Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Falmouth, Maine, freegans better look that gift turkey in the whatever

One of the prized memories of my childhood was finding an unopened bag of M&Ms in a snowbank. Free candy! I was so in…

But, other than wild blueberry picking as a kid, my life has largely been foraging-free.  My mushrooms come from the produce department, I wouldn’t eat roadkill if my life depended on it, and while I like the idea of fiddlehead ferns, I don’t think they taste all that great.

Sure, I love doggie bags and leftovers, but I tend to know where they came from. Ditto with my groceries.

But I know that there are urban foragers out there, picking dandelions out of sidewalk cracks or whatever it is that they do. And that there are freegans and/or poor folks who go dumpster diving behind grocery stores and restaurants, looking for whatever’s been thrown out that’s still edible.

A fellow up in Falmouth, Maine, took it one step further, coming upon what he must have thought was his lucky-day dumpster dive and making off with a truckload of free turkeys.

In a post on Facebook on Monday, police in Falmouth, Maine, cautioned that a man in a pickup truck plucked a large amount of foul fowl from the trash behind the Hannaford supermarket in town, after the birds went bad when a refrigerator unit at the store suffered from an apparent mechanical failure. He then allegedly gave some of the turkeys away, police said.

“Turkey Warning: (yes for real),” police wrote on Facebook. “Someone has actually removed these turkeys from the dumpster and thought it would be a great idea to redistribute them. It’s not a good idea, it’s a very bad idea. These turkeys were discarded because they were a hazard to consume. If anyone had acquired a bird from some non-conventional manner from someone you don’t know, discard and replace it.” (Source: Boston Globe)

Wonder if this guy stopped to ask himself why, a few days before Thanksgiving, Hannaford would be tossing out 75-80 turkeys if they were okay.

I know you can ignore plenty of those “best if used by” dates. That Progresso soup? You could probably crack open a can of C-rations from WWII and they’d still be edible. (That is, if you happen to like Spam.) And yogurts are good for another 10 days or so.

But we’re not talking something stamped with a meaningless expiration date here. We’re talking poultry. Which under the best of conditions is one big germ factory. Which is why we have special cutting boards devoted to chicken. And why we boil our hands after cutting raw meat.

Hannaford discarded these turkeys after they had “thawed and bloated” because of a fridge gone bad.

“Thawed and bloated.” Boy, does that ever sound appetizing.

The fellow who found the turkey trove was pretty proud of his find. He didn’t try to sell them. He just put a picture up on Facebook and invited his friends to come and get them. He’s not being charged with any crime – dumpster diving is not against the law – but Hannaford wants folks to know that these turkeys may not be safe to eat, even if you cook it in a 325 degree oven for 15 minutes per thawed and bloated pound.

Hannaford, by the way, like any other head’s up company, learned about the turkey giveaway via social media. They then called the police and asked for their help getting the word out. Which Falmouth PD, sworn to protect and serve (just not bad turkey), did.

So folks in the Falmouth, Maine, area are warned: if you got your bird from a guy in a pickup truck who found them out back of the Hannaford’s, it’s not to late to dump it and get yourself a Butterball with the weird little popup eye.

Meanwhile, this story reminded me of a famous family Thanksgiving when my Aunt Margaret served raw turkey.

My aunt didn’t cook turkey in her oven. She had a special turkey roaster – I think my mother had one as well – that was straight out of the 1940’s. Appliances from back in the day were still in good form 30+ years later, which is I think the approximate timing of the Great Raw Turkey Incident. Anyway, Margaret’s turkey roaster was on the fritz, and it was not cooked all the way through. My cousin Barbara’s boys were still young enough at the time to not do what the rest of us were doing, which was hide any bad slices of turkey under a pile of mashed turnip. Just young enough at the time for one of them to say in a quite loud voice, “Grammy, this turkey is raw!”

At which point, my cousin Barbara reached out with her famous claw of death, grabbed whichever kid had just pointed out that the turkey was raw, and hissed in his ear, “You’ll eat it!”

Death before hurting someone’s feelings!

