Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I’d like a non-smoking king, and a rose tattoo, thanks

Hotels need to compete on something other than “bed bug free” (as of the last canine sniff-test).

The the Marcel at Gramercy, a trendy boutique hotel, was – for a couple of weeks in November – differentiating itself by offering the services of LA tattoo-artist, Mister Cartoon. (Source: NY Times article.)

These are not your father’s tattoos.  Not that my father had one. But if he had, it likely would have been, like those of my uncles, a anchor on the forearm.  This would have indicated that, during his time in the Navy, he’d gone out with some buddies on shore leave, had one too many Knickerbockers, and decided to commemorate his time in the service.

Mr. Cartoon may sound like he entertains at kiddie birthday parties, showing the little ones how to turn imagetwo ovals into a picture of a puppy dog, but he’s done work for/on Beyoncé and Eminem.  Here’s an example of Mr. C’s work.  Forget that “Don’t Fuck with Texas” warning.  I can pretty much guarantee that I wouldn’t fuck with anyone sporting that scary clown tatt.

Scary clowns seem to be something of a  spéimagecialité de la maison. 

Knowing how my sister Trish feels about clowns, how’s this for an offer: next time you’re in LA – or Mr. Cartoon’s in NYC – I’ll treat for you to a clown tattoo.  Bet your other sister will chip in for one of your other sleeve, too.  If you don’t want to do something quite as painful and permanent as a tatt, there’s art work. I know there’s a blank wall-spot somewhere in your house just waiting for some clown art.

If you’re going to go tatt, plan ahead: the waiting list is 3-6 months. (And I’ll be planning ahead, too: the cost could run over $10K, which seems a lot for something that looks like one step up from the artwork of the best eighth grade boy artist, future jailbird edition. But what do I know from tattoos? Obviously, this work is a lot more complex than carving L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E on your knuckles, and filling it in with Bic pen ink. And Mr. Cartoon has built quite a business for himself. So (don’t-fuck-with-Texas) there. And good for him. I’m sure there’ll come a day when tattooing is all automated but, for the time being, Mr. Cartoon has a business that can’t be outsourced.)

The patron (patient?) getting worked on in the article was the son of Tommy Hilfiger.

Not surprisingly, the scion of the clothing line almost as clean-cut and prepped out as Ralph Lauren, goes in for something that’s not quite up to the Tommy Hilfiger Muffy-Buffy image.

Mr. Hilfiger, who already had both arms and his belly covered in tattoos, was looking to fill in the space above an inscription on his chest, “The Wind Cries Mary” (a Jimi Hendrix song title), and another spot just below his chin.

Hilfiger père was not as enamored of the idea of a tattoo under Hilfiger fils’ chinny-chin-chin, as was Hilfiger fils. So Hilfiger fils figured out a brilliant response.  The sub-chin tattoo, “in ornate script” reads “I love you, Dad.”

Tattooing isn’t the only promotional gimmick that hotels are turning to as a means to differentiate, and attract the demographic they’re looking for.  One such gimmick: a $10K cocktail that comes with an engagement ring.  Wait: you could break a tooth on that. Not to mention swallow it, which would produce quite an ick factor. My friend Marie’s dog swallowed one of her diamond earrings, and examining Wilbur’s scat for a day or so wasn’t all that much fun for her husband.)

Anyway, for the Marcel, the demographic of interest is a bit edgier than the average Tommy Hilfiger wearer. It’s more like Tommy Hilfiger’s son: 20, rich, a singer in rehab who lives at The Plaza.

Thus the Mr. Cartoon tattoo set-up (and the Mr. Cartoon artwork on their lobby walls). 

It goes without saying that they wouldn’t be thrilled to have me lounging around their lounge, in my Eileen Fisher capri pants and LL Bean sweater (a cool one, I swear!) making fun of scary clown tattoos.

So, even if the Marcel – which, weirdly, seems to have two different websites for two different URL’s - can swear up and down that the only bed bugs are tattoos, I will not be staying there.

Monday, November 29, 2010

“Inner yearning:” The Barbershop

Last week, The NY Times had an article on a rebirth of barbershops that the city’s experiencing, as young men try to look sharp and feel sharp, a la Mad Men’s Don Draper. Or try to reach back to a kinder, gentler time  - kinder and gentler if you weren’t getting shot at by black-pajama’d Viet Cong, hit by fire hoses and ripped by police dogs in Selma Alabama, or conked on the head by a billy-club at Stonewall, that is.  One young guy interviewed in the article said that with his trip to a Brooklyn barber shop, he “felt this deep, inner yearning.”

I suspect that, if I were to step into a barber shop, I’d feel a deep, inner something. But maybe not a yearning.

Anything to do with hair was, well, pretty hair raising when I was a child.

Sometimes hair meant my sister Kath and I sitting in the kitchen, wrapped in towels and choking on fumes, as my mother applied smelly Tonette home permanent chemicals to our heads, which were encased in plastic curlers that were so tight it felt as if your skull was being pulled apart. And whoever started using the word “permanent” hadn’t met the resistance of the Rogers’ girls hair.

My mother would later claim that Kath and I “insisted” on permanents.

I find this hard to believe, given that there was scant evidence in our childhood to correlate the word “insisted” with the words “actually getting.”

Maybe we did.  For just as I find this “insisted” scenario unlikely, I find it equally unlikely that my mother gave in to any ‘fad of the day’ about curly hair for her daughters.

Ah, the answer is now lost to the ages – other than for those ghastly pictures in which Kath and I, otherwise cute kids, have these ghastly, unnatural looking, half grown out, frizz-heads.

In other pictures, however, we’re sporting naturally straight, but unevenly cut hair.image  The bangs, you will note, are especially uneven, the result of my mother having sent me across Main Street, to Vic the Blind Barber’s in the first floor of a three decker on the corner of Henshaw Street.  The establishment wasn’t actually called Vic the Blind Barber’s. It was called Vic’s Barber Shop.  But Vic was the Mister Magoo of barbers, so nearsighted that he couldn’t see a darned thing.

Not a good attribute for a barber. (Or for a driver, I might add. I remember seeing Vic in his old 1940’s car, hands gripped at 10-2, eyes squinting, peering over the steering wheel as he navigated his way home. He didn’t live in Main South; we didn’t have many Italians. He must have lived off of Shrewsbury Street somewhere. Amazing he never killed anyone during his commute. He did drive pretty slowly.)

Kath and I did eventually managed to graduate to the splendors of the Paree Beauty Salon, just down Main Street from Vic’s, in a sprawling wooden tenement building that also housed Morris Market, where we did our grocery shopping. Now, I believe, there’s a tattoo parlor there. Or we went to Mrs. Leary’s no doubt unlicensed basement beauty salon, where I was once given a “pixie cut” that made me look like anything but. A 12 year old with a size 10 foot is never going to look like a pixie.  If I looked like anything, it was like a boy. Fortunately (or not) I had started to develop breasts.  God knows what I looked like.

But Kath and I still got to go to Vic’s with our brothers until they were old enough to go on their own.

I remember sitting there, leafing through the incredibly boring magazines: Argosy, Field and Stream,  absorbing the bracing odors: Barbicide, talc (was it called Gentlemen’s Club?), and Brylcreem, butch wax.

My brothers actually had it worse than Kath and I did.

If Vic was brutal with bangs, he was doubly brutal with the area over the boys’ ears.  Talk about whitewalls!  Vic took off almost all the hair up to the crown of the head.

Tom and Rick begged to go to Larry’s Barber Shop, down near Bennett Field, where they could get a regular old crewcut, not a scalp job.  But my mother felt bad for Vic, so off to Vic’s they went, until my mother finally relented.

My father, who was bald, wouldn’t go to Vic’s, by the way.  He patronized Jim’s Barber Shop up on Heard Street. What little hair he had wasn’t going to be sacrificed onto Vic’s linoleum floor.

One of the barber shops mentioned in the Times article, by the way, is called the Blind Barber. It doubles as a bar.

Perhaps suffering the haircuts at Vic’s wouldn’t have been quite so terrible if we’d been served a nip on the side, instead of a limp and sticky lollipop, smelling of hair oil.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Italo-American Accordion hits the Big 10-0 (and Trimble Motors turns 80)

Most of my career was spent in short-lived companies. Like most enterprises, especially in high tech, the sell-by date was a decade or two from date of origin.  Vestiges of most of the places I worked survive, but the original “bright idea” light bulb has long-since dimmed.

Pretty much the only places I’ve worked that have survived intact are restaurants: Durgin-Park and the Union Oyster House. The Oyster House has been shuckin’ (oysters) and jivin’ since 1826, and Durgin has been making the world’s best Indian Pudding (and, yes, there is such a thing) for “around 180 years.”

Most of the stores of my youth (and middle age) are gone. No Denholm’s. No Filene’s. No Lechmere Sales. No Woolworth’s. No Gilchrist’s. No Jordan’s. Just the bland and ubiquitous Macy’s, and the even blander and ubiquitous-er Walmart.

Most of the banks I’ve used have disappeared. I believe my first account – with bankbook, of course – was People’s in Worcester. Or was it Mechanics? Whatever it was has no doubt been swallowed up in the vast maw of Bank of America.

Creative destruction, come on down!

Some businesses – other than Durgin and Union – have managed to hang on.

