Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I’ve been reading about the 33 trapped Chilean miners with great interest.

This story has so many threads to follow: the terribly hazardous work that miners do, made all the worse by the often lax safety standards; the technology that’s used to keep the life-line going; the contacts with family members, the videos; what the miners are eating, drinking, and asking for (toothbrushes!); and the attention and care going into the mental health of men who may be months from rescue.

May their physical and mental strength last, and may a bore hole wide enough to hoist them all through get drilled sooner than Christmas.

Buena suerte, a todos.

Personally, I’m someone who doesn’t mind confined spaces.

Every time I pass Brownie’s Cabins, a retro vacation spot in Wellfleet near my sister Kath’s summer home in Wellfleet, I make an as yet unkept vow to stay there some day.

My sister’s home is beautiful, comfortable and spacious, and Kath and her husband Rick are hosts par excellence (made all the better by Kath’s cooking, Rick’s wine cellar, and all those stacks of books for the taking).

Still, I long to spend at least one or two nights before I die in the confines of one of Brownie’s Cabins.

So it isn’t the confinement of the mine that would bother me.

It’s the lack of privacy, the idea of no shower for a few months, my panic at the thought of being without enough books to last.

And the concept of being marooned with 32 colleagues for months on end.

I used to think that the 5 day sales conference at a nice resort hotel was hell on earth. And at those you could always close the door to your room, put in ear plugs (the better to avoid the clamor of the sales force toga-party attendees marauding through the halls), and get into bed with a book.

Months sharing 530 square feet, plus a few blind alleys, with 32 fellow workers? Shudder, shudder.

Maybe if I could pick the best-of-the-best – four folks from this company, three from another. (You know who your are!  Maybe it would be fun for a while.)

But even then…

And what if you didn’t get to pick and choose?

What if I got trapped with the Material Girl, who would no doubt be having a nervous breakdown by Day Two at the idea of having to wear the same outfit so many times, let alone in a row? What if she wouldn’t shut up about having spent her $$$ bonus on a diamond and sapphire ring, when she should have spent it on a platinum oxygen tank?

What if B was one of the stuckees? He was one of those senior managers who managed to turn every company meeting into a finger-pointing exercise in which he blamed someone on his team for not delivering, whenever an even vaguely pointed question came his way. Would we have to listen to him, in his snide and passive aggressive manner, pin the blame on one of us for our fate – even when the blame should be pinned squarely on senior management?

And N? Who’d want forty days and forty nights of putting up with him buttering you up, just to learn that, minutes later, he was bad-mouthing you to the next guy?  And P, who was mean and had no sense of humor? J, who was always on the verge of stroking out at the thought that Hillary Clinton might be president – and who couldn’t shut up about it? Would being trapped in a mine somehow end up being Obama’s fault?

What would happen to  T if she figured out that, for the duration, we didn’t have to put up with her petty, fire-drill requests (I need to use your lap as a pillow)  – let alone her demand that managers get preferred space.

I liked D well enough, but he’d be putting such a smiley face on the situation that someone would no doubt smother him during our third night in captivity.

How about E, or M? Bet they’d figure out a way to save themselves!

Oh, those poor miners.  Hope they all like each other. Hope they can manage to hang out and on without going berserk.

Bad enough all those times when I felt metaphorically trapped at work.  Can you imagine being physically trapped?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Order in the Court! I’ll take one of me arguing before The Supremes. (Use my good side, would you.)

I’m always interested in reading about how people, in general, make their living, and, more particularly, how creative souls – artists, musicians, actors, bloggers writers – cobble together their livelihoods.

Just how difficult it is to eke out a living in the arts came home to me a few years back when I was walking down Charles Street in Boston and noticed a couple of painters carrying a ladder and paint buckets into a building. One guy looked familiar, and after a moment it dawned on me that I’d seen him in a play at the late and lamented (at least by me) Súgán Theatre a couple nights earlier. As they say, keep your day job.

And many years ago, I was in a restaurant in Carmel, California, eavesdropping on a couple of actors talking about how they got into their roles. I didn’t recognize either of the women, but they were certainly serious about their craft, even though, as it turned out, the role that one of them was talking about was for a training film for Delta Airlines.

Of course, actors have it worse than many other creative commoners. Other than doing ads – and, boy, do I hate to hear a voice over by Martin Sheen or Michael Douglas, hogging what for them must be chump-change jobs that could go to a struggling actor - and corporate training films, there aren’t all that many parallel or tangential jobs for actors. Sure, there’s always community theater and charades, but…

Writers, on the other hand, can always work on brochures (sigh!). Musicians can ply their trade on a subway platform, collecting change and an occasional bill in their guitar case.

As for artists, there’s a lot of things they can do. And one of them is apparently working as court artists.

Sure, given that you can’t take a camera into most courts, I do see the sketches on the news all the time – O.J., the Craigslist killer, Justice Sotomayor (not to lump Sotmayor in with O.J. or the Craigslist killer). But I hadn’t really given all that much thought to court artist as a profession until I saw an article in the NY Times the other day on Todd Crespi.

Crespi, who has worked as a “legal portraitist” (his words – from a letter to the editor of The Times, which ran a couple of days after the less-than-flattering article about him) for CNN, now focuses much of his work on selling vanity portraits of lawyers who argue before the Supremes.

Hey, I’m sure that if I’d argued a case before SCOTUS, I’d want to commemorate it somehow. It’s certainly a bigger deal than, say, giving a presentation on managed hosting at Internet World – during which at least you could get your photo snapped.

It seems, however, that a Crespi portrait is not quite bespoke. It’s more custom-off-the-shelf: generic court background, with you, making your brilliant argument, at the fore.

Now there’s certainly a long and noble tradition of fill in the blanks portraiture in this country.  Didn’t itinerant artists go around with the bodies drawn ahead of time, and whip up a your-head-goes-here portrait on the spot?

The problem, apparently, is that Crespi didn’t actually disclose this to his clients, and, more or less, gave them the impression that he was there in court, sketching away, catching them in the midst of a brilliant argument. When it was more likely that he was coloring them in based on a photograph.

I’m a marketing writer, so I know all about repurposing content. But this does seem a bit shabby.  And the results can be cheesily humorous:

Lisa S. Blatt, a lawyer with Arnold & Porter, said she was amused by a Crespi work her husband had bought for her.

“It’s one of his stock pictures where he paints the advocate after the fact,” Ms. Blatt wrote in an e-mail. “It’s funny because his picture always has Carter Phillips as the opposing counsel and Carter was actually my co-counsel in the case.”

Asked if she felt misled, Ms. Blatt said Mr. Crespi “doesn’t adequately disclose,” adding that several lawyers in the United States solicitor general’s office have “the exact same picture.”

And those pictures don’t come cheap:

Lawyers who have bought his work said they paid around $1,200 for the basic version and $1,600 for one showing members of the lawyer’s family in the audience.

Some clients (like Blatt) don’t seem to mind the cookie-cutter nature of the artwork; others feel they were “duped” or “deceived.”

Well, they’ll all know better now.

Caveat, lawyer.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Something fishy….

Well, it’s Friday, and for those of a certain age and religious background, Friday’s fish day, so it’s entirely appropriate for Pink Slip to have a fish story.

This one’s about a bright spot in the economy: the growing market for six-figure fish tanks. Or so said-ith the NY Times last week.

Among the many things I did not have as a kid growing up was a fish tank. Not that I ever really wanted one. It would have been way down the list after blue frosting on my birthday cake, curly hair, and Dr. Kildare for my boyfriend. And I wouldn’t have thought tank either.

No, I would have wanted something like what Pinocchio’s fish Cleo lived in – the classic un-fancy, un-aerated, unlit fishb0wl-fishbowl. Which would have contained a goldfish  purchased for 25 cents at Woolworth’s and carried home in a plastic bag. Which would have died – the goldfish, not the bag – before I could have saved up another 25 cents for a plastic mermaid statue. And my last look at the dead goldfish would be as it whirled down the toilet bowl.

Although I never possessed one – or ever really wanted one - I am something of an admirer of fish tanks, large and small. There is something mesmerizing about watching pretty little fish flit (if one can flit in water) about. And there’s something rivetingly disgusting about figuring out that one of your fish has disappeared in some act of piscine cannibalism – and trying to figure out which of the remaining fish is the metaphorical cat that swallowed the canary.

So I found the article on pricey custom fish tanks pretty interesting.

Custom aquariums are popular for two reasons, interior designers say. One is that upscale nightclubs, restaurants and boutique hotels have been installing them, which gives homeowners the me-too idea. Another is that, among people of means, a dazzling aquarium is one of the last surefire ways to impress their peers.

One couple in the article has a 14 1/2 foot aquarium, which, I believe is quite a bit longer than one of those swim in place pools. The main feature of their tank is that, with the press of a button, they can turn their fish – which are “bred to be colorless” – one of 64 colors. This is – how ‘bout that? - the same number of colors as in the fanciest Crayola crayon box I ever got. (See, childhood dreams sometimes did come true.) Wonder if violet-blue, blue-violet, burnt sienna, and flesh (later PC-ily renamed “peach”, although it looks a lot more like pale Caucasian flesh than it does like anything remotely resembling any part of a peach) are on the aquarium color wheel?

I do know that they have fuchsia, yellow and turquoise. (And this is all, by the way, part of an overall push-button color changer for their entire home. Mood indigo? Push!  Seeing red! Yes, you are.  Green eyed monster? One click away. I am curious yellow. Oh, never mind.)

No word on what the color does to or for the fish, but it does raise the question of what’s wrong with the natural color of koi? I always thought that bright orange thing they have going was kind of pretty.

