Friday, July 31, 2015

Who wears short shorts? Sylva Stoel takes on JCPenney.

I was somewhat amused (and somewhat bemused) by an article I saw earlier this week about a young woman working at short shortsJCPenney in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who was sent home from work for wearing shorts that she was told were “too revealing.”

JCPenney is certainly entitled to have a dress code. And I’m enough of an old geezer to say that an outfit that’s fine for working at a summer camp, or an ice cream shop, or even a store that catered to juniors, may not be the right look for fuddy-duddy retail. Into which category I would toss JCPenney. (Not to mention: wouldn’t you be cold wearing that outfit in an air-conditioned store?)

But I don’t see this getup as “too revealing.” And I can understand Sylva Stoel’s bemusement: she bought the shorts in the JCPenney’s career section.

Stoel said:

…that during her job orientation, her manager had never mentioned shorts, but had said denim, T-shirts and spaghetti straps were prohibited, and skirts could not be “too short.”

Stoel said she had seen co-workers show up in denim and men’s undershirts, but they weren't sent home. (Source: HuffPo)

Ah, whose definition of “too short” are we following here? That of a normal, everyday person, or that of Sister Mary Filter of the Holy Smokes*?

I came of age during the first mini-skirt wave, and, in retrospect, I had plenty of skirts that weren’t much bigger than a loin cloth. I remember quite fondly a purple jersey dress that just about hit my thighs. A blue striped wool skirt that I adored. A green and blue tee-shirt dress (heavy on the tee-shirt, light on the dress.)

I never wore “hot pants” (now there’s a name), but I had any number of pairs of cut-offs. My rule on shorts and skirts – which I believe in to this day, when I’m well beyond being in any danger of violating it – is that, if any part of your ass cheeks show, it’s too damned short. (That said, did I once really have a pair of cut-offs that were so short that the bottom on the pocket dangled out?) 

Anyway, I was never all that outrageous, not by the standards of my day, let alone the far more out-there standards of this day and age. But, I did my part. Hey, I was young, and what better way to bug your parents?

My mother was the prude of all prudes when it came to clothing. Shirts were best buttoned up to the chin. You wouldn’t want to reveal any clavicle, would you? Skirts were best down to the knee. Better yet, below it. Shorts should be Bermuda length. None of this cut-off nonsense.

My sisters and I used to say that Liz’s dress code revolved around three categories: TS (too short), TP (too plunging), and TB (too black: for some reason, she didn’t believe girls – i.e., anyone under the age of fifty – should wear black).

Anyway, by the time I was ready to start violating the TS/TP/TB rules, I was one foot out the door, heading off to college and on my own. Once I got to college, I mostly swapped out one uniform – 12 years worth of parochial school green jumper and white blouse – for another: jeans and a sweater. If I had on a skirt, I was probably wearing a black turtleneck with it. If I had on a skirt, it was probably to wear when I worked retail at Filene’s or Jordan’s (where I mostly remember wearing a corduroy jumper (short), black and black tights. As for dresses, they were quite rare. My father’s wake and funeral; the weddings my friends started having after we graduated.Mostly if I had a dress on during college, it was a white nylon waitress dress.

During my career-career, I went from wearing menswear women’s power suits, to skirts and jackets, to slacks and jackets, to slacks and sweaters. These days, when I meet with a client I’m in a pantsuit for the first meeting, and a skirt or pants, and a decent top, thereafter.

There were no circumstances during my career-career in which shorts of the JCPenney career variety would have been appropriate. Just not done. But I can see that Bermuda-length, dressy shorts might work. (Just not for anyone my age.)

As for Sylva Stoel’s attire. That depends. As I’ve said, I think it would work in the junior section or the kids’ department, maybe not in men’s suits. But it’s hardly over the top or outrageous. I think JCPenney has to firm up their dress code, and, maybe, redefine what gets carried in their career section.

By the way, Sylva Stoel tweets under the handle queen feminist. I have to say that it does my old bra-burning, don’t iron while the strike is hot, Ms. subscriber, Our Bodies, Ourselves reader’s heart good to see a millennial feminist in action.

Unlike Sylva Stoel, I don’t see work-related dress codes as being a major feminist issue.

“Unfair dress codes affect millions of women, and it’s time to speak out against them,” she said.

But, hey, I’m no longer on the barricades.

Do people still say, “You go, girl!”

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Here’s looking at you, passenger in seat 23B.

I’m not an especially frequent flyer. In the last six months, I’ve flown to Phoenix, Chicago, and Edinburgh, and my overall annual norm is probably two to four trips. When I do fly, I always spring for the extra: a bit more leg room, an aisle seat, early boarding. Whatever’s on offer, it’s worth the extra $25 bucks or so.

Thanks to my late husband’s aggressive gaming of the free-miles-via-credit-card “system,” and with smaller thanks to the days when I did enough regular business travels to accrue miles naturally, I have flown first or business plenty of times. I have to say it’s great. Forget the little goodie bag and the edible food. What’s really nice about the upper class is that the seating’s a lot more comfortable. That’s the case whether or not you’re in a splosh mini-cabin of your own or just in a comfily padded, leg-stretchable, wide-body plain old seat. Not that I’ve ever been in a splosh mini-cabin. But I have been in those relaxer chairs where you can stretch out fully for the flight. Heaven, actually.

While it’s doubtful that there’ll be much high-end flying in my future, I’m always interested in reading about how first class is getting classier, with private cabins, Michelin-starred grub, ultra high thread count bedding, showers, butlers…

But as the airlines make more room for the elite travelers, they’re – surprise, surprise – doing so at the cost in comfort of the rest of us. All that extra space for the 7 foot long beds has got to come from somewhere.

I recently read that airlines were considering making the bathrooms smaller.  I guess they could put a fold-down sink over the toilet. Or, like Porta-Potties (or at least the best of them), just have some sort of hand sanitizer dispenser that emits a squirt of Purell. They could always get rid of the toilet and just have the hole in the floor with the foot rests on either side. (Hey, I’ve been to France a few times. I know how to use those suckers. Sort of.) Maybe they could design them so you had to back in, and/or replace the according door with a roll-down shade. But there’s not a lot of room to squeeze out of those facilities to begin with.

That leaves the seating arrangements, which are slimming down to make more space for the rich (or just so that more of the great unwashed can get crammed in):

Economy seats are narrower and closer, but they’re also getting less padded. Last year airlines such as Delta, United, American, Southwest, and Spirit swapped out standard cushion seats for slim-line seats. The name may sound stylish, but slim-line is a nice way of saying that perching on these seats can be about as comfortable as sitting on a park bench for a long-haul flight. Less cushioning means the seats take up less space. Less space means the potential to add more seats. More seats, of course, means more money.  (Source: Boston Globe)

Blame it on our steerage passengers’ penny-pinching ways:

“You’re not going to get people in economy to pay more,” said Michael Friedman, senior equity analyst at Delaware Investments. “So the question has become, to what extent are airline passengers willing to accept torture to save a few dollars?”

One of the answers to that question may be coming from Zodiac Seats, which was recently granted a patent for this:

Not only do these space savers look wildly uncomfortable, but the unfortunately monkey in the middle will be full frontal with their row-mates.

I really don’t think that any airline would be equipped to handle the number of passengers who would go berserk sitting in one of these honeys. Would they distribute Quaaludes with the “complimentary beverage”? Are they thinking of more air marshals armed with stun guns? Drop down oxygen masks that drop down anesthesia instead. (“I woke refreshed and don’t remember anything about my journey.”)

What’s next? Offering to ship humans in dog crates?

Me? I’d rather stay home. Unless I win the lottery, in that case, order me up a mini-cabin with a shower and butler.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

When it comes to naming their pierogi, Sophie’s makes the wrong choice

Product naming is tough. The process quite deceptively seems as if it should be relatively simple and straightforward – as easy as you can say Campbell’s Soup.  – but coming up with a decent name is actually quite difficult. You want one that doesn’t make you look ridiculous, that doesn’t have a double meaning, that translates without embarrassment, that doesn’t throw off a silly acronym, and that won’t be found offensive by the majority of people (not just the ultra-PC crusaders). Trust someone who once managed a product called AutoBJ, there are plenty of bad names out there, and you should really try to avoid them.

Polish Eats, an Ohio foodery -  Peter’s Market: Home of the King of Kielbasa and Sophie’s Café - apparently didn’t get the memo on product naming.

Thus their Sophie’s Choice Pierogi, which are:

…simply amazing…you can always bet that Sophie’s Choice Pierogi are going to be first to disappear from the dinner table! (Source: Polish Eats)

First to disappear? Say, would that be like the child that the character Sophie, in the classic book/movie Sophie’s Choice, sacrificed to the Nazis in hopes (fruitless ones, of course) of saving her other child?

At least their tagline isn’t ‘you’re shoah going to love them’.

Here’s what Nancy Friedman, an expert on naming and branding, has to say:

I don’t care if your beloved founder is named Sophie. I don’t care if she chose the ingredients, the recipe, and the wacky label art. I will not listen to your argument about “choice” being an adjective meaning “of fine quality.” I don’t care if you call it an homage, and I don’t care how you pronounce “homage.”


I definitely won’t listen to arguments about Polish jokes.

