Archive for March, 2011

Service of Handy Tips

Thursday, March 31st, 2011


I’m drawn to handy tips. There are always new ones; some so obvious I wonder why I didn’t think of them myself. These are the ones I appreciate most, especially if they concern a subject I know about.

Smart Chairs

In a Wall Street Journal interview with interior designer Mario Buatta, Deb Schwartz shared one of his decorating tips I’d never before read about or thought of and I’ve interviewed countless creative interior designers, [including Buatta], and for eons, followed their work in magazines, newspapers, blogs, websites and decorator show houses.

mario-buattaQuoting Buatta Schwartz wrote: “The best way to lay out a room is to take a minute after you’ve had a party to look at where your friends moved the chairs. That will give you an idea of the best arrangement. Every room should have at least two groupings.” The irony is that in the article Buatta admits he doesn’t entertain! After I’ve had company, I’m usually in a rush to move things back the way they were…but maybe next time I’ll pay attention.

In Vino Veritas

If you haven’t checked out the wines at Trader Joe’s you are missing treats at great prices. Try Marques de Montanana or Vintjs, both Spanish Garnacha [Grenache] red wines at about $5.00. My husband read somewhere that this variety is good for your heart. According to Wikipedia, Grenache is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world.

Lip-Smacking Creamy Colors

lipstickI discovered a super creamy lipstick in pleasing colors–I like numbers150 and 400–distributed by Maybelline Canada at Cosmetic Market NYC for $3.00. [I had to use a magnifying glass to identify the brand which in no way affected the product’s quality.]

Gas Saver

We live in a lovely bucolic area but with gas prices reaching meteoric heights–$3.70 for regular last weekend-our wallets get hit by inflation from all sides when driving the some 25 miles to shop for groceries at Adams, the place with freshest fruits and veggies and best prices. So we let our neighbor know when we plan to go, get his list and at the same time learn how he’s doing.

Fishy Tip

I tried a container of smoked salmon bits and trim collected and packaged by a fish market whose staff expertly slices paper-thin salmon to order. The price, $7/lb, was a fraction of the standard–$7+++ for four ounces of the packaged kind. I thought the plump salmon pieces were delicious.

Missing Tip

I’ve never found an effective hiccup shortcut cure though I’ve tried quite a few. I’d love to learn yours and any other handy tips you care to share.


Service of Surprises

Monday, March 28th, 2011


I’m a control freak but with the exception of surprise parties, I love most of them, which may be why I buy lotto tickets. I just heard that the winner of the $312 million Mega Millions jackpot ticket lives in Albany. Eight people shared the ticket, actually. I had fun dreaming of what a surprise winning a chunk of money like that would be for me and some of the people I know.

I won a drawing for big bucks at Pottery Barn years ago. The amount was enough to buy the most expensive thing at the store or a nice selection of the rest. When the store called me at home on a Saturday morning, I knew it was real-not a friend with a tease–because I hadn’t told a soul that I had dropped my name in a fishbowl on the counter. I also won a big football pool which got the serious enthusiasts furious because it was just luck on my part.

Not all surprises involve money or winning. Here are a few I’ve noticed lately.

parkshotssculpture2**On my walk to work last week I first saw silver and copper-colored life-size sculptures of men sitting on benches, standing or kneeling facing one another or posing alone on 47th Street between First and Second Avenues. There’s no way to tell who the artist is-I’ve looked and asked others who were also snapping pictures. I wonder if parksculpturesmall2the city is paying for these visitors or if the artist is renting the space, using Target’s model of “I’m not telling you who I am.” You may remember the very first Target TV commercials that featured the logo, but never the name, of the then unknown retailer.

**I guess tourists whose cell phones don’t work in the US find the burgeoning phone booths in midtown handy and those whose mobile phone service is sketchy around skyscrapers welcome them as well. They are also handy to display poster adverts. I began to realize that phone booths were back in droves relatively recently. They snuck in or phoneboothssmallI’m distracted as I walk from place to place.  I wonder how long the phones will work.

**There was no looting in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami! I saw a great political cartoon about this and a friend who reads internet news voraciously said that this fact was the talk of the town.

