Thursday, September 29, 2016

Drought bogging you down?

I had a recent conversation with a gym pal who’d just returned from a vacation camping trip to South Dakota. She told me that she’d been talking to some locals, who were farmers. After telling her about how they were always watching the weather and crop news to see what was up with soybeans, they asked her what we grew in Massachusetts.

Like most good residents of our fair commonwealth would be, Dee was at something of a loss.

Most of what we grow, after all, are college degrees, software, in-patient days, financial instruments, or something in a petri dish at a bio-tech. Oh, we make some food, but Marshmallow Fluff is not exactly a crop.

I told her she should have told them cranberries.

While we haven’t been #1 for a while – the top cranberry growing state is Wisconsin, of all prlaces – we remain the country’s second largest producer of cranberries. We’re the headquarters of Ocean Spray (the world’s largest cranberry processor) –  quick, name another company that’s associated with cranberries – and we have a road called the Cranberry Highway. Plus, when you drive down to the Cape, you will likely pass a number of bogs.

Then there’s the fact that, given that Thanksgiving was invented here, we do kind of own the whole cranberry thing, don’t we?

And while we may not be #1 in the world as a producer, cranberries are, in fact, our #1 crop.

But, as we observe “the 200th anniversary of the world’s first known commercial cultivation”, the cranberry business has somewhat soured.

Oh, there are the usual suspects:

In the birthplace of the industry, many Massachusetts growers whose families have tended bogs for generations are in ‘‘dire straits,’’ facing challenges that include rising production costs, decreasing crop values, changing consumer habits, and increasing competition from other states and Canada, a task force recently reported. (Source: Boston Globe)

Yeah, well, thanks, Wisconsin. It wasn’t enough for you to hog dairy farming, you had to come compete on cranberries. And, while we’re on that subject, just what sort of ocean spray are your cranberries experiencing out there in Dairyland? Harrumph. I thought not…

What’s been an add-on problem this year, however, is the drought we’ve been having. Little snow last winter, and almost no rain since then. Sure, it was nice to have all those sunny days this summer – other than the fact that a lot of them were scorchers – but the downside is that there’s lot of brown grass, droopy trees, and withered plants. The news regularly features reporters standing in the middle of a reservoir with no water in it. No, it’s not as if we’ve turned into California or Phoenix, but some cities have had to go out and buy water.

What I hadn’t realized until I read this article is that cranberries actually don’t grow in those watery bogs. They:

…grow on vines and are typically wet-harvested by farmers who flood the dry bogs with water.

Flooding those bogs means using up water we don’t just have sitting around in our aquifers. And that costs money.

And once those cranberries are harvested – even if there are fewer than usual, due to the drought – there’s too much supply for the demand.

I don’t contribute a ton of demand on that supply.

I like dried cranberries in salad, so I usually have some around. On Thanksgiving, I sometime make a batch of cranberry sauce to add to the groaning board. I drink cranberry juice, and on the rare occasion I order a drive other than wine, it’s probably going to be a Cape Codder (vodka and cranberry juice). Cranberry soda’s good, too. And while it’s not to everyone’s taste, I occasionally have a hankering for Cranberry Bog ice cream, which you can get a few places on the Cape.

In all likelihood, fewer of the cranberries I’m demanding will be native. Our bogs are aging, and in need of renovation if we’re going to compete with the unlikely likes of Wisconsin. As it stands, “Massachusetts has the lowest yield per acre of any major growing state.” Probably because our two-hundred year old bogs are all tuckered out and, this year, just plain dehydrated. Still, there are plenty of cranberry growers who want to keep with it, so that they can hand the farm down to the next generation.

I’ve seen the same phenomenon at play out in Western Massachusetts, where – believe it or not – there are a number of tobacco farms. My husband’s aunt and uncle had one. They converted theirs to a golf course, but a number of Uncle Bill’s cousins were still farming when Jim and I were regular visitors out there, so I got to see what goes on in the fields and in the barns when the tobacco’s being “fired.” (It’s actually scary – and can get out of control. On one visit, we were awoken in the middle of the night by fire engines come to fight a fire at a barn down the road.)

Those tobacco farms I used to visit were handed off to the next generation, and now the next-next generation’s lining up to take over.

