Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Hey Lady! Or, my life with Jerry Lewis.

The first movie I remember going to was 3 Ring Circus, which starred Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. It was playing at the Park Theater, in Worcester’s Webster Square, and my father took me and my sister Martin and LewisKathleen. It was 1955. I was five.

There is no doubt in my mind that I found it just HIGH-larious. Oh, that Jerry Lewis!

We didn’t go to the movies very often. This was the era of TV, even if there was a pretty limited menu, and what was shown appeared on a 8” b&w Philco screen. Most of the movies I saw as a kid were Disney. The next movie I recall seeing after 3 Ring Circus was the Disney cartoon, Cinderella. Again, my father took us – where us now included my brother Tom. My father gave each of us a dime to get something to drink from a press-button machine. Kath and Tom went before I did. Alas, by the time I put my dime in, there were no more of those conical paper cups being dispensed, so I watched my orange drink (which no doubt would have been flat and cloyingly sweet) run down the drain.

But I did see another Jerry Lewis movie: The Bellboy. At the drive-in. I hated it. Jerry played a mute. That was no fun. But it was on a double-bill with a war movie that was at least entertaining. At first I was thinking that the war movie wasThe Halls of Montezuma, but that was released in 1951, not 1960. Then it came to me that the movie we saw had the word “Hell” in its title. And may have starred Jeffrey Hunter, an actor as rigid and stiff as Jerry was spazzy (sorry, but that’s the word we would have used in 1960) and loose. Which would make it, Hell to Eternity.

Hard to believe I didn’t see The Nutty Professor (1963). But by that point I was long past going to the movies with my father.

But that was pretty much it for me as far as Jerry Lewis went. By 1963, I had pretty much outgrown him. The 1960’s. I wanted to see  David and Lisa. Bunny Lake Is Missing. Georgie Girl. If I wanted a laugh, there were the Beatle movies – Help, A Hard Day’s Night. The Beatles were funny. Jerry Lewis wasn’t.

Fast forward – and I’d almost entirely wiped this one from my mind – and at some point in the late 1970’s, my husband and I (by now confirmed Jerry haters) went to the Chateau de Ville in Framingham to see Jerry do his standup routine, and, I think, sing “Rock-a-bye Your Baby (with a Dixie Melody)”. The Chateau de Ville was a dinner theater and the dinner that night was scrod that had apparently been sitting on a steam rack for about 3 days. But we weren’t there for the scrod. Towards the end of his show, Jerry took questions from the audience. He was smart enough not to call on my husband, who was going to ask something about whether he considered The Nutty Professor his most artistic work.(Hard to recall a point in my life where I had the interest and energy to attend an event featuring an entertainer I couldn’t stand. Oh, to be in your twenties and full of snark.)

Jim and I did become regular watchers of the MDA Telethon, appalled by Jerry’s bloated ego and schmaltz, mesmerized by the mostly mediocre “talent,” but in awe at his capacity to raise a ton of money for a good cause. I’m quite sure if I’d had a kid with muscular dystrophy, I’d be shedding a tear or two for his loss.

One sure fire way for Jim and I to share a laugh was to mention that Jerry Lewis was so revered in France. “Monsieur Lewis, vous êtes such a comic geeee-nyus,” one of us would say, deploying our finest phony French accent. We were completed perplexed that such a sophisticated – jaded, even – culture could fall so head over heels for Jerry Lewis. 

And then, once we saw King of Comedy (1982), we became Jerry Lewis fans. When Jerry Lewis played a prick, he was a genius. This guy could act. (There is some sense that playing a prick wasn’t exactly a stretch for Lewis.) And we much enjoyed him as the schmatta trade mogul in the late-1980’s TV series, Wiseguy. As I said, this guy could act.

Gradually, we lost interest in Jerry Lewis. We might turn on the MDA Telethon for a few minutes, but mostly he was dead to us.

We’d see him on TV occasionally, being interviewed, generally coming across as a self-pitying, maudlin, self-aggrandizing, mean-spirited a-hole.

Jerry Lewis. Meh…

Given the choice of listening to Gary Lewis & The Playboys on a perpetual loop playing “This Diamond Ring” or watching a Lewis-Martin comedy, I’d take “This Diamond Ring.”

And now, Jerry Lewis is no more.

One by one, the iconic figures of the collective Baby Boomer childhood are passing away.

Hey lady, you know what this means? They’re coming for us next…

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Oh, the Totality!

I just tried to look it up, but, at a quick glance (one not clouded by eclipse glasses), I couldn’t quite figure out what the eclipse action was when I was growing up. There were a few eclipses (total and annular) in the 1950’s and 1960’s that were visible in the United States. No word on Massachusetts.

I don’t remember any big deal around preparing for or viewing an eclipse. June 30, 1954. September 1, 1958. I would have been playing outside. October 2, 1959 I would have been in school. July 20, 1963 was a Sunday. I would have been lolling around after lunch, probably watching a Red Sox game with my father, who would likely have been planning to take the family out for an evening spin and ice cream.

If these eclipse events were happening over Worcester, Massachusetts, we were surely told something. My sister Kathleen and eye have the same recall of eclipse warning: if you look at the sun, your eyeballs will turn to egg whites. Boiled egg whites.

We knew what that would look like. After all, what child of boomer-dom didn’t know how to create a cool special effect by erasing the eyeballs on the face of someone on a magazine cover. My parents didn’t exactly approve of this. I remember receiving a light reprimand for erasing the eyes of President Eisenhower from the cover of 20170821_142412Newsweek.With apologies to Sekazi K. Mtingwa, whose picture was the first one I came across while flipping through an old copy of MIT Technology Review looking for someone’s eyes to erase, this is what the special effect looked like. Who needed Photoshop when you could use an eraser on a glossy picture? It was kinder gentler time…

There were a few American eclipses in the 1970’s-1980’s. They must have passed me by. There were a few in the 1990’s, too, and one of those I do recall. It may have been the May 10, 1994 one. I remember that the office emptied out at some point in the afternoon, and we stood out there in front of our building watching and waiting. I think we had pieces of cardboard with pinholes in them. Or something. I remember the atmosphere as being sort of brownish and eerie. No one’s eyes turned to egg whites. Fortunately.

My sister Kathleen actually participated in a totality event. She and her husband have a friend who’s an eclipse aficionado,and they traveled to Guadalupe for one of the 1990’s show of shows to view one with the friend and his wife. So Kath has got the been there, done that checked off for having witnessed a total eclipse of the sun. (I forgot to ask here whether Bob had headed out to Madras, Oregon, or Carbondale, Illinois – both of which were going to experience the totality - for yesterday’s edition.) Kath and Rick were staying put. No egg white eyeballs for them, thank you.

Me, I never got around to going to the library to pick up a pair of eclipse glasses. I was too lazy to make a viewing apparatus out of a shoe box and a piece of white paper. Too lazy to do something with my colander. I think I read that you could do some viewing by doing a waffle weave with your fingers, but I wasn’t willing to chance it. So I made sure I was in the house by 12:29 p.m. when the partial eclipse hit Boston.

I made my lunch, took it into the den (where the blinds were shut), and watched the eclipse travel across the United States on MSBNC.

One of the reporters, in Madras, Oregon, said that being there, with all the campers who’d traveled to get a glimpse of the totality, was like being at Coachella for nerds. Carbondale, Illinois, looked like Coachella for nerds, too. Only with a bunch of pompom waving Southern Illinois University cheerleaders.

With all that’s been going on, it was a good break to have the eclipse to focus on – something that everyone could enjoy, even if they spent the totality of the full or partial eclipse in their town watching the eclipse transit the country on TV. At the peak eclipse in Boston, when 2/3’s of the sun was blotted out by the moon, I nipped into the kitchen to check. It was a bit overcast, but the atmosphere did seem to have the same brownish hue I remember from 20+ years back. I didn’t look directly at anything, so my eyeballs will not be turning to egg whites.

Meanwhile, in addition to the eclipse offering us a respite from the prevailing ugliness and unpleasantness, it also provided an excellent opportunity to listen to Bonnie Tyler.

Here’s a link to the You Tube of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” This may not be the absolute worst music video ever made, but it’s definitely a contender. So if you’ve still got your eclipse glasses, I suggest you put them on while listening to this one.

Better yet, just go listen to Bonnie’s best tune evah, It’s a Heartache. (No weirdball video, either.)

