Friday, August 29, 2014

Wednesday in Bellows Falls: oh, what a day…

When we found out that my husband’s time on earth was short, Jim and I spent some talking about where he wanted his ashes to go.

Most of them, we decided, would be buried at Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

But he also wanted some to go to the places he loved: to Ireland (they’re now in Galway Bay), to Paris, to New York City. I told him that I would be placing a bit on my parents’ graves (done), as that’s a place I visit a couple of times a year.

After I mentioned that I would be bringing him to Worcester, he said that, while I was there, he’d like to get a bit of himself buried with my Aunt Margaret. My cousin okayed this, so that’s done, too.

Jim then said that he wanted some to go to his parents’ graves in Bellows Falls, VT, and to the graves of his Uncle Bill and Aunt Carrie in Western Mass.

That Jim wanted part of himself to be with Bill and Carrie didn’t surprise me. He was very close to them, and I considered them my in-laws.

I was a bit surprised by the Bellows Falls request.

In general, Jim had no great fondness for his home town.

Jim grew up poor in a town that never seemed to have shaken itself out of the Depression. His father died in a hideous work accident when Jim was 11. Jim had an indifferent relationship with his mother, and our visits to her and to Bellows Falls were rare.

Anyway, earlier this week I went up to Bellows Falls to make good on repatriating Jim to his home ground.

The visit to the cemetery was tough. I think it was seeing the name “Diggins” on the gravestone that really did it. That and playing Dolores Keane’s version of “Jimmy Mo Mhile Stor.” Jim would have groaned at the translation – “Jimmy, my thousand treasures” – but he liked Irish traditional music, and the You Tube video I played was made at the Quays in Galway, a place where Jim and I had gone many times. We sat through plenty of trad sessions there, but never saw anyone quite as wonderful as Dolores Keane. (I’m no good at embedding videos. Here’s the link. Well worth a listen.)

I decided to spend the night in Bellows Falls, which has fortunately picked up in the years since I last saw it, which was shortly before Jim’s mother died eight years ago.

I stayed at the Readmore Inn, a wonderful B&B in a fabulous Victorian mansion. The couple who run it are named Read, and they’re readers, so there are books everywhere. Anyway, the place is completely charming. It may even be enough of a reason to head back to Bellow Falls at some point. (Actually, Jim and I had looked in on it once when we were in BF, but never ended up staying there.)

I did a bit of walking around town, and swung by the house where Jim had grown up, in the poor and rough north side of Bellows Falls. The house has been spruced up a bit since Grace (Jim’s mother) died, but the people living there, lounging around on the front porch smoking, looked scary-trashy.

I also stuck my head in at St. Charles, where Jim had been an altar boy. It was a classic old late 19th/early 20th century R.C. church, built by the Irish immigrants who populated the town. (For a town founded by Yankees, BF was very Catholic. A town of 3,000, there were two Catholic churches: the Polish one (Sacred Heart), and the Irish one (St. Charles). The St. Charles stained glass windows were very beautiful. And the church was so old-timey that they even had real light-with-a-match votive lights. (How could I resist?)

While trucking around Bellows Falls, which is not all that large a place, and, thus, has limited trucking around opportunities, I did some shopping at Village Square Books, an indie bookstore that I wish were in my neighborhood.

While there shopping away, I started chatting with the owner, a blow-in who’d grown up in Queens, and asked her if she had any books about Bellows Falls.

Among the books that she brought out was Behind the Iron Horse: The People Who Made the Trains Run in the Bellows Falls, Vermont Area (1941-1980). The book was published by the Vermont Historical Society, and written by Giro Patalano, a name I recognized from Jim’s talking about his childhood.

Well, I figured that this book would surely have something about the death of Jimmy Diggins, who was killed while working on the railroad in 1955.

There was no index, but I decided to spring for it anyway.

Giro had a lot to say about Jimmy Diggins, who was a friend and fellow-worker of his.

Jimmy was “memorable…energetic, keen of mind…agile of foot and articulation…not averse to taking a drink…[but someone who] could hold his liquor.” (He also put his keen mind to work getting himself on extra shifts to support his family.)

Well, aside from that “agile of foot,” all I can say is that my Jim was a chip off the old block.

After Giro talks about Jimmy, there a section on the accident that killed him – he was crushed between a train and a line shack, in what was called a “close clearance” situation. The railroad was supposed to have taken care of it, but hadn’t.

Anyway, Giro was one of the first to reach Jimmy after he was crushed, and wrote that “his death hit me hard.”

