Friday, June 24, 2016

Just in time for Friday: fish sticks

One of our regular fish-on-Friday dinners growing up was fish sticks. The other regulars included pan-fried haddock, corn chowder, and creamed tuna. Stop gagging. They were all delish. Including those fishy, chemically fish sticks, tanged up by swizzling each bite around in the Ken’s Steakhouse Italian dressing that doused the salad that accompanied the Friday fish sticks. The other part of this meal was frozen French fries. Sure, they were thawed, cooked even, but I have to say that the frozen French fries of my childhood were just terrible – soggy and blah. We would fight for the handful of slivery fries that were actually crisp. Good luck!

Anyway, I have to confess that, although I haven’t had them in years, I occasionally crave fish sticks. While I occasionally crave them, I don’t often think of them. But I was put in a fish stick state of mind when I saw an article the other day on Bloomberg that wasn’t particularly about fish sticks. Rather, it was about advanced fish-slicing machinery that uses algorithms to figure out how to fillet a fish. What does the fish slicing is:

…the Flexicut, a machine built by the meat processer Marel that uses X-rays, water jets, and software to cut fish quickly and precisely.

Marel, which sells about $1 billion of meat-slicing gear a year, has just started rolling out the Flexicut to fish factories. (Source: Bloomberg)

These fish cutters work a lot faster than a fish cutter of the human persuasion. The MS 2730 “can process up to 25 fish/min and now offers automatic back and belly trimming.” There isn’t going to be a steel-driving John Henry beating the steam-hammer with this baby. The machine is definitely going to win. (And, of course, John Henry’s victory was pyrrhic, as he died right after he “won.”)

Marel makes a lot of nifty fish processing gear, including machines designed for deheading and gutting, desliming and rinsing, pinboning, and skinning.

And what Marel equipment is doing is replacing a lot of people who have been doing the deheading, the gutting, the desliming and rinsing, and pinboning and skinning by hand. Just some of the rotten, low-end jobs that are going to be going away as more and more processes are automated.

The woman interviewed for the article stated that, while the fish-processing jobs would be replaced, there would be exciting new technology jobs emerging. True, of course, in the macro sense, but it’s unlikely that many folks who were deheading and gutting are, all of a sudden, going to turn into techies designing deheading and gutting algorithms. And you need more fish cutters than you do deheading algorithm designers.

No use to rage against the machine. A lot of jobs are going to be dodo’d over the coming decades. Many of them are lousy. (Working in a cannery? Plucking chickens? Making sausage?) But the only thing worse than a lousy job is no lousy job.

I’m not arguing to save these jobs. I’m just suggesting that we might want to start thinking about what people at the wrong end of the skill continuum are going to do when their jobs are automated. (And they will be automated, with or without the minimum wage being raised.)

We can’t hold back this tide, any more than we could hold back the tide of globalization. (Does anyone really believe that all the factory jobs that went to China are coming back here? Hell, they’re moving to even cheaper places than China.) But what we can do is try to do a bit of planning, and put programs in place to provide a safety net and training for whatever’s coming next (probably not algorithm design) for those being displaced. We didn’t do an especially good job of this with globalization. We just let the Rust Belt rust. We “got” that, at the macro level, this was good for the world, overall. We enjoyed the low-cost flat screens. And we ignored the guys who used to make washing machines until their meth labs started blowing up. Let’s not do the same for the fish cutters of the world.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Forbes Under 30 Summit: coming soon, to a City Hall Plaza near you (me, that is)

Last year’s Boston event brouhaha was around the blessedly aborted bid for the 2020 Olympics. Although I knew it would have been a major cluster headache, I was a bit on the fence about it. Until I read that they might be playing beach volleyball on Boston Common, and holding bicycle races in the Boston Public Garden. Forget NIMBY. When I heard about these possibilities, I went completely Not In My Front Yard. Fortunately, both the Governor and the Mayor came to their joint senses, and we took a pass on the five-ring circus.

This year’s Big Idea was having a Grand Prix race on the waterfront over Labor Day weekend. That bad idea thankfully vroomed out of town.

But “we” will be hosting this year’s Forbes Under 30 Summit.

