Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Pink Slip is always interested in seeing what toys are inducted each year into the National Toy Hall of Fame. Make that almost always interested. Last year, we missed the induction ceremonies, so failed to congratulate the 2015 winners: the puppet, Twister, and Super Soaker – all okay choices, but nothing spectacular.

Twister, I have to admit, was something that got boring fast. And I’m too old to have enjoyed Super Soaker. We had to be content ourselves with squirt guns and hoses.

When it comes to puppets, I have mixed feelings, as so many of them are out-and-out clown creepy. But my favorite childhood mittens were dragon hand puppets, knit for me and my sister by a neighbor my father drove to work each day. And I did like Kukla, Fran and Ollie – okay, Fran was a human, and Sharie Lewis’ Lambchop. And what Baby Boomer didn’t watch Howdy Doody, even though, in retrospect, there was something perv-creepy about Howdy (and his mentor? pal? dad? boss? Buffalo Bob).

This year, the toys that got the nod were Dungeons and Dragons, Fisher-Price Little People, and the swing!

I couldn’t care less about Dungeons and Dragons. Yawn! (Almost did a New England there and write: I could care less…) The Fisher-Price Little People were past my toy-playing time, but plenty cute.

But, ahhh, the swing! What a pure source of childhood fun – and exercise without knowing you were getting exercise. I loved swinging.

In the press release announcing this year’s inductees, it says:

In the mid-20th century, many Americans put freestanding, family-sized swing sets on their own sunny suburban lots.

Well, ours was a shady urban lot, but we did have a family-sized swing set. Although we had a third seat-swing, rather than that pull-up swing, this picture is more or less what our backyard swing set looked like. swing set

Unlike most of the swing sets in our neighborhood, which were two-seaters, ours had three swings plus the glider. Plus it was marginally sturdier. The diameter of the legs was maybe 3 inches, rather than 2. We also had a bigger yard than most, and a sandbox, so we were more or less playground central. (And in winter, two of the best sledding – flying saucer trails led out of our yard, so my parents’ liability engine was always in full swing, back in the day before parents sued when their kids were injured. They just yelled at their kids, went to the ER as required, and that was that.)

My father never bothered to cement the legs in – he just pushed them into the ground – so one of the most fun things we could do was get all three swings and the glider going in one direction, and that sucker would just leap out of its footings. We never went fully airborne, but what a satisfying thud when those legs went crashing back down to earth. No wonder that:

After the 1970s, public concern for children’s safety urged parents to replace the tubular metal sets for smaller swings of woods and resins suited to children of different ages and development.

How much simpler and out-and-out more fun to grow up in an era before “public concern for children’s safety.”

Anyway, whether there were other kids around or not, I loved playing on the swing set. One of my favorite things – lazy-arse that I was – was twirling the chains around and then letting them untwirl. Much easier than pumping. I also liked just hanging over the seat, or over the struts, and observing the world from an upside down vantage point.

Over its many years in operation, our swing set was plenty battered. We stood on the seats and they bent. All that bouncing out of the footings took its toll. The elements got to it and it rusted up a bit. But boy, did I love that swing set.

And swings in general: old wooden swings on big old trees, tire swings, swing sets in public parks. Bennett Field, Hadwen Park, the odd little park on Merchant and Apricot Streets – parks all had swing sets. (And slides – the wooden kind that gave your slivers eventually giving way to the aluminum ones that burnt the back of your legs.)

Not to over-intellectualize swinging, but:

“Though the equipment has evolved with the centuries, the pleasure children and adults find in swinging has hardly changed at all,” says [Toy Museum] Curator Patricia Hogan. “Swinging requires physical exertion, muscle coordination, and a rudimentary instinct for, if not understanding of, kinetic energy, inertia, and gravity. It’s the perfect vehicle for outdoor play.

Plus it’s fun.

Even if I never achieved the ultimate - swinging so high that you went all the way over and around – what an exhilarating adventure it was to go swinging.

An excellent choice for the Toy Hall of Fame!

I would be remiss not to mention at least a couple of the finalists that did not make the induction cut: bubble wrap, Clue, and the coloring book. I’m for all three, especially the coloring book – to indoor fun what the swing is to outdoor fun. Wait until next year!


I may have missed the Hall of Fame 2015, but here’s Pink Slip on it in 2014.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Testing the waters

I suspect that there are few men or women alive who haven’t, at some point in their life, done something extraordinarily foolish, ill-advised, dangerous. And there are plenty of dead men and women who’s last act on earth was doing something extraordinarily foolish, ill-advised, dangerous – and, in their case, fatal. I know that I did my share, mostly back in the day. But I’ve done some pretty dumb jay-walking things in the past decade, and have done a few household tasks like changing a too-high light bulb where I’ve been perched precariously on a step stool. In the last couple of years, I’ve become far more conscious of foolhardiness, especially in the home. I live alone. If I’ve fallen and can’t get up because I’m sprawled on the floor with a bashed in noggin, well, I don’t want to think about that.

It has been said that the sorts of feats that turn out not to be death-defying but, rather, death inviting, are often not a bad way to die. (It’s living if you don’t have the good fortune to die right away that can be a problem.) Sudden accidental death may not be painless, but if you’re lucky it’s quick – and you die thinking “Oh, shit” not “This is it.”

In this category, I always place my friend Marie’s namesake Aunt Marie who, in her seventies, fell off a stepstool while painting on the top floor of the steep back staircase of her Worcester three-decker. When Marie told me about her aunt’s death, I thought it was a pretty awful way to go. But as Marie pointed out to me, as Aunt Marie tumbled into oblivion, she was thinking “Oh, shit” not “This is it.” Which was how I learned that this was how sudden deaths so often go.

So not a bad way for Aunt Marie to pass into the great beyond, especially as she got a decade more out of life than my friend Marie, who died a long drawn out, sad, and painful death – and was well aware that she was dying.

Anyway, it’s generally sound advice when a little voice whispers in your ear that you might want to avoid really hazardous activities.

What brought this to mind was an article in the Washington Post last week that was a follow up to an earlier story about a young guy who, last spring, fell into a hot spring at Yellowstone National Park and – there’s no delicate way to say this – pretty much dissolved. All that was left was a pair of his flip-flops, which had apparently flipped off before he flopped in.

The initial report was that the guy – who was visiting Yellowstone with his sister – had just strayed off the boardwalk and fallen into an acidic and supremely hot drink.

A Freedom of Information Act filed by KULR 8 and released in November revealed the details of the accident. The pair had more than an unauthorized stroll in mind. Rather, their goal was to find a thermal pool and take a soak —  illegal conduct  that the park described as “hot-potting.”

This brother and sister combo – in their early twenties – were, of course, recording their excellent adventure. Sister watched brother, smartphone in hand, making a video for instant fame and posterity:

…as he made his way toward a 4-foot-wide, 10-foot-deep pool. In the report obtained by KULR 8, [the sister] witnessed her brother as he “was reaching down to check the temperature of a hot spring when he slipped and fell into the pool.”

However sorry I feel for this young woman to have witnessed this horrific event, and for the kid’s parents, who I’m sure can’t shake this out of their minds, this incident has got to be a candidate for the Darwin Awards, no?

First, to so stupidly ignore the signs and truck 225 yards into a dangerous basin. Wearing flip-flops, no less. That’s the length of 2 football fields, and 2.5 end zones.

Then to reach in to test the waters.

I guess if he’d been lucky, all that would have dissolved would have been the fingertip he stuck in there. But this guy was both foolish and unlucky, and those flip flops weren’t enough to hold him onto the path.

I’m guessing that death was pretty damned instantaneous, with a brief “Oh shit” rather than a reflective “This is it.” But, other than being eaten alive by an alligator, it’s hard to imagine a worse sudden ending than this.

Let this misadventure be a warning to all the young fools out there. Some waters just aren’t worth testing.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Bola de grasa

Fidel Castro was a figure, there in the background, in the lives of most early wave Baby Boomers.

With his beard, cigar, and fatigues, he was something of a comic figure for a while there in the late 1950’s, maybe up until 1961. Boys dressed up and went out as Castro for Halloween. I remember seeing high school girls wearing Castro garb scrubbing the steps of Worcester’s City Hall with toothbrushes, as some sort of initiation rite for a high school sorority. Then there was a picture of my Aunt Kay, a Chicago teenager who would have looked right at castro caphome on American Bandstand, wearing some type of Castro outfit for some gag and/or hazing event.

Fatigue jackets and caps were pretty easy to get your hands on in that every-guy-gets-drafted era, given that most of us knew someone in the Army: older brothers or cousins, guys from the neighborhood. In my case, my Uncle Bob was the supplier of Army gear, as, in his late teens, he became a soldier at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The Christmas Bobby went in, all the nieces got swell white silk babushkas embroidered with an eagle, the flag, and FORT LEONARD WOOD MISSOURI. And the nephews got those caps that GI’s, Gomer Pyle, and Fidel Castro wore.

