Archive for April, 2012

Service of What Were They Thinking?

Monday, April 30th, 2012


I’ve written many posts that illustrate business behavior or decisions that deserve this reaction. Recently I’ve noticed a rash of examples that inspired me to revisit the question.

Humor Doesn’t Always Translate

I saw a scarf manufactured by a well known Italian fashion brand. Prominently printed along an edge in fancy script were the words “cheap & chic.” European or rich person’s humor, perhaps? At $80, the scarf represented the couture brand’s bargain basement price point. In spite of the pretty pattern and colors, the words translated to “what were they thinking?” Can you imagine the reaction of the recipient of such a gift?

My Stars

Another well known apparel brand, this one with retail stores of the same name, sells a tee-shirt with a yellow star reminiscent of the symbol Jews had to wear in Nazi Germany. Wonder what the stylist-and his/her boss-had in mind? One of the hosts of the WABC radio program “Religion on the Line” was not amused.

You Can’t Have That

magazinesLeafing through the pages of a once-favorite decorating magazine, I stopped at the image of a bright red and white bedroom ensemble. Most of the photo captions on the page were obscured by the dropout type on dark background. Centrally placed in the largest type on a white background I read: “____[name of store] no longer stocks this toile headboard, but the company still sells the matching dust ruffle.”

I couldn’t see the dust ruffle in the photo [though a friend said he could see a little bit of it]. The coordinating floral comforter took up most of the image but there was no mention of it.

Pay Your Debts

And then there was the Secret Service person who didn’t pay his Columbian prostitute. Now was that the time to be cheap?

Race to Play

sportscarsOn, Christopher Baxter wrote “N.J. state troopers face probe for ‘Death Race 2012’ down Parkway to AC.” According to Baxter, two troopers “escorted a caravan of luxury sports cars at speeds in excess of 100 mph down the Garden State Parkway to Atlantic City last month.” Baxter quoted one of two witnesses, Wayne Gantt, who complained to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority: “I had the great pleasure today of nearly being killed by, not one, but two, Lamborghinis traveling in excess of 110 mph in a (New Jersey State Police) escorted ‘caravan’ of approximately 30 exotic vehicles all traveling well over 100 mph.” What a precedent for the next time a state trooper tries to ticket a driver for going 75 mph in a 65 mph zone.

Guess the police and the sports car drivers don’t remember how former NJ Governor Corzine was almost killed when he urged his chauffeur to travel at 90+ mph down a turnpike and the car smashed into something. Speed must be in the air in that state.

Can you explain what these people were thinking or add other examples to the list?


Service of Superstition

Thursday, April 26th, 2012


Matthew Hutson has written a book to be published soon, “The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane,” and an Op Ed piece in The New York Times, “In Defense of Superstition.”

I’ve covered superstition before in “Service of Old Wives Tales” in April two years ago, by gum. Aha! What is it about April? Should I buy an extra lotto ticket? I don’t hop over cracks in the sidewalk but as I noted two years ago, I’m big at knocking on wood and saying “God bless you,” when people sneeze.

psalmsI wonder if everyone would agree with Hutson when he compares the affect of reciting psalms in a warzone with carrying a lucky charm to succeed at a game or playing better with a golf ball you’re told is lucky. All three examples might calm a person and might offer what Hutson characterized as “..Psychological benefits that logic and science can’t always provide: namely, a sense of control and a sense of meaning.”

He told us that in studies, those informed that they were playing with a lucky ball landed 35 percent more puts than those with a standard one and those playing memory and word games with a lucky charm did better than those without.

He then wrote: “In a more real-world example of this effect, the anthropologist Richard Sosis of the University of Connecticut found that in Israel during the second intifada in the early 2000s, 36 percent of secular women in the town of Tzfat recited psalms in response to the violence. Compared with those who did not recite psalms, he found, those women benefited from reduced anxiety: they felt more comfortable entering crowds, going shopping and riding buses – a result, he concluded, of their increased sense of control.”

Are those who believe in the “Bible” superstitious and believers in magic? Some might jump on those implications. And don’t all these examples illustrate “it’s out of my hands now,” and a matter of luck or God, rather than providing a sense of control Hutson reported that occurs when a person leans on charms, golf balls and God?

turning-pointHutson addressed the “everything happens for a reason,” perception which he calls “another law of magic.” He wrote: “In research led by the psychologist Laura Kray of the University of California, Berkeley, subjects reflected on a turning point in their lives. The more they felt the turning point to have been fated, the more they believed, ‘It made me who I am today’ and, “‘It gave meaning to my life.'”