Why anyone would want to stick with such back-breaking and not colossally lucrative labor – and I imagine cranberry growing is the same – is beyond me. But I’ve always been a city girl…

Anyway, I’m sorry to see that the drought has been bogging down our cranberry industry. Meanwhile, I promise to do my bit to keep demand up. Next time I buy juice, it’ll be cranberry.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

I sure don’t blame them, but…

A couple of years ago, the Unitarian Universalist Association sold their property on Beacon Hill and decamped to another part of town. Part of the property they sold used to house Little-Brown, the publishing company. Oh, the UU’s are still in Boston. So’s Little-Brown. But they’re no longer on The Hill, and their buildings are all set to become more high-end condos. Some of the condos in the old UU headquarters – can it be called the old UU Vatican? – even have separate nanny apartments.

I miss seeing the Little-Brown building.It was just up the hill, and I liked walking by, knowing that I was walking by Louisa May Alcott’s publisher. And Emily Dickinson’s. That L-B was the company that brought out All Quiet on the Western Front, Mutiny on the Bounty, The Last Hurrah, and Catcher in the Rye. And they were plunked right here in the middle of my neighborhood.

Same for the UUs, whose building on Beacon Street I passed nearly every day. Ah, the Unitarians. If I were going to have a religion – other than ex-Catholic atheist – I would definitely be a UU. When my husband – and fellow ex-Catholic atheist – died, I turned to the UUs for a place to hold his memorial service. Although there was one or two mentions of the “G” word snuck into Jim’s service – I think they were there in a song or two – they worked with me on making something near-perfect.

So I was sorry to see the UUs go.

But I get it.

They aren’t making any more real estate on Beacon Hill. And there are plenty of rich folks coming into town, looking for condos, who aren’t necessarily attracted to all the ab-fab high rise buildings going up. They want character more than they want a health club. They want charm more than they want a view. And there’s character and charm a-plenty on Beacon Hill. Take it from one who lives in a high-charm, high-character condo: them bones, them bones, them old bones are good.

All this translated into big bucks for the UUs. They got to move into cheaper digs, and developers got to develop more swank condos.

And now the Appalachian Mountain Club, which does things like maintain hiking trails in the White Mountains, is following suit.

After nearly a century of managing its trails, huts, outdoor activities, and conservation efforts from a group of brick bowfronts on Beacon Hill, the Appalachian Mountain Club said Monday it has sold its headquarters there and is hunting for a bigger space in Boston. (Source: The Boston Globe)

They’ve sold their digs on Joy Street for $15M, which will be going “back to their original residential use.”

Well, not hardly.

I doubt that the “their original residential use” included kitchens kitted out with Gaggenau ranges and SubZero fridges. (Not that there’s anything wrong with a SubZero fridge. Some of my best friends, in fact, have them. And, say, now that I think of it, there’s one in my kitchen. But there’s absolutely no Gaggenau range in there.) And the original residents were rich old Brahmin bankers, lawyers, and China-trade traders – not management consultants, hedgies, and bio-tech-noids.

Not that I begrudge more rich management consultants, hedgies, and bio-tech-noids coming into the hood. And the truth is, the more their money pours in here, the more my place will be worth.

Still, I’ll miss having the UUs and the AMC as part of the old ecosystem.

But the AMC wants more room. They want some outdoor-ness.They want parking. (Hey, shouldn’t the AMC not want their employees to drive????) They also want “a more diverse neighborhood.”

I’ll give them that. This neighborhood is quaint, charming, convenient (if you don’t have a car), and interesting. But it’s not exactly diverse.

And it will be getting less so, without having the diversity of organizations like the UUs and the AMC in our midst, I’m afraid.

But tempus does seem to fugit.

“The majority of the world is living in cities now, and if we don’t connect them to the outdoors we’re in trouble,” [AMC’s John] Judge said. “We’re the country’s oldest conservation organization, but how are we going to engage the next generation with the outdoors and leadership? For us, it’s a pivot point.”

To pull off his “outdoor city” strategy, Judge said, AMC needs to be louder and a more prominent member of Boston’s civic life. It must work more closely with Boston’s universities and corporations. It must recruit more aggressively. And it needs a new headquarters site that makes a statement — that isn’t tucked away, out of sight, on a tony Beacon Hill lane with millionaire neighbors.

When I moved to The Hill, 40 years ago, it was not all that tony.

Some of the old establishments are still here: the wondrous Gary Drug and the equally wondrous Charles Supply. And I think The Sevens Pub has been here forever, without spending a dime to reno its look and feel. It’s under new ownership, but the Paramount has also been here forever. (Wish there were no lines outside the door all the time. They do make a great grilled cheese.)

