As a news guy I’m sad to report this item. We’re out of news. Debate it all you like, but when I discover dozens of stories about two separate lawsuits regarding Pop Tarts, that’s all the proof I need.
I’m sure you’ve seen them. One tells the true tale of an Illinois woman filing a $5 million class action suit against Pop Tart maker Kellogg.
Another suit filed by a woman in upstate New York not only calls for $5 million in damages but a jury trial! I’d love to be called for jury duty in that one. I’d bring a case of Pop Tarts and hand ’em out with juice boxes in the jury room.
Here’s the alleged rub. The cereal litigants believe they are owed some dough because the strawberry Pop Tarts don’t have enough strawberries but a lot of sugar, apples and pears. Pardon me. It’s fuckin’ fruit! Strawberry is one of them. If they labeled them Pear Pop Tarts would anyone eat them? There already is an apple variety. So it’s strawberry by default. Label says strawberry, ya got some.
I’m kinda passionate about this particular item because it not only helped me earn my college degree but woo my eventual wife as well.
It was 1969 at the State University of New York at Oswego on the frigid shores of Lake Ontario. I was sent there by my parents who wanted me as far away as possible from the morons I hung out with in high school 325 miles away in Queens.
Early on I met a cute coed and we hit it off right away. As things progressed I visited her room more often. Being a gracious hostess hoping to win my heart she plied me with well-presented frosted apple Pop Tarts and a nasty Finger Lakes wine called Catawba Pink. The combination of cardboard stuffed with sugary gravel and the vile vino was a potent aphrodisiac.
When the Pink Catawba finally ran out, we washed down our subsequent Pop Tarts with an appropriate substitute, orange Tang—the stuff astronauts drank then had trouble peeing out into their space suits. Yes, it took space age fake orange juice to break through the cement formed in our bowels by the Pop Tart’s crust/mortar.
Well, this went on through 1973. Pop Tart fueled snack assignations that provided the fuel for both our studies and our romance that led me popping the question in March of that year. Upon graduation and marriage shortly thereafter we went on to dine regularly on Pop Tarts, branching out from apple to brown sugar cinnamon, always, always, with frosting. A Pop Tart with no frosting could only be used for one thing…a shim under a wobbly table.
As we’ve aged we were forced to end our Pop Tart habit since they had a way of creating impassable intestinal dams, making colonoscopies impossible—much the same way those foolish lawsuits would jam up the courts with nonsense Pop Torts.
UPDATE: Of course the day after I posted this and Matt said he enjoyed it, he lost. Of course he already knew he had lost, but that’s the kind of guy he is. He’ll win the next Tournament of Champions…invoking that Amodio Moment of Surrender once again.
I’m enjoying Jeopardy ninja Matt Amodio’s run and don’t give a damn about him using “what’s” with every answer. What’s the difference? But this scribble is about something I haven’t yet seen mentioned about his play. I call it the Amodio Moment of Surrender.
Here’s how it goes down. There are games when Matt simply messes with his well-meaning, but ultimately inferior opponents. Oh, he may actually go into the red during the Jeopardy round, fall behind for a bit and seem as if he’s just another curly haired nerdy guy with a buzzer hair trigger.
Imagine the other two standing there thinking to themselves, “Holy crap, the guy is mortal. I have a shot. I HAVE A SHOT!” It’s really so sad. They don’t have a shot, or a chance in hell. You see, Matt Amodio has apparently memorized the entirety of Wikipedia along with the Bible, Torah, Quran, the complete works of Shakespeare, Voltaire, Stephen Hawking and Johnny Rotten, along with every episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Sheldon Cooper’s “Fun With Flags.”
At some point Matt appears to tire of toying with these nice folks. It’s tough to tell exactly when it happens because his habit of alternately smiling and grimacing is effective camouflage. Pay more attention to his play. He’ll suddenly be first to buzz in and answer several high value clues in a row adding to the bankroll he’ll need for the coup de grace he can only deliver courtesy a Daily Double.
He finds it! Bets five-figures, fumbles so you think he majorly screwed up, then pulls out the correct answer from wherever he’d been hiding information that until this moment, was entirely useless.
Now he’s put 10, 15 grand between him and the nearest competitor who is now, no longer a competitor but rather a garden gnome filling a fallow field.
