Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mini vakay

Pink Slip is taking a couple of days off, and will return on Monday, August 1.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Princely sums

The rich are different from you and me. And it’s not just because they have more money. It’s how they spend it.

Which I find if not endlessly fascinating, then pretty darned fascinating. So I was quite interested in an article on the Sultan of Brunei’s brother that appeared in the July Vanity Fair.

Prince Jefri Bolkiah is or was Brunei’s “notorious royal playboy.”

Notorious royal playboy is not a category I’ve followed closely over the year, so I had never heard of old Prince Jef. But he reputedly holds the informal record for having blown through more money than anybody else on earth which, given things like the Kardashian engagement ring and Donald Trump’s preference for gold and marble, must really mean some serious spending of the green.

I had,  of course, heard of the Sultan of Brunei, and it’s not as if he were at home eating pilchard from cans and extending shoe life with cardboard insoles while his brother spent with abandon.

Initially, the Sultan led the notorious playboy charge with his bro:

They raced their Ferraris through the streets of Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital, at midnight, sailed the oceans on their fleet of yachts (Jefri named one of his Tits, its tenders Nipple 1 and Nipple 2), and imported planeloads of polo ponies and Argentinean players to indulge their love for that game, which they sometimes played with Prince Charles. They snapped up …an array of international companies (including Asprey, the London jeweler to the Queen, for which Jefri paid about $385 million in 1995, despite the fact that that was twice Asprey’s estimated market value or that Brunei’s royal family constituted a healthy portion of its business)…The brothers routinely traveled with 100-member entourages and emptied entire inventories of stores such as Armani and Versace, buying 100 suits of the same color at a time.

I wonder whether that “same color” was at least something practical like navy or charcoal, rather than something more morning-after-regrettable like bottle green or maroon. And perhaps it’s because I have the advantage of a business education, but I do not believe that I would ever pay twice the market value of a business that largely relied on my family’s purchasing power. This reminds me of a story an accounting professor once told us about a client of his who inherited some money and set up a business with it. After a year in “business”, he went to his accountant and show him the books. The biggest expense line was the salary that he had paid himself…

And that polo playing with Prince Charles isn’t the only Brunei-boys connection to The Royals. They apparently financed the purchase of Harrods by Dodie Fayed’s father. Another one of those six degrees of separation thangs.

But all good things must come to an end, and the brothers had a falling out over suspicion that Jefri – who spent at a $50M a month clip that would make Paris Hilton blush – had, as finance minister, looted Brunei’s treasury to the tune of nearly $15 B. (A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking some serious money.)

So where’d all the money go?

Well, some, of course, went for girls. And then there was the $17M paid to Michael Jackson for a private concert, and the $6M to Whitney Houston.

Some went to gifts to friends, family, and hangers-on, like the badminton coach who was kept in birdies by a small cash gift of $1.5M. Then one of Prince Jefri’s sons, Hakeem, wanted to learn how to play football. So,

… Jefri imported N.F.L. stars Joe Montana and Herschel Walker to Brunei, at a cost of seven figures each, to teach him the game. Hakeem and his friends showed up in brand-new uniforms, the gargantuan prince weighing 300 pounds, trailed by a valet and guarded by a state security force. Hakeem was not able to catch the ball, so a teammate would hand it to him, and he would then shuffle down the field for an easy touchdown, because no one was allowed to tackle a prince.

I’ll bet those touchdowns made Joe Montana and Herschel Walker proud. Bet they felt they earned that seven-figure pay day, but one would hope that the two of them would have the grace to have been just a tiny bit embarrassed about the episode.

A lot of Jefri’s spending went for just plain stuff. Life’s goodie bag included 2,300 cars, 5 boats, 9 aircraft, a statue of himself holding a solid gold polo mallet, and all sorts of stuff stuffed in 21 warehouses.  Some of those cars, not surprisingly, had barely been driven – if you have 2,300 cars you can use some just to drive around the garage to get to another one -  and the tires and rubber gaskets around the windows of some of the vehicles had melted in the Brunei heat.  Smaller consumer items that had caught Jefri’s eye and opened his wallet over the years included:

…a rug woven with jewels in threads of solid gold ($7 million), 10 jewel-encrusted wristwatches that depicted on the hour a couple copulating ($8 million), and similarly erotic fountain pens ($1.3 million).

Watches like that? Do you buy them off the shelf – ‘Hey, Herb, could you see if we have any more of those watches with the couples screwing? Guy here says he’ll take 10 if we have them.’ – or are they specially designed – “I’d like the face encircled with a combination of diamonds and rubies, and every time the big hands at 12, I’d like Adam and Eve to pop out, in flagrante, just like the cuckoo springs out of the cuckoo clock.”

And what’s going one in the watch makers’ minds when they’re making them? The customer is always right? It would be interesting to have Joe Montana and the watch makers compare notes, wouldn’t it.

Taking out an erotic fountain pen to sign a check must have added a special flourish to any transaction, as well.

    The mind – at least this mind – can’t help but boggle at the thought of someone blowing through $15B. But, of course, money does seem to matter less when you haven’t actually had to do a darned thing.

    “Shopping, restaurants, enjoyed life,” one of Jefri’s sons answered when asked how he occupied his time.

    Well, I like shopping, restaurant, and enjoying life as much as the next guy, but there’s only so much of it you can do.  Wouldn’t you think you’d come up with a sport, a hobby, a good cause? At least Hakeem tried to learn football…

    Any how, the Sultan has been cracking down on Jefri, repossessing assets, etc., so the days of buying erotic million dollar watches are in the past. Wonder what he’s doing with his time these days.

    Tuesday, July 26, 2011

    Debt is “cool”? Huh? (Huh?)

    As if this past year’s hoo-hah over football players trading shoulder pads for discounts on tattoos wasn’t quite enough news coming out of Ohio State, now comes an OSU report that:

    … found that many young adults think debt is a good thing. They feel a boost to their self-esteem from carrying credit card and education debt. (Source: article entitled ‘Some young adults think debt is cool.’)

    And here I was thinking that the rising generation was going to be all kinds of prudent, and learn from the mistakes of the feckless, mortgaged to the hilt hordes who came before them.

    Not that debt is all evil, all the time. But “debt is a good thing”?

    Holy Moly! (Good-bye, Columbus!)

    I made my ‘say it isn’t so’ way over to the OSU Research News site, and there it was again:

    Instead of feeling stressed by the money they owe, many young adults actually feel empowered by their credit card and education debts, according to a new nationwide study.

    Researchers found that the more credit card and college loan debt held by young adults aged 18 to 27, the higher their self-esteem and the more they felt like they were in control of their lives.  The effect was strongest among those in the lowest economic class.

    I have a lot of sympathy for kids coming out of college up to their eyeballs -  and beyond -  in debt, facing a terrible job market. I feel especially bad for the ones who borrowed $50K a year to pursue their “passion” – a major in interpretive basket weavery – rather than studying something completely practical (electronics engineering) or at least of marginal utility in the work world (psychology). Yes, it was their own damned ill-advised faults. But they were so young and vulnerable. And now they’re out their with a mortgage-sized sack of debt. And they don’t even own the house when they pay it down.

    But feeling empowered, feeling good about that sack of debt. Talk about one more downside aspect of the self-esteem generation.

    What I find most troubling here, however, is the note that “the effect was strongest among those in the lowest economic class.”

    Sadly, I can see how a kid from a poor background might naively interpret a college’s or bank’s willingness to let them take on all kind of student loans, and a whole bunch of credit cards “awarding” them $5K credit limits as a sign of faith in their potential.  Hey, these guys must think I’ve got what it takes if they’re willing to forward me this kind of cash.

    And there’s nothing wrong with investing in yourself.

    Certainly, taking out a “modest” amount of debt to fund your own education should be worthwhile. But when that debt goes much beyond $5K per year for four years, it can become crippling pretty darned fast, especially if you’re not in an especially lucrative field.

    Credit card debt, by the way, makes middle class kids get all smiley face.

    Those in the middle class didn’t see any impact on their self-esteem and mastery by holding educational debt, perhaps because it is so common among their peers that it is seen as normal.  But they did see boosts from holding credit-card debt – the more debt, the more positive effects.

    Rolling up credit card debt while in college so that you can let the good times roll. Gasp! I do not have sufficient imagination to understand how having credit card debt can yield any positive effects. I’m the old-fashioned crank type: How about you forego the new iPad or that Kate Spade bag?

    The young folks bearing so much debt – smart debt, stupid debt – are eventually going to figure out that paying it down stinks, and can relegate you to living in some dump with a kazillion roommates – or back with your folks – with little money to spend on the discretionary stuff that folks in their twenties should be focusing on: going out with friends, traveling, buying a new couch.

    It’s no surprise that:

    Only the oldest of those studied – those aged 28 to 34 – began showing signs of stress about the money they owed.

    Yep. Now that they’re settling down, they’re realizing just what a bad bargain some of that debt might have been.


    Here’s an earlier post on a college student taking on some really stupid debt.

    Monday, July 25, 2011

    Well, that’s the last time I’ll take a grocery store sample

    There’s grocer samples. And then there’s grosser samples.

    As some Albuquerque, New Mexico shoppers found out when they sampled the red-light special on aisle four at a Sunflower Market.

    A store employee had added his own special sauce, a secret ingredient, to the yogurt samples he was distributing last winter: his own precious body fluids.  (Source: AP article seen on

    The taste rang a bell with one sampler who found that the flavor was quite reminiscent of semen. The police tested a sample, determined it was tainted, and DNA-matched it to one Anthony Garcia, who was just indicted by a federal grand jury

    …on charges of adulterating food and making false statements to federal investigators. He was arrested Wednesday afternoon and is scheduled to appear in court Thursday morning.

    This is no ha-ha, laugh it off as a dirty joke type of situation, by the way:

    If convicted on the adulteration charge, Garcia faces three years in prison, a $250,000 fine and a year of supervised release. The other charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.  (Source:


    On second thought, don’t gulp.

    U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzalez has let it be known that he doesn’t care what Garcia’s intent may have been. His office intends to:

    “…vigorously pursue those who deliberately adulterate foods for the purpose of causing harming to innocent consumers, or as malicious pranks, or for deviant sexual gratification.”