Here’s the thing: Literature renders some names off limits. In this case, William Styron got there first, and thanks to him, “Sophie’s Choice” now stands for something horrific. [Children’s bedroom furniture called Lolita.]

Unless you are truly tasteless—a damning thing to say about a food company—you do not get to name your product “Sophie’s Choice.”  (Source: Frtinancy)

Truly tasteless is certainly one possibility here. For your consideration, I offer a few others.

Obliviousness: Could it be that the folks at Polish Eats weren’t aware of the plot of Sophie’s Choice? Maybe when they went to dub their pierogi, nothing came to mind. Maybe all they could come up with for an association was “wasn’t that the movie where Meryl Streep divorced Dustin Hoffman and tried to keep custody of the cute blond kid?”

Obstinacy: Did they so fall in love with the name that they managed to convince themselves that Sophie is Sophie, and choice is a perfectly fine word, and both Sophie and choice were around long before William Styron started typing, so…Damn anyone who thinks there’s anything wrong with our using a perfectly good word. So, maybe they’re just pig headed.

Slyly “humorous”: In a sick, anti-Semitic kind of way. “Oh, it’s just a clever play on words, and our customers will know it’s all in good fun.” Which may not be the wisest route to take, especially given the long history of anti-Semitism in Poland, the sheer numbers of Polish Jews who were slaughtered during the Holocaust, and that fact that so much of the overall slaughter of the innocents took place on Polish soil. (Also the scene of much of the action in Sophie’s Choice.)

I was actually going to give them the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that they did their naming before Styron wrote his book and Streep acquired her Polish accent. But, no, Sophie’s Choice Pierogi Company was founded in 1984, five year’s after the novel was published, and two years after the film (for which Meryl Streep won an Oscar: this was not some under-the-radar indie) was released.

You know, there are a lot of other words that would have worked just fine: Sophie’s Best, Sophie’s Favorite, Sophie’s Special… Why would anyone go with a name that would be offensive to so many, and strike so many as sick jokey?

I like a good pierogi as much as the next guy, but if I’m ever in Garfield, Ohio, I most definitely will not be stopping in at Sophie’s Café. I’d rather eat from a can of Chef Boy-ar-di ravioli mush than take a bite of a “simply amazing” Sophie’s Choice pierogi.

And Sophie’s Choice Pierogi Company can put that in their pierogi and stuff it.

Thanks to my sister Kath for pointing this one out to me.  

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Think I may get myself a pair of Chucks. (Probably not, but it’s fun thinking about it…)

Well, today is going to be a big day for Chuck Taylor fans everywhere.

Converse is releasing the new Chucks and – get this – they’re actually rumored to be comfortable and provide some support. So what if it took them nearly 100 years to come around to it.

The updated sneaker will merge the old shoe’s classic exterior with a more modern, cushioned interior engineered by Converse’s parent company, Nike Inc., according to retailers with knowledge of the product.

Called the Chuck Taylor II, the shoe will feature an insole with Lunarlon technology available in many of Nike’s existing athletic and casual sneakers, the retailers said. The shoe weighs less than the current Chuck Taylor, also known as the All-Star or Chucks, they said. (Source: Boston Globe)

When I was growing up, there weren’t as many sneaker choices as there are today.

Kid wore Keds, P.F. Flyers, or Red Ball Jets. Nobody actually wanted to wear Red Ball Jets, as the logo on the back of their shoes looked like a tiny Japanese flag. This was the 1950’s, and pretty much everyone’s father had been in World War II fighting against the Japanese flag. So there was something suspicious about Red Balls.

Our family wore P.F. Flyers, probably because that was the brand that Mr. McEarchern (pronounced Mc-Geck-rin) sold at his cobbler’s shop. Mr. McEarchern, who wore a navy pin-striped suit, closed collared shirt without tie, and a scally cap, in doors and out, was our cobbler. His shop was in Webster Square, not far from where my grandfather had his saloon. So he and my grandfather would have been merchant contemporaries. I don’t recall him every mentioning my long dead grandfather. Then again, no one did. I’m sure Mr. McEarchern just wanted us to get the damned sneakers (or rubbers, which he also sold) and get the hell out of his shop so he could get back to cobbling.

In addition to Keds, P.F. Flyers, and Red Ball Jets, boys had another option. They could wear Converse All Stars.

Black or white, high top or low cut, the styles went in and out.

But whatever the style, they offered the same lack of support and comfort that sneakers (or tennis shoes, as they were called, although none of us played tennis) provided: none at all. Which was one of the reasons why no one wore sneakers all year round, and which was why your parents always said they were “bad for your feet.” Especially if you had flat feet, like I (and my father) did.

Converse All Stars wecousyre actually
worn by NBA All Stars. Here’s Bob Cousy sporting a pair. Cousy wasn’t originally a Worcester boy, but he’d played his college hoops at Holy Cross, and stayed in Worcester throughout his storied playing career with the Celtics. He lived, in fact, next door to my high school, which one of his daughters attended. For all I know, he still lives there.

Professional athletes are always being compared era-to-era, but imagine what those guys could have done if they weren’t killing themselves pounding around in Chucks?

It’s been a while since any pro ballers wore Converse, but they got a new lease in life when they became a hipster fashion statement.

In recent years, it has become a more mainstream trend seemingly endorsed by everyone except podiatrists.

The current Chuck Taylor offers about as much benefit to the foot as the 5-inch high heel, said Dr. Lloyd S. Smith, a podiatrist in Newton Center who has done consulting work for New Balance, Converse, and Nike.

…Dr. John Giurini, chief of podiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said he wouldn’t recommend the All-Star for patients with any prior foot injuries. He said flat shoes with limited support can exacerbate issues such as achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and posterior tibial tendonitis, among other foot problems.

Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, posterior tibial tendonitis? Oh, my aching feet.

Despite the new Converse tidings of comfort and support, I don’t actually think I’ll be getting myself. Not cool enough, I guess. Too darned old.

But maybe I’ll look into a pair of Converse Jack Purcell’s, named for the famous badminton player. (Name another.) Low cut Jack’s might be more my ticket.

Anyway, Converse Headquarters isn’t far from where I live.

Next time I’m walking that way, maybe I’ll stop into the store there. Check out the Chucks. Check out the Jacks. See what they’ve got for old lady gear…

Monday, July 27, 2015

Baloney Man? Not this guy!

April through October (or thereabouts), there’s an ice cream truck parked at the corner of Arlington and Boylston Street, about 5 minutes walk from my home. It’s soft-serve ice cream, so I’m not exactly running over, but I’ve gotten water and lemonade there a couple of times when I’ve been out for a walk.

Other than Fosty’s, this is, alas, not an ice cream truck kind of ‘hood, so there are no ice cream trucks moseying around the neighborhood playing merry-go-round music. It just sits there quietly selling stuff to (mostly) tourists. (It sits next to the beautiful, peaceful and quiet-ful Public Garden, home of the Swan Boats and Make Way for Ducklings.)

But some places are ice cream truck friendly, and Peabody, Massachusetts, is apparently one of them. Allan Ganz, who plies his trade there, has been going strong for 68 years – since he was 10 years old, working his father’s ice cream truck. His father, Louis, was an ice cream man until he was 86, so Allan still has a few good years left in him. But if Allan retires tomorrow – which he has no intention of doing – he’ll do so as the owner of the Guinness World Record for the “longest career as an ice cream man.’’

Ganz retired from his job with the postal service 13 years ago, devoting his life since then to the ice cream business. His season runs about seven months, starting in April and wrapping up in October. He said he works seven days a week and takes off only one day in that stretch, his birthday in July.

A white and pink flag with ice cream cones on it waves outside his West Peabody home. He keeps his truck out back, as well as three freezers that store the ice cream, which he picks up from a nearby vendor every Thursday at 5 a.m.

He starts his shifts at 11 a.m. and does not stop work until 8:30 or 9 p.m., logging roughly 70 miles a day.

“It’s not as easy as it looks,” he says while driving his route Friday, gripping the wheel of his truck, which has accumulated more than 148,000 miles. (Source: Boston Globe)

Actually, it doesn’t look easy at all at all. Driving slowly around all day. Dealing with all those kids agonizing over whether to order a blueberry slushie or a Sponge Bob whatever. Deciding how often to go into your own pocket because a weepy-eyed kiddo doesn’t have the scratch for either the blueberry slushie or the Sponge Bob whatever.Worrying about all those throngs of little heads when you’re backing up or heading out.

Nope. Doesn’t look easy to me in the least.

My own personal experience working with ice cream was of the stationary variety.

When I was in college, I worked the evening shift in a snack bar, Twenty Chimneys, at the MIT student center. You could either be assigned the grill, the fryolator, ice cream or the dishwasher. Dishwashing was the very worst, mostly because you got wet, but also because you were in the backroom, isolated from the goofy/funny MIT guys, who were the reason we worked there to begin with. My friends and I seldom got stuck on dishwashing, mostly because the MIT students who worked with us – 99% of who were male – didn’t want their fellow students to see them working the front of the house. They were just as glad to hide out behind the scenes.

