the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: Chicago

Happiness and Gumballs


It was the day before the annual BlogHer conference in Chicago.   JC and I made plans to stroll down Michigan Avenue and explore the city.  If you don’t know JC Little (The Animated Woman), take a look at her delightful and somewhat repulsive presentation about pinworms at the Voices of the Year ceremony.  She’s my kind of person.


During our walk, we found ourselves in the architecturally-interesting Chicago Cultural Center, and noticed that there was an art show on the fourth floor gallery.  It was titled “The Happy Show” and the installation was by Stefan Sagmeister, a prominent designer from New York.

The Happy Show offers visitors the experience of walking into the designer’s mind as he attempts to increase his happiness via meditation, cognitive therapy and mood-altering pharmaceuticals. “I am usually rather bored with definitions,” Sagmeister says. “Happiness, however, is just such a big subject that it might be worth a try to pin it down.” Centered around the designer’s ten-year exploration of happiness, this exhibition presents typographic investigations of a series of maxims, or rules to live by, originally culled from Sagmeister’s diary, manifested in a variety of imaginative and interactive forms.  — from the city of Chicago website.

The exhibit was fantastic, and we spent over an hour enjoying the unique infographics and interactive displays, all relating the concept of happiness.


The most provocative art piece was Sagmeister’s attempt to show a graphical representation  of the happiness of the visitors to the show.  He did this based on the amount of gumballs that were taken from a row of ten old-fashioned gumball machines standing against the wall, numbered from 1-10, each machine signifying one higher level of individual happiness.

I thought about my level of personal happiness before I approached the gumball machines. I decided that I was relatively happy.  Even with some bumps in the proverbial road, I had my health, good friends, my hair, and I wasn’t bored yet with my existence.  I took a gumball from machine #7.  That put me in the top 25% of happiness.

As I put the gumball into my mouth, JC said, “That’s bad for your teeth.”

I laughed.  It’s the little joys of life that enable a person to be happy.

“It’s your turn,” I said, almost a dare.

JC walked to the row of gumball machines and turned the handle of machine #10.  A bright yellow gumball dropped out.


“#10?” I shouted, rather stunned.

Maybe she was confused by the instructions.  She was Canadian, after all.

“You realize that #10 means #10 in happiness.” I mansplained.

“I know,” she said.

I left it at that, but by the time we were back on the street, at “the Bean” in Grant Park, I couldn’t hold it in any longer.  Her choice had annoyed me.


“How can you put yourself as #10 in happy?” I pushed again.

“Because I’m happy.”

“That’s great.  I’m glad you’re happy.  But #10 happy?  What about #9 happy?  Then you would have something to look forward to!”

“I think you can be #10 happy all the time, if you are happy at the moment.”

“Are you saying that nothing bad has ever happened to you?  No one you cared about ever got sick or went bankrupt?”

“Of course bad things happen.  I can be upset, but still happy and content.”

“This makes no LOGICAL SENSE.  #10 means the IDEAL.  The Platonic ideal.  Heaven is #10.  No one ever gets to be #10 in this world.  If I thought I was #10 in happiness, I would just kill myself because it’s all downhill.”

“That’s because we have different views of happiness.”


Two days later, I met JC during one of the keynotes.  It was the day after her presentation at the Voices of the Year.

“You were great last night,” I said.

“Thank you.”

“Anyway, enough about that.  Have you changed your mind about what number happy you are?”

“Are you still obsessing over this?”

“Are you feeling #10 right now?”


“Ok, let’s make up a hypothetical situation.  Imagine, last night your presentation was a total disaster.  Everything went wrong.”

“Nice.  OK.”

“The microphone didn’t work.  The crowd was booing.  Today, you’re being ostracized by everyone you know.”

“Are they throwing things at me?”



“So, what number happiness are you now?”



“Like I told you ten times before.  I can be upset.  But still happy.  Because I know who I am.”

“OK, what if your pants fell down during your presentation last night, and you weren’t wearing any underwear and everyone saw your privates?  What then?  How would you feel today?”

