Friday, May 29, 2009

Ridin' the Rails (pimp my railcar, why don't you?)

I love train travel - even the puny little trips that are mostly on my itinerary of late: 25 minutes to Salem, an hour to Providence, an hour to Worcester. There's no time to do much cross-country fantasizing on the Salem run, but give me an hour on a train, and I'm probably going to a bit of pretending that I'm going somewhere far away.

The Acela to NYC, which I take every year or so, is an excellent opportunity to play "big trip."

Growing up, my train trips were longer - from Worcester to Chicago to visit my grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins on my mother's side.

Almost everything about those trips was exciting - from breakfast in the dining car  to the ice cold water drunk from the conical little paper cups. Ah! (I still remember what the New York Central children's menus looked like: it was turquoise, white, and black and the cover looked like the front of a train.) Me being me, I also used train travel to broaden my world view. At the age of 5, I figured out that Protestant girls got to wear shorts on the train, while Catholic girls had to wear dresses and patent leather shoes.

I haven't taken many super long train trips, but I have taken a few that have been memorable.

The overnight train in Spain where I caught bed bugs....The looonnnggg Irish train on which there was no way to figure out what car you needed to be in to exit at the pokey one car village train station we were headed to. (The conductor had disappeared; the bartender didn't know; no one could tell us. Finally, we saw a couple of old ladies gathering their belongings. They were getting off at our stop, and told us the secret to the right car.)

More recently, I was marooned on 9/11 in Orlando, Florida - or would have been, if I hadn't been able to get on an Amtrak train going north.

When my colleague and I left Orlando, the only assurance we had was that the train was going as far as Richmond, Virginia.

Beyond that, we didn't know if we were at war, whether Washington, DC was "closed" (let alone NYC), or what...

It was an exhausting and deeply moving journey, especially when we left Newark and could see the dark cloud that still hovered over much of Manhattan. (This was in the afternoon of September 12th.)

No, I don't do tons of train travel, but someday I do want to take the train cross country, and the train across Canada.

Given my fondness for train travel, I was interested in an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal on the private railroad cards of John Ringling and Henry Morrison Flagler that are now part of the exhibit at the Flagler (Palm Beach) and Ringling (Sarasota) Museums in Florida.

Now restored to their days of yore elegance, "by the 1950s one had become housing for migrant farm workers, and another a fishing shack."

The Ringling name will be familiar to most - he was one of the Ringling Brothers of circus fame. Flagler, who'd made his dough as John D. Rockefeller's partner, was the founder of the Florida East Coast Railway, and is pretty much credited with creating the Florida tourist industry. Flagler's home away from home was:

...a "copper-roofed pleasure palace . . . containing a Victorian-styled, wood-paneled lounge, sleeping berths for visitors, and a private stateroom with bath for Flagler. There was a copper-lined shower, a dining area, and a small food preparation area with an ice box and wood stove."

The Ringling Brother's car is still being refurbished, but it is similarly grand:

The Wisconsin's interiors are mahogany and other woods, decorated with elaborate moldings and gold-leaf stencils. The 10-foot high ceilings are painted Viva Gold, Baize Green and Fiery Brown. There are toilets in each compartment, and the Ringlings had a private bathroom, including tub. The rear compartment in the 79-foot car is the observation room, which could be used as a lounge or office. There are also crew quarters and a kitchen.

Interesting that these rigs must have been the height of elegance and opulence during the Gilded Age of Rail Travel. One can only imagine what today's (or, I guess more appropriately, 2008's) tycoons would have demanded in theirs.

Let's see.

First of all, a single railroad car wouldn't be big enough for everything that would be needed: media room, soaking tub, game room, gym. Eat-in kitchen with restaurant-sized Gaggenau range and SubZero fridge. Walk-in closets (his and hers). Lap pool. Art gallery. Air conditioning and a fire place. Great room. Helicopter pad.

Who says they don't make tycoons like they used to? (Or like they used to up until last September.)

Anyway, makes me want to go somewhere on a train.

Choo, choo!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Yawn? No, YawnLog.

I don't know about in apprehension how like a god, but what a piece of work is man...

And that goes double for the folks at HelloSilo, whose site - as of this blogging - is a dead end, but whose fevered, February 24-hour hackathon produced something called YawnLog, where you can track your sleep habits - reporting on the duration and quality of your 40 winks, comparing it your target, and seeing how you stack up against other dreamers, snorers, tossers and turners.

And, since just about everything you do in life can be expressed in 140 characters, and, since just about everything you do in life is at least potentially of surpassing interest to everybody else on the face of the earth, you can twitter about your sleep. But how about letting the hackathon-ers themselves tell us about YawnLog:
YawnLog is a sleep tracker. All you have to do is tell us when you went to sleep, and when you woke up. You can tell us how well you slept, and some notes about your slumber. Was your sleep this weekend serene? Was it restless? Did you dream about flying? YawnLog lets you answer these questions, and we let you share your answers with your friends--and see how well they're counting their own sheep. Are you worried you're not getting enough sleep? Are you sleeping too much? Are your friends? Do you dream about the same things as your friends?
YawnLog keeps track of all these things for you, and lets you do what you want with that information. We allow you to fully customize your privacy. Don't want anyone to know about your dreams? Don't want to aggregate? We won't make you. We care about your privacy just like you care about your sleep.
YawnLog is about you and your naptime, and we're happy to tuck you in.
Although I did hear that these guys may have gotten some funding, I mostly think that this is merely the product of a bunch of ultra-smart young folks  - I think some of them are from tech brainiac Olin College - who spun this idea up, because they could. And who have attracted a goodly number of participants, because it's there.

I, in fact, am one of the goodly number who has signed up - I just wanted to see how it worked. I did put one entry in, for Sunday night, where I got an atypically poor night's sleep. But I will not be going back, other than to make my profile private. (Done!)

But the YawnLog experience did get me thinking about sleeping, dreaming, and the growing problem of TM narcissistic I - which I'm assuming that the hackathoners were, just maybe, Red Bull riffing on.

Sleep: I like to sleep, and have pretty much always enjoyed a good night's sleep. For me, that's 8 hours. I can get by with 7, but anything less than that, and I'm feeling sleep deprived and a bit cranky. I also like to nap, especially on a late fall through winter weekend afternoon. And I'm going to stop right here, before I start heaving up TM narcissistic I.

Dreams: I often remember my dreams, which tend to be involved and complex little mini-movies that quite normally don't always make perfect sense. One of my favorite dreams occurred about 20 years ago, when I had a job I didn't particularly enjoy, working for a company that I absolutely hated. In the dream, I am performing in some sort of group dance, desultorily doing a shuffle-ball-change, and telling myself "I really can't stand this." As I'm leaving the stage, one of my fellow tappers - someone behind me, whose voice I don't recognize - says, "Maureen has no talent."

Waiting in the wings is Bob Hope, who retorts, "No, Maureen has plenty of talent. She should be writing, not performing."

So, what do I make of a dream in which a comedian whom I don't even like gives me life advice?

Now I will stop before I start heaving up TM narcissistic I about the dream in which I open my grandfather's coffin, or the one in which I am fleeing the Nazis while wearing a wedding dress...
TM narcissistic I. Is there no end to the things we can and will obsess on, continuously tracking everything about ourselves - and sharing it with everyone else out there, because we can.

What of all this actually is or could conceivably be useful? Medically, it may at some point by useful to be able to pull out a file that lists every night's sleep, every mouthful swallowed, every bowel moved. Interesting to me, anyway. (And maybe to my doctor.)

Dreams? I wouldn't mind having the full roster of all my dreams - it would be quite fun and interesting. To me, anyway. (And maybe to my shrink, if I had one.)

But - despite the fact that I'm a blogger sharing plenty these days - I am so not the right generation to just jump in there and share a steady stream of me-based data in real-time. I don't particularly care what I ate for breakfast yesterday, let alone what anyone else ate.

Personally, I'd rather spend time curled up with a good book (literary fiction, please; or history) than glance through what 1,000 strangers dreamed last night.

And curl up with a reasonably good book was precisely what I did the other night when I atypically couldn't sleep.

The reasonably good book was Christine Falls, by Benjamin Black (a pen name of Irish literary novelist John Banville). I say reasonably  good book because, Benjamin Black being John Banville, the writing was clear, strong, and frequently brilliant - he sure can tell an interesting story.  But, willing as I am to believe far-fetched conspiracies about the dark deeds of the Catholic Church, I wasn't quite able to completely buy the punch line of this one. It lacked just a bit of plausibility as far as I'm concerned. (Not by much - just somewhat.)

Anyway, for my one and only entry into YawnLog, I noted - in far fewer words - that when I couldn't sleep, I read this book.

If anyone's interested in what everyone else did that night, they can head on over the YawnLog and look it up.
A tip of the night-cap to my friend Valerie, who dropped me a line about YawnLog. In turn, Valerie had gotten the word from her friend Bill, a sometime blogger and oft-time PR/marketing guy, who - in keeping with the ur-Pink Slip theme - was recently laid off.
Here's his excellent haiku on the unemployment experience:
Out of work, this sucks
"It's an opportunity"
Says those with a job.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Job opening up in London: chauffeur to HRM, Queen Elizabeth

I am truly amazed by the foolish things that people do that completely and utterly jeopardize their jobs.

A while ago, it was the jokers at Domino's who video taped themselves making booger subs. (Ho, ho! If the question is 'can't anyone at Domino's take a joke?', the answer is 'not this one.') When you can't even keep a job at a fast food joint, you know you're in trouble...

