Friday, September 28, 2018

Just exhausted…

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

I found the day exhausting.

I believe Christine Blasey Ford.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Ashes to ashes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Ah, no, thank you

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

But I really don’t like Facebook.

And I really don’t trust Facebook.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go, Alex Hattori!

Rah, rah, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


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

Monday, September 24, 2018


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

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

Still, this is getting close to home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 21, 2018

A real Masshole story…

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

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

We will be in like Flynn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He also lamented his newfound notoriety.

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

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

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

Thursday, September 20, 2018

When you want to bag your baggage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

As a gray hair AND an old head…

At 68, I’m still working a bit, taking small writing projects when they come my way. God knows I couldn’t actually live on what I make, but it’s definitely a nice-to-have. It means I can throw a few bucks Beto O’Rourke’s way without blinking. Order the high-end noise canceling earphones from Bose when the incessant drilling from the gut-reno next door starts driving me cra. And, every 7 or 8 weeks or so, fork over the $$$ needed to keep my gray hairs hidden away.

But if I were still working working, I wouldn’t be. Not in high tech, where I’m no longer old enough to be everyone’s mother. I’m now old enough to be everyone’s grandmother.

A few years back, I went to one client’s marketing group offsite. By my estimate, there were two of us over the age of 40: me and the Chief Marketing Officer, who was forced out a couple of months later. (Having discussed it with this CMO, our shared belief was that the force out was because she was the only woman in this boys’ club, rather than that she was “older” – i.e., a good decade younger than I am. This woman is incredibly smart and good at what she does and – bravo! – is still working as a CMO in high tech.)

Recently, I talked ageism with another client – a woman in her early forties who told me that she thinks she has a few more years because she looks a lot younger than she is.

I’ve also had the discussion with high tech marketing friends – M and F -  who’ve hit their late forties or early fifties. They talk openly about whether they have another job in them, whether they’ll be employable in a few years, what they’ll do next.

It should go without saying: everyone I’m talking about here is whip smart, super competent, great to work with and for, and keeping completely up with the latest in technology, in marketing, in technology as it relates to marketing, and in marketing as it relates to technology.

Yet they all live in fear of the grim reaper, in the guise of a 20-something HR manager, beckoning them into their office and handing them their walking papers.

We hear all this about how everyone “needs” older workers to hang on, hang in, yet there is no doubt about it that there is a shit-ton of age discrimination in high tech, on both the marketing and on the techie sides.

So I was certainly not surprised to see an article in the Boston Globe on a complaint filed against IBM that:

….alleges the technology giant systematically fired tens of thousands of older workers in recent years as part of an effort to recruit more millennials and “make the face of IBM younger.”(Source: Boston Globe)

IBM maintains that they don’t do this and, in fact, claims that there’s been no change in the average age of their workers. Which is not to say that there may not be certain groups (e.g., marketing and techie) that aren’t finding themselves croaked while others (e.g., finance) make out okay. That’s my guess, anyway.

As part of its move to “embrace the Millennial mindset,” the suit said, IBM has been “pushing out older employees,” paring more than 20,000 jobs of employees 40 and over in the United States during the past five years alone.

The complaint cited a 2006 paper by an IBM consulting arm that described the company’s older employees as “gray hairs” and “old heads” and said younger workers are “generally much more innovative and receptive to technology than baby boomers.”

As a gray hair (under there, somewhere) old head, I would like to point a couple of things out there.

For one thing, we do have to be open to new ideas (these days known as “innovation”), and I have seen some fellow gray hair old heads sitting their with crossed arms and sourpusses resisting change. And yet, a lot of what passes for innovation is just plain dumb. And this has always been the case.

As for receptivity to technology, it is my observation that baby boomers who have spent their career in technology are quite receptive to technology or they wouldn’t be there to begin with. Admittedly, I do on occasion admit to boredom with the new and the shiny, but I can write a mean tweet. I can throw terms in that optimize content so smoothly that the reader can’t begin to figure out that those terms were added in for search engine optimization purposes. And, as it turns out, I’m “up” on AI, machine learning, natural language processing, and the deep-geek technology underlying “stuff” like autonomous vehicles.

And keeping up is something that everyone I know still working in tech, however gray haired and geezerish, still does. The ones that didn’t, they already got out.

I suspect that proving age discrimination by IBM will be an uphill climb. IBM probably has all sorts of metrics to demonstrate that they haven’t discriminated against anyone. But, in truth, I suspect that when they swept out the deadwood, the sourpuss arm-crossers, they also tossed folks who were keeping up, still productive, etc. Just because they could.

Good luck to the plaintiffs.

In my gray haired, old head way I’ll be rooting for you.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


In an iconic scene from an iconic movie (The Graduate), Benjamin – played by Dustin Hoffman – is advised by a friend of his parents to pursue a career in plastics.

That was in 1967, and we had no idea whatsoever just how BIG (and god-awful) plastics would end up being.

Sure, we had plastic. Our phones were no longer Bakelite. We wrapped our lunch sandwiches in Saran Wrap. But there was nowhere near the packaging we have now. While polyester had been invented well before, in 1967 no one was actually wearing it. (Give us a few years…) And the Big Wheel had yet to replace the sturdy steel trike with the chrome bell.

Plus, way back in those ancient times, people didn’t discard stuff quite as rapidly as they do now.

So fast forward five decades, and we end up with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a flotsam-chocked mass: “45,000 and 129,000 tonnes of plastic debris spread over an area roughly the size of Alaska.”

This is plastic waste that makes it way into our oceans through rivers or overboard from ships, widening, widening in the gyre.

The idea of sweeping it all up might sound fanciful. To Boyan Slat it seemed merely ambitious. What if, he wondered in 2012 (then aged 18), you could build a massive bow-shaped floating barrier, anchor it to the seabed and let currents shuffle the litter into the scoop? Despite his youthful age and madcap scheme, Mr Slat set up the Ocean Cleanup to put it into practice. Six years, €20m ($23m) and several prototypes later, the device set sail from San Francisco on September 8th, escorted by a Coast Guard vessel, a shipload of camera crews and a flotilla of curious boaters.

