Friday, January 29, 2016

Christa McAuliffe, local girl.

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Hard to believe it's been that long...

I am by no means a space junkie.

As a kid, I was excited when Alan Shepard was shot into space, up and down. Part of the excitement was that, for the first and only time, we had a TV in the classroom - a 12", rabbit-eared black and white box that someone's dad had brought in for us. There we were, nearly 50 kids in the classroom, all craning our necks so we could eye-witness (at least via television) this marvelous occurence. Made even more exciting and marvelous because Alan Shepard (while not a Catholic, which would have made it more exciting) was from New Hampshire. Almost a local!

Over the years, I paid quasi attention to what was going on, space-wise. But on that July evening in 1969, when the first man walked on the moon, I went out on our front steps, looked up at the moon, and yawned. Having spent the entire day taken no great leaps, but many small steps to wait on customers at Big Boy's, I was tired.

I liked the Right Stuff, both the book and the movie.

But I was never an especially avid follower of what was going on in space.

The Challenger flight stirred up plenty of local interest. After all, Christa McAuliffe had grown up outside of Boston. She was a local girl. She was one of us. She was roughly my age, an Irish Catholic parochial school girl. If she'd grown up a few miles further west, and I'd grown up a few miles further east, we might have gone to the same high school. How many relatives and friends do I have who are teachers? She was one of us.

So, while I probably thought that launching a teacher into space was little more than a publicity stunt, I was rooting for Christa.

At the time of the Challenger disaster, I was working for a small firm in Cambridge, the consulting and software wing of a company that did most of its business on Wall Street. We all logged plenty of miles on a shuttle of our own: the Eastern Shuttle that ran hourly - and more than hourly, if there was a spillover crowd - between Logan and LaGuardia. No one called it the Eastern Shuttle. We just short-handed it as The Shuttle.

On any given day, at least one or two of our colleagues was on The Shuttle.

In late morning, our receptionist came over the PA and announced, "I just heard the news: The Shuttle's gone down."

We all ran out of our offices, doing a quick nose count, asking each other: Who's in New York today? Who's on The Shuttle.  We knew that our guys would have been on the 6:30 a.m. or the 7 a.m., the ones we took. But you never knew...

How parochial we felt - and yet how relieved - when we found out that Judy was talking abou the Space Shuttle Challenger, and not the Eastern Shuttle.

Over the follow on days, I followed the news closely.

Unlike the other astronauts, who were all "real" astronauts, Christa McAuliffe was a civilian. One of us.

There were the pictures of her parents, who looked like everyone's parents, stunned and sorrowing in the audience, watching as their daughter died before their eyes. There was her husband, there were her kids. And the kids she taught. Her sibs, her colleagues.

They were all local.

Just like us.

The closest I'll ever get into space was a simulated Journey into Space I took at the Reuben Fleet Science Center in San Diego, a billion years ago. (It gave me vertigo.) That and the space shot I sent a bit of my husband's ashes on - one of his last wishes.

I have no idea what NASA's up to.

I don't really devote a lot of my inner space to outer space.

But yesterday, I was thinking a bit about Christa McAuliffe, and feeling a bit sad for her family. She was a local girl. Just like us.

Thursday, January 28, 2016


When I was a girl, back in the buggy-whip days, things other than financial instruments, software, and medical discoveries were made in Massachusetts. Tangible things were - get this - manufacturered here.

Worcester produced fine wire, abrasives, shoes and boots, aircraft components, boilers, bras, M16s, space suits, cheesy plastic toys, pocket books and boxed pizza mix. There was a factory just over the Worcester border, in Cherry Valley, that made something called elfskin. (I never inquired.)

But a lot of what was made when companies were "making it in Massachustts" (the refrain of a state-boostering ad run in the 1980's) were textiles and apparel.

Boston had facories where they made jeans, raincoats, suits.

Each summer, my family drove out to Ware, Massachusetts, to buy tee-shirts at the outlet store for a knitting mill. Sometimes, on the way back from a day trip to Horseneck Beach, we stopped at a mill outlet in Fall River, again to buy tee-shirts.

Over time, most of the factories in shuttered. They moved to the south, from where they eventually migrated overseas.

To some extent, the (mostly) unskilled or semi-skilled jobs that these factories offered aren't missed in our overall economy. They were replaced by the production of financial instruments, software, and bio-tech whatevers. So we go around celebrating our brainy, high tech, high paid workforce.

But, of course, it's not as if it the people who were working in the clothing factories turned overnight into computer scientists or money managers. A lot of folks were left behind. Their steady paycheck, decent wage jobs were replaced by the hardscrabble of ill-paid service work, and/or multiple pickup jobs.

So I was delighted when, last month, I saw a Boston Globe article on a mini-resurgence - or at least a leveling out - of the textile industry in Massachusetts. While there are only half the number of textile manufacturing jobs that there were in 2005, those jobs are good and welcome.

In New Bedford, Joseph Abboud (a local boy made good) has a factory where 800 workers - look for the union label - are running off over a thousand pricey suits every day. Southwick produces high-end men's suits in Haverhill. In Fall River, John Matouk & Company produce luxe linen sold in places like Neiman Marcus and Bloomies.
Today's textile and apparel firms have adapted to lower-cost, overseas competition by catering to niche and luxury markets, and automating processes to lower labor costs. They have found ways to customize products at the quirkiest details - say, purple sneakers with green laces and an image of your dog on the tongue - and turn around orders in a matter of weeks, if not days...
Instead of using pencils and graph paper, designers [at Abboud] create patterns with a keyboard and a mouse, employing software that will send precise cutting instructions to machines. Many steps that used to require hand tailoring, such as making pockets, have been automated, too. (Source: Boston Globe)
When it comes to textiles and apparel, Massachusetts, as it happens, is on the "cutting edge" (haha) of innovative manufacturing techniques. Both MIT and UMass Lowell (a city that certainly has its roots and bona fides in the textile world) are doing research in this area.

High tech and academia, meet the good old-fashioned textile and apparel industry.

Now, go forth and make more tangible stuff in Massachusetts.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Why drone racing will be more fun than NASCAR

Until I saw an article about it on Bloomberg, I’d never even heard of drone racing. And my first reaction when I saw the headline about it – “New Drone Racing League Wants to Be the Next NASCAR” -  was, do we really need yet another professional sports league. Let alone one dedicated to drone racing.
And then I thought about it. After all, there are professional ultimate frisbie players. Professional video gamers. And NASCAR itself.

So why NOT drone racing that goes pro.

