Archive for the ‘Details’ Category

Service of Anonymity in a City: People are Watching

Monday, January 15th, 2018

Photo: thedailystar.net

Even in a big city strangers may notice you and kismet happens.

Starch in History

I told you about the neighborhood Chinese laundry man who asked me “what happened to lots of starch?” I’d just said “no starch, please” when I’d handed him a pile of men’s shirts and I’d not been in for a year. That was long ago.

Banking Coin

Photo: youtube

There’s a Chase branch near our apartment where I dropped off what seemed like eight pounds of coins we’d collected, wrapped in penny, nickel, dime and quarter rolls. As I entered, a customer service staffer asked how she might help and I handed her the shopping bag as I wasn’t sure what she’d want me to do. I began to search for my Chase customer card as we discussed cash vs. depositing to my account and she waved the card away saying, “We haven’t seen you in a while. How are you?” I am embarrassed to say I didn’t recognize her.

Lucky Bus

A most unusual thing happened to me during the early January 2018 storm dubbed bomb cyclone due to the wind exacerbating frigid temperatures.

The storm hit Thursday. Although friends and family suggested I stay home, I wanted to pick stuff up at the office and keep my appointment at Apple repair—which I wrote about in the most recent post. I usually walk but that day was planning to take the subway to Grand Central because stretches of sidewalk weren’t yet maintained turning patches into ice rinks. Plus the wind made the cold cut through my layers.

Photo: youtube.com

On my way I saw a bus on Second Avenue and 54th Street. I was on 53rd. I started towards the bus on the slushy, icy street. The bus had already closed its doors and was moving forward. Nevertheless, the driver stopped where I stood and opened the door. I expressed my appreciation—most drivers don’t do that once they’ve cleared a stop. We chatted until I exited at 46th Street.

Two days later, the temperature still in single digits, I headed to Trader Joe’s in the 30s. My cheeks were already wind burned so I’d again planned to take a subway when I saw a bus at 2nd Avenue and 54th Street. I was stuck waiting for the light at 53rd and made a mad dash across and up the street as soon as I could although it was a lost cause as the bus was already moving south. But again, I lucked out. The driver stopped to pick me up.

I was wrapped in the same fur headband and warm scarf—a Christmas gift—and as I scrambled up the steps I heard, “You again?” It was the same driver as on Thursday! He asked: “Where are you going today? You got off at 46th Street last time.” What a memory! What a nice man.

The sad end to the story for 2nd Avenue bus customers is that last Saturday was his last day on that route. The good news for Manhattan 79, 86 and 96 Street crosstown riders is that you might meet him driving east and west.

Sometimes a city doesn’t feel like such a big place and if you are lucky, people get to know you even when you’re not paying attention. Do you have similar city stories to share?

Photo: pinterest.com

Service of It Matters

Monday, July 13th, 2015

It matters

Photo: mycutegraphics.com

Photo: mycutegraphics.com

 

You can be the most sensitive person in the universe and still be innocently and inadvertently indifferent to something that’s significant to another person.

A friend teaches a reading class to six first graders. Each has a book and there’s one for her. When the class was over one day, the smallest child in the class asked if she could please carry the books back to the homeroom. My friend, who reminded me that children this age love to be helpful, said thanks but that it didn’t matter as another child was doing it. The diminutive child looked her in the eye and said, “It matters to me.” So my friend asked the other child if she’d share the “load.” The child handed three of the books to her classmate, keeping the rest for herself. The little one beamed all the way back to homeroom.

In a vastly different scenario, Jim Brownell said to me: “This is a dump but it doesn’t have to look like one.” I’d just admired the transformation of the Millbrook, N.Y. transfer station [photo below]. As you approach it now there are three flags–American, Army and Marine–posted in a generous bed of mulch they’d installed. Brownell and Joseph Magnarella, who is in the photo, are the transfer attendants responsible for the makeover. Brownell is a Marine [on NCIS I learned once a Marine, always a Marine]; Magnarella is former Army.