Ice cream, one would have thought, was the best station. And most nights it was. What’s not to like about scooping ice cream, pouring on the hot fudge sauce, and topping it off with a shot of Redi-Whip? Unfortunately, we went through so much ice cream, there was always at least one flavor – of the four on offer: chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, and something else that varied – that came from the storage freezer so solidly frozen that it took a hammer and chisel to get any ice cream out of it, Don’t tell me about running the scoop under hot water first! When ice cream’s in a five gallon tub, and as hardened as cement, that warmed-up scoop will only get you so far.

As for my experience as a consumer of ice cream, I have plenty. But little of it was from an ice cream truck.

There was one that made regular stops on our street when was a kid. And why not? I think the average number of kids per house was four or five. And, since ice cream from the truck guy was only a nickel or a dime, pretty much everyone could afford it.

But the ice cream truck was something my practical parents weren’t wild about.

After all, we already had ice cream – a staple Chez Rogers – in the house. Oh, it might not have been a red-white-and-blue rocket, or something with a gumball at its center, but if you wanted ice cream, with or without Hershey’s chocolate sauce or a banana, you could have at it. Plus whenever we went out for a ride in the summer, which our family did at least once a week, we always stopped for ice cream somewhere.And if you had a nickel on your own, you could go to Sol’s drugstore and buy a Popsicle, Fudgicle, or Creamsicle. 

(One of the other frozen treats of my childhood was jumping on the back of a milk truck and asking the milk man for a chunk of ice. Because we were privileged children – some of my father’s cousins were milk men – we were always able to scrounge a nice big chunk of coated ice. Nothing like licking ice covered with a scrim of black diesel exhaust! Yum!)

As for the ice cream truck, I think my parents just thought there was something trashy and unwholesome about the tricked-out wares for sale from the ice cream truck. That was on top of their general reluctance to spend good money on something you could get at home for free.

Anyway, one time my brother Rick (pre-allowance; he couldn’t have been more than three or four) asked my father for some money for the ice cream truck. My father told him that the ice cream truck was “a bunch of baloney.”

So Rick headed for the wooded hills next to our house, and hollered down to the ice cream guy, “You’re nothing but a baloney man!”

Not so, Allan Ganz!

Sixty-eight years working the truck. We should all be so lucky!

Friday, July 24, 2015

J-E-L-L-O shots. Coming soon to a Keurig-like machine near you.

Full disclosure: I’ve never actually had a jello shot.

I would have chalked this up them being a latter-day invention, introduced after the days when I might have been tempted to down a few. Then I read in Wikipedia
that they were rumored to have been first concocted by satirical songwriter Tom Lehrer when he worked for the NSA in the 1950’s. Or, as is more likely, they were invented in the pre-Jell-o1860’s, with a recipe that “calls for gelatin, cognac, rum, and lemon juice.

Anyway, I’ve never had the pleasure, but they do sound kind of fun in a get outrageously trashed kind of way best left – alas – to the young. Which accounts, of course, for their popularity in bars.

But no bartender or sous-chef likes boiling water, mixing the powder, adding the booze, and then…waiting [four hours. And making more at midnight after you sell out isn’t an option, so you end up leaving money in partiers’ pockets. (Source: Bloomberg)

Jeff Jetton wants to do something about this, so he and his partner, Tyler Williams (once owner of a Portland, OR, club snarkily called the Bettie Ford), have come up with the Jevo, a jello shot maker:

…a high-tech machine the size of a large microwave that turns out a tray of 20 shots in just 10 minutes.

They liken it to a Keurig, hoping it will do for the world of jello shots what Keurig did for a cup of joe. And, like Keurig, make their money from sale of the pods, not the machines. (Wasn’t King Gillette a shrewdy when he came up with his ‘give ‘em the razor, sell ‘em the blade’ concept back in the day? Maybe he’d tossed down a few of those way-back gelatin shots when the inspiration came to him.)

Of course, a lot more people start the day with a cup of coffee than end the day hammering down a couple of jello shots. (Ditto for shaving.) Still…

Jetton won’t be using Jell-O brand. His gelatin source will be Jel Sert makers of Royal Gelatin, which was a Jell-O rival during my childhood, but which I haven’t seen on the shelves in years. My mother sometimes bought Royal. I think they had a blackberry flavored that she liked. But flavored gelatin is flavored gelatin, no?

The Jevo is slated for introduction early next year, and they’ve got a full pipeline of “
bars, restaurants, casinos, and cruise ships.”

Getting folks more easily sloshed is not the total end-game for Jetton:

He has big dreams for the Jevo machine. After rolling out in bars, Jetton wants to put them in every hospital and assisted-living center in the world. Gelatin is just as good for delivering medicine to hospital patients as it is for getting Ketel One vodka down people’s throats on Friday nights, he says. And demand could be huge because the sick and elderly often have trouble swallowing pills, but they love their Jello.

It’s also being trialed to help dialysis patient take in the protein supplements they use.

Jevo will not be without competition from pre-packaged Jelly Shots, with flavors like Meyer Lemon Drop. Which, if I’m going to add throwing back a jello shot or two to my bucket list, might be the way to go.

Mostly, I think I’ll be trying out my first Jevo concoction when I’m in assisted living.

Good luck to Jetton and Jevo, the future old geezers of America – and not just the bachelor party girls – are rooting for you.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Alas, the Worcester Tornadoes Are No Longer (but there are still plenty of great minor league team names out there)

 In the run up to last week’s All Star Game, there was a flurry of publicity about disgraced old-timer Pete Rose. For those who don’t follow sports, the odious Rose, after a brilliant career (most of it spent with his home town team, the Cincinnati Reds), was banned from baseball for betting on games. Which means no Hall of Fame.

This isn’t stopping Pete and his buds from shamelessly lobbying the baseball world to forgive and forget and let him into the Hall, where he would have been a first ballot shoe in. (Instead of a no ballot, Shoeless Joe shoo out.)

I didn’t like Pete Rose when he was playing. I don’t like him any better now.

I vote to keep him out of the Hall – no plaque for you, my friend – but to recognize whatever records he holds (facts is facts) if, in fact, the Hall doesn’t do so already. (Fair is fair.)

And with this preface, I’ll get to the heart of the post:

In one of the pictures I saw of Pete last week, he was wearing gear that said “Corn Belters” on it.

As it googles out, the Corn Belters are a minor league baseball team playing in the Corn Belt town of Normal (Illinois). They’re not to be confused with the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Kernels. Who’re are not to be confused with the Modesto (California) Nuts.

There are so many great baseball team names that are out there…

Some teams are named for local industry (however defunct). So we have the Lowell (Mass.) Spinners, harkening back to the days when Lowell was the original mill town.

Then there are Lehigh Valley (Pennsylvania) Iron Pigs. I don’t really know what an iron pig is, but I suspect it has something to do with pig iron. Which is an actually thing that gets produced, unlike Cincinnati Reds (for Redstockings) or the Boston Red Sox which are items of clothing that, while they may be produced, are never actually worn, except by the players. In other words, they seem to be devoid of local meaning.

Into the Iron Pig heavy industry category go the
Lansing (Michigan) Lugnuts, the Mahoning Valley (Ohio) Scrappers, the Chillicothe (Ohio) Paints, and the Akron (Ohio) Rubber Ducks, which get extra props for not only being a shout out to the industry that made its name, but for having a sense of humor (and, I suspect, some fun giveaways). The Bowling Green (Kentucky) Hot Rods got their name from the local Corvette plant.

Post-industrial, non-Rust Belt, Ashville (North Carolina) has its Tourists, Biloxi (Mississippi) has its Shuckers, and Corpus Christi (Texas) has the Hooks. Traverse City (Michigan) is home to the Beach Bums. I guess this makes sense, given that Traverse City is a vacation spot. But I’m so parochial, I associate beach bums with salt water, not fresh.

Reno (Nevada)’s team is named the Aces, while Las Vegas shuns the obvious gambling references – no Casinos, no Blackjacks, no Slots – and has a team called the 51s, a nod to an area (Area 51) in the state where there have been UFO sightings.

The criminal industrial complex rears its ugly head with the Joliet (Illinois) Slammers.

My favorite nod to local business, however, would have to be the Albuquerque Isotopes. At least it was while I was assuming that the name was taken from Los Alamos. But rather than having anything to do with Robert Oppenheim, it turns out that the Isotopes has something to do with Home Simpson. At least I’ll take
wikipedia’s word for it.)

Some teams have names that I don’t quite get.

Are the Wichita (Kansas) Wingnuts called the wingnuts because they manufacture wingnuts in town, or because they breed wingnuts in town? And where does the Winston-Salem (North Carolina) Dash name come from? Shouldn’t they be the Cigs?

But why quibble, when there’s a litany of wonderful minor league team names to chant? The Omaha (Nebraska) Storm Chasers. The Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Canaries. The Richmond (Virginia) Flying Squirrels. The Peoria (Arizona – not Illinois: that wouldn’t make much sense) Javelinas. (I sure hope they play the Surprise (Arizona) Saguaros.)

You’ve got to love a team – the Brooklyn (New York) Cyclones – named for an amusement park ride. And then there’s the dare-to-be-me Everett (Washington) Aqua Sox. And the almost edible Montgomery (Alabama) Biscuits.

The Worcester (Massachusetts) Tornadoes are, alas, no longer. But, really, how could a team named after a weather disaster that killed nearly 100 locals survive?

There is a minor league team in town, the Bravehearts, named, I’m hoping not for any heretofore unknown Worcester Scots’ heritage, or because of any fondness for Mel Gibson, but, rather for the Heart of the Commonwealth.

