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Friday, August 27, 2010

Killer Fruit!

Eve and Adam and fruit

We have been told that myths have served a valuable purpose throughout history.  Just look at the Greek and Roman Civilizations and all their myths about their gods.  Hmmm, they were both destroyed-- maybe we should look somewhere else.

The oft-quoted and sometimes maligned Joseph Campbell thought that myths provided an opportunity to navigate internally through the complexity of a modern life. He felt that myths provided a better source for psychological realization than psychoanalysis, at least for the motivated self-reflective personalities among us.  

Bruno Bettelheim believed that fairy tales and fables, another form of myths, provided an opportunity for children to work out their fears in a safe, once removed fashion. The children would emotionally benefit from the experience, consider the moral issues and use the experience to prepare them for what their futures would likely hold. I’m still looking for that house made of candy. 

Perhaps the best known All-American Myth is the story of George Washington chopping down his father’s cherry tree. The story actually first appeared in the best selling book by Parson Weems published in 1800 entitled “The Life of Washington” and was just one of several stories fabricated about out first president. 

When I was growing up, I was not taught the story as myth per se but as a morality lesson, as though it was Washington’s inability to lie was somehow connected to his becoming this nation’s first leader. Politics and truth are strange or should I say, estranged bedfellows.

“I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet,” George was supposed to admit to his father, hatchet in hand, full of remorse.  The story was later memorialized in a painting by that most American of artists, Grant Wood, endorsing it and ensuring it a permanent spot in our American Mythology. 

I can tell you that Joseph Campbell, had he been asked about this, would have firmly objected to this canonization. With regard to myth interpreted as biography, history or science he said:

”It is never difficult to demonstrate that as science and history mythology is absurd. When a civilization begins to reinterpret its mythology in this way, the life goes out of it, temples become museums…” 

Grant Wood Inspired

Our investment into that which is fanciful, 
spiritual and certainly not factual becomes 
ipso facto, fact.   

I object to this particular story for completely different reasons.  I object because I know that fruit can be deadly, just ask Adam or Eve, just ask my back-- and their nurturing requires too much work for anyone to admit to harming or interfering with their growth.  

The work begins in early May when the time comes to net our trees. Every year my husband asks for us to do this as his birthday gift, and every year my son and I and friends we can ask to help, come over and cover our fruit trees with netting.  It’s a painstaking process and takes several hours.   The nets have to be untangled, spread out on the grass and carefully carried over to the trees. Ladders, treacherous creations which have caused broken wrists to careless husbands, are climbed as the nets are then tied with garden twine and the trees completely covered to prevent our fat uninvited neighbors, the Grey family (a particularly nasty collective of squirrels) from eating all of our bounty.  I can assure you that if we do not go through this process, we will have no bounty. Experience is indeed a great teacher. The Grey’s have become connoisseurs at our expense and take only a few bites from every single piece they can reach and then toss it aside.  It’s maddening.  

Once the trees have been netted, the fruit is free to grow without fear. We have apple trees and plum trees that we planted when we moved in to our home 12 years ago. The yield varies each year. We get plenty of sun, if sun is to be gotten.  We also have four above ground beds filled with a specific mixture of soil that my husband special ordered and was delivered in a huge pile that was about 15 feet high, right on our driveway. My son and his friend Rachel climbed on top of this when they were about 4 years old and were completely covered from head to toe with the sweetest soil imaginable. It was truly clean dirt.    

I write this as I am recovering from painfully throwing my back out while making two-dozen gluten free homegrown plum pies and a dozen apple pies.  Delicious, yes indeed-- but the sorting, the trimming, the mixing and the making is plenty of work. Up and down, into the ovens where they bake for an hour and twenty minutes at 350 degrees, staggered to make sure the heat flows evenly.  Then each is placed onto the cooling racks for another hour and only then properly wrapped for the big freezer in the garage. 
The Doctor may have suggested an apple a day to keep him away.  I might suggest that should you decide to encounter fruit, be forewarned. Fruit can be lethal.  But should you invite me for dinner, desert will be supplied. 


