Archive for the ‘Boomers’ Category

All Hail Mable

August 26th, 2014

mableSRBShe spelled her name Mable or Mabel on her caprice. No matter, my maternal grandmother was a hell of a baker.

Come to write that, I don’t believe I ever heard her use hell or damn, much  less the vulgarian terms we hear on TV or even from tots today. Still, she was well known in the little mountain town in the Potomac Highlands of eastern West Virginia for her pies, cobblers and particularly her breads.

Come a summer hot spell, as we have now in Boston, the visceral mnemonic, as relentless and insistent as Proust’s madeleine, differs among us. Some see themselves as lizards, warming their blood in the sun. Others hie and hide in bars with loud companions and cold drinks. It’s the beach or porch person to person.

To me, it’s Mable’s salt-rising bread.The misnamed loaf really requires sun and heat, 90° or so to make the starter, then raise the dough and loaves in two sessions of a two to three-day process. In my many summers in Romney, I knew what was up when I saw the jar with the starter, then the huge bowl covered with a towel on the back lawn.

For the misnomer, the bread has very little sat and the salt has nothing of moment to do with its rising. You might call it potato-rising bread or perhaps just another form of pain au levain. Its yeast comes from what’s in the air, a pinch of baking soda, the potato starch and just a little sugar as a catalyst.

It is a wonder and a delight — once you transcend the aroma of the starter and the baking bread. Mable’s recipe is from one of her handwritten cards in her yellow index-card recipe box. It starts “At noon, slice 2 potatoes into a jar…” and continues with understood steps (for example, she writes “make loaves” but doesn’t bother with the obvious grease loaf pans and coat with corn meal, which you should know), and inexact quantities (such as “fat the size of an egg). After all, her notes were for herself.

Regardless, I had my own issues with martinet Mable who was co-host to my sister and me for summers into our high-school years, along with Granddad, her husband. I never quibbled with her baking and loved seeing the big bowl on the lawn.

The yeast concoction produces a froth with what her recipe writes is “a peculiar odor.” It continues that after you’ve prepared the potato starter and waited for a day, “If it doesn’t have the foam and odor do not use it.”

The peculiar odor indicated what makes the yeast from next to nothing and what produces the splendid taste, particularly when sliced very thinly and toasted. The taste is intense and unique. Mable revisits whenever the hot days inspire me to open the yellow box.

 

Tito’s Turkey Power

May 24th, 2014

If you’re running for office in Boston or statewide, you’re smart to show for City Councilor Tito Jackson’s annual turkey fry. Most gubernatorial contenders showed, among others, for this sixth version.

For you left-brain types and other quibblers, yes, there’s a lot more than turkey, like burgers, dogs, BBQ, a few non-meat offerings, sodas and water (no alcohol), ice cream and ta da, a snow-cone machine. Oh, and while Tito is a big guy, he had four loudspeakers in the street, each of which was bigger than he. The music kept people dancing, swaying, eating to the beat, and shouting to be heard. Sweet.

Mostly, this is a street party for the Roxbury neighborhood above Seaver Street. Plus the pols get to mingle while they and their minions pitch planks and promises.  There are surprisingly few events so casual and low-key where pols can have several easy hours chatting up black and Latino voters outside a dais/chair venue.

I tried to behave well, not dominating time with pols nor even taking pix of all of them. Many have been guests on my Left Ahead show. I’d already met nearly all of them and it was a chance to touch hands again. In some cases, we swapped cards and agreed the candidate should come on the show or come on again.

The following are a few images with comments. Among other pols there were Don Berwick and Joe Avellone (governor), Leland Cheung (looey) and Maura Healey (AG). I was there for nearly three hours and saw nothing of a certain Martha Coakley nor any of her lackeys. (Sunday update: I see on Tito’s FB feed that she did show late, after I left.)

