Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Shake those pompoms! Inventor Lawrence Herkimer vaults on.

It is a little know episode in my history that, for a couple of innings in a Little League game, more than 50 years ago, I was a cheerleader.

I grew up in an era that offered little by way of organized sports for girls. Sporty girls could play in pick up games with boys. Everyone played dodgeball, kickball, and D-O-N-K-E-Y together. But boys also got to play sports that had coaches, uniforms, and playing fields that weren’t the street. They played Little League.

Girls? We jumped rope – something I was actually pretty good at. At my age, I suspect that, if presented with the opportunity to jump in on some double-dutch, I would break my neck. But way back when, I was all about “All In Together Girls,” “High-Low-Medium-Wavy-Walkie-Talkie-Slowly Peppers”, and “Apples, Peaches, Pears and Plums”. I especially liked that last one, as you didn’t “jump out” until your birthday month came. I had to stick with it until December. I loved jumping rope, and never volunteered to be “steady ends”, i.e., someone who turned the rope, but never actually jumped.

That was our sport.

There was something called “Lassie League”, which was organized girls softball, but I had only a vague notion of it. Certainly no one I knew played in it. It was thought to be the province of tomboys, of Protestants. Were Catholics even allowed to play?

But Catholic boys could and did play Little League, and Catholic girls, on a nice spring evening, strolled over to the field off of James Street, where the Ty Cobb Little League still plays, to watch our classmates play ball.

Somewhere along the line, in fifth or sixth grade, a group of us decided that our boys needed cheerleaders. The girls who had crushes on Jimmy M. and Paul M, anointed themselves cheerleaders for National Standard. Those of us who liked Billy M. cheered for Abdow Scrap.

I was happy to cheer for Abdow, as their color was blue, which I much preferred to National Standard’s red.

Our “uniform” was navy shorts, which we fortunately all had, and a white short-sleeved blouse. Since that’s what we wore to school everyday under our green jumpers, that wasn’t going to be a problem.

We practiced a few cheers - “Go, Abdow Scrap,” “Billy, Billy, he’s our man, if he can’t do it, no one can” – and sprung for blue and white crepe paper streamers from Woolworth’s so that we could make ourselves crude pompoms, which we called shakers. Sis, boom, bah!

I don’t remember much about our actual cheering, other than that we didn’t last a game. It was cold. It was boring. The boys probably made fun of us. Or, worse, ignored us. We went home.

It never would have occurred to me to be a cheerleader in high school. My all-girls high school had one sport – basketball (never my favorite sport) – and a couple of my friends – smart, funny girls - were on the team. So I went to most of the games. We did have a cheerleading squad, made up of pretty, dainty, demure, ultra-girly girls with Breck shampoo shiny hair. Needless to say, I did not find myself among their ranks.

I do remember a couple of cheers from college, but they were of a political nature: “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh. NLF is gonna win,” and “The People, United, Can Never Be Defeated.” The uniform of the day was jeans and work boots. No pompoms allowed.

And that’s about as much as I know or care about cheerleading.

Nonetheless, I was interested to read of the death of Lawrence Herkimer, who died last week at the age of 89.

Herkimer, who was frequently referred to as the grandfather of modern cheerleading or simply "Mr. Cheerleader," invented (and patented) the pompom. He came up with an iconic cheerleading leap, the "Herkie jump," that remains a staple of cheering squads to this day. And, most importantly, his camps — the first opened in Huntsville, Texas, in 1948 — train tens of thousands of would-be cheerleaders a year. (Source: NPR)

He also founded a successful cheerleading supply and uniform company, so he may even have supplied the unis for my high school’s cheerleaders. (Our regular uniforms were supplied by Eisenberg and O’Hara.)

On the invention of the pompom, Herkimer explained to American Profile: "When I first saw color television, I thought: 'We need something colorful on the field.' So I got the idea to put crepe paper streamers on a stick."

