Thursday, April 30, 2020

Baseball for dummies?

We may not be playing baseball quite yet in the States, but Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League, which has four teams, has thrown up their first pitch, called their first "Batter Up!" But because they are socially and healthily conscious, their teams are playing to empty stadiums.

It must be decidedly odd for ball players - even those who play for crappy teams that don't attract a lot of fans - to play to an empty house. From my own limited experience, I know that performing before a non-crowd can be unnerving. My one instance was a presentation I was supposed to give at a trade show, held in the middle of winter in Chicago. Now holding a trade show in the middle of winter in Chicago may not be the wisest thing on the face of the earth, but my company was game. So off I went with my PowerPoint preso, all geared up to talk about automated software testing. (Twenty-plus years later, I just stifled a yawn...) 

Not that the topic was a big draw, but a reasonable number of folks had signed up for my session. Alas, the weather outside was frightful, which gave plenty of the potential attendees an excellent excuse to skip the show entirely - or at least stay snuggled all safe in their beds until later in the day.

Anyway, two people came to my preso, and I really felt ridiculous standing up there on stage, miked up and holding a clicker to advance my slides. 

So I took off the mike, put away the clicker, and went and sat  down with the two brave attendees who'd stood up to the elements to talk software testing methods. (Still stifling that yawn...)

So in my own modest little way, I know that it's really hard to perform when there's no audience. 

But the Rakuten Monkeys wanted something there, so they've
put some mannequins in the stands, and they're even sporting Rakuten gear. Go, Monkeys! While they don't look all that excited to be there, it does appear that they're at least enough into the game to partcipate in a one-armed wave. 

Dummies, especially ones as lifelike as these fans, can be expensive. So the Monkeys are augmenting the crowd with cardboard cutouts. They may not be practicing social distancing, but they are wearing masks. As for fandom, they're also wearing the colors, carrying signs - presumably urging the Monkeys on - and carrying those fun noisemaking sticks. Shake, rattle and roll, folks! Or non-folks. 

I do have to wonder what happens when there's a rain delay. After the groundskeepers spread the tarp over the infield, do they head into the stands to collect the cardboard cutouts? Or do they drape clear plastic ponchos over them so they can sit the delay out?

Unfortunately, cardboard shakers don't make much noise, and noise is such an important part of a ball game. At Fenway, the noise is a combo of fans yelling, the organ played by Josh Kantor, and other music: clips from whatever the players pick as their walk on song; tunes by the Dropkick Murphys; the eighth inning "Sweet Caroline" singalong; and - if the Sox win - "Love that Dirty Water."

Not sure what they generally do for music in Taiwan, but the Rakuten team has installed some robots to beat the drums for their team. 

Alas, in the first game where the real fake crowd was deployed, it was all for nought, as the Monkeys lost in extra innings to the Chinatrust Brothers. (The game went 4 hours-plus: and I thought Red Sox-Yankees games went long.)

I can't help but think that there's something missing.

Where's the loud-mouth drunk who's rooting for the other guys and who is, invariably, sitting right behind me. And screaming in my ear?

Where's the other crazy but not drunk guy who's sitting beside him. Two of my favorites: At a game against the White Sox during the year the White Sox had brought back a ridiculous retro uniform that, as I recall, featured squared off hats and some type of baggy capri pants, there was a guy screaming "Put on your John Wayne trick-or-treat suits" at the White Sox players throughout the game. Huh?

And another favorite: With good, opposing team side, box seats for a game against the Indians, there was the guy who would not stop bellowing at the Indian players, "Go back to the Windy City!" Huh and huh? Screaming "Put on your John Wayne trick-or-treat suits" would have made just as much sense.

Where's the quiet guy sitting next to me wearing a baseball cap with a cloth penis protuding from the crown? And what's that about? Conversation starter? Way to meet girls? Guess not, he's always at the game alone. The protuding penis does make for a nice forewarning, however. Don't make eye contact!

Where's the jerk being tossed out for reaching into the field of play and interfering with the game by grabbing for a live ball? 

Where are the drunks in the bleachers being frog-marched out by security or - better yet - Boston PD?

Where are the hotties for the guys in the bullpen to ogle?

Where are the fans blowing up beachballs so that they can start tossing them around in the stands, making me miss, miss, miss Red Sox reliever Bob Stanley who would use the bullpen rake to stab and deflate any beachballs that wafted into his space.

Where's the guy at the end of the row who has to go out for a beer or to take a leak at least once an inning, and who always manages to block a good play?

And speaking of blocking a good play, where are the boobs who start a wave when the Sox are up in a tight game with men on base? How many times do I have to tell them that if they must cretinously persist with the wave, they shouldn't be starting it off when the Red Sox are at bat?

Where are the Sports Bar vendors? The peanut vendors who can hurl a bag of peanuts 20 rows up? Of course, they're not there because cardboard cutouts, dummies, and robots don't consume any Sports Bars or peanuts.

It's not all god-awful with fans in the stands.

Where's the sweet family taking their kids to their first game? Where's the nice out-of-towners who are surprised that Bostonians can be nice? Where's the middle aged guy there with his ancient dad? Where are the kids selling the 20-20 raffle tickets? (And how come I never win? My cousin Ellen won big money at a Cubs game, and she doesn't even like baseball.)

Where's everyone standing and screaming when one of our guys hits a dinger? Or makes a great catch? Or when there's an outrageously bad call? Or that most excellent of baseball occurrences: a bench-clearing brawl.

I miss baseball terribly, and I'm looking forward to its return - even if, as is speculated, the teams will be plenty in empty stadiums. But what a weird and eerie experience it will be watching one of those empty stands games. Makes me wonder whether the Rakuten Monkeys don't have the right idea. Forget the drum-playing robots. (Have Josh Kantor on the organ instaed.) But by all means bring in the cardboard cutouts! Baseball for dummies!

Just play ball!

Thanks to my brother-in-law Rick for sending this one my way.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The case of the second disappearing post...

Not quite sure what's going on with Blogger, but for the second time in a week, a post has disappeared on me.

Today's was supposed to be on the Rakuten Monkeys, a team in the Chinese Professional League in Taiwan, which is playing to empty stadiums - empty, aside from the store manniquins and cardboard cutouts in the stands, and the robots that are banging drums.