Hope you enjoyed the eclipse. And hope you remembered to avert your eyes. No one wants egg white eyeballs, that’s for sure.

Monday, August 21, 2017


I sometimes ask myself what I would have done if I’d been living in Germany in the 1930’s. Oh, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been a Nazi. And I’m pretty sure that I would have done plenty of sneering at and about them. Until they came to power, that is.

Then, what would I have done? Probably kept my mouth shut in public and spoken only to those I trusted 100%. I suspect I would have had many sleepless nights. I suspect I would even have prayed.

Would I have been Sophie Scholl, the university student who was beheaded for her anti-Nazi activism in 1943? Probably been too scared.

Would I have helped a Jewish friend? Probably given money to help them flee the country; probably not hidden them in my home.

Thankfully, we don’t live in Nazi Germany, and comparisons between the 21st century United States and post-WWI Germany are pretty thin. But one lesson we can take is just how fragile countries can be. Germany was prosperous, cultured, “liberal.” And then…Things can and do happen fast.

But if you’re a well-off white person, living in a safe area, things aren’t all that scary, even in our present not especially pleasant times.

Still, when I started hearing about the “Free Speech” rally that was taking place pretty much right in my front yard on Saturday, and that the organizer had invited some alt-righties, it was pretty clear that I couldn’t just sit in my house watching HG-TV and eating bonbons.

It became confusing fast about who was actually going to be speaking. Was the nincompoop who did all the Pizzagate “work” for Alex Jones going to be given a microphone? Remember Pizzagate? Hillary and her pals running a pedophile ring out of the basement of a DC pizza parlor? That Pizzagate?

How about the numbskull Holocaust denier? The one – well, there may have been more than one – who spoke at the Charlottesville rally? One of the “nice people” who attended that event? You know, the one where a lot of innocent folks carried tiki torches while chanting “Blood and Soil,” and “Jews will not replace us”? Was he invited? Uninvited? Decided not to come?

I couldn’t imagine that Boston would turn into Charlottesville, but I sure didn’t want a bunch of neo-Nazis and Klansmen tramping around my neighborhood. Talk about ‘get off my lawn!’

But there was Charlottesville, and that straight out of Leni Riefenstahl (but at blessedly lesser scale) torch light rally. And those Klan salutes. And Heather Heyer. All playing over and over again in my mind.

So I checked out what was on offer for a counter-protest.

There was some gathering at the State House, which would have been easy-peasy. Five minutes up the hill and I’m there. But it sounded a bit “off” to me. One of the sponsoring group was demanding that end to sanctions on North Korea. Say wha’? It just looked like the kind of scene that might attract an anti-fa element. No thanks.

Meanwhile, there was a march, starting in Roxbury, sponsored by Black Lives Matter and a whole lot of clergy. I’d participated in a BLM march a few years back, and it was well-organized, heartfelt, well-run. A walk out to the starting point at the Reggie Lewis Center. The walk back into Boston Common. Why, I’d even get my Fitbit steps in!

It took me a while to decide on what hat to wear.

I have the Red Sox cap with the 1950’s logo. But – ugh – that was the logo when the racist Tom Yawkey was the own of my beloved olde towne team. I love the cap, but an anti-racism march didn’t seem like quite like the venue.

I considered my Red Sox cap with the kelly-green B and the shamrock, which I wear to show the world that not all shamrock-wearing Bostonians are punks.

And then I remembered the cap I bought for Fourth of July. The one I wear to show the world that liberals are patriotic, too. I’m not much of a selfie taker, but this is me, right before the march was about to start:

MR at march

The sign in back of me shows the Obama post-Charlottesville tweet with those cutie-pie babies and  the Nelson Mandela quote:

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion..."

The sign is being held by Chuck, husband of Deb, brother-in-law of Pam, a crew I met on the way to the march and ended up staying with throughout . Along the way, we added Ayesha to our band. Here’s Ayesha with her sign:


She was marching so her grandkids don’t have to.

The crowd was large, loud, spirited, blissfully diverse with respect to race, age, and sexual orientation. And from where I walked in its midst, 100% peaceful. Not to mention full of excellent signs. Here are a few of my favorites.


It was overcast when I left for the march, and overcast was predicted for the duration, so I figured I’d be okay without water. Wrong! The sun came out, so I popped into a Subway to slake my thirst, and pick up a bottle for Pam, who’d gone through hers already. I grabbed three bottles, but the line was so long at the checkout.. I will have to admit I did my old lady privilege thing and just handed one of the kids working there $20 and walked out. Nice to be able to throw down $20 for three bottles of water without thinking twice. Not everyone, I realize, can do that.

By the time we were approaching Boston Common, I’d gotten a text from my sister Trish that the “free speech” rally had been virtually unattended and was already over. It turned out to be pathetically organized. Apparently the mikes didn’t even work.

On the way, I’d been making jokes about outnumbering the alt-wrong 1,000 to one. And that was about the way things turned out to be. 40,000 of us, about 40 of them.

Overall, there were 33 arrests. Our quite wonderful Police Commissioner, Bill Evans said:

“99.9% were here for the right reason. To fight bigotry.”

Actually, if you do the math, it looks more like 99.999%. Five nines! That’s pretty damned good. And not all of those arrests were fringe, anti-fa elements, either. (By the way, a shout out to the BPD who did an excellent job as far as I’m concerned.)

Anyway, yay Boston!

I’m all for free speech. Let those a-holes chant “Blood and Soil” all they want. But part of my free speech is getting out there and chanting, No Nazis, No KKK, No fascist USA.

They – the Nazis, the KKK, the fascists - turned out not to be here. But if they’re thinking about coming to Boston, I want them to know that we outnumber them 1,000 to 1. (Which I hope is the ratio across the entire country, by the way.) And our signs are a whole hell of lot better than their ridiculous tiki torches.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Shake, shake, shake. Shake, shake, shake. Shake your salt shaker.

This is my go-to salt & pepper shaker set. I like it for a couple of reasons. First off, they were a gift from my late, much beMarie SPloved, and greatly missed friend Marie. So, when I use them – and they are my go-to, so if I’m salting and/or peppering, I’m mostly using them  – I think of Marie. Second, they’re amusing (to me anyway). They just make me smile.

Once or twice a year, when I’m feeling a bit fancier, I use this set. These I inherited from my mother, who used them for holiday dinners. She had two sets – holiday dinners meant a long table with a lot of Crystal SPpeople sitting at it – and one of my sisters has the other pair. I like them because they remind me of family, and family history.

I have a bunch of other salt and pepper shakers, some gifts, some that I bought, and some that, like the crystal set, are part of my inheritance.

My mother quasi-collected sale and pepper shakers, something I think my father got her going on, but which she kept up so that her kids always had something they could get her for her birthday or Christmas. Woolworth’s sold S&P shakers for 49 cents.. I remember getting her a pair of cute little pink pigs, and another set of smiling Dutch SPturnips. I have the pigs around here somewhere. I also have one of the pairs I believe my father got for her. They’ve been smashed and glued back together, and have missing pieces. They sit on my kitchen counter, and I like them because they remind me of my parents, because they’re sort of pretty, and because the blue in the Dutch maid’s skirt and the Dutch boy’s shirt matches the accent color in my kitchen.

I also have a pepper grinder, which is as high tech as I want to get when it comes to dispensing pepper, or salt for that matter. I mean, the basic design of a salt and pepper shaker is pretty simple. It just works. Sure, the salt can clump together if it gets some moisture in it. And the corks that hold the S&P can fall out, fall in, or just plain get lost. Mostly they work. And if it ain’t broke…

Nonetheless, Herb & Body “a California-based lifestyle company” feels that things could be improved on. So they have developed Smalt:


Isn’t dining already a multi-sensory experience? Even if you’re eating by yourself, there’s taste, touch, smell, look. And if I’m eating with others, that means friends or family, and adding talk to the multi-sensory experience is plenty enough fun. Do we really need a device that’s more complex that the knife, fork, spoon, and salt shaker combined? I mean, the more stuff a device can do, the more things there are that can go wrong. With the exception of the Swiss Army knife, multi-function usually translates into multi-problem.

