Friday, October 30, 2009

Sean Fitzpatrick: Carving out an interesting career

As I've maintained on many occasions, even in the midst of a painful recession, this remains something of an infinite economy in terms of people with a decent idea and some drive being able to carve out a career for themselves in an awful lot of different areas.

This was brought home a week or so ago, when I saw an interview in The Boston Globe with a local fellow, Sean Fitzpatrick, who does pumpkin carving and ice, sand, snow, and foam sculpting for a living.

Twenty years ago, Fitzpatrick was an auto mechanic whose daughter asked him to make her a snowman that looked like Santa. He decided he loved it, and spent the next decade refining his skills and figuring out how to make a business out of it. Today, that business, FitzySnowman, is a true money-making, make a living business. Fitzpatrick does custom carving/sculpting for corporations and special events, runs seminars and festivals all over the country, and does team building for companies. He's got a pretty impressive client list that includes big names like Staples, Fidelity, Liberty Mutual, and Comcast. And, oh, yeah, Hooters. (Wonder what they sculpted?)

When I think of all the lame-o, no fun team-building events I participated in over the years - not one of which ever seemed to tap anything I was any good at or enjoyed - I can certainly see the appeal of working with Fitzpatrick.

Rather than learn how to build a model helicopter out of straws, or write an execute a cheer, or sit back to back with someone I barely knew sharing out innermost wishes for the business, I sure wish I could have learned something useful like  how to build a better snowman. (I may not be any good at it, but I do have a lot of experience with the basics: Roll the big ball, roll the medium ball and put it on the big ball, roll the small ball and use it for the head. Carrot nose, rocks for eyes  - now that no one heats with coal. Etc.)

Note to corporations considering hiring Fitzy Snowman: he's clear that, if you go with the ice sculpting option, no chain saws will be used. In general this is as excellent a workplace rule as any I'm familiar with.

Fitzpatrick is something of a natural marketer - Fitzy Showman, as it were - who's been all over TV, radio, and the press. (Not to mention at least one modest blog.)

Since tomorrow is Halloween, those who are going to carve pumpkins have probably already done so. But if you haven't, here are some tips from the master, by way of The Globe:

Make sure the pumpkin walls are about an inch thick. A standard ice cream scoop is good for getting the seeds out. . . . For the design, you can draw directly on the pumpkin. Or, go online and print out a template. Attach it to the pumpkin with packing tape and use a poking tool to poke holes through the design into the pumpkin. The holes should be a quarter-inch deep and close enough together so you can cut through them in a line. . . . Adults can use a sharp knife and cut along the pattern, starting in the center. When you take the paper off, there is a clear, sharp pattern. To preserve your pumpkin once you’re done, take a plastic Brillo pad and wipe the front surface to get the rough edges off. Then, spray the inside and design area with a cooking spray to help it retain moisture.

Last time I carved a pumpkin, I'd completed my hack job before the kid I was carving it with informed me that the pumpkin was upside down. (Thanks, Sam.) And if you don't think it makes a distance, you've never carved a pumpkin upside down.

I will not be carving a pumpkin this year, but I will be walking around Beacon Hill, which is rather a good Halloween venue: brick sidewalks, gas lamps, old houses, lots of wrought iron - and a lot of folks who go to town decorating and, yes, pumpkin carving. There should be lots of interesting Jack-o-Lanterns out there - maybe even some approaching Fitzpatrick caliber.

And while I know it's become customary for adults to dress up on Halloween, I won't be doing so. The last time I went in costume, many long years ago, I went to a party at my sister Kath's, dressed as a "hip nun." I wore clunky shoes, ugly suntan panty hose, a dowdy skirt and blouse, and a cross I made out of a shoe-polished dowel and some rawhide. I had on some rimless glasses that had been my mother's as a girl, and topped my ensemble off with a short blue veil.

The costume was too good.

When I introduced myself as Kathleen's sister Maureen, people took that to be "Sister Maureen." Whenever I walked by anyone drinking, smoking, or making out, I got an apology. ("Sorry, Sister.") Completely no fun - spooky, even -  that people thought I was such an authentic nun.

Tomorrow night, I will be going out as late middle-aged blogger: black turtle neck and black pants. Maybe I'll throw on a beret and use eyebrow pencil to draw a goatee. That way I can go as a beatnik. (Snap, snap.) Yeah, that's it. I'm going as a beatnik. Hope I score some Butterfingers.

Happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Shop 'til you drop at Walmart

Wouldn't you know it, Walmart - always looking out for the consumer - doesn't just want us to save money/live better. They want us to save money/die better, too.  Well, not exactly die better - as far as I know they're not (yet) selling Dr. Kevorkian Kits or End-of-Life drug supplies. But they are in the funerary business, big time.

I got wind of this in an AP article in yesterday's Globe, which reported that the good folks in Bentonville "quietly put up about 15 caskets and dozens of urns on its Web site last week."

This is not exactly a breakthrough. Costco, apparently, has already beaten them to the punch.

Naturally, I had to trek over to the ur(n) source and see for myself what was on offer, and was surprised that there were so many urn choices. Who knew there were so many different pet urns available? And in different sizes, by pet weight. There are different sizes for humans, too.  Heartbreakingly, some urns are child-sized. (Although I don't have children of my own, I do believe that the worst thing that can happen to someone is the death of a child. But to me, the grief would be compounded by having to go online - Walmart, Costco, wherever - and click on a child urn selection. Some things are best left to the professionals, and I'd put purchasing an urn or casket for a child in this category.)

Most of the urns are (surprisingly enough) tasteful.

Some do have goofy names. Why would one call an urn a "Keepsake"?This strikes me as somewhat trivializing. Why not a bibelot?

And the "Sunrise Treasure Deluxe Memorial Chest with Urn". Ah, yes, what a treasure chest for someone - full of granny's ashes. And sunrise? Duh? I don't think the poem goes 'do not go gentle into that good sunrise.' Aren't we talking the ultimate nightfall here?

There aren't as many caskets as there are urns (and no pet caskets), but there was a reasonable selection (including a wide body model).

The caskets that I looked at all "contain memory tube", whatever that is. (Okay, I went to The Google and the memory tube is a sealed tube in which you can put in information on the deceased. For what purpose, I don't know. I really can't imagine that, in 2000 years, anyone will find it all that fascinating to unearth one of 2000 Joe Blows buried in the municipal cemetery.  Today's average casket buyer is not exactly Imhotep. But, then again, I must remind myself that funeral matters are for those left behind, so if tucking in a tube full of stroll down memory lane info works, why not.)

My favorite casket name was the "Lovely in All Ways Stainless Steel Casket." Well, yes, lovely in all ways until a couple of years out when demented Uncle Bub starts talking about having poisoned the late Aunt Flora, and you have to do a bit of an exhumation. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust takes a while if you don't cremate. A long while. There's a lot of gucky stuff happening in the meantime that is in no way "lovely in all ways."

Other names I liked included the "Supreme Distinction". I hadn't realized that death was much of a supreme distinction. Not in the same way that, say, living forever might be.  Then there was the "Executive Privilege", which comes not only with that ubiquitous memory tube, but also sports a "hand-knit silver velvet interior." Hand-knit? Hmmmmmm.

All of this is no different than you'd find in any funeral parlor, I'm quite sure. And, frankly, on the taste scale, I didn't find anything that compared to the emerald green casket with shamrock insert that was on display at the funeral parlor when we went to pick out my mother's casket. (We took a pass on that one. Too garish, too costly, and my mother was only Irish by marriage and motherhood.)

Before you go running off to buy a casket at Wally, I will warn you that they take 48 hours to ship, at which point they FedEx them. This puts it beyond the time frame that would work for most of the wakes and funerals I've been in on, unless, of course, you pre-purchased.

I can (and do) live without it, but Walmart really is America's general store, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Beyond "Lady of Spain": Accordionist Cory Pesaturo

When I was growing up, one of the most popular shows on TV was Community Auditions ("New England's Showcase for Talented Amateurs"). At one point, they were the longest running local TV show in the history of mankind. After a hiatus, they are apparently back. Although I haven't seen the latest, jazzed up edition, I spent many a Sunday mornings watching the precocious four-year old lip synch "Chantilly Lace"; the atrocious "I'm Mack/I'm Clack" comedian whose funniest joke had a punchline about a woman who looked like RinTinTin; Irish step dancers; Irish tenors; jazz-tap-pers; and a guy who did trick basket-ball dribbling.

Each week, people mailed in their votes, and, although I don't now anyone who actually voted, we eagerly awaited the moment when we learned who last week's winner was (not to mention the "Series Champion", and the culminating "Grand Champion").

One of the recurring talents on Community Audition was accordion playing, usually "Lady of Spain."

In fact, one of the only people I knew who appeared on CA played the accordion. His sister was on a few weeks later, twirling her baton. Teddy and Roberta were neighbors, and while we knew them, we really didn't know them. They belonged to a Lithuanian parish and went to a Polish grammar school, and were, thus, considered too far out of the mainstream to actually know-know. Anyway, they both lost, which we knew was going to happen because no one from Worcester ever won. In fact, we considered the contests rigged for Bostonians - those block-voters.

Although we knew that we wouldn't win, my friends and I talked constantly about coming up with an act and going on CA. The problem was not that we weren't amateurs; our main problem was that we weren't even as talented as the kid mouthing Chantilly Lace while holding a toy telephone. ("This is the Big Bopper speakin'...You know what I like.")

I thought of Community Auditions because of an article that appeared in yesterday's Globe on Cory Pesaturo, the World Digital Accordion Champion, who won by:

dazzling judges with his rapid-fire playing style and showmanship.