So at first – at least to kids – Castro was just this sort of laughable figure. The nuns raged on about what a bad Catholic he was, and told us that his nickname was bola de grasa – greaseball – because he was so filthy. All this nun criticism made us enjoy him all the more.

Then Bay of Pigs rolled around, and he wasn’t such a laughing matter, even for kids. He became even less so during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was not quite thirteen, and the Crisis pretty much went over my head, but I knew that our wonderful, Irish Catholic, non-bola de grasa president had vanquished Castro. And Khrushchev. A bad buy two-fer.

Worcester actually ended up with quite a few Cuban refugees, thanks to the welcome mat put out by the Diocese of Worcester. One summer, I worked with some of them at a shoe factory. Because I had a smidgeon of Spanish, I was appointed by the foreman to inform the Cubans when no hay trabajo maƱana – no work on Saturday, which, despite the fact that we were churning out paratrooper boots for both the US military and South Vietnam’s army, was most of the time. Other than hello and goodbye, that was about the extent of my conversation with the Cubans, other than with Deysi, with whom I shared a worktable. Deysi and I would have rudimentary chats on occasion. She was very pretty and in her early twenties. Her husband also worked at HH Brown, and would stop by our area to kiss Deysi when he was on a break. (Or when our foreman was.)

Over the years, I didn’t think much about Castro or Cuba, other than getting vaguely drawn in to a lefty glorification of it at one point in the late 1960’s. (Venceremos.) After all, free health care was good. And all those cool old 1950’s cars. And they liked baseball. Plus Castro’s opposition in the US were a bunch of right-wing old farts. I wasn’t going to side with them.

Later, it was hard to ignore all the desperate refugees trying to make it to Key West on a raft.

Cuba was poor. And repressive. Thanks for the free health care, but wouldn’t it be nice if the average Cuban had access to aspirin.

In any case, I was happy to see things easing up in Cuba. I welcomed the normalization of relations with the US. And I figured that Fidel Castro wasn’t going to live forever.

He didn’t.

Whether that signals further loosening up or not remains to be seen, but as MLK reminded us when he paraphrased Theodore Parker,“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Always a good thing to keep in mind, both home and abroad.

Cuba has been on my bucket list for a while. A friend went last year with Road Scholar, and that’s probably how I’ll go, too.

Adios, Fidel Castro. I’m sure that there are some who will miss you. I won’t be one of them. But I hadn’t thought for a while about how the initial impression – at least among children – was that he was someone to make fun of, not take seriously. Always best to be wary of buffoons when they get into power. You never know where it will end up.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Goldbrickin’ Friday

Forget Black Friday, at Pink Slip, this Goldbrickin’ Friday, and we’re taking it off.

Not to go shopping.


Maybe I’ll super-glue my mother’s little Dutch boy and little Dutch girl sale and pepper shakers – which took a recent hit – back together. Maybe I’ll go through a couple of junk drawers and toss out all the elastics that’ve lost their give. Maybe I’ll write a novel…

Whatever you’re doing, enjoy your day off.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

Last Friday evening, I spent a couple of hours with the Christmas in the City (CITC) folks, helping sort through and organize the donated food stuffs – including, oddly, a tin of baking powder -  that would be used to supplement the hundreds of turkey-and-all-the-fixins food baskets (bags, actually) that CITC distributes each year. CITC is a wonderful, all-volunteer organization run out of Kennedy Brothers PT by the brilliant, kind, funny, and generous Jake Kennedy and his wife Sparky. Check out the new web site, by the way. (I’m the content person and main blogger.) We’re now gearing up for the annual party for homeless kids, and the day-after free toy “shopping” day for those who are needy but not homeless.

So on Thanksgiving this year, I’m thankful for Christmas in the City, the hundreds of volunteers who support it, and the donors who make it all possible for Jake and Sparky to do what they do.

CITC is new to the list this year of what I’m thankful for.

As ever, I am thankful for my wonderful family and friends. They have been a special comfort this year, as I sat shiva after the election.

I’m thankful that there are people who won’t give up and retreat to their hidey-holes, but who’ll keep an eye on what’s happening in Washington to make sure that whatever it is that’s currently giving comfort to the KKK and the American Nazi Party won’t go any further than talk.

I’m thankful for my clients, and for the good health – mental and physical – that enables me to keep working. (I’m thankful that the weird thing in my mouth turned out to just be weird thing in my mouth. And for Dr. P., who looked in there and said “I’m not impressed.” When he took his flashlight out of my mouth, he had the grace to smile when I told him that there were a number of different ways to interpret “I’m not impressed.”)

I’m thankful to the good people of Venice who made my trip there so enjoyable.

And, as I am every year, I’m thankful for the folks at St. Francis House, who take such excellent care of Boston’s poor and homeless. Donations always welcome, and always put to good use.

Finally, in keeping with Pink Slip tradition, here’s a link to last year’s Turkey Day post.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Look out below!

Sure, there was an occasional wheel coming loose and hurtling down to earth towards an unsuspecting pedestrian, the occasional chunk of frozen lavatory that somehow got flushed mid-flight and landed with a thud on the roof of someone’s car. Then there’s lightning strikes. And meteors. But, let’s face it, it used to be that the worse thing that could fall from the sky onto your dear, sweet head was bird crap.

Sure, it always happened at an inopportune time, after you’d left your house heading somewhere important. Never when you were walking in after a workout and were going to hop in the shower anyway.

But, while it was foul (fowl?), it was pretty much no harm.

That was before GoPro launched squadrons of Karma drones that have the tremendously unfortunately property – at least for something airborne that’s not a parachute – that it falls to earth. All on its own.

So GoPro’s first foray into drown-world has fallen flat, and, after just a month out in the market, GoPro has announced a recall. Here’s what they had to say for themselves:

GoPro is committed to providing our customers with great product experiences. To honor this commitment, we have recalled Karma until we resolve a performance issue related to a loss of power during operation. We plan to resume shipment of Karma once the issue is addressed.(Source: GoPro statement, reported in Popular Mechanics)

I will give GoPro a nod for not exactly skirting the issue. No, they didn’t say “it could drop out of the sky and kill someone”, but “loss of power during operation” is pretty darned close.

If you want to see for yourself just what a drone failure looks like Popular Mechanics also provided a link to a PetaPixel video.

GoPro is offering a camera as a consolation prize, but if you weren’t content with strapping a camera to your forehead and videoing your every adventurous move, and really wanted a drone camera, well….you is out of luck as far as GoPro goes.

Last Christmas, it was the exploding hoverboards. This year it’s the falling drones. What’ll be next Christmas, after consumer protection is dismantled. Recall-schmecall! Bombs away! Look out below!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Over the last couple of weeks, there’s been suspicious, intermittent rustling (or – gulp – is it gnawing?) in one of my office walls. It doesn’t last long. It doesn’t seem to occur every day or every night. Yet there it is, rustle-rustle (gnaw-gnaw???), disturbing my peace.

I’ve lived in here for 25+ years now, and in that time, we’ve had one – count ‘em – one mouse. Which is a pretty good record, given that the building is 160 years old, and is built on reclaimed, should-be-water, land. Where someone or another is always doing a gut reno, or the streets are always being dug up so new pipes can be set in, which tends to set off a riot of dislodged rodents looking for new digs.

A mouse or two I can live with. (Been there, done that.)

But rats.

Now, there’s a rodent of an entirely different color.

Hey, I’m a city dweller, and I see occasional rats – dead or alive. I see them flattened on the street, scurrying into bushes, slithering down sewer drains. Bad enough seeing them on the outside. The thought of one actually being inside. Where I live. Beyond yuck. We’re talking uninhabitable. (Decades ago, I worked in a rat-ridden restaurant where, the moment the floor was quiet, they all seemed to push their whiskery little snouts out of their rat holes to see if there was a scrap of fish or oyster to be had. And where they were sometimes found blocking drains. That was bad enough. And I was just working there – not living there. It was not my lay-me-down-to-sleep place.)

Beyond the occasional rustling (gnawing?), I have detected no rodent signs: no scat, not holes, no chewed loaf of bread. And I don’t smell a rat.

Anyway, I’m writing this on a Saturday, and the exterminator will have been and gone on MOnday. (Would have been here by now, but Billy and his wife/office manager are on a cruise in the Bahamas. Carole e-mailed me from the ship. Given that I haven’t had rodents, how is it that I’m on a first name basis with Billy and Carole? Well, we may not have rats, but we have a come-and-go plague of drain flies. Seems to be in abeyance this past year, but you never know when those creepy little suckers will be back.)

