Friday, February 26, 2021

Quiet, bucolic Vermont

I wouldn't go so far as to say I 💗 VT, but I like Vermont just fine. 

It's pretty, quiet, bucolic. A nice place to visit; not sure if I'd want to live there. My late husband, a native Vermonter, sure didn't. Jim couldn't flee the state fast enough. He hit 17, took off for college, and pretty much never looked back. 

But I've always liked Vermont. Pretty, scenic, quiet, bucolic - with enough urban refugees/granola hippies from places like NY, CT, and MA to ensure there are enough places with enough interesting shops and restaurants to make a visit worth while. 

For the good folks of Pawlet, however, things have made a right turn - a very hard right turn - and the quiet and bucolic are no longer quite so quiet and bucolic.

What happened is the arrival in town of one:
...Daniel Banyai, a 47-year-old New Yorker who, attracted by Vermont’s relaxed gun laws, bought 30 acres in this rural town of around 1,400 and transformed it into his dream project, a training camp where visitors could practice shooting as if engaged in armed combat. (Source: NY Times)

Talk about a dream project, we're talking wet dream for militia wannabes who wanna to play soldier and pretend they're the few, the proud, the Marines. We're not just talking about guys getting their rocks off gunning around with assault rifles:

On his land, in facilities he said cost $1.6 million, visitors can re-enact a range of field exercises — a suburban house, for home invasions; a large open space surrounded by berms, for carjacking and vehicle assaults; and shipboard structures, for high-seas piracy. Months of protests, he said, have made such exercises relevant to many Americans.

“People are more believing the hypotheticals with all the rioting,” he said. “People are getting more conscientious of, you know, how do I defend myself?”

There's a war on, don't you know, even if it's just a hypotheticals kind of war, and you never know when you're going to have to climb over a berm and take out a few antifas, libtards, or BLM protesters.  

Since white nationalist RWNJs (Right Wing Nut Jobs) are a bigger threat to the security, stability, and sanity of the USA than any other group, us antifa libtard BLM-ers are the ones who ought to be getting more conscientious, errrrrr, make that conscious, about defending ourselves. But Daniel Banyai sees things differently. Hooah! Which, I will note, may well be an army battle cry, but there's only one tiny little letter "h" separating hooah from hoo-hah. Which is what Mr. Banyai is creating up there in Pawlet, Vermont. 

All this is making the townspeople - who for the most part are living in ancestral places that have been in their families since the 1700's or who blew in as grownups, drawn to quiet and bucolic - plenty nervous.

Some of them have installed cameras with infrared lights so they could pick up figures that might be moving in the dark around their houses. A few have invested in bulletproof vests.

None of it makes them feel entirely safe. Michelle Tilander, 63, a retired physical therapist who moved to West Pawlet 10 years ago, said she had written a letter to be opened in case she or her husband should be hurt or killed.

“The police come in, they’ll find that envelope and they’ll know who to question,” she said.
That must make for a nice quiet and bucolic retirement. 

What the town folks are having a problem with is all the noise. Not just the continual firing of the ARs, but the explosions - because what's a fake war without IEDs and other noisemakers - that make it sound like Pawlet is under siege. 

And, by the way, a lot of those towns people are gun owners. Unlike many other states in the Northeast (c.f., Massachusetts) Vermont is not gun shy. It's just that they don't care to play war. 

They've complained to the town powers that be - that's a pic of Pawlet's town hall - about the noise. They've complained about Banyai's apparently having bypassed some pretty onerous licensing requirements that Pawletans have all suffered through to put up new chicken coops and the like, let alone set up a profit-making Fallujah. Banyai's a self-proclaimed "ask forgiveness not permission" kind of guy. I get that he didn't ask permission, but it doesn't sound like he's interested in asking for forgiveness, either. 

Things are escalating, of course, and many of the towns people feel threatened. This is, of course, because they are being threatened on social media - where truly awful stuff has been posted - not to mention up close and fairly personal. (Someone's truck was fired on.)

And Banyai, who's now running for selectman, has called out town officials for being corrupt, homophobic, and KKK. Town meetings will certainly improve if he's elected.

Townspeople have tried to get the Staties involved, but they claim that there are no Vermont laws being broken. But some laws may be. The ATF apparently has a few eyes on Banyai. 
“I’m never leaving this land,” he said in an interview. “And I didn’t ask for this war to start, but I’m going to see it through. I want to see through my victory because I bought this land free and clear.”

Looks like things could get about as unquiet and unbucolic as they can get, up there in Vermont.  

Maybe my husband was right when he hopped on a bus and got the hell out of town. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Work friends: gone but not forgotten

The other day in The Boston Globe there was a sweet piece by Beth Teitell, Where Have All the Work Friends Gone?

Good question.

It's been a long time since I went into the office, but one of the few things I miss about it was the work friends. 

Not the friend-friends. But the work friends.

I have a number of friend-friends, some of my dearest life friends, that I made at work. (Hi, V!) Right before the pandemic hit, I lost one of them. Nanni and I had been close friends for nearly forty years. She was old enough to be my mother, but we'd forged a friendship at work that stood the test of time. I'm eternally grateful for her friendship, and my friendships with other colleagues who've become friends over the years. Some I get together with regularly - or did, pre-COVID - others I see or email or text or call every once in a while. But there's no doubt in my mind that I'll cherish these friendships until I'm in my grave.

Even after these friends, like Nanni, are gone.

2019 and 2020 were tough years for true friends I made at work.

I wasn't as close to Scott as I was to Nanni, but we stayed in close-enough touch over the years, and when we would get together, we would be on the floor laughing about the crazy place we worked together. Scott was in sales and I was in marketing, and we had our share of adventures. What a good guy. We had been planning to get together for lunch that he had had to keep postponing. Multiple myeloma. Stem cell transplant. Didn't make it. He died right after the lockdown, so no wake, no funeral, no sharing laughs with the other colleagues, work friends, who would have been there. 

And lest I forget: I met my husband at work forty-five years ago (yikes!).

But there's another layer of work friends, and that's who Beth Teitell was talking about in her sweet piece: the folks you see regularly while you work together who make work a far more enjoyable and interesting place to be.

How many early evening hours, when every once else had pretty much gone home, did I spend hanging out chatting with Frank? He was one of the smartest and nicest guys I ever 
worked with, and we spent an awful lot of time chewing the 
work fat and just generally. I really enjoyed working with Frank although, in truth, it's been so long since I've seen him that I only barely remember what he looked like. Glasses, dirty blond hair... 

Paul had the office after mine, and for years he hosted an informal salon on Friday's at 5 p.m., where a bunch of us directors and VPs would gather to catchup and trade rumors.

And Ed. He was a wild man, but, boy, was he fun to work with. 

Tony was another one. Hysterically funny, right down to the Venus fly trap he kept in his office. 

Tom. Jon. Joe. Kevin.

Folks I enjoyed shooting the shit with, having lunch with. 

I liked hearing about their wives, their kids, their families, their new house, their old car, their vacation plans, their tennis game...

If it sounds like I was just work buds with guys, that's not the case. But I worked in tech, and men outnumbered women by a long shot.

Still, plenty of my work friends were women.

