Friday, October 20, 2017

Even a cat lover might give pause (paws?)

Let’s make one thing clear: dog person here, not cat person.

Sure, cats are beautiful, and they’re interesting to watch. But I hate when they jump up on the bed in the middle of the night and purr in your ear. Then there’s the whole Kitty Litter thing. Yep, it’s easier than getting up and taking the pup for a “walk” in a sleet storm. But who wants to be sifting littered turds out morning, noon, and night?

And, as I’ve read, cats spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to kill their owners, which they would apparently do if only they were bigger, like the size of a Bengal tiger.

Bottom line on the old pet front: I much prefer the affection and sweetness of dogs. If you’re going to go through the trouble of having a pet, you might as well have one who actually likes and appreciates you.

But if I did have a cat, I can guarantee that I wouldn’t be buying a Licki Brush. licki brush

Licki Brush, you may well be asking.

The Licki Brush is a tongue-shaped, silicone device with really pronounced taste buds. The user slips it over their tongue, and licks their cat. Sort of like a cat licks itself. Or a mother cat licks her kittens. Only this time, it’s a human licking a cat.

Because, apparently, there are plenty of cat lovers out there who have actually licked their cat and ended up with a hairball. Okay.

Jason and Tara O’Mara (a couple, no surprise here, from Portland, Oregon) pitched the idea on Shark Tank last winter, but they got no takers. But there’s always Kickstarter, and they managed to raise $52K so that folks could start getting their licks in.

Cats groom each other as a form of social bonding. There's also evidence to suggest that cats view and treat their human captors as large cats. As a human, you're left out of the intimate licking ritual. At best, you have a one-sided licking relationship with your cat.

My goodness. Concerned about being “left out of the intimate licking ritual”? Yowza. I’m going to state here and now that I can’t imagine wanting to be part of any intimate animal ritual.

Decades ago, a dog – a dog who was a stranger – tried to hump my leg. Buzz off, Fido. Find one of your own or a telephone pole. Another time – and this was one of the weirder experiences of my life – I was scratching the belly of a young male bonobo (pygmy chimpanzee). He was enjoying himself immensely. So immensely that he grabbed one of my hands with one of this feet and quickly dragged it down so it was touching his boy toy. No thanks.

I guess I’m just not into animal intimacy. My bright line is this: human intimacy only.

But for those who crave pet intimacy:

…you'll develop a more intimate and bonded relationship…

Of feline bondage!

I believe that the Kickstarter campaign may be over, but if you’d thrown in $35, you got 2 Licki Brushes. One for you and one “for a friend or significant other. Give your cat the joy of a 2-tongue massage.”

Okay. Now we’re in complete OMG territory.

Bad enough to be doing the cat licking all by your lonesome (save for the cat). But with your significant other? Maybe I’m just a prude-y old prude. One of one is close enough to bestiality. This is approaching bestiality groupie-ness.


If you want to learn more, here’s the O’Maras website.

By the way, it’s not just for cat lovers. The O’Maras suggest that you could use it on a dog or a bunny rabbit, too.

Never in a million years.

But, gee, the world sure is an endlessly interesting place.

This is an old story, more than a year old now. Maybe I should watch Shark Tank. But I would have missed it entirely were in not for my friend Valerie who commented on it when she saw it on Facebook. Thanks, V.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Mulan Sezchuan Sauce and the Madness of Crowds

Starting from the top:

Yes, I do know who/what Mulan is. I have two Millennial nieces, so of course I do.

No, I had never heard of Mulan Szechuan Sauce from McDonald’s. When I pay my annual call on McDonald’s, I go for a Quarter Pounder, not Chicken McNuggets with dipping sauce. Plus, it was only offered briefly, nearly 20 years back, as a Disney tie in with McD’s. So, had I ever heard of Mulan Szechuan Sauce? Of course not.

No, I had no idea who/what “Rick and Morty” is/are. Something that I now know has to do with Adult Swim, a cartoon Network show for grownups.  Which I had heard of, because a decade ago, some Adult Swim-mers placed something that looked like a bomb under an elevated Boston highway. Those is the know thought it was just HI-larious. Foolish old fogeys thought it was a bomb. Silly us! Anyway, “Rick and Morty” is a cartoon on Adumulan saucelt Swim.

The story is that last spring, “Rick and Morty” started agitating for the return of the Mulan Szechuan Sauce. petition and all. ( is generally used by social justice warriors on behalf of noble causes like getting Harvey Weinstein booted from the vaunted Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, not for frivolous initiatives like bringing back Mulan teriyaki dipping sauce.)

McDonald’s did just that, and apparently a goodly proportion of the nearly 45,000 signatories of the “Rick and Morty” petition showed up at their local McD’s to get them theirs, only to find that the allocation per store had been a meager 20 packets. And not all locations got them. There were near riots, fights broke out, counters were jumped, and windows banged on. The cops were called in to at least one McDonald’s outlet. It almost goes without saying that people took their rage to Twitter. Here’s one:

Fuck off @McDonalds - less than 20 packets of Szechuan sauce per store, sold out before the onsale time? Way to be a Jerry #boycottmcdonalds. (Source: Huffington Post)

Mulan Szechuan sauce. “Rick and Morty.” And, now, yet another cultural reference I’m missing. Way to be a Jerry? Even Google was no help to me here. The closest I came was the Urban Dictionary: “Jerry: A sexy beast, good with the ladies and with a 8-inch wang.” And a guy, tweet that like it’s supposed to be a bad thing? I’m definitely missing something here. Maybe he meant “way to be a Jerry Lewis,” which was never a good thing, and is even worse now that M. Lewis is dead.

McDonald’s, of course, tweeted out their response:

“The best fans in the multiverse showed us what they got today,” McDonald’s tweeted in apology. “We hear you & we’re sorry not everyone could get some super-limited Szechuan.”

And now they are promising to bring back Szechuan sauce, in ample supply, this winter.

Meanwhile, the new packets, given the madness of crowds, turn out to be worth something. One woman scarfed down her packet before realizing they were fetching $300. And Rachel Marie of Rick and Morty sauce packMichigan, who was lucky enough to get a hold of this precious item, “managed to parlay it into a car.”

That’s right, a car. She posted a picture proving that she’d gotten her hand on a packet, and found a guy willing to trade for it with a 2000 VW Golf.

“He was a dedicated fan of the show and already had a second car.”

Business Insider interviewed the man, who did not give permission for his name to be used. He justified the seemingly imbalanced trade by telling the outlet he “just needed me some friggin sauce!!” (Source: HuffPo again)

Maybe Rachel should have held on to it for a while longer. I mean, a 2000 VW Golf is nice and everything. And definitely worth more than a tiny little old sauce packet. But someone supposedly paid $14K for a nearly 20 year old original sold on eBay.

Ah, the madness of crowds!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Who doesn’t want to be Bertha when they grow up?

My cousin Mary Beth lives on the Cape, and has these wonderful next door neighbors. Lew and Paul spend part of the year in Massachusetts, and part of the year in Florida, where they have their businesses. And where they have Lew’s mother.

I haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting Bertha Gordon, but Mary Beth knows her well from Bertha’s frequent visits up north. My sister Kathleen and her husband Rick got to meet her recently, and reported that Bertha is, as advertised, amazing – from her delightful personality and sense of humor, right down to the coral suede flats that matched her sweater. I’m hoping to meet Bertha on her holiday swing this way. Can’t wait.

But what’s amazing about Bertha Gordon is not that, at 92, she remains with it, engaging, perky, and nattily dressed. It’s what she’s still managing to do at 92 that has me in awe. What Bertha does is volunteer. Make that VOLUNTEER with a capital V-O-L-U-N-T-E-E-R.

Bertha’s volunteering attracted some recent attention when, while Irma was battering Florida, she managed to get into the Delray Medical Center in Delray Beach and get to work. Here’s some of what Tenet Health wrote about Bertha:

Even in the midst of Hurricane Irma, Delray Medical Center’s 92-year-old volunteer, Bertha Gordon, continued to volunteer her time at the hospital’s ER making beds, visiting with patients and helping to provide the best patient experience possible.  Gordon wears many hats at Delray Medical –delrayvolunteer3 she is President of the Auxiliary, Star Walker, Golf Tournament organizer, Santa’s elf, and emergency department volunteer. For a little lady, she packs a lot of energy. Her 26 years and almost 7,000 hours of volunteer experience at Delray Medical Center has taught her that you always get back more than you give. (Source: Tenet Health)

Little lady – they ain’t kidding. Bertha is under 5 feet tall and weighs about 80 lbs. And 7,000 hours, even spread over 26 years, is pretty darned impressive. That’s an average of five hours a week. Which is a lot. And the ER isn’t exactly the least stressful place in the hospital to hang out. My husband and I logged a few sessions in the MGH ER during the years of his illness, and, if Delray Medical Center is anything like MGH, we’re talking lots of people buzzing around, bad lighting, and lots of noise.