Here’s hoping that what I’m hearing is gently falling plaster…

If not, and it is (gulp-GULP) a rat, I predict a nervous breakdown (or condo sale) in the not so distant future.

But with all this rat worry, I’ve been especially sensitive to those who might be experiencing rat-related stress of their own.

And this includes the New Yorker who

… says she found a dead rodent sewn into a dress from a Zara clothing store. She is accusing the company of negligence and is seeking money for damages, according to court documents filed Friday. (Source: CNN)

Poor Cailey Fiesel.

I once bought a dress in Filene’s Basement, and when I went to put it on, realized that it had been worn and returned by someone with dreadful body odor. I washed the dress a couple of times, but it ended up in the donation bag. (Too bad. It was a purply madras shirtwaist that was cute and comfy.)

On August 16, Fiesel took one of the dresses out of her closet and wore it to work, according to court documents. While at work, Fiesel became aware of a "pungent odor," but wasn't able to figure out where it was coming from, according to court documents. She then noticed what felt like a string brushing against her leg. When she reached down to inspect, she found something else entirely.

"To her utter shock and disbelief, as she ran her hand over the hem of the dress, she felt an unusual bulge and suddenly realized that it was not a string that was rubbing against her leg, but was instead a leg rubbing against her leg," the court documents state. "The leg of a dead rodent, that is."

Well, I do feel for Cailey, but she can’t be the most observant person on the face of the earth. One thing not to notice BO on a dress unless you’ve stuck your nose in the armpit. But wouldn’t most people have noticed something as bulgy and heavy as a dead rat? Maybe if the bargain is good enough…

Nonetheless, I’m not going to be a rat and blame the victim here. A rat sewn into a dress. How colossally ghastly, especially given that:

She also says she developed a rash that was later diagnosed as a rodent-borne disease, according to court documents. Fiesel is seeking money "in a sum that will fairly and adequately compensate her" in return for these damages, according to court documents.

Whether she noticed it before she donned this nasty apparel, or when she got to work and realized she had a rat leg scratching her, I can understand why Cailey Fiesel is looking for something from Zara.

I know that Zara’s business model is fast and furious production and introduction of new styles, so that the thirst of their market – young fashionistas – for fast fashion can be quickly slaked . And they are, of course, producing their product in countries with less stringent quality controls than might be desired. Maybe someone was happy to let an embedded rat slip through their inspectional fingers. Revenge against American fat cats!

Meanwhile, I’m certainly sorry for Cailey Feisel’s troubles. May she have a good day in court.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Not so pumped about BP’s new interactive gas pump

I’m old enough to remember when you went to a gas station, you wan over a hose-like thing, a bell went off, ikeand someone came out and pumped your gas for you. When I was a kid, this person was likely the snappily dressed station owner who looked like General Eisenhower. Or the milk man. Ours looked like General Eisenhower, minus the fruit salad. Seriously. This is what Texaco gas station attendants dressed like in the 1950’s. Ten-hup!

Time went by, and by the time I was getting a buck’s worth of gas pumped into Black Beauty, our low-riding GalGoober Pyleaxy 500, gas station attendants weren’t quite so snappily dressed. Gomer Pyle’s cousin Goober was more the norm, minus that odd-ball little cap.

But someone was doing the pumping for you. They also checked the oil with their dipstick, and showed you pretty much every time that you were down a quart. And they cleaned your windshield for you. Or at least smeared the grime around with a dirty rag.

And as with the postal service:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

And then the fabulous pump your own gas was introduced.

At first I resisted. I’m not very mechanically inclined, and I figured it was just one more thing to screw up. But just as I willed myself into learning to drive a shift by calling up the example of all the morons who knew how to use a clutch, I figured if all kinds of morons could pump their own gas, I could, too. So I did.

But even after I got comfortable, I continued to occasionally patronize “attendant on duty” stations, mostly in support of old ladies like my mother who did NOT want to pump their own gas.

These days, it’s a shock to have someone come out to pump for you.

But that’s okay.

Pumping your own gas – especially in a state that requires you to stand there holding the handle down – gives you a bit of time out, a thin slice of your day where there is nothing else to do except breathe the gasoline fumes, keep your hand on the trigger, and stare out into space.

Enter BP, with something that’s going to violate that space: Miles – get it -  a talkative, high-how’s-it-goin’  interactive gas pump.

Thanks to my Chicago-land cousin Ellen, I learned about Miles through a very funny column in the Trib by Rex Huppke. (Check out the column and the video embedded therein. Well worth the side-trip.) Rex is not a big fan:

First, there was the Earth.

It was a decent place, with trees and lakes and oceans and small furry mammals that specialized in not bothering anyone. Then along came humans. And it was bad.

As these humans evolved, they worked relentlessly at making the world less pleasant. And then, at a moment when most people would describe the planet as “a largely annoying place to be,” certain humans looked around and said, “Hmmm. What can we do to make it all just a bit worse?”

The answer, apparently, was to design a gas pump with an unnecessarily peppy personality and name it Miles…

He looks much like any other pump but has a touch screen jutting out on one side and a display screen on top, with a large sign above that that says, “HI, I'M MILES. I'LL PUMP, YOU PLAY!”

I’m not sure if Miles actually does the pumping, but he (it?) plays music, and trivia, and lets you connect with family and friends. He (it?) will even take a picture of you to include in your message. Plus he (it?) says punchy things like, “Ah, finally you’re here. I’ve been waiting for your all day.”

Bet he (it?) says that to all the pretty gas pumpers.

BP is, apparently, not aiming Miles at the geezer demographic. It’s all about the millennials. (And here I thought that they were all giving up personal ownership of a gasoline sipping internal combustion engine in favor of app-ing up an Uber.)

Maybe in the wake of things such things as the Deep Horizon spill and the furor over the Dakota access pipeline, BP wants to make itself more appealing to millennials, or maybe it knew a good marketing move when it saw one.

Donna Sanker, the chief marketing officer for BP Fuels North America said: “We spend a lot of time learning about our consumers and what they like. We learned that most people don’t really enjoy pumping gas. This is an opportunity to build a deeper relationship with them.” (Source:, and another amusing column, this one by Lincoln Brown.)

“Deeper relationship”? I had the same reaction as Lincoln Brown:

“Who wants to develop a personal relationship with a gas pump?”

Personal relationships – even if it’s the sort of relationship you used to develop with a Dwight Eisenhower look-alike filling your tank every week – are built over time. And, as Brown points out, pumping gas:

….is not a time-consuming process, after all, unless one is filling up an RV or an Abrams tank. And most millennials wouldn’t be comfortable behind the wheel of either of those.

As BP contributions to the world go, Miles is, it goes without saying, better than Deepwater Horizon. Still…

Couldn’t they be doing something a bit more valuable with their time and money than introduce a new way to invade our space, put ear worms in our brain, and spread fake cheer.

I’m all for personal relationships. Some of my best friends, etc. Just not with a gas pump.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Has Hammacher Schlemmer got a Christmas gift idea for you

When I was a kid, I thought that being part of a Christmas Club was just the coolest thing. Imagine: you put $2 a week away for 50 weeks, and you’d have $100 to spend, come Christmas. Not that I had $2 a week to put away – not when my kiddie allowance was 25 cents, of which I had to put a dime in my church envelope. But I always wanted to belong to a Christmas Club, and couldn’t understand why my parents thought it was a stupid idea to put money in the bank that earned less than you would on your regular passbook account, and that you couldn’t access during the year if you needed it.

Fast forward a half-century plus, and I see that, if I had assiduously been squirreling away $135K a week for the past 50 weeks, I’d now have enough to purchase the 23 Acre Wild West Town Amusement Park that’s up for grabs – right there on page 6 of the H-S catalogue – for $7 million dollars.

Donley’s Wild West Town includes 14 buildings with two residences, offices, a warehouse, museum, restaurant, convention hall, and a commercial kitchen.

Plus a kiddie railway, a slingshot range, and “a host of rascals that perform a daily cowboy show.”

Alas, “live actors not included.”

Goldarn it. I was Donley's wild westlooking for something to occupy me in my old age, and finding a rascal cowboy might have done the trick. Dang nabbit.

I’m a-wonderin’ what the revenues of this outfit are that would justify the $7M price tag. Hard to believe this sort of place, which is only open a few months a year, is worth $7M based on what it brings in.

Union, Illinois, where Donley’s is located, is a fur piece from Chicago, but maybe the suburbs of the suburbs have extended far enough north that the land is ripe for development.

Anyway, way back in 2003, the owners put the town up for sale on eBay, but the high bid was only about $2M, which the Donley Brothers thought was way too low. And it’s been off and on the commercial real estate market pretty regularly since then.