The Amodio Moment of Surrender has arrived.
Once smiling, engaged players who have waited decades for their shot on the Jeopardy stage, the Amodio Moment obliterates any shred of hope they harbored. They have the blank, defeated, thousand yard stare wishing for a power outage or other calamity forcing an early end to the taping, and therefore, their misery.
Some just give up. Their score is frozen because they no longer have the will to buzz in. Others will attempt to play knowing unless Amodio suddenly collapses from having endured six different hosts they have no shot.
At last Final Jeopardy arrives. It doesn’t matter if Matt is right or wrong. He’s so far ahead of the others all they can do is play for second because number two gets a grand more than the third place loser. In either case, they hardly break even on their costs to travel to Los Angeles to suffer a nationally televised embarassment.
My family and I have learned how to recognize the Amodio Moment and actually cheer when it arrives. We laugh a little too because we’ve enjoyed a little wine with dinner…and we’re kinda mean.
One day Amodio will lose. Another player up to the task will invoke his or her own “moment” on Matt. He will humbly submit, politely congratulate his vanquisher and when the 47th temporary host of Jeopardy asks how he feels his face hardens as he invokes Walter White, responding, “What’s….I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. I was alive.”
When the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey decided to build the World Trade Center that meant the end of what was known as Radio Row on a Cortlandt Street. Radio Row was a string of musty shops that carried all manner of tubes and transistors and capacitors and resistors, circuit boards and knobs and cabinets from which radios and other electronic devices could be built or repaired.
Among them was an unexplained anomaly–a little shop that sold bowling stuff. It was there my father, who worked nearby, stopped in when the store ran its going out of business sale since Cortlandt Street was going to disappear. My father was an avid bowler and couldn’t resist the deal that was offered: new ball, custom drilled, with his initials engraved in it and a bag—10 bucks. Sold.
My dad used the ball for several years until his health faltered and bowling was just too much of a strain, so he gave it to me. My father was right-handed and that’s how the ball was drilled. I’m a lefty but the ball seemed to work just fine for me. I rolled my lifetime high game of 250 with it. Never again came close.
I still have the ball, the bag, and even the long-hardened little jar of sticky stuff you put on your fingers to keep the ball from slipping off. It stopped being sticky decades ago. When I bowl, that’s the ball I use. I love that my father’s initials on it. He passed on back in 2007, nine months before my mother.
It’s like he’s with me at the alley, exhorting me to line up with the dots, don’t cross the foul line, don’t loft or drop the ball—just roll it smoothly.
When my friends would ask me about the ball I’d always joke and call it the “World Trade Center ball,” because if they hadn’t demolished Cortlandt Street to build the towers the bowling store wouldn’t have had to run its going out of business sale and my father would never have bought it.
But ever since Sept. 11, 2001 the World Trade Center ball took on new symbolism to me. It reminds me of a time before the towers were built in the late 1960’s-early 1970’s. In an earlier post I recalled how I watched them being built during my lunch breaks when I held summer jobs in Lower Manhattan while I was in college. And now they were down. Not even 30 years old, just like many of the men and women who lost their lives when the planes hit them.
You know, when the Twin Towers were built New Yorkers hated them. They looked like two big featureless rectangles jutting up throwing the beautiful symmetry of Manhattan’s skyline. It was all wrong. The apex of the scene was always the Empire State Building, further uptown on 34th Street. It was centered, it was perfect. Now the picture was out of kilter.
Ironically, on 09/11/2001 the picture was out of kilter again. The World Trade Center was gone, the skyline the way it was before it was built. The way it was when Cortlandt Street and Radio Row and the bowling ball store were still there. Yet every day we wish those towers and the people who were in them that horrible day were still standing. What a much better picture that would be.
I don’t bowl much anymore but every once in awhile I’ll pull it out of the closet, take the ball out of that bag, look at my father’s engraved initials and wish both he, and those whose lives were lost in the buildings that stood where the old bowling store stood, were still alive.
I’m old enough to remember hiding “crib notes” in my hand when attempting to not fail a trigonometry exam. Oh c’mon, you did it too. Maybe you scribbled some facts in pen on your hands or arms. Get caught, you get sent to the principal’s office, or worse, get a F on the exam. Aw, don’t act self-righteous about it. I bet you read the Classic Comic version of Silas Marner or dove into the Cliff Notes rather than suffer through the actual, depressing book.
