Tagged: observations

Hard Assed About Hardwoods

slip

We moved a couple of miles to a subdivision that’s hooked into the Nextdoor website. Familiar with it? It can be really useful when you need a recommendation for a window washer, a lawn service, a plumber or just looking to form a canasta or golf group.

The other day someone asked for a recommendation for a good, honest place to buy some carpeting. She received a few good tips…and then I came across this response:

“Put in hardwood carpeting seems dated and always needs cleaning!”

My first response was, “heh..what an asshole.” My second response was, “Yeah..a big one.” You see, I’m totally mystified by what seems to be a growing devotion to cold, hard floors.

Oh, we tried. the house we moved into is all hardwood on the first level, with the exception of tile in the kitchen. Keep in mind, I grew up in a small apartment in NYC where every room was covered in wall-to-wall from the looms of Mohawk. After we got married in the early 70’s we grooved out to awesome orange shag carpeting in our first couple of places and graduated to luxurious deep-pile on thick padding.

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This is a generic house..not mine

 

I found our new house on Zillow and despite the photos that showed wide swaths of varnished hardwood, we loved it too much to pass up. Oh, we tried to get with the current hardwood hard-on that seems to be in vogue. The first night we sat on our couch to watch TV, the thing went flying when I got up for a snack. Hmm..maybe get an area rug to avoid that next time, but we rejected that idea because come winter time, only that little bit of floor would be warm and we’d freeze our footsies padding elsewhere around the place.

Our kids are grown now, but I got to thinking about families with toddler who might launch themselves across the slick surface only to crack their noggins on a sharp corner of the furniture. Not only would the poor kid be hurt, the blood might leave a permanent stain on an end table. 

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And think of poor pooch! What’s the poor thing know except its owner ignorantly might believe it can pull off a double axel. Pathetic there has to be a website with tips to keep pets from spilling their kibble on carpet-less floors.

Now we’re not totally tone deaf. We know that many people swear by the curious desire to live their lives on what amounts to small roller skating rinks so we decided to install carpet on part of the floor and leave some hardwood exposed on another where there isn’t as much traffic. So far this has served us well, although I’m sure those who totally heart hardwoods would be appalled that even one inch of precious oak is suffocating beneath a blanket of warmth and comfort. If and when we decide to sell, we’ll make it plain that if they must, the carpeting can be removed so they can enjoy a life of cold feet and chasing dustballs. Wear slippers you suggest? Oh no, you slat-faced silly! Hardwood people do NOT allow the wearing of footwear on their precious planking!

slippersWalk around in socks? Ha! You’ll fly across the room and punch a Kool-aid Kid hole right through the guest bathroom’s drywall.

The final faux issue regards upkeep. The moron who posted on Nextdoor complained that carpet “always needs cleaning.” Honestly, what doesn’t? I rather enjoy running the Hoover over my carpeting far more than slopping around with a Swiffer or mop across the boards. Then again, I’m a man and I like things you plug in that make noise.

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Well, I hope the person who requested recommendations for a good carpet supplier ended up happy with her new flooring. I tip my hat to her for making the smart choice and standing her solid, stable, warm, luxurious ground against the hardwood hard asses…who are probably nursing black and blue from their latest fall.  

A College Boy’s Brush With Valerie Harper

rhodaOne great thing about growing up in New York was the chance to pop into Manhattan and grab a seat in the studio audience of a TV show. When I was a Cub Scout, our pack twice scored seats at the Saturday dress rehearsals of the Ed Sullivan Show.edsullivan

It was before the Beatles, but we did get to see the great comedian Shelley Berman and watch actress Shelley Winters screw up a dramatic reading and do it over a few times. We also saw seals poop on the stage, someone with a puppet and little girl-voiced singer Teresa Brewer.teresabrewer.jpg

Sometimes we’d go to the former WNEW studios and score seats at the forerunner of today’s shock talk shows, the Alan Burke Show. One of his guests was a loser who claimed to be able to channel the minds of dead Civil War soldiers.alanburke

