Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Hipster Food Palace in Boston

July 31st, 2015

bpmsunsHipsters, foodies and the dwindling herd of yuppies have a new (and clean, make sure to say clean) food shopping place i Boston. The Public Market opened yesterday after a couple of years of planning. It’s not bad, but it has its limits.

Regular readers here know I’ve been a fan of the Haymarket here since late ’60s college days and weekly since we moved her in December 1979. The whispers in town are that the city wants to replace the always boisterous, much beloved, remarkably cost saving, and splendidly diverse Haymarket with with a more sanitary indoor facility better suited to the temperament of tourists and suburbanites.

You can forget that. The Haymarket has been at it since 1830 and serves restauranteurs and home cooks alike. The new joint is very different. Some locals may shop at both. Certainly visitors and nearby office workers will swarm like ants for lunch and snacks to the new market. There’s no way restaurants and plain folk would want to or afford to shift to the new one.

ABPMroomsll of that written, the new market has some fine offerings already. The vendors are all New England sources, for everything from honey to cheese to bread to ale to ice cream to cheese to flowers. In fact, A Taste of New England might be a subtitle or epithet here.

PR and ads leading up to the opening were, of course, hyperbolic. The predictable unique aired repeatedly…and inaccurately. For a few, Seattle’s Pike Place Market has been at it since 1907, much bigger, grander, diverse and still local sourced;  the concept of year-round, indoor, local vendors started in Québec in 1841 with its Le Marché; even in Rochester NY, its Public Market has been perking 3 days a week since 1905 with more vendors and even the most remarkable cheese shop I’ve ever seen, even including Manhattan. Oo, oo, and the Rochester market features Amish baked goods and crafts as well as numerous NY State vineyard offerings. It’s fab.

Ycheesegorillaet, for New England, the new spot down next to the Haymarket is a remarkable place, well worth regular visits. Truth be told, I won’t make special trips. However, I’m at the Haymarket weekly on Friday or Saturday and shall certainly augment my regular haul with speciality items from next door. I’m a food slut.

I won’t build a FAQ, but you need to know:

  • Unlike the Haymarket and nearly all of Boston, this shopper-friendly market has obvious public restrooms, water fountains, and tables for two or four. You can buy and then eat. In fact, the slugs clogging up the area around the ice cream vendor should get some manners.
  • jasperhillNext to nothing is inexpensive. An exception is fresh pasta (Nella Pasta) was only $3.99 a pound. Veggies and fruits are two to ten times higher than the Haymarket, where it has the same.
  • You’ll find goods that are hard to impossible to source elsewhere and you might not have known about. Several vendors had splendid, often huge, mushrooms of exotic varieties, for example. Unlike a friend who eats Japanese knotweed shoots, I think those plants are vile pests. Yet, Boston Honey offers samples of its wares, including knotweed honey. It’s earthy, powerful and damned good. Likewise, Hopsters Alley has a wide range of New England craft brews and wines, but hard-to-find spirits, like Berkshire’s Ethereal Gin. They don’t discount, but they have the goods.
  • 1% dinners are easy here. Those who don’t mind dropping several hundred dollars for a meal for themselves or a few chbpmsilberbrookums can buy prepared or frozen meals, mains, meats, desserts and such.
  • The market offers an hors-d’oeuvre paradisse. The few cheese vendors are very high priced (up to $30 a pound), but again they have the variety and quality for a memorable cocktail event. Likewise, the Boston Smoked Fish Company gets a bit silly about its small-batch products, but they are remarkable if very high priced.
  • The airiness and high ceilings and open spaces make for a good experience. I had to stop at Silverbrook Farm (Dartmouth MA) for its beautifully arranged stalls.

In the main, the new market is at the Orange and Green Lines’ Haymarket stop. It’s worth a visit. Bring cash.

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

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.

The Faces We’re Born With

April 6th, 2015

Decades ago, I was stunned to be fired from one of my first jobs. I was highly competent and well liked.More on that in a few paragraphs.

I recalled that plunge today as I read a column on looks in Mad Men by Robin Abrahams, the Boston Globe’s Miss Conduct columnist. She wrote of how lookism affected both men and women in the TV series, along with such insights as when it is beneficial to be a babyfaced man (specifically a Black CEO).

I grew up in a home run by a mother who was a manager. She was not a lookist, in fact, did not stereotype people. You produced and behaved or she’d try to make those things happen. Man or woman, old or young, pretty or plug ugly, none of those were relevant to her.