I’m also trying to figure out what “colorless” means. Are these koi silvery-white? See-through? Reflective? (Gosh, I’m sure that fish are plenty reflective. What else do they have to do all day but reflect, other than hide from predators in the plastic castle?)

One interior designer, Christopher Stevens who has been asked to work a few mega fish tanks into client projects, attributes the fish tank interest to the desire to wow friends, as well as to “humanize” a modern space.

…“How do you make it feel like you’re not standing in a white, pristine, soul-less box?”

I guess having colorless fish that can turn any one of 64 hues is one solution. A few colorful throw pillows would be cheaper, of course.

And given that fancy aquariums can cost at least $1K a month to maintain, that would be a lot of turnover in throw pillows. (Gulp! But not aquarium water.)

Not only can the fish cost a lot more than a Woolworth goldfish - $5K for a pet shark (Gulp!) – but you may need to have professionals:

…on call 24/7 in case a fish gets sick or dies, which could contaminate the entire tank.

I guess when you own a $100K fish tank, you don’t just fish the floater out with a little net and send it on its way into the sewer system.

Still, I can understand the appeal of having a nice, calming fish tank to look at.

Another couple in the article has spent $200K, between equipment and service – chump change, really, given that their apartment is on the market for $16.9 million (not clear whether that’s with or without tank + fish and eel). The owners are considering switching to a jellyfish tank when they move.

Maybe this is one-upsmanship, now that expensive fish tanks are showing up everywhere you turn.

Jellyfish tanks are even more expensive and difficult to build than fish tanks, said Justin Muir, owner of City Aquarium, a Brooklyn-based rival to Manhattan Aquariums. For one thing, jellyfish have to be fed live food every day.

Live food? No tapping in a bit of smelly fish food from the tin?

I guess the daily live food requirement is what could pump the monthly up to $5K for jellyfish. Muir’s clients include a couple of Yankees players and a bunch of hedge-fund richies. But New Yorkers are, relatively speaking, pikers when it comes to tanks.

The most expensive tank Mr. Muir ever built, though, was a $750,00 one for a woman in Dallas who had visited the Maldives and wanted to recreate the experience of lying in tropical waters gazing up at the stars. She had a planetarium ceiling and crescent-shaped aquarium panels hoisted by forklift into her second-floor bathroom.

Ah, well. (Dallas….)

One fancy fish tank fancier said:

“Especially if you view the tank at night, it truly does look like fish swimming in the skyline.”

Which does sound cool.

I’m not sure what to make of the aquarium built into a floor out in Arizona for $200K. In order to clean the tank, the guy who built and services it:

…had to dive into it, wearing a cord around his ankle that his partner could use to pull him out if need be. “I would basically kind of crawl through the aquarium and back myself out again.”

Guess they didn’t have shark, jellyfish, or piranha in there. (That floor-through aquarium is, alas, no longer operative, as the house it lived in was foreclosed. So the market is not all on the up for expensive aquariums, I’m afraid. Rats. Or, rather, ratfish.)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sure, they’re only ants, but…is it art?

I’m not of those folks who couldn’t hurt a fly.

I hurt flies all the time.

If there’s one buzzing around me, I will stalk it and crush it. No mercy!

I swat mosquitoes. Smush silverfish up with a piece of Kleenex and flush them. Step on ants and/or set out those little Raid disks that do something to get rid of them – which is either ward them off (the St. Francis of Assisi approach) or kill them (the not-so St. Francis of Assisi approach).

So, no, I’m not one of those folks who tends to treat every form of life as sacred and the equivalent of a human. (That said, I don’t like my chickens to come from factories where they have their beaks snapped off and their eyes plucked out, or my veal to be torture-penned. If I thought about it, I’d probably be a vegetarian.)

And I especially don’t worry a lot about insect life, which, I suspect, is not quite as sentient as say, your average puppy or bonobo.

Still, I found myself a bit unsettled by the story in The NY Times the other day about an art installation in which Elizabeth Demaray has set up an ant farm full of red harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex badius – or Pogos). And is feeding them fast food:

For one month, the ants, which usually thrive on seeds, are being fed a steady diet of McDonald’s Happy Meals. They even get the toys.

Of course, there are thousands of types of ants, and they tend to thrive on different things, and the Pogos are “desert seed harvesters”, not the sort of omnivore ant that’d be all that attracted to brownies, watermelon or a Big Mac.

Whether they’d actually like the steady diet of Mickey D or not is beside the point. Sure, they’re only ants, but nobody but nobody, nothing but nothing, should be subjected to a month’s worth of Happy Meals.  Didn’t that guy who lived on fast food for a month destroy all his organs or something? Even though, with two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun, they’ve at least got the seed thing going. But all the rest of that stuff? For a whole month?

Not that this an exercise in animal sadismo or anything:

Ms. Demaray worked hand in hand with Dr. Christine Johnson, a scientific assistant at the American Museum of Natural History who specializes in ant research.

This assumes that Ms. D and Dr. J aren’t in cahoots on a way to torture ants, which I’m guessing they’re not.

Ms. Demaray’s goal is to stage a commentary on the effects of the American diet on the creatures that depend on us for food.

I guess I never thought about ants – other than picnic ants – depending on us all that much for food. They eat lots of stuff, including other insects. And I guess I have to ask just what the commentary is. Ants die eating this stuff, what do you think it’s doing to us? We’re all ants, killing ourselves on Whoppers and KFC? Look how obese these Pogos are growing? (I’ll be in NYC next weekend, maybe I should drop by and see for myself.)

At the gallery last week, many of the ants were dead. A few looked disoriented. This exhibit lacks a queen and brood, so the workers are leading a life devoid of its fundamental purpose.

And who among us who’s ever worked (especially in a large corporation) has never felt that devoid of fundamental purpose kind of feeling – so I’m kind of identifying with the little critters there. No one in charge and bad food in the caf. Been there/done that.

Not to mention that – and here I feel I’m betraying my inner philistine – this installation sounds more like agit-prop than art. (Not that you can’t have both.) I mean, I’m not saying that art has to be Rembrandt or Andrew Wyeth. Still….

By the way, the Pogos like the chicken nuggets.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Office

There was an article in The Journal the other day entitled “The End of Management.” The article  argued that, in the 21st century, business is going to have to jettison the Alfred P. Sloan approach to management that served so well during the transition from an agricultural environment to an industrial one, and develop a more agile, innovative, and un-bureaucratic approach to running things. Topic for another day, I’m quite sure.

What was most intriguing to me in this piece, however, was not its central argument. It was the picture of a 1950’s office:


No privacy whatsoever. No phones on the desks of most of “the girls,” as far as I can see. Not a personal item in sight. Plus half the people would probably have been smoking. Talk about an existential nightmare. (And I use to bitch when I was in a cubicle.)

I’m sure there were many a 5 p.m. clock-out time when I’d have had to make a last minute decision about whether to put the plastic, dust cover over my comptometer or over my head. (Breathe deeply;  it’ll all be over soon.)

I’m trying to think whether you’d be better off at the front of the room with everyone’s eyes boring a hole in your back, or in the back, where you could see the vast, anomic expanse of fellow workers. (I’d have opted for front row.)

My first office job was in something similar, but on a much smaller scale. We sat at cheek-to-jowl metal desks in an open area, surrounded by offices where the bosses worked.  This was at H.H. Brown Shoe in Worcester, after I’d been plucked from the factory floor and given an office job. My first promotion!

I wasn’t looking to claw my way up, but they needed “a girl,” and they thought I’d do because I wore glasses, and because I knew enough Spanish to tell my fellow combat-boot trimmers when we did or didn’t have overtime work on Saturday.

I went from $1.40 an hour in the factory, to $1.70 an hour in the office. And I could no longer show up at work in jean shorts, a tee-shirt, and sneakers. I was pink collar, now.

On my first day, I wore a turquoise cotton A-line dress, only to find that my first task was inking up a little hand-cranked, rotary printing press, and printing up piece-work coupons. Fortunately, I didn’t get any ink on my dress – just on my hands. And I didn’t get to work at my desk in the main room. The printing press was in a stuffy little room of its won.

After my day as a printer’s devil, most of my time was spent working a comptometer, calculating the piece-work pay for the factory workers. How well I remember the women in the office complaining about how much money the leather cutters made. (Probably all of $200 a week, if that. Not to mention that they had someone breathing down their neck all day to make sure that there was as little waste possible in the hides they were cutting down, the first step in the combat boot manufacturing process.)

I had a number of office temp jobs over the years. Sometimes I sat in the open. Sometimes in a cube. Sometimes in an office.

For my first post-B-School job, I shared an office, but much of our work – creating forecasting models – was done in an open, shared computer room, where we labored at paper-based terminals connected to a remote mainframe.  When the computer room was humming at max, you were sitting no more than two feet from the person next to you.

This was, in fact, great fun, and I missed it when we all got screens and, a while later, personal computers, in our offices.

I eventually got my own office, and, following a promotion  - gosh, talent outs, doesn’t it? – and a move to a new building, I found myself as the only woman with a window office, a fabulous, V-shaped room overlooking the Orson Welles Theater on Mass Ave in Cambridge. Great fun.

Alas, the great fun was short lived. Our little hippy-dippy forecasting division was swallowed up by The Parent Company, and we moved out to Lexington.

Now I had to drive to work – ugh – but at least I got a nice office out of the deal. In fact I got a very nice office out of it. 

There weren't enough decent offices to go around, and they couldn’t very well stick the only woman on the team in a dungeon, so they gave me a double window office, overlooking a nature preserve. I was granted this office with the caveat that I might have to share it some day.