Giro Patalano, as the union rep, was the one who fought for Jim’s mother to get a settlement from the railroad for their negligence. The settlement wasn’t a lot of money, but Jim’s part of that settlement put him through college.

[And just for the record: Jim’s father was sober when he was killed.]

The railroad book was written 17 years ago, and Jim and I had been in this bookstore a couple of times over the years.

Although going through the details of his father’s death would have been plenty painful, how Jim would have loved reading about his father! (Also painful would have been the picture of the “close clearance” – track and line shack – where Jimmy was crushed.)

I read the book while having lunch at a nice little café called, I think, the Village Café, where I had a very nice sandwich and lemonade. It was kind of a crunchy granola place, but that’s, in fact, what Bellows Falls has pretty much become: a kind of classic Vermont hippy-ish, folky, artsy community.

Not that everyone in the Café was a classic Vermont hippy-ish, folky, artsy type.

In fact, one of the folks in the Café was Red Sox great, and Hall of Famer, Carlton Fisk, who grew up nearby.

Carlton Fisk!

He of the beautiful wave it fair homerun in the doomed 1975 World Series against the Reds. The moment that, upPudge and Moe until the curse was lifted in 2004, was just about the greatest moment in Red Sox history.

Well, here was one famous person that I wasn’t going to pass up meeting. He was very gracious and charming, and agreed to a picture.

I immediately sent the pic off to my sister Trish, who – as I told Pudge – had a crush on him when she was a kid.

Later that evening, I had dinner at a very upscale, very modern Italian restaurant, Popolo, which most decidedly was not there the last time Jim and I were in town. I had a scrumptious dinner, with dessert – lemon panettone with blueberries  - on the house, based on my telling the waitress about the mission I was on.

Oh, what a day.

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The day after, I had lunch with Jim’s cousin and his wife, and buried a bit of Jim with Bill and Carrie. Few more places still to go on Diggy’s ashes-to-ashes wish list…

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Practical skills? You better shop around.

I went to an all-girls high school in the 1960’s, so of course there were no shop classes. There were no home ec courses offered, either.

Not that we needed them.

Most of us came from large families, and, as the first wave of baby boomers, most of us were somewhere up near the front of the pack. So we got to learn how to do plenty, domestic-wise.  My sister Kath and I learned how to cook  - well, at least she did: I learned how to bake. We learned how to hem a skirt and sew a button on. We learned how to knit – Kath became a wiz, while I pretty much got stuck in knit-purl. We learned how to crochet. We learned how to embroider. (Talk about a lost art…) We learned how to make all sorts of crafts. (Contact me if you want to know how to make a piggy bank out of a plastic Clorox bottle.) We learned how to clean. We learned how to change diapers, give a bottle, and pace around with a colicky baby.

What could we possibly learn from a nun in a home ed class that we weren’t getting via on the job training at home? (On second thought, on the job implies you were being paid. We learned all this stuff through the indenture system known as childhood.)

As for shop, there was less opportunity to learn at home, at least in our house.

My father liked to wash the car and care for the lawn, but he wasn’t the home handyman type, one of those dads with the basement workbench.

So we all, of course, learned how to wash a car and care for a lawn.

But I don’t recall him doing anything but the most rudimentary of home repairs. (My mother rewired the lamps…)

But somewhere along the line, I learned how to hammer a nail in straight, use an electric drill, change the gizmos in the toilet tank, and rewire a lamp.

My husband was actually pretty handy, but he, unfortunately, didn’t give a damn what any of his handyman specials looked like.. As long as it worked, it didn’t really matter that the air vent in the bedroom was partially covered up by a piece of cardboard held in place with an alligator clip.

But  I do know how to use the phone to call someone to take care of the home repairs that need getting done. And one of these days, I’m actually going to put that know-how into practice.

Sadly, though, actually knowing how to do things that don’t get done via app on a mobile device is becoming an all-round thing of the past.

Sure, the doomsday preppers know how to make raccoon stew and stitch together a coonskin cap, but the rest of us, especially the young folks, don’t know squat. Everyone’s gotten so hell-bent on getting a college degree that they look down their noses at learning shoppish things.

Which is too bad, because those shoppish things are where some of the good jobs are, as I read in a recent article on Bloomberg.

With schools focused on preparing kids for college, shop class has gone the way of stenography class in much of the U.S. Companies from Toyota Motor Corp. to Siemens AG and International Business Machines Corp. are pushing high schools to graduate students with the real-world skills business needs.

