Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Red soles in the sunset

If there’s one thing I’ll bet my booties on, it’s that I’ll never own a pair of Jimmy Choos or Manolo Blahniks.

I’m not quite to the point where the only shoes in my closet are Naturalizer and New Balance, but I have been pretty much committed to comfort for nearly 30 years.

So I guess that rules out Christian Louboutins, as well.

I guess I’m just not one of those “if the shoe fits, wear it” types, who’ll wear it even if wearing it means you’ll risk toppling over, destroying your feet, and end up as a permanent fixture in the podiatrist’s office. I definitely put my foot down on the side of “if the shoe fits and it’s wearable, wear it.”

So unless Christian decides there’s gold in them thar nursing homes and comes up with an orthopedic line, or maybe some slipper socks, I will never don a pair of his trademarked red soled shoes.

On the other hand, if Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) prevails in the trademark case that Louboutin has lodged against it, then maybe those Naturalizers will be sporting red soles, too, some day.

For those who are even more manqué on the fashionista front than I am, and those who have completely given themlouboutinselves over to the Naturalizer way of life, Louboutin makes dizzying high, dazzlingly sexy shoes known for their bight red soles – so precious that you can order special clear covers to protect them.  Personally, I don’t see why anyone would actually need to protect the soles of these (non-Hush) puppies, given that anyone wearing them would have to be carried around on a sedan chair from place to place in order to get around.

The only Louboutins I’ve ever seen in “real life” – and they may well have been faux – were on a young woman who was being quasi-carried by her boyfriend as she attempted to hobble her perilous way across the bricks the surround the Old State House. Forget saving her soles, those spike heels wouldn’t last a nanosecond in the cracks between the bricks. (I know a bit whereof I speak. When I did wear high heels, I was always catching the heels in the sidewalk, which necessitated a costly heel covering repair. After a few of those, I smartened up and started wearing flats while walking to and fro, and carting my heels with me. Then I really smartened up and stopped wearing towering, teetering high heels.)

Louboutin has been using the red-lacquered soles to brand his shoes for the past twenty years. And it’s paid off:

Today the puckish Frenchman is the biggest star in high-fashion shoe design, selling about 240,000 pairs a year in America at prices ranging from $395 for espadrilles to as much as $6,000 for a “super-platform” pump covered in crystals. The revenue of his company, Louboutin, is forecast at $135m this year. (Source: The Economist.)

Then YSL came out with a red soled shoe of their own, part of a monochrome shoe design. Louboutin cried foul trademark infringement, but the judge refused to allow an injunction to prevent YSL from selling its wares, noting that you shouldn’t be able to trademark a color. Now the judge is weighing whether to cancel Louboutin’s trademark – granted in 2008 – in its entirety.

The judge noted that fashion trademarks are allowable, but not for a plain old color. It would have to be something like the Burberry plaid.

I’m no trademark attorney, but it does strike me that the Louboutin red sole is as distinctive as the Burberry plaid. On the other hand, if YSL wants to make shoes that are entirely monochrome, in multiple colors, right down to the sole, I don’t see how they will be mistaken for a Louboutin.

Can’t we all just get along?

Louboutin has indicated that they’ll pursue the case to the Supreme Court, if necessary.

Meanwhile, if you want a pair of nifty red soled shoes, but you don’t want to drop $395 on espadrilles, there’s an enterprising Irish teenager – Tara Haughton – who sells kits that let you decorate your soles. They come in a number of colors and designs, including an ultra-cute red and white polka dot one. Wonder how they’d look on my New Balance cross-trainers?

Better order soon. Louboutin will no doubt be coming after Tara’s company, Rosso Solini, which I suspect doesn’t have quite the deep pockets that YSL does.

See yez in court! I’ll be the one in the back row in the comfy shoes.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

All is vanity

Given that there seem to be so few growth sectors in our incredibly dismal economy, I suppose we should be delighted by the “potential bonanza” that well-heeled, but – regrettably, mortal – baby boomers may provide when it comes to staying “forever young.”

The market research firm Global Industry Analysts projects that a boomer-fueled consumer base, "seeking to keep the dreaded signs of aging at bay," will push the U.S. market for anti-aging products from about $80 billion now to more than $114 billion by 2015. (Source: Huffington Post.)

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m looking forward to looking in the mirror and seeing an old crone. Or deny that I have absolutely no idea what color my real hair is, other than that it has plenty o’ grey in it. Sometimes I tell myself that if I were going to go “stunning” grey, I’d do so. But I have no illusions there. There’s no doubt that, left to its own devices, my hair would go tweed mouse. Not quite ready for that yet.

So for all I know, my hair coloring may be part of that anti-aging $80 billion being spent by boomers.

But we’re mostly talking more “corrective” or “assistive” drug therapy or surgery. And anti-aging miracle de-wrinkling cures.

The categories – sectors of this new, booming industry -  described in the article are:

Hormone Replacement Therapy

Numerous companies and clinics promote hormone replacement drugs, including testosterone for men and custom-mixed "bioidentical" hormones for women, as a way to slow the aging process.

HRT has the triple whammy going for it. It’s expensive, there’s no evidence it works (except to resolve specific conditions, not aging), and it could actually be harmful.

Well, sign me up!

Then there’s the old stand-by, Cosmetic Surgery.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there were 13.1 million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures performed in the U.S. in 2010, a 77 percent increase over a decade.

Here I’d like offer both a bit of advice, and a cautionary note. The bit of advice is three-fold. One, stay out of the sun. When I went to my 20th high school reunion, the “girl” who looked the absolute worst (and who had been one of the prettiest members of our class) was someone who’d been wealthy enough to spend every summer baking at The Cape. She came from a well-to-do family and, when the rest of us were working crappy jobs, she’d been lolling around at the beach. She then married a very successful guy – an investment banker who has a cameo appearance in the book Barbarians at the Gate. Tack on another bunch of summers hanging out at the beach while the rest of us were working crappy jobs. End result: really sagging skin that made her look ten years older than anyone else there.

Two, don’t get too skinny. Seriously, those of us with a bit of meat on our bones tend to look less wrinkly than the slender-ellas.

Third, inherit the wrinkle-free gene. When my grandmother Wolf died, at age 79, she had nary a wrinkle on her skin. My mother always looked a good decade younger than she was, and was relatively wrinkle-free. While I’m not wild about everything I inherited from my mother’s side – thanks for the nearsightedness, Ma – my sisters and I all got the good skin. Lucky us!

As for the cautionary note on plastic surgery. Think Joan Rivers. Just ghastly.

The final “sector” covered in the article is Skin Care, which Consumer Reports took on. They evaluated wrinkle creams and found:

"Even the best performers reduced the average depth of wrinkles by less than 10 percent, a magnitude of change that was, alas, barely visible to the naked eye," it said.

Its top-rated product, Olay Regenerist, cost about $19 at the time of the testing. La Prairie Cellular, the most expensive at $335, was rated among the least effective.

So caveat boomer emptor, and forget about dropping all that dough on La Prairie.All is vanity

Hey, everyone wants to look and feel their best, but, let’s face it, the best way to have a healthy and productive old age is the keep moving (body and brain), eat decently, don’t smoke, don’t drink a lot, and – oh, yeah, don’t forget to have good genes.

No doubt some day there will be stem-cell whatever that will truly stave off the aging process, and help people stay more independent, healthy, and active in their old age. All good, that.

But the prospect of rich, narcissistic Baby Boomers sucking all the oxygen out of the world (metaphorically speaking) so that they can stay alive forever is, frankly, chilling.

I don’t want to get old, frail, senile, and drooly any more than the next guy. I hope to have the good fortune to keep on keepin’ on until my Life Is Good tee-shirt is telling a lie. And then I want out.

I’m not saying it ain’t a bit scary, especially when you don’t have the life-saving belief that there’s a wonderful great beyond where you get to be with everyone you want to be with, and get to avoid all the arseholes.

I’m of the Big Sleep school of thought, and am about 99.99% confidence that that’s what next (with a little re-incarnation at the sub-atomic particle level thrown in). But what if?????

But isn’t aging, and what comes next, i.e., death, part of the deal?

If you don’t die James Dean young – and who wants that? – you age. And then, sorry Baby Boomers, you die.

Maybe I’ll be one of those frantically trying to stay alive at all costs, disguising myself as a young mother to get a seat on a Titanic lifeboat, rationalizing that the poor kid in Africa is better off without a heart so that I can have his, knocking young folks out of the way with my cane so that I can get a drop of elixir from the Fountain of Youth.

I sure hope not.

The bottom line is that nobody gets out alive, and all the plastic surgery and anti-aging creams in the world aren’t going to help you cope with this tiny bit of reality.


As for “Forever Young”, by that aging – and it shows – pre-Boomer, Bob Dylan. I really like this song, but on relooking at the lyrics, I find that all the hopes encompassed here are really just wonderful life wishes, pretty much good at any age, and really have as much to do with meaningful and graceful living (and aging) as they do with staying forever young.

I give you this week’s shower song. (Thanks, Bob.)

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene: “Don’t know why, there’s no sun up in the sky, stormy weather…”

This week was sure an exciting one on the storm front, as we went from playing will-she-won’t-she with Hurricane Irene; to she’s on her way and New England is wearing a big “kick me” sign; to the downgrade from Category 3, to Category 2, to Category 1, to just plain old vanilla tropical storm (yawn!), and the attendant mixed emotions of relief and disappointment; to the actual reality of the situation. Which, as I write this post on Sunday morning, means lots of heavy wind and lots of heavy rains.

Unless there’s a ‘where were you when the lights went out’ type of shutdown of the Northeast grid, we’re unlikely to lose power. The last time I remember downtown Boston going without for more than a few minutes was during the Blizzard of ‘78. But we could, oddly enough, lose our land-line. The connectors are somewhere in the same below-ground that our building was erected on 150 years ago. As this is land that was reclaimed from the sea, it is subject to flooding, and sometimes the phone lines get soaked out of business. So much for the advantage of perpetual dial tone that land-lines are known for.

