Monday, February 29, 2016

Swag Baggery

I didn’t have a ton of interest in last night’s Academy Awards.

Sure, it might be nice if just about every august Academy voter wasn’t an old white guy. I would hate to see any bogus quotas imposed, but note to Hollywood: everyone in the US of A is not an old white guy. Or a young white guy. Or an old or young white woman. Just sayin’.

Not to dis old white guys, I actually like them. I was even married to one. On this very day, in fact. (Happy Anniversary to me, I guess.)

This all said, the reason I don’t tend to watch the Oscars isn’t because I have any political objections to them. It’s just that I’ve always found it painful to watch a bunch of fakers kiss themselves in the arse.

Plus I don’t go to the movies that often, so I don’t know who and what should or shouldn’t win.

The only movies I saw this year were Black Mass and Spotlight. I – make that a parochial I: both of these are Boston films – thought that both of these films were quite good. Black Mass, I suppose, would have been a bit confusing to folks who hadn’t lived through the many sagas of the many-splendored Bulger family. But, if it’s possible to enjoy a movie about a psychopathic killer and the sociopathic FBI agent who befriended him, I enjoyed it. I especially liked Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as Billy Bulger, a major state politico and brother to Whitey-the-psycho. He completely nailed Billy B. Just loved the wave of the blackthorn walking stick. Yo, boyo!

Spotlight, which I thought was excellent, did better on the nomination front. It got four. Me, I would have nominated Michael Keaton for Best Actor before Mark Ruffalo for Best Supporting Actor, but I’m not the world’s foremost judges of acting. I just like Keaton better than Ruffalo, an actor I find pretty annoying.

Anyway, I’m writing this before the envelopes are open, so if you’re reading this, you’ll know whether Spotlight won anything. (By the way, I also want to see Room and Brooklyn, since I have read the books these films are based on. Both novels are by authors I admire, Emma Donoghue and Colm Toibin.)

Whatever the outcome, out of the two films I did see in 2015, Spotlight gets my personal Best Picture Award.

What really interests me, of course, is just what’s in the swag bag that nominees receive.

This year, the goody bag is worth $232,000, up from a paltry $160K for last year’s bag o’ swag.

What’s pushing up the value? Well, a $55K trip to Israel provided by the country’s Tourism Ministry and a travel company. The trip details:

All can bring plus-ones to the 10-day travel pack, which includes first-class air travel into Tel-Aviv and, more importantly, “all the falafel you can eat.” The ministry has been working to attract high-profile visitors, and publicize Israel as a luxury destination rather than merely a conflict zone.(Source: Time)

I’d actually like to go to Israel at some point, but I just can’t get past that conflict zone thang. And good luck positioning Israel as a luxury destination. I’m sure there are plenty of lux-y things to do there, but don’t most people think of Israel as an historical, cultural, political or religious destination? I don’t think the swag bag changes that.

Israel’s not the only trip. There’s also a 15-day private walking tour of Japan worth $54K, which might be more interesting/less dangerous than the $55K jaunt to Israel.

The full list can be found here (Harpers Bazaar), but there were a number of items I found of particular interest.

Who wouldn’t want personalized M&M’s ($300)? And I love the idea of a 10,000-meal donation to an animal shelter/rescue ($6.3K). But, gee, I can and do get my own $6 worth of Chapstick.

And what does one do with a lifetime supply of Pu-erh Tea Nourishing Cream and Pu-erh Tea Cleansing Bar, other than report the $31.2K to the IRS? And who really needs $275 toilet paper. Talk about fancy-arse.

There’s $5.5K worth of Park Avenue plastic surgery. Don’t know what $5.5K will get you on Park Ave. Maybe getting you piggy-toe shaved off so you can fit in your Louboutin’s?

The most intriguing item on the gift list is something called a Vampire Breast Lift ($1.9K). And, yes, it does involve blood.

As it turns out, most nominees do take the bags, but don’t always cash in on the items in it. Many donate the contents to charity.

And to add to the interest and intrigue, the company that puts together the swag bags - wooing donors with the opportunity to get some relatively cheap advertising and at least the possibility that Someone Famous will use their wares – is in a legal wrangle with The Academy over use of their name.

Not that I’d bother to watch it, but maybe someone can make a movie about the swag-bags. Best Documentary?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Mr. Money Mustache. (Minus the mustache, sounds a bit like someone I used to know…)

This week’s New Yorker had an interesting profile on Peter Adeney, whose wildly successful blog, Mr. Money Mustache, promotes achieving financial freedom. His methods may be extreme, but, ultimately, if you follow them, you’re a lot more likely to get that freedom than you are by signing up for some get rich quick scheme. (Think all those folks who were going to become mini-Trumps by flipping houses. And all the people who get caught up in Ponzoid programs that are little more than chain letters.)

No, Adeney is about achieving financial freedom the old fashioned way: by saving rather than spending. And he’s serious about it, living an amazingly frugal lifestyle that enabled him to amass enough to retire quite young and to live (by his frugal standards, in a fully paid off house) quite comfortably. His approach has paid off handsomely. His blog earns him $400K a year, but he continues to live a pure, non-consuming life. For Adeney, having time to do whatever he wants is more important than sporting around in a fancy car (mostly he walks or rides his bike). Or even owning the pedestrian items that most Americans consider necessities of life, like a clothes dryer.

It’s not explicitly stated, but Adeney’s a big believer that you don’t own your possessions; they own you.

Hmmmm. Where have I heard that before?

While I don’t think anyone would ever have used the word frugal to describe my husband – his personality was way too expansive, and he was exceedingly generous - he was one of the only people I’ve ever known who had absolutely no interest in acquiring a lot of stuff.

Occasionally, he’d make a weirdly extravagant purchase – as when he got that crazy massage chair at Brookstone. And then there was that flat-screen TV that used to grace dominate our living room. (Sorry, hon, it’s gone. These days, the TV chez nous is a bit smaller, and it’s in the den.) But mostly Jim couldn’t have cared less about things.

Like many men, he hated to shop, but even by male standards, he was extreme.

As for clothing, Jim had the bare minimum. Take shoes. He had one pair of dress shoes (to wear with his one and only suit). He had one pair of casual shoes, a pair of sneakers, and a pair of winter hiking boots. When they fell apart, he’d replace them.

He had enough underwear and socks to get through the week, a handful of long-sleeved shirts, a handful of short sleeved shirts, a couple of pairs of jeans, a couple of pairs of cords, a couple of pairs of socks. A light jacket. A winter jacket. A few fleeces, some hang around sweats. Although I would occasionally augment his clothing repertoire a bit with a purchase, he mostly didn’t want anyone buying anything (clothing or anything else) for him. He did allow my mother to get him an LL Bean shirt every year for Christmas.

He didn’t mind free stuff, however.Quite a bit of Jim’s wardrobe was corporate swag I picked up. He loved the canary-yellow slicker I got at some work event. The long-sleeved grey shirt from the defunct product. He especially loved the exceptionally soft polo shirts one of my clients had in their marketing closet. Whenever I’d visit the company, they’d give me a new one in another color. Jim was wearing one of these logo-shirts when he died.

During the 40 years I was with him, Jim didn’t own a car. (Except for a few years when I worked in the ‘burbs, I didn’t either, for that matter.) No need for one. We lived in city so we could walk or take public transportation. Rent a car as needed.

Jim liked to buy books. That was about it.

He was quasi-interested in helping pick when we needed furniture. Mostly he wanted to make sure a couch was comfy. With the exception of a poster we got in an antique store in Vermont, and the street artist poster we bought in Berlin when we were there to witness the fall of The Wall, virtually every decorative anything in our home was my doing. Mostly he liked what I put on the walls or placed on the mantel. But left to his own devices, he would have lived a less decorated existence.

Jim’s indulgence was travel and eating out, both of which we did plenty of. We generally stayed in pretty nice places, and ate in pretty nice restaurants. (I won’t get into frequent flyer miles here. That’s a tale for another day.)

But Jim from the get go was a saver. His first year working after college – this would have been 1966 – he made a bit over $5K. And saved $1.3K. I have proof of the former (his tax return), and his word on the latter. But I completely believe it.

