Tagged: observations

Olympic meddling

 

Some observations about the Winter Olympics.

curlingThe only sport in which athletes do not wear gloves is curling, although SOME of the curlers do..others wear just one.  Every other sport involves almost every ounce of flesh protected from cold, snow, ice, sun, concussions, being sliced by razor sharp blades or edges, being mistaken for a souvenir when a well-meaning, but seriously drunk spectator seeing the Olympic logos emblazoned on an athlete’s outfit, mistakes him or her for a souvenir and attempts to whack the poor guy or gal’s noggin’ like a bobblehead.

figureWhile watching figure skating I often imagine one of them landing the first quintuple lutz, then falling right through the ice and disappearing, resulting in a two-tenths of a point deduction for rousting the fossilized judges from their stupor. The spectacle would spark commentator Johnny Weir and Tara Lapinsky to exclaim, “don’t you love our outfits!”

skeletonI really enjoy the insane sports of skeleton and luge, but I think slathering those little sleds in Crisco before the riders lay down on them might make them even more challenging and entertaining.

crosscountryfallThis is the first Olympics that I’ve found myself watching cross-country skiing. It’s a great sport and I admire the unbelievable strength and conditioning it takes to succeed. But that’s not why I’m watching it. When one skier runs into another, a whole bunch fall like dominoes and you just don’t see that in many other sports. Worth waiting four years to see.

kimLove, love, love the snowboarding. Those crazy riders keep pushing the envelope in terms of height, difficulty and danger. I look forward to one of them launching themselves up the side of the half-pipe, into the air, and flying off with a flock of pigeons to Pyongyang, defiling every statue of Kim Jong Un.

biathlon-venue-dusk-pyc-flickr-33081586770_a9303383de_oI think they should replace guns in the biathlon with pea shooters. They’re a lot lighter and it would be fun to see athletes with frozen faces attempt to pucker up enough to blow a pea. I would think that would make the sport even more challenging and less noisy.

olympictorchFinally, it’s about that torch. The current one doesn’t look at all like the traditional cauldron, but more like a giant flaming goiter.

Still another week to go. Pretty much have my money on NBC commentators winning gold medals in Marathon Foot-in-mouth.  katiec

LISTEN TO A PODCAST OF THIS POST AT

Advertisements

Cowardly Lyin’

Back in 5th grade I was cast as the Cowardly Lion in our class’s production of the Wizard of Oz. Not because I was a coward, but because I was brave enough to attempt belting out “If I Only Had the Nerve” in an auditorium packed with my judgmental peers and their parents, who secretly hoped my voice would crack or I’d fall off the stage and smash  the piano.  Yeah..that’s me in the photo below. First schnook on the right in the first row.  Mane made of yarn..tail cobbled together by my Boy Scout brother with rope. The basic outfit was a set of pajamas in my dresser the same color as a bald lion.

wizard

Yes, it took some balls, and maybe a dash of rashness, to get up and do that, and the experience stuck with me, because I built my career on a simple willingness to try something new, never fearing failure, because you have nothing to lose by giving something a shot.

Without being too self-serving, most every job that represented some major move for me came as a result of looking for opportunities to grow and succeed.  I auditioned for a weekend weather job at a Tucson TV station, never having done a weathercast in my life. Got the job. Took a job producing television newscasts having never produced a newscast, because, what the hell, I could get a six-grand raise. First show? Reagan gets shot. Trial by fire! Yes! It led to getting hired as one of the first producers to launch CNN’s second network, CNN2, now HLN. Oh…took a reporting job at a newspaper having never worked at a newspaper, and was hired to start Chrysler’s first blog, but I’d never blogged. It morphed into a senior management position over the course of almost 11 years.

You get the idea. What I’m leading to is I read all these stories and posts about how to handle job  interviews..both as a candidate and as a manager. Oh, there are boilerplate questions such as greatest challenges, strengths, weaknesses, blah, blah. What I never see are questions regarding one’s courage. How willing are you to try something new, break from the mold, take risks, stand up to those who would attempt to drag you into doing the same damn thing, the same damn way.

Those who can convince me they’re fearless…not careless…are the kinds of folks I want on my team. I was blessed with a team at Fiat Chrysler that never once in the ten years we were together said “no” to at least trying a new idea. Some worked, some didn’t but we learned from every experience, sometimes using that knowledge to create something better. Yes, despite significant pushback from some, we brought then-emerging digital communications techniques to the department.

