Archive for the ‘Women’ Category

Freedom of Peek

March 5th, 2014

With mixed thoughts, I see that MA’s high court ruled today that perverts on the subway can legally take upskirt pix. (The news broke on Universal Hub, here. The Supreme Judicial Court’s decision is here.  )

Of course, doing so is intrusive, tacky, and and, well, sort of, some kind of assault.

Sure, you can state the all too obvious — women ought to wear underwear, whether they do or not, they should keep their legs together if they wear a skirt or dress. Most do. Too many don’t. I don’t want to see flashes or swathes of underpants of women or men.

Yet, what is it that seems to excite so many? Why are there websites devoted to upskirt images? Why would anyone watch a Victoria’s Secret Fashion show? Why is lingerie the, if you pardon, butt of so many comedy routines? Why do women as well as men fixate on bras and panties?

Truth be told, I remember in early puberty being turned on by men’s magazines in barber shops and plain old catalogs showing women déshabillé. That was the euphemism for in your underwear. Back then, a movie was really risqué if an actress appeared in underwear, without the dress covering the clothing that in fact covered their prurient parts.

Even today, there cultures and subcultures titillated not by the actual body parts, rather the garments that hide them. For example, Japanese press and literature frequently alludes to men’s fascination with and hope for glimpses of underpants.

As I began dating, I quickly learned to favor and choose the real over the fantasy. Is that all this fetish is about?

Even if the crotch clickers with cellphones don’t grow up and out of their fixation, even it the SJC says that’s legal, you’d hope that the targeted women and the other passengers would at least call them out.  That might stop them…unless they are into public humiliation.

Things I Learned from Space Salesmen

April 10th, 2013

I’m a notorious TV disdainer. That’s odd for a boomer who grew up, enjoyed and benefited mightily from the box. I’ve aged to much rather do a cryptic puzzle, read a book or use the net.

I’m the least TV-centric in the family. Yet, I do like a few series that the family watches — Treme, Downton Abbey, and Mad Men. It’s the latter that had me reminiscing and projecting.

I’m a child who followed the WWII generation, not one of them. I did work with and know those guys (almost all men) and their younger siblings/nephews in the 1970s New York City.

I worked trade and business magazines in the 3-martini-lunch era. In fact, one publisher always ordered the same drink, “A triple Bombay martini, hold the olives and hold the vermouth.” It was all three martinis in one, very engineering efficient and thus appropriate for a construction mag.

Drunken afternoons were less of a shock to me as the dissolute lives of those magic creatures the space salesmen. The very term space salesman seems mythological if not metaphysical. Selling space…ooooo. The mundanity of actually pitching ads for print media does not rise to the phrase.

I knew a lot of these guys, men whose work brought in my salary. They often shocked me with the likes of their casual comparisons of sexual conquests of women customers, sales reps, waitresses and even friends’ wives.

However, I also got a few life lessons that have rooted.

I certainly recall the best space salesman I knew at Construction Equipment magazine. I’m comfortable using his name, Larry Huckle. He was one of the wholesome guys. He was also the company’s best salesman year upon year. That was particularly odd as he had Texas and the Southwest, virtually devoid of equipment manufacturers. He skunked the other reps time after time.

He and I were at a bar at the mag’s sales meeting in Boca Raton one time. As a former newspaper reporter, I just had to ask him how he did it. I had grilled the other editors and they claimed not to know. Larry was candid and had no fear of giving up his secret. He said, “I know one thing the other guys don’t. When you’ve made your sale, shut up.”

Sure enough, later on sales calls with various ad guys, I’d see them goof up a sure deal again and again by talking about themselves, making inane talk about the customer or otherwise souring a deal in the bag.

I found as a single guy that Larry’s advice was as good for someone seeking companionship as well. That’s another sale.

Likewise, I came to appreciate a silly rejoinder from another space salesman. He’d inveritably come back to the rhetorical, “How ya doing?” with “Any day I’m not pushing up daisies is a good day.”

That certainly falls in the class of painfully obvious. Yet, the longer I live, the more emotional, intellectually and physical troubles that visit me, the more meaningful and sensible that seems. It’s certainly better than the meaningless, “Fine.” And it inspires introspection.

