Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Sew long, Winmil Fabrics

I grew up in a sewing home. My mother made much of the clothing for my sisters and me, starting with the white shorts she made out of my father’s Navy whites, and the navy Easter coats she stitched up out of his dress blues. One of my favorite dresses – when I was maybe four or five – was a white pique cotton, printed with little flower carts. Although I can picture the fabric perfectly,  I still wish I had a swatch.

I liked going to the fabric store, thumbing through the pattern books- McCall’s, Butterick, and Vogue – and picking out the pattern and the material.

There were plenty of misses – that mustard yellow striped number – but enough hits (cool paisley dress with the dropped waist, the floral print a-line shift I wore to death).

Perhaps the biggest miss, however, was when my mother made bathing suits for me and Kath, and didn’t pick the material all that wisely. Kath’s was a blue-and-white striped ticking, and mine was a turquoise, black, and white checkerboard. Both immediately absorbed water and turned to lead bodysuits. These bathing suits resembled the “bathing costumes” of 1900, when folks would frolic in the shallows in massive garb. We wanted to actually swim a bit, and not just wallow in the shallows. But those suits were too damned heavey. Talk about wearing something to death. That summer, my mother gave in and ended up getting us store-bought tank suits.

Both of my sisters learned to sew and made a lot of their own clothing. I gave it a bit of a whirl, but never mastered the art.

Still, over the years, I continued to enjoy going to fabric stores to pick out material for curtains (which my sisters whipped up for me), and to cover dining room seats (which I could manage on my own, 20160529_131625 (1)thanks to a good pair of clothing shears and a heavy-duty upholstery stapler). Last fall, in the midst of my reno project, I popped into Winmil Fabrics, in downtown Boston, and found a couple of remnants that went perfectly with the new-old loveseat for the den. The picture doesn’t do this justice. The fabric is simply gorgeous. For $24 I got enough yardage to have four pillows made, and to cover the seat of an old lyre-back chair.

Winmill is a funny place, and you have to wade through the polyester and sequins to find the good stuff, like the remnant table. But it’s just plain fun to go in. It’s such a throwback, with its wooden floors, and it was my go-to for buttons, thread, and press-on tape when I wanted to make curtains without bugging my sisters. Bonus points for the chatty proprietors.

There used to be fabric stores pretty much everywhere. In Worcester, there were plenty of places on Water Street. Weintraub’s, had a branch in Main South where my sister Trish was a salesgirl during high school. Woolworth’s also sold patterns and had some fabric, and I believe that department stores had sewing departments, too. At least I think that Denholm’s, the main store in Worcester did.

There are still fabric stores around – Zinman’s in Lynn has fabulous fabric. But, come June, there won’t be one around in downtown Boston. After 47 years, Winmil is closing, and its owners, Howard and Marilyn Held, are retiring. A dental office is going in.

When Held opened Winmil, Boston still had a garment district.

I remember those days.

I remember looking in at shops where the sewing machines were wearing. And the Dot Hosiery office and showroom for some reason stands out in my mind. The garment district was near Chinatown, where Winmil is located. And there was also an outpost near Boston Garden, where Forecaster of Boston raincoats were made, and where I once had a Kelly Girl gig in a factory that made jeans. (The brand was something patriotic. Was it Old Glory? There was a flag on the label. Anyway, Converse Headquarters is where that jean factory was located.)

All gone. All those stitchers and cutters are in Vietnam and Bangladesh. And no one, other than me the once or twice a year when I have a dress on, wears hose. (Me, I don’t like the look of chicken legs, and I have no desire to slather tanning chemicals on my leg so they won’t look like chicken legs.)

I suppose that next time I need needles or thread, I’ll have to get on Amazon.

Definitely not as much fun as going in to Winmil and chatting with the Helds.

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The full article on Winmil is here. You may need a Boston Globe subscription to access it.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day, 2016

Memorial Day is one of those nice little three-day-weekend holidays that we don’t seem to get enough of. Funny, even though I don’t work anywhere near full time, and help myself to plenty of three-day-weekends (not to mention three-day-workweeks), I still enjoy the long holiday weekend, starting with the Thursday night traffic jam leaving Boston, now that a lot of three-day-weekends have turned themselves into four-day-weekends.20160528_143127

As always, there are a lot of tourists in town. As always, a lot of the locals are out of town, and if I still had a car, there would be plenty of places to park on the streets, which seldom happens in real life. As always – or at least for the last few years – there are flags on Boston Common, one for everyone from The Commonwealth who has been killed while fighting for our country. As always – or at least for the last few years – I will head over late this afternoon and help the volunteers remove the flags. We furl them into bunches of twenty, put a rubber band around the bunch, and put them in big Rubbermaid containers – stored and ready for next year.

Tough to think of all those lives – mostly young men – lost to war. And I guess it doesn’t much matter whether it was a good war or a not so good war. (“My war’s better than your war!”) And it doesn’t much matter, either, whether you were a gung-ho patriot or a reluctant recruit, grousing all the way. At the end of the day, you didn’t get to live the full life you would have had if not for that good or not so good war. Sigh…

On holidays, I always look back on what Pink Slip had to say the year before.

Last year, I posted about Ireland’s vote to legalize gay marriage. (Up The Republic!) My first Memorial Day post was in 2007, Decoration Day. That one pretty well sums up my feelings on the day. Some things don’t change much.

On Wednesday, I’m heading out to Worcester to go, with my cousin Barbara, decorate the family graves – geraniums, a couple of spikes, a begonia for my sister Margaret’s little grave in the shade.

Whatever you’re decorating, or not, Happy Memorial Day – especially to those who were in the service, and for those who have a flag on Boston Common, commemorating someone they lost.

 

 

Friday, May 27, 2016

There’s business casual (and then there’s business casual)

Today’s Friday, so – in offices across America – employees are showing up in business casual. In some places, this is a Friday-thing only. In others, it’s business as usual. In still others, it’s anything goes. (After all, if business casual is the norm, how else can you differentiate Friday, other than to have it be the adult equivalent of PJ day?)

At my office, anything goes is actually the norm.

Since my office is right next to my bedroom, I have been known to work in my PJs. Or in a robe, straight out of the shower. I sometimes work – before and/or after – in workout clothes. Mostly I wear whatever I’m wearing for the day – jeans, khakis, knit pants, fleece, t-shirt, sweater. Mostly I’m wearing shoes, but some days I don’t make it out of my slippers (which are moccasins, so actually do resemble shoes).

When I worked full time, the dress codes were really company- dependent, and ranged on a continuum from jeans-always-okay, up through business casual, to business just short of suit, to suits or equivalent (for the ladies: dress and jacket).

Even at the jeans-always-okay outfits, I generally stuck with somewhere between business casual and business just short of a suit. Once in a while, I wore jeans to work, but not often. Decent pants or a skirt, with a nice sweater or jacket, was my norm. Suits when seeing a client.

I tended to avoid jeans because, for a good part of my career, I was one of “them”, holding some sort of management position. I wouldn’t say I dressed for success. But I did dress to convey authority and seriousness of purpose. (That sounds so prissy and/or gaggy, but it’s true.)

But it didn’t bother me that most others dressed down. Other than the guy who showed up one day in a pair of exceedingly short cut-offs and what appeared to be a pajama shirt with holes in it (and what seemed to be small blood stains – ewwww). I had a good kidding relationship with this fellow, and I did tell him I didn’t want to see him showing up in this ensemble ever again. Fortunately, he took my advice. (Or not. I just checked out his profile on Linkedin, and in his picture he appears to be wearing a pale yellow pajama shirt. Hmmmmm….)

What’s happening now in the work place is not a quibble over just how casual business casual is. I.e., do jeans fit the bill, or do we draw the line at Dockers?

No, these days it’s whether it’s okay to wear yoga pants to work.

Sometimes Amy Mains wears black yoga pants to work. She adds a scarf, accessories, and a shirt long enough to cover her backside. "Just making sure everything is as crisp as it can be when you're wearing tights," she said. 

Like many office workers, Mains, 31, wants three things from her workwear: comfort, convenience, and a professional look. Her go-to Lululemons meet two out of three, allowing her to switch from her San Francisco communications job to a studio without need of a gym bag: "It's primarily for comfort, but I do a lot of yoga," she said.

On the style front, though, a few bangles and a long shirt can't distract from the fact she's wearing clothing made for sweating, not working. Her yoga pants may be a welcome escape from the restrictive tyranny of shift dresses, but they still aren't entirely office-appropriate. Mains knows this, reserving the stretch pants for days when she won't see many other humans.  (Source: Bloomberg)

I’m sure that Amy Mains looks fit and adorbs in her Lululemons, but I can’t help but thinking that this is not quite right.

