Archive for April, 2015

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.

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.