Never happened!

After that, depending on the company, I ratcheted back and forth between nice solo offices and dumpy cubicles.

Wang was the home of the dumpy cubicle. Picture that 1950’s office, with the miserable little desks divided up into miserable little cubicles and you get the picture. Only with sound effects: a paging system that blared perpetually right over my cube.

Next stop, Softbridge, where I generally had a nice office – until we got acquired by a company that enforced a top-to-bottom cubicle policy. We were grandfathered in, until we had to relocate.

Overnight, we went from all private office to all cubicle, and we had a collective, anticipatory nervous breakdown.  Until we got there, and realized it wasn’t all that bad. This was mostly because we’d had a lot of say in how the offices were laid out, and we put in a lot of conference rooms, including a couple where you could hold a 2-3 person meeting or make a phone call.

My next stop was Genuity, and at my level I was entitled to a decent office. Unfortunately, when I started there they were in such gung-ho hiring mode that there was no place to put me. So I spent my first couple of months in what had been a telephone office for use by the cubicle denizens when they needed privacy. I departed Genuity before they moved fully into their fancy, pre-bankruptcy digs, where I would have been entitled to cherry wood furnishings. (No wonder they went bankrupt.)

At NaviSite, I served my time in a cubicle, which was actually quite fun, because we all chatted back and forth all day, or IM-ing with remote colleagues. That is, when we weren’t listening to a loud-mouth techie just the other side of my row. John seemed to be in continuous contact with his insurance carrier and/or car repair and/or home repair the entire time I worked there. How he got anything done is beyond me. As my friend and colleague, Jeff, once said: he could file this guy’s insurance claims.

NaviSite, while I was there, was a roll up of a number of (mostly failed) small internet services companies, with management plucked from the numerous roll ups, which were scattered cross-country.

Although they were only at HQ once or twice a quarter for a day or two, most of our sterling execs required exclusive dibs on an office, so the perimeter was ringed with offices that were unoccupied 95% of the time. We the people commandeered these vacant offices whenever we needed to make a call, have a small meeting, or just have a little gab-and-gossip fest. The execs could have gotten oh so many brownie points if they had given these offices up to one of their reports – even with the understanding that, on occasion, the premises would have to be vacated. But lookin’ good in the neighborhood wasn’t of interest to any of these folks – some of whom actually started to lock their empty offices when they weren’t there. (No matter: we had our ways.)

Nowadays, I call my home office home. Or office. Or whatever. It’s tiny – maybe 8’ x 5 ‘ (if that). It has a door, a window, and a cherry wood desk and file cabinet – much nicer than anything I ever had in corporate.

There’s a bit of socializing: I’m on the phone a couple of times a day with the folks I’m working with. It works, but some days I miss the good old days when I worked in the open office, the computer room, the cubicle spread, the office environment where we all came out of our solo offices to socialize.

But that picture from the 1950’s? It really doesn’t look like much fun, does it? It’s easy to imagine the punch-in/punch out clockwatching; someone hanging over you every minute of the day making sure your nose was firmly adhered to the grindstone. The regimented coffee breaks, the grabbed conversation moments at the water cooler.

Don’t think I ever would have missed working there.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Going after the Three Vulgarities

I’m no longer certain where I first came across this story, but Beijing has decided they want to clean up their large and growing stake in the Internet by ridding it of the “three vulgarities: banality, kitsch and debased culture.”

The first question is, why stop at three?

But, on reflection, these three cover the bases, especially when you consider what a great catchall “debased culture” makes.

I do find it interesting that the Chinese standards mavens are going after banality and kitsch on the ‘net, given that they are such mega-producers of the utterly banal kitsch-ery that comprises so much of the American consumer experience.

Many the times I have speculated about what’s going on in the mind of some poor peasant who’s just left the hardscrabble farm, where the mud-daub house contained few decorative frills, for a job in a factory that makes junk for the U.S. market. What are they thinking when they work on those electronic Santas that do the twist to the tune of “Jingle Bell Rock”? Easter egg ornaments? Sponge Bob balloons? Happy Meal gimcrack? Barbie outfits?

I realize that the Chinese are going after the three vulgarities on the Internet, not in Walmart, but I do believe they’re on to something.

Too bad that something of this sort can’t happen here. It’s just ao against the zeitgeist of our free to be you and me culture. We can be as gloriously banal, kitsch and culturally debased as we want to be. (Oh, lucky us.) Remember the ridicule Tipper Gore was subjected to when she tried to do a little policing around bitch-ho et al. lyrics? I sure do.

Still, there are a few things wouldn’t mind seeing a little less of:

  • The Kardashians. Talk about the three vulgarities. Not that I’ve seen their show, but I did catch a bit of them on Nightline the other day, in a piece that included a bit on the sisters that are right behind them in the queue.  Apparently, these little girls (age 9 or 10) were included in one of the early Kardashian “reality” show episodes, where they were shown pole-dancing. The Kardashians make Paris Hilton look interesting and accomplished. At least she’s something we’re been gawking at since the Vanderbilts built in Newport: an heiress.  (And don’t get me goin’ on Snooki…)
  • Size XXL Disney character clothing, with special emphasis on that portraying any character related to Winnie-the-Pooh.  Disney characters may be banal and kitschy, but a lot of them are pretty cute. And I’m completely down with little kids wearing Tigger apparel.  But I’m completely down on adults, and I’ll be really snotty here and make that especially obese adults, tricked out in Winnie-the-Pooh anything.  There is no excuse for this; none whatsoever. I’m not so opposed to items that show Mickey Mouse, who is ageless and timeless, and nowhere near as banal and kitschy as Winnie-the-Pooh (Disney version – personally, I prefer the A.A. Milne depiction of Pooh). I’d be willing to go to trade-war to keep Size XXL Winnie the Pooh sweatshirts out of our country.
  • Stretch limos – I don’t know why these drive me so crazy – maybe because there always seem to be liquored-up Kardashian wanna-be’s hanging out the sun roof, yelling and waving a bottle of champagne – but, if the good lord had wanted us to have stretch limos, he wouldn’t have invented the bus, trolley car, or duckboat.  I would have thought that stetch-mos had died out when the economy started to sputter, but no… The other day I watched a stretched out Hum-vee – the size of the house I grew up in – pass me by. Cease and desist already.

I was going to put Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light, on my list, but it seems that this may be taking care of itself. In June, one of his production companies filed for bankruptcy, right after he was supposed to pay some gallery owners the judgment they were awarded in a fraud suit.

Plus I don’t want to over do things here. The Chinese are limiting themselves to the three vulgarities, and I’ll just do the same.


Info source on the Anti Three Vulgarities campaign.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What was I doing in June that was so all-fired important I missed the Vladimir Shpunt story?

Although it may appear to do so at times, Pink Slip doesn’t actually write itself, and finding topics of interest  - especially when I’m in one of those purist modes and am really trying to keep things focused on business – requires quite a bit of moseying around the ‘net.  After I’ve exhausted my usual haunts (Times, Globe, WSJ, Economist), I occasionally drift over to Business Week.  That’s where I found a long and fairly interesting article on former Boston “power-couple” Jaime and Frank McCourt (no, not that Frank McCourt; he’s dead; this is the other one).  A number of years ago, having failed in their attempt to purchase the Red Sox, the McCourts decamped to LA, where they bought the Dodgers.

The McCourts are now in the midst of a rather ugly divorce – you know, the kind where there’s a lot of money, not to mention ownership of a major league baseball team, at stake – and I sifted through the article finding all sorts of possible targets topics for Pink Slip.

Oh, there was the item about them putting their sons on the Dodgers payroll, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, while one was working at Goldman Sachs and the other was attending Stanford. (I’m telling you, in my next life I am definitely coming back rich.)

Then there’s the over-arching theme of the McCourts as an extreme paradigm for the crazed leverage of the go-go years – the endless cycle of borrow-spend-borrow-spend. In the case of the McCourts, the cycle played out in a lot of pricey houses. (When they buy a new multi-million dollar house, by the way, they typically buy the multi-million dollar one next door as well, to use as a guest house.  Oh, why not. What’s leverage for anyway?)

I liked the tidbit that Jaime has an MBA from MIT. (Small world!) And the bit about Frank firing Jaime from her position with the Dodgers via e-mail. (Stay classy, Frank!)

But stories about vindictive spouses and wretched excess are a dime a dozen, aren’t they?

What really glittered in the article was this gem:

Vladimir Shpunt, a 71-year-old psychic healer who lives outside Boston, was paid an undisclosed amount until 2008 to beam his positive thoughts at the team during games while sitting in his living room some 3,000 miles away.

The Dodgers apparently paid Shpunt for five years, during which time the Dodgers won zero World Series, and the Shpunt-less Red Sox won two, probably thanks to me and the millions of other fans channeling positive energy their way, gratis.

The LA Times broke the Shpunt story in June, when all the savory little divorce details started to emerge.

Vladimir Shpunt, 71, lived most of his life in Russia. He has three degrees in physics and a letter of reference from a Nobel Prize winner.

He knows next to nothing about baseball.

Yet the Dodgers hired him to, well, think blue.

Frank and Jamie McCourt paid him to help the team win by sending positive energy over great distances.

Shpunt says he is a scientist and a healer, not a magician. His method could not guarantee the Dodgers would win, he says, but it could make a difference.

"Maybe it is just a little," he said. "Maybe it can help."

Shpunt was introduced to the McCourts – who each claim the other made the decision to hire him – by Barry Cohen, an executive leadership consultant.

Shpunt is wary of publicity, disappointed in the loss of his anonymity, concerned about being caricatured. He speaks reluctantly, in halting English, about a commitment to the Dodgers that he said often required up to four hours a day.