For some pretty obvious reasons, I was not aware of the Summit. But it sounds adorbs. Or sick. Or whatever word I’d use for neat, far out, groovy, out of sight, if I were part of the target demographic:

The Under 30 Summit, the world’s greatest gathering of young entrepreneurs and game-changers, is more than tripling its size and scope in 2016. From October 16-19th, over 5,000 of the planet’s current and future leaders in every field will converge on Boston for 5 interconnected Summits, encompassing innovation in Science and Technology, Finance and Investing, Media and Creativity, and Policy and Social Good, as well as a VIP track for Forbes 30 Under 30 honorees, which will be held at Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall.

Here’s to you, Under 30 game-changers. As the passing generations are apt to do, we’ve left you with something of a mess to clean up. It’s a mixed bag, of course, but for all the good stuff – amazing advances for women (if you don’t think they’re amazing, then you just weren’t there); a more open environment for our gay friends; generally cool and at least occasionally useful technology, some medical advances (AIDS, thankfully, ain’t what it used to be). But we’ve left enough unfinished business – climate change, the seemingly blithe and blind-eye acceptance of the less-than-pleasant impacts of globalization, worsening lives for the left behinds  – that there’s plenty for the kids to take care of. Go for it, kiddoes! We need you!

Then there’s the Under 30 Village, that will take over Boston’s “mammoth” City Hall Plaza. Well, take City Hall Plaza, please. Since the “new” City Hall was built 50 yars ago (perhaps the best – or worst – example of brutalist architecture ever erected), it’s been surrounded by a brutalist brick and concrete no man’s land that, for all the concerts, food trucks, demonstrations, farmers’ markets, and  Big Apple Circuses that have been plunked down there, has always been completely cold and uninviting. U-G-L-Y.

The Under 30 Village will bring together participants from all 5 tracks for demonstrations, networking, performances and food and drink. At night, the Under 30 Summit shines, with our signature evening activities, including the Under 30 Music Festival (past acts have included Afrojack, Wiz Khalifa and A$AP Rocky), our famous citywide Bar Crawls, and the Under 30 Food Festival. And the final day is devoted to service, with optional opportunities to speak at local schools and mentor Boston’s next generation of entrepreneurs.

A day spent mentoring? Is this speed mentoring? Or will relationships get forged that will continue through social media?

But that’s a quibble.

May they enjoy Wiz Khalifa, et al. May they consume all the vegan fare and urban forage they can wrap their mouths around at the Under 30 Food Festival. May the weather gods smile upon them. Mid-October can be glorious. Or not. But, thanks to the climate change these guys are going to do something about, there may be more green leaves than leaf-peeper glory. Maybe they’ll get the feeling that it might as well be spring.

I’m going on a bucket-list trip to Venice this fall. We haven’t picked the time quite yet, but it’s conceivable I’ll be away.

But if I’m here, I’m sure I’ll mosey around while the Under 30’s are here.

They’re a lot more welcome than the Olympics or the Grand Prix, that’s for sure.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Monkey business

What’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys?

Actually, there are a ton of things more fun than a barrel of monkey.

After all, a barrel of monkeys is shrieky, smelly, grabby – a log scale version of an individual shrieky, smelly, grabby monkey.

So a barrel of hula hoops, a barrel of tarot cards, a barrel of ice cream – and plenty of other barrel-fulls  – would be a lot more fun.

Not that I’m a monkey-ist, mind you. I have nothing against primates. Some of my best friends are primates, and in a past life even got up close and personal with the bonobo (pygmy chimpanzees) troop at the San Diego Zoo. (A story for another day.)

A Chinese village learned about monkey business the hard way. Xianfeng was looking for a way to improve their local economy. As with so many locales, they landed on tourism. But what was going to attract tourism to their home town? It took a village, but they came up with the idea to use monkeys as a come on. So,

In 2003, over a span of nearly seven weeks, the residents of Xianfeng village lured dozens of macaque monkeys down from nearby mountains. Xianfeng is located in China’s Sichuan province, where another tourist attraction, Mount Emei, is famous for its monkeys. The villagers were, perhaps, inspired by the mountainous monkey refuge, according to China’s CCTV News. (Source: Boston Globe)

At first, it worked out pretty well, and thousands of tourists came to town to watch the monkeys monkey around. Then the lead investor in the scheme died, and, with it, overall business support disappeared. By this time, there were 600 monkeys in town. And all of a sudden, Xianfeng was dealing with a nuisance of its own making.

