Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Alter kakers, moms to the polls

November 8th, 2015

Last week’s Boston election was a flapping wrinkle at least, while not a revolution. No ballot questions or major offices (mayor, governor, legislature, Congress or POTUS) lured the curious or civic-minded. However, we did revisit the 13 City Councilors.

Lackaday, only 13.63% of the city’s registered voters showed, according to the posted results. I could lament the lack of participation. Yet, it was right in the narrow range the MA Secretary of the Commonwealth predicted. I could also feel a barely justifiable pride that my precinct (18-16 in Hyde Park) more that doubled the city rate, at 28.08%. We had 1572 in our book and 442 cast ballots.

I’m the warden there, the minor official in this big pond with many inlets, as in 254 other precincts.

Instead, I noticed a few trends in my nearly 15 hours there. Election workers get to the polling place at least an hour before the 7 AM opening. We leave after breaking down, putting away, checking each ballot for write-ins, and accounting for each civically-sacred ballot.

It is no exaggeration that we are accountable for each ballot — received, cast, spoiled, or provisionally marked. We count them all day long, cross-reference the check-in and check-out books, and go a final great bookkeeping of them after polls close at 8 PM.

We’re on Fairmount Hill, a sub-neighborhood of Hyde Park rife with oldsters (including me) and breeders. Those are the sets that always vote and seemed to dominate again on Tuesday last.

Years ago, I was first inspector, then clerk (effectively middle management), then warden at the Woodbourne Apartments in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, 19-12. There are many disabled residents of that building, and many of those said that voting is a highlight each election day…solid participation, coupled with the rest of the precinct.

The seniors in 18-16 really believe in voting. Like I, they surely had both civics classes in school and expectations from parents that they had to participate in democracy.

In addition, we had a steady beat of babies and toddlers all day in 18-16. Actually that’s not precise. The moms (almost no dads voting with wee ones) were not queued up before 7 with their charges. Nor did they rush in before 8 and closing.

However, many 20-, 30- and 40-somethings came in with one to up to five kids on food, in carriers, in strollers (up to triplet). There were some grandmothers with several kids as well.

As my three did as little ones, most kids seemed to love the event, perhaps for its rarity and newness. Surely adults could say it was a joy disproportionate to the actual task. I did my nefarious part as well, keeping a steady supply of Halloween treats in bowls by both check-in and check-out tables for the taking. While adults grabbed the Reese’s Cups and 3 Musketeers bars, the kids who were allowed to pick almost invariably chose lollipops. I kept the handles within view and those went fast.

Some of the preschoolers also favored the other extra, the I VOTED stickers. As odd as the power of a parent counting down, stickers have their own magic.

Keep the kids coming. They are another reason for some to get to the polls. They are are spots of pleasure for the poll workers, with cuter and less dour, New England faces from the youngsters.



Ruled by the vine

October 22nd, 2015

Way back in Boomer time, the Coasters used to sing Poison Ivy, as in

Poison iv-y-y-y-y, poison iv-y-y-y-y
Late at night while you’re sleepin’ poison ivy comes

Even now, many of us say we are sensibly terrified of the vine. Parents, Scouts and other taught us, “Leaves of three. Let it be.” Aaaaaaaaaah. Watch out!”

creeper3That came to mind, quickly and repeatedly a few days ago. After a neighborhood stroll, I noticed and shot some berried and colorful leaves, posting one pic on FB I identified as Virginia creeper. Several people corrected me. It was poison ivy.

Other than laziness and indifference, I don’t have an excuse. I’m a certified Master Gardener. I know lots about trees, veggies, herbs and flowers, about soils and propagation, blah, blah. I’m not a vine guy. More to the point, I got over poison ivy many decades ago.

A significance of that is in my childhood in Virginia and West Virginia, I was particularly sensitive to poison ivy. It seemed on every third of my countless trips hiking, playing or camping, I’d come back to get blisters and itching. Even working with my Granddad in his huge gardens, somehow I got the worst of it or the other way round.

I must have been 11 when that ended. We lived in Danville, VA, in an apartment above Dr. Samuel Newman and his wife Ida. They (really she) had a four-tier garden structure with the mansion that had belonged to the city’s first mayor.