That’s the bet Nick Horbaczewski is making by starting the Drone Racing League, with the backing of investors who include Stephen Ross, owner of the National Football League team Miami Dolphins, and Lerer Hippeau Ventures, a New York venture capital firm. Horbaczewski expects most fans to watch races online, much as they do competitive gaming in the U.S., using their phones, computers—eventually even virtual-reality headsets.  Ultimately, he has ambitions of becoming a digital Nascar for drones. (Source: Bloomberg)

Side note here: I’m sticking with NASCAR rather than Nascar. Not that it comes up that often in my writing, but, when it comes to acronyms, I’m a purist. But I’m seeing more and more acronyms turned into proper nouns with initial cap only. Just the other day I saw Wasp instead of WASP (which stands for white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, thus giving it at least a few things in common with NASCAR, although WASP is generally used for a tonier, more high-falutin gorup). But sorry. Neither Nascar nor Wasp does it for me.

Anyway, the key to drone racing becoming successful – which, if it happens, will no doubt occur without my becoming a fan; after all NASCAR and professional video gaming have gotten along without me  just fine – is creating an engaging experience for online watchers.  So,

For now, [Horbaczewski’s] focused on well-produced video content to be consumed on browsers and mobile devices, including ones that put the viewer in the pilot’s seat.

Thus, the key to going pro will be GoPro.


As said, I probably won’t become a fan. For one thing, I’m not wild about the idea of walking out of my house, looking up, and seeing (and hearing) nothing but drones zooming around spying on people and delivering packages from Amazon because no one could possibly wait an extra moment to get their hands on that order of lightbulbs, or the leprechaun salt and pepper shakers. Yet drone racing certainly appeals to me more than watching a bunch of guys in jumpsuits and helmets – guys you can’t even see - gunning around in tricked up, logo-plastered cars in circles ovals, at blur-speed. While kinda sorta hoping that some car will go planing off into the stands in a ball of flame.

Here’s why I think drone racing will be better than NASCAR:
  • The drivers will probably be nerds, not good ol’ boys in leather jumpsuits and helmets.
  • No one is likely to get killed. Even if two drones crash, it won’t likely result in death. Most are battery-powered, so there’ll be no exploding gas tanks to worry about. And the pilots are on the ground working a joy stick, not sitting in the driver’s seat manning a steering wheel and stick shift. So they’re not likely to die. Sure, this will eliminate some of the frisson with which people watch NASCAR, but that’s all for the good. I suppose there’s a risk that a drone could drop out of the sky and conk someone on the ground in their noggin. But if the courses are well thought out, this won’t happen.
  • Viewers will get to see cool stuff. Even if there’s a camera mounted on the hood of a NASCAR car – and I have no idea whether this occurs – what’s there to see in a dirt circle oval? I suppose there’s the chance that a wheel will go flying off. Or that someone will start swearing up a storm at a pit stop. But mostly, yawn! But just think of a race that’s go-proing over Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon? Of course, I don’t want to see the peace of tourists or wild animals disturbed. But the views could end up being pretty interesting.

So bring on the Drone Racing League.

But is it a sport or not? Is video gaming? Is poker playing? Is NASCAR? Or even Nascar?


Take me out to the ball game any old time. (Pitchers and catchers report on February 18th. As sucky as the Red Sox were last year, I do have to give this a woo-hoo!)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Innocents Abroad, Otto Warmbier Edition

Otto Warmbier should be back in class, starting the second semester of his junior year at the University of Virginia. Instead, he’s sitting in jail in Pyongyang, having been nabbed at the airport just was he was getting out of town. It’s not quite clear why Warmbier is being detained. Just that:

North Korea's official KCNA news agency said on Friday that Warmbier "was caught committing a hostile act against the state", which it said was "tolerated and manipulated by the U.S. government".  (Source: Reuters)
Another interpretation of the official government statement on the incident suggested even more sinister intent:
In language that mirrors past North Korean claims of outside conspiracies, Pyongyang’s state media said the University of Virginia student entered the country under the guise of a tourist and plotted to destroy North Korean unity with “the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation.” (Source:
“Tacit connivance”, huh?
That sure sounds like what the government would be doing with some too-cool-for-school undergrad idiot who decided it would be awesome to spend New Year’s Eve partying in North Korea. Forget the ghost of Guy Lombardo. Forget the ghost of Dick Clark. Forget just kicking back and watching the ball drop with Ryan Seacrest. Nothing says Rockin’ New Year’s Eve like sportin’ around with Kim Jong-un.
Look, I feel bad for this kid. He must be scared shitless, and his parents must be out of their minds with worry.
Otto Warmbier is in jail in a closed, authoritarian country with which we have no diplomatic relations – so no kindly ambassador showing up at the jailhouse door with a ‘hang in there’ and a plate of cupcakes. And it’s a country run by a vicious, insane, arbitrary, brutal megalomaniac. It’s a place where you can get arrested for looking cross-eyed at a picture of fearless leader Kim Jong-un, who’s not especially fearless when it comes to petty insults directed his way.
The Department of State strongly recommends against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK). This replaces the Travel Warning for North Korea of April 15, 2015, to reiterate and highlight the risk of arrest and long-term detention due to the DPRK’s inconsistent application of its criminal laws.
Travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea is not routine, and U.S. citizens have been subject to arrest and long-term detention for actions that would not be cause for arrest in the United States or other countries.  North Korean authorities have arrested U.S. citizens who entered the DPRK legally on valid DPRK visas as well as U.S. citizens who accidentally or intentionally crossed into DPRK territory without valid visas. The Department of State has received reports of DPRK authorities detaining U.S. citizens without charges and not allowing them to depart the country.  North Korea has even detained several U.S. citizens who were part of organized tours.  Do not assume that joining a group tour or using a tour guide will prevent North Korean authorities from detaining you or arresting you.  Efforts by private tour operators to prevent or resolve past detentions of U.S. citizens in the DPRK have not succeeded in gaining their release.
That would be enough for me, and you’d think it would be enough for someone bright enough to be an honors student at the University of Virginia.
But Warmbier is oh, so very young, and oh, so very foolish (which is easy enough to be when you’re young). And so a tour run by Young Pioneer Tours – and you’ve really got to love a tour organization named after the USSR’s brainwashing, mind-effing, red-scarved Communist Youth groups of yore – must have hit all the right notes.  What young and foolish 21 year old wouldn’t be lured by an outfit “specialising in travel to North Korea, we are an adventure tour operator that provides “’budget tours to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from’”.