Good luck to the Falmouth, Maine, freegans. I’m hoping that most of the bad turkeys were found. But I’m guessing that at at least one Thanksgiving table, some kid will be saying, “Grammy, this turkey smells funny!”

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

No bedbugs? No shit!

On one of our last trips to NYC, where we had gone many, many, times, my husband and I each came home with what looked quite a bit like a bedbug bite. We examined our clothing, flashlight inspected the corners of our roller bags, and pretty much decided that we hadn’t taken any of those critters home with us.

When I say pretty much decided, I mean that Jim pretty much decided. I spent the next couple of months after our return on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

I felt bedbugs everywhere. I kept tossing the mattress over, looking for the telltale signs of bedbuggism. I tore my bureau drawers apart to see if I could find any bedbugs lurking in a crevice. I sent away for bedbug repellent, and doused the legs of bed and bureaus. I got some sort of bedbug detection kit that I never really used, but felt comforted just having it around. (It was shipped in a plane brown package, like porn used to – or so I’m told.) I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep until, after a couple of months, I decided one Sunday to get out to Bed Bath & Beyond to buy special anti-bedbug mattress and pillow covers. At last: a good night’s sleep. Big sigh of relief. Jim, he’d been sleeping just fine all along.

During this entire period, I never actually saw a bedbug. Just those initial telltale, three-point bite-marks Jim and I each had on the back of one of our legs. I really do think we were bitten. And I think we were likely bitten at this really old-fashioned French restaurant that we used to go to – now closed – where we were always the youngest customers by about 20 years. If it were nice out, we always ate in their small outdoor seating area – nothing much: just a couple of tables on the sidewalk on Second Avenue - but on that bedbug trip  we dined inside of the La Mediterranee. Sacre bleu! It always smelled a bit mildewy. No wonder they closed.

While our problem (actually, my psychological problem) was resolved by installing anti-bedbug bedding, since then I’ve been careful to leave my suitcase on the luggage stand in a hotel room. Supposedly, bedbugs can’t climb up the metal legs.

Anyway, that’s the sum total of my experience with bed bugs.

So I never encountered the problem in the workplace.

Workplace infestations are apparently quite rare, but they do happen.

One place that suffered a recent infestation occurred at SimpliSafe, a home security outfit with offices in downtown Boston. SimpliSafe brought in exterminators, and had managers meet with their groups, but their employees – at least some of them – don’t think that the company has done enough about it.

In recent days, three employees have protested outside the company’s Downtown Crossing headquarters. “No bedbugs, no [expletive]!” they chanted one morning, passing out fliers that read “Support United SimpliSafe workers.”

The three employees, who work in the company’s call center, said they launched the same chant inside the office last week and were suspended with pay. One employee, Abraham Zamcheck, was arrested on disorderly conduct charges after he stood on his desk to lead the chants, he said. (Source: Boston Globe)

What triggered Zamcheck to jump on his desk for a bit of rabble-rousing was a text from colleague Ryan Costello, one of a trio of employees (Zamcheck and Lauren Galloway were the others) who had circulated a petition that:

…demanded an apology from management and a pledge for more open conversation going forward...“It has come to our attention that there is a bedbug infestation in the office and that management and HR have known about this for some time,” the petition read.

Costello texted Zamcheck after he was called into a senior manager’s office, telling his buddy that he was about to be fired.

After seeing the message,Zamcheck stood on his desk and began to chant: “No bedbugs, no [expletive], and “Hell no, we won’t go.” About 10 others joined in, employees said.

Managers called the police, who arrested him.

Costello wasn’t fired. Along with Zamcheck and Galloway, he was suspended. The three are now protesting outside of SimpliSafe’s offices, and maintain that the bedbug problem, and SimpliSafe’s way of handling it, “was a symptom of deeper problems in its workplace culture”

It certainly wouldn’t surprise me to find that a call center full of young, underpaid staffers who had to sit on the phone listening to people complain all day had some pretty deep workplace culture problems. And that employees would be disgruntled.

“I was aware that it was a possibility we’d get fired, but we hoped by standing up together we’d be able to stop [mistreatment] in a meaningful sense,” Costello said. “We are now suspended and are trying to get our jobs back, and continue this struggle for change here.”