Thank you, Mr. Herkimer. It certainly sounds like you lived a full, interesting, and successful life. I’m quite certain that, without your invention, it never would have occurred to me, Bernadette, and Susan to put crepe paper streamers on a stick. Sorry there were no royalties for you. Then again, we didn’t even make it through a single game.

Sis, boom, bah!

Monday, July 06, 2015

Desperate for Work

few weeks ago, on the job front news, we found that Donald Trump had done a casting call for extras to populate his presidential announcement rally. Their job was to wave signs and givie an occasional lusty huzzah to some Trumpian pronouncement about his wealth, his tough guy-ness, his opinion of Mexican immigrants.

You’re an actor in NYC. Fifty-bucks for showing up and cheering. A free tee shirt (even if you can only wear it in the privacy of your home). But, hey, a gig’s a gig – even if it’s not the kind that makes it on to your resume.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I’m guessing that the lives of plenty of young NYC actors are pretty downright desperate. I don’t know any actors, but I know quite a few poets and writers, so I get to see plenty of struggling artists up close and personal. Fortunately, I’m in something of a pick-and-choose situation, work-wise, so I’ll never have to confront the question of, say, whether or not to take fifty bucks to write ad copy for the Trump campaign. But if I were desperate? I like to think I’d pass on the job. But acting’s different than writing. You can certainly convince yourself that you’re only acting the part of a Trump supporter, and that everyone pretty much knows that his entire campaign is little more than show-biz farce. At least we hope they do… With writing, however, it’s always best if you actually believe in what you’re writing about.

Anyway, while I was mulling over just how desperate you’d have to be for work that you’d rally ‘round The Donald,  I read about a group of Mexican laborers, decked out in tzitzit, who were paid to demonstrate at NYC’s Pride Parade. Among the signs they held were one that read “Judaism prohibits homosexuality,” which, when you think about it, can’t possibly be true.

They were working for Orthodox Jewish group that wanted to show their opposition, but who couldn’t fill the ranks with their own protestors. Under ordinary rules of protest engagement, the group would have used students. Not this time:

“The rabbis said that the yeshiva boys shouldn’t come out for this because of what they would see at the parade,” Mr. [Heshie] Freed [Jewish Political Action Committee] said. (Source: New York Times)

This speaks, of course, to the wonders of protesting, the genius of American capitalism, and the brilliant meshugas of New York City. As well as to the generally unsuccessful desire of the old to protect the young from tings they don’t want them to see.

It also speaks to the desperate willingness of so many hardworking immigrants – Mexican or other – to take on whatever job is out there, however poorly paid, because it beats the back home alternative. Picking up a few extra bucks on a Saturday afternoon, in between whether else these guys do to hold body and soul together – laborers on job sites, kitchen help in restaurants. Maybe life will get better for their kids.

But what was going through the heads of these guys when Heshie Freed or one of his compadres asked them to don tzitzits? What’s Spanish for WTF? Loco gringo?

Does this willingness of these Mexican workers to take on  whatever task comes their way, no matter how grubby or downright weird, place them among the “good people” that Donald Trump “assumes” that “some of them are”?

Next thing you know, we may find him spending some of his billions to get them to come out to rally on his behalf. I hope they’re not that desperate for a job. Putting on someone else’s religious garb and holding a crack-pot sign is one thing. Not that I blame the actors who did so, but standing up for Donald Trump is quite another.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Pink Slip takes a long weekend (Here’s to The Glorious Fourth”)

In honor of one of my favorite holidays, Pink Slip is taking the day off.

But I don’t want to leave readers bereft of my musings, so here’s a selection of past Fourth of July posts:

My maiden year as a blogger: The Glorious Fourth. (Sentiments still hold!)

The one in which I recount my request of Red Sox President Larry Lucchino – which was honored at an August 2012 Yankees game – that the Fenway Faithful be encouraged to sing the national anthem: Here’s to a Glorious Fourth.

