Monday, May 25, 2015

Up the Republic! (And Happy Memorial Day.)

On holidays, I usually have a post about the particular holiday, and Memorial Day has been no exception.

My first post, Decoration Day, was written in 2007. (Which means I started posting in 2006. Now that I have something to shoot for, I guess I’ll keep Pink Slip alive at least until I hit the big 1-0 in 2016.)

Last year, I had a sad Memorial Day post, as I’d lost both my husband and oldest friend in the preceding moths.

This year, while I will keep up the tradition of thinking about veterans in general, and my dead loved ones in particular, my shout out this Memorial Day goes to The Republic of Ireland, which last Friday became the first country to approve gay marriage by popular vote. And that popular vote wasn’t close at all: 62.1% voted a resounding YES!

I must note that the one and only voting constituency (out of 43 in the country) that voted NO (narrowly) was Roscommon, from whence cometh the Rogers family. My other ancestral precincts (Mayo an Louth) were with the majority.

One area of Donegal which, like Roscommon is rural and remote, narrowly voted YES – by 33 votes.

Many years ago, my husband and I spent a weekend in Donegal Town (population 2,600), and on Saturday went into a pub for a traditional session. We were struck by the number of seemingly gay men who were there. Now I’m not sure that these lads, who were mostly older, were actually out, but they sure seemed gay. And they were having a great time singing along with the session musicians, and busting a few moves. We had a great time, too. As the Irish might say, it was a good bit of the old craic.

I thought of these fellows when I read about that small margin that carried YES in Donegal.

I like to think that at least some of the Town’s voters went to the polls and voted YES because they knew some of those lads who Jim and I had run into in what was, at least for that Saturday night when we were there, Donegal’s gay bar, and said, ‘Fair play to them.’

YES, indeed.

Imagine that: poor, backward, priest-ridden Ireland…

Anyway, this being Memorial Day, I will be heading out tomorrow with my cousin Barbara to put geraniums on family graves, including those of our great-grandparents John (Co. Roscommon) and Margaret Joyce (Co. Mayo) Rogers, and Matthew and Bridget Trainor (both from County Louth).

Up the Republic!

And Happy Memorial Day to all.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

One more reason I’m glad I dumped my Blackberry

For the longest time now, I’ve lived with the burden of being one of the last people on the face of the earth still using m Blackberry.

Not that I was especially enamored of it. It certainly outlived its usefulness a couple of iPhone versions ago. But I was just too lazy to replace it.

What got me unlazy happened a few weeks ago.

I woke up at about 4:30 a.m., checked my e-mail, looked at the headlines, and then – I actually had a reason – looked up Carl Yastrzemski’s birthday. I then set my B’berry down on the nightstand, only to hear something that sounded like the phone ringing. On the other end.

I picked up the phone and saw to my horror that my not-so-smartphone had random dialed a friend and neighbor who lives up the street. I quickly turned the phone off, hoping that the call hadn’t gone through. (Hah!)

Sure enough, at 8 a.m. I got a call from Bill asking me if I were okay, and telling me he’d missed my call because his phone was charging in the living room. At least it hadn’t gotten him and his wife up in the middle of the night, panicking that there was some kid or grandkid crisis.

I explained that the phone had just gone off on its own, but I’m sure he was thinking drunken, middle of the night, stalking widow.

So I figured it was time. And now I have swell new Galaxy S6 that’s probably the size of the screen on my parents’ first Philco TV. But it’s nice. And hip (enough). Or would be, if I weren’t old enough to actually remember Philcos.

Anyway, I was especially relieved that the Blackberry is no more when I saw an article in the Boston Globe on the difficulties of aging in the tech start up space, which had as it’s URL Does This Blackberry Make Me Look Old?

The article talked about how difficult it is to be in your 40’s and 50’s and working in a tech startup where everyone else is in their 20’s or 30’s.

I can sympathize – in spades.

