Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sew what

When we were growing up, my mother sewed a lot of our clothing – the girls’ clothing that is. 

The first items I remember wearing were when I was very young: white shorts and a navy blue dress coat (needless to say not worn together) made from material salvaged from my father’s WWII dress uniforms. This was in the mid-1950’s, so those unis must have been lying around in the cedar chest, surrounded by mothballs, for a good decade or so. Funny, I don’t recall any mothball odor. The material must have been thoroughly aired, blowing in the wind from the clothesline off the porch in our second floor apartment.

The navy blue Sunday coat stands out in my mind because it had very snappy red with white polka dots sateen lining.

The shorts stand out because my mother rarely made play clothes, which must have been cheap enough to buy, but focused on dresses.

The one other foray into sports clothes I recall was a few years later, when my mother stitched up a couple of extraordinarily dowdy bathing suits for my sister Kathleen and me. We were then in our pre-teen/early teen years. And if there’s one thing a girl of that age really wants is an extraordinarily dowdy bathing suit, let me tell you.

When other girls my age were wearing two-piece Madras suits taken from the pages of Seventeen, I was in a modest turquoise, black and white pique number that wouldn’t have been out of place on Eleanor Roosevelt. Pique is not exactly a fabric designed for a romp in the pool, but my sister Kath’s had it even worse. (At least I think it was hers. Maybe it was mine, and I’ve just gone into denial on it. Maybe one of us will have a recovered memory. I think I’m recovering mine now. Was that ticking suit mine? Could we both have had them?) It was made out of blue and white pillow ticking, bordered with red rick-rack.

Ticking! Ticking?

When the suit got wet, it would add about twenty pounds weight to you, which made swimming almost as difficult as if someone had slipped a cement ankle bracelet, or led-filled “water wings” on you.

How is it that she/I didn’t drown? Accidentally or deliberately, to solve the humiliation problem of wearing that bathing suit.

Somehow, even my mother must have realized that she’d gone Little House in the Prairie overboard on these numbers, and she went out and got us each a tank suit – Kath’s red, mine electric blue, which, if not stunningly attractive, were at least moderately normal looking.

Most of the clothing my mother made, if not supremely stylish, was moderately so. Plenty of our friends had home-made clothing, and sometimes we matched things up. One year, my sister Kath and I, and our friends the Shea girls, all wore corduroy jumpers for the first day of school in different colors.

Given the dire clothing situation, it was just as well we wore uniforms, and only got to wear civilian clothing a few days out of the year.

When I went away to college, my “good” dress and jacket – blue green nubby wool, the dress worn with a brushed silver circle pin, was mother-made. As was my bathrobe – a turquoise corduroy number that looked like a medieval monks robe, cowl hood and all. As was the “granny gown” – black, printed with red, white, and yellow rocking chairs – that was the fashion item for hanging around the dorm. I still have an apron made out of that fabric.

Even someone like my young self, sorely lacking in fashion sense, really wanted store-bought clothing like everyone else had.

The minute I managed to accumulate any cash, I made a beeline to Filene’s basement to get last year’s off-priced or irregulars. Who cared? As long as it was Villager, John Meyer or Norwich, or Ladybug. When I graduated to Army surplus dressing, I was in business. As long as it wasn’t home made…

Sewing, like typing, however, was something that girls were supposed to learn, if not exactly master.

I took sewing lessons at the Girls’ Club when I was in seventh grade. I made myself a completely hideous sleeveless – there is no other word for it – housedress, in a beyond-god-awful cream colored cotton pattered with purple and green cats. The yoke was crooked, so it only looked okay if I slanted one of my shoulders to the side. I’m not sure what it’s original intended purpose was. Possibly it was a beach cover up for the ghastly home-made bathing suit. But I only ever wore it as a nightgown.

Both my sisters, however, did learn to sew. Trish – game little junior high schooler that she was – even made me a wool suit. She got through the jacket, but on the skirt, she ran the needle over her thumb, something that 40 years later still makes me queasy to think about. She had to go to the hospital, where she received a tetanus shot and, I believe, a Purple Heart.

While I don’t believe that my sisters make any of their clothing any more, they can run up curtains and do other handy-dandy things that I can’t.

In any event, I found it quite interesting to see a piece in The Wall Street Journal on “sewing’s pop-culture revival.”

Spurred on by the economy, and by shows like Project Runway, there’s been a resurgence of interest in sewing, especially among those in their 20s and 30s. And sales are up for what was once the lowly sewing machine. And Wal-Mart, which had stopped stocking fabric, has now brought it back, along with “notions” (thread, buttons, bias tape…).

This is not your mother’s Singer, however. Today's are high tech, some “equipped with USB ports and high-resolution touch screens.”

New multitasking sewing machines strive to be as accessible as a smartphone. Modern machines have added decorative stitches, automatic threading and touch screens for easier use. There are smartphone apps for matching thread to fabric and software that digitizes embroidery designs. With the USB port on the latest embroidery machines, users can transfer an image from laptop to sewing machine.

So now you have to understand technology and know how to sew. (At least I’d have one of them covered. And while I was never much at sewing, I was pretty good at embroidery.)

Prices for sewing machines are all over the map.

You can get an entry level mechanical for under $100, and a computerized model for $140 or so. At the high end, you could pay well over $10,000.  The high end machines do things like:

…sense fabric thickness and adjusts for an even fabric feed—eliminating uneven stitching that results when newbies press or push fabric along.

Which actually wouldn’t have helped with my uneven yoke, but may well have saved Trish’s impaled thumb.

There are an estimated 39 million American women who own a sewing machine, and, as those machines have teched-up, so have those who sew, with web sites, blogs, and tweets. (Damn. Just ran needle through my thumb.)

As with so many other things, learning to sew is not on my bucket list. I can hem jeans, mend tears, and sew on buttons. That will have to suffice. I can’t imagine making my own clothing, especially as I pretty much live in jeans and sweaters.

Nonetheless, I find the sewing revival interesting, and am happy to see that it’s as much fashion- as frugality-driven. Anything’s possible, but I seriously doubt that there’s any 12 year old girl out there whose mother is making her a bathing suit out of ticking.

Couldn’t resist including this illustration (“Welsh women and a man with a Singer sewing machine.”) from The Journal article:

welsh sewers

Mary Evans/Everett Collection

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day, 2011

Memorial Day has an awful lot going for it.

For one thing, it signals the start of the summerish things.

Plus, like Labor Day which brackets the summer on the other end, it’s one of those blessed holidays when there’s nothing that you have to do. Now, some of those have-to-do’s are not especially onerous. What’s so hard about turning on the Pops 4th of July Concert, then opening the blinds so we can watch the fireworks when the concert’s over?

Still, Memorial Day is mercifully free of obligation.

I do get up to the cemetery to plant geraniums and make sure that the Vets stuck a flag on my father’s grave, but this year that will have to wait. I was unable to get up to Leicester before Memorial Day – that darned vacation! – so my cousin Barbara and I have to figure out a time when we can get the job done. We do plant tulips on our parents’ graves in the fall, so there’ll be something there. (Dead tulips, unless Babs made a dash out there without me…)

This year, Memorial Day has special resonance, in that we observe the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which begat Decoration Day, which begat the latter day Memorial Day.

Civil War: what a name for something so brutal, gruesome and uncivil.

Living in New England, it’s easy to see that our war was the Revolutionary, not the Civil. George Washington slept here, not Abraham Lincoln. (Metaphorically speaking, Abe. I know you did visit here.)

Every day, I walk past the site of the Boston Massacre, and the Old State House, which was once a the seat of the  British Royal Government in Boston. It still sports the lion and the unicorn, symbols of The Crown.

I’m not a far walking piece from Bunker Hill, or Boston Harbor (of Tea Party fame), or Old North one-if-by-day Church and Paul Revere’s House. And I’m not a far driving piece from Lexington and Concord.

Revolutionary War ‘R Us.

Civil War, not so much.

Other than the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial – he of Glory fame, for leading the African-American troops in battle – there’s not a lot of Civil War “stuff” in these parts.

Other than in the cemeteries, where even in the Irish immigrant cemeteries where my people lay a-mouldering in their graves there are a few Civil War vets. And, of course, there’s Memorial Hall at Harvard University. I know, I know, the rich and privileged men during Civil War could buy their way out of the military. (Sounds kinda-sorta familiar doesn’t it? Although these days there’s not an out and out buy…) But a lot of rich and privileged men didn’t, as a stroll through Mem Hall will tell you.

This memorial space boasts a 2,600 square foot marble floor, a sixty foot high wooden gothic vault, two stained glass windows spanning 708 squareMemHall feet each, black walnut paneling, stenciled walls and 28 white marble tablets bearing the names of 136 Harvard associates who fell on behalf of the Union cause during the Civil War. The youngest, Sumner Paine, class of 1865, fell at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, two years before his intended graduation. The Paul Joseph Revere listed is the grandson of the famous Paul Revere. (Source: Fair Harvard)

They died at Wilderness, Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Antietam. Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, Fort Wagner – which is where Robert Gould Shaw fell.

So, here’s to those who have died in our wars, especially those who fought in the Civil War. And here’s hoping we never go there again….

Earlier Memorial Day posts:

Decoration Day

Six Degrees of Separation from the Military

Memorial Day, 2009

Memorial Day, 2010

Friday, May 27, 2011

Throughly addicted

I first noticed it at the airport last Thursday night, while we were waiting to leave for Ireland.

My husband went to the men's room, and I had a few minutes to sneak in a bit of e-mail check and browsing, so I instinctively reached for my Blackberry.

Not there!

Of course not.