Pesaturo is, apparently, making accordions jazzy and hip. (That sound coming from North Dakota is Myron Floren rolling over in Lawrence Welk's grave.)

Don't believe me? Go see for yourself (on YouTube, if this embed doesn't work).

Well, he certainly is a virtuoso. And it's certainly a lot hipper than Franky Yankovic playing The Blue Skirt Waltz. (BSW was my German grandfather's favorite song. We have no record of what my Irish grandfather's favorite song was, but I'll nominate Back Home Again in Rogers' Barroom (to the tune of Back Home Again in Indiana), and the theme song of his saloon, which was in Webster Square in Worcester, not in Indiana.)

The article mentioned that Pesaturo was "laughed off “America’s Got Talent’’ by panelist David Hasselhoff this year," prompting me to ask the question who the hell is David Hasselhoff to be laughing anybody off a talent show? Sheeshhh.

Having grown up around accordions, I'm actually something of a passive accordion fan.

My German and Irish ethnic-tradition music both have a lot of accordion in them. My Grandfather Wolf, and my uncles Jake and Bob, all played accordions - piano accordions, I think, as opposed to button accordions, which I associate with the Irish.

If I had a scanner, I'd insert here a publicity shot of Jake Wolf and the Midwesterners, who had a country and western polka band - at least they were wearing cowboy hats in the picture.

We were also a Lawrence Welk family, watching the show religiously - even though we were all (other than my no-make-fun mother) taking pot-shots at the bunch of them  - Joe Feeney, Larry Hooper, Jerry Burke, Norma Zimmer, Myron Floren, the Lovely (in Lawrence speak: Luffly) Lennon Sisters, Barbara and Bobby - throughout the show. My (Irish) grandmother always claimed that Jerry Burke, who played the organ, was a stiff, playing posthumously. My (Irish) father could not understand why Lawrence himself had never shed his thick-as-a-summer-sausage Germanish North Dakota accent. And the Luffly Lennon Sisters....well, they were too damned goody-goody to be true.

Back to Pesaturo: he plays a digital accordion, which:

... has bellows like an acoustic accordion, but instead of reeds it uses computer-chip technology to mimic other instruments, much like a synthesizer does. Within the small world of serious accordion players, challenging tradition has become a sore issue, he admitted.

“I tell them we have to bring back the accordion as something cool first,’’ Pesaturo said. “We’re not trying to kill off the acoustic accordion. The electric guitar didn’t kill off the acoustic guitar, did it? I can’t play a techno song on a traditional accordion. My philosophy is, you have to be a musician first and an instrumentalist second.’’

Pesaturo is something of an accordion prodigy, having been playing since the age of 9. He's played at the White House - Bill and Hill are fans. And he certainly is a virtuoso who's taking the accordion well beyond Lady of Spain.

So, best of luck to Cory Pesaturo. In honor of Jake Wolf (my godfather) and the Midwesterners, I may actually buy one of his CD's. (Wonder if Cory knows the Blue Skirt Waltz?)

I dream of that night with you, lady when first we met.
We danced in a world of blue. How can my heart forget?
Blue were the skies and blue were your eyes,
Jjust like the blue skirt you wore.
Come back, blue lady come back.
Don't be blue anymore.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Working your way out of the abyss: is there a career save for Brooke Hundley?

A couple of months ago, Brooke Hundley was a young Ithaca College grad whose job - production assistant at ESPN - may have been all scut work, but which nonetheless had a fair amount of glamour attached to it. And looked like it could be one of those springboard opportunities that could make a career in "the media" for someone.

It's doubtful that Ms. Hundley is going to be one of those someones - at least not for a while.

For those who manage to avert their eyes from sordid headlines involving people they've never heard of, Brooke Hundley (age 22) was involved in a brief, albeit intense, affair with ESPN baseball analyst Steve Phillips (age 46; married with children - 4 of them).

For whatever reasons - naivete likely a major factor among them - Hundley somehow convinced herself that she was the love of Phillips' life, and that he would be divorcing his wife to be with her.

Those seeking the sordid details are but a google away from them. In capsule: Hundley wrote a pathetic and unhinged letter to Phillips' wife describing her "relationship" with the woman's husband; contacted Phillips' teenage son via Facebook; showed up at the Phillips' home to confront the wife (who called 911); took out a restraining order against Phillips; and lost her job at ESPN. Phillips lost his job, too. And he's apparently losing his marriage, as well. (Predictably, he's also signed himself in for treatment for sex addiction.)

Naturally the entire tawdry mess - including a copy of the letter to the wife, and the 911 recording of the wife's call for help - are all out there for the world to enjoy. And comment on.

Sure, Phillips is coming in for his own ration of criticism, but much of what I've seen is leveled at (or written about) Brooke Hundley. There's the expected criticism of the affair, and her entirely self- and other-destructive post-affair actions. And then there's all the bunny boiling analogies to the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction (which, oddly enough, came out in 1987, the year Hundley was born, unless she's a Nov-Dec baby).  Not to mention the attacks on Hundley's looks. She's an average looking young woman, which, at least among male commenters, seems to make her unworthy of male attention and brings into question just what Phillips saw in her. (Unforgivable: she's not a hottie!) Of course, what he no doubt saw in her was his own narcissistic self-reflection, and a way to nab a little on the side for the low, low, price of a few empty promises and text messages about not loving his wife (a plain old housewife, as opposed to a scintillating careerist, as Hundley depicted herself).

Although Phillips has lost his job at ESPN, there's no doubt in my mind that, if he lays low for a bit, someone will hire him for something: local TV sports reporter, sports-talk radio, baseball management. (He's a former Mets' GM).  They may wink and trash-talk him, but the boys network will forgive and forget. The one thing that will be held against him is that Brooke Hundley wasn't a glam girl, which he'll no doubt counter by talking about how good she was in bed (or in the back seat of a car).

For Brooke Hundley, I don't think the career world will be so forgiving. The read on her will be some toxic combination of naive, crazy, vicious, stupid, rash, foolish. She, of course, brought this upon herself by making a big mistake, and upping the stakes by an order of magnitude in making that mistake so public in the current era. (One snippet that I saw from her since removed LinkedIn page mentioned her knowledge of social media. Well, what she didn't know about social media yesterday, she sure does today.)

Quite rationally, someone would have to think twice before hiring her. But, once she returns to the rational state from whence, presumably, she came, Brooke Hundley may actually be an intelligent, decent, hard-working young woman who was swept away in an emotional tsunami (first love? sure sounds like it, poor thing) that she's still, topsy-turvy, roiling around in.

And she's only 22, so her folly really shouldn't result in a life sentence.

So, assuming that she's fundamentally an okay person who will be needing a job, here's my career advice to Brooke Hundley:

  • Do not sell your "story" to some tabloid-fan-zine publication. You're B-list flavor of the day, but the more you expose your side (and yourself), the more crap will surface on you when your name is googled by prospective hirers. Don't sell, even if someone offers you what right now will seem like an awful lot of money for an unemployed 22 year old.
  • Even if it's a quasi crock, come up with a statement that covers two themes, a) 'I'm really not a bad person, I was just in an exceedingly vulnerable, emotional state and I acted out of character'; b) 'I apologize to Ms. Phillips and her family for any pain and embarrassment I may have caused them.' This should be the only thing you state publicly. Also, rehearse a version - out loud, with someone who cares for you - in a mock interview, in case it comes up. (Even indirectly: this will be the elephant on the table for a while, I'm afraid.)
  • Start using your middle name professionally - even if it's Bertha or Ethel.
  • Find the most sympathetic (and competent) people in your professional network and ask them for their advice on how to repair the damage you've done to your career.
  • If someone offers you a job even vaguely in your field, take it - even if it means moving back in with your parents.
  • Let the people who care for you take care of you. (And, no, Steve Phillips is not one of them.)

I'm not going to tell you that someday you're going to look back on this and laugh. But, with luck, someday you will look back on this and merely wince and cringe.

Good luck.

You can and will survive this.

Monday, October 26, 2009

American ingenuity: could the motorized La-Z-Boy revitalize the auto industry?

For decades now, people have been complaining that American car makers either a) weren't giving us what we wanted in terms or quality and features, and/or b) were giving us what we wanted (SUVs, trucks) even though it wasn't good for us.

One enterprising Minnesotan, Dennis LeRoy Anderson, responded to the lack of vehicle suitability by creating a town runabout for himself.

About the size of a SmartCar, but without the Europhile, enviro-smugness (and also without the SmartCar's four season protection-providing roof), Anderson's vehicle is a motorized La-Z-Boy chair.US police to auction motorized lounge chair

Forget fine Corinthian leather, this baby is black and blue pleather, powered by a lawn mower engine, goosed by a nitrous oxide power booster, and sporting a stereo and cupholders.

The cupholder feature is resonating, since Anderson was nabbed driving drunk last year, having run into a parked car after getting sloshed in a Proctor, Minnesota bar. (No one was injured, and it's unclear how much damage a pleather-based vehicle that can only go 15 m.p.h. could do to a car. The La-Z-Boy does not appear to have suffered much of a crash impact.)

The La-Z-Boy on steroids has been impounded, and will be auctioned off - likely on eBay - in the near term.

I will not be bidding, nor will my husband - even though I know that a motorized reclining chair has some appeal to him, his having purchased a leather massage chair at Brookstone's a number of years ago. Darn the luck, but when the massage component went he decided it wasn't worth repairing. I'm not sure whether we gave it way, or put it out in the trash - where it would have been claimed by someone in a heart-beat.

