94 percent in 2000.

That said, the industry's highest priority remains public trust and confidence. In response to Enron, the industry supports the efforts of Pitt to improve the integrity of the financial-disclosure and accounting system. Disclosure is a critical part of the success of our financial markets. The financial information about companies must be reliable. Those responsible for ensuring the accuracy and clarity of the financial information a company provides must be held accountable for their work.

Do research analysts work hand in hand with their firm's investment bankers, and is that not an inherent conflict of interest?

The best practice of the industry is to have in place policies and procedures that ensure the integrity of research. This means research should not report to investment banking or any other business unit that may compromise its integrity. It also means that an analyst's pay should not be directly linked to specific investment-banking transactions, sales and trading revenues, or asset-management fees but should reflect all aspects of job performance. Recommendations should be transparent and consistent.

Here at Morgan Keegan, we've always maintained independence between our analysts and bankers. The analysts don't check with investment banking prior to making ratings changes, and they don't recommend stocks based on banking involvement. Our analysts are not directly compensated for referring potential clients to investment banking. Their compensation is based on the performance of their stocks and their contributions to the overall success of the equity division.

Should analysts be allowed to invest in companies they cover?

That has been a decision that each firm has made. On the one hand, allowing analysts to own stock in the companies they know and believe in makes sense. On the other hand, it may create the appearance of a conflict of interest. That's why I think disclosure will work. If a firm and its analysts disclose in research reports their financial interest, the investor reading the report will understand clearly that the firm and its analysts are committing their own capital behind that company.

Morgan Keegan's research analysts are permitted to invest in the stocks they follow subject to certain stipulations. Our long-standing policy requires that analysts must wait a full business day after publishing a report or ratings change before taking any personal action on a stock. Also, our analysts are restricted from selling any stock with an "outperform" rating until they lower the rating and wait 24 hours. These policies ensure that our clients have the first opportunity to purchase or divest stocks we follow.

Should analysts and brokerage-firm executives be allowed to buy private stock in companies that they later plan to take public and recommend, as Morgan Keegan did with Crossroads Systems and other companies? (Note: In 1999, Morgan Keegan insiders bought private stock in Crossroads Systems at $10, took it public at $18, and watched it soar to $98 the first day of trading. It traded recently at $4.50. So-called lock-up rules may restrict the ability of insiders to sell stock for certain lengths of time.)

I'm of the view that if an analyst or a firm wants to commit their own capital to help a company build to the point where they can be taken public, that is a good thing. You're providing the capital that finances entrepreneurism, that enables an innovator to take an idea and make it into a viable business that improves the speed of a computer, the development of new drugs that treat cancer, and the safety of automobiles. That is what has made our country the unique and astonishing success that it has been.

Is it realistic for ordinary investors to plow through hundreds of pages of disclosure documents? Is there a better way?

Disclosure is a remedy. I think you are seeing a change in the industry to make that disclosure easier to understand and more readily accessible. As one Supreme Court justice put it, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."

As to investors, they have a responsibility too, and that means they should be doing their homework, educating themselves, asking questions, and understanding for themselves their financial goals, willingness to take risk, and savings strategies.

How can your industry do a better job of assuring small investors that they're getting a fair shake when they buy stocks?

Each firm knows their success or failure is based upon the quality and success of the advice they provide to their clients. If a client is unhappy, that client is going to close out their account and walk down the street to a competitor.

Thursday, February 7, 2002

A New Player

Memphis Athletic Ministries matches inner-city and suburban youth through sports.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2002 at 4:00 AM

When it comes to youth sports, the haves have never had it so good.

The area's best private and suburban high school facilities rival the ones at some small colleges. Megaplexes like the Mike Rose Soccer Fields and Snowden Grove baseball diamonds are among the best in the country. Competitive athletes can find a team, a league, and a school to suit their abilities from the time they're 7 or 8 years old. Their parents will move heaven, earth, and a large SUV to get them there.

The have-nots, lacking in either ability or money or both, have never been so overmatched. Promising kids get recruited, for want of a better word, to elite teams and schools. Or they find their own way. The stay-behinds often get smacked, that is, if they can muster a team at all. The prep scores in the daily paper record the carnage. Sixty-point margins in basketball. Losing teams scoring fewer than 10 points. Soccer scores that look like lopsided football scores. Baseball and softball, mercifully, have a "slaughter rule" that can end games after three innings. You can bet it will be exercised many times this spring.

