Thursday, January 24, 2019

You can run but you can’t hide

On New Year’s Eve, there was a stabbing and robbery in the Boston Public Garden, which is just outside my front door. I wasn’t home that night, but my niece and one of her friends were staying at my place. So, shudder, shudder.

Anyway, a few days after the incident, the Boston Police Department released some pictures of a person of interest taken from surveillance cameras in the area. A couple of days later, a suspect was arrested and charged.

The article I saw didn’t say whether the cops found the robber/stabber because someone dimed him, but I’m guessing that might be the case based on the surveillance photo.

Increasingly, pics snapped and videos shot by surveillance cameras, and even by the man (or woman) in the street, are used to help solve crimes – the one upside of the creepiness of having all those surveillance cameras out there. Spies are everywhere, but sometimes that’s a good thing.

Bad guys are also getting nabbed through the tracking devices that are just about subcutaneously embedded in all of us these days.

In a recent case in England,

A British runner, sous chef, and underworld hitman was sentenced to life behind bars for the murder of two other Manchester-area gangsters this week — all due to data found on his Garmin Forerunner, according to the BBC. (Source: The Verge)

Runner, sous chef and underworld hitman. That’s quite a c.v. It also sounds like the lead-in to a bad joke: a runner, a sous chef, and an underworld hitman walk into a bar…

Anyway, here’s how Mark “Iceman” Fellows got found out:

He was under suspicion for the murders of crime boss Paul “Mr. Big” Massey and the murder, three years later, of Massey’s right hand man, John Kinsella.

Somewhere along the line Manchester police looked carefully at a picture of Fellows running a 10K and saw that he was wearing a GPS smartwatch. They searched his home and found it.

That GPS smartwatch, a Garmin Forerunner, turned out to be the circumstantial smoking gun.

Through the data the watch had acquired, the police were able to determine that Fellows had been observing Massey’s home in the months leading up to the murders, and plotting his getaway route.

There are other examples of smart tech helping put someone away for a crime.

Last October, heart rate data from a Fitbit was used to charge a California man with the murder of his stepdaughter.

Data found on smart speakers have also been used by authorities as evidence. Last November, a New Hampshire judge ordered Amazon to hand over recordings from an Echo smart speaker. The judge believed that the device, along with any data from paired smartphones, could help prove that the alleged killer, Dean Smoronk, was at the home at the time of the murder.

There’ve also been discussions of using toll road transponder data to pinpoint where someone is at any given time – data that can theoretically used in criminal cases, and in more personal circumstances like divorce cases.

In the 1960’s, there was a popular TV show called “The Fugitive.” (In the 1990’s it was made into a movie starring Harrison Ford.) The plot was that a man wrongly convicted of murdering his wife manages to escape when the train carrying him to death row derails. The fugitive, Dr. Richard Kimble, then goes on a multiple-season quest looking for “the one-armed man”, a man that Kimble had seen running from the scene of the crime.

During his time on the lam, Kimble roamed around the country (mostly in Southern California, but sometimes further afield) hunting down his nemesis. Occasionally, Kimble was recognized, but he always lived to appear in another episode.

Nowadays, Richard Kimble wouldn’t last a full season. Surveillance cameras and facial recognition would have found him out. Google Street View would have filmed him somewhere or other. Someone would have filmed him (and/or the one-armed man) with his smartphone and posted it on Instagram in real time.

Meanwhile, let’s all be careful about we say around Alexa or Echo.

Ain’t technology grand?


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Another soon to be lost art: tying your shoes

I recently ordered a pair of comfy shoes. This is not actually a point of departure, as most of my shoes are comfy shoes. 99.99% of the time, I’m wearing sneakers. High end, comfy sneakers, with lots of support. But sneakers nonetheless. There’s no comparison between the sneakers I wear now and the P.F. Flyers of my childhood, which were flimsy, thin-soled canvas shoes with no support. But I digress. The comfy shoes I bought recently featured velcro straps.