But it was quite a bit funkier – there were still rooming husbands (one of which my husband-to-be lived next to), and a lot of the funky old places. Those funky old places and most of the antique stores are gone, replaced by upscale restaurants and boutiques catering to all those millionaire neighbors of mine.

Wish that the UUs had stuck around, and that the AMC had stayed here, too. We’ll be more bland and ritzy with them gone.

Oh, boo hoo…

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Leaning Tower of San Francisco

By the year 2100, the area where I live will be under water.

Fortunately for me, I will be long gone. Not only will I have cagily sold my condo the day before the market peaks, and passed papers the day before a 100 year Sandy-style storm floods my building, but – by 2100 – I will be long DEAD and gone.

Boston’s Back Bay (there’s a reason it’s called Back Bay) and the flats of Beacon Hill (where I live) are built on reclaimed land. In fact, the landfill that reclaimed it came, I believe, from the lopped off top of Beacon Hill. This made Beacon Hill less of a hill, while also making Beacon Hill more of a neighborhood.

All of the residential buildings in the hood are old. Old-old. My block dates to the early 1860’s. And one of the peculiarities of old buildings is that most of those put up on reclaimed territory have wooden pilings.

Despite the future coming of the great flood, one of the problems in my area occurs when the water table drops. When that happens, those wooden pilings dry out. So most of the homes on the flats (and, I suspect, in Back Bay) have had to replace their pilings at some point.

When I lived on Brimmer Street, the back yard of the house we lived in was a mucky construction zone for months while our landlord replaced the pilings. Fortunately for us, the pilings in the building where I now live were replaced prior to our buying our condo.

Still, there are plenty of things to worry about – that Sandy-like storm, for one - which could send the Charles River gushing through the windows on my lower floor.

There are other problems, as well.

Right after my renovation project finished last fall, the floor in the front ground floor unit fell about 3/4”. This came as quite a shock to the 99 year old fellow who lived there and his home health care attendant. My unit, which also has a ground floor component, dropped a bit in the corner by the door, but was mostly spared the full drop.

At first, we were concerned that the entire building was compromised – visions of the firemen coming and giving us all 5 minutes to pack what we could – but it turned out to be a relatively small-p problem. Bad, but not condemn-the-building bad.

In any case, I fully understand how unnerving it can be when bad things happen to good buildings, especially for the residents of said buildings.

Thus I read with interest a story in The Boston Globe the other day on San Francisco’s Millennium Tower, a lux-y condo building that, when its apartments were up for sale seven years ago, neglected to disclose a critical point. Sure, they notified prospective owners that the they might hear street traffic, and that the landscaping specs could change if the plants they thought they were going to use weren’t available.

But the 21-page disclosure document left out what owners of units in the buildings now say was a crucial detail: that the building had already sunk more than 8 inches into the soft soil by the time it was completed in 2009, much more than engineers had anticipated…

The Millennium Tower, which its developers say is the largest reinforced concrete building in the western United States, has now sunk about 16 inches and is leaning 6 inches toward a neighboring skyscraper. The building’s tilt has become a public scandal, a dispute that has produced a wide-eyed examination of whether San Francisco’s frenetic skyscraper-building spree was properly monitored by city authorities. (Source: Boston Globe)

I guess it goes without saying that an issue like this is of particular concern in a city like San Francisco, which has been known to have an earthquake or two. And which – unlike other cities with tall buildings – doesn’t have bedrock to anchor its skyscrapers. (Despite it being built on swamp, the tall buildings in Boston’s Back Bay bore through the landfill guck and get built on bedrock. There aren’t really any tall buildings on Beacon Hill itself.)

Needless to say, the Millennium Tower condo owners are none to happy, as they’re looking at property values that will be worth a lot less than what they paid. The sewage connections may fail. The elevators could stop functioning if the building keeps tilting. And then there’s the ultimate fear: someone figures out it might topple and declare the building uninhabitable. See you in court!

Nicholas Sitar, who’s a civil engineering professor at U Cal Berkeley is quoted in the article saying, “Any time you have a tall structure leaning, you have to start looking very carefully.”

I’ll say. (Building overboard…)

The entire situation sounds like a big finger-pointing litigation in the making. When the Millennium Tower was built, it was one of the first skyscrapers that went up in its district. There weren’t any regulations in place on how to deal with it. Developers hadn’t built there in the past because the land was too squishy, but engineering improvements over the years made them believe that it was now okay.