At Xianfeng the monkeys steal food, get into cacophonous fights, and break into homes, CCTV News reports. On nearby Mount Emei, visitors to the monkeys’ habitat are now warned not to touch or feed the furry denizens, and to clutch valuables tightly as the animals have been known to abscond with objects and drape them from the treetops.

It’s not just in Xianfeng. It’s a pan*-China problem.

Even in urban Hong Kong, the macaques are not afraid of humans, nabbing food from human hands and convenience stores.

Every family has its lore. Part of the Rogers family story line involves a monkey taking a cookie out of my sister Kathleen’s hand while, when out for a Sunday drive, the family stopped at a roadside attraction on Route 9. Kathleen was only two at the time, so if I were there, I was an infant. So there’s little actual recall of the monkey incident. Yet whenever we were tootling out Route 9 in Spencer on a ride – and we were a family that went out for a lot of rides – someone was sure to pipe up with “that’s where the monkey stole Kathleen’s cookie.”

I had my own Route 9 incident, but it was not as exciting or glamorous as Kath’s. At the age of four, out with my father, Kath and Tom running an errand – okay, it was a trip to a packy for my father to pick up a case of Knickerbocker beer – I tripped and fell coming out the door. And every time we passed that packy, someone could be counted on to trill, “there’s where Maureen tripped and fell.” Not the only time in my life I tripped and fell, but it was the only time I tripped and fell while leaving a liquor store.

Anyway, to return to Xianfeng’s monkey business. Sometimes there are good business ideas. Sometimes there are bad business ideas. And sometimes it’s hard to figure out in advance which is which. Every business plan has that paragraph devoted to risk, so I’d be curious to know whether the Xianfeng business planners had anticipated that all those lured-in macaques might start running amuck, stealing cookies from toddlers, and draping stolen objects in trees.

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*Obscure primate pun. I know that there’s a difference between monkeys and great apes, like chimps. But the genus for chimp is “pan”, so I couldn’t resist throwing it in.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Coloring between the lines? Not very creative of you, I’m afraid.

I haven’t picked up one for myself yet, but I know a number of folks who are coloring in adult coloring books. They find it relaxing, and their decisions on color and on their choice of crayon, marker, gel pen, or colored pencil provide an element of creativity. The coloring books they work on have pictures with intlittle lulueresting and elaborate designs – not the simple, pedestrian outlines of the coloring books of our childhood (c.f., Little Lulu), so the end products can be quite beautiful (c.f., green wolf).

coloring book

Wendy Woon is the Deputy Director of Education at the Museum of Modern Art, and an adjunct professor at NYU. She 
“gets” why someone would enjoy their coloring books.

There's a kind of pleasure in slow, methodical coloring within the lines. I get that. But what worries me most is the lack of willingness to color outside the lines, to make a mark of one's own. (Source: Daily News)

She then talks about a kindergarten classmate who, after coloring his squirrel orange, then purple – and scribbled outside the lines – was pressured into conforming. The kid caved and brought in a neatly colored brown squirrel that everyone knew his mother had colored in for him.

This recalled incident hit a nerve with me, as I had been a boring, non-creative color-er in my day. I’m embarrassed to admit that when my non-boring, creative color-er cousin Ellen made Santa Claus wear a blue cap, and ignored me when I called her on it, I reported her deviance to my Aunt Mary. To my six-year old annoyance and shock, my aunt defended her renegade daughter.

I admit I was wrong to have tried to force Ellen, and that she was right to think outside the Crayola box. But I’m thinking that the kindergarten teacher giving kids a coloring assignment may be trying to develop skills rather than focus on unbridling a kid’s creativity. Maybe coloring inside the lines helps with small motor control. Maybe telling the kids to color a squirrel brown helps teach them colors. Maybe giving them homework helps kids learn to be organized and get something done.

Hey, I’m all for fostering creativity, so maybe a better approach would be to have the kiddoes drawn an outline for themselves, and then pick whatever color they want and color their outline in, trying to do it as neatly as possible. But the truth is that a lot of real life involves following rules. Stop at the STOP sign. Don’t exceed the dosage. No smoking in the airplane toilet. The numbers need to add up.

Not everything is a creativity-fest.

