Friday, February 27, 2015

You look smokin’ in that hoodie, dude.

The awesome-ness of our infinitely, ridiculously inventive economy never ceases to amaze me.

Oh, sure, some of what comes out of our awesome infinitely, ridiculously inventive economy is actually brilliant and useful. As in where would us blogsters be without our laptops and the Internet?

But some of it is just plain awesomely ridiculous.

As in the recent introduction of clothing for smokers, clothing that is, in fact, a device for smoking. Think cloth hookah. Think sweatshirt material bong. And don’t bogart that joint, my friend, throw it in the washing machine.

If you’re down with Magritte, ceci may not be une pipe:

Magritte pipeBut there are two - count ‘em, two – clothing lines getting into it over who got their first, and who does it better.

In this corner, Hood Horkerz, “Patent Pending hoodies which enable the user to smoke out of their drawstrings.”

Well, if that isn’t a dream come true, I don’t know what is.

For inventor Sean Owens, necessity was the father of invention:

“I was at my buddy’s snowboard shop and he didn’t have a pipe to smoke out of and I kinda pulled on mHood Horkerzy hoodie strings and was like, ‘Man! This would be the perfect place for a pipe!’”

After Owens took a trip to Home Depot he constructed the first hoodie and brought it to a party. “Everyone was like, ‘Aw man, where can I get one?’ And I was like, ‘Nowhere… yet.’” (Source: Buzzfeed)

And with that, Owens went out and made it happen.

Variation on a theme of those joke hard-hats that hold a couple of cans of beer (with tube-straws in them). But, hey, everything can’t be new-new, and so much of the march of consumer progress is these slight modifications. (Owens also came up with a vape-version, but the pipe one was cheaper to make.)

And speaking of modifications,

Hood Horkerz offers a glass bowl on one end of the drawstring and a mouthpiece on the other.

No wonder that their web site offers this disclaimer:

We do not warrant that the quality of any products, services, information, or other material purchased or obtained by you will meet your expectations, or that any errors in the Service will be corrected. (Source: Hood Horkerz)

No warranty on quality? Huh? Not exactly the L.L. Bean no questions asked, replace it whenever guarantee, is it?

HOOD HORKERZ or its employees, third party contracts, and manufactures, are not responsible for the use and practice of any instructions herein. Those who follow all broadcast listed or served herein assume all risk of being offended or suffering any other form of damage.

I wouldn’t mind assuming the “risk of being offended.” That’s pretty much inherent in any clothing item. But then there’s the disclaimer about “suffering any other form of damage,” which could, I suspect, be an issue when that clothing item has “a glass bowl on one end of the drawstring and a mouthpiece on the other.” If that doesn’t scream DANGER, I don’t know what would. (By the way, is this material combustible?)

In the other corner is VapRWear. which apparently picks up the slack(er) left by Hood Horkerz decision not to focus on vapers.

VapRWear, founded by Elvis “Papi” Edwards, focuses exclusively on vape sweatshirts.

Buzzfeed - smoker clothing - 1

Edwards was inspired by Owens, but, having seen their hoodies, he “knew how to make them better.”

And, since he “only smokes hemp oil out of his vapes” he had no interesting catering to the weed brigade.

The VapRwear sweatshirt works with an e-cig vaporizer that gets screwed on to one end of the hood’s laces and smoked through the other. (Source: back to BuzzFeed)

Unlike Hood Horkerz, VapRWear is not so much about the disclaimer, and more about the genius behind:

vapRwear is the brainchild of Elvis “Papi” Edwards, a Caribbean native, former athlete, socialite, model, actor, and entrepreneur.  With recent changes in Colorado legislation, Papi saw an opportunity to blend comfort with discreet functionality – and vapRwear was born. (Source: VapRWear)

Screw-on vaporizer gizmo? That’s some discreet functionality.

Anyway, Owens and Edwards have been sniping back and forth for a while about who’s what they used to call da bomb.

But both fellows agree that they have seen the future, and it’s not wearbles, it’s smokables.

“If you are a designer and you don’t have a smokable line, you are out of business,” Papi told BuzzFeed News. “I swear, next New York Fashion Week, you’ll see VapRwear on the runway.”

I’ll tell my good friend at N-M to be on the lookout for it at the next NYFW.

“Oh yeah, smokable clothing is it,” Owens echoed. “Everyone will be wearing it soon.”

Well, maybe not everyone

Anyway, it all gives new meaning to the concept of the smoking jacket, doesn’t it?


And a puff of Pink Slip smoke to my sister Trish, for sending this one my way.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sweet dreams, Signor Nutella

I remember the first time I tried Nutella.

It was 1972, and I was in graduate school at Columbia.

One of the folks who was in the large and amorphous group I hung around with – a combo of law students, grad students, and few junior-senior undergrads – was an Italian guy who’d emigrated as a kid.

One Saturday afternoon, we ended up at Joe’s family’s house – somewhere in Brooklyn? somewhere in the Bronx? – and his mother fed us scali bread with Nutella. This was before Nutella was officially imported to the States, so Joe’s parents must have suitcased it back from trips to the old country, or had it specially sent over.

I liked it well enough, but, to me, it was never going to replace peanut butter.

Over the years, I’ve had it on occasion, am my initial impression has stayed pretty much the same.

Over those years, however, I have seen Nutella grow in popularity, and I now know people who aren’t even Italian (e.g., my sister Trish) who keep it in the pantry, right next to the peanut butter. When my husband and I took our nieces to Rome in 2012, we went grocery shopping, and the girls insisted on having some Nutella to have around the house.

Although I’m not nuts for Nutella, I was interested to see an article in The Economist – that sad back page where some typically not-quite-famous person who’s just died has their life summarized – on the man who made Nutella what it is today, Michele Ferrero.

The secretive Ferrero gave one interview in his life:

His love of privacy also had a commercial purpose. He needed to keep secret the recipe for his hazelnut-chocolate spread, Nutella, of which 365m kilos are now consumed each year round the world, and which along with more than 20 other confectionery lines made him Italy’s richest man, worth $23.4 billion. He laughed when he heard that the recipe for Coca-Cola was known to only a few directors of the company. Even fewer knew exactly what went into each jar of Nutella. (Source: The Economist)

365m kilos? Richest man in Italy? Who knew?

Not that I give a ton of thought to Italian billionaires. Or billionaires in general, for that matter. But I would have thought Armani, Agnelli, Berlusconi.

But a candy man?


Hazelnut and cocoa paste had been around for quite a while, and Ferrero’s father, who had a café cum pastry shop worked on perfecting a recipe. When his father died, Ferrero took over and:

…did what no one else had, and added enough drops of vegetable oil to make it beautifully spreadable. The result was revolutionary: chocolate-eating transformed from a special event to something everyday, children lining up after school in bakers’ shops to get it smeared on bread, and by the late 1950s a fleet of 1,000 cream-and-chocolate vans criss-crossing Italy to keep shops supplied. In 1964 he invented the name Nutella and the glass jar, and the rest was history.

But Michele Ferrero’s genius went beyond Nutella.

He thought outside the jar when he decided to sell chocolate- covered cherries singly, rather than just in boxes. This idea came to him when he visited post-war Germany and realized that Germans could use a picker-upper, but couldn’t afford the cost of a box of Mon Chéri. He told the person who interviewed him for that one and only interview that he did it:

“to raise the morale of the Germans and bring something sweet into their lives.” He still wept a little, with both happiness and sadness, to think of that.

And this at a time when most people on the face of the earth probably didn’t think that Germans deserved a chocolate-covered cherry.

What else did Michele Ferrero come up with?

The Tic-Tac!

A confection that, to me, seems blissfully, exceptionally American: the loud colors, the plastic container. But I may associate Tic Tacs with the USA because I may have waited on the original Tic-Tac girl when I waitressed at Durgin-Park back in the day. (Or maybe it was a “Certs is a candy mint/Certs is a breath mint” girl. Anyway, she was a pretty blonde who was featured in some minty ad or another.)

As if Nutella, Mon Cheri chocolate covered cherries (in liqueur, no less), and Tic-Tacs weren’t quite enough for one lifetime.

He insisted in 1974 on introducing Kinder Surprise, little chocolate eggs with plastic toys inside, though everyone around him objected that eggs should only be large and only for Easter. (He, typically playful, wanted it to be “Easter every day.”) Those, too, were a success.

Of course, the jewel in his crown may well be Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolates, which look like under-water mines but taste like a little bit of FerreroRocher0465webcroppbheaven. (It took Ferrero five years of R&D to figure out how to bend the wafers inside those suckers. Time well spent!)

mineI might have thought that the Ferrero Rocher looked like a mine, but it’s said that it was designed to look like the grotto at Lourdes.  (Sorry, I’m sticking with the underwater mine here.) Anyway, Ferrero had quite a devotion to the Madonna and made an annual pilgrimage to Lourdes.


He also erected statues of Mary at each of his factories and offices. Where, by all accounts, Ferrero treated his workers well and they, in turn, loved him back.

…reassurance is central to the firm’s philosophy. Ferrero is said once to have remarked that he was a socialist, adding: “But I do the socialism.”

He arranged for his employees to be collected from the villages around the company’s headquarters in the town of Alba by buses that returned them to their homes at the end of their shifts. He gave them free medical care and other welfare services, including company outings at which they sang a song in local dialect including a line of thanks to “monsu Michele” – Mr Michele. To this day Ferrero’s workers have never gone on strike. (Source: The Guardian)

Ah, well, a bit paternalistic, but plenty sweet, too.

Sweet dreams, Signor Nutella.

Next time I see one, I’ll have a Ferrero Rocher in your honor.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Climbing every mountain

It may have been lost in all the other bad (weather) news, but over Presidents’ Day weekend, a young woman (32; not what-me-die? foolish young, but young enough) decided to go it alone, hiking in the Presidential Range of the White Mountain in New Hampshire.