But Herby & Boy thinks the time is right:

Our aim is to develop smart home devices that aspire to make ordinary life more fun, easier, and healthier.  Connected kitchen is the next wave of smart home tools and our company’s ambition is to be at the forefront.  We will be bringing tools to the market that will be interactive and fun while enriching peoples’ lives.   Our first innovation, “SMALT”, is the first of it’s kind to market and will transform an ordinary kitchen tools that people have been using for centuries into a fun experience. (Source: MySmalt)

Maybe it’s just me – old fogey, quasi-Luddite (especially when you consider that my career has been in technology) – but I really don’t see how making something as brilliantly simple as a salt shaker more smaltcomplex makes “ordinary life” easier. (It goes without saying that having this device on my dining room table won’t be making my life more fun or healthier.)

And, God knows, I really don’t care to have a connected kitchen. My life gets enriched by friends and family, by experiences, by looking at my salt and pepper shakers that remind me of friends, family, and experience.

Features mood-lighting to set the ambiance (sic!) and a Bluetooth speaker to play music!

I don’t have much call for mood-lighting, but isn’t that what candles are for? And is there anyone who doesn’t already have a couple of ways to play music, without involving their salt dispenser? Do we need a smart-aleck salt shaker playing tunes?

Maybe this is just a way for Herb & Body to get attention. (Mission accomplished!)

But I have to say it bothers me when people with fine minds and good technical skills devote those minds and skills to things like the Smalt.

Go head, please. By all means, make our lives smarter and easier. But aren’t there any more useful places you could be focusing your efforts on?


Saw this on my friend John Whiteside’s FB page. Thanks, John.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Baseball Gloversville

I’ve driven through Upstate New York, on I-90, many times, and one of the towns you pass through is Gloversville, once the home to the American glove making industry. Not all American gloves were made there. The same interstate passes through Amsterdam, NY, and – although I’m not sure it’s still in operation – you can still see the Fownes glove factory from the Thruway.

Driving through and around Upstate (and through parts of New England) you get to see all the evidence you need to of the rise and fall of American manufacturing. We used to make things in America. Now we don’t so much. Which is not to say that there is no manufacturing here. There’s plenty. It’s just that a lot of the everyday objects we take for granted are made elsewhere. Like shoes. And clothing. Gloves. And baseball gloves.

I played baseball as a kid. The boy: girl ratio in my neighborhood was skewed towards boy; we were one of the only families on our street that was majority girl. So if you wanted to play with the pack of kids running around the ‘hood, you ended up playing a lot of “boys’” games. Like baseball.

But I never owned my own glove.

Not that you needed one.

As long as there were enough gloves to go around, so that the team in the field was gloved, it really didn’t matter whose glove you used.

But my brothers, who played Little League (and, one of them, beyond: Babe Ruth, Legion, high school), always had their own gloves, starting with some flat little kindergarten starter glove that one of them had when he was really little – it looked like something out of the dead ball era; something Nap Lajoie might have worn – and moving on up to the “real” gloves you needed to play “real” ball. Which, of course, you outgrew. So we had plenty of mitts around the house over the years.

I remember my brothers breaking in their new gloves, a process that involved sticking a ball in the pocket of the glove, folding the glove over it, and wrapping some rubber bands around it. Once the rubber bands were off, they sat around punching their fist into the center of the glove, to make it more supple.Then there was something to do with oiling a glove. Not quite sure what that entailed. I’m guessing that a nine year old didn’t exactly do a bang-up job with it, although my father, of course, would have known just what to do. He was a ballplayer from way-back.

I can’t remember what brands those gloves were – Spalding? Wilson? Rawlings? Whatever they sold at Western Auto, I suppose.

But I don’t remember ever hearing the name Nokona until I saw an article on it on Bloomberg the other day.

Nokona, as it turns out, is the last baseball glove that’s actually made in America. Spalding, Wilson, Rawlings. They all still market gloves. They just make them in baseball happy (not!) places like the Philippines, Vietnam, and China, where they’re:

…stitched together thousands of miles away by people who couldn’t afford a ticket at Fenway Park. (Source: Bloomberg)

All this was oversea-ing was happening in the 1960’s. (Thanks, Obama!) But:

One company didn’t get the memo. Since the Great Depression, Nokona has been making gloves in a small town outside Dallas with a long history of producing boots and whips for cowboys. There’s a livestock-feed store next door to the factory, which offers $5 tours for visitors who want to see how the “last American ball glove” is made. You can watch employees weave the webbing by hand, feed the laces through the holes with needles, and pound the pocket into shape with a rounded hammer. The American flag gets stitched into the hide — and that, they say at Nokona, is more than just a business matter.

“Made in America means you believe in our country,” said Carla Yeargin, a glove inspector and tour guide at Nokona, where she worked her way up from janitor. “We have the love for the ballglove, because we made it here.”

Well, I’m not going to get into it with Carla, but it is actually possible to believe in your country without believing that everything needs to be Made in America. That said, it might have been nice if we’d given some thought to what the folks who lost their jobs to offshoring were going to do with themselves. Maybe we’ll get it right before all the remaining factory jobs are automated.

Nokoma ball gloves are made with an exacting process made up of about 40 steps that take about 4 hours to complete. The end product is pretty high end:

The company emphasizes the craft that goes into each glove, and that’s reflected in the bill. Rawlings has gloves for all budgets: Its top-end models cost plenty, but you can get a 9-inch children’s version for less than $8. Nokona’s equivalent-sized mitt costs $220, and its pro model runs to $500. 

I don’t know who’d pay $220 for a glove for a little kid, but I’m guessing that the $8 Rawlings is pretty cheesy and useless. For the 7 years old compelled to play, hovering in right field, hoping that no ball is ever hit his way.

Of course, in baseball’s early days:

…it was considered unmanly to use a glove. Broken bones were common. The first mass-produced gloves had little padding and no fingers.

Well, that sounds almost as much fun as playing football and getting your brain rattled.

Anyway, Nokona doesn’t produce a lot of gloves. A mere 40,000 of them, which is less than 1% of the 6.2 million gloves sold in the U.S. each year. And they don’t have a lot of big name ball players sporting their wares. But they keep at it. So I’ll be keeping my eye out for someone (in the stands or on the field) sporting a Nokona next time I’m at Fenway. You can customize your Nokona – right down to your name on it, and your color choice for the laces. I suspect I’ll end my life without ever having owned a baseball glove. But if I were to go for one, sign me up for a custom Nokona with purple laces.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

I hear Guam is lovely this time of year

Much as I loathe, despise, and – when it comes right down to it – out and out abhor Donald Trump, I will acknowledge that he does seem to possess some sort of talent for branding, for marketing, for giving his audience what they want.

Still, I’m scratching my head over is words of support for the president of Guam, spoken in the aftermath of Kim Jong Un’s disturbing threats to the safety and security of the island:

Mr. Trump said: “I have to tell you, you have become extremely famous all over the world. They are talking about Guam; and they’re talking about you.” And when it comes to tourism, he added, “I can say this: You’re going to go up, like, tenfold with the expenditure of no money.” (Source: NY Times)

Admittedly, Trump is past master of getting maximum bang for his buck. Just look at the bankruptcies, the flim-flam, and the vendor-screwing. Not to mention the ability to con the media into a kabillion dollars worth of free advertising during the election-cycle-that-dares-not-mention-its-name. And let’s not into the emoluments clause. (Do all those Secret Service golf cart rental feels fall under that?)

And he’s great with the memorable, colorful branding phrase.

But surely he can’t be right in his prediction that Guam will be experiencing a tenfold increase in tourism? Without spending any money?

First off, there’s that tenfold increase.

Last year, Guam hosted 1.5 million visitors (more than half a million from Korea, by the way). Tenfold would be 15 million.

I think you can support a tenfold increase if you’re starting with a pretty low base. Say, 1,000. Or even 10,000.

But going from 1.5 million to 15 million – over whatever reasonable period of time (and, perhaps cagily, Trump didn’t predict when this tenfolding would occur) – is pretty much unfathomable. And 15 million visitors to a country the size of Guam – population 160K. Well…

This type of growth would be plenty difficult to achieve under normal circumstances. Let alone abnormal circumstances. I.e., a proven madman threatening to drop bombs off your coast, while another likely madman is threatening to end the world as we know it, including setting off a war that will domino-effect end in the obliteration of the source of so much of Guam’s tourist traffic (i.e., from South Korea and Japan).