**Brenna Ehrlich reported on the Mashable blog, “OMG, the Oxford English Dictionary Added New Words! We ‘Heart’ It! LOL!.”  What’s officially accepted in our language is often a surprise.

Some people may not like the spontaneity connected with surprises. Do you? I’d love to hear of some new or remarkable ones you’ve observed or benefited from.


Service of Heart Stopping Goofs

Thursday, March 24th, 2011


I worked at an agency where colleagues loved to give each other heart palpitations by teasing that the printed brochure, invitation or collateral that one had worked on so diligently had a typo in the third paragraph, a flopped photo bottom right or missing copy.

At times there really was a goof. A dog’s age ago a graphic artist designed a logo for a client’s promotion and a major trade magazine gave the launch a lot of space and used a quarter of a huge page to reproduce what the artist sent them. [It was so new that the agency didn’t have the art yet.] You couldn’t miss the logo and normally we’d have been elated. I can’t explain in technical terms what happened, but on the printed page, half the logo, with the program’s slogan, dropped out and made no sense.  I was mortified. The sinking feeling comes back as I write this. That never happened again because for ages [this was before digital], I showed subsequent graphic designers the case of the missing half logo and asked that they take the right preventative measures.

royal-mug2The recent heart-stopping royal mug mishap is only a recent prominent example. Can you imagine opening the carton fresh from China, rushing in to the boss with the first pieces sent express something at great expense to hand the sales staff to generate orders, when someone in the office tells you that featured next to Kate Middleton, the bride, is her future brother-in-law, Prince Harry? “Haw, haw,” you say, only to realize the royally humongous slip up of the missing Prince William.

The good news is that it’s only money. The bad news: Someone at the company has a big mouth. Otherwise, how would the news reach media worldwide, including The Telegraph [where I got the image]?

I mentioned the wrong mug/mug to a crack ad agency art director friend who told me of a mysterious mistake that cost $500,000 to reprint. It involved three aligned coupons. Somehow the copy on the back got switched so that only the middle coupon had the right info.

How to avoid such calamities that cost companies millions? Slow down. slowdown21Being careful takes time. If your copy editor or colleagues and assistants have all been fired, or if you didn’t have any to begin with, ask friends, relatives or neighbors to read or check the material before you click “send” or sign off on anything. When in doubt, check Google.

I wonder if some people are reluctant to bring others in on a project because they don’t want anyone to know what they are up to. Others fear that by asking for assistance they show weakness. Keeping projects close to the vest may make still others feel a sense of power. Any of these approaches are Petrie dishes for cultivating mistakes.

How do you avoid heart stopping goofs? Can you share any good ones?


Service of Winning at All Costs

Monday, March 21st, 2011


I heard about a sports investigation on WFAN Radio’s “The Sport’s Edge” with Rick Wolff. Wolff asked his Sunday morning guest, Jeff Benedict: “Can You Have a Winning College Football Program Without Having Some Players on Your Roster Who Have Criminal Records?” Benedict is one of the collaborators on a Sports Illustrated cover story, “Criminal Records in College Football.”

Benedict also blogged about the story in “Lessons to be learned from the SI/CBS News investigation.”  He wrote:  “Over a six-month period we conducted criminal background checks on all 2,837 players whose names appeared on the rosters of SI’s 2010 preseason Top 25 poll on Sept. 1. We turned up 204 players (7%) who had been charged with 277 incidents or crimes. Nearly 40 percent involved serious crime.”

He outlined the extent of SI and CBS’s checks and continued: “The numbers are an important place to start any conversation about the situation. But the most striking revelations from this investigation are not statistical. The guts of the story are what college coaches know and don’t know about the players they are recruiting.

dont-want-to-know1“We polled all 25 schools in our sample and found that only two (TCU and Oklahoma) perform any kind of regular formal criminal background checks on recruits. But even those two schools don’t look at juvenile records…..

“But the simplest way for a coach to learn a recruit’s juvenile history is to ask him for it. That doesn’t seem unreasonable before handing over a four-year scholarship worth well over $100,000.” Benedict noted that most coaches don’t want to know. On WFAN Benedict told of one student charged with armed robbery less than five miles from the college that recruited him.