Having made a half-hearted inquiry at Verizon, I had decided that it was going to be too much of a P.I.T.A. - and probably too expensive - to get myself Blackberried for a week in Ireland. Besides, wasn't getting unBlackberried precisely the reason you go on vacation. Besides, all my clients knew I was gone for the week, and mostly unavailable for e-mailing, and definitely unavailble for work. Besides, there was a computer in the house we were renting. So...no biggy. I'd just download Skype.

There's something about having one of those smarty-pants phones, however. Throughout the trip, there've been times when I've made a move to grab and go with my Blackberry. One afternoon it was the ash cloud to check in on. At dinner the other evening, it was trying to remember the name of a singer that was eluding us. (Fortunately, I was able to retrive it from the original computer: the human brain: Etta James.)

Even if relying on a smartphone is highly addictive, it actually is possible to go cold turkey - or luke-warm turkey - from using one. Sure, there are withdrawal symptoms - patting my jeans pocket and reaching into my Healthy Backpack whenever something that merits a google popped into my head.

Information (and e-mail) retrieval is one thing; no plain vanilla mobile phone is another.

It turned out that having a phone is pretty darned useful - and there wasn't one in the house we rented.

So, after two full days of bare naked wandering around Galway without a phone number to our names, we took ourselves to the Vodaphone store and bought a throw-away for 20 Euros that included 35 minutes of talk. Plenty enough to make restaurant reservations, arrange a cab, and call our landlady when we had a question about how the screwball locks or the screwball heat or the screwball recylcing worked. Besides, with no phone in the house, we were worried about how we were going to get help in case of an emergency. (The things you start thinking about as you get older. Did I really use to go camping deep in the woods in the pre-cell phone days? What was I thinking? Clearly not about mortality or thieves in the night.)

When I paid for the phone, I mentioned to the clerk that I felt like a criminal, since in the U.S., only criminals use throw-away phones. (I watch an awful lot of Law and Orders.) Same here, she assured us. (What a relief!)

Why not Skype, you might ask?

After all, since I'm occasionally doing a post from Eirann, I must have a computer even though I had made the incredibly wrenching decision to go on vacation without my laptop.

This is not a decision that I could easily have made if there was not the promise of a computer in the house we were renting.

Yes, indeed, Liz-the-Landlady assured us: there'd be a computer for us, and wireless access throughout the house.

The computer did not materialize until Monday afternoon, so we actually had a couple of days of unconnected, thoroughly unattached "bliss", with the exception of the Sunday Vodaphone cave-in.

Ah, the computer.

A vintage Dell desktop, running XP (with a 1995-2001 copyright notice on it, no less).

You forget what a dinosaur a ten year old computer can be.

"Hop" on to the Internet, and wait. And wait. And wait. We're paying for all those images, that's for sure.

Periodically, a pop-up appears, informing me that running IE sucks up 92% of the CPU. Feels more like 192%.

Just putting up this brief post is a laborious task. Sometimes you can type normally, but much of the time you can type 2-6 characters and the PC heaves a sigh and takes a long pause. Sometimes it just gets really and truly tired and just stops dead in its tracks, throwing us off the 'Net or going straight into reboot mode. This technology nag should be heading for the technology glue factory. And soon. We advised Liz to stop advertising that her otherwise extremely well-equipped digs come with a computer. Just say wi-fi, we tell her, and people will know they need to bring a laptop/netbook/iPad... Trust us, we tell her, they'll be happier.

In any case, the quasi-electronics-free vacation came off. Kinda sorta.

Without my laptop, there's been no temptation to get any work done, which is a plus. Without my Blackberry, I'm actually using my personal long term memory to figure things like Etta James' name out, which is a plus. With such crappy access, I'm doing more reading and less aggravating myself glancing through online comments to news articles, which is a plus.

Bottom line: I wouldn't travel again without my laptop. I'm pretty sure I could take a non-working vacation, even with the laptop available. And it is convenient to check e-mails, read the news from home (Go, Red Sox!), and have access to Skype, which we couldn't possibly get on the T-Rex of a Dell we've got here. I'm just too 'Net-addicted to do without a computer, I'm afraid - although there are still Internet cafes where I could get my fix.

I still wouldn't bother with my Blackberry. Although I might pimp my vacation with another throw-away phone - just for emergencies, mind you.

Anyway, I'm obviously as technology addicted as the next guy.

How was it that we used to actually have vacations that were of the 'get away from it all' variety.

They were really bliss, weren't they?

Alas, there's no going back...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ain’t nobody’s business (degree) but my own…

A couple of weeks back, I went to my 30th reunion dinner for the Sloan School of Management at MIT, where I received a Master’s of Science in Management in those way-back days when MIT oh so quaintly didn’t award an MBA. Interestingly, we seemed to have been awarded MBA’s ex post facto. Our name tags listed our class year and read “MBA”.

We were a small class – not much over 100 students – and about 30-35 came back, from all over, for the event, which was great fun (as had been our 25th reunion). Our small size made us pretty tight, as did the accommodations we had back in the day. Sloan has expanded greatly since our time there –the are more students and mo’ better space – and, while I didn’t head over to MIT to see the new building, I suspect that there are more gathering spaces for students than we had. The fact that, other than the library, the only place to hang between classes was the area outside the administrative offices, where there were two beat up round tables. So we all got to know each other pretty well.

Much of our reminiscing was, of course, about the courses we took. Sloan – at least when I was there – had a quantitative bent. You had to pass a calculus exam to qualify to take the intro economics course, which was required; if you failed, you had to take some remedial math and pre-intro econ. Fortunately, I skin-of-my-teethed it on the calculus qualifier. Whew! Even in marketing, things could get pretty wonky. One of my concentrations was in “applied marketing”, which was mostly about marketing (statistical) analysis.

By business school standards, this was all pretty rigorous.

Not that there weren’t gut courses. In fact, one of the best courses I took was “Business Ethics.” Certainly a gut (especially at Sloan) in that nothing in it made your head explode. But the course required reading, thinking and writing, so I loved it.

When we were hanging around those round tables, of course, we were often times pretty stressed.

But someone could always be counted on to remind us that was “only” business school – not nuclear physics, neurobiology, or electrical engineering.

On the other hand, in my case, it was a lot harder (mentally, if not physically) than waiting tables at Durgin-Park.

My Sloan reunion reminded me that, a while back, The New York Times had an interesting article, done in conjunction with The Chronicle of Higher Education, on what a “gut” undergraduate major business is, once you’re out of the realm of the top undergraduate business schools.

Business is the “default” major for many, and a lot of business students are disengaged. They’re not reading textbooks, they’re texting -  just doing their time until they can graduate with their “practical” degree.

Business majors spend less time preparing for class than do students in any other broad field, according to the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement: nearly half of seniors majoring in business say they spend fewer than 11 hours a week studying outside class. …And when business students take the GMAT, the entry examination for M.B.A. programs, they score lower than students in every other major.

Well, I don’t find the not studying all that shocking, but scoring lower on the GMAT? Wouldn’t you think that a business major would have absorbed just a tad more business knowledge than your average sociology or English major?

Worse than their doping it on the GMATs is the fact that there are so many of these business majors.

The family of majors under the business umbrella — including finance, accounting, marketing, management and “general business” — accounts for just over 20 percent, or more than 325,000, of all bachelor’s degrees awarded annually in the United States, making it the most popular field of study.

This is not a recent phenomenon.

… as long ago as 1959, a Ford Foundation report warned that too many undergraduate business students chose their majors “by default.” Business programs also attract more than their share of students who approach college in purely instrumental terms, as a plausible path to a job, not out of curiosity about, say, Ronald Coase’s theory of the firm.

The squishiness of the undergraduate business degree doesn’t hold for the elite business programs, like Wharton and Babson.

Still, most of the undergraduate business majors aren’t matriculating at Wharton, Babson, or one of the other Top 50/Top Tier programs where there’s plenty of rigor and the students work hard.

One senior majoring in business at a lower end school said:

“A lot of classes I’ve been exposed to, you just go to class and they do the PowerPoint from the book,” he says. “It just seems kind of pointless to go when (a) you’re probably not going to be paying much attention anyway and (b) it would probably be worth more of your time just to sit with your book and read it.”

As for how much time he spends hitting the books:

“Well, this week I don’t have any tests, so probably zero,” he says. “Next week I’ll have a test, so maybe 10 hours then.”

He adds: “It seems like now, every take-home test you get, you can just go and Google. If the question is from a test bank, you can just type the text in, and somebody out there will have it and you can just use that.”

This is not senioritis, he says: this is the way all four years have been. In a typical day, “I just play sports, maybe go to the gym. Eat. Probably drink a little bit. Just kind of goof around all day.” He says his grade-point average is 3.3.

Now, I am not going to say that I exactly killed myself as an undergraduate sociology major, but I can pretty much guarantee that there were no weeks when I spent zero hours reading/writing/studying, and damned few where I did as few as ten. If you’re just googling to find questions and answers in a test bank, well, what’s the point of even pretending that part of the function that college should serve is that you actually learn something that you didn’t know before you got there (other than how to compute how much to charge for a kegger).

I can’t say that I’m at that surprised that so many business majors are a waste. That said, two of the most successful business men I know were undergraduate business majors, back in the day. (Both at Top Tier schools.)

But as a future senior citizen who’s counting on the economy holding together, I’m somewhat aghast that so many colleges are churning out so many graduates who can’t “write coherently, think creatively and analyze quantitative data,” which is what employers say they want.

A mind used to be a terrible thing to waste. Maybe it still is.

Anyway, I suspect that the next couple of decades are going to shake out the entire higher education business, business undergraduate major or not.

A college education is a terrible thing to waste on googling for canned answers to canned questions.

Makes me kind of  happy to have held off on that business school education until after I’d gone the entirely impractical sociology, political science, and whatever else struck me as interesting academic route. And makes me kind of happy that, when I did go to B-school, it was kind of hard. We really did have to work, even if we did spend an awful lot of time hanging around those scarred, round tables just getting to know each other.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The News from Ireland

In many ways, it seems much the same as last we left it, in September 2006.

