Archive for the ‘Disappointment’ Category

Service of Just Because the Light is Green…

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Green light

We see green lights but that doesn’t mean it’s safe to pass or to take the next step or to expect the usual to happen.

I thought of the title and this post as I crossed 45th Street and Second Avenue with the light and was almost run over by a police car that couldn’t go very far after its turn. The street was clearly jammed and traffic was at a standstill. The policeman driving didn’t honk and no lights indicated who he was or that he was rushed.

Nevins Street SubwayI encountered a second example commuting back and forth to Brooklyn from Manhattan on the subway a few times over a weekend recently. Waiting at the Nevins Street station where both East and Westside trains pass by, in the 16-some minutes before my train arrived, three went to the Westside. Did someone at the MTA check the schedule?

Given the delay, my train to Manhattan was jammed on a Saturday night at 6:30 pm. When it reached the city, at every stop, the recorded announcement blared, “This is an express train to Woodlawn,” and yet it stopped at every single local station. Imagine your confusion if you were from out of town?

jammed subway carWhen it reached 42nd Street, I stayed on figuring it would stop at the next local station, 51st street, but it didn’t. It became the express it was supposed to be all along, without notice. There are motormen and women on each train: Were they, like those who maintained the schedule, asleep or busy cashing their paychecks?

Not everyone has a smartphone that works underground nor is everyone linked to apps with the latest subway information. Does MTA management assume we all are?

It’s not just transportation—by foot or by subway—that gives off mixed signals. I might count on something or someone and whatever’s promised falls through or becomes a shadow of its original self, turning a green light into a watery orange or red one. Do you have an inner gauge that accurately reports to you when “Go!” means that and/or other examples of when you’ve proceeded based on a literal or symbolic green light and shouldn’t have or couldn’t?


Service of Reading the Small Print

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011


Do you sign up for free computer programs without reading the agreement’s small print? I do and feel nervous every time, expecting to get a bill for $zillions or find out I’ve opened myself up to some kind of catastrophic obligation.

People get married with prenuptial agreements and 50 percent don’t pay too much attention to the “in sickness and in health” part of their wedding vows. Maybe the feeling is that canny lawyers can slip you out of almost anything including employment and client contracts, wills and rental agreements. There’s a joke in our family that when submitting an insurance claim be prepared to learn that the company doesn’t pay for operations done on Tuesdays, when you had yours, and that the tree that knocked a hole in your roof was an elm, and they only cover damage from maples.

nypubliclibraryAccording to Michael Barbaro who wrote “In Elite Library Archives, a Dispute Over a Trove,” in The New York Times, writer Paul Brodeur wants back all the papers he gave to the New York Public Library many years ago. Seems the library distilled to 53 the 320 boxes this 79 year old novelist-turned-investigative reporter donated and told him that he has until August to pick up the remaining boxes or they’ll trash them.

Barbaro reported that archivists “noted that Mr. Brodeur had explicitly given up all rights to the papers when he signed a ‘deed of gift’ donating them to the library. According to that deed, the library ‘reserves the right to return’ any items it wishes and ‘may dispose of the same as the library determines in its sole discretion.'”

No doubt the library has run out of space and is revisiting all of its archives to make room for more papers without having to rent or buy additional space. Whatever the reason, the result hurt Mr. Brodeur’s ego and expectations. He was told in 1997 that his papers had been “reviewed and prepared for public viewing” and were in the permanent collection’s 88 miles of stacks. Last summer, library staff informed him that they had weeded out such things as “photocopied news stories and multiple drafts of New Yorker writings.”

pilesofcartonsWhat’s sad is that the papers–whether in the 267 boxes that the library plans to toss or the entire 300+ cartons if Brodeur wins the argument–will no doubt become moldy and useless in the shed he’s built for them on his Cape Cod property. In any case, it doesn’t appear from the photo of the shed in the paper that researchers will be able to access them from the cramped wood structure.

Do you think the library should give Brodeur back all his boxes? Have you been burned by not reading the small print? Do you feel that anyone with enough money or power can find or create a loophole to slip through whether the print is large or small?


Service of Anger

Monday, February 14th, 2011


In the Greater New York Section of The Wall Street Journal, in “Mayor Hits Back at Parents,” Michael Howard Saul and Barbara Martinez describe Mayor Bloomberg’s reaction to the “raucous display of discontent” and disrespect of Cathie Black, the new schools chancellor.