And last year’s kind of sad one, Fourth of July (That Was Then, This Is Now), in which I wrote about not-so-celebrating the fourth in my first year as a widow. (Oh, Diggy, what a grand old coot you were!)

Glorious Fourth, and Glorious Third, to everyone, with a special shout out to a couple of friends from Texas who’ll now be able to tie the knot in their home state. I had lunch with them the other day in P’town, and they’re psyched!

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Accomplice? Maybe this will give new meaning to the word.

What with the Shawshank escape artists and their three weeks on the lam, the word “accomplice” has been in the news quite a bit lately. And it’s in the news again, albeit quietly and locally, as a tech VC firm, an offshoot of the duddily named Atlas Ventures, had to come up with a new moniker for themselves.

As good techie venturers, they decided to crowdsource, running a contest that attracted 16,000 mostly dreadful submissions.

How dreadful is dreadful?

Well, the rejection pile included Tom Brady Capital and Good Tech Hunting. And there were 85 hopefuls who suggested Atlas, which was the name they were trying to replace. Another 54 contestants offered Salta, the sort of name that the most clever kid in middle school might have come up with. (Atlas spelled backwards. Get it? Get it?)

The contest also got Ayn Randed: there were 64 Shrug’s and another 42 Shrugged’s, indicating that the clever high schoolers played, too. No word on whether there were any Fountainheads or Galts. Rand is regrettably already taken by the RAND Corporation, whose name was not a nod to objectivism, but, rather, derived from Research and Development.

After getting down to 16 finalists, [the marketing department’s Sarah] Downey checked for trademark conflicts and any unwanted associations with unsavory slang terms or obscenities in other languages, and the whole company voted to choose a winner. (Source: Boston Globe)

Well, good for making sure they weren’t going to get stuck with something that was unsavory slang or obscene. That can happen. After Genuity launched the completely ridiculous Black Rocket rebrand of its hosting platform, we found out that Black Rocket was a condom in Spain and an especially potent type of hashish in Holland.

In the end, the firm still chose a name that carries a whiff of criminal activity — accomplices, after all, are more often found in the courtroom than the boardroom. But it certainly stands out in an industry where competitors are still stenciling their founders’ last names on the office door.

But Accomplice? I know, I know. VC firms aren’t hedge funds. If you played word association with “venture capitalist”, you probably would come up with “greed” rather than “evil”. (If you played the game with “private equity firm,” or “vulture capitalist”, that might be another story.) Still, I might have steered clear of the word “accomplice,” which as far as I can tell, doesn’t have any meaning that’s not connected to crime.

I guess it’s better than Hoods, or Crime Family. Co-conspirators or Felons.

It was important that in branding, we didn’t go with this hokey crime-spree theme,” Downey said with a laugh. “It’s suggestive of the VC-entrepreneur relationship — they do this thing that everybody talks about, which is the big deal. And we help them.” 

So we can’t look forward to any “we aid and abet startups”, which is kind of disappointing. Why not in for a penny, in for a pound?

Anyway, the contest prize, a small stake in Accomplice’s first venture fund, and an equal stake going to the winner’s charity of choice, went to Zagary Whitnack, a California media and tech consultant. (Trust someone named Zagary to think outside the naming box.)

The usage – Accomplice, not Zagary – is not unique. There’s a digital media company named Accomplice out there already. Edge ‘R Us.

If enough companies start using the name Accomplice, will the meaning shift away from criminality and towards something more like collaborator (oops, bad choice) or backer? (If I’d known about the contest, and I’d known Accomplice was going to win, I’d have entered the name “Backer.” Is it too late for Backer? Zagary can keep the prize…)

For now, I’m left scratching my head that there are actually two companies that have been willing to call themselves Accomplice.

And scratching my head that, for what I’m assuming will be the first, last and only time, I’m echoing Antonin Scalia in thinking ‘words no longer have any meaning.’