When I first noticed the makeover, only the American flag and two poles were in place. Brownell expected the other two flags shortly. I left work early July 3—the dump is only open three days a week—to grab a photo for this post and only two flags flew. I asked Brownell for permission to take a photo and explained the nature of my post. He suggested I wait for the missing Marine flag, especially in light of the title. “It matters,” he said. [He was on vacation the day I returned for the photo.]

Can you share examples of something insignificant that nevertheless mattered a lot to you or to someone else? How about employees who go above and beyond because where they work–and how it looks–matters to them?

Joseph Magnarella a transfer attendant at the Millbrook, NY transfer station he transformed with Jim Brownell.

Joseph Magnarella a transfer attendant at the Millbrook, NY transfer station he transformed with Jim Brownell.

Service of Art Theft Recovery

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Isabella G missing art

The empty frames which bordered some of the stolen artworks previously exhibited at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston [photo above], where the pictures used to be,  give a memorable, haunting sensation of loss. They’ve been missing for 25 years. Check out the website and you’ll see posted a $100,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of a finial of a Napoleonic eagle that was also lost in the 1990 burglary.

Speaking of burgled art, Mark Fishsteinm, with K2 Intelligence LLC, said: “You can never give up hope because if they are stolen, some people hold them for a predetermined amount of time and then think it’s safe to sell.” The retired New York City Police Department’s art crime division specialist told this to Wall Street Journal reporter Jennifer Smith for her story, “Picasso Recovery in Newark Shines Light on Art Theft.”

La Coiffeuse by PicassoWhile the article focused on the fascinating business of art recovery, clearly the type of work only for the patient, the discovery in NJ didn’t share any how-to clues. Smith wrote about the theft of a cubist Picasso picture [photo at right], “La Coiffeuse,” [1911], from a storeroom in the Centre Pompidou in Paris that was reported in 2001. It was found in February in Newark, N.J. in a package sent from Belgium marked “Art Craft Toy,” with a value of $37. According to her, “It isn’t clear how customs officials at Newark, among the busier ports in the U.S., unearthed a stolen artwork the size of a place mat. A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations declined to comment, citing a continuing investigation.”

Smith observed that in general law enforcement—police, FBI and Interpol–doesn’t work alone. Agencies collaborate with insurance companies and a few businesses such as Art Loss Register and Art Recovery Group [both in London]. The former lists stolen antiques as well as art in its database and is adding reports of forged/fake items to its service. The company boasted that last year it had 400,000 paid searches and found some 150 pieces.

Thomas Crown AffairIt doesn’t help the cause in this country that there is no central reference list for the law-enforcement agencies to track art crimes even though they represent a chunk of change. Smith wrote that the FBI can no longer verify a previous estimate of $billions lost from art and cultural crimes. She didn’t explain why but my guess would be that prices are so crazy these days that nobody can keep track or count that high.

What inspires people to pay the prices they do for high profile art when they are simply making targets of themselves? If it can’t be sold, what’s the point of stealing art? Why do you think there isn’t a single registry here for all legitimate interested parties to access?

To Catch a Thief

Service of Time vs. Result: Is it Worth It?

Monday, April 27th, 2015

clock 2

I wonder if anyone remembers my dinner parties of yore: After a 60 hour week at work I’d spend all Saturday making a complicated main dish from scratch. As I saw my guests swallowing the food which was gone in minutes, I’d wonder whether those hours of prep were the best use of my time. Would anyone know the difference if I’d simply roasted a chicken? Would they have had a better time?

