Monday, December 24, 2018

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas

To my way of thinking, there are few Boston sights lovelier than seeing skaters on the Boston Common Frog Pond. Especially when the Christmas lights are up. I’m not much of a photographer, but here’s shot I took with my phone last week.

Now that I look at it, this is actually something of a selfie, as that’s me in the foreground. Or a shadow of myself. If you can’t figure out what I’m talking about, that’s me and my shadow, and not the shadow of a fireplug, or one of the Teletubbies wearing Zippy the Pinhead on its head.

Skating on the common

I was going to crop myself out, but figured what the hell. I don’t have kids and grandkids, so I don’t get to send pictorial Xmas cards out. But I do have this consolation prize…

Anyway, Pink Slip wishes you all the Merriest of Christmases and the Happiest (and Healthiest) of New Years. That goes for you and for Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In keeping with Pink Slip tradition, I’m having myself a merry little Christmas by taking the week off. Pink Slip will return on January 2nd.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Heart of the Commonwealth

When I’m in a different part of the country, and tell someone I’m from Boston, as often as not, they’ll boom out “BAH-stin”. Really? I can pretty much guarantee that no one in the history of the city of Boston has ever said they were from “BAH-stin”. It’s

I wouldn’t think that correctly pronouncing Boston would be so hard. And then I think of all those bad Boston accents in movies about the city. (Shudder, shudder…)

But Boston, pronunciation-wise is easy-peasy compared to my hometown, the glorious Heart of the Commonwealth: Worcester, Massachusetts.

Worcester has been getting a fair amount of play recently. There was an article on NPR on how this old industrial city was reinventing itself with biotech and foodie eateries. The Red Sox announced that they’re moving their primo minor league team from Pawtucket RI to our fair city. The Boston Globe, which only acknowledges Worcester when something bad and/or tragic occurs there (admittedly, this translates into some frequency), had a recent story on how young folks are (sort of) flocking there to take advantage of more affordable housing.

But there’s still the irksome problem of how to pronounce the city’s name.

Even the Wall Street Journal noticed, and devoted some prime real estate to the issue the other day. Why, Worcester even got one of the famous WSJ b&w pointillist illustrations!

Worcester sign

And then they wrote:

From government to newspapers to visitors, people won’t stop calling New England’s second-largest city “Worchester.”

And it’s not just a misspelling. Those who somehow manage to insert an “h” into the city’s name invariably end up calling it “Wor-chester”, as in Westchester.

I really do not understand someone misspelling Worcester as Worchester. The only reason I can think of is that they’ve heard someone mispronounce it.

And where does that mispronunciation come from to begin with?

After all, it looks like it should be Wor-ces-ter, not Wor-chester. So Wor-ces-ter I can udnerstand.

But in real life, it’s Wu-sta (“wu” as in “woof”, not “wu” as in “woo”, although Worcester is sometimes call The Woo…).

So how does someone decide to put an “h” in there?

What the h?

According to the WSJ, that pesky “h” shows up in a number of places on the Mass Andstate gov website. And they should certainly know better. Worchester, sorry, I meant Worcester, is the second largest city in Massachusetts. In New England, in fact.

But even the federal government keeps adding an H, including on a September press release describing charges against a “Worchester Man” due to a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives error…

Not to mention The Globe, where they’ve been putting an “h” in there off and on for a good long time.

“Wanted in Worchester for Taking Ex Mayor Pratt’s Fine Mares,” the Globe wrote in 1896, covering a notorious horse thief.

For the record, Worcester inherited its pronunciation from Worcester in England, so blame the Brits if you’re wondering why there’s no “ces” in Worcester. (You know the Brits. They’re the ones who pronounce Magdalene College Maudlin College…)

As for Worcester, no “h”, please. The only “he” in Worcester is the one in Heart!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Take a puff, it’s springtime

At some point in the next year or so, I’m sure I’ll make a purchase at one of the new Massachusetts marijuana emporiums. There’s one in Leicester, the town just outside of Worcester where my parents are buried. Maybe I’ll stop in next time I’m planting sun-patiens on their graves, or scraping lichen off of their gravestone. That will be springtime, so perhaps the traffic will have died down. Or I’ll drop by the by-appointment-only shop in Salem, which is where one of my sisters lives. (Heads up, Trixie!)

I can’t remember the last time I smoked pot. It’s probably in the 30-40 year range. I will not dime the family member whose home I lit up at, but it’s also the same place where I had my last hashish brownie. And I can roughly place that event, as I was driving my rust-bucket Honda Civic, which I bought in 1985 (used) and which dropped dead in 1988.

I was never all that much of a smoker, certainly not anyone’s idea of a “head,” but I did smoke occasionally from college on.

At first, I bought cigarettes, emptied out the tobacco, and stuffed it with grass. Then I learned to roll my own, and bought my Zig Zag papers at George’s Folly in Brookline.

A friend of mine dated a Berklee College of Music student who worked as a night clerk in a nearby motel, and I remember heading over and buying an occasional dime bag from Rick. (What I most remembered about this guy was that, when Ozzie Nelson stayed at his motel, he asked Ozzie what his job/profession was supposed to be on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” The answer? Retired bandleader. Nice work if you can get it…)

My first job after business school held a weekly “Friday Party” – beer, wine, salty junk food, sugary junk food, and, well, grass. Then there was some kind of a clampdown, and if you wanted to smoke, you had to go into a conference room and close the door. Until pot-smoking was relegated to a conference room, I would take a puff or two from a passed joint. Once it was happenin’ away from the main party, I no longer participated.

When I smoked, I enjoyed the pot mellow, the slight high. I was never out of it, never out of control, but I liked the mild buzz, the goofiness, the munchies. (You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten frozen Sara Lee brownies. Because, in those pre-microwave days, who could wait for those frozen brownies to thaw?)

But then – all of a sudden or gradually, I don’t really know – no one I knew smoked anymore. Everyone drank, but light up a J? It just didn’t happen.

Anyway, it’s not exactly a bucket list item, but more than likely I’ll buy a bit of marijuana at some point in the next year or so. Out of curiosity. For old time's sake.

In any case, I want to make my purchase before the “large multinational corporations” enter the marketplace.

Who’s jumping in?

Atria, which owns the Marlboro brand, just bought a Canadian cannabis company. Constellation (Corona and other beer brands) bought a large stake in another Canadian MJ company, and Molson/Coors has joined forces with yet another Canadian cannabis outfit. (Why Canada? Pot is legal throughout the country.)

Other companies, including Coca-Cola, are keeping an eye on things, waiting and seeing until marijuana is legalized throughout the U.S., not just in a few states. Seems pretty natural for a company whose initial product contained cocaine. Just saying.

Anyway, big biz is on its way to becoming big buzz.

“There’s always been the expectation that big business was going to come in; we’ve been hearing rumors about ‘Marlboro Greens’ for decades now,” said Bethany Gomez, director of research at Brightfield Group, a cannabis market research group. “Now we’re past the point of no return.”

But while large-scale investments suggest that the mainstream acceptance of marijuana has reached a significant tipping point, longtime cannabis advocates are worried that the idealistic entrepreneurs who made this moment possible may get left behind.(Source: NY Times)

My guess is that “the idealistic entrepreneurs” will survive, but they’ll be like the indie bookstore, the one-off ice cream shop. Some people will patronize them, but the big guys will dominate.

Observers think that Atria will have a leg up. After all, they’ve been in the cigarette business and know how to manufacture, market, and distribute products that get smoked.

All this has got me thinking about the iconic cigarette ads that were a staple of my childhood.

I personally wouldn’t walk a mile for a Camel, but “I’d walk a mile for a Camel” was their tagline for a while.

Who doesn’t know what LSMFT stands for? (Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco, silly.)

The Benson & Hedges theme song (an instrumental) became a radio hit. ]

For the ladies: MS. Magazine. Betty Friedan and The Feminist Mystique. Bella Abzug’s hats. And our very own cigarette, Virginia Slims, with its tagline, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.”

Salem smokers? They were urged to “take a puff, it’s springtime.”

And I remember entertaining the babysitter by racing into the den wearing winter PJs, racing out, and racing back in with summer PJs, yammering “Switch from hots to Kools.” (The babysitter, and her girlfriends who were hanging with her, were entertained…)

Not to mention the Marlboro Man, riding his horse off into Marlboro Country, to the theme music from The Magnificent Seven.

Although the ads were often excellent, I’m just as happy that there are no TV ads for cigarettes – there haven’t been for decades. But I really would have like to have seen what the folks that gave us Marlboro Country and “Take a puff, it’s springtime” would have done with ads for marijuana.

Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The moral of the story: don’t tear down a Richard Neutra house

One of my cousins had a perfectly nice Dutch Colonial on a double lot in a highly desirable neighborhood in a suburban town with great schools. When she and her husband decided to downsize, their perfectly nice Dutch Colonial – built in the 1920’s, so fabulous bones and great details – was sold as a tear-down. It goes without saying that a McMansion went up in its place.

We see it all the time around here: the perfectly nice home of the past doesn’t have what today’s homebuyers want: walk in closets, en suite for everyone, open concept, granite countertops, home offices, mudrooms, mancaves…

But most of the houses getting torn down aren’t architect-designed, custom-built gems. They’re just perfectly nice, well built homes that lack 21st century objects of desire.

Occasionally, however, someone somewhere gets the yen to replace an architect-designed, custom-built gem with a dream house.

Such an instance occurred last year in San Francisco last year. And now he’s being made to pay, big time:

A property owner who illegally demolished a 1936 Twin Peaks house designed by a renowned modernist must rebuild an exact replica of the home rather than the much larger structure the property owner had proposed replacing it with, the City Planning Commission ruled this week.

In a unanimous 5-0 vote late Thursday night, the commission also ordered that the property owner — Ross Johnston, through his 49 Hopkins LLC — include a sidewalk plaque telling the story of the original house designed by architect Richard Neutra, the demolition and the replica. (Source: SF Chronicle)

What Johnston did was what plenty of folks who want to live in San Francisco do: knock down a modest little house from back then, when families Largent Housewere happy to live in a modest little home of their own. The Largent House – the Neutra gem – was only 1,300 square foot. Living as I do in a condo a bit smaller than that, I will admit that this would be close quarters for a family.

On the other hand, I grew up in a family of seven in a home not much larger than that. Of course, we had the benefit of a basement, where we could rampage around blowing off steam in case of a hurricane, blizzard, or some other act of God that kept us inside. Not to mention a large yard, and an even larger neighborhood to roam around in. This was, of course, the 1950’s and 1960’s, when free-range childhood was not just allowed but encouraged. People had larger families and smaller houses, but the kids weren’t hanging around the house.

Johnston was intending to build a 4,000 square foot house on the lot, and he thought he could get away with the Neutra knockdown by following the “easier to ask forgiveness than permission” route. There was some SF precedent for this. A few years earlier, someone had torn down another architectural gem. The upshot? A mere $400K fine. Chump change, given that the developer septupled the value of the property with a rip and replace of the old pokey with the new colossus.

He did get some planning permission, but that was just for a remodel. Instead, he brought in the wrecking ball, and then “applied for a retroactive demolition permit and for permission to construct a new home.”

Retroactive permits sound like a very thin ice proposition to me, but Johnston is apparently a gambling kind of guy. Problem was, this time the gambler lost.

Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards said he hopes the commission’s action in the 49 Hopkins case will send a message to speculators accustomed to ignoring city planning and building laws with few or no repercussions.

“We are tired of seeing this happening in the city and are drawing a line in the sand,” said Richards. “You can have all the rules in the world, but if you don’t enforce them, the rules are worthless.”

Johnston is not, of course, taking this lying down, and will be appealing. He and his attorney are resting their hopes on an earlier owner’s approved plan for a substantial rework of the property, and an argument that an earlier fire and later remodels had already substantially altered the original Neutra design.

See you in court, but this may well end up tough luck for Johnston.

It’s not just preservations in SF who’ve had it with tear downs of historically important structures. It’s affordable housing advocates, who hate seeing the stock of 1,300 square foot “affordable” homes replaced with 4,000 square foot unaffordable homes. (For the record, Johnston paid $1.7 million for the 1,300 square foot home, so even those houses aren’t exactly most folks’ definition of affordable.)

They all want to send a message, and the person they’ve selected to receive that message is Johnston.

Sure, it would have been better if they’d decided to clamp down on a speculator, rather than someone like Johnston who was planning on making the new place his family’s home.

But, hey, you gamble, you lose.

Caveat, demolitioner!


A tip of the Pink Slip cap to my friend John W., who tweeted about this story.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Shopping with Gwyneth, Part 2

Yesterday, I window-shopped my way through half of Goop’s Holiday Gift Guides. Talk about mentally exhausting! So much precious Gwyneth-ness.

There’s her poor mother, Blythe Danner, eking out a living doing ads for antidotes for post-menopausal osteoporosis, while Gwyneth gets to pick out all sorts of lifestyle products for those who aspire to the ultra-thin, eco-friendly, rose-gold way of life.

Fortified by a good night’s sleep and the sort of chow that never passed through Gwyneth Paltrow’s lips, I was able to virtually thumb my way through the remaining six gift guides.

The Lover Gift Guide

Given that my only love interest is Lawrence O’Donnell, whose show I watch on MSNBC every night at 10 p.m., I was going to give this guide a pass. But for old, old, old times sake, I forced my way through. Big mistake. I’d barely gotten over the $240 bright red Ophelia Whistling Lace Bodysuit, when lo and behold the $240 Studded Handled Flogger. (Gwyneth, please.) Then there were all Rosethose vibrators, some of which had names (The Tennis Coach, The Fireman…), and one of which (the sold out one) was a sleek and slender vibrator necklace. (Don’t leave home without.) And so on.

My pick: the rose that lasts a year. Because I ain’t never going to get any flowers from Lawrence O’Donnell. Oh, boo hoo.

The Ridiculous But Awesome Gift Guide

Well, this guide was a lot more my speed, and I was quite interested to see how ridiculous something would need to be to get on the ridiculous list, given that Goop pretty much specializes in ridiculous. Some of these gifts were almost inexpensive enough to qualify for a Yankee Swap item. Like the $39 mini butter churn. But a lot of them were right up there with the glam Nieman Marcus fantasy gifts. Like the $7.7K Hermes Surfboard. And the $150K Muse for the Day trip to London to pose for a famous (I guess) photographer.

Some of the gifts were misplaced. RIDIC-BUT-AWESOME-GG_Img13That banana lamp should have been in with the lover gifts. I really liked the $139K ultra-cool RV. But I had to go for the Loofa of the Month pick. A bargain at $6/month. (Now that MJ is legal in Massachusetts, maybe I should reconsider and go for the gold rolling papers.)

The Cook Guide

Now normally, I’m not someone who goes all ga-ga over stuff for cooks. But most of the stuff on this list was useful and/or interesting. I did a bit of head-scratching when I saw the Walnut Zester Grater. Who zests walnuts? Then I read the fine print and saw that the walnut was the handle. That made sense.  There were a couple of nice salad server sets, and a cool little glass olive oil bottle. I thought that the “gold” measuring cups and spoons were a bit much. Gold just doesn’t strike me as all that kitchen-y. But maybe it’s the arch thing in Goop-world.

open-uri20181031-23727-1nqcxbAnyway, my kitchen is already pretty well-equipped. (I already have a zester.) So I’ll throw a $90 jar of Lauren’s All Purpose Salve in my basket. Tis the season to have dry hands, after all. And this seems like quite the practical item: “a thick ointment that works as a moisturizer, shaving cream, hair mask, makeup remover, and lubricant.” I have no idea what a hair mask is, and I’m afraid to ask what the lubricant is for. But I’ll go for it anyway.

The Guy Guide

No need to spend a New York minute on this one. Sigh. Lawrence and I don’t exchange Christmas gifts, which isn’t likely to change anytime soon, given that our relationship is completely one way: I turn on MSNBC at 10 p.m., and Lawrence is sitting there smiling at me. Maybe I’ll tweet somethingBottleclever and he’ll like it…Anyway, given this sad state of non-affairs, I spent very little time in this virtual aisle. Just enough to pick out a Larq Self-Cleaning Bottle. Because I’m all for anything that’s self-cleaning. Only $95.  A stainless steal.

The Collector Gift Guide

Maybe you have to be Gwyneth, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what was collector-ish about this collection. Do people collect Scrabble sets? Incense burners? Fragrance flasks?

People collect autographs. Sale and pepper shakers. Baseball cards. Watches. Pens. But incense burners? Guess there’s no accounting for collections.

The one item here that caught my eye was theopen-uri20181102-10005-1tkkirz Flyte Royal Levitating Light. I don’t think I’d ever want more than one in my collection. And at $349, I couldn’t afford more than one. But it seems like a worthy item to at least have a ones-y of. And how much fun to watch anything levitating, other than my political angst.

