Category Archives: Current Events

Does Anybody Care?

By Lloyd Graff

Chicago is appalled by the disgusting and brazen looting of stores like Gucci and Nordstrom’s on its Magnificent Mile. Our Mayor, Lori Lightfoot, is furious and humiliated that her city’s elite shopping area has now been ransacked several times by bands of young thugs that communicate by cell phone, coordinating when to strike and who to hit first. They come by car and train and overwhelm the police so they can grab clothes, electronics, and booze.

There is good camera surveillance, so the authorities can pick up many of the looters later if they are inclined, but the State’s Attorney, Kim Foxx, seems disinclined to prosecute them and put them in jail. She is a political foe of Lightfoot, allied with Toni Preckwinkle, the Mayor’s archenemy who was trounced by the newcomer in the last election.

Chicago is broke, the state of Illinois is broken with its longtime Svengali, Mike Madigan, possibly on the verge of being prosecuted in a utility bribery scheme, for which Commonwealth Edison was fined $200 million dollars. People are fleeing the state for Indiana and Florida and Idaho, while I see my state and local taxes balloon.

It all stinks and everybody knows it.

While the city is being looted by politicians and thugs in different ways, I find it very ugly to follow the unfolding saga of the once-great Eastman Kodak, king of film that nobody uses anymore. Kodak was recently awarded a $765 million dollar federal government loan to start making the drug components that are no longer made in this country but are vital in the manufacturing of antibiotics and many key pharmaceutical products.

Target that was looted near Noah Graff’s condo in Chicago

When the loan was announced a couple of weeks ago, the $2 stock, still listed on the New York Stock Exchange, went nuts. It rose to $60 a share in a couple of days. This was when a member of its board of directors, George Karfunkel, gifted 3 million of his 6.3 million shares to a small religious institution that he happened to be the president of, enabling him to book a $116 million dollar donation. The charity received its charitable designation a year ago.

The whole deal may well be found legal if the loan to Kodak is not tainted by illegal bribery but rather a shrewd political contribution. Karfunkel was on the Kodak board for several years while the company was limping along, looking for a new blockbuster product in Rochester, New York.

The profit was neatly packaged as a contribution to a Jewish Orthodox synagogue in Brooklyn. The donation will hopefully do good in the world, but for Karfunkel and his wife, Renee, the write off will be worth at least $40 million dollars, usable for several more years. The suckers who made it possible were naive stock market gamblers whose shares are now worth a fraction of what they threw into the pot to buy them.

Can you draw a straight line from the brazen thugs who came from Chicago’s West and Southside slums to smash the windows at Gucci for the third time, to the sophisticated financial gamer, who sold his Kodak shares and gifted them to his favorite personal charity? I am curious what you think.

Question: Who is more disgusting, looters in Chicago, or Wall Street thieves?

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Staying Too Long

By Lloyd Graff

Maria Konnikova, doctor of psychology, journalist and professional poker player, said that the hardest but probably most rewarding lesson she has learned is that to win consistently you have to fold when you see you are likely to lose, even after making a sizable bet on your hand.

This is a life lesson I see playing out vividly in the days of COVID-19 for people in business. In the machining industry, smart leaders shut down plants early in April, cut people or furloughed them, even if some were great workers they would have recruited with bonuses in 2019. Many also saw it as an opportunity to trim the marginal troublesome people who they will figure out how to do without even when business is strong again.

We also see the wrestling match between staying the course and cutting your losses in pro sports. 

The Chicago Bears drafted Mitch Trubisky, a quarterback who played only 13 games in college but was considered by some to be the next coming of Tom Brady out of high school in Mentor, Ohio. Ryan Pace, the Bears general manager, traded up one spot with the San Francisco 49ers to draft Mitch #2 in 2017, ahead of Patrick Mahomes II and Deshaun Watson. In his three pro seasons, Trubisky has been mediocre at best, ranking last among starting quarterbacks in the NFL last season. 

Yet Pace is bringing him back this year, though he signed journeyman QB Nick Foles to compete with him. Pace has refused to cut his losses. He has apparently not been willing to fold his losing hand after making a high stakes bet.