A third space salesman had another iterative response when anyone did the drama-queen whine about a birthday. To one who complained about marking another year older, he’d always say, “Consider the alternative.” Sure enough, death would remove any joy or even observance of a birthday.

Space salesmen, as well as engineers and other stereotypical literal sorts can pluck all the feathers from our social conventions. After all, they have jobs to do that yield to metrics. To those other of us who like to think that everything is fungible, malleable, such brutal realism can only be good.

Tales of the Sisters Grimké

March 10th, 2013

tea

 

I sat on it for a day. Yep, there was still stinky, strained stuff at the women’s tea in glorious downtown Hyde Park yesterday.

Almost entirely good stuff abounded. Angela Menino stood up and in for her hubby, that Tom guy.  The third annual presentation of the local version of women on the year presentations (a.k.a. “Women Amongst Us”) included pots of flowers and standing O’s. Petite tea sandwiches — curried chopped chicken, cucumber, and turkey/cheese — kept the early 20th Century flavor. Three City Councilors, Consalvo, Arroyo and Pressley, showed. The upstairs at Annabelle’s was ladies who lunch, but with tea instead of martinis.

I was one of perhaps six men in a room of roughly 100 women, and come to think of it all women waitrons. I enjoyed it mostly and intend to use my bar of suffragist soap they set at each place.

The unnecessary undercurrent of male bashing was a tad surprising, Women’s History Month or not.

Two authors were there to flog their books and comment on former Hyde Park residents, the Grimké sisters, Angelina and Sarah. One, Angelina biographer Louise Knight, had trouble with men, particularly her subject’s husband. The other, poet Amy Benson Brown, corrected Knight’s male bashing without making a deal out of doing so.

The living accomplished local women included:

  • Martha McDonough — among many other civic leadership feats was cleaning up the Neponset last year.
  • Tonya Grimes — whose volunteerism has long included Civil War reenactor and active member of the Colored Ladies Christian Relief Society.
  • Sharon Grimberg — WGBH executive producer, whose series include the PBS American Experience shows, such as the recent The Abolitionists.

The deceased accomplished were the sisters Grimké. While raised as privileged daughters of a South Carolina planter, replete with slaves everywhere, they turned. They were appalled by slavery and came to Yankeeland, where they devoted themselves to abolition and later to women’s rights, particularly suffrage.

I was pleasantly surprised when I researched our newest neighborhood four years ago to discover the Weld/Grimké history. Hyde Park seems fairly apolitically suburban. The legacy of the first black U.S. soldiers, abolitionists, suffrage fighters and more was a delight. I touched on the Fairmount Hill links several times, including here and here.

exhouse

This will be a more Angelina year than most, both down here and downtown. On Monday, Oct. 7th, a celebration of Angelina’s speech will be at the John Hancock Hall, with a performance of part of her speech, Gloria Steinem reading her 1970 Equal Rights Amendment testimony to the U.S. Senate, and more. The event is in the works and will get publicity.

The spot near where she lived in the house her husband, ardent abolitionist Rev. Theodore Weld, bought for them will get a plaque this spring, Hyde Park Main Streets Executive Director Patrice Gattozzi told me. I hope she does follow up on my offers to work on this.

At the least, she should know that the house is gone. Where they lived at 212 Fairmount Avenue had a facing home, but the entrance was a carriage drive on then Pond (now Highland). We bought the 1876 map that hangs in our living room. A snatch of it here shows the old digs between Fairmount and Warren.

Rightfully the luncheon and particularly speaker Knight spoke of Angelina’s courage, conviction and accomplishment. Particularly, she was likely the first non-monarch female to address a legislative body anywhere. She spoke three times in a few days on abolition to the Massachusetts legislature. This was a time when women were forbidden or actively discouraged from speaking at all in public, and certainly not before “promiscuous audiences” as groups of mixed genders were known. She lacked neither clarity of vision nor courage.

There came the rub for me.