The message is getting through. This year, for the first time in a decade, the U.S. government boosted funding for high school and college vocational education, though the $1.125 billion war chest is $188 million smaller than it was in 2004.  (Source: Bloomberg)

Kids with practical skills are earning a good living, thank you. And, as the article points out, vocational education can be a gateway to a middle class life: buy a car, start a family, build a home. Without having it set you back $200K in student loans taken out so that your could major in general studies at Whatsamatta U.

Proponents say re-emphasizing vocational education will help reverse the hollowing out of America’s middle class and combat rising inequality. Wage growth since 2009 has been the weakest since World War II even as the rich get richer.

There are 29 million “middle-education” jobs that pay more than $35,000 a year, considered a threshold to the middle class, according to Georgetown University research. Of those, 22.9 million require only high school or some post high-school training.

Even some of the college bound kids are figuring out that it helps to have some hands-on experience that doesn’t involve rapid thumb movement alone.

Seth Bates, who teaches applied engineering at San Jose State University, started a remedial shop class for aspiring engineers who can’t use a power drill properly.

Come on. Even I can use a power drill properly (sort of).

“By 1995, a student who came to us who had actually worked with tools was exceedingly rare, and now it’s almost unheard of,” he said. “Maybe it’s one out of 50 today. Most of them come in without a clue.”

And while it’s important for engineering students, it might not be a bad idea for all kids to learn how to make a bookcase.

Come on, kids, you better shop around!

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Warning labels on choclat? Just say non!

I am a complete and firm believer that a chocolate a day (at minimum) keeps, if not the doctor, then the psychiatrist, away. And that a day without chocolate is like a day without sunshine. Or something like that.

I must acknowledge that I have taken my belief in the restorative and joy-giving powers of chocolate a real workout over the last couple of years. And that I’m now trying to shed the handful of entirely unnecessary and, frankly, pretty mean-spirited – haven’t I been going through enough, without having to experience a weight gain while I’m at it? – extra pounds that I’ve acquired of late.

Still, while I’ve cut down, my passionate affair with chocolate is one of long-standing, and I suspect it is one that I’ll take with me to the grave.

Ah, chocolate.

How miserable it was when we stopped at the Cherry Bowl for ice cream on a summer’s evening, and my father declared that we would not be eating at the Cherry Bowl, but consuming our cones in the car. That meant no chocolate, which apparently did terrible things to the cloth seat covers in a Ford Fairlane.

As one of my sibs would likely be quick to point out, the fatwa on chocolate ice cream – which was directed to me personally – may have come about because of my peculiar habit of biting the tip off the bottom of a sugar cone, and sucking the melting ice cream out that-a-way. A guaranteed mess, especially when the melting ice cream sucking out was performed by a child who was none too fastidious.

So on non-chocolate nights, I had to settle for chocolate chip, maple walnut, or peach.

Similarly, if the Fahrenheit exceeded 90, my father would omit chocolate frosted from the weekly Sunday run to Dunkin Donuts. Jelly donuts are all well and good, but just cannot compare to a chocolate donuts, my friend. If only there’d been such a thing as a chocolate honey-dipped back in the day.

Ah, chocolate.

Chocolate-chip, my favorite cookie.

Brownies, my favorite bar.

Devil Dog, my favorite snack cake.

Layer cake, cupcake, pudding, candy.

Chocolate ‘r me.

At the age of eight, I almost OD’d on it.

Somehow, I had in my possession a full quarter to spend in the vending machines at the YWCA. This at a time when a candy bar cost a nickel.

Well, five candy bars later I was sick to my stomach and breaking out in hives.

I blame this incident less on my eight year old lack of self control than on a demonic possession that was inflected upon me by the dark powers when I, as a Catholic, stepped toe in the YWCA where, it was well known, Catholics were not supposed to step toe. It was not quite on a par with stepping toe into Bethany Congregational Church, but it was right up there. (So I blame my parents for ignoring the wishes of the nuns and sending me and my sister to the Y to learn to swim, where we stood out not only as Catholics, but as the girls with the most hideous swim caps. What was up with my father that he bought us completely hideous “flesh” colored caps when everyone in the world wore white?)

Anyway, I just wanted to establish my chocolate bona fides.