Wary of publicity? Disappointed in the loss of his anonymity? Concerned about being caricatured?

Welcome to the U.S. of A., Mr. Shpunt.

Back in the USSR, Shpunt worked at a Russian scientific academy, doing research on “promoting healing by directing energy to ill cells without harming healthy ones.”

Somewhere along the line, Shpunt had an epiphany that he could transmit energy, and began doing “touch therapy.” Then he realized that he could do touchless therapy by channeling energy across distances. He got involved with the McCourts over some of their health issues, and ended up hired on to send positive thoughts out to Dodger Stadium.

Shpunt could transmit the energy at any time and from any place, Cohen said, but watching the games provided him with immediate feedback on its effects and intensity.

During Shpunt’s first year “with” the team, the Dodgers made the playoffs.  The next year – oops – they had a well under .500 season. Not surprisingly, the Shpunt forces felt that Vladimir (a.k.a., V) done good:

"V believes without his help this team would have lost about 15 more games," Cohen wrote, adding: "It would be a giant error to take V off team."

Cohen also wrote that Shpunt had "diagnosed the disconnects" among Manager Jim Tracy, General Manager Paul DePodesta and the team's pitchers and catchers.

"Your general manager destroyed last year's team," the e-mail read, "and put together a group of players that could not be a team and could not win."

Which is probably nothing that 99% of the savvy Dodger watchers weren’t muttering to themselves for free.

Getting paid six figures to direct positive energy towards a baseball team? No wonder that, recession aside, immigrants clamor to get into this country.

Meanwhile, poor Vladimir Shpunt, who was afraid of ridicule, has someone twittering in his name.


Once again, welcome to the U.S. of A.


By the way, here’s the ad that came up in the LA Times article on Shpunt.  When this ad flashes, one of the screens reads “Data driven. Rigorous.”  Yes, that certainly screams hiring a healer to telewave good thoughts to the team you own. Jaime, Jaime, Jaime… Sloan MBA?

Friday, August 20, 2010


I try to think about aerialist Philippe Petit as little as possible.

Nothing personal, you understand.

It’s just the very idea of him walking the tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center – which he did in 1974 -  gives me the willies. Many years ago, I was reading a New Yorker article (with picture) of this walk, and I was completely overcome with an anxiety attack. (Even writing about it now brings on a slight physical reaction – the hairs on the back of my neck have sprung out at a 90 degree angle.)

A few years ago, a film was made about this event – Man on Wire – which is supremely high on my list of films never to see. I think I’d rather watch every film in the Steven Seagal pantheon twice – make that dubbed in Estonian – before I could bring myself to watch Man on Wire.

Some folks don’t do windows. I don’t do heights.

Nonetheless, I was drawn to an article on Petit that appeared in The New York Times Cityroom blog a week or so ago.  It focused on a workshop he runs in which he teaches folks how to walk on wire. He’s running three workshops this summer – at $1,200 per person – and, if you want to participate, you’re too late. The 18 students have already been selected.

Students, of course, don’t start out walking 100+ stories in the clouds, or even across the apse of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which I believe Petit did at one point.

In fact, they start out walking on a line on the floor, which is something that I’m guessing I could do.

Not that I would have gotten that far:

The first morning moved quickly: warming up; doing one-armed somersaults and headstands; walking a straight white line taped to the floor; traversing a seven-eighth-inch-thick pipe  fixed  on the floor.

One armed somersaults? I don’t even know what that is.

Headstands? Include me out.

So much for this type of workshop going corporate.

As for that walk on the wild side with that 7/8th inch pipe. That sounds like nothing compared to a one armed somersault.  However:

“That bar just feels cold and mean and hard and unforgiving,” she [class member Amye Walters]  said. “When I step down on it, I just feel like it’s fighting me. It just kind of wants to push me off.”

Gosh. If it kind of wanted to push a young, fit, one armed somersaulter off, what would that pipe want to do to me?  I shudder to think. Slice my feet in half? Leap off the floor and crowbar me on the head? Laugh in my face? Yikes.

Students also have to walk a slack rope, which sounds an order of magnitude harder than walking a tight rope. Actually, it’s quite unimaginable to me. (But it has, for the first time in my life, made me realize what the term tight rope actually means. Up until now it’s apparently been a need-to-know basis.)

The culmination of the workshop is a wire-walk on a 21 foot long, seven feet high, wire (while wearing a harness). On one level (paper), this doesn’t sound all that challenging. (The harness helps.)  Still, it’s easy for me to envision landing straddle-splat on that tightrope after I take my first step.

Mr. Petit [who is an amazing 61 – I know what I’m talking about here] practices three hours a day, but has not been hired to do a major wire crossing in years. “He’s insane that he hasn’t been on a wire in New York City since 2002,” said Kathy O’Donnell, his partner and producer, expressing how much Mr. Petit misses his “stage.”

Yeah, well, I can see the insane – but that’s from the perspective of someone who had a complete anxiety episode at the lip of an Arizona canyon my brother Tom and his wife Betsey wanted to take me down a few years ago. Sure, I would have liked to have seen those adobes, but in order to do so, I would have to have been put under full anesthesia and carried down in someone’s backpack.

Petit, by the way, makes his living lecturing, but may be running more workshops next year.

The students interviewed for The Times piece gave him lots of props as a teacher:

“This guy is a teacher like no other,” [Howard Nelson]said while bracing his head between his knees. “He acknowledges when you do something well and he is encouraging when you don’t do something well. And he empathizes. He seems to empathize with us, which I think is pretty hard considering this guy is probably the best in the world at what he does.”

This alone sets him above and beyond most corporate workshop instructors I’ve worked with. You know the ones I mean – no empathy for those of us who can’t make a helicopter out of Tinker Toys, or are reluctant to reveal our innermost thoughts while sitting back to back with a stranger, or who draw the line at falling back into the arms of a colleague we don’t like (let alone trust).

Still, I won’t be signing up for this one – although I think I’d rather walk a seven-foot high tightrope (while wearing that all-important harness) than watch Man on Wire. (Shudder, shudder.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Facebooked: Dr. Talvitie-Siple’s tenure at Cohasset High has ended

Since most of what we read about folks getting hoist on their own Facebookian petard is about high school and college kids who trash-talked their way out of a college acceptance or a job, it’s almost refreshing to read about someone a bit older who just pissed away her position by being a tad too candid on her FB page.

As reported in Wicked Local – and just about every other news mongering enterprise in the Boston area – up until a day or so ago, Dr. June Talvitie-Siple was some type of supervisor in the math and science department at Cohasset High School. (For those who don’t know Cohasset, it’s a quite beautiful and quite well-to-do suburb on Boston’s South Shore.)

Then some inquiring-minded parents found her FB page, where she characterized the residents of Cohasset as “so arrogant and snobby,” and mentioned that she was “so not looking forward to another year at Cohasset Schools.”  (She also called kids “germ bags”, which doesn’t seem all that terrible, given that she did so while talking about taking anti-biotics. Who can deny that kids are “germ bags” -  although I prefer the term “germ vectors” myself. And, in general, I think of younger kids as the true germ carriers – the ones who don’t know enough to cover their mouths when they cough or noses when they sneeze. Not high school-aged kids, who are mostly giving things to each other by slurping out of communal water bottles, making out, and taking part in other germ exchanges.)

In any case, Dr. T-S will no longer have to worry about being “so not looking forward to another year at Cohasset Schools,” as she won’t be spending the year there.

Once the parents found the offending FB page, they went on the warpath, and the Superintendent of Schools asked for, and received the perhaps good but not so wise doctor’s resignation.

This episode, of course, speaks to the naiveté and Internet ignorance of June Talvitie-Siple more than it does to her holding opinions that plenty of people might share, or to her bitching about work. Who among us hasn’t bad-mouthed incompetent management, malign colleagues, useless subordinates, and lunatic clients at one point or another. It’s just that we tend to do it in the privacy of our homes, among family and friends.

Of course I do some public chronicling of  all of the above, but the episodes and folks I write about are from my professional way-back machine. Plus I don’t use names – never of people, seldom of companies.  Plausible deniability all round.

But a professional educator sniping at parents, and explicitly naming her town. Bad, stupid, form – definitely something that calls her judgment into question. (Speaking of question: why doesn’t the word “judgment” have an “e” after the “g”?)

And, gee, how can someone be a math and science teacher and not get that anything on the Internet can and probably will be made public and used against you? Talvitie-Siple says that she thought that only her FB friends could see her comments.  But all it would take would be for one of those friends to cut and paste a comment into an e-mail, and shoot it off to someone, who might take umbrage, etc. (Not that T-S’s comments rose to the level of interest that would make them cut-and-paste-able. Still, if it’s out there, you’ve got to think that something could be really out there. And wouldn’t you think that it might enter a teacher’s mind that kids being kids, someone might decide to hack around in her private space? Forget about “germ bags”, kids – if they bother to notice or acknowledge adults at all – can be nosey parkers, and they know how to nose around social media a lot better than most of us do.)

On the other hand, this is no more than the garden variety chatter that most of us engage in at one point or another.

Certainly, there’ve been plenty of Sundays where I’ve been so not looking forward to going into work the next day.

And, while they may not like the fact that someone in their school system thinks they’re snobby and arrogant, well, this can’t be the first time that someone in Cohasset has come across those terms in association with their town folk. Not that it’s true. I’ve met plenty of people from Cohasset who are perfectly nice and pleasant. And, let’s face it, accusations of snobbery and arrogance pretty much come with the territory when you come from a town where the populace, in general, is well-heeled and well-educated. (Think I haven’t come across references to Beacon Hillers as being s & a?  That’s one thing I’ll say about having grown up in Worcester:  no one, but no one, ever threw the snob or arrogant gauntlet in our faces.)