Yeah, yeah, it’s technically cheating, which has me thinking about what’s become glaring demonstrations of cribbing among Major League Baseball players. It’s right there on TV. Catchers sport those flip up things attached to their wrists that contain intelligence on opposing batters. Pitchers and position players doff their caps where they’re hiding cheat sheets on how to play the next guy at bat.
I don’t know the exact wording but I’m imagining something like, “Joey Bagadonuts sucks at hitting sliders,” “Andy Eatme hits to short right field and has bad breath.” This is invaluable intelligence as to how to pitch to or defend against the hitter. But it just smacks of smuggling crib notes into the test room.
OK, I’ll invoke it. What I was a kid, players just, well, remembered things about their opposition or had a feeling about the guy and acted accordingly. Can you imagine a grouchy Nolan Ryan looking inside his cap for advice on how to brush back a batter with a 100 mph fastball? Screw it, he’d just terrorize the guy on general principles because it’s fun.
If Ryan’s catcher had the temerity to flip up and refer to crib notes on his wrist and then actually suggest a pitch based on that information, I’m guessing he’s the one who would get the heater aimed at his head.
Did Willie Mays need notes hiding on his head? Are you kidding? Ball goes up, ball comes down… in his mitt. What’s so hard about that? Nothing, if you’re Willie Mays.
I know, it’s all related to the scourge of sports related Sabremetric, data, numbersnumbernumbers, blah blah blah blah.
Go ahead, without Googling it, tell me what OPS is. Sure, some of you will know, others will pretend they know, honest ones will say, “don’t give a shit.” What’s the guy hitting? Launch angle? It’s baseball, not NASA. The ball’s gotta rendezvous with the fielder’s mitt, not Venus.
I love it when they tell me how fast the ball left the bat. Sure, it lets you know how hard the guy swings but honestly, some of the most effective swings are slow and easy and result in run scoring hits.
All these esoteric stats may be included in these cheat sheets but to me sports is all about training, natural talent, instinct and spitting.
But it would be fun to see the umps crack down on this stuff, like test proctors, ejecting guys for using the crib notes on their wrists and under their hats rather than playing the game using their heads.
Bill Freehan died Thursday. It wasn’t sudden. He suffered from dementia for several years. Bill Freehan was a champion–the starting catcher on the World Champion 1968 Detroit Tigers. I was just a kid growing up in New York in ’68. A damn Yankee fan, but I was a real happy kid when I opened my pack of Topps baseball cards and Bill Freehan’s big, beefy body filled the one hiding just under the stick of stale bubblegum. Man, he was a great backstop and I had a special affinity for them. Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, John Roseboro, Jerry Grote and Bill Freehan.
Maybe it’s because I’m a lefty and there are no lefty catchers because you need to be able to snap the ball over to first for a pitchout. In the Little League they stuck me in the outfield. When I volunteered to catch, the manager usually sneered, “Sitdown! You’re a damn lefty!”
But catchers were in every play. They ran the show. The great catchers were burly and tough and stuck their bodies between the plate and a guy barreling in from third to lay on the tag and watch the runner skulk off to the dugout when the umpire called them out.
Bill Freehan was like that and I admired him for not only being a catcher, but a great one. Yeah…even when he prevented a Yankee from scoring.
Who knew many years later as a reporter for CNN I’d have a chance to grab a brief moment with Freehan. It was the day the final game would be played at glorious Tiger Stadium. Oh, a bunch of ex-Tigers were there before the game to reminisce about their time at the old ballpark and how much it meant to them.
Damn! There was Bill Freehan shaking hands, hugging his old teammate Suddenly this wonderful player whom I only knew from his trading card and watching his All-Star performances on TV or in the stands was standing right in front of me. When I approached with our camera crew, would he put the body on me and sneer and act all catcher-y?
See for yourself. He comes in around 35 seconds in. This version is before it aired so the identifying supers aren’t there. You’ll hear Bill Freehan very briefly as the real person he was–kind, reflective, respectful. A righty catcher, giving this lefty a memorable moment. Lucky guy…you got to be a catcher. Lucky us. We got to watch.
