Thursday, June 30, 2011

There’s real news, then there’s fake news, then there’s real fake news: Newsweek imagines Princess Diana at 50

What with the 4th of July coming up next week, I was wondering what George M. Cohan – “A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam, born on the Fourth of July” – would look like if he were still alive. He’d be 133, so he’d probably be a little wizened. Would he look like Jimmy Cagney with a shrunken head? Perhaps Variety will take up my suggestion and imagine what little Georgie Cohan would look like, giving us the old soft-shoe.

And what of JFK? He would have been 94 in May. Would he have been a fit, virile, viagra-fueled 94, or would he have looked like his mother, Rose, sitting around in a wheel chair in a big straw hat, soaking up the Hyannisport sun and reminiscing about Judith Exner and Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn would be 85. Perhaps some enterprising video artist can do a fast forward on Marilyn in that fabulous body-hugging diaphanous dress, breathlessly singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.” That I’d like to see.

But speaking of diaphanous, at least one of our wishes to see what someone would look like if they were still alive is being fulfilled. Newsweek’s cover this week features:

…a computer-generated image of a stylish Princess Diana, as she might look now, walking with Kate Middleton.

I bet that’s making Kate and her new hubby very happy. I mean, what newlyweds wouldn’t wanted see the live daughter-in-law chilling with a rendering of the dead mother-in-law. That appreciative, fond, side-wise glance from Kate is an especially nice touch.

Why, I’ll betcha Willa and Kate are probably petitioning The Queen Grandmum to get Newsweek editor Tina Brown on the nextDi at 50 honours list.

I do see that Lady Tina is already a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire). I think it’s high time she was honoured as the dame she surely is, with a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE).

I’ll bet the kudos to Tina are just flying out of Buckingham Palace.

"What would she have been like?" Brown writes of Diana, who would have turned 50 on Friday [July 1], nearly 14 years after her death in a Paris car crash. "Still great-looking: that's a given."


That’s a given, too.

So she might well have been hot-flashing and sweating her head off in that saucy saucer chapeau that Newsweek imagines her in.

Botoxed or nipped and tucked?


Other than that, all I can say is Wow! This is newsworthy?

There’s the looming debt ceiling crisis. The announced drawdown of the troops in Afghanistan. Michelle Bachman’s titanium spine. Gay marriage passing in NY. And, I know I’m being parochial here, the capture of Whitey Bulger.

Not to mention that this is the Fourth of July issue, when Newsweek could have done a baseball-hotdog-apple-pie-and-Chevrolet roundup on what’s still working in the good ol’ USA.

But all those topics are trite, boring, decidedly non-edgy.

Who’s going to want to hang out at the beach reading a magazine with an 8 year old unwitting suicide bomber on the cover? Ewww! News! Yuck!

So instead we imagine Diana at 50.

I never thought I’d be quoting Sarah Palin, but talk about lamestream media.

Although once in a while we also got US News and World Report, my family subscribed to Newsweek.

Most people read Time (The Weekly News Magazine) or Newsweek, but I believe Time was the more popular of the two. Anyway, for whatever reason now lost in the shreds of time, we got Newsweek. While it may well be that my father thought that Henry Luce of Time was an old fart, I suspect the reason was economic and/or the fact that my parents were always drawn to the runner-up. We also got Look, rather than Life. As my mother would say when we whined about having Keyword rather than Scrabble, and Easy Money rather than Monopoly, “why do you want to be like everybody else?”

Well, maybe because everybody else is normal, Ma, while we’re a bunch of odd-ball freaks – but, of course, when we were whining about Monopoly none of us had figured the freak part out quite yet.

Anyway, between my years as a Monopoly-craving whiner and my acceptance, and embrace, even, of my odd-ball-ness, I was an avid reader of Newsweek.

And so I learned about Barry Goldwater’s campaign, the Watts Riots, Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian dresses. Read why The Graduate was important, and just what placed The Group on the best seller list.

Newsweek was also a prime source for pictures used to illustrate the collages that my sister Kath and I made for our bedroom doors. We glued photos from the news and ads onto rolls of shelf paper, and captioned them with our own witty little asides. (I told you we were odd-balls.)

I remember one in which I pasted three small pictures of Ho Chi Minh, next to which I wrote, “What’s new besides ho-ho-ho?”, which was the catchphrase used in Jolly Green Giant ads.

Oh, we weren’t all brainy nerdiness.

Another thing you could do with Newsweek was take a pencil eraser to the eyes of whoever was on the cover and white them out, leaving a really spooky looking portrait of Lyndon Johnson or Harold Macmillan, those blank eyes staring out at you from the living room coffee table. This was mostly my brothers’ bailiwick – and it used to drive my father nuts. I did it once, to a cover graced by Dwight Eisenhower.

Couldn’t resist!

These days, the only Newsweek I ever see is in the doctor’s office.

These days, I’m an Economist-a. (It really is the world’s best weekly news magazine.)

And not that I’m going to go out and buy a copy of the latest Newsweek to see what Princess Di might look like at 50, but, if I were to, I would be sorely tempted to see what she’d look like with her eyes whited out.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Butter Cows? Who knew. (Norma Lyon, for one.)

Sometimes it takes a death to bring something interesting and important to your attention. So the other day, with nothing better to do but graze the national obituaries – Katie Couric’s father – I saw a headline about the “butter-cow lady.”

Both enquiring and inquiring minds, of course, would choose to pursue this one.

And, as a result, I have something to add to my bucket list: a trip to the Iowa State Fair, which I guess I should do while there are still a couple of family farms standing and Archer Daniel Midlands doesn’t run (ruin?) the entire state.

For those who missed the notice of Norma Lyon’s death, Norma was a sculptor whose medium was butter.

Forget “I can’t believe it’s not butter.” It’s actually somewhat hard for me to grasp that it is butter. And that butter sculpting, even butter cow sculpting, has been around for ages. All that time I’ve been oohing and aahing over the ice statues that are created every year for Boston’s New Year’s celebration. Not to mention oohing and aahing over pictures of elaborate sand castles and sea monsters, the practical folks in the mid west have been focusing on ephemera that can be put to good, practical use once it’s display days are over. Unlike ice sculptures, which just melt down, and sand castles, which just wash out to sea, the remains of a butter-cow day can, presumably, be used on toast, in chocolate chip cookies, and to dip lobster in. (Not that there’s all that much lobster in butter-cow country, but you know what I mean….)

Norma Lyon, who died the other day at the age of 81, was the doyenne of butter sculptors.

From 1960 until 2006, Norma sculpted the butter cow for the Iowa State Fair, which, as anyone who knows anything about musicals knows, is THE State Fair.

For those who don’t happen to know anything about musicals, State Fair was a lesser Rodgers and Hammerstein-er – a couple of decent, hummable/memorable songs: “It Might As Well Be Spring,” and “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” - which was based on the book of the same name by Phil Stong, who just happened to be Norma Lyon’s uncle.

Which should give us all a hint that Norma Lyon herself was not any awe-shucks rube, breaking away from her butter churn just long enough to sculpt her annual cow.

She was a dairy farmer’s wife, and the mother of nine, but she also had a degree in animal science and also took sculpting classes. Her first foray into sculpting was, in fact, ice sculpting for the winter festival at Iowa State University.

Norma was most famous for her Iowa State Fair Butter Cow work, which got Butter Ladyher on Today, Tonight, and Letterman. Not to mention on To Tell the Truth, where, since 1963 was the peak of my TV-watching years, I probably saw her.

But Norma wasn’t just about The Cow.

In 1984, she began expanding her repertory. With fair officials’ approval, she made a life-size butter sculpture of Garth Brooks. Soon afterward, she followed with Elvis Presley, John Wayne, a diorama of Peanuts comic-strip characters, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a reproduction of “American Gothic,’’ and, in 1999, the Last Supper.

She certainly sounds like someone who had an excellent sense of humor, and one who lived a full, buttery-rich life.

In my tootling around about Norma, I came across another sculptor named Norma Lyon, a California artist who, on her web site, says “I have made art forever.”

Whether it’s true or not, I want this Norma Lyon to be the daughter of Butter Cow Norma Lyon.

And even if someone ventures forth with evidence to the contrary, I think I’ll stand (butter) pat on believing that she is.

Iowa State Fair this year runs from August 11 through August 21. I probably won’t make it this time around, but, as I noted, it’s now on my bucket list. It’s probably not as high up as seeing Venice, but…

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dear Steven Spielberg (“Falling Skies”’ War Memorial Glitch)

Let me confess up front that I’m not now and never have been much of a science fiction fan.

I’ve enjoyed some of the classic 1950’s/1960’s films – Red Planet Mars, The Day the Earth Stood Still (Gort, Klaatu barada nikto), The Incredible Shrinking Man, if only for their near parodic quality. And I did so enjoy Ray Milland as the father and Frankie Avalon as the son in Panic in the Year Zero, which is more of a political dystopic film than it is sci-fi. Talk about having your finger on the pulse of both cold war nuclear bomb panic and on teen idols. (The casting could only have been outdone if Elvis or Ricky Nelson had played the son.)

I very much like E.T., but Star Wars and Star Trek… Well, I guess I’d have to give the nod to Star Trek, which I’ve seen something of – the TV show in its many incarnations, and a couple of the movies. (I somewhat enjoyed the one with the whales in it.) As for Star Wars, all I can say is that I lasted through about 30 minutes of the first one, and left the theater. That was about it for me.

Still, I do enjoy dystopia, and Steven Spielberg’s new TV series, running on TNT, Falling Skies had a mildly dystopic ring to it. Plus it stars Noah Wylie an actor who, for whatever reason, I like. (True confession: I do know the reason. I have no idea whether he can even act, but I do find him cute.) And I’m always at least moderately drawn to any film or TV show that takes place in Boston.