I haven't heard from Joan in years, but while we worked together, we had a cup of tea together pretty much every morning. We were both early-to-workers, and it was very pleasant to sit in her office of mine, at 7:30 a.m., before anyone else showed up, sipping our tea and catching up.

Donna. I miss Donna. Noelle. Susan. Liz. Christina. And Cathy. Cathy and I worked together at Wang and at lunch each day we took a long walk, airing our work grievances and yucking up a storm about how awful Wang was. One day, we even found ourselves lost and had to flag down a police car to guide us back to the Wang Towers. 

And my work husbands. 

Like many women I know, I always had one guy I was particularly tight with Bill. George. Ted. Steve.

George I'm still friendly with. But not as friendly as when we began each day on the phone, me at work, him calling from his commute. He even called me from the hospital when his wife was in labor. I told him to get back to his wife and hung up on him.

But Bill? Ted? Steve? I lost track of them years ago.

Work friends - the ones you chat with, lunch with, walk with, hang out at corporate meetings with, eat sheet cake with, roll your eyes at the same stupid things with, just get it. You can talk to them about things that have no meaning to outsiders: the idiot decisions made, the sneaky co-workers, the office politics, the fiascos. Your spouse, your family, your non-work friends really don't want to hear about the moronic email your boss just sent out, the blowup between the crazy VP and the not-so-crazy VP, the big win (or the big loss), the missed (or hit) deadline. 

You work friends are there for the scuttlebutt. And it's more than that. In the process of scuttlebutting, you learn about people's pasts, present, and future. 

No doubt about it, work friends make work a lot more enjoyable. And apparently, all those work friendships have a corporate upside. 
Studies show that people who have friends at work make more loyal and engaged employees. In human resources circles, friendship is considered an important retention factor. 

I know that work friends are seeing each other for Zoom meetings. They're texting each other. They may be enjoying a virtual Happy Hour. 

But it's not the same.

Post-pandemic, the work world will look like a different place, and word is that an awful lot of workers won't be going back to the office full-time. But if work becomes all virtual, there'll be something missing. And that's work friends. Hope it never happens. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Did I really need to add mink farms to my worry list?

I eat meat. I wear leather. I have a down jacket. And a down comforter. I have bunny-fur lined leather mittens. (A gift.)

But I don't have anything fur. No fur collar on a winter jacket. And no fur coat.

Fur coats, in particular minks, were quite the mark of luxury when I was growing up. 

A big payoff prize on the game show The Big Payoff was a mink coat, modeled by former Miss America Bess Myerson. In movies, on TV, the best gift imaginable from husband to wife (or old goat man to younger Marilyn Monroe style girlfriend) was a full length mink.

My mother didn't have a mink coat, but she did have a mink stole and a mink pillbox hat. As a young single gal in the 1940's, she had a mouton fur coat. My aunt didn't have a mink either, but she had an Astrakhan fur coat and - I think - one of those fox-head-chasing-fox-tail scarves that women wore over their suits.

As it turned out, once women of a certain age began dumping their fur coats in the late 1960's, they were all over the thrift shops. And, when I was in college, they became the rage among college girls. My sister Kath and I had a couple that we'd swap off: a mouton with these colossal balloon sleeves, and a gray Astrakhan fur mid-calf length cape that had originally come from luxe Boston furrier Kakas Furs. (The cape weighed a ton, by the way, and was a chore to wear.) Both of these coats were purchased for short money from the Salvation Army. Most of my friends had similar Sallie furs.

Today, of course, I wouldn't be caught dead in a fur coat. There's just something too, too, too awful about swanning around in a dead animal that to me is way more too, too, too awful than wearing leather shoes or eating bacon.

But although I wouldn't wear a fur, and I can't remember the last time I saw anyone wearing anything furrier than a fur-collared Canada Goose jacket, furs are, apparently, still a thing.

And one of the states that they're a thing in is Wisconsin which is:
...the country’s top producer of mink pelts, yielding 38 percent of the United States’ total. The industry generates $22 million a year for the state. (Source: WaPo)
Now, $22 million is nothing when compared to the Wisconsin dairy industry, which brings in nearly $50B in revenue to the state. Still, if you're a mink farmer, it's something.

But that something's got a problem going for it that's even more acute than the decline of interest in mink-wearing. And that problem is Covid related: 
The ferret-like mammals have shown a particular susceptibility to the virus. There have been outbreaks of coronavirus at 416 mink farms in 11 countries. Sixteen of those occurred at U.S. farms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including 12 in Utah and an outbreak in Oregon. And in Denmark the infected minks transmitted the virus back to humans, in a mutated form.

Not to mention that Denmark has decided to put down the countries entire stock of minks. (The animals, not the coats. There were 17 million of these little critters.)

What the state of Wisconsin has decided to do is jump mink farm workers to the head of the line for vaccine. There aren't many of them, but the fact that 300 mink workers are getting inoculated ahead of the likes of "non-livestock veterinarians, flight attendants, and librarians" is raising plenty of eyebrows. And, of course, it isn't making the non-livestock vets, flight attendants, and librarians all that happy.

Can't blame them, of course. Everyone wants the vaccine NOW. And there are plenty of professions that can make a righteous claim for priority. (In Massachusetts, they pushed teachers and retail workers down below the 65-75 cohort, mostly, I believe, because the Boomers squawked louder. While I benefit from this shift in priority, I don't think it was the right thing to do.)

PETA is taking the opportunity of the Covid-mink connection to lobby for doing away with the industry altogether. Don't blame them either. I'm sure they'd like to do something better with their time than run those protests where they spray paint the coats of mink wearers. (I don't know if they're still doing this, but it was a thing for a while.)

Even if they never find evidence that mink farming and Covid are connected in their state, Wisconsin is probably wise to make sure that mink farm workers get vaccinated. But, in truth, the world would be a better place if the mink industry went out of business. 

Maybe I'm splitting hairs here, but it does seem a lot worse to raise an animal just to kill it for its coat than it is to raise an animal to eat it. That said, I'll probably end up a non-leather-wearing vegetarian before I die.

Minks and Covid. It hadn't been on my worry list just yesterday, but - even though I'm nowhere near a Wisconsin mink farm - it's there now. Sigh.

(What's a day without a good sigh...)

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Not that I necessarily know what I'm talking about here

Although I was once myself a child and have, indeed, known many children throughout the course of my long life - and was sometimes even in (temporary) charge of those children - no, I have never been a parent. Just a kid, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a friend. So I don't necessarily know what I'm talking about here. But still...

The other day, late afternoon, I was walking through the Boston Public Garden when I passed a Beacon Hill mother dragging her two kids around on a little plastic sled. The kids were a little girl about 3/3.5 and her brother, who appeared to be a bit pre-one - maybe 10 or 11 months old. 

Anyway, the little girl was fussy, screaming at her mother. And I do mean screaming at her mother. "Stop. I don't want to do this."

It was late in the afternoon. Kids get tired, hungry, cranky. Maybe she hadn't gotten her nap in. Maybe she was cold. Maybe she just wanted to go home. All perfectly understandable.

The mother, quite reasonably, stopped and quite reasonably, told her daughter that she could get out and walk.

"No," the little girl screamed even louder. "I don't want to get out. I want Wills to get out." Wills being her baby brother. 