Knight published two works on Jane Addams and just finished a dual bio on the sisters Grimké. However, if the luncheon lecture is any indication, she can’t seem to get over the partnership between Angelina and her husband. As she spoke of Angelina, she repeatedly mentioned a letter or other contact with “her fiance Theodore.” Knight never once mentioned his name or honorific. She never said he was a renowned abolitionist (often referred to by historians of the period as “the lion of abolition”). She never spoke of how the pair complemented each other’s politics and worked together, first fighting slavery, then on to women’s rights. You’d think Rev. Weld was a groupie for this outspoken woman instead of an equal. Knight said that “her fiance” told Angelina not to speak of women’s rights at all.

I sat next to my wife, who also knows the Grimké and Weld story. I said that was a really sexist and dishonest lecture. She was a bit flippant (maybe it was the Earl Grey talking), Oh, it is women’s history month, and the other 11 months are for men.  That doesn’t cut it with me anymore than the YWCA (it is the Young Women’s Christian Association. snicker) excluding boys and men from everything while the YMCA went inclusive, becoming the family organization and having a much greater impact on the nation.

Fortunately the next author and poet was more historically accurate and not male exclusionary. Amy Benson Brown did not say, “Let me correct Ms. Knight,” but she did do that. She called Weld by his full name. She noted the partnership that led to marriage, as well as the then shocking ceremony where Weld refused to claim dominion over her and she did not say she would obey him. He was after all a Unitarian and proto-feminist. He did once before they married ask her to soft-pedal the dual message of women’s rights until the abolition of slavery was settled. He had devoted decades to abolishing slavery, knew how successful she had been in the effort, and did not want her to become ineffective with a double whammy…yet. Later, they became a powerful team fighting for suffrage and leading the first-in-the-nation protest where Hyde Park women (and their men) marched to the town hall to cast ballots that they knew would not be counted, but that had strong symbolism.

They were a team from their engagement through marriage. Better stuff than lies-of-omission history about a brave woman all alone, I say.

I grew up with a divorced mom raising two of us. Neither denigrating women nor bashing males was acceptable. That should be the order of things. I can pose my typical Unitarian and progressive self-examination. Am I clean enough to comment? I think so.

Sarah was somewhat important, particularly as the much decade-plus older sister of Angelina, who led the way in thought. Of the 14 Grimké siblings, 11 of whom survived to adulthood, the pair of sisters had the intellectual clarity and morality to fight slavery, leave their comfortable surroundings, and change a nation. Angelina was the front, the orator, and the one who partnered with a like-minded reformer/radical. What a pair! Yet, let’s not lessen Weld’s tremendous influence and dedication. Yeah, yeah, yeah, he was just a man, but pretty clearly his wife’s equal.

 

1870 Fairmount Rumble

February 19th, 2012

agwMy hill in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood has had its moments. When we moved on Fairmount Hill over two years ago, we figured it looked like just another undistinguished almost-suburban area. Heaven knows the few plaques (at the bottom of the hill, thank you very much) say little and nothing political. However, we did learn that the Grimké sisters, Sarah and Angelina, lived here. Angelina (right) with her husband, Rev. Theodore Weld, and Sarah next door.

Their houses are gone. While Victorian homes of the period are on the block, modest brick two-story ones (and no plaque) are there now. Maybe the UUA will chip in. They like to claim Weld, and in truth, at least late in life, he and Angelina did become Unitarians.

I already cited their abolition and women’s suffrage work. There is a a link also to the tale including the mixed race Grimké brothers Archibald and Francis whom the sisters supported, saw educated and helped into starting successful careers as a lawyer and diplomat and a preacher. That was the good side of do-gooder guilt, a.k.a. social activism. The sisters discovered that their brother who remained in South Carolina has fathered the boys by their enslaved mother. Nothing like blood to bring anti-slavery sentiments full circle.

The brothers Grimké and one’s daughter, likely American’s first published lesbian poet as well as activist in the family mode, Angelina Weld Grimké all spent time on this hill. For Weld and the sisters, it was a base of operation to correct the wrongs of slavery and suppression of women. I like to think that if there are such things as spirits, those of the several generations of these remarkable people hum and inspire here still.

Over at Marry in Massachusetts, I just added a wee rant on what may befall the creeps and crazies throttling women in November. We can extrapolate pretty easily as to what Sarah and both Angelinas would make of the current GOP boys’ policies. Plus, now they’d have a vote to do something in addition to writing and talking.