So far, so good, but you never know. A while back (a couple of years? a decade? a couple of decades? yikes, it’s easy to lose track o’ time), we lost phone service for over a week because the connectors were under the weather, which we’d had a lot of.

I kept calling (on my cell, so couldn’t have been a couple of decades ago; I’ve only had a cell since 1998) to check on when the service would be restored, and when I made my final call, I was informed by a chirpy support person that I’d be happy to know that my phone was one of only a dozen still not in service. Actually, that didn’t make me all that happy, as I would just have soon someone else be part of that particular dirty dozen. But then I reminded myself to be neighborly, and not begrudge anyone their phone since, after all, I had one of those semi-new-fangled cell phones. (As I recall, my first one, which was given to me by a colleague who was upgrading to something a bit spiffier, and smaller, was the size of a Luger – did it actually come with a holster – and one step above rotary dial.)

We prepared for Hurricane Irene by buying a bunch of D batteries, picking up a couple of bottles of prosecco, one of which we broke open Saturday night, and hauling the pump out of the storage closet.

I got the D batteries for an empty flashlight, as well as for my boom box. Apparently, the nodes of my twenty-year old boom box are all worn out, because it doesn’t work on battery. The boom box takes six, so now I have a whole slew of batteries which fortunately don’t expire until 2017. I should probably replace the boom box, anyway, as I have to coddle and cajole it into playing a CD, loading and removing the disk multiple times until it’s just-so, and leaning just-right on the lid. I guess twenty years is enough use to get out of an electronic item…

While, anticipating hurricane tropical storm season, I helped with the dress rehearsal for the pump a few weeks ago, pumping water out of the bathtub and into the bathtub. So we know it works.

But that was a few weeks ago, and,  since then, one of our fellow owners – but one who doesn’t live here – dropped off a more industrial-strength pump. Which, of course, we had to test.

The good news was that the bigger pump worked. The bad news was that, when we tested it yesterday morning, the hose blew off, dousing us both. The fun news was that I got to slosh around in my pink and purple flowered Boggs boots, which had saved me from the slush and slosh many a time last winter.

After some trial and error with the new pump, we decided to go with the devil of a pump that we do know.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the combo of electricity and water. Nonetheless, I am willing to work as the sorcerer’s apprentice, so I will leave manning the pump to my husband, while I work the towel brigade. That is, if we do get some flooding. Our condo is basement and first floor level, and we have had occasional lower level water in the past. If it gets to the first floor, however, our little pump and supply of old towels will not do us much good.

I did notice on Saturday that someone a half a block or so up Beacon Street from us was also doing the Be Prepared thing, only a bit more aggressively. They had hurricane prepbarricaded a sidewalk-level window with plastic tarp and some sandbags. We live on what is known as “The Flat of the Hill”, the area at the foot of Beacon Hill situated between Charles Street and Back Bay. The building in this picture is about one-quarter of the way up the Hill, on the incline. Sure, there could be street level flooding if the storm drains overflow and water starts sluicing this way. And maybe this person is barricading from experience. But if the flooding is this high up Beacon Street, I do believe it will be a while before I get to live in my home again.

So far, however, so good.

Meanwhile, I do get to play the old lady, memory lane game, and recall the hurricane’s I do remember.

Carol (1960) knocked a lot of trees down in our neighborhood. Somewhere I have a Brownie camera snapshot that someone took of a bunch of us neighborhood kids clambering over a downed tree, which I am, off to the side, pointing at. This picture is interesting for a couple of reasons. For one, in it I am wearing a dress, something which I never, ever, ever, ever, ever in a million years wore out to play. So what was up with that? It’s not as if I would have been coming from school, in which case I would have been wearing a green jumper. And it’s not a Sunday dress, either. It’s an “other” dress – dark brown with a white collar and big white buttons on the front - probably the only “other dress” I had, which would have been worn on occasions such as taking the bus “down city” to go shopping at Denholm’s with my mother, or to see a Walt Disney movie (think “Darby O’Gill and the Little People”) with my friends.

The other interesting aspect of that picture – in a majorly ick- factor sort of way – is that the picture includes a neighborhood boy who is now in prison for kiddie porn. (He was always quite a bit on the sneaky-creepy side. My father called him “Eddie Haskell” because he was such a fake polite suck up to an adult’s face kind of kid.)

I remember Gloria because they canceled work on the day we were going to have a going away party for my friend Peter, for which I had baked chocolate chip cookies. Which never did make it into work.

Peter was heading off to a fancy, prestigious, all-the-smart-people- work-there AI company that had wooed a lot of people from our company. I had interviewed there, but it was felt – or so I was told – that I was “apparently not ready to leave Dynamics”, and, thus, would not have brought the correct level of 100% surety and enthusiasm with me. Peter assures me that the real reason was that I had asked a question of the emperor’s new clothes variety about why people were going to pay a whole boat-load of money for an AI box cum AI software to perform a task (evaluating alternative capital investments) that could be accomplished for a few hundred bucks using a spreadsheet, or for free using a cocktail napkin.

I will say I was not entirely disappointed when this place imploded.

Hurricane Bob blew in on a weekend and, oddly, I decided to go into work that day. I remember looking out the window and watching the wind sweep tons of water along the street. While I had been foolish enough to go into work on that Saturday, I wasn’t foolish enough to stay. Anticipating that the T might get flooded and stop running, leaving me with the choice of walking 5 miles home during a hurricane or sleeping on the floor at work and living off whatever was in the office refrigerator that wasn’t six- month old yogurt, I made the executive decision to go home.

Where, I believe, I got to watch Jim operate our handy-dandy pump, while I backed him up with towels.

As for the weekend’s “weather event”, as I write, it is still a few hours before we get to sing “Goodnight, Irene” and do a walkabout to see what damage this storm has done.

Later the same day….

Irene caused plenty of damage in New England, but in downtown Boston it was mostly one big fizzle, at least in oDowned Treeur back yard: not much rain, not much wind. But, when I stuck my nose out the door, I found that the wind was apparently enough to knock down a 112 year old tree across the street, taking a good swath of the brick sidewalk up with it. I hate to see these “old soldiers” go, because they’re so beautiful. I also saw lots of downed branches in the Public Garden, but didn’t go in to check on the Ducklings or the Swan Boats.

This was parked in front of our building when we wTree Truckent out. Made me feel kind of like Paul Bunyan is in the ‘hood. But there’s certainly much to be grateful for here. We have power. We have water in the taps and not on the floor. We have no broken windows. But after all the hype and build-up, I have to confess that it’s all somewhat deflating. But better to be deflated than to be powerless or shelterless or crushed by a falling tree or bailing out my basement with a teacup.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Chim chiminey, chim chiminey, chim chim cher-ee. Good luck will rub off when you shake hands with me.

I have no idea why this story pricked my interest, beyond my general fascination with the macabre. But I found myself intrigued by a recent article I saw on the discovery, in an Abbeville, Louisiana branch bank, of the skeletal remains of a fellow that had slipped down the chimney nearly thirty years early. (Source:

First I want to get out of the way the goofiness of how this article was categorized on If you look at the URL, it’s classified under news/education/k_12.

So just how does an article on a hapless soul who dropped (quite literally) from sight in 1984 fit under K-12 education?

Cautionary tale? Don’t jump feet first down a chimney with a three inch opening at the bottom?

Anyway, here’s the story:

A construction worker turning the long-vacant second floor of a bank building “tugged some fabric out of the chimney and was showered with old clothes and human bones.”

Right off, we have a “holy shit” moment that absolutely earned that construction worker his day’s pay.

It was quickly determined that the remains were those of Joseph Schexnider, 22 at the time of his disappearance in January 1984.

If anyone can be considered a “poor soul” it would have to be this fellow. Not particularly bright. A ninth grade drop-out. Not particularly capable. He drifted around the country as a “carny bum” for a while, and told one of his brothers that he’d been in every state. Not particularly lucky. What an awful way to die. Not a particularly good planner – he was wearing gloves, so there’s some speculation that he was attempting a bank robbery when he entered the chimney, and it never occurred to him that the exit on the bottom might be a bit smaller than the entrance on the top. And not possessed of an especially curious family, I guess.

In the years after they last saw them, his family, his mother, and two brothers and a sister, had not reported him missing -- and no one searched for him.

"My mother worried about him, but I just said, 'Mom, that's just Joseph being Joseph,'" Robert Schexnider said. "He was always taking off for somewhere."

Hard for me to imagine one of my siblings disappearing and no one reporting them missing, or looking for them.

That said, I did have a great-uncle who took off, pretty much for good. This was well before my time (my grandfather Rogers and his siblings were all well before my time),  but one of my grandfather Rogers’ brothers “absconded with the dairy money” (from my great-grandparents’ farm) decamping from Barre, Massachusetts, to somewhere in Indiana. Apparently, someone – perhaps my Great Aunt Lizzie - kept in touch with John, as he did know that my Great-grandmother, Margaret Joyce Rogers, died, and he blew back into town for her funeral (in the 1920’s).

Every once in a while, when I was growing up, someone would speculate on what had happened to my father’s Uncle John. Did he have a family out there in the wilds of Indiana? Was he alive or, like his brothers, doomed to die young?

And what was with Indiana, anyway? The “theme song” of my grandfather’s saloon was “Back Home Again, in Rogers’ Barroom”, which was sung to the tune of “Back Home Again in Indiana.” Are we secret Hoosiers, or what?

Anyway, maybe every once in a while, when the Schexniders were sitting around, one of them would wonder where Joseph was.

