Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Standing room only?

Fortunately – or unfortunately – I don’t fly all that often.

Unfortunate, in that not flying means I’m not going very many places. Sure, there was Ireland last May and Ireland last month, and Dallas coming up in a few weeks. (Dallas R/T covered by my late husband’s frequent flyer miles. Thanks, hon.) But I’m largely a stay at home.

Which is a good thing, because flying is not a tremendous amount of fun.

On the recent Aer Lingus flight, my sister claimed that the meal on the way over was the worst she’d ever had on a plane. It was pretty ghastly, I’ll give her that, but I’d have to rank a piece of beef on an Al Italia flight to Rome about 20 years ago a bit higher/lower on the worst ever scale. Having broken our plastic forks on the tough little food stuff, my husband and I concluded that the meal was actually half hockey puck.

Not picking on Aer Lingus – I actually kind of like them as an airline – but that recent flight to Ireland was only about half full. So why did they pack all those noisy college kids from Nebraska around us? I think they were good enough kids. (Weirdly, they were on some sort of Christian proselytizing mission to Northern Ireland.) But some of them had never been on a plane before, so they were all revved up. And they were doing what college kids do when two or more are gathered together, and that’s make noise and generally behave like jackasses. Which was the case with these kids until my sister gave them her best mother-of-a-college kid (a college kid who, in fact, knows how to travel without acting up and out) stink eye and stink voice, so the kids calmed down.

On the return flight, the food was actually edible. But the young Irish guy next to me sneezed in my direction throughout the entire flight. So I ended up bringing back a sweater for myself, a baby gift, and a two-week head cold.

So, no, flying – unless you’re in a bed on Emirates – is not a lot of fun. (Not that I would know this up close and personal, but I have seen the ads.)

Maybe flying never was, at least for those of us who missed out on the Golden Age of Air Travel, where everyone dressed up, everyone got a seat the size of a Barcalounger, and the food (presumably edible) was served on china plates. But I don’t remember it being quite so unpleasant in my days of business trips and regular vacations.

The airlines, of course, seem to continuously conspire to make flying even more awful, especially for those of us relegated to steerage. (Note to self: check out how many miles it would take to upgrade that Dallas flight to business.)

Legroom gets stingier. Food – appalling as it is – is sometimes not even given out. And now this:

SRO flight

I get annoyed when I have to straphang on a 20 minute T-ride from Brookline to Boston, always putting on a combo aggrieved/resigned expression and positioning myself in front of someone young, prominently flashing my senior T-pass. Imagine flying on the red-eye in one of these.

Meet the Skyrider 2.0. The name, right down to the 2.0, makes it sound like a cool device out of “Star Wars.” Who wouldn’t want to climb upon something called the Skyrider and zoom through the air? I’ll tell you who: Anyone in their right mind.

The Skyrider 2.0, engineered by Italian aerospace interior design company AvioInteriors Group and introduced at Hamburg’s Airplane Interiors Expo this month, puts passengers in a near-standing position, with their backsides positioned on sharply tilted polyester saddle/bike seat. It’s like a petite perch that puts you in a near-standing position for the duration of the flight. (Source: Boston Globe)

Installing these puppies will let an airline add 20 percent more passengers. Plus it will save on fuel.

“Skyrider 2.0 is the new frontier of low-cost tickets,” Aviointeriors declares on its website. It continues on an altruistic note, saying that these seats will allow those who couldn’t afford to fly in the past an opportunity to finally do so.

I’m guessing that these seats are aimed at short haul budget flights, like Ryanair, and not on trans-ocean flights. Still, I don’t think I’d want to spend even an hour strapped onto a bicycle seat.

I do see a few advantages. You don’t have the kid in the seat behind you kicking the back of your seat throughout the flight, or have the knucklehead in front of you jolt back his seat so that his head is reclining in your lap. You’d never have to listen to an announcement asking you to put your seat in an upright position – you’ll be there already! Plus it looks like it would be impossible to feed the masses, so there’s no worry about rotten food. And it doesn’t look like there’d be room for the person next to you to whip out a smelly tuna sub – which they should not allow to be sold in airports, by the way – a few minutes into the flight.

On the other hand, it would do absolutely nothing to prevent the person next to you from sneezing your way for six hours.