Jim was very careful with his money, which enabled him to work only when a project that interested him came his way, and/or he decided it was financially worth the effort. He valued his time, and he valued his freedom. So he made sure he had plenty of both. Having minimal consumer desires let him achieve this.

I am nowhere near the non-consumer that Jim was. I’m not a crazed, obsessive spender, but I do like stuff. And sweaters. And having more than four pairs of shoes.

Of course, if given the choice between more stuff and more time with my rag-bag of a husband, the choice would be pretty clear.

Jim didn’t have a mustache, and he wasn’t as extreme as Peter Adeney, but reading about Mr. Money Mustache reminded me – as if I need a reminder – of just what I’ve been missing the last two years.  

You may need a paid subscription – another luxury, I suppose – but here’s the link to the New Yorker article.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Send OUT the clowns. Now.

I tend to like Cole Porter tunes. Hummable, sing-a-long-able, witty lyrics. But I part company with ol’ Cole when it comes to “Be A Clown.” Because, let’s face it, all the world most decidedly does NOT love a clown. In fact, I can’t think of a single person I know who is anything but creeped out by them. Starting with my sisters who, with me, share an industrial strength case of fear and loathing on the clown trail. Not that we’re actually ever on the clown trail. We, in fact, have an advanced warning system in place. If one of us sees an article on clowns, it’s immediately passed on so that we’ll know who and what to avoid, and where and how to avoid them.

Thus, the topic of clown-dom is not unknown to Pink Slip. My most recent variation on a clown theme was posted just last August. (Fear and loathing? I am nothing if not consistent in my feelings towards clowns.)

Anyway, what my sister Kath shared the other day was an article she’d seen in the NY Times that addressed the sad/creepy/mean/scary clown phenomenon.

Quite sadly, quite scarily, there are more clowns out there to fear and loathe than I had realized.

The one that seemed to draw the ‘een sisters in was Puddles:

…the bearish, nearly seven ­foot­ tall character played by Michael Geier whose cover songs have gone viral. …It wasn’t until I saw a rare New York appearance in January that I appreciated how much he riffed on the idea of the terrifying clown. Puddles, who when not singing is silent, embraces the creepy clown stereotype, invading the space of audience members, sometimes even kissing or, be warned, licking them.

You’ve heard about suicide by cop? How about suicide by clown? Because if I were ever to consider suicide, being licked by a seven foot tall clown would pretty much do it for me.

Geier actually sounds like a not bad person. And I’ve listened to – it’s okay to listen: just don’t watch – a couple of his YouTube videos, and he has a not half-bad voice. And I absolutely get that wanting to be an entertainer (or a writer) means that you’re in for a tough go, career-wise. But does the world need yet another terrifying clown? Is it not enough that we have one who may well end up with President of the United States?

Anyway, on the web site for the Puddles Pity Party – Geier’s business – it’s written:

“Puddles gives an emotive performance that resonates with all kinds of folks,” says Geier. “The crowd really responds to him. There’s something about a giant sad singing clown that comforts us, let’s us know it’s ok to feel, to show our feelings. It’s a sad and beautiful world, and we’re all in it together, even when we’re totally alone.”

Hey, I always realized that “it’s a sad and beautiful world.” And having grown up in a half-Irish/half-German family, it took me the longest while to “know it’s ok to feel, to show our feelings.” Now I’m all for it – within reason, of course. But, really, there is not now, nor ever will there be, any way, shape or form in which “a giant sad singing clown” will provide me with any comfort. Guess I’m just not the kind of folk that something like this resonates with. I really don’t want a complete stranger, especially one kitted out as a clown, to lick me.

Still, I do have to say I have some non-trivial admiration for someone who has found his niche and forged a career in what I’m quite sure is a dog-eat-dog (clown-bash-clown?) profession. It’s just that I’m the type who needs to protect myself, and those I love, from any sort of close encounter with a clown. So, girls, I just did us all a favor, and Puddles doesn’t have any performances scheduled for Boston. We’re safe for now…



Wednesday, February 24, 2016

It is good to be Wendy Schmidt

I don't spend a ton of time envying other folks. First off, I've got it pretty darned good. Second, I've always considered envy a waste of emotion. Joy, anger, sadness - most emotions serve a cathartic purpose. Envy, not so much. 

And then I go and read about Wendy Schmidt's yacht slip and, well, I'm almost gripped by a case of the envies. 

Not that, if I had $4.75M to spend on anything, I'd buy a boat slip, on Nantucket or anywhere else. Personally, I don't have a 156 foot boat to put in it, so I don't need one of the scarce deepwater slips - there are only three - in the harbor. 
"You can see how demand would be quite high," said Jen Shelley, a Nantucket real estate agent who represented, but declined to name, the buyer. "It's such a rarity. There were multiple interested parties." (Source: Boston Globe)
Hey, I was married to an economist, so I know all about supply and demand. So I can see how it operates on Nantucket, where there's a plentiful supply of rich people and a dearth of boat slips that will work for a boat that's about three times longer than the house I grew up in. 

But just being able to flash that kind of cash on a parking space for a boat did get me wondering just what else you can do when you're Eric Schmidt of Google's wife, and you run the Schmidt Foundation, and you have both time and money to spend on making life perfect.

Well, one thing Wendy Schmidt has done is establish a nonprofit:
...launched to help preserve the character of the island's quaint downtown. 
I've only been to Nantucket a couple of times. Once was just after I graduated from high school. We're pushing 50 years on that visit. The other time was in the early 1970's. So it's been a while... I found it charming and quaint, and, given that I do like charming and quanit, I can't really come up with a plausible reason why I haven't been back. And now I really want to go, if only because that nonprofit - ReMain - is doing what it can to keep up the charm and the quaint, including buying "a popular bookstore so it could remain open."

Hmmm. I do have an indie bookstore about 20 minutes walk away, but my friend Marin and I, whenever we see an empty storefront on Charles Street, talk about how much we'd love to open a bookstore, stock it only with books we like, put in a couple of armchairs and open it only when we felt like sitting in one of those armchairs. Of course, stocking it only with books we like would doom it to financial failure, but if we had Wendy Schmidt money, that wouldn't be a worry. We could have a bookstore in the neighborhood that would always be there for us.

ReMain has also "helped finance renovation of the Dreamland Theater."

And that would be nice, too, to have a theater that was just there. I'd give mine to the Actors' Shakespeare Project, so that they'd have a permanent home of their own. They always find wonderful venues for their wonderful productions, but I don't imagine they'd mind if I bought them a venue so that I didn't have to look up every play they do and figure out where it's going to be performed, and how to get there.

ReMain also established Petticoat Row Bakery, so that Wendy and other islanders could just walk into town and get a baguette. (The Times article cited below mentions macarons and lavender madeleines, but, alas they weren't on the current menu. Maybe during the summer when the rich and famous head in for their ration of charming and quaint...)
Not all her causes are on a grand scale: When three local girls needed money to start an ice­pop business this summer, Ms. Schmidt not only gave them a loan, but agreed to sell the pops at the Petticoat Row Bakery, a bake shop she founded in 2010. (Source: NY Times)
The village of Grafton, Vermont, was restored in the 1960's and turned into an absolutely charming and quaint town that likely bears no resemblance to what the town looked like in the 1850's, when there would have been things like mud streets and outhouses. I visited it a once or twice with my husband, who grew up in Bellows Falls, just a few miles down the road from Grafton. Bellows Falls, alas, was never known for its charm and quaintness, so no foundation ever stepped up to restore it. But it's probably more typical of the places where most native Vermonters still live. A few nice (charming and quaint) houses, a lot of run-down buildings, a few bars, a couple of churches. I will note, however, that Bellows Falls has a quite nice indie bookstore. Grafton, I believe does not.

The charming and quaint quotient of Grafton Vermont is nonetheless quite high. And, if it bears scant resemblance to what it was actually like back in the day, I'm guessing that goes double for Nantucket. What do we think Nantucket looked (and smelled) like when it was a whaling center?