Maybe Talvitie-Siple’s feelings run so strong that she really shouldn’t be teaching in Cohasset. Maybe she was just blowing hot air.

But wouldn’t it have been nice if just one of the Cohasset parents hadn’t thought to do a bit of damage control and contact Talvitie-Siple and let her know?

Hello, Dr. T-S, this is Mrs. Arrogant Snob. I’m the mother of Germbag Snob, and I thought you might like to know that some untoward comments you’ve made on your Facebook page are in the public realm.

Thank you for letting me know, Mrs. Snob. As you can imagine, those comments were just me kidding around with my friends. I never intended them as a blanket criticism of the people of Cohasset. I’ll remove those words right away, before I have to eat them. And how is Germbag doing this summer? I've been so concerned about his sniffling. I certainly hope it’s just allergies.  And thanks again for your call.

The Internet giveth, but it certainly taketh away, as well.  This week, it’s taken away a $92K a year job from June Talvitie-Stiple.

Bet she wished she’d never decided to au fait her way on to Facebook.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The law of supply and demand meets the scalpers at Fenway Park

As if this bummer of an economy wasn’t enough of a drag, the scalpers hawking tickets are coming up against something we haven’t seen in these parts in years: Red Sox fatigue.  Home games – which have been sell-outs since May of 2003 – are still selling out. But that’s largely because the scalpers are holding the bag on a lot of seats. If you look around America’s Most Beloved Ball Park (soi disant), it’s possible to see scattered blocks of empties.Gasp!

Now there are days where [one of the scalpers interviewed] struggles to get 50 percent above face value.

While the scalpers are doing their own WTF-ing about why this is so, I’m sure that the great minds in the Red Sox organization are analyzing this one every which way they can think of,. And I suspect that there are enough root causes to keep business analysts working overtime.  Over exposure. Over marketing. Waning interest among “fans” who really didn’t care about baseball and/or the Red Sox to begin with. (These are referred to locally as pink-hatters, i.e., those who don’t even know what color the real Red Sox cap is. Hint: it’s not red.)

Other possibilities: a jaded fan base that, two World Series rings later, doesn’t so much live and die by the Olde Towne Team with quite the intensity we used to.

Years ago, Marty Nolan, a political reporter for the Boston Globe, famously wrote about the Red Sox: They killed my father, and now they’re coming for me.

For a lot of us lifers, that pretty much summed up our relationship with the Red Sox: intense, aggravating, consuming, life-shortening.

I can still get riled up about this team, snapping off the TV when I’ve seen enough. But it’s nothing like how I used to be when I would quite literally take to my bed with the covers over my head during tense games where my long history as a fan caused me to predict a terrible outcome. You think I’m kidding?  I missed most of the legendary Red Sox comeback games against the Yankees in 2004, and relied on my husband to relay updates to me while I sat in bed with the covers over my head. I did watch all of the seventh game of that series, only because I realized after Johnny Damon’s first inning homer that things were going to be all right. The World Series that year was a foregone conclusion.

Three years later, the 2007 World Series win was gravy.

Now? I’m not saying I want the old days back – when I first began watching baseball, the Sox were cellar-dwellers – but the feelings are not quite the same these days.

Meanwhile, a key root cause of the decline of interest in the Red Sox is the fact that the product this year is pretty ho-hum.

I’m wouldn’t (yet) go so far as to use the term mediocre – they’ve still got a shot at something, and they do play in the strongest division in baseball – but this year, most of the A-list players have spent long chunks of time on the disabled list – including the two biggest spark-plugs  (Pedroia and Youkilis), and the cutest player(Ellsbury).

The Red Sox results to date have been pretty lackluster, and the team hasn’t fared all that well against other contenders. It’s conceivable that they’ll make it to the play-offs, but it’s not likely that they’ll make it very far. (Qualifier: never say never.)

Bottom line: scalpers can’t command the big bucks they’ve enjoyed the last few years.  Unless the Yankees are in town, there just aren’t that many folks willing to pony up $100 for an SRO “seat” with face value of $25.

Yes, the laws of supply and demand are at work: the guy trying to get $100 for that SRO ticket probably commands more than that for a big game. But, curiously, even at the last moment – when the tickets are nearing the end of their shelf life, i.e., the game has started – the scalpers interviewed in the article are folding what they’re holding.

Hey, I’m a believer that scalpers – who are, after all, assuming risk in acquiring tickets – have a right to extract a premium. I’m assuming that at least some of what’s in a scalper’s inventory was purchased for more than face value from season’s ticket holders – all the more reason to add a transaction fee. Frankly, I’d just as soon see a street scalper make it than a) the Red Sox, b) Ace Ticket, a “legal” scalper.

But, if I’d shelled out a lot of money for a bunch of tickets I wasn’t going to use for myself, and the clock was tick, tick, ticking, I do believe I’d unload them for what I could get. (I might draw the line on accepting less than face. Fair’s fair.)

One scalper in the Globe article was looking for $150 for seats that cost $52 per. Even after the game had started, and even while surrounded by similarly clad fellow scalpers.

To a casual onlooker, the solution seems simple. Drop the price. But when the idea is brought up, the man in the gray cotton T-shirt quickly shoots it down.

“Let me ask you something,’’ he says. “If you owned a store, and you sold milk, and all your milk was about to go bad, and everyone held out until the last minute to buy your milk, and you dropped the price, what would happen?’’

He doesn’t wait for an answer. He explains that no one would be willing to buy milk at full price. The integrity of the product would be compromised.

Well, it’s easy to poke flaws in anyone’s reasoning, but to my thinking, if you’ve got milk that’s about to go bad, you should be willing to sell it at a discount.  As someone who pretty much examines every item, other than toilet paper and dishwashing liquid, for it’s sell-by/use by date, I wouldn’t buy milk that was about to go bad, unless I absolutely needed to use it right away.

Maybe it’s just me, but this wouldn’t have any impact whatsoever on future purchase decisions.

I would still be willing to pay full price for milk that had some life left in it, but milk that was about to turn sour? Unless I absolutely, positively needed it on my cereal or to make pudding. No way.

I don’t want to wrap my head around the scalper’s dilemma too tightly, but there would come a moment in time when I’d just want to cover at least some of my losses.

Sure, there will be ticket buyers who are willing to pay chicken with you, but if there are no other buyers around?

When demand goes up, prices go up. When demand goes down, prices follow. Kinked demand curves aside – and maybe ticket scalping represents one -  isn’t this the way that efficient markets work?

Me, I’d rather walk away with a little something jingling in my pockets. (Tickets for yesterday’s game just don’t jingle.)

Meh! What do I know about the economics of scalping?

I’m just sitting here hoping that, next season – assuming the Red Sox don’t pull something off this year – it’s easier to buy tickets the old fashioned way: game day, face value, at the park. Play ball!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Long gone. (Bring out your dead Part Two.)

As we try to grapple with our many economic woes, one of the woe is us-es that burbles up to the Top Five of every Just How Bad Is It? list is the retiree question, especially with respect to the Baby Boomers (a.k.a., the BBs).  This woe is a multi-part one, with sub-sections devoted to rage, recrimination, denial, self-flogging, duh and/or doh, when will they go, why don’t they stay, who will hire them, and, of course, how long will they live.

The idea of retirement is a relatively recent one, and, originally, planning for it was pretty much predicated on the assumption that workers would pack it in (work-wise), grump around for a couple of years, and pack it in (life-wise).

Then the Greatest Generation (a.k.a., the GGs) – most of whom had pensions of some type - and the non-descriptors who come between the GG’s the BB’s, started to defy the old up and out out and up rule and live on for while.

Now there’s a fiercesome worry that the BBs – most of whom don’t have pensions of any type other than Social Security -  are going to hang on ad whatever infinitum they can muster by harvesting organs, sopping up resources, and generally despoiling whatever opportunities that the rising generations might have for a decent life.

Personally, I really don’t believe that this is going to happen.

For one thing, I believe that us BBs were exposed to so much toxic, artificial whatever that we’re going to die off from it well before most of us get to send grinning photos of spry us into The Today Show in hopes of grabbing our .15 second’s worth of fame as one of the Smucker’s Centenarians of the Day.

Still, there are so  many BBs that it’s pretty certain that there will be a lot more BB geezers around, in absolute terms, than there have been in the past.

So it’s worth thinking about what happens to old folks in Japan, holders of most longevity records like average life span and greatest percentage of people over 100.

Just what is their secret?

Heavy on the sushi and light on the Big Mac’s? Reverence for the elderly that keeps them involved as respected members of the family and the community?

Turns out it may be something else entirely.

As reported in The NY Times over the weekend – and elsewhere a while back: I know I’ve seen this somewhere recently – some proportion of their elderly population (authorities are trying to figure out just what proportion that might be) is MIA.  Dead, but not necessarily buried.  Gone, but not forgotten by the Japanese government that keeps writing them their pension checks.

In one instance:

…the police found the body of a man thought to be one of Japan’s oldest, at 111 years, mummified in his bed, dead for more than three decades. His daughter, now 81, hid his death to continue collecting his monthly pension payments.

Well, I suppose she deserves something for living with a Norman Bates-ian mummy of daddy all those years. Nonetheless…

Officials had gone to his house, by the way, to congratulate this fellow on becoming Tokyo’s oldest citizen.