By the same token, if you’re a job candidate, when it’s your turn to ask questions, quiz the interviewer as to the company’s courage..how open it is to new ideas. You don’t want to work somewhere that still believes the best way to communicate is by fax.

How often are we hard-pressed to succeed and put forth new ideas when others attempted to thwart our efforts through their own cowardice and jealousy?  Indeed, over the years at many different workplaces, one no doubt encountered co-workers and managers who haven’t had a new idea since deciding to go from white to rye for their daily tuna sandwich.

nocowardsCowards are death to any organization that thrives on moving forward, on fostering creativity and bolstering worker morale. Cowards are useless wastes of space and resources and should be swept from the payroll immediately.  They will only hold you back and piss you off.

You wanna work for me? Have the skills, experience and work habits the job requires and the courage to challenge every pre-conception and past practice to take the type of chances that will make us winners…together.

the-wizard-of-oz_a_lThink about it. If the Cowardly Lion was too scared to join Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow on the Yellow Brick Road to meet Oz, he might never have found the nerve he had in him all along.

Sweet balls of death (plus podcast)

No time to read? Check out link to podcast at the end of this post.

paczkiboxIn our office today are boxes of doughy, sweet, greasy and goddamit, delicious filling-injected balls of dough called Paczkis..pronounced poonch-kees. That’s Polish, I believe, for “imminent death.”  They look like jelly donuts, and many are stuffed with it, along with custard, various fruits and creams, only enhancing their effectiveness as desserts d’demise.

packzibox2

Indeed, inventive purveyors of comestible poison keep coming up with new ways to make paczki’s even more hazardous to one’s longevity. Note..the coney paczki, combining the nutritious elements of a chili dog with the pernicious pastry.

packziconey

Why so harsh about a tasty treat? Oh, I dunno. Maybe because one of key ingredients is that renowned health food called lard. Perhaps they call it shortening because it shortens your life.  The average paczek (the singular form of the word) will caulk your arteries with 11-22 grams of fat and pack 340-500 calories.

Paczki | DonutsIt’s all related to Fat Tuesday..the beginning of the Lenten season. The idea, I’m told, was the heavy use of lard  is part of the tradition of emptying your cupboards of the stuff by frying up pastry in it.

They make a huge deal of Paczki Day around here. Polish bakeries work around the clock to serve the thousands of people who called in advance orders. Lines form while it’s still dark so folks can pick up their paczkis in time to bring them into work…in an effort to kill their inter-office rivals. It seems no one can resist eating paczkis despite their lethal legacy. I’m guessing more than one victim died with powdered sugar and jelly on his or her smiling lips.paczkis

I was brought up in NYC, and lived in Central New York State, Tucson, Arizona and Atlanta, Georgia before moving to the Detroit area in 1989 and Paczkis were available, or even heard of, in exactly none of those locations. Indeed, according to the CIA World Factbook, the average lifespan in New York State is 80.5..or 6th in the nation.  Arizona ranks 18 with an average lifespan of 79.6 years.  Meanwhile in Michigan, the average time on Earth per person is only 78.2 years..ranked 37th. See the correlation?  Oh, Georgia? Well..you’re talking awesome Southern cooking where they fry everything from chicken to Crayolas. Down in Dixie they only live an average of 77.2 years….ranking 43rd. But I will never complain about Southern cuisine.

Since I grew up in a Jewish community, the only thing halfway equivalent was the heavy use of chicken fat. Grandma would toss it in anything “just to add a little flavor” and to elicit loud cries of “feh!” from anyone unlucky enough to be caught in the kitchen.

It’s kind of quiet in the office now and I’ve had my lunch. The fumes from the few remaining paczki have worked their way over to my desk. A nice lemon cream would make a fine complement to the sorry ham sandwich I brought from home. The doc just told me yesterday I need to lose some weight…and I will…but not today. I may not celebrate Fat Tuesday, but it would be wrong not to support my co-workers who do.

Listen to the podcast:

 

 

 

Tales of the ATM on its 50th Anniversary

Iatmtoont wasn’t the lead story in any newscast, or even an item, but in case you missed it, this week marked the 50th anniversary of the first ATM. Can you imagine a time you couldn’t drive, or walk up to a financial R2-D2 to grab some cash for the weekend…when people actually used folding money?

