Tuesday, October 31, 2017

And tomorrow, Witch City gets back to normal

I believe that the word “salem” translates to “peaceful”, but there’s not likely to be a lot of peace in Salem, Massachusetts today.

A lot of places kick it up at Halloween, but I suspect that few towns can hold a bell, book, and candle to our Salem.

My sister Trish lives in Salem, and I spend plenty of time there. So I know first hand that, from late September on, you can just forget about eating out. Or driving downtown on a weekend and finding a parking place, what with all the tourists broomsticking into town to see the Witch Museum, the cemetery where some of the Salem Witch Trial victims are buried, the statue of Samantha of Bewitched fame. And buying Halloween-related gimcrack.

Salem is a tourist town, anyway: House of the Seven Gables, Custom House where Nathaniel Hawthorne worked, the McIntyre District (lovely old homes), beautiful harbor, the Peabody Essex Museum  - truly one of the finest museums in the country. But in October, well, add on all those interested in Halloween-y stuff.

On Halloween itself, the town goes crazy. If October 31 falls on a weekend, the crowds (mostly young adults in costume – lots of witches, plenty of naughty nurses) starting early in the day are just insane. My sister used to live right off Salem Common, and they’d get several hundred trick-or-treaters ringing their doorbell. Even when Halloween falls on a weekday, it’s still a big deal in Salem, replete with fireworks and extra trains running.

There’s an obvious connection between Salem and HalloweenPolice badge, of course. It ain’t called Witch City for nothing. And they take it seriously. As in their police badge, for instance. And the high school mascot is a witch.

Of course, Halloween has become more of “thing” over the last couple of decades, moving from something for the kiddies that was a one-day event (two-day, if you count Beggars Eve), to something that more of less kicks off in late August when CVS starts putting bags on candy corn on their shelves.

Still, it’s really become something in Salem, and witch Laurie Cabot gets at least some of the credit/blame.

“OK, it is kind of my fault,” she said, referring to what has happened to October in Salem since she arrived nearly five decades ago and began the modern witch era in the “Witch City.” (Source: Boston Globe)

Cabot was a practitioner of witchcraft even before she moved to Salem and, in fact, given the witch connection, she was actually reluctant to move there, which she did in the late 1950’s for economic reasons.

“Salem seemed like a bad idea because I didn’t know how anyone would take me because of the witch trials,” she said.

At first, although she dressed like a witch – black dress, pentagram – she mostly kept mum about being one. People thought she was just another hippie. And then her cat (black, of course) Molly Boo got stuck in a tree, and Cabot, looking for help in getting the cat down, decided to out herself:

Cabot said she called everyone — animal control, the police, the fire department — and they all told her the cat would eventually come down on its own. That’s what cats do.

But after three days of awful weather and no movement from Molly Boo, Cabot made a move she knew would get attention. She called the local newspaper, the Salem News, and gave them a story they couldn’t resist.

“My cat is stuck in a tree,” she said she told the person who answered the phone. “I am a witch. That cat is my familiar (a witch term for an animal-shaped spirit that serves as a psychically connected servant, companion, and spy). And I want someone to come get my cat out of the tree.”

Am I the only one who’d like to have a familiar, at least for a couple of days? Maybe I just need to get a dog…

A photographer came, as did the mayor and several rescue vehicles.

Molly Boo was helped down. And after the photos of a real-life Salem witch hit the wire services, Laurie Cabot’s secret was out.

Shortly thereafter, Cabot opened her “witch shop” – selling “wands and potions and other tools of the trade” - the first in the city. And the rest is history. Other witches came to Salem, more shops opened, and Halloween (or Samhain, Witches’ New Year) just took off.

“I’m still not sure what a guy with an ax in his head and blood dripping down his face has to do with witchcraft,” she said. “Some of it is offensive. The fun house. The scary murderous stuff. It brings bad vibes. It’s projecting the wrong kinds of things.”

For better or for worse, tonight Salem, Massachusetts, will be Halloween HQ. Sure there’s be some bad vibes (all those drunken naughty nurses), but mostly it’ll be just plain craziness with a fireworks chaser.

And tomorrow, Witch City gets back to normal.

Happy Halloween to all.