(Our previous give-away chair was a lovely oak antique with a bashed in cane seat that we'd picked up somewhere. I was planning on teaching myself caning - a completely ludicrous idea, as anyone who knows me will appreciate - and had even gotten a kit. Which sat on the bashed in seat of the chair for years, until we decided enough was enough.  Jim put it out in the trash late afternoon/early evening. A few minutes after he put it out, I was getting off the Red Line at Charles Street station and encountered a man carrying the chair onto the subway car. He looked startled when I said, 'Hey, I know where you got that.' I hope he did a better job with the seat-caning than I did. It was a very pretty chair with good bones. Sigh!)

There's no word on whether Anderson plans to bid on his La-Z-Boy or rebuild another one for himself.

Personally, I'd like to see it in an auto museum somewhere.

I can picture it next to Gary Cooper's swank green and yellow 1930's Duesenberg convertible at the museum in Sandwich on Cape Cod.

In any case, I do want to give a shout-out to Anderson for demonstrating his American ingenuity.

Sure, as my sister Kathleen noted in the e-mail in which she sent me a link to this story, it may be an example of American ingenuity in its senescence.  Still, Anderson was on to something with his fuel-efficient errand runner. Anderson is in his early 60's - target demographic for the motorized scooters they advertise on TV - the ones that claim that you get the scooter for free if Medicare denies you one. But instead of settling in to one of those geezer-scooters, he went out and created his own, idealized version.

Too bad he used it to commit DWI. (Note to those who were hoisting a few with Anderson on the night of his accident: friends don't let friends drive drunk, even when they're driving a tricked out La-Z-Boy.)

Still, there's a lot of potential here.

A love-seat could easily be converted into a starter car for a young couple just starting out. A full couch would make a good family car. And if you went with a pull-out couch, well, you'll have replaced a fuel-hogging Winnebago with something that gets some kickin' mileage.

If you had a converted dining room table, the kids could do their homework while mom or dad drove, which would be a lot better for them than watching a video from the back seat. 

And all that fresh air! Can't beat it.

Yes, indeed, I do believe that Dennis LeRoy Anderson was on to something here. (And I also gotta believe, given his age, that Anderson got that "LeRoy" for composer Leroy Anderson of Blue Tango, Syncopated Clock, and Sleigh Ride fame, and an artist as unpretentious as, well, a La-Z-Boy. Aaron Copland, move over. What Leroy Anderson could do with a typewriter! Gives new meaning to the term keyboard artist.)

It will be interesting to see who scoops up Dennis Anderson's La-Z-Boy when it's up for auction. Perhaps there'll be some interest from Detroit - which is driving distance from Proctor, Minnesota (although it could take a while at 15 m.p.h., and with winter coming on, it might be rough going).

Meanwhile, I'll give the final word on this post to my brother-in-law, Rick, which I have to agree 100% with. Designing, building, and drunk driving in a converted La-Z-Boy: "here is the difference between men and women."



Sources: AP on MSNBC; and AFP via Yahoo.

Friday, October 23, 2009

So many topics, so little time

As I grazed around, looking for today's topic, there were so many little news snippets that I toyed with. But while all of them were somewhat blog fodderish, none emerged as topic du jour.  But here were the possibilities:

  • I saw a headline about a robe recall. Like 99.99% of the other Americans who read this headline, I immediately thought "Snugli". But, no, the recalled robes were chenille numbers sold by Blair, manufactured in Pakistan from some towering inferno material. Nine elderly women were killed wearing one two close to the stove. What a terrible way to die. (I think of my mother, making her morning cup of tea, hanging over the stove in her loose-sleeved bathrobe...)
  • A Marine sergeant was sentenced to 18 months in the brig, and dishonorable discharge, for pretending to be a wounded Iraq War vet, and using his wounded warrior status to cadge his way into concerts and sporting events,  a free laptop and a PDA. Screwed up? Absolutely!  Scum bag? Indeed! Embarrassment to the whole notion of Semper fi? Yes, sir! Perhaps I am just a molly-coddling, excuse-'em-all liberal, but doesn't 18 months in jail seem like a kind of harsh sentence for lying your way into a Washington Nationals game and a Boston concert?  By all means, kick him out of your club. But this is a lot longer than Roman Polanski's original sentence for drugging and raping a 13 year old. I'm sure most Marines are happy  - collective honor besmirched and all that. Maybe I'm missing something, but 18 months seems a bit harsh.
  • A couple of Northwest Airline pilots are being investigated for overshooting their target by 150 miles before recovering. The pilots claimed that they were engaged in a heated discussion over NTSB rules, which sounds as suspect as the guys who used to claim to buy Playboy for the articles. Hmmmmmmm. The rumor is that they were asleep at the wheel. (Should've turned left at Greenland.)
  • Bernie Madoff is rumored to have spent a lot of his bilkings on cocaine - enough so that his offices were known as the North Pole - and par-tays that included topless dancers, paid "escorts", and massage. Why am I not surprised?

Lapses in judgement, shoddy behavior, and bad career moves do seem to abound, don' t they?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Things I observed on the drive to Syracuse

I get  up to Syracuse, where I have a few clients and a really good friend, a few times a year.

I like Syracuse a lot - possibly because I get it. (Having grown up in Worcester, I know all about hilly, ethnic, industrial, college towns.)

One drawback to The 'Cuse is that it's not all that easy to get to. Thus, I always end up driving.

It's not a bad drive, but at 300+ miles, it's a long drive.

But that long drive is pretty much a straight shot, and - except for the stretch between Springfield and Albany - well-peopled enough that I always feel if worse comes to worse and the car breaks down, I can walk off the Thruway and knock on a farm house door, or on the door of one of the houses in one of the pokey little couple-of-houses-and-a-church-and-or-gas-station towns I pass by.

Once nice thing about the NY State Thruway is that you can see a lot of the little towns and small cities you're passing by. Gloversville. Herkimer. Canajoharie. And, off in the distance, Amsterdam.

I keep meaning to take the slow route back some day, but I always seem to be in a rush, as I was yesterday when I started my drive home.

In addition to seeing all those wonderful small towns, I do spend some time ruing the fact that so many of the rest stops feature Roy Rogers fast food. (Yuck! I don't even know what they serve? Triggerburgers?) And enjoying the fact that they do have wi-fi.

But a couple of things struck me on this trip.

  1. No decent foliage. I had thought that this year was supposed to be a decent year for color, but not that many of the trees had turned yet - even though it's late October. There was a bit of yellow, very little red or orange, some brown - but mostly still green. Fall color seems to be coming later and later every year - another sign, no doubt, of climate change. A bit scary.
  2. I only saw one WalMart truck. Usually I lose count of the WalMart semis that I see on the road, but this time there was just the one. Frankly, if I hadn't seen that one, I wouldn't have thought twice about the absence of Wally. But seeing it, well.... 'Tis usually the season when WalMart is stocking up on inexpensive necessities and out and out crap. One more informal marker on the still faltering economy.
  3. I was iPod-less on the outbound trip. Somehow, the iPod got shunted into picture mode, so I couldn't get the iTunes to play. I figured the problem out before I headed home, so I was able to listen to The Boss, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Mary Black, and the Chieftains all the way back. But on the way too, I was in "Seek" mode, and observe that there seem to be quite a few Country and Western and Christian stations in Upstate NY. More midwest than I would have guessed.

Good trip - one new client, one oldie-but-goodie, and quick visit with good friends - but long drive.

Glad, as always, to be home.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oh, you beautiful (homeless) doll

Tonight, we're celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the founding of St. Francis House, which helps Boston's poor and homeless men and women rebuild their lives. If this sounds like a tagline, well it is. But for anyone who's had the pleasure of meeting a graduate of the SFH Moving Ahead Program, or hung out with any of the folks working in the art room, or chatted on the elevator with one of the residents who now has room of their own thanks to SFH, it's a tagline that rings true. Along the rebuilding way, SFH also serves a lot of meals (about 1,000 a day), hands out a lot of clothing, provides a lot of counseling and medical services, and does a whole lot of other things that help people get back on their feet.

I've been on the Board for over 10 years now, and my involvement with SFH is one of the best things I've ever done.  So homelessness is something I think about - not every day, but a lot.

At first, though, I didn't know what to think when I heard about the American Girl homeless doll.

(The first mention I heard, by the way, was on some right-wing talk radio show that was on in the Zipcar I was using. I don't know who the host was. He was giving me such a headache ranting about Obama destroying Israel, his post homeless doll segment, that I had to turn the radio off.)

First, I want to declare that I am a big American Girl (AG) doll fan - and one who's dropped quite a bit of dough there during my nieces' years of fandom. (Ahh, for those pre-Uggs, iTouch, Hollister days.) For those who aren't familiar with AG, there's a series of dolls from many different eras (Kit's from the Depression, Molly's from WWII, Kirsten's an immigrant pioneer, Felicity's the American Revolution girl, etc.).  Each doll has a story line (hokey but earnest, told in multiple books), and all sorts of outfits and accessories. All very pricey. (The dolls alone cost about $100.)

While American Girl "stuff" is costly, and pretty much relegates ownership to middle-middle-class and above; and while those story books may put a crimp in imaginary  play, the dolls, clothing, and accoutrements are very well made and quite beautiful. Not to mention wholesome - no sexy Bratz dollism, no freakish Barbie body image. These are really nice dolls.

Gwen, the homeless doll, is not an A-lister, i.e., she's not one of the prime characters. She (or, rather,  it) is a friend of the main doll, Chrissa.

When I first heard about a homeless doll, I was hoping this was the case.