It struck me that there were a couple of quite reasonable responses that the mother could have made:

  1. She could have told her crankster little girl that she understood that she was tired, and that they'd head home.
  2. She could have told her crankster little girl that, sure, they could take turns being dragged around in the sled. Wills first.
Of course, there are many other quite reasonable responses, some of which were not very nice or advisable, and yet would be understandable. As the mother might also be cranky, cold and tired. Like telling little Olivia, which I learned was her name, to just shut up. Even as a non-parent, I wouldn't advise this one. 

What the mother did elect to do, I wouldn't have advised either.

She took little Wills out of the sled, plunked him down in the snow, and started dragging little Olivia - now perfectly delighted to be solo in the sled - around in a circle, while Wills sat there, stiff in his little snow suit, looking increasingly cranky, cold, and tired. And casting an increasingly cranky, cold, and tired eye on Olivia, gleefully enjoying the ride while her mother raced her around yelling "Whee...."

This struck me as a not particularly good solution to the problem of a cranky, cold, and tired 3/3.5 year old who just plain wanted something, and wanted something at the expense of her baby brother. 

This struck me as setting this child up to think she could always get her way. To becoming someone who'd turn into what we used to call a spoiled brat. 

Maybe it was a one off, a moment of maternal weakness on a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

I sure hope so.

But what do I know? As I said, it's not that I necessarily know what I'm talking about here.

Then there's the ad for Inspired Closets

In this little slice-of-life-that-no-one-in-the-history-of-mankind-ever-lived, mother and daughter are in a very inspired walk-in closet that's about the size of my bedroom. Straight out of an HGTV fantasy playbook. 

Mom's back is to the camera, and Sophia - six-ish - is looking sad. They're having a little heart-to-heart convo. And mom is all assurance. 

Sophia, it's beautiful... You are a very, very talented girl... You're really gifted...You made many good decisions. 

When the mother says "I love it," Sophia, in a moment of absolute self-awareness and truthiness, says "I don't believe you."

By now, we see mom's face, which is insanely made up. Too much blush. Too much eye shadow. And way, way, way too much lipstick, which surrounds mom's mouth in a bright red smear that would do a clown proud.

Okay, you don't want to crap on your kid for trying, but to me it would have made a lot more sense if the mom had told Sophia that it was a really good first try. That it was really fun to do this together, and that they'd practice again. That it was probably a bit too much for a barbecue, which is where they were headed. That they could now practice the use of cold cream. Or whatever.

Instead, mom has to go all over the top with the very, very talented, the gifted, the good decisions. Because, I can assure you, that, while Sophia may well be talented, gifted, and capable of making many, many, many good decisions, none of this has anything whatsoever to do with her capability when it comes to make up artistry. Which is completely absent. 

The ad ends with daughter and mom - who, in her long black dress and cool chunky necklace is not exactly dressed to go off to any barbecue I've ever been to; she looks like she's heading out to happy hour with her girlfriends - happily heading out the door of the inspired closet.

Here's the problem I see with this.

They're going to get to the barbecue, and all the adults are going to give mom a look. Now, the look may be a "looks like Sophia's playing makeup" look or a "just being a mom" look, but Sophia is old enough and smart enough to pick up on something being off.

The younger kids will come up to Sophia and ask her what's wrong with her mother's face. And the older, meaner kids will make fun of her mother for looking like a clown.

Sophia will be totally humiliated. She already knew, in her heart of hearts, that the makeup was a mess. That she's not that talented, that she didn't make good decisions. And that her mother is a liar.

That's my take anyway. 

Then again, it's not that I necessarily know what I'm talking about here. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

I'd rather stay home. Forever.

Like pretty much everyone I know, I'm jonesing for a change of scenery. Travel will, of course, have to wait until I've gotten my shot(s), and I do have a confirmed appointment for Shot One in early March. 

I have one, because the other day, after experiencing the full clown show horror of trying to secure an appointment on Day One of the 65+ signup-palooza, I decided to glance around and see if anything was open. This was on Saturday afternoon. Nothing had been available in the morning. But when I decided to take another look, what to my wondering eyes did appear but two little appointments, one for me and one for my brother. 

But overall, the signup process in Massachusetts has been a clown show.

And speaking of clown shows, there's one place I know for sure that I won't be going when the travel curtain is lifted, and that's the Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada.

Even without the Clown Motel, I would not likely been drawn to Tonopah. All I know about it is that it's mentioned in the song Willin':

And I've been from Tucson to Tucumcari
Tehachapi to Tonopah
Driven every kind of rig that's ever been made
Driven the backroads so I wouldn't get weighed…

I'm most familiar with Linda Ronstadt's version, and, even though it's a trucker song, it's also one of my shower tunes. So the name "Tonopah" has tripped across my tongue many a time. Tonopah is - I checked - something of a tourist location. It was a silver mining center in the 19th century, and these days it's know as a good spot for stargazers. That's because it's a million miles from nowhere (i.e., 200+ miles from Las Vegas), so there are no big-city lights distracting from the view. 

As a city dweller, the idea of being able to enjoy a starry, starry night is appealing. Just not appealing enough to lure me to Tonopah. And the presence there of the Clown Motel is just the opposite, screaming as it does "Stay out of Tonopah!"

Here's what the Clown Motel has to say for itself:

It all started in 1985 when Leona and Leroy David built this motel in memory of their father Clarence David who died in the Belmont Mine Fire and is buried at the Old Tonopah Cemetery right next door. Their father who was a clown lover left a collection of 150 clowns in his home which they decided to use as the theme and focal point of their motel in memory of their father. The Clown Motel was named “America’s Scariest Motel” due to its clown theme and proximity to the cemetery where many miners were laid to rest due to the Tonopah-Belmont Mine Fire of 1911.
​Today our motel offers a little bit of something for everyone. It is home to over 2,000 clowns from every era and corner of the earth. Staying at the Clown Motel is a unique experience. All 31 of our rooms feature 2 to 3 custom clown art paintings along with air conditioning, heating, a refrigerator, and more. The Clown Motel is an experience you’ll never forget. We’ll do everything to make your stay comfortable, but what happens after dark is out of our hands….
"A little bit of something for everyone." Not really. That something for me would be no custom clown art whatsoever. 

And speaking of custom clown art, my mother had a hairdresser whose hobby was painting, and her niche was clown art. She gifted my mother with - or perhaps got my mother to pay her for her artwork - a hideous and colossally creepy (not to mention large) clown painting. Even my mother, who could have been voted Person Least Likely to Hurt Anyone's Feelings, relegated the picture to the basement after showcasing it for a brief time in the family room. 

Bad enough that the Clown Motel is dedicated to clowns. That would be plenty terrible and creepy enough. But it's also got scary clown and paranormal and horror movie vibes.

Theme rooms are named for films like The Exorcist and Friday the 13th. Some rooms come with an undoubtedly mythic backstory around the paranormal. Here's the promising way in which the description of one of my fave rooms starts out:
Not so long ago, motels were the best option for the elderly and terminally ill. One such elderly man was the Motel’s very own Front Desk Manager.
Personally, I have no recall of motels being "the best option for the elderly and terminally ill." 

I'm elderly, and a paranormal, clown-themed room would never be my best option. 