(Aside to Trish: if I don’t make it out to Salem tonight, save me a couple of Butterfingers.) 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Dunkies by any other name?

Just saw the news that Dunkin’ Donuts is test-driving a name change.

They’ve already got an outlet in Pasadena that goes by Dunkin’, and they’ve got plans for another just plain Dunkin’ to open in the company’s home town, Quincy, Massachusetts, next year.

Say it isn’t so.

One of the inevitables that accompany aging is that things change. The stores, restaurants, amusement parks, and just about everything you grew up with are gone, baby, gone. Not to mention that stores, restaurants, and just about everything else that you frequented as a grown up. They’re gone, too. (Amusement parks tend not to atter quite so much as they did when I was kid: White City, Whalom Park, Paragon Park. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone who’d been to Disneyland, that’s for sure. We went to one of the above. And they’re all long gone.)

Us old timers still give directions by saying “it’s in back of Filene’s”. We still call Macy’s Jordan Marsh. I haven’t lived in Worcester in over 45 years. And other than Friendly’s, I barely ever ate out when I did live there. So how can I still miss the White House? The Gaslight (where I may have eaten once, as an adult, when it was called something else)? In Boston, bring back Purcell’s. Please. We don’t need the cupcake shop and Starbuck’s that took its place.

But Dunkin’ Donuts has been a constant. And it’s been a constant as Dunkin’ Donuts. Or, if you’re a local who grew up with Dunkin’ Donuts, Dunks or Dunkies.

Growing up, we were Dunkies people. DunksThere was one just down the road from our church, and after the 8 a.m. Mass, the children’s Mass, which my father also attended – my mother’s big break of the week was going solo to the High Mass later in the morning – we spun over to Dunkin’ Donuts and picked up a dozen donuts. Which eventually became a dozen and a half. And then (can this possibly be true?) two dozen donuts.

Quite a number for a family of seven, especially given that my mother didn’t particularly eat sweets. It’s amazing we didn’t keel over from sugar shock, but, hey, kids were skinny then. We did a lot of running around. And my father had a colossal sweet tooth. We couldn’t possibly have consumed them all on a Sunday morning, could we have?

Anyway, my father loved Dunkies, so off we went.

My only gripe was that, in the summer, my father sometimes refused to buy chocolate covereds, since the icing melted. (Similarly, when we were out for a spin on a summer’s evening, if we stopped for ice cream, but weren’t going to consume our cones at the stand, I couldn’t get chocolate, which would stain the cloth seats in our Ford Fairlane. I guess I didn’t help my case that I always nibbled off the tip of the sugar cone, then wondering why the ice cream leaked out. All over those cloth seats.)

Although I grew up calling Dunkin’ Donuts Dunkies, as an adult I adopted Dunks.

Maybe Dunks is more prevalent in Boston, and Dunkies is a Worcester-ism. But Dunks it became..

Dunks’ CEO Nigel Travis is assuring people that:

…the chain wants to remain the ‘‘No. 1 retailer of doughnuts.’’ (Source: Boston Globe)

Well, that’s a relief.

Not that I consume all that many Dunks in the course of a year. But I’m a fan of the chocolate honey dipped, and do occasionally indulge. (It goes very well with a Dunks’ iced coffee, by the way.) So it’s a relief that even if the company decides not to keep the donut in Dunkin’ Donuts, they’ll nonetheless be keeping donuts on their shelves.

But who knows what will happen? After all, they did get rid of crullers,swapping in “sticks” when they didn’t think we were looking. And who knows? Maybe donuts will become the new cigarette.

And they have been making some changes:

At about 1,000 Dunkin’ Donuts locations, the company has been making cuts to its overall menu, including some doughnut varieties, to make the stores easier to run for franchisees, Travis said. He said too many different types of coffee syrups, sandwich breads, and other items makes it harder on employees.

Hope they haven’t dumped the chocolate honey dipped. I mean, go after one of those ghastly seasonal ones, like the kelly-green frosteds they have around St. Patrick’s Day. But leave the chocolate honey dipped on the menu.

Anyway, if they’re going to change the name, what’s wrong with Dunks or Dunkies? Too Ben Affleck? Too Southie? Did they even test drive the nicknames that have probably been in use since Dunks was founded in 1950.