So, I turned on the premier episode of Falling Skies, which is about a band of survivors trying to group together in post-apocalypse Boston, to fight back against some Alien Invaders who have destroyed most of the world, at least in part by attaching some sort of lizard to the backs of humans. (I actually missed the first couple of minutes, but this is what I gather of the plot.)

Anyway, it’s always fun to see what “they” do when “they” are using a place you’re familiar with as their mise en scene.

Thus, I was amused many years ago to observe Cher, in the delightful movie Moonstruck, park her car in Little Italy (which is in Manhattan) and walk around the corner to Cranberry Street (which is in Brooklyn). Or it may have been the other way around. And/or it may have been Pineapple Street. But whatever it is, I said to myself, ‘That’s not right.”

And so it is with Boston-based shows.

Forget the accent: that’s way too hard.

It’s the guy who walks out of the subway and finds himself in an entirely different part of town. The restaurant that’s really a dry cleaners. The “Harvard Yard” that’s full of grey, Gothic buildings – kind of like Yale…

These things generally don’t bug me; they amuse me. They make me feel in the know, a bit smug. Just as I’m sure natives of anywhere feel when they notice things that aren’t quite right when it comes to how their town is being portrayed.

Filming license doesn’t bother me as much as the sorts of little detail mistakes I occasionally come across in books I’m reading.

For someone who generally follows the “if a man on a galloping horse wouldn’t notice” creed – i.e., don’t spend tons of time fretting the details – I am surprisingly picky about inconsistencies or anachronisms when I’m reading.

I can laugh off a scene in Bonanza in which Little Joe closely examines a Franklin Roosevelt dime, but if on page 458 of a book a minor characters eyes turn from brown to green, I will be compelled to page back through everything (okay: only once, and admittedly quickly) to see if I can find that earlier reference to brown.

And I hate it when the setting for a story is 1960, and someone drives up to the polls to vote for JFK in a Mustang, which wasn’t introduced until a few years later. Or when a young woman on the home front during World War II draws seams on the back of her stocking-less legs with a Magic Marker, which wasn’t invented until the 1950’s. Drawing seams on legs was what eyebrow pencils were for. Didn’t that writer’s mother tell her anything?

But I’m not such a stickler when it comes to a film or a TV show, perhaps because I place greater value on the printed word than on something flashing across the screen while I’m only half-way paying attention to it.

Plus, when it comes to films and TV shows that take place in New England, I’m used to them being filmed someplace else. That’s what Canada's for, eh?

Anyway, I knew from the get-go that Falling Skies wasn’t filmed anywhere near Boston. It looked vaguely Northeastern-ish, but that was about it. There was nothing that I recognized, no place looked familiar. (Plus the people went in awfully odd directions to get places. And no one would describe Acton as North of Boston, by the way.)

But what really got my persnickety up (and the TV turned off) was the scene that took place on some sort of town green, on which Noah Wylie and his band of survivors were hanging out making plans.

Oh, I’m sure that having our future warriors palavering in front of a war memorial was supposed to give things some heavy meaning. All those wars to end all wars that didn’t…

But Jeez Louise.

I will betcha there’s nary a war memorial in Massachusetts. Make that in New England. No, let me double down here: in the United States, that lists the dates of World War I as 1914-1918, and of World War II as 1939-1945.

Those would be the dates that a country that was, say, associated with England might put on their war memorials. Since those were the dates of their involvement in the world wars.

But I’d bet a couple of Joe Cartwright Roosevelt dimes that war memorials in the good old US of A would say 1917-1918, since Johnny got his gun, got his gun, and the doughboys started heading over there, over there, in April 1917, not in 1914, which was when Britain stepped in in the wake of the frenzy kicked off by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

And maybe we should have gotten into World War II when the Germans invaded Poland. But in real life, we waited until Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

Dear Steven Spielberg, I know you’re just the producer, not the editor or the location manager, but you’re the name I recognize.

So, if you’re going to make a film about Americans. And you actually want to set it in the U.S. And you want to make some point about war always being with us, maybe your folks should show a war memorial that actually relates to the American Experience. With all the technology you have at your fingertips, surely you could have digitally altered that sign and zapped that “4” in 1914 into a “7”, and reworked 1939 so it read 1941.

You might have had me with Falling Skies to start with – Noah Wylie is cute (but kind of sad-sack, now that I think about it) – but you lost me with the Canadian war memorial. (As it turns out, the show was filmed in Ontario.)

Yes, I’m just a fussbudgety old crank, but for crying out loud. Nobody noticed that the dates of the wars were a bit off?

I wouldn’t call it an epic fail, but it sure doesn’t work for me.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Whitey Bulger: And it’s no, nay, never, no, nay, never, no more. Will he play wild rover. No never, no more.

Just as we’re settling down from our 24/7 obsession with/saturation coverage of the Stanley Cup Boston Bruins - Where does Zdeno Chara live? What’s going on in Marc Savard’s head? Just how much did the Bruins’ bar tab at the Foxwood’s Casino run? When will the championship caps be back in stock somewhere? – Boston is now visited by 24/7 obsession with/saturation coverage of a less pleasant sort.

Since James “Whitey” Bulger - number one on the FBI’s Most Wanted List since Osama bin Laden was taken down – was captured in Santa Monica after 16 years on the lam, it’s been all Whitey, all the time on TV news and in the newspapers.

And I’ll confess that I’m one who, at least a few days into it, can’t get enough of it.  Forget Bulger’s gangster bona fides: involvement in at least 19 murders, at least a couple of which involved victims who’d had nothing to do with criminal activity. The South Boston “protection” racket he ran, that protected nobody so much as it did himself. The drugs he let ruin his community, as long as he stayed at arm’s length from the street transactions, as long as he got his baksheesh. The “romance” of his involvement with some IRA gun running.

There’s all the rest of it.

After all, it’s not every day that a psychopathic criminal – or, if I must observe journalistic niceties, an alleged psychopathic criminal - gets caught after spending 16 years hiding in plain sight with his girlfriend. Especially when he’s managed to evade prosecution for much of anything during the many years during which he ran the Winter Hill Gang, Boston’s Irish mob, largely because he was cozily cultivating his position as an informant to the largely Irish-American Boston FBI office by ratting out his competition: New England’s Mafia. And when, once his boy-o luck ran out and the po-po finally started to close in on him, he then managed to get out of town quick, thanks to having been tipped off by a corrupt FBI agent (Nice job, Zip Connelly!), who’s now doing 40 years for his involvement in a Bulger-sanctioned hit. And especially when the (alleged) psychopathic criminal is the older brother of the former, long-serving President of the Massachusetts Senate, not to mention the former head of UMass. (This “tale of two brothers” could only have been improved on if the third brother had been a Catholic Church potentate, rather than a flunky with some nepotic state job.)

As far as I know, I never laid eyes on Whitey Bulger. My brother Rich did live in Southie for a while, so I may have passed Whitey. Unknowingly – just as well.

Living near the Massachusetts State House, I’ve seen Whitey’s bro Billy Bulger plenty of times walking around. Not to mention that, on a couple of occasions, I tuned in to the televised broadcast of the St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast that Billy B used to preside over, which was a combination of Wild Colonial Boy paddywhackery and political roast. Billy B could be funny, but his wit often edged towards the cruel, and he absolutely gave off a don’t f’ with me vibe. Must run in the family. (Few would dare to roast back at himself.)

The husband of a friend of mine worked for years in the State House, and, at some point in time got into William Bulger’s cross-hairs.  I can’t remember all the details – I suspect my friend’s husband was collateral damage to someone else’s political tiff – but he lost his job.

My other claim to Bulger-ite fame is that my niece Molly attended pre-school for a while with one of William Bulger’s grandchildren. In Boston’s Federal Court House, no less, where Whitey Bulger and his consort, Catherine Greig, were arraigned, or pre-arraigned, or whatever it was that happened to them the other day when they were flown back from California to face the music that won’t be Mother Machree and Danny Boy, that’s for sure.

Boston is abuzz with Conspiracy Theory.

No one believes that within a couple of days after the FBI ran some ads on women’s shows (like The View) asking for help in finding Greig, someone miraculously stepped forth to dime her.

Instead, the theory goes, the FBI finally decided to bring Whitey back in, now that he’s so old he can plead “can’t remember” when it comes to the as-yet-uncaught past and present agents that are compromised by their association with Whitey. (Rumor has it that at least 14 FBI agents could have done him “favors”.)

Or the last potentially compromised FBI agent is now dead, so there was an “all clear” for reeling Whitey back in.

Or Whitey’s dying, so he set things up so that someone could call in the tip from overseas (Iceland, they tell us. Ireland would have been just too obvious), take the $2.1M reward – $2M for Whitey, $100K for Greig – and hold on to it until Greig does her (short) time for harboring a criminal – although it’s not clear who was harboring whom.

I’m sure that the Boston journalists who had books out on Bulger and/or Bulger are now madly typing up new final chapters for the inevitable reissues. And I suspect that more than a couple of all-new novels, true crime stories, and screenplays are in the works – although is any screen play going to improve on The Departed, in which Jack Nicholson chewed the scenery playing the character based on Whitey.

Since I doubt we’ll ever get to the real truth about what happened, we’d all be spared if Whitey is, indeed, on his last legs, and the next we see of him is in a hearse pulling up to Gate of Heaven Church for his funeral.

I sure don’t want to be on the Whitey Bulger jury. I don’t want to sit in a courtroom with this despicable, stone killer bastard. I don’t want to hear any romanticizing about what a Robin Hood he was to the good souls of Southie, any mention of his vaunted role in taking down the Mafia – as if Italian mob = bad, and Irish mob somehow = good. I don’t want to see Billy Bulger sitting in court every day out of confused and misplaced loyalty to his brother. (In truth, I almost but not quite felt badly for Billy Bulger when reporters were attempting to interview him outside the courthouse where he’d gone to see his brother for the first time (presumably) in 16 years. At 77 (to Whitey’s 81), he’s an old man, too. For all his Triple-Eagle (Boston College High, BC, BC Law) “aura” of Latin-dropping erudition, I want to believe that he’s finally coming out of deep denial about just what his brother has done over the years – a denial that I think most of Boston has beaten him to the punch on. Understandable, that: he’s not our brother, after all. On the other hand, we just learn that Billy Bulger’s daughter lived in Santa Monica, a few years before Whitey fled, not too far from where Whitey and Catherine had their flat. Which may have been rented out to them years before they took off. So now we get to play endless rounds of ‘what did Billy know and when did he know it’.)