Sure, Guam has become “extremely famous all over the world.” But not for its waving palms, sunny days, and pristine beaches. Which I assume is what Guam has on offer. Most of what I know about Guam is that tit was the site of a major battle during WWII, that it’s an important military location for the US, and that, even if they can’t vote, Guam sends folks to our political conventions. They wear funny hats and, when they cast their votes, they always give a shout out to being the place where it’s tomorrow before anyplace else in the States.

But really and truly, is anyone actually looking up from their TV, turning to their spouse and saying, “Honey, how about Guam this year?”

Maybe Donald, Melania, and Barron can upstakes from Bedminster, NJ, and spend the last few days of their vacation in Guam, just as a show of faith and good will. Putting his – or, rather, the taxpayers’ – money where his tenfold mouth is. Or perhaps Ivanka and Jared can spin over with the kids, when Jared gets back from his upcoming deployment to the Mideast – once he delivers regional peace, that is.

I mean, wouldn’t the saber-rattling (make that nuke-rattling) on both sides give you some pause? If you want aquamarine waters and umbrella drinks, wouldn’t you be better off going to someplace in the Caribbean that’s not in Kim Jong Un’s gun sights?

That’s for new tourists, of course. The ones who’ll make up part of the tenfold increase.

Apparently, those who’re already committed to a trip to Guam are hanging in there. Or at least the tourist bureau folks are wishing and hoping that this will be the case.

The Guam Visitors Bureau has heard reports of cancellations, but [the Bureau’s Antonio] Muna said it doesn't yet have any concrete figures on how many took place. Officials are still expecting a strong August, Muna said…"Japan and Korea make over 90 percent of our arrivals. And they're much closer to North Korea than Guam is," Muna said. (Source: OregonLive)

Way to spin things, Mr. Muna: “Hey, Korean and Japanese tourists, come to Guam. Because, when you think about it, your countries are more likely to get nuked out of existence than we are. So come on over.”

Why that’s actually a spin worthy of one Donald J. Trump. Maybe marketing genius is actually contagious.

I’ll have to keep my eye on Guam’s tourism stats, but I’m not holding my breath about that 10x happening anytime soon.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Think I’ll do me some back to school shopping

As a decidedly nerdly child, I always looked forward to heading back to school in September.

There was always the possibility of a new nun being transferred in. There was the fun of covering your books with brown paper bags or cool “college” covers. (At one point, I had a four pack that included Penn State, Villanova, and Kentucky, I think. Quite a random assortment. I bought it because it had a Holy Cross purple and white cover in it.) And by the end of summer, I was actually getting a bit bored with lolling around playing Monopoly and making gimp lanyards at Bennett Field.

For all the anticipation there was not much actual preparation for going back to school, not all that much back-to-school shopping to be done. Other than a new pair of Stride-Rites (grammar school) or Weejuns (high school), there wasn’t much by way of clothing purchase. Throughout grammar school and high school, I wore a green jumper and white shirt.

In grammar school, these were handed down from my sister Kath. In high school, you got your jumper and shirts freshman year, and that’s pretty much what you wore for the next four years.

You also carried your school bag until it fell apart, so that wasn’t an annual buy. For part of grammar school, I carried a hideous bright green fake suede-ish bag with the school name and logo in bright yellow. Then I graduated to what was called a Harvard book bag: a dark green rubber lined canvas bag that you slung over your shoulder.

Until seventh grade, I went home for lunch so – oh, boo-hoo – I never had the pleasure of a lunch box. What I wouldn’t have given for a red plaid lunch box with Thermos. Or a Cinderella one. Or any sort of lunch box, since that was what all the kids on TV carried. Maybe it was a suburb thing, but why didn’t any of those TV kids come home for lunch? It’s not as if their mothers did anything but hang around in crisp housedresses, heels, and pearls. Surely, they had time to heat up some Campbell’s Vegetable Beef and slap a piece of baloney on white bread.

From seventh grade on, I ate lunch at school. In seventh and eighth grade, the nuns wanted us to have something of a junior high experience, so we “ate in”, sitting at our desks, which we covered with sheets of clear plastic. There was a lunch room in our school, and not that many kids in the younger grades ate at school. So there was certainly room for us to eat there. But for some reason, we weren’t allowed to eat at the cool fold down tables in the lunch room. Maybe it would have been too much effort to pull down the tablews for us.

In high school, Catholic school became more normal, and we ate at school. In the caf. In any case, school was too far away to go home. I don’t even remember the Whelan girls, whose house was practically on the school property, going home for lunch. Anyway, from seventh through high school. I carried my lunch in a brown paper lunch bag. No back to school shopping required.

But in grammar school, there was always the new pencil case to look forward to. And a couple of black and white marble notebooks. In the later grades, a loose-leaf binder and paper was a requirement.

All this was available at Woolworth’s.

So, as exciting as going back to school was, back to school shopping was not a big deal in my world.

These days, of course, it is a big deal – lots of advertising, back to school sales, etc. And Walmart, of course, understandably wants to take advantage of the seasonal splurge.

But in one store, Guns at Walmartthey combined back to school with something of a Guns of August theme, with a sign reading “own the school year like a hero” hung over a display case full of guns.

I don’t know what – if anything - the person who hung this sign was thinking.But what comes to my mind is Columbine and Newtown.

Guns and back to school shopping don’t seem to go hand in hand. Not even at Walmart.

The sign appears to be part of an ongoing superhero-themed marketing campaign that is not related to guns. (Source: Boston Globe)

Walmart investigated the unfortunate sign, and now says that the entire matter is a prank. Not clear whether the store was pranked by an employee, a shopper, or a Photoshopper. But whatever the circumstances, Walmart is saying ‘not us.’

It’s not, of course, much of a surprise that folks jumped to a conclusion that it was something of a serious promo on the part of Walmart. After all, just last month there was the incident in which a third-party seller offering their wares on described a wig’s color as “n***** brown. And there are those who believe teachers should be armed. So why not the school kids, too?

How do the PR folks at Walmart keep up with all this? Especially when they have to be doing all that back to school shopping that didn’t even exist back in days of yore.

Me, while I don’t use a pencil box, I do enjoy shopping for office supplies. I think I need some pens. Maybe I can take advantage of the back to school sales at Staples.

Monday, August 14, 2017

All concerted out

Amazingly – to me at least – I’ve been to three concerts in the last couple of weeks.

First up was Mary Black, pretty much my favorite Irish singer. Mary is a folk singer – and then some. I’ve been a fan for years, had seen her a few times in concert, and have about a dozen of her CD’s. A couple of years ago, she did what was billed as her final tour. Unfortunately, I missed the Boston stop. Fortunately, that final tour turned out to be a semi-final, and on her recent swing through the States, she made a stop in Beverly, Mass. So off I went.

When Mary came out, her voice was a bit – well, off is not the right word; she’s never off – let’s just say a bit “under” her norm. She mentioned that she was warming up, and that her voice would be fully back as the night went on. I figured that, at age 62, her incredibly powerful voice had lost some of its power. But damned if her voice didn’t come back.

Roisin O opened for Mary, and Roisin O, as it turns out, is Mary Black’s daughter. My guess is that Mary unfinaled her final tour to introduce her daughter to Amerikay. Fair play to her. Roisin was wonderful – a very engaging performer. But my heart and ears belong to Mary.

She couldn’t possibly have covered all of my favorite songs of hers – there are just too many. But she hit plenty of my high points – “Dream of Columbus,” “Carolina Rua,” “No Frontier” – and it was a fine night.

I’d been to the venue – The Cabot Theater – before, and it’s a great old rehabbed theater. It was a vaudeville theater in the 1920’s, and its funk and charm has been brought back. That said, they could do something about the AC. We were there on a cool (for late July) evening. If it had been really hot, the theater would have been pretty unbearable. Other than that, a very fine evening.

Last Thursday, I heard another Irish performer – Emmet Cahill – that’s CAH-hill, not CAY-hill, as they say around these parts. Emmet has a tremendous voice, as pure an Irish tenor as you can imagine. He’s often compared to to “The Great John MacCormack.” Of course, there can’t be three people under the age of 100 who would get a comparison to “The Great John MacCormack.” But I’m here to tell you that Emmet’s voice is a little more current than the voice of his predecessor, which to modern ears sounds just a bit orotund. (If you’re curious, here’s Count MacCormack singing “Maggie,” one of my grandmother’s favorites.)