Then there was the disgruntled truck driver who sulked off with a semi full of ketchup and got himself to a rest stop to glower and stew about being underpaid. Too bad the commandeered ketchup was headed for Fenway Park for Opening Day. Personally, I'm a mustard and relish kind of gal, but I respect the rights of baseball fans to have whatever they want on their hot dogs. In any case, this turned out to be a bad career move on the part of one ex-truck driver - with a lot more notoriety than he apparently bargained for.

Now there's the splendid news from the UK that a chauffeur to the Royals took £1,000 to let a couple of journalists posing as Middle Eastern businessmen poke around the royal parking garage, and even sit in the Bentley that's the main ride of HRM Queen Elizabeth - in her seat no less. (Bet she gets a window and never has to ride on the hump.)

The Daily Mail - among other fab sources - has reported that chauffeur Brian Sirjusingh has been at least temporarily suspended, and turfed out of his "grace-and-favour" digs in the Royal Mews. (I have no idea what "grace-and-favour" actually means, but it sounds like a plummy enough perk, doesn't it?)

This being England, where there is, oh so very often, a call girl involved somewhere, the deal was set up by a Lithuanian escort who's only been in the UK for a couple of months, but apparently knows how to get around.

Anyway, Sirjuisngh apparently gave the Middle Eastern "businessmen" a behind the scenes pass, without requiring a security check:

Even members of the Royal Family now have to carry I.D. cards with them at all times and both the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke of York are said to have been challenged for forgetting to bring them.

So, the Duke of York gets hassled, but some at least moderately suspicious looking bloke gets in.

Nice - I guess - to see that the royal guards aren't profiling, but, given the times, wouldn't you think that someone claiming to be a Middle Eastern businessman, or someone with a Northern Ireland accent, might raise an eyebrow that your average Cockney, or one of those nice, straight out of a Barbara Pym novel, royal adulating women of a certain age wouldn't.

(I know about the latter because, maybe 25 years ago, my husband and I were in London, when, walking past the Royal Albert Hall, we saw a crowd of largely nice, straight out of a Barbara Pym novel, ladies eagerly gathering - and a snappy black limo with a little red and gold crown on top approaching. We hung in to see who it was, but were disappointed, as the couple who popped out of the limo were not any BigE Royals who might be easily recognized by an American. The Barbara Pym ladies were all excited - it was, we were told, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester - but it might as well have been the Duke of Earl, for all we knew.)

In general, security for the royals has never been all that hot.

Remember the kook who wondered in to Buckingham Palace and was sitting on the edge of QE2's bed when she awoke?

Other intruders got into the palace grounds in 1990 and 1992, while in 1994 James Miller, a naked American paraglider, landed on the roof; he was fined £200 and deported. (Source for this tidbit: The Independent.)

In any case, letting the gents sit in the Queen's car - and revealing her secret code name - to imposters who could have been evildoers, and not just hackers, is not likely to be a brilliant career move on Brian Sirjusingh's part. (And, as a married man chilling with a working girl, he probably hasn't done his personal life a lot of good, either.)

No doubt, he'll make a few quid more selling his side of the story to one of the many Brit tabloid. Maybe he'll drop some choice morsels - the Duke of Edinburgh is flatulent, Charles and Camilla make out like a couple of teenagers - but his moment of fame will end soon enough.

And he will be without what one can only imagine to have been a not entirely terrible job, if you ignore the likely low pay, the high boredom, and the moderate risk that some naked paraglider with worse intentions than James Miller had would land on the roof of the Bentley and do you and the other occupants of the limo grave harm. On the plus side, there was the "grace and favour" apartment. (Wish they had them in high tech.)

Seriously, I would think that most people who hire chauffeurs are at least somewhat security conscious - made more so, given that if they're jaunting around in a chauffeured limo, they're setting themselves up as targets.  (Hey, that guy must be rich. Let's kidnap him and hold him for ransom.)

And given that he was working as a chauffeur, Brian S. may not be the most skilled-up fellow in the UK.

So, even though the royals aren't held in universal esteem and affection, who's going to hire someone who was willing to put the Queen at risk for a lousy £1,000?

Some people are just frightfully bad at career planning, aren't they?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

R. I. (Virtual) P.

Yesterday was, of course, Memorial Day, so this week seems a fitting one in which to give a nod to Eternal Space, where an article I saw on CNN tells us, you can "create customized online gravesites and memorial pages."

Now, memorial pages/websites are quite one thing.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more sense they make, especially for the generations that are growing up online. Why not have a place where you can keep pictures and videos, and have folks post remembrances?  Sure, they would no doubt attract some weirdos who didn't know the deceased or their friends and family, yet would have no problem rummaging around the online gravesite of a complete stranger.

Hmmmmm. Why did I write "weirdo" here?

I can definitely see me doing it, in the same way that I walk around the cemetery when I'm there to plant geraniums, noting the tacky gravestones, mawkish sentiments, and odd little mementos that people increasingly leave there. Not to mention the decorations... A couple of years ago, someone decorated a grave near that of my parents with Halloween lights, ghost figurines, and signs that said "Boo." On one hand, it was pretty darned appropriate, on the other....

And, what are these online memorial sites, really? They're just super-charged, technicolor, full-motion, interactive obituaries.  Having grown up reading the obituaries (a.k.a., the Irish sports pages), I don't think there's absolutely anything wrong with combing through the lives of others, known and unknown.

So, strike the word "weirdo."

But anyone who doubts that weirdos, and insensitive, ethically challenged morons, won't be drawn to online memorial sites doesn't read enough online "commentary."

Those who try to draw comfort from online memorials for their loved ones will, no doubt, have to contend with notes like, "No wonder your kid died, she's ugly!" and "Who cares? Your father was nothing but a double-l loser." (Only loser will be spelled wrong; it will be in there as "looser.")

No, I don't have a lot of faith in the great unwashed not to be crass and ugly. When we were in the limo heading from the funeral parlor to the church for my mother's funeral, some charming young folks in the car next to us stuck their heads out the window, laughed at us, and gave us the finger. (Hadn't they ever sung, 'Never laugh when a hearse goes by/For you might be the next to die'?)

But other than editing out the meanies, and the slightly creepy factor of having strangers watching videos of your wedding reception, the online memorial idea is fine. (And that "creepy factor" really only pertains to those of us of a certain, pre-YouTube, pre-Twitter age, who aren't used to every jot and tittle of our life - and death - being made public.)

But two aspects of the Eternal Space offerings I do find peculiar. One is the Tribute Gifts:

... friends, family, and colleagues [can] pay their respects and dedicate personalized Tribute Gifts in memory of a loved one. Gifts are items that played a part in the life of the deceased or hold unique sentimental value to the giver, and can be placed thoughtfully inside an EternalSpace memorial landscape.

I couldn't tell exactly what a virtual flower basket, football helmet, Swedish flag, or scales of justice costs, but the subtle little "cart" in the upper right hand corner of the virtual gravesites I visited does suggest that you pay something. This strikes me as a waste of money - that could go to the American Cancer Society or the church building fund or the DAV or some other charity of the deceased's choice.

Too many Tribute Gifts, and you could also end up in an incredibly gunked up "memorial landscape", as every one picks out something meaningful to leave behind. What if 100 people all want to leave the knitting basket or the statue of Jesus or the saddle?

Maybe the family can "request that Tribute Gifts be omitted."

And then there's the memorial landscapes themselves.

Tasteful backdrop, that's fine. But some of the ones I looked at have gravestones - as if the person were buried on the site - which, I suppose, they are in a virtual, "immersive technology" kind of way.

Those headstones are a bit too Second Life - or is it First Death? - for my tastes. But I will say this about inserting one in your memorial landscape. There's no pussyfooting around about whether your loved one has "passed," or is "no longer with us.' Nothing says DEAD like a headstone with your name and birth and death dates on it.

Personally, I'm not planning on a headstone, virtual or otherwise.  Ashes to ashes, and I'll want my ashes tossed in the ocean or left in the woods, with maybe a smidge - no more than a grain - to be casually dropped from the bleachers into center field at Fenway Park.

But I will be okay with an online memorial page - although I don't really care if it's "available forever." I don't really think my loved ones will need a "limitless and everlasting place" to remember me.  Sure, keep it up for a while, but the minute you get sent a hosting bill for my slice of the after life of immersive technology, please forget about it. Take the money and buy yourself an ice cream sundae or a nice glass of champagne, and keep my memory alive where it really matters: in your hearts and minds.

When you're gone, I'll be gone. And you know what? That's really going to be okay.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day, 2009

I've always loved Memorial Day, one of those pleasant but low-craziness holidays that we just don't get enough of.

I won't be doing much today to celebrate, although on Wednesday my cousin Barbara and I will make our bi-annual trek to "the cemeteries" to plant geraniums on the family graves. (In the fall, we plant tulips, and I'm hoping that they'll still be in bloom today, so that no one will think "our" graves are derelict. The folks in "our" graves are, however, past caring.)

The last two years, I wrote about the war-related aspects of the holiday which did, of course, begin to commemorate the Civil War dead.

Those posts hold up pretty well, and I've linked them here:

Memorial Day 2008: Six Degrees of Separation from the Military.

Memorial Day 2007: Decoration Day.