I did plenty of foolish things when I was young, but at least I knew enough to fear being detained in places where the US didn’t hold sway.

Hitchhiking through Yugoslavia, my friend Joyce and I were picked up by a couple of French guys. We stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch, and one of the guys leaned over, and in what we used to call an Irish whisper, announced “Nous avons hashish.”

This was a few years after Billy Hayes of Midnight Express fame was arrested in Turkey for carrying hashish. And a few months after someone who went to my high school was busted there, as well. Although Therese G. was acquitted, the thought of being in a rancid jail in a scary-enough foreign country was on our minds. There is no way in hell we would have used or carried drugs. Or be found in the company of someone idiotic enough to Irish whisper “Nous avons hashish” while a couple of members of the Yugoslav state police – who looked plenty armed and plenty dangerous – were seated at the next table.

In our pidgin French, we managed to convey that we wanted to get our backpacks out of the trunk of their voiture. They went their ways, and we went ours.

So this was as close as I came to being an innocent abroad, caught up in someone else’s folly.

Who knows what Otto Warmbier did? There are rumors that he had gotten drunk. That he’d done “something” at the hotel, possibly making a lame joke, cocking a snook, however innocuous, at Kim Jong-un in some foolhardy way. North Korea is just not a place where you can’t make a joke about the leader’s hairdo, or fold the cover of a magazine in such a way that it would crease his face, without risk of landing you and your family in prison.

As I said, I feel bad for this kid and his family, and hope he gets sprung quickly. But this will mean the State Department having to do some fandango to satisfy Kim Jung-un’s insane ego, and who knows how that will play out. Otto Warmbier’s now a pawn, and he’s not just in play, he’s at risk of being stuck in North Korea for quite a while.

But what part of ‘stay out of North Korea’ did he not understand?

I really don’t like it when Americans - under the supremely naive and narcissistic belief that they should be allowed to travel untrammeled, and with full American rights in our backpacks, anywhere in the world -  find themselves trapped. And I don't like us having to foot the bill to rescue those who do ill-advised and foolhardy things.

One thing for journalists or aid workers. Quite another thing for garden variety tourists, or college kids looking for something quirky and off-beat to add to their c.v. What was it a few years back? A bunch of adventurers who wanted the thrill of backpacking in Iran and Iraq?

When Otto Warmbier is retrieved – and I sincerely hope that happens soon – I think there should be some payback for whatever efforts the government has to put forth to haul him out of there. How about he appears in a PSA talking about what a fool he was to think he could be a jokey, haha, USA-USA-USA tourist in a place like North Korea.

Monday, January 25, 2016

"Boston Accent": Thank you, Seth Meyers. This is hilarious.

A few weeks back, I saw the movie Spotlight (which tells the story of the Boston Globe's excellent work uncovering the Catholic Church pedophilia scandal). I went with my sister Kath and her husband, Rick. We all came away saying that we thought the movie was very good, the acting great, etc. And, since we're locals, we soon segued into the accents, which we deemed generally acceptable -possibly because none of the actors were caught out (as Jack Nicholoson was in The Departed) trying too hard to get it right (and failing miserably).

Because this is what Bostonians do when we see a movie set in our town: we critique the accents. 

Of course, we expect Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Mark Wahlberg to get it right: they're from here. And then there are the pleasant surprises: Leo DiCaprio in The Departed; Johnny Depp in Black Mass. 

But as often as not, the accents are dreadful, and we become connoisseurs.

Do people from other regions do the same thing? I think Da Bulls and Da Bears guys from SNL nailed the Chicago accent, as did the guys on the plane in the Discount Doublechek ad. But what do I know? I grew up listening to my Chicago-bred mother tell us that Chicago speech was accentless, considered the purest of pure American way of speaking. All news anchors, we were told, aspired to speak Chicago. 

My mother's defense of the Chicagoan way of talking was at such odds with how I experienced the Chicago way of talking. (Ahh-nest ta Pete, whenever one of my Chicago relatives opened their mouth, what I heard was a variation of Da Bulls and Da Bears.)

I actually hope that regional accents never die out. They're fun and they're entertaining - as long as you avoid the trap of letting yourself sound like a moron. Which is, admittedly, easy enough to do if you're brought up speaking a variation of Massachusetts English. (Having grown up in the Haht a the Cawminwealth - that is, Wuhsta/Worcester - I have to admit that, sometimes, I don't know accent-wise whethah I'm goin' or comin'. Mostly, having grown up in a bi-accent family (my mother's Chicago accent tempering my father's Worcester boy), I never had an especially strong Worcester accent - which is quite similar to the dumb-bunny accent most closely associated with Boston. Not to mention that, over time, both consciously and unconsciously, I chose to not speak Worcester. When I'm tired, or excited, or pissed off, I sometimes do find myself fallin back into it.And I can definitely turn it on on demand, which is kinda wickid awesome. 

Someone else who can really turn it on is comedian Seth Meyers. And why not? He may have been born in Evanston, Illinois, but he spent quite a bit of his childhood in New Hampshire.

Seth demonstrates his linguistic abilities in a quite funny parody trailer for a non-movie: Boston Accent.  Here's the trailer:

And here's the URL, if that doesn't work.

Even if you're not from Boston, it's worth sitting through the Febreeze or FIOS or whatever ad gets in your way.

Meyers doesn't just have fun with the Boston accent - and our local obsession with how it's portrayed - he also takes on the tropes of the Boston movies which have become such cinematic staples since Good Will Hunting hit the screen nearly twenty years back. Unlike most (but not all) of the movies set in Boston, Good Will Hunting has romance rather than violence. But it does feature Red Sox talk and South Boston idiots. So it's all good.

Anyway, I much enjoyed Boston Accent, as well as some of the comments on the YouTube page. Including those from folks who insist, for some reason that I can't fathom, that Bostononians pronounce the name of our fair city as "Bahstan", when anyone who's spent more than a nano-second here knows that it's "Bawstin." Sheesh...

Friday, January 22, 2016

Ding-Dong, Avon Calling.