It was hard for me to imagine what kind of add-on gear they'd have for a homeless doll. Kit has her desk and typewriter. Molly has the dinette set for her birthday party. Chrissa has a pet llama.

What would Gwen the homeless doll have?

A car to live in? A shelter bed to sleep in? Shabby, not especially clean clothing? A hot-plate in a hotel room? A garbage bag full of her salvaged stuff?

But Gwen's a friend to the main event. (Friends were invented a couple of years ago as a way to get people to add-on more than just outfits, etc. Once you've gotten the friend, you have to lard up on stuff for the friend, too. American Girl folks - the company is now owned by Mattel - are marketing geniuses.)

So, what do I make of this homeless doll?

First off, I'm good with a story line that includes a homeless child. Although homelessness is not all that supremely likely to happen to the kinds of middle class kids whose family's can afford an American Girl doll - nor are these kids likely to know any homeless kids personally - it's not a bad thing to expose these lucky and precious darlings to the idea that there are children out there who don't sleep in PJ's that match those of their American Girl dolls.  But who may sleep in cars, motels, shelters, some cousin's basement - and live without privacy, stability, and much by way of material comfort.

On the other hand:

Gwen arrives in an outfit that’s perfect for playtime:

  • A white eyelet lace dress with embroidered accents
  • A pink headband that doubles as a belt
  • Pink underwear
  • Braided sandals to match

Suggesting to me that the notion of homeless-ness is just a bogus little trope, cashing in on a current "trend" to sell more stuff. (Coming soon, the illegal immigrant doll?)

This is reinforced by some of the comments I saw on the AG website:

"Dear Gwen's hair is wonderfully silky and her big doe eyes! She is stunning! I had such fun the day I got her playing with her hair. Be warned the shoe's [sic] should be watched carefully as they tend to slip off when bouncing around. And of course then they get lost. The dress is simply outstanding the pattern on the front and a neat texture. The belt that is also used as a head band and of course Gwen herself! I have heard complaints that she is homeless and that is giving the wrong message to children but personally I disagree. Gwen is a charming doll overall A+!"

(Note that, while this commenter indicates that she plays with the doll, it sure doesn't sound like it was written by any child I know.)

"Since Gwen didnt come with much, I bought her the Licorice outfit she wore in the movie and the violin set that she plays so beautifully...Kudos on this sweet girl Gwen!!!"

"...She is a beautiful doll and one of the prettiest AG dolls I have seen. Her hair is long and a pretty warm blond color. Her dress is lovely and so well made. I love the embroidery. Her sandals are so cute and look just like all the little girls wear nowadays. We love the headband as a belt or as a headband...Gwen is such a brave, strong, beautiful character. My daughter has even taken up playing the violin because she was so inspired by her. Overall, Gwen is a perfect best friend for my little girl."

Gosh. Gwen plays the violin? Did they really have to have a detail that puts me in mind of Sophie's Choice?

Not to mention that it puts me in mind of a doll that was popular for a while during my childhood. Poor, Pitiful Pearl came with a tattered, mended dress and - I think - some plastic curlers. Her second outfit was a party dress. Curlers and party dress and, voilà, Pearl is no longer poor and pitiful. (Eyelet embroidery, braided sandals. Voilà! Gwen's no longer homeless?)

Still, there's nothing wrong with giving little girls lucky enough to live in AG paradise a little dose of real-fake reality. And I will say that the books do tend to focus on worthwhile attributes (pluck, loyalty, perseverance, kindness...)

Still, if American Girl was using some of the proceeds from the Gwen doll to fund programs for homeless children, I might feel a bit different about having a homeless doll, the existence of which is a bit crueler than the cute embroidered dress and big doe eyes might suggest.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Occupational hazard (even when you play with your helmet)

In last week's New Yorker, Malcome Gladwell had an interesting piece entitled  Offensive Play: How different are dogfighting and football.

The article started out profiling Kyle Turley, a former professional football player, who - at age 34 - is suffering from brain damage associated with his playing days. Turley didn't play a glam position like quarterback or receiver. He was an offensive linesman - a big, head-banging, helmet butter. (Remember when we used to say of a not so bright ex-football player: 'he played without his helmet.' Apparently the helmet doesn't exactly protect your noggin. In fact, having a new and improved helmet - so much better than those laughable leather jobs of the Bronko Nagurski era - may lull players into a false sense of protection.)

Turley is just one of many ex-football players (and boxers - who also run a high risk of dementia and other brain-related injuries) suffering  from problems associated with their sporting days. Many of these problems can only be diagnosed posthumously, and there are a couple of programs soliciting brain donations from players.

In the article, Turley spoke of the many times he'd been hit so hard he went cross-eyed, how he played dazed with "literally, these white explosions - boom, boom, boom" going off in his head. About rushing back to active play after sustaining a concussion.

Despite it all, he says that, if he had to do it all over again, he would.

I was surprised that the article didn't mention Ted Johnson, an ex-Patriots lineman who made news around here a couple of years ago when he accused the Pats' coach of forcing him to take part in full contact practices while he was still getting over a concussion. This made him something of a persona non grata, his (legitimate, it sure seems) complaints dismissed as wussy whining.

As more information comes out on just how traumatic playing football can be, it will be interesting to see if some of the luster wears off "America's sport."

After all, boxing enjoys nowhere near the popularity it did in its heyday, when my father asked my mother - in labor with my brother Tom - whether she could hang on for a few minutes in the hospital parking lot while he listened to the end of a Kid Gavilan fight. (My mother'd been through the baby thing a few times already. She hung on.) But boxing hangs on, too, and boxers are willing to box, because there are still enough people willing to pay money to watch a couple of guys step into the ring and try to bash each other's brains out (quite literally).

I don't see football fading fast any time soon - especially if players would do it all again, even knowing that they stand a good chance of something really dreadful happening to them a few years down the road. (By the way, while the job of offensive lineman doesn't pay a stratospheric amount, it's not exactly minimum wage. came back with an average salary of $850K.)

Because I've never been an athlete, it's hard for me to imagine anyone not weighing the dementia odds and taking a pass on playing football (or becoming a boxer). I don't have the 'love of the game,' the drive, the competitiveness, the heft, the sheer animal intensity, the desire for locker room camaraderie that would suggest for a NY Jets or Giants minute that it would be fun to butt heads with someone weighing 250 pounds in the furtherance of moving a football a few yards downfield.

But if someone told me that, if I didn't stop reading I would go blind in 10 years, what would I do?

I don't know, but an odds-on favorite might be keep reading in hopes that "they" were wrong, or a cure would be found.

Because life without reading wouldn't be worth it to me.

I suppose these football players feel the same way.

No one (yet) has an answer for how to make the game safer for the players. Getting rid of contact certainly won't do: After all, it seems clear that one of the reasons Americans prefer football to soccer is the blood and guts aspect of it.

Personally, I'm not the world's biggest football fan - especially the pros. Yes, I enjoy watching a game - especially (band-waggoner that I am) when the Patriots are doing well. But if I think about it at all - football's authoritarian, militaristic, violent overlay - I'm completely turned off. (And should probably turn it off while I'm at it.) And if I factor in the likelihood that a lot of these guys are going to end up with brain damage - something I never have to worry about with my bestie, baseball - well, let's just say I like football a bit less now that I've read Gladwell's article.

A few years ago, Michael Vick, a star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, was imprisoned because of his involvement in dogfighting. It's certainly hard to imagine a "sport" that's much more disgusting than that. And, obviously, the dogs aren't killing each other voluntarily there. So when Vick was arrested, the NFL was all over it, holding up the integrity and purity of the game and the league, and coming down hard on Vick. And Vick - once out of prison - had to grovel his way back into the game.

I'll borrow from Gladwell on football and dogfighting as the coda to this piece:

In the nineteenth century, dogfighting was widely accepted by the American public. But we no longer find that kind of transaction morally acceptable in a sport. “I was not aware of dogfighting and the terrible things that happen around dogfighting,” [NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell said, explaining why he responded so sternly in the Vick case. One wonders whether, had he spent as much time talking to Kyle Turley as he did to Michael Vick, he’d start to have similar doubts about his own sport.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sur-reality, narcissism, the 'balloon boy': why you couldn't pay me enough to be on a reality TV show

I don't watch a ton of reality TV (other than sports - in many ways the original and ultimate reality TV, in which at least the "characters" have some proven talent).

But I do watch it occasionally, catching an episode of Wife Swap here, one of the Nanny shows there, and that incredibly bogus Queen for a Day'writ large in which a group rebuilds someone's house into a shoddy, ridiculous, unsustainable McMansion.

And while I don't watch their shows, I do know who Jon and Kate Gosselin are (feckless narcissists with 8 kids), and who the Duggars are (earnest, lower key narcissistic oddballs who are raising a double-digit passel of kids in front of the camera).

Since I don't have one scintilla of desire to be in the public eye, or spend a nano-second out there self-promoting, I have to say that I just don't get it - especially when it comes to putting your kids out there for the thrill, the buck, the exposure, the whatever....

I do recall, though, how revealing, how thrilling, when  - was it 30 years ago? - PBS broadcast what may have been the first reality series, a bird's eye view of California's Loud family - could the name have been better - as they revealed all to an eagerly awaiting American public. I've forgotten all the details, but the parents divorced, and their oldest child (Lance?) came out.

For a generation raised on the repressed, bloodless, gutless family sit-coms of the 50's and 60's, where "the rest of us" compared our families (unfavorably, of course) to the antiseptic, stilted, measured, and goody-good families we watched on Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and Donna Reed, the Loud family was a revelation. If they - with their Southern California upper-middle class affluence - weren't exactly like "us", they were at last real. Tormented, squabbling, imperfect real.