Let me know when each of these comes equipped with some sort of gumbometer – maybe one with mild laughing gas piped in; you know, the good stuff they give you when you have your colonoscopy – that protects you from the germs, squirms, and moans of your fellow straphangers.

Better yet, if air travel goes SRO, maybe I’ll just stay home.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

What’s in a name?

I decided to take a break from reading about Trump’s mendacity, his venality, his dangerous lack of impulse control, his fecklessness, his recklessness, his ignorance, his paranoia, etc. etc.  And, lo and WaPo behold, there was a nicely distracting article on Trump’s merchandising deals, most of which – you will be shocked to learn – are no longer.

When The Apprentice was first on, I watched an occasional episode. In one, two teams were pitted against each other in a contest to see who could sell the most Trump bottled water.

I’ve never seen it anywhere in real life - Boston wouldn’t be the natural watering hole for anything with the Trump label on it – but apparently it’s what they put on the credenza for you if you stay at a Trump hotel.

Not clear whether there’s anyplace you can buy Trump wine around here, either. Not that you’d want to. I’ve seen the red described as “Welch’s grape juice with alcohol.” But it can be ordered online, and it’s on the menu at Trump hotels.

You can also buy Trump hats, polo shirts, glassware, teddy bears and other stuff at the Trump Store, if one were so inclined. And there is, of course, the MAGA-based store, where you can get merch like a MAGA cap (fetchingly modeled by an African American, but not the same guy who Trump pointed out at one of his rallies as “my African American over there”; must be the other one) and a cap labeled American Dreamer. Ahem.

But back in the day, there used to be a whole lot of Trump products that, while they bore the Trump name, were designed and marketed by outside parties. These entities paid Trump hefty licensing fees in hopes that this would confer luxury on their wares and pump up sales. Trump made a lot of money over the years, something that’s absolutely unfathomable to me, of course. But there is no accounting for taste.

Anyway, Trump products included:

Trump deodorant. Trump ties. Trump steaks. Trump underwear. Trump furniture. At one time, there was even a Trump-branded urine test.

Now, almost all of them are gone.

In recent weeks, only two said they are still selling Trump-branded goods. One is a Panamanian company selling Trump bed linens and home goods. The other is a Turkish company selling Trump furniture. (Source: Washington Post)

There was also Trump vodka, coffee, and pillows. (I’d have to have quaffed plenty of that vodka to lay me down to sleep on Trump linens on a Trump pillow, that’s for sure.)

Oh, some of the stuff is still out there on discount web sites. Trump deodorant – “EMPIRE’s confident stride begins with crisp notes of peppermint, rich chai accord and a hint of juicy apple. It’s addictive aroma continues to unfold into the heart of the fragrance with a masculine blend of orange flower and jasmine that mingles with exotic tonka bean. Veiled beneath the elegance and structure, is an all-enveloping warmth and charm accentuated by elements of rich amber and seductive musk” – can be had at $2.99, marked down from $14.

Of course, in real life the fragrance would be part Big Mac, part bile.

Anyway, even though I don’t think a penny of that $2.99 would accrue to Trump – I’m sure he made his on this years ago – and I do think that something like this would make an excellent Yankee Swap gift, I’ll take a pass. (I already have my 2018 Yankee Swap, by the way…)

Trump steaks are long gone – Sharper Image 86’d them in 2007 because they weren’t selling. Too much fat? Whiff of BS?

As for the Trump urine test... The test – based on junk science, as it not surprisingly turns out – was used to determine which Trump nutritional supplements/vitamins you needed. These were available through a multi-level marketing scheme that went bust in 2012, after a whole bunch of folks – perhaps grads of Trump University? – had lost money buying their sales kits.

All I can say is that, if the Steele Dossier pans out, the urine test could sure make a comeback.

Of the few products that licensed the Trump name that are still on the market, the furniture doesn’t actually promote the Trump name anymore.Trump_About_6 I took a look at it, and most of it was not to my liking. This chair looks like something that Superman’s father, Jor-El might have had in his living room on Krypton.

And it’s not gold, so how would the purchaser know it had anything to do with Trump?

Not that slapping your name on stuff didn’t make a lot of sense, and bring in a lot of revenue at one point in time

During the high times of The Apprentice, a Trump men’s clothing line – even one that featured sack suits and overlong ties – sold at Macy’s would certainly have held appeal to some folks.