I work almost exclusively with tech companies, occasional startups, and it’s a rare event to see anyone my age on prem, unless someone’s hosting “Take Your Grandparents to Work Day.”

Recently, I was at a startup client’s with workspace at a trendy NYC tech incubator. The head honcho is no kid – he’s 50 – but he’s not old, either. Yet he had a good twenty years on everyone else I saw buzzing around the space. Our meeting included his PR guy, who’s about my age. When we went into the communal kitchen for coffee, we stood out completely (not to mention raised the average age by a decade or so). Sure, we all looked plenty hip and current by my standards, but we were the only people in that room who weren’t lanky twenty-somethings in skinny black jeans, Chucks, and hipster glasses.

A week or so later, I was on the elevator at another of my client’s when the CEO stepped on. The woman I’m working with introduced me, and we looked each other up and down, age-gauging. He’s younger than I am. But not by much.

I’ve yet to see anyone at this company other than him who looks north of 40.

I’ve worked for these folks for years, and the people I originally worked with are all long gone. Most of them would now be somewhere in their late 30’s to late 40’s. They’re all still in tech, but were they starting to feel age inappropriate in a business that, while established, tries to maintain a startup culture?

More to the point, would I still be working for them if they had any idea how old I am?

They all know I’m old enough to be their mother, but I observe ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’

So I won’t be volunteering that Medicare coverage is great and that I just got my geezer pass for public transportation.

I’m just happy that they’re still throwing work my way. And in any case, it’s their world not mine:

There are 53.5 million of them, and their ease with all things digital, social, mobile, and Meerkat is making even fortysomethings feel like old timers…

In the first quarter of 2015, millennials surpassed Gen-Xers as the largest generation in the US labor force, according to the Pew Research Center. (The millennials, generally considered to have been born after 1980, blew by the baby boom generation last year.) (Source: Boston Globe)

And none of them use a Blackberry:

At 51, [Maria] Cirino, the venture capitalist, has not only observed others struggling to avoid the dreaded “in my day” syndrome, she’s living it. She recently ditched her beloved BlackBerry because it was pegging her as old.

“I’d go to meetings and a lot of guys had never seen one,” she said. “They’d say, ‘Is that a BlackBerry? I didn’t think those were still around.’ ”

The article also threw in the Mark Zuckerberg quote: “Young people are just smarter.”

I will  note that Zuckerberg is now in his thirties, so I’ll remind him what we used to say: Don’t trust anyone over thirty.

We weren’t right, and neither is he.

But it may be worth listening to Satchel Paige:

Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Put on your high-heeled sneakers…and head on over to Cannes

This week’s big fashion news has been the women who were turned away from a screening at the Cannes Film Festival for not wearing appropriate footwear, i.e., sky-high heels. That one of the women who was – at least initially – given the (ahem) boot had a partially amputated foot just seems to have added to the stir. As did the fact that the women caught flat-footed by the fashion police were mostly in their 50’s. Not to mention that the women whose entrances were spiked were on their way to the film Carol, which is about a lesbian romance.

And it’s not that the women who were turned away were wearing New Balance walking shoes or Topsiders. They were on trend and wearing pricey rhinestone-encrusted flats.

Those who squawked were initially told that high heels were part of the dress code from women, just as black tie is required for men.

There is, of course, one important difference.

As far as I know, black ties do not cause wearers to suffer temporarily from aching feet, and long term from all sorts of foot, back, and hip problems. Admittedly, black ties get loosened and heels get kicked off over the course of an evening, but that’s about the only similarity I can see.

Maybe the old theater good luck wish, “Break a leg”, should be updated for Cannes. It’s now, apparently, “Break an ankle.”

Whenever I see women teetering down the street in ultra-high heels, I just have to shake my head in amazement. I always want to ask them two questions: Why do you do it? How Do you do it?

Okay. I get at least some of the why they do it: guys like it.

But guys in ancient China liked tiny little hoof feet, so women’s feet got bound. That doesn’t mean it makes sense to do it.

