Tag Archives: decisions

What Me Worry?

Don’t worry, be happy.
-Bobby McFerrin

Keep Calm and Carry On
-Ministry of Information, British Government
June, 1939

No worries
—Australian/British/New Zealand expression (also Canadian)

What me worry?guy by Tom Cassidy
—Alfred E, Neuman (Mad Magazine)

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
—Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer (Alcoholics Anonymous)

I don’t know if I am a born worrier or if years of practice has helped me to perfect my craft. I am unable to refrain from fretting, speculating, and fixating on what might happen. My current conundrum is the coming election. Like many, I feel that Donald Trump may not represent the best interests of those of us who live on land. His poor showing in the recent polls would suggest that victory is unlikely and the billions of dollars in advertising and the thousands of pundit hours are unnecessary.

Yet potential voters will still be harangued by fresh faced canvassers, robocalls, TV ads, and glossy mailers. People other than me will accost their neighbors outside supermarkets, stuff envelopes, and hold bake sales, car washes, and fancy fund raisers. My job during elections is to read everything I can find, bother my few remaining friends, and worry.

I fear that if a chambermaid short-sheets Trump’s bed at a Best Western in Jacksonville, he may spend the entirety of a presidential debate complaining about it. (With most candidates “handlers” is just an expression.) Then I began to worry. What if Trump quits? Does he have the character and fortitude to stick it out and face a landslide, or is he more a “take his ball and go home” kind of guy?

What if RNC chair Wisconsinite Reince Priebus cooks up a deal with fellow Badger House Speaker Paul Ryan to run? Many differ with Ryan’s policies but most agree that he is not insane. Talk about a lowered bar. Trump is polling slightly ahead of Kim Jong-un among women 18-54. Do I need the frat boy bully to remain engaged, and just successful enough to make it to November? How exactly do you go about rooting for that?

I was in full worry mode when I happened to re-watch Bridge of Spies, a Cold War drama directed by Steven Spielberg. Set in 1961 at the height of the Red scare, it is the true story of the trial of Russian spy Rudolf Abel. Tom Hanks is attorney James Donovan, tasked with defending Abel. Mark Rylance received an Academy Award for his nuanced portrayal of Abel as more than a borsht slurping villain in heavy overshoes and a cheap suit. Donovan and Abel form a lawyer/client relationship of necessity that develops into respect and friendship. Early on Donovan informs Abel that he faces charges of espionage and that the death penalty is “on the table.” Abel responds drolly, ”That wouldn’t be my first choice.” Donovan appears more anxious than his client as the case unfolds. The lawyer envies his client’s composure. After a crucial ruling goes against them Donovan turns to Abel and asks, “Aren’t you alarmed?” Abel answers, “Would it help?”

This is my lesson!

Donovan escorts Abel to the exchange point where he is to be swapped for Powers. Now friends, the lawyer is fearful of returning Abel to the Soviets. With drawn machine guns everywhere, Donovan asks Abel what he is going to do when he gets back. Abel replies “Have a vodka.” Donovan tries again, “Are you worried they will kill you?” Abel responds, “Would it help?”

Am I worried the republic will crumble and we will be ruled by a madman and a party of spineless sycophants? Would it help?

Tom H. Cook ran a precinct for George McGovern in 1972.

Writing an Advice Column

I am living with my husband and ex-husband and their girl friends.  These women sneak their red underwear in with my whites in the laundry and now we all have pink clothing!  I try to talk to them but they gang up on me.  Don’t suggest I leave; it is my house! 

(signed) Pinky

One of the many ways I irritate those closest to me is by occasionally speaking with a heavy Scandinavian accent, though it is not my heritage.  I do it only as an homage to the original movie Fargo.  Think Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), trying to impress his wheeler dealer father-in-law with his business acumen:  “I tell you, Wade, this is really sweet deal.”

