Special edition*: Grass roots

If you live anywhere in New England, you can’t help hearing about the Market Basket soap opera. In fact, you can’t help hearing about it no matter where you live. I’ve seen articles in Time and the Wall Street Journal, as well as newspapers as far away as New Zealand covering this tawdry debacle.

I’ll declare my sentiments up front. I’m a huge fan of the old MB. I shop there and have for the past thirty or so years. The DeMoulas family is clearly dysfunctional, but the ASD side of it (if you’ve been studying the cast of characters in your program) is delusional, stupid, and possibly even evil. (The distinction is subtle, one I plan to discuss in a future post.) The employees, the customers, and even local pols have made it clear by the proverbial overwhelming majority, that the current board of directors of the company needs to put the old CEO, ATD, back into power.

So what’s this all about? Money? Clearly not. MB is losing ten million dollars a day. That’s $10,000,000 US. Every day. Now I’ve lost money in my day. Quarters slip behind the couch cushions, dollars stick together, and that kind of thing. But $10,000,000? As forgetful as I am, I can’t even imagine that. (“Honey, have you seen my ten million bucks? I had it in my jacket pocket this morning.” This concept deserves its own post.)

newsiesThe more I hear about this grass roots movement of a bunch of employees, the more I think of what I consider the single most underrated movie of all time, “Newsies”. The critics trashed the movie mercilessly when it was released 22 years ago, but I’ve never met a viewer who didn’t like it. I’m among them. To remind myself of how terrific the movie is, and to capture the parallels with the MB fiasco, I watched it again tonight.

It’s still great.

The songs will bounce around my head for at least a week, so catchy are they. The live musical version of the movie went on to win 2012 Tony Awards® for Best Score and Best Choreography. So I guess it’s not just me. This is a case where the self-proclaimed “experts” are simply wrong.

The connection to MB is best summarized in the following (slightly abridged) exchange between two of the striking newsies (kids who sell papers on the street) and Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the NY World.

PULITZER: Anyone who doesn’t act in their own self interest is a fool.

DAVID: Then what does that make you?


DAVID: You talk about self interest, but since the strike, your circulation’s been down 70%. Every day you’re losing thousands of dollars just to beat us out of one lousy tenth of a cent. Why?

JACK: You see, it ain’t about the money, Dave. If Joe gives in to nobodies like us, it means we got the power. And he can’t do that, no matter what it costs. Am I right, Joe?

If the current Board of Directors (who, to replace ATD, appointed co-CEO’s – now there’s a formula for success – one of whom was named one of the five worst CEO’s in 2012) cared about money, they’d give in to the employee’s demands yesterday. But that’s not what the fight is about. It’s about bitterness, power, revenge, hatred, and all sorts of other petty nonsense. Are these really adults?

Give me back my Market Basket!

*This is five days before my next scheduled post, but I couldn’t resist. The whole situation could change any minute.

Lies we believe #5

[What? #5??? Where the heck did 1-4 go? I’ve had a running series of “Lies we believe” posts in my other blog, Limping in the Light. (This one, for example. You should read them all. Now.) It just seemed more appropriate to continue that series on this side of the blog wall.]

measureWe believe a lot of lies and, to paraphrase Cole from “The Sixth Sense”, we don’t even know we believe them. Yet they rule our lives in many ways. Does that make any sense (sixth or otherwise) at all? It’s not so much that we’re gullible as we fail to take the time to think about the assumptions on which we base our decisions. I’m very big on thinking. Some say I’m too big on it. I’ve already waxed eloquently on the topic a few times, including here.

Here’s one that drives me crazy:

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

This is the gospel according to bean counters. The truth is, if you can’t measure it… you can’t measure it. Nothing more can be inferred from the former conditional clause. Business lives and, more often, dies by this pseudo-maxim. Everything has to be measured, even if it can’t be. Some unmeasurables that come to mind:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Future results
  • Productivity (in some cases)

There are dozens more, but I have other stuff to do today.

So when business executives realize they can’t measure something, out of fear of not being able to control it – and control is everything to these posers – they make up a measurement and pretend it applies. My favorite example follows.

My last employer decided that customer satisfaction could be measured objectively and precisely by counting the number of unfixed (i.e. “open”) defects currently reported against a given product. Now this is blatant nonsense. I’m sure even IBM execs (oops! I mentioned the employer name) didn’t really believe the figure meant anything. They just winked at each other and agreed to the lie.

Since customer sat was bad at the time, they surmised that lowering the count of those defects would improve the situation. So they gave me the task of closing as many of those defects as possible. Not fixing them, mind you, just getting rid of them, usually by saying they had no plans to address the problems. After a few months, about half those defects had simply gone away and thus, magically, our customer sat numbers doubled.