CEO Travis’ children are plumping for keeping the original name: 

‘‘My two young kids think it should stay Dunkin’ Donuts forever,’’ he said.

Unless they decide to honor the company’s roots and go with Dunkies or Dunks.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Wrinkle free, by dint of genetics or a shot of Botox

This is, of course, subject to change, but when it comes to wrinkles, I still don’t have all that many. This is, of course, thanks to the luck of the hereditary draw. I got the Rogers dent in the head (don’t ask), and the long, skinny, flat feet from my father. (Thanks, Al.) And the Mr. Magoo nearsightedness from my mother. (Thanks, Liz.) But my mother also bequeathed me her largely unwrinkled skin, which she, in turn had inherited from her mother. (So thanks, Grandma.)

Recently, a doctor told me that I am remarkably wrinkle-free for someone my age. He then asked me about my ethnic makeup. I told him half-Irish, half-German. His response: you certainly don’t have Irish skin. Irish skin is baggy and wrinkly.

I don’t know whether this is universally true, but my Irish grandmother and my Irish aunt were pretty wrinkly. (My Irish aunt’s daughter, however, is not especially wrinkly, and she’s 9 years older than I am.)

Anyway, I also attribute my lack of wrinkles (and the same goes for my sisters, one older, one younger) to the fact that none of us ever had the luxury of lolling around on the beach during the summer.

But I do ask myself the question whether, if I had an onset of wrinkles, I’d use Botox. After all, I do color (euphemism for dye) my hair. So why not get a blast of Botox when and if the time comes?

Actually, I don’t ask myself this question. I don’t give any thought to Botox whatsoever (other than, of course, to heap mental scorn on those who resort to it rather than let nature take its course; after all, it does nothing to stop the interior aging process, just the cosmetics – all the Botox in the world isn’t going to stave off the grim reaper and his scythe). That is, I didn’t give it any thought until I saw an article on Bloomberg about Botox.

I suppose I knew that the “bot” in Botox comes from botulism.

But who knew just how creepily dangerous its production can be. For instance, you can’t step in side Allergan’s California Botox labs without signing a waiver:

acknowledging that within 18 to 36 hours of entering the secured labs, you could develop symptoms including double vision, difficulty speaking, arm or leg weakness, and eventual paralysis of your respiratory system. (Source: Bloomberg)

Then there’s the souped up security you need to go through:

All this scrutiny and precaution isn’t there to protect Allergan’s wildly popular drug from competitors, though it is worth protecting—last year, Botox generated $2.8 billion in sales. Rather, the security exists because the drug that can take years off a person’s appearance by erasing wrinkles also happens to be made with one of the most toxic substances known to science.

It doesn’t take a very large amount to take care of the Botox supply chain:

A baby-aspirin-size amount of powdered toxin is enough to make the global supply of Botox for a year.

Which is secretly shipped from a super-dooper secure site under super-dooper guarded conditions. That’s because:

…a study published in 2001 in the Journal of the American Medical Association said that a single gram in crystallized form, “evenly dispersed and inhaled, would kill more than 1 million people.”

Scary stuff, for sure. And there have been attempts to weaponize it, including by the Iraqis back in the day.

But, for Allergan, it translates into incredible market share for both medical – conditions like crossed eyes, migraine, overactive bladder, uncontrolled spasms (90 percent) – and cosmetic (75 percent) uses.

It’s discovery of Botox as a de-wrinkler by a couple of married doctors – she: ophthalmologist; he: dermatologistas  – came about by accident. The eye doctor was treating a patient for spasms, and the patient noticed that the treatment was unfurrowing her brow. Meanwhile, the skin doctor had been looking for a way to treat deep frown lines. So, voila!

Cosmetic treatments are costly – $600 a pop – and aren’t covered by insurance. Patients who want to Ponce de Leon it up pay out of pocket. I suspect that this will not want to be a trap I fall into. Bad enough to get sucked into the regular jaunts to the hairdresser for a dye (there, I’ve said it) job.

Also interesting to me is that Allergan has operations in the town of Westport, County Mayo, Ireland.

