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Life in the Fast Lane

Princeton Computer Repair

Le Camera

Digital Services

Softech’s Hard Sell

A Basia Start-Up

New in Town

New in Town

Start-Ups

Techno Moves

Deaths

Corrections or additions?

Life in the Fast Lane

These articles by Barbara Fox and Peter J. Mladineo were published

in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 4, 1998. All rights reserved.

Many predict that computer superstores and sales of

computers over the Internet will eventually dominate computer sales.

But three proprietors of Princeton-based computer companies are

fighting

back. And the three — immigrants from Taiwan, New Delhi, and

Saigon

— are following distinctively different strategies.

Bruce Tung of PC USA has closed his retail storefront at Mercer Mall

and moved to an office location at Lawrence Commons to concentrate

on business to business customers and expand his Internet operations.

Tony Sethi of Princeton Computer Repair has expanded at 12 Roszel

Road and aims to service the service contracts that the superstores

generate. Meanwhile Phat Le has established a high-end niche: he has

moved Le Camera from selling only cameras to selling digital cameras

plus computers at a new Route 1 location.

Tung’s response to the changing computer market is to relinquish his

storefront and concentrate on business to business marketing and

Internet

services. He has closed PC USA’s storefront next door to Palace of

Asia restaurant and moved six employees to Suite 202 at Lawrence

Commons.

"We are not moving out of the retail business, but simply

relocating

our service center to a professional building and our storefront onto

the Internet," says Tung, partner and general manager of both

PC USA and Advanced Online Services Inc. "Our move will allow

us to focus on what we do best: service, networks, and Internet

solutions."

"We will cater to our existing customer base, referral and repeat

customers, and pursue business to business opportunities," says

Tung. PC USA will continue to service all brands of computers,

including

Apple, and it will incorporate the Internet for its business and SOHO

(small office and home office) customers.

PC USA launched its Internet services two years ago and has been

providing

dial-up Internet connections and corporate web services for its

computer

user through AOSI. AOSI offers unlimited analog dialup, ISDN, Web

hosting, Web designing, dedicated lines, and corporate dialups.

When in it moved last month AOSI went from an analog to a digital

backbone with full ISDN capability and dedicated lines suitable for

K56flex (analog) modems. To the T-1 (analog) line it added three PRI

(Primary Rate Interface) ISDN lines for a total of 72 ISDN channels.

"Most of our AOSI website clients are not taking full advantage

of their Internet presence, and our new Internet store will also serve

as a model for more businesses to focus on the Internet as a sales

asset, " says Tung.

The Internet store will have a comprehensive database searchable

for more than 70,000 computer products, plus shopping cart features

and a secure server for online ordering. Just in time inventory will

cut down on overhead, "so we are able to keep up with the pricing,

which drops every few months," says Tung. "Usually businesses

don’t need an order the same day — and they can have it in the

next day or two."

Though the Internet store is of course open 24 hours, the physical

store will now be open only on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and

closed Saturdays. Saturday customers, as it turns out, consisted

mostly

of the computer equivalent of "tire-kickers."

Tung’s father (a jet pilot in the Nationalist Chinese air force) and

mother (an English teacher) had immigrated to West Caldwell when he

was 10 years old. He worked in his parents’ restaurant in Elizabeth,

and former governor Tom Kean was one of their customers. "My

parents

moved us here for our education and for our future," Tung says.

"This is the land of opportunity. Anyone with a desire and a dream

and who is willing to work for it should be able to achieve."

Tung started as a pharmacy major but switched to business

communication

at Rutgers College and graduated in 1988. He had various sales and

technical jobs, ranging from selling Wall Street mutual funds to

computers.

"I’m a fast mover," he says. "I guess I pick up things

fast and then I get bored with it so I love to move on and pick up

new projects."

His first firm was a one-man consulting firm, Tungsten International,

based in Princeton Service Center, and then he and his brother started

T2 Enterprises. Jeffrey Tung is a Massachusetts Institute of

Technology

graduate with two engineering degrees and a MBA from Harvard.

PC USA, 3371 Route 1, Lawrence Commons, Suite 202,

Lawrenceville 08648. Bruce Tung, owner. 609-734-8484; fax,

609-951-9390.

Advanced Online Services, Lawrence Commons, Suite

202, Lawrenceville 08648. Bruce Tung, owner. 609-631-8553; fax,

609-631-8554.

Home page: http://www.aosi.com.

Top Of Page
Princeton Computer Repair

A small expansion makes a big difference when you move

from the back of the building to the front. Tony Sethi has expanded

from 1,300 to 1,500 at 12 Roszel Park, but the new space opens

directly

into the lobby and boasts a conference room.

"My customers are major corporations as well as individuals,"

says Sethi, "and the nicer space will help us attract larger

clients

and get into networking areas." He is renting out his former

office

and has a lease-to-buy arrangement for this one.

He is a certified Compaq service technician and works for such

extended

service warranty companies such as National Warranty Corporation,

Vac Service Corporation, Warrantech (which deals with Comp USA) and

CES (which has government clients). He also sells systems and upgrades

and does sales and repairs of all brands of notebooks, printers,

monitors,

and systems.

"It doesn’t matter who makes it, we service from Acer to

Zenith,"

says Sethi. He does Novell and NT networking and is starting two new

business areas — creation of web pages and selling business forms,

checks, and business cards.

A native of New Delhi, Sethi immigrated to Denver, Colorado, when

he was 25. Trained as a computer technician at Mercer County College,

Sethi checked inspectors’ work on a pacemaker assembly line and worked

for a defense contractor (Base 10 Systems) as senior quality auditor.

In 1990 he began selling computers at trade shows then moved to

selling

systems to major corporations. In 1993 he acquired a partner.

"We specialize in service with a quick turn around time (within

48 hours) and a free estimate," says Sethi. "My reason for

success: I am very honest with my customers and work hard," says

Sethi.

Princeton Computer Repair & Services Inc., 12

Roszel

Road, Suite B-101, Princeton 08540. Tony Sethi, vice president.

609-452-8747;

fax, 609-452-0208. E-mail: tsethi@ix.netcom.com.

Top Of Page
Le Camera

Phat Le has not only expanded into the computer

business,

he has expanded his retail space. That’s because his market niche

is digital cameras, a high-end computer product that needs lots of

hand-holding for buyers to make the right decisions.

"If you go to where all the cameras are locked up in the cage,

nobody will advise you as to what to get or what to do," says

Le. "It is different from a supermarket where milk is milk. With

the wrong choice on a digital camera, you can lose $1,000."

Le started out with a mail order camera business in 1991 and then

opened six years ago at 4040 Quakerbridge Road. Now he has tripled

his space and moved 10 employees from 2,200 square feet to 7,000

square

feet in a building next door to Mrs. G’s on Route 1 North.

He sells new and pre-owned cameras and lenses (including collector

items) plus digital cameras and the computer equipment needed to use

them. He also has a repair service.

Le immigrated from Saigon, Vietnam, where his family owned a gas

station.

"When the government took over those kinds of businesses, we had

no income," says Le. In 1979, at age 21, he left the country.

One of his former high school friends managed to get a Michigan church

to sponsor him. "I came here with one pair of shorts that’s

it,"

says Le. "We got out in 1979 by boat. The people up there were

extremely helpful, extremely nice; they helped us get started."

Five days after he disembarked he was working at his first United

States job — dishwashing for $2.90 minimum wage — and he began

taking English classes.

He met his future wife, Winnie, at the University of Chicago, where

he was a mathematics major, Class of 1983. Together, they started

the camera business in 1991, and now they have children ages six,

two, and seven months. "We are concentrating on the imaging part

of computers," says Le. "We are not competing with Computer

City for selling mom and pop systems. We are experts on computer

imaging,

an integral part of photography now. You have to have the proper kind

of computer and the proper kind of hardware and software."

How does he deal with customers who seek his expert advice but make

their lowball purchase at a "big box" store? "That happens

with cameras, and we are used to it," says Le. "But actually

most of our customers appreciate our presence and our service and

they are willing to pay a little bit more for our advice. We spend

a lot of time discovering what is good on the market. If you spend

$1,000 and you get the wrong digital camera, what good is it? Yet

you spend $1,200 and you get the right equipment."

"The smart people come to professional people to get advice. The

not so smart people shop for price and they are lost."

Le Camera, 2936 Route 1 North, Lawrenceville 08648.

Phat Le, owner. 609-912-0200; fax, 609-912-0166. E-mail:

lecamera@bellatlantic.net.

Top Of Page
Digital Services

Digital Photography Services Inc., 9A Princess

Road, Lawrenceville 08648. Paul Ettlinger. 609-844-9596; fax,

609-844-0565.

Spurred by the growth in the digital photography

business

Paul Ettlinger and Philip Cutrone have expanded after starting up

less than two years ago. They have moved from an office on Franklin

Corner Road into 3,700 feet, including a fully equipped studio, on

Princess Road. Now clients can choose whether to rent a camera at

their home site or bring their work to the Princess Road studio.

DPS rents and sells digital camera systems for such purposes as

catalogs,

Internet web pages, Sunday newspaper inserts, and newspaper photos.

The partners also do consulting and training in such digital

photography

areas as research and development, manufacturing, and image databases.

Ettlinger went to Rider, Class of ’82, and Cutrone is an electrical

engineer from DeVry Technical Institute, Class of 1988 (U.S. 1,

October

9, 1996).

Digital cameras are connected to a computer. With each click of the

shutter a high resolution image is downloaded to the screen. Some

of the benefits of digital photography include immediate proofing,

cost savings on film & scanning, reduced production time, and the

elimination of hazardous waste (the heavy metals in film processing).

These are not the consumer-style digital cameras that Phat Le sells

at Le Camera (see previous story). This $30,000 camera price tag does

not include the camera’s computer peripherals. To rent the camera

and studio costs $450 a day, $1,350 for the week. To rent the camera

at your site is $695 for a day or $1,995 for a week, but that also

includes the computer system and an operator that stays for the first

day to train you or your photographer.

"It’s getting to a point where the cameras are out three days

a week, and we have weekly rentals," says Ralph Scharinger, a

sales representative. "It’s a great market and things are picking

up for us."

Top Of Page
Softech’s Hard Sell

When Princeton Softech was young, it celebrated big

wins with pizza picnics outside its office on Business Park Drive.

Last weekend Joe Allegra took 60 employees and their spouses to the

Bahamas — three nights and four days at Club Med — to thank

everyone for a good 1997.

It was a very good year. Last week, as everyone was packing for the

all-expense-paid trip, the announcement came that the nine-year-old

firm had been bought by Mountain Lake-based Computer Horizons for

$43 million in stock. The privately held company will now be a wholly

owned subsidiary, and Allegra will remain as president. "We’re

enthusiastic about being part of a such a forward-looking

organization,"

stated Allegra in a press release.

Now located at 1060 State Road, Princeton Softech’s sales grew 538

percent from 1991 to 1995 — from $602,000 to $3,840,000 and as

a consequence it was making the "fastest growing" lists. By

1994 it had grown to 37 employees. It now has 75 workers, and nearly

all were able to take advantage of the trip with their spouses or

partners. They left in shifts, some on Thursday, others Friday, still

others flew down Saturday, and all convened for a dinner on Saturday

night.

Allegra went to parochial school in Bergen, majored in economics at

Rutgers (Class of 1975) and earned an MBA at New York University.

He and his wife Bobbie have a daughter, 11, and a son, 15. He worked

at Applied Data Research from 1977 until the firm was bought by

Computer

Associates in 1988. Eight other people left with him in 1989 to build

high quality programming tools for large application systems.

Meanwhile

he became president of the Software Association of New Jersey, later

to become the software track of the New Jersey Technology Council.

The firm now has core competencies in relational databases, data

synchronization,

and intelligent data migration and management. "We compete against

very large companies and win 8 out of 10 times because our software

really works. Our model is that we won’t send out products before

they’re done; we get support calls an order of magnitude less than

anybody else," Allegra said in an earlier interview.

Now that the company has been bought out, will Allegra have the

independence

to throw an offshore company party? "I expect they will continue

running the company the way they have," says Faye Gregory-Yuppa,

vice president of Computer Horizons.

John J. Cassese, CEO of the $335 million Computer Horizons, went to

Rutgers, Class of 1968. He founded the firm in 1969; it went public

on the Nasdaq (CHRZ) soon after that

(http://www.computerhorizons.com).

Though Computer Horizons began as a staffing augmentation firm for

IT services, in the early 1990s it created a solutions division, which

has grown to be worth nearly $100 million. "For one of our Year

2000 solutions we needed to use a Princeton Softech product, and it

has been a business partner of ours," says Gregory Yuppa. Her

firm had had a good success record as a service company that brought

tools with the Year 2000 services and it hoped to broaden that

approach

to apply to data management. "We had raised $80 million for

additional

acquisitions to position us beyond the Year 2000," she says.

"Almost

all of the solutions we offer involve data management and migration,

and we realized Princeton Softech’s real strength was in data

management

tools."

Allegra has also developed a global distribution channel with clients

in 20 countries. In the early ’90s Princeton Softech was just one

of three software firms that were drawing national attention on the

Inc. Magazine "fastest growing company" lists. But unlike

Voxware and LogicWorks, which have gone public, the smaller Princeton

Softech chose the "be bought out" alternative over the IPO.

"We thought about going the IPO route ourselves," Allegra

has said, "but we’re a little too small and we thought it was

a little too early." Maybe that’s just as well. The founding CEOs

of Voxware and LogicWorks have both left their top positions.

Is that one of the reasons why Allegra chose an alliance rather than

an IPO? Allegra could not be reached for comment before press time.

He was still in the Bahamas.

— Barbara Fox

Top Of Page
A Basia Start-Up

When nursing mothers get breast infections and take

antibiotics, they pass along the drug to their babies — an

unfortunate

but tolerable use of the drug. But when cows get udder infections

(mastitis) and are treated with antibiotics, the contaminated milk

must be poured on the ground, literally or figuratively, until the

antibiotics have passed through their systems. Mastitis — very

common and very infectious — is a drain on dairy farmers’ profits.