I didn’t much think of it at the time, but there is one way to look at these shoes – a way I mostly choose to ignore – that screams old lady shoes. (Or shoes for little kids too little to master tying their shoelaces.) If they’d been white, I might have noticed this right away. Or if they’d been billed as orthopedic. But it was only after I wore them a few times that I had my hmmmm moment.

My velcro strap shoes are comfy, but they’re not as supporty as shoes with laces (like my high-end, comfy sneakers) that tie.

I do wear them when I need something a bit less sporty than my Asics or Brooks, but don’t need a dressier, less comfy leather shoe. But I don’t wear them all that much. I suspect they’ll still be around and in still decent shape when the day comes when I start opting for velcro strap old lady shoes.

By that point, however, velcro strap shoes will likely be way far out of date.

By that point, we’ll probably all be wearing self-lacing, app-controlled sneakers.

They’re not widely available as yet, but if you want a pair of $350 sneakers that are Bluetooth-enabled, then Nike’s Adapt BB is your man. Or will be once they hit the market in mid-February.

The Adapt BB — the BB stands for “basketball” — build on Nike’s decades-long dream to create an auto-lacing smart shoe that adapts to wearers’ feet. The company wants to fundamentally change footwear and, of course, sell more shoes.

Imagine: your feet swell during a basketball game because you’ve been running back and forth on the court, and your sneakers detect your blood pressure. Instead of reaching down and untying your laces, the shoes loosen automatically. Never again will you have to fuss around with your laces because, guess what, your shoes already know what you want to do. .”(Source: The Verge)

As someone with a hard-to-fit foot, there is something moderately compelling about this vision. I put on a shoe (no doubt a comfy sneaker of the future) and it detects that I have flat feet, a narrow width, and a truly skinny ankle. Sounds good to me, in a weird sort of way. But that dream shoe is not quite here yet. For Nike:

“That is the broader vision, or the biggest dream, that the product becomes so synergistic to your body. It just knows almost kind of what you’re thinking,” says Eric Avar, VP & creative director at Nike Innovation. “It’s a natural extension of your body.”

I really don’t need my shoes to know what I’m thinking. Historically, when I’ve been thinking about my shoes, those thoughts have been along the lines of “these are killing me,” “when can I kick these suckers off,” or “damn, I’m getting a blister” – problems that go away, for the most part, when you’re wearing comfy, supporty shoes. Those comfy-supporties are pretty much a natural extension of my body, and I don’t need an app telling them what to do.

Oh, sure, sometimes the shoe laces come untied, and I have to find a low wall or step to prop my foot on to tie them back up. But do I really need an app for that?

Anyway, the know-what-you’re-thinking app is a ways away:

This imaginary, all-knowing shoe doesn’t exist yet. Instead, the Adapt BB represent the next step in that dream product journey. This is the shoe that’ll make self-lacing technology available to more people and get them used to the idea of an app-controlled shoe.

While the truly smart shoe may be in the future, in the here an now, the Adapt BB is what’s on offer:

They forgo anything that resembles a lace, and they ship with Bluetooth connectivity so wearers can tighten and loosen their shoes from their phone. They can even choose the color the sneakers emit when in tightening mode.

It seems to me that the time you need to fuss with an app to tighten or loosen your sneakers could just as easily be spent tightening or loosening your laces. And for the life of me, I can’t imagine wanting my sneakers to emit light “when in tightening mode.” Huh?

Anyway, among the techy aspects to the Adapt BB are the components that make up the “lace engine”:

…a microcontroller, 505mAh battery, gyroscope, accelerometer, Bluetooth module, motor, lights, pressure sensor, capacitive touch sensor, temperature sensor, and wireless charging coil.

Yes, you do need to charge the Adapt BB.

Sounds like an awful lot of technology chasing a not particular terrible problem and yielding no appreciate benefits.

But you have to have a “now” before you can have a future “then” and I’m pretty sure that smart-shoes will be a thing.