That became important as they had a full-time gardener, a laconic black man, Nate. One afternoon, he was clearing the underbrush in the middle of the yards, burning the green and brown junk.I walked through the smoke. It turns out that among his trimmings were large amounts of poison ivy.

Think a shirtless upper body and bare legs covered with pustules. Think a blistered face and eyes shut with inflammation.

It was the next morning before the terrible itching, other torment and even fear of blindness started that Granddad picked my sister and me up to take us to West Virginia for the summer. My grandmother nursed me for a week or so through the anguish.

Poof! Since then, I seem to have an immunity to the oils that let poison ivy act out. After years of being easy prey, I simply don’t have any reaction. It’s to the point that I don’t even recognize the plant. We are indifferent to each other.

creepertreeThere’s the oddity. A pretty green to red leaf that I don’t plant or cultivate, I just enjoy for its color and veining. (By the bye, the actual creeper [right] is more visually appealing than poison ivy.)

However, I seem to be the only Boomer I know who isn’t somewhere between wary and terrified of poison ivy. That includes my wife, who sees it everywhere and sounds a figurative klaxon to keep us each and all aware and safe.

Thus, Scientology.

L. Ron Hubbard, science-fiction author turned huckster and founder of that maybe religion made his millions and billions off the engram. That irrational and emotional belief that if something bad happens to you it causes a permanent change in the brain, an engram, that you need galvanometers and tens of thousands of dollars of counseling to heal, a.k.a. go clear.

I call doo-doo on that. Yes, it makes perfect, very human, sense that we’ll avoid repeating bad experiences. No, every very bad experience does not permanently change your brain. You have to play drama queen and love being a victim to go with that.

As my mother used to say when she was annoyed or disgusted, “For crying out loud…in a bucket!”

So, there’s true and false incorporated in the assertions that permit the outsized profits and power of Scientology:

  • True: Humans avoid repeating painful and otherwise unpleasant experience (think the hand on the hot range burner; the proverbial once-burned-twice-shy cliché).
  • False: Our brains are permanently and physically altered by each bad experience. That is, without for-pay guidance, we can’t transcend such experiences.

One of the worst corollaries is that people don’t change. Of course they do. The least introspection or observation shows that. Research into psychological, sociological and even philosophical literature offers data and other proofs.

Each of us likely can provide our own evidence for another cliché — fall off the horse and get right back on. That can be difficult for some of us and each of us in particularly unpleasant experiences.

I climb in the WABAC machine decades ago around Scientology’s NYC HQ in Herald Square. A friend from out the country was visiting us as we tooled around. A Scientology type trolled and asked if we wanted a free audit (that’s holding the tin cans in hopes that one of us could be browbeaten into signing up for study. She had never heard of Scientology and wanted to try.

We followed him into a classroom and got the spiel. He asked if we had had a terrible experience, like a car wreck. The point was to prove that we’d be forever scarred and scared (hence eager for classes). I told my story of being hit as a pedestrian a few years before and having my head go into the car through the windshield. He lit up and asked gleefully for me to confirm that I was still terrified of cars, maybe of crossing streets.

I said honestly that, no, the impact was so severe and damage to the brain sufficient that I had no recollection of the wreck. Moreover, I had lots of effects I was still healing from, but paralyzing fear that affected my actions, thoughts and feelings were not among them.

He immediately fell to script and changed the subject back to the general “truth” that after a bad experience, each of us remains permanently engrammed.

I admitted then and do now that I know people who have been so goofed up by one or a series of bad experiences that they can’t fully function. Even drama and literature are filled with emotionally crippled characters playing off this trait.

Yet, that isn’t the norm. The vast majority of us can shake it off, even if it takes some thought and effort.

It’s worth it.

God’s TinkerToys

August 22nd, 2015

Five of us from Boston, Brookline and Worcester joined several thousand at Crane Beach in Ipswich today to jostle each other for glimpses of the Strandbeest. The plastic framed, wind-powered walking thingummy from Dutchman Theo Jansen was hard to get close to and difficult to see. You’ll have many more chances, some to observe the bigger, badder versions.

