Friday, July 31, 2009

Hostess-san with the Mostest-san

I was completely intrigued by a recent NY Times story on Japan's hostessing profession.

Hostesses work in gentlemen's clubs, where they serve drinks, bat their eyes, make non-sexual nice, and in general pay all sorts of fawning attention on their customers - all for a pretty penny. (Pretty yenny?)

Hostesses - mostly young women whose lack of education, and general lack of opportunities, lands them in low-paid, dead-end jobs, but increasingly women who might have other opportunities, but now regard hostessing as a desirable, even glamorous, profession - can make $16 an hour or $16K per month, depending on their popularity and the caliber of the establishment where they work. Even the low end is more than most of them could make elsewhere.

Fawning over men has never been my cup of saki, but if a working girl can make $200K a year without being a working girl, why not?

Especially with a major recession on, the old view of hostessing as a non-respectable, one step remove from prostitution has fallen. The profession is now seen as a legitimate one.

In a 2009 survey of 1,154 high school girls, by the Culture Studies Institute in Tokyo, hostessing ranked No. 12 out of the 40 most popular professions, ahead of public servant (18) and nurse (22).

I have no idea whether the Culture Studies Institute is the equivalent of Boston Latin (i.e., an elite academic school) or Inner City High with gangs roving the halls and a drop out rate of 80%. But in either case, it's interesting that hostess surpasses public servant (bor-ing) and nurse (ewwwwww) in popularity.

But why not?

There's not just the big bucks to be earned. There's the fact that hostessing is seen as a gateway profession.

Yes, I'm sure that the gates swing in both directions, and that some of them move into touchy-feely fee-based services for gentlemen.

But some of the hostesses have attained star status. One ex-hostess has been elected to the Japanese Parliament. Some are working their way through college, or saving to start their own business. As one young woman observed, this is a profession for the young.  And there have been true "breakout" hostesses:

Young women are drawn nonetheless to Cinderella stories like that of Eri Momoka, a single mother who became a hostess and worked her way out of penury to start a TV career and her own line of clothing and accessories.

“I often get fan mail from young girls in elementary school who say they want to be like me,” said Ms. Momoka, 27, interviewed in her trademark seven-inch heels. “To a little girl, a hostess is like a modern-day princess.”

Well, those seven-inch heels may scream 'modern day princess', but I generally think of a princess as the pampered, not the pamper-ee.  And I'm betting that the average Japanese businessman falls a bit short of the standard definition of Prince Charming. Still, the hostesses do get to wear fancy dresses - if not puffy pink ballgowns. And, unlike geisha, they don't have to paint their faces white, play the shamisen, and live in a geisha house. (Okay, I admit, I had to look that shamisen thing up: it's three-stringed instrument that looks sort of like a tiny banjo with an elongated neck.)

Princess of no, hostessing is taking off:

Popular culture is also fueling hostessing’s popularity. TV sitcoms are starting to depict cabaret hostesses as women building successful careers. Hostesses are also writing best-selling books, be they on money management or the art of conversation.

A magazine that features hostess fashion has become wildly popular with women outside the trade, who mimic the heavily made-up eyes and big, coiffed hair.

According to the hostesses, who often end up doing all night par-taying with their customers, the biggest downside is the all night par-taying: drinking too much, smoking too much.

“It’s nice to be independent, but it’s very stressful,”[Serina]Hoshino said, speaking through a cloud of hair spray and cigarette smoke.

Drinking, smoking, hair spray, seven inch heels, all-nighters, and pretending that every word that falls from the lips of a drunken businessman is just fascinating. Talk about a profession that won't age well.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

It was only an RV, in old LAX...

When I was a child, one of my favorite books was Blue Willow, a novel about a girl whose father was an itinerant farm worker.

Daydreamer that I was (and probably because the protagonist was, like me, a blue eyed blonde), I spent plenty of time imagining that I was that little girl, and what it would be like to live in a camp for farm laborers.

Fortunately, I haven't had to find out. No Hoovervilles, no Tent Cities, no shanties in old shantytowns for me.

Lap of luxury, maybe not. But lap of solid, middle class comfort, indeed.

These days, there are plenty of folks, mostly men, who are living away from home - under fairly poor conditions - so that they can support their families, and not spend much of their earnings in the process. (In fact, a few weeks ago, I blogged about one such fellow.)

The LA Times reported recently on an encampment that's grown up in a parking lot at LAX, where:

100 trailers and motor homes that form a colony of pilots, mechanics and other airline workers.

Some of the fellows live relatively grandly - Jim Lancaster, a pilot for Alaska Airlines, whose "real home" (and wife) are in Washington State has a luxe rig known as the Chateau.

It has satellite TV, plush carpeting and walnut-stained cabinetry.  Lancaster's wife, a teacher in Seattle, likes the Chateau as well and occasionally flies down on Friday nights to explore Los Angeles over the weekend.

Lancaster is in his particular spot because of the financial troubles that Alaska Airlines in particular, and the airline industry in general, are experiencing. He was downsized from captain to first officer, losing 20% of his pay and his close-to-home assignments in the process.

On the other end, a younger, more junior Alaska first officer, Todd Swenson hangs his pilot cap in a small, cramped "metal box", complete with bathroom the size of an airplane lav. (All the comforts of work...)

The trailer's windows are blacked out with foil and brown paper bags so Swenson can sleep during the day. To muffle the constant din of aircraft, he bought a white-noise machine -- a small tape player with a recording that sounds like a washing machine.

For Swenson, living away from his wife and son is "the cost of being a pilot today."

And lest you think it's just employees of mutt, regional airlines who are suffering, Doug Rogers was a $35 an hour United Airlines mechanic working in Salt Lake City, where he still makes his "home home." Now he's a $30 an hour who, for the last seven years, has called a "26-foot camper built on a Ford truck chassis" his home away from home.

Sure the commute's ideal, but living in a camper, in a broiling parking lot, on the tarmac, with the constant roar of jet engines, can't be any picnic. But it's only $60 a month to rent a space, and there's a waiting list with 10 names on it.

The airport screens applicants. A few years ago, a couple of working girls - camper followers, as it were - moved in. There were other undesirables, including a few who tossed human waste on the pavement. (Apparently there were no "gutter your human" signs around. And perhaps no gutters, either.)

The bad parking lot dwellers were forced out, and the airport now has rules against what one might consider the potential niceties of camper life: no lawn furniture, no barbecues, no parties.

In many respects, of course, it's completely depressing to think of people living under such conditions.

Just the thought of no shade, no green, and all that shimmering jet fuel makes me twitch.

And don't get me going on race-to-the-bottom wages.  Sure, I want to pay $79 plane fare (round-trip) to somewhere far away, but I really would be happy to pay a few bucks more so that a first officer like Todd Swenson could make more than $70K a year to co-pilot a plane.

But there is something rather fun-nish about this. Maybe not swinging bachelor pad fun, but these campers are certainly the ultimate man-cave, no?

And there's definitely something just a tad bit noble about someone living in a crummy little sweat box so that his family can live better somewhere else.

And a wiggle of the bi-plane wings to my sister Trish, who pointed this story out to me.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Warning: UR TXTing may be hazardous to my health :(

If it's not exactly OFFICIAL, it's now at least official:

The first study of drivers texting inside their vehicles shows that the risk sharply exceeds previous estimates based on laboratory research — and far surpasses the dangers of other driving distractions.

Virginia Tech installed cameras in long-haul trucks. What they found was that:

...when the drivers texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting.

Forget the question about whether the drivers knew they were being observed or not - which you'd of thunk might have gotten them to text more cautiously at least.  A 23 times greater chance of a crash when texting? OMG.

Naturally, it was pointed out in the article I saw in The NY Times that most of us are not cannonballing down the highway in rigs that can't stop on a dime. (Speaking of which, am I the only one who's shocked when some knucklehead cuts in front of a loaded semi on a downgrade?)

But a simulated test done by the University of Utah with college students - presumably the most ardent, adept, and trigger-thumbed members of society - showed that texters were eight times more likely to get in an accident than non-texters.

(Studies of cell phone use, by contrast, show consistent - but less horrific - risks among those talking (1.3 times more likely) or dialing (three times).

Only 14 states outlaw texting, but it seems - IMHO -  like the time has come for the other 36 to hop on board. (My .02 anyway.)

Texting isn't going away - The Times reported a tenfold increase in the last three years. Last December, US phone texters served up 110 billion messages. As more and more people start using smartphones - with their handy-dandy keyboards - things are only going to get worse.

One of the most disturbing aspects of all this is that, while the vast majority of drivers acknowledge that texting is dangerous and unacceptable, 21% have done it anyway. (And if you go by age, 50% of those 16-24 had done it.)

The Times article went on to quote a 22 year old on the subject. (I've withheld the kid's name here. He just got out of college, and he's likely going to have a bad enough google problem with prospective employees over his throwaway line without me adding to it.)

Anyway, our man likes to text because "it's convenient," and he prefers it to a phone call. (Who needs to speak in real sentences, and hear the inflection in someone's voice, when they can say it with emoticons?)

“I put the phone on top of the steering wheel and text with both thumbs,” he said, adding that he often has exchanges of 10 messages or more. Sometimes, “I’ll look up and realize there’s a car sitting there and swerve around it....I’m pretty sure that someday it’s going to come back to bite me,” he said of his behavior.

Well, Mr. X, here's my problem.