One thing I enjoy and value about technology is when it’s put to assistive uses. It’s pretty easy to see that self-regulating sneakers could really help people who could use the assist. For now, however, the Adapt BB is just another head scratcher that has me wondering why there’s an app for that. Call me old school, but I still think everyone who’s physically able to should learn to tie their own damned shoelaces. (Most of the time we should be just saying no to velcro.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Dueling bikinis

Not that I’ll ever be in the market for one, but these little denim and crocheted bikinis are plenty cute. Not that I’d pay a couple hundred bucks for a bathing suit. Not that I’d put on a bikini, unless I were young and slender enough to wear one, neither condition is likely to ever be the case.  Not all that comfortable looking, either. Adueling bikinsnd I’m thinking that the combination of denim (for the triangles) and yarn (for the trim and straps) precludes ever jumping into the water for a dunk and cool off. But plenty cute.

The one on the right – or is it the left – is a Kiini, sold by Ipek Irgit’s company, Kiini, and – at least according to her copyright application, and to the various lawsuits Irgit has launched – her very own invention.

The one on the left – or is it the right – is the creation of Maria Solange Ferrarini, a Brazilian street artist who’s been selling denim-crocheted bikinis on the beach in Bahia for years. Make that a couple of decades.

Anyway, a few years back, Irgit – recently returned from a vacation to Brazil, when she’d spent some time on the Bahian beaches – was jobless, aimless, and hanging out:

…on the beach on Long Island, wearing a handmade-looking bikini with crochet and exposed elastic straps, trying to figure out what to do and who to be…

On the Montauk sand, Ms. Irgit was playing paddle ball with a friend, the restaurateur Serge Becker, when he complimented her striking bikini. As Ms. Irgit would later put it, this was the spark that motivated her to start a business. Why not create more of these distinctive bathing suits? Why not become a bikini-maker? (Source: NY Times)

So like any good wannabe entrepreneur who knew a reasonably good idea when she heard one, Ms. Irgit decided to run with the idea. Next thing you know, they were being manufactured in China for about $29 each, and selling in the States for $285.

At first, sales languished. Then the Kiini got an Instagram plug from a model, and it took off. It was featured on Vogue.com and getting shout-outs in The Sunday Times of London’s style mag and in People. The Kiini was for sale at Barney’s.

Inevitably, imitators emerged and Irgit’s lawyer suggested she copyright her design, which she did. Copyright in hand, Irgit became increasingly inflamed by her imitators.

My biggest challenge right now is the copiers around the world. People say I should be flattered but I despise all of them. It just shows a very ugly face of humanity to me.”

Well, there’s a very ugly face of humanity. And then there’s a very ugly face of humanity.

Irgit first went after Victoria’s Secret, suiting them for copyright infringement. That suit was settled. She then took on Neiman Marcus and two swimwear companies. Her suit:

…accused them of unfair competition, misleading consumers about the origin of the swimsuits and violating Kiini’s “trade dress.” In lay terms, Kiini was saying that any consumer in the world who saw a crocheted-and-exposed-elastic bikini would assume it was a Kiini.

Fast forward, and the crochet has begun to unravel. Despite Irgit’s claims that she was the mother of the Kiini invention, it became increasingly clear that the idea originated with Ferrarini.

There was Irgit’s recent Brazilian beach vacation. There was Becker’s recall that Irgit had told him that she’d gotten the bikini there. There was a pre-Kiini picture of some Ferrarini-bikini-wearing British celeb that appeared in the Daily Mail before Irgit “invented” the Kiini.

And then there’s what seems to be the smoking gun: a picture that Irgit used as the “specs” for the Chinese manufacturers of “her” Kiini.

On the elastic [of the bikini bottom], in marker, was a phone number, the words “Trancoso, B.A.” and the signature of Solange Ferrarini.

Hmmmm.

Irgit has withdrawn her suit. Neiman Marcus and other retailers are selling crocheted bikinis labeled as “inspired by Solange Ferrarini”. And Ferrarini is receiving compensation. (By the way, an attorney involved on the anti-Kiini side of the dueling bikinis situation had worked on behalf of the Trump University plaintiffs. So he knows a fraud when he sees one.)