It was a fun post to write, but it won't be so much fun when, sometime today, I go to rewrite it...

Anyway, I discovered that the "Baseball fof dummies" post had gone missing last night around 9 p.m., and I was in no mood whatsoever to sit down and write it again.

At some point, I'll try to figure out why Blogger is letting me down.

So for now: stay tuned! There WILL be a fun post on baseball played without the humans in the stands. But it will be tomorrow and not today.

And, yes, I am colossally annoyed...

Plus I'm having PTSD, back to the early days of PC's when, if you didn't hit Save every couple of minutes while working on a Word doc you risked losing it to the blue screen of death. At least you always had an excuse for not hitting a deadline! But what a drag. I remember losing hours worth of work on more than one occasion. But at least I was getting paid for it.

This is just plain grrrrrr.....

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

What's a shopper to do???

Since things shut down, I've been doing a bit of socially distanced shopping.

I did a frenzied wave of facemask shopping, mostly on Etsy, so now I have enough facemasks to vary things up every day. Turns out I have ears that are like my feet: flat and skinny. So I struggle to keep some of the facemasks in place. This has helped slump-shouldered little old me maintain better posture, but it's a drag. The masks that fit the best over my pariticularly peculiar ears are from an Etsy vendor named Sewby. I ordered gray, but they send you what colort they have, and I got black. So when I put the masks on, especially in conjunction with sunglasses, I look a bit like Zorro.

I've also done some pandemic-related shopping for nitrile gloves. And some quasi pandemic-related shopping for paper hand towels for the bathrooms. I use these in the best of times, but these days, what with having to wash my hands so frequently, I'm going through quite a few of them. 

My other online shopping has been a bit more discretionary

Someone put out a call to order stamps from the Post Office to keep them from going belly up, so I did that.

I ordered a book - Don Winslow's Broken - from the Trident Bookstore Cafe, my local indie. They don't have curbside pickup for books, so I had to have it shipped. It cost more than if I'd ordered it through Amazon Prime, but I really want to keep Trident in business. So I'll be ordering from them again.

I have also ordered a book from Amazon. In a conversation the other day, it turns out my friend Gwen has never read one of my childhood favorite's, Adopted Jane. I was going to send her my copy, but I figured by the time I took it to the PO, it wouldn't cost that more to order a used copy from Amazon. So there I went.

My other non-essential purchases have included my spring order of undies from Jockey, a transaction usually conducted in person at Macy's or Lord & Taylor's. A few gifts for folks, as I'm figuring it's good for mental health to get the odd surprise in the mail on occasion. And two pairs of sneakers, which are really more essential than non-essential, given that I walk 5+ miles a day and trudge through more than a few pairs of sneakers in the course of a year. And a pandemic year is no exception.

There are a couple of things from LL Bean I'm looking at, but I want to do my winter-summer clothing swap first and figure out how many of last year's tee-shirts need to hit the rag bag and be replaced. It's been too crummy to do my closet switch quite yet. I always have a couple of transitional shirts and sweaters set aside for any out-of-season days, but we haven't had any string of spring to speak of. Usually in April we have one or two stretches when it's consistently in the 60's and 70's. Not this year. Lots of overcast, lots of cool, nothing that's made me want to pull out my sandals and capri pants.

Anyway, I've been feeling pretty good about my online shopping. Not overdoing things, but thinking I've been doing my bit to help keep the wheels on the bus of the consumer economy turning, even if they are leaking air. I've kept the warehouse workers and packers working and packing, and the delivery folks delivering. How can this be wrong?

Turns out that some of these workers are none-to-happy with the working conditions they're putting up with and would prefer to be sheltering in place with nothing to do but watch Netflix and repeat-washing their hands. 

Workers at Neiman Marcus (bankruptcy filing due any day now) are a case in point:
Dozens of workers arrive at 8 each morning, wearing masks and gloves and under strict orders to remain six feet apart. The lights are dim and the mood somber.
The Neiman Marcus employees had been summoned back to work at a shuttered store in a shuttered mall in Pennsylvania, two weeks after the coronavirus pandemic forced the luxury retailer to close all 43 of its U.S. locations temporarily. Their task: to fill hundreds of online orders for deeply discounted Moncler jackets, Dior sunglasses, Ugg boots and the like. (Source: Washington Post)
Moncler jackets and Uggs?

Talk about non-essential, although I guess you could wrap a Moncler jacket around your head and double use it as a facemask, as long as you cover your nostrils and chin with it.

While the retailers see all this as a way to hang on to some business by their fingernails, some workers aren't especially happy-dappy about things, as: is causing workers to fulfill orders few need, with many resentful of the situation even if they need the paycheck.
In the case of Neiman, I don't believer there has ever been any item sold there that is actually essential. And if I were making a wage not far north of minimum, I'm pretty sure I'd be a tad bit resentful if my job was packing up a thousand-dollar puffer coat, however deeply discounted. (And if I'd ordered a thousand-dollar puffer coat, I think I'd be checking it for spit marks...)
 “It [has] not been easy emotionally or mentally,” said a Neiman Marcus employee at King of Prussia Mall near Philadelphia who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. “Big businesses are willing to sacrifice low-level employees for their gain.”
True dat, but OTOH retailers are so cash-strapped, if they can't make any online sales, we may not have these retail businesses to kick around for much longer. 
“The tension for retailers is between staying open right now versus not, which becomes a bigger question of salvaging sales, staying in business and surviving long term,” said Sucharita Kodali, a retail analyst for Forrester Research. “There is this huge gray area: Do office supplies count as essential? Does apparel? The higher end you go, the grayer it becomes.”
Well, I don't go very high end, that's for sure. No Moncler jackets. No tiny cosmetics fridges from Sephora. (Who even knew there was such a thing.) No custom slingshots.

