Thursday, October 31, 2013

Boo to you, too

Happy Halloween!

This year, if I stick my nose out of the house at all, I’ll be going as a late-middle age, slightly zaftig urban dweller. As such, I’ll be wearing black, accented by a natty Halloween scarf – if I can dig it out – and a pair of eye-popping orange socks.

I will not, of course, be going door to door, but may do a stroll around our neighborhood, where Halloween is pretty intensely observed, and a lot of folks decorate their houses. (We live in a small condo building which doesn’t get any Trick or Treaters, so we’ll have to get up the Hill to see the action.)

If I’m really up for the occasion, I’ll head up to my sister’s in Salem, where Halloween is, to put it mildly, an over the top, month long event. There, I’ll observe the day by drinking wine, helping give out candy to hundreds of Trick or Treaters, and scarfing down some Butterfingers.

Thanks to my sister Trish, I’ve already consumed my annual ration of candy corn. Talk about the perfect non-food. Yum!

But, wherever I find myself, Halloween will be pretty low key.

Whether I Halloween it up or not, I’ll find plenty of company.

The National Retail Federation predicts that 158m Americans will celebrate Halloween this year, spending on average $75 each. (Source: The Economist.)

That 158M represents almost exactly half of the population – yippee! yet another thing to divide into two nearly-equal camps – so, as I said, I’ll find plenty of company.

Perhaps a fifth of these will visit a haunted house.

Thirty-million-plus people will visit a haunted house? I know that “perhaps” is the operative word in that sentence, but thirty million people?

The last time I went to a haunted house, it was a backyard affair around the corner from my sister Trish’s in Salem. We paid $12 (in total) for my husband, my niece Molly, and I to get in, but Molly – she was still pretty little – chickened out, so we never got to see the scary stuff.

Backyard amateur haunted houses aside, this is a pretty big business:

Larry Kirchner, the publisher of, reckons there are about 2,000 such attractions, called “haunts”, in America. Accurate numbers are difficult to scare up, but the industry may have annual sales of as much as $1 billion.

Which is not to say that they’re necessarily profit makers.

The backyard, homemade setups, where expectations are pretty low – put your hand in the cold spaghetti, look at the quivering backlit brain jello mold, have the goofy dad in the Frankenstein mask jump out and scare you – may, in fact, be more profitable than the more sophisticated haunted houses.

The biggest haunts can make millions, but their expenses can reach seven figures, too—corpses don’t levitate on their own. (Or do they?)

In order to get the most boo for their buck, haunters use the latest technology. Where there is competition—there are at least half a dozen haunts in New York City alone—the standards are high. Hollywood special effects and animatronic ghouls are common. But warm-blooded labour, mostly in the form of actors, is often the biggest cost.

Then there are those pesky regulations…

Curious about what local haunted houses were available, I trucked over to Hauntworld.

I guess if the spirit – hah! – moved me, I could make my way to the Haunted Cornfield in Danvers, where, a couple of years back, a family of knuckleheads actually got lost and called 911. (Pink Slip had that one covered.)  Or head out to Barrett’s Haunted Mansion in Abington. But I was most intrigued by Fall River’s Factory of Terror which, much to my delight, has opened a branch in Worcester.

So this is the way the economy works.

  • Factories are the heart of the New England economy; responsible for creation of the lower middle class.
  • Factories flee to Southern states, where folks will work for 50 cents an hour. (Jobs subsequently exported to countries where folks will work for 5 cents an hour. Jobs subsequently automated, so no one has a job.)
  • Factories turn into condos, artists lofts, retail outfits, open offices for cool tech companies and, now, Factories of Terror.

What happens in a Factory of Terror? Do whirling machines take people’s arms off? Do workers get trapped in flames a la Triangle Shirtwaist?  Or does everyone on the shop floor just get handed a pink slip and told to go home?

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Memo to the gals at Clifford Chance

When I see the way professional women are often portrayed in TV or in the movies – I’m thinking of some of the outfits that law firm managing partner Jessica Pearson struts around in on Suits, and the push-up-bra cleavage and short, tight skirts that Lisa Cuddy, a doctor and hospital head in House, sports – I have to ask myself whether it is vaguely possible that some women in senior positions in the “real world” might think that this is an acceptable, even expected, way for them dress.

So maybe there are workplaces where those who’ve passed the bar dress for work as if they’ve never passed a bar in their lives.

Still, it’s difficult for me to believe that the women of Clifford Chance, a major law firm with offices all over the world, need to be told not to wear “party outfits” to work.

Then again, it’s been a while since I regularly worked in any office, and I’ve never worked in a law office, so what do I know about the way professional women dress these days?

Let me qualify that. I do see plenty of female doctors and nurses on a regular basis, and most of them dress pretty darned comfortably and sensibly. Oh, I do see the occasional young doctor walking around in heels, and sometimes I ask them how they do it (all the while thinking, ‘you don’t have many more years of wearing those ahead of you, girlfriend’). But I’ve yet to see Jessica Pearson or Lisa Cuddy-style cleavage on display.

This is not to say that they’re all dowdy. (Although the scrubs that the chemo center nurses wear aren’t all that snappy. But, hey, I want them to be worrying about their patients, not how they look.) No, I suspect that under the white lab coats that most of the MDs and NPs wear, they’re wearing clothing that’s at least moderately fashionable.

And while I’m guessing that women in large, urban, power law firms have to up their fashion game a bit over what women in teaching hospitals can get by with, do they really need this sort of advice, which appeared in a memo entitled “Presentation Tips for Women.”

• “If wearing a skirt, make sure people can’t see up it”
• “Make sure you can stand in your heels.”
• “Wear a suit, not your party outfit”
• “Understated jewelry, nothing jingly or clanky”
• “Think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe.”
• “No one heard Hillary the day she showed cleavage.” (Source: Business Week.)

Do top-drawer law school grads working in big law actually need advice of the “I see London/I see France” variety?

The memo was sent out by the firm’s Women’s Committee which, presumably, is composed of women so, presumably they do need  it. Or some of them do. (Of course, the sweet young things wobbling around in Laboutins, flashing red soles, cleavage, and peeps at thongs, would probably just chalk this up as jealousy on the part of older, out of play frumpsters jealous of the eye-ball attention the sweet young things are getting from the senior partners.)

And, just because no women at Clifford Chance can win for losing, the list of glamour do’s and don’ts includes:

“Don’t dress like a mortician.”

Oh, I get it.

Consider the Lauren vs. Marilyn suggestion. Women lawyers should be sultry seductresses, just of the ash-blonde vs. peroxide-blonde variety, and wear sexy 1940’s femme fatale suits rather than 1950’s Seven Year Itch dresses.

Appropriate sexiness, not menswear drab.

The tips aren’t just reserved for  dressing for success:

• “Don’t giggle.”
•“Don’t squirm.”
• “Don’t wave your arms”

Sounds like the type of advice that, say, the kindergarten teacher might give to her charges before their big graduation ceremony.

Do Harvard and Yale law grads of the female persuasion need to be told not to giggle, squirm, and wave their arms?

As for:

• “Don’t hide behind your hair.”

This seems a bit contradictory when taken in tandem with the Lauren Bacall advice. I mean, I don’t recall Marilyn Monroe hiding behind her hair. But maybe this piece of advice ties to the don’t dress like Morticia one.

Overall, I find this memo pretty disheartening.

When I started out in what was still the first wave of women in the previously all-male workplaces of the 1970’s and 1980’s, no one needed to tell us not to giggle, squirm, and wave our arms.

No one needed to tell us that jingly, clanky  jewelry was incompatible with a presentation.

No one needed to warn us about crotch shots.

Maybe, as we donned those menswear suits and floppy bow ties, we could have stood a little of that “don’t dress like a mortician” advice.

But is this what we burned our bras on the barricades for?

Remember ‘you’ve come a long way, baby’?

Not so fast…

Not that in my day there were no dress issues in the workplace.

In one classic incident, the only two female VP’s at a nuttier-than-a-fruitcake software company (where I logged nearly a decade and ended up the only female VP) got into it over dressing for success.

In this corner, “S”, the power feminist, who only wore menswear suits and whose philosophy was that, if someone noticed what you were wearing, they wouldn’t be listening to you. In the other corner, “J”, who wore whatever she damn well pleased.

“S” and “J” hated each other – rightly so in both directions, I might add – and “S” often felt called upon to critique “J’s” costume of the day.

At one meeting, “J” watched “S'” checking out her outfit – black mini-skirt, red turtleneck, big hoop earrings. Before “S” could open her mouth, “J” said, “I know what you’re thinking about saying, and f you.” S’s response? “Don’t tempt me.”

Now, I was not an eyewitness to this exchange, but both “S” and “J” related the story to me, repeating things verbatim.

Who was right?

Don’t know, but “S” is still going strong and has a stellar résumé – publications, boards, etc. – while “J” has dropped from sight.

For the record, I don’t recall either of them giggling or squirming.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chore time

In an amusing article in The Economist, “Apps for Brats”, which described applications that attempt to get kids to do things like eat more kale (kids earn points and then get a reward – presumably not a bag of Cheetos)- and make their beds (similar bribe scheme), I read that:

A 2011 survey found that 58% of American children do no regular chores; 37% do some, but feel they should do fewer…Many parents blame electronic gizmos for making their children so lazy. (Most kids would indeed rather lie on the sofa shooting zombies than take out the rubbish.)