They said his daughter gave conflicting excuses, saying at first that he did not want to meet them, and then that he was elsewhere in Japan giving Buddhist sermons. The police moved in after a granddaughter, who also shared the house, admitted that Mr. Kato had not emerged from his bedroom since about 1978.

Ah, yes, I had an inkling that something peculiar might be happening behind that door, but it was really none of my business to bother grandpapa by knocking.

Local governments are now on the hunt for other old-old folks, and more than a few are coming up missing. And lest you think that the situation above is one of isolated nutters:

To date, the authorities have been unable to find more than 281 Japanese who had been listed in records as 100 years old or older.

Okay.  They’re not saying that they found 281 mummies in the spare room.

In a more typical case… relatives of a man listed as 103 years old said he had left home 38 years ago and never returned. The man’s son, now 73, told officials that he continued to collect his father’s pension “in case he returned one day.”

Dad always did like to take a long constitutional, so I thought nothing of it when he left one morning in his sturdy hiking shoes, using the walking staff we’d given him for his 65th birthday. My guess at the time was that he ran into a couple of old war buddies, and they got to swapping stories about Guadalcanal and one Banzai led to another. I knew he’d be mega-pissed if he came back and I hadn’t been collecting the pension.

Now, the government is trying to meet with everyone who’s 110 or older to make sure they’re still alive – the old mirror under the nostrils routine should work.  They did find alive the 113 year old who’s supposedly the oldest person in Japan. Phew.

Okay, finding out that a couple hundred missing old folks are actually dead isn’t going to change the longevity stats for Japan. Still, all those old people who’ve disappeared is a bit perplexing.

It may be just as well that the younger folks here don’t read the newspapers. For those BBs who do make it into triple digits, we wouldn’t want to give their caretakers any ideas. I bet learning how to mummify is just a google away.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Money Grubbers: Bring out your dead

I’m composing this post on the the ninth anniversary of my mother’s death. While her daughter composes, Liz reposes in a small cemetery just outside of Worcester, Massachusetts. In current parlance, I guess we could call St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Leicester a “boutique” graveyard. Originally established as the parish cemetery for a congregation of recent Irish immigrants, the cemetery has, over the years, pretty much catered to a niche: current members of the parish, and those with family members buried in the cem.

In my case, there are boat loads, or, rather, hearse loads, of family at St. Joseph’s, starting with Matthew and Bridget Trainor, my great-grandparents, and a number of their offspring, grandchildren, and, increasingly, great-grandchildren. There are also plenty of collateral relatives: relatives of Matthew and Bridget, and their descendants.

My mother would probably have been happier if she had some more blood relations around for the aftermath, but her parents, and her brothers Bob and Jack, are buried in Chicago. So whatever remains of my mother must stay content with the fact that she is among three of those she loved best in life: my father, my Aunt Margaret, and my sister Margaret Mary, who died in infancy.

There may come a time when St. Joseph’s runs out of room, but it appears to have a few more years left in it. It’s small but, as I mentioned, niche. Most Catholics in Worcester opt for the far larger and somewhat grander St. John’s Cemetery, where, I believe there’s still a bit of space, or the huge and antiseptic suburban cemetery in Paxton that only allows flat grave-markers.

So there’s enough of room left in Worcester that Worcester-ites don’t need to fear that there’ll be no place to go when they’re gone.

But things are grave in New York City.

The last working cemetery in Manhattan – that of Trinity Church – is now burying only those with “long-held reservations” (how NY is that?), and selling new plots only in “extraordinary circumstances”. (One of these was that of ex-Mayor Ed Koch who wanted to stay in Manhattan permanently. He was able to buy in to Trinity – which is Episcopal – for $20K, and had his piece consecrated as Jewish burial ground.

Koch was a lucky duck. The largest local Jewish cemetery, which is in Brooklyn,

…ran out of land in the winter after tearing up roads and pathways to utilize every cubic inch of ground.

Hearses now have to unload at the gates, and ferry the caskets forth, and the mourners back and forth, on golf carts. The big Catholic cemetery, located in Queens (you’ve been by if you’ve flown in or out of LaGuardia) is running out of room, as well. Many other NYC cemeteries have only a few more years worth of space. Woodlawn, on the outskirts of the Bronx, has room for another 40 or 50 years, so there’s no need to panic. And you can always move to Staten Island. But the prices close to The City are going up, as supply and demand forces come into play.  Spaced out of Manhattan, priced out of New York City as a whole, many New Yorkers are finding themselves buried in the suburbs or upstate. (Ain’ t that a kick in the teeth?)

Still, it hasn’t gotten as bad as it is in London, where they’re starting to bury people upright. Obviously, most folks would rather spend eternity lying down, rather than standing up. Maybe those upright coffins come with little collapsible seats, so you could at least take the load off, even if that load is ever-diminishing. I hope the caskets come with This End Up arrows. Who wants to spend the rest of their life death standing on their head?

Other cemeteries offer “limited tenure”, after which you find yourself kicked out of the only place you’ve known as posthumous home, or with new neighbors crowding you out.

I got all this info on the state of NYC cemeteries in The NY Times.

The article included this bit:

“We have people who would like to disinter Mom and Dad and sell the graves back to make some money,” said Richard Fishman, the director of the New York State Division of Cemeteries.

There are state laws limiting the profits on resold graves, but the fact that people would be willing to go to such lengths, Mr. Fishman said, illustrates just how valuable burial plots have become.

It also illustrates just how money grubbing people can be.

Now, in real life, once they’ve gone underground, Mom and Dad are well past caring what you do with their remains. But, truly, if it were at all possible, they really would be rolling over in their graves if they knew that Sissy and Sonny were thinking about disturbing their piece/peace to pay for a trip to Cabo or a Sub-Zero fridge.

There may come a time when the value of those plots at St. Joseph Cemetery in Leicester becomes so great that someone makes us a big, fat offer for them.  Given that this cemetery is built on a squooshy, spring fed hill, I seriously doubt it. But you never know. I just hope that I never get so money grubbing that I’ll bring out my dead so that someone with a checkbook has room for theirs. Haven’t they heard of cremation?

Friday, August 13, 2010

No sweat. (Do we really need “smart clothing”?)

Well, yesterday it was fedoras, today it’s “fabrics that sense and respond to physical changes in the body.” (It was that or skinny jeans and jeggings for infants, and I really didn’t want to get into all that.)  Anyway, with two in a row, it must be Fashion Week at Pink Slip.  (Source of info: WSJ article.)

First up is workout tees that display a message as its wearer sweats.

Here’s before:

And after:


This would make more sense to me if it went from “I am” to “I am the narcissist,” but perhaps that message is implicit in a tee-shirt that broadcasts that its wearer is “the competition.” (Make that THE COMPETITION.)  Frankly, I don’t need a message to pop out in order to tell if I, or anyone else at the gym, is sweating.  I know because tee-shirts are drenched, hair is plastered wet-otter style to heads, and faces are plum-red.  Especially at a gym that is only quasi-air-conditioned. Folks at my gym go in for crummy old corporate and road race tee-shirts, so I’m about 100% sure I won’t be seeing one of these any time soon on any of my fellow sweat-hogs.

But this is just me and us.

Others, apparently, find the message shirts motivating – you just want that message to appear so that you have a signifier that you’re really busting.

Me? The drenched shirt, sweaty head, and red face are all the signifiers I need that I’m working hard.

The message shirts come from Viewsports, which boasts about its “sweat-activated technology.”

Do you believe in you? It’s your workout, your body, and your mind that pushes you to become what you will be.  We believe that All You Need Is You. Do you believe in you?

I know that people aren’t supposed to think too long and too hard about the meaning of marketing messages, but if all I need is me, then I don’t need a sweat-activated technology rigged up tee-shirt, do I?

I went over to Viewsports for a view, and you can get one of these sweating shirts – patent pending – for $23.99. Men’s shirts cost a buck more – they apparently need more you.

And I also think the shirts would be more truthful if the message were “All I need is me.”

Just saying.

On the plus side, the shirts were invented and made in Rochester, NY. I’m all for American ingenuity, American made, and any sign of life that comes out of the Rust Belt. But sweat-activated technology?

Maybe there’s a hidden healthcare lining, beyond the obvious that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and that includes working out (and sweating).

Did I say hidden healthcare lining? Apparently those in the hip and happening performance-fiber field are coming up with fabric sensors:

…that can track changes in blood pressure, pulse rates, and other signs of stress, as well as signs that a wearer is falling down.

Which will good for us rapidly aging Boomers entering our pre-geezer years. We may no longer be the competition in general, but we will be the competition for medical resources, and if someone can remotely monitor our vital signs through our clothing, this will be all for the good. As long as we remember to take the damned shirt off when we’re ready to go. And there will definitely be a point where a head-conking trip on the scatter rug while making a mid-night dash to the toilet will be a better alternative to three weeks intubated in an ICU.  Maybe by then we’ll be able to embed sensors in our granny gowns that contain our Do Not Resuscitate instructions, and other end-of-life messages. “The old lady in Unit 2 is down. She wants us to ignore her for now, and come and collect her in a couple of hours.” (Would that I’m so sanguine when the time comes. I sure hope I’m not going to be one of those grasping, clawing hangers-on.)

Then there’s the far more dubious line of “calorie-burning” underwear form Uniqlo.

The Japanese retailer, which launched the line in May, says the tight-fitting garments apply resistance to the wearer's muscles in certain spots, forcing him to put forth more effort to walk. Plastic dots and lines running down the lower back and bottom create slight pressure that is meant to improve the wearer's posture.

I’m sitting up straighter as I type this, because, as a lifelong slumper, I could definitely improve my posture. But couldn’t you get the same “calorie burning” impact from walking faster and/or carrying some weights?