Overall,

In 2009, Trump reported that his licensing partners had sold $215 million worth of Trump-licensed goods worldwide.

Admittedly, “Trump reported” is no guarantee that this number is anything close to reality. But even if it’s off by an order of magnitude, that’s a lot of money coming in for doing nothing other than letting someone else use your name.

But the licensing revenue seems to have dwindled to $370K.

No need to shed any tears. While the licensing business may have dried up, being president comes with an upside.

…it has allowed his Mar-a-Lago Club and his D.C. hotel to mon­etize his political alliances, raking in money from evangelical Christian groups and GOP campaigns.

While Trump is highly unlikely to be the mega-billionaire he claims to be – and fear of this being confirmed is, I suspect, what’s motivating some of his paranoia about what all the investigations might reveal – he certainly has a certain feral genius for making money without doing much heavy lifting.

It helps, of course that he has a distinctive name. While it holds no cachet for me – way too Atlantic City, even if its bearer weren’t a POTUS I abhor – it’s strong, punchy, and memorable. All good things when it comes to marketing. But conferring “luxury”? I really don’t see it at all, at all. And I’m not alone.

“A caricature of what wealth is — as opposed to what real wealth is,” said Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, a consultant to luxury brands. Trump sold to those, he said, “who didn’t know the difference,” he said.

Well, that’s pretty condescending, Milton, but you did read my mind here.

Pedraza also pointed out that one of the problems with Trump’s approach was that he:

…...began to undermine his own success by “label-slapping” — sticking his name on anything he could, even the farfetched and ridiculous. Emeril Lagasse sold pots. Greg Norman sold golf shirts. Trump sold. . . everything.

“There was no strategy,” Pedraza said.

“No strategy” is starting to sound like a rather familiar refrain, isn’t it?

Monday, April 23, 2018

Forget ‘where’s the beef?’ It’s going to be ‘where’s the heme?’

I read somewhere that the food missed the most by former carnivores who’d converted to vegetarianism is bacon. I can see that. But I’m guessing that a good old burger would run a close second. It would for me, anyway.

Don’t get me wrong. I like meat. I like steak. And duck. Baby lamb chops. Veal piccata. Pork chops. Chicken. I really like chicken.

I like stuff made with meat: beef stew, chicken noodle soup, shepherd’s pie, chili, spaghetti Carbonara.  BLT’s. Gus sandwiches. (A Gus was invented by me and my brother Tom when we were kids: bacon, lettuce, cheese, dill pickle and mayo. Yum!)

But I could become a vegetarian. I’m already about a 90% in-house vegetarian.

What I could never be is a vegan. No dairy? No eggs? No honey? Fuggedaboutit.

But vegetarian? Yeah.

There are plenty of good reasons to become a vegetarian. Health, for  one. Then there’s the yuck factor about where most of our meat comes from. Sure, I look for the free range chicken and grass-fed beef. But those meat factories? The slaughterhouses? Just thinking about the yuck factor…

What I don’t tend to think about is the environmental implications of eating meat. All that meat consumption – and as wealth increases worldwide, there’s a lot more of it – ain’t all that good for Mother Earth. Greenhouse gases, water pollution. We should be eating less meat, not more.

For Patrick Brown, beef is the biggest culprit.

Animal agriculture eats up an astonishing 30 percent of the earth’s land. Brown says he’s tackling the problem with a burger that uses 95 percent less land and 75 percent less water than ground beef.(Source: Bloomberg).

And his company, Impossible Foods, is trying to do something about it. He’s come up with a “magic ingredient” that makes a veggie burger taste like a real burger.

The ingredient, made from soybean roots and genetically engineered yeast, goes into vegetarian Impossible Burgers, which are available in a growing number of restaurants -- even fast-food stalwart White Castle. It contains heme (pronounced HEEM), a key part of red meat and a source of iron, which humans can’t live without. Think of Brown’s discovery as plant-based blood. Brown, 63, says it makes the Impossible Burger sizzle, smell and taste like real red meat…

“The way to solve this big global problem is not by ordering people to change their diets, it’s realizing that we’re using the wrong technology,” Brown said. “You can’t make meat that satisfies the craving that meat-lovers have without heme. It’s the magic ingredient.’