While I was dining out with friends recently, the server offered us the Happy Hour Special (two for one hors d’oeuvres) despite it being 9:00 pm, three hours after the happiness was to have ended.  To the embarrassment and chagrin of all I replied in full accent, “That would be a really sweet deal.”

fixit

I have always thought writing a nationally syndicated advice column would be a really sweet deal.  I’d call it Talk to Tom, with an accompanying picture of me caring about others (it would need to be Photoshopped).  To get started, I planned to solicit or make up a few letters from troubled souls.  I’d have one a bit spicy (PG-13), such as an inquiry from a newlywed whose husband insists on bringing a pet goat into their bedroom.

Some letters would not even need much of a response.  Take “Marilyn of Widows Peak, Georgia.”  She enclosed a powerful poem she found tucked in a Gideon Bible at a truck stop motel where she was about to throw away her sacred vows and, as she put it, have “carnival relations” with a dried fruit vendor from Cincinnati.  I only need thank Marilyn, extol her bravery and reprint the poem in its entirety.  Boom, another whole column. (Ka-ching $$$)

I was getting excited about helping the downtrodden, lonely, and misunderstood. The rewards of syndication barely crossed my mind. A fancy degree is not required to give advice to the lovelorn, just a little common sense, which admittedly is not my strong suit.  Mostly you need to be kind, caring and genuine, which I can fake

Another helpful ingredient is a collection of wise but vague sayings and parables.   Don’t sugar coat the truth but wrap it in a pithy, humorous but knowing manner.  To close, suggest the writer seek out a therapist/counselor/clergy person.  That is the “playbook.”  The referral is the safe, middle of the fairway, don’t get sued response.

Before I could begin my venture I was disheartened to learn Dear Abby, Dr. Laura, Miss Manners, Dr. Ruth, Ask Amy, Dear Ann and the rest have large staffs working tirelessly to help lost souls. They have offices, copy machines, consultants, accountants, lawyers and a staff handling thousands of requests.  My bubble was burst.  Suddenly it was looking like a real job.  I opted to take a nap and remain a fan of the genre.

I enjoy my guilty pleasure, and freely admit to reading the Dear Abby letters in the newspaper on a daily basis.  To clarify, I call all the advice mavens Abby as Minneapolis’ Abigail Van Buren (Pauline Phillips) was the gold standard.  JoAnne and I attempt to guess “Abby’s” response and verbally craft a better one.  It is not one of my stellar traits but I feel a tinge of smugness comparing my problems to those who write in to the paper.  I do on occasion wonder where all of the concupiscent young women with poor judgement and raging libidos were when I was much younger.  They certainly didn’t live in Pennsauken, New Jersey in the 1960s and frequent the Cherry Hill Mall, or the Nassau Diner.  Unless my friends and I were not as cool…Nah.

When the upper crust mother of the bride thinks the new in-laws may be stealing her silver and it is a month before the wedding, I have to chortle.  One woman wrote that her boyfriend played around so much she did not know if the child she was expecting was his.  My favorite was a young man who rationalized that because he had delayed choosing a career; at 28 he worried that he was too old to start medical school and face ten years of training.  Expecting sympathy he concluded, “After all, I’d be 38 when I finished, isn’t that a little ridiculous?”  Dear Abby responded, “If you don’t go, how old will you be in ten years?”

I find myself muttering incredulously at the unfathomable and exasperating situations out there.  “No seventh chances!”  “Leave the lying weasel immediately.”  “Run!  As far and as fast as possible!”  I cannot believe some of the “writers” are in the same phylum as the rest of us.  It does however help explain the ascension of Donald Trump.

Tom H. Cook feels like he is playing “Whack A Mole” with the medical profession.  No sooner does he complete an appointment than another arises.  

Aging Perceptions

belanko by Tom CassidyDon’t worry; it gets worse.
—Barbara Amram (on aging)

Young women get changed in front of me.
—Jay Leno (on being old and invisible)

Why do seniors get a discount? They’ve had more time to make the money.
—anonymous (possibly Homer)

* * * * * * * *
“Are you comfortable?”
“I make a good living”

My very young dental hygienist (fresh from a small town in Idaho and trying to catch on in the glam world of L.A. dentistry) directed me into her chair and asked me the question. Granted, it’s funnier with a Yiddish accent, but it helps to be of a certain age to really sell the line. My response made her giggle and then laugh hard. There is a new audience, a whole generation that has never heard the classics. It is small recompense for getting liver spots, but too much is written about the downside of the whole aging process.