An emerging biotechnology company funded by Barbara Piasecki Johnson

hopes to clean up this milk infection problem. Nika Health Products

Limited has licensed its technology to Pharmacia & Upjohn for

"dimerized

lysozyme" for various animal health indications, including bovine

mastitis.

"Animal health represents a large potential market opportunity

for our technology," says Wojciech Piasecki, president of the

firm and the nephew of the heiress to the Seward Johnson estate.

"We

are pleased to be partnering with a proven leader in the field."

Thomas S. Gifford of Century Capital Associates assisted Nika in this

transaction.

Nika is engaged in discovery and R&D of proprietary platform

technologies

involving the treatment of infectious diseases. But the process of

drug approval is slow, even for animals. It could take four to six

years to get FDA approval for the drug for veterinary use.

This company does not have a financing problem. Because of the

Piasecki

Johnson backing, Nika’s executives have time to develop strategic

partnerships to increase market share, reduce development time,

increase

manufacturing capability, and streamline product distribution.

"It is an interesting business model," says Ricky S.

Stachowicz,

chief counsel. "We would take pride in being a virtual

company."

The company is located within the office of BPJ Holdings, Piasecki

Johnson’s firm on Lenox Drive. Research is taking place in

Switzerland.

"This product is also in active research and development for human

use as well," says Stachowicz, who notes that it seems to function

like standard antibiotics. "We are running clinical Phase I trials

in Poland." Other potential products are a chemically modified

enzyme that has shown uses for the treatment of herpes in humans.

Stachowicz majored in biology at Rutgers (Class of 1984) and went

to Hofstra Law School. Piasecki went to Rider, Class of 1984, and

has master’s degrees from Georgetown University, Claremont Graduate

School, and the University of Wroclaw in Poland.

"There is a tremendous interest in developing high quality

products

for human and animal health," says Stachowicz. "It is not

uncommon to be able to introduce a medicine in veterinary field and

then use it in the human field as well.

"We want to get good results in clinicals and examine them

carefully,"

says Stachowicz. "When we are confident with what we have, we

will move forward."

— Barbara Fox

Nika Health Products Ltd., c/o BPJ Holding

Corporation,

1009 Lenox Drive, Suite 115, Lawrenceville 08648. Wojciech Piasecki,

director. 609-921-0089; fax, 609-219-9295.

Top Of Page
New in Town

Naif Systems, 707 Alexander Road, Suite 208,

Princeton

08540. Dan Naif. 609-419-4407; fax, 732-367-0097. Home page:

http://www.naifsystems.com.

This firm does multimedia training — sites, web pages, CD-ROMs,

Internet — and provides turnkey systems and tools. "I work

with training departments and graphics departments to build

development

systems and sell tools and train on the use of the systems," says

Naif.

He founded the firm eight years ago and usually telecommutes from

Jackson but is also a client of the Daily Plan-It. His clients include

Bristol-Myers Squibb, CNA Insurance, a major financial firm

headquartered

in Princeton, and Fleet Bank — for which he does customer service

training and sales skills training.

Naif grew up in South Jersey where his father was a consultant to

the division of gaming enforcement. After Stockton State he worked

for Bell Atlantic as a systems analyst training consultant and

developer

of custom applications. Then he went to Continental to run the

multimedia

development group and do systems applications training. A member of

the ASTD trainers’ association, Naif has trained thousands of people

in software programs and computer literacy. "I am good at it,"

says Naif. "That’s why I went into multimedia. I have analytical

technical skills but I understand adult learning principles."

Top Of Page
New in Town

Imperial Technology, 707 Alexander Road, Daily

Plan It, Princeton 08540. Al Lanza, eastern regional manager.

609-720-0040;

fax, 609-720-0042. Home page: http://www.imperialtech.com.

If you are running a relational database with millions

of entries, and your search slows for even a nanosecond, you could

be losing money fast. Al Lanza has opened the eastern regional office

of Imperial Technology, a firm that pioneered in solid state disk

and disk cache systems for input/output operation performance

enhancement.

"Our access time to data is 300 times faster than regular disk,

which can do 75 input/output transactions per second. When you have

1000 customers lined up it makes a difference," says Lanza.

"Solid state disk and solid state cache devices are a hardware

solution to computer performance problems," says Lanza.

"Oracle

or Sybase will allow you to run a test to determine a bottleneck and

will allow you to take the hot files and put them off to a separate

device, a SCSI (Small Computers Systems Information) rotating magnetic

mechanical disk, which does 50 input outputs per second." This

company is one of the few makers of nonrotating solid state SCSI

disks,

which is computer memory. "Our solid state disk looks to the

computer

as if it is another rotating disk, but it actually is computer memory.

Instead of 50 input/outputs it does thousands."

Lanza went to the University of Pennsylvania, Class of ’69, and has

worked for IBM, Bull, and Pioneer Standard. Imperial is a niche

company

that does have a couple of competitors, including Quantem Corporation.

The hardware is manufactured at headquarters in El Segundo, California

(310-536-0018) and the firm has more than 40 employees in four offices

and distributors worldwide.

Only a few firms that need very expensive but very fast data

applications

— telemarketers, catalog firms, Wall Street firms, power stations,

and airlines — can profit from super speed at almost any cost.

Other potential clients have batch jobs that run at night but are

finishing late, after the start of the business day — or users

on a slow system with a response time of more than three seconds.

When users start colliding, the efficiency of each person goes down.

"One big catalog company told me that every second they can reduce

the time it takes to handle a customer call can save them $10,000

a year," says John Jory, the president. "Ninety-nine percent

are buying it for speed, and another 90 percent are buying it for

database applications," says Jory.

Top Of Page
Start-Ups

Maselli, Warren & Lanciano PC, 600 Alexander Road,

1st floor, Princeton 08540. Paul Maselli, managing partner.

609-452-8411;

fax, 609-452-8422.

When attorneys leave big firms to start little firms,

certain things usually happen: they usually take some clients with

them, they usually promise more personal, less-departmentalized

attention

to their clients, and they usually work longer hours. What’s not so

obvious is the fact that they usually get better software.

Now that Paul Maselli, Perry Warren, and Guy Lanciano have left Stark

& Stark and opened a new practice at 600 Alexander Road, they should

have a shorter wait to get Windows 98 when Microsoft delivers it.

When Windows 95 came out, Maselli recalls, Stark & Stark was

"reticent"

to implement it because the 60-attorney firm would have needed to

get it for hundreds of machines. "On the other hand," says

Maselli, "we just opened our office, we have Windows 95. When

the new Windows comes out it’s going to cost us a few hundred

dollars."

On a more philosophical level, this kind of efficiency allows a

smaller

firms to develop the art of "leveraging technology, not leveraging

people," says Maselli. "Firms that are more responsive to

client needs are firms closer to the leading edge of technology."

This new firm will specialize in small and medium-sized business

interests

such as bankruptcy, commercial litigation, and securities arbitration.

The managing partner is Maselli, 38, who got his JD at Rutgers

University

Law School in Camden in 1986 and spent nine years at Stark & Stark,

where he was a partner.

Warren, 34, graduated with honors from the University of North

Carolina

Law School in Chapel Hill (Class of 1993) before becoming an associate

at Stark & Stark. Lanciano has a law degree from Widener (Class of

1992) and advanced degree in taxation from New York University.

Another advantage to opening a smaller firm is that the attorneys

will encounter less conflicts of interest between clients. "You’re

not representing the big institutions," says Maselli. A

not-uncommon

occurrence at Stark & Stark was having to turn down a prospective

bankruptcy client because the firm was already representing the bank,

he adds.

— Peter J. Mladineo

Top Of Page
Techno Moves

DanAshe and Company, 33 State Road, Suite A1,

Princeton

08540. Peter Corcoran, president. 609-683-5600; fax, 609-683-3758.

Some reports have stated that only 10 percent of the

high tech jobs in the country are filled. With this statistic, you

might think that a high tech headhunter like Peter Corcoran would

be having a field day, right? Bad assumption, reports Corcoran,

president

of DanAshe and Company, which just took 400 square feet at 33 State

Road.

"People might think headhunting is really going great right

now,"

he says. "When there are too many mobs or not enough applications

or vice versa it really throws it out of sync. You really want to

have things in balance. It’s nice to have a lot of jobs but you need

the people to fill them in order to make the money." DanAshe

(named

after Corcoran’s daughters, Danielle and Ashley), specializes in

supplying

salespersons to the software industry.

Corcoran, a 40-something with a degree from Villanova University,

started off as auditor for Peat Marwick and Mitchell. He started

DanAshe

in 1987. The problems arise when candidates become too mobile —

this can make them hard to place, even in an industry that desperately

needs workers. "It’s a very volatile industry," says Corcoran.

"There isn’t a lot of stability in terms of people being able

to stay with one company at one time, except maybe with the big boys.

For medium and smaller companies, the average is three years and

you’re

off, looking for another opportunity."

Still, if you’re in high tech sales, you might have a suitor in

Corcoran

"as long as your track record doesn’t get too choppy," he

says. "The good side of it is allows you to have movement, and

that creates opportunities, but if an applicant moves too much then

he becomes very tough to place. So you like to have a guy who can

hang in there for two, three, or four years. Then if he moves it kind

of works for everybody involved."

VComm, 8 Cedar Brook Drive, Cranbury 08512. Dominic

Villecco, president. 609-655-1200; fax, 609-409-1927. Home page:

http://www.vcomm-eng.com.

Moving into 8,000 square feet at 8 Cedar Grove Lane, Cranbury, is

VComm, a "telecommunications engineering" firm. "We assist

people who are building or who already have wireless systems to

optimize

them to run better," says Ken Baranowski, director of business

development. "We supply the engineering talent."

This office has 18 employees, and the firm has another office in

Warminster,

with an additional 24 employees. The president, Dominic Villeco, and

other principals are located in Cranbury.

Baranowski explains that the company utilizes an in-house system of

assisting clients to meet objectives. "We like to talk to the

client, get an idea of what the particular aspect of the job is so

that there are quantifiable, demonstratable results by a certain

time."

Top Of Page
Deaths

Christine Huntley, 36, on January 27. She was human

resources

manager at Sadat Associates.

Peter Silvestro, 40, on February 2. He owned and operated

Joe’s Tomato Pie restaurant in Trenton.

William Bowie III, 32, on February 3. He owned Princeton

Packing Company.

n

Corrections or additions?


This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Dirty Dozen, Plus or Minus

Corrections or additions?

Dirty Dozen, Plus or Minus

This article by Richard Skelly was published

in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 11, 1998. All rights reserved.

If you go to see the Dirty Dozen and expect the old

Dirty Dozen Brass Band, you’re in for a surprise. Gone are the

traditional

pumping bass drum and snare drums, replaced instead by mellower —

but decidedly more funky — keyboard treatments. And yes, you can

still dance to the Dirty Dozen’s "My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now,"

heard on their latest recording "Ears To The Wall," for

Mammoth

Records.

Although they’re no longer the Dirty Dozen Brass Band — just call

them The Dirty Dozen — their sound still oozes with Southern-fried

soul and sanctified New Orleans funk.

Band leader and trumpeter Gregory Davis, who was born and raised in

the Crescent City’s tough Treme neighborhood, near Louis Armstrong

Park, says the original band took a lot of heat in the late 1970s.

Some older musicians and critics accused them of "not being in

the brass band tradition."

Three years ago, after having toured for nearly 20 years as the Dirty

Dozen Brass Band, the band members felt it was time to give the brass

band genre a rest. To keep challenging themselves as musicians,

they’ve

adopted a less brassy repertoire.

"We had come to a point where my two drummers had to leave the

band for different reasons," he continues, "one because his

wife was sick and the other because he had spent all of his children’s

life with the band. His daughter was graduating from high school and

entering college and his son was entering high school," Davis

says.

"We knew we couldn’t find two drummers who were gonna gel as

quickly

as these two guys had gelled over 20 years." So Davis and the

other seven members of the Dirty Dozen decided to add keyboards and

acoustic and electric bass. The band’s sousaphonist doubles on

acoustic

and electric bass, giving "Ears To The Wall" more of a

contemporary

jazz sound, while still retaining that all essential New Orleans funk.

After all, he adds, the band members are fans of all kinds of music,

and they have to be versatile in a city like New Orleans, bursting

as it is to the waterfront docks with musicians. "Every time we

put on a record, it’s not necessarily a brass band record," says

Davis.

Working through several rehearsals without their two long-time

drummers,

Davis and his band mates weren’t so sure their new format would work.

"So we said, `Let’s take it on the road and see what happens.’

That was in 1994.

"We didn’t want to deceive the talent buyers," Davis adds,

"because there’s enough deception already in this business, so

by changing the name to the Dirty Dozen, we figured they’ll realize

it’s a different group."

The eight-member band — named after the Dirty Dozen Social and

Pleasure Club — includes Davis on trumpet and vocals, Efrem Towns,

trumpet, Roger Lewis, baritone and soprano saxophones, Kevin Harris,

tenor sax and vocals, Revert Andrews, trombone, Richard Knox,

keyboards,

Julius McKee, sousaphone and acoustic and electric bass, and Terrence

Higgins, drums and vocals.

The Dirty Dozen spent a good part of 1995 touring with the

Georgia-based

roots-rock group, the Black Crowes, exposing a whole new audience

to their music. Davis regards this as critical to ongoing success

for any musician or group. Chris Robinson, the Black Crowes’ lead

singer, is such a fan — he contributed the liner notes to

"Ears

To The Wall."

"Look at Miles Davis and how many times he changed his style over

the years. Each time he was going back and attracting a different

audience," Davis argues. "As the Dirty Dozen, we’re always

trying to attract different audiences. For example, we’re doing a

school gig later this week ’cause it’s important to keep exposing

young people to our music."

Although some critics may have been predictably shocked,

and maybe less than thrilled with the band’s new sound, Davis and

the others have been through this before. That was in 1977, when they

began playing New Orleans nightclubs as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

At that time, there were no brass bands in New Orleans clubs, he

insists,

except "maybe some older guys who you’d see once or twice a

year."

