Friday, April 30, 2010

Sun shining not so bright on My Old Kentucky Home (weep some more, my lady)

Well, tomorrow’s Kentucky Derby Day, and I’ll be putting on my flowing, flowered organdy dress and picture hat; pouring myself a nice, tall Mint Julep; and, armed with my binocs and on the arm of my husband, The Colonel (who will be dashing in his cream-colored suit), watching the race closely.


Did I actually just write that?

What a liar I am.

Tomorrow may be Kentucky Derby Day, but I’ll be doing my usual Saturday shuffle, which has a dress code of jeans and beaten up Red Sox cap. And as for The Colonel – in real life, The Economist. Hah! No cream-colored suit there.

If past years are a predictor of this one, I won’t be watching The Derby. If I hear the name of the horse on the news, I will have forgotten it by Monday.

Here are the race horses whose names I remember: Sea Biscuit, Man o’ War, Secretariat, Dan Patch, Ruffian, Secretariat and National Velvet. (Or was Velvet the girl’s name?)

Still, I read with interest the article in The New York Times the other day on the decline in fortunes that the thoroughbred business, centered in Kentucky, is experiencing.

Other than the fact that no one actually needs a horse, and you can’t live in a stall (at least not comfortably), what’s happened to the thoroughbred breeding and farm biz is somewhat akin to what happened to the housing market.

The prices went up, up, and away. No end appeared to be in sight. Speculators and horse-set wannabes entered the market with no money down. Demand resulted in more supply than it turns out we needed.

Then, voila!

This nag, metaphorically speaking, broke a leg.

As a result, there are oodles of horse farms for sale in blue grass country.

Lately, however, horsemen have been betting their farms and losing. There are 265 farms of more than 20 acres for sale here in the four counties of horse country — up from 199 listed last year — and that is not counting the more than 60 “pocket listings” Mr. Kirkpatrick said he and his peers had not put on the multiple listings service.

“I’ve got 14 myself from people who want out, but don’t want to scare their help or their clients by listing,” he said.

Well, if there’s one thing I can say about how nice horse people are, it’s that they don’t like to scare their help.

And as for the horses themselves, stud fees ain’t what they used to be, either. (Not that the studs themselves care one way or the other.)

Top dog horses used to command $500K for their out-calls. Now the fee has drifted down to $150K. (Still not bad for a few minutes “work”.) One horse who almost but not quite swept the Triple Crown a few years ago has seen his fee plummet from $100K to a measly $10K. (Still not bad for a few minutes “work”.)

In Kentucky, all this is big business, and they’re not just horsin’ around in saying that.

The horse industry translates in 100,000 jobs and $4b in “economic impact.” And that’s not even taking Kentucky’s tourist trade – which is centered on things-equine – into consideration.

There’s just less money around for, and less interest in, the horse biz these days. In 2007, there was $1B leant to buy horses. Last year, this had dropped to a meager $400M.

And while you can’t exactly say that all bets are off, money spent betting on the ponies was down 30% to a mere $12B in 2009.

The racing business is hurtin’ for certain', and the Triple Crown has a cloud hanging over it that doesn’t appear to have a silver lining.

Pimlico, the track that hosts the Preakness, is in bankruptcy. And the NY Racing Association is making moo-moo noises (or are they nay-nay noises?) that they may not have enough money to run the Belmont Stakes this season.

A horse that won all three Triple Crown events used to go for $75M. Now, it might command $40M. (Buy sheep, sell deer.)

Frankly, if it weren’t for the 100,000 little guys working as groomers, stable boys, and other unglamorous, horse-related positions, or for the maids and busboys at the Bluegrass Hilton, or for “the help” that the horse farm owners in distress are scared of scaring, I wouldn’t give a hoot that the horsey set, in their picture hats and bespoke suits, were taking a bath.

But it’s all those lowly workers, shoveling the shit for them, who are – surprise, surprise – hit the hardest.

Baby may need a new pair of (horse) shoes, but, if you’re in the horse business in Kentucky nowadays, you may not be able to afford any this year.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Captcha-ists wanted (and you think your job is boring, repetitive, and tedious)

Over the years, I’ve had my share of work-tedium, that’s for sure.

Nothing like trying to look busy on the retail floor when you’ve done every last bit of merchandise straightening possible, and there’s a blizzard raging outside the glass doors.

I once had an office temp job that involved spending each and every day typing the letter “B” onto forms.

And hulling strawberries at Durgin Park during waitress “break time” got old after, say, the first 95 or 100 bushels.

Even during my brilliant professional career, there have been too many moments of sheer monotony to enumerate, but one that readily comes to mind is the time I volunteered to help a sales rep “personally” sign the Christmas cards he was sending to his prospect and customer lists.

This fellow’s name was long and complex. It started with a “B” and had an “o” and a “z” in it. Without even thinking, by the time I was on the 100th or so card, I was signing them “Dick Bozo.” (I’m not using the guy’s full name here because it’s sufficiently unusual that someone googling it might come across this post, and I wouldn’t want to embarrass someone who I found very pleasant and easy to work with – an atypical salesman, that’s for sure.)

I often wondered how many people opened the card, scratched their heads, and asked “Who the hell is Dick Bozo?”

And then there’s the fact that even the most high-falutin’ marketing work tends to involve some good measure of formatting…Ctl-Shft-B…

Still, I don’t believe that any of my boring jobs can hold a match, let along a candle, to the job of captcha-ist.

Can you imagine staring at captchas all day and translating them. (And thank you, GeeksAmongUs, for this hilarious version of a captcha.) Of course, as a Red Sox’ fan, I do have to spend time each year on their website trying to do precisely this on the day that tickets go on sale. But you only hit the captchas every once in a while, when you’re lucky enough to get called from the Virtual Waiting Room to the Virtually Useless Room, where you get a crap-shoot of a chance to actually buy tickets.  (As an aside, part of me is secretly delighted that the Red Sox are starting off their year in something of a funk. I understand that the scalpers are – ha – eating it, and tickets may actually become easier to acquire. Ah, for the days when you could decide at 6 p.m. that you wanted to see a game and just stroll out to Fenway Park and buy a ticket for the night’s event.)

The New York Times wrote about this delightful profession the other day, reporting that:

Sophisticated spammers are paying people in India, Bangladesh, China and other developing countries to tackle the simple tests known as captchas, which ask Web users to type in a string of semiobscured characters to prove they are human beings and not spam-generating robots.

The going rate for the work ranges from 80 cents to $1.20 for each 1,000 deciphered boxes, according to online exchanges like, where dozens of such projects are bid on every week.

$1.20 for 1,000 deciphered boxes?

You can go blind that way!

And it doesn’t exactly add up. One Bangladeshi student said that he works a few hours a day, raking in “at least $6 every 15 days.” Hmm. Three hours a day, for 15 days = 45 hours, or about 13 cents an hour.

And I thought I was underpaid when I made 50 cents an hour babysitting for a family with 7 boys, a rate of about 7 cents per kid. (Blessedly, some of them were babies who mostly slept.)

Nice to know that spammers have the help of captcha-ists, isn’t it? Doing God’s work, helping them work around those annoying sites that want to make sure that a human being is entering honest to goodness personal information. (Oh, did I say God’s work? I forgot that Lloyd Blankfein and Goldman Sachs have cornered the market on that.)

Like everyone else – possibly more so, because I have a blog – I have my encounters with spammers.

Most of the ones I get hit by out are entering irrelevant comments on Pink Slip.  These comments are typically goofily chipper and pip-pip  - “Say, nice blog you have there! Keep up the good work.” Followed by a link to the Mumbai Dissertation Service.

My e-mail accounts –and, between personal and client, I have many – tend to be pretty good at identifying and junking spam-mails, although one of my client accounts, after 2 clean years, has started to receive a bit of Viagra news…

But ain’t no spammer willing to pay even 13 cents an hour to go after me, I’m guessing.

And, apparently, there are very few spammers willing – and able – to pay at all for the services of captcha-ists. At least one Indian outsourcer has dumped their captcha-ist “practice.”

“We found that it’s not worth doing,” said Mr. [Dileep] Paveri, a manager in SBL’s business process outsourcing and graphics unit. Moreover, he added, “after some time, the productivity of people comes down because it’s a monotonous job. They lose their interest.”

I can imagine.

Even though captchas have gotten somewhat more interesting over the years – as often as not, they’re compound phrases that may even be a bit amusing: easter backlash, clown assembly, alibi soapbox – it would be difficult to keep pretending that captcha translating was puzzle solving after the first couple of rounds through.

Anyway, captcha-ist is yet another example of how things change at warp speed these days: here’s a new profession that’s dying out before we’ve all even heard of it.  Buggy-whip jobs used to last, if not for centuries or decades, at least for a couple of years. Now they’re gone before you know it.

To quote Joni Mitchell – it’s Joni Mitchell week at Pink Slip, you must realize - “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Help me, I think I’m falling…Joni Mitchell dishes Bob Dylan

Well, the seasons have gone round and round, and the painted pony in Joni Mitchell’s brain is going up and down on Bob Dylan.

In a pretty darned freewheelin’ interview in the LA Times last week, Joni minced no words about old Bobby:

Bob is not authentic at all. He's a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I.

Now everybody must get stoned now and again, and I cast one Dylan’s way last fall in honor of his misbegotten Christmas album.

But I kind of wished that Joni had gone into a bit more detail here on Dylan-as-plagiarist.

Although I am not a follower of latter-day Dylan, I was a reasonably attentive fan in high school and college – to the degree that if I get cued on the first note of any of his albums of that era (the 1960’s), I can probably sing the whole darned thing. (The same is true of Joni Mitchell albums of the same period, by the way.) Not that I’ve done a textual or guitar chord exegesis of any of his songs, but the only thing that comes to mind as obviously derivative is the tune in “God’s On Our Side”, which is taken from the Irish song “Patriot’s Game”, and god knows where the tune sprung from before that. This is in the long tradition of folk songs borrowing from and embroidering on lyrics, tunes, riffs – much of which, of course, happened in a kinder, gentler pre-copyright, pre-litigious era.

