Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Some Likes, Dislikes, and Trivia

In no particular order . . .
  • When I was in grammar school, my father taught me how to watch boxing: what to look for, how to score fights, and so forth. There were Wednesday Night Fights on TV ("What'll you have? Pabst Blue Ribbon." "To look sharp . . . " from Gillette Razor Blades) and Saturday Night Fights.

    I grew up watching Sugar Ray Robinson, Carmen Basilio, Rocky Marciano, Kid Gavilan, Joe Louis (past his prime) Willie Pep, Sandy Saddler, Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles, and a host of others, but my boxing hero was Archie Moore, long time Light Heavyweight Champion. He was an early (and less spectacular) version of Muhammad Ali when it came to hype, and I remember that he returned from a trip to Australia saying that the aborigines had taught him a secret punch that would add "the weight of the world" to its power.

    But I have grown tired of boxing now. It's always been a dirty game, and with the cable TV money it's only gotten dirtier. The beginning of the end for me was seeing Riddick Bowe get away with deliberately punching Buster Mathis, who was down on one knee. Referee Arthur Mercante ruled the fight "no contest" instead of disqualifying Bowe, which is what he should have done. The "no contest" ruling allowed Bowe to keep his title.

    The best fights I ever saw? All on TV except the last:
    • Roberto Duran vs. Sugar Ray Lampkin, lightweights
    • All three Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier fights, heavyweights
    • Salvador Sanchez vs. Azumah Nelson, featherweights
    • The first Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Thomas "Hitman" Hearns fight, welterweights
    • Marvelous Marvin Hagler vs. Thomas "Hitman" Hearns, middleweights

  • My first 45 RPM record purchase was Blue Suede Shoes by Carl Perkins (Sun Records). When I was a teenager our record player had four speeds: 78 RPM, 45 RPM, 33 1/3 RPM, and 16 2/3 RPM. My parents owned some single-sided 78's, pre-vinyl. I don't know what they were made of but they were heavy.

  • I was a picky eater. The only way I would eat eggs was soft boiled. When I joined the Army we would be double-timed to the mess hall for breakfast. There you ate what they cooked or you didn't eat, and the Army didn't much care which. In no time at all I was eating eggs any way I could get them.

    We were a typical meat-and-potatoes New England family: fish and fairly bland foods such as hamburger, potatoes, string beans, etc. were standard fare. Before I joined the Army I had never tasted soured cream, Mexican food, any European foods, or any Asian foods other than what passes for "Chinese food" in the US.

  • I was a voracious reader and never got the TV habit. We got the second TV in our neighborhood, and along with the other kids I watched shows such as Howdy Doody and Pinhead and Foodini. I remember that the adults watched Perry Como and other shows immediately following the kids' late afternoon shows. This was at a time when shows were fifteen minutes long.

    In later years, when others were watching TV I would usually be reading.

    Today I watch little TV. Occasionally I'll watch some sports contest, or some educational show. I'm hooked on national elections and am up all night as the results come in. I have little patience with the pratfall shows, the bloopers and practical jokes shows. Pardon me, but those shows will turn your brain into puppy shit. And I have friends who are actually hooked on them.

  • When I went to Germany in 1959, American TV advertising already had some humor and some animated bits. John Cameron Swayze was dropping wristwatches into water, and things were slowly becoming more sophisticated.

    Sponsor advertising for the first German TV show I saw consisted of a few minutes at the end of the show. When the main show ended, a man in a business suit walked out onto an empty stage and addressed the camera. Trusting the audience to fulfill its implied obligation to stay put and listen, with a sober face he simply told them why they should buy the product the sponsor was selling.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Random Memories

  • It's Halloween, 1990. I'm living in a raised ranch in the suburbs and have set up shop at the garage door with two TV tray tables holding bowls of candy.

    It's quite dark when along comes a father with two children: a boy about 6 and a girl about 4. Shouting "Trick or treat," they run up the driveway ahead of their dad. The boy is in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume and the girl is in a ballerina costume.

    As they take their pick of the candy, I ask the boy "Who's your favorite Turtle?"


    "Ohhh, Mikey's my favorite too."

    The ballerina is halfway across the lawn to the next house when Dad arrives at the garage, and she shouts over her shoulder, "He's my favorite too, Dude."

    I crack up. Dad looks at me and shrugs helplessly, grabs Michelangelo, and hustles after Dudette.

  • In 1986 I bought my first new Cadillac.

    I owned a seven year old Cadillac which was at the local dealer's for some kind of problem. They'd had it several days when GMAC announced 2.9% financing. Although you can get 0.0% today, this was a *big* deal at the time. I called the dealer and they hadn't even started on my problem yet. (This, by the way, was the result of what I consider a sensible policy: among all cars in for service, those which had been bought at that dealership took precedence over the rest.)