Some critics and older musicians were dissing the band, claiming they

weren’t part of the brass band tradition. "Because we were a brass

band playing Duke Ellington, they were saying we weren’t part of the

tradition," Davis says.

"We weren’t conscious about being a brass band, but we played

the music we were rehearsing, and it happened to be all this other

music," he says, referring to compositions by Duke Ellington,

Aretha Franklin and James Brown.

"We had a choice: listen to the people who were criticizing us

or play music for the people who were hiring us. The people who were

hiring us were telling us `We wanna hear the stuff you’re playing,

we’re tired of hearing `When the Saints Go Marching In’ 20 times a

night.’" The band’s renditions of classic soul and jazz tunes

— played by a brass band — gave them an edge and a refreshing

sound. Within a year, they were off and running.

When the band began rehearsals for fun in 1977, it was at the height

of the disco boom, Davis explains. Eighteen or 20 musicians showed

up for the first few rehearsals. As Davis and others began to organize

a repertoire, that number was whittled down to eight. And besides,

he notes, eight musicians fit neatly into one large van or two small

vans.

The disco era, even in New Orleans, Davis recalls, "meant we

didn’t

get many jobs, so when a gig would come up, you would take it."

The band started out in a now-defunct club on Cleveland Avenue,

playing

while the DJ took a break. Within a matter of weeks, as patrons began

dancing along to their music, the group replaced the DJ and the DJ

would spin his records while the band took a break.

"We were really just playing music that had been played before,

but these people hadn’t heard it before," he says, "all they

were hearing was the disco stuff in the clubs and on the radio, and

then here we come playing Duke Ellington, James Brown, and Aretha

Franklin, Dinah Washington, Charlie Parker. A lot of people hadnt

heard it, and they took a liking to us."

With as many tourists as there are in New Orleans at any given time,

it didn’t take long for the band to establish a national and

international

reputation. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band played the prestigious New

Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1979, he recalls. That helped

further cement their growing reputation as a band that was offering

fresh new sounds.

"Friends of ours would bring people from out of town up to this

club, the Glass House, to hear the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. From there

it just started to take off for us, as far as touring was

concerned."

Within several years, the band could no longer hold

down its Monday night residency at the Glass House because they were

on the road so much. In the early days, Davis recalls, the band would

play as many as 220 nights a year.

"Now, we try to keep it to 180 shows a year. My birthday was just

last week, I’m 41 now," he says, laughing.

So how does one keep eight guys from a tough neighborhood on the road

together for 180 nights a year without getting on one another’s

nerves?

"We ride in two separate vehicles. The guys who like to stop along

the road and have big dinners, they ride in one van. I happen to like

getting to the destination first and then taking a break for sleep

or eating, so I and a few others ride in the other van," Davis

says.

"From being together for so many years, we tend to respect each

other’s likes and dislikes. Some guys smoke and some don’t, and a

lot of times, if we have to, we eat dinner together, but if we don’t

have to, we don’t."

"It’s good to give each other the space, because we spend more

time together than we do with our wives and children. It’s about

respecting

the other guy’s space and his preferences and him giving you that

same respect."

When he’s off the road, Davis says he attends church

almost every Sunday morning. Born and raised in what used to be known

as the red light district, Davis says his neighborhood, near the famed

Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park, has been fixed up now. He notes

with pride that the police station in the middle of Armstrong Park

helps keep the riffraff away.

Davis’ father worked as a taxi driver and drapery installer, while

his mother worked in a neighborhood school cafeteria. Davis has three

children, ages 8, 13, and 16. He thinks of them often and calls them

from the road.

"That’s the hardest part about being a musician. I’m facing now

what one of my drummers faced: my daughter is getting ready to go

college. For all of my children’s life, this is what I have done.

I can take all of the travel, physically, I can just do it, but from

day one of the tour, my biggest goal is to just make it to the end

of the tour and go home. The worst thing for me is being away from

my kids."

The problem in the blues and jazz business, he explains, is you reach

a certain standard of living as a musician, and you want to maintain

that, and the only way to do it is to by doing more shows out on the

road.

Because they spend so much time touring — overseas and

domestically

— it’s been a long time putting together the band’s second album

for Mammoth Records, which should be out as early as this summer.

Although "Ears To The Wall" is a natural shift in musical

direction for this band of virtuosos — they all take extended

solos on various tracks on the album — their live shows still

pack a punch.

"We just go out on stage and play one or two songs and see how

the audience reacts," Davis says of the Dirty Dozen’s approach

to performing.

"Depending on how they react, or don’t react, we decide what to

go into next. I wanna see my audience sweating while I’m there, and

the other guys feel the same way. If I can see you dancing and you’re

up and participating, then I’ve done my job!"

— Richard J. Skelly

The Dirty Dozen, Raritan Valley College, Nash

Theater,

North Branch, 908-725-3420. gumbo. $15 & $20. Saturday, February

14, 8 p.m.

The Dirty Dozen, Old Bay Restaurant, 61-63 Church

Street, New Brunswick, 732-246-3111. Friday, February 20, 9:30

p.m.


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— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Elaine Strauss

Corrections or additions?

Elaine Strauss

This article by Elaine Strauss was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

on February 11, 1998. All rights reserved.

The way I see it, there are three key aspects to the

career of baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who gives a recital at

McCarter

Theater, Tuesday, February 17, at 8 p.m. First of all, he has an

extraordinary

voice, warm and supple, yet capable of filling a space as large as

the Metropolitan Opera House. Artistically, that’s good news. Second,

he presents himself as a possible cult figure. His recent release

from Philips has a slipcase showing him with dreamy eyes and slightly

parted lips, his prematurely silver hair reaching to the neck of his

black turtleneck. The album is simply called "Dmitri," and

pop stars Madonna and Elvis come to mind. Hvorostovsky has been

compared

to Elvis, which is fine with him. Artistically that’s suspect, but

in a free world an artist has a right to earn his caviar as he wishes.

Third, Hvorostovsky grew up in Siberia, and finds his way repeatedly

and easily to Russian music. Artistically that’s authentic. Indeed,

his Russian-ness seeps into all the other aspects of his career.

Son of a physician mother and a chemical engineer father, Hvorostovsky

was born in 1962 in the Siberian metropolis of Krasnoyarsk, a

17th-century

fort grown large and modern. With almost a million people, Krasnoyarsk

is a port and rail center, as well as a center for hydroelectric

power.

Its factories produce farming and lumbering equipment, chemicals,

aluminum, cement, and textiles. There is gold in the region. Its

gaggle

of technical and mathematical institutes have their homesites on the

Web. And downtown is an opera house. But while Minneapolis has St.

Paul across the river, Krasnoyarsk has nothing much nearby. This is

a remote place where people may smoke or drink to keep their minds

off their isolation. Despite his interest in a vocal career,

Hvorostovsky

smoked. He has given it up.

Hvorostovsky has also given up living in Krasnoyarsk. He now resides

in London, with his wife, a former ballerina, and their twin toddlers.

Residing in Siberia can be temporary, but being Russian is permanent.

Once a Russian, always a Russian. Inevitably, Hvorostovsky champions

Russian music. He has performed and recorded a 12-song cycle,

"Russia

Cast Adrift," by contemporary composer, Georgii Viridov. His

discography

includes Russian folk music, Russian art songs, Russian opera, and

Russian liturgical music. He records exclusively for Philips Classics.

On the CD "Dmitri," a battery of Italian operatic selections

share the billing with Russian operatic and folk songs. Hvorostovsky

is as convincing in Italian as he is in Russian. The arias display

his vocal gifts and his stage presence. They range from the patter

of the "Largo al Factotum," in Rossini’s "Barber of

Seville,"

to the moving death scene of Rodrigo, in Verdi’s "Don Carlo,"

to Onegin’s declaration of love in Tchaikovsky’s "Eugene

Onegin."

Some of the sustained notes on the recording are a tribute to

Hvorostovsky’s

physical fitness. (He is accompanied on the album by four different

orchestras.) The three Russian folk songs at the fulcrum of the

recording

— one soulful, one lusty, one sad — remind the listener that

music grows from soil less pretentious than urban opera houses, and

that Hvorostovsky’s operatic roots are in Russian song.

Hvorostovsky learned his Italian from a retired engineer at the

Krasnoyarsk

Conservatory. A standard Hvorostovsky story tells of his singing Verdi

to a group of Krasnoyarsk’s senior citizens. They didn’t understand

the Italian, but they wept nonetheless. Not only is music a universal

language, so is emotion, even if it stems from an alien emotional

tradition. The Russian penchant for smoldering, melancholy passions

made the ebullient, explosive sensitivities of Italy directly

accessible.

Russian sensibilities in many matters have a characteristic flavor.

There is a special attachment to the motherland that draws exiles

like Solzhenytsin back to Russia. Dostoevsky’s novels exploring the

Russian soul show a capacity for introspection that is ethnically

unique. A particular mystic strain dominates Russian Orthodoxy and

finds its way even into secular activities. In Krasnoyarsk, a

mountaineering

accident, probably known to Hvorostovsky, provides the basis for a

mystic magnification of the Russian soul, along Dostoyevskyan lines.

About 10 kilometers outside of Krasnoyarsk stand a pair

of rock pillars several hundred feet high where the intrepid climb.

As a matter of pride, they refuse to use technical climbing gear.

Volodya Teplix, a noted rock climber, had the ill fortune to stand

on a piece of rock which snapped. He fell slowly to his death. A

photographer

climbing nearby had time to take five photos before Teplix hit the

ground. The plaque erected in his memory declared, "The rocks

didn’t take Volodya into their heart; Volodya took them into HIS

heart."

The Russian spirit mystically overcomes all obstacles.

An unattributed quotation on Hvorostovsky’s "Credo" CD

declares,

"I believe in the power of the Russian sacred music to transport

the spirit, to open our eyes to the mysteries of faith and to teach

us, as Dostoyevsky believed, that `beauty will save the world’"

The cover art features a pair of eyes that, life size, reach across

the entire space. If you stand the CD upright and walk past, the eyes

follow you. Whether you believe or not, a mystic power is at work

in the world, they seem to say.

The recording is in the style of Russian church music during the years

1850 to 1950. The traditional chants consisting of a single vocal

line have been brought up to date by three or four-part harmony that

the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir supplies to support soloist

Hvorostovsky.

The bulk of the 13 selections take less than six minutes each.

Enveloping the listener in sound, "Credo" lets outsiders into

the congregation. A community with common roots then performs its

rituals. This is no mere crowd of unrelated people. Elemental and

brooding, the pieces are heavy and dark, slow and ponderous. There

are no tripping hosannas in this tradition. This is emotional music

from the Russian heart. Because of its focus on a single genre of

music and a relatively small time range, "Credo" provides

an in-depth experience. In this it is unlike Hvorostovsky’s more

popular

"Dmitri," where snippets from many sources oscillate between

Italian and Russian opera. I prefer the tighter focus, with less

skittering

around.

Shortly before Christmas, the Metropolitan Opera

presented

a juxtaposition of Russian and Italian operas, paralleling the dual

ethnic material of Hvorostovsky’s "Dmitri" CD by scheduling

on successive nights Mussorgsky’s "Boris Godunov" and Verdi’s

"Don Carlo," a pair of powerful operas with remarkable

similarities.

Both portray major historical figures against a backdrop of public

spectacles. Both show political leaders confronting simultaneously

problems of state and problems in their private lives. Written within

a year of each other, in the 1860s, the operas embody the difference

between a Russian stolidness and an Italian tempestuousness.

Hvorostovsky has already appeared in "Don Carlo," and is

letting

his voice get ready for "Boris Godunov." At age 37, he

foresees

the need for his voice to grow into the dark demands of

"Boris,"

and he looks forward to the challenge. Forever Russian, he knows that

Russia has shaped his past and his present. He counts on Russia being

there, also, in his future.

— Elaine Strauss

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, McCarter Theater, 91 University

Place, 609-683-8000. $25. Tuesday, February 17, 8 p.m.


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Review: `To Kill a Mockingbird’

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Review: `To Kill a Mockingbird’

This review by Nicole Plett was published

in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 11, 1998. All rights reserved.

If experience is the bubbling cauldron of the emotions,

memory is the quiet country where emotions grow and take form. The

memory play, "To Kill a Mockingbird," takes one summer in

the life of a 9-year-old girl and casts it as the catalyst for a

multi-hued

portrait of the inner life of the girl that once was, and the adult

she has become.

From the moment that the grown Jean-Louise Finch, better known as

Scout, steps onto the stage at George Street Playhouse, she reminds

her audience that, back when she and her brother Jem were young in

Maycomb, Alabama, "the summer’s were hotter." Suzanna Hay’s

gentle but impassioned performance helps take the adult audience back,

not only to Alabama of the 1930s, but also to our younger selves,

and our own earlier encounters with Harper Lee’s searing novel about

growing up with racism.

There are probably few who graduated from high school without reading

this 20th-century American classic; and perhaps equally few who have

read it since. More than one generation has come to know the novel

through the movie starring Gregory Peck. Christopher Sergel’s spare

adaptation of Lee’s classic work serves the novel well. Director Tom

Bullard’s strong production works on our memory at all levels, a cruel

lesson in conscience that unfolds with the syrupy sweetness of a

Southern

summer’s day.

Sergel tells the story by twinning the reflective character of the

grown Scout with the 9-year-old child she once was, providing a sturdy

bridge into the drama. Mianna Saxton, in a strong and unaffected

performance

as the young Scout, shares some of Hay’s lines; and their bond builds

over the course of the play. The adult Scout addresses the audience

as a narrator, yet experiences the story as a powerful memory.

Completing "Mockingbird’s" trio of children — an

adventuresome

little band that almost steals the show — are Athanasios Patouhas

as a thoughtful and resourceful Jem, and second-grader Charlie Saxton

as the delightfully rotund and self-important Dill, a character based

on Harper Lee’s childhood friend, Truman Capote.