Thus, on jobs where I was the boss, I treated people as my mother taught me As a result, they tended to perform for me. They knew being unctuous or attractive meant little.Doing your job well and getting along with coworkers did. So there.

So just after the Mad Men era, in an office overlooking the Chrysler Building gargoyles, I was perking along as writer/editor at a weekly magazine of a professional society. The biggest part of the job was covering the weekly luncheon meeting of its influential members. The speaker was a powerful and often well-known person who often spoke of big ideas.

It was kind of trivial but still fun. Out of J-school and with considerable newspaper experience, I was in my element. I photographed the speaker and covered the remarks. Of course, I had to be flawless and present the speech coverage to reveal the high points in a compelling narrative. Hell, though, that’s what I’d done for many years in high school. college and  and on newspaper staffs.

Alas, vanity and ego came visiting the office, not mine though. The founder and long-term executive director of the society was old and retired. His middle-aged junior promptly jettisoned me.

I was stunned. Several coworkers were not. Moreover, the printer of the weekly magazine I filled took me to lunch for a talk right after the news.

The printer was a bright, highly competent, very flexible and particularly nice fellow I had a lot of business with on the job. Turns out he was also black Irish (thick and dark hair, ruddy skin) which came into play as he spoke. He said he had figured that would happen when the old man stepped down.

It was obvious to the printer and several staff members that I threatened the new boss and he was biding his time to dump me. Word is the ascendant chief told people I was jockeying for the top job.Moreover, the traits I figured ensured my longevity foretold my demise. Competence and likeability are too much for the mediocre to tolerate.

I had no interest whatever in taking over a professional society and making insincere kissy-face to0 big shots. I wanted to report on speeches and take good pix.

Once number two got it in his head that I was a snake waiting to slay him, I was dead as soon as possible.

The printer was very positive though. He said I was well rid of the job and would find something better quickly. He was right on both counts. In addition, he offered a truism likely from his own experience that has stuck with me — “It’s never going to hurt you to be a blond WASP.”

That’s a very dated, remarkably lookist comment, but spot on.


Four Things About Marky Mark

December 6th, 2014

First let us be plain. The teen Mark Robert Michael Wahlberg was a racist punk. By police records, he was caught over 20 times in various violent or drug acts. By his own admissions and court findings he attacked black school kids with rocks (and slurs) as well as beating two Vietnamese Americans with sticks, one so viciously he lost the sight of one eye.

Second, he has applied for a pardon from our commonwealth. He wants a clean record, apparently to make his business dealings easier (the hamburger restaurant biz).

Third, despite his fame, wealth and connections, he has made no effort to find, apologize to or make any restitution to his victims.

Fourth, on the other side of it all, our goofed up culture of perpetual punishment mocks the paid-his-debt-to-society construct.

Cynical plea

The news stories of his pardon request an even his Wikipedia page are not terribly convincing. He returns to the idea that as he has done positive things that should settle the matter. Done and done. He loves pointing to this egotistically eponymous wahlfoundation to help poor kids.  (Pic note: image adapted from his foundation site, for which I claim fair usage.)

Not so fast and easy, underwear boy.

Let’s consider the moral and even religious angles here. Massachusetts in general and Boston specifically are largely Roman Catholic in culture, except for the WASP laws. That’s key to the likes of pardons and criminal records.

Sure Catholics are used to confession and absolution. The stereotypical “Say 10 Hail Marys and five Our Fathers” does not conflate with the Protestant secular laws and regulations. Catholics may get a clean bill from the Church, but Protestants carry their sins around for their whole lives…and they wrote the laws around here.

Now that we are all paying attention again, I’m betting he’ll hear a lot about this. I’m also betting that he’ll have minions track down some of his victims, maybe the former kids he terrorized or the two men he beat with clubs while calling them racial slurs. Then he can make a display of atoning before them. They are likely to be harder sells than a priest, as it should be.

Pardon? Pardon me.

He doesn’t deserve a pardon though. He was caught fair and square numerous times. Who knows how many racist and violent crimes he got by with?

While sentenced for two years for beating that blinded man, he served only 45 days in jail. That is a small price to pay for permanent, life-altering injury. What’s to pardon for a vicious, intentional crime?

The big however is the inherent vindictiveness in the records laws. We know from thousands of instances that CORI papers prevent ex-offenders from getting jobs, putting them at economic risk and holding them down in society. We are slowly reforming that stigma system.

