Service of Questions and Loss

March 14th, 2019

Categories: College, Loss, Scams

I just lost my dearest friend and companion. Many times daily one of us would ask the other: “what do you think about _______?” In 34 + years we never tired of discussing the news, information we read in books and events and concerns involving the people we knew. Weren’t we lucky? It broke my heart of late when I’d ask and he’d reply “I don’t know.”

Until very recently, since November 2008, he added beautifully crafted often surprising and erudite comments to my twice a week posts. You might have read some of them and enjoyed a glimpse of his remarkable mind, grasp of history and memories of his quirky, colorful life. He signed in as Protius, Lucan, hb, mbj, Horace Peabody, Seneca, Dave Cummings, Charlie S., CKP, Hester Craddock–to name just a few pseudonyms. He rarely if ever signed in as Homer Byington.

So in this brief post I will ask you what I would have asked him:

  • What do you think about the people involved in the college entrance scandal? There were many players from the mastermind Rick Singer and participating parents and children [though some allegedly didn’t know], to the bribed, whether college officials and coaches or SAT administrators. Were the parents really helping their kids in the end even if they’d not been caught? Should the students involved be refused a diploma? Are colleges culpable because they don’t seem to vet students recommended by sports coaches?
  • And what’s with the FAA/Boeing 737 MAX story? Why were we so slow to the table to stop flights? Wall Street Journal reporters wrote: “Since the crash on Sunday, regulators in dozens of countries suspended flights by the single-aisle airliners, including longtime safety partners such as the U.K., Australia and Canada, whose airspace U.S. airlines regularly enter, even during domestic flights.” We didn’t ground the planes until yesterday. And how could Boeing sell a product that had problems and required essential training before it could be flown?

All these years you’ve also been my sounding board. Thank you.

Service of Receiving a Flawed Shipped Gift: Whom to Tell?

March 11th, 2019

Categories: Chutzpah, Duh, Flowers, Gifts, Stingy

Frozen flowers

Retailers—traditional and e—make it increasingly easier to send wonderful gifts. But what if the gift arrives damaged? Does the recipient tell the gift giver, the vendor, both or none?

Photo: pinterest

According to family legend my great Aunt Frieda called a fancy food purveyor—one of the best in NYC in the day–to ask them to remove a brace of over-ripe, too-long dead pheasants gifted her by well-meaning friends. I remember hearing that they smelled horrific but I don’t recall if she ever told the friends about the rancid poultry or merely thanked them.

More recently, Erica sent her newly widowed aunt armloads of spring flowers. Her aunt lives in Minnesota. The delivery man left the blossoms in the [very] cold outside her front door where they froze therefore hurrying them to their demise. Erica’s mom urged her aunt to tell her. Aunt hesitated as she didn’t want to hurt her feelings. She wrote: “I think they would be very lovely if they were not frozen. Your Mom asked me to send you a photo. Love.” Erica immediately called ProFlowers—that never before had disappointed her—and sent them this photo [above] as evidence.

A florist doing business in Minnesota should know to call–especially in winter–before delivering to a house to ensure that someone is home to accept the fragile package.

Photo lakesiepottery.com

Sometimes it’s not the fault of the vendor. My father told a story of a stingy millionaire who visited a well known Paris boutique and chose, for a wedding gift, an important porcelain piece by a manufacturer of luxury brands. He found it on a clearance shelf, broken. Its condition was reflected in the price. Not wanting its reputation tarnished or to be left holding the bag by having to replace an object that might appear to have been broken in transit, boutique staff carefully wrapped each of the broken pieces separately and placed each shard, with Monsieur Stingy’s card, in the boutique’s distinctive gift box. I love this story. I don’t know if it really happened or if he was sharing a lesson about what can happen to the tightfisted.

Have you received a shipped gift that was somehow flawed? Did you notify the vendor, the giver or both? Under what, if any, circumstances would you NOT tell the giver? How did you feel when someone reported a problem with a gift you sent? Would you have preferred that they notify the vendor and keep you out of it?