The article I read didn’t get into any details on the non-bedbug grievances, but it’s not hard to imagine what they might be: call center, rotten pay, carping customers, ghastly hours. And management at SimpliSafe may be truly dreadful in terms of using up and spitting out employees. It’s been known to happen.

Still, standing on your desk Norma Rae-ing about bedbugs, and then standing outside the building protesting, might not be the way to get their message across. Sure, they got an article in the Boston Globe, but just what are Boston Globe readers who don’t subscribe to SimpliSafe’s services going to do to support the SimpliSafe Three?

In a way, I kind of like the way they’re going about it. It’s sweetly old school. But in this day and age, might it not have been more effective to go on Glassdoor.com, anonymously complain about the company, and then make sure that someone in management looks at Glassdoor?

The protestors say that they only got 35 folks to sign their petition because people were scared about losing their jobs. That certainly could be the case. It can be scary to standup to senior management (wrote the person who was once fired for trying to organize a waitress union and, decades later, as a full-blown professional, was fired for pretty much challenging the company president to a thrown-down in front of the company’s employees to see whether they believed his interpretation of what was happening in the company or mine). But, in an economy where there’s near full employment, and where call center jobs seem to be plentiful, it might just be that people are content working at SimpliSafe.

Maybe it’s time that someone started trying to organize call center workers – what a horrendous job – but standing on your desk screaming about bedbugs might not be the best way to go about it.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Gaillimh Abú? Oh, boo hoo

What better thing to do on a cold and blustery November Sunday than head out to Fenway Park for the afternoon to watch a couple of exhibition matches of a sport you know nearly nothing about?

In this case, the sport is hurling, an Irish game that’s somewhat like lacrosse and somewhat like field hockey. Only faster – I do believe it’s the fastest field game, and I must say there is not a slack, boring moment to be had in it.

Sunday’s matches were part of something called the Players Champions Cup. I don’t know if this Cup is just a made-up Boston one-off, or something that the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) operates when it brings an Irish native game to the States (in addition to hurling, there’s Gaelic football and camogie). But there was a pretty good crowd. Whatever the case, there was a pretty good crowd – I saw an estimate of 28,000, made up what looked like a combination of Irish n-generation Americans and Irish immigrants, many sporting the colors of their County. (In most American cities with significant Irish immigrant presence, there are also plenty of folks who play GAA games. In Boston, they’re actually quite popular.)

In the first preliminary match, Galway (Gaillimh if you want to go native) whipped Dublin. In the second, tighter match, Clare beat Tipperary.

We were rooting for Galway in the first match. Although I have no Galway roots, it’s my favorite place in Ireland, and my niece Molly spent a semester there. So we were all in. I don’t own anything in Galway’s colors, which are maroon and white, but I did find a challis scarf with a lot of reddish purple in it. And I knew better than to wear my blue parka, given that blue and black are Dublin’s colors.

Another everyone-loves-a-winner reason to root for Galway: in September, Galway won the All-Ireland Hurling Championship, which is a really big deal. Each County in Ireland fields teams (at junior and senior levels) in each of the GAA sports and they play matches throughout the year. Then, I think, the ladders run through the four provinces, and it all culminates in a big final match played at Croke Park in Dublin, home of the GAA (and the locale for a killing spree during the Irish Civil War, when 13 fans and 1 Tipperary footballer were gunned down in reprisal for the earlier killing of a number of British soldiers, among others, by the IRA).

September is one of my favorite times to be in Ireland, as the weather is usually quite nice then. Many of the trips my husband and I took were when the All Ireland football final was on, and you could always tell which Counties were in the finals by all the colors flying in the towns we went through. We never went to a game, but we’d always find a pub where we could watch the football final. Always fun when we found ourselves in a County that was playing.

Somehow, we were never there for the hurling final, so I’ve never seen any hurling played. 

For the first half of the Galway-Dublin match, we tried to figure out the rules by just watching. My brother Rick, who played pretty much every American sport growing up, was able to pick up on some of the rules as we went along, figuring out the difference bHurlingetween a 1 point play, a 3 point play, and a 5 point score, and picking up on the fact that there seemed to be some sort of rule similar to dribbling with respect to how long you could hold the sliotar (the ball) in your hand.  But at half time we gave up and went to the Google. It was just too much of a struggle to try to guess what would be called a foul. Apparently, whacking someone in the head with a hurley is perfectly okay.