In some few cases it makes sense, such as the sex-offender registry. Where mentally, emotionally disturbed types are likely to commit those crimes again, the stigma makes sense to society.

On the other hand, consider Wahlberg. He has his stacks of money and an overhauled reputation, replete with over a decade of good deeds. We have zero reason to suppose he’ll pick up a big stick and go into a racist rage while beating this or that person of color.

The only point of the alleged character laws is perpetual punishment. Again, it comes back to the Protestant concept of only God can cleanse you and only on Judgment Day. If you pardon the expression, what a hell of a way to write laws.

No. Wahlberg does not deserve a pardon to pretend he never did the dreadful racist attacks. However, his point of the unfairness of stenciling his life perpetually with a stencil from his 16-year-old sins is crazy.

Yes, he should forever he known for his bad deeds as he wants now to be known for his good ones. But the business regulations should not add perpetual real-world punishment to the shame.

Assuming Wahlberg really wants to do some good, he can lobby (or pay someone to lobby). Go to the new governor and a few key legislators. Reform the post-conviction system so that pointy-headed, rules-are-rules bureaucrats can’t perpetually harm former offenders in unrelated aspects of their lives. That would help thousands a year, not just make opening more hamburger joints easier for one guy.

Carp Anglers?

August 7th, 2014

I have good spam filters on  my blogs as well as email accounts. I do scan the trapped messages, as much for amusement as the likelihood of an error.

Today, one here intrigued me. Freezers for fishing boats led with, “Here are a few very big secrets every thinking carp angler who wants to keep ahead of the crowd needs to know.”

I”m not sure why the spammer thought my personal, non-sports fishing blog was a good place to plant such an ad. I suppose it was non-thinking effort, a shotgun blast of shill. That inane spam probably hit hundreds, maybe thousands, of blogs through automation. Some surely don’t filter well or at all.

A quick Google search returned 40 results currently embedded in blogs with that exact phrase. I don’t know how many of those converted to fish-freezer clicks and sales. I do know that such frequent attempts keep me filtering this and my other blogs. I don’t want to read an blog’s comments only to run across such carp crap.

Heir B&B

August 6th, 2014

Sure enough, you can stay at Suzy Cunningham’s on Gravel Lane in Romney, West Virginia. That means little to folk, even those who live in Hampshire County.

SuzysWhen I was thinking about a trip to my only constant home of my childhood, I was very surprised thato Airbnb had anything at all in Romney. I was very pleased to see that the Gravel Lane Guest House was one I knew well.

I tuck a cropped image of it here.

I have to wonder how many of these deep-memory/ghost houses are in the Airbnb catalog.

The back of her house shared the yard with the back of my grandparents’. Suzy and my grandmother, Mable Michael, were best friends for many decades. Suzy was maybe a decade older, likely born at the end of the 19th Century and they could chat long enough to drive all the rest of us away.

My grandfather, Bill Michael, grew patches as he called his massive gardens, every summer. Mable and Bill would play a little vegetable or fruit game frequently. She say, “Bill, I could use a few pole beans.” That was code for I’m ready to can and freeze. He’d put me to work helping him harvest several bushels. Likewise if was fruit, he’d drive up the adjacent mountains and return with huge wooden baskets of fruit.

Then the community gathered under the massive maple tree between the two houses. Suzy and Mable, other friends, relatives and any kid who didn’t hide would be put to work. We’d shell peas, string beans (remember when they had strings you had to strip?), and Lima beans. Adults got the heavy metal lawn chairs and kids squeezed onto picnic-table benches or sat on the grass.

Hours of food prep led to hours of washing and bagging or boiling and sealing jars. After a few of these episodes, the whole basement wall of shelves became stocked with several layers of beans, tomatoes, beets, picked cukes and more. One of Mable’s two basement freezers had labeled, dated freezer bags and Tupperware. (The other freezer was for meat; her son often brought by a butchered half deer too.)

My grandmother often used me as courier. I’d ferry things to or from Suzy. Mable was the great baker, so it was often a pie, cobbler or bread loaf from Marsham Street to Gravel Lane. Suzy always insisted that I come in and sit. The curtains were half drawn or more. The living room should have had the feeling of a horror movie, but Suzy was ever cheerful and every visit offered really good hard candy.