Rain or shine, wind or not, one or more will be at the Peabody Essex Museum from 9/19 through 1/3/16. On Friday, August 28th, they’ll be at Boston City Hall Plaza from 11AM-1PM and the Kennedy Greenway from 4:30-7PM.

If you look at the stills and vids at the Strnndbeest and museum sites, you’d expect titanic critters of major motion picture proportions. The pair of them that hit the beach today were more scaled-down traveling models…maybe 7 or so feet tall, plus some wind-catching sails.

strandsoloWhile you might expect something like Imperial AT-AT Walkers from Star Wars, these were more in the super-sized TinkerToy or Erector Set models. They are still way cool, just not either as big or animated as fantasy would have it.

Boomers, particularly boys from that era of gender-specified playthings, should feel very comfortable with Jansen’s updated models.

We concurred that real beast in the Strandbeest show at Crane’s today was the crowd. Either Saturday mornings on the North Shore are slow or the PR efforts worked. The roads to the beach crawled, the lots were full, and the beach was jammed.

strandincrowdEveryone seemed to feel entitled to an intimate experience with Strandbeest(s). The poor yellow-shirted volunteers really did try to get folk to stand back. The concepts seemed to be not to hurt the moving sculptures, to stay out of the way of the art, and to let people see the damned things.

People weren’t having any of it. There were several loud women telling off quiet men and women, saying they’d been there for over two hours and were not about to let anyone sit down in front of them. That was just rude and they knew it. So there.

As a couple of hours passed though, everyone interested kind of got a view. A few had parents or friend hoist them on their shoulders. Many wormed their way close enough to see the action. Others held out hope that the promise of the Strandbeest waddling down the beach would bring one or both of them within sight.

strandsailThe yellow shirts first walked the frames down the beach to a clear area for repeated promenades. The crew would attach, then unfurl the gauzy sails. The wind from the ocean would then propel a Standbeest a couple of hundred feet. Then the crew would walk it back to the starting point to repeat.

The large crowd never got rowdy and stayed pretty calm. Again, everyone got to see something, even if the script for Strandbeests lumbering along the beach repeatedly really didn’t happen.

These very large toys are clearly well designed and even better constructed. They stood up to hours of being lugged and led and reassembled. They did in fact walk on the beach, largely under wind power on their plastic stumps.

We decided we’ll have to visit them next week in downtown Boston. I rather doubt they can count on the ocean breeze as they did today. We’re curious to see these in various environments.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Blissful bairn bath

August 16th, 2015

adabatheAt four weeks, granddaughter Ada loved her first bath. That’s remarkable in at last one way.

Her father was terrified. Other than brief-lived jaundice (into the window in the woven carrier per the pediatrician’s orders!), his early months were happy and curious. In fact, the recorded moment of birth in NY is when the crew (I in this case) cut the umbilical cord. Even before that, neonate Aaron looked about with insight and extrospection.

However, laving was different. Sponge bath, in the baby tub or the roomy stainless sink…the method and locale were not relevant. My first-born wanted no part of water and bathing.

Granted, this peculiarity astonished me by background. I have always been a water guy. I still swim in the Y pool many times each week. I was a water safety instructor and summer swim-team coach, and lifeguard and team swimmer in high-school and college. I shower and bathe one, two or three times a day. I love water and never feel more graceful, happy and meditative.

How could this tragedy occur with my son?

I had an aide though. I worked in a smallish publishing group, maybe 30 folk, the count of an elementary classroom. One was a Dutch fellow also in his late 20s or early 30s. I’m not sure his nationality played into it, although the sophistication and open-mindedness may have been factors.

I asked around in the group about whether anyone had children who were or had been afraid of bathing. He was quick to teach.

My wife was home mom during this period, only too happy to get relief when I returned from mid-town Manhattan after my commute/work/commute. Aaron was our first, he was very intense, nursed incessantly, and was still always looking, looking, looking. When I entered the West Village apartment, she’d greet me by thrusting our son into my chest, saying, “Here!”

It makes perfect sense to me that I could connect with him by bathing him while I chatted and grinned and he babbled. Except, he screamed and fought.

My Dutch colleague played Obviousman very well. He had been there and knew the answer was, “Get in the tub with him.”