An actor friend immediately related to this. It takes hours and sometimes days to set up what becomes just a few minutes of film. Does the general public get the nuances? Do they add up to an Oscar or a great review?

photog shooting living roomIt’s the same with still editorial photo shoots. You warn homeowners that it could take all day to get three good shots of a single room after a team styles and lights each to perfection. The homeowner is baffled. Do those who see the result in a magazine or online realize the effort that went into what’s on the page? Are the editors trying to impress their readers or other editors?

photog shooting modelA friend who works with models says some will tell her, as they arrive on a job, “I’ll be done in an hour, right? I’m meeting a friend.” She’ll tell them “Cancel your date; you’ll be here for hours.” The results are in catalogs and on Instagram and in fashion magazines. Had the session been shot in a flash would anyone be the wiser?

Too much time spent on a project must be treated like shoes that don’t fit: More than annoying but forget it and move on. Do you always spend the right amount of time for each task? Do you feel that there are some elements of a project you could deep six and nobody would know the difference? Are some projects time sponges and there’s nothing you can do about it?

shoes that hurt

 

Service of One More to Sell

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

Empty store shelves

The formula used to hold that a retail store would be better off tossing out an item than turning away a single customer because it had run out. Retailers were also advised to keep shelves full otherwise customers lost confidence if there were large gaps where merchandise used to be.

I went to a major office supply store to buy a printer cartridge today and while I was there asked for a multiple power strip. The enthusiastic and helpful young salesman first checked that I hadn’t missed any—the shelves were indeed empty—and he immediately called a colleague in the storage area.

Empty store shelves 2The store, that has countless laptops, tablets, computers and other devices that might need to be plugged in or charged at one or another time didn’t have a single power strip at any price. I then remembered that the last time I was there the store had run out of the Cannon cartridge I needed. On my way home that night I found one at another store.

So I wasn’t surprised by the quarterly earnings report for this chain. According to Drew FitzGerald and Chelsey Dulaney of The Wall Street Journal, the chain “reported another quarter of declining sales and dwindling store traffic, deepening the retailer’s challenges…..” That makes 11 such quarters. If they don’t have it I can’t buy it.

Yesterday I went to a drug store chain on 42nd street and Third Avenue at 3 pm—it’s open 24/7–and took the last of a popular item. The next customer looking for it will leave empty handed.

purchase by date on milkThere’s a gas station in upstate New York near the railroad station. On my way to the house on a Friday night I often drop in to buy milk but try not to. Why? For one thing they don’t sell fat free milk so I live with 1%. Worse: The “purchase by” date has either expired or is about to—and I’ve told them. I am better off buying milk at a grocery store the Sunday before and leaving it in the fridge as it’s still fresher than what I’d buy at the station five days later. [The local grocery store in the town closed a few months ago.]

Imagine what the rent for retail is in midtown Manhattan and what it costs to run a busy gas station. The irony is that the latter company started in the milk business!

Do people no longer pay attention to “purchase by” dates on food? Do you think that businesses are trying to keep inventory so lean that the old retail models no longer apply? Perhaps they think that you could use the Internet as backup, but if you need a printer cartridge, milk or OTC pharmacy item right away, in addition to the outrageous cost of shipping, what good is next day delivery?

 I want it now

Service of Details II

Monday, October 6th, 2014

locking front door

Lots of my posts involve details—some that are missing and others I admire.

With all the news about Secret Service staff that forgets to lock the White House front door, lets any old person—in fact anyone–in the same elevator with the President and doesn’t immediately notice gunshot holes on the President’s home/office, and hospital emergency room staff that dismisses a sick patient who’d just returned from western Africa, it was time to again write about the subject.

I heard security pundits talk on WABC radio and NPR, to name two places, and in answer to “how could such mistakes happen?” both mentioned how underfunded the Secret Service is. It doesn’t cost a cent to lock a door, ask extraneous people to wait for the next elevator when the President heads towards one or to use one’s God-given eyes to check out a landmark building for gunshots. One bullet was in a window. It wasn’t seen for four days.

pick up the phoneAs for the Dallas hospital, seems nurses and doctors use a different electronic charting system where the patient with ebola was sent home. Would you leave to chance that a client or boss saw something on a chart—electronic or traditional–as important as a sick patient who had returned from a country where the ebola virus is flourishing? Communication people! Get out of your chairs or pick up the phone and speak to each other.