While it’s hard for me to imagine not putting out an APB for a sibling who went MIA, it’s also hard to imagine working in a building with a dead body rotting on the floor above and not noticing a funny smell. Wouldn’t human decay be a bit more potent than, say, a dead mouse in the wall? No one ever took a break, or went snooping around, on the empty second floor of the bank during the time that this poor soul’s body was in there?

But maybe Abbeville, Louisiana, smells kind of funky, anyway – country, swampy, road-killy. Us city folks have to put up with urban funk – car fumes, etc. – but we’re pretty much cocooned from the smells that occur in the natural world. (Except for the occasional dead mouse or dog crap.)

One time, when my husband and I were staying at a quite nice hotel in New Orleans, I noticed something furry looking in the HVAC vent. It didn’t smell, but it did look a bit too animal-y to my liking, so we called the front desk and had them send someone up to investigate. I was thinking nutria… Turned out to be insulation. (It really did look like it could have been a dead nutria…Just saying.)

I know I’m not being particularly sympathetic here, but that’s because I’m trying not to think of the horror that Joseph Schexnider experienced during the last few hours/days of his life. Did he starve to death? Have a (merciful) heart attack or stroke?

Surely, this must be the near-equivalent of being buried alive. Which would, surely, drive any one mad?

Or did he die with hope – hope that if he hollered long enough and loud enough, someone would hear him and come to his rescue. And, as he gradually weakened, he just drifted off.

God, how awful.

When he went down the chimney, no good luck rubbed off on this poor bastard.

Those who did not have the distinct privilege, as I did, of listening to their kid sister incessantly and obsessively play the Mary Poppins album – which, I assure you, was no “jolly holiday” -  may not recognize the Chim-chiminey thing. It’s the song that Bert the Chimney Sweep sings. (“Good luck will rub off if I shakes hands with you.”)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

There must be easier ways to make a living. Then again…

The oldest profession has never held a lot of appeal for me. But if it had been a last ditch career possibility, I do believe I would have wanted to work for the Mayflower Madam, and deal with higher end (albeit kinky) clientele like Eliot Spitzer. Streetwalking? Ho-ing for some pimp? Advertising on Craigslist and showing up at hotels. Nah… Yuck factor aside, way, way, way too much stranger-danger.

When I was in college, rumor had it that a couple of students did outcalls to the Sheraton. Supposedly, someone would call on the communal hall phone in their dorm, and a message would be left with a room number. The girls would then head out, dressed in Mary Quant baby-doll dresses, and wearing their hair in little-girl punches tied with brightly colored yarn. I didn’t know these students personally, but I did spot them leaving campus a couple of times. Who knows what they were up to? Sure, this was a Catholic women’s college, but there were ample sordid tales floating around about girls who engineered (or performed) abortions, or sold drugs, or did whatever. The “whores from Julie Hall”? Why not?

My college jobs were more prosaic, but decidedly unlikely to result in arrest, death (unless dying from boredom or getting killed while hitchhiking home), or a venereal disease.

Naturally, the pay was commensurate with the risk (and the yuck factor), but that’s life.

Anyway, I’m all in favor of decriminalizing and regulating (yes, I am a nanny-stater) the world’s oldest profession, which probably wouldn’t stop those who would choose to operate on the fringes.

Into which category I would have to place the New Jersey woman who worked the Dunkin’ Donuts night shift “to offer the coffee shop's customers her services as a prostitute on the side.” (Source: AOL.)

Yikes! You go into a Dunkin’ and innocently order an iced latte  - let alone something more provocative, like a box of munchkins or a honey-dipped cruller (which are now called sticks and aren’t even real crullers anymore. And they call this progress?) -  and who knows what you’d be setting yourself up for. (“Honestly, officer, I really did just want a jelly donut.”)

Melissa Redmond worked the drive-through window, offering fans of Dunkin’s unparalleled iced coffee a “good time,” which she gave them in the parking lot.

I wonder if they could use their Dunkin’ smart cards to charge “it” on, or whether this was a cash operation.

Speaking of which, I once overheard, in the NY Hilton lobby bar, a working girl – who looked pretty young and inexperienced – tell a guy that she would take a check. I couldn’t help thinking that this was a bad idea on both sides. Hope it worked out for her…

Anyway, someone (a fellow worker? someone had to be covering for Redmond when she took her frequent 10-15 minute “breaks”) tipped the cops, who set up a sting dubbed “Extra Sugar”, and nabbed Redmond.

I’m sure that working the night shift – or any shift, for that matter – at Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t pay a lot, but there really do have to be better ways to make a living than having sex in the parking lot of a donut shop in Rockaway, NJ. I was going to write that there “have to be easier ways to make a living”. But maybe for some folks, there really are no easier (or better) ways that they can think of.

After all, it’s probably the one job that there’s always going to be demand for and is in little danger of being outsourced.

Still, it is pretty pathetic.

Anyway, it gives new meaning to the tagline “America runs on Dunkin’”.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bad tippers? Payback can be a bitch.

When I was a Durgin-Park waitress back in the day, it was not uncommon for one of “the gals” to take on a customer who left a rotten tip, or entirely stiffed her. Durgin had a reputation for mouthy, even surly, waitresses, and part of the restaurant’s overall schtick was to have us engage in badinage with the diners.

Personally, I never actually confronted a patron over a tip, but I did witness many confrontations. One time, my roommate was stiffed by someone for whom she’d gone out of her way to nicely wrap up the prime rib bone he wanted to take home. As he headed for the door, I watched as Joyce grabbed the bag he was holding as say, “If you want the bone, you’d better give me a tip.” Wide-eyed and gaping from the shock of being accosted, the guy handed Joyce a buck, and us working girls had a good laugh over it all.

Mostly, though, it was the older waitresses – a.k.a., the old bags – who got into it with the bad tippers.

There was one heavy drinking old waitress – whose two heavy drinking daughters worked alongside her – who always seemed to be in some set-to with a customer.

One time I watched as N leaned out the window and rained a handful of change down on the head of some bad tippers, while loudly letting them know in which f-ing orifice they could stick their tip.

But these days just about everything has gone electronic, and dealing with lousy tippers is apparently one of them. Or so I learned from an article on Bankrate about card-skimming at one Florida restaurant.

The restaurant where the scheme was being worked is called Mugs ‘N Jugs, so I think I’ve got a pretty clear picture that they were hiring more Hooters wannabes and fewer of the old gals/old bags that Durgin specialized in. But that’s just a guess based on the clever – ho-ho – name, and the fact that they feature a “Girl of the Month.”

I take it that Kathryn Shana'e Perez will not be in the running for “Girl of the Month.”  She’s the waitress who scanned patron credit cards and passed the info on to an accomplice, who used it to buy goods (largely at Radio Shack, where one of the other alleged perps worked), then turn around and sell them for cash. She was paid for her services with a TV and a laptop, which she may or may not be able to take with her to the slammer.

Anyway, Perez’ rationale for choosing her victims was that they were nasty customers.

Pasco County Sheriff’s Office detective John Suess questioned her, and he got this response:

“She identified that the people she skimmed were the ones that ... ran her around and made her work real hard and the ones that were bad tippers,” said Suess, with the economic crimes unit. (Source: New Port Richey Patch.)

It seems that while crime doesn’t pay, neither does treating a waitress badly.

As Suess notes, however:

“The bad tippers story doesn’t quite jive because the tip wouldn’t have been left until after she returned the card. … It was comical. That was her rationalization for why she did this.”

On the other hand, the bad tippers could have been repeat offenders that Perez had waited on before.

While some people think you can figure out bad tippers in advance – via profiling, as it were – in my experience, you can’t always tell the good from the bad ahead of time. There were some rough rules that seemed to hold in my day: a group of young men who were drinking a lot were generally a better prospect than a group of older women ordering the specials on separate checks and wrapping up the left-over cornbread to take home.

But you couldn’t always tell.

One time, when I was at the Union Oyster House, four of us – on a very busy day – were dragooned into waiting on a bunch of Wisconsin high-schoolers on a church trip to Boston. Nice kids, but were didn’t figure they were going to be worth much, and it was a drag to have to add taking care of them to our already busy lunch hour rush.

When we looked at the table after the kids left, one of us glanced over and noted that they didn’t seem to have left a tip. Marilyn, the head waitress, collared the minister as he left and told him we’d been stiffed. Embarrassed, he told Marilyn that the kids weren’t all that experienced eating out, but that he’d told them they were supposed to leave a tip. He then gave Marilyn $20 for the four of us to share.

When we went in to clear the plates, we found that each and every one of the kids had left a quarter or fifty cents under – and I do mean under – their plate.


I can imagine how wronged those kids felt when their minister talked to them about stiffing waitresses when they got back on the bus.

(Forty years later, I still feel bad about this.)

In any event, I don’t think it would have occurred to me to get back at a lousy tipper by stealing their credit card information and using it to rip off loot from a Radio Shack.

But that’s just me, and Kathryn Perez is not me.

Perez was released from Hillsborough County Jail on $50,000 bail Thursday morning.

Perez faces seven charges of criminal use of identification information, one charge of scheme to defraud and one charge of possession of a scanning device.

Ah, wouldn’t it have been easier to just tell the crappy tippers off?

But I suspect that’s not part of the Mugs ‘N Jugs dining experience.

Me, I may well get my credit card ripped off, but it won’t be for bad tipping. Having been a waitress, I’ve always been a pretty good tipper. A server would pretty much have to pour a glass of Chardonnay on my head, tip a plate of linguine with clam sauce into my lap, and call me the c-word before I’d stiff them.

When I am getting poor service, I’ll generally try to give the server an out. “Busy, huh?” “Things crazy in the kitchen?” “Some days nothing goes right.”

I know it’s a demanding and taxing job, and that kitchens, bar tenders, and waiters can have bad days.

If they don’t accept the life line, they won’t get 20%. But they won’t get stiffed, either. (Unless the conditions noted about hold.)