It's just as likely that your desire to let your GF know that there's NADT up with you, WU with her, MUSM, is going to bite me, or some other innocent bystander/bydriver, as it is to bite you. Which, if the bite is fatal, would be quite sad for your friends and family, but will not exactly be undeserved.

Now that I think about it, I'm guessing that I'm at greater risk of being killed by a texting driver than I am by a drunken driver, since - carless in the city - I'm rarely on the road at night.

(And, by the way, when I am on the road, I will occasionally make or take a phone call, which I am trying not to do unless I pull over or am stuck in traffic. I cannot conceive of sending or reading a text message while a car I'm driving is in motion.)

Sorry, Mr. X, your "convenience" matters more than someone else's life?

UGTBK, you selfish little twerp.

"Seven Little Girls" was a novelty song when I was a kid. In the song, the driver of the car was miffed because he had seven cute girls in the car, but they all wanted to stay in the back seat making out with Fred. (Ah, those were the days when seven teenaged girls and one teenaged boy could actually fit in the back seat of a car. Oh, those boats of yesteryear. Not to mention that it was a kinder, gentler time, and no one but no one would have thought of this little scene as an eight-way.)  The chorus, as I recall, went:

Keep your mind on the driving,
Keep your hands on the wheel,
Keep your snoopy eyes on the road ahead.
We're having fun, sitting in the back seat,
Hugging and a-kissing with Fred.

Time to resurrect this tune, and take it from a 45 RPM single to an iTunes download.

You want to text?

Be my guest.

Just go sit in the back seat to do it, why don't you?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Haul of Fame

Over the weekend, the Red Sox' Jim Rice, alongside Rickey Henderson, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame is a wonderful place, and if anyone doubts the wonders and marvels of "the game," they have merely to browse the list of those few, those precious few, who have been inducted.

From Three Finger Brown to Rollie Fingers. From Elmer Flick to Ford Frick,   (Okay, Ford Frick didn't play, he was an executive. But Elmer Flick to Ford Frick sounds better than Elmer Flick to Frankie Frisch  - a.k.a. the Fordham Flash -  doesn't it?)

From the Goose Goslin to Goose Gossage. From Dizzy Dean to Dazzy Vance. From Catfish Hunter - does one really hunt catfish - to Cool Papa Bell. From Heinie Manush to Cum - short for Cumberland - Posey.

And it's just too darned bad that slugger Harmon Killebrew never faced pitcher Burleigh Grimes. (I just love both of those names.)

Just reading the list of members makes me want to stop by on my next drive to Syracuse. A bit out of the way, but still...

Of all the major sports, baseball is the one where the present is most closely enmeshed with history.

And Major League Baseball is past master at exploiting it all.

Maybe it's because professional baseball has just been around for so darned long, and there's so much more history to exploit. whatever it is, in general, fans don't get as weepy-eyed about NFL or NBA legends like they do about baseball greats of yore.

So the Hall of Fame is sacred ground.

And it's also lucrative ground for the legends who still walk among us.

Just how lucrative it is I learned from a Wall Street Journal article I read last week ("Haul of Fame" was their title, and I just had to borrow it.) In the article, they wrote:

... baseball nostalgia is a multibillion-dollar industry, and the 60 or so living Hall of Famers at its pinnacle are in a unique position to cash in.

Sure, most retired players make at least some walking around money signing baseballs, appearing at clinics, running camps, giving speeches, endorsing local companies and products, and doing community outreach/good will-ish things for insurance companies and banks.

But having the Hall of Fame seal, or, rather plaque, of approval can really up the take for the "marginal immortals", i.e., those not in the same league as mega stars like Hank Aaron.

For Goose Gossage, getting elected meant that the price of a speech tripled from the mere $7.5K to $10K he'd been commanding.

Well, nothing against Goose Gossage, but I've got to question the sanity of any marketing person who'd pay $30K to have him speak at their big customer event.

But what's good for the Goose, I suppose...


“‘HoF’ after a signature is the single best predictor of baseball price,” says Steve Verkman, proprietor of Clean Sweep Auctions, one of the country’s largest memorabilia dealerships. He estimates there are about 10,000 collectors around the world interested exclusively in Hall of Famer items, and many more general collectors who covet them. There is an active market in Cooperstown futures, and when someone unexpected is chosen by the Hall of Fame, prices go through the roof. “When Bruce Sutter went in, that changed everything for him,” Mr. Verkman told me. “The demand for his autograph increased a thousand-fold.”

It will be interesting to see if the annuities that Hall of Famers can garner - for marginal immortals, it can be in "'the low six figures'" - continues to be a draw for potential members when today's boys of summer become eligible. (This assumes that there will be enough of them out there who "played clean," without getting plumped up with steroids. Or whether the "boys on HGH" will be okayed when the time comes. So far, Mark McGwire is the most prominent steroid-implicated start to get stiff-armed by the voters. We'll see what happens when Roger Clemens hits the ballot in a couple of years.)

For now, however, the money really talks.

And to put that money in context,  the most Jim Rice ever made was $2.3 million in his last season in 1989. And that was after some early seasons when he was making $50K. These days, $10 million a year is no longer an eye-popping contract. The "minimum wage" is $400K, and the average salary is over $3M.  (Source: Baseball Almanac.) 

The contrast to earlier players is even more stark: Ted Williams, who retired in 1961 and was the last player to hit over .400, never made more than $100K a year.

The commercial benefits of Hall of Fame stature has had a couple of interesting side effects.

For one, ex-players now lobby aggressively to get elected  - some going as far as hiring political consultants. (Lobbying efforts by Jim Rice and his supporters certainly played a strong role in his election.) Another one may be that the H of F's Veterans Committee - all H of F-ers themselves - puts the brakes on electing "previously overlooked old-timers."*

In the words of Marvin Miller:

'Nobody wants to dilute the value of his stock.”

There article mentioned one lobby effort that's being run by the government of Venezuela. Apparently Hugo Chávez’s favorite player was Dave Concepcion, so the Venezuelan's are lobbying mightily to get him in.

Pink Slip to Dave Concepcion: He may be no Kim Il Jong or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but if I were you I'd want someone other than Hugo Chávez fronting my cause.

Meanwhile, even with all the side action with the $$$, I'm sure that it remains a special honor to get elected to the Hall of Fame that - if it doesn't actually mean a lot more than the money, still means an awful lot. Congratulations, Jim Ed. (You, too, Rickey. I always got a kick out of watching you on the base paths.)


*The traditional, and more prestigious, way to get into the Hall is to be elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America. If you don't make it in this way (and you can be on the ballot for a limited number of years), the other method is via the Veterans Committee.

Monday, July 27, 2009

e-smoke 'em if you e-got 'em

I have no idea how I missed this one - perhaps it's because I'm not a smoker - but I hadn't really been aware of e-cigarettes until my husband showed me an article he'd seen on the FDA's analysis of them.

The e-Surgeon General has not yet issued a warning that e-cigarettes can be e-hazardous to your very real health, but I'm sure that will be e-coming.

But first, the e-cig itself.

e-Cigarette manufacture Smoking Everywhere -  is that a terrible thought or what - seems to have post position when you go to the google.  According to their web site, an e-cigarette is:

...a non –flammable product that uses state of the art classy micro-electronic technology which provides smokers a real "smoking" experience without the fire, flame, tobacco, tar, carbon monoxide, ash, stub or smell found in real cigarettes.

Smoking Everywhere E-Cig offers smokers a tar-free way to enjoy smoking and the freedom to smoke most everywhere. The smokers still get their nicotine, but don’t get the side effects attributable to tar which contains real tobacco.

Gotta love that use of the word "classy" to define the technology underlying the e-cig. While I have certainly resorted to "world-class" on many descriptive occasions, I've never used "classy" in the B2B context. I will be looking for the opportunity, however. Perhaps someday I'll be able to describe a product I'm marketing as "world classy."

For now, classy e-cigarettes look like the real thing, more or less. They're lithium battery operated, and work by heating up a solution of nicotine in propylene glycol, which produces a mist that e-smokers ehale. The cigarette tip is an LED device that glows red, and the e-cig gives off fake e-smoke (that's supposedly neither first or second hand in terms of hazard). An e-cigarette costs $40-70, but that's pretty cheap if you consider how much a pack costs. (Not that I've looked recently, but $7 - 10 a pack sticks in my mind.) E-cigs come in flavors, the better to hook kids on them. (Way to go! Whatever happened to the chalky sugar "candy cigarettes", or the cardboard cylinders that blew talcum powder smoke?)

As for the claims of no side effects, I don't know whether Smoking Everywhere's product was on the FDA, but a lot of the e-cigs were implicated:

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday released an analysis of 19 varieties of electronic cigarettes that said half contained nitrosamines (the same carcinogen found in real cigarettes) and many contained diethylene glycol, the poisonous ingredient in antifreeze. Some that claimed to have no nicotine were found to have low levels of the drug. (Source of this para, and info on how they work and what they cost: LA Times.)

The Electronic Cigarette Association - you really didn't think they would be without a trade association, did you? - is countering the FDA report, of course:

“I’m a little shocked that the FDA would release a study that is so narrow in its scope and target a specific industry when there are a number of nicotine products on the market today not in the FDA’s crosshairs. Are they saying that those products and cigarettes themselves are safer to use,” said Matt Salmon, former Arizona Congressman and president of the ECA. “Our member companies have taken a responsible approach by ensuring that those who use their
products are well-informed about their products and to ensure that their products are not marketed or accessible to children.”