As for the terminally ill, before we checked in for a brief time at an actual home-away hospice, my husband spent the last couple of months of his life in home hospice. We did discuss trying to do wedge in a final quick trip to NYC, Jim's favorite place on earth, but he was just too ill. And I don't recall Jim's oncologist, the palliative care physician we were working with, or the hospice nurse who swung by our home for a regular visit, ever mentioning that tootling off to a motel was our "best option."

Maybe it's a Nevada thing.

Here's the rest of the fright room backstory:
One night he was staying in the Motel and became severely unwell. He picked up the phone to call the Front Desk – it rang and rang but no response. He called his sister who dialed 911 but it was too late. He died on his way to the hospital.

When questioned, the Front Desk Agent from that night said the phone never rang and even played back the surveillance footage – which proved the phone never rang. It was almost as though something was trying to stop his calls for help…..

Or maybe, in his final moments on earth, this guy was so out of it that he thought he'd dialed the front desk, and that the phone there "rang and rang."  But he actually didn't. 

Not to mention that, even if he'd successfully made the call to the front desk, what's to say that the arrival of the EMT's would have saved the day? Chances are that our friend, so elderly, so "severely unwell", would have died anyway.

In any case, how does this little story entice anyone to want to stay in that particular room?

Or any other room at the Clown Motel, for that matter. 

I don't think I'd want to do any browsing in the Clown Motel gift shop, either. 

Nothing there that makes me want to break out the old credit card and start spending up a storm. I'd rather spend my Tonopah time in the graveyard that abuts the motel, thank you very much.

This is beyond creepy, but I did come up with a situation in which I would stay there. I'm already elderly, but if and when I become terminally ill, and I'm told that my only option is the Clown Motel or any Trump-branded hotel, and I have to choose one, then the Clown Motel it is!

Other than that, I'd rather stay home. Forever.


This post is dedicated to my sister Trish, who in comparison makes me look like a clown lover. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Deep in the cold, cold heart of Texas

I have some old and very dear friends who live in Dallas. Since Sunday, their power has been off and on. Mostly off, although Wednesday (when I'm writing this early evening) it was mostly on. 

Joyce and Tom have a fireplace, but their wood supply is dwindling. They'd planned for a normal Dallas winter, not for a no-power deep freeze with temps in the low single digits, and "real feel" temps well below that.

Their pool is frozen over, and each day, Tom goes out and hacks away at it, hoping to prevent the ice from destroying the pool. Which he shouldn't be doing, as he has a bad hip and is waiting for hip replacement surgery. So he really shouldn't be hacking at the pool ice.

And Joyce can't help any. She's nursing a couple of stress fractures in her foot, and even without the stress fractures, she weighs all of 100 pounds, so probably couldn't contribute all that much to the ice hacking.

Joyce says that the news reports are showing empty shelves in the grocery stores,  but they have plenty of food around.

And as native New Englanders, Joyce and Tom have relatively good cold-snow-ice coping skills, even if those skills have eroded over their decades in the Big D. And Dallas does usually have a few winter-ish days each year, so folks are a tiny bit accustomed to winter.

It's been awful for them. At least Joyce and Tom haven't had a frozen/burst pipe, as a neighbor has.

And they haven't lost water, as entire towns in Texas have. And as one former colleague in Austin has. He just posted a picture on Twitter of the snow that he's shoveled into his bathtubs so that he'll have enough water to flush their toilets.

Overall, Texas is one big mess. 

They've asked for, and are getting, Federal relief - something that most Texas reps (including both Senators Cruz and Cornyn) in Washington voted against giving to New Jersey and New York in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. And please note that we haven't heard Joe Biden making snarky remarks about Texas needed to do the power equivalent of raking its forests. Or whining that he doesn't want to "be nice" to a state that doesn't like him, beg him, or kiss his ass. 

It almost goes without saying that many of the officeholders in Texas are on Tweet record making fun of California for its recent summertime power outages, cracking wise about states run by Democrats and liberals who believe in climate chain and green energy.

The current sitch in Texas hasn't exactly humbled their government officials, of course. Their governor is gaslighting his citizens by (falsely) claiming that the energy problems Texas is experiencing are due to reliance on wind energy, when mostly they aren't. Yes, some of the wind turbines have frozen, because they weren't set up to withstand bad winter weather, but so far wind energy is over-performing in terms of their contribution to the grid.

And that grid? As we've all learned, Texas - perhaps in preparation for the secession that they keep on threatening - has an independent, Texas-only grid set up. So, unlike the other 47 continental US states, they can't share power with their neighbors when they need it. But they didn't want to follow any Federal regulations, which joining the grid would have required, so Texas decided to go it alone. But of course.

Despite - or perhaps because of  - their rotten government, I feel terrible about what the people in Texas are going through.

Decades ago, coming back from a long winter flight from Berlin-via-Heathrow-via-Newark - which my husband set up because flying through Newark let us fly first class - we arrived at our then-home (a poorly insulated, charming brick walled carriage house) to find that the furnace was out. I'm usually not a big baby, but I was just beat. And, after all, I hadn't been the one insisting on flying through Newark, which added several hours to our trip. So I just looked at my husband and told him I was getting into bed, and that he was welcome to deal with it. Which I did. Which he did, bless him. 

And years ago, a burst pipe on the top floor of our (small) condo building came cascading down on our heads. We were out of our unit for over a month, and the damage ran into the tens of thousands. But we weren't stuck there the night of the burst pipe. On a frigid and icy February evening, we were able to take our roller bags and roll into a perfectly nice hotel with all the things we no longer had, like heat, light, and water. 

For a lot of Texans, that's not an option. For some, it's financially not an option, for others it's the fact that the roads remain dangerously icy and they're advising people to stay off of them. (There was a major car pile up in Dallas last week, involving well over 100 cars and trucks, and resulting in six deaths.)

The worse thing I've seen so far coming out of Texas was the Facebook post by the mayor of Colorado City. 

Colorado City was hit hard. And, understandably:

Residents turned to a community Facebook group to ask whether the small town planned to open warming shelters, while others wondered if firefighters could do their job without water. But when Colorado City’s mayor chimed in, it was to deliver a less-than-comforting message: The local government had no responsibility to help out its citizens, and only the tough would survive.
“No one owes you [or] your family anything,” Tim Boyd wrote on Tuesday in a now-deleted Facebook post, according to KTXS and KTAB/KRBC. “I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!”
Boyd’s tirade, which also demanded that “lazy” residents find their own ways of procuring water and electricity, immediately drew backlash. Later on Tuesday, Boyd announced his resignation and admitted that he could have “used better wording.” (Source: WaPo)

Colorado City, Boyd wrote, "owes you NOTHING." Nor does Mitchell County. Or the power company. Residents who were without water or heat need to "step up" and "think outside the box." He had no suggestions for folks, other than offering these words:

“Folks God has given us the tools to support ourselves in times like this,” he wrote, claiming that those who expected the city to come to their aid were “sadly a product of a socialist government.”

Just what are these God-given tools? I mean, you could melt snow for flushing your toilets, as my buddy in Austin has done, but in an unheated house, it might take a while for that snow to melt. And if you don't have power, you might not have a way to melt it on your stove. 

What if you don't have a fireplace in your home? Are you supposed to clear a space in your living room, forage for some wood, and take your chances? And if you don't have a generator, how do you make your own electricity? Rubbing two sticks together, even if you have two sticks together, won't help much. 