Hospital volunteering isn’t it for Bertha. In addition to the two days she’s working at the hospital, she logs another two days in the nurse’s office of a local elementary school. And, just so the fifth potential workday in the workweek doesn’t go to waste, she spends another day making dolls for kids with cancer.

What a lazy bones! What a slouch!

When you’re working full time, you’re always sort of thinking about packing it in. But maybe no so much time thinking about what you’re going to pack into all those hours that were once consumed by working, getting ready for work, commuting to work, commuting back home from work, thinking about work, worrying about work, bitching about work, etc.

Having gone freelance in my fifties, I got a head start on what to do when you’re not being consumed by all of the above.

Right now, I have managed to come up with a pretty good mix. Enough freelance work to keep my hand in (and some coin in the piggy bank), and enough volunteer work to get me out of the house and with other people – which, given that I work from home and can go weeks without having any contact with clients that’s not via email,is important.

Don’t know if I’ll make it to 92. But if I do, I definitely know I won’t be adorbs – that ain’t never going to happen. And these size 11-double A flat feet will definitely not be in cute coral flats. They’ll be in ugly, sensible shoes. Kind of like they are now. But how great would it be, getting out there five days a week, doing things with it for other people, staying active, staying engaged, staying in the game. Maybe it’s not what everyone wants, but I sure wouldn’t mind being Bertha Gordon when I grow up.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Forget Friday party, how about onsite gift-wrapping

My career was in technology, but that was before companies went benefits- and perk-crazy.

Oh, we had out bennies.

I worked for two companies founded by the same guy, and which employed a lot of the same people, but at both places we had Friday Party, starting around 4 p.m. and featuring beer, wine, junk food, and – in the early days – a few joints. In one – or it may have been both – we had video games in the kitchen.

The execs at these outfits got a few more perks. I remember that there was some controversy about the president’s taxidermy bill being paid. (I never learned what was being taxidermed.)

Other places I worked were a bit stodgier, and the benefits packages tended to be the standard: health insurance, vacation days, etc.

But today’s young whippersnappers, those startup upstart Millennials want more.

With an unemployment rate of just 3.4 percent in Boston, companies are vying to stand out to prospective hires, and hold on to the people they’ve already got. But the candy buffets, beer taps, and work-from-home policies that helped companies differentiate themselves a decade ago are today unremarkable. Some employers are now dangling free Hubway bike-rental memberships, pet insurance, birthdays off, a stocked seltzer fridge, paid college coaching for your kids, free onsite gift-wrapping around the holidays, and “dream vacation” bonuses — like $7,000 on your seventh anniversary with Cogo Labs, a startup creation firm in Cambridge. (Source: Boston Globe)

Onsite gift-wrapping? Last week I wrote about consumer goods companies offering training and services to Millennials who don’t know how to mop floors. So I guess it’s no surprise that they wouldn’t know how to wrap gifts, either. Or maybe they just don’t want to. I actually enjoy the start of gift-wrapping, but, as with apple picking, it gets old fast. For apple picking, which my family only tried a couple of times (if that: it may have been once), we were all gung-ho for the first couple of apples. But by the time you picked your third Mac, it was pretty darned boring. And that bushel basket that my parents wanted filled was starting to look like a bottomless pit. And so it goes with gift-wrapping. I enjoy the first couple of gifts, but by the time I’m wrapping gift number four, I’ve about had it. And I don’t even give that many Christmas gifts. But, of course, the tedium of gift-wrapping is why God gave us gift bags. So tell me why anyone needs gift-wrapping when there are perfectly good gift bags, and perfectly good tissue paper, out there.

Other perky benefits being offered around her:

Employees at Piaggio Fast Forward, a Boston innovation center run by the maker of Vespa scooters and Moto Guzzi motorcycles, can borrow a set of wheels for a road trip. Hudl, a sports analytics startup with a Boston office, covers the cost of employee tickets to sports events. Several local companies offer in-office haircuts, manicures, and pedicures, and a few give employees free use of one of the boss’s vacation homes after a certain number of years of service.

Well, the mani-pedis sound fine, but that latter one I could live without. Maybe I’ve just got Harvey Weinstein on my brain, but I’m struggling to think of something creepier than sleeping in a senior executive’s bed, even in their absence. From  the exec’s side, would they really want employees snooping around their home-aways? Sure there are locked closets, but look what I found.

For corporate benefits, however, the big wins aren’t from offering gift-wrapping and pet insurance. It’s all about the flexibility.

“Flexibility has become the most important benefit,” says Audrey Lampert, a human resources consultant who has worked with startups and larger employers like Biogen.

That may mean time off to volunteer with a nonprofit (employees of the Needham software maker PTC get two days a year, on the company’s dime), a concierge service that can find a last-minute baby sitter, or a company-paid ride to work in a bus equipped with Wi-Fi.

One company in the article offers a four-day workweek. I had that as an off-the-books, between-me-and-my-boss benefit that last time I had a full-time corporate job. I had to call into an occasional Friday morning meeting, but other than checking email a few times, that was it. And not having to sit in traffic on 93 on Friday evening. Priceless.

Remote working is another benefit. It’s been around for a while, but it’s become more generally accepted. (Even though some companies – was it Yahoo!? – have put the kibosh on it.)

Me? I’m self-employed, so whatever perks and benefits I have are self-granted and self-funded. But I do have to say that nothing beats the flexibility. I may be sitting there on a Saturday night working on a datasheet for a client, but if I want to loll in bed on Tuesday and then go for a leisurely, 10,000 Fitbit step walk, it’s just there for the asking.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The little-to-no sympathy list addition: Jeremiah Cottle

I’m generally a pretty sympathetic person, but I do have a list of those for whom I feel no sympathy. Donald, Ivanka, Don Jr., and Eric are on the list. Tiffany and Barron are not. Melania hovers between the no sympathy and the sympathy lists. I get all sympathetic for her – can you imagine being married to him? – and then I remember that she defended birtherism. So, mostly, no.

It’s good to take a fresh look at the list every once in a while, to make a few deletes and adds. So today I’m adding Jeremiah Cottle.

Unlike the above crew, with whom we’re all on a first name basis, Jeremiah Cottle requires some explanation.

Cottle is the inventor of the bump stock, the wonderful little device that was used by Las Vegas massacre psychopath Stephen Paddock to convert his semiautomatic rifle into a full-on machine gun.

“I built something,” Cotter gripes, “And a madman [that would be Paddock] is taking it all away.” (Source: Bloomberg)

Oh, boo hoo.

The something that Cotter built is a company called Slide Fire®. It’s motto – FREEDOM UNLEASHED – might just was well be LIFE TAKEN AWAY, but at Slide Fire®: 

We are proud to offer products that are made here in the United States and assembled by hard working Americans…Jeremiah Cottle, inventor and President of Slide Fire®, honorably served our country via the United States Air Force for 9 years…The honor, commitment, and perseverance that is practiced in our US Military, is carried over to the core beliefs and practices of our company.

Well, guess he won’t be taking a knee anytime soon.

But that’s fine. Who’s going to argue with honor, commitment, and perseverance as core values, even though it’s all in the definition. (I won’t go into what I think “hard working Americans” stands for.)

Cottle thought up the bump slide in 2005 – “a device that uses a rifle’s recoil, or bump, against a stiffened trigger finger to approximate automatic fire.”

By mid-2010, Cottle was ready to start selling his device, but he first needed clearance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. To comply with federal law, he simply needed to demonstrate that the bump stock was itself not a machine gun. In a letter to the ATF, Slide Fire argued that its product was an accessory to help people with disabilities who had difficulty firing the AR-15, a semiautomatic civilian version of the M-16 military assault rifle.

Who knows if the ATF bought that bit about the bump stock being an accessory for those with disabilities. Seriously, folks. If someone’s too disabled to fire an AR-15, maybe they shouldn’t be given access to something the equivalent of a fully automatic? Anyway, the ATF ruled that the bump stock is an accessory, not a firearm. Thus, they’re unregulated, unregistered, and maybe unprotected from immunity when sued.

Once it hit the market, the Slide Fire bump stock took fire. First year sales were $10-plus million. That’s the last year that sales figures were released for, but life has been good. And at first, the Las Vegas Massacre looked like it was going to turn things from good to great. Lots of gun people wanted what Stephen Paddock had and, naturally, they feared that the nanny-staters would probably start to try to restrict purchase. So, gimme bump stocks. On the secondary market, prices nearly doubled, then more than tripled, the typical retail price of $179.95.