Custom slingshots, you migh ask?
“I call it luxury panic-buying,” said Tabitha Smutz, who works for a company that sells custom slingshots in Asheville, N.C. “You can tell that a lot of customers are just bored and browsing online, going, ‘Oh, that’s something fun I can do in my backyard.’ It’s been busier than the busiest Black Friday we’ve ever had.”
Panic-buying, I understand. Why else would I have ordered facemasks from 6 different places? But I guess I draw the line at luxury panic-buying, although I must say that a custom slingshot would cover not just luxury, but the end of the doomsday prepper spectrum that is all armed up in anticipation of the end of the world and hordes attacking their redoubts looking for Spam and Cheetos. Plus, I believe a slingshot can be used for hunting small game like pigeons and squirrels. I say this with confidence although the truth is, the only slingshots I've ever seen were on The Little Rascals or in Dennis the Menace. Peashooters I saw quite a bit of growing up. And believe me, it's plenty horrifying to get hit in the back of the neck with a spitball launched from the peashooter of some oogey 10-year-old boy. But slingshots were not something I ever saw in person.

The worker problems associated with the boom in online are  mostly not about Neiman-Marcus and custom slingshots, of course. It's mostly, of course, about outfits like Amazon.
The increased workload has led to discord among warehouse and delivery workers. Employees at Amazon have called on the retail giant to stop filing nonessential orders and loosen worker quotas during the pandemic.
Whether we're talking about jobs or goods, nonessential vs. essential has become quite a thing.

In France, Amazon can only fulfill orders for food, pet food, health supplies, and electronics, leaving me to ask why electronics are essential but books aren't. I suppose you need a lamp to read a book, but still. The lines drawn can be quite arbitrary.

In the meantime, I'll continue to do my small scale online shopping. 

Fingers crossed that companies do right by their employees in terms of accommodating their needs for a safe workplace. Not to mention upping their pay. We'll see.

Anyway, there's a pandemic on, and when it's over I still want to be able to go shopping somewhere, anywhere, whether it's online or in a brick and mortar store. Until then, what is a shopper to do?

Monday, April 27, 2020

Here come the Boston pigeons and we're going to beat every last buggin' NY pigeon on the whole buggin' street

I'm a Bostonian by desire, if not by baptism. With the exception of a year traveling around the US and Europe, and the academic year spent in graduate school in NYC, it's where I've spent my adult life.
I act Boston. I (can) talk Boston. I root, root for the home teams. And root, root, root against the Damn Yankees. (Other than in 2001 when, after 9/11, I thought they deserved to win the World Series.) 

Sure, New York may have it when it comes to skyline. Honestly, I can look at pictures of Boston and, unless I see the Citgo sign near Fenway, the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade along the Charles River, the dreadful Pru(dential Building) or the fabulous Zakin Bridge, I'm often hardput to recognize the city as Boston. Even when it's part of the lead-in to a local news program. Oh well. Oh meh. 

New York's skyline, on the other hand, can only be New York's skyline. And the Chrysler Building? Is swoon too strong a word to use for my response when I see it? I think not.

And certainly, The City (that would be NYC: Manhattan) has it all over Boston when it comes to fashion. But seriously, do women in NYC really need to get all dressed up as if they're heading to Fashion Week when they're really running their Saturday errands to Zabar's and the dry cleaner? And in all black, to boot. Sure, they may look glam, but, when it comes to running errands, give me a pair of jeans and an LL Bean fleece. Preferably an old one. With pills.

And when it comes to energy and energizing and excitement, New York has it all over Boston. 

Yet there are so many ways it's better here. It's less chaotic. Easier. Skyline aside, prettier. (The Public Garden may be miniscule compared to Central Park, but it's drop dead gorgeous.) New York may be more driven, more brazen, but, hey, I can't help but believe that we're smarter. Wicked smartah. 

New York's marathon may be bigger - BFD - but ours is older, wiser, and just plain better. And our Fourth of July celebration beats theirs any old Fourth of July.

Plus our subways may be slow and erratic, but New York's are smellier, more rat-ridden, and equally erratic. If not more so.

So I'm a Boston girl.

To quote the Standells' Dirty Water, "Oh, Boston you're my home." (And the water's not that dirty here, either. There are even annual swims in the Charles, which I'm thinking of joining some summer - just not this one. I wouldn't put a toe in the East River.)

That said, I LUV NY, and one of the first things I'm going to do when we get back to normal is get back to NYC. My last visit was last May. Way too long ago.

While our cities may have many dissimilarities, we have a lot in common. Terrible accents, rotten weather, lots of know-it-alls. (Takes one to know one. Or all.) And if I'd given any thought to it, I'd say that both cities have way too many pigeons. And that those pigeons, city to city, are indistinguishable: they crap way too much and when they take off in flight formation, heading right at you, when their groundling peace is disturbed, they can be downright scary. 

As it turns out, "at the genomic level," our pigeon populations are quite distinct. 

Who knew?

After Elizabeth Carlen, a biologist at Fordham University, caught pigeons with a net gun and took their blood samples during a series of road trips across the region, she discovered that birds all the way from Virginia to southern Connecticut show genetic signs of interbreeding. And in a paper published this month in Evolutionary Applications, she and a co-author also report that another separate, distinct pigeon supercity begins in Providence, R.I. and continues to Boston. (Source: NY Times)
In other words, our pigeon population is more selective, more exclusive. None of this gumming it up with a ton of other states. Bostonians in particular, and New Englanders in general, have long had the reputation for being stand-offish, not all cooey warm and welcoming to outsiders. Guess that goes for our pigeons, too. 
“That was really weird to think about,” Ms. Carlen said. The suburbs of Connecticut don’t just mark the boundary between Yankees and Red Sox fans, or tomato-based and cream chowders: They also seem to block pigeons. 
Our pigeons are our pigeons thanks to some greenspace in Connecticut that the NY pigeons don't want to breach. And vice versa. Our pigeons have everything they need here, including, it appears, cute girl pigeons, so there's no need to head to New York to find your little pigeon heart's desire. 

(By the way, it never fails to shock me that tomato-based clam chowder is a thing. Shortly after the shutdown began here, someone circulated a picture they took in a local grocery store that showed the soup aisle picked clean. Except for the cans of Manhattan Clam Chowder.)

Anyway, it's not clear where our distinctive populations will further evolve. Will ours get snobbier? Will theirs get pushier? Time will tell. Til then, much as I like the fact that they're ours, I do wish there were a few fewer of them.

And I'll bet that, for all that vaunted NYC toughness, our pigeons could take theirs.
Here come the Boston pigeons, and we're going to beat, every last buggin' NY pigeon on the whole buggin' street.
So there!