Turning to politics, former New York Governor David Paterson, acting as substitute host on a morning radio program a week ago, shared highlights of flimflammery that duped him. Shortly after he was appointed governor, a high profile person [he wouldn’t identify] told him that Governor Spitzer–who’d resigned precipitously as a result of a sex scandal–had promised him a job. He hounded the new governor, practically “following me into the men’s room,” at a time where his focus was on catching up on far bigger matters. So he gave in. Next time he saw Eliot Spitzer, Paterson asked about the fellow and Spitzer said he’d never promised him a job.

Is winning so important that you relate to college coaches who want no details about players so they can gather a winning team and a job applicant who lies about a promise so as to bamboozle a juicy sinecure? How does a team or a person remain competitive in such an environment?


Service of Silent Retribution

Thursday, March 17th, 2011


Injustices happen. We’re taught to turn the other cheek, are reminded endlessly that life isn’t fair and when confronted by a glitch are urged to move on quickly and get over it. Only antacid manufacturers benefit when we dwell on a wrong for too long and let it gnaw on our innards.

Revenge is of short term satisfaction and can be dangerous. Yet I think it’s a beautiful thing to learn that someone who was out of line with me also offended countless others and, in some cases, to find out that in some way they got theirs or, at least, their behavior was publicly noted.

injustice1I can hear Rex Harrison singing “How delightful” as he rubbed his hands together in “My Fair Lady” [maybe the song was “I’m An Ordinary Man”].

That musical phrase played for me the other week as I read Josh Barbanel’s article, “Eatery Closes After Decades-Long Family Spat” in The Wall Street Journal as one paragraph about this 100+ year old place rang a distant bell. Barbanel described some of the reasons for its demise: “At the same time the small restaurant in the back developed a reputation for surly New York service, and is rarely busy. One of the ____’s daughters has been known to chase tourists and other pesky customers out of the store.” [The blank is mine; her name unimportant.]

“Wow!” I thought as I read about this woman who had been outrageous to me when I owned a business called Delivered Delicacies [although I was neither a tourist nor pesky]. The details are immaterial, but to put her performance in perspective, she was one of three people in all the years I’ve worked in a range of industries who dramatically crossed the line. Reading those few words in the Journal all these years later also made me wonder why her Papa hadn’t moved her to the back office-and transferred that office offshore.

Such an echo is particularly juicy because it’s rare. I was lucky to eye the article and paragraph. I’d love to hear of similar instances of silent retribution you can share. Or do you think my vengeful attitude is appalling?


Service of Relative Disaster

Monday, March 14th, 2011


When disaster strikes, acknowledging others who are worse off seems to help.

A dear friend was deathly ill. As her condition became increasingly dire, she pointed out that at least she wasn’t as bad off as two other people we knew. Though she was sick for a very short time and died first–they shortly afterwards–it seemed that with each diagnosis, knowing about others in horrendous physical and in their case, economic, shape helped shield the blow of her bad news.

People ask us about the condition of our house and grounds after a destructive ice/rain storm last week. By comparison to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, our damage is like comparing a broken fingernail to a death. The storm has dramatically changed our landscape and repairs are invading our pocketbook, but we are safe, lost no friends or relatives and we suffered from no consequences such as fire or radiation. We’re poised for cleanup.

icestormaftermath2011flagstsmall1Three-inches of rain turned to ice, combined with high winds conspired to suck majestic 100 year old trees out of the ground as a child might pull posies out of a field of wild flowers. The trees smashed fences and light poles and along with ruts made by transitory rivulets, the grounds are pockmarked by inches-deep silt that formerly held flagstones in place. You can’t walk on the flagstones or you’ll break them further and probably fall: They are perched in air and remind me of a bad dental job. Four days without electricity gave work to the furnace company; the septic folks and backhoe man join the arborist to get checks.

icestormaftermath2011siltsmallAlthough there is nothing we could have done to protect the grounds, I nevertheless feel sad that under our watch, they have suffered. I feel responsible for them, but as we sometimes forget when we continuously see extraordinary miracles of medicine and technology, we can’t control nature.

As we keep up with the news from Japan, even as we admit we’re shaken, we remind ourselves how lucky we are. In fact, a teenage tree planted in memory of our nephew survived quite well. And while we attend to healing the grounds, we have friends whose children, spouses, parents or friends are urgently ill.

When misfortunes or worse strike does it help you to think of others who are worse off?


