Archive for March, 2021

Service of Unanswered Questions or None of Your Business

Monday, March 29th, 2021

Photo: theschoolrun.com

I hate to admit how old I was before I could parry an unwelcome question. Before you could find out real estate sale prices online a friend asked me what we got for our co-op apartment. My answer: “We got what we asked.”  These days I reply bluntly to intrusive questions. I’ll say: “I don’t want to talk about it,” or I change the subject.

“Going on an interview?” you’d hear in the workplace if a colleague who usually wore casual clothes was dressed to the nines.

Photo: nicolabartlett.de

And then there’s the nag who starts every conversation with “Did you get that job yet?” It’s especially grating when you’ve told the person you’ll let them know and to please stay off the subject.

There’s a health question on some job applications: “Did you ever have cancer, epilepsy, mental health problems?” to name just a few of the listed diseases. The applicant’s choice of responses are “Yes,” “No,” and “I don’t want to answer.”

Photo: womensweb.in

When a state adds to its list of vaccine-eligible citizens those at risk of Covid-19 due to underlying health conditions the nosy get to work. “Medical privacy has become the latest casualty of vaccination efforts, as friends, co-workers and even total strangers ask intrusive questions about personal health conditions,” Tara Parker-Pope wrote in a New York Times article, “‘How Did You Qualify?’ For the Young and Vaccinated, Rude Questions and Raised Eyebrows.”

If you check “I don’t want to answer ” to health questions on job applications will the reader assume that the answer is “Yes,” you have had one of the listed diseases? When you’re asked an intrusive question, do you feel obliged to answer? If not, what wording works best for you? What are other examples of questions you’d rather not answer?

Photo: boldomatic.com

Service of a $200,000 Watch and Nowhere to Go

Thursday, March 25th, 2021

Patek Philippe sports watch Photo: Luxury of Watches

Excess at a time when so many citizens suffer strikes a wrong note.

The pandemic opened eyes to hunger and financial distress in this country exacerbated by furloughs and firings. Sigal Samuel on vox.com wrote: “56 percent of US households gave to charity or volunteered in response to the pandemic, and the first half of 2020 saw a 12.6 percent increase in the number of new donors to charity compared to one year ago.”

Nevertheless spending on luxuries goes on more than usual. The capitalist in me says “That’s good–people are employed and businesses thrive” followed by a but….

Photo: bestbridalshop.com

A few days after I heard about a bride from a hardworking middle class family paying $6,000 for a wedding dress I saw Jacob Bernstein’s New York Times article “Here’s How Bored Rich People Are Spending Their Extra Cash.” I wondered if for every luxury buy the purchasers sent an equivalent amount to a charity. I did a hasty Google search to find articles about individual charitable donations in the $200,000 to $6 million range equal to some of the items identified below. I didn’t find any– which doesn’t mean none were given.

About the $6,000 wedding dress, a contemporary of mine said that the price tag is expected and only a starting point, though other friends knew of brides who looked heavenly and recently spent in the $1,500 range.

Bernstein reported that big spenders once called themselves collectors but now refer to themselves as investors. He wrote: “Rather than elbowing past each other for reservations at the latest restaurants from Marcus Samuelsson and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, or getting into bidding wars for apartments at 740 Park Avenue, they are one-upping each other in online auctions for jewelry, watches, furniture, sports cards, vintage cars, limited-edition Nikes and crypto art.”

740 Park Avenue. Photo: streeteasy.com

Retailers are sensitive to the situation. Some wouldn’t speak with him on the record about sales. One admitted almost selling out $90,000 earrings. A Patek Philippe sports watch that retails at $85,000 “can seldom be found on 47th Street for much less than $200,000.” [47th Street is the jewelry district in Manhattan.] An expert told Bernstein that demand for these watches remained as Switzerland closed down due to the pandemic. He said that the money spent on travel is directed to collectibles–uh, investments.

Bernstein reported a 1973 Porsche sold for $1.2 million last year when before the pandemic the same make and model sold for $560,000.

“In February, a digital artwork of Donald Trump facedown in the grass, covered in words like ‘loser,’ sold for $6.6 million, a record for a nonfungible token, or NFT, so called because there’s no physical piece for the buyer to take possession of.”

You get the gist. Bernstein shares many more examples.