    That must have been a stomach-churning and/or smirk-a-lot grand jury to have served on, that’s for sure.

    Predictably, when this incident first came to light last winter, commenters were buzzing about whether this was yet another one of those glass-in-my-salad, what’s-that-fly-doing-in-my-soup set ups that scam artists create so that they can sue. (Interesting enough, a number of those early commenters also asked ‘how would anyone know what that stuff tasted like?’ LOL. If one doesn’t actually know first hand (or first mouth), surely a consenting adult – one old enough to comment on an online article – would have the experience and/or imagination to figure out how someone might have come into possession of this information, even if they, themselves, had not. Those comments reminded me of a long-ago trip to the San Diego Zoo, during which two giant land tortoises decided that, public be damned, the time was right to get it on. There was a middle-aged couple standing near me, and I overhead that wife ask the husband ‘What are they doing?’)

    Anyway, it seems to me that there are enough gross things that can happen in the food chain without scam artists making them up. And since the DNA ties the “yogurt” to Garcia, this one seems like the real deal.

    I’ve had a couple of gross food things happen to me over the years. I found a pinky-sized bandaid in some cole slaw; and a finger nail in a drink. One time, I found a piece of gravel in a bowl of soup, but fortunately my tongue found it before I crunched down on it and broke a tooth. I did break a tooth once on a stoned-wheat cracker, and my first thought was that what I had in my mouth was a pebble. I started to put it in a baggy, the better to run it back to Whole Foods with my j’accuse, when I observed that the pebble looked an awful lot like a piece of tooth. Oh, gross! Even worse than a teensy-tiny pebble, it’s a teensy-tiny piece of someone’s tooth. Then my trusty tongue made it’s way to my less trusty tooth, and I realized that that teensy-tiny bit o’ tooth was mine.

    Years earlier, I’d been craving a peanut butter sandwich, so when I returned from grocery shopping I eagerly opened up the peanut butter jar. Only to find that someone had kindly pre-twirled the lid for me, and had not so kindly shoved his/her mitt into the PB and scooped out a giant wad. Peanut butter jar in hand, I ran back to the store and demanded a replacement.

    But, as far as I know, I have not been subjected to someone else’s bodily fluids, precious or not, when I’ve helped myself to the grocery samples.

    Meanwhile, Sunflower Markets – a small chain located throughout the West – which offers “serious food, silly prices” is not-so-strangely silent on this incident. The closest mention on their news page is the one announcing their GMO-free house-brand of tofu. (One does, of course, assume that Anthony Garcia is no longer on hand as a store employee.)

    But it’s always interesting to take a look at what a company has to say about itself and hold it up to the light of some piece of disturbing news.

    Sunflower kind of aw-shucks thinks of themselves as:

    …just hard-working folks who get a real kick out of negotiating the best possible deal anywhere.

    There’s no doubt that Garcia got a kick out of his personal foray into organics; and I’ll bet that his lawyer is, just about now, trying to negotiate “the best possible deal anywhere.”

    Our customers and suppliers tell us that they find our way of doing business to be a refreshing change.

    Change, assuredly. Refreshing? Maybe not.

    As for me, I’ll be saying a quick ‘no thanks’ to any grocery sample that’s in liquid-ish form.

    Pink Slip has been on the adulterated food story before. See Ratatouille to read about someone who found a mouse in her canned green beans.

    Friday, July 22, 2011


    On a long-ago business trip, I got to go to Bloomington (State Farm Insurance) and Peoria (Caterpillar), Illinois. We got to stay at Jumer’s Chateau which, while it didn’t quite havejumers-chateau-bloomington “theme rooms”, was right up there on the odd-ball business hotel list. Alas, Jumer’s is no longer called Jumer’s, which was part of its mega-charm, in my book. It’s now just the boring old “Chateau.” Anyway, the trip was memorable for a number of reasons. One was horrific: on the drive back to O’Hare, as we made our way through the soybean and corn fields, we kept moving in and out of radio reception while we tried to piece together what had happened that day in Oklahoma City. Had somebody really bombed a bunch of kids in a daycare center?

    As for the business aspects of the trip:

    Caterpillar went with someone else. We were just in there as due diligence fodder, and it didn’t help that our product demo didn’t work. (Wasn’t the first time; wasn’t the last.)

    State Farm was an existing customer, and we got some add-on business from then.

    But what I most remember about State Farm was their cafeteria. While it had the standard large-caf stations – entrees, soup, sandwiches, salads, desserts – it also had its very own Jell-o section. On offer were about a half-dozen different colored and/or flavored Jell-o desserts. Plain, with Cool Whip, with fruit, with Cool Whip and fruit. (Okay, okay. I don’t actually know if they were made with authentic Jell-o as opposed to, say, Royal – if Royal is even still in business – but Jell-o really is one of those Kleenex brands, isn’t it? Do I get to throw in the word eponymous here?)

    I didn’t have any Jell-o myself, but one of the customers we ate with did, so I couldn’t exactly sit there making snarky comments about the variety and abundance of gelatinous desserts available.

    And who was I to make fun of Jell-o to begin with?

    It’s not as if I were any stranger to it.

    My father had both a hollow leg and a sweet tooth, so my mother made a different dessert at least 4 or 5 times a week. Most of what we’re talking here was scratch baking: pies, cakes, cookies, squares, brownies. But when she was pressed for time, Liz would do a quickie pudding or Jell-o thing for us. You haven’t lived until you’ve had green Jell-o with canned fruit cocktail suspended in it.

    While Jell-o was nowhere near as satisfying Daddy’s Favorite (raisin nut cake), Jack Horner Cake (spice cake made with prunes; amazingly tasty), or pan of Congo Bars, it was certainly better than a plain old apple. (This is so making me crave a piece of Daddy’s Favorite or Jack Horner. Apples I have all the time.)

    But my mother kicked out all the stops on holidays, when she made a fancy Jell-o mold: “Waldorf Salad” made with apple Jell-o, apples, celery, and walnuts. Or orange Jell-o with pineapple and grated carrots. Or raspberry Jell-o with strawberries and walnuts slathered in sour cream. (Can that be right?)

    Ah, yes, I make fun now, but they were all pretty darned tasty.

    At any rate, I had ample reasons to be interested in a recent WSJ article claiming that “flavored gelatin is turning up in the work of avant-garde chefs and established design studios across the country.” (“Flavored gelatin”? Hooey. Why don’t you just come right out and say J-E-L-L-O, so we all know what you’re talking about.)

    Colleen Whiteley, a furniture designer, used lemon-flavored gelatin to sculpt the head of Walt Disney at a recent Jell-O mold contest. (“Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,” preferably made out of butterscotch pudding.") Whiteley’s oeuvre garnered her:

    … a creativity prize in the Brooklyn, N.Y., Jell-O Mold Competition. The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York provided prizes and her team of sculptors recently spent weeks perfecting their replica of Walt Disney's head.

    Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum! Jell-O sure has come a long and high faultin’ way from the grocer’s shelf.

    Among other notable works: Obama’s head’s been “done”, as has Buckingham Palace, in honor of the recent royal nups.

    The work of these artists and chefs is firming up gelatin's reputation in the culinary world. Companies like Blooming Gelatin Art in Los Angeles are selling gelatinas—gelatin cakes in flavors like mango and cappuccino with ornate flowers injected into the center. Michelle Quiles teaches classes on the technique, which she learned in Mexico City and involves injecting colored milk into the bottom of a gelatin cake.

    Who knew?

    I thought it was an aesthetic triumph to do a two-layer, two-tone Jell-o thing.

    But Jello’s gone foodie:

    The Way We See the World, a design studio in New York, has invented edible cups made of agar-agar with flavors like ginger mint and grapefruit chamomile. The cups are meant as a snack to go along with the cocktails they hold. The studio hopes to package and sell the cups next spring.

    And directly boozy:

    Michelle Palm blogs about creative Jell-o shots at Jelly Shot Test Kitchen when she’s not working as a financial consultant.

    Jell-o, not surprising, is hoping to get in on the act:

    Kraft Foods Inc., which sells about 165 million boxes of Jell-O instant gelatin dessert per year, plans to launch a marketing campaign this fall, known internally as "Mold Mania," introducing new molds, such as one in the shape of a brain for Halloween. "We definitely see a resurgence in molds," says Cindy Chen, director of marketing for the Jell-O brand.

    I do believe that Archie McPhee beat Kraft to the brain-shaped mold. In fact, I used to have one, which I gave to a colleague to use at his kid’s haunted house party. But not before I made a brain mold for a family function.

    Meanwhile, that 165 million boxes a year sounds really low to me. Come on, that’s not even one per capita.[SB10001424052702303812104576442181786652882] What’s the world coming to? So little Jell-o consumed. This is not the America that I grew up in. Thus, it must – by definition, no? – be un-American and just plain wrong.

    While the avant-garde chef-erati are doing their bit. I’ll think about ways in which I can do mine. I must say that these nifty Santa caps might well be comin’ to town at my house this Christmas Eve….

    Thursday, July 21, 2011

    Here on Gilligan’s Isle…

    Sherwood Schwartz died last week, at the considerable old age of 94. On the life-scale, it can absolutely be said that he got a lot more than a three-hour tour, a three hour tour.

    Sitcom cognoscenti may not be familiar with Sherwood Schwartz’s name, but they will, no doubt, immediately recognize that “a three hour tour, a three hour tour” is an excerpt from the brilliant lyrics to the series Gilligan’s Island. Written by Mr. Schwartz, who created and produced this timeless classic.

    Did I say timeless?

    I meant endless. Relentless. Mindless.

    Hell for me would surely involve an endless loop of Gilligan’s Island reruns.

    At one point, hell for me was having an office next to a sales guy who incessantly whistled – off-key, of course - the theme to Gilligan’s Island. (I’m having flashbacks now. Grrrrrr.)

    There were certain sitcoms that even a young TV junkie like myself avoided at all costs, and Gilligan’s was certainly one of them. (You can throw Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres on that grill, too.)