Saul and Martinez quoted a Brooklyn City Council member, Jumaane Williams, who defended the angry reaction by civic leaders and parents, suggesting that Mayor Bloomberg “retake civics class.” Williams continued: “That is exactly, actually, what America is founded on-the ability to express your opinion to people who are making decisions. It happened loudly and, I think, rightfully so because parents are angry that they’re losing opportunities to be involved in the education of their child.”

anger2Williams is right about the ability to express opinions to decision-makers. But is yelling and taunting and not allowing the “opposition” to speak effective?

I wonder how many of the yellers participate in PTAs and support class projects and try to affect change at each school? A friend, whose high-pressure job keeps her at her desk until all hours when she’s not traveling around the country and abroad, is consistently involved with her son’s NYC public school, its fundraisers, teacher’s meetings and addressing policies she objects to. It’s possible.

frustration1I have a red-hot temper. One of the triggers: Frustration at not being heard so I empathize with the primal screams of parents seeing albeit failing schools close left and right. And they have much to shout about the schools that remain open. WOR Radio NYC morning talk show host John Gambling reported horrific statistics. The state spends $33 billion on public education yet only some 23 percent of high school graduates are sufficiently prepared to either go on to college or to get a job. He noted that in Rochester, the figure was 15 percent.

Anger can give people the energy to take action and do something about what’s infuriating or worrying them.  But is yelling and bullying the schools chancellor the American way and the way out?


Service of Who Are We Fooling?

Monday, October 18th, 2010


NY Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio told Joe Bartlett on the WOR Radio 710 “Saturday Morning Show,” October 16, that there are 100,000 children who had  failed the New York State Regents math and English exams though orignally, they were told they’d passed.  Inflated grades were the culprits. What is worse than this news: These children who failed won’t be brought up to speed which is standard.

Instead, according to what I took away from the conversation, the system will start fresh and do better in future, more accurately grading the tests and having those who fail them immediately tutored.

A situation involving people shouldn’t be treated as I handle my checkbook, where I add or subtract to adjust a discrepancy that won’t go away when I [try to] balance the numbers. My fiddling concerns only me. The school debacle affects an enormous number of the city’s children who need help. To brush them off as though they are no more than an accounting adjustment broils and is wrong.

children-at-desks5And what inspired the inflated grades to begin with? The answer lies in previous posts on inflation. What’s the point of grades if they don’t identify who needs help? Why cheat the children, citizens and state by making things appear better than they are? Who are we fooling?

The City has what I consider another head-scratcher going on in the form of an experimental system for express busses. Known as “limited” busses, because they stop on avenues only at crosstown stops, they are wonderful especially if you travel on 1st or 2nd Avenues, quite a distance from the Lexington Avenue subway. The limiteds leap through traffic, as much as any vehicle can, and get you to your destination quickly.

The purpose of the 1st and 2nd Avenue experiment [and before that, in the Bronx]–is to help move people in and out of a bus quickly by allowing them to enter all doors, instead of only the front door where the MetroCard swiping machine is. The concept is good; the execution pathetic.

limited-bus1The City has placed machines on the street by the bus stops. They dispense paper receipts after you’ve slipped in your MetroCard where the machine subtracts the cost of the fare. Police are making spot-checks of the busses to confirm that everyone has a receipt. Trouble is: You never know when the limited bus is coming. If you pay for a receipt, it won’t work on a standard bus so you’ve lost the cost of the fare if a local comes and you don’t want to wait for the next limited bus.  Who knows when it will come? And if there is a crowd, you can miss the express bus if you’re in a line for a turn at a machine that, you can bet, won’t work in freezing weather or if it’s been vandalized. [One of the machines takes coins.]

Last, I tried to buy pretty commemorative stamps for a mailing at a country post office where I’ve bought hundreds of seasonal stamps for 15+ years. The branch had only 45 decorative stamps in the safe and in any of two workstations–none matching. This is scary: Feels very third world. It’s costly to design a stamp and once the art is in place, printing a good number at first printing is de minimus. Why bother designing them? Where is the lobbyist for the greeting card industry? NOTE: I dropped into the Grand Central Station post office and they had plenty of stamps. So are we closing small town post offices and giving them little to sell? Is it so nobody will miss them when they are gone?

What are your thoughts about these examples? Do you have other “Who are we fooling” stories to share?




Service of Failure

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010


In an anonymous comment on my last post, “Service of Independence Day,” [July 1], an articulate writer noted: “As my pediatrician is fond of quoting, ‘Without failure there can be no success.'” I’ve been planning to write about failure for a while. With social network ESP at work, now’s the time.