    I told them not to do anything, that I was headed their way to look at new models. When I got there, there was a black and gold Sedan de Ville on the floor. I looked at several models in the showroom but kept returning to that one. About the fourth time I looked at it, I heard a quiet voice behind me: "I can have you behind the wheel and out of here in half an hour."

    It took just about that amount of time to trade in the previous car and be on my way. Several miles into the return trip to work I stopped at a red light and the driver behind me stopped just in time to be too late. I picked up my first scratch on a car I had owned for perhaps ten minutes.

  • I have been an AOL user for about ten years. My experiences with AOL's customer support have been almost entirely productive. Almost.

    AOL outsources some or all of this function, and I once wound up in contact with a male employee in India. My problem was minor, but annoying: an HTML process had changed overnight, and I wanted to know how to get it to work the way it had a day ago. The only thing that had changed in the interim was that I had updated AOL by downloading and installing a new version.

    I explained my problem to the AOL techie, telling him that the sequence was:

    1. The HTML process worked a certain way

    2. I updated AOL

    3. The HTML process worked a different way

    Question: How can I restore the old HTML process?

    CSR: "You have to contact the company that made your computer."

    Semi-astonished Me: "I think I haven't been clear. Yesterday the process worked fine. Today I updated AOL and the process has changed. How can I restore the old process?"

    CSR: "You have to contact the company that made your computer."

    Sheesh. Just say you don't know, okay?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Watering Hole

AKA Grisanti's
  • There was a cute little waitress at Grisanti's, about twenty years old, serving drinks and breaking the young men's hearts.

    At some point she disappeared for a week and then one night walked in wearing a short skirt and white leather boots. She sat down with a few of us junk mail regulars and filled us in. She had acquired the boots during a week long skiing vacation in Colorado. She and a male companion had had a very good time there and she was still quite excited about it all.

    Several days later a few of us were sitting around a table next to the bar, playing Liar's Poker or Yahtzee or some game that provoked lots of laughs and groans. In came our waitress with a young man, and she brought him to our table and introduced him as her boyfriend.

    Random Junk Mailer to Boyfriend: "So, you like skiing?"

    Boyfriend: "No."

    And while the rest of us were barely avoiding hernias due to the effort of not laughing . . .

    RJM: "You should try it. It's a lot of fun."

  • Having set (and maintained, I am happy to say) standards, revised from time to time as I have aged, regarding the minimum age for any women with whom I might get involved, I acquired a few younger female friends at the junk mail company for which I worked. I don't know how they did it but they had somehow intuited that they were quite safe from me, and there were perhaps a half dozen on whom I could call if I was between girlfriends and needed a fourth (or even a second) for dinner or some circumstance. Later, Debbie acquired the habit of referring to them as "your harem" or "your concubines."

    One of these was a young woman named Jennifer and one Friday at work I spotted her from a distance. She was wearing a short black dress and looked good. I didn't get a chance to talk to her and didn't see her again for the rest of the work day. That evening, however . . .

    At Grisanti's the usual crowd from the company assembled, and at some point I saw Jennifer, who was *not* one of the regular crowd, standing at the bar and still wearing the black dress.

    An older man and woman were seated at the bar and she was standing between them and chatting with them. I grabbed my drink and walked over. I arrived just as the three of them finished some conversation.

    Donnie: "Jennifer, the next time I see you wearing that dress I'm going to bite you on the thigh."

    Jennifer: "Donnie, have you met my Mom and Dad?"

    In no time at all it was all over the bar: "Did you hear what Richards did?"

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Billy and Male Chauvinism

Although he denies it when confronted, my brother Billy resents having to share the world with women, or at least with women as theoretical equals, and he condescends at every opportunity.

This was ice-cold-confirmed one night when I was visiting him and he had a few male friends over, all strangers to me. This was roughly around the time of the flap about admitting women to The Citadel.

At some point one of the wives arrived. She went to the kitchen and returned with a bottle of . . . beer, Coke, I dunno what. She walked over to one of the guys and asked "Will you open this for me?"

Now my sense of humor requires me to take shots at anything, and I murmured "Another candidate for The Citadel."

One of my brother's friends looked at another and said, "He's a Richards alright."


The Dragon Slayer

But the main anecdote for this post involves Billy on his own. He had moved to an apartment in a row house in the boondocks. It was only after the move that he found that there was no cable TV available. This was serious stuff as he was in the habit of getting home from work, lighting a joint, and veging out in front of the TV.

He did a little research, determined who the carrier was for his area, and made the telephone call. He reached a young woman and asked whether there were any plans for cable to extend as far as his address.

Young Woman: "Not at the moment, Mr. Richards. There isn't a very large population in that area and most of those who are there are not interested in getting cable."

Billy: "How do you know?"

YW: "Well