    Gilligan’s Island!

    What was Bob Denver doing on such a show, after he had performed so admirably as beatnik Maynard G. Krebs in the droll and mildly subversive Many Loves of Dobie Gillis?

    Well, I suppose he was just making a living, but Maynard G. Krebs vs. Gilligan?

    Not that Gilligan’s was completely devoid of wit.

    The ill-fated boat that the castaways were on when marooned was called the S.S. Minnow,

    …named for Newton Minow, who as Federal Communications Commission chief in the early 1960s had become famous for proclaiming television "a vast wasteland."

    Well, all the nostalgia for the Golden Age of Television aside, old Newton sure must have had shows like Gilligan’s in mind. Since the speech pre-dated Gilligan’s, he can’t have had it in mind. (Was the Beverly Hillbillies on the air yet, I wonder?) And, of course, it’s amusing to think of the three-network TV landscape, with a few “educational” stations and unaffiliated rogues thrown in for good measure, as a vast anything. (In my day, we meant it when we complained that ‘there’s nothing on.’)

    Anyway, I’d take Maynard G., Dobie, Herbert T. Gillis, Thalia Menninger, and Chatsworth Osborne, Jr. over the Skipper, Mary Ann, the millionaire and his wife, any old day.

    But maybe I was missing something:

    TV critics hooted at "Gilligan's Island" as gag-ridden corn. Audiences adored its far-out comedy. Schwartz insisted that the show had social meaning along with the laughs: "I knew that by assembling seven different people and forcing them to live together, the show would have great philosophical implications."

    The “gag-ridden corn” is all flooding back to me, but I don’t think I was part of the audiences that “adored its far-out comedy.” Far-out. Now Dobie Gillis, that was far-out, man. I mean, come on, a beatnik on TV. (“You rang?”)

    Sherwood Schwartz also gave us The Brady Bunch, which aired after my TV-watching prime, but which I did occasionally see. (And which had a theme-song that was equal to that of Gilligan’s on the obnox-o-meter. Fortunately, I never had a colleague who whistled The Brady Bunch while at work.)

    I did “meet” Ann B. Davis, who played the Bradys’ housekeeper, Alice, when she came in to Durgin-Park while I was waitressing. I caught her eye when she walked in and said something brilliant like “Hey, you’re Schultzy.”, a reference to the role she’d played on The Bob Cummings Show (told you I’d been a TV junkie). For whatever reason, she got all snotty and haughty, and just swept by me, even though I wasn’t being a nasty D-P waitress, just someone who was, if not exactly thrilled, then pleased to see an iconic TV character of my childhood.

    However greatly I may decry the shows he was responsible for, I will say that Mr. Schwartz lived a long, full and accomplished life. I read in his Wikipedia entry that he disliked Red Skelton, for whom he worked at one point. Disliking Red Skelton in itself wipes out the misery of my having had to listen to my colleague incessantly whistle (off-key) the theme to Gilligan’s Island.

    And then there’s Schwartz’s nephew Douglas, who created Baywatch….

    Gotta say one thing about this family. Gilligan’s Island. Brady Bunch. Baywatch.  They sure knew how to tap into something that resonated with the American TV-watching public. Would that I were so gifted and blessed.

    Info Source: AP article on

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    Human Cannonball-ing

    Oddly, given that the economic landscape seems to be so dominated by GIANTS like BofA and Exxon-Mobil, we’re constantly reading both the small business is the true engine of job growth, and that we’re all going to end up as free-lance entrepreneurs, architecting our very own bespoke careers that are long on short engagements.

    Some professions, of course, do seem to lend themselves quite nicely to the on-your-own economy; others less so (free-lance assembly line worker, anyone?).

    But David Smith, père et fils, seem to have figured it out the self-employment thing. They’re human cannonballs, as are a couple of other of David Smith, Sr.’s children.

    David Smith, Sr., at 69, was in Lowell, Massachusetts, a couple of weeks back, entertaining the Lowell Spinners baseball crowd with a “Human Home Run” stunt. It actually wasn’t a home run, as the cannon was set up near second base – but the plan was to shoot him out of the park, so…

    The article I saw on on Smith was written before the shot heard round the Spinners’ home field, but I’m pretty sure I would have heard about it if there’d been a misfire.

    Which can happen.

    According to wikipedia – so it must be right, right? – over the course of human cannonball history (about 150 years), thirty cannonball have been killed in action. That may not seem like a lot, but there haven’t been all that many human cannonballs during that period. So, as occupational hazards go, this one is right up there. In fact, last April, in the UK, one of the few, the proud, the cannonballs died when his safety net failed. So kids – even if you happen to have a cannon in the backyard capable of fitting a human down its barrel, and a soft landing spot – puhl-eeze don’t try this at home.

    David Smith, Sr., by the way, started out as a teacher, but decided after a few years that life would be more interesting and rewarding as a daredevil.

    Of his 11 children – he’s apparently been a human cannonball in other aspects of his life – six have worked at one point or another as human cannonballs.

    The one who’s grabbed the URL is David Smith, Jr., who just last March broke the record that his father had set.

    He is the highest flying Human Cannonball in tCannon Ballerhe world today with his world record braking human cannonball shots and his dynamic personality.

    Not sure if that “braking” is a spell-o or has some greater meaning. Personally, I always brake for human cannonballs.

    Human Cannonball, Jr. – whose sobriquet is “The Bullet” to distinguish him from his father “The Cannonball” still thinks his old man is all that and a bag of chips:

    I need to thank the greatest human cannonball that ever lived, the brain behind the machine, My Father, David Smith Sr. For setting the bar so high. without you I may never have learned to fly.

    David Smith, Jr. joined the family business when he was just 19, as I learned from a profile that appeared a few years back on, where I also read:

    "You do fly, and the violence [to] your body on takeoff is significant," he says. "Coming down is like coming down from an eight-story building."

    Well, I’m not going to quibble with whether he’s fly-flying, or being propelled flying, but that “coming down from an eight-story building” all sounds pretty ghastly. Smith, Jr. has been injured – broken leg -  in the line of duty, as has one of his sisters, who hurt her spine when she overshot her landing airbag. (I guess now we know why it’s a spine-tingling thrill to watch someone shot from a cannon.) But the job is not without its rewards:

    For his troubles, Smith earns anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars per jump, depending on the venue, the size of the crowd, and the difficulty of the jump. All told, he earns comfortably in the low six figures per year.

    This would not have been possible if David Smith, Sr., had not revived the lost art of human cannonballing which, by the mid-20th century had become nearly “extinct”, what with TV competing so effectively for the entertainment eyeballs.

    But, as the growth of NASCAR and the life and times of Evel Knievel have shown us, watching a spectacle where someone could get seriously injured or die never goes out of style.


    If you are looking for something big and powerful, that will astonish live audiences and give you great press coverage and the best chance to get a front page You are looking for DAVID "THE BULLET" SMITH - Human Cannonball Show.

    But if you’re looking to set yourself up as a human cannonball, don’t bother. David Smith, Sr. makes the cannons, and the Smiths seem to have something of a family monopoly going.

    So, back to the drawing boards and find your own darned personal, one-off career. This one’s taken.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    $25 worth of ‘sorry for your troubles’*

    Perhaps it hasn’t quite dawned on me that, despite all those ‘life begins at 50’ Centrum ads, career-wise, I’m probably where I’m gonna be. Instead, I’m always on the lookout for interesting jobs that I could do.

    I’ve ruled out some recent jobs that have wended their way on to Pink Slip’s radar. I’ll never be a croquet pro, or someone who grosses up to 700 pounds so that I can peddle videos of myself eating to fat-o-philes . But I actually could be someone who visits cemeteries on behalf of those who can’t make it out to clean mold and bird-crap off of gravestones, pull weeds, dead-head the geraniums, and – I suppose if someone paid me – say a prayer or two. (Do the prayers of atheists count if they’re said for a believer?)

    After all, didn’t the Irish use paid keeners to lament at wakes? Surely, looking in on the dead and gone once they’re six-feet under isn’t that far off.

    Terry Marotta-Lopriore has Westchester and Putnam Counties in NY State covered, but – especially if I dragooned my cousin Babs (a natural) into the enterprise with me – I could easily mark out as our territory the Boston metro, Worcester, and The Cape.

    Marotta-Lopriore doesn’t have any franchising apparatus set up as yet, but Babs and I could figure out a pretty good bill of services, including just plain visiting.

    This would be a natural extension of our twice-a-year official cemetery jaunts, and our ad hoc, intermittent, walk arounds. Just recently, after dong the geranium thing for the graves or our parents and grandparents, we decided it was high time we took a look in at Worcester’s Hope Cemetery, the city’s Protestant venue, where famous members of the local WASPorium – like poet Elizabeth Bishop and rocket-scientist Robert Goddard – are buried.

    But Marotta-Lopriore beat me to the concept punch, so I’ll talk a bit about her big idea. (Source: NY Times.)

    Terry Marotta-Lopriore is a 57-year old paralegal who decided to augment her income by making fee-based cemetery visits. She finds her clients through advertising in local papers; and, better yet, through articles in the likes of The New York Times.  Here’s here ad:

    “Continue your signs of love and respect for your loved ones who have passed. If you are unable to visit your loved ones for whatever reason, I can help. Whether you need flowers delivered, prayers said or just a status on the condition of the site, I will visit any Westchester or Putnam County cemetery on your behalf. Proof of my visit will be either e-mailed or sent to you through the mail.”

    This does seem like a rather odd thing to out-source, but, if you’re buried in your work or life in general, well, why not hire someone to police the ground for you. I’ve hired someone to power-clean my parents’ gravestone. Flowers delivered, prayers said – just logical product line extensions.


    … charges $25 to visit a Westchester cemetery and $35 for the longer trips to Putnam County, said, “Some people might look at visiting cemeteries as creepy or morbid, but those are people who are capable of visiting their loved ones.”

    Not I! Cemeteries are a fact of life, errrr, fact of death. Or whatever. I do know that the dead, they will always be with us, and it is the one and only thing that – Baby Boomer fantasies about immortality aside – we’re all guaranteed out of life: one way or another, sooner or later, the time will come when we are all out of life.