While I can’t argue with Kray’s findings because this is what she observed about the people she studied, I’m struck and alarmed by the passivity of such thinking in many instances. I agree that things happen for a reason: The reason might be that I made a mistake or waited too long to apply or chose the wrong person to marry or decided to risk living next to an aggressive river that overflows its banks twice a year so my basement is flooded all the time. Fate didn’t make me subtract wrong causing expensive overdrafts in my bank account leading to financial disaster or misspell the client’s name in a proposal with the result I didn’t get–or lost–a financially lifesaving account.

Fate does have its place–who your parents are, where you are born, brought up or educated, that you were caught in traffic and missed a flight that crashed, your health. And if you’re lucky….

Where do you place superstition, magic and fate in your life?


Service of Buying on Principle

Monday, April 23rd, 2012


The other week, NYC introduced its “Taxi of Tomorrow” and public advocate Bill de Blasio [Photo right, below] howled. I heard him talk about the city’s choice of foreign partner on the radio and on his website he noted that the billion dollar contract for “the exclusive right to manufacture New York’s taxis” is going to a business that operates in Iran. It’s one of a dozen car companies on de Blasio’s “Iran Watch List” that “targets businesses that operate in Iran and undermine economic sanctions.”

bill-de-blasioThe website quotes de Blasio: “You cannot do business with the people of New York City with one hand, and prop up the dangerous regime in Tehran with the other. For our billion dollars, taxpayers and taxi riders deserve a guarantee that ____ will stop selling its vehicles to Iran.” I put the space in the quote although de Blasio identifies the company on his blog.

When I’ve met investment advisors, they’ve asked me if there are any companies or industries I wouldn’t want to support. It’s a good question for many reasons. Some might forget and inadvertantly invest in–and be accused of insider trading–stock in a company the firm they work for advises. Cigarette or arms manufacturers might be on the “no” list for others.

made-in-usaThere’s a side issue to de Blasio’s point that’s worth a mention even if off-topic. I identified the car manufacturer to a friend who observed: “Why didn’t the city pick an American brand?” As I began to write I also remembered a buy American initiative where participating manufacturers hung the red, white and blue “Made in America” tag with logo on clothing, appliances and other products. Would this be unfitting today?

In wartime, many won’t buy anything made by their enemy. Some have longer memories than others and children often keep up their parents’ boycotts. Is such a consideration anti-business and therefore inappropriate in a tight economy? Or do we have no enemies?

Are there things you won’t invest in, buy, attend or support on principle, or is such thinking so yesterday?


Service of Moving

Thursday, April 19th, 2012


Deborah Brown is a newly retired [ha] award-winning marketing and communications professional whose focus ranges from retail and home furnishings to publishing. She’s been a buyer, sales promotion director, retail merchandising editor at House & Garden, director of home furnishings, ad and marketing director at House Beautiful. She’s sat on countless prestigious boards and committees and is currently a mentor in Baruch College’s Executives on Campus.

Debby wrote “Service of Responsibility”  about a retail experience for this blog in December 2009.

She learned so much from her recent move that she kindly shared highlights with us:

After Walking up four flights (78 stairs) many times a day for over 40 years, opportunity knocked when a ground floor apartment opened up in my NYC upper west side brownstone.  Newly renovated into a duplex (note the small’d’) with a garden in back, I decided to approach the landlord about the possibility of relocating.  How hard could it be, moving within my building, just downstairs, I thought!  Once the final lease was vetted by attorneys, I had a two week window to prepare for, and actually complete the move. Here are 10 things I did or wish I had done.  And yes, it was worth it after settling in one month later!

1.  Talk to everyone you know and tell them what you’re doing. 

womentalkingEveryone knows someone who can help, offer resources, information or shared stories of their own moving experiences.  From my network of dog friends, one introduced me to a top real estate attorney who helped me negotiate the lease.  Another offered to call a friend who had recently undergone a renovation and expansion with issues similar to my new space.  The information that came back was invaluable in knowing what to ask my landlord. Who knew I should ask where the boiler was located to ensure that there would be no issues that might affect my ground floor apartment; if there was a drain in the basement in the event of flood and if permits had been properly filed and inspections passed so that there would be no surprise digging through my freshly painted walls?