Despite folding on her bathing suit suit, Irgit is hanging tight to her own evolving version of how the Kiini came about. According to her creation myth, she came up with the idea as a child in Turkey, and her mother and grandmother made them for her. (Is it just me, or does crocheting a bikini sound like an odd thing for a Turkish grandmother to be doing for her 10 year old granddaughter 30 years or so ago…)

The bikini she was wearing on the fateful day when Becker admired it? Despite Becker’s recall that she told him she’d gotten the bikini in Brazil, Irgit maintains that she made it all by her lonesome.

Irgit, meanwhile, is facing a suit of her own, in a federal court in California “citing unfair business practices and asking for a public apology.”

While it’s not all that clear what’s going to happen with all this:

…the allegations are notable to other experts in intellectual property law. “The role of truth in our judicial system is central,” said Jeanne M. Heffernan, a partner in the law firm Kirkland & Ellis. “Here you have a woman who appears to have taken the I.P. of someone else and registered it as her own — and then, it seems, had the audacity to sue an industry over something she did not create and may have stolen. If true, it’s breathtaking. I would think Victoria’s Secret would want to take a second look at their settlement.”

Irgit is frothing about those coming after her, characterizing them with words such as “bully” and “scumbag.”

“What do they tell their children at the dinner table about how they make money?” Ms. Irgit wrote, saying she imagined them as film characters like Dr. Evil, from “Austin Powers,” and Maleficent, from “Sleeping Beauty,” attaching .gifs of them to illustrate her point.

Sounds like an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny bit of projection to me.

I hope both Ms. Irgit and Ms. Ferrarini get what’s coming to them.

Monday, January 21, 2019

MLK still lies a spinning in his grave

Last year, I observed Martin Luther King Day with a post entitled MLK is spinning in his grave, and it’s pretty clear that the good doctor remains spinning.

Oh, there’ve been a few positives along the way – there’s now a more diverse Congress.

But, but, but…

Attempts to suppress the African American vote continue apace. After all, they tend to vote for, you know… And while Stacy Abrams (Georgia) and Andrew Gillum (Florida) may have lost their gubernatorial races fair and square, there were major elements of racism directed against them both during election season.

Then there’s the Steve King situation, in which Iowa’s darling of a Congressman was stripped of his committee assignments and given a tut-tut vote of disapproval by Congress for his support for white nationalism, etc. Yet he remains in Congress and, in truth, his comments and thinking are no worse than those of Trump (especially when channeling Stephen Miller) and many other members of his party.

Then there were all those barbequing while black, hanging out at the pool while black, selling lemonade while black, asking for directions while black, going door-to-door as a candidate while black, and in the worst case (a fatal one), opening the door of your apartment while black and getting shot by a cop who for some reason thinks it’s her apartment.

Nah, I don’t imagine that, if you’re an African American things seem to be getting any better, racism-wise.

Let’s hope that that, while “the arc of the moral universe is long…it bends toward justice”, and that we’ll someday start taking a more honest approach to the clear and present danger of American racism.

Martin Luther King, Jr., would have turned 90 last week. Chances are pretty good that, if he had lived, he’d be dead already. So he might well have missed some of the nastier things that have happened over the last few years. You know, since Barack Obama made America more racist.

Anyway, I’m sure that the good doctor had a pretty clear-eyed view of our country. But despite that clear-eyed view, I believe he was optimistic that little African American children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Not there yet, not by a long shot. I’m guessing that there are plenty of days when MLK is a spinning in his grave.

Hope nothing happens today that makes him spin more.

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There’s some weirdness going on with the app I use to write my posts. I don’t think the hyperlink to last year’s MLK Day post embedded above works. So if you’re interested, here it is:

http://pinkslipblog.blogspot.com/2018/01/mlk-is-spinning-in-his-grave.html


Friday, January 18, 2019

Mondo Kondo

I have not yet given into the temptation to start watching the new Netflix series, Tidying up with Marie Kondo. I’m still getting caught up with Bosch, deciding what to do about Mrs. Maisel (my personal jury is still out), and figuring out whether to embark on Succession.