Kate Matrosova’s plan was this:

One by one, she would climb to the top of four mountains named for men whose memories the holiday also honors: Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington. (Source: Boston Globe.)

The weather was terrible. A blizzard was expected in the state. Up at the summit of Mt. Washington, it was minus-six.

As all New Englander’s know, the weather on Mt. Washington – the highest peak east of the Mississippi – is erratic at best.

One July, I climbed Washington in humid, 80 degree weather. Although we only got as far as Tuckerman Ravine, about 2/3’s of the way up, it was still humid and 80 degrees. But the last of the skiers were still skiing there.

Another July, I climbed Washington in a car. At the base, it was humid, 80 degree weather. At the summit, it was about 40 degrees and windy enough to bowl the sturdiest of pins over.

Mt. Washington may not have the worst weather in the world, but it’s right up there.

When it comes to what weather has to offer, I’m guessing that the other Presidents aren’t far behind.

But Kate Matrosova wasn’t put off by the weather. Or by the sign at the start of the trail:

Try this trail only if you are in top physical condition, well clothed and carrying extra clothing and food. Many have died above timberline from exposure. Turn back at the first sign of bad weather.

Matrosova, 32, was fit and strong and smart. A trader at BNP Paribas on Wall Street, she was also driven and determined. She had undertaken some strenuous climbs before, and this was the vacation she had planned.

And if Matrosova saw the sign by the light of her headlamp in the pre-dawn darkness — if she read every word before she set out between the trees — it did not dissuade her, either.

Her husband dropped her off, and off she went.

Kate was well-equipped, with high-tech layers, high-tech boots, high-tech goggles. She also had her personal locator beacon, a device that sends out a satellite signal and calls for help.

Within minutes of her making it, Kate’s high-tech cry for help was heard by Mark Ober, an officer with New Hampshire Fish and Game, who quickly figured out that she was above the tree line.

Up there, the tree line is often the boundary between life and death.

Next, he checked the weather at the Mount Washington Observatory.

Between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., the temperature at the summit was 21 degrees below zero. The wind was blowing 77 miles per hour, and the wind chill was -67. In that wind and cold, frostbite develops on exposed skin in minutes. And it was only going to get colder.

Deciding whether to actually go in and try to rescue someone is a life and death decision, and sometimes the powers that be decide that it’s not worth risking the lives of the would-be rescuers. But because Matrosova was out there on her own, Ober’s boss decided to send out a search party.

In better conditions, her plan might have been doable, if ambitious within the time constraints. But weather is everything in the Whites.

“It gave me pause,” Ober said. “Nobody attempts that at this time of year, in those conditions. Certainly [not] alone.”

She had known the forecast, Ober said, but forged ahead. “This was her plan. She wanted to accomplish it. The weather didn’t seem to faze her that much.”

Despite all the risks, a volunteer rescue squad was raised. (Two rescue squads, in fact. The search extended over two days.)

But they – and Kate – had no luck.

The rescue squad turned into a recovery squad.

As well-equipped as Kate Matrosova, that equipment was not quite up to the job, rated only to work up to 20-below. It was colder out. The location signals were as erratic as Mt. Washington weather, an didn’t quite guide the rescuers to where Kate needed rescuing.

Bad luck? Bad choices?

Some of both.

The hubris of the young, the dynamic, the aggressive, the driven, the gambler?

Kate was a trader at BNP Paribas. So it’s no doubt check, check, check.

While still feeling bad about this unnecessary loss of life, it’s important to add that , in deciding to climb these particular mountains, in this particular weather, Kate not only put herself at risk, she put the rescuers there, as well. Fortunately, they all made it down alive. The death of these men because one woman was foolhardy, well…

Mostly I’m guessing that Kate Matrosova biggest mistake was putting too much trust in technology.

The Gore-tex would protect her from the wind. The down would keep her warm. The crampons would give her good footing. (There’s speculation that she was actually blown off a ridge.) The location beacon would ensure that she was rescued.

Not that people haven’t pushed their limits since the first caveman decided to make his way from Cave A to Cave B, even if he had to cross a swollen river and climb a rocky mountain in order to get there.

And not that people a lot less equipped than Kate was don’t get rescued all the time. (Ask me about my attempt to climb Mt. Washington in my waitress shoes, why don’t you.)

But I think that all the teched-up gear encourages folks to take extraordinary risks. I’ll stay warm. I’ll stay dry. Sure, there’s an element of danger – that’s what makes it so worthwhile – but I’ll stay safe.

Press the button, help is on the way.

Sad day for this young woman’s husband, her family. A cautionary note to all that sometimes all the tech in the world isn’t going to save you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Oh, what a world we live in

The train on monetizing this blog has long since left the station.

To make any money, I would have had to come up with a specific niche focus and stuck with it, becoming the go to for something or other.

Maybe I should have just stuck to lay-off stories. Become a clearing house for complaints about businesses behaving stupidly or badly. Turned into a dispenser of invaluable – or non-valuable – business advise. The review site for business books. (Gag.)

Or, if I’d decided to dump business as my central theme, I could have catered to folks who like colorful sweaters, Celtic music, shoveling out…

But that train left the station. I missed the boat. The wheels fell off the monetizing car – if that car had ever had wheels to begin with.

And, of course, with no one having time to actually read any thing, any more, having a blog is just so yesterday.

Everything, after all, can pretty much be condensed to 140 characters. (Or, as this last sentence demonstrates, 70 characters.)

And everyone knows that an Instagram picture is worth a thousand blog words.

Not to mention that people like lights, camera, action.

If it can’t be YouTube’d, forget about it.

YouTube, as it turns out, is where the real online money is to be made.

Or so I learned when I saw an article on YouTube money-makers a few weeks back.

Some of the biggest stars on YouTube may be earning big paychecks for playing with toys and video games -- essentially, doing things many kids do on Christmas morning. (Source: Huffington Post.)

An outfit called Social Blade – phew, I started to write Sling Blade there for a moment – figures out (very roughly, and with a very wide range of estimates) just what YouTube channels are worth.

Not familiar with Social Blade?

Well neither was I.

But now I know:

Social Blade compiles data from YouTube, Twitch, and Instagram and uses the data to make statistical graphs and charts tracking progress and growth. We include information such as estimated earnings and future projections, providing both numerical data and graphs. Statistics are freely available to anyone using our website or smartphone apps. Social Blade currently tracks over 4 million YouTube channels and 1,000,000 Twitch channels. Social Blade has over 1,300,000 unique visitors every month. (Source: Social Blade.)

Well, now I know, more or less..

For one thing, I’d never heard of Twitch, either. (Video community for gamers.)

Anyhow, according to Social Blade,  if you’re into fun and games, there’s gold in them thar YouTube hills.

At DisneyCollectorBR – the top YouTube channel - someone unwraps toy boxes and tells us what she sees as she goes along. And she’s not just a DisneyCollector. She does Nickelodeon stuff. And My Little Pony. And something called Bubble Guppies Surprise Eggs. (Go have a look. I guess I can see why this would be mesmerizing, in a goof-ball TeleTubbies kind of way….)

Still, it’s hard to believe that someone can make (in Social Blade’s estimate) between $1.5 and $23.4 million a year peeling the foil off a hollow chocolate egg, cracking the egg open, and show-and-telling us that there are stickers inside.

Sure, Google takes a hefty cut. But even after their skimming around 45 percent off the top, there’s a lot of dough to be had showing off Frozen themed Play-Doh.

PewDiePie, it almost goes without saying, I just do not get. In fact, it makes someone opening Bubble Guppies eggs almost make sense. But he hauls in $1.2 and $18.9 with his funny (?), often video-game related, videos. And, according to wikipedia;:

As of February 2015, the PewDiePie channel has received over 7.9 billion video views.

Make that 7.9 billion and one. (Although I may not count, as I couldn’t actually make it through one.)

Huffington Post provides an entire list of big-buckers, but I couldn’t bring myself to click through all of them.

Partially, that’s because I don’t give a hoot about Minecraft.

Okay, I did take a peek at the guy playing with Play-Doh. But WTF: someone might be making between $700K and $11.5M doing that?

I used to think that I at least vaguely understood how the world worked, but no more.

Just to think that there’s an audience for watching folks unwrap chocolate eggs, take Barbies out of boxes, roll Play-Doh around in their hands. Let alone someone willing to pay your for it.

Hey, a light bulb just went off in my previously thick head.

I didn’t look that far into the guy who plays with Play-Doh, so there’s a possibility that he hasn’t’ already thought of the really cool thing where you merge red and yellow Play-Doh to get orange, and blue and red Play-Doh to make purple.

This is stuff we had to do back in the day when Play-Doh came in only three colors plus white, and if you wanted orange, green, or purple, you had to make your own orange, green, and purple.

Surely there’s an audience for this out there.

Maybe it’s not to late…


Thanks to my sister Trish for sending this one my way.

Monday, February 23, 2015

What’s in the 2015 swag bag? Stuff, glorious stuff, of course.

As I’m writing this post – Sunday, February 22 – I haven’t as yet decided if and when I’ll turn on the Academy Awards.

I do watch it occasionally, and occasionally I enjoy it, but when it gets right down to it, the entire extravaganza just seems to me like an industry that’s steeped in narcissism to begin with bending over backwards to kiss its own ass. Blechhh…

Oh, I’ll probably cruise by it off and on. I like looking at the gowns. I like seeing what celeb has had the worst work done in the past year. I’d love seeing Kanye leap on to the stage and inarticulately denounce the entire affair for one thing or another.

But I don’t have any dogs in the hunt.

The only movie I’ve seen on the Best Picture list is Boyhood, which I liked. At some point or another, I’ll get around to most/all of the rest of them.