But things go overwhelming, and Slide Fire had to put a halt to sales, not just for bump stocks, but for gear like pureamerican teethis Pure American tee shirt. In case you can’t see, hot dogs and Chevrolets have been dropped from the equation of what goes together, in the good ol’ USA, and the high-powered rifle added.

Meanwhile, there are concerns that the bump stock might become at least quasi-regulated. Even the NRA was making mild little moo-moo noises about it. Regulation won’t be good for Stock Fire. In fact, it might be too little, too late to save them. That’s because Stock Fire got itself into something of a Catch-22.

Because bump stocks are an accessory without functioning mechanical parts, the company may fall outside the protections of a 2005 federal law shielding gun and ammunition makers from being held liable for gun violence. On Oct. 6 three victims of the shooting filed a class-action suit against Slide Fire and unnamed manufacturers, accusing the industry of negligence. “Paddock could not have injured so many people without a bump stock,” the complaint states.

Cottle says that he’s received death threats, and that “people are coming after my kids.” No, he doesn’t deserve death threats, and leave those poor kids alone.

But surely someone who used the con of helping disabled gun enthusiasts to shoot faster to get the ATF to okay his invention is deserving of a place on my no sympathy list.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence is behind this suit, and they’re arguing that the bump stock shouldn’t get the immunity the guns and ammo do. See you in court, Jeremiah Cottle. Because if there’s one thing that’s as Pure American as baseball, apple pie, and turning semi-automatics into automatics, it’s the law suit.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Today’s a lot more than Friday the 13th

I love that, pretty much any day of the year, there’s something to celebrate. And today is especially rich in those sorts of somethings worth celebrating.

Who knew that October 13th is National No Bra Day? Who even knew this day existed?

Based on its name, you might think that this was a day that would hearken back to the 1960’s and 1970’s when, for some reason to do with women’s liberation that I can’t seem to recall (and probably couldn’t fathom even if were able to recall it), feminists often went without bras. I know that I did. Of course, it’s one thing to go bra-less when you’re in your twenties. quite another thing as life goes on. But even when I was in perky breast territory, I quickly found out that it wasn’t especially comfortable to go without a bra. I won’t get into the full deets, but I’ll throw one thing out there: you couldn’t wear anything the least bit scratchy. ‘Nuf said

For reasons of scratch, age, and propriety, I will not be going braless.

And while National No Bra Day is, in fact, a “day to leave your bra at home,” it’s mostly about reminding you to get a mammogram.

It’s also National Train Your Brain Day. Not a bad thing to observe, and I usually do something brain-train-ish every day.

There are many different ways to train your mind and improve your cognitive skills such as reading, word puzzles, number games, brain teasers, trivia games, riddles and word games.  Learning something new is another practice that is a benefit to everyone’s brain on National Train Your Brain Day (as well as any other day). (Source: National Day Calendar)

I will be doing a crossword puzzle and Sudoku. And finishing up Katy Tur’s Unbelievable, which recounts her time as the NBC reporter charged with following Donald Trump during the 2016 primaries and presidential campaign. (Katy Tur is a journalist that Trump bullied off and on, calling her a liar and encouraging his minions to turn on her. In one instance, she had to be escorted from a rally by the Secret Service.) The book is quite good, but also very painful. It should be something that you can breeze through in an evening, but I can only read a chapter or two at a time. I sure would be enjoying this a lot more if Trump had lost the election. Then again, if that had happened, I probably wouldn’t have bought it.

And it’s Navy Day, the day that the US Navy observes its birthday. I can thank the US Navy for my very existence, as my father met my mother when he was stationed in downtown Chicago (hey, there’s a lake out there, so of course the Navy was at Navy Pier) while in the Navy during WWII. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, my father volunteered to join the Army. (He was 29: it would have taken a while to get around to drafting him, but he wanted in.) Because Al had flat feet (thanks, Dad!),the Army wouldn’t take him. So he went over to the Navy recruiter and they signed him right up. Thus began 4 years, during which my father was stationed in Norfolk, Trinidad, and Chicago. As he used to say, you went where Uncle Sam sent you.

My father wasn’t any sort of gung ho’ Navy guy, but he was proud of his service, and there were remnants of the Navy all around. We had bookends, brass anchors, that my father had gotten during the war. (One of them is on my mantel.) Our picnic blanket/beach blanket was the cream colored (with navy stripe, stamped U.S. Navy) wool blanket that my father had been issued when he joined. I think we had two.

Other Navy stuff: My mother cut down my fathers old whites and blues to make clothing (white shorts, navy spring coats) for me and my sister Kath. And we wore his old white gob caps as suGog capmmer headgear. These Navy caps were quite popular among kids in the fifties. After all, pretty much every kid’s father had been in The War in some capacity. Those of us whose fathers had been in the Navy had the real deal, but they sold cheap knock offs that kids whose fathers had been in the boring old Army had to settle for.

Sometimes we wore them turned up, as pictured here. Somewhere around, I’ve got a really cute picture of my sister Kath sporting one. But mostly we wore them turned down, bucket style. High Baby Boomer fashion!

Another Navy artifact in our house was my father’s Bluejacket’s Manual, the handbook for U.S. Navy personnel that everyone in the Navy is issued. I have no idea what was in it, as you couldn’t actually take a look. What this thick, hardcover book was used for was to prop up the broken leg of a twin bed in the girls’ room that had been broken when we were jumping back and forth between beds.

Finally, for some odd reason, it’s also National Yorkshire Pudding Day.

Not to be confused with a dessert, Yorkshire Pudding is a traditional English dish similar to a popover made from a batter and usually served with roast meat and gravy.

Sounds like something that could be really scrumptious or god-awful. But I won’t be confusing it with a dessert. And speaking of desserts, tomorrow is National Dessert Day. Now you’re talkin’…

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Adulting is so hard…

I, for one, am delighted that the Millennials have replaced the Baby Boomers as the largest generational cohort. I realize that’s because we’re not just graying and fraying, we’re starting to die off. (Even if we weren’t dying off, even at our peak, there were never as many millions of us a there are Millennials.) Anyway, in terms of every other age cohort heaping on, despising us, making fun of us, etc., I’m guessing that there’s safety in declining numbers. Any day now, we’ll be cute. Lovable, even. People will forget to curse us for environmental depredation, the decline of the defined benefit pension plan, and Donald Trump. They’ll even start thanking us for liking the Beatles, turning Levis into an everyday garb, and organic oranges. And, of course, they’ll start dumping on the Millennials with greater vigor and relish than they now display when that generation’s name is mentioned.

Thus, I quite enjoyed a recent WSJ article on the “remedial education” that the Millennials require in order to attend to what used to be pretty ho-hum, everyday tasks.

Scotts Miracle-Gro offers gardening lessons that include tips “like making sure sunlight can reach plants.” (That or accept the fact that their garden will only be able to grow impatiens.) Scotts and other companies have had to act because:

This generation, with its over-scheduled childhoods, tech-dependent lifestyles and delayed adulthood, is radically different from previous ones. They’re so different, in fact, that companies are developing new products, overhauling marketing and launching educational programs—all with the goal of luring the archetypal 26-year-old…

Companies such as Scotts, Home Depot Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., Williams-Sonoma Inc.’s West Elm and the Sherwin-Williams Co. are hosting classes and online tutorials to teach such basic skills as how to mow the lawn, use a tape measure, mop a floor, hammer a nail and pick a paint color. (Source: Wall Street Journal, which requires a subscription – that or having your sister ask your brother-in-law to cut and paste the article and scoot it over to you.)

I’ll be the first to admit that when I was in my twenties, I could have used some advice from Sherwin-Williams when I went to pick the paint for my apartment’s bathroom. What I thought was going to be a soft coral turned out to be the same nasty pinky-orange that cheap plastic baby dolls used to come in. Painting over with a nice neutral beige worked just fine. But where would I have learned to pick a paint color? Not the place where I learned to “mow the lawn, use a tape measure, mop a floor, [and] hammer a nail”. My parents did wallpaper, so what I learned is how to look through a wallpaper book, okay? Other than that, like most Boomers (especially the older sibs of the female variety), I was more of less live-in help.

I learned how to to clean (dust and dust mop; vacuum; toilets, sinks, tubs, mirrors; scrub a floor; swab out a fridge; etc.). I learned how to do laundry (sort first), and, of course, how to iron. How to sew on buttons, hem a skirt, and make minor repairs. How to hang a picture and wire a lamp. What a tape measure is used for – and how to use one. How to polish shoes.