Sunday, August 15, 2010


The Unfortunate Jane

Words go in and out of fashion and one of the words that has disappeared at a time when I think it might be handy to resurrect it, is calamity. I like this word because while the dictionary definition is a sudden disaster, it has taken on a kind of wonderful nostalgic essence as well. And it is a funny word, like pickle – as in, we’re in one.

I am a stickler when it comes to finding just the right word. We have so many, why not use them all? For example, why have we been calling the disaster in the Gulf an Oil Spill? Did someone tip something over when I wasn’t looking? How does 4 million barrels qualify as a spill? How many rolls of Bounty paper towels, the quicker picker-upper, are needed to clean that up? 

I also think calamity has a specific value on the scale of disasters and points to the troubles of others. Consider the following true stories, to which might you apply the word calamity? 

Example #1: In February of 1987, Home Shopping Network begins selling telephones with oversized buttons.  Targeting their largely retired demographic, these phones allow the user to make a call without having to find their glasses, an early example of user-friendly electronics.

The phones are purchased from a grey market electronics manufacturer in Asia and are not UL Approved.  This is the off-brand electronics world in 1987.  Mrs. McGuire, a lovely retiree living in Kisamee, Florida purchases three of these phones for her home. All is well until there is, of course, a huge storm and the phone lines emanating from the home are hit directly by lightening.  This sends a jolt into Mrs. McGuire’s big button phones, which spontaneously combust and burst into flame. 

Mrs. M cannot call the fire department because all of her phones are on fire. The storm is quite fierce, Mrs. M is in her 80’s, and her closest neighbor is not home. Mrs. M’s home is destroyed.  She sues and receives an undisclosed settlement from HSN. 

Example #2: In 1987, Home Shopping Network gets a great deal on 100,000 rabbit skin jackets.  The jackets were a bargain because the curing process that the skins require was never finished.  To prevent the hair from falling out of the skins, viewers are told that each jacket needs to be put in a home dryer for at least 20 minutes, on high or hot.
The on-air hosts sell out the jackets in a matter of hours carefully explaining to shoppers what needs to be done to them before they are worn which is also contained in a flyer that goes out with every order. 

100,000 ugly rabbit skin jackets are shipped out of the fulfillment center, located several miles away from the HSN corporate campus.

100,000 bald ugly rabbit skin jackets come back to the fulfillment center two weeks later. Items sold on HSN at this time, are scheduled for airing based on the inventory in the warehouse.  The person who schedules the product sales (at this point in time, there were no segmented programs with specific merchandise) sees that there are 100,000 jackets now available to sell. They sold out so quickly the first time, let’s put them back on the air! 

The show hosts go back on, using the properly dried coats they have as samples in the studio and viola! 100,000 rabbit skin jackets are sold once again.  100,000 bald rabbit skin jackets are shipped out from the warehouse from the re-work center, which cleans up things like toaster ovens that come back with grilled cheese sandwiches stuck to the grill of the toaster. 

100,000 bald rabbit skin jackets come back, again. HSN writes off $3 million.

Example #3: In 1986, HSN rolls out across the country converting American televisions into retail shelf space. Over the course of nine months, UHF stations, all in major markets as well as cable affiliates will be carrying programming that will introduce a channel devoted to shopping into 40 million homes with an advertising campaign introducing the service to America.  There is no way to anticipate what the response of the market will be.

What I do know is that I am mailing 20 million pieces of direct mail and full page Ads are running in every major metro area newspaper offering $5 off the first purchase made.  TV commercials are being run where they are accepted.

As the responsible marketer that I was, I prepare an analysis of the advertising rollout and reach for Operations, which includes the phone room, where there are hundreds of operators waiting to take calls.  The Senior VP of Operations thanks me for the work and takes it to the President of the company.  The President decides he does not want to share the information with the company, which provides the phone service, GTE South.  He was paranoid about them disclosing the company’s plan to purchase the long neglected UHF Stations, which was one way of getting around the cable systems and creating awareness and demand in local markets for the programming, ultimately forcing the hand of the local cable service to carry the programming – a brilliant business idea.