Other than the guy thing, I just don’t get the ‘why’. And when someone tells me that it’s actually comfortable to walk around in a four-inch spike with a pointy toe, I really do have to call BS. (Ever been to a wedding where 90% of the women’s shoes are kicked off by the end of the night? Me neither.)

As for the how they do it, well, I do know you have to practice, which I did last year for the two weddings I went to that required the wearing o’ the pointy-toe, relatively-low-but-still-treacherous black patent leather numbers that are now back on the shelf where they belong. And, as I have observed when I see the young couples of Boston pounding our brick pavements, it helps to have a man to hang on to.

When I was growing up, girls started wearing something called “squash heels” when they began wearing nylons – around in sixth grade. These were short, stubby heels – one step more grown up than flats. By eighth grade, we graduated to spikes for formal occasions. Spikes were three inches high, and plenty difficult to walk in, as I recall.

Over time, shoes seemed to get more comfortable. Either that or I just never bothered with uncomfortable shoes. But in the 1980’s, high heels – again the spikes of the three and maybe now four inch variety -  made their way into the workplace. They were even worn – can my memory be correct here? – with the menswear skirt suits we wore with menswear shirts and floppy bow ties.

For every pair of high heels a working gal had, however, there was a pair of moderate-heeled glorified loafers that gave the wearer a lift and were comfy (and, of course, dowdy). And there was the fashion pièce de résistance: the clunky white athletic shoes we wore to and from work. (Today, I have noticed, the to-and-fro footwear for the young is more likely to be support-free ballet flats or flip-flops. These will not cause problems as grave as those produced by wearing heels. Still…)

I’m at the sensible shoes point in my life. Other than those kitten heels I’ll truck out only for weddings, if it ain’t comfy, I’m not wearing it.

Admittedly, I do still experience the pedestrian foot woes associated with breaking in new shoes, and sometimes end up with blisters a plenty.

Still, I never have to fear breaking either a heel or my neck.

Unlike those who attend premieres at Cannes.

Cannes festival organizers has, by the way, issues a clarifying statement, saying that women must wear appropriate footwear, with no mention of how high the heel or how Christian the Louboutin. They have also apologized for the overzealous staff members guarding the gates against fifty-year-old amputees with the audacity to try to storm in wearing flats.

As for me, I’m staying out of Cannes altogether. Too comfy hanging in my sneakers of the non-high-heeled persuasion.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dubuque Rebuke

In 2009, IBM – tax-incentives happily placed in their grasping, outstretched palm – established tech centers in Dubuque, Iowa and Columbia, Missouri.

That was then, and this is now: half of IBM’s Dubuque workforce has been laid off, and Missouri’s headcount – thanks to lay-offs there – has dropped below the 500 employee threshold for their tax credits. Between them, the cities forked over $84M that resulted in a few years employment (albeit well-paid employment) for a couple of thousand folks.

Back when the deals were struck, both cities were no doubt envisioning a restart for their economies would build off of the IBM and become tech centers.

Hey, if it happened to Research Triangle, why not us?

Rick Dickinson, a Dubuque official who helps lure new employers, said he’d expected IBM to put the city on the map and help Iowa transcend Midwestern stereotypes he describes as: “red barn, silo, Holstein cow, hog and a bale of hay.” No company before IBM has moved into town or ramped up so quickly - - only to scale back, he said. (Source: Bloomberg)

Alas, that just ain’t the way the world works, and it looks like it’s back to red barn silo, Holstein and hog for Dubuque. Which kind of fits, given that two of the major employers in town are Hormel (think hog-to-Spam) and John Deere (think field-to-silo-to-hog).

This is, of course, terrible for the towns and for the employees who no longer have work, and are in an area where there’s not a lot of other tech options for them.

Which is one big difference between losing your job in a place where there are many like opportunities out there – tech centers like Research Triangle, Silicon Valley, Boston, NYC… – and losing your job in an isolated area where the firm you worked at was a one-off.