Have you heard of record-breaking charitable donations during the pandemic?  As for collectors of pricey items calling themselves investors: Does paying outrageous prices during extraordinary circumstances sound like the makings of a very good investment to you? But what do I know? I think paying $6,000 for a wedding dress is over the top. And you?

Porsche 1973 Photo: opumo.com

 

Service of Don’t Be Silly & Social Media

Monday, March 22nd, 2021

Photo: healthline.com

When a friend confides they fear or are anxious about something a “don’t be silly” bromide response is of no help. Brushing off someone’s worry whether it’s about checkups, tax prep, test taking, debt, a medical procedure or coming down with Covid-19 is easy especially when the situation doesn’t bother you. But it’s of no help to them.

Photo: score.org

Remembering some of the concerns and stresses your friends and family members have shared might help you in other communications efforts such as in social media outreach. This echo chamber amplifies and potentially mocks or irritates many at once. I suspect even the normally empathetic are thinking of themselves when they post on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They don’t consider the potential negative impact of their images and words on some others.

When Covid-19 vaccines first appeared, eligibility expanded as quickly as attempts to snag a vaccine appointment evaporated. Postings celebrating a scheduling success made some envious, sad and more frustrated than the process already caused them to feel, a friend confided. Who knew a boast like that could inflict additional anxiety?

Photo: edutopia.org

Do those on tight budgets angling for a job or project experience pangs when they see postings of nonessential purchases such as pricey fashion accessories as they determine, each month, whether to pay rent, phone, electric or credit card bills? What do parents think of photos pals post of elaborate meals when their days are crammed with remote teaching and working leaving little time for sleep much less a 10-step recipe for shepherd’s pie?

It’s so easy and quick to text–why not share retail and other victories with the friends who would welcome the news? Before posting a triumph on social media, it might be a good idea to first question “would all my social media ‘friends’ be OK with this information?” Are you thinking “don’t be silly” at my over-sensitivity about what to post on social media because the point is to generate reaction and most social media followers aren’t really friends anyway?

Photo: fourandtwentyblackbirds.me

Service of Discounts III

Thursday, March 18th, 2021

Photo: hisugarplum.com

It’s just been two months since I wrote about discounts from legitimate businesses that edged towards scam. I recently came across two instances involving price cuts that I thought illustrated clumsy marketing or poor communications more than attempts at fleecing.

Don’t misread the customer’s willingness to overpay for postage

Photo: shop.nypl.org

The NY Public Library gift store promoted a discounted price if you bought two tote bags. The sayings printed on a few were perfect for friends. In the last window of the ordering process they charged me $8.95 for postage/handling. There was no curbside pickup option. The feather-light textiles could be stuffed into poly mailers in seconds, no other packing necessary.

In addition, during the ordering process, I gave them my email address and mobile number to enrich their database so they could send me store updates. For this I was to get a 10% discount [which would have covered the tax]. The 10 percent code was refused. The bounce back message said I had already received a discount and was ineligible for a second.

That did it. I cancelled the order. With the extra $12 the new total came to more than I wanted to pay for tote bags.

The retail department at the library may need to rethink its strategy. Overcharging on postage is not a good way to make more money if it causes you to lose sales. Offering a discount without a warning that it might not apply does not inspire customer confidence. The operation is sophisticated enough that twice I was reminded I hadn’t completed my order. [Missing was my credit card information.]

Greetings from dotted i’s and crossed t’s

Photo: heb.com

In a second instance a text from a favorite greeting card company announced a sale: $3 instead of $4.50/card. When I linked from the text in my phone all the prices were $4.50. I thought maybe there were only a few of the cards on sale and tried to find them. No-go.

I sent an email to customer service. I learned 1) the discount would appear during checkout and 2) all cards were subject to the discount. There was no mention of either in the text or on the individual online sale sheets. After I heard from customer service I placed an order from my laptop. There, on the home page, was a notice that the sale price would appear at checkout.

Just a few more words of clarification in the text would have solved misunderstandings and confusion and saved time. I wonder if the company lost sales from others who didn’t take time to clarify the sales information.

Have you been misled or confused by online or traditional purchases involving sales? Have you cancelled an order because of exorbitant postage/handling charges?