Resisting the efforts of the child cast to steal this show however,

is Will Stutts. As the eccentric country lawyer, Atticus Finch —

a bit too old to be the father of small children, a politic misfit

in his community — Stutts masterfully makes the role his own.

Gregory Peck notwithstanding, Stutts’ Atticus is powerfully

believable.

White-haired and lanky in his cream linen suit and wire-rimmed

spectacles,

he’s Southern soft and a bit of a dandy. Perennially taken by

surprise,

he seems to us a real man whose life is something that happens to

him, presenting challenges that he yet succeeds in meeting.

"There’s one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule," the

thoughtful Atticus tells his children, "and that’s a person’s

conscience."

At the opening of Act II, Jean-Louise stands alone in the courtroom

on the morning of Tom Robinson’s trial and again invites the audience

to re-visit times past. "The trial was a gala occasion, with mules

and wagons hitched everywhere in the center of town, and picnickers

on the courthouse grass," she tells us.

It is here, also, that the contemporary audience

re-visits

the ugly and familiar portrait of racism in the 1930s. As the doomed

Robinson, Anthony Jones presents an oppressed and fatalistic figure

not often encountered in today’s popular culture. Like an ever-present

ghost of the past, his characterization stands uncomfortably beside

today’s TV icons of affluent and arrogant urbanites. Jones’ grim

portrayal

challenges his audience with the question of whether his anachronistic

character has truly been banished from our national landscape.

In the courtroom, Stutts builds his characterization of Atticus from

the diffuse, impractical man we first meet to a courtroom titan who

rises to the challenge of defending an unpopular client. In a forceful

closing argument, he throws the spotlight on the conditions of poverty

and ignorance that condemned innocent and guilty alike.

Michael George Owens as Bob Ewell, the aggrieved father, effectively

conjures this impoverished white man’s appalling sense of privilege,

even in the presence of the impassive Tom Robinson, whose life he

effectively ends. Janine Cogelia plays his disheveled and anxious

daughter, Mayelle, victimized at her father’s hand.

With the action contained primarily in the yard outside the Finch’s

home, Walt Spangler’s sets feature a tree so large it could only exist

in memory, and an equally oversize facade of the mysterious Radley

house. a mass of dark, weathered pine boards that span the back of

the stage like the ever-present specter of Boo Radley.

Courtroom dramas, real and imagined, abound on today’s litigious

landscape.

Harper Lee’s finely honed tale is well worth re-visiting.

— Nicole Plett

To Kill a Mockingbird, George Street Playhouse,

9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. $24 to $32. Plays

to February 28.


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Review: `The Circle’

Corrections or additions?

This review by Joan Crespi was published

in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 11, 1998. All rights reserved.

Review: `The Circle’

The Circle," one of the jewels of English drama,

by W. Somerset Maugham, is playing in a fine production at Hopewell’s

Off-Broadstreet Theater until February 28. Maugham — for the

under-50

set — is one of the greatest novelists of the century. Best known

for his novel "Of Human Bondage," he was also an outstanding

and much produced playwright.

Written in 1920 and first produced in 1921, "The Circle" is

an elegant comedy of manners. Maugham lampoons individual characters

and high society. Of the cast of seven characters, three have

hyphenated

last names. This is the formal-dress-for dinner class, and the setting

is Arnold Champion-Cheney’s house in Dorset, England. Both clues to

high comedy.

And comedy this is. Maugham’s wit is funny, incisive, and reveals

character. It brought out-loud laughter from the audience on the night

I saw the play. This is a well-made play, with the action confined

to a single set and a 24-hour period (Aristotle’s unities). And the

play is about love. With Maugham’s barbed wit, his clean, economical,

skilled plotting, and a perennial subject, the play is certain to

entertain.

Bob Thick — Off-Broadstreet’s co-producer (with his wife Julie),

director, and designer — has dressed a set with the period pieces

suitable for a decorating taste: wrought gilt picture frames, a

fireplace

screen, open flower wall sconces, even an old gramophone.

All of the roles are acted by off-Broadstreet veterans, and all range

from good to excellent. Thick moves his actors through the range of

emotions, from shouting to gentleness, and nearly all have impeccable

comic timing and do justice to Maugham’s English language. Arnold

Champion-Cheney, a starchy, precise prig of 35, devoted to antique

chairs and his seat in Parliament, is convincingly played by Jim

Morgan.

Doug Kline does an equally good job as the cynical, good-humored,

gently malicious, aging satyr, Clive Champion-Cheney, who arrives

unexpectedly from Paris. Laura Jackson ably plays the bit part of

Mrs. Shenstone, although her costume seems to come from another

century.

Wendy Yazujian is the beauteous, young, shapely

Elizabeth;

she acts with grace, restraint, and dignity, while showing a full

component of emotions. Wife to the passionless Arnold ("You can’t

expect a man to go on making love to his wife after three years"),

Elizabeth has romantic imaginings about Arnold’s mother, Lady Kitty,

who deserted her son and husband 30 years ago to run off with Lord

Porteous. Elizabeth has invited Lady Kitty and Porteous, recently

returned from Italy, down to her home so that mother and son can

become

reacquainted, she says. To make up the party she’s invited Mrs.

Shenstone

and the self-proclaimed practical, unromantic businessman, Edward

"Teddie" Luton, played by Jeff Maschi.

Briefly back from the Federated Malay States, Teddie soon declares

his love for Elizabeth. It’s hard to see why — except for her

marriage to prissy Arnold and a life that bores her — Elizabeth

falls so "desperately in love" with this Teddie. By the third

act, though, Maschi has warmed to the part.

But the play doesn’t take fire until the gruff, blunt, curmudgeon

Lord Porteous, ably played by Brendan Mulvey, walks on stage beside

the marvelous June Connerton, playing the once-beautiful and gay Lady

Catherine C-C become an old, chattering, painted, frivolous woman:

"her soul is as thickly painted as her face." (They’d exiled

themselves to Italy since Porteous’ wife wouldn’t divorce him.) Though

this Lady Kitty is not as rouged, as ravaged by age and a trivial

life, as she should be for marked contrast with Elizabeth (who says,

despite her make-up, that she never uses lipstick), Connerton, waving

her tulle-cuffed hands, delivers great lines with faultless timing.

Her range of emotion is delightful. Her squabbles with Porteous are

telling. Her attempting to charm Clive again is an amusing plot twist.

And her trenchant advice — from bitter experience — to

Elizabeth

on marriage, on love and consequences, is as revealing today as 77

years ago.

So are Lord Porteous’ serious summary remarks: "No one can learn

by the experience of another because no circumstances are quite the

same."

With one or two exceptions, the play is as timely today as it was

in 1920. Back then Britain still had its empire. It’s hilarious to

hear these British arguing over whether Porteous, now become Prime

Minister, would have given his then-secretary, Clive, with his

then-wife,

Kitty, Western Australia, Barbados, or India.

In the second dated passage, Lady Kitty delivers a dire feminist

prediction

as a warning to young Elizabeth: "Woman will only be the equal

of man when she earns her living." Women today, if not yet equal,

are indeed working. Yet audience attitudes change. The first audiences

were shocked by the ending and booed Elizabeth’s choice of action.

In one way the play is unexpectedly timely. With the nation focused

on a sex scandal and its potentially ruinous effect on a politician’s

career, here’s another mix of sex scandal and politics. In this the

play comes full circle. Finally, note that Off-Broadstreet serves

up both a play and dessert. A perennial rave for the desserts.

— Joan Crespi

The Circle, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South

Greenwood

Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. $18.50 & $20. To Saturday, February

28.


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Simon Saltzman: `The Lion King’

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Simon Saltzman: `The Lion King’

This review by Simon Saltzman was published

in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 11, 1998. All rights reserved.

Although the play, in this case, is most definitely

not the thing, "The Lion King" is a must-see event —

actually

two must-see events. The first event, the one that immediately knocks

your socks off, is the absolutely glorious restoration of the historic

(1903) New Amsterdam Theater ("the jewel of 42nd Street").

This is the theater that Broadway producer Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. made

famous with his "Follies" extravaganzas from 1913 to 1927.

Starting off with a stupendous production (something Ziegfeld himself

could not have imagined) of "The Lion King," the Walt Disney

Company and its theatrical productions department plan to make the

fabulous theater famous once again with their own budget-be-damned

stage shows.

Plan to arrive early enough to tour the entire theater. Go up one

grand staircase and down another. Be sure to check out the lavishly

appointed lower lounges where food and drink are available. Wherever

you look there is the fastidious representation of an era when

artisans,

craftsmen, and architects intended for their mythical subjects, as

well as their own marvelous visions, to transport the public to a

fantastical world of opulence and splendor. Be sure to examine the

full 180-degree loop. Note the theater’s delicate floral pattern

carpeting,

the splashier flora and fauna given full color bas relief on the

archways

and walls. It may be hard not to touch the adorned columns, but you

will settle for looking up at awesome chandeliers and the vibrantly

painted glass domes. For this alone, you may feel you have already

received full value of the price of your ticket.

If you’re inclined toward purchases (of hats, sweats and tee-shirts,

mugs and mice, CDs and PJ’s), Disney has included an adjunct of its

42nd Street merchandise store inside the theater, screaming of

bold-faced

commercialism. But isn’t that the Disney way? Once inside the

auditorium,

you may be a little dismayed to see how much of the gorgeous decor

on the balcony overhang is obscured by the necessary, but nevertheless

unsightly, exposed lighting boards. Tall people will notice the lack

of leg room. Although the main floor is nicely raked, remember the

New Amsterdam is still an old theater revamped and where sight lines

may vary. If you bring a child to the theater — and absolutely

do bring a child to this fabulous debut production — be sure to

bring a cushion along.

The main event, of course, is the show itself. Without exaggeration,

"The Lion King" is unlike anything we have seen before. And

it is breathtaking.

Just the beating of the authentic tribal drums in the

opening moments had my pulse racing. For maximum effect, the drums

have been strategically placed in boxes on both sides of the

auditorium.

If you are lucky, you may feel, as I did, the brush of plumage passing

by and over your head. Exotic high and low flying birds are kept aloft

with thin, flexible poles that reach right up to the balcony. This

heralds the opening scene, a procession down the aisles of Africa’s

most representative inhabitants, including an awesome life-sized

elephant,

and an incredibly long-necked giraffe. Give an artist as gifted as

Julie Taymor $14 million to play with, and there’s no telling what

magic she can conjure up.

But just as you may be in complete awe of the wittily and wondrously

conceived creatures of the earth and air as they make their way to

Pride Rock, the first real tingles comes from the aural thrill of

the sound of a chanting chorus. Their voices envelop every corner

of the auditorium. You will eventually hear the possibly familiar

and mostly forgettable five songs from the "Lion King" film,

written by Elton John and Tim Rice. Yet know that they definitely

take a back seat to a considerably expanded musical context with

excellent

new songs by South African composer Lebo M, and those by Mark Mancina,

Jay Rifkin, and Hans Zimmer. Through them, the pulsating rhythms and

poetry of Africa with a specific Zulu character are evoked throughout

the show.

In the same character, even choreographer Garth Fagan does some of

the most inventive work of his career by bringing life to an exotic

terrain — the grasslands actually dance — a life that could

never be so captured in words and music alone.

This stunning artistically reconceived and musically reconsidered

variation on Disney’s 1994 cartoon feature is, if nothing else, a

triumph of concept over content. For this we have to thank Taymor,

whose unique artistic vision as the show’s director and designer is

what makes "The Lion King" the uncommon treat it is.

Functioning

in true Renaissance fashion, Taymor has done more than take control

of this mammoth show. She has directed the enterprise with the savvy

and know-how usually identified with more seasoned directors of big

shows, like Hal Prince. Taymor has managed to use the simple story

as the ultimate showcase for her most astonishing talents as a

costumer

and mask and puppet designer (here in collaboration with Michael

Curry).

Also credit the gifted Taymor with the lyrics to one of the new songs.

In the past, Taymor’s work ("Juan Darien," "Transposed

Heads") was noteworthy for being conspicuously dark and

disturbing.

With "The Lion King," she tempers her flair for the foreboding

and nightmarish. Yet even with "The Lion King," with all its

characters given a fresher look (a highlight is Tsidii Le Loka, a

South African who plays the baboon-shaman and also wrote the tribal

chants), there is evidence of the commendable unsentimental edge to

Taymor’s esthetic.

Unlike millions of the film’s fans, I took exception, if not umbrage,

with the way the cartoon dealt with the hyenas as fascistic inner-city

goose-stepping neighborhood-ruining scavengers. There, I’ve said it!

There was also the question of the cartoon’s depiction of Pride Rock

as a classist, elitist, hardly democratic, social structure. And then

there’s the ascension of Simba to absolute power, not through deed,

ability, or wisdom — learned or innate — but through a right

of royal lineage and his birthright as a member of a superior order.

Certainly, there was the inference of a confluence of Scar’s devious

character and his inferred homosexuality.

The great news is that all this perverse subtext is gone and virtually

forgotten in Taymor’s stagecraft-exalted vision. Well, not entirely.

Scar, as humorously played by John Vickory, is still loathsome, but

now seen with keener sense of his own unctuous theatricality. What,

you may ask, is so great about losing the cartoon’s romanticized

narrative,

its rampant sentimentality, let alone its flagrant political

incorrectness?

The answer is simple. Taymor has chucked the notion of putting a

cartoon

on stage (as in "Beauty and the Beast") and put the story

on a more imaginative and esoteric track in order to create a world

we have never seen before.

If the tragedy of Mufasa’s death during a stampede of wildebeests

does not summon up the tears (it probably will), be assured that the

staging of the scene will take your breath away. Don’t expect to be

touched at all, except by whatever may pass you by. This is not to

say that grown Simba (Jason Raize) and Nala (Heather Headley) don’t

make a warming presence with their good looks and voices.

The principal pleasure of "The Lion King" is the dual

experience

of seeing the performers’ expressive faces and limber bodies reveal

delightfully human traits, even as they manipulate, wear, and control

the extravagant, occasionally cumbersome, masks and costumes that

often appear to have personalities and idiosyncrasies of their own.