All I can say is a) where have we heard this before?; and b) why am I not surprised that a former congressman is in on this deal. (And I wrote this before knowing whether he's a R or a D. For the record, he's an R, but it certainly could have gone either way.)

We'll see how this turns out, but I'm guessing that e-cigarettes won't be any panacea to smoking-related problems. (Although if it gets rid of second hand smoke, that can't be a good thing. I do have to ask just what's in the fake smoke coming out of the e-cig. Do we really need more chemicals in the air?)

Still, if you're a smoker, it's hard not to see the attraction in being able to smoke and do so "healthily."

But there is, of course, something mighty weird about the e-cigarette.

On the other hand, wouldn't it be nice if they came up with e-exercise? Or an e-hot fudge sundae? The e-glass of chardonnay. All pleasure, no pain. Ah, something really classy to look forward to.

Meanwhile, I guess that e-cigarettes - like the real thing - can't be advertised on TV.

If they were, we surely would have been bombarded by ads resurrected from the Golden Age of Television Cigarette Advertising.

Take an e-puff, it's springtime.

Tweet for Philip Morris!

e-Sold American!

I'd walk a virtual mile for an e-Camel.

It is hard, however, to imagine the Marlboro man, riding the range, looking for a place to recharge his e-cigarette, isn't it?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sorry for your troubles (but thrilled with the hole-in-one)

When I went to check one of my many e-mail accounts the other day - this one over on AOL - a headline about the best miniature golf courses in the country caught my eye. As someone who enjoys a good round of mini-golf, I wondered if any of my favorites made the cut.

Alas, the wonderful course in Naples, Maine, with the beautiful replicas of things Maine - Portland Light, the Casco Bay Ferry - on each hole wasn't there. Nor was the nicely landscaped course in Eastham/Orleans on Cape Cod with the koi pond. It did give a shout out to the Pirates Cove chain, which is fun but hokey. I've played the one on the Cape a few times.

But it was an embedded link to a "mortuary-themed" mini-golf that really intrigued me.

Ahlgrim Family Funeral Services, in Lake Zurich and Palatine Illinois, has been in business since 1892.

But it took them three generations and more than 70 years to figure out that the dead space in the basement could be used for a mini-golf course, which is precisely what Roger Ahlgrim did in 1964.

It actually wasn't created to be an integral part of the funeral parlor, with people heading down stairs for a few holes after paying their respects, or where the bereaved family could kill some time between the afternoon and evening sessions of the wake.

No, there wasn't much to do in Palatine, Illinois in 1964, so Roger decided to build a community room, centered around a haunted-themed mini-golf course.

Over the years the miniature golf course took on a life of its own. By the time his children became school age, the basement housed a 9 hole miniature golf course, a full size shuffle board coarse [sic], ping pong table, bumper pool table and a foosball table made by Roger during his high school years.

(It's not clear whether the Ahlgrim logimageo, which includes a windmill, pre- or post-dated the mini-golf.)

More recently, they've added video games to the mix, as you can see here.

I don't know if Ahlgrim raised his family over the store, but what kid wouldn't want this in his basement?

We just had a warped old upright piano, a piece of plywood haphazardly balanced on an old table that we used for playing ping-pong, and a "strike zone" painted on the white-washed walls by one of my brothers so he could practice his pitching. But our cellar was large enough for tricycle races, in which the big kids used the little kids trikes as scooters, and careened around screaming our lungs out. Wheeeeeee!

Unlike the Ahlgrims', our cellar wasn't at all alluring.

If being located under a funeral home isn’t special enough, Halloween makes the Community Room even more alluring.

Unfortunately, we don't get the scoop on what makes it even more alluring on Halloween.

Maybe some of the "guests" make a guest appearance?

Hey, it's a true haunted house happening! You get your bowl of cold spaghetti guts, your jello mold human brain, and - eke! - that cold and creepy old arm you just touched is actually the cold and creepy old arm of someone's late Aunt Mechtilde!

(Cue screams! Cue older girl saying, "Gross." Cue older boy saying, "Cool.")

In case you're wondering:

The Community Room is strictly never used during funeral business.

And if you're ever in the neighborhood, keep in mind that:

Families have planned a visit to us into their vacation and vacations have been planned around a visit to this unique Community Room. This room has as many memories as those made with the people we serve.

I went to high school with a girl who's family lived over their funeral parlor. I was at their house a couple of times, and it was very nice, although eerily quiet. (Maybe there was an "event" on the times I was there.)

Anyway, there's no reason why perfectly good space should go to waste, so I'm all in favor of the Ahlgrim Community Room.

And, let's face it, death is as much a part of life a mini-golf is. Maybe even more so.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

George Clooney, turnaround guy. (What the Croc?)

Rumors of Crocs impending bankruptcy have been lurking for months.

In fact, the noise has been as persistent and ominous as the tick-tock from the alarm clock in the belly of the crocodile that stalked Captain Hook in Peter Pan.

The economic downturn. The inevitable boom-bust of a trendy product once the flash mob is on to the next. The problem inherent in a product that just doesn't seem to breakdown or wear out. (Sheeesh! Didn't these guys get the memo on built-in obsolescence?)

Were Crocs just a flash in the not-so-Peter pan?

But the decibel level increased last week when the Washington Post published an article suggesting that Crocs was doomed - an idea sharply countered by Crocs CEO John Deurden on his blog, not surprisingly.

What I found most interesting in the Post article, however, was this line:

Actor George Clooney has promised to work with the company, Duerden told analysts.

George Clooney, turnaround guy? Say what?

Now, I like George Clooney as much as the next gal.  He's cute and I've always been a sucker for the parochial school wise-guy with a heart of gold sort.  And even though I'd actually never seen the show ER when he was on it, I so missed Dr. Doug Ross when he left the hospital. I mean, who wouldn't?

But what, exactly, is George Clooney going to do for Crocs?

Is he going to wear them? Will this inspire others to wear them?

Other than the middle-aged women who are already wearing them, what demographic is George Clooney going to inspire?

I say this not because George is so ghastly long in the tooth. But he is pushing hard on 50, and I really don't think that George Clooney in Crocs is going to cause hip young shoe wearers, for whom Crocs have long jumped the fashion shark, to don this antimicrobial foam apparel.

I have never owned a pair of Crocs, but I am not one of those anti-Crocs-ists who takes the Captain Hook approach to them. I don't believe that their "existence is quite unforgivable."*

In fact, they always make me kind of smile - other when I see them on a grown man who is not in his garden or backyard, or at the beach, that is. (Call me a sexist, but I wasn't thrilled either to see a guy in Boston Common yesterday wearing turquoise espadrilles. Black or navy, maybe. Even striped, for a bit of Mediterranean je ne sais quois.  But turquoise. What was his girlfriend thinking? Must have been a couple of those darned hipsters.)

Turquoise espadrilles and men wearing Crocs in public-public aside, I'm personally in favor of any shoe that's comfortable. (And, by the way, those espadrilles did not look comfortable. Talk about no support.)

While others may swear at them, those who wear Crocs swear by them.

Thus, I hope they remain in business.

Since they don't seem to come in narrow widths - my foot being the one narrow part of my body -  I am unlikely to ever buy a pair for myself. Even if George Clooney knocks on my bedroom door and asks me to buy them, pretty please. (Well, maybe then.)

But I do defend the right of people - I guess even men in public-public - to wear them.

Hey, if I'm going to join the fashion police, first up will be women of a certain age and size wearing Winnie the Pooh sweatshirts.

As for George Clooney, I actually don't mind when actors step out of role for political or humanitarian reasons. But I don't like it when they take work that could go to less employable and wealthy actors. So I don't like to hear the voice of Martin Sheen or Michael Douglas coming at me on behalf of some product. I'd rather the work went to an off-off-Broadway type with a similarly comfy voice.

Same goes for George Clooney as a turnaround guy.

With all the unemployed MBAs out there, surely there's someone who can help turn Crocs around.

Maybe not. (Tick-tock, tick-tock.)


*"Captain Hook's Waltz", from Peter Pan.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The AK-47 is nice and all, but I'd rather have a sun roof

Despite what its Chamber of Commerce says, there's not much to put Butler, Missouri on the map.

It was the first city west of the Mississippi to have electricity.

It is, at least in the eyes of its C0fC , "known as the city where the Civil War began."  (I believe that, in the eyes of most, Charleston SC would be the first 'city where the Civil War began' that comes to mind.)

It's the gateway to Branson, Missouri's down-home, good clean livin' resort center. (I heard they have an anti-snob covenant, so I doubt I'll ever get there. If I want to see Andy Williams or Yakov Smirnoff perform, I'll just have to wait for them to come here.)

It is also the birthplace to science fiction writer Robert Heinlein. (Second most famous native (according to Wikipedia):  Adam Joe Appleberry - wonder if his folks were Bonanza fans and couldn't decide whether to name their son after the brainy Cartwright brother or the cute on. The no doubt have another son called Ben Hoss. You may be more familiar with the denizens of the Ponderosa than you are with Adam Joe Appleberry, but he's famous for saving some children in a day care center fire a few years back. Which is, of course, more than the fictional Cartwrights ever did for anybody.)

But if anything's going to really put Butler on the map, it is likely to be Max Motors, which - come August - will be giving away a voucher for an AK-47 assault rifle when you buy a new car. (Source: KCTV5.)

The reason for the voucher, by the way, is that old familiar spoilsport: liability.