Unlike my sisters, I’m not much of a cook. I gravitated towards baking, which I’m pretty good at. But I know the cooking basics, and am plenty handy with a paring knife. I even know how to do things that no one needs to know in this day and age, like crack walnuts without damaging the pieces.

Unlike the folks that Scotts is coaching, I know how to weed and how to water plants.

I will admit that, when it comes to cleaning, I’m with the Millennials, who, according to P&G:

clean their homes differently from older generations. “We find that the younger generation is a bit more crunched for time and less likely to do a big, deep clean,” says Kevin Wenzel, an associate brand director for P&G’s North America surface care business.

Instead, millennials are more likely to clean as needed, which P&G calls “maintenance” cleaning. Swiffer advertisements this year highlight how its mops and dusters help “in the moment.”

In truth, some of the Millennials I know have pretty decent practical skillsets. They wouldn’t have picked that sad-ass bad baby doll color for the bathroom wall.

Still, interesting to read that, while “the kids” were growing up, a lot of them never learned how to mop a floor. (Ah, when I was a girl…)


And a big Pink Slip thanks to my sister – and fellow child indentured servant – Kath for this one.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Rent-a-shoe? Seriously?

I know, I know.

Folks rent bowling shoes. And ski boots.

But shoe-shoes?

No. Just no.

But DSW thinks that rent-a-shoe could be a winner for them.

“This is something we’ve had a lot of customers ask us for, particularly with special-occasion shoes,” said Christina Cheng, a spokeswoman for DSW. “When it comes to prom or a wedding or a special event, people are usually looking for a very specific shoe in a particular color, that matches a particular dress, that they probably won’t ever wear it again.” (Source: WaPo)

In Ireland and England, people wear big hats – think Ascot Races – to Princessweddings, and these you can rent. (Probably for Ascot, too.) Why, here’s Princess Beatrice, rocking quite the bit of headgear. She probably didn’t rent it. My guess is she was gifted with it. But this is the sort of chapeau that one does rent if one is not the royal type upon whose head someone might want to advertise their wares.

And I know that women are now renting pocketbooks. Louis-Vuitton-Limited-Edition-Masters-Da-Vinci-Speedy-30-Satchel_91594_front_large_0 (1)It didn’t take me long to find this charmer for rent to the tune of $350 a month. Which is a lot more than I’d ever pay for a bag. Then again, I’ve never had the hankering to tote Mona Lisa around on my wrist. Especially with that coral pink bunny dangling off of it. Say what?

So it does make some sense, I guess, to rent a shoe to wear to a wedding. But it still seems kind of gross.

I know it’s not underwear or a bathing suit – sorry – but it’s bad enough wearing rented bowling shoes, where you’ve got a white cotton tennis sock between you and whatever fungal matter that the spray they spritz the shoe with doesn’t get rid of. With a dress shoe, it’s bare naked tootsie (for the younger folks) or a thin sheer scrim of nylon stocking (for us old geezers).

Besides, shoes after they’re worn a few times start conforming to your foot. That’s why homeless shelters are only looking for gently worn shoes that have the potential to actually fit someone. As opposed to a broken-in shoe that can accommodate your flat feet, pronation, and bunions. A shoe broken in by the many, the great unwashed?

So I give this idea a capital Y Yuck. 

But, Cheng added, shoe rental — which the company will begin testing in coming months — also raises a number of logistical questions: How will stores know which styles and sizes to keep on hand? How will they clean them between uses? And how do you determine the cost-per-wear of a bedazzled stiletto?

Not my worry, of course. I suspect that, once the stores figure out which styles and sizes to keep on hand, 11 2A won’t be among them. So, even if I wanted to rent a shoe for the fancy dress ball I will never, ever in a million years go to, it probably won’t be available at DSW.

Anyway, it’s just one of the new ideas that DSW has come up with to get more boots on their ground. Another potential new offering is repair services, which seems like a good idea for those who don’t have the benefit of a very good shoe repair guy just around the corner. And DSW is thinking of putting the Warehouse back in DSW, and offering folks the ability to store their unused shoes there. (Note to shoe people: if you need to pay for warehouse space to store your shoes, you’ve got too many damned shoes.)

All part of the new up close and personal shopping encounter that up-and-coming shoppers are supposed to go ga-ga for.

“Today’s customer craves more than just a transaction, they want an experience,” Michele Love, the company’s chief operating office, said in a statement.

Just another way in which I’m not “today’s customer.” When I’m shopping for something, I want the something. Sure, I’m open to chatting with the clerk – especially on a day when I haven’t had contact with another soul. But I really don’t crave an experience.

Well, good luck to DSW. Shoe rental sounds like a non-starter to me, but what do I know? It’s their business to understand what today’s customer craves. If the rental shoe fits, I guess I’ve got to say ‘wear it.’

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Casting couch (or, at least now I know who Harvey Weinstein is)

Quick. Name a Hollywood producer who’s not mostly known for being an actor or a director?

Okay. I bet that last week, you probably couldn’t have. But today, there’s a pretty good chance you said Harvey Weinstein.

After all, his name has been all over the news lately, as one ex-employee and/or actress has come forth in “I’m Spartacus” manner to reveal that they had been harassed by Weinstein at some point over the past couple of decades.

The stories are, of course, gross: Weinstein asking young women trying to build their careers by working with or for the great Harvey Weinstein to meetings in the splosh hotel suite where he lived while in Hollywood. Once the young woman arrived, she was asked to massage his back. Or watch him shower. Or take a bath with him. Or whatever. Over the period of a couple of decades, his company settled with eight women (who took the money but were enjoined not to talk.) In perhaps the worst of the accusations, he cornered a journalist in a restaurant hallway and jerked off in front of her. Ewwww…..

So, a total pig. And a story we’ve heard way too many times before. In all sorts of industries, at all sorts of levels.

Forty+ years ago, a friend of mine worked for a while for a state government muckety-muck. I don’t think he was at a cabinet level, but he was pretty high up there. This guy used an intermediary – his right- hand man in the office – to approach my friend, and the euphemism that was employed was that Mr. Big wanted to know if the lowly female staffer in her twenties, the one he had his eye on, was someone who would “dance.”

Well, no, she wasn’t, and we, in fact, used to laugh about it. (When I see my friend this winter, I’ll have to put this on our catch-up-and-reminisce list.) But working for this a-hole made her uncomfortable, especially given that he deployed his right-hand man a couple of times to inform my friend about just how disappointed he was that she didn’t “dance.” (As far as I can tell, Mr. Big is still alive, but the right-hand man, who wasn’t that much older than we were, died over a decade ago.)

I worked at one tech company where the president was a particularly egregious jerk when it came to dealing with women. The stories about him were legion, especially the one about him hiring an office furniture sales person to come in and become his advisor on strategy. (It goes without saying that our company had nothing to do with her area of expertise in office furniture.) At a Christmas party, this guy asked a colleague of mine to dance. Given his reputation, my colleague was a bit uncomfortable and felt it was something of a command performance. (She was a fabulous ballroom dancer.) While they were dancing, he asked her out. She said “no”. (It goes without saying that he was married.) His response was, “You’d go out with me if I wasn’t the president of the company.” Unfortunately, my colleague had an esprit d’escalier moment, and didn’t come up with her rejoinder until after the dance was finished. What she wished she’d said was “If you weren’t the president, I wouldn’t have danced with you.”

I believe that things are getting a tiny bit better out there in the work world.

But here we have the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, still at it.

The latest on this saga is that, yesterday, Harvey Weinstein was fired by the board of the eponymous company (Weinstein Co.) he co-founded with his brother a decade or so ago. (Earlier, he’d started Miramax, which was bought out by Disney.)

Now, you tell me that the board wasn’t aware of Weinstein’s behavior until now.

Don’t they look through the financials? Are the general numbers so large that these payments just flowed through as “other”? And had they never heard rumors? Weinstein’s behavior was said to have been an open secret.

The truth is, of course, that all the publicity – the kick-off article in The New York Times and the kabillion stories that followed it – was what prompted this prompt board action.

Anyway, I’m not 100% certain I even knew who Harvey Weinstein was before I started seeing the stories. When I first heard the news, my reaction was “I thought he was gay,” because, of course, I was thinking of playwright and actor Harvey Fierstein. This, apparently, is happening a lot. Poor Harvey F!

But then I sort of vaguely recalled reading about him, and knowing that he’d produced some impressive films, including Good Will Hunting, and that he’d won a couple of Oscars. (The scuttlebutt is that he’s off the Oscar track for good, at this point.) And I sort of vaguely recalled that I’d seen him mentioned as a big donor to Democrats.

Well, now I know who he is.

