Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Sears limps closer to its final finish line

Sears wasn’t a supreme presence in my life growing up.

I don’t recall that there was a physical Sears retail presence in Worcester until the Sears store opened at the Auburn Mall in the early 1970’s, when I had one foot out the Worcester door and the other one not far behind it. Plus Sears clothing was always just a bit “off” as far as my heightened and sophisticated fashion sense went.

My family did get the Sears catalog, but I don’t remember my mother ordering much from it. When she went shopping, she dressed up, got on the bus, and went “down city” to one of the many stores that still graced downtown Worcester. (Ah, those were the days.) Not that my mother was averse to ordering things without having a hands-on experience. My parents always belonged to at least one book club – Book of the Month, Literary Guild, Classics, Vision Books (for Catholic kids). They also bought most of their albums from the Columbia Records catalog. And for a while my mother belonged to some tchotchke of the month that brought some “foreign” whatever that gave our house an international flair. (That little Greek plate is hanging on the wall, over my shoulder, as I write this post.)

But that Sears catalog… I loved thumbing through it in its entirety, especially drawn to the small toy section and completely intrigued by the pages that displayed fruitcakes, tinned cookies and petit fours. 1972_Sears_Christmas_Catalog_Fruitcake

I had never had fruitcake. All I knew about them was the jokes. And yet my sweet tooth drew me there, to gaze longingly at those colorful treats.

Fast forward a bunch of decades and I occasionally had a tire rotated at a Sears automotive, or looked at Kenmore appliances. I think we bought a TV there 20 years ago. I seem to remember a boombox or two. But I may well be thinking Lechmere Sales or Best Buy.

My most indelible Sears experience was working there one year when I was in college.

I have had plenty of crappy jobs in my life, but working as a customer complaint taker at Sears was right up there. Who needed training? Just answer the phone and write down whatever the pissed-off customer has to say. (Ten+ years ago, when I was a wee broth of a blogger, I did a piece on my experience on this particular job.)

And now Sears, which has been limping along for quite a while now – its workforce declined from 300K to 68K in the past decade – is limping ever closer to what is likely their inevitable finish line. One foot in the grave, the other on a banana peel. Sigh. I’m an old lady. I miss the iconic brands of my youth, even if I’ve done absolutely zero to help prevent or slow their demise.

The company lost about $5.8 billion over the last five years and shut down more than a thousand stores over the past decade. Many of the 700 stores that remain have frequent clearance sales, empty shelves and handwritten signs. (Source: NY Times)

Nothing says “let’s shop here” like empty shelves and handwritten signs.

Sounds like they’re ready for EOL.

Nonetheless, it’s depressing to think about all the folks who’ll be losing their jobs when the 142 stores on the chopping block shut their doors – even though there are plenty of other not-so-hot retail jobs out there for the asking. It’s depressing because, for all the retail clerks who are there because one crappy job’s the same as the next, I’m pretty sure there are plenty of lifers who, for whatever reason, have been working at “their” Sears for 10, 20, 30 years. It’s where they go each day. It’s who they take a lunch break with. It’s the regulars they recognize from waiting on them over the years.

Shed a tear for Sears? Hardly. Edward Lampert – the hedgie who runs Sears – will no doubt come out ahead.

It’s the little guys I feel bad for – even though when I was a little guy at Sears, futilely answering the phones, I hated every moment of it.

And, of course, there’s now even less likelihood that I’ll ever get one of those tinned fruitcakes I had my eye on 60 years ago. Of course, if there are any out there, they’re probably still as edible as they ever where.

Anyway, it may be a tiny bit premature, but so long Sears.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Chole’s stocking was hung by the chimney with care.

Even though the stores are all candy-corned up at present, it’s never to early to think about Christmas. Thus, although I never order anything from The Company Store, I was nonetheless delighted to get their “Get Your Home Ready for the Holidays Catalog.” Other than the tree, the wreathe, the poinsettias, and the greens – and I won’t be doing them until December – I already pretty much “have everything I need to create an inviting holiday home for family & friends.” Still, I like to look at stuff, even when I have no intention of buying anything.

Anyway, I was paging through the catalog when, what to my wondering eyes did appear than an array of cuter than cute Christmas stockings, labeled with names that the folks who order matching family PJs from The Company Store may well name their kids.

Company store

Noah. Benjamin. Avery. Stella. Jack. Elizabeth. Amelia. Samantha. Henry. Nary a Brandon nor Jaden, no Destiny, no Nevaeh (that’s heaven spelled backwards, btw) in sight. They even have their pet stockings labeled: the somewhat retro Ginger for a cat, and the more on current point Baily for a dog.

And then there’s the stocking for Chole.

Chole? Huh?

I did go to the google to see if I’d missed a cultural moment when one of the Kardashians or one of their pals named a baby Chole, setting off a naming flurry that resulted in enough little Choles out there, such that the name was now up there with Avery and Henry. But I mostly came away empty.

Which is not to say that the name Chole doesn’t exist. I really had to dig, but I did come up with a couple of baby name sites that list it as a nickname for Soledad, or as a regular old American name that means “Victory of the People.” But I put as much faith in those baby name sites as I do the sites that show the heraldry, the coat of arms for everyone with an English or Irish last name. (The illustrious Rogers family, when they weren’t grubbing around to see if there were any praties that hadn’t yet rotted, apparently had a crest with three deer on it. Right.)

Anyway, I couldn’t find anyone who was actually named Chole. And when you search for Chole, most of what you get back are recipes for chole marsala, a Punjabi chick-pea dish.

Chole. Maybe it actually is a diminutive for Soledad. And maybe there are folks with little ones named Soledad, who call their little one Chole. If so, then props to The Company Store for their nod to diversity. You’d think, however, given that all their other stocking names are on the Top Whatever list, that they might have used something more common. Like Soledad. As in journalist Soledad O’Brien.

But you know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking they weren’t trying to appeal to the Hispanic demo, let alone to anyone who named their kid Chole because it means Victory of the People. I’m thinking that they meant that stocking to say Chloe.

In which case, I’m sorry that they printed all those lovely four-color catalogues with the name Chloe misspelled.

I know what it’s like to do a print job and discover, when you open the box, that there’s a big, glaring typo/spello staring you in the face.

I was in marketing before the Internet existed, and back in those days, you actually had to print your brochures out. Oh, folks still do print stuff. But it’s not like it used to be. A lot of stuff just gets put on the web as regular old copy or as a pdf. Which makes mistakes very easy to correct.

Before heading out on vacation, I once okayed brochure copy for an 8-page, 4-color, well-designed piece. For once, we had a bit of budget, so I got to work with an actual designer. A very sweet piece. I just loved it. Let’s print 10,000 of them! (Why not? The marginal cost of everything in the print run over 5,000 was negligible. Of course, if we’d given everyone in the world with even a tangential interest in this product 10 copies of the brochure, we still would have had plenty of them left over even if we’d just bought 5,000. But that’s how we used to think, back in the day.)

Anyway, I had someone lined up to proof the galleys, but she didn’t catch the glaring error that I had missed. I didn’t blame here at all. This one was clearly on me. Naturally, after the brochures were delivered, the guy who headed Quality Assurance left one on my desk with the word “illude” circled. Oops. I had meant “elude.” Should have asked him to proof the copy to begin with.

I sat there trying to convince myself that there was a way in which “illude” could kinda-sorta work. But I was kidding myself.

Anyway, we had no budget to do a reprint of the run.

So we lived with illude. Serves me right for using a fancy-arse word to begin with.

And, of course, no one noticed.

And, of course, there are probably 9,000 of those left over brochures rotting away in a landfill somewhere.

I suspect that same will be true with the Chole stocking. But at least the person – if they search for “name Chole” versus just “Chole” will find that at least some people think it’s a name.

And there’s always the possibility that they intended the name to be Chole to begin with. Which I don’t believe in the least. It just doesn’t go with Stella and Jack. I’m sticking with Chloe.

(Nice to have so much free time that I can dwell on nonsense like this, is it not?)

Merry Christmas, Chole, wherever you are!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Rocket J. Squirrel, emotional support animal

Well, last winter it was the performance artist who attempted to fly with her emotional support peacock. I thought that was somewhat out there.

Now it’s the woman who tried to take a Frontier Airlines flight from Orlando to Cleveland accompanied by her emotional support squirrel.

As I’ve written in the past – c.f., my post (linked above) on the emotional support peacock: I’m both pro-animal and pro-emotional support. But there are limits to my pro-ness, and a wild, non-domesticated animal is where those limits are found.

I will give you that squirrels are adorbs. But they are basically rats with cuter faces and better tails.

Seriously, who looks to a jacked-up version of a rat for emotional support?

The answer is the woman trying to get from Orlando to Cleveland, accompanied by her own little Rocket J. Squirrel, minus that old-fashioned leather aviator’s helmet, and minus the moose companion. (On a disturbing personal note, I saw a video of the woman being escorted off the plane in a wheelchair, giving everyone in her glide path the finger. She reminded me of my late mother in law…)

A Frontier spokesman said in a statement that the passenger had alerted the airline that she would be bringing an emotional-support animal on the flight but did not mention it would be so . . . bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

“Rodents, including squirrels, are not allowed on Frontier flights,” the statement read. “The passenger was advised of the policy and asked to deplane.”