And yet...

When we mentioned the weekend crowds thronging High and Shop Streets - the main commercial drag in Galway City - our friends Michael and Jo said, "Yes, but they're not buying."

This was echoed by the young clerk in Anthony Ryan's who helped us with our purchase of a warmer shirt for my husband - Jim hadn't packed for the unseasonably cool weather. Business, he told us even though we hadn't asked, was really off, what with the economy.

At dinner with our friends Michael and Jo, they filled us in on the doings of their children. One daughter and her fiancé both work in banking. They have been on tenter hooks for months. Redundancies - Irish for lay-offs - were announced in March, but the pink slips have yet to be slipped in. July, they think. These two have always worked in banking. Unlike in some other industries, these types of jobs won't be coming back, and there aren't many places to go with those résumés.

Another of Michael and Jo's daughters bought her house five years or so ago for 270,000 Euros. Between her down payment and what she's managed to pay off, she owes 140,000 on it - which is now the house's value. Fortunately, her job - at least for now - is secure. Still, how disheartening, and at least she's not under water, unless you think about the 130,000 Euros she's out...

Michael himself has a construction business. It was booming - of course - during the champagne bubble years - but there's little of it now. Michael was nearing retirement age, so he's okay. It's the younger men that he employed who are hurting - and leaving Ireland. We've seen some of the "leavers" in Boston. The construction/deconstruction going on next door to us back at home is manned largely by Irish guys. (We saw the the remnants of the construction boom during Friday's drive from Shannon to Galway. Even though the trip is now mostly on the highway, we did pass a number of abandoned projects, scaffolding still up but nary a working man in sight.)

Suicides in the country are up, Michael and Jo tell us. Some people just can't see a way out. The older folks, they say, have it easier. They grew up poor, in the pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland. They never really trusted the prosperity, they never thought it would last. For the younger people, though, it's especially devastating.

Liz, our landlady for the beautiful, we-could-live-here, completely modernized coach house we've taken for the week, talks about the hits that the well-to-do professional class have taken, financially. The doctors, she tells us, are the only ones doing brilliantly. (But even the medical establishment, we see in the papers, is under some siege, as government cutbacks set in.)

Liz talks about the crazy unseemly greed that so many people got caught up in during the go-go years, the oneupsmanship, the egos. An auctioneer (real estate) of her distant acquaintance ended up ruined, and killed himself in spectacular fashion. Not content with a private suicide, he knotted the rope around his neck, secured it to a beam, and threw himself out the upper-story window of one of his failing properties.

Yet there are things that have palpably raised the national mood, however temporarily...

The Queen visited the country last week - her first trip over. She and Philip were well and warmly received. The Irish and the English have a curious relationship, of course, but with so many of the diaspora Irish living in England (our friends Michael and Jo lived for years in Manchester; when they were first starting out, there was no work in Ireland for them), the Anglo-Irish relationship has gotten more fluid. And, as far as we can tell, the Irish take a back seat to no one when it comes to Royal Watching. There seems to be pretty widespread and genuine affection for Queen Elizabeth, and although there was some grumbling over the 30 million Euros that went in to her security, people seemed proud that the visit had gone off so well, and that the Queen enjoyed herself.

In the wake of the Royal Departure, Ireland got another boost. Leinster, one of its rugby teams, scored a big win over Northampton in the Heinekin Cup. The pubs were thronged on Saturday to watch the match and, even though Leinster is not Galway's province (which is Connacht as in "to hell or Connacht", which Oliver Cromwell once declared was where Ireland's Catholics could go), there was joy spilling out into Galway's narrow and winding streets once the match was won.

The pièce de résistance, of course, was Monday's blow-through visit by Barack and Michelle Obama.

You could not go into a shop or pub without the visit being closely monitored on TV or radio. One shopkeeper - in one of the many charmingly old-fashioned little corner markets that still dot the retail landscape here - was bursting his buttons that the U.S. President was here. "Imagine, him coming to this little country. We've only four-and-a-half million people. Why, Poland has 90 million and he's not going there." This shopkeeper had one of those "map of Ireland" faces, a real old-timer. And it looked like his green-grocers shop had been there forever. The interesting thing was what he was selling. Sure, he had the usual cabbage and carrots, but he was also selling all sorts of exotic teas. Indian sauces. (Chicken tikka, anyone?) Italian pastas. All sorts of gourmet foods.

We bought a bottle of Prosecco and a Green & Black dark chocolate bar - the same brand you can get at Whole Foods.

This is not your grandfather's Ireland, that's for sure.

The affection for the Obamas, the pride and enthusiasm with which their visit was received, exceeded that for the Queen. (And this is not just the Yank in me speaking. There's no denying that ties that bind the green with the red, white, and blue.)

Is féidir linn, Obama told the crowd at Dublin's College Green. Yes, we can.

Sure, it's just words. And it's not as if Obama can lay hands (or words) on and cure the Irish economy. Hell, if he's going to cure an economy, let him start with ours.

Still, it's nice to see the small, palpable elevation to the Irish national mood, no matter how temporary it is.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

As if anyone needed another reason to dislike the NY Yankees

I know, I know.

It’s not like the Boston Red Sox are anyone’s darlings, other than those of use who are card-carrying members of Red Sox Nation.

But as long as the Olde Towne Team can retain the moral high ground by having a smaller payroll, then the Bronx Bombers will remain the bad boys of summer. (For the record, the Yankees payroll of 2011 opening day payroll of $201.7M greatly exceeds that of the number two Phillies ($173.0M), and the second runner up Red Sox, who come in at $161.4M.)

Arguably, neither Red Sox nor Yankees fans are getting exactly what they paid for, at least so far this season. But that’s a story for another day. And, as the say, the season is a long one.

What’s emanating from Yankee Stadium that’s most interesting of late is the brouhaha (or is it brewhaha) over who gets the “service fee” added to the price of a beer and a dog served to those sitting in the swank and pricey field-level seats. These are the ones you see, at least partially empty, behind home plate, where you also get to watch the servers scurry back and forth carrying food to the “haves” so that they don’t have to hit the concession stands with the hoi poloi. (At least they haven’t figured out a way for the swells to relieve themselves after all those cold ones without having to head to a restroom. At least not yet.)

There may well be seats with waiter service at Fenway Park, but I’m usually in the get-in-line-if-you-want-a-hot-dog seats, which are also serviced by the kids who race up and down stairs all game long carrying heavy aluminum boxes full of hot dogs or Sports Bars (incredibly shrinking ice cream bars) or cases of soda. The kids hawking the cotton candy have it easy: their wares are light.

I don’t buy all that often from the kids who work the stands, but always tip them when I do.

The folks working the premium seats at Yankee Stadium also work for tips.

But they have a particularly difficult time trying to extract them. So they’re going to court to try to even the tip-giving playing field up a bit. Here’s the story:

When you order something at Yankee for delivery to your seat – say, a $10.50 beer – a 20 percent “service fee” is added.

Legends Hospitality, the concessionaire co-owned by the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys, and Goldman Sachs, allegedly pockets the 20 percent service fee attached to food and drink in violation of New York law, according to a class-action lawsuit filed against the company by three Yankee Stadium servers this week. If certified as class action, the suit could involve more than a hundred servers and hundreds of thousands of dollars in claims.

Servers do a small portion of that service fee, and can also receive tips, but, given how the 20% service charge is presented, it’s not surprising that most fans think they’re covered, tip-wise:

According to the suit, the menus field-level spectators find in their cupholders include this disclaimer: "A 20% service charge will be added to the listed prices. Additional gratuity is at your discretion." That phrase "additional gratuity" would seem to imply that the 20 percent is, in fact, a gratuity, but [plaintiffs' lawyer, Brian] Schaffer says his clients don’t get that money.

Instead, they get that a far more meager 4-6%.

No wonder they’re saying now wait just a darned New York minute.

And, this being the New York Yankees, and the Dallas Cowboys and Goldman Sachs, for that matter, things are even worse.

While technically the servers can receive tips, they’re not allowed to answer the question if a fan asks them where the 20% service fee goes. If they tell the truth – which is most of it doesn’t go to me – they can get fired. Instead, they can only murmur that ‘additional gratuity is at your discretion.’ Words never uttered in the course of natural human conversation in the history of mankind.

People in the bleachers tip the servers, and I’m guessing that at least some of those in the gold-plated seats at Yankee would want to do so, as well. After all, if you’re already in for $350 for your seat, and $10.50 + 20% service fee for a beer, it’s no big deal to throw a few bucks at someone who’s trying to make a living selling refreshments at the ball park.

If Legends wants to sell a beer for $12.60 rather than a lousy $10.50, why don’ t they just charge that much to begin with? Come explicitly clean about what proportion of that is allocated to server compensation. That same piece of paper that mealy-mouths about “additional gratuity” could be up front and say “4-6% (depending on volume) of this price goes to your server; any other tip is up to you.”

No doubt they’ve spent millions of dollars on focus groups and surveys that have told them that people feel like they’re getting a better deal, and feel more like spending, if they’re charged $10.50 plus and additional 20%, than if they’re charged $12.60. Especially if they’re being misled into thinking that the 20% is a tip.

Here’s how Legends Hospitality positions itself:

Legends’ highly innovative approach is reshaping the sports business landscape, and our award-winning service has helped increase revenue in every Legends venue.

Experience sports and entertainment in a whole new way — the Legends way — where it’s all about the fan.

That innovative approach – the con job – may be helping increase revenue in all of their venues, but that “it’s all about the fan” kind of makes you choke on my hot dog, doesn’t it?

Needless to say, in this contest, I’m gonna root, root, root for the servers. If they don’t win it’s a shame.