What is under-reported is the perks. I am no longer asked to help people move, (“We’re gonna have pizza and beer, its just a few things, it’ll be fun…”) I used to feel ethically challenged by party invitations. I was clumsy and awkward declining or accepting as I would almost always prefer to spend a quiet evening with dogs. Marginally interesting activities would torment me. I could go and be miserable, or stay home and feel guilty because I was not really too busy. Now I get far fewer social invitations and it is much easier to reject them. I politely but firmly say I am not coming, it is too far, too late, or I don’t want to.

Another advantage of aging is perspective. I was too often impulsive and short sighted throughout much of my life. I gnashed my teeth and lost sleep over roads not taken, mistakes I have made, hunches I did or did not follow, and decisions that, in hindsight, would have been better left to a ouija board. I am no Leo Buscaglia (how is that for a name from the past?) but I stress less and am more accepting. I did not get rich, but I never had to do hard time. The good news is that at a certain age it doesn’t much matter. My habits are set and more money would not appreciably improve my life. It is delightful to not be looking for a job, or answering to anyone.

People would rather be naked in front of each other than discuss their finances and I will not do either here, but the question that drives us most of our lives is “Why is there no parking at Trader Joe’s?” Oops I meant “How much money do I need to be able to live out my days warm and indoors?” I had always hoped that one of my splinter skills (writing, public speaking, stand up comedy) would thrust me into the public eye. I was never discovered but it’s nice not having to spend all that time in the harbor waiting for my ship to come in.

It is interesting to watch a coach who has prepared and practiced maniacally, forsaking friends, family, food, and sleep for a supreme effort in the big game. A close contest is more exciting but there is a melancholy bittersweet relief in a lopsided blowout. Up or down by thirty points in the waning moments, the contest is decided. It is time to be magnanimous: play the scrubs, avoid injury, don’t argue calls, congratulate your opponents, and let your players know how proud you are of them. My wins and losses have not been as dramatic. I never caught the brass ring, found the pot of gold, made it to Easy Street or [insert your favorite cliche here]. I hope to have many years left but I feel myself letting go of needing to keep score or watch the clock.

Tom H. Cook will likely have a third grandchild by the time you read this. He listens regularly to The Tony Kornheiser Show podcasts and is a “loyal little.”

Ethics Make My Head Hurt

You did what?  You’ll probably get someone fired or gum up a machine!!!               — JoAnne Cook

Ethics make my head hurt.  I read the horror stories about Foxconn, the Chinese conglomerate that manufactures and assembles Apple products.  Their management style would need to improve greatly to become merely draconian.  Corporate response to disenchanted workers subjected to mind-numbing routinized labor and claustrophobic dormitory living has been to thwart further suicides by installing more suicide nets!  (The flogging will continue until morale improves.)  Still I am writing this on my Apple computer, which I prize nearly as much as my iPad (see HLP 10/11) and my iPod, rationalizing that China is another culture, and very far away.

Ohio and Pennsylvania are not that far away.  Mac McClellan, writing in the March-April issue of Mother Jones, and Spencer Soper in The Morning Call, an Allentown (PA) newspaper, chronicle the working conditions at online retail facilities.   Before you stop reading, shake your head at the nonsense that passes itself off as community news, harrumph loudly, and turn to the real estate ads, give me just a few paragraphs.

Amazon began shipping books in 1994. Expanding to a limitless array of products and riding the wave of the Internet, the company has become the 21st century rebuttal to the quaint notion of shopping by driving, finding parking, dealing with surly, barely conscious, retail clerks in a too air-conditioned, insipid music-blasting, brick and mortar retail store that is out of what you need despite calling ahead to make sure they have it.  Amazon stock (which I neglected to buy) has grown eight fold, and the company made $34,000,000,000 in 2010.  With 33,700 employees and free shipping, what’s not to like?