Part of this is just how the economy works these days: an acceleration of what happened in the latter part of the 20th century when the Northeast and Rustbelt factories first moved South chasing cheaper labor, and then out of the country entirely. The fortunate places, like Boston, were able to replace manufacturing with medical, education, tech/bio-tech. The less fortunate places, like Detroit, found themselves hollowed-out.

Now it just happens faster, especially in technology, where yesterday’s know-how is tomorrow’s so what.

Yet there remains the lure of having a big name like Big Blue smile benevolently on you, even if you paid for that smile. Caveat, Dubuques:

“Going after big names makes you vulnerable to the vagaries of the company’s fortune,” said Howard Cure, director of municipal research at Evercore Wealth Management LLC in New York.

This reminds me of my stint in a company that claimed its sweet-spot was mid-market organizations, and in fact put it in its mission statement. The CEO was fond of saying how well-suited we were to serve mid-sized companies, because we ourselves were mid-sized.

My mantra to sales was ‘if you’ve heard of the company, they’re probably not right for us.’

Despite all our pronouncements, our sales guys were always on the elephant hunt, dragging in big name accounts – like IBM, in fact – that were never, ever, ever going to work with us – at least not on reasonable terms. I was once accused of being defeatist when I told a rep that it wasn’t worth responding to an RFP from Bank of America, since we clearly didn’t meet several criteria explicitly presented as deal-breakers. (I threw in on the RFP because I didn’t want to be blamed for the loss. But predictably, we didn’t get the deal.)

And when we did get a deal with one of the elephants – like IBM, in fact – we had to jump through so many hoops and promise them so many things: customizations, free support, deep discounts – that we always lost money on them. All for the glory of having their name – fleetingly –on our customer list. Anything for a bad deal!

If elephant-bagging incentives don’t work on the micro-level like this, they don’t seem to work all that well for cities and states, either.

Yet the promise of rebirth, the lure of bringing in good jobs. It’s just irresistible.

And for the IBM’s of the world, if it makes at least temporary economic sense, why not?

If it doesn’t work, on to the next…

Governments seem to do an even worse job when they actually invest in a new enterprise. Talk about a place that the market should be taking care of…I can see government getting involved in training, but investing in start-ups? How about leaving that to VC’s who can afford to lose on nine out of ten deals.

And don’t get me going on tax incentives for Hollywood.

If someone wants to make a film that takes place in New England strike a note of authenticity by actually being filmed in New England, they’re most welcome. I love seeing places I recognize, and enjoy movies being made on my door-step. Why, just last summer I narrowly missed seeing Johnny Depp and Benedict Cumberbatch on my block making a movie about Whitey Bulger.

But if we need to bribe them to do so on the sketchy promise of job-creation and boost to the local economy (c.f., box lunches), well…

Let those who must be bribed to film here take their camera crews elsewhere – and suffer the scorn of the cognoscenti when those of us in the know spot the fakery.

A few years ago, there was a TV series – something dystopic starring Noah Wylie – that was supposed to take place in and around Boston. I watched an episode, and one scene took place on the town green. I was just telling myself that this didn’t really look local when they panned on a war monument, which gave the dates of World War II as 1939-1945. Oh, Canada!

Conviction, an otherwise pretty good movie set in New England, was shot on location in Michigan. Which looks vaguely like New England if you’re from the Southwest, but nothing like New England if you actually live here.

Back to Dubuque and Columbia. I feel badly for those who’ve lost their jobs with IBM, and don’t have a lot of other local options.

But this is the way the world works, and it’s only going to get worse as globalization and automation keep chugging along.

Today it’s a rebuke to Dubuque. Tomorrow it’s your job.

I don’t know what the solution to what seems an intractable problem for those interested in stability in their professional and personal lives, who want to live and work in wherever their own private Dubuque is. But I’m pretty sure that government tax breaks aren’t it.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cease and Desist. (So I did.)