But where Woon really lost me was when she wrote about “some inspiring young students at Black Mountain School in North Carolina.”

We started talking about graffiti, the coded nature of each artist's tags and how they become a kind of visual language recognized by others, in essence creating a "community.”

One student told the story of a friend that became ever more isolated and lonely in the city. But when he got out of his apartment, he began to see the marks and messages of people he knew and it made him feel less lonely and more part of the city, something bigger than himself.

Gee, I’m sorry to hear about a kid who felt isolated and lonely in the city, but it seems to me there are ways to find a community that don’t involve defacing the public sphere with “marks and messages” that are, to many folks, the antithesis of community. These are the people who find them ugly and threatening.

Boston, fortunately, was never as blighted by graffiti as NYC, and it’s mostly died down around here. But when I saw lovely buildings in my neighborhood tagged with graffiti, I was heartsick. I was always delighted when they caught the miscreant and made them clean up after themselves.Hey, I always wanted to say, if you want to express yourself, do it on your own house. I’d be okay with parks like the skateboarding parks where kids could go spray away, but I’m definitely NIMBY on graffiti. And I don’t want to see it on my subway cars or commuter trains, either.

My sister Trish lived in NYC in the 1980’s, and she remembers when both the inside and outside of subway cars were covered with graffiti. She found it depressing, disturbing, and tension inducing, which is I’m guessing a pretty standard reaction. (It sure was mine.) Us boring, color-between-the-line folks would rather see a nicely rendered coloring-book picture of a squirrel (purple, orange, or brown) than someone’s creative graffiti “art.”

And you have to ask why a Chico 147’s desire to find community via this type of creative expression trumps a commuter’s need to commute in a subway car that’s not graffiti-ridden. 

Last December, one of my client’s invited me to a team holiday party at one of those places where they set everyone up with an easel, a canvas, a bit of paint and a couple of brushes – and coach them through 20160619_195838the process of copying a painting. (In our case, a Van Gogh.) It was amazingly fun, but one of the most interesting part was seeing how different everyone’s “oeurvre” turned out. This is mine. (I was one of the ones who wasn’t that great at perfectly following instructions, and one of the first to give up on trying to exactly replicate the original.)

Tremendous fun. Enough fun that I’ve put taking a painting or drawing course on my bucket list.

Am I going to turn into an artist? No, not really. That wouldn’t be my intent. And, thanks to Pink Slip, I already have my Sunday Painter (Word Edition) outlet.

But I also have getting a coloring book and some markers on my bucket list, and I’m guessing I’ll get to this item first. 

I don’t believe in stifling anyone’s creativity. But sometimes you really do just want to color between the lines.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Reassessing risk, Disney edition.

Disney didn’t get to be an empire with a $169 B market cap without being smart and savvy. They’re obviously brilliant marketers, and canny merchandisers. And earlier this year they were ranked as the world’s most powerful brand. A good deal of that powerful brand rests on Disney’s ability to deliver fun. Isn’t Disneyworld billed as “the happiest places of earth”?

I can’t even begin to imagine the pain – the lifetime of pain – that has been visited upon the family of the toddler who was snatched and killed by an alligator. Unimaginably horrific. However many millions that Disney settles on this poor family, it can never be enough. The only situation I can think of that is worse is the cases you read about where a parent inadvertently backed over their own child. The entire incident is just beyond the beyond.

And whatever risk assessment led Disney to not put up any alligator warning signs is, I’m quite sure, being reassessed.

I looked at the pictures of that lagoon beach. Sure there was a ‘no swimming’ sign, but the beach was sandy. There were lounge chairs. It was inviting. Who can blame a family for letting their little guy get a little splash in by wiggling his piggy toes in the water? I’m sure if they’d seen a sign that said: ‘Caution: there are alligators in the lagoon, and sometimes those critters walk onto land’ they might have hung out at the pool instead of the beach.

All sorts of folks are coming out to say that they’ve seen alligators on Disney properties, and that when they voiced their concerns, they were shrugged off. ‘Hey, this is Florida. Gators be here.’

Although I have been to Florida, and I have seen alligators in residential areas, I hadn’t realized just how prevalent they are. As in pretty much every fresh water body in the state has alligators in them. The good news is that, even though their brains are the size of a couple of olives, alligators are for the most part smart enough to steer clear of humans. The not so good news is that as both the human and alligator populations in Florida have grown, alligators have become habituated to humans.