And we did get to see something that approached a bench clearing brawl. Great craic!

Then there was the side words on the score board: Sin Bin. At first I thought they were some sort of Irish thing. Sin Bin? Sinn Fein? Then – duh – I got that they were referring to the penalty box. My friend Michele, sitting next to me, was about to ask me whether, in my decades ago attempt to teach myself Irish, I’d learned the words “sin bin” when it dawned on her, too.

Happy to see a Galway win, as did the crowd around us, which seemed to have more Galway girls and boys than it did Dubs.

The second match featured Tipperary and Clare. We were rooting for Clare, mostly because Michele has some connections in that County. So why not. (You really can’t go to a sporting event and not pick someone to cheer for. What’s the fun of that?) It was a pretty exciting game, made the more exciting for us less-than-knowledgeable fans, because the County colors for both Tipp and Clare are yellow and blue. Closer match than Dublin-Galway, and Clare won.

By the time that match ended, it was getting chillier and chillier, and ain’t none of us willing to spring $9.25 for a cup of hot chocolate. So we shivered on. Despite the cold, we decided to soldier on through the final. It helped that these were shorter matches than would normally be played – a bit over 40 minutes each, with a six minute break between the halves. (Is it just me, or does the word “halves” look funny? What’s wrong with “halfs”?)

The first half was all Clare, but Galway came booming back in the second. But not booming back hard enough.

No Gaillimh Abú for us, I’m afraid. So boo hoo.

But all in all, a fun day.

And I’m now something of a hurling expert, having seen three – count ‘em three – matches  Perhaps the word “expert” is too strong. But at least I’m now someone who can more intelligently watch the game and appreciate it. Especially now that I now that Sin Bin isn’t an Irish term. I haven’t felt this same degree of sports authority since the last time I watched the winter Olympics with my late husband, and we found ourselves second-guessing the judges on sports we’d never heard of, let alone seen.

Nice walk home from Fenway, but we were more than happy to get inside, where we warmed up with mulled cider that costs a lot less than $9.25 a cup!

Friday, November 17, 2017

You better W.A.T.C.H. out, I’m telling you why

You blog long enough – in my case, 11 years and counting – you have certain evergreens that you revisit again and again. For instance, I observe most holidays with a holiday-related post. And by the time the first Christmas tree has gone up outside Macy’s, I’ll have started doing a number of gift and/or toy-related posts. Thus, yesterday, I had a piece about this year’s inductees to the Toy Hall of Fame. Probably next week, I’ll be doing a piece on this year’s Neiman Marcus crazy-arse wishbook. And I typically watch out for the annual W.A.T.C.H. List, which each year calls out the most dangerous toys out there.

Like pretty much (but not quite) everyone in the world, I don’t want to hear about any kids getting killed by some spectacularly unsafe toy. A choking hazard. A mismarked age range.

Yet I always feel a bit nanny-state about some of the toys that end up on the annual list, especially when I compare and contrast them to the toys of my childhood. The toddler iron that plugged in and heated up. The stuffed poodle with the easily removable eye that corkscrewed in and out of the stuffed poodle’s eye socket. As for bicycle helmets. Huh?

I’m happy that I grew up in the era of free-range childhood. Folks (such as parents) didn’t spend a ton of time worrying themselves to death about whether their kids were playing themselves (and other kids) to death. Caveat, children, more of less.

I suspect that it’s thanks to organizations like W.A.T.C.H.  (World Against Toys Causing Harm) that those stuffed poodles no longer come equipped with beady little eyes attached to sharp-edge corkscrews. And that’s good…

But the net result is that it looks to me that dangerous toys ain’t what they used to be. Still, on general principles, it would be best to avoid these suckers (info taken from the W.A.T.C.H. list):

HALLMARK “ITTY BITTYS” BABY STACKING TOY:The knock on this toy is that it doesn’t come with any age warnings.Itty Bitty Of course, anyone who’s ever known a baby would know by taking just one look at this that it’s for a baby. Plus, it’s called a Baby Stacking Toy, so there’s that cue. But those little hats and bows can come loose, and, thus, become a choking hazard. So it’s really not the age warning so much as those chokables. That’s what caused the Consumer Product Safety Commission to recall this product as of August 31, 2017. It’s a pretty cute toy. Everyone loves Disney. They need to figure out a way to secure Donald’s cap, and maybe embroider a bow on Daisy.