Other than that, I just know the stuff that everyone knows: LBJ was dissed in Selma (at least according to Jack Valenti). Clint Eastwood used a doll instead of a real live baby in American Sniper.  (I saw the clip on YouTube. That baby doll sure ain’t going to win a Best Baby Actor award in any hurry.) Michael Keaton played himself in Birdman.

I’ll read (and, like everyone else I know, immediately forget what I read) about the winners – enough to know who took home the biggies.

Mostly, I’ll take the 2014 advice of Idina Menzel, or Adele Dazeem, or whatever her name is, and Let It Go.

One thing that I do always value about the Academy Awards is finding out what’s in the swag bag given to the non-winning nominees for best and best supporting actor/actress, and for best director. 

If nothing else, looking for info on the swag bags gives me a reason to read Variety. While it’s never quite as exciting as I want it to be – there really never will be another headline that equals "Sticks Nix Hick Pix” – it’s always kind of fun to glance at Hollywood’s rag of record.

The most highly valued item in this year’s bag, according to the press release from Distinctive Assets, the bag’s creator, is a $20,000 gift certificate to have Enigma Life founder Olessia Kantor fly out to meet with each nominee “to discuss their 2015 horoscope, analyze dreams and teach them mind control techniques.” (Source: Variety)

Not the Olessia Kantor?

For the first time in my long and mostly non-covetous life, I wish I were, at minimum, a supporting actress nominee.

Oh, to get my hands on a $20K gift certificate to analyze my dreams.

Olessia herself is something of an enigma.

I really had to dig deep into Google to find that she is/was married to a Russian oligarch (Yukos), Leonid Nevzlin, and her background includes private money management (NYC) and jewelry stores (Israel). Somewhere along the line, she had her picture taken with Google’s Sergei Brin. Girl gets around!

Well, who doesn’t have a few careers in them?

And Olessia’s trajectory has taken her to her very own Enigma Life.

Enigma Life [her website] is made up of four main sections: STORIES, ENIGMATICALS, LIFESTYLE, and MEMBERS.

The STORIES featured on Enigma Life are eternal mysteries that have been retold throughout countless lifetimes in a myriad of variations, and yet still remain relevant. They are stories that can touch souls, anyone and anywhere. Enigma Life endeavors to offer insight if not clear answers in the form of fresh versions of timeless true tales complemented by original illustrations via modern masters.

And a lot of pictures of someone that I presume to be Olessia herself. I feel I know her already!

The ENIGMATICALS section was created as an antidote to overhecticness, diminishing attention spans, malignant malaise and debilitating distraction with four empowering subsections: Horoscope, Mind Power, Dream Reader and Advice. Each of these delivers new takes on timeless techniques and methodologies, with practical demonstrations on incorporating invaluable spirit-honing skills to enrich daily life.

I actually know quite a few timeless techniques and methodologies myself, but most of them are around boring stuff like writing about technology. But if I could incorporate spirit-honing skills into the mix, well…I can only imagine how enriched my daily life would be.

The LIFESTYLE section brings to daily life the wonder found in the stories, by recommending via informed heartfelt reviews and appreciations, remarkable restaurants, enchanting jewelry, travel destinations, and life enhancing products.

Bring. It. On.

The MEMBERS section brings it all together literally, connecting like-minded souls to share, learn and explore via live discussions of featured stories.

When I looked, the featured story was about the Hope Diamond. Yawn! (I just know that Olessia can do better than that.)

What else is in the swag bag? A luxury train trip through the Canadian Rockies. Hair follicle simulant. (Which would be useful for Michael Keaton, if he doesn’t win.) A “glamping” (glamour camping) adventure. A rental Audi for the year. (You can take the Audi on the glamping trip.) There’s luxury lodging in Italy (3 nights each in Tuscany, Lake Como, and Sorrento). A piece of custom-designed furniture.

Then there are the things that are, more or less, stocking stuffers: Hydroxycut gummies and shakes; fancy-dancy sea salts; an L.E.D. light that purports to trim 3-9 inches off in just 3 weeks.

And, to top it off, an Afterglow Pulsewave Vibrator.

Just another life-enhancing product, for the folks in Hollywood who’ll need their lives advanced if they don’t get an Oscar.

All I can say is that last night, it sure paid to be a loser.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Thankful for small blessings

When I woke up yesterday morning, the sun was shining.

Sure, it was only about 20 degrees, but what with the sunshine and everything, I thought that we might actually get a swell melting day in there. Out my kitchen window, I could almost see the snow mounds receding before my very eyes. Ding-dong, we might be on our way to the snow witch of 2015 being dead. I’m melting….

With an afternoon appointment downtown, I began looking around for my sunglasses. (Anyone who lives in snow country can appreciate that sunglasses are more essential in winter than in summer. When the sun starts glaring off that snow…)

At some point in my hunt for the red Vera Bradley glass case that contain those sunglasses, I noticed that it was – yet again – snowing out.

Only those big, fat, “classic” flakes that don’t tend to amount to very much. But still, more snow that we just plain don’t need.

But there are small blessings, and one was that, on Tuesday afternoon or evening, when I was away, the City came and removed the big old snow mound at the corner, which means that, until our next major storm (predicted for this weekend), I won’t need to do much to maintain the curb cut and clear the storm drain. Just an occasional slush-kick, and a poke and a prod at the gunk stuck in the drain grate, and things will stay free running and clear.

Thankful for that small blessing, and for the mixed blessing of no longer having to search out those sunglasses, I started grazing around the business news sites to see if I could find some matter for today’s post.

Which is how I came across the article on Bloomberg about the February 17th Rolls-Royce announcement that they’re now getting into the SUV business:

Today, Rolls-Royce sent white-gloved chauffeurs in Phantoms around New York City to deliver letters announcing plans to build a sport utility vehicle (SUV), making good on hints dropped by Chief Executive Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes earlier this year.

(Source: Bloomberg)

I guess because I am not in New York City, I did not receive a missive from a white-gloved chauffeur.

The news, nonetheless, managed to reach these far shores.

Ah, the Rolls-Royce SUV.

You can have your Cadillac Escalade. Your Porsche Cayenne. Your Mercedes whatever-they-call-it.

The Rolls-Royce SUV is precisely what I’ve been holding out for since I donated my beat-up Beetle to Volunteers of America back in ought-seven.

Well, they’re not calling it an SUV. They’re calling it an “Everywhere Vehicle.” It even comes with its own hashtag: #EffortlessEverywhere.

Oooh. Ahhhh. An everywhere vehicle, that is capable of crossing “any terrain.”

Go for it!

I plan on taking mine up the face of El Capitan, a feat I would never be able to accomplish with ropes and carabiners.

I’m also thinking of taking it through some of the dunes on the Cape – Cahoon Hollow, or Snail Trail in P-town. Sure, I can navigate those on foot, but how much easier on the legs to do so in the comfy quarters of a Rolls-Royce everywhere vehicle. Of course, I’d have to do during the dead of night, so that no one could see me destroying the dunes, the rare flora, or the fauna (as in nesting piping plovers).

And, of course, an everywhere vehicle would come in plenty handy during snow-pocalypse winters.

Say, I could even get a plow for the front end and help keep the roads clear. And shove those nasty street-corner mounds the hell out of the way.

I was not one of the “‘discerning customers’ [who had] urged them to do so,” but that won’t curb my enthusiasm for the vehicle of my dreams.

No time line yet for the RR-EV, but that just means that I have time to capture a mega Powerball Jackpot, since I was cruelly deprived of the half-billion dollar bingo last week.

Anyway, once you start looking for small blessings, they are there a-plenty.

My sister Trish sent me this from BuzzFeed, showing snow accumulations in Eastern Canada. (Cancel my plans to emigrate, thanks.)

And, while I was trooping around business news sites, looking for something to write about, I was slapped in the face with a pop-up ad for the Jack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University. Given that this is Jack Welch, you will not be surprised to learn that the pop-up ad featured the visage of Jack Welch.

As a graduate of the Alfred P. Sloan School of Management at MIT, I am well aware of business school benefactors.

And yet I was able to make it through two years there without ever having the visage of Alfred P. Sloan pop up in my face. (As he was long-dead, it would not have been possible for Alfred P. to pop up in a class.)

I’m sure there was a portrait on the wall somewhere, but not once that I can recall was it mentioned – yet alone over and over and over – that Alfred P. Sloan was a frickin’ genius.

Anyway, since Donald Trump seems to be out of the education business, what with his Trump Entrepreneurship Institute being kaput, I will make a note that the Jack Welch Management Institute might make a good blog topic.

As I said, I’m thankful for small blessings.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

SubTropolis? Sounds like a plan.

I’ve been to Minneapolis, where, because of the colossally awful winter weather, many of the downtown commercial buildings are connected via a skyway that keeps you out of the elements.

I’ve been to Houston, where, because of the colossally awful summer weather, many of the the downtown commercial buildings are connected via underground tunnels that keep you out of the elements.

And, of course, living as I do in Boston, these days we just have colossally awful snow, and whatever connection any of us have to downtown commercial buildings probably involves navigating a narrow path between snow mounds about eight feet high. Extra points if that narrow path is a scrim of ice on top of bricks. (Wheeeeee…..)

But, until I read about it a few weeks ago, I had never heard of SubTropolis, an underground industrial park located in Kansas City, Missouri.

Other than having flown into its airport on the way to a customer meeting in Topeka – during which the customer asked for their money back for the colossally expensive software they’d purchased from us, and which they never could figure out how to use – I have never been to Kansas City, Missouri.

And pretty much the only things I know about the city are that it’s the HQ of Hallmark Cards. It’s famous of barbecue (which I know thanks to Calvin Trillin). It has the Royals and the Chiefs. And a sister city across the wide Missouri that’s named Kansas City, Kansas.