2.  Keep a notebook with you at all times dedicated exclusively to the move

Document every phone conversation with each company involved in your move.   Include phone numbers, account information, confirmation codes; time, date and name of person spoken to.  In the event you have a problem or questions down the road, you can document who told you what and when. 

I also included in this notebook room dimensions and measurements of furniture I expected to fit into the new apartment.

3.  Line up your phone/cable/Internet/gas and electric services ahead of your move date. 

My phone provider at the time, (rhymes with “Horizon”) managed to turn off my landline the morning of the move, promising to have everything up and running by 5:00 PM.  After three days of excuses why it was not reconnected, and being stonewalled, they promised to send a technician between 8:00 AM and 5:00PM.  No one showed.  After being given the run-around again, I finally got to a supervisor who insisted nothing in their records indicated a problem with the line, and there existed no paperwork in the system to send a live person to search the problem!  I am now with another provider but wish I had arranged this crucial connection before the move date.

4. Get written estimates or Email confirmations from everyone providing you a service. 

written-estimatesIn actuality, the moving company part was the easiest.  I ended up using a Russian-owned firm with professional and efficient movers who delivered both services and fee as quoted on the phone and in a follow up Email.

5. Don’t move “stuff” you don’t need or want

Get a shredder; donate, toss or recycle the rest.  It’s true.  If you haven’t used it, worn it or looked at it in more than five years, out it goes!  This can be clothing, china, Tschokies, etc.  I surprised myself with countless king size garbage bags of shredded materials I had held on to, “in case I needed them,”  including decades-old tax returns, letters home from camp lovingly saved by my parents and of course, passed on to me; outdated files and lists of “stuff” I’d never use again. 

6.  Create a punch list for your landlord and do a walk through before you sign anything. 

If needed, take a digital camera along to document the issues.  It was here I had to point out unfinished electrical work with exposed wires in an unfinished wall, a recycled toilet seat, missing light bulbs, intercom system not connected; then making sure all appliances were in working order.    Look in every cabinet with a flash light for open holes that need to be plugged, evidence of roaches or worse to come.

7. Best money spent: a custom closet that accommodates clothing, linens, china and other possessions.

custom-closetI also decided to pay for lights on dimmers and a screen door to the garden that would allow fresh air and additional security.

8. Next best investment:

Signature TJMaax shopping bags at .99 each in which I toted everything from dishes and books to last minute “stuff” that just kept cropping up.

9.  Biggest mistake: not following my instincts. 

murphy-bed1I was talked out of a Murphy Bed in lieu of a day bed. I bowed to a furniture placement design recommended by a professional that ultimately didn’t work and I had to change it back to my original vision for the space a couple of weeks later. The day bed went back to the store, I switched the furniture arrangement and I now sleep on a Murphy Bed.

10.  Thank your neighbors, friends, family and everyone else who helped, gave advice or actually schlepped your stuff.    

Gift cards to Star Bucks, Pain Quotidian and Fairway as well as wine is always appreciated.   

Do you have any questions for Debby such as whether she feels the slightest twinge about the things she tossed? What if she needs the camp letters for her memoir? Did she consider selling any of her belongings on eBay or through an eBay drop-off? Do you have moving tips to add to Debby’s?


Service of Volunteers

Monday, April 16th, 2012


The old saying “never volunteer,” takes on a new meaning since last week when I read about The Brooklyn Museum and how it treated its now defunct Brooklyn Museum Community Committee: It tossed out the 64 year old group like last week’s garbage, half promising to dedicate to it yet another wall plaque.

In “Ousted Museum Group Angry Over Breakup,” in The Wall Street Journal, Jennifer Maloney described the committee’s beginnings in 1948: “The group, tasked with raising the museum’s profile, started a docent program, gave presentations in low-income schools with items from the collection, and planned events.”

Until December, its office was in the museum but it paid all its expenses, such as a part-time secretary, from the money it raised. At one point the committee produced the yearly fundraising gala which was taken over by professionals about a dozen years ago. One committee member had served 50+ years. Quoting the museum’s director, Arnold Lehman, Maloney wrote: “‘The world of fundraising has become much more complicated, much more sophisticated and much more competitive over the past couple of decades.'”

She continued: “Indeed, in order to compete for public and private dollars, nonprofit institutions must have trained professionals on staff to coordinate fundraising, said Marian Stern, adjunct assistant professor at New York’s University’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising.

award2“Even as the Community Committee’s role shifted, its relationship with the museum’s successive administrations was positive, members said. When it no longer had a gala to organize, the committee created an annual award to honor women in the arts. The museum administration and curatorial staff became increasingly involved, committee members said.