My mother’s friend Helen was an Avon Lady.
Many the time I crossed Main Street and pumped up the rickety back stairs in Helen’s three decker, cash in hand, to pick up my mother’s Avon order.
Other than hand cream, I don’t remember what my mother bought from Avon. She did wear makeup – powder and lipstick – so maybe that was among the wares. Hair setting lotion might have been in there, too. I do know that she had some on hand at one point, because my brother Rick, then aged 2, swallowed a bottle full of it and had to be taken to the ER to have is stomach pumped out. I remember when he came back that the blood vessels around his mouth were broken, I guess from his screaming. (I was not yet familiar with broken blood vessels, as I had not yet broken all the blood vessels around my mouth, from chin to nostrils, by sucking all the oxygen out of a rubber tumbler, turning said tumbler into a blood vessel smashing vacuum.)
My mother was a customer of Helen’s for years. Well into my adulthood, a tube of Avon hand lotion was an inevitable stocking stuffer for me and my sisters.
But did I ever buy anything from an Avon Lady? Not that I recall.
Over the years, I did end up going to a couple of Tupperware parties. (Do they still play the game with the ball you shove shapes into?) But Avon? I don’t remember anyone I know, anyone my age, who sold Avon.
I believe that the house party cosmetic of choice for my generation was Mary Kay, reeling in its coterie of sellers with the promise of taking a ride on the freeway of love in a pink Cadillac, earned by pushing a Cadillac trunk-load full of MK.
I’m guessing there’s nothing the matter with either Avon or Mary Kay cosmetics. Probably not all that different than the Estee Lauder I get at Macy’s. (At least I think that Estee’s what I use. I’m too lazy to get up and look, but the colors are black and gold, and it’s whoever took over for Prescriptives, which became my makeup of choice once I decided – can’t remember why now – to abandon Clinique.)
But there’s no one I know knocking on my door asking me to an Avon Party, or a Mary Kay Party, for that matter. And both my mother and Helen are long dead.
As far as I knew, Avon no longer existed.
But they do and, according to Bloomberg, “investors are cheering Avon's latest road map to recovery.” A private equity firm is acquiring most of its North American business, and share prices rose on this news.
The direct-selling beauty brand promised to cut costs, boost revenue and modernize its technology, products, marketing, and shipping processes. That all sounds good to investors who have watched Avon fumble away an $11 billion takeover offer from Coty in 2012, followed by an 88 percent drop in shares over the next three years. (Source: Bloomberg)
The plans to get Avon on a more positive course will include some much needed IT investment:
For heaven's sake, many of the company's six million sales representatives are still expected to sell products using paper pamphlets rather than the snazzy iPad app and mobile ordering the company now envisions.
Six million sales reps? That must be worldwide, not North America. North America’s population is roughly 500 million. Surely, there isn’t one Avon Lady (or Gentleman) for each 83 citizens of US+Mexico+Canada+Islands. I know that for many, selling Avon isn’t a full time gig. It’s a second job, a stay-at-home-mom job. It’s pin money.
Still, that’s a lot of sales reps, and I’m guessing that Cerberus, the PE firm acquiring them, won’t be carrying quite so many of them when they get through their cost cutting/investing. Even if these six million aren’t paid employees, my guess is that the pin money folks making a few bucks a month will be history. No snazzy iPad app for them, thank you.
I’m actually rooting for Avon.
I like old-timey brands, even those that I don’t actually use.

Who wants to live in a world where there’s no Ding-Dong, Avon Calling? Hope they put that as a sound effect in the snazzy iPad app…

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Best Jobs in America? I've actually had some of them.

Last night I was ruing my life as a blogger. Surely, I told myself as I struggled to find a topic that would let me keep my one-a-day blogging streak going, blogger must be the worst job in the world. But then I came to my senses and realized that while keeping up the unbroken Pink Slip streak may be a drag, one of the most fun aspects of my freelance work is the blogging. 

Of course, unlike with Pink Slip, which is a pro bono, Sunday painter labor of love – clearly owned and operated by a cheapskate who pays zip - my clients actually pay me to write their posts.

Even though blogging for fun and profit is enjoyable (as, mostly, is blogging for fun and no profit), it did not make Glassdoor’s list of the 25 Best Jobs in America. As with pretty much any list of anything, the criteria won’t work for everyone. But, hey, number of job openings, salary and career opportunities rating are as good as anything – and less arbitrary and more measurable than more squishy quality of work-life categories.

First up? Data Scientist. With all that big data being hoovered up by all the Internet of Things things there are out there collecting our every everything, with every click (intentional or errant) that we make while surfing being mined, with CCTV capturing our every move made in public…well, it’s no wonder that there’s big demand for those who can make some sense of it. And with a median base salary of $116K, it pays pretty well.

In fact, most of the jobs on the list pay pretty well, kind of a ‘duh’, given that salary was one of the three factors that went into jobs making the list.

Anyway, with all these swell jobs paying good money, I guess it’s no surprise that tax manager ($108K median salary) is Number 2.

Solutions Architect ($119.5K), a fancy name for figuring out what the client needs/wants out of some type of IT implementation and how to give it to them, ranks third. Engagement Manager ($125K), a fancy name for the person who makes sure that the client is happy-dappy with the deployment the Solutions Architect has designed, ranks fourth. While I’ve done needs analysis and extremely high level solution design (make that exceedingly extremely high level), I’d never claim to have been a Solutions Architect. But Engagement Manager? Back in the day, when I worked as a Project Manager on large scale “solutions” (note: post some day on why I hate this word) implementations, the Project Manager was also the Engagement Manager. 

So I’ve had a job that makes the Top Four.

Unlike Number 5: Mobile Developer. Does America really need more than 2,000 more folks developing mostly useless mobile apps?

Rounding out the Top Ten: HR Manager (who knew?); Physician’s Assistant; Product Manager; Software Engineer; and Audit Manager.

By anyone’s definition, I spent quite a few years during my full-time career as a Product Manager. Although it was a job that could be ultra-frustrating – I once defined it as ‘everything it takes to get a product out the door and into the market that no one else wants to do' – I much enjoyed being a Product Manager in the wonderful world of tech. I loved working with techies, I loved talking to clients and figuring out what they wanted in a product, I loved researching the competition, I loved making sure that everything came together, I loved figuring out how to talk about the product...

I don’t think I’d have the patience to do it now, but it was something that I very much enjoyed doing, across multiple companies and multiple products over multiple years.

Variation on a theme: Product Marketing Manager, which came in at Number 13. Product Marketing is a subset of Product Manager. Product Marketers are more outward facing, and don’t tend to get involved in overseeing tasks like QA, documentation, etc. In some companies, the jobs are combined; in others, Product Marketing Manager is carved out. Been there, done that. Liked them both. Marketing Manager is also on the Top 25 list – more promotional, less content oriented than Product Marketing. Been there, done that. Liked Product Marketing a lot more than I liked Marketing Marketing.