In the 1980’s, when I was often wearing a suit (menswear skirt suit, silk shirt with some type of bow), a quite popular outside of work outfit was black stretch pants worn with a long, tunic sweater. It was comfortable and convenient, that’s for sure. And those long tunic sweaters did the strategic backside covering. But – and I may be blocking some memories out here – I don’t recall anyone wearing this type of get up into even the most casual of offices. I sure didn’t. 

Yoga pants?

Thanks to ponte pants, “a firm yet stretchy style with an elasticized waist—an industrial strength version of yoga pants that have become a workplace staple” – women do have a pretty decent comfy, convenient, and professional alternative. Admittedly, they may still have to carry a gym bag with their yoga get-up in it, but aren’t they carrying a gym bag with their yoga mat and water bottle in it already?

So I’m going to be a clucking old prude here and say that – maybe other than in the most casual of environments, and then only on Friday – yoga pants aren’t a good idea for the office.

But then I think of myself, walking around in my gym clothing.

I live downtown, in a big city. My gym is in the middle of downtown-downtown – stores, office buildings. And I certainly don’t change when I get there. I wear my gym clothes, which are pretty much the equivalent of yoga pants and a t-shirt, on my walk there. And on my walk home. Often on that walk home I stop in a store. I do food shopping at Roche Brothers. I bop into CVS or Staples for something. I may even drop by Macy’s, if I have something quick to pick up – nothing the requires trying on, but maybe some makeup or a new pillow. Through much of the year, I have a long-enough jacket disguising the yoga-pant-ness of my outfit. But this time of year, I guess it’s all hanging out.

So let me quote Pope Francis here. Yoga pants in the office? “Who am I to judge?” Just be sure to cover your assets, ladies.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

That jacket’s very smart on you. (As a matter of fact, it is.)

Many years ago, I bought a pair of blue and white striped denim pants from Land’s End. Of course, they looked just fine on the young adorable model in the catalog, but I couldn’t tell whether they were just a bit on the fuddy-duddy side of the duds continuum.

Anyway, the first time I wore them, I went out to see my mother in Worcester. My Aunt Margaret was there visiting. I walked into the house, and the two of them began falling all over themselves to compliment me on the new pants. I’m guessing that I was about 40, which would have made my mother about 70 and my aunt about 80. Just what I wanted: two of the older set gushing over my new pants and wondering where they could get a pair of their own.

Well, the answer to that one was simple: one of them could have the pair I had on.

What I most remember is my aunt telling me how “smart” the pants were – one of her favorite descriptors when it came to fashion.

That may well have been the case in her mind, but those smart pants soon found there way into the St. Francis House donation bag. They were probably ragged. At least I never saw a homeless person walking around the streets of Boston with them on. (I have seen other of the more distinctive items that I’ve donated over the years.)

Those smart pants came to mind the other day when I saw an article on Bloomberg on a smart jacket that Jacquard by Google and Levi’s are collaborating on.

I wasn’t familiar with Project Jacquard. In fact, the last time I heard the word Jacquard mentioned – likely in combination with the word knit – was probably during the era when Liz and Peg were raving about those wretched pants. In fact, the words may well have been uttered by one of them. But Google’s Project Jacquard is ultra high-tech:

Project Jacquard makes it possible to weave touch and gesture interactivity into any textile using standard, industrial looms.

Everyday objects such as clothes and furniture can be transformed into interactive surfaces.

First up, the Levi’s trucker jacket:

The Levi's® innovation team and Google teams joined forces to create a modern version of denim that is interactive and yet authentic, remaining true to the century-old tradition of denim manufacturing.

The smarty-pants Levi jacket is loomed up out of threads that have conductive, metal-based fibers in the material. Then there’s the removable “smart tag” that enables:

…the jacket to connect to your phone or tablet via Bluetooth. Gesture controls and specific functions can be customized with the help of a companion app, but there's no word yet as to whether that app will be immediately available for non-Android users. (Source: Bloomberg)

Not that I’m in the market for one of these suckers, but it’s nice to see something happening first for us Android folks, rather than the Apple i-brigades.

Among the tasks the jacket can perform: offering up suggestions for nearby coffee shops (or other types of venues), providing an ETA to your destination, and changing tracks on your playlist. All of the info is conveyed by audio, so you're not distracted by screens. By next spring, Google will release further details on battery specs and whether smart tags can be interchanged between garments; those logistics and the jacket's price are still in the works.

I’ll just bet the price is still in the works…Ka-ching.

As for me, I make far more modest demands of my jackets. I want them to keep me comfortable. Warm and dry.

Just the other evening I was thanking my lucky stars that I’d gotten a spring weight down parka this year so that I could be comfy at a Red Sox game when it was cool and damp (but not raining). That jacket was plenty smart enough for the likes of me, although I will say that when I bought it, I was unaware that the color of the annual Boston Marathon jacket was going to be turquoise this year. My heart did sink a bit on the day before the Marathon when I saw all these runners ambling around in their this-year’s-jackets.

Not that anyone would mistake me for a Marathoner, mind you. It’s just that I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was pretending to be one.

Despite the Marathon confusion, the purchase of that dumb jacket was a smart choice. This is New England, and there really and truly is a need for a down parka that’s lightweight and trim, and can be worn during the spring and fall when it’s cold but not that cold.

Sometimes I have had jackets that weren’t quite as smart. Take the supposedly rainproof summer windbreaker from LL Bean. I really wouldn’t have ordered it if the information had mentioned one key attribute: the jacket was porous. Who wouldn’t want that type of smartness in a jacket worn during a shower? What are umbrellas for, anyway?

I’ll leave the really smart clothing to the young folks for now. I have a hunch, though, that, as us Boomers trudge along into geezerhood, there’ll be plenty of need for smart clothing to zip itself up, to fasten those pesky bras, to save us with airbags from breaking a hip.

Bring it one. I just won’t need it to connect to anything via Bluetooth. I will not be needing the ETA of a 3 a.m. trip to the bathroom.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Nice work if you can get it.

Other than sitting around reading, I can’t think of an more ideal profession than working for a foundation. The thought of giving all that money to all those worthy causes, getting to play a real live Michael Anthony, who fronted for John Beresford Tipton on the 1950’s TV show The Millionaire…Well, what could be more fun?

Sure, you’d have to turn down many worthy causes, but think of how much fun it would be to filter out the true unworthies, the charlatans, the faux causes.

Thus it is that, when I have a PowerBall ticket in my possession, I spend time fantasizing about the foundation I would set up, and how I would dispense my largesse. I would not, of course, have to take any compensation, as I would have cagily reserved enough of the lottery winnings to set myself and those near and dear to me up for life.

This is not very likely to happen, of course, but – just in case – I will be going out and buying a PowerBall ticket later today.

Anyway, my secret and unlikely to be fulfilled career goal came to mind when I saw an article by Sacha Pfeiffer in the Boston Globe on a fellow who’d gotten himself appointed trustee to a private foundation. Mark Avery was no relation to May and Stanley Smith, whose charitable trusts he worked for. But he got his position as a trustee the old fashioned way. He inherited from his father.

Between his compensation – way back in 2003, when the Globe’s Spotlight Team did a series on trusts, Avery made $600K a year, plus legal billings (milk that cow!) – and his spending habits, Avery did quite well for himself vis a vis the Smith trusts, which together were worth $500M. But then Avery managed to burn through $52M from one of the Smith trusts. And it took him just six months. How did he manage that feat?

Avery’s blizzard of spending in 2005 included purchasing an air charter company (despite having no background in aviation), Gulfstream executive jets, World War II military aircraft, Czech fighter planes, helicopters, rocket launchers, a patrol boat, and a yacht. He also paid off more than $600,000 in personal debt and bought a $700,000 home. (Source: Boston Globe.)

And here, for your viewing pleasure, is what a $500K patrol boat looks like:

16-2mooseboatpictureA

Avery won’t be needing it where he’s going. Which is the hoosegow. For 13 years.

[Ass’t US Attorney Steven] Skrocki and others launched a federal investigation in 2005, and discovered that Avery had persuaded his two fellow trustees — now dead, but at the time in their 70s and “medically challenged” — to “loan” him $52 million in Smith funds. Avery told them he planned to use the money to start an aviation company that would be used for trustee travel, according to court documents.