This day is as good as any to think about those who have died in the past year. For me, that means thinking about the older sisters of two of my closest friends. Each was in her mid-sixties - way too young. Both died of cancer, a prolonged and hideous way to go.

Last fall, we almost lost my younger brother to a sudden, misdiagnosed malady. So for a few days, it looked like I was going to beat my friends to the ranks of those with a sibling who died early. (In my brother's case, it would have been in his early 50's - way too young.)

Anyway, today I will think about my friends Peter and Michele,, who I know will be thinking about their sisters Joanne and Mary Jeanne.

And I will celebrate the good fortune, and the reclaimed robust good help, of my brother Richard.

Glad you made it, Stick!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Spam I am

Seems like only yesterday, I was posting that I'd just as soon eat tricked out dog food as tricked out Spam. (See "Dog food as pâté?")

Well, I'm apparently one of the few folks out there who feels this way. As I found out only yesterday (the one and truly only yesterday, as in May 21), one of the few bits of good earnings news has been that of Hormel, makers of Spam.

Hormel  overall sales were flat for the latest quarter, but for the products division that includes Spam, sales were up, as were profits.  (Source: AP article in The NY Times.)

In the latest quarter, brands like Spam and Hormel Chili posted double-digit sales increases... Hormel will keep marketing its convenience products, and also keep focusing on its value brands like Spam. The company is expanding its advertising campaign for the meat-in-a-can this summer and relaunching the brand's Web site. Following on last year's campaign -- the first for Spam in several years -- that reintroduced the brand, the ads will give consumers tips on how to use Spam in their daily cooking.

I don't cook daily, so I'm off the hook here, but I did check out some of the Spam recipes, and I can only say that nothing that I saw would convince me to start cooking up a storm.

I hate to cook, that's for sure, but some of these recipes come under the category I hate to eat.

One, for a cooked chef's salad has the "cook" combining Spam, Swiss cheese, lettuce, hard boil eggs, celery, canned chicken, tomatoes and Italian dressing in a skillet and heating the whole mess up. Well, I'm a salad person, but a cooked salad centered on Spam (and cooked lettuce) just doesn't have all that much appeal. The recipe ends with the words "toss and serve immediately." I pretty much would have stopped after "toss."

Frankly, I couldn't find as many recipes to make fun of as I would have hoped, but there is the promise of more to come. Hormel has some deal going with state fairs to award blue ribbons to tasty dishes that include at least one can of Spam, and no more than ten ingredients. I look forward to state fair season, that's for sure.

What was a revelation on the Spam site, however, was the sheer volume of Spam-related gear that you can buy.

There are shirts, caps, flip-flops, even a Spam tie. Mugs, water bottles - and after a mouthful of Spam,  a bit of H2O would surely come in handy.  Pocket knife, snow globe, Spam dice game. (Let me guess: first prize, one can of Spam; second prize, ba-da-bing, two cans of Spam.)

A dog shirt, yes a dog shirt - although why they would want a dog advertising their product, I'm not sure.image

Among my favorite Spam items were the wine glass and wine charm. What do you serve with Spam, pray tell? Something pink? A nice blush zinfandel? Of a good strong Cab to wash away the taste.

But I was most intrigued by the single Spam serving that can be purchased for the low, low price of $1.25.  It can't be shipped outside of the USA but, fortunately, I'm inside of the USA, and I'm almost tempted... 


May 22nd is a fitting day to post about Spam.

My father's been dead now for nearly 40 years, but this would have been his 97th birthday.  It is from my father that I inherited my long skinny feet and my loathing for Spam. I do admit that, as a child, I was quite fond of it, but once I reached the age of reason: Spam-be-gone. My father learned to hate Spam between 1942-1945 when he, and Spam, were helping win the war. 

Wherever you are, Dad, I trust you're in a place where Spam is never served...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Oh, Mama! Elizabeth Adeney meets the stork at 66

Over the last few months, a couple of folks have asked me whether I was planning on posting about the Octomom.

'No,' I told them.

It's not that I'm so strict about sticking to topics at least vaguely related to business. I could, after all, have used the angle of Octo-motherhood as a business. While I was at it, I could have thrown in the business empire known as "Jon & Kate Plus-8," or the industrial-ous conglomerate Duggar Family (18 kids and counting). Which, come to think of it, I may well do at some point.

But the Octomom's story, while intriguing and lurid enough for Pink Slip, is so fundamentally sad - the mental health of this young woman, the mental-emotional-physical well-being of her 14 kids - I really didn't have anything to say about it.

But there is an odd-ball baby-related story in the news that I am going to jump on. It would be pretty pedestrian -  single mom gives birth to single baby conceived via in vitro - if the single mom (mum? she's a Brit) weren't 66, pushing hard on 67.

And the real beauty is that Elizabeth Munro - Elizabeth Adeney (I've seen her referred to both ways) is a successful business woman, the Managing Director of a manufacturing concern. Thus, the story is nearly bespoke for my humble blog.

Career success was apparently notWhen Elizabeth Adeney Turns 85, Her Child Will Still Be a Teenager enough for Elizabeth, so she took herself to a Ukrainian fertility clinic that doesn't observe much by way of rules. And she's now eight months along. Here she is, looking every bit her 66 years. (I will acknowledge that 66 does look younger than it used to, but that's mainly because the hair dye is better, and the hair-dos and clothing are more youthful. Beyond that, we're kidding ourselves if we really believe that 60 is the new 40. It's not .)  Yes, to me, Elizabeth looks 66 (i.e., a lot older than I am, let alone look) - except that she's sporting a belly-bulge that's not due to too many cupcakes and not enough minutes on the treadmill. (And she somewhat resembles Joan Crawford of Mommy Dearest fame, no?)

My first thought when I read about this woman was, "Is she crazy?"

Hey, I don't have any children, so - like Prissy in Gone with the Wind - I don't know nothin' about birthin' babies - but I have spent enough time around the little critters to know that they are exhausting at any age.  And that the older you get, the more exhausting they tend to be.

I know a lot of folks in their 50's and 60's who are enjoying their grandkids, so much so that I wish I had some around to enjoy. But when the kiddies get picked up at the end of the babysitting gig, my friends take to their chaises longues, faint from exhaustion.

The other day, a friend - who's a good 5 years younger than Elizabeth Munro Andeley - told me that she was going to have to tell her son and daughter-in-law that she didn't think she was up to an overnight babysitting gig, now that there's a new little one (a second grandchild) on the scene.  And this is an experienced parent/grandparent - energetic and fit, with tremendous stamina and professional drive.

The fact is that baby and child exhaustion is really and truly exhausting - on an entirely different level than work exhaustion, work-out exhaustion, and party-on exhaustion.

Some of it is the sheer dependence and need of children. Unlike with a cranky spouse, you can't just tell a teething baby to buzz off and leave you alone.

Then there's the excruciating exhaustion of eternal vigilance, especially keen when children are young. Are they breathing in the crib? Why are the so quiet? Where are they? Who's with them? Are they safe? Are they happy?

I really do believe that the older you are, the more aware you are that things can go wrong very quickly. Sure, you may be more relaxed on some things, but about so many things...

Elizabeth Munro Andeley can afford a nanny, and apparently has one lined up already. But does she get that her nice, neat, quiet home-as-a-refuge is about to get a bit messed up - more chaotic, messier, noisier, smellier. Hard enough to cope with when you're in your 2o's and 30's, let alone when in you're nearly 70 - and are used to coming home, putting your feet up, channel cruising, dining on a microwaved Lean Cuisine and doing whatever you damned well please.

Elizabeth, however, claims to have at least somewhat thought this through.

Adeney, who lives near Lidgate, Suffolk, in southeastern England, reportedly said that to be a mother, all that matters is how old you feel on the inside. And she claimed she is young and fit and feels like she is 39 years old. (Source: ABC News article.)

Sorry, Elizabeth. I'll grant you fit, and feeling like a 39 year old. (By the way, is nothing unique to you: most people I know pretty much feel that, in terms of personality and attitude, they're in their 30's. The first person I heard this from was my mother, who told me when she was in her 60's.)

But you are not - and, as I gingerly and reluctantly approach my own Big 6-0, I am somewhat reluctant to admit this - in fact young.

You may not be old. But you aren't young.

And from the perspective of being a new mother, you are really, really old.

But why not, someone might ask, you're only as young as you feel.

To which I call bull-shit.

Look, there are very few women past the child-bearing age who failed to bear child who don't have at least a few regrets about their decision, or lack of decision, or ill-health, or bad luck, or good career, or poor timing, or neuroses, or procrastination, or whatever it was that kept them from having children of their own.

But most of the women I know who fall into this category at least somewhat made up for it by becoming super-aunts to the children of their siblings, or virtual aunts for the kids of their friends. They volunteered, they became Big Sisters, and some of them even became Big Mamas. But they took care of that piece of business when they were in their 30's or 40's - when they had a lot of energy, and more to the point, when they stood a really good chance of seeing their child into adulthood.

Because that's my problem with Elizabeth Munro Andeley. Not that she's a single mom. It's that, for her child, there's a pretty good probability that he or she will be orphaned young.

Sure, things can happen, a parent can die early, whatever their age when they have their children. But to blow on the dice and assume that your crap shoot is going to work out, deliberately exposing your child to a high probability risk that you won't see them into adulthood?

This strikes me as the ultimate in narcissism, child-as-accessory, selfishness.

Some of the comments I've seen floating around make the point that we turn a blind eye when the aging parent is a man.