I’m with the kids here, although my preference would be curling up with a book rather than running the dust mop. Who wouldn’t rather?

But I suspect that a lot of this is because so many of the chores-of-yore are now outsourced or convenienced away.

You don’t need your kids peeling potatoes if a pre-cooked meal was picked up at Whole Foods on the way home.

If you’ve got a Roomba, you don’t need your kids to vacuum.

And if you have fewer kids, there’s less need to deputize the older sibs as mini-parents.

But I still find it shocking that 58% of kids do absolutely nothing. Forget hospital corners. Most kids don’t even pull up the duvet cover to disguise a messy bed?

The list of chores that I did as a kid, along side my fellow drudge, my sister Kath, seems absolutely Dickensian work-house when I think of kids doing nothing.

On weekdays, in addition to making our beds – a given – we took the laundry off of the outdoor clothesline and folded it. And there was plenty of laundry to do in our house. Unbelievably, we never used a towel twice, so every day, there were at least seven towels and wash cloths that needed laundering. Then you add up the general dirty laundry that a family with five kids generates - including diapers, in that pre-Pampers era - there was an awful lot of laundry to be taken down and folded. (In the summer, and on days off, we also hung the laundry out to dry.)

We ironed, mostly the simple things, like handkerchiefs, pillow cases, and my father’s pajamas. My mother did the harder things, like our school blouses and the boys shirts. (My father’s shirts were “done” by “the Chinaman.”)

Kath and I were also my mother’s junior sous-chefs, paring carrots, peeling potatoes, and cracking walnuts, which once upon a time came in shells, not cans.

We set, and cleared, the table.

Curiously, we didn’t always have to wash and dry the dishes, as this was something that my parents liked (?) to do together.

But sometimes there were spells when we did have to do dishes, and we always fought about who got to wash and who got to dry.

We took out the garbage, burned the trash, and hauled the baskets full of cans to the curb when it got more convenient to have the “can man” come than for my father to drive to the dump.

I actually liked burning the trash, especially in the winter, when I would hover over the fire barrel with a Navy blanket over my shoulders pretending I was a war refugee.

While burning the trash in the winter was enjoyable, putting out the garbage in summer could be a horrific experience. If maggots were spotted, we had to clean the garbage can with bleach and hose. Gag!

Speaking of gag, we, of course, changed plenty of diapers, including poopy ones, which we had to slosh around in the toilet to get rid of the poop, then wring out and place in the ammonia-reeking diaper pail.

This was, however, pretty much the only downside of child care. Walking or feeding a cranky baby was not all that bad, and time spent amusing or reading to a little one – which actually didn’t really count as a chore - was actually fun.

Late Friday afternoon meant the absolutely worst chore of all.

Our groceries were delivered – my mother called the order in to Morris Market, reading off a long list of items, which someone on the other end of the line took down.

Boxes of groceries were delivered, along with the cash register receipt which just listed the prices that were rung up, not the items.

Kath and I had to go through the boxes, find the price of every item, then find that amount on the cash register list and cross it all, meanwhile cross-referencing everything with my mother’s hand-written grocery list.

It is difficult to express exactly how boring and painful this task was – we are talking about dozens, maybe hundreds of items here – but my mother needed to know whether she was getting shortchanged, or whether Morris Market had made a mistake in her favor. Mattered not in which direction. If the figures didn’t foot exactly, she would call the market to report that she owed them a dollar, or they owed her fifty cents.

Friday afternoon was just the prelude to full-on chore day, which was Saturday morning.

For this fun fest, we emptied wastebaskets, dusted – making  sure we lifted up every Hummel and doily, our mother was going to inspect - dust mopped, and vacuumed. We cleaned the toilets with bleach – we had the luxury of two baths when we moved from a flat in my grandmother’s to an otherwise modest house around the corner – and scoured the tubs and sinks with Babbo or Comet, making sure the taps all gleamed.

I don’t recall ever shoveling, or doing much lawn work – my father took on most of this himself, I guess, or eventually enlisted the help of my brothers who were younger than Kath and I, and were pretty much exempt from any work around the house, as far as we could tell. Kath and I did have some lawn-related chores, the one which I remember most clearly is pulling out dandelions, using a screwdriver to dig up all the roots.

Leaf-raking was an all-in.

We had a lot of leaves in our backyard, which was large and surrounded by trees, so everyone had a hand in this activity, including those otherwise good-for-nothing brothers of ours.

The most peculiar job we were tasked with was “raking the hollow”, another all-in family effort that occurred on the first nice Saturday of spring, a day on which we would have been far happier riding our bikes or coasting down to Woolworth’s with our friends to buy a Nancy Drew book, and split a coke and a bag of Spanish peanuts.

Our house abutted a deep woods, and our property included a small bit of the woods, in the hollow that sloped down from the side of our house, which was on the crest of a hill.

Anyway, on that first spring day, we would all be issued rakes to help my father rake the hollow, making sure that our piece of the woods was leaf free. This took all day, and gave you blisters. For joy!

Curiously, our father never explained what this was for. We just thought he was insane. Who rakes leaves out of woods?

I realize now, of course, that he was creating a fire break so that, if there was a fire in the woods, it wouldn’t easily reach the side of our house.

We seemed to have an incredible number of chores, but, by our parents standards, we were lazy-asses who had it easy when compared to their childhoods of veritable indentured servitude.

Yet we still had an incredible amount of do-nothing time to hang out with friends, go sliding and skating in winter, loll around the backyard playing Sorry and Monopoly in summer, ride bikes, play hide and seek and Donkey with all the kids in the neighborhood on summer evenings, run through the sprinkler, play jacks, jump rope, go down to Woolworth’s to buy Nancy Drew books, push our doll carriages by the house where the old couple’s granddaughter impaled herself on a tree, watch TV, sit around reading, head up into the woods to pick laurel or blueberries, call WORC to request that they play “Purple People Eater”, go to Carrera’s Market to buy penny candy, and otherwise have a splendid time.

Somehow, I suspect that those 58% of kids who aren’t doing chores don’t get as much free, unstructured kid-time as we had back in the day.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Olde Towne Team Gives Smith Brothers a Boost

Whatever happens with the World Series – and as of this writing, our boys of summer are down 2 games to 1 on a really miserable, could-have-gone-either-way call in the Game 3 bottom of the 9th that gave the Cardinals a W that, let’s face it, should have gone to the Red Sox based on Pedroia’s magnificent next-to-last play alone – this has been a good season to be a Red Sox fan.

Coming off a miserable 2012, in which they were the worst team in the their division, and one of the least likable teams in the history of organized sports, the Sox turned into the best team in the league.

And they did it without any of the prima donnas, head cases, and a-holes that have graced their roster in the recent past. (Blessedly, the Dodgers were able to take several of them off our hands. Whine on, fellows.)

No, this team is actually pretty likable. Their theatrics have been on the field, not in the clubhouse or the dugout or the press. And those theatrics have been just plain fun to watch.

Other than for those ick-factor beards that so many of them have been sporting.

Personally, I don’t mind the neatish beards that Ellsbury, Pedroia, and Papi wear.

But Napoli, Ross, and Gomes.

Yuck, just yuck.

But, hey, whatever it takes to win, and if superstition around the wearing of the beards has helped the local nine this year, so be it.

When I’ve thought about those beards, I’ve mostly thought Amish. Or House of David, the religious-cult ball team that barnstormed in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Until I saw a piece on about it, I Smith Brothershadn’t made the association with the Smith Brothers. But darned if a few of our boys don’t fall somewhere between the bro to the left, with the modest, nicely trimmed facial hair, and the long-beard bro to the right.

The Smith Brothers!

Although they were the cough drop of choice during my childhood, these days it’s pretty much a Luden’s, Ricola, or Hall’s world out there.

I still remember opening the box, peeling back the white, waxed paper inner packaging, and popping one of those tasty little cherry cough drops into my mouth. Almost made me want to have a cold or a sore throat.

The licorice were okay, but nothing beat those wild cherries. (They now come in more flavors, including honey lemon and apple pie, which I won’t be trying because I know if won’t taste anywhere near as delish as my mother’s apple pie did.)

I can’t remember the last time I saw a box of Smith Brothers. (Probably in the Vermont Country Store catalog – it’s definitely their cup of tea.)

But I will be on the lookout for them now that they’re going to be donating part of their sales during the World Series – which, I’m hoping, will get back to Boston later this week – to the Jimmy Fund, a cancer-related charity that has been a long-time philanthropic focus – since the days of the beardless Ted Williams – of the Red Sox.

They’d also like everyone to start referring to Boston as “Beardston” for the duration. All because they noticed that:

“Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes look just like the Smith Brothers,” Mark McCumby, a Smith Brothers’ senior vice president, said in a statement. “Just like the Red Sox, our products have been attacking green monsters in one form or another for decades.” (Source: Smith Brothers press release.)

Fingers crossed that our boys – yucky beards and all -  bring it back to Boston and the Green Monster.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Jofi Joseph tweets his career away

It’s always amazing to me when highly-educated, presumably intelligent people with interesting, challenging, and enviable careers, and lofty positions like “director of nuclear non-proliferation on the White House National Security Council staff” do ultra-foolish, career altering/limiting things.