An aviation company for trustee travel. I see.

Instead, he went wild, making extravagant purchases that prosecutors said “did nothing” to benefit the trusts. Within months, the company was crumbling, Avery was on the cusp of bankruptcy, and the $52 million was gone

Avery would probably have been okay if he’d been content with his pittance of a trustee salary, and whatever he could wave the way of his law firm.  After all, another Smith trustee, Ruth Collins, appears happy with the $125K she draws for 10 hours of work each week. Plus a slight add on:

Her Corte Madera, Calif., company, Adminitrust, billed the Smith trust nearly $1.3 million in 2014 for “trust administration.”

This kind of self-dealing is actually legal, so you’d think Avery might have been a happy camper with his salary plus legal compensations. But it’s the old story. Avery just got greedy.

Now in my PowerBall-funded foundation, all will be on the up and up.

Once I go, whoever’s left holding the bag will get paid for their work. Up to an on the up and up point. Mostly, they’ll get paid to wind the thing down and pay the thing out.

No patrol boats, no Czech fighter planes. Just make some worthy causes happy. A list will be provided, with a few blank spots so that my trustees can add their own favorites. I’ll give them two years to close things out. A year to recover from their profound grief over my untimely demise which, whenever it happens, will no doubt seem untimely – at least to me. And a year to enjoy playing Michael Anthony to my John Beresford Tipton. Have at it!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Google invents the 21st century cow-catcher

As a card-carrying pedestrian, I have quite naturally been concerned about the coming of the self-driving car. Bad enough trying to catch the attention of some jamoke about to run a red light while texting when I’m in the middle of the cross-walk. Let alone trying to make meaningful eye contact when you’re jaywalking, which I believe is actually common-law legal in Boston. (Just like common law marriages are recognized in some states, the fact that everyone in Boston jaywalks just must mean it’s legal, if not exactly promoted.)

But what if there’s no pedestrian-hating driver to shake your fist at? No asleep at the wheel jerk who you can wake up by whacking the side of their car as it glides through a stop sign without stopping?

I suppose we’ll still be able shake our fists at the passengers. But the jerks we’ll be waking up won’t be asleep at the wheel. They’ll be dozing. Or carrying on with an all-important collaborative work conference. At best, our whack at the side of the car will startle them a bit. They’ll no doubt shrug their shoulders, give us a wan smile, and get back to the important business of business.

What will pedestrians be able to do in this brave new world? Maybe we’ll all be issued jetpacks, so we can hurtle over these self-drivers?

Perhaps there will be no need. Google – which has saved us in so many ways, c.f., from having to remember the name of the guy who played the butler on Spin and Marty (J. Pat O’Malley); from having to know how to read a map; etc – has come up with a solution to the problem of autonomous vehicles mowing down formerly autonomous pedestrians.

The company received a patent [last]Tuesday describing a way to reduce pedestrian injuries in an accident with a robotic vehicle. The impact of the Google Pedestrian Catchercrash, Google suggests, would expose a coating that glues the person to the front of the car. (Source: Mercury News)

"The adhesive layer may be a very sticky material and operate in a manner similar to flypaper, or double-sided duct tape," the patent said.

The pedestrian-as-fly-paper won’t do much to prevent the initial impact injuries, but will prevent anything more from happening when the body is thrown out of the way – or into the path of another car (self-driving or not). This approach, of course, is not without its downside. If, say, the self-driving car that caught you up in its gluey cowcatcher went on to smash into a building, or tree, or Humvee, you could end up worse off than if you were shot into the air and landed in a rhododendron bush.

As for “similar to flypaper.” Well, sort of. After all, no one would want the hood of their car to be covered with the insects, leaves, pebbles, Dunkin Donuts napkins, plastic CVS bags, etc. that would stick to the flypaper. So,

An eggshell-like layer covering the adhesive would protect the sticky surface during everyday driving, but shatter in an accident to reveal the glue.

If you’re wondering how easy it would be to get glue tough enough to hold you on the front of a car off – or to get you off of, “the patent included an option to use a "releasable adhesive" that would allow the person to be unstuck "after a period of time."”

Google may not go through with this invention, but just wanted to make sure that their intellectual property is protected just in case.

Overall, in the long run, we’ll probably be safer on the roads when vehicles are entirely autonomous. But that’s in the long run, in the meantime, we’ll be needing those cowcatchers.

My bigger worry is not about taking the driver out of ‘car and driver.’ It’s about what’s going to happen to the millions of truckers, UPS delivery guys, and Uber drivers when they’re no longer needed.

What, exactly, is it at the people are going to do when all the tasks that can be automated are automated?

Thanks to having been married to an economist, I understand that in the long run we’re all dead. But what are we all going to be doing in the meantime?

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A tip of the cap to my friend Valerie for shooting this one my way.

 

Monday, May 23, 2016

A horse is a horse, of course, of course…

Like any good Baby Boomer, I spent much of my childhood glued to what was then known as the small screen, and later on as the boob tube. Who cared what it was called? Although in our house we were all readers, card players, and game players, and no strangers to the great outdoors (where kids in the olden days played unless there was a hurricane), there was also plenty of TV watching.

Some shows we watched as a family: Ed Sullivan, Perry Mason, Sing Along with Mitch, Wagon Train, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, College Bowl. These were entertainment aimed at grownups, but they were pretty tame by today’s standards. And since most homes contained one TV, there was no doubt what show was going to be watched if there was something the kids wanted to see vs. something the ‘rents wanted to watch. There were, of course, viewing hours reserved for the kids, and the schedule included weekday day-timers like Captain Kangaroo and the Mickey Mouse Club, and all those low budget Saturday morning shows like Fury, Howdy Doody, and Range Rider.

And then there were the in-between shows that had “family” written all over them. Donna Reed, Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver. The big attraction of these shows to use kids was that they had kids in them, and that’s what we mostly wanted to see. I was fascinated by any show that featured children, and early on interpreted them as providing a true portrait of how Protestants lived. Two-to-three kids, no one ever yelled, kids squabbles were nowhere near a blood sport, big houses with nothing stray sitting around – like a magazine or a library book… I didn’t know anyone who lived like that. I didn’t know any Protestants. Ergo…

The family I most envied on these Proddie shows was the Greggs on Bachelor Father. Who didn’t, at one point or another, want to dump their family of origin and go live with a rich, handsome uncle who doted on you? I didn’t like thinking through how this was going to happen. First of all, I really didn’t wish my parents and siblings dead. Just, on occasion, temporarily out of the picture. And I didn’t have an uncle like Bentley Gregg – played by the dashing John Forsythe – waiting in the wings to come swoop me up in his convertible while the rest of my family was, say, confined somewhere with typhoid fever, from which they would all recover in good time. The closest I came to a dashing uncle was my Uncle Jack, who was quite good looking and a part-time musician. But he had a wife and a kid, and no convertible, so he wasn’t going to swoop in and save me.

But I digress…

I don’t recall my parents ever shared the watching of the supposed family shows. I suppose they were sitting somewhere else, talking or reading Ellery Queen mysteries.

They must, however, have seen them occasionally, as my father dubbed the boy next door “Eddie Haskell”, after the sneaky-sly-phony friend of Beaver’s brother Wally. (My father had pretty good instincts that there was something no quite right about our young neighbor. Decades later this fellow went to federal prison on a kiddie porn charge.)

But mostly the family fare shows were kids’ terrain.

One with crossover appeal, however, was Mr. Ed, a show about a talking horse. Mr. Ed did not speak to everybody. He spoke only to his owner, Wilbur Post, and much of the plot revolved around people thinking that Mr. Ed and WilburWilbur was a bit dotty because he was often overhead talking to himself. Of course, of course, we in the audience were in on the gag. We knew Wilbur was deep in conversation with Mr. Ed.

A couple of time, Mr. Ed would break out and say something to a kid. When Wilbur would ask him why he took the risk of exposing himself as a talking horse, Mr. Ed would answer “Who’s going to believe a kid saying a horse can talk?” (I can’t recall the context in which it came up, but there were a number of occasions on which my husband would use this line, always noting that he was quoting from the famous Mr. Ed.)

It is difficult to explain, in this day and age of special effects – Mr. Ed’s lips moved when someone tugged on thin nylon thread under his lip - and sharply written dialog, just how funny and charming this little show was. Or at least is in my memory.

Of course, of course, I haven’t seen an episode in 50 years, but I remember liking it and finding it funny in a way that I didn’t find many of the supposedly funny shows funny. To me, the Lawrence Welk show was funnier (and least in the make-fun sense) than, say, Green Acres. No doubt I would find Mr. Ed ridiculous, corny and embarrassing. But back in the day, it was one of my favorites.