"That way it separates you from anything bad that could happen," [owner Mark] Muller said. "We'll put it in the hands of professionals who do this every day."

Oh, yes, and we know just how good gun dealers are at figuring out who's going to go the proverbial postal and shoot up a McDonald's or a school.

Not that I am an anti-gun zealot. (Proof statement: Guns Don't Kill People.)

But, perhaps because I am a city girl, I don't make an automatic connection between guns and cars - other than police cars and the cars gang-bangers use for drive-bys.

As Muller says,

"We really are different than the big city dealers."

I do suspect there aren't a lot of gang-bangers in Butler, Missouri. And I know, I know: guns in cars don't kill people, people with guns in cars kill people.

Still, the Midwest is where all those meth labs are, isn't it?

It will be interesting to see how this promotion stacks up against last year's August promo, for handguns (or a $250 gas card option), which boosted business by 35 cars over the norm.

This year, Mad Mark wanted to up the caliber a bit.

"We already did handguns," Muller said. "Let's do something more fun -- AKs. You ever shot an AK? Oh, they're a blast."

Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that a heart-of-the-nation car dealership would find it "fun" to traffic in the pinko-ish AK-47. Come on: a Russian assault weapon? Used throughout the Cold War by the Evil Empire? You'd think that this would be more in keeping with the Commie-loving, socialista Northeast or West Coast regions. But I guess our car dealerships would go in more for more elitist giveaways like a coupon for fromage, an autographed picture of Jane Fonda, or a white flag of surrender.

Anticipating my surprise, you can put the coupon - worth $450 - toward the purchase of an American-made gun, like the AR-15.

If nothing else, Mark Muller is a very savvy marketer, who's gotten publicity all over the beyond-Butler map.  And he will no doubt sell a lot of cars.

But what's he going to do next year to top the AK-47? Surface-to-air missiles?

Until then, all I can say is, Max Motors is giving new meaning to the term "riding shotgun".

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The zebra mussel: from Russia, with love

One of the many great things about living is New England is our drinking water.

Turn on the tap, out it comes: mostly pure, mostly (blessedly) taste-free, mostly (nearly) cost-free.

So I was moderately disturbed to see on the other day that Quabbin Reservoir, the source of Boston's finest - our tap water - is in danger of being invaded by a ghastly little sucker with the friendly little moniker of zebra mussel. Thar she blows - thanks to a picture that I found imageon the Lower Colorado River Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force site. (Aquatic Nuisance Species. Enough said.)

Sure, it looks like something that you might pick up on the beach and save (as long as the mussel had exited the shell)  - awww, it's so purdy - but:

The menacing zebra mussel species that has taken over a Berkshires lake has been found in a stream that feeds into the Housatonic River in Western Massachusetts, amplifying fears that the invasive freshwater mollusk could contaminate drinking water supplies and other waterways throughout the state.

What exactly can the zebra mussel do? Well, it can:

...wipe out native aquatic life, clog water intake pipes, and foul drinking water supplies.

It's been on the march in the US since the late 1980's. Or, rather, on the "cling" - it gets around attached to the bottom of boats, and it reached these shores, I gather, via the St. Lawrence Seaway. On the bottom or in the ballast water of some freighter or the other that had gotten infected in the Black or Caspian sea.

Commie bastards!

They couldn't win through economic, military, or moral superiority, so they sabotage us with the zebra mollusk.

They don't call them the Evil Empire for nothing.

And all we've done to get back at them is introduce McDonald's, blue jeans, and jazz. Talk about a trade imbalance.

W may have looked in Putin's eyes and seen his soul, but if he looked again, I bet he'd see zebra mussels.

What Massachusetts is doing to keep the mussel from spreading to Quabbin (our Quabbin! our beautiful Quabbin!) is to ban recreational boating. So that folks can keep fishing on Quabbin:

The Department of Conservation and Recreation will maintain a rental boat fleet at the reservoir, allowing some sort of boating and fishing to continue. But the private boat ramps at the reservoir will remain closed for at least 45 days, until the state can design a way to regulate private boating and make sure all boats that enter the water are cleansed.

I am quite happy to see this ban enacted - but I'm a little concerned. It's exceedingly easy for me to imagine some half-in-the-bag goofballs deciding that the ban doesn't really apply to them, that their boat is clean as a whistle...And away we'll go.

The Quabbin, fortunately, may not have the same biochemical makeup that would make it a receptive host for the zebra mussel. Still...

"The Quabbin is pretty close to our last wilderness in Massachusetts and I think we should keep it that way,’’ said Paul Godfrey, a member of the Friends of Quabbin Inc., a nonprofit group. ‘‘Zebra mussels are an incredible threat to that place. They tend to clog up pipes, and there are a lot of them — all the way to Boston.’’

The Quabbin Reservoir is quite beautiful, and I would really hate to see harm come to it.

Last winter, it was feral hogs rampaging through the country.

What's the f next?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rent Party

There was an article on last week on whether still-standing employees should pass the hat for those who are pink slipped.

Frankly, through all the lay-offs I've lived through, I had never heard of this practice. But apparently it's been done at least once.

Not that I'm any stranger to the office collection. Getting married, having a baby, voluntarily leaving the company for a new job or a new whatever... (No retirement parties in my past - no company I worked for ever lived long enough, or had old enough employees for that.)

So, we all chip in, buy a sheet cake, and give a gift.

I had very mixed feelings about these events.

If we were honoring someone I was friendly with to begin with, chances are I was going to give them a little something or other to mark the occasion, anyway. Thus, I often contributed a bit for the sheet cake, and brought my own gift.

If I wasn't that friendly with someone, well, I always threw a few bucks in anyway, if only so that I could claim a frosting-plus end piece of the sheet cake.

But I generally refused to be the one collecting, and always advised folks that, rather than go cubicle to cubicle, it was a better practice to get an interoffice envelope, staple a circulation list and a note about the occasion and the gift-ee on it, and pass it around. No one would have to know whether someone contributed or not. The only rule: when you pass the envelope on to the next guy, it better not have any less money in it than when you got it.

I just always hated, hated, hated the idea of anyone feeling coerced into donating for good old Bob.

Especially if they were someone who it was never going to come around for: they were already married, already had kids, were never going to leave, whatever.

Of course, most of the 'already have kids' got their due by selling whatever it was their kids were hawking at school.

Actually, I never minded these sales, since most folks just put an order sheet up on their door or in the kitchen, and didn't go door to door like a glad-handing vacuum cleaner or Bible salesmen. Low key was the key here.

My only objection to the 'help my kids' sales was that I don't particularly like scented candles and, once my mother died I had no one to give them to. That and the fact that those wrapping paper packages were always so chintzy, you might be able to wrap two earring boxes out of them.

The other office collection I never minded was the 'I'm in a marathon-bikeathon-walkathon for some good cause' shakedowns.

I pretty much always felt that if someone was willing to pedal a unicycle backwards up Mt. Washington, the least I could do was pledge 5 cents a mile.

Still, I absolutely understand that some people despise any intra-office chip-in deals.

As for someone passing the hat for those hit in a lay-off, I've never heard of this being done. Maybe that's because of the high-end industry I worked in, and the general existence of some type of (often pretty generous) severance package. Not to mention that most/all of the lay-offs I experienced were 'today's the day' events. You get your pink slip, you get your box, you get your waiver to sign, you get your buddy escort to your car. And you are gone, baby gone. No time to take up a collection: you were late-and-lamented within an hour or so.

What I have done for those who've been laid off is buy them lunch.

And what goes around does come around here: when I've been an unemployment check collecting, down in the dumps-ter, friends have sprung for lunch for me.

The article I read pretty much came down on the side of it not being a very good idea to collect for someone laid off: it might embarrass the person, it might embarrass the company...

But I can imagine circumstances in which it would be a good and welcome thing to do.

Think of someone laid off from a small company, in which everyone knew everyone else, and knew that there was little chance for severance, and knew - just knew - that someone could use a few extra bucks.

How's this any different that friends offering their sick or vacation days to help someone out who's exhausted hers? Or chipping in for a trip to Atlantic City for Harold in Accounting who's retiring after 45 years at Acme, Inc?

Maybe you don't do this for the EVP of Sales who's about to gun out of the parking lot in a bright red Ferrari. But you do do it for the guy who tooled and died next to you for 10 years. Or for Irma the receptionist who's been supporting her grandson.

Why not?

Same rules should apply: no pressure on anyone to contribute.

But why isn't this the mensch thing to do?

Maybe you give cash - so much more precious than any gift of the magi. Maybe, if the circumstances are presumed to be a bit less dire, you give a gift certificate to Borders, or Home Depot, or Target, or the (gag) Olive Garden, so that that laid-off someone can enjoy the sort of treat that goes out the window when you're collecting.

Why shouldn't the world be a mutual aid society?

I pretty much doubt I'll ever be there, but you really never know, do you? If I were in dire straits, I wouldn't have any problem if someone threw a rent party for me.

In fact, I'd probably be pretty darned pleased.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What's eaten in Vegas...

Surely, there is no one in this country who does not know by now that recession victims are everywhere (except, just possibly, North Dakota, and even they've probably got a late, lamented Pontiac dealership or two).