By I have watched her mesmerizing video on how to fold a t-shirt so that it can be stored standing up, and I can see that it would very easy to get sucked in.

I will actually be applying a modified version of her t-shirt folding process to the t-shirt folding I do when I volunteer in the clothing distribution center at St. Francis House.  Most of what we give out is donated (gently used). But underwear – despite the fact that we do occasionally received used undies, which get immediately tossed out in pre-sort – is all new. When we get a delivery, we fold the t-shirts before we stock our t-shirt drawers.

I’m okay folding the smaller sizes, but when I’m working on the XXXL’s and above, my folding technique is ‘nil. A dozen XXXL t-shirts, no two of my folds are alike. Next time I’m in clothing, I’ll try a modified version of the Kondo method. Our t-shirts do not have to stand on edge, and we prefer them with the front facing out, so we can check the size in the collar before we bring it out to a guest.

Not that I particularly need to join Mondo Kondo.

I’m sure by Marie Kondo’s standards, my condo looks like something out of an episode of Hoarders. But while I admittedly have a lot of stuff around, other than the desk in my office, my home is not especially cluttered. I figured out a long time ago that if you’re relatively neat – no dirty coffee cups and old newspapers strewn around – your place will look clean. So I’m pretty neat.

Which is not to say that I don’t need to tackle my desk. Or go through my junk drawers, dressers, and closets. I did this 3 years ago when I reno’d my condo, and I’ve pretty much held fast on accumulation of more stuff. And I don’t agree with Kondo that you should have no more than 35 books around. Come on! But I could still lighten the load. With luck, we’ll have a couple of snow days when I’ll feel like sorting through things between naps.

Plus I’m entering the age of de-acquisition. When my mother was about the age I am now, you couldn’t leave Worcester carrying something or other that she was trying to get rid of. Thus I came into possession of the cool yellow plate painted with all the fruit on it (hangs in the kitchen), and the charming water colors that an artist friend gave her as an engagement present (they’re in my bedroom).

I do find Marie Kondo’s creation/epiphany story pretty interesting. That is, if Wikipedia is to be trusted. (Which, of course, it is.)

She said she experienced a breakthrough in organizing one day, "I was obsessed with what I could throw away. One day, I had a kind of nervous breakdown and fainted. I was unconscious for two hours. When I came to, I heard a mysterious voice, like some god of tidying telling me to look at my things more closely. And I realized my mistake: I was only looking for things to throw out. What I should be doing is finding the things I want to keep. Identifying the things that make you happy: that is the work of tidying." (Source: Wikipedia)

Well, if I were unconscious for a couple of hours, my first thought would have been to get me to the MGH ER. But whatever. I do like her idea of finding the stuff you want to keep and tossing the rest. Not that I’ll necessarily do it. But I did tell myself that the ornaments that haven’t made it on to the Christmas tree for the last couple of years are going to go this year. The ones that are on the tree are the ones that make me happy.

Anyway, The Boston Globe had an article about Kondo the other day, and interviewed some locals who have become her followers. 

I was particularly intrigued by one fellow:

In Somerville, Kondo’s show has helped T Lawrence-Simon, a professional circus performer and instructor, part with 300 pairs of underpants (a collection amassed while working for a men’s underwear blog). (Source: Boston Globe)

I don’t know whether to be more slack-jawed at the thought of having 300 pairs of underpants, or at the thought that there’s a men’s underwear blog.

Having too much stuff around is, of course, a genuine problem for a lot of folks. And feeling compelled to keep acquiring more things we don’t need is an even bigger problem. Think of all those storage units out there, full of things people haven’t needed and/or used for years.

Think of how easy it is to walk into Home Goods, and how difficult it is to walk out without having picked up a little something or other. The other day, I went in to pick up a pillar candle for my fireplace. Apparently when I swapped out the candy-striped Christmas candle I failed to replace it with the neutral cream-colored candle that’s now I’m guessing packed away in my crawl space with my decorations. So, arguably, I need the new candle to occupy the now-vacant candle holder.

