Archive for July, 2022

Service of Watch Your Menu & Words

Thursday, July 28th, 2022

When meal planning for guests we’ve learned to deal with gluten free, vegetarian and vegan requirements as well as allergies to citrus, a range of vegetables [for those with diverticulitis], and avoidance of garlic, onions or cilantro, on top of countless other foods distasteful to some.

Over the last few decades if you didn’t ask a first time dinner guest if there were things they didn’t eat it was at your peril if you wanted to be a considerate host. The focus on special food needs has exploded to the point at which it is a chore to mix friends. Some eat no meat; others only eat meat and dislike fish. Still others won’t eat plant-based concoctions or cheese and eggs and I haven’t touched on victuals on the NO list due to religious rulings. Yikes.

Now that we’ve learned to cope with food issues–meet at a restaurant might be easiest–words are today’s hottest minefield. We must filter them to get along. Here’s what I mean: I referred to another person’s son. You mean “child” I was corrected. The offspring in question is a they. And around atheists, watch yourself if you hear a sneeze. It has nothing to do with Covid-19. Never say “God bless you.” You’ll offend.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I’m so old fashioned or some would say without spine or principles because I welcome any greeting that’s said to please.

I wrote in March 2021 about the private NYC school whose guidelines admonished parents to use grown-ups, folks, family or guardians instead of mom and dad and caregiver instead of babysitter or nanny. That was just the start of their list of alternative words so as not to upset others.

A freshman dorm, “Big Haus,” at SUNY Purchase, a college in Westchester, N.Y., will change its name to “Central” because the original moniker, voted on by students in 1989, reminded some of prison.

I recently heard of an employee who quit after two days because she claimed those training her were disrespectful. She felt that in showing her the ropes they were speaking down to her. She said, “I am a college grad.” So are the two who were training her. Her leaving was a good move for all concerned as she wasn’t in a business that welcomed overly sensitive employees who expected to be able to do their own thing without direction.

How, when entertaining at home, do you handle menus when you’ve invited people with a range of food preferences? Have you learned to watch your words? Do you feel sometimes that you’ve lost phrases that represent your tradition? Do these requirements or demands to be super sensitive to others have the opposite effect and rather than bringing us together do they feed and/or set the stage for our seemingly insurmountable political divides?

Service of Little Things Mean A Lot III

Monday, July 25th, 2022

Farmer’s market summer flowers

The nicest thing about this post is how quickly I whipped together this preliminary list. So many little things bring smiles. The first two columns of this title took place early in the pandemic and covered how friends helped others.

A gift from a friend

Here’s today’s list in no special order as all are equally meaningful:

How are you? Image by ijmaki from Pixabay 

Red velvet cake. Image by MartinL21 from Pixabay
  • I ordered a slice of velvet cake with meringue icing at Amy’s Bread, didn’t finish it at lunch and enjoyed a few bites of the leftover the next two days. The cake was the best of a memorable taste sensation, one I’ve not enjoyed in 10 dogs ages. Sweet!
  • I had a food delivery the other day, something I’d only done once before in three years because I pick up takeout. The doorman, in announcing the delivery on the intercom, asked if it was legit. He said “You don’t often order food deliveries.” You’re thinking: “Big deal.” It is: There are 510 apartments here! I thanked him later telling him I felt his attention to my habits made me feel as though I lived in a building on Fifth Avenue. His smile made me as happy as his oversight.
  • I walk on a cloud if a bus driver sees me running and waits.
  • When out of town friends let me know they’re coming to town its a treat to see them.
  • “How are you?” texts or emails from former Baruch mentees and great nieces are heart-warming.
  • When Friday evening comes and I watch “A Place to Call Home,” an Australian soap, on WLIW at 8 PM, it’s fun. Same with Grantchester on PBS on Sunday at 9 PM.
  • A text from friends from a hospital recovery room to let me know they are OK or an email that a medical checkup went well causes joy.
  • Something that makes me laugh so hard I cry reminds me of times my mother, my husband and I could hardly breath. It still happens with a few friends, when reading a great line in a book, seeing a ridiculous comment on Facebook or when my funny bone reacts to a segment in a movie or TV series.
  • I love receiving a stunning greeting card out of the blue. I enjoy the images for weeks. I display them on a chest in my living room. Photo below.
  • “Whooo hooo” I holler, even after these many years, when I get an editorial placement for a client.
  • When yet another person pays a compliment to me for my Kusama tote bag–last year’s birthday gift from a friend– it’s a hoot. I’ve written previously about this conversation starter. It happened again just last week.
  • A friend from school reached out after decades and decades–a nice surprise.
  • Summer flowers from the farmer’s market are fabulous. Photo top center.
  • A friend found an out-of-print book, unavailable in my public e-book library, with exorbitant price tags on the secondhand market. She gave it to me when we had lunch at Amy’s Bread where I devoured that divine velvet cake. Photo top right.