Which seems to me is an attribute sorely lacking in so many of today's reality shows, in which the principals seem to be witless and talent-less individuals whose sole claim seems to be that they're willing to expose their vacuous personalities and undeniable flaws to the world at large.

These days, we have the Bridezillas - a show, I will admit, I find strangely riveting. If you haven't seen it, each episode revolves around a couple of self-absorbed, materialistic, hyper-emotional, demanding, bitch-on-wheels brides who have managed to convince themselves that marriage is all about a choreographed "perfect day" event in which they "star." The groom is a minor character, almost an afterthought. Anyone who looked good in whatever costume the bridezilla dreams up for "her day" is groom material. (Poor bastards!)

Then there's a show called Wife Swap, which - nasty you - isn't so much a wife swap as it is a mom and values swap. In this show, the wives each spend a week in the home of their opposite number. Opposite number is the key. Think brutalized, burqa-wearing Taliban wife trading place with a mom who's set up a pole in her living room so that her pre-pubescent daughters can learn to dance, and you've got what Wife Swap is after. (I've only watched this show a couple of time, but one of the episodes I saw featured a hippy-dippy mom who visited her ju-ju on a family where the five year old really wanted to go to kindergarten wearing pink and purple, matchy-tatchy outfits. So I observed the spectacle of a grown woman brutalizing someone else's five year old so that she could become a kindergarten free-thinker, willing to wear mis-matched clothing. What a triumph when fake-mom succeeded.)

Wife Swap is of interest, because this is a show that the Heene family of Colorado appeared on.

But a measly, one-shot appearance on Wife Swap was, apparently, not enough to sate the outré Heenes, a Colorado family in the eye of today's camera because they recently reported that their youngest child had been carried off in an amateur space-balloon that they'd built in their back yard.

Although I didn't follow it, the story apparently kept a drama-hungry, recession-weary audience captivated for a while last week. With nothing better to do, a nation turned its lonely eyes to the spectacle of a flying-saucer shaped balloon floating along with what may have been a six year old boxed in in the basket tethered beneath it. (Oh, the humanity...)

The good news was that the child - Falcon Heene - was safe and sound. The bad news: the search and rescue efforts cost a boat-load (or is it a space ship load?). And "the authorities" now believe that the entire episode was a hoax designed to attract enough attention to garner the Heene family their own reality series (about a cool, out-there, storm-chasing, space-shipping, stuff-inventing family).

I do not get it.

I do not get why consenting adults would want some ridiculous chop-shopped version of their "lives" broadcast to the world. One thing to be famous for actually accomplishing something - winning an election, hitting a lot of home runs, building an empire, or even starring in a non-funny, tacky sit-com - but to be "famous for being famous"?

Say what?

And to subject your children to this sort of falsity and scrutiny?

I really do not get it.

Sorry, this is prostitution of the worst order, and leaves me asking 'what does it profit a family if they gain a matching wardrobe of designer outfits and lose their authentic family life and whatever shred of decency they might have had?'

Who knows what will happen with the Heenes.

Will they go to jail? Get their reality show? A little of both?

I remember watching TV in the 50's and 60's, and questioning just who these families were that were depicted. Nobody I knew. (I was an adult before I realized that not all Protestants lived like Ozzie and Harriet, or the Andersons on Father Knows Best.)

When "movie stars" (or politicians or famous athletes) were interviewed on TV, they fed us this pabulum version of their lives: everything was nicey-nice, well-ordered, too good to be true.

Of course, those smiley-face interviews were too good to be true.

But, to tell you the truth, I'd just as soon see some fluff interview with Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball as watch the Heene family storm chase, invent, or sail their six year old into the ozone layer.

Our culture has been injected with an appalling dose of narcissistic, not particularly talented "just plain folks" who believe that, because of their willingness to "tell all"  -  or let the camera train its sights on them - they are worthy of both fame and fortune.

And apparently they are.

Doing it to and for yourselves as adults is one thing. (It's an appalling and ridiculous thing, but it's just one thing.) Doing it to (not for) your children is quite another.

Whether the Heenes are ultimately prosecuted, jailed, and fined for their balloon boy shenanigans is beside the point.

What is is with people that they are willing to subject their little ones to the eye of a manipulative and unforgiving camera?

I know it's a tough economy out there, but why don't you think twice about what you may be doing to your kids?

And Mr. and Mrs. Heene: Sure, it's a tough economy out, but here's a bit of Pink Slip advice. Get off your arse and get a job.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Happy National Boss Day? Or is it National Bass Day?

In the fine print on the paper calendar I still keep - it really does let you see a month at a glance - I noticed that today is National Boss Day.

Actually, when I first glanced the very fine print I thought it said "National Bass Day", which pretty much makes as much sense to me.

I never worked in an environment where this "holiday" - if we'd even known it existed - would have been met with anything but mild scorn. We were always a bit conflicted about the opposite number -  National Secretary's Day - which somewhere along the line became National Administrative Assistant's Day.  Half the admins thought it was condescending if we recognized the day; the other half got snitty if we forgot about it and they didn't get paid some tribute: flowers, small gifts, lunch.

As for National Boss' Day, it's easy to imagine that there are some folksy, small town "It's a Wonderful Life" types of settings where people might actually observe this day with some earnestness, chipping in to buy "The Boss" a monogrammed letter opener, or a desk plaque that says "The buck stops here.", or one of the other equally cheesy "business gifts" that are no doubt being pushed as appropriate for the day.  And this year, when there are so many who are just grateful to have a job, there may be more people inclined to acknowledge the "specialness" of their boss, even if in general their attitude is fear and loathing.

Personally, I'm my own boss, so I'll be celebrating by not celebrating.

But the notion of National Boss Day did get me reflecting on my own mixed bag experience as a manager.

In the early going, I was in complete avoidance mode on problems.

One of the first people I had working under me - the only person on my "team" - was someone I hadn't wanted to begin with.

The situation was this:

I was given a req to hire an assistant product manager to work with me, and began interviewing. I found someone on the "outside world" who was perfect for the job. Then I learned that there was an internal candidate who I needed to consider. Fair enough.

When I interviewed "Al", I discovered that he had absolutely no interest in the position whatsoever. What he was interested in were the products, that provided stock market data in near real time (when this was not generally available, other than to brokers and traders with Quotron boxes) and analytics. He had a small side business going as a money manager, and the idea of having access to market data completely appealed to him. The job - writing product specs, overseeing documentation and QA, going on sales calls - didn't. And he made no bones about it.

So I decided to take a pass on Al.

I was then told that if I didn't take Al, I'd lose the req.

Foolishly, I took Al.

While I personally liked the guy a lot, he was a complete disaster as a product manager.

As I had predicted - and he had pretty much warned me - he liked the job because he could follow the market. Which is what he did all day.

Occasionally and grudgingly, he would do a lick of work. Occasionally. Grudgingly.

Yet when my boss asked about Al, I covered for him, and once went so far as to rewrite the product requirements doc that Al had done such a half-assed job on.

Come lay-off time - and at Wang lay-off time was always coming - my boss took me off the hook by getting rid of Al. The next day, Al sent me flowers. He was just as glad to be gone, and he went on to become what he wanted to be: a stock market guy. Quite successful, too, I might add. (We lost touch after a few years, but I googled him a while back, and he's doing just fine.)

Although I didn't make the same mistake again, i.e., hiring someone who flat out told me they didn't want to do any of the work associated with a position (d'oh), there was another mistake that I made three times - all with disastrous results. And that was hire someone whose references said that they were "happy that someone was going to give  X a chance."

X1 I hired despite my boss warning me that he thought there was something "off" about the candidate. I thought he was being sexist and did an over-ride on his quasi-veto.

Turns out he was right. What was "off" was that X1 suffered from bipolar disorder in the extreme, and, even when she was in "up" mode, her work was erratic and never seemed capable of delivering anything. After one particularly unfortunate episode, when she blew up at me for asking her to take care of the most trivial of tasks, we sat down and put her on notice that if she couldn't complete a task by a certain date, we would have to part company. The required task was modestly challenging, especially for X1, but she took the opportunity to find another job before she had to deliver.

As one of my colleagues said when he learned that X1 had given her notice, "That's addition by subtraction."

X2 was an even worse disaster.

An internal transfer who was stepping up from a job as an admin to that of junior product marketing person, X2 was ticked off from the outset that, while she was making more than she had been (as a decidedly junior person, albeit with reasonable potential), she was making less than others on the team. That she was in learning mode, and not capable to working autonomously, this made her crazy. Especially since some of those making  a lot more money were her age.

I will not get into a full chronicle here about X2, but she was difficult and disruptive from the outset, and managed to protect herself and cover her tracks by whining to HR about every perceived slight sent her way by any (man) in the group. ("He looked cross-eyed at me, which made me feel really uncomfortable.") I believe that she felt her string of complaints would make her invulnerable to lay-off, but she managed to engineer her own, personal lay-off when she was apprehended faxing a list of all the people in our business unit - names, e-mails, phone numbers - to a head-hunter friend of hers. (This was in the bubble burst hiring frenzy.) So we had to fire her.

In the meantime, she had been talking to me about a job she was interviewing for outside the company that would pay her about $35K more than she was (quite fairly) making at Genuity. While I wouldn't have been sad to see her go, I did point out that, at that new salary, she would be expected to deliver, to work independently, and without the close mentoring and oversight that she was being offered in my group (when she wasn't running to HR to bitch).

Shortly after she was fired, X2 called me with the news that she'd taken the job.

She lasted a few months there. (Another long story, which she called to tell me about...)