The jobs on the list are pretty much high end: STEM, healthcare, finance, tech. Good jobs that require a good education. Trouble is, other than Software Engineer (49,270 job openings) and Nurse Practitioner (5,624 openings), there aren’t all that many of these jobs out here. I know what we’re going to be doing. But are there going to be any good jobs for the not-so-lucky-ducks out who'd like to do something other than greet at Walmart or drive for Uber?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

On behalf of the elderly female population

Who among us hasn’t, at least on one or two occasions, done something on the job that was incredibly ill-thought-out and/or dunderheaded? Something that seemed like a good idea at the time, but that turned out to stone stupid. And/or that backfired entirely on us. 

I suspect that, over the course of a fifty year work-life most of us have done/said/emailed something completely idiotic.

But generally – at least in my (admittedly limited) experience – those idiotic things (at least at the moment they were conceived) made some sort of sense. They seemed, in fact, like a good idea at the time.

So, while I do have some sympathy for Sue Stenhouse, who until recently was the director of senior services for the city of Cranston RI, I can’t imagine that there was ever a point in time where her exercise in stupidity made sense.

Here’s what went down in Cranston when Ms. Stenhouse was introducing a program in which high school kids would help seniors out with snow shoveling. An admirable program, surely. And what of it if, in what has up until now been a pretty snowless winter in these parts, Ms. Stenhouse ported in the Zamboni shavings from the local ice rink to stand in for snow? Maybe she should have waited to announce her program until there was actually some snow on the ground, but why the hell not bring in real fake snow? 

Bringing in snow to improve the optics of the shoveling program introduction is absolutely forgivable.No snow, no harm, no foul.

Less so bringing in a middle-aged man in bad makeup and worse wig, and wearing a highly personal nametag – “Cranston Senior Home Resident” to sit there to represent all those deserving seniors who would soon be having their sidewalks and the path to their trashcans shoveled out by the teens of Cranston. Which seems like an all-round bad idea that makes no sense whatsoever.

That’s “Cranston Senior Home Resident” in the curly blond wig. Seeing that wig does put to rest a question that has been asked since 1964, when Harpo Marx passed away. And that question is, obviously, was Harpo Marx buried with his wig? And the answer is, obviously, ‘obviously not.’

Ms. Stenhouse, while perhaps not yet a senior – from her Linkedin Profile, it looks like she’s in her late fifties – is close enough to shoveling program age eligibility to know what an elderly woman actually looks like. And on behalf of women in the demographic that would benefit from the shoveling program – even if most of us in our sixties are still, fortunately, capable of doing our own damned shoveling – I would like to point out that this isn’t what elderly women look like. The guy in the Harpo wig is at once both too young looking and completely absurd looking. Not that us elders can't be young looking. Or even completely absurd. Still...

And that nametag? Was Ms. Stenhouse counting on nobody at the presser asking “Cranston Senior Home Resident” for a comment? Perhaps she felt it would be a tad dishonest to give “Cranston Senior Home Resident” a fake real name. So no Ethel Fudd, no Bertha Mertz.

But you have to ask why Ms. Stenhouse, as director of elder services for Cranston, didn’t have any Cranston senior she could actually tap to sit there in back of the pile of fake snow, in front of actual – at least as far as we know – Cranston teenagers, to lend senior support to this program.

Eagle-eyed Providence TV reporters sussed the fakery out, and, in the wake of the revelation, Ms. Stenhouse resigned from her position.

I’m sure she was embarrassed – she should have been – but this seems like an over-reaction. As would have been any move to fire her.

She did something exceptionally clumsy and dunderheaded. But it wasn’t as if she were doing something evil, or attempting to defraud the public.

I hope that, someday, she can look back at this episode and laugh. If only because, at some point in the not-so-distant future, she has an epiphany and realizes that this crude caricature is not actually what elderly women tend to look like.


Info source: Boston Globe.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A holdup man named Yosemite Sam…What’s wrong with Jeremy Jacobs, anyway?

Somewhere along the line – when I was in high school and beyond my prime Looney Tunes watching years – someone gave the Rogers family a bunch of kids records. One that was played repeatedly Chez Rogers was about Yosemite Sam, the Looney Tunes character. Although the song was quite irritating, I actually considered it a blessed break from my sister Trish’s incessant playing of the Mary Poppins album. (I swear, all I need is for someone to queue up the first couple of notes of that one, and I can launch right in to a verbatim warble through the entire album.)
The loony Yosemite Sam tune began thus:
A holdup man named Yosemite Sam, robbed the Looney Tune’s train out of Boulder Dam
As it turned out, old Yosemite Sam wasn’t actually lookin’ to rob anyone. As he sang:
I don’t want your money. I don’t want your jewels. [Prounounced ‘jools’.]…I wanna ring-ring the bell on the choo-choo locomotive.
Well, there’s a latter-day Yosemite Sam, one Jeremy Jacobs, and, unlike Yosemite Sam, Jeremy Jacbos does want our money. That would be the tax payers’ money. Jeremy Jacobs thinks he’s entitled to it as the trademark holder of some of the buildings and sites at Yosemite National Park.
The name Jeremy Jacobs is probably better known in these here parts than in other places.
He is, after all, the owner of the Boston Bruins and TD Garden, which replaced the storied Boston GAH-din, and is where the Bruins and the Celtics play. (And where Bruce Springsteen will play on February 4th, Trish and I in attendance, her musical tastes having evolved from Mary Poppins and Looney Tunes. Trish was, in fact, an “early adopter” of The Boss, and was the person who turned me into a fan.)
Mostly when you hear Jacobs’ name hereabouts it’s as part of criticism of Bruins’ ownership, which has produced one – count ‘em one – measly Stanley Cup in the past 44 years. As much as anything, this is a hockey town, and fans of the Bruins are as vocal, crazed, and passionate a bunch as any sports fans anywhere. So there’s been plenty of pissing and moaning about him and his ownership, starting when he let Number 4 (Bobby Orr) skate away shortly after he bought the team. Reason enough around here to despise the guy, let alone that he’s made a grab for some names that nobody but we the people ought to own. (Another reason for the antipathy towards Jacobs is, I suspect, the fact that he lives in Buffalo, and doesn’t have any presence or much philanthropy here. “Our” other sports team owners – Pats, Celts, Red Sox - are mostly from around here and are very active and visible in the community. John Henry of the Red Sox might not hail from these parts, but he married a local woman and lives in Brookline. Jacobs hangs his hat in Buffalo.)
Jacobs’ company, Delaware North, is in the hospitality business, and for years their sub, DNC Parks, has owned the concessions at Yosemite National Park (as well as at other parks). Then they lost their Yosemite deal. And that, apparently, pissed them off. So, Delaware North:
…went to court seeking compensation for what it says is $51 million of intellectual property, including trademarks on everything from ski and golf areas to the Yosemite National Park name itself.
Government attorneys have valued the intellectual property at about $3.5 million, and called DNC Parks’ estimate “grossly exaggerated and improper.” (Source: Boston Globe)
While all this plays out, the National Park Service is changing the names of some of the Yosemite’s facilities “to avoid liability or the potential for closures as a result of the ongoing court battle.”
Some of the trademarks were inherited by Delaware when they took over the Yosemite contract in the 1990’s. Others they scooped up on the QT, without the Park Service noticing.
If I read the article correctly – and I didn’t spend a lot of time on textual exegesis – the ownership of the trademarks isn’t in dispute. What’s irking Delaware is that, when they assumed the contracts back in the day, they had to pay the prior concessionaire for them as part of their deal.
According to its lawsuit, DNC Parks was required to purchase the assets of its predecessor, Curry Co., when it won the Yosemite contract, and it says the National Park Service is similarly obligated to require Aramark to buy DNC’s assets, including trademarks, at fair market value.
The lawsuit said the park service awarded Aramark the new contract without the same requirement.
So Jacobs/Delaware is looking for redress from the government: pay up or Aramark doesn’t get to use their trademarks.
Some of those trademark names aren’t exactly household words. I suspect that anyone who’s been through Yosemite remembers seeing the Ahwahnee Hotel. I remember it from 40+ years back, and remember thinking that it was a cool place that I’d like to stay some day when I could afford to spend the night in a national park in something other than an L.L. Bean tent. But did I remember the hotel’s name? No.
But in late September – no doubt when they knew they’d lost the Yosemite contract, or knew they were in danger of doing so – Delaware applied to trademark the word “Yosemite.”
Talk about naked greed! Talk about something that Delaware has no business owning. What doesn’t Jeremy Jacobs get about this land is your land? It’s not as if they came up with the name. It should be there for all the people – including Looney Tunes. I don’t think the Yosemite trademark has been granted, but certainly hope it never is.