    “But what about the people who are too old or too busy to go and pay their respects?” she asked. “What about the people who have moved out of state?”

    Yea, how about those out-of-staters?

    Certainly, there are plenty of them with dead-skis at St. Josheph’s Cemetery in Cherry Valley, Massachusetts. That would account for the fact that so many of the gravestones are at a tilt caused by the fact that the cemetery was built on a spring-fed hill. The tipsy-turvy gravestones are the responsibility of the decedents, not the parish- as I learned when I called the rectory to report that a goodly proportion of the gravestones seemed to be slip sliding away. Fortunately, our gravestones – and that includes those of my sister Margaret, my great-grandparents, Matthew and Bridget Trainor, my parents, and grandmother  - are on (or less) solid ground. Or at least maintaining, for now, their 90 degree upright positions.

    So, I’m a natural for outsourced cemetery visitor. (Bring out your dead!)

    I can think of a number of other features and capabilities that help extend this sort of business. How about offering YouTubes? Or real-time virtual visits, in which you prayed with the living loved one via smart phone or telepresence. (Cisco, take heed!)From an operational point of view, you should probably try to bunch up your visits to specific cemeteries. Maybe you shouldn’t offer two-fers, but, what the heck, if you can log a couple of visits on one jaunt, more power to you.

    I always wonder where people get their professional inspiration from. Was there something or someone that suggested the idea from them, or did it spring full-blown from the head of Medusa.?Mrs. Marotta-Lopriore credits her father with the idea for her new venture.

    “I was visiting him last month and he told me, ‘Terry, you’re always at the cemetery; why don’t you make a little money from all of this?’ ”

    Her father, Carmine Marotta, died six and a half years ago.


    I have to say that, as of today, I have not received one single career suggestion from my father. And that’s over the course of 40 years. (Love ya, Dad, but thanks for nothing.) I suspect that my cousin Babs has gotten the same zilch/nothing/nada from her father since he died in 1974.

    Still, they were both business men, so I think they’d be hunky-dory with the notion that their daughters were in the cemetery visitation biz.

    Consider our shingle’s hung out.

    Cemetery visits by Barbara and Maureen.

    Just give us a holler if you want someone to look in 0n your loved one. We’re probably there, anyway.

    And a doff of the shroud to Rick T, my brother-in-law and a supremely excellent source of blog fodder.

    *Unfamiliar with the term ‘sorry for your troubles’? It’s what the Irish used to say at wakes. The first time I went to a wake solo – I was 11 years old – my father told me to take the widow’s hand and say ‘sorry for your troubles.’ That the widow in this instance was Italian, not Irish, appeared to matter not. Anyway, I partnered up with a classmate, Mary Agnes, to go in together and take care of business at O’Connor Brothers Funeral Parlor (where, a decade later, people would be taking my hand and saying ‘sorry for your troubles’ about my father’s death.) I’m sure that Mary Agnes’ father – another Main South Irishman – would have told her the same thing, but she wasn’t haven’t any. Mary A cowered behind me, and I got stuck both holding the widow’s hand and mumbling the bit about being sorry for her troubles.

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    Not enough things to worry about? Consider the killer dishwasher.

    Like every else, I maintain all sorts of lists – online, on laptop, on paper, on file card, and in my head.

    There’s the to-do list, condo association edition – as in, see if I can get the condo association off its collective arse to get the front door and the window sashes painted).

    There’s the to-do list, inside-our-condo edition – and yes, dear family, there will be some type of door handle on the upstairs bathroom door by Christmas-tide.

    There’s the to-do list, personal – as in get our wills updated.

    I have list of to-do’s for my clients, and each week do an overall w/o list on yellow pad, which I add things to and check things off of throughout the week. And the list of things I have to do for St. Francis House (where I’m a board member), and for The Writers’ Room of Boston (where I, unfortunately, ignored the list that clearly said “Don’t let yourself get elected president.”)

    Blog post ideas. Story ideas (in hopes that at some point I will actually spend a bit of time on fiction). Books to read. Presents-cards to pick up. (Note: Julie’s wedding gift was sent through the registry; be sure to snail-mail the card.)

    Staples list (reminder: you DON’T need any more staples). CVS list (see if they have OPI French Cognac in case most recent pedicure gets chipped). Whole Foods list (why do I bother; I pretty much get the same things every time). Peapod list (online, so it takes care of the same things every time problem for me).

    Of course, there’s the bucket list. (See Venice and live…)

    And then there’s my fret lists, the list of things immediate and familial, and the list of things American and political, and the list of things global and existential.

    As a natural born worry wart, there’s a whole lot of frettin’ going on in my skull at any given time. And now, thanks to my brother-in-law Rick, who obviously has nothing better to do than to dig up scares from the UK papers, I now know that there’s no safe harbor or safe harbour in the common household dishwasher.

    They’re apparently:

    …the perfect breeding ground for fungi associated with potentially deadly illnesses.

    The moist and hot environment, combined with the alkaline water caused by the dishwasher tablets, means that the machines appear to have created a previously unknown and possibly serious threat to human health, the research paper [cited] has suggested.  Source: Telegraph.

    And it’s not just in the UK that evil lurks in the heart of the dishwasher. The study, which was published in Fungal Biology, a scholarly journal focused on, well, fungal biology, looked at:

    …189 domestic dishwashers in 101 different cities around the world. They found 62 per cent of dishwashers contained fungi on the rubber band in the door. More than half of these included the black yeasts Exophiala dermatitidis and E. phaeomuriformis which are known to be dangerous to human health.

    In addition to those black yeasty gaskets, the scientists found black yeast on the supposedly clean dishes and cutlery.

    The scientists – Dr. Polona Zalar and Nina Gunde-Cimerman  - said that they “just don’t know how serious this could be.”

    Pretty darned serious if you have cystic fibrosis, which fortunately I do not. But occasionally fatal in healthy humans, of which I am one – especially now that I’ve cleaned the black gunk out of the rubber gaskets in the fridge. Could it have been black yeast?

    Well, now I have to add checking the dishwasher gasket to my in-house to-do list.

    A girl could blow a gasket, what with all these lists.

    Meanwhile, the article couldn’t resist larding on other scary news:

    Which?, the consumer group, found that computer keyboards contained five times as many bugs as a lavatory on average.

    Okay, where in the lavatory? Sink? Tub? Medicine cabinet? Hamper? Toilet seat?

    I mean, should I start wearing surgical gloves while blogging?

    …tests on shoppers’ bags, by the University of Arizona, revealed half contained traces of E.coli, the food poisoning bug that killed over 20 people in Europe over the last month.

    Okay, what type of shoppers’ bags? Bad-for-the environment, handle-breaks-if-you-put-in-two-cans-of-crushed-pineapple plastic ones? Old-fashioned brown paper ones? My own personal, virtuous, no thanks, I have my own bags kind of shoppers’ bags?


    Some days, I just want to stay in bed with the covers pulled up over my head. But then I think of all those mites that reside in there because I haven’t boiled my mattress cover in a while…

    Up and at those lists!

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    With mallets towards none

    Last Sunday, The Boston Globe had a mah-velous article on tournament croquet.

    The timing could not have been better, given that our family’s annual summer co-ed get-together cum croquet “tournament” (on second thought, “croquet” should probably be in quotes, too) is being held tomorrow.

    It will not be held at the Lenox Club, site of the recent Berkshire Invitational, but, rather in the side yard of my cousin Mary Beth’s lovely home on The Cape.

    Nor will it use the official six-wicket, four-ball mode of play. We’re a six-ball, nine-wicket kind of family.

    And we’ve been going longer than the Berkshire Invitational, thank you. The CRAB Invitational, if I’ve got this right, began in 1992, and, thus, we’re on our 20th such outing. Although there’s usually some type of crab dip on offer, CRAB actually stands for Chet-Ralph-Al-Betty, the names of the founding fathers/mother of the families that are part of the event. The CRABs, alas, had already passed on to the Croquet Court in the Sky before the first CRAB was held. Since then, the final two – Margaret and Liz – have also disembarked. Our host’s husband has also died, which is no fairsy, as he’s our generation.

    Anyway, tomorrow’s gathering will include folks from age couple-of-months to early-seventies. (Yes, Dick, you are our alter cocker.)

    Croquet will be played, haphazardly and half-heartedly by some, more competitively and aggressively by others. The final Malletsround is generally played by the golfers who, because they golf and can line up shots, are actually pretty good at croquet. During the final round – and during the rounds in which the majority of players are of the competitive-aggressive golf ilk – balls get sent. In the more refined flights, the game is played largely to see if anyone is bad enough to lose to me and/or my cousin Barbara.

    One year, I did make the finals and I almost won, but I choked at the last moment, missing a gimme shot.

    Since then, my already shaky game has deteriorated, and, while I will play, I am pretty much past caring. I play not for the love of the game, but, rather, for the love of the family.

    Hard core, serious croquet players we are not. Rules are ad hoc, on the spot, arbitrary, in the moment, and "enforced” by force of will, bellowing power, ridicule, and just playing through. Before he died, my cousin’s husband Glenn was the referee. He actually kinda-sorta tried to occasionally go by the rule book, which has since sailed out the window, brought out only when there’s someone who looks like they’re going to win who we don’t want to win. For whatever reason, this person is generally my cousin Robert, and the folks who most vociferously do not want him to win are his three daughters. Now that the founding mothers are all gone, the word “asshole” will definitely be used at least once. (Of course, one of those founding mothers would not have minded at all. Just not mine.)

    One year, I stopped in to a sporting goods store to see if I could get Glenn a referee’s shirt. When the salesperson asked what sport I was looking for, I told him croquet.

    “I wasn’t aware that croquet needed referring,” he said.

    “It does in our family,” I told him.

    As for tournament croquet:

    As one might imagine, given the need for exquisitely manicured lawns, sometimes pricey equipment, and hard-to-clean white shorts, the pool of people who can actually invest the time and money to become serious croquet players is fairly small and skews old. Across the country, the United States Croquet Association has nearly 3,000 members spread among 300 clubs. And aside from the current Bobby Fisher of croquet and number one player in the country, Ben Rothman – a highly touted 27-year-old from Mission Hills, California, who as far as anyone knows is one of only a few Americans able to make a living as a professional croquet player and teacher – most players tend to be older than 50 and either retired or wealthy or both.