But that's okay. I'm fine with keeping what was great about the past (charm, quaintness) and omitting restoration of the yucky bits (outhouses and whale blubber).

Meanwhile, the Schmidt Family Foundation, which Wendy Schmidt runs, does things that go far beyond propping up bookstores and investing in bakeries. Their mission:
Applying new knowledge and innovation is our model for problem solving and for advancing original research in science, energy and the sustaintablity of the world's biosphere.
Keeping bookstores, bakeries and theaters open so that they'll be there when you need them. Goosing the price of a boat slip (which at least made a couple of people - the previous owner and the agent - quite happy).  Trying to do something about the keeping our fragile and fraying planet earth going. (Let's hope it's not too late...)

As I said, I'm not an envious person, but it's got to be good to be Wendy Schmidt.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Maybe we SHOULD convert to metric after all. (Wonder what Lumber Liquitdators thinks?)

At this point in time (i.e., my personal time of life), I would not be jumping up and down to see a conversion to metric.

Oh, some of it I don't mind. I can do the rough mile/kilometer math pretty easily. A kilometer is roughly 6/10's of a mile. And meters to feet don't throw me off. A meet is a bit over 3 feet. I get that a kilo is 2.2, and that a litre is kinda sorta like a quart.

But, while I acknowledge that metric is a lot more logical and mathematically sensible, I don't think in it.

I think that there are 5,280 feet in a mile.  And I know how long it takes to walk those 5,280 feet. And how fast you get somewhere on the Mass Pike when you're going 70 m.p.h. I know what someone means when they say that something is the length of a football field.

My measuring spoons are tbsp and tsp; my measuring cups are, well, cups. I know that when someone calls something pint-sized they mean it's small.

What do people in metric countries say?

(And don't get me going on Fahrenheit vs. Celsius. Twenty degrees is always going so sound cold to me, even after I multiply it by 1.8 and add 32.)

Anyway, I don't start every day thinking about the glories of metric, or the mysteries of Celsius. But the latest news about Lumber Liquidators did catch my eye.

For those who haven't followed the ups and (mostly) downs of Lumber Liquidators, the company was exposed last year in a devastating Sixty Minutes segment that showed some of their Chinese suppliers admitting that laminate flooring wasn't up to California safety standards, even though they'd claimed it was. (For those who aren't addited to HG-TV, or hanging out at Home Depot, laminate flooring is fake wood that's cheaper than the real thing.)

Laminate flooring doesn't pose a clear and present danger. You're not going to get cancer from it the day after it's installed. But flooring that gives off formaldehyde is maybe not something you want to have in your house. Let's face it, ain't no one needs more exposure to potential carcinogens. We've all lived, eaten and breathed plenty of them over the years already, thank you.

Anyway, after Lumber Liquidators took a beating after the Sixty Minutes episode, it got a bit of good news when:
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier this month that tests on the company's products showed minimal health risks, which renewed confidence in the chain as the stock rebounded. (Source: Bloomberg)
But - oops - apparently someone at the CDC translated a foot to a meter, turning an 8-foot celining into 26 feet for purposes of calculation. So the formaldehyde fumes, in their initial calculation, were far more dispersed than they'd be in real life. The CDC had to come out with a corrected finding that shows that the "formaldehyde exposure is three times higer than previously proejcted."

The cancer risk is still low.(There are, however, breathing and irritation problems associated with formaldehyde. Let's face it, who wants to breathe in anything that most of us associate with the frog and fetal pig we dissected in high school biology.) But this is certainly not good news for Lumber Liquidators.

The company has taken steps to improve their quality assurance, and is no longer selling the bad, formaldehyde-emitting laminate from China.

But it's still going to have a hard time. If the CDC's calculations had been correct to begin with, the issue would have come and gone. Now what will stick in people's mind is "three times worse than originally stated."

If only we were all fluent in metric...

Pink Slip took on Lumber Liquidators issue last March, when the formaldehyde story first appeared.

Monday, February 22, 2016

You're right, tech bro, you "shouldn't have to see the pain, struggle and despair of homeless' people"

Last week's award for Millennial You Most Love To Hate went to a one Justin Keller, a San Francisco tech entrepreneur. He seized the title from Martin Shkreli, the drug price gouging, hedge fund chiseling, all-round snot nose. I'm bettting that, based on his performance at a  recent Congressional hearing, Shkreli will be back with full ownership rights. But for now, we have Justin Keller.

Young Keller apparently had a rough Presidents' Day weekend.

A homeless guy leaned on his parents' car.

Keller and his family ran into a drug-crazed ranter when they were leaving a fancy restaurant.

Then some fellow came into the movie theater where he and his girlfriend were enjoying the show, took off his shirt and stood in front of the projector light. Keller ran out, which, given recent movie theater shootings, seems like the right response.

Me, I've left movie theaters twice in sketchy situations. One time there was something that appeared to be smoke wafting into the theater. My sister and I left and reported it to management. I can't remember what the problem was, but not that many people got up and moved when we did. The other time, a guy ran into the theater where my sister and I were watching "Mommy Dearest". He was being chased by another guy brandishing a gun. This was  1981, well before the Aurora Colorado theater shooting. Still, neither one of us wanted to get shot while watching Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford screaming about wire hangers. We left.

So you do have to be wary about crazies in theaters. And on the streets.

And I understand that Keller was especially concerned that all this happened when his folks were in town. Here they were thinking that their son was leading a shiny and golden life in San Francisco, only to find that, every time you turn around, somebody's jumping out at them. And, if not making life dangerous, at least making life unpleasant.

I know how Keller feels.

When my parents came to Boston to see my first apartment, we all had to step over the body of a drunk (not a resident of my building) who was sleeping it off in the vestibule. This was shortly before my father died, so when he was doing his last-thoughts-about-his-kids thing, he was no doubt wondering about just how sound my judgment was, and whether I could actually take care of myself. (Not to worry, Dad. At least I think not to worry.)

I know how Keller feels.

I, too, live in a city with a large homeless population, although, given our weather, probably not as pronounced as that of San Francisco.

Each day, I see things I'd rather not see. Hear things I don't want to hear. Smell things don't want to smell. And I will admit that there are plenty of times when I cross the street to avoid being asked for money by someone.

But, unlike Keller, I wouldn't have taken to my blog, as Keller did, to write:
"I know people are frustrate abou gentrificaton happening in the city, but the reality is, we live in a free market society. The wealthy working people have earned their righ to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn't have to worry about being qaccosted. I shouldn't have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day." (Source: Keller's blog, via the Washington Post.)
Maybe Keller didn't mean to come across as an entitled little whiner who needs to go back to whatever candy-arse, sheltered enclave he came from. But that is, unfortunately, how he sounds to me.

He went on to write that, during the recent Super Bowl doings in SF, the streets were miraculously free of the taint (sights, smells, and sounds) of the homeless. And he'd like that to happen again.

I have no idea how San Francisco managed to round up the homeless and keep them away from Super Bowl patrons, but it apparently wasn't by providing them with permanent housing.

Because they're back.

Here's the thing.

Even though they may not be "wealthy working people", homeless folks have a right to be out and about. And, if you live in a public neighborhood - as opposed to in a private, gated community - they have the right to share your streets and parks.

I don't want Boston Common to turn into tent city. I don't want folks using ATM enclosures as toilets. I don't want to be an eye witness to drug deals.

But mostly I have sympathy for the homeless, the disposables of our society, the NIMBY folks. Where are they supposed to go?

Maybe they didn't go out and get an education. (Although some did.) Maybe they didn't work hard. (Although some did.) Maybe they aren't wealthy working people. (Although some may once have been.)  But from the ones I've met over the years, I can tell you this: most of them have had plenty of bad luck in their lives.

Yes, an awful lot of them have compounded that bad luck with bad choices. But there's an awful lot of folks with mental health issues on the street. And/or folks who've come from disasterous family situations. And/or been in jail for some low-end crime that gained them entry into all the joys and benefits of Incarceration Nation.

As for getting an education, what do you say to a guy who's 37 and can't read because he was taken out of school to pick cotton every year from the age of seven on. As for working hard, what do you say to the person who wants a job, but can't get one because of their record? What do you say to a mentally ill person who may not ever get things together?