Nah, techno-underwear just doesn’t do it for me, even if I did believe that it would really work.

Maybe the Babir suits work. Bagir, an Israel clothing manufacturer, is making suits that:

…will wick away and evaporate sweat, as well as eliminating odors. On this lining, says the company's U.S. spokesman, Timothy Danser, the sweat "beads up and rolls away." A separate chemical in the lining controls odors.

My question here is: where does the sweat roll away to? Is there a collection vial? Or, if you’re unlucky enough to be sitting next to a Bagir-wearer on a sultry day, do you just end up getting dowsed by some guy’s rolling away sweat?

Performance fibers aren’t new – they’ve been around since the 1980’s, primarily for sports and military apparel.

But some of its applications have been pretty flawed:

…the Hypercolor line of clothing from the 1980s and early 1990s, which changed colors wherever the wearer's body got warm. The problem: Sometimes underarms and private parts got warmer and were highlighted by the clothes. "It was a mess," she [Fashion Institute of Technology professor Ingrid Johnson’ says.

Now, it’s so mainstream that both Jos. A. Bank and Brooks Brothers sell suits the move heat and/or moisture away from the body. (Again, where does it go?)

I’m all for miracle fabrics, by the way.

I like my quasi-wicking work out clothing. My tencel raincoat. My quasi- no iron khakis. That bit o’ stretch in my jeans.

It used to be that clothing was smart when it looked sharp and was fashionable.  Now it’s smart because it’s full of sensors.

I dunno.  Maybe I’m threatened by it. I just don’t want to be wearing something that’s smarter than I am.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Men Wearing Hats

As the proud and loving daughter of a man who wore hats, I’ve been amused by the fedora craze now rampant among young hipsters.

Because it is just that -  a craze - I really don’t anticipate a return to days of yore, when everyone attending a baseball game was wearing a hat or non-baseball cap.  When there were hat check girls. When the pews at church had snaps to clip your hat onto. (They may still have them, for all I know.) And when Dad wore a hat to go out in the yard to rake leaves.

As a typical man of his era, my father wore a hat pretty much every day.  Wool (grey or brown) fedora between Labor Day and Memorial Day; natty straw version between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  When we went to the beach, or when he went to the golf course, the hat was replaced by a golf cap (which looked a lot like a baseball cap; it’s just that in those days, the only grownups who wore baseball caps were professional baseball players).

In those days, there were, of course,  hatmakers galore:

The number of manufacturers of fur-felt hats, wool-felt hats and hat forms in the U.S. totaled 185 in 1947, according to the Census Bureau. Now there are only three big hatmakers in the U.S. making fur-felt hats and wool-felt hats, says Jack Lambert, a former vice president of the Headwear Association. (Source: WSJ article linked below.)

So, it looks like the fedora craze is not going to save the economy. Damn!

I’m sure that part of the reason my father wore a hat was because he was bald. But, mostly, he was a man of his time – and men of his time wore hats from the time they hit adulthood until, well, the day they died. (I know that when my father died, there were still a couple of Stetson fedoras around the house. Wish I’d saved one….) I do believe that every child in my family has a favorite picture of himself or herself with my father, in which he is wearing a hat. (If I were the clever scanning type, I’d scan mine in and show you just what a hat-wearing cutie-pie my father was.)  We also used his old hats as cowboy hats, or general purpose, use-your-imagination, play props. (These recycled hats were called Boncho Crusses, for reasons that I can not begin to get into here.) The only time in his adult life my father went fedora-less was between 1942 and 1946, when he wore whatever the U.S. Navy gave him to put on his head.

Just as they do now, I also believe that hipsters of my father’s generation wore hats. But they probably weren’t grey, Stetson fedoras. They were probably porkpies, or thin-brimmed little hipster hats.

My father was decidedly not a hipster, but I like to think that he would have joined me in my amusement at the new fedora rage.

Most of the fedoras I’ve seen the young folk (M and F) sporting have not been the fedoras of my childhood.

No, the fedoras I’ve seen have been more colorful, more jaunty, less solid, less stolid – more jazz man than Mad Men.

Still, it’s fun to see them around.

But now that the WSJ has jumped in on things, I’m guessing that the craze has, if not died down, then at least crested. In any case, it’s probably moved beyond the hipster brigade, having trickled down to the general young population.

The Journal had an article the other day on the hat craze – and the etiquette questions it’s raising: Can one keep his hat indoors? Must one doff his chapeau upon greeting someone?  Is it okay to place one’s hat on the table or an extra chair while dining in a restaurant?

Personally, I could give a hatband about hat etiquette, other than to ask why it is considered impolite to wear a hat indoors. Much that has to do with etiquette makes aesthetic, if not practical, sense. But why the fatwa on wearing a hat inside? Other than that we’re accustomed to thinking that it looks ridiculous and/or off-putting, who cares?

(Obviously, many of the commenters in the WSJ do.  Lord knows I have pretty lax standards, but I really don’t associate indoor hat wearing with the decline of the west. There are sooooo many things standing in front of it.)

Anyway, now that I’m on a hat kick, I think I’ll count the number of fedoras I see over the next few days.

I’m seldom out after dark, or in places where hipsters lurk, but I may be able to spot a few. Something to do when I’m out strolling (hatless). In bad weather, I count blown out, discarded umbrellas. Counting fedoras will be a lot more fun, ‘cause I just adore a fedora.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Steven Slater: mad as hell and not going to take it anymore

By now, everyone with Internet access is aware of Steven Slater, erstwhile JetBlue flight attendant, who decided he’d had quite enough – and didn’t just quietly stew(ard) about it. He became so fed up that he cursed out an unruly passenger on the PA, then activated the emergency evacuation slide, and slid himself right onto the tarmac at Kennedy Airport.

I guess he didn’t have to bother to say “I quit” at this point (or “Fired? I quit.”) A short while after he abandoned his post, and, presumably, all hope in a future career in the airline industry, Slater was arrested at his home in Queens. He’s now cooling his jets at Rikers Island*, which may be a bit more than he bargained for. He has been:

…charged with felony counts of criminal mischief and reckless endangerment.

“When they hit that emergency chute, it drops down quickly within seconds,” a law enforcement official said. “If someone was on the ground and it came down without warning, someone could be injured or killed.” (Source: NY Times.)

Who knows what’ll happen with Slater, once the cult hero worship dies down. Maybe a new career as consultant to burnt out airline employees? Maybe a made for TV movie?

But who among us hasn’t at least entertained a fleeting fantasy of pressing the ejection button, pulling the rip cord, activating the evacuation slide, and calling it quits with a capital Q-U-I-T-S.

Most of us don’t, of course.

We seethe, we grind out teeth, we bitch to our colleagues, we have sleepless nights.  If it’s really all bad/all the time, we make our escape plans, but it’s seldom that real-time dramatic.

We update our resumes, contact a head hunter, spread the word in our network.

If we’re lucky, within a few weeks/months, we’re able to utter the two most beautiful words in the English language: I quit. (Although we don’t even say that, in real life. We say, ‘I’m leaving.’  We say, 'This great opportunity came along,’ or ‘I needed a change of scenery,’ or ‘It was time,’ or ‘I’m really going to miss you guys.’ Nothing personal, don’t you know. (Even when it is.)

I did leave one (professional) job in a huff, but the huff took four weeks to play out. My boss – who was a pretty good friend – did something that I considered completely off the chart rotten to me. By noon, I was in a head-hunter’s office. Within a couple of weeks, I had a new job lined up. The new job, as it turned out, was a dud, mostly because the company was an extremely bad fit. If my PC had been working on Day One, I probably would have fired off a resignation letter and begged for my old job back. I did end up sticking it out two-and-a-half years, but, hey, even if the company itself – insanely hierarchical and absurdly bureaucratic – was terrible, I liked my colleagues well enough.

Other than that, my only huff leave-taking actually wasn’t my personal huff.

Post college, my roommate and I spent a year-plus traveling cross-country and cross-Europe, financed by waitressing at Durgin-Park, a venerable Boston tourist trap.

A few weeks before we were scheduled to leave for England, Joyce got into a wrangle with the owner (long since dead).

This was exceedingly easy to do, as he spent the half of his time he wasn’t shoveling down prime rib and fisherman platter dinners (and chugging Crown Royal with a splash) berating the waitresses for infractions, real and imagined. The dynamic was truly crazy. “The Boss” would fire you for, say, storing napkins on your station (which had been allowed the day before).  You’d go crying to the ‘old gals’ – waitresses who’d been there for 50 years – and the ‘old gals’ would intercede with “The Boss” on your behalf. He’d relent and give you your job back, while waving his finger in your face and yelling about not letting “it” happen again.

On our fateful final night at Durgin, “The Boss” had stopped Joyce as she left the kitchen, and screamed at her about putting too much whipped cream on the strawberry shortcake. (To get the full picture, you have to understand that Durgin had an open kitchen, so all of the screaming at the waitress occurred in full view and ear-shot of the diners.)

Insult was added to injury when, a half hour later, “The Boss” saw Joyce bussing the shortcake plates – on which little of the whipped cream had been touched. He went into a full-throttle tirade, at which point Joyce just threw the plates down on the floor, and the whipped cream splattered all over “The Boss’” shiny, high-water black pants.

Joyce then hollered over to me, “I’m out of here,” and I figured, what the hell, I’m out of here, too. (We were short timers, anyway.)