Wonder what’s holding things up. After all, on Trip Advisor, it’s rated the second best thing to do in Union, Illinois (population 567). The best thing to do in Union is the Illinois Railway Museum. (Just out of curiosity, I looked up Boston, and the second best thing to do is go to the Museum of Fine Arts. The best thing is Fenway Park.)

For whatever reason, the Donley Boys – sounds like an old-timey gang of outlaws, don’t they: the Clanton Brothers, the James Boys – have been having a difficult time cashing out. So now they’re taking the H-S catalogue route.

Of course, there are plenty of other less costly but eBeaniequally distracting things on offer by H-S. Who knew there was such a thing as The Bearded Beanie? Only $39.95. One size fits most. (I could go on, but I may need to devote a full post to the goofiness that is Hammacher Schlemmer.)

But what’s really caught my eye is the Wild West Town.

If only I’d been socking that $135K a week away in my Christmas Club…

You are no doubt asking why a Bostonian would want to purchase a roadside attraction way out west in Illinois.

Mostly because I have a very capable couple in mind who, in their retirement, might just be willing to commute up to Union from Naperville to run it. Him: business experience as a banker; her: kid experience as a teacher. Seasonal work, so they could still get to Florida. Their grandkids have probably outgrown this sort of fun, but still…

So, Ellen and Mike, let me know if you’re interested, and I’ll see whether there’s enough in my Christmas Club equivalent to make a down payment.

Yippee kay-ay-o!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

And here’s something I don’t miss about corporate

My friend Louie Cronin has her first book -  Everyone Loves You Back – out, and there are many reasons to love this very funny novel back as well (that is, despite the fact that the crazy squirrel-feeding lady is named Maureen). Louie worked on PBS Radio’s Car Talk for years – she was Cronin the Barbarian – and her book is the tale of Bob Boland, an aging, Irish Catholic, baby boomer, jazz-loving radio engineer living in the house he grew up in while Cambridge gentrifies around him (i.e., the oh-so-precious Harvard types move in). The book is exceptionally well-written and wry, and I would be recommending it even if I didn’t know Louie.

Among its many virtues, Everyone depicts the day-to-day workplace as well as anything I’ve ever read. And one of her best chapters is devoted to a team-building exercise that Bob and his colleagues have to endure. I won’t give away the details – you really should read this book – but while I was reading about the team building, I was laughing out loud.

It, of course, reminded me of the many team building events I attended during my decades in mondo corporate.

There was the time we were broken up into small groups, given a box of Tinker Toys, and told to build a helicopter. Leonardo Da Vinci couldn’t have built a helicopter with a box of Tinker Toys. All this stupid little task did was pit everyone in our group against each other, while uniting us in solidarity against the groups that managed to make something that didn’t look like a tree house. The only team-building outcome I really recall was that, for years, when we were talking about stupid off-sites, someone would invariably mention the Tinker Toy exercise.

At another multi-day off-site event, we were split into teams and ask to create – and perform – a cheer about the company. Alas, my group had not gleaming former cheerleaders in our ranks. I probably came the closest in that I had protested the Viet Nam War by marching through the streets chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh. NLF is gonna winl” (Damned if we weren’t right.) We forged on, and each team had to get up in front of hundreds of our colleagues and do our cheer. Which, for every  group, required waving pompoms in the corporate colors. My team was up first, and after we performed our pathetic cheer, we had to watch the other teams do theirs. All of those groups seemed to be well-populated with pretty blondes thrusting out their boobs while performing splits and forming pyramids with lunky sales guys happily forming the bottom tier. Cheers were for naught, however. The company ended up in bankruptcy, sold off in pieces. But not before a spectacularly failed IPO. Yay, team!

Oh, occasionally there were exercises that were tolerable. I actually liked the ones where they gave us mini-personality tests so that we’d have insight into how to get along with those with different personality types. While these events were sort of fun, basically what they ended up doing is reinforcing why I hated almost all the sales people I ever worked with. Fun with Yin and Yang!

But mostly, these team-building exercises were god-awful. Not to mention futile.

I really didn’t get anything out of sitting back to back with a stranger and discussing one of my innermost fears. I really didn’t want to fall back into the arms of someone I didn’t like. Trust me on this: I don’t trust you.

I really didn’t want to spend three days with some huckster who used a technique straight out of Professor Harold Hill’s “Think Method” in the Music Man to try to convince us that wishful thinking alone was enough to pull our downwardly spiraling company out of our downward spiral. The guy who conducted this three-day travesty reminded me of a fellow I’d encountered decades earlier, when my friend Mary Beth and I decided on a lark to attend an introductory Scientology meeting. The guy conducting the meeting explained how to get on the path to becoming an Operating Thetan, and told us that, because of the superior powers of detection that he’d developed as a Scientologist, he could actually detect that there was some hostility in the room.

Given that half the people in the room were asking some fairly challenging questions about the method and the costs, and the other half were stoned college kids rolling around on the floor in hysterics, it actually didn’t take all that much to detect hostility.

The Scientology guy’s name was, I believe, Steve. That was also the name of the three-day Think Method huckster. Could it have been the same guy, 25+ years later…Hmmmm?

Team-building techniques may have improved a bit over the years. A couple of months ago, I went to a client’s off-site, and they had some exercise where we moved around in circles meeting new folks. Sort of like corporate speed-dating. Don’t know what it was supposed to accomplish, but it was interesting at the time.

And don’t get me going on the strategy sessions, where everyone stands around writing stuff down on flip charts about how to make the company run faster-cheaper-better-whatever. Whose turn is it to roll up the flip chart pages, snap a big rubber band around them, and stow it in the corner of their office? I used to believe that Duraflame logs were actually composed of rolled up flip charts from corporate meetings.

Anyway, reading Louie’s very funny book reminded me of something I really don’t miss about corporate.

I always enjoyed being part of a team, but team-building exercises?

Guess I’m like Lucy Van Pelt in that respect:

I love my team, it’s team building I can’t stand.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Ribbon candy: yet another fine product made in Massachusetts

There are still no lights on it, but last week the tree went up at Jordan Marsh, errrrr, I mean Macy’s. This did, of course, get me thinking more seriously about Christmas, so I did a bit of Christmas shopping over the weekend. And that got me thinking about whether to get a new one-man tree stand.Even though I’ve been able to put the tree up by myself the last two years, those easy-peasy ones where you put some kind of sheath around the bottom of the tree and then use some sort of foot-pump to adjust do look, well, a lot easier-peasier than the one I have now. (Worked much better when my husband was holding up his end of the bargain.)

Anyway, it’s still plenty early, but I’m letting myself glide into the Christmas season a bit.

So I was delighted to see an article on the Boston Globe the other day on that most wondrous of Christmas treats: ribbon candy. Which, as it turns out, is made in Massachusetts by F.B. Washburn Candy of Brockton. Now, I knew we made Necco Wafers and Skybars and Valentine’s Day message hearts. But I didn’t know about ribbon candy, possibly the most beautiful confection in the candy world, while remaining almost impossible to eat.ribbon_plate400

Ribbon candy was one of my Grandmother Rogers’ favorites, and it was always on offer at her house over the holidays. You had to get at it quickly, because after the box was open and any air hit it, the candy became as sticky as flypaper. I remember that the sticky pieces always had something akin to mitten fur on them.

I never really liked the taste in particular. And, when fresh, it was like eating shards of glass: careful or you’ll cut your lip. I do believe that so much ribbon candy has some red in it to disguise the blood.

But it sure is pretty. And I love that it’s made here. (This is the best news since learning that lawn flamingos were born in Leominster.)

F.W. Washburn has been around for 160 years – it’s the longest-lived family-owned candy business in the United States. In addition to ribbon candy – and they pretty much produce all of it – Washburn makes most/all the flat lollipops they give out in banks. (More red, fewer green, please.) Hard candies r’ them. Which is not a particularly good thing, market-wise:

“Hard candy is an older person’s candy, and sales continue to decline.” (Source: Boston Globe. Quotes from co-owner Jim Gilson.)

I find this pretty interesting. Sure, my grandmother – who lived to great old age (97) – liked hard candy. Must have done wonders for her terrible teeth. (That and the Brach’s Toffees that she always had around.) You’d think that, as you got older, you might look for softer candies. Like a Hershey’s Kiss. Or M&Ms. Guess not.

So far, it hasn’t hurt Washburn all that much.

“But in our case, we’ve captured more of the market, so it doesn’t affect us.”

One way they cornered the ribbon candy market was by acquiring the last competitor standing. And I guess, given that it’s ribbon candy we’re talking about here, no one’s worried about a monopoly.