The Accomplices have some fun stuff on the contest here.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Coloring between the lines.

One of the great pleasures of my childhood was cracking open a new coloring book, flipping through it, and deciding what picture to color next. The girl picking flowers? Santa on his reindeer? Davey Crockett killing himself a bar?

Oh, I liked to draw, too. But I didn’t have any particular talent there – even though I did once win a prize in one of Big Brother Bob Emery’s Curlicue Contest.

So I devoted at least an equal amount of time to coloring books.

I liked them thick, I liked them thin. I liked them branded, I liked them no-name. I liked them when they included variations like connect-the-dots, I liked them straight-out coloring books.

I just liked to color, as did the other Rogers kids. To keep up with demand, my mother would sometimes use tracing paper to copy pictures out of coloring books so that a couple of us could work on the same thing. (Honestly, at this point in her kid-raising career she didn’t have a dishwasher, dryer, or freezer. Where did she find the time to trace pictures out of coloring books? I’m sure it was self-defense. Far better than dealing with kids shouting ‘Hog!’, ‘No fair!’, ‘He/she won’t share!’ Anyway, thanks, Ma!)

Coloring in a coloring book was a nice, soothing time-waster – a no brainer, no decisions to make, other than what crayon to use.

While I haven’t done any coloring in years decades, I’m delighted to see that coloring books are growing in popularity among adults.

In a sudden, unexpected, and generally curious development, grown-up versions of the doodle-books used by countless kindergartners have not only become a thing — but the thing, as far as millions of rapt Americans are concerned.

At the moment, five of the top 30 titles on Amazon’s best-seller list are coloring books aimed at adults. Barnes & Noble currently carries well over 100 different adult coloring book titles, many of which feature much more intricate and detailed designs than children’s versions. And as the trend seeps into the mainstream, publishers and booksellers have been left scrambling to keep the most popular titles on store shelves.

Marketed as a kind of personal therapy session — a simple and solitary alternative to the digital world in which we live — the books seem to have tapped into a deep desire to unwind, unplug, and fend off the stresses of daily life.(Source: Boston Globe)

There are even gatherings of coloring book aficionados who get together for color-ins. Event attendees call themselves colorists and trade tips (the merits of blue-green vs. green-blue?) and discuss coloring’s benefits – distraction, therapeutic, even spiritual.

Adult coloring books have been around for quite a while, but they’ve really taken off in the last couple of years. Popular titles can sell a million copies or more. 

I looked on Amazon to see what was on offer there. Certainly, this one looks like it might be fun – or, at least, stress fending-off.

coloring book

And I definitely have someone in mind for this one:

day of the dead coloring book
I’ll have to go shopping. (I don’t remember seeing them at Trident, but it looks like the Brookline Booksmith stocks them.)

And, while I’m at it, I’ll have to get a fresh box of Crayolas.

Looks like the max number is 120. I think the most I’ve had in the past is 64. Can’t wait to do some exploring and coloring.

Now if they’d only bring back jacks – the only sport I ever excelled at – I’d be happy to swear off digital time-wasting entirely.

And I will be coloring between the lines.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Stuffed full of stuff

I like to say that, every year, you  should pretend you’re moving and ruthlessly go through your stuff.

While I like to say it, I rarely listen to myself saying it

And, so, I continue to accumulate stuff.

This year, however, as I plan a kitchen and bathroom makeover, and an all-over spruce up (paint, window treatments), I am going to have to go through every junk drawer, every cabinet, every bookcase, and every Fibber McGee closet and aggressively cull things out.

I’ve already done one sweep through the kitchen, so I no longer have the purple cow creamer and two fish molds.

Now I have to really get moving.

It will definitely be so long to the hideous bowl from the Genuity iWinner trip to Hawaii in 2001. And just what was I hanging on to this for anyway? I’ve never used it, and rarely look at it. I’d include a picture here, but it’s way up there above the kitchen cabinet, and the stepstool’s on the other floor. But once that stepstool is back where it belongs, that ugly bowl will be going, going, gone.