Any one who’s listened to more than one folk-ish album can probably come up with plenty of examples. One man’s “Streets of Laredo” is another’s “Bard of Armagh.” And “Red Is the Rose” is an Irish tune that sounds surprisingly like – nay, I would say identical to - “Banks of Loch Lomond.”

So, you can take the high road, or you can take the low road here, but if Joni’s got the goods on Dylan in terms of specifics, I wish she’d spilled.

For all I know, he is a plagiarist, but you’d think that more about this would have come out over the course of a 50 year career, wouldn’t you?

As for Dylan’s name and voice being a fake, well, it’s not exactly a secret that Bob Dylan entered this vale of tears as Robert Zimmerman. (Joni, by the way, came in the front door as “Roberta Joan Anderson”.) 

The voice? Shocked, I’m shocked to hear – especially after listening to Dylan’s Christmas album – that his voice is schtick. Is it possible that behind the raspy twang lurks a velvet smooth Nat King Cole? Wouldn’t that be a hoot(enanny)?

As with many performers, what you see on the stage and what you hear on the record is a persona that’s been crafted over time.

Is it fake? Kinda/sorta. But it’s real fake.

And just because you’ve crafted up a persona for yourself, doesn’t exactly put you on the same page as The Monkees.

So the Kingston Trio, with their khakis and “Calypso”-striped shirts weren’t exactly Woody Guthrie. They did manage to introduce a generation to “roots” music, even though they were polished and commercial. Were they authentic? Sure. They were authentically the Kingston Trio.

Of course none of us (especially when we’re kids) want to discover that our scruffy, f-the-man, man of the people hero is, say, a sell-out who’s riding not the rails but a stretch limo to his gig singing for the Goldman Sachs billion dollar traders winners circle, or the Dubai Tourist Bureau’s big event for corporate travel departments.  But, somehow, most of us manage to get over it.

Entertainment = entertainment. If we like the art and the message, so what if the artiste/messenger likes nothing better than to don a tux and dine out on caviar?

Sure, it’s better that Pete Seeger’s authentic.  Really. It is.

But it’s not all that terrible – other than if they’re using TARP money – if AIG decides to pay Bob Dylan $100K to sing “Masters of War” to them. (I’m making this up, but for all I know it has happened.)

Joni, Joni, Joni.

I have no problem believing that you and Mr. Dylan (nee Zimmerman) are as different as night and day.

You are not exactly paving over paradise with this revelation.

But perhaps you’ve reached the point in life where you feel the truth must out – and you must out it. As you said,

Things start losing their profundity; in middle-late age, you enter a tragedian period, realizing that the human animal isn't changing for the better.

Perhaps Dylan is an exemplar to you of how “the human animal isn’t changing for the better”?

I do partially agree with one thing you said:

Americans have decided to be stupid and shallow since 1980. Madonna is like Nero; she marks the turning point.

True that, about the  stupid and shallow. It’s just that we may have had those tendencies before 1980, and I wouldn’t necessarily say that Madonna marks the turning point. There were other things that happened that year…

In any case, all this hoopla has placed Joni front and center in a way she probably hasn’t been since the release of Blue – at least among “aging children come, aging children I am one”, who care about Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and things like authenticity. (By the way, it is possible to be authentically terrible.)

Meanwhile, the weird undercurrent to the Joni Mitchell interview – if calling out Bob Dylan, and pinning the fall of the west on Madonna isn’t weird enough for you – is the revelation that she suffers from something called Morgellons Syndrome, a condition that I had never heard of.

I have this weird, incurable disease that seems like it's from outer space.. Fibers in a variety of colors protrude out of my skin like mushrooms after a rainstorm: they cannot be forensically identified as animal, vegetable or mineral. Morgellons is a slow, unpredictable killer — a terrorist disease: it will blow up one of your organs, leaving you in bed for a year. ..In America, the Morgellons is always diagnosed as "delusion of parasites," and they send you to a psychiatrist. I'm actually trying to get out of the music business to battle for Morgellons sufferers to receive the credibility that's owed to them.

Well, whether it’s in your head or your body, Morgellons certainly sounds terrible. So far, there doesn’t appear to be any scientific evidence to back up the assertion that Morgellons is anything other than psychiatric. Which is not to say that some day it won’t be proven to be a real disease. We’ve certainly added enough crap to the environment to give rise to any number of weird, incurables diseases that have as yet come to plague us.

For now, though, it’s in the realm of the psychiatric. Which doesn’t make it any less authentic than those who are experiencing it.

But I’m just another one of those stupid and shallow Americans who spends two minutes googling and thinks she’s an expert.


And a big shout out to my brother-in-law Rick for his pointing this story out to me. He has been an incredible source of bloggy inspiration over time, never more so than of late. Thanks, Rick.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

RelayRides. Really?

For the last couple of years, I’ve been a Zipcar member – and quite happily so.

Sure, if I had all the money in the world and could justify paying an exorbitant amount of moola each month to rent a space for a car I seldom use, I might be tempted.

Alas – at least for me and my loved ones - some penniless convenience store clerk from Missouri won the Powerball, so at least for the foreseeable future, I will remain a Zipcar girl. (For those unfamiliar with Zipcar, the short hand is it’s a car you rent by the hour – and it’s all done online and with a smartcard and transponder, so you don’t have to go to Avis and stand in line waiting for the one and only clerk to process the out-of-town, need-directions-to the-Cape-monopolizing-the- only-clerk’s-time customers who got there a split second before you arrived.)

So far, with a couple of quite minor glitches, Zipcar has worked out perfectly for me. No more following the street sweeper around on cleaning day, hoping to nab a spot I can stay in for 2 weeks. No more shoveling out a space, only to come home and find that every free spot had been occupied by an SUV that jockeyed its way out of the spot without having to shovel, leaving a frozen, rutted, impossible to park in mess for me.

Just go on line. Pick out your car. Pick up your car. And go.

Thanks, Zipcar! So much easier and cheaper than renting a car for short, couple of hours trips.

Now there’s a new, variation-on-a-Zipcar theme trying to make its way: RelayRides, with P2P (clever, that) car sharing. I.e., if you have a car you’re willing to rent out to perfect strangers, you can register it with RelayRides, which provides the peer-to-peer forum; vets and outfits the cars; covers the insurance; does the AAA thing if you breakdown; etc. Lots of overlap with the Zipcar model.

Now, I can understand a car owner wanting to make a few bucks off of an unused car. Sort of.

But if I had a car sitting idle – and, if I did have a car, I can guarantee it would be sitting idle about 99.99% of the time – and was considering RelayRides, here’s what I’d be worrying about:

  • The general ick factor of having someone I don’t know going god knows where to do god knows what in my car.
  • The fact that, while I’m making money, my car’s getting some wear and tear, and depreciation, on it that I’m not putting there.
  • Whether the person using this car knows how to drive a manual, or is this jackass – see, I’m already anticipating ‘jackass’ – burning my clutch out trying to learn. I’ve done enough clutch damage getting in and out of miniscule urban parking spaces to trust my car to a complete strangers.
  • And speaking of getting in and out of miniscule urban parking spaces, does the relay renter know how to parallel park?
  • Which won’t matter half the time, anyway, since in all likelihood, there’ll be no parking space for him to parallel park in to begin with. And what then? ‘Hey, I had to leave your car in a $20/hour parking lot. Sor-ry.’
  • Not to mention that you might be completely and utterly PO’d if someone totaled your car. (I didn’t read the FAQ all that closely: is it book value or replacement value if someone wrecks your beloved.)

So, as I see it, this model pretty much precludes us urban types who have cars with manual transmissions and/or those without their own parking spaces.  And has a few other not so appealing aspects to it.  That’s from one former car owner’s perspective.

From the renter’s perspective, what does RelayRides give me that Zipcar doesn’t? (I’m assuming it’s more or less a wash with Zipcar in terms of costs. At a quick glance, RR seems a bit lower if you drive less than 20 miles, after which point you’ll reach a net-net with Zip, after which it gets pricier.) Plus, if I get in an accident with my Zipcar, it’s on some combo of the company and me (haven’t read the fine print here: I’m sure there’s more “on me” in there than I’d like to believe). If I crash and burn a RelayRide, well, in addition to its being on the company and me (haven’t read the fine print here), my neighbor may be giving me the fisheye or glare-stare in perpetuity.

Anyway, to compare and contrast, if you’re in a dense urban location with 20 cars chasing every available parking space, Zipcar gets the clear nod, as you’ll always have a place to return the car.

And, in the here and now, since Zipcar has already built up its business, if you’re in Zipcar-ville, you can pretty much always find a car nearby. (At least in my humble experience.)

But if you’re not in an area chocked full of Zipcars– as I am – this may not be a bad idea.

It seems more of a natural for exurban areas (inner ring suburbs). The ones where there’s okay public transportation, where people aren’t as my-car-is-my-life-ish as they are in suburb-suburbs – you know, the ones without sidewalks and where SUV’s are mandated by local ordinance - and where you may be able to mostly get along without a car, or with being a one-car family. But which may not be an interesting area for Zipcar in terms of critical mass.

Then again, if there’s not critical mass, how’s this going to work for RelayRides?

If I’m in Medford, and have to walk 3 miles to Somerville to pick up my ride, well…

Who knows?

The ReadyRides concepts strikes me as a bit like, well, Zipcar has been a success, but the idea’s taken, so let’s see whether a quasi-knock off has legs. But, as my business career has proven time and again, I’m no ‘idea man’. So this concept may take off. Folks from the B-School are involved with it, so presumably there’s some sort of business plan behind it, the market’s been sussed out, etc.