This is a really lovely town: the Ireland that exists largely in the tourist’s fantasy:

Westport has won Ireland’s coveted Tidy Towns award three times in a decade, an honor “almost unheard of in the modern era of the award,” according to town architect Simon Wall.

Tidy Town isn’t just about neat and clean. I’ve been to Westport, and it is astonishingly free of empty, crumpled up scampi Tayto packets. (Or, if I were to litter in Ireland, a full, crumpled up scampi Tayto packet. Just inedible.) But it’s also completely and utterly quaint and charming.

And, in addition to being a Tidy Town, Westport is the home to some of the production of Botox.

No mention in the Bloomberg article, but inquiring (wrinkle-free) minds ask whether they chose Ireland because there are so many wrinkled up people there to experiment on. (When Irish eyes are smiling, does it produce wrinkles? Hmmmm.)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

People, people who need people…

When I was a young and romantic girl, one of my favorite songs was People, as sung by Barbra Streisand. Like so many of the soupy, gloopy songs I listened to, the words didn’t always make a ton of sense.

Oh, the lyrics to People weren’t as outright dumb and ridiculous as those of, say, Last Night at the Dance, I Met Laura (Strange Things Happen in this World).  And, unlike the words to Louis, Louis, People’s lyrics were comprehensible.


People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world?

Is it just me, or isn’t it better to be needed than to be needy? Or is neediness good because it allows others to be needed? And don’t get me going on “with one person, one very special person…no more hunger and thirst, but first be a person who needs people.” I mean, shouldn’t no more hunger and thirst take priority? But, as is my lifelong and profound tendency, I digress.

I thought of the song People for the first time in a while when I saw an article in a recent Economist that focused on Japan’s demographic problems and the depopulation of some of its towns and cities. Okay, it wasn’t quite the saddest article I’ve read in a long time. That would be the story in the Washington Post on how some poor folks in West Virginia tramp through rattlesnake-infested hills to gather roots that they can sell so that they’ll have a few bucks in their pockets until their next disability check comes in. Now that was a depressing read. 

But this line from The Economist article on Japan’s problems didn’t exactly put a smile on my face:

Some villages are so depopulated that locals have decorated them with mannequins to provide a semblance of activity. (Source: The Economist)

I know that the Japanese are known for a number of culturalJapanese people oddities. The obsession with Hello, Kitty. The men who have “relationships” with sex dolls. The whole anime thing. Etc. But placing mannequins around “to provide the semblance of activity”? Is that supposed to uplift the spirits of the left-behinds? I don’t see that happening. Especially if the mannequins resemble this jolly duo. Oh, my husband and I are just heading home to commit suicide…Wouldn’t it be better to have young folks mannequins, heading out clubbing, say? Or would that be even more pathetic and gloom-inducing?

Of course, strategically deployed mannequins are not the real problem, just a symptom of (antidote to?) the issue of a greying and declining population. Most developed nations face a greying population problem. People – although not necessarily in the US: I read recently that our lifespans are going down – are living longer. And developed nation dwellers are having fewer kids – especially in places like Japan -  so the proportion of olds to youngs is growing more out of whack, putting more of a burden on the youngs to pay for the upkeep of the olds. (No wonder they dislike us so intensely. But just wait until it’s their turn.) It would, of course, be cheaper to support geezer mannequins, but, fortunately or unfortunately, most grey hairs are alive.

All this is exacerbated in Japan by the fact that the country is, historically, somewhat resistant to immigrants.

Come on, wouldn’t you rather see a couple of Mexicans running a street food stand on the corner? Some African guys hawking umbrellas? Better than having your walls held up by a couple of aging mannequins…


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Keeping the nut in Nutella

Somewhat surprisingly, given how much I love both chocolate and nuts, and given that I would never say no to a piece of Ferrero Rocher chocolate-hazelnut candy* that contains a Nutella-filled wafer (now that’s what I call and amuse bouche), I’m not a major fan of Nutella the spread. I have nothing against it. It’s just that I have nothing for it, either.

But for some reason, I do enjoy reading about Nutella.