What little things have made you happy lately?

Surprise card featuring a favorite flower

Service of Responding at Your Peril

Thursday, July 21st, 2022

Hardly a week goes by without a new con to entice recipients to respond to a phone call, text, email or fake ad on a social media platform.

Just this week I got a text from “PayPals [sic] Service.” It started:  “We have restricted your account.” Since when did PayPal add an S to its name?

In the last few months I noticed stalkers on Facebook not where you’d expect them–asking to be your friend the old fashioned way–but in comments. When a woman placed a comment to a post the stalker-stranger would not address the topic or the remark but instead would introduce himself and invite the woman to connect.

For a long while we’ve received emails and texts announcing “your order has been processed” when there’s been none or “thank you for renewing your membership to Geeksquad” to a nonmember. And then there’s a warning that my friend shared about a purchase on her Amazon account. She doesn’t have one and she added “Sadly many naive people would push #1 as instructed. Not me!”

She mentioned an email allegedly from Yahoo asking her to confirm her email address or she’d stop getting emails within 48 hours. “There was none of the usual verbiage from Yahoo so I knew it was a scam,” she said. “Plus they’d never only give you 48 hours for any change. But makes me sick when I think of how many people fell for it.”

I was distressed reading Christina Morales’s story “Restaurants Face an Extortion Threat: A Bad Rating on Google.” In The New York Times she reported: “In a new scam targeting restaurants, criminals are leaving negative ratings on restaurants’ Google pages as a bargaining chip to extort digital gift cards.” The one star ratings–the worst you can get–feature neither photos nor descriptions and the writers haven’t been to the restaurants, some of which have Michelin stars. The scammers request $75 Google Play gift cards to remove the review.

From California to New York, the emails were the same wrote Morales: “We sincerely apologize for our actions, and would not want to harm your business but we have no other choice.” She continued: “The email went on to say that the sender lives in India and that the resale value of the gift card could provide several weeks of income for the sender’s family. The emails, from several Gmail accounts, requested payment to a Proton mail account.”

Google removed some but not all of the bad ratings. A spokesperson said the company is looking into the reviews and removed those that violated policy which states you must have been to the place you review. If not, the writer faces account suspension and/or litigation.

It’s not that easy to contact Google although “Law enforcement officials have urged” the restaurants to do so as well as to notify local police, F.B.I. and the FTC. “The commission advises businesses not to pay the scammers,” she wrote.

The takeaway for those who check out restaurant ratings is to discount any that come with no photos or descriptions.

Have you noticed any new scams attempting to trick you into playing ball? If a restaurant has mostly good reviews and one bad one do you discount it, assume it might be written by the competition or a nut or do you take it seriously?

Service of Taking Candy From a Baby

Monday, July 18th, 2022

There have always been those who look for the main chance. They’ll defraud if they must.

When I read “The Ethicist” column “What Can You Do When Cheaters Take Advantage of Charity?” in The New York Times, I immediately thought of my mother’s experience as a volunteer tax preparer for the AARP. The organization offered free tax prep and trained her to complete simple tax forms. She was assigned to a church on the upper east side of Manhattan. On occasion she had to direct wealthy co-op owners with complex investments to professionals telling them she wasn’t trained to help them. That was a polite way to say “toodaloo.” The word “free” attracted them.

The Avon, Conn. reader/volunteer at a food redistribution charity described his dilemma to Times columnist Kwame Anthony Appiah. A few times a week he picks up bakery goods and delivers them to local food banks, soup kitchens and the like. According to news sources such as CNN, “Long lines are back at food banks around the U.S. as working Americans overwhelmed by inflation turn to handouts to help feed their families.”