I don't.

I really hate to see old goats have new babies. It's just not fair to the kids. Yet, in their defense, most old goats are making those babies with their much younger trophy wives, who will likely outlive them. (I know this isn't always the case. I used to see an older man - well into his 70's - walking a couple of kids to school. I assumed he was the grandfather. Wrong I was. Turned out, he was the father - and the much younger mother had tragically died of brain cancer.  He didn't outlive her by much, and the kids ended up living with their much older half-sibs, who were at least age-appropriate as parents.)

I know what it's like to have a parent who dies when you're young. Fortunately, in my case, I had made it to my21st birthday (just barely) when my father, who had been ill for many years, died.  Unfortunately, the two youngest kids in the family were still kids: 11 and 15.

By the time his life ended, all my father wanted out of it was to live until his baby turned 18. He missed by 7 years. And one of the reasons he wished this so fervently was that his own father had died, age 48, when my father was 11.

Losing a parent is so beyond hard for young children, why would you ever set yourself up for the possibility?

The older I grow, the more I understand that growing old and dying are made somewhat easier if there are people around who will care for you and, more important, care about you.

Maybe this is what Elizabeth Munro Andeley - who reportedly has no siblings and very little extended family - was looking for.

But it's one thing to hope that your adult children will be with you at the end. This is what my mother got - 4 of her 5 children were with her when she died, and for all of us (all at that point in our 40's or 50's), being with my mother in her final days, hours, minutes was sad but okay. This is what grown-ups do: they help the people they care about live, and they help the people they care about die.

My mother was 81 when she died. In Elizabeth Munro Andeley lives to be 81, her child will be 14.

Forget that kids will make fun of him/her for having a mother who could be his/her great-grandmother. Forget that, however youthful she is, Elizabeth is not likely to have a lot of energy for or disposition towards kicking a soccer ball around, racing up and down the beach, or playing endless games of Candyland.

The heart of the matter is this: Does she really and truly want the person at her death bed to be her 14 year old child? A child with no father, no older siblings, no aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins to assure him or her that it's going to be alright?

There are a lot of things that technology enables us to do that enhance well-being, individually and collectively.

But there are a lot of things that technology enables people to do that maybe they shouldn't.

For the sake of her little one, I wish Elizabeth Munro Andeley cent anni. I hope that she stays fit, vibrant, and engaged. I hope that she keeps all her marbles, and never has a senior moment.  I hope she doesn't need cataract surgery when her kid is 8, or hip or knee replacement when he or she is 12. I hope that when she does go, her 33 year old child says, "She was so youthful, I always forgot she was actually quite elderly."

But, truly, wouldn't this have worked out better if she'd figured out she wanted to have a baby 20 years ago?


And how's this for a nice upper-crust tidbit. Elizabeth was married briefly, a number of years ago: Robert Adeney, the ex-Chairman of Swaine Adeney Brigg and Sons - the London-based luxury leather and hunting goods firm, which supplied horse whips to the Royal Family.  (Source: TopNews.)

Horse whips to the there's a thought I want to shake right out of my head.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mr. & Mrs. Peacock Downsize

There have been very few times - perhaps none at all - when the thought has crossed my mind "Darn, I wish I'd been in Florida for that."

But, darn, I sure do wish I'd been in Vero Beach for the dream home (and contents) auction of the charmingly and aptly named Richard and Amanda Peacock.

Instead, I had to read about the Peacock's "lifestyle liquidation" in yesterday's Wall Street Journal.

First off, their ocean front digs were 10,000 square feet chock full of stuff. Stuff like:

...leopard-skin chairs, pinball machines, antique Coca-Cola signs and six sports cars. It had a room full of 100 hunting trophies -- including a hyena and the head of an elephant -- and an aviary out back housing eight rare parrots...

The couple designed much of the furniture themselves, including the gold and leopard-skin dining-room chairs.

"Richard likes leopard skin, and I like gold, so it was the perfect match," says Mrs. Peacock.

(Something tells me that these folks weren't at the rare and precious intersection of money and good taste.)

Mr. Peacock's fortune came through real estate, so he's fallen on hard times. That and a recent bout with cancer prompted the couple to downsize. (Peacock maintains that it's the latter rather than the former that's really behind the sale.)

"We don't need all this stuff anymore," he says, adding that the couple plans to buy a cabin in the Blue Mountains. "It's time to simplify."

We don't need all this stuff anymore?

Did they actually have a need at one time for a life-sized statue of Bart Starr, a life-sized statue of Muhammed Ali, and a $6ooK motor coach home? An in-house barber shop, an aviary, a waterfall, a tiki bar? Not to mention all those hunting trophies - wildebeest, baboon - that came from somewhere, but not from the blunderbuss of Jungle Richard Peacock, who doesn't hunt.

Alas, the low-end merchandise went - a Pennzoil sign for $75, a wildebeest hunting trophy for $250 - but the high end stuff was underbid.

The offer for the motor home was under the water of the $200K owed on it.

The Peacock's wanted to jettison their Ferrari - which only has 5,000 miles on it - but not for the chump-change offer of $110,000.

There are a number of auction outfits specializing in these types of rich-folk sales, which one auctioneer characterized as  "going minimalist." (Somehow, I suspect that the householder with the 70 motorcycles that Accelerated Marketing Group helped unburden has a different definition of 'going minimalist' than I do. I suspect that those with gold and leopard skin packed mansions would consider the way most of us common folks live the equivalent of the sack-cloth life of a 9th century Irish monk in a stone hut in the Blasket Islands.)

Jim Gall - coiner of the 'going minimalist' phrase - runs Auction Company of America.

"It's the financing and debt that pushes these people to the wall. But they're also saying that they've had it with buying and collecting. It's like a great purging."

(Binge. Purge. Talk about an unhealthy lifestyle.)

For the Peacocks, that financing and debt ain't nothing. They owe $2.2 on the main mansion, another $1M on the four-bedroom casita they camped out in while the real deal was being built. The Big House costs $100K a year for maintenance, alone. (That's indoor and outdoor, which must include dusting Bart Starr and the fanged baboon head in the guest bedroom.)

Anyway, the Peacocks' decision to end their oh-so-peacockian lifestyle came a scant four months after they moved into their dream house. Unable to easily unload the house once they put it on the market this winter, they decided to go for broke (metaphorically speaking), and brought in Kruse International to sell both houses and their no longer needed "stuff."

Alas, they were only able to unload about 500 pieces of "stuff", bringing in a paltry $300K - further paltricized once they forked over $200K for Kruse and other sale expenses.

Bidding on the main house was too low, so the Peacocks stopped the sale. And since they didn't want to rattle around their stuff-unstuffed house, they also withdrew the objets that hadn't moved. (There's need and then there's need.)

"Nobody's spending money right now," said Mr. Peacock, sitting under the tent with his head buried in his hands. "I guess we'll try to just keep hanging on."

Well, Mr. Peacock, you may be right that nobody's spending money, although I will tell you that I have a use-it-or-lose-it $10 coupon for LL Bean that's burning a hole in my pocket. But the real problem may well be that the era during which some people with way too much money went into a frenzy kitting out their mega-homes with life sized statues of Bart Starr is over.

We're all going minimalist now. Sounds like a good idea to me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How to value your empire (one more lesson learned from The Donald)

Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported on the technique that Donald Trump uses to establish his worth. He's had to come forth with this info as part of a defamation suit he's bringing against Timothy O'Brien for the 2005 book (TrumpNation) in which O'Brien cited anonymous sources that pegged The Donald's wealth at between $150M and $250M. (Note: access to this article may require a subscription to The WSJ. I have one, and I actually put a value on it well in excess of the $90/year I pay.)

Trump claims that O'Brien way low-balled his wealth, which Trump places in the billions, and claims that the book so damaged his rep that he lost out on a couple of deals.

We could all learn a lot from The Donald on worth setting, which is revealed in the deposition he made as part of his suit. For starters, he doesn't waste any time on flim-flams like mark to market. Instead, he sometimes uses what he calls "mental projections", and acknowledges that feelings matter:

"My net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feeling," he told lawyers in the December 2007 deposition.

Here are some of the areas in which Trump has used feelings, and other more or less subjective techniques for wealth "creation":

  • When declaring his worth, he throws in $1B or so for "brand value."
  • In equating a 30% limited partnership interest in one Manhattan project with more than 50% ownership, Trump said that not having to put cash into the deal, and getting paid management fees for the project's buildings, lets him comfortably round the number up. ("'In my own mind I've always felt that," he said. "That 30% is equated to 50%."', later upping the ante to 50%+.)
  • If the Trump name is on the door through a licensing agreement, Trump tends to think himself into owning. ('"I would say that it could be interpreted to be a form of ownership in the building."')
  • He values his position in a golf-course in NJ as $120M (over time), even though the course lost $4.6M in 2005. Forget back of a napkin, forget spreadsheets. Trump figured out that $120M value via mental projections.

Anything that places his wealth at less than multiple billions is "'ridiculous.'" (Deutsche Bank, those trimmers, estimated his worth at a bit under $800M.)

Trump acknowledges that he may exaggerate a bit ("'Who wouldn't?'"), but does not do so "'beyond reason.'"

At one point during the deposition, Mr. Trump explained the importance of putting his projects in the best light possible. "Would you like me to say, oh, gee, the building is not doing well, blah, blah, blah, come by, the building -- nobody talks that way. Who would ever talk that way?"