And not to be a look-sist, but young Mr. Cahill has it all over John Mac when it comes to the looks department. He is absolutely adorable, and comes across as very charming and sweet. (Seems for real. Hope he’s not an axe murderer in real life…)

I had seen Emmet perform in Worcester this past winter, and that concert was fine, even though some of the songs he covered were a bit on the schmaltz end of the spectrum. “Danny Boy.” “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.”

And “Machushla, Machushla”???? Not quite as bad as “Mother Machree”, but, oy vey. Speaking of “Mother Machree” - in my book “The Horse with No Name” of Irish music - at the Worcester concert, someone in back of me requested it during the open request session. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I let out an involuntary, yet audible, gasp. Fortunately, Emmet either didn’t hear the request, or he figured I might create a scene if he honored it, but there was no “Mother Machree.” He was more partial to my request, “Galway Girl,” a fun Steve Earl song.

Last week’s Emmet Cahill concert was in a lovely old Catholic Church in a Boston ‘burb. This was an odd setting for a concert, but it worked. (They had de-churched things a bit by taking the hosts out of the tabernacle, but it did feel a bit churchy. I almost reflectively genuflected. Talk about muscle memory!)

Emmet was in fine voice, and, while he did hit most of the Irish chestnuts, he through in a few more show/pop tunes than he did in Worcester. And he really does have a lovely voice and is a thoroughly charming performer. Once again, I was able to get in my request for “Galway Girl” there – quite fittingly, as I was there with my niece Molly, recently returned from a uni semester in Galway.

Molly wasn’t the youngest person there, but when I ran the numbers in my head, I came up with a median age older than my own. I may be flattering myself here, but there were a lot of older folks in the crowd. I do hope that Emmet breaks through before his audience dies off. (He also performs with the cute-young-Irish-guy group, Celtic Thunder, so he has another audience – admittedly with some overlap – out there.)

And then, last Friday, on a perfect summer’s night, I saw James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt at Fenway Park.

I saw him there last year (Jackson Browne in tow –  with JT, not with me), and last Friday night was even better.

Bonnie Raitt – bless her – hasn’t changed her look in 40+ years – but the girl can still rock it. Lots of fun. James Taylor, well, he’s 69, and his look has changed over the years. For one thing, he’s bald (and looks exactly like his father, who I used to see around the neighborhood). But his voice is still warm, mellow and sure. And he can be very, very funny.

I’ve always loved James Taylor. How can I not like a guy who wrote a song with my birthday mentioned in it? That doesn’t happen to most folks. Sure, there’s “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” (A real, live nephew of my Uncle Sam, born on the Fourth of July.) And a few others where the date is noted. I may not get a mention in any song – there’s no “I’ll Take You Home Again, Maureen” out there – but for a great lyric, it’s hard to beat The first of December was covered with snow, so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston. Thank you, Sweet Baby, James for a wonderful night at the old ball park.

The only downside was that, 200 miles away, the Yankees were beating the Red Sox…

Anyway, three in two weeks is a lot of live music, and I’m all concerted out for a while. But all three were great in their own very different ways.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Happy Working Wanderers (Valderi, valdera!)

I’ve been to Germany several times, but most of my time has been spent in cities, not tootling around the countryside. So I can’t say that I’ve ever come across any “Wandegesellen.” And I’m quite sure I wandergesellenwould remember if I’d seen any guys dressed as bell-bottomed chimney sweeps.

The Wandergesellen (translation: journeymen) are:

…young men, and these days women, too, who have finished their required training in any number of trades and are traveling to gather experience. Most are from German-speaking countries. In the past, journeymen traveled under the auspices of a trade association, and today many still do. But many also take up the practice freely, though still adhering to the strict, often arcane, rules handed down largely through word of mouth to preserve the tradition. (Source: NY Times)

Journeymen are 30 and under, unmarried, and not in debt. To compete their training – as carpenters,bakers, gardeners – journeymen take off for two to three years:

— plus a day, and to live by their wits, their trade and the generosity of strangers.

While they’re on the road (primarily in German-speaking countries, but sometimes far afield) the journeymen rely on other journeymen, and – oh, so sweetly - on the kindness of strangers.

While on the road, journeymen are not supposed to pay for food or accommodations, and instead live by exchanging work for room and board. In warm weather, they sleep in parks and other public spaces. They generally carry only their tools, several changes of underwear, socks and a few shirts wrapped into small bundles that can be tied to their walking sticks — and that can also double as pillows. Most journeymen will work in the jobs for which they are trained. But they also take other work, either to expand their skill set or out of a need for food or a change of pace.

The Wandegesellen have been around since Medieval times – with hiatuses for during the two world wars. After WWII, the tradition died out until the 1980’s. Which may explain why, during the time I spent in the German countryside in the early 1970’s, I didn’t spot any of them In Germany, people recognize who they are because of their distinctive garb. And they can translate the jacket colors into the trade. The fellows in the picture above are wearing black. That makes them carpenters or roofers.

Others are not so in the know.

“Outside of Germany, we are often taken for cowboys,” said Arnold Böhm, 25, a carpenter from Görlitz who spent time working in Cape Verde, Namibia and South Africa.

Maybe not cowboys, but definitely independent and traveling light.

Traditionally, a journeyman was not allowed to travel or seek work within a 60- kilometer radius of his hometown — a guideline intended to encourage an exchange of ideas among those practicing any given trade. Today, it remains a way to ensure that the journeyman develops independence.

I think this is a great tradition and wonderful ideas.College is fine. For a lot of kids, it gets them away from home. But it doesn’t necessarily foster independence, especially if they’re subsidized by the Bank of Mom and Dad.

Getting drafted – and I do remember the day when EVERYONE male went into the service – pulled kids out of their home town and their comfort zone. It was a good leveler, good for democracy. But who wants to see their kid get shot at in Afghanistan, let alone North Korea.

My niece Molly spent a recent semester abroad. Like most kids who spend a semester somewhere in Europe, she and her new friends did plenty of weekend and school break traveling. (Thank you, Ryanair and AirBnB.) But Molly wanted to take at least one trip on her own, in a country where she knew no one and didn’t speak the language. So she took off on a trip to Italy, where she made her way through Verona, Venice, Pisa, and Florence.

We were all so proud of our very own Wandegesellen, even if she didn’t have to work while she was out exploring.

But most young folks don’t even do something like Molly did, let alone what the Wandegesellen take on.

Wandering around, singing (or gardening, or tiling, or roofing) for your supper. What a great idea.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Food spies

No doubt about it, food poisoning is pretty miserable. For Mitchell Weinberg, it was a bad bowl of ice cream that did it.

Bad bowl of ice cream! A lot of people suffer from PFPSD (Post Food Poisoning Stress Disorder), and can never, ever, ever again eat whatever it was that made them sick. Or whatever it was they were eating before they got sick, even if it had nothing to do with making them sick. For my sister Trish, a bad childhood experience with – make that after -  ham and green bean soup – a wonderful and yummy family staple – prevents her, to this day, from enjoying it. (Note to self: I still have the Easter hambone in my freezer. First cool day in September, I’ll dig it out and make a batch for myself.)

Me? I’ll never eat oysters on the half-shell in Ireland again, I can tell you that for sure.

Anyway, Mitchell Weinberg was pretty sure certain that it was ice cream, in Shanghai, that did him in.

It also inspired the then-trade consultant to set up Inscatech — a global network of food spies. (Source: Bloomberg)

What does this company do?

In demand by multinational retailers and food producers, Inscatech and its agents scour supply chains around the world hunting for evidence of food industry fraud and malpractice. In the eight years since he founded the New York-based firm, Weinberg, 52, says China continues to be a key growth area for fraudsters as well as those developing technologies trying to counter them.

“Statistically we’re uncovering fraud about 70 percent of the time, but in China it’s very close to 100 percent,” he said. “It’s pervasive, it’s across food groups, and it’s anything you can possibly imagine.”

100 percent. That’s certainly impressive.

I’m not aware that I buy any food from China. Surely I would remember if I’d found myself cooking up “rat-meat dressed as lamb.” Surely, it would have looked, felt, and smelled a bit off, even when slathered with mint jelly.