Still, you never know when your credit card is going to be compromised. My brother-in-law had someone buy expensive girly shoes on his. It was only when they ordered multiple TV’s on it that he was contacted about possible fraud. My husband had someone use his number to buy a plane ticket to Las Vegas. Whee! I had a bunch of charges for a UK dating service on one of my cards last year.

And not a one of us is a bad tipper!

Still, best not to tempt the gods (and the waitrons), apparently.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Crackdown on Segway tours? Yes!

When I was a regular commuter, I used to think that I’d die fighting my way through the old Fresh Pond rotary in Cambridge. But the rotary got lights, rendering it much less perilous, and I don’t drive that much anymore. So I’ve had to pick a new transportation-related way in which I might well go.

Sure, jaywalking would have been the easy one to declare, since it’s something I do so regularly and, yes, zestfully.

But I chose to go with getting run down by some gawking tourist, speeding along the sidewalk – my sidewalk- on a Segway.

Then, miraculously, the City of Boston passed an ordinance banning them from using sidewalks – my sidewalks. And restricting them to a speed of 8 m.p.h., vs. their breakneck, break (my) ankle speed of 12.5 m.p.h., which doesn’t sound like all that much, until one’s barreling down at you, manned by some knucklehead gazing up at the golden dome atop our state house. Or – worse – by the teenage son of the dome-gazing knucklehead, who could give a rat’s arse about our precious golden dome, but who does wants to show off his cool, Segway cruising prowess. Which does not, I assure you, include looking out for little old ladies using the sidewalk for what they are intended for, i.e., walking.

Anyway, this is one banned in Boston I can really get behind.

Since the ban went into effect a few weeks ago – prohibiting Segways from parks and sidewalks – the City has been issuing tickets. And Boston Gliders has racked up 50 of them. At $500 a pop, they’re confronting a bill of $25K.

“We’re going to fight the tickets, we have to,” said Joe Ingram, Boston Gliders’ vice president of marketing. “We just are feeling very, very singled out.” (Source:

Well, maybe if Boston Gliders had operated a tad more responsibly to begin with – staying off sidewalks in the more crowded areas, limiting the speed at which its customers whizzed around, monitoring its gawkers better – the City of Boston wouldn’t have had to enact the law.

But, of course, they didn’t.

Instead, when they started getting some pressure to curb their customers, they went ballistic about how anti-business Boston is.

And, of course, it’s the narrow sidewalks that tourists want to go down, like the one that goes by Old City Hall. My sidewalk, in a manner of speaking, in that I do walk it every day.

In truth, this sidewalk – on School Street - is so narrow that, in full tourist season, there isn’t even room for pedestrians, let alone a bunch of yahoos on Segways. There are plenty of times when I’ve had to step into the street to get passed a group of tourists examining the marker – cagily embedded in the narrow sidewalk itself – the shows where Boston Latin School, the first public school in the country, was first located. Or listening to a tour guide dressed in ye olde colonial garb point to the Parker House and note that both Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh worked there as dishboys.

(Hmmmm, come to think of it, now that the Segways are verboten, that’s probably how I’ll die: clipped by a speeding taxi while stepping off a very narrow sidewalk, into a very narrow street, to avoid some slow-mo or no-mo tourists.)

As for Boston Gliders,

The company has continued its tours, although it now stays off sidewalks except when it is unavoidable, Ingram said. The ordinance has forced their tours onto busy streets, slowing traffic and eliciting angry shouts from drivers.

At least those drivers are protected by their cars. Not so us poor beleaguered pedestrians with no protective coating of metal or fiberglass between us and a Segway on the move.

It seems to me that there are plenty of places where there Boston Gliders could run Segway tours.

No, it wouldn’t take the tourists by all those swell Freedom Trail sites. But those are best seen by foot, anyway. This isn’t called a walking city for nothing, people.

How about they tour down the Commonwealth Mall, which is leafy and flat, has a lot of monuments to look at, and has sidewalks that are wide enough for a parade of single file Segways and pedestrians.

Maybe the Esplanade would be a good place. That seems to accommodate walkers, runners, bikers, and roller-bladers – okay, maybe not those roller-bladers – all simultaneously enjoying a stroll-jog-ride-blast-through on the Charles River.

And there’s the new Harbor Walk which, at least when I’ve been on it, doesn’t seem to be overcrowded with pedestrians. And seems wide enough for walkers and Segways.

But Boston Gliders, it seems, would rather play the aggrieved party.

Whine, whine, whine.

Maybe if they’d paid more attention to the behavior of their customers, and the almost completely negative impact they had on their neighbors, those Segways wouldn’t have ended up banned in Boston.

Personally, I’m just as happy they have been.



Monday, August 22, 2011

Hershey Kiss Off

I’m a big believer that, into every life, a couple of really crappy jobs should fall. Jobs that require standing on your feet and/or working with snarling customers and/or performing tasks that are menial, nasty, and smelly and/or handling grease and/or working under the broiling sun and/or folding and refolding the same stack of tee-shirts and/or surviving on tips. Preferably, you have these jobs when you’re in high school or college, and not when you’re on some downward career trajectory and are so desperate that you’ll take any minimum wage rotten job that presents itself.

That said, it was disturbing to read about the foreign students who last week spoke out about what they characterized as exploitative working conditions at a Hershey, Pennsylvania packing plant that Hershey subcontracts with to handle their candy. (Source: Huffington Post ).

The students had come to the U.S. on J-1 visas for the summer to experience America and improve their English. Instead, they claim they ended up working stressful full-time jobs for a sub-contractor at the plant in exchange for meager pay. Several of the students said they each paid between $3,000 and $6,000 to come to the U.S., and that after their housing costs were deducted they were taking home between $40 and $140 per week…

An investigation by the Associated Press last year found that the J-1 program had little oversight and that disappointed students often wound up in low-paying jobs under harsh conditions. Some even worked in strip clubs or took home $1 per hour.

(Yes, but did their English improve?)

It almost goes without saying that this Hershey episode spawned a cascade of Sergeant Schultz ‘I know nothing’ denials.

Hershey, of course, did not directly employ the packagers.

“Beyond that, I can say that the Hershey Company expects all of its vendors to treat its employees fairly and equitably,” [Hershey’s spokesman Kirk] Saville said.

Hey, what’s the fun of outsourcing if all you do is save money? If you can save a bit of face by benefitting from exploitation by not having to engage in it yourself, well win-win.

The company that runs the center where the packing takes place, Exel, doesn’t directly employ the J-1 kids, either.

“We’re not trying to pass the buck,” Exel spokeswoman Lynn Anderson said. “It’s a bit of a layered situation.”

Hey, I don’t think Exel’s trying to pass the buck, I think they’re trying to save the buck. Cheaper prices to offer Hershey, lower costs for themselves. Another win-win. Win-win-win if you factor in that the J-1 kids get to practice their English while, let’s face it, probably taking home the same amount they would if they were working in even worse conditions in, say, China. Where they wouldn’t be able to perfect their English. That’s got to be worth $3K – $6K, no?

Anyway, Anderson passed the (saved) buck to SHS Staffing Solutions – love that use of the word “solutions”; never get enough of it – which supplied to guest workers.

But wait just a darned minute.

Sergeant Schultz, errrrr, I mean Sean Connolly, the mouthpiece for SHS is yet another one in the no nothing supply chain.

“We just handle the payroll,” Connolly said.

The workers came from the Council for Educational Travel USA (CETUSA), which sigh and gush, is devoted to “reaching out to encourage a lifelong journey of global peace and understanding.”

Wow! Did CETUSA ever run for Miss America?

CETUSA is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Americans and those from other cultures to gain a better understanding of one another.

Well, I suppose that exploiting young students by employing them in dead-end, crap-pay, way down the supply chain (food chain?) jobs is a pretty darned good way to help “those from other cultures to gain a better understanding” of the realities of the contemporary American economy when we’d still rather save a nickel on a bag of Hershey’s Kisses than suck it up and pay the nickel so that the bagger could make something closer to a living wage. But the consumer saves, and Hershey profits – let alone those middle men – so win-win-winnedy-win-win.

Those who can’t find a way to win in this situation, well, I guess they’re just big old double-l losers who’d better start thinking about ways to pull themselves up by their flip-flop straps.  Forget about workers of the world unite. It’s workers of the world, stop sucking your thumbs and whining for the nanny state to hand you a blankie.

So whether you’re a shiftless American worker who can’t manage to make ends meet on minimum wage (wimp!) or a cossetted student from Asia or Eastern Europe who wants to learn our ways: SUCK IT UP.

Of course, CETUSA doesn’t quite come out and say all this.

For prospective employers,

No matter if you own a little candy shop in Texas or run a huge processing plant in Alaska, international students are eager to gain work experience and support you and your business.

In this era of global markets, U.S. businesses look to increase competitive advantage through workforce diversity and international reach. International trainees or interns contribute their diverse outlook, unique experiences, high motivation and new ideas. International interns are also eager to learn American business practices while sharing from their own expertise. This mutually beneficial relationship is the foundation on which the J-1 Trainee and Internship Program was founded.

Since the meltdown in Hershey has cast a new light on that foundational “mutually beneficial relationship”  CETUSA has been doing a bit of Schultzing of their own.

"Obviously, we want every student to experience a meaningful cultural exchange during their visit," CETUSA CEO Rick Anaya said. "If that is not the case, we will attempt to work with the students to see what can be done in the limited time they have left in their visits." (Source: Huffington Post.)

Most of the students come from pretty hardscrabble countries – places like China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Poland, and Romania, where hard work and crappy conditions are not exactly unknown. But paying for the privilege of making low-ball wages under poor working conditions seems more than a tad exploitative. Factor in that, for a bit more, these jobs could have gone to locals who – however crummy the jobs are – might have been thankful for them in this economy…

Sounds like a lose-lose to me.

But there’s been a lot of that going around these last couple of decades, hasn’t there?