The latest Exhibit A is Jofi Joseph – he of the snappy Georgetown and Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton credentials, and a glam résumé that includes stints as a staffer for a U.S. Senator and the Foreign Relations Committee – who was fired after it was revealed that he was author a series of snarky and venomous tweets:

In his Twitter biography, now removed from the social networking site, Joseph described himself as a "keen observer of the foreign policy and national security scene" who "unapologetically says what everyone else only thinks."
As the widely followed @NatSecWonk, Joseph speculated anonymously about the political motives and career moves of administration officials he worked with. (Source: Huffington Post.)

Admittedly, speculating “about the political motives and career moves” of colleagues is one of the essential pleasures of work life. But most of us don’t have colleagues that anyone outside the firewall gives a hoot about, and most of us do our snarking over lunch, not over Twitter.

His tweets attacked, among others, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Powers (for her use of Twitter, of all things), and Sarah Palin (and her “white trash” family)

Josh Rogin of The Daily Beast, who reported the firing, noted that Joseph also took on key Obama aide Valerie Jarrett, who he called a “vacuous cipher.” In addition, Joseph took a swipe at Huma Abedin:

“Was Huma Abedin wearing beer goggles the night she met Anthony Wiener?” (Source: Daily Beast.)

Certainly, there are plenty of us who have asked similar questions.

And no doubt Twitters will be taking to the Tweet-waves to ask the same about what Joseph’s wife, a current staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sees in him.

And how amusing, no?, that the same medium that took down Wiener has taken down Joseph?

But, as I said, who among us has not taken pot shots at those we work with. Sniping at senior management is one of those free perks that most of us enjoy. But there’s a time. And a place. And a medium.

And it seems to me that, if you’re working in the sort of sensitive and fairly public position that Joseph held, you’d be wise to limit your comments to water cooler or pillow talk. (Advantage: you’re not constrained to 140 characters, and unless someone is illegally taping you, what you say can’t get thrown back in your face.)

If Joseph had serious policy differences with the Administration, or had material knowledge of malfeasance, then resign and/or take it public. Write an Op-Ed in The Washington Post. Don’t just put nasty gossip-girl crap out there anonymously.

And how could Joseph not have realize that if he pissed off enough - and senior enough - folks, he was bound to be outed.

At least Joseph had the grace to take full responsibility:

"What started out as an intended parody account of DC culture developed over time into a series of inappropriate and mean-spirited comments. I bear complete responsibility for this affair and I sincerely apologize to everyone I insulted," Joseph said in an email to Politico.(Source: Huffington Post.)

But I suspect he’s going to have a difficult time finding another policy position like the one he held.

Sure, he can write a book. (The contract’s probably in the mail.) And some college or university will take him on as an adjunct for a course or two on foreign policy.

But who’s going to trust him as “real” employee, as a colleague, as someone you manage?

What is it with these dumb smart people?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bernie Madoff: after years of taking, the gift that keeps on giving

Hard to believe that we’re approaching the fifth anniversary of the Fall of the House of Madoff.  For a while there, Madoff-palooza was a real boon for at least one (quasi) business blogger in search of a daily topic.

So I’m pretty much delighted to say that he’s back. Or at least his former colleagues are – the ones who are on trial for aiding and abetting the Ponzi scheme to end all Ponzi schemes.

What’s coming out these days is info on the Madoff corporate credit card policy – or lack thereof.

There wasn’t an obvious business purpose for many charges, including trips to Disney World and Las Vegas, that Madoff’s securities firm paid each month, Charlene White, whose job included running dozens of monthly reports and helping process company checks, told jurors yesterday in the trial of five former employees accused aiding Madoff’s $17 billion fraud.

“There weren’t any rules,” [Madoff employee Charlene] White testified. It’s “correct” that no expenses were ever turned down and there wasn’t a reason to be suspicious, she said under cross-examination by defense lawyers. (Source: Bloomberg.)

I still remember when I went over Wang’s $30 a day New York per diem – by one dollar – and had my expense report rejected.

Sure, this was 25 years ago, but even then $30 didn’t buy you much by way of three meals a day in The City, where I spent a few days every month.

My sister Trish was living in New York at the time and, rather than stay at the flea-bags that Wang put us up in (one step up from Bowery SRO’s), I would stay with her, using my per diem to buy groceries or take us out to a bargain dinner. That $31 went towards Chinese takeout. (Wang sales folks had a slightly more generous expense policy, so one of them would always pick up the tab for lunch, which was typically one step up from the Sabrett hot dog cart.)

Another time – another company – I went a bit over on dinner.

We were at a trade-show in Chicago, and the weather was just pissingly miserable, so I made the executive decision that we’d eat in our hotel, where the restaurant was The Palm. As the senior person, I picked up the check, which was exceedingly modest by Palm standards. All anyone had was a piece of meat and a glass of wine. Still, it went over our allowance and my boss, who was an incredible cheapo, circled the expense in red. (This after I had gone out of my way to point out that we’d gone over. When he was the senior person on any trip, we always went to the cheapest joint he could find. Some weren’t bad, but some were just god-awful.)

Anyway, I’ve pretty much worked places where there were expense policies, and they were pretty much monitored. At least for the little-wigs.

In one crazy-ville company where I worked, one of the finance folks told me that the president submitted expenses for everything – including fertility treatments, copious amounts of alcohol, and taxidermy.

Which sounds sort of like:

Joann Crupi, one of the former employees on trial who joined Madoff straight out of college in 1983 and went on to manage some of the largest accounts, charged thousands of dollars in personal expenses on her corporate card, the U.S. alleges, and never declared it as income.

Crupi, who probably thought she’d died and gone to heaven – as opposed to lived and going to prison – when she ran into Bernie,  got to regularly buzz off to Orlando and Las Vegas, plus charge case upon case of wine.

Daniel Bonventre, Madoff’s operations chief who worked with the company’s general ledger and is also on trial, signed company checks to pay for his personal American Express card, including tens of thousands of dollars for shopping trips to Barneys, airfare to Saint Martin, rooms on the island at Hotel Isle de France and dues for his Richmond County Country Club in Staten Island, according to statements displayed for the jury.

It’s not taxidermy, still…All that shopping at Barney’s?

White said she never had a reason to believe it was wrong for the company to pay Bonventre’s personal expenses, and that Madoff was generous in general to employees and threw parties for everyone to attend.

It’s certainly easy enough to believe that a rank-and-file employee whose job was check-writing wouldn’t think through the possible illegalities of paying the Barney’s charge off. (White’s not on trial.) But wouldn’t you think that the operations chief would have a clue about compliance? And where in god’s name were the auditors in all this?

In addition to Crupi and Boventre:

The other defendants are Annette Bongiorno, who worked for Madoff for 40 years, including as his personal secretary, and helped run the company’s investment advisory business, and computer programmers Jerome O’Hara and George Perez, who helped generate millions of corporate documents.

Prosecutors allege the group assisted Madoff by fabricating fake account statements and regulatory filings for years to keep anyone from finding out about the scheme. The defendants, who have all pleaded not guilty, claim Madoff deceived them and kept them in the dark about his activities.

Personally, I suspect that they were all dupes, unwilling to look that gift horse that was Bernie in the mouth.

I don’t think we’re talking about a bunch of Wharton sharpies here.

But, just as with those who got caught up in Bernie’s too-good-to-be-true investment scheme, caveat employees: if something sounds too good to be true…


Meanwhile, FBI Special Agent Theodore Cacioppi, who worked on the Madoff case, and testified at the trial, is onto a new gig. He’s:

…a team leader for one of the agency’s underwater evidence recovery units, staffed by scuba divers who search for guns and cars used in crimes.

Talk about an interesting niche! (Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes…)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Consider the Snood: Canine Edition

Why,  just four short years ago, I was considering the snood, which, in November 2009 was being trend-spotted.

Trend-spotted, as we well know, does not always translate into trend-realized. And I don’t believe that the return of the snood ever actually happened. At least not among humans. At least not among the humans I pal with.

But my sister Trish, perhaps doing some early Christmas shopping for her own beloved pooch, came across dog snoods for sale on Etsy.

dog snoodNot that she would consider a snood for Jack.

He is just so not the snood type, even if we were talking a manly snood, like the one with devil ears, or the one that tries to make your dog look like a fox. Or the unisex snood with the sock monkeys on it.

Or the ultra-macho ‘stmustache snoodache snood.

I’m not sure if the mustache comes with/is attached somehow to the snood, or if this doggy just happens to be a ‘stache man.

As a Black Lab, a mustache –whether real or fake – wouldn’t really show up on Jack, unless it were salt-and-pepper (in which case, he might look quite distinguished).

Anyway, as Trish said, Jack would only be interested in a snood if it were stuffed with cheese or peanut butter.

In any case, Jack, as a Lab, is not the target market for a snood. Even if he were a girly-girl Lab, the ideal customer for the dog snood is a member of a long-eared breed. And the snood is intended to keep those long ears clean while your dog is supping.

Snoods help keep those long ears clean while eating and chewing bones…. If you feed a raw diet to your pup this is a must have. I also use these while my pups are chewing bones or bully sticks. Snoods are a hygienic way to feed your pooch and help keep those long ears looking beautiful!