Anyway, Bamboo Harvester, who played Mr. Ed, died quite a while back. But Alan Young, who played Wilbur, died just last week.

When the show was being cast, the story goes that comedian George Burns, who ran the production company that was producing Mr. Ed, told his casting staff, “Get Alan Young. He looks like the kind of guy a horse would talk to.”

Not a bad epitaph, as epitaphs might go.

And we could, of course, all take a lesson from both Wilbur and Mr. Ed.

From Wilbur, we learn how to be a good listener, a good friend, and how to keep a secret.

And from Mr. Ed we learn – or not – to never speak, unless we have something to say.

So long, Alan Young. You done good by us little TV-watching Boomers.

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A Pink Slip shout to Rick T., my brother-in-law, who was hot off the press, sending me a link to this bit of news.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Rally for Ratt

I don’t know Rich “Ratt” Kennedy, but I do know his brother, Jake, the other half of Kennedy Brothers PT, where I have been an off-and-on patient and on-and-off gym member at the downtown Boston outpost of Kennedy Brothers for the past eight years. Knowing Jake, I know that Ratt is a marathoner, a genius at his chosen profession, and someone who is tirelessly engaged in the community. Jake, through his all volunteer non-profit Christmas in the City looks out for the those on the economic margins of society, mostly the kids. Ratt’s charity is the Angel Fund, which over the past two decades has raised over $4 million dollars to fund research aimed at a cure for ALS, the disease that took the lives of Jake’s and Ratt’s father, and their brother Jimmy.

I don’t know about you, but if there’s one nightmare life-and-death scenario, it’s ALS.
Sure, Alzheimer’s pretty dreadful, but, from what I understand, by the time you’re really a goner with it, it’s mostly terrible for those who care for you.

No one wants terminal cancer, and the end ain’t pretty. Having lost my husband and my oldest and dearest of friends within two months of each other in 2014, I fully understand that this is a really tough way to go. But both Jim and Marie had some degree of autonomy and agency, right up until pretty much the end.

I’m embarrassed to admit that one of my last exchanges with my husband – maybe a half hour before he died – was a little squabble over whether he should be getting up to go to the hospice bathroom or pee in the jug. Jim hadn’t been on his feet for a few days, so I voted for the jug. But, damn it, Jim wanted one of his last acts on this earth to be standing up.

The last time I saw Marie, a few hours before she was put under palliative sedation, she complimented me on the scarf I was wearing, and said “you’ve had that for a long time.” Sure, I agreed, maybe ten years. No, Marie told me, longer than that. At least twenty-five years. Well, I wasn’t going to argue with her, but I thought she was wrong.

When I got home that night, I looked at a picture taken at my mother’s 65th birthday, twenty-years ago. Damned if I wasn’t wearing that scarf.

Although they both drifted in and out during their last few days, both Jim and Marie were abled to communicate, to have conversations, right up until the end. Something that ALS victims are denied. I can't tell you how precious those last conversations with Jim and Marie are to me.

But let’s face it, when most of play out the end game in our minds, we want to go like my Aunt Margaret.

Peg was 85. The night before her death, she had some of her family, including her new great-granddaughter, over for dinner. On the day of, she got up, went to Mass, went to the Star Market, went to the library, and came back home. There, she lay down on the daybed where Nanny, my grandmother, had died nearly twenty years before, pulled an afghan that my mother had made for Nanny up to her chin, closed her eyes, and never got up.
Yes, the suddenness was awful for those of us who loved her – we thought she’d make it to 97, the great old age that Nanny had attained – so it was a true shock. But, really, who doesn’t want to go out this way?

But ALS…Is there anything worse? I really can’t come up with it, if there is.
And now Ratt Kennedy has been diagnosed with ALS.

Having seen his father and brother die from ALS, having worked with so many ALS patients and their families over the years, Ratt knows what he’s in for. There will be no more marathons, and no more being able to work at the job he loves. He’s a tough guy, incredibly fit, a fighter. But there’s still no cure as yet for this ghastly disease. Hopefully – and hopefully thanks in part of all the money that Ratt has raised – a cure will be found in time for Ratt, and for all the others. Let’s wish them 100 years, and then a close-your-eyes death on the daybed like Aunt Peg’s.

But until then, the friends of Ratt are looking to raise the money to help pay for experimental treatment for him.

The GoFundMe page is Rally for Ratt.

I graze through GoFundMe all the time. Sometimes I find the causes heartbreaking, other times interesting, often over the top, occasionally absurd. I’ve thrown a couple of bucks at a few things, but that’s about it.

But now it’s someone I almost know who needs help, and the need is anything but absurd.
If you’ve got a few spare bucks lying around, this would be as good a place as any for them to land.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Millennial experts? This is an actual profession?

Well, just when you think that the economy isn’t producing enough high-paying jobs, along comes a new career that was completely and utterly unimaginable just a few short years back. I give you the millennial expert.

What, exactly, does a millennial expert do?

Mostly they give companies advice on how to attract and retain younger workers. This largely comes down to making sure that work is “meaningful”, that there’s plenty of feedback to go around, and that schedules are flexible enough to allow time off, say, for someone who wants to “accompany a friend to a snowboarding competition.”

Which doesn’t sound all that different than what everyone has always wanted.

Of course, much of the meaningfulness of work was something we had to supply ourselves. You know, there’s just so much meaningfulness to be had in a company that produces mini-computers, or one that makes software to test other software. Still, we managed in the way folks have always managed to get out of bed on Monday and put one foot in front of the other. We found meaning in supporting ourselves and our families. In the inherent satisfaction of doing a good job. In the companionship of our colleagues. This was about as “noble purpose” as it got, unless you were in one of the naturally meaningful professions, like teaching, medicine, social work, et a few als.

But consultant Lisa McLeod, who’s 52 and who sometimes works with her 23 year old daughter, is all about the noble purpose thing:

The McLeods help companies set a “noble purpose” to strengthen young employees’ connection to their work, the elder Ms. McLeod said. For a concrete company seeking to boost employee engagement, she suggested that managers share stories of how constructing solid residential foundations helps people feel safe at home. She also advises clients to strip out numbers from internal presentations because, she says, millennials find stories more compelling than figures. (Source: WSJ)

McLeod rakes in $25K to give a keynote speech. If her daughter tags along, the ante’s up to $30K. I’ll bet that millennial daughter, who’s 23, finds making $5K a pop to speak millennial-ese a pretty compelling figure. Talk about noble purpose!

I’m now going back through every job I ever had looking for an n.p., and the closest I came is when I worked in the shoe factory, polishing boots that went to U.S. paratroopers and the South Vietnamese Air Force. This was the summer before my consciousness was raised and I started hopping on the bus to DC to protest a bad war. But when I was making those boots, I was serving the purpose of keeping those jumpers and fly boys shod.

While millennials crave noble purpose, they apparently loathe voice mail. Which may explain why, at one of my clients, where they disappear employees when they hit 40, employees don’t have work phones, nor do they generally give out their cell phone numbers. Fine by me, but I will note that, back in the day, calling someone – rather than emailing (this was pre-texting) – conveyed either urgency or the willingness to give the bad news and/or take responsibility live and in real time, rather than slip it into an email. Text, I guess, is the current urgency method – and I use text plenty (not so much with clients, but with friends and family), mostly to chat, share reaction to something in the news or on TV, check on plans, etc. – and it’s great. But some things seem to me to be worth a conversation. And, for the most part, when you’ve left someone a voice mail, you had intended to actually speak with them. (That is, unless you’re deliberately playing phone tag, weasel-y leaving messages early in the morning, at lunch time, late in the day.)

Ah, but what do I know about what the millennials want?

If I did, I could hang out my shingle as a millennial expert, rather than just some schlub who knows how to write clearly about B2B and T2T applications. I’d be joining a cushy market:

Intergenerational consulting barely existed a few years ago, but these are boom times. Source Global Research, which tracks the consulting market, estimates that U.S. organizations spent between $60 million to $70 million on generational consulting last year. More than 400 LinkedIn users globally list themselves as a “millennial expert” or “millennial consultant.”

The ones cited in the WSJ article, by the way, were mostly non-millennials. One fellow was in his early thirties, which means he’s pretty much picked up where the Gen-X-ers left off. But the others are in their forties, fifties, and seventies.