Given my deep and abiding love of chocolate, I was alarmed to read a recent article about a proposed nutrition-labeling plan in France:

…that would classify chocolate as a food to be avoided. In a country where the day often starts with a pain au chocolat and ends with a mousse au chocolat, you can guess how that’s going down. (Source: Business Week)

Talk about the sorrow and the pity…

France is considering this move because of an uptick in obesity rates there. In response to the concerns over obesity:

… the government might require color-coded labels on food packaging to encourage healthier eating. Consumers would be urged to eat more foods labeled “green,” such as fruits and vegetables, while avoiding those labeled “red,” including items high in fat, salt, sugar—and chocolate.

While the French obesity rate has more than doubled over the last twenty years, at 14.5 percent, it can’t hold a Ring Ding to the US, which has an obesity rate of 33 percent. (American exceptionalism in action.)

However, as those who are opposing the French anti-chocolat plan maintain, there is no correlation between chocolate and obesity. The Swiss average 13 pounds of chocolate noshing each year, but have a relatively low obesity rate: 11 percent.

And for Americans, apparently, chocolate is not the obesity culprit. We only consume about 5.4 pounds of chocolate per year. You can thank sodas, chips, and super-sized everything for our obesity plague, thank you.

France’s chocolatiers—makers of chocolate pastries and confectionery—contend that discouraging people from eating chocolate would have an economic impact, too, endangering the jobs of some 4,500 “artisan chocolatiers” who employ roughly 15,000 people in their bakeries and shops.

So it’s just plain bad for business.

And that’s only part of France’s chocolate industry. Importers, wholesalers, manufacturers, and other industry players hold the world’s largest chocolate trade show…[and] more than 30 professional schools around the country offer degrees in chocolate confectionery-making.

Maybe I’ll go back to school and become a chocolatier!

Meanwhile, my cousin Ellen and her husband Mike will be spending the month of September in Paris. Mike is not much of a chocolate man, but I trust that Ellen will do her part on the chocolate front. And I’m happy they’re getting to spend some quality time in France before the chocolate warnings go into effect.

Warning labels on chocolat?

Just say non!

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thank you for coming to Fenway? Don’t mention it.

I am a baseball fan by both baptism and desire – much my favorite sport. And the Red Sox, even after watching them through so many years that were full of annoyance, frustration, rage, apathy, irrational expectation, despair, disappointment, exuberance, and, on occasion stark ravin’ joy, are much my favorite team.

While I have been watching (or, as was often the case in my early years of fandom, when weekday games weren’t televised, listening to) the Olde Towne Team since the late 1950’s, I will actually pinpoint the day when I truly became an anointed Red Sox fan. That was Friday, July 22, 1960, when I saw my first game at Fenway.

The Red Sox won, 6-4, and Ted Williams hit a home run.

So did Jimmy Piersall, who by then was no longer playing for the Sox.

The attendance – and I did have to look this part up – was nearly 30,000. Not bad, given that Fenway only held about 33,000 at the time, and given that the Sox were having what was so typical of my early years watching them: a lousy year.

They ended up in seventh place out of the eight teams in the American League, with a .422 record that is pretty much how they’re going to end this fiasco of a year.

As Red Sox fans, of course, we knew that we were going to pay the price of last year’s entirely implausible and stunningly enjoyable season, that culminated in an entirely implausible and stunningly enjoyable – at least if you’re a New Englander – World Series win.

In any case, this year ain’t nothing I haven’t seen before.

One difference now, of course, is the outrageous ticket prices – imagine: $28 to sit in the bleachers! That first game against Cleveland, which may have cost my father seventy-five cents per kid for a bleacher seat, was a lot more fun, even if the bleachers in those days didn’t have backs.

Another difference now, of course, is the outrageous salaries that ball players make. Clay Bucholz, who pitched the game – and why do I even bother to say lost - the game I saw the other night is making $7.7 million this year. Even if he pulls his socks up over the next few weeks, he will likely end up making about $1 million per win. Now that’s what I call a day’s pay for a day’s work. Harrumph.

While the game the other evening was dreadful, it was still, I must admit enjoyable. But that’s because I absolutely love taking myself out to the ballgame, taking myself out to the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks? Well, I might not go so far as to say that I don’t care if I never get back, but watching a game at Fenway, on a lovely summer’s evening, after walking from home to Fenway Park is, in fact, a little bit of heaven.

Even though the Red Sox are having a near-epic fail of a season, they continue to draw pretty good crowds.

This is, perhaps, because going to a game at Fenway Park is a bit of a sentimental journey for a lot of folks. And because New England, generally at odds with the rest of the country when it comes to things cultural, societal, and sporting – bring on gay marriage, but NASCAR? huh? – is perhaps the last holdout of baseball fandom.