But I don’t tend to look at where my food comes from, other than when native whatever is in the market. For canned goods? I know my Teddie’s Peanut Butter comes from Massachusetts. As do the Polar sodas. Most of my pasta comes from Italy. My butter comes from Ireland. But I’ll have to look at those tuna cans, that Progresso soup.

Inscatech is very techie. It’s:

…developing molecular markers and genetic fingerprints to help authenticate natural products and sort genuine foodstuffs from the fakes. Another approach companies are pursuing uses digital technology to track and record the provenance of food from farm to plate.

Sort of reminds me of ‘how a bill becomes a law.’ Or how a rat becomes a lamb. Or not.

I believe I’ve read about this genetic tracing before. Something about horse meat in the beef supply in Ireland. Something else about renaming fish as scallops.

Interestingly enough – at least to me – is that one of the technologies being used to track food as it makes it way up and down the food chain is the same technology – blockchain – that’s used for crypto-currencies (think bitcoin).

Blockchain technology is “essentially a shared, cryptographically secure ledger of transactions.” I.e., it makes things traceable. And it’s helping to radically cut the time it takes to track an item through the food chain. For one company – that would be Wal-Mart – the time it took to track their meat supply chain went from more than a day to a couple of seconds. I’m all for it. I’d sure rather find out that the funny smelling lamb was rat before I took a bite. In fact, I’d sure rather not ever find it out. Period. Let Wal-Mart nip it in the bud.

In real life, while I do like rat lamb, I don’t ever buy it (at Wal-Mart or anywhere else). I do, however, buy chicken, so I’m delighted that the blockchain technology will be tracking Chinese chickens from coop on through the factory and on into the meat case. Not that I eat Chinese chicken. I’m a Bell & Evans kind of gal, and those babies come from Pennsylvania.

Joke as I may about food safety, it is a pretty serious issue. Remember back in 2008 when, in China, melamine milk killed six babies?

It’s not just the Chinese, of course. Food fraudsters are everywhere.

Technology is all well and good. But, blockchain blockchain-ing throughout the entire food supply chain is still a while away from ubiquity and perfection. And as Weinberg points out:

"The problem is the data is only as reliable as the person providing the data.”


So Inscatech still relies on boots on the ground, informants who “sniff out where in the production process food-fraud is taking place.”

These folks, will, of course, find their jobs automated away at some point.

But if there’s money to be made selling fake shrimp, adulterated foods, and rat for lamb, criminals will be there selling fake shrimp, adulterated foods, and rat for lamb.

I’m delighted there’s a company like Inscatech out there, but I’m also plenty happy that I can afford to shop in places like Whole Wallet and Roche Brothers, where I mostly don’t have to worry about getting poisoned.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Fun-gineer? You call THAT a vocation?

When I was growing up, vocation meant one thing and one thing only. It meant religious vocation to become a nun, a priest, or a brother. We were supposed to pray for a vocation, but after a certain age – let’s say, about 9 or 10 – most of my friends were praying to not have a vocation.

Vocation? Ugh!

Once you got over your romantic Bells of St. Mary’s notion about how swell it would be to be a gorgeous nun like Sister Benedict (Ingrid Bergman) and have a swell, fun, crooning priest like Father Chuck O’Malley (Bing Crosby) fall head over heels for you in a chaste, nunny-priesty kind of way, vocation was, well, ugh. Just ugh.

Who wanted to go away, shave your head, wear funny clothing, pray all the time, and have no TV, Friendly’s Awful Awfuls, transistor radios, contact with your families, or boy friends (which, as long as you weren’t in the convent, were at least a possibility?

I won’t say no one.

Two girls in my high school class entered the convent. One of them didn’t stay in all that long, but the other is still at it, doing wonderful, life- (and, I guess, vocation-) affirming work with refugees. She entered in a changing era, and I don’t think she ever had to shave her head.

Anyway, that’s what vocation meant if you were a Catholic kid growing up in the fifties or sixties.

For most of us, it was something to be feared.

It was especially creepy when the nuns used to smile knowingly at girls they thought might be susceptible to their wily ways, and say “it’s the ones you least suspect…” More creepily, I spent a week during my senior year in high school at what was nominally a gathering of student council officers from high schools run by “our” order of nuns. II realized later that a purpose (or at least a sub-purpose) was to expose us to the joys and wonders of the novitiate, where gathering was held, and where we got to do things like play volleyball and eat ice cream with the postulants who were about to become novices. And ask the hovering professed nuns any questions we had about what it was like to “go in.”

So vocation is not a word I’d ever use with respect to career.

But The New York Times has no such qualms, and they have a regular column entitled Vocations. The other day, the vocation was happiness engineer, which sounds just about as far away as nun or priest as it can be.

The happiness engineer profiled is Tyler Williams, who is the head of experiential marketing at Zappo’s. Even after all these decades in marketing, I have scant idea what experiential marketing means. But, in the world of Zappos, Tyler is called a fun-gineer. In Tyler’s words:

My job is to bring joy and smiles to Zappos’s 1,500 employees. (Without the hyphen, by the way, I’d be a technician of fungi.) For example, I built an instant dance party in the company lobby. It works like this: When you push a button with a sign under it that says, “Don’t ever push this button,” lights go on and music blares. (Source: NY Times)

I can honestly say that I never worked at a company where it was anyone’s job to bring joy and smiles to its employees. Further, I’ll hazard a guess that my sister Kath, who sent me the link to this article, never worked anyplace that had such a position either. I suspect that the closest either of us came to “an instant dance party in the company lobby” was a fire drill. Of course, Kath worked in jobs – grammar school teacher, then operations manager in financial services – where none of this nonsense was going to happen. But even my career in hip and happen’ high tech, where morale attempts included stuff like:

  • Video games in the kitchen
  • Friday beer parties
  • Having the execs come around pushing ice cream carts
  • Having the execs dish out bad turkey dinners while wearing Santa caps

No one really gave much of a hoot about bringing joy and smiles to the employees.

But Zappos is a different sort of animal to begin with, and companies that are stacked with millennials (such as Zappos) tend to do more to entertain their workforce. For Tyler, that means a position that:

…comes within our brand aura department, which is similar to other companies’ brand marketing departments.

Brand marketing, I get. Or think I get. Or used to get. That retreat for the student council officers? Brand marketing for an order of nuns! (One thing I know, if there’d been a “don’t ever push this button”, I’d have been sorely tempted to push it.) But brand aura? Saints have auras, no? Isn’t it something like a halo? But brands?

Anyway, Tyler started out in customer service, which is at the heart of the Zappos brand aura. (And, yes, I’m a Zappos devotee.) Pretty much everyone, including Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, works the lines at one point or another.

Customer service is actually an excellent way to understand what your customers go through. I worked for one small software company where we had to take turns manning the customer support line. It was eye-opening. (While I was in college, I also worked in the complaint department at Sears, but that’s another story entirely…)

From customer service, Tyler got his big break. An A/V club kind of guy, he got the chance to set up the video show for a speech Hsieh was giving. Based on his performance, the head of HR asked Tyler to write his own job description.

Which turned out to be fun-gineer.

Still doesn’t sound much like a vocation to me, but that’s probably a reflection of my warped childhood.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Lisdoon, Lisdoon, Lisdoon, Lisdoonvarna

When I was in Ireland this past spring, we went through the town of Lisdoonvarna, County Clare.

I was familiar with the town, which is well known throughout Ireland for its matchmaking festival. (There’s also a dreadful earworm of a song by Christy Moore that celebrates the town. Since I don’t want to spread an earworm, I’ll spare you a link to it.) But, even though I am a single gal, I don’t give much thought to Lisdoonvarna.

Other, apparently, do, making Lisdoonvarna – population 739 – a major tourist destination each fall when the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival takes place.

The Festival doubles as a country music festival, country music being wildly popular in Ireland. And let’s put to rest any thought that this is just about bachelor farmers chipping the cow dung off their shoes and heading down from the hills to find love. This year’s festival – which, according to different places on their web site – will attract 40,000 or 60,000 visitors – will include:

The Outing’ LGBT festival – the world’s only LGBT music and matchmaking festival – featuring pop-up clubs, drag acts, comedy and live music.