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

Long-term State Rep. Gloria Fox (since 1986) was a crowd please. She asked for support, noting, “I do not play. This is a diverse district (Suffolk 7) and I handle it well.’” GloriaFox
FDarroyo1 Another familiar face and voice was Felix D. Arroyo, former Councilor, father of a current councilor, and candidate for register of probate and family court. He’s always delightful and to us boomers sounds refreshingly like Ricky Ricardo. In fact, he noted that when he first ran for office many years ago, his accent was stronger.He asked one thing of the voters before him, on the Sept. 9th primary, his office will be down at the bottom of a long ballot, he wants to make sure people get all the way down there and finish the job.
Not everything was smiles and sandwiches. The Suffolk sheriff crew showed up with a police-dog demo. Adults a bit, but mostly the kids were impressed at the tenaciousness and training. Titodog
Falchuk Evan Falchuk (governor on the United Independent Party and sure to be on the November ballot) noted both in his remarks and to me that he considers it his job to discomfort the other candidates and raise key issues. In a deep nod to the Roxbury locale, he said that carried over, not so much to where the party was but to where he lives (Newton). He noted that his daughter and her classmates didn’t get the BPS-style warnings about how to behave when confronted by police. He said he regularly draws attention to the contradiction with urban communities of color.
Here’s a small subset of the several hundred at chez Jackson. (Right in the middle is Leland Cheung ([t. gov.] who didn’t want to give up his baby.) Titofront
Tolman Warren Tolman (lAG) pitched specific planks, like support for smart-gun technology.
 In a turnabout that borders on irony, gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman immediately went to the ice cream table — but to server rather than eat. He loves ice cream but is willing to share.By the bye, he said he wasn’t disturbed ty the recent poll that showed rival Coakley well ahead of all contenders. He noted his campaign had not spent a dime on ads and when it started, the field would level. Moreover, the thought the poll was an outlier. Grossmandip

 

Wanda’s Day — I Won

May 11th, 2014

When my mother lived, I sent her or handed to her Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards and gifts. She played both roles from her divorce before I was 5.

wandacollegeAlso, I initiated a running patter related to the era…about what the dull-witted still call broken homes.  As early boomers, my sister and I were among a large and growing cohort. Many of our parents had married in the passions following WWII, only to discover they had no business together. Many were like my mother, Wanda, with one, two or three kids but no basis for staying married.

In her case, her husband was the handsome war hero (Battle of the Bulge and so forth) and she had been the campus queen, theater star and scholar. They made each other swoon, wed and two years later produced first my sister then less than two years later me. It was only when we were part of the Occupation Army in Japan that both Wanda and Bob wondered what the devil they were doing married to that stranger. They were OK when he was off in Korea directing artillery shells, but face-to-face they wanted different things. She wanted a union of equals as her parents had and he a woman to order him around as his mother had his father. Incompatible.

Bob took up with a bossy woman, they divorced, he remarried, and Wanda asked only for us kids and minimal child support (no alimony request). Then Bob and his second wife became deadbeats. He got a transfer to Germany with his new family of two sons, my half-brothers. He stopped paying child support as soon as he left the country. Wanda asked the US Army for help. They replied that as an officer he was honorable and they trusted him to fulfill his obligations, and would do nothing.

The humor in all of this and character-revealing aspect, is that Wanda never, ever bad-mouthed Bob to my sister and me. She would note that he was smart and good looking and yes, a war hero. It was only on one our moves when I found both divorce proceedings and those from when my sister and I were visiting Bob and his second wife in OK when he decided they would keep us and take us to Germany that I learned of and asked about his chicanery.  Wanda drove to OK from eastern WV with her father, who was in a cast from his heel to his waist from a work accident to fight for and reclaim her children.

She truly loved us. She showed it in ways big and small.

Oddly and with brutal irony, I found that Bob’s second wife did not have my mother’s grace, honesty and compassion. I have never been in her presence or on the phone with her when she did not slander and lie about Wanda. For a few examples, she would say that it was Wanda who was in an adulterous relationship in Japan, not she and Bob in Korea, or that she and Bob did not even meet until they were back Stateside — both total lies. More amusing to me was defending their decision not to pay child support, because they, with two military salaries and Army subsidies just couldn’t afford support, with no consideration of a single mom with two kids, or even the court orders.

The gist of that is that I won the Mom Game.