At NBC, you took your chances by showing up in the morning and sitting in a nice room where some cheeky kid announced what tickets were available for that day’s tapings. We ended up at Sale of the Century hosted by Joe Garagiola. You got to sit through two shows. We saw two and a half shows because something ticked off Joe and he said a bad word. They had to redo part of the show.

skitchAnd then there was a short-lived, live show called Skitch Henderson’s New York. Also at WNEW. My friends and I went to that one twice when we were home from college. For those of us of a certain age, you might remember Skitch as the band leader when Steve Allen, Jack Parr and Johnny Carson hosted the Tonight Show. We got to see Redd Foxx, which is scary at a live show, Ethel Mertz herself, Vivian Vance and the folk singer Odetta.

dickandval.jpgBut at each show Skitch would call to the set an impossibly good looking couple. “Let’s bring out Dick and Val!” Dick was Dick Schall and Val was his wife, Valerie Harper. The problem was, Skitch never said their last names. They were just “Dick and Val.” They’d kibbitz with him on a set a little bit, he smiled, they smiled, he chuckled, they chuckled and then they left. I distinctly remember Dick seemed too thin and wore really cool light brown shoes and thin socks. Val was beautiful. Voluminous shoulder-length dark brown hair, lots of TV makeup, big smile, but not nearly enough to do. They both had the look that telegraphed, “it’s a paycheck and a little exposure, I guess.”

That was that for several years. I really didn’t ever think of them again..until. Until I read a story that the kooky neighbor played by Valerie Harper on the Mary Tyler Moore Show was married to a guy named Dick Schall. They later divorced. Instant memory lightning. Hmm..Valerie and Dick..could they be DICK AND VAL?!? All of a sudden they had last names…and she had a real job. I never really saw him in anything but then he popped up in a guest shot on MTM. Holy crap! But I saw HER…in person! The famous Valerie Harper–beautiful, great hair, skinny husband! The audience at the Skitch Henderson Show was tiny so that means she walked right by me..almost close enough to touch, but she was just “Val” back then. But that’s the kind of stuff you have to do when your career is still nascent.

Me and her in the same room..before she was Rhoda..before she was famous…when she was just “Val” of “Dick and Val.”  As fleeting and ephemeral as that experience was, it  made me appreciate Ms. Harper’s amazing talent and eventual success even more.

Life’s journey is a kick, ain’t it? RIP Ms. Harper. You gave us joy and laughs and the best portrayal of a Jewish yenta by someone not really Jewish. But to me..you’ll always be Val.

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When Back to School Meant Back to Sol and Lefty’s

schoolsuppliesI was in my local big box store the other day looking for some late season garden supplies. But where the fertilizer, hoses and jugs of stuff you spray to kill things had reliably been all spring and summer, perused by guys with guts like me, were replaced by shelves of pens, pencils, paper products, backpacks, moms and whining kids.

Yeah, yeah, back to school time again. Are you telling me the backpack the brat used only a couple of months ago is no longer viable or the pens probably still sitting at the bottom of last semester’s backpack are already out of ink?

backpackI can see maybe getting some new clothes because kids grow but honestly, and I get that some stationary products become depleted but backpacks pretty much remain the same size and style forever.

Of course, when I was a school kid in the 60’s we carried our books in a rubber strap and our writing implements in a pencil case, which you shoved beneath the strap. You lugged your strapped bundle on your hip and by the end of the day you had a nice red, painful welt, somehow proving you gave major flesh to your education.bookstrap.jpg

There also weren’t any big box stores with a billion choices of notebooks. We got all our school supplies and Sol and Lefty’s Candy Store on the corner of 249th Street and Union Turnpike in Queens, a couple of blocks from Glen Oaks Village..the massive apartment complex where we lived.

Sol and Lefty’s was cool. It was our hangout. You bought your candy and comic books there or sidled up to the lunch counter for an egg cream or a fried egg sandwich or a burger birthed in the same ratty aluminum frying pan made long before the advent of no-stick Teflon. 