Ah, heme. (Is there anyone else out there of a certain age who’s thinking about Hemo the Magnificent, an animated film all about blood that educated us kiddos in the late 1950’s. I don’t believe that Hemo the Magnificent had anything to say about why we like those drippy, juicy, medium-rare burgers. I’m pretty sure it focused on the blood coursing through our veins. Guess by the time you get to a certain age, pretty much anything and everything can dredge up a reference to something from childhood. All I an say is, expect more of the same.)

The idea of a vegetarian burger that closely resembles a meaty-burger almost gets me to see if there’s a White Castle in Boston where I can get one. Almost, but not quite.

Anyway, I’m all for meatless-meat, and Impossible Burger’s impossible burger sounds more appetizing than that meat grown in a petri dish.

Couple of problems.

Impossible is looking for FDA approval, and the FDA says that plant-based heme is too new for them to sign off on it. Then there’s this:

The heme molecule is also involved in another controversy. Studies have shown that steak lovers are at risk of colon cancer while chicken breast junkies aren’t. Heme makes red meat red, so some researchers think it could be a culprit, said Robert Turesky, a professor at the University of Minnesota.

Oh, no. Will vegetarians have to turn to fake chicken McNuggets?

Brown disputes this, dismissing reports on the possibility that heme is a carcinogen as “garbage science.”

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of smart money backing Impossible Foods, including Bill Gates and Google Ventures.

Fake meat will be one of the year’s hottest food trends. An increasing number of flexitarians -- people not looking to eat meat at every meal -- are helping to drive interest, according to Rabobank. Sales of alternative proteins are dwarfed by the $49 billion red meat and chicken market, but they’re expected to grow about 17 percent a year to $863 million in 2021, according to a CoBank estimate.

Ah, flexitarian. Guess that’s what I am. Always nice to have another modifier…

Meanwhile, go Impossible Foods. Forget ‘where’s the beef?’ Looks like we’ll be asking ‘where’s the heme?’

Friday, April 20, 2018

This price ain’t right

My doctor recently advised me to get a shot for pneumonia. I’m over 65. I volunteer in a homeless shelter. And I’ve had two pretty formidable head colds this year.

She didn’t have the drug in her office, but told me I could get the shot at CVS.

When, prescription in hand, I got to CVS, I found that Prevnar wasn’t covered under my drug plan. The shot would cost me $230. We did a bit of back and forth with my doctor and the insurance provider, but I decided to go ahead and get the shot. Amortized across five years, $230 is not much if it prevents me from getting pneumonia.

The bottom line was my bottom line: I can afford it. (And, miraculously, I had just won $230 by winning the NCAA March Madness bracket at the gym. So I even had the cash in my pocket.)

Lucky me.

But for a lot of folks, $230 is a big deal, especially if they’re elderly and on a fixed income.

When my husband was undergoing cancer treatment, we didn’t bother to keep track of all the drug-related costs – prescriptions, chemo – or any costs for that matter. When we’d get the periodic reports from Medicare and Blue Cross, thick files that no one could possibly understand or interpret, we’d just go to the bottom line and find that – hip, hip, hooray! – we owed nothing.

Over two years of fairly intense treatment, I don’t think that Jim’s accumulated out-of-pocket expenses came anywhere near the $230 I paid for the Prevnar shot.

Lucky us. (Sort of. Jim wasn’t all that lucky…)

But for a lot of folks, even those covered by Medicare and/or other insurance, those thick reports include a notice of how much you owe. And for many of those folks, what they owe can be plenty.

Anyway, with the recent nothing-to-do-with-cancer Prevnar episode and Jim’s treatment not all that far in the rearview mirror, I read an article on one cancer drug in the Washington Post with great interest.

There’s a blood cancer drug, Imbruvica, that costs $148K a year. Some physicians looked into whether they could lower costs by lowering the dosage. Turns out, it looked like they could. Patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia seemed to do just as well taking fewer pills once they’d gone through an initial higher-dosage round. Which would mean a big money saver for those with high deductibles, and for insurance providers. Looked like a win-win. But not a win-win-win.

While the researchers were thinking about celebrating that win-win:

…they learned of a new pricing strategy by Janssen and Pharmacyclics, the companies that sell Imbruvica through a partnership. Within the next three months, the companies will stop making the original 140-milligram capsule, a spokeswoman confirmed. They will instead offer tablets in four strengths — each of which has the same flat price of about $400, or triple the original cost of the pill.