X3, my final really bad hire, was also an internal transfer, and also a smart and ambitious admin that I was happy to give a hand-up to.

X3 was also - and there is no other word for it - a little sexpot, who outrageously flirted with guys to get what she needed to get her job done. (She was a project manager, so mainly what she needed was to get everyone's status report.)

I pointed out on several occasions that she might be better off comporting herself more professionally, as the kitten act was not one that would age well. I though this was reasonable, as she was always complaining that people didn't take her seriously or think she was smart. Showing less cleavage and canning the 'come hither' gestures and looked might have helped...

Still, I really liked X3 and thought she had tremendous potential.

Too bad she blew it by getting caught up in a situation in which she and a security guard were nabbed for a string of outrageously inappropriate and sexually laden e-mails. (They were found out when the security guard was investigated because he'd been accessing porn on the 'net.)

X3 was reprimanded for this and, as I pointed out to her while she was in tears in my office, this was just the type of behavior that would get you on a lay-off list.

Next round, off she went.

Mostly, though, I had good luck as a manager. Mostly by having people on my team who made me look good. (A key ingredient to being a good manager.)

In return, I gave them autonomy, visibility, opportunities to shine, advice and help when they needed it, and all the credit in the world.

No wonder the good employees liked working for me.

Still, I'm not expecting any cards or gifts for National Boss Day.

I will say this, however.

I used to tell people in my group that I wanted them all to go on to successful careers so that they'd hire me when I got older and wanted to freelance.

Damned if it didn't happen....

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Job Jealousy

I was drifting around the other day and the header for a discussion forum caught my eye. Job Jealousy. It wasn't interesting enough for me to click through and see who was weighing in. But it sure got me thinking. And not for the first time.

I've known for quite a while now that I'd like Maureen Dowd's job, or Ellen Goodman's. Hey, I'm already writing a general interest, daily column. It's just that no one pays me to do it, nor do I have an assistant to do the scut work (like spelling, uploading and linking).

On the other hand, if you're as public an opinion-ator as MoDo, you surely run the risk that some unhinged creep would come after you. (Wonder if MoDo needs a body guard.)

I'd also be interested in a job working for a foundation, figuring out who gets what. Sure, I'm sure it's not all swanning around like Michael Anthony on the old b&w TV show, The Millionaire, giving a million dollars of John Beresford Tipton cash to some deserving soul. I'm sure there's plenty of wading through all sorts of prolix grant applications, researching the areas, vetting the information. Then there's having to do the Solomon when there are two equally worthy applicants, and informing the applicants (worthy or not) who are being turned down.

Even with the downsides, this is a job that I actively day dream about. (What if I won the $200M Powerballl? Naturally, I would divvy most of it up, but I would hang on to a chunk for My Foundation. Once I dispensed with the ick part - figuring out how to invest the money  - I would set myself up as Lady Bountiful and bestow away.

Short of my own foundation, how about Meg Vaillancourt's job with the Red Sox Foundation? She gets to give lots of money to noble causes, plus I bet she gets to see plenty of games. From good seats.

Now there's a job that I'd like.

I have long thought that I would be ideally suite to be chief of staff to a senator or congressman. Yes, I know that your life would not be your own, and I'm not the world's foremost detail person. Still, I like to listen, analyze, think, write, and get things done. I like politics. I like being in the know. I like observing interpersonal dynamics. And I don't care about being in the limelight.

Of course, being chief of staff to a politico would mean having to deal with someone who does crave the limelight. And there' be at least a 50-50 chance that the person would be a classic narcissist with an unbridled ego. Not to mention that there'd likely be one firedrill after the next. Yet this job still has great appeal to me.

As does the civilian counterpart: executive assistant. Which has the same potential problems I'd find in the political world: ego, firedrill, narcissism.

What else might be fun?

Well, I have a young friend who's an information archivist, which is something that you can do these days with a master's in library science.  She works with the archives of a well-known (dead) musician, mucking around with his papers and newly discovered recordings, and working with scholars and writers coming to research the great man.

That would be fun.

Not much downside, either, other than the must. And I guess you could get stuck with a really boring archiving job. (The person who invented Tang...)

Anyway, interesting to think of every once in a while. (And not surprising that pretty much every professional job I've ever had has some of the attributes of my jealousy jobs. Maybe I'm in the right place, after all.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack"

Well, baseball has ended for the season in Boston, not with a bang, but a whimper.

Perhaps because the Olde Towne Team had brought home 2 World Series titles since 2004, the sting of dropping out of the playoffs so early is not quite what it was in by-gone times.

I wasn't at the final, dispiriting game - I listened on the radio - but if I had been at Fenway Park, I would have I bought me some Cracker Jack.

Although it now comes in a bag, rather than a box; and although there seem to be fewer peanuts than there used to be; not to mention that the prizes are a whole lot cheesier than once they were, the fundamental Cracker Jack product has changed very little since I was a kid.

I can't say that I ate tons of Cracker Jack as a child, but I did get an occasional box. The prize was a, of course, a major lure. Sometimes it was even an object, a near toy, as excellent as a little plastic yo-yo with sewing thread for a string. Of course, the yo-yo was neither heavy nor balanced enough to do much yo-ing. Still, it was a swell prize. As were the charms, teensy-weensy little books, and the other junk that you might "win." (These days, the prize always seems to be a wash-off tattoo.)

I also loved the fact that, when we were in Chicago on vacation to visit my mother's family, we passed by the Cracker Jack factory on the way to see the Dineens, my Aunt Mary and Uncle Ted, who lived with their five kids on the South Side of Chicago. The Cracker Jack factory was, I believe, near Midway Airport, on the right side of the road. (I'm trying to recall here why the Dineens - North Siders by birth - ended up on the far South Side of Chicago. My Uncle Ted worked for the Babbitt Company, makers of Babo Cleansing Powder, which may have been located on the South Side. Or perhaps they lived there because it was an inconvenient enough distance from my grandmother that she couldn't make her meddlesome way to their house morning, noon, and night. As my Uncle Ted once told my father, "you live the exact correct distance from Grandma." That would be 1000 miles.)

Most of my Cracker Jack purchases since childhood have been at the ballpark, where I always buy a package, well in advance of the seventh inning stretch, when we sing the national anthem of Cracker Jack and baseball, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."  (By the way, do they really need to put the words to this song, and the "Star Spangled Banner", on the big screen for us all to follow along with. Who doesn't know the words?) As kids, however, we were a buy-me-some-peanuts family - always purchased from a vendor before we got into the ballpark, because they were cheaper.

I do recall buying Cracker Jacks as a young adult, and being disappointed by the scarcity of peanuts.

I wrote a complaint letter and - those were the days - they sent me back a carton full of large-sized boxes of Cracker Jack. (At about the same time, I wrote to the Tootsie Roll people about not enough Tootsie in the Tootsie Roll Pops, and was rewarded for my troubles with a giant bag of Tootsie Pops.  When I worked at NaviSite, Ron - who kept the area candy jar stocked - always made sure that there were Tootsie Pops for me.)

Anyway, me and Cracker Jack - we go back a long way. So I was interested to see an article in yesterday's Times on the subject.

For all its household word-ness, Cracker Jack - and, in reading the article, I realized that I have spent a lifetime mistakenly referring to this  marvelous little snack food as Cracker Jacks (never again!) -  is actually pretty small potatoes when it comes to sales. The estimate - or, rather, ball park figure -  for the year ending September 6th was $17.6M, which puts it about $5M below the estimates for Crunch 'n Munch, a supposedly similar product that I'm not all that familiar with. (A few years back, the Yankees tried to pull a switcheroo, ridding their concessions of Cracker Jack and brining in Crunch 'n Munch. Yankee fans, not normally a discerning lot, accepted no substitute and successfully demanded the return of Cracker Jack. (Can you imagine? 'Buy me some peanuts and Crunch 'n Munch. I don't care if I heave up my lunch.'  Talk about tin ear!))

Cracker Jack sales are mostly thanks to ball park sales.  All 30 Major League Baseball teams sell them, where they compete with a broader range of food choices than existed when I first sat in the bleachers. In Philadelphia, you can get cheese steak, in San Diego you can get a fish taco, and in Boston you can buy chowder. Which I would never do, unless I was sitting in the stands in 50 degree whether, something I try to avoid.

The most novel of ball park food stuffs is the Rocky Mountain oysters (bull testicles) sold in Denver. The article was silent on how many bull testicles are sold during a season - and I wonder, do you buy them one at a time, or in a bunch, like fried clams - but they do mention that a paltry 240 packages of Cracker Jack is the average game day sales figure. (Less than 1/4 of the amount they sell in Boston, which, the article notes, has a far longer baseball tradition.)

In Philadelphia, another olden team in an olden baseball city, they also sell a lot of Cracker Jack. There, the ball park food maven suggests that Cracker Jack is an "impulse buy." Maybe in Philadelphia, but in Boston I make my purchase with full purpose and intent.

“It does still have relevance,” said Kevin Haggerty, who oversees concessions at Boston’s Fenway Park, where more than 1,000 bags (no longer boxes) of Cracker Jack are sold in a typical game. “It’s part of the ballpark experience. It is still a good snack. It sells well. It holds its place in the sales mix. And it’s in the song.”

Good to see that, in Boston, Cracker Jack is still "relevant." (If there's one thing I like and admire in a snack, it's relevance. Devil Dog: relevant!  Hostess Snoball: irrelevant!)

Cracker Jack do not go for a song, however.

I can't remember whether the CJ of my childhood was a nickel or a dime a box, but I think they go for $3.75 at Fenway. Probably more next year, given that the Red Sox will need to spend a few bucks to get a Big Bat for the team.