When the passenger declined, others aboard Flight 1612, which was traveling from Orlando to Cleveland, were forced to deplane so that authorities could remove the woman from the aircraft. (Source: WaPo)

The still anonymous squirrel lady was finally rolled off of the plane. The commotion resulted in a flight delay of 2 hours.

Frontier’s policy doesn’t allow rodents as emotional-support animals: cats and dogs, only. Which, truly, seems plenty sufficient when it comes to the need for an emotional support animal. Oh, I’m sure there are arguments that can be made for ferrets and pot-bellied pigs, but, come on, there has to be a limit. If the sky were the limit on what sort of animal could be brought on board on the basis of what in many cases is a fake certificate purchased on the Internet, why stop at squirrels? Why not rats – and not those cute little pet white rats. I’m talking city rats, like the one whose carcass I almost tripped over in the gutter while crossing Beacon at Charles the other day. (Fortunately or unfortunately, that sucker was no longer in any condition to provide emotional support.) And why not snakes on planes? What if someone derives immense emotional support from a boa constrictor or a cobra? Wouldn’t you just love to be on a flight when one of those slithered lose? Why not a baby alligator? They’re cute, if not cuddly.

(Frontier has fewer restrictions on trained service animals, allowing miniature horses in addition to dogs and cats. I’m a bit surprised they don’t also allow capuchin monkeys, which are often used as assistive companions for those with mobility issues. Maybe they do, but it just wasn’t mentioned.)

I’m all for the airlines cracking down on what members of the animal kingdom can fly. And maybe a good first step would be a bit stricter about the documentation required to claim the requirement of emotional support. Ordering an “official” certificate for your furry, feathered, or snake-skinned friend is about as difficult as ordering some Bose headphones or a soap dish from Amazon.

While I am experienced with ordering Bose headphones and soap dishes form Amazon, I actually didn’t know just how easy it is to get one of these certificates, not first hand, paw or claw, anyway. So I went and looked. Pretty damned easy.

Some of them even have “doctors” on staff that evaluate your application, which includes questions on whether you’re ever overwhelmed, discouraged, pessimistic, burnt out, sad, unhappy, worried, frustrated, burdened….

Have these folks looked at the state of the nation lately? Sure looks like a no-fail test to me!

Oh, you’re supposed to give the names of any doctors or therapists you’re seeing, but the app doesn’t ask for any contact info for those. And how much follow up is anyone going to do when all you’re going to spend is $69 for the basic pet certification kit??

You’re also asked to list your meds. Seems like it would be plenty easy to gin a list up.

Bottom line on certifying your animal: it doesn’t look like it would be too hard to fake any of this.

(The one app I read through did say that if you indicated that you were ever suicidal, the “doctor” evaluating your application might call you. Plus it noted that, if you wanted more than just your certification papers and special pet collar, you could sign up with one of their “doctors” for tele-therapy. Still….)

Meanwhile, I do have a question for the woman who tried to fly with a squirrel: are you by any chance a graduate of Wcaossamotta U? Asking for a friend…

Thursday, October 11, 2018

City Girl, Europhile Edition (Part Two)

Yesterday, I started a post on the top cities for tourists in Europe – at least according to the readers of Travel and Leisure.

That post was something of a stroll down memory lane, as city-loving me has been to Budapest (15), Prague (14), Edinburgh (13), Paris (12), and Madrid (11). So I did a bit of meandering around, and ran out of runway. Which brings us to today’s post on the next 10 cities on the list.

I know I’ve been to Spain’s San Sebastián (Number 10), but I remember nothing about it, other than that the ocean was really gray. Maybe if I remembered something about it, I’d want to return. Or not.

I’ve not been to 9th place Siena. but I fantasize about a Tuscan villa, with day trips to Siena and other fabulous old towns. I’ve not been to 8th place Lisbon, either. But Portugal is on my bucket list. So maybe some day…

On our second trip to Prague, our second city was Kraków (Number 7). We loved this place. We stayed in the charming Hotel Francuski, close to the Planty Park, which girds Krakow’s Old Town. While we enjoyed our visit here, it was kind of eerie. There was no escaping its proximity to Auschwitz (which we, of course, visited). Sorry for the segue after just mentioning Auschwitze, but in Krakow, we ate surprisingly well. I had envisioned Polish food as all beets, lard and perogies. We did eat at a perogie restaurant – which set out tin cups of ham-flecked lard to eat of dark bread that was as thick as a brick, but for some reason, there were some nice French restaurants there in Krakow, and we ate at a couple of those. We also ate once at McDonald’s, mostly because it was located in the cellar of a 13th century building. And, once we discovered them, we snacked every day on pretzels from street vendors. Yummers.

There must have been something in the sangria because, while I know Joyce and I went to Barcelona (Number 6) on our way to the beach at Sitges, I remember nothing about it. Surely, we at least walked by the cathedral??? By that point, our trip was winding down, so maybe we were museumed and cathedraled out. Maybe – and I never thought I’d say this – we were citied out, too. On the other hand, I have many memories of hanging out in Sitges for a week or so, we’re we lolled in the sun all day, mostly hung out with other American kids, and ate mussels (and drank sangria) every night. Most vividly, we ran into an American fellow who had graduated from college a few weeks before. With $1,000 in Traveler’s Checks in his pocket – and the romantic notion in his noggin that he would be trekking around Europe for months, perhaps years – he had landed in Europe. (Luxembourg, I’m thinking.) At his first port of call, someone had convinced him that the best way to see Europe was by car, and he’d invested much of his $1,000 stash in taking a car off the hands of that someone. It broke down shortly, but somehow he made his way to Sitges, where all the other American kids helped him out with a few bucks. (I know we fed him a couple of times.) He was too embarrassed to go home so soon after he had bid his family and friends so long. Like me, this guy is pushing 70. Wonder how he tells the story…

Seville, Spain (Number 5) and Porto, Portugal (Number 4) are not cities I have ever given one nanosecond of thought to, beyond typing this sentence in. So there. But if Portugal’s on my bucket list, Porto may sneak on it as well

Third place went to Istanbul. During our mega-1973 Euro tour, we did get to Turkey, but Izmir only. An interesting enough place where we stayed in a 50 cent a night hotel, with hall toilets that were holes in the floor. And, oh yes, they turned the water off in the toilets at night. I felt like we were in a Camus novel…

Rome is number 2. And I can see why. Rome is chaotic but fascinating, and I love that, when you’re walking about, there’s an ancient room, Bernini fountain, or Renaissance cathedral around every corner. I’ve been to Rome three times, and much enjoyed each trip. Not enough to feel I have to get back there. If I’m going to see someplace in Italy (other than all those fabulously scenic towns in Tuscany) well, see Naples and die, I guess.

T&E’s number 1 is Florence. Another city from the 1973 Euro-thon. I loved Florence, and remember standing on the Ponte Vecchio and thinking ‘these Italians sure know how to live.’ Even with limited funds, we lived well for a few days in Florence, mostly living off of prosciutto and melon – the first time I had this scrumptious delight. When I figure out that Tuscany tour, I shall return.

Meanwhile, whattsamatta with Berlin? London? Copenhagen? Guess Travel and Leisure readers have a bias towards places in the sun. (How did Edinburgh sneak in there?) Nonetheless, for a city girl, Europhile, list lover, thinking through the list gave this armchair traveler a good deal of pleasure. And makes me want to go somewhere. Next week, if not tomorrow…

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

City Girl, Europhile edition (Part One)

I’m a city girl. Always have been, always will be. My idea of a great vacation is going to a city. Mostly in Europe, but I’ve traveled extensively throughout the US as well. But I’m a major-league Europhile, so I was interested in a recent Travel and Leisure article that ranked the top European cities to visit. (I think the cities were voted by the mags readership.)

15th place went to Budapest. A number of years ago, my husband and I spent a few days there on a trip that included Prague. I found it very interesting, right down to the bullet holes from the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 – or were they from WWII? I liked hanging out in the cafés along the Corso, drinking voros bor (that’s red wine to those of you who don’t have two words of Hungarian; those are mine) and even spending a bit of time in the Café Europa – a real throwback to what I imagine hangouts were like before the war. (Pick a war, any war.) I remember the goulash was delish. Margaret Island was lovely. And our hotel looked out on the Chain Bridge that crosses the Danube and connects Buda and Pest. I can’t remember exactly when I was there – late 1990’s? early 2000’s? – and I’m too lazy to dig up an old passport. But it was during Hungary’s transition to a market economy, and they actually had a Dunkin’ Donuts there. Unfortunately, they’ve since transitioned to a right-wing nationalist form of government. Glad I got there once, but have not desire to return.