Just imagine, for years, folks managed to keep spaniels, basset hounds, and Afghans without the benefit of dog snood. What did they do? Shampoo their pups ears after every dinner?

Now, thanks to the dog snood, they just launder the snood after a meal.

I know as well as anyone how much fun it is to anthropomorphize a pet. And there is always the powerful temptation to do things to them and put things on them that make them look cute.

So I’m all in favor of the decorator collars, and even the occasional bandana. Even a doggy coat for inclement weather. And maybe even doggy boots to protect those tender pads against rock salt. And they can be as cutie pie as fits with your dog’s breed and persona. (Dogsona?)

But there are some things that I think are beneath the dignity of most, if not all, dogs, and IMHO the dog snood – however practical (sorta/kinda) – is among them.

Please always keep your pet under supervision while wearing the snood.

Probably because any self-respecting dog would be chewing it off and spitting it out.

A tip of the snood to Trish for trend-spotting this one. I must start poking around Etsy to see what other peculiar wares are out there.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

47 Brand: there actually is such a thing as good customer service

Recently, I’ve been in the market for a ultra-large baseball cap for my husband.

And in this house, at this time, that would be a Res Sox cap.

Since he’s a bigger Celtic fan than he is a Red Sox fan, I would have conceded and gotten him a Celtics cap, but I couldn’t find one in quite his size – at least on my first mosey around the ‘net.

And I really did need a large size. At a minimum, 2XL, maybe even larger.

Jim, who is exceptional in so many ways, is perhaps most exceptional when it comes to his head size. While not of Frankensteinian dimension, and while it really wouldn’t strike you as outsized if you were to meet him, it is rather biggish.

Anyway, the other night, a bit after midnight on what had been a fairly grueling day, I was on a mission from god to find a baseball cap that would fit his head.

Although I was I aware of the brand, and in fact have a couple of their caps, I did not head directly for 47 Brand. But I ended up there, and am delighted that I did.

First there’s their interesting back story:

The company was started in 1947 by twins Arthur and  Henry D’Angelo, Italian immigrants whose family had fled Mussolini in the late 1930’s when the D’Angelo brothers were twelve.  The family landed in Boston.

As was often the case with poor immigrant kids in the 1930’s, the boys started hawking newspapers, and over time found their way to Fenway Park.

Fast forward a few years, and, when the Red Sox won the American League pennant in 1946 (only to lose the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, of all things), the brothers got the idea of selling Red Sox pennants. While college pennants had been shaken (not stirred) for many years – Boola, Boola – the D’Angelos may have been the first to do an MLB pennant.

Their pennant business grew into a souvenir shop and on into the current 47 Brand business (formerly known as Twin Enterprise), which sells all sorts of sports-related apparel.


Here’s a picture of their Fenway Park brick-and-mortar from a while back.

But, I, of course, was shopping online.

Where I found myself in the wee small hours of the morning, trying to figure out just what size to order.

They did have a handy-dandy cap measuring pdf, which I printed out. But it must have been the wee small hours, and/or the exhaustion, but I couldn’t get it to work quite right.

When I measured our heads – for by now I was also in the market for a new cap for myself – I found that I was an XL and Jim was a 6XL, which really seemed too gargantuan in both cases.

Then went ahead and ordered an XL – and, just to hedge, an L – for my cap of choice, figuring I’d return the one that didn’t fit. I also figured I’d need to do a bit more research on the Jim super-dome front.

So I slept on it.

Having awoken clear of brain, I decided that there was no way in hell I was an L or an XL. I also went ahead and measured both of our heads using an old-fashioned, plain old sewing box measuring tape. I then contacted the customer service at 47 Brand to confirm that my newer translation of our cap sizes was correct, which would make me a Medium and Jim a 2XL.  While I was at it, I asked if I could rescind my earlier order, which would be too big for me and too small for Jim. (Are you still with me on this????)

The customer service promise was that that they’d get back to me in the next day or so.

In real life, they got back to me in the next minute or so, letting me regular rsknow that my new assumption was correct, and that they’d canceled my earlier order. For a couple of reasons, I had to go back and forth a few times for some clarification, but the anonymous customer service person could not have been more helpful and pleasant.

I ordered Jim the conventional Red Sox cap.

And, since I am already the owner of the conventional version – not to mention one that shows two red sox, another black and orange one (with jaredsox capck-o-lantern) which I sport during Octobers when the Red Sox are not still in play, and a very nice red one with a green B wearing a Santa cap that comes out in December – I got myself a fun one with an old-time logo that used on occasion when I was a kid.

Anyway, the caps arrived and I couldn’t have been happier with mine. It is as complete an object of my affection as I’ve had in a while.

(Not everyone, I’m afraid, will recognize this as a Red Sox cap.

Over the past weekend, when I was out representin’ , I ran into a younger friend – younger by a decade or so - who’d grown up in the area, but had never seen this particular logo. He thought maybe it was for a minor league team.)

Alas, Jim’s – which fit the back of his head just fine – was a tiny bit snug in the front.

So I packed it up and returned it to 47 Brand’s Westwood, Mass. HQ.

The next day, I got an e-mail letting me know that my refund was in process.

I went back on line, found that the original cap I’d ordered for Jim came in a 3XL, and bought that one.

Fingers crossed that it will arrive by tomorrow, and we’ll be able to don our rally caps and watch The Olde Towne Team take on the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

Mostly I want to give a shout out to customer service at 47 Brand.

Whatever our boys of summer do this fall, you done good, and I tip my brand new cap to you.


Also want to mention that 47 Brand customer support sent me a recommendation for a cap site if it turned out that they didn’t stock a size that was large enough.

And while I’m at it, how about a blue red-B cap with a shamrock on the lid. Like my sister Trish has. So I’d have something to wear for St. Patrick’s Day. Sorry, but the Kelly green is a bit too Southie/Townie for my taste.

Monday, October 21, 2013

My ongoing and highly personal battle with drain flies

At first, I didn’t even know what they were.

But I looked it up, and found that they were drain flies.

At first, they weren’t in our unit.

But they were in the common area – laundry room and beyond.

Not that we ignored them when they were there. You know what happens when you ignore barbarians at the gate – they just keep knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door.

We – on our very own dime - got some sort of lantern-like bug zapper and ran it morning, noon and night.

We got the condo association to bring in an exterminator.

We got a fly swatter and swatter a lot of them. Sometimes we even used our bare naked hands.

We got the condo association to bring in another exterminator.

Who took care of the problem in the common area.

But those drain flies are survivalists of the first order, and they had to flee someplace. And that someplace was our bathtub drain.

I poured bleach drown the drain. Gallons of it.

I sprayed Raid for Flying Insects, from Johnson, A Family Company.

Which killed plenty of them.

Just before we left for a few days in NYC in July, I sprayed copious amounts of Raid in and around the tub.

I came back to a killing field.

How often do you have to use a broom to sweep fly carcasses up?

I then found a do-it-yourself-extermination supply company on line.

I ordered some green bio-gel that was supposed to rid the drain of the sludge that drain flies thrive in.

It sort of did the trick, and they were mostly gone.

We went from swatting a couple of dozen a day – because nobody wants to keep breathing in Raid for Flying Insects from Johnson, A Family Company, on a regular basis, even though they’ve gussied up the smell and it no longer gives you the impression that you’ll suffer from death at first breath. Thanks to Johnson, A Family Company, the noxious odor is more “pleasant”, and gives the impression that you’ll die of lung cancer, but it will take a decade or so.

Alone, and occasionally in twos or threes, the drain flies came back.

The green bio-gel was no longer available, so I ordered a gallon of the alternative sludge killer, which smells and looks like orange Zarex syrup.

When used in conjunction with a foam spray that smells moderately lethal, they keep the drain flies mostly at bay.

Meanwhile, the condo exterminator made a guest appearance and I dragooned him into taking a look at our tub drain from hell. He told me there was probably a crack in the pipe connecting our building to the City of Boston pipery.

Plumbers inspecting the condo drains with a CCD camera confirmed the cracked pipe theory. Visions of our floor – part of our unit is in the basement level of the building, and some of the common pipe runs under our unit – being torn up while new pipe is set come horroring into my mind. To say that this would be a very, very, very bad time to worry about the floor being torn up is to understate the case.

And speaking of common pipes, did I mention that a few weeks ago, sewage starting backing up into our downstairs toilet and drain. Which was caused by some nitwit in the building flushing down Swifter mitts, paper towels, and those new-fangled, completely unnecessary toilet wipes. Our very own fatberg! Good thing I keep gallon jugs of bleach on hand.

Did I mention that this would be a very, very, very bad time to worry about sewage backing up into our toilet and bathtub. Not that there’s ever a good time for this to happen, but some times are just out and out very, very, very, very bad.

And, frankly, we’ve got more important things to worry about than getting an exterminator in to take care of a problem that probably can’t be taken care of without replacing all the connector pipes in the building.

Meanwhile, I’m quite sure that having sewage roiling around the drains hasn’t helped with the drain fly problem any.

In any case, while we are now plagued by fewer drain flies, the ones we are plagued by are, more or less, the elite: the few, the proud, the survivors.

If there’s anyone out there who doubts the theory of evolution and survival of the fittest, let them come to my house.