I explained that I showered and shaved in the morning before heading to American Management Association. He fairly snorted and said that this was about my son and not about me. It wasn’t going to hurt me to get wet again and that if my son was frightened, being in the tub with his father was all he would need.


I’d run water into the adult tub, undress us both, and climb in with him. He’d cling to me and sometimes lie back on my hands as I washed his hair. We’d chat and laugh. We’d reconnect after my day away. Perhaps as important, my wife and his mother has time to herself after 10 or so hours of intensity.

It’s nice that Ada likes her bath. Yet, I have to wonder what my son and daughter-in-law might be missing.

Very close sounds in the Village

August 7th, 2015

denhert2Without question, my favorite intimate NYC music venue is the 55 Bar. My Boston drinking buds and I visit when we go to the City. While it humbly advertises itself as a Prohibition Era dive bar, it really is a wee place that features jazz in the broadest sense, one where you can sit within touching distance of the musicians.

This Wednesday, the three of us went for KJ Denhert with guest, her long-term singing bud, Vicki Genfan. They have been singing together for decades since college (one at Ithaca and the other down the hill at Cornell. They both sing and play, with KJ specializing on vocals and Vicki on guitar. Each will occasionally guest on the other’s gig. They like each other and it shows in the music.

As always, we arrived 10 minutes before showtime and trotted to the barstools next to the band and johns. The early sets at the 55 don’t have a cover, just a two-drink minimum per very long set. Out stools were literally right there.

Genfan2Pix notes: Click a pic for a larger view. These are Creative Commons, so use ’em if you want; just credit Michael Ball once. I won’t apologize for the grain and such. The light inside the 55 is Dis as befits the underworld. The bulbs are in fact red, so these are even color corrected a bit. I won’t use flash when I’m close to musicians. I have some upbringing.

Back to the 55, if you go look carefully for the 55 street number to its down-the-stairs entry. It’s, if you pardon, cheek to jowl with the famous Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher. It seats maybe 60 at deuces and quads, with another 20 or so at the bar. There are no bad seats, you are all close to the music.

KJ likes to scramble her style(s). She sometimes is urban folk, but does real jazz licks and her own blues. She performed mostly originals for us, with beyond Genfan on some, the combo’s drums, guitar and bass guitar.

She and Genfan performed together on an off. Sometimes KJ sat next to me while her friend went solo. Again, they like each other.

To Vicki, I’d never heard or seen her signature style. After the break, she came over and I asked her if there was Denhert4a name for that spanking the frets just above the guitar body. She turns her guitar into more of a percussion instrument…think piano. It’s a hell of a lot more powerful than beating the body for a thump or 20. She creates a combination of rhythm and melody with the flourishes.

She was impish though. She could have told me that she’d named the style. I found that out by clicking around to read about her. She calls it slap-tap. Good stuff.

As every other time we’d gone to the 55, the music was superb, particularly because we were a few feet from it. I guess it also helps that it is such a small room that they don’t have to blast the audio to the point of making your ears bleed. (Don’t you hate that?)

This is kind of like the Lowell Folk Festival. I have some CDs to buy. I also chatted with both of the lead singers. Is it true that memories are free?

You should go out to their sites or YouTube or Amazon and listen. You’re allowed to buy their music even if you didn’t sit next to them.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.


Burned bucks

July 29th, 2015

BURNTBUCKYesterday, crossing the Slattery bridge over Boston’s Fairmount train line, I noticed this burned U.S. dollar on the sidewalk. Who knows the trivial tale here?

While my first thought was that some young person was showing off lighting a blunt. Yet, as the bill seemed to have been lit in the middle, that’s not likely.

Instead, perhaps someone who’d been drinking or was otherwise high decided it would be fun and funny to burn currency.

Regardless, it brought me to a flashback to a post here five years ago. That deserves a reprise.

abecentSkipping pennies was and remains a teen amusement. Yet when I was in high school a dear friend a little older than my mother wove an entirely different tapestry and forever changed my mind.

She was Evelyn Justice, my biscuit lady. We had known each other from my elementary-school days in Danville, Virginia. She worked for the dentist we used and became a family friend. She was surely the kindest and happiest person I have ever known. We were sad when she and her husband moved to Plainfield, New Jersey.