As I approached the topic, the first thing I thought of was that we can’t have weaknesses. Note a typical job interview where the interviewer asks, “What are your weaknesses?” The applicant replies:  “I’m a workaholic; I am too organized; I love working 13 hours a day when I know I shouldn’t and I hate vacations.”

successThe next thing that came to mind was the culture in some workplaces where no matter what you do, never, ever admit to failure. Sell one widget in a year when projections were for 1,000 and somehow you twist your report to show that have met your goal. Politicians always meet theirs, don’t they?

ifatfirst-you-dont-succeedI’m from the school of “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again and again and again,” and then, if it isn’t working, I realize that I’ve done everything possible and the project or relationship or concept isn’t working or didn’t work. Giving it my all allows me to sleep at night once I’m over the disappointment/devastation/dust-off period.

[One exception is failure associated with anything electronic. I don’t know about you but when something goes wrong with my computer, smartphone or other device, I sound like my mother asking myself, “What did you do?” More than half the time I did nothing and it’s not my malfunction.]

More about failure: I set up and staffed a client’s booth at an industry trade show. The client was a trade association and the marketing committee wanted me to entice attendees to participate in an industry-wide initiative. Trouble is the attendees were at the show to find and buy product, meet with vendors and maybe look for a job. They weren’t the slightest bit interested in any program this or any other association was peddling. I became emboldened after day one which generated little traffic and less interest so the second day, I stood out in the middle of the floor in front of the booth with a big smile and spoke with anyone who came down the aisle. Very not me, but I was desperate. The results were appalling.  

Not long after, when another trade association-client, representing a different industry, had the bright idea to do the same, without naming names, I told them of my previous experience and the reasons for failure. The marketing committee ignored me and went ahead. Fortunately, I wasn’t asked to staff this booth. In spite of my warning, the committee members who staffed the booth were shocked when they reported dismal results. [I didn’t say boo.]

hot-stoveYou hope to turn a negative into a positive and label a glitch like this under “experience.”  That’s the success part? I also learned that like some children who must test what a hot stove feels like no matter how effectively an adult warns them that touching it will hurt, some people won’t listen to and/or learn from other people’s failures. 

A friend from third grade’s father used to say, “It’s what you don’t think of that will trip you up,” which has challenged me all my life to try to think of everything possible before a project or event so that I clear all decks leaving time to address unexpected bombshells. Still, sometimes, things fail.

These days, it happens a lot. You try to invest prudently and intelligently and surprise! Someone at the company–a household name with solid credentials and reputation–has cheated, lied or exaggerated. You get burned, lose your money and are told that “Investing is high risk–just like gambling, don’t you know,” in the same patronizing tone of voice you hear when a person who has insulted you tells you that they were “just joking.”

Do you agree with the pediatrician who says that without failure, there can be no success? In a society that doesn’t acknowledge failure, has it ever played into your success?


Service of First Impressions

Thursday, June 24th, 2010


How reliable are your first impressions? Mine can be feeble. Whether good or bad, I’ve been happily or unhappily surprised by some.

eyeWhen it comes to people, lively eyes are important to me and these are evident on a first meeting. I eventually admired one young assistant whose eyes were expressionless–almost dead. My first impression of him was “blah to the extreme.” He was one of the best and fastest writers I’ve worked with and funny and bright as a bonus. [Don’t worry, it’s not you-we don’t know each other anymore.]

On the other hand several smart, amusing people, [some I thought were friends], turned out to be crooked, untrustworthy, sleazoids. One was caught with his hands in the coffers of the agency we worked for.

In this economy, I fear that we must brace ourselves for more of the latter. 

stapleswowAnd it’s not only people. Well known brands sell out and if you’re not paying attention, you’ll fall for a great price for what once was a reliable brand and end up with overpriced junk. Recent toaster and electric toothbrush purchases are two examples. Either a company is cashing in on its reputation, which is usually a death knell, or it’s fooling itself that licensing a lesser quality line won’t affect its higher-priced brand. While my first impression of the item on a store shelf with moderate price tag may be “Wow!” like the men in the Staples TV commercial, if my experience is poor, I scratch the brand from my “to buy” list forever.

mortgageapp2I tried to buy some vacuum cleaner bags on line yesterday and when I got to checkout, there was a form almost as long as a mortgage application. I clicked offline and called the toll-free number. Buying on the phone cost $2 less [on an $18 item] and the customer service person was an American who repeated all the numbers and addresses flawlessly. My impression had been that it would cost less for me to do all the work myself even though I was giving this company my email address–the passport to sending me countless emails about promotions and new products evermore. Go figure.