And now I know that it’s the home of SubTropolis:

…an industrial park housed in an excavated mine the size of 140 football fields. (Source: Bloomberg)

Where 1,000 folks work – and work with plenty of elbow-room, I guess, given that, if I’m doing the arithmetic correctly, that’s just a shade over seven workers per football field. No squinchy cubicles for those lucky SubTropolitans.  Good thing the workers get all that elbow room, because they don’t get to look out a window when their daydreaming needs a focal point.

Anyway, the big thing about having all that underground space is that it’s excellent for driving trucks in and out of, and it’s pretty much climate controlled.

The walls, carved out of 270-million-year-old limestone deposits, help keep humidity low and temperatures at a constant 68 degrees, eliminating the need for air conditioning or heating.

Right about now, that constant 68 degrees sounds pretty darned good. One of the less-than-pleasant aspects of living in an ancient building is that, when it’s zero degrees out, it’s tough to keep it comfy toasty inside.

But, hey, that’s what a good supply of fleeces and a drawer full of heavy duty socks-over-socks are for. Plus those mitts that my sister Kath knit a few years back. Coming in handy these days. As does that tiny ceramic heater that I keep at my feet and turn on every hour or so to give my feet a nice zshoosh of hot air.

All kinds of stuff gets stored, down there in SubTropolis.

Paris Brothers specialty foods, distributors of Colavita Olive Oil and Harney Teas runs out SubT. SubTropolis also houses a cloud computing company, which finds that the climate is just dancy for cooling all of its servers. Original film reels – including those for Gone with the Wind and the Wizard of Oz – are housed in SubTropolis.  And:

The U.S. Postal Service keeps hundreds of millions of postage stamps in an underground distribution hub.

Just think of all those FOREVER stamps…

Interesting that, despite the fact that the indoor climate is so habitable, most of what goes on in SubTropolis, business-wise, is storage, not white collar work. Guess it’s too hard a sell to ask employees to work in an environment where they never see the light of day. Or even the dark of night.

I suppose they could paint scenes on the walls. Or, thanks to the miracles of technology, have big display screens showing what was going on in the outside world. But it wouldn’t be the same. 

My favorite office window on the world was one that faced onto Mass Ave, between Harvard and Central Square. The best thing I ever saw out that window was a howl of protestors descending on the Orson Welles Cinema to protest the showing of Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ.

I’ve had windows that overlooked parking  lots, and windows that overlooked nature preserves. I’ve had windowless offices, and cubes that were a bit away from a window. But I could always look out if I needed (i.e., wanted to).

So no SubTropolis for me.

But, as I look out my window at eye level snow mounds, I wouldn’t mind working in an underground facility, especially if they took me up on my suggestion that they show the outside world. Only I wouldn’t want to see my personal outside world. These days, I’d prefer tulips in the Public Garden, foliage season in Vermont, beachgoers lolling in the summer sun at Cahoon Hollow Beach. Anything other than the current reality.

SubTropolis is looking pretty good just about now.

If nothing else, the City of Boston could use it to store all our snow…

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Me, me, me, me, measles…

When I was growing up, kids got what were known as “childhood diseases.”

So I got measles. And German measles. And chicken pox.

What I remember about measles was staying in bed, side by side with my sister Kathleen, with the blinds pulled down. Something about measles affecting your eye sight. (Apparently an old wives tale.) We were still living in a flat in  my grandmother’s three-family. When we moved to our own house, Kath and I got a smaller bedroom, but we graduated to twin beds.

I don’t remember all that much about the German measles – other than I had it. And that I wasn’t especially sick. On the last day before I went back to school, I got to go outside and ride my bike. It was a nice spring day, and there was someone going door to door distributing samples of Jif peanut butter. (Just wikipedia’d it: Jif was introduced in 1958, so this would have been when I was in third grade.) My mother was apparently not a choosy mother. I’m sure we used up the Jif sample, but we remained a Peter Pan house.

Chicken pox was bad. My family was semi-quarantined. My father could go to work, but the rest of us were stuck in. The pediatrician made a house call to lift the quarantine. My sister Kath had an especially tough bout with chicken pox – pox inside her mouth. (I was just talking about this with my cousin MB, and she said that her brother also had a bad case of chicken pox. Kath and Joe were grammar school classmates. Wonder about the rest of the kids in that class made out?)

Illnesses, as those of us who grew up when kids got ill, could just stampede through a classroom.

When I was in second grade, there was a tonsillitis epidemic that manifest itself just before our first communion.

I remember one day when there were only five or six kids – out of nearly 50 – in class.

I recovered by holy communion day, but I did miss out on my grandmother’s 75th birthday party. I was stuck in bed, but because our house was small and my bedroom was opposite the bathroom, I got to see most of the family members coming and going. (I remember my father’s cousin Matt sticking his head in the door to chat with me.) Someone brought me a piece of the birthday cake, which was a thrill because it was “store bought.” It was something called a “whipped cream cake”, and I didn’t really like it: no chocolate.

I also had scarlet fever – which was pretty rare. And I was the only one in our family to come down with it.

Before I could go back to school, I had to be okayed by a public health nurse. She showed up mid-morning, at which point my mother kicked me out of the house. I remember how weird it seemed walking to school “off-hours”. Make that running. I was so concerned about being late that I ran all the way.

I never had mumps, although had swollen glands on a few occasions, one of which may have been a mild case of mumps.

Childhood diseases were considered more of a nuisance than anything else. That’s because most kids didn’t suffer any really terrible side-effects from them. They didn’t go blind. They didn’t go deaf. They didn’t die. But some kids did suffer. And some kids did die.

Polio was, of course, the biggie.

Although iron lungs seemed kind of 1930’s and 1940’s, it wasn’t uncommon to see kids wearing leg braces, or even in wheelchairs. One girl in my class – Patty G – was a polio victim, and she wore her leg brace up until junior  high. (We weren’t especially friendly. She was on the fringe of the sexpot-before-their-time clique. Needless to say, not my crowd. I do remember, in eighth grade, during recess, Patty gesturing a bunch of us over so that she could tell a joke that “was not for mixed company.” While I do, in fact, remember the entire joke, it is not worth repeating a story that has to do with fending off a boy who was pressuring you into sex by proving to him that you were having your period. The punch line entails not being able to find red paint and resorting to painting your sanitary napkin with green, and telling your beau that the period wasn’t “ripe.” This would have been 1963. Clearly, none of my childhood diseases impacted my memory…)

Somewhere along the line, there were – blessedly – vaccinations that could take care of most/all childhood diseases.

The only one I got was for polio. That was in 1955, when school children across the country were inoculated with Salk vaccine. Later rounds were oral, but that original dose was a shot.

And guess what?

In five years, polio was pretty nearly wiped out.

Over the years, the routine, not-as-bad-as-polio diseases were similarly done away with.

And then we got the generation of parents who didn’t catch measles or chicken pox. And didn’t know anyone who had.

They were never quarantined. They never saw a kid with polio hobbling along with a leg brace. And they never fed their kids Jif or Peter Pan. So their kids were healthier. Had “natural” immunity. And these “we know what’s best” parents weren’t going to introduce any foreign substances into their kids’ systems. Plus there were the horror stories – unproven or disproven – about the consequences of getting vaccinated.

So a growing number of folks decided to forego vaccinating their children.

For a while, they were okay, benefiting from “herd immunity,” which occurs when 90% of a population is vaccinated, which means there’s minimal likelihood that anyone who’s not vaccinated will get “it”. Which is a good thing if you have a child who suffers from something like cystic fibrosis, and can’t get vaccinated. Or a baby who’s too young. And it also lets the born-free free-riders ride free.

And then, the 21st century’s Typhoid Mary shows up at Disneyland and infects a lot of other folks with measles. Today we are Disneyland, tomorrow the world… Measles is now spreading throughout the country.

And plenty of those contracting measles are babies, too young to get vaccinated against it.

Meanwhile, the anti-vaccinators are complaining that their kids are being shunned, and that people are saying mean things to them.


Me, I think that school systems should start requiring proof of inoculation.

If you choose not to inoculate your child for any reason other than your child’s not being able to get it because of health reasons, you can’t attend school. Your choice. (My dictate would cover the bad ones, like measles. I don’t know whether chicken pox or whooping cough – another disease that I would have thought was Little House era, but which is on the rebound – are all that awful. I’ll leave that to the pros.)

One of the news stories I heard about this mentioned a survey of high tech companies out in Silicon Valley, and, in almost all of them, the proportion of parents choosing to inoculate was below the 90% herd immunity threshold. And these are the best and brightest.

If I had a baby, or a kid with CF, and they caught measles, and got really, really sick, I’d be livid.  And polio? I’d be beyond livid on that one.

These diseases have been pretty much eradicated, at least in the developed world.

Let’s keep it that way.

The me, me, me, me, me approach doesn’t work.

Time to roll up those sleeves and get the shots that have wiped all these dreadful diseases out.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Someone to watch over (me)

Today marks the first anniversary of my husband’s death.

It’s been a long year…

On February 17, 2014, I got to Mass General very early in the morning.

Since Jim’s hospitalization the week before, I hadn’t been spending the night. I’d leave about 11 p.m. The nurses had my number. I could get to MGH in 10 or 15 minutes…

Throughout his illness, Jim had remained positive and good-humored. This is not to say pollyanna-ish or in denial. Not in the least. But, as he said early on, if he thought that complaining, whining, or being angry would cure him, he’d do it. Instead, he wisely reasoned, all such carrying-on would upset me and likely alienate the doctors and nurses who we wanted our side. Good thinking on his part. Jim’s candor and good humor – however gallows it was on occasion – were part of the reason that so many of the doctors and nurses we worked with very much enjoyed being with him. It made life (and death) a lot easier for me.