Among the other things that have come out is that city correspondence with the engineers responsible for the Millennium Tower project “had disappeared from the files.” There was no rule saying the city had to keep them, so they didn’t. (Really? Isn’t most correspondence these days electronic? Doesn’t EVERYTHING get saved. I see a voyage of discovery coming up. This will be keeping lawyers busy for years to come.)

The tilting tower has produced introspection among engineers in part because when the building was completed the developers received at least nine awards for “excellence in structural engineering,” among other citations.

That introspection has led to a suggestion from one engineer that the way to save the building is to get rid of the top 20 floors. Which might be okay – if the horror show of living through your building being dismantled for a couple of years is ever going to be okay -  if you hadn’t paid $2M+ to live on one of those top 20 floors.

My brother Tom is a civil engineer, and over the course of his career he’s worked on a number of major projects. No skyscrapers that I know of, but some plenty big deals. (Tom was lead engineer on Camden Yards, the Baltimore Orioles stadium.) Shortly after 9/11, he told me that, from an engineering perspective, the Twin Towers did their job. They weren’t designed for a massive airplane to deliberately fly into them, but they were, Tom said, sufficiently well built that they lasted long enough for a lot of people to get out safely. I’ll have to ask him what he thinks about the Leaning Tower of San Francisco. I’m just glad I don’t live in it.

Monday, September 26, 2016

You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound dog

Last Friday, Bruce Springsteen was on Stephen Colbert to promote his new book, Born To Run. Colbert’s show takes place in the Ed Sullivan Theater, and the conversation between Colbert and Springsteen turned to what had been a seminal event in Bruce’s life: watching the first appearance of Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show.

I looked it up, and that first appearance was on September 9, 1956.

Like most Americans alive on September 9, 1956, I was sitting in front of the TV watching Ed Sullivan. How do I know most Americans were watching Ed Sullivan that night? Well, somewhere I came across an estimate that, by 1956, 70% plus homes in the US had a TV. Multiply that by a Neilsen rating of 86.2 – thanks, Wikipedia, I really should make a donation…. – and you get 60% of everyone. Oh, I know, this calculation is imperfect. Maybe my four year old brother Tom was watching, maybe not; and my 9 month old brother Rick was probably in bed. And, as this was the midst of the Baby Boom, plenty of other households had little kids who would have been too fidgety and squally to sit through Ed Sullivan.

But I was six, pushing seven, and I surely was able to watch the really big show (actually pronounced ‘shew’), as Ed would have had it. And my sister Kath was, too.

We, of course, were a family of Ed Sullivan regulars.

First off, there didn’t used to be all that many choices. In 1956, there were three broadcast networks, and that was about it. Later on, there were UHF stations unaffiliated with a national network, but if there were any broadcasting in the Worcester area in 1956, they weren’t beaming into our living room. We got the Boston stations – 4, 5 and 7, and the Providence stations – 10 and 12. (Poor forlorn little Worcester: we didn’t get a TV station of our own until Channel 27 blew into town. I take it that it’s now a Spanish-language station, but back in the day it carried excellent content like reruns of B&W 1950’s TV shows, Abbot and Costello and Bowery Boys films, and a really low-rent version of Bozo. Given the caliber of high-rent versions of Bozo, it’s difficult to imagine a low-rent version being even worse, but trust me on this one.)

But we were Ed Sullivan watchers not just by the baptism of there being not much else on, but by the desire watch it.

For one thing, Ed Sullivan was a Catholic. (Extra points for being an Irish Catholic.) So what if he always seemed so pinched and dour. So what if his wife was Jewish. He was on of us, which made Sunday night with Ed almost a Holy Day of Obligation.

Not to mention the varied entertainment that the show offered: Metropolitan Opera singers, guys spinning plates on their noses – for acts like this, my father would always ask out loud how someone managed to find out they had this talent  - Borscht Belt shtick comics, bits from Broadway shows, classical violinists, dancing bears… And, of course, on September 9, 1956, Elvis Presley.

We watched in the living room of the new house we’d moved into just a few months earlier, moving on up the hill behind my grandmother’s, into a single family home that I believe was smaller than the flat we had in my grandmother’s decker. But which was ours. Sure, the rooms may have been pokey – the bedrooms, once the beds and dressers went in, had maybe 10 square feet to maneuver around in. And we’d left a large eat-in (and sleep-in*) kitchen with pantry for a tiny little kitchen in which, once everyone was squished around the new Formica dinette set, no one could move. But it was ours. It had a far bigger yard to run around in than Nanny’s decker did. And we didn’t have to worry about disturbing Nanny’s peace. (Not to mention that it had the unimaginably posh extra of a second bathroom.)