And lard on to the pure-play recession victims the many folks tangled up in a set of concurrent circumstances that may or may not be directly related to the recession:

  • The newstand guy near the shell of Filene's who's not selling too many Globes or Heralds these days. He might as well start a sideline in buggy-whips.
  • All of those who got Ponzi'd by Bernie Madoff or Sir Alan Stanford.
  • Employees at my favorite Talbot's store - the one on Boston's School Street,  that just closed its bright, red door

There are several epi-centers for the recession, and, fortunately, I don't live in one of them. Because we don't have much of a manufacturing base (that went the way of the textile mill and shoe factory), nor did we get caught up in the construction BOOM, New England, while certainly ailing, is no Detroit. Nor are we, baby, a Las Vegas. (Just the thought of comparing and contrasting New England to Las Vegas and I ROTFLMAO. Hot, dry, glitz, lounge acts, and boomtown ain't never been us. Although I've been to Plimouth Plantation, and the Pilgrims may have liked lounge acts...)

Las Vegas is one of those places that has had a big hurtin' placed on it.

And some of that hurtin' is happening in the luxe restaurants that have been springing up in Vegas over the last decade or so.

I've only been to Las Vegas a couple of times, once on personal, twice for business.

The personal trip was part of a post-college, cross-country-in-a-Karmann-Ghia jaunt with my roommate, thirty-plus years ago. I think we stayed in Las Vegas one night, and I can absolutely picture the seedy, off-the-strip motel we stayed in. The highlight was when one of us opened a chest of drawers and found a rolled up pair of jockey shorts. What happened in the chest of drawers stayed in the chest of drawers.

I had no recall of where we ate, but we hadn't gone to Las Vegas with any plans to hit a big, fancy restaurant, as we had done at a couple of junctures on our trip. (In New Orleans, we had dinner at Antoine's, where the waiters were very nice to a couple of young Yankee girls, and I had Oysters Rockefeller.)

In the early 1970's, I don't think people went to Vegas to eat.

You went to gamble or for the shows.

We spent about $10 a piece playing the slots in some non-prime casino - probably the Golden Nugget - and walked in to a couple of others. Yawn.

We considered trying to get tickets for an Elvis show, but neither one of us was a particularly adoring fan, and it would have meant another night in the tawdry motel where, no doubt, we would have been tempted to check on those rolled up jockey shorts...

My two business trips to Las Vegas were in the past decade, when there were excellent - and pricey - meals to be had.

On one of these trips, most of our meals were in the hotel (MGM Grand) where Genuity's annual sales meeting was being held. On our one "free night," the VP of each group took their team out. Lamely, our boss took us to the Harley-Davidson Cafe. Vroom!

On the other business trip, I was attending the user group of a company that my company partnered with.

Lamely, on our free night, we had no customer to take out, so the four NaviSite attendees decided to go out together. The event was held in the rehabbed, and quite nice, Caesars Palace. So we decided to take the path of the least resistance and eat there.

Somehow, we ended up in their priciest restaurant.

Once we sat down and looked at the menu, I realized that, with no customer or prospect in tow, we really weren't going to be able to justify the expense.

So I told my colleagues - a product manager, a sales guy/partner manager, and a sales VP - that I would be happy, and not embarrassed at all, to get up and leave. But there was no way in Las Vegas that the sales VP was going to walk out of there.

As was customary, the senior person in a party paid - and, as a director, I was tied with the sales VP (which was an external title, internalized as a lowly director position).

No way I was going to pick this one up.

You wanna stay? You gonnna pay, pal!

Even eating and drinking modestly - one drink each, cheapish-side entree-only - we managed to rack up quite a charge.

I'm sure the sales guy bog'd up some fake customer.

The meal, by the way, was pretty good.

Thus ends my Las Vegas dining experiences.

And for many a luxe restaurant, luxe dining experiences have ended with a thud.

So sayeth a recent NY Times article, which reported that, once upon a time, waiters were bringing home $150K per year, waiting on big spenders known as "the whales."

A waiter from Rao's in Caesars - which may well have been where we supped - lamented the passing of $100 bills handed out to "everyone on the staff", and power tips on $12K and $15K meals. (I assure you, ours was nowhere near that. No, we were no whales - merely blowfish.)

Those were the days.

These days, there are over 5,000 food and restaurant workers without jobs.

Alas, Las Vegas got caught up not just in the construction boom, and the elephantine casino boom, but in the 5-star, celebrity chef boom, as well.

All kinds of multi-billion dollar projects - that included all kinds of multi-million dollar restaurants - have gone bust.

On the Strip, near Circus Circus, is the yawning emptiness of the $4.8 billion, 87-acre Echelon project, halted last August along with its 12 to 15 new restaurants, including those of chefs such as David Chang of Momofuku Ko in Manhattan.

(I just put that in there so you could read the name "Momofuku Ko". Whatever it sounds like, I gather that Momofuku means lucky peach, and Ko means son of.  By the way, if you break a reservation at their New York edition without giving them a 24 hour in advance heads up, you're out $150 per head. Harsh! No lucky peach for you!)

But the $8,5 billion CityCenter project is forging on, where celebrity chefs (the only one I'd heard of was the ubiquitous Wolfgang Puck) will celebrity chef-ize in 30 restaurants designed by celebrity architects like Daniel Libeskind.

The CityCenter project is the spawn of the no doubt apty-named MGM Mirage and Dubai World. (It's Dubai's world: we just live in it.)

The good news is that the project's "on". The bad news is that, with all those shiny new celebrity cheffed up restaurants, the existing celeb-chef boites will be cannibalized. (This is a Times word, but isn't it a wonderful one to use when writing about restaurants? What's in your sauce pot?)

If you're heading to Vegas - and who wouldn't be, in the dead of summer; it's a dry heat, after all - some of the swank restaurants have come a bit down market with "summer tasting menus," and other price-off options.

It's not clear how things will shake out in Las Vegas, restaurant-wise. Some places are still doing the same headcount, but with a lesser spend. Some say that things have "stabilized", others that "'being down 10 percent, that's the new flat."

One can assume that most of the celebrity chefs (and their architect friends) will somehow manage to withstand the "new flat."

For the waiters who've lost their jobs, or seen their incomes plummet, well under flat is the new reality.

As it is for the not-so-celebrity assistant chefs who actually do the chopping and sauteeing.

Hours have been cut back, cooks have found themselves demoted to lower end restaurants in their hotels, where they've displaced other cooks with less experience/seniority.

But it's not as if luxe-y restaurants have fully stopped luxe-ing.

The 300-seat Carnevino offers source-verified grass-fed beef, dry-aged for seven weeks in its own Las Vegas aging facility where computer chips control air flow and humidity.

And the 230-seat Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare in the Wynn flies in a ton of seafood every week from the Mediterranean, including soft-shell crabs from Venice and imperial red shrimp from Morocco.

(I guess if you're an imperial red shrimp, what happens in Morocco doesn't get to stay there.)

But there is, of course, some sentiment that what goes bust will eventually go boom again.

Robert Goldstein, one of the restaurateurs interviewed mentioned:

...a Life magazine cover article of June 20, 1955, that he had framed, depicting casino cancan dancers and proclaiming: “Las Vegas — Is Boom Overextended?”

He added: “Las Vegas is down a bit now, and right now the town is overbuilt. But do you really think all of this is going to fade away and go to black?”

Well, given the world's appetite for heat, glitz, and luxury, probably not.

Check, please!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

There's a moon out tonight

Well, today's the fortieth anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon.

I was never a huge space buff.

Oh, sure, I watched in awe when Alan Shephard was shot into space, but my awe was equally due to the fact that someone had brought a TV into the classroom. Wow! That never happened. And Alan Shephard wasn't even a Catholic....

And I was interested enough when John Glenn spun around the earth a couple of years later.

Much later on, I did really like the movie The Right Stuff. (Still do.)

But I was never a huge space buff.

I think it ran in the family.

For a while, my father and my aunt had been the paper boy and girl for Dr. Robert Goddard, delivering the Worcester Telegram (or the Evening Gazette) to the Goddards house on Brookline Street. Goddard was a rocket scientist, inventor of the liquid fuel rocket, and the father of the American space program.

None of this inspired awe in my father.

No, most references to the good doctor came when we were taking a "spin" and went up Packachoag Hill. We'd pass the spot where Goddard had done his experimenting, and my father would remind us that the expression of the day when he was a lad was "as crazy as Dr. Goddard."

But on the evening of July 16, 2009, it was hard not to be in awe.

I came home from my shift as a waitress at the Big Boy's in Webster Square, tossed my greasy, reeking uniform - hideous brown cotton skirt, hideous white cotton blouse, hideous orange cotton bow tie - into the washing machine, entered my day's tips in the little red spiral notebook I kept, and sat with the rest of the family to watch "it" on our own little black and white TV.

(If my father wasn't interested in rocketry, he wasn't interested in having a colored TV, either. He'd always say he'd buy one when the color was as good as a Technicolor movie. Well, that didn't happen in his lifetime, apparently, but the family did get one shortly after my father died a couple of years later.)

I don't remember whether we were watching in real-time, or a re-run of the days events, but at one point, my sister Kathleen and I - was her boyfriend with us? what an interloper I was! - went out and sat on the front steps and looked up at the moon.

It was, as I recall, a soft July night.  Very, very black. Our front lawn - my father's pride and joy: who needed a color TV when they had a front yard to groom? - was soft, too. And very, very green. Not a blade of yetchy crab grass. Walking on it felt better than walking on velvet. We were probably drinking lemonade, maybe with grape-juice ice cubes, which turned the lemonade a very, very nice shade of pink.

