Archive for May, 2024

Service of the More You Pay, the Less You Get—in Sneaky Ways

Thursday, May 30th, 2024

A sheet of Ansel Adams Forever stamps.

Who doesn’t notice subtle price changes that creep into a budget and/or manufacturer savings that impact quality? I’ve recently written about the July 14 Forever stamp price increase from 68 cents to 73 cents. It’s worth repeating.

I love paper—stationery on fine paper, wonderful wrapping paper, giftbags and napkins. While Trader Joe’s has some beauties at 99 cents a card, some are printed on a rich, textured linen like stock, I will occasionally spring for a $6.00 card if it is perfect for someone. But what I’ve found is that when I go to close the envelope on these extravagances the glue or adhesive doesn’t hold. I mentioned my frustration and annoyance to a friend who had the same experience. Trader Joe’s notecards close good and tight.

And what about socks? A friend works in a shop that sells cotton socks with charming motifs for $15 a pair. They feel wonderful, but they don’t last a year. She bought me a pair that I loved [photo below]. I hand washed them and never put them in a dryer, but it didn’t matter. Holes happened anyway. I thought it may have been a one-off, but she reported the same issue with the ones she bought for herself. [I never told her about my gift.]

This example doesn’t quite fit the theme, but I wanted to share it anyway. I called customer service when the hefty shipping charge wouldn’t go away on the invoice of an online purchase. I had reached the minimum required. The operator asked if I was buying a sale item. Answer, “Yes.” She replied, “then you must pay shipping.” I couldn’t find an email address to report my irritation but nevertheless mailed a letter to the marketing director suggesting that they state this policy clearly on the website. This had never happened to me before!

Do you have similar examples of sneaky marketing where you pay more but don’t get what you expect?

Hole in a $15.00 sock shortens its life to less than one year.

Service of Don’t Hold Your Breath

Tuesday, May 28th, 2024

I attended a Master Plan for the Aging town hall meeting, a New York State initiative. The most enlightening information came from the audience. Otherwise after a far too long list of acknowledgements and thanks—almost 20 minutes’ worth–we heard about the priorities and committees and subcommittees addressing the issues before attendees were invited to speak.

By 2030, 1 in 4 New York residents will be 60 or over. Right now, there are 4.6 million in this demographic.

We heard about a 2022 executive order to:

  • Create a blueprint of strategies
  • Address challenges related to communication
  • Coordinate all State policy and programs

It has taken two years to listen to those in the trenches–or their prospective clients–so I don’t have great hope for much implementation anytime soon. I kept thinking of a committee gathered for an hour to plan the menu for a gala dinner leaving the meeting, inflated with pride, with a fancy PowerPoint presentation and this menu, bereft of detail: a starter, main course, salad and dessert.

The citizen gatherings across the state were to shed light on the public’s concerns. The audience seemed to be made up of seniors, volunteers and directors or employees of the not for profits that address the concerns of the aging. Many of the New Yorkers who spoke asked that their needs be met immediately, not tucked into some subcommittee’s agenda never to be heard from again.

The State is looking into transportation and housing; healthcare services as people age; family caregivers and remaining in community to name some of the master plan’s “bold agenda.”

In no special order, here were just some of the public’s concerns expressed last week.

Safety came up due to the unregulated, life-threatening motorized bikes that fly through the city in every which way, even on sidewalks, knocking over people of all ages. Interpreting the safety issue in another way, one woman said she’s afraid to go outside because unsavory neighbors make her community so dangerous.

Loneliness. One man who lives in Stuyvesant Town, the private development on 80 acres with 11,250 apartments, described what a coalition of older residents asked the owner to do. Two benches now have plaques that declare that anyone sitting on them would welcome a chat. Another speaker suggested the plan explore initiatives that put together young and old New Yorkers.

Nursing homes. We learned that residents in such homes are treated worse than prisoners, and, for example, are not allowed to leave for an outing, for insurance reasons. Another person said this wasn’t true where she worked.