Photo: id.pinterest.com

Service of Replacing Words: Deep-Six Mom and Dad

Monday, March 15th, 2021

Photo: schoolsweek.co.uk

At risk of sounding like a broken record, having recently written “Service of What’s Next in Whitewashing the Past?” I couldn’t let this story go by without piping up.

A NYC private school for children in junior kindergarten through 12th grade–Grace Church School–published in September a language guide/glossary of acceptable words. News only recently spilled beyond the school community.

Here are some of the guide’s recommendations:

  • Rather than mom and dad use grown-ups, folks, family or guardians and caregiver, not nanny/babysitter.
  • Say people, folks or friends instead of boys and girls or ladies and gentlemen.
  • Replace “What are you? Where are you from?” with “What is your cultural/ethnic background? Where are your ancestors/is your family from?”
  • Don’t ask a classmate where they’ve been on vacation because they may not have gone anywhere and don’t say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.
  • Use physically disabled, not handicapped.

Photo: artfulparent.com

 

I read several sources and I post quotes and the word suggestions above from all. So as not to weigh down the copy with each attribution, I here credit nbcnews.com, cbslocal.com, foxnews.com, dailymail.co.uk and nypost.com for the compilation. The NY Post published a longer list of preferred words from the 12-page “Grace Inclusive Language Guide,” developed to reflect the school’s mission. (Tuition at the school is $57,330 a year.)

According to the guide, “families are formed and structured in many ways. At Grace Church School, we use inclusive language that reflects this diversity. It’s important to refrain from making assumptions about who kids live with, who cares for them, whether they sleep in the same place every night, whether they see their parents, etc.

Photo: verywellmind.com

“While we recognize hateful language that promotes racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination are already addressed in our school handbooks, we also recognize that we can do more than ban hateful language; we can use language to create welcoming and inclusive spaces.”

School head George P. Davison wrote: “We understand the power of language both to include and to cause alienation. We also know that it is our job to give community members resources to allow them to make informed and generous choices. If the boorish ‘cancel culture’ press wants to condemn us a newly dubbed ‘Woke Noho’ school of politeness, dignity and respect, then I embrace it, and I hope you will too.”

And he said: “We’re not telling people not to call their parents mom and dad. That’s the silliest thing anybody ever came up with. And its not even a word police. It is rather a guide to inclusive language, if you want to use it.”

Which of the recommendations do you agree with? Have you changed your word choices to be more sensitive to others? Should other schools publish similar guidelines? Is specificity lost with these word change suggestions?

Photo: health.wyo.gov

Service of the Story Behind the Picture

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

Norman Rockwell self portrait. Photo: painted.com

I love to read captions in museums with nuggets of information beside objects and pictures. It was from such a label by a pair of gloves at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y. that I learned, decades ago, that FDR’s father, James Roosevelt I, was considerably older than his mother Sara–26 years in fact. Captions of pictures with no information other than the artist’s name and date irritate me, especially if the picture goes by “Untitled.”

“Bright Future for Banking” Photo: theknow.denverpost.com

Stories behind pictures, an artist or illustrator are fun to read. James Barron wrote such a piece in The New York Times: “A Model and Her Norman Rockwell Meet Again.”

Charlotte Sorenson, an octogenarian living in Boulder, Colo., was 15 when she posed for a Rockwell illustration “Bright Future for Banking,” that he created in around 1955 for a bank ad. She is in a white cap and gown, front, right, in the photo at the right. The picture was published inside the Saturday Evening Post, not on its cover where his most iconic work appeared. Sorenson recently saw the illustration in a gallery ad because it is for sale–more about that shortly.

His models, regardless of the destination of the work, most often were his Stockbridge, Mass. neighbors. Sorenson told Barron “‘It was quite common to be sitting somewhere or walking somewhere, and he would spot you and in his mind he had some painting that he was thinking of, so he would ask you or send somebody to ask if you would come up to his studio.’” While she posed alone schoolmates surrounded her in the illustration. To name a few she identified “Carrots,” for her red hair and two Normans. She admitted she was disappointed that the art didn’t appear on a cover.

Barron wrote: “Rockwell’s studio on Main Street had a plate-glass window and was nicely situated for people-watching. Sorenson remembers that it was across the street from one important local hub, the drugstore, and next to another, the Western Union office.”