Source: Huffington Post.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Things I Like About Ireland

I don’t know if I’ll be able to post regularly during my week in Ireland, or whether I’ll have to save ideas up and use them when I get back.  But for starters, there are a few things I really like about Ireland (other than the obvious: the beauty and the people).  Here’s what’s top o’ mind:

  • You can order a cup of tea in a pub and not have them look at you as if you have two heads. Not that I’m only drinking tea in pubs. There’s G&T’s, Bailey’s, and an occasional glass – or even pint – of Guinness. (Guinness, after all, is good for you.) But I do occasionally just want a cup of tea. Not that it will be fancy, mind you. It will just be a string-less tea bag, served in a flimsy aluminum tea pot, with a chipped, heavy, white china mug to drink the tea from. Still, there is nothing like a nice cup of tea in an Irish pub – especially now that smoking in pubs is outlawed. (I started to type “drinking in pubs is outlawed” – now that would be something else entirely…)
  • Irish brown bread. A cup of tea is even better when accompanied by a slab of brown bread slathered with butter.  Although there are some places in Boston where you can buy brown bread, they don’t tend to be supremely convenient to where I live. So, after I go through the loaf I will no doubt bring home with me, I’m out of luck. I have tried to bake it a couple of times, only to have my efforts end in failure. The recipe I got from the owner of O’Malley’s clothing shop in Galway was perhaps too complex, and the bread didn’t come out right. I had another recipe, which I got from a fellow who owned a B&B-cum-restaurant in Dingle. This man – what the Irish might call a cute hoor – sneered when I asked him for his recipe. “You won’t be able to make it,” he told me. He then produced a pre-printed version – so it’s not as if her were guarding his dear mither’s secret. His point was that an American couldn’t make it. And, even though I brought some special flour (brown mix) home with me, damned if he wasn’t right. No doubt he left something crucial out. Cute hoor, indeed. (My brown bread failure is despite that fact that I’m a good baker, and make a spectacular Irish soda bread with raisins. Hmmmmm.)
  • The way they pronounce my name. It was only when I first began traveling to Ireland that I realized that, over the years, the pronunciation of my first name had changed from accent on the first syllable – as in MAUR-een – to accent on the second syllable – as in Maur-EEN. When I was growing up, most people pronounced my name MAUR-een, which makes sense. MAUR is the “real” part of the name (Maura is Irish for Mary), while een is the diminutive add-on. And then I moved out of Worcester and into a world where 75% of the people I knew were no longer of Irish descent. And those folks in the outside world mostly used the Americanized version of my name. Anyway, when I first heard me-self called MAUR-een, I realized that this was actually the correct (and sensible) way to say my name.

I may be able to sneak another Made-in-Ireland post or two in. Whether I do or not, I have queued up posts for each day this week, so you won’t go Pink Slip-less.

Slán for now.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tomorrow may be it. But let’s see how Robert Fitzpatrick feels on Sunday.

According to some fringe religious group, Saturday (May 21st) is going to be Judgment Day. Major earthquakes are going to start in Jerusalem, and then start shucking and jiving worldwide. Damn that globalization...

I don’t quite get how it’s all going to go down, but I think the story is that the earthquakes shake things up; we then have five months of – there’s no other way to put it – hell on earth. And finally, on October 21st, everything’s kaput.

Well, that gives us a while to clean up our acts. If there are no atheists in foxholes, I’m betting there won’t be many atheists on planet earth if tomorrow actually does bring a rash o’ earthquakes. (Where do I sign up? Where did I put my mother’s rosary beads? Does the fact that I hung onto the picture of Cardinal Cushing that he gave my father count for anything?)

Personally, I’m not too worried about the endgame happening – at least not for a couple of billion years. If it does, I guess I’ll die in Ireland. Which wouldn’t be the end of the world. (Actually, it will be the end of the world….If this is the case, T.S. Eliot’s got it wrong. The world will be ending with a bang AND a whimper. But what do poets know?)

Some folks, of course, are taking this seriously.

One who’s taking it more seriously than most is Robert Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick is a retired transpo worker fromalg_doomsday_code New York City who’s supporting his old employer by placing $140K worth of ads giving his fellow New Yorkers a head’s up on what’s coming next. (Source info and picture: NY Daily News.) The $140K is Fitzpatrick’s life savings, so if the greatest earthquake ever doesn’t occur, he may be facing a personal, look-in-the-mirror-and-ask-yourself-what-you-just-did-with-your-life-savings personal day of judgment on May 22, 2011.

“I'm trying to warn people about what's coming," the 60-year-old Staten Island resident said. "People who have an understanding [of end times] have an obligation to warn everyone."

His doomsday warning has appeared on 1,000 placards on subway cars, at a cost of $90,000, and at bus shelters around the city, for $50,000 more.

There are certainly plenty of times when unswerving and unswervable belief comes in handy: Convincing yourself that the new company you’ve joined is not going to turn out to be yet another dysfunctional crazy factory. Getting on an airplane. Reposing on your deathbed. And it’s certainly laudable (I guess) that Fitzpatrick is willing to put his money where his unswervable belief is.

But I can’t help but believe (unswervingly) that this is not a good thing to do with your life savings.

Pretty much the only lives Fitzpatrick’s changing here – other than his own -  are those who got his business. That would be the printer (and the printer’s devil) – this is a good sized job; can’t tell if that’s 4-color or spot, but this wasn’t a total cheapo -  especially given the decline in printed matter; no pdf poster downloads here. A real, honest to goodness print run.

And the ad salesman for the subway and bus stop ads. I bet this made someone’s quarterly quota for him. Too bad there’s not likely to be any follow-on business (either way).

The outfit – I was going to quite uncharitably say “nutters” – who are behind the doomsday/gloomsday prognostication is something called Family Radio. Alas, they do not have a station in Massachusetts. Their only New England outlet is in Connecticut, of all places.

Family Radio is run by Harold Camping.

Using head-spinning numerological calculations, Camping has determined that the world will end on Saturday, May 21. He's used similar biblical math to pinpoint when Abraham was circumcised (2068 B.C.) and when earth was created (11,083 B.C.).

Camping has predicted the end of world once before - on Sept. 6, 1994. When the sun rose on Sept. 7, Camping admitted he might have had that one wrong.

That circumcision date sounds like it could be right, but I’ve got to go with the scientific community on the age of the earth, which is 4.5 billion years, plus or minus.

Anyway, if the earth opens up tomorrow and swallows Galway, it’s been nice bloggin’ for yez.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A trip back home

The first time I went to Ireland, in 1973, I was struck by how familiar it all felt.

This should have been duh obvious.

After all, my father’s tribe was Irish, and I grew up around them, not around my mother’s German family, 1,000 miles due west out Route 90 from Worcester. The neighborhood I grew up in was almost entirely Catholic, and a goodly proportion of the residents were of Irish descent.

With the occasional exception, the priests in our parish when I was growing up were Irish: Lynch, Harty, Gannon, Foley, Needham. Oddly, the priest who baptized me was named Fr. Cyril LeBeau. He had never heard the name Maureen before, and at first refused to use it as a baptismal name, which had to be that of a saint. My father explained to him that Maureen was Irish for Mary, and that he would be hearing plenty of it at Our Lady of the Angels. (The church, by the way, had an Irish-style steeple. I don’t know what the actually name for this is, but I’ve dubbed it Irish Gothic.)

The nuns who taught at our school were largely Irish, as well.

Although “our” order had been founded in France, the Sister of Notre Dame de Namur recruited where they taught, and the daughters of South Boston and other Irish-American enclaves filled their ranks.

American regional accents take their cue from the dominant ethnic population. Those Massachusetts dropped “r’s” owe plenty to the famine Irish who made their way over on coffin ships.

And much of the New England countryside – green, hilly and rocky – doesn’t look all that different than much of the Irish countryside – green, hilly and rocky.

So, no, it shouldn’t have surprised me how familiar Ireland seemed: the way the people looked, the way they spoke, the gestures they made, the sense of humor, the dour streak: not much of a culture shock to someone who hailed from Main South Worcester.

Frankly, I had not really expected to like Ireland all that much.

Perhaps it was that those who I knew who’d “been over” struck me as having gone a bit ga-ga, gone overboard on sentimentalizing Ireland and the Irish. And there was my grandmother’s saying – “If Ireland were so great we all wouldn’t have had to come over here.” – that kept creeping into my brain.

Yet like Ireland I did.

Other than the cold and damp which, even as a New Englander I found a bit much, there was nothing (okay, maybe the food at that time) that I didn’t like, even love, about Ireland.

When I left after a short week there, I knew that I would return.

And I have, many times.

Tonight we leave for our first trip “back home” in nearly five years.

When last in Ireland, the economy was still in the fervid run up that had catapulted the country from one of the poorest in Europe to one of the wealthiest. Young people – long and sadly, one of Ireland’s greatest exports – were staying home, finding good jobs, building new homes in “housing estates” that were being slapped up everywhere you looked. The Irish were traveling, too, not as one-way emigrants, but as tourists. Ryanair cheap flights were bringing the Irish to places with sun, warmth, and good food. (Irish food had improved by 1,000 percent since 1973.)

Jobs that the stay-at-home Irish young had once taken – waitress, barman, store clerk – were now held by young Eastern Europeans. Virtually everyone who waited on us on our last trip to Ireland was Czech or Polish. Galway had a large and growing African population. The town of Oranmore was about 25% Brazilian.

Who’da thunk it?

The Irish had taken on a new confidence, and had put behind them the miserable chilblain childhoods, straight out of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, that so many had suffered through.

Everywhere we went, people would point out houses and note how much they were going for. Dumps in Limerick – a dump of a city if ever –were going for half-million Euros!

This is crazy, you might say to yourself.

But you’d keep it to yourself.

Who was an American to talk about real estate bubbles?