The day the Ads and programming break in the Northeast, New York and Boston specifically, the whole Southeast corridor of the United States loses phone service for 12 hours.

HSN is unprepared for this and reacts by changing phone service providers. Never to leave well enough alone, the legal department creates a full page Ad that runs in The Wall Street Journal, with the headline “MCI saves the bears” with a picture of a teddy bear sold on HSN and copy about how they came in as heroes to the company.

Now flash forward 3 1/2 years later and I’m sitting in my office back in New York City, no longer working for HSN but still within the 18 month window of my employment contract which is threatening and intimidating and designed to be so.  The phone rings.  It’s an attorney for GTE who is counter-suing HSN for slander.  He’s heard I could be helpful.  How and why, I can’t disclose, but neither could I testify on their behalf and I let him know that.  He continued to call me up to the week before the trial. 

GTE ultimately didn’t need me.  They won the suit and were awarded $100 million for slander.  The Judge personally fined the President, who came to the trial draped in so much gold that he resembled King Tut, and Chairman of the Board.

I believe that all three of the above are calamities. They fit the bill because 1. They did not happen to me or anyone I know. 2. They happened a sufficiently long time ago. 3. They are worth retelling for their sheer entertainment value. These three elements qualify, in my mind, as essential to calamities.

If you are a relative of Mrs. McGuire, perhaps you feel differently, write back and let me know.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fly me to the moon, Alice!

And Away We Go! 
In support of Mr. Steven Slater -- though he does not appear to need my help.

This week, we were all elated by the dramatic exit of Steven Slater, flight attendant who had enough. We’ve all been there and some exits have had some drama but it got me thinking about the perils of traveling, not the journey or mode of transportation, but my fellow journeymen.  So I share the following story with you.

I was flying back from Florida to New York on one of my countless trips back and forth. I was booked in coach in an aisle seat during one of the holidays where every single seat flying betwixt and between is filled.  I was delighted because it appeared that the window seat in our row was vacant as we began to pull out of the gate.  The young man in the seat next to me took advantage of the situation and moved to it with a smile, wink and a nod, as we silently agreed that we now had appropriate room. 

The plane abruptly stopped moving, and my joy was short lived as I watched an older gentleman in his 70s, stooped, muttering under his breath and grimacing as he dragged down the aisle. He was sporting a smashed beige golf hat, a beige Statler Brothers jacket with epaulets, brown and beige checked casual flared slacks and white patent leather shoes with a matching belt.  I knew he was headed straight for our precious window seat.  As he moved passed me in the row toward his seat I noticed he had stubs from a racetrack hanging out of his pockets.  Once seated, the flight continued without incident.

As he settled in he took off his jacket and put it into the seat pocket in front of him. Then he took of his shoes and pushed them under the seat to make room for his stockinged feet. Once he took care of business, he sat back and closed his eyes while my other rowmate raised his eyebrows in an Oh Well shrug.

Coffee Tea or Me? 
This was back in the day when the flight attendants cruised the aisles with free soft drinks and juices and pretzels and alcohol could be purchased in those cute little bottles that my parents collected as souvenirs and kept on a shelf in our den for the children to play with.

As she took our order at 11a.m., I asked for a tomato juice with a slice of lemon, my young companion ordered a grapefruit juice and our undraped neighbor by the window asked for 3 bottles of vodka and a Bloody Mary mix.  We each lowered our tray tables to receive our bounty; politely passing said orders and necessary funds down the aisle.  Our window rider opened the mix, all three bottles of vodka and poured some of each into his iced filled cup.   

He took one sip and looked up at the valve above his head, which was apparently blowing too much cool air in his direction.  He rose to adjust it. As he did, his tray table began to tilt and I watched with my companion, one of those disasters we witness in slow motion, as his bottles and glass slid down the tray and tumbled in to the seat pocket.  We both started to speak out but our taciturn traveler realized what was happening as soon as we did.  It was too late to stop it and 3 open vodkas, open can of Bloody Mary mix, and full glass of his iced cocktail fell into the vented pocket. Just a moment later, in time to add insult to injury, the liquid began leaking through the vents into his abandoned shoes.