One of the nicest touches is when Samuel Wright, as Mufasa, removes

the great Lion mask for a heart-to-heart talk with his son, the young

Simba (Scott Irby-Ranniar).

Later, you won’t know what to watch or who is funnier when

long-tailed,

court-jester Geoff Hoyle manipulates with sticks the jabbering

hornbill

Zuzu. The show’s clowns like Pumbaa (Tom Alan Robbins) and Timon (Max

Casella) fare best, and are best at suggesting the perennial need

for humor to survive a cruel world. The spacious settings by designer

Richard Hudson and the splashy lighting by Donald Holder are no less

a part of this stunning African fable than are all Taymor’s creatures

great and small. HHHH

The Lion King, New Amsterdam Theater, 214 West 42nd

Street,

212-307-4747. $20 to $80. These are hard-to-get tickets — the

theater’s latest block released were for spring, 1999.


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Art, Cuisine, and the Family Friedman

Corrections or additions?

Art, Cuisine, and the Family Friedman

This article by Pat Summers was published

in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 11, 1998. All rights reserved.

Maybe it’s a case of the more things change, the more

they stay the same. Or of life imitating art. Or appetizing poetic

justice. Or a delicious, not vicious, circle. Anyway, Marvin Friedman,

the West Trenton-based artist and illustrator, is once again at the

center of the food scene. Work by the long-time Gourmet Magazine

artist

will share the limelight at an "Art and Cuisine" dinner at

Lambertville’s Church Street Bistro on Monday, February 16. Created

for the occasion, Friedman’s art will share the bill with chef David

Kiser’s five-course meal, more or less suggested by what Friedman

produced — which in turn was more or less inspired by a gourmet

dinner for a group of area artists at the Bistro last October. (Thus,

the "delicious circle.")

For nine visual artists selected for this, the Bistro’s second

"Art

and Cuisine" series, Kiser prepared a feast last fall. It began

with baked brie wrapped in filo with pear, cranberry chutney and

raspberry

coulis; it progressed through soup to an entree of pan-roasted breast

of free-range chicken with rosemary, then a salad melange, and it

ended with triple creme chestnut pumpkin cheese cake with sauce

caramel

and Grand Marnier sabayon. All consumed by an artist who publicly

yearns for his mother’s borscht and brisket.

A rundown of Friedman’s current projects would also show monthly

full-page

profiles — his familiar image-with-text portraits — in the

Packet newspaper chain and his steady work toward a book of his

profiles.

Suggested over the years by more than one agent who admired his

individual

pieces, the book would collect Friedman’s "takes" on a wide

range of interesting and unusual people whom he has interviewed and

portrayed.

Not just an artist with high visibility, Friedman is also distinctive

to look at, starting with the signature suspenders he’s worn

"since

I’m fat." His most distinctive braces are bright yellow tape

measures,

a gift from a Massachusetts relative. "People stop me on the

street

and ask where they can get ’em," he says. "If I had two dozen

pairs, I could retire tomorrow."

Exactly what the artist has produced to go on view at the Bistro for

a month must, like the menu for that Monday-night affair, remain a

secret until then. Only Chef Kiser and Robert Beck, the

artist-intermediary

who coordinates the series, can see the work. But knowing the kind

of art Friedman makes these days — mixed media collages and

two-part

portraits whose image and text both "show" his subjects —

chances are his Bistro work will be in the family.

Ah, family — possibly the operative word in Friedman’s oeuvre.

There’s his nuclear family, his extended family, his inspirational

family, his sometime-surrogate family — all significant others;

all figuring in his art.

With Sonny, his wife of 40-some years ("On a sweet summer’s night

I brought Sonny home to Chester to meet my folks. My grandmother held

Sonny’s hand to her cheek. Uncle Benny kissed her hand and my mother

held her close," he writes), Friedman now lives within hailing

distance of the Delaware River, up a hill from Route 29. His studio

is a former five-car garage near their home, a one-time summer place

for wealthy Trentonians. Parents of four grown children (daughters

Marcy and Michele; sons Stephen and Barry), the couple now dote on

their first grandchild, Noah, whom Friedman describes as "a

wondrous

creation that nobody has ever seen before, whether from atoms or God,

that takes my breath and my cynicism away." His portraits often

start with his photos of subjects-to-be. The hand-lettered text that

accompanies each picture comes from his own memory, in the case of

friends and family, or his taped interviews with those he knows less

well.

"He taught me how to make keys and to cut glass. The keys never

worked and the glass always broke. I hated all of it. I wouldn’t get

anything right because I wanted to be home drawing. I really don’t

know why he never kicked me in the ass. Yes, I do. He loved me,"

writes Friedman in his portrait of his father.

Anyone familiar with his work knows Friedman’s extended family. He

has painted and written about his father as a hardware store owner

in Chester, Pennsylvania, where Friedman and his older brother Alton

grew up, and countless others — his sisters and his cousins and

his aunts. Taken together, his portraits recreate a vanished,

close-knit

world of Jews, all sympathetic characters thanks to Friedman, their

fond chronicler.

"That New Years after my father died I had great expectations

with a torrid voluptuous date," writes Friedman. "My mother

wept. I’m so lonely, she cried. Confused, my eyes tearing, I didn’t

know whether to leave or not to leave. Forty-five years later I don’t

remember anything about the torrid voluptuous date, but I’ve never

forgotten that I left."

And then, about his cousins, the Bookman girls: "I

was closest in age to Renee and she was perpetually teaching me how

to ask Ronnie Lachman out on a date or to the prom. She was also

perpetually

teaching me how to dance, constantly reminding me not to look down

at my feet, but I wasn’t. I was trying to peek down her blouse. I

also desperately needed her advice on how to keep alive the gardenia

corsage I nervously bought for Ronnie 2-1/2 weeks before the

prom."

The artist names as his inspirational family two figures: French

"intimiste"

painter Pierre Bonnard and American comedian Jack Benny. Why Bonnard?

"How can you explain love?" replies Friedman. Bonnard, creator

of domestic genre paintings and "the icon for his life,"

convinced

Friedman, "there’s something beyond illustration out there. He

works for me," he says.

"We broke into Bonnard’s house, above Cannes," confesses

Friedman,

obviously proud of this caper. Though Bonnard died in 1947, his house

was still there, and with Sonny as look-out, he made it through a

cyclone fence, and looked in windows, thrilled to see vestiges of

Bonnard’s paintings. He didn’t stretch his canvases, just tacked them

up and painted, often over the edges and onto the walls. That’s what

Friedman saw. He knew the house "inside and out" because so

much of it appeared in Bonnard’s pictures. "There’s still a green

metal table on his lawn and under a chair there’s a cat. That’s a

painting he did!"

"And Jack Benny’s right up there with Pierre Bonnard,"

Friedman

asserts. He describes Benny as "the Jewish Icon," whose life

he has researched and whom he has cherished much of his life. In his

image-and-text portrait of Benny, he writes, "When we were in

L.A., we drove to Hillside Memorial Park to pay our respects. My

cousin

Sylvia said she never heard of anyone on vacation visiting a cemetary

(sic)."

Some of his subjects occupy Friedman’s time and emotion for months,

becoming, in effect, a surrogate family. The experience of one

commissioned

portrait, a six-foot square collage of people and other images from

the life of a teenager killed in a car accident, was "like

adopting

another kid." It took him the best part of a year to complete,

from the first visit with her parents through the opening of a school

they built in her memory. The portrait now hangs in the building

entrance.

Born in 1930, Friedman attended Philadelphia College of Art and,

beginning

in the 1950s, did magazine illustration for the likes of Saturday

Evening Post, Good Housekeeping, Playboy, The New Yorker and Boy’s

Life. "Lots of magazines then had four or five pieces of

fiction,"

he remembers. That was the good time, when he could pick and choose,

and with his family, he lived in a big house in Hopewell. Then came

television. Then fiction diminished. Then all the art directors seemed

to be 22 years old, and computer-graphics whiz-kids were in demand.

Then came a series of breakdowns, starting in the early 1970s. We

would call it clinical depression today, but for years, it was an

illness that had no name — just great uncertainty, mental pain

and paralysis, an inability to work. Finally, at the Carrier Clinic

in Belle Mead, Friedman met anti-depressants. Not quite Shazam! but

they made the difference. By the early ’80s he had started drawing

and painting to suit himself. That period marked the beginning of

his multi-media collages, which at first included scraps from letters

he had written to his family — that they had saved — during

his years of depression. In one newly-productive time span, he had

12 shows in 12 months.

He also began a 13-year stint as a freelance illustrator for Gourmet

Magazine. He settled into a pattern of visiting the restaurant of

the month and taking photos, from which he’d ultimately do paintings

to accompany each article. He tells great stories about the

idiosyncratic

places, chefs — and patrons, including Henry Kissinger and William

S. Paley. And although he often ate at the places memorialized in

his paintings, his restaurant visits made neither a cook, nor a French

cuisine aficionado, of him. Of such experiences, he recently wrote,

"It was all too precious and mannered and stylized."

However, the upcoming art and cuisine dinner at the Church Street

Bistro has none of that pretension, and already glows with a halo

effect. Early in their acquaintance, Chef Kiser identified himself

as a Friedman fan who had made a collage of the Gourmet illustrations.

The Bistro suddenly became a 14-star restaurant in Friedman’s book.

— Pat Summers

Art & Cuisine, Church Street Bistro, 11 Coryell

Street, Lambertville, 609-397-4383. The dinner, with art by Marvin

Friedman and Chef David Kiser’s five-course dinner is open to all.

Reservations preferred. Cost is $25 excluding drinks and tip.

Monday,

February 16, 6 p.m.

Each diner receives an autographed menu with a photo of the art work

produced for the occasion.

And each month’s art work remains on view at the Bistro at least till

the next dinner.


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Capital Conference: Money for High-Tech

Start with a Bank Loan?

IPOs: Bust or Boom?

">Financing

Roll-Ups: Hot Idea

Corrections or additions?

Capital Conference: Money for High-Tech

These articles by Peter J. Mladineo and Barbara Fox were published

in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 11, 1998. All rights reserved.

The money is out there, and high tech firms are

scrabbling

to get it. But rapid changes are taking place in how these companies

get financed. Investors are setting records (they’re offering more

money) and so are companies (they’re growing and going public more

quickly).

New Jersey is right in the middle of this volatile market. In a survey

published by Business Facilities magazine, the state ranked fourth

in the nation in terms of high tech companies (6,881), and it paid

the second highest average high tech salary ($55,970). New Jersey

is also getting at least its share of venture capital money. For

instance,

Therics at Campus Drive received $4,752,000 last year for its 3-D

production process for medical products, and Sys-Tech Solutions on

Eastpark Boulevard had a $4,976,000 venture capital investment for

its packaging automation software.

So it’s not surprising that this year’s New Jersey Capital Conference

at the Princeton Marriott is attracting lots of interest. Sponsored

by the New Jersey Technology Council on College Road and set for

Thursday,

February 19, from 8:15 a.m. to 2 p.m., the conference has a capacity

of 300 people, and it may be oversubscribed by next week.

Mike Nelson, executive vice president of PNC Bank, explains

just why funding for high tech is such a hot topic. "Venture

capital

firms have set records, in the last three years, for funding high

tech companies," says Nelson, who will give the luncheon speech

at the conference.

Returns have also been at record levels because companies are going

public in less time. Some make it from the start-up stage to the

initial

public offering in under four years, a rate that is phenomenally fast.

"With historically very high rates of return, money is chasing

after these deals," says Nelson.

Just as the pool of capital has grown, so the number of these

companies

being financed is also growing at a rapid clip. "On the supply

side, for lots of categories of companies, going into business is

easy," reminds Nelson. "You don’t have to buy a production

facility — you merely have to sell a piece of intellectual

property."

The demand for capital is increasing, and the supply is growing. It’s

hot. "With things going on at once, you have an unprecedented

level of activity," says Nelson. "I am seeing that all over

the region."

Here’s the lineup for the New Jersey Capital Conference:

John Martinson of Edison Venture Fund gives the welcome and

keynote address at 8:15 a.m., followed by side-by-side workshops.

At 8:30 a.m.: "Private Equity Sources for Intermediate Stage

Companies,"

with Jim Gunton of Edison Venture Fund,

Dick Robbins f

Arthur Andersen, Gerard DiFiore

of Reed Smith Shaw McClay, and

Geoffrey Stengel of BT Alex Brown. Also at that time, "State

and Federal Backed Financing," with Caren Franzini of the

New Jersey Economic Development Authority, Jay Brandinger of

the New Jersey Commission on Science & Technology, Jim Millar of

Early Stage Enterprises, and Don Christianson, of the Small

Business Administration.

"Growing Your Company through Mergers, Acquisitions, and

Recapitalizations"

at 9:30 a.m. features Tim Scott

of Price Waterhouse and James

Roberts of PNC Bank. "Debt Capital Sources & Solutions,"

also at 9:30, has Nat Prentice of BT/Alex Brown,

Dan

Conley

of Funds for Business + Leasing, Arthur Birenbaum of Jefferson

Bank, and June C. George of BT Alex Brown.

At 10:45 a.m.: "How to Finance Roll-Ups," Brian Hughes

of Arthur Andersen and

Jim Hunter of Janney Montgomery Scott,

or "Joint Ventures/Strategic Partnering" with Bill Thomas

of Buchanan Ingersoll and Steve Socolof

of Lucent

Technologies.

David Sorin

of Buchanan Ingersoll and David Proctor of

Janney Montgomery Scott present the outlook for IPOs at 11:45 a.m.,

followed by lunch with Nelson as the featured speaker. Following the

lunch, at 2 p.m., CFOs and financial executives will have their own

roundtable on the IPO experience.

For registration information ($150 at the door) call the New Jersey

Technology Council at 609-452-1010. Interviews with Jim Gunton, Gerard

DiFiore, Brian Hughes, David Sorin, and Mike Nelson follow.

Top Of Page
Start with a Bank Loan?