Friday, April 24, 2020

Well, there WAS a post

And it was a pretty good one, about the differences between pigeons in Boston and pigeons in NYC. But the post apparently took flight, and I'm in no mood to see if I can recover it - let alone replicate it - just about now.

Maybe for Monday?


Thursday, April 23, 2020

Won't you let me take you on a sea cruise? Well, that's a hard no...

I've never had much desire to go on a cruise. Oh, those river cruises look appealing enough, floating down the Rhine or on some French wine country water way. And I wouldn't mind seeing the fiords of Alaska up close and personal before it's too late. But getting on an ocean liner and lining around the ocean? No thanks.

I think I'd eat myself to death. Or drink myself into oblivion. Maybe both. And/or I'd hole myself up in my cabin and read myself to sleep.

Truly, there is nothing about getting on a cruise that appeals to me. Basically, if I'm going to eat and/or drink myself to death, or flop on my bed for a day of read-snooze-read-snooze-read-snooze, I can do it all at home for free.

All that said, I have friends and family members who absolutely love to go on cruises. One of my cousins has been just about everywhere, and, years ago, on one of those trips to just about everywhere, she met the man who is now her SO. And stalwart cruising companion. When the pandemic hit, they had to cancel a major cruise - they take at least one biggy a year - that was going to take them to Fiji, Tahiti, Australia. Places they've already been, but what the hell. They also had a lesser European cruise planned for late summer. That's been canceled, too. At least they got a cruise that took them around the Caribbean and to New Orleans before things got bad. They were in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, but it doesn't look like the acquired COVID-19 while there, unless it was of the asymptomatic variety.

Nothing like a pandemic to take the wind out of your sails.

With the cruise industry shut down, most passengers have made land fall by now. According to the US Coast Guard, there may only be 18 passengers still on board cruise ships that were plying their trade around Florida.

And yesterday, the Costa Deliziosa, which was on a round-the-world cruise that began on January 5th in Venice, docked in Genoa, and began disgorging its more than 1,500 passengers. This was the last big-time cruise still at sea. In addition to all those passengers, who I'm sure were none to thrilled to be spending time in still-shut-down Italy, the Costa Not-So-Deliziosa also had nearly 900 crew members. 

Wonder what's happening to them?

Guess that would be Italy's lookout. What our Coasties are looking out for are the:
...nearly 65,000 crew members are still on 87 cruise ships in Miami’s USCG 7th District, which includes the Bahamas and the Caribbean...
About 30,600 crew members are on 43 vessels in and around US ports, while 34,300 crew are on 44 cruise ships in and around the Bahamas and Caribbean, per the USCG. (Source: CNN)
Boy, if I never had any desire to go on a cruise, I haven't had any desire to work on a cruise ship since I was a little kid watching the I-Love-Lucy style antics of Gale Storm and ZaSu Pitts on the lame-o sitcom Oh, Susanna.

By the time I was watching the Love Boat, I may not have known quite yet what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew it wasn't going to be working shoulder to shoulder with Gopher, Captain Stubing, and Julie. 

Of couse, the crew members stuck on those ships are obviously folks who actually wanted to work on cruise ships. But just what do they do when there are only 18 passengers per 65,000 crew members. Do they serve each other in the dining room? Perform for each other in the caberet? Are they being paid? Have they been tested for COVID-19? Do any of them have it? And what about shipboard romances???

Not sure where all these people will end up landing. I know that at one point the Governor of Florida was only going to allow passengers who were residents of his state to get off the boats. He must have relented, if there's only 18 stray passengers still onboard.

While on the one hand, he has pretty lax standards when it comes to shutting down his state - social distance/social smistance - I'm sure he wouldn't be welcoming 65,000 possible disease vectors.

I hope they're okay. I hope they're getting paid. I hope that at some point they get to walk themselves down the ship's gangway and get to wherever it is they want to go.

Sounds like a pure hellscape to me. 

At least the crew of the S.S. Minnow was on solid ground on Gilligan's Island.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A pint of the black stuff would taste good about now

The other day, my daily walk took me out to Fenway Park. It was Monday. The plan was to be there for the Patriots Day game. Red Sox vs. Cleveland. Coulda/shoulda/woulda been a good one. I'm glad I took the walk, but it also made me sad. I'm missing baseball. 

For some reason, on the walk back, I began thinking about Boston's North End, the historic Italian section that each summer hosts a number of festas, street fairs dedicated to the patron saint of whatever region's local group is running that weekend's fair. I used to go pretty often, just to stroll around, take in the sights, try to win some piece of crap by squirting water into the balloon in the mouth of a plaster clown head (whatever that game's called), listen to the concert (I saw Al Martino once), watch the parade (in which the statue of the patron saint is carried through the streets, accompanied by the Roma Band), and do whatever else you do at an Italian festa.

I don't imagine there'll be any festas this summer. No Saint Agrippina. No Saint Rocco. No Saint Anthony. No feast of the curly-haired Madonna. (Not quite sure what her name is.)

So I'm now missing festas.

And I'm missing Ireland. Which has nothing to do with missing festas or baseball, other than that it's just something else I'm missing.

I had a trip to Ireland in the early planning stages for this fall. The first time I went to Ireland, in 1973, it was with my college roommate, Joyce. I've been back plenty of times since, and Joyce has been there once or twice on business over the years, but her husband, Tom, has never been. (Tom was Joyce's college BF, so I've known him almost as long as I've known her.) Anyway, when I visited them in Dallas last October, we began kicking around the idea of an Ireland trip at some point. And after the first of the year, Joyce and I started to put some vague plans into place.

Well, Ireland isn't going to happen this fall. Maybe next year. (Joyce and I are starting to talk up 2022, so that we have something to look forward to.)

Did I say that I'm missing Ireland?

And when I'm missing Ireland, I'm missing Guinness.

I'm not much of a beer fan, but when in Ireland, I always go a bit native and end up enjoying a jar or two (or a glass, if I'm really not feeling beerish). Guinness isn't beer-beer, it's a stout. A lot of people can't stand it, but I really like it - the foamy head, the bite. Sometimes I'll have a half-and-half instead, which is half Guinness, half Harp, which is a lager. In the States, this might be called a Black and Tan, but never in Ireland...

Anyway, with the pubs in Ireland shut down for the duration, I'm sure that many an Irishman and Irishwoman are missing their Guinness, which is the national drink of the country.