This is happening in part because humans, even though their brains are larger than a couple of olives, have been feeding the alligators, even though to do so is against the law.

And some of this feeding has been going on in the Disney lagoon where the child was killed.

It seems that it wasn’t enough to have the standard, $500+ hotel rooms. So Disney built bungalows on stilts in the lagoon, and these go for $2K+ a night. Why leave any money on the table? And it seems as if guests have been sitting on the bungalow porches and feeding the alligators that populate the lagoon. Disney employees have come forward to say that they had warned higher-ups about this situation. And claimed to have gotten no response.

For Disney, I’m sure, the calculus meant weighing the benefit of putting out alligator warnings vs. the likelihood of something bad actually happening (alligator attacks are very rare) vs. the cost in terms of turning off folks who come to the happiest place on earth to escape their everyday cares, not to have to worry about an entirely new set of fears that don’t exist anyplace else on earth. (My biggest nature fear is having a rat cross my path, which invariably happens if I’m walking on Newbury Street at dusk.)

I’ve got to imagine that there are both old-school and high-tech things that Disney can do – and it already doing - here.

Although I don’t imagine there are any visitors hanging about there these days, the lagoon is now fenced off. There are new signs being put up that warn of alligators and snakes.

Signs don’t always do it for people. Just a couple of weeks ago, some young dolt visiting Yellowstone wanted to get a closer look at a hot spring. Even though there are signs saying stay on the walkway, he took himself to the edge and fell in. The hot spring is so hot, there was no body to recover. It just disintegrated.

But even if signs are made to be ignored, I would think that Disney needs to go all out on signage, and with information in the rooms, and given to people at check-in. Just a reminder that there are wild animals around, and you need to keep your distance. Maybe some info on what to do when you spot a wild thing.

And there has to be sensor and monitoring technology that can alert personnel when a new gator makes its way into the lagoon (which is man-made) from the adjoining lake. This isn’t rocket science, and the lagoon – while 14 feet deep – isn’t Loch Ness, which, at its deepest point, is 755 feet deep. If they want folks to hang out on the beach, or to kayak on the lagoon, which ain’t all that big, they may want to do a better job making it alligator free. While they’re at it, how about cameras on the bungalow porches, and automatic, no-refund ejection if you’re caught feeding the wildlife.

I’m sure they’re on it – and probably giving special attention to those bungalows. Especially given that it’s probably just a matter of time before someone overnighting in one of them decides it’s not enough to just toss Cheetos to the alligators. Someone’s going to want to go skinny dipping.

Disney will be assessing its risk here, and assessing, and assessing. There’ll be more warnings, more physical barriers, more preventive measures. They may not be up to their eyeballs in alligators yet, and the death of the poor little kiddo may be a one-in-trillion happenstance, but whoever decided they didn’t need to worry the pretty little heads of tourists with alligator warnings, and who, in fact decided that it was okay to make the lagoon environs something of an attractive nuisance, is likely rethinking those decisions.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The end of an era

When we moved into our condo, 25 years ago, there was an “old timer” living in the building. He’d been there forever, – since the 1950’s  – in a cramped basement apartment, somehow managing to shelter in place (was it rent control?), even after his apartment was condo-ized. This week, that “old timer” turns 99, so 25 years ago, he was “only” in his mid-seventies. Some old timer…

When we moved into our condo, and I met J, I recognized him right away. He was the bartender, and (as it turns out) the owner, of a bar in Cambridge I’d been to a couple of times. I knew him as an old grouch, as that’s what he’d been to me and my colleague Nancy when we made our monthly pilgrimage to the eponymous “J’s” for a grilled cheese sandwich, a diet coke, and an episode of All My Children, a soap that we both followed. There was never anybody else there. The TV was sitting there in the bar, unwatched. We were hardly disturbing anyone’s peace. We were good tippers (nothing like ex-waitresses). Yet the old grouch would slam down our sandwiches, anger-spray our diet cokes, and only grudgingly turn on AMC for us.

And here he was, the old grouch. In my building.

(By the way, “J’s” wasn’t the only bar that the old grouch owned. J had another place, quite well known as a music venue.)