When you factor out the fraction of the American workforce who have actually benefitted from globalization, much beyond being able to watch football on a flat screen TV and decorate their yards with giant inflatable Santa Clauses, it sure looks like more of a kiss-off than a kiss.

Hey, globalization is inevitable. In the aggregate, it raises the living standards for millions world-wide, which is mostly a good thing. It lets “us” have more stuff.

Still, it might help if we paid a tad bit more attention to the dislocating effects it has had on a good swath of our population.

You’d think by now that there’d be a bit more serious talk about what exactly it is that Americans who aren’t bio-engineers or traders are going to do for work.

Can’t all bag Hershey’s Kisses – especially when those jobs are going to a bunch of students who just want to better their English.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Accept no substitutes: crawfish ain’t lobster (unless you’re at Zabar’s)

Over the years, I’ve occasionally eaten “seafood salad”, which my guess is mostly some sort of white fish (or the parts of some sort of white fish that don’t get sold as fillets or steaks) gussied up with a bit of red dye number whatever,r so that you think you’re getting crabmeat, or shrimp, or lobster. (Maybe they throw in the parts of the shrimp that lazy shrimp cocktail eaters don’t bother with.) Hey, add a bit of celery and mayo, a smidge of salt and pepper, and seafood salad is tasty enough. As for what’s in it: don’t ask, don’t tell.

Anyway, I was amused by an article in The New York Times last week on Zabar’s “lobster” salad, which they’ve had on offer for 15 years, but which has never actually contained any lobster.

Zabar’s, for those who neither frequent NYC nor ever read about it nor ever see TV shows and movies that take place there, is an upper West Side deli on steroids – tarted up and expensive, and with a charmingly modest motto - New York is Zabar’s…Zabar’s is New York. A few weeks ago,  Zabar’s was caught out by Doug MacCash, a reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

MacCash was vacationing in NYC with his family, when they stopped by Zabar’s for bagels.

Then a tub of lobster salad caught his eye.

At $16.95 a pound, it was a bit pricey.

But, hey, when you’re on vacation. And you’re up North and a lot closer to lobster country (which is where Pink Slip lives), why not indulge a bit?

MacCash enjoyed the treat.

It was delicious, but the pink/orange tails seemed small and somehow familiar.

Then I read the label. The lobster salad ingredients were: wild freshwater crayfish, mayonnaise, celery, salt and sugar.

Wild freshwater crayfish? Really? At $16.95 per pound? (Source: MacCash on NOLA.)

So, in his own words – not to mention the words of Frank Sinatra (Yankees win) and Liza Minnelli (Yankees lose) – MacCash decided to not just start spreading the lobster salad, but to:

Start spreadin' the news. Apparently, if a crayfish gets the right breaks, it can become a New York City lobster.

Certainly, it a crayfish/crawfish/crawdad can make it there, it can make it anywhere.

But just as certainly, the crayfish/crawfish/crawdad might want to make it under its own name.

After all, if it’s good enough for New Orleans…

Meanwhile, The Times stepped into the fray, reporting that:

Mr. MacCash had discovered a fact of New York culinary life that New Yorkers had not: There was no lobster in the lobster salad at Zabar’s.

Then The Bangor Daily News, which, being in Maine, takes lobsters very seriously, stepped in with an editorial entitled “No Fake Lobsters Allowed.”

Zabar’s initially defended themselves:

“If you go to Wikipedia,” [president Saul Zabar] said, “you will find that crawfish in many parts of the country is referred to as lobster.”

Whatever else, you gotta love an 83 year old guy who knows enough to get his info from Wikipedia.

He read aloud the beginning of the Wikipedia entry for crawfish: “Crayfish, crawfish, or crawdads — members of the superfamilies Astacoidea and Parastacoidea — are freshwater crustaceans resembling small lobsters, to which they are related.”

Then why did the ingredients listed admit to crawfish, rather than say “lobster”?

Perhaps because you can charge more for “lobster salad” than you can for “crawfish salad.”

And why, after all these years, have not the sophisticated, discerning, Zabar-shopping New Yorkers called Zabar’s on it?

Apparently, a couple of folks had, but not enough to get Zabar’s to change its labeling ways.

Then Zabar’s got a call from the Maine Lobster Council, which holds that equating crawfish with lobster is akin to “saying trout and minnows were in the fish family.”

Enough was enough, so Zabar’s decided to rename their salad as “seafare salad”, which is enough of a made-up name that it could be anything that comes from the sea. Even though crayfish don’t actually come from the sea – they’re fresh water critters. See how confusing life can get?

As a New Englander, I’m a big believer that, when it comes to lobsters, accept no substitutes. Our kind of lobster – not crayfish, not “langoustines” (whatever they are).  And not served lazy-man, or just the tail, or in (gag) Newburgh sauce. Just good old New England lobster, boiled and served with drawn butter and lemon. Yum! Or in lobster bisque. Or in lobster salad – the real deal, not this fake crayfish nonsense.

Having worked at Durgin-Park and the Union Oyster House, I am quite adept at eating a lobster: twisting off the tail, poking the meat through, cracking the claws. I will confess, however, that I’m not a big one for sucking out the legs, which do tend to be watery.

Another thing I’m a purist on is fried clams. Just say no to clam strips. If a clam doesn’t have a belly, it ain’t no clam to me!

Making me hungry just writing this.

Ah, the delights of summer in New England.

As for Zabar’s: tsk, tsk.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hiring mistakes: add these to the list

There was an article by Karen Macumber, “5 people you should never hire” over on iMedia last week.

I didn’t necessarily agree with everything that Karen says, but having made my share, I am always interest in hearing about hiring mistakes.

Reading this article certainly made me happy that the only hiring I’m going to have to do from here on out are painters, electricians, and plumbers to paint, electrify, and plumb our condo. And, looking down the road a couple of decades, some nice, kind home  care attendant to wipe the drool off our chins, listen to my stories about how wonderful going to bookstores used to be (and my husband’s stories about how wonderful acquiring frequent flyer miles without actually flying used to be), and make us cups of tea.

As a hiring manager, I had a checkered record. In fact, maybe it was more of a chessed record: pretty much black and white. I either hired people who were great or people who turned out to be unmitigated disasters. Actually, it might be wrong to say that they were unmitigated disasters, because I tried plenty of mitigation – clumsy, unskilled, and inevitably unsuccessful – along the way.

On Karen’s no-hire list:

The know-it-all. Her gripe is that she’s been interrupted during interviews with graduate and entry-level  candidates who insist that, whatever the subject, they have been there/done that. She then goes on to say that, when it comes to real business crises, these kids are wet behind the ears, and would “freeze[s] like a deer in the headlights when confronted with a real crisis.”

Confidence is great. I want confident people working for me. But arrogance is downright dangerous. Hire someone with confidence, but make sure they are humble enough to admit there are many situations they have not been in, but wish to be in, under a true leader.

Personally, I was a bit confused by this one. Sure, I get the confidence-good, arrogance-bad thing. I once put the kibosh on a VP-Technology candidate who, during my interview with him, spent most of the time telling me how rotten our marketing was. Sayonara, a-hole.

But did she actually encounter newbies who claimed that they knew what it was like to lay-off 20 people or mortgage their home to keep the business going? How would these topics typically come up during an interview with a recent grad, unless the hiring manager was dong a bit of showing off about what a “true leader” she was.

And sometimes the “young folk” do have, within their however seemingly limited (to us) experiential range, somewhat comparable stories to tell. Case in point, if a bit off the point: Assured that the paper work was in an inter-office envelope wending its way to my office, I once called a fellow who had interned in my group to offer him a full-time position when he graduated. A day later: big hiring freeze was announced. I had to call this guy back, feeling like a complete jerk, to rescind the offer.

“That's okay,” he assured me, and went on to tell me that, as Editor-in-Chief of his college newspaper, he had just had to tell one of his best friends that he’d chosen someone else to succeed him.

Actually, his task was probably harder. I was on the phone, and I wasn’t talking to one of my best friends.

Hey, I’m no doubt appling to Karen’s orange here, but the point I’m making is that “the kids” sometimes do have somewhat analogous experiences and that, in any case, they’re probably not going to be burdened right off the bat with making life-and-death decisions.

I agree with Karen that you don’t want to hire (or be) someone who thinks they have nothing to learn, but I’m guessing I’d have a more elastic definitions of confidence and arrogance than she does.

Next on Karen’s list of no-no’s: the politician, a.k.a.., the backstabber. I’m glad she qualified this, because, in truth, there ain’t nobody going to get ahead (or even survive) in most organizations unless they have some understanding of, and ability to work, the politics. These days, politicians – understandably, that’s for sure – get an exceedingly bad rap. But in order to advance your ideas and/or yourself, you need to understand who and what matters, who’s an influencer, who’s a decider. You need to make sure that your ideas (and you) have a forum. You need to understand how to work the system, make allies, compromise as needed. No, you don’t want someone who’s all politico, all the time – at the expense of getting any real work done. I’ve worked with some of these frauds and there’s nothing worse. But you don’t want the complete ‘hide my light under a bushel basket’ types, either, who end up bitter and feeling undervalued because someone else got ahead because they had the wherewithal to get noticed.

Third up: Karen has a B-school in her bonnet, and doesn’t want to hire anyone with a Harvard MBA, unless they’re the deserving type “who enrolled in the Harvard summer program that attracts entrepreneurs from across the globe.” In which case, they probably wouldn’t be looking for a job working with you, anyway.

But Karen no-like the folks who sat behind their name tag in an amphitheater-style classroom for two-years dissecting case studies. While I know plenty of Harvard MBA’s – at least one will be reading this post – I must say that I’ve never had a position to offer which would be in the least appealing to someone with that pedigree, so I’ve never had the experience of getting to interview (and gleefully reject) one of them. No, the highest position I ever had on offer was for a senior product marketing manager which, while a decade ago could pay into the early six-figures, is not exactly the type of job that Harvardians go for. Why work for chump change when you can be a hedgie, VC, private equity guy, fancy-ass management consultant, global whatever.  I have to say that I would have been completely shocked to ever see an HBS resume float my way. I did, however, report to one once. As we used to joke, MIT may know how to do stuff, but Harvard knows how to run the show.