The current swarm are a bit wilier, a bit larger.

Sometimes they elude me on first swat.

They flit to the ceiling, where I have to bring out my WMD – Raid for Flying Insects, from Johnson, A Family Company – or whack at them with a drain brush or hurl a bunched up, dampened wash cloth at them. (Don’t worry, I have a special-purpose wash cloth reserved for this task.)

Mostly I win.

They are, after all, drain flies.

And evolution cuts both ways.

But, as I mentioned, they are getting a bit wilier.

Any day now, I expect to open the downstairs bathroom door – kept hermetically sealed at all times – and find Jeff Goldblum sitting on my toilet.

As should all things fly, he should consider me armed and dangerous.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Shaking things up in Cubicle City

My first office was shared.

I shared it with a fellow who was fairly eccentric, but relatively quiet. But it had a window. And a door. 

The only people in cubicles were the admins.

Pretty soon, I had a private office. It had a door. And a window. The walls were pretty thin, and I could overhear every conversation occurring on the other side. Including one in which my boss, in the days leading up to a re-org, argued for keeping me in his group because I didn’t know enough to go into the other guy’s group.

Despite the thin walls, it was an office. And it was good. (For the record, my boss won the argument.)

Then we moved to new digs, kitty-corner across the street.

I lucked out and got a good office. It was shaped like a pie wedge, and was right on Mass Ave, overlooking the old Orson Welles Cinema, where I got to watch a demonstration against some movie – I’ve forgotten what it was – that was supposedly anti-Blessed Virgin.

Then we closed up shop in Cambridge and headed to the wilds of Lexington, where I lucked into a huge double office. With a door. With a window. And, although it was a double-wide, I never had to share it. I draped the second desk with an India-print bedspread and used it as a credenza.

Then I changed companies, and fell into cubicle city.

I didn’t want to be in a cubicle environment to begin with, but at Wang the cubes were particularly icky: small, dark, and dingy.

Some cubicles at least had doors, giving some false sense of privacy. Mine didn’t. Until my techies commandeered one for me.

Even with the door, the lack of privacy and the noise level was excruciating. I felt like I was working in the Tower of Babel.

When I left Wang, I was back in an office. Initially, that office was interior, small, dark and, except for a desk, unequipped. Over the first few days, I was able to scrounge up a chair, computer, and phone, but I had to bring my own phone cord from home.

While the start was not auspicious, office-wise, once I escaped that first hole, I always had a private office, and it always had a window, and it always had a door. Until our lease was up and we had to move. Into the new, all cubicle environment dictated by our new owners.

So, open office ‘r us, which worked out okay because we had ample conference rooms of various sizes.

Next I found my way to Genuity, where the company was growing so crazily that, they put me temporarily in a small office that had been set up for cubicle dwellers to use if they needed a bit of privacy.

Soon enough, I was in my permanent office: large enough for a small conference table but, alas, windowless. You had to be a VP to snag a window.

Then I was at NaviSite, which was primarily cubicled. About half of the private window offices that ringed the cubicle pen were reserved for senior managers and executives from the remote companies that rolled up into Navi. These folks were in-house a couple of days a quarter. Some of these remote senior managers and executives were jerky enough to keep these offices locked so that no one could use them. Others left them open – they were, after all, empty, as no one kept any files or personal items in them – so us cubicle dwellers could use them if we needed to have a private conversation, or just to hear ourselves think.

Because those are the kinds of things that, even with all the mania for collaboration and open offices, don’t disappear.

I do suspect that, somewhere along the line, even millenials will want to have a conversation that everyone isn’t in on. Or work independently, and need a quiet environment that will let them truly concentrate.

But before offices un-buzz, it looks like there’s a bit more buzziness that needs to shake out of the system:

By shifting employees from desk to desk every few months, scattering those who do the same types of jobs and rethinking which departments to place side by side, companies say they can increase productivity and collaboration.

Proponents say such experiments not only come with a low price tag, but they can help a company's bottom line, even if they leave a few disgruntled workers in their wake. (Source: WSJ.)

Sort of like in grammar school, we’re the nuns liked to mix things up every once in a while. Maybe it’s needed by the new generation that’s used to more frenetic pace, more perpetual action. So they get antsy. Just like third-graders

In recent years, many companies have moved toward open floor plans and unassigned seating, ushering managers out of their offices and clustering workers at communal tables. But some companies—especially small startups and technology businesses—are taking the trend a step further, micromanaging who sits next to whom in an attempt to get more from their employees.

Let’s see, we’ve got this nominally open environment – everyone sitting at a big table – but now they’re going to tell me who I need to sit next to and for how long every day?

"If I change the [organizational] chart and you stay in the same seat, it doesn't have very much of an effect," says Ben Waber , chief executive of Sociometric Solutions, a Boston company that uses sensors to analyze communication patterns in the workplace. "If I keep the org chart the same but change where you sit, it is going to massively change everything."

OMG. If I’d moved offices or cubicles every time there was a company re-org, I would have spent an average of three weeks in each location. That can’t be good for productivity (or employee sanity). On the other hand, it would probably have made just as much sense to change where people sat as it did to do a re-org, which seldom did anything much other than accelerate whatever downward spiral we were on.

At Kayak, CTO Paul English:

…uses new hires as an excuse to alter the existing layout and thinks carefully about each worker's immediate neighbors. He takes into account everything from his employees' personalities to their political views to their propensity for arriving at work early—or, more important, their propensity for judging colleagues who arrive late.

"If I put someone next to you that's annoying or there's a total style clash, I'm going to make your job depressing," he says.

Depressing to me would be having to shift my office every couple of weeks, but I’m just an old fogy stick in the mud.

One of Kayak’s recent initiatives was to dispatch a loud-mouth to go sit with a group that was deemed too quiet. After a few weeks of her presence, the quiet group had loosened up a bit and the loud mouth instigator was removed. My guess is that they kept up the chatter for a while after she was gone, if only to say how delighted they were that she’d left. I suspect they reverted to their original mode. Maybe these folks just liked to work in quiet and got a lot of things done that way. Wonder if Kayak would have parachuted a quiet person into a nest of loud mouths to clam them up a bit? (Probably a bad idea. The quiet one might have had a nervous breakdown.)

I just plain don’t like the idea of office-as-coffee-house.

Maybe I feel that way because I’m an oldster, but I’ve officed and I’ve been cubicles, and officed is better.


And a shout out to my brother-in-law John for sending me the link to this article.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

An-tha-neeeee! Wednesday’s no longer Prince Spaghetti Day in Italy.

Okay, I realize it’s Thursday.

So I know that, even in the Italian North End of Boston it wouldn’t be Prince Spaghetti Day.

I’m not even Italian, but as far as I’m concerned, any day can, theoretically, be Spaghetti Day. Even if my spaghetti is seldom going to be Prince. And even if my spaghettis is seldom going to be spaghetti.

Me? I’m a farfalle, radiatori, ruotine, campanelle, fusilli, orecchiette kind of pastonian. (Or is it pastafarian?)

While any day can be spaghetti (broadly defined) day, I try to limit my pasta consumption to once or twice a week. And, when I’m limiting my pasta consumption, I try to limit my pasta consumption.

Apparently, I’m not the only one.

Pasta consumption is on the decline in Italy.

Ten years ago, Italian families ate an average of 40 kilograms, or 88 pounds, a year. But now Italians are spurning Italy's comfort food as foreign cuisine finally gains a toehold in Italy. Italians—particularly women—increasingly see pasta as fattening, boring and time-consuming. Pasta consumption in Italy has fallen to 31 kilos (70.6 pounds) per family, sending everyone from pasta makers to cookbook publishers scrambling to adjust. (Source: WSJ Online.)

I’ll concede that pasta can be fattening, especially if you cook up the entire box at once. (Which I, of course, would never do.) But boring and time consuming?

How can something that goes with sauce or oil and/or grated cheese and/or nuts and/or sunflower seeds and/or whatever veggies you have sitting around and/or butter or plain with a tiny bit of salt on it be boring?


And time consuming?

Boil it for 8-11 minutes and toss on sauce or oil and/or grated cheese and/or nuts and/or sunflower seeds and/or whatever veggies you have sitting around and/or butter or a tiny bit of salt be time consuming?

I guess it helps that I don’t make sauce from scratch, but just open a jar of Classico. Still, as a non-cook, one of the things I love about pasta is that it is so not time consuming.

"It's a perfect storm," says Cinzia Marchetti, head of consumer insights at Italy's Barilla S.p.A., the world's largest pasta maker, whose Italian pasta sales fell 3% last year. "A number of factors had been there for quite a while, but they are exploding all at once now," she adds.

First of all, “head of consumer insights”?

That has to be one of the gaggier retitles that are out there.

But I suppose that “head of consumer research” doesn’t sufficiently stroke the Almightily Insightful Consumer.

Although Italians are becoming more adventurous in terms of their eating – Chinese, sushi, hamburgers:

Even today, there are at least 500 pasta shapes in Italy.

500 pasta shapes? I think I’m in love.

…as well as hard-and-fast rules about which sauces go with which pasta. Pesto sauce, for instance, is typically served with linguine and carbonara with bucatini.

I don’t actually buy into those hard and fast rules, although I would never do carbonara with a shapey-shape pasta like radiatori or ruotine.