Towards the end, however, as often happens with the dying – at least those dying of cancer and starting to take some potent drugs – the nights are tough.

Jim would tell me that the night nurses were mean. They’d ripped his catheter out. They’d yelled at him.

He was hallucinating.

He was the one ripping the catheter out. He was the one who was yelling.

On that final day, when I arrived at the hospital, Jim was still in sun-downing mode.

He was asking me to do something for him: plump a pillow, pull a sock off, get him a popsicle (all he was eating), adjust a sheet.

I couldn’t understand what he was asking.

Jim glared at me and said, “If you can’t f-ing do what I need you to do, what f-ing good are you?”

Oh, swell, I thought. With my luck, these will be the last words my husband says to me. Figures!

Not what he had planned to say, that’s for sure. (Jim was a planner, and a few weeks before he died, he asked me what I wanted the last words he said to me to be.)

Jim then fell asleep.

I told the very nice resident who popped in what the famous last words had been, making a bit of a joke out of it, but thinking….Sheesh. After all we’ve been through…

Well, what are you going to do?

A couple of hours later, I was holding Jim’s hand when he woke up.

He looked over at me with a big smile on his face.

“Moe, you’re here! I’m so glad you’re here.”

All I could think was ‘say no more.’

This wasn’t what we’d planned, but it was good enough.

In fact, it was great.

I don’t remember all of what we talked about during the day.

I know that he told his nurse, who’d been our regular for the last few days, that she was doing an excellent job, and was a wonderful communicator – right on both counts.

I also know that we found out we’d gotten a bed in hospice, and that the ambulance would be taking us there in the early evening. When I headed for home to pick up my hospice bag – at hospice, I was going to be with Jim 24/7 – I went to take Jim’s parka with me. After all, he wouldn’t be needing it again.

He stopped me. “No,” he said, “I want to take that with me.” I don’t know what he was thinking. Maybe that he had a few more days in him. Maybe we’d get a little walk in. (It reminded me of a short story by Tadeusz Borowski, a Polish writer who’d spent some time at Auschwitz. In the story, a prisoner who is being called to the gas chamber packs up his meager possessions – a bit of bread, a piece of string (I can’t quite remember) – to take with him, even though he knows deep down that he won’t be needing them. Hope springs eternal… The things you think of…)

Within an hour after we arrived at the hospice, Jim died.

I was holding his hand.

I think I was telling him that I was with him, that I loved him, that I’d be okay.

I don’t remember what, if anything, he said to me.

I choose to remember his last words as “Moe, you’re here. I’m so glad you’re here.”

Not what we’d planned, but good enough.

There’s a lot more to it.

There always is.

It’s been a long year.

Oh, it hasn’t been all bad, all grim, all sad, all weepy.

I’m not looking around for a nearby pyre to throw myself on.

But a lot of the time, it’s just plain hard.

I miss Jim terribly.

Sure, I do plenty of things with friends and family – I always have.

Sure, I’ve  always needed a lot of “white space” in my life, a lot of time to myself – and I’ve always enjoyed it, and often craved more. Be careful what you wish for.

It’s been a long year.

I miss Jim terribly.

I miss having someone there when I get home.

I miss having someone to watch the game with.

I miss having a built-in social life. I miss having someone who’s always around to do something with: take a walk, go out to dinner, watch a movie.

I miss his eccentricity. (Much as he drove me nuts half the time. No, I really didn’t care to look at a menu for a restaurant in Paris we might or might not eat in six months from now.) I miss his goofiness. I miss his humor, his enthusiasms, maybe even his frequent flyer obsessing. I miss his very Diggy-ness. (Jim’s name was Jim Diggins; his name in the family was Diggy.)

I miss having him around.

The other day, I played a Frank Sinatra CD. One of the tunes was “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

The words don’t really apply, as that song is about the one that got away.

But I miss having someone to watch over me.

Mostly, I miss having someone to watch over.

In the last couple of years of his life, I went from helping Jim live to helping him die.

I think I did a pretty good job with both.

But it’s really hard to go from that level of intimacy and intensity, from being the someone who watches over, to being on your own.

I keep returning to those famous non-last words.

“Moe, you’re here. I’m so glad you’re here.”

I’m glad I was there, too, hon.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Presidents’ Day, 2015

Going way back to when it was Washington’s Birthday, I’ve enjoyed Presidents’ Day.

As a kid, it meant a day – and the rest of the week – off from school. In honor of George W (which back in the day meant George Washington), my mother usually bought cherry vanilla ice cream and/or put maraschino cherries on the frosting on the cake. Gotta love a president who brings us cherry vanilla ice cream and/or maraschino cherries.

Another reason to love Presidents’ Day?

Given New England winters – especially this year – the latter part of February is a good time for a break.

Plus it’s a nothing doing, do nothing sort of holiday. No shopping. No decorating. No special foods (that is, if you don’t make a cake and put maraschino cherries on the frosting).

So, as holiday’s go: it’s all good.

Unfortunately, Presidents’ Day also means having to listen to all the annoying car and furniture ads. (While I’m writing this, I just heard a blaring ad for Worcester’s own Rothman’s Furniture, and another one for some car dealer. (Much as I don’t like the idea of regional differences dying out, I wouldn’t mind if local car dealer ads “starring” the owners were a casualty of the homogenization of the US of A. For whatever reason, I find the car ads even more obnoxious than the owner-starring furniture ads, with the exception of the incredibly heinous ads for Bob’s Discount Furniture, which tops (bottoms?) them all.  But I don’t know if those count, because in some/most of them Bob’s a cartoon.)

This year’s annoying car ad award goes to whatever the outfit is that has the kids chanting the names of the presidents. Fortunately, they don’t get all that far before the info on the no-money-down, cash-back car deal of the century sets in.

What listening to those obnoxious children – don’t ask me how I know they’re obnoxious: I just do - did get me to do was see if I could actually name all the presidents.

I only gave myself a couple of minutes, and did pretty well.

Oh, I never get all of them in the right order. I lose track of those Taylors and Tylers, and which Harrison goes where. But I’m good up until Jackson. Pick up a few when we get to Lincoln and  his successors. And I have clear sailing from McKinley on.

But I did almost all of the names in there, and even placed them in the right tranche.

I missed Van Buren and Buchanan on my scoot through, but I think if I’d let it rest for a few, I’d have gotten at least one of ‘em.

Don’t ask me what I can tell you about any of those presidents between Jackson and Lincoln, and between Grant and McKinley. Unless he was assassinated. (Garfield.)

As for the rest of them, I may not know a lot but I know some. (And I even know a bit of some of those guys in the middle.)

George Washington? Cherry tree!

John Adams? Abigail!

Thomas Jefferson? Sally Hemings!

James Madison? Federalist Papers!

James Monroe? The Doctrine!

John Q. Adams? Son of John and Abigail!

Andrew Jackson? Battle of New Orleans!

Franklin Pierce? New Hampshire!

Abraham Lincoln! “Four score and seven years ago…”

Andrew Johnson? Impeached!

Grant? Just who is buried in Grant’s tomb?

Grover Cleveland? Double dipper!

William McKinley? Bad idea to go to Buffalo.

TR? San Juan Hill!

William Howard Taft? Morbid obesity!

Woodrow Wilson? League of Nations, Princeton, stroke!

Warren Harding? Teapot Dome! Poker!

Calvin Coolidge? Keep Cool with Coolidge! Plus a son who died from a bad blister he acquired while playing tennis.

FDR? “The only thing we have to fear…”

Truman! Piano-playing daughter.

Eisenhower! Military-industrial complex.

JFK? Camelot!

LBJ? Medicare! (Thanks, Lyndon. It almost makes up for Tonkin Gulf…)

Richard Nixon? Bebe Rebozo!

Gerald Ford? Michigan football!

Jimmy Carter? Attacked by a rabbit!

Ronald Reagan? Bedtime for Bonzo!

George H.W. Bush? Poppy!

Bill Clinton? Devil in a blue dress…

George W. Bush? Choked on a pretzel!

Barack Obama? Muslim, native of Kenya, all his fault!

Presidents are fun and easy!

It’s Presidents’ Day! Let’s play!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Snow day? Snow weekend? Snow week? Snow month?

Despite the fact that it was a bit snowy yesterday, I decided that I needed to get out for a bit.

So I went out for a bit.

Naturally, part of that bit – my daily outing – was clearing out the storm drain on the corner.

But, since shopping is also a nice and purposeful way to get out for a bit, I went out and did a bit of shopping.

I went to a very nice gift shop on Charles Street to find a birthday gift for a friend.

That mission accomplished, I stopped by the cash machine.

Man, do I hate when that ATM spits out a hundred dollar bill.

Anyway, I then went off to a very nice nut and goody shop to pick up some nice nuts and goodies so I’ll have something on hand for my Saturday company. Who – fingers crossed – will not be turned away by the early going of the next blizzard we’re expecting. With luck, they’ll blow in before things really get going, and head for home before we get into Nanook of the North territory.

They’re hardy New Englanders, and I fully expect they’ll be by.

And speaking of hardy New Englanders, I’m one of those, too.

So, after doing my Charles Street shopping, I made my way across the Boston Public Garden, and over to Newbury Street.

This particular trek was not especially necessary. I.e., it wasn’t in pursuit of a birthday present I don’t need for another two weeks.

Did I really need to pick up the wine bottle vacuum pump I’ve been planning to get for the past year?

Well, no, but – other than the slippery under-footed-ness – the walk out to Newbury Street and Fairfield was pleasant.

And while I was out and about, why not pick up some wrapping paper for the baby shower gift that was delivered FedEx earlier in the day? The gift doesn’t need to be wrapped until March 1, but while I’m out... As I said, why not.

On my way back public gardenhome, I walked again through the Public Garden, thanking my lucky stars that this is my front yard.