I've yet to meet a homeless person who didn't want the same things that everyone else wants: friends, family, a clean place to live, 3 squares a day, and a job.

But we, as a society, haven't figured out how to make this happen for everyone. And it doesn't make things better when cities are gentrifying, and the poor are being squeezed out of affordable options, including SROs (single room occupancies) in which many of the now-homeless were previously housed.

I certainly don't have any answer here, other than let's keep trying. And I've been thinking about this for longer than Justin Keller's been alive.

No, I don't blame him for not wanting to "see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people." But I have news for him: neither do the homeless.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Furniture for introverts? Tell me more.

All I needed to do was see a subhead in an Economist article that read "Furniture for the introverted," and I was all in. I mean, after all these years living la vida introverta, I had never realized that we had our own furniture needs. 

I knew, of course, that we need privacy. And quiet. And "white space" in our lives where nothing, but nothing, intrudes. But, beyond something we can curl up in with a good book, do we really require our own furniture? Who knew? Not this introvert.

Not surprisingly, the concept is coming to fruition in Japan, where - from what I've heard - people are in general more reserved, and the living spaces tend to be smallish. In fact, while US homes have been supersizing, Japanese homes have been downsizing: shrinking from 70 square meters to 60 square meters over the last decade. This probably works better in part because of the simplicity of Japanese design: not a lot of hoo-hah involved. But, given the small spaces, it migh be hard to enjoy that zen garden room when everyone in the family rolls out their tatami mats alongside you. 

What some Japanese furniture makers have dreamed up is: otoko no kakureya, or "hiding place for men," a tiny cockpit-like room with a desk, shelves and reclining chair. Sales are taking off. (Source: The Economist)
Of course sales are taking off! Who wouldn't want a hiding place. I just don't think they're FOR MEN ONLY. In fact, when I was a kid, growing up in house too small for the number of people it held, designing in my mind my very own hiding place, this was pretty much it. Except mine was an overstuffed armchair, not a recliner.

Even my inner introvert would take a pass on the Solo Theatre, "a cardboard box that users put over their heads, which has slot for Apple's iPhone."

I like small, contained spaces - no "open concept" for me - but this sounds just a wee bit claustrophobia-inducing.

The co-designer described it as "a selfish product that appeals to the need to get into a small womblike space of one's own and watch films and other content." Okay. I guess I just prefer my small spaces to be not quite so womblike.

Then there's the indoor tent. And the soundproof cardboard box for karaoke. (Hey, I thought the entire idea of karaoke was getting up and exposing yourself and your inner-warbler to a bunch of strangers who are, with luck, liquored up enough to not notice when you go flat, but not so liquored up that they'll boo you off the stage for it.)

Despite the fact that introverts are everywhere, there may not be much of an international market for these wares. They are considered a bit too eccentric, a bit too Japanese. Kind of like Hello Kitty for grownups, I guess.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Wayfair, you've got just what I need. (Too bad about the boxes it comes in.)

As anyone who’s ever done a reno project knows, renovation has plenty of begats beyond the backsplash, the fridge, and the vanity. There’s all the other stuff that you need to supplement the main events. So last fall, in the midst of my reno, I became acquainted with Wayfair.

And damned if, just as advertised, they had just what I need.

And just what I needed was a marble toothbrush holder, soap dish, and tray for towels. A mirror for the upstairs bathroom; a medicine chest for the downstairs bathroom. Sconces for the living room. New salad tossers

All of which came packaged up in cardboard cartons and oodles of packing materials. The recyclable materials got recycled; some of it went down the drain (those dissolvable foam peanuts); and some got trashed.

Wayfair was great: infinite choice, reasonable prices, and excellent service.

And I went on-beyond-Wayfair and shoped other online venues as well. (The rug for the den, a new double boiler, a new duvet cover, shams, cool registers with the same grapevine pattern as the plaster medallions and mantle in the living room...)

When ordering, I didn’t give a moment’s thought to the environmental impact of all the packaging and shipping. Or the repackaging and reshipping. Nor have I done so for the other stuff I order online in the course of my normal, non-reno-related consuming.

I’m not someone who only shops on the net. I like to shop in a real store. But sometimes what I want or even need isn’t readily available in a store. (You try shopping for a size 10 ½ triple A shoe, why don’t you.) And sometimes it’s just easier to find something online.

But all that cardboard…

I do, of course, religiously recycle it. Too bad that's not as saintly a practice as I tell myself it is.
Though recycling can make consumers think they are helping the environment, the process has its own costs, including the emissions from shipping it to recycling centers, which use a lot of energy and water. Don Fullerton, a professor of finance and an expert in economics and the environment at the University of Illinois, said one possible solution would be to make the retailers responsible for taking back the boxes. That would create incentives for them to come up with solutions for less packaging. “And maybe not put a box inside a box inside a box,” he said. (Source: NY Times)
Note to self: tell Zappo's to stop with the box-in-a-box.

But it's not just all that cardboard that's a problem:  
A handful of scientists and policy makers are circling the same question [as Ruchit Garg, an online shopper who’s been expressing his packaging concerns via Twitter], grappling with the long­term environmental effect of an economy that runs increasingly on gotta­have­it­now gratification. This cycle leads consumers to expect that even their modest wants can be satisfied like urgent needs, and not always feel so great about it. The new arms race for Internet retailers is speed, making the old Federal Express commercial, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight,” seem as quaint as delivery by horse and buggy.
And all that insta-delivery comes at an environmental cost: all those delivery trucks, delivery cars, and - coming soon - drones.

Of course, stuff gets delivered whether it's coming ASAP or through the standard, no hurry delivery times. And whether it's coming in two hours or two weeks, if stuff wasn't being delivered, most folks would be driving to the mall to pick it up. But when you're going to the mall, you're stopping in at mulitple stores. When you're ordering from Wayfair, you can just go ahead and get the toothbrush holder and wait for UPS to show up with it.

Anyway, whether it's coming two hours or two weeks, delivery is likely adding to greenhouse emissions.
Ardeshi Faghri, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Delaware, said the increase of various emissions — which he estimated at 20 percent from 2001 to 2011 — “could be due to a multitude of reasons, but we think that online shopping and more delivery trucks are really one of the primary reasons. Online shopping has not helped the environment,” he said. “It has made it worse.”
Glad I didn't read this before I'd ordered all those things from Wayfair.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

On this day in history...