My seatmate and I exchanged quick glances, communicating more in our non-verbal exchange than would be possible if trying to speak.  Our gentleman at the window let out a scream and began thrashing the poor passenger in the seat in front of him who had nothing whatsoever to do with the disaster, would not have known what instigated the behavior and probably thought that this guy was crazy. Two flight attendants immediately appeared in the aisle and my young friend and I slid quickly out of our seats.  Mr. Polyester was carried out of his seat and subdued by the attendants in the back of the plane.  I heard him yell out once and then all was silent for the rest of the flight.

I didn’t have the nerve to look back and see what had become of him as our flight landed, I just wanted off the plane.  The only words exchanged between my neighbor and I after the incident were simultaneous “Whews!”

I was completely unnerved by the incident so I can’t imagine what the flight attendants were feeling about it. I just knew that the waitress in the sky job was not one to which I was suited. So, like so many others, I tilt my hat to Mr. Slater for lasting 20 years in the air with passengers like my own Mr. Polyester. 

Friday, August 6, 2010

Giving Credit to "The Other Guys"

Giving Credit to "The Other Guys"

You know how when you go to the movies, there are always a few people who insist on staying in their seats and sitting through all of the credits?  Well, count me as one of those people.

Part of the reason I stay is because I find it fascinating that so many people have so many different talents to provide and tasks to perform --to make it all happen -- and the other reason is, I'm paying my respects to all of those people and their willingness to collaborate. Perhaps I'm more sensitive to this because I spent years producing material for television both as an advertiser and as a producer myself, and remember how little it takes to makes things go all-wrong.

How could I forget producing the cooking show segment where the lovely Home Economist had gone out drinking with the Celebrity Chef the night before the taping, and was so hung over that she prepared a dozen turkeys for a shoot that I had cut the turkey segment from: two weeks earlier?  She was so exhausted (and hung over) from prepping and dressing all of the turkeys, that she was in the bathroom throwing up, and unable to get the pies made we were supposed to shoot that day, on a very expensive sound stage.

Or the time I was producing an On-Air Promotional spot, that the chimp took a particular liking to me and could only be mollified and cooperative if I held him while he gave me a hickey on my belly, between takes?

Or the time I was on a beach in Malibu with a film crew, a Santa Claus in his Summer Jammies and Surfboard, and one of two trained reindeers,(this one was Princess) available for commercials, that had been flown in the night before from Vancouver; and calling my office in Florida only to be told that the whole promotion had been killed by the President of the company and it was up to me to tell the 80 people working for me, cleaning up Reindeer poop as it dropped along the shoreline, that this spot would never see the light of day?

So, I do understand the miracle when it works, all too well, and stay in my seat to honor that miracle.

Today was no exception.  I went to see The Other Guys, basically a string of gags strung together by a feeble spoof of cop movies, providing an opportunity for Will Ferrell to be very funny.  In this, the film does not disappoint.  Will is very funny.  Mark Wahlberg has his moments of very funny.  The film however is not very funny.

The premise is that Will uncovers a scheme by a British financial-advisor type who is bilking people out of their money, very large sums of money; much like a Bernie Madoff.  By the end of the movie, we are supposed to believe his victims include a large generic American Corporation under the leadership of a manic Anne Heche, some badass Nigerians, and a group of style-challenged Chechnyian Rebels.  They are all in line to be paid off by his duping the fool in charge of the $34 billion New York Police pension fund.  This does not make for very funny.

If the movie had ended there with credits, I would not have felt compelled to write this blog.  But what happens next is the weirdest thing I have ever experienced as a moviegoer, at the end of a comedy.