The occasion sparks one of those memories that helps you remind yourself that you, indeed, paid your professional dues on the way.  It was in 1974. I worked at WMBO-AM in Auburn, N.Y., about 25 miles west of Syracuse. Auburn was a town back then of about 35,000 people and home to a giant state prison known as the joint where inmates pounded out the Empire State’s first license plates. It was also a rough place. The prison was so close to the station that when I told a crappy joke on my morning drive time show, which I did often, you could hear the guys inside yell, “you suck!” Nice to be recognized.

One way the station made some money was by selling what they’d call a “program length” commercial…basically a remote, hawking a store or a product. I did one for three hours once at Rondina’s furniture store promoting an upright vacuum cleaner with a bag that looked like a pair of denim jeans.

atmtoon2One this cold day, the Marine Midland Bank coughed up a few grand to have me do my show outside next to its newfangled contraption that would allow customers to drive up and do their banking with no human interaction. The name ATM hadn’t yet come into use. They just called it an “automated teller.” For three hours I stood in the freezing cold yapping about the thing that would not yap back, accosting drivers who stopped to struggle with the new technology.  When I attempted to stick my mic in their cars asking them how they enjoyed the new experience, some gave cogent answers, others believed they were being robbed of the cash they just received from what some called “that goddamned money vending machine.” Luckily, no weapons were drawn, or fired, although I had to jump out of the way several times to avoid being run over.  Perhaps the most harm I suffered was breathing in carbon monoxide for three hours, which provided me some insight as to the life of a New York State Thruway toll taker. Since there was no delay, whatever the folks said was aired, thus giving the nice people at Marine Midland some rather unfiltered feedback as to their new gizmo.

Fast forward to 1987 when I was employed as a correspondent with CNN. I traveled to Greensboro, North Carolina to catch up on how some folks from Vietnam were settling in to their new lives in the U.S. We followed a gentleman to the bank where a volunteer was demonstrating to him how to use an ATM to make a deposit. You could tell that between the language barrier and the unfamiliar technology this would take some time. Indeed, he filled out the deposit slip and placed it, and a check into the envelope provided. The volunteer then instructed him to slip the envelope into the slot. He gave her a very skeptical look, then did as he was advised. Sure enough he placed the envelope in the slot where it quickly disappeared from sight. The poor man’s face turned red, his lips quivered and I detected a tear from one eye as he turned to the volunteer and quietly pleaded, “where my money go?”  Fifty years later, we’re all asking the same question.

 

 

An indispensable truth OR proving your ass is worth saving

032113-slacker-4_3One thing, among many, an employee hates to hear is the boss saying, “go ahead, take as much time as you need to recover. We’ll get along just fine.” At face value it seems like the boss is being really considerate, and probably is. But honestly, who wants to be told the company won’t come to a screeching halt without them.

I’ve spent most of my life as a journalist and newsrooms are perpetually short-staffed, which means calling in sick does not win the “take your time, get better,” reaction from the boss. It generally sparks “if you’re not dead, you’re well enough to cover your assignment.” That’s not technically wrong. In fact, three days after undergoing removal of a malignancy in my right shoulder, with a drainage bag and tube sticking out of my flesh, I never mentioned it to the CNN national desk and I covered my story. All I had to do was hide my apparatus, and a few blood spots, under my blazer when recording my standup on a bobbing speed boat and no one was the wiser. At CNN, as at many other companies, the whole idiotic hero thing is part of the culture. 

When I made the switch to PR at a large multinational car company, things were markedly different. I was now one of a global workforce of roughly 45,000, showing up each day to the corporate Xanadu, along with 12,000 other contributors to the cause.

As I trundled from the parking deck to the employee entrance of the massive complex, I blended in with the mob swiping their badges in order to make the revolving doors turn, giving them entree’ to their workspaces. 

Each day for my 10 years and 29 days at the company I would have the same two thoughts:  Would anyone care/notice if I didn’t show up? What the hell do all these other people do and would anyone care/notice if any of them were absent? Sure, it takes a lot of people to run and operate a giant company, but honestly, does it take that many? I wasn’t being arrogant. I was simply wondering how many of us would be considered superfluous and not, sorry, “core.” 