Prague (Number 14), on the other hand, I completely loved. We landed there, exhausted, in the middle of a ferocious rainstorm. We decided to do dinner in the top floor of our hotel. (A very nice one – best breakfast spread I’ve ever seen in my life. I still remember the sour cherries, Napoleons and champagne.) While we were eating, the rain stopped and the sun came out, just in time for sunset. The skies were purple and the sun brought out the ochre, orange and gold in all the old buildings. I believe that Prague was considered an open city. In any case, it wasn’t destroyed during WWII and all those beautiful old baroque churches and castles remain intact. Pure magic. The food wasn’t much, but did we love walking around this city. And taking their excellent subway, which cost about five cents and was far more modern than public transpo in the US. I can still hear the stations being announced: Mustek…I.P. Pavlova. The only downside of taking the the subway was the fact that, at least back then, not many Czechs used deodorant. While in Prague, I felt very European, especially when I was asked for directions once in German. (Despite having next to no German, I was actually able to help these folks out.) I was also asked something in Czech, which I had nary a word of, beyond thank you. The woman got quite annoyed that I didn’t understand here. Despite her pissiness, we much liked Prague and returned for a second time.

Edinburgh came out 13th. I first visited Edinburgh in 1973, and remember little about it other than the castle looming over the city, and that it was dark, cold and gloomy. Not so fast forward to 2015, when I went again. This was a year after my husband died, and I was meeting up there with my sister Trish and her family for a few days. I went a few days early, the first pleasure trip I’d ever taken on my own. I’d been on plenty of solo business trips, and some of those had included a day of sightseeing. But this was my first on-my-own vacation junket. The castle still loomed over the city, but it was bright and sunny. The museums were great. I took a day-tour of the Highlands. (Corny but excellent.) And, once my sister and her family arrived to bolster my nerve, tried haggis. My Edinburgh regret is that I didn’t buy a Harris tweed pocketbook. I thought I’d be able to get one at the Edinburgh Airport, but shopping-wise, Edinburgh Airport is no Shannon. There wasn’t much there on offer.

How can Paris be Number12? The first time I saw Paris, in 1973, I fell in love with the city. And that’s when I was staying in a hostel and traveling with little by way of money. My friend Joyce and I spend 5 months hitching around Europe, and Paris was a place we both adored. I vividly recall racing around the Louvre with packs of other tourists, trying to find our way form the Mona Lisa to Wing Victory to Venus de Milo. Mostly at the Louvre, I’m embarrassed to admit, we were bored. We’d both taken modern art in college, and found the Jeu de Paume more to our liking. In Paris, I (accidentally) ate calf’s brain and (on purpose) ate at McDonald’s. Just because. I vowed that Paris was one place I’d return to, and I have been back a handful of times with my husband. Getting back there one more time is on my bucket list. I need to drop a bit of my husband’s ashes off in the Tuileries Garden. I thought Prague was beautiful, but Paris is the most beautiful city I’ve even been in. Hands down.

My one and only time in Madrid (Number 11) was on that 1973 pan-European post-student trip with my friend Joyce. Franco was still in charge, and policemen were unfriendly, fascistic and scary. The Prado was dark. Although through most of our trip we camped or hosteled, in Madrid we stayed at a nasty B&B in someone’s apartment. One of the original AirBnB’s. Our room was sweltering, had no window, and a ceiling made of some rough weave black cloth. That we’d taken one of our few train rides to get there – we tried to hitchhike most places, but for some reason we took a train to Madrid – and had gotten bitten alive by mites didn’t help with my impression of Madrid. Glad I went. No desire to go back.

Too much ground to cover, even as an armchair traveler. I’ll get to the next 10 spots in tomorrow’s post.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Lunchbox support groups? YGTBKM!

Growing up, there were a couple of things I really craved.

One was a pogo stick. I’d never actually seen a pogo stick in real life, only on TV and in books. But I sure wanted one.

Another was boot-style, lace-up roller skates. Most of us slogged around on those heavy metal skates with the red webbed straps and the skate key. Our sidewalks weren’t all that even, so the skates shook loose and you had to stop and tighten them every few minutes. What a drag! Plus those skates were so heavy hanging off our skinny little legs. What a drag!

I did know one girl who had those lace-up skates. Mary B, a cute little red-headed only child. (Only children had all kinds of stuff the rest of us could only dream of.)

And the final object of my little heart’s desire was a lunch box. Red plaid. Alice in Wonderland. Cinderella. Mattered not. I just wanted one. One with a thermos bottle, of course.

At my school, kids went home for lunch. Only those who lived on the fringes of the parish, too far to walk back and forth, or those rarities whose mothers worked, got to eat lunch at school. And thus got to carry a lunch box. The rest of us, we legged it home where, at least in my home, lunch meant slurping down a bowl of CampbBunker Hillbilliesell’s soup, gulping down a sandwich, and plunking in front of Big Brother Bob Emery’s Small Fry Club on WBZ-TV for a few minutes of cartoons, contests, ukulele strumming and – on a really good day - performances by the Bunker Hillbillies (a band of boys from the Boys Club in the Charlestown section of Boston). What I wouldn’t have given to see these superstars in person! I believe that Bimbo was one of their signature tunes, back when bimbo didn’t mean bimbo).

In 7th and 8th grade they switched us to junior high mode so that we would be better prepared for high school. Our hours changed – started earlier in the morning, and got out at 2 rather than 3  - and everyone had to eat at school. For some reason, we weren’t allowed to eat in the school’s lunchroom. We ate at our desks, after we covered them with a piece of reusable plastic.

By 7th grade it was way too late to carry a lunch box. Sigh. We were in brown paper bag territory now. What was in that bag was up to me. Which meant that 4 days a week I ate a bologna sandwich on white bread, with a dill pickle. (The dill pickle sliced by me and wrapped in Saran Wrap which, as often as not, leaked.) On Friday I ate an American cheese sandwich on white bread, with a dill pickle. Or a PBJ on white. I drank a carton of milk to wash the sandwich down.

I usually brought a piece of fruit. When I had a nickel, I’d buy a bag of Wachusett potato chips or a packet of Kraft Caramels. Mostly I didn’t have a nickel.

This went on through high school. My high school had a caf that sold food, but the menu was pretty limited and dreadful and I don’t think I ever paid for lunch there.

I don’t remember any of my classmates carrying a lunch any more exciting than mine. And as far as I can recall, the only mother involved in lunch packing was that of my high school friend Kath. And I only remember that because Mrs. H wrapped Kath’s bananas in Saran Wrap.

I know that things have changed mother-child-wise since I was a girl. And that there are a lot of competitive mommy types out there. Still, I was a bit taken aback by a recent WSJ article on the competitive world of school lunches. (The link was sent to be by my sister Kath, another brown-bagging, lunch-making student of yore.)

These days, pics of fancy-arse lunches are posted on Insta. Like the one that contained.

..veggie and tofu samosas, surrounded by an assortment of eight fruits and vegetables, including broccoli, grapes and lupini beans.

The kids might want a Spider Man or Selena Gomez lunchbox, but tofu samosas and lupini beans – whatever they are – are more likely to be served up in a $30 on up bento box, like this one from Yumboxes:

Bento box

Now there’s a lunchbox that never saw Oscar Mayer bologna on white.

Yumbox revenue is up, thanks to the 90% increase in Instagram posts about lunchboxes that occurred through the first eight months of this year.

One dad puts together “an elaborate themed lunch” each Monday – with a theme like Willie Wonka, Princess Bride, and Star Wars. One mom goes Sue Grafton with lunches dedicated to a letter of the alphabet.The O lunchbox “included an orzo salad, an orange and an Oreo cookie.” Thank God for quinoa and zucchini.

The lunchbox craze has helped fuel a cottage industry that includes specialized utensils, pre-written parental love notes and lunchbox-planning apps.

Inevitably, a number of lunchbox support groups have sprung up. I just couldn’t bring myself to look at any of them.

But I must say I’m stopped in my tracks by the idea of “pre-written parental love notes.”

I came from an era when there was no such thing as a “parental love note.” Maybe we got a birthday card, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Even if my mother had made my lunch, I can’t imagine ever finding a love note tucked in it. And I didn’t have kids to write love notes to.

I suspect, however, that if I had had kids, I would have been a love-note writer. It’s just the way I roll. But a “pre-written parental love note.” YGTBFKM. How hard is it to scrawl a smiley face on a PostIt note and sign it Love, Mom? If you’re spending all that time prepping tofu samosas for a Bento box, surely you have time to pen your own little love note.

But what do I know…

Monday, October 08, 2018

Happy Indigenous Peoples Day

As a kid, I – of course – loved Columbus Day. No school. Generally decent weather. A much needed break after 4-5 weeks of having a ton of nonsense drilled in to my head, courtesy of the nuns at Our Lady of the Angels. (Sure, they also drilled some worthwhile stuff in there. I can still do mental arithmetic.)

As an adult, I was a bit more ‘meh’ on Columbus Day. It was a holiday at some places, but gradually the day after Thanksgiving took over as a holiday, and Columbus Day became one of those you-choose, optional days off. If you didn’t have to get into a car to get there – traffic being generally insane in these parts on this day - it was actually a pretty easy-peasy low-key day to work.