Photo: farmboxdirect.com

Service of 5 Plus 2 Equals 10: A Hard Pill to Swallow

March 7th, 2019

Categories: Healthcare, Medicine

Photo: mathspig.wordpress.com

Of course the math in the headline is wrong. I’m writing about drug prices in this country and nothing about what they cost and why computes either.

Did you see the alarming New York Times editorial, “Getting Answers on Drug Prices,” published the day before last week’s hearing at which seven heads of pharmaceutical companies were to meet the Senate Finance Committee? They represented Pfizer, Sanofi, Janssen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, Merck and AbbVie.

Photo: Microsoft.com

Between DJT’s trip to Vietnam and the Michael Cohen hearing, the results of the big pharma exec hearings were largely buried, at least on the news shows I hear/see. What I found didn’t really answer one eye-opening fact—why drugs cost so much more here than elsewhere. According to the editorial, a month’s worth of Actimmune to treat malignant osteoporosis costs under $350 in Britain versus $26,000 here. The editorial contends that drug prices have skyrocketed to the point that many who take them for such ailments as high blood pressure, cancers, allergies and more ration them “at great peril.”

NBC News politial reporter Leigh Ann Caldwell reported that the top exexs “could not commit to lower the price of commonly used prescription drugs even as they admitted that they control those prices. And one executive acknowledged that the high cost of medicines hits poorest patients the hardest.” That executive was Kenneth Frazier, Merck Chairman and CEO. Note: According to Caldwell the pharma industry spent a record $28 million on lobbying last year.

Photo cnn.com

The execs blame Medicare regulations. “‘The system itself is complex and it is interdependent, and no one company could unilaterally lower list prices without running into financial and operating disadvantages,’ Frazier said.” He suggested that by sitting all parties around a table “‘I think we can come up with a system that works for all Americans.’

“They pointed to a statistic that consumers on Medicare pay 13 percent out-of-pocket for prescription medication, compared to just 3 percent for a hospital stay. Some senators connected the large salaries of executives or the profitability of the company to drug costs.” In 2016, Medicare Rx drug spending, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, accounted for 30 percent of all.

In a Wall Street Journal analysis of the hearings, Peter Loftus summarized questions directed at AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez, responsible for “about the biggest-selling medicine in the world, Humira, a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and gut disorders. Humira generated $19.9 billion in global sales for AbbVie in 2018, up 8% from the year before.” In 10 years list price for a box of two pre-filled syringes went from $1,524 to $5,174 today. The company has maintained exclusivity on the drug by taking patents out on the nine or 10 diseases the drug addresses.

People—and companies that pay for their health care—are desperate to find reasonable alternatives not always with acceptable success. Sheila Kaplan wrote about the F.D.A. accusation against Canadian drug distributor CanaRx. According to her New York Times article the F.D.A. claimed that the company was selling “unapproved and mislabeled medicines to unsuspecting Americans looking to save money on prescriptions, and warned it to stop.”

Photo: fda.gov

F.D.A. commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb “was especially concerned about CanaRx’s sale of drugs with special safety requirements because they were high-risk and needed to be carefully managed to protect vulnerable patients.” Tracleer, for pulmonary arterial hypertension and CellCept, for transplant patients, were two on the agency’s warning list.

Through its attorney Joseph Morris, CanaRx denies the charge. He told Kaplan “Every prescription that is dispensed through a CanaRx program is dispensed directly to the patient from a licensed, regulated, brick-and-mortar pharmacy in Canada, Britain or Australia, and the patient can be sure that medicine she receives is the medicine that her doctor ordered.” Morris explained that CanaRx “serves as a broker between the companies’ employees and pharmacies and physicians in Canada, Australia or Britain.” The employees are encouraged to buy their meds to save their employer money by sending their Rx to CanaRx “which finds a foreign doctor to reissue it, and have it filed locally.”

The Times editorial began by comparing the promise of these hearings with one in 1994 in which the heads of seven of the country’s biggest tobacco companies admitted the truth about cigarettes. “The hearing ushered in a public health victory for the ages.” I fear nothing like this will result from last week’s hearings with big pharma.