Go Bravehearts!

(Source for most of the names: Wikipedia)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Under the knife. (All right, Mr. DeMille, in a couple of weeks I’ll be ready for my close up.)

As candidates for cosmetic surgery go, I’m way down the line.

It’s not that I’m completely lacking in vanity. For one thing, I have no idea what’s actually under my dye job. All I know is my hair color is one that was pretty close to what mine was in nature back in the day.

But I don’t spend any time pulling my skin taut to see how many years a face lift would take off. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the bags under my eyes, or the cellulite dimples on my thighs. Sure, I continue to remain in shock for a few minutes every time I get a glance of the skin on my arms and realize that it resembles nothing so much as a dried up peach. But will I do anything about it? Like spring for the Gold Bond rejuvenating or whatever cream? Nah!

And then, last January, I saw my eye doctor. I’d skipped a year when Jim was so sick, so it had been a while.

I reported that I frequently experienced eye fatigue, which is not something you want to frequently experience when you spend most of your time staring at a computer screen or with your nose in a book.

“Well,” he told me. “You have ptosis.”

Ptosis? Never heard of it.

”Droopy eyelids.”

Oh, that.

Turns out that unless I’m struggling to keep my eyes open, my eyelids are covering half of the pupils. Turns out ptosis is the iron-poor blood of the eye world.

While I had never heard of ptosis, I was familiar with it.

After all, for years, my grandmother Rogers had used scotch tape to keep her eyelids open. I don’t remember how she handled blinking, but for the last couple of decades of her life, she generally had tape on the sides of her face. When it came to seeing doctors, Nanny took something of a Christian Scientist approach. She lived to be 97, and never spent a day in a hospital. The taped up eyes worked just fine.

The doctor told me that, given my grandmother’s story, my condition was probably familial. Great: four-eyes from my mother; droopy eyelids from my grandmother.

The doctor recommended that I see the cosmetic eye surgeon who’s part of the large practice he’s in.

So I made an appointment with her..

Harvard undergrad. Cornell med. Classical pianist. Museum trained artist. Karate black belt. And beautiful.

Dr. Superwoman, meet Patient Inadequate.

But in one key arena, I turned out to be more than adequate.

In order for insurance to cover a lid lift, you have to pass (or flunk – depending on how you look at it) and eye test.

I did not fake it. In fact, they did such a poor job of describing what I was supposed to be looking for – a pinpoint of light – that there were a couple of times when I thought I was seeing something that wasn’t there. (Rather than saying “look for a pinpoint of light”, they said “you’ll know it when you see it.” I threw them a few false positives when I thought I saw something cloudy or vaguely brighter on the screen. When I saw the first pinpoint of light, I knew what I was looking forl)

Anyway, this would be the world’s easiest test to fake, which leads me to believe that no one ever pays out of pocket for this type of surgery. But I didn’t have the fake it to pass/fail. I really didn’t see those pinpoints of light until I saw them. They were right about that.

So today, I go under the knife.

I’m not especially looking forward to it – who wants two weeks worth of black and swollen eyes? – but I’m not especially nervous about it either.

Both my eye doctor and Dr, Superwoman tell me that the surgery will fix the vision thing – eye fatigue – for me.

I wasn’t happy to find out that the operation will be performed at a for-profit center that Dr. Superwoman is part owner of. I find that a bit off-putting.

But my primary care physician has worked with Dr. Superwoman, and thinks she’s great.

Maybe I won’t be looking any younger, but I should be looking at things more easily.

Give me a couple of weeks, Mr. DeMille, and I’ll be ready for my close up.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Bobbleheads? There’s a museum for that

Last September, as the Red Sox wound down a dreadful season, I decided on the spur of the moment to take in a game. As I entered Fenway, I was delighted – in the way you tend to get delighted when someone hands you some useless but fun piece of crap – to find myself handed a Pedro Martinez bobblehead doll.

Since I am in de-acquisition mode these days, I de-acquisitioned this one as a key component of a fun-packed Yankee Swap surprise box on Christmas Eve. I did not care in the least whether whoever ended up with the box of no goodies tossed it out. For all I know, it spent Christmas Day shivering in the trash can on the corner of Beacon and Charles.

As we used to say in Worcester, ‘good riddance to bad rubbish.’

Nothing personal about bobbleheads, mind you. Just not my personal collectible of choice. That would be salt and pepper shakers, which I kind of inherited from my mother. For a few years there, friends and family members added to the anchor pieces from Chez Rogers: the circus horses, the Christmas candles, the smiling pigs, the Dutch boy and girl. Occasionally, I bought some on my own. (Those darling little brown teapots I found in an antique shop.) Some of the pairs were broken up when one half of the duo got smashed to smithereens. Some I decided to toss. (Enough is enough.) And, other than a few sets that I really like, and, of course, the ones that I inherited, they’re all on the potential toss list.

In another month or so, my kitchen reno project will begin. Will there be a place for my generally fun but tacky collection of salt and pepper shakers in my swanky, modern new kitchen?

Perhaps I can find a museum that would like to take them off my hands.

Now if I had a bunch of bobbleheads, rather than a bunch of salt and paper shakers, I could give Phil Sklar and Brad Novak a holler and see if they were interested in them for their National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in Milwaukee.

Sklar and Novak, both 31 years old, mutually decided to chuck their careers and create the soon-to-open National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in downtown Milwaukee. If all goes as planned, in January they’ll debut a preview exhibit of their Bobblehead HOF, just a couple of blocks north of the Bradley Center, home of the NBA’s Bucks, then move later in 2016 to bigger downtown digs.

Admission price has not been determined, but Sklar suggested it will be a modest $5 to $10, with visitors treated to the full treasure trove of some 4,000 bobbleheads, most of them sports related.
(Source: Boston Globe.)

Sklar and Novak are business guys. Novak worked at U.S. Cellular; Sklar is a CPA with an MBA from Northwestern.

They recognize that the museum alone may not enable them to live the full bubblehead dream. They’ve set up a custom bobblehead business, producing small lots, as low as 1,000 units. 3D printing should let them get that lot size down to 1. Then, in our narcissistic, selfie-crazed world, they’ll really be onto something. There is, however, some competition out there, outfits that will sculpt a personalized bobblehead from your photo.

Bobbleheads have been around since the early 1960’s. They use to all pretty much look alike. If you look beyond the skintone, hair and eye color, and uniform, darned if they aren’t clones. (This cloning isn’t unique to the wonderful world of bobbleheads. Until it was recently purged, I had a punching nun puppet around here. Lift up the wimple and, low and behold, the punching nun was Margaret Thatcher. Rigid, austere, humorless. Sounds about right for many of the nuns of my youth.)

While Sklar and Novak may be hedging a bit with the custom bobblehead business, they’re still all in on bobbleheads. They know there’s a risk, but they’re young and they’re taking it:

“When I was 12,’’ [Sklar] recalled, “I was selling Beanie Babies on eBay. That was when you could buy them for $5 or $6 and sell them for hundreds or even thousands at the height of the craze. Now I’ll be at Goodwill, and those same Beanie Babies are 50 cents.’’

It’s a lesson that Sklar and Novak keep in mind. The bobblehead industry was born a half-century ago, died off, came back, and remains on a very strong run. Their belief, said Sklar, is that bobbleheads follow a Barbie-like path of perpetual sales and not the Beanie Baby’s crash-and-burn trajectory.

“We look and wonder, ‘Is it sustainable?’ ” said Sklar. “We hope so. We’ve put a lot of eggs in one basket.’’

There is, of course, an upside here.

Heritage Auction House recent sold a 14-inch NY Yankees bobblehead for $59,750. This was not a bobblehead that was given out at The Stadium. It was one of two made for a special display. Still, nearly $60K for a bobblehead.

Anything, apparently, is possible in our crazy world.

I shake my personal, attached to my body, bobblehead in disbelief.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Life hands you a lemon?

Once upon a time, my sister Kathleen and I were going to have a lemonade stand.

Not that there was much call for one in our neighborhood. When kids had any extra money, it got spent at the soda fountain at Sol’s Pharmacy, at Carrerra’s for penny candy, or on the ice cream truck. If you wanted something to drink during the summer, you drank out of a hose.

But we’d seen kids with lemonade stands on TV, and we thought it looked like fun. A lemonade stand was one of those things – like pogo sticks and scooters, and kids who said “Sir” and “Ma’am” – that was presented to you on the small screen as the Norman Rockwell norm. Let’s face it, when you’re an urban parochial school ethnic, what you really want to be is a suburban public school Protestant. It just seemed so much more, well, American.

Anyway, Kath and I were
hoping that our friends, our brothers’ friends, and maybe even some of the older kids on the street would buy lemonade, and we’d make some moolah. It wouldn’t have occurred to us in a million years that a grownup would stop by. There weren’t a lot of grownups walking around our neighborhood during the day, other than a few weirdoes – like Elmer the Boogeyman, and Wally J – who we wouldn’t have wanted to sell to, anyway.

My mother was fine with the idea – as long as we were willing to pay her for the sugar and lemons we used.


Did June Cleaver charge the Beav? Did Donna Stone charge Mary and Jeff? Did Father Knows Best charge Princess, Kitten, and Bud?