PULL ALONG PONY has a pull cord that measures 19 inches. That happens “despite the industry’s standard requiring strings on playpen and crib toys to be less than 12 inches in length.” There’s apparently a loophole that let’s a pull toy have a longer cord, which presents a strangulation hazard. I know that there are occasional stories about little ones being strangled by the cord of blinds, but a pull toy? Could that really happen with a 19 inch piece of string? Me? i wouldn’t want to chance it. Cut the cord to a shorter length to keep on the safe side. How long a pull cord does a one-year-old need?

WONDER WOMAN BATTLE-ACTION SWORD Sure, we had cowgirls like Annie Oakley and Dale Evans, but when it came to the toy weaponry of my childhood, it was all boy. So the girls final get a weapon of their own – a light sword – and, don’t you know, it gets put on the no-no list because it can cause blunt force injury. “The rigid plastic sword blade has the potential to cause facial or other impact injuries.” Would this not be true of any battle-action sword? You don’t have to be Braveheart to understand that when you wield a sword, you’re using a weapon. If Wonder Woman uses a sword – and I don’t know: does she? – why shouldn’t a little wannabe Wonder Woman get to use one? As for impact injuries, anything in the hand of an excited kid – say, a Barbie doll – can do the same.

HAND FIDGETZ SPINNERS The warning on this fidget spinner is that it’s “a novelty gift item. It is not intended to be used as a toys.” But some spinners come with “potential small parts hazards”", which can choke you up. But I wouldn’t worry that much about them. Sure, keep them out of the hands of anyone too young to need a fidget spinner to work out their anxiety and/or boredom, but wait until next year. Fidget spinners will likely have gone the way of the Pet Rock.

SPIDER-MAN SPIDER-DRONE OFFICIAL MOVIE EDITION This pricey toy is for kids over the age of 12, and comes with  a number of warnings: “Drone has rotating blades that move at high speed, posing danger of… injury…Keep spinning rotors away from fingers, hair, eyes, and other body parts”… and other cautions/warnings on package/package insert.” From my point of view, drones in general should be kept out of the hands of pretty much everyone not qualified to use one, let alone kids (even if they are over the age of 12).

NERF ZOMBIE STRIKE DEADBOLT CROSSBOW This is marketed for kids as young as 8. Who are “encouraged to load ‘arrows’ into Crossbowthe ‘deadbolt’ crossbow, pull back the ‘primary pressurized lever’ and fire the projectiles in order to ‘strike back’ at ‘zombies.’ The force of the arrow launch presents the potential for eye and facial injuries.” Who in their right mind would give an 8 year old a crossbow, even if it’s firing Nerf projectiles?

SLACKERS SLACKLINE CLASSIC SERIES KIT “The manufacturer warns of the potential for ‘severe injury’, including ‘a strangulation hazard, especially with children.’” Strangulation? Not to mention fall-related injuries. Fun for all ages, alrighty.

OVAL XYLOPHONE I love the idea of a baby plonking away on a xylophone. But the drumstick used for plonking away “has the potential to be mouthed and occlude a child’s airway.” Guess this one could use a warning that this one requires adult supervision.

JETTS HEEL WHEELS This toy comes with these warnings: “USING HEEL WHEELS CAN BE A DANGEROUS ACTIVITY AND MAY RESULT IN INJURY OR DEATH. … USE AT YOUR OWN RISK….” Can you imagine picking up a toy for your kid, reading “may result in death” and casually tossing it in your shopping cart? And yet there are so many toys that can result in death. Maybe all of them. That’s a kind of a problem inherent in toys: they can be stupid and dangerous. And inherent in kids: they do stupid and dangerous things, with or without toys. Still, best not to encourage them. Especially when those Heel Wheels have the special feature that they throw off sparks. And “sparks can burn.”