In baseball, the Cubs threw in their cards in 2011, hired new management, and cleaned house on the field. After three miserable seasons but several great draft picks and trades, the Cubs made the playoffs in 2015 and won the World Series in 2016. GM Theo Epstein is at the crossroads again this year with a fading team. He still has young players like former MVP Kris Bryant, who appears already to be in decline, and he has a pitching staff with no young stars. The question Cubs fans are asking is whether Epstein is waiting a year or two too long to throw in his cards for another tough rebuild.

Personally, I have found that changing course in business is the single hardest thing for me to do. Admitting an investment is a mistake, firing a nice person who is a mediocre employee, or worse, changing a direction that proved successful for many years but seems like it has lost momentum now, is extremely difficult for me.

I have also seen bad marriages linger for decades in some cases because of the sunken costs of children, familiarity, and financial security, which hold people together when the love is long gone.

Maria Konnikova said that she gave up more than one long-term relationship after internalizing the lesson of walking away from a losing hand in poker. Teaching this kind of resiliency and flexibility to children, and hopefully making it a part of your own DNA is much harder than tossing in a pair of aces. 

Question: When have you stayed too long?

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Bet Your Life

By Lloyd Graff

“Life is a game of incomplete information.” 

These are the words of Maria Konnikova, a writer and psychologist who learned how to play poker and then played on the professional poker tournament circuit to write her new book, The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win.

Konnikova read from her book and discussed it with Stephen Dubner on the Freakonomics podcast this week. I found it particularly relevant because our family is now wrestling with a difficult decision while knowing that we have incomplete information, fear, and personal history to contend with.

The question is whether to get together as a family for a week to celebrate our recent 50th wedding anniversary.

I know many other people are grappling with whether to get together as a group for an extended period of time, requiring travel, expense, and above all, the possibility of people getting very sick.

My daughter and her husband and three children live in the Bay Area of California. The COVID-19 epidemic has subsided significantly there, and they have followed the local protocols religiously. The plan has been for them to come to Chicago in early August, and with my sons and their families, to go to South Haven, Michigan, for a week on the shores of Lake Michigan. This trip was planned a year ago, long before the pandemic. 

The economic question of paying for or canceling the three cottages in Michigan forced a decision upon us this week. If we gave up the cottages before July 9th we would not be penalized for backing out. 

We had a lot of imperfect information on which to make our decision. How dangerous was it from a sickness standpoint to travel by air from California? Are the COVID-19 tests accurate for both the current illness and antibodies? Could we maintain social distancing with 11 people, including kids who like to hug and play games and eat together? 

What Konnikova stressed throughout her interview was that in life we are always dealing with uncertainty. A doctor does her tests, takes a history, monitors symptoms, reads the journals, and talks to her peers to make a diagnosis, but then can still get it wrong. In poker you have to deal with the unseen down cards as well as deceptive techniques like bluffing. This could be similar to receiving lousy information from a patient.

But ultimately, a poker hand, a diagnosis, or even a trip, forces you to make a call. If a doctor is hesitant the patient will detect it, which may affect the outcome. A hesitant play in poker is an easy tell for a smart opponent to take advantage of. 

For our family, the indecision about the trip was causing anxiety for all of the adults involved. The underlying fear was the awful “what if my wife and I got COVID and ended up in the hospital.” We’ve both had open heart surgery, so the dire possibility could not be ignored. 

We gave in to the 1% or less possibility of a bad outcome for the family trip to Michigan. But we still have the opportunity for the family from California to stay at our big house with its large backyard in Chicago.

What Konnikova stressed is that there is no such thing as objective reality. However, the best poker player or the smartest decision maker has the ability to get outside of herself to see her own biases, fears, and assumptions. 

The question about the anniversary get-together is whether we can look at our fear for what it is and be wise and gutsy enough to accept the extremely small but real risk. I have reached that point, but my wife still isn’t sure that the risk is worth the reward. 