Yeah, I’m still wearing my mask. So is the rest of my family. We’ve had our shots, we wash our hands, we keep our distance and some of us ingest sensible quantities of alcohol…as an extra precaution, and because we’re thirsty.
We still don’t eat inside restaurants, although we did eat lunch in a mall food court a couple of weeks ago on a weekday when there were maybe a dozen people there. We sat in the furthest corner of the space. Didn’t stay long. Dine and dash. Except we paid. We ate there because the paint we used to freshen our front door stunk and we needed to get out of the house for a bit.
The reasons for our ongoing masking are simple. For one, the notion of herd immunity has given way to heard impunity. Yes, we keep hearing members of a growing ilk refusing to believe the pandemic is actually not over and discard warnings about new variants that may challenge the efficacy of vaccines. Are we paranoid? Not at all. It costs nothing to be a little extra cautious. We’ve gone this long with being infected, masking up a little while longer is not an imposition. Besides, I’m not ready to die. I have like seven books I need to finish before I return them to the library and I don’t wanna leave the fines for my family to settle.
Second, I have a gut feeling people who have not actually received both shots are taking advantage of signs at businesses that say it’s OK to go maskless if you’re fully vaccinated. Why do I have that feeling? Because I’m a reporter and I’m a natural skeptic. I also believe there are a good number of people who have poor reading aptitude and think the signs say anyone without a mask receives a free rutabaga.
Thirdly, as I’ve written previously, I am quite sure many of those not wearing masks never wore one and are of the same idiotic ilk who refuse to be vaccinated. I firmly believe a good many still rally around the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy…an infamous symbol of yet another losing effort.
Finally, I’ve grown accustomed to using masks to both hide the bottom of my face and store a couple of Tic Tacs. The mask also makes me feel a little like a bandit and whose day wouldn’t feel a little better prancing around like a “bad boy” in the produce aisle.
How much longer will we continue to wear our masks? Not really sure. Maybe we’ll never stop. Since starting to wear them last year none of us have been sick or even had a sniffle. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to blow my honker in a Kleenex or end useless conversations by complaining of a sore throat. Nowadays I only cough to dislodge a cashew that wandered down the wrong pipe. It is fun when the nut is expelled and lands in my mask…so it can make another attempt at proper ingestion.
Now I’m not one to preach, so please don’t take this as my pitch to get you to keep wearing a mask if you feel secure enough to ditch it. Wearing a mask is a private and personal decision. All I know is I have a face-to-face meeting shortly…and I know just where to quickly find a Tic Tac.
I’ve had a couple of weeks to think about this whole concept of news conferences after tennis star Naomi Osaka walked away from the French Open rather than face reporters at mandatory sessions. She revealed that for her news conferences are stressful, counter productive and amount to a legitimate mental health issue for her.
As someone who’s covered a bajillion news conferences over the past 47 years, I hate them too. Oh sure, they’re a necessary evil because it’s not practical to give reporters individual interviews in most cases, but sometimes they can amount to public showcases for individuals astute at the fine art of bullshitting, self-aggrandizement, lack of preparedness or pugnacious discourtesy…and that’s just on the part of those staging the event, let alone some journalists.
Perhaps the worst so-called news conference I ever attended lasted less than 30 seconds. We were called to Cleveland to hear from boxer Mike Tyson after he was released from serving time on a rape rap. He was to discuss his return to the ring. After cooling our heels for quite awhile in the bowels of what was known at the time as Gund Arena Tyson finally came on stage, in a half-whisper said he was glad to fight again and walked off. No questions, no nothing. Well…almost nothing. Wasn’t worth the plane ticket or the price of the crappy hot dog I ate while waiting for the former heavyweight chump.
So yes. That’s a clear case of a useless news conference because the very word “conference” infers a dialogue. This was barely a monologue.
Then there are the news conferences where some reporters appear to want to “share” knowledge rather than gather it. If you’re in the biz you know these people. They take an eternity to let the speaker know how much they already think they know about the subject before finally spilling a question.
On the auto beat there’s one longtime reporter whom I won’t name who has gained a decades-long reputation for such endless preambles. Indeed, at an event in conjunction with the New York Auto Show in the early 2000’s two executives of a major automaker played the roles of police officer and perpetrator to show off a new police cruiser.