Yes, it is infinitely more pleasant in spring-summer-early fall when there are flowers everywhere, and the Swan Boats are running. But it is equally beautiful in the dead of winter.

And, I can assure you, this is the dead of winter.

Oh, I’m sure that “outsiders” are muttering that we’re just whining. This is New England. It’s winter. You get snow. If you don’t like snow,  move to Arizona.

Trust me. I grew up in Worcester. I know winter. I know snow.

But the word that keeps getting tossed about is “unprecedented.”

And unprecedented this is.

In the past two weeks, we’ve accrued nearly double what we take in during a normal year. And, to add insult to injury – or, as I saw in an online comment, to rub sno-melt into our wounds – we’re expecting another 15 inches this weekend.

We’re tracking to break all sorts of records. Snowiest short period. Snowiest February. Snowiest winter.

And, while we’re at it, it’s quite a bit colder than normal.

This is, believe it or not, something of a good thing. It makes for fluffier snow, which is easier to shovel and doesn’t tend to result in downed power lines.

On the other hand, the snow isn’t doing the gradual melting we’re used to. (It doesn’t help that we’ve barely seen the sun this month.) So when this sucker starts to melt….

Meanwhile, I have a meeting downtown this morning.

When I leave, the temperature is projected to be 6 degrees (which, Intellicast says, will feel like –12 degrees). The high for the day is project to be 12 degrees.  Brrrrrr.

In February, it’s usually in the mid to upper 30’s.

For joy!

Yesterday was Truck Day, which means that the equipment truck left Fenway Park for Florida.

No reports yet of any locals who stowed away with the balls and bats.

Can’t blame anyone who went for it.

Later today, once I’ll be all snugged in.

I’ve got my library books. I’ve got my Kindle. I have my book-books.

And, of course, where there’s power, there’s TV and Internet.

All set? You bet!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Home away from home office

If you live in Boston, these are the times that try men’s souls. And women’s souls. Especially if those folks are working out of a home office.

As, let’s face it, an awful lot of white collar workers in this area have been doing a couple of days a week for the last couple of weeks.

But the “occasionals” don’t have quite the same stresses and strains that us “regulars” experience.

Sure, there’s plenty of upside:

Rolling out of bed and being at work.

PJ  - or at least really junky clothing – days. (Personally, I get dressed-dressed most days. Not exactly business casual, but at least a pair of jeans and a sweater.)

Being able to stick your head inside the office fridge with the full knowledge that you put everything that’s in there in there. Thus, if there is a science experiment yogurt lurking in there,  or a loosely tin-foiled slice of pizza that’s turned to cement, it’s on you. So you don’t have to leave snippy signs up pointing out that “your mother doesn’t work here,” and warning your colleagues that everything in that crappy fridge is going to be tossed out on Friday unless it’s clearly labeled as a keeper.

Never reaching for the coffee pot and finding that there’s about a tea-spoon of coffee in there – barely enough to cover the bottom of the coffee pot, but apparently enough so that someone could in good conscience put that pot back without making the 30-second effort of emptying out the old coffee grounds, putting in a new liner, opening a new coffee packet, and pressing the magic brew button.

No worries about walking out of the office to use the bathroom and forgetting your badge. So you can’t get back in.

Nobody laughing and pointing if you sack out in the middle of the afternoon for a well-deserved nap.

But there’s a real downside to working in the home office, at least for us quasi-social types, and that’s being isolated.

Sure, the guy in the next cubicle who keeps repeating the story about how his pick-up got rear-ended – to the detailed degree that you could file the insurance claim – can be annoying.

So can the pest who keeps darkening your office door because he/she has nothing better to do, while you do.

That aside, for someone who enjoyed the social aspects of working, working from home all the time can be just plain lonely.

Most large cities have co-working offices. (Before my husband got so sick, I was actually looking at a couple of the Boston options. When Jim was ill, I just plain needed to be around a lot more often. And at this point, given that I’m not trying to build a career, but to hang in on the one I have for as long as I can without doing any career-building, I’m made my peace with working from home.) And anyone who steps toe in a Panera or Starbucks knows that there are plenty of folks who set up shop in the shop.

But some folks in Sweden have come up with another idea.

Hoffice’s Facebook page describes the idea as, “A network for everyone with flexible work space needs, with the aim of creating temporary and amazing working session in each other’s homes.”

Each city with a Hoffice community also has it’s own Facebook page. People can join the Facebook group that represents the city they’re in, then post to the page and invite other group members to come to their home to work for the day. Hoffice members come from all kinds of professional backgrounds and work on their own projects. The purpose of gathering is not so much collaboration as mutual support.

Hosts specify how many people they can comfortably fit, and what kind of workplace “features” they can offer (Wi-Fi, snacks, a printer, a room to take phone calls, etc.). When enough people have responded, the host announces that the session is now full. (The Stockholm Facebook group, for example, has almost 850 people, so only a small fraction of the group goes to each Hoffice session.) (Source:

Unlike the paid shared office set-ups, Hoffice is no-cost.

But it’s a bit more invasive than anything that I’d want to see.

Running into someone at the water cooler and having a bit of a gab is one thing:

Aside from trying to provide a comfy and personal working environment, Hoffice has a very specific way to bring life back into the workplace. A major tenet of the concept is that work days are overseen by a “facilitator,” which can either be the Hoffice host or any other group member that volunteers.

The goal of the facilitator is to foster a feeling of camaraderie within the group, and help keep people working productively toward whatever goal they’ve set for themselves. Hoffice’s suggested way of doing that is to split up the day into hour long blocks – each one containing 45 minutes of work time and 15 minutes of break time.

Before each new block of work, the facilitator goes around the room and asks people to announce a few specific tasks they want to accomplish during the next 45 minutes. The idea behind the exercise is to encourage people to structure their work days, and to add a little pressure to stay focused.

Not for me, thank you.

I wouldn’t want to be a facilitator or a facilatatee, thank you.

And I’d be afraid, be very afraid, of some unknown psycho I “met” on FB coming to hang out in my home office for the day.

Maybe it’s a Scandinavian thang.

So far, the only places where Hoffice has taken off are Sweden, Finland, and Denmark…

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What’s love got to do with it, do with it? Not much, apparently, if you’re engaged to Charles Manson

One thing about being snowbound is that, in addition to taking long, guilt-free afternoon naps, you can find yourself frittering away even more time than usual reading junk news online. Why stop with the Daily Mail, when you can also check out the NY Daily News and the NY Post?

Why stop, indeed.

So it’s thank to all the snow that I cam e across an article in The Post that broke the news that the wedding of the century, i.e., the nuptials between Charles Manson (age 80) and his blushing bride, sweet young thing Afton Elaine Burton (she’s 27), have been called off. Apparently by Charlie.

I must say that, when I read about this proposed marriage a while back, my first thought was that there is no such thing as touching bottom. That just when you think you’ve plumbed the depths, a new low is found.

What, I asked myself, could this young woman possibly be thinking?

We’ve all, no doubt, seen marriages-in-the-making that we had our doubts about.

But one that involved in mass-murdering, completely insane psychopath?

Well, there was the marriage of Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler.

I guess that rests my case…

Anyway, at least according to journalist Daniel Simone, who’s shopping a new book on Manson, the Burton-Manson marriage was not so much a fine romance as it was a business opportunity for Burton:

Manson’s engagement to a woman 53 years his junior was part of a wild scheme of hers to profit by putting his body on public display after his death, says the author of an upcoming book…

Burton and a pal, Craig Hammond, planned to lay out Manson’s remains in a glass crypt, Simone says. The pair figured their bizarre California version of Lenin’s Tomb would draw huge crowds and make big money.

But Manson, 80, does not want to marry Burton and has no interest in spending eternity displayed in a glass coffin, Simone told The Post. “He’s finally realized that he’s been played for a fool,” Simone said.

Another reason the madman balked at the plan is because he believes he is immortal. “He feels he will never die,” Simone said. “Therefore, he feels it’s a stupid idea to begin with.” (Source: NY Post)

Trust Charlie Manson, that shrewd-ie, to spot a stupid idea…

But just the thought of this wedding.

Does the bride say yes to the dress? How do you honeymoon when the groom isn’t allowed a conjugal visit? Does the happy couple register at Williams Sonoma and Crate and Barrel, or are they more the Walmart types? Just what does one get for the couple that has everything, or nothing, depending on how you want to look at it.

How about a Jack and Jill shower, in which the cash gets put in Manson’s commissary account? And, while it’s too late for Manson, how about putting the money towards mental health counseling for the bride?

But back to the, errrr, business opportunity.

Sure, there is definitely an audience for such a “product” – or is it a “service”. And, since it’s the largest state, California probably has the largest segment of this audience.

But, seriously, “huge crowds?” “Big money?’

Hey, let’s do a stay-cation right here in the Golden State. We can do Knott’s Berry Farm, Fishermen’s Wharf, and Charles Manson’s Crypt.

Oh, we’ve already been to Disneyland and Grauman's Chinese. We could take the ferry to Catalina, but it might be really interesting to see Manson’s body.

Can we go to that swell Manson crypt again? Please, Mom. Please, Dad. I promise to eat my legumes and make my bed.

In terms of marketing, Burton and Hammond could make it part of an overall package.

A bus trip that includes a drive-by of Sharon Tate’s home in Benedict Canyon, and the home of the LaBiancas, too. The full day tour could take in the Spahn Ranch, the old western movie location where the Manson “Family” hung out. Maybe get one of the gang who’s out of prison – say, Squeaky Fromme – to provide a bit of insight and color.

Oh, Burton and Hammond could be on to something, that’s for sure.

Just the other day, I read an article that mentioned some Whitey Bulger memorabilia that’s for sale on eBay. All sorts of Nazi-related “souvenirs” are for sale. I remember my mother telling us that, as a kid in Chicago, she read in the news that some movie-goers who were at the Biograph Theater when the G-men managed to take down John Dillinger came out of the theater and dipped their popcorn in Dillinger’s blood.