Seventies, you may well be asking? That would be Morley Winograd (73) and Mike Hais (72), whose company Mike & Morley – which sounds more like a radio sports call-in – develop “strategies for engaging young adults.” Hey, Mike and Morley aren’t even boomers. They’re bona fide old guys, members of the Silent Generation, sandwiched in there between the somewhat overhyped Greatest Generation and us much-maligned Baby Boomers.

“We want older generations to understand this young generation, and not make the mistake of ignoring or resisting their influence,” Mr. Winograd says in a promotional video on the duo’s website, mikeandmorley.com.

Believe me, I have no intention of “ignoring” the millennials. I’m actually rather fond of the ones I know. And I’m not necessarily going to resist their influence, either. Hey, I’m all over texting. And I’d even throw in a bit of current slang, but I don’t want to appear dated, so will want to check it out with my personal millennials. (Is sick still sick? I’ll be happy AF if it still is.)

I want millennials to be happy at work and at play.And I want them to replace, or at least equal, the Baby Boomers as the generation everyone loves to hate.

But, frankly, I mostly want them to make the world a better place. I want them to make the economy run better, save us from nativist borderline fascism, fix the environment, and come up with all sorts of assistive devices for us incipient old-geezers. If that means more feedback and fewer voice mails, so be it. Is telling this to corporations worth $20K an hour? Not in my book. Sounds like boondoggle to me. But if companies are willing to pay….

Do you think it’s too late for me to become an millennial consultant? Think of how few hours I’d need to work to make my nut.

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A tip of the Pink Slip millennial fedora – if fedoras are still the thing – to Pink Slip reader Fred Wright for pointing this article my way. Thanks, Fred, for a perfect suggestion.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

“All Encompassing Software.” Good luck with that.

There was an article in the Boston Globe yesterday on a new “all encompassing” system that Partners Healthcare (which includes pretty much all the top hospitals in Boston under its umbrella) has been rolling out. For $1.2B, it ought to be all encompassing, but some of the feedback coming from doctors and nurses using it is that it’s too hard to use and takes away from meaningful patient contact. Some medical professionals even said that having to learn it was hastening their retirements. For many, it’s not what the doctor ordered. Anything but.

I’m glad that Partners is implementing something that will eventually streamline the way that healthcare information is gathered and shared. They’ve been improving over the years, but they haven’t quite gotten to where they need to be.

Years ago, I had to wait for an appointment with a surgeon while he rummaged around in file folders, sitting in wheeled bins in the corridor outside his office, to find a copy of my mammogram. (Talk about HIPAA compliance.) When he finally dredged them up, I told him that all the information – including those scans – could have been available to him online. He was amazed that this was possible. This was maybe 20 years ago. Today, those mammograms are online. Yea!)

For years, when I went for my annual mammogram, I had to fill out exactly the same information (on paper). Gradually they went to a computerized input system, but for some reason, you still had to fill in the same info each year. Now it’s all better: you only have to say what’s changed since your last visit.

Still, I know from my husband’s relatively recent illness that there was a lot of information overlap and underlap. How many times did we have to give yet another doctor’s office a list of Jim’s medications? Shouldn’t that have been online somewhere?

And there were some doctors who for some reason couldn’t manage to get your appointments online. As of a couple of months ago, this was still the case for one doctor I see.

But, as I’ve said, from the patient-as-consumer point of view, I have seen improvements over the decades that have flown by while I received my healthcare through physicians affiliated with MGH, which is part of Partners.

My PCP (40ish) is great online: making appointments, answering questions, posting results, filling prescriptions. Her office is very easy to deal with. I’m happy to hear that I can expect even further improvements from the overall system.

Yet I am sympathetic to those doctors and nurses who are finding it rough going to make sure that everything they say and do now has to be digitized. It can’t be easy, and I do know what it’s like to have to work with a software system that is so all encompassing that it’s really difficult to use.

When I worked at Genuity, they introduced a major all-things-to-all-people “enterprise” system.

Profligate as Genuity was – and it may be time for another profligacy post: stay tuned – the company did not spend anywhere near $1.2B for our sorry-arsed system. But I do believe it was the most costly system of its time, between the software, the customization, and the consultancy that worked with us.

The system was rolled out with much hoopla. Everyone had to be trained up on it. We were all encouraged – and in some instances forced – to use it.

I was most interested in the customer relationship management (CRM) aspects of it, but it turned out to be worthless, as no one was putting in any data that was of interest. You could only find out the most meager info on our clients. Nothing that you pretty much didn’t know already. Big, honking, useless.

We also had to use the system to process our expense reports. I’m thinking this was the way in which they would at least compel those of us who traveled to utilize the system. It was so unintuitive to use that, even though I had carefully written out step-by-step directions, each time I had to submit an expense report, I had to resort to calling the help desk.

After the system was in play for a few months, some consultants did some consulting-by-walking-around and popped into random offices to get some feedback. One of them darkened my door and asked me about how I was enjoying our new “solution.” I had to tell her that the only way I would use the system regularly was if the president of the company was standing next to me, with a gun pointed at my head, and I knew that a) the gun was loaded, b) he was willing to pull the trigger.

So I feel the pain of the doctors and nurses struggling with their new system.

But here’s the thing.

I didn’t matter whether anyone used Genuity’s enterprise system or not. (Especially given that the company disappeared off the face of the earth.) But it does matter that our healthcare providers get things right. Keep trying, boys and girls. It’ll get better. It has to.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The man who desired streetcars

Unless you count reading and conversation, other than blogging, I’ve never really had a hobby. Sometimes I think that it would  just swell – in an earnest, 1950’s kind of way – to have some mono-obsession: stamps, coins, model airplanes, paint-by-number, collecting teacups or spoons. Then I shake my head and get back to my book or my conversation. Hobby case closed.

Then I read about Ivor Walsh, and all of a sudden I was gripped with a case of hobby envy. Or, if not hobby envy, then a real hankering to see the documentary about him, Tiny Tracks. What a fascinating tiny little story.

Ivor Walsh was a man who loved streetcars, and he traveled the world to check them out. But his favorite destination was Boston, where he traveled with some frequency from his home in Toronto to gaze longingly on our streetcars, mostly the Green Line, which travels Walsh model 1both above and below ground. And sometimes the above ground runs right smack dab down the middle of a street. In the case of the E (Heath Street) segment of the Green Line, the streetcars sometimes jockey for territory with car-cars. Mayhem!

When Walsh visited Boston, he took notes and photos. Lots of them. And, one day, he decided to build a model of Boston street scenes, avec streetcars, in the 1950’s.

“He just started and I would watch him and come down to see what he was doing,” says [his widow Hilda] Walsh. “He’d put on Frank Sinatra and away he’d go.”

The two decades of labor is evident even at first glance. The replica, which is built into the walls, takes up the majority of the 20 by 30 foot basement. It shows various stops on the Green Line—Copley, Park Street, Boylston, Symphony, and others—that display the above ground-to-underground transition that fascinated Walsh so much. (Source: Boston Magazine)

Walsh hand painted cars. walsh model 2He made tiny guitars to put inside the tiny guitar store. He hand-wired the circuits in hundreds of lights. “He used molds to craft hundreds of tiny Bostonians, and carved the sidewalks’ cobblestones from clay that he tinted himself.” That’s Hilda with part of Ivor’s world.

You may have noticed that the cars on the Green Line are actually orange. This is no longer the case, but when I first moved to Boston there were cars on the Green Line that were, in fact, orange. This was on the now-defunct Green Line – A Line. I’m sure there’s a reason for this. Things like this sometimes do happen. As with the trucking company Yellow, which has signage that’s orange. In the case of Yellow, they did a study way back in the day and determined that the orange they use is the most visible color on the highway. The question there is why they didn’t change the company’s name to Orange. The question for Boston is just plain ‘why?’ I’m sure there’s a reason. Or not.

Anyway, it took Ivor Walsh 20 years to get it all done, down there in his basement, where Hilda Walsh keeps it going more than a decade after her husband’s death. She hopes to find a permanent home for the model transportation system. And she hopes that a new documentary film, Tiny Tracks, by Naomi Hocura, will result in some interest. (The images here are from Hocura’s site.)

If I had 20x30 feet to spare, I’d be giving Hilda Walsh a shout to see if I could adopt Ivor’s labor of love.

I would give it all sorts of TLC. Possibly even turn it into a hobby, rather than just blogging about it.