Anyway, while in Home Goods, I was tempted to pick up a charming little blue bowl that caught my eye. Now, I need a charming little blue bowl like I need a life-sized stuffed lowland gorilla. But there I was, almost but not quite buying it.

It’s even easier to cruise around on Amazon and pick stuff up. Most of what I buy is replacement merchandise, practical in nature. But damned if I don’t have three different versions of black suede lace up booties. I think I’m set for life on that front.

Globe writer Beth Teitell pretty much summed up the American consumer dilemma:

Should we worry there is something broken about a society that spends half its time demanding same-day delivery and the remaining time watching a Netflix original series about people getting rid of stuff they probably couldn’t wait to get?

Or should we just renew our Amazon Prime subscriptions and wait for the spark of joy?

Sigh…

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Don’t cry, honey…

In naming me Maureen, my parents covered a couple of bases. There was my grandmother, Mary Trainor Rogers. (Maureen is the Irish diminutive of Mary.) Mary was my mother’s middle name. And my aunt (my mother’s sister) was a Mary.

In truth, it was my aunt Mary Wolf Dineen for whom I was named. Mary was my godmother, and I guess I’ll have to say that she fell down on the job of making sure that I remained a Catholic rather than convert to atheism. But that was the only job she ever fell down on in her life.

Smart, tough, resilient, strong, stubborn…Mary died on Tuesday at the age of 93.

Until a couple of years ago, Mary was living on her own – volunteering, going out to lunch with her girl friends, voraciously reading, doing her crossword puzzles, watching her Cubbies. Then she had a few health setbacks, including macular degeneration, and she moved into assisted living. Last fall, the health setbacks were worse and Mary ended up spending the last couple of months of her life in a skilled nursing facility. These months were hard on Mary (and her kids). She had a few falls. She was mostly wheelchair bound. She was anxious and depressed. The good news was that she never lost her marbles. That was the bad news, too, as she remained fully with it. (A few weeks ago, my cousin Ellen worked a crossword puzzle with her mother, giving Mary the clues and having Mary provide the answers for Ellen to fill in. Now, Ellen is a reader, a writer, and a former teacher. Ellen knows a lot of words. But one that she wasn’t familiar with, her mother sure knew. “How do you know that?” Ellen asked her. Mary’s answer: “I just do.”)

When Ellen and I spoke the other night, we reminisced a bit about the summer vacations we spent at The Lake, my grandmother’s summer house about 50 miles outside Chicago, in what was then farm country but is now suburban.

Every other year, we trekked from Worcester to Chicago for two weeks, and a week of our vacation was spent at The Lake, along with my Aunt Mary and Uncle Ted, and their five kids – Ellen, Tim, Mary Pat, Mike and Laura, who were roughly the same ages (plus or minus) as the five Rogers kids. Ellen and I shared a birth year, as did Mike and my brother Rick. (In fact, Richard’s name was going to be Michael, but Mike Dineen showed up in June, and Rick Rogers didn’t make his debut until November, so he ended up with Michael as his middle name.) Also on board were my Aunt Kay and Uncle Bob, the tail-enders of the Wolf family, who were more like slightly older cousins than an aunt and uncle. My Uncle Jack and Aunt Donna, and their daughter Mary Lou, also made an appearance or two when we were out at The Lake. And, of course, there was my grandmother, presiding over all, working her garden so that there would always be wax beans for us to gag on at supper.

Anyway, time at The Lake was magical. The lake itself was shallow and mucky, more of a pond than a lake. But we swam in it nonetheless, or lolled around on big old inner tubes. We made hollyhock ladies and opened the stained-glass windows of the little lighthouse my grandfather had installed in the back yard. We played rummy and crazy eights. We explored the cornfield across the road and the duck farm down the way. We walked to the Piggly Wiggly to pick up whatever item was needed, or to Elmer’s, a creepy bar that sold milk and bread.

While the Rogers and Dineen kids were having fun, my mother and Mary were slaving away, taking care of their families, only without the conveniences they had in their real homes. There was no hot water. The washer was an ancient wringer one. There was always at least one kid in diapers. The refrigerator was an icebox.