BRIANNA BABYDOLL The final item on the non-shopping list for responsible toy buyers is this baby doll, that comes with removable ponytail holders, creating a choking hazard. Seriously? A manufacturer can’t figure out how to sew threads on to doll hair. Come on. Even I could figure that one out.

Anyway, this is the W.A.T.C.H. List for this year. With so many toys out there, why would you spend on ones that are known to be hazardous? Even if there probably isn’t any such thing as a non-hazardous toy, especially if they get into the wrong little hands.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Clue, Paper Airplane. And - ta-da– The Wiffle Ball

Each year, just about this time, the Strong Museum, which hosts the National Toy Hall of Fame, announces the toys that are being inducted.

This years winners are paper airplanes, the Wiffle Ball, and Clue. Not quite as excellent as the swing, which was inducted last year, but these are all excellent choices, at least in the humble opinion of this former child.

The paper airplane: I’m good with numbers. I’m good with words. But I have absolutely zero spatial reasoning. When I had my first office job – the summer after I graduated from high school – I was asked to type up some letters and put them in envelopes. I couldn’t figure out how to fold a standard 8 1/2” x 11” piece of letterhead so that it fit in a standard Number 10 business envelope. I folded the paper in half, then in quarters, and awkwardly wedged in into the envelope. Then someone showed me. Fold the paper in thirds. Eureka!

In a more recent incident, my cousin Ellen and I, in the midst of a summer downpour, got ourselves soaked while trying to figure out how to fit an exercise bike that a friend of my Aunt Mary’s was giving her into the back of Ellen’s SUV. Maybe it was the rain, but we couldn’t figure it out until Ellen came up with a brilliant solution: call her sister Laura and have Laura’s husband come over in his truck to pick it up. (Those of us without spatial reason develop compensating skills.)

So it took me quite a while to get even passably good at folding paper airplanes. Nevertheless, I persisted, and, while I wasn’t exactly the Orville Wright of paper airplanes, I could get one to do a bit of a swoop.paper airplane

A great plaything. All you need is a piece of paper, and you’ve got endless entertainment. Plus you get to fine tune your fine motor skills and your spatial reasoning. Not to mention rudimentary understanding of aerodynamics: a blunt-nosed paper airplane ain’t going nowhere but down. Anyway,Yay, Paper Airplane! Congratulations on your induction.

Wiffle Ball: What would summer be without Wiffle Ball? Sure, a Wiffle Ball is almost impossible to pitch and, even with a regulation Wiffle Bat, almost impossible to hit so that it soared off the bat – at least in my experience. Very easy to whiff. And getting hit on, say, your calf, with a Wiffle Ball – whipped by some big kid who had mastered the art of pitching a Wiffle Ball – really, really hurt. Every bit at much as getting hit by a hardball or a softball. A Wiffle Ball could really sting! And don’t get me going on getting clobbered with a Wiffle Bat. wiffle ball

It would have taken a really psychopathic kid to go after another kid with a Louisville Slugger. But was there ever a kid shown a Wiffle Bat who didn’t try to weaponize it? No, another kid couldn’t go full Al Capone on you and beat your brains out with one, but getting whacked with a Wiffle Bat hurt – a stingy hurt, just like the Wiffle Ball.

But you could play baseball with Wiffle Ball. Yay, Wiffle Ball! Congratulations on your induction.

Clue: I grew up in the Great Age of Board Games. Monopoly (or our cheese-ball version, Easy Money). Scrabble (or our cheese-ball version, Key Word). Sorry. Go To The Head of the Class. Professor PlumYou name it, I played it in someone’s backyard, on an old WWII Army or Navy blanket, on a summer’s afternoon, under a tree. And one of our favorites was Clue. Interesting characters. A fancy house – who had a Conservatory? Cool little weapons. The use of deductive reasoning. Taking some risk when you declared “Professor Plum did it in the Conservatory with the candlestick.” Yay, Clue! Congratulations on your induction.

Runners-up: What toys were nominated but didn’t make the cut: the Magic 8 Ball, Matchbox Cars, My Little Pony, PEZ Candy Dispenser, play food, Risk, sand, Transformers, and Uno.