    Making a living at croquet?  Who knew?

    Ben Rothman, apparently.

    He’s sitting out the lousy job market by playing croquet, blogging (who isn’t?), and coaching.

    We do not, as noted, play six-wicket croquet, which “is almost as complicated to pick up as that nebulous British bat game cricket.” Which would be well beyond our ken, what with the sun and the beer and the general jocularity of the occasion.

    Plus, we’re Irish, so how seriously are we going to take a game that’s imported from the British Isles. (Other than golf.)

    Croquet – the backyard version we all know and love -  was taken up in the US in the late 19th century:

    …though according to the US Croquet Association, it “suffered a setback in the 1890s when the Boston clergy spoke out against the drinking, gambling, and licentious behavior associated with it on the Common.

    Why, the Boston Common is just outside my front door. Licentious croquet behavior – now that I would have liked to have seen.

    Thanks to The Globe article, I now know that official term for sending someone else’s ball: it’s “roqueting,” which is:

    …widely recognized in the backyard version of croquet as the favored move of jerk uncles everywhere – or to some other horrible fate.

    At Mary Beth’s, that horrible fate can be landing in the pond, so roqueting someone into the drink is greatly frowned upon.

    But we could use some coaching.

    So an open invite to Ben Rothman:

    If you’re on The Cape tomorrow, give us a shout.

    We’re in West Dennis. Lots of food and bev. Lots of cat-calling and bantering. This year, with two new little ones, a lot of coo-ing and ooh-ing over the new babies, Teagan and Olivia.

    I can pretty much guarantee that we’re not as genteel and posh as the folks at the Berkshire Invitational. But we’re actually pretty nice. You may be able to do a bit of networking, if you’re trying to figure out your next career move is. Just in case professional croquet doesn’t pan out for you.

    And you’ll love the CRAB motto: with mallets towards none.

    Wicket-pissah, no?

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    Gasp: making a living out of being fat.

    Just a week ago, I was posting about a relatively new professional “sport”, Major League Eating. I thought that was plenty grotesque enough. And then I came across an article on AOL about a 700 pound New Jersey woman (in AOL’s jobs section, no less) who supports herself by being fat. (This in the same week that a report on the increase in obesity in the U.S. came out. Massachusetts, by the way, is the fourth least obese state, after Colorado, Connecticut, and District of Columbia, which for purposes of the report counts as a state.)

    Ms. Simpson maintains a website (which I’m not about to link to), charging members a fat $19.95 fee for a month of watching her eat, viewing videos, and looking at still shots.  She claims that she has 7,000 subscribers, and earns $100K from her enterprise. On one hand, good on her that she can make a six-figure income from her website subscribers. Would that Pink Slip could figure out a way to do the same…

    But there is, of course, something deeply disturbing about the pornographification of obesity. All this weirdness is just another part of the soft under-belly (sorry, I couldn’t resist) of the Internet.

    I have a lot of sympathy for those who struggle with their weight.

    My mother (six-babies later) fought with 15-20 pounds extra for much of her post-having-kids life. She was by no means obese, just marginally overweight (and as sedentary as anyone with a bunch of kids can be). But when I recall the perpetual diets she was on when I was a kid, you’d have thought she was in the running for the fat lady in the circus. Iceberg lettuce. Roman Meal bread. Grapefruit. Black coffee.

    I remember her coming home from Confession one time during Lent, after she had told the priest she really couldn’t do any more fasting, as she was already on a 1,000 calories a daydiet. He te absolvo’d her and told her she didn’t need to do any more fasting.

    It must have driven her crazy that my father was one of those hollow-leg guys. Within a couple of hours after dinner, he could tuck into a sleeve of Saltine’s loaded with peanut butter, and follow it up with a bowl of ice cream. And not gain an ounce.

    Until pre-pubescence, I also enjoyed the hollow-leg, and often joined my father for the peanut-butter-on-Saltine’s snack.

    “Enjoy it while you’re young, Moe,” he’d tell me, apparently intuiting that my hollow leg would eventually fill up. (Hey, Dad: I did.)

    My mother, on the other hand, couldn’t look cross-eyed at a potato without packing on a couple of ounces.

    While my mother’s overweight wasn’t of the anywhere near grotesque or even all that noticeable variety, it didn’t help her health out any. She had high blood pressure and adult-onset Type 2 diabetes, and died at 81 of heart disease.

    I’m not exactly a sylph, myself, and should probably shed that spare 5 pounds that glommed on this winter. Like a lot of woman, I gained weight in my 40’s. Nothing dramatic, on a yearly basis, but a couple of pounds on year, a couple of pounds the next. And after a decade of this, you wake up to the fact that you’ve added a few pounds and it ain’t going to come off all that easily.

    But I’m reasonably fit, eat reasonably healthfully, get a reasonable amount of exercise (cardio and strength), and am extraordinarily healthy (knock on the elliptical).

    But I am one of those folks who enjoys eating, and have no desire to wear a size 2.

    I also have no desire to wear a size 22.

    So, while I may never be thin, I’ll never be fat, either.

    Ms. Simpson, on the other hand, is not content with her current 700 pound weight.

    She’s looking to pack on an additional 300 pounds, and claim the Guinness record as the World’s Most Obese Woman. She already holds the record for the fattest woman to give birth (a feat that required the involvement of 30 medical personnel).

    The record-breaking child is now an adorable 4 year old, who plays Mother’s Helper with the shopping and food preparation, as Ms. Simpson strives to meet her goal. This requires ingesting 15,000 calories each day. Which is about 7.5 times the calorie intake for a normal woman.

    This is costly in many ways.

    Ms. Simpson spends upwards of $750 each week on food.


    She suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, plus it's very difficult for her to go anywhere. And then there's the example she might be setting for her daughter, Jacqueline, who Simpson claims prefers healthy foods, like salad, and is active in sports.

    Yet here is a very small child being force-fed into the position as enabler of her mother’s disorder. Sad.

    Ms. Simpson is hoping to free her daughter up from her feeding responsibilities, and is seeking a partner to bear some of the shopping and food preparation burden.

    Okay, I’m contributing to the end of the world by writing about it, but what does it say about contemporary culture that there are 7,000 people out there willing to watch some poor woman eat herself to death, for surely achieving that 1,000 pound goal will hasten her end.

    Ms. Simpson claims that she is doing no harm to any one else.

    Like the not-wearing-a-helmet-while-riding-a-motorcycle argument, there is some validity to this argument (although this can’t be good for her children – she has another – no matter how much she may indeed love them).

    But the validity, of course, ends with the enormous cost to society for her health care.

    Who paid for those 30 medical professionals required to ensure that she survived childbirth?

    I would hope that this woman gets some help – and not the gain-weight help she’s looking for.

    I don’t worship at the altar of thin.

    I’d rather stay five pounds on the zaftig side than never eat another chocolate chip cookie.

    I don’t think that having a BMI of 30 makes you a bad person, or that having a BMI of 20 makes you a good one.

    I feel bad for those who struggle with their weight. And I especially feel bad for those who are poor and don’t have the Whole Food access to fresh fruits and vegetables that I enjoy.

    But for someone to willfully set out to gain an extra 300 pounds on an already unhealthy and morbidly obese body, well…

    As I said, I hope she gets the help she needs, and that’s not someone to load up the grocery cart or pop a couple of Hungry Man’s in the microwave for her.

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    How much is that doggie (hic) in the window (hic, hic)?

    We all know that drunk driving is illegal (and a totally awful thing to do).

    We all know that drunken dialing, and – more recently – texting and Facebooking, can get you into big, stupid trouble.

    And we all know that drunk-at-a-company function can be career limiting. I was once at a company event – held in a local bar – in which the out of town, absentee president, who a few months earlier had been brought in to run our division, pretended that he was interested in getting to know us all better.

    He had earlier addressed a company meeting, which got off to an excellent start when one of the techies interrupted his opening remarks and asked him to identify himself.

    “Our” president gave his name, and the techie nodded his head in satisfaction and said, “I thought so.”

    Anyway, Mr. President clearly wanted nothing more than to get away from us, but he was suffering – at HR’s insistence – through the off-site, open-bar meet and greet.

    At one point, an admin got in his face, blathering, “You don’t know who the fuck I am, do you?”

    Mr. President admitted that she was correct, at which point Denise pointed at me – who was standing about 10 feet away trying to figure out which of the two of them needed more rescuing – and said, “I bet you know who she is.” Clearly Denise was trying to prove some classist assumption she had that Mr. President would know a senior, important personage like myself, while completely ignoring a lowly administrative assistant.

    Mr. President looked over to where Denise was pointing and said, “I have absolutely no idea who she is.”

    Denise, I’m sorry to report, was on the next lay-off list.

    This is not, of course, the only drunk-at-a-company-function incident I witnessed, but it was one of the more fun and memorable ones. (How is it that there are still people out there who haven’t yet figured out that drinking and company function don’t mix.)

    But drunken puppy purchasing was a new one on me.

    It’s coming to light now because a couple of NYC pet stores have banned the practice.

    Le Petit Puppy and Citipups, both located in bar-central in The Village, have official policies banning the sale of a pooch to someone who’s been at the hooch.

    Who'd a thunk that this was enough of a problem that you’d need to establish a policy about it?

    As reported on DNAinfo, and aggregated on HuffPo, where I first saw it:

    Inebriated passers-by are falling in love with playful pooches frolicking in the window of a West Village pet store, and the problem has become so bad the owner has banned them from taking the pets home.

    "I feel like they always come in drunk," said Fernanda Moritz, the manager of Le Petite (sic) Puppy at 18 Christopher St. which has implemented a policy against letting customers buy -- or even hold -- animals if they've been drinking.