Konnikova’s book deals with the fact that life is not poker. It’s a lot messier. The consequence of a bad decision about COVID-19 could be death, while in poker it’s just losing chips. But the skills in poker and in life have many things in common. Developing a legitimate personal confidence that you will be right much of the time, while accepting that bad cards occasionally can kill the best of players is the way to live your life to the fullest.

Question: Would you go to a family gathering?

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A Gap in My Perception

By Lloyd Graff

We just recorded the biggest gain in stock prices for any quarter since 1998 with American unemployment at unprecedented levels. You don’t need to read the obvious in this blog, so let’s talk Yeezy, Kanye West, and Gap.

Gap stock rose 42% in one day last week when Kanye West announced he was designing a clothing line with his Yeezy brand on it, exclusively for Gap for 10 years. Gap’s value jumped $2 billion dollars with the news.

Being no fan of hip hop music, but mildly interested in West because he grew up near where I did on Chicago’s South Side, and because he met cordially with Donald Trump at the White House, I checked out Yeezy. The brand has turned Adidas from the German blahs to Jordan-esque cool with outrageously priced sneakers. A Yeezy pair of gym shoes may sell for $500 a pair if you can get them.

I really don’t feel the allure of celebrity apparel, but undoubtedly West is hot today and Gap, where Kanye worked as a kid, is capitalizing on his caché. Will Kanye West become a fading yesterday in a year? Not likely, with the magic of his wife, Kim Kardashian, continually polishing his image?

***

Another brand that fascinates me with its phenomenal stock performance is Peloton. The company sells an exercise bike and will lose more than $100 million this year. Yet it is worth more than Ford and Chrysler, and its stock has more than doubled since it went public a few months ago.

You don’t buy a Peloton at Dick’s Sporting Goods or Target. For $2,000 you can buy the hardware, but the secret sauce is the $40 a month subscription fee, which brings you a huge array of virtual programs. It also buys you status, because the Peloton bike is the Tesla of exercycles. Like Kanye’s $500 Kicks, it is the brand of the cool rich folk on the 40th floor of Manhattan high rises. And you can use it without having to schlep to the gym and put on a mask with the other infectious plebeians.

The branding is working brilliantly. The company is worth $16 billion.

***

Another fascinating story is Nikola, headed by Elon Musk wannabe, Trevor Milton. The company went public a couple weeks ago and has a market cap approaching $30 billion. They plan to build hydrogen powered semi-trucks at a yet-to-be-built plant near Phoenix. They might get a vehicle on the road in a couple of years. They are also taking reservations for a battery powered pickup truck called the Badger, which will eventually compete with Tesla’s Cybertruck, which Musk is already testing.

Nikola’s branding is clever, right down to the name, which is a play on the first name of the famous Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla.

***

One other stock I like to follow is DraftKings, which is an online sports betting company. The stock goes up and down with the likelihood of playing the baseball, basketball, and football seasons. When COVID flares up and players fall ill, the stock price falls. The company is valued around $10 billion dollars now. It is a play on the likelihood of a viable vaccine in a short period of time.

An assessment of Gap, Peloton, Nikola, and DraftKings, paints a colorful picture of America around the 4th of July 2020. The promoter and the entrepreneur are definitely alive. Should we be joyful or sad? Not a Yeezy question.

Question: Did Gap make a good deal?

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The Jackie Robinson Connection

By Lloyd Graff

Ed Howard was a star player for the Jackie Robinson Little League team that went to the Little League World Series in 2014. Last week, the Chicago Cubs picked him in the first round of the major league baseball draft. He was the number 16 pick overall, and it was the first time the Cubs have ever picked a Chicago player high in the draft.

The symbolism of an African-American from that Jackie Robinson team becoming a future Cub is powerful for me. As a boy, I went to Wrigley Field with my mother, an avid Cubs fan, to see the Cubs play the Brooklyn Dodgers when their best player was Jackie Robinson. 

Jackie came up to the Dodgers in 1947 to break the color barrier of Major League Baseball.  When I was 11 years old, I did not understand segregation in sports, but I do remember my excitement over the Cubs bringing in Ernie Banks and Gene Baker in 1954.