I’m with Karen on not hiring a liar who fabricates what they’ve done, which in this age of suspicion (and the Internet) is a pretty cretinous thing to do. I did once see a resume in which someone claimed that, as a summer intern, they’d set GM’s strategy. (So that’s what happened to GM in the 1980’s?). This guy didn’t get a further look.

Curiously, I once had a woman who’d reported to me show me her resume and asked for a recommendation. What was on her resume so aggrandized the work that she’d done, I told her that I couldn’t recommend her for that sort of a job, but that I certainly could for something more akin to what she had done. Which I advised her to put on her resume in lieu of the Big Lie.

The final type in Karen’s No-Hire Zone is the candidate with A.D.D. who’s not just job-hopped but career-hopped from one completely different career to the next. Given that we’re now being told that everyone is going to have multiple careers over the course of their work life, I don’t think I’d necessarily reject the A.D.D. type. If they had skills that were transferrable from one career to the next, what the hell? Why do companies fall all over themselves to hire service academy grads? It’s not because dodging IED’s in Iraq as a second lieutenant is the same as, say, high tech marketing. It’s because they have experience under pressure, know how to make decisions, can take responsibility, make tough choices, understand delegation, and can think on their feet. Those are skills that are absolutely transferrable - as long as they “get” the fact that, in the civvie-world, you can’t just bark and order and expect someone to follow it. Remind me to blog about the chaotic software company I worked for that brought in a retired U.S. Admiral to kick-ass and make everything ship-shape. Epic fail, aweigh!

Anyway, my list of hires to avoid would be different from that of Karen Macumber.

Here’s the Big Two must-avoids for me:

Someone who really doesn’t want the job on offer. I’m fine with someone who views the position as a stepping stone. But they do have to be willing to actually perform the work they’re being hired for. Here’s how I learned that this is a big mistake:

I had a req for an assistant product manager, and had a couple of great candidates lined up. Then a dark-horse internal candidate emerged. It was clear from the interview that he didn’t give a hoot and holler about the job that I had for him. He just wanted to have access to the stock market data that the would be available to him, given our product set. He really wanted to be a day trader. I told my boss, thanks-no-thanks, but his boss then informed me that my choice was take this guy or lose the req. Foolishly, I took the guy, and he was just one big do-nothing headache. Foolishly – I really liked the guy, who was smart and funny (my one-two sucker punches) – I ended up covering for his shortfalls all over the place. My boss caught on and put my pal on a lay-off list, which made him just as happy. (And, yes, he ended up in the financial services industry.)

Somebody else’s problem child. Three times I made the mistake of hiring someone after their reference said something along the lines of “I’m happy that someone’s giving her a chance.” Now, I am all in favor of second chances. (I’m on the board of a homeless shelter, and our clientele would have no hope whatsoever of improving their lot if there were no folks who believed in second, third, and “n” chances.) Still, why in none of these cases – especially after having been burnt in Case One – I didn’t pursue things with the reference by asking, “Oh, what do you mean?” Instead, I had the hubris to assume that exposure to wonderful me would be all that someone needed to turn their life around. Ha, I say ha ha.

In two of the cases, the person turned out to have substantial mental health issues and became a complete and utter drain on me and the company. Case One left after I put her on performance plan. (It didn’t help my ego that my boss had recommended against hiring this individual because he felt that there was something a bit “off” about her. I thought he was being a sexist, and made it my personal crusade to get her to join the company.)

Case Two was fired when she was apprehended faxing a company contact list to a head-hunter. During working hours. Using a company fax machine. During the tech-boom when we were in fierce competition for every hire.

Case Three turned out to be pleasant enough, but almost stunningly incompetent. She had been an internal transfer, an admin that someone else was willing to let go when I was desperate for support for my growing team. Why every red flag in the world didn’t go up when her old boss told me, “You’ll probably be good for her.” Did I ask ‘why do you say that’? Instead I went ahead: of course I would be good for her, I was good for everybody… Conveniently, we had a lay-off while she was on performance notice, so I was able to get rid of her through that mechanism.

Is there anyone who wonders why I’m just as happy that I’m no longer a [hiring] manager?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Happy to have hung up my waitress shoes

For years, whenever I got frustrated/fed up at work, I’d say, “I can always go back to waitressing.”

Even at the time, it wasn’t really true.

Did I really want to go back to working on my feet all day; dealing with a public that has gotten way more snarly, narcissistic, and demanding since I last laced up my white waitress shoes; hassling with cooks over messed up orders; smelling like grease; working ghastly hours; and having an unpredictable “revenue stream”?


Even though I’ve now aged (and hefted) my way to a point in my life where I’m actually better suited to work as a Durgin-Park waitress than I was when I worked there (yikes) nearly four decades ago, I doubt I’ll ever don the apron again. (For non-Bostonians, Durgin traditionally had a reputation for surly old-gal waitresses.)

Still, waitressing – which I did throughout college and beyond – had its benefits. You never had to take your work home with you. There were always a lot of laughs. And, in those halcyon days before credit cards became ubiquitous, nobody paid full taxes on their earnings. (Typically, when you started a job, you’d ask what everyone else reported, and you went along with that number.)

Durgin-Park. Union Oyster House. Valle’s Steakhouse. Ted’s Big Boy.  Harvard Club of Boston. And that dreadful, basement place I worked in Government Center – the one where I had to wear the bright blue polyester sailor-collared mini-dress. The only good thing that ever happened there was getting to wait on Tommy Heinsohn. (For the life of me, I couldn’t recall the name of this place. My sister Kath thought it might have been called the Scollay Square something or other, and that the overall restaurant had something fishy in its name. She was on to something. It was the Old Scollay Pub, and was part of a larger restaurant called the Sea ‘n Surf. A tip of the sailor cap – which, blessedly, I did not have to wear while working there – to Kath.)

I actually believe that working as a waitress happens to be an excellent life experience. You learn to deal with unreasonable customers and unreasonable managers. You learn which customer complaints to take seriously. You learn how to resolve unpleasant situations and screw ups. You learn how to make honest recommendations, and how to point someone away from the day-old steam table scrod without getting yourself fired. You learn that it’s important to treat both the high (the hostess) and the low (the busboy) with dignity and respect, because no matter what level someone was at, it always paid to have them on your side. You learn just how much sautéed lobster you can pick off a plate under the hot light, waiting for pickup, before it will be noticeable to the customer that their plate has been picked off of. You learn to multitask. You learn to prioritize. You learn what goes in a mixed drink. (Before I was a waitress, I didn’t fully appreciate that there was a difference between soda water and tonic water. After serving a couple of Scotch  & Tonics, and Gin & Sodas, I figured it out.)

I am quite happy to have “done” waitressing, and actually feel kind of bad for the offspring of the affluent, who never have to take crappy jobs, but can always have mummy-daddy find cool and interesting internships for them.

Given how larded my c.v. is with waitressing, I was quite interested to see an article by Scott Kirsner on last week on a local (New Bedford) company, Objective Logistics, that has come out with a web-based app that ranks server performance,

Here's how it works: Objective Logistics' system, called MUSE, monitors a waiter's performance based on how well he sells. That can mean pushing the special of the day, selling bottles of wine with dinner, or encouraging big groups to order appetizers and desserts. (Eventually, the company also wants to integrate feedback from diners — after all, a waiter who foists sparkling water on a table that doesn't really want it might be driving away business.) The software grades wait staff performance on a curve: it's obviously a lot easier to gin up big checks on a Saturday night than it is Monday at 11 a.m.

Rankings are shown on a “leaderboard,” and optimized schedules (based on the projected yield for each waiter) are automatically created, with the high performers getting the plum assignments (nights, stations).  Poorly ranked waiters, theoretically, have the incentive to do better.

[CEO Philip] Beauregard says the software will be sold on an annual subscription basis. "We see it going beyond just restaurants, into places like hair salons, clothing stores, car dealerships, any kind of retail environment." The company is about half-way done raising a $1 million funding round, he says.

Hey, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before everyone and everything is wired  not just for privacy and data sucking, but to evaluate their productivity – especially in lower-end professions where measurement of the push-the-special variety may come more easily.

I’m certainly not against better performers being rewarded. And this system, theoretically, makes the process of doing so more objective. Still…

How does this account for a bad luck night, in which, through sheer ill fortune, or because the hostess deliberately stuck you with a bunch of dead-head parties, you end up with little to show for it? If you get three booths full of Mennonites seated on your station, you may not have much luck pushing expensive wine.

But the Objective Logistics guys, who appear to be a combination of geniuses - “a team of crack mathematicians and scholars from the Wharton School and INSEAD have run the regressions and performed the analyses”  -  and folks who understand the restaurant biz, have no doubt figured it all out. (Have I ever mentioned that, once I stopped being a waitress and went to b-school, my first job was – ta-da – running regressions? Bivariate, multivariate, time series, pooled. Why, when I was a girl, we even learned how to calculate a bivariate regression by hand. Not bad for a Durgin-Park waitress, no?)

And don’t bad waitresses and waiters – the ones who can’t make any money at it because their not personable or efficient enough – end up quitting or getting fired, anyway?

What I find distasteful in all this is the naked “revelation” that wait staff are sales people. Sure, this has always been the case. Even back in the good old days before everyone ate every meal out, we were sometimes asked to push the specials. And what waitron in her right mind wouldn’t want to encourage their tables to eat and drink more, so that the size of the tab – and, proportionately, the tip – would increase. Unless, of course, they felt that a party was going to stiff or near-stiff them, in which case the incentive is to get them out as soon as possible in hopes of landing some live ones.