Personally, I can’t stand My Little Pony. But these are all reasonably good choices. Even though, I will observe that, if you have sand, you can make mud pies, and if you have Play-Doh you can make anything, so you really don’t need play food. (And if you lived in an area where there were many trees and bushes around, you had acorns and pignuts, and poisonous red and green berries, and leaves and twigs, all of which made pretty fine play food.) Further, I think if you nominate sand, you really need to nominate the sandbox. Just sayin’

Here’s the full list of toys/playthings in the Hall of Fame. And here’s Pink Slip’s take on last year’s picks, Swing!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Now this gets my goat

According to the Chinese way of doing calendar business, 2015 was the Year of the Goat.

But I’m here to tell Xi Jinping that, in real life, 2017 has been quite the year, goat-wise.

Pink Slip, ever with the eye toward what’s trendy, picked up on this earlier this year, when I noted that there were goats galore. One of the sub-goatish topics of my post was goat yoga, which combines two things I know absolutely nothing about. Well, ignorance has never stopped me from developing an insta-opinion, and holding it for however long it takes me to concoct a piece. Here’s what I had to say about goat yoga in April:

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of mixing goats and yoga.To me, yoga – despite pose names like Downward Dog - always seems kind of humorless. Having a bunch of goats scampering around might lighten things up quite a bit. (Source: Pink Slip)

But the District of Columbia apparently frowns on the combination of goats and yoga:

the Department of Health (DOH) is aiming to end this menacing mixture of fitness and farm animals. D.C. Brau, a Washington microbrewery, had to cancel two sold-out goat yoga classes—which were to be followed by beer tastings—after the DOH warned that the events would violate a ban on spectators touching animals at public events. (Source: Reason)

A ‘ban on spectators touching animals at public events’? Say wha? I mean, there’s bad touchy. I know that. But there’s also good touchy. Does this mean that, if I attend a public event in Washington – say a march to protest the pardoning of Donald Trump, père ou fils – and someone marches by with a really sweet Lab, I can’t pet the Lab?

DC DOH has shut down goat yoga before.

In June, the department also forbade the Congressional Cemetery from hosting a goat yoga fundraiser.

Organizers were told that they needed to “get a wildlife handling permit for exotic animals.”

Who even knew that goats are exotic?

Maybe in DC, where the plain old animals run more to snakes, rats, and weasels.

Exceptions can be made to the goat fatwa if the event is educational – which the Cemetery folks argued theirs was - but the city “could see no educational merit…Officials even expressed concern that participants might lose their balance and fall on the goats.” They also stressed the same “no touch” policy that ended the goat-yoga-beer tasting event.

But the National Zoo has a petting zoo, and Christian Britschgi, whose post on Reason is the source for this post, looked into Goat-gate:

It’s possible that the "no touch" policy makes some sort of exemption for these petting zoos, but I could find no text of the actual policy to verify this, let alone justify it.

Christian also looked into the city’s rules and came up with nothing that could justify banning goat yoga.

Chalk it up to arbitrary and capricious, I guess.

Now I am not anti-regulation. I thank having a relatively strong regulatory system for the fact that I’m sitting here without having to wear a gas mask, that the water that flows from my tap is potable, and for having been spared being a child laborer (anywhere other than in the home I grew up in). But for every excellent regulation, there’s likely a really stupid one. And sometimes that regulation doesn’t even appear to be written down anywhere. It’s just made up and enforced on an ad hoc basis. Like this one. Which really gets my goat.

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A tip of the Pink Slip straw hat, with a bite of the brim nibbled out by a goat, to my brother-in-law Rick for sending this one my way.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The City of Cambridge takes flex pricing to a new level

I have a couple of gym buddies who live in Cambridge, and they were all abuzz yesterday about an article on liquor licenses and how they’ve been so patchily issued in their town over the last couple of years. How patchy? Well, the price for a license – depending on whether you were canny enough to find the right lawyer or knew the right question (or person) to ask – was anywhere from free to $450,000.

That’s quite a swing, especially for a low margin business like a restaurant.