I grew up moving every few years as Wanda took jobs in challenged Red Cross chapters to support us. Invariably, I meet other kids, particularly boys, who were being raised by divorced moms. Just as invariably, nearly every one of those sons heard constantly what cads men were (what kind of insulting message is that for a future man?). Meanwhile, Wanda never defamed her ex.

As I grew, I came to realize Wanda differed from many mothers and fathers. A defining trait was her rationality. Key was her posture that if my sister and I had better reasons for courses of action, we’d win. That was both a burden to us, but great freedom. She expected and demanded that we live rationally. As a result, many friends over the years said they so wished their parents were like Wanda. Their parents were arbitrary, often violent to them (abusers call that discipline), and as often alcohol infused. She neither hit us nor was ever drunk in my childhood.

I now recall so many motherly things she did for me, some of which I did not know about until many years later. For one, in eighth grade, she got a call from the principal asking for a conference with all of my teachers. The Red Cross chapter building adjoined the school’s athletic fields and she knew the principal from running first-aid, home-nursing and water-safety programs. She walked into an ambush of irate educators.

The core of it was that I asked questions in several classes that were not in the courses or assigned text books. We had many reference books, including three sets of encyclopedia, at home. From second grade, when I asked a question, Wanda would invariably reply, “Look it up.” I did and we’d discuss it.  I knew a lot and rather expected my teachers to have such curiosity.

As Wanda told me years later when she revealed the meeting during my college years, she was amused, not angry, at the teachers. She said she asked them whether the problem was that I asked them questions they could not answer. She said they replied, “Yes,” with the anticipation that she’d realize I was out of bounds. She said she replied, “Well, then don’t you think you’d better find out the answers and be ready for the next time someone asks?” That apparently was the end of the meeting and their chance to shame her.

I won the Mom Game and I didn’t even know I was playing.

Here’s an ethereal but sincere Happy Mother’s Day, Wanda.

 

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.

34years

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.

balmy

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.

Mummifying Christmas packages

December 23rd, 2013

Among changes and missing items now our parents are dead are:

  • The sacred cookie rites moved from my mother to my sister
  • We no longer get packages encapsulated, neigh smothered, in tape

2cookies

My mother made superb Scottish shortbread and remarkable bourbon balls. Until her end, she would send us tins of each. The cookie baton immediately passed to my sister. She’s even been tweaking the bourbon ball’s recipe (like Wild Turkey 101 this year) and seems to have improved on it.

For the other, what the devil cultural phenomenon made the WWII generation tape wacky? Many boomers say their parents did the same. Packages large or small, no matter how sturdy the box, no matter who handled the shipment were smothered in tape, sometimes several varieties of clear and opaque, formal packing tape, duct tape, Scotch tape, masking tape…

Oddly their parents did not do this. We don’t do it. Our kids don’t. This fetish is like a secret handshake of what’s let’s call in this instance the Goofiest Generation.

When parcels arrived from any of our parents, we knew to get out the knives. I tended to use my big French chef’s knife. I knew that the carbon steel blade I kept sharp could puncture and cut open the worst they had done. It was precise enough not to slice into presents captured inside.

When I would ask my mother about the tape extravaganza, she’d say she just wanted to make sure everything got there, as though the box might disintegrate in the  delivery truck.That our more relaxed packages arrived whole made no impression on this otherwise extremely rational person.

It was a small, amusing foible, made more remarkable by its widespread, generation-specific nature. I don’t miss it.

 

Thumb-thing Silly

October 7th, 2013

What this neat pop-science Boston Globe article does not address is why so many of us believe, no, know, that we are splendid multitaskers. If we were anywhere as bright and observant as we pretend, we’d see frightening reflections galore that suggest otherwise.walking thumb

Adults, teens, even wee ones stumble and career into shelves, each other, closed doors and worse while punching into a (insert irony symbol, traditionally ironymark) smartphone. More poignantly than the clown bumps and pratfalls, one aspect of device-distracted humans is texting while driving, too often, killing while doing so.

The article does deal extensively with another key aspect, how iPhones and their like are great programming tools. That is, they program their ostensible owners. In fact, they are the owner in the relationship.

I’ve dealt with and even obsessed on the whole mess here numerous times. Samples are in links to posts using multitask.