Erratic bus schedules. A 73-year-old described that after waiting 25 minutes on Lexington Avenue to get to the 1:00 pm town hall, she walked to the meeting leaving behind a woman with a cane who did not have this option.

Lack of or shrinking funding to support crucial volunteer services that nevertheless need some paid administrators and/or directors. One provides weekly speech therapy, free, to stroke victims whose health insurance runs out far too soon said a speech therapy volunteer.

We were given an email address to send other ideas— mpatownhall@health.ny.gov. I did, asking that the state provide professional grant writers for diminutive organizations like the speech therapists to tap into the money provided by foundations and government initiatives that support the elderly. [I didn’t think of it in time to speak up.]

However, I did ask that the master plan put the squeeze on federally funded Medicare insurance decision makers asking for full or partial coverage of eyeglasses and hearing aids for those 60+. An attendee sidled up to me thanking me and admitting that she’d just paid a fortune for hearing aids.

If you would like to chime in to the Master Plan powers that be in New York, again here is the email address to send concerns for yourself or loved ones: mpatownhall@health.ny.gov. Regardless of where you live, about what else should a state concern itself to make it possible for aging citizens to live a safe and comfortable life hopefully at home.

Service of Honorifics II—Yea or Nay?

Thursday, May 23rd, 2024

A friend, we’ll call her Hortense, [all names in the post are pseudonyms], texted this objection recently. “As I’m shredding unwanted mail, I thought about your blog in which you write about charities sending unwanted solicitations! 

“I hate when they send me return labels, printed with Ms. Hortense Crabtree. If they had any idea who I was they would address me as Hortense or Horty Crabtree—skip the honorific!

“Now that younger people choose their pronouns…he, she, they, them…how do we still address mail to Ms., Mr., and Mrs. or Mx.? …Is it offensive to assume gender? Is the Ms. Mr. Mrs. or Mx. outdated?” [I covered a different aspect of honorifics in February.]

She continued, “My married name was Fredrick and I identified as Horty Fredrick,” she wrote. “I hated it when someone would call me Mrs. Fredrick (that wasn’t even my mother-in-law’s name, it was the father- in-law’s second wife’s name!) Now that I’m Hortense Crabtree again, I hate even more when I’m referred to as Mrs. Crabtree…that’s my mother!”

I admire Hortense’s sensitivity; however, I don’t care.

Maybe it’s because I’m in PR. I’m happy when someone communicates with me—I don’t even care if they get my name wrong if the email address is right and I get a reporter or producer’s request for images or information because they are planning to write an article or produce a program that includes my client. Or maybe because I’ve lived through a formal period where most everyone was Mr. and Mrs. and then, suddenly, everyone was called by their first names, I’m inured to the options.

I wonder if in French speaking countries they just say “Bonjour” these days where the custom was to greet customers in the morning, for example, with “Bonjour Monsieur,” “Bonjour Madame” or “Bonjour Mademoiselle.”

I looked through a fat stack of return address labels from charities and sure enough: Most of my labels use Ms. and very few—the New York Public Library for example–launch directly into Jeanne [photo above]. In some I’m Jeanne Byington, in others Jeanne-Marie Byington. What’s important to me is that the apartment and building numbers are accurate—the zip code too.

Where do you stand? Are you bothered if you are called by either Ms., Mr. and Mrs. or Mx.?

Service of Upgrades I Like

Monday, May 20th, 2024

As I’ve so often written and said, I cringe when I see or hear the word upgrade because it usually means an unnecessarily complicated procedure that once was simple, for zero gain.