The reader wrote: “Some charitable organizations require no screening of clients. Anyone is free to pick up food at these locations. I have observed that some individuals visit several locations on the same day, collecting a greater quantity of food than any family could reasonably use in a week. In addition, judging by some of the client vehicles, it is likely that there are not an insignificant number of individuals who are taking food who do not truly need it. Not all of those people can be collecting food on someone else’s behalf.”

He continued: “Free food for the well-off does not meet the I.R.S. definition of a charity. What is the ethical responsibility of the charitable organizations who are distributing these donations to ensure that those who truly need the food are the ones that receive it?”

Appiah responded: “It’s unfortunate when cheaters take advantage of charity. But it’s unfortunate, too, when efforts to deter them create barriers to those in need. The rigorous way to avoid abuse would be to require people to go through the humiliating (and time-consuming) process of proving their need. That could involve a photo ID, a Social Security number and documented evidence of eligibility for federal or state food-assistance programs. (It wouldn’t involve an assessment of their vehicles; the Kelley Blue Book can’t tell you whether that woman with the nice Camry has hit a rough patch.)”

I agree with Appiah. Let the crooks abuse the system so as to leave the hungry with their dignity. Before the pandemic companies introducing a new juice, tea, snack or yogurt would hand out free samples on the street. I often took one to taste test. But the charity scammers getting free food are a different story. Who can exploit the largess of others depriving disadvantaged citizens of necessities when they can well pay for their own?

Are there dignified ways to vet food bank customers to weed out cheaters or should there be a policy of no questions asked? Do you know people who take advantage of programs meant for others?

People who can well afford to pay for their food in a supermarket like this take from food banks. Shameful.

Service of Public and Private Personalities

Thursday, July 14th, 2022

Jeopardy contestant

I wonder if winner Steve Clarke’s comment on “Jeopardy” on July 12 resonated with as many others as it did me.

He’s a trial lawyer and he said that by contrast, in his personal life, he is nonconfrontational. There was a stranger using his backyard as a golf driving range recently. “It’s lucky my wife was home,” he admitted. She shooed the man off their property. He said had he been alone he might have offered the fellow lemonade.

Like Steve, I am two different people. I can be bold on behalf of clients or in other work situations otherwise, if at a friend’s party where I don’t know anyone, I’m the person taking pictures [which I love to do], passing hors d’oeuvres or washing dishes.

I welcome industry board positions that involve membership where introducing myself to strangers is part of the job. Out of such a context I anticipate someone saying the equivalent of “SO?????” to my “Hi, I’m Jeanne Byington.” It happened twice.

The first was at an event where authors were looking for publishing contacts and book agents and publishers and agents were looking for famous authors. I was a magazine editor at the time. I would have been more welcome if I’d worn a sandwich board touting I was a smallpox carrier. The second time was at the holiday gathering of a now defunct PR association. A friend was president and I went in support. I took several stabs at speaking with others but the members only wanted to catch up with friends. I was not surprised when soon after the organization shut down.

Conversely, when I enter a crowded room with the mission of finding someone for work–asking strangers if they might point out Joe Smith for example–it’s an easy task.

I went to countless “how to network” workshops until the tips became repetitive. The one that stuck with me was to arrive at an event where you don’t know a soul with a question that you are pretty sure others might answer. For example, if it’s an assemblage of PR or media people, ask if they know a moderately priced interior, headshot or event photographer. If you’re at a party you might ask: “do you know any good Italian restaurants in the east 80s?” or “Can you recommend an accountant?”

Do you have two personalities, one for work and one in personal situations? Have you merged the two? What are your foolproof networking tips?

Image by Edward Pye from Pixabay

Service of Boasting: Have Facebook & Instagram Postings Replaced Holiday Letters?

Monday, July 11th, 2022

“The only happy family is the one smiling in photos”– Polish proverb according to an acquaintance. 

A friend once told me how much she disliked the missives inserted in holiday cards. I referred to them as Harvard/Goldman Sachs newsletters. The writers would regale the reader with the year’s highlights that touched on the kids–all of whom were accepted early admission to the Ivy League–and the adults’ professional successes, vacations in St. Barts, Mustique–you get my drift.

The emphasis was on accomplishment not emotion-sharing. It wasn’t a competition about who loves others the most. That’s what has changed.