Love Through the Ears

October 15th, 2011

Unlike many bar stool warmers, even into a second drink or beyond, I don’t have a lot of brilliant advice.  There is one love-related tidbit from my early 20s that still seems relevant.

Last week, speaking with a female neighbor outside, that arose again. She was lamenting that she couldn’t click long-term with a great guy. She just breached 40 and knows there are fewer gems free in the muck of the mine. She discussed a recent effort to connect to a match from e-Harmony, allegedly compatible interests, bright enough, and nice looking. She said she sent him off to think again with the candid appraisal that his ego and vanity were too well developed.

Hence that personal historical moment.

In my early 20s, I was a single Manhattanite working at a huge trade-magazine publisher across 42nd Street from the Daily News building. We were in what passed for bar and party central in NYC. After the married commuted largely by rail to NJ or CT, we were left to patrols of the heart.

For many of my co-workers, those patrols were frustrating and sad. They’d chat objects of desire up and still return home solo.

Quite a few guys asked me, usually one on one, what was up. They’d note that I always had several women I, as we of Southern backgrounds are wont to say, kept company with. The implication was that I wasn’t rich or 7 feet tall or any of those clichés of evening  love. How was it that I connected and they didn’t, and moreover, how was it that I kept my women instead  of having a one to three-night relationship?

That one was easy…at least for me. My flash was wisdom was simply that I listened to a woman.

Invariably the guy would interrupt to state strongly that he too listened to women and that couldn’t be it. Yet, I’d seen him in attempted action and knew he didn’t. As with my neighbor, women found that he talked about himself and heard only responses that related to himself talking about himself. There’s a huge difference between acknowledging affirmative conversational reactions and listening.

I could ask the guy what he knew about this woman or that. He might know where she went to college or high school, but little else. Pow! He hadn’t asked. He hadn’t left openings for her to swap revelations. He did not value what she had experienced, what she felt, what was important to her, what pleased her, what made her angry. He didn’t know squat about her.

I suppose if I had been savvy or driven by greed instead of the joy of earning a living writing and photographing, I would have started a matchmaking business. I knew something they didn’t.

Switching Legacies

September 2nd, 2011

For most of us, we realize somewhere in our teens or early 20s that the reality of gift giving was after all ephemeral. Why didn’t someone belabor this obviousness?

Grandparents and aunts retire or die or both in turn. Parents move from full employment. Suddenly there’s a lot less under the Christmas tree and far fewer massive boxes sent by distant relatives.

At the same time, brothers and sisters, friends and other near contemporaries make drastic changes. They marry and many have kids. Suddenly we are the uncles and such. The scales of giving and receiving weigh quickly and dramatically to the other side. We look at decades of giving more than we get.

It doesn’t take long to accept it. The reality of presents is indisputable, immutable and long-term.

What’s Mine?

As the hubby and dad around here, I have come to accept that what is mine is everyone else’s as well. Even before there were kids, my clothes, particularly both tee and dress shirts served as nightclothes, drag, garden garb, and cool weather gear. My wife is much smaller and that was one way.

As our three sons grew, that multiplied. Missing shirts, jackets and sweaters were often in someone else’s room or on their shoulders. Such as it is.

The only objections I had were for the likes of tools and bike gear. I am positively anal about putting my tools in the (labeled of course) drawers of the big tool chest. Over the years, everyone else purloined my high-end screwdrivers, wrenches, hammers, cycle tools and such. Sometimes those just disappeared. Sometimes they were left out to rust. Sometimes they too ended up in a different room or even permanently lent to one of their friends.

Now on the plus side, the guys have gotten big enough that I can filch shirts or trousers should I want. That is a surprisingly sweet turnabout. I can understand my wife’s pleasure at yet more clothing options.

A Pot to Plant In

I thought of this again and anew this morning unpacking the vestiges in the van. The oldest son has a new job in California, he and his wife took off recently, leaving bric-a-brac in the Davis Square condo. My (I’ll do anything for my children) wife agreed to liaise with a realtor for rental and took the other two sons to clear out the place as part of enabling that.

presents

So we ended up with a fair amount of junk, but also some nice leavings from the next generation on our family continuum. That was pleasantly obvious as I hoisted three 18-inch ceramic plant pots from the van. Those are useful, modestly valuable, and we didn’t give them to “the kids,” rather they to us. That’s a wonderful symmetry.