The Memphis Athletic Ministries hopes to level the playing field a bit.

Last year, MAM involved over 2,500 boys and girls from 226 teams in basketball, soccer, and baseball. With private backing, it is refurbishing an abandoned nine-hole golf course at the Defense Depot and building a new gym and outdoor athletic complex on Ball Road between the Defense Depot and the airport. Two similar sports complexes, each costing in excess of $2 million, will be developed in other lower-income neighborhoods that have not been announced yet.

Its board includes University of Memphis basketball coach John Calipari, Memphis Grizzlies part-owner Staley Cates, former pro athletes Kyle Rote, Reggie Williams, and Elliott Perry. But the guts of the program are directors like Lee Cummings, Howard Eddings, Roger Maness, Larry Lloyd, and Gib Vestal who, while unknown to most Memphians, are familiar names in Memphis youth sports from their work with churches and community centers.

Vestal left his job as an investment banker at Morgan Keegan for 17 years to become president of MAM a little over a year ago. He has been a volunteer coach for nearly 30 years, mainly in basketball, which is the flagship sport of MAM and runs nine months a year.

"It wasn't lost on us that basketball is the major lifeblood of this community," he says.

Soccer and baseball were selected because of the ease of entry, low cost, and attractiveness to kids of all ages and sizes. The mix of basketball with two traditionally white sports also fits MAM's mission of linking suburban and inner-city churches. About 60 percent of MAM's teams come from Christian churches, the rest from schools and sports organizations. The churches have the gyms and, sometimes, the playing fields. At four of the older churches, MAM has agreed to invest in gym improvements in exchange for access to unused court time.

Like other parents, MAM's directors wrestled with the question of how competitive they should be. They opted not to take the bend-over-backward approach of leagues that have banned score-keeping altogether. But they try to even up the teams by matching kids by ability instead of age groups in basketball and moving them up or down if they consistently win or get creamed by more than 10 points. Except for the winter season, there are no tournaments and no ultimate winners.

"Just playing games is a hard concept," Vestal says. "One team won all 18 of its games and the kids were asking, 'Where are our trophies?' Well, there were no trophies."

One coach got suspended for a game because he lost his temper.

"He was acting like what he has seen on TV," says Vestal. "We talked to him about it. We try to change people, not just kick them out. The root of what we're doing is not sports, it's character and spiritual development."

Scheduling is a problem. One of MAM's goals is to utilize resources to the fullest, especially gyms. The haves have cars and carpools. The have-nots have vans and buses. Lining them up now occupies Vestal's time the way financing deals did a few years ago.

MAM is an explicitly Christian program.

"MAM believes that athletics can serve as a 'hook' to attract children to its programs to enhance the child's life with educational and Christian spiritual training," according to its program description.

As it partners with public parks, community centers, and possibly public schools, it may find itself navigating church-and-state issues as well. And its fund-raising could compete in some cases with agencies such as United Way which have no specific religious mission.

Churches have been the backbone of recreational youth sports for decades in Memphis, playing a role once filled by community centers and the Memphis Park Commission for older generations. They have too many human and physical resources not to. The excesses of competitive sports, the bad behavior of coaches and players and fans, and the lifestyles of today's parents accelerate the trend. MAM could be around for a long time.

Hookin' Up

A guide to getting what you really want for Valentine's Day.

Posted on Thu, Feb 7, 2002 at 4:00 AM

So for the last six months you've been sitting at home on Saturday, watching ABC's "Big Picture" show, darning your socks, and wondering where all the honeys are. Believe us, we understand. Been there, done that.

But there's hope for all of us. We're not guaranteeing anything, but just think of the Web as a 24/7 convenience store of cuties. Post a personal ad online and you won't have to worry about missing your soulmate because you left the party early. Once your ad is up, you can either sit back and wait or let your fingers do the walking.

To put Internet dating to the test, the Flyer solicited the help of several singles. These brave souls submitted their own ads -- and surfed the ads of others -- in hopes of finding someone to spend Valentine's Day with. With only one week to go before the big day, here is their advice on Internet dating and unconventional real-world romance.