System 001, as the contraption has been christened, is a hollow cylinder 600 metres long and 1.2 metres in diameter, itself made of plastic (polyethylene). It was moulded together into a seamless whole from 12-metre segments at a shipyard across the San Francisco Bay in Oakland. A three-metre-deep skirt (made of sturdy polyester) dangles beneath the boom to prevent litter from escaping under it; buoyant plastic tends to float within a metre of the water’s surface. (Source: The Economist)

Unfortunately, System 001 doesn’t miraculously get rid of the Garbage Patch. It hoovers it up, hangs on, and waits for another vessel to collect it for sale to recyclers.

And sadly,

The system can do little about plastic that has fragmented into microscopic particles, but these make up just 8% of plastic in the gyre.

Still, that 8% goes into fish and poisons the fish and those of us who consume them.

Anyway, at least 92% is being seen to. So bravo Boyan Slat! What a great invention. What a great mission.

If you’re wondering what the recyclers are going to do with it:

Recycled plastic is already used to make some products, such as guttering and sewage pipes. Now attention is turning to roads. On September 11th in Zwolle, a town in the Netherlands, a 30-metre bicycle track made from 70% recycled plastic and the rest from polypropylene was opened. It will be used to test a product called PlasticRoad, which is being developed by two Dutch firms—KWS, a road builder, and Wavin, a firm that makes plastic piping—in partnership with Total, a French oil-and-gas firm…If all goes well, the inventors hope to develop the idea and make the sections entirely from recycled plastic. Paths, car parks and railway platforms could follow. Eventually, sections for use as actual roads are planned. These could contain sensors for traffic monitoring. In time, the circuits in the plastic roads might extend to assisting autonomous vehicles and recharging electric cars wirelessly.Source: The Economist)

And – get this – these roads should last two to three times longer than asphalt roads, and cost less to lay down.

There’s also another method of recycling plastic for roads – this one will include plastic in with asphalt. The mix can be customized for things like bus lanes or areas where there’s a lot of turning. Plus it helps prevent potholes, which will be of interest to any cold-weather city or state.

Maybe technology will, in fact, save us from ourselves.

Anyway, I’m delighted that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is being taken care of. (We just need to stop dumping plastic into the ocean.) And I’m glad that plastics can be recycled into roads.

Meanwhile, Nike lets you drop off old sneakers (whether they’re Nike’s or not) that they’ll recycle for you. The other day, I dropped off a worn out pair of Asics and a worn out pair of Brooks. Since I wear sneakers about 90% of the time, and since I walk about 5 miles a day, I go through about 4 pairs of sneakers a year. I used to throw them in the trash, where they’d end up not rotting in landfills somewhere in upstate New York. Or wending their way into the North Atlantic Garbage Patch – for, indeed, there is one.

Once the Pacific Patch work is underway, they’re going after our local one.

Much happier to think of my old sneakers preventing potholes than choking cod to death.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Hail, Columbia, the “gem” of the natural gas providers

There is natural gas in this building – it powers the communal dryer and water heater – but I don’t have any in my unit. I considered getting the gasline extended into my kitchen when I reno’d a few years back, but decided against. Gas is certainly easier to cook on than electric, but I opted for the Euro-modern induction cooktop. I like it just fine. And I don’t have to worry about whether the guys who extended the gasline into my unit knew what they were doing.

Growing up, our home’s heating and cooking was gas-fueled, as was an apparatus (I believe it was called a calcinator) in the basement that burned paper trash (installed after Worcester outlawed burning trash in a barrel in your backyard).

Anyway, other than a vague worry about whether the line from Point A to Point B was put in right – which I really never had to worry about, since I chose not to us gas – I’m all for natural gas.

Oh, I see periodic signs around town that a gas leak has been detected. And the Dig Safe ads on TV.

But I don’t tend to sit around thinking that natural gas, while clear and present, is a clear and present danger.

Then, last week, there was a series of explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts and a couple of its suburbs. Dozens of houses burnt down, thousands of people were evacuated, and one teenage boy lost his life while sitting in a car. (The chimney of an exploding house fell on the car.)

I had never heard of the company that was responsible for the gas pipes that went boom. I thought Eversource and National Grid were pretty much “it” for energy providers around here. But here they are, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, now a household word.

They’re no secret, however, to state regulators. The company:

…has been fined tens of thousands of dollars by the state’s utilities regulator in recent years, and its corporate parent linked to serious blasts in at least two other states.

Since 2010, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities has fined Columbia Gas for safety violations that included faulty pressure testing and response procedures, insufficiently covering new service lines, improperly classifying leaks, and breaking rules around the use of leak repair kits.

The state agency found Columbia Gas was slow to respond to a 2012 Seekonk fire fueled by a broken gas pipe, and ordered the company to update its emergency response plans and develop new training programs.(Source: Boston Globe)

They were also responsible for a major explosion in Springfield a few years back in which 18 people were injured.

In that incident, a company worker investigating a gas odor at a downtown nightclub accidentally punctured a high-pressure gas line, triggering an explosion that leveled the building and damaged dozens of others, authorities said.

“It felt like a bomb fell in front of the building,” a neighbor told the Globe at the time.

The Massachusetts state fire marshal determined the Columbia Gas worker relied on incorrect sidewalk markings for the gas line’s location. The company reached an $850,000 settlement with the city and paid millions of dollars to settle other claims and lawsuits.

Indiana-based NiSource is Columbia Gas’ parent company. The day after the Lawrence explosions, their stock tumbled 12 percent in anticipation that the company would be on the hook for major settlements.

Columbia doesn’t sound like a gem, to say the least, but they have apparently been trying to upgrade aging gas infrastructure for the last few years, complying with federal and state regulations (which, contrary to some thinking, really are necessary and vital to our existence).