Jump to high school and my mother moved us to that same city. There, I would walk across a broad park and a few more blocks to her house. She was a master biscuit maker (look and feel; no measuring) and glad to oblige me.

One afternoon though, Evelyn was still upset from what she had experienced walking home. She had been just behind three guys from school — my school. They gouged pennies from their jeans and with one in hand, they took turns skipping it along the sidewalk.

She was aghast and transported to earlier times and distant places. She had grown up in a tiny town in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The region, including her family, was among the hardest of the hardscrabble during the Great Depression. Few had much and no one had anything to spare.

To Evelyn, one U.S. cent, one one-hundredth of a dollar, was real money. A few pennies could make the difference of the family eating OK that week. Every cent was precious. The family coin jar was a shrine.

In Plainfield, nearly four decades later, she was riven by the puerile pleasures of those young men. A penny by itself didn’t count for much to them, so little in fact that they could use them as disposable toys. Those guys did not share in family fears of want and deprivation. They did not save, remake, repair and conserve.

She said that she followed behind them, picking up every penny they threw away. She didn’t care if they thought she was a crazy old lady. She knew what a cent had meant and still meant to her. She didn’t really need a palm of pennies, but she would be damned (a word she never would profane the air with herself) if she would let them literally throw away what had been so powerful to her.

She asked me and I was able to say that I never engaged in skipping pennies. Yet when she asked I realized that it would not have been out of the question for me. I had never been presented with the activity. Plus, I had never been wasteful. I had earned money selling vegetables, being a paperboy, life-guarding, and on and on. I made my own money and quite literally did not throw it on the street.

My mother said that she realized in college that she had been shielded from the Depression. Her father had a full-time job on the B&O Railroad for 48 years, including those when many were unemployed and hopeless. He also grew one or more one-acre vegetable and fruit gardens every summer for fresh and cannable food. He sold Chevys on the side.

He also had a tailor shop and made clothes for the family. That led to a story my mother told on herself. She was always embarrassed to be wearing clothes her father made rather than store-bought dresses, skirts and blouses. She was short but long-waisted and could hardly wait to be fashionable when she was away from home. She rushed with her spending money to buy off the rack and was flabbergasted. Nothing fit. She had lived her life in tailored clothes!

Even so, like many of the WWII generation, raised by those who navigated the Depression for their families, my mother carried that mindset. She taught us as she had been thought — respect objects, whether they be food, clothes or pennies.

So in Plainfield, Evelyn had me tearing up with her. Her tales of how a few pennies might mean subsistence or the rarest of the rare, a treat, brought me beyond my frugality. In our nation of plenty, even in these hard times, we toss much, thinking nothing of what it means to those who have nothing or what it might have meant to other Americans.

You’ll never catch me skipping pennies. That’s a lesson that went from Evelyn to me to my three sons and now to you.

Mysteries of gym locker doors

July 1st, 2015
open gym locker

open gym locker

Two flavors of locker jerks:

  1. Door slammers
  2. Don’t close the door types

At my local Y, about one in three men are one of those two.  At another Boston Y we used to go to, there is a third variety. There, they hand out one small towel per visit. About half the men toss their wet towel near but not in the hamper by the exit door, on the floor, or on a bench.

From my Southern background, I have to wonder who their people are. That is, how were these guys raised that such inconsideration is automatic?

Ridge runner philosophy

I often refer to drugstore psychology. It could ask easily be called lunch counter or barstool instead of drugstore.

For me though, as a youth, I philosophized often in the Romney Rexall drugstore in the small West Virginia town where I spent summers and holidays. Other local sages of various ages did too.

The drug store had a big magazine rack with window seating, a stand-up area near the coffee equipment, and maybe six round glass top tables with cafe chairs between the front and the pharmacy area. The tables each had a locking door under the top, which let employees put impulse-purchase goods, like eyeshadow or hair brushes, on display. It seemed to be good promotion, as girls would have their lime rickeys and buy cosmetics on the way out.

For my friends and me though, the magazine rack was it. We could clearly see and sneak peeks at comics and more sensational fare, like True Detective magazine.

Each group of philosophers solved various problems and mysteries in their own corners.