But, hey, it’s their national cuisine and pastime, so what do I know?

For decades pasta was synonymous with Italians' exemplary way of life. "Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti," actress Sophia Loren famously responded when asked how she maintained her trim figure.

Take out the word “trim” and it’s how I maintain my figure, too.

But, as I cut back a bit on pasta, it must be the Italian version of folks like me who are responsible for the growing aversion to what in my cook book is a near-perfect food:

…today, few Italians would agree [with Sophia Loren]. The share of women between 26 and 30 years old who believe pasta is fattening increased 26% from 2008 to 2012, according to a Nielsen survey. And among 26- to 30-year-old men, the number who think pasta makes people fat increased 16%.

Barilla, which is the market leader in Italy, is countering with some new ideas, including signing:

…an agreement with McDonald's Corp. to make a series of new pasta dishes in the hope of recapturing young consumers. In a bid to appeal to Italians' nostalgia for their national dish, it has also launched gauzy ads featuring families sitting down to pasta dinners.

(Barilla, it should be noted, recently got into a bit of a hoohah when its president stated that he wouldn’t be showing any gay folks in those gauzy ads. He’s since done sort of a mealy-mouthed walk back on his comments.)

Meanwhile, restaurants are moving on-beyond-red sauce and carbonara. One top chef:

…has invented pasta dishes featuring cinnamon and honey, as well as caviar.

"Everything must change in order to survive." Mr.[Gualtiero] Marchesi says. "Cuisine has to be modernized too.

Yes, cuisine does indeed have to modernize, and I’m delighted to live in a world where the only cheese isn’t Velveeta and the only pasta isn’t spaghetti.

Still, some things shouldn’t really change, and pasta is one of them.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hey there, Toots, put on your re-venge boots

Oh, who doesn’t have the revenge fantasy in which they put it to their former companies/colleagues/bosses.

A few people act on it, and these days their rants tend to go viral, as in the recent case of the had-enough NYC video editor who video’d her own personal FU and put it up on YouTube.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that revenge is best served either cold, or well after the meal is complete and you really don’t want anything more to eat. Or, better yet, served up only in your imagination, or in the unvideoed, unrecorded presence of a few close and trusted allies. Which is, of course, not really revenge at all, since the revengee is not even aware that the revenger is getting revenge.

Anyway, it’s probably best not to burn any bridges, especially in these digital days when nothing is private for long. Potential employers tend not to be all that enamored of bridge burners. No one standing in the middle of the bridge wants to have to frisk those walking across the bridge for kindling and Zippo lighters.

But, as is so often the case, there are rules for us, and there are rules for them.

And if you were the creative force behind Jimmy Choo, and your last name (even if it is only through marriage) is Mellon, then you get to author as nasty a story as you want about your former associates. And still go on to have your own clothing line, etc.

Thus, as Business Week had it, “Jimmy Choo Co-Founder Tamara Mellon Puts On Her Revenge Boots.”

For fifteen years, Tamara Mellon was the muse, face, and legs of Jimmy Choo, the luxury shoe company she co-founded in London with her parents’ money in 1996.

The perks of being muse included a clothing allowance, an on-call make-up artist and hair stylist, A-list invites, and paparazzi trailing her (which is a perk if you’re a publicity hound, as Mellon apparently is). It is apparently a testament to my humble existence and pedestrian taste for comfy, clunky shoes that I was not aware of Tamara Mellon’s existence until I saw the article on her book, a no holds bar accounting of her time at Jimmy Choo.

Despite all the perks:

It turns out, though, that for much of this time, Mellon felt aggrieved. She says she was unappreciated by executives at the company and exploited by the private equity investors who funded its expansion. She was betrayed by those close to her. She had night sweats and panic attacks and was always exhausted.

By 2011, Mellon decided that her Choos were made for walking, and she pumped out of Jimmy Choo  “with a reported $135 million and enough resentment to fill a book.”

That book, In My Shoes, was published recently.

Not surprisingly, it’s timed to roughly coincide with the launch of her new clothing and shoe line. Equally non-surprisingly, Mellon does not see herself as a revengeful beeyotch looking to lever that vengeful beeyotch-hood into some free publicity for her new product line. (The line includes a pair of thigh-high, $2K boots called Sweet Revenge. I’m not the only one thinking kitten with a whip here.)  No, she sees herself as a truth-teller.

It’s called In My Shoes and went on sale Tuesday. “To me the truth is always the best way,” she says…

That her memoir often comes off as the rant someone might write to an ex-boyfriend or boss—and then never send—would seem to complicate the prospects for her new project.That’s not the case, she says.

And at least one analyst agrees, pointing out that being an object of scorn hasn’t hurt Donald Trump any. (Of course, we don’t actually know how successful he is, either. For all we know, the House of Trump is a house of cards.)

“I have the luxury now to choose who I have in my business. I’ve chosen people with good ethics and values. It’s very different.”

Ah, yes, those awful people at the company I used to work at were totally devoid of good ethics and values. Those bums!

Along with trashing her former business associates, she goes after her mommy not so dearest. Her brother doesn’t quite see their mother in the same way:

“I don’t recall my mother being a raging lunatic,” he says. “It’s hard for me to understand where Tamara is coming from. I think a lot of it is sensationalism to sell the book.”

While mom was a raging narcissist, sociopath, and alcoholic, Jimmy Choo was “a ‘creative head’ who, in fact, had no creativity.”

His only input was complaining that the heels were too high. (Sam, you made the pants too long.)

And mom wasn’t the only sociopath Mellon had to contend with at Choo’s.

The company got involved with a series of private equity firms:

“Private equity will use you, suck every ounce of blood, and then kick you to the curb when they exit,” she says. “They are the sociopaths of investment banking.”

Well, Mellon’s certainly not the only person who’s thought that. Let’s just hope that her new company never has to tap PE.

As for her chief executive, he’s characterized as:

…insecure, small-minded, and stingy. Also: “an obstructive, pain-in-the-ass employee who could be replaced.”

Earth to Tamara Mellon: even if employees aren’t obstructive pains-in-the-ass, in real life pretty much all of them can be replaced. And that likely includes Tamara Mellon. As indicated by what happened when she decided to leave Jimmy Choo:

No one tried to stop her from leaving. 

Guess they figured out she’s not the only gal capable of designing:

…a pony skin leopard-print trench coat [that goes for] $4,500.

My touch? I’d stick to pony skin qua pony skin and let the wearer look like a pinto or a palomino. Which tells me that even I could replace Tamara Mellon.

And I wouldn’t even write a nasty book after my brilliant design career came to a thudding halt.

At least not a nasty book in which I named names.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Like everyone else I know, I have a lot of stuff.

It’s stuffed into closets. It’s stuffed into drawers. It’s stuffed under the bed. It’s stuffed into pocketbooks. And some of this stuff is just hanging out in plain sight because there’s no darned place to stuff it.

The one thing that prevents me from accumulating more stuff is living in an already-stuffed, small footprint condo with limited storage.

I must note that it’s likely that the proliferation of stuff that has occurred throughout the world over the last several decades that prompts me to declare as “small footprint” a condo that houses two people that’s not all that much smaller than the house I grew up in, which housed seven people.

Of course, the house I grew up in had a lot more storage space, given that it had full basement. Still, in the old days, people in general had a less stuff. And the stuff that they did have – here I think of the stuff that my grandmother’s flat contained, the stuff that my mother accumulated, the stuff that crowded my aunt’s house – tended (at least in my family) to be knick-knacky: the decorative plate with the hand-painted fruit, the ceramic plaque with the lute playing angels, the Hummel of the little boy in lederhosen and the kippy hat. Dust catchers, certainly, but not stuff that took up a lot of room (like skis, 46” flat screen TV’s, and old monitors and CPUs). And it was stuff that was meant to be displayed, not contained.

Today’s stuff - the dozens of sweaters, all those pairs of shoes, the specialized kitchen items: the melon-baller, the cherry-pitter, the ramekins, the omelet pans – needs to be contained. And that’s before we take into account that Christmas is not longer the only holiday that requires display. These days, folks decorate for  Halloween, Easter, Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and Fourth of July. And those decorations need to get stuffed somewhere.

Is it any wonder that businesses like California Closets and the Container Store thrive?

The Container Store, in fact, is poised for an IPO.

Part of their investor pitch is international expansion.

After all, it’s not just Hollywood blockbusters and Beyoncé that we export. We also export the desire to accumulate stuff. Which, in turn, creates the need for containers to contain all that stuff.

The Container Store’s global efforts have started small:

About two weeks ago, without much fanfare, the Texas-based shop for all things organizational started processing online orders from nine countries: Australia, India, Mexico, Germany, France, Japan, Switzerland, Russia, and the U.K. (Source: Business Week.)

Who’d have thunk a few short decades ago that Russians who were lucky to “own” a samovar and a babushka would now require containers?

…the company said it may eventually build stores abroad to compliment Elfa, its Sweden-based subsidiary that makes modular shelving.

Cool! Containers and shelves to put the containers on.

Stuff rules!

I’ve been to the Container Store a couple of times, and it goes without saying that I didn’t walk away empty-handed. Who doesn’t need more containers?