Surely, there is someone in Boston who does have 600 square feet. Better yet, there is surely some public space in Boston – room in the basement of City Hall, an unused conference room at the MBTA – where this wonderful model could be displayed. Absolutely worth saving.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Tip of my conductor’s hat to my brother-in-law, Rick T, for sending the link to this article along. And a runner up tip to Rita, my hairdresser, who also mentioned it to me. If there’s enough interest in Boston, maybe something can be done to preserve this brilliant artifact.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Is it a sport? Just plain crazy? Both?

When it comes to the sports I pay attention to, I’d have to say that Mixed Martial Arts/Ultimate Fighting would be scraping along the bottom of the list. Never have watched it. Never will watch it. Oh, I’m sure there are even worse sports – like bare-knuckle cage fighting, which, come to think of it, is part of MMA. (Not that I ever do actually come to think of it.) Truly, I’d rather watch a tiddly-winks tournament. Or even a bunch of gamers gaming. Maybe even, and this is going some, watch the Masters, with all its reverential commentary on the sacred green jacket the winner dons.

Mostly I’m a baseball girl. This past weekend I watched parts – the good parts – of two spectacularly interesting Red Sox games. Slug fests, my favorite kind. (My husband preferred pitching duels. I’d meet him halfway. I like good pitching on the part of the Red Sox and rotten pitching from their opponents.)

The term slugfest may sound violent and harsh, but my interest in slug-festing is confined to watching sluggers slug a ball with a bat. As long as no one gets hurt, I’m not opposed to an occasional bench clearing brawl, but I really don’t like the sports designed to intentionally and directly inflict serious bodily harm.

But even though the purpose of Unified Weapons Master is to avoid serious bodily harm, I have to say that UWM may well be the new bottom of my sporting barrel. UWM is the brainchild (more or less: using that word is probably an insult to brains and children) of Australia’s Chiron Global. UWM goes MMA one better by putting authentic weapons in the hands of the martial sportists. Or artists. What Chiron Global came up with is a way to let folks play blood sports without drawing any blood.

“Until now the opportunities for weapons martial artists to compete in true, full combat have been limited due to the fear of serious injury, and the inability to objectively determine the outcome.” (Source: Chiron Global/UWM)

What a breakthrough! Athletes can whack away at each other with mace and pike without getting splattered with brain matter.

What makes this all possible is Lorica, an armor system chocked full of sensors. The armor system protects the wearer. The sensors detect the force and location, analyze the data, and report to the judges just what would have happened if there was no protective layer in place. So the winner can be declared without the spectacle of his (and I’m guessing this is mostly a “his” kind of thing) arm, leg, or noggin sitting there in a pool of blood. Fighters could keep on fighting – think Monty Python’s Black Knight, only intact.

“Not since the age of the Colosseum have large-scale audiences been able to watch live, full contact, weapons combat in a dynamic format. UWM will change this forever.”

Christians to the Lions! Lions to the Christians! Bring on Russell Crowe! Off – virtually, of course – with their heads.

Cool use of technology, I suppose. On the other hand, what exactly is this? A sport? Just plain crazy? Both?

All I know is that I won’t be watching. I’d much rather see Big Papi blast out a walk-off double. Now that’s my idea of sport!

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Trump by Any Other Name

Like most other sentient Americans, I’ve been thinking about Donald Trump plenty over the last couple of months. Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: I’m not voting for him.

But I am thinking about how a Trump presidency can best be avoided, so I was disappointed that a judge has postponed the class action suit involving Trump University until after the election. I don’t believe that there’s anything that will convince true believers to do anything other than truly believe, but watching Trump defend himself might have opened the eyes of those who might otherwise be convincing themselves that he wouldn’t be half bad.

Back in the day, when Trump was more a laughing matter than a fear factor, I posted about Trump University a couple of times:

Hey, Donald Trump. Wossamotta U? (2011)

The Donald: still being schooled on Trump University (2013)

But that was back in the day, when Trump was just a blowhard reality show host, not the potential leader of the free world.

I keep thinking that the world would be a safer place if Trump’s family had stuck with their original last name, Drumpf, rather than anglicize it.

How much would The Donald’s “brand” be worth if his name were Drumpf? Drumpf Tower? Drumpf Steaks? Drumpf Vodka? I think not.

Even if he’d had a German name like Loesser, we might have been saved. Loesser Tower? Loesser Steaks? Loesser Vodka? The only thing he could have branded around that name we “Loesser of Two Evils.” Which he most clearly is not.

Instead, in his first bit of luck, he lucked into the name Trump, with its connotation of on top, victory, winner. Sigh.

But, as I said, Trump is no longer a laughing matter. Even if he’s defeated on November 8th – and there’s no guarantee that of this – his candidacy, if he keeps following the same playbook that’s gotten him this far, will foment discontent, animosity, perhaps even violence. I can’t imagine that anything good will come of this…

Pink Slip, over it’s nearly decade-long life has pretty much avoided politics. It might not take a genius to figure out what my politics are, but it’s generally not what I want to write about. But I don’t want to be sitting here a year from now, watching bad things happen to good people – Mexicans roughed-up on job sites, hijab-wearing girls having their headgear pulled off, women who look like they might have voted for Hillary being pushed around  – without having said something.

I’m not voting for Donald Trump, but not in the same way that I wouldn’t have been voting for Jeb Bush or John Kasich.

Trump frightens me. I’ve read way too much about fascism not to be scared of him. Is he Hitler? Not at all. But he does carry with him plenty of aspects of fascism: the nationalism, the fear and loathing of the other, the condoning of violence, the scorn for the media, the lack of respect for opponents, the strong-man-ism, the emotional appeal.

…it is now clear that Republicans will be led into the presidential election by a candidate who said he would kill the families of terrorists, has encouraged violence by his supporters, has a weakness for wild conspiracy theories and subscribes to a set of protectionist and economically illiterate policies that are by turns fantastical and self-harming.

The result could be disastrous for the Republican Party and, more important, for America. Even if this is as far as he goes, Mr Trump has already done real damage and will do more in the coming months. Worse, in a two-horse race his chances of winning the presidency are well above zero…

…Mr Trump’s triumph has the makings of a tragedy for Republicans, for America and for the rest of the world

That’s not The Nation saying this. It’s The Economist, a center-right publication, and a source of plenty of Pink Slip posts over the years.

Anyway, with this, I’m off politics. But I really did have to say something. Donald Trump is no longer a laughing matter. Wish they’d kept Drumpf for their last name. Good marketing move – I’ll give them that. But “the makings of a tragedy for America and for the rest of the world.”

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Oh Promise Me

Although I did not spend one nano-second of my girlhood thinking about being a bride, nor did I have any children whose nuptials I had to worry about, I will confess to occasionally watching one of the “wedding-related” reality shows. My favorite is Say Yes to the Dress, in which a young woman tries on a dozen or so wedding dresses until she finds one capable of producing an orgasm, while a retinue of friends and family members sits there thumbs-upping and thumbs-downing her potential choices. The o-gown– “is this the one?” – is generally a couple of thousand bucks over the original, already-hefty budget. The tearful bride turns to whoever in her posse – dad, mom, grandma, hubby-to-be – holds the purse strings, all weepy about how having this dress would fulfill every dream (past, present, and future) that she would ever dream of having. The money comes through, the day is saved, and the bride can “Say Yes to the Dress.” After which everyone in her retinue does a little fish clap that I’ve seen only on this show, then rushes the bride-to-be, surrounding her on her pedestal, congratulating her on having found the dress equivalent of Mr. Right.

And sometimes I watch Four Weddings, in which a clutch of brides (strangers to each other up until the first chord of “Here Comes the Bride” is struck) attend each others’ weddings and rate them on food, gown, venue, and overall experience. The winner gets a delayed honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta or equivalent. What I’ve gleaned from this is that an increasing number of weddings have themes – Halloween, Gatsby, Oscar ceremony, circus…

Most of the weddings on Four Weddings aren’t especially lavish. (Having been to a few elaborate, swanked-up weddings, I really am able to make a call here.) And yet even these pretty modest events come with quite a substantial price tag, generally in the tens of thousands. 

Brides/couples/parents of the bride - whoever’s footing the bill has a lot of bill to foot. Many folks just don’t have that kind of cash laying around. But thanks to Promise Financial, they now have a loan source specializing in The Big Day. The interest rates? Anywhere from 6.99 percent 29.99 percent.

29.99 percent? Yikes! Perhaps if your credit rating is so terrible that you’re only eligible for this sort of loan you should be considering something simple and less costly for your wedding. Close friends and immediate family? Punch and cookies in the church hall? Cookout in the folks’ backyard? Does it seem sensible to start off your married life paying off an absolutely unnecessary loan?