Since we’ve moved off the page onto the Internet, we’ve not lost the opportunity to boast and we’ve added a lot of declarations of LO V E. I noticed this happening long before social media when people ended every conversation with “Love ya.” It became automatic like “God bless you” when someone sneezes. It took the zest out of the love word.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Caitlin Macy wrote a pithy piece in the Wall Street JournalThe Age of Emotional Overstatement–From social media to job applications, the pressure to declare our feelings in public is turning us into gushing adolescents.” She showed “emotional stinginess” when she’d post on social media “HBD! Whoohoo!” to acknowledge her child’s birthday.

By comparison, she wrote “today’s parent has only just begun her tribute to the sunshine golden star-child who grew into the brilliant, gorgeous, side-splittingly funny, preternaturally gifted athlete (‘Go, Big Blue!’), not to mention the kindest person upon this earth as well as the head of the yearbook committee, who is loved ‘to the moon and infinity and back and to infinity again and to whatever lies beyond infinity…’”

What is part of college applications today? “Tell us about your passion,” Macy reported. She points a finger at companies as well from whom, she observed, you want competence: “…. a corporation bragging about its passion for the service it’s providing suggests unstable—maybe even unhinged—leadership: Passion by its very nature is short-lived. It flames, and then, presumably, the fire in the loins for supply-chain optimization goes out.”

She wrote: “When Tevye sings to his wife Golde, in the musical ‘Fiddler on the Roof, ‘ ‘Do you love me?’—a question, by the way, that they’ve never discussed—Golde doesn’t say anything about the moon or infinity. No, she replies by listing the work she’s done: ‘For 25 years I’ve washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house…If that isn’t love, what is?'”

Macy observed that today we are more effusive but wonders if we are more loving? “There is something about today’s emotional exhibitionism that makes one long for a more restrained time—whether real or fictional—when love came up in conversation once every 25 years or so. As the great works make clear, the act of discretion around intimate relationships is how one honors these relationships. You explicitly don’t put on a PDA parade because they’re too important—too deep, too private.” {FYI: PDA=public display of affection.}

She posits: “I can’t seem to lose the feeling that it’s all a crock. Perhaps if we weren’t so quick to love, we’d be slower to hate as well.”

I’m with Golde. People who show their love quietly, in actions, count most to me although, like Macy, I’ve also sprinkled around many a heart emoji in response to Facebook postings. The ebullient year-end newsletter writers no longer send cards but do you see a relationship between their missives and year ’round over-the-top social media postings, weighted down by an abundance of saccharine expressions of love?

Service of Broken Promises: Companies Should Stop Saying They’ll Call or Deliver When They Won’t/Don’t

Thursday, July 7th, 2022

Wireless Home Phone gadget

Does it make me feel better that I’m not alone when deceived by a vendor? No. Am I angry because I predict still more hours lost between glitch and repair of a gadget I was required to buy as part of a phone upgrade and/or because I believed my problem was solved and it wasn’t? I fell for a “we’ll call you in an hour to activate your device.” Gullible. More about this in a moment.

When I complained to a friend she told me that Con Edison was to call her two days ago in from 16 to 36 minutes. They didn’t call then and haven’t yet.

Another friend’s neighbor lugged her wet laundry to her house because the dryer she was assured would arrive the day before–it was in the store–never came.

A third friend had to call Instacart about her missing $35 food delivery. The personal shopper for her second order for the same items rang up $246. She cancelled it. Three tries to get a food order?

Back to me. I needed an upgraded gizmo for one of my phones. It took two visits to Verizon to place the order. Don’t ask. And as I’ve so often noted, the word “upgrade” gives me the shivers. It never augurs well and it didn’t this time either.

When the box arrived I assembled it and it didn’t work. I couldn’t reach Verizon at the number on the gizmo’s screen that said: “We’re having trouble activating your device. Please call ____.” The number didn’t respond. I called another Verizon number and got a recording in which a voice spoke at top speed referring to sim cards and 5 G and 4 G devices. I looked at this white box and figured “I’m doomed.”

So I dragged the phone, the equipment, shipping box and various electrical plugs to the store, was helped by a terrific tech person and spent well over an hour while he spoke with a counterpart on the phone. I noticed that he started to– and then didn’t–use the phone number I was directed to call.