It hit home to me early in my run when I noticed a of employees who grabbed coffees from the fancy java stand in the complex and just stood around in the common area, sipped and bullshitted for what seemed like an excessive amount of time. Like two hours. Obviously, they’re not being missed, so why are they being granted paychecks? In newsrooms, you never have time to waste and if you attempt to waste any, a thorough ass-chewing from an editor can be expected. Early in my TV career, my no-nonsense assignment editor would bark at lollygagging reporters, “hey! you gonna turn a story or just sit there and yank your tuna?” I assure you, tuna yanking was at a minimum in that newsroom.

willyindispensableWhen the bad times came in 2008-2009 and GM and Chrysler went bankrupt, suddenly thousands of workers were given cardboard boxes and told to get lost. You never knew when your time was up until you got a box and brusque brush off. Over and over again I told my team, “Make yourself indispensable. Make the company understand what it would be losing if you were gone.”  We constantly marketed our accomplishments and abilities to the higher ups so they fully comprehended our value and the strategy worked. We presented hard documentation and third-party endorsements. I did have to lay off one of my nine team members, but a couple of years later, when things settled down I was able to hire him back. Other teams were not as lucky. In fact, some were simply eliminated.

I’ve always found that abiding by my job description is a pretty fast track to obsolescence. Finding ways to take the basic premise of your position then using a recipe combining one-part skills and large dollops of guile, salesmanship and imagination not only makes the work day more fun and rewarding, but generally surprises and delights your employer and results in as much job security as can be hoped for.

No, I don’t want to be that person I see walking through the revolving door, wondering if their absence would make any difference at all in my company’s success. Sure, no one’s irreplaceable, but there are kickass employees who are, indispensable. And if you’re not indispensable, you’ll likely be dispensed with. 

Standoff in the french fry aisle

frenchfryaisleWent food shopping this morning and things became tense at the french fry freezer case.  There’s only one brand of fries we like..not your store brand or Ore-Ida or microwave fries, but those awesome fries they serve at Checkers and Rallys fast food joints. You can buy ’em by the bag, stick ’em in the oven and fall into a french fry rapture.

checkersfries

Well…it seemed some dude decided he needed to camp out in front of the exact spot where the Checkers/Rallys fries were sitting, all plumped up and waiting for an adoring family to take them home.  The guy wasn’t doing anything. He wasn’t looking at the various brands and types of fries and he certainly didn’t seem worthy of a bag of Checkers fries. He just stood there, hanging onto his cart in a trance, looking like he was coming down from his last shot of heroin.  The normal protocol of just saying “excuse me” didn’t seem like it would be effective because the guy appeared separated from reality. So I circled around and around until I used the only other tool in my box that had a chance of not inciting violence…I just sidled my cart next to his, gave him a steely look that said, “I wanna get into the fuckin’ Checkers fries.” That’s really all it took. He quietly moved away, gave me a sorrowful look, while muttering, “oh, excuse me.”

Testing a retiree’s metal

Active-RetireesOne of the cool benefits of my particular health plan in retirement is something called “Silver Sneakers.” One of the things I hate about that cool benefit is the name “Silver Sneakers.” Silver Sneakers gives you free entree’ into a number of health club chains around the country with the intent of enticing you to exercise more and lowering health care costs. What really gives me grey hair is the association of the color silver with those of us who have taken a certain number of trips around the sun.

First of all, I have never worn sneakers that are silver nor do I intend to. I may have a couple of silver-y grey hairs, but not enough to notice…especially after I pull them out.

Second, it may be time to call in a metallurgist to suss out exactly which precious metal is in play. How can people in their so-called “golden” years simultaneously come under the classification of “silver.” Perhaps Charles Darwin missed the evolutionary process whereby at at 65 or so you become an alloy.

Third, “silver” denotes second place. Who won gold?

Further, when you think of how many retirees pursue carcinomas under the Florida sun it’s possible to carry a Silver Sneakers card during one’s golden years while being bronzed.

ActiveRetireesPersonally, I would prefer to be identified with a much stronger metal such as steel or titanium, not a malleable milquetoast such as tin or aluminum. How cool would it be to see an AARP ad hawking benefits of membership during your “Kickass Steel  Years,” Those are the years when you say exactly how you feel, tell poolside mah jong yentas to put a cork in it and berate Izzy the deli guy about how fatty the pastrami was, in front of all his customers…all without a hint of regret or self-consciousness. Yeah…time for us codgers to kick a little brass.

I guess what I’m saying is we may be getting older but we’re still in the game playing hard. We’re less silver or gold than Iron men and women..who haven’t nearly lost our mettle.