I am not exactly sure when in my 20s the seesaw tipped. It likely was gradual. I somehow began planning for, shopping for, and forking over a lot more than people gave me. There were grandparents and a mother and a sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew, and on and on. I never resented it. Rather I was daft enough not to project that this would the natural order of things. It just happened.

So, we have variations coming up. Sizable services and dollars for weddings, colleges and presents, maybe followed with all manner of boons for as-yet-unborn grandkids, and then? Amusingly, we oldsters care less and less for possessions, dumping vast amounts in the move of two years ago. I’m more like my grandparents and mother years ago who chanted sincerely not to get them more stuff. In practice, what I ended up doing was tailoring presents to just what they’d want, need and ideally eat or drink (think high-end chocolates, booze and coffees). It was a consumer version of leaving no footprints in the forest.

Angry, Who Me?

August 20th, 2011

Multiple mentions of physically dark folk not wanting to appear emotionally dark caught me this week. The perceived political wisdom that black or Latino men should not turn off voters is at once obvious and befuddling.

I recall Black Panthers and others who seriously expressed anger. Speeches included calls to kill whitey, plain folk as well as cops. There’s some threatening anger.

For two examples this week, consider:

  • Very savvy image consultant Dorie Clark was on WGBH’s Callie Crossley show again. She noted in a segment asking whether Barack Obama could win a second term that the POTUS was caught in the vise. Angry black men can freak constituents.
  • This morning’s Financial Times had a similar treatment in their generally LITE Lunch with… series, this time with San Antonia Mayor Julián Castro. He spoke of the immigration backlash against Hispanics and its racist aspects. Yet, as Richard McGregor wrote, “He admits he is conscious not to sound angry. Obama has exercised a similar discipline. It seems to be a rule of American politics that an angry black or Hispanic man does not play well with the broader electorate.”

angryYet all but those in comas here are aware of angry white folk. Many in Congress, the Tea Party and winger spokesmen (screams-men?) and lobbying and interest groups are mad as hell about this, that and the other. They yell, they defame, they lie at high volume and with repetition, and some even threaten violence.

It all makes me wonder that if the timorous and accommodating POTUS displayed real anger that really would be so bad. As a nation, we certainly have expected our top leaders to express outrage and anger befitting the situation. Is it really true that our first black President has a separate set of behaviors?

The recent, prolonged GOP debt, spending and tax disgrace just had to make him furious. Even many voters in that party expressed and continue to express fury at the continued insistence on transferring wealth to the super-rich from the middle and lower classes. Yet, the POTUS spoke of disappointment.

Disappointment?! That’s when the ice-cream shop is out of the flavor you drove 10 miles to taste.

Rage should come when confronting ideologues who would steal from tens of millions of oldsters to increase benefits for multi-millionaires and billionaires. If that doesn’t make even the most mild-mannered black man angry, something’s wrong here.

To turn this from political to personal, this has reminded me of way back in my single days. I was keeping company with a fairly volatile woman, who would blow up and yell sometimes, including at me.

A mutual friend, a psychologist, noted how even tempered I was and how I grew up in a home where people didn’t act out. He asked how I reacted when she was like that. I said I let her run through the course. He asked then what I thought would happen if I yelled back. I said I hadn’t thought about it and he went on to ask (with a smile) whether I figured that would destroy the relationship. I replied that I thought it would.

He had known her for a long time and said it would not. He advised yelling back. She did. I did. Not only did nothing bad happened, she was much less likely to flip out around me. Things got better. She acted more like I and I didn’t have to yell back again.a

That’s not to say that if Obama displays justifiable anger some people won’t diss him. Hell, they already do. Plus, he has the big bunch of progressives who are on him for not being strong enough to demand fair negotiation from the wingers.

Conciliation doesn’t seem to be the best approach here and now. It’s time for our President to yell back.