Nearly two years ago, I had a post about a couple who were suing their kid’s school over a fund-raising hoo-hah, in which the school claimed they had made a pledge for $XXX, when the couple felt that they were only on the hook for $X.

The suit against became something of a kitchen sinker, with while-we’re-at-it claims that their kid was mistreated at the school, etc. Damages sought included a year’s severance pay for the car service driver that had been schelpping their kid to school, since, at the new school, the driver would no longer be needed.

As I often do with my posts, I cited the news stories I’d seen on this brouhaha, and added in my own meandering speculation on what was really going on.

It just didn’t strike me as believable that someone in the development office at a pricey private school would make an order-of-magnitude mistake and not immediately apologize, etc. for it. There just had to be something more to it. My guess was that there had been a miscommunication along the way – either parents-school or husband-wife.

As it turned out, someone at the school had – incredibly – gone ahead and done the fake bidding, but had been fired for it. Despite the firing, the suit progressed.

It also struck me that what the couple were claiming as mistreatment of their child – a typically innocuous example cited said that their kid had been made to hold the door open for others – might well be more along the lines of helping a child learn to play well with others and take their turn. (Not that I don’t believe that kids can be mistreated in their schools. I know about all that up close and personnel, having logged my years at Our Lady of Misery watching mistreatment and having been the occasional target of it.)

Anyway, the couple that was suing the school seemed completely worthy of making light fun of, if only because of their much-documented appearances at events (some of which they’d thrown for themselves)  in which the husband was once pictured in velveteen slippers with crests on them.

I wasn’t familiar with any of the outlets that featured the goings and comings of this couple. I think the rags where the couple got their mentions were online-only – not that there’s anything wrong with that – and dedicated to the more minor society leagues. I wasn’t familiar with the names of those profiled in them, either. I.e., there were no instantly recognizable big-buck names mentioned. (Not that I’d recognized the names anyway. Maybe Babe Paley’s or Jackie O’s, but I think they’re both dead.)

And the woman of the house seemed to have some masthead relationship with a couple of the zines in which she and her family were so prominently featured. She did seem awfully dedicated to getting her picture, and those of her husband and kids, in the “news.”

I also found the couple worthy of being made light fun of because the husband’s business – wealth management – pictured a ludicrous this-could-be-yours pile – think Downton Abbey – on its home page.

I thought nothing about any of this until I received a cease and desist request from a Park Avenue lawyer asking that I remove the offending post, claiming, among other things, that the post was “off topic” (huh?) and that I had made false statements within my “article.”

I reread the post, and, unless what was mentioned in published news stories was false, there were no false statements. There were a number of “I wonder if” and “it sounds like” statements, in which I offered conjecture on just how the brouhaha had come about, but these weren’t false statements. Just blog-jecture.

Then there was something about my “denigrating” their minor child. Okay, maybe it was mean to point out that he had appeared in some society ‘zine or other dressed like Lord Fauntleroy – surely through no fault of his own. And I had hypothesized that what the parents felt was mistreatment may have been more along the lines of ‘how-to-handle-a-kindergartner’. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought the kid into the make-fun-ism. But that Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit had been too much to resist. (What both those kids are going to go through once their school friends start googling each others’ names and come across some of their star-turns…)

I was also, apparently, violating copyright and stealing intellectual property by having grabbed a jpeg of the pile on Daddy-O’s web site and using it (with attribution) in my blog. Well mea culpa. (On top of everything else, I bet it was stock photo…)

But the real point – and the lawyer did have a point – was that someone had made a comment accusing the father of being something of a flim-flam man, and that this was damaging his business.

Point taken.

When I write about people in the news, especially if there’s any controversy attached to them, I do occasionally draw a lot of comments. But the ones that are libelous – those of the “liar” and “thief” variety I always delete.

Apparently not always.