We all looked up at the moon, as if, if we really looked hard enough, we could see Neil Armstrong setting the flag, and Buzz Aldrin doing whatever Buzz Aldrin did as he followed in Neil Armstrong's footsteps. (Figures, I'm sure we said, that Michael Collins - the Irish guy, and probably a Catholic - stayed in space while the two wasps got to toe the ground on the moon.)

But what was important, of course, was what Neil Armstrong said.

That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.

Forty years one, we sure could use some of both, couldn't we?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Nabokov from the grave

Apparently, this is both old news and pre-news, but when Vladimir Nabokov died in 1977, he left instructions with his son, Dmitri, to destroy his final, uncompleted novel.

Now, while I bow to literary genius, I'm not a colossal Nabokov fan. But this is an interesting story.

And it comes to the fore because someone in the Writers' Room of Boston, my hangout, posted a 'what do you think?' question about it on our social media forum: the chalkboard the hangs over the toilet.

Anyway, having put aside any number of interesting Pink Slip topics that have presented themselves in the last couple of days - the threatened euthanasia of some animals at Boston's Franklin Park Zoo due to state budget cuts; Bernie Madoff's fleeting time served in the same Federal pen in Atlanta where Charles Ponzi did time; the well-timed share dumping of some Goldman execs - I'll offer up a brief musing on this topic.

Vlad the Father apparently had a last wish that Dmitri the Son burn the manuscript for The Original of Laura. After agonizing over his decision for a scant 30 years, Dmitri decided to save the work from its eve of destruction.  It will be published next fall.

Dmitri has supposedly claimed that the ghost of literary giant past appeared to him, giving him the okie-dokie to go ahead and let the presses roll.

Now Dmitri, who was his father's translator, was not in this to do the business thang and make a buck. Obviously, 30 years of agonizing is 30 years of agonizing, and whatever he makes off the sales of the book, well, probably won't amount to much payback if you figure it on a per annum basis.

What he has done is allowed the literary world - especially those Nabokov aficionados who actually know him for more than Lolita - to be able to read more of a brilliant, treasured author. It would have been a shame if his final, almost-but-not-quite-finished work had ended up being licked by the flames of a Duraflame log.

Now, I wouldn't make myself crazy or distraught over it, but if there were some remnants of my favorite writers  - the still with us William Trevor, Alice Munro, and a few others - lying around, I would be thrilled to be able to read them.

Last winter, The New Yorker published an end-of-life poem that John Updike had written while in the hospital a few weeks before he died. To me, it was a wondrous gift, showing us how a writer who'd always grappled with the ages of man was dealing with the final one.

Of course, Updike had written the poem for publication - he hadn't asked his executors to toss it on the fire.

Although the circumstances are different, I laud Dmitri Nabokov's decision to go ahead and publish his father's last work.

It is highly unlikely that Vladimir Nabokov's whatever has any idea whatsoever what's happening with the last words.

I'm sure that Dmitri Nabokov wouldn't have allowed the publication to occur if the writing had been sub-par, the literary shadow of his father's former self. We certainly don't anticipate anything along the lines of, "It was a dark and stormy night. The beautiful, buxom, raven-tressed, ruby-lipped Laura pressed her pert nose against the leaded-glass window of the castle turret where her evil guardian had kept her imprisoned for nearly a year now. 'I really hope that my knight in shining armor rides up on a big white steed and gets me out of here,' she sighed."

So, 30 years after the fact, Dmitri, in my read, is truly honoring his father's legacy.

Life and literature - you heard it here - belongs to the living.

Not that I'll leave any coveted literary estate, but whoever cleans up after me is free to toss out, eBay, and laugh at whatever they want. (I would like Nanny's cookie jar, Grandma's sampler, the steer horns from my grandfather's saloon, and a few other treasured objects to stay en famille. But, in truth, my ashes will be in no position to tut-tut if someone decides to toss  my treasures in a dumpster.)

I actually may go out and buy a copy of The Original of Laura.

Just because.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Since the baseball All Star Game is being played this evening, it seems like a fitting day to post on professional "ballhawks," a profession I wasn't aware existed until I read about it last week in The Wall Street Journal.

Ballhawks go to games with the intention of grabbing any ball that goes in the stands, especially milestone home runs like a player's first or 500th. Most then refuse to give them back to the player unless he coughs up something valuable in return, from a signed bat or a jersey to up to $10,000. This breed of sophisticated collector now appears more determined than ever, stalking everyone from rookies like [Marlins rookie] Mr. [Chris] Coghlan to veteran stars such as Ken Griffey Jr.

Coghlan was mentioned because his first dinger in the bigs landed in the outstretched glove of one Nick Yohanek, a Milwaukee cop who moonlights as a "ballhawk".

Yohanek gives most of the balls he snags to kids. (The majority of his captures are gotten during batting practice, not during the game itself.) On his website, he also keeps track of milestone balls (100th HR, 500th HR, etc.), which may be worth something more than a signed ball or a couple of tickets.

Obviously, the more super the star, and the higher the number, the more valuable the trophy. Thus, Vlad Guerrero's 400th will be worth more than Jhonny Peralata's 100th or Johnny Damon's 200th.

Yohanek's tracker is not completely up to date. Boston's David Ortiz got his 300th the other day. But I'm sure that, between nabbing wrongdoers on the mean streets of Milwaukee, and shagging BP flies, there's not a lot of time to keep track of everything.

Ballhawkers everywhere will, of course, be on the alert when Alex Rodriguez starts to zero in on 800 - the juiciest of the juiced, as it were. A-Rod is "only" at 570 at this point in time, but he's still relatively young, and if his body doesn't breakdown on him, and he keeps playing in Yankee Stadium, the new home-run capital of the major leagues, he should jet past Ruth, Aaron, Bonds, et al.  And each time he jumps up a notch in the Top 10, or hits a round number, I'm sure the ball will be worth mega-bucks.

Woe betide the little old lady who's sitting innocently in the bleachers when A-Rod goes yard past The Babe, or Henry, or even (hiss, boo) Barry Bonds.

And if you don't think there's gold in them thar' home run balls, consider this:

After Mark McGwire hit his 70th home run in the 1998 season, Philip Ozersky, the man who caught it, got $3 million for it at auction. Before that, the most expensive ball ever auctioned was the first homer in the old Yankee Stadium, hit by Babe Ruth; it brought $126,500, according to Sports Collectors Digest.

I certainly wouldn't want to be in the way of a ballhawker and his $3 million. ("Fan's neck broken in scramble for record-breaking ball.")

Even the ball for Ken Griffey's paltry 600th HR fetched $42K at auction.

To make sure that a ball is the real deal, by the way, MLB has "two memorabilia authenticators at every park." (Now there's a job for you.)

Not all fans who catch balls are ballhawks. Nor are most fans typically aware of when a homer is a milestoner. Yes, everyone in the ball park will likely know when A-Rod's up for his 600th; but they probably won't know about Jhonny Peralta's 100th. (Let alone know why Peralta spells Jhonny that way.)

Personally, much as I enjoy baseball, I don't want to be anywhere near the receiving end of a milestone homer. (("Fan's neck broken in scramble for record-breaking ball.") Or any homer, for that matter. It may not mean broken neck, but I can sure envision broken glasses, broken nose, and broken wrist as some 220 pound goon in a Kevin Youkilis jersey, a 200 pound goon with too many brews and too few Crackerjacks in him, lunges over me to get the goods.

Perhaps, if I do find myself with the possibility of being in the Fenway bleachers when A-Rod or some other worthy is going to knock-a-homa that really matters, I will hire Zack Hample to teach me the ballhawk ropes.

Zack is a writer, baseball fan, and ballhawk par excellence - over 4000 nabbed to date -  who "charges hawk-hopefuls $500 to attend games with him, and said he averages a couple of clients a month." ($500 is probably more than I'm willing to pay. And, alas, his book  "How to Snag Major League Baseballs" is out of print. But his "Watching Baseball Smarter" looks plenty interesting.)

This year, by the way, Zack is snagging balls for charity. You can make a pledge of whatever amount you like for each ball he nabs this year, and the proceeds go to Pitch in for Baseball, which provides equipment for poor kids.

His site is charming, and he is totally giving ballhawks a good name - even if I really don't want to be anywhere near one when he's got his eye on the ball. (And even if the pros know how to snag responsibly, without breaking the neck, nose, glasses, or wrist of the future little old lady Red Sox fan with the ill-fortune to be sitting between them and the $5M A-Rod prize.)

Meanwhile, tonight we will root, root, root for the American League team to bring home the home field advantage for the World Series. It's a long season, but that home field advantage could come in handy for the Olde Towne Team this year.

And speaking of the Olde Towne Team.

At the advanced baseball age of 42 - although not that advanced for a knuckleball picther - "our" Tim Wakefield is a first time All Star. By all accounts, in a world full of spoiled, prima donna, rapacious, obnoxious, and genuinely odious professional athletes - think the picture of A-Rod kissing himself in the mirror -  I've yet to hear a bad word uttered or see a bad word typed about this guy (other than complaints against his pitching when he's Shakey Wakey).

There was a nice tribute in The Boston Globe today. To add one of my own: I don't know one middle-aged, female Red Sox fan who doesn't have a big, fat crush on Tim Wakefield.

Go, American League! Go, Tim Wakefield!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Call of the wild: how to be a wolfman

A few weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal had an article on folks - largely men - moving away from home to find work. The main focus of the article was Tim Ryan, a laid off New Hampshire construction worker, who's taken a seasonal job playing a wolfman at Clark's Trading Post, a "tourist attraction" in the White Mountains.