They staged a fake chase in front of the press corps then suddenly stopped. Fake cop tells fake perp to put up his hands. Fake perp says, “no problem. I’ll do anything you want. It would be better than enduring a question from (reporter). The guy was in the crowd and enjoyed the notoriety. The rest of us got a good laugh. Comedy based in truth always hits home best.
One time I was actually the main speaker at a news conference and gained instant empathy for those who regularly stand at the business end of reporters’ questions. It happened in the 1990’s when I was one of three pool reporters for the in-prison arraignment of James Nichols, brother of Oklahoma City bombing perpetrator Terry Nichols.
I was joined by reporters from the Associated Press and a local newspaper. When it came time to decide who would brief the rest of the press I was drafted because as the the print guys said, “you’re CNN, TV. You don’t mind facing the cameras.” No, I don’t mind cameras. It’s people who give me the creeps. I gamely gave the top line facts of the proceeding then in a case of “back at ya,” I tossed it over the print guys for “more of the details.” This was not planned by anyone…but me. I was always a decent ad libber on camera.
Truthfully, I ended up feeling exhilarated after fielding some questions and not saying something stupid or wrong. It was a kick being quoted by CBS and others but I’d rather be the inquisitor.
Honestly, I hate to ask my best question during news conferences, especially if it was based on some information I had in hand that would give my place a competitive edge on a previously unexplored angle. Why give it to everyone else? In that case I would try to find a way to ask the question privately, but you can’t always count on that and you need an answer so sometimes you have no choice.
Look, I feel for Ms. Osaka if facing the media is stressful and unpleasant. A person’s mental health is a serious matter and should not be downplayed.
Unfortunately, professional sports is actually a form of show business where athletes’ stages are the field, pitch, court or ice. Tickets are sold and fan loyalties are stoked in part by news stories. That all can generate the millions athletes can reap from prize money, bonuses and endorsements. In other words, there’s tremendous demand for what an athlete has to say, even if it’s not especially enlightening.
For journalists, direct quotes offer depth, context and perspective to a story which adds to a richer experience for their readers or audience.
Perhaps some of the anxiety for those thrust into situations that demand presence at news conferences could be allayed by counseling or league-sponsored media training that includes realistic mock sessions using actual journalists. When I conduct media training sessions the strategy is to always put the trainees through an even tougher experience than they might actually face. Kinda like swinging a heavy bat in the on-deck circle so your real bat feels lighter when you’re facing a fast ball.
That, or know what you would be getting into before you decide to become a professional athlete or other high-profile profession, and choose another path to avoid the news conference blood sport.
I was sorry to hear of the Gavin MacLeod’s passing. While I enjoyed him as Murray Slaughter on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, I enjoyed him even more on The Love Boat…because, unbeknownst to him, his character, Captain Merrill Stubing, was my weather sidekick, and actually had a little in common.
Back in 1979, while I was going to grad school part-time at the University of Arizona in Tucson earning my journalism Masters degree, I worked three different broadcasting jobs: morning drive guy at KCEE-AM, weekend overnight guy at KAIR-AM, and weekend weather dude at KGUN-TV, an ABC affiliate.
It was a time when Tucson TV stations liked to use radio announcers to do weekend weather because we were used to making almost no money and we could ad lib, which was important since we had no scripts for our weathercasts.
We had none of the sophisticated electronic graphics weathercasters have today. To prepare my map I ripped off the “weather features” feed on the weather wire, took into the studio and used that information to place little magnetic, rubber things on the map: sunshines, rain drops, pressure systems and fronts. I did two weathercasts each evening…one at 5pm and one at 10pm. The map for the early show took about 20 minutes to create, but the late one took less time because not much changed over those five hours.
Here’s where Captain Stubing and I got together. On Saturday nights I’d have the program monitor on while I prepared the studio map. I timed it so I was updating the map while Love Boat was on. As I placed the little magnetic symbols on the map, Capt. Stubing was greeting the guest stars as they boarded the Love Boat. Coulda been Charo, Bert Convy, Florence Henderson…anyone who needed some network TV exposure to keep their careers going .