Pre-Safety Net Marker

July 26th, 2011

Evidence of a true atavism appears on a flat marker in Dorchestrer. In the Cedar Grove cemetery is one reading HOME FOR AGED COLORED WOMEN. Nearby are rows of small stones marking the graves of those residents.

home4agedThis institution operated just before and decades after the Civil War. While Boston was in a state that long before given up slave ownership, by custom and law, it was not an area where many African American residents flourished. Think of the north slope of Beacon Hill, where many of them lived, and went to their work as servants.  While better than slavery, that offered little chance for saving or advancement, and certainly not for retirement.

In an era before Social Security or any government safety net beyond debtors’ prisons and orphanages, churches, do-gooders and private groups stepped up as best they could. As listed in the 1910 U.S. Census for example, the number and dispersion of homes caring for small numbers of inmates is eye-opening.

In an era before Social Security or any government safety net beyond debtors’ prisons and orphanages, churches, do-gooders and private groups stepped up as best they could. As listed in the 1910 U.S. Census for example, the number and dispersion of homes caring for small numbers of inmates is eye-opening. It was catch as catch can for the poor, old or feeble.

The Home for Aged Colored Women was by then in its longest term location, down the street from the State House at 22 Hancock Street. That’s now a super-priced double home abutting Suffolk University on the back. Having lived across the street when I first moved to Boston, I know that this strip had become low-rent boarding houses after the black residents began to decamp. Back in the 19th and into the early 20th Centuries, it surely was an affordable place for charities to rent or buy.

fullerstoneIn 1910, this Home accepted three new residents and had a total of 18 women. Other documents said it could accommodate up to 20. They had six paid employees, and as the Census notes in one of its then-necessary columns, “Colored persons received.”

The Home was organized in 1860 “at the suggestion of Mrs. K. P. Clarke, and incorporated in 1864, for aged colored women of good character, who are unable to take care of themselves. If able, or if they have friends able to assist them, the beneficiaries are obliged to pay a small amount toward their maintenance.” The original location was also in the area with many black servants, at 27 Myrtle Street.

The MA Historical Society mentions it too, writing “an interracial group of concerned citizens opened the Home for Aged Colored Women on Beacon Hill to care for elderly African and African American women. Many of these women were ex-slaves.”

A different form of charity was in African American women helping in the Civil War effort, particularly in support of black soldiers such as the 54th Regiment Company A. Look up a floor on River Street in Hyde Park’s Cleary Square to see the office of The Colored Ladies Christian Relief Association. The 54th website describes them as, “The Colored ladies present the ‘hidden half’ of the story 
of the 54th, the contributions of African American women in the 
Civil War.”

The Bostonians weren’t the only groups. In an online encyclopedia on women in the  Civil War, the drive of Elizabeth Keckley led to numerous such Contraband Relief Associations. Contraband of course referred to freed or escaped slaves. Keckley a dressmaker to Mary Todd Lincoln ran a successful business and encouraged other free blacks to contribute to society.

Lincoln contributed a sizable $200 to the new effort. When Keckley accompanied her on a trip through New England and New York City, she “encouraged Octavia Grimes to establish the Colored Ladies’ Relief Association and Sarah Martin the Fugitive Aid Society of Boston. Both organizations were attached to all-black Boston churches and became auxilliaries of the CRA.”

She solicited contributions from black and white abolitionists here and abroad. She expanded the effort and even broadened the name to Ladies’ Freedmen and Soldiers’ Relief Association. In what would today strike chords left and right, “she was concerned that white philanthropists and charity workers who underestimated the abilities and the potential of the formerly enslaved would undermine their efforts to elevate themselves.”

No Kilt Needed

May 11th, 2011

Little black dresses and wee snifters were the props. Whisky was the feature, that is single-malt whisky (Scottish spelling, if you please), which many of us simply call Scotch.

The Mcallan distiller pumps its promotion budget partly into such dram sipping evening here and there in an annual U.S. road swing. For example, see considerable detail in posts here and here. They write sumptuously on it so I don’t have to. The short version is that we got small snifters of 10, 12, 17 and 18 year old versions, averaging about half an ounce per. Each and more get full descriptions on the company site.