And, after all, people rent out their summer houses all the time, and having some stranger use your toilet and sleep in your bed is arguably more intimate and personally encroaching than someone heading to Home Depot in your car to buy a gallon a paint and a Black & Decker drill. (In fact, next week, we’ll be staying in a VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) flat in Paris that my husband found online. It is not, however, the owner’s place of residence; it’s his side business.)

But I don’t see the model as being as sure-fire as Zipcar’s is. (Or, at least, as sure-fire as Zipcar has proven to be.)

Like Zipcar, RelayRides is a local outfit. So I wish them luck – as long as (for a couple of reasons), it’s not at the expense of Zipcar, which is working out for me just fine.

I also wish them luck because a member of their management team is named Ethelbert – which, in a world of bland and boring names, absolutely sets them apart.


P.S. From a marketing perspective, I love their tag line: Reinventing the wheels. But when I read through this post, I found that I had called them ‘ReadyRides’ several times. (Too bad that URL is taken. Nothing much there yet, but “coming soon.” It would have been nice if RelayRides could have grabbed it and done a redirect.)

And just to give credit to my ur source, I first heard of RelayRides in the current Economist.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Looking for a royal role model? Got one for you.

I’ve read that the Guccis – or perhaps it’s the Puccis – have a modest flat for rent in NYC, for $60K/month. (Central Park views, natch.)

One would think that this place would make apt digs for Prince Dimitri Karageorgevich, P.D. to his friends, the offspring of Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia and Princess Maria Pia of Savoy. P.D. -  hey, he seems so darned approachable, I consider him at least a pre-friend –was written up in an article on NY-area royals in The New York Times the other day. But P.D. lives more modestly, in a two bedroom apartment on Sutton Place.

But, like the Guccis (and the Puccis), he does work-work for a living, designing jewelry, like a $620,000 necklacesavoyarme that – swank as Sutton Place is – would probably be better worn in the Gucci/Pucci pad.

A petty, peasant-minded person might ask how one  can be the prince or princess of places that don’t actually exist as any sort of royal-type entity – and I’d have to put both Yugoslavia and Savoy in that category. But I will leave such a question to a petty, peasant-minded person.

Instead, I will point out the P.D. is listed by the Royal House of Wikipedia as the “1,375th in the line of succession to the British throne.” Which means if something really awful happened, and Princes Charles, William, and Harry, and the 1,371 others ahead of P.D.,were kidnapped by aliens, or all decided to pull an Edward and abdicate the throne if and when QEII passes on to the Palace in the Sky, P.D. is the man who would be king.

Which means he’d have to swap in his old coat o’ arms (above), which looks rather like something on a no-touch vase in a museum, for the frankly much more fun and light-touch one of the British royals, with its nice bit of whimsy UK_Royal_Coat_of_Arms and Wizard of Oz-iness.  But, of course, this is not likely to happen. And unless something mega happens in Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Herzegovina, etc., to happy-family them back into Yugoslavia. Or if Italy decides they’ve had it with Berlusconi, and the dukes, earls, princes, and princesses come stompin’ back to the Savoy, P.D., alas, will remain a jeweler and social prince-about-town.

Which is, frankly, not as easy as it looks.

First, there are the paparazzi.

Now, I don’t imagine that, in Manhattan, they plague P.D. as much as they would if he were in Yugoslavia or Savoy. Or as much as if he were part of Brangenlina or Tomkat. But they have been known to shutterbug him – especially when he was a lad at boarding school. His mother advised looking bored, and “today [he] continues a studied expressionlessness.”

Then there’s putting up with “impromptu guests like the aged lady-in-waiting for Princess Marianne Bernadotte of Sweden”. Impromptu guests can happen a lot when you’re related to all 11 reigning families in Europe. (Quick. Count them.)


He is flooded with party invitations and has appeared on best-dressed lists in Vanity Fair. He has a cameo in the coming movie “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”

And it could well be a full-time job, living as P.D. does in one of the poser capitals of the free world, just outing faux royals.

At one Manhattan dinner, Prince Dimitri recalled, a man who called himself Michael de Savoia claimed to be the son of the King of Italy; when P. D. said that that would make him his mother’s brother, Mr. de Savoia abruptly fled. Another time, a Frenchman named Patrick D’Orleans said he was related to the Count of Paris, whom Prince Dimitri pointed out was related to his godmother.

“He turned bright red, stood up and left,” P. D. said.

Well played, P.D.

I hate, hate, hate when someone swans into a dinner par-tay and claims to be the son of the King of Italy.

At least you don’t have to worry about the fraudsters when you’re at a family wedding, like the one “where the Queen Mother kept playing practical jokes and “her eyes were always glistening.””

Ah, the ginny-gin-gin will do that to you, but I do understand that the old gal was a gas.

The hardest part of being a royal, one would think, is that:

“There’s always the duality…There’s the prince and the man.”

Gosh. That damned duality. It must be like being a minotaur – half man, half bull – or something. A tough life.

But P.D. believes in toughing it out – unlike the late Princess Di, who annoyed him with her public little pity parties.

“You can’t just go around and feel sorry for yourself,” he said.

“It’s all about marketing and keeping the crowds dreaming,” Prince Dimitri added. “Americans have a very Hollywood view of royals. They don’t realize we have a very military view of life. We have to be role models.”

Yes, P.D., you do have to keep my crowd dreaming and be a role model.

Certainly, I know in my own case that, when I go looking for a role model, I look no further than the nearest throne.

Others may take the cheap and easy route, and go off half-cocked, emulating someone who brought about world peace. Or discovered a cure for some wicked bad disease. Or invented the gizmo that everyone’s plugged into. Or gave up a life of ease to swab lepers. Or, worse yet, trained long and hard so that he could hit a little round ball better than anyone else.

But you know what?

Half of these so-called role models go feet of clay on us.

Sure, some royals end up letting you down. Even I have to admit that Prince Charles as a role model went a bit south for me when that voice-mail came out about his wanting to be Camilla’s tampon. And I stopped emulating Prince Harry for a while when he went to the costume party dressed as a Nazi.

So far, however, P.D. is holding. (Admittedly, I have only been aware of his existence since yesterday. But, as we have learned over the years, it’s pretty much one day at a time with role models.)

In fact, I feel so strongly about P.D. that, if I were single, I would consider him husband material.

At 51, however, Dimitri is a) not looking – he considers marriage a ‘prison’ (I suppose, he has a point; but, then again, if you really think about it, almost everything in life you step toe into for more than a sec has prison potential);  and b) would only marry another royal.

Not being all that fond of snobbism in my role models, I am a bit unhappy about this. But, for a man in his position, I suppose the girl on the arm at the next royal wedding should be someone who can talk about the last time they saw the Thurn und Taxis, or the Sturm und Drangs, or whomever.  Who knows when to curtsy, and whether it’s ever okey-dokey to call Prince Charles (P.C.?) anything other than “Sir”.

But the Rogers do have our own coat of arms, which I know is authentic because I’ve seen it on key chains and muRogers family crestgs in souvenir shops throughout Ireland.  And I bet if we looked back far enough, I’m descended from Cú Chulainn, Queen Medb (that’s Queen Maeve to you, buster), and Brian Boru.

So there.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Necessity is not always the mother of invention…

I knew the December 13th NY Times Sunday Mag that my brother-in-law gave me was going to be a good source of blog material.  I didn’t realize just how good until I started scanning the round-up of patents on the last page.

Do we really need any additional “Food Product Comprising Fat and Salt” (7,523,360)?  Don’t we already have the potato chip?

Speaking of the unspeakable, which is patented food, in general, I can’t wait to stick my fork into “Foodstuff Containing a Moist, Meaty Filling” (7,485,330).  Actually, I’ve done plenty of that: pot-pies, Szechuan dumplings, ravioli.  It’s just that none of it was patented…

And how about “Method of Starting a Fire” (7,597,727)? Didn’t Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble discover that when they took Pebbles and BamBam camping? Hand me that stick, Barney. Fire good!

Someone’s patented another “Mousetrap” (7,506,471).  Hope it’s a better one. And someone’s got a design patent (D600,187) for something called, quite simply, “Wheel,” which I guess answers the question ‘do we have to keep reinventing the wheel?’ Apparently we do.

There’s a design patent out there for “Removable Underwear” (D585,182), which, pardon my confusion, I thought we already had. (Just the thought of non-removable underwear gives me the heebie-jeebie equivalent of opening a can of Chef-Boyardee and finding a rat in the rav.)

And I’m wondering how the “Appearance-Inspection Apparatus” (7,557,911) improves on the mirror.

Someone has patented a “Passenger’s Weight-Measurement Device” (7,614,680). If this can help insure that the passenger weigh-in gets done discreetly, I’m all for it. Years ago, my husband and I flew from outside of Galway to Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands. We got our tickets in Galway City, and when we bought them, the clerk told us that we’d be weighed at the airport in Rossaveal.


I laughed and told her that, unfortunately, I wasn’t going to be able to lose 10 pounds by the next morning, but she assured me that the weigh-in was handled with the utmost of Irish discretion.

Well, think “Irish Whisper,” why don’t you.

The weigh scale at Rossaveal International had a face the size of Big Ben, which faced out onto the passenger waiting area.

Fortunately, as there were only three of us on the flight, they didn’t bother to weigh us.

Of the dozens of patents shown in The Times – cleverly compiled by Alexandra Horowitz and Ammon Shea, and illustrated by Paula Scher – the one that gave me the most pause, however, was the one granted for “Panties with Skin Whitening Effect” (7,581,262).