For her part, Suzy liked Mable’s front porch. It faced the mountains. We saw the apple and peach orchards. More impressively, we could watch the rain. It was a science lesson as the rain clouds formed behind the mountains, gathering and darkening as they crested. We knew what kind of rain Romney would get by seeing it fall first on the orchards. It was the weather version of a phalanx of soldiers marching shoulder to shoulder straight ahead.

Suzy even had me bring her favorite rocker to Mable’s porch. It had upholstery like a carpet bag and elaborate curved arms carved like swan heads and necks.

Suzy died long ago and Mable maybe 15 years later. My grandmother inherited and used the swan rocker. The massive maple gave into old age, no more to host the 17-year cicada invasion. That was a highlight of one youthful summer watching them push out of their shells,which were left clinging to the bark.

Suzy was not a relative, but then again was at least as good and familiar. Her house was not ours, but we were always welcome…without knocking. Like most of my grandmother and mother’s friends, she insisted I call her by her first name. As a Southerner, my default was Ma’am or Sir to anyone older than I, at least any adult. Somehow I was on a first-name basis with many who were 50 to 80 years older than I. That worked for all of us.

So seeing Suzy’s house in the catalog (only $95 a night for two and a little more for three or four) was homey in a commercial way. Over the years, the house was lightened up considerably. The beautiful wood floor aren’t smothered in oriental rugs. The appliances aren’t the creepy post-WWII colors and on and on.

But its Suzy’s house and when we visit next, I intend to stay there.

Babies and veggies

March 31st, 2014

Come blizzards. Come scorchers. Boston’s Haymarket vendors sell vegetables, fruits, herbs and fish.

For our part, the tradition continued this weekend. I had visited during college days when I was living across the river in Cambridge, but only every month or so. It was 34 years ago when we moved to Boston with our six-month-old son that I went weekly…and still do. Back then, Aaron was in a Snugli carrier I had embroidered with his name and I walked from Beacon Hill.


This Saturday, a considerably larger Aaron, well beyond carrier size, wore his own six-month-old son there. Continuity, generations and yes, traditions come into play.

Among obvious differences were that we drove in from the Hyde Park neighborhood, that Aaron and Alasdair are visiting from California and won’t be regular visitors there, and that the carrier is the new version, an Ergobaby. Still, the symmetry ruled.

As Alasdair does, baby Aaron really enjoyed being toted, face to face, chest to chest. I always liked doing it as well. The only (minor) shock to me this time was that both Aaron and I wanted to carry the baby. I deferred, in part because he is the father and in part for the elegance of dad with his son in the sling.

In the middle of the longest strip of vendor stalls was Pat (in the pic below from last year) with his huge stall, two or three times the average. There are vendors who specialize in only brown or green produce, some who favor greens and herbs, some who go for salad and cooking greens (and reds), and a couple with mostly citrus. Pat’s stall always includes various potatoes, a range of citrus (including the absolute best lemons in the market), and various other veggies and fruits. You generally can get a full trip’s worth from him.


He has known for calling every customer, “Cousin” or “Cuz.” He was long twinned in my memory with his father, a short, thin, ever-smiling gentleman. His father deflected the impatient, pushy and rude customers with a kind word and gracious attitude. He was a delight. He died not long ago, but I half expect to see him beside Pat.

Saturday when the three of us appeared, we chatted up Pat for a couple of minutes. I mentioned that 34 years ago, I brought my six-month-old baby to the Haymarket and bought veggies and fruit from him and his father. That day, my son was wearing his own six-month-old to do the same. Pat was appropriately impressed and reminiscent.

He said, “34 years,” several times. He even reckoned that he might have a vague memory of me with baby Aaron from back then, when he’d have been in his teen or early 20s. It’s not all that relevant whether he does nor does not remember. It’s enough that the connection is real and continuing.

Al Goldstein dies with a whimper

December 28th, 2013

So, Big Al is dead. I was not a close friend of Al Goldstein, but I knew him for several years.

I liked  him.

[Somewhere around here, I have a pad of Screw/Milky Way Productions note paper. When I run across it, I’ll scan a page and add it here. The border has a daisy chain of cartoon folk doing various sex acts with and to each other. That is a parody of the Mad Magazine borders, which in turn is a parody of the classic Greek art of satyrs and such.]

