The Ex-University of Michigan President’s Lurid Use of My Favorite Food
I have no connection with the University of Michigan but I do have a strong tie to one of the elements of the story of the firing of its flirty president. You see, I’m an avid advocate, indeed, defender and consumer of the unfortunate third party in this affair.
If you’ve been following this story at all, you know of which I speak. If not, here’s what now-ex U of M President Mark Schlissel improperly emailed a subordinate in hopes of luring her to a rendezvous: “[I] can lure you to visit with the promise of a knish?”
Schlissel had apparently received a box of knishes as a gift and decided, apparently, the quickest way to a woman’s heart was through the promise of a potato pastry. The romantic beast!
Along with disgust for the overall behavior of the horny pedagogue preying on a subordinate I take offense at placing one of my favorite foods in the entire world in the middle of this scandal.
I don’t just like knishes, I chase them, capture them, cook them and devour them. It started during my upbringing in NYC where a hot, fresh knish filled with either potato, kasha, or a combination of potato and meat could bought from a street vendor in Manhattan.
The vendor wrap the knish in wax paper and, if you wished, I didn’t, would be happy to squirt mustard on it. Cost a quarter. The combination of the wonderful smell from his charcoal heater and the intoxicating fragrance of the hot pastry did what much more expensive edibles from you neighborhood dispensary can only partially achieve.
Whether in Manhattan or in Queens, where I actually lived, you could walk up to the takeout window of your neighborhood kosher deli. The window was strategically placed next to the grill so you could smell the Hebrew National frankfurters, not hot dogs, and knishes cooking as you fruitlessly attempted to just walk by.
A moment later, you had just coughed up a buck for a frank, knish and a Dr. Brown’s cream soda.
When my wife and I moved out of New York State to Tucson, Arizona we were hard pressed to find a kosher deli, let alone knishes. But not far from the University of Arizona there was, indeed, such a place.
My wife, who is not Jewish, and doesn’t look it either, went there one day to buy our Passover foods, including knishes. She used the proper pronunciation—kuh-NISH. The person behind the counter who may also not have been of the Tribe thought she made a mistake and attempted to correct my wife with, “Oh honey…it’s not kuh-NISH…it’s NISH! You know, the KN combo like Knife.”
To this day we laugh about that and sometimes just call them NISHES for the fun of it. We have a low bar for “fun.”
We’ve now lived in Michigan in suburban Detroit for 33 years where there’s a large and active Jewish population. You would think it would be easy to find knishes here. It used to be pretty easy. You could find decent frozen knishes in the grocery store, but no more.
For several years we would go across town to a kosher food store in Oak Park, an enclave of orthodox Jewish folks. You could find a box of a dozen small knishes for about $11. Not bad, except the knishes were these little round hockey-puck sized things with an armor-like crust and tasteless filling. But any knish in a sturm so we’d suffer with those.
At a gourmet food store you could find what looked like excellent knishes but 3 for $17? Oy! The kosher-style delis around town would sell you a pretty good knish for $4 or $5 apiece, but that still seemed a bit high if you’re just looking to stock up on a few to eat later.
We looked into buying knishes online. The initial price was fine but the shipping was as much as 30 bucks because they had to be packed in dry ice.
I finally found what amounts to a sort of traditional knish at a combo produce and food store—four knishes for about $7. Still more than the bargain box from across down. They’re not as big as those I enjoyed from New Yawk street vendors but the crust is just right, the potato filling is tasty and the store is only 15 minutes from my house.
I don’t know what brand knish was gifted ex-U of M prez Schlissel but I’d have to imagine if he was attempting to lure a potential paramour with a potato pastry he was pretty confident it was a winner.
But honestly, that’s pretty icky. Can you imagine believing you could score a date with the offer of spuds in a crust? “That’s all I got!. What, you wanna a frankfurter too?”
Hmm..well, it’s kept our marriage going for almost 50 years. There’s gotta be something to it, but I’m not one to knish and tell.
The Sour Saga of the Disappearing Diet Soda
I don’t often drink soda (I’m originally from NYC and that’s what I will ALWAYS call it), but when I do it’s always the kind that doesn’t make you fat, but can kill you via its cancer-causing sugar substitutes. I’m determined to leave this world no wider than a 34-inch waist. Who knows? The gatekeepers in Heaven may be former tailors standing at the Pearly Gates with a tape measure.