“Only the strong will survive and the weak will [perish],” he wrote.

Well, thanks Mayor Boyd - make that former Mayor Boyd - for that.  

If I were a citizen of Colorado City, I might have just shown up on his doorstep and tell him that taking me in would be the right neighborly thing to do.

I mean, "self sufficiency and rugged individualism" and all that, but Boyd's remarks take that game to an entirely different - new and frightening - level. 

Inevitably, Boyd has made the preposterous claim that his words "were taken out of context." But I've seen the FB post in its entirety, and can't imagine just what the context those words were taken out of might be. 

Helping its citizens out during an emergency is precisely what governments at all levels should be doing. When there's no power, you set up emergency shelters with generators (and food) that folks can head to. You truck in or otherwise deliver needed supplies. (C.f., the Berlin Airlift.) You activate your state version of FEMA. You have the National Guard rescue folks. 

Unfortunately, Texas is turning into another Katrina situation. Fortunately, it's expected to warm up into the sixties next week. Plus, while burst pipe damage is awful, houses haven't been swept away.

Sure, it's great when neighbors help out neighbors. I'll all for it when people from all over contribute funds to local organizations a million miles away from where they live. When complete strangers donate on GoFundMe so you have replace your sodden mattress. 

But sometimes you just need the government to actually do something. Even in the cold, cold heart of Texas.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

American Idol? No thanks.

I've watched it a few times over the years, but I haven't paid all that much attention to American Idol. Enough to know that some of the winners have gone on to considerable success (Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson). Enough to know that plenty of the winners haven't. And enough to know that they deliberately slot in one or two clinker acts to make fun of. Ho ho! Nothing like making fun of some poor schnook who thinks they've got talent.

On Sunday, I turned it on half-way through the first show of their new season.

Admittedly - and I'm embarrassed to admit it - I was drawn to it because I knew that Claudia Conway, the sixteen year old Tik-Tok troubled daughter of former White House "alternative fact" gal Kellyanne Conway and Never Trump attorney George Conway, was going to be on.

Of course, they held her out until near the end, so I had to sit through a bunch of other performers to get to her.

The first act I caught was a teenaged girl - one of a family of ten whose mother had abandoned the family last year. The girl performed a song, "Scars," that she'd written about that abandonment. As you can imagine, the song was overwrought, the lyrics tortured. The girl broke down in tears, and her father, watching in the wings, was summoned in to comfort her. The show, of course, must go on. And it did. And despite the fact that the girl didn't have a great voice, and she's no great shakes as a songwriter, she was able to make an emotional appeal to the judges - Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, Lionel Richie - and they voted unanimously that the girl would go on to the next stage in the contest. 

Having her on to begin with seems plenty exploitative to me. Yes, she had an okay voice, but I'm guessing that what was compelling about her was her willingness to expose herself and the family drama. Family with ten kids. "Worship leader" father. Bad mother. All the dysfunction, of course, provided a golden opportunity for the judges to tear up and express their great empathy. Celebrities! People tug at their heartstrings! They're just like us! 

This girl is only 18. Sure, she was willingly exploited. Still, it struck me as manipulative and tawdry to have her on.

There were two acts who were clearly there so they could get rejected.

One was a mediocre folksinger middle-school teacher. He had the level of talent one might expect to find present among a group of college friends. Have guitar, will entertain. This fellow, no doubt, made it to the first round solely because he has the unfortunate last name of Trump.

The other was some Euro male model cavorting around in a speedo and long white tube socks, straight out of the Richard Simmons era. He was trying to prove he was more than a male model, but a singer as well. Not. Again, I take it he was just on so that us folks at home could laugh at him and give him our knowing 'No.' That or he's a performance artist/comedian.

Next to these two rejectees were two women who were the real deal. A Little Rock high school senior channeled her inner Aretha Franklin. Wow. Just wow. And a student at Berklee School of Music started out with the unpromising backstory of woe-is-me-my-father-died-last-year, but turned out to have an Adele set of pipes. I don't know the names of either of these young women, but both were very talented, both were voted on to the next stage, and either or both could become Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, or Jennifer Hudson level famous.

Which brings us to Claudia Conway.

I haven't been following her saga all that closely, but for the past year or so she's been on and off social media criticizing and exposing her parents, ratcheting back and forth between child seriously in need of help and/or a preening, spoiled narcissistic brat.

Turns out her big dream is to be a singing STAR. 

I'm no critic, and I wouldn't say she's devoid of talent, but she's no Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson or Jennifer Hudson. And she's never going to be. I'd say she's got talent more along the lines of Mr. Trump, the strum along teacher.

If she weren't the daughter of Kellyanne and George Conway, Claudia would no more have been given a chance to appear on American Idol than I would have been. 

Claudia Conway is sixteen. Surely, she wouldn't have been allowed to sign herself on to American Idol without parental permission. I know that, at one point, she tried to become an emancipated minor, but I don't think this wish was granted. Anyway, there was Dad, standing off  stage, rooting her on and crowing how delighted he was that his daughter is getting to do what she's always wanted to do. And there's Mommy Dearest, via larger-than-life video, telling her that she loved her and that sometimes you have to lose to win.

Two media whores if ever, encouraging their daughter to follow in their media whoring footsteps. Swell!

Turns out, of course, that Kellyanne was wrong about her daughter having to be a loser before she can be a winner. At least for now.

In a world full of alternative facts, Claudia Conway's got talent. And with or without great talent, she's good for ratings - I turned on to watch - and so she was given the Golden Ticket to proceed to the next phase: a trip to Hollywood and coaching with a professional, then a next appearance on the show. 

They may keep Claudia Conway around for a while. Ratings, etc.

But they've lost me. There's a reason I've been mostly avoiding this show for all these years...

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

And the word of the day is CONCRETION

Samuel Bellamy was something of the Jeff Bezos of pirates. During a relatively short career - he was just 28 when he died, and had only been pirating for a bit over a year - he managed to capture over 50 ships and amass a booty fortune worth $145M by today's measure. Sure, that's not much by Bezos standards, but Bellamy was considered the wealthiest pirate on record.

A "pirate among pirates" from the Golden Age of Pirates (18th century), Bellamy had a good reputation for practicing shipboard democracy:
The New England Historical Society notes that the captain treated all crew members equally, allowing them to vote on significant decisions. Bellamy, who nicknamed himself “Robin Hood of the Sea,” viewed his piracy as a form of vigilante justice against wealthy merchants who “rob[ed] the poor under the cover of law.” To retaliate, he once declared in a speech, “[W]e plunder the rich under the protection of our own courage.” (Source: The Smithsonian)
Plus the Whydah was a model of inclusivity: freed slaves from African, native South and North Americans, Europeans, North American settlers with European roots. The Whydah Gally, had been a state-of-the-art slave ship. Bellamy converted it to a pirate ship. Definitely an upgrade!
They're still exploring the Whydah, and recently recovered six skeletons.
The Whydah went down off of Wellfleet, on Cape Cod, blown over in a wild nor'easter, and sinking quickly because it was weighted down by all the looty booty stored on board. (Among other things that have been found on the Wyhdah since it was discovered in 1984 was a cannon stuffed with gold and jewels.)
As CBS News reports, a team led by Barry Clifford, who discovered the wreck in 1984, found the remains inside huge concretions, or rigid masses that form around underwater objects. Experts at the Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, now plan to examine the skeletons in further detail.