On my list of places that I’d like to win some type of “Supermarket Sweeps”, I’d put the Container Store right behind Staples. Just as well that there’s no Container Store within walking distance, or I’d no  doubt haunt it. I can barely walk by a Staples without droping in to buy some more yellow pads or Post-It notes.

Who doesn’t want -  and maybe even need -  enamel pails? I could neaten up the Pails_mbathrooms by putting some stuff in these babies. Not wild about the pink, but the green and the chrome would work.

I have more earrings than you can shake a stick at. They compete for space in my two jewelryLaqueredRectangularBoxLg_m boxes with necklaces, bracelets, and pins. And those necklaces have a tendency to work themselves into knots. So I could scoop up a bunch of these lacquered boxes and at minimum stow the bracelets and pins in them, leaving more room for the earrings to breathe and the necklaces to stretch out.

And I’d like this “Lookers Tote” to contain yellow paLookersTote10060725_mds, PostIt notes, articles of possible blogger interest ripped out of The Economist.

I have so much stuff to be contained, it’s no wonder that I want all those containers in the Container Store. Just looking through their website, I can barely contain my lust. And it’s no wonder that someday they will someday contain all the stuff in the whole wide world!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Taking a llllooooonnnnnnggggg weekend

Pink Slip is observing Columbus Day, i.e., taking it off.

If you really want to read a Columbus Day post, try Nifty Little Holiday and/or My Head Still Hurts.

I will note that, for the first time in a while, the old towne team remains in the Hunt for the Red Sox October.

They aren’t playing tonight but, with luck will still be playing come October 23rd.

Meanwhile, Happy Columbus Day.

Friday, October 11, 2013

No Smoking in a restaurant? So yesterday.

There’s a new talk of the town, dining-out-wise.

Or it would be the talk of the town if this trend could actually dare speak its name. Which it can’t – at leas, in certain dining rooms. I give you the No Talking restaurant.

No more Q and A with the waiter. As in “what’s that fly doing in my soup?” As in “looks like the backstroke.)

That’s the message being sent to customers at a New York City restaurant that prohibits any talking during an occasionally put-on $40 prix fixe, four-course meal.

Nicholas Nauman, head chef at Eat in Brooklyn’s trendy Greenpoint neighborhood, said he was inspired to pitch the tight-lipped consumption sessions after spending time in India, where Buddhist monks take their breakfast without exchanging words.  (Source: AP via

Well, I didn’t have to go to India to realize that some folks don’t talk during meals.

In the way-back, I even had direct experience with this myself.

When I was in high school, we had an annual three-day retreat during which some fiery priest who specialized in scaring the crap out of high school girls would spend three days haranguing us about our immortal souls – “in the next 60 second, one girl sitting in this auditorium could die” tick, tick, tick. They always told corny and terrible jokes, occasionally giving away a bit of personal detail to provide some false sense of regular-guy-ness. (“I have an older sister and a younger sister, so you could say I was ‘the rose amid the thorns.” Thank you, Father Rose for that new slapper.) And sometimes – gag me with a holy card – they tried to play it cool. As in the priest who told us that “having a baby was like crapping a watermelon.” a) How would you know? b) Thanks for sharing, pal!

Anyway, one of the rules and regulations during retreat time was no talking at all during the day, other than for confession or spiritual counsel (as if! this one-on-one-option was only selected by would-be nuns or girls pious enough to join Sodality ). There were, of course, ways to get around the no-speak zone, mostly by putting your coat on and heading out to “the grotto” (statue of the blessed version surrounded by rocks) – in a wooded area out of eye-shot of school or convent - to say the rosary or meditate. Since all your friends did the same thing, you were able to get a bit of talk time in before some meddlesome nun swung by with her clicker to break things up. I’m sure that one reason the retreat was held during January was to make sure that those who were hell-bent on a trip to the grotto for a chat were punished by the zero-degree weather.

But lunches, where the nuns were sister-saint-johnny-on-the-spots, were taken completely in silence.

And, of course, we knew that people ate in silence without having to go to India because we were all familiar with contemplative orders, like Carmelites and Trappistines, were there was a perpetual fatwa on the spoken word.

But we all knew that part of the fun of eating is doing it with someone else. And part of the fun of eating is talking with that someone else, if only to bitch about what’s on the menu.

‘‘It’s just an opportunity to enjoy food in a way you might not have otherwise,’’ said the chef, noting that the sounds of forks on dishes and cooks in the kitchen provide some background noise to the experience. ‘‘There’s such a strong energy in the room.’’

Yeah, well, maybe that ‘strong energy’ is diners choking back their words. Although the type of folks who would be drawn to this sort of experience probably would find it energizing.

At a recent evening at Eat, restaurant-goers didn’t seem to mind the silent treatment as they noshed on salads and sipped their soups.

One polite customer walked out the door to sneeze in order to avoid breaking the silence. Another could barely hold back a strong case of the giggles. And one couple found ways to communicate with facial expressions, instead of words.

I’m quite sure that I would be one of the giggle-suppressers, although my giggle-suppression would no doubt quickly turn into a RFLMAO, that would result in permanent expulsion from Eat.

‘‘It’s kind of like a meditation,’’ Eat owner Jordon Colon said. ‘‘The silence speaks for itself.’’

Actually, if the silence could really speak, and if it were being 100% honest with itself, it would likely be shouting:

Give us a P! Give us an R! Give us an E!…..What have you got? PRETENSION.

Oh, what will those foodies think of next

Thursday, October 10, 2013

On the bonnie, bonnie banks of ould Loch Ness

Personally, I think it would be ultra-interesting if, in my lifetime, “they” found out that the Loch Ness Monster actually exists. And that there are more than one of them. After all, who wants to be the last of a line? And who wants to be swimming around a cold, dark lake in the Scottish Highlands for a million years without any companionship?

Sure, mysteries are nice and all that, but how cool if, all this time, there’s actually been a dinosaur-ish creature hanging around? And they were able to take its DNA and clone it. And, over time, shrink Nessie down into miniatures that people could keep in their aquariums.

In the meantime. Nessie is both a monster tourist attraction and the center of a bit o’ controversy involving the local tourist industry, including the Chamber of Commerce.

The controversy surfaced when, last summer, an alleged photo of Nessie was snapped and off-the cuff vetted by Steve Feltham, who has been a “full-time monster hunter for 22 years.”nessie

Feltham is something of an eccentric, living in an unplumbed, ungridded retired bookmobile, and earning his keep selling cartoon Nessie models. But, as the millennials say, he is following his passion.

Having hung around Loch Ness for so long, eyes on the prize, Feltham is an expert on Nessie.

Thus, when the photo, taken by tour guide George Edwards, emerged, it was only natural that a reporter would call upon Feltham to pass judgment on it.

"It is the best photograph I think I have ever seen," he told the journalist at the Inverness Courier. (Source: WSJ)

Based on the as-positive-as-it-gets ID, the Nessie shot became:

…the centerpiece of [Edwards] tour company which operates out of Nessieland, a Loch Ness tourism center. He sells postcards of his photos to passengers for 50 pence (80 cents) apiece.

Meanwhile, Feltham began experiencing photo-identifiers remorse:

He says he soon realized the photo was actually of a 6-foot-long fiberglass hump used as a prop in a documentary filmed on Mr. Edwards's boat in 2011.

Other experts weighed in, agreeing that the photo was a fake-o.

The photo back-and-forth may not have exposed the “real” Nessie, but:

It has exposed a bitter truth: Some key players in the Nessie industry don't believe the Loch Ness Monster exists.

In this corner, George Edwards, he of the photo and tour boat, who’s more than annoyed that many of his passengers have visited the Loch Ness Center and Exhibition, where they’ve been informed  – say it ain’t so! – that “the monster may not be real.”

Edwards has lodged a complaint with the Drumnadrochit Chamber of Commerce, pointing out that, given the “decline in tourism across Scotland,” this was no time to be telling his tourists that “Nessie is a myth or a figment of the imagination."

While Edwards was taking his high road/low road, another tour guide – Tony Harmsworth, who also maintains the local Chamber of Commerce web site - lashed out at Edwards, accusing him of:

…treating tourists like gullible fools and sending them away with "their heads full of garbage."

The Chamber made Harmsworth delete his criticism of Edwards, prompting other Chamber members – including the Loch Ness Center and Exhibition – to quit in protest.

Robert Cockburn, the Chamber chairman, says the group is officially neutral on Nessie's existence, and he is ambivalent on the Loch Ness Center's resignation.

(A side note on British surnames: Harmsworth and Cockburn are both up there in terms of excellence, are they not? In her Peter Wimsey books, Dorothy Sayres has a character named Harry Gotobed, another excellent moniker.)

So the battle lines have been drawn, with the purists, which would include the Loch Ness Center, vs. the BS-ers which would include Nessieland, where:

…tourists are regaled with tales of monster sightings and secret passages in the loch where Nessie may be lurking; the Loch Ness Center casts the monster as a myth. When it talks about supposed sightings of the monster since 1933, it plays circus music in the background.

As if one would not have been able to figure out by name alone which center was going to play faster and looser with the truthiness of the Loch Ness Monster. (Nessieland? Come on!)

Edwards compares Nessie-deniers to someone telling kiddies visiting Disneyland that Mickey Mouse isn’t real.

The truth squad counters that “tourists would rather know the truth than be misled.”