No vacation for those two.

Why didn’t the two of them take the opportunity to go out to lunch? Go shopping in the nearby town of Libertyville? Take in a movie?

Not in their DNA, I guess. They were used to working. So that’s how they spent their vacation. While, of course, catching up with each other.

Like my mother, Mary was a secretary. Like my mother, when she went back to work, Mary worked at a university. Like my mother, Mary (widowed at 60) volunteered in her retirement. They liked books, and puzzles, and corny music like Lawrence Welk.

Both sisters were baseball fans. While my mother’s prime allegiance switched to the Red Sox when she married and moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, Mary remained a lifelong Cubs fan.

One of the high points of her life was winning the Cubs Way of Life fan contest in 2010. Part of her prize was getting to throw out the first pitch at a game.

The last time I saw Mary was at her 90th birthday celebration, four years ago this spring. If someone had said at that point that she was in her late seventies, you wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. Sturdy, vital, with it…

Wish she hadn’t had to suffer so in her last couple of months of her life.

Back in 1960, when we were heading home to Worcester, Aunt Mary saw us off on the train. She lived on the far South Side of Chicago, so it was a schlepp in, but I’m sure she wanted to see my mother one more time, and to help our family (which at that point included a 1 year old) get settled on the train. Did she schlepp all the way to my grandmother’s house on the North Side to drive us to the Union Station? I don’t recall. But I clearly remember her seeing us right into the train car.

When I gave her a hug in the little vestibule where two cars connect, I teared up.

“Don’t cry, honey, we’ll see you again.”

She was right, of course, but as us kids got older, we no longer made those biennial trips to Chicago. Seeing my Aunt Mary was no longer the regular event it had been.

I’ve been crying off and on since I got the word on Tuesday.

I don’t believe in the afterlife, but there are times when I wish I did.

Mary Wolf Dineen (1925-2019)

For some reason, I was unable to embed a picture of my Aunt Mary – here, at Wrigley Field on her big day as the Cubs Way of Life winner in 2010. – in my post on her.




I was also unable to embed a link to the video of her throwing out the first pitch. (The name on Mary's shirt, Herm, was my Uncle Ted’s nickname for her; her number 25 is her year of birth.)

Let's see if this works:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKfca9qBHMo

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

How ‘bout them cowgirls?


I came of television-watching in the great era of the Western. There were the Saturday morning kiddy shows like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Range Rider, The Lone Ranger, Annie Oakley, The Cisco Kid, Fury... And there were more grownup shows too numerous to count: Gunsmoke, Maverick, The Rifleman, Wells Fargo, Wyatt Earp, Wanted Dead or Alive, Have Gun Will Travel, Tombstone Territory, Texas Rangers, Sugarfoot, Cheyenne, Wagon Train, Bonanza, Big Valley, High Chaparral, Laramie, Branded…

An awful lot of romanticizing went into glorifying the Old West. And an awful lot of the scripts were notable for their absence of women.

Annie Oakley and The Big Valley were the only shows I remember where female characters had the lead. Other than Miss Kitty, the saloon keeper on Gunsmoke; Milly, who ran the general store on The Rifleman, and one or two others, women were, for the most part, just passing through, generally on their way to their grave. (Ben Cartwright on Bonanza was a widower three times over. If any of his boys got anywhere near a woman, it was generally a death sentence for that lil’ ol’ gal. On the Roy Rogers Show, Roy’s real-life wife – Dale Evans – had a regular role. Not as his wife, but as the proprietor of the local cafe and hotel.)

Despite the absence of role models, dead or alive, I grew up fantasizing about living out West, and the West to some extent continues to capture my imagination. (Albeit a tiny bit of it.)

I must, of course, edit this imagination to eliminate the outhouses, the hygiene challenges (M and F), the casual gun violence (“…just a flesh wound…”), the boredom, the cold, the heat, the danger, the backbreaking pre-dawn, post-dusk work, the bar fights, the spittoons…

Not to mention that the only horse I’ve ever sat was on a merry-go-round. And the fact that I’m a city girl born and bread, a city girl by baptism and desire.