That was then. This is now. And now is changed utterly.

Just how utterly we’ll begin to see and here  when we hop in a cab at Shannon on Friday morning and head out to Galway, where we’ll be spending the week.

We’ll not be having our usual driver this time over.

Sadly, we have learned that Pat Wallace died a few weeks back

For many years, on our frequent trips to Ireland, Pat would be our driver. Pat had grown up very poor, on the Limerick docks, one of a large brood, and worked as a cab driver, raconteur and tour guide par excellence.

We would have much enjoyed Pat’s take on the the state of Ireland.

The ride from Shannon to Galway will not be the same without him. Perhaps we can get tomorrow’s driver to sing a bit of The Galway Shawl, one of Pat’s favorites, for us.

She worn no jewels, nor costly diamonds
No paint nor powder, no none at all
But she worn a bonnet with ribbons on it
And 'round her shoulders was the Galway shawl

I’m quite certain that Ireland has not reverted to the sentimental ideal country of the Galway Shawl. But it will certainly be interesting to see where it has gone.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I wouldn’t walk a mile for this Camilleri.

Somehow, I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear that:

…the head of cigarette maker Philip Morris International Inc. told a cancer nurse Wednesday that while cigarettes are harmful and addictive, it is not that hard to quit. (Source: Boston.com.)

Yet, still, somehow I was.

CEO Louis C. Camilleri was confronted at Philip Morris’ annual shareholder meeting by a nurse who recited the grim statistics on tobacco deaths: 400,000 in the U.S. alone, and 5 million worldwide. The nurse also informed him that one of her patients had recently told her that

…of all the addictions he's beaten -- crack, cocaine, meth -- cigarettes have been the most difficult.

Camilleri answered her with a bit of a whine:

"We take our responsibility very seriously, and I don't think we get enough recognition for the efforts we make to ensure that there is effective worldwide regulation of a product that is harmful and that is addictive.”

No, Lou, I suspect you don’t get enough recognition for those efforts. Mostly because what most of us believe is that Big Tobacco is really up to ensnaring younger smokers (especially minorities) and sucking in those in the developing world who may not have the Surgeon General on their side.

While tobacco companies certainly have a right to peddle their wares, just as folks have a right to buy them, wouldn’t taking “responsibility very seriously” involve finding a way to exit this ugly, rotten business entirely? Maybe with an exit strategy that subsidized tobacco farmers to grow something else – how about hemp? – and stopped encouraging the poor to take up this nasty, dangerous habit to begin with.

Camilleri went on to add:

“Nevertheless, whilst it is addictive, it is not that hard to quit. ... There are more previous smokers in America today than current smokers."

Yes, indeed, and I also suspect that there are more dead smokers in America today than there are previous and current smokers.

Unlike Camilleri, who is a smoker – I suppose it would be really hard to justify heading up Philip Morris unless you were something of a Marlboro Man – I was never much for cigarettes.

Yes, when I waitressed, I did take up smoking – Marlboros, in fact – mostly because taking a cigarette break was an accepted, short duration escape from being on the floor. At Durgin-Park, a bunch of us kept packs of cigarettes in all the cubby holes, and grabbed one whenever we needed a bit of respite. When a customer started belly-aching, and the head waitress sent someone looking for you, it was entirely reasonable and acceptable to say, “Just let me finish by f-ing cigarette.”

For several years after I stopped waitressing, I would occasionally have a cigarette, mostly when in a bar or at a party with others who were smoking.  For years after I stopped entirely, I still missed – maybe even craved – having a cigarette in one hand if I had a drink in the other.

And that’s from someone who never smoked enough to be addicted.

I know plenty of smokers who have had a terrible time quitting, and some (including my beloved brother Rich) who are backsliders.

After the shareholders’ meeting, Philip Morris:

….reiterated its position that "tobacco products are addictive and harmful."

And? Just what are you doing about it?

Morningstar analyst Philip Gorham said addictiveness is why tobacco is such a profitable business.


"It's in the interest of executives to give the impression that they don't want new smokers to take up smoking, that they believe that people who do, can quit, but the statistics tell another story," Gorham said. "I would prefer to see executives focus on what they have done to help smokers quit."

I might prefer that, too. But, in truth, why would the executives want smokers to quit, given that this would eat into their profits as surely as smoking eats into a smoker’s lungs. And as long as there are third world growth opportunities, and no end to population control in sight – lung cancer can take a long time to kill – this remains a pretty good business. Last year’s profits for Philip Morris grew 14.5 percent.

Take a puff of that springtime!

While profits were up, Camilleri’s compensation declined by 26%, and his package was a mere pittance at $21.7 million. Pension is part of his overall compensation. Wonder if he’ll live long enough to enjoy it. And wonder whether, if and when he’s diagnosed with lung cancer, emphysema, or smoking-related heart disease – or if it happens to someone near and dear to him – he’ll think it was all worthwhile, that his was a good and noble business to run, and that it was perfectly all right to make dismissive, cavalier comments about the harmful and addictive product he’s grown rich off of.


Source for compensation info: Fox Business.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Incentivize me

Not that you need me to tell you that there’s always something on the ‘net to waste your time reading – especially if you have the incentive of coming up with daily blog fodder. So I recognized that the article on Smart Money on folks having to work longer and harder, and take on additional roles, because of The Great Recession, was likely to be both a time waster and a blog fodder producer. Which indeed it was.

Anyone who’s ever worked in a small company will get the longer-harder-additional-roles-for-no-more-money bit. That, I suspect, has always been and always will be. But now the practice has a name. If, in the name of cost-efficiency, you’re a marketing rep doubling as the cleaning lady, you’ve got a “superjob.”

What’s apparently new is that this is becoming the norm across business, whatever the company size or sector. Everyone has to do more for less or we’ll go out of business. (With the handy subtext of, or we’ll outsource or offshore your job to someone who’s even more desperate for work, and you’ll never, ever, ever find a job again.) All, of course, while on the large company side of things, corporate profits and executive salary and bonus payouts seem to be dazzlingly up.

This trend may well outlast the dire economy, as:

…some believe the shift [to the wear many hats mode of working] is permanent, as the quickening pace of change demands more flexibility from everyone at the office. Management consultant Rich Moran, whose clients have included Apple and AT&T, says that going forward, employees will do whatever it takes to help their company compete: "Job descriptions are written in sand, and the wind is blowing."

And that’s okay. But you sure do hope that eventually this will turn into a more equitable distribution of whatever profits this approach yields. (A study cited in the article said that only 7% of those surveyed received any additional compensation for taking on added work.)

Personally, I do believe that we’re witnessing what is starting to seem like an inexorable Bob Cratchit-ization of the workforce (without the hope that Tiny Tim will turn Ebenezer Scrooge’s stony heart).

Fortunately, there appears to be a point of diminishing returns to the pile on.

Turns out, the practice reduces productivity, because it takes a ton of mental energy to switch from one task to the next. In one five-year study conducted at a midsize recruiting firm, researchers affiliated with MIT's Sloan School of Management* found that when employees took on additional assignments, firm revenue and project completion increased but only up to a point. When the caseload piled higher, speed and completion rates plummeted.

But senior management might not even notice it. Working regular 14-hour days can end them up in “a state of cognitive impairment comparable to that of someone who has just enjoyed a three-martini lunch.” Wheeeeee.

What’s apparently on the rise are incentive programs, formal and informal.

Mentioned in the article was an Chief HR Officer who, when giving an employee an attaboy, will:

…call the employee's family to express appreciation ringing an executive's wife, for example, to talk about how his contribution makes a difference.

OMG. You can’t eat thanks to begin with, let alone thanks given to someone else.

But, hey, I do know up close and personal that at least having your work acknowledged counts for something. Still, I am somehow finding it impossible to envision this scenario:

“Honey, the most wonderful thing happened today. Betty from HR called to tell me that your contribution is making a difference. Now I understand why you’ve had to miss so many of the kids soccer games and ballet recitals. It’s all okay. I’ve even made your favorite pot roast, and shipped the kids next door for the night. Betty really made me realize just what a great guy I married.”

Most of the incentive plans noted were a little better than the HR call to the spouse. In these plans, employees were rewarded points to be used to purchase the kind of catalog items you might not buy if you had to use your own money, or which you might want but could definitely put off buying until, say, infinity. The grab bag list include a canoe, a Roomba, and a La-Z-Boy recliner. Not that you’d have any time to paddle the canoe or recline in the La-Z-Boy, but the Roomba might come in handy, given that, with all the extra work, you probably didn’t have much time to clean.

My favorite incentive went to a credit union teller who was asked to:

Organize customer-appreciation day with a Greek theme, arranging food, decorating and persuading fellow reps to dress up as gladiators and goddesses.

Well, remind me to stay out of credit unions on Greek Day. Or is it Greco-Roman Day. Gladiators were Roman, right? And how humiliating to be asked to dress up like this at work. But the teller’s reword for all this was what really got to me:

Thank you e-card from company VP; choice of gifts included an 11-piece pet clipper kit, a digital ear thermometer and a Proctor Silex power can opener. (Price of a similar can opener on Amazon.com: $14.99.)

e-Card from a VP? Digital ear thermometer? Do the rewards never end?

Well, I guess it’s better than having the head of HR call your wife to thank her for the sheets used to make the gladiator and goddess costumes.


*That’s my school!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fore! Welcome news for duffers: a straight-shooting golf ball

I’ve never been a golfer.

Other than mini-golf, which I’m no damned good at.

I get the theory and all that. It’s just that I completely lack the powers of concentration, discipline, time commitment, and interest that would be required to get good at golf, or any other athletic endeavor. Into which category I believe golf falls, although I’m not entirely sure.

There’s just never been any sport that I liked enough to put in the time to get good at it.