Just as millions of other like-minded soda drinkers who prefer the no-calorie variety of this awful liquid, I search the grocery store aisle for the “diet” version. Diet Coke! Diet Pepsi! Diet Dr. Pepper! I honestly don’t care. I like ’em all because my taste buds have been forever neutralized from years of drinking this dreck. I drink ’em cause they’re cold and mostly caffeinated.
But now, suddenly, I cannot find my favored diet soda. Oh, I’m told, it’s there, but sporting new labels without the word “diet”. These diet sodas are now branded “Zero Sugar,” or “No Sugar” but should more properly be labeled “Too Woke But Can Still Make You Croak.”
I was recently informed by a millennial in my family that the word “diet” is frowned upon as a form of body shaming those who might actually benefit from losing a few lbs by ingesting more diet stuff instead of stuffing themselves.
“Younger people just don’t like the word ‘diet,” said Greg Lyons, chief marketing officer at PepsiCo Beverages North America, in a recent CNN.com story. “No Gen Z wants to be on a diet these days,” he continued.
Oh sure, they don’t want to be on diets but they’re still actually dieting even though they can’t stomach the word for it. What else would you call it? “Fat food intake reduction?” “Putrid-system?” “Body Freight Watchers?”
There’s really no stigma to the word diet. Does anyone take umbrage at the profession of dietitian? These are highly skilled professionals who help folks eat healthier..by improving their diets…so maybe they don’t have to go… on diets. It’s a perfectly proper term!
Here’s the other thing. The soda now branded as zero or no sugar is the same exact swill as previously labeled diet soda. Who ya foolin’ here? Now don’t get me wrong. You don’t have to be “on a diet” to drink diet soda. Maybe you just want to reduce your sugar intake or are attempting to prevent your teeth from prematurely disintegrating. Really hard to whistle without choppers.
I know there are much more important subjects to rail on but I’m weary of this steady diet of this no-sugar nonsense. It’s just left a sour taste in my mouth.
I’m afraid I caused quite a ruckus the other day at the eyeglass place. When it came time to pay for my new frames and lenses I whipped out a check. You would have thought I had presented the optician/cashier a hold up note.
But no, I simply chose to pay for my new glasses using a piece of paper with pretty colors on it and places in which to inscribe important information including how much money the eyeglass place would get in return for providing me with the optical appliance necessary for me to read my exorbitant bill or to avoid bumping into utility poles or street urchins.
Here’s how it went down. The optician presents me with my bill. I present her with a check for required amount. Couldn’t be easier. But oh, it could. Her once confident demeanor crumbled into total doubt. Her eyes darted then settled on her computer monitor as she furiously started tapping keys.
“I’m gonna see if I can log into the check system. We haven’t used it, like, ever,” she informed me. “OK…it’s….just….churning.”
Starting to panic she asked her colleague at the next station for help.
“Your customer is paying by check?” the colleague asked with a look of total incredulity. “Who pays by check?” she continued as her voice rose. “Let me try.”
Same deal. Now I’ve got two optician/cashiers with workstations churning and rumbling and refusing to perform any task related to entering my payment by check. I’m actually kind of enjoying this because I know where it’s going.
I figured I’d toss a lifeline. “Wanna use my credit card?” I offered with a goofy smile.
“Too late,” my original optician/cashier said. “Once the process has begun you can’t undo it.”
Oh. Seemed like the “process” was not actually proceeding.
Then she suddenly ran away for a few minutes finally returning with a printout and a relieved look.
“OK…we did it. Needed a supervisor to do her magic. It’s done,” she said, obviously thankful her dealings with a, shall we say, “traditionalist” Boomer were almost complete.
Just a few weeks earlier, when I presented a check to pay for service to my car, the guy at the dealership whines to me, “you know how much extra work you’re causing me paying by check?” Poor snowflake! Here’s my license, do the thing!
When I told my millennial daughter about these episodes she was not sympathetic.
“What is wrong with you? No one pays by check, or even with money! Do it on your phone like normal people. Or at least use a credit card!” she scolded me.
My wife and I find it extremely easy to keep our records straight using them, you can’t hack paper and our information is never lost or compromised. Plus, the ones we ordered have pretty colors and we ordered a million of ’em so we’re pretty committed to paying by check for a good, long time. And yes, we do use credit cards…and pay our bill by check.
Now don’t peg us as old fart Luddites. We use all the latest technology as it suits us. Smartphones, computers, tablets, Bluetooth, big ass LCD TV, online reservations and purchases…. everything…but we stick with our check for some things.