By the way, Edwards finally fessed up and admitted that the photo initially vetted by Feltham was one that he had faked. He does maintain that an earlier picture he’d taken was the real deal.

Eventually, science and technology will out, and we’ll discover what, exactly, people have been seeing in Loch Ness all these many years. I’m rooting for monster!


For those seeking more information, here’s a link to the official (?) Nessie site. If the camera’s working, you may even be able to watch for a siting in real-time. Let me know if you see anything interesting.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The market for titles and passports. (Who do YOU want to be?)

I’m thinking of setting up a home business.

Would it be legal to set our condo up as some sort of kingdom, of the hail, hail Freedonia variety?

Beaconhillia? Swanboatswana?

After all, what makes any kingdom legitimate?

A man’s home is his kingdom. A woman’s home is her queendom.

We can issue nifty titles to those looking to plump up their c.v. and who want ever so badly to get invited to swell parties where folks want to rub elbows with the Duchess of Beaonhillia or the Earl of Swanboatswana.

I bet I could come up with a swell coat of arms.

And we won’t charge much for our titles, either.

We won’t be able to, given the competition that’s out there from countries that someone has actually heard of.

Like King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa or Rwanda.

King K has been off the thrown for over 50 years, and he’s almost dead broke. But better off the thrown than off with his head. And an ex-king needs to make a living.  So he issues “orders and titles of nobility.” He doesn’t charge outright but, rather, solicits donations.

Cash payments usually range from $1,000 to $8,000, he says. Goods or services will do. A portrait painter was rewarded with the title of baron in July. The royal dentist, who has done $30,000 of unpaid work, is under consideration for an honor. So is the king’s tailor. (Source: The Economist.)

If you don’t have $1-8K, or the ability to fill in a cavity in a molar, a medal declaring you a member of the Imperial Order of the Dragon of Annam, a Vietnamese decoration, can be had for $38. Of course, this may be a bit of a fake, and “the Vietnamese royal website deplores” it.

And even the King K titles may be suspect:

Pier Felice degli Uberti, president of the International Commission on Orders of Chivalry, an academic body, finds Kigeli V’s trade in titles “very sad”. He has warned the ex-king that the titles do not form part of his historical tradition and should not be awarded.

Pier Felice degli Uberti may sneer at King Kigeli V, but I’m not that impressed with Pier Felice’s organization, which is not exactly up to date.  But maybe nothing’s changed in the world of chivalry since 2007, when the most recent report was issued.

The report is quite a wade-through, but I was a bit disappointed to find that Swanboatswana may not be a possibility:

4) Although, at one time - many centuries ago - private people of high standing could and did create some independent orders of knighthood, some among which came, in due course, to gain considerable prestige and obtained formal validity from the Church and the Crown, such rights of creation of orders have long since fallen into desuetude and, nowadays, orders of chivalry as we understand the term must always stem from or be - by
longstanding uninterrupted tradition - under the protection of heads or of houses of recognised sovereign rank.

While we are, indeed, private people, I don’t know how high our standing is. Plus there’s the flat-out fact that the rights to create orders of knighthood and the like “have long since fallen into desuetude.”

Speaking of things falling into desuetude, how about the very word desuetude? Maybe royals and other chivalrous types still use it.

The Germans, not surprising, have made something of a formal business of entitlement:

A Berlin-based broker, GVS Consult, puts clients in touch with German aristocrats willing to make their surnames available through adoption or marriage.

But this will cost you a lot more than dental work.

The title “Freiherr von” typically costs €70,000 ($94,000); the more recognisable “Baron von” is up to €100,000, whereas “Prinz” can be as much as €1.5m.

It’s illegal to sell British titles, so you’ll never be the Prince of Wales or the Duchess of Kent. (For free, you can call yourself the Duke of Earl, and you’ll even have your very own theme song.)

But, hoot mon,

…a legal quirk creates a market in Scottish baronies, “lairdships” or “manorial lordships”. These are merely titles of ownership. But that does not deter buyers. Cicci Rikanovic, a Swedish-Croatian, became “Lady Cicci Rikanovic of Chaol Ghleann” after she purchased a single square foot of land from the privately owned Dunans Castle for €45 in June.

Now that’s the gift for the person who has everything.

If you’re more inclined toward fanfare for the common man, and want to actually move someplace and live without a title, “several European countries [are] selling visas to foreign investors; others are slashing their prices.”

Interestingly, it’s a lot more costly to secure a visa than it is to become a German Prinz.

Christian Kälin of Henley & Partners, a consultancy, says Portugal’s Golden Residence Permit is the “most attractive in Europe”. It needs investment of €1m ($1.3m) in financial assets over five years, €500,000 in property or the creation of ten jobs. Spain is mulling a “golden visa” at the same price. Ireland asks for a donation or investment of €500,000 (it cut this from €1m in July).

Countries on the EU’s fringes are keen too. Macedonia’s scheme costs €400,000. An Albanian law allows naturalization when the country’s “scientific, economic and cultural interest” is at stake….

Five countries will provide the right kind of investors with passports particularly swiftly. Two are in the EU: Austria and Cyprus, where the cash-strapped government has just cut its price from €10m to €2.5m. The others are Caribbean: St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica. Their passports bring not just camouflage but also some handy visa-free travel.(Source: The Economist.)

Buyers include those from iffy or repressive countries, as well as “citizens of rich countries who wish to disguise their origins when visiting dangerous places.” (Multiple sets of papers are advised.)

I wouldn’t mind having an EU passport in my back pocket, if only to cruise through the control lines in European countries.

Not that I have any intention of giving up my U.S. (although I have imagined a number of scenarios under which I would want to high-tail it out of Dodge).

And as the Queen of Beaconhillia – all 1240 square feet of it – I do feel somewhat compelled to stay put. Especially if I can figure out how to make a go of my title business. (I’m afraid it will be a long while before we’re able to issue passports.)

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Don’t bogart that joint, my friend. You may need to pass it around at the next management meeting.

Pot isn’t exactly legal in Massachusetts.

Not yet.

It’s been decriminalized – you can get fined but not jailed for possession – and we’re setting up for dispensaries for medical marijuana.

But there are not yet head shops or bong parlors on every corner. No vending machines where you can drop in a few quarters for a bit of bud. (E6 for 0.5 oz. sensi, C8 for a blunt.)

Just a matter of time, I’m guessing.

Whether Massachusetts or some other state is the next to follow Washington and Colorado as a pro-pot haven, high times is a-coming, and businesses are preparing for it.

In fact, ArcView, an angel investment firm from – where else?  San Francisco - recently hosted an event in – where else? Denver – where those in the cannabis biz came to pitch their ideas.

But bar the large pot plants on the stage, in many respects the meeting was no different from other gatherings of American investors and businessfolk. Ties, women and non-white faces were scarce. Pitches were peppered with jargon and cheerfully optimistic revenue projections, though not always a clear indication of the product or service on offer. But there was also a strong atmosphere of camaraderie, a sense that here there was an industry to be built rather than turf wars to be fought. (Source: The Economist.)

I’ve been to a number of investor days, but nothing all that interesting was ever pitched. Oh, I saw some voice activation stuff (when that was new and exciting) and some RFID tagging stuff (when that was new and exciting). But nothing quite like this.

While it’s pretty interesting, the thought of pot becoming big business is enough to weird anyone out, even someone who hasn’t indulged in decades.  But, hey, why not? Someone’s making money off of it illegally, avoiding taxes and no doubt inflicting some pretty inferior, unregulated goods on the market. (Not that the regulated market for anything keeps inferior goods out…)

The legal cannabis market was worth $1.2 billion in 2011, reckons ArcView. By now it will be much bigger. Some look forward to a fully legalized industry worth $100 billion or more.

One hundred large! Wow! (Wowie zowie?)

Not all this will be baggies and spliffs.

In fact:

…says Steve Berg, an adviser to ArcView, investors remain wary of any outfit that “touches the leaf” directly. Thus the heavy presence at ArcView of ancillary businesses in which risks as well as returns are lower: from cannabis-oil extractors to electronic plant-trimmers. Some have built their business models around regulatory schemes: the pitch of Canna Security America, which is seeking $2m to expand, is that it helped write Colorado’s security regulations. Who better to help a dispensary implement them?

Another “ancillary” product plumped at the conference was Buzzkill, which un-highs you if you need to sober up in a hurry. (What an excellent product name! Hudson Nutraceuticals, I salute you!)

Once it all goes corporate and when, god help us, Philip Morris is urging the youth of America to “take a puff, it’s springtime,” and the Centrum Silver and Viagra folks start pushing Boomers to reconnect with their lost youth, some of the charm will go out of the enterprise, that’s for sure. Stoners give way to stone-cold. Harsh!

As for the Arc angels, they’re looking forward to:

“…the day when not a single adult in the world is punished for this plant. With deep industry experience, The ArcView Group is ushering in the next generation of cannabis-related businesses.” (Source: ArcView Group.)

At present, there are over 75 investors in their network, “who gather at least once per quarter to evaluate the best opportunities for investment.”

Now that must be some fun! And the price of entry is only $50K.

There is a palpable camaraderie among the members and everyone values from the knowledge, experience and skills that each other brings to the table.

Bet that occasionally someone brings something else to the table.