While some overlooked these crucial details, others gloried in attending to every one.

  • On my walk to work in Manhattan last week I passed a man by the window in a dry cleaning store leaning over a white shirt, tending to stains with meticulous care.
  • In a spotless apartment building a new employee did something to the hall floors that brought up a shine unlike any we’d seen in 10 years.
  • Merchandising in some stores is a joy to revisit, such as Cursive in Grand Central Station, Lyme Regis, Ltd. in Kent, Conn. and Lilli and Loo in Hudson, N.Y. Wizards select and place enticing treasures in eye-catching displays and are never caught off guard.

    Cursive at Grand Central Station

    Cursive at Grand Central Station

It’s ironic that these three examples are in non-essential, life-saving situations.

How does an employer best get the message to employees that how they do their jobs may be crucial to the survival of others and/or the business that pays their salary? Is attention to detail and common sense something a person is taught at home, in school, at work or are folks born with the gene?

Get the message

 

Service of What’s the Question?

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

question-what-is

With $67 billion of student loans in default it appears that some of the borrowers aren’t asking the right questions. Janet Lorin wrote: “Almost two-thirds of U.S. student-loan borrowers misunderstood or were surprised by aspects of their loans or the student-loan process, a study shows.”

She continued, in “Student Borrowers Lack Understanding of Loan Terms,” on Bloomberg.com: “About 20 percent of the respondents in an online survey said the amount of their monthly payments was unexpected, according to the study released today by Young Invicibles, a nonprofit group in Washington that represents the interests of 18-to-34 year-olds. The respondents had an average of $76,000 in student debt.”

college-studentsIn addition, borrowers probably didn’t calculate what their potential salary might be in their chosen field, what the job opportunities are and what the added value would be to attend a private school with its $60,000/year tuition, room and board–taking Georgetown as an example–vs. a state or community college where they can live with relatives. Undergraduate tuition at the City University of New York is $5,130.

How do you Feel?

fever-thermometerMeanwhile, the Justices of the Supreme Court are looking at the legality of Obamacare. What they are considering is if there are limits to Congressional intervention in people’s lives. Talk show pundits refer to this question as “Can Congress make you eat your broccoli?” Wonder what the answer will be.

Hot Topic

I heard an articulate spokesperson make her case about tanning beds in a radio interview. She wanted the legislation in her state to follow California where it’s against the law for teens under 18 to use them. Emma Jones on Limelife.com reported on these findings by the Skin Cancer Foundation: “…indoor tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors. What’s more, across the US each year, 2.3 million of tanning bed users are teens.”

tanning-bedJones also reported:  “California had previously banned minors under the age of 14 from using tanning beds, but allowed those between 14 and 18 years of age to use tanning beds with parental consent. Texas has also banned the use of tanning beds for children under 16, but California’s new bill has made them the first state to set a higher age limit.”

When the MC asked this spokesperson: “How many tanning bed businesses are there in the US and how big a business is it?” she had no clue. Within a minute of hanging up, his producer had the answers. The takeaway: When you are a spokesperson, think of the obvious questions you’ll be asked about the topic you’re covering and keep the answers at hand. It’s so easy to do these days!

How Taxing

On his radio show about money, Ric Edelman was trying to make losers feel better about the outcome of the Mega Millions lottery. He told the audience about a winner of $10 million who divided her winnings: 49 percent for herself, 51 percent for her mother and siblings.

tax-2She lost a court case in which she fought the tax man, ending up paying 90 percent of her winnings to gift taxes.

Before picking up her winnings, she should have asked a whole bunch of questions. She’d have learned that the maximum amount of money she can gift someone without paying a gift tax is $13 thousand a year. She’d have been better off to have picked up the winnings with family members as a group. Ric was being funny when he said she should have hired an accountant and lawyer even before buying the winning ticket.