Trouble is, they and other gas companies may have been in too much of a rush, hiring people to fast-track fixes but not adequately training them.

Our governor isn’t placing much trust in Columbia. He put Eversource in charge of the recovery in Lawrence.

Conspiracy theorists have been speculating that hackers may have caused the explosions by jiggering around with gas pressure monitors and gauges which, thanks to the Internet of Things, are all connected to the outside, hacking world. But I’m guessing the problem is plain old aging infrastructure combined with human error.

We’ll see what the investigation into this one turns up. But it won’t be pretty. And it’s going to cost Columbia plenty. Wouldn’t want to be on their management team, that’s for sure.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Location, location, location

My dry cleaners has an autographed picture of Leonardo DiCaprio on the wall near the register. The dry cleaners – re-facaded as a French restaurant – played a supporting role in The Departed.

Fast forward, and some scenes fro Black Mass – what is it with Boston and films about Irish-American thugs? – were filmed at the Hampshire House, better known as The Cheers Bar. Some neighbors spotted Benedict Cumberbatch walking down the street. I didn’t.

Way, way, earlier, I did see Jeff Bridges when Blown Away was shooting, up near the State House, just up the Hill from where I live.

Given this isn’t Hollywood, nor is it Toronto, or even Georgia, there seem to be plenty of movies filmed in these parts – mostly, I guess, because Massachusetts offers tax incentives. But, then, so do a lot of states. The truth is, we have a ton of photogenic scenery and sites around here. I stumble across film crews with fair regularity. Seeing the stars is another thing. Mostly I see the trailers and the lunch spreads set out.

I haven’t, however, given much thought to how locations get picked. But finding and managing locations is actually a way to make a living.

At least it is for “location scout” Tim Gorman, a local guy who “is always on the lookout for suitable movie sites.”

Recently, he was hugely bummed to find out that German restaurant Jacob Wirth was closed. He was hunting for a period beer hall from the 1800s, and the downtown Boston restaurant fit the bill. But it was shut down after a fire, and after realizing it wouldn’t be immediately available, Gorman went to Plan B: the Castle at Park Plaza in Boston, a former armory. (Source: Boston Globe)

Too bad about Jake Wirth’s, which sure would have “fit the bill”, given that opened in 1868 and I don’t believe changed a lick over the 150 years it served up beer and wurst. I’m pretty sure that the tables were the originals and, while the chairs were too flimsy to have been around a century and a half, I’m betting that they used the same type of chairs all that time.


One reason the Boston area and New England overall are popular is because we have a lot of ye olde stuff, which lends itself to ye olde period productions.

(By the way, they’re filming yet another version of Little Women. Guess every generation gets its own Jo…)

There is more to finding locations than just nosing around looking at interesting places.

If they require street closures, are off-limits, or need special permitting, Gorman is accustomed to wrangling over legalities and filmmaking logistics.

Then there’s the fact that the location scout is sales person, trying to convince someone to let Martin Scorsese or Greta Gerwig plunk down in their property.

Make that reverse sales person, as the location manager is offering you money: $2-3K for a house, and up to $5K to $10K for a restaurant or bar. Hmmmm. Maybe I should leave my blinds open, just in case Tim Gorman, or some other location consultant, comes exploring and decides my living room looks interesting.

“I’m both detective and mind-reader, trying to find the right location. Where does the main character live? What kind of car would they drive? What bar do they go to after work? I need to find all the physical spaces for the film. It’s a lot of research and investigation, as well as shoe-leather — pounding the pavement and trying to get behind closed doors.”

Location finders can also end up running the day-to-day operations between the film crew and the property owner, making sure – I’m guessing – that, if Nanny’s cookie jar gets busted, the owners are compensated and that; if the film crew comes in and trashes your lawn it gets resodded.

Now, driving around looking at stuff kind of sounds like fun. Sort of like being a perpetually, however offbeat, tourist. But all the mundane wrangling? Thanks, but no thanks.

Still, I wouldn’t mind finding more out for myself. Maybe Tim Gorman really does need a really cool old-timey living room. (I will lock Nanny’s cookie jar away for safe-keeping. No lawn to worry about trashing…)

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Cursive on the comeback?

One of the young assistants at my gym/PT place – I float in and out of fitness and physical therapy – is applying to grad school, and he asked me to take a look at his essays. He gave me a printed copy and I read through and made my edits in the margin. He took a quick look at it and told me, “Your handwriting is fine. I’m just not sure that I can read cursive.”


I knew that they weren’t spending much time worrying about whether kids learn Palmer penmanship – got to spend that precious classroom time prepping for the all-important standardized state tests to make sure that kids learn the Common Core. But I hadn’t thought through that this would actually translate into young adults who could neither read nor write cursive.

My writing is okay. Mostly legible, occasionally “nice.” But when I’ve been writing a lot, or I’m tired, it does tend to deteriorate. Generally, though, my signature is clear, and I can – if I concentrate – write with a fairly respectable hand.

My sister Kath has handwriting that is my beau ideal. My sister Trish has pretty good handwriting, too. I like my cousin Barbara’s quirky print/cursive writing, too. (Which I chalk up to her being a lefty.)

We all learned the Palmer Method which was, from second grade on (when it was introduced to students), practiced everyPush pull day in exercise books. With our hands curved as if we were holding a tennis ball, and our forearms flat against the desk, we wrote out lower case alphabets, upper case alphabets, ovals, and push pulls.

Those are push/pulls and ovals on that pic of a yellow PostIt note. And that looks like my writing. Pure Palmer penmanship.

Here’s what the Palmer alphabet looks like:


Signs illustrating the Palmer Method – similar to the one above – were posted in every class room I ever spent childhood time in.