Just as scientific momentum was building to test the effectiveness of lower doses, the new pricing scheme ensures dose reductions won't save patients money or erode companies' revenue from selling the drug. In fact, patients who had been doing well on a low dose of the drug would now pay more for their treatment. Those who stay on the dose equivalent to three pills a day won't see a change in price. (Source: Washington Post)

The pharmas are, of course, defending this move as innovative and convenient. While – mirabile dictu – keeping their profits.

I’m all in favor of pharmaceutical companies being able to recoup their research costs. But this sounds pretty darned nastily rapacious and f’d up.

Because high out-of-pocket costs are a big barrier to folks staying on their drugs. Someone who had been paying $5K under the prior regimen would now being paying nearly twice that. The average Social Security payment is a bit over $1.1K. And there it could go in one fell swoop. Or worse:

…Despite efforts to connect patients with resources to help them afford co-pays, some will request a drug that is cheaper but maybe less effective — or even push to discontinue the medicine.

I don’t know what the answer is to the high cost of drugs in particular and healthcare in general. And I’m not arguing that it should all be free. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if there were Medicare copays for those who can afford them. And there comes a point where, I believe, someone who elects extraordinary measures should expect to pay for them. (E.g., organ transplants for 80 year olds.)

As gouges go, this move by Janssen and Pharmacyclics, while not quite rising to the Martin Shkreli level, seems a bit much. The new price just ain’t right.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Got the blues? Got the reds? Got the Yinmins?

My favorite color is now and always has been blue. Maybe it’s because I was the blue-eyed tow-head who – when the clothing wasn’t hand-me-down, which more often than not it was – was automatically assigned something blue. I was bummed that both my grammar and high school uniforms were forest green, not navy blue. I craved a blue-frosted birthday cake, but my mother didn’t approve of blue as a food color (other than blueberries and Easter eggs). One of the highlights of my childhood was attending a birthday party where not only did the cake have blue icing, but the ginger-ale was died blue, too.

And things haven’t changed all that much. I still gravitate towards blue clothing. My bedroom, foyer, hall, kitchen, and upstairs bathroom all are painted some shade of blue. Two chairs in the living room are blue. (What would my mother say? She didn’t like blue as a decorating color, either.)

I’m enough of a blue person that I’m relieved that, when they assigned a color to indicate the political leaning of a state, left-ish states got blue. (Phew!)

Although in many respects, I’m an oddball, my affection for blue is hardly unique:

It’s overwhelmingly America’s favorite color, according to Pressman of the Pantone Color Institute. “Blue is that concept of hope, promise, dependability, stability, calm, and cool,” she says. “We think of it as a color of constancy and truth. It’s one of the most approachable colors, the color that’s the most comfortable.” Blue is central to the brand imaging of Ikea, Ford, Walmart, and Facebook. It’s on our refrigerator shelves, our walls, our clothes. Two-thirds of Major League Baseball teams feature blue on their uniforms. Blue is everywhere. (Source: Bloomberg)

When it comes to blue, there’s an awful lot of choices out there. Having gone through not one but two Benjamin Moore fan decks when I picked the colors for my 2015 reno, I can vouch for that.

Despite my interest in things blue, I haven’t given a lot of thought to how we get all those color choices. Sure, I was in marketing so I know all about CYMK and Pantone PMS. All those formulae out there…But what’s really behind colors? Hmmmm.

As it turns out, there’s an awful lot, going way back in time, back to before there were MLB teams with some blue in their uniforms.

Blue is one of nature’s most abundant tones, but it’s proved hard for human hands to create. When the ancient Egyptians tried to replicate the deep, oceanic tone of ultramarine to adorn tombs, papyrus, and art, they wound up with something more like turquoise. During the Renaissance, ultramarine could be costlier than gold, because the lapis lazuli from which it derives was mined in remote Afghanistan. (Michelangelo nevertheless scored some for the Sistine Chapel ceiling.) The first modern synthetic pigment, Prussian blue, or ferric ferrocyanide, wasn’t discovered until the early 18th century, by a German chemist trying to make red. Since then, many common blues (cerulean, midnight, aquamarine, smalt) have contained traces of cobalt, a suspected carcinogen.