    At neighboring Citipups, a drunk woman bought a Chihuahua, only to return it half-dead (the dog, not the woman) the next day, at which point the poor pooch had ingested a bunch of pills and had to have his tiny little stomach pumped. Now I hope I don’t offend the Chihuahua fans out there, but I must say I would have to be hammered to get me one of them. Antipathy towards small yappy dogs aside, no pup deserves this treatment.

    St. Patrick’s Day is apparently one of those days when a young drunk’s fancy turns to dog-love. One drunk couple charged $3,500 worth of dog – in NYC, that’ll get you an English Bulldog and a Miniature Pinscher. (What? No Irish Setter, Kerry Blue, or Irish Wolfhound?  Sheesh. Who buys an English Bulldog on St. Patrick’s Day?)

    Buyers’ remorse set in the next morning, and the dogs were returned. At least they weren’t drugged…  Still, being taken home by a trashed new mommy and daddy has to be really terrible for a dog’s psyche.

    So I’m totally on board the no dogs to drunks policy.

    The New York Times blog also picked up on the story – a shake of the dog-collar to my brother-in-law Rick for pointing it out to me; I will ignore his entirely gratuitous swipe at my late, great and greatly-lamented dog, Grimbald.

    They quoted Dana Derraugh, of Le Petit Puppy, on how they deal with the problem. The solution: command the drunks to Sit.

    “We have a chair if we’re unsure of someone,” she said. “We make them sit down, just to make sure they won’t fall on a dog.”

    During one such sobriety test, Ms. Derraugh said, a customer fell asleep, credit card in hand, near the register.

    They also don’t keep the store open on those evenings when they know that there’ll be a lot of drunks marauding the area. But bad things can happen to good dogs, even on non-special occasions:

    Last weekend, an apparently intoxicated woman attempted to open the display window, where puppies frolic among bits of shredded paper, and scoop up the animals.

    “She wanted to hand them around to people in the store,” recalled Andrea Crocitto, an employee.

    Personally, I can’t imagine buying a dog in a store, drunk or sober. (That’s me, not the dog or the store I’m talking about.) I’m sure that there are up-and-up pet stores, but I would totally have “puppy mill horror show” on my mind, cute and enticing as those little critters on offer may be.

    Many years ago, a woman I worked with bought a Golden Retriever at a pet store. Now when I think Golden, I think mellow, but my colleague (8 months pregnant at the time) was cornered by her snarling, saliva dripping, menacing pet and had to be rescued by her husband.

    No, if I were going to the dog, I’d look for a pound puppy, or a back yard breeder (which is where the noble Grimbald came from).

    Alas, I am not in the market for a dog at present.

    Un-alas, I have my wonderful dog nephew Jack to dote on.

    As for the pet stores plagued by drunken customers, how about installing a breathalyzer at the door?

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011

    Life's now an open book(s) at Massey Energy

    When I was in business school – lo, these many years ago – I took a course entitled “Business Ethics.” The course was pretty interesting and, given that this was MIT, a nice break from the generally quantitative norm of the Sloan curriculum at that time. (Think I’m kidding: our first year economics professor was nicknamed dy/dBob.)

    As we worked our way through the cases – yes, the content came from the Harvard Business School lode – it struck me that the stories, while wildly different in some respects, were like medieval morality plays in another in that they all had the same upshot: in the long run, it always would have been better for the company to do the right thing to begin with.

    Or so I thought at the time, when I figured that, if you couldn’t do the right thing for the right reason, you could do it because you were afraid you’d be found out have to deal with all the pain and shame of getting caught.

    But over the years, I realized a couple of important things.

    One, we only know about the cases where someone actually gets caught. There have to be at least a few circumstances in which the evil-doers actually got away with something.

    Two, most of those engaging in malfeasance of some sort don’t ponder the likelihood of getting caught for all that long. If at all. Many, I would hazard, are so full of self and hubris that getting caught never occurs to them. And I suspect that many are so full of self and hubris that they define “the right thing” as whatever they’re doing.  (Kind of a business version of l'état, c'est moi.)

    This is obviously not the case with Massey Energy, which, it was recently disclosed, had added its long and ignoble “reputation for putting coal profits first” by keeping two sets of books. One for the government regulators concerned about safety in coal mines, the other for itself.

    Massey, as you may recall, owned the West Virginia mine, Upper Big Branch, where 29 men were killed last April.

    According to Mine Safety and Health Administration findings, senior management pressured company inspectors to take part in the Massey version of double entry bookkeeping, keeping information on “chronic hazardous conditions” off the official books.

    I remember when this mining disaster occurred that there were many folks interviewed who refused to work for Massey because of its abominable safety record.

    But the choice of working for Massey or not was no simple one if you lived in a hardscrabble coalfield town where the options are limited for those who for reasons of family and tradition want to stay there, rather than move out and on.

    It’s not as if Massey had been free and clear before this latest revelation.

    There’s a Justice Department criminal investigation. And, I’m sure, plenty of civil action on the part of the victims’ families. Not to mention that, in May, an independent commission established by West Virginia’s governor released a report on the Upper Big Branch disaster.

    The 120-page report offered a scathing indictment of Massey practices at the Upper Big Branch mine, pieced together through months of interviews and the analysis of documents, data and correspondence.

    The report goes on to say that a “perfect storm” was brewing inside the mine, of poor ventilation, equipment whose safety mechanisms were not functioning and combustible coal dust “behaving like a line of gunpowder carrying the blast forward in multiple directions.”

    Investigators flatly rejected the conclusion offered by Massey officials: that the explosion occurred because a giant burst of methane bubbled from the ground, an event that would have been impossible to predict or control. (Source: NY Times.)

    The report also says that the workers were well aware of the abysmal working conditions, and quoted one of the dead miners that he was “just scared to death to go to work.”

    And yet go to work these miners did, because the alternatives to not going into the pits were even bleaker.

    One hopes that, for the families left behind, the future is a little less bleak, at least in terms of the monetary awards they can and should expect from Massey, or from Alpha Natural Resources, which recently acquired the company.

    Alpha has a somewhat better safety record and rep than did Massey, but that’s pretty faint praise.

    I know it’s not possible to take all of the occupational hazard out of every occupation, and surely coal mining is one in which there will always be substantial risk. But to stack the risk deck against the workers by deliberately hiding data on known problems….

    Alpha is not off to that promising a start, if it wants to distance itself from Massey’s bad behavior. It hired Massey’s COO, Christopher Adkins:

    …whose role in the disaster was strongly criticized in the report….Ted Pile, a spokesman for Alpha, said Mr. Adkins “will not have any role in making operational decisions at the mine level,” and his job would be in “business development,” far from the safety chain of command.

    Still, the hiring of Adkins doesn’t seem particularly auspicious in any positive sense. (And I can’t help but note what a great name “Pile” is for the flack for a coal mining company.)

    Pile was back in the news commenting on the dual-books allegation:

    "We don't have enough information at this point to ascertain if the claim of separate books is valid or not," Pile wrote in an email, "but obviously we'll look at this as well as all the information that's available to us as we conduct our own review." (Source:

    We haven’t heard the last of this, of course. I suspect that there’ll be some Massey executive prison time, some massive fines, and major payouts to the families of those killed.

    I wonder when a Mr. Big or two  is doing time, or when the eight-figure checks get written, whether Massey’s senior managers will come to that medieval morality play realization that they would have been better off in the long run if they’d done the right thing.

    Or whether they’ll just be cursing the gods that they got caught.

    (Hope for the former; expect the latter.)

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    Born to Be Wild: motorcyclist dies riding helmet-less in a helmet law protest

    Over the recent holiday weekend, a middle-aged motorcyclist in upstate NY died in an accident that occurred while he was participating – helmetless, natch – in a group ride protesting helmet laws. A state trooper suggested that the guy would have lived if he’d been wearing a helmet.

    This, of course, sounds like one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” things, reminiscent of the classic Mary Tyler Moore episode in which Chuckles the Clown, dressed as a peanut, is crushed to death by an elephant.  Only this time, there’s a real person who’s died, not a sitcom character you’d never even seen.

    While I know a couple of people who “ride,” the amount of time that I have spent on a motorcycle equals the amount of time I have spent sky-diving and bungee jumping, raised to the nth power. That is to say, it is zero.

    My father (pre-wife-and-kids) had an Indian Motorcycle, but I only knew my father in his Ford sedan days. When we encountered motorcyclists on the road while out for a Sunday ride, he would scoff at them as “Hairbreadth Harrys”, after a cartoon character of his boyhood. I assume that Hairbreadth at one point headed out on the highway, looking for adventure, in whatever came his way, thus creating the association between motorcyclists and old Hairbreadth.

    I did ride a motorbike once.

    I was in Bermuda for my company’s sales kick-off, and we had a free afternoon before any of the obligatory sessions took place. (Like every other sales kick-off I ever participated in, my role was that of boring content provider, sent by boring corporate to talk about boring new product features. The role of the sales attendee, on the other hand, was to get plastered each night, then show up – or not - bleary-eyed and hanging, at the “obligatory” product sessions run by the boring product managers and boring product marketing folks.)

    Anyway, I rode – gingerly, I will say – into Hamilton with a couple of the other boring corporate types.

    On the way back, I had gained a bit of confidence and picked up some speed.

    Unfortunately, when we went into the rotary at the foot of the entrance to the resort hotel where we were staying, I headed in the American – not British – way. Overcorrecting, I ran into a stone wall, banging up my knee in the process. Nothing serious – I wasn’t going fast enough to do all that much damage – but I was caught on film by the video crew that was shooting footage for the HIGH-larious “show” that would take place a the wrap-up dinner on the last night of the sales kick-off.

    I made it clear to the videographers that, if my crash scene actually was included in this film, I would personally hunt them down and beat the living crap out of them. Or hire someone to do it for me.

    Fortunately, they took me seriously, which was surprising, since the overall tone of this particular company’s sales kickoffs was always gotcha!, especially when it came to the boring corporate pukes who always tried to drag down the sales kick-off by refusing to get shit-faced and run around the hotel corridors half-naked. (At another memorable sales kick-off – same company - a group of us bores barricaded ourselves in the suite of our division’s GM, where we sipped wine and played Trivial Pursuit while all hell rampaged outside our doors. At one point, a group of sales guys took the canister ashtray that was near the elevator and tried to use it as a battering ram to break in on us. After that, my company was banned from that hotel. We were also banned from ever returning to Bermuda, I believe. Something about a hot-tub incident involving a senior executive and Bermuda’s finest.)