Given the importance of ribbon and other Christmas-y hard candy to their business, Washburn is somewhat seasonal. During peak season, they produce 6,000 pounds or hard candy a day there. (I’m actually guessing about the “a day”. The Globe article says only: During peak season, 6,000 pounds of product — including its famous ribbon candy — cascade from the old mill building. I’m guessing that’s not over the entire season. Given that Christmas candy is 60% of their business, 6,000 pounds over the course of a season wouldn’t produce all that much revenue, even if a 12 oz. box of ribbon candy costs $19.95 at the Vermont Country Store. I just did the math: if it was 6,000 pounds over the course of a Christmas season, AND the manufacturer actually got that whopping $20 for each 12 oz. box (which they do not), this would produce $160,000 in revenues. Now, if this were 60 percent of their business, that would mean that the company had revenues of $267,000. Which pretty much can’t be true. Ah, the curse of the math-literate and observant. And can publishers bring back a few copy editors, please????)

I will end on a more upbeat note:

“Ribbon candy — it looks like curvy pieces of ribbon — is almost too beautiful to eat. It’s as much decorative as a food item.”

I may just go and order a box from the Vermont Country Store, and put it out as a decoration. Far to beautiful – and treacherous – to eat.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Internet of Pee?

Oh, there’ve been smart toilets out there for a while: Toilets that flush for you. (You know, the kind in airports that don’t flush all the time, no matter how frantically you wave your hand in front of the sensor?) Toilets that sense how much water each flush needs. (So you don’t have to remember which icon on your flush selector goes with Number One and which one is for Number Two.) Toilets with built- in Bluetooth and MP3 playing capabilities.(Because, God forbid, we should ever have a moment when we’re not listening to our tunes or whatever. Who wants to listen to those splashing sounds when your precious body fluids and solids make landing? Let’s drown them out.)

But toilets are going to get a lot smarter. A whole hell of a lot smarter.

Or so I learned from a recent report from the Stat.

You’ve heard of the world’s smallest violin (and its principal use: being used by the world’s smallest violin, to play your song)? Well, scientists – you know, the folks who believe in evolution, environmental pollution, climate change and stuff like that – have come up with the world’s tiniest microscope. No more kids in bio class, struggling to adjust the focus so they’re actually seeing something on that slide, and not just the eyelash getting in their way. No more shots of serious-looking, white-coated scientists in the lab, one eye closed, the other peering into a stand-up microscope, doing some ultra scientific stuff that will probably bring them the Nobel Prize.) Nope. The nano kid on the block is:

… so minuscule that just a single molecule can fit inside. The cavity consists of a tiny, atom-sized bump in a bit of gold that confines light to less than a billionth of a meter in length.

Sounds like something straight out of Fantastic Voyage, no?

Now, the researchers are looking into the same idea —trapping light between tiny gaps in nanoparticles — as a way to pick up on small numbers of biomolecules in the body. One idea they're working on: an intelligent toilet.

What’s an intelligent toilet got to do with the world’s tiniest microscope?

Well you may ask.

What the world’s tiniest microscope can do is measure “the levels of a number of neurotransmitters in your urine.” This type of measurement has up to now been something reserved for the hospital. Now, your toilet bowl can become your measuring cup. One application? Suggesting “when people with mental disorders should consider medication.”

I’m trying to figure out just why this would require the world’s tiniest microscope. Wouldn’t it get flushed or brushed or Ty-D-Bol’d over? Wouldn’t something more the size of those cleaners/deodorizers that some people attach to the toilet bowl’s rim work better? After all, they would also need some sensors in there to respond to whatever the microscope is telling them about the pee – info transmitted, no doubt, by Bluetooth. The microscope wouldn’t have to be all that tiny.

Whatever the size, I would think that alerting people with mental disorders to start taking their meds is a good thing. But wouldn’t getting a message straight from their toilet bowl scare the shite out of anyone, let alone someone who may be experiencing some mental health issues?

I have auditory images of Moaning Myrtle, moaning up from the Hogwart’s toilets in Harry Potter. “TAKE YOUR MEDS.”

Not, of course, the way it will work in real life.

In real life, the data from your pee will get sent to your smartphone, or an alert bracelet you’re wearing, or to your doctor or health care aide. I have a client that has a technology platform for enabling telehealth apps. (Got that?) There are tons of interesting things being done that should (eventually) start providing better and more cost-effective patient outcomes.

Meanwhile, if it weren’t so miniscule that I couldn’t see it without a super-duper version of the old-fashioned lab microscope, I’d be keeping my eye on the world’s tiniest microscope.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Citizens Invited: unsolicited advice for our new president

Since last Tuesday, I’ve been pretty much laying off of the news. But I do seem to recall having heard Donald Trump say that he was looking for advice. I suspect he meant from folks with stature and policy cred. I suspect he meant from Republicans. But maybe there was a bit of citizens invited in there, too.

So here goes:

Dear Mr. President-Elect:

In the spirit of moving the country forward, and taking you at your word that you’re interested in advice, I respectfully and sincerely offer you the following.

  • Please do not choose someone as your Chief of Staff someone who is associated with the Alt Right. That would be Steve Bannon. Yes, I understand you want and need someone of proven loyalty, but Bannon is a metaphorical bomb-thrower. And his organization, Breitbart, is/has been a channel for the Alt Right. One of the reasons why so many people fear (and I do mean FEAR) your presidency is because of your campaign’s guilt-by-association with forces of nativism, white supremacism, homophobia,Islamophobia,anti-Semitism, anti-feminism, etc. This may not be you. It probably isn’t you.

    But your putting Bannon in such a key role will do nothing to assure the American people that you want to unify the country. Far better, the anodyne pragmatist, Reince Priebus. On the other hand, picking Bannon will send a message that will embolden the Alt Right, and demonstrate to the voters in this country who did not support your candidacy – and remember, there are a lot more of them out there than those who chose you – that you don’t want to be associated with those who wear hoods and burn crosses. (I may have way too much faith in New Yorkers and Wharton grads, but jeez, do you really want American Nazis whooping it up on your behalf? I bet Ivanka doesn’t.)

    NOTE: This was written before Reince Priebus was named chief of staff. Good. My advice is already being heeded. Unfortunately, Bannon will have a senior roll as chief strategist. Swell.
  • Please tell your team to stop playing footsie with the lock-her-up brigade. You and I both know that, for all the bad optics, the likelihood that there was pay-for-play between the Clinton Foundation and public policy when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State is just about nil. Obviously, if there’s some obvious ‘there there’, it can’t be ignored. But trumped up investigations based on the speculation of some discredited right-wing writer, and yet more endless rounds of go-nowhere hearings, are going to look like Banana Republic vengeance. Just drop it.
  • Please name Merrick Garland your first Supreme Court pick. Progressives weren’t thrilled with the nomination of Garland, viewing him as far too conservative. Mattered not, as it turned out, since the Republican Senate so disgracefully refused to consider his appointment, and, in fact, made it known (some of them) that they wouldn’t entertain any choices that Hillary Clinton would have made. Think about it. Picking Garland would announce that you’re not interested in putting ideological extremists of any stripe on the Court, but want measured, thoughtful, centrists. I suspect that this runs closer to your personal feelings than choosing someone from the far right, anyway. Be your own man, here. Pick Garland. Or make choices who are more centrist than some of the names being thrown about. (Ted Cruz?)
  • Please get a decent infrastructure bill going. Soon. Some folks are warning Democratic reps and senators not to get caught too quickly in the trap of helping you build up your capital with something that will no doubt have such broad-based support. But we have a lot of projects that need to get done, and a lot of folks (mostly blue collar guys) ready to start swinging a hammer. This won’t all be done by giving tax credits to the private sector. And it shouldn’t be. We need a serious discussion in this country on whether its worth spending our own money on projects that will bring our infrastructure – roads, bridges, airports, railroads, etc. – up to first world standards. Why not start it?
  • Please meet with some climate scientists. You have famously said – jokingly or not – that your believe that global warming is a hoax. I don’t know what the percentage is, but it seems pretty clear that most scientists believe that the earth is getting warmer, even if that means that it sometimes snows in El Paso and the cherry blossoms appear in mid-winter Boston. The degree to which man-made activity may be contributing to the warming may be subject to some debate, but the science with respect to whether it is occurring is, in fact, settled. You need to hear out the experts on this; the stakes are far to high to just let the ice caps melt, the seas rise, etc. Even if it is an all natural phenomenon – and the science does, in fact, point to that NOT being the case - we still need to be doing something about it. So when you’re listening, please don’t just listen to those claiming that all environmental protection is nothing but a nonsense job-killer. (At least without asking yourself precisely why they might be making such contentions.) And please keep in mind that your kids and grandkids drink the water and breathe the air. The EPA was created for a reason.
  • Please apologize for a few things. You’ve a tip-toed around some of this, but how about making a statement along the lines of ‘I tend to shoot my mouth off without thinking, and sometimes I say things that are crude, offensive, demeaning, insulting. Plenty of us do it at times, but I seem to do it more than most. I’m sorry about that, and will try do better.’ Personally, I’d like to see an apology for birtherism. Now that you’re almost the president yourself, I’m sure that you can appreciate how terrible it can be for the country to have someone undermining the grave work of the presidency with baseless innuendo and attack.
  • Please, never use the word mandate. If you’d won this election by even one more vote than Hillary Clinton then, sure, knock yourself out. But surely you know that losing the popular vote by a non-trivial amount to your direct competitor, and by a pretty significant amount when you factor in the third party votes, does not constitute a mandate. Acknowledge this, and make it clear that you’re not going to use your election to trample all over things that the majority of the voters in the country in fact want.
  • Please disclose any indebtedness that the Trump Organization has to Russia and China. From day one, concerns over your organization’s ties to these and other foreign countries will be a big, black cloud hovering over your administration – an outcome, by the way, of your not having disclosed such information during the campaign. We cannot be looking over every foreign policy decision and wondering whether there was something personal motivating it that we can’t see. Having your children run your company in your absence doesn’t make this go away. When a decision could benefit the Trump Organization, how will the decision by made, and by whom?