After 7 years of exposure and daily practice, even after all these decades I pretty much stick to Palmer. In high school, I stopped using the capital Q that looks like a 2, and substituted a Q of my own invention, which pretty much looks like a typescript Q, only slanted. At one point, one of the more officious nuns called me out on it. Who did I think I was? In her class, I was to use the Palmer 2-like Q.

I’m not very familiar with methods other than Palmer. My father, I know, didn’t use it. He may have learned the Spencer Method:


In any case, I always thought his writing was ultra-classy, and preferred that he sign my report card rather than my mother. (Her penmanship was some sort of bastardized version of Palmer. I’ll have to ask my Aunt Mary how, exactly, they learned cursive.)

In any case, I do believe there’s a value to learning cursive.

How are you going to sign something?

Sure, I just signed a document via DocuSign that imposed some fake script on my name and that counted as a signature. But in real life, there will still be non-digital forms to sign. What do you do if you don’t know cursive? Print your name in block letters, like a kindergartner? Mark it with an X?

And what if you actually have to take down some information? What if, for whatever unimaginable and far-fetched reason, you don’t have an electronic device on which to do so? Cursive is a lot faster than printing, that’s for sure.

Fortunately, even if it’s no longer quite the “thing” in grammar school that it once was, cursive may not be a completely lost art.

At least if you’re in Connecticut, where there’s a summer cursive camp.

Brigid Guertin, executive director of the Danbury Museum & Historical Society, has struggled to find interns capable of deciphering the sepia-tinted documents of their city’s handwritten past. “The majority of our assets are in cursive and not transcribed,” she said.

So three years ago she launched cursive camp, in hopes of training tomorrow’s interns today. Surprisingly, children and parents flocked to it.

The campers, ages 6 to 14, spent their waning days of vacation under the guidance of third-grade teacher Kathleen Johnson creating their own ink (a mashing of berries, vinegar and salt), scratching their names on paper with Day-Glo quills, or with cotton swabs on paint-filled bags, or with their fingers in generous shmears of shaving cream. (Source: Washington Post)

Well it sure would have been a lot more fun if we’d had Day-Glo Quills and shaving cream, rather than Sheaffer cartridge fountain pens. But whatever the tools deployed learning to write can help kids with more than just taking notes when our iPad is dead:

Now that technology has routed children to communicate via typing or (shudder!) emoji, experts are finding more to recommend about pencil and ink. Handwriting — print or cursive — increases development in three areas of the brain, according to a 2012 study, and “may facilitate reading acquisition in young children.”

Any kind of writing “is going to have massive benefits for the brain,” said Indiana University professor and co-author Karin James. Other studies demonstrate that students retain more information if they write their notes, instead of typing them.

Cursive making a comeback? Love it!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Loss Prevention

A deli-counter worker at a Giant Eagle grocery in Ohio has confessed to scarfing down 3-5 pieces of ham (and an occasional slice of salami) each day she worked over her 8 years at the store.

The initial report was that she was being charged with felony theft after the loss prevention manager tallied things up and came up with the figure of $9,200 worth of cold cuts stolen.

The first preposterous thing here is that dollar amount. Even assuming the woman had a liking for higher end-ham like Boar’s Head or Dietz & Watson at $9.99 a pound, well… If there are 16 slices of ham in a pound, that’s $.625 per slice. Take the midpoint of her consumption – 4 slices – and I get $2.50 a day. And if someone works 250 days a year – a reasonable, 50 week assumption – that’s $625 a year in purloined ham. Times 8 years = $5,000 – not $9,200.

Not that $5,000 isn’t a lot of money. It’s just not $9,200.

The second preposterous thing is charging someone with a felony for taking $2.50 worth of ham per shift.

It just seems kind of mean-spirited – ham-handed, even - to charge someone with felony for piggind down a misdemeanor amount of ham per diem. It’s not like she was making off with the entire ham at a shot.

Oh, it all adds up, but it seems to me that what you do in this situation is give a warning to someone that the ham is off limits – not call the cops, which is what the Giant Eagle loss prevention manager did.

Having said this, I suspect I would feel differently about this if the scofflaw had been taking $2.50 a day out of the cash register. Even then, I don’t think I would call it a felony.

Never said I was entirely rational about these things. It’s just that munching on the job  - especially given all the food waste that goes on – just doesn’t seem to rise to the level of felony theft. Maybe 2,000 misdemeanors.

Felony means prison time. A serious record. Not voting.

As it turns out, as of a few days ago, no charges had been filed, and it seems as if charges of this magnitude won’t be pressed. It also seems that the woman has parted company with her employer.

Anyway, if munching at the deli counter was such a big deal, it further seems odd that it took the store 8 years to figure out that their employee was consuming a few slices of ham each day. And that was only after a “colleague” ratted her out. (I do hope that the snitch at least had the decency to tell her fellow-worker that eating ham on the job is verboten before they went to loss prevention.)

Admittedly, while it may be bad business behavior to call the cops on someone for eating a few pieces of ham each day, it is, of course, bad business behavior to steal from your employee.

Not that I always saw things quite this way.

While I never worked in a grocery store, I was a waitress, both throughout college and “professionally” after I left school (but before I “found” myself).

I never worked in a restaurant where they didn’t feed you. Which is not to say that you could eat everything on the menu.

At Big Boy’s, I don’t think we could have strawberry pie or hot fudge sauce. I recall that the hot fudge had a burnt taste to it, which leads me to believe that I helped myself to it on at least once occasion. And if I did, I know that I helped myself to more than the portion they doled out when someone ordered a sundae. Barely enough to cover a couple of bites. (They use little white paper cups that were the same ones you took your oral polio vaccine out of. Tiny little cup-eens.)

Anyway, at Big Boys, I’m sure there were other forbidden dishes, but – other than at least one hot fudge sundae – I ate what they let us eat. Which meant I ate a grilled cheese sandwich or BLT every day.