The suits were happy, the bean counters were happy, and Wall Street was happy. The only people who weren’t happy were the ones this whole pointless exercise was intended for in the first place: the customers. It wasn’t just a lie, it was a counterproductive lie. Though there’s no way to know for sure (reread above), I’m willing to bet those customers were less satisfied than before.

By the way, Forbes agrees with me on this one.

So next time you hear an accepted truth, think about it. Take it from a child of the ’60’s: Question Authority.

Title, heading, name, label, legend, banner, headline

badjailThis is a short [story, tale, saga, history, report, narrative] about an [event, happening, occurrence, incident] that never was. It’s just an [excuse, reason, pretext] for using a lot of synonyms of the type I’ve come to call “slangonyms”. Over the years, some words in the English language have spawned so many slang terms to refer to the same concepts, it seems there’s no [end, ceasing, hard stop, finality, culmination, last word].

One [night, evening, after hours] I was at a [party, bash, soiree, affair, shebang, blowout, gala, shindig] with some [friends, buds, pals, mains, BFFs, amigos, homeys, chums, bro’s]. To be [honest, forthright, on the up-an-up, straight arrow, tell it like it is] I was feeling a bit [drunk, tipsy, faced, zonked, merked, high, wasted, totaled, three sheets to the wind, blitzed, corked, tanked, plastered, potted, sloshed, juiced, feeling no pain].

Suddenly the [police, cops, fuzz, flatfoot, pigs, heat, badge, copper, law] showed up and they hauled my [rear end, butt, tail, glutes, tush, fanny, keister, bottom, backside, derriere] off to court. I didn’t have any [money, cash, loot, bucks, lettuce, scrilla, greenbacks, bread, clams, simoleons, scratch, moola, coin, dough], so they slapped me in the [prison, jail, hoosegow, slammer, pen, joint, graybar hotel, up the river, big house, clink, pokey, cooler].

I was so mad, I could just [swear, cuss, curse, spew, be foul-mouthed, flame]. But there was nothing I could do, so I just [went to sleep, passed out, hit the hay, copped some Z’s, got some shut-eye, sawed some logs, crashed].

Other than that, the party was [great, awesome, wicked, fabuloso, slammin’, far out, boss, all that, groovy, hip, epic, cool, stellar, the bee’s knees, fierce].

The end, fini, ball game, end of the line, exuent, finito, done, no mas.

(Don’t you just love the English language? There’s no excuse to be boring!)

Boring conversational topics

boringA writer should be a student of conversation. Paying close attention to a variety of verbal exchanges helps us compose quality dialog. A sparkling conversation educates not only writers but all who are involved. A dead conversation simply put its participants to sleep. You wouldn’t put boring lines in your book/movie/story/poem. It’s a good idea to leave them out of real life, too.

Here’s a sampling of topics that cause my head to sag, my shoulders to slump, and my eyes to glaze over.

  1. Pretty much anything about the weather is conversational poison, especially when it regards any forecast more than 24 hours into the future. You might as well discuss possible lottery outcomes. Even worse, talking about how often weather forecasts are wrong… which I think I just did.
  2. Any reference to the supposed fact that Saturday Night Live isn’t funny any more is so much fertilizer. It seems as if everyone has their favorite SNL era. Anything before or after that must be lousy. It’s just a matter of taste and timing.
  3. Please don’t tell me how expensive things are now compared to when you were young, unless you’re prepared to discuss said costs in conjunction with average salaries for the given time period.
  4. So they don’t make good, family movies anymore, right? Well, yes and no. There are actually plenty of family movies. It’s just that, for the most part, no one goes to see them. They’re out there, but they tend to get lost in the shuffle of remakes of reboots of sequels made about comic books or candy bars. When I hear this comment, I like to ask the gripers when the last time was that they went to the theater to support those family movies. That usually leads to a series of grunts and shrugs, mercifully ending a boring exchange. (On the other hand, you can have an interesting discussion about why so many R-rated movies have been made when PG and PG-13 movies have historically earned more at the box office.)
  5. Any description of one’s dreams should be banned by law. I’d prefer a root canal without any painkiller.
  6. The workplace is rife with dull comments, such as, “Working hard or hardly working?” The worst of all is when a person walks into an office and finds someone other than its usual occupant. The typical inane reaction is to say something in the vein of, “Wow, you’ve changed!” This is especially painful when the person in the office is of a different gender than its normal resident. Please refrain.

This next one happened to me recently. It’s probably the reason for the post. At a funeral or other such somber event, it’s almost required that we say to one another, “It’s so great to see you. Too bad it’s under such sad circumstances.”