To slake that particular thirst, there's a pub in Belfast - which is in Northern Ireland, but that's Ireland, whether they know and like it or not - is taking the brew on the road.

The Hatfield House on Ormeau Road in south Belfast has been delivering freshly-poured pints of Guinness to customers across the Northern Irish capital since the coronavirus pandemic prompted the closure of pubs across the country.
Using a state-of-the-art van kitted out with a portable tap system, the service was created to help cater to those missing the distinctive taste of a perfectly poured pint of the black stuff.

Customers simply called up Hatfield House, place their orders the day before delivery and, before they know it, a pint of freshly poured Guinness is on its way.

Mobile bar staff are careful to ensure it’s a contact-free service too, with drinks poured on location into plastic glasses which are then left on the doorstep. (Source: Irish Post)
I may not be able to take in a ball game anytime soon. I won't be getting to an Italian festa this summer. And, because I don't live in Belfast, I guess I won't be enjoying a fresh pour of Guinness anytime soon, either. 

But well-played, Hatfield House. 
“Stay safe, stay home and let us bring the pub to you.” 
For now, I will be staying safe, staying home. But if ever I get to Northern Ireland - or to Belfast, if and when Ireland is made a nation once again - I will definitely be looking in at the Hatfield House for a pint of the black stuff. 


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Wild Kingdom

The other day, I saw something wonderful on Twitter. (In case you're wondering, for every truly dreadful item that appears on Twitter, there's always a countervailing tweet that makes me smile.) The tweet I so enjoyed was of a groundhog calmly nibbling on a piece of pizza while standing on the someone's porch in Philadelphia. The homeowner's dogs were standing on the other side of the glass door, taking the whole thing in. Neither groundhog nor puppers seemed especially fazed. (The link to the video is here.)

In Cape Town, South Africa, penguins are hitting the streets. And in Adelaide, Australia, kangaroos are hopping to it

I haven't seen much by way of out of the ordinary fauna in Boston, but I have observed that the fat, dumb and happy squirrels in the public garden are no longer quite so happy now that they're not being fed so regularly and are aggressively approaching walkers. Masks don't seem to put them off in the least, but if you make a kicking motion, they back off. 

On the Esplanade, the waddling Canada geese are no longer content with just crapping all over the walkways. Now they're plunking their arses right down in the middle of those walkways and just sitting there. Easy enough for a pedestrian to walk around, but the bikers and bladers seem a bit annoyed at having to skirt around them.

My sister Kath reports that the wild turkeys, which were already in command of some parts of her town of Brookline, have gotten bolder and more brazen while strutting their stuff. And did my sister Trish tell me she saw a fox in Salem? (My brother Tom's neighbor had his car broken into by a bear who smelled dog food. But Tom lives next to nature in the state of Washington. Bears on the amble are pretty common. And when we were visiting a few years back, my brother-in-law narrowly missed a collision with something big and scary. Moose? Elk?)

Back in the urban world, there've always been a fair amount of rabbits around here. Are there more, or is it just my imagination? 

In the absence of homo sapiens, the animals, it seems, have been taking over.
In Nara, Japan, sika deer are wandering the silent streets and subway platforms. London’s red foxes are enjoying the morning sun in quiet parks. Mountain goats in Llandudno, Wales, are munching their way through gardens and mowing down hedges. Black bears are lumbering through the streets of cities in North Carolina and California, Maine, and Maryland. Peacocks are perching on cars in Mumbai. Whales are gliding through the usually busy waters off Marseille.Coyotes in Chicago and San Francisco. Mountain lions in Boulder. Boars in Bergamo, Italy. (Source: Boston Globe)
And of course: 
A pizza-eating groundhog in Philadelphia.
It's everywhere! A veritable pandemic of animal life.
Across the globe, animals — urban wildlife — are tentatively filling the vacuum left behind by humans staying home.
The animals, with a lot less traffic, are throwing caution to the wind and venturing out in areas where they wouldn't normally be seen. In Boston, we may be getting more sightings of coyotes and racoons, as they used to restrict their wanderings to after dark but are now showing their faces during the day. I haven't seen either racoon or coyote on my urban walks. Yet. (I have seen racoons here in the past, and I know they something rummage through the trash. They apparently really like avocados. As for coyotes, the closest I've come is one my friend Peter and I came across on the beach in Swampscott last fall.)

For animals who rely on restaurant leavings, food is what's driving them into residential neighborhood.
After the closure of restaurants in New Orleans, for example, residents reported seeing swarms of rats in the streets, hunting for food. 
Now that is something I could live without... 

Other animals, beyond the fat, dumb, and happy squirrels in the Boston Public Garden, rely on tourists to feed them. In Thailand, gang wars have broken out among the monkey population. Something that is quite entertaining to watch at a distance of, say, 8,500 miles or so. But I wouldn't want to see it when I walked out my front door. (Although, in truth, I'd rather witness a monkey gang war than a swarm of rats.)

I'm all for the wild kingdom. I'd love seeing a penguin out for a stroll. And mountain goats would be interesting.

But mostly I'm looking for the day when we take back the streets. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

Patriots Day 2020

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Patriots Day is much my favorite holiday. (Why, here's one of the places I've said it before: on Pink Slip, last Patriots Day.)

This year, of course, the things that make Patriots Day Patriots Day aren't happening.

The Boston Marathon won't be run, so the city isn't full of runners, so there was no one strolling around yesterday in this year's BAA jacket. And they won't be strolling around tomorrow, proudly wearing their finishers' medals. I will miss seeing the amateurs out and about on their day after: the teacher from Brooklyn, the lawyer from Chicago, the nurse from Houston, the techie from Seattle. 

The runner's jacket changes color every year, and here's what this year's looks like.

This year's edition of the jacket is being modeled by my friend Jake Kennedy. Jake won't be running his 38th Boston this year. He won't be running it a) because it's not being run, and b) last fall he was diagnosed with ALS and is no longer able to run.

In January, Jake turned 65, and his kids threw a bash to celebrate.  On that snowy night, 500+ of Jake's family and friends showed up to show our love for Jake. (Here's a link to Christmas in the City, the charity Jake and his wife Sparky founded 30+ years ago to help those experiencing poverty and homelessness have a bit more comfort and joy around the holidays. CITC is one of the reasons that 500+ folks came out on a miserable night to sing Happy Birthday to Jake.)
One of the highlights of the evening was when the Boston Athletic Association, which runs the Marathon, presented Jake with what was on that date the as-yet-to-be-released 2020 jacket.