The One and Only Gift Guide

Perhaps I am all shopped out. Or all gooped out. Blankie[8]But I really couldn’t concentrate on this guide. I sprinted through at quite a clip, spotting a Birkin Bag, a pair of $22K earrings, a $200 pair of shorty pajamas… Enough! I’m going to grab the $1,495 cashmere blanket and throw it over my head.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I didn’t find everything on Goop to be ridonculous. Yes, plenty of it is. And plenty is twee. Or too precious for words. Or way too rose-gold-y. But some of it I actually liked. Not well enough to pay for it. But liked okay.

Anyway, the best thing about window shopping is that it’s all free.

Gooping around for a couple of evenings didn’t cost me a dime.

Monday, December 17, 2018

So many Goop guides, so little time. Part One.

Twelve days of Christmas?

I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t care less about lords a leaping, maids a milking, and a partridge in a pear tree.

But one item from each of the dozen Goop gift guides?

Now you’re talking!

From the Stocking-Stuff Guide

I’ll admit that I was a bit intrigued by the Porcelain Geopipes, mostly because I couldn’t figure out howGeoPipe you’d actually smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. And I don’t smoke. So I had to put any thoughts of sitting around chillaxing with a porcelain geopipe out of my mind and settle instead on the Emotional Detox Bath Soak.  Who couldn’t use some emotional detox? I don’t have a bathtub, but I promise to give one of the packs in the three-pack to whichever tub-owning sister invites me over for a soak.

The One Step Ahead Gift Guide

The coolest of the cool for the most discerning among us. As someone who is both cool and discerning, I figured there’d be a lot for me in this guide. I guess to be a cool and discerning goopster, you have to be a rich goopster,open-uri20181112-40-2jr304 as most of the stuff in this catalogue was pretty pricey. And a lot of it was pretty ugly, too. Ugly $400 sneakers? Ugly $295 shorts? An ugly $13,800 ring (make that a “triple ruched ribbon ring”)?

As a New England I almost opted for the self-heating down parka. But then I saw the Collapsible Helmet. Just because. Just because those squirrels in the Boston Common are now running the size of racoons, and any day now one of them might decide to drop an acorn on my head.

The Traveler

I’ve got a few trips lined up (at least in my mind) for 2019, so I thought I’d find some goodies on this list. I wasn’t disappointed. I actually liked a lot of the stuff in this catalogue. Most of it was useful, albeit open-uri20181103-2997-zlyyxzoften a tad precious (this is Goop, after all). That Riviera Striped Beach Tent? What can I say? I want it, even though I never hang out on the beach and thus don’t need a beach tent.

But finally, even though I have about 3 or 4 of variation on theme universal adapters around around here – somewhere -  I’m decided on the Plugbug Duo International Multi Device Charger. Makes me want to go somewhere and plug something into a strange outlet.

The Wellness Junkie Gift Guide

I could gladly have given this one a pass, but in the interests of thoroughness I though I’d takeopen-uri20181102-28169-g62i7x a peak. A Moroccan Rose Beldi Soap. A Kessi Mitt. Detox this. Yoga that. Juice stuff. This is Goop at its Gwyneth Paltrow finest. Too bad the Kishu Binchotan Charcoal was sold out. 

We’re all trying to de-plastic our lives these days. Just say no to CVS bags and drinking straws. So I’m in on the Rose Quartz Crystal Straw. A bargain at $68. Can’t wait to slurp an Arnold Palmer through that sucker.

The Host Gift Guide

Not that we’re off to each other’s abodes for country weekends at Downton Abbey, but my friends and faopen-uri20181102-22532-eihsmxmily do visit around, and we’ve pretty much locked arms and decided that no one needs another bowl or plate. Which is kinda sorta too bad, because there some pretty bowl-ish and plate-ish (and not that expensive) items in this guide. The striped Sugar Bowl – which would look terrific with the Riviera Beach Tent – was particularly sweet. Some of the stuff less so: we don’t go in for things like the $695 Anti-Pasti Knife Set. Who even knew there were special anti-pasti knives?

However, given our commitment to only bring host(ess) gifts that can be consumed, I’ll go with the $48 Super Suds Gift Set. And I’ll go with it knowing full well that the mother of anybody who’s home I will enter, gift bag in hand, would be appalled at the thought of anyone spending $12 on a bar of soap. (“What are you, crazy? Money doesn’t grow on trees?”) Then again, you can’t exactly show up at someone’s help with a couple of bars of Dove or Irish Spring.

The Under-18 Gift Guide

I’ve already completed my under-18 gift shopping. The 17 year old is getting cash. The 12 year old is getting a Red Sox World Series tee-shirt. And the 11 and 8 year olds are getting outfits for their American Girl Dolls. None of them are exactly Goop-type kids to begin with, so even if I wasn’t done, I wouldn’t be Goop-shopping for them. But I thought I’d take a look. 

A lot of the stuff appeared aimed at teenage girls – future Goop lifestyle type folks, I guess. And babies. (Like the cashmere infant socks and an organic cotton kimono.) There was a kid-sized collapsible helmet. And, for pint-sized vegans, a wooden toy salad kit. As a book-ish type shopper, I open-uri20181109-32601-isk6l0would have considered the sold-out Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, but I’ll have to go with the Alphabet Book. No run of the mill words here. This one goes from Astronaut to Zeppelin, with stops along the way for Lightbulb, Robot, and Yeti. A B-is-for-Bargain at $9.

Tomorrow I’ll window shop the remaining six Good catalogues.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Wonder whether I quit? Figure it out for yourself!

If my computer had worked on Day One at Wang, I would have used it to type up a resignation letter and high-tailed it out of there. Instead, I sucked it up and spent a miserable 2 years, 6 months, and 13 days there. I hated nearly everything about working at Wang: the miserable commute, the numbing bureaucracy, the shabby and dirty offices, the toilets that made me fear typhus, the Scrooge vacation days, the poorly lit parking lots, the distrust of employees, the travel policy from (and to) hell… Other than my colleagues, who were great, Wang was my absolute worst professional employment experience.

My worst non-professional employment experience was at the Valle’s Steakhouse on Route 9. My friend Joyce and I, just returned from a three month cross-country camping trip, were looking for a waitress gig to fund our next excursion: backpacking through Europe.

After a lunch shift at Valle’s, we went out to a late lunch at Friendly’s and looked at each other and began to laugh. No way we were going to hack it at Valle’s! I can’t remember exactly what set us off. It’s not as if we hadn’t had other wack waitress experiences. We were pros, with Union Oyster House and Durgin-Park on our resumes. Maybe it’s because Valle’s was tray service vs. the arm service we were used to. Maybe it was the petty rules. Maybe it was the head waitress. Maybe it was the bartender, the manager, the chefs. But we were in complete agreement that Valle’s wasn’t going to work.

We flipped a coin to see who was going to call in our resignation. I lost, and used the pay phone at Friendly’s to call the head waitress and tell her we were quitting. She was pissed, but, what the hell. It’s not as if we didn’t let them know. And we’d brought our own aprons with us.

Not bothering to quit, according to an article in the Washington Post, has become something of a trend.

“A number of contacts said that they had been ‘ghosted,’ a situation in which a worker stops coming to work without notice and then is impossible to contact,” the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago noted in December’s Beige Book, which tracks employment trends.

National data on economic “ghosting” is lacking. The term, which normally applies to dating, first surfaced on in 2016. But companies across the country say silent exits are on the rise. (Source: WaPo)

I don’t think ghosting in a dating situation is such a commendable thing to do. If you don’t want to break up F2F or on the phone, you can at least send a goodbye text (or, old school: email; or, old-schooler: Dear John letter).

Date ghosting reminds me of a scene my husband and I witnessed decades ago.

We were at the (old) Ritz Bar, and sitting near us was a fellow we recognized from our neighborhood. We didn’t know him, but had seen him around and written up in the local rag. He was in real estate, I believe, and a presence in the Beacon Hill social  scene. Sitting with him was a woman, and we were close enough to figure out that they were on a first date.

She excused herself – we thought she was going to the ladies’ room – but then we saw her getting in a cab out front. Her date was facing away from the window, and he waited for quite a while before it dawned on him that his would-be GF wasn’t coming back to the table.

The least she could have done was make up some social lie: not feeling well or just remembered I left the iron on or whatever. In those days, there were no cell phones, so you couldn’t pretend to have received an emergency text. But you could always make something up that would allow your date to save face.