Concretion. That's a new one on me! And here's what one looks like. More or less. This one actually looks like it's been a bit cleaned up. That is a skeleton face emerging there, is it not?

Anyway, the plan is to extract DNA from the skeletons and see it they can find direct descendants or other family member. They have some from Sam Bellamy's family, which they used to check out a skeleton they'd found in a concretion a couple of years ago. Turns out that skeleton didn't belong to Sam, but to someone with Eastern Mediterranean lineage. The pirate who became that skeleton went down hoping he had a fighting chance:

Discovered embedded in a concretion, the anonymous pirate died with a pistol in his hand and metal—likely gold—stashed in his pocket, Clifford told the Times.“It appears that this person was killed by a 400-pound roll of lead that’s encapsulated within the concretion,” the archaeologist added, “and you can see that the lead was right on top of his skeleton.”

Not a great way to go, but it was probably quick. And he did die with the hope that he was going to be able to use some of that gold that was lining his pocket.
The Whydah had 146 pirate-y souls on board when it sank. Two somehow survived; 101 bodies of crew members washed up on the beach; and the remaining 43 went down with the ship. So there may be plenty of other bodies still to recover from Davy Jones' locker.
It'll be interesting to see whether the skeletons, once freed from the concretions that have been building up and continuously encasing them over the past 300+ years, are reunited with their families. And whether the families will be looking for a doubloon or two.
I'm looking forward to hearing the tales these dead men tell. And to learning yet more new words. Concretion is not one that I'll be able to weave into many conversations, but who knows? There may be other great words I've never heard before, buried in wordy prose concretions. Bring them on!

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

What's the well-dressed little farm gal wearin' these days? Aw, it sure is pretty.

A couple of months ago, walking down Charles Street, I stopped at the window of a pricey women's clothing store. This particular window often attracts my notice because the clothing on display is often a bit off - at least to my eye. It often looks oddly-shaped, homemade, dowdy. Things that only a tall, slender and drop-dead good looking twenty-something could put on and carry off. Anyone else would look like they'd just escaped from a 19th century insane asylum or an orphanage that went out of its way to make their charges look like weirdos.

And, in fact, the shop has a curated collection from Euro designers and a local designer who makes one-off pieces of clothing. Perhaps even by hand.

I'm clearly not the demographic.

Anyway, what caused me to pause in November was the incredibly dowdy schmatta on display.

I was struck by the Lanz nightgown vibe. When I texted it off to my sisters - which, of course, I did immediately - the reaction was similar. Trish thought they were going for a prisoner of Christmas look. Kath thought more sister-wife style. At the moment of or text exchange, we didn't know what the cost of the dress was. Turns out, it's $998. I'd rather go with a Lanz nightgown, but maybe that's just me.

While we were making fun, of course, it turns out that sister-wife style was creeping into the mainstream. Or at least the mainstream as defined by Target.

It didn't take the Internet long to hop on this trend. 

The chance that these floral farm dresses that objectively look like the last thing you’d wanna wear are sold out at Targets all over is a high one. And it’s not because people have damaged their fashion sense for good after spending prolonged periods of time in quarantine (although that would be a fair reason), but rather because the #TargetDressChallenge is going viral.

It all started when someone pointed out that a bunch of long dresses at Target look like “people just lost the farm after locusts ate their crops” but in the pandemic world. And this is where it got fun.

People went in for a full pandemic farm, aka Little House On the Prairie, look by posting their pics in the dress while carrying livestock, working the land, and doing other typical farm chores. It soon blew up into a viral trend with entire families getting on board for a much-needed laugh. (Source: Bored Panda - via someone on Twitter.)

The Bored Panda has done a pandemic-weary world a service by showing us how some farm folks responded to the Target Dress Challenge. The pictures are hilarious. Menfolk, womenfolk, childrenfolk going about their humble farm chores - chicken feeding, wood chopping, donkey nuzzling...

In a nod to the ASPCA, this couple tagged their photo "No Chickens Were Harmed During This Photo Shoot."

I actually had a dress kind of like this when I was 21, and I actually wore it to a friend's wedding. It was white with sprigs of lavender flowers on it. I was not exactly a hippie, but, as a lefty, I was hippie-adjacent. My hair was worn long and perfectly straight - a condition I did not have to force on my long perfectly straight hair. No hair-ironing for me! And I didn't wear makeup. Most of my wardrobe consisted of jeans and tee-shirts, with the dresses I'd gotten for my father's recent wake and funeral, and a few other things for when I had to actually show up some place and look decent. (A few of my friends got married shortly after college graduation, so that spring I had showers, followed by summer weddings.)

Anyway, my hippie chick (hippie chic?) dress would have worked for another friend's wedding. Just not for this couple, who were a bit more corporate. I believe the bridegroom began working for IBM the day after their honeymoon. The bride taught for a while before getting lured in to IBM as well, where I believe she sold copiers.

Fifty years after the fact, I'm still embarrassed by my outfit, and I hope that no photos survived. (Obsessive photo-taking was not as big a thing back then...)

Despite my dress misstep, the bride and I remained fast friends until her way-too-early and devastating death, coming up on seven years this April. (Marie died two months after my husband - whose anniversary is tomorrow. Quite an awful year, that 2014.)

The groom remarried, and I gladly attended that wedding, where, I assure you, I was much better dressed. I will say that my color scheme hadn't changed all that much: periwinkle and silvery-gray vs. white and lavender. And I have to say I have successfully channeled my hippie impulses of yore into an artsy look.

The pandemic has dragged on for far too long, and I'm grateful to those who bring us things to smile at. So, while I'm a bit sorry for the Target buyer, who I'm sure is being colossally dragged, I'm just as happy they brought this dress to market. And I'm delighted that some farm folks jumped right in and made it a thing! Bravo, rural America!

Monday, February 15, 2021

It's a jolly holiday (or two, or three...)

It's Presidents' Day, but Pink Slip celebrated that on Friday with a shout out to birthday boy Abe Lincoln. I guess I could have celebrated Chinese New Year on Friday, but it more or less slipped my mind until I saw the Make Way for Ducklings crew all decked out in their lunar new year finery. Which I guess makes them Peking ducks?

In truth, when I spotted the ducklings at the distance, I thought they were wearing Valentine's Day costumes. But no.

Still there's not getting around the fact that yesterday was Valentine's Day. (Good thing I love myself...) And Saturday, February 13th, was Galentine's Day, a more recent concoction, and one I'm here for. 

So we got a whole lot of celebrating to catch up on this day. 

I'm exhausted just thinking about it, which is why Pink Slip is declaring today a catch-all, all purpose holiday and taking it off. (Looks like it's going to be a snow day, too.)

Happy Holiday(s)!

Friday, February 12, 2021

These are a few of my favorite presidents. (Here's looking at you, Abe.)