Almost everyone at this conference will be talking about

fancy alternatives to a bank loan, alternatives that have been devised

because banks are supposed to be fiscally conservative when it comes

to high tech financing. Will a banker float a loan to a risky start-up

when the only collateral is a great idea? Until now, not likely.

High tech firms are almost never profitable when they are young,

admits

Mike Nelson of PNC Bank, "and they have an extraordinary

growth rate ahead of them. That will place unusual demands on them

for capital, and they won’t be able to fund themselves through cash

flows."

That’s why only a handful of banks nationwide — Silicon Valley

Bank and Imperial Bank on the west coast and Fleet Bank in the

northeast

— boast a lending group specifically organized to lend to high

technology and emerging growth companies. PNC has joined this limited

supply.

Nelson gives the luncheon speech at the New Jersey Capital Conference

on Thursday, February 19, at the Marriott, and he will tell how and

why the market has changed.

"Our unit was formed at the demand of our chairman to address

the needs of high technology and emerging growth companies," says

Nelson. The son of an chemist who worked for NASA, he majored in

psychology

and economics at the University of Pittsburgh, Class of 1979, and

stayed for his finance MBA.

Based in Pittsburgh, Nelson is now executive vice president and has

seven people on the staff of his unit. "The bank has made a

substantial

commitment to this business," says Nelson. "Most of the

individuals

on my staff have technical backgrounds." In less than a year the

unit has made "relationships" or loans to two dozen firms.

"We need to assess the future success of the company rather than

what it has done in the past," says Nelson. "We spend a lot

of time determining what is unique about the company, what might

create

some value in the future, on the appropriateness of the management

team and whether it can execute. We spend time on understanding the

other parties supporting the company; we view professional venture

capital firms as being very helpful. Having the right accounting firm

and legal counsel and board of directors at an early stage can be

very helpful in executing a strategy."

Nelson’s PNC lenders assess risk very much the same way that venture

capitalists do. But when venture capitalists invest they get equity,

in contrast to a bank making a loan. The bank expects to be paid back

in cash. If the investment is successful the venture capital firm

is going to make a considerably higher profit than the bank, but the

bank has taken fewer risks.

How does Nelson try to risk-proof his loans? "We tend to structure

our transactions so we are the only senior lender," says Nelson.

In other words, PNC Bank would always be in line to get its money

first. Also, the total amount of PNC’s loan should be smaller than

the total of everyone else’s investments or loans. "That is a

little safer from our point of view," says Nelson.

Also — unlike the venture capitalist — the bank does not

retain

hands-on supervision of the young firm. "We stay involved with

our clients. We consider the active involvement of a venture

capitalist

to be our surrogate. We have several close relationships with venture

capitalists in the region and nationally."

PNC has a new kind of start up loan available to companies on the

heels of their first major venture capital financing. "It is a

very simple, very flexible loan, directly from the bank, not

associated

with SBA," says Nelson. A typical first round of venture capital

financing would be in the $1 to $2.5 million range, and PNC might

add about $1/2 million on top of that. This loan could be used for

general working capital and would be secured by whatever assets the

company has.

More traditional loans for later stage companies would be for working

capital (against receivables), for equipment (against the equipment

value), and for real estate. "If there is something we are seeing

the most of these days it is Internet based companies," says

Nelson.

"Electronic commerce is a specific part of the market we

understand

well. We’ve also done companies in semiconductors and medical

devices."

Prospective borrowers can contact Virginia Alling, or a new

PNC hire Greg Cote, or a biomedical specialist James

Roberts.

They’ll all be there on the 19th. A representative from Friedman

Billings

& Ramsey, PNC’s IPO equity underwriter, will also attend.

The bank loans that Nelson discusses are for companies with a first

round of venture capital funds and that are moving quickly to an IPO.

Nelson has an optimistic view of the IPO market: "The very buoyant

IPO market has accepted companies at earlier stages in their

development

than before at very high values. Companies are going from startup

to IPO in just under four years. With historically very high rates

of return, money is chasing after these deals."

— Barbara Fox

Top Of Page
IPOs: Bust or Boom?

From one angle, the initial public offerings market

is turning into a high stakes whirlwind of technology firms, quick

millionaires, and inflated stock prices. But from another point of

view, it’s not quite what it was just last year. In the opening month

of 1998, reports David Sorin, the managing partner of the

Princeton

office of Buchanan Ingersoll, he has seen only a fraction of the deals

done at this time last year. Sorin is less sanguine than Nelson about

the IPO picture.

"The first five weeks of 1998 have been relatively slow when it

comes to IPOs," he says. In all of January only 15 deals

"priced,"

amounting to a total of about $750 million. "In comparison to

recent history, that is low but when you look at it over a longer

term, raising $750 or $800 million a month in the IPO market is hardly

something to sneeze at."

He and David Proctor, an investment banker with Janney

Montgomery

Scott, give an "Outlook on IPOs" at the Capital Conference

on Thursday, February 19, beginning at 11:45 a.m.

"We’re going to do things a little differently than in the last

couple of years, when most of the talk was about profit," Sorin

predicts. "We’re going to talk about the current state of the

IPO marketplace, about some of the benefits and advantages of going

public, and about some of the burdens and challenges of being a

publicly

held company and some of the processes."

Some skeptics have gone on record preaching doom about technology

firms after watching the air explode out of Netscape’s stock last

year. But Sorin challenges them. "I’m not sure that the Netscape

experience is all that relevant," he says. "I think the lesson

is that high tech companies in general are in markets that involve

great volatility and intense competition. The people who play in the

technology arena understand that."

For investors in technology, Sorin has this advice: "Look for

uniqueness in the technology that the company produces and whether

or not that technology’s been adequately protected. You need to look

at the size of the market that the company’s playing in. It’s really

important to look at the management team that’s been developed. The

R&D effort and time to market — those are all real serious issues.

And of course, the competitive landscape."

One contributing factor to the uncertainty is that after the record

IPO years of 1996 and 1997 there could be an unconscious feeling that

the other shoe could drop on the market at any time. Couple that with

recent world crises (in Asia, Iraq, and the White House, to name a

few) and there’s plenty of reasons to believe that the IPO market

— and any financial market — might be in for a harder time

this year than last.

There has also been a rise in the numbers of mergers and acquisitions

as well as other alternative strategies to growing a company. One

example: Last week’s purchase of Princeton Softech by Computer

Horizons

of Mountain Lakes. "Increasingly, companies are doing strategic

partnering arrangements and sale of the company as an alternative

to going public," says Sorin. "I believe that if you actually

looked at relative valuations you would find that going public results

in a higher public valuation. But there are some companies that don’t

open the kimono in the way that you have to in order to go

public."

Sorin refers to the disclosure required by the Securities and Exchange

Commission, which can dissuade many companies from going public. To

Sorin, this kind of reluctance is tantamount to paranoia. "I think

most people tend to overstate the anti-competitive nature of making

the disclosure," he says. Prospectuses, moreover, "make very

interesting reading but also involve not only the good things about

a company but all of its wars."

— Peter J. Mladineo

Top Of Page
Financing

Expansions

<B>Gerard DiFiore sounds a bit like Forrest

Gump

when asked about structuring financing deals for expansion stage

companies.

"Think of it like Baskin Robbins — there are different

flavors,"

he says. "You can have a redeemable preferred, or a convertible

preferred that’s not redeemable. With either of those you can have

detached warrants, or no warrants. Those are like sprinkles."

Sweets aside, an expansion stage company is often synonymous with

an intermediate stage company. This is the subject of a panel at the

New Jersey Capital Conference with DiFiore, an attorney with Reed

Smith Shaw & McClay, Jim Gunton of Edison Venture Fund,

Richard

Robbins of Arthur Andersen and Geoffrey Stengel, of BT Alex

Brown. The fun starts at 8:30 a.m. Call 609-452-1010 to see if there’s

a seat left.

DiFiore, whose career has included four years with the federal

Securities

and Exchange Commission, describes the intermediate stage company

as a firm "with stable revenues, with a product that’s been

accepted

in the marketplace," and that is approaching profitability or

already profitable.

As far as raising cash goes, intermediate stage deals are often

precursors

to initial public offerings. "For a company that’s likely to do

a significant IPO, they can’t get to that point without something

like this in between," says DiFiore. "They need more equity.

There could be companies that go public at this stage but it would

be poorly planned because they give up too much of their equity."

Like the IPO, the intermediate stage deal is mega-complicated, and

DiFiore urges management to stick close to legal and financial

advisers.

"There could be unfortunate surprises for the company that’s not

paying attention," he says. "Surprise is good for no one."

Contracts often contain many different tethers between management

and investors and, if not understood, they may give management the

impression that they are being squelched, or as DiFiore coins it,

"put into the box."

"Basically management gets put into the box so there’s a

guaranteed

line of communication between management and the investor," he

explains. "It’s to keep the investor involved in the affairs of

the company. Frankly, in the worst case, if the company wanted to

do something that was stupid it would prevent the company from doing

it. Maybe investors have built the company on sweat equity but

investors

have put hard money into that."

DiFiore isn’t suggesting that once a company accepts intermediate

stage financing it is abdicating the helm. On the contrary, a good

investor will want to keep the same management in place and has most

likely based all or at least part of the decision to finance a company

on the strength of its management.

Gunton classifies intermediate stage companies as between $1 and $15

million in revenues, with a product or service that’s already been

accepted on the market. They also have customers "that have tried

and validated the product" and have "multiple distribution

channels, either indirect or direct."

"The third characteristic would be a track record of growth,

typically

more on the revenue side," says Gunton. Earnings may still be

negative.

Gunton, 32, has a degree from Stanford University (Class of 1988)

and worked at Oracle and as a consultant for Big Six accounting firms

before becoming a principal at Edison.

As a financier, Edison Venture Fund usually comes in at earlier stages

than senior investment firms like BT Alex Brown, but, says Gunton,

there is a world of difference between his deals and what would be

considered early stage investments. "Early stage companies are

the ones that get the most attention, because they’re the ones that

have an attractive concept," he says, "whereas the expansion

stage companies are the ones that have gone to the next step."

Companies of the midway also have a much easier time getting other

types of financing, Gunton reports. When a company has $1 million

in revenues, it is often too small to qualify for things like bank

financing, but when it approaches the $15 million mark it starts to

qualify for things like debt financing, he explains.

Expansions can also be accomplished without financial help.

"There’s

always the alternative of not raising capital," says Gunton.

"You

can just grow at a slower rate. You become somebody that could be

acquired by somebody else."

Other alternatives include venture capital or acquiring corporate

partners without losing control of the company. "IBM might provide

some amount of capital for a small amount of equity," he says.

"It might fund a project that is strategic to them."

Like a growing segment of sources from all over the financial world,

Edison Venture Fund has a penchant for the technology sector. "The

overall theme is applying technology to automate old ways of

business,"

says Gunton. What criteria does he look for? "The opportunity

for rapid growth, for market leadership, for defensible proprietary

technology, then for experience in terms of the management —

ideally

success in their area."

Edison usually invests $1 to $5 million to purchase a minority

ownership

position and joins the board as a partner. Edison also likes to

"refer

customers and new distributors and corporate partners and also help

with the financing side," says Gunton.

In the past, EVF has helped to fund a few Princeton area companies,

including Princeton Financial Systems and Signius Corp. (formerly

ProCommunications), which recently moved from 345 Witherspoon Street

to 11,000 square feet in Somerset.

Good news for New Jersey companies is that Edison Venture Fund has

received state funding that will enable it to invest in more New

Jersey

companies. This, Gunton suggests, could easily translate into

additional

opportunities for the pharmaceutical and telecom sectors. "I think

that the geographical proximity to these customers helps give us a

leg up but it also spawns new companies that roll out of these

industries,"

he says. "The third point is you have talent coming out of these

industries that can join or strengthen these companies that are

already

here."

— Peter J. Mladineo

Top Of Page
Roll-Ups: Hot Idea

You may be in an industry that is ripe for

consolidation,

says Brian Hughes. If your industry is fragmented, some big

firm can come along and consolidate the industry with a

"roll-up,"

the latest twist in entrepreneurial financing.

"Roll-ups are a way for entrepreneurs to create large companies

in obscure industries previously dominated by mom and pop

enterprises,"

says Hughes, a Wharton MBA who has worked at Arthur Andersen for 17

years and been a partner for five. He and Jim Hunter, of Janney

Montgomery Scott, will give a workshop on "How to Finance

Roll-Ups"

for the New Jersey Capital Conference on Thursday, February 19, at

10:45 a.m. The cost is $150; call the New Jersey Technology Council

at 609-452-1010 to preregister. A roll-up consolidates many small

firms into a new public entity, and it may occur with (or before)

an initial public offering. The concept is only three years old, but

one of the leading examples is in our own back yard —

Procommunications,

now known as Signius, the nation’s largest provider of inbound

telemessaging

services.

Founded by Barbara Robertshaw (a Brown alumnna and former investment

banker) and William Robertshaw (her father), it had an early

investment

from the Edison Venture Fund. In April, 1997, the firm bought out

its largest competitor and quadrupled its space with a move from

Witherspoon

Street to Somerset. It is well on its way to an IPO.

Hughes cites two different types of roll-ups. "One we call Poof!

Overnight you are created, and the companies come together as an

IPO."

The second kind is more of a slow bake type. Someone buys companies,

integrates them, often with funding by venture capitalists, and then

goes public. Procommunications was of the second kind. Some of the

first roll-ups consolidated firms in the office products area:

Corporate

Express (in 1994) and U.S. Office Products. U.S. Physicians is an

aggregation of 37 physician practices to deal with third party payers

more effectively. It has filed SEC registration and hopes to be public

by March.

Another well-known roll-up was in the auto business, Republic

Industries,

for which Wayne Huizenga continues to buy dealerships. A Chicago

venture

capital firm, Golder Thoma, has financed more than 45 consolidations,

including a temporary staffing concern, funeral homes, pharmacies,

and security guard services. A Houston-based firm, Consolidated

Capital,

has created a blind pool of $600 million to finance roll-ups. Here’s

how to tell if you should start rolling up your industry:

Is it fragmented? Dominated by small players?