Chalk it up to a pre-Title IX girlhood, I guess, but there was never a point in my life when, if presented with the option of, say, spending an hour trying to heave a basketball through a hoop and reading almost any book, I wouldn’t have opted for the written word. It wasn’t that I’m so lazy. If the book option had come with the stipulation that you had to be pedaling on a stationary bicycle while reading the book, I would still go with the book. Even if it were a Tom Clancy novel. (Well, maybe not a Tom Clancy novel.)

All that said, it’s entirely possible (with a possibility of 50%) that I have some inner athleticism buried deep within me, as my father was a superb natural athlete. He played football, baseball, and hockey growing up, and was a good enough baseball player for semi-pro and Navy League during The War.

He was also a golfer, a pretty good one. One of the great pleasures of my childhood was when he took us kids out to watch him hit a bucket of balls at a driving range. Not that we ever got to take a swing ourselves, mind you. Watching Daddy – and going for ice cream afterwards – was pleasure enough.

It is unlikely that, at this stage in the checkered game of life I am ever going to take up the checkered game of golf.

But if I were, I would surely be a candidate for the Polara, no-slice golf ball that I saw written up in The NY Times the other day.

The Polara has a direct, concise, clear and altogether excellent value proposition:

The world’s first self-correcting golf ball. 75% Straighter. Guaranteed.

To say that I have labored my entire career in hopes of working on a product in which feature and benefit could be expressed in such a straightforward fashion! Never say never, but….

And to work on products “limited only by the laws of physics”, as opposed to oh-so-many products limited only by the flaws of definition, design, execution, pricing, marketing, sales….

Polara, however, had one roadblock thrown in its path that I never had to deal with. And that’s the spoilsports (or non-spoilsports) at the US Golf Association (USGA) who took a mashie niblick to the Polara when it was first introduced in the 1970’s.

Because the Polara actually corrected hooks and slices it posted strong sales in its first year. However, after extensive testing, the USGA concluded that the Polara golf ball did correct hooks and slices and thus refused to approve the ball for tournament play, ruling that it would “reduce the skill required to play golf.” In 1978, the manufacturers sued the USGA on antitrust grounds. (Source here and below, the Polara site.)

As the litigation made its way down the front nine, the USGA changed the Rules of Golf to require:

…that a ball must essentially perform the same regardless of where on the ball’s surface it is struck or how it is placed on the tee.

Which meant that the Polara couldn’t be used in tournament play.

And just to make sure, in 1985, the USGA paid $1.4M to take the Polara off the market.

Fast forward a couple of decades and a new and improved version of the Polara is on the market. And while Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Padraig Harrington, and Ernie Ehls can’t use it, “recreational golfers” can:

…take advantage of these technology improvements and enjoy the game more.

Purists, of course, are taking up metaphorical cudgels five irons to decry the Polara. (Just read the comments to the Times article.) The Polara, some say, is one more indication that we’ve gone namby-pamby. That the self-esteem generation is now hitting the links, and they want to be great golfers without having to put in the time and effort to even achieve duffer status, let alone good, let alone great. A trophy for showing up has evolved into an expectation that it’s not enough for everyone to just be above average. They have to be really, really good.

Without earning it, of course.

What next? A powerful magnet in the cup that will suck the ball in? Golf balls with homing devices and perfect cup find-ability? Titanium headed clubs. Wait. I think they already have that.

Now I can understand that the USGA wants to – and should – set regulations for tournaments sanctioned by their organization. I can understand that there might be rules under which courses outlaw golf balls that go too darned fast, and could take somebody’s eye out. (Actually, even with non-outlawed balls, this can happen. Many years ago, my avid golfer Uncle Ralph was struck by a golf-ball that ricocheted off of a rock. At first people said it was a miracle that the ball had hit the rock before landing in Ralph’s eye socket. If it had been a direct hit, it might have killed him, rather than just blind him in one eye. But soon it occurred to folks that if the g.d. ball hadn’t hit the rock, it would have missed my uncle entirely…)

So, I get the USGA rule here. In “my” sport, Major League Baseball doesn’t allow aluminum bats, even though you can hit the ball farther with them. And the day they do replace the Louisville Slugger with a metal bat that pings is the day that I burn my Red Sox Nation membership card.

I actually get the value of working long and hard to acquire certain skills, and that the mastery that comes after such long and hard work can yield enormous satisfaction.

But it seems to me that there are a few different categories of golfers, and that the Polara is fine for a couple of them.

For one, I’m assuming that it might provide some benefit to learners by letting them concentrate on other aspects of their game without having to worry about whether they were going to slice their shot into the next county.

More-better, there are the occasional golfers, the duffers, who get out a couple of times a year. They’re not serious golfers; they’re casual. Maybe even slobbing around in ratty tee-shirts and Bermuda shorts. Think Caddy Shack, not the gallery at The Masters. Maybe these duffers just want to have fun, without spending hours shagging after their balls, or taking 20 shots to get the ball on the green. Maybe they like golf well enough to want to go out with friends once in a while for a round, but don’t worship at golf’s altar.

It’s not even as if nothing has changed in golf technology since the first Scotsman bashed a rock around St. Andrew’s or wherever. Even golf shirt technology has changed over the years. 

So let those who take their golf seriously abide by the USGA Symmetry Rule. And let duffers hack away with their Polaras when they get their annual round or two in.

Sure, there will be some fools who convince themselves that they’re primo golfers because of their equipment. Just as there will always be those who were born on third base and think they hit a triple. Let them have their self-delusions. The real people will know – and that includes both the serious golfers and the duffers.

And speaking of duffers, the Polara almost makes me want to take up duffering…


Friday, May 13, 2011

It ain’t me, babe

Inquiring Pink Slippers may have been wondering why there was no post today.

The reason:  a colossally long outage at Google Blogger, which began yesterday afternoon at some point. I first encountered the problem when I tried to upload my Friday post. No could do. I kept trying through the evening, but whatever problem Google was having was pretty darned persistent. In fact, it got so bad that Thursday’s post was rolled back: now you see it, now you don’t.

Anyway, normalcy has returned to the blogosphere, but it’s leaving a lot of us thinking cloud-schmoud. The more conspiracy minded among us are likely wondering if there’s a Facebook angle…

This being Friday the 13th, I’ll leave this episode of Pink Slip at that.

We should be fully restored by Monday.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Zoom, Zoom. Breaking the land speed record.

Well, there’s necessity as the mother of invention. (E.g., snowshoes.) Then there’s necessity as the daughter of invention. (E.g,. the smartphone.) Then there’s invention as the love child of technology, with the putative father either testosterone or a brain fart. Into this latter category, I’ve got to put the 1,000 MPH rocket-propelled car.


Talk about this is not your father’s Oldsmobile.

This one makes a Porsche look like a flivver.

That’s some automobubbling you could do, zooming along at a cool 1,000 miles per. Wonder what kind of mileage you get.

Not that there wouldn’t be something kinda cool about being able to hop in the car, and buzz out Route 90 in 60 minutes for lunch in Chicago with my cousin Ellen as easily as I can zip out to my cousin Barbara’s in North Grafton. (That car zip to N. Grafton is metaphorical: I actually don’t have a car, so I take the train.)

Still, when it comes to high-speed vehicles, my preference is for the bullet train, and not for personal vehicles that power up at such great speeds. Man, if these suckers ever hit the commercial market, I do believe my jaywalking days are over, one way or the other. Looking both ways wouldn’t help you out much here.

Anyway, I read about the Bloodhound SSC, a supersonic “car” that combines rocket, jet and race car in The Economist, which reported on a British effort to break the land speed record.

Talk about the ultimate hybrid.

The trick was engineering a vehicle, and its fuel, that could be accelerated and decelerated, rather than just being blasted off and burnt up. Which wouldn’t do, if you’re the driver. (That’s why the space capsule with the astronauts in it separates off from the rocket, which is unmanned.)

The engineering feat is being attempted by 27 year-old Daniel Jubb, who will not likely need anything much more to jet propel his résumé.

The driver will be RAF Wing Commander Andy Green, whom I don’t want to see a picture of. I want him to look like Errol Flynn, sporting a pencil-thin mustache, bomber jacket, and white silk scarf. Or like Sam Shephard playing Chuck Yeager.

Green is looking to break his own land-speed record, a formidable 763 mph (breaking a record and the sound barrier), which he set in 1997, when he put pedal to the metal in the Thrust SSC in Black Rock Desert, Nevada.

Unfortunately, the next record will not be set on America soil.

As with so much else, it’s been outsourced – just not to China, India, or Vietnam.

In order to find a long enough span of flat ground, the record will be attempted in South Africa.

I don’t see all that much commercial application for the supersonic car, but, then, I am not noted for my inventiveness, my scientific acumen, or my mercantile imagination. But I do want to go on record as saying that I don’t want to live in a world where the casual motorist is flying down the road of life in a supersonic vehicle. Bad enough the way that so many reckless a-holes drive now. Put them behind the wheel of a speed demon like the Bloodhound SSC, and lookout.

This will be far worse than when Hummers became the family car for a certain set. There were actually a few folks in my ‘hood who drove them. Maybe they needed them to get over the rugged terrain of the couple of Beacon Hill streets that are still cobbled, but I’m pretty sure that a Hummer wouldn’t have fit down those streets. Whenever I saw one lumbering down the street to pick up/drop off their kiddos at the private school bus stop, I always had to ask myself just how practical such a car would be in an area with narrow streets, scarce parking spaces, and low-ceilinged garages.

Ah, well. I haven’t seen many of the Hummers lately. I guess they’ve been replaced by the Porsche Cayennes and other yup-scale SUV’s. 

Back to the supersonic car, an interesting thrust (sorry) of the record-breaking project is to get students interested in science and engineering, which is great. So far, 4,000 schools are involved. Not sure if they’re all in the U.S., but having a few more little head-ies – in the US or the UK – think about studying engineering rather than, say, marketing, is only for the better.