I’m a sucker for those “on this day in history” lists. And who was born, who died. Not that the specific day matters, one way or the other. And do we really believe that they were keeping such excellent track back in 1370, that we have great certainty that the Battle at Radau: Germany beats Lithuania – sounds like a soccer match, doesn’t it? – took place on that very day.
Fast forward a few centuries, and we find that Myles Standish was elected the first commander of the Plymouth Colony. Greater likelihood of accuracy, but is that Julian calendar February 17 or Gregorian calendar? 
I like that on this date, in 1776, the 1st volume of Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” was published.  And that 19 years later, Thomas Seddal harvested 8.3-kg potato from his garden Chester, England. Way to go, Thomas! That’s one mighty pratie.
Even more interesting, in 1801, the House broke an electoral college tie to pick Thomas Jefferson over Aaron Burr. (Good choice, but let’s hope they don’t get to be tie breakers come November…) And in 1836, Charles Darwin and HMS Beagle left Tasmania.
On the music front, Verdi’s “Masked Ball” debuted in 1859. February 17th is apparently a good day for opera: in 1904, Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” premiered.
Opera’s not the only thing that debuts on February 17th. In 1876, the first canned sardines were introduced, in Eastport, Maine, no less. (Thanks but no thanks. On behalf of my husband, I wish it had been canned anchovies.)In 1896, the London County Council began enforcing its muzzling order. (Hiss-boo. Did dogs bite more back in the day? Were there no rabies shots? I always feel terrible when I see a muzzled pooch.) 
On a more pleasant note, in 1913, Oregon put the US’s first minimum wage law in place. And in 1924, not-yet-Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller set the 100-yard freestyle record.  In 1933, happy days were, indeed, here again when Prohibition was lifted, in plenty of time for folks to enjoy the first color TV, which was demonstrated in 1938. Too bad there was nothing on…
Not much happened in the forties and fifties on this date, other than World War II battles and figure skating championships. But in 1962, the Beach Boys released their first song. Surf was up! More importantly – at least my husband would say so – Wilt Chamberlain scored 67 points in a game against the St. Louis Hawks. A few years later (1968), the Basketball Hall of Fame opened in Springfield. (Jim loved basketball. We were always going to get there someday when we were out visiting family in Southwick…) 
1964 was a biggie: the House voted in the Civil Rights Act and the Supremes ruled that on one man, one vote. (Seriously, it took that long????) 
And in 1972, President Nixon left for China, opening up a new era in Sino-American relations and, I believe, prompting someone (neither Verdi nor Puccini: both dead) to write an opera on the subject. Seriously, what is up with February 17th and opera? 
Over the next couple of decades, a lot of what happened on February 17th had to do with skating, cricket, or NBA All Star games. 
Other stuff happened on February 17th.  For instance, many well-known people you never heard of were born. That includes French economist Pierre Le Pesant (1646). Not to mention Southern plantation owner, Haller Nutt (1816). At least I’ve heard of Montgomery Ward (1844), and Wally Pipp (1893). But Fyodor Sologub? Who curates these lists, anyway?
Football – and lacrosse – great Jim Brown was born on February 17, 1936. As was Gene Pitney (1941) who was born in Hartford, not, as one might have imagined, 24 Hours from Houston. Come to think of it, Hartford has always struck me as a town without pity. 
Rene Russo, an actress Jim had a crush on, was born on this day in 1954. Michael Jordan, a basketballer that Jim was not especially wild about – Jordan was no Bill Russell – checked in in 1963. Paris Hilton was born in 1981.
Many notables died on this day. Geronimo in 1909. Bruno Walter and the guy who played Mr. Wilson on Dennis the Menace both died in 1962.  Lee Strasberg, baseball umpire Nestor Chylak, and Thelonious Monk checked out in 1982. In 1994, Randy Shilts, who wrote And The Band Played On, a book that was turned into one of my husband’s favorite films, died of AIDS. In 2013, on this day, country signer Mindy McCready shot herself. And in 2014, Bob Casale, a musician I’d never heard of, died. 
Anyway, just as all politics is local, the real important history is personal.On February 2014, Bob Casale wasn’t the only one who died. So did my husband, Jim. 
Seems like just yesterday; seems like a million years ago.
Life is good. It’s just different. And it’s just plain not quite as entertaining and interesting as it was when Diggy was around. Sigh…


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

I hate to break this to you, [name withheld]

I spend a few minutes a day cruising the web, looking for topics for Pink Slip. Bloomberg is a frequent source. Friends and family occasionally suggest ideas. (Keep 'em coming.) And I do sometimes trip across something in Huff Po or the Daily Mail UK. (When the latter happens, I'm embarrassed to admit, I will generally look for another source, so that I don't have to admit that I browse Daily Mail UK.) To my web wanderings, I have added GoFundMe, not for its Pink Slip potential, which is limited, but for the human interest. 

And then, while grazing there the other day, I came across a two-fer. For there, amidst the house fires and funeral expenses and the general-purpose do-gooders and the Indian guy hoping to raise enough to make his Olympic luge dreams come true (think: Jamaican Bobsled Team), was a plea to help out a photographer whose specialty is taking pictures at band concerts. For which, alas, he doesn't make any money. 
His selflessness has allowed him to attend local, and national shows and festivals  in which he stands on stage, running back and forth dodging fans just to get pictures for bands. Most of the time these bands don't offer to pay him, but use his images for merchandise, social media, and press related items to gain exposure for their band. [Name withheld by Pink Slip to protect an innocent]  has never once asked for money to do any of this, he does this because he loves music and capturing the moments involved. This being said, taking pictures for bands is not just a hobby for [name withheld by Pink Slip to protect an innocent], this is a career. (Source: GoFundMe)
Okay. I just have to say it. Taking pictures at rock concerts is not exactly something I associate wtih selflessness. I'm equal opportunity here: I wouldn't associate writing a non-monetized blog with selflesssness either. Somethings you just do for fun. 

Skip to the end of the GFM para, where we're told that "running back and forth dodging fans" is "not just a hobby...this is a career." (Later on, the career is expanded to "career and dream.")

And yet [name withheld] has "never once asked for money" for providing bands with images that they then use for commercial purposes.

So now a friend is trying to shake the trees for enough money to get [name withheld] a used car and some photo equipment. The ask is modest, and if his friends want to pass the hat to keep this guy going, good for them. But there does seem to be a pervasive theme throughout GoFundMe pleas that free money solves all problems. And, for those fund-raising for dream-pursuing, there seems to be some sense of, hey, let's try this; it beats work.

Anyway, if [name withheld] is serious about making band photography a career, he may need to stop waiting for bands to offer to pay him. Instead, he might want to:
  • Make sure he has a professional site, showcasing his rock band photos. [Name withheld] does have some band pics on FlickR, but you have to comb through a bunch of mood shots, presumably of [name withheld's] girlfriend, to get to them.
  • Include a list of what bands can use his pictures for: social media, boring old media, merchandise. 
  • Get some references from the bands he's done freebies for, attesting to the quality of his work, etc.
  • Put together a price list. 
  • Start approaching bands in a professional manner, and pitch what he can do for them.
And, finally, while all this plays or doesn't play out:
  • Figure out how to support yourself with your photography (or, with something else, if needs be) while you pursue your dream career/career dream. 
Because, god knows, if you just sit around waiting for punk/grunge/garage bands to start paying you, you're not in for much of a career. Or much of a dream, either.

I have plenty of sympathy for someone who wants to make a living in the arts (however broadly defined). I know plenty of poets, and most of them get by because they have a spouse with a good job. That's just how it goes. [Name withheld] may end up becoming the greatest rock band photographer of all time. Maybe all he needs is a break. But, in my experience, breaks tend to happen to people who make their own breaks.

Not for a second did I consider making a GoFundMe donation to [name withheld]. But I did look around to see if there was some place where he sold his photos, thinking that I would consider buying something. I found him on Etsy, but what was there just seemed to be links to the stuff he likes, and the stuff his girlfriend likes. 

Maybe rock fans don't spend a lot of time on Etsy. What do they need with goat's wool snoods, dog tutus, and potato-print wrapping paper? But maybe there would be some interest there from people interested in an evocative, skilled photo of a rock concert. Stranger things have happened. If the price were right, I would have gotten something. I may never have hung it up, but I would have considered supporting someone taking his career seriously.

I hate to break this to you, [name withheld], but if you want a dream career taking pictures at rock concerts, you need to start paying more attention to the career elements than the dream. Shaking the tin cup on GoFundMe will only get you so far.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Baby, it's cold outside. Inside, too.

Especially when compared to last year's snowmageddon, this winter has been a balmy breeze. Two weeeks ago today, I was actually out and about in a sweater.

We've had very little snow, very little cold, and freakish appearances by forsythia buds and cherry blossoms. The squirrels on Boston Common, generally skinny, furtive and thin-tailed this time of year, are plump, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They seem to be traveling in packs. And they'll stand there on the sidewalk, right in your path - bold as brass, as the nuns used to say - gnawing on an acorn they didn't even have to work for. They're the size of prairie dogs, and you forget for a moment that they're first cousins to the rat.

When, a few weeks back, we had a little cold snap - a few days of temps in the 20's - it was a shock to the heating system.

And then there was this weekend.

The temperature took a dive on Saturday afternoon, and the wind picked up. I had to run an errand on Charles Street, just around the corner, and it looked like 3 a.m. rather than 3 p.m. Few pedestrians on sidewalks that on a typical weekend are packed with locals running errands, tourists with their street maps, and twenty-somethings standing in line for breakfast or lunch at the Paramount. There weren't many cars around either.

Overnight on Saturday, it hit 7-below, the coldest temperature in Boston in nearly sixty years. Worcester, of course, outdid itself: 14-below.