Until then, I will not likely give Cracker Jack much of a thought.

But come game day, when I take myself out to the ball game, I will be buying my Cracker Jack, sifting through the caramel corn, searching for the peanuts at the bottom. And hoping against hope that the prize is something good.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ethics consulting. Who knew you could make a living at it?

I was moving along through a Wall Street Journal article on moonlighting, quasi-employed or re-deployed real estate agents.  It's certainly no surprise that employment is way down - ditto for income.

The Coldwell Banker sales manager who's now the deputy sheriff in Lee County, Florida.

The Hollywood glam realtor who's just opened a women's clothing store with a friend - but is keeping her eye on the real-estate game 24/7.

And then there was the Virginia woman who's now working in a "ethics-consulting company." Here I paused - and not just because all she's making at the ethics-consulting company is $25/hour.

An ethics-consulting company?

My first thought was anyone who needs ethics consulting probably wouldn't be the type to actually go looking for it.

Hard to imagine Ken Lay and Jeff Skillings sitting around saying, "Hey, let's each throw $500 bucks in the kitty and get an ethicist in here for 40 hours so we can bounce a few ideas off them."

Or Bernie Ebbers of Worldcom. Let alone the more recent Bad Bernie, Mr. Madoff.

Sure, I can see that a company might seek professional advice on what should be covered in an ethics policy, or look for someone to provide ethics training - why does "training" always make me think 'Sit, Fido. Roll over. Stay. Shake paw." Arf!

Still, I found it strange that there are so many ethics consultancies out there. (Go to the Google...)

Which didn't prevent me from considering - at least fleetingly - how much fun it would be to go in to a company and start yacking about doing the right thing.

Of course, while we've certainly seen ample instances of rotten ethics over the years - cover up of asbestos shingling carcinogens; liar, liar unfiltered cigarette on fire behavior on the part of Big Tobacco; killer cars, killer toys, killer baby formula - but most of what companies could stand a dose of is a big lower down the importance chain.

Forget absolute right from absolute wrong.

How about providing consulting on:

  • Greed: Taking huge pay for paltry results may not be a matter of ethics. But it sure is matter of greed. Hey, if you can demonstrate that you're absolutely responsible for a huge up-tick in long-term profits and viability, feel free to let your hand linger in the till. But have some sense of whether it's truly earned - not just legalistically "okay" - not to mention whether it's truly proportional. And whether the world would be better served if that wealth were spread out a bit more. Rather than cadge, say, $100 million for yourself, why not take $50 million, and divide the remaining $50 million among rank and file employees. Even if you have 50,000 employees, that's $1K per capita. It may not float a very big boat, but the rich are still getting richer, while the (relatively) poor are getting a bit richer, too.
  • Tone-deafness: I have to say I am always shocked by the tone-deafness of some business leaders. Taking the big pay off may not be a case of pure tone-deafness. It's probably an equal matter of not giving a crap. But there are so many examples out there of utter, jaw-dropping tone-deafness. Refurbishing your office a million dollars worth of antique whatevers while your company is showing folks the door. Laying people off via mass e-mail. Flying down to Washington on separate private jets to ask Congress for a bail-out. Bernie Madoff's sons claiming that they're owed big bucks by his firm. (Good luck with that, boys.) What is it with these captains of industry? Do they entirely lack the ability to consider how something might look? Don't they ever say to themselves, "Sure, I can do this, but it will make me look like a completely cold, out of touch, rancid s.o.b."? Or are they singularly blessed with the capacity to not care what anyone else thinks. (Maybe that's how they got where they are to begin with.)
  • Mean, crappy behavior:  This is not, of course, isolated to an organization's corner office-sitters. But somehow it's worse when it's the big guys, not the little guys, who are being mean. (Let's face it, your peers you can always find a way to get back at or, preferably in most situations, tell off.)If I had a buck for every time I saw some manager throw an underling under the bus, who grabbed credit, who pointed the finger, who publicly criticized when private would have done just fine, who made fun of someone in a vulnerable position.

Forget ethics consulting. How about companies just keeping someone around who they can run their piss-poor ideas by before they put them into action? I think these used to be called executive secretaries. Do they just not exist anymore?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Columbus Day 2009 (My head still hurts.)

Well, last year I celebrated Columbus Day by blogging about how much I've always liked this quasi little holiday. I like it even better this year, given that the Monday holiday actually falls on true Columbus Day - October 12th. (Yes, the long weekends are nice, but I'm a bit of a purist. We don't celebrate our birthdays on the nearest Monday, do we?)

But my last year C-Day post was not just a paean to the day. It was also a catalog of the things that at that point in time were making my head hurt.

Well, the good news is that Sarah Palin is no longer making my head hurt, although she still retains enormous potential to do so once again. (See-ya in 2012.) And Comcast isn't making my head hurt either. In fact, given the smarmy guy taking on the Comcast doofus in the Verizon FIOS ads, I'm even feeling a bit bad for them these days.

From last year's list, however, the economy continues to make my head hurt. As does Manny Ramirez, damn him. (I won't know what to do if the World Series ends up being the LA Dodgers vs. the NY Yankees, although I'll have to go with the Dodgers, and just hope that they win even though Manny hits .152.)

What else is giving me a headache this year?

The Red Sox, who were eliminated from the play-offs yesterday, even though they were up by 2 runs with 2 outs in the 9th. Best, perhaps, to go sooner rather than later. Overall, this has been a fairly lack-luster season. Sure, there have been thrills, but mostly - at least since the All Star break - it's been more a matter of chills. The team's dispiriting decision to play for the wild-card spot, rather than go balls to the Green Monster was the semi-final downer. Yesterday's 9th inning blow-up by closer Jon Papelbon was the final. The boys of this summer didn't cowboy up and become the Men of Autumn. Come to think of it, this means that this particular head hurt is over. Wait until next year! Maybe the pink-hat bandwagon-ers will jump off the bandwagon. Maybe it will be possible to, once again, decide on game day that you want to see a game. And just walk out the park and by a ticket to sit in the bleachers. Play ball.

If the Yankees win the World Series, my head will hurt big time.

Right-wing talk radio/TV (even though I don't listen to it ) makes my head hurt. Criticize away, my friends. This is America that Christopher Columbus discovered for us, and everyone's entitled to their opinion. But what's going on out there - and, if I don't listen to it, I do read about it in the dreaded MSM, and watch the embedded videos on Huff Po -   is vicious, vitriolic, and absolutely and scarily capable of fomenting mayhem and insurrection. I fear that some unhinged lunatic will be pushed over the edge by their ranting, and go after the President or his family. This makes my head hurt. A lot.

So do Skype spammers, although maybe not quite so much. Truly, who wants to get in any kind of a phone conversation with a complete weird ball stranger. Okay, so there are plenty of people who do this - but they're paying for that 900-WHAT-EVA call, and, if they don't know who exactly they're calling, they do know what exactly they're calling (and what for).

Speaking of phone calls. Any charitable organization - no matter how worthy - that calls me looking for a donation. Phooey on yooey. The only exception is educational institution that I have graduated from. I can't say that I like their calls. It's just that I'm willing to take one (and make a pledge while they have me on the line). The other day, I explained to one gentlemen, from a museum that I have supported in the past, but drifted away from, that I did not want to be solicited via phone. He got a little snitty - not the way to my heart or checkbook, bub.

All this head hurtin' hurts my head.

But the weekend was glorious, and Columbus Day promises to deliver more of October's bright blue weather.

Happy Columbus Day!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Manny being Manny, LA edition. (Steve Lopez calls Manny out.)

It was surely just a matter of time, and that time has come.

After all the initial Mannywood euphoria and dreadlock wig sales, after all the poor-Manny-how-could-anyone-stand-playing-ball-in-Boston-that-terrible-place, after all the forgive and forget once he returned from his 50 day suspension for steroid use: LA has finally realized just what kind of a bargain they made when they took on Manny Ramirez last year from the Boston Red Sox.

The evidence?

The other day, LA Times columnist Steve Lopez called Manny out big time, and is offering World Series tickets - should the Dodgers make it - to the fan who writes the best 50 word sermon directed at Manny. When last I looked, Steve had about 500 entries.

Here's what put him over that all-so-familiar edge:

On Aug. 23, with the Cubs in town, Ramirez outdid himself. A ball skidded past him and he barely moved to go get it.

He jogged.

He slummed.

He might as well have thumbed his nose at all the plumbers and teachers and gardeners who paid hard-earned money to get into the park. For once, the adoring fans booed, a rare show of disapproval, while the Cubs rallied and won the game.

That did it for me.

Just like watching Manny take three in a row from Mo Rivera of the Yankees, in a do-or-die ninth inning, with the damned bat glued to his shoulder.

It's unlikely that the Dodgers will see the Red Sox in the World Series this year. While I wouldn't exactly bet against the Olde Towne Team at this point, I'm not exactly going to run out and put any money down on them. Stranger things have happened, but our boys just don't look that sharp this season, and the second half has been one protracted psychodrama after another.

But if the Red Sox are there, and if the Dodgers are, too; and if the Red Sox are leading 3 games to zip; and if we've got 2 out in the ninth, with a 10 run lead I wouldn't mind seeing whoever's on the mound drill Manny in the arse.

Meanwhile, Steve Lopez' column reminded me that, over the years, I have gotten some blog fodder out of Manny, the gift that just keeps giving.


