Monday, October 14, 2019

Happy holiday– or not

Well, another Columbus Day has rolled around. Not much of a holiday, is it? It’s a federal holiday, but many states in the west and south don’t observe it to begin with. If you look at a map, it appears to have been most widely adopted in states with a significant Italian-American population. Boston still has a parade. It was yesterday, but I had other things to do so I didn’t go.

I’m all in favor of ethnic pride, but our Italian-American friends may want to rethink tying their pride to Christopher Columbus.

A number of states – and a lot more cities – have switched from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. And I’m down with that.

In Massachusetts, Cambridge, Somerville, Amherst, Brookline and Northampton have made the switch. Interesting that both Cambridge and Somerville, while pretty woke cities, do historically have a lot of Italian-American residents. And it’s on the legislative calendar to make the change statewide, which may be an uphill battle, but you never know…

Last year, in my post I came out in favor of swapping out Columbus Day for Indigenous People’s Day. (We all know how much sway my opinion holds…) And I still wouldn’t mind seeing an Immigrants Day, which I originally thought would be a good replacement for Columbus Day. Maybe we can start celebrating immigrants on Thanksgiving? Kind of citing immigrants as something we’re thankful for? And the Pilgrims were early-on immigrants…

Me? I’ll be quasi taking the day off. Then again, that’s how I roll most days.

Whatever you’re celebrating today – or not – happy holiday – or not.

Friday, October 11, 2019

One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you want to go on a Celebrity Cruise? Huh?

When I first heard the Ave Maria playing in the background of an Amazon commercial, I was admittedly weirded out. What’s that doing there? Doesn’t it belong more appropriately at funerals? (It’s a staple at Roman Catholic funerals, for sure.) But then I paid a tiny bit of attention and saw that it was an ad for Prime in which dear old dad – wearing headphones to listen to Schubert’s Ave Maria – is noise-canceling out his rock-band-y kids. Personally, I wouldn’t be chillin’ with the Ave Maria – too much Catholic school PTSD, too many funerals – but to each Prime customer their own. (Not that I’m in these circles – or anywhere near them – but when googling I did see that this generally anodyne ad was met in Catholic circles of the more sensitive nature with shock and offense.)

Anyway, having really paid attention to the Amazon ad, I was no longer weirded out by it. That or the Celebrity Cruise ad that uses White Rabbit as its theme knocked the Amazon-Ave ad way out of weird contention.

If you don’t count the overnight ferry I took from Bangor, Wales to Dun Laoghaire, Ireland in 1973, I’ve never been on a cruise that took longer than a couple of hours. My impression is that cruisers skew older, or are for those traveling in family packs. And although those older cruisers are now mostly Boomers, who would be well familiar with the songs of Jefferson Airplane, I’m guessing that even if they had done some tripping in their past, at this point in their lives they’re not looking for a psychedelic experience.

They’re looking for a game of Trivial Pursuit, dinner with the captain, cocktails before dinner, a massage in the spa, and the next on-shore excursion.

But in the ad we hear the unmistakable, head-spinning intro – unmistakable to anyone who had a turntable and a stick of incense in 1967 – to White Rabbit. And Grace Slick belting out the lyrics:

One pill makes you larger.
And one pill makes you small.
And the one that mother gives you.
Don’t do anything at all.
Go ask Alice.
When she’s ten feet tall. 

And there is a lovely young red-headed woman, in a demure green (not Alice-blue) dress, falling down a dream rabbit hole and into the Celebrity Cruise experience.

Oh, man! Oh, wow! What a trip!

Take it for yourself! (Oh, man! Oh, wow!)

Some of the more druggy aspects of the original are left out.

Our latter-day Alice doesn’t get the call from a hookah-smoking caterpillar. And ain’t no one admitting to having some kind of mushroom. Nor do we hear that logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.

But we do get to hear what the doormouse said. Which is “feed your head.” Which I understand is something that happens early and often on cruises.

Still, it seems completely and unreservedly weird to use White Rabbit as the theme song for a cruise that’s not oriented toward getting a bunch of old hippies – the kind we used to call oh-wowers - in tie-dyed shirts to sign on for a way-back cruise where everyone sits around the piano bar singing along to Grateful Dead songs and munching on has brownies. (Oh, man! Oh, wow!)