As a way of excuse, this was during my husband’s treatment for a recurrence of the cancer that killed him. So I might not have been as vigilant with my comment monitoring as I should have been.

Anyway, there was all sorts of tort-rattling in the letter from the lawyer.

I immediately deleted the comment. The lawyer was right: I was wrong to have left it there.

Then I took out the picture of the castle from their site and swapped in Disneyland.

Then I took out any hypothesizing mention of the kid.

Then I rewrote the post without using any names.

Before I pushed the “publish button,” I had an f-them moment in which I considered contacting my lawyer.

After all, other than the comment, what was there said on my little blog that was harmful or untruthful? Maybe a tiny little bit mean, if you were on the receiving end. But I do think that folks who do foolish things in the public arena, and who are obviously publicity hounds hungering to make a splash in someone’s idea of society, leave themselves open to being made fun of. And I reserve the right to continue to do so.

Then I reread the missive from their attorney which contained some legalese about ‘even if you take the post down my clients may still sue you for ruining their lives.’

And I said to myself, my life’s too short and this one ain’t worth a First Amendment suit.

To hell with it.

I deleted the post, let the tort-rattler know, and, in response, he informed me that I would not be hearing from him again.

I am sorry about letting that libelous comment stand for as long as it did. What was said about the man may well have been true, but let someone take him to court and prove it, not leave an anonymous comment on my blog.

As for the rest of the post, on reflection, I should at most have done a light re-write, removed the picture of the castle, taken out the name of the kid, and let it stand.

I googled the names of the couple, and there are a few other spots out there on the web where they – especially the woman – are made fun of, most notably for her pretentiousness and naked Jay Gatsby-like striving to make it among the swells.

Frankly, the more I read about this woman, the more I felt kind of bad and embarrassed for her. And exhausted for her: making sure your name, pic, and the names and pics of your husband and kids are in the news so frequently must get tiring. Maybe not if you think there’s some pay-off.

Fundamentally, I don’t get the real or fake society-page mentality – either those who are born into it, or those “nobodies” who do their damnedest to claw their first generation way in.

And I will more than likely have further posts on minor royals, society folks (“authentic” or wannabe), and rich people who do things with their money that IMHO are ludicrous. (It’s my blog: I get to say what’s off topic or not.)

Anyway, having ceased and desisted, I’ll now cease and desist on this one.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Fantasy Land? Daily fantasy is taking over the sports world.

So far, I’ve been to two baseball games this season. The Red Sox lost both, but I nonetheless enjoyed myself.

Baseball is the name of the game.

It’s been years since I’ve seen the Celtics and the Bruins play. I’ll go to a Revs game when invited, but soccer is not a sport that I’ll seek out. I’ve never been to see the Patriots – although it could be fun this coming season, given the likelihood that tailgating could well involve burning Roger Goodell in effigy. But I never let a baseball season go by when I don’t get to Fenway for a couple of Sox games, which I can enjoy with the other old fogeys who like baseball in general, and baseball in person in particular.

These days, younger folks enjoy baseball (and the other major sports as well) by proxy, by participating in fantasy leagues, where it doesn’t really matter whether the actual pro team you follow wins or loses. It depends on how the individuals that you’ve drafted into your virtual team do.

A month or so ago, there was an article in The New Yorker on fantasy sports, which has become quite a big business, with an awful lot of fans. Fantasy sports has:

…forty million participants in North America, including eight million women. (Source: New Yorker – may need a subscription to see the full story.)

The article focuses in part on writer Daniel Okrent, who way back in 1979, invented Rotisseries League Baseball.  “Club owners” would develop their rosters and keep a close eye on what “their” players were doing:

Within a few years, baseball officials had a genuine nuisance on their hands: “the number of people calling the P.R. department and pretending to be journalists, asking whether the pitcher’s arm was still hurt,” as Okrent put it. Those callers weren’t gamblers, either; they were Okrent’s proliferating disciples, looking for inside intel to exploit on the virtual trading block.