 

As it turns out, quite a lot.  I never really questioned how a point and click brought anything I wanted to my front door so quickly and tax free.  Amazon is the biggest, but almost all online retailers ship from vast warehouses, with several companies often sharing space.  Located in rural areas on vast tracts of land with tax incentives, near rail lines and major highways, they are often the only game in town for employment.  Ma and Pa stores, Woolworth’s, and a recognizable downtown are long gone, driven out in part by low Internet prices.  This is the future going forward, fast, cheap, and barely in control.  I do not believe many of us connected the dots between a displaced, desperate workforce and an Internet industry that is not yet twenty years old.

Mac McClelland is a 31 year old journalist, who went “underground” like Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickle and Dimed in America. The Secret Hell of Online Shopping chronicles her employment at a vast online warehouse, probably in Ohio.  She describes the workplace as cavernous and silent despite the thousands of people filling orders or standing at conveyor belts.  Temperatures range seasonally from 60 to over 95 degrees. Ten hour days are standard, longer near the holidays.  Most employees are pickers or packers.  As a picker she walked 12-15 miles per day on  concrete.  Armed with a scanner and an impossibly high quota of orders to fill, she and thousands more were continually “counseled,” prodded, and demeaned by supervisors to work harder, faster and error-free to please the customer.  Failure is met with demerits which are also accrued by being even seconds late returning from one of the two 15 minute daily breaks, perhaps because the bathroom line was too long.

The pace is intense and workers are disposable, fired at will because there are 15 people in line for every job.  Conversation is not forbidden, but there is simply no time. It is a joyless Orwellian world with everyone being watched and every second needing to be accounted for.  McClelland writes poignantly about the “workampers,” people who drive RV’s around the country from temporary job to temporary job, docking in trailer camps.  Many are retired couples not able to make it on their savings.

What I did not realize is that Amazon, Netflix, Staples, Office Depot and the other giant companies do not commonly employ entry level warehouse workers directly.  They contract with a 3PL or third party logistics staffing agency.  One of the biggest is Integrity Staffing Solutions (ISS). A 3PL sounds benign, but the competition between “temp agencies” for multimillion dollar contracts is brutal.  This filters down to the employees.  Just enough workers are hired at the lowest wage allowable (between 8 and 11 dollars an hour).  Asked to perform at maximum efficiency like robots, human problems like sick kids and car trouble are not factored into the equation. Workers are barely able keep up with the ever-increasing demand.  This is how companies are able to slash prices and deliver products super fast and offer free shipping and still post profits in the billions.  It comes at the expense of employees pushed to their breaking point.  McClelland asks if the workplace has to be this bleak and stressful to make a profit.

The 3PLs play the bad cop, the heavy, the wicked stepmother, shielding Amazon and other household names from lawsuits and negative publicity about their labor practices.  The retailer retains plausible deniability, avoids paying benefits, and discourages unions, as the workers are only temps, no matter how many years they are employed.  A carrot held out to new hires is the promise of a full-time job with the parent company.  Most are either fired or quit before that happens.  There is no regulation or licensure of these contracted companies.  If the first step toward change is public awareness, then the second is accountability from the online retailer and their responsibility for the policies of their 3PL.

Would you pay more for a free range chicken, or grapes picked by a union-protected field worker?  Scrolling the various Internet sites for the lowest price is just modern shopping.  How about paying a little more to ensure the picker and shipper in charge of your order are treated in a humane manner, given occasional time off and healthcare benefits?  Perhaps you would say it is the responsibility of Jeffrey Bezos, founder of Amazon and #30 on the worlds wealthiest list at 18.1 billion.

A desperately unhappy person in China may have assembled my computer.  A seven year old in Malaysia likely stitched my sneakers, and a pregnant woman in Allentown, Pennsylvania who cannot afford to be on bed rest shipped them to me.  How am I supposed to feel?  Someday, the robots will take over.  For now many workers eek out a living in warehouses that bear little resemblance to the places you and I may have worked to get money for college decades ago.