For Celebrity, it may be part of a larger theme. Last year they introduced something called the Magic Carpet. This is a tangerine-colored platform that runs up and down the side of the ship while people drink and dine. (Oh, man! Oh, wow!)

And the use of “tangerine” as the color for the Magic Carpet? Is that a nod to Tom Wolfe’s early-sixties essay – “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby”? Sure, it was about custom cars, not drugs. But as anyone who was there can tell you, orange (along with chartreuse and hot pink) was a signature color of the 1960’s. (Oh, man! Oh, wow!)

Or perhaps it is another druggy nod, this time to Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride:

Well, you don't know what
We can find
Why don't you come with me little girl
On a magic carpet ride

Errr, no thanks, Mr. Steppenwolf. Think I’ll stay right here with my Friendly’s mint chocolate chip cone. And no, thanks, I never accept a funny cigarette from a stranger.

My cousin MB is a veteran and inveterate cruiser. She and her SO just got back from a cruise to Canada, and are heading out shortly on a jaunt around the Mediterranean and a repositioning cruise back to the States. (I’m not entirely sure what this next cruise entails. MB and Dan do at least a couple of long cruises every year and they’ve been everywhere, including Antarctica.) Anyway, I’ll have to ask them what they make of the White Rabbit ad.

Meanwhile, I was going to say that I bet Grace Slick never went on a cruise ship. And then I saw this: A 70’s themed Rock & Romance Cruise 2020 that features, among others, Jefferson Starship (the follow-on group to Jefferson Airplane). Grace Slick is no longer with Starship, but this is plenty close enough.

Who else is on this cruise? Rita Coolidge, Cheap Trick, Todd Rundgren, and – dear Lord! – the group America. The group that gave us Horse with No Name, quite possibly the worst song ever written. One thing to put up with Sister Golden Hair Surprise. But Horse with No Name. I’d have to find me that hookah-smoking caterpillar, or it’d be “cruiser overboard” for sure.

--------------------------------------------------------------For anyone interested in Jefferson Airplane performing the full version of White Rabbit, here you go. Oh, man! Oh, wow!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Bruce Springsteen isn’t ALWAYS right

Many of Bruce Springsteen’s songs are little short stories. Well known ones, like Thunder Road. (From the moment that screen door slams and Mary’s dress waves, I’m along for the ride.) Lesser known songs like The Nothing Man. (Even after everything’s changed: “The sky's still, the same unbelievable blue.” One of my favorite Bruce lines. ) And even the fun ones like Sherry Darling.

And those little short stories often pack a lot of wisdom about life and love, work and family. About longing. About country. (Try actually giving a listen to Born in the USA.)

One of Springsteen’s songs I always like to hear is Badlands, a good old stomper that really gets the crowd involved when it’s played (and it often is) at a concert.

Poor man wanna be rich.
Rich man wanna be king.
And the kind ain’t satisfied.
’Til he rules everything.

Sometimes true. But not always, as I was reminded when I saw a piece in a recent Economist about the wonderfully named Julian Richer.

Richer is a British entrepreneur who opened his first hi-fi equipment store when he was 19. He’s now 60, and between 19 and 60, Richer got richer by building up a chain of 52 stores, the eponymous Richer Sounds.

When Richer decided to cash out, he did things a bit differently than your typical casher-outer. This became known last May:

…when he announed he was selling a majority stake in the company to a trust owned by the staff, and remitting around 40% of the proceeds in the form of a cash bonus to colleagues. For every year of service, they received £1,000 ($1,230). (Source: The Economist)

This gesture was the outcome of Richer’s long-time management philosophy, which was inspired by In Search of Excellence, by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, one of the earliest business best sellers, published in 1982.

I’m sure I read In Search of somewhere along the way, and I do seem to remember that one of the excellent companies that Peters and Waterman found when they went in search of was Wang Labs. No comment.

(I do want to note that when I was a young blogger and cared about such things, Tom Peters had a very hot blog, and Pink Slip was on his blog roll, right next to writer Dan Pink.)