I passed by Trimble Motors in Worcester every day on my way to and from school. It was on the corner of the street we lived on until I was seven, when we moved from my grandmother’s to a stand-alone, single family home on the next block. Trimble is a used car lot, and it’s been in the used car biz since 1930. 

Trimble Motors: go figure.

The start of the Great Depression probably wasn’t the most auspicious time to open a business. On the other hand, if you were going to open a business in 1930, a used car lot in Main South Worcester was probably a pretty darned good idea. Plenty of inventory to be had from those trying to keep the wolf from their door by selling off the Model-T, and the few folks buying cars were likely to be looking to cadge a bargain on a flivver.

All hail, Trimble Motors!

Forever in peace may its plastic pennants wave!

Given all the ephemeral institutions out there, I was heartened to receive a note from my Chicago-land cousin, Ellen, on the 100th anniversary being observed by her city’s Italo-American Accordion Company.

It’s not actually all that clear – at least from I-A’s web site – that they have been around for a full 100 years.  The home page claims “family owned an operated since 1915”, but elsewhere notes  that “in the early 1900's, the first phase of what would become the oldest accordion company in the United States opened for business on Taylor Street in Chicago, Illinois.”


If WLS says 100 years, I’m with them.

I wonder whether, somewhere in those 100 years, either my Uncle Jack or my Uncle Bob darkened Italo-American’s door.

They were not, themselves, Italo-Americans. They were, like the wunnerful, wunnerful Lawrence Welk,  Germano-Americans. But they both, like the wunnerful, wunnerful Lawrence Welk, played the accordion.

Jack did so professionally, with his 1950’s western-style-polka band, Jake Wolf and his Midwesterners. I can picture the publicity still – Jake and his Midwesterners in snappy silk neckerchiefs and cowboy hats, Jake with his accordion, one guy with a bass.

I actually don’t recall Jack playing the accordion, although I do have vivid memories of his playing the piano.  But I do remember Bob playing for us. I’m trying to reconcile the mid-1950’s Elvis wannabe with the sideburns, perpetual cigarette, and car with the foam pink dice dangling from the rear-view mirror, with the happy-go-lucky teenage guy tickling the accordion ivories for his adoring nieces and nephews. 

Did Jack and Bob shop at Italo? Or were there enough accordion-playing Germanos on the North Side of Chicago that they could pick and choose where to go for a new accordion or a repair, without having to truck over to 51st and Kedzie to a bunch of Italos?

Alas, as the ethnic groups that played the accordion became more and more assimilated, fewer and fewer kids took up the accordion. Then we got to “Meet the Beatles”, and even the most ethnic kid wanted to play the guitar or drums, not the accordion.

Yet it still survives, a staple instruments for Tejano, klezmer, and Irish bands.

Here’s a shot of an Italo-American model. Only $1,395, and made in the US of A when we still made things like accordions. (Italo’s are now made in Italy, of all places.)  Not Imperial Chambertone Accordionthat I’m going to take up the accordion in my old age, but it is a thing of beauty.  Makes me want to hear someone pump out The Blue Skirt Waltz or Lady of Spain.  And makes me so bummed that my sister Trish has a different cable service and no longer gets RFD-TV, home of Polka Joe’s “Happy Music for Happy People” show.


A tip of my virtual Jake Wolf and his Midwesterners’ cowboy hat to my cousin Ellen.  And I also want to note that Pink Slip is no stranger to the accordion-related post.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

And so this is Thanksgiving…

This morning I will be raking leaves and planting bulbs in our little patch of garden, out front of our condo building. Tomorrow is the last day for yard waste pickup in our neighborhood. They really should extend it a few weeks, now that the leaves stay green and on the trees until well into November. (Climate change, anyone?) We have an exceptionally leafy Chinese dogwood out front, and while most of its leaves have turned, they have not yet fallen. 

I’ll give the tree a bit of a shake to get a few more leaves for the pile, but some of those leaves will have to wait for spring.

Once I’ve raked, I’ll plant my crocus, hyacinth, daffodil, and tulip bulbs, cursing myself for having bought so many. (What was I thinking?) But I’ll forge on, knowing that I will be most delighted to see them start to shoot up in the late winter/early spring. (There’s nothing like that first crocus, after a miserable New England winter.  Climate change may be attenuating our weather somewhat, but there will no doubt be enough snow, ice, sleet, and slush to satisfy the flintiest of New England hearts.)

I’m not much of a gardener, but for those couple of weeks when the tulips are in bloom, our little 80 square feet looks fabulous.

Early afternoon, I will be going over the (Muddy) River, but not through the woods, to my sister’s in Brookline, where there will be plenty of food, wine, talk, and laughter – all of which I will be thankful for.

Thanksgiving is such a wonderful holiday!

Although the consumer engine tries its damnedest to intrude – the malls will be open before the last wishbone has been snapped – it remains, at heart, a blessedly non-commercial, gift-free event.

While I’m at Kath and Rick’s, enjoying their tremendous hospitality, St. Francis House will be feeding 500 of Boston’s poor and homeless.

Everyone has their favored charities, and St. Francis House heads my list.

For over 25 years, “Frank’s” (as it’s known in street parlance) has been providing basic and rehabilitative services to Boston’s poor and homeless. In the last year, they’ve:

  • Served more than 382,588 meals

  • Provided more than 8,700 showers

  • Distributed more than 13,000 changes of clothes

  • Provided more than 16,000 counseling sessions

  • Partnered with Boston Health Care for the Homeless to provide nearly 9,000 medical appointments

  • Advised guests in more than 10,000 sessions on substance abuse, housing, employment, legal matters, and other issues

  • Trained 156 people in our First Step Employment Program

  • Graduated the 100th class from the Moving Ahead Program (MAP), our vocational rehabilitation program, whose alumni now number more than 1,100

  • Housed 56 men and women in our Next Step Housing Program

I was at the 100th MAP graduation mentioned in the SFH list, and heard each of the grads talk about how grateful they were for the help the program has given them in their efforts to reclaim lives that had been lost to substance abuse, crime, or just plain rotten luck.  One of the grads was a “Worcester girl”.  When I spoke with her after the graduation, I learned she was also an alumna of South High, the public high school for the neighborhood I grew up in. My father was a proud member of the Class of 1929. (None of his kids followed in his path: we all went to Catholic school.)

This is not the only “small world” experience I’ve had with one of the guests at St. Francis.

A couple of years ago, I was in the Art Room, chatting with a volunteer, who mentioned that he was a student at Emmanuel College, my alma mater.  A fellow who was working on an art project overheard us, and said that his former sister-in-law, and her mother, were both “Emmas.”

Figuring, what the hell, I asked their names.

Not only was “Peter’s” former sister-in-law in my college class, she’d been in my high school class as well.  While we had drifted apart during college and after, we’d been pretty good friends during high school, and I’d known her and her family quite well.

I often tell this story to show just how six degrees of Kevin Bacon we are to folks who find themselves in need of the services of a St. Francis House.

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear….

This has been a tough couple of years for so many folks.

Even if we’re working, we’re nervous about how long we’ll be able to hang on to our jobs, and if and when we’ll ever be able to retire.  We worry about whether we paid too much for our homes, and panic about being underwater if and when we need to sell. We’re worried about health care, and college for the kids. Not to mention what happens after college to the kids. We fret about the economy, the polity, and the environment.

Still, if you’re reading this blog, there’s no doubt in my mind that you have plenty to be thankful for.

If you’re looking to make an end-of-year donation somewhere, St. Francis House is a mighty worthy cause.


Here’s last year’s Thanksgiving Day post.  If nothing else, I guess it can be said that I’m consistent.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Fiji Brand

One of the great pleasures of reading The Economist is a regular graze through the ads for employment and other opportunities. A few years back, there was a most excellent Excellency one for secretary to H.R.M. Queen Elizabeth.  We did not apply. (But we did post about it.)

The latest one to catch my attention solicits “expressions of interest for the development and operation of [Fiji’s] first casino.”

Only reputable and successful full-casino developers/operators need apply.  They want folks “who would enhance Fiji’s brand.”

I was going to say that baby needs a new pair of shoes, but then I noticed that the dudes in the Fijian coat of arms appear to be barefoot. So it’s not baby that needs a new pair of shoes, but Fiji that feels it needs more of a lure than what I imagine is the standard tropical paradise value proposition: get away from it all to a place with white sandy beaches, aquamarine waters, catamarans, fried conch, shlooshy rum and pineapple drinks with parasols, thatched luxury hotel “huts” on stilts over aquamarine water, bougainvillea, sarongs.  I’m making this up, of course, as not only have I never been to Fiji, I’ve never even seen the travel brochure.

In truth, to me the Fiji brand is a keg party at a Fiji (Phi Gamma Delta) frat house, featuring drunken frat boys in wigs and grass skirts (and maybe even coconut bras), and lots of before-during-and-after vomit. I’m making this up, too. I went to an all women’s college, and if we’d taken a vote, I suspect I would have won the prize for “Least Likely to Go To a Frat Party.” While I did, of course, see Animal House, I am not now, never have been, and never will be the sweetheart of Sigma Chi and/or Fiji.

Then there’s Fiji Water. Nice bottle and all, but why would I want to pay good money for water when I can turn on my tap and get pure, if not Fiji natural artesian, water from good old Quabbin water. Which I can quaff from a brilliantly reusable aluminum Sigg bottle.