If you're wondering what the back looks like, here you go:

Note to self: text Jake and ask him what is that frog thing on the table next to his hip???

Anyway, there weren't any runners walking around yesterday with their jackets on, and there won't be any tomorrow, either.



Come September...

Yesterday was beautiful, and there were a lot of people out for a walk. But I'd estimate it was about 1/3 the number who'd normally be out on any old beautiful spring Sunday, and 1/10th the number who'd normally be out on a beautiful Sunday the day before Patriots Day.

Yesterday, on my walk, I walked by the Marathon finish line on Boylston Street.

By now it would have been painted over for 2020, but all that's there is the worn out leavings of the 2019 finish line. (And note the ghost town sidewalks in front of the Boston Public Library.)



Come September.

What also won't be happening today is the Red Sox, playing their early-start (11 a.m.) game at Fenway. Even though - because the park is quite near the Marathon course - it is a colossal pain in the ass to get to the game and back home, I love going to this game. Sometimes the weather is terrible. Sometimes the game is called on account of really terrible weather. Sometimes the weather is glorious. And sometimes the weather is just plain meh. 

Today's game would have been played in meh weather: 50-ish, cloudy. 

But I had tickets - great ones, in fact - and I would have loved being there with my sister Trish and niece Molly. Even though the Red Sox sucked last year, and I'm still pissed at them about that - and for not signing Mookie Betts.

No baseball.



Come next April.

It goes without saying that the re-enactment of the Battle of Lexington will be virtual this year. 



Come next April.

So there's not much to celebrate, Patriots Day-wise. 

What I will do to mark the day is take the walk I'd usually be taking on Patriots Day. I'll walk out the Commonwealth Mall, then through Kenmore Square, up Brookline Ave, and hook a left on Jersey - because this year, I had great tickets. If we were in the bleachers, I'd have gone down Landsdowne.

I'l circle Fenway Park, then head home.

The walk back will be different, because the streets won't all be blocked off for the Marathon.  

I'll retrace my steps through Kenmore, walk by the Eliot Hotel, and give a nod to the Eliot Lounge - is it even still open? - which used to be the post-Marathon gathering spot for runners and where, back in the day, before the Marathon got to be such a big deal, even non-runners could pop in, have a beer, and maybe even spot super-runner Bill Rodgers in the crowd.

I'll turn down Herefore, which the runners do, then bang a left on Boylston and amble past the finish line.

Every town along the Marathon route, from Hopkinton to Boston, is on the alert, warning runners, wannabe runners, and lookie loos that they need to stay off the Marathon course today. No showing up at the starting line in Hopkinton. No jumping in on Heartbreak Hill. No blasting over last year's finish line. 

Forget social distancing. The warning is stay the f out.

But I'll just be on a variation of my normal daily walk. 

Meanwhile, let's not forget what the day is really about. Ralph Waldo Emerson captured it pretty well in his lovely poem Concord Hymn, written to commemorate the Battle of Concord, and presented when they dedicated the monument on the battle's site. (The monument, an obelisk, is the "shaft" mentioned in the last line of the poem.)
By the rude bridge that arched the flood, Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,Here once the embattled farmers stoodAnd fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept; Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;And Time the ruined bridge has swept; Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream, We set today a votive stone;That memory may their deed redeem,When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dareTo die, and leave their children free,Bid Time and Nature gently spareThe shaft we raise to them and thee.
Happy Patriots' Day.

Maybe next year.... 

Friday, April 17, 2020

Cash on the Barrelhead

I'm old school. Or at least old school-ish.

For any purchase under $20, I prefer to pay cash, and am still capable of being a bit shocked when the twenty-something in front of me at Dunkin Donuts swipes their debit card to buy a couple of munchkins. But unless I'm just running in for something quick - and that's not happening these days, when preparing for an outing to the grocery store requires more foresight and planning than the Shackleton Expedition - I always use my debit card when I'm at the grocery store. At CVS, I'll use cash for a small purchase, unless there's no self-checkout kiosk available that is cash-friendly.

For online buying, I use PayPal or the card that gives me the most bennies. 

I also write checks. Sometimes.

While I have transferred money to someone else's bank account, I mostly write checks when the transaction is personal - a birthday present - or occasional - my once a year support contract with the HVAC folks. For my regular, monthly transactions, however - phone, cable, condo fee, Blue Cross, credit cards, etc - payment is either automated or taken care of through my bank's online bill pay app. 

My political donations all happen through Act Blue because, of course, I'm never going to make a political donation to anyone who doesn't think and do Blue.

In the past, I seldom gave any money to anyone stemming for change on the street corner. If it was during opening hours, and we were near enough by, I'd direct them to St. Francis House. If not, I might buy them a cup of coffee or hand them a buck. These days, anyone asking me for cash gets $5 - I withdrew a decent enough supply of $5 bills from the bank a few weeks back - which I put on a ledge or on the ground at a social distancing distance. "I don't want to give you anything," I tell them. "And I don't want you giving anything to me."

While I did have to make a special request for all those fives, I do always have cash around. And if I get much below $100, I make a trip to the ATM.

But cash is definitely on the wane, and I wouldn't be surprised if, during my lifetime, we saw the end of cash. Cash on the barrelhead? Forget about it. (Not that anyone knows what a barrelhead is in this day and age...) 

As a cash-ish person, I was drawn to an article in the Washington Post entitled "The End of Cash."
Economists see great payoffs in a cashless society: lower costs for businesses and new tools to manage economies, stymie tax evasion and fight money laundering. Critics see an erosion of privacy, frightening new powers for governments and another sign of widening inequality. Central bankers, meanwhile, worry about losing control of the supply of money to digital networks like Facebook.
We've been steering away from cash for a while. According to the Fed, in the US, "debit cards first beat out cash as the top way to pay in 2018." Other countries are even further ahead when it comes to a preference for digital over folding green. 