The production fascinated me. It also took me back to my early 20s when I wrote for a big construction magazine, a job which included covering the gigantic Con/Agg show of equipment.

My chum John signed several of us up for the free malt tasting, but only he and I ended up downtown at the Royale nightclub in our cute little theater district. There were no loose ends to this fabric. Mcallan folk had it all neatly woven.

Model types in LBDs greeted us and checked us off the list. They are worthy of comment and what first reminded me of the Con/Agg show. It goes on for days and fills the largest exhibition sites in Chicago. With gigantic earth movers and such, it’s not hard to command such spaces.

What was odd to my young 20s self was women as advertising and sales gear. There was an amusing and pleasing incongruity to the huge, metal machinery and hyper-attractive women in tiny dresses and sometimes bikinis. I recall at the first such show I attended seeing a gigantic dump truck filled with water and a half dozen barely clothed models splashing and swimming and generally showing themselves off in its massive bed. In construction terms, the point was that the bed was as big as a swimming pool, hence capable of hauling terrific amounts of rock and dirt with each load. Yet, the almost entirely middle-aged male potential buyers came to look first at the nearly nude women.

I asked my long-tenured editor how the Caterpillar and Euclid folk got all these stunning women for the show. He knew because he had asked. There was a gold rush of sorts many months before each Con/Agg, with the various equipment makers hitting up the modeling agencies. They wanted xx number of leggy lookers, first come first served.

malt

One might think that in the many years since, we’d be getting over all that. Nah. Men and women alike enjoy looking at and being greeted by attractive women. Exposed legs and shoulders seem to still be the norm. In fact, while they apparently did not have quite enough Mcallan issue LBDs to go around, most of the dozen or so women were in uniform. That was an extremely short and very tight dress, with the right shoulder bare and the left one with shiny black rectangular spangles. The shirt portion barely covered the aspirations of the audience.

Maybe 200 folk got seats at the long tables. A few glasses of walnuts were scattered about with the black and gold company napkins. We got a Mcallan token on the way in, which we traded for a wee glass of the 10-year-old malt. That was the method to keep folk from loading up on multiple shots before the show.

The incongruous disco music played for 20 minutes or so as we got our seats. It sure wasn’t bagpipes. The dark space focused us on the lit stage with the traveling exhibit — a counter for the speaker (brand ambassador Randolph [never Randy, yuck, yuck] Adams), tall display cases of nine different bottles of their malts, and a sports-event-sized touch screen. As the slick presentation started, it was describe Scotland, the whiskies, the process and so forth, interspersed with the women bring around trays of small snifters of the various samples.

There’d be two seatings, so they had it down for an opening at 6:30 and clear the room and tables for the next group between 8 and 8:30. Thank you very much. We can call you a cab if you think you need it.

It was a very efficient operation. Adams had the personality and snappy patter for the job as well. He’s certainly someone you’d, if you pardon, have a drink with. He’d never be a loss for an amusing anecdote.

Back to the temp help, while there were a couple of nice enough looking  20-something men by the doors, they stayed in the background and let the grinning women set the tone. It was a very 1970s tone at that. Also, being Boston instead  of a huge city, the LBD women were nice looking, but not the you-need-to-be-in-movies/Playboy and I-have-to-take-you-with-me types from the Con/Agg show. In that sense, the evening let the maybe 70% male audience concentrate on the snifters instead of sniffing the servers.

The crowd was mostly young men, but with a fair smattering of older guys, older women and a very few young women. I suspect that this is wise promotional expenditure. They’ll certainly keep Mcallan in the public mind, just as certainly sell their bottles to those who attended the next time they hit liquor stores, and get a better return than a similarly priced print ad to the cost of the evening.

I am not likely to be a convert, even though I enjoyed several of the samples. As never-Randy noted early in his palaver, tastes differ. The Irish invented the distilling process and many folk enjoy the lighter whiskey they favor. He also praised other Scottish malt distillers’ products, while holding the Macallan the best.

He made special mention of Islay whisky, saying some Scotch drinkers prefer the peaty, smoky products like Lagavulin and Laphroig. I am in that group and those are my one and two favorite malts.