In any case, I sure am interested in seeing how this one plays out.

And, when it comes down to it, I’m just as glad that Whitey was hiding out in Santa Monica, not somewhere in Ireland.

However it ends up: dead before trial, life (however short) in state prison, death sentence in Oklahoma or Florida (where he could be tried for murder), I suspect that Whitey Bulger’s wild Irish rose ruse, wild colonial boy, wild rover days are over. At least I hope so. It’s not possible that this guy will be able to cut some sort of scot-free deal with the Feds, is it?

I'll go home to me parents, confess what I've done,
And I'll ask them to pardon their prodigal son.
And if they forgive me as oft times before,
I never will play the wild rover no more

Friday, June 24, 2011

Stoop labor

Fortunately, while I’ve had plenty of dirty, nasty, physically demanding, and ill-paid jobs over the course of my lifetime, I’ve never had to work as an agricultural laborer. The closest I ever came was picking blueberries for fun – plenty grueling, but commercially cultivated blueberries cannot compare for sweetness with the tiny little blueberries of the sort we picked as kids. Even as a child, I realized that bending down in the late summer sun in hopes of filling a half-gallon Tupperware container nearly to the top was both boring and uncomfortable. But the payoff was blueberry pie, blueberry crumb cake, blueberry muffins,and blueberry pancakes. So half a day per year toiling in the blueberry patches up in the woods a couple of miles from our house, or over in Hadwen Park, was worth it.

I remember one year when I knocked over my half-filled container.

A tragedy of the first order. (When you’re nine years old, at any rate.)

In college, I did walk a couple of picket lines on behalf of grape workers, striking for the right to organize, and once heard Cesar Chavez speak.

Viva La Huelga!

But you don’t have to have done stoop labor to recognize that picking fruits and vegetables is extraordinarily hard work – and not particularly rewarding – even if it is “better” now than it was before the UFW started organizing.

The nature of the work is the reason why, for as long as any of us can remember, a lot of it’s been done by poor immigrants.

Years ago, there was bracero program to bring migrant workers over the border legally on an as-needed basis. But so many illegal workers flooded in that they undermined the wages that the legal braceros were paid. The bracero program was ended in the mid-1960’s and since then famers have done the wink-wink, nudge-nudge and turned a blind eye to whether the Mexicans who were picking their lettuce, onion, and melon crops were legal or not. And, as consumers, we get to join in the fun by demanding lower and lower prices. If we think about it, we may not like the fact that the workers who helped bring that bargain iceberg to our fridges get paid squat to squat, but, hey, who wants to pay a dime more than they have to for anything?

But if anyone’s directly profited by having hundreds of thousands of desperately poor immigrants teeming in over our borders from Latin America, it’s been the farmers who’ve been doing the hiring.

…according to Erik Nicholson, national vice-president for the United Farm Workers’ union, as many as 70% of American agricultural workers may be undocumented. (Source: The Economist)

Unfortunately for them, the tough immigration bills that are being passed in some states are putting a big hurting on the farm world. That’s because legal migrant workers who feel that they’re going to be aggressively hassled for driving while Mexican, and illegal migrant workers assessing the odds of their being deported that just got higher, are going to bypass the states with the red-white-and-blue-est anti-immigration laws.

The case in point is Georgia, where a strict new law will go into effect on July 1st (unless the courts throw it down or out).

So a lot of the folks who’ve traditionally picked all those Vidalia onions, all those peaches, all those peanuts, are taking a pass on Georgia this year.

Georgia has a huge agricultural industry. It’s the state’s largest, and employs 13% of the workforce.

According to the Pew Hispanic Centre, in 2010 Georgia had around 425,000 such [undocumented] immigrants, putting it seventh among American states.

But that was yesterday, and yesterday’s gone.

Today’s a different story. The Georgia Agribusiness Council conducted a recent survey in which nearly half of the respondents said they had too few workers this year.

Too few workers translates into a lot of dying on the vine. The director of Georgia’s Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association estimates that his industry may experience a loss of $300M this year.

Georgia’s governor, Nathan Deal, is trying to “encourage” probationers who are out of work to replace the immigrant workers, which, of course, conjures up all kinds of images of chain gangs and Cool Hand Luke. So far, a few probationers have signed up, but from what I’ve read, most have quit after a day or so. It’s sweltering in Georgia in the summer, and who wants to risk death-by-heat for peanuts – other than those for whom there is absolutely no other option. Like the poor and downtrodden who can’t even scratch out a subsistence living south of our border.

But do farm workers actually make peanuts?

Not according to Georgia’s Agricultural Commissioner, Gary Black:

"Understand that these are $12, $13, $14, $16, $18 an hour jobs," Black told 90.1 WABE-FM’s Denis O'Hayer in an interview. "Talked to a gentleman yesterday, they had a crew of people, they were going to make $130 a day picking cucumbers. That’s 130 buckets of cucumbers, $1 per bucket." (Source on the Black interview: Politifact.)

Sure, you’re not working in A/C like you would be in Walmart, and you don’t get a cool polyester shirt like you would at Burger King, but $18/hour doesn’t sound bad for such a low-skill job.

Sounds almost too good to be true….

Which is why Politifact Georgia checked it out.

Reporters for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed workers and farmers who said pickers earned about $100 a day. One worker said she expected to work about 12 hours for that amount.

Which looks more like $8/hour and change.

Then there’s this, from the Georgia Department of Labor:

For 13 weeks during July, August and September, 10,600 or so workers in Georgia were involved in "crop production," or worked in farms, orchards, groves, greenhouses and nurseries that grow crops or plants. This group can include supervisors.

They made an average of $367 per week, the data show.
Pay varied depending on the crop. For instance, some 3,100 vegetable and melon workers made an average of $311 a week; about 1,000 blueberry and other non-strawberry crop workers made about $268; soybean crop workers (there were only 17) made about $666.

A further note on the soybean workers: they’re running complex machinery, so one would expect them to be more highly compensated.

However you run the numbers, unless someone’s working less than a 20 hour week, they’re not making $18 an hour picking melons.

Of course, given that farm workers are paid based on their production (e.g., 38 cents for each bucket of onions picked), it’s theoretically possible that someone could pick nearly 50 buckets of onions an hour. It’s just that it doesn’t happen in real life.

If farm workers could realistically earn that kind of money, there probably wouldn’t be any problem getting folks to pick crops – and not just the parolees that Georgia’s governor wants out there.

It will be interesting to see how this all turns out, but it sounds like a case of as you sow so shall you reap for the farm states so eager to put the screws to our immigrant farm workers.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The office: home away from home?

There was an article in The Wall Street Journal the other day on “the perfect office.”

I didn’t pay all that much attention, as my days of lobbying for/ reveling in/bitching about my office space are in the rearview mirror. Today, I define the “perfect office” as one in which I don’t have to go out in bad weather to get to, don’t have to listen to the guy in the next office yell at his insurance agent, and don’t have to worry about office politics. It’s called a “home office,” and I have one.

But I did log considerable time in offices – some more or less perfect, others far less so.

My first post-MBA office was shared with a complete and utter paranoiac workaholic. Although I was never able to quite exceed his devotion, and never came anywhere near his level of paranoia, I quickly got into workaholic mode. And quickly workaholic’d my way into a private office.

It was tiny – you could only roll the chair back about 6 inches. But it had a door. And it was mine, all mine.

It also had extremely thin walls, through which at one point I overheard two managers arguing about me. We were in the throes of one of our recurring re-orgs and everyone was jockeying to flee Manager A’s team to work with Manager B, who was a much more pleasant fellow altogether.  Manager A was fighting mightily to retain me on his team, and I was touched to overhear his closing argument: “You don’t want her. She knows nothing about ‘X’.”

Which was true, yet absolutely did not endear me to Manager A when I was one of the few folks stuck with him – especially given that he was THE ONLY manager in the company that followed the review guidelines that stated that “all managers must give all employees at rating of 3 unless they’re really terrible or really great.”

Come review time, everyone who reported to Manager A got a “3”  - and a crappy raise. Everyone who reported to Manager B through Manager Z was rated a “1” or a “2” and pulled down larger raises.

We were not amused.

I may have known nothing about X, but Manager A knew nothing about playing the game.

I actually grew quite fond of Manager A, and was sad to see him laid off, on a day in which I lost my manager, the only person who reported to me, and my about-to-be-released product. Shortly thereafter, I also lost my office which, by then, had gotten pretty nice.

The company had moved across the street to a newer building and I was awarded a really cool office with excellent window space. As a bonus, it had an odd pie-shape to it. At the time of the move, I was the one and only woman to get a window office.  (I could thank Manager A for lobbying for me, but it was really our office manager, who doubled as HR, and who was dipped if she were going to engineer a move in which NO woman got a window office.)

I loved that office, and was bummed when “they” – our parent company – closed down our wonderful Cambridge outpost and moved us all out to their new building in the ‘burbs.

By then I was reporting to a woman who, when we first met, had told me that she only wanted to have good-looking guys reporting to her – which, with the exception of me, was actually a dream come true for her: all the men in our group were pretty cute.

The options at the new building were sharing a window office or having a private, inside single. All the cute guys wanted to have inside singles, so I rolled the dice on a shared window double, which I was granted as long as I was willing to share it as needed.

So, they moved in a second desk, which I covered with an Indian print spread, and there it stood for the remainder of my stint at that company.