Maybe “the kids” are so used to racking up student loan debt that another $10K, $20K, $35K is big nothing. But 29.99 percent?

Forget “uxorious”. The word of the day is “usurious.”

Promise Financial:

…has made around $7 million in loans since launching in June 2015, and has scraped together some $100 million in funding agreements from various investors, including high-net worth individuals and other private-investment firms, the founders said. (Source: Bloomberg)

The company’s pitch is that:

Prior to Promise Financial, weddings were the largest consumer purchase without a dedicated financing option available. We're working to solve that problem by building a new type of consumer lending platform focused exclusively on providing access to tailored wedding loans with low rates and flexible structures, so you can pay for your wedding over time. (Source: Promise Financial)

Should people really be thinking about paying for their wedding over time? Isn’t time when the happy young couple is supposed to be thinking about buying a couch, saving for a down payment on a home, figuring out what stroller to register for at Babies ‘R Us? Don’t these high ticket items seem to make more sense than spending those glorious honeymoon years paying off a party?

We strive to be the trusted financial partner of engaged couples who understand that wedding planning starts with financial planning, and that your perfect wedding starts with a Promise.

Sounds like they worked with the tagline writer who gave us “Every kiss begins with Kay.”

But mostly I don’t think the problem is that there’s been no “dedicated financing option available.” I think the problem is that there’s too much focus on “perfect wedding” rather than on “solid marriage.” But what do I know?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Impingement

The diagnosis was shoulder impingement, which, from what I gather online, is usually caused by throwing a baseball or serving a tennis ball. Or maybe by too much wall-paper hanging. But in my case, it seems to have been set off by SOFA syndrome: Sedentary, Old-age, Fat Ass. Check. Check Check.

In this, the winter of my discontent, I sat around too much. A three to five mile walk every day became a two to three mile walk every few days. Three times a week at the gym became twice a week. Maybe.

Now that I think of it, strike discontent. What we’re really talking about is too much content. Content to sit around reading. Content to sit around spending reading crazy “news” on dailmail.uk.com. Content to take an afternoon nap if the day were cold, grey, dreary. Check. Check. Check.

It doesn’t take a shrink – and I just play one in the privacy of my own home – to figure out the source of my contented discontent.

For a few years, my focus, my project, my life’s work was my husband’s health. Then there was the year of living widowly, bringing bits of Jim’s ashes here and there, and shooting some of them off on his celestial journey into outer space – one of his final requests. Then there was The Reno: all absorbing, all consuming. All. All. All.

And then.

Well, and then, then.

So I let myself slack off, get slack, eat too much Talenti pistachio. Resulting in impingement, which translated into not being able to part my hair, brush my teeth, lift a plate of leftovers out of the microwave without quite a bit of pain. Nor could I comfortably rest on my right side during one of those slug-a-bed afternoon naps.

Off to PT for six weeks, three times a week. My right shoulder was bent. My right shoulder was stretched. The impingement was no longer quite so impinging.

PT ended. But my PT place isn’t just a PT place. It’s a ratty old gym where, for the past eight years, I’ve been going to the gym. When I do go. Which I did pretty religiously for a number of years. I signed up for the gym there after I’d spent a couple of months in PT for an earlier shoulder injury. After all, I was spending six hours there a week for PT, so I reasoned that I could easily spend three hours there a week working out.

This is not your standard gym we’re talking about here. There are no ripped guys showing off. No twenty-somethings in makeup and lululemon, in hopes of meeting a ripped show off. No, it’s mostly runners. Middle aged and older guys. A professional violinist or two. Some firefighters with knee replacements. Old ladies – including the 90 year old mother of the owner. Some nurses with sciatica. And a handful of SOFA Syndromers like me. The regular gym-goers all know each other. Two of them recommended the show Shameless to me, figuring I’d like it. Figuring just right. (Shameless is an uproarious – to me at any rate – sometimes heartbreaking, and completely over the top Showtime series about a wildly dysfunctional Irish-Catholic, working class family from Chicago.) In this, the winter of my discontent, I was content to binge watch all six seasons of Shameless.

The gym is nothing fancy. The equipment is mostly second hand cast-offs from real gyms.

Now that I’m done with PT, Jake – the PT guy who owns this unorthodox, miracle-working center – has set me up with a series of exercises to continue to strengthen the shoulder muscles so that they’ll stop impinging for once and for all. I have run through the new regime a couple of times now. It is more rigorous than anything he’s set me up with in the past. Those first times through have been as close to experiencing the Bataan Death March as I ever want to get. But the outcome should be a good one: a non-SOFA, fit new me who’ll be bending and stretching, any day now, without gasping for breath. Not really the new project that I’m looking for, but it’s something.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The not so glamorous life of a model

Modeling has always struck me as a downright awful profession, if for no other reason that you have to be skinny to do it.(“I’ll have the bouillon for my main course, with the carrot stick chaser, please.”) And from what I read about modeling (admittedly, precious little), there’s a whole lot of eating disorder going on out there.

Then, if you’re in haute couture, you have to wear some really outrĂ© outfits that make even the world’s most beautiful people look ridiculous. Meanwhile, if you’re on the lower end of the fashion spectrum, you have to pretend that you’re having a great time sporting that pair of orthopedic pumps while making a visit to the Terra Haute aquarium. The haute couture models always look pained; the shoe catalog models, on the other hand, always seem to be wearing phony smiles.

Modeling’s also a career that doesn’t age especially well. There are only so many ads for Centrum Silver out there.

Not that modeling was anything I ever had to worry about career-wise. Not quite tall enough, not quite pretty enough, and, even back in the day, not quite thin enough. I never even played pretend model. When I vamped in front of the bathroom mirror, it was while wearing my cheesy fake doctor pajamas (white top with the three button shoulder closing, and chartreuse bottoms), pulling my hair back, sucking my cheeks in and pretending that my fellow Blair General Hospital doctor Jim Kildare (played by total heart-throb Richard Chamberlain) was my boyfriend.

Another drawback with respect to a career in modeling was that I was never in the least interested in makeup or fashion.

Not to mention that there just didn’t seem to be as many models floating around way back then – maybe a couple per decade (Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton).But that was about it. Yet another thing to thank the Internet and People Magazine for. Whenever I find myself asking ‘who is this famous person’, chances are they’re a model I’ve never heard of. (That or someone on The Bachelorette and/or Dancing With the Stars.)

So, no, I don’t give the modeling profession much thought. But it turns out that, beyond the bulimia and general nastiness (sex, drugs,alcohol and occasional rock ‘n roll),unless you’re at the top, it’s a really bad way to try to make a living. Or so I read in Money Magazine.

Models allege that labor abuses like these run rampant in the , modeling industry -- leaving many workers feeling more like indentured servants than the glamorous high fashion icons young girls around the world dream of becoming. (Source: Money)

Most of the complaints detailed in the article were about less than stellar agencies taking advantage of young (mostly) women – taking an exorbitant chunk out of their checks, making their lives difficult immigration-wise, and sometimes pimping them out for porn.

But what I largely took away was that most models just can’t make a living at it. Period. Even if you’ve appeared in Italian Vogue, as one Emily Fox has, you’re lucky if you break $20K a year before taxes. Even if you’ve been in the SI Swimsuit Issue, as one model cited in the article said, you may have to ask dad “a blue collar worker in Ohio to pay for groceries.”

It strikes me that going into modeling is somewhat like deciding to become a poet (although with more upside). Most likely you’re not going to get rich, and you’ll only be able to keep writing poetry or modeling if dad pays for the groceries, or you grow up to have a spouse who can support you. But poets can keep writing poetry until they die. Modeling’s a short timer, career-wise.

In this sense, deciding to become a model is more like having your heart set on becoming a professional athlete. You’ll be doing something you love, and, for models, you only see the glam, the riches, the makeup ads, the runway walks, the snaps in People. You don’t see trying to live on $20K or cadging grocery money from Dad. It seems quite a bit like what you hear about so many young athletes. They see the Super Bowl rings, the snaps in People, the over the top adulation and hero worship, the flash cars. So many don’t seem to plan around getting cut from the practice squad after one season and regretting that they forgot to go to class during their four years at Football Factory U.

And there you have the perfect combo, Boston’s own “it” couple, Super Model Gisele Bundchen and Football Hero Tom Brady – beautiful, glamorous, rich beyond imagining… Unbeatable.