Maybe it’s because so many of us went to parochial school, we’re inured to boredom. Maybe it’s because the Red Sox play to the attributes of our dominant ethnic groups: flinty Yankees (no, not the baseball Yankees, those pinstriped posers – Yankee New Englanders) who can put up with anything; and members of the Irish diaspora who understand full well that they are not worthy of anything, and are thus overly suspicious of the good years, and overly accepting of the bad years as their due. Maybe it’s because winter is so long, and summer is so short, and baseball = summer. (Or course, it also equals sleeting gray days in April and, if you’re lucky enough to make it to the postseason, which “we” most certainly will not this year, sleeting gray days in October.)

Ah, baseball.

Last week’s game was the third I’ve attended this season (fourth, if you count the Red Sox-Rangers game I saw while in Texas this May), and, as I’ve said, I had a good time.

Sure, I was among the Fenway faithful who left after the Red Sox, having blown a lead in the fifth, did nothing to indicate that they had anything left in them after the seventh. So we had to sing Sweet Caroline, the Red Sox anthem played before the bottom of the eighth, while walking down the street behind the Green Monster.

The words don’t ring quite true this season.

“Good times never seemed so good”?

Okay, it’s not exactly “bad times never seemed so bad.” That would be the 2012 season, when the team, which pre-season had been declared The Greatest Team in Baseball Since the 1927 Yankees, and maybe even The Greatest Team in Baseball EVER, went into such a  nosedive that you had to suspect that they were on a suicide mission.

But while I had a good time at last week’s game, it wasn’t exactly a good game.

The Red Sox, of course, continue to count on people having a good time whether or not the game is good or awful.

So they’re curious to learn about how we felt about the overall experience, as I learned when I received an e-mail from the team asking me to fill in an online survey on that experience.

Which I was happy to do, even though I was offered nothing, zip, nada, in return. You’d think that they could have taken all the tickets they’ve yet to sell –and there remain plenty – and put the names of everyone who answered the survey in a cap and raffled off those tickets. (Well, maybe not all the tickets they have left. If the games aren’t sold out already, I can understand why the Red Sox would believe that someone might be interested in the final three games of this abysmal season. The Red Sox are playing the Yankees, and this could turn out to be a spoiler series, in which the Red Sox can destroy whatever chance the Yankees have for a Wild Card spot. And it will be the last time anyone at Fenway will get the chance to see retiring great Derek Jeter play. So they don’t need to put those games in the kitty.)

As for the other games…

I suspect that even the games against the currently division-leading Baltimore Orioles won’t sell out.

But for free, I’d even be willing to take an obstructed view seat.

The online survey, alas, promised nothing, but as a good and loyal marketer, I filled it in anyway.

First, they asked how big a Red Sox fan I am.

Hey, I’m avid enough.

I don’t go to all that many games in person, but I watch a bit of most games on TV (or, failing that, check the scores to see what happened).

The survey mostly focused on the Fenway Park experience which, as it turns out, has nothing whatsoever to do with the game, and everything to do whether you enjoyed Wally the Green Monster, buying your hot dog, and singing Sweet Caroline.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t help answering a couple of questions as if I were being asked about the actual game.

Thus, I said that my most recent visit to Fenway fully met my expectations, given that my expectation was that Bucholz would last four or five innings before blowing up (he went four), and that Big Papi would hit a home run (which he did).

I was also asked to compare the overall Red Sox experience to the experience of attending a Celtics, Bruins, Patriots, or Revolution (soccer) game, and to which represented the best value.

Since I will barely follow the Celtics now that my husband has died, and since the only way I’d go to a Patriots game is if I were helicoptered down to Gillette Stadium and got to sit in Bob Kraft, the owner’s, private box, there’s nothing to compare things to.

I have been following the Bruins pretty closely, and hockey is my number two, but it’s been years since I saw a game up close and personal.

As for the Revs, I have seen them a few times, and it has been an enjoyable experience but, what can I say? Soccer is not baseball. And I can’t walk to Foxboro to see them play.

In any case, because I actually like baseball, going to a Red Sox game – W or L – provides the best experience and the best value.

Man, these questions seem designed for people who really don’t care about the game, but who consider it just another experience.

What motivated me to attend this event?

How come the answer can’t be that I like baseball, and I’m a Red Sox fan.

Which weren’t on the pick list.

No, the Sox wanted to know about my parking experience (NA), my concession experience, my overall in-game entertainment experience, my between-inning entertainment experience, my post-game entertainment experience (sorry, I left too soon to hear Love That Dirty Water and Tessie).