Anyway, date ghosting seems pretty poor behavior, especially given that non-ghosting is just a text away.

But ghosting your way out of a job seems to me like career suicide. Cities are small and networks are large. One would think word would get around.

But apparently it’s happening.

Applicants blow off interviews. New hires turn into no-shows. Workers leave one evening and never return.

I was never ghosted as a manager, but on two occasions, I put out emails welcoming a techie to a product team I was running, only to have the person up and quit after a day or two. I never blamed the person quitting. As with my Wang situation, you pretty much know from the get-go whether it’s going to work out or not. But I was always a little ticked that I’d put out an effusive and welcoming email…

Those studying the ghosting trend chalk it up to a healthy job market and the youth of the ghosters. Whatever it is that’s causing you to quit a job, unless the situation is really dangerous or threatening, it’s pretty simple to leave your manager some sort of message. You can always use the tried and true communications avoidance trick, and leave a voice mail at a time when no one’s gong to be at work – think 1 a.m. on a Saturday. (Unless you work in a bar.)

And this should be a two-way street.

I’m sure most people have been in the situation where they’re interviewing for a job when everything just gets cold and silent.

This happened to me a couple of times, and it’s annoying. At some point, you figure out that you’re going nowhere and there won’t be an offer, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to put the period at the end of a sentence, the final nail in a coffin.

One time, I had gotten pretty far down the path towards an offer when there was a dead halt.

I decided I wasn’t going to let the guy who would have been my manager off the hook, and was gong to force him to tell me he wasn’t making an offer. I tried calling a few times, but he was pretty nimble about refusing to take my calls. Eventually I gave up, but getting ghosted really ticked me off.

As for today’s young ghosters: DON’T DO IT! This is the sort of behavior that – guaranteed – can come back to haunt you at some point in your career. At least have the courtesy to call in and leave a message, even if there’s no Friendly’s pay phone to drop your dime into.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Sister Baby Needs a New Pair of Black Lace-up Shoes

‘Tis the season when we can expect a lot of heart-tugging and/or feel-good stories in the news. Occasionally there’ll be one involving a heart-tugging, feel-good nun. (No more heart-tugging, feel-good priest stories, I’m afraid.)

But the story of late that has put the biggest smile on my face is the one of the two nuns in California who embezzled as much as half-a-million bucks from their school over a 10-year period. They used the dough on trips to Las Vegas to gamble.

$500K is a lot of money by anyone’s standards, but by the standards of funding a parochial school. Yowza! Amazing that the school is still standing.

Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper and Sister Lana Chang are not nuns on the run, however.

They’re holed up in their convent:

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the order the nuns represent, said the nuns have been placed in a religious house under the supervision of community leadership. (Source: USA Today)

Which I guess means no more casino nights in the parish hall, no more bingo games with the old ladies, let alone trips to the The Strip.

"Sister Mary Margaret and Sister Lana have expressed to me and asked that I convey to you, the deep remorse they each feel for their actions and ask for your forgiveness and prayers," [St. James Parish’ Monsignor Michael’ Meyers said in his letter, reports AP.

I’ll bet they have. I’ll bet they do.

The order is going to pay the school back – which I don’t imagine will be easy. These orders are dying out. Over the years, even when we were in that heady Church Triumphant era of the 1950’s, nuns were paid next to nothing for staffing parochial schools. They were provided with a pittance, and that pittance also went to support the older, retired nuns. It all worked because there were plenty of new young nuns to support the golden agers. And then there were no longer that many new nuns. And a lot more grey-haired nuns out there.

I think that in some cases, the Church was shamed in to providing support for convents. But orders of nuns have also sent out plenty of pleas to former students to help keep Sister Mary Filter of the Holy Smokes in sensible shoes.

So I’m guessing that this will be an awful lot of money for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet to part with. And much like the Catholic Church having to shell out so much money to settle molestation suits, having a scandal – even one as somewhat ludicrous as the gambling jones of a couple of old nuns – can’t help with fundraising.

The good sisters aren’t defending their rogue members.

"As a religious community, we will not defend the actions of our Sisters," said the order in their statement. "What happened is wrong. Our Sisters take full responsibility for the choices they made and are subject to the law."

There may, however, be no legal repercussions:

The archdiocese notified police, but doesn't plan to press charges, reports the AP.

Okay, I really don’t believe that justice will necessarily be served by shipping the duo of Sister Mary Margaret and Sister Lana – kind of a kippNuns on the runy nun name, no? – off to the hoosegow.  Especially since they look like they’d be buddies of my mother. That said, they might be helpful as embeds doing some sort of prison ministry. They could help inmates get their GED’s, and plenty of other things. After all, people do serious time for doing a lot less. Think of the woman in Texas who’s in the slammer for 8 years because she didn’t understand that people with green cards weren’t eligible to vote.

In any case, I suspect that the Church is relieved by having this sort of scandal on their hands, rather than the usual fare.

I have to say that I am a bit surprised by this.

I knew plenty of nuns growing up. Sure, there were many who were kind, good teachers, etc. On the other hand, plenty of them were mean. Plenty of them were cruel. And plenty of them were crazy – and I don’t mean good crazy either.

But larcenous nuns on gambling sprees? Not something I can reconcile with the nuns I grew up under.

The greatest incident of dishonesty I remember occurred in the fifth grade.

In grammar school, we were members of something called the St. Dominic Savio Club. Dominic Savio was a child saint, an exceptionally pious little Italian boy of the mid 19th century who died at the age of 14 of TB. Exceptional piety and child death being two favorite memes of nuns of my era, we heard a lot about St. Dominic. (His canonization was pushed by a priest who had taken what today we might generously characterize as a creepy interest in the boy.) Even a child as religious as I was found Dominic Savio a boring little prig.

Anyway, our class belonged to this Club which meant that once a month we had a meeting where we sang a song about St. Dominic Savio:

St. Dominic Savio
A saint of great power.
In Don Bosco’s garden

Don Bosco was the priest who favored little Dominic.

A fair youthful flower.

Ooo boy…

We also got to read the monthly Club newsletter, which was a nice break from the usual.

Now one of the things that nuns would do regularly was to change the classroom seating arrangement. Out of nowhere, Sister Whatever would order us all to “Take our books, pens, and pencils” and stand next to our desks while she announced where our next seat would be.

There were a couple of normal patterns: seated by name, seated by height, and – the most common – smart row girls, smart row boys, average row girls, average row boys, dumb row girls, dumb row boys. But occasionally they mixed things up.

On the occasion I recall, Sister Saint Wilhelmina did something of a random distribution.

After we were all settled in, she handed out the December issue of the club bulletin.

Low and behold, the monthly contest promised a prize to a classroom where a student with the initials MC (for Merry Christmas) was sitting in the second seat in the fifth row (December 25th being Christmas Day).

Low and behold, Sister Saint Wilhelmina had miraculously assigned Michael Curran that seat.

Even as gullible fifth graders, we knew the fix was in. It served us right that, although Willy wrote right in to the Dominic Savio Club, we didn’t get a prize. It’s highly likely that pretty much every other classroom that had a kid whose initials were MC landed that kid in the prime seat. We were too late to the game. The prize would probably have been a picture of St. Dominic Savio and/or St. John Bosco, so no great loss.

Anyway, that’s as close to a larcenous nun that I ever experienced. But who knows what might have happened if Sister Saint Wilhelmina had run into Sister Mary Margaret and Sister Lana. She might well have been blowing on dice and muttering under her breath, “Sister Baby needs a new pair of black lace-up shoes.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The cat’s out of the bag: we’ve got to stop horsing around

I’m not overly PC. One of my favorite jokes remains:

Q. How do you know Jesus was Irish?

A. Who else would be a 33 year old unemployed carpenter with 12 drinking buddies and a mother who thinks he’s God.

I’m laughing just typing this. I’ve also heard it told with Italian substituted for Irish. And I know there’s a Greek version, too. But the boy-o version works for me every time.

That said, I’m all for removing racially and ethnically offensive terms from day-to-day vocabulary.

Every once in a while, I start to use the word “gypped”, which was quite common when I was growing up. And then I think, hmmm, this is from the word “gypsy”. So not good. Not as bad as “jewing” someone down for bargaining, but still not good.

Easy enough to substitute “screwed” for “gypped,” which I guess will only offend those who are offended by the word “screwed.” Ah, well, screw ‘em.

There are other words/terms that are best retired: Dutch courage. Indian giver. But what’s so terrible about Irish whisper? It does, of course, imply that, when they whisper, the Irish are sometimes pretty loud. But this does seem to be a brogan that at least sometimes fits, so why not wear it.