However, I’m thrilled by some changes that really do improve my life. Here are just some—many not new to me and certainly old news to most everyone else but that I’d nevertheless like to recognize:

  • A handheld, cordless water flosser. I don’t have room for the paraphernalia required of the original Waterpik.
  • Mini bagels. They may have been around for decades. I try not to eat too many of any size, and I can’t claim to be a bagel aficionado. But when I see the diminutive ones, I buy a few. They freeze well. With vegetable cream cheese, [Fairway sells one that is supposedly low fat, photo, right] and lightly toasted, the combo is indescribably scrumptious.
  • Phone in my camera. I use it for all the usual reasons as well as to photograph items by certain manufacturers, making it easy for store associates to check out the photo and point me in the right direction. It’s also great for communicating glitches and warnings on my laptop to my IT guru.
  • Air fryer. I’m very late to the game with this device but I love it now that I have it. I especially like to cook chicken legs and potato sticks. If I had more room, I’d buy a bigger one.
  • Binge watching episodes of a favorite series on PBS Passport and Netflix. Been doing it for years and appreciate the technology.

What improvements, changes or upgrades that are worth it can you list?

Service of Ducking a Request for a Loan

Thursday, May 16th, 2024

I’ve written here about the pitfalls of lending money since 2010. In “The do’s and don’ts of lending money,” on NPR, I was most interested to focus on the part of Andrew Limbong’s article where he addressed how to say “no.”

He also mentioned the usual—best to give the money as a gift as, in the first place, you shouldn’t lend money that you can’t afford to lose.

The pundits he spoke with warned not to co-sign a loan either.

I loved the anecdote he shared about Michelle Singletary who had asked her grandmother to co-sign a car loan. Singletary, a personal finance columnist for The Washington Post, was a fledgling journalist at the time. Grandmother said: “Let me get this straight. So the bank, which has way more money than I do, turned you down? Now you want to put my finances on the line?” Singletary said she took the bus and saved “until I could save up enough to get the loan.”

She added that if you co-sign, “it also means that the debt is on your credit profile. That could prevent you from getting a loan or make the loan you need more expensive.”

What if you can’t afford to give money to the person asking for a loan? Limbong wrote: Offer other ways to help, say our experts…. If someone is coming to you for money, it probably wasn’t their first option. They’re probably in a bad situation and don’t see any other way out. They’re vulnerable. And your turning them down is going to hurt.”

Instead of giving money one expert helped the family member draft spreadsheets and created an action plan for repaying debt. Other ideas ranged from pitching in with childcare so the person can work more shifts to “offering to bring them dinner.”

I’m not sure about the dinner idea. I’ve just asked you for $5,000 and you offer to bring me a meal? Hmmmm.

If the cause is serious a better idea might be to help establish and promote a plea on a crowdfunding platform such as GoFundMe.

There are countless examples of friendships broken once the dynamic between two people changes to lender and borrower. But refusing money ends up in the same place. I’ve had to turn people down because I couldn’t give them anywhere near the amount of money they wanted and further, I knew that this would not solve their problem and it would be only the first of many future requests as they showed no plan to address the cause of the financial leak.

What words would you choose to turn down a request for a loan? Are there people to whom you would lend money in a second?

Service of Fashion that’s Memorable, Comfortable and Makes You Look Good

Monday, May 13th, 2024

Last week I heard an interview with Vanessa Friedman, New York Times fashion director and chief fashion critic for the past 10 years [photo below, right]. Earlier that day I attended a member preview of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute show, “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion.” Friedman spoke of clothes with memories—I have a closetful. She endorsed keeping and wearing favorites for a long time and mentioned that people look best in the clothes they are most comfortable wearing.

Vanessa Friedman, left. Photo by Nancie Steinberg

I thought about a young woman I saw decades ago at a trendy SoHo bistro. She was trapped in a super hip getup that fit neither her shape, face, posture, hairstyle or expression. It pained me to see her. She could not have felt comfortable in her getup.

I reached out to a bunch of friends asking if they might describe a favorite outfit or piece of clothing they now or once wore that looks or looked good on them because they are/were comfortable wearing it.