Somewhat irrationally, I ended up fleeing this place – one of the only companies I’ve worked that’s still in existence – for Wang, where I was not only windowless, but office-less as well.

Welcome to cubicle city.

I was a Level 27, and Level 27 techies got offices, but Level 27 product managers got cubes.

Mine was under  a speaker that blared all day, paging senior executives – Paging Dr. Wang! Paging Dr. Wang - and guys from the shop floor. (The Wang offices were attached to a factory building.)

Oh, what fun!

Thus began 2 years, 7  months, and 18 days – but who’s counting? – of sheer misery (other than for the folks in my group, who were great fun to work with).

Among other miseries, Wang had started cheaping out on the cubicles themselves, and had stopped ordering doors for them.

Now a cubicle with a door may sound pretty ridiculous, given that the cubicles were only shoulder high, but it at least offered a modicum of privacy.

My cube was door-less, but for Christmas my first year, my wonderful techie friends commandeered a door from somewhere.

The cubicle was emblematic of my overall Wang experience, but the least of it.

To get out of Wang, I took at 20% pay cut for the promise of working for “The Next Billion Dollar Software Company.” This was late in 1989, and we were going to be the next Microsoft.

Depending on which way you looked at it, we either achieved $40M in revenues or $7M in revenues (this is another story, of course) before imploding.

But until my final days at Softbridge – when we were forced into getting religion on cubicles by our new owner – I always had a private office, generally with a window.

My first office was pretty grim – interior and, when I started, had a phone with no cord and no computer at all. Softbridge was growing rapidly (on someone else’s dime, of course) and had no time to worry about niceties like equipping offices.

On Day Two, I brought in my own phone cord, and on Day Three, when I realized that they’d just fired the sales manager down the hall, I had a computer.

By the time Softbridge and I parted company, I was a VP, but my window office was a thing of the past.

We’d been acquired by Teradyne, adherents to the all cubicle religion. When our lease was up and we had to move offices, we got religion and converted, too. Not completely, of course. Teradyne tried to force feed us with some cast off, shabby, retro cubicle set ups, which we politely declined. We went with all new, which, quite naturally, convinced the big-wigs at Teradyne that we were foolish spendthrifts, focused on stupid stuff that didn’t matter, and that we really didn’t deserve to exist. (Another another story…)

Anyway, when we made our move, in addition to having brand-new cubicles, we paid a lot of attention to making sure that we had a good office layout and plenty of conference rooms, including 2-3 person meeting rooms. It was actually one of the nicest overall offices I ever worked in.

My next move was to Genuity which, depending on how you looked at it, achieved revenues of plus-$1B or minus-$1B.

When were spending all that money we didn’t have, a lot of it went into offices.

As at Wang, there was a quasi-strict hierarchy around who got what kind of office but, fortunately, as a director, I was on the receiving end of office goodness.

My first office was pretty bad, though. Like Softbridge, Genuity were hiring so crazily that they had no place – other than what was supposed to be a phone office to be used by cubicle-dwellers – to put me in for a brief while.

But once I got my “real” office, it was quite spacious.

I didn’t get a window – you had to be a VP for that, and I never achieved that illustrious height. (Another, another story, delivered with my signature punchline of the time: “I’d rather have people asking why I wasn’t a VP than asking why I was.”) But my office was large enough for a conference table and well-located.

Just before I left Genuity, the company – by then in its final throes, with widely audible death rattling – had just built a swank new headquarters building. Among the other niceties for directors: cherry-wood furniture. My one regret on leaving Genu was that I never got to sit at one of those nice cherry desks.

At NaviSite, the last outpost of my corporate career, I sat in a shabby cubicle that would have been exceedingly depressing, if not for the neighbors on my small corridor, who were just great.

One peculiar aspect of Navi was that the cubicle-land inhabited by the great unwashed was ringed with vacant window offices reserved for visiting VP’s. Navi, at the time I worked there, was an agglomeration of small failed Internet services companies. A number of senior executives from the rolled-up companies were kept on as VP’s and, when they blew into corporate HQ for their quarterly visits, they were all entitled to a window office. Since they were in meetings the entire time they were there, it seemed absurd to allocate them each a window office which they used primarily to hang their coat and leave their briefcase – if that. But it meant that us cubicle denizens generally had a place where we could go to work privately, make a phone call, or gossip.

Ah, the perfect office.

In truth, there’s really no such thing.

The best office in the world won’t make up for a crappy business environment, and the worst office in the world can end up being more than tolerable if you’ve got decent colleagues and some interesting work to take care of in it.

All I know is that, when I was working full time, I spent enough time in the office to think of it as home away from home.

But these days, I’ll take home office any old time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Independence Day

The NY Times on Sunday had yet another one of those “let’s get the readers’ goats” articles that they are so famous for.

This one was about parents buying co-ops and condos so that their adult kids could live in Manhattan.

Now, I do not have children, but I cannot categorically state that, if I did have children and if I could afford to plop a spare $1.15M down on an apartment for them, that I wouldn’t.

What if, for example, my hypothetical, non-existent son wanted to be a writer and wanted to live in Manhattan. I’m pretty sure that I would want him to experience living in some dump in Alphabet City, just so he would have something to write about. But what if he were bitten by a rat? Could I live with myself?

Certainly, I wouldn’t say, ‘Man up and become a hedge-fund-hog so you can afford to live some place decent.’

And just as certainly, I wouldn’t go so far as to fully support the next Jonathan Safran Foer. No, my expectation would be that the next Jonathan Safran Foer could get his great-American-novel writerly head out of his great-American-novel writerly arse for enough hours each week working at some sort of job, no matter how meagerly paid and menial, to cover a good wad of his expenses.

But, certainly, I would not want to have to confront the choice between nagging my hypothetical, non-existent son to become a hedgie and letting him get bitten by a rat.

Ditto my hypothetical, non-existent daughter if she wanted to live in New York City doing something non-profitable and noble, that she could do while wearing jeans and a tee-shirt, rather than get some cut-throat, Devil Wears Prada job where she had to dress-to-the-nines – the kind of glossy job that pays crap but is glamorous. Admittedly, I’d be more inclined to subsidize a do-gooder rather than a look-gooder. But in neither case would I want my hypothetical, non-existent daughter to live in rat-bitten squalor, either.

But, I don’t know, I think maybe I’d help them live in Hoboken or Queens before I’d hand them the key to a $1.15M co-op in Manhattan.

But that’s just me. And it’s all hypothetical and non-existent, anyway.

The kicker in the article for me was the psychiatrist who bought his young adult twins, 26 year olds, a son and a daughter, a two-bedroom place on the upper East Side for $800K.

Dad rationalized the gift. After all, his children would inherit the money after his death, so why not let them enjoy it now? And he is, of course, correct.

But then he said:

…we liked the idea that this apartment was going to be theirs once we had gifted it to them. It was a way of helping them become independent.

A way of helping them become independent.

Unlike Dr. Peter Clagnaz, the father with the checkbook, I am not a psychiatrist. So maybe there’s some psychological or psychiatric nuance that I’m missing here. But how does buying an $800K apartment for your young adult children help them become independent?

Does it mean that they’ll no longer have to keep calling home at the age of 26 looking for a monthly handout? Is that what passes for independence these days?

I think Dr. Peter needs a reality check. Calling Dr. Phil.

Wait. I just remembered – actually, that’s I lie: I just Wikipedia's old Phil – one of his sons works for him and/or with him; plus Phil had worked with and/or for his father  – so I guess he’s not exactly the founding father of offspring independence enabling.

Look, as the incredibly shrinking middle-class becomes more and more hollowed out, who can blame parents for doing everything they can to help ensure that their kids have at least a toe-hold in what remains of it.

But what happened to letting your kids do at least a bit of time in their twenties living in less than elegant digs, doubling, tripling, quadrupling up with roommates? Not to mention what happened to kids expecting, even demanding, this sort of experience? Maybe it’s never been the reality for the children of the well-to-do, and that this is nothing new.

And whatever happened to the post-consumer society? To less is more? To let’s all downsize and live within our own (and our country’s) means?

Guess that’s happening outside of the precincts of 21st century Manhattan.

Meanwhile, the whole thing’s put me in mind of my first apartment. Senior year in college, my roommate and I moved off campus and into a 2-BR apartment on Boston’s Queensbury Street. It was in an old building, and was decidedly un-updated: claw foot tub,no shower, and an 1920’s era black and white enamel gas stove on spindle legs called the Detroit Jewel. The Detroit Jewel was blessedly replaced by the landlord, a notorious slumlord of the era, as was the equally ancient refrigerator.

Shortly after Joyce and I moved in, my mother and father came by with my sister Trish. As I proudly walked them up the front walk, I saw that we were going to have to step over a drunken bum who was asleep in the vestibule.

Hey, what were they going to say or do about it? It was my place, and I was paying for it by working as a waitress.

It’s not like they were any position to buy me a condo – if condos had even existed then. It’s not like, even if they’d offered, I’d have taken any money from them so that I could swing nicer digs.

I was independent.

Call me crazy, but I really think that the best way to help your children become independent is to let them actually be independent.

Dr. Clagnaz is apparently aware that there’s some correlation between money and independence. He’s just got his causality a bit backwards.

Which is not to say that I wouldn’t help my hypothetical, non-existent child out of rat-bite alley.

By the way, that first night in the apartment on Queensbury Street, I woke in the middle of the night from a dream in which there was a rat running over my bed covers. No rat bite, but I still don’t know whether it was dream or reality.

Independence sure can come at a price.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Where I’d live

I saw an article on Business on the 25 cities in the U.S. (out of 340 urban areas evaluated by the Council of Community and Economic Research) that are the least costly to live in.

Almost all of the cities were in the south, southwest or west, with a few Midwesterners making the cut.

Predictably, there’s a correlation between poverty and cost of living.