Clark's has steam train ride - and the wolfman's job is to jump out of the woods and scare the train riders.

While the job pays only half of what Mr. Ryan was making in construction - and he's two hours away from his kids, living in a moldy cabin without running water - he seems happy to have the work.

I will return to the job as wolfman, but first a note on Clark's.

In addition to the steam train ride, its roadside attractions include the sort of  emporium that I suspect is something that, as a kid, I would have completely swooned over. Not that this souvenir and gift shop is all low-end. One picture on the site showed Vera Bradley bags. However, it does mention candy, fudge, moccasins, jewelry, and one of the pictures showed kids looking at those hokey "Wanted Dead or Alive" posters. So I'm guessing that, in addition to offering yet another venue in which women can find yet another Vera Bradley something-or-other in a pattern they haven't seen before but really like, there's plenty of stuff - trinkets, penny candy - that kids crave and can afford to spend their vacation money on. As long as such places exist, and kids continue to covet such stuff, I will remain optimistic about our youth and our future as a nation.

Clark's also has an Americana Museum (a kind of a mini-Smithsonian), a black bear act, and a Segway ride that lets folks try out a Segway.

I am so completely in favor of keeping wannabe Segway-ers off the public sidewalks.

There's a new service in Boston that's taking tourists on guided tours via Segway. The problem is that the tourists are too busy ogling the State House to watch where they're going. I've almost been mowed down twice.

Better off that Segway novices stay off the beaten path. Get thee to Clark's!

For someone who's lived in New England for her entire life (so far), I'm surprised that I've never heard of Clark's, but it does sound like a completely wonderful place for a vacationing family to spend a few bucks.

Now, back to the wolfman job.

In the course of munging around looking for background, I came across the job description. Having read and written dozens of job descriptions over the years, my coonskin hat is off to the folks at Clark's for what has to be one of the most clearly written, expectation setting, no BS job descriptions I've ever seen.

It starts off with a bit about how the Wolfman's "main job is to intercept the train as it goes up the tracks with the guests aboard." This involves riding up in a "roadster", "firing blanks in the air and yelling at the guests."

That "yelling at the guests" sounds like fun! I was a Durgin-Park waitress back in the day. (Durgin is a well known Boston tourist spot.) Having a lippy waitress was part what people came to Durgin for, but we couldn't really yell at the customers. Of course, there were some older gals who did so regularly, including one who, pissed off at a lousy tip - all change: cheap even by 1970's standards - decided she'd had enough. From the restaurant's unscreened second floor window, Nina rained the change down on the head of the departing customers. All the while screaming at them to let them know just where they could put it.

But there's more to be said about the wolfman job:

There will be days when it is very hot, rainy or cold, but if the train runs, so does the Wolfman. Good safety habits, for example walking the tracks to maintain a clear right of way at all times, are of utmost importance and are a significant part of the job as well as keeping the car functioning and maintaining the props.

Back at the Trading Post, the Wolfman also poses for pictures with kids.

The hours/days (40-48 hours, 5-6 days), the pay ($12/hour), the driver's license requirement. The successful applicant needs "great people skills and a sense of humor," and "be in reasonably good physical condition." Knowledge of firearms and vehicle maintenance is a nice to have; some light maintenance work required. Oh, and:

Must be willing to grow a beard and remain somewhat "unkempt" during the season.

The job came free when the old Wolfman retired, and Clark's had quite a few applicants looking to be the replacement. They ended up hiring two - Tim Ryan and a fellow named John Smith.

Now, it is of course more than a little depressing to read about a man having to take a job well away from his kids, for well under what he was used to making. And there were plenty of other guys mentioned in the WSJ article  who are doing the same thing - just none with this colorful a job.

On the other hand, there's something completely admirable about Mr. Ryan taking this job.

Not to mention something totally delightful - exhilarating, even - about the survival of the Clark's sort of tourist attraction.

(Not to mention that someone at Clark sure knows how to write a job description!)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summertime, and the rentin' ain't easy

The other day, there was a pretty entertaining article in The New York Times on bad summer rentals. It's definitely worth a read-through, as are - if you've got the time - the comments, in which folks write about their rental horror stories. (And, gripers being gripers, there's a fairly large ration of comments snorting about how only rich folks have the vacation rental problem, blah, blah blah.)

I don't want to give away too many of the horror stories that were fit to print in The Times - hey, I've got my own to recount - but I do want to pass on a tip: a perimeter doused with ferret urine is, apparently, an effective antidote to a snake problem. I will file that bit of info in my brain's way-back, and hope that I never have to retrieve it.

I haven't vacation rental'd a lot, but every rental - I'm quite sure - tells a story.

In April, we rented an apartment in Paris, sight unseen. We had seen it advertised in Harvard Magazine, and surmised - correctly, as it turned out - that anyone who only advertised in Ivy League alumni mags wouldn't last long if they weren't on the up and up - and this apartment had been advertised in just this category of rag for years.

The apartment turned out to be as near to perfect as is possible, starting with the view of the Eiffel Tower from the living room, and ending with the odd little outdoor elevator used to transport trash down to the backyard bins. Other than a bit of peeling paint in the room my nieces shared, and a really weird dryer that couldn't dry a damp pair of socks, everything was magnifique.

Our only problem was one we had in advance. Between signing the contract and making the final payment, the apartment's owner had a stroke. Of course, while we were frantically trying to get in touch with him, we didn't know this, and we had visions of a lost deposit and a last-minute hunt for replacement digs. Fortunately, the owner's daughter got in touch with us, and all ended well. (The owner himself is doing well, but the family is going to put the apartment on the market. It was not advertised in the latest Harvard Magazine.  C'est dommage.)

While we were very fortunate with our Paris rental, renting bears a risk that is generally absent if you're booking a stay in, say, The Ritz.

Years ago, my sisters and I rented a place for a couple of weeks on a lake in Central Massachusetts, with plans to chunk out different times when we would be there with various combinations of family and friends.

This was in the days before cell phones, and the house was in an isolated area of the lake, with only one house nearby. So overall - for this city girl, anyway - it was kind of creepy. Most nights, I spent my sleepless hours working on a jigsaw puzzle - Renoir's Dance at Bourgival? - which I was able to do thanks to the spot-light lamps my sister Kath had brought along so that we'd have some light to augment the 40 watt cottage fixtures.

Anyway, other than the spookiness of being so remote and dark, the setting was lovely, the weather was fabulous, and it was August: native corn and tomatoes.

There were two peculiar things about this particular rental, however.

One was the unfinished bathroom.

Oh, the shower and toilet worked just fine, but they hadn't finished walling it in. The walls were completed to head-height, but above and beyond.... wide open spaces. So, it was a rather indelicate situation when someone actually had to go. Being family and friends, we managed to work it out, but it was a tad bit weird.

Another oddity was that the owners, who lived year round next door to their rental cottage, were away on vacation during our time on the lake. They did, however, leave Rocky and Erica, their Dobermans, behind. A friend came over every day to feed and water the dynamic duo, but - thanks to a dog door - they were free to come and go. Which they did, at all hours of the day and night. (And who knew that Dobermans were nocturnal?) Rocky and Erica's comings and goings would have been fine - other than that each time they used the dog door, the thumping noise was enough to wake the dead - let alone someone who was really just dozing, given how remote, black, and creepy the place was.

Rocky and Erica were actually very nice, quite well-behaved dogs. Although there was that one day when, while we were sitting in the yard sunning ourselves, Rocky lifted leg and peed on our friend Michele's sun chair.

Friend Michele was also party to another interesting rental story.

For several years, my sister Trish spear-headed a couple of weeks vacation rental in Maine that we all moved in an out of with varying overlaps.

The place was a lobsterman's shack that had been "modernized" and added to over the years. Situated on one of those glorious Maine fiord-coves, this house was in one of the most beautiful settings I have ever been in. (The cove was still an active lobstering cove, and we could watch folks working their traps every day.)

The house had been used as a vacation cottage by the same family since the 1920's, and there were all sorts of charming touches like the kids' heights measured in pencil, tarnished tennis trophies, and sketches of fairy tale scenes that looked like they'd been done by a not-very-talented child artist in the 1930's or 1940's somewhere. The last cottage update appeared to have been in the 1960's, when the tiny kitchen was painted gray-blue.

But, hell, this was a vacation rental, and you can overlook the moth-eaten, run-down everything to be able to walk into town and get fish right off the day boat. And those sunset views over the fiord...

This being the country, we were okay with the occasional big black snake slithering through the yard; the occasional snuffling little skunk make his way between where we sat drinking wine in the yard and the steps to the porch; the marauding moths on their kamikaze flights against every window screen with a lamp anywhere near it.

The first few years we rented the cottage, the only real problem was the swayback beds that induced full-bore sciatica after one night's toss and turn sleep.

Our guess was that some of the mattresses, which weighed a mite-filled ton, had been around since the twenties. We remedied the mattress problem by bringing air mattresses, but could never figure out why they didn't just spring for some new ones.

Mattresses and all, we stuck with this place for a number of years.

Until the time of the squirrel.

Along the back of the house, there was a long, glassed-in porch that held a glider - the one comfortable sitting spot in the house - and a long picnic-style table where we had all our meals. Curiously, there was no way to completely shut the porch off from the house, as someone had removed the door between the porch and the kitchen.

But mostly, this hadn't been a problem.

There was really no need to shut the porch off from the kitchen, was there?