There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind who the worst president in U.S. history is. I don't care what they've got on Millard Fillmore, James Buchanan, Warren Harding or either of the Andrews - Jackson (who may not have been a terrible president, but was certainly a shit) or Johnson. No president in the past, and, with luck, no president in the future, will ever be as evil, sordid and incompetent as Donald J. Trump. (When it comes to Trump, I just can't summon up my inner Abe Lincoln. I have to do a bit of wordsmithing. With respect to presidents, I'm strictly with malice towards one, with charity towards most.)

Deciding on the best is a bit more difficult. For one thing, I greatly admire FDR. But my pick - Abraham Lincoln - definitely lands me in uncontested territory. After all, most historians go with Abraham Lincoln as their Number One or Number 2, neck and neck with George Washington.

But Abraham Lincoln is not only the greatest president, he's right up there among the ones I've liked the best as a human being. 

What's not to like? There's the humble, up from nothing backstory. His empathy. His courage. His brilliance. His brilliant writing. His humor. The sorrows he endured - the loss of two of his sons; the difficult wife. His decency, integrity, honesty. His capacity for leadership, his ability to bring in and listen to the "best and the brightest." (Pretty much the antithesis of You. Know. Who.)

Hardly original on my part, of course.

I'm sure there aren't a lot of folks out there - unless they're related - who talk about how much they liked and admired Zachary Taylor. Or John Tyler. (Or is it Zachary Tyler and John Taylor?) Who include Franklin Pierce and Rutherford B. Hayes in their pantheon of heroes. Who thrill to the personal qualities of James Garfield or Chester A. Arthur.

Certain choices are easy to make.

But Lincoln really does stand head and shoulders above most of the rest, and not just because he was so tall. (6'4", even without the stovepipe hat.)

So, on Abraham Lincoln's birthday, I doff my virtual stovepipe hat to him.

And with Presidents Day just around the weekend corner, I'll give a nod to the other presidents I've liked and admired.

I wish Thomas Jefferson weren't encumbered with so much scurrilous racist stuff. I admired his writing, his inventive mind - the dumbwaiter, a swivel chair, a cypher machine, pedometer improvements  - his fine eye (Monticello), and the fact that he popularized both macaroni and ice cream in the US. I liked Jefferson well enough to have purchased the six-volume Dumas Malone biography, which I did back in the 1970's. But not well enough to have plowed through it in its entirety.

I am very fond of Franklin Roosevelt. His vision and ability to communicate helped pull us out of the Depression, and pull us into a war that we needed to get pulled into. And help win it. If ever there were the right man for the time. (Other than Lincoln, that is. And maybe even, in his decidedly non-great way, Joe Biden. Remains to be seen, but I'm hopeful.) I've read plenty about FDR and about Eleanor (a woman I greatly admire), and  I don't hold the philandering against him. But I do hold the reluctance to  admit Jews fleeing Nazism against him, and the camps for Japanese-Americans (that they've never been fully compensated for). Still, wouldn't I have loved to pay a visit to Campobello and/or Hyde Park when FDR was there. It's pretty wonderful going now - I've fortunately been to both places - but how great would it have been to hang around having a martini with FDR, even if he did smoke.

As a young Catholic girl - bonus points for being an Irish-Catholic from Massachusetts - I, of course, adored JFK. And his flair, wit, and intelligence still hold up. He done good with the Cuban Missile Crisis; not so good with Bay of Pigs. Did he do enough for Civil Rights? Yes/no/maybe? Would he have kept us out of going waist deep into the Big Muddy of the Vietnam War? Probably not with Bob McNamara sitting at the "best and brightest" table. But who knows? Unlike many other presidents, JFK certainly knew and appreciated the costs of war. Anyway, in terms of presidents I like, John Fitzgerald Kennedy is not likely to ever drop from the top five. Just because.

Jimmy Carter, I suspect, is someone I'd find pretty boring in person. But I liked him as president for his honesty - there was a malaise; we should have turned our thermostats down - and I've really liked him as an ex-President. Well into his 90's, he's still swinging a hammer to help build affordable housing through Habitat for Humanity.

I cried the night Barack Obama, and I cried the day he left office. Of the presidents in my lifetime, he's the one I would most like to have met. Not the greatest president ever, but, all things considered (c.f., the crap he inherited; Mitch McConnell), he done good. Brains, cool, wit, empathy. A wonderful writer, a brilliant orator. He's the man!

And I think I'm going to like Joe Biden just fine. After all, he seems like a guy I could have gone to grammar school with. He uses the word 'malarkey.' He's kind, smart enough, and has tremendous EQ. Plus a great wife. And dogs.

Anyway, today being Lincoln's birthday, Presidents Day being upon us, and the impeachment trial of the Worst President Ever playing out, I thought I'd do a little thinking about the men who've held the office. 

As with all things, you have to take the good with the bad. We don't need all of our presidents to be of the greatness and stature of Abraham Lincoln. But let's hope we never have another president who's as stunningly all bad at DJT.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Shopping spree

I used to enjoy shopping. A lot. I used to go shopping. A lot. 

To some extent, it was a social thing. I shopped with my sisters, my cousins, my friends. It was an outing. Out to lunch, out shopping. Up to the outlets in Kittery, Maine. Down to the outlets at the Wrentham Mall. Poking around in interesting shops on The Cape and in places like Newburyport and Portland, Maine. Hitting the fun shops between Harvard Square and Porter Square. 

But I also did plenty of purposeful solo shopping: I need a dress! 

Or after work I deserve something after the day I had shopping. Which is, of course, how I ended up with so many bowls from Crate & Barrel, and all those near-identical periwinkle blue cashmere sweaters.

When I worked downtown, I would regularly "cruise the B", that is, pop in to Filene's Basement to see what was what. Before outlet stores proliferated, the Basement was pretty much it. That and Loehmann's. Both stores late and lamented, although my grocery store is located in what used to be Filene's Basement.

As you get older, though, shopping gets old. At least that's been the experience for me. 

While we always say that "need" is a word that should never enter into a shopper's vocabulary, the truth is, I really don't want much of anything, let alone need it.

I don't work, so I don't need anything to wear to work. 

Even pre-pandemic, I rarely went to events that demanded dressing up, and I have enough dress-up clothing to last a while.

I don't need yet another cute bowl/plate/pitcher from Crate & Barrel or a funky gift store. In fact, I'm in de-accessioning phase now, happy to give stuff a way. (Some of that stuff was acquired when my mother hit her seventies and went into de-accession mode. That stuff I'll probably hang on to for the longest.) That said, my nylon spaghetti server has a couple of bent prongs, so I'm in the market for one of those.

My bottom line is that, except for replacement items and the occasional 'why not' when I come across an interesting sweater or the like, I'm no longer the shopper I once was. And most of my shopping can be taken care of online. 

And yet I'm looking forward to getting back to social shopping excursions, to poking around, to looking at interesting things, to buying a new pair of earrings I'll never wear. And, yes, to picking up yet another bowl. 

When I walk around, I try not to notice all the shops that have gone out of business because it's just so damned depressing. A number of the cute little one-off shops on my neighborhood shopping drag, Charles Street, are no longer in existence. So what it I never stopped in unless I was looking for a gift, but I'll miss looking in the windows. And I do buy a reasonable number of gifts, and an unreasonable number of greeting cards. So I hope that the shops still making a go of it can hang on. And, yes, even with the pandemic, I still go into these shops when I need a card or a gift. Why, later today I'll be heading out to see if the my wonderful local gift shop, Blackstone's, which also has a kitchen wares section, has a spaghetti server for me. That of my wonderful local hardware store, Charles Supply. (I will be quick and double masked.)