Predictably, there’s not one place on the list where I can even begin to imagine living, with the possible exceptions of Indianapolis and Springfield, Illinois. Indianapolis is at least a Big City with (presumably: I’ve never been there) at least some of the benefits of Big City life (including decent restaurants and anonymity).  In Springfield, IL – another place on the list I’d never been to – at least you can hop in your car, put your pedal to the metal and zoom up through the soy bean fields to Chicago in a few hours.

Of the cities on the list, the only one I’d been to – and that was just to drive through – was Fort Smith, Arkansas. But a $3.13 hamburger isn’t enough to get met to move there.  Ditto the half-gallon of milk for $1.67 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, or a $570 month 2-bedroom apartment in Paducah, KY.

No can do.

Of the cities on the list, the only one – other than Springfield, IL and Indianapolis – that seemed to have anything to recommend it was Pueblo, Colorado, which has nice mountain views.

The article mentioned the urban areas that are the priciest. These are Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, San Francisco, and Honolulu. Not coincidentally, these are all places I could live. Not that I’ve really thought about Honolulu, but if I had to pick the top 25 cities in the U.S. in which I would be willing to live, it would probably make the list. I wouldn’t have thought of Queens as a separate entity from NYC, either, but although I’ll take Manhattan, Queens is doable.

Anyway, coming up with 25 Pink Slip livable U.S. cities was actually something of a challenge.

The first tranche was easy enough:

  1. Boston (Be it ever so humble…)
  2. Cambridge (Wouldn’t have separated out from Boston, but if the list delineates between Manhattan and Queens)
  3. Brookline (Ditto)
  4. Manhattan (Where my husband would like to retire, although I keep explaining to him that you should retire someplace cheaper, not more expensive)
  5. Brooklyn (Actually, I could easily switch Brooklyn with Manhattan; who wouldn’t want to live on Cranberry or Pineapple Street?)
  6. Portland, ME (Best little New England city ev-ah)
  7. Providence (A surprising gem, due to a renaissance largely brought about through the efforts of a corrupt, jail-bird mayor; and the fact that the city always had great bones)
  8. Burlington, VT (A bit off the beaten track, but how nice to wake up looking at Lake Champlain every morning)
  9. Chicago (My kind of town; perfect except for flatness,  lack of ocean, and – sorry, family members – an accent that’s like a screwdriver going through your ear)
  10. Washington, DC (Other than the muggy weather)
  11. San Francisco (Boston with steeper hills, prettier views and better weather)
  12. Seattle (Other than the rain)
  13. Portland, OR (Other and/or because of the fact that they drained one of their reservoirs after they caught some guy peeing in it, which seems a little overkill-y, given that all sorts of other animals pee and worse in it)
  14. Minneapolis (How great is it to have a city with miserable weather where, if you pick you spots right, you never have to go out into because of all those connecting skyways, or whatever they call them?)
  15. Austin (I’ve never been there, but I think I could make do nicely)
  16. Philadelphia (Don’t really know the city very well, but it’s enough Boston-like)
  17. Pittsburgh (Another place I’ve never been, but it has a certain appeal, and I have had recurring dreams about being at the confluence of the Alleghany, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, which must mean something)

    Hmmmmm…This is even harder than I thought it would be. Let me put my urban thinking cap on. Ta-da:
  18. Syracuse (Don’t laugh: I’ve been there plenty of times and really and truly like it. Lots to do in and around, and I bet it’s on the lowish end of this list in terms of cost of living)
  19. Queens (Because I already said I could live there, and it is so in spitting distance of Brooklyn and Manhattan)
  20. Honolulu (Someday I actually might get sick of New England weather and, while Hawaii is pretty darned isolated, I’d prefer to get my warmth there than in Florida)

    Okay. I’m really wracking my brains now. Surely, there must be other U.S. cities I can see myself living in. I really don’t want to cheat and open this up to places like Paris and Prague. Or pre-riot Vancouver, even.
  21. Cleveland (If I could live in Syracuse…)
  22. Houston (I’ll take my friend John’s word for the livability, even though I know I’d have to spend all my time indoors, city next to the air-conditioner and asking myself how I ended up in a state governed by Rick Perry, which I probably wouldn’t focus that closely on if I were in Austin, even though that would actually be closer to where Rick Perry was most of the time. But the mind works in mysterious ways…)
  23. Flagstaff (I’ll take one of those craftsman-style bungalows, please)
  24. Madison, Wisconsin (Which, now that I think of it, I’d probably swap sight unseen with Austin)

    And as for the magic 25th city I could live in, I give you:
  25. Worcester, Massachusetts (Been there, done that. And why not? It’s the Heart of the Commonwealth. And it’s always sunny in Worcester, isn’t it? Except when it’s grey and gloomy and snowy and rainy and icy. And the streets are paved, if not with gold, then at least paved. Most of them.)

I’m am hopeful, if not 100% confident, that I will never have to choose a place to live based entirely on how low-cost it is. I really don’t want to end my days in Ardmore, Oklahoma or Murfreesboro, Tennessee, even if it means that I occasionally have to open a tin of cat food or stuff newspapers in my shoes in order to stay in a cold, expensive, northern city, which almost everything on my list is.

Wait, forget that bit about using newspapers to stuff my hole-y shoes with. There won’t be any. Better make that “fast food wrappers.”

Monday, June 20, 2011

Summertime, and the Wiffle Balling’s easy

Tomorrow is the first day of summer, which means in just a couple of weeks it will be the Fourth of July, the day on which my father always declared that the summer season was now making its rapid downhill slide into autumn and was almost over. (What is it with the Irish?)

Personally, I’ve decided not to completely give up on summer until the first ice rain and/or we turn back our clocks, gaining one lousy hour’s worth of sleep in exchange for pitch black-ness at 5 p.m. Grrrr….

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

It’s SUMMERTIME, which means it’s time to celebrate things like watermelon, sun screen, and Wiffle Balls. The Wall Street Journal saw to that last one on Friday, paying tribute to the humble plastic ball and bat duo that has meant hours of entertainment and athletic derring-do since the 1950’s. Not to mention all that sibling bedevilment. Sibs who wouldn’t have even thought about clobbering that pesky younger sister or obnoxious older brother with a Louisville Slugger – okay: they might have considered it, but would never have gone through with it, even if completely and utterly provoked – had no problem playing family whack-a-mole using a plastic Wiffle Bat. After all, a cardinal rule of sibling torture is: First, do no harm. Or at least the sorts of harm that parents will really come down on. Not that I had any first-hand experience with Wiffle Bat attacks. Not I! Why our house when I was growing up was edenic, irenic, a veritable Peaceable Kingdom, a Quaker Meeting House. But I did hear occasional rumors of family life elsewhere that were less than Cleaverish, less than Donna Reedite. Families where the siblings actually went after one another. Tsk, tsk. Imagine the horror of getting whacked in the leg with a Whiffle Bat? Or having a Whiffle Ball pegged at said leg – bare to the shorts-line, since it was summer.

Ah, the Wiffle Ball.

Amazingly, Wiffle Ball’s are still made in the USA – in Connecticut, no less. By the third generation of Wiffle Ball makers in the Mullany family.

Wiffle Ball Inc. of Shelton, CT, has 15 employees – and “two injection-molding machines [that] hum along to produce thousands of Wiffle Balls every day.”

In fact, every single Wiffle Ball that will sail across backyards this summer was produced here. Just like every single Wiffle Ball that has sailed across backyards since the factory opened in 1959. (Source: WSJ article linked above.)

Over the course of time, the Mullanys have pretty much stuck to their knitting. The ball doesn’t change; the bat doesn’t change; and, if memory serves, the packaging doesn’t appear to have changed since I would have first WIFFLE1seen these babies on offer at the Zayre’s in the Webster Square Plaza sometime in the late 1950’s.  The color of the bat, by the way, is trademarked: no one else can produce bright yellow plastic bats. Take that, China trade!

Over fifty years in business, despite no advertising and a product – ball cum bat -  that retails for less than four bucks. (What must it have cost, say, in 1960, when it was probably a May birthday gift for my brother Tom?  A dollar? Seventy-nine cents?)

Beyond the Made in America thang, you have to love the Wiffle Ball story.

In 1953, David Mullany was unemployed, but left the house each morning as if going to his job so that his family would think he was working. What they didn’t know was that they were all living off of a cashed in insurance policy.

Watching his son (also a David) and friends playing baseball, and trying to master throwing a curve, David the Father and David the Son put their heads together and, after a bit of experimenting, came up with a Wiffle Ball design that worked.

Trying to hit the Wiffle Ball is another matter, altogether.

Somehow, hitting a plastic ball with a plastic bat is a lot more difficult than hitting a baseball with a wooden bat (at least as hurled by pitchers when I was a kid. At least if you wanted the ball to move more than a couple of feet. Frankly, the best batting sensation when I was a kid was hitting a golf ball with a wooden bat. Those puppies could fly.)

Anyway, I never actually liked playing Wiffle Ball.

Not that I was much good at baseball, but at Wiffle Ball I sucked colossally.

Plus, at least in our house, where toys did have a supreme tendency to get grody, Wiffle Balls and Wiffle Bats all ended up scarred and pilly.

Still, there was something about having a pristine, straight from Zayre’s, Wiffle Ball in your hand. Smooth, brighter than white.

Kinda makes me want to get me to The Connecticut Store and buy me a ball and bat combo.

But what would I do with it, exactly, except look at it and not-so-nostalgically recall how it felt to have a Whiffle Ball whipped at a bare leg?

Certainlywifflecapsc, I’d get much more use out of a Wiffle Ball cap. But I need another ball cap like I need another hole in my head. Which I don’t. And if I’m going to get another ball cap – and, frankly, I probably am – it should be a Boston Bruins cap, providing I can find one in a style and color I like.  (Why, oh why, do the Bruins have to have that crappy black and gold color scheme. What would have been wrong with purple and white?) But while I hem and haw over a Bruins cap appropriate to my position as a front-running bandwagon fan, there is something goofily likeable about the Wiffle caps, is there not?