Having not yet heard of the Protestant Ethic, we just chalked this up to yet another way in which Catholics were different.

And having not yet studied economics or gone to business school, we couldn’t fathom why my mother would want to charge her very own flesh and blood for stuff that she had sitting around her kitchen for free.What was she, anyway? Some kind of a Communist?

We tried to reason with Lizzie, but the lemonade stand became a no go, even when we did a bit of weaseling and told her that we’d give some of the money we made to the Jimmy Fund.

Who would have thunk that my mother could have been such a shrewd thinking captain of industry?

Not us, for sure.

After all, even if she were, financially speaking, in the right, this wasn’t the only time she’d tried to squelch our nascent commercial instincts.

My mother wouldn’t even let us go door to door selling wholesome Catholic magazines (fundraising for the school) or Holy Childhood seals, either. And those Holy Holy Childhood stampsChildhood proceeds were for a good cause, like baptizing pagan babies. Certainly, those seals would have sold themselves.

The reasoning behind her fatwah on our becoming peddlers was that everyone on the street either had kids in Catholic school who were also selling wholesome Catholic magazines or Holy Childhood stamps, or they were alcoholics who would slam the door in our face, or they were Protestants. And, no, we weren’t to bother our relatives, either.

Oddly, my mother was just fine with us going door-to-door to collect for the Heart Fund. She always signed on to be the annual fund collector for our street, so there Kath and I were, knocking on doors in the middle of winter – February is Heart Month – begging for donations.

The remembrance of my non-lemonade stand past was prompted by an article I saw in a recent Economist.

It recounted a June incident in Texas in which the cops shut down a lemonade stand run by two little girls who were trying to raise the money to buy their dad a Father’s Day gift.

Not only were they hawking without a $150 “peddler’s permit”, but also the state requires a formal kitchen inspection and a permit to sell anything that might spoil if stored at the wrong temperature. As authorities are meant “to act to prevent an immediate and serious threat to human life or health”, the officers understandably moved swiftly in. (Source: The Economist)

Well, by the standards of all the negative police stories in the news of late, this one’s pretty harmless. Still, it seems like a bit of law enforcement overreach. Were they responding to a call from a nasty neighbor of the ‘get out of my yard’ variety? Had the lemonade made someone sick? Certainly, there must be an occasional true crime in Overton, Texas, that these fellows could have been following up on.

Not to be deterred, Zoey and Andria Green:

…discovered that if they gave the lemonade away free, but put a box on the table for tips, they could still make money because the “payments” thus became donations.

Wonder if their mother charged them for the ingredients…


Friday, July 17, 2015

Step by Step, Inch by Inch….My North Face jacket makes its way across country via Pony Express

On July 3rd, I ordered a North Face rain jacket online.

I had hoped to buy one up close and personal at the REI store in the Fenway, but, alas, they had limited size and color selection. There had been, the salesclerk told me, a run on rain jackets earlier in the week. No surprise there, given that, on Wednesday July 1st, a monsoon had been visited on Boston and its environs.

I knew this up close and personal because the onset of the monsoon coincided with my heading out the door to catch the ferry to Provincetown. By the time I neared the ferry, I realized that my existing rain jacket had shifted from repellant to porous – never a good thing when you want to be protected from the rain, not enveloped in it.

Shortly before I got to the ferry, I stopped into at a Store 24 and bought a roll of paper towels, which I used to mop up my jacket, my hair, and my sandals, which had taken on the consistency of squeegees.

The weather in P-town, if anything, was worse. My friends John and Rolf – up for the week from Texas – met me at the wharf, and we drown-ratted it back to their place to dry off. Fortunately, there was a gas fire, in front of which we hung around eating scones until the weather cleared.

In any case, I knew if was time to retire that porous LL Bean rain jacket.

Why not a North Face this time around?

I ordered it on a Friday, but, what with the Fourth of July, it didn’t actually start its journey east until 12 a.m. on Tuesday, July 7th, when it left a warehouse in Visalia, California, for the Fresno FedEx facility.

Ah, Fresno. Other than its association with raisins, I knew little about it. So I googled. After the listing, and the wikipedia link, the top three Fresno hits were related to throat-slashing, drunk driving, and excessive use of force by the policd. No such sordidness when Boston is googled. I guess we just do a better job with search engine optimization.

Fortunately for my new rain jacket, it didn’t linger in Fresno.

By 5:11 a.m. on Wednesday, July 8th, it was in Sacramento.

It didn’t appear to be making all that much forward process, but at least there was some movement.

At this point, I began to wonder whether North Face is actually one of the companies that means what they say when they say 5-7 business days once processed. I’m used to LL Bean, where things always come in a day or two. Sure, LL Bean is closer. And, admittedly, they have a lousy rain jacket. Still, I began wondering whether that jacket would arrive in time for the next monsoon.

My jacket’s layover in Sacramento was brief – just 4.5 hours – perhaps enough time to take a look at the state capitol building and say ‘hello’ to Jerry Brown.

On to Elko, Nevada, where, 12 hours after leaving Sacramento, my rain jacket arrived. This is only a distance of 420 miles, so I wondered whether whoever was schlepping my jacket was hitchhiking. But at least the jacket was heading in the right direction. Go East, young jacket!

By the next morning, the jacket was heading through Lodgepole, Nebraska – population 300 and change.

Aha! At last I was starting to figure things out.

Fed Ex was taking my jacket along the Pony Express route.

Well, I’ll be Wild Bill Hickok’d.

The Pony Express is a lot more interesting than Federal Express, and traveling by pony would go a long way towards explaining why the darned jacket was taking so long to get here.

By the wee small hours of the morning on Friday, July 10th, my package had hit LaSalle, Illinois. Picking up momentum, and perhaps with a tailwind, by that afternoon it had reached Rice Township, Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania! Why I could practically drive down and get it myself. But I was sure that it would reach me by Saturday, so I bided my time.

Rice Township must be a swell place to spend the weekend, because that’s where the jacket languished for a few days.

By this stage, I was just hoping that it wasn’t in some over- heated facility, with the water-proofing baking off of it.

I really don’t need another porous rain jacket.

On Monday, I received glad tidings that the jacket had made its  way to New England – Willington, Connecticut to be precise. Even if they walk it the rest of the way, I told myself, it should be here in a few days.

Gladder tidings on Tuesday. My jacket had slipped through Wilmington, Massachusetts, and was on the truck for delivery. Of course, Tuesday I had to be out for a good cut of the day. Of course, Tuesday, thunderstorms were predicted.

It was my hour of need…

Ah, the race against time.

Before I left for the day, I checked my delivery options. Fed Ex used to have a dandy little option to divert a package to a local Kinko’s for pickup. Apparently not an option “at this time.” This left only the risky option of having FedEx make their delivery when I wasn’t going to be at home. Would they leave the jacket on the steps, on a busy thoroughfare, where it’s pretty stupid to leave a package? Would someone who lives here kindly pick it up and put it in the locked vestibule? Would someone in the building buzz them in as the driver plays buzzing for dollars?

I really hate sweating deliveries…

I left the house, umbrella in hand – why bother with a porous rain jacket – and, as forecast, got caught in a downpour.

The good news? When I returned home, the jacket had – at long last – arrived, and some kind soul had buzzed the FedEx guy into our vestibule.

“When it absolutely, positively, has to be there overnight” – to use a FedEx tagline from back in the early 1980’s, and we were just starting to jumpily realize that everything was time-critical – you might not want to use the North Face standard shipping.

But I’m happy that the jacket has safely arrived.

I should be good for summer torrents for a year or two…

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada

On a couple of occasions during my illustrious business career, I attended business events in Las Vegas.

One was a weeklong user group run by a business partner of the company I was then working for. I remember little about it, other than that I stayed at the (then) somewhat tawdry New York, New York. That a couple of us took some clients out to a pricey meal – not in New York, New York. That there was some kind of trade show aspect, and, in our booth, we gave away pens that turned out have exploding ink in them. That the thing I enjoyed most was walking down The Strip to watch the fountains at the Bellagio. That it was in the dead of summer. And that I rented a black car that turned out to have no air conditioning to drive to Flagstaff, Arizona to visit my brother Tom and his wife.

The other was a weeklong sales kickoff for the company I was then working for. I remember little about it, other than that we stayed at the (then) quite nice MGM Grand. That the marcomm people screwed the product marketing people (that would be me and my posse) out of some opportunities to present our products to the sales folks. (Probably just as well. Those guys didn’t exactly want to listen to boring product crap when the slots were ringing in the background.) That the VP of our business unit took a bunch of us out to eat at a Harley-Davidson themed restaurant. (Gee, thanks, Chuck.) And that it was in the dead of winter, so it was kind of nice to get out of the cold.

I was going to say that there was a third round of business in Las Vegas, when the company I was then working for exhibited at Comdex, but that was when there was a Comdex East in Atlanta. What I remember about that was a bunch of old geezer men in polyester leisure suits looking for freebies. If only I’d had some of those exploding pens…

While I’m not much of a business party girl, in both cases when I actually was in Las Vegas on business, I was well aware that normal people actually enjoy being in Las Vegas on a business boondoggle. They like to
Vegasgamble. They like to drink. They like to go to shows. They like to eat. They like to look at girls. They like to smoke cigars. (Remember, my career was pretty much in guy world.)