Locker logic

On occasion, I have said something to the locker slammers, like “Wow, that’s really loud.” I don’t expect that will change their behavior any more than their seeing me quietly close my locker will.

I do often wonder though if they are aware of what they are doing and whether there’s anything other than emotion behind their slamming lockers or leaving them open. For slammers, they are going to trouble to make a display and make noise. They are aware they are startling and annoying others…and don’t seem to care. Those who leave the doors open may be smart enough to know they are leaving sharp edges that can hurt the unalert. At the least, they have to know that someone more considerate and polite will have to close the doors they leave open.

My drugstore psychology has it for each:

Slammers — Simple male insecurity here. My wife verifies that she has never seen or heard a woman slam a locker door. On the men’s side, men often make big movements and loud displays as though they consider those manly. They’ll grunt and bellow when lifting even light weights. Some will make huge noises when tying shoes, like they were delivering a child. Some plop down on benches or chairs with loud exhalation, regardless of how it affects others nearby. They need attention and feign strain from the most ordinary activities. I figure they came from fathers and brothers who also had to prove their manliness with silly displays. Poor them, locked in a cycle of melodrama.

Open Door Types — I peg these as momma’s boys. Their mommies closed their doors and drawers for them. Their mommies picked up their socks and underpants and towels. Likely their wives do that now, as they’d marry someone very much like mommy. They leave the doors open because growing up they found that nothing was too good for mommy’s best boy. He didn’t have to do anything he didn’t want. It’s only right that someone else should clean up after them. They are special. Yawn.

There’s still a drugstore on Main Street in Romney, but it’s a Rite Aid and in a different place. The Rexall is gone. Philosophizing likely takes place in the cafes and little restaurants. Folk wisdom abides.

Pic note: Published under Creative Commons with attribution to I also enhanced the contrast and cropped the original.

The case of the missing dagger

June 30th, 2015

Well, it’s nothing like the confidentiality or trust that goes with a doctor or priest or lawyer, but I have expectations of mail order. Yes, of mail order.

From the backs of comic books to cereal-box offers to catalogs and now for decades the internet, I order. Things arrive. It’s almost like Christmas, except I’m buying my own presents. I love it.

Now lately with Amazon Prime, my new stuff may arrive in one or two days. Mirabile dictu!

Stabbed by a dagger

Last week, the impossible (or so I’d thought) happened — an envelope came with an empty box inside. Somewhere in the chain of custody, my dirk went missing.

Amazon must not be as inexperienced or naive in the ways of missing mail-order goods as I. They responded in a few minutes to my email complaint. They arranged for UPS to show up the next business day with a label to pick up the envelope. They promised to refund the price as soon as they got the package.

They were better than their word. Shortly after the UPS guy picked up the envelope, they sent email confirmation of the refund. UPS possession was all they needed.

Granted that this was an inexpensive purchase. I would not have suffered financially if I had to eat the cost. Yet this small offense was against the order of things as I have long known them, since I was about 7 years old.

In a previous career, way back, I worked for the original materials-handling magazine. I learned much about manufacturing, warehousing, picking and shipping. With that tedious background, I wondered:

  • Did someone at the warehouse stock an empty box, leading the picker to read the bin and label, choosing a non-product?
  • Did someone at the warehouse lust after a cheap knife and just take one, returning the empty box to the bin?
  • Did someone in the shipping department take the dagger and prepare the envelope for UPS anyway?
  • Why was the envelope not really sealed and not taped or otherwise securely closed?
  • Did the UPS handling cause the loose envelope to disgorge the box, tempting some UPS lackey to take the stabby thing?
  • As the envelope arrived with our #10 mail in the same rubberband, I assume this was a UPS to USPS hand-off. Thus, the previous question goes to the Postal guys.

By Occam’s razor, I’d lean toward UPS pilferage. The vendor is likely blameless, particularly with such a cheap item. There were surely many hands and conveyor belts in the UPS chain of custody. Then there was the pretty much unsealed envelope. I can point to the seller for poor packaging but likely not theft.

Dirty dirk

I should admit that this dagger is to complete my costume. I recently decided to go ahead and spring for a kilt. My eldest son, DIL and even grandson are all kilted. She is very proud of her Scottish heritage.