    Anyway, riding a motorcycle is not on my bucket list. Physical derring-do is just not my strong suit. (I’m afraid I’m the one in the motor cart getting lapped by six year olds.)

    Plus I find the noise that motorcycles make appalling.

    One thing when they’re on the highway making a lot of unmuffled noise so that we know they’re coming – which is the motorcyclists’ safety claim. Quite another when they’re in the middle of the city, gunning down Beacon Street after they’ve revved by the State House to, I guess, give the finger to the legislators who passed the helmet law that requires them to wear one while they’re riding.

    Personally, freedom to go Easy Rider-ing, wind in the hair, is something that I’m in favor of.

    Hey, if you want to put your life at risk, be my guest.

    As long as you’re willing to take the economic risk, go forth and ride bareheaded, bandana’d, cowboy-hatted, Viet-Vet slouch-capped, or chapel veiled.

    I just don’t want MY insurance premiums to be calculated based on YOUR risk pool, and I sure don’t want MY taxes going to provide brain surgery and after care on someone who was foolish enough – IMHO - to ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet.

    But if you’ve got insurance that’s got you covered. And if your loved ones are okey-dokey with this. Well, motor-on!

    The guy in NY at least died doing something he loved, and something he believed in.

    Tough at the age of 55, but not a bad way to go, although I’m quite sure that this is completely ghastly time for his friends and family.

    RIP, Philip Contos. You died with your boots, if not your helmet, on.

    Source: Huffington Post.

    Born To Be Wild (Steppenwolf)

    Get your motor running
    Head out on the highway
    Looking for adventure
    In whatever comes our way…

    Like a true nature child
    We were born
    Born to be wild
    We have climbed so high
    Never want to die
    Born to be wild
    Born to be wild

    (I actually do hope they play this at his funeral…)

    Friday, July 08, 2011

    Major League Eating–in a league of its own

    This is, apparently, the time of year when a young man’s fancy turns to food eating contests.

    Earlier this week, Nathan’s Famous held their Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating event – what could be more American, except perhaps an apple pie, baseball, or Chevrolet eating contest. Timed to the Nathan’s event, there were a few articles out and about on competitive eating.

    One I saw on Business Week started out talking about pork rinds, not hot dogs. Pink Slip, so often in the vanguard on things cultural, has already been all over the pork rind thang, having written about pork rind eating in January 2010 as part of a post on Pork Rind Protectionism. (Because in the blogosphere, one thing leads to another, and arguing about free pork rind trade quite naturally led to learning about the Harrod – not to be confused with Harrods of London and its food court - Pork Rind Heritage Festival.)

    But I’m here in the now to neither bury pork rinds, nor to praise them. And it’s certainly not to eat them. Not that I’ve got anything against junk food, or the occasional overindulgence. (Sure, it’s been a while, but I’ve been known to sup on a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a sleeve of Girl Scout chocolate mint cookies.)

    But today we’re talking Major League Eating (MLE), the “brainchild”, or, perhaps, esophagus child, of George and Richard Shea:

    …is proof that competitive eating is both a freakish spectacle during which mostly male competitors gorge themselves on grotesquely large amounts of food (without vomiting) and a big business. In addition to planning 90 eating events a year for corporate sponsors—from the Acme World Oyster Eating Championship in New Orleans to the World CheeseSteak Eating Championship at Dorney Park in Allentown, Pa.—the competitive eating moguls guide the careers of the world’s best gurgitators, and, in return, require them to compete exclusively in MLE-sanctioned events.

    (The Sheas don’t stick to MLE  knitting, however. They’re PR guys for NYC real estate developers – now there’s a noble undertaking – which has apparently led George Shea to a vertically integrated business: bed bug detection dogs.)

    Anyway, Nathan’s Famous is one of the Sheas’ events, which are sponsored not just by food companies, resorts/amusement parks, and Pepto Bismol, but by Old Navy, Netflix, and ESPN. It’s not clear whether MLE is considered part of the E in ESPN (Entertainment) or the S (for Sports). Major League Eating makes it sound sort of sportish, and I’m not quite sure how entertaining it is to actually watch someone shoving a couple of dozen hot dogs down his pie hot dog hole in 10 minutes.  But the logo looks a bit more tongue in cheek than that of, say, MLB or MLS or NHL or NFL or NBA. So I want to be fair and balanced here. Sports or entertainment? You decide. (In terms of the money in it, it’s not quite in the same league as other professional sports. George Shea says that purse money last year (2010) for eating contests was $550,000, which is not a whole lot more than the minimum MLB salary ($414K in 2011). But you do have to start somewhere.)

    Unless the hot dog record was broken last Monday (I’m obviously writing this in advance), the record of 68 dogs and buns set on July 4, 2009 still stands. But records, like rules, are meant to be broken, so there may be a new hot dog total to beat out there. Meanwhile, here are a few of the other records (in what MLE styles as “disciplines”).

    • Asparagus: 9 lbs 5.2 oz Deep Fried Asparagus Spears/ Stockton Asparagus Fest / 10 minutes/ Apr. 16, 2011

    Nine pounds, 5.2 ounces of asparagus? How long did that pee smell for?

    • Funnel Cake: 5.9 lbs / Kings Dominion / 10 minutes / May 23, 2009

    • Grilled Cheese Sandwiches: 47 grilled cheese sandwiches / 10 Minutes/ June 10, 2006

    This dwarfs my personal record of two grilled cheese sandwiches in 10 minutes, but I’ve never been all that much of an athlete…

    • Horseshoe Sandwiches: 6 lbs, 5 oz horseshoe sandwiches / 12 minutes

    I wasn’t familiar with this one, although it’s apparently a big deal in Springfield, Illinois. A horseshoe sandwich is a slab of hamburger or other meat, covered with French fries and smothered with cheese sauce. Never say never, but I think this is one more reason to heed my cousin Ellen’s warning to stay the hell out of Springfield, Illinois.

    • Jalapeno Poppers: 118 Jalapeno Poppers/University of Arizona / 10 minutes/April 8, 2006

    In case anyone was wondering why Pepto Bismol is a sponsor.

    Then there’s:

    Salt Potatoes: 13 lbs Salt Potatoes / Wild Carp Week / 10 minutes / May 14, 2011

    Even though I’ve been to Syracuse plenty of times, I wasn’t familiar with this local dish, either. Unlike the horseshoe sandwich, however, this one – tiny potatoes boiled in salt water – sounds delish. Next time I’m in Syracuse, I will definitely seek this one out.

    According to MLE, the world’s numero uno gurgitator is Joey Chestnut who, quite remarkably – to me at least – looks to be a relatively fit individual. They may all be airbrushed, but most of the elite eaters on the MLE site don’t appear to be gutty. Chestnut made over $200K last year by eating, including an endorsement for Pepto Bismol, but it certainly doesn’t strike me as a career that’s sustainable in the long run. It’s hard to believe that consuming 200 shrimp wontons or 182 chicken wings or 82 hamburgers in one sitting is something that you want to do very often. It just cannot be good for anyone’s system, so the longevity of the “athletes” has to be in some doubt.

    And in a country where obesity is such a growing scourge, and where “eating disorders” in general are so prevalent, MLE seems like a rather dubious enterprise.

    But, who knows, today’s young eating studs may, 60 years on, be making their living in Ensure Guzzling contests.

    Thursday, July 07, 2011

    News of the World’s Hack Job (Reprehensible, that’s what you are…)

    The British press has a long tradition of sensationalism that almost makes The National Enquirer look like Foreign Affairs Quarterly.

    Not that we’re devoid of steroidal, screech pumping media coverage here – Casey Anthony trial, anyone?

    But the Brits seem to have a particular rabidity, and my guess is there are more outrageous tabloids per capita in the UK than there are in the US.

    So the latest scandal involving tales of lurid “journalism” should come as no surprise.

    And yet it does.

    The News of The World, part of Rupert Murdoch’s empire, has been caught up in phone hacking incidents for a number of years now. To date, it has largely involved the usual run of the celebrity mill: actors, politicians, athletes, and The Royals. A couple of Newsies have done jail time – it’s really not considered quite proper to hack into the phone-message systems of Princes William and Harry. And The News has made some settlements with hacked celebs (e.g., Sienna Miller). But the sense that The News is nasty and aggressive, but somehow vaguely within the fraying and tenuous bounds of today’s norms has to some extent been carrying the day. Perhaps not exactly legal, perhaps not exactly ethical, but somehow necessary. After all, The Public has an insatiable appetite for prurient details on the rich and famous, and that appetite must be fed.

    Then came the news that they had hacked into the cell phone messages of a missing 13-year-old girl, Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered.

    Milly's voicemail box filled up and would accept no more messages. Apparently thirsty for more information from more voicemails, the paper intervened – and deleted the messages that had been left in the first few days after her disappearance. According to one source, this had a devastating effect: when her friends and family called again and discovered that her voicemail had been cleared, they concluded that this must have been done by Milly herself and, therefore, that she must still be alive. But she was not. The interference created false hope and extra agony for those who were misled by it…The deletion of the messages also caused difficulties for the police by confusing the picture when they had few leads to pursue. It also potentially destroyed valuable evidence. (Source: The Guardian.)

    This has got to be a new low, even for one of Murdoch’s minions.

    This scandal has now turned into a Parliamentary hoo-hah – among other aspects of the situation, PM David Cameron’s now-resigned media advisor, Andy Coulson, was the deputy editor of News of the World at the time of the incident. And the editor at the time, Rebekah Brooks, is now Rupert Murdoch’s chief exec in the UK. (The claim now emerging is that she was on vacation when the Dowler hacking took place, as she was when the phones of two other murdered British girls were also hacked.) (Source: The Guardian.)

    While Parliament backs-and-forths on this situation, business problems are starting to rear their heads.