So there are scientists who focus on developing new pigments. A pigment is “a substance capable of imparting color onto another material.” In other words, you need pigments to make colors. One such scientist is Mas Subramanian, who discovered/invented YInMn blue “the first blue pigment discovered in more than 200 years”. And a pigment that seems to be better, less dangerous, than the blues that are out there.

Pigments get patented, and can turn into big business. The pigment “responsible for the crisp whiteness of traffic lines, toothpaste, and powdered doughnuts” is worth a cool $13.2B per annum. The overall market for pigments is $30B. (Pretty good market share for that powdered doughnut pigment…)

YInMn is wending it’s way through the approval process – it has been approved for industrial coatings and plastics. And Crayola has recently introduced Bluetiful, its first new color in years, which is “inspired” by YInMn.

What might get in YInMn’s way of mass commercialization is that, because of the scarcity of one of its chemical components, it’s pretty pricey.

Anyway, price aside, blue seems to be on a good path. Not so red, which has always been something of a color problem child. Remember when they had to take red M&M’s out of the bag? And I learned from the article, the Red Coats who the embattled farmers took on at Lexington and Concord wore red coats “infused with crushed cochineal beetles.” Well, yuck.

More than 200 natural and synthetic red pigments exist today, but each has issues with safety, stability, chromaticity, and/or opacity. Red 254, aka Ferrari red, for example, is safe and popular, but it’s also carbon-based, leaving it susceptible to fading in the rain or the heat…The world lacks a great all-around red. Always has.

Pigment scientists are working on it, but, as a non-red person – other than red Chuckles and jelly beans - I’m not all that concerned.

Red’s problem is just one more reason I’m happy to be blue.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

On the 18th of April in ‘75…

I had something else lined up for today’s post, but then presidential historian Michael Beschloss tweeted out this image – Grant Wood’s “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”. This, quite naturally, put me in mind of Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” the first two stanzas of which we had to memorize in grammar school.

Paul Revere's Ride

And, so, every April 18th, these words pop into my head, unbidden:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive 
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.
I grew up, of course, in what was likely the last era when schoolchildren were required to memorize stuff. Lots of poetry – much of it doggerel. The times-tables up to 12. And, if you went to parochial school, lots of catechism answers (many of which made no sense whatsoever). 
And this stuff sticks with you. I’ve got those two first stanzas of “Paul Revere’s Ride” down cold. Not to mention the entirety of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Concord Hymn,” which commemorates the dead of the Battle of Concord. (Those dead being the “country-folk” who got “up and to arm” thanks to Paul Revere’s midnight ride.) The Battle of Concord occurred on the 19th of April in ‘75. And these words will pop into my head, unbidden, tomorrow. 
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Concord Bridge is a really lovely spot. If we ever get a lovely spring day, I just might zip out there and pay it a visit. (And recite this poem, silently, to myself.)

What else do I know, thanks to the nuns?

Other first Longfellow stanzas – “Hiawatha” and “Evangeline.” For some reason, bits of Robert W. Service (“The Spell of the Yukon.”), bits of Alfred Noyes (“The Highwayman,” “The Moon Is Up.”), bits of John Greenleaf Whittier (“Snow-Bound”). Henry Holcomb Bennett (“The Flag Goes By”) And, yes, I had to look up the poet’s name for this one. I would have sworn it was Helen Hunt Jackson. But, no, she was “October’s Bright Blue Weather.”

Occasionally, we memorized a poem in its entirety:

William Wordsworth’s “Daffodils.” Emily Dickinson’s “I Never Saw a Moor” – an easy-peasy one: 8 lines. Robert Frost “Stopping by the Woods.” Carl Sandburg’s “Fog” – even better than “I Never Saw a Moor” in terms of easy-peasy: 6 lines.

Most memorable was “O Captain! My Captain” by Walt Whitman, which we recited, all together, in ultra-dramatic tones, and with a beat that presaged rap (until Sister Saint Wilhelmina stopped us). I remember my fifth grade class – nearly 50 strong – pounding our hearts as we moaned, “But O heart! heart! heart! O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.” Who were we to make fun of Walt Whitman? A bunch of smart-alecky 10 years old at Our Lady of the Angels in Worcester.

I don’t know what all this memorization was worth, but nearly 60 years on, I can still dredge up plenty of it.