Saturday night would have been a big Valentine's Day romantic dinner out evening. Last year, plans were ruined by a blizzard. This year, they were warning people about frostbite if they were out for more than 10 minutes. I spent a decidedly non-romantic evening avoiding the Republican debate, supping on PBJ and a clementine. A fellow owner popped in, and we discussed the latest building tsouris. It's a big one. More to follow on that, I'm quite sure.

One of the things about living in an old building is the heating challenges. I had the thermostat set at 70 degrees - I seldom go that high - and, overnight, the best it could maintain at was 63 degreees. Not bad for sleeping, but...

My condo is upside down: the living room and kitchen are on the upper level, the bedroom and den are downstairs. Hot air should rise, so 63 downstairs should translate to 65 upstairs. But that's until that hot air gets to the 12 foot ceilings in the living room, and the green-house window in the kitchen. At 7 a.m., the temperature in the kitchen was 55 degrees. Unfortunately, I needed to use the kitchen. Fortunately, I remembered that, when I reno'd, I'd cleverly had toe-kick heating installed. Now, when I first heard about toe-kick, I thought I would be able to kick it on. Not quite. You do have to pretty much go prone on the cold kitchen floor and do a commando-style crawl to switch it on. No matter. It does a very nice job of taking the chill off.

But baby, it's cold inside.

Sunday, the original plan was to take the train up to my sister's in Salem. Trish would pick me up at the train station, and we'd spend the day hanging out - maybe take the dog for a walk, maybe see a movie. That was before we heard the forecast, and that warning about frostbite after 10 minutes out. Plans changed: Trish would swing into Boston to pick me up, and our hanging out would be in her living room. Jack would be walking himself in the back yard if he so desired. If not, he could just hold it.

For the 2 second walk from my front door to Trish's front seat, I donned heavy cords, a wool turtleneck, heavy sweater, two pairs of socks, down coat, wool cap, scarf, and bunny-fur lined mittens. Brrrrrr....

The afternoon's event was sitting on the couch channel crusiing.

Dinner was frigid weather fare: chicken pot pie. I bought fancy cupcakes for dessert. What's Valentine's Day without a cupcake decorated in pink and red?

Today, Presidents' Day, the weather's warming up. We'll get the dog out to stretch his legs, and maybe get our wallets out to do a little shopping. After all, what's a holiday celebrating the great and not-so-great men who've led our country without a bit of shopping?

As for that bit o' frigid weather we just endured. The upside is that Arctic cold is good for keeping down the rat population. And I bet it wipes the smile off a couple of those bold as brass squirrels on the Common, blocking my way and taunting me with their acorns.

Enjoy the holiday. Stay warm!

You didn't think I was going to get through a holiday post without acknowledging that today is Presidents' Day, did you?

Just think, next year at this time, we could have a president in place who is unfathomably terrible. A crude, nasty, bullying, nativist demagogue. George, Tom and Abe must be spinning in their graves.

Rather than repeat myself, repeat myself, repeat myself, here's a link to last year's take on the day.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Tote that engagement, lift that morale

Fortunately, whenever I get a bit wistful about no longer being a full time employee anywhere, I come across an article that reminds me just  how fortuante I fortunately am. The Bloomberg article I saw - grabbingly headlined "Companies Are Outsourcing Employee Morale Building" (I've always loved seeing the words "outsourcing" and "morale" juxtaposed) - had an intro paragraph that made me shudder:
On a recent Thursday evening, Erin McCulloch, 31, was in her New York City office's conference room balancing on her manager's shins. Nearby, another colleague lay on her back and lifted the chief executive officer into the air with her feet, airplane-style. (Source: Bloomberg)
I've made it this far in professional life in one piece by following a few pretty simple rules. One of those rules is never balance on my manager shins. And another one is never lift my CEO (or, for that matter, anyone over the age of 3 and/or weighing over over 32 pounds).

But I've never been a hip young thing working in a cool place in NYC. Nor have I ever been even vaguely interested in anything that promises to be a "fusion of acrobatics and yoga," even if it promises to "leverage the wisdom of AcroYoga and apply it to corporate America."

Both may indeed require coopration and communication, but that's really where I see the (strained) applicability ends.

Then again, I've never been a hip young thing, etc.

Anyway, hip young companies in the NYC area can outsource their morale building to an outfit called Wekudo (as in "we could do", not as in weh-coo-dough" which is how I mnentally pronounced it when I first say it).

Wekudo has a "BIG dream: to inspire happiness at work."

This happiness at work must be a Millennial notion.

I'd say that the Greatest Generation wanted a steady income (plus pension) at work. Us Boomers wanted a steady income, too, but since we weren't going to get a pension, we wanted to have work that was "interesting", if not inspiring. As far as I can tell, poor Gen X wants an income, but since they weren't going to get a steady one, let alone a pension, what they want is for the Boomers to leave and not let the door hit them on our way out. They want this in a desperate hope that they can have a few minutes to run the place before the Millennials come streaming in through the doors that the Boomers had just exited. And the Millennials apparently don't care about income, steady or not. They care about perks, and engagement, and happiness at work.

I generally found a fair amount of happiness at work. But it was deifinitely small-h happiness. For real, capital-H Happiness, I looked to friends (a number of whom I found at work), family (hey, come to think of it, I met my husband at work), the nearest bookstore, and the Boston Red Sox. (Happiness from the Sox was an up-and-down-er.)

Given what the Millennials are after, I think that Wekudo is on to something. So go check them out. Any place that features pets on their site is likely a place that does, indeed, inspire happiness. (Even though some of those pets are cats.)

And Wekudo is not all about the acro yoga. They do plenty of things that even I - loather of most corporate bonding functions, just on general principles - might have enjoyed.  Like trivia night and karaoke (which I actually did at a couple of corporate functions). Others, well, sometimes I'm just as glad that at Me, Inc. I get to build morale and inspire happiness doing whatever I damn well please, even if it's just a snow-day afternoon nap. No manager's balancing on my knees, thank you!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

What's in a plaid?

For nearly a century, Burberry has kept tabs on its trademarked plaid, the "Burberry check" pattern that most of us are familiar with. It may not be on our backs - it's not on mine, that's for sure - but it's in our psyches. But on the outside chance that it's not embedded in your brain, thar' she (the Burberry check pattern) blows:

Burberry's pretty expensive - I mean, The Queen sports it - and I don't think that most J.C. Penney's shoppers would be buying it. But, according to Burberry, the company has "suffered 'substantial and irreparable injury.'" at the hands of Penney's.
The British fashion house said Penney had been illegally selling "quileted jackets" with the pattern, as well as "scarf coats" in which scarves with the pattern were sold with matching coats. Burberry claimed that Penney kept selling the items in question for two months after learning of its objections. (Source: Fortune)
I guess they've taken it off their shelves, because this is what the Penney plaid looks like these days:

Close, but....You know the rest.

Burberry acknowledges that Penney's "infringing products are of inferior quality." Even so, "they appear superficially similar to genuine Burberry products."
[Burberry] then said Penney had intended to "deceive and mislead consumers into believing that defendants or their products are authorized, sponsored by or connected to Burberry."
If, in fact, Penney is found to have violated Burberry's trademark, they could be out millions. They'll have to sell a lot of "inferior quality" products to make up for that kind of outlay.

But if all that Burberry's got on Penney is something like the scarf coat shown above, I don't know. Here's the Burberry scarf coat, for compare and contrast.

Can you trademark the colors that go into a plaid? Anything with camel, white, and black - with or without red - is owned by Burberry? Do they have trademarks for a slew of plaids? What's pictured for Penney's - at least what I could find - doesn't really look like the real thing at all.

Then there's the overall look and feel. Let's face it. That wholesome Penney's model, in the jacket with the slightly clunky cut, is probably not wearing pricey pumps. Or toting that bag. Look, she doesn't even have the cool loop around thing going. She's just got hers plain old draped over her shoulders. (Does Burberry's own the right to the looped scarf look? If so, I'm in trouble.) But seriously, the only connection someone wearing that Penney's coat is making to Burberry's is in the realm of fantasy.