I don’t remember what I ate at The Union Oyster House. It was such a rat hole (literally) I suspect the answer was not much. Sometimes I ate ice cream, but only from a virgin 5 gallon container. One of the dishboys – a fellow known as The Animal – would paw out copious handfuls of ice cream from an open container and slurp it down. Believe me, no one wanted any ice cream after The Animal had his hand in it. I’m guessing that expensive pieces of fish, clams, lobster and oysters were off limits. But no one wanted to eat there, anyway. After work, we all went next door to Tammy’s for beer and pizza.

I do know that when I worked at Durgin-Park, I consumed plenty of forbidden food and bev.

Never the meals – unless you count snacking off a plate of sauteed lobster sitting under the hot lights waiting to be picked up: we all nibbled off that. No, the meals they gave us were fine. We pretty much got our pick of the cheap-o lunch special, and I usually had the scrod or the fried cod (which I doused in stewed tomatoes for some reason). But I did nab sodas, and I did nab Indian Pudding.

When I first worked at Durgin, “the girls” were allowed to have as many (bottled) sodas as we wanted, and the choices were root beer or 7-Up. We all consumed plenty, given that we were sweating to death racing in and out of the un-AC’d kitchen. Then a new rule came down: no more sodas. Which really meant no more root beer. If you put 7-UP in a glass, the owner couldn’t tell if it was water or 7-Up unless he stuck his nose in it. Which he never bothered to do.

Indian Pudding, which they made in vats, was another goody that was allowed one day, forbidden the next. F that! Nothing tastier than a bowl of Indian Pudding with vanilla ice cream. If America Runs on Dunkin, then Durgin-Park ran on Indian Pudding. At least the waitresses did. We all guzzled it down during our afternoon breaks. We had a hidden away station – called the Fox Hole – where we hung out to eat our Indian Pudding, and even had a system of lookouts to warn us if the owner was on the prowl.

Ah, what I wouldn’t give for a bowl of that Indian Pudding right this very moment. Mostly what I wouldn’t give to be 22 again, knowing what I know now.

Perhaps it is this larcenous past that makes me sympathetic for the cold cut thief of Ohio.

I really do hope she doesn’t end up doing time…


Sources: Canton RepositoryCleveScene, and my own Bob Woodward level research, including a look through the comments on the Giant Eagle FB page – most of which are anti-Giant Eagle/pro-deli snacker.  (Reports vary on whether she was employed for 5 or 8 years, but I didn’t seen the number 5 mentioned until after I’d run my numbers. $9,200 worth of ham over 5 years is even more preposterous than $9,200 worth of ham over 8 years.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

What happens in Vegas? Let it stay there!

I am neither a gambler nor a lover of Las Vegas.

My gambling far-in-the-past history is a few trips to see the ponies at Suffolk Downs (still open – just checked - who knew?) and Narragansett (just checked: closed 40 years ago), where I would spend $10 on $2 bets, playing on if I managed to parlay a bet into a bit of a win. And a few times playing the slots, where my limit was however long a roll of quarters lasted. I understand that slots no longer take quarters, so that dates my gambling days.

Other than that, I do buy an occasional lottery ticket. When I check it months later, I’m lucky if I got one number “right.”

Gambling is just not all that tempting.

As for Las Vegas, well…

On my 1972 cross-country and back drive-and camp-a-thon, my traveling companion, Joyce, and I stayed overnight there. Las Vegas wasn’t as big a deal then as it was now. Still, there was a hierarchy of casinos and hotels. We stayed in a clean but down-side motel off the strip where, to our horror and delight, we found a rolled up pair of jockey shorts in the dresser. I believe the only casino we went to was the low-end Golden Nugget, where Joyce and I each blew $10 on the slots. We considered playing blackjack, but didn’t know the plot.

Beyond that initial trip, I’ve been to Las Vegas a couple of times for business meetings. The hotels I stayed in were somewhat more upscale than the crummy motel of 1972. Once I stayed at the MGM, which actually wasn’t that bad. And the tacky but adequate New York, New York. My gambling expenditures on those trips were zero. The restaurants were a bit nicer than anything Joyce and I went to. And I did enjoy watching the Bellagio fountains.

But Las Vegas is just not all that tempting.

Which is not that I don’t find both gambling and Las Vegas interesting.

Thus, I was drawn to a tell-all article on Bloomberg written by Brandon Presser, a fellow who’d run a high-roller suite for the Boulevard Penthouses at the Cosmopolitan.

Oh, he doesn’t name names. But who cares? I wouldn’t know the names of the Vegas “whales” – i.e., the folks who drop a lot bigger bundle than my grudging roll of quarters – anyway. And I assume that I wouldn’t want to know them, let alone their names. There’s just something so tawdry and ick about that town, and about anyone who’d want to spend time there in a high-roller suite.

Here’s what Presser found during his time managing the high-end clientele at the Cosmo:

First off, you have to be invited in, “which means fronting over a million dollars (and preferably two) at the Reserve, the hotel’s private, three-room casino on the 75th floor.” That’s quite a down deposit, especially when the house is gambling that you’ll be leaving a good slug of it behind.

But in return, you can choose the suite with a chinchilla-fur hammock, which one regular likes to loll around naked in, “waiting for a butler to find him.” (Note to self: if I do ever get to Vegas again, do not, under any circumstances, try out a chinchilla hammock).

One of the few big spender women leaves behind fur coats when she gets bored with them. She also likes:

…asking the butlers to dress up in pajamas, crawl into bed next to her, and read her bedtime stories.

To tacky and ick, let’s add pathetic.

High-rollers also like welcome gifts. I get this. A couple of times I stayed in hotels – ones where my company did a lot of business – and got a fruit basket and a bottle of cheap wine. At the swankiest hotel in Stamford, CT – the now defunct (I think) Le Pavillion – I also got personalized gilt luggage tags and a box of matches with my name spelled wrong. Maurreen Rogers. Thirty+ years on, those matches are still in my kitchen junk drawer. Misspelled name or not, I do enjoy getting free stuff above and beyond the chocolate on the pillow.