I do have to ask myself just how ruthless I’ll be willing to be when it comes to those cute little green-stemmed wine glasses that came from both my mother and my Aunt Margaret. They hold not much more than a sip of wine, and everyone I knows likes more than a sip. I’m betting they’ll stay – for now.

Also on the block are my husband’s books. If there were any possibility on the face of the earth that I would actually read any of them, I’d hang on. But economics, econometrics, physics, math, statistics, finance, philosophy, philosophy of science? I’d be reading the toothpaste ingredients before I’d crack any of theses tomes, however desperate the moment of 2 a.m. desperation when I found myself with no reading matter and the ‘net was down so I couldn’t load up my Kindle.

I’ve already unloaded as many of Jim’s books as I can, but what remains are orphans of the storm.

I’m sure I could find an adoptive home for them, but they’re all marked up with copious marginalia and underlining – all in Jim’s hallmark red ink and sweetly childlike handwriting.

I will keep a few for sentimental reasons. But most of them gotta go.

I thinned my own book herd a few years back, finally getting rid of moldering paperbacks I’d hung onto since high school. Did I really need to keep a 50 year old paperback that cost sixty-cents to begin with? And is going to cause a sneezing fit if I open it and the pages crumple to dust when I turn them?

Fortunately, my stuff accumulation is not all that extensive, given that our condo is only a bit over 1200 square feet in size, and we’ve thankfully never done the rented storage thing.

But rented storage is a very big thing.

Across the U.S., meanwhile, the number of self-storage warehouses has more than doubled in the last 15 years as Americans have inched closer to grasping our manifest destiny to fill every inch with last year’s styles. There are 48,500 storage facilities in the U.S., making it physically possible, in the somewhat creepy formulation of an industry trade group, for "every American [to] stand—all at the same time—under the total canopy of self storage roofing."  (Source: Bloomberg)

Well, that would certainly be a kumbaya moment to end all, would it not? (“Someone’s shopping, Lord. Kumbaya. Oh, Lord, Kumbaya.”)

I learned about the canopy of storage roofing in an article I saw on how new luxury buildings in NYC are selling basement storage cages that are going for upwards of $2,000 per square foot.

Of course, if you’re paying $10 million for an apartment, $300,000 for some storage space is not even frosting on the cake, it’s just sprinkles on the frosting. And you do need someplace to store your old Birkin bags.

Still, to spend that much on storage, you’d have to have something worth storing. No Birkin bags here, I’m afriad, but my worth-its might be the green-stemmed wine glasses (sentimental value), but that Hawaii bowl would definitely have to go.

Monday, June 29, 2015

I shuddle to think what could happen

When I was a growing up, there was precious little need for parents to chauffeur their young kids around.The reasons were pretty simple: there was no place to go that you couldn’t walk to, and nothing to do when you got there, anyway. The only organized activities for grammar school kids were hockey (boys) and Little League (ditto). Although parents would schlepp boys to a 5 a.m. hockey practice, both hockey and Little League were pretty much walkable.

While I was in grammar school, I did take piano lessons, given by the parish organist in the tiny living room of her three decker, conveniently located right next door to our school. Mrs. B. was a widow, and sending your daughters to her for “piano” was considered something of a charity. She charged a buck for a half-hour lesson.

Although I “took” for five years, I never actually learned to play much of anything, probably because I was immune to the charms of practicing, and my parents had better things to do than force the issue.

My friend Bernadette and I arranged our lessons so that we went back to back, the one hanging around on Mrs. B’s living room couch while the other thumped away at some simple minded piece from the Schaum (color-coded) piano course. Forget Für Elise. We mastered Crunchy Flakes, and Wun Long Pan, The Famous Chinese Detective. Mostly we mooned around hoping for a glimpse of one of Mrs. B’s devastatingly handsome teenage sons.