The ensuing scene was straight out of Keystone Cops, with “The Boss” chasing Joyce up the stairs to the break room, where we kept our coats. Then downstairs to get the break room key, which was missing from it’s usual hiding  place (in the break room lock). By this point, a number of the younger waitresses had joined in the chase so that we could help protect Joyce from “The Boss” if he caught up with her. (Fat chance of that. He was obese, and likely loaded, and wasn’t moving all that fast. Joyce was young, lithe, and fleet of foot.)

As we were making our exit, I had the presence of mind to go over to all my tables, and Joyce’s, to tell them we were leaving and to ask anyone if they wanted to give us our tips. (Most did.)

We actually had the gall to come back the next week for our final paychecks – about $15  a piece. (Waitresses made next to nothing, other than tips, in those days.) “The Boss” had his wife take down the names of everyone who spoke to us, but no one was fired.

And you know what?

This all felt great. Thrilling. Exhilarating, even.

Would I have done this in a “real” job? Highly unlikely.

But this was a temp job. And we were short-timers, anyway. And “The Boss” was such a louse – completely irrational and abusive.

There couldn’t have been one waitress working there who hadn’t wanted to hurl a strawberry shortcake at him, or whack him up the side of the head with a dripping slab of prime rib.

I almost wish it had been me….

And I can guarantee that, this week at least, there are a lot more workers out there fantasizing about doing exactly what Steve Slater did (Great Recession or not): activating that emergency exit slide, and sliding right out of a bad situation.



*The Times had it as a Port Authority facility, but that might have been for starters. People claims Rikers.

Tip of the pert, flight attendant’s cap of yore to my husband for spotting this story for me.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Did you hear the one about the street mime and the Elvis impersonator?

I was in Provincetown this past weekend, with my sister Kath and our two 13 year old nieces. P-town is shopper heaven for a couple of young girls with folding green in their Coach wrist-bags, so Kath and I headed in one direction, the girls in the other, and we met up for lunch. In truth, neither the big girls nor the little girls bought all that much, but it’s still fun to browse.

Of course, one of the more fun things about being in P-town is the street theater, and we got to see our share as we strolled up and down Commercial Street: the campy guy in the Pilgrim outfit who sometimes greets the incoming ferries; a young man done up as a giraffe, and looking like an extra from The Lion King; and “Ellie: 78 years young and living the dream” of singing on the streets.  (Here’s a link to an article about, and pic of, Ellie. You tell me this guy doesn’t look pretty darned good for 78. Check out those gams!)

What we didn’t see hide nor hair of were the 67 year old ex-lawyer, current day Elvis impersonator (actually, he’s an Elvis tribute artist) or the mime (actually, she’s a human statue who’s usually posing on the corner of Commercial and Ryder, where Kath and I hung out for a while waiting for the girls.  We actually may have seen the human statue – there was a young woman carrying a ladder, and she appeared to have some bronze body paint on her jeans. But we didn’t see here performing. Or not performing. Or whatever it is human statues do.)

These two – the Elvis artiste and the human statue – are embroiled in a he-say-she-say controversy that’s now made it’s way into a Connecticut courts, where Raymond “Elvis” Sitar is a member of the bar. Sitar – which seemingly would be a better name for a George Harrison or Ravi Shankar impersonator - is suing Cady Vishniac, who plies her trade by posing as a statue while perched on a ladder.

According to the article on the set-to that appeared in The Boston Globe, it all started a year ago when Sitar decided that Vishniac was hogging prime territory.

Now the corner of Ryder and Commercial in P-town is supremely prime territory – plunk in the center of the action, with the extra, added attraction of having benches to sit on, some of which are in the shade.

Anyhow, Vishniac claims that Sitar goosed her and, when she refused to move so he could warble “Hound Dog”, stood next to her making noises, and trying to distract the tourists who would normally be catching her act (and, I suppose, paying to have their picture taken with her).

Vishniac reported the groping to P-town’s finest, who proceeded to arrest Sitar for assault. Even though he was able to bail himself out – and had the charges dropped when Vishniac was unable to appear in court against him -  Sitar did not enjoy his “Jailhouse Rock.” No, it was more “Heartbreak Hotel”, and Sitar decided to go after Vishniac, and the witness who backed her claim up, in a civil action claiming that he was slandered and libeled.  He’s looking for $100K in damages – which, I’m guessing, is more than the average human statue street performer brings in.

Given the spirit of Provincetown, it all seems like such a shame.

If Vishniac had set up shop in a coveted area, well, Sitar should just have gotten there earlier, rather than fly into a snit and/or expect him to cede her spot to him.

There are plenty of places to perform along Commercial Street, and along the wharf, even though there’s so much hub-bub (at least on weekends) it’s probably difficult to get heard.  It’s hard to believe that Sitar couldn’t have found a place where he could belt out “Blue Suede Shoes” – probably even in front of a store that sold them.

Somehow, I can’t imaging Ellie acting out in this way.

In fact, when we saw here, she was just standing in the middle of Commercial Street. Ducking the tourist trolley, the taxis headed to the guest houses, and the cop on the Segway, Ellie stood, mike in hand, singing. (For the life of me, I can’t remember what we heard her performing. Was it “Embraceable You”? “Someone to Watch Over Me”?  Kath – help me out here.)

Ah, Provincetown. Hate to see this downer kind of behavior, when the place has such a live and let live ambience.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Just another day at the office…

Last week’s dreadful massacre at the Hartford Budweiser distributor has to give everyone who’s ever worked some pause.

The workplace has enough major stressors (bad bosses, sniping colleagues, poor company performance, fear of layoffs, boring tasks, terrible policies) and minor annoyances (rotting food in the fridge) without having to think about some fellow worker coming completely unglued and blasting you to oblivion.

And yet every few months, it seems, someone “goes postal” and shoots up their place of work because they lost their job or lost whatever shred of ability they had to handle their real or imagined gripes.

I never felt physically afraid at work, but I don’t suppose the warehouse workers in Connecticut did, either.

A couple of times, I did fear that “something” could happen.

When Genuity had its periodic layoffs, they usually beefed up security – which was no surprise, given that occasional death threats against the company’s executives appeared on online bulletin boards. (At Genuity, there was more than just the prospect of losing your paycheck that had people going; lots of employees lost lots of money in our big, failed IPO.) Other than a bit of yelling, I don’t think anything ever happened on lay-off day.

At a far smaller company where I worked for many years, there was one employee I thought could have been a danger to her manager.

Alice, as I’ll call her, because she resembled Alice in Wonderland, was one of the most disturbed people I’ve ever worked with.

Not that I was good at spotting crazies during the interview process – I have to admit to hiring my share of out and out looney tunes – I must say that I had advised against hiring Alice as an admin.

I hadn’t exactly seen the true craziness, but I had pegged her as someone who was just not going to be able to stand up to her manager – a demanding s.o.b. if ever.  I worked very closely with this guy, but we got along pretty well – especially because I called him on his crap. I just didn’t see Alice and her boss as a marriage made in anywhere other than hell.

If my reasoning was wrong, my gut sense was right.

Shortly after Alice started work, she came into my office to complain about how poorly she was being treated by her boss.

I gave her a couple of tips for handling him, and also offered to run interference.

Oh, no, she said, I can manage.

Nonetheless, I made my way to the boss’ office and we chatted a bit about some ideas for making things work with Alice.

The next time Alice dropped by, it was to tell me that she’d left a couple of things off of her resume, namely, that she had a degree in electrical engineering from a prestigious university, and had worked at a well-regarded technology firm for a couple of years. But then something happened – Alice implied she’d been left at the altar – and she’d been out of work for a few years. Now, she was trying to get back into the world of work with something a bit lower key than a demanding EE job.

Now, I’m as sympathetic as the next guy – probably more so – but this raised a big RED FLAG. Working for her boss did not seem like a good idea for someone so fragile.

Things, of course, got worse.

I asked Alice’s boss how things were going, and he told me that he’d asked her whether something was bugging her, and she just gritted her teeth and said “no” -  while dragging her fingernails down the length of his office door. (You could see the claw marks.)

Then a couple of us came across her in the ladies room, where she started in on a diatribe against her manager so riddled with f, m-f, and c-s bombs that it would have made a sailor’s gob cap spin.

But wait, there’s more.

Alice then announced that she was getting married – to a fellow who had had some technical dealings with our company, but who had just decamped to set up a rival enterprise. And, oh, yeah – he had been a friend of the boss. And, oh, yeah – he was engaged to and living with someone other than Alice.

And, oh, yeah, I may have been hallucinating it, but I can swear that at some point Alice had told me that she owned a knife or a gun.

What with all the psychodrama, and Alice’s singular inability to get any work done, the decision was made to get rid of her.

We had a very sweet person who was in charge of HR at the time – very sweet, but completely inexperienced, and ill-equipped to deal, with the likes of Alice.

I can’t remember how I got involved in all this, but I did end up meeting with the company president, the HR person, and Alice’s boss about her impending firing.

I was very nervous that day, even though they gave her a good severance package and she did go quietly.

Still, after we’d watched her get in her car and leave the parking lot, I did pop into the boss’ office to tell him to be careful when he went home that night. Alice knew where the boss lived, and I didn’t quite trust things.

Nothing happened to him, and every once in a while I wonder what happened to her.

Did she have another breakdown? Did she marry that guy? Did she ever find work? Is she well? Is she sane? Was her sojourn with us just part of a few years worth of temporary aberration in the midst of a solid life.

I’d google her, but I’m blocking on her last name – even though I can picture the “real” resume that she showed me that had her degree and high-level tech employment on it. And I can picture her perfectly, right down to the Alice in Wonderland hairdo.

I don’t think of Alice all that often, but she sure comes to mind whenever there’s some workplace rage incident.

You really never know what’s going to happen, even if it seems like just another day at the office.