Gone, Manny, Gone. (August 2008)

Caveat, eBay Bidder (March 2007)

Why I'm glad Manny doesn't report to me. (December 2006)

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Alas, fantasy gifts aren't what they used to be

Forget the millions of long term unemployed, the portfolio devastation, and the general malaise: for the first time in this century, the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book doesn't have an item that'll run you seven or eight-figures.

Ain't that a kick in the teeth?

Personally, as I'm not one of the 1 million  - a seven-figure number, I must note - who get the Neiman catalog, I can't say that I'll be missing it. But I did watch a "reality" show the other day called "Dallas Divas and Daughters", and I'll bet that crew is on the Neiman's list. (I read somewhere that one of the mothers featured on the show - I think the bleached out honey who drives a Maserati and is involved somehow in polo - wanted to do the show in order to "dispel" some myths about Dallas. Apparently one of the myths she wasn't after was that of Big-D as the capital of wanton consumption, superficiality, and bitchery.)

But enough about the Dallas Divas, who remain 'everything's bigger in Texas' rightsized, while Neiman's luxe de luxe is being downsized.


Instead of  "the $20 million submarine offered in 2000, the $10 million Zeppelin of 2004 or the $10 million stable of racehorses of 2008", the priciest gift in this year's wishbook - a humble 2-seater airplane - goes for a mere $250K. (No, that's not the 2-seater plane pictured here. It's the cupcake car, which I'll get to in a bit.)

Let the alligator belt tightening begin!

Not that anyone actually bought those big fantasy gifts. Only one has sold in the last decade.

Still, not having them to drool over has got to be a blow to those who awaited the N-M catalog's arrival as eagerly as tiny Texans at the turn of the last century must have awaited the Montgomery Ward and Sears catalogs. (Although my mother wasn't much of a Sears shopper - other than Kenmore appliances - we got the Sears Christmas catalog every year, and I used to love looking through it, even though the toy pages were minimal, and most of what was in there was god-awful dull and boring. Think overalls, work boots, and tools. Pictured in black and white, not color. What a relief to page through and find the fruitcake section.)

Saks is also downscaling a bit. No more:

..."dreams by design" or "wow" fantasy gift experiences such as a walk-on role in an American Ballet Theatre production sold in an online auction, with bids that started at $3,000.

Victoria's Secret, however, is continuing with its be-jeweled bra of the year:

The 2008 bra, featuring black diamonds and rubies, was priced at $5 million.

But it won't be revealed until later this month. Maybe they'll go low end, with a plain old bra duded up with a Bedazzler.

(We have surely come a long way, baby, from when women dreamed they were walking down Madison Avenue in a Maidenform bra.)

Overall, the luxury goods market is hurting. Sales at N-M are way down, and the general drop in luxe goods purchase is forecast to be 15% this year. That's a lot of Hermes scarves that aren't flying out the door - although there may be an uptick in demand, now that Duck wooed Peggy with one on a recent episode of Mad Men.

Not that this year's Neiman catalog is all scrimp and save practical.

Now awaiting buyers: the "world's fastest" electric motorcycle, for $73,000; artwork of insect lab specimens with antique watch parts, at $8,500; and five-foot-long, "sustainable" chandeliers made from cut and sanded plastic soda bottles rescued from the landfill, for $12,000. Overall, close to 50% of the merchandise in this year's Neiman catalog costs less than $250, compared with about 30% to 40% in the past five years.

Well, one would hope that a $12K chandelier would be sustainable. And I am trying to figure out just what "artwork of insect lab specimens with antique watch parts" is.

Although pretty much nobody bought the big-ticket items, having them in the catalog had immense PR value. The company:

...estimated that it would have had to spend at least $9 million to $12 million on advertising to get the television exposure it received from that year's gift list, which included a $1.76 million spaceship ride.

Of course, this year's story is frugality, which is no doubt also getting them $9 - $12M worth of free publicity (at whatever that would translate into at today's discounted rates).  Truly, N-M should garner some publicity for its cupcake car alone.

It only costs $25K, and it's eco-consciously electric.

"You sit in it and pull the top of the cupcake down over you," explains Ms. [Ginger] Reeder [gift scout for the catalog]..."This isn't street-legal," she adds. "It's for someone who wants to impress the neighborhood at the Fourth of July parade." The cupcake, she confesses, "was a last-minute addition because I thought we needed some whimsy."

Well, yes, Ginger, we do need some whimsy, and if I had $25K lying around, a neighborhood Fourth of July parade to parade in, and a place to park it, I would absolutely consider a cupcake car. (Chocolate. With lots of frosting.) Maybe the Dallas diva mother whose Dallas diva daughter was whining and pouting about not getting a Hummer or Range Rover or whatever big-ol' vee-hick-el she had her eye on and wasn't getting, will drive one of them into her kid's Christmas stocking.


(Article source: Wall Street Journal.)

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

BF4$? How sad is this?

In August, I blogged about folks in Japan who have 2-D  relationships, i.e., guys with girlfriends who are stuffed pillows. (Hey, Moe! 2-D love in Japan.) Earlier in the year, it was robot teachers in Japanese classrooms. (Saya: No more pencils, no more books...)

Now there's even more evidence that, at least when it comes to relationships, Japan is at the forefront of post-modern society.

As the Daily Beast reported a few weeks back, picking up on an article in The Guardian, a growth sector in the Japanese economy is escort services. But we're not talking escort-escort here - no casting stones on the Japanese on that front, when there are so many of them in the USA. No, here we're talking about renting stand-ins for significant others absent in your life.

Over the past eight years, the number of agencies providing parents for engagement parties, mourners at funerals, and, in this economy, phantom bosses has doubled to 10 with Office Agent, the best-known company, employing 1,000 people.  (Source: Beast summary.)

The Guardian article led off with an account of a best man's toast of the bride and groom. But this was no ordinary brother of the bride, best buddy since kindergarten, kind of best man. Along with tuxes and the limo, he was rented for the occasion.

This guy's pretty versatile. He also had a gig as uncle of a couple of kids who were being picked on because their parents were divorced and their father was never around. He was hired to attend a school-sports day, where he cheered his "niece" and "nephew" on, and even - true tourist style - took a video. Or pretended to.

Talk about un-funny uncle.

This professional stand-in, Ryuichi Ichinokawa, had been planning on a career as a counselor. Instead, he launched the "I Want to Cheer You Up" Agency.

Well, one man's "cheer up" is one woman's downer. (Mine. Sure it's amusing, but it's also pretty darned sad.)

Ichinokawa now has 30 agents in his employ who impersonate all sorts of friends and relations. He doesn't charge much - it's only about $160 to attend a wedding - not clear whether you have to bring a gift or buy a new dress. Extra for giving a toast or singing karaoke.

But 30 agents is nothing. Office Agent has 1,000 stand-ins on its roles.

The rise of the phony friend is a symptom of social and economic changes, combined with a deep-seated cultural aversion to giving personal and professional problems a public airing.

In recent months demand has surged for bogus bosses among men who have lost their jobs; for colleagues among contract employees who never stay in the same job long enough to make friends, and from divorcees and lovelorn singletons.

I get the "lovelorn singletons" (sorta). But someone in need of a bogus boss? I've had my share of bogus bosses, that's for sure. But I don't recall any situations in which I'd have wanted one of them around - let alone paid for the privilege of hiring someone to impersonate one of them.

Apparently, the fake bosses are for social occasions (your wedding) where you'd be expected to invite your boss. Which is a problem if you don't have one, I guess.

UK papers have apparently been all over this trend. A few months before The Guardian got in on the act, The Telegraph - in general an excellent source of amusement and/or trash and/or oddities - had an article on Office Agents. (They charge more than "Cheer", but the basic lines are the same. A wedding guest who speaks, sings, or dances gets paid a premium.)

Sometimes the wedding non-crashers are the bogus bosses; sometimes they stand in for someone who can't make it - I guess in Japan, brides don't breathe a small sigh of relief and scratch off the plate cost when they get a regrets note; sometimes they're hired to redress the imbalance of "groom's side/bride's side" guests. And:

At one recent wedding, the groom secretly arranged for all 30 guests to be hired as friends and family members as it was his second marriage and he did not want the same guests present as the first time round.

(Sorry, Mom, you were at the first wedding and see where that got me.)

Office Agents also hires out for corporate functions, private parties, and funerals.

Well, professional mourners are nothing new, I guess.

But I want to know whether you get paid extra to weep. To comment on what a good job the mortician did with the stiff. To relate some touching little story about the deceased.

Anyway, here's what Office Agents looks for in an employee:

"They are cheery and clean and look like they have regular jobs."

Okay, I'm not the cheeriest person on the face of the earth, but I'm cheery enough. I am absolutely clean. And, if needs be, I can definitely pass for someone who has a regular job.

Furthermore, although I'm terrible at the Electric Slide, I can do the Chicken Dance and the Alley Cat. I'm not shy about giving speeches. And I'd do karaoke for free. (Do they have "He's a Rebel" by the Crystals in Japan?) Not to mention that, given my Irish-Catholic background, I've known how to comport myself at wakes and funerals since I reached the age of reason.

Nice to know that if all else fails, I can always move to Japan and hire out doing this type of work. As long as no one wonders what the hell a tall, aging, American woman is doing there.

But all good cheer and kidding aside, isn't there something terribly sad about someone who doesn't have a soul he can ask to be best man? Or who doesn't have a male friend or relative she can tap to spend a bit of time with her dad-missing kids?

I guess that it's more than a few steps better than dating a stuffed pillow - at least there's an implicit acknowledgement about the benefits of human companionship (or the perception thereof). Still, it's kind of pathetic that this is a growth industry, no?


Can't remember who tipped me on this one - Rick T, Kath, or Trixie. Thanks to whoever it was.