DAY 1: Get a Leg Up

Nerve.com is the Internet's premier online dating hot spot -- or at least it's the one we used. It's simple, but beware -- Nerve has no use for cowards. If you want to browse the ads you've got to post one yourself, which means filling out the questionnaire.

The questions are fairly probing and somewhat humiliating. Example: "(fill in the blank) is sexy; (fill in the blank) is sexier." All that's missing are cheesy Herb Alpert background tunes and a voice asking, "Bachelor number one, If you were a ferocious, carnivorous beast, what would be your favorite place to make whoopie?" Nevertheless, once you've posted your ad and gotten past all the self-loathing the task provokes, you'll find that you're not alone in your embarrassment. Case in point: Under the "My most humiliating moment " question, a staggering number of online posters wrote, "Right now."

Here are a couple of tips: Post a picture with your ad. If you don't include a picture, don't expect any responses. And don't post any annoying cartoon drawings in lieu of a photo. You may think the drawing makes you seem clever, but to the online dating consumer it will only be seen as the act of someone whose looks are suspect. The Internet is a harsh, shallow, and impatient place. It's okay to be less-than-hot; it's not okay to expect anyone to give you a chance if you don't put your face on the line.

Which brings us to what you should put online. On Nerve, one question asks what you're looking for in a relationship -- friendship, dating, a long-term relationship, or play. Play, as one of our participants discovered after posting an ad saying she was looking for it, is adult-type fun. If you say you're interested in Play, people who are passing through town may write you in hopes that you, and not a chambermaid, will freshen their towels.

A good rule of thumb on the Net is to be what you want. If you want someone intelligent, at least try to sound intelligent. If you want someone to laugh with, cut up a little in your ad. And even if you really are only looking for a little hide-and-seek, you don't have to spell it out in graphic detail. Have some self-respect. One of the saddest ads we saw was a woman who wrote that the reason to get to know her was she was "really good at giving blow jobs." Even if you have no other redeeming traits, geez, try to keep some of the mystery alive.

DAY 2: Get Busy

The responses are rolling in and you're clicking on the vaguely descriptive screen names of your respondents ("johnboywalton," "moanshine1," "slow_and_low, spectateur") to check out their ads. Some are an obvious no. Take "scales" for example: This 37-year-old Hoboken, N.J., native posed with his guitar and without his shirt, revealing thick whirlpools of black chest hair -- a perfect complement for his Tony Iommi Black Sabbath coif.

True, the photo rule worked against "scales" but it doesn't take a Vogue editor to know that if you haven't updated your look (or shaved your chest) since 1986, a pic that's not too revealing is your best bet.

If you didn't post a picture (and your love match didn't either), you could find yourself in the same trap as one Memphis dater. After communicating online with a would-be soul-mate who also lived in Memphis, he decided to initiate an in-person meeting. Only when he arrived for the rendezvous did he discover that the soul-mate was a co-worker -- and a co-worker he hated, no less.

DAY 3: Get Picky

It's Day Three and you've gotten some serious bites on your line. It's time to see which fish are too small to keep and which ones you're going to try to reel in.

You've got "new kid in school" cachet and you're not getting any work done because the IG (Instant Gratifier -- Nerve's answer to instant messaging) keeps blinking to say you've got a new suitor. Slow down, Hot Pants. Now's no time to get easy. You don't want to waste your time chatting with a zero (remember, there are only four days left). It's time to get picky -- and ruthless.

The upside to online personals is you don't have to keep telling the 45-year-old divorcée at the bar that you really don't want to go back to her place. You don't have to send any drinks back or say, "It's not you, it's me." If someone doesn't sound, or look, like your type, all you have to do is ... nothing. It's guilt-free rejection.

Read the ads carefully. One of our daters was absolutely smitten with one fellow, so she responded. But on further inspection of his ad she noticed one well-hidden detail -- he was married and just looking for a little side dish.

Others try to hide their real age. Be wary of someone who places broad parameters in the age field. Example: Another dater got a response from "sexy42" who said he was looking for someone between the ages of 18 and 65. We're all about staying open-minded, but really -- that's just creepy. Equally disturbing, another fellow, whose headline description was "pro bank robber and pussy worshipper," posted a picture of himself posed with his approximately 4-year-old daughter. How, umm, touching? Ugh.