A current cliché is how smart the millennials and young folk are. Aren’t they masters of technology?

That would be a resounding, “No!” for them as a group. In fact knowing how to use the icons, menus and keys on a cellphone, being comfortable with numerous social-media and their keywords, do not translate into broader intelligence or even technology skills. Instead, as many of us note, we as a populace are being dumbed down, just as we are increasingly under the control of our devices.

By cracky, Mable, it isn’t just the kids either. In a supermarket, on the street and well, everywhere, the seemingly ubiquitous Androids, iPhones and such make humans hop. 60-year-olds as well as middle-schoolers largely cannot control themselves when their device tones or jiggles. They, the nominal owners, are dancing to the notes.

A few years ago, Boomer and older folk lamented the rudeness of folk putting their phones on the restaurant table, constantly scanning them, and unhesitatingly answering them should they command so. Of course that’s ill mannered and speaks poorly of whoever raised them. And, an alter kaker like I am tells people not to bring their phone out. I, perhaps self-righteously, tell them that in my house, if we’re having a family dinner when a cell or other phone rings, that call just goes to voice. We’re busy and in the moment.

Still, for all those people who believe they are smart enough to multitask, I wish awareness. When they respond like birds or other lower animals conditioned to push a button for food or perform some other stupid pet trick, will they please see that? Will they get a grip and realize they are in thrall to their $500 gadget?

My hope would be if a 17-year-old gains that level of awareness, it would be a teachable moment. Each enlightened lad or lass would show peers how to be in charge of the device, instead of the other way around.

That smarter lifestyle might even spread to their parents and grandparents. Honestly, humans can decide what’s really urgent.

 

Fiercebook strikes

July 30th, 2013

turtlefaceLaddies and germs, Facebook bloats like a dead animal in the sun, bigger and more intense daily. Yet, if my chums are any measure, some demographics have run in terror or trepidation.

I thought it was silly. In many ways, I’m still right. Back when I first looked at FB, ain’t-my-kitten and ain’t-my-kid and ain’t-girlfriend cute pix ruled. Double bleech.

I avoided it until my wife went canoeing with other aged Girl Scouts to the Boundary Waters of Minnesota.There, the daughter of one of these former Brownie chums led extended paddling/camping expos. When she returned, she announced that the only place the commentary and images of the trip appeared and would ever appear would be on Facebook.

Thence I joined and have remained…for the past six years.

Truth be told, I don’t and never have stalked or even checked up on former girlfriends or more intimate sorts. Yet, I do post my photos. I do keep tabs with a few former HS and college classmates. I do get updated by and update various relatives and friends. I have many political acquaintances on my friends lists. I plug into events, restaurants, bars and such. FB has become a casual, occasional part of life that takes from a few minutes to a half hour a day for myriad info exchanges.

Lately though, there’s been a bifurcation among my chums, like my drinking buddies. Several have announced, always self-righteously, that they closed out their FB accounts. One is an efficient sort, shifting to a new line of service business. He has fair reasoning that he was spending too much time on FB, got most of what he needed professionally from Linked In, and did a cost/benefit analysis. In truth, what I actually heard was that he lacked self-control and didn’t manage his FB interactions well. Moreover, in his new service biz, he’ll likely regret missing out on customers who expect to find him on FB.

Another is more typical, the turtle sort. He’s a fair Luddite, always convinced that with a moment’s inattention, the latest virus or malware will eat up his hard drive. FB is just another risk, like the easy, pretty girl in high school everyone suspected of carrying VD.

fiercebook

To these two and many I know or know of like them, Facebook has become FierceBook. There’s something not quite right, something risky, something d-a-n-g-e-r-o-u-s about it.

An even odder aspect is that several of the guys hear others of us talking about trips, pictures, blog posts and other personal info we’d shared and enjoyed online. Even hearing about such splendid moments, they remain in their anti-FB shells.

I’m not the best self-promoter around, far from it in fact. I have a couple of good friends, one an artist and the other a musician, who share the so-so marketing bent. We could all do far, far better at pitching our wares. FB is just one of those places to do that.

I think of my friend Steve Garfield, a paragon and god on FB, twitter and his own site.  He understands how to use them all. His social media work for him, not the other way around.