And they wanted to know whether I follow the Red Sox on Twitter, on FB, on Pinterest, on Instagram, on Vine…

No, I’m one of those sorry-ass old schoolers who follow them on boston.com, on redsox.com (for the box scores, not the Red Sox account), on ESPN, via MLB, and, on occasion, on one of the discussion boards.

I’m a bit bummed that the Red Sox are having such a lousy year, but watching baseball’s still fun. And it could be a lot worse: I could be a Cubs fan.

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P.S. When I filled out the demographic detail on the survey, I really didn’t want to check Divorced/Separated/Widowed.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Naked Came the Dater

I’m a true believer that “reality” TV serves an important keep-the-lid-on function in our society. After all, it provides hope for those who are woefully lacking in truly worthwhile attributes, talents, or capabilities – beyond an often uncannily shrewd marketing sense for building and exploiting a brand (look no further than Honey Boo Boo’s earthy mother or the Duggar clan’s smug daddy-o. Hope for those without worthwhile attributes, etc., but singularly possessed of shamelessness, devoid of any need for privacy, and just plain hungering to make a quick buck. (Well, what could be more All American than that?)

So what if you weren’t born with a silver spoon full of 1% in your mouth? So what if you didn’t get to take AP classes at Ritzboro High School? Heck, so what if you can’t spell AP even if someone spots you the A?

If your reality show strikes the right chord with the American people, there’s your chance to cash in and/or get discovered.

Why, it’s even better than playing the lottery, since if you’re the star of a reality TV show, you actually get to be famous – at least for the duration of the show’s run or, if it’s one of those one-shot shows, for the duration of your episode. Or until the next breakout reality star comes along. (And wanting to be famous is probably even more All American than wanting to have lots of $$$.)

One of the latest reality shows is something called Dating Naked.

A new social experiment provides daters with a radical dating experience where before they bare their souls they bare everything else first. Each week on a primitive island resort, far from the masks of modern society, daters will go on exotic dates and be naked every step of the way.

Let’s face it, there comes a time in most of our lives when we look better in a burka than in a bikini, and that time for me is well in the past. So even if I were to go on a dating show, it wouldn’t be naked. (And speaking of dating, the other day I got an e-mail - Hi, Maureen Rogers, Want to meet singles over 50? - inviting me to look into Our Time, an online dating service for the AARP-eligible. The timing – almost 6 months to the day of my husband’s death – was especially odd. Do you think they comb obituaries and put widows and widowers in tickler files for a 6 month follow up?)

But there are apparently enough folks who like the idea of throwing off the masks of modern society, and going on a few dates on a primitive island resort (whatever that oxymoronic thing means).

One of those folks was Jessie “I’m really a model” Nizewitz, who’s suing Dating Naked for $10 million because for a split second her most private of private parts, which were supposed to be blurred out, were exposed while she was in what, to the naked eye, might appear to be a semi-pornographic pose, frolicking in some sort of naked dating mud-wrestle with her show beau.

In a statement, Nizewitz claims she was told that her lady parts were going to be completely blurred for the show and that she was manipulated and lied to. The Long Islander said, “If you watch an episode, you will see that the blur actually makes it less revealing than a bikini would. Obviously, I did not expect the world to see my private parts," reports Variety. (Source: Huffington Post)

This revelation apparently set off a Twitter storm of people making fun of her. Not to mention that her grandmother got ticked off at her. (So, her grandmother was okay with watching her granddaughter cavort around nude but blurred with a complete stranger? It was just seeing the actual orifices out there for all the world to see that got granny’s goat? Well, that makes sense.)

The suit, obtained by PEOPLE, claims Nizewitz suffered "severe emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation, and embarrassment" after the slip-up…"I immediately started getting text messages. Everyone saw it." (Source: People)

Ten million dollars worth of  Tweeters making fun of her, causing“emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation and embarrassment”?

I guess if the reality show in itself fails to provide the pay-day you’re looking for, there’s always the after-the-fact they done me wrong civil action.

And to add insult to injury, it’s not just her grandmother who’s not thrilled.

Poor Jessie believes that the accidental peep show put the kibosh on a relationship that was just starting out.

"He never called me again after the show aired," she told the paper. "I would have hoped we could have had a long-term relationship."

Longer term even than those three naked, unmasked dates on the primitive resort island?

Jessie, Jessie, Jessie.