Predictably, he has half-denied some of the allegations, and managed to blame it on

…coming of age “in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when all of the rules about behavior and workplaces were different,” an excuse that was widely viewed as tone deaf and offensive. (Source: LA Times)

I, too, came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, and I’m pretty sure that the rules about behavior and workplaces weren’t all that different. What was different was the willingness of women to shrug this crap off, chalk it up to boys being boys, and – if it got too outrageous – go somewhere else. (There may be too much overreaction these days – and I’m not talking Weinstein here; he’s a gross violator – but there was too much underreaction in my era, I’m afraid.)

Before he was ousted, Weinstein sent out a last-minute e-mail appeal to his Hollywood “friends,” asking them to help him out. Not surprisingly, the email was leaked:

My board is thinking of firing me. All I’m asking, is let me take a leave of absence and get into heavy therapy and counseling. Whether it be in a facility or somewhere else, allow me to resurrect myself with a second chance. A lot of the allegations are false as you know but given therapy and counseling as other people have done, I think I’d be able to get there.

I could really use your support or just your honesty if you can’t support me.

But if you can, I need you to send a letter to my private gmail address. The letter would only go to the board and no one else. We believe what the board is trying to do is not only wrong but might be illegal and would destroy the company. If you could write this letter backing me, getting me the help and time away I need, and also stating your opposition to the board firing me, it would help me a lot. I am desperate for your help. Just give me the time to have therapy. Do not let me be fired. If the industry supports me, that is all I need.

With all due respect, I need the letter today.

(Source: Hollywood Reporter)

Now he’s all about the heavy therapy and counseling.

Didn’t he read the script? That would have told him that this ain’t the 60’s and 70’s no more. “Heavy therapy”? Too little, too late.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Three day weekend

It’s a good long time since I worked a regular job, where you actually had to get up in the morning, go to work, and come home. Once you go freelance, you’re pretty much on flex time. I work at night so I can loll around in bed in the morning reading. I work on weekends so I can take a do-nothing day during the week. It is, altogether, a pretty splendid situation.

But if it’s been a good long time since I worked a regular job, it’s a gooder and longer time since that job entailed Columbus Day as a holiday. Somewhere along the line, every place where I worked converted the Columbus Day holiday day off to the day after Thanksgiving (much better) or Patriots Day (much, much better).

Yet, despite being a semi-retired freelancer, here I am, enjoying a three-day weekend.

Psychologically speaking, there is nothing like it. Knowing you have Sunday off makes Saturday a pretty awesome day, even on a mingy little two-day weekend. But Sunday, well, by mid-day you know it’s back-to-the-grind on Monday. Unless Monday is, blessedly, a holiday. Which it is for Presidents-with-one-exception Day, Patriots Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day.

I’m fine with keeping other holidays on their “real” day. I mean, the 4th of July is the 4th of July. And although no one knows for certain what day the birth of Christ actually occurred on – the odds are it wasn’t December 25th – I’m all in favor of keeping December 25th in Christmas. But it’s still great to have long weekends, and it’s always a bonus when July 4th and Christmas yield them.

Anyway, this Columbus Day I’m taking a do-little, holiday, noting that, on past Columbus Days I have often written about immigrants, and have even proposed that Columbus Day should be re-named Immigrants Day. Last year, I started calling it just that.

But I’ve been rethinking things and, if we’re not going to establish a new holiday to honor (and beg forgiveness from) the indigenous people that C. Columbus found when he arrived, maybe this should be their day. After all, they were here first.

As for Immigrants Day, how about rebranding Thanksgiving? After all, what most of the sons and daughters, the grandsons and granddaughters, the great-grandsons and great-granddaughters of immigrants, are thankful for is that those before them had the foresight and/or gumption and/or desperation to get out of the god-awful places where they lived. I’m the daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter of immigrants. My mother had no choice in the matter. She was carted along, age 4, with her parents. But my maternal grandparents, and paternal great-grandparents all got up and came here.

The only ancestral place I’ve been to is Ballintubber, Co. Mayo, from whence came my father’s grandmother, Margaret Joyce. The area is lovely, but until Ireland modernized a few decades ago, I’m quite sure living there provided a pretty hardscrabble, miserable existence. As did, no doubt, the other ancestral digs: Ballintubber, Co. Roscommon, and Ballymascanlon, Co. Louth in Ireland, and, on the German side, Neue Banat (which, after WWI, found itself in Romania - talk about hell-hole).

So Thanksgiving is the new Immigrants Day, got that?

And after today, I’ll try to stop thinking of this as Columbus Day, and give a nod to Indigenous People’s Day.

Happy Indigenous People’s Day, and happy long weekend. (Who doesn’t love a three-day weekend?)

Friday, October 06, 2017

What would you order to eat on YOUR private jet?

All the focus on our high-flying government officials buzzing around in private planes got someone at the Boston Globe wondering about what it is that fancy folks – other than our government officials, who I’m pretty certain, given their modest proclivities, just pick up a sandwich in the airport Sbarro’s – munch on when they’re on those private jets.

The answer is generally something a lot finer dining that what those of us who fly prole get. Which these days is a lot of nothing.

Airplane food is a funny thing, both funny peculiar and funny ha-ha. Other than a few edibles when I’ve flown first or business, the things I’ve eaten on planes over the years have been execrable. Bland, soggy, tough, tasteless. I was almost happy when American stopped serving “real” meals in steerage and went with a crappy Subway sandwich and some Sun Chips.

The truth is, of course, that I tend to eat at least part of whatever crappy food they put in front of me. Pasta of liquid consistency: right-o! Shred of brownish ice-berg lettuce: yum! Near-frozen roll: bring it on! (Just don’t break a tooth on it.) And let me tell you I’m always plenty happy to see a little wrapped up cheese and cracker thing-y, a tiny cup of yogurt.

Still, better off bringing your own, which for shorter hops (i.e., anything that doesn’t entail overnight) travelers increasingly do, because otherwise they won’t get fed. I’m fine with this. Oh, I don’t like the guy sitting next to me opening up and wolfing down a smelly tuna sandwich. Seriously, tuna sandwiches need to be put on the no-fly list. But I’m good with whatever I choose to bring on board. (Something non-odiferous from Au Bon Pain.)

If you’re fortunate enough to fly private jet around here, however, you may get catered by Rita’s Catering, which:

…serves aircraft operating in and out of Boston-area airports, including Logan, Hansom [sic: in real life it’s Hanscom], Beverly Municipal, and others… Chefs at Rita’s Catering’s main commissary in Everett fulfill all requests, whether it’s for grass-fed beef, escargots, or a simple honey-glazed doughnut. (Source: Boston Globe)

Owner Paul Rossi (Rita’s son) describes his clientele as “very elite.” And here’s what the very elite like to eat:

“This morning, we had a Saudi jet. The menu included no alcohol in any seasoning, fresh squeezed juices, filet mignon, and sugar-free desserts. They unloaded two containers of their own china for us to put the food on. It was a $3,000 order for one guy — the rest for the crew. We do whatever it takes. Jack Welch, former chief executive of GE, had peculiar taste — pasta with tomato sauce, Gummy Bears, and Jello. A health care tech executive wanted pig’s feet.

Other than the sugar-free desserts – that’s no fun – I think I’d rather fly with the Saudi guy than with Jack Welch (seriously, Jack, Gummy Bears are one thing, but Jello?), let alone with the exec who wanted pig’s feet.

Pig’s feet? Pig’s feet!

That’s another item that, along with the tuna sandwich, should be banned from flying.

I’ve actually never eaten pig’s feet, but for some reason – and it’s way too late to ask – my father found them a real delicacy. He’d buy an occasional jar, secure in the knowledge that no one in his family would be clamoring to share the snack. Maybe it’s an Irish thing. Maybe crubeens were a staple in his father’s saloon. But I can still picture what they looked like, in my mind’s eye, and the picture ain’t pretty. In fact, it’s pretty gag-inducing. (And I have a somewhat iron stomach.) I actually like pigs. And I do eat pork. But just think of where those trotters were trotting?)

Anyway, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever see the inside of a private jet, so I really shouldn’t worry about what I’d be served while in flight. But if I could request anything I wanted, it sure wouldn’t be pig’s feet.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Tragedy of the commons, or just plain laziness?

Recently, my brother-in-law sent me an article on eating donuts and drinking coffee at faculty meetings. Since the article was written by a professor, it quickly degenerated into an analysis of why a small bit of donut always stays on the plate, while the coffee pot is drained.

Coffee and donuts laid out at a meeting represent common pool resources (CPR). A CPR is defined as a resource that is non-excludable, yet rivaled. Non-excludability implies anybody in the room has open access to the resource; nobody, in essence, owns the resource and anybody can consume it. Rivaledness means that the resource is scarce and the more one person consumes, the less other people can enjoy. For every cup of coffee I drink, there is less for someone else.