Anyway, Richer’s takeaways from the book were that “top-performing companies…had two common features…they treated both customers and their employees well.” (Nothing I noticed in either direction at Wang, but maybe that was just me.)

Apparently, Richer – who later wrote his own management books, including one called The Ethical Capitalist – took his takeaways very seriously when he built his business.

He focused on keeping turnover down – Richer Sounds’ turnover rate is less than half of his industry’s average – by doing things like promoting from within. And:

Each of the other nine board members has risen through the ranks.

He surveyed staff morale weekly – yes, weekly – which seems a bit excessive, but it’s one way to nip a problem in the bud. He also did a lot of management by driving around, regularly paying visits to his stores to meet with employees. For training, Richer Sounds provides ample time for staff:

to learn about the latest equipment in stock. The shops open at noon so that there is time for staff training without dragging people out of bed unreasonably early. Nor is Mr Richer a fan of the long hours culture; if an employee has to take a telephone call on their day off, they get a £20 hassle bonus.

Telephone calls weren’t the coin of the realm in my world once email came into use, but if I had gotten a £20 – or even a $20 - hassle bonus for each time I had to respond to something on a day off, well…

Among the more idiosyncratic items on Richer’s perk list for employees:

Workers can stay at one of the group’s holiday homes; over 70% make use of this perk once a year. The only charge they face is £10 per night per adult, and £5 per child. The British authorities treats such holidays as a taxable benefit but the company covers this cost as well.

Not sure I wouldn’t be a tad bit creeped out by vacationing in a company vacation home. It was weird enough when, one year at Genuity, I got to go on the ultra-luxe trip to Hawaii that was the reward for all the sales people who made quota. (Not enough did, so they rewarded a few of us non-sales types to fill the slots that had already been paid for. I had a great time, but it did not improve anyone’s morale.)

Richer sees all this as translating into happier customers. (Employee bonuses are partially based on customer satisfaction.) Employees also:

…get a monthly profit share, based on each store’s performance, and an annual share of the group profit.

Revenues for Richard Sounds last year were £157m (nearly $200M in US dollar terms), so it’s not a huge company. But Richer consults to larger retail chains, like Asda and Marks & Spencer, helping them apply the same philosophy across their empires.

As for giving away so much of his stake.

Mr Richer says he was approaching the age when his father died and he did not want his wife to deal with the hassle caused by his own demise. As far as money was concerned, he says, “we have more than enough already”.

What? Rich man wanna be king? Guess Bruce isn’t always right. 

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Star grazing

I’ve been to plenty of very nice restaurants over the years. But I’m not sure how many of them had a Michelin star or two. I ate at Jean-Georges in (ugh!) a Trump Tower a couple of times back in the day. It now has a couple of stars. Did it have that star when my husband and I ate there? I know we had lunch there a few times on trips to NYC, and it was quite wonderful.

We also ate a few times at Boulud, which I think has a star. Lunch at Bernardin once or twice. Star(s) on their doors?

Jim and I were regular NY-goers, and especially in the early decades of our travels there, generally hit at least one swanky –read: French -  restaurant. Our favorite was the long-closed Côte Basque, but I’m not sure whether Michelin was doing anything in New York when we were enjoying some absolutely fabulous meals there. That seafood terrine. So beautiful! That melt-in-your-mouth beef dish! That ganache! OMG! The only item that was not worth eating was the bread, which we never touched. Nor did we see anyone else ever touch it. We speculated that those rock-hard French rolls were stored in the ceiling, and dropped onto the bread plates daily.

Where else did we dine when we were fancy Frenching? Lutèce. Caravelle.

Both great (both closed), but we always found our way back to La Côte.

As our regular Manhattan adventures were winding down, well after La Côte closed, we discovered a rather down-at-its-heels but quite authentic French bistro, La Mediterranee. It’s closed now, too, but we always got a kick out of having lunch or dinner there. The food was quite good, the prices were great, there was a cornball piano player, and we were typically the youngest folks there. (We were in our 60’s…) Our ardor cooled after we may have gotten bed bug bitten there. C’est dommage!

But we were running out our New York string, anyway. (Speaking of dommages…)

Anyway, our New York star grazing adventures came to mind when I saw a recent article in the Washington Post on a brouhaha brewing in France.