The woman couldn’t activate the device after he repeated a long series of numbers several times. He ended up switching the sim card because the one that came with the device wasn’t responding. She said she’d call in an hour to activate the new sim card. I rushed home full of hope. She never called. The device still needed to be activated.

Yesterday, after trying unsuccessfully to reach someone on the phone–it’s a phone company after all–I walked back again with phone, large plugs and gizmo in tow. That visit took from 11:30 am to 12:45 pm because a very nice employee suggested I wait to see the same specialist who’d worked with me the day before and he wouldn’t be on the floor for half an hour. He went through the drill and the gizmo is yet to be activated. This time the voice on the phone said there was a ticket on my problem and that I’d hear from them in from 24 to 48 hours.

Reading from a script and unconscious about my case, at the end of the conversation the woman tried to review the services I use in order to sell me others. I stopped her short, and reviewed what she was to do on her end and said to the tech support associate standing next to me, “Not a good time,” and he shrugged in agreement.

Small businesses can’t get away with such behavior. What, if anything, can you suggest we do to get the big ones to cut it out and stick to their word? Has a company or organization fallen short with their promise to you?

Image by 1195798 from Pixabay

Service of Slipping Through Cracks the Size of the Grand Canyon: I.R.S. Asleep at the Switch

Tuesday, July 5th, 2022

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I overdo it by flagging receipts that indicate charitable donations or medical bills throughout the year to help with tax prep and in the event I get a dreaded I.R.S. notification that I’m being audited. It has happened to several friends of modest means and standard sources of income. The I.R.S., which claims it doesn’t have the staff to catch scofflaws, seems to waste time on microscopic fries while letting master cheaters they have been alerted to fly free.

David A. Fahrenthold, Troy Closson and Julie Tate reported on a flagrant example in their article “76 Fake Charities Shared a Mailbox. The I.R.S. Approved Them All.

The American Cancer Society alerted the IRS to one fake–American Cancer Society of Michigan headquartered in a Staten Island PO Box–run by Ian Hosang, previously convicted for stock market fraud and barred from the industry in 1997. Hosang next launched another scam–the United Way of Ohio at the same “headquarters.” The reporters wrote that the “long-running charity fraud that has astounded nonprofit regulators and watchdogs — [and] raised concerns about the I.R.S.’s ability to serve as gatekeeper for the American charity system.” Hosang had also warmed his heels in jail for two years for fraud and money laundering.

According to the reporters, the I.R.S. approved all but one in 2,400 applications from potential charities. “The agency declined to answer questions about Mr. Hosang’s case, citing taxpayer privacy laws. It also declined to make officials available for in-person interviews, but it released a written statement saying that the fast-track approval system ‘continues to reduce taxpayer burden and increase cost effectiveness of I.R.S. operations.'”

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Hosang, who said he was filled with remorse, asked the reporters “’If you file something with an agency and they approve it, do you think it’s illegal?”

In addition to the faux American Cancer Society of Michigan, he created them for Detroit, Green Bay, Cleveland and for Children to name a few–17 in this disease group alone. The real American Cancer Society launched local and national initiatives with a lawyer to alert the I.R.S. “American Cancer Society officials said they never heard back from the I.R.S.”

“The first problem,” wrote the reporters, “according to former I.R.S. officials: Tax law does not prohibit nonprofits from impersonating better-known nonprofits by using sound-alike names. The second: There are no systematic checks for a history of fraud.” They quote a former employee who admitted you could apply for tax-free status from jail.

They reported: “One 2019 study by the agency’s taxpayer advocate found that 46 percent of the applicants it approved were not actually qualified, usually because their charters did not conform to charity law. It also noted that the ‘mission statements’ were often so vague as to be useless. In 2021, federal records show, the I.R.S. approved groups whose mission statements were, in their entirety, ‘CHARITABLE ACTIVITY,’ ‘NON-PROFIT’ and ‘Need to fill in’ (possibly a forgotten note to self).”

There’s more but you get the gist.

Shouldn’t a simple search of prison records be part of a fast-track I.R.S. charity approval system? Given the lax approach to this aspect of the I.R.S.’s responsibility, do you think Joe and Jane Citizen are also pretty safe from scrutiny?

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