Guess that’s reality for you.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

One awful way to make an awful living

One thing I’ve got to say: there are an awful lot of awful ways to try to make a living out there.

And one of them has to be dressing up like Elmo, Spider-Man, or Cookie Monster and hanging around Times Square, hoping that you can sucker some tourist into taking a picture with you – and giving you a tip.

I am a bit familiar with the posers – or whatever you call the folks who paint themselves verdigris, don robes and diadem, and stand stock still while holding a torch – you see in Battery Park and elsewhere in Manhattan. A while back, I took a picture of my niece Caroline with one of them. I’m not sure if there was an explicit charge, or whether I just tipped her. But I paid up.

Fast forward a couple of years, and there were some gold and black painted posers, representin’ King Tut, hanging out along the banks of the Seine. I think we took a picture of them, but not with them. Did we tip? Probably. I know I would have wanted to avoid any potential for someone screaming “Ugly American” at me in French.

Then in Rome a year or so ago, there were some guys – unpainted – floating around the Coliseum dressed as Roman centurions. They were good-humored, in a creepy kind of way, and Caroline wanted her picture taken with them. (My niece Molly’s creep-ometer was too flashing to want the same.) That, I do believe, cost an outrageous five euro.

Statue of Liberty poser. King Tut poser. Roman Centurion “re-enactor” (hah!).

Each time I forked over a tip I remember thinking “that’s one lousy way to make a living.” I also remember thinking, in the case of the Statue of Liberty and King Tut posers, about the scene in Goldfinger where the girl covered in gold-leaf ends up asphyxiated.

Like I said, it’s a lousy way to make a living.

But I suppose when you’re an artist of some sort, it’s at least something.

Unfortunately, it’s something that must get pretty uncomfortable in less-than-clement weather. And to have to rely on the kindness of tourists to earn your keep. Take it from one who did so as a waitress at Durgin-Park and Union Oyster House…...

Anyway, the news from NYC is that the NYPD has been cracking down on the character portrayers, going so far as to hand out flyers (handily printed in five languages) letting tourists know that they are under no obligation to tip.

The crackdown followed a string of harrowing incidents in which some of the characters assaulted tourists, including children. Others harassed people and groped women. The face-offs peaked last month when a Spider-Man demanding money punched a police officer telling a woman she was not obliged to pay. (Source: Latino Fox News.)

TIme Square characters

Needless to say, the characters are not exactly delighted with this turn of events.

Some costumed characters in Times Square ripped off their mammoth heads on Tuesday, showing their real faces to protest what they call a "hostile move" by police telling tourists they don't have to tip for photos.

And those characters are even organizing. I’ll be in NYC in a couple of weeks. Maybe I’ll see if I can line up a Joe Hill costume.

More than 130 formed a group this week called NYC Artists United for a Smile to explore how the characters might regulate themselves instead of the licensing now being proposed in the City Council.

Artists United for a Smile, huh?

Maybe it’s just me, but being approached by someone in a sweaty, matted Elmo suit looking for money is not going to make me smile. It’s going to make my cringe, shudder, shy away, and – certainly if I took a picture of one –be completely overwhelmed with pity for their plight, and guilt that I could afford to swan around Times Square taking pictures with my smartphone.

But make me smile?

Maybe if I were a three-year old kid who could look past the sweaty, matted costume and get jazzed at the thought of meeting the “real” Elmo…

This is, by the way, a job that earns around $50-$70 for a 12 hour day. How desperate do you have to be to work for an uncertain $50 a day – an amount that doesn’t come any where near minimum wage? Plenty desperate, as it turns out. Many of the characters are undocumented workers from Latin America.

And just the thought of there being 130 people in NYC alone attempting to make their livings posing as cartoon characters is mind boggling. Although not when you consider that, as I learned when I posted about them earlier this week,  as of 1992 there were some 35,000 Elvis impersonators out there.

The characters are positioning their protest in constitutional terms:

Lucia Gomez, executive director of La Fuente, a pro-immigrant nonprofit that helped organize the performers, said it's their First Amendment right to entertain people.

I hadn’t realized that the “right to entertain people” is a First Amendment right, but there was Lenny Bruce back in the day. And George Carlin. (I know, I know, that wasn’t about the right to entertain, but the right to use the type of language that – as I read the other day – can to this day get you arrested in South Carolina, where the f-word is outlawed.)

In any case, I suspect that the First Amendment doesn’t cover using an Elmo or Spiderman costume for commercial purposes without paying a licensing fee to Sesame Street or Marvel Comics. Or is the licensing fee implicitly incorporated in the price of the costume?