Renowned French chef Marc Veyrat on Tuesday announced he had sued the France-based Michelin Guide after the restaurant guidebook authority demoted his La Maison des Bois in Manigod, France, from three stars to two earlier this year. Veyrat claimed Michelin’s reviewer wrongly determined a cheese souffle as having cheddar in it; Veyrat said the color was from saffron used in the dish and is now seeking documentation from Michelin to explain its decision. (Source: WaPo)

Sacre bleu! (Or, given the saffron-y color, should that be sacre jaune? I knew that my high school French would come in handy some day!)

“They dared to say that we put cheddar in our souffle of reblochon, beaufort, and tomme,” Veyrat told French magazine Le Point in July. “They have insulted our region; my employees were furious."

Cheddar in the souffle? Just say non.

And talk about umbrage. How about an insult to an entire region.

In any case, we’re talking serious eating here. The tasting menu runs from $330 to $430. (Gulp.) I guess if you’ve got three stars, or even the lamentable two stars, you get to up eating ante.

Veyrat will have his day in court in late November. Meanwhile, Veyrat is suffering:

“I’ve been in a depression for six months. How dare you take hostage the health of cooks?” Veyrat lamented during his July interview with Le Point, during which he blamed the “amateur” nature of the Michelin reviewers.

Those reviewers aren’t just “amateurs”; they’re “impostors”, who can’t tell the diff between a Reblochon and Beaufort emulsion, and cheddar – which, of all ghastly things, is a fromage of English origin. Cheddar is pretty much my favorite cheese, and – since I’ve never even heard of Reblochon or Beaufort - I guess I’ll never be a Michelin reviewer.

For Veyrat, the amateur act MIchelin imposters go beyond the insult to his restaurant, his cooks, his region.

“It scares me for the new generations to come.”

A Michelin spokesman, noting that they “regret [Veyrat’s] unreasonable persistence with his accusation,” promises that they “will carefully study his demands and respond calmly.”

I’m guessing that no starred Michelin restaurant – and there are only 27 three-star Michelin spots in France – would have any use for a pressure cooker.  But they sure are pressure-cooker environments.

In 2003, a noted French chef, fearing that he would lose a Michelin star, killed himself.

Some chefs are starting to turn down Michelin recognition. Veyrat tried to do just that when he lost a star. But the chefs can’t stop Michelin from publishing their ratings in their guides. It is, of course, up to the chefs whether they want to acknowledge the honor.

As for Veyrat, I guess it’s going to be a case of see you in court. Bonne chance, mon ami.

Me? I don’t imagine I’ll ever dine again in a Michelin restaurant. But I do enjoy remembrance of times past, when Jim and I were doing some NYC star grazing.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

The world is absolutely going to hell in a handbasket. Exhibit A: The Ace Family

There is much not to like about social media, starting with it’s being such a sinkhole – a sinkhole filled largely with yawpers. But other than the fact that the bad guys are exploiting Facebook, Twitter, etc. to bring down democracy, the very worst thing about it is the emergence of “influencer” and “social media star” as professions.

Yes, I know, we have all been on tenterhooks as we figure out what jobs will be replacing those lost to Artificial Intelligence, but I can’t imagine that “influencer” will pick up much of the job slack when, say, long distance trucks are all self-driving.

After all, there are limits to influencer growth. If everyone’s an influencer, who all are they influencing? And “social media stars” getting rich off their following? I guess I’d be okay with it if these stars were famous for anything other than being famous – if they had any talent, were making any contribution to society: inventing something (useful or not), doing something for the betterment of mankind (as if!), showing cute doggo videos, or demonstrating how to fold a fitted sheet. But, no.

Fortunately, I live my life in such a way that I have been able to avoid seeing any influencers and social media stars in practice. After all, who wants to influence someone my age? Or have them as a follower…

Unfortunately, a reference to some of these folks does come across my Twitter feed on occasion – did I mention that social media is a sinkhole? – and the other I had the misfortune to stumble across The Ace Family.