The combination of non-excludable yet rivaled leads to a “tragedy of the commons,” wherein everybody rushes to use the resource and potentially depleting it to extinction. Garrett Hardin coined this term in his famous paper entitled, “The Tragedy of the Commons.”

Okay, once I spotted an acronym. Not to mention words like non-excludability and rivaledness, well, MEGO.

Still, after reading the above, a question popped into my head. (My eyes had glazed over, not my brain.) And that question was anticipated by the author:

But what about the donuts? Donuts rarely “go extinct” at meetings. Some portion always remains. The reason for this relates to strong social norms guided by a concern for personal reputation combined with the high visibility of the good’s use in a small community. The person who consumes the last bit of a scarce resource often becomes tagged as “stingy,” someone who doesn’t think of the interests of others. We still want the good, but we restrain ourselves from taking the last piece for fear of being labeled greedy, particularly when everybody in the room can see the culprit. This explains why the one remaining donut often gets cut in half multiple times and there is almost always a bit of it left.

The coffee, if you remember, is different. Contained in a metal pot, the resource is more difficult to monitor and determine who took the last drop. If the stream dries up whilst pouring one’s second or third cup, it is easy to feign ignorance about knowing how much was left  — though we may feel a tinge of guilt for taking the final ounce.   

I’m not an academic. Never have been. Never will be. But I did spend a few decades in the workplace, Margaret Mead-ing it in the field, coming of professional age not in Samoa, but in high tech. And here’s what I observed:

When people leave an ever-diminishing piece of donut, or any other food stuff – the last half-sandwich, the last chip – that’s sitting there on the plate, it’s not because they don’t want to be labeled greedy. It’s because they don’t want to be the one to have to clean up. To toss the donut box, throw out the plastic sandwich platter, bus the cookie plate. And, while they’re at it, wiping down the table. As long as there is any evidence of edibility – something between a crumb and a full-bite – the grazer can assure him- or herself that they haven’t taken the last of it, and are thus off the hook for cleanup.

As for coffee, I never saw it as the Tragedy of the Commons. In fact, what I typically observed was someone leaving a swig of coffee in the bottom of the clear pot. Which I viewed as the Comedy of the Lazy-Arse Person Who’s Too Busy To Take the 30 Seconds Needed to Rinse the Pot, Rip Open a Bag of Coffee, Empty It Into the Coffee Maker and Flip the Switch.

I don’t even drink coffee, and yet this behavior drove me crazy. Especially when whoever left that swig in the bottom of the pot failed to turn off the burner. Because that would have meant acknowledging that there’s really nothing left. Anyway, the swig quickly burnt down, leaving the acrid smell of burnt coffee to permeate the kitchen. Gag.

Of course, whoever left the last bite of donut, whoever left the last swig of coffee, knew in their heart of hearts that someone – and in my anthropological experience, that someone was invariably a woman – would dump the dirty platter, wipe off the table, rinse out the pot – even scrubbing out the burnt on swig-gunk, and make another pot.

Tragedy of the Commons? Nah. Just plain old laziness (with a bit of sexist expectation thrown in…).

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Sock it to me?

One of the business buzzwords that I’m most passionate about, in terms of despising, is the word “passion.” But passion is rapidly being replaced by the word “disruption.”

Yep, I more than agree that it’s happening. Zipcar disrupted car rental. Uber disrupted taxis. Dollar Shave disrupted razors. Amazon disrupted retail. And I know that, for investors, if they manage to glom on to a disruptor, that disruptor might turn into a unicorn (don’t get me going). Which will make everybody rich, other than the industry and companies being disrupted. Phooey on them, as they say. Disrupt or be disrupted. Burn someone else or find yourself on the ash heap of history. And, as the great Kurt Vonnegut once told us, so it goes.

Which I guess means we should make way for the new disruption in town: socks.

Yes, you heard right: socks.

The disruptor in waiting is Stance:

…a premium-sock startup that has managed to carve out a small place in popular culture. Stance has become the go-to hosiery of Hollywood actors, hip-hop stars, pro athletes, skateboarders, motocrossers and now at least one global leader. The San Clemente, California, startup accomplished this by making socks that promise durability, arch support and clever designs—and by cultivating a roster of celebrity investors, who promote the brand to fans. One backer, Jay Z, name-dropped the brand in his 2013 single “F.U.T.W.” (Source: Bloomberg)

Jay Z’s just one backer. Kleiner Perkins – an outfit not generally known for its cool – is in on it, as is August Capital (where a friend of mine, who I suspect is not in the market for $30 socks, used to work). And Justin Trudeau – you know, the Prime Minister of our neighbor to the north – has been seen sporting a pair, and we know how hip and happenin’ JT is. (Remember when we used to have a hip and happenin’ guy, not to mention thoughtful and measured, in charge? Sigh…)

All this smart money isn’t exactly betting on socks. they’re betting on Stance CEO Jeff Kearl, who was on the board of headphone disruptor Skullcandy.

Kearl says he became convinced the sock industry was similarly ripe for disruption, to use a favorite VC term. Socks is a commodity market dominated by low-margin products, but there’s really no such thing as a technological edge. Sales of adult socks in the U.S. total $4.8 billion annually, according to research firm NPD. That’s tiny compared with the $56 billion Americans spend on shoes or the even larger markets VCs are accustomed to going after.

Stance began by marketing to dudes – skateboarders, to be exact.

The timing proved impeccable, catching the wave of skater fashion moving to rolled-up pants. Stance’s socks can hold up to the beating skaters give them, thanks to a tight-knit weave and extra cushioning. Despite the high prices of $10 to $30 a pair, retailers say the socks sell briskly. Image-conscious buyers appreciate the brand’s avant-garde style of clashing patterns and colors, says Natalie Gamette, a sales supervisor at Hobie Surf Shop, located a short drive from Stance headquarters.

After conquering the boarders, Stance moved onto hip-hop, music, acting, basketball (until Nike beat them back, they had a deal with the NBA) and baseball. (Stance is the only sock worn in MLB. Who knew?)

However, more established brands, like Nike, are coming after them.

Even with VC backing, Stance won’t be able to outspend Nike and could struggle to hold on to the customers it has. “Stance is, for the most part, a millennial brand,” says Sucharita Kodali, an analyst at Forrester Research. “And millennials are really fickle.”

Well, they won’t be fickle forever. Everyone outgrows fickle at some point in the musical chairs that is life. Someday, there’ll no doubt be all sorts of flabby, nose-hair growing, geezer millennials who are still true to the Stance socks of their youth.

But I suspect there’s a somewhat limited market of folks willing to spend all that much money on socks.

Oddly enough, I’m part of that somewhat limited market.

I have always loved fun, colorful socks. And I have a long foot that’s getting even longer. Most women’s socks are designed for those with dainty little feet up to a size 9. When I was a mere size 10, I could almost get away with wearing most women’s socks. The narrow width of my foot – AAAA – gave me some wiggle room: what my foot didn’t take up in width could be used to elongate the length. And then my damned feet got even longer. I now wear a size eleven, and while me feet are still narrow enough, they’ve widened a bit to an AA. So less wiggle room in both directions.

In any case, my toes have a tendency to poke through socks if I try to Cinderella stepsister them into a regular sized woman’s sock. And men’s socks are generally too wide, and end up bunching up all over the place.

So a couple of times a year, I make a pilgrimage to Cambridge Clogs, a wonderful little store, not yet disrupted by Zappo’s, that sells socks in – get this – sizes. So I get to buy socks in fun colors and patterns, and, since my toe doesn’t bust through on the second wearing, they’re well worth the price.

Other than the white athletic socks I wear with my sneaks, I don’t wear socks during the summer. But in a few weeks, I’ll be checking my fun sock inventory and heading over to Cambridge to set in my stock for the winter.

Not sure if Stance has anything for women yet, but I’ll be on the lookout for their wares. Even though they won’t be disrupting my sock purchasing habits in the least.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Intellectual property just ain’t what it used to be

Well, last January, the big “intellectual” property story was about real or was it fake or was it real fake mermaid tails. But that was then and this is now and, as it is October, today’s big IP story is Halloween-related, and has to do with banana costumes.

In truth, I don’t give all that much thought to costumes in general or to banana costumes in particular. In truth, my Halloween focus is on the presence of candy corn, already on the shelves in CVS, and Oreos with orange filling, not yet on the shelves at my grocery store. There is, after all, nothing better for body and soul than a handful of candy corn. Some people throw out the term “it’s like crack” to underscore that something’s addictive. But what do most of us actually know about crack? Not much, I suspect. So I’ll offer a helpful alternative. How’s about “it’s like candy corn.” As for Oreos with orange filling, I’m mostly an Oreo purist, but I do like the ones with orange filling, even if they taste exactly the same as the originals. There is just something festive and doubly enjoyable about those special occasion Oreos.