Years ago, my husband and I were in Inishmore (one of the Aran Islands). We had met a fellow-tourist on the flight over, and had spent the day hanging out with her. She needed to cash a Traveler’s Check – this’ll date the episode – so we headed off to the island’s little tourist center. The woman who waited on us said that she’d check to see whether the person who cashed Traveler’s Checks was around. She ducked behind a curtain that was no more than 3 feet from where we were standing. Thus we were easily able to hear her say, “So, I’m to tell them that you’re not here, is that it?” A classic Irish whisper, I’d say.

There’s there’s Paddy wagon, which seems to hail from the day when police vans were full of Irishmen. (I will note that there is an Irish companpaddywagony that runs vans to tourist sites called Paddywagon. I’ve seen their luridly-painted buses around, so I guess the Irish aren’t completely sensitive to the term.)

In any case, while recognizing that there’s a broad sensitivity continuum, and that what makes one person laugh may cause another to cringe, I do understand why people want to purge offensive terms from the world’s vocabulary.

But getting rid of animal-related expressions because they might be offensive to vegans and vegetarians? I’m so not there, even though some folks believe that they “could be rendered obsolete because they are out of touch with the zeitgeist.”

Researcher Shareena Hamzah has written:

“The increased awareness of vegan issues will filter through consciousness to produce new modes of expression…

“While these phrases may seem harmless, they carry meaning and can send mixed signals to students about the relationship between humans and animals and can normalize abuse.

“Teaching students to use animal-friendly language can cultivate positive relationships between all beings and help end the epidemic of youth violence toward animals.” (Source: Independent/UK)

Among the suggestions Hamzah has: replacing ‘flogging a dead horse’ with ‘feeding a fed horse’, and ‘killing two birds with one stone” with “feeding two birds with one scone.”

Well, don’t those new terms just trip off the tongue. I’m sure we’ll be hearing them in use any day now.

And I’m guessing that the sort of young folks who are part of the “epidemic of youth violence toward animals” aren’t the sort of young folks familiar with these terms to begin with.

Then there’s PETA.

They don’t want us to be guinea pigs. They want us to be test tubes? (Huh?)

They want us bringing home the bagels rather than the bacon, even though – to my mind – bringing home the bacon brings someone who’s worked to mind. While bringing home the bagels brings to mind someone running an errand.

Rather than ‘taking the bull by the horns,’ PETA suggests ‘taking the flower by the thorns.’ I dunno about that. “Taking the bull by the horns” connotes jumping into the fray, going up against a fierce and mighty foe, putting your all into something. “Taking the flower by the horns”? Sounds like something that’s just plain dumb. (Those thorns can hurt you!)

I’m all for kindness to animals. If I thought about it hard enough and long enough, I’d probably be a vegetarian. Some of our animal brethren are, of course, closer to humans than others. Certainly, great apes should be treated with plenty of respect and decency.  Bonobos and common chimps share more than 99% of our DNA, after all. And dogs, of course, have extraordinarily wonderful DNA, however it matches up against ours.

But we are way further up in the animal kingdom than, say, chickens. Not that chickens should be treated cruelly. But chickens aren’t chimps. Or dogs.

And getting rid of colorful, animal-related terms from our vocabulary? I’m not as yet convinced.

In fact, while I wouldn’t exactly say I have a bee in my bonnet over this, but, doggone it, enough’s enough, and I for one won’t be cowed by PETA.

(What, no comments? Cat got your tongue?)


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Oh, Christmas Tree

On Saturday morning, I picked up my Zipcar a bit before 8 a.m. and headed out to my usual Christmas tree place in Allston.

It took me about 30 seconds to pick out a tree – I’m not one of those obsessive, fussy tree types; a couple of minutes for the guy to tie it onto my zip; and another 10 or so minutes to get back home.

I’m slightly allergic to the pollen in balsam, but Christmas that doesn’t smell of balsam is like an apple that’s not a McIntosh. No thanks.

But a couple of years ago, I read that if you rinsed your tree before you put it up, you’d wash away all those allergens. As it turns out, this actually works. Thus my plan was to once again hose down my tree in the little garden out front. This year it was a bit too cold. I didn’t want to have to drain the hose afterwards so it wouldn’t ice up. So I dragged my tree into my condo, propped it up in the shower, and rinsed it that way.

After letting it drip dry for 24 hours, I wrestled it into the stand, which is a lot easier since I invested in one of those foot-pedal operated one-person tree stands. You still have to lift it up – and Christmas trees are awkward and, even if they’re just six-footers, heavy enough – but things are much easier than they were with my old cast iron base and the four screws. This sucker was difficult enough to use when there were two of us wrangling the tree into the base and screwing those heavy-duty screws into the trunk. On my own? I did try (and succeed) for a few years, and was smart enough to realize I was going to have to go with a shorter tree. But the degree of difficulty with that cast iron base was too damned high. The pedal-operated tree stand? Easy-peasy.

(The above is not meant to imply that my late husband actually helped me with the tree beyond getting it situated in the stand. For whatever reason, Jim was not fond of Christmas. The names ‘Grinch’ and ‘Scrooge’ come to mind. But he always helped me stand it up, and – more happily for him – take it down and toss it in the recycle. Putting the tree up was, in fact, the occasion for our annual fight: the tree isn’t straight enough, the screws weren’t in their tight enough – all Jim’s concerns, by the way. He was the one there with the pliers making sure those screws were in so tight that it was going to be nearly impossible to get them unscrewed.)

Anyway, I’m not the biggest Christmas fan on the face of the earth. I’m not ‘meh’ on it, but I’m not one of those folks who counts down the days, can’t wait to get my decorations up, plays carols from Halloween on.  But there are aspects that I enjoy, and one of them is having a tree. A real tree.

And what I like most about it is decorating it.

Let’s face it, as you get older, one of life’s great pleasures is looking back and remembering. (That is, if you can minimize the looking back and remembering as it relates to the nasty bits and the regrets.) And when I’m decorating my tree, I’m remembering.

That’s because most of my ornaments are deeply personal. The plastic bells, boots, Santa in his sleigh from my parents’ first tree in 1946. The cross-stitch ones my mother made. The ones I bought when my nieces were born – the Molly one, a polar bear in a Santa outfit, is missing a foot.

I have shout-outs to pets who have passed away. A stuffed Emily my sister Kath made to honor her most excellent of cats – the most dog-like cat in the history of humankind. Sluggo the turtle. Jack the black lab.

I’ve got a dreidel on there in honor of my brother-in-law. And lots of things picked up on my travels over the years. When I hang the Santa at the Eiffel Tower, I think of the trips Jim and I made to Paris. The yellow taxi? New York visits; for both of us, our favorite city on the face of th20181210_144855e earth. The painted eggs from Prague and Budapest. The Pinocchio from Rome. A Belleek tree, the tea pot with the shamrock on it, the shiny little Oifig an Phoist (Gaelic for Post Office). Lots of vacations in Ireland to look back on.

How is it that, given my half-German roots, I never got an ornament in Germany, home of the Christmas tree?

I do have a pickle ornament, which is a German tradition. And a wolf – a tribute to my mother’s maiden name.

I have a lot of ornaments that were given to me by friends. The cupcake. The handbag. The skates.

And a whole bunch of Beetle-related ornaments. (One of the three cars I’ve owned in my life was a New Beetle.)

Some of my ornaments are just oddballs and/or inside jokes. Like the Jello mold. The Day of the Dead angel. The nose and mustache. An armadillo. All those pigs. And the tiny little red bucket that I got as a joke for my husband. (Yes, he thought it was funny.)

When I hang my ornaments, I sing along to Christmas CD’s: Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Linda Ronstadt, Judy Collins, Billboard’s Top Ten.

There’s a lot of overlap, but each has a few songs that are one-and-onlies. Bing’s “Christmas in Killarney”, with the fake brogue towards the end. (Did anyone else ever cover this number?) Linda’s gorgeous “River.” Judy’s gorgeous “Christmas in Sarajevo.” The lovely traditional Billboard numbers, including “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” And Nat King Cole’s magnificent “Oh, Holy Night.” (I don’t know who in their right mind would try to cover this one after listening to Nat King Cole’s version.)

I always love my tree.

It’s never perfect. I could be bothered with obsessing over the perfect physical specimen. And nothing turns me off faster than a decorator tree (other than in an institution), with everything thematic and perfectly color-coordinated. BOR-ING!