I’d say that America hasn’t lost its inventive edge quite yet, but this one, which I looked up on the USPTO’s nifty patent search site, was invented in Taiwan. Here’s the description (from the USPTO):

A pair of panties with a skin-whitening effect comprises a wearing space defined therein, and one or more gel blocks each covered by a release film attached to the panties so as to press close to a groin, a waist, and borders between hips and legs of a user to wear the panties. Thereby, after the release film is torn and the panties are worn by the user, skin-whitening, skin-color-lighting, and wrinkle-softening agents contained in the gel blocks can perform skin-whitening, skin-color-lighting, and wrinkle-softening treatment on the above-mentioned user's body portions, while not disturbing the user's daily life.

I get that some people with vitiligo may want to even out their skin color. And that some folks, unfortunately, find “white” a more desirable flesh color than whatever they’re sporting.

But why would anyone focus their whitening treatment where the sun don’t shine?

Does this assume that there are shirts, stockings, gloves, and masks that take care of the rest of the body? And that having whitening panties just completes the job, so that a vitiligo sufferer can even himself or herself out. (As, I understand, Michael Jackson did.)

Or is there some fetish or other that calls for a milky-white bum, even if the rest is not-so.

Maybe the operative feature is the “wrinkle-softening agents”, promising soft as a baby’s bottom?

Anyway, I’m scratching my head over this invention, and just noticed that my fingernails are a bit ragged.

Maybe I should look into that “Fingernail Sander with Debris Bag” (7,500,486).  Thank goodness there’s a debris bag with it! I hate the thought of just blowing all that fingernail debris away, and I never seem to have a debris bag when I need one.

Who says that necessity is the mother of invention? Sure looks to me that sometimes it works the other way around.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Contented Cows

My brother-in-law Rick is a newshound, and an excellent source of Pink Slip fodder.  A couple of weeks ago, he slipped me a copy of The New York Times Sunday Magazine for December 13th, which I had missed – largely because I read the NYT online and, thus, miss out on the full NYT Sunday experience of meandering through everything.

As Rick had assured me I would, I found this particular edition, a roundup of research tidbits, to be a complete and udder utter trove of blog post ideas.

Starting with the brief  article on a study of British dairies that appeared last year in the journal Anthrozoös.

The study found that cows with names produced, on average, 6% more milk a year – about 258 liters than cows without. That translates into a lot of moo-la.

Aside from the fact that reading this article has inserted the loathsome tune Been Through the Desert on a Horse with No Name – just possibly the worst oldie of all time -  in my brain, I found it of great interest.

But speaking of  horses, for whatever reason, they do tend to have names.

Roy Rogers had Trigger. Dale Evans had Buttermilk. Gene Autry had Champion. I’m sure my favorite Cartwright brother – Adam, the brainy one – had a horse with a name. I just don’t know what it was. Probably something brainy like Plutarch or Thoreau.

In much the same way that horses have names, the transportation mode that replaced them – that would be the car – often have names, as well. I learned to drive Black Beauty (curiously, a horse name), which was replaced after a while by the far less reliable Green Hornet.

Cows, on the other hand…

Well, I guess fewer of us have day to day direct contact with the bovine than we do with the equine. Even I, a complete city girl who has never been astride a mount that wasn’t wooden, painted, and going around in a circle while calliope music plays, tends to run into an occasional mounted police horse, horse on parade, or horse hauling tourists around in a flower bedecked buggy.

As for run ins with cows, not since I was a child have I been anywhere near one.

Although I am a life-long city girl, the neighborhood where I grew up in Worcester had a weird little country pocket in it, and the pocket contained a cider mill and a working farm. With geese and cows.

Once in a while, one of the cows escaped and ran up our street. (“Hide, hide, the cow’s outside.”) Then there was the winter of The Great Cow Freeze, when the cows froze to death, standing in place, in their pasture, and had to be bulldozed down by the city health department.

I have no idea whether those cows had names, as we weren’t friendly with the farmer – Grandma Griggis (sp?) – who was always yelling at kids who got anywhere near her cow pasture, which was hard to avoid, as it abutted the pond where we skated.

Anyway, the only cow I knew that had a name was Elsie, the Borden’s cow who, presumably, was giving more mill than a run-of-the-mill cow with no name. That is, when she wasn’t sporting around with her husband, Elmer, who was Vice President in Charge of Glue-All.  Ever wonder how Borden milk products ended up inventing Glue-All. Those cows couldn’t have been all that contented. Or maybe Glue-All’s what you get when you send a bull to do a cow’s work.)

Back to the Bessy, Bossy, Daisy, and Maybell herd.

According to Catherine Douglas, the researcher behind the named cow study, naming:

…reflects the human’s attitudes toward the cows, and therefore how they behave around them.

In other words, we name that which we, if not exactly love, have some degree of affection toward and communication with. Making them more content. And, in the case of cows, in more of a giving mode.

There is, of course, a counterargument to the naming of cows, which, in the article, is offered up – in that ‘on the other hand’, let’s give everybody equal time way – by a mass-dairy operator, who runs a milk factory with 2,200 cows. No science behind her comment, so we don’t know whether her cows give more or less. But, for her cows, “Everyone has an ear tag with a number.”


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Fabulous Fab: when will the part about e-mail as evidence finally take hold

Not that I’m about to read or even begin to fathom who did what to whom in the SEC vs. Goldman Sachs brouhaha, but at the utterly, read one article and be done with it level, it sure is interesting.

It would certainly come as no surprise to find that the Masters of the Universe at Goldman were laughing all the way to a solvent bank, after unloading risky, poorly understood financial instruments onto investor naifs. There will be finger pointing and boo-hooing galore, and it will come as no further surprise if it all comes down to slightly cannier greed-heads taking slight advantage of slightly less canny greed-heads who just wanted to get in on the big score.

With the SEC news last week, Goldman shares took a mega-hit, but this, too, will no doubt pass.

Goldman will pay off some of the aggrieved, if only to keep their “good” name and their business. They’ll pay a (nominal) fine. The SEC will huff and puff that they’ve at long last done something. Then the cavalier, fast and loose deal makers will lay low for a nano-second or two. (Hey, there’s still money to be made…) The SEC will walk off with a modest saber rattle or two, and perhaps even – oh, no, Mr. Bill – a bit of regulation will be enacted.

But, come on, someone’s going to have to take a big old Goldman fall for this.

The perfect fall-guy, of course, is Fabrice Tourre a 31-year old “star” Goldman trader:

The SEC said Mr. Tourre was "principally responsible" for piecing together the bonds and touting them to investors. According to the SEC, Mr. Tourre wrote in an email shortly before the bonds were sold that "the whole building is about to collapse anytime now." He described himself in the email as the "Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab … standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstruosities!!!" (Source: WSJ. Access to this article may require subscription.)

Perhaps not a smoking gun, but a smoking water pistol.

The charges against Tourre are civil, not criminal, but it’s likely that Tourre will pay a pink slip penalty. No way – unless he can name big names and drag some Goldman execs down with him – does Goldman not let him go. (“Shocked, I’m shocked that there’s gambling going on here.”)

So the fabulous Fab, alas, is not really the “only potential survivor.” He may, in fact, be the only potential fall-guy.

And what a fall-guy he makes.

First, there’s that name, so close to that of Febreeze, the air freshener. With shades of Fabio hovering over it, as well.

And then there’s the fact that he’s French. How delicious. Wouldn’t it be great if we could pin the entire debacle on one guy who happens to be a foreigner? Typhoid Fabrice. It’s all his fault.

Then there’s the silly e-mail…

Folks will be parsing this one out for a while. That is, after they go through their own e-mail files to clear out incriminating messages, forgetting for a minute that IT has been continually, possibly even continuously, backing up and storing every last “wazzup?” IM and ‘Honey, I’ll be home late. Gotta work.’ e-mails. (You know, the ones that really mean ‘I’m heading out to a cigar bar with the bros.’)

Ah, the silly e-mail. Braggadocio? Hubris? Sociopathy? Narcissism? Maybe even a bit of shame?

No way Goldman keeps someone around who saw the “collapse”, but kept peddling. Who saw himself as the “only potential survivor.” (That won’t fly with the big boys, I’m afraid.) The confession that he didn’t even know what the heck he was trading. Not that there are three people on the face of the earth that did, but honesty, well, that’s seldom the best policy. Better to pretend that you get it, which will make the guy on the other side of the trade unable to admit that he’s too dull to figure it out. Not to mention that the smart guys at Goldman get it for them. Even if they can’t spell monstrosities.

Even though the SEC no doubt has more on him than one paltry e-mail, Fabrice wasn’t thinking straight when he hit “send” on this one. Some things are best not put in writing, non?

Au revoir, Fabrice.

Better chance next time.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Insurably Risky

Note to self: never get into the bathtub fully clothed, including high heels, after spending the evening in a martini bar.

Second note to self: if, when I hit my seventies, if I have some throwing around money, don’t invest it in the business of a much younger man who decides that he has an insurable interest in you.

Not that the first situation has anything other than the most circumstantial of connections to the second one. Just saying.

I decided to make these notes to self after reading in The Wall Street Journal  what – to me at least – can only be read as a cautionary tale

Here’s what happened to one poor woman who did both of the above.

A goodly portion of Germaine “Suzy” Tomlinson’s tragically abbreviated life – and, when you’re my age, I assure you that dying at age 74 translates into “tragically abbreviated” – can be fairly described as at least quasi-hardscrabble.

Sure, Suzy was born in Paris, and was a model, which sounds decidedly un-hardscrabble. But then she married an American GI and came to Les Etats Unis, where she had a couple of divorces  and five kids, and worked at jobs like cook in a downtown-Indianapolis lounge.

Then Ms. Tomlinson got lucky.

Her daughter, Tomisue, was a dancer performing at a party attended by Stephen Hilbert, founder of Conseco.

So moved was he by the artistic beauty of the dance performed by Ms. Tomlinson the Younger, Mr. Hilbert ended up divorced from his wife and married to Ms. T the Y.