Tulip evening cloak, House of Worth, 1889, Met Museum, spring 2024 Costume Institute Show

Me first:

After visiting Bourges cathedral in France, Homer, who despised shopping, indulged me while I ducked into a typical tourist giftshop with its standard junky fare. In striking contrast, in an armoire in a backroom were four jackets breathtakingly constructed and finished. One of them [photos top, left and right] fit as though it was made for me. When I wore it, I felt dressed perfectly and received countless compliments for years. I still have it and haven’t worn it for a very long time. I don’t even know if it still fits.

These days my favorites are my Uniqlo puffy vests.

Poppy fascinator, Met Museum, spring 2024 Costume Institute Show

Francine R

I absolutely love the fleece pullovers from J Crew.  Half zipper can give you a cozy turtleneck. Zippered pockets. Can be worn in every weather, except hot, with layers. Washes wonderfully!

Bob G-

I really don’t think about clothes. If they fit right, then they are comfortable. 👖 jeans. I hate wearing suits, but I had to buy one for a wedding this summer.

ERB

I have been and continue to dress in layers way before they became “fashionable.”  Keep in mind that I don’t and never have given a holy hoot about prevailing fashions.  I dress to please myself.

RF

This is historic. I’ve had many pieces of clothing that fit that description. In the era when I got married, it was traditional for brides to change into what they called a “going away” outfit, before leaving a reception. (This is probably no longer a thing today.)

For that occasion, I wore a dress with a short jacket by then-popular designer Geoffrey Beene. The outfit was a lightweight navy wool. The dress was sleeveless and slightly Aline hitting at just below the knee. The jacket was lined in navy silk with white polka dots. The jacket had three buttons that were navy rimmed with white. I had an early spring wedding so the outfit was perfect for the season. 

And worn with a pair of Donald Pliner low heeled black patten leather pumps. And a black patten leather Chanel style bag. That suit/dress outfit was perfect for so many occasions that I wore it for years. 

EAM

While I’m WFH, leggings have become a staple in my wardrobe. I’m also a big fan of sweater sets which include a tank and a sweater or camisole and sweater.  Sneakers have also become a necessity esp when commuting, I have several pairs and adapt them to every outfit. I recommend black sneakers, white soles which have become versatile.

Jim Gordon

I have little concerns or thoughts about clothing. I buy stuff that I think looks alright, but not often, because I don’t have anything fancy or expensive. I like to look nice and that’s it. I almost never go shopping because my clothes last a long time. I wear dungarees most days and shorts in the summer. I dress mostly conservatively except for some political tee shirts. 

DK

I wear black trousers with assorted black tops (sweaters) & business jackets. Work attire that can be smart casual.

Do some of the clothes in your closet bring back memories? Do you agree that to look great in what you’ve chosen to wear you must feel comfortable? Can you identify a standout piece of clothing you had or have? Do some of the examples above resonate with you?

1930 wedding ensemble from Callot Soeurs by designer Pierre Gerber, finale, Met Museum, spring 2024 Costume Institute Show
 

Service of Comping—Yes, or No?

Thursday, May 9th, 2024

You be the judge in these instances which could go either way: To comp or not?

You have costly theater or concert tickets and your companion can’t come at the last minute. If you ask a friend or acquaintance to take his/her place, do you expect the person to pay for their seat or should they get a freebie?

You’re producing a networking event, with speaker, in elegant surroundings, serving Dom Pérignon and catered nibbles. Based on RSVPs in hand, you’re concerned that not enough people will come to duly honor the speaker, so you plead with some members to attend. They normally pay for membership as well as for each event. Do you comp or charge the ones who are doing you a favor by attending?

Your kitchen was slow in food prep and the waitstaff was thrown off its game. Service plummeted. As a restaurateur do you offer free desserts/after dinner drinks to the guests who were impacted, simply apologize or don’t mention anything?

Where do you stand on comping others or being comped? Can you share other examples?

Service of Surefire Inducements to Channel Surf–Irritating Commercials

Monday, May 6th, 2024

Some advertisers want me to run for my remote control to move away from the station I’m on. That’s what happens the second I hear their viscerally irritating commercials.