Ah, Fiji. (Ah, Fiji brand.)

If I were to go in for a tropical paradise kind of vacation, which admittedly sounds pretty good about the time the first slush storm hits, I don’t know if the first tropical paradise I’d think of would be Fiji.

In truth, it would probably be Tahiti, another place I know nothing about, other than what I learned from Mutiny on the Bounty.  Oh, and I know that Marlon Brando (a.k.a. Fletcher Christian) had a Tahitian  wife.

So, if I were going to consider being a two-week stranger in Paradise, Tahiti is first of mind.

Just what is the Fiji brand?

Is it a de luxe playground of the rich and famous, or the South Seas equivalent of Puerta Vallarta? (Which may be a perfectly nice Mexican resort. It’s just that, to me, it’s forever cheesy, because the winners on the Love Connection or the Newlywed Game or the Dating Game or some other cheese-ball show used to win weekend getaway trips there.)

The government of Fiji wants what’s best for their “brand.”  This is understandable. Who wants to do something that damages their brand?

But what does “casino” say about anyone’s brand?

The things that I associate with the word casino are: “get rich quick” fantasy schemes (magical state government thinking),organized crime, boxing matches, chain smoking pensioners with rolls of quarters, card counters, free drinks, James Bond, croupiers, no clocks, nickel slots, and red and black.  Most of which aren’t associated with an upscale or in anyway attractive brand. (Other than James Bond and croupiers, I guess.)

Maybe Fiji has no choice.

I just googled “tahiti casino” and, apparently, that slice of tropical paradise has gambling.

Not my idea of a paradise, but sometimes you have to keep up with the competition. Looks like “casino” has become a check-list item.




Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Smile, you’re on “Candid [I am a] Camera”

Really and truly, my appreciation of art does not begin with Rembrandt’s Night Watch and end with Monet’s Water Lilies.  I actually like a lot of modern art. Really and truly.

But I guess I’m enough of an old fogey to prefer my art to be framed and hanging on a wall. If that makes me a philistine, well, so be it.

I’m also not one of those who disdains photography as a lesser, or even non-art.

Not at all.

Still, I don’t know quite what to make of the NYU photography professor who’s having a camera implanted in the back of his head as a project for a new museum in Qatar.

Wafaa Bilal:

…intends to undergo surgery in coming weeks to install the camera, according to several people familiar with the project. (Source: AP article in WSJ Online.)

Is it just me, or is this the sort of stuff that gives the arts (and, alas,  funding for the arts) a bad name?

The artwork, titled "The 3rd I," is intended as "a comment on the inaccessibility of time, and the inability to capture memory and experience," according to press materials from the museum.


The inaccessibility of time?

Okay, there’s no way-back machine (just yet), but how does having a camera in the back of your head, taking pictures every minute, and streaming them to a museum, solve the “inaccessibility of time” thang any better than taking a picture every minute. Or not. What happens if Bilal is wearing a hat, or sleeping in the dark? And who really wants to see the back of his bathroom wall when he’s on the pot taking a crap?  (At least there are no sound effects.)

And what does the “inability to capture memory and experience” mean?

I’ve managed to capture memories pretty darned well over the years. And while I don’t have a memory a minute, I’ve got plenty. Plus, I may be an odd-duck outlier here, but most of the memories I’ve captured include images of what I’ve seen looking in front of me. Not what’s going on behind me.

As for capturing experience?

What’s taking pictures from the back of your head got to do with that.

NYU is, apparently, trying to sort out the privacy concerns.

"Obviously you don't want students to be under the burden of constant surveillance; it's not a good teaching environment," said Fred Ritchin, associate chairman of the department.

Yeah, but is it art?

During the course of the discussions, Mr. Bilal has informed all of his students of his plans and has agreed to cover the camera with a black lens cap while on university property, according to Mr. Ritchin.

Yeah, but is it art?

Bilal is no stranger to the non-Steiglitz, non-Ansel Adams, non-Mapplethorpe school of photographic art.

He’s inserted an avatar of himself in a video game. (He’s a suicide bomber hunting George W. Bush.)  He’s tatooed his back with a map of Iraq that pinpoints casualties of war. And:

In his 2007 work, "Domestic Tension," Mr. Bilal confined himself to a gallery in Chicago for a month, inviting the public to visit a website where they could "shoot" the artist by remotely firing a paintball gun at him.

Actually, that’s something I might have enjoyed.

(But is it art?)

A curator of the exhibition that includes Mr. Bilal's work says the artist defies categorization. "He's not really a photographer, he's not really a video artist, he's not really a performance artist," curator Till Fellrath said.

"Whatever artwork he creates, he doesn't want people to just look at it, he wants them to participate in it."

As I said, I might not have minded that paintball shooting, an activity that does not defy characterization.

(But is it art?)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Misfit toys? No, just plain dangerous. The 2010 WATCH list.

It’s that time of year.

Last week, the WATCH – the World Against Toys Causing Harm-  published their list of the year’s worst toys.

First on the hit parade is the annual “you could poke someone’s eye out” selection, the Spy Gear Split Blaster, which promotes its dual action capabilities, letting kids blast two targets simultaneously for double-barrel fun.  So, thisSPY GEAR SPLIT-BLASTER isn’t just a “you could poke someone’s eye out” kind of toy. It’s a bona fide “you could poke someone’s eyes out.” Probably not a good idea for a 6 year old, but the perfect age to want one. (And to unwittingly poke someone’s eyes out with.)  This, I guess, is the plastic gun version of the double-fingered, Moe Howard-to-Curly-Howard eye poke. Unfortunately, it’s almost as cheap as a Stooge poke: only $9.98. May not be a good idea to give kids weapons for what they’re going to do anyway with whatever they have on hand (including their fingers).

At least the Supasplat Splatblaster comes with the warning  that ‘Glasses should be worn at all times.”  But there’s a caveat there: “Glasses can not provide an actual protection.” So, while this is supposed to provide family fun, it sounds like you need to provide your own industrial safety goggles in order to enjoy family fun firing splatballs at each other. Better to stick to Monopoly. Unless you ingest one of the hotels or houses, nobody gets hurt.

I was sorry to see Buzz Magnets – those shiny, cylindrical, high-powered magnets that will work right through your coffee table – on the list. They’re a lot of fun. And I ought to know, because we’ve had a few of these over the years for show and tell.  But you really need to keep them away from little guys. It’s not just the choking hazard. If a child swallows two, the magnets are strong enough to cause intestinal perforation and other potentially fatal problems. These magnets are great fun for older kids, but I wouldn’t even show them to really little ones. Earlier this year, my husband’s cousin visited with her 2-year old. Jim showed the magnets to George, and he was entranced. He also proceeded to grab one and start putting it in his mouth. Fortunately, we were all eyes on George.  If you have these magnets around: don’t do show and tell with toddlers.

One interesting toy on the list is the Balizillion Tug Boat Play Center.  This certainly looks like fun, but it’s noBALLZILLION TUG BOAT PLAY CENTERt, I repeat, NOT, a flotation device. It’s inflatable. It’s a boat. And kids are invited to “sail into fun.” But you’re not supposed to put it in water?  Sure. Maybe a better idea would be to make this a Choo-choo train play center. Or an airplane play center. Or something that you might not automatically associate with “let’s put this in water.”

The Animal Alley Pony is aimed at infants, yet is has “long,
fiber-like hair that is not adequately rooted and is easily removable, presenting the potential for ingestion or aspiration injuries. This hazard is not referenced anywhere on the product or product tag.” ANIMAL ALLEY PONYWhich is the problem with a lot of these toys. If someone sees “ages 0 and up” on the packaging, they’re probably going to make the assumption that someone has vetted it for “ages 0 and up.” Plus it’s not as creepy as My Little Pony, so I can actually see someone buying this. (Note to cousin Rob K: don’t worry. It’s not that creepy, but it’s also not something I’d ever buy for your new little one.)

If there are any number of toys that can poke your eye out, the Big Bang Rocket gives equal time to the ear. “Do not use close to the ear! Misuse may cause damage to hearing.” Bad enough that blasting iPods are making kids deaf…

One of my favorite warnings comes with the Walkaroo II Aluminum Stilts.

… children attempting to balance on the toy must
“[a]lways remain in control of [their] motions.”

Excellent advice for stilt walkers, but I’m just guessing that the first time that a 5 year old gets up on stilts, he or she is probably not going to be in “control of [their] motions” (or their emotions, for that matter). Yet this does seem like an okay toy, if there’s supervision for younger kids. For older kids, hey, life is not without risks. At least with stilts, you’re not apt to poke your eye out.

I grew up in the era of the unsafe toy, and I do think we can go overboard with the protection racket angle. Still, you’d think that manufacturers would make sure that their instructions are clear; that their packaging doesn’t conflict with their warnings (explicitly or implicitly); that they wouldn’t be encouraging kids to poke two eyes out at once; and that they wouldn’t put “ages 0 and up” on a hairy toy that has hair that pulls off so easily.

The bottom line: if you want to buy safe toys, don’t go by what’s on the package. Really look at what you’re buying, and really think about whether you want the poked-out eyes on you.


Here’s last year’s roundup.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ashrita Furman: for those who need to ask, no answer is sufficient

Ashrita Furman is living his dream.

Which is a lot more than I can say for myself.