Costumes, however, don’t occupy much of my consciousness, other than when I’m walking around Salem doing a running commentary on some of the really awful costumes there are out there, worn by adults who should know better.

But the Halloween of my childhood – when kids dressed up, in either home-grown or cheesy Woolworth’s costumes and collected candy in whatever paper bag or pillow case their mother handed them – has long been co-opted by grownups and has become a big deal. Americans are now spending more than $9 billion on Halloween-related merchandise, over $3 billion of which goes to costumes. And within the realm of costumes, banana costumes have, apparently, become a big deal.

Just google banana costume and out will pop all sorts of versions. Unpeeled banana, with or without Chiquita label. banana costumePeeled banana of some sort. Zombie banana. Jamaica-mon banana. Baby bananas (aww….) Dog bananas (aww…) Not to mention a totally inappropriate flasher banana, peeled from below with a big “it” hanging out.


Turns out, those bananas are big money, so much so that one seller has gone to federal court to defend its banana designs. The phrase “banana suit” now has a dual meaning thanks to a complaint filed in New Jersey federal court. Silvertop Associates, Inc., a costume manufacturer which does business as Rasta Imposta, sued Kmart Corp. and Sears Holding Corp. on Wednesday, alleging copyright infringement, trade dress infringement, and unfair competition. (Bloomberg)

Since 2008, Kmart has purchased costumes from Rasta Imposta, but the two companies failed to reach an agreement this year and Kmart said it would use “another vendor” to fulfill banana costume orders, according to the complaint. “Shortly thereafter, Rasta Imposta discovered that Kmart had begun offering the infringing … costume, which is a direct replication and knockoff of Rasta Imposta’s copyrighted Banana Design,” the complaint states. “Kmart is not free to simply appropriate Rasta Imposta’s intellectual property for its own business advantage without Rasta Imposta’s consent.”

I looked at their website, and Rasta Imposta seems to specialize in a combination of completely boring, completely pedestrian, completely vulgar, and some that would be passably cute or clever if you made them yourself. (And take it from someone who spent plenty of time in fourth grade trying to make a Peter Minuit peg leg out of a beer bottle, DIY for a Halloween costume is actually quite fun. Not that I gave a hoot about Peter Minuit, but for the school Halloween party we had to go as a historical figure from American history. Betsy Ross and Pocahontas seemed to be the only alternatives for girls, and I just plain wasn’t interested in either of them. And the idea of using a beer bottle for a peg leg. Even though I never did quite get it to work, it was a fine idea. Like so many of my fine ideas, it lost something in the execution.)

I suspect there’s not much money to be made in Peter Minuit costumes. But banana costumes, well, that’s another story entirely.

Rasta Imposta has been at it since 2001, and they even got a copyright registration a few years back.

The company licenses out the design and considers the banana “one of the company’s most important costumes.”

So they’re not taking it easy.

While two companies can certainly make dueling banana costumes, in the latest case Rasta Imposta argues that these two are entirely too similar, citing the shape, the black ends of the banana, the vertical lines down the middle of the costume, the cut outs for limbs, and even the advertising, which uses a similarly dressed model.

Am I missing something here? Don’t most bananas – that is, real life bananas – have blackish ends and vertical lines. And wouldn’t a banana costume require “cut outs for limbs” – after all, a trick-or-treater needs legs free to get around and arms free to hold the candy-collection bag. Or, if you’re at a grownup party and not roaming the streets looking for loot, arms free to hold an adult beverage. And how different are people going to look posing as a banana in advertising?

However Rasta Imposta v. K-Mart and Sears turns out, I’m sure the loser will, ahem, appeal.

Guess intellectual property just ain’t what it used to be…

Monday, October 02, 2017

Pie in the sky? Nah. Pie in Kelley Square in Worcester

My mother was a baker, a scratch baker.

My father had a sweet tooth – as did the majority of this children (3 or 4 out of 5 ain’t bad), so we had desert every night. Which meant my mother was baking a few times a week.

As I said, she was a scratch baker. Oh, there’d be a box of Betty Crocker on hand for an emergency situation. And she used a mix for angel food cake. But other than that…

There are plenty of those deserts that I’d just love to sink my sweet teeth into: Jack Horner cake (made with prunes, of all things); quick coffee cake; pineapple-cherry-walnut squares (such pure sugar, it felt as if someone were sitting in your mouth, attacking your teeth with an awl). And Liz was an especially good pie baker. Apple pie baker. My sisters are both excellent pie bakers – not me; I bake, but am no good with crust – but there was nothing like my mother’s apple pie. The other matchless pie was my Aunt Margaret’s pecan.

All this scratch baking talk aside, when I was a kid, I craved store bought desert, which we’d have once in a blue moon. Sometimes it was a jelly roll. Sometimes a chocolate-covered, sicky sweet loaf cake from the Lucky Bakery.

And as a Worcester girl, I always wanted a Table Talk Pie.

I think the four-inch “snack pies” were a nickel a piece when I was a kid. One summer my sister Kath worked in Kelley Square, where Table Talk was located, and she could get pies discounted, in bulk, at the Table Talk Pie store. Yummers.

The apple and pecan weren’t much – no topping Liz and Cherry PiePeg on those fronts – but I loved the gluey pineapple, the gummy lemon, and the fabulous cherry.

My favorite Table Talk Pie memory was a hiking trip my roommate Joyce and I took one nice summer day when we had a a day off from our college summer waitress jobs at the Union Oyster House. We knew nothing about camping at that point in our lives, but we were game. So we headed up to Mt. Washington, wearing tee-shirts, cut-offs, and – ta-da – our white waitress shoes. We had a crummy backpack and a canteen, packed with our toothbrushes, sweatshirts, and provisions: a couple of ham sandwiches and a couple of Table Talk Pies.

We made it half-way up Mt. Washington and camped at the foot of Tuckerman’s Ravine, surrounded by a bunch of serious campers, all cute guys, all our age.

They took pity on us and fed us, but we didn’t want to gorge on the food they’d humped up the mountain, so we ate daintily, then snuck off into the woods and ate our goodies. We were pretty embarrassed, so after gobbling the pies, we crumpled up the cartons and aluminum plates and – I’m ashamed to say – tucked them into crevices between rocks, saving face (if that was possible, given the waitress shoes in lieu of hiking boots) but despoiling the wilderness.

Anyway, I’m always interested in home town fare – I still drink Polar soda – so I was delighted to read in The Boston Globe that Table Talk is growing:

Worcester-based Table Talk Pies is expanding its operations with Thursday’s official opening of a 50,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, adding more than 50 jobs to its 300-person workforce.

The space, in the South Worcester Industrial Park, will help the company increase production of its snack pies, to 4 million a week from 3 million. The pies, which come in larger sizes, too, have long been a staple of snack shelves. (Source: Boston Globe)

4 million little pie-eens a week. Yowza! That’s 200 million a year.

I have no idea how widely Table Talk pies are distributed, but I’m guessing most of those pies are being consumed in the Northeast.

Meanwhile, there’s other good Table Talk news.

Last year, they re-opened their long-closed retail store. It’s in something that’s being snootily called “The Canal District.” Next time I’m in Worcester, I’ll have to grab a Coney Island hot dog, then mosey on over to The Canal District for a pie. (I’ll take a pass on the pie milkshake. Sounds ghastly.)

Not to mention that TT pies are winning prizes:

Table Talk’s 8-inch salted caramel apple and 4-inch pecan pies recently netted the company two National Pie Championship awards. The American Pie Council, which bills itself as "the leading authority on the nation's most popular All-American treat,” held the competition last May. Table Talk was up against 22 bakers and 470 pie submissions. The pie company was recognized in the Commercial Division. (Source: Mass Live)

I’m sure that apple pie can’t hold a candle to Liz’s, nor that pecan hold a candle to Peg’s. Still, always nice to hear good news coming out of the old hometown.

Friday, September 29, 2017

November 1969. All we are saying, is give peace a chance.

There was no online.

I suppose we saw flyers. Or read about it in The Old Mole (a short-lived Cambridge leftie newspaper of the time.) Or heard through the grapevine. Maybe it was announced at the October 15th Moratorium Day demonstration on the Boston Common.

But my friends and I knew about it. And we were going.

November 15, 1969. The Moratorium, an anti-Vietnam War demonstration that brought half a million largely peaceful protestors to Washington, DC.