At the Cosmo, your gift might even be an edible chocolate sculpture “inspired by a guest’s Instagram account.” (Huh?)

But mostly the high-rollers want top shelf booze, where top shelf might be a bottle or cognac that goes for more than $4K. Or a $14K bottle of wine.

Money is no object when, for the clientele, money is no object. Someone willing to put $2M down and be prepared to lose it is the Cosmopolitan’s kind of regular.

The game of choice at the Cosmo is not, it goes without saying, the quarter slots. It’s Baccarat, where one guest bet $300K per hand for 8 decks at a time, on two tables at once.

Those are stakes of roughly $600,000 per minute, or $36 million per hour. (That nearly matches the 2017 gross domestic product of Tuvalu: $40 million.)

Fortunately for the house, the house won, as the house is inclined to do. As the fellow who won $6M on Roulette and promptly lost $7M found out. At least he had the solace of the chocolate Instagram sculpture and the $4K cognac.

Once, someone asked for a monkey to be dressed up  in a butler’s uniform to check the guest in.

And here I thought robots were going to replace humans…

My bottom line: let what happens in Vegas stay in Vegas.


Seventeen years on… Hard to believe that much time has gone by since 9/11…Nothing to add to my last year’s anniversary post, Blink of an Eye.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Sometimes they get you coming and going

With the opioid crisis so much in the news the last few years, Purdue Pharma – creators of OxyContin – has also come in for its share of press – mostly because there are dozens or states and cities suing the company for their role in getting folks hooked on Oxy and off into the god-awful world of addiction. Pull-pusher extraordinaire, Purdue stands accused of over-promoting their product, too much on the benefits, too little on the risks.

There’s certainly something to the claims:

In federal court in 2007, three top current and former employees for Purdue pleaded guilty to criminal charges, admitting that they had falsely led doctors and their patients to believe that OxyContin was less likely to be abused than other drugs in its class, according to the New York Times. Then earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that Purdue planned to stop promoting the drug. (Source: Washington Post)

Good of them to stop promoting OxyContin. But now it looks like Purdue conveniently had yet another drug up its sleeve that will take some of the financial sing out of putting a halt to promoting their big profit-maker.

Richard Sackler, former chairman and president of Purdue Pharma, became a billionaire thanks to OxyContin – the development and marketing of which he oversaw. And now, bless his inventive little brain and heart, he’s gotten a patent for a new drug that – get this – helps addicts get off of opioids.

The Financial Times reported that Sackler, whose family owns Purdue Pharma, a multibillion-dollar company, patented a new drug earlier this year that is a form of buprenorphine, a mild opioid that is used to ease withdrawal symptoms.

The patent description, in fact, talks about the “undesired characteristics of opioids”, i.e., “psychological as well as physical dependence.” It also notes that “drug addicts (“junkies”)” tend to get involved in “drug-related criminal activities.”  Thus the need for Sackler’s new wonder drug, which is regarded as preferable to methadone as an opioid substitute.

Certainly, it’s good news that there’s a new kid on the block that may be able to help all those living, breathing actual kids on the block. You know, the kids next door who’ve gotten hooked on OxyContin after it was prescribed for, say, a high-school athletic injury, and ended up escalating to heroin because it’s cheaper and more readily available than OxyContin. But there is something colossally galling about the folks that bear so much of the responsibility for getting those living, breathing actual kids hooked to begin with profiting from “the cure.”

Maybe Pharma/Sackler will do the right thing and donate the proceeds from their new patent to education and treatment.

In the meantime, am I the only one thinking of the old joke about the fellow who kills his mother and father, then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan?

You know, there are always some people out there who get you going and coming…

Friday, September 07, 2018

Talk about open concept…

I’ve had a couple of odd bathroom situations in my time.

I lived for a while in what was then one of the last residential buildings in what had been Boston’s West End. The West End was a vibrant Italian and Jewish immigrant enclave that was razed in the 1950’s and 1960’s to make way for redevelopment, largely given over to a now-outmoded and tired but then state-of-the-art apartment complex, and for the expansion of Mass General. When I lived there, there were still a couple of ancient Italian immigrants still in residence. Anyway, my apartment featured a tiny bathroom with a half-sized bathtub (and jerry-rigged show) and a toilet with an elevated tank and pull-chain flusher. But no sink. The sink was in the kitchen. So you used the bathroom and you washed your hands in the conveniently nearby kitchen sink.

In a more upscale but still oddball setting, I lived on the top two floors of a classic Beacon Hill townhouse. There were two bathrooms. The upstairs bathroom had a toilet and bathtub and was flanked on both sides by a tiny room with a sink. There was no shower in the bathtub because, given the configuration of the building, it wasn’t possible to stand up in the tub.

The bathroom with the shower was on the main floor, just off the living room. So that’s where we took our showers. Fine. But it was also just off the small galley kitchen. You could have walked around through the dining room and down the hall, but mostly to get to the living room from the kitchen, or the kitchen from the living room, we went through the bathroom. I tried not to think about the fact that there were plenty of times where I was carrying a plate of food or a glass of wine or a bowl of pretzels past the toilet. And mostly I succeeded. It was the way it was.

But I don’t think that I could think my way around a combo kitchen-bathroom. Which is the feature of a tiny (200 square foot) studio apartment, renting for $525 a month in St. Louis.

I’m all in on tiny living spaces, but this takes open concept a tad bit too far.

That said, I wiled away plenty of hours of my childhood fantasizing how I would convert our bathroom into a compleat home. The bed would fold down over the tub; the toilet would convert to a chair; the medicine cabinet would be swapped out for a bookcase. I can’t remember what I had worked out for my stove and fridge, but I loved thinking through having a compact little home of my own. 

I still like the tiny house idea, although I couldn’t do one of those BRladder-to-the-loft ones. And I do think that 200 square feet might be a bit too tiny, even for me. Not to mention that if I were living that small, the bathroom could be plenty tiny but it would have to be separate with a door of its own.