And even though I’m doing it on my own, I always enjoy putting my tree up.

Now if I just remember to water it every day…

Monday, December 10, 2018


I don’t spend enough time in the wild to ever have given a thought to bear spray.

Years ago, when I was a camper, I did have an almost close encounter. When camping at some national park or another – was it Yellowstone? Sequoia? – my traveling camper companion Joyce and I went and visited the folks at the next campsite. When we got back to our site – admittedly mildly stoned – we found two bear cubs playing in the well of our tent.

I don’t recommend spending the night trying to catch some sleep in a Karmann Ghia, but it sure beats worrying about getting mauled by a momma bear protecting her kiddos.

There were bear warnings at pretty much every national park where we camped – don’t slather hand cream on before hopping into your sleeping bag; if you cook bacon, leave your cooking clothing at a remove from your campsite; hang your food from a tree limb; something about having your period – and in one park, a site was closed to tent-campers.

Other than that, our only other bear worry was the evening when Joyce and I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of a critter snuffling around the perimeter of our tent. Fee, fie, foe, fum, was there a bar out thar smelling the blood of two camping gurls???

We both lay in our sleeping bags, holding our breath, wondering if this was how the world was going to end. Then the cloud passed by the moon, and in the light of the silvery moon we could see that the critter snuffling around our tent was, in fact, a skunk. (Was this how the world was going to end????)

I no longer camp. So I no longer have the need for bear repellent which, in fact, didn’t even exist during my camping days.

But it does exist and, apparently, has a close to 100% success rate when used against a bear. (It’s some form of extreme pepper spray based on capsaicin, the same ingredient used in a lot of muscle rubs.)

And, apparently, a lot of folks order it online. Excellent stocking stuffer, don’t leave home without it, just what I always wanted, take two they’re small…and all that.

Nothing says online ordering like Amazon, and you can find yourself plenty of bear repellent options there.

Thus, plenty of cans of bear repellent make their way through Amazon warehouses.

Which is mostly okay. Until a robot “working” in an Amazon warehouse - where robots are “learning” to replace those underpaid, over-stressed warehouse workers - punctures a can.

Then all bear repellent hell breaks loose, as happened in New Jersey last week.

In total, 54 workers at the Robbinsville, NJ, facility were exposed to fumes. Bear repellent is made with capsaicin, or chili pepper extract; many of the workers experienced trouble breathing and said their throats and eyes burned. All of the injured workers are expected to be released from hospitals soon if they haven’t been already, according to Rachael Lighty, a spokesperson for Amazon. “The safety of our employees is always our top priority,” she said in a statement. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says it is conducting an investigation into the incident. (Source: Wired)

I suppose the good news about robots puncturing cannisters of bear repellent is that, at some point, there won’t be any humans to get injured. Maybe it will gum up the innerworkings of the robots, but there’ll be no choking, wheezing, gasping employees loaded into ambulances and rushed to the ER.

Oddly enough, this is not the first time when the words “Amazon” “robot” and “bear repellent” appeared in the same story.

In 2015, the fire department responded to an accident at an Amazon facility in Haslet, Texas, that was caused by a robot running over a can of none other than bear repellent, according to public records unearthed by Jessica Bruder for her book Nomadland, which chronicles the lives of the retail giant’s older, transient workforce.

Yet another bear repellent incident was recorded at an Amazon facility this year, but in that case, it was human error, not a robot-related issue. Someone dropped a can, but no one was injured.

As it turns out, robots aside, Amazon is something of a dangerous place to work.

Lots of accidents occur at Amazon because they have lots of workers. (At some facilities, the company even has medical contractors on site to take care of staff injuries and other health woes.) Accidents at Amazon are, thus, like shootings by postal workers. We hear about them with such frequency because both the USPS and Amazon have huge workforces.

But there’s more to it than that:

Some experts say, however, that Amazon is a particularly dangerous place to work for other reasons. The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a labor advocacy group, announced in August that Amazon topped its annual “Dirty Dozen” list highlighting companies that it believes put workers especially at risk because of unsafe labor practices.

Labor practices, I suppose, like pushing their human employees to work at a rate that’s beyond the capacity of most humans to sustain for any period of time without breaking down and/or going postal. Unlike robots. So far.

You have to worry that, as robots get more sentient, some robot might up and grab a can of bear repellent and go after the human manager sitting in the glass-box office observing the robots at work.

At least Amazon doesn’t sell AR-15s, so a robot can’t go on a shoot-em-up spree. Unless the robot figures out how to get to a guns and ammo store, where they’ll sell anything to anybody.

Oh, what a world we live (and work) in.

Friday, December 07, 2018

You better shop around: N-M Fantasy Gifts (Part 2)

Yesterday, I window-shopped the first part of the Fantasy Gift chapter in this year’s Neiman-Marcus Christmas Book for 2018.

Disappointingly, there wasn’t a darned thing in there I was willing to spend $250K (and way far over) on.

What’s a shopper to do but forge on through the list to a) see if there was anything there that I’d actually spend any fantasizing time on; and b) see if there was anything there that I’d be willing to spend actual money on, if I happened to be in possession of fantasy-league money.

Fortunately, it doesn’t cost anything to window shop. And, oh yeah, fantasies are free, so I don’t have to rely on N-M’s to lead a rich and rewarding fantasy life.

So on to Part Two:

I’ve got a sweet tooth. Make that a full set of sweet teeth.

And yet, even if I did have $325K to spend on candy, I don’t think I would drop it all on Superfina Candy. Sure, Champagne gummy bears sound tasty. And Peach Bellini gumdrops do, too. But a million pieces of fancy, adult candy? Let’s do the math. Even if I were going to share half of it, that leaves me with 500,000 pieces of candy. Now let’s assume that I’m going to last another 20 years. (Actuarially speaking – and I just plugged my numbers in – I should last 21 years. But the math is easy at 20, so…) That’s 25,000 pieces a year, or roughly 70 pieces a day. Hmmmm. Even I couldn’t consume that much candy. At least without compromising the likelihood that I’ll make it another 20 years.

But I guess the offer is worth a second look.

It includes a trip for four to the Italian Riviera, and a tour of the Sugarfina factory in Genoa. And a candy bar built in your home so you’ll have some place to stock all that Sugarfina candy. Don’t know if would hold a million pieces. Don’t know if it’s worth figuring it out.

Are you a Fantastic Beasts fan? Me neither. I’d heard of it, but had to look up what it was. (A fantasy movie franchise. Fantasy. What could be more fitting.) Anyway, if you were an FB fan, and you were willing to pay $300K to costumer designer Colleen Atwood, you could spend a day with her.

…joining forces to create a one-of-a-kind outfit inspired by the designer’s latest project, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald…The most fantastic day will include lunch and a collaborative design session with Atwood, a fitting to take comprehensive measurements,
and a photo op to commemorate the experience.

Plus a Fantastic Beasts wands and other swag bag goodies.

But back to that one-of-a-kind outfit. Other than lovely pieces knit by my sister Kath, I don’t have much by way of one-of-a-kind pieces of clothing. LL Bean doesn’t do one-of-a-kind. Neither does my upscale go-to, Eileen Fisher. But, like most folks, I’m perfectly capable of combining multiple articles of clothing along with pieces of my ample supply of costumer jewelry to create – get this – one-of-a-kind outfits. And some of these one-of-a-kind outfits are – get this – pretty darned fantastic, if I do say so myself.

Yesterday’s post included duded up backyard sheds – Virtue or Vice, pick your $250K poison. But if you’re really looking for a getaway, there’s the Serenity Yacht. $7.1M worth of solar-powered chic.

As bells and whistles go, it boasts a fully functional kitchen, a state-of-the-art music and entertainment system, satellite TV, Wi-Fi, and ample closet space—important to note, because this gift includes a Neiman Marcus shopping spree.

I’m pretty much a landlubber, so I’m happy with the fully functional kitchen I have in my condo. State-of-my-art music chez moi is a boom box (when the Internet gets fully hacked, I’ll have my CD’s to fall back on). Entertainment systems? I’ve got a perfectly fine Sony. I subscribe to Netflix AND Prime. And I’ve got a major backlog of books. Wi-Fi? Comcast by any other name.

My closet space is ample enough – plenty ample enough to fit a custom Fantastic Beasts costume, if I change my mind there. And I really don’t want or need a Neiman-Marcus shopping spree.