Goofy likability aside, if I’m going to buy anything at the Connecticut Store, it should probably be a Tuna-Mattunamatee. Connecticut invented, Connecticut made, the Tuna-Mate is used for draining tuna cans.  Talk about a must-have for tuna lovers. No more sharp-edged tuna can cover slit cuts on your fingers, no more tuna-finger mess and smell.

I know, I know, it’s not an iconic product like the Wiffle Ball. And they probably don’t sell millions of them each year. But is this a New England product or what? Practical, humble, unglamorous…If nothing else, it made me crave a tuna sandwich. I must away…

As for the impending summer season, I’ve got just three words: Play (Wiffle) Ball!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Policeman: “Hey, Boston, get back on the sidewalk.” Pink Slip: “But, Officer, based on the Pedestrian Danger Index, I know what I’m doing.”

A few weeks ago, Transportation For America published its 2011 Dangerous By Design report, which includes a Pedestrian Danger Index.

On the day the report came out, I was in Ireland, taking my life in my hands walking out Taylor Hill in Galway for lunch at the Ardilaun Hotel. The walk, which wended its way through a nice residential area, would have been perfectly pleasant if not for the occasional spots where the sidewalk disappeared, and, in its place appeared a brick wall or a building, flush up against the road. On which drivers were pell-mell zipping up and down the hill. Each time we’d reach one of these unpredictable spots, we’d decide that it was wiser to seek a sidewalk than it was to flatten ourselves against the wall and inch along the couple of dozen yards of Danger Zone. So we’d check, recheck, and sound check for approaching vehicles, then mad dash it across the road to get to the other side, where – at least temporarily – the sidewalk didn’t end.

At least, as proud Bostonian jaywalkers we’re used to mad dashes across streets which, like those in Galway,just weren’t built for car traffic.

As we were absorbed with the pedestrian perils of Galway City, we didn’t pay all that much attention to the Pedestrian Danger Index, other than to make a mental note that, amazingly, Boston is the least dangerous of the 52 metros ranked.

Mad dogs and pedestrians, stay out of the noonday Sunbelt.
If you’re a walker, you might want to stay out of the south and west: four of the “top 10” (in terms of pedestrian danger) are in Florida, two in Texas, and one each in California, Nevada, Tennessee/Mississippi, and Arizona.

The absolute worst: Orlando-Kissimmee.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be walkers anywhere near the Magic Kingdom.

Orlando’s Danger Score is 255.4; Boston’s a mere 21.6.

Needless to say, the news that Boston is the nation’s safest pedestrian city was met with plenty of hoots, and even a few hollers, around here.

We are, after all, a city that’s pretty well known for our jaywalkers. And it would seem to follow that jaywalking might be a tad more dangerous than standing rigidly on the street corner waiting (hah!) for the pedestrian light to appear. Instead, the metros that grew up in the car-and-driver error being more hazardous to your pedestrian health:

… reflect[s] the hazards of setting out on foot in sprawling cities built up in an era when planners focused on making roads wider and faster for cars — and where drivers are less accustomed to pedestrians. (Source:

But there’s also some speculation that jaywalkers – precisely because they’re engaging in behavior that’s at least a tiny bit dangerous – are more nimble and more capable of avoiding oncoming traffic. Whatever the signs are telling us, we know when it’s okay to WALK, and when it’s better to DON’T WALK. We use our own judgment. Think situation ethics for pedestrians.

The odd pedestrian in a non-jaywalking city expects the WALK sign to mean everything is A-OK. Rules are rules, and they don’t anticipate the driver running the red light. Whereas Bostonians hope for the best and expect the worst.

And speaking of worst, we do seem to have the worst reputation, as far as jaywalking goes.

Many years ago, when in California, I believe in San Francisco – a pedestrian- and to some degree jaywalker-friendly city, I had just stepped off the curb to cross a street against the light, when a traffic cop hollered over to me, “Hey, Boston, get back on the sidewalk.”

(Not that cops in Boston never yell at jaywalkers. Once I was jayrunning across Beacon Street near the Public Garden when a policeman in a patrol car turning onto Beacon got on his speaker and blared “Lady, don’t you ever do that again.”)

On another SF trip, my husband and I were looking for a restaurant. There was a woman a few yards ahead of us, and we caught up to her to ask for directions. After she provided them, I asked her whether she was from Boston. (She did not have a New England accent.) She said that she had recently moved from Boston, but asked why we might think she was a former Bostonian.

“You’re the only one other than us who’s jaywalking,” I told her.

Anyway, I don’t jaywalk quite as much as I used to.

Too many jerks on cell phones not paying attention.

In fact, I’m more likely to double check even when I have the right of way.

Still, I have my favorite jaywalking spots.

The corner of Congress and State, for one. The light flow goes from Congress Street traffic, to State Street traffic, to pedestrian light. But most Boston pedestrians want that pedestrian light once Congress gets its red, as we don’t want to wait for everyone taking a left- or right-hand turn onto State. Sheesh….it’s not like we have all the time in the world.

Thus, the locals start crossing Congress once the through traffic on Congress gets a red light. Drivers making a turn from State onto Congress, beware.

Tourists, I note, tend to stay put on the curb.

My other favorite place to jaywalk is in Harvard Square, between the T-station and the Coop.

The traffic pattern there is a bit different than it used to be, but this spot is still good for a “critical mass” jaywalk, in which the pedestrians in a swarm decide that they’ve waited long enough and take to the streets. The look on the faces of the drivers with out of state plates when a couple of dozen folks step up into traffic against the light, against all societal norms, against all common sense, is worth the slight risk. And proof, indeed, that there is safety in numbers.

But, as I have noted, I am slowing down. I’ve even completely ruled out jaywalking after dark. I’m enough of a driver to understand that someone in a car may not be able to see you.

Meanwhile, as I stroll into old-age, happy to be living in a city where people walk, and where there’s an awful lot within walking distance of my home, I’m happy (if surprised) to learn that I will play out my hobbling dotage in the place that, at least in 2011, was the least dangerous place in the U.S. for a pedestrian.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

O, Canada? No, Canada! Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup!

Well, here in the Hub of the Universe, the Boston Bruins – “our” hockey team – has just won the Stanley Cup.

They did so by beating the Vancouver Canucks on the Canucks’ home ice, where the home team had won each of the three earlier games played there by one goal each: Bruins2one game in the last 18 seconds of regulation play, another in sudden death overtime. Each game in Vancouver, up until the final one – which really counted -  was what we used to call a “squeaker.”

In contrast to their up-to-now performance in Vancouver, where each game was a near miss, on Bruins’ home ice, the Canucks were completely whipped: 8-1, 4-0, and 5-2. In two of those games, their $10 million a year goalie was replaced – the ultimate in sports humiliation. Each game in Boston is what we call a blow-out.

Last night, I was hoping for a Bruins-led blow-out on Canucks ice.

It wasn’t quite the blow-out I was looking for – my heart didn’t really stop racing until the Bruins scored that death-stake fourth goal late in the third (although I did call my sister Trish to ask “are you breathing now?” when the B’s went up 3-zip).

Anyway, after all these years, I’m happy (and relieved) to see the Stanley Cup back in Boston.

Since this post is about this series and the teams that faced off in it, I must admit that I have always been a bit perplexed/amused by the Canucks name. In Canada, apparently,“Canuck” is a term of affection. Growing up in Worcester, it was a derogatory term – think “Mick” or “Polack” or “Dago” – used for French Canadians. But, eh, it’s their country and their team.

The Canucks have been around for 40 years, and have never won the hockey big kahuna. Because of this, and because hockey is Canada’s game, and because Vancouverites are such avid fans, the Canucks believed themselves to be deserving of a win.

As if 40 years is an eternity to wait to win it all… Just ask any Red Sox fan, who twiddled their thumbs for 86 years between World Series victories. Or Chicago Cubs supporters who’ve been twiddling away since 1908. But that’s baseball, and this – even though it’s the middle of June – is hockey.

Even in hockey, the ‘we deserve it, it’s been 40 long years’ whine didn’t quite cut it. The Bruins, after all, hade not won a Stanley Cup since 1972, which by my quick mental arithmetic – look, Ma, no fingers – is pretty darned close to 40 years.

So, there.

Plus the Bruins, along with Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, New York, and Chicago -  are one of the Original Six teams in the National Hockey League. This, in itself, made them something of a sentimental favorite – if any Boston team, once the Red Sox won, would ever be able to claim the mantle of “sentimental favorite”. Canadians, of course, counter-argued that they invented hockey, and there’s been a medium-length drought since any of the Canadian NHL teams won it all. (The national team did, however, win the 2010 Olympic Gold.)

Predictably, when two teams are locked in the deadly combat of a championship series, there’s all sorts of online he say-he say name calling, bad blood letting (metaphorically, anyway), and trash talking. Not to mention blood-curdling accounts of how out of town fans are being treated – especially if those out of towners are nice Canadians in Big Bad Boston.

Thus, I read online of a mother and 9 year old child in Canucks gear dragged from a cab and assaulted, when in actuality what most likely happened is that some stupid drunk Bruins fan pounded on the window of a cab containing a stupid drunk Canucks fan. Yet when emotions run high… And I’ve no doubt that there’s been taunting, popcorn throwing, and beer tossing on both sides.  And I’ll admit it may well be worse on the Boston side of the equation. (But not necessarily: in the face of the ‘Nucks loss, there’s rioting in Vancouver.) Still, if a mother and 9 year old child had been pulled from a cab in Boston, information about the incident would be more than an online rumor. Even the Boston Herald – the local “no apologies” tabloid – would have run an “it’s only a game” editorial.

My personal contribution to the fray was this: I passed a couple of Canucks fans on the street the other day. I smiled warmly at them, and in my warmest and most good humored of voices wished them “Bad Luck.”

This has no doubt translated online to “verbal assault and over the top abuse by a mean old Boston lady.”