So there we were, on Sunday night, September 9, 1956, watching Elvis Presley wiggle his hips and sing “Love Me Tender,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and a tiny bit of “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog”.

I don’t remember the music. Nor do I remember that Ed Sullivan was out that night, and Charles Laughton was the substitute host.

I do remember liking it that Elvis shook it up, and that he reminded my quite of bit of my sixteen-year old Uncle Bob, who also had black pompadour-ish hair and a penchant for outsized sport coats. (Or did Bob adopt this look post-Elvis? In any case, Bobby was one of my heroes, having won me a plaster-of-Paris kewpie doll at Riverview Park in Chicago on one of our visits to my mother’s home ground. Plus Bobby had the immense cool to hang foam dice in his hot rod. What’s not to love?)

But mostly what I remember was school the next morning.

When Sister Aloysius St. James asked our class whether anyone had watched Elvis Presley on Ed Sullivan the night before, 50 little hands shot up. We were so little – only six or seven – we didn’t yet smell a typical nun trap. You’d think that, having endured the first grade torture chamber run by Sister Marie Leo the prior year, we would have wised up. But, no.

Having told us we could put our hands down, she asked Question Number Two: how many families turned off the television set once Elvis Presley began performing?

This time, only Francis George’s hand was raised.

Ah, Sister Aloysius St. James told us with a sigh, there was only one decent Catholic family in our entire class, and that was the Georges.

I’m not sure what words she used to describe Elvis, but I’m sure evil and sin factored in there. Filthy probably, indecent. She may have thrown in immoral, although none of us would have known the word.

When Bruce Springsteen saw Elvis Presley, he was inspired to become a rock and roller.

Me, I thought Elvis, the way he swiveled his hips, was funny. But the next morning, when Sister Aloysius St. James asked her question, and told me and 48 other little kids that our families weren’t very good, the little seed was planted in my little mind that kept asking and asking and asking: if they’re telling me that my mother and father are bad people for watching Elvis on Ed Sullivan, what else are they telling us that flat out isn’t true?

Anyway, I hadn’t realized that I’d missed the 60th anniversary of Elvis on Ed Sullivan. But know it now, thanks to Bruce’s book tour. The book sounds pretty interesting by the way, even if you’re a casual or non fan of The Boss.

Meanwhile, I wonder whether Francis George is still a good Catholic, or whether the pronouncement on his family’s goodness woke him a bit up, too. 

*Sleep-in kitchen, you might be asking yourself? Yes, indeedy. Our kitchen, as did my grandmother’s, had a studio couch in the kitchen that was used for seating – the kitchen was truly the hub of the hangout universe – and, when folded out, sleeping facilities for two guests.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Do the laws of supply and demand not apply to the food industry?

Well, Mario Batali’s Eataly is coming to Boston.

For those not among the cognoscenti, Eataly (great name, by the way), is an Italian markeplace: restaurants, food shops, gifts, take out. It’s going in the place where the tired Prudential Food Court drearily lived for years. (Think Panda Express and cookies.) I’ve been by but not into the Eataly in NYC (the other US city that has one is Chicago), and it looks like just the sort of place that will lure me in: all sorts of pasta, all sorts of breads, gelato – I’m guessing. And only a 10 minute walk from my house.

I need a new serving bowl for pasta. I now know where to look.

I hope that Eataly doesn’t cut into the business of the still-standing little mom and pop shops in the North End. And I’ll back that hope with a vow to continue to nip down the alley into Bricco, right off Hanover Street, when I’m in desperate need for some magnificent Italian bread.

Still, I’m quite sure that I’ll get sucked into Eataly sooner rather than later. Just to see what will be on offer in their 44,000 square feet of marketplace.

Meanwhile, the thing that’s got Boston buzzing about this is wondering where they’re going to find the 600 workers they need to staff it.

Boston, it seems, is already suffering from a “massive shortage of food-industry workers.”

“It spreads what’s already in short supply even thinner,” said Jason Santos, a Boston restaurateur who plans to open his new Back Bay restaurant, Buttermilk and Bourbon, around the same time Eataly debuts.

Said Bob Luz, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, “It’ll obviously exacerbate what is already a very delicate ecosystem as it is today. There’s no question it’s going to have an impact.” (Source: Boston Globe)

A side point:

Am I the only one whose stomach gives a heave at the thought of a restaurant called Buttermilk and Bourbon. Buttermilk is for making Irish soda bread and pancakes. What’s that got to do with bourbon? I know it’s been a long time – decades, in fact – since I downed any brown spirits, but I was known to quaff a Jack Daniels or two back in the day. I must admit that I drank Jack in some putrid combinations – with Coke, with cranberry juice (a Scarlett O’Hara?), with (can this be right?) Hires Root Beer (diet) – but bourbon and buttermilk?