    It turns out that the types of stunts that are good for circulation may not be so good for advertising, as:

    …a string of high-profile companies – including Ford, npower, Halifax, T-Mobile and Orange – said they would be reviewing or withdrawing their advertising in the News of the World.

    And regulatory approval for a Murdoch acquisition is also in jeopardy – questions are arising about whether News International (Murdoch’s umbrella outfit) is"fit and proper persons" to own BSkyB.

    Brooks, meanwhile, has:

    …emailed employees at News International to insist she knew nothing about phone hacking: "It is inconceivable that I knew or worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations. I am aware of the speculation about my position.

    Brooks may well be able to say, like Sgt. Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes, “I know nothing.” But, let’s face it, given the general reputation of Murdoch and his way of doing business, it is hardly “inconceivable” that Brooks knew about what was going on. In fact, it’s pretty downright conceivable.

    We all understand, however, that there’s a difference between actively and directly knowing, directing, and sanctioning, and creating a “don’t tell me” culture where it’s okay, even expected, that employees will push both the ethical and legal ends of the envelope in pursuit of profit.

    "Therefore it is important you all know that as chief executive, I am determined to lead the company to ensure we do the right thing and resolve these serious issues."

    Brooks may be “determined”, but there’s certainly a Fox fox in the henhouse aspect to her declaration.

    But it’s not just Brooks and Murdoch who are reprehensible here, of course.

    There’s The Public addiction to 24/7 to “news” that has nothing to do with the course of our actual lives and what most impacts them - other than that all this “news” that’s not really fit to print, or broadcast, or whatever, is drowning out reality and coarsening the culture. Not that I don’t manage to suck down my share of it, occasionally clicking through to see what Charlie Sheen is up to, and whether Cameron and A-Rod are still a duo (are they? I’m not up to date here…), rather than cleaning out a closet, reading Middlemarch, screwing in energy-efficient light bulbs or writing my congressman.

    But I hadn’t been following the Casey Anthony trial all that closely. However I did see an article that mentioned a woman (I was going to say “nitwit,” but maybe she’s writing a book or a screenplay) who’d spent several thousand

    …since arriving June 10 from Lake Minnetonka, Minn. She tallied more than 100 hours standing in line to wait for tickets and got into the courtroom 15 times to see Anthony.

    "True crime has become a unique genre of entertainment,"  [Robin] Wilkie said. "Her stories are so extreme and fantastic, it's hard to believe they're true, but that's what engrosses people. This case has sex, lies and videotapes — just like on reality TV." (Source: Huffington Post.)

    To borrow a line from Jerry Lewis, Hey, Laaaaady!

    The Casey Anthony trial actually was reality TV.

    Meanwhile, as of this writing, Rebekah Brooks still has hold of her job – however fraying and tenuous her grip may be.

    Whatever the outcome, it likely won’t change the fundamental way in which the celebri-true-crime-isn’t-it-awful-tell-me-more media operate. They’ll just come up with new ways to ferret out the tidbits we crave. (Full apologies to ferrets, by the way.)

    Makes me want to retreat to a wi-fi less mountaintop with a copy of Foreign Affairs. As long as they’re still, like, covering foreign policy, and not, like, the kind of foreign affairs that international celebrities may be having with each other. I’ll need to make sure they’re still plodding along, writing about Libya and the IMF…


    Long overdue, but I’ve added a “bad business behavior” to my category list.

    Wednesday, July 06, 2011

    The Carolyn Bourne Identity: being rude about manners

    A step-mum-in-law-to-be has raised the hackles of her step-daughter-in-law-to-be’s family, and become the world-wide butt of every mother-in-law story you can think of, by sending an ill-mannered and decidedly rude e-mail to her daughter-in-law-to-be, attacking her for her lack of manners.

    So much for mum’s the word.

    Carolyn Bourne is married to the father of Freddie Bourne, who is engaged to one Heidi Withers.

    Heidi spent an apparently slacker weekend with Freddie’s ‘rents this spring, and a few less than U behaviors on Heidi’s part sent Carolyn into a complete and utter tiz. (Source: Daily Mail (UK).)

    Rather than take Heidi – or Freddie – aside and whisper a few words to the wise. Or pen Heidi a delicate little “Oh, my dear girl, you may not be aware….” missive, written with real, fountain pen ink on monogrammed ecru stationery, Carolyn chose the modern form of the e-mail. Or, in this case, the thrice-sent e-mail. (The thrice-sent suggesting that Carolyn doesn’t really understand anything about technology. When thrice sent is added to the overall tone and content of the e-mail, it suggests to me that she has some rage issues pulsing just below the surface, or that she may have been into the cooking sherry before she set virtual pen to virtual paper and let ‘er rip.)

    Here is the alleged e-mail which, not surprisingly, Heidi immediately forwarded off to a few of her mates. Who, not so surprisingly, spread the word further, until it went viral enough that my sister Trish saw it written about. This prompted Trish to publically vow to think twice before she e-mails, texts, FB’s or comes into any type of subject-t0-interpretation-and/or-ridicule electronic contact with any future son-in-law she may have some day. (Her daughter’s only 14.  God knows how we’ll be communicating by the time Miss M is thinking of tying the knot. Telepathically? Sure hope not. Talk about death to relationships.)

    Anyway, here’s Carolyn Bourne to Heidi Withers,interspersed with Pink Slip commentary.

    It is high time someone explained to you about good manners. Yours are obvious by their absence and I feel sorry for you.

    First off, the tone of this opening to the salvo doesn’t seem particularly “good manners” to me. It’s actually pretty rude.

    Wouldn’t something like “I wanted to write to you about a few things that have been bothering me since your recent weekend here with us. I certainly don’t want anything to come between us, let alone between you and Freddie…” Et-blah-di-cetera-blah.

    But, no, there’s that high horse “high time” opener. Which pales, of course, when compared to the next line.

    Unfortunately for Freddie, he has fallen in love with you and Freddie being Freddie, I gather it is not easy to reason with him or yet encourage him to consider how he might be able to help you. It may just be possible to get through to you though. I do hope so.

    “Unfortunately for Freddie, he has fallen in love with you…”

    What a miserable, nasty, pretty unforgivable thing to say – especially if you’re holding yourself up and out as some paragon of manners. Frankly, Carolyn Bourne sounds more Emily Postal than Emily Post to me.

    If you want to be accepted by the wider Bourne family I suggest you take some guidance from experts with utmost haste. There are plenty of finishing schools around.

    Please, for your own good, for Freddie’s sake and for your future involvement with the Bourne family, do something as soon as possible.

    Here are a few examples of your lack of manners:

    • When you are a guest in another’s house, you do not declare what you will and will not eat – unless you are positively allergic to something.  You do not remark that you do not have enough food. You do not start before everyone else. You do not take additional helpings without being invited to by your host.

    I’ll grant Carolyn that someone bitching about what’s on offer is rude. Had not Heidi heard about taking a small portion and/or disguising what’s not eaten by moving the remains around the plate? Or saying “No, thank you,” when, say, the tripe soaked in sauerkraut juice is passed her way.

    And, given the questionable judgment Carolyn has thus far exhibited in her note, might we not begin to question her interpretation of what Heidi has said and done with respect to not having enough to eat, or grabbing another helping. (This last one I just don’t get. At least the way things work with my family and friends, once a dish has made the rounds once and everyone’s been served, it’s considered fine and dandy to say “Please pass the potato salad.” In fact, it can even be interpreted as a compliment to the host.)

    • When a guest in another’s house, you do not lie in bed until late morning in households that rise early – you fall in line with house norms.

    Well, Carolyn, had you or Freddie actually informed Heidi that she was expected to fall out of bed at dawn, and/or played reveille to help ensure that she was awake. But just because you get up at 6 a.m….  Perhaps you should have said, “We breakfast at 7 a.m., and I’m afraid if you’re not up then, you’ll have to fend for yourself.”  Or explained what the plans for the day were, and when the starting time was. Then, if Heidi chose to be a slug-a-bed, you’ve got her on the rude.

    • You should never ever insult the family you are about to join at any time and most definitely not in public. I gather you passed this off as a joke but the reaction in the pub was one of shock, not laughter.

    Damn, with everything else flying around about this contretemps, surely by now we’d know what Heidi said that so shocked the local.

    • You should have hand-written a card to me. You have never written to thank me when you have stayed.

    Points for Carolyn on this one, but the emphasis on “hand-written” leads me to believe that thoroughly-modern Heidi may have sent an e-mail. So, perhaps, Carolyn could have put a bug in Freddie’s ear about how she would appreciate a “real” note.

    • You regularly draw attention to yourself. Perhaps you should ask yourself why.

    Carolyn as shrink. Pink Slip as shrink: Carolyn likes the attention on Carolyn.

    • No one gets married in a castle unless they own it. It is brash, celebrity style behaviour.

    Since the castle where Heidi and Freddie plan to marry is hired out for functions like weddings, it’s apparently not true that in Old Blimey, “no one gets married in a castle unless they own it.”

    But it’s the next part of the exchange that is really the height of Carolyn Bourne’s ill-mannered rudeness:

    I understand your parents are unable to contribute very much towards the cost of your wedding. (There is nothing wrong with that except that convention is such that one might presume they would have saved over the years for their daughters’ marriages.)

    So, I guess it should come as no surprise that Heidi’s father jumped into the fray.

    …branding Mrs Bourne a ‘snotty Miss Fancy Pants’.

    And offering that she:

    ‘has her head stuck so far up her own a*** she doesn’t know whether to speak or f**t.’

    Okay, this is a rather boorish statement, and certainly does nothing to reduce the overall tension of the situation, but, in terms of making me laugh, I must say well-played, Alan Withers.

    Freddie and Heidi are being well mannered and clamming up about the row.

    Meanwhile, Freddie Bourne’s actual (not step) mother has issued a defense of her future daughter-in-law:

    ‘Heidi is a charming girl who I have never found rude – not  once. She is also Freddie’s choice and will always be welcome in my home.'  (Source: Metro UK)

    And someone’s grabbed Carolyn Bourn’s identity, and set up a URL.

    Wouldn’t you love to be a coat of arms on that castle wall come the wedding of Heidi and Freddie?