I’m sure I can come up with more, but this is it for now.

Wishing you and the country the best of luck.

Citizen Invited, Maureen Rogers

I may have other political screeds up my sleeve, but tomorrow Pink Slip returns (at least for a while) to non-political form.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Processing the unimaginable

Yesterday, I got an email from my cousin MB, which got a small thread going on how we were all working through Tuesday’s election – and how we all have to move forward from here. This (with a few tweaks/edits) was my contribution to the thread:

Wednesday felt like the day after a death. I spent much of the day texting, emailing, speaking with friends who, like so many of us, feel gut-punched, shocked, and afraid of what a Trump presidency could mean for our country.

I also did a couple of things that made me feel marginally better:

  • I went onto Hillary's website and sent her a message of thanks. Will she ever see this? Of course not. But some low level staffer may, and it may make him/her feel a bit better. And it made ME feel better.
  • I sent a note to President Obama thanking him (and his family) for all they have done for the country, and for the way they carried on under tremendous negativity with such intelligence, goodness, grace, and dignity. Will he ever see this? Of course not. But some low level staffer may, and it may make him/her feel a bit better. And it made ME feel better.
  • I became a supporter of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that provides a rational, science-based approach to, well, things scientific. With luck, they will be able to help explain to the new administration how science works, etc.

I am 100% in agreement with you that we all need to get off the couch, and up from under the covers, to keep an eye on what the new administration is up to. And to make our concerns heard loud and clear. We also need to be supportive of those in the community who may be feeling especially vulnerable now: African Americans who may fear the traffic stop even more today than they did a few days ago. Brown skinned folks who may or may not be undocumented immigrants but who will be hassled. Little girls wearing a hijab, now more than ever fearful of becoming the targets of bullies. Our LGBTQ friends who may be concerned that Obergefell and other hard-fought rights are at risk with a new Supreme Court. Members of the press under physical threat for telling the truth about what's going on.

I draw a few small comforts from the election.

Last time I looked, Hillary had won the popular vote. There are more of us out there than there are of them. (And I don’t mean “them” in a sense that everyone who voted for Trump is a deplorable. Just that their sensibilities seem to be so far out of whack with those of us who made other choices at the polls…How could they support someone like that? Maybe there is a world where Love Trumps Hate, but the world we live in is one where Emotion Trumps Reason.)

We also know that, if Hillary had won, the next couple of years would have seen us witness a complete Congressional paralysis, as so much effort would have gone into phony investigations aimed at "locking her up” and blocking every idea she put forth. We are spared that.

And I may be grasping at straws here, but Trump's lack of coherent ideology but perversely compelling charisma may put him a position where he can actually change some minds on some important points. E.g., if the Union of Concerned Scientists can somehow get through to him, it is possible that he can do something about climate change from the bully pulpit, now that he has a pulpit that does not have to involve bullying. Far fetched, I know, but if he can convince himself it's all his idea, maybe he can explain to those of his supporters so hell- bent on coal that there are reasons to worry about the environment...

And maybe he can get an infrastructure bill through that will bring some employment opportunities, especially to those communities that have been most ravaged by the impact of globalization – a bill that would have been impossible for President Obama to get through, given the opposition’s desire to see that he fail.

Like all of you, I'm just starting to process things. It helped enormously yesterday to stay off of MSNBC entirely, gaining me 4.5 of hours in the day that I can now devote to something else. Yesterday, one of those things was watching "Ghostbusters II." Not the greatest movie ever made, but fun - and with the bonus that some of the scenes were filmed on campus of my alma mater, Emmanuel College.

We are stronger together, but being stronger together also means that we all have to up our individual games.

I don’t want to just sit by and watch passively as bad things happen to good people, and when bad things happen to a good country.

Not quite sure we’re I’m heading yet with all this, but let’s go! (Don’t mourn, organize!)

Afterthought: Yet again, I am proud and grateful to live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which gave Hillary Clinton 60.8 percent of its votes. 

Meanwhile, Happy Veterans Day, especially to all the vets out there. Here are a couple of past Veterans Day posts from Pink Slip’s past Veterans Day 2012 and Just in Time for Veterans Day.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

English only?

One of the best things about speaking English is that, well, the world speaks English – as long as you’re doing “global” business and/or are in a tourist trap.

The latter was made abundantly clear on my recent trip to Venice.

I generally pride myself on having a few words to say in whatever the language is in the country I’m visiting in. I even know how to say a few things – sort of – in Gaelic, which is completely unnecessary, as everyone in Ireland speaks English. And is a complete waste of time, as the language is impenetrable. Plus the tape you learned off of is no doubt in a dialogue not spoke where you’re attempting to use it.

Anyway, in Italy, I had my phrase books and my ‘bongiornos’ already. And my sister Trish, having actually taken adult-ed Italian, one-upped me.

But pretty much everyone took one look at us and started speaking to us in English.

So our Italian speaking was pretty much limited to Grazie and Scusi.

Sure, I’d like to be fluent in another tongue, but, let’s face it, if you’re an American – awful and ugly American as it sounds – there’s really not all that much need. English has – so far, at least – won the pop cultural, economic, scientific, and technological battles. English is the language of all of the above.

Europeans are often held up as great paragons of linguistic virtue because so many of them speak multiple languages: their own, English, and often at least one other. But, let’s face, it. If you live in Europe and want to travel a bit, you’re probably going to cross a border into a different language zone. So if you live in Holland – population 16.8 million, putting it mid way between Pennsylvania and New York -  and you want to travel somewhere else, that somewhere else is not likely to be Dutch speaking. (I guess there’s Aruba…) Whereas, if you live in Pennsylvania or New York, and you want to see something that looks and feels a lot different, you can go to Mississippi. Or Montana. Where everyone will speak English. If going to a different state meant speaking another language, guess what? More Americans would have another language.

So, while Americans may be lazy and self-absorbed, it actually makes sense that most of us are uni-lingual.

The assumption that the world speaks English in the same way is turning into a challenging one for global businesses, however.

A recent article I saw on BBC cited the cautionary tale of a non-native speaker who received an email from a native English speaker.

The message, written in English, was sent by a native speaker to a colleague for whom English was a second language. Unsure of the word, the recipient found two contradictory meanings in his dictionary. He acted on the wrong one.

Months later, senior management investigated why the project had flopped, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. “It all traced back to this one word,” says Chia Suan Chong, a UK-based communications skills and intercultural trainer, who didn't reveal the tricky word because it is highly industry-specific and possibly identifiable. “Things spiralled out of control because both parties were thinking the opposite.”(Source: BBC)

The result was a major financial loss.

I’m racking my brain trying to figure out what the word with contradictory meanings might have been. Alas, I came up empty. But, thanks to the miracle that is Internet search, I did find a list. Not that helpful, but interesting. Here are a few possibilities:

Finished: Completed, or ended or destroyed
Fix: To repair, or to castrate
Flog: To promote persistently, or to criticize or beat
Overlook: To supervise, or to neglect
Oversight: Monitoring, or failing to oversee
Throw out: To dispose of, or to present for consideration

Whatever the word was, it was apparently an oopsa-doopsa. (And I can definitely see that castrating rather than fixing might have caused a big financial problem.)

When such misunderstandings happen, it’s usually the native speakers who are to blame. Ironically, they are worse at delivering their message than people who speak English as a second or third language, according to Chong.