They appeared in a tweet of a tweet from Chris Meloni. (Yes, the former Law and Order: SVU actor, who doesn’t tweet a ton, but is excellent when he does. In other words, he’s a very funny, snarky liberal.)

Anyway, his tweet of a tweet introduced me to The Aces by way of a brief video that showed an attractive young couple working in a fast food joint, when, of course, all their millions of followers know that they’re slumming it. Anyone trying to eke out a living in a minimum wage job doesn’t need a couple of rich folks oohing and aahing about how “cool” it is to pretend to be a shit-worker for a couple of hours.

The Aces, I came to learn, are Catherine Paiz (a model and “actress) and her partner, Austin McBroom whose prior claim to fame was playing college hoops in some not particularly distinguished hoops programs. The Aces have two adorbs daughters and the fam earns their keep vlogging on YouTube, where they narrate their lives and occasionally prank each other.

And I thought thumbing through self-reinforcing political commentary on Twitter was a sinkhole. At least I’m keeping up with any of the latest political derangements I may have otherwise missed. But following the lives of otherwise boring and unaccomplished no-ones? What???

The Aces have 16 million followers (I originally typed “thousand” in there: mea freaking culpa)on YouTube, while the smart and sharply amusing @Chris_Meloni has a mere 317K. (I have next to none, but I don’t tweet, just follow others.)

The Aces little foray into fast food work isn’t the only hoo-hah they’ve been involved in:

Controversy erupted early in 2019 after McBroom bought a penis-shaped lollipop for a little girl thought to be a member of the extended family. The video, which was shared on Snapchat, was later posted on Twitter by a user unrelated to The Ace Family who called McBroom "disgusting" in the caption. In the video, McBroom explained why he purchased the candy for the child. "She said she was going to steal it if I didn't buy it, so better me buy it," he said.

Critics accused McBroom of sexualizing the child, saying that it was inappropriate that she was brought to a store with sexual items in the first place, and the fact that she was given the adult-themed candy was even more problematic.(Source: The List)

Well, alrighty. “She was going to steal if I didn’t by it, so better me buy it…”?

What’s wrong with “put that down or you’re in deep trouble”? Or “that’s not really appropriate; we’ll look for a Tootsie Pop for you”? Or not taking a small child into a shop that sells sex paraphernalia to begin with?

Excellent judgement on the part of a man who’s fathered two children and wants to keep trying until he brings a “mini me” into the world. Hope the third time’s the charm…

All I can say is, if you hadn’t realized that the world was going to hell in a handbasket already, the fact that The Ace Family get rich by publicizing their cretinous behavior is all you need to know.

Monday, October 07, 2019

The Rose of Tralee: My kind of pageant

As a little girl, I always enjoyed watching the Miss America Pageant: the gowns, the bathing suits, the (sometimes dubious) talent, the (sometimes ridiculous) questions, and – of course – Bert Parks warbling “There she is, Miss America. There she is, your ideal.”

I never quite bought into Miss America being my ideal. After all, it was rare when a young woman from New England made it into the finalists. Or even won Miss Congeniality. (Okay, no New Englander was ever going to win that one.)

Even though I was no longer watching pageants by this point, we did have Carol Ann Kennedy, Miss Massachusetts of 1966, who made it into the Top Ten. Not only was she from Worcester, she was from my parish. I didn’t know her. She was older. She was a pub. (I.e., someone who went to public school.) She didn’t live in my immediate ‘hood. But there was a small connection (other than one time I saw her flying by in a white convertible, heading somewhere wearing her sash and tiara).

When I was in fifth grade, my class’ act in the school Christmas Pageant was singing “Christmas in Killarney” while the short, cute girls in the class – I was neither – did an Irish step dance. The girls were handpicked by Sister Saint Wilhelmina, and as she was my arch-enemy, I wouldn’t have gotten picked even if I had been short and cute.

Anyway, Sister Saint Wilhelmina taught Carol Ann Kennedy in her catechism class, which Catholic pubs had to attend until they were confirmed. And it was Carol Ann Kennedy – the future Miss Massachusetts, the future Top Ten Miss America candidate – who instructed the short cute girls in Irish step dance.