Service of Miscommunication

Thursday, March 10th, 2011


We communicate through actions and words and yet I don’t think that some comprehend their impact or the impressions they make when they are misleading, inaccurate or unclear.

A beggar on the sidewalk with a sign on a cardboard box asking for money was puffing a cigarette. He may have picked a butt off the sidewalk or perhaps someone gave him the cigarette. When I give a gift to a friend or relative it comes with no strings, yet I thought: He might have money to buy food if he didn’t smoke. You can argue that $9 or whatever a pack of cigarettes costs won’t buy much, so what the heck, but still. Perception was doing the talking and my wallet stayed shut.

radiowavesThe Saturday before this year’s Oscars an international news source played the same radio segment at least twice: I heard that it sure was going to be cold at the Oscars because a very rare thing happened: It snowed in San Francisco. And here I thought that Hollywood was in LA. Would I cancel a picnic in New York City if I heard an unsavory Boston weather report? Wonder if the person who wrote and/or read this has a map.

There’s an ad on a morning radio show where the owner of the business, an articulate fellow with a pleasant voice, tells you why you should bring your car to his shop for checkups and repairs. I’ve heard it a few times. He gives his phone number-I don’t recognize the area code. But he doesn’t state what town he’s in. I can’t understand why the station’s ad staff doesn’t advise him and let him record his message again. I’ve never heard of his business so doubt it’s a chain.

gastankOn March 4, here was the breaking news report that popped in my email box from a major network: “Dow Tumbles Over 150 Points Amid Rising Oil a day after the markets posted its best one-day rise in three months in the wake of a robust report on jobless claims and falling oil prices.” Hmmm. So what’s going on? Are fuel prices rising or falling? I can tell you what I think is happening if my local gas stations are any proof. And how did that s get into the word market?

The New York Post and LA Times were two of zillions to report this news: “Charlie Sheen to pitch products on Twitter, sets Guinness world record.” In the first place, I can’t imagine recommending to a client that he/she have Charlie Sheen go near their product. But it shows you what I know. According to the LA Times, “Just a day after starting up a Twitter account Tuesday afternoon, Sheen had amassed more than 910,000 followers [sic] the micro-blogging site, landing his user account among the fastest-growing the website has ever had.” I think his followers enjoy watching train wrecks and are not necessarily the folks who will buy Naked Juice smoothie [one of the products he’s promoting with one of his mistresses].

What examples of miscommunication–inadvertent or deliberate–have you observed lately?


Service of Nonchalance

Monday, March 7th, 2011


Cool and calm under pressure is great. But indifference is off-putting. In addition to being unhelpful, the attitude is disrespectful verging on insulting. Nobody expects a sycophant with unctuous manner and nauseating phony smile to direct them, but indifference and lack of concern is equally inappropriate in business as it is in a hospital, library, restaurant, post office, retail establishment, school, airport–anywhere.

A client, I’ll call him Jake, a reasonable, patient, no-nonsense person, described a recent incident that perfectly illustrates nonchalance. I’m thrilled to say that he was not in New York City when this happened.

On signing in to a major show where he was an exhibitor, Jake asked the clerk where the press room was so he could drop off his press kits. The fellow looked totally blank and Jake asked if he’d please find out. He placed a call on his walky-talky. Nobody responded.

noproblemJake got the impression that the sign-in clerk was hoping he’d shrug, say, “No problem, I really don’t need the information,” and go away. Instead, Jake said, “So where can I go to find someone who will know where the press room is?”

Jake followed the complicated instructions to find a show office in this huge conference center–down vast tracts of show floor to a staircase, which he mounted–and eventually he saw signs for the office. He entered. There was a man sitting at a desk, behind a computer, with a walky-talky on a desk. Their eyes met for a second and the clerk’s eyes returned to the computer. Still no greeting or sign of recognition: Total silence. So my client said: “May I ask you a question?” and did.

duhThe fellow still didn’t say a word. He looked at his computer and fiddled with the walky-talky and eventually told Jake that the press room was “down one level to the right.” But these fuzzy instructions in this huge edifice were useless. Jake asked for clarification. In a condescending voice, the clerk repeated what he’d first said adding a tad more directive.