Remember that the person online could be anyone: serial murderer, Brad Pitt, someone you know. If you are trying to meet someone in your city, you no doubt know some of the same people. It's not exactly six degrees of Kevin Bacon; more like two degrees of online dating.

Need horrifying proof? One of our intrepid online daters was contacted by an employee of a certain local daily newspaper. Said employee graciously backed out -- which was probably smart, considering this article -- after learning the true identity of the dater.

Another thing to consider on Day Four is face time. Some of our daters found that people were more likely to respond to their ad while they were actually browsing the personals. Did it have anything to do with the blinking light next to their ad that signified they were online? Who knows? The point is: the more time you spend online, the better.

DAY 4: Get Cash

Money may not buy you love, but it will buy you credits, and on Nerve without credits you get no satisfaction. The site lets you browse others' ads to your little heart's content, but if you wanna chat with that fine fox it's gonna cost you. By entering those magical digits on your favorite credit card, you can buy credits -- your pass to that virtual tunnel of love. The credits allow you to contact your wanna-be-sweetie by e-mail or by instant gratifier.

Now let's say you're just above the poverty level or saving for a new couch. You could either wait and let all the beautiful babies come to you or you could call them "collect." If you wait and they contact you, you get a free ride into the aforementioned tunnel; they're picking up the tab.

The collect option is an interesting one; all you, as the "collect caller," can do is click on one of several choices, things such as: "I liked your ad. Look at mine and then write me back." And that makes things complicated. One of our daters got a "collect call" from someone she described as "perfect; he's perfect, in every way." He had clicked on the generic "I liked your ad" option so she checked his out and decided she liked his ... a lot. We practically had to use a bath towel to wipe the drool from her mouth. She desperately wanted to write him, meet him, and have his babies, but one problem ... she didn't have any credits. Soon enough, she convinced herself that with his movie-star good looks and financial-broker mind, he must be a "ringer," someone sent from Nerve to con people into buying more credits. Now, had she ponied up the money, she could be touching his washboard abs right now, but she didn't. So she's not. All because she's a cheapskate.

If you are really strapped for cash, there is a way to foil the system. However, Nerve doesn't recommend it. If you include contact information such as your phone number or an e-mail address, possible Casanovas can romance you while bypassing Nerve entirely. That's the upside. The downside? People can bypass Nerve to get in touch with you ... and in this computer-generated world, it's sort of the equivalent of writing, "For a good time" and your number on a bathroom wall. The best solution to save other people some dough -- they still have to come to you, after all -- is to set up a Hotmail account or some other free e-mail provider before joining Nerve and giving out that address.

DAY 5: Get Creative

Now it's time to update your ad a bit. Just as you wouldn't let yourself languish at the bar, you can't let your ad languish in the big bin of personals. You don't have to change much; the ads are listed with the most recently submitted ones first. So, just by re-submitting it you'll be at the top of the list again and will attract more attention and responses.

One of our daters was trying to update her ad when her computer crashed and the ad was saved with the exact same information she had used before but was moved to the top of the list. The next day she got several new responses. Another dater took a much more aggressive approach, changing her headline from "Bored Girl Writes Personal Ad" to "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers." This change resulted in 10 responses on the first day.

There are people who cruise through the Nerve lists daily, so they may have seen your ad a few times before but were not intrigued enough to respond. Consider, as Emeril Lagasse says, "kicking it up a notch." Add a little steam to your questionnaire answers and you could find yourself with a fresh crop of potential dates.

But if updating yourself online doesn't seem to be doing the trick, it's probably time to get more creative with your real-life approach. Last week's Flyer is an indication of the lengths some are willing to go when traditional methods fail. A back-page ad was taken out by "10 Fabulous Women" who were sick of waiting quietly for Mr. Right to come riding up. We're not suggesting that everyone take out an ad in the Flyer (of course, our advertising department wouldn't mind) but now is the time to think outside of the box.