I’d accept a difference of a few hundred dollars between medicine sold in the UK and here to make up for our complex Medicare and Medicaid pricing regulations and rules, but isn’t a difference of $25,650, in the instance of Actimmune, a bit of a stretch? With technology on the side of efficiency and cost-savings, why does a vial of insulin cost $1,500 today vs. $200 a decade ago? Could the paucity of TV news coverage about these hearings be related to the enormity of pharma ads on these shows? Will anything rattle the industry sufficiently so it becomes more responsible and less greedy?

Service of Boundaries—Walls if you Wish

March 4th, 2019

Categories: Boundaries, Privacy, Secrets, Walls

Photo: nadialarussa.com

I thought of several other headlines for this post–Service of: “Too Much Information;” “I Don’t Want to Know,” or “Too Much to Ask.”

There are many things I don’t want to know and whether my parents had affairs and/or with whom, is one of them. I also would not want to be in any way involved.

How did this come up?

Photo: throughthewoodstherapy.com

My husband asked me last week, after Michael Cohen testified at the congressional hearing: “What would you think if my father had me pay for illicit affairs or for the cover-ups?” I said, “WHAT?” He continued, “He didn’t, but I was shocked that Donald Trump, Jr. signed one of the checks Cohen presented in evidence about the Stormy Daniels cover-up.”

Photo: facebook.com

Authors—Susan Cheever for one—write about their parents’ sexual lives, which I think is not their story to tell. Some children resent that they were kept in the dark if they learn of a parent’s affairs after the death of the father or mother in question.

Should there be no secrets between parents and their children? Am I old fashioned because I welcome them? Do you draw the line as to what you’d ask your child to do for you or what you’d do for a parent?

Photo: hippocraticpost.com

Service of Assumptions That Get You Into Trouble

February 28th, 2019

Categories: Assumptions, Danger, Elevators, Rail Travel

Photo: brickunderground.com

The old saying “to assume makes an ass of you and me” can cause far worse repercussions than a spot of embarrassment–it can be dangerous. It’s best to assume nothing.

Photo: mnn.com

Tuesday morning an elevator operator survived a four story fall down an elevator shaft in Manhattan’s SOHO neighborhood.  According to ABC 7 New York “the 49 year old man was on the third floor of the building when he stepped into the open shaft, but there was no elevator there.” He landed in the basement. Amazingly his injuries were not life-threatening. He must have assumed that as it was every other day, the elevator was in place when the doors opened that morning.

Photo: railway-technology.com

As I write this I haven’t read or heard what the motivation or thoughts of the driver of the vehicle in the horrendous accident on Tuesday might have been. He [or she] swerved past the closed railroad gate while bells announcing the oncoming eastbound train clanged at a Long Island Railroad crossing. My conjecture: the driver assumed he could make it and thought the risk was a better option than the wait. The westbound train also hit the car and the three in it died. The impact was so fierce that first responders couldn’t identify the make of the car.

New Yorkers and other city dwellers walk into elevators countless times a day. Do we pay attention before stepping in to confirm that it—and not an empty hole—is on the other side of the open doors? Do people take outrageous chances, like the driver in the terrible LI Railroad crossing accident, assuming that they are fast, clever, agile or smart enough to survive a potentially deadly choice?

Photo: mobilityelevator.com

Service of Vintage Handbag Styles that Don’t Work Today

February 25th, 2019

Categories: Fashion, Fashion Accessories

 

I’ve tossed a lot of things in my various and far too frequent moves but out of nostalgia I’ve kept a few of my mother’s handbags. I’ve not worn them because they are impractical and too small for all my stuff but they make me smile when I see them.

My real issue is with their short straps or handles. To carry them I need to use one hand that has other things to do like answer a phone, carry a bag of groceries or hold on to a subway railing when the steps are slippery. Unattached to me I envision leaving the bag behind in busses and cabs.

Saks Fifth Avenue window

That’s why I like long straps that hang from my shoulder or slip over my head and across my chest.

The windows at Saks Fifth Avenue that I passed last week celebrated the iconic handbag and some were reminiscent of my mothers’ in that they also sported short handles–much shorter than those on my mother’s bags. If I had a car and driver and the deep pockets required to pay for them and the handbags, I would be tempted because they are attractive.

Saks Fifth Avenue window

I’ve seen removable straps attached to small-handled bags that clip to metal loops on each end, but they ruin the bag’s silhouette and look awkward especially on a small bag.