If Delaware needs the money that badly, they can sell the Bruins to someone who’s more serious about winning the Stanley Cup.

Monday, January 18, 2016


One of the things I've done many times over the years is to post my thoughts about a particular holiday.

Christmas. Thanksgiving. Patriots' Day. Memorial Day. Labor Day. Fourth of July. Valentine's Day. St. Patrick's Day. New Years. Veterans' Day.

I've written about all of them, often multiple times.

And yet here we are, after all these years blogging, and I realize that I've never written about Martin Luther King.

I suspect it's because I have no personal, historic, "real" connection to the day, as I do to the holidays I've written about. Most of those connections are rooted in my childhood. My family celebrated Christmas. My father was a veteran. We exchanged Valentines in grammar school, and some of those Valentines were "holy card" Valentines that the nuns made by pasting pictures of saints onto construction paper. I grew up in a largely Irish-American enclave: Paddy's Day was a big deal.

MLK Day didn't exist when I was a kid. But MLK did.

I probably became aware of Martin Luther King, Junior at some point in the early 1960's.

I would have seen news of the "I Have A Dream Speech" on Huntley-Brinkley on NBC News, which I watched religiously. I would have read about it in Newsweek, which I read avidly.

Just as I would have learned about the murder of those three civil rights workers in Mississippi. The firehoses trained on protestors. The march on Selma. The Birmingham church bombing. Bull Conne\or. George Wallace. Watts. Newark. The Civil Rights Act.

This was news, and from the time I could read, I read the news. And from the time I could change the channel, I watched it.

But it was "news" - something that happened to other people, people living sometplace else. Nothing that involved me and my family.

I grew up in a 99.9999% white neighborhood. There were two African-American boys - Clarence (Bubba) and Tyrone (Ty) Smith - who lived nearby, if you defined nearby rather widely. They lived on the outskirts of our parish, which was how I pretty much defined the world. Bubba and Ty played in "our" Ty Cobb Little League, and were members of "our" Boy Scout/Cub Scout troops.

Although I didn't know them to speak to them - they were, after all, pubs (i.e., they went to Public School) and lived pretty far out from where I did - up off of Dead Horse Hill; and they were Protestants, to boot - I thought they were cute, as did all my friends. I especially remember that Ty was had a nice smile. (I also remember my father, having seen them somewhere - probably a ball game - describing them as "nice looking little colored boys".)

I also remember the Sunday of the annual Cub Scout/Boy Scout Mass at Our Lady of the Angels, which was likely part of what was called a "Communion Breakfast" (Mass followed by breakfast). When the Cub Scouts filed out or their pews in their uniforms to take Communion, Ty and Bubba fell in line.Some well- meaning father pulled them aside. After all, non-Catholics were not allowed to receive Communion. I can't remember the exact rules, but it was probably a mortal sin to knowingly allow a non-Catholic to unknowingly stick his tongue out and ingest the Eucharist.

Sitting in the girls section across the aisle, I was no doubt relieved that someone had saved the day by stopping the Smith boys in their tracks. (I don't recall my father's reaction, but it would have been something along the lines of why embarass these nice looking little colored boys; what the hell harm did it do anyone to let them take Holy Communion.)

I guess the point here is that I grew up in an exremely homogeneous environment, largely Catholic, predominately Irish, nearly entirely white.

I went to Caholic schools. In grammar school, there were no black kids. In high school, there was one girl who entered as a freshman the year I was a senior. She attended NDA on a scholarship named for James Chaney, the young black civil rights worker murdered in Mississippi. My college wasn't diverse, either: a handful of blacks, in a college that was Catholic, predominately Irish, nearly entirely white.

Worcester in itself was pretty white. There was a large Latio (Cuban and Puerto Rican) population when I was growing up, but fewer blacks, proportionately, than in the overall US.

In truth, until I was an adult, I barely knew any people who were Protestants or Jews, let alone from another ace. So much for diversity.

I was friendly in grad school with a couple of black folks, but my career in high tech didn't put me in a situation where I had a lot of black colleagues. One woman I was friendly with at Wang was black, and we're now LinkedIn together. That's about it.

I have friends who are Asian-American, but most of my life has been lily white.

This has not been through intention. It is, as it is for so many of us, just a matter of circumstance.

Which is not to say that I don't think about race, especially now, when what I see on the news and read about online - Trayvon Martin, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, et al. - tells me that the work that Dr. Martin Luther King did on behalf of racial justice still has an awful long way to go.