I am hoping that someone younger and smarter will blog, tweet, or twitter about the conditions and hardships of warehouse workers today.  I’ ll provide the slogan, There is no such thing as free shipping!

 

Tom H. Cook lacks the energy to lead a boycott.  He is such a bleeding heart, he enclosed a dollar bill in his red Netflix envelope. That is why JoAnne was so alarmed.

 

 

Ben and Tom Hiking

The Road Not Taken

There can be no real freedom without the freedom to fail.
–Erich Fromm

I am from Iowa.  I lived there until I was 24…  I didn’t know you were allowed to leave.
–Jake Johannsen (San Francisco comic)

I guess one person can make a difference, but most of the time, they probably shouldn’t
–Marge Simpson

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
and sorry I could not travel both                                  —Robert Frost   (The Road Not Taken) 

Free will is a terrifying notion especially when you exercise it.  I hesitate to broach the subject because the odds are astronomically high that I will come off sounding clueless and self serving, a departure from my petty and ingracious nature.  Coming back to Minnesota brings out deeply conflicted feelings I harbor about leaving my adopted home.  When I talk with friends whose families made huge life changing moves, there were usually Cossacks involved in the decision.  For JoAnne and me, it was a heart wrenching choice that was not influenced by the Ninth District Court of Appeals.  My new life (eight years already) is filled with friends, activities, and as much meaning as I am likely to find in southern California.

I make it harder by visiting in early October (note to self, come back in February).  There is nothing more enjoyable than wandering the streets of Minneapolis on a beautiful fall day. I walked Lake of the Isles, the Greenway, and the newest incarnation of Calhoun Square.  For those who take HLP land for granted as I once did, the bustle of young people, the abundance of dogs, and the leaves beginning to turn can’t help but imbued one with a sense of optimism.

Even my friends with little interest in sports have been to the new Twins stadium.  Their joy and civic pride is so evident that I couldn’t help but smile.   Minnesotans look for ways to build community, and Target Field is a good example.  After I went to a game (a 13-2 drubbing by Toronto) I was so in awe of the experience, I happily leaped on the bandwagon.  Still challenges abound.  Which highway entrances and exits are not under construction?  How do you get across town without Crosstown?  There are many, many houses for sale, yet coming from bankrupt California, the local economy looks fairly healthy.

I sense I am avoiding the existential question.  Should a decision of the magnitude of where to live be left to someone so quixotic, and ill informed?  I was a (very) young Republican.  I attended a Mamas and Papas concert.  I bought Circuit City stock at 42.   I wore bell bottoms for goodness sake.  I didn’t install it, but I lived with orange shag carpeting.  What would suggest that I am an informed decision maker?

The more I consider it, the question is not happiness or fulfillment.  JoAnne and I love our life in California while we miss our old house, friends, and the spirit of the neighborhood.  I am occasionally (all right daily) dwarfed by the decision.  I am not suggesting a Politburo, or even a 5.2 computer software update to guide our major life choices, comrade.  It is just difficult having no one to blame.  Moving states doesn’t compare to religious conversion, changing genders, launching a new career, or enlisting in the military. Where do people with options find the strength to roll the dice and commit to a new life?  After eight years I am still whining about missing the fall colors.

 

  Tom H. Cook was disappointed to see the Twins season end so ignobly.  After eight years he is still whining about missing the fall colors.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

I May Need More Friends

I may need more friends.  I get enough holiday cards and can usually find someone to talk to, but I feel that I am somehow missing out.  I made a few friends growing up, then some more in college, and then many special people when I lived and worked in the Minneapolis community.  The problem is I met most of my dear friends before the Internet explosion.  They are a fine, loyal, and irreverent lot and certainly better than I deserve, but I do not think my circle is providing me with a full range of the spectrum of e-mail attachments.

I am receiving some of the very clever anti-Bush cartoons from my politically active friends, and I do get many of the signage photos like “Bridge Out Slow to 60” from my sardonic peers.   Still I see the stuff being passed via You Tube by admittedly younger, hipper acquaintances and my friends are just light-years behind.  Granted I do not even know how to copy an attachment to send to twenty people, but when I was making life-long friends, who knew the ability to cull interesting snippets from cyberspace would be so important?