But it's those empty store fronts...I want Fastachi, the fancy nut store, to come back. And 20th Century Limited, an antique shop that specialized in funky costume jewelry from the 30's, 40's, and 50's - and where I bought many a gift over the years. 

I can't even remember what used to be in some of those empty store fronts. But I still miss them.

Some of the bigger stores in downtown Boston are gone, too.

Although I did buy underwear there, and occasionally something else or other, I can't exactly say I'm going to miss Lord & Taylor. But I am. And I hate walking by it, especially when the window display was this doozy from a few weeks ago. How bleak is this?

I realize that L&T on Boylston Street was not a pandemic victim, and yet I will always associate its going out of business with this terrible time.

Apparently, though, all is not lost on the brick-and-mortar retail end of things. 
A surge of expected store closings early this year hasn’t materialized after strong holiday sales prompted retailers to hold on to their leases in hopes of a shopping rebound.

“It wasn’t the wave we thought it would be,” said Ryan Mulcunry, a managing director at B. Riley Financial Inc. who advises retailers.

Last year, retailers announced plans to shutter a record 12,200 stores, according to CoStar Group. But some are now reconsidering after larger holiday revenues and ready support from lenders gave them more breathing room, Mulcunry said. 

...But it now makes more sense for some retailers to hold on to leases in preparation for easing pandemic restrictions, according to Mulcunry. Part of the hope is that consumers will return as they tire of online shopping and seek new outfits for when they return to their offices. (Source: Bloomberg)

Although I only half believe it, I find this news quite heartening.

I will never return to my shopping prime. But I am looking forward to the After Times, when we can go out an have a good old-fashioned shopping spree.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Where's the Sheriff of Nottingham when we need him?

I have paid precious little attention - make that little of my precious attention - to the recent GameStop, subreddit, short seller, hedge fund, Robinhood hooha. I know just what one can expect to absorb through information osmosis. Which is to say that I know that some largely amateur traders put a short squeeze hurtin' on some hedge funds by revving up the share price of GameStop, a clunky old brick-and-mortar retail outfit. The hedgies that had shorted GameStop had to scramble to cover their bets, in the process revving the price of GameStop up even further. And so on. 

Many of the amateur traders that played around with GameStop do their trading via Robinhood, a trading platform/app widely used by Millennials and the older "kids" in their trailing cohort, Gen Z. (The average age of a Robinhood-er is mid-twenties.)

They get hooked on Robinhood because it's simple, easy to use, and it's just like a game. Except instead of scoring points (or whatever you get when you play online games), you can make money. Or lose money.

This past December, Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin went after Robinhood.

...accusing the trading app of predatory marketing on inexperienced investors.

The complaint cites Robinhood’s “aggressive tactics to attract inexperienced investors, its use of gamification strategies to manipulate customers, and its failure to prevent frequent outages and disruptions on its trading platform.” (Source: CNBC

At the heart of the complaint is that Robinhood is "gamifying the idea of investing."

 “This is a very reckless company when it comes to these investors. They’re interested in expanding their market base, they’re not interested in serving their investors,” said Galvin.

...Galvin said inexperienced investors need protection.

“What we really want to make sure is that these people are treated fairly. We do not believe they are. They are basically having the experience of trading, but it’s a reckless experience because of the way that Robinhood has treated them,” he said.

“It’s marketing itself to them as a device by which they can become wealthy without having the expertise or the skill,” Galvin added.

“They’re taking unsophisticated investors, most of whom have no experience, and basically making this into a game, causing them to suffer losses. They’re bringing them aboard on something that these people have absolutely no idea about,” he said. 

Robinhood, of course, rejects this. Caveat Millennial-sitting-at-home-in-your-childhood-bedroom-because-your-college-is-shut-down and all that. 

One of those kids trading away from his childhood bedroom wasn't even a Millennial. Alex Kearns, a college kid stuck at home, was just 20 when he killed himself last June after being informed by Robinhood that he was running a negative balance of $730K and would need to pay down $178K of that balance ASAP. He had been playing around for a couple of years with birthday gift money from his grandparents, and with his earnings as a lifeguard. But then he found himself in over his head. Or a least thinking he was in over his head.

Anyway, when Kearns tried to contact Robinhood support, he got back a chirpy email telling him to pay up.

He panicked. And killed himself. 

“How was a 20-year-old with no income able to get assigned almost a million dollars worth of leverage?” Kearns wrote in his final note, explaining that he had never intended to take on so much risk. “F--- Robinhood. I was starting to look forward to my future, too, before I hit this pretty large speedbump.” (Source: WaPo)

The next day, Kearns got another email missive from Robinhood. "Great news!", it read. He didn't owe the money. 

Too little, too late.

And now, his parents have filed a wrongful death suit. 

I can not begin to imagine the heartbreak Alex Kearns' parents are going through.

They look like a nice family. He looked like a nice kid.

Naperville, Illinois.

I have relatives there.

My cousin Ellen raised her family in Naperville, and her two children stayed there to raiser their families as well. Ellen's oldest grandchild is a couple of years younger than Alex Kearns. Did Ellen's granddaughter know him? Did she know his sister, who in the picture I saw looks to be younger than her brother? Alex was a lifeguard. Swimming is a big deal in Naperville. I think Ellen's granddaughter was a lifeguard, too. (I know her mother had been.)

Alex Kearns looked like a nice kid. He looked like the type of kid from the type of family that Ellen and her kids and their kids would have known.

What was going through this poor boy's mind when he got that dunning notice from Robinhood?

I've screwed up my life? There goes my college education? There goes my sister's college fund? There goes my parents' retirement? 

And he was a smart kid, too, asking the right question: “How was a 20-year-old with no income able to get assigned almost a million dollars worth of leverage?”

Since Kearns' death, Robinhood has revised some of its procedures. Too little for Alex Kearns and his family. Too late.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Kearns’s parents and sister, which seeks unspecified damages, argues that young and inexperienced investors “cannot possibly possess the sophistication needed to make sound trading decisions.” The 20-year-old’s confusion about his account balance was “entirely reasonable and foreseeable,” the complaint states, suggesting that the death could have been prevented if Kearns had received an immediate response to his queries.

I hope that Robinhood gets clobbered. 

It is beyond reckless to let anyone - let alone a 20 year-old kid - play around with margin money if they can't back it up. 

Sure, Alex Kearns was a "big boy." But he was still a boy. 

It's about time that outfits like Robinhood come under some more scrutiny, about time there are some regulations imposed on the wanton recklessness with which they treat their marks customers. 

Alex Kearns' parents can't get back their son, but maybe they can save some other parents the same grief.

Going by the name Robinhood, by the way, is just plain cynical. Robin Hood robbed from the rich to give to the poor. In the theme song from the "Robin Hood" series of my childhood, Robin Hood was feared by the bad, loved by the good. Not in this case.

The Robin Hood of my childhood was always being chased by the Sheriff of Nottingham, who was the bad guy. With respect to the latter day Robinhood, all I can say is "Where's the Sheriff of Nottingham when you need him?"