Anyway, we all know that there are folks out there who marry for reasons other than love. Mostly those reasons are practical ones.

But this crypt exhibit idea doesn’t even pass the practical test.

What’s love got to do with it? Not much. But good sense, tastes, and common decency don’t seem to have much to do with it, either.


Am I the only one reminded of Tom Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction? Does anybody read Tom Robbins any more?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Where there’s a whim, there’s a way. (Or, who says the one per-centers aren’t job creators?)

One of the best thing about having a cadre of one per-centers is that they are job creators.

Oh, they may not be job creators in the way that the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, the Vanderbilts once were. They’re not creating jobs for hundreds of thousands of oil derrick roustabouts, steel mill workers, and train switchmen. But create jobs they do. In fact, you might say that they’ve created an entirely new category of work: the whim caterer.

Whim caterers may be mere go-fers, there to fill low-skilled positions in the entourage. (You’re the coffee-fetcher.) Or they may be highly-skilled artisans. Skilled or unskilled, they operate under the umbrella mantra: your whim is my command.  And, of course, the more skilled among them do more than their share of whim-creating.

(Ah, the virtuous circle of job creation: one-percent-ers have whims and moneys; they create jobs carried out by whim-caterers; whim-caterers come up with more whim ideas… See how it works? All we need to do to guarantee lifetime employment is figure out how to catch the eye of those with the money to pursue every whim. Where there’s a whim, there’s a way, I always say…)

One of the outfits that’s been lapping up the trickle down is Becker Automotive Design, which tricks out Mercedes Sprinter JetVans and Cadillac Escalades so that, when a client is stuck in traffic, he or she can have all the comforts of home or home office.

Take Dr. Dre:

His latest purchase is a stretched Cadillac Escalade with a flat-screen television and a digital system that allows him to browse his home film library in the car. “I like to close the curtains, relax and watch Martin Scorsese films,” says Dr Dre. (Source: The Economist – may need a subscription to access full content.)

The vans are highly customized, but the outfitting tends toward the ability to be entertained (as in watching Scorsese films) or comfortable (as in bathrooms – wouldn’t want to have to pee in a bottle while gridlocked, would you?). But one Becker client ordered up:

…an exercise bicycle welded to the floor so the owner could work out.

No surprise that Becker is located in LA, where there’s that unbeatable combo of lots of traffic and lots of money.

Good thing, because the most basic models cost $150K and can run up to $500K+ if you add the armor plate. (If you’re wondering, it’s the innards that get tricked out. When it comes to the outers, owners want to keep it simple and not draw any attention, beyond the run-of-the-mill attention that a honking Escalade with tinted windows is going to get to begin with.)

That armor plating, of course, being for the more security conscious.

In addition to selling to celebs, Becker works with a lot of Middle Easter potentates and African poo-bahs. The client list includes plenty of Princes, Sheiks, and HRH’s. Not to say that celebs aren’t security conscious, by Sheiks definitely are.

Alongside all that royalty, the client list is a veritable who’s who of something or other, a mix of folks I’ve heard of (current celebs and has-beens), folks I haven’t heard of, and folks I’ve heard of who I’m pretty sure are dead (a who’s was)?

Tiger Woods. Eminem. Will Smith. Ben Affleck. Barbra Streisand. Johnny Depp. Mike Tyson. Jada Pinkett.  Paul Allen. Neil Diamond. Don Johnson. Mark Wahlberg. Corbin Bernsen (whose name is misspelled, but he’s a has-been, so who cares). Bruce Springsteen. And I’m guessing that “Whoppi Goldberg” is one and the same as “Whoopi Goldberg.”

But, hey, they’re whim-catering artisans, not spell-checkers.

As always, when there’s a list of famous celebs, there will be many whose names I will not recognize, however diligent and careful my reading of People.

Into this category fall: Steve Bisciotti, Gary Winnick, and Joe and Lisa Sachen (who, unlike Will and Jada, make their cameo as a couple). While I haven’t directly heard of Mitzi Perdue, I correctly assumed she’s the missus of the late Frank.

And I don’t know why you’d keep dead folks – which I believe Elizabeth Taylor, Carroll O’Connor, Joan Collins, Mel Tormé, and Burt Bacharach are. (Ooos, sorry Joan and Burt. I just googled, and you’re both still very much alive.)

David Hockney is on the list. I’m wondering if he paints in his ride? Did Sidney Sheldon write in his? Does Jerry Lewis practice “hey, lady”-ing?

My last car was a Beetle.

Even if I had had it tricked out for when I was gridlocked, it probably wouldn’t have been worth it. I think for these “mobile palaces” to work, you need a driver.

Monday, February 09, 2015


I am of the generation that was required to memorize poems.

Thus, all these years decades on, I can still make my way through the first few bits of Evangeline, Paul Revere’s Ride, and The Spell of the Yukon.

You say you’ve never heard of The Spell of the Yukon, that spell-binder from the mighty pen of Robert W. Service? What are you? Some kind of an illiterate?

I wanted the gold, and I sought it;
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy—I fought it;
I hurled my youth into a grave.

Oh, it wasn’t all tripe.

Who wouldn’t want to know O Captain, My Captain by heart?

But the poem I’m thinking of these days is John Greenleaf Whittier’s Snow-Bound.

I don’t think that we had to memorize this one – way too freaking long, even for nuns who didn’t hold  back when it came to torture -but we did read it more than a few times:

The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.

Well, swap out December for January or February, and you’ve got it going, John G.

Cue the snow; queue the snowplows.

Those who live in New England, or who follow the weather on the news,* will know that for the last couple of weeks, we’ve been slammed.

The first storm - 2+ feet – was quickly followed up by another 1+: the largest seven-day accumulation in record-keeping history.

And we’re now in the midst of a slow-moving but majorly accruing snowfall that, by the time it winds down in the wee small hours of the morning, will have dumped another foot or two on us.

So I’ve been feeling a bit snowbound.

Oh, with the exception of yesterday, I’ve at least stuck my nose out, even on the worst of days.

Sometimes it was to mail a letter, sometimes to run to the store.

On the one pretty nice – sunny-ish, in the 30’s – day we had last week, I walked to and from a meeting in the Fenway area, and actually got to see a bit of the Patriots’ celebration parade. I waved to Tom Brady’s little boy, and saw Bob Kraft brandishing a trophy. I also saw a magnificent hawk outside Kenmore Square, perched on a snow bank I was walking by.

But mostly when I’m out, I’m doing touch up shoveling, or cleaning out the storm drain/curb cut on the corner. (A no-man’s land for sure.  It was maintained for years by an elderly neighbor, who hung up his ice chopper in his early 80’s.  For a number of years, I was his assistant, but when Dick retired, I took up the task. Dick occasionally stops by the chat and give me an atta girl, as he did last Friday. I told him that I plan on quitting at 70, and pass the torch to the new generation…I suspect that I’ll really be snowbound waiting for someone to pick up that torch. There will no doubt be an app to get someone to do the work, but not to actually do the job itself.)

The other day, I made it onto the news. New England Cable Network came up and asked if they could interview me, and I quite pleasantly said ‘no’. But they had been filming me, and a neighbor told me he’d seen me. Almost famous, I guess. More so if I’d agreed to an interview.

Other than to check out the shoveling job out front, and see if I can free up the storm drain, which I know will be snow-clogged, I won’t get out today.

Tonight’s event at the Writers’ Room has been postponed.

Tomorrow, I have two things scheduled: an advocacy event at the State House on behalf of St. Francis House, and a friend’s reading at a bookstore in Newton (preceded by dinner with another friend). I’m betting that at least one of those will be called off.

On Wednesday, I have a client meeting in the Innovation District.

I hope that’s a go, as I’ll definitely be experiencing cabin fever by then.

Friday’s downtown meeting I might auto-cancel. The high is supposed to be 8 degrees…

I think all this snowboundedness is giving me a preview of what it will be like to grow old here.

Still, when I think of where I can see myself growing old, it is here.

And when I think of other places where I might want to retire, it’s never sensible places like Florida or North Carolina.

I think about Worcester. Or Northhampton, Massachusetts. Or Burlington and Brattleboro, Vermont. Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Newburyport, Massachusetts. Portland, Maine. Lowell. Salem. Beverly.

On Sunday, there was an article in The Globe on the revival of Biddeford, Maine.

Hey, I told myself, that sounds like a pretty good place to grow old in.

If you’re going to be snowbound, it might as well be in a place that gets plenty of snow.


*You could believe my ex, lyin’ Brian Williams when he spoke about the snow in these parts. 

Friday, February 06, 2015

Not Brian Williams…

As it happens, I have long had a big, fat, main stream media crush on NBC anchor Brian Williams.

I’ve been watching NBC news since the days of Huntley and Brinkley. I didn’t crush on either of them.

I didn’t crush on John Chancellor, either. Or Tom Brokaw.

But Brian Williams.

Well, sigh.

He’s been my Main Stream Media dreamboat.

Oh, for all I know, in real life he’s a 14 karat gold jerk. But, for the 30 minutes I spend with him most evenings, he has come across as pleasant, intelligent, authoritative, and – on occasion – faintly bemused.  Being handsome enough in a Pierce Brosnan manqué kind of way and having a nice voice don’t hurt, either. Plus he’s a parochial school-er. So if he were older, and I were younger, he could have been sitting at the next desk over.

Anyway, all this has, over the years, added up to a case of be still, my little old lady heart.

And then I have to find out that he’s a bit of a trimmer, a fabricator, maybe even a – gasp! – liar.

Brian, Brian, Brian: say it isn’t so.