Personally, I don’t want to be “sold” by my waiter.

Yes, I’m fine with them asking if I want an appetizer or another drink. But, basically, I don’t want there to be any obvious appearance, in any way, shape, or form that, when I’m seated in a restaurant, I’m being “sold” rather than catered to. In fact, in our two favorite restaurants, we’re usually given something: an appetizer they want us to try, a round on the house, dessert. This translates into a lot more loyalty and return trips than someone using the push-the-Merlot techniques which, on top of everything else it does, MUSE will spit out so that managers can coach their staff on how to push the Merlot.

If any restaurant I frequent is using the MUSE system, I don’t want to know about it.

I don’t want to worry that, if we order a bottle of prosecco instead of champagne, our waiter is going to get screwed on their evaluation and end up relegated to the worst shifts and the worst stations. There’s quite enough crap to deal with in life, without having to feel guilty about what not ordering the chocolate pudding cake is going to do to our server’s career. (Thanks but no thanks. I’m at the bottom of the leaderboard, you cheap, fake dieting hose-bag. I know you went home and ate Girl Scout cookies.)

In their own words,

Objective Logistics is gamifying the workplace... MUSE introduces a competitive environment that compels staff to self-motivate and actively upsell while achieving high customer service ratings. Through the use of game dynamics, performance-based scheduling, built-in rewards programs, labor optimization and data analytics MUSE allows managers and operators to focus on what drives their business, not what drives them crazy.

I am so glad that I got out of the workplace before it was gamified… (By the way, this is the first company I’ve seen in years that also touts AI. Maybe I haven’t been paying that much attention since all those AI gods failed in the late 1980’s.)

Like any good tech company, Objective Logistics aims to serve a higher purpose.

We believe that everyone has a job or general vocation to which they are best suited. Many of us spend our lives finding out which roles we don’t like, or where we don’t fit.

Okay, so far I’m down with this. (Maybe if I’d worked in a gamified workplace from the get go, I’d have been able to figure out what it is that I want to do when I grow up.)

Objective Logistics vision is to open up the world of specialization and expose the Labor Graph. We want everyone to know what they are good at, how they compare to their peers and how to get better. Round pegs, round holes. People that perform well and are rewarded accordingly in their jobs are proven to be the most content. We’d like everyone to be content…Gain insight into your work and become an all-star. We’ll help you get there.

Perhaps it is the establishments I frequent, but it’s my impression that, outside the very high-end restaurants (think the late, lamented Côte Basque in NYC), folks don’t consider waiting on tables as a life’s work. It’s a rent-payer while in school. It’s a stop-gap to get you out of your parents’ house. It’s the cost of pursuing your muse-muse as a writer, poet, actor, dancer, musician. Or it’s pretty much all you can do, because you need to support your family, there are no jobs in town, and you don’t have a particularly strong skill-set. (Come on: whose dream is it to work at an Olive Garden or TGIF?)

But maybe in the all service, only service economy, waiting will become a real and widespread career choice, highly competitive and desirable.

God help us.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Leaving in a snit

The other day, The Wall Street Journal reported on a study done by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) that indicated that over three-fourths of employees leaving their companies would not recommend their employer to others. The CEB had analyzed 4,300 exit surveys from 80 mostly large (over $2B in revenue) companies to come up with this finding. That over 75% figure contrasts with the 42% recorded during our last balmy-palmy pre-recession days in 2008. (I tried to find the real ur source for this information, but the WSJ article appears to be it.)

It’s certainly not surprising that the number is fairly high.

Oh, sure, people do get recruited out of their cozy love nest of a job to take on a better opportunity somewhere else, and have no reason to “hate on” (I really hate on that phrase, but I did want to use it at least once in my life; note that I am using the more global meaning, not the original one tied to jealousy) their former employers.

But mostly if you’re leaving a company there’s an odds-on chance that you weren’t finding it Happy Valley to begin with.


So layer that on to the fact that the last few years have meant hard times: meager wage and salary increases (if any), benefit takeaways, lots of pressure for the leave behinds to do more with less as their fellow workers are laid off, and the ultimate Sword of Damocles: quit your bitchin’, you are completely, utterly, and instantaneously replaceable and should be smiley-face happy that you even have a job.

What’s not to hate (on)?

As the CEB’s Brian Kropp has it:

The scores likely reflect perceived poor treatment during the downturn, according to Mr. Kropp. "Companies were blunt and rough and tumble with their work force. They created a sense that 'the company doesn't care about me,'" he said

Companies, as we have learned from the Supreme Court, are people, too. So it should come as no shock that, when the times get tough, they become venal and nasty. There’s no lack of evidence that this sort of behavior is prevalent among regular, non-company, people people is there? Even, shocked, I’m shocked, our political leaders –

Anyway, it all got me thinking about whether I would recommend the places where I worked full time over the course of my corporate career.

And for all their meshugas and dysfunction, I mostly would have.

The exceptions are Wang Labs and Genuity, both of which, when I left, were so far into their death spirals that recommending them as a place of employment would be like giving someone a leg up to get back onto the Titanic while you’re seated (safe if not exactly comfy) in the lifeboat.

Wang I really didn’t like. It was colossally bureaucratic and non-sense bound. Still, I had wonderful colleagues and learned a ton. Genuity, crazy as it was – and Genuity set a very high (or low, depending on which way you want to look at it) standard for crazy – was a lot of fun (at least until we started on that death spiral, and much of my job was making the quarterly decision about which members of my group to add to the lay-off list). I met great people there, and most of my current work has come in some way shape or form through my Genuity network.

When I left Interactive Data, where I worked for six years after getting my MBA, I was in a complete snit – pissed at my boss for a bit of unintentional mistreatment. But, hey, even in the throes of my exit snit, I would have to have given them props for being a place that knew their market, knew who they were, and pretty much stuck to its strategic guns. The fact is that, 25 years after I left, this company is still around, and still serving its (same) market. Unlike any other place I’ve worked, a lot of the people I knew had long careers there.

At Interactive Data (or, more correctly, Dynamics Associates which had been acquired by Interactive shortly before I began working there), I learned lots of things about business, and made some of my closest life friends.

Maybe I should have stayed, rather than leave in a snit.

But if I hadn’t left Interactive for Wang – which was where I ended on the rebound -  I might not have found my way to Softbridge, where I spent nearly ten years of my professional life. While I can’t say I love, love, loved every moment, I learned tons; was often in the catbird seat from which to observe the zaniness that I have always found fascinating; eventually got to be one of the folks who ran the place; and made a couple of great friends. When I left Softbridge – or, rather, got tossed out -  it had been acquired and was in the process of getting merged in with some other small acquired outfits. So, at the moment of exit, if someone had bothered to survey me, I may not have been in a big hurry to recommend it. But, what can I say, if I had it to do over again I absolutely would have chosen to work there. That said, a few days after I was given the heave-ho, I was asked by a senior executive in the company that acquired Softbridge if I would be interested in coming back, and my answer was an unqualified ‘no’.

The final full-time job I had was with NaviSite. When I left I suppose I might have noted to anyone interested in working there that, at the time, the atmosphere was characterized by intense and fetid politics. But the company had some good products, some great customers, and some excellent people working there.

So I probably would have, perhaps dopily, been in the less than 25% who would recommend that others work at the place they’re leaving – with the recommendations being qualified, of course, to account for ability to withstand insanity, politics, and death spirals.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Caddy Shack

I watch a fair amount of sports. I’m a lifetime baseball junky (baptized a Catholic, but born a Red Sox fan);  follow basketball alongside my lifetime Celtics junky husband; and in the last couple of seasons have become a born-again hockey fan, thanks to those Big Bad Boston Bruins. Football I’m bi-polar on – some years, I watch a ton of games, other years I remember that I have a lot of problems with the head-banging, macho, militaristic violence of it and don’t watch any. (For whatever reason, college football doesn’t bother me as much as the pros.)

When the Olympics come around, I’ll find myself colossally absorbed in sports I’ve never even heard of. I’ll watch tennis occasionally; ditto soccer.

So, yeah, I’m a sports fan.

But if there’s one sport you couldn’t pay me to watch, it would be golf. There are few television disappointments in life as keen as turning on the Sunday evening news, only to find that the Waste Management Open has run over, and two boring looking guys in polo shirts and visors are birdying the tie-breaker holes. All narrated by some hush-hush announcer who couldn’t be more solemn if he were in St. Peter’s giving us the play-by-play on when the tiara was going to be plunked on the new pope’s head.

Still, it would be hard to escape all awareness of golf – thanks in part, of course, to the exceptionally hi-jinx-ish hi-jinx of Tiger Woods, which so riveted the celebrity consuming public a couple of years back.

The latest news from the Tiger camp came a few weeks ago, when he fired Stevie Williams, his long-time caddie. Now, I may not be that interested in golf, but there are plenty of those who are. An ESPN article on the Tiger-Stevie Caddiegate had evoked nearly 3,000 comments.

A few weeks later, the story is still in the sporting news because the fellow Williams now carries a bag for someone who just won a big championship – maybe not as big as the Waste Management Open, but right up there – and, in post-match interviews, drew more attention and press than the fellow he caddied for.

Which got me thinking about what a curious profession caddying is.

When I was a kid, the occasional job for girls was babysitting, for boys it was caddying.

Babysitting had the benefit of being year-round, plus it usually came with free snacks. And when you showed up for a job, you knew you had it, as opposed to caddying, where you could show up at the country club, only to find that everyone golfing that day wanted to use a cart or carry their own bag. With babysitting, you also knew what you were going to get paid: $.50 an hour. (No premium scale for number of kids, by the way. One of my regular gigs was for a family with seven boys, yielding a bit over seven cents per kid per hour. Another one of my customers had five kids, but one was a head-banger, so I had to listen to him thumping his head against the backboard all night.) Caddying had guidelines for how much you got paid, plus you got tips, but there seemed to be some sort of golfer discretion. I recall my brother Tom coming home one day from the Tatnuck Country Club all indignant because he’d worked 18 holes doubles (i.e., carrying two bags) and the guys only paid him for one, and stiffed him on the tip. Plus, with caddying, you had to work through the intermediary of the caddy-master, who had the power to assign you to the good, lucrative jobs or not.