Oh, we’re not alone. Here’s the kicker. There was a guy of similar, um, vintage to me sitting at the next station at the eyeglass place. Just as my challenging transaction was wrapping up, the man was given his total.
“Oh, sure. Who do I make out the check to?” he asked. I smiled the whole way home.
When Jury Duty Calls…and Cancels
Instead of writing this, I thought I would be spending today in court. Maybe tomorrow and the next day too. I was actually a little excited when I received the notice a few weeks ago that I had to report for jury duty this week. I always enjoyed covering court cases when I was a full-time reporter and now that I’m semi-retired I have plenty of time to perform my civic duty.
I was also looking forward to seeing the jury experience from the inside after covering so many trials.
But when I called the special number Sunday to find out when to report the recording said no juries were needed this week so we were all off the hook. It’s not surprising. This particular district court is located in one of the highest income and low-crime areas of Michigan.
However I was so looking forward to sitting on a panel scrutinizing arguments in what I imagine would be typical offenses in such a tony area such as someone criminally mismanaging their portfolios, a catering service providing unmemorable canapes at a pre-schooler’s snooty graduation banquet or a socialite suing a groomer for insufficient poodle fluffing.
This being Thanksgiving week, there may have even been a charge of counterfeit stuffing preparation. Swapping Stove Top for homemade? A major felony in this zip code!
No grisly crime scene or autopsy photos in this courtroom although I had heard tales of past juries being horrified by being subjected to images ill-kept spreadsheets.
This would not have been my first jury service. I did actually have the opportunity to be selected for a case several years ago in county court. The trial lasted one day. It shouldn’t have happened at all.
The defendant was facing his second drunk driving offense. The entire police pursuit was on video. The guy was weaving all over the road and when they stopped him he failed the field sobriety test quite convincingly. Open and shut but he opted for a jury trial hoping, what? We’d think the incriminating video was just a guy doing the “drunk dance” on Tic Tok?
His poor lawyer did his best to toss in a red herring argument his client was a victim of police malpractice because when they hauled him in for booking the precinct video camera wasn’t working to record the process.
“Ha!,” the lawyer exclaimed as he looked each of us on the jury in the eye. “They can’t prove they read my client his rights and other important stuff because there’s no video! You have to find him not guilty!” We could have found the lawyer of misdemeanor “trying to pull a hopeless case out of your ass.”
Once we were handed the case the preponderance of evidence, meaning the video, made our job easy. The defendant was guilty as hell. But you can’t just say you have a verdict 30 seconds after deliberating so we asked to be shown all the videos again “just to make sure.”
One juror was not amused by our sense of responsibility and announced, “this needs to wrap up by 1 because I gotta pick up my son.” As it was only 9:30am when she imposed this “deadline” on us none of the jurors were the least intimidated since there really wasn’t much to discuss.
“Hell, we’ll be done by 10!” announced the foreman who “won” that honor by looking around at the rest of us and deadpanned, “none of you look like leaders, so I’ll be the foreman.”
We watched the video a couple more times because a few insurgents just wanted to find a way to stay away from work a little longer.
Finally, we could no longer justifiably stall any longer, and after all, the whole process was about speedy justice. We took a vote and signaled the bailiff we were done.
He led us back across the hall from the jury room to the courtroom where the foreman announced our guilty verdict. There was no drama. None of the six people present were the least bit surprised. They’d all seen the video. The defense attorney patted the back of his now-convicted client ostensibly to hide his true feeling the guy was a two-time loser and will find some excuse to welch on his legal fees after paying a hefty fine.
One of the courtroom spectators who seemed to know the losing attorney walked up to him and with a sick smile said, “Hey Larry. Can’t believe you used that bullshit ‘no camera in the cop shop defense!’” Larry mumbled “for what this guy is paying me it’s all I had.”
While the judge thanked us effusively for our service the mom on a deadline muttered to herself, “let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, boy’s waiting.” The juror next to her smirked. When the judge finally excused us we quickly left the courtroom flush with the belief we performed our civic duty with distinction and expedience and new respect for the jury system where one’s fate may rest in the hands of a carpooling parent who needed to teach her kid about the wonders of Uber.
Vetting the Pop Tarts Torts
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.
Deciphering the ‘Amodio Moment of Surrender’
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.”
Busting Baseball Crib Notes
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.
When the Late Gavin MacLeod as Capt. Stubing Was My Weather Sidekick
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.
Combo Mothers/Fathers Day Celebration of On the Job Lessons From My Snarky Parents
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.
Living With Mulch Mania…A Suburban Malady
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.