One morning, friend Michele was bringing the breakfast stuff out to the porch when she said, "I think I saw a mouse."

Mouse, smouse.

No big deal.

This being the country, and all that.

The mouse turned out to be a squirrel which, on inspection, we realized had come in through some gaps between the floor boards and the walls. Further inspection revealed that the squirrels had been nesting in the porch rafters.


While we hadn't seen any signs that they'd been in the house proper, we were a bit concerned.

After a run to the hardware store, Michele and I spent the day - having sprinkled the recommended squirrel-be-gone moth balls in the crawl space beneath the porch - trying to stuff all the gaps between floor and wall with steel wool.

Talk about a bail the ocean task.

After a while, we gave up, and hoped for the best: that the squirrel-be-gone moth balls would do the trick.

Sure, it was a bit gaggy trying to eat with that moth-ball smell, but it sure beat the squirrels.

Fast forward.

Michele and I are no longer at the cottage. But my sisters, and their husbands, and my niece are.

And the squirrels, apparently having become inured to the smell of squirrel-be-gone moth balls, are back. And leaping from the broom that my brother-in-law Rick is flailing away at them with - leaping to his arms and shoulders.

It is a sleep-free vacation from there on out, as bleary-eyed vacationers rest on their air mattresses, fearing that they will soon be hearing the patter of little clawed squirrel feet making their way up the stairs to the sleeping quarters.

And that was the last of the quaint little cottage in South Bristol, Maine.

My sister Kathleen has said that the squirrel incident precipitated her and Rick's decision to look to the Cape, where they now own a magnificent, modern, and squirrel-free home in Wellfleet. The only invasion that they have to deal with is that of their family.

And wherever two or more are gathered, we reminisce about Rocky and Erica and the swhooshing, slamming dog door. About the mitey-mite mattresses. About the time of the squirrel.

And thank god that, when we hunker down in Wellfleet, we know that there is not one scintilla of renter horror awaiting us.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Sophia Carroll essay on the date rape drug

My wonderful friend - and virtual niece - Sophia Carroll has an essay on the Huffington Post on her Independence Day encounter with the date rape drug.

Sophia is fine - she is a strong, wise and, in this case, fortunate woman - but this incident could have ended with any number of  terrible outcomes.

Soph's essay is definitely worth a read - and some thought.

Rumors of their demise

Well, it's been a bad couple of weeks for celeb-u-deaths, hasn't it?

Farrah Fawcett. Ed McMahon. Steve McNair. St. Michael of Jackson. Karl Malden. Billy Mays. Gale Storm. (My Little Margie? Oh, no.) And, just yesterday, Oscar Mayer, the third OM to run the eponymous hot dog and cold cut company. (Although I really don't know whether, beyond his marvelous name, Oscar M. is a celebrity. Which is why I didn't mention Robert McNamara in this round up either. Famous/infamous? Surely. Celebrity? Not really much of one since those fab everybody-into-the-pool parties at Bobby K's in 1961.)

Anyway, it's hard just keeping up with who's alive and who's dead - which, fortunately, you can do at Dead or Alive.

Would that we'd had this sort of source a number of years back, when I thought that I heard on the radio, as I was passing a store, that Ted Williams had died. When I got home, I called a friend who was a major Teddy Ballgame fan and broke the news. As it turned out, Ted still had many years ahead with his head still firmly attached to his body.

But the burden of keeping up with the Who's Who of celebs who've passed on to the great re-run in the sky is made more onerous by those who engage in celebrity "death pranks", bearing false witness that Madonna and Brad Pitt have died. (As far as I know, they haven't. But you could look it up.)

Once a faux death is announced, social media does what it does worst: set off the viral spiral of misinformation that becomes true because someone sees it online. (I tell ya, that Obama wasn't born in the US of A, not to mention that he's a Muslin anti-Christ. Just the thought of a Muslin in the White House....)

In the midst of the Michael Jackson frenzy, CNN had a report on death pranking. There I learned that:

Despite what you may have read, Jeff Goldblum, Natalie Portman, George Clooney, Britney Spears, Harrison Ford and Rick Astley are alive.

Rick Astley. Phew. Am I relieved to hear that he's still alive. I hate when a celebrity dies before I even know that he or she exists.

Internet-savvy readers can tell the difference between fake news and real information that has been verified by a trusted blogger or mainstream news reporter, said Gabriel Snyder, managing editor at Gawker, a celebrity news and gossip blog not associated with the rumors.

"It's easier than ever to publish stuff, and the human condition is a complicated thing. Some people just like to be responsible for starting something," he said, noting that the trend is not especially new.

Perhaps Mr. Gawker, errrr, Mr. Snyder was referring to my having started that rumor about Ted Williams which, fortunately, was nipped in the bud when my friend called me back to tell me that I was crazy. But, truly, I wasn't trying to fake Number 9's death. Unlike some people I don't know.

The man who claims indirect responsibility for several of the recent fake celebrity deaths is Rich Hoover, whose site,, allows users to input celebrity names into five false news templates with outlandish stories about their deaths.

Fakeawish - a clever but somewhat unfortunate play on the Make a Wish Foundation, which does really nice things for really sick kids - lets you put in a name, and then generates a fake headline for you. It doesn't seem to matter whose name you put in, the same handful of not particularly original headlines come up.  You can then link to a "supporting" news story about the yacht-plain-car-crash, or falling off the cliff in New Zealand.

Whoever's name you put in, by the way, is an actor or actress, depending on which icon you click. Even Dick Cheney. Who has not died in St. Tropez, whatever you may have heard to the contrary.

Anyway, fake stories get Twittered and Facebooked, and the rest is history.

"I'm absolutely flabbergasted by the success of this and the impact these social networks have on communication -- and the communication of misinformation," [Fakeawish's Hoover] said.

Well, I'm not flabbergasted.

As we've seen with the 24/7 homage to Michael Jackson, we do so love a good celebrity death story. And if it turns out to be not so true....sure, we're out all the ghoulish, prurient payback, all those rich and wondrous details - the golden casket, the sequinned gloves, and ooohhhhhh-ahhhhhhh doesn't little Blanket look just like his daddy.  But until we get the pale of water thrown over us, and learn that our dead celebrity really isn't, we do have that little frisson of expectation of spectacle.

For those celebrities who do get death pranked, well, they just have to dash off a tweet that they're still alive.

Of course, it's just a matter of time before someone hacks the "real" Twitter account of a celebrity, and takes advantage of those 140 characters to announce that they're dead.

I just read it with my very own eyes on Britney's Twitter feed that she's dead. Why would she tell us something like this if it isn't true? It's so incredibly sad. Oh, the humanity...But I guess everything will work out, as long as Kevin Federline doesn't fall off a cliff in New Zealand, or out of a yacht in St. Tropez. And, by the way, what's K-Fed doing in St. Tropez with Dick Cheney to begin with?

Oh, the humanity...

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Shaken, not stirred. (Spies are everywhere.)

Shaken, not stirred.

That's how James, James Bond preferred his martinis.

Beyond that, we don't really know all that much about 007.  Navy man. Womanizer. A few hours logged on the playing fields of Eton. Excellent survival instincts - unlike his dead Mum, dead Dad, and dead wife.

And, whoever played him, he looked pretty good in a dinner jacket, Savile Row suit, or bathing suit.

Which is more than we can say about John Sawers, whose the next "M", the head spook in Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service.

We know that he looks pretty pasty because his wife, Lady Sawers, posted a shot of him on vacation on her Facebook account, along with a lot of nattering about their family, their home, and their vacations.

I'm guessing that bad guys like Auric Goldfinger and Ernst Blofeld would probably be able to figure out some of this stuff on their own, but Lady Sawers private postings on the Sawers' kids, cats, sacks, and in-laws - which apparently were up there without any security settings set - have been removed. The Brit press is atwitter about whether security has been breached. And the Foreign Office has said that, when it comes to social media, staff members need to proceed with caution - even while pointing out that there's really nothing that compromising or revelatory about someone who wears a bathing suit when he goes swimming. (Picture as seen in a CNN article.)

Personally, given the pasty torso, I would have preferred if Lady Sawers had photo-shopped a tee-shirt on to this pic. While she was at it, she might have put a bit of man-tan on those chicken legs. I mean, I know all about pasty white chicken legs - I've got two of them, myself. But I'd be damned if I'd let anyone post a picture of those chicken legs on line.

While many are downplaying the flap, others are not so sanguine.

"The Foreign Office should have made the announcement that no personal details should have been left on any computer or directory," [intelligence analyst Glenmore] Trenear-Harvey told CNN.

The leak compromises Sawers' personal security, said Trenear-Harvey, the editor-in-chief of "The World Intelligence Review."

"You could have someone come online and insinuate themselves with Lady Sawers' daughter," who reportedly appeared on the Facebook Web site.

Forget the security issues. (Although every once in a while I feel kind of exposed after I've gotten a really nasty anonymous comment, and I remember that it would take about a nanosecond for an unglued lunatic to figure out where I live.)

We all know that everyone's already googling away before they make you an offer or do a deal with you, and you have to be vigilant about what's floating around out there in your name. But it's not just what you're saying and posting about yourself that comes up, but what your nearest and dearest are posting.

It's sure easy to imagine ticked off kids tweeting and IM-ing about mom being a bee-otch, or dad being an a-hole.

Will that get held against you, or get discounted for what it is?

Or do we have to move forward assuming perfect knowledge about everything and everybody, on the part of anyone and everyone.

Scary thought, eh?