Altogether, babysitting seemed a better bargain.

But caddying, as far as I gathered from my brothers, had its charms, chief among which was the opportunity to loll around under trees playing cards and swearing when there were no golfers around.

Caddying is indirectly associated with My First Car Accident.

The first time I got to use the family car was to drop my brother Tom off – at 6 a.m. – at the Tatnuck Country Club. When I dropped Tom off there was one – count ‘em – one car in the parking lot: a canary-yellow Pontiac Grand Prix (or something along that line; the canary yellow I’m absolutely sure of.) As I wheeled Black Beauty, our family’s trusty ten-ton, low-riding Ford Galaxy 500 around the parking lot, I said to myself, “The way you’re heading, you’re going to hit that yellow car.”

There followed an internal monolog in which I argued with myself that this couldn’t possibly be possible. How in the world could I possibly hit the only other car in a large, empty parking lot?

Sure enough…

The canary yellow Grand Prix was owned by non-other than Ron G., the assistant pro and caddy-master.

All I did was scuff up a bit of the paint – I may have been a lousy driver, but I knew enough to drive slowly when it appeared I was going to hit something -  but, as Ron G. told me when he said that he would have to file a claim, “I wouldn’t mind so much, but this is the only canary yellow Grand Prix in Worcester County.”

I have absolutely no recall of going home and confessing to my parents, but I must have. And our insurance must have covered what was probably a $50 claim.

I remember Tom being worried about whether the accident would impact his getting decent work from Ron G., but I don’t believe it did.

Tom did not go on to become a professional golf caddie, but some folks do.

And they even have an association or two of their own.

Not to mention an anthem (as sung by Michael Bolton; bet there’s a Kenny G instrumental of it out there, too).

Professional Caddie Association Anthem.

Professional caddies get paid a small weekly amount, plus a percentage of their golfer’s earnings. Most don’t earn huge bucks, but there are a number who earn in the mid-six figures. Stevie Williams, Tiger’s former bag man, rakes in over $1 million a year.

What a curious job.

Obviously, you need to be physically fit enough carry a bag  - I don’t watch pro golf, but I do not believe these guys drive around in carts, or even use push-carts, which were the bane of caddies in my brother Tom’s era. You also have to know enough about golf to make an informed recommendation on whether its better to use a Mashie Niblick or a Baffling Spoon for your fourth-hole approach shot at Augusta National. And you have to not mind a lot of travel and hotel meals.

Then you have to be part coach, part shrink, part boon companion, part bodyguard.

All the while carrying someone’s bag in what is, essentially, a servant role.

I mean, why aren’t these guys allowed to use push carts, which would be a bit less servile, no?

Shouldering the bag and physically lugging it around seem to signify that, while you may be part coach, part shrink, part boon companion, and part bodyguard, at the end of the day, you’re all servant. There’s just no getting around this being a tale of two classes. Tiger Woods gets to be Bertie Wooster; Stevie Williams is Jeeves.

But, hey, if you can make over a million bucks a year as Jeeves, what ho?

Given the servile aspects of the job, it must have been fairly liberating for Stevie Williams to just let ‘er rip when interviewed after the recent win he caddied for. Sure, it may have been bad form to talk about himself, rather than about his boss, who’d just won a big tournament.

But haven’t we all had that feeling at one point or another in our professional lives? Just wanting to be noticed and appreciated for what we’ve brought to the table. Sick and tired of being the one preparing the PowerPoints and plans so that Mr. or Ms. Big can deliver them to Mr. or Ms. Even-Bigger and, as likely as not, cadging the credit for your good ideas (and deflecting blame back onto you for the bad ones). Hoping against hope that someone would recognize you as an individual, and not just a fully fungible extension (and an invisible one, at that) of your boss.

Anyway, I hadn’t thought that much about professional golf caddies. And I probably never will again. But as odd jobs go, this is a fairly interesting one on a lot of different levels.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I haven’t looked at the back of a shampoo bottle in years. (Now the front, I do look at, just to make sure I’m treating my locks to something designed for the color-enhanced head of hair.) But I do believe that at least some of them used to come with instructions that were more detailed than the simple “lather, rinse, repeat” guidelines. Which, come to think of it, really wouldn’t do the trick for someone who didn’t realize that, before you lathered, you had to a) wet your head and b) introduce some shampoo into the equation somehow. And don’t get me going on that “repeat”, a shameless pitch to get folks to use up their shampoo twice as fast they have to. Seriously, unless you’ve just completed an Iron Man race, or are at the hairdressers, who doubles up on the hair-washing process?

And unless you just dropped down from wherever like The Brother from Another Planet, who actually needs instructions for shampooing their hair?

Surely, this information is handed down parent to child and, failing that, by observing others at the gym – or during a shampoo commercial. (Say, that’s how it’s done!)

Into this category of duh-obvious I hasten to add the old Cool Whip ads in which patrons of the Tucker Inn implored Sarah Tucker to reveal the secret of her Pudding in a Cloud recipe.

Even the most kitchen-impaired among us should have been able to figure out that it was a plop of Cool Whip, into which you added a plop of pudding.

Then the other day, while wasting time trolling the business news for Pink Slip topics, I clicked through on an article on how to accelerate your retirement savings. Since the only methods I’ve been able to come up with have been playing the lottery and trying to figure out if there really is a way-back machine that would enable me to do a do-over. (Note to prior self: work only for companies where the options will be worth something. Let me qualify that: work only for companies where the options will be worth something that is above water.)

So I brought the article up.

The first suggestion?

Don’t limit your saving to your IRA/401K options:

If you're in a high enough income tax bracket, the solution may be simply to think outside of the fund. While there are limits on how much money you can contribute to a tax-favored qualified retirement plan, you can save as much as you want somewhere else.

"Somehow people have a tendency to believe that the only money they can have in retirement has to have the word IRA attached to it … and that's just not true," says Scott Cramer, president of Cramer & Rauchegger, a financial advisory firm in Winter Park, Fla. "If you have maxed out your IRAs and your 401(k)s, don't be afraid to put money into a savings account."

Okay, I realize that the Internet has a ginormous appetite for content, and that its maw must be fed round the clock. But “you can save as much as you want somewhere else”?  This is someone’s idea of advice? Surely, there can’t be all that many people – especially those in the vaunted “high enough income tax bracket”, which, we all know, ain’t all that high – who don’t realize that they can actually have savings that aren’t in an IRA?

I mean, there’s a difference between knowing and doing – as in, I knew I should have been more careful about the companies I worked for, but I was just so drawn to the loveable losers.

As for “save more” being the first up suggestion for how to save more for retirement.

Capital D-U-H to this bit of advice.

Needless to say, assuming that they hit us with their best shot, I took a pass on looking through the follow on suggestions.

But I can imagine what some of them might have been:

  • Periodically look through your house for every place where you’ve ever tossed change. Don’t forget to look in coat and jacket pockets – you might even find a bill here and there. Take this money – it might actually amount to something real and tangible, like $48 – and put it in your IRA. Or in a – get this – savings account that has nothing explicitly to do with retirement savings.
  • Distract the kids and raid their piggy banks. If you don’t have kids of your own, distract your friends’ kids when you’re visiting them. Don’t do anything too obvious, but a few bucks cadged here and there over the course of a year can add up to something real and tangible, etc. Yes, this is a generational wealth transfer, but where’d they get that money to begin with? If you’re the parent, they likely cadged it from you. If you’re “just” a friend, you probably stuck at least $5 worth of it in a birthday envelope at some point. Special note: that thing with the kitchen knife getting coins out of one of those little amber glass pigs really does work. Not that I’ve used this method on any unsuspecting kids – just sayin’.
  • Hold a yard sale. In the spirit of caveat emptor, don’t label with Renoir puzzle “missing piece”. Go ahead and ask for the full two bucks, but be prepared to have it negotiated down to one. If you started with the “missing piece” news, you’d only get a quarter – max. Resist urge at the end of the day – a day during which you had to put up with complete strangers make fun of your taste in books, music, videos, and museum posters, but actually argue over who saw the tacky wedding-gift vase from Aunt Bertha first – to look at the pitiful amount of money in the cash box and say f it and order a pizza. Instead, deposit it in the bank. (Even though the interest rates will be equivalent, avoid depositing it your kid’s piggy bank. You never know who’s out there with a knife.)
  • Walk city streets with your eyes trained on the sidewalk. While this used to be good urban practice just to avoid stepping in a dog mess, people are pretty good at picking up after their pooches these days. Now you’re looking for change. The average American will not stoop to pick up a penny. Or a nickel, even, for that matter. But you’re trying to beef up your retirement. So, with eyes on the prize, pick up every stray coin you spot when you’re out and about (unless it’s in the middle of the odd dog mess). Over the course of a year, this could add up to a dollar or two that you can easily add to your savings – be it IRA or non-tax exempt bank account.
  • While you’ve got your eyes on the prize, follow only the “Take a Penny” mandate when you’re paying cash for something. To spare yourself some embarrassment, make a small show of looking through your change purse and pockets while muttering, “I know I have two pennies in there somewhere.” Trust me, the clerk will quickly become exasperated, as will the four people standing behind you in line, and hand you the two pennies from the dish next to the cash register. Don’t get greedy. It’s marginally acceptable – particularly if you’re trying to accelerate your savings – to help yourself to three cents, but scooping up four pennies is implicitly verboten.

I could go on, but you get the point. Those pennies saved today may look like pennies from heaven once you retire.

You heard it here!