Anyway, the buzz in town about the Bruins has beeimagen fun, and it should continue sky-high for the next week or so. There’ve been lots of signs in window, lots of flags on cars. Finagle a Bagel had a Bruins bagel – plain with some sort of black-dye swirl in it. I took a pass. There’s been a Bruins jersey on the statue of George Washington in the Public Garden. And my personal favorito: the Make Way for Ducklings ducklings all decked out in black and gold. Mack, Pack, and Ouack are no different than other Bostonians in this regard. There’s an awful lot of wearing o’ the Bruins gear, which is somewhat new this year. Of the four major sports teams in Boston, the Red Sox – based on my informal walking around survey – have the most fans wearing something Red Sox related. Probably followed by the Patriots, with the Celtics a close third. Then there’s the Bruins.

They’ve certainly had their die-hards, but they haven’t been THE Team since the days of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, et al., when they last won the Stanley Cup. And when Derek Sanderson had a song written about him:

Not too long ago, up in Canada land
There lived a little boy name of Derek Sanderson…
Hockey games aren’t won on dreams.
But Derek’s always been this way it seems.

When a hockey player has a song written (and sung) about him, you know that this has always been as much a hockey town at heart as it has been anything else. But winning teams do tend to bring out whole retinues of johnny-come-lately band wagon fans.

And I will admit to being one of them.

My primo sporting allegiance has always gone to baseball in general and the Red Sox in particular. First runner up probably goes to the Celtics, largely because my husband is a big basketball fan and historic follower of the Celtics, so we watch a lot of basketball games – including this year’s NBA finals, during which we rooted lustily for the Dallas Mavericks to beat the craven Miami Heat. Whodda thunk I’d ever find myself cheering on a team from Texas, but there you have it. (Congratulations, Mavericks.) I like football well enough – at least until I think about the head-butting violence and all those retired players with their brains destroyed, not to mention the martial music, militarism, and pomposity of the sport. If I never watched another football game in the course of my life, I’d live. In fact, during this year’s Super Bowl, we tuned out for a while during halftime to watch a show on the 2004 Red Sox, which we’d already seen a couple of times. Nonetheless, we stuck with it, still goose-pimpled and misty-eyed about The Olde Towne Team’s vanquishing the Yankees. So much so that we forgot to turn back to the Super Bowl until the fourth quarter.

As for the Bruins, I confess that I’ve been on the band wagon this year, an absolute front-runner (although I didn’t wait for them to hit the play offs to start following them, so I’m not the front-most of the front-runners).

Basically, I have only followed the Bruins with half-an-eye cocked their way since the Bobby Orr era.  So I can pick Cam Neely, Mike Millbury, and Ray Bourque out of a line-up. I know that Ray had to go to the Avalanche to win a Stanley Cup, and that he was the mensch – sniff, sniff – who gave up his number 7 jersey so that Espo’s number could be retired. I know who Milt Schmidt is. And Eddie Shore. I generally know how the team is faring, watch a couple of games during the regular season, and will catch a few Stanley Cup games, no matter who’s playing.

But this year, I’ve been (almost) all in, and have watched (and enjoyed) a lot of games.

So, band wagon maybe, but I am definitely not a Pink Hat.

This is the term coined for the nouveau Red Sox fans who glommed on to the team once they started getting good, driving up the cost and availability of seats at Fenway, even if they don’t know a damned thing about baseball.

Not so me with hockey. I know icing. I know high-sticking. I know pull-the-goalie.

And I’ve been glued to the playoffs.

Yesterday, I was distracted pretty much all day, sitting there hoping that the Bruins would win. Hopeing that they’d score often and early, and that the game wouldn’t be a cliffhanger. I hoped knew that Boston goalie Tim Thomas would win the Conn Smythe trophy as the series MVP.

Yesterday, I resisted the urge to head to The Garden and pick up a Bruins something or other, and rub the flying Bobby Orr statue for good luck.

But I’m sure that by the time the first puck is dropped next season, I will be in possession of something Bruinish, even though I’m not that fond – sorry, guys – of the color scheme. It will not be a pink hat, but I’m hoping that they have something available in blue. And I will have at least blown a kiss to FBO.

As for the Canucks, let me asssure you that 40 41 years ain’t nothing. When the Bruins won it all in 1970 – the year when Bobby Orr took flight – I was watching the finOrral game on my family’s black and white TV. It was Mother’s Day, but I don’t remember my mother watching with us. (She was probably making us dinner. Happy Mother’s Day, Ma!)  My father was, watching the game. Less than a year later, he was dead.  That was 40 years ago this January. We all whooped and hollered when Bobby Orr went air-borne. Note the helmet-less players. They don’t make anything like they used to, but the current edition of the Bruins are tough, physical and engaging – just like the Big Bad Boston Bruins of the early 1970’s. Forty years – give me a break. It’s gone in no time. Snap of a finger, blink of an eye. Try waiting 86 years for something to come along. Now that’s a lifetime, mes amis Candaiens.

Gotta say this for the Canucks. Not that I prefer it to our, but I do like your national anthem. And nice touch, your playing “Love That Dirty Water” while the Bruins were taking turns skating around with the Stanley Cup.

O, Canada? No, Canada, I’m afraid.

Maybe next year.

Meanwhile, for the next while at least, Hockey ‘R Us.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

One-hit wonders

My husband’s undergraduate degree is from Rutgers, and I was thumbing through his alumni rag when I cam across an article on James Cusumano, a chemistry major who – if I read the article (long since in recycle) correctly - had something to do with the 1950’s hit song “Who Wears Short Shorts?” before he went on to a successful career as a chemist.

But, in fact, when I started to fact check, it was no longer clear what exactly (if anything) Cusumano had to do with WWSS. He does not appear to have been a member of the Royal Teens, who sang WWSS, even though Cusumano was the right age and, like the members of the Royal Teens, a Jersey Boy, to boot. Anyway, as it turns out, although they were both chemistry majors of roughly the same era at Rutgers, Jim didn’t know James.

But, of course, I digress.

The real point behind bringing up “Who Wears Short Shorts?” and the Royal Teens is that the Royal Teens were One-Hit Wonders.

But I will digress once again to offer you this splendid You Tube of the Royal Teens appearance on American Bandstand.

A kinder, gentler time….

And to note the following: the short-shorts and blouse on the girl in the video, when compared to the sluttish teen outfits so often observed these days, are nearly as modest as garb one might find on the followers of Mother Teresa. As for the lyrics, for sheer simplicity and brilliance, I would say they have it all over, say, Lady Gaga, et al. Nifty dance steps, too. Who needs elaborate choreography to get the point across?

Which leads me to a fun article I saw the other day in The Wall Street Journal online about a few folks who’d struck gold in recent years, bringing to market tremendously successful products, whose success they were never quite able to replicate.

Not that they had to. All of them did quite well, thank you, with products that sold a boat-load and entered the collective imagination.

Seldom the faddist, I was surprised that I had personally contributed to the coffers of two of the four entrepreneurs profiled in the article, which certainly makes me proud to be a consumer and an American.

Magentic Poetry

Not that good poetry isn’t always magnetic, but Dave Kapell is a musician who invented Magnetic Poetry.

Not only do I have my own set around somewhere, I’m pretty sure that I gave a few as gifts over the years. Buying my own Magnetic Poetry kit also led to a companion purchase. As I had no desire to wax poetic on my fridge, I went out and bought a metal stand – the kind that you use to prop up documents that you’re keying into the computer via touch type, which, in this digital age, doesn’t seem to be called for all that often anymore. I used my Magnetic Poetry kit at work, and I’m sure I have it around somewhere. Or not.  I didn’t come across it in my recent office purge, which produced two colossal recycle bags, as well as a bulging bag o’ non-recyclable trash. But there is the one Fibber McGee cabinet in there that I haven’t yet touched.,,

Once he had his Eureka moment and decided to cash in on it, Kapell was able to get Borders and Barnes and Noble to carry his wares. Which is no doubt where I bought my kit as some point in the 1990’s.

While the concept was a one-hit wonder, Kapell – despite the slipping fortunes of the big-box-bookstores (see Monday’s post) – has kept the idea going with variations on a theme.

A zombie-themed kit is popular, he says, and erotic-word versions are perennial favorites.

Ah, perhaps if Congressman Weiner had access to the erotic-word version of Magnetic Poetry, rather than a Twitter account, the world would be a saner place.

A recent golf-lovers' kit, on the other hand, was a dud.

Perhaps if the erotic- and golf-kits had been combined in a Tiger Woods’ special, he’d have had something.

Kapell didn’t say how much he’s made with Magnetic Poetry over the years, but did acknowledge that it’s enabled him to follow his true love as a not-so-struggling musician. And indulge in this ukulele habit.

His house is decked out with a grand piano and a 70-piece ukulele collection.

Ah, perhaps if Congressman Weiner had had a ukulele to strum on…

Silly Bandz

Robert Croak was responsible for bringing Silly Bandz – the second product on the one-hit-wonder list that I’d purchased – to market in the States.

Silly Bandz are those colored elastic wristies in the shapes of animals, TXT-isms (OMG, LOL), and other things that were the kid rage a while back. I bought a few packs of them for my nieces when they (Silly Bandz, not the nieces) were at their popularity peak in the U.S. Today, the rising demand is elsewhere, but Croak has some other ideas up (and on) his sleeve:

The Slap Watch, which has an oversized, brightly colored silicone wristband; Rad Bandz, thick rubber bracelets imprinted with stylized words such as "Drama" and "Epic Fail"; and RadRingz, a colorful, two-finger ring—Mr. Croak calls it "half a brass knuckle"—with removable faceplates.

Croak was also a bit shy about revealing just how much he’s made off of Silly Bandz,

…except to say that the profits are in the "millions per year," and he's probably set for life.

Baby on Board

Until I read the article, I had not been aware that the man responsible for those Baby on Board signs that were once so ubiquitous is from Boston.