Anyway, Jim and I rarely saw the old grouch. He worked really late at his club, then stayed in bed all day.

On rare occasions, he’d call us and ask – actually demand – that we help him take care of some little problem or other. He couldn’t figure out his answering machine. The light in his hall was out. Maybe he thought we were the live in supers. But we took care of whatever the problem was, telling each other that we were paying it forward, and maybe someone would be nice to us when we were old grouches.

Mostly when J saw us, and we greeted him, he kind of grudgingly acknowledged our existence with some sort of cantankerous hello. The only nice thing he ever said to me was when he told me that he really liked the tulips I planted each year. (J’s windows were on the front garden.)

Who cared that we weren’t best buddies? He was just an old grouch, nothing to do with us.

There was one period, however, when J kinda-sorta pissed us off. He invited a young ex-con to bunk in with him. I really do believe in second chances, but W was pretty hard core: surly, menacing, unpleasant. I was more than happy when W decamped.

J worked well into his eighties. Having had a night owl schedule for so long, he kept it up even after he quit. Most nights, he went out to dinner and then hit the bar scene. We’d see him walking over to his favorite place in Back Bay, and comment that he had the vigor of someone a decade (or two younger).

J still went out every night, but suddenly he started to slow down. He was no longer walking to his favorite place, J was out front flagging a cab. Sometimes I’d jump in and flag one for him.

We’d make sure J knew if something was happening in the building – water off for a couple of hours, or whatever. We’d run an occasional – very occasional – errand for him. Nothing noble, nothing above and beyond, just commonplace whatever. I always made sure that the ice was cleared from the steps that went down to his little basement flat.

Then J hit his mid-nineties, and he wasn’t really going out much anymore. Sometimes, I’d find him sitting on the front steps, taking in the sun. I’d get him a cup of water and tell him not to stay out to long. After a few minutes, I’d go out to check on him, figuring that someday, I wasn’t going to find him, but his body, dead from the heat.

Over the years, J’s landlord, M, could not have been better to him. J’s only child lived on the West Coast. She came East once a year or so, and, when J became house-bound a couple of years ago, she arranged for home aides to take care of him. But M, who had always been very attentive to J’s needs, stayed close to the situation, and made sure that J was getting the care he needed.

Running into them in our common laundry area, I got to know J’s home care aides, mostly middle-aged women from the DR. (One of them is a story for another day.) I made sure that they had my number, and told them they could call me or come by and knock any time if J fell. Or if he died, and they wanted someone to sit with them while waiting for someone to come and “call” it, and for the funeral parlor guys to come and fetch his body. The only call I ever got was when one wanted to know whether there was trash pickup on a holiday.

When my husband was dying, we had to laugh when Jim said, “Christ, I always said that g.d. J would outlive us all. And now it’s happening.”

Once J became housebound, I rarely saw him. He actually had plenty of friends who visited. He didn’t need someone who didn’t know or particularly like him, and whom he didn’t know or particularly like paying a call. But I heard him, moaning and hollering. I asked the home aides, and M, J’s landlord, about it. Just standard old age stuff, they assured me. He was calling for him mother, praying for God to take him.

A few weeks ago, when I was in the laundry room (which has a rear door into J’s apartment) I heard real yelling coming from J. “I’m in pain. I’m in pain.” I knocked on the door, and the aide told me that when she changed J and cleaned him up, it was painful when she touched his sores. Oh. I told her that he had bedsores, and she told me that she’d make sure the visiting nurse knew.

I called M and let him know. I ask him if he wanted me to call J’s daughter, but M said he’d take care of it. Then M jumped into immediate action. He got city elder services involved. He got one of those pressure-relieve mattresses brought in. He stepped up the nurse visits. And elder services made the call that J needed to be in a round-the-clock care setting. And then they made the arrangements.

Yesterday morning, J left for a nursing home. It’s quite a nice one. It’s Catholic, which J will like. (I believe he was in the seminary at one point in his life.) They’ll be able to move him out to get a little sun. They’ll make sure he gets turned regularly. He’ll be well taken care of.

Not that those home aides didn’t take good care of him.

If it means being in physical (bedsores) and/or existential (praying to die) pain, I don’t want to live to be 99. But if I do, I hope that I will have the same sort of kind, strong, good home caregivers that J has had. And a landlord as generous and attentive as M.