Artie, the skinny, bald short order cook, was not friendly. When you called out your order to Artie, he’d often snarl and invite you to screw off–but in less polite terms. It was part of the charm.

Sol and Lefty and Sol’s sister ran the place which was always populated by a New York City cop or two..not for security..but to pop in to lay some wagers on the races at nearby Belmont, Yonkers or Aqueduct. I mean, how much dough can you make selling penny and nickel candy and burnt burgers?

Around school time, they tossed some boxes of supplies they thought the kids would need on the booths no one sat at anyway. Loose leaf binders and paper, memo pads, Bic pens, number 2 pencils, pencil boxes and for a bit, those groovy things called a Nifty–a combo of pencil case and loose leaf binder. I had a brown one.

NiftybinderIt was awesome. Kids were jealous. Jealous kids showed their jealousy by punching you in the arm. It was OK. I had the Nifty, they had anger management issues.niftyinside.jpg

We also didn’t buy our school supplies before school because our teachers were very particular. On the first day of classes, especially in elementary school, teachers would give us list of what type of everything they accepted. Some only accepted loose leaf paper with two holes, some accepted three-hole paper, some required paper with five holes. One of my teachers did care how many holes but firmly forbid us to use spiral notebooks because once you tore out the pages to hand them in for grading, there was no way to put them back, leaving you with dozens of loose pages with ratty edges.

memobookOne teacher was very adamant about what kind of memo pad we used. The only use for a memo pad was to write down our homework assignments. You couldn’t write down the assignment on loose leaf paper or in a notebook–it had to be on a memo pad. NOT A steno pad–a MEMO PAD. A real memo pad had the word “memo” on the cover.

Now Sol and Lefty and Sol’s sister knew all this. They only carried certified memo pads–not a steno pad to be found. They also seemed to know what color binders and rubber book straps kids liked. That’s why they were able to keep a pretty limited stock–no sense in being stuck with stuff kids would reject. If you asked for something they didn’t have, Sol or Lefty or Sol’s sister would give you a snarling look as if to say, “are you questioning our school supply judgement? Get outta here and never return–unless you’re gonna come back for a comic book or egg cream.”

When we’d return to class the next day, our teacher would scan the room making sure we had only sanctioned supplies. Any renegades or losers who showed up with a two-hole instead of three-ring binder or non-certified memo pad, or, worst of all..a number 3 pencil, earned a verbal ass kicking and time in the hall to “think about what you’ve done.” Almost certainly, the chastised school supply offender would be making a return trip to Sol and Lefty’s to make appropriate amends before showing up in class the next day. Noting the proper adjustment the teacher would paste on their puss a complacent look–a personal reward for displaying such paper supply power over a little kid.

Sure, times must change and I imagine it’s a lot easier to schlep one’s books and supplies in a backpack than wedged against your hip strangled in rubber strap, and it’s nice to have choices, but I will argue till my last breath, compared to my time as a school kid, today’s supplies will never, ever, be as Nifty.

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Three Years Into Retirement And I Got Promoted

retirementcakeI just can’t seem to do this correctly. Three years this week I walked out of my last full-time job, took a breath of free air as I exited the Fiat Chrysler Automobile headquarters tower and looked ahead to a well-earned retirement filled with doing whatever the hell I wanted to do…and whatever my wife wants me to do. 

That lasted three months. First Automotive News and said they could use someone with my network (CNN) news experience on a part-time basis to assist with their video operation. Fun while it lasted. It lasted a year and 10 months. Was only a max of 29 hours  a week and I rarely put in that many. Perfectly fine balance of a little work, a lot of  spare time.

About a year ago that job ended, which was fine. I mentioned it on Linkedin and within a day or three, I was offered two more part-time gigs–as a consultant at Franco PR and as a contributor at Forbes.com. Both great organizations. Both fun positions and both as freelancers, which was important. No desire to get sucked into a corporate bureaucracy again matched with a strong desire to keep using my skills in the service of respected companies.