If he'd lived, Martin Luther King, Jr., would be an old man: 87 years old. But we sure could use him now...

Just because I'm just about as white bread as they come, doesn't mean that the race issues in this country don't affect me.

So, I'll end with a salute to the good doctor, and a statement of his that I believe and hope to be true:

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

Friday, January 15, 2016

Orders from Headquarters? GE re-lo-ing to Boston.

The big news - make that BIG NEWS - in Boston this week is that GE is bringing good things, if not to life, then to Boston. What it's bringing is corporate headquarters, which - employment-wise - is not actually that big a deal. You'd think that HQ of the 9th largest company in the world would have a larger headcount than 800. 

But we'll take it. They're good jobs - high tech and nerdy. And, if you believe the multiplier numbers being thrown around, each one of them is going to result in twice as many jobs, quadruple the number of jobs, an order of magnitude more...

I don't know in what fantasy world these multipliers work, but my guess is that plunking 800 more workers into the Seaport area is not going to result in all that many new subshops or coffee vendors opening. Or that 800 workers and their families moving into new Seaport condos and/or dispersed among the Boston suburbs are going to mean a lot more hairdressers. 

Anyway, I haven't looked too closely - nor will I - at the concessions that the city and state had to put out there in order close the deal. The package is supposed to be $145M - $120M from the Commonwealth (some going for infrastructure improvements that will provide general benefits), and $25M from Boston. We will, of course, get it back.

Blah, blah, blah.

At least it makes more sense than funding a stadium for an NFL team, or offering big bucks to movie makers so that they'll make a film that takes place in Boston in Boston.  These always seem more like vanity-ego projects. "Everyone" wants to live in a "major league town". And "everyone" likes seeing their home town on the big screen. (Hell, it's actually more fun to see your home town faked on the big screen, so you can sit there and go, 'hey, that's not Boston.' And it's even more fun, in an embarrasing kind of way, when your actual home town (as in land of your birth, as in Worcester) is used as the locale for a movie (American Hustle). Downtown was deemed a pretty good replica of Camden, NJ, in the 1970's.

But GE is business. And that's good.

What's truly exciting about this is that it reinforces Boston's "brand" (gag! apologies... I hate that word) as an innovation hub, as a place where techies want to be, as an area on the digital leading edge. While we could still use some good, old-fashioned blue collar jobs in these parts - Boston was just named the American city with the greatest proportional economic disparity between the bottom and the top - I'd much rather be home to the jobs of the future than to be worrying about whether the local chicken plucking factory was going to relocate to Mexico. (We still have to figure out what everyone who's not a techie or bio-techie is going to do for a living, other than drive for Uber...)

And, of course, Jack Welch, of GE fame, is a native (North Shore, anyway) and a neighbor. (Not that we run in the same circles, but I think he still lives up the street from me. Without breaking any HIPAA laws, I wil say that I did see him a couple of years ago over at MGH, where he was checking in for an appointment at the same time my husband was. Truly, I wouldn't even have noticed - we had more important things to focus on - but there was a certain rhythm when people checked in, and part of that ryhthm was giving their birthdate. My ears picked up on old Jack because he neglected to give his year of birth, just the month/day. So I looked up to see who was so vain, and lo and behold...) 

Plus it's something of a homecoming of sorts. GE has local roots, since it came out of a merger between Thomas Edison's outfit and a local entity, the Thomson-Houston Electric Company of Lynn, Massachusetts. There's still a GE division - aviation stuff - in Lynn. It's a train stop on the line I take to my sister's, and it always seems at least semi-abandoned. But I do know someone whose aviation engineer son works there.

Anyway, welcome GE. 

We're provincial and pokey enough to get a kick out of having such a big time company calling our little town home.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Paper Boy’s Lot is Not a Happy One

For a couple of weeks there, in the summer when I was 10 or 11, I was a paper girl.

My brother Tommy R, then 8 or 9, agreed to take over the route of his friend Tommy Mac, whose family was heading off on vacation. (There were, at this time, at least four Tommy’s on our block, including two Tommy C’s. We didn’t have a ton of name diversity, that’s for sure. If memory is serving here, there were four Jimmy’s, four Patty’s (if I include my sister Trish, who was never called Patty, and was then called Po), and three Kathy’s. Street-wise, I was the only Maureen; neighborhood-wise, there were plenty of us.)

Anyway, my parents decided that “our” Tommy needed help on his route, which covered a fairly extensive bit of territory. I’m guessing that, on his regular route, Tommy Mac was assisted by one of his brothers – probably Jimmy Mac – or his sister Patty Mac.

So I was enlisted.

Being a paper girl had its pros and cons.

I hated to get up that early. And I wasn’t wild about starting the day covered in newsprint. But, much as on Halloween when it was fun to be out marauding around after dark, it was kind of fun being out so early in the morning, before most people were up and about. Plus there was the money angle…

The highlight of the week was “collecting”, which was done on a Saturday. I took the collecting lead, as our Tommy and I believed that having a paper girl would elicit more tips than a paper boy. This strategy worked, although I did argue with our Tommy that, if someone explicitly gave me something extra for being a girl – as did happen once: thank you, kindly Mrs. G up on Wildwood for that quarter - I deserved that extra in its entirety.

The worst part of being a paper girl was delivering the paper to the local Friendly’s. It would not yet have been open for the day, but the vents in the back were already spewing noxious, greasy, cloyingly sweet fumes. The Friendly’s manager liked his paper tucked in the door handle (just under the noxious-spewing vent) just so, and it took a while to do the job right. I can still remember exactly what those fumes smelled like. My Rosebud! My madeleine!

As luck would have it, our first day on the job coincided with a monsoon. My mother didn’t want us drowned-ratting around, delivering soggy newspapers, so she had my father drive us. He got a kick out of it, probably because it gave him the opportunity to rag on what candy-arses (not his words) we were to get chauffeured around on our paper route. Why when he was a boy… (He had a route with his sister, which covered an even wider swath than ours, as it extended down to the Brookline/Seminole area, where one of his customers was space pioneer Dr. Robert Goddard. Mrs. Goddard was still alive when we were kids, but she was blocks away and not in our territory.)

Of course, by the time my father was 11, he was a half-orphan and had graduated from the child’s play of a paper route, to a more substantial after school job as a candy butcher in a knitting mill. Since the Irish and French-Canadian “girls” who worked the looms couldn’t take any time out to grab a bite, they relied on the candy butcher, who went loom to loom selling candy bars and sandwiches. (Pronounced “sang-witches”.) Ever industrious, my father was soon promoted from candy butcher to bobbin boy, delivering giant yarn bobbins to the “girls”. He soon learned to spot the bobbins that had the fewest knots in their yarn, and delivered them to the “girls” who tipped him. (If this all sounds like something straight out of Charles Dickens, I do want to point out that this was the 1920’s, not the 1840’s.)