But, in general, for me, Columbus Day has been a nice little do-nothing holiday that came with no obligations whatsoever. What’s not to like about a holiday that doesn’t require shopping, wrapping, cooking, card addressing, etc?

Make that it has been a nice little do-nothing holiday as long as I actually didn’t have to think about Christopher Columbus who, rather than the hero of Nina-Pinta-Santa Maria doggerel, was apparently a nasty, racist old git.

Anyway, a couple of years back, I proposed that we jettison Columbus Day and replace it with Immigrants Day. I still think we need an Immigrants Day – now more than ever. But I’ve come around to swapping out Columbus Day and swapping in Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  God knows we own those folks something for the terribleness we’ve rained down on their heads over the centuries.

For my part, I plan on “celebrating” the day by taking in Michael Moore’s new film, Fahrenheit 11/9. 

That should put me in an excellent mood…

Nonetheless, Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Sorry about all that rotten treatment, even though my immigrant peeps arrived way to late to take part in it.

Friday, October 05, 2018

It’s all going to pot? Not if the good citizens of Charlton Mass can help it.

For whatever reason, I’ve been listening to a lot of Willie Nelson lately. And for whatever reason, one of the tunes I’m most enjoying is “It’s All Going to Pot.”

Well, it’s all going to pot
Whether we like it or not
The best I can tell
The world’s gone to hell
And we’re sure gonna miss it a lot

It must be the part about the world gone to hell. (I most assuredly am already missing it. A lot.)

But way out west in Charlton, Massachusetts, a rural outpost of Worcester County, things may not be going to pot.

A few years back, Nathan Benjamin, Jr. lost his orchard/winery to a fire. His mortgage lender grabbed the insurance payout, leaving Benjamin without the means to rebuild. So he decided to sell.

But the potential buyer, Valley Green Grow, has no intention of offering tractor rides, hard cider tastings, or pick-your-own apples. Instead, it wants to level off the hilltop orchard and construct a $100 million, 1-million-square-foot marijuana cultivation and processing facility with six indoor greenhouses, protected by fortress-like security and replete with its own gas-fired 18 megawatt power plant.

If it wins local approval for the gargantuan project, Valley Green Grow has promised the town a windfall nearly as large: up to $7 million annually, plus $500,000 up front to fund the design of a new police and fire station.(Source: Boston Globe)

Sure that says “up to”, but even a couple of million would be a lot of loot in Charlton’s coffers. Even the upfront $500K would be.

Despite how green are the promises of Valley Green Grow, a number of the citoyens aren’t jumping for joy. They’re:

…arguing that the industrial-style facility shouldn’t be allowed on an agricultural property and accusing Charlton’s elected leaders of negotiating the payments in secret. They also say the project could be an environmental “nightmare,” and claim it will dent the value of nearby homes and damage the town’s reputation.

As someone who grew up in Worcester County, I wouldn’t be all that concerned about Charlton’s reputation. Not that there’s anything wrong with Charlton. I even spent a week there once, the summer after my father died, when my mother rented a rather cool little stone house for a week on Little Nugget Lake. It’s just that there’s not all that much that’s right with Charlton, either. If you like rural and pokey, fine. But I wouldn’t say that Charlton has much of a reputation in any direction.

But the thought of an MJ business blowing in, has some in the town on a war footing.

The war now includes multiple lawsuits, a dizzying series of contradictory bylaws, and mutual accusations of bad faith.

While war rages, the company – which is run by a doctor – is making plans for their complex, which they hope will:

…house five smaller licensed recreational and medical marijuana operators as tenants, offering a turnkey option for companies that would rather pay rent and share costs than spend millions building their own growing and processing facilities.The company plans to grow marijuana in the sixth greenhouse and forge ahead with research on the drug’s medical uses.

Meanwhile, Benjamin is sitting there in limbo, annoyed that his neighbors are being so oppositional. He’s wondering:

…“what’s wrong with Charlton being at the forefront of medical marijuana research? So what? Charlton used to be known in Boston as a cow town, because we raised cattle here — wouldn’t it be great if we were known as a biotech community?” Opponents of Valley Green Grow, he concluded, “are just afraid of the word ‘marijuana.’”

His opponents, naturally, say they’re not anti-grass, just anti this project.

As for Charlton being known in Boston as a “cow town.” I’m guessing that I’m one of four people in this city who’ve even heard of Charlton, let alone been there. (My brother Rich would be one of he other ones. It really was kind of a fun time at Little Nugget. Because of all the cedar trees in the area, the water was sort of tea-colored. And there was a great field where we all ran around like crazy with the dog. Given my mother’s presence, and that of the littler kids, I do not believe that there was much by way of pot-smoking going on.)

It remains to be seen whether Charlton will be literally going to pot, even if the rest of the universe – or at least our little piece of it – is metaphorically heading there.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Cubbies Post an L (Sorry, not sorry)

My fear for October has been that we’d end up with a World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs. This was a remote fear: I really don’t see the Red Sox, despite having had a stellar year, making it to the World Series. And in the wee small hours of the morning on Wednesday, the Cubbies lost a 13 inning Wild Card heartbreaker. One and done.

So Cubs vs. Red Sox is no longer my fear. And given how many fears I’ve got ratcheting around my brain these days, I’m happy to jettison this one.

Why, you may be asking, was the Red Sox-Cubs series such a fear factor for me? After all, wasn’t this the potential series that the media powers that be most wanted to see play out? (That or Los Angeles, nee Brooklyn, Dodgers vs. New York Yankees.)

Red Sox vs. Cubs. What’s not to like? Two teams from the pre-expansion 8-team leagues, from the way-back days when the professional baseball world ended in St. Louis, and teams schlepped from one city to the next in sleeper cars on trains. Both play in quaint old-time ball parks. (I believe they’re the only teams still playing in parks that are 100+ years old.) Lovable, cursed losers who struggled so long and hard to finally win the big one for their fans – the Red Sox having broken their 86 year old curse in 2004 (and going on to win the World Series again in 2007 and 2013), and the Cubs taking home the trophy in 2016. Their first such win – astoundingly – since 1908.

Oh, this matchup would have been even better in 2003, when neither team had won a modern era Series. In 2003, it almost happened. Then the Red Sox lost the AL championship to the Evil Empire that was the New York Yankees. Local journalist Marty Nolan summed that one up perfectly:

The Red Sox killed my father and now they’re coming for me.

For a month or so after the debacle, I had that sign up on my office door.

But things went even worse for the Cubs. A few outs away from a win that would send them to the World Series for the first time since 1945, a hapless fan reached in and interfered with a play. In the aftermath, the Cubs blew a lead, lost the next game and that was that.

Anyway, ain’t gonna happen this year.

Bless you, oh baseball gods

But back to why I was dreading this.

I just didn’t want to put up with:

All that swooning about the ballparks: I love Fenway Park. Yes, the seats were built for a world in which the average man was 5’8”. That’s just a bit over my height, so I’m okay. But there’s always a 6’2” man-spreader in the seat next to me. Still, I love Fenway – and believe there are two near-perfect urban experiences, one of which being able to walk to a baseball game. (The other is skating/watching skating in an outdoor rink.) You can also walk to a game at Wrigley, which is plunked down in a residential neighborhood. Both Wrigley and Fenway are excellent baseball venues. Complete sweethearts. Still, I didn’t want to hear game announcers go on and on about the history and quirks of Fenway and Wrigley. Not to mention the fan-base similarities. (Forget what you’ve heard about Midwest Nice. Doesn’t apply to Chicago. Their fans are like ours. We’re Massholes. Cubs fans are the Illinois equivalent. Other than my Cubbie fan relatives. Most of them, anyway.) We have been spared! Thank you baseball gods!

Rehashing the long painful path to those recent World Series for each of these teams. Frankly, much of my baseball watching life (which began when I was 2 years old) was spent watching crappy teams (the early years), followed by years spent watching the Sox do a once-a-decade seventh game loss in the World Series (so near and yet so far in 1967, 1975, 1986). And then there were the almost-glory years when the Red Sox were one big tease. Almost but not quite. Here and no further. And then, miraculously, 2004. Anyway, I don’t have to hear it rehashed. It’s my lived history. And I suspect that a lot of Cubs fans feel the same way. Basta! But we have been spared! Thank you baseball gods!

Endless nattering about Theo Epstein. Theo is the Cubs’ General Manager, and it was on his watch that the Cubs won their World Series in 2016. The same Theo Epstein – lifelong Red Sox fan who grew up within walking distance of Fenway Park – who was the Red Sox GM when they won their World Series in 2004. And who temporarily quit the GM job on Halloween of 2005, infamously exiting Fenway Park wearing a gorilla costume. Nope. Don’t want to hear about Theo Epstein’s torn/untorn loyalties. Didn’t want to hear about the gorilla costume. We have been spared! Thank you baseball gods! 