“A lot of native speakers are happy that English has become the world’s global language. They feel they don’t have to spend time learning another language,” says Chong. “But… often you have a boardroom full of people from different countries communicating in English and all understanding each other and then suddenly the American or Brit walks into the room and nobody can understand them.”

I have experienced a variant of this phenomenon.

In France, I have actually had quite an understandable conversation in French –  largely because the person I was speaking with was a native German speaker. Years ago, in Italy, I communicated quite easily in pidgin German with an Italian.

In both cases, we spoke slowly, with a limited vocabulary, and in one tense.

On the other hand, when we’re wagging your native tongue, it seems, we:

…often talk too fast for others to follow, and use jokes, slang and references specific to their own culture…In emails, [we] use baffling abbreviations such as ‘OOO’, instead of simply saying that they will be out of the office.

And, given our world dominance, it’s us native English speakers – Brits and Americans alike – that are “the world’s worst communicators.”

The good news?

Jean-Paul Nerriere has devised Globish — a new easier form of English, stripped down to 1,500 words and simple but standard grammar — as a tool.

Now that’s worth exploring.

Maybe by the next time I’m someplace “foreign”, I’ll be speaking fluent Gloish.

Ciao! (Or is it chow?)





Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The old piano roll Rhapsody in Blues

I got a card in the mail the other day. Nothing personal: Maureen Rogers or Current Resident. But the offer sure was interesting.

Did I want to have Vladimir Horowitz perform at my holiday party?

Well, maybe if he can tickle the ivories and give us “Christmas in Killarney,” “Good King Wenceslas”, and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” And, for an encore, how about “Little St. Nick”

Would having George Gershwin play a medley of his Broadway hits impress my friends when they visit?

Georgie Gershwin? Playing “Someone to Watch Over Me” (sniff, sniff)? “I’ve Got a Crush On You, Sweetie Pie”? That would be ‘s wonderful. I would be rhapsodizing in blue all over the place.

How about spending an evening relaxing while Thelonius Monk serenades me with some cool jazz piano?

I would be donning my shades and my finest black turtleneck if that cool cat showed up chez moi. Snap, snap.

But, say, isn’t Thelonius Monk, like, dead, daddy-o? Vladimir Horowitz, too. And I seem to remember Georgie Gershwin breathing his last in some old b&w weeper they used to show on Boston Movietime.

Ah, worry not.

These and other pianists – dead and alive – can play on your very own piano, thanks to the marvels of technology, as realized by the Steinway Spirio.

“The world’s first ultra-high resolution re-performance piano…Spirio recreates live performances by world-renowned artits, right down to the subtlest nuance, right in our own home, on your own piano. It’s not a recording, it is a virtual live performance.”

Alas, Horowitz, Gershwin, and Monk don’t come cheap – even if it’s a re-performance - especially when you factor in that you can also get Anderson & Roe playing Katchaturian’s “Sabre Dance,” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Mambo” from West Side Story.

I know that these are available, because they’ll be performed this Thursday at a demo (concert?) at Steinert Hall in Boston, part of M. Steinert and Sons, less than a two minute walk from where I live. (And soon, alas, to go out of business. Probably because more and more people are having virtual piano played for them than are playing piano for themselves.)

Anyway, back to ‘don’t come cheap’. A Spirio will cost you about $110K. So not exactly a stocking-stuffer. But you can also play it for yourself, and given that a regular, non-virtual Steinway concert grand will set you back maybe $80K, what’s $30K on the margin? And I’d sure rather listen to Anderson & Roe playing “Mambo” than listen to myself play “Chopsticks,” “Heart and Soul”, and a bit of “Frankie and Johnny”, which are pretty much the only tunes I have to show for my five years of piano lessons.

In my defense, I didn’t take from a real music school. The organist for our parish gave lessons in the living room of her flat in a three-decker right next to our school, and a lot of us went there for a buck a throw. She wasn’t much of a teacher, nor was I much of a student. (Practice? Are you kidding? Not when there are Nancy Drew books to read.) All she ever told me was that I had good rhythm. (Should have taken up the drums…) And all I ever wanted out of a piano lesson was catching sight of one of her cute high-school aged sons.

I’m actually thinking of going to the demo.

Never saw Glenn Gould perform. I would like to hear his “Well Tempered Clavier” played virtually on a really well-tempered clavier.

Bravo, bravo, bravissimo!

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

And to think that I almost ordered me one…

If you watch any TV at all, you may have seen the ad. Make that, if you watch any TV at all, you’ve no doubt seen the ad. (Even if you never turn on Fox, which is where the most heavy advertising is done.)

Mr. Midwest Nice Guy is on there, touting the glories of My Pillow, a “patented open-cell, poly-foam design” created by himself, Mr. Midwest Nice Guy, Mike Lindell of Chaska, Minnesota. With My Pillow – gloriously making America great again by being made right here in the good old US of A – Mr. Lindell promised you a money-back guarantee good night’s sleep.

Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod, in the form of a couple of consumer protection groups, weren’t so convinced. In fact, they were pretty certain that My Pillow might not be any more effective than counting sheep. (Or than my favorite remedy: turning the light on and reading)

My Pillow claimed it could prevent sleep loss associated with insomnia, restless leg syndrome, neck pain, fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, migraines and other ailments. This caught the skeptical eye of consumer watchdog group Truth in, which investigated the claims and argued there was no support from scientific evidence. (Source: Washington Post.)

In truth, I don’t really need My Pillow. I don’t have insomnia, restless leg syndrome, neck pain, fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, or migraines. And since I don’t really have to keep to much of a schedule, if I can’t sleep, I just get up, turn on the light, read for a while, and promise myself a lie-in or nap if I end up feeling sleep deprived. Still, I did see the ad and, as I needed a couple more pillows, I did consider ordering one. Made in the US appealed, as, frankly, did the idea of the guy who invented it being the front man for it. But it’s actually easier to pick a pillow up, using one of the continual stream of coupons I get from them, at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Plus, legging it out the BB&B gives me a decent enough walk that I’m bound to get a good night’s sleep, even if I’m on a bed (or pillow) of nails.

But, as another TV advertising pitchman used to claim, wait, there’s more. I was going to call the late Billy Mays a huckster, but I use OxyClean prewash on stains, and it does pretty much seem to work. Not so much My Pillow. also took issue with the fact that Lindell used the title of “sleep expert,” though he had no formal training as such. My Pillow promoted itself as the official pillow of the National Sleep Foundation — without disclosing the company had a financial relationship with the organization. The consumer group said it supplied information from its investigation to officials in California, one of the states where My Pillow advertises.

Lindell may not be a sleep expert, but he’s got TV promotion down pat. Since 2005, he’s sold 18 million of those pillows, and his company has been raking in $100M for the last few years.

But then he got 10 DA’s in California suing his company for “deceptive and false advertisements.”

On the same day that the district attorneys filed the suit, My Pillow settled for civil penalties amounting to $1,095,000, $995,000 of which will be allocated to the California counties. The settlement also appears to have smothered the pillow company’s public relationship with the National Sleep Foundation. said that prior to the suit, the foundation sold the pillows on its website but it no longer does so.

National Sleep Foundation: tsk, tsk, tsk. You really should have known better. Bet this situation has caused some sleepless nights over there.

As for My Pillow, for now it’s stopped making its fake-o medical claims, and will cease and desist until and unless it actually has proof from clinical trials that the pillow actually does provide relief from fibromyalgia, etc.

Lindell has put out a statement, of course, indicating that they settled to avoid a protracted, expensive court battle, and that they were not admitting anything.

But this can’t be helping their business any. Nor can Lindell’s endorsement of Donald J. Trump, famous for his stronger-than-the-norm preference for sleeping in his own bed. Although I’m sure that any business lost was counterbalanced by Trump U grads who decided to make a purchase. No more tossing and turning over whether your investment in a Trump U “degree” was paying off…

It will be interesting to see whether My Pillow will actually take a hit.

The more that I think about it, the less likely I think it will. We do seem to have an awful lot of people out there who don’t seem to mind being conned. Especially if they think they can get a good night’s sleep out of it.

And a tip of the night-cap to my sister Kath, who sent this one my way, captioned “Shill of the Day.” I’ll say.


Monday, November 07, 2016

In case you were wondering

Ordinarily, Pink Slip at least somewhat avoids politics. But this is no ordinary election. So just in case you were wondering:


Yep, Pink Slip’s with her.