“But last year, committee members said, the relationship soured. In the fall, without explanation, they said, the museum began intercepting their mail, sending it instead to the development office.”

wallplaqueThe article ends: “Ms. Williams, the museum’s spokeswoman, said a plaque in the museum lobby lists the Community Committee among major donors. The possibility of another plaque or marker to honor the group is under discussion, she said.”

I was gratified to read that some of the ex committee members have removed the museum from their wills and that one is giving her print collection to the Jewish Museum. I congratulate Jennifer Maloney for writing the story and The Wall Street Journal for covering it. I hope that readers of the paper’s “Greater New York” section who currently support the museum [or plan to], either write the director or follow the lead of the disgruntled committee members making clear the reason.

I belong to an organization that grosses about $1 million for its major fundraising lunch, run by a fulltime volunteer, supported by other volunteers–all women. They are professional at what they do but not one makes a living fundraising.

I can’t think of a good reason for the Museum to have disbanded its committee of 35 to 40 people. Some conjectures:

The museum….

**Didn’t want an image associated with old people in favor of hip, wealthy up-and-comers  

**Fired its PR and/or community relations department and then made this decision

**Needed the office space used by the committee for another activity

**Forgot it was in Brooklyn and that a contingent of longtime borough supporters speaks well of it

**Knows that neither its professional development nor administrative staff will get old and seemingly useless

**Fired the person who coordinated fundraising efforts with volunteers

**Lacked the imagination to put these loyal, enthusiastic promoters to work

What do you speculate the institution had in mind?


Service of Expiration Dates

Thursday, April 12th, 2012


I was alarmed to read in The Wall Street Journal that in order to curb food waste, the UK is discouraging grocery stores from using “sell by” and “display until” dates as they don’t feel they are related to food safety.

I don’t know if spoiled milk is unsafe, but I depend on those dates when I buy mine twice a week. Turned milk clots in coffee. I don’t like the sour taste or the look and milk seems to curdle right around the sell by date especially in summer.  Tossing a new carton or bottle of it is a waste–of nutrition as well as my time and money.

In the sidebar of Sarah Nassauer’s article, “Leftovers: Tasty or Trash?” she quotes Jonathan Bloom, an American who wrote a book on food waste: “‘Give it a smell, look at it, maybe even taste it,’ before tossing food.” He observes that “We have fairly well-developed instincts as a species for knowing if something is good or not.”

I once worked with a woman who thought she had such instincts. She’s the only person I know who ended up in the ER to have her stomach pumped because she took a small bite of noodle salad in dressing that had been in the fridge for a while. Her description of the stomach pump procedure was enough to make me err on the conservative side and never, ever taste food about which I have the slightest question.

wasted-foodThe statistics on food waste are eye-opening. Nassauer reports the average American home tosses $92 of fruits and vegetables a year. Is this because we hope to eat them and buy them as we do subscriptions to a health club or exercise equipment or because we are of a generous nature and want to be sure everyone has enough?

Drug expiration dates are related to food. The “Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide” information about the medicine cabinet life of drugs didn’t match the old wives tales I’ve swallowed for years [no doubt to encourage me to toss and buy more].

According to the guide: drug-expiration-dates“Most of what is known about drug expiration dates comes from a study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration at the request of the military. With a large and expensive stockpile of drugs, the military faced tossing out and replacing its drugs every few years. What they found from the study is 90% of more than 100 drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, were perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date.

“So the expiration date doesn’t really indicate a point at which the medication is no longer effective or has become unsafe to use. Medical authorities state expired drugs are safe to take, even those that expired years ago. A rare exception to this may be tetracycline, but the report on this is controversial among researchers. It’s true the effectiveness of a drug may decrease over time, but much of the original potency still remains even a decade after the expiration date. Excluding nitroglycerin, insulin, and liquid antibiotics, most medications are as long-lasting as the ones tested by the military. Placing a medication in a cool place, such as a refrigerator, will help a drug remain potent for many years.”

Nevertheless, before popping an old pill in your mouth, I suggest everyone first check with a doctor or pharmacist. Just your luck you may be about to ingest the equivalent of tainted food.

Do you pay attention to expiration dates on anything? Do you wish there were some on products where they don’t currently exist?