Of course, the kilt is the least of it. As with the stereotypes of a woman buying a dress, only to need, absolutely need, appropriate dress, shoes, hoses, hat, purse and on and on, so goes the tartan skirt.

I ordered ghillie brogues, from Scotland, as a good mark of frugality, the selection and price was superior to U.S. purchase. I shopped for and bought, frugally, of course, a sporran, a ghillie shirt, kilt socks, and flashes.

Some accessories were flat out for me. You’re not likely to ever see me wearing a tam and certainly not that twee Prince Charles jacket.

I had avoided the affectation of the sgian dubh, the dagger that traditionally goes into one of the socks.Then with everything else in hand, it was, why not?

It turns out there is a good why not. After the failed order and then a reorder last evening, I wondered if my fair commonwealth restricts these. You bet they do.

Massachusetts has one of the tightest set of knife regulation sets around. For example, under our general laws, chapter 269, section 12, you can buy, sell or own virtually any knife. You just can’t carry or wear it. The exceptions are for folding pocket knives like for workmen or fishing sorts, or huge bladed things carried while hunting. Otherwise, the knife has to be locked in a car trunk or box. So there.

My reading of the law is that tucking the traditional sgian dubh is totally illegal, and God help you if you commit any crime and the cops find a knife in your possession. The fines and jail terms compound.

Once burned

I’m known to ridicule Scientologists as once burned, 10,000 times shy. That’s the only justification I can see for their engram fixation and spending all their time and money to go clear. I’m more in the get-back-up-on-the-horse mindset.

Clearly I need to order something today and something else tomorrow. A single purloined geegaw should not alter my self-present purchasing lifestyle.



Newspaper Withdrawal

May 30th, 2015

From newspaper worshipers and collectors, we suddenly will get only one Sunday and no dailies on our sidewalk. That is big for us and comes as we felt forced into it.

Not long ago, we had three delivered — Boston Globe, all 7 days; New York Times, all 7 days, and Financial Times, all 6 days. We accepted that was too much, particularly when we also got such demanding weeklies as The Nation and New Yorker. We went down to the Globe at 7 days and the Sunday NYT.  Then yesterday, I cancelled the Globe.

The reasons are prosaic. Yet, we grieve. We’ll try the overpriced and hard to navigate facsimile Globe, but I don’t have high hopes of sustaining interest.

We were both newspaper reporters and magazine editors. I came out of J-school. Until macular degeneration blinded my mother at the end of her life, she got multiple papers daily. I grew up reading two or three she had delivered. It was always the local daily (two when we lived next to Manhattan) and the closest best one (like the Washington Post when we were in Virginia).

I offer a 15-minute rant on my disappointment and grief, and what led to this. Click the player below for that.

The short of it is that the greed of the Globe publisher, John Henry, piled on us and broke our will. He exceeded my chokepoint a couple of days ago. There are far better things I can do or buy with $750 a year than make a billionaire richer.

Alternate view

My wife dismissed the latest price hike to $14.34 a week by saying Henry seemed intent on going out of business. That probably is partially true. Globe management clearly likes the online model, publishing with no extra physical and human costs per copy.

Plus they charge top dollar, $3.99 a week for online. That’s more than any other daily, even a bit more than the NYT. Of course, the Times has tremendous expenses, like foreign bureaus and a still substantial reporting and editing staff. In  contrast, the Globe has slashed its staff for many years. Its local coverage is weak and not as granular as the hyperlocal Universal Hub site.

globTo start the sports analogy, I see the paper going for only the home run. Their reporters seem under an edict to produce potential Pulitzer features and series. The sports comes in as Henry is principal owner of both the paper and the Red Sox.

Until he revamped the Sox, locals would snort disdainfully in the direction of the Bronx. The Yankees, they’d say self-righteously, bought their championships by paying for overpriced players. Mirabile dictu. When Henry did the same and the Sox delivered a long-awaited World Series championship, I didn’t hear anyone slamming the local team for checkbook titles.

In fact, Henry’s attitude is to drain whatever he can from his various customers. The Sox ticket prices are MLB’s highest and his paper charges more for both delivered and online versions that comparable or higher quality papers. He seems determined to push costs as high as he can.