Other than the boys (whom we seldom saw), the best thing about taking from Mrs. B. was that there were no recitals. From the parents’ viewpoint, the best thing – other than it costing a buck – was that you could – ta-da – walk.

Things got a bit trickier in high school, which was way over on the other side of the city, with poor after school hours bus service. Until sisters and friends started getting licenses, we relied on rides from parents if we had to attend an evening function, or if we wanted to go to a mixer at St. John’s.

But this was, of course, a half-century ago, and the times have changed a couple of times since then.

And one of the consistent changes is that kids have more formal things to do, and nothing seems to be within walking distance. (Maybe the walking distance thing is a function of growing up in a city. Maybe suburban Boomer kids had to be ferried places.)
But having those things to do means that kids have more places to go, and parents have to get them there.

What a drag, apparently.

To solve the problem of kids on the go, and over-programmed parents with no time (or maybe it’s interest) in getting them there, we now have Shuddle, a “ride-hailing service designed for children of busy parents,” which recently introduced “an app that lets kids as young as 7 summon a car themselves.”

Shuddle, created by former SideCar co-founder and CFO Nick Allen as a sort of Uber for minors, now has a companion app that lets the kids book the rides. Called ShuddleMe, the app lets any smartphone-equipped kid who doesn’t need a booster seat can schedule their own rides up to an hour ahead of time.

“We’ve actually had parents say that they went out and bought their kids a phone so they can use this service,” Allen told BuzzFeed News. “That’s how big a pain point shuttling kids is.” (Source: Buzzfeed, via my sister Trish, who did her share of shuttling over time).

Lest you think that this will be a case of “kids gone wild”, parents will be kept informed, and will be prompted to okay any ride. Plus, both kids and drivers will have a password to make sure they get in the right car, which should work, because a seven-year old will never forget a password.

Shuddle started out in San Francisco (why are we not surprised), but with a recent funding round of nearly $10M (why are we not surprised), they’ll be expanding.
If I were a parent, I would certainly be wary of this one.
Sure, they check out the drivers, but it seems that it will just be a matter of time before someone slips through the exhaustive background check cracks. And that password? How difficult would it be for a practiced perv to con even the most sophisticated, smartphone using seven year old into thinking that they were the Shuddle person for them.

Older kids, I would imagine, would figure out a way to temporarily take possession of mom or dad’s phone, and order up and okay a day out for themselves.

In addition to the ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ issues, I just find this kind of sad.

Your kid gets into the Uber Shuddle and wants to tell you what happened at soccer, ballet, Tristan and Isabella’s birthday party. Only you’re not there. The hired hand is at the wheel.
Sure, you could Facetime with your little ones, but, hey, if you’ve got time to Facetime, how come you don’t have time to shuddle for yourself?

I’m sure all the constant pick ups and drop offs are a drag. I’m sure that Shuddle looks like a real boon to harried parents. I’m sure it’s easy to get sucked into thoughts of empowering your kids to be independent, smartphone wielding consumers. Aux barricades, digital citoyens. But to me this sounds like something that should be outsourced as a last resort.

Seriously, what’s next?

Wait, I’ve got it, At least some of those Shuddle kids must have boring, pedestrian, icky chores to do. How about an app like TaskRabbit – we could call it TaskBunny – that lets rich kids hire poor kids to do their home tasks for them. Rich kids get to keep most of their allowance, and get empowered to act as mini-capitalists. Poor kids get walking around money. Win-win, I’d say.


Over on her blog (Hello Lampost), my cousin Ellen has an interesting take on the advantages of being one of today’s kids with concrete things to do. Not as in order-up-a-ride-on-Shuddle things to do, rather as in being able to take lessons, explore an interest, master something challenging, etc. – things that weren’t available to us as kids. Although us kids of yesteryear had some compensating balances, there are definitely some advantages to todays approach.