No way I want to be able to stir the pot while on the pot. Or be soaking in that tub while the Toll House cookies are baking.

The article notes that the apartment has been rented by a man. I’m guessing young. I’m guessing single. I’m guessing doing a lot more Grub Hub than replicating what the Iron Chef just whipped up.

As I said, this takes open concept to a new, ewww level.


Thursday, September 06, 2018

To shell or not to shell?

I’m a reasonably big pistachio fan.

It was not always thus.

When I was a kid, pistachios came in little boxes and the shells were dyed bright red. They were tasty enough, but it was a pain in the butt to do the shelling, as you ended up with vile red stains all over your fingers. (The dye was to cover up blemishes that resulted from the harvesting methods of the day. Today’s mechanized processing has done away with the need to dye them.)

My most vivid pistachio memory of childhood has nothing to do with the shelling or eating of red pistachio nuts.

It was one of the last days of school. The Gates Lane Plain patrol line (as opposed to the Gates Lane That Crosses [Main Street] patrol line) was wending its way up Main Street. We were nearing Henderson Avenue, the patrol line itself having gotten rather ragged and dispersed. Most of the kids peeled off at Brookline Street, and with them the official patrol line leader, with his dirty white patrol safety bandolier and belt.

Just as we neared Henderson, Gregory Hinsley – a second grader to my first grader – stuffed a couple of red pistachio nuts up his nostrils. Where they got stuck.

Panic ensued.

Oh, we all knew he wasn’t going to suffocate. Believe me, kids in Main South Worcester knew all about mouth breathers, even if most of those mouth breathers were pubs, not kids who went to Our Lady of the Angels. No, Gregory wasn’t going to suffocate, but who wanted to appear before their mother with pistachio nuts shoved up their nose? No one, that’s who.

Fortunately, Mr. Sarasin, the mailman, was on the scene. As we stood, slack-jawed, in a circle around him, Mr. Sarasin managed to remove the pistachios from Gregory’s nostrils.

Fast forward to my adult years, when pistachio nuts were no longer red and when I began incorporating them in my diet.

I like them in salads. I like them on pasta. I like them to snack on. (And I really like Talenti Pistachio Ice Cream.)

Occasionally I cheap out (or accidentally) buy them with the shell-on, but mostly I’m a lazy old shell-off kind of pistachio eater. Shelling them involves breaking fingernails and chipping teeth. Shards of pistachio shell on the tongue. Too much nut meat left in the shell.

In any case, I was interested in Christopher Ingraham’s analysis of the shell-on vs. shell-off situation that appeared recently in the Washington Post. As a shell-on man, Ingraham assumed that shell-on nuts were cheaper than pre-shelled pistachios. He decided to test his assumption.

My materials were an eight-ounce bag of shell-on pistachios and a six-ounce bag of the shell-off variety, purchased from my local grocery store. A quick price-per-ounce analysis seemed to confirm my priors: The shell-on pistachios cost 75 cents per ounce, while the shell-off kind were twice as expensive, at $1.50 per ounce.

But that's not the comparison we want. While the contents of the pricier shell-off bag are 100 percent edible, the shell-on pistachios contain an unknown percentage of shells and empty space. For a proper pistachios-to-pistachios comparison, we need to convert a quantity of shell-on pistachios to its shell-off equivalent.

So I took a cup of shell-on pistachios and set about the tedious work of removing the shells. I was somewhat surprised to find that in the end, it boiled down to half a cup of unshelled product. You need two cups of shell-on pistachios, in other words, to get one cup of edible shell-off nuts.

The two cups of shell-on pistachios in the eight-ounce bag worked out to exactly one cup of ready-to-eat nuts. The six-ounce pre-shelled bag, on the other hand, contained 1½ cups of ready-to-eat nuts. I converted the cost per bag to cost per shelled cup and was shocked to find they were identical: $5.99 per cup of prepared pistachio.

Shell-on or shell-off, in other words, price-wise it makes zero difference when it comes to what ends up in your belly.

Ingraham went further, going on to factor in the time it takes to shell pistachios. I won’t go into the details, because I think it’s kind of ridiculous to assume that time spent shelling pistachios would actually be directed to something that was money making. When I’m removing pistachio shells, I’m sitting in front of the TV letting MSNBC raise my blood pressure, or watching someone on HGTV bitch about the lack of dual vanities in the master bath.

Needless to say, factoring in the cost of labor – however dubious – increases the cost of shell-on pistachios. Since the costs were already pretty much equal, there’s no reason whatsoever to choose the shell-on pistachios.

For the record, I can’t remember whether Gregory Hinsley’s pistachios up the nose were shell on or shell off. (God, could he have been dumb enough to shove a hard-shelled nut with sharp edges up his nose???)

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

I’d like to buy the world a Moxie and keep it company

I’m all in favor of regional peculiarities – accents,  retail outfits, words, products – surviving the inexorable slog toward homogeneity.

I like hearing MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell lapse into his Boston accent. I cheered when I heard him pronounce Cuba Cuber. Good on ye, Larry!

I still refer to Macy’s as Jordan Marsh, and descending into my local Roche Brothers to go grocery shopping, I’m always a bit wistful that it’s on the site of Filene’s Basement.

I miss leaving the shady comfort of the piazza (a porch of a three-decker, for those who didn’t have the benefit of growing up in Worcester) to head down to the spa (corner store) to buy a bottle of tonic (soda) on a hot summer’s day.

But what I don’t miss is buying a bottle Moxie, one of New England’s very own contribution to the soft drink world. moxie

When I was a kid, Moxie was advertised – not by this fellow, but by Ted Williams – and Moxie was sold, but I don’t believe that anyone actually ever drank Moxie. Not even by my father, who consumed all sorts of noxious food stuffs, like finnan haddie and pickled pigs feet, drank Moxie. (I always associated my the worst of my father’s food preferences with Irish cuisine. When I first started traveling to Ireland, I was somewhat surprised to find that the food is actually good there. The one favored food of my father’s that I loved – a raisin nut cake known en famille “Daddy’s Favorite” – I never associated with Ireland. That is, until I had barmbrack in an Irish tea room.)