Sure, all of the inventions these engineers of the future will come up with won’t exactly be necessary. But some of them will no doubt make life better and easier for somebody.

Anyway, next year, I will be keeping my ear on South Africa, listening for the sound-barrier splitting crack when Wing Commander Green attempts his 1,000 mph land speed record.

Come away with me, Lucille,
In my merry Oldsmobile.
Down the road of life we’ll fly,
Automobubbling, you and I….

They call me Baby Driver
And once upon a pair of wheels.
Hit the road and I`m gone ah.
What`s my number.
I wonder how your engine feels

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A good cinco centavo cigar

I’m sure I’m not the only one who was surprised to hear Raul Castro calling for term limits. Sure, it would have even funnier if it had been Fidel himself, but F. Castro has pretty much left the building.

Raul or Fidel, it still leaves me wondering what term limits the Cuban government is looking at. No leader should hold the office supremo for more than 50 years…

Term limits is just one of the reforms that Cuba’s Communist Party is looking at.

At their recent Congress, they decided to grant a bit more autonomy to the country’s 3,000 or so state-owned business, while at the same time stepping up their auditing of said entities. I guess they’re willing to give decentralization a chance, because central control didn’t exactly work out all that well for them.

One of the main industries in Cuba is cigar making.

Cigars from Habanos, the state monopoly (which Brit company, Imperial Tobacco, has a 50% stake in, just for the record), are distributed all over the world – except for the United States where they are banned but, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, available for a price.

With or without the puffed-up, suspender-wearing Wall Street brigade – who, legal/schmegal, may account for 10 percent of Cuban cigar assumption - Cuba exports about 150 million cigars each year, with a dedicated focus on the high end.

A decade or so ago, they had doubled up on their production, but weren’t able to keep the quality high enough: smokers couldn’t draw on the cigars. Now, from my point of view, this would be a serves-you-right-type of thing. (Hah!)  But we’re not talking White Owls or Dutch Masters here. Cubans are handmade primo smokos that command about $65 retail, so one might expect that the cigars would have draw that worked with an unassisted human lung.

Habanos learned a key lesson from its abortive foray into stogie-land:

Just 10 years ago, Cubans basically considered cigars to be just another commodity to export, like sugar, coffee or nickel. Today, they have a sophisticated view of cigars not only as a unique product of the island, but also as an important symbol for Cuba that is exported around the world. "As Fidel said, the Cuban cigar is the universal Cuban ambassador in the world for us," [Manuel Garcia] says.

Hmmmmm. Their universal ambassador is a premium cigar. Our universal ambassador is probably a Hollywood sci-fi, super-hero, or shoot-em-up adventure flick. Does any country have a good one?

But you’re probably asking, just who is Manual Garcia?

We’ll be getting to him, but if you said “roving cigar ambassador” you would be correcto-mundo…

Anyway, against all this smokin’ background, Cuba’s stepped up business auditing – the Sarbanes-Oxley-ing of Cuban businesses world, as it were - is in response to a corruption scandal that Habanos has been caught up in.

It seems that Garcia, who as Habanos commercial VP and roving ambassador for over a decade, wasn’t satisfied with the perks of the job. Unlike most Cubans, who can only make their way out of the country on a leaking raft heading for Florida (while they’re being shot at), Garcia got to buzz around the world “promoting the quality and uniqueness of Cuban cigars and visiting Habanos agents and merchants.”

Garcia also became something of a household word among those who follow the wonderful world of cigars. 

Instead of just thanking his lucky stars – and lighting up a victory cigar to his very good fortune – Garcia and his cohorts were apparently running a little action on the side. He and 10 of his colleagues are in jail, cooling their heels, awaiting trial. They’re accused of diverting millions of cigars to black-market distributors, in return for bribes.

It occurs to me that it’s probably pretty darn hard to spend big bucks in Cuba without attracting some notice. On the other hand, there may not be anything in Cuba to spend it on. And with Garcia as a road warrior, out of the country 220 days a year roving and ambassadoring, he may have been able to par-tay pretty well. So it’s not surprising that his sticky-fingering eventually caught up with him. (He’s probably got a little Swiss bank account set up, for when he gets out of jail.)

But while Garcia’s in jail, I suspect he won’t be smoking any of his favorite Cohiba Corona Especials.

Good to know that, commie or capitalist, there are always going to be folks for whom enough is never enough. Close, but no cigar.

Greed as a universal good; a little larceny in everyone’s heart.

But here was someone living a life that was privileged and swank compared to 99.99% of his fellow Cubanos, and what’d he do? Went rogue, rolled his own, needed to get his greedy twitchy hands on some easy money.

Now it looks as if he may be spending a good bit more time in a Cuban prison which, I suspect, is a little more down and dirty than your average white-collar American prison.

Oh, well, at least Garcia’s not in China, where he’d probably be executed for his perfidy.

Meanwhile, for those with Cohibas on hand, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. Just not in my presence, please.

Quoted sections came from Cigar Aficionado, which did an October 2008 puff piece on Garcia – well before his career went up in smoke.

Info source for the corruption scandal: The Economist.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Well, the “good” news is, McDonald’s is hiring

We continue to struggle with high unemployment. We continue to exhibit an incredible lack of interest and/or will in having a rational national conversation about what, exactly, the folks who’ve been displaced are going to do for a living if they happen to have been displaced from a reasonably paying job that ain’t going to come back any time soon, if ever. (Oh, why stop with our our incredible lack of interest and/or will to converse about jobs….We continue to exhibit an incredible lack or interest and/or will in having a rational national conversation about Social Security, healthcare, national debt, death, taxes – this just in: our taxes are percentage-wise the lowest they’ve been since the 1950’s, and a lot of other items that should be on the rational/national agenda.)

Ah, well, fear factor it is!

Which leads me to the big news on the jobs front: McDonald’s had a national hiring day in April and received over 1 million job applications. (Source: Boston.com.)

Not that everyone applying for those jobs is unemployed, but, say for a moment that they were. With 13.7 million people out of work, that would be over 7% looking to make minimum wage changing the fat in the fry-o-lator and handing out Happy Meals.

Nothing against fast food, mind you.

I am of the opinion that this country would be a better place if everyone – including the most silver-spooned prince and princess capable of networking their mummy-daddy way into cushy “internships” in cool places to work – were required to spend a minimum of 3 months in some type of food service job.

Flip burgers, dish ice cream, wait tables, wash dishes, sling crud onto plastic trays in the college caf – all of which, come to think of it, I’ve done over the years – any and all of this would help people (especially those silver-spooned mummy-daddy kids):

  • Get that work can be physically exhausting, smelly, greasy, and terrible
  • Learn how to put up with unreasonable, disagreeable people to whom they’re not related
  • Develop some compassion for the folks who are working these types of jobs for more than 3 months at a time
  • Realize why we have a minimum wage
  • Appreciate that no one can live on it
  • Understand that even crappy jobs can be fun, while also learning why they need to develop the skills and get the education that will land them a job that’s not quite as exhausting, smelly, greasy, terrible, and ill-paid

And yet, how depressing is it that over a million people are looking for jobs at McDonald’s, which so far has hired 62,000 of those job seekers. Which, by quick calculation, looks to me like you have a better chance of getting into Yale than you do winning a job salting French fries.

Oh, what a world economy we live in!

The odds may be a bit better in Massachusetts, where of the 16,000 applicants, 1,700 have gotten jobs, and McD’s is still looking to fill 500 more positions. Then again, maybe they’re not, if we base it on Mark McBee’s hiring experience:

Mark McBee, owner of 13 McDonald’s restaurants in Eastern Massachusetts, hired 115 workers — almost double his goal — for mostly entry-level jobs. McBee said he had trouble turning down some of the 2,055 people who were interviewed because there were so many qualified applicants. “We had a lot of professional people who were looking to change careers and a lot of kids, a lot of mothers, a lot of senior citizens — it was an amazing mixture,’’ he said.

Let’s parse this “amazing mixture” out.

First off, “a lot of professional people who were looking to change careers….”

Somehow, I don’t think that Mickey D’s is anything other than a desperation move for a “professional…looking to change careers.”

Reason for Applying: I was an accounts payable manager in financial services, but I now realize that I’m more of a “people person” who wants to work with the public in a fast paced, fast food environment.


Obviously, “professional” can mean a lot of different things. (Think about the use of the word “professional dry cleaner.” As opposed to “amateur dry cleaner”?)

Nonetheless, I suspect for most folks who were working in an office, a career change into a polyester shirt and baseball cap is not top of mind.

How completely and utterly depressing this must be on both sides of the interviewing desk.

“A lot of kids” – as you can tell from the above – I’m down with, especially if these are kids who are looking for an after school or summer job. Depressing if this is largely high school drop outs or high school grads with meager skills and fewer prospects for a decent job. Ever. Yes, I know, some of these kids who start out as burger flippers will make it to store manager and maybe even franchise owner someday. But I suspect these jobs are almost as disproportionately difficult to achieve as going from high school hoop star to the NBA.

By the way, while I’m all in favor of the young folk working at McD’s, I never worked in a fast food chain. There were fewer during my crap-job days, and there were also more of other kinds of crap jobs available. Good luck finding a summer job in a shoe factory in Massachusetts these days.

But I did work in a college snack bar. So I know what it’s like to clean the grill, change the grease, and take a chisel to the 5-gallon container of ultra-frozen ice cream because some clown wants rum raisin, rather than the softened up, easily scoop-able fudge ripple.

“A lot of mothers” is something I’m of mixed feelings about on the how-depressing-is-this scale. Stretch the budget, make ends meet, why-not-when-the-kids-are-in-school, put something away for the future, buy a PC for the family to share. All laudable goals. And yet…

One thing if you were pretty much assured of getting a job; another thing to find yourself in keen competition with lots of professionals, lots of kids, and lots of senior citizens.