The potential that Jon Lester would smoke the Red Sox in a game or two. Jon Lester wasn’t around for the 2004 Series. He was just a kid of 20. But he was instrumental, an ace on those 2007 and 2013 World Series winning Red Sox team. And then he moved out to Chicago to be with Theo and was instrumental, an ace on the Cubs 2016 World Series winner. Did I want Jon Lester to smoke the Red Sox in the World Series? NFW. We have been spared! Thank you baseball gods! 

As one of those baptized-a-Catholic-but-born-a-Red-Sox-fan, of course, I want the Red Sox to go to the World Series. And I want them to win. It’s fun in town when the Red Sox are in it. And now that the Red Sox reversed the curse and then some, I no longer fret the games. If they win, great. If they don’t, so be it.

As long as it’s not the Yankees. If it can’t be the Red Sox, I would be a Go, Cubbies kind of fan if they made it that far. I am, after all, half Chicago (my mother’s side). But since they’re out, if the Red Sox aren’t going to make it, I’m rooting for the Cleveland Indians.

Meanwhile, I’m just pleased we won’t have to put up with Chicago Cubs vs. Boston Red Sox. I so did not want to play that ball.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Shake, shake, shake

I’ve lived through a couple of pretty minor earthquakes.

Decades ago, my husband and I were in a hotel room in San Diego when there was a small quake. We knew enough to go stand in the doorway of the interior bathroom. When the earth stood still, we emerged to find that there’d been some minor property damage, including some tram tracks that had shook loose.

I had a business trip that included a swing through LA that was scheduled for January 18, 1994. The day after the Northbridge earthquake struck. That spur of the trip canceled, I recall that it was a big PITA getting myself to San Francisco for the part of the trip that went on. Did I really have to fly to Chicago, to Phoenix, to San Francisco? I believe that was the case. Fortunately, when I got there, I found San Francisco to be quake-free.

My brother Tom and is wife live on the Pacific coast, in the state of Washington – in the very area where, if there’s a 9.0 earthquake, it’s predicted that there’ll be a tsunami, with a 60-foot tall wave that will wash over their town. They’re on a hill, and there’ll be a 15-20 minute warning, but I hope I’m not visiting the day that 60-foot wave rolls in.

With luck, I’ll be home. Here where it’s relatively safe.

Not completely safe, of course.

New England, surprisingly, has its share of earthquakes.

One year, on the evening before Thanksgiving, we were sitting there watching TV when the house began to tremble. Yep. A quake. No biggy, but when you live in a building that’s over 100 years old – one that’s built on landfill – there’s always that vague little back-of-brain worry that your world is about to collapse.

In the fall of 2012, I was at The Writers’ Room of Boston when a 4.1 on the Richter scale earthquake hit Boston. It was kind of scary. We definitely felt the tremors and saw things swaying. Everyone quickly got online and learned that there’d been a shakeup.

But I’ve never been through one of the bridge-buckling, road-breaking,house-collapsing kind of earthquake. And I hope to never have that experience, thank you. Definitely not on the bucket list.

And although we do have our shocks here on the East Coast, it’s a lot bigger worry on the West.

…the U.S. Geological Survey says there’s a 99.7 percent change of a 6.7 or higher quake hitting somewhere on the Pacific coast before someone taking out a 30-year mortgage today has paid it off. In partnership with universities in California, Oregon, and Washington, the USGS has spent 12 years working on ShakeAlert, a network of 860 seismometers that will feed an early warning system comparable to those in other tectonically challenged locales. (Source: Bloomberg)

The warning system won’t give enough of a head’s up to let you, say, figure out what you want to carry with you if you can only save a few things. But even a few seconds warning can help.

“If you know a major quake is coming, you can brace for impact,” says Bob de Groot, who’s heading ShakeAlert development at the USGS. “A lot of people won’t die needlessly.”

That’s good. If I were living in one of them there “tectonically challenged locales” I’d be more than happy to get a few seconds to grab my phone and hunker down in a doorway while waiting for the earth to move.

Shake. Shake. Shake.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

“7 Over 70”

About 15% of the U.S. population is over the age of 65 and older. I(gulp) am one of them. And 14 months from now – kinehora – I will be gliding into a new cohort: those who are 70 and older.

Getting up there in age brings with a lot of peculiar emotions. I don’t feel old. I don’t (think I) look old. And yet, thar’ she blows: 70. And, despite the safety in numbers of going through this with the rest of the Baby Boomer colossus, it actually does kinda sorta blow. Who wants to be irrelevant, out of play? Which in truth, at least in some respects, we kinda sorta are. Most of us, anyway.

All this said, the best antidote to the geezering process is to keep moving, stay engaged. Eventually this antidote stops being quite so effective. But I certainly hope that in my case that will take a while. I hope a good long while. My age peers, and even those who are staring down 80 rather than 70, seem to be in pretty fine fettle. Maybe 70 really is the new 50. Or whatever.

Anyway, for now, I keep on working (a bit), volunteering (a bit more), and walking my 4-5 miles a day.

But I’m a big nothing, geezer-wise, compared to the “7 under 70” that Scott Kirsner listed in The Boston Globe the other day. When stacked up against them, I might as well be in a nursing home, looking forward to the weekly bingo game and hoping that there’s red jello for dessert rather than green.

Kirsner pulled his honorees together in honor of this week’s Forbes Under 30 Summit, which is being held in Boston.

…while people are constantly throwing parties for the Under 30s (and occasionally the Under 40s), it’s hard to find rosters that spotlight the septuagenarians and octogenarians who are still hustlin’ every day. So I wanted to put together a “7 Over 70” list to honor some of the veteran scientists, techies, entrepreneurs, and investors who still contribute daily to the innovation economy in Boston.

Joe Caruso is an unspecified somewhere “over 70.” As an angel investor, he’s been a pretty good picker, having backed HubSpot and Carbonite. And he’s still on the lookout, taking “about 30 face-to-face meetings a week.” 30 FTF meetings a week? I need a nap just thinking about it. And a bowl of red jello when I wake up.

David Friend is 70 and CEO of Wasabi, his “seventh startup  company since college.” Wasabi is Japanese horseradish – that nasty blob of green stuff that comes with sushi, and is only tolerable when swooshed around in soy sauce – and, in this case, a cloud data storage service. No surprise, given that a prior startup was Carbonite, the cloud backup service. And a quite good one: I’ve used it for years.

Sherwin Greenblatt sounds like an older guy. And he sort of is. He’s 77. He spent his career at Bose and ended up as the company’s president. He’s been out of that game for a while, so he had nothing to do with the expensive Bose noise-canceling headphones I just bought to combat the gut-reno going on next door. An MIT grad, Sherwin mentors “the next generation of MIT entrepreneurs.”

Phillip Sharp was a founder of Biogen and in 1993, when he was just a nipper of 49, he won the Nobel Prize for Medicine. He’s still on the MIT faculty, doing research on cancer cell growth. And sitting on biotech boards. He’s 74.

Michael Stonebraker – a much better name than Wasabi – is behind a few startups, including Tamr, a data management firm. “Running complex analytics on huge data sets is the Wild West,” he said. I’m quite sure it is the Wild West, given all those clicks and eyeball flickers and everything else about our day to day nanosecond to nanosecond behavior that’s being grabbed from somewhere and stored – no doubt in the cloud – awaiting analysis. So that eventually an ad for a nursing home and red jello can pop up in my Twitter feed. Thanks, Michael. And happy birthday next week, when you turn 75.

Does he ever think about slowing down? “I kind of wonder how much longer I’m going to be viable,” he admits. “But so far, experience counts for a lot. I can get my papers published, and I have interesting ideas that other people find valuable. I’m going to continue with Plan A until the real world tells me I’m not competitive.”

Alison Taunton-Rigby, like Joe Caruso, cops to being “over 70.” She’s one of the pioneering women to reach a senior position in biotech, including at Biogen. (This stuff sure does have a way of interlocking, doesn’t it?) She stays active on corporate, charitable, and scientific advisory boards.

At 79, George Whitesides is heading towards being part of next year’s “8 over 80” list. George runs a Harvard lab that focuses on chemistry and materials science. He’s also an advisor to local sciency-startups, “including Soft Robotics (robotic hands that can pick up many different types of objects) and Lyra Therapeutics (tackling chronic inflammation of the sinuses).” Who knew that chronic inflammation of the sinuses was a thing?

Three runners up didn’t quite make the cut: Mathsoft founder Allen Razdow (71), Jit Saxena (72), an early investor in Pinterest, and MIT’s Ed Roberts (82) – the only person mentioned in the article that I ever laid eyes on. I don’t think I ever took a course with him when I was at Sloan, but I definitely saw him in action and believe I met him back in my day.

Anyway, I keep going back and forth about whether to completely hang it up on the work end, if not now than next December when I hit the Big 7-0. But I still sort of get a kick out of getting paid to do something I enjoy (i.e., writing; never bothered to even try to monetize Pink Slip).