If you like brown whisky/whiskey, you’d surely enjoy a Mcallan evening. The anachronistic b-girl tone of the severs really doesn’t distract from the purpose of the evening. It’s free and, hey, it’s better than sitting in front of TV.

Mayonnaise, Scotch and the Rabbi

October 4th, 2010

A post on skyline signs at Universal Hub put me in the memory tumbler. Yeah, yeah, Citgo…but I have personal flashbacks related to the gigantic lit CAIN’S sign by MIT plugging mayonnaise and pickles.

Up here for a year and a half or so in the late sixties, I lived in Cambridge while I was on a grant to study underground papers in Manhattan, Boston and Cambridge. I filled in income with summer jobs at places like Advent and Cain’s. Sharing a big apartment on Broadway nearly Inman Square with my girlfriend and four other women, I’d head toward the back of that sign to work. The front faced Boston on the Charles.

The only part of Cain’s that came home other than stories was a radish knife. That’s not like a wee paring blade. Rather, a foot or so long machete-like blade for coarsely chopping the forearm-size horseradishes before processing.

I was a cook even then and admired them. One of the older guys said they had lots of them and they weren’t worth sharpening, so I should just take one.

The Spider Lady

Back home, the spider lady loved it. She worked as a grad student in Harvard’s arachnid lab. Her bedroom had walls pied with prints, photographs and posters of bats and spiders. She was spider-like herself, way thin with long arms and fingers (although only the usual human number of each, I am pretty sure).

I had a car and drove her out to her family digs. I think they were in Dover. It was the next estate to Gov. Francis Sargent’s. She could likely fixate on spiders or anything else given her station.

She also liked meat…bloody meat. She saw that radish knife as another tool in this fixation. The six of us shared a kitchen and she was often there doing vigorous things with steak.

The apartment was jolly and there was a pleasant sexual undercurrent. It was five women, two female cats, one male one (Balls for his most obvious feature), and I. Frequent humor was of synchronized menstrual cycles, human and feline. The women other than my girlfriend were largely busy with studies or work, and boyfriends were not common visitors or visited.

(Promise note: This apartment was also the setting for a Fourth of July overnight psychotic break, replete with endless arias, neighbors calling police and a holiday visit to MGH’s psych ward. More on that in a future post. Also, the tale of Balls’ vanishing and the night of the gigantic bottle of retsina will be another one.)

Spider lady loved that knife from Cain’s though. Thus, none of us was surprised to see her in the kitchen flailing on a chunk of dead cow, bringing the massive, lobed blade down too hard. I think everyone was there when we learned how powerful her spindly arms were, as she took a massive swing, cut the steak straight through and continued splitting the butcher block cutting board in two.

Lunch in the Locker Room

Back down to the mayonnaise factory, I found another kind of education entirely. I had grown up earning my way as a paperboy, working agriculture, lolling as a lifeguard, getting sore and calloused as a house carpenter, but this was my first factory job. It was also my first brief stint as a union member (Bakers and Confectioners, the Teamsters).

In the height of the Vietnam War and me with long hair and an earring, I was a bit trepid. A couple of us were 19 or 20, but the regulars were in their 40s through 60s. Many were WWII and Korean vets and I was unsure how elbow-to-elbow work would go, much less lunch at a long table in the shared locker room would go. The two youngest of us had to wear hairnets because of our hippie dos, as well.

The first lunch settled that. One of the oldest guys, gray, pot-bellied and with forearms like Popeye unfolded his Record-American tabloid (later bought by the Herald). Oh, crap, thought I; here we go. He read about battles and deaths over there, swore and said we had no business sending our boys to die in Vietnam. The room heard widespread grunts, obscenities and agreement. I, of course, felt like a total fool, because I had already stereotyped the reader as a conservative, warmonger. Instead, we basically shared the same politics.

Back then, Cain’s was still a family business. The founder John E. had died almost 20 years before, but the workers had known him and knew his son Bob who took over. Today, it is part of a large corporation and is Cains Foods. It long ago moved to a sprawling suburban location and the sign by MIT is gone.

When I was there though, I learned a bit about the Teamsters, something about mayonnaise and salad dressings, a major drawback of a food assembly line, and the slightly unsavory visits from the kosher-certifying rabbi. Those in part two

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