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams admitted Wednesday he was not aboard a helicopter hit and forced down by RPG fire during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a false claim that has been repeated by the network for years.

Williams repeated the claim Friday during NBC’s coverage of a public tribute at a New York Rangers hockey game for a retired soldier that had provided ground security for the grounded helicopters, a game to which Williams accompanied him. In an interview with Stars and Stripes, he said he had misremembered the events and was sorry. (Source: Stars and Stripes.)

If there’s a more mealy-mouthed weasel word than “misremembered”, I don’t know what it is.

And yet I do believe that it is possible to misremember something.

The parents of one of my high school classmates owned a very nice – but, alas, no longer in business – motel/inn on the Cape. After graduation, they invited a bunch of us down to spend a week there, and we had as much fun as any gaggle of girls could have. (The most daring thing we did: everyone took a puff on a cigarette. And yes, that was a cigarette cigarette we’re talking about here.)

Anyway, one day, we took the boat to Nantucket, entertaining the other tourists by performing our high school glee club repertoire. (It was a kinder, gentler time.) On Nantucket, we split up. Some girls went shopping, and a handful of us rented bikes and pedaled around the island, somehow ending up at the airport.

On our way back to town, we somehow concocted a plan to tell other friends that, at the airport, we’d seen Paul Newman.

They, of course, fell for it, and I’m sure that some of the “girls” can still recall how crestfallen they were that, because they chose shopping over biking, they missed the opportunity to see Paul Newman.

Paul Newman was the perfect celebrity to choose.

If we’d said that we’d seen one of the Beatles, they never would have believed us.

But Paul Newman was just plausible enough. Famous and handsome but, let’s face it, old enough to be the father of any of the girls in our class.

Many years after the fact, I found myself with a very vivid image of Paul Newman at the airport in Nantucket. I laughingly told one of my friends that, somehow, across the years, my mind had convinced itself that I’d actually seen him.

But, in truth, I know the truth.

And I’m thinking that Brian Williams should have, too. (Although the “I saw Paul Newman” part of me can kinda-sorta understand how it happened. But not really.)

Here’s what the man I would still like to think of as my Main Stream Media dreamboat had to say for himself (on Facebook), once some of the guys who were there called him out and he admitted that they were right and he was wrong :

"…I spent much of the weekend thinking I'd gone crazy.  I feel terrible about making this mistake, especially since I found my OWN WRITING about the incident from back in '08, and I was indeed on the Chinook behind the bird that took the RPG in the tail housing just above the ramp. Because I have no desire to fictionalize my experience (we all saw it happened the first time) and no need to dramatize events as they actually happened, I think the constant viewing of the video showing us inspecting the impact area — and the fog of memory over 12 years — made me conflate the two, and I apologize."

On Wednesday night’s NBC News, he apologized yet again.

I guess when it comes to being able to distinguish truth from fiction, the fog of war is more powerful than the non-fog of biking around Nantucket on a gorgeous June day.

Gee, but I’d like to give my MSM beau another chance.

After all, if I can close my eyes and picture Paul Newman on the Nantucket tarmac, maybe Brian Williams can close his eyes and picture the ‘copter he was on taking fire, and not the one in front of him.

There are, of course, a number of possibilities about what actually happened, other than that Brian Williams is a liar, liar, bespoke suit pants on fire.

One is that Williams was so traumatized by his experience on the ground in a war zone that he actually does have some form of PTSD.

There’s always the terrible possibility that he has early stage Alzheimer.  Didn’t St. Ronald of Reagan once claim to have liberated a concentration camp? (Which I don’t believe he did even in a movie.)

And then there’s the possibility that the soldiers that just now started jumping down his throat are part of the brigade that gets all up in their shorts if some schnook goes to a costume party dressed like a Marine, and start screaming “stolen valor.” After all, Brian Williams is a pretty boy who never served, and he’s probably a snotty liberal.

And, once the truth-seekers get in the act, well, everybody just starts heaping on – hey, this could be this week’s DeflateGate! Tom Brady’s a liar! Brian Williams is a liar! Through the alchemy of social media and 24/7 news, we can make a something out of nothing, let alone when there is something that we can inflate into a BIG, EARTH-SHATTERING SOMETHING.

Which, when last I looked, is starting to look like what actually happened, now that the pilot of the helicopter that Williams was on has come forward to say that the chopper did take fire. But it was small arms fire, not an RPG. (Source: Talking Points Memo.)

Let’s face it, when it comes to memory, twelve years later the storm was bigger, the car was going faster, the blood was gushing stronger, the fish that got away was the size of a whale. So maybe your mind can do a bit of conflating and convince you that maybe it was an RPG and not small arms fire, after all.

No wonder Brian Williams thinks he might be going crazy.

Not that this is a good thing, mind you (or out of your mind you). Someone who’s in the media business should probably hold himself to a higher standard of recall than, say, those of us who may or may not have spotted Paul Newman at the airport. And if Brian Williams can convince himself of something that didn’t really happen quite the way he thinks it might have, what else might he be “misremembering”?

I’m going to have to keep that crush on hold while we see how this brouhaha plays out.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Regulation? What regulation? We don’t need no stinkin’ regulation?

Knock on wood, but I’m one of those lucky near-geezers who doesn’t have to take any pills. Other than a handful of vitamins that my doctors have suggested – the usual suspects: multi-vitamin, calcium, D3, and one unusual suspect: alpha lipoic acid (long story) – I don’t have to worry about the daily dose. And because everything I take is more voluntary than medicinal, if I miss a day or two, it’s no big deal.

Not that I don’t have a handy-dandy pill dispenser.

In fact, I have two.

One was the 7x2 container that we used to keep track of my husband’s various and sundry a.m. and p.m. pills, which became more various and sundry over the final years of his life.  Jim’s pills were a medical necessity, so we really did have to pay attention to what and how much he took, and when he took it.

I have a different pill-keeper: a “tower” of seven little plastic containers that screw together, and come in rainbow colors. It looks kind of cool – not as officially medicine-y as the one we used for Jim. Maybe when I transition to “real” medicine, I’ll go there.

Anyway, since they’re not real medicines, I suppose that the “stuff” that I take all come under the dietary supplements heading, vitamin division.

So I was interested to read that the State of New York is going after some of the mega-retailers for:

…selling dietary supplements that were fraudulent and in many cases contaminated with unlisted ingredients.

The authorities said they had run tests on popular store brands of herbal supplements at the retailers — Walmart, Walgreens, Target and GNC — which showed that roughly four out of five of the products contained none of the herbs listed on their labels. In many cases, the authorities said, the supplements contained little more than cheap fillers like rice and house plants, or substances that could be hazardous to people with food allergies. (Source: NY Times)

Rice and house plants, huh? Well, these are, after all, herbal supplements.

What was not found in some of the supplements was more interesting than what was there.

At GNC, there was no ginkgo biloba in the ginkgo biloba; no St. John’s wort in the St. John’s wort; no ginseng in the ginseng, and no echniacea in the echinacea.

Well, who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp?

Although I do love the name, I don’t use ginkgo biloba, or any of the rest of these supplements. (St. John’s wort sounds like something you’d use to cast a spell on someone, doesn’t it? Didn’t the witches in MacBeth throw that in their brew or something?)

Target also skimped – i.e., omitted a bit – entirely on ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort and valerian root. (Valerian root – that’s another one for those MacBeth girls.) What makes the Target skimping so riotously hideous is their house brand’s name: Up & Up.

Looks like you really need to stay away from that ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort, echinacea, and gingseng.Walgreen’s and Walmart both came up empty on those. Walgreen’s even managed to pass of garlic-less garlic.

Of the four retailers that were caught:

Wal-Mart was the worst offender: None of its six supplements that were tested was found to contain purely the ingredient advertised. Target’s supplements were the least misleading of the lot — though that isn’t saying much, since tests on six of the brand’s products resulted in only one unqualified positive. (Source: Washington Post.)

The overall results were so “extreme” that one supplement expert:

… found them hard to accept. He suggested that the manufacturing process may have destroyed some of the ingredients’ DNA, rendering the DNA barcode test ineffective.

But if the tests are accurate, wouldn’t you think that these mega-retailers could do some testing on their own?

I don’t buy my supplements at the big box stores – I mostly get them at my local, blessedly independent and thoroughly wonderful and trustworthy corner drug store, Gary Drug.

While I don’t believe that what I buy there is adulterated, and while I’m certainly not going to head over to the nearest chem lab – or wherever it is you do DNA testing -  to see if I can figure out exactly what’s in that D3, I nonetheless thought it would be interesting to see just what is listed among the ingredients.

That alpha lipoic acid is mostly alpha lipoic acid, but it also contains gelatin, rice flour, vegetable magnesium stearate, and silica. Yum! I’m guessing the gelatin is the makeup of the capsule that makes taking this one relatively smooth sailing on ingestion. I can vouch for the acid, however. If you take one of these suckers without food, you have to take a Tums chaser.

My calcium supplement contains all sorts of crazy stuff. Oligofructose enriched insulin? Say what? (Before he became an economist, my husband was a chemist. Where is that boy when I need him?)

At least what’s in the D3 is recognizable, more or less: soybean oil, gelatin, vegetable glycerin, corn oil.

As for my multi-vitamin. Well, they don’t call it multi-vitamin for nothing.

I’m going to guess that most/all of the adulterated herbal supplements that the big boxers were pushing came from China, where the regulatory philosophy is pretty laissez faire.  Although, oddly enough, I think that ginkgo biloba is/was an ancient Chinese remedy…

My unadulterated – at least as far as I know – vitamin supplements are mostly “carefully manufactured” in the United States.

Anyway, it’s time to go take my vitamins. (See, I remembered it even without taking any ginkgo biloba, real or fake.)

------------------------------------------------------------------------------Many thanks to my friend Valerie for sending this story my way.