If your creative juices aren't flowing, try using a real-life dating service like Lunch for Two. These "hearthunters" set up lunch introductions for upscale professional adults. An initial 90-minute appointment with the service includes a psychological profile, completion of an interest questionnaire, and a detailed information sheet (to weed out the ax murderers). Questions cover areas such as finances, intellect, and education. Subjects such as religion and children are also important. The information is processed and five or six compatibility matches are usually found. Clients choose from the matches and a blind lunch is set up at an area restaurant. After chatting it up over chicken and pasta, the client must report back to the Lunch for Two czarinas, Darcy Winters and Dee Conn. If this person sucked like the sound of an oncoming tornado, not to worry. The company provides up to three introductions in its $200 Cupid Special.

But be warned, this service is not for the faint of heart. A match for you could take a long time, so drop the act and broaden your parameters.

Day 6: Get Physical

By now you've (hopefully) found a few possibilities online -- or somewhere. With one day to go, there's no time for idle chatter, you've got to turn up the heat. If you want that anonymous somebody to stop being so damned anonymous, you've got to make yourself more enticing. What you're shooting for is breezy and flirty but definitely interested. Stop chatting about what you do for a living and the kind of music you like and turn the conversation to something much more memorable. It's time to get a little dirty.

So when the person on the other end of the keyboard types, "You're really great to chat with," respond with "Thanks, but I'm much better in person." Do not, however, cross the cyber-sex divide. If you notice your chat-mate is moving into porno territory, put the brakes on. This is much easier than you might think. If he/she types, "Where are your hands right now?" you can kill the mood by simply responding, "On the keyboard, moron" and then signing off. See? Easy.

Back in the real world, you're almost out of time. You can't afford pride anymore. It's time for last resorts. This is when you have to get physical, and by that we mean -- you have to go to the gym.

Whoa, Body By Jake. We know it's too late for you to get in shape. If you wanted to use your stunning physique to attract the opposite sex you should have started around Thanksgiving. But the gym may be your last chance to find a date.

We've found the downtown YMCA, the Poplar/Highland French Riviera Spa, and the Cordova World Gym to be particularly effective "meat markets." The French Riviera is so aware of its reputation that the club has taken to posting signs on the walls stating that women must work out with their entire chests covered. Sadly -- or happily, depending on your point of view -- the policy hasn't exactly been scrupulously enforced.

If you are so averse to the gym that you won't go there even to meet people, try going retail. Want a man who knows how to use his hands? Head on over to the Home Depot. Our daters have been there several times -- strictly on home-improvement runs -- and have had some nice chats. Want a woman who plays the guitar? I'm hearing Amro Music in your future. But for one-stop shopping, don't underestimate the power of the mega-bookstore. Do what you've got to do. There's only one day left.

Day 7: Get Trashed

If our little dating experiment didn't work out for you, well, we're sorry, but we never said satisfaction was guaranteed. The dating world is full of Mr. and Ms. Wrongs. Which is why, if you can face one of your own past Wrongs, you should stage a Valentine's Day "Trash or Treasure" party. Everyone brings their exes, the ones that they couldn't make it work with, in the hopes that someone else will see something in them they like and a trade can be brokered. You couldn't stand the way your ex picked her teeth at the table? Maybe your slob friend won't mind so much. Your trash could be someone else's treasure.

Sure there will be complications -- jealousy or possibly a love octagon -- but at the very least, you get to go to a party instead of sitting at home wondering which restaurants deliver and watching HGTV.

Mary Cashiola has a relationship advice column on The Memphis Flyer's Web site; Janel Davis conned her mate into matrimony last year; and Rebekah Gleaves watches Blind Date a lot.


You Don't Send Me Flowers

How to put a song -- or 20 -- in your Valentine's heart.

by Chris Herrington

You can keep your candies and flowers. Like the protagonist in Nick Hornby's novel (and John Cusack's movie) High Fidelity, I've always subscribed to the notion of courtship by mix tape. With that in mind, here are 10 matching pairs of songs -- some you know, some you've probably never heard of -- that could put your noble romantic pursuit over the top.

10. "Then He Kissed Me" -- The Crystals/"Be My Baby" -- The Ronettes: Phil Spector's two greatest "little symphonies for teenagers" convey the youthful thrill of new love in a manner nothing in contemporary teen pop can comprehend.