Service of Looking Back

Monday, April 9th, 2012


I’ve covered nostalgia and old fashioned things. Based on recent developments and observations, it’s time to do so again.

News in the News

This headline and subhead in an LA Times story by James Rainey caught my eye: “Scott Pelley helps CBS carve an old-school identity: The anchor has assisted in pushing the network’s ‘Evening News’ toward hard news, especially on foreign affairs and domestic economic distress. That offers promise it can escape the ratings cellar.”

scott-pelleyRainey wrote: “The old-school approach offers at least some promise that the nightly newscast, long mired in third place among the three networks, might finally claw its way out of the cellar. The ‘CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley’ is the only one of the three network nightly news shows to score a small year-to-year increase in three ratings categories for the season that began in September. In one recent week, it finished second – behind NBC but ahead of ABC- among the 25-to-54 age demographic prized by advertisers. That hadn’t happened since 2006.”

What’s Boss [Translation in 1960s Speak: Cool]

It’s back to the ’60s as “Mad Men” returned to TV sets across the nation. The show inspired headlines from White & Warren that touted “shirt dresses” new for spring and a line of 60s period fashions at Banana Republic–you’ll see them all over.

When Dinosaurs Roamed the Earth

Inspired by an earlier state of mind, one candidate for US President is attracting plenty of votes for antediluvian positions that in this country predate 1775.

Listen to the Conductor, Children!

rr-conductorThere was a time children were told to hush in public so that as adults, they naturally respected other people when out and about. Funny: The railroad is rewarding such comportment now.

Ad man Hank Goldman sent me the link to this news from Metro-North railroad: “Due to popular demand, Metro-North is expanding its ‘Quiet CALMmute’ program to all inbound AM and outbound PM Peak trains on the Hudson, Harlem & New Haven Lines starting Monday, April 2nd.”

In the quiet cars, passengers may not use cell phones; must disable sound features on computers and other electronic devices; must conduct conversations in a subdued voice and use headphones at a volume that cannot be heard by fellow passengers. Good Friday morning over the loudspeaker the conductor advised all passengers to conduct themselves this way in every car!

spring-chickens2Spring Chickens

Jerry Stiller at 85 is starring in Capital One commercials and 91 year old Bob Wolff was entered in the Guinness Book of Records for “Longest Career as a Sports Broadcaster”-73 years!

Is looking back for direction and inspiration a trend?



Service of Image

Thursday, April 5th, 2012



Street level real estate costs a fortune in New York City and in most places. I wonder what some people are thinking when they don’t take advantage of their windows or exteriors. I’ve passed the store featured above for years now.  The sign boasts “Prime Real Estate.” I’d hate to see what the owner sells as “Choice.” Why doesn’t he hire some kids with scrub brushes, hot water and razor blades to spiff up the place?

morewindows-004On the other hand, Housing Works on east 23rd street does a good job with little. The thrift shop doesn’t get to select the inventory of clothing and furniture and yet the window dresser, no doubt a volunteer, achieves an eye-catching affect. You get the feeling that the woman in that dress is welcoming you to her apartment.





This retailer [Left] on East 42nd Street takes no care with its windows across from Grand Central Station. Each section is visually disconnected to the others and none carry through a theme. The goods themselves are equally uninspired.


Restaurant chain Pret a Manger uses charming, crisp imagery.pret-a-manger-window








I’d call this window schizophrenic.schizophrenicdrugstore With its redesign, the drugstore–part of a major chain–attempts to attract customers interested in beauty products. At the same time, the manger tossed on the windowsill a bunch of inexpensive plush toys. A poster, that’s peeling off the window, reminds passersby it sells drugs.



signs-and-caramellispring-001Nobody told this pet store that green is associated with St. Patrick’s Day and that once the day is over, the owners should wait until next March to reference the holiday that most New Yorkers recognize regardless of nationality. The display is still in place in April. This is in midtown Manhattan. The loving hands at home look of the poster doesn’t inspire and at the same time, pedestrians can’t see what else is for sale inside.

Are you enticed to visit or discouraged from entering a store or restaurant because of its windows or appearance? If you have remarkable or strange windows or building exteriors in your neighborhood, please share. If you send a photo, I’ll add it to the post.

Iris Bell sent this image and comment: It’s a shop on the upper east side. I passed it in the last week and they’re still using this “plus size” mannequin. It makes a whole group of women feel welcome.lgermannequins11

Service of What’s the Question?

Monday, April 2nd, 2012


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 “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 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?


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