Thus, I was interested in a recent article in The Economist on how Georgia – no, not that Georgia, not our Georgia, the one that grows peanuts; the other Georgia, the one where Josef Stalin was born – has become a key supplier to Ferrero, maker of both Nutella and Ferrero Rocher. After Turkey and Italy, Georgia provides Ferrero with more hazelnuts than any other country. In fact:

Hazelnuts are Georgia’s biggest export after copper ore. (Source: The Economist)

Since exiting the Soviet Union, Georgia has become somewhat Europe-facing, and they have a number of partnerships with the EU, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA).

As trade agreements go, I’ll give this one props for the name. Deep and Comprehensive. Gotta love it.

Yet rather than making Nutella’s supply chain smoother, the DCFTA could render it a bit sticky. About 10% of the hazelnuts Georgia exports come from the Russian-backed breakaway territory of Abkhazia, which has enjoyed de facto independence since its war of secession in 1992-93. Georgia has no formal trade relations with Abkhazia, and hazelnuts are the only product which Abkhazian authorities allow farmers to sell there.

Starting in 2018, the DCFTA will require all Georgian agricultural exports to meet EU standards, including having an official certificate of origin. Even if Abkhazian farmers could get a Georgian certificate, it would be considered an act of national betrayal. Their nuts will thus be barred from Nutella’s mixing vats.

First off, I will admit that I don’t pay a ton of attention to the subtleties and not-so-subtleties of the entities, sub-entities, and nonentities of the former USSR. But Abkhazia? Never heard of it. When I first saw the name in print, what came to mind was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

But come to find out, Abkhazia is in fact a real place. And I suspect that it’s a real place every bit as dreary as most of the entities, sub-entities, and nonentities that once comprised the USSR. Although I wouldn’t mind seeing the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), most of the –stans (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan), Tajikistan, Turkmenistan,  and Uzbekistan – aren’t on my bucket list. And I’m now adding Abkhazia to my non-bucket list as well. (Sorry, Abkhazia, so many places to see, so little time interest…)

Anyway, once Abkhazia can no longer sell it’s hazelnuts through to Nutella, that may be it for the Abkhazian hazelnut farmers. Abkhazia’s loyalty is to Russia, not Georgia.

“Russia is our strategic partner, and demand for hazelnuts is low there,” says Adgur Ardzinba, the economy minister in Abkhazia’s self-proclaimed government, which only Russia and a few other states recognise. “We have to give priority to products that are in high demand [in Russia], such as citrus and wine.”

As if that weren’t bad enough news for those hazelnut farmers.

An infestation of brown marmorated stinkbugs has devastated the harvest in both Abkhazia and Georgia. Sweet-toothed Europeans need not panic: the Nutella supply is probably not at risk. But the secessionist dispute prevents Georgia and Abkhazia from working together properly to stop the pests.

Can’t even get together to rid all those innocent hazelnuts from the marmorated stinkbug, eh?

And I thought our politics were foolish and fractious…


*Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know that the Ferrero Rocher gets part of its name – the Rocher part – from a grotto at the shrine in Lourdes. What, are they made with holy water or something?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Who DOESN’T want to be home to Amazon’s HQ2?

Some folks can go their whole entire life without getting even one modest proposal, but it looks like Amazon has gotten 238 of them – big kisses on the lips from cities and towns in 43 U.S. states, plus a few Canadian provinces and Mexican states.

It pretty much goes without saying that The Hub of the Universe is one of them. But Boston is not alone among Massachusetts cities and towns wooing Jeff Bezos et al. I heard that 26 of the Commonwealth’s finest locales – including Worcester – have put in bids. That’s more than 10% of the total. Of course, Amazon requested that states/regions pretty much aggregate their valentines, but Massachusetts didn’t want to pick and choose among its splendors. Who’s to say that Leominster and Taunton wouldn’t be swell picks? Leominster is, after all, home to the lawn flamingo. And Taunton? Just because you think dog track doesn’t make it so.

What Amazon is dangling is the promise of $5B in investment and the creation of 50,000 jobs. Good jobs. Techie jobs. Not rollerskating around warehouses and picking stuff off the shelf jobs, which are all being replaced by robots, anyway. Good jobs. Techie jobs.