Photo: thebark.com

She doesn’t remember much about the sitting. Stephanie Plunkett, the deputy director and chief curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge said that a studio assistant took photographs of the models in the studio, one-by-one. Rockwell directed the shoots. “He thought of himself as a movie director casting a role,” she said. He gave the models a coke and paid them $5 to $10 for a 20 minute session, reported Barron.

Art critics were not kind to Rockwell in the day, their disdain vividly expressed by the word “treacly.” According to Barron, a Time Magazine critic wrote in 1943 about a series “The Four Freedoms”  that Rockwell “would probably be incapable of portraying a really evil human being, or even a really complex one — perhaps even a real one.”

However period magazine readers loved his work and today his fans pay dearly for originals. “Bright Future for Banking” is for sale for $885,000 at the M.S. Rau gallery in New Orleans. It was in a Rau ad that Sorenson saw it again. Barron quoted prices of other Rockwell originals from $46 and $8.45 million in 2013 to $15.4 million in 2006 and $1.9 million in 2017. Remember that the bank ad picture was not on a cover which is reflected in the price.

I always loved the American scenes and characters Rockwell depicted even though they were of a life far from mine growing up in NYC. The Pollyanna in me delights in happy endings. Life is complicated enough that I don’t feel everything must capture challenges and a sad side.

I enjoyed my visits to the Rockwell Museum in its original spot at Rockwell’s home and studio in midtown Stockbridge as well as in its new much larger location outside of town. Have you been? Do you read captions in museums? Do you have a story about a favorite picture, sculpture or artist? If funds were no issue, is there an artist whose work you’d enjoy buying for your home or office?

Photo: smithsonianmag.com

 

Service of Favorite Films II

Monday, March 8th, 2021

Photo: indiewire.com

As of Friday, New Yorkers are allowed back in movie theaters at a pandemic-safe 25 percent. Will they go?

“Brief Encounter.” Photo: nomajesty.com

So many films are available on demand or on streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu. I only subscribe to Netflix and have loved series like “Lupin,” “Marcella,” “Heartland” and “Anne with an E”  and films like “The Intouchables,” and “Midnight Diner.” I can’t keep up with all the entertainment. On my to watch list are “Made You Look,” “Captain Fantastic” and “Sister Sunshine.”

I’m still enamored of favorites on Turner Classics such as “Chariots of Fire,” “Roman Holiday,” “Brief Encounter,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “The Way We Were” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”

“The Intouchables.” Photo: npr.org

Will people be happy to stay home or are folks desperate to get out? For a year we’ve watched movies from the comfort of our sofas accompanied by our choice of snacks. On streaming services we can watch whenever it’s convenient–there are no show times–stop a flick or episode to text a friend, wash a dish, grab a nibble, replay a missed section or visit the loo.

Before sharing an indoor space with strangers for two hours with masks on–or off-and-on between handfuls of popcorn and sips of soda–some will wait for 70 percent of us to be vaccinated or at least to see if any venues require proof of covid-19 vaccination.

Is New York being too cautious to the detriment of the economy? Mississippi and Texas have lifted all pandemic restrictions including mask-wearing in all venues.

Going to the movies makes for a perfect date for teens and college friends, for folks who want to get out of the house and as an excuse to meet a friend and grab a bite before or after. I’ve loved going to the movies alone or with a pal. When my husband watched football or golf many a Sunday I’d be off to the flicks. I’ll expect I’ll return but not yet. And you? Are you waiting for herd immunity to kick in? Are you happy to forever cocoon in place to satisfy your flick fix?

Photo: cinemablend.com

 

Service of Memories II

Thursday, March 4th, 2021

I passed Pete’s Tavern [photo above] on Tuesday and was relieved to see that it was still in business, looking buff. Landmark restaurants and favorite retail hangouts of my long life in NYC had already gone well before the pandemic but since it began, too many others, some that evoked recent memories, have suddenly bitten the dust.

My father loved Pete’s. In addition to their killer garlic bread there’s another memory that makes me smile. In one week Dad had invited for lunch my mother, a client and me, then a young adult. I was his last date. He looked so pleased with himself when the host, who knew him, teased him about his popularity with women given the assortment of his female guests.