Michael Lerner was not the inventor of those signs, but, having just experienced a peril-filled drive on Boston’s Storrow Drive with his 18-month old nephew on board, he knew a good idea when he saw one a few weeks later.  That was in 1984, and by nine months into the business, his company, Safety 1st, was selling half a million of these signs per month. (A chicken in every pot, a car - or two or three -  in every garage, and a Baby on Board sign on every car window.)

By 1985, the first knockoffs started appearing, but Mr. Lerner had developed strong relationships with his retailers and was able to protect his shelf space. Sales really didn't start to dip until the parodies came, like "Mother-in-law in Trunk" and "Baby, I'm bored."

Safety 1st branched out into other child-safety products, like well-packaged electrical outlet covers, so I wouldn’t exactly call Lerner a one-hit wonder. His company’s sales grew from $7.7M a year in 1989 to $158M in 1999. He sold the company in 2000, and pocketed a cool $38 million, so he has some cash on board.

He’s now trying for another hit, this time with some sort of therapeutic band, which is sold through a start-up, True Power>.

The company, which has testimonials from several New England Patriots, claims the bands use negative ions to speed oxygen delivery in the blood, which in turn hastens recovery from injury and fatigue.

Put me down as a skeptic, but what do I know?

I never had a hit, let alone one that made me $38M.


The final product noted was the Bumpit, some type of push-up plastic head band that lets women create Snooki-esque big hair dos without having to visit a hair salon.

Kelly Fitzpatrick-Bennett is the inventor, and styles herself as the “chief executive optimist” of her company, which is called Big Happie Hair. Chief executive optimist? No wonder I’m not rich…

Bumpits are licensed for mass distribution by the same outfit that has made the Snuggie a household word. Although at its peak, Fitzpatrick-Bennett sold a million Bumpits a month, she’s now planning for more modest sales of 20,000 per.

"I was pretty realistic in knowing it would only have a year of good life and then it would just sit and stop," Ms. Fitzpatrick-Bennett says.

Which makes Ms. Fitzpatrick-Bennett sound like one quite practical chief executive optimist.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

There may not be any honor among thieves….

There may not be any honor among thieves, but, for at least one of them, there was a certain amount of contortionist agility.

Two crooks were arrested in Spain recently for stealing goods from baggage stowed in the luggage hold of an airport transit bus in Barcelona.

The duo had an interesting M.O.

One of them placed a large bag in the cargo hold, then took his place on the bus. The large bag contained his packed in accomplice, all nicely folded up to avoid both detection and wrinkling.

Once the bus was underway, the bag-man Houdini’d himself out of the suitcase and, with the aid of a headlamp, rummaged through the stored bags to see what might be worth pinching.

When apprehended, the loot he’d managed to find on that trip was a GPS device and a laptop. This may not have been worth all that much on the secondary market, but things are tough all over. No doubt they were hoping for something a bit more lucrative – jewelry and/or currency – but you can’t be all that fussy. And maybe this was just an off day.

Whether this type of thievery was the path to riches, or just another lousy day’s pay for another lousy day’s work, it strikes me as a pretty hard way to make a buck. Or a Euro. Or a zloty.

The burglars were Polish.

I find it kind of strange that they were plying their trade in Spain, where the economy is well beyond terrible, rather than in Poland, which is faring pretty well.

Maybe they’d been working in Spain during its go-go years, and just preferred the weather there to what’s typically on offer in Poland. With all the jobs gone adios, maybe this was the only “work” they could find.

But, as I noted, this doesn’t seem like a particularly easy way to make your way in the world.

Suitcase-man has to work in the dark, in the heat, and in the diesel-smelling cargo hold, where it probably feels like you’re going about 50 mph faster than you would be if you were comfily seated about 6 feet higher up.

The other guy had most of the trip easier. He got to sit on a plush seat in an air-conditioned coach. But he also had to heave the bag containing suitcase man around. I don’t care how skinny suitcase-man is, I suspect that the bag was well above the standard 20 kilogram carried-on bag limit. Plus he had to deal with the suspense of not knowing whether suitcase-man was going to find anything good, and make the theft worthwhile.

They sure wouldn’t be thrilled to find what’s in my Tumi bag on a typical trip: two pairs of black pants, two sweaters, a half-dozen tee-shirts, a couple of scarves, undies for the week, and a pair of slightly less sensible shoes than what I wore on the plane. Throw in an eight-dollar umbrella, a couple of paperbacks, and some toiletries and, hey boys, knock yourselves out.

I suspect that the contents of my bag aren’t that much different than that of most travelers. Not to mention that if suitcase-man was going through luggage that was on its return trip, he was probably dealing with some dirty laundry. So, combine dark, heat, diesel fumes, and yucky underwear – all in hopes that someone has checked a string of real pearls, a Rolex watch, or ten-thousand Euros in small unmarked bills, not to mention having to contort yourself back into your suitcase once you were done with your snooping and looting – and methinks there are better ways to make a living.

Then again, that could just be me.

After all, the unemployment rate in Spain is well over 20%, and with that kind of joblessness, a young and rubber-jointed young man’s fancy could absolutely turn to thievery.

The unemployment rate in Poland, on the other hand, is less than 10%.

So you have to wonder why Krzysztof and Jouoastaw weren’t better off back in the mother country.

I guess they just liked the flexible working conditions on Spanish airline buses.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------Source: AOL Travel News, which contains a link to a “tremendous diagram” from a Spanish newspaper that illustrates how the crime worked (or, in this case, didn’t work).

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bookstore-less. (Bereft.)

Late last week I heard the news that the Borders that I walk by every day – and make frequent stops at – will be closing in the next couple of months.

Watching most any store or restaurant go out of business is a pretty depressing process. If it’s a chain store like Borders, especially if it’s one you patronize, there’s the loss of the convenience factor, and the loss of jobs for those who worked there. If it’s a small, local store, it’s not just the convenience and jobs that are lost, there’s probably someone’s dream flying out the window. “My” card store, Copley Flair, a small (3 location) local chain closed this past year. I send a lot of greeting cards, so I was particularly bummed when it went out of business. Where was I going to buy my Christmas cards which, for the last few decades, I’d gotten half-price, the day after Christmas at Copley Flair? Fortunately, I already have my 2011 cards, but what am I supposed to do for 2012 exactly?

“My” Copley Flair was just across the street from “my” Borders, so it was a place I walked by every day, too. They had a great card selection, reasonable prices, and a frequent buyer program. I loved getting my tenth punch on my yellow and black polka-dot customer card, which meant a free card. Yea!

Now the only convenient card store is Papyrus.. Very nice cards, but pretty darned pricey – even with the buy three, get the fourth free deal-io they have going. Whenever I pick up a card and see $6.95 on the back, I have heart palpitations and a flash-back to the time when 25 cents was a lot to pay for a greeting card. Papyrus cards are also over-packaged: most come sealed for freshness in a clear plastic envelope. I suppose that this prevents them from becoming shopworn, yet it seems like complete overkill to me. Maybe they should just issue patrons surgical gloves to wear when handling the cards, in much the same way that shoe stores give out nylon peds.

Anyway, when Copley Flair closed I was very sorry to see them go.

But not half as sorry as I will be to see the downtown Borders shutter its operation.

When I saw the news the other day, I immediately dropped in and spent nearly a hundred bucks on books, boo-hooing all the way.

Having watched the Borders in Back Bay drop out of existence, I know what to expect from the liquidation sale, and it won’t be pretty.

I know we’re supposed to look down our noses at chains of any sort, and mostly I do. But Borders was pretty good

I don’t just buy a lot of greeting cards, I buy a lot of books, and I’d say that, at least once a month, I’d stop in at Borders and pick up at least a couple of them.

I might have just finished up what I had been reading, and not want to sort through my reserve supply of a hundred or so books. Or I might have just felt like taking a break from whatever it was that was sitting on the floor next to the bed. Maybe I was buying a few books to take on a trip – which was the case on my previous Borders visit, when I picked up a couple of novels and a history book to take to Ireland. Maybe it was to buy a gift. Books are my default baby present, not to mention what I pretty much always give my brother Rick for his birthday, and my cousin-in-law Dick for Christmas.

Borders had a pretty good selection, and the folks who worked there were incredibly nice and helpful.

Amazingly, with the demise of Borders, there will be no place in downtown Boston where you can buy a new book. (A couple of used bookshops remain open.)

So there will be no more casual, drop in, browse-and-buy book-buying trips for me.

Going to the Back Bay Barnes and Noble – which I don’t like anywhere near as much as a I like Borders – is a bit out of the way. If I’m going to go there, I might as well go to the Boston Public Library, which is on the way. Which is not a bad idea. I have been telling myself that I really should frequent the library rather than keep on buying books, which do tend to accumulate, even though my sisters and I are pretty good about keeping them in circulation.

The Borders in Cambridge is supposedly staying open, but if I’m going to schlepp to the Cambridgeside Galleria, I might as well go to Harvard Square, where the excellent indie bookseller, the Harvard Bookstore, is located. (I have always loved the Harvard Bookstore, but the bookstore in the square that I really miss is Wordsworth, which went out a couple of years back. In fact, when I read about the Borders’ closing, I had just begun to absorb the news that Wordsworth’s (little) sister store, Curious George, which sold children’s books and toys, is also closing. Maybe there’ll be something interesting going in in its place, although the recent retail history of Harvard Square suggests something wretchedly uninteresting and every-mall-in-America like.)

Rather than stop in The Square, I could always stay on the subway for another stop, and patronize Porter Square Books, another indie. Or head in the opposite direction – Go West, late-middle-aged woman! – and shop at the very fine Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner.

So I do have book-buying options open to me, at least temporarily. I.e., until the only way to buy books will be from Amazon, and/or the printed word is completely subsumed by the digital.

But it’s not the same as having a bookstore that I pass every day and can stop into for an impulse buy.

Why my Borders?

Oh, boo-hoo.