While I think of myself as street-smart, at times cynical [though occasionally gullible and trusting], I haven’t concocted reliable antidotes to people or companies that make their livings trying to cheat me by manipulating my first impression. Do you have any remedies or foolproof detection devices that weed them out?


Service of Nature

Monday, April 19th, 2010


Nature is boss and serves to keep things in perspective.

Along with the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004, hurricane Katrina and the January earthquake in Haiti, the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland is another reminder that in spite of all the remarkable technology we enjoy, we can’t control everything.

And what global financial impact nature–the volcanic ash–is having! Airports in Europe and England are still closed or crippled and millions of passengers are stranded with nowhere to sleep. The effect on the airline industry is devastating. Shipments of fragile cargo such as Dutch tulips and life-saving body parts are also marooned. People can’t get to their jobs or offices, to international meetings, conferences and trade shows.

pompeiiMany otherwise blasé types are fascinated by and in awe of such natural phenomena and we don’t forget them. Tourists can’t visit Naples without a stop in Pompeii where in 79 AD the town was wiped out by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. When I was a teen visiting South America with my mom, we were in Chile when an earthquake struck. For years, when my nephews were small, they asked us to repeat the story umpteen times. It became part of family lore.

I was first made vividly aware that nature was in charge when I was caught in the undertow at The Lido in Italy. I was 11. After that I had far more respect for the waves at Jones Beach on Long Island where I’d gone my whole life, and I listened more carefully to news of riptides and got out when the waves became angry. A friend’s son wasn’t as lucky on that New York beach. A strapping man in his late 20s with years of swimming instruction and practice, he was caught up in a wave and slammed down on the sand in such a way that he broke his neck and was killed instantly.

Another friend was crossing his college campus during a thunderstorm and missed being hit by lightening that hit a tree nearby–the first wakeup call that proved he wasn’t invincible.

Our advantage today is that technology allows us to predict some disasters and sophisticated equipment helps in reconstruction. Charity is global and we have mechanisms to immediately send support in the way of money, water, blood, clothing, meds, and specialists from doctors to engineers.

When were you first aware of nature’s power and that you weren’t in total control? Do you think that with persistence man, through technology, will eventually meet all of nature’s challenges?


Service of Disappointment

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

disappointmentHad Butler beaten Duke in last night’s NCAA 2010 Championship Tournament it would have been grand. Few had heard of Butler before the game while Duke, the top rated team, is a well known college.

butler1Now millions have heard of Butler, but the team, three last minute points from victory, must nevertheless be disappointed. None will forget the season and hopefully most will take pride in what they and their 33 year old coach, Brad Stevens, did for a little-known school: They put it on the map.

As reported in The Wall Street Journal, some of the country’s most successful people–Warren Buffett, Ted Turner, Meredith Vieira, Tom Brokaw, Harold Varmus, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center president and Nobel laureate–suffered disappointment when they weren’t admitted to the colleges of their choice, wrote Sue Shellenbarger in “Before They Were Titans, Moguls and Newsmakers, These People Were…Rejected.”  

These luminaries clearly remember the rejection but didn’t let it trip them up. Like a leak in a brick house, they were intent on making their marks one or another way and nobody and nothing stood in their way.

scholarshipwinnersWhen the New York Women in Communications Foundation scholarship committee asks student applicants about how they handled a disappointment their answers, if memorable, can help them win a generous scholarship. Eligible students range from high school senior through graduate school.

When you work with volunteers you’d best adjust your expectations, be prepared to be disappointed or to do all the work. When I was president of an industry association, the volunteer board member in charge of marketing sat on a fabulous initiative that I couldn’t wait to launch. On the one hand, I knew that nobody would remember if it happened on my watch and that it would eventually get done. On the other hand, over-nudging this person–who took advantage of the fact that he was my client–wasn’t an option. It happened the next year.

I have friends who never forget a slight, a rejection, any situation that doesn’t turn their way. They might say that I’m the denial queen, but I have learned to forget. For example, it took me forever to come up with the example above and when I mentioned this to my husband he reeled off a zillion other disappointments, such as losses of major clients. I’d actually put the lot out of my mind.

Depending on the situation, it might take me years to forget a disappointment and I might actually be affected in ways I don’t recognize. When I happen to revisit the mental black and blue mark left by a disappointment I am amazingly relieved when touching it no longer hurts, although sometimes I’m surprised if the memory, no longer in my face, still gets a rise out of me. Of one thing I’m certain: Dwelling on a disappointment doesn’t serve any purpose. 

How do you handle disappointments? Have you used any to your benefit?


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