Are there efficiencies to be gained if you consolidate,

not only by increasing the revenues but decreasing costs.

Arthur Andersen almost always has the buyer as a client.

"Only

once have we been on the side of the company that got acquired,"

says Hughes. But he takes a dim view of your being the top dog unless

you are very smart and have very deep pockets. "We would probably

tell people to go with Republic than fight Huizenga," says Hughes.

"Consolidations are very expensive. A lot of fees are

incurred."

— Barbara Fox


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Survival Guide

Netvertising: Yea or Nay?

Turning Green?">Brownfields: Turning Green?

Hiring Without Fear

Clockwatching Caregivers

Sun’s Papadopoulos at Rutgers

Corrections or additions?

Survival Guide

These articles by Peter J. Mladineo and Barbara Fox were

in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 11, 1998. All rights reserved.

Top Of Page
Netvertising: Yea or Nay?

When it comes to law, Israel D. Dubin is

considered

something akin to "Mr. Ethics." He is counsel for three major

policy-setting legal organizations in the state, the Advisory

Committee

on Professional Ethics, Committee on Attorney Advertising, and

Committee

on the Unauthorized Practice of Law.

The Mercer County Bar Association hosts Dubin Wednesday, February

18. Call 609-585-6200. Dubin’s topic: advertising on the Internet,

or "netvertising."

For those interested in the slings and arrows of attorney advertising,

Dubin’s opinion "carries a lot of weight," says Hanan

Isaacs,

a Ewing Street-based attorney renowned for his successful campaign

to liberalize the state’s attorney advertising regulations in the

1980s. Law firms, Isaacs explains, have traditionally adhered to a

much stricter set of advertising standards than other types of

businesses.

By law their advertisements are required to be "predominately

informational," and must be void of "techniques that rely

upon absurdity and that demonstrate a clear and intentional lack of

relevance to the selection of counsel, including any extreme portrayal

of counsel exhibiting characteristics clearly unrelated to legal

competence."

Televised attorney advertisements aren’t allowed to use "drawings,

animations, dramatizations, music, or lyrics." The Internet, says

Isaacs, could be construed as something in between print and

television,

but the rule has yet to be written.

Isaacs wonders whether his own website, which employs miniature gavels

and other icons as symbolic decorations, would make the cut if the

ossified advertising standards currently in place were applied to

the ‘Net. "Is that an animation?" he asks. "I did what

I thought was tasteful and dignified on my website. Is it not in the

eye of the beholder? We don’t know."

The anti-ad school, Isaacs explains, dates back to 1905 when the

American

Bar Association became powerful enough to create "a monopoly on

information dissemination," that precluded lawyers even from

wearing

nametags that identified them as lawyers. Then in the mid ’70s the

United States Supreme Court "opened the door a crack" and

began to allow very conservative ads in newspapers called

"tombstones"

that featured only the name of the firm, its specialty, and its prices

in plain typefaces.

But by the early ’80s, Isaacs and fellow attorney Robert Felmeister

challenged the system. "We came in at that point at the early

`80s and said that the federal court was more liberal than the New

Jersey Supreme Court," he says. The case got the New Jersey

Supreme

Court to "liberalize" the attorney advertising laws, but

"not

to the point we wanted it to," Isaacs recalls. The reason:

Robert

Wilentz, the state’s Chief Justice, who died last year. "The

late Chief Justice was really down on lawyer advertising — as

permitting people to showcase their firm in a way that was perhaps

misleading," Isaacs says.

But Isaacs thinks more liberalized attitudes towards attorney

advertising

will carry over onto the ‘Net. "Twelve years has gone by since

that opinion," he says. "There may be a less-fearful

perception

of the marketplace. In fact there have not been a glut of clowny ads

on TV."

"I don’t expect there to be a big fuss over it like there was

15 years ago. It hasn’t been like people have been rushing to the

barricade to create distasteful advertising."

— Peter J. Mladineo

Top Of Page
Brownfields: Turning Green?

If you’ve ever heard the word "brownfields"

and wondered what it meant, think of this: "brownfields" is

a politically correct term for eyesores. It refers to the state’s

profusion of "abandoned or underutilized, often contaminated

industrial

properties" — the things that gave New Jersey its "armpit

of the nation" handle. Currently the Garden State still has

roughly

9,000 of them left.

The word "brownfields" summons similar fears from investors,

says Stephen Nobel of Kemper Environmental in Forrestal Village,

who speaks at the Industrial/Commercial Real Estate Women on

Thursday,

February 12, at 5:30 p.m. at the Woodbridge Sheraton. Cost: $35. Call

973-238-8100, extension 19, for information.

But those fears are disproportionate to the risks, Nobel reports.

"The term `brownfields’ has been a real problem in the

marketplace,"

he says. "It seems to have taken a connotation that’s much worse

than it is. My goal is to demystify what it takes to address sites

like this. There are sites out there that are bad and there’s not

a lot you can do with them, but the large majority of them are doable,

provided you take certain steps."

One of those steps is to buy environmental insurance, Nobel suggests.

"It is designed to pick up the risks on the edges of a deal.

Insurance

provides for what I call the environmental surprises. For example,

if you’re developing a site and you hit buried drums."

A good policy will also absorb third party claims related to

contamination

issues at a site, as well as contract damages, legal defense costs,

and business interruption. Nobel attests that these types of policies

have been the popular sellers of late. "I can testify that my

life is made very busy by this," he says. "The demand is

high."

State and federal echelons of government have also enlisted their

support. In describing the City of Trenton’s overhaul of the mammoth

Hill Refrigeration site (U.S. 1, February 4), Trenton’s director of

economic development James Harveson reported that the federal

government was willing to commit $1 million to help fix the complex’s

roads, lighting, and drainage. "Everyone wants to get on the

brownfields

bandwagon," he said. "It’s the latest fad in urban

redevelopment."

Eager to attract new businesses and not have any more industrial firms

leave the state, Christie Whitman signed a new bill, the

Brownfield

and Contaminated Site Remediation Act, in early January. Among other

things, this law will promote redevelopment projects that will, in

turn, create more jobs and ratables.

The new law’s most important provision is a covenant not-to-sue, which

protects "innocent" persons who undertake a site remediation.

This means: if you purchased a brownfield and undertook site

remediation,

the government will not sue you if an environmental problem that

existed

before you purchased the site arises.

"I anticipate it’s going to be an important tool because in

brownfields

redevelopment there are three major areas, liability is one of

them,"

says Stuart J. Lieberman, an attorney with Goldshore & Wolf,

the Plainsboro Road-based environmental law firm.

This covenant says if a developer remediates a property up to certain

standards and is "truly an innocent," the state of New Jersey

will not hold the developer liable if a previously existing

environmental

hazard is later discovered.

"In order to qualify as an innocent party you have to undertake

certain amounts of due diligence before you make the purchase,"

says Lieberman. "Generally if you do due diligence and there’s

contamination you will find it. We generally say nobody is innocent,

as defined by the regulations."

The law also "liberalizes" required clean-up levels, Lieberman

adds. "There are many instances where no clean-up is going to

be required," he says. "And there are other less-than

permanent-remedies

that will be allowable in certain industries." Another area to

benefit is funding. "There are now more public monies available

in the government’s loan grant program," says Lieberman.

But perhaps the most significant improvement the bill seeks to make

is to increase New Jersey’s regional competitiveness. Pennsylvania

made similar allowances last year in its Act 2 legislation. "If

someone is looking to move into New Jersey or Pennsylvania, the laws

are very similar," he says. "We don’t have a handicap

anymore."

— Peter J. Mladineo

Top Of Page
Hiring Without Fear

A common fear among employers, says Carol

Schnitzler

of WiderViews, is that they don’t want to hire because they won’t

be able to fire. If they hire a disabled employee and it doesn’t work

out, they believe the worker could use the Americans with Disabilities

Act to file a lawsuit. (Under the ADA, a worker can indeed sue an

employer who does not make appropriate accommodations for the workers’

disability.)

Nevertheless, hiring and firing a disabled person does not have to

be different from hiring and firing anyone else, Schnitzler insists:

"No one should be hired just because they have a disability. Don’t

hire anyone who can’t do the job."

Her answer to the employer who is afraid of firing: If it turns out

that the worker can’t do the job, the supervisor must simply follow

the usual procedures for getting rid of an employee — keep good

records and document the work, being very clear about expectations

and having measurable objectives.

Schnitzler will speak at the Alliance for the Disabled at the

Princeton

YWCA on Tuesday, February 17, at 2 p.m. The meeting is free. Call

609-497-2100. Preregistration is recommended. In discussing employment

issues and other areas of disability related disputes, she will

present

an alternative to lawsuits: Mediation.

"Mediation is a newer, kinder approach to the resolution of

disagreements

large and small between people with disabilities and other

parties,"

says Schnitzler, a certified mediator. A trained mediator serves as

a neutral third party who provides a nonconfrontational setting,

facilitates

communication between the parties, keeps the parties focused on the

issues, helps them to create practical solutions, and records and

witnesses any agreements reached.

Among the examples she will cite: accommodation and access issues

involving a merchant, a college administrator, and a health care

provider.

She will also discuss resolving a complaint already filed with the

Department of Justice or the EEOC under the Americans with

Disabilities

Act. These individuals, for instance, sought mediation and were able

to achieve a satisfactory solution:

A woman who is deaf. Despite her request for a qualified

sign language interpreter, she was not provided one by the hospital

where she was treated.

A customer in a restaurant where the rest rooms were not

accessible and the owners were unwilling to make any reasonable

accommodation.

A parent of a disabled son who was denied a summer

recreation

program, though programs were available to his peers.

An employee returning to work after becoming disabled;

he was not given the opportunities for advancement that he thought

he deserved.

An employer of a worker who uses a wheelchair who was

no longer willing to accept the employee’s poor performance and bad

attitude.

Schnitzler grew up in New York City, went to Hunter College,

taught school, and raised three children. As a reaction to a family

member’s disability, she made it her mission "to help people to

see beyond the disability to the person." With a state grant she

taught parents to run "More Alike than Different," a

disability

awareness program for third graders. In 1981 when the disability

awareness

movement was just starting, her first client was IBM in Dayton, and

her practice spread. During the 1980s awareness grew, and the ADA

law passed in 1990. Title I was effective in 1992, and in 1994 it

applied even to smaller businesses, those with 15 or more employees.

She has expanded her practice from just training to consulting and

mediation and can just as easily be on management side as on the

employee

side.

Still, though the ADA now legislates acceptance, Schnitzler says that

most people are still not comfortable with people with disabilities:

"We made curb cuts, but not cuts in our belief system." And

though the ADA law is in the books, interpretations vary widely.

"I understand people’s frustration with the law as not specific

enough," she says. "That’s also the beauty of the law —

because you have to look at each individual person."

Top Of Page
Clockwatching Caregivers

Ninety-five percent of the people who qualify to be

in nursing homes are actually cared for at home, says Michael L.

Rosenthal.

"This has great impact on the workplace. It affects the employees’

work. People who were never absent before start missing days. Or they

become clock watchers," he warns.

Rosenthal will lead a series of interactive support/group seminars

for caregivers and potential caregivers. Introductory 90-minute

sessions,

entitled "Key Concepts for Dealing with the Concerns of Your Aging

Parents," are scheduled on Thursday, February 19, in six time

periods — 9 and 11 a.m. and 1, 3, 6, and 8 p.m. A similar series

is scheduled for Thursday, February 26. The cost is $15. Preregister

at 609-921-1782.

Just like those who have children but work fulltime, workers who have

elderly parents at home never know what they will encounter after

work.

"I know quite well the concerns people have," says Rosenthal.

For a dozen years he had been a caregiver to his own parents. Once

he came home to find his aged father had gone down to the cellar and

moved all the heavy power tools around. Another time he found his

mother screaming, standing in the middle of the kitchen, clutching

a teapot full of boiling water, unable to hold it but not able to

find a place to put it down.

"Although one cannot deny a diagnosis, one can and should go to

great lengths to defy any and all negativity — and this includes

the effects of aging both on the elderly and their caregivers.

Attitude

is vitally important in confronting all issues," he says, "and

being positive can be significantly instrumental in creating positive

physical outcomes — and additional feelings of strength and

well-being."

He quotes the late Viktor Frankel, the Auschwitz survivor and

philosopher,

who believed that if one has a purpose in life, one can survive

anything.

"Give your parent a purpose for what they can do right now. Tell

them you have to get a mailing out, and give them the stamps to put

on your letters. Keep it in the moment: `That’s your job right

now.’"

Rosenthal has a variety of degrees and a myriad of experiences that

he draws on for his counseling and social work practice. He grew up

in Trenton where his father was a teacher and his mother a bookkeeper,

went to George Washington University (Class of 1963), earned a

master’s

degree from American University in education, taught junior high

school

in Trenton, earned a second master’s degree in guidance and counseling

from Rider, then worked as a counselor at Nottingham High, and earned

his Ed.D. from Rutgers.

In 1976 Rosenthal opened his own practice, first in Pennington, and

then in Lawrenceville. "I was one of the first career counselors

back then," he says. He went back to school yet one more time

to get a master’s degree in social work from the Wurzweiler School

of Social Work at Yeshiva University.

"I work with people in anything that they and I feel I can help

with — careers, relationships, children having problems in school.

I have taken on the two specialties, elderly parents and children

having problems in school because I have much experience with

them."

Just as a toddler has a dream of going to kindergarten, the elderly

parent sometimes thinks he should be back in the workplace. "In

a way it is like caring for a young child," says Rosenthal.

"You

find your father up at 3 a.m. getting dressed, saying he is going

to work. This is a problem: He has no work and it is 3 a.m."

Instead of imparting the harsh reality, use validity therapy, he

suggests.

"Work with where they are emotionally. Instead of saying, `You

don’t have any work,’ say, `You can take the day off today.’"

Top Of Page
Sun’s Papadopoulos at Rutgers

Learn about linear programming and progress toward a

wireless Internet when Rutgers’ computer science department hosts

an open house on Friday, February 13, at 9 a.m. in the CoRE building

on Rutgers’ Busch campus in Piscataway. The free program will include

talks, project demonstrations, and laboratory tours.