So I wasn’t surprised to see an ad in The Economist for
Vegas Means Business. According to the ad, “88 percent of executives agree that having events in Las Vegas makes their job easier.”

There’s no information provided on who’s in this universe of executives, but in a nice little marketing sleight of hand – one worthy of David Copperfield and/or Penn and Teller, right after we read about that “88 percent of executives” - there’s a line that invites us to “Find out all the reasons why so many FORTUNE 500 companies choose Las Vegas.”

See what they did there?

A less than careful reader might think that 88% of FORTUNE 500 “executives agree that having events in Laws Vegas makes their job easier.”

Then, when you look at the testimonials, they’re from somewhat lesser known outfits than the Fab 500.

Anyway, I didn’t have to go to Vegas Means Business to find out why folks that plan events like Las Vegas.

It does make life easier to hold an event in a place that most normal people actually want to go.

They like to gamble. They like to drink. They like to go to shows. They like to eat. They like to look at girls. They like to smoke cigars. (Remember, my career was pretty much in guy world.) And, of course, what happens in Vegas staying in Vegas doesn’t hurt.

Or, as one of the Las Vegas touting executives wrote when heaping praise,

The vibrancy of Las Vegas adds a certain 'je ne sais quoi' to our [user] conference.

Je ne sais quoi, my foot. See the reasons cited above.

Let’s face it, who wants to convene in Boston in January? What red-blooded American business man is going to opt for women wrapped up like Nanook of the North when they can ogle scantily clad show girls. Who in their right mind wants to get blown over by winds whipping off the Atlantic, when they can feel the fine spray of the Bellagio fountains? Who wants to see the Freedom Trail when all the action’s on The Strip?

I wouldn’t say ‘no’ if the opportunity or, ahem, need to see Las Vegas again, but a return trip is not on my bucket list.

But I think I can have a pretty good handle on the reasons why business events quite naturally gravitate there.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Pop-less Bubble Wrap? Yet another of life’s little disappointments.

Well, I suppose if you’re Sealed Air Corp, and you’ve found a way to make one of your signature products more affordable while also expanding your market reach, the news is good.

And if you’re a Sealed Air Corp shipping customer that can now store that signature product in far less space, demonstrating solid ROI for purchasing Sealed Air Corp.s signature product, you’re happy.

But if you’re on the receiving end, the little guy opening a package from Amazon or Pottery Barn and finding to your dismay that Sealed Air Corp’s signature product – that would be Bubble Wrap – no longer pops, well, you would be crushed. You’d feel like a tiny bubble, popped between the cruel fingers of yet another big business with little regard for how we the people actually use their product.

Sealed Air Corp has its reasons. And they’re fine reasons. They’re good reasons. They’re business reasons.

BubbleWrap costs a lot to ship. Bubble Wrap costs a lot to store. Bubble Wrap’s product margins were down. Bubble Wrap was shrinking as a proportion of Sealed Air Corp’s business. Bubble Wrap wasn’t keeping up with the competition.

And, what with all the eCommerce and mCommerce going on, packing and shipping materials is a colossal growth industry. Sealed Air Corp wasn’t deriving any benefit from the boom. They weren’t feeling the love. The bubble, as it were, had burst.

Enter iBubble Wrap.

(Let me digress for a bit here. iBubble Wrap! iBubble Wrap? Isn’t prefacing a perfectly good word with a small letter “i” kind of retro. When I – I mean iI – worked for Genuity back in the day when eCommerce was new and mCommerce wasn’t even a twinkle in the Internet’s eye, we used a leading “i” to signal to the world that the Internet was gonna change everything, and we were going to be there to cash in on it. In fact, in 2001, when I was one of the 50 or so home office folks awarded a trip to Hawaii, tagging along for the sales winners circle trip, we lucky few were called iLeaders. iLeader then, Bubble Wrap blogger now. Oh, how the iLeaders have fallen.)

Anyway, back to iBubble Wrap:

…the new packaging is sold in flat plastic sheets that the shipper fills with air using a custom-made pump. The inflated bubbles look much like traditional Bubble Wrap, with one key difference: They don’t burst when pressure is applied. (Source: WSJ Online)

Okay. So their upfront “i” stands for inflated, not Internet. Hmmmm. Come to think of it, given everything that happened to Genuity – spectacularly failed IPO, ignominious bankruptcy - Genuity’s use of the “i” preface was pretty inflated, too.

Charlotte N.C.-based Sealed Air is betting iBubble Wrap will appeal to space-conscious online retailers who are driving swift growth in the global packaging business, even as fans are disappointed by the lack of pop. Traditional Bubble Wrap ships in giant, pre-inflated rolls, taking up precious room in delivery trucks and on customers’ warehouse floors. One roll of the new iBubble Wrap uses roughly one-fiftieth as much space before it’s inflated.

But, but, but, then we don’t get to pop the bubbles, which we’ve been able to do since 1957, when Sealed Air invented Bubble Wrap. Or which we would have been able to do if anything ever got shipped to us, other than the annual Christmas delivery from Chicago or a carton from Chicago containing my grandmother’s pickles. Both shipped via something called Railway Express. Packaging for both consisted of crumpled up newspapers, not Bubble Wrap.

Now, however, a lot of things come packed with the ever-enjoyable, ultra-therapeutic, Bubble Wrap.

Sure, after a few pops, I tend to get bored. But for those few pops, what a moment of pure bliss.

If iBubble Wrap doesn’t take off, Sealed Air may get rid of their bubble packaging business entirely. Perhaps in anticipation:

…Sealed Air changed its logo in 2013 from nine dots, representing Bubble Wrap, to a triangle.

I predict a name change in their near future. After all, sealed air’s what goes into Bubble Wrap, not into Sealed Air’s other products, which use foam and mushrooms. Unfortunately, Genuity is taken by a company “innovating extraordinary advances in corn, soybeans, cotton and specialty crops.”

(iCorn iSoybeans, iCotton, iSpecialty Crops…)

Sealed Air will continue to offer poppable old-timey Bubble Wrap. But, let’s face it, something that’s cheaper to ship and cheaper to store is going to win out over the universal desire for package recipients to pop some bubbles.

Yet another of life’s little disappointments.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Allons enfants…

After New York City and Ireland, for my husband and me, Paris was our favorite vacation spot.

It’s not as if we were big Francophiles. Or big Francophones.

Mais, non!

But we lov
ed Paris, and traveled there four or five times.

The City of Lights was definitely on our short list of places where we planned to spend a golden month in our golden years, more or less going native. (I.e., I would make sure I had enough French to limp along with a limited vocabulary delivered in the present tense. Jim would nod and smile and wait for the person on the receiving end of my fractured French to start responding in English.)

We were never in Paris for Bastille Day. Our time of year was spring.

The last couple of trips, we stayed in flats – one with a view of the Eiffel Tower out the living room window (spectacular at night when the light show went off), the other in the Marais where we pretty much got lost every time we stepped toe out of the building we stayed in.

What did we do in Paris? Mostly we walked around – it was nothing for us to put 10 miles a day or more on. Jim wasn’t much of a museum goer (to say the least), but we occasionally stopped in at tourist places. When we took our nieces Molly and Caroline, we did more touristic stuff, but even then, Jim took a pass on half of it. (No Louvre, no Bateau Mouche for my boy.)

Just walking around Paris was quite enough. And stopping at cafés for a kir royale. And figuring out where to have lunch. And buying baguettes and Côte d’Or chocolate bars.

Quite enough. (And what I wouldn’t give for it now.)

While we were never in Paris for Bastille Day, on two trips our day of departure was V-E Day.

Our hotel was a charming place at the top of the Champs Élysées, and our room overlooked the Arc de Triomphe. (Oh, yeah, that was another thing we did in Paris. When we stayed in that hotel we’d sit in the window for hours watching the traffic hurl around the monument. Amazing what you can find to do when you have nothing to do.)

On the day before V-E Day, there was a small ceremony at the Arc – something to honor old veterans, I think. But on V-E Day itself there was a BIG CEREMONY, with the President of France doing something or other. Although we never saw this, we did see the preparation, which included snipers on the roof of our hotel, and all sorts of security all over the place.

Alas, we always had to leave for the airport just before whatever was going to happen happened.

So I’ve never been in Paris for any real celebration.

This has been a difficult year for the French, what with Charlie Hebdo and the other terrorist attacks in their country. I’m sure that this will be much on their minds – and on the minds of their gendarmerie – as they set out to celebrate Bastille Day.

I’m not all the up on French history. Most of what I know about the French Revolution came from A Tale of Two Cities and Hilary Mantel’s novel, A Place of Greater Safety. I do know that it took them a while to find that place of greater safety, what with the Reign of Terror, and the many political upheavals of the 19th century. Not to mention two world wars in the 20th, plus whatever it was that happened in Vietnam and Algiers.

Aujourd'hui, I wish the French a glorious day, with plenty of liberté, égalité,and fraternité to go around. And plenty of sécurité as well.

At some point, I’ll get back to Paris. For one thing, I did promise Jim I’d leave a soupçon of his ashes there. Just not yet. And if it turns out I don’t get there, we’ll always have Paris.



Monday, July 13, 2015

Cleaning up the act with Mother Dirt

I’m not exactly Lady Macbeth, but I do like to be clean.