After her daughter married Mr. Hilbert, Ms. Tomlinson's fortunes improved. Mr. Hilbert says he and his wife put her on salary for tasks at the estate, set her up in her own home and gave her a Cadillac and, later, a Lincoln.

No more lounge cookin’ for her.

Now, with a bit more walking-around-in-high-heels money, she invested $50K in the startup (electronic coupon retrieval) of J.B. Carlson, a much younger man she had befriended.

With a supporter like Ms. Tomlinson the Elder to open doors for him, Carlson decided that he’d better get key-gal insurance.

$15M seemed like the right amount. After all:

Ms. Tomlinson [the Elder] introduced him to potential investors and told people she was a board member of his company.

Carlson was the last person to see Ms. Tomlinson the Elder alive, and, in fact, escorted her home the night she ended up drowning in her bathtub. (At least she died with her high heels on.)

Fortunately, having lost his business patron and social companion, Carlson did have the $15M policy to fall back on.

But the insurer – AIG, of course – is balking at paying up.

They’re now claiming that the net worth figures for Ms. Tomlinson the Elder claimed by Carlson and his insurance agent, the wonderfully surnamed  Geoffrey VanderPal, for Ms. Tomlinson the elder were a tad inflated:

…as part of a "carefully crafted scheme" to dupe it into selling such a large policy.

AIG also contends that the “key man” role claimed for Ms. Tomlinson the Elder is “’a sham.’” And, as for the value of the electronic coupon business itself… Well, the business was actually worth about as much as the non-redemption for goods value you see on the fine print on the back of a paper coupon. You know, the ones where a 10-cent coupon has a cash value of 1 mill. As in 1 mill – not 1 million. Let alone $15 million.

In order to get this sort of policy on Ms. Tomlinson, Carlson needed to provide evidence that her net worth justified it.


Just get a friend with letterhead to state in writing that Ms. Tomlinson the Elder had assets worth $46.7 million.

Now, even when you subtract out the $39.8 million in “preferred shares” of Carlson’s worthless business – nice return on the $50k invested, by the way, if only on paper – that’s still a reasonable chunk of asset change for someone who was just a few short years before a lounge cook.  And if you want to use income as something of a proxy for wealth – and, yes, I know the two don’t have to march hand in hand – Ms. Tomlinson the Elder’s annual income for the years in which she was being insured was $17K.

So, how do you pay for $15 million worth of insurance on an income of $17K?

Well, on the policy application it said that Ms. Tomlinson the Elder would be liquidating some of her assets. Which I guess would have worked if she hadn’t tried to liquidate those assets that reflected her holdings in Mr. Carlson’s company.

Nonetheless, Mr. Carlson, with supreme generosity of spirit, took out a loan of nearly $400K (at a vig of 17%) to pay the annual premium.

Anyway, as it happened, Ms. Tomlinson the Elder met with her unfortunate demise, and now Mr. Carlson wants the money. Mr. and Mrs. (Ms. Tomlinson the Younger) Hilbert claim that it was meant for them. (And it may be the case that Ms. Tomlinson the Elder believed that her family members were the beneficiaries, not J. B. Carlson.) The Hilberts, while not accusing aBathtub_A1nybody, hint at foulplay.

And where’s AIG in all this?

Needless to say, they’re not interested in paying out on this one.

It’s certainly difficult decisions, stalwart executive positions, that suggest to me that AIG executives deserve their big pay days.

An entirely sordid mess.

Which is why I’ve made those two notes to myself.

Note to my family: if I’m found fully clothed, drowned in my bathtub, be sure to check and see if someone half my age took out a $15M insurance policy in my name. Be particularly suspicious if I’m found wearing high heels.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Patriots’ Day, 2010

Well, last Patriots’ Day, I was in Paris. Where I’m hoping to be two weeks from no - Lord willin’, and the Icelandic volcano don’t rise.

So, as we nervously watch the news of the skies over Europe, and think about Vacation Plan B, there is still Patriots’ Day to celebrate.

So, Happy Patriots’ Day.

There are so many reasons why this is an excellent holiday.

First and foremost, it’s almost a Massachusetts exclusive, celebrated here (and in Maine, which used to be part of Massachusetts). If wikipedia is to be believed, Patriots’ Day is also celebrated in Wisconsin. (Why not, I guess.)

But mostly it’s a quirky little part of New England local deal.

I like that, and the fact that there remain regional distinctions.

How bland if the country became one big old ex-urban sprawl, full of 8 lane highways and Olive Gardens. Plenty enough of that already. We don’t need any more of that type of homogeneity.

Anway, the other day, I saw an article about a casting call for a new “reality” series, Massholes, which is supposed to do for the Sullies and Murphs of Massachusetts what Jersey Shore did for “guidos” and “guidettes.” (As far as I can gather, they’re Italian Americans who specialize in tanning.) Can’t wait.

About the only thing I found interesting about the casting call was that it made a reference to hoagies. Hoagies? Say what? We don’t eat no stinkin’ hoagies here. We down grinders and subs. Hoagies. Hmmmmffff. No self-respecting Masshole – if there are any – would ever call a cold-cut stuffed, long Italian roll topped with onions, pickles, and hots a hoagie. It’s an Italian sub, for crying out loud. Let hoagies live where hoagies live.

Massachusetts, here’s where subs and Patriots’ Day live.

Other than it being a Massachusetts bespoke holiday, Patriots’ Day is excellent because it involves doing absolutely nothing. There is no special food preparation. No gifting. No entertaining – unless you happen to live on the route of the Boston Marathon.

The Boston Marathon is another reason why Patriots’ Day is so grand.

Sure, people fly in from all over the world – at least when there aren’t active volcanoes spewing aircraft-riddling ash into the atmosphere – but the Marathon is run by a lot of locals, and I’m guessing no citizen of Massachusetts is more than 1 degree of separation away from someone who’s running this year. Most of them won’t be among the elite, and a lot of them will be hobbling across the finish line hours after the winners come in. But they’re folks we know. And I like that.

It’s also a day when the Red Sox play at the daffy hour of 11 a.m., the better to coincide – or not – with something to do with the Marathon. (The course runs near Fenway Park.) It used to be that the game was scheduled so that it was done in time for fans to watch the lead runners pass by, but nowadays the elite runners go by mid-game.

In any case – if you’re lucky enough (or unlucky enough, depending on the weather) to have tickets, you do spill out into the streets in time to see a whole lot of not-so-elite runners thud by and cheer them on.

With vacation – with any luck, that will be our Plan A Vacation – soon upon me, I will be working today.

But I will be doing a tiny bit of celebrating, and a bit of thinking about that shot heard ‘round the world.

And if you’re coming to Boston as a tourist, why don’t you forget about visiting the Cheers bar, and head out to Lexington and Concord and see where once th’embattled farmers stood and fired that shot.


Told you I like Patriots’ Day: here’s 2008’s post.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Damaged Goods

This week’s WTF moment was brought to us by Torry Hansen, the adoptive mother of a little Russian boy who sent the child packing back to Russia after she decided he was too much to handle. Hansen allegedly pinned a note to the little boy stating “this child is mentally unstable. He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues,” and had him put – unaccompanied – on a flight from Washington, DC to Moscow.

Supposedly, the child was told he was going on vacation, and didn’t know he was being returned to sender until the plane landed.

So long, Justin (his American name).

Do svidanya, Artyom. Have fun back in the USSR, boy.

There are so many different angles to this disturbing story: commoditization of children; treatment of problem children as “damaged goods” that can just be discarded by the wayside; unsavory adoption practices on all sides; immature, fantasy world parenting…And so on.

I do not find it impossible to believe that this child had significant behavioral issues.  Many children do, and I suspect the probability goes up when the child had addicted parents and was mistreated, abandoned, and warehoused for years. This profile certainly fits many children who were adopted post-infancy.

I know of several families who have adopted children from Russia/Rumania. Those adopted as infants are faring very well. Those adopted after years in orphanages, less so. But the “less so’s” have been coped with, and not returned to sender.

I also know of a couple of families – both with mature, experienced, realistic parents -  who adopted American children, at age 4 or 5, who came from difficult backgrounds: violent, addicted parents. In both cases, the children have pretty much made life hell for their families. Again, no return to sender, but no happy valley, either.

Why Torry Hansen wasn’t able to cope with Justin/Artyom may come out eventually. We’ll no doubt learn just how good the vetting process was for her adoption agency. What resources and support she availed herself of (or didn’t). What behavior merited the send-off. And maybe even – although not likely – whether the Russian adoption authorities knew of any deep-seated psychological problems this child has.

But however wits’ end Torry Hansen was at, I do not believe I will ever in a million years fathom anyone placing a seven year old, on his own, for this long journey. And – this trumps all, in my estimation – having him picked up at the other end by a perfect stranger that Hansen and/or her mother found on the Internet.

Nancy Hansen, the grandmother, told The Associated Press that she and the boy flew to Washington and she put the child on the plane with the note from her daughter. She vehemently rejected assertions of child abandonment by Russian authorities, saying he was watched over by a United Airlines stewardess and the family paid a man $200 to pick the boy up at the Moscow airport and take him to the Russian Education and Science Ministry.

First off, anyone who thinks an unaccompanied minor is “watched over by a stewardess” hasn’t been on many flights with unaccompanied minors. Stewards/stewardesses are busy, and devote little time and attention to babysitting. I’ve noticed that the airlines often seat children traveling alone next to comfy-seeming women – I’ve been one on several occasions – in hopes that the temporary auntie-grammy for the duration will entertain the kid, get him a blanket, assure him that someone will be picking him up, etc.

Then there’s the man hired to pick the boy up.

Yes, indeed, googling “Moscow airport pickup” will get you a lot of hits.