I guess it’s not too surprising to hear of Boomers tucking back in their shells, increasingly convinced that something terrible will befall them on the scary internet.

Yet, many of my chums stay on and actively contribute to FB, twitter and their own blogs.

I draw my personal line at texting. I consider that lowbrow and simpleminded. I fall into tweets when I want it down and dirty. I see texting as for the immature and still impulsive.

Perhaps there’s a spectrum of social media if my thoughts and feelings hold. I am only surprised at how many I know who fear FB.

 

Banks of the Muddy Dan

June 2nd, 2013

Back to key childhood town today via the NYT opinion piece, I recalled Danville, VA. Tess Taylor, likely the age of my eldest son, wrote on how early Civil Rights protests hit even her white, establishment granddad.

In the very segregated setting only three miles above North Carolina, I went to elementary and junior high. Separate black/white schools were the norm. Even Greyhound was the white bus line versus the black Trailways. Some accommodations were not quite blended. I think of the Rialto movie theater, which kind of accommodated black folk, so long as they sat in the balcony. In fact, when I was eight, a friend thought he was tricking me by sending me upstairs with my bag of popcorn. When I noticed that the white people were downstairs and I was among rows of exclusively black people, I wasn’t bothered and watched the double feature (always at least a double and the Rialto had the Westerns and other action flicks). Later I wondered whether anyone in the balcony resented a white kid in their seats. If so, they didn’t let me know. After the movies, my classmate met me and looked chagrined. I think maybe he tasted his own racism and found his joke unfunny.

Taylor’s piece is on her grandfather’s modestly foolish upbraiding of a racist judge for coming heavy on black protesters for integration. It gives nice background on Danville as well as the perceived praise of her relative.

I’ve written on Danville here before. I lived there longer than anywhere until I moved to Manhattan after college and those were formative years.

Fortunately, my mother was not a racist and we were not infected by the malevolent disorder. She ran the Red Cross chapter, where black folk as well as white volunteered and received such services as blood, transportation, first-aid and home nursing training and such. Black folk were as welcome in our lives as whites. There were a few Jews, including the physician who rented to us, although I don’t recall knowing or even seeing Asians. It was a two-colored world.

Danvillelibrary

We moved to a far more rural Chester — middle of the same state, but not at all a city, before going to Plainfield, NJ for high school. PHS was half black. Plus my classes were a quarter to half Jewish students. I took the bus to Manhattan every chance I got. I experienced intense culture shock, almost entirely in a good way. I did hear and see Yankee de facto segregation and overt racism though, as I did and do during my decades in Boston. The first time I heard anyone openly using the N word was in my first few days in New Jersey. The separation of races in old Danville seems to have minimized open disdain, plus likely the veneer of civility in the South.

Pic note: The building was my public library and had been the site of the last capital of the Confederacy. Danville came with extra baggage.

On a far more prosaic level, I can draw light lines to other cultural transitions. I think of common tools, such as computers. I went from a manual typewriter to an electric one, on to when being a computer user meant bringing your task, like data analysis to a programmer who typed out punchcards and handed them to you to pile into a huge computer for calculation, I went on to batch processing in a shared environment and to paper tape mainframes before dedicated (and very expensive) word processors before workstations and then personal computers.

The improvements in integration and race relations have not been as linear or incessant. Yet integration advances, even in places like Boston, although there’s still a lot of happen. To return to the weak tool analogy, much as occurred in my lifetime and my towns. I think of my wife’s late grandmother, who grew up from the era before electricity and automobiles. Like Mable Thames, I have seen and benefited from much. Keep it coming.

 

Drown the damned salad!

May 5th, 2013

cainssignAs a boomer, I grew up with the excesses of the amusingly epithet-ascribed greatest generation. Those carried along by the tides and storms of WWII indulged themselves from the moment they declared victory. We kiddies got to share in their leavings.

As a group, my parents’ generation rewarded themselves non-stop. Sure, that meant too much booze and a level of adultery not known since the most profligate of ancient periods. To this day, they feel and think they deserve every indulgence.