I feel I am plainspoken enough that my three sons know or have at least been exposed to my life. My mother didn’t talk about herself, in contrast, and I recall after her memorial service, in which I held forth for 90 minutes or so that her many friends and even my sister and niece approached me to say, “I never knew all that about her.” Yet, even with my perceived openness, when Al’s obit appeared recently (do read the NYT version linked above), middle son was surprised when I said I knew Al and that I had worked for him.

It was slightly more sordid and deeper than having met the pron maestro. I did some free-lance writing and photography for the likes of his not-too-subtly named tabloids, Screw, Smut, Gay and Bitch. I was a bit player there on payroll. I covered some nudie plays, some gay nightclub strip shows, and some Continental Baths shows like with Bette Midler.

Instead, deepening the relationship, a woman I lived with, Maggie to Al, worked as his assistant. So I would stop by to chat with her or him or both. I’d see porn stars and hear about Linda Lovelace in-depth (pun intended) interviews and such. I’d see his multitudinous file cabinets, filled with porn pix, labeled by the players (3-men/1-woman and so forth), which he said they bought from poor photogs by the pound to illustrate plotless stories and articles. I chatted up absurdly named managing editor Heidi Handman, who became a successful pediatrician and author, dying four years ago. In light of her contextually risible name, Al said several times he’d like me to join the staff so he could have someone with the last name of Ball on the masthead.

In the late 60s, when Al started his tabs, his version of porn was shocking and innovative. It’s so-so today.

I remember Al more as a charming lunch and dinner companion. Sure he loved food and drink (sometimes ballooning in weight to prove that, but that was bolstered by ex-wives suing him and other stresses. He knew a lot and had highly developed social skills. He was not like Larry Flynt, whom I got to know casually when I edited a grocery mag that covered dirty mags, a big seller in convenience stores. Flynt was and likely still is scatological and vulgar, ever speaking of twin crappers in his house, crap itself and the delights of tasting women’s urine. Al, in contrast was fun and funny, as long as you accepted that over the course of an evening he’d rant a bit about a bad parent or wife or lawsuit.

A bond between us was mechanical and electronic gear, as well as the food we both enjoyed eating and preparing. More than vulvae, gadgets fascinate him. For a few years, he wrote and published his true love, the Gadget newsletter. He adored geek gear and had many examples in his office and home. I thought of him many times when I edited the Smart Machines newsletter, with publisher Ted Blank. That was a real link.

Al was out there. To the public, that meant showing public hair when it was a scandal, penises and labia when they were shocking, and being several decades ahead of even the boring mainstream men’s books like Playboy and Penthouse. Likewise, he was out there personally. He never shied from admitting he was often fat, that he had fucked up one marriage after another, that he squandered fortunes through arrogance and inattention.

In other words, he was deliciously human.

I liked the man. I am sure he made positive contributions to free speech and personal liberties, but that’s not what he was really about.



Passive-aggressive porch

November 23rd, 2013

redbagsAn amusement, an annoyance and a puzzlement in one, the passive-aggressive stance of many around here to free paper bundles continues.

Here’s one example on our hill. Six weeks of Globe Direct junk ad packets clutter the porch and its steps. It’s as though the homeowners expect the advertising elves to acknowledge their errors and remove the rubble. They’ll be waiting a long, long time.

We too are getting this junk. We subscribe to the Boston Globe, so we already get the grocery and other circulars bundled in the red bags. The stuffing in the G section, the daily maggy with comics and stuff includes all this drivel on Thursday.

We’ve called the number printed on the bags and asked for them to delete us from their delivery lists. Allegedly that will happen. However, f they goof up, we’re not inclined to let the bags heap up on our stoop. We put the papers in recycling and the bag in with bags to recycle at a supermarket. Honest to gourd, anything else says slob and arrogant.

We see the same craziness and hostility when the various annual white and yellow page books appear on front walks and porches. Some neighbors let them rot in situ. Nothing else is as good as saying, “I don’t give a crap about what my house looks like.”

On occasion, I get my own flicker of craziness about this. I’d like to knock on the various doors and ask:

  • Why don’t you call the number on the bag to get out of the delivery cycle?
  • Why don’t you recycle the papers and bags in the meanwhile?
  • How can you justify just leaving this junk lying on your stoop?
  • Do you honestly think that someone else is going to clean up your front porch?

That would be crazy. I have no reason to doubt this is some sort of self-righteousness.  Someone else littered on their property. Therefore, that someone should clean up. So there.

The real so there is you have a bunch of ugly crap out front. You need to deal with it. The elves are off duty.