A couple of months ago, one of my hockey buddies asked if I was open to a little freelance writing for his company that’s building a website for a client. Oh, what the hell. That sounded like fun too. Add that one to my roster of retirement recreations.

If you’re keeping score, my “retirement” is now up to three gigs. They’re all fun and rewarding and then out of nowhere I received an email from someone at Forbes that I’ve been promoted from “contributor” to “Senior contributor.” She said it was a reward for doing good work. Well, that made me smile, because there’s so much ageism in the workplace today, so it was a nice feeling to think even as I’m closer to 70 than 60 someone, I’m sure much younger, thinks an ol’ scribe like me still has something to offer and it’s pretty decent. It’s that sort of small gesture that gives you the confidence you haven’t lost too many steps, and in fact, in a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve picked up the pace since I’m now working for myself and because I want to, and thankfully, not need to.

I’ve been very lucky in my work life as a journalist and communications executive working for mainly large, respected companies and never feeling what I was doing was actually work, but rather very rewarding fun.

It’s no wonder, then, I can’t seem to totally retire. And besides…if I keep working, even just a little, maybe I’ll earn another promotion! Heh..maybe I AM doing retirement right!.

The “Problems” With Your Vehicle May Just Be Problems With You

confused driver

Several years ago when I was an auto writer for The Detroit News and attending a media ride and drive program in Arizona, I was joined for 60-70 miles by a high ranking executive. I would drive, so I could learn about, and evaluate the new vehicle, while running a voice recorder so I could capture my interview with the executive. First thing, the executive says, “Ed, please turn off your recorder for a moment. I have something to say, that, if you associate it with my name, we’re through..forever.” Sure. I stop the recording and the guy asks me for a favor. “Could you please write a story with a simple angle but leave me out of it? That angle would be, ‘IQS is pure bullshit!” He then went on to elaborate complaining about the criteria for a “problem” and how automakers are screwed when operator error or failure to properly research a vehicle before purchasing may really be the culprits. Seeing I had only limited time with the guy I made no promises and quickly moved on to areas where he would go on the record so I could come away from my time with him with a story we could publish.

If you’re not familiar with it, IQS is the annual J.D. Power Initial Quality Study. Each year the J.D. Power sends surveys out to several thousand folks who are asked to cite what they would consider problems with their new vehicles after 90 days of ownership.

Based on the responses, the analytics company publishes a study ranking each brand by how many problems are reported per 100 vehicles as well as enumerating specific problems reported by consumers.The most recent study results were released a few weeks ago.

Sounds good, right?

Over the years, IQS has been criticized and questioned to the point where J.D. Power actually made wholesale changes to the survey some years ago.

hummergasArguably, one of the breaking points was when owners of gas hog Hummers complained they weren’t getting very good fuel economy from the beasts. Ya think? Was that a problem with the vehicle or a problem with customers not doing some basic research before buying?

Oh, over the years respondents would whine that the ride in a Jeep Wrangler was rough. Yes. That’s correct. The Jeep Wrangler is not a family land yacht, minivan or cushy crossover. It’s a vehicle designed to go off-road, climb rocks, take you places that have no roads. All one has to do is take a few minutes to research the Wrangler AND….take a sufficient test drive over less than perfect pavement. It’s not the Wrangler’s fault! A lot of people buy Wranglers just because they look cool and find out what they’re really all about later…then complain about the vehicle doing what it was designed to do. I owned one for 6 years and loved it because I kayak and the Wrangler had no problem navigating some of the iffy dirt and rocky two-tracks that led to the water. I only got rid of it when the transmission smoked up and died. It had a lot of miles on it and I figured I’d take advantage of its high trade-in value.


navSystemUpdateIt all further hit home when I covered this year’s IQS and we were told many people complained about several automakers’ infotainment systems. Oh..they cried about them being too complicated or whatever. So during the question and answer period I asked whether there’s really a problem with these systems or are owners just being too freakin’ lazy to read the manual to learn how to use the systems.