Despite all this doom and gloom (or comfort and joy, if you want to look at it that way) over the demise of cash, we're still a ways away from a cashless society.
In most developed countries, however, the value of cash in circulation has risen since the financial crisis of 2008-2009 along with the number of digital payments, suggesting cash (in large bills) is being increasingly used as a store of value in uncertain times, especially with rock-bottom interest rates on savings accounts.
On the anti-cash hand, some merchants are afraid of handling cash because they believe that coronavirus might be lurking on those Benjamins. 

If and when it happens, I will miss cash.

I'm of the generation that grew up with a piggy bank, and there was nothing more satisfying than the clink of change heading in through the slot. And nothing more satisfying than using a table knife to sluice a nickel out of said piggy bank so you could go buy a popsicle or some penny candy.

I'm of the generation that was thrilled to open up a birthday card from an aunt, uncle or grandmother and find a dollar bill. Better yet, a five. 

It's still comforting to have a change bucket on hand so that, if worse comes to worst, you can roll those quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies and come up with enough money to pay for something or other.

One of the pleasures of international travel is seeing what another country's currency looks like. Sure, the Euro bland-ized things a bit, but it's still fun and interesting to find Ferenc Deák's visage on a forint, and Google him up. (Hungarian statesman and Minister of Justice. He was known as "The Wise Man of the Nation". We sure could use a Ferenc Deák around here these days.)

While it's been a while since I'd bend down to pick up a penny from the sidewalk - and I'm pretty much off nickels and dimes, as well - I'm still always happy to spot and retrieve a quarter. Bills are even better. When I was 4 years old, on a family outing to Crane's Beach, I found a $10 bill sticking out of the dunes. I still remember the thrill of it all. Ten bucks! A fortune! 

As an adult, I've found larger amounts that must have just fallen out of someone's pockets. $40 once. $50 another time. My husband found two twenties in a gutter in Central Square as he was climbing out of a cab. 

Finding cash in an amount too small to report to the police but too large to ignore is absolutely having fortune smile on you.

And is there a better feeling than reaching into a pocket and pulling out a bill? Sure, your hopes are dashed when it turns out to be a one, but if it's a ten or a twenty: pure gold. (One time it backfired on me. I was in CVS, paying for some small purchase, and remembered that I had a five in my pocket. Except that, when I went to pull it out and put it on the counter, it turned out to be a panty shield. Unused, but still... The clerk looked at me like I had two heads. My sister Trish asked me whether I was expecting a tampon in change.)

Truly, worry about the demise of cash is the least of anyone's worries these days. 

Still, I'm one of the olds who will definitely miss cash.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Take me out to the ballgame organist

I'm not a Facebook fan. I don't use it personally and, while I do miss keeping up with friends and family, and their kids, grandkids, and pets, I'm mostly happy that I canceled my account and got the hell out of that particular Dodge. 

But since I am an occasional FB poster for a charity I volunteer with, I do maintain a sort of account using my real first name, the acronym for the charity, Christmas day as my birthday, and - for my icon - a smiley face wearing a Santa cap. (Ssshhhh. Don't tell anyone I have this fakish account. Honest to God, I'm not a Russian and I don't troll.)

Anyway, I think you need to be on FB to look at stuff on FB, so I'm now just as glad I have my fake-o access so that I can listen in to Seventh Inning Stretch, which I did for the first time yesterday. And will be checking in on regularly from now on.

Seventh Inning Stretch is the brainchild of Fenway Park organist Josh Kantor who, each afternoon at 3 p.m., does a half-hour-ish long organ concert from his living room, at an organ decorated with a couple of baseball bobbleheads, baseball cards, and a Red Sox cap. Josh (who's also a part-time music librarian at Harvard) has been performing this wonderful public service since baseball season didn't begin, and will continue until things are back to normal. 

Yesterday, I took in my first Josh Kantor concert. Josh played a tune, then spoke a little about what was on his mind. I'm not sure if this is the regular format. I'll know more once I've tuned in a few more times, which I plan to do. Anyway, yesterday what was on Josh's mind was the 73rd anniversary of Jackie Robinson's major league, breaking-the-color-line baseball debut. (For Boston locals, it was also he 7th anniversary of the Marathon Bombing.)

He - Josh, not Jackie - also made a pitch for a donation to whatever your local foodbank is. (You can find your local foodbank by going to Feeding America and putting in your zipcode. Mine is the Greater Boston Food Bank and thanks to Josh's prod, I threw a few bucks their way.)

I take it the formal start of the Stretch is, as it would be half-way through the seventh inning at the ballpark, the playing of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Instead of singing "I don't care if I never get back", we are asked to sing "I do care..." Which I do, indeed. I didn't stand and stretch, which I would have done at Fenway,  but I did sit and sing. I even teared up a bit. (Have I mentioned how much I miss baseball?)

In honor of Jackie Robinson, Josh than played "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the (unofficial) African-American anthem. Lovely.

Assisted by his wife Mary Eaton, Josh then started taking requests from the FB chat request line. (Mary is a minister who works with Boston's homeless population.) 

Josh can't handle all the requests - during any given Stretch there'll be hundreds of them - but he has incredible knowledge and range, a photographic memory and the ability to hear a tune once and be able to play it by ear.

During yesterday's concert, Josh took requests for, among other songs, "Dancing Queen," "I Want to Dance with Somebody," "In the Navy," and the Beatles' "Taxman." (Normally, yesterday would have been tax day.)

I was disappointed that he and Mary ignored requests for local 1967 hit, "The Man They Call Yaz"; the theme from The Banana Splits; and "Una Paloma Blanca." This latter request completely cracked me up, as the requester wrote that this song was "a memory from my wretched middle school years."

Maybe we'll hear these gems next time. And, for me, there certainly will be a next time. And a next time. And a next time.

The show is sweet, heartfelt, and tonic to the ears of anyone missing the organ music at Fenway Park, or wherever it is that their boys of summer play. 
“This is a long haul,” says Eaton, known as the “Rev. Mary” on the show. “It’s not that we’re bored. It’s that people are working really hard to figure out what to do and are exhausted mentally, physically and spiritually and need to stretch, just to give themselves permission to rest in the middle of the day. To have a respite. We need it.” (Source: Wapo)
Yes, Mary, we do need it. A grateful Red Sox Nation thanks you and Josh for taking such good care of us in our time of need.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Worst people in the world award

Pandemics bring out the best in people - all those workers on the frontlines in hospitals and grocery stores; philharmonic orchestras playing "Hang On Sloopy" via Zoom (and yes, this is a thing); meme-makers; et al.  - and, on the flip side, pandemics apparently bring out the worst in others. 