9. "I Will Dare"/"Favorite Thing" -- The Replacements: The first two songs on this American indie band's 1984 album Let It Be. The first is post-punk Prufrock -- frontman Paul Westerberg measures his life in cigarette butts, but he answers T.S. Eliot's eternal question in the affirmative, daring to disturb the universe if only The Girl will meet him somewhere -- anywhere -- tonight. The sloppy sugar-rush of "Favorite Thing" is the thrilling sound of misfits reaching for the brass ring. It's mighty sweet when the boys croon, "You're my favorite thing" in unison on the "bridge," but is there anything more romantic than hearing these born losers chanting at the end -- to themselves? to the girl in question? -- "Think big!/Think big!"?

8. "Think It Over" -- Lou Reed/"Question" -- The Old 97's: Wedding proposal songs that totally avoid sap and sentimentality, which is probably why they're so obscure. Both are also, understandably, wary and nervous. Reed's protagonist wakes his intended early in the morning with an offer to mull over; the Old 97's' takes her for a long walk in the park with the message, "Someday somebody's gonna ask you/A question that you should say yes to/Once in your life/Maybe tonight I've got a question for you."

7. "I Want To Hold Your Hand" -- The Beatles/"I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" -- The Ramones: Gleefully romantic doppelgangers, issued roughly a decade apart. Proof that simple guitars and modest proposals can often say more than flowery prose.

6. "You Send Me" -- Sam Cooke/"This Magic Moment" -- The Drifters: No music is more romantic than classic soul, because no other music had singers so capable of consistently finding the life in often banal lovey-dovey lyrics. But on these two great singles, elegant lyrics are put over by even more elegant singers. Sam Cooke may be the only vocalist ever for whom the old line about "singing the phonebook" really applied, and the Drifters' Ben E. King uses his deliberate, delicate phrasing to find the romantic drama in Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman's great song.

5. "Let's Get It On" -- Marvin Gaye/"You Said Something" -- PJ Harvey: Before and after. Gaye's epic is, of course, pop's most convincing sexual come-on. But Harvey's lesser-known gem may be the music's finest depiction of the cliché "post-coital glow." Like Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie's great lovemaking scene in Don't Look Now, sex here is a marvelous memory, as Harvey lingers with her lover on a Brooklyn rooftop.

4. "Don't Worry Baby" -- The Beach Boys/"When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" -- Sam and Dave: Because love isn't all hearts and roses, here are two impossibly delicate hymns of romantic reassurance, from two acts unrivaled for the vocal care that went into their records.

3. "My Heart's Reflection" -- Yo La Tengo/"If I Could Build My Whole World Around You" -- Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell: Yo La Tengo is no household name, but over the course of the band's decade-plus career Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley have made their successful marriage Topic A and have produced more meaningful music on the subject than anybody in rock history. Over the prettiest guitar noize you'll ever hear, Kaplan wraps sex and love and commitment into one big, bold thing, while Hubley pushes it along with her insistent Sister-Ray beat. Gaye and Terrell were never married, of course, but as the greatest duet team rock and soul has ever known, they offered a similar sonic testament to romantic give-and-take, and "If I Could Build My Whole World Around You" makes this feat explicit.

2. "Valentine's Day" -- Bruce Springsteen/"If I Was Your Girlfriend" -- Prince: These two records have nothing in common except their singularity. Springsteen's simultaneously frightening and invigorating essay on marital commitment may be the most profoundly adult love song that the kiddie music known as rock-and-roll has ever produced; Prince's gender-swap may just be the most profound. On the former, the man who was "born to run" just races to get home. The key to the genius of the latter is that it isn't just a simple gender switch -- he doesn't want to be his girlfriend, he wants to be his girlfriend's close female friend and to share in the easy intimacy that exists between women. "Would you run to me if somebody hurt you?/Even if that somebody was me?" he asks, then they get down to business -- and imagine what silence looks like.

1. "I've Been Loving You Too Long" -- Otis Redding/"For Your Precious Love" -- Jerry Butler and the Impressions: Possibly the two most monumental soul ballads in the proud history of the form, these yearning, pleading, loving testaments admit to a pain the other songs on this list don't really touch, but that only makes their expressions of ardor more intense. The latter's churchy gravity and waltz-like tempo made it the perfect choice as the processional to my wedding; I wore out a vinyl copy of the former in high school, just to hear, over and over again, Redding's slight pause after the first syllable. These records are cathedrals -- play them loud.

Friday, February 1, 2002

Future Tense?