Trump is forecasting that he will prevail in his suit, adding hundreds of millions of dollars to his fortune (whatever that fortune might or might not be). And, of course, there's the cover boy status in The WSJ, that's got to be worth plenty.  (I didn't see the print edition, but I bet he had one of those nifty little pointillist drawings of himself. I'm jealous!)

I will acknowledge that, whether Donald Trump is worth in the billions or in the hundreds of millions, he is worth a lot more than I am now or ever will be (unless, of course, he goes completely belly-up). But, I do believe there's some important psychological and ego-boosting value to be had from following Trump's method, so I'm going to test it out a bit here.

First off, there's our 1980's kitchen. You know the kind: almond laminate cabinets with oak trim. Some might assert that it takes $50-100K off of the value of our condo. I'll venture to say that, properly positioned - retro look, Smithsonian-quality - it could actually add value. Ka-ching!

And speaking of condos, we may only have a 15.4% interest in our building, but we are actually the only owners who actually live there. Because of the proprietary interest my husband and I take in the place - making sure the cleaning people clean, letting in the elevator repair man, planting tulips, and taking care of the paper recycling for the lazy-beyond-belief tenants -  I'll put forth here that our 15.4% equates to 30% easy, maybe even 50%.

Then there's my blog. It may appear to be worth zilch now, but if I do a mental projection, it could be worth a lot, which I'll add into the Maureen Rogers brand value and call $1M.

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling a lot better about my wealth now that I did just a New York minute ago. And I haven't even gotten into the value of my possessions.

The steer horns that hung in my grandfather's saloon. My grandmother's cookie jar. My father's Pendleton shirt. The fabulous sweater I bought for myself on my 40th birthday, that's still going strong. The poster we got from the street artist in Berlin when The Wall fell in 1989.

Not to mention my health. And friends and family. And access to ZipCar. Tickets for an upcoming Red Sox game. The ability to solve difficult Sudokus. More umbrellas than I can shake an umbrella at....

Damn! I am rich.

Maybe not TrumpNation rich, but rich nonetheless.

(Try it - it's easy. Wheeeee.......)


Does this mean The Recession's over?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Web Based Processor: I think I'll pass

Occasionally, I enjoy a nice slice of spam, and I'm always on the lookout for "interesting" jobs, so I was delighted to get an e-mail from "Rachel Jean Morris" - sent with warm regards - inviting me to consider becoming a "Web Based Processor" for "streaming video distribution" of an "outstanding instructional video" offering "serious help and solutions for consumers in the midst of this [extreme mortgage] crisis."

Well, my mind just went wild trying to figure out what a Web Based Processor does - especially because I was too scaredy-cat to click through to the URL that Rachel Jean so thoughtfully provided.

We do have to be ever so careful these days, and I was afraid that once I clicked through, I'd be asked for personal and confidential information about myself, and - even though I'm a blogger - I am the private, reclusive type. Or it might ask me to invest a tidy sum in the video so that I could set up shop as a purveyor of said video - and, frankly, I don't want to be a video purveyor, even one that does help the common man or woman who's gotten themselves hooked on the horns of the subprime mortgage crisis. I'm just no darned good at sales.

Or I feared that I might end up in one of those demon sites that take possession of your computer and require you to quickly untether and remove your battery to get out of. I seem to be linking to an inordinate number of those these days, as I find myself in that devil's workshop of googling interesting things in the news about hockey mom embezzlers, and used car lot scam artists, and honeymooners falling overboard on cruise ships.

Now, I know that, given how warm Rachel Jean was in her regard for me that nothing untoward was likely to happen.

Still, how do I know that some nefarious person hasn't seized her g-mail address and started blasting out yucky stuff?

Other than that, I seem to fit the bill for what they're looking for in a Web Based Processor - even though I can't figure out exactly what processors do, given that oh so much is automated these days...

But I do want to pass on the information about what Rachel Jean is looking for, given the "urgent need" her company has - so urgent that they haven't even had time to come up with a company site and e-mail address, and are stumbling along with g-mail. Rachel's looking for folks who:

..are ambitious, are organized and can work without supervision.

I'll admit, I'm a woman of pretty modest ambitions at this point in my career - just looking for interesting work, on interesting products, with interesting people, in interesting companies that are willing to pay an interesting enough amount to get things done.

But I am reasonably organized, and can definitely work without supervision, as evidenced by 2+ years of blogging with absolutely no supervision whatsoever, other than the occasional stray e-mail from a disappointed fan when I forget to post.

But two out of three ain't bad, so I'm guessing that "organized" and "work without supervision" trump "ambitious."

Thus, I'll assume that if you have the majority of the attributes Rachel Jean is looking for: can work today with us.

Plus, "no experience is required," which is a good thing, given that I can't figure out what a Web Based Processor does, so I can't be certain one way or another whether I actually do have experience.

And I like the sound of this:

This is an easy, profitable and very rewarding opportunity
because the work pays very well, the work can be performed from home or anywhere, and the work can fit any schedule.

Certainly, now that I'm carless, work from anywhere is a big plus. I also like things that I can do while watching a Red Sox game, which I'm hoping I could do as a Web Based Processor, since I am a parallel processor of sorts.

There's also an apparently significant side benefit:

...all of our Assistants will have access to the video for their own personal benefit and unlimited viewing.

Okay, I don't have a mortgage, let alone a mortgage in crisis, but I do like to watch videos, and have been known to enjoy certain movies multiple times - although nothing to the degree of my husband, who seems to be able to watch the same movie once a week or so, if he really likes it, where I'm more or less a once-a-year kind of gal. So, maybe if I do become an Assistant - which is, I guess, the same as being a Web Based Processor - I can give the video to Jim for unlimited viewing and personal benefit, although he obviously doesn't have a mortgage in crisis either, at least not one that I'm aware of.

Or course, to demonstrate that I am trustworthy, I would check with Rachel Jean to make sure it's okay to share this video with my husband, given that we are related and use the same TV and video player (which, frankly, I don't know how to use: I just stick with Pay Per View).

Rachel Jean does urge me to "register and see the results."

But, as I explained, much as I would like to promulgate this cause, I really don't want to click on that url, which is why I'm not including it here. I'm sure someone as warmly regarding as Rachel Jean will understand.

Anyway, I'm pretty busy right now, but I will save Rachel Jean's address. You never know when a lucrative position as a Web Based Processor will come in handy. Here it is, in case you need the work right now:

I wonder if you get the job whether you need to have this sort of official e-mail address, or can use your own g-mail addresses - just until this company slows down for a minute and gets themselves a website. I do like the sound of "mercustomerserviceassistant", however. Hope it's not taken, in which case I can throw my Confirmation name in there "memrcustomerserviceassistant."

I did try to do some due diligence on this outfit, but all I came up with was a reference on SpamDuJour. My first reaction was, 'gosh, what a cynic' to suspect a warmly regarding person like Rachel Jean Morris of spamming. And my second one, I will admit, was to be a little resentful that this person was offered the opportunity a full month ago! What am I? Some second-rater? Do you really think SpamDuJour would make a better Web Based Processor than I would? Is it because I'm not that ambitious?

Rachel Jean, please, please, please, I'm warmly begging of you: please let me know if you really think I could make it in this position. I'd like your assurances that my invite coming a month later is just a function of last name alphabetical, and not anything personal.

Warm regards,

Maureen Elizabeth Rogers

Friday, May 15, 2009

Warning: opening the office fridge may be hazardous to your health

Like anyone else who's ever cleaned out the old office fridge, I read with keen interest the recent article on the seven workers hospitalized after a clean-out at AT&T in San Jose. It seems that the fumes that were released when a potent combo of old lunch and disinfectant began wafting through the halls were a bit on the toxic side. Twenty-eight folks experienced nausea and vomiting, and seven of them had it so bad they went to the hospital. (Source: AP article on Yahoo.)

Ah, the office fridge clean out...Definitely not something I hold one scintilla of nostalgia for.

I remember one Saturday when I decided that enough was enough and decided to empty the fridge of all those science experiments and cures for the common cold lodged in the back of the shelves.

Vile is not the word for what I found.

At first, I felt compelled to open and look in every Tupperware container, every pizza box, every Chinese-takeout carton, every yogurt container - all those May of last years, when it was May of this year.

But I soon gave up on that, and began chucking anything that was behind the front row out.

Fortunately, one of the techies was working that day, and he pitched in with the pitching out.

This bluff and socially awkward coder was one of my all time favorites. At one point, he was the only engineer working on a custom-client project with me. When the customer came by, I introduced Bill as the "lead programmer on the project." Bill snorted, "Lead engineer! I'm the only engineer."

Technically, he was right, but we were using code that other guys had worked on, plus I was - God help us - doing some coding of report templates. 

Another favorite episode with this fellow involved the appearance of our absentee president at a company meeting. We had been acquired, and were merged in under a division of the acquiring company that was located in Philadelphia. The guy who ran that division was named our president. Curiously, months passed and John Z never bothered to fly up to see us. Finally, the great day - and the great man - arrived, and we were assembled for an all-hands meeting. Without introducing himself, John Z began speaking. Bill's hand shot up.

"Yes?" John Z asked  - clearly not thrilled by an interruption, given that he was just warming up.

"Sir, could you please identify yourself," said Bill.

"I'm John Z," John Z Said.

Bill nodded his head. "Thank you. I thought so."

One of those great moments in management skewering.

But back to the office fridge.