I ought to know.

I may not have the J.C. Penney wannabe, but I do have in my possession an L.L. Bean quilted jacket with a lining that's somewhere on the plaid continuum between Penney and Burberry. Here's my Burberry-lite lining:

Even if I roll up the cuffs to show off that ritzy-ritz lining, I'm pretty sure that no one's looking at the boxy cut of my LL Bean quilted jacket and thinking Burberry. Oh, sure, I might make pretend that I'm out deer stalking with Lilibet and Philip. Grouse hunting with Charles and Camilla. Chilling with Kate and the kids while we watch Wills and Harry play polo. (Move over, Pippa.) That someone might mistake me for a Sloane Ranger.

Should I turn myself in? Turn LL Bean in? Am I doing Burberry irreparable harm? Or just myself, by trying to pass myself off as someone who rides to the hounds?

And what should I be doing about the pink plaid cotton scarf I got for $5 at a sidewalk sale on Charles Street. Now that's a Burberry knock-off, if ever.

But what's in a plaid?

We may be finding out soon enough...

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sunday Night at the Red Lobster

One of the best novels I've ever read about "real" working people, in a "real" no-collar job, was Stewart O'Nan's Last Night at the Lobster. If you haven't read O'Nan - my idea of THE Great American Novelist of our era - and you admire excellence in fiction, you can't go wrong picking up anything (make that everything) he's ever written. (Don't forget his non-fiction, either. He wrote a terrific book about the 1944 Hartford Circus Fire. And he co-authored (with Stephen King) a book about the magical Red Sox season of ought-four.)

What O'Nan captured so brilliantly was not just the bleak and depressing elements of working at a Red Lobster - any Red Lobster, let alone one that's about to go out of business. (On top of everything else, on that last night, there's a blizzard. And, oh, yeah, I may not have this right, but I think it's just before Christmas, too.) What he also gets spot on is the humor, the sexiness, the fun of working in a place like that. Plus the dignity that a good and hard working person like manager Manny DeLeon can bring to a job that so many of us would consider a "death trap...a suicide rap."*

I especially like Lobster because I could identify with it. Before I launched my brilliant professional career, I was a waitress. No, it was never going to be my life's pursuit - that I still haven't figured out yet - but I did spend three summers during college, and a year+ after that waiting tables. Two of those summers were at Big Boy's, a low-end chain. Kind of like a Red Lobster, only without the booze. 

In actuality, I've never eaten in one. But based on my time at Big Boy's, and the other joints I worked, I know the look, the feel, the smell. I know that it can be fun to flirt with the cooks and kid around with the busboys. To get the bartender to make you a Kahlua Sour. (That was at Dugin Park and the Union Oyster House. No alcohol at Big Boy's!) To bitch about the customers. To enjoy yacking with the customers. To sneak a bite or two off of a plate that's just sitting there under the heat lamp waiting to be picked up. To count the tips at the end of the night. To go home bone tired, with barely enough energy to wash out your stinking uniform so you can get up the next day and do it all over again.

So I'm sympathetic to folks who work at the Lobster, or any other restaurant, especially the chains. It's hard, unglamorous work. But someone's got to do it so that the rest of us can go out to eat. And I thank you.

Anyway, last Saturday must have been an exhilerating one for Red Lobster workers. Because that was the day Beyoncé, on the eve of her super-star turn at the Super Bowl halftime show, released a new song in which she talks about taking her boo to eat at a Red Lobster.

As a result of that big ol' shout out from Bey,
Red Lobster Chief Executive Officer Kim Lopdrup said sales jumped 33 percent on Sunday and increased "well into the double digits" on Monday after pop star Beyoncé mentioned the seafood chain in her new song, "Formation."
The song, which was released over the weekend, sent customers streaming into Red Lobster on Super Bowl Sunday, which is typically a slow day for the company, Lopdrup said in an interview. He declined to give a specific figure for the double-digit increase on Monday, which compares with the year-earlier day.(Source: Bloomberg)
This could be a big deal for the chain, which has not been faring all that well, and is plagued with the patronage of an undesirable, aging demographic. 

I'm fortunate that, when I want a red lobster, or any other seafood, I don't have to go to a Red Lobster. I live in New England where you just have to reach your arm into the Atlantic and pull one out. Well, not quite. But lobster is pretty easy to come by, in either of my preferred manifestations: boiled with drawn butter or in a lobster salad sandwich. 

But I hope that the turn in fortune for Red Lobster continues, and that Beyoncé's mention boosts their business for a good long while. Not to make the owners - a private equity firm - richer. But to put a few more bucks in the pockets of the waiters and bartenders. To put a smile on the face of all the Manny DeLeons - the hero of Last Night at the Lobster - and to keep a few more of them from having to go through the pain and sorrow of a last night.

*And, yes, I'm quoting poet-rock-eate Bruce Springsteen here. I saw The River Concert at The Gah-den last week. Springsteen is the singer-songwriter equivalent of Stewart O'Nan, other than the fact I suspect that more people have heard of (and heard) Bruce Springsteen than have heard of (and read) Stewart O'Nan. 

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Boomers aging into old age housing? Gimme shelter!

Right after my mother turned 80, she moved into a congregant living facility.
It was time to leave home, the house she’d live in for 44 years, where she’d raised her kids, seen my father through a long illness, and been a widow for nearly 30 years. Worrying about whether the lawn was mowed, the walk was shoveled was getting to be too much. The new folks next door were a bit difficult. They were sloppy about putting their trash out, and milk jugs, tampon cartons, and Styrofoam Dunk’s cups would blow onto my mother’s property, and those lazy, good for nothing neighbors would do nothing about it. You’d think that someone might be ashamed about letting an 80 year old woman trying to retrieve their trash from the steep rocky hill that abutted her yard, but apparently not.

Anyway, from everyone’s perspective it was time for her to move to a place where she didn’t have to worry about house stuff, and her kids – none still in Worcester – didn’t have to worry about her.

Her new digs were pretty darned ideal.

She had a generously-sized one-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen and plenty of storage. There was a balcony that fit a couple of chairs that looked out on a pond. (The official name of the pond was Curtis Pond, but we knew it as The Electric Pond because it was near an electrical substation. When I was a kid, I thought the water was electrified, and that you would be killed if you stepped toe in it.)  Even better than the view of The Electric Pond out back, the front of the building was directly across the street from her parish church, where she’d been a parishioner since she’d moved to Worcester more than 50 years earlier. It was the church where she’d baptized her kids and buried my father, and the place where much of her social life revolved around. Her home away from home.

My mother’s congregant living place was by no means luxurious. But it was well kept up and comfortable. The grounds were lovely, there were plenty of activities for the “congregants,” and the staff were wonderful. Residents got breakfast and dinner, light housekeeping, and someone to check on their whereabouts if they didn’t come down to breakfast. Bonus points: my mother had a couple of friends who already lived there. Further bonus points: it wasn’t crazily expensive, and my mother could easily afford it.

When we moved her in, my sisters and I kidded her that – having lived with her parents until she married – my mother was moving into her first “single gal pad.” We also raved about how much storage there was. (Less than a year later, when she died, we were cursing that way too ample storage.
All in all, my mother was very happy at Goddard House, and we were very happy to have her there. Part of our sadness at her death was regretting that she didn’t get to enjoy more years of life unencumbered by a too-big house with a too-big yard.

As my Chicago cousins go through the search process to find a place for my Aunt Mary who, nearing 90, is ready to move into an assisted living situation, I hope that they’re able to find a place as good for their mother.

Anyway, the day before my mother fully moved in, I was transferring her frozen food for her  when the woman in the apartment next door popped her head out and asked if I were the new resident.

It was my 51st birthday. So my answer was, errrrrr, no.

Fast forward fifteen years, and I’m still not ready to start thinking senior living – independent, congregant, assisted, skilled nursing. Maybe another fifteen or twenty years from now, which seems to be about the time in someone’s life when they need to get themselves into a more supportive/assistive living situation. I’m in a great location, and, with my recent reno, I made a couple of senior-friendly improvements: the tub is now a walk-in shower with bench and grab bar; the steep and twisty stair case is now equipped with a railing. But there’s nothing I can do about the steep front steps to the building, and the puny landing at the top. I suppose that breaking my neck while toppling backwards down those steps wouldn’t be the worst way to go, I don’t intend to find out.

