Things No One Will Ever Do Again: Work 20 Years In One Place

My grandfather was a milkman for 20 years, mostly at his own Lakeside Dairy. My father was a milkman for 40 years, 20 at Lakeside. When I was a boy, I vowed never to stay so long at one place. Five jobs in five years after college. Then, 20 years at CMP Publications.

Now, of course, no child has to make that vow, because no one will ever again work 20 years in one place.

The twin truisms of work in America have finally sunk it: “management are idiots,” and “company loyalty runs in one direction, from you to the company.”

One reason is the fatuous management mantra: “shareholders first, screw the employees and the public as long as I make $10 million a year in stock options.” And thus the rest of us trampled and impoverished.

The other is, “Who needs unions?” The answer is: everyone who is not a capitalist. Without a union, the power imbalance is hopeless. Capital will drive wages and benefits down to the lowest common denominator.

 “I don’t need a union; I am a talented professional, always in demand, set my own terms.” The word hogwash suggests itself. If you spend a half-hour reading about American Labor History, you will realize we needed unions then and now. Without them, everyone except the 1% would live in poverty that would make China in the 60s look like a worker’s paradise.


1500 movies later

After watching about 1,500 movies in my life – about half of which I reviewed in public – I was moved by classical music critic Joshua Kossman‘s farewell column in the San Francisco Chronicle, in which he says it’s just talking if you say whether or not you like a work of art; it is reviewing when you say why.

 One of the things I’ve struggled with for 55 years is the fact that I always know how the movie made me feel, but often don’t know why. I have the same problem in my book reviews. Why is one great and another just adequate? Like Justice Potter, I know it when I see it even if I can’t define it. Which means that at best I’m a three star reviewer. Or, for Chronicle readers, the little man is sitting in his chair.


 Smokey “The” Bear

A guest entry by Daniel Dern

Via the tech journo's mailing somebody noting, per the AP Style book, is no "The" in Smokey's name)

My follow-up (re)search turned up: Smokey’s History

In 1952, Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins wrote the popular anthem that would launch a continuous debate about Smokey’s name. To maintain the rhythm of the song, they added “the” between “Smokey” and “Bear.” Due to the song’s popularity, Smokey Bear has been called “Smokey the Bear” by many adoring fans, but, in actuality, his name never changed. He’s still Smokey Bear.

And, to-me-more-interestingly, the previous paragraph noted:

Smokey [the rescued cub] received numerous gifts of honey and so many letters he had to have his own zip code. He remained at the zoo until his death in 1976, when he was returned to his home to be buried at the Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan, New Mexico, where he continues to be a wildfire prevention legend.


Fitting In

While reading The Personal Librarian. I came to a scene where the protagonist is at a party in the Vanderbilt mansion and feels she doesn’t belong.

It sent me into a reverie about the occasions when I felt I didn’t belong. For the first 18 years of my life, my self image centered around the fact that I was always the smartest person in the room, or at least one of the two smartest when I was in a room with Larry Wheeler.

By the end of my first week at MIT I realized that I not only wasn’t the smartest person in the room, I probably wasn’t in the top 10. It was extremely difficult for me to have my self-image challenged in this way. I got over it in time , in part because I realized I had some emotional intelligence that my brilliant peers did not have. Of course the idea of emotional intelligence didn’t exist back then.

 There were of course other problems too in my coed house. I was living with women for the first time in my life. In a matter of weeks I was falling in love for the first time in my life. I don’t recommend waiting until you’re 18 to fall in love. Generally speaking, the stakes are higher at that age. It’s good to have some practice with low stakes.


The Musical Company *****

I first saw Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company in 1971, a few months after it opened its 700-performance run. I recently saw a gender-switched revival in San Francisco.

The play is still as fresh as it was a half century ago, especially with the decision to make Bobbie a woman with commitment issues, rather than Bobby the man in the original. The music is rousing; George Furth’s book, such as it is, is a book, and the music and lyrics are pure Sondheim. Need I say more?

Whether you have seen it before or not, see it in your city:

  • Portland, OR. Keller Auditorium. Jul 16 - Jul 21. ...
  • Seattle, WA. Paramount Theatre. Jul 23 - Jul 28. ...
  • Los Angeles, CA. Pantages Theatre. Jul 30 - Aug 18. ...
  • Las Vegas, NV. The Smith Center. Aug 20 - Aug 25. ...
  • Dallas, TX. AT&T Performing Arts Center. Sep 25 - Sep 29. ...
  • Fort Worth, TX. Bass Performance Hall. Oct 1 - Oct 6.

This and That

Readers Disappoint Columnist
The well has run dry. I need links. At UPI, we called this a RUP (roundup). Every hub (major bureau) was expected to contribute. HOW PLEASE NO LINKS? RUP SLUG: LINKS

On The Other Hand: Pat Sajak

My first game show host from Oct. ‘83, Pat Sajak, has retired from Wheel of Fortune, known to insiders simply as Wheel. He and Ben Stein were tied for best host in my experience. Both were cheery and spontaneously witty. Trebek was pompous, Wollery was vacuous, and Treadway featureless.


Loving Kindness, Tactically

My reason for being here is to spread loving kindness. At a tactical level, besides being super-polite as a driver and overtipping (small to me, huge to the recipient), I work to bring smiles and chuckles. Any interaction with customer service that produces a chuckle makes my day. I got a guffaw today from a woman working from home in Alabama, by saying, "That sounds Ducky Dandy."

I spend a lot of time at the hospital these days. I strive to produce a smile or a chuckle (no belly laughs) from everyone I interact with, desk staff, nurses or doctors. Lately I have been scoring .750 or 1.000. Doctors are the toughest. A smile almost meets my goal.


Did I Write This?/Am I The Only One?

Frequently, I say to myself, after stumbling across my own writing from some time ago, “Gosh, that’s a nicely turned phrase, I wonder who wrote it,” only to realize I did.

In a recent example, I gave my nephew some text to train his AI, then asked it a question. The answer included:

“The looks of scorn she heaped on me as I departed her domain were matched only by her efforts to translate my effrontery into lower grades, an effort at which she never succeeded.” I was impressed with the AI’s use of the word “effrontery” until I realized that was my word. OK, in this case the writing was 20 years old.

This is a recurring effect. I frequently listen to love songs I wrote for Vicki during the last few years. And yet… and yet… sometimes I hear a familiar lyric, and ask myself, “Wow. Did I write that? It’s pretty clever.”

I used every search term I could think of to find out if anyone else has ever written on the Internet about “my own writing looks unfamiliar to me sometimes.” Mostly I get articles about imposter syndrome, or what to do if you feel you’re a failure as a writer. Not what I’m looking for. If you’re better at this than I am, let me know.


Life Gets Narrower

It happened to Vicki’s parents, and mine, and now it is happening to us. Life gets narrower. You go out less, do fewer things, see fewer people. Novelty becomes irregular.

We used to belong to the SF Ballet, ACT, Berkeley Rep, and California Shakespeare. Now: no performing arts.

We used to be in SF several times a month. Now: none.

We used to endeavor to try each new SF restaurant (or even the occasional Berkeley/Walnut Creek restaurant) that got a good review. Now: not.

Other than weekends away within a few hours driving distance, no travel.

An inevitable part of aging, it appears.


This and That

Words I Live By
As long as you are breathing
There is more right with you than there is wrong. (Self-obvious). Best to be above room temperature.

This too will pass
You have real character if you remember to say this in the good times as well as the bad.