As I said, by the time Carol Ann Kennedy had her star turn, I had pretty much figured out why New England girls were generally shunned in national pageants. We just weren’t geared up to produce pageant winners. We didn’t have the infrastructure or the interest to groom girls from toddler-hood ‘til their early twenties so that they could go on to win.

I know that Miss America still exists, and that they’ve gotten more serious over the years about academics and substance. But, mostly, it’s not on my radar. Maybe if they restore the old Miss America theme song…

There she is, Miss America.
There she is, your ideal
The dream of a million girls who are more than pretty can come true in Atlantic City.
For she may turn out to be the Queen of femininity.

The Rose of Tralee International Festival, which for 60 years now has crowned a Rose of Tralee also has a theme song, the sappy eponymous “Rose of Tralee.”

I’ll spare you the full lyrics, but the crooner tells us that it wasn’t just Mary, the rose of Tralee’s, beauty that won his heart. It ‘twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning.”

And, in this spirit, the Rose of Tralee is chosen. But:

It’s not a beauty pageant. Also, it’s not a competition.

Then things get complicated. Because to the uninitiated, the event, held this year in late August, sure looks like a beauty pageant, which is, by definition, competitive. The festival begins with 32 roses, as the women are called, and ends after six hours of live television spread across two nights, with close to 700,000 viewers in 61 countries. (Source: NY Times)

The 32 roses are interviewed on stage. They wear gowns. They have talent. Some go the conventional route, but this year, the Rose of Meath (a County in Ireland) deadlifted “220 pounds on a barbell while wearing a red, full-length gown.”


The festival was originally established – and continues to run – to encourage tourism to Tralee, a not much of anything town in County Kerry. (I’ve been through but not to.)

And it pretty much works. The town’s population of 24,000 doubles during the festival.

The roses themselves come from all over: counties in Ireland, cities and states in the US (including – no surprise here, Boston, New York, and Chicago), and farther afield (Australia, Abu Dhabi). You just have to have some Irish ancestral connection to take part. (And be between 18 and 29 and single.)

Part of what makes this event so quintessentially Irish is the premium everyone here places on humility, which includes, among its many forms, a disdain for show offs and brazen ambition. This may be one of the few international competitions where an essential quality is a seemingly authentic indifference to victory.

My kind of pageant!

The contest is also wagered on quite extensively.

“Oh, they’ll bet on two flies walking up a wall around here,” said the woman behind the counter at the local Ladbrokes, a London-based betting chain, the day before the first broadcast. “The grannies come by and put a fiver on their favorite rose.”

There are odds posted for each of the roses. The oddsmakers had Limerick’s Sinead Flanagan as the second most likely to win. But she won it all. Sinead is a pretty traditional choice: a homegrown, all Irish colleen. Last year’s winner was African-Irish, with a father from Zambia.

Maybe next year I’ll tune in. As for Miss America, nah. Even if they no longer tout the winner as the “Queen of Femininity.” (And I used to wonder why women from New England never won…


A pink pink slip rose to my sister Kathleen – a rose of Worcester – for pointing this story my way.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Desk set

When I was growing up, a popular gift to give your father was something called a “desk set”. The cheeseball, Woolworth’s versions I could afford were made up of a blotter, a matching pencil cup, and a pen holder that contained a cheap and smearing pen that after spitting out a series of ink globs would blessedly dry up. I have no idea what my father did with the desk sets he acquired over the years.

Needless to say, I always wanted one and at one point either got one for a gift or saved up to make a purchase for myself.

I’m sure that there were really elegant and pricey desk sets, with leather blotter-paper holders and Cross pens, but I never saw one.

(The distaff equivalent was a “vanity set”, a cheap comb, brush, and mirror with some kind of fake fancy embossed design on it. Again, I’m sure there were nice ones – for the folks in Downton Abbey and their peers - but any one I purchased for my mother or received as a gift was most decidedly a Woolworth’s version.)

Anyway, I haven’t thought of desk sets in years.

While I do sit at a desk – not really a desk: it’s a cherry wood trestle table – I don’t use a blotter or a leatherette penholder. But I do have stuff on my desk. Mugs the do hold pens and pencils. A box. A vase. A basket. (Let’s ignore the stacks of papers for now.)