Do you hold on to things you don’t use, even if space is at a premium, because you can’t let them go? Do you favor handbags with straps or are you comfortable with compact bags with short handles? Are there other vintage styles of clothing or accessories that you find best fit a previous lifestyle?

Service of Women Construction Workers: Positive Political Impact?

February 20th, 2019

Categories: Construction, Training, Union Jobs, Work

A few weeks ago I was walking in midtown Manhattan and was taken by the sign above. That’s why Anne Kadet’s Wall Street Journal article also caught my eye: “Yes They Can! Program Boosts Number of Women Construction Workers–New York City’s construction unions say the portion of apprentice slots reserved for women has risen from 10% to 15%, and most are filled with graduates of the Nontraditional Employment for Women [NEW].”

Kadet wrote that the seven week tuition-free training program is done in a former Manhattan firehouse. The Blue Collar Prep program includes carpentry, electrical work, trades math, health and safety.

According to its website, the program was founded in 1978: NEW “prepares women for careers in construction, transportation, energy and facilities maintenance industries.”

Photo; new-nyc.org

Kadet reported: “NEW recruits and trains about 225 women a year to enter apprentice programs offered by the city’s construction unions…… Nationally and citywide, women fill just 3% of construction jobs, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. NEW and union officials say that as a result of their unusual efforts, women represent more than 6% of the New York area’s roughly 100,000 union construction workers.”

Jennifer Wilkerson with the National Center for Construction Education and Research [NCCER] pointed to an anticipated shortage of trades workers, the strikingly low number of women currently in the industry and the fact that many women aren’t aware of the opportunities for them. Hopefully the word will spread about this way for women to make a lucrative living and more will.

“NEW’s incoming students usually earn low wages in traditionally female occupations, said Erik Antokal, the group’s assistant vice president for programming. Union construction jobs, meanwhile, typically pay $40 to $60 an hour, plus full benefits. ‘These are family-sustaining, middle-class jobs,’ he said.”

Photo: youtube.com

According to Kadet, “Some still have a hard time accepting women in hard hats. But NEW grad Erika Glenn-Byam said the culture has improved since she started working as a laborer in 2006. On one of her first jobs, a co-worker confessed that the men on her crew shared a secret motto: ‘Get rid of the women!’

“‘You guys need to grow up,” she told him.” After 13 years as a laborer she is buying a two-family house for herself, her mother and brother who has Down syndrome.

I admire people with construction skills and almost daily wish I had some. I’d not heard of NEW or programs like it for women–have you?– yet it’s been around for 41 years.

What do you think of women in construction? As their numbers increase do you think it will inflame resentment by men feeling women are increasingly infringing on their world or because it seems to be working, might it assuage tensions between men and women in certain industries with positive political ramifications for women?

Photo: nwic.org

Service of Presidents: I’ve Worked for Great Ones

February 18th, 2019

Categories: Boss, Loyalty, Management, President

Photo: maggievalleync.gov

It’s Presidents Day so I wanted to honor two great ones I worked for—both at PR agencies: John Havas and Bob Schwartz.

I’ll try to be brief—I see eyes glazing over as I type–though I could write pages about each.

I wasn’t at Havas’ shop long when he invited me to lunch to tell me that my job was not in jeopardy. He didn’t give details, which was appropriate, but he’d had to fire an account exec and didn’t want me to think I was next—last in first out. Another time he called in from a trip to learn that a supplier was asking about an unpaid bill. He immediately instructed the office manager to cut and mail the check. We got good prices from the suppliers—loyalty went both ways.

Photo: Groupon.com

A freelance person was doing the work I’d been hired to do. There was plenty for both of us. I had one weekend to get my arms around an account and its products and write a press kit full of releases for an impending press conference. That Monday the freelancer, Havas and the AE who seemed unable to do the job, met to review the material before sending it to the client for approval. After witnessing the snarky, nasty approach of the freelancer, who was trying to discredit what I’d written, he got up, said, “You all work this out among yourselves,” and left the room. She wasn’t around for long after that though had she not been so nasty she might well have been.