There aren’t many days in my year that don’t include a shower. When I factor in the number of summer-in-the-city days when I end up taking a second shower, I definitely average more than one shower a day. And I don’t see any reason to change at this advanced stage of my life.

So while I wasn’t shopping for an alternative path to cleanliness, I was intrigued by an article I saw on betaboston about
AOBiome and its Mother Dirt product line, which asks that we ‘rethink clean.’

Their main product is AO+ Mist, which “reconnects your skin with the good bacteria it’s lost.”

The patented formula contains live Ammonia Oxidizing Bacteria (AOB) that work by consuming irritating components in sweat and converting them into beneficial ingredients for the skin.

You can use AO+ Mist to augment your regular routine, but “you might even be surprised with what you feel comfortable ‘giving up’ after a while. We've seen it happen before!”

One place they’ve seen it happen with with David Whitlock, the company’s founding scientist, who’s been touting his theories on cleanliness since 2000, which is  when he stopped showering.

Whitlock, 60, says the human skin once played host to bacteria that served as personal groomers, eating through sweat and oils. When we adopted soaps and shampoos, we were clean but the chemicals eviscerated all the good bacteria.

So what?

Whitlock argues that the bacteria feed off urea and ammonia in sweat from the skin, turning them into nitric oxide.

Nitric oxide is a small molecule with a huge role to play in the body. Among its duties: dilating blood vessels to reduce blood pressure and control erections. In 1992, it was Science magazine’s “molecule of the year”; by 1998, the researchers who first demonstrated its effects earned a Nobel Prize.

But until Whitlock came along, no one had considered that skin bacteria could be a source of something that could help the body in many ways. (Source: betaboston).

All I can say is that, to me, nothing says cleanliness like
urea and ammonia in sweat.” Isn’t sweat why I hop in the shower after I come from the gym or have just taken a ill-advised too-long walk on a summer’s day.

But AOBiome has a growing body of happy adopters, who have not only come clean, but who have even claimed that using AO+ Mist has cleared up their acme, eczema and tropical skin conditions. Some say they no longer have to use deodorant.

This all kind of reminds me of Minipoo, a product that was minipooaround in the 1960’s and was something that you used when you couldn’t shampoo.

One of the benefits of having very fine hair is that there’s almost never an occasion – unless you’re on your deathbed – when you don’t have time to get a shampoo in. If you’re hair dries on its own in five minutes, regular shampooing is no big deal. But my mother had some around for touch ups between her weekly beauty appointment at Ted-Jean’s. So I used it once in a while. Whatever was in it was supposed to absorb grease. I don’t recall it working anywhere near as well as a regular shampoo. And I seem to remember that it smelled kind of weird.

Not wanting the smell kid of weird is one of the reasons that folks take a shower everyday, no?

Plus there’s the just plain fact of how good it feels to stand there in a nice hot shower.

But I also know that taking that shower is water- and energy-intensive. And that soaps and shampoos contain nasty chemicals. And that none of this is especially good for the environment.

So, while I won’t be running out to stock up on AO+ Mist, or on the other products in the Mother Dirt line, AOBiome may well be the wave of the cleanliness future.

Boy, am I going to miss those long hot showers. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Dancing on the graves of those laid off. (If you’re going to do, don’t advertise it.)

Pink Slip regular Frederick Wright, in commenting on Wednesday’s “Of Corporate Bonding,” noted that he’d recently read about some quite untoward behavior on the part of a J.Crew VP who, in the hours after he’d had to lay off some of his team, went out whooping it up.

Alejandro Rhett, vice president of men’s merchandising, personally delivered the bad news to several workers who were among the 175 layoffs at the struggling company on June 10, sources told The Post.

Rhett then hightailed it from J.Crew’s East Village headquarters to the Linen Hall bar, where he and other still-employed colleagues threw back drinks. (Source: NY Post)

Going out drinking after you’ve had to let some employees go is not exactly a rare event, I suspect. If you have any heart and/or soul and/or common decency, making your pink slip list, checking it twice, and telling someone that their services are no longer required is exceedingly stressful. At least when I had to do it, we’re talking sleepless nights before and after. So I don’t blame anyone for blowing off a little stream, now that the tension of having to do the dastardly deed is released.

At least in the high tech of my era, the more likely scenario was a group meet up with laid off colleagues at the nearest watering hole on layoff day.

I went to plenty of these bitter, black-humored and depressing events, but never when I’d actually had to let someone in my group go. No, on those days, I went home and cried (probably over a glass of wine or two).

In any case, while it’s understandable why someone would want to go out after laying people off, there’s something unseemly about it if your ‘glad that’s over’, sigh of relief celebrating is witnessed by those who just lost their jobs.

In one of the first lay offs I lived through, the two bone-heads (out of town management) who did the informing were seen high-fiving in a glassed in office after they’d just wrecked the collective day of our little band.

At least we had the satisfaction later finding out that they got stuck in Boston over the weekend due to a blizzard that wasn’t quite forecast.  

Anyway, the problem with Alejandro Rhett’s actions weren’t so much that he went out for a few pops, and made bad jokes and sardonic comments. Sure, he could be a granite-hearted a-hole, but he might just be an inexperienced young guy who had to do something really hard.

The problem, as is so often the case, is that he had to make sure his actions were recorded and shared with the world:

In one shot, Rhett and a female pal literally jumped for joy, with the executive hoisting a drink in his right hand and pointing his left finger to the sky, “Number One”-style.

Hashtags attached to the pic — which scored 33 “likes” — included #hungergames and #maytheoddsbeeverinyourfavor.

Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end, or whether you’re just an innocent bystander watching your friends and colleagues pack their mugs and desk calendars in cardboard boxes and head for the exit, layoffs are excruciating to go through. The tension leading up to them – and there’s always tension leading up to them; they’re never a surprise – is dreadful. When I was at Wang, a fellow on my floor had a heart attack and died in his cubicle a few days before a massive reduction in force.

Although an actual death is a pretty rare occurrence, black humor almost always follows a layoff. If Hunger Games had existed, I’m sure we would have used analogies to it when I was living the vida layoff.


Rhett and J.Crew employee Julie Stamos also posed for a “casual photo shoot” outside the watering hole, modeling preppy clothing and sunglasses.

In one of those shots, the 31-year-old Rhett flipped the bird to photographer and underling Vanessa de Jesus, who works in J.Crew’s men’s merchandising department.

Stamos posted the photo, tagging it #forthewin and #damnitfeelsgoodtobeagangster.

It almost goes without saying that – or so it has been reported - Alejandro Rhett lost his job in the aftermath of all this Instagramming and hashtagging.

Rhett may well be a callous jerk. Or he could just be someone who, in the throes of relief that “it” was over with, couldn’t resist the twenty-something urge to show and tell.

Didn’t I say this just the other day, but when will they ever learn?

Thanks, Frederick. This one’s for you.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

The greatest thing since sliced bread is sliced bread (at least in France)

Occasionally, in grammar school, we were issued a sheaf of manila-envelope yellow book covers, printed in red and brown, depicting a loaf of bread and bearing the saying “Bread is the staff of life.” I’m not sure how the nuns got a hold of these. Perhaps they were donated in bulk to the diocese. I don’t remember whether they were sponsored by a local bread company – Town Talk? Cushman? – or by the Bread Bakers Association of America. I do remember that it was not considered cool to have books sporting the motto “Bread is the staff of life.” So we reversed the covers so that they were blank on the outside.

And I do know that I took this motto to heart, and have lived my life as a devoted bread head.

Last week, my bread indulgence was a loaf of country bread from Bricco Panneteria, a wonderful little bakery located in an alley off Hanover Street in Boston’s North End. I didn’t bother to slice it. I just gouged out a hunk whenever I got a bread craving. Yum!

This week, I changed things up. In the kitchen, as I write, there’s the last couple of slices of a loaf of Nashoba Brook Bakery French bread, the best sliced bread to be found in these parts.

And during my trips to Paris, one of my great pleasures has been stopping into a neighborhood boulangerie and picking up a baguette (or the skinny version, the ficelle), ordered in my rudimentary high school French. I would make my purchase, tuck the loaf under my arm, and head out, knowing that no one would ever mistake me for anything other than an American, but pretending I was une Parisienne.

I knew enough to keep my eye out for a bakery that actually made their own bread, and figured that, any time I went to Paris, I’d be able to get my hands on a loaf of pain artisanal.

Then, zut alors, I read in The Economist that what’s really taking off in France is regular old sliced bread. Yes, indeed:

…sales of pre-cut bread, wrapped in cellophane and twist-tied with plastic fasteners, are booming.

The market in packaged bread in France is now worth over €500m ($560m) a year, says Xerfi, a consultancy. In mid-June the country’s biggest industrial bakery opened in Chateauroux, with a surface area equivalent to six soccer pitches. Owned by Barilla, an Italian food group, the bakery will churn out 160m packets of sliced bread a year, almost exclusively for the French market. Last year sales of Harrys, its leading sliced-bread brand, reached 125,000 tonnes, up by 25% on 2007. Jacquet, a rival French baker, offers 18 different varieties of pre-packaged slices. (Source: The Economist)

Round up the usual suspects as to why this is happening. Modern lifestyles, with too little time and too many working women and, thus, no time for women to pick up a baguette each day. And, as everyone knows, a baguette will turn to a rock after 24 hours. So you really do need to get it while it’s hot.