I won’t be surprised if J dies tomorrow. But he’s a tough old grouch, so I will be equally unsurprised if he makes it to 100.

Whatever happens with J, it’s the end of an era. And the beginning of a new one. While I’m not the grouchy type, I am now officially the old timer in residence here. Yes, there are a few people in our little building who are a couple of years older, but I’ve been here the longest.

I’m not going to say I’ll miss J. But still…Let’s just leave it that it’s the end of an era.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Oh, for the days of Bread and Circus

Way back in the day, if you wanted brown rice or (for some unfathomable reason) kale, there was only one place to get it around here, and that was at Bread and Circus. I didn’t shop there a lot – there was never one all that convenient to where I lived or worked – but there were a couple in Cambridge, and I did enjoy shopping there. Not everything was great. Those carob cupcakes had no flavor at all. But there was something about the Bread and Circus experience that I loved. Why, if I remember correctly, you could even get a copy of “Our Bodies/Ourselves” if you had, say, worn yours out thumbing through it. (Oooh? Aha!)

And then, sadly, nearly 25 years ago, Bread and Circus (a.k.a., Bread and Wallet) was bought out by Whole Foods (a.k.a., Whole Paycheck).

Around here, no one was all that overjoyed to see these interlopers lope in from Texas. But life goes on.

When the Whole Foods replaced my trusty (but beat-up) Stop and Shop, I did most of my grocery shopping there.

It was mostly fine. But sometimes you just want Cheerios. Or paper towels that actually absorb a liquid spill.

So I’d make an occasional foray to the Shaw’s/Star Market – the name seems to ratchet back and forth – in the Prudential Center. This store, if not for its insanely dysfunctional layout, would be fine. The produce is decent, the selection great, and they do stock Cheerios and Bounty. But it was a bit of a longer schlepp than Whole Foods, so mostly I shopped at Whole Foods.

And then – miracle of miracles – a Roche Brothers opened on the site of the old Filene’s Basement. It’s about the same distance from my house to Roche Bros. or Whole, but Roche Bros. has both real, non-tricked up food, plus the good stuff, like Nashoba Farms bread and organic cashews. There are a couple of things I like at Whole, so sometimes I drift over. Or if I’m walking by on my way back from the train station, I’ll stop in. But mostly I pledge allegiance to Roche Bros. Great store. Great service. Great family. Great story. Think globally, shop locally.

When I was a Whole Foods shopper, I would, on rare occasion, buy some prepared food. But those rare occasions will become extra-rare, given some recent info:

The Food and Drug Administration has warned Whole Foods Markets to resolve serious violations found at a regional food preparation facility in Everett after inspectors discovered condensation from ceiling pipes dripping on food, as well as evidence of the germ Listeria.(Source: Boston Globe)

Whole Foods was – or feigned – surprise, claiming that they thought they had cleared all this up. (The findings were based on an inspection this past winter.)

FDA inspectors who visited the Everett plant, known as Whole Foods Market North Atlantic Kitchen, wrote that they saw condensation dripping onto surfaces where dishes such as pesto pasta and mushroom quesadillas were being prepared or stored, as well as uncovered barrels of egg salad “that were placed in an area below the condenser. Condensate was observed to be dripping at a rate of approximately once per second.”

Phew! I make my own pasta salad, never bought any mushroom quesadillas, and hate egg salad. (My husband loved it, so I may have gotten it for him on occasion. You don’t suppose…)

The FDA inspectors also found a type of Listeria that indicated the presence of a more severe form of the germ when they tested swabs of more than 100 surfaces throughout the facility. The letter said it found Listeria welshimeri, a form of the bacteria that the FDA said is an indicator of the probable presence of Listeria monocytogenes, a potentially deadly form of the bacteria.

Oh, and they over disinfected salad stuff. And employees didn’t use hot water to wash their hands. And all sorts of other gacky stuff.

I’m sure that Whole Foods will remedy all this, but, well, yikes!

I logged plenty of time in food service (of the restaurant variety), and I saw all kinds of things going on. But never condensate dripping on the egg salad.

Yuck upon yuck.

So happy that, last spring, Roche Bros. opened nearby. They even sell wine now. What’s not to like?