During my short-duration stint as a paper girl, we delivered the morning paper – The Worcester Telegram. The afternoon edition (The Evening Gazette) was delivered by an older, somewhat intellectually-challenged kid named Skipper, who was eventually replaced by a grownup, an even more intellectually-challenged guy named Roland. (Most Sunday papers, by the way, weren’t delivered. They were purchased from a news cart outside of church. Ours was manned by my cousin Jimmy, who, I believe, managed to put himself through Holy Cross on what he earned there. In addition to the Worcester paper, my father always bought a couple of the Boston papers for the sports coverage.)
Anyway, even in a neighborhood fully stocked with characters – Banana Joe, The Blue Jay, Elmer, The Runner, Mister Mur-fay - Rolie was enough of an oddball that he would have stuck out, even if he wasn’t an oddity by way of being an adult who delivered newspapers. That was strictly for kids! (Rolie also worked as a “swamper”, doing odd jobs.)

But, over recent decades, as paper readership has declined, paper routes have expanded. In many areas, they require a car, so adults have replaced kids as paper boys and girls.

I once worked with a woman whose husband had a paper route. L was the main support of her family. J worked on his novel, and brought in a bit of extra delivering newspapers. I remember L telling me that one time, when they were having a what-do-you-want-to-do-when-you-grow-up conversation with their kids, their young son very sweetly asked, “Daddy, did you always want to be a paper boy?”

I suspect that no one grows up wanting to be a professional paper boy or girl.
And, after reading an account in The Boston Globe on just what it’s like – and just how poorly it’s paid – I can fully understand why.

The job, once the bastion of neighborhood kids looking to make a few extra bucks on their bikes, has evolved into a grueling nocturnal marathon for low-income workers who toil almost invisibly on the edge of the economy.

Like many other newspaper delivery drivers, [Tony] Juliani works 365 days a year and gets no vacation, overtime pay, or workers’ compensation. He said he has not taken a day off in six years.

He delivers papers from 2 to 7 a.m., heads to a second job some days slinging weekly papers, and then a third dropping off Amazon packages until 8 p.m.

During delivery hours, most of the time it’s dark out. Plenty of times it’s cold. Or sleety. Or snowy. Or rainy. Or monsoony. And there’s no Dad to drive you around on your route.

Juliani, by the way, is 75.

It almost goes without saying that paper delivery drivers are considered independent contractors. So there are no guarantees. And no minimum wage. Few (if any) benefits. No vacation.

Welcome to the everyone’s-an-entrepreneur economy. All part or the sharing economy where us consumers get to share the benefits, and those who deliver the goods get to grub for a living. Let’s race to the bottom! Whee!!!!!

Of course, for many of the latter-day paper boys, delivering the news is just one of several temporary and/or marginal jobs being strung together to eke out a living. Many are immigrants. If they can pile on the crappy jobs and create the opportunity for their kids to get their feet up on a higher rung, good for them. But I sure wouldn’t want to be 75, up at 2 a.m., driving around tossing papers on front stoops.

Even without the ghastly fumes from the Friendly’s vent, a paper boy’s life is not a very happy one.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Sad word from Worcester: Spag's is gone...

Sorrowful word from Worcester has been received. Spag’s – the granddaddy of discount stores – is no more.

Actually, it’s been no more for quite a while now. But now even the building, which sat on Route 9 in Shrewsbury, just over the line from the city of Worcester, just across the Lake Quinsigamond Bridge, is being demolished. It’s making way for something that will be called “Lakeway Commons” – is
everything everywhere called “Commons” these days, or is that just New England thing? – that will contain housing and retail. The anchor retail tenant will be Whole Foods.

Whole Foods? The cowboy hat of the eponymous Anthony “Spag” Borgatti must be spinning in his grave.

Not that Spag’s didn’t sell food.

You could get Pepper Farm cookies and Goldfish there. Slabs of cheese. All kinds of snacky things. Bags o’ candy. But they sure didn’t sell anything organic.

For anyone who grew up in the Worcester environs, Spag’s was an institution to end all institution.

As I wrote about Spag’s a few years back:

You went to Spag's for work clothes, hand mixers, paint, drills, toothpaste, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, Candy Land, tapestries, whiffle ball bats, brass planters, nuts and bolts - and for entertainment. Spag’s in its hey-day was cash and carry - and the carry was literal. Spag's merchandise was piled up all over the place, and people would empty out a carton of say, deodorant, leaving all that Ban Roll-on in a neat (or not so neat) pile, and using the carton to hold their foot powder, tube socks, and loose screws. (Source: Pink Slip)

What did I get at Spag’s over the years?

An AM/FM radio and a blender. (They sold small appliances.) Books. (Late in the their history, they had book bargains.)  Flashlights. Tools. Tulip bulbs. Geraniums.

When you were in college, Spag’s was an obligatory stop before heading back to school. You got your toothpaste, your shampoo, your contact lens solution, your tampons – stocking up as if you were heading on Shackleton’s Expedition, rather than to school in Boston where there were actually stores where you could buy toothpaste, shampoo, contact lens solution, and tampons.

And speaking of college, having been an undergrad in the days of radical not-so-chic, I got my back-to-school clothing there: jeans and cords, work shirts, work boots, bandanas. (And I wonder why I couldn’t get a date...)   

What I didn’t get at Spag’s was furniture – think Spanish Inquisition coffee tables  - or art work – think Velvet Elvis and Big-Eyed-Child.

Spag’s wasn’t unique. Boston had Building 19; Rhode Island had Ocean State Job Lots. I’m sure every place had an emporium like Spag’s. But, from what I read, Spag’s was pretty much the inventor of the concept of buying up the truckloads cheap and selling them cheap.

I also read that Ban was more popular in the Worcester area than anywhere else  in the country because Spag’s stocked it. Who knew?

And now it’s going to be Whole Foods?

Not exactly ‘they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.’ Still, I’m sad to here that the crappy, undistinguished building that housed Spag’s is gone.

A tip of the Spag’s cowboy hat to my sister Trish for letting me know about this. Trish, I will note, did not work at Spag’s, but just down the street at Route 9 Surplus, a poor-man’s Spag’s that sold things like discount flip-flops.