I’ll never make anyone’s “7 over 70” list, that’s for sure. And nothing I work on will do as much good for society as something that tackles the problem of chronic sinus inflammation.” But, what the hell, why not keep going? Can’t hurt…

Monday, October 01, 2018

Working retail

If I were the praying type, I’d utter a little prayer of thanks each day that I’m not one of those older folks who has to work retail. The monotony, the standing-on-your-feet all day, the lousy pay. No, even with the discount, retail has little to recommend it. That said, I think that everyone, at some point in their life, should have one or two lousy jobs on their resume: fast food, wait staff, factory, office temp, grocery bagger, and -  of course – retail.

Thus, I am delighted to find that there’s strong demand for retail workers to man/woman the cash registers, straighten out the merchandise, and keep an eye out for shoplifters for the coming holiday season.

A low unemployment rate, consumer confidence, and rosy forecasts for holiday spending – estimated to hit a staggering $1.1 Trillion this season - mean the retailers are looking to fill 700,000 jobs (and that, I think, is before numbers from Walmart and Amazon are factored in).

“There is a definite war for talent,” said Andrew Challenger, a vice president at job placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Just as we have this huge spike in consumer demand, retailers are dealing with tightest labor market in 45 years. Whether or not retailers can hire enough people this holiday season could have a real impact on their sales.” (Source: Washington Post)

Truly, I’m happy that there’s a “definite war for talent,” but, truly, just how much talent does it take to work retail? These days, you don’t even have to be numerate enough to make change. You don’t need to have the attention to detail required to go through the fine print books that credit card providers used to provide (weekly updates!) to find out if the credit card someone was using had been reported stolen or had been cancelled. (Talk about a buggy-whip item. Those books of “bad” credit card numbers are up there with rotary phones and, well, buggy whips.) Sometimes I think that the major retail talent required these days is avoiding eye contact with the customer while chatting with a fellow clerk about what you’re doing after work.

Okay. That’s a bit unfair. Many stores – Trident, my indie bookstore; Roche Bros., my grocer; CVS - have instituted what I call an “escort policy”. When you ask somewhere where something is, they don’t just point and mumble “Aisle One”. They walk you over to where the item is located. This most assuredly didn’t happen in the past, at least in my retail past.

As for talent, I guess the ability to put a smile on your face, feign interest in the purchaser, and provide escort service to the right aisle is something of a talent.

Anyway, we’re seeing supply and demand in action here:

Nationally, retailers say they plan to pay as much as 54 percent more than they did a year ago, according to a survey of 1,000 hourly employers by Snag, an Arlington-based online staffing platform for hourly work.

Yikes. That’s quite a jump, even moving from an abysmally low base. Plus:

They are increasingly offering a chance at other perks, too: $500 gift cards at Target, all-expenses-paid vacations to Miami and New York, as well as $5,000 “prize packages” at J.C. Penney. Beauty chain Ulta is giving holiday hires half-off haircuts, while Gap and Old Navy are advertising employee discounts of 50 percent, as well as backup child care and free flu shots. Williams Sonoma has declared September “national hiring month,” promising on-the-spot store interviews to anybody who wants one.

Hmmm. I’m not that interested in winning $5K worth of J.C. Penney, but a Miami vacation? I might look into working at the Target in Fenway. A nice walk each day, a trip to Miami (February) or NYC (any old time). Oh, I might not be too happy if someone else at Target won the $500 spree or the trip to Miami. Or with $12 an hour, even if that’s big money for retail. (When I last worked retail in the early 1970’s, I don’t think I even made two bucks an hour. Back then two bucks was worth two bucks, but still…Lucky me that I have the option of volunteering for free rather than having to work for $12 an hour.)

Kohl’s, which began hiring seasonal employees in July, is providing Thanksgiving Day workers with a turkey dinner and doling out gift cards for perfect attendance during the holidays. Also new this year: A designated shopping day when employees will get 35 percent off all purchases, including brands like KitchenAid and UnderArmour. (The retailer’s usual employee discount is 15 percent.)

Of course, even with a 54% raise, you still may not be able to afford discounted KitchenAid or UnderArmour.

Anyway, all these goodies almost (but not quite) make me want to work retail again. What gets in the way: in addition to the wages and the boredom and the standing on my feet all day, there’s the fact that my experience might no longer be applicable. My specialty, during my Christmas seasons at Filene’s and Jordan Marsh, was stationery. As in boxes of fancy letter paper and fountain pens. When was the last time you saw boxes of fancy letter paper, and fountain pens, in a department store?

Mostly I suppose I’d really like is to be decades younger, pounds lighter, and happy to have a job for the holiday season.


Friday, September 28, 2018

Just exhausted…

Yesterday, I didn’t watch it. Other than for a few minutes, toward the end of the day. I followed it on Twitter, off and on. I watched bits and pieces after it was over. And yet…

I found the day exhausting.

I believe Christine Blasey Ford.

I believe Brett Kavanaugh is a liar, starting with the nonsense of what a careful and thorough SCOTUS appointment vetter Trump is. (As if.) And then there were the lies about the emails, and about the judge who was his mentor. A practiced and habitual liar. And then he lied about the meaning of throw-away, sexual innuendo terms he included in his yearbook blurbs. Etc.

I believe that Brett Kavanaugh may well have been a virgin through college – talk about TMI – which doesn’t preclude his having attempted to rape Christine Blasey Ford, dangled his privates in the face of Deborah Ramirez, and set up gang-bang “trains” for his buddies.Sorry, he just really doe seem like the type.

I believe Brett Kavanaugh, despite his denials of ever having been blackout drunk, may have been so drunk that he has no memory of the attack on Christine Blasey Ford.

This isn’t about keeping a conservative off the court. That’s pretty much foregone at this point. They won. They have the Senate. That’s how it goes It’s about keeping a liar with a sterling resume and a stunning lack of character off the Supreme Court.

What saved my day were two Twitter accounts dedicated to the best of humanity. Which is to say, dogs.

It is worth getting a Twitter account just to follow WeRateDogs (@dog_rates) and Thoughts of Dog (@dog_feelings). Both come highly recommended. WeRateDogs doesn’t really rate dogs, since all the dogs are good boys and good girls, and get 12/10 or 14/10 or something over the top. It’s just wonderful little dog vignette after wonderful little dog vignette, generally accompanied by pics or videos. Thoughts of Dog are just someone imagining what a doggo thinks. Here’s a few recent thoughts:

the human just got home. and once they are settled. i will carefully attempt. to remove a sock from their foot. using the most delicate of nibbles. so they know i missed them

i was outside. minding my own business. when a leaf fell on my noggin. i will consider it my crown. and i will rule these lands benevolently

Maybe you need to be a dog person. Maybe you need to be a dog person who was just wiped out by yesterday. So I’ll end with a dog thought that definitely applies:

i am exhausted. and if it’s okay with you. i’d like to redeem. this all-inclusive ticket. to snoozle city

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Ashes to ashes…

A month or so before my husband’s death, we talked about where Jim would like his ashes to land. We came up with a list of places where I would put a smidge – his parents’ grave; my parents’ grave; the graves of Bill and Carrie, his aunt and uncle; my Aunt Margaret’s grave…Jim also wanted his ashes to do a bit of traveling, so there’s a bit of him in Galway. And some of his ashes were shot into space. I still have a few more places to go, in good time.

While Jim and I were talking, I was googling, and found that Mt Auburn Cemetery had ash plots.

There, we decided, was where we wanted our ashes to spend eternity. Or however long we have before Massachusetts is inundated and the cool old mausoleums, sepulchers, and crypts at Mt. Auburn become an actual Atlantis.

Who wouldn’t want to be in Mt. Auburn, one of the original garden cemeteries of the 19th century and a truly lovely and beautiful spot. And at Mt. Auburn, you’re in pretty good company.

Julia Ward Howe. McGeorge Bundy. Buckminster Fuller. Felix Frankfurter. Mary Baker Eddy. Curt Gowdy. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Charles Bulfinch. Joyce Chen. Millie Dresselhaus. Fanny Farmer. B.F. Skinner. I.F. Stone. Winslow Homer. Bernard Malamud. Henry Cabot Lodge. Abraham Maslow.

Abraham Maslow? Not that I would have thought that where I’d be buried (or my ashes would be laid to rest) was among my hierarchy of needs. But there you have it. Pack my ashes in a Skinner box and put me under. 

Anyway, right after Jim died, my sister Kath took me over to Mt. Auburn and I bought two ash plots. So did Kath. An excellent day for the salesman: the sale of four choice plots on Azalea Way.

As a future resident of Mt. Auburn, I was interested in an article that appeared in The Globe the other day on one Joe Bancewicz, who manages the crematory at the cemetery. (Before you can plot your ashes, you have to go ashes-to-ashes. Mt. Auburn is, thus, also “my” go-to crematory.) Joe:

begins his day firing up the retorts to about 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the temperature needed to consume a body to the bones. With the new state-of-the-art, environmentally sensitive crematory facility opening next month, Bancewicz will be able to use an app to start the crematory chambers so they’re ready to go when he arrives at 7 a.m. He checks to see whether any bodies were delivered overnight and makes sure paperwork is in order for the medical examiner.