The fantasy sport concept kept growing, moving onto other sports as well, and all of a sudden, fantasy sports was a real industry with its own trade association and hall of fame.

Okrent, of course, was one of the first inductees. Not that he cared: he didn’t attend his own induction ceremony. And, given how these things go, he’s made very little money out of what’s become a large and (potentially) lucrative business. But what Okrent regrets most about having invented the concept is what it does to you as a fan:

“…by your fourth or fifth year, the actual game has lost meaning for you. You’re engaged in the numbers that the game spins out and engaged with millions of others in the same way. It has no relationship not just to the fan attachment that you may have had to a particular team but to the physical thing that’s taking place on the field. It’s the representation of it in a number that’s what’s important. I’m thinking of our original group. A couple of them really don’t give a shit about baseball at all anymore.” He added, “When people say, ‘How do you feel, having invented this?’ I say, ‘I feel the way that J. Robert Oppenheimer felt having invented the atomic bomb.’ I really do. I mean, pretty terrible!”

J. Robert Oppenheimer!

Now that’s what I call regret…

Fantasy sports has also transmogrified from the Field of Dreams that was Okrent’s Rotisserie League into massive online gaming increasingly dominated by “daily fantasy.” 

Forget rooting for the home town team! Forget worry about free agency! Forget knowing and loving “your” players. Forget all the palaver about the season being long. For the “daily fantasy” picks, the season lasts an evening, and players are unceremoniously dumped. Just as unceremoniously as they were “signed.”

The actual outcomes of real games, no one cares about. You just need the core events so that the fantasy leaguers have something to base their league on. (And the professional leagues themselves like it because fantasy players watch an awful lot of televised sports so they can keep track of what’s happening in all the remote outposts of their franchise. Me, I just have to keep an eye on the Red Sox, with an occasional glance at the league standings, in which the two most evil of empires, the Yankees and the Dodgers, are currently astride the top of their divisions.)

Maybe major league sports will end up playing to empty stadiums as a matter of course, just as they did a few weeks back in Baltimore during the riots, when the Orioles took to Camden Yards before nobody.

Two companies dominate the daily fantasy business: FanDuel and Boston’s own DraftKings.

Neither FanDuel nor DraftKings is currently profitable, although both are increasingly mentioned as possible “unicorns,” a term used by venture capitalists to refer to startups valued at a billion or more dollars on the basis of fund-raising alone. In the race to attract customers, both companies have been spending more money on radio and television commercials, and on the whopping prizes that those ads promise, than they’ve been taking in via the rake—a cut, around ten per cent or less, of all the user entry fees. Nonetheless, their combined revenues have increased by nearly twentyfold in the past two years, and ESPN is said to be close to acquiring a twenty-per-cent stake in DraftKings.

Love when the VC get involved with the no-real-societal-value but potentially big buck companies. Capitalism – venture or otherwise – is, indeed, a wondrous thing when it can keep coming up with ideas like daily fantasy sports.

There’s a lot to like about watching sports. It’s entertaining. It’s engaging. It gives you home town good feeling – even folks I know who don’t give a hoot about sports tend to get a bit jazzed when “their” team is in the thick of things. It gives you something to chat about with the man in the street – or the man in the gym . (Although these days, in these parts, DeflateGate and St. Thomas of Brady’s time on the cross pretty much dominates sports conversation at the gym.) Oh, yes, and you can nap during it and wake up to find that something “big” has happened. But not to worry. If it’s that big, it will be run in such an endless loop that by the time you’re ready fro bed-bed, you’ve seen “it” so many times you not only feel that you were there, you feel that you were one of the actual athletes who took part in “it.”

And – weather aside – sports are so much the better when you’re there in person, where you can develop instant camaraderie with those seated around you, boo more lustily than you do at home, sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and eat a hot dog, Sports Bar, and Cracker Jacks. (And, yes, still get a bit of a nap in.)