Here’s the answer I got: “People won’t read the manual. They just won’t. The true solution is to fix it upstream and get it right the first time.”

But what’s actually wrong? OK..yes..some systems are unduly complicated, but generally modern infotainment and connectivity systems are not necessarily so intuitive you can just sit down and operate them as you could in the old days when the most complicated electronics was an AM/FM radio with an 8-track, cassette or CD player. There is a learning curve. But you have to take the time to learn. Personally, I spent a couple of hours with the owner’s manual of my Subaru Ascent learning how its electronics work and what all the buttons and lights mean. Now I’m happy. It was easy. No complaints.

Some dealerships, like my Subaru store, offer what’s known as “second deliveries” where, after owning the vehicle for a week or so, you come back and there’s someone to answer any question you have and demonstrate how things work. If the instructions in the manual weren’t clear enough, the person conducting the second delivery is likely to help you figure it out. I know, I know…who wants to schlep back to the dealership? Well..my dealer dangled a 25 buck gas card as an added incentive, on top of, you know, learning how to use the cool stuff I paid for.

To be fair, IQS offers some valuable insight, especially when it comes to fit, finish and ergonomic issues a customer might not detect during a quick test drive, or do not become apparent until you’ve lived with the vehicle for a bit. If it’s really a quality issue, then the automaker deserves to take the heat. But if the issue is a failure by the customer to adequately research the vehicle and simply buys it because of appearance or brand cache’ or is simply too lazy to breeze through the owner’s manual..then it’s too damned bad. You don’t have to read the manual cover to cover…target the sections that pertain to items you’re not familiar with and return to it as needed. There are also plenty of instructional videos and customer support sites on the web. Jeez…make the effort!

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But every year when I’m covering IQS I’ll think back to that long ago conversation with the auto executive and his invective aimed at the closely followed study. When I break it down I really have to believe what he really meant was don’t report something as a problem with the vehicle, when often, the real issue is with the person driving it. 

In Defense of Us Older White Guys

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Ever since Joe Biden jumped into the POTUS race I’ve heard a lot of talk to the tune of “oh crap, just an older white guy.” So I got to thinking. I’m not as old as Amtrak Joe but I’m chugging along in my late 60’s which means I’m probably considered an older white guy too– among younger white guys and their ilk.

Politics aside, I’m here to defend us older white guys…and even older non-white guys, because, well, they may have a shade of white, on top of their heads or in their facial hair. So we’re all brothers in ageism, right?

I read that some younger workers are unhappy with us older guys because many of us are still working–gumming up the corporate ladder for the young pups who want a bigger office and bigger paychecks. I actually retired from full-time work three years ago, but I work a couple of freelance gigs because, in both cases, those businesses came to me seeking someone with, uh, seasoning, aka, actual skills and experience. Not one of them said, “even though you’re an older white guy, we’ll hire you anyway.” Or, “even though we probably have enough older white guys on staff who we wish would finally hang it up so we can have more lower-paid younger white guys on the payroll, we’ll make an exception for you.”

Nope, as I said. They reached out to me, which is extremely flattering and not bad for the self-confidence–especially when my birth certificate blares, “Hey Ed! You’re a freakin’ older white guy!”

I like to think they came to me because they appreciate what I’ve accomplished during my career in journalism and corporate communications, along with what skills I have that might be helpful to them. In both cases, that’s exactly what they told me, and that’s a pretty nice feeling. I wasn’t ready to be a full-time retiree anyway. I ran into another sort-of retired journalist yesterday I hadn’t seen in a long time and we compared notes about freelancing–not for the money, but because it keeps our gray matter, mattering, and because what we do is just so much fun. “It’s impossible to just hit that off switch,” he said. So true. You just don’t have to slam that switch all the way to 11, as we did during our full-time work days.