But most of those setting out to become football heroes don’t end up being Tom Brady. Or even a backup player in the NFL. Better have a career backup in mind.

And most of those setting out to be models don’t end up being Gisele Bundchen. Or even make a living wage. However nasty the modeling world is, however rotten some of those modeling agencies might well be – probably not a lot worse, morality-wise, than some of those football factory “universities” that sucker “student-athletes” in because they need a supporting cast to showcase the star quarterback – anyone considering a career in modeling would be well-advised to figure out what they want to do if their dream-career doesn’t pan out.

Monday, May 09, 2016

I can’t get no satisfaction survey

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-04/tasty-taco-helpful-hygienist-are-all-those-surveys-of-any-use

The other day, I saw an article on a restaurant owner who’s going after Trip Advisor, trying to get the company to take his restaurant off of their advice forum. He’s not doing so because his place is getting bad reviews – it’s pretty much a 5-star venue. He just doesn’t want to have to pay attention to what someone might be saying on Trip Advisor, which he finds a drag on his time. I wish him well in his quest, but it seems unlikely that, even if he can get himself removed from Trip Advisor, he’ll be able to stop people from yapping about him online. Keeping up with what’s being said on social media is pretty much part of the cost of doing business these days. And if it weren’t Trip Advisor, it would be Tweeters doing 140 character reviews  - or character assassinations. Someone wants to rant, someone’s going to rant. Admittedly, it’s easier for the consumer to find all the reviews in one consolidated place. And I’m sure ranters (and more benevolent reviewers) like the fact that they get a big audience on Trip Advisor. But it’s also easier for the restaurant, hotel, or roadside attraction being reviewed to have one place to go and see what’s up with vox populi, and counter things (or apologize) if they have to.

Me, I take those ratings with something of a grain of salt. I’ve seen places I go to regularly (i.e., places I consider pretty good) get trashed. Sometimes people have a bad experience. Sometimes people are just plain nasty and snotty. But if I read a review that says a hotel has bed bugs, or that someone found a rat foot floating in their bisque, well, I would take the review quite heartily to heart.

There are also, of course, Trip Advisor-style review sites for physicians. When my husband was ill, I looked at those to see what was being said by his MD’s. Jim’s surgeon got the great reviews I would have expected. He was just phenomenal, and kept up with us well after he had any active involvement in Jim’s care, dropping in to Five stars, all the way.

On the other hand, the reviews for Jim’s first oncologist were mixed. Although we recognized that he was a bit on the eccentric side, not to mention disorganized, we very much liked and trusted this guy. Some folks, however, had a poor experience with him. One of the reviews was written by a completely distraught woman whose husband had just died. She sounded totally unhinged. Did I trust the terrible things she said about the doctor? Not in the least.

My bottom line with respect to online reviews is, as I’d said, grain of salt. (Or in the case of physician reviews, take two grains of salt and call me in the morning.)

In the opposite corner, there are customer surveys, where an organization solicits its customers for their feedback. These have gotten entirely out of hand. I’m sure I’ve gone decades during m life without being asked to fill out a survey on my experience. Now, it seems, after pretty much every transaction, someone wants to know your opinion.

Just how much of the big data being culled from all these surveys is actually useful? How much of it really helps anyone actually figure out how they can get better at what they do, whether it’s making an omelet or figuring out the chemo regimen? 

I like Open Table. It’s quite convenient when it comes to making restaurant reservations. But I really don’t want to answer the post-meal survey that inevitably gets shot off via email before I’ve even had the chance to put the doggy bag in the fridge, thank you.

Sometimes a restaurant will hand you a survey at the end of your meal. Mostly I fill these out, mostly because I suspect there’s some pressure on the servers to get people to fill them out. But what good do they really do? If I have a complaint, I’ll either say something to the waiter or the floor manager. Or just go home and grumble about it.

Those restaurant surveys are one thing. There are also the doctors and hospitals who want our opinion after each and every appointment. These I really can’t stand. I really like my primary care physician. She’s just great. But after every visit, I get some follow up survey from the practice she’s part of. (Remind me on my next visit to ask Erica whether she cares one way or another about these surveys.)

The annual visit surveys are a minor irritant. Each time my husband was hospitalized during his long final illness – or so it seemed - we got a phone call from some place in Ohio doing a quality survey. All well and good. I’m quite happy that MGH wants to get better. But, frankly we felt hounded. I think that Jim answered one survey, and found it rather formulaic. (On a scale of one to ten…) This is the same thing I’ve found with the ones I get after a PCP appointment. Mostly, we would have been interested in giving qualitative. open-ended feedback. And yes, there’s always some sort of open-ended question at the tail end of a survey, but I always wonder whether anyone does more than glance at them. After all, it’s harder (but not impossible) to turn those word answers into data points. Asking questions that have real answers is just not the quantitative approach that our metric-mad world demands.

Nothing wrong with wanting to see the numbers.One of my concentrations in B-school was quantitative marketing.But as a marketer, I think there’s a lot of gold in the hills of the qualitative stuff.

Anyway, I was interested in an article I recently saw on Bloomberg that named names with respect to who might be responsible for all this “survey says” pressure: 

Fourteen years ago, an executive at Bain & Co had a suggestion  create a short consumer survey to test brand loyalty. The idea took off, so much so that the executive, Fred Reichheld, has watched it morph into a Frankenstein: the endless loop of “brief” satisfaction surveys following a dental appointment, car rental or salad at a corner restaurant.

Not only are the requests inescapable, but employees increasingly pressure, even bribe, customers to offer only the highest marks, raising real questions about the results.

Reichheld came face to face with the monster he unwittingly helped spawn when he recently entered a hotel lobby where a sign read, “If there’s any reason you can’t give us a 10, stop by the front desk. We’ll make it worth your while.” (Source: Bloomberg)

Depending on how worth your while they make it, might this not tempt some folks to head to the front desk and see what they’d get in return for a 7, a 3, a 1?

But I do like the idea of making it worth your while to take a survey – especially the long ones. I wouldn’t be looking for any freebies from the medical world – free blood sample draw? But if Open Table offered me a little something or other to fill out their surveys, I might be inclined to answer one.

Meanwhile, if you’re suffering from survey fatigue, and looking for someone to blame, Fred Reichheld would be a good place to start.

Friday, May 06, 2016

The sharing economy? There’s an app for that, whether you need it or not.

Today’s Pink Slip is a quick one. If you’re used to reading us over your coffee, today you’ll have time for something short of a full cup. Time only, perhaps, for a Danny Thomas spit take. (Google “Danny Thomas spit take” if you wanna see what I’m talking about.)

Preface out of the way, here’s today’s post-een.

There are apps for just about anything.Whether you need it or not. The latest to flash across my horizon is something called Battery Share. Here’s the description from the app store:

Get notifications when your friends are running low on power. Useful any time you don't want to lose touch with the people around you. It's good to know that you can touch base before their phone goes dead. An essential app for travelling with friends.

Essential for traveling with friends? I, personally, me-myself-and-I, have traveled with friends. And with family members, too. And I can honestly say that there has never been a New York minute when having to know whether my companion’s phone is dying has been essential. Perhaps this is just me.

Nonetheless, there now exists an app that will let you know if this is occurring.

Be assured, as scary as it sounds, you can’t just go out and invade somebody’s phone. They have to okay you’re getting in. Is it like ‘friending’ someone on FB? What’s the ask? I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

Here’s Phone Arena’s take on it.

If family and friends agree to follow your iPhone or iPad, the app also will alert them about your current battery level. This way, your friends will know if you're being a total ass by not responding to them, or if it is merely a case of a dead battery. Plenty of misunderstandings on both sides can be avoided by buying Battery Share. (Source: Phone Arena)

Ah, no more ‘can’t talk now’, no more line going dead with no warning and sitting there wondering ‘what up?’

I’ve been on plenty of dropped calls. Mostly one or the other of us walked or drove into a dead zone, or accidentally pressed a button we shouldn’t have. Then we have a bit of a back and forth. One person keeps talking while the person who realizes that the call has been dropped keeps frantically dialing. Eventually, all’s well and we reconnect. I’ve never been on the other end of a dead battery call. Would I have panicked and thought my friend or family member had run into trouble? And even if I had Battery Share, unless I’d been checking up on my friend or family member, how would I know for certain at this point that the battery was dead, and not the person I’d been talking to? How would they know if my battery – phone or full-body – had died.

There are plenty of things in life that are worth sharing. Battery Share is only $.99,but, seriously folks, is getting info on someone else’s battery life info one of them?