The Saturday clean-out I did with Bill wasn't the last, wasn't the first, but was - hands down - the very worst.

The company had a "Friday Party" tradition that, in addition to beer and wine (and, in the early days, a couple of joints), featured snacks from all the major food groups: grease, fat, sugar, and salt. Anything perishable that wasn't consumed on the spot was shoved into the fridge. Mostly, it got eaten by the weekend warriors, but there were always things that ended up in the dark and dangerous reaches of the back: shards of pizza, poorly wrapped pepperonis, onion dip, stale sheet cake... There it was joined by expired yogurts, half-eaten cartons of soup from Uncle Bunny's (the take out place next door), half-eaten Greek salads from Friendly's Eating Place across the street.

Over time, all this gunk turned into a weeping and/or desiccated and/or mold-sprouting and/or life-forming stew, seeping out or or curled up in its container or baggie of origin.

Bill and I filled at least two mega garbage bags of spoiled food, which Bill, bless him, ferried out to the dumpster.

Neither one of us was overtaken with the fumes, but I don't think I used anything too chemical-ly to clean out the fridge's innards. I probably gave it a swipe with dish-soapy water and put an opened box of Arm and Hammer in there.

Same place, different techie....

There was an unbearable smell emanating from a back, dead-end corridor. It was a corridor where the hardest core of the techies worked. No one ever went down there; the techies seldom ventured out.

That terrible smell? Had one of the techies died, and we hadn't noticed?

Our intrepid office manager went to investigate.

What she found was a suppurating mass of rotted yams.

Mike kept a giant bag o' yams in his office, and baked one up in the microwave every few hours.

Somehow, he hadn't noticed that the yams at the bottom of the bag had done an Irish potato famine on him: black and blighted.

Yesterday, I opened the fridge at the Writers' Room of Boston. It's a tiny, half fridge, and people are mostly good about not leaving stuff in there. We solved a big problem a couple of years ago when we decided that, after a function, we wouldn't put any perishable leftovers in there. Now, if no one takes the hummus, celery, or grapes home, we chuck them out.

But occasionally there's small, potentially odiferous problem.

I was putting my yogurt and orange in the fridge when I decided to take a look at a container of yogurt that I believe I'd been seening in there for quite some time I knew it wasn't mine - I'm Stoneyfield, not Colombo - and I decided to check the date.

It had only been expired for a month, and I couldn't smell anything yet. But I didn't want to take any chances: out it went.

Who'd eat yogurt that's 30 days past it's sell-by date, anyway?

It's not just techies who are expiration-date challenged, I guess.

Some offices, I've noticed, have a 'gone by Friday or tossed out' rule.

I suspect that something like this will be enacted out at AT&T in San Jose, once the felled employees are back to work.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Now you're talking: Rolls-Royce heads downmarket

Well, it's all not bad news out there.

For those of us who peeked at our 401K's and realized that we can no longer cash it out and treat ourselves to a Rolls-Royce Phantom, comes the exhilarating news that RR is bringing out a lower end motor car: the Rolls-Royce Ghost. I know I'm not alone in my excitement. There are, after all, an awful lot of us languishing in automotive no-man's land between Kia and Bugatti. And here we have the opportunity to snap up Ghost with the ultra friendly price of $255K. When you compare that to a Phantom - which goes for about $450K - we're really talking about a car that reflects the new economic reality, in which the average bloke's retirement savings and/or house is off by about 40%. How cool - and thoughtful - is that?

Head's up product marketing for Rolls-Royce, I'd say.

Just as the Tom Joad heap, packed to the gills with Okies and headed to California, was the emblematic vehicle of The Great Depression, we'll have the Ghost. I am so liking it

I hope the Ghost uses the Spirit of Ecstasy as its hood ornament. And that you don't have to settle for it in stainless, but can bespoke yourself into a sterling or solid gold one. Sure, the Spirit might look a bit like a slightly moreimage solid White Rock girl, but, let's face it, since Chief Pontiac was retired as a hoodie in the way back - and I guess we won't be seeing him back again, now that Pontiac has been deep-sixed as a brand -  there really haven't been very many interesting hood ornaments out there, have there?

Sure, there's the Jaguar's jaguar, but I always found that kind of toy-like. It never said "car" to me, it said "cat."

And what's with Mercedes and their peace sign? No offense to Germany - you guys have been ultra-schön for the last 60+ years, and I'll give you a tip of the old homburg for that - but we're going to accept a peace sign from the country that gave us a couple of world wars?

So, I do hope that the Rolls' Ghost sticks with the Spirit of Ecstasy.

And, while I do realize that something has to give, and you get what you pay for, I hope they don't scrimp on the interior, either.

I like knowing that the hides of 18 bulls go into the leather innards of the Phantom. After all, as the Rolls-Royce FAQ's tell us, bull hides don't "suffer from stretch mark and other blemishes that are naturally found in some cow hides."

Sure, I know that those cows got those stretch marks honestly, and are probably even more than a little proud of them, if there's such a thing as bovine pride. But who wants to sit on stretch-marked leather. And I'm not being sexist here, either.

I hope they don't sacrifice the run-flat tyres, either.

I've got to admit it, I've never had to change a tire. Frankly, that's what AAA and gas stations are for. And I'm not about to start figuring out which end of a jack is up at this point in my life. So knowing I could travel 100 miles at 50 m.p.h. on a couple of flat-ties. I'm down with that.

So, before I head to my credit union to see what kind of a rate I can get on a car loan, I do want to check out some of those make or break fine points on the Ghost. I don't take car-ship lightly, as anyone who saw me rolling in my rented Ford Focus earlier this week can attest.  My purchase devil will be in the details.

Which means that if the Ghost turns out to be not quite what I'm looking for, a mere spectral presence when compared with the Phantom, I might just hang out, wait for the market to come back, and shoot for the real deal.


Link to Rolls-Royce Motor Car FAQ's.

I originally read about the Ghost, and got the info on prices, in the always excellent Economist (May 9).

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Decisions, decisions. The truly ghastly task of coming up with the lay-off list.

Last week, I read an article in The Times on how tough it is for the management team in small companies to decide who gets the pink slip, and the "emotional toll" the decisions, and the lay-offs themselves, can exact. After all, in a small company, you're apt to know everyone personally, and to know their personal story.

There is no denying that, unless you an unusually hard-hearted, misanthropic jerk, deciding who goes and who stays, and relaying the news to them, is exceedingly difficult.

In my career, I've known only one person who seemed to actually relish the task. The hard-hearted, misanthropic jerk I have in mind informed an employee that he was being let go while that employee was in a neo-natal ICU, hoping that his newborn son would make it. This was when I worked for a company that specialized in piecemeal, under-the-radar lay-offs, hoping that if they didn't do anything fell swoop, the information wouldn't leak out that they were doing lay-offs. So there was nothing that all- fired important about making sure that this guy was laid off on any particular day. This could have waited.

But management has to make tough decisions all the time, don't they?

What made this one so odious was that, after the manager got off the phone with the stunned employee, he smirked and told a friend of mine, "I really enjoyed doing that."

I've known a couple of managers who seemed to have a rather steely indifference to the act of picking, choosing, and informing, but that may have been a protection mechanism.

No, the only person I can think of who expressed actual joy in the task is the one guy I've mentioned here.

But I think that the "emotional toll" has nothing to do with whether you're in a large or small company. It's exacted on whoever it is that is involved in the actual naming of names. Because, when it comes right down to it, there's little or no difference between sitting in a 50 person company and deciding who's dispensable, and sitting in a 50 person group in a 5,000 person company and doing the same.

Just like the folks at Ram Tool, the Wisconsin company profiled in The Times article, you're making decisions about the lives and livelihoods of people you know, some of whom you care for deeply, and many of whom you know way too many personal details about.

At Ram Tool, the management team:

...debated each name and weighed issues like seniority and skills. Could they do multiple jobs? What was their attendance record?

Well, that's been pretty much the process when I've been involved in lay-off decisions, small company/big company. The only difference is that, in a big company, you've likely been handed a number - an expense and/or headcount figure that has to be met. So you go through your lists and figure out how to meet it.

You tell each other that personal issues shouldn't enter into things, that you have to do what's "right" for the company, but how do you make the decision when there's a tie?

Do you let G go because he's single, and save L because her husband just lost his job? Do you lay-off N, who's just announced she's pregnant and who you're pretty sure from things she's said, plans on quitting once her maternity leave is up? What about S? He's good, but everyone knows his wife has a big fat job. What they may not know, and you may not want to mention because it was told to you in confidence, is that S and his wife are supporting his parents, who just got wiped out financially.

Some lay-off decisions are easy to make. Let's face it, if you had a hunch that lay-offs are coming, you've probably sand-bagged a couple of performance problems you should have taken care of. Those decisions are easy - even though the can still be nastily difficult. Sure, P deserves to go, but he'll lose his visa. And M is in over her head, that's for sure, but she's a good kid who works hard and she just bought a condo....

God, I do not envy anyone who's making the lay-off decisions.

One thing to be sitting at the top, pronouncing off with their heads, when you don't actually know any of the folks in the tumbrels. Quite another thing when it's someone you work with every day, have lunch with, know and like.

I've put people I really cared about on lay-off lists and, for all the difference it made to the eventual outcome for the company (i.e., the death spiral continued), I sometimes think I should have hung on to the people I liked and sacrificed the higher performers who I wasn't quite so chummy with.