Remember how we used to say, ‘on the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog” (this from a New Yorker cartoon of a dog surfing the ‘net and making friends)? Well, on the Internet, no one knows right off the bat that you’re a sex trafficker or kiddie pornographer, either.

What an incredible risk these women took with this child.

Sure, as it turned out, the person who picked him up was legit, but it’s easy enough to see how this might not have been the case. What then? Would anyone have known or cared? The Hansens would have returned the damaged goods, and he’d now be someone else’s problem.

No, I just can’t figure out why the Hansens didn’t contact the adoption agency, or some other “authority” to report their problems and inquire about arranging a return. Or why one of them didn’t woman up and get on the plane with the child. I don’t care how destructive/obstructive this little boy was, can you image what was going on in his little head during this long, long flight. Do we think for a moment that he might have been scared, confused, and just plain weirded out? And what does he take with him of this overall experience of yet another major rejection in his brief life?

Maybe the Hansens didn’t make inquiries because they were afraid that there wasn’t any simple answer that was going to make them happy. I.e., they were afraid that someone was going to tell them that it’s not okay to just ship a child back, let alone on his own.

Whenever, if ever, the “truth” comes out on this one, there’s no way to undo extra final little piece of damage that being shot back to Moscow on his own has likely done to this one little boy.



Info source: HuffPo, among others.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Meet Barbie, computer engineer

Although we mostly think about Barbie as a fun-time kind of doll -hanging around her dream house in her original zebra-striped bathing suit; heading out to a formal with a tuxedo’d Ken; cruising in her convertible with one of her gal-pals – pretty much for as long as there’ve been Barbies (and that would be since 1959), Barbie’s been a working girl.

Years ago, I bought a Dr. Barbie for a little girl as part of a program for making Christmas a bit cheerier for the children of prison inmates.

This Barbie was an OB-GYN who’d just delivered twins – they were part of the package. It was amazing to me that Barbie could make her way around the delivery room in her high-heeled mules, but then I recalled a surgical nurse I’d run into at one point. I was having a a biopsy, and the nurse who came in to get me prepped had fake eyelashes that stood out about 6 inches, and was wearing a pair of Barbie-shoes with heels that appeared to be about 6 inches high. Throughout my (benign, by the way) biopsy, I was in fear that she was going to break a heel while handing the doctor a scalpel. This didn’t happen, so I know that you can perform at least minor procedures while wearing heels. Presumably, the babies that Dr. Barbie delivered just popped right out for her.

Naturally, Barbie isn’t much fun without a few costume changes, so when I made my gift, I did spring for a fancy party dress and a few other things. Including a pair of flannel PJ’s, since role-model Barbie was going to come home from the ball alone and get into bed with a good book.

But, as so often happens in Pink Slip, I digress.

Today, we are here to celebrate Barbie’s latest career picks: computer engineer and anchorwoman. (Reported last week The Wall Street Journal, which also gets credit for the picture below. Access to the article may require a subscription. I’m sure the Barbie Businesswoman, MBA, subscribes!)

It seems that the marketers at Mattel decided to ask Barbie fans who hang out on what the next gig that career-changing Barbie might embark on.

Mattel gave them a choice of architect, anchorwoman, computer engineer, environmentalist and surgeon. All told, more than 600,000 votes were cast during a four-week period this past winter.

All good choices, or course.

Who wouldn’t want to have a Barbie with her t-square, designing a new Barbie dream house? And environmentalist Barbie taking on climate change pooh-poohers: you go, girl!  Barbie surgeon could have been packaged up with the game Operation. Instead of having a red-light bulb in the patient’s nose light up if, say, surgeon Barbie dropped its funny bone, the nose could glow pink.

It came down to two choices: computer engineer and anchorwoman. And two distinct voting camps.

Girls the world over overwhelmingly cast their ballot for anchorwoman Barbie—"not a surprise, as girls see Katie Couric and a lot of other female anchors," says Stephanie Cota, senior vice president of marketing for the Barbie brand.

Anchorwoman Barbie is a natural, combining the glam of TV with the GLAM of Barbie. Imagine Barbie interviewing H[SB10001424052702303720604575169772577024174]annah Montana, the Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber. What’s not to like?

But while the kids were getting their vote out, grown ups started voting for Barbie, computer engineer.

Female computer engineers who learned about the election launched a viral campaign on the Internet to get out the vote and ensure Barbie would join their ranks.

"Please help us in getting Barbie to get her Geek on!" came the appeal from the blog

As it turned out, Mattel had to play Electoral College here. The overall popular vote went to computer engineer Barbie. But the actually who-buys-Barbie vote went to anchorwoman Barbie.

Judiciously, Mattel went with both.

And, while there may not be many little girls clamoring for geeky-Barbie, I’m sure that computer engineer Barbie will be appearing on the cubicle shelves of techie women all over the place. Not to mention make it’s way onto the shopping list of software, hardware, QA, customer support, and all sorts of tech professionals who pick up computer engineer Barbie for their daughters and nieces.

Computer engineer Barbie hits the shelves this fall.

Smart marketing on Mattel’s part, no?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Doggy cuteness? I’ll show you doggy cuteness…

In the course of “researching” Alfred Kahn, the genius marketer to kids – Cabbage Patch Kids, Pokémon – who just bought Bernie Madoff’s old digs, I, quite naturally, wandered a bit around his company’s web site, 4 Kids Entertainment.

Among the things they market are a few animal-related outfits that are as much 4 Adults as they are 4 Kids: American Kennel Club, Cat Fancier, and something called “The Dog,” a puppy-photography and photo-book company (begun in Japan) that uses a “fish-eye lens to create a strange ratio adorably enhanced image.”

The Dog’s “artbank” includes:

…70 different breeds of dogs & over 100,000 puppy images photographed at unique angles where heads and bodies are adorably enhanced to give museum-like feel.

I’m not quite sure what that ‘museum-like feel’ means. If there’s one thing I don’t associate dogs with it’s the term ‘museum-like.”

‘Museum-like feel’ aside, why would one want to create a ‘strange ratio’ to ‘adorably enhance’ a picture of a creature which is, by its very essence, adorably enhanced by nature alone. The picture to your right – from The Dog – illustrates what I mean. This is a black lab puppy, adorably enhanced. Or so they say. Personally, I find that this doggy looks distorted and weird. The shrunken little body that looks like a little witch’s kettle. That outsized head. Gosh, I get uncomfortable just thinking about having to carry that mega-dome on that teeny-tiny little body. Sure, this is what a doggy-come-a-calling would look like if viewed through the crook-prevention peephole in your door. But, before you took it’s picture, wouldn’t you just open the door and let it in.

In contrast, ecce a non-distorted shot of a black lab. Okay, Jack is not exactly doing what nature and evolution intendsimage_thumb for him. He’s not retrieving dead ducks from the pond and returning them to the hunter, shivering and nipping Jack Daniels in his soggy duck blind.  But he’s doing what pet-ownership intended for him, which is resting on the couch with his favorite toy, Hedgie, the stuffed hedgehog that, just  moments before, had its Santa Claus cap bitten off. Now, I am admittedly a lousy photographer. And I was using my Blackberry, not a nifty, purpose-built digital camera.  So this picture does absolutely nothing to truly capture the extraordinary doggedly doggy cuteness of my dog-nephew Jack.

But I’ll try to be objective here, and ask you? Which is cuter?

Jack or a no-doubt naturally adorable puppy “adorably enhanced” into macrocephalic weirdness.

Okay. Voting’s over. Jack won, paws down.

Distorted pictures of dogs is, apparently, a $300M a year business.

A tail-wag and face-lick from Jack? Priceless.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

We’d like to welcome you to the big Munchkinland in the sky…

Old habits die hard.

I grew up reading the obituaries (a.k.a, the Irish sports pages), and I still generally give them a glance. Especially the “biggies” that make the front page of the online NY Times.

Thus, I read with interest the write-up of Meinhardt Rabbe, who played the Munchkinland coroner – one of the few speaking Munchkin roles - in The Wizard of Oz.

The coroner was the one who declared the Wicked Witch of the East dead.

As coroner, I must aver
I thoroughly examined her.
And she’s not only merely dead,
She’s really most sincerely dead

Setting off a rousing chorus of “Ding, dong. The witch is dead…”

Now, in the course of an average day, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Munchkins, or about the lives of those in our society who are of short stature. (Although, I will confess that, as a child, I was fascinated with P.T. Barnum’s General “Tom Thumb” Warren and his wife Lavinia.)

If I do think about “little people,” which I generally do only when I pass one of them in the street, it is always with a good measure of sympathy for how difficult their lives must be in so many ways.

First, there is the “stare” factor. People whose height is well below the norm are something of a rarity, and, thus, an oddity. People stare, people point, and – let’s face it – the more odious among us make fun of those who are more than two standard deviations (or even one) removed from whatever they choose to consider the norm.

I’m quite sure that even people who aren’t odious may be inclined to patronize those who are really short. After all, when we’re speaking with them, we’re likely looking down. So, I’m sure that short people are often spoken to as if they were children, and, thus, have lesser understanding of some of the nuances of real, adult life.

Then there are the inconveniences: ATM machines, cereal on high shelves, trying to see above the crowd.

Not to mention some fairly serious health impacts.

No, it can’t be a picnic to be really short.

But the Little People seem to fare pretty well in advocating for themselves.

Meinhardt Raabe’s death, of course, got me thinking about the plight of the small in stature, but in reading about his life, it was interesting to see how he a) seemed to have made the most of it; b) didn’t let his height get in the way of leading a full life – which ended at age 94, thank you.

Remarkably, growing up in small-town Wisconsin:

…he did not hear the word “dwarf,” or even “midget,” until he was a young adult. No one in his community had seen a person with dwarfism before. Growing up, he later said, he assumed there was no one else in the world like him.