Not that life isn’t good. I have  wonderful family and friends; interesting work – and plenty of it, knock on wood; an excellent hair colorist; a creative outlet that lets me occasionally fantasize about living my dream; a pair of Uggs; and what can only be characterized as (knock yet again on wood) spectacularly good health. (By the time he would have been my age, my father had already been dead for a few years. These are the things you start to think about when you pass your parents in longevity.)

But while life is good, I’m not exactly living my dream.

Which Ashrita Furman is.

His dream is to be the Guinness Book of Records record holder di tutti record holders. And he is.

Mr. Furman, who was profiled in the WSJ the other day, has, over the course of the last 31 years, set 312 Guinness records.

The key to be the record holder among record holders is, apparently, to come up with interesting ideas for new records, pitch them to Guinness, and go out and set them.

Records, of course, are set to be broken, and although Furman has set 312, he “only” holds 122.  The first record he set – most jumping jacks (27,000) in 1979, has been surpassed. His longest- lived current record is for longest continuous somersaulting – over 12 miles, set in 1986.  All of his current records are listed on his website. A lot of them seem to entail pogosticking, somersaulting, balancing, and hulahooping – including a record for underwater hulahooping (I’m impressed). But not all are such physical specimen feats.

Furman, who runs a health food store in Queens, also does big: longest pencil (76 ft, 2.75 inches), heaviest lollipop (6,514 pounds), and largest popcorn sculpture (20 ft., 10 inches).

And – no surprise here – decidedly odd: cucumber (87 in a minute), apple (36 in a minute), chopstick (81 in a minute), and banana (99 in a minute) snapping. Who’da thunk that it’s easier to snap a cucumber than it is to snap a chopstick. Chopsticks, after all, do seem more snappable than the mushier cuke. Maybe Furman had access to really crispy cukes.

By the way, he didn’t snap all his chopsticks. He saved a pair, so that he could set the record for Jello eating with chopsticks (16.04 ounces in one minute).

Furman also holds the records for tee-shirt tearing, on (15 in a minute), and off (14). Boy, even on my most frenzied rag-making tear, I bet I topped out at a half dozen in a minute. Then again, I wasn’t trying to set a record. Not my dream: someone else’s.

Personally, I don’t have any record breaking dreams. But if you do, you might want to let Guinness know.

Guinness says it receives about 1,000 applications a week for new record categories. About 80% are rejected. It currently has about 40,000 categories.

80% rejection rate! 80% empty, 20% full, I say.  Good luck.

Almost weekly, someone in the world is breaking one of [Ashrita Furman’s] records. His response: Work to retake it and come up with more competitions.

"I want to inspire people," says Mr. Furman, who is almost always training for three or four events. "If you have a dream, you can achieve your dream. I'm living my dream."

Yesterday was Guinness World Records Day.

Furman was going for the “walking with the heaviest shoes.”  In his case, a pair of bespoke clodhoppers weighing in at 160 pounds per boot.

Looks like he made it.

One more for the record book.

Dream on!

Thursday, November 18, 2010


The headline caught my eye, mostly because it was on a true-blue, American, capital D/small d democratic website – www.boston.com. Here, in the very part of the country that’s been shouting “Brits Out!” since George Washington drove the snakes British out of Boston on St. Patrick’s Day in 1776, as surely as the good saint drove the snakes, if not the Brits, out of Ireland.

This is Boston. We don’t do royals here. (Other than, some might argue, the Kennedys, whose royal-ish blood seems to be thinning out even more rapidly than that of The Royals. Case in point: I was in a place of business the other day when Joe Kennedy, son of Bobby Kennedy came in.  The look on his face when he realized that the twenty-somethings working there hadn’t a clue as to who he was was absolutely priceless.)

Here’s the headline that caught my distinctly unaristocratic eye:

Prince William, Commoner to Wed.


What an odd choice of words for an American newspaper (of the left) to use without putting “it” in quotes.


Kate Middleton, the bride-to-be, is apparently better educated, from a wealthier family, and better looking than most Brits – including, as far as I can tell, most of The Royals. (If I dare say.) Not to mention most Americans.

In that sense, she is rather uncommon.

But the notion of a “commoner” continues to prevail in Jolly Old. And I’m sure some conversational variation on The peasants are revolting. Yes, they certainly are. has been occurring in at least a couple of places where two or more jut-jawed nobs are gathered.

After all, Kate’s parents are nouveau riche, parvenus, in trade.

Her mother was an airline attendant, of all things.  And then Kate’s parents founded and built a quite successful online party gear company. And became millionaires. And live in a pricey community. And sent their daughter to tony schools.

Apparently, that’s not quite enough.

Kate’s mother said “toilet” rather than “loo” or “lavatory.”  And “pleased to meet you”, rather than “how d’you do?”  Both are dead class giveaways. So Kate, by proxy, is scorned.

Not that we don’t have our own snobbism and pretention here. (Hey, I live in New England, remember, where even the lowest of the low says “ahhnt” not “ant.”)  But our ability to look down our noses at others seems to ebb and flow a bit more easily than it does in England. 

Or does it?

By most accounts, our class structure is not quite as permeable as it once was, when Europe kept heaving up waves of immigrants to take care of the “build out” of the United States, and when the GI Bill and the lucky-us post-WW II boom helped create an extraordinarily broad middle class. Perhaps today’s class structure’s not as sclerotic as the uncrossable British chasm between the aristocracy and everyone else, which has some Brits preferring that William marry an unaccomplished, undereducated twit from the “right”  background – the great, great, great, great, great, great granddaughter of the bastard son of the Duke of Earl. But there is a sense that, in today’s America, the drawbridge over the moat that separates the elite from the wannabes is being raised by those on the inside.  And that the elites are sharpening their arrows, and heating up kettles of pitch to pour on the heads of those who manage to cross the alligator filled moat and start scrambling up the castle walls. That we’ll end up with a thin upper crust of plutocrats, an artisan and professional class that supports their high-end needs, and the great unwashed who scrub their toilets, mow their lawns, and wax their bikini lines.

Hope it doesn’t happen (but some days it sure looks like it’s heading that way).

Meanwhile, if Queen Elizabeth ever dies; if King Charles takes over, and if he ever dies; and if the Brits don’t decide to overthrow the calcified institution of “the monarchy”; there’ll be a King William. And a Queen Catherine the commoner.

Good on them.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

White Pages gone: good riddance. (How about the yellow pages, too?)

For years, I’ve been dreaming of a non-White Pages Christmas,  unlike the ones we used to know. Where the White Pages were actually a necessity if, say, you wanted to look up the address of someone in your town you wanted to send a Christmas card to. You were, of course, out of luck for out-of-towners, since, in all likelihood, you just had the White Pages for your own city. Still, the White Pages had their uses.

Of course, the big-mama of those uses (duh!) was looking up a phone number for a call you wanted to make. If you didn’t want to call the Operator, or, later Information – which eventually started to cost money – you let your index finger do the walking, running it up and down the white page columns until you found the name, address, and – aha – phone number you were looking for.

But I suspect that it’s been quite a while since anyone much under the age of 80 has used the White Pages for anything other than to prop a door open, or for a papier-mâché project.

My primary emotional association with the White Pages is being with my grandmother, the day she moved out of the house where she had lived for over 60 years.   Nanny was in her early nineties, and was going to be moving in with my Aunt Margaret.

On “moving day”, I found her sitting in her dining room, the phone book – in Worcester, a combined White and Yellow Pages -  in her lap.  She looked up, fairly upset, and told me she wanted to look at her name in the phone book for one last time, and couldn’t find it.

I went to help her and realized that she’d been looking under “Trainor”, her maiden name, not “Rogers”, her married name.

A rare incident of mental confusion for my grandmother, who lived to nearly 97, sharp until the end.  But a very sad one, and an interesting indication of how important the White Pages were at one point. For Nanny, it told the world who she was and where she lived: her own, separate, personal identity. Today, she could “google” herself to confirm her existence (or not).


Sentiment aside, for many years, the wholesale printing and distribution of the White Pages has been an utter waste, complete nonsense.

The ones that were delivered to the building I live in languished on the stoop until I brought them into the foyer, where they languished until I put them in the recycle bin and they were trucked away.

Calls to Verizon made not difference. We got those suckers whether anyone wanted them or not. Ditto for multiple unused copies of the Yellow Pages and, not to be outdone, the Yellow Book, which all followed the Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance White Papers route: stoop to foyer to recycle.

There oughta be a law – other than the one that, I guess, dictated that the phone companies had to give out directories.


…regulators have begun granting telecommunications companies the go-ahead to stop mass-printing residential phone books. In the past month alone, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania approved Verizon Communications Inc.'s request to quit distributing residential white pages. Residents in Virginia have until Nov. 19 to provide comments on a similar request pending with state regulators. (Source: Huffington Post.)

Massachusetts, I’m a hoping, will not be far behind.

A win for the environment, a win for the phone company (do you think that they’ll pass on the savings to us?), and a loss only for the old folks who still use them, if there are any, and the printers who produce them. 

On balance, good riddance to bad rubbish recycle.