Meanwhile, snacking is gaining popularity, as are brief, sandwich-friendly lunch breaks.

And then there’s marketing. These days, the rage is bread without crusts.

Bread without crusts? Most ultra-commercial sliced breads don’t have much by way of crust to begin with. And real bread without crusts? What’s the point?

Harrys touts sliced bread is branded as “American sandwich,” attempting to convey “modernity and liberty.”

Well, give me liberty and give me modernity, while you’re at it. But please make sure that, next time I’m in France, I’ll be able to get somethng other than sliced bread.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Of Corporate Bonding

Over the years, I was involved in any number of corporate team-building activities. Given how much I genuinely enjoyed working with most of my colleagues over the years, I’m at a loss to explain why not one of the positive team building events is coming to mind. There must have been at least one, somewhere along the line. What was it??

Oh, yes, when I worked at Wang, we took Myers Briggs assessment tests and found out that we were all introverts who despised team building of any kind. We liked each other just fine. Just leave us alone.

Given this, it will be no great revelation to say that I can, of course, clearly recall any number of team building horror shows.

There was the ghastly dinner at the Medieval Manor, where one of my colleagues grabbed a baguette, placed it between his legs, and ran around terrorizing all the women with it. (High hilarity, as you can imagine.)

There was the one where we were handed some Tinker Toys, split off into groups, and told to build helicopters with them. When our Leonardo-less team was not able to both build a helicopter and follow the rules (which called for using every piece), we were openly called out and ridiculed by the team building coach. This had the practical result of bonding the members of our little subgroup together.

I was once at a week long sales kickoff where, at one point, we were forced to create – and perform – company cheers.

At another sales event, at yet another company, we took a poor-man’s version of Myers Briggs, and all ended up in color-coded groups. Pretty much all the home office attendees were blues, greens, or oranges. The sales guys – who predominated the attendance - were reds, or, as they came to be known, flaming reds. Once we were put in our color coded groups – we were to do some sort of before and after exercise, the eventual point being, I believe, to demonstrate that diversity worked better than not – the reds started rioting. Screeching, yelling about the superiority of reds, jeering at us blues, greens, and oranges. One salesman who’d somehow ended up among the blues was almost in tears. He then announced that the test was wrong, and he was, in fact, a red. Although drugs and alcohol were generally involved in bad behavior at this particular company, I think this was a morning, and thus mostly sober (albeit hungover), session.

At the same company, at yet another week-long sales meeting, the blue-green-orange folks from my division decided to skip an after-party and hole up in our president’s suite to play Trivial Pursuit. This was not a popular decision, as we learned when a group of rampaging sales guys – wrapped in toga-party sheets, and many with Jockey shorts on their heads for some reason or other  – attempted to break into our suite, using the standing ashtray by the elevator as a battering ram.

None of this made me want to bond with the sales team, that’s for sure.

Oh, there were other team building events that I recall. In one, we were forced to sit back to back with someone we didn’t know that well, and reveal deep, dark secrets to each other.

And, of course, there were plenty of events where we all had to get blindfolded and throw ourselves backwards into a colleague’s arms.

Seriously, the only team building any of these exercises succeeded in creating were either us against the person running the exercise, or us against the sales group.

But however badly behaved anyone was, however poor sporty others of us were, I don’t recall anyone ever getting fired for doing something stupid while engaged in team building.

This was, of course, in the days before Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, so there was no incriminating pics or videos of the guy with the baguette “package”, or the numbskulls with the Jockey shorts on their heads. It was also the day before political correctness was quite so pronounced, and people could get away with behavior that today would be denounced – and, in most cases, rightly so.

As a group of just-fired HSBC employees in the UK found out.

Employees on a team building day dressed up in balaclavas while one donned an orange jumpsuit for the ‘abhorrent’ video which was then posted on Instagram

HSBC has fired six staff after they performed a mock Islamic State-style execution video during a team-building day and posted footage online, a bank spokesman said on Tuesday.

The bank described the video, showing staff members in balaclavas holding a fake knife over a kneeling man in an orange jumpsuit, as “abhorrent”.

“We took the decision to sack the individuals involved,” a spokesman for the bank said.

“This is an abhorrent video and HSBC would like to apologise for any offence caused.” (Source: The Guardian)

And in case viewers didn’t get the balaclava and orange jump suit point, one of the wits yells out “Allahu Akbar.”

The actual original HR-ish point of the team building day was not noted in the article, but they may have succeeded on one level. Those six fired employees may well have bonded as a team. On the other hand, they may all be blaming each other for instigating the shenanigans. Sometimes team building just up and backfires!

Sounds like, moving forward, all team building days should begin with a warning about videoing-and-posting. Bad enough if a few colleagues see something stupid. Worse when someone not in on it catches a glimpse on Instagram and blows the whistle, ensuring that the entire world finds out.

Maybe you had to be there, but if something seems crude, idiotic and tasteless, guess what? It probably is. Stuff like this used to be overlooked. No longer. Live by the Instagram, get fired by the Instagram.

When are people going to learn?

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Shake those pompoms! Inventor Lawrence Herkimer vaults on.

It is a little know episode in my history that, for a couple of innings in a Little League game, more than 50 years ago, I was a cheerleader.

I grew up in an era that offered little by way of organized sports for girls. Sporty girls could play in pick up games with boys. Everyone played dodgeball, kickball, and D-O-N-K-E-Y together. But boys also got to play sports that had coaches, uniforms, and playing fields that weren’t the street. They played Little League.

Girls? We jumped rope – something I was actually pretty good at. At my age, I suspect that, if presented with the opportunity to jump in on some double-dutch, I would break my neck. But way back when, I was all about “All In Together Girls,” “High-Low-Medium-Wavy-Walkie-Talkie-Slowly Peppers”, and “Apples, Peaches, Pears and Plums”. I especially liked that last one, as you didn’t “jump out” until your birthday month came. I had to stick with it until December. I loved jumping rope, and never volunteered to be “steady ends”, i.e., someone who turned the rope, but never actually jumped.

That was our sport.

There was something called “Lassie League”, which was organized girls softball, but I had only a vague notion of it. Certainly no one I knew played in it. It was thought to be the province of tomboys, of Protestants. Were Catholics even allowed to play?

But Catholic boys could and did play Little League, and Catholic girls, on a nice spring evening, strolled over to the field off of James Street, where the Ty Cobb Little League still plays, to watch our classmates play ball.

Somewhere along the line, in fifth or sixth grade, a group of us decided that our boys needed cheerleaders. The girls who had crushes on Jimmy M. and Paul M, anointed themselves cheerleaders for National Standard. Those of us who liked Billy M. cheered for Abdow Scrap.

I was happy to cheer for Abdow, as their color was blue, which I much preferred to National Standard’s red.

Our “uniform” was navy shorts, which we fortunately all had, and a white short-sleeved blouse. Since that’s what we wore to school everyday under our green jumpers, that wasn’t going to be a problem.

We practiced a few cheers - “Go, Abdow Scrap,” “Billy, Billy, he’s our man, if he can’t do it, no one can” – and sprung for blue and white crepe paper streamers from Woolworth’s so that we could make ourselves crude pompoms, which we called shakers. Sis, boom, bah!

I don’t remember much about our actual cheering, other than that we didn’t last a game. It was cold. It was boring. The boys probably made fun of us. Or, worse, ignored us. We went home.

It never would have occurred to me to be a cheerleader in high school. My all-girls high school had one sport – basketball (never my favorite sport) – and a couple of my friends – smart, funny girls - were on the team. So I went to most of the games. We did have a cheerleading squad, made up of pretty, dainty, demure, ultra-girly girls with Breck shampoo shiny hair. Needless to say, I did not find myself among their ranks.

I do remember a couple of cheers from college, but they were of a political nature: “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh. NLF is gonna win,” and “The People, United, Can Never Be Defeated.” The uniform of the day was jeans and work boots. No pompoms allowed.

And that’s about as much as I know or care about cheerleading.

Nonetheless, I was interested to read of the death of Lawrence Herkimer, who died last week at the age of 89.

Herkimer, who was frequently referred to as the grandfather of modern cheerleading or simply "Mr. Cheerleader," invented (and patented) the pompom. He came up with an iconic cheerleading leap, the "Herkie jump," that remains a staple of cheering squads to this day. And, most importantly, his camps — the first opened in Huntsville, Texas, in 1948 — train tens of thousands of would-be cheerleaders a year. (Source: NPR)

He also founded a successful cheerleading supply and uniform company, so he may even have supplied the unis for my high school’s cheerleaders. (Our regular uniforms were supplied by Eisenberg and O’Hara.)

On the invention of the pompom, Herkimer explained to American Profile: "When I first saw color television, I thought: 'We need something colorful on the field.' So I got the idea to put crepe paper streamers on a stick."

Thank you, Mr. Herkimer. It certainly sounds like you lived a full, interesting, and successful life. I’m quite certain that, without your invention, it never would have occurred to me, Bernadette, and Susan to put crepe paper streamers on a stick. Sorry there were no royalties for you. Then again, we didn’t even make it through a single game.

Sis, boom, bah!