What Amazon is looking for, of course, is lots of schools churning out grads to make up that techie workforce, and a cool environment that will attract all those techies, and – no surprise here – some mega baksheesh (those oh-so-vaunted “incentives”) to make it worth their while to pick your town.

New Jersey is offering $7B in tax incentives – you read that right – but Amazon is staying mum on the range of goodies that are being dangled in front of them. It must be like Christmas morning up in Seattle, opening up all those 238 packages, tossing the videos aside – they’re all going to look and sound the same; like opening up the nicely wrapped gloves and socks gifts that Grandma puts under the tree: yawn!  – and diving right into the pile of real presents to see what’s inside. That nice Chris Christie’s stuffed $7B in a stocking!  And the town of Stonecrest, Georgia, is promising to make Jeff Bezos their permanent mayor, bless their peapickin’ little hearts.

Of course, it would be a nice nod to Boston to win this. But we already don’t have enough reasonably priced housing to go around. Won’t this just bid up the price of housing? (Wait a second. That might be a good thing. Just making this observation for a friend.) And what about the traffic? Oh, I know, I know, Millennials use motorized skateboards. They don’t even like cars. But, wherever Amazon decides to settle down, there’s going to be traffic jams. The cost of prosperity, I guess, given that, despite all the talk about how important public transpo is and how much those Millennials love motorized skateboards and despise cars, the American love affair with the automobile doesn’t appear to have ended quite yet.

Anyway, even though I’m too lazy to look through the package to see what Boston offered, I would, naturally, be delighted if Boston “won.” But Worcester as the site would be even funner. Except, of course, for the techies who might be scratching their heads if they ended up there. At least people would know how to pronounce the name of The Heart of the Commonwealth. (Seriously, folks, War-sester I get, but how can anyone look at Worcester and come away with War-chester? Let the word go forth: it’s Wuh-stah. And that’s Wuh as in Woof without the f.)

Everybody’s gaming the Amazon decision, of course. The New York Times analyzed the RFP requirements and the respondents and concluded that Denver, Boston, and Washington DC are the top contenders, and that Denver will win out. Moody’s thinks otherwise. They think that the nod will go to Austin.

The Boston Globe assures us that:

Boston is widely considered a strong contender to make at least that first cut. (Source: Boston Globe)

The Globe looked through 16 short lists, including those of Moody’s and NY Times, and came up with their “plausible list of top contenders.”

Others on that list are Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Toronto, and Washington DC. All have their pros and cons. (Sorry, Chicago, beautiful city and all, but you’re a bit saddled by the state of Illinois crazy finances.) I’m guessing the pick will be something East-Coast-y. Amazon has already got Pac-Rim facing covered. Europe ain’t dead yet, so something East Coast makes some sense.

What the hell. I’m a true homer.

Go Boston! Go Worcester!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Road Trip

My sister Trish and I just did a road trip to/through parts of New York State. First up?

Cooperstown When I was growing up, our family vacations fell into one of three categories: Chicago (my mother’s hometown) to visit family; Bass River on The Cape, where we rented the modest little cottage of my parent’s friends Mae and Nemo; and day trips conducted during my father’s two weeks off in July – one day to an ocean beach (Nantasket, and, later on Horseneck), one day to somewhere touristy in New England (e.g., Bennington VT), and a couple of lake swims at Castle Beach.

But in 1961, over Columbus Day weekend, we went to Cooperstown. Mostly we went to see the Hall of Fame – my father was a major league baseball fan (like father, like daughter) – but with other stops at the Farmer’s Museum (to see the Cardiff Giant) and at nearby Howe Caverns (which included a ride in subterranean rowboat, and the experience of pitch black when they turned the lights out). The trip also meant eating in restaurants and staying in a hotel (The Hotel Augusta in Cobbleskill.) These were things we NEVER did, so it was plenty novel and amazing.

Anyway, that was the last time I was in Cooperstown, and I was quite happy to return.

I like history, and I like looking at old stuff, so The Baseball Hall of Fame is right up my alley. A few too many reminders that the Red Sox had “sold” Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919, thus begetting the Curse of the Bambino, which wasn’t broken until the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, for the first time since 1918. Other than that, I enjoyed all the exhibits, especially the ones devoted to the Negro Leagues and women’s baseball. And fun, of course, to see the Red Sox players who were inducted since last I was at the Hall in 1961. Teddy Ballgame, Yaz, Bobby Doerr, Pudge Fisk, Jim Ed Rice, Pedro Martinez, Wade Boggs, Eck (even if he is wearing an A’s cap).