Havas ran the agency well and took the term profit sharing seriously—and so he shared. Another plus: I like the man.

Photo: linoit.com

Bob Schwartz ran the first agency I worked for which was one of the largest in the U.S. When he entered a room I thought someone had turned up the lights between his smile and presence. The agency made up a title for me when I joined—writer–after the magazine I worked for folded: I had zero PR and little relevant experience.

The agency had a major crisis minutes after I was promoted to AE. They discovered the billing department director had absconded with a large sum of money. My raise was delayed and when my boss told Schwartz she was afraid I’d leave, he had me in his office to assure me that the raise would be retroactive as soon as things settled down. Remember: I was at the bottom of a large totem pole but he wasn’t an arrogant president. He was the kind of boss who would pick up a secretary’s phone if he was walking by and nobody else was around and, in spite of his title, he rolled up his sleeves and collated the entry to the industry’s most prestigious award late into the night before the deadline–along with the others in the group.

Do you currently or have you worked for a great president?

Photo: pinterest.com

Service of Gratitude: We are Blessed

February 14th, 2019

Categories: Apartment Living, Moving, Stress

We are overwhelmed by the support and kindness friends have extended to us in the last week. Phone, text messages, and cards–even a surprise cake and incredible wine– have warmed our hearts and stomachs. Thank you.

We have landed at an apartment house owned by Pan Am Equities that is unlike any other. I have owned co-ops, lived in a condo and in a range of rentals. None compare. This gives you an idea: Management put a rose outside every door for Valentine’s Day. There are over 500 apartments.

Angelo oversees the team. Yesterday is too late for him to grant a request. He’d ordered a new sink the moment he heard ours was cracked and the next business day, after I told him tiles needed caulking, Leroy was busy at the task. Leroy did a superlative job and offered to switch out knobs on kitchen cabinets.

We are surrounded by hundreds of packing boxes and a sinful amount of packing paper. Cheerfully porters Phillip, Leroy and Giovanni have lugged the empty ones to the basement. I did this bit in the condo we lived in before.

Doorman Fred knew our names the second time we walked through the door and greets us. Jerzy, the handyman, repaired a broken light fixture minutes after I reported it. A friend said goodbye to me in front of the doorman’s desk on Saturday saying “Please sit down once in a while and take it easy.” The young doorman on duty piped up, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of her.”

Not only the building has been kind. I changed our pharmacies to one in the new neighborhood and seeing my frazzled state Claudette at CVS [neither of us had our Rx accounts there] pulled together our profiles and within a short while had all prescriptions in the branch’s computer.

My hairstylist, now also a friend, volunteered to work on a day she never does to fit my schedule, so I can look in the mirror. Andrew, our brilliant IT expert, also a friend, stopped by Home Depot to pick up some items to save me a trip. He knew he couldn’t work on our computer when he dropped off the crucial items. It is buried under hundreds of boxes and is slated for a room that is not ready to set up a thing.

We are blessed. Thank you all. I hope that when you’ve needed support you received it–even from unexpected places.

 

 

Service of When Loyalty Goes Out the Window

February 11th, 2019

Categories: Brand Loyalty, Prices

Photo: worthpoint.com

I used Tide detergent for eons as my mother also did until all of a sudden the price skyrocketed–it’s still in the stratosphere even on sale–and I realized that the world wouldn’t end and my clothes wouldn’t rot if I changed brands. I thought of this as I read Aisha Al-Muslim’s front page Wall Street Journal story, “Prices to Rise for Household Staples.” She reported that this is the second year in a row.

An aside: I knew Al-Muslim when she was a New York Women in Communications scholarship winner and look at her now!

The companies are Church & Dwight–Arm & Hammer cat litter and baking soda for example–Proctor & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Clorox Co. They are responding to increased costs of transportation, raw materials and “unfavorable currency swings.”

I wasn’t pleased to learn that Bounty paper towels and Charmin–the only brands I insist on–are on the list. Oh and Clorox 2, another favorite, is no doubt also.

Are you married to certain brands or have you seen sense and found alternatives that suit you just the same? Can you recommend a terrific substitute for Bounty, Charmin or Clorox 2?

Photo: chewy.com

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