He graduated from the University of Wisconsin, with a degree in accounting. Upon graduating, he had a hard time finding work. Surely, the Depression didn’t help. But being 4-foot-something didn’t either. In turning him down for a professional job, some (well-meaning?) prospective hirers suggested he join a carnival. And, off and on, he did work as a barker.

Oscar Mayer took him on as a meat salesman. So he sold meat for a while – possibly, I imagine, even calling on my grandfather, Jake Wolf, who was a butcher with a grocery store in Chicago - before becoming a spokesman for the company. For years, he toured the country in the Weinermobile. (A topic I have blogged on – the Weinermobile, not Mr. Raabe as a spokesman.)

He was also a motivational speaker, guest speaker at Oz conventions, and,  during World War II, a pilot with the Civil Air Patrol.

After the war, and his stint goin’ Hollywood, it was back to Oscar Mayer.

In 2007, Mr. Raabe was on hand when a star collectively honoring the Munchkins was unveiled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

A full, rich life.

Well, played, Mr. Raabe.

And now, you’re out of the woods. You’re out of the dark. You’re out of the night.

May winged monkeys guide your way to the Emerald City in the great beyond.

Monday, April 12, 2010

New Cabbage Patch dolls in the making? A sweet-faced Bernie? A cutie-pie Ruthie?

Seems like only yesterday, we were all absorbed with the Bernie and Ruthie Madoff saga.

First, there was the exposure of the Ponzi scheme itself. Then there was the who-knew-what-when speculation. Then there was Bernie’s arrest and imprisonment. Followed by Ruthie’s eviction from the family home(s). And, of course the auction of all the Madoffs’ ill-gotten not-so-goods.

But, other than the blip on the Madoff scheme about Bernie getting knocked around a bit in the stir for owing a fellow con a bit of dough, there’s been precious little Madoff news lately. It’s a wonder we’ve all survived the drought.

But last week brought the cheering news (from that fab source, The NY Post)  that the Madoff flat on East 64th Street has been bought by Alfred Kahn, the CEO of 4KidsEntertainment, an outfit that markets stuff to the little ones – and the ‘marketing genius’ who, in the 1980’s, got people to stand in line for hours, and knock little old ladies to the ground, in order to get their hands on a Cabbage Patch Kid to adopt.

Personally, while I never owned or bought on, I did enjoy checking out their tags, or adoption papers, or whatever you called them, hoping to find one that shared a birthday or name with me.

Alas, I never found a birthday-mate, and most of the names were more exotic than mine. Annabelle Zenobia. Damian Carlo.

Cabbage Patch Kids are still around and, however cranky you want to be about them – they’re “adoptionist”, or whatever – they are pretty wholesome, and most people I know would rather have their kids and grandkids whining for a nice cuddly Cabbage Patcher, than begging to go to the mall and have permanent eye-liner applied.

These days, if I were in the market for a Cabbage Patch doll, I wouldn’t have to worry about lucking into a stuffed Maureen Elizabeth with a December 1 birthday. Like so many other goods, your doll can now be customized to meet your whims. Order away, and bring home the baby with the name and birthday of your choice.

Which is, I guess, better than getting stuck with a doll named Alfred.

Still, I would hope that Mr.. Kahn makes sure that, for those who want to be surprised by their newbie and take whatever name it comes with, there64220-69 are Bernie and Ruthie dolls out there.  Coming up with a Bernie should be pretty darned easy, given that there’s model that rather resembles him already, no? Only instead of wearing a sailor suit, the Bernie should have on an orange prison jumpsuit.   (Man, if I could only photoshop, I could deck this baby out in prison garb pretty darned quick.) As for the Ruthie doll, it should have on an outfit that still has a price tag attached. The price should be below $100, because last time we heard anything about poor Ruthie, it was that she was going to have to report to some overseer  every time she spent more than a hundred bucks on anything.

I also recommend a CPK doll named Ponzi, which is kind of a cute, no?

And one named Morgan, since that’s the name that one of Bernie and Ruth’s daughters-in-law petitioned the court to change hers (and that or her children) to. I can completely sympathize with her desire to protect her children from the slings and arrows that will come their way because they’re named Madoff. It’s an uncommon enough name, and the negative association, especially in NYC, will likely linger for years. But isn’t Morgan an odd pick if you don’t want to draw attention to yourself? Sure, it’s a common enough surname, but it’s also one that’s associated with finance. (JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley…) If she needs to keep with an “M” name because she wants to hang on to the monogrammed sheets – and who can blame her there: they probably have a 5,000 thread count – there are plenty of neutral “M” names – Madison, Monroe, Mercer, Mann, Morrow.

Sure, these  names might also elicit questions: any relation to James Madison, Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Mercer, Thomas Mann, or Vic Morrow (the actor who was decapitated by a helicopter rotor while on location)?

But Morgan? Any relation to the captain of finance with the somewhat dubious reputation? Hmmmmm. I don’t think that daughter-in-law thought that one through all the way.

Back to the Cabbage Patch fortune’s purchase of the Madoff apartment.

It is kind of fitting that someone who made his money in part by inciting a panic of sorts – gotta get me one of them Cabbage Patch Kids or my child will never forgive me, bless her greedy, whining, easily targeted by marketing heart – is replacing a fellow who set off a panic that, while it may have not directly involved as many people, surely involved a lot more money.

Ah, the world moves in a wondrously curious and interesting way, doesn’t it? Especially when those Madoffs are involved.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Aging mutant ninja marketer

I was going to post today on the West Virginia mine disaster, but what is there really to say, other than that it is a sad reminder that there remain, even in our technologically advanced society, some jobs that are horrifically dangerous. (If it comes out that the mine owners were shortcutting safety measures, I’ll have more to say. ‘Til then…)

But there’s actual fun to be had with a WSJ article on the rising use of the term “ninja” as a word to characterize your work.

Move over “evangelist,” take a back seat, “guru”. Ninja’s on the move.

In 2009, the growth of "ninja" as a new job description far outpaced the growth of other trendy titles, according to LinkedIn Corp., a Web site that provides networking for more than 65 million professionals. While the numbers are still small on LinkedIn—some 800 current or former ninjas have public profiles on the site—their growth has skyrocketed past other fashionable careers such as "gurus" and "evangelists," says Monica Rogati, a scientist at LinkedIn who finds patterns in jobs data.

I’m afraid that my career has been singular devoid of trendy, fashionable titles.

I’ve been a babysitter, tutor, collection-counter at church, combat boot polisher, grill cook, waitress, store clerk, admin, Kelly Girl, research assistant, data gatherer, consultant, product manager, senior product manager, director of marketing, VP of marketing, free-lance product marketer, researcher, writer.

While I’ve never wanted to be considered an evangelist – other than for St. Francis House and, to a lesser degree, for the Writers Room of Boston – I may have, on one or two occasions, referred to myself, or been referred to as, a marketing guru. But never more than once of twice. And never in writing.

I actually don’t think that evangelist is that bad a title. Since it’s been used in technology for, what?, the last twenty years or so, it’s fairly clear to me what an evangelist does: tub thumping for a company/product. But it’s knowledge- and reality-based tub thumping, or, to me at least, you’re not a true evangelist. You’re, hmmmmm, I don’t want to say marketer here, but sometimes that is, indeed, the shoe that fits.

Guru has a fuzzier definition: someone who knows a lot about something, and is willing to impart what they know to others. But it’s way over used. In the marketing world, I’d reserve it for someone like Seth Godin, who knows a lot about marketing, is willing to impart what he knows to others (i.e., everyone with an Internet connection), and – for added attraction – is willing and able to evangelize himself.

(This is not a reflection on Seth Godin, who is, actually, exceptionally knowledgeable, interesting, and informative in his writings, but there’s a great quote from Peter Drucker in the article:

"We are using the word 'guru' only because 'charlatan' is too long to fit into a headline."

Again, I don’t apply this to Seth. But I can think of plenty of other “business gurus” where it fits perfectly.)

Personally, if I had to pick a word to describe my own professional skill set, it would be product marketing maven – a moniker that doesn’t even merit a mention from the WSJ.  If guru is so Web 1.0, maven must be so dialup to a mainframe.

But ninja? Ninja?

Now I have to worry about some marketing ninja usurping my business?

Just the idea of the ninja-ing of any profession makes my head hurt.

Stealthy, ruthless, anything goes, working under cover of darkness. Oh, yeah, and wearing black pajamas, kinda/sorta like the Viet Cong.

Well, despite it’s murky connotations, “Ninja has become one of the fastest growing job titles of the Great Recession.”

Okay. I guess it beats the fastest growing job titles of the Great Depression: apple seller, pencil vendor, hobo, vagrant, Okie.

And, of course, it’s perfect for the quick-draw, short-hand young folks who don’t have time to be bothered by cranky, whining, old-fart questions like ‘but what do you really mean.’

Hey, it doesn’t have to mean anything, bub. It just is.

"The concept of a ninja is metaphorical. It's about confidence," says Alex Schliker, who has been advertising to hire one for his San Francisco business software start-up, CureCRM. It's "an easy way to say you need to be good at learning anything new I throw at you," he says.

Well, metaphorical or not, this doesn’t help define ninja any better for me. Pretty much sounds like a requirement for every job I ever had, starting with babysitting and moving on down the line.

So, I will not be calling myself a ninja anything, anytime soon.

But I’m always on the lookout for a good title.

Recently, I saw an article on the make-up biz, and a couple of people quoted in it held the title “Vice President of Beauty.”

Now, that one wouldn’t be all that interesting to me.

But “Vice President of Truth”?

Now you’re talking.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

‘Tis pity…

Sad news on the executive compensation front, I’m afraid.