Drafting Ed Howard during this period of racial unrest in America is a reminder of the change I have seen in this country in my lifetime. Howard was considered the best shortstop prospect in the 2020 draft, but I believe the reason Theo Epstein and the Cubs picked him is because of the symbolism of getting a hometown black player from that Jackie Robinson Little League team which had captured the imagination of the city of Chicago. 

If Howard has just a hair of the charisma Jackie Robinson had, he will be a huge star for the Cubs.

Jacky Robinson Sliding into Home vs. New York Giants

I keep a giant photo of Jackie hanging in my garage, so every day that I leave the house I see Robinson stealing home against the hated New York Giants with the umpire calling him safe. Although I love baseball, it is the only baseball picture I have hanging in the house. I still have a bat signed by Ernie Banks, but that photo is the most significant sports memorabilia I own.

Race and sports and their interaction have been threads that have helped define me during my lifetime. 

I watched the greatest football player who ever lived, Jim Brown, from his days at Syracuse University to his incredible career with the Cleveland Browns. I was shocked when he retired from the game while still at his peak, also a huge sports memory.

In basketball, probably my greatest memory is rooting for the unknown Texas Western team as they defeated University of Kentucky for the NCAA Championship in 1966. Adolph Rupp coached the Kentucky Wildcats, who wouldn’t have a black player on the team until 1969. Texas Western was the first college team with five black players in the starting lineup, led by Hall of Fame coach Don Haskins. 

I have lived a lifelong struggle with my own gut-level feelings of racism, fighting with my feelings of kinship with black people as a Jew and an American, trying to live up to the ideals of my religion and country.

Jackie Robinson always will be my greatest sports hero. Here’s hoping 18-year-old Ed Howard, who went to high school a few blocks away from my childhood home, will become worthy of my walls and my cheers.

Question: Is baseball dead to you?

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How to Deal with the Police?

When I was growing up on the South Side of Chicago on Euclid Avenue, seven blocks north from where Michelle Obama grew up, my father taught me many valuable life lessons.

One that I remember quite vividly was what to do when I was stopped by a Chicago policeman while driving. My dad had illustrated his approach a few times while I observed from the car. He was proud of his skill and execution.

He told me, “Lloyd, right after you stop the car, turn off the motor and immediately get out of the car, stand erect, and walk up to the police car while the cop is still in the car. Apologize if you were speeding or made a driving error.” My dad had used this strategy successfully a number of times. He had also perfected the folded $20 bill concealed under the driver’s license play, which he was extremely proud of.

I never had the bold courage to do the folded bill, but I did try the jump out of the car routine a few times until a polite policeman told me quite forcefully to stay in the car with my hands on the wheel.

***

When black kids get their license they get very different instructions. My wife tells me that the parents of her black students live in mortal fear of their children being stopped by the cops and being harassed, or worse.

Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal wrote a nice piece Monday about Malcom Brogdon, who plays guard for the Indiana Pacers. Brogdon recounted the advice he received when he was 16 from his grandfather, who happened to be a civil rights leader. When he was given the family’s old green Toyota Avalon he had to sign a binding legal contract before he got behind the wheel, which set forth how he was to behave if he ever was stopped by the police.

Brogdon said, “I was taught to put my hands on the steering wheel, to turn off the music, to roll down every window of the car, to put my blinkers and emergency hazards on, and sit there silently and comply with the officer until he let you go.”

Brogdon followed the instructions correctly and came out ok when he eventually did get stopped. His mother, a professor at Morehouse College, says she was relieved but still fears another incident could get out of control.

***

A couple days ago, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, which usually disagree about everything, wrote remarkably similar pieces about rogue police behavior toward African-Americans. Both articles pointed out the terrible role played by police unions, insulating bad cops from being kicked off the force or being prosecuted. The union seems to think it is their sacred obligation to protect even the dirtiest of cops, especially in cases of racial targeting.

The need to clean up police practices in America is not a liberal vs conservative or Democrat against Republican issue. We desperately need order today, but the endemic fear African Americans have toward the police is bad for the whole country. Blunting the power of police unions is one thing that America can agree on.