There are fantastic beasts, and then there are fantastic beasts. Bjørn Okholm Skaarup is a Danish artists “best known for fanciful animal sculptures,” including the Hippo Ballerina (a 15 footer) on display at Lincoln Center. You can memorialize your furry loved one with a custom-piece created in Skaarup’s Florence foundry. Prices start at $200K and I’m guessing that would cover one of the possibilities mentioned, i.e., the life-sized cat. The more elaborate, the larger, the more fantastic the sculpted beast, the higher (and more fantastic) the price tag.

At last, there’s a gift on the list that sounds a tiny bit intriguing. For $315K, you get to play James Bond.

As the operatives, four adrenaline junkies will fly to Las Vegas via private jet for a three-day, two-night espionage adventure organized by The Invictus Experience. Upon landing, they’ll be greeted by a mysterious man in a tux, who will hand over an envelope containing their assigned mission profile—and
the fun will begin…

So far so good. But then there’s the fact that the fun begins:

…with a team of elite and decorated Special Operations Forces veterans. Free-fall parachutists, combatant divers, force reconnaissance marines, et al will accompany the group to fulfill all of their secret agent fantasies: jumping out of planes, racing supercars, and whatever else is required to complete the mission at hand.

Uh-oh. I always thought it be sort of fun to be a police detective, and this little adventure seemed like a variation on the theme. Spy vs. police detective. Sort of one and the same, only for one you were a tux and for the other you carry a badge. But Special Ops guys? Jumping out of planes? Racing supercars?

Ah. No.

Anyway, if you want to look through the Neiman-Marcus Christmas Book, you can find it here. Unlike the items on the Fantasy Gifts list, the price is right: FREE. Enjoy! 

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Shop till you drop: Neiman’s Annual Over the Top (Part 1)

Nothing says the holiday season is about to kick off like the arrival of the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book.

Not that I actually receive the N-M Christmas Book. Although one of my oldest and dearest of friends was a buyer there for years, I’m not sure that I’ve ever purchased anything at Neiman-Marcus. I may have bought an umbrella for my mother there years ago. Then again, that umbrella may have been the only item I ever purchased at Saks. It was one of those joints.

Since I don’t get the hard copy of the Christmas Book, instead of sitting around, casually leafing through glossy paper, I have to thumb through it on line, or download a pdf, so I can graze.

My grazing always takes me immediately to the ultimate grazer’s feedbag: the Fantasy Gift section.

I’m not sure whose fantasies these gifts are. Not mine. Yet they are always so wonderfully over the top, they always bring a little smile to my face. Or a shock and awe look. One of the other. Sometimes both.

So here goes my stroll through of this year’s Fantasy Gifts.

If you want to treat yourself and three of your friends to a spin around  India, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives, “bespoke travel purveyor Black Tomato” can handle the deets for you for a mere $630K. The four lucky ducks:

…will travel by private jet, staying in luxurious style in award-winning five-star hotels, chic safari-style tents, and secluded lodges constructed just for them. Appealing to wellness gurus and adventure seekers alike, activities include time with yoga masters, naturopathy experts, Hindu priests, and monks, along with breathtaking helicopter tours of the Himalayas and island cruises via yacht.

I would like to see those secret bits of the Taj Mahal that only Black Tomato has the key to. And I like the fact that the Nepal trip ends at the base of Everest, not to summit. Not to mention that Bhutan always winds up Numero Uno on the list of happiest countries on earth.

As for the Maldives, I’m not sure what a naturopathy expert is, but I’m wondering whether the priests and monks will be praying that the Maldives don’t sink into the sea, taking the bespoke secluded lodge with them.

Just as glad that they’ve left North Sentinel Island off the list. That’s the place that’s home to a couple of dozen hunter-gatherers who don’t welcome visitors. In fact, they just used their stone age weapons on a missionary who came ashore to convert them.

In any case, I am going somewhere next year. Just not the Maldives with Black Tomato. (And, sorry, as someone with Irish ancestry, I’ve gotta say that Black Tomato is way too close to Black Potato, and that’s a bit too famine-y for me.)

If I were a tennis aficionado I might be interested in paying $555K to go to the four majors with Sloane Stephens. That is, if I’d even heard of Sloane Stephens, who is the 2017 US Open champion. And if I had $555K to hang out with her. If only, I would be able to sit with a friend in Sloane’s VIP box – with her close friends and family, stay in player-only hotels, and lob some balls back and forth with her. No offense to Sloane Stephens, but I’d rather sit in a VIP box with my close friends and family. But I only get to bring one special someone along. Pretty measly for $555K. I mean, I’m pretty sure I could get to Paris, London, NY and Melbourne, find a non-player-stayer hotel, and procure tickets to the matches for more than two people for a lot less than $555K. Sure, we’d miss out on the lobbing session…

A bit more reasonably priced would be one of the Ultimate Backyard Experiences. For $250K you can go for either the Virtue House or the Vice House. Hmmmmm.

Virtue House is a “10’ x 12’ backyard retreat for those in search of serenity.” Well, who isn’t, these days?

This “sanctuary of self care” is “less about indulgence and more about introspection.”

From the art to the finishes, Christina Simon of Mark Ashby Design, who once designed yoga studios, creates luxurious, tranquil spaces and doesn’t miss a single detail.

Sounds pleasant enough, but as someone who’s spent a lifetime brimmed – make that overflowing – with introspection, for $250K I would prefer just a tiny bit more indulgence. Guess I’ll have to stick to lolling around in bed looking at my Twitter feed instead.

On the other hand, the Vice House is just one fun old “hideaway of indulgence.” They tout it as a place to enjoy an expensive cigar, a finely aged whiskey, or “marathon gaming sessions with friends.” So I’m guessing this is meant to be something of a man cave.

Curated by Christina Simon, elegant furnishings, deep wood tones, and lighting that sets the mood create a refuge far removed from day-to-day responsibilities. All the “necessities” for a life of leisure are in reach; there’s even a surround deck—should one choose to venture into the great outdoors.

Wood tones? Deep wood tones? Yep. Man cave.

Virtue or vice? Sigh. Not having a backyard makes the decision to pass a ton easier.

If you haven’t found anything to your liking quite yet, there’s always tomorrow’s post, when I’ll run through the remaining Fantasy Gifts.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

A Saudi entrepreneur, an Amish farmer, and a camel walk into a dairy bar…

Ever given a nano-second’s thought to camel milk? Well, neither had I until I saw an article on CNN on a fellow who’s trying to make a go of it selling it in the U.S.

Walid Abdul-Wahab is a Saudi who came to the states a decade ago to study at UCLA. Living in LA, he noticed that there was a reasonably high degree of health-consciousness. (And, I suspect, a reasonably high tolerance for slightly wacky ideas.)

So a light bulb went off, and that light bulb illuminated the words “camel milk.”

After all, lots of Americans have some type of cow’s milk allergy. And Abdul-Wahab thought his home brew was better than soy, almond, coconut, or any of the other growing number of options out there:

Camel milk is a mild drink that's slightly sweeter and saltier than cow milk, he says. Abdul-Wahab believes it could "end the search for a milk alternative."  (Source: CNN)

Slightly sweeter doesn’t sound all that appealing. That “slightly sweeter” is one of the problems I have with almond or the other alternatives I’ve tried. And saltier? Hmmmm. Never really thought of wanting a salty drink – other than the occasional Margarita or gargling a sore throat away. Isn’t drinking something salty that last thing you want to do in, say, hot dry, desert-like weather when you want to stay hydrated?

Anyway, Abdul-Wahab wanted to bring the delights of camel milk to The States. So he went hunting for a local source.

Having decided on a product, Abdul-Wahab discovered that most camels in the US are owned by Amish and Mennonite farmers…

I knew that the Amish sold fireplaces. And some of them go rogue and appear on “reality” shows on TLC. (Not that I would ever watch anything on the network formerly known as – ahem – The Learning Channel.) But who knew they were also camel breeders? Or that there’d be enough demand to actually make it a thing? As it turns out:

Amish and Mennonite farmers breed and sell camels for upwards of $25,000 each, says Abdul-Wahab. They also lease them to zoos and churches, which use them for nativity scenes, for up to $1,200 a month.

Wonder what the nativity scene camels do for the rest of the year. $1,200 a month sounds like a lot for camel rental, but that’s pretty much a one-month gig. Surely the 11 month upkeep of a camel would exhaust that $1,200 pretty fast. Anyway, not my worry. And now they have camel milk to fill in some of the gainful employment downtimes in the camel workforce ranks – at least for the girl camels.

Working with the Amish was a challenge, given that most of them avoid using any technology.