Last year’s comp levels for CEO big cheeses were down again – the first time in 20 years that the men (and, of course, a few women, like Indra Nooyi of Pepsi) in the gray bespoke suits saw pay decline two years running. Last year, it plummeted 0.9%. Sure, percentage-wise, 0.9% doesn’t look like that much of a plummet, but in absolute terms…. As they say, a 1% decrease if you make $50M is a lot more than a 1% decrease if you drag down $50K.

Poor big cheeses! Even though most of us would be impressed by the wages they drew – and last year’s slap in the face was nothing compared to the year before, when compensation dropped by 3.4% -  I’m sure to them it looked like a sliced of plastic wrapped processed American, rather than a big wheel of pungent brie.

Here’s how things broke in 2009, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Survey (conducted by the Hay Group among 200 companies with greater than $4B in revenue).

Health Care and Oil & Gas had the highest median CEO comp - $10.4M.

Well played, all!

I, for one, have 100% – make that 110% – confidence that the folks in Health Care did there complete and utter damnedest to keep medical costs down. I experienced this personally, because I opted this year for a lower insurance premium and higher deductible – a break-even play if my direct costs don’t go over $3.6K, and likely a win-a-little play, given how little I use the health care system. But my health care system helped out with their cost thing by coding my routine annual physical (covered, and not put towards my deductible) as a medical visit (not-covered, and for which I’m completely on the hook).  I wouldn’t exactly say win-win, but a win for Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Massachusetts. Me, I just want to find out if it was something I said. Did asking my doctor about a sliver in my foot turn a routine physical into a medical appointment. I just want to know what to avoid asking next year…

I have similar confidence that the folks in Oil & Gas did every last thing possible to explore alternative energy, minimize carbon emissions, and other wise help keep the polar glaciers from calving. I just know they did.

So I’m happy as a clam in an oil bed that Occidental Petroleum’s Ray Irani was, at $52M, the highest paid CEO on the list.

Robert Iger of Disney had the number two pay packet. Relatively chintzy at $20.8M, and bringing up the philosophical question about whether we would need as many tank-fulls of fossil fuel if we didn’t have to drive to the cinema multi-plex at the Mall to catch the latest Disney flick.

Rounding out the Big Three was Sam Palisano of IBM, who made $20.1M. What can I say? Technology rules! (Almost.)

At the bottom end of this barrel, Steve Jobs (Apple), Ken Lewis (BofA), and John Mackey (Whole Foods) really dragging things down, accepting nada, zip, zilch, or, as Tony Soprano might say, stugots.

Warren Buffett didn’t do much better. The S of O received compensation of $100K. (Good thing he lives in that modest house of his.)

Sure, it’s easy to make light of slumping pay for CEO’s, but – let’s face it – they really don’t have the same recourse as the rest of us do when it comes to making up shortfalls.

They can’t exactly go out and be Walmart greeters, can they? Or mow lawns and babysit, for that matter. I really wouldn’t make sense for Indra Nooyi to answer on of those “Boston Mom makes $54 and hour stringing beads in her home” ads, either, would it?

Yes, they have stuff to sell, but, frankly, it’s probably easier to sell your old Subaru in the Want Advertiser than it is to unload a Rolls. And while you may be able to sell your match-book collection or pristine 1959 Barbie on eBay, it’s tougher to move a Giacometti bronze.

Further, it’s easier for those of us with one small home to keep it clean (with or without Brazilian cleaners who come every two weeks) than it is to manage a bunch of geographically-dispersed households measured in square yards, not square feet.

‘Ttis pity that our CEO’s made less last year.

Sure, I laud their efforts to scrunch down the disparity between their pay and average peon pay. And this really shows when you compare, say, the guys at the top who took zero in pay, with those whose unemployment compensation ran dry and, thus, may have taken home zero themselves. Talk about a dramatic way to narrow the gap.

See, I knew it! It’s all about they’re trying to make things a little more right, and see whether some of the productivity increases over the last couple of decades can be shared a bit more equitably.

My heroes!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The rosaries they carried

At some point last week, I stumbled on an article on aniPod rosary for younger, hipper believers. Rather than clack your glass beads, you click your virtual beads.

Hard to believe that there are all that many younger, hipper rosary-sayers, but I do understand that a go(o)dly proportion of the younger Catholic faithful skew traditional.

One of the virtual rosaries mentioned in the article I saw noted that the beads were shaped like footballs, which I found mighty odd. But then I went to the google – from whence I could not find the original article that precipitated this focus on The Rosary – and found that there have long been physical football, baseball, basketball, and bowling rosaries – in which the large beads (the Our Fathers) are represented by, well, footballs, baseballs, basketballs, and bowling balls.  World Series-related rosaries are available in Yankee blue and white, or Phillies red and white.

All this must make Touchdown Jesus very happy – or very perplexed.

But the original article did get me thinking about the rosary business, that’s still, somehow, some way, managing to survive – likely through product marketing like the sports rosaries.

And, quite naturally, it got me thinking about my own up close and personal history with the rosary.

I grew up in a fairly religious, but non-communal-rosary saying, family.

I had friends who, every evening when the rosary was broadcast on radio, would gather in the kitchen or living room and pray the rosary. Although, even as a pious child, I found saying the rosary colossally boring, I envied these families their ultra-piety.

I also envied those who had statues in their homes, and bathtub madonnas in their yards.

For all of the deep faith of my parents, they didn’t go in for statuary.

We had some religious pictures: a Rembrandt Madonna; a head of Jesus (the one with the chalice in his hair) that hung in our living room (the housewarming gift of a parish priest); and, curiously, in our wood-paneled, Ethan Allen “colonial maple” family room, we had Dali’s Last Supper. But, if you don’t count Hummels, until I won a marble statue of the Madonna for excellence in Spanish in the seventh or eighth grade, we had none of the statues I craved. No Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) standing astride the world, one foot on a snake’s neck. No Infant of Prague, with changeable costumes tied to the liturgical seasons. No St. Joseph with lilies. No Francis of Assisi with birds. No nothing.

We did have crucifixes in the bedrooms. My sister Kath and I had the wonderful version where the front part slid up to reveal innards that contained the holy oils, candles, and (sacred?) cotton balls that would be used in the event that a priest had to come to the house to give the Last Rites to someone.

But, alas, none of the statuary I so wanted.

And no family rosary.

Other than on those occasions when one of the Rogers’ kids got to take home the family rosary beads, which circulated around the school during the months of October (rosary month) and May (Mary month). The family rosary was an over-sized set of black beads, kept in the screw-off bottom of a cheesy plastic statue of the BVM. The statue cum beads were housed (and transported) in a baize-lined, wooden casket with handle. (This had been made by the Protestant father of one of my classmates, and was held up as an example of Protestants being good.)

During rosary month, when your number came up, you toted the thing home and, that evening, your family was supposed to say the rosary en famille, with the pater familias – that would be my father – leading us, using the big black beads, while we followed along with our own pairs. (Question: why is a string that contains 58 beads plus a cross called “a pair”?)

Although he was personally very devote, my father wasn’t particularly keen on the family rosary – or any other sort of ‘family that prays together, stays together’ sort of stuff, other than going to Mass. (While my mother stayed home with 'the baby’, my father took us kids to the Children’s Mass, followed by a stop at Dunkin’ Donuts. After feasting on donuts, we drove my mother to her later Mass. We then went for a ride until it was time to pick her up.)

My mother was far more interested than my father ever was in our being the type of Good Catholic family that said grace, prayed the rosary together, and lit candles on the Advent wreathe. Every time she tried to institute one of these rituals, it petered out after a day or too. For whatever reason – as religious as we all were – we just weren’t the religious ritual type.

Perhaps it had something to do with Nanny, my father’s mother, who was, more of less, a religious skeptic, perhaps even a heretic. The only religious activity I recall her engaging in was sprinkling holy water around, like a Druid priestess, during a violent thunder storm.

At our house, the family rosary always ended poorly.

We raced through it, and never reached the end without some type of behavior blowup. Someone expressed boredom. Another demonstrated a bit of ire, perhaps pushing a kneeling sib. Someone passed gas and everyone snickered. My father yelled; my mother bemoaned. ‘Can’t we do something nice for just this once.’

Well, no, apparently we couldn’t.

But we did – at least some of us – say our personal rosaries, if not regularly, then on occasion when we were going through a particularly pious stage.

I had several pairs of rosary beads.

The clear crystal ones I received for my First Holy Communion were lost at the Plymouth Theater a few years later, when I was probably seeing The Light in the Forest, or some other Disney epic. I guess I carried them in my blue leatherette purse – the one with the little ceramic windmills on it – because I had nothing else to put in it.

Anyway, while I was exiting the theater, I realized my beads were missing.

I got an usher to check with a flashlight, but, alas, neither The Light in the Forest nor the usher’s flashlight could find my rosary  amidst the debris beneath the seats: discarded paper cups, still quasi-filled with the remnants of a sickeningly sweet and syrupy orange or grape drink; stomped in Raisinettes; stale popcorn.

My missing rosary was replaced by something that I didn’t particularly like. Then I bought, with my very own money, at a gift shop on the Cape, a pair made in Ireland. They were brown and weirdly irregular, and reminded me of an Irish crone’s teeth. (Probably those of Nanny.)

They were my favs until I received –  for my Confirmation, I think - a nice pair of Creed beads in a very pretty shade of aqua. These were my penultimate rosary beads.

The grand finale were tossed my way in eighth grade – my prize for being “the girl who won the scholarship” to the high-falutin’ Catholic girls school in my town. (This story is recounted here.)

Those lavender beads were not Creed – that much I remember.

But Creed Rosary is still in business. Still in Massachusetts. Still, as far as I can tell, going strong after 75 years. In addition to rosaries, they sell medals, and provide a handy list of patron saints, where I learned that St. Dymphna is the patron saint of insanity, family harmony, and nerves. Perhaps on those fearsome occasions when the Rogerses prayed the family rosary, we should have been directing our thoughts to her.