Ireland has, indeed, come a long way, baby. (They also passed, through direct vote, the legalization of gay marriage.) Nonetheless, the traditional elements are the Festival still hold. According to Willie Daly, the last of the Irish matchmakers – he’s been at it since he was a teenager, and estimates that he’s been instrumental in 3,000 marriages over the years:

“Rural Ireland can be a lonely place. There’s a lot of lonely men, farmers left behind, while a lot women are based in the cities, so the festival is a great place for them to meet up”

The Festival has been going on for more than 150 years. And if rural Ireland is lonely now, I can only imagine how lonely and bleak it was 150 years ago. There was definitely a reason my great-grandparents – John Rogers, Margaret Joyce, Matthew Trainor, and Bridget Trainor (yep, they were some sort of cousin, but they married in the States, not in Ireland) – all packed their bags, kissed their mothers goodbye, and lit out for Amerikay on some crummy ship.

Anyway, perhaps because she thought it would be a good Pink Slip topic, my cousin Ellen sent me a link to an article that just appeared in The Chicago Tribune. Or perhaps because she thought I might want to head back across the pond and find me one of those bachelor farmers. (She did advise that I should check the teeth of any prospective husband). Willie Daley (who comes from a long line of matchmakers) was, naturally, featured in the article:

“Matchmaking is all magic, that’s what I believe,” said Daly, who’s in his 70s. “A lot of my pairings are by instinct, once I know what a person wants. It may be physical attraction or a roof over their heads.” (Source: Chicago Trib)

Willie uses a method similar to that of, only he does it in his head and on paper, hanging out in one of the town’s hotels to meet with those longing to make it to the altar. Where’s the magic?

Daly brings the family heirloom to the festival: a shabby, dog-eared book that contains the personal details of couples matched over the past century. The tome has magical qualities, according to Daly. He says anyone who touches the cover of his lucky book will be partnered within six months.

What grand craic it would be to take a look through that book and see those personal details.

Anyway, Willie Daly’s fees are modest, running around $100 a match. But he’s been known to do some selective pricing, charging the well-heeled (Mercedes driver) more than those with less in their pockets (bicycle riders).

Festival attendees will come from near (Ireland) and far (South Africa, Poland, and, of course, the US). Alas, I will not be one of them. Although it would be tempting to see what Willie Daly had on offer for me. (The Mercedes driver? The bicycle guy?) I suspect he’d tell me that I’m out of my feckin’ mind.

So, thanks, Ellen for the hint, but I’ll be staying home this September. If Mr. Right is out there, I won’t be finding him in Lisdoon, Lisdoon, Lisdoon, Lisdoonvarna.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Acapulco Gold Rush Town?

As headlines go, it’s hard to top “Cannabis Grower Buys California Town to Build Pot-Friendly Outpost.”

Nipton, California – population 20 – sounds to me like something of a hell hole. It’s a mining/ranching town in the Mojave Desert – with summer temps over 100 degrees - and it’s been on the market for over a year now. Among its other charms, Nipton is the home of the Mojave Death Race. (250 mile run/bike relay. Include me out, thank you.) Anyway, if you’re like me, you’re wondering just what it means to buy a town.

“It’s sort of like buying a business, said Tony Castrignano, owner/broker of Sky Mesa Realty, who represents the owners and is also their neighbor.

“There’s two aspects to it. The land, which is worth X amount of dollars per acre. Then you have the businesses, and they generate income, so when we evaluated the sale price, we took that into consideration. Believe it or not, this town generates a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year in profit.”

The price includes abundant water, a photovoltaic solar array, a general store, hotel, recreational vehicle park, campgrounds, schoolhouse and two small houses.

“There are many profit centers generating income,” Castrignano said. “I’ve been doing this 35 years, never had an opportunity to sell an entire town. It’s exciting.” (Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Well, I would think that water might come in handy in the Mojave Desert. And I’ve always thought it would be fun to live in a converted schoolhouse. But I don’t like the heat, so I’m not disappointed that someone else scooped Nipton up.

That someone is American Green Inc., which makes cannabis products. It’s spending $5 million, and investing another $2.5 million, “to create a pot-friendly tourist destination.”

The move shows how far marijuana has moved out of the shadows despite an uncertain federal policy outlook. With pot now legalized for recreational and medical use in California, Nevada and six other states, one in five American adults can consume the formerly taboo plant as they please. That’s created an opportunity for companies to try to make cannabis a more mainstream product. (Source: Bloomberg)

Traveling to a “pot-friendly tourist destination” is considered affinity travel. Sort of like touring wine country. Or trucking up to Prince Edward Island to see where Anne of Green Gables “lived.” Guess I just don’t have a niche I’m interested in to make a vacation out of it. But if I did, I can’t imagine it would be splendor in the grass.

Seriously, roaming around a town looking for the world’s best bong store, or the tastiest marijuana brownies. In the company of a bunch of fellow oh-wowers. I think not. But maybe I’ve got it all wrong.

The project reflects a shift toward making marijuana more appealing to a broader audience. This includes reaching beyond the stereotypical stoner aesthetic and making products with milder doses per serving size. American Green has also sought to expand sales by building a vending machine that uses biometric scanners to ensure customers are of age.

In addition to its commitment to push us “beyond the stereotypical stoner aesthetic”, American Green is also focused on sustainability – a double green-rush, as it were.

Unfortunately, looming on the horizon is that little killjoy, Jeff Sessions, who apparently didn’t have any fun in the 1960’s and has a real thing about pot. No friend of the Zig-Zag man, Mr. Sessions even wants to go after medical marijuana use. Guess he won’t be heading off to Nipton anytime soon.

I guess that’s one thing I have in common with the AG.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Damn, wish I’d remembered to be a genius entrepreneur

If you do any spending on the Internet – and that would be pretty much everyone – you’ve no doubt used Stripe. Unlike the flashy consumer-facing companies – think Uber – Stripe operates behind the scenes.

Stripe is the brainchild of brothers Patrick and John Collison who were barely out of their teens when they decided to do something about the clumsy, old and creaky ways in which the Internet’s financial infrastructure operated, building:

software that businesses could plug into websites and apps to instantly connect with credit card and banking systems and receive payments…

The company now handles tens of billions of dollars in internet transactions annually, making money by charging a small fee on each one. Half of Americans who bought something online in the past year did so, probably unknowingly, via Stripe. (Source: Bloomberg)

The company’s valuation is $9.2 billion, making the Collison brothers billionaires.

There are questions about how realistic this valuation is, but – when it comes to Internet companies – that’s not exactly news. And few are betting against them.

What’s interesting about these fellows to me isn’t so much that they’re boy billionaires. It’s their back story.

They grew up in a pokey Irish village with the brilliant name of Dromineer, where their father (switching careers from electrical engineering) ran a small hotel on Lough Derg. When I saw this, I got all jazzed, as Lough Derg is a famous pilgrimage site, where penitents walk around barefoot on a rocky island in the wet and col, and have nothing to sustain them over the course of their pilgrimage beyond dry bread and tea. Alas, there are two Lough Dergs in Ireland, and the Collison Lough Derg is touristy, not pilgrimage-y. (Mom also had an interesting career track, moving from microbiology to running a corporate training company.)

Anyway, the brothers Collison were bred to be entrepreneurs.

But mostly they were bred to be geniuses.

While in school, teachers let Patrick read books in class when he was bored. He did some study-at-home, and managed to take the standardized Irish leaving cert tests, usually taken over a two-year stretch, in less than three weeks. Naturally, he aced all 30 exams. (And, to celebrate, ran a marathon.) Meanwhile, he’d been named Ireland’s Young Scientist of the Year “for developing a programming language and artificial intelligence system.”

Based on the scores of SATs he took when he was 13, Patrick crossed the pond to study at MIT.

John was no stupe, either. He went to Harvard.

When the brothers weren’t being students, they created iPhone apps,

One of their first hits was an $8 version of Wikipedia that people could search offline—the brothers stripped out superfluous coding so the whole thing could fit in a downloadable file. They also helped create a way to manage EBay auctions and sold that company, Auctomatic Inc., for $5 million in 2008. 

Like fellow genius entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, the boyos dropped out of college. Like Zuck, they moved to California and built Stripe.

A PayPal investor, Mike Moritz, who saw them in action had this to say:

“They have the advantage of coming to California without being tainted and polluted by what’s in the water supply and air of Silicon Valley,” says Moritz, a partner at Sequoia Capital and a Stripe board member. “They’re more humble and well-rounded. There’s such an improbability to their story—that these brothers from a little village would come to build what could well be one of the most important companies on the internet.”