Yes, it was all mindless, but I was studying to be a “serious journalist” and the weather seemed mindless as well. I enjoyed doing it but didn’t find it challenging, especially because Tucson doesn’t actually have any weather aside from hot, hotter, hottest and the few weeks in the summer they call “monsoon season” when it rains like crazy for an hour or so, then stops and it’s hot and dry again.
Just as celebrities graced his gangplank, they also passed through my studio, always stopping as they saw me create my map to ask about the weather.
One night it was the original TV fitness guy Jack LaLanne. I didn’t recognized him at first because while in TV he looked like a bulked up muscle man, in real life he was Tom Thumb. He was at our station to appear on our local talk show. Jack stopped in his tracks and asked me what I was doing. I could have been a wiseass and told him I was creating the world’s largest AAA Triptik, but explained I was preparing my weather map for the upcoming newscast. “Well, keep at it!” he chirped, flexed a bicep and continued on his way. Hmm..that was under-whelming.
On another night Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater walked through. He was a little quiet and creepy and I didn’t see him right away because on The Love Boat, Doc was trying to score with a comely passenger in a bikini who was way out of his league and Capt. Stubing was comforting social director Julie McCoy when no one showed up to “dress like a rodent night.”
Sen. Goldwater kinda stared at me for a moment, then in a very accusatory tone asked me, “it’s not gonna rain, is it?” Even if it was I wouldn’t have wanted to validate his personal forecast. After all the tagline for his ads when he ran for POTUS in 1964 was “in your heart you know he’s right.” But in America’s hearts they knew he was wrong and he lost to LBJ in a landslide. It didn’t give me much confidence he could predict the weather either.
And so it went. Gavin MacLeod as Love Boat’s Capt. Stubing greeted his arriving guests as I greeted mine as they passed through my studio. Each week brought a new roster of surprise guest stars for both of us….doing our duties…rain..or shine….all before Fantasy Island’s Tattoo announced, “the plane, the plane!” Gavin MacLeod/Capt. Merrill Stubing…it was a pleasure to serve during prime time with you. RIP.
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are always a little tough because I lost both my parents nine months apart back in 2007. But what gets me through it many times is the fact they were both brilliant and hilarious and taught me many of life’s lessons. Since this will also show up on Linkedin, I thought I’d relate some of the valuable lessons they imparted to me about getting along at work. Hint: they vary between serious and, well, satisfyingly snarky.
From my Father: If your boss requires everyone to wear a tie, do so, but feign shortness of breath a few times a day to let the boss know the health risks involved in working all day with your neck in a noose.
From my Mother: Always look your best on the job. She always did, even when she volunteered as a lunch lady in our grade school. The payoff was an 8-year old gushing, “Mrs. Garsten, you look beautiful today!” The other lunch ladies would suddenly find an excuse to refill the napkin dispensers.
From my Father: If someone acts like a jerk, try to ignore it. But if they persist, you have to act. My father was a chemical engineer. Back in his day engineers worked in rows of drafting tables, and so, in close quarters with each other. He didn’t like it when one of the other engineers was disruptive, so he learned how to shoot rubberbands accurately at long distances. Many a workplace jerk suffered a welt from my father scoring a bullseye on the back of his head. Indeed, my father passed on to my brother and me his secret which I have used sparingly, but effectively, especially in movie theaters to neutralize a loudmouth in the audience.
From my Mother: Don’t be lazy! Early in her career my mother was a buyer at a big New York City department store. A high-pressure job. She despaired when she saw a co-worker just sitting around yakking or otherwise goldbricking. When I started my work life at age 9 at the local laundramat, I hated folding people’s underwear and other unmentionables, but my mother scolded me about being lazy and that no matter what a job entailed, you needed to do it because that’s why you were being paid. Considering I earned exactly one shiny quarter each day I worked, this turned out to be a motivational challenge, but the lesson always stayed with me because I worked in broadcasting which has roughly the same pay scale.
From my Father: If your boss is a moron…DO NOT SAY SO to his or her face. I worked for several morons over the years and never broke my father’s rule. Instead, I ignored idiotic directives and went about my business in what I thought were more sensible directions. The corollary to the rule was: don’t let the boss take credit for your good ideas! This may seem counter-intuitive to some who believe in the concept of “managing up.” However, if everyone else in the office knows the boss is a moron, they also know he/she could never have come up with a good idea and would know the boss attempted to steal the credit and you would look like a hapless doormat.