You say it, I say it. The question is, do I mean it? If it’s that great to see you, why don’t I call you or visit you under better circumstances, such as, say, out of a desire to see you?

I guess that brings me to a meta-observation on bad conversational topics. Maybe anything that is insincere or untrue doesn’t belong in a conversation between people who are anything more than casual acquaintances. Save the subtext for the novels and screenplays.

Which reminds me of a dream I once had… scream


block2Is there really such a beast as “writer’s block”? Some writers talk about the fear of the empty page, i.e. getting started. That’s never been much of a problem for me. One cure for writer’s block is to avoid self-editing and vomit up anything and everything onto the page. That’s pretty much how I write anyway. This post is a case in point.

I was struggling with what to write today. I might have blown it off completely, but having a designated day for my weekly post is beyond helpful; it’s crucial. As Charlie Brown sings in his portion of the song “Book Report“…

I work best under pressure,
And there’ll be lots of pressure
If I wait till tomorrow
I should start writing now.

I am, in fact, more likely to get down to work if I have a deadline. Whether I work best under that kind of pressure, I’ll leave to others to judge. Tuesday is my deadline for this post, thus here we are.

Where and when one chooses to write can also have a significant bearing on the amount and quality of work produced. When I’m home, the distractions are many and varied and all come with a misleading urgency because they’re in my face. When that happens, I head for a neutral place, a local coffee shop or restaurant (both of the independent variety, of course) that has free wi-fi and doesn’t mind me hanging around nursing a Coke or a muffin for three hours at a time. (I don’t drink coffee. Go figure.)

Even there, I’m distracted. I carry the number one distraction with me wherever I write: my laptop and, by inference, the Internet. The entire (virtual) world begs me to explore countless pages of inane videos, meaningless sports scores, and boundless trivia.

Sometimes, because I crave natural light, I settle in the front window of a terrific little bakery/cafe. Watching cars drive by becomes my own little reality show. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • People text while driving… a lot.
  • If they aren’t texting, they’re generally talking on the phone, even if there is someone else in the car. However…
  • Somewhere around 90% of the cars, regardless of their size, have only one occupant. (Could there be a less efficient way to move people around?)
  • People like to stare at someone sitting in the window of a little bakery/cafe.

That’s a lot of distraction. Maybe I’m better off at home. I got this post off, didn’t I?


Of watermelons and books


In the middle of his tea party, the Mad Hatter asks Alice a riddle:

Why is a raven like a writing-desk?

When Alice gives up trying to figure out the answer, she asks the Hatter, who says:

I haven’t the slightest idea.

I’ll do Mr. Carroll and his Hatter one better. Here’s a riddle, the answer to which I not only know, but will divulge (spoiler alert) in this post.

Why is a watermelon like a book?

First, confession time: This isn’t a true riddle, although what constitutes a true riddle (if that isn’t an oxymoron) isn’t 100% clear to me.

You see, I was cutting up and eating a watermelon today (I can never do the former without indulging in the latter) when it occurred to me that there are striking parallels between these two things that are, on the surface, quite different. Here’s my (probably partial) list of similarities:

  1. I love both of these items. I couldn’t imagine life without either one.
  2. Both are often consumed voraciously. I treat a book in the same way as I do the melon. At first I savor every bite/page, but as I approach the end, I down those chunks/pages as if they might disappear before I finish them.
  3. Both have seeds. In the case of the fruit, literal ones. (Yeah, even the “seedless” ones.) With books, they’re seeds of inspiration.
  4. Either one makes a great beach companion on a hot summer day.
  5. You can’t judge either by its cover. Believe me, in the case of watermelons, I’ve tried to figure out how to identify a quality melon by inspecting, tapping, or shaking it. I still end up with clunkers. Which brings me to the next thought:
  6. There are good ones and there are bad ones. Far fewer watermelons could be described as “bad” but I’ve had a few. Books, while I haven’t read them all, probably have more bad than good, especially in this day of self-publishing.
  7. You can grow your own. It’ll be a crap shoot quality-wise, but with time, effort, and enough fertilizer (make of that what you will) you can have yourself one sweet fruit of your labors.

Mind you, there are also major differences between watermelons and books which are hard to ignore.

  1. With few exception, watermelons are much bigger than books. They can be downright unwieldy.
  2. If watermelon juice drips, it becomes very sticky. I honestly can’t think of a book about which I could say the same thing.
  3. No one has yet been able to perfect the eMelon. I pray it never happens.

That’s about all I can think of at the moment. I’m open to your ideas.

Meanwhile, I’m going to grab a book and some watermelon.