Speaking of PayPal, Stripe has plenty of competitors, and transaction processing is a highly competitive, low margin, cutthroat business. Stripe has cut out a nitch with Internet startups, and is also cutting deals with Amazon and some direct merchants. Stripe now has over 700 employees. And the Collison brothers are spending their time trying to expand their footprint in Internet infrastructure.

The wallpaper on his [Patrick’s] computer displays a countdown clock for his life: He has 52 years and a few days left. “This is a very coarse estimate, but it’s a reminder that you get old quickly,” he says, a touch of gray now in his red hair. “When you talk to people who are old, some wish they had enjoyed themselves more, but not many wish they had wasted more time.”

That’s for damn sure, at least in my case. There’s no doubt, when I’m about to start death rattling, I’ll look back on those hours whiled away watching “Tiny House” and playing Tai-Pei, and think, damn…I know what I was doing, but what was I thinking?  

The Collisons don’t waste time consume pop culture or watch TV. Patrick admits:

If I had infinite time, I would watch it. This might be the entirely wrong optimization.”

Instead, the brothers spend their time studying topics that interest them – e.g., law (John) and physics (Patrick). They’re pilots, and runners.

During company runs, Patrick lags behind to hang with the slowest person. Sometimes, John hands out pancake bundles at the end of early-morning jogs.

Well, how endearing is that?

There’s more of course. The Bloomberg article has a lot more on the brothers, and the payment biz. All pretty interesting.

Anyway, I loved reading about these guys. Mostly, I suppose, because they come from the back arse of nowhere in Ireland. And because they’re such colossal nerd boys.

Makes me wish that I’d remembered to be a genius entrepreneur.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

How does your garden grow?

For nearly 10 years, I worked for a company with offices in the Alewife section of Cambridge. There wasn’t a ton out there. The most notable and largest structure was the Alewife T-station, the terminus of one of Boston’s rapid transit lines. If you wanted to go out to lunch, there were a couple of places in walking distance. For the life of me, I don’t recall whether there was even a caf in the building – there must have been… I’m pretty sure there was one in the building across the street, which was sort of a sister building where we sometimes held meetings.

Anyway, being on a T-line and having parking lots were pretty much it for amenities. I guess back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, those who owned office buildings weren’t all that concerned with making things great for their tenants.

I’ve been out to Alewife plenty of times over the nearly twenty years since I worked there – it’s a convenient place to meet suburban friends for lunch or dinner, and there are a couple more restaurant options than there were back in the day. But it hadn’t really sunk in how built up the area is. There are all kinds of apartment buildings up and going up. New office buildings (some replacing the really crappy old buildings that were on the street when I worked there). I “discovered” this yesterday, when I went out there to meet with a new client which has its offices across the street from my old haunt. (The sister building.)

I have enough local clients to realize that office layouts and style – more open, standup desks, nifty collab spaces - are a lot different than they were back in my day – a lot more attention being paid to look and feel. Sure, we had a couple of video games in the kitchen, but my new client has a lot going on, including Waffle Wednesday (I was offered but declined) and very artful photos taken by employees gracing the walls. And a lot of other things that hollered hip and happening. (There were pillows in the waiting area that had the company logo on them. Sounds stupid, but it looks kind of cool.)

There was no caf in my client’s building, but it does host a different pop-up restaurant each day, so I was able to get a nice Vietnamese bowl for lunch. And there are food trucks outside if the bowl wasn’t to my liking.

I saw a sign for the bi-weekly cocktail party that the buildings’ owner hosts.

And lots of other goodies.

But as far as I could tell, there weren’t any gardens where employees can till the earth, which is the latest on-trend corporate thing.Netscout is one company that’s letting its workforce get their hands dirty.

The garden for Netscout employees is part of a growing trend in employee wellness. In many instances, community garden groups provide the knowledge, infrastructure, and oversight, and companies provide enthusiastic workers. The produce that is grown is often donated to local food banks, sent home with employees, or prepared and served in corporate cafeterias. “There’s something really, really special about it — when people come together and do something as tangible and real as growing food, ” said Christine Berthold, president of Fresh Start Food Gardens, a company that installs and manages corporate gardens, including at Netscout. “You want employees who are happy, who are fulfilled, who are connected, who feel a part of something, and you want to keep them healthy, ” Berthold said. “The garden does all of those things.” (Source: Boston Globe)

Ah, I remember back in the day when people came together to do something as tangible and real as application software. Admittedly, it wasn’t as tangible and real as, say, building a car. But in olden days, what you did at work was, well, work.

While I have seen articles where an instance of one is dubbed a trend, but, in this case, Netscout is not alone. Boston Medical Center has a rooftop “farm” the produces food used a their food pantry, and for their patient food service. They’re aiming at producing 15,000 pounds of food this year.

I’m not so certain that, if I’d had an opportunity to plow, seed, weed, or pick on the job, I would have availed myself of it. Nonetheless, I like the idea of it. Not enough to want to go back to work full time, of course.But being able to head to the company garden and pick a nice ripe tomato. That might be nice.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Work-Life Imbalance

I saw an interesting article on Ladders on a new trend in the job application process: prospective employers sussing out whether their prospective employees are willing to give up any thought of work-life balance to get the job.

Given all we hear about companies trying to promote work-life balance by enforcing vacations, requiring smartphone free weekends, and doing all kinds of other employee friendly things, this may come as something of a shock. We’re told that work-life balance is what the millennials are demanding. That’s it the only way to attract and retain valuable employees (a.k.a. in the argot of the day “assets”).

At the same time, we’re also continuing to hear about all the 24/7 tech companies where the assets live on Red Bull and Doritos, sleep on futons, and only take time off when it’s to do something like pogo-stick up Mount Kilimanjaro or build a schooner out of bamboo shoots.

So which is it?

Do the stodgy old old-school companies offer work-life balance, while the blazingly hot startups offer a near-death experience in return for the remote possibility that you’ll get a big payday when the blazingly hot startup goes unicorn?

Anyway, it seems that some companies are slipping tests into the interview process. Take Barstool Sports chief exec

… Erika Nardini, who reportedly texts job applicants interviewing with the company on weekends. Nardini said she does this “just to see how fast you’ll respond,” in an interview with The New York Times. She expects to be contacted back “within three hours,” she elaborated. “It’s not that I’m going to bug you all weekend if you work for me, but I want you to be responsive. I think about work all the time,” Nardini said. “Other people don’t have to be working all the time, but I want people who are also always thinking.” (Source: The Ladder)

I will observe that anyone looking to work at Barstool Sports – a blogging site the covers sports and “guy stuff” – can reasonably expect that their job will require them to pay attention to the stuff – guy and otherwise – that happens on nights and weekends. Stuff like football games. And I’m guessing that the folks attracted to working there are going to be youngish folks who live on their smartphones and will quite naturally respond to any weekend text from Nardini within 3 seconds, let alone 3 hours.

For Barstool, that sneaky little cat is now out of the bad, and you’d have to be a really bad interviewee not to be on the lookout for a text from Nardini. I suspect that it’s more likely that canny prospects will be texting Nardini or tweeting #barstoolsports when they come across something of interest, like an NFL star with a DUI. Or an event of equally vital importance.

Another CEO:

asks candidates if they’d “leave [their] family at Disneyland to do something that was really important for the company?” He expects them to say yes.

Although there are certainly another company might expect a ‘no’ or some sort of pushback.

I’m all for work-life balance. I put in plenty of years as a weekend warrior and late-nighter. Mostly this was just a trap that I willingly fell into. I never worked anyplace where there was an expectation that you’d work crazy hours. Even when I worked like a lunatic, with a couple of call-into-a-meeting exceptions, vacations were vacations. No one expected you to work during them. This was, of course, pre-smartphone and rampant “always on”.

These days, there are enough ways to figure out whether an outfit is committed to work-life balance, or hits the teeter-totter on the work-life imbalance side. Sure, people can end up in a place where there’s a bad fit. And, certainly, companies can bullshit you on their real intentions during the interview process. But, hey, if the CEO is honest enough to send you a weekend text to see how quick you jump, I say good for them. Do with it what you will.

A Pink Slip work-life balance shout-out to John Whiteside, a friend (and former colleague) who posted a link to this article on FB.