“That would be quite memorable.  It would probably make me more happy.”

“Aha, GOTCHA!  You are already #10!  You can’t become MORE HAPPY!”

It’s been a month since BlogHer.  Last night, I had a dream.  I was standing in front of the row of gumballs in Chicago, ready to make another choice.  I gazed at the yellow balls of sugary gum enclosed in reflective glass tubes, and then I went for it.  But this time, rather than taking a gumball from machine #7, I turned the lever of machine #6.

My Class Action Suit


Att:  Class Action Suit Proposed Against Several Prominent Universities by "Citizen of the Month"

This is Nobel Prize time, an exciting time for writers, intellectuals, and peacemakers.  But there is a dark underbelly to all these prizes.   Just as every Hollywood producer wanted to suck up to Scarlett Johansen after "Lost in Translation," universities want to claim every Nobel laureate as their own. 

As reported in the Los Angeles Times by Karen Kaplan:

The University of Chicago lays claim to an astonishing 78 Nobel laureates — the most of any institution in the United States and second in the world only to England’s University of Cambridge.

Renowned physicists Hans Bethe and Werner Heisenberg and economics guru Paul A. Samuelson are all counted among Chicago’s Nobel brethren.

Wait a minute.

Didn’t Bethe spend virtually his entire career at Cornell University? Isn’t Samuelson considered the heart and soul of MIT economics? Did Heisenberg even spend more than a few months in Chicago?

"I think the University of Chicago counts everyone who ever walked through there," said Herbert Kroemer, a UC Santa Barbara professor who shared the Nobel Prize for physics in 2000.

Counting Nobel Prizes is the ultimate academic sport. It is a no-holds-barred exercise in selective memory and fuzzy math.

Universities that normally pride themselves on academic virtues and scholastic precision can find themselves grasping for any plausible thread of affiliation with those anointed by Stockholm.

When I was a fresh-faced high school student at Jamaica High School staying up all night studying for my SAT, I met with several local college recruiters.  One of them was an alumnus of Columbia University.  As I met with him in his wood-grained law office, he told me why I should attend Columbia College:  the core curriculum of "Great Books," the cultural advantages of Manhattan, the hot freshman women, and most importantly, the 73 Nobel Laureates connected with the university. 

My "age of innocence" was short-lived.  While I was at Columbia, I never had one class with any Nobel Laureates.  Granted I skipped half my classes or wasted my time taking Latin just because Deborah Goldblatt from down the hall was taking it and I thought it would impress her enough to go to bed with me.  But maybe if I had the Nobel laureate professors I was promised, I would have focused more on my studies rather than my "amor" and "cupido" for Deborah Goldblatt. 

For years, I’ve kept my no-Nobel Prize education a secret from everyone I’ve met.  Now, the truth must come out, especially after I have learned that my alma mater considered a Nobel Laureate their own even if he just happened to use their toilet one night.

Luckily, I did take a "Introduction to Law" class at Columbia.  So, I know all about "false-advertising" and "class-action suits."

According to the article: 

Many universities are quick to claim Nobel laureates as their own, even if the laureates’ association with the institution was fleeting.

As of Oct. 9. Different universities often claim the same laureates.  

Here are the universities claiming the largest number of Nobel Prizes:

1. Cambridge University, England: 81

2. University of Chicago: 78

3. Columbia University: 73

4. MIT: 60

5. Oxford University, England: 47

6. Harvard University: 42

7. Caltech: 32

8. Johns Hopkins University: 31

9. Cornell University: 30

10. Princeton: 29

Alumni of these institutions — join me in this legal suit.  Most of us spent from 60-80 thousand dollars for an education based on lies, false promises and blatant misinformation.  We need to demand our MONEY BACK.

Of course, as the prime instigator and lead counsel of this lawsuit, I will retain 80% of all money awarded, as is typical in these class-action suits. 

I may not have had any Nobel laureates for teachers, but I ain’t stupid.

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