Flying Tiger Photo: timeout.com

In the mile+ walk at noon on a weekday I was shaken at how empty the Manhattan streets were as I headed south on Lexington Avenue to Irving Place to Third Avenue and 14th Street. You’d think it was a sunny Saturday in August in a normal year. I again refer to the photo of Pete’s above center: Not even a dog walker in view. This does not augur well for the remaining businesses in the short term.

From way back I still miss the Goody Shop in Mount Kisco with its killer chocolate ice cream; the fruit tarts and croissants at French bakery Dumas, about 88th Street on Lexington Avenue; the chocolate sauce from a NJ store Grunings; stationery at Kate’s Paperie and Loehman’s that in its heyday pretty much filled my clothes closet. I liked the one on Fordham Road in the Bronx.

Then there are the pandemic-shuttered businesses such as retail store Century 21, especially the one on Dey Street in Manhattan; Flying Tiger a fun place for kitschy gifts and Jasmine, a super Chinese restaurant on East 49th Street, just three that made my heart sink when they closed.

Memories are great but what can we do to for the employees of some of these businesses? I checked out on Charity Navigator organizations that help restaurant workers that are listed in a range of articles and none were rated no doubt because they are new. If you supported any please share.

Have your favorite haunts survived?  Do you remember any that are long gone or more recently erased from the scene?

Photo: downtownmagazinenyc.com

Service of Medium Rare Synthetic Burgers and Steak

Monday, March 1st, 2021

Lab grown meat Photo: boldbusiness.com

People of a certain age would never have believed the impact that Michael Bloomberg would have on cigarette smoking in NYC and the world.  In addition to making the habit socially unacceptable in many circles, the Smoke-Free Air Act of 2003 nixed puffing in restaurants, bars and most workplaces. The ban has moved to beaches, parks and more recently to many apartments in NYC in both public and private spaces in co-ops, condos and rentals.

Dana Rubinstein reported in politico.com that only Turkmenistan had such a ban in ’03 but, said Bloomberg in a speech 10 years later, 49 other countries had joined up.

Photo: penginrandomhouse.com

This is why steak houses had best pay attention to Bill Gates. Nicole Lyn Pesce reported on one of many points he made in his new book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need.” She wrote in marketwatch.com: “And among his calls to action: switching to synthetic beef to reduce methane emissions, aka the gases that cattle and sheep release when they belch or pass gas.” She continued “it’s simply a biologic fact of life that the bacteria in the digestive tracts of livestock releases methane as it breaks down food.”

Companies such as Burger King tried to quell the gases by adding lemongrass to beef feed and researchers in Maine and New Hampshire are studying the impact of feeding seaweed to cattle.

Pesce quoted Gates from a piece in Technology Review: “You can get used to the taste difference, and the claim is they’re going to make it taste even better over time. Eventually, that green premium is modest enough that you can sort of change the [behavior of] people or use regulation to totally shift the demand.”

She quoted a Morningstar forecast that by 2029 plant based meat sales will hit $74 billion as compared to $12 billion last year. She reported that McDonald’s and chains Taco Bell and KFC plan to “roll out plant-based sandwiches and other alternative meat items this year.” We’ll see how well they sell. McDonald’s stopped selling salads in 2020.

Picture by Thomas Sidney Cooper. Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

Bloomberg’s detractors called his a “nanny state.” Gates has arrows aimed at him as well. Wrote Pesce: “Some other critics also questioned why Gates should dictate what countries should do to address climate change when a new report in the Nation named Gates as one of the world’s top carbon emitters. It notes he lives in a 66,000-square-foot mansion outside of Seattle, and his private jet consumes 486 gallons of fuel each hour it flies.”

I wrote in “Service of Healthy Frozen Desserts–But is it Ice Cream?” that I’d rather go without than eat an ersatz treat. On the other hand who knows–maybe the burger made of weeds will remind me of the ones we got in school that bounced if they fell on the floor and weren’t reminiscent of anything I’d eaten before. But I got used to–and even fond of–them.

If you’ve eaten faux meat how did you like it? Will you switch to chicken, pasta and grilled cheese sandwiches instead if synthetic beef and lamb is all that’s available? Will we need to worry about pesticides in our “burgers” if they will be necessary to ramp up growth for increased demand for greens? What will happen to cattle ranchers and their land? Are you concerned about potential climate disaster? What are you doing to mitigate it?

Bill Gates’ private jet Photo: youtube.com

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