This isn’t the first time I’ve covered the subject. In 2018 I berated the forced laughter in 1-800-I-Got Junk radio commercials that put me on edge. Then there was an E*Trade ad designed to scare 30-somethings to save now or end up like the 85-year-olds depicted dropping heavy packages and dragging weighty fire hoses to the music of a favorite Harry Belafonte tune, “Banana Boat Song.” In that post I praised NYU Langone hospital and State Farm for their pleasing adverts.

The year before my tooth-grinding hit list included My Pillow, Flip this House and Kars4Kids.

There were a few posts going back to 2014 about false advertising, such as DirectTV offering a cheap subscription for a year without noting it was contingent on a two-year contract. I wrote about some goofs such as Bud Light’s label boast “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night. #UpForWhatever,” which some interpreted as condoning rape, and off-putting company name choices—CheapOair was one.

Rereading something I wrote in 2011 made me laugh again. My husband had shown me a full-page ad in the Sunday New York Times Book Review section that left out a crucial piece of information: Who the book was about! There was a photo of a past American President on the featured book cover, but the face wasn’t familiar to my husband who had read thousands of pages of American history and had a great memory. The title included the word President–but not which one. The ad had room for plenty of copy–the usual praise such as “gripping” and “compulsive reading” to “harrowing and fascinating saga” and “crackling tale of suspense.” Mistakes happen.

Here are a few current examples of commercials that grate on my ears these days:

  • Haribo gummi candies lead the list. Those whiney children’s voices coming out of the mouths of grownups—whether fictitious sports or business figures—hurt.
  • TMI—too much information—is what nauseates me when I am subject to all body deodorant commercials like the one for Mando. I keep thinking: Here’s a bar of soap–now take a shower. Click.
  • Four women singing the Kellog’s Club Crackers riff—especially the last woman who takes it away while the others laugh. So annoying.

I wonder if before accepting the ads the stations weigh the income against loss of viewers as often, I don’t return once I’ve moved on to another show. Are there any commercials that cause you to run from the room, turn off the sound or click to another station?

Service of What Triggers Your Memories

Thursday, May 2nd, 2024

I’ve already written every which way about memories. Today I will mention some things that trigger mine.

  • On May 1, every year, my father brought my mother a bouquet of lilies of the valley. I think of them both on this day.
  • My dear friend Kathleen, who died in December, sent me a card of Venice many years ago that has been in my living room ever since [Photo below]. She was frugal—she wrote on the back of the notecard’s image having cut off the other half with the message someone else had sent her–so I can’t identify the artist though the original was probably painted in the 17th Century. My husband wanted to retire there and loved paintings of the floating city. I think of both of them when I pass by the card.
  • When Catholics say the Lords Prayer, they stop at “but deliver us from evil.” Protestants continue with “for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever.” When Homer attended mass with me, he’d squeeze my hand and move his lips to finish the prayer as it ended for him. At mass, the Catholic priest says those words a few seconds later. These days I whisper them to myself as—and when–Homer would.
  • I saw “Moonstruck” on TCM for the millionth time this week. I love the movie. The pictures of Brooklyn Heights in the ‘80s when I lived there and the scene in the Metropolitan Opera trigger countless memories.
  • Hearing Luciano Pavarotti sing “La Donna È Mobile,” or “Nessun dorma” brings tears. I was a classical music lover and an opera ignoramus before I met Homer. I’m still clueless opera wise but have come to love some arias especially.
  • I haven’t been back to the Oyster Bar, where for years Homer ate lunch before taking the train upstate every week, but when I pass it, you know who I think of.
  • Pictures of cats that remind me of my sweet gray Cat or tomgirl Caramelli Cat [photo above].
  • Bumping into a former neighbor who updated me about people I used to know.

Do things, places, and events spark your memories whether you want them to or not?

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