The keynote speaker: Greg Papadopoulous, chief technology

officer

of Sun Microsystems, a California-based computer industry giant that

donated much of the equipment in the new program. The program focuses

on the design, development, and deployment of advanced Internet and

World Wide Web systems.

"Our new Internet Technology Initiative establishes Rutgers as

the place to study Internet, both for network technologists and those

working in technology management," says Tomasz Imielinski,

chairman of the computer science department and director of the

initiative.

He teaches courses in database systems and networking technology and

is known for research in mobile and wireless computing and database

mining.

With the technology transfer program, Rutgers students and faculty

can use the facilities to establish new high-tech businesses in the

state. The initiative includes an Internet Technology Laboratory as

well as an Internet Telephony Laboratory for development of software

tools for Internet access with a telephone interface enhanced with

speech recognition capabilities.

It also offers new certificate programs in network technology and

network technology management.

Born in Gdansk, Poland, the birthplace of the Solidarity movement,

Imielinski also plays lead guitar for a Rutgers faculty heavy metal

band, the Professors. "Some of my students try to get independent

studies in mobile computing by telling me what instrument they

play,"

he said (U.S. 1, September 24).


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After the Jackpot, Back to Work

Corrections or additions?

After the Jackpot, Back to Work

This article by Joan Crespi was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

February 4, 1998. All rights reserved.

So you’ve won a million dollars and you think you

can retire?

On Monday, July 26, 1993, Joyce Ongradi took a day off from her job

as secretarial assistant to the superintendent of Katzenbach School

for the Deaf in West Trenton and drove with her husband to Atlantic

City. She walked into Showboat casino and began to play the slots.

She played a few machines, then saw one called Quartermania, a

"Progressive"

machine, wondered what that machine was about, put 12 quarters in

in groups of three, and won a million dollars.

Bells rang. The casino took her picture. The manager gave her a check

for the first installment. It seemed like a dream. "I looked at

it like a gift from heaven," says Ongradi. "Like, oh boy,

this will help with retirement and make life easier!"

All of us — if we have ever played the lottery, entered a

sweepstakes,

or fed the slots — have dreamed about winning a million dollars.

But after the dreams could come the dilemmas. We wonder how we would

spend all that money and how it would change our lives.

Ongradi insists her life didn’t change. At age 57 she lives quietly,

goes to work at the same job, takes the same kinds of vacations,

everything

the same. Almost everything.

She soon realized that a million dollars is not a lot of money any

more. "A lot of people think I have a million dollars sitting

in my living room," says Ongradi, "but I’m not a

millionaire."

And she ‘s right. Her take is $51,000 a year for 20 years, so after

taxes she gets $36,000 or $37,000 a year.

Ongradi is a robust, down-to-earth woman, and retirement didn’t even

enter her mind. "I got really practical and I said `If I quit

my job, I lose my health benefits. I’ll have to buy my health

benefits,

and people don’t realize how expensive that is. So you take that off

of the $36,000 or $37,000, and I still have a mortgage and expenses

that other people have. I would have been worse off instead of better.

Because I would have been losing my income at the time."

Her million dollar moment came after four or five once-a-year

excursions

to Atlantic City. Her husband didn’t like to go, she says, but a

friend,

Jerry, got her interested. "So I got in the habit of going every

July — usually one day during my vacation."

"We always said, Jerry and I, as we drove down, `Our bills are

paid, and this is money we’ve saved up. And we’re not going without

food.’ And all these sensible things that we used to say."

But by 1993 the friend had died of cancer, and she cajoled her husband

to take her, saying, "You’re really going to have to go with me

now that Jerry’s gone." So he agreed. Reluctantly."

It was the first time Ongradi had ever played a Progressive machine.

This particular machine, Quartermania, is linked in with other

machines

in other casino hotels, she says, "and I guess they’re just set

so that they go off at a certain point. Mine went off at Showboat.

"Bells starting ringing. And on that particular machine it was

symbols that came up across the screen and said `Quartermania.’ There

were three or four of them in a row. And if you get them on the line

when you put in the third quarter, you win the million dollars. If

I had done something foolish like put in one quarter and those symbols

had all come up, I probably would have won $500 or maybe $1,000. It

has to be three quarters in the machine to win the jackpot, and

luckily

I did that. I put in three quarters, pulled, nothing. I put in three

again, nothing. On the fourth pull, when I had put my twelfth quarter

in, that’s when I won."

"I’d never played that machine before. And when the bell went

off, I was just waiting for my quarters. I had no idea what I had

won. Nothing was coming out. I was getting a little frustrated. I

thought `Well where’s my quarters?’"

"Until a man strolled up, very nonchalant. "I said, `Well

what did I win?’

"He said, `Well it’s right there.’

"So I looked up. It looked like $110,000 to me. `Oh, one hundred

and ten thousand, that’s really good!’ I said.

"He said, `Look again, because you won one million dollars!’

"And I had no idea! I HAD NO IDEA! And all the people around me

were all excited, and they were saying, `You don’t act like you’re

excited.’ Well I’m kind of a calm person, I guess. I think they were

more excited for me. All I kept saying was, `I gotta get my husband!

I gotta get my husband!’ I could see him, but his back was to me.

He was playing the nickel machine.

"So a little lady said, `Where is he? I’ll walk over and get him.’

" We both kind of got crying at the same time. It was an exciting

time! And we both said `Jerry’s got something to do with this!’

"The man who was next to me when I won said, `You know there was

another man who just played on the machine for the longest time, and

he left.’ And I walked up. Twelve quarters later I won a million

dollars.

The right place at the right time. It’s luck."

For two hours the casino official hosted the couple at a bar while

the machine was inspected. "I thought afterwards, supposing the

man playing before me had tampered with the machine, I wouldn’t have

gotten the money." Two hours later she got her check, the first

installment. "They said, `You can have some of this in cash, if

you like. How much would you like?’"

Ongradi’s voice turns coy with remembered shock: "`Oh, I don’t

know. Give me a thousand!’" She laughs. I’m walking around after,

thinking `I wonder if anybody was following us." She adds, "I

probably could have had five, or ten if I wanted it. But I just

said"

— she mimics nonchalance — "`Oh, gimme a thousand.’ I

just thought a thousand was a big deal."

"The casino offered us free room, dinner, everything, so we could

stay overnight. And I was so excited I said `Oh God, I’ve gotta get

home and tell somebody!’ And I didn’t want to call my parents and

tell them, because my mother had had a small heart attack. So we only

stayed about another hour, and then we left."

She did go on what might very loosely be termed a shopping spree.

"Everybody was saying, `Well, what did you go out and buy for

yourself?’ People think I’m crazy, but every time I went down in the

years before, I would go past one of these places that sells all these

concrete ornaments, and I said, `If I have any money left today, I’m

going to buy a bird bath.’ Every year I’d say `I think this is my

lucky day.’ And every year I’d come back broke. With no bird bath.

So I said to my husband `Today we’re buying a bird bath.’ That was

my extravagant expense on the way home from Atlantic City."

The casino had a big cardboard sign made out like a check: Joyce

Ongradi,

one million thirty-three thousand and some small change. "So I

walked into my parents’ house, and I said, `Hi, look what I’ve won!’

And I held it up.

"And they said, `Oh, that’s nice.’ Just as calm as could be."

"Then my mother called her next door neighbor to tell her, but

that was about all the excitement there was. So you know where I get

it from."

Reports of her win were on TV news that night and in the Trenton Times

and the Trentonian the next day. And when Ongradi showed up for work

the next morning, that surprised a lot of people. "`Why are you

still working?’ they wanted to know. `Why didn’t you at least take

a day off?’" She addresses the memory. "Why? For what?"

"`If I won a million dollars I wouldn’t have been here the next

day,’" she reports her co-workers saying. "Well, I was. I

was there bright and early the next day."

Surprisingly enough the casino did not press to use her in

advertising,

nor was she inundated with phone calls from sales people and people

asking for donations or loans. "I had very few phone calls,"

she recalls. "I think one insurance company called me. People

whom I hadn’t heard from in years, people from high school, called

me to say how wonderful they thought it was, to congratulate me, and

that was very nice. But no high pressure stuff."

Still everyone had suggestions for what she should do

with the money. "Like, `Oh, didn’t you buy yourself a nice piece

of jewelry? You should do that every year: buy yourself something

really extravagant.’ You could spend $36,000 very fast," says

the practical Ongradi. "I think it makes a difference how you

were raised," she says. "And my parents always worked for

a living."

Joyce Ongradi was born in Doylestown and brought up in Hopewell

Township.

Her father worked on a farm, then owned his own tractor-trailer and

had his own small-scale trucking business. Her mother was a homemaker

until her two children went to high school. Then she worked in a

drygoods

store in Hopewell to help put Joyce’s brother through college.

Joyce was graduated from Pennington Central High School. She stayed

at home until her children were in school fulltime, then worked part

time for nearly eight years for a Pennington insurance agent and loved

it. But when he retired she took a civil service exam and went to

work for the audiologist at Katzenbach in 1981.

Ongradi no longer has the birdbath; it broke. And she has divorced

her husband. But for the most part her lifestyle has not substantially

changed. "Maybe if I had won this when I was 20, I would have

gone crazy!" she speculates. "And I would have spent every

penny as soon as I got it. But if you’ve lived a certain way for

50-some

years, it’s kind of silly to think you’re going to change."

Several years ago Showboat tried to organize a reunion of people who

had won a million dollars or more. (A reunion of millionaires!) Would

she be interested in coming? Ongradi said, "Sure." But

apparently,

she says, few of the other winners wanted to be involved. "It

would have been interesting to see the kind of people that they

were,"

she says and laughs readily. "If they were all Plain Janes like

me."

She lives very modestly in a small, attached townhouse with eggshell

yellow siding; she bought the house, not with her winnings, but with

an inheritance. Her routine is thoroughly ordinary. Up at 5:30 a.m.,

before she needs to get up, she walks and feeds the dog, a frisky

brown Corgi, eats breakfast, reads the paper and maybe throws in a

load of wash before she leaves for the day. "Same as always,"

she says with a chuckle. "Nothing’s changed." She’s at work

early. She doesn’t like to be late anyplace. After work she walks

the dog. Evenings she generally reads, knits, crochets, and watches

TV.

In April, over the school’s spring vacation, she’s going to Hawaii.

But she’s always wanted to go, and she’d probably have gotten there

anyway, even if she hadn’t won, she says. But the won money makes

it easier. She has "no desire to go to Europe or anything like

that." She might go to Bermuda or the Bahamas. And she and her

aunt went to Las Vegas one year and stayed a few days.

She traded in her car for a new Chevrolet and expects to do that every

three years. Not so before her win. She laughs: "We would drive

our cars until they fell apart. Like most people do." Now, without

a mechanic in the house, she says she plans to get rid of cars before

she has problems with them.

With her winnings she lives more comfortably. And "it’s nice not

to have to live from paycheck to paycheck," she notes, "as

many people do." Or to have to give up small luxuries like going

out to dinner, when sickness and doctor bills hit, as she had to do

with young children.

She invests some of the money (she’d never invested before), helps

her two adult children a little, and puts a little away for her four

grandchildren. "I certainly do not spend $36,000 on nonsense,"

she declares. Like most Americans of her age, she talks of her pension

and social security and eventual retirement. "Before, I didn’t

save a lot because there wasn’t a lot to save. Of course, now I do

much better. And I upped my deferred compensation at work."

Someone tried to steer her in the direction of a financial planner,

but she firmly turned that down. She says "I don’t want to lose

any money, and I don’t want somebody investing my money where I’m

going to make 30 percent but lose it next year. I would rather earn

less percentage. I guess because I don’t feel like I need a lot of

money."

She’s begun to go to New York to see shows. Neither her parents or

her husband ever did that, she notes, but her new lifestyle here has

nothing to do with the money. She started going with friends from

work who suggested she go along with them, she says. Or she goes in

with her aunt. When she goes to New York City, it’s not in a stretch

limo: she’ll take the train or, with her aunt, join a bus tour.

She goes to Atlantic City maybe three times a year now, four at the

most, she says. (She’s won nothing since her cool million.). Other

casinos do not solicit her nor offer freebies more extravagant than

usual for the average gambler. "I don’t think I’m treated any

differently than anybody else, I guess because I don’t spend enough

money," she says. "I go down with a certain amount and I have

no plans on losing any more than that. I never want to lose more than

that $250." Ongradi stops herself and chuckles. "If my mother

ever heard me say that, she’d say `Oh my God! Two hundred and fifty

dollars!’"

Atlantic City "does not hold that fascination for me," she

says. "I always thought if I won I would go a lot more often.

But I can take it or leave it. I guess I’m not addicted to it."

"People tell me all the time that I’m the same person I ever was.

And I think I am. Introducing me, they’ll say, `Oh, this is my

friend.’

And after a while, we get to the point where they’ll say, `You know,

she won a million dollars.’ And they’ll look at me like `Oh my God,

that’s wonderful!’ And then they’ll say, `But she’s the same as she

ever was. She’s no different.’"

Ongradi agrees. "And again, it’s not a lot of money. Years ago

I never would have thought I would ever say that."

When someone tries to sell her a chance now at work, Ongradi says

she always buys. "But I always tell them `I’m not a very lucky

person.’ And they think about it a minute and they say, `Oh yes you

are!’ But I say `I only won once.’ And they say `That’s all you had

to win.’

Yet besides shocking her cohorts that she came to work the next day

after winning a million dollars, Ongradi and her win have had another,

more telling, effect on the staffers at Katzenbach. Even without a

guardian angel, many of the Katzenbach staff hope Lady Luck will

strike

them, too.

But — in what is surely a further sign of these times — says

teacher Harriet Tewles, "Now when they take up a collection in

the lunch room to buy lottery tickets, we think of Joyce — `a

million dollars is not a lot of money anymore’ — and we wait until

the jackpot is at least two million."

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