Abdul-Wahab had to find creative ways to work with his suppliers. Amish and Mennonite farmers "don't like to be bound by contracts," he says, and "some don't have a cell phone and have to go to a community phone box to make calls." Unable to communicate via the internet, Abdul-Wahab installed a "fax-like technology that connects a landline phone to a printer," in the only two farms that would allow it, and was able to send labels and orders to those farmers.

Abdul-Wahab kept at it, and in 2015, his Desert Farms “became the first US company granted a USDA license to sell camel milk commercially, he says.”

Although camel milk is pretty pricey -  $18 a pint vs. $6-7 a gallon for cow’s milk – Desert Farms is selling about 630 gallons per week – direct and through health food stores.

As well as raw and pasteurized fresh milk, Desert Farms sells powdered and fermented milk (kefir), camel milk-based beauty products and camel hump fat.

Wondering why you’d want hump fat?

Camels survive in the harshest environments on Earth, as a result, their bodies have adapted to become truly incredible. So that’s why you’ll find such an amazing variety of nutrients inside Desert Farms Hump Fat.

Hump Fat contains: Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), Arachidonic acid, Caprice acid, Lauric Acid, Stearic Acid, Palmitoleic Acid, Beta Carotene, plus vitamins A, E, K, B12, and Biotin. And there’s 3x MORE Oleic acid (Omega 9) than in coconut oil.

Hump Fat has 40% of your daily Vitamin B12 in a single tablespoon! No other fat or cooking oil offers this level of bioavailable nutrients.

Not much of a come on, but don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it, I guess. If you’re on the lookout for Christmas gifts, a jar of fat is only $21.

Camel’s milk is not the cure for those with lactose intolerance, by the way.

However, camel milk has a different protein composition to cow milk making it less allergenic. "It is more similar to human milk," says [Ohio State dietician Lori] Chong.

Come to think of it, I’ve seen more humans in my life who looked like camels than looked like cows. Forget being a monkey’s uncle. We may be distant relations to the camel. Hump fat for everyone!

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Baby, you can drive my hotel room?

I have a childhood friend who retired earlier this year. She and her husband then spent 6 months in their new RV, tootling around the country visiting kids, grandkids and friends – and seeing a lot of beautiful sites, national parks, etc.

The latest news? They liked it so much that they’re selling their house, estate-selling all their possessions, and taking off for parts unknown on a permanent basis.

Not for me, but what a great adventure.

I thought of Mary-Anne and Tom when I read about a new mode of travel – a hotel room on wheels; a self-driving hotel room on wheels - that’s supposedly going to “revolutionize the way we travel.”

It’s the Autonomous Travel Suite (ATS).

Autonomous RV

The idea comes from Steve Lee of Toronto’s Aprilli Design Studio, and won an award for radical innovation from the hospitality industry. Guess they’re trying to one-up Airbnb. Plus they’re hoping to do away with short-hop air travel.

Here’s the big idea:

A hybrid design which combines a hotel room with a self-driving vehicle, the Autonomous Travel Suite (ATS) comes in a range of sizes designed to accommodate solo travelers, couples or families. You can even bring your cat.

Designed to carry travelers on journeys of between six and 10 hours, the ATS is equipped with many of the elements found in a traditional hotel room: a sleeping space (with a memory foam mattress), a work space, a tiny kitchen, a toilet, a sitting shower and an "entertainment zone" for watching movies and gaming.

It is encased by panoramic smart glass windows that dim at the touch of a button. (Source: CNN)

We’re still a way aways from autonomous (self-driving) cars, so this one is even further out, but your home away from home will be app-driven (literally). Travelers will plug in Point A and Point B and you’re on your way.

Lee sees his brainchild as part of chains of Autonomous Hotels that would take care of the necessities like docking, waste removal, and amenities like pools and gyms. Sort of like an RV park, no?

[Lee] believes that as a customized, comfortable and time-efficient form of transport, the ATS will be well-positioned to replace domestic air travel -- eliminating the necessity to wait in line at check in, make multiple transport transfers and lug heavy suitcases around.

I was going to say “baby, you can drive my hotel room,” but in this case, there ain’t no baby. That hotel room is going to drive itself.

It’s an idea, but wouldn’t folks just hop in an autonomous car and have it drive them to a real honest to goodness hotel where they didn’t have to worry about the dimmer on the smart glass windows failing, exposing them like a zoo animal.

But I have to say that both Mary-Anne and Tom’s adventure, and the ATS, put me in mind of a Farmer Al Falfa cartoon which, even in my  childhood, was old timey. (The cartoons were from the 1930s, which from the perspective of the 1950s, seemed impossibly way-back.) In the episode I recall, Farmer Al Falfa – who was a grouchy old coot – got hisself a trailer. Famer Al FalfaAs he tootled around cartoonville in his 1930’s version of an RV, he strummed and sang a little ditty:

Takin’ a bath in a trailer
Oh by gum by gee
I sure enjoy it ‘cause the water’s free

What ever would Farmer Al Falfa have made of the ATS? Oh by gum by gee alright.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Some things are just plain wrong

A couple of weeks ago, I was at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Now I love BB&B, where you can find all sorts of necessary items, and where you can always find necessary items you didn’t realize were necessary until you saw them at BB&B. Anyway, other than Staples, it’s one of my favorite places to shop.

I was there for necessary items: a comforter and sheet set for a Secret Santa event at St. Francis House. St. Francis is primarily a day shelter, offering all sorts of services, but it also has 56 units of supported housing for folks who are mostly back on their feet but aren’t quite ready to live on their own. (Each resident has their own bedroom – with a door that locks! – and shares bathroom, living room, and kitchen facilities.) Anyway, the house wants to make sure that each of the residents has something under the tree for Christmas. The name I got was looking for some new bedding.

While I was there, I also spied a nifty wastebasket that would make a nice replacement for the crappy one I have in my upstairs bathroom. Alas, I couldn’t juggle both it and the bedding, so picking up a wastebasket will be a BB&B excursion for another day. Hope the one I like is still available!

While I was there, I also spied some truly unnecessary items that must have Chinese factory workers scratching their heads in puzzlement at American consumers.

Even though I grew up in a house where the toilet seat lids were covered, I really don’t get them at all. I don’t see that they add muchSanta toilet seat to bathroom decor, but to each their own. At least they’re better than those colossally unsanitary, totally yucky chenille toilet seat covers. Oh. My. Anyway, my family’s toilet lid covers – and the matching covers to for the toilet tank - were plain yellow. They were washed regularly, but they weren’t changed seasonally.

Not like these cheery little Santa and snowman lid covers – with matching rug-een to wrap around the base of the toilet. And if I don’t get the purpose of the lid cover, I really don’t get the utility of a wrap around rug. Certainly, on a chilly morning, it’s nice to put your tootsies on a warm rug rather than a cold floor. But something that’s so close to that toilet base? That’s just inviting trouble, especially if the toilet is ever used by a guy with less than perfect aim. Talk about totally yucky.

These are, of course, un-necessities that would never ever ever make it into my cart.

Nor would this sucker:

ring toss

I’m all in favor of the Yankee Swap gag gift. (Just wait until everyone sees what I’ve got in store for this Christmas Eve. Hope I remember where I stowed it…) But this football-themed inflatable ring toss seems especially lame-o. Perhaps I’m just being pissy here. This is, of course, preferable to the unpictured gag gift next to it, which was a putting set designed for someone sitting on a – wait for it – toilet. Maybe the folks who use that are the ones that the chenille toilet seat covers are made for.

As I said, factory workers in China must be nearly overcome with wtf moments. Or perhaps they’re inured.

The worse thing I saw on that shopping trip was not, however, either of these choice items from BB&B. No, it was on sale – and on display – at the Red Sox store just down the street.

bad dress

I loved old number 6 – that would be Johnny Pesky – but if I had $125 to spend on a dress, it wouldn’t be this cheesily made and fugly one. And much as I love the Red Sox – and I own a handful of t-shirts, a fleece, two pairs of earrings and a bunch of caps – I can’t see anyone wearing this schmatta.

I’m betting that these will be on drastic markdown any day now. But even if the markdown is drastic enough to put it in Yankee Swap range ($20 limit), I would not be buying this dress. I do believe it’s the ugliest piece of Red Sox merch I’ve ever seen. What in MLB were people thinking who designed this one?

Some things are just plain wrong and these items are three of them.

The good news is that I’m pretty much done my shopping. So unless and until I head out to BB&B for that wastebasket, I will not be exposed to any more ridiculous holiday items.