It is doable if partisan blabbing doesn’t get in the way.

I much prefer it to the $20 under the license that I never had the guts to try anyway.

Question: Are the police being persecuted? 

 

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Zooming in Different Worlds

By Lloyd Graff

I feel like I am living in several different worlds. 

During the day I am a business guy, trying to put together the diverse strings of commerce around the country and the world, culminating in a buy and a sell with a margin of profit for my company built into it. The outside world keeps telling me that there isn’t anything but scraps to be had, but I am finding a lot of opportunities when I contact the smart small and medium-sized business owners who are sniffing for opportunity at the moment. It really is quite refreshing to connect with these aggressively optimistic folk who ignore the gloom of the TV and radio blabs. I feed on their energy and they seem to enjoy mine.

As the late dusk sinks in, I turn on the news shows, which at the moment are immersed in pictures of broken windows, strewn Nikes, and stray flat screen TV boxes thought to symbolize the moment. It is demoralizing and scary journalism with no depth of understanding, just an abject play for ratings and a rising fear quotient. It affects me, even though I know it is a transient flicker of pain in 2020. The race riots have replaced COVID-19 this week as the story of the moment.

COVID is a lingering story of government mismanagement framed by the paranoid thirst of the press. It is an extremely costly one, but the threads of fear have a vibrancy for me in the death numbers of older, sicker people which comprise 80% of the dead.

Then I check stock prices and oil prices before I go to bed. Stocks are near their record highs. The NASDAQ, which has younger firms, is 3% below its all-time high. If I am looking for an indicator of optimism in America and investors from around the world, this is where I look for it.

I also take my assortment of medicines at night, which include a statin for cholesterol, a refined fish oil for all around cardiovascular health, and a Bystolic, which is an amazing beta blocker that controls high blood pressure. The negativists who see the world in decline don’t understand that people like me would never be alive at 75 after a heart attack 12 years ago. Folks living in the good old days of 1962 never would have recovered from blocked arteries like mine and their kids might well be in Iron Lungs with polio. 

We are likely to have a COVID-19 vaccine that actually works by the end of the year.  We now have a useful treatment for the illness, which will be augmented shortly. 

Not to be ignored is the rapid adoption of Zoom to connect people. My wife Risa uses it every day. I get to see my grandkids more often than I ever did before. Some young entrepreneurs infiltrated the market with a better product and took a dominant position in person to person TV while the giants, Google, Microsoft, and Cisco, slept. Now they are hopelessly behind.

The SpaceX Dragon 2

Before I go to sleep at night, I like to imagine the possibility of Zoom connecting the world with American astronauts zooming up to the International Space Station in Elon Musk’s rocket taxi. Yet the image of a brick smashing a Macy’s window plunders my calm. 

It’s June 2020. My life is good except when the noise of the day interrupts my joy of being alive.

Question: Do you still listen to the news?

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Ep. 83 – Tooling Machines to Fight COVID-19

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the show is Gordon Erickson, founder of KWALYTI Tool in Batavia, Illinois. KWALYTI specializes in tooling up packaging machines, often for food products such as meat and cheese. Since the COVID-19 crisis began, KWALYTI has played an essential role in combating the epidemic. The company has tooled machines to package cotton swabs for coronavirus testing. Soon it will be tooling machines that produce pouches for holding N95 masks so they can be sterilized for reuse.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

(2:45) Gordon talks about his company KWALYTI, a machine shop, located in the Batavia, Illinois. He says KWALYTI rebuilds and tools up vacuum packaging machines, primarily used in the meat and cheese industry. When you see the vacuum packages holding hotdogs or bacon they are probably produced with the type of machines his company works with. 

(5:00) Gordon talks about tooling packaging machines for both the food and medical industries. For the medical industry KWALYTI has tooled machines that vacuum pack suture removal kits and packages of gauze. KWALYTI also services and troubleshoots the machines it supplies.

(9:30) Gordon says that KWALYTI has suppled three machines to Vienna Beef, the hotdog brand that Chicago is famous for.  