Not much shopping in town. Unless, that is, you’re a baseball fan. 20171022_170525Other than a couple of Christmas gifts, my wallet mostly stayed shut. But in one store (obviously not the HofF shop), this shirt was on sale for $5. Not that I would ever wear it. But I did want to send something tangible off to my niece Molly for her birthday along with a check…

We also took in the Farmer’s Museum, congratulating ourselves all the while for having been clever enough to have been born in the 20th century. They have an exhibit focused on farm implements, how things were grown, how things were made, how households were run. Talk about drudgery! I was exhausted just looking at the churns and plows. So much easier to live in a world where, for $5, you can buy a tee-shirt that says Y*NK**S S*CK, rather than having to spend your day swinging a scythe or mangling your only other dress to get the water out of it on laundry day.

And the Cardiff Giant is still there. (The Cardiff Giant is a stone “man” which was displayed under the claim that it was a petrified human giant.) I believe that in 1961, the Giant was displayed outside, but he’s sheltered now. Good to be reminded that humbuggery has a long and honored history in America.

Hyde Park How has it taken me this long to get to Hyde Park to see the FDR Museum and Library? I like history, and I like looking at old stuff, so, once again, this was right up my alley. I know quite a bit about the history of the Depression and WWII, but I still learned a few things. And I teared up a few times when I did a mental compare and contrast between Franklin & Eleanor and the current incumbents of the White House. Fireside chat vs. hair on fire tweets…Refusal to let paralysis get himself down vs. sidelined by heel spurs… I could go on, but, well… We also did a quick drive-by of Eleanor’s place of her ER suitcaseown, Val-Kill. Here be my favorite image on display at Hyde Park. That’s Eleanor at LaGuardia Airport, no kid at the time, a wealthy former First Lady and world-traveling humanitarian, carrying her own suitcase across the tarmac. Enough said.

Tarrytown  I don’t give a lot of thought to Washington Irving. I’m sure I read some version of “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” as a child. I still remember the theme song to the Disney rendering of “Sleepy Hollow.” Other than that… But you can’t go to Tarrytown without learning a bit more about Washington Irving. He was not only the first American “man of letters” – i.e., someone who made his living as a writer – but he was also something of a mentor to Hawthorne, Poe, Longfellow, Melville. He hosted his friend Charles Dickens when he came to America, and Ebenezer Scrooge may have been named (as something of a jest) for Irving’s brother, a man of great good humor. Irving lived on the banks of the Hudson River in a house he designed and built called Sunnyside. Best old house tour ever! (Did I mention that I like old things and I like history?) Usually I shudder at the sight of costumed interpreters, but the folks who give the tours of Sunnyside – and there’s one for every couple of rooms – are knowledgeable, interesting, fun. I enjoyed every moment of the tour, and the house, with its pokey, quirky little rooms is pretty much my dream house. (Other than modern convenience thing.) Irving in some respects was well ahead of his time. He did have a system for hot water in the house, but, alas, his ingenuity didn’t extend to figuring out toilets. The outhouse, however, was pretty upscale and snappy.

We also “did” Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Irving is buried. As are Samuel Gompers, Andrew Carnegie, and Elizabeth Arden. Not quite Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, but quite an assemblage nonetheless.

The one disappointment was the lack of decent foliage. Here it is, mid-late October, and the trees in the Catskills and Hudson River Valley are still 99% green. We peeped a few decent leave in Connecticut and Massachusetts on the way home, but nothing like what we should have seen. It’s just been way too warm for this time of year… And then, in Tarrytown, we heard all sorts of birds chirping. Which would have been pleasant, if not for the fact that it’s the type of chirping you usually hear in May.

So I’ll just leave it at disappointed at the lack of color, rather than let myself be freaked out by green leaves on the trees and birds chirping away when they should have flown south already.

Nonetheless, all and all, a great little getaway.

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. Change.org petition and all. (Change.org 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” change.org 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?)