With that comes the irony of calling my generation and the next several The Me Generation, The Entitlement Generation and other denigrations. We who studied history, sociology and similar soft sciences know those slurs were first applied to the WWII and Korean “police action” sorts.

Regardless, the mythology was and remains powerful. All hail, summa cum laude, the Greatest Generation!

One small piece trace of that legacy is salads.

Yes, boomers grew up with the formerly deprived slathering dressings on. Sure, it was the Greatests’ parents and grandparents who had to make the family work and survive during the Great Depression and WWII. Sure, it was the WWII folk who walked into battle (or were the men and women behind the desks and safe in the defense plants) who risked bullets or paper cuts after their elders had shepherded them through the national economic horrors.

Having landed firmly after V-E and V-J Days, the WWII crew knew it was party time. Among the obvious delights were the self-indulgence of food.

We boomers recalled the weekly visitations of the women’s service mags — McCall’s, Ladies Home Journal, Redbook and others. In most middle-class, white families that really meant one big thing. As surely as the WWI generation grabbed their Reader’s Digest monthly to find out what disease they had to fear this time, the competitive housewives made sure they were up on the latest recipes.

That was a simpler version of today’s foodie snobbery. Now it’s obscure ingredients and must-have food prep gear. Back in the 50s and 60s, it was being sure you were the first, or at least not the last, to serve the pop dishes.

Dreadful they were, but adequate in nutrition, if short on sapidity and devoid of presentation value. It meant, by God!, another tuna noodle casserole variation. It was those dreadful, salt-filled, mouth drying burgers baked in foil with cream of mushroom (always Campbell’s) and dried onion soup mix (always Lipton’s). Accompanying the leaden entrée was some cloyingly sweet mess with colors that do not naturally occur, think an orange Jell-O mold with pineapple junks and mini-marshmallows.

Then both at home and particularly in restaurants, the iceberg lettuce salads were totally dominated by four or five times too much sugary, fatty dressing. A typical dinner table at home or out included two, three or more bottles of gum-thickened, sugar filled mayonnaise disguised as condiment. The very antithesis of light, savory vinaigrette, those clots of extremism marked the WWII generation as surely as did the second and third pre-dinner cocktail.

I thought of those days a decade or more later when working one of my summer college jobs at Cain’s Foods (now Cains and in Ayer not Cambridge). We made and packaged salad dressings, mayo, pickles and horseradish. The famous chips magically happened elsewhere.

Among our short runs on the assembly line were gallons of salad dressings, ketchup and mayonnaise for restaurants. Sure, they carried the Cain’s label like the grocery quarts, but they were different. The old hands (all deaf from the clinking of bottles on the line) said the stuff the chefs got was simply better. The production shifted to condiments that used better materials, richer oils and more fully flavored ingredients. Your perception that the tabletop stuff when you ate out was better was accurate.

One effect of the women’s service mag tyranny was that most of us boomers had little idea what vegetables on their own tasted like. To this day, many of us suffocate salads.If a teaspoon of dressing is good, a quarter cup must be much better. You know…getting your money’s worth…

To no effort of my own, I had the benefit of summering with my maternal grandfather, who grew phenomenal amounts and varieties of vegetables. He  neither accepted nor permitted overpowering his veggies with fats and sugars. If we had asparagus, he’d go down his 150-foot rows with his stainless-steel knife and cut just enough for dinner. We’d eat them minutes later, maybe with a bit of lemon, a dusting of butter and a little salt.

Yet, at friends’ and relatives’, we’d be in the over-consumption mode.  The four bottles of clot-thick bottled dressings fairly screamed to swamp the salad makings. Kids as well as adults lathered it over and on.

In contrast, tossing a salad with say a little white-wine vinegar and a small squeeze of Dijon mustard or perhaps a splash of balsamic with a small portion of olive oil or maybe a scant teaspoon of mayo with some black pepper is all you need…and much, much better tasting. In fact, lightly dressed salads actually let you taste the ingredients, including remarkably enough the veggies.

We don’t have to praise the WWII generation. Lord knows, they’ve done plenty of self-mythology themselves. What the boomers and their kids are learning though is that we don’t have to replicate their food silliness. Too much is not better. It’s just too much.

 

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.