God, it’s hard to think of a more ghastly job for a “senior citizen” than standing on their feet all day boxing up Chicken McNuggets.

Food service work is grueling!

Yeah, I get that the old folks still have to work, given busted pensions, dwindling 401K’s, uncertainty about Social Security, longer lives, and just wanting to stay in the game.

I never thought I’d live to see the day when Walmart greeter started to look like a reasonable golden age job, but it sure does when compared to a golden arch job.

Anyway, if there was a rational/national discussion on what American workers are going to be doing in the new world order, I missed it.

A million folks chasing jobs at McDonald’s…


Monday, May 09, 2011

Hey, Donald Trump. Wossamotta U?

Personally, if I were going to matriculate at a university associated with a celebrity, I’d check and see whether Wossamotta U’s taking applications. I have no idea who’s on the faculty, but wouldn’t it be cool to take a revisionist history course with Mr. Peabody and his T.A., Sherman? Maybe Boris Badenov teaches Russian. And how about being able to audit a course entitled “Fractured Fairy Tales”?

Anyway, if it’s good enough for Bullwinkle J. Moose, then “Give me  Image 1 Rocky & Bullwinkle Embroidered Wossamotta U Sweatshirta ‘W’! Give me an ‘O’”. Etc.

Whatever else you might say about the value of a Wossamotta U degree, I’m guessing there’d be more bang for the tuition buck than could be had at Trump University.

And apparently there are few others who’d agree.

The for-profit institution is the target of a class action lawsuit in federal court and the attorneys general of six states are investigating numerous complaints about it.

Not that Trump University is exactly a university, in the classic Harvard University sense. Or even in the more modern mode, à la Phoenix U:

Last year in New York, Trump University was forced to change its name by the Department of Education. State officials sent the mogul a tough letter saying that it was misleading for his company to use the term “university.” Several months earlier, the Better Business Bureau gave the program a D-minus rating. The BBB is also currently reviewing several complaints against the renamed Trump Entrepreneur Initiative. (Source: Huffington Post.)

Basically, Trump U or non-U is a how-to-make-money-flipping-real-estate seminar. No learning for the sake of learning. No ars longa going on. With Trump, the emphasis is strictly vita brevis. Go forth and make money, which seems to be the culminating value of anything associated with Trump.

Not that I am anti-money.

I’m all for it, and wish I had more of it. But personally, I’d rather do without than slap some sheetrock and a skim coat over termite-ridden walls and sell the glam result to some schnook.  But that’s just me.

The Trump grads – admittedly a minority of the 11,000 alumni -who are suing claim that they spent tens of thousands of dollars a piece on little more than a glorified infomercial, and some drive-bys. (The lead plaintiff, Tarla Makaeff, says that the $35K Gold Program – think grad-school for those who’ve already gotten a degree from Trump 101 – consisted of little more than two days driving around looking at real estate, and a half a day at Home Depot with a mentor. (“Don’t bother with the higher cost sheetrock. No one will ever know…”)

Her [Makaeff’s] lawsuit alleges that Trump University's mentors and associates “guide students toward deals in which they have a personal financial interest at stake -- creating a severe conflict of interest, so that the mentors profit while the student does not."

And I bet the Big Mentor himself managed to extract his piece of the action, thank you very much.

Another plaintiff in the suit dropped $25K on the course, as did a buddy of his. In return, they were given access to “exclusive listings” that could be had elsewhere for $35. That’s quite a mark-up. And by the time the marks found out about it, they were beyond the three-day refund limit.

So I guess there are a few potential voters out there whom The Big D is going to have a hard time wooing.

Not that he cares about a couple of stray, cranky, turned off voters.

Trump is, in fact, countersuing Makaeff for $100M for making untruthful, inflammatory statements that have cut into his educational biz. Nothing small time about The Donald! Why sue for a couple of mill when you can go for more gold. Trump was always a think big kind of guy.

Trump U has also been troubled by an investigation by the state’s attorney in Texas. In response to a number of complaints from the Better Business Bureau, he began poking around asking questions. In response, Trump decided to stop offering his seminars in Texas. That must have hurt: that great big ol’ state, with all that great big ol’ land, with all those great big ol’ buildings on it..

Trump lawyer [George] Sorial says that those complaints have been addressed and that the Texas attorney general never took action against the company: “If you took 11,000 students, you’ll find a handful that weren’t happy with their education,” saying that the same ratio occurs at Ivy League schools like Harvard University.

Nice Trumpian touch, that, comparing Trump U to Harvard.

And no doubt he’s correct. Take any 11,ooo, or 10,000 Men of Harvard*and you could probably find a lot more than a handful who had a bitch or two about their education there.

Funny thing, though.

Not having the benefit of a Harvard education, I may be wrong here, but I don’t believe there’s ever been a class action against Harvard filed by disgruntled students. Nor do I believe that you’d find many/any Harvard grads willing to trade their sheepskin for a certificate from Trump University.

In fact, I’d bet that before they did that, they’d swap out for a diploma from Wossamotta U.


*Harvard fight song played at every football game.

Friday, May 06, 2011

No Pay for Play? LA Dodgers payroll at risk.

Although they’re faring a bit better of late, the Red Sox’ performance has been fairly dismal this season, Given their ultra-high (although not quite Yankee-level) payroll, there were great expectations at the season’s start that they would, if not win every game, then most of them. Out of the batter’s box, that didn’t quite happen. Big swing and a miss, you might say. (As I write this, they’re playing under .500 ball.)

Given the tribulations of the Olde Towne Team, and the early season’s skewed payroll-performance ratio, I’ve been reluctant to point fingers at the business peccadillos of other major league teams. Even when Major League Baseball grabbed the reins of the Los Angeles Dodgers because they were spinning out of financial control.

And now comes the news, which I saw in The New York Times, but which originated in the LA Times, that the Dodgers don’t have the cash on hand to make their May 31st payroll.

Based on its opening-day payroll of $103.8 million, the Dodgers' payroll for its major league roster in the second half of May will be approximately $8.25 million. The figure includes 16 days salary, but not any signing bonus payments that happen to fall due.

MLB will supposedly step in and make good, but the thought of a professional sports team as venerable, storied and long-lived as the Dodgers would make this type of whiff is pretty near unimaginable. But the Dodgers’ owners, Frank and Jamie McCourt are going through a difficult divorce, and there are all sorts of rumors of financial irregularities hovering over Dodger Stadium, so….

Personally, I don’t feel all that badly for the boys in Dodger Blue who are on the field. Even the lowliest paid guy on the squad should be doing better than living paycheck to paycheck.

But, of course, there are the front office folks and assorted other grunts on the payroll who aren’t pulling down millions a year, and you don’t want to see them going home with a couple of hot dogs and foam fingers in lieu of a check.

I have been through the wolf-at-the-door, will-we-make-payroll scenario a few times during my career.

This was during my nearly 10 year roller coaster ride with Softbridge, an oddball little software company where I spent entirely too long making myself entirely too crazy.

For my first couple of years there, I was a staffer to the CEO and Vice-Chairman, and spent most of my time writing business plans and drafting PowerPoint presentations, to be used by our CEO for the sole purpose of getting one of our long-suffering investors to throw a bit more of his good money after our bad. (Before we got clean and sober, I believe we frittered away $40M in OPM – other people’s money.)

In the nick of time, the CEO would fly off somewhere, and come back with a million bucks, which would keep us going for another while. Then, off he went again.

The CEO reminded me of Mighty Mouse.  We, the employees, were the people of Mouseville.

We’d be wringing our hands, singing, “Mighty Mouse, oh, Mighty Mouse. Save us, oh, save us.” And Mighty Mouse would fly in, “Here I come to save the day…” And damned if he didn’t for a good long while.

I ran the Mighty Mouse metaphor by the CEO one day, but it just drew a blank. That’s because our own personal MM hadn’t grown up in the States, but had been raised culturally deprived and cartoon-less in Scandinavia.

Even after our investors finally wised up and brought in a turnaround guy, and the CEO got D-CON’d, we still had occasional near misses.

At one point, we had a list of who would and wouldn’t get paid if worse came to worst. By that point, I was an “executive” – 50 person company; thus the “quote marks” – so I was living in the No-Pay Zone. Worse, I was the only person other than the President who could make financial transfers and authorizations, and I had to co-sign all checks over a certain amount, so I think I might have had some sort of shared liability for payroll tax if we’d come up short. (The things you do in and for a small company…)

As for the Dodgers, all I can say is that it’s a good thing that Manny Ramirez isn’t on the team any longer.

I can only imagine the look on Manny’s face when he realized that he might not get paid for his work.

Even when the Red Sox were paying him millions and millions and millions of dollars each year, once he decided that there was a greener pasture outfield elsewhere, Manny figured out a way to get there. That meant completely dogging it on the field – and I do mean dogging it; you really don’t see all that much goldbrickin’ in professional sports, but Manny had it mastered – so that the Red Sox wouldn’t exercise their option to keep him around for the final two years of his contract, which was locked in at some paltry amount. (Can’t remember exactly, but I believe it was between $15M and $20M per.) ManRam figured he’d do better on the open market, and managed to get himself traded to the Dodgers, who subsequently signed him to a deal for more than the Red Sox would have paid him. Multiple teams and a couple of failed drug tests later, Manny is no longer playing. But I can just imagine the look on his face if he learned he was going to get a pay packet with an IOU in it.

Meanwhile, I have a hunch there’s another McCourt-Dodgers post in my future.


The McCourts have been a Pink Slip topic before. Here’s a link to my post on their hiring psychic healer Vladimir Shpunt to help the Dodgers get their mojo back.  And some folks wonder why the Dodgers are having a hard time making payroll…