Now that the old crematory and its aging gas-fired units have been demolished, everything is computerized, and Bancewicz doesn’t have to adjust air flow to make burners go faster or slower. (Source: The Boston Globe)

There truly is an app for everything, and beyond the app that kick-starts the crematory chambers, Mt. Auburn’s crematory has gotten more high tech. The doors open automatically, the caskets load automatically And the family – if they so desire – can “even press a button starting the actual cremation.”

I’m plenty hands-on about a lot of things, but I think I would have taken a pass on pressing the button. In fact, I didn’t even go to the cemetery for the burial of Jim’s ashes. I’ve been to plenty of funerals, and stood at plenty of gravesides when the casket was lowered, but I somehow felt no need to see Jim’s little box go under. We didn’t have a classic couple-of-days-post-mortem funeral, so there wasn’t any process that would logically end with burial. (Jim’s memorial service was a month after he died.)

I have visited the ash plot a couple of times, but not as often as I would have thought would have been the case. Probably because I still have some of Jim’s ashes with me. I have his space capsule, and enough cremains to bring to Paris, to NYC, to the other places where Jim wanted to be. Someday

Neither one of us believed/believes in the afterlife. But there is an afterlife for the living, that’s for sure.

And it’s the Joe Bancewicz-es of the world who ease that path for us.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Ah, no, thank you

I am no one’s idea, let alone Mark Zuckerberg’s idea, of a Facebook fan. Unlike several of my friends – very tech savvy friends, I will note – who up and left the platform after all the election-related hoopla, and because of the way they use our data, I’ve stuck around. But I’m entirely passive. I look at what my friends are up to: their kids, their grandkids, their doggos, their travels. And occasionally their political opinions.

But I really don’t like Facebook.

And I really don’t trust Facebook.

So I will not be a candidate for their smart display Portal device, which they’re supposedly announcing any day now.

The main feature will be video chat, and Facebook will use facial recognition to tag users and follow them around the room. (Amazon’s Echo Show and Google-powered smart displays don’t identify users’ faces, though some security cameras do.) (Source: Fast Company, citing details from Cheddar‘s Alex Heath)

I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want following me around the room is Facebook, even if they weren’t using facial recognition to tag me. Makes me a bit nostalgic for the early days of video conferencing systems, when the images were so blurry, and the motions so herky-jerky, you almost couldn’t tell who was sitting there, a thousand miles away, at a conference table. No way you could use facial recognition and tag someone with that old tech.

The device will have a privacy shutter to disable the camera tracking, but amazingly, Facebook may have only thought to include this in response to its own recent privacy scandals.

I’m occasionally on video conference calls. If I just got out of the shower and have wet head, I tape over the camera. If not, I’ll allow myself to be on display. But if I was anywhere around a Portal device I’d be slapping that privacy shutter closed and duct-taping it. Maybe they should also consider incorporating a feature that lets you turn off the tagging.

Just the idea of FB having one more way to invade our individual and collective privacy. Even with a shutter, I shudder at the thought of them grabbing our whereabouts and who-abouts with such great precision.

Recent polls have shown that a majority of Americans don’t trust Facebook to protect their personal information. For the most part, this doesn’t appear to have stopped people from using the social network, but buying a Facebook-powered, always-on video camera is a much bigger ask than habitually opening an app. We’ll see how the company pitches it to the public soon enough.

I’m actually sort of amazed that Facebook’s attrition has been so low, but that’s just me extrapolating from my tech buddies who went over and out. Anyway, spies really are everywhere. Bad enough that someone’s hoovering up every online keystroke we make. But identifying me and watching me buzz around. Even if I were a big Facebooker, I wouldn’t be inviting their always-on camera into my house.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Rah, Rah, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Go, Alex Hattori!)

Except for a couple of nights in early February, when the Beanpot Tournament pits the hockey teams from BC, BU, Harvard and Northeastern against each other, Boston is not a college sports town.

Other than the Beanpot, there’s kinda-sorta the Harvard-Yale game. And if and when BC plays Notre Dame in football, there’s a spark of interest. Lots of folks come out for the Head of the Charles, a rowing event in October that attracts a lot of college crews.

But we’re a pro sports town, thank you.

Some local schools never appear on the sports radar at all, principal among the no shows: MIT.

Other than ultimate frisbee, and maybe tiddlywinks, I can’t think of any other sport that MIT is  known for. I pretty much knew that the MIT mascot was a beaver. Hard to miss this one given that I’ve known plenty of brass rat wearers over the years. (The brass rat is what the MIT class ring is called. The rat is actually a beaver.) But it took me a minute or two to come up with their team name: The Engineers. (I spent two years there in grad school, and I’m a sports fan, so that just shows to go you.*)

And then I read about Alex Hattori, the Number Two ranked yo-yoer in the whole wide world.

Earlier this summer, as he exited a taxi and made his way into the lobby of the Hyatt hotel in Shanghai — the site of the 2018 World Yo-Yo Contest — the 20-year-old was immediately set upon by a mob of Chinese yo-yoers and yo-yo enthusiasts, who inundated him with requests for autographs, selfies, and — curiously — his mother’s social media handles…

A six-time national yo-yo champion, [Hattori] has his own signature yo-yo, which is available in five different colors and retails for $74.99. He has an official sponsorship deal with the Arizona-based YoYoFactory, which regularly ships boxes filled with new yo-yos and apparel to his dorm room. (Source: Boston Globe)

Now, whether yo-yoing is really a sport is up for debate. But if it really is a sport – and I’m coming down on the side of ‘yes, indeed it is’ - then I’m delighted that MIT is home to the national champion. 

When I was growing up, yo-yos were a pretty big deal. Everyone had a (Duncan) yo-yo. And everyone knew at least a couple of tricks: around the world and the one where you stalled out before yanking the yo-yo back into yo position. Yo-yos were popular when I was in grammar school, and then had a resurgence when I was in high school. (I remember my high school yo-yo quite vividly. A red and white Duncan. I wasn’t great at yo-yo, but I was reasonably good. Sports-wise, I was really good at jacks and jump rope, however.)

I also remember the atrocious yo-yos that sometimes came as the prize in a cereal or Crackerjack box. They were small plastic little doohickeys, and instead of string, they used thread. I’m guessing that not even a pro like Alex Hattori could get one of those suckers to work.

In any case, yo-yoing has come a long way since I was walking the dog.

Performers develop elaborate three-minute routines set to music — and, like figure skating, are judged on both their technical aptitude and stylistic flair.

Interestingly, one of the reason Hattori chose MIT was that:

…the school offers a course in which the semester’s primary project is — no joke — to design and create a yo-yo.

Although Hattori’s design has been described “as an essentially flawless yo-yo that is now one of the best-selling models among competitive yo-yoers”, MIT being MIT, Hattori got a B in that course.

Hattori placed second in this summer’s competition, but he’s aiming to get the brass ring (to match his brass rat) at the world championships next year..

Go, Alex Hattori!

Rah, rah, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


*I know, I know: it’s supposed to be “goes to show you,” but I was thinking of my husband just now, and “shows to go you” was one of his expressions. Jim was a fair hand with a yo-yo, by the way.

Monday, September 24, 2018


Early this summer, a fellow swimming in Truro nearly lost his life to a great white. And then, about a week ago, a young guy boogie boarding in Wellfleet’s Newcomb Hollow Beach was killed in a shark attack.

When I visit my sister in Wellfleet, we seldom go to the beach. And if we went to ocean-side, not bay-side or kettle pond, it would be to Cahoon Hollow, not Newcomb. Not to mention that, if I even go into the water, it’s not very far in, and not for very long. Cool off, jump in a wave, sit on the edge and let the tide lap at my butt. That’s about it.

Still, this is getting close to home.

If surfing, boogie-boarding, or ocean swimming had been on my bucket list, they’d be off it now.

Up until now, the presence of a growing number of great whites moseying around on the Outer Cape has been something of a sales and marketing gimmick on the Cape, a boon for the tourist industry.

Not just in the water, but on bumper stickers and license plates and shark-themed drinks made with red syrup…The Shark Bah at a Brewster resort serves a Dorsal Fin salad with romaine hearts and asiago cheese. (Source: Boston Globe)

But the two ghastly shark attacks that have just occurred have gotten some merchants rethinking their shark-centricity:

At the Chatham Clothing Bar’s Monday staff meeting, talk centered on whether they should alter the line of shark-themed apparel, maybe removing the phrase “Shark Bite” from a T-shirt sleeve, or replacing it with “Sharks Bite.”

The maker of the Chatham Whites clothing line (which – gag – I’m assuming is akin to Nantucket Reds) is waiting until things get even worse. They’re sticking with their trademark smiling shark tees and hats – for now. There is something that could wipe the smiles off those smiling shark faces:

“If kids start getting killed, or if these shark attacks start happening more regularly, I might have to look at the situation again,” [owner Justin Labdon] said.

“If kids start getting killed.” Actually, at least from the perspective of my advanced age, the 26 year old who just got killed was a kid.