Have you landed in a spot because you didn’t ask the right question or weren’t prepared with the answers?

 unprepared

Service of Who Noticed?

Monday, December 19th, 2011

observant

christiane-amanpourA week ago Sunday I noticed that when Christiane Amanpour interviewed Diane Sawyer about the Republican Presidential candidate debate the night before, both were wearing eyeglasses. I happen to like eyeglasses and how they look on people but I’m not used to seeing them on female TV anchors any more than wrinkles. Apart from eyeglass industry marketing types, I wondered if anyone else took note.

I was speaking with interior designer John Buscarello, ASID, at the International Furnishings and Design Association holiday party last week. (I interviewed John for this year’s Bathroom Blogfest.) He told me how for one year he’d fought a NYC Fire Department regulation requiring him to paint red the main sprinkler pipes that are in his top floor office because he despised the color. He finally had to. When he enters each day, the pipes glare and unsettle him yet many of his clients don’t notice the change!

Speaking of paint, do you find that when company is coming, every smudge or chip you’ve passed by a million times in a hallway or room suddenly looks unbearable? Same with shabby upholstery, liners sneaking out of carpet edges….all seem to take on flashing neon light status. If you add enough distractions such as flowers, a nicely dressed dining table, and serve good food, I wonder whether guests notice these flaws as much?

john-constableDo you notice the hallmark red dot in many of John Constable’s landscape paintings? Early 19th century style pictures are not my favorite so I tend to scoot by those exhibits, but I pointed it out to my date, now my husband, on a trip to the Metropolitan Museum a zillion years ago. We joke about it now because we rarely pick up the same things. He has haunted museum painting galleries for thousands of hours and he’s partial to the artist’s work yet until then, no red dot sightings.

Why was I surprised when he hadn’t noticed that our amaryllis had grown several inches in a week and developed a flower bud?

Do you notice things your friends and family members don’t? Like what?

amaryllis1

Service of Reading the Small Print

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

small-print

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?

loophole

Service of Need to Know

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

barcode

Recent incidents reminded me of when George H.W. Bush was pilloried for not knowing what barcodes on grocery store items were. The man never went food shopping because he was busy and furthermore could afford to have others do it for him. So what? Would knowing what it’s like to wait in line at a grocery store make anyone a better President? I don’t think so.

If that’s what you think, you’d probably also believe that to be any good, PR people, marketers and doctors who represent or prescribe cancer, heart and diabetes or depression drugs must have had these diseases.

This year, early on Easter week, some complained because President Obama hadn’t sent out Easter greetings when he religiously recognized the holidays of others, such as Passover and Ramadan. Does anybody really think that any President personally sends out such greetings? This President is dealing with war, unemployment, escalating gas prices and inflation all ’round. But even if things were going swimmingly, who thinks that a President should draft and distribute such messages?

Press secretary Jay Carney responded that the President went to church on Easter implying that this was enough recognition. Carney should have put the matter to rest and admitted that the press office messed up and forgot to send out a message. But it is I who forgot: Few take blame for anything anymore.

gmAlso last week, a well-meaning radio talk show host started his interview with Dan Akerson with a reference to an OnStar promotion, asking Akerson for the inside scoop so he might win the prize, a General Motors car. It was clear that the General Motors chairman didn’t have a clue about this promotion and he mumbled some response making it obvious. Does a chairman who is driving an American icon through treacherous economic waters need to know about every subsidiary’s sales ploy? I don’t think so, however in this case, my bet is that he will in future.

Do you think that British Prime Minister David Cameron’s wife, Samantha, forgot to read the dress guidelines that came with the Royal wedding invitation to William and Kate’s nuptials? Should her husband’s staff have let her know that she was expected to wear a hat or doesn’t it matter that she appears to be the only hatless woman in the church?

In these instances, we’re dealing with perception and the potential of creating a crack for a competitor to jump in or jump on. How much detail do you think big business bosses, politicians or Presidents need to know or be concerned about?

toomuchinfo1

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