(10:50) Gordon talks about how KWALYTI has been relied upon during the COVID-19 pandemic. He says when Illinois Governor Pritzker instituted the shelter in place order he quickly got a call from Vienna Beef and some other customers telling him the company needed to stay up and running because it was their main parts and service provider for their packaging machines. Also during the pandemic, demand for vacuum packaging machines arose when food that had usually gone to restaurants was diverted to grocery stores.

(13:30) Gordon talks about supplying molds to a company in Florida to change over its machines from packaging syringes to packaging nasal swabs for virus testing. He said the company was running three shifts a day making 3” swabs. 

(15:30) Gordon says that KWALYTI is in the process of making a perforating system that goes onto a machine to makes special pouches. Medical workers will put their used N95 masks in the pouches, which then will undergo an autoclave sterilization process overnight so they can be reused the next day. An autoclave process exposes the pouches to 250 degree Fahrenheit direct steam. The pouches have one side made of plastic and the other side made of a material called Tivek.  

(18:45) The same company that makes pouches to sterilize the masks also had KWALYTI make a tool to use in machines that make plasma bags. He says some of the tooling his company produces could have taken months to import from Germany, but he was able to produce them in a week.

(20:20) Gordon says he doesn’t point the finger at the government for not being more ready to deal with supply chain problems because nobody could predict what was going to happen. He says many critics are “hindsight engineers,” and in his case, suppliers knew right away they needed to insure food packaging machines stay up and running. 

(23:40) Gordon says he likes his business because it helps people people make their ideas happen. He says that tooling machines to combat COVID-19 doesn’t give him much more purpose in his work than he had before because he always felt his products were vital. Though he says right now he has more pressure than usual to get products to customers faster. 

Question: Should people wear face masks when they go out of the house?

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Do You Trust Yourself?

By Lloyd Graff

Deciphering the path of business through the COVID-19 mess is more difficult than finding your way through Boston without Google Maps. 

Stock markets zoom while Hertz declares bankruptcy. Oil prices fall to $18 a barrel but then double in five weeks. Auto plants shut down en masse but then reopen to parts shortages from Mexico, which didn’t want to produce until GM, Toyota, and VW leaned hard on the government.

The political and scientific elites caution us not to reopen because a mistake could mess up their reputations. They scare us about the “second wave” that may be coming sometime.

Meanwhile, the salon owner worries that she may never comb out another wave at her shop if she can’t reopen.

Small businesses navigate through government bureaucracies to claim the cash to survive, not knowing how much they will have to pay back because the SBA itself doesn’t understand the authorizing legislation. Washington consultants earn their juicy retainers by explaining stuff even the dudes who wrote the laws don’t understand.

People ignore barricade near Chicago’s North Avenue Beach.

The boardwalk fills up in Venice Beach, California, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In Chicago, real people keep knocking down the fences that the park police keep erecting to keep them off the grass. In Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, where the governors took the risk of opening before other states, the caseload from COVID did not change.

There are at least a dozen possibilities for successful vaccines. With a decent chance we’ll have a real one before Christmas, and a drug is being made today that really does help reduce hospital stays.

Yet 100,000 people have died in the United States.

The press makes its living by promoting bad news. Maybe there would be no pandemic without cable news. But there is 20% unemployment, doors are locked, cities have emptied, and I am afraid to go to my own anniversary party. 

Yet somehow Americans seem to retain their optimism. The smart people predicted new home buying would fall apart. Yet yesterday the Commerce Department stats showed that real people put down real money and took out real mortgages to buy more homes in April than in March. People are making airline and hotel reservations. They probably are even nutty enough to plan cruises.

But if you are running a machining business, even if you are making respirator parts, it looks iffy. Will people start buying new cars? There are lots of leases ending, but dealerships are quiet because they seem like scary places to go to. 

Major League Baseball can’t seem to figure out if players can take showers if it resumes.

We live in the land of phases.

I am coming around to the idea that government should trust people to decide their next steps. It would be chaotic, I know. Most old people will not do dumb stuff like going to the beach or a restaurant. Young people will mix it up and some will get sick, but probably not real sick. 