And today I’ll be dredging up “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Maybe I’ll even walk down to the North End, to Old North Church, to Paul Revere’s House, to Paul Revere’s statue. Which is one of the benefits of living in a city that’s chocked full of history. And a bit of poetry.

Thanks, Michael Beschloss, for putting this in my mind.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Peak gingham? Who knew

For the last couple of summers, my go-to shirt was a washable linen number, faded denim-blue, from LL Bean. Simple. Cool. Comfy. Goes with everything, if your everything is pretty much khakis, jeans, and no-color linen pants. Anyway, I lived in it, and have been looking forward to living in it again, if we ever have anything resembling spring or summer weather.

I’ve gotten so much use out of that shirt that, when I saw it in the LL Bean catalog in aqua teal gingham, well, $10 coupon in hanLL Bean Ginghamd, how could I resist? 

So I didn’t.

Of course, the weather has been ghastly. And, of course, I’m well aware that one doesn’t wear linen or white or a straw hat before Memorial Day (or after Labor Day). Still, I’ve had that gingham shirt sitting there on the catch-all ottoman in my bedroom, and every once in a while I’ve picked it up, given it a look, and envisioned myself, portrait of simple, cool, comfy sophistication. Out there playing Beacon Hill doyenne. Passing for a W.A.S.P.

And along comes Bloomberg to suck the joy out of any and all anticipation. Their joy-sucking vehicle: an article entitled:

We’ve Reached Peak Gingham. You Should Find Some New Shirts

Well, I never.

You should find some new shirts, not me, thank you.

Gingham, the woven cloth in contrasting checks, has had a fashion moment in recent years. Somehow, it’s managed to become a pervasive summer style. Now it seems those checks are starting to fade.

The pattern is peaking and will likely retreat back to its status as a humdrum basic for warmer months, fashion trend analysts predict. This means that, while we’re bound to see city sidewalks laden with gingham again this summer, it may be the last such time in a while. (Source: Bloomberg)

At least I’ll have next summer to be part of the gingham-ladening of city sidewalks before this charming little check declines into frumphood. Fashion oblivion.

Until I read the article, I had not been aware that gingham had been last year’s go-to print for a number of fashion labels. Not surprisingly, someone who orders clothing from LL Bean is not all that up on fashion labels. But Kenzo showed off a “white-and-red gingham vichy dress” during Paris Fashion Week last year.

Here I must take a pray-tell pause to ask: what, pray-tell, is a vichy dress? Something worn in Vichy, France? Huh?

Googling did little good to find an answer. One of the items that came up when I searched for “vichy dress” was an image of a blue-checked gingham dress from the Vermont Country Store, an emporium that makes LL Bean look like the devil’s outfitter, Prada.

Anyway, gingham has drifted from Fashion Week down to mass-marketers catering to the hoi polloi.

Stores such as Target Corp. and department store outlets updated their basic offerings, including shirts and blouses, with gingham. They caused a 73.8 percent spike in new items featuring the print in March, according to data from trend forecasting firm WGSN.

And once Target et al. latch on, high fashion puts its nose in the air and moves on.

The mass-market stores are “where trends go to die,” said Emma Griffin, an analyst at WGSN. The garments being sold at those stores are the simplest basics. It’s gingham in its most boring form. “It’s reached its peak,” she said.

Guess I’ve been told. The gingham dream is dying. For everyone other than myself. I’m still itching to get into that gingham LL shirt.

Will calico supplant gingham? (As in gingham dog and the calico cat.) Apparently not.

What’s replacing gingham? Mixed checkered patterns and plaids, another timeless print with overlapping stripes. Appearances of these checks are up 15 percent year-over-year on pre-summer 2018 catwalks, thanks to such high-end fashion brands as Victoria Beckham and Red Valentino, according to WGSN. Meanwhile, gingham was relatively quiet on runways over the past two seasons. That may have been a signal.

Thank the fashion gods I have a checkered shirt in my closet. And maybe a plaid or two. Not sure what “overlapping stripes” are, but stripes I do.

But the signal about gingham being on the way out? That’s a signal I’m ignoring. At least not until I get to wear my new shirt a few times. In fact, I’ll bet that I’ll still have that shirt when gingham comes back around.

Never in style, never out of style…