From my Mother: One of my mother’s favorite phrases when discussing a person attempting to stick you with a thankless task was “tell him to go shit in his hat!” She used an endearing baby voice when saying this, which took away some of its sting but still made its point. The one time I tried that my target kinda stammered before saying, “Um, I’m not wearing a hat.” That caused me to do a quick pivot to “Right. Then go fuck yourself.” The twin burns impressed my co-workers which came in handy when I was made the boss. But lesson learned from my mother, don’t let someone stick you with a crappy task.
From my Father: If you become the boss don’t be a wimp. He had been a boss on several jobs and his underlings feared him. In fact, when I worked a summer job at an engineering firm where many of my father’s former underlings were employed, I could hear whispers of “Be nice to the kid. He’s Dick Garsten’s kid and you don’t want him ratting on you.” At the same time, my father was much beloved because he was also respected for fairness, sense of humor and how much he truly cared for those who worked for him. I was never a tough guy boss. Just not in me, but I did use my father’s lessons in empathy and respect to win loyalty during the times I led a job or department.
I don’t know how either of my parents would have reacted to the social distancing we’re stuck with during his pandemic because they were both social, fun people who enjoyed close, interpersonal relationships. Besides, if someone acts like a jerk on Zoom, it’s damn near impossible to hit him with a rubber band.
Before I sort of retired five years ago I had a great career in news and PR and am enjoying a scaled back version of both in my semi-retirement. I have my parents to thank for setting great examples of how to survive and thrive in the workplace through a combination of hard work, humor and a little bit of recalcitrance.
I miss ’em both every day and honor them regularly by eschewing the wearing of ties and silently instructing those who deserve it to go shit in their hats.
I was enjoying the local newspaper, lit by the sunlight coming through my living room window when a loud rumble disrupted my analysis of my very troubling horoscope and things became very dark.
It wasn’t a storm. The rolling thunder was produced by giant pickup truck towing a trailer overloaded with a mountain of mulch. It pulled up to the curb in front of my house and two skinny guys armed with pitchforks got out and mounted the mulch pile and proceeded, for the next four hours, to spread the stuff around my neighbor’s property.
They mulched the borders around the house, they mulched the garden that hasn’t yet emerged from its winter’s nap. They mulched in mounds and piles and paths. By the time they were done the skinny guys looked as thin as the handles on their pitchforks.
Then another truck arrived to another house in our subdivision and another and another for several days. They were all loaded with mulch and crews of guys with shovels and rakes and pitchforks and cups of steaming Tim Horton’s coffee. They’d toss the mulch around every tree so high the maples and oaks looked like they were wearing mulchy mini skirts.
I get mulch is chemical-free and useful to retain moisture and retard weed growth but there’s so much of it applied it would take a 100 year flood to get the water down to the roots where it would do some good.
We moved to this sub about four years ago and it didn’t take long to catch on to the fact the folks here are apparently locked in a seasonal mulch death match. One resident will kick it all off with a fairly modest mulch application, perhaps even doing it themselves with bags of it from the local garden store. Touche’!
It doesn’t take long before another resident sees this and makes a quick call to a landscape company ordering a load of mulch for their yard that will make the do-it-yourselfer look like a pathetic mulch neophyte.
Then it all cascades into an all-out mulch brawl where homeowners put in their orders for even more mulch and before long there’s a convoy of mulch mobiles clogging up our streets and curbs and armies of mulch men are dispatched to pile it higher, higher, higher! Wider, wider, wider! Hell, pile it so high the damn mulch touches the lowest limbs!
Now I must admit, I do freshen the mulch around my trees and garden..a little! Usually 6 bags does it. I’m done dumping and spreading it in less than an hour and it looks pretty fresh for the season. Truth is, I could grab a wheelbarrow and skim off the first three feet of mulch from my neighbor’s yard and they’d never know it was gone..or maybe they would. Maybe they’re so obsessive they’re mulch measurers!
All I know is the obsession my neighbors seem to have for heaps of shredded bark and wood to the point of shelling out untold dollars for hundreds of cubic yards to cover their yards has me thinking they should rename our sub Mulch Gulch.
And, well, not to be rude, but considering the shape some of these folks are in, perhaps they’re already retaining too much water.