Making those decisions is hard; letting people know is even harder.

Ram Tool's Shelly Polum put on her "'stone-cold face'", went onto the shop floor, and told the folks who were losing their jobs that they were done.

When it was over, trying to maintain her composure, she rushed back to her office and shut the door quickly.

Then she sank to the floor and burst into tears.

“It was a rush of emotions,” Mrs. Polum said later. “I think what really hit me was, I wanted this to be the last time. Is this enough? Is this the end? I guess I hoped this was the last time I have to do this.”

I know exactly how Shelly Polum feels, and I, too, hope that this is the last time she has to do this. One of the best things about free-lancing is that I know for a fact that I'll never have to do it again. Just another one of the joyous bennies of working for yourself.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Norman the Nutria: as if I needed another reason to stay out of WalMart

Well, it's been a while since I've weighed in on WalMart, but they really do seem to be an endless source of blog fodder, that's for sure. The latest is a Louisiana woman who's suing Wall-e because she was scared by a nutria that she maintains employees let run loose. (Source: AP article  seen on

Not familiar with the nutria, the ragin' cajun rodent with the yellow-y orange-y buck teeth? Well, they have their very own website, courtesy of Louisiana's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, where I learned that the first nutrias were imported from South America in the 1930's in hopes of building up a fur industry.  The fur industry never materialized, perhaps because folks were a bit skittish about wearing rodent pelts, and the nutrias somehow made their way into the Lousiana wetlands, which they are ravaging.

To help with the wetland ravaging, I do believe that some Louisianans tried to get people to eat these little critters. I seem to recall a while back Chef Paul Prudhomme was cooking up some mighty tasty nutria dishes, which might just be the most stomach roiling food idea coming from that state since the turducken.

But, as so often happens, I digress.

As it happens, along with ravaging the wetlands, and substituting for chicken in gumbo, nutrias - at least in the Abbeville, LA WalMart  outpost - have taken on a new role as store pet.

Sure, I suppose the nutria could have just found its way into the store that very day, drawn like every other shopper by the bright lights and low prices. But Rebecca White claims that employees absolutely knew there was a nutria on the loose, and had even given it a name, Norman.

When White was pushing her shopping cart down an aisle, Stormin' Norman appeared from behind a rack. The startled White, "in a panicked attempt to protect herself" pulled her laden cart over her foot, injuring her foot and back. She is seeking "compensation for pain, suffering, mental anguish, fear, disabling injuries, and medical expenses," including a bill for surgery she required.

Who knows where this one will end up, but I wouldn't want to be the employee of the Abbeville WalMart who named the little beast instead of calling an exterminator and/or the Louisiana Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. I don't imagine the Bentonville will look to kindly on one of their low wage peons, errrr associates, out in the hustings deciding that a nutria - with or without vest - would make a good greeter.

I can count the number of times I've been in a WalMart on one finger, maybe two.

There aren't all that many around here to begin with, and, as a carless city girl, I have no desire to rev on out of town looking for one. And even if I were to go WalMarting, this is Massachusetts, and the likelihood that a nutria would leap out at me from behind the everyday low price rack of football jerseys, or be seen lurking behind the boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese, is truly remote.

Still, if I do need another reason to stay out of WalMart, nutrias on the loose is on the list.

Monday, May 11, 2009

How not to apply for a job

I saw an article the other day on about some feckless slob out in Ohio who was nabbed for shoplifting because he filled in a job application before he left with the T-shirts and pants he'd just light-fingered stuffed under his shirt. When he was arrested, "he was ironing a pair of jeans he was accused of stealing."

He's now in jail awaiting trial, and I'm assuming there won't be a job in retail waiting for him when he gets sprung.

I suppose he just wanted to look his best, or that he was signaling that he was truly into the store: I not only want to work here, I want to let you know that your clothing is absolutely worth going to jail for.

The guy was 49, so you'd think he might have known better than to combine the shoplifting with applying for work, but perhaps he wanted to demonstrate his ability to do parallel processing. This is an undervalued skill, seemingly absent in retail, where most clerks appear capable of doing only one thing at a time, especially when that one thing is yakking with a fellow clerk while avoiding all and any eye contact with the shopper who's actually interested in buying something. (Okay, I guess that technically carrying on a conversation while avoiding eye contact could be considered doing two things simultaneously....All I can say is most retail clerks are past masters of the art.)

Another thing that suggests he might have been a pretty good candidate for retail work was that he was ironing those jeans. Neatness counts, and I'm sure any retail establishment would be delighted to have someone who'd pay real attention to niceties like straightening up the sweater shelves.

On balance, however, weighing the ability to parallel process, and a certain retail-friendly fussiness, against the likelihood that the guy would have his hand in the till, will likely doom any possibility of a career in retail.

There are, of course, many things that you can do to guarantee that you don't get the job.

One is letting the person interviewing know that what you really want is their job, and not the job that is under discussion. Of course, you may think that you're smart enough to get it, but if you were really smart, you'd wait until you started working there before mounting your campaign to take your manager's job. Yes, the truly savvy candidate for the job conducts himself/herself in a very different fashion during the interview, brown-nosing just a teensy bit about everything he or she can learn from you, oh master/mistress of the universe. Then, once the hiring manager succumbs to your charms and makes you the offer, you are free to start plotting away. (And yes, all these years later, dear A., I am revealing for the first time why you didn't get the job. I am, of course, not above googling, so I see from your LinkedIn profile that you have not yet attained the lofty position of director, let alone VP of marketing. So don't hold your breath waiting for me to suggest that we link up.)

Another way to guarantee that you won't get the job is to enter the interview on the attack. Yes, that's you, the guy who applied for the job of VP of Development - the one whose name I can't recall but who looked an awful lot like Mr. Bean - and who may be wondering who blackballed him, since he did seem to think he aced every interview. But you didn't ace mine, buddy boy.

See, the way to the Marketing VP's heart is not to start the interview out by telling her, point by point, how crappy the new company website is. Not that I'm so thin-skinned about criticism, but there are ways to get your point across, and then there are ways not to. Ways not to include launching into a rant about how silly you think the approach was. Ways to might have been saying something like, 'your website certainly has some novel aspects to it; what made you decide to go that route.' Then I would have known that you thought it was dumb, and you would have known that I knew that you thought it was dumb, but I might have said to myself, 'this guy has an interesting point of view, and he might be good to work with', rather than my deciding that you were a true, insensate cretin.

An opinion that was reinforced when you segued from a critique of the website into a critique of our collateral.

You know, pal, these are my products, not yours, so when you make some pointed pronouncement about how we left out some key pieces of data on the data sheet, I'm thinking "what the hell are you talking about." Especially when, as it turns out, you were looking at last year's collateral set, you schnook.

None of this would have been fatal to your candidacy, however, if you hadn't had a nifty little section at the top of your résumé that noted that one of your prime attributes was the diplomatic way you had about you, that little something that put you at the heart of resolving work conflicts, your uncanny knack for bringing all sides to a nirvana-like state of blissed-out agreement.

That's what did it for me.

So, let me tell you, you hadn't even finished up your interviews when I went down to the president's office and told him "over my dead body."

And that's why the wonderful, nice and truly diplomatic Bob got the job, rather than you, Mr.-Bean-look-alike.

Ah, there are so many ways not to apply for a job, aren't there?

Friday, May 08, 2009

Twiddling your thumbs on the trading floor

There was an article in The Wall Street Journal the other day on the decline of activity on the NYSE trading floor. No, it's not the lousy economy. Like so many other professions, floor traders are victim to automation: most of the trading volume on the Big Board moves electronically. (Note: access to source article may require a subscription.)

I'm a bit sorry to see these guys - and it is mostly guys - go. I always enjoyed seeing their mad gesturing and shouting, the scraps of paper on the floor, the cruddy little polyester jackets.

I've never been on the floor of the NYSE, but many years ago I got to spend a few minutes on the floor of AmEx and on that of the commodities exchange. This was in the 1980's, when Instinet and other electronic trading systems were being introduced, but most of the action was on the floor.

I got onto the AmEx floor when I worked for Wang: AmEx was a client. For the commodities exchange visit, I was a guest of a salesman at Interactive Data Corp who had a seat on the gold exchange and was allowed to take "civilians" onto the floor.

The commodities exchange was particularly frenetic. The pits for the different commodities were pretty much just areas blocked off by file cabinets (if I remember correctly). In the enclosure made by the cabinets, and perched on top of them, the traders were going nuts. I was exhausted just being there for a couple of minutes - there was an explicit (and small) number of minutes that those without a seat were allowed on the floor during trading hours. Believe me, I was happy to beat a retreat. I think I aged 10 years just walking around and being exposed to the insane level of activity. I don't even know if the pits exist anymore, or whether everything's gone electronic, but my visit there was definitely memorable.

Things have completely toned down on the NYSE floor from what they were in their heyday. To begin with, there are far fewer floor traders than there used be: the population has declined from over 1,000 in 2006 to a bit over 500. These days, the floor traders generally see action only at the opening and close of the trading day, when there's a complex trade that need special handling, or when there are problems that need to be ironed out. Even then, the traders are using electronic hand-helds - not slips of paper.

The switch has cut into the money that the traders make - and it also gives them big blocks of downtime.

So, what are they doing with it:

They're watching DVDs in the members' lounge - no surprise that Rambo and Wall Street are popular flicks. They're taking long, sometimes liquid, lunches. Mr. Mom-ming their kids around. Listening to their iPods. Taking online courses. Chatting about sports. Playing computer games. Surfing the web.