What’s a Subscriber?

Newspapers have long been cash rich and inventory sparse. The earn their profits from advertising, for which they get paid quickly or even in advance by those who want the discounted cost. Then unlike book publishers or grocers or most businesses, papers don’t carry large, costly amounts of perishable inventory.

Newspaper publishers long ago lost perspective on the value of their customers. In particular at a time when most cities have a single daily, they don’t have to care.

Yet, the size of the subscriber base gives them a way to price advertising. Most advertisers can’t prove their get their money’s worth from what the ad reps call “selling space” (ooo, space). Yet, defensively, many don’t want to be the only one in their field to pass on advertising…just in case.

You’d think paper publishers would treasure subscribers and do whatever it takes to keep them happy and renewing automatically. Yet many newspapers buy into two relatively modern ideas. First, they use that dreadful term monetize in erecting paywalls, lest hoi polloi read the paper for free. So if you get the paper delivered or pay a separate online fee, you can look. The second and more recent conceit is that physical newspapers are dead. Everyone will read news online on computer, phone or tablet.

Instead, driving away Boomers and their children is leaving subscribers, influence and money on the floor.

You can tell you’re dealing with the truly dumb when she or he says, “I wasn’t even born yet!” (always emphatically). That is to cover for ignorance of history, ideas or technology. That covers and excuses nothing. Bragging about what you don’t know and won’t think about is a major flaw.

Yes, some people skim news online and pretend they are informed. We saw that even with the WWII generation who began to get all their news from TV snippets. The dumb have always been with us.

Pushed away

The Globe‘s default customer support is, of course, now an online chat. I typed with Jill there, saying among other things that we wanted to cancel delivery. I allowed that we’d try the facsimile version for a bit, even though it was also overpriced. She said they had no mechanism to handle credit-card info in the chat (more tech failures, says I). She’d call me the next morning.

She did and we set it up. I didn’t berate her personally but did say that Henry’s crew was greedy and had pushed too far with the most recent of numerous price hikes. Like a good soldier she said she had no input into pricing, that they just got the memo and worked with the new reality. However, she did let slip that many callers were unhappy and cancelling.

By my long term habit as well as age, I should be the subscriber the Globe wants to keep. They certainly don’t understand how to do that.

Their online subscription model seems unlikely to work well to increase revenue. Perhaps their margins will fatten, but higher percentages of fewer dollars is a poor business model. Plus the fickle 20-somethings and younger are unlikely to play.

A mess of beans

April 20th, 2015

Praise muscle memory and felt sense. Let us not get into the emotion-driven impulse decisions that so taint our lives. Instead, marvel in how our senses take note in background.

From infancy, we learn the likes of how to push food into our mouths without stabbing our lips with tines. We pour liquids. Heck, we know seemingly instinctively what a cup of this or that means in a glass.

I experience this magic personally and at the weekly Haymarket trip. Tell the vendor you want three pounds of grapes and see him (or much more rarely her) grab bunches of various sizes, plop them on the scale, and poof, three pounds almost every time.

They appreciate their skill and are invariably happy when I praise them with a low-key compliment, like, “I guess you’ve done this before.”

I don’t get smug about it, but this is a skill I have too. Sometimes, I display it when forced. I’ll point to the tomatoes or Persian cukes and ask for two pounds. If the vendor tells me to pick what I want and he’ll weigh it, I almost always nail the amount. They are likewise impressed, but invariably put it down to coincidence.

In fact, this is a grandfather-related ability. The dozen summers I spent with him in his massive gardens came with unremarkable and remarkable skills. For the former, put rototilling and hand weeding. Among the latter is picking a mess of string beans.

Yes, I know that almost all modern green bean varieties are stringless hybrids, but we old-school boomers remember when you had to unzip them to make them edible.

The standard quantity of green beans was that mess. In country talk, that translates into two pounds. Granddad has a box of small brown paper bags for such orders. Whether it was for home or a relative or a customer, I picked a mess thousands of times. I just knew when I had two pounds in the bag by the feel. My body remembered and still does.

We each likely have a dozen or more such acts of magic we perform daily, without being aware.