I hope all this doesn’t go away…

There’s a song from the musical Gigi, in which – in the movie version at least – the odious and smarmy Maurice Chevalier sings “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore.”

If the only baseball that’s going to be played is fantasy league, you can sing that again.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Fiat luxe workout duds

I am quite content that the gym  I go to is an adjunct of what is primarily a PT location. The gym is pretty rundown. Much of the equipment is dated, purchased second hand when a “real” gym upgrades. And much of it is falling apart – at any given time one of the machines I want to use is out of order, and will remain that way until the missing piece comes in. That or someone, anyone, fixes it up with baling wire and spit.

There’s a radio that plays a station with a playlist that includes Perry Como, Kate Smith, and the Mermaids. And the radio competes with the TV that’s always on, sometimes on the news, sometimes on a sports network. (The TV, by the way, was paid for with donations from the regulars to replace the one that broadcast fuzzz.)

Good thing the PT is excellent. (The head guy is a genius.)

But what I like about my gym is that, while people who work out there there actually do take fitness quite seriously (if not the fitness of the equipment), no one cares what they look like.

Among the women, I’m in the upper echelon, gymwear-wise, in that I actually wear fitness tee’s rather than oversized, faded, worn-out tee-shirts from the 2008 company outing.

And the worst dressed woman there is a fashionista compared to the average guy.

Forget 2008 company outing. We’re talking 1992 company outing for the guys.

In any case, I was very interested to read that workout gear, which – thanks to Lululemon and other yupscale brands – had already done a price and prestige upward climb, is now going “luxury.”

Forgot my fabulous L.L. Bean workout pants – three pairs long, three pairs cropped, all washed weekly, still holding up after seven years! And you can even forget about your Lululemons – which is easy enough for me, since my understanding is that in Lulu’s world, I’m an XL Amazon, and that they hide the pants for us zaftig gals in the pack.

Quietly, a smattering of new true luxury activewear labels have appeared, each with the hope that affluent shoppers are willing to shell out $300, $400, or more on a pair of pliable pants. Think about it this way: If you're a luxury shopper who buys $1,500 designer dresses, pays $250 a month for an Equinox gym membership, and totes around a $4,000 Chanel bag, why would you spend a mere $100 on the leggings that you wear to the gym, on errands, and on the weekend? (Source: Bloomberg)

Well, my crummy gym membership isn’t a whole lot more than $250 a year, and my priciest handbag is a Longchamp (gift). So I guess it goes without saying that I’m not the market for $400 “pliable pants.”

“Some of the newer brands that are emerging are going to give activewear a whole level of status we haven’t seen in this business before,” says Roseanne Morrison, fashion director at trend intelligence firm Doneger Group. The “designer casual” look is prominent these days, championed by luxe labels like Brunello Cuccinelli and Isabel Marant.

Look, I’m not someone who believes there’s no quality difference between something the costs nothing and is shoddily made, and something that costs plenty and is well made. And that most of the time it’s worth paying more even if it means buying less. Good stuff lasts.

One of the most beautiful and durable items of clothing I have is a Jill Sanders skirt I got for about $60 at Off Fifth about 15 years ago. (The tag price was $400 or $500.)

The cut is wonderful, the fabric is lovely, the skirt couldn’t be any comfier (even when compared to my workout gear), and I love it to death.

So much so that I brought it to an “invisible weaver” when I got moth hole in it, and they had to do some costly odd-ball hemming and hawing to weave that moth hole into invisibility. And the skirt still looks great.

But black leggings, black workout pants?

After a point, they all pretty much look the same, so why, after a point, pay more?

Oh, well.

One of these days, my trusty LL Bean workout pants will finally fall apart, and I’ll have to replace them.

I don’t think I’ll be paying $400 for the pleasure…


A tip of the cap to my sister Kath, who looks great in her workout clothing, even if she didn’t pay $400 a pair for those leggings, and who first pointed this story out to me.