I’ll have to peek in when I’m storming past to get to Eataly to buy my pasta bowl, but I suspect I’ll take a pass on dropping in. Probably not aimed at the geezer demographic, no longer able to hold their liquor, anyway.

Why is Boston so strapped for restaurant workers?

It’s the result of a convergence of factors: a public transportation system that isn’t conducive to the late nights and early mornings typically required in restaurant work; and the rise of ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, which often pluck from a similar pool of job candidates.

Not to mention that the rents here are sky high, so a “line cook making roughly $13 an hour” is not going to be living anywhere near where they work. (Good thing there’ll be Uber and Lyft drivers to get them back out to the hustings.)

What Eataly has going for it is Batali’s celebrity and its reputation “as a promising place for innovative, ambitious talent.”

There are some minor concerns that they’ll be poaching “talent” from other restaurants, but Eataly doesn’t want to be a disrupter in that sense. And the North End establishments contacted don’t believe that Eataly will be wooing away their employees. (Their business, maybe.)

Anyway, it’s been a while since I took Economics 101, but I did have my own personal economist by my side for all those years, and, let’s face it, when you lie down with an economist, you wake up with supply and demand curves in your head.

And that tells me that the solution to a labor shortage is to pay the workers more.

The alternative seems to be leaving positions unfilled, or hiring folks who are less qualified. (Just how qualified you need to be to sell bags of pasta, I don’t know. I suspect I could do it. But restaurants will need people who know how to cook.) Leaving positions unfilled and/or hiring the unqualified tends to translate into poorer product and service. Which does tend to sent customers packing.

I know that there are those who would argue that raising wages will just get restaurant owners to automate everything, removing the need to have all those greedy, whining, pesky workers around bugging them.

But some places do need real humans. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be waited on by a robot, unless I was completely zonked on bourbon and buttermilk, by which point I probably wouldn’t care. And I may want to talk to a human about which pasta bowl to buy.

So let’s hear it for wages going up in Boston’s food industry. Perhaps coming soon to an Eataly near you.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Onward, Introverts!

I was going to use “Onward, INTJ’s” as my title, but then somehow I came across an online argument about whether NPD’s (i.e, those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder) were more likely to be INTJ’s than they were to be other personality types. And then I tripped on whether INTJ is the perfect personality type for someone with Asperger’s. So I said, why advertise my INTJ-ness. Let’s just go with the Introvert part.

But by way of context:

Anyone who has worked in corporate America has no doubt taken a personality test at one point or another. In one company I worked for, they gave us a quick and dirty test as part of a sales kickoff. As it turned out, all the sales people were Reds (or, as we called them, Flaming Reds), while everyone who was at the sales meeting who worked in a corporate function was an Orange, Blue, or Green. If they’d been a bit more Myers-Briggs-y, they’d have told us the Blue and Greens were the introverts, but, as we were the hold back, observe and analyze types, us Blues figured this out for ourselves.

I’ve also done the Enneagram, but I lent my really good Enneagram book to someone and never got it back, and I don’t remember what I was.

But I do remember when I was Myers-Briggsed.

I was at Wang, where entire swaths of the workforce took the test, and then went in their groups to off-sites to figure out what to do with it.

I was an INTJ.

Which stands for Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Judging.

Attention, Mr. Spock!

While I am certainly a well-compensated Introvert, and I’m not on the extreme end of that scale, this was the first I’d heard about being one. (The Red-Blue-Green-Orange scheme must have come later.)

I’d always known I was an oddball. It was good to have confirmation.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure, Myers-Briggs is a personality inventory that puts the theories of Carl Jung, all those archtypes, into practical, everyday practice.

You’re either an Introvert or an Extrovert. Intuitive or Sensing. Thinking or Feeling. Judging or Perceiving. (And, yes, you’re right, some of these words and categories don’t seem to make sense.)

I’m an INTJ. We’re the “Architect”. Our opposite numbers, ESFPs, are the “Entertainer.” While I actually find myself plenty entertaining, being an entertainer is my idea of a nightmare.