We could have school this fall for those who want to go. We will get closer to the herd immunity that a successful vaccine could complete. 

Death in the economy by asphyxiation could be defeated. China would lose the COVID-19 war. Toilet paper would be everywhere. 

Is this crazy?

Question: Do you trust yourself to make the right decisions regarding COVID-19? Do you trust other people?

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50 Years, Still Great

By Lloyd Graff

My wife Risa and I will celebrate 50 years of marriage this Sunday. It sounds like an awfully big number. I don’t feel old enough for that number, and Risa looks like 45 or 50 on a bad day. 

Less than half of the adults in the country are married today, but for Risa and I it was a natural fit. I started talking about marriage a few weeks after we met in January of 1969. She was 17 years old and a freshman at the University of Michigan. I was a graduate student, recently back from military training. Risa had barely been out on a date and suddenly it was hard for her parents to find her at night. They rushed from Charlotte, North Carolina, to meet me six weeks after we met in Ann Arbor. When they learned that I followed a Jewish prayer ritual every morning, similar to that of her father, Risa said she felt like “they gave me away.”

The truth is, that one of the things that has bound us together over those many years is our mutual but different commitment to Judaism. Growing up, I developed a powerful, visceral connection with the Jews of the Holocaust. Although I did not have an immediate personal relationship with people who died at the hands of the Nazis, I could not get thoughts of it out of my head. Risa’s connection was more a social one, connected to Jewish ritual.

My parents accepted Risa Levine of Charlotte about as well as they could. Their basic viewpoint was that nobody was really good enough for their firstborn. But I had never had an interesting girlfriend before, and if I was as sure of myself as I seemed to be, they might as well go along with the program.

Risa and I have had an enormous emotional attachment from the first day of our relationship. On the first night we met at the Michigan Union, we talked until 3 a.m. One reason for this was that my Chevrolet Biscayne wouldn’t start in the January cold when I tried to drive her back to her dorm at 2 a.m.

I recently had returned from Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. Before I had left for basic training on New Years Day 1968, I had been obsessed with the Vietnam War and fear of dying in the swamps for Lyndon Johnson’s ego. I applied all over to get into the Illinois National Guard or the Army Reserves. Finally, good luck and some family political clout got me into the Guard. I was the only one of 600 recruits in my Company who wasn’t headed to Nam.

Prior to doing my military stint, I didn’t know I was capable of meeting a woman I could have a sustained relationship with. But six months after Fort Jackson, I felt emotionally liberated and looking for a kind, smart, beautiful woman like Risa. Coincidentally she wore the shortest skirt in the crowd of people at the mixer dance in the Student Union that fateful Saturday night in Ann Arbor.

I had gone to the Union primarily to play ping pong, but the music in the ballroom called me that night. I looked around in the big room and spied Risa Joy Levine of Charlotte, while I held on to the ping pong paddle in my corduroy sport jacket pocket. I kept that jacket for 40 years.

From Risa and Lloyd’s wedding day, May 24th, 1970

Over the last 50 years, Risa and I have talked about luck, God, and the short skirt that brought us together among 1,500 people in that ballroom. The crazy thing is that Risa was the only person I talked to in that giant room. I saw her, walked through the crowd and said hello. After a few minutes, I asked for her to leave the floor and go out for some food. And she did. Later, I asked her to come to my apartment. And she did. 

In the course of conversation, I mentioned that Ted Williams was the last .400 hitter in Major League Baseball. Risa was not a baseball fan, and she still isn’t, but if you ask her today who was the last .400 hitter she will immediately tell you it was Ted Williams.

In our 50 years of marriage, Risa and I have endured the deaths of our parents, life threatening illnesses, the joy of raising three great children, and enjoying four grandchildren. I say prayers of gratitude every day for getting another day with Risa. 

I continue to wonder how I was and continue to be so blessed to get these days with her 50 years later. 

This Sunday night we are planning to celebrate with friends and family on Zoom. Not how we thought it might happen, but I know if Risa and I are together it will have to be a great night.

Question: Where did you meet your spouse or partner?

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