Giving new meaning to the term ‘vintage clothing’

I have a sweater that I wore on my first trip to Berlin. Black wool, with a multi-color stripey design. That was over New Year’s, 1989-1990, when The Wall was falling. I have at least one sweater – purple cotton-silk with pink and green intarsia flowers - that predates that sweater. I remember wearing it when I worked at Wang. When I did my closet summer-winter reversal last week, I took a raft of items that I hadn’t worn for 10+ years and brought them over to St. Francis House, including a quite nice navy blue skirt that I last recall wearing around the year 2000. (In fact, that last time I remember wearing it, I had somehow forgotten to zip it up and, when I walked back to my office after making my first-thing cup of tea, the skirt fell down and landed in a navy blue puddle around my ankles. Double fortune: I had a slip on, and it was 7:30 a.m. and no one was around.) Having jettisoned that skirt, the only vintage bottom I still have is a pair of LL Bean khaki Capri pants that I bought in 2001. (I remember the year because, right after my mother died, my sister Kath had the family down to her house in Hull, where she was then living, for a post-funeral chill out. Oddly enough, without having co-ordinated anything, Kath, Trish and I all showed up one day wearing identical khakis. And identical checked shirts, only in different colors.)

What I don’t have is any vintage jeans.

If I did have some of my 60’s and 70’s bell-bottoms or boy jeans, one thing would be abundantly clear: they would no longer fit me. And the ones from later on just plain wore out. When you wear something all the time – as I do with jeans, for the most part – they don’t last the same way that, say, a navy skirt unworn since the year 2000 would. Levis

But someone who’s an even better clothing saver than I am managed to hang on to a pair of 1893 Levi’s, and they’ll be going up for auction at a Maine auction house. If the jeans look like new, that’s because they were only worn a couple of times before finding their way into a trunk. The jeans are expected to fetch a reasonably high price:

A pair of 501 jeans manufactured in the 1880s sold for $60,000 to a Japanese collector in 2005, [Auctioneer Daniel Buck] Soules said, and another pair, from 1888, sold six months ago for six figures. (Source: Bloomberg)

A new pair of 501s goes for about $40 – not far off the $1.25 that they would have cost in 1880, adjusted for 2016 dollars. So $60K was definitely an excellent return.

Whatever the “new” vintage jeans go for, unless you’re the size of Man Mountain Dean, you may not be able to actually wear them, even if you could talk your way around the inconvenience of the button fly. (Let’s hear it for the zipper: zip, zip, hooray!)

The cotton jeans with button fly feature a size 44 waist and 36-inch inseam.

The original owner was one Solomon Warner, “who participated in the creation of the Arizona Territory… Warner established one of the first stores selling American goods in Tucson, and he survived being shot in an ambush by Apache Indians in 1870.”

Well, Solomon Warner sounded interesting enough to merit a Google. Turns out that surviving an Apache ambush and helping create the Arizona Territory were was just two of the interesting things about Warner.

Warner was one of the original ‘Go West, young man’ guys. Born in Warnerville, NY, by the time he was in his twenties, he was Mark Twain-ing it, working on river boats on the Mississippi. He was a Forty-Niner, part of the California Gold Rush. And he then headed South, to the Isthmus of Panama and Nicaragua.

After making his way back to America, he worked for the Army, which took him to Fort Yuma. There, he took up with a couple of merchants, and ended up leading a 13-mule train “loaded with merchandise for Tucson,” arriving just about the time that Mexican troops vamoosed. In Tucson, Warner opened a store, ”becoming the town's first merchant to sell goods originating from the United States.”

Warner decamped Tucson during the Civil War. Good Yankee fellow that he was, he refused to take a loyalty oath to the Confederacy when Southern troops occupied Tucson. While sitting out the war in Mexico, “he met and married a wealthy widow.” Back in Tucson once the rebellion was over, he was involved in a number of ventures, including farming, cattle ranching, and flour milling. Somewhere in there, he was wounded by Apaches.

And somewhere else in there, when he was in his early eighties, Solomon Warner bought those fly-front jeans. (I’m quite sure I’m not the only one delighted to read that it’s okay to wear jeans, even if you’re in your eighties. Warner,quite impressively, lived to the great old age of 88. At the time he was born, the average U.S. male’s life span was 64.)

Apparently too preoccupied with his next big idea – an “obsession…[that] was such that he neglected to eat and sleep properly in order to spend more time on the venture”, Solomon Warner lost interest in wearing those jeans. The obsessional venture, by the way, was an attempt to build a perpetual motion machine. (Was he the inventor of Albert the Bobbing Duck?)

Perhaps it was that neglecting to eat that did the jeans in. Presumably, someone neglecting to eat might find himself slimming down, and no longer able to fill out a size 44 pair of jeans. Someone carefully packed them away in a trunk, and here they are, nearly 125 years later, looking for a buyer.

No, I will not be bidding. I have all the jeans I need, thank you. And a size 44 men’s would be outright useless, even if I was willing to put up with the fly front. (Not.)

I find this an altogether delightful story: river boat, Gold Rush, mule train, Confederate loyalty oath, wealthy Mexican widow, Apaches. And, of course, the culmination: the perpetual motion machine. A Zelig-esque larger than life…

They just don’t make Americans (or jeans) the way they used to…

Source of all the info on Warner: Wikipedia.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Air supply and demand

While we don’t have the world’s best air quality – that would be Iceland and Canada – mostly it’s pretty okay, thanks, of course, to the Clean Air Act. Yes, there are still some places where you can bite the air – cities like Bakersfield and Modesto in California’s Central Valley, where, because of the geographical configuration, big city pollution wafts in and gets trapped.

But we’re not in Zabol, Iran, which has the world’s worst air. (And, I’m guessing the world’s worst, or nearly so, when it comes to plenty of other things we take for granted). Or in Beijing, which – while it’s not among the absolute worst in terms of air quality – still has plenty of days when residents are advised to stay inside and/or to wear masks.

But help is on the way. If you want to buy a breath of fresh air, there are a number of bottlers lining up to sell it to you. You can get a six-pack of Bondi Beach air from an Australia’s Green and Clean, which VA_Air_8L_5packconsider themselves air farmers. At $46.15 a six-pack (roughly $35 US), this is something of a bargain. But if Bondi Beach isn’t to your liking.  Vitality Air sells Canadian Rockies air from Banff. Alas, no distributor on the East Coast. There are a couple out West, where they have more of a problem. But you can order a five-pack online for $130 Canadian (about $98 US). Pricier than the Australian, but, then again, Canadian air is better than Australian air.

For those who want to go even more upscale, Aethaer is selling more rarified air. Or at least something bottled in a more precious way. aethaerI mean, who wouldn’t be willing to pay 80 British pounds ($100 US) for a pint o’ Dorset air?

The company’s 28-year-old founder, Leo De Watts, said he hoped buyers would come to regard his product as a collectible, like a “sculpture or a limited-edition print made by an artist.”

“Clean air is actually a very rare commodity,” he said. (Source: NY Times, by ungated way of the Honolulu Star Advertiser.)

After this build up, I really did need to see what Aethaer has to say for itself:

AETHAER is collected from fresh natural air flowing over a range of prime locations, from fertile lush pastures and wild untouched meadows, to wind-kissed hilltops and heavenly snow-capped mountains. AETHAER is filtered organically by nature as it flows between the leaves of woodland trees, absorbs pristine water as it passes over babbling brooks and forest streams, and is lovingly caressed as it rolls over and between mineral rich rock formations, after which it is blown up over vistas of untouched beauty to where the AETHAER is collected and bottled.

Wind-kissed hilltops. Heavenly snow-capped mountains. Babbling brooks. Lovingly caressed.

Somebody could use a copy-writer who doesn’t specialize in purple prose. Just sayin’.

And for all the grandiose, la-di-da talk, Aethaer looks to me like a Mason jar with some printing on it. Not exactly “sculpture or a limited-edition print.” And, at $100 a Mason jar, I’d say it’s about $85 over my gag-gift limit.

Anyway, I’m trying to envision how the air is collected, and the only image I can come up with is butterfly nets which, for obvious reasons, wouldn’t work.

Bottled air is just one of a number of “pollution-fighting tools” that are increasingly coming to market in the polluted precincts of China and India. Most of them are a bit more down-to-earth than bottled air.

Bottled air is one of the least practical but most talked-about ideas. It can hardly replace the local atmosphere – one person would require at least eight to 10 bottles a minute to breathe. But residents in smoggy places are snapping up the stuff anyway.

Eight to ten bottles a minute? Even with the low-end Bondi Beach air, that comes up to about $3K/hour.

Of course, users don’t breathe it regularly, but limit themselves to a few hits a month. But some of those who do so believe it does make them feel better.

Still, it’s hard to believe that this is going to be all that much of a market for these cans, bottles, and jars of air. If things get that bad, wouldn’t it be cheaper just to get yourself an oxygen tank?

Once again, a big gulp of pure air thanks to my sister Kath for pointing this article out to me.