Amazing that the owners of these character brands haven’t cracked down yet. Didn’t Disney actually go after a bereaved family that had etched Winnie-the-Pooh on their dead child’s headstone? You’d think the studios would be all over this.

"Once you start putting forward any kind of regulation on a group of workers, you better be prepared to do it to all workers, because you cannot single out one set of workers and not provide the same kind of regulations for everyone within the performance art industry," Gomez said.

Which, I guess, would mean the Statue of Liberty posers (who in their “real lives”, I suspect, are something other than desperate undocumented workers).

I have tremendous sympathy for anyone trying to hustle up what amounts to a pretty darned awful living in this way. Just thinking about the desperate poverty some of them left if hoping that some tourist will give you a buck for taking a picture of you in your Hello, Kitty outfit is a better alternative…

I wish them well, but the idea of so many characters on the make swarming around Times Square is one more reason for me to avoid that particular neck of the woods when I’m in The City in September.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Truth in advertising, or infographic gone bad?

Well, I’m on of those out-of-fashion readerly types who believes that one word is worth a thousand pictures, so my bias is clearly toward the written word over the graphic depiction.

I am, of course, at odds with the (marketing) times, as so-called “infographics” have become all the rage as a means to quickly convey lots o’ information (numerical and other) to those put- upon, info-overloaded folks who have time to read bullet-points at best, but who have not yet gone over to the totally dark side and become capable of receiving input only via audio-video.

Me, I have to work too hard at infographic interpretation to make trying to parse one out worth my while. If I don’t get it at a glance, I give it a pass.

But in my business, I do see plenty of infographics, and, on occasion, even have to come up with suggestions for them.

Whether I come up with suggestions or not, I do find that infographics are increasingly cluttering up the content that I work on. Sigh…

(I do fear that within a few generations, humans will have the literacy level of the average Lascaux cave-dweller.)

Anyway, infographics have become so popular in marketing that last year I even took a one-day course with Edward Tufte, the guru of data visualization. The course was quite interesting and, if nothing else, I learned that a lot of what passes for an infographic these days is nothing more than a glorified design element with a number smacked on it. The course also came with a box full of Edward Tufte’s books. The books are actually quite beautiful, and I put them aside, telling myself that one day I would actually delve into them and turn myself into an infographics expert.

Well, that day didn’t come, but I happily gave them over to a couple of brainy younger relatives of my husband’s – a computer science professor and her husband the mathematician – when they came by for lunch the day of Jim’s memorial service. I suspect that Steph and Scott are getting more out of those tomes than I ever would have.

One of the least info-rich infographics I’ve ever seen showed some type of chart, but an axis wasn’t labeled, so even if you put your mind to it, there was no way you could really figure it out.

Anyway, sneer as I might, there are plenty of times when even written-word little old me finds a graphic approach to conveying information understandable, useful, and helpful.

One of the graphic types that I tend to find particularly clear is the Venn diagram, a pretty good way to indicate the proportional relationships between and among things.

Thus, I was very quickly able to interpret the Venn diagram used in a recent ad for Thomson Reuters, itself an organization dedicated to providing all sorts of information, reuters values_0presumably as clearly and accurately as possible.

As the Thomson Reuters Venn diagram clearly shows, when it comes to values like Trust, Partnership, Innovation and Performance, there is precious little overlap with the values that Thomson Reuters in fact espouses.

Personally, I don’t really give a hoot about when I have any sort of partnership relationship with an information provider. Just provide me with the damned information.

Innovation is a tad more important. After all, if Reuters Thomson didn’t care about innovation, information would still be sent via carrier pigeons or the clickety-clack, dot-dash of the telegraphy machine. So it is somewhat surprising that Thomson Reuters has so little regard for it.

The same goes for performance. Come on, who wants to read (or listen to, or watch, or find in an infographic) yesterday’s news?

But, gee, you’d think that one value that an information provider would really want to get right would be trust. Dewey defeats Truman, anyone?

No doubt the designer who came up with this ad didn’t know a Venn Diagram from his elbow. Ditto the hapless marketing person who okayed it.

But surely there is someone somewhere in the vast Thomson Reuters empire who knows something about infographics (or at least Venn diagrams) - someone, somewhere who should have been able to put the kibosh on this howler.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s some much welcome truth in advertising.

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Thanks to my brother-in-law Rick for pointing this one out to me. He saw it on Zerohedge.

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