Cape tourism hasn’t been impacted so far, but the attacks occurred late in the season. And fall on the Cape is more for chillaxin’ than it is for going in the water. But some businesses have been hurt. One thing to buy a smiling shark tee-shirt that is the Chatham equivalent of the (locally) ubiquitous Black Dog gear. Quite another thing when you’re selling wetsuits and surfboards. Surf might be up, but business is down. Who wants a black wetsuit when, rumor has it, wearing one makes a human look like a seal, which is the prey that sharks are really after.

Marc Angelillo is both a surfer and a surf gear sales guy. He’s getting nervous.

Angelillo said the increased shark activity has changed his “relaxed, soulful attitude” about surfing, and he spends more of his time at the beach educating surfers and looking for fins as part of an unofficial “offshore water patrol.” He’s taken to carrying a whistle, and has pulled several people out of harm’s way, including a 10-year-old boy. Inexperienced surfers who frequently slip off their boards are at particular risk.

“You cannot fall in these waters now,” Angelillo said.

As if I needed a reason to begin with, but that would be enough to keep me off of a surfboard.

Some shops are stocking up on devices that “disrupt the electrical receptors in sharks’ snouts.” Sounds like one step up from wearing a copper bracelet for arthritis, but if you’re still determined to ride the waves, well, why not?

On the plus side, charter boats think they may get an uptick from tourists hoping for a siting – a whale watch for sharks. Just don’t lean over too far. (“You cannot fall in these waters now…”)

Forty+ years after Jaws became a major hit, the movie’s tagline may really be coming true: “You'll never go in the water again."

Friday, September 21, 2018

A real Masshole story…

It ain’t over ‘til it’s over, but as I sit here writing this post on Wednesday evening, it doesn’t look like this is going to be the night when the Red Sox clinch the American League Eastern Division title. Our boys are trailing the Yankees 6-1 in the 7th, and I don’t have a good feeling about this one. (O me of little faith…)

But, as of this writing, there are still another 10 games left in the season, and the Magic Number is 2. Which means any combination of Red Sox wins and Yankee losses that adds up to 2 means the Red Sox clinch. Probabilistically speaking, this is going to happen. The Sox aren’t going to lose 10; New York isn’t going to win 10.

We will be in like Flynn.

I don’t know how far into October the Sox will still be playing. (O me of little faith.) But clinching the division? We got this.

Which leads me to one of the all time great Masshole stories.

On Wednesday, it was reported that a couple of jamokes, make that Massholes, had found the 2018 division championship banner that the Red Sox were planning on putting up once the team clinches the AL East.

[Louie] Iacuzzi said Wednesday by phone that he and his buddies spotted an object wrapped up on McGrath Highway in Somerville Monday morning. So he pulled over and crossed multiple lanes of busy traffic to retrieve it. Inside was a massive banner that read “ ‘2018 American League East Champions’; it’s the banner,” Iacuzzi said. (Source: Boston Globe)

And then the wheels in Louie Iacuzzi’s brain began to spin, and he decided that he wasn’t just going to give this treasure back and get nothing in return.

“We want to return it, we’re trying to do the right thing, but I’m not just going to hand it to them, know what I mean?” Iacuzzi said…

“My dad’s telling me to put it on eBay and sell it for a lot of money,” Iacuzzi said. “But I want to give it to the original owner.”

My guess is that a banner for the divisional championship (yawn: big nothing) that fell off the truck and never actually hung in Fenway Park doesn’t have all that Bannermuch value. Seriously, folks, before you paid someone for the official one that fell off the truck, you could make a reasonable facsimile for yourself. Maybe it would have some value if, against all odds, the Red Sox actually don’t clinch. But I mean they’re not going to lose 10 games in a row while the Yankees win 10 games in a row.

Anyway, Louie Iacuzzi wasn’t thinkin’ eBay. So he called the Red Sox. And waited for a response.

Meanwhile, Louie and his fellow Masshole were cooking up a plan for what they were going to do if the Red Sox decided to just go ahead and print up another banner.

“If they do try to put a duplicate up, you best believe we’re going to show up and say, ‘That’s not the original,’ ” [James] Amaral said. “We’re hoping they do the right thing. You know, we did the right thing. We could have kept it, we could have put it on eBay. You know, we got connections where we could have reached out to other sources.”

“Connections”? That sounds ominous, in a ‘leave the gun, take the cannoli’ kind of way.

But all the planning and possible connections came to naught. Louie handed the banner back and got nada in return. In any case, a duplicate had already been made by the banner company. The owner of that banner company – who (can this get any Mass-holier?) is an alderman in Somerville - doesn’t believe that the original banner fell off the truck. He thinks it “walked off the truck.”

Louie Iacuzzi isn’t happy with the implications of the banner having walked, not fallen, off the truck:

“If I didn’t pick it up, a hundred people would have ran over it,” he said. “I don’t want a million dollars. I don’t need a million dollars. All I wanted was to maybe bring my family, my friends to a [expletive] baseball game, maybe meet a player. . . . The flag is back home with the Boston Red Sox.”

He also lamented his newfound notoriety.

“I want to tell you guys something: I found the flag,” Iacuzzi said. “I was never looking for money or fame or anything. I wanted to return it ever since I seen it.”

Needless to say, the comments on this story have been a wicked pissah thing of beauty, and include multiple mentions of Mark Wahlberg’s making a movie out of the saga.

As Masshole stories go, this story is just about perfection. The only thing missing, as far as I can tell, is a sidekick named Sully.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

When you want to bag your baggage

Years ago – make that decades ago – bus stations,train stations, and aiport terminals had lockers where you could store your luggage. Then those lockers began disappearing from public spaces.

Some trace such their disappearance to the 1970s, after a bomb believed to be hidden in a coin-operated locker killed 11 people and wounded dozens more at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. By 1995, after Muslim extremists were convicted of planning a terrorist campaign in New York, Grand Central Terminal shut down its baggage, the New York Times reported. The terminal’s lockers had disappeared even before that, partly because of security concerns but also to discourage their use by homeless people. (Source: WaPo)

But the need to dump your luggage didn’t disappear.

Sometimes you have a couple of hours before your train and you want to walk around the city without dragging your roller bag behind you. Sometimes you take the offer to get on the later flight and all of a sudden have enough hours to buzz into a new town and do a bit of tourism. Sometimes you finish your business and have time to kill before your next call. Sometimes you’ve checked out of your hotel, have someplace to go, but don’t want to have to backtrack to your hotel and retrieve a bag you’ve left with the bellhop. So there you are, stuck with your overnight bag. Your brief case. Your laptop. What a drag!

But if you’re fortunate enough to live in Boston, NY, Philadelphia or Washington DC, and you’re fortunate enough to have a StoreMe location nearby, you can drop your bags off and run. Or walk. Or stroll. Or window shop. Or lunch. Or whatever.

StoreMe is the brainchild of Peter Korbel. It’s:

…an app-based service that allows people to park their gym bags or luggage with cooperating merchants for short periods of time. The idea — which is sort of a cross between Uber and Airbnb for luggage — transforms unused storage space around the city into something like those coin-operated lockers that used to be found in many airports, bus depots and train stations. StoreMe users can take the backpack off their backs for as little as $7.50 a day.

I think that this is a terrific idea. So much so that I’m actually toying with the idea of making a small investment in the company. (No, I didn’t win the 50-50 at Fenway the other day, but – wonder of wonders – a little startup I did some work for when I first began freelancing just got sold and they’d granted me some shares that –wonder of wonders – turned out to be worth something. Given that I could have papered my condo with options from companies I worked for that never stuck their nose above water, shares in companies I worked for (and thus should have known better than to invest in) that went to zero so all I ever got out of them was a capital loss, it was a pleasant surprise to have, if not my ship, then my rowboat come in.)

Anyway, to get back to StoreMe being a terrific idea, success will rest on having drop off locations convenient to wear you want to drop your stuff off. And on your being willing to drop your bag off at that venue.

I took a quick look at the places that have been signed up in Boston and I recognized a few – convenient to tourist locations and/or colleges and universities – and willing to store bags for up to 7 days. Others were a bit more off the beaten track – at least off of my beaten track. But one caught my eye. My old friend, the Underground Express on Winter Street, a store I blogged about in January, writing:

What intrigues me about this really crappy store is not the lottery tickets and three-dollar umbrellas. It’s the display out front, a display that’s been there for years. This display has never been attractive. Even in its prime, these were not exactly nice suitcases. But over the years, this luggage has become patchily sun-faded. And cracked in places. There are holes in each of these bags. Sun-faded you can live with. But cracks and holes in luggage? I wouldn’t be surprised to find that these suitcases have become rats nests. (I will not be exploring this theory, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a rat sticking its twitchy nose out when I’m passing by after dark.)

And, oh, yes, you may not be able to see it clearly, but these bags are roped together with heavy duty metal rope. So that someone won’t steal them? (Source: Pink Slip)

Would I trust my luggage with this place? Hmmmmm….

Still, I think that StoreMe is on to something. Some times you just want to reduce your burden, lighten your load, drift around hands free. Maybe not enough to drop my bag at the Underground Express. But, theoretically at least, I’m down with it.