Consolidation questions, and other matters.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 1, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Hanging questions in the wake of Mayor Willie Herenton's recent presentation about consolidation of city and county government:

The proposal was notable for what was left out. The mayor recycled the idea of unified law enforcement, fire departments, and parks and recreation departments. But if consolidation is vital to the future well-being of greater Memphis, there are two government operations that by definition are all about the future.

So what about public schools and the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Planning and Development (OPD)?

The pat answer on schools has two parts: maintain city and county boundaries and implement single-source funding.

What do they mean? A single source of funds for each district, like a married couple with two checking accounts? Or a single source of funds for both districts? And what about state and federal funds (which both systems receive)? The phrase single-source funding is widely bandied about and even more widely misunderstood, which is a bad sign.

Separate boundaries? Richard Fields, attorney for plaintiffs in the city and county school desegregation lawsuits, says city kids should be able to attend county schools if they want to. That's a far cry from the measure of school choice city students now have as their parents line up this week for spots in the optional-schools program.

OPD, formed by the county as a joint city-county agency, is supposed to be responsible for orderly growth and development in Shelby County. The department seems to be completely at sea.

Long-time director Dexter Muller resigned last year to work for the Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce. Planning for some of the choicest parts of the county, including the riverfront, downtown, and the new arena, has been spun off to other organizations that are better able to tap private support. Big, underused properties like Shelby Farms, the Mid-South Fairgrounds, and the Defense Depot need leadership and funding to get new roads or new development, and that hasn't happened during the Herenton/Rout years.

OPD's staff must serve two masters, the city and county mayors. Last week Herenton announced plans to shift the Middle-Income Housing Assistance Program from OPD to the city's division of Housing and Community Development and director Robert Lipscomb. Lipscomb is the new go-to guy for all things housing.

*******

A task force is going to visit consolidated-government cities Nashville, Jacksonville, Louisville, and Indianapolis. But there are some simple numbers from the respective trustees' offices that may be more telling than anything gleaned from a junket. The residential property tax rate in Nashville is $4.58 per $100 of assessed valuation. In Memphis it is $7.02 (combined city and county taxes), which means Memphians pay $1,220 a year more in property taxes on a $200,000 house.

*******

Another telecom company went bankrupt this week. Global Crossing joined 2001 casualties North Point, Winstar, PSInet, Exodus, and Excite@home. Meanwhile, Memphis Networx and its partner, MLGW, are plowing ahead with their broadband network.

The Sunday New York Times identified the key problem for telecoms: They presuppose a demand for broadband that isn't there, at least not yet. Most people use the Internet for reading and e-mail, not videos, music (Napster or otherwise), or multimedia, and conventional access is adequate.

*******

What Tennessee public company is as inscrutable as Enron? My choice, after reading 40 annual reports and proxy statements for Memphis-connected public companies for a Memphis magazine survey, is Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

From the CCA highlight reel: two major restructurings in three years, acquisitions, reverse stock splits, two classes of stock, name changes, executive turnover, a 500 percent increase in the stock price in a year following a huge loss, and a lawsuit from its own investment bankers. Plus intimate ties to state government. The CEO of CCA, John Ferguson, used to be commissioner of finance for Tennessee.

*******

Methodist Hospital Central is not, repeat, not going anywhere. So says spokesperson Ruth Ann Hale in response to rumors that have cropped up in the wake of Baptist Hospital's departure from downtown.

Queries from the Flyer and other Memphis media outlets stem from a recent partnership of the Methodist psychiatric unit with Charter Lakeside and employee concerns about the fate of the obstetrics and gynecology and neo-natal units.

Hale said Methodist has requested a certificate of need to move psych beds to Pauline Avenue, which is still in the medical center. Several options are "under discussion but not decided upon" for the other units, Hale said.

"Central is alive and well and we plan to be there a long, long time," she said.

*******

Another rumor going around is that the Wal-Mart in DeSoto County at Goodman Road and Interstate 55 is the top-producing store in the chain. A Wal-Mart spokesman would not confirm or deny it.

"That's a very good store," he said. "We love all our stores."

In Shelby County, Wal-Mart is on the move. It will close its Germantown store on Germantown Road this year and move a mile or so north to a new site on the other side of the street in Memphis.

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