Even after reading the article twice, I couldn’t quite follow the thread on how this all worked. (I was going to say that I couldn’t quite follow the “logic”, but that would be absolutely the wrong word to use with respect to how liquor licensing goes down in Cambridge.) Here’s how I think things work:

To get a liquor license, you either need to buy one from an existing owner for whatever the market could bear, or get one from the city for free.

Sometimes, the free licenses depended on what section of the city Cambridge wanted new restaurants to spring up in. Thus, for a while the licensing commission – a paid lead commissioner and the chiefs of the police and fire departments – were more open to new free licenses for up and coming, techie-ville Kendall Square than they were for old, beaten up Central Square. Guess the Cantab Lounge – a dive bar –  and a few other spots where you could get liquored up, or just have a drink with dinner, were good enough for Central.

But this preference for Kendall over Central didn’t work for everyone. Sumaio Chen wanted to open a place in Kendall and ended up paying $200K for one -  a license that other restaurants in Kendall were getting as a freebie

Chen would have loved the same deal, but it was as though she didn’t know the secret handshake. Nothing on the Cambridge License Commission’s website or at its offices explained how to get a free license, and Chen’s advisers told her she had to try to buy one from another restaurant first. (Source: Boston Globe)

That bit about having to “try to buy one from another restaurant first”? Apparently, the decision on whether or not you were trying hard enough was completely arbitrary. Or looked that way.

In all, 95 restaurants, bars, hotels, and clubs in Cambridge operate with free licenses, or 38 percent of the total, city records show. Another 157 hold licenses they bought from other owners, and now worry they overpaid, as free licenses become more available.

This is Massachusetts, and this is Cambridge, from whence Cambridge Favorite Son Tip O’Neil so famously said, “All politics is local”. So, needless to say, there were lawyers – home boyos – with connections who knew the ropes and could show folks around. Sometimes these intermediaries worked for the sellers. Sometimes for the buyers. Sometimes for both. (Oh,  boy…)

No one knew this patchwork of inequity better than the lawyers who made a living navigating the murky system. With so little guidance from the city, many restaurant owners turned to a small cadre of well-connected attorneys who often preached the advantages of buying a license. Other times, they schooled license applicants in how to convince commissioners that they had tried in vain to buy a license, and deserved a free one.

As for those who worry that the liquor license that they paid so dearly for may be worth nothing, given that a license can be had for free. I have just two words to say: taxi medallion.

The relatively new chairman of the commissioner, who was brought in in January 2016 to help clean up the licensing mess, doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for those who got stuck paying big bucks for a license.

[Nicole] Murati Ferrer made no apologies for past policies on issuing licenses, or the negative consequences for owners caught in the middle. She said the commission had no duty at hearings to inform owners of their options, and that people needed to seek information from the city earlier in the process.

Others think differently:

…some City Council members are sympathetic. In a statement in June, they said the city had been giving bad advice to restaurant owners about liquor licenses. They have even weighed possible reparations

Reparations! Wow! Sounds crazy, but I will note that one of the investigative reporters who worked on this story is Sacha Pfeiffer, who was one of the Spotlight Team members who exposed the Boston Archdiocese sex abuse scandal – a story that got made into the Academy Award-winning movie Spotlight. So I suspect there’s more to come on this story.

Again, Murati Ferrer isn’t shedding any tears, crocodile or otherwise, over the issue.

Commission chair Murati Ferrer, however, said the city bears no blame for failing to disclose all license options to restaurant owners. She suggested attorneys were at fault if their clients didn’t understand: “I think it’s shame on the lawyer.”

Caveat restaurateur and all that, but I think there’s plenty of blame to go around on this one. And I wouldn’t bet against more shoes dropping. (C.f., Sacha Pfeiffer)

Me? Why doesn’t Cambridge – or anyplace else: pick a city, any city – just rent the licenses? The cost of a lease might be flex-y, depending on what type of operation we’re talking about – white table-cloth foodie vs. watering hole. Moving forward, that would put everyone on pretty even footing. Except, of course, for those looking for reparations for the $450K they spent on a license when the joint next door got theirs for free.

Sounds like it’s time to lawyer up!