When he entered what seemed to be the right place Jake called out, “Is this where I leave off my press kits for the show?” and immediately, someone came out from behind a curtain and replied, “Oh, I’ll take them! I help with the press.”

Jake observed, “Clearly, this was a PR type,” [Yay!] “She knew how to speak to people.”

I blame the show manager for not telling the sign-in staff where the press room is. How is the press going to find it? It’s tough on staff when they aren’t given the information they need to succeed. I bet that the incommunicative creature in the upstairs show office was the one who didn’t answer the sign-in clerk’s query. Think of the time and energy he’d have saved. I wonder who his model is and how he keeps his job.

Where and when have you encountered such service-killing nonchalance?


Service of Big

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011


America is founded on big is better, though pundits analyzing a downturn at Wal*Mart are noting that bulk purchases are going out of style and people are ferreting out better bargains at smaller drugstore and other chains.

Some people favor doing business with small companies or entities and others feel more secure with big ones. And many times, we have no choice.

In anycase, I’m  finding that suddenly some of the giants are dropping balls big time and all over.


envelopeThe USPS rejected all the cards I sent and re-sent to a friend who lives in Brooklyn. [I got back her Christmas card in late January!] After she got no support from her post office–the clerk told her that the address was incorrect when it wasn’t–I wrote the USPS NY district manager. It’s a matter of pride: She’s a foreigner and my postal service was messing up.

I got a phone call from a charming person in Manhattan’s customer relations who empathized with my frustration and another one sent me an email. One noted that to help substitute postal delivery staff I had to affix an apartment number to a multiple family dwelling, which hers is.

I explained she doesn’t have an apartment number, that there are three tenants in the house, she lives on the second floor, and one of the tenants brings in the mail from where the postman leaves it outside and the others get it from a table.

I agreed to add “2nd Floor” next time. I haven’t had a reason-or the heart-to send something to see if my efforts have unclogged the system when it comes to personal mail. [She gets bank statements, phone bills and books ordered online.] Yesterday a Brooklyn USPS customer relations person left me a voice message and we’ve played phone tag. I must have hit a nerve.

Meanwhile my sister’s Valentine took over one week to get from Westchester to Manhattan and a second card, from the Midwest, came two weeks late and the stamp wasn’t cancelled.


Several times a week we see “data unavailable” where our cable company posts the title of a program. TV isn’t essential, but we pay plenty to get it. If I tune in when a commercial is running, which is most of the time, I’d like to know what’s on.


smartphone1I bought my smartphone from a wonderful man whose business is connected with a major wireless phone provider. He has taught me all sorts of tricks to fix what periodically ails the device. I pulled out all the stops last week to no effect. All emails had stopped but the phone and Internet browser worked.

My phone maven wasn’t in the store that day-a first. The young man who “helped” me told me I hadn’t received any emails. Good luck. Then he tried something ineffective, handed back the phone, said it was broken, that I should take it to the [dreaded] repair office, turned his back on me and walked away.

Back at my office I found a toll free number captured from a previous breakdown [given to me by an upstate branch of this company]. Two hours after the tech person worked me through various remedies, emails appeared. [It should have revived in 20 minutes, but I was grateful anyway.]

Playing Hard to Get

I use a pharmacy connected to a chain that is gobbling up the competition. The revised Rx renewal system is sick. When the automatic refill computer voice didn’t recognize my prescription number, I called back with one option: To leave a voice message. [I used to speak with someone in the pharmacy department.] I  asked that someone confirm that my order is back on track and waiting for me. Nobody did. I went in, learned that they have a new computer system, that in transferring information much was lost and had to return the next day to pick up the order. The branch is a block from my apartment and on my way home from the office which is fortunate time-waste-wise.

druglinesI felt sorry for the counter person the first night I came in: Everything seemed to go wrong due to the new computer system. On top of my case, she was searching for a young woman’s insurance information. The computer had kept seven year old stats. I must hand it to her: She handled this–and a line that had grown to eight people–cooly and calmly.

Judgement Call

For 20 years a friend has told the Manhattan jury system about her married name yet they consistently send jury duty notifications to both names which then takes hours to untangle. Even this expert communicator is flummoxed.

Are these glitches exclusive to New York City? What big company malfunctions have stymied you lately? Is big really better?


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