Every day I get countless Rogaine and Viagra ads (which JoAnne claims she has nothing to do with) dumped in my in box.  Between that and the insipid quasi-personal notes from someone named Martinique or Gladys that say “Let’s get back in touch”  it is rare to receive an attachment picturing a bulldozer sinking in a swamp.  I like hearing how my friends are doing, but the photo collage sequence of Madonna morphing into Mick Jagger is what you buy a computer for.  My friends are pretty good about finding the photos of a long line of traffic brought to a stand-still by three turtles trudging across the highway, but they are not finding the edgier stuff.

David Brooks wrote a particularly humorous Shouts and Murmurs piece in The New Yorker recently about E-name dropping and status.  Brooks clued me into noticing the other recipients who receive the same correspondence.  Since most people do not use blind copy, you can see who else is receiving it.  I tend to get lumped with grandparents and obscure relatives.  Still, the next time I write to others I may borrow his idea and subtly pad my list of other recipients like bdylan@columbiarec.org and bgates@microsoft.com.  Perhaps if my few remaining friends see they are in the company of nmailer@randomhouse.org, kannan@UN.org hberry@tristarpictures.net, and gclooney@warnerbros.com they will send me better stuff.

Tom H. Cook is planning to go on assignment for The Hill and Lake Press to New Zealand to see if the toilets do flu

Last Chance Post Mortem

It’s late September and I really should be back in school –Rod Stewart  (in Maggie May)

Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.   –attributed to Vince Lombardi

Now maybe I’ll be able to get that song out of my head and concentrate on “The Arnold.”  It is late September here in California, and while it is early to do a post-mortem with the election a week away, it is my last chance.  Politics long considered one of the last bastions of geeky, pale, weasel-faced, high school debate club presidents is about to fall.  By the time you read this, Arnold Schwarzenegger will likely be bench pressing a podium — Gray Davis–or he’ll be challenging reporters to punch him in the stomach as hard as they can. Oh yes, and he will be Governor-elect of California.

The Minnesota connection makes us unindicted co-conspirators.  Schwarzenegger is frequently compared to Jesse Ventura, the other freewheeling, steroid-using, self-confessed 70s wild man.  Californians do this to cite precedent and to reassure themselves that what they are doing makes sense.  The first time some co-workers earnestly suggested this to me I was eating lunch and milk came out of my nose.  I attempted to explain the continual limit-testing Jesse had done. Whether it was moonlighting on weekends for the XFL, talking to Playboy magazine, or the use of the mansion, Jesse forced us into the role of parenting our petulant political prodigy.

Jesse really wanted unicameral government and mass transit.  One of which is still a good idea. Arnold is richer, tanner, bolder, and far more dangerous.  We are consoled that he cannot constitutionally become president and will have to settle for California, the world’s fifth largest economy.  He is Machiavellian, ego-driven, ambitious, and cunning.  Unfortunately his narcissism seems to be an end and not a means.  He appears to have no ideology beyond winning.  Granted, the list of selfless politicians is short, but Schwarzenegger seems to take particular glee in subjugating others to his torrid will.

The Arnold has completely revised his early steroid use, womanizing, and questionable business ethics.  He is a Hummer lover, and the metaphor is perfect, particularly if you have ever sat next to one while in a Miata  at a stop light.  A quirky short term race for Sacramento is perfectly geared to garner him mass exposure.    It is form over substance: “Getting Elected Governor For Dummies.” Perhaps we are all ADD, and this is as long as we can concentrate.  I fear my adopted state is making an impulsive decision we will all regret, and the poor will pay.  In which case I will be back as soon as Minnesotans disarm.

I may be overreacting, and Larry Flynt, Gary Coleman, Richard Simmons (accountant), Mary Carey (porn star), the 105 year old woman, or even Gray Davis may have won.  In that case, let me echo the words of Gilda Radner from Saturday Night Live: “Never mind.”

Tom H. Cook is missing a real Minnesota autumn.  He also remembers–all too clearly–what comes next.