Anyway, according to 16 Personalities – which, by the way, has changed Perceiving to Prospecting, for some reason - here’s what INTJ-ness is all about:

It’s lonely at the top, and being one of the rarest and most strategically capable personality types, INTJs know this all too well. INTJs form just two percent of the population, and women of this personality type are especially rare, forming just 0.8% of the population – it is often a challenge for them to find like-minded individuals who are able to keep up with their relentless intellectualism and chess-like maneuvering. People with the INTJ personality type are imaginative yet decisive, ambitious yet private, amazingly curious, but they do not squander their energy.

Yep. Mostly.

With a natural thirst for knowledge that shows itself .early in life, INTJs are often given the title of “bookworm” as children. While this may be intended as an insult by their peers, they more than likely identify with it and are even proud of it, greatly enjoying their broad and deep body of knowledge. INTJs enjoy sharing what they know as well, confident in their mastery of their chosen subjects.

Yep. Entirely.

A paradox to most observers, INTJs are able to live by glaring contradictions that nonetheless make perfect sense – at least from a purely rational perspective. For example, INTJs are simultaneously the most starry-eyed idealists and the bitterest of cynics, a seemingly impossible conflict. But this is because INTJ types tend to believe that with effort, intelligence and consideration, nothing is impossible, while at the same time they believe that people are too lazy, short-sighted or self-serving to actually achieve those fantastic results. Yet that cynical view of reality is unlikely to stop an interested INTJ from achieving a result they believe to be relevant.

That’s about right.

I was wondering just how much ethnicity (my antecedents being Irish and German) factored in here. 16 Personalities handily lets you find out. As the world turns out, the Irish are more apt to be Introverts, Intuitive, and Thinking than are the average persons in Europe. And Germans are more likely to be Introverts, Intuitive, Thinking, and Judging. Achtung, baby: ve have a vinner!

But enough about me putting the “my” in Myers-Briggs by running on about my personality inventory. (Jeez, am I really an NPD?) What triggered this post was an article in a recent Economist on the unfortunate, shabby (as they have it) approach that the corporate world takes to us introverts:

The biggest culprit is the fashion for open-plan offices and so-called “group work”. Companies rightly think that the elixir of growth in a world where computers can do much of the grunt work is innovation. But they wrongly conclude that the best way to encourage creativity is to knock down office walls and to hold incessant meetings. This is ill-judged for a number of reasons. It rests on a trite analogy between intellectual and physical barriers between people. It ignores the fact that noise and interruptions make it harder to concentrate. And  companies too often forget that whereas extroverts gain energy from other people, introverts need time on their own to recharge. (Source: The Economist)

Italics mine!

The other day, I had an on-site meeting with an open-office client. Although I don’t go into meet in person with my clients very often, I have a few that I occasionally drift in to see. This company is not my only open-office client, but it has embraced the concept with a vengeance. It gives me the willies.

The recent fashion for hyper-connectedness also reinforces an ancient prejudice against introverts when it comes to promotion. Many companies unconsciously identify leadership skills with extroversion—that is, a willingness to project the ego, press the flesh and prattle on in public. This suggests that Donald Trump is the beau idéal of a great manager.

Italics again mine. Beau idéal my royal, INTJ arse.

Yet in his book “Good to Great”, Jim Collins, a management guru, suggests that the chief executives who stay longest at the top of their industries tend to be quiet and self-effacing types. They are people who put their companies above their egos and frequently blend into the background.

“Good to Great” is one of those business books I have around somewhere. I think I read it. Part of it, anyway. (I think I had to for a client, for some reason. I don’t feel I’ve read it. I’m such a thinker!)

The article goes on that companies need to do something to make the workplace a happier milieu for their introverts: quiet areas, offices. I’d add not promoting all those self-aggrandizing blowhards to the mix. Unless those self-aggrandizing blowhards are managing robots:

One study that looked at operations lower down an organisation shows that extroverts are better at managing workers if the employees are just expected to carry out orders, but those who tend towards introversion are better if the workers are expected to think for themselves.

Fortunately, my career has been in technology – albeit in marketing – where it’s mostly okay to be an introvert.

Extraversion and introversion aren’t black and white, they aren’t binary. Most folks are on a continuum.

But I’m happy to see my peeps get their day. Onward, Introverts!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

“Ten Restaurants that Changed America”

Not that I was ever a foodie, but back in the day my husband and I did a lot of eating out, and a lot of that eating out was done at high-end restaurants. In our later dining out years, we settled into being regulars at a couple of locals, venturing out occasionally to try something new. But we pretty much knocked off of our lists any place where you even vaguely had to dress up.