Whether we like it or not, us first wave boomers are embarking on the beginning of the end and, whether we like it or not, are having to figure out our end of life plans. Just think, only yesterday, as a high tech product manager, I was sitting around the table talking EOL strategies for products that needed to go. Any day now, I’ll be sitting down to figure out my person EOL strategy.

Anyway, when I do decide to move on (short term, not permanent move one…), there’ll apparently be plenty of choices.

I really don’t picture myself in a golden-ager community, but if I’m going to be staying in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I’ll have an increasing number of options. I’m already seeing – or perhaps, for the first time, paying attention to – ads for all these incredibly nice looking communities where incredibly well-dressed, incredibly fit older folks (mid 70’s?) seem to be just loving their new digs.

But do I want to live in a place where all the women where sweater sets and pearls? With perfectly coiffed heads? And perfectly coiffed and toothed husbands? Hell, no.

Regrettably, I have yet to see an ad for a place that looks really appealing, that looks like a place I’d fit in. I.e., one populated by a bunch of grey-hairs in jeans and “interesting” sweaters who look like they’re heading out to go door-to-door for Bernie Sanders. Where the main features of the place are the library and the geezer-ed center, not a lap pool and tennis courts.

But I suspect that there will be more choice as time goes by. After all:

…as the first baby boomers turn 70 this month, the number of “old old” is expected to nearly triple in coming decades, from 7.3 million in 2015 to more than 21 million by 2050. (Source: Boston Globe)

And those ads we see running? They really don’t think that us Boomers are going to be flocking in any time soon.

“Part of the marketing efforts you see today will help bmer. “Strong operators are basically constantly marketing because they have to keep that front door full with a line.”

In addition to being savvy marketers, I bet they have excellent models to predict when there’ll be an opening, too. Actuarially speaking.

Part of that marketing effort is promoting communities for the 62+ demographic, even if the residents are in the 80+ demographic. And part of the marketing and product management effort is putting in more and more amenities to appeal to us younger geezers. Kayaking! Wine lockers! Tai chi! Plus the ability to stay put as we need an escalated level of care if we ever decide to grow old and die. As if!

Much of what’s going up in Massachusetts is upscale, which is not surprising, given that there is a lot of money around here.

But the reality for most baby boomers is not going to be deciding whether to go kayaking or break open a bottle of Shiraz. It’s going to be figuring out how to retire on whatever it is we did or didn’t save. Hoping that Social Security and Medicare will still be around. Praying that we don’t get Alzheimer’s. Or that we do get Alzheimer’s and spend those final years grayed out, unaware.

There used to be a Clairol (I think) ad that went, “Hate that gray? Wash it away.”

The truth is, there’s only so much gray that we’ll be able to wash away and, if the boomers live long enough, our bulge of a demographic is going to need the ability to stay in our homes or move into places that are clean, comfortable, safe and affordable. Forget about tai chi. For a lot of us, it’s going to be gimme shelter.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Firing your customers? You can if you're Elon Musk.

In the later stages of my career, a new philosophy of "cusotmer management" started to take hold. And that philosophy was that all customers are not created equal, and that some were more profitable and desirable than others. So what you wanted to do was cull the unprofitable customers from the herd. And, while you were at it, you were supposed to jettison customers who were "off strategy."

The trick, of course, was to identify those unprofitable and/or ottherwise undesirable entities. We seldom had the systems in place to figure out who they were. But whether we could formally identify them, or just had a gut feeling that they were too expensive to hang onto, in any case we generally didn't have the will to part with them.

Most of my career was spent in companies that sold to "the enterprise" market. I.e., we had large, complex, complicated and expensive "systems". And, as it so often turned out in my experience, the customers that turned out to be the ones we were losing our shirt on were the big names. And nothing so dazzled the places I worked like a name that someone had heard of. And those big names knew it, so they extracted all sorts of concessions and extras for the pleasure of doing business with them. In return, we seldom got anything - they weren't willing to provide a reference, or do a customer story, or sometimes even let their name appear on the customer list. Sure, you could tell someone they were a customer, but that was about it.

But, at least in theory, it makes a lot of sense to figure out how to lop off those customers that don't make you money and/or those that are a distraction from the business you really want to be in. (A hosting provider I worked for had some legacy busienss with a major porn vendor. Readers may recall that the demand for porn was a major driver for the growth of the Internet. More bandwidth, please! Anyway, we decided that there was no benefit to have a porn provider sucking way too much bandwidth up, not to mention that it was just unsavory. So we did get rid of them. A story for another day...)

Mostly, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to get rid of customers.

And that goes whether you're in the big old corporate B2B world I come from, or, it would seem, the consumer market.

Of course, if you go about cusotmer-elimination in a public, feudy kind of way, you do get some publicity out of it. And that might be good for business. Or maybe you just want to vent spleen, which sems to be what Elon Musk was up to when he decided not to sell a Tesla to VC Stewart Alsop after Alsop unloaded on Musk's company for putting on what he felt was a dreadful customer event.

The event was last fall, and was held to launch the Tesla Model X, which Alsop wanted to buy, to the tune that he signed up for one and put down a deposit. The Tesla Model X is a 90 MPG SUV that goes for about $80K. (Or about $130K - I've seen both prices mentioned.) So there won't be an unlimited audience for it. Counter balance that with the fact that anything Elon Musk does is going to generate plenty of interest, and the fact that the Tesla is hip and trendy. So maybe a debate on whether how well you need to treat your prospective customers would end in a draw.

Apparently Stewart Alsop didn't find the event to his liking - it didn't start on time, it was over-crowded and he didn't get the oportunity to test drive the car, the food was awful - and Alsop took to his blog, as bloggers do, to rant about what a waste of his time it was. And to crank of Musk for not even apologizing. He posted it as an open letter to Elon Musk.

Fast forward a few months, and Alsop found that Musk had canceled Alsop's order for the car.
British newspaper The Guardian has accused Musk of being "unbelievably petty" in his response to Alsop's moaning. Is it it teachable moment? The possible lesson here is you shouldn't criticize Musk or make him mad if you want to buy a Tesla, as The New York Post and The Silicon Valley Business Journal put it. (Source: Market Watch)
Quite naturally, Alsop just had to blog about the order cancel. And, Alsop being Alsop  - a former journalist turned investor, from a family of prominent journalists - a lot of folks in the tech and business media picked up on the story.

To which Musk responded with a snide tweet about it being a slow news day when his response to a "super rude customer" made the headlines.

But was Alsop being super rude?

I think not.

He was making some valid points, and he was directing them to a public figure - Elon Musk - rather than trashing the marketing folks running the event. He wasn't - IMHO - being a jerk about it. He was describing his experience from his persepctive. He was blogging. And there didn't seem to be anything untoward or particularly rude about it.

But there was Elon Musk, over-reacting. When maybe what he should have done after Alsop's first post was invite him to do a test drive.

A few years back, when the Red Sox were in their glory days and tickets were hard to come by, a wrote a humorous but out there post on my experience trying to buy tickets online. The system has been much improved. And the Red Sox have declined. So, overall, it's much easier to get tickets online these days.

But back in the day...

My screed did get a response from the Red Sox: an email from the head of marketing (which included an email he'd received from then-president Larry Lucchino about my post) saying that the Red Sox would try to improve the system and, in the meantime, offering to have someone in his office facilitate my ticket purchase. I didn't go haywire, but I was able to score tickets for a few games.

Needless to say, my next post about the Red Sox was a smilier-faced one.

But Elon Musk? I've generally been an admirer of his business and technological acumen, but I think he's out to lunch on this one. Maybe he's a marketing genius, and did it to amp up product awareness. Or maybe he was just being a jerk.

Anyway, if he wants to put me in the No Tesla Zone, he can have at it. But I really think if you're going to fire your customers, there should be a better reason than them ragging you about a crappy event your company put on.