It's especially hard on the old timers, who still come in regularly and hang out in an area termed - in pure Wall Street style - Jurassic Park.

With so little going on , it's just not as much fun as it used to be:

"It's like coming into a funeral parlor each day," says Billy Blum, an institutional broker with W.J. Blum & Sons LLC.

One of the side-issues that's emerged from the decline in the floor activity is that the news media no longer have the iconic shots of "despondent traders, palm to forehead, express[ing] the pain and tumult of Wall Street's slide."

Well, that's what stock photos are for... (Another iconic shot that must be even harder to scare up these days is that of nuns in habits. Whenever I see old-timey nuns on the scene in a movie background, I know that they're fakers.)

With the shift to electronic trading, NYSE has become more efficient, and pricing has become more competitive - a win for investors, but a loss for those sentimental fools who value tradition and local color.

I feel a bit badly for the displaced traders - all that adrenaline, all that testosterone - with time on their hands. There is almost nothing worse than having nothing to do at work. But unlike some jobs I've had, they don't have to look busy. Their time is their own, and if they want to keep watching re-runs of Gordon Gekko rather than curl up with a good book, that's their choice.

When I've had boring, dead-time jobs, they've generally been the kind where you're not allowed to sit down, and you have to look perpetually busy.

As a sales clerk, there's only so much merchandise straightening you can do, and when I worked retail, I was often relegated to standing there trying to keep myself from going nuts by doing things like extract the square root of my Social Security number or figuring out all the 4- and 5-letter words I could make out of the letters in my name. (Answer: plenty.)

The waitress jobs I had demanded that, if we were on the clock - making some munificent sum like $1.15/hour - we had to be wiping down tables, filling salt shakers, or standing around at attention. The complete recipe for developing a cigarette sneaking habit, that's for sure. At Durgin Park (an ancient Boston tourist-trap), when there were no patrons, we had to hull strawberries. One time, I got in an argument with a diner who insisted that the strawberries on the shortcake were frozen. I held out my fingers, which were still stained red from the afternoon's hulling efforts. I won the argument, but got a lousy tip.

During my professional career, there have been a few brief periods - generally in the run-up to some major reorganization and/or lay-off - when real work dried up. Well, there's only so much rumor-mongering you could do in a day, and I had a few times when I had to completely create make-work for myself so that I wouldn't go batty.

These days, of course, my down-time and up-time are my own - and I seldom find myself so bored that I feel the need to whip out a pen and paper and figure out the square root of my SSN. But I just might do it some day. Not that the information will ever come in handy, but it's not a bad idea to keep those mental skills finely honed...

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Mr. and Ms. Fix-it

It seems like every time I pick up a (virtual) newspaper these days, there's an article on how repair shops are prospering during downtimes.  Folks are trying to get another 20,000 miles out of their old clunker, another 2,000 pages out of their old printers, and another 200 shirts out of their old iron.

I grew up in an era when, if something broke, it got fixed - not replaced. So this focus on fixing-it is yet another example of what's old is suddenly new again. (Similar to when names like Hazel and Oscar come back into fashion.)

When I was a kid, we had a TV repairman who made regular calls on the Rogers household to keep the TV going. Yes, we did get new TV's over the years - that original tiny-screen job was followed up by one with a much larger screen. But something had to be on its last legs before it got replaced.

I remember being quite jealous of my friends who had colored television. Most shows were in black and white, but they could watch Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color and Bonanza and appreciate first hand that Joe Cartwright wore green and Adam Cartwright wore black.

My father's big statement on the matter was that we'd get a color TV when color TV was as good as the technicolor in the movies.

Well, that didn't happen in his lifetime. (We did get a color TV within a couple of years of his death in 1971 - likely because the old TV was completely kaput.)

Joe May, the TV repairman, wasn't the only repair guy in the 'hood.

There was a electronics repair shop around the corner that fixed lamps and small appliances, and also sold lightbulbs. The man who ran this shop lived with his uncle across the street from my grandmother's (where we lived until I was 7, when we moved around the corner). He must have brought home the junk that couldn't be repaired, because as kids we used to sneak into their garage - an old stable, really, where the uncle had at one point kept a race horse named Billy Direct - and seeing all these old radios there. I still remember the wonderful odor of radio tubes!

Down the street a bit, in Webster Square, McEarchern's (pronounced Mc-GEK-rins) was our cobbler. I remember Mr. McEarchern as an old geezer. I don't remember a brogue, but he sure dressed like an immigrant: scally cap, suit with white shirt buttoned up to the collar but no tie....In addition to repairing shoes, McEarchern's sold sneakers, and it was there each summer that we got our PF Flyers. There wasn't much of a selection, and I remember being crestfallen one year when I had to get red instead of blue.

One year, I had a terrible blister, and had to get a special, outsized pair of sneakers -  maybe even during the off-season - and the only pair that fit was a red-yellow-black-and-white crazy quilt pattern Oy! Was I happy to see that blister burst.

We brought our broken iron to the iron-repairman, also in Webster Square. His side line was something called the "Iron Caddy" that he'd invented. If I recall correctly, it held your iron upright and out of danger of getting knocked over while it was still plugged in and burning your house down.

The only item that seemed to resist the repair-it mentality of this era - the 50's and 60's - seemed to have been, weirdly, the automobile. Most folks got a new car every two years or so. To hang on to a car for longer than this made you a complete oddity. I had a couple of friends with weird old cars - i.e., cars from the early 1950's, which by the late 1950's/early 1960's looked almost like they came from the flivver era. The Hurleys, who lived across the street from my grandmother, were almost un-American in hanging on to their 1940's car - the navy blue coat of paint was so ancient that it looked like the iridescent rainbows you saw in gas slicks. My mother's friend Jane had a Studebaker, but she was a widow so it was understood that she couldn't get a new car every couple of years. There was also one kid in our school whose family drove a pre-war car. Amazing! He and his mother lived with his grandparents, and I remember his grandfather driving the family to Mass every Sunday. (On top of being saddled with this old car, this kid was saddled with an old-fashioned name: Oscar. I hope that he survived these double mortifications and has enjoyed a happy and successful adulthood.)

But other than cars, things got repaired. The notion of built-in obsolescence was not yet articulated, let alone taken for granted  - let alone considered a natural, even desirable, engine of our economy and of civilization as we know it.

My personal repair track record is a bit mixed.

I have owned very few cars in my lifetime, but the ones that I did have were repaired until they were headed for the metaphorical glue factory. I had an old Honda that quite literally died in the lot of the car dealer when I was bringing it in to trade in (value: $100) for a much needed new car.

With cars, until it got to the point of repair exceeding the value of the car - and then some -  it always made more sense to throw an extra $1K under the hood once or twice a year to keep the car on the road.

Shoe repaid, I'm down with. There's a cobbler around the corner, and I bring my shoes in regularly for new soles and heels - at least the ones that have soles and heels that are worth fixing. Our cobbler is an older guy, an Albanian immigrant, I think, and I'll have to find a new one when he closes up shop.

As for appliances, for the most part - other than with computers - I wouldn't know where to begin to look for someone to fix a boombox, hairdryer, or toaster oven. The cost of these items is so small that I just toss something that was no longer working and buy new. But it has to be non-working, really non-working.  My boombox (15 years old?) takes some cajoling to get it to work. I have to start most CD's at least 3 or 4 times, and lean on the lid to get it to pick up.

But sometimes appliances do die, and then and only then do I leave them in the recycle bin. Half the time someone picks them up. Good luck to them!

Lamps are the one thing I do know how to fix myself, and I've rewired every lamp we own at some point.

As for major appliances, our ancient (relatively: c. 1985) dishwasher and stove are both in good working order, though I do suppose we'll replace when they go - as we did with our old fridge, which was so humid on the inside that it could turn a solid cucumber to a suppurating mess within minutes of putting it in the veggie bin.

Maybe it's just me, but TV's don't appear to break anymore. We've given away a couple when we (i.e., my husband) wanted to trade up.

I have done PC upgrades when it made sense to, but sometimes it just doesn't. I do regret not trying to repair our older, industrial strength laser-jet - but someone scooped it out of our trash, so I don't feel that guilty. Since then, we've gone with cheaper printers that we've unecologically tossed once they stop working.

We share a communal washer-dryer, and have had the repairman in several times for the washer. The last time we decided it would be stupid to pay another $200 to keep the washer going, but damned if that last $200 repair hasn't given us another year+ on the old washer. So maybe when the time comes, we'll do it again. Our dryer was on the fritz a few weeks ago, but our Mr. Fix-it neighbor, and fellow condo owner, Joe was able to diagnose and fix it. (Lint build-up in the innards.) So we won't have to replace that for a while.

From a planet-sustaining point of view, repairing our goods seems to make a lot of sense - better that than that they end up in landfills or in that big blob of yuck that's floating in the Pacific Ocean. But from an economic perspective, repairing doesn't always make sense. Last year I bought my $90 watch to the jewelers, where I was told that it would cost $100 to fix it. The decision was a no-brainer: tossed!

In truth, I'm not sure just what the right thing to do here is. If I'd had that watch repaired, I would have provided business to the watch repair guy - and at least partially saved the planet. On the other hand, by replacing it, I helped retail sales and people working all along the global supply chain.

Yikes! Life was much simpler in the old days, before we had so much money and so much stuff...