In July of 1969, I’d had negative interest in going to Woodstock.

But I was sure going to Washington.

The first anti-war protest I saw was in April 1967, in New York City. I was on the sidewalk, watching, a high school senior on my first trip to The City. I remember that a lot of the marchers carried daffodils. And that, for my English class, I wrote a poem about it. I mentioned the daffodils, but the only line I remember is “Chanting their shibboleths: anti-war.” It was perhaps the only poem in the history of the English language that include the word shibboleth.

But in the fall of 1967, having spent the summer working in a combat boot factory (while my friend Marie worked in the office of a factory that made the M-16 rifles that were being used in Vietnam), I heard Howard Zinn speak.

I heard a lot of speakers that fall.

I went to hear Ayn Rand at Jordan Hall, and thought she was full of hooey.

Zinn, an anti-war activist and Boston University professor, I agreed with.

The Vietnam War didn’t seem to make a boatload of sense.

So there I was in the fall of 1969, with 100,000 others on Boston Common. I member the excitement when the large group of students marching down through Kenmore Square met up with the even larger contingent coming over the Mass Ave Bridge from Cambridge. On the Common, John Grady, Emmanuel’s wild-haired Sociology Professor, was, I believe, waving the anarchist flag.

There was at least one counter-demonstrator, Jozef Mlot-Mroz, also known as the Polish Freedom Fighter. I can still hear him screeching, in his heavy Polish accent, “International Communist-Jewish Conspiracy.” (Con-speer-AHHH-cy) And Brandeis Jews. (Jooooooos.)

And there I was, a few weeks later, heading over to the American Friends Service Committee in Cambridge, the Quaker organization that was sponsoring the buses to Washington. As best I remember,the tickets cost $9.50. Or thereabouts. It was definitely somewhere between $9 and $10 – not a trivial amount for me and my friends Joyce and Mary Beth, who were making minimum wage at our crummy (but fun) snack bar jobs.

I can’t remember what we carried. I think I had the Boy Scout knapsack that had belonged to my cousin Rob. I suppose we threw in a few sandwiches and candy bars, maybe some gloves. There was no such thing as bottled water. Maybe I brought the matching canteen.

The night before the March on Washington, we all gathered in front of the Unitarian Church in Harvard Square to wait for our buses. Me, Joyce, Mary Beth, MB’s boyfriend Stan, and a couple of our other MIT guy friends.

We waited and waited. There were rumors that the buses weren’t coming, that the drivers had refused to drive.

And then they began rolling in.

We were on bus 40-something.

I think that ours was a yellow school bus. (I checked with Joyce, and she doesn’t remember, but thought that sounded about right.) Uncomfortable seats. No toilet. I’m sure we stopped on the NJ Turnpike. But we made it to Washington by dawn, and parked alongside hundreds, maybe thousands, of buses that had pulled in from all over.

I remember little of the demonstration itself. We marched, and then collected on The Mall. I think Dr. Spock spoke. Peter Paul and Mary were there. Pete Seeger. We sang, “All We Are Saying, Is Give Peace a Chance.”

We ran into Bob, our bus driver, who had changed out of his bus driver uniform and was there actually participating in the rally with another driver in civvies.

And it was cold, brutally cold.

Joyce and I both had on pea coats that we’d gotten at Mickey Finn’s War Surplus. Only they weren’t war surplus. Real pea coats were made for sailors freezing on ships, and were built to keep the cold out. Ours were cheap knockoffs that were stylin’ but didn’t exactly keep us warm.

The rally was winding down, but we had a couple of hours until we needed to get back on our bus. So Joyce and I started looking for someplace to warm up. We made our way to some sort of discount store, and bought a couple of bright yellow blankets for $3 a piece. God knows what they were made out of, but after we’d huddled under them for a few minutes, our cheapo pea jackets were covered with cheapo yellow fuzz.

We headed over to the Justice Department, where many of the rally-ers had dispersed to. We got there just after the protestors had been tear-gassed. So we missed that.

The ride back to Boston took forever. It took nearly five hours to get to Baltimore Airport, which is about 30 miles north of DC.

Bob was getting tired, so the guys on the bus took turns sitting next to him to keep him awake. Every few minutes, we all yelled, “Bob, stay awake.” At one point I think he let someone spell him. Hopefully, it wasn’t one of the guys passing around a flask of Southern Comfort. Between the exhaustion, the unpadded seats, the combination of too much heat and radiant freezing from the windows, and – I don’t remember but I’m quite sure occurred – smoking, it was pretty uncomfortable. Not getting shot at in a rice paddy uncomfortable, but uncomfortable enough. But the Southern Comfort was what got to me. Just the smell – I passed on taking a swig. I pressed my face against the cold window and tried to zone out. I didn’t want to have to ask Bob (or whoever was driving at that point) if he could pull over so I could puke.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been watching the Ken Burns documentary on the war on PBS. (More on that some time next week.)

When they showed the November 1969 Moratorium March on Washington, I searched the crowds, looking for a couple of 20 year olds with long straight hair and pea jackets that weren’t yet covered with yellow fuzz. I texted Joyce. She’d been looking for us, too.

That was nearly 50 year ago.

All we were saying was give peace a chance…

And then, six months later, they were shooting at us, cutting down the students, the protestors. (Four dead in Ohio…)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Food security, glorious food security

Arguably, two of the ugliest statues in Boston are the ones that make up the Irish Famine Monument. It’s a “compare and contrast” installation, with a skeletal family in rags (before) and a confident, sturdy immigrant family (after). It certainly makes sense to have some type of Famine acknowledgement in Boston, one of the main centers of the Irish Famine monumentDiaspora, and the landing place for many who fled Ireland in the 1840’s. But this monument: pretty darned hideous. That it’s plunked at the front doors of a Walgreen’s, rather than in a park somewhere – why not the Rose Kennedy Greenway? – makes it a bit ludicrous.

But there’s no arguing the centrality of the Famine in both the Irish and the Irish-American experience. Among other after effects is the incredibly generosity that the Irish (in Ireland) demonstrate whenever and wherever there’s a modern-day famine. Volunteers, donations: if there’s a food crisis anywhere, the Republic of Ireland definitely punches above its weight.

Anyway, with the latest news, the Irish may be able to lay to rest some of the memories and fears that the Great Hunger wrought.

That’s because Ireland was just named the “Country Best Able to Feed Its People.” The U.S. is fourth, following Austria and France.

Ireland is the world’s most “food-secure” nation, improving its food affordability, availability, quality and safety while the U.S. has stagnated, according to a copy of the sixth annual Global Food Security Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit. (Source: Bloomberg)

Not that there’s all that much to worry about here. It’s not like we’re in any danger of becoming Haiti, Burundi, or Yemen, which are all in bottom rankings. Still:

Worldwide, food security fell for the first time in five years, largely because of increases in the number of refugees, weather disasters and a decline in global political stability…

“Food security is in reverse,” said Robert Powell, a senior consultant with the Economist Intelligence Unit in New York. “If we’re aiming for zero hunger, we’re going in the wrong direction.”

The categories that went into the scoring are Affordability, Availability, Quality and Safety, and Natural Resources and Resilience.

A couple of comments here.

Those who’ve never been to Ireland, those who were only there – say – 40 years ago, those who equate their grandmother’s cooking with Irish cuisine…all of these constituencies would be surprised to learn that the food in Ireland is actually quite good. Chicken tastes like chicken. Salmon tastes like salmon. Butter tastes like butter.

Sure, there’s plenty of bad meals to be had in Ireland. It hasn’t sat there a hop, skip and a jump from England all those years not to have a few bad meals rub off. (Think mushy peas.) But, for the most part, you can get fresh and tasty food in Ireland without breaking your back looking for it, or the bank paying for it. Even the pizza’s good.

So, quality: check!

As for natural resources, other than peat and plenty of rain, I can’t think of all that many. But, man, are the Irish ever resilient.

They bounced back from the Famine. They bounced back (mostly) from centuries of insanity at the hands of the Catholic Church. They bounced back (absolutely) from centuries of oppression at the hands of the Brits, and even out did the ur source in their use of the mother tongue. They’ve made tremendous strides making their way back from the economic collapse of the past decade, which hit them pretty much as bad as it did any other European country.

So, resilience: check!

I walk by that ugly famine monument a couple of times a week, and really don’t pay it all that much attention. But next time I’m on Washington Street, I may give it a nod and pass the news on to that starving family. No more watching the corn and grain exported to England while the Irish dropped dead in the streets. No more corpses by the wayside, with their mouths green from eating grass. No more crawling your way to Queenstown in hopes of getting on a coffin ship.

Ireland, topping the world in terms of food security.

Good on yez!