Case in point: the Instacart users who are promising big tips, only to cancel them out once the goods are delivered.

In late March, Instacart worker Annaliisa Arambula accepted a grocery order that came with a big tip: $55. The store was just down the street, everything the customer wanted was available, and the order seemed to go off without a hitch.

But an hour later, Arambula checked her earnings on the Instacart app and the entire tip was gone, with a message saying the "customer modified the tip post-delivery." She ended up making just $8.95 from Instacart on the order.

"I was flabbergasted. I couldn't believe it," Arambula told CNN Business.

Demand for grocery delivery is surging amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and many customers are struggling to get the items they want or even a time slot for a delivery. Some people are dealing with that by offering big tips, as high as $50 or more, to entice Instacart workers to pick up their orders. But some of those people have turned the tactic into a bait-and-switch, offering up the big tip and then taking it away as soon as the person who risked their health to get them their groceries has made the delivery.

Before accepting a "batch" -- which can consist of one or a few orders from different customers -- workers can see the items requested, the store location, the payment Instacart provides workers for the job, and the tip being offered. Instacart allows customers to change a tip for up to three days. Some workers told CNN Business tips can make up half of their income or more.

"It's very demoralizing," said Arambula, who lives in the Portland, Oregon, area and has worked full-time for Instacart since June 2017. "I don't pretend to be a hero, like a nurse in a hospital ... but I literally am exposing myself [to coronavirus] and when I return home, exposing my own family to the possibility of transmitting this disease. When you know that it's somebody who's just doing it to game the system and to get their order when they want it, it's really frustrating." Arambula's husband is currently unemployed and at high risk for Covid-19 because he has diabetes, so they are relying on her work for Instacart to pay their bills.

Instacart is one of several delivery companies now expanding rapidly due to demand spurred by the pandemic. Last month, the company announced plans to bring on another 300,000 full-service shoppers in North America to service the increased demand.

An Instacart spokesperson told CNN Business the vast majority of people in March adjusted their tip upward or did not adjust their tip after delivery. Moreover, the spokesperson said, the company recently removed the "none" tip option for people, so users who want to tip nothing must manually change a tip to $0. The spokersperson said this could deter users from doing so. People can also leave feedback and rate a worker in the app, something Instacart claims typically happens if and when a person removes a tip.

"It's a crapshoot"

Jenifer G., who became a "full service shopper" for Instacart about a month ago and asked to be identified by her first name and last initial for fear of retribution, said she has already experienced a handful of bait-and-switch tippers in Pennsylvania. She said one person originally put a $32.94 tip on a 27-item order from Sam's Club, only to replace it with a $0 tip after delivery. Another person changed a $13.31 tip on a 38-item order from a different store to nothing after delivery.

"It's a crapshoot," said Jenifer G., who noted half her earnings come from tips, either in cash or through the app. "These are affluent communities that I'm delivering to. There's almost no need to not tip, especially because not only is this a convenience for you but we're in a pandemic right now."

An Instacart spokesperson said that tips are always left up to a customer's discretion and would not comment on specific instances of tip baiting occurring. In an email to Instacart customers provided to CNN Business, the company encourages people to "please consider tipping above and beyond to reflect the extra effort of your shopper."

Being able to change a tip is not uncommon for on-demand delivery platforms. But other services such as Uber (UBER) Eats and Postmates, which offer on-demand meal deliveries, allow customers to change tips for shorter windows of time, between one and 10 hours.

Bryant Greening, an attorney and co-founder of Chicago-based law firm LegalRideshare, told CNN Business that a few dozen Instacart shoppers and drivers have reached out to his firm to voice concerns over the practice. His law firm has discussed the possibility of litigation against Instacart, or even individual customers.

"It's truly evil to bait and switch in this type of environment," said Greening. "Their livelihood and well-being are on the line. When these shoppers and drivers see a high tip, it's an opportunity for them to put food on the table, so they're more willing to take a risk on their health to achieve that goal."

While Instacart is benefiting from a surge in customer orders in recent weeks, workers have criticized the company for not doing enough to ensure they're adequately protected and paid during the pandemic. For more than a week, some workers have been on strike until Instacart meets their demands including hazard pay, an expansion of its coronavirus pay to include those with underlying health conditions and a default tip of 10%. One day before the planned strike, Instacart said it would change its default tip setting from 5% to the most recently used percentage a customer chose to tip.

Jenifer G., the Instacart worker, said she feels the company should mandate a 10% tip "that sticks no matter what" on all orders until stay-at-home guidance is lifted and only allow people to tip above that should they choose.

"I can't strike, I literally cannot afford to, but I'll [only] shop during 'boost times,'" she said, referring to high-demand times of day when Instacart pays a few dollars more to workers.

In addition to having their tips slashed at the last minute, some Instacart workers are also the target of seemingly tone-deaf remarks from customers. Carilyn, who started working for Instacart about one month ago and asked to be identified by first name only for fear of retribution, told CNN Business she also had a recent experience with tip baiting. When dropping off an order recently, she said the customer told her it was "unethical" that she wasn't able to find toilet paper and updated her tip to $0.

"I tried my best. A lot of people are detached from the situation going on," said Carilyn, who is based in Florida. "They really don't see what we see. We know things are a no-no, like soap, and toilet paper, you barely find eggs if you're lucky."

(Because workers tend to be tipped a percentage of the total order cost, when high-demand items can't be found in store -- in this case, toilet paper -- the tip shrinks accordingly. But in other cases, customers enter a custom tip amount and then take it back after the delivery.)

Fortunately for some, like Carilyn and Jenifer G., the majority of recent tips have been authentic. Carilyn said she took home more than $360 in cash and in-app tips last week alone -- a good week for her. Jenifer G. also noted that she's had people leave cash tips in envelopes at their door.

While some workers said they have grown wary of large tips because of tip baiting, others sometimes risk picking up low tip orders in the hopes the person will pay more in cash. It doesn't always work, though. Jenifer G. said she recently picked up a 112-item order from Aldi for a person who put a $1 tip in the app and there was no cash tip waiting.

"We always say: No matter what, never trust a tip," she said.