Not that Paul Freedman’s new book, Ten Restaurants That Changed America, is all given over to foodie places – hey, HoJo’s is on the list!. But the review I read of it in The New Yorker got me thinking about some of the fine – and not so fine – dining Jim and I did over the years, and I found that I’d actually been to six of the places on the list. Not bad, especially when you take into account that one of them (Delmonico’s) went out of business in 1923, and another (Le Pavillon) closed when I was in high school.

Knowing little about the points that Freedman is actually making in his book, let’s start with Le Pavillon, in NYC.

While Le Pavillon was before our time, my husband and I used to go to NYC fairly regularly, and in the early days, we used to make sure that we had at least one meal at Caravelle, Lutece, or La Côte Basque.

La Côte Basque, which was founded by Henri Soulé  - founder of Le Pavillon, so I’m only one degree of separation - was pretty much our favorite. I blogged about our adventures there a couple of months back. La Côte – I can still picture the wonderful murals on the walls – had fabulous food, and you could often spot a quasi-celeb there. One time it was some cast members of the soap All My Children, another time, some big executive who was much in the news at the time we spotted him, as someone had just done a tell-all book on the shenanigans at his company.

After La Côte closed, we tried The Four Seasons and absolutely hated it. Beautiful, in a retro Mad Man kind of way, but completely uninspired. I remember my veal chop was okay, but my dijon shrimp appetizer – shrimp with a plop of mustard – was pretty blah. When the waiter asked whether I liked it, I told him I thought it was somewhat boring. He reported back to the kitchen and someone wearing a toque blanche came out and stood in the door and glowered at me.

For a couple of years, Jim and I alternated trips to NYC with trips to California. In San Francisco, we ate a bunch of the biggies (L’Orangerie, Ernies…), but the one that made the Freedman list was the Mandarin.

I remember thinking that the food was overrated – I liked Shun Lee in NYC better – but my purest recall was reaching under the table for some unbeknownst reason and finding it rimmed with a bunch of wads of chewing gum. Completely disgusting, and put me off my feed. So maybe the food really was great, but I just could get by the chewing gum.

Jim and I ventured out of SF a couple of times, to Berkeley and Napa. But I don’t think we ever ate at Chez Panisse. The one Berkeley meal I remember was at a not-so-good Thai place. We over-ordered and didn’t like the food, but were embarrassed to tell the waiter we didn’t want doggy bags. We gave it to a homeless guy. Hope he enjoyed it more than we did.

In Napa, we ate at a couple of places that I believe were sort of Chez Panisse-y. (The Mustard Grill?)

The final restaurant on the “Changed America” list where I ate with Jim was Howard Johnson.

I’d eaten at them before – hey, I’m a New Englander – but my most memorable time was when Jim and I went winter camping in the Catoctin Mountains with a couple of his friends. After a couple of nights nearly freezing to death, we took a break to stay at a HoJo’s in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where, after taking much-needed showers, and taking much-needed naps in a much-needed warm bed, we ate in the restaurant. Nothing has ever tasted better to me than that grilled hot dog.

A couple of places on Freedman’s list I made it to without Jim.

Somewhere along the line, I ate at a Schrafft’s, although I mostly know them from being a candy company in Boston, and for their building, which still stands, in the Charlestown section.

On my second trip to NYC, as a college student, I ate at Mama Leone’s. Loud, hectic, and not especially good, unless you like watery ravioli. But, hey, we were college kids – not to mention tourists – and what did we know. At one point, Mama Leone’s opened an outpost in Boston, and I ate there once on something of a lark with a couple of friends. As a free appetizer, they put out a plate of olives. I chose a large one, and, when I went to bite into it, my teeth hit bite marks. Fine dining at its best.

In 1972, my college roommate and I drove cross country, and our one fancy, dress up meal, was at Antoine’s. I even remember what I wore – a purple jersey mini-dress – and what I ate – Oysters Rockefeller and Pompano en Papillote. And I remember that the service was very solicitous. Touristy, hell yes, but, when in tourist-ville. Fast forward a decade or so, and Jim and I spent a long weekend in New Orleans. I think we took a pass on Antoine’s. But we did eat bread pudding every day.

Sylvia’s, despite all of our New York trips, was not a place that Jim and I ever ventured to. Maybe next time I’ll do the Harlem Shuffle on up there!

Meanwhile, the book sure looks interesting. With my waitressing past – including stints at two of the oldest restaurants in America, Durgin-Park and the Union Oyster House – I’m quite sure I’ll find it interesting.