Yet when I play George Strait, which I am inclined to do every once in a while, I lustily sing along with “How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls.”)

But realistically, riding, roping and branding dogies aren’t on my bucket list.

And when it comes to cowgirls, the truth is that I’d rather see than be one.

Thus I was quite delighted to read in The New York Times the other day that “Female Ranchers Are Reclaiming the American West.”

Hundreds of years before John Wayne and Gary Cooper gave us a Hollywood version of the American West, with men as the brute, weather-beaten stewards of the land, female ranchers roamed the frontier. They were the indigenous, Navajo, Cheyenne and other tribes, and Spanish-Mexican rancheras, who tended and tamed vast fields, traversed rugged landscapes with their dogs, hunted, and raised livestock.

The descendants of European settlers brought with them ideas about the roles of men and women, and for decades, family farms and ranches were handed down to men. Now, as mechanization and technology transform the ranching industry, making the job of cowboy less about physical strength — though female ranchers have that in spades — and more about business, animal husbandry and the environment, women have reclaimed their connection to the land.

I’m a bit disappointed that most of the cowgirls, errrr, cow-women, pictured in the article are wearing baseball caps and not cowboy hats. But I guess I should be heartened by the fact that, if I do decide to add riding the range – or driving the range in a pickup – and mending fences to my bucket list, I have some of the requisite clothing, namely baseball caps and jeans. And I also know how to drive a stick shift, so there’s that. (I didn’t see the gearshifts in any of the pickups the cow-women were driving, but I’m pretty sure that the automatic transmission is for city slickers and wusses.)

cowgirl

Anyway, as of 2012, “14 percent of the nation’s 2.1 million farms had a female proprietor.” And a ranch is just a farm with horses and cattle, right?

This is nowhere near the percentage of, say, doctors who are women. Under 35, it’s 60:40 female to male. Still, it’s better than it was in the old days of 1950’s and 1960’s TV.

Caitlyn Taussig is pretty enough to be a model, but she:

…helps run the [family] ranch with a cadre of cowgirls, including her mother and sister. They only really rely on men on the days when they have to brand the Angus Cross cattle. “We just sort of treat each other differently,” Ms. Taussig said shortly after a cow kicked a gate that split open her forehead. She got six stitches and was back at work that afternoon. “There’s less ego.”

And there’s more environmental awareness:

Women are leading the trend of sustainable ranching and raising grass-fed breeds of cattle in humane, ecological ways.

If I ever decide to resurrect my interest in cowgirl-ing, I will be sure to sign up for the

… New Cowgirl Camp, a five-day course that trains women in animal husbandry, ranch management, financial planning, ecological monitoring and regenerative grazing. Ms. [Beth] Robinette recoils at the gaudy, country-pop version of the overly feminized cowgirl, and calls her program a “rhinestone-free zone.”

New Cowgirl Camp is already accepting applications for it’s August 2019 session. It’s held at Robinette’s Lazy R Ranch, and as a Lazy R myself, that sounds pretty comfy. Or did until I read the hazard list and the info on waivers and indemnity. Here’s the non-exhaustive list of the perils of ranch camping:

Chemicals
Cold and sun/heat
Dust and pollen
Electricity
Hand tools
Highway traffic
Lifting
Livestock handling
Machinery and equipment
Mud
Noise
Ponds
Slips, trips, and falls
Small critters that can sting or bite
Tractors
Wells

Some of this, even us city girls got covered: cold, sun/heat, noise. And slips, trips, and falls – as I’m repeatedly reminded by ads for stairlifts on TV – are the major hazard for the elderly, a demographic which includes potential cowgirls like me. Small critters? Well, these mean streets hold plenty of rats. And I have a bunch of hand tools, even a drill that I mostly know how to use.

Anyway, nice to see that there’s a sisterhood of cowgirls out there, handling live stock and mud with aplomb. Yee haw!