It was not until I was an adult that I actually tasted Moxie for the first time, and that was when bottles were given out for free at some sort of sports event – minor league baseball or pro soccer. I’ve forgotten.

It was dreadful, a ghastly combination of shoe polish and rust. I almost looked down my shirt to see if just that mere sip-een had been enough to put hair on my chest. Talk about a soft drink with nothing soft about it.

Amazing to me that Moxie has survived all these years – long enough to be (amazingly) acquired by Coca-Cola.

Have a Moxie and a smile? (Have a Moxie and a grimace?)

It’s the real thing? Now that would be truth in advertising, if the real thing tasted like shoe polish and rust, and sprung hair on your chest.


Soft drink giant Coca-Cola said Tuesday [August 28] it is acquiring Moxie, a long-lived and beloved New England soda brand that is the official state beverage of Maine. (Source Boston Globe)

I’ll give you long-lived, but beloved? By whom?

I’ve been a New Englander since December 1949. Here lie my parents. And grandparents (half of them). And great-grandparents (half of them). Here live my siblings (75% of them). Some of my best friends are New Englanders. My husband was from Vermont. And I’ve yet to meet anyone who loves Moxie.

Moxie has been around since the 19th century and it’s famous in New England for its unique flavor, which is the product of a root extract that gives it a distinctive taste that polarizes drinkers.

Since I don’t know anyone who likes, let alone loves, Moxie, I’m not quite sure who’s being polarized here. When I think polarization w.r.t. soft drinks, I’m thinking Worcester’s own Polar Soda. And no one I know is actually polarized about Polar Soda. We all love it.

Coca-Cola said it’s acquiring the brand from Coca-Cola of Northern New England, an independent bottling partner of the larger company based in Bedford, N.H.

Bottling of the soda will remain in New Hampshire, said Lauren Thompson, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola.

She said the company’s goal is to ‘‘work to protect the heritage and regional culture of the brand.’’

Protect the heritage of what, spit takes? As for regional culture, I suppose New Englanders have a reputation for being flinty, ornery, obnoxious, and decidedly unsweet. So if those are attributes of our culture, protect away.

Coca-Cola sees an opportunity to bring Moxie’s brand to a wider audience, but distribution of Moxie will not change, Thompson said.

Never say never, but I can’t imagine people adopting Moxie as their bev of choice. Then again, I don’t understand Red Bull. And I really don’t understand Dr. Pepper. (Tastes worse than Moxie, IMHO).

(Speaking of a wider audience, given that Polar Soda is actually a very strong, popular and drinkable regional brand, I was pleasantly surprised on a recent visit to Dallas that my hosts (Rhode Island) natives had been able to procure some for me at their local grocery store.)

The price of the sale of Moxie was not disclosed, but it really can’t be all that much. Whatever they paid, I’d rather Coke had bailed out Necco so that we could still have Sweet Hearts for Valentine’s Day, and an occasional Sky Bar.

The drink is also widely used as a mixer in New England to make ‘‘Moxie cocktails.’’

I’ll take their word for it. Must be a hipster thing.

Let’s leave it at I’d like to buy the world a Moxie and keep it company – as long as I don’t have to drink the vile thing.

As I said, I’m all in favor of regional peculiarities, but Moxie is a bit to peculiar even for my peculiar tastes.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

How do you like them apples?

When it comes to apples, I’m definitely a McIntosh kind of gal. Maybe it’s because it’s what I grew up with. (The Mac is the most popular apple in New England.) I had my first early Mac a couple of weeks back. Yum!

I’ve tried other apples over the years, and they’ve mostly been likable enough. But the Mac remains the apple of my eye, my fridge, my tummy.


The only apple I actively dislike is the Delicious which, IMHO is anything but. Thus I was in complete agreement with an article from HuffPo - This Is Why Red Delicious Apples Suck So Hard – that my sister Trish (and fellow McIntosh fan-girl) sent my way.

Bland, sometimes cardboardy in texture and usually covered in wax, they’re still found in gas stations, in bowls at the reception desks of fancy hotels and, yes, in brown bag school lunches. But who likes to eat them?

The thing about Delicious apples is that they’re kind of the pretty face of apples. They tend to look beautiful. The kind of apple that Eve could easily get Adam to take a bite out of. Yet to me they’re overly sweet and generally sort of grainy,mealy.

The one positive use I’ve seen them deployed for was at the late (and not particularly lamented) all-you-can-eat Rhode Island restaurant, Custy’s. To keep their lines organized, Custy’s had those velvet rope and stanchion separators that you see (or used to) in movie theaters. Topping off each stanchion was a perfectly formed, thing of beauty Delicious apple. Good place for them.

It turns out that a lot of people share my feelings about Delicious apples. So, how’d they get so popular?

“In the 1950s, as Red Delicious was developing, there was a major shift in the way Americans bought food,” [Michigan apple grower and fellow Delicious hater Mike] Beck says. “Previously, people would buy food right from the farm or at farmers markets until the advent of good refrigeration and the grocery store chains. So people started buying with their eyes. The Red Delicious, without a doubt, is a pretty apple. It’s gorgeous and very inviting, but it’s kind of like you think you’re buying a Corvette, and then you get into a Chevette.”

That’s what you get for going with the pretty face, the superficial.

Americans, however, are coming around, and the Delicious is declining in popularity. Much of what’s grown is exported to the Pacific Rim, Europe, and Mexico. Poor folks! Guess they haven’t had the opportunity to bite into a Brookfield Orchard McIntosh, right off the tree.

So the answer to the question, how do you like them apples? Depends on the variety. Yes to the Mac and any close relations. The Delicious? Pitooey!