As the credits appear so do a series of very bold and clean graphics that detail how a Ponzi scheme works, as well as statistics "ripped from the headlines" charting our recent financial meltdowns. Whether citing the figures from the AIG bailout or TARP payments made or the growing disparity between Goldman Sachs employees to regular working schmoes (now topping off at over 300%!) and then letting you know that the average Wall Street executive earned $4 million last year and that 92 executives from AIG were given bonuses with the bail-out money paid with our tax dollars, I was less than amused.  In fact, I was mighty pissed off.

I just sat through over two hours of cars blowing up, exploding store fronts, mayhem of the highest order and this movie maker has the audacity to think his millions thrown up on the screen provide him with a platform for reminding us how we have been bilked?  How we have been made fools of?  Save the Morgan Spurlock act for the investigative journalists.  I feel like a jerk for paying the admission fee, hoping to be entertained and forget about the stupid state of the world for a couple of hours.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Gene Pool, Cesspool -- The Kids are All Right

What I understand about Genetics

There is a wonderful scene in The Kids are All Right in which Jules ( Julianne Moore) is taken aback by sperm donor Paul (Mark Ruffalo), because she can't help but see her children in his mannerisms.  It provides these characters with a moment of intimacy, an understanding of how momentous, whether as sperm donor or full-fledged parent, the decision to pass your genes on to another generation can be.  Whoever you are shows up somehow, someway, in the lovely sprouts you plant.

In our home, my husband and I call it Gene Pool, Cesspool.  The Gene Pool consists of those characteristics we are each proud to claim as passing on to our son.  For example, I am thrilled that he has my sense of humor.  My husband is thrilled our son has his (!) sense of humor.  My mother is thrilled that her grandson has her blue eyes and my father-in-law is thrilled that he has his blue eyes.  I have decided that he got one eye from each of them and this just proves how very clever he is, a trait I justifiably take credit for now and again. 

The Cesspool stuff, on the other hand, not so much -- These are the characteristics that show up in your children that you hoped might not appear.  They might be a superficial as Uncle Jerome's gargantuan ears or as unpleasant as your Grandmother's short temper or even afflictions that are private and should not be posted on Facebook or for that matter, anywhere else. 

These thoughts are left unsaid when partners are contemplating the notion of family, when elated that they will actually be starting a clan, or admiring a beautiful growing belly, and when you act encouragingly amused because your partner picks up a long abandoned guitar and serenades her expanding waistline with an old Joni Mitchell song -- another reason why I loved The Kids are All Right, by the way.

Groucho: Is it me or is it getting crowded in here?         
My mother was actually a voice major in college at NYU and continued to sing and practice her scales when I was growing up.  A major source of embarrassment I can assure you when I was a kid, too dumb to appreciate her gift.  She studied the classics (See Kitty Carlisle in A Night at the Opera for reference and don't miss the stateroom scene while you're there.) and for a nice Jewish girl from Newark, New Jersey, this was unusual in it's time. (Google Beverly "Bubbles" Sills for more information about that journey. ) Unfortunately, she did not pass on her beautiful Mezzo Soprano to me, only her abundant and magnificent Divaness.

The other thing about the making of children is that it is not a 50/50 proposition.  Children are just not that simple.  They are also not an instant cake mix and what and who they are may in fact require a long time festering before it ferments.

Sometimes one of those nasty Cesspool traits shows up and my husband and I face off in an "I Blame You!" competition, citing the shortcoming in each other's family trees as evidence.  We also play a game called "Whose Family is Crazier?"  Like Freud's Last Session, (see an earlier posting entitled, Kandinsky and the Evil Laugh, in which the existence of God is debated on stage...) this dialogue always ends in a draw, a fact which we find both comforting and discomforting. 

My child has the good fortune, this moment, of having all four grandparents.  All are in their 80's and my father-in-law is turning 90 this Fall.  No one is in a nursing home and no one has dementia, which is pretty terrific.  I hope this longevity factor falls in the dominant gene pool along with attendant good health.  

But no matter what the role of the dice has given us in our offspring, no matter how frail and tenuous the bond of family may be at times,  it was delightful to see it so artfully portrayed on the screen and hopefully, it is as thoughtfully tended to in my own life.