My office has a calendar, a few framed pictures, a decorative plate that had been my mother’s, and the kindergarten pictures of me and my husband. (Aww….)

When I worked in an office, I always had a few personal items around. I wasn’t much for pictures, but I always had mugs, a plant, a calendar, a framed New Yorker cartoon. In 2003, after the Red Sox blew it, I printed out Boston Globe columnist Marty Nolan’s famous words, “"The Red Sox killed my father, and now they're coming after me” and posted it on my office door.

Everyone personalized their office to some extent. And I’m guessing they still do. Unless they’re doing office “hoteling” or “hot desking.”

Every day, they may wind up in a new location, with only the possessions they can carry to sustain them. At the end of each day, all trace of their personality is erased, in the way that the Soviet Union removed pictures of Leon Trotsky from the historical record. It is hard to think of a clearer indication that the individual worker is being treated as an anonymous drone. (Source: The Economist)

Hoteling and hotdesking are variations on a theme. With hoteling, you can make a reservation for a desk; with hotdesking you’re in a daily scramble for a place to call home work.

At one leading financial institution, any employee who accidentally leaves a possession on their desk overnight must try to retrieve it from Lost Property in the morning. That makes the end of each working day feel like the last frenetic minutes before you leave the house for a holiday, frantically checking that you haven’t left anything behind.

The impetus behind such arrangements is, natch, cost savings. Especially when so many folks work from home at least part of the time, and with so many road warriors out there, it really doesn’t make sense to tie up a full time office for someone who’s seldom there. Still, to make it the rule for even those who are always in the office is a step that’s way too far.

I worked for a couple of years for a company that was an agglomeration of small companies. I worked in HQ, where all of the senior execs had window offices, even though 90% of them didn’t work at HQ and were only there a couple of days a quarter. Most of the possessors of these offices locked them, so they weren’t available for small meetings, private or conference calls (the rest of us were in cubicles), or a grouse-fest with a colleague. The only women senior exec, however, left hers open and told a group of us that we could use it whenever we wanted.

Of course, hoteling wouldn’t have worked, given that the execs were all at HQ for the same couple of days each quarter. But what a waste of office space to not make these communal property when no one was occupying them. Not to mention that when the execs were in town, they were perpetually in meetings and used those precious locked window offices about 10% of their day.

Most of those offices weren’t personalized, by the way. Just selfishly hoarded.

Anyway, not having a dedicated office may be a cost saver, but studies show that it cuts down on productivity and hinders morale. And for hotdeskers who have to participate in an Oklahoma Land Rush on a daily basis, it can be a total time-waters.

A survey of British workers, published in June, found that those in a hot-desking office took an average of 18 minutes to find a seat. That translates into 66 wasted hours a year.

I’m always a bit skeptical of these workplace surveys, but having employees spend their first minutes at work scrambling around for a place to plop their laptop, well…

Then there’s this:

It is hard to see how anyone will be well-motivated by such an arrangement. If companies want employees to have bright ideas, it helps if they feel comfortable at their desks. And people are likely to feel most comfortable in familiar surroundings.

Is it worth even mentioning that “hot-desking is usually linked to another design feature: the open-plan office.”

I’m not going there, other to say that all the touted benefits of open-plan office have been largely debunked.

There are more and more freelancers out there. Internships (even if they’re paid) are gaining, not just for students but for recent grads. Many jobs are part-time – sometimes because the worker wants it that way, sometimes because the company does. So the proportion of workers who aren’t full-time and permanent has declined during my work life. So everyone’s not going to get a desk of their own. But at least let some of the people have a workplace that grounds them.

At this point in that work life, I’m delighted to be a very occasional freelancing part-timer. But during my “real” career I wanted to be at work. And whether it was a private office with a window, or a miserable little cubicle, I wanted to know that on Friday afternoon, Frank would swing by my office for a bull session. That on Monday, I would always have tea with Joan. That I could count on John, in the cubicle next door, to repeatedly tell the same boring story over and over and over. And that wherever I was calling home away from home, I knew that my shoes, lip balm and teabags would be in the drawers. And that my mug and New Yorker cartoon would be on the desk top. That was all the desk set I needed, but I wanted it there.