There’s a lot to be said about institutional knowledge and overall experience. Aside from the obvious, they can provide valuable context and judgment along with a few tricks that  could be helpful to developing younger workers early in their career journeys.

One thing I love about working with younger people is it works both ways. I learn a lot from them too and that keeps me sharp and current. They also know all the good coffee places that aren’t Starbucks and I act like I’m hip by putting on my best Billie Eilish voice, going around the office telling the Millenials and Gen Z’s “I’m a Bad Guy!” billiee

So don’t write off us older white guys. Sure, it’s great, and entirely necessary, to bring along younger talent, but we’re still in the game. Maybe not playing the field, but we have enough in us to at least be designated hitters who can still sock a homer once in awhile.

Now I’m not advocating for Joe. But I’m also not Biden my time. Just watch out. At age 67, I still play ice hockey with much younger hot shots every week. I’m by far the oldest guy in the game. I’m a bit slower than those “kids” in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, but I’m still a pain in the ass and even score once in awhile. Yeah, this older white guy is still in game, and don’t even try to send me to the bench…I can still yank your balls with my stick.

Tearing Down Re-Building

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The other day I got a ping on my phone from that it has now been 11 years since any Detroit major league sports team had won a championship. There are several reasons for a team’s inability to win the big prize: bad luck, better opponents and, ah, yes…they’re re-building.

What does that mean exactly? The prevailing definition is the team must suffer some fallow years while young, inexperienced players learn the ropes, gain some seasoning and maybe one day will develop into key elements of a championship team.

SPORTS-BBA-TIGERS-YANKEES-SUSPENSIONS-MSWhat does it really mean?  It means your team will suck for an extended period of time because the owners of the team offloaded talented, but high-priced players to avoid busting through the salary cap or simply to save some dough, leaving less expensive over-the-hill scrubs or not ready for the show minor leaguers filling out the roster. Then management crosses their fingers hoping a couple of those kids can quickly morph from newbie to MVP just long enough to win it all. Then it starts all over again. The kids become talented men who know how to play, want either want bigger contracts or test the free agent waters for even more money, so the owners dump ‘em and it’s time to, uh, re-build again.

All this time the tone-deaf owners expect us to pay inflated, major league prices to attend minor-league level games and then wonder why the stands are so empty the vendors can be seen huddling in corners mumbling to themselves, “what am I gonna do with all these goddam hot dogs?” Easy. Beg the owners to stage more “Bark in the Park” nights when hungry bowsers will gladly relieve them of their unsold sausages.

Bottom line is, they’re not doing it right. The whole idea of the minor league system is to constantly develop younger talent that is ready for the big time as the veterans begin to falter or retire. Other positions are filled in through savvy trades and sensible free agent signings. The whole process  should be a gradual and constant but that’s not what’s happening.

buttsolicitorsI often wondered what would happen if other businesses were run this way. Say..in a law firm. A successful firm is stacked with highly skilled, highly paid attorneys who are winning criminal cases and multi-million dollar judgements. The place is flush. The partners are rolling in it. All is good. But at some point the partners realize they could be keeping more money by off-loading their highest paid lawyers and replace them with green rookies straight out of law school. So they pull the trigger. All in the name of, uh, rebuilding! Uh oh. Now the firm is losing cases left and right and their biggest clients have abandoned them. The partners are forced to sell their summer and winter homes, yachts and Bentleys. Despite this precipitous drop in performance, the firm seeks new clients at the hourly rate previously charged when they were flush with experienced barristers…but there are few takers. The firm’s shingle is dangling by a thread. Now..if only they had brought along young, promising rainmakers all along who could gain experience and skill so they were ready when the older attorneys retired or moved on, they’d still be raking in the fees and no vacation homes or ridiculous luxury items would be sacrificed.

It seems like such a simple and logical way of doing things. If you keep the pipeline filled with a constant flow of developing talent, you’ll never have to re-build..because all along you’ve been building.