One of the reason that White Pages use is declining is, of course, the rise of the cell phone. Cell phones, for whatever reason, don’t get their numbers listed in the White Pages (on or off-line).  Perhaps because no one is going to carry around a copy of the White Pages alongside their cell phone.  Not like the good old days, when you could park your phone book next to your (stationary) phone – perhaps, using one of those nifty phone-benches. And the number of land lines is really plummeting.  I hadn’t realized by how much:

The number of traditional land lines has been declining for the better part of the decade, and now are being disconnected at a rate of nearly 10 percent each year, according to company financial reports.

And a survey conducted for SuperMedia Inc. by Gallup shows that between 2005 and 2008, the percentage of households relying on stand-alone residential white pages fell from 25 percent to 11 percent.

Let the phone companies make White Pages available to those who want us, and include the rest of us out.

Mostly, I’m a big fan of the printed word. Printed on paper.  And I don’t want to see books in print get entirely replaced by digitized versions.

I do, however, make an exception for phone directories.

Alas, there’s no end in sight for the Yellow Pages.

But, with the news of the demise of the printed White Pages, I remain guardedly optimistic about their Yellow companions.


Old rant about the Yellow Pages.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Clorox extends its product uses. (Warning: yucky ideas ahead.)

I saw the headline “Clorox Pushing New Uses for its Brands” and my inner Hannah Housewife (which I wasn’t even aware I had) asked herself: just what can you do with Clorox other than bleach your husband’s underwear or clean the toilet?

Well, I for one wasn’t aware that the Clorox empire extends so far beyond bleach. The company’s:

… brands include Brita water filters, Burt’s Bees skin-care products, Fresh Step cat litter, Green Works cleaners, and Kingsford charcoal.

As well as Glad bags, barbecue sauce, and Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing.

I must admit that this last one gave me pause.

Was Hidden Valley Ranch “discovered” by some miraculous product development accident – like the one in which Borden’ experimenting with coffee cleaner yielded Elmer’s Glue-all? Was Hidden Valley the product of Clorox trying to come up with a chlorine bleach that wouldn’t leach the color out of everything that it came in contact with, like those nice blue shorts I had in the 1980’s, thank you!

Well, yuck!

Not that I eat a lot of Hidden Valley Ranch anything (although I will confess to having used the dip mix), but any association with Clorox definitely puts me off a food stuff.

So I won’t be doing what Clorox wants me to do to extend the Hidden Valley Ranch brand, and that’s use it as a dip for pizza. Clorox:

…began marketing its Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing as a sauce for frozen-food items after noticing that consumers were pouring it on pizza, vegetables, and chicken wings.

Even though you’re much better off staying in the raw, or dipping in yogurt-based something or other, I get the dip your veggies into Hidden Valley Ranch dressing.  And perhaps even a chicken wing.

But pizza?

Doesn’t pizza – which I love – kind of stand alone as an all-encompassing, not great for you, have it on occasion, tastes yummy treat that works perfectly well without gooping it up with ranch dressing?

Come on, people!  What’s wrong with good old sausage, onion and peppers? Or even something more “healthful” and exotic like spinach, broccoli, and feta?

Isn’t pizza perfectly good on its own, without doctoring it up with high calorie dressing? Talk about food malpractice. And talk about the wisdom of crowds: NOT!

What’s good for Clorox – getting consumers to buy more of your products – is not necessarily good for America.

Not that I’m a weightist or anything, but doesn’t Clorox know there’s an obesity epidemic on.

From a public health perspective, Clorox would be a better corporate citizen if they advised us of a dietary practice in which we ate our fill of pizza, and instead of taking the final piece and dousing it with Hidden Valley, we’d sprinkle it with Clorox, rendering it inedible and the extra calories moot.

But Clorox wants growth, and expanding the use of Hidden Valley is one of the big ideas that they’re counting on.

Another is vanilla-scented trash bags.


The only vanilla-scented anything I can abide is, well, vanilla.

My fear would be that vanilla trash bags would attract more rats. (Ladies and gentlemen, this is what is known as a “city fear.”)

But the scented bags are apparently working, as “Clorox lifted sales of Glad trash bags last quarter by adding fragrances.”

Here’s an idea: how about making the trash bags smell vaguely like bleach: a good, clean smell that I’m guessing rats won’t like.


One of my mother’s crafty things – mostly done in service of producing goods for the annual school bazaar, projects that we were dragooned into working on  – was the creation of a Clorox bottle piggy bank. Good to know that, fifty years on, this craft hasn’t died out, and there’s even an online video that shows you how to make one.

I have to say that the bank in the video is one pretty crappy looking piggy bank. It looks like a kid made it, which may be the point. Ours were much cuter. We didn’t paint the pigs, we decorated the bodies with flowers cut out of felt, and surrounded the coin slot with felt, as well, for a much more professional finish.  I like her use of spools for the legs, however. We used felt covered corks, which worked just fine. But spools are a reasonably good alternative. Occasionally we used golf tees for legs, but this was an inferior product when compared with corks. (Why didn’t we have corks? Was there a cork shortage? And where did the corks come from anyway? It’s not like my parents drank wine, although they did keep a bottle of Maneschevitz around for an occasionally wine cooler.)

I also know how to make a planter out of tuna cans and clothespins, if anyone’s interested….

Monday, November 15, 2010

Surreal Estate: the $84M spec-house

The rich are different from you and me.

Apparently, they need more juice bars.

Or so I surmise from the specifics on an $84M Palm Beach spec house that’s on the market.

With nothing better to do the other evening, I grazed around the WSJ real estate news. Big news, of course, there was.  The Neelemans of JetBlue wealth and fame are putting their 13,300 square foot digs in New Canaan, CT on the market. They’ve only been there are couple of years, but they may be relocating to Brazil, where David Neeleman has bought a budget airline.  At least now the Neelemans know what they need in terms of space for their nine-kid family. They had been living in a paltry 8,000 square foot home, but this felt “squished.”  Apparently you need at least 1,000 square foot per capita to feel unsquished. Which I do get on some level. Even without nine kids, I’d certainly feel less squished if we had more than 1,150 in square footage to our name.

Still, I think about the 1,600 square foot house I grew up in. We only had five kids, but I will admit that we grew up squished. Thank god for the clammy, unfinished, all-cement cellar where we could go to let off a bit of unsquishing steam.  It was well-equipped for steam-letting: a battered, warped, out-of-tune upright piano; a sheet of plywood balanced over a much smaller old kitchen table, with a net clamped on it so we could play ping-pong; and an ancient, hand-me-down from the ages tricycle called the Fire Engine.  My father had painted it bright red to disguise the fact that, on it, you could tricycle like it was 1930. But we knew. Although it was the trike of record for my sister Kath and I, by the mid-1950’s – despite my father’s refurbishing attempt – it was deemed too old and embarrassing for us to use any longer. The younger kids got new trikes; we all got new bikes. These were all stored in the cellar, but it was the Fire Engine that we used to rampage around on. (Once you got too big to ride it, you used it like a scooter.)

But I digress.

We were talking squished.

I know squished, and it actually is doable (if not entirely pleasant).

But maybe, for the Neelemans, it’s the four marginal kids that really push you over the square foot edge. And perhaps each of the Neeleman children needed their own plywood-over-old-kitchen-table ping-pong set up. Their own out-of-tune upright. Their own Fire Engine course.

While reading about the Neelemans, I spied an adjacent article on an $84M spec house.

Okay, it may not be the 27 story, billion dollar “house” that Mukesh Ambani just built for himself in Mumbai. But $84M is plenty of dough to spend on a house. Particularly a spec house. (The price is up from its original $75M asking. Real estate market in Florida be damned!)

The 27,355-square-foot, eight-bedroom, nine-bathroom mansion was built by Dan Swanson, a high-end developer, who’s built communities in Florida and is likely familiar with the spec gamble. He spared no expense: The home boasts a lakeside dining room that can accommodate more than 20 guests, six juice bars and a wine room with space for some 3,000 bottles.

Six juice bars.

Wouldn’t want to have to trek a couple of hundred feet, and down a flight of stairs, to grab a juice box or take a swig of SunSweet prune juice.

Wonder how they fit in. Are some of them out in public areas, in the halls between and among the bedrooms? Does the master suite gets its own juice bar.

And just what is a juice bar, by the way?

Is it strictly for juice? Is the juice on tap? Can they also carry water, soda, and a few bottles from the 3,000 bottle wine cellar?

How many seats per juice bar?  Do the stools have backs? Do you need a juice bartender? Can you run a tab? Get shut off? Is there last call?

As is fitting an $84M anything, the $84M spec house has its own website. Where we learn that – surprise, surprise – this manse is:

Designed for large scale entertaining
- Fabulous art walls to showcase a major collection
- Lushly landscaped gardens for sculpture
- Secured parking for over 50 cars including oversized 5 bay garage
- Endless water views

- Magnificently landscaped gardens with fountains and decades old trees
- 500 Square foot entry veranda with three pairs of 13’ hand carved European doors

And, of course, the six juice bars. Wonder if they’re also hand carved and European.

- Morning room off kitchen for casual everyday living

I like the fact that there’s one spot in the house for everyday living. Although one would think that the juice bars would allow for a bit of everyday living, as well. Juice being an every day kind of drink, and everything.

- Sun-filled garden room ideal for large gatherings, ladies’ luncheons, casual or formal evening soirees

And I like the fact that there’s a special place for ladies’ luncheons and/or casual or formal evening soirees. (I’m no French major, and I hate to be a snotty nit-picker here, but doesn’t the word soiree imply evening?)

Maybe it’ll look better when the Ethan Allen is moved in, but it does look a bit of bleak without any furniture. I guess I like cozy too much to be comfortable here, even if I had $84M.  And I really don’t need a place for ladies’ luncheons. That’s what we have “let’s meet at Cosi” for, no?

It’ll certainly be interesting to see whether its a Russian oligarch, Saudi royal fam member, or some got-rich-quick grandee who bites on this spec house.

Me? If I had $84M to spend on a house, I’d want something to my own liking. But that’s just me.

The spec-builder may want to give LeBron James a holler, as he’s recently decamped from Ohio to Florida to dribble a ball for the Miami Heat.  He left behind the dream house he built in Ohio, so perhaps he’s dream-housed out and would be happy to plunk down in something where someone else had picked out the fixtures, flooring, and lighting. And figured out where to locate the six juice bars.

Friday, November 12, 2010

S.S. Minnow docks in San Diego. A grateful nation breathes collective sigh of relief.

No sooner do we get over the high angst and high drama of the Chilean miners’ ordeal, than we have our own little homegrown version: The Carnival Splendor, dead in the water off Mexico, with thousands of our fellow citizens having to endure hardships that most of us, snug in our landlubber beds, can only imagine.

For three days, our vacationers were powerless to do much other than try to figure out how to avoid having to use a non-functioning toilet. (Clue: don’t drink the warm beer.)

Fortunately, there were no fatalities, but having no AC, no cabin lights to read by, and no hot food for three days wasn’t exactly a trip to the beach.  And as for everybody into the pool. Fuggedaboutit. No filtration pump, no Marco/Polo.

Yesterday came the news an anxious nation had long awaited: The Carnival Splendor had reached dock in San Diego, and the first of our warriors were rolling their suitcases down the gangplank. The ones on the lower decks were no doubt cursing, as they schlepped bags the size of refrigerators up nine flights,  that they’d packed three times as much as they needed.

Fitting that the dramatic return of the Splendor occurred on Veterans Day, so that the vacationers could enjoy a brief empathetic connection with, say, the sailors on the U.S.S. Indianapolis who were eaten alive by sharks while awaiting rescue in the waning days of WWII.  Or the doughboys in the Flanders trenches of WWI who were eaten alive (or dead) by lice, rats, and other forms of vermin.  (That’s when they weren’t being shot at or gassed.)

The Splendor’s passengers have more than mere physical discomfort in common with the military.

Both were subjected to a diet of Spam, of all things:

Navy helicopters flew in Spam, Pop Tarts and canned crab meat and other goods for the passengers and crew, passengers said.

Hmmmmm. Glad to see the fly-boys heard and responded to the cries of those in peril on the sea.  And I understand that there could be no hot food. But if you were going to subsist on cold food, wouldn’t you hope for something better than Spam and Pop Tarts.

If I’m ever marooned at sea, neither would be on my wish list. (Nor would canned crab meat, although if I had to pick one out of three…)

I’d rather someone airlift me a loaf of bread, some peanut butter, and a package of Oreos. And stuff to make salads. And fruit (canned if there’s no fresh).

Okay, the fridges weren’t working, but salad fixings last a day or so without refrigeration.

Give me something other than Spam and Pop Tarts or give me - well, if not death, then – a knock on the noggin’ that would put me out until we got to a port of edible call.

In addition to the toilet, food, and bev situations - just think: no blenders and ice, no pina coladas; that’s not a cruise, it’s a travesty – the casino was closed down, too. Oh for the days of the mechanical slot machine!

Blessedly, there was entertainment available:

Gary Grabel…was among 250 magicians on board for a conference who performed for the guests after the power failed.

"I did magic for hours," he said.

Boy, I bet if he had a dime for everyone who asked him if he could magically make a cup of coffee, a clean toilet, or a pina colada appear, he’d be a rich man.

Meanwhile, Carnival is making good with refunds, future cruises, etc.  But I bet it will be an air-conditioned day in hell before some of the cruise survivors sign up for another sea-farin’ getaway.

Well, at least the ordeal only lasted a few days.

Could have been worse.

The Chilean miners were trapped for over two months.

And the folks on the SS Minnow were stuck for three years on Gilligan’s Island. Plus forever in re-runs. And they didn’t have Pop Tarts or magicians.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I, fashionista

Well, I just did my winter clothing buy:

  • LL Bean sweater
  • Eddie Bauer turtlenecks
  • Bogs rain boots
  • Red Sox cap with Santa Claus on it

Then – dammit – I find out that the Wall Street Journal just had an article on the current fashion trends that us fashionistas might want to invest in.

I guess it’s my own darned fault, since I’ve been avoiding The Journal for the past week or so. I just don’t want to expose my tender eyes to a headline in which Karl Rove is gloating.

So I missed the news that Charlie Girl pants are the rage. 

These are like the ones that Shelley Hack (and Bobby Short’s voice) made famous in the way back, flogging a fragrance called Charlie.

I think I have a pair of cuffed tweedy wool pants around somewhere. Sure, I’ll look more Old Lady with Charlie Horse than I will like Charlie Girl, but at least I’ll be a hip and happenin’ old lady. (Especially if I wear them with my new Bogs boots.)

Unfortunately, I did not order my winter duds in time to realize that I should be thinking “leopard” this winter. Not that LL Bean and Eddie Bauer had much leopard-ish clothing on offer. But I still may be able to take care of the fashion dictate that this season’s wardrobe include a “’touch of cat.’”  I happen to have a leopard-print eye-glass cleaning cloth. And, since I’ve got it, I’m gonna flaunt it.

I’m also supposed be going minimalist, since minimalism is “huge” this year (if it can be said that minimalism is ever huge…).

It may look easy, but it's actually brilliant. It is about what you don't notice.

Minimalism? Can do! Jeans and polarfleece don’t just look easy, they are easy. Which, personally, I think is completely and utterly brilliant.  And I can pretty much guarantee that if we’re supposed to attain some sort of “what you don’t notice,” there’s no better guarantee of that “don’t notice” than being a woman of a certain age buzzing around in jeans and polarfleece. Although someone may notice the Bogs boots, which have pink and purple flowers on them. (Come on, give me a break. My storm coat is black. My storm hat is black. My storm pocketbook is black. I’ll be needing a touch of color on a dreary, slushy day. That is, unless I take one look at my new Bogs, suffer buyer’s remorse, and kick them back to the nice folks at Zappo’s.)

It also looks like I’m supposed to be getting myself a little red dress and a shearling jacket.

I don’t really do red. Come to think of it, I don’t do much dress anymore, either. And I never really did little.

But a shearling jacket would be nice.  Although I don’t know how it woulCHARTICLE3d actually look with a Maison Michel “ears” headband. Or with my faux Charlie pants, for that matter. Not that I could afford any ears, at $591. Especially if I’d invested in a shearling jacket. I’m betting, however, that I could fashion up something that looks like this with a plain old CVS head band and some pipe cleaners.  I might have to do without that veiling, however.

A black fabric headband by Maison Michel with mouse-style ears. Black lace covers the wired ears and creates a veil at the front. Humorous and ultra-feminine, Maison Michel’s Heidi. Headband with Mouse Ears is ideal to wear with a shift dress for contemporary dressing. (Polyvore.)

Even though, to me, it’s really the veiling that makes this headband both humorous and ultra-feminine.  And a nice about-face after last year’s year of the snood.

There was one thing on the WSJ list that I positively, absolutely want to put on mine before I declare this fall’s buying spree mission accomplished. And that’s a “small cross-body bag with a long chain handle.” This is “ladylike” (and I’m a lady that does so like to be ladylike). And in keeping with the spirit of minimalism, is definitely a “’less is more’” kind of item.


Prada Fur Spazzolato Mini Crossbody Bag $1,495

Only a complete, unladylike fashion cretin would even think the thought, let alone write it down, that this ladylike cross body bag bears any resemblance to a Furbie.


And I’m not ignoring Veterans’ Day. Here are my posts from the last two years. The sentiments still hold. Veterans’ Day 2009 and Veterans’ Day 2008.

I haven’t seen anyone selling Buddy Poppies yet this year. But I’ll be keeping my eyes open.

Happy Veterans’ Day!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Go Phish! Fake gmail-ers are on the prowl.

The following message is a public service announcement from Pink Slip.

It’s not like I haven’t given an occasional few bucks to some con artist with a relatively entertaining sob story.

No, I don’t do it all the time.  But there was the clearly mentally ill guy with the glazed eyes, crazed look, and heart-tugger about his son.  And, okay, I did get snookered by the smoothie – who, in retrospect, I’m reasonably certain was an ex-con -  with a con about helping poor inner city kids put together a magazine.

Then there was the “we ran out of gas” fellow. I gave him enough to buy a gallon and “get home”. (You think I’m a maroon?  Let me tell you about this one: he approached me, with the same story, in the same location, a couple of days later.  I told him that he needed to vary his geography a bit, if not his story line.)

But it’s been a while. And mostly I ignore the “do you have a minute” folks, unless they’re earnest college kids working for Mass PIRG. Or someone selling Spare Change (the local by-and-for those who are homeless paper).

(For stemmers, looking for actual spare change, I generally acknowledge them in some way, but rarely give. I’ll direct them to St. Francis House, where 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., they can get out of the cold, get something to eat, etc. Ditto if there’s someone just sitting there with a sign and a coffee cup that they’re shaking.  If it’s really rotten out, and after hours, I might buy them a cup of coffee or a bite to eat.)

But I’m really not an out-and-out sucker. And, even if I’m a sucker for a tale of woe, I’m really not the type who’s going to get caught up in a real scam, and deposit $10K in a “shared account” because my great uncle Julius left me a million dollars. Or give away my super-duper, secret data to a complete stranger.

So I really and truly don’t know why I get so completely annoyed when I get assaulted by an e-mail or phone spammer. Not the Nigerians, mind you. They’re just good for a laugh or two. (See Spam Scam Artistry, and Nigerians 1, Michael Axel 0.)

And it’s not like it’s personal, or anything. It’s not as if they’re singling me out as a mark, a sap, a dupe. (At least I hope not…And if they are, what an inefficient way to work.)

Still, it drives me bonkers to get an e-mail like this one:

Gmail to system.reply
show details 1:39 AM (14 hours ago)

We are shutting down some email accounts due to congestion in our database system and your account was chosen to be deleted. If you are still interested in using our email service please click reply and fill in the space below for verification purpose:-

Full Name:

Account Pas-word:

Birth Date:

Country Phone Code:

Note: This email is only for Gmail users (Users should reply within 48 hours to avoid "Permanently Lockup" Account)

Thank you for using Gmail !

The Gmail Team

Why don’t you ask me for my social and mother’s maiden, while you’re at it, “Gmail Team.” (Wait, I rescind that. I don’t want to give them any more ideas.)

I went to the Google and it seems that most of those who’ve gotten tapped for this particular scheme are on ine gamers, playing World at Warcraft. Maybe they know I’m a huge World at War fan, and got things a bit confused. (Oh, great, now I have to worry about “them” knowing my TV watching habits. I’ll save “them” the trouble: Mad Men, House, Red Sox games, cop shows (some of the time), and stuff about World War II.)

I guess what irks me so much about these information scammers (as opposed to the crackpot, transparent thievery of the Nigerian brigade) is that, if you get someone at a distracted point, when they’re flying around in six-trillion directions, it’s probably pretty easy to get them to respond.

This e-mail was pretty crude.

But I can absolutely see myself, in an off-guard moment, half-reading a decent looking e-mail scam (or hearing a reasonable sounding phone request) soliciting personal info, and – just to get one more thing off my to-do list – giving it to them without thinking.

I haven’t been caught yet, but I can see it happening at some point.

So, everyone: en garde!  The price of Internet is eternal vigilance.

Trust me: Google is not going to “Permanently Lockup” your gmail account.

The thing to avoid is responding to these phishermen.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Just how much packaging does a razor blade actually need?

Like everyone else who purchases electronics, I have a long history of wrestling with packaging.

Sure, I usually win and manage to wrest the mouse, smartphone, computer or whatever from its quadruple nest of plastic, cardboard, styrofoam, and more plastic packaging. But the struggle is intense and not without risk. Let’s face it, when you need to don protective gloves and safety goggles, and employ a skill saw and an Exacto knife to get at the object of your desire, you could lose a fingertip.

So I’m used to over-packaging.

But I didn’t really expect to find it when I bought a new razor and razor blades.

Now, I don’t want to imply that the Gillette Venus was hard to open. Degree of difficulty, especially when compared to electronics, was not much north of zero.

Still, there seemed to be an awful lot of packaging involved for one little old razor, and a 10-pack of blades.

Here’s my story:

I went to CVS to get blades for my trusty old razor, and they didn’t appear to carry them any longer.  I say “appear” because they may well have been there. It’s just that the choices are so overwhelming – even if you train your eye to ignore the black and blue packaging that screams “guy”, and just focus on the girlie pinks, purples, turquoises, and soft greens. So if there were any Sensor Excel blades on the shelf, I missed them. As the razor is probably ten years old, I wasn’t exactly surprised.

So I bought me a new razor: a Gillette Venus. 

I knew nothing about this product, other than that it was an okay blue, and that it’s from Gillette. Even though Gillette is now part of P&G, they’re still in Boston, and they’ll alwaysGillette_Blue-Venus be a home town honey to me. So when I buy shaving gear, I buy Gillette. (“The best a man [woman?] can get.”) Plus I must have been subliminally drawn to the packaging in some way.  When I googled Venus packaging, I found a site devoted to all things packaging, and read:

Superior performance is fundamental to any successful product. But the right packaging is essential to transforming a product into a brand and creating a compelling and ownable position in the market. Gillette gained these insights through extensive discussions with women. Where men treat shaving as a daily ritual, women view it as a process of discovery to “make her feel her best,” says Mary Ann Pesce, President of the Gillette Co.’s Personal Care Group.

This revelation of the “beauty within” shaped the branding platform for Venus, with packaging color and graphics communicating the exhilaration of transformation and personal empowerment, Pesce says.

Process of discovery. Exhilaration of transformation and personal empowerment.

I like that.

Here I’ve been shaving my legs and underarms since I was 14 or so, and I wasn’t aware that every time I set blade to imageshin, I was in the process of discovery.  Actually, I thought my only shaving related process of discovery occurred in my late teens, when – bold feminist that I was – I decided to grow some righteous feminist leg hair.  Unfortunately, I’ve never had enough leg hair for righteous feminism. All I grew was a sad little ruff around the ankle, kind of like a truncated version of the Goons in Popeye.

And, once I got back to shaving, most of the exhilaration came if I managed to get through a shave without nicking my ankle, and ending up with a wad of toilet paper adhering to my wound.

But that was then, and this is now.

And in the now, I needed that new razor.

But, as everyone who spent a nano-second in business school knows, the razor’s the least of it.  The blades are the thing.

And talk about packaging…

First, there was the part of packaging that I hadn’t even bargained for.

CVS has gone to a mostly self-service model, and I failed to notice, until I got home, that I’d walked out of the store with the blades sheathed in an impenetrable anti-theft package. Sure, the alarm had gone off when I left the store, but I thought, to hell with that: I paid.

Naturally, when I got home I realized that I would need to take a jackhammer to the outer package and, in the process (of discovery) would likely destroy the blades. So I had to truck on back to CVS to have the last human being working there release the inner blades. I bet that guy, with his special key, felt some personal empowerment.  (And what’s with the anti-theft devices on razor blades? Do that many people shoplift them? I know they’re expensive, but…)

With my blades free at last, I was able to start in on the process of discovery that would culminate with my weekly shave.

First there was the outer package. Then there was the inner package.  Then there was the individual package for imageeach and every blade, which look and work exactly like the individual grape jellies you get with breakfast at a diner.  Are they sealed for freshness? Just what’s being protected here?  Personally, I’d rather have that little plastic tray loaded with blades that I can keep on rim of the bathtub. Which is what I had with my trusty old Gillette Sensor Excel.  They’re all together, and they’re there when I need one.

These suckers. Just storing them is going to be pain. I guess I’ll put them in a ziplock baggie and alligator seal them for freshness.

There is an upshot to this, of course.

Just an hour or so ago, I was rummaging around the medicine cabinet and, lo and behold, found an untouched package of Sensor Excel blades. Simple, not over packaged, just the way I like them. Each blade nestled in the plastic tray, ready for me to snap it on to my razor.

What’s girl to do?

All this exhilarating process of transformation and personal empowerment, with the not particularly breathtaking payoff of “beauty within”, is just exhausting.

Monday, November 08, 2010

HubSpot’s no vacation vacation policy

The Boston Globe has published its annual best places to work lists.

It goes without saying that no place I’ve ever worked made the list. Of course, that’s because most of them don’t exist anymore.  Alas and alack.

While in my day, we didn’t have best places to work lists – tut, tut – I don’t think any of my  places of employment would have found their way on to one, anyway.  Too much run amuck meshugas; too much scheming, in-fighting management; too much strategic incoherence; too much self-defeating, nitwit posturing and denial on the slide into oblivion; too much forked tongue communication; too little forked tongue communication. (I don’t want to romanticize The Globe winners, by the way. For all I know, those companies look the same to the people on the inside as mine did to me.)

But all the companies I worked for when I was a full-timer did have one thing in common: great people to work with who made the job fun.  Even at MCI Wang, where I did hard time for 2 years, 7 months, and 18 days as POW # 56314 – and approached each and every day with leaden, existential dread -  I really liked my fellow inmates. (I’m having dinner with one of them this Wednesday, and I can pretty much guarantee that we will be falling out of our chairs laughing throughout the meal.)

Anyway, it was interesting to see what attributes were called out to illustrate why a winning company was such a great place to work. The one that really caught my eye was HubSpot, a local inbound marketing software and services company.

HubSpot really does sound like a great place to work, and if I were a bit younger – okay, okay: half my age -  it would be my absolute beau ideal, with beau ideal bonus points for being able to walk to work.  Even now, content as I am with the freelance life, if they were looking for a part-time, brownie baking, den-mother type who can think and write, well, let’s just say…

Meanwhile, reading about them  makes me kind of wistful for my full-time days. Even though HubSpot might not have been dysfunctional enough to suit what I learned over time was my obvious taste in a workplace, I can picture myself as the poor little match girl, nose pressed up against their window, watching all those kids having fun around the Christmas tree…[while I lit matches and froze to death].

One of the reasons HubSpot made the list was because of their no vacation policy policy.

No filling in the vacation form and watching your tiny cache of vacation days dwindle. No scrounging for comp time when your really deserve it but your company doesn’t acknowledge it. No awarding yourself a mental health day because, damn it, you deserve it. No agonizing about whether to take seven days off rather than six.

Thanks to the Internet and ever-present mobile devices, no one works 9 to 5 any more, according to Mike Volpe, vice president of marketing, so the company did away with its two-week vacation policy in January to compensate employees for all their late-night e-mails and weekend projects.

“We weren’t giving people credit for coming in on a Saturday,’’ Volpe said, “so why were we tracking if they happened to take that following Friday off?"

I think this is a great idea, one that truly reflects the realities for today’s techie “knowledge workers” (if that icky term is at all in use any more).  As has been in the making since the weight of a cellphone dropped below two pounds, the borders between “me time” and “it time” have been all but extinguished.  We check our e-mails at the ball game. We work on the business plan at 3 a.m. when we can’t sleep. We conference in to the weekly Big Important Meeting from the Cape.

In return, we take the afternoon off to go to our kid’s pre-school graduation. We take care of our personal online business while sitting at our desk. We schlep our father to his podiatrist appointment because he can’t drive on a bad foot. (Hell, he probably shouldn’t be driving anyway.)

Of course, I’m guessing  that at a young company like HubSpot, most of the employees are young enough so that work = life, and colleagues = friends. Most employees are no doubt putting in insane hours, but it’s all more or less seamlessly meshed together.

Nonetheless, as a result of HubSpot’s no vacation policy policy:

More people are taking longer trips and coming back refreshed — and ready to work crazy hours all over again.

I suspect that unless those longer trips involve a trek to Annapurna, HubSpot employees stay at least lightly tethered to work during their vakays. Which makes me wonder about the long term impact of never, ever, ever having true, unbridled time away from work. 

There may well be no implications to never stringing together a few days of non-work bliss.

Still, I can’t help but feel that there’s something to be said for time away when you’re absolutely free from it all. 

None of this is particular to HubSpot, of course. It’s just the reality of today’s workplace.

And not that I take all that much of the vaunted unconnected time.

I can’t remember the last time I took a real vacation without my laptop in tow.

Yes, I did leave it at home this past Labor Day when my husband and I spent a long weekend in NYC.  (Just as well: it might have gotten infested with bed bugs.) Of course, it was one of those long weekends when most people really don’t work. And I did have my B-berry. Just in case.

And I spent a few days, sans laptop, at my sister’s in Wellfleet. (Easy enough to do, given that they have a guest PC and wifi.)

So I know just how tempting it is to stay in touch with work, whether it’s full time or freelance. Somehow, it’s become the expectation all the way around.

It will be interesting to see whether HubSpot keeps their no vacation policy intact if the company grows (and ages).

With a small, tight crew, it may be more or less self-policing. Although I do imagine that some resentment creeps in on occasion because X went snowboarding in Patagonia, while Y toiled on... In a larger company, my hunch is this policy might not work. But that’s based on my experience in large companies, which is, well, so yesterday. It can work if HubSpot weeds out the skimmers and abusers, and gets rid of any Simon Legree managers who make it difficult for their people to take time off.

Anyway, it’s an interesting idea.

Come to think of it, it’s also my personal vacation policy.  So it must be good….


I did a post over on Opinionated Marketing on HubSpot last January. Which reminds me that OM has been inactive for months now, and it’s just sitting there like an abandoned, ghost town mine.  Not that anyone’s in danger of falling down a shaft and breaking their neck, but I really should get over there an slap a few boards up across the mine’s entrance. Metaphorically speaking, and all.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Enquiring minds want to know

I saw an AP article the other day on Boston.com noting that American Media, which publishes The National Enquirer, will be filing for bankruptcy.

Well, one could certainly argue that there’s been some degree of bankruptcy associated with the outfit from the outset. It just hasn’t been financial.

The National Enquirer bankrupt?

Somewhere, a famed psychic’s head explodes.*

Although I would read a copy once in a blue moon – if that – in the past,  I actually haven’t picked up an Enquirer in years.  And, since I shop via Pea Pod or in person at Whole Foods, I no longer have the opportunity to graze the headlines as I wait in the checkout line.  The mags at Whole Foods are so tofu-yoga-wellness colorless, I don’t even give them a glance.

By the way, it’s not as much fun to look at what other folks have in their shopping carts at Whole Foods, either. Much more entertaining at Stop & Shop! One time, I was behind a woman whose cart was chocked full of every bad-for-you, no-redeeming-nutritional value thing you could think of. Lucky Stars, not Shredded Wheat. Dr. Pepper, not Tropicana.  Marshmallow Fluff, not Trappist jelly.

The only vegetable she was buying was a couple of frozen packs of candied sweet potatoes. The ones with marshmallows in them.

I’ve certainly got a sweet tooth, but I felt myself going into diabetic shock just looking at what this woman was buying.

Not that everything’s so all-fired pure and holy at Whole Foods. It just doesn’t seem to attract much of an I Brake For Junk Food crowd. (Other than the closet types who drift into CVS afterwards for a one-pound bag of M&M’s.)

But Stop & Shop did carry The Enquirer, and it was always entertaining to see what they were informing us about.

Hilter’s love child. What Marilyn Monroe had for her last meal. Alien invasions.

Now we have oh, so many sources for celebrity gossip, made up “facts”, and crazing speculation, that we don’t need The Enquirer quite as much as we used to.

Oh, they can still pack some punch. The Enquirer broke the John Edwards-Rielle Hunter scandal a couple of years back.

But I don’t need The Enquirer to tell me about Hitler’s love child. I can go to the Google and check out the rumors about Unity Mitford.

As usually happens with a corporate bankruptcy, it’s all spun up into a smart business decision.

"American Media is engaging in this strategy from a position of financial strength and confidence," said David Pecker, the company's chairman and CEO. "It will provide us with the ability to compete even more aggressively with our peers in the industry."

Which it no doubt is. Still, it leaves us all thinking dubious thoughts: ah, yes, getting rid of that pesky debt will help them compete.

Sentimental me, I do hope that The Enquirer manages to hold on.  After all, we there’s no so thing as enough stories about Charlie Sheen, Lisa Marie, O.J. Simpson, Jonbenet, et al.  And there are those tantalizing headlines – which, alas, promise so much more than they manage to deliver.

Intriguing headline Boring article
Michael Douglas journey to the prison of the damned Douglas visits his son who’s imprisoned for drug offenses
Hidden horrors: when Jesus was a vampire Bela Lugosi didn’t just play Dracula, he once portrayed Christ in a Passion Play
Khloe K’s OJ Trauma Khloe experienced hair loss after her father died. What’s this got to do with OJ? Her father was his lawyer.

And who needs the staid old NY Times, that boring gray lady, reporting on Ted Sorenson’s death when we can  read about JFK’s Guru Felled by Stroke in the garishly painted that-ain’t-no lady that is The Enquirer.

But sometimes the headline’s do pretty much capture the story – I didn’t even have to click through on [Charlie] Sheen: Boozy Naked Berserk to figure that out.

By the way, what is the truth behind that famous psychic’s head explodes header?  Enquiring minds want to know….


*Classic Enquirer headline.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Wa-wa, little GTO

Well, the Pontiac is no more. At 84, the plug was pulled on October 31st, when GM’s deals with Pontiac dealers died. Nary a whisper about death panels, but there you have it.

We were a Ford family, so other than listening to Ronnie and the Daytonas and their nasally tune, Little GTO, which celebrated the classic 1960’s Pontiac muscle car, I know nothing about the line.  Still it’s another reminder that the world we live in is not your father’s Oldsmobile.

The NY Times wrote the obituary. You can see it here.

The best line in it came from Tim Dye, a fellow in Oklahoma:

…who owns 21 Pontiacs from various eras and a huge collection of Pontiac memorabilia — started with a bottle of GTO cologne from his uncle — that he had assembled over more than 30 years.

Dye’s collection fills his home, and two other buildings on his property.  He’s winding down his collection, and blowing it out to a museum in Pontiac, Illinois.  It doesn’t mention the museum by name, but how many museums can there be in Pontiac, Illinois? So I’m guessing it’s the Route 66 Association Hall of Fame and Museum.

Tim Dye must think so, too. As he uttered in my favorite in the article:

“I can’t think of anything better to do than just visit with people about Pontiac every day,” he said.

Well, chacun à son goût, and all that, but  why not get your kicks on Route 66?

And it did get me thinking about how much simpler life would be if we all had a special thing that we couldn’t think of anything better to do than. And, of course, if we were actually able to go ahead and do it.

Obviously, mine wouldn’t be visiting with people about Pontiac every day. But just what might my “can’t think of anything better” be?

Hard to pick just one, but I can honestly say that not a darned one of them involves work. 

Mostly they’re about a) hanging out with family and friends, talking about things other than Pontiacs which, as far as I can recall, have never once cup up in conversation; b) being in Paris or Ireland; c) reading a good book (extra points for reading it while a blizzard is raging  just outside the window).  And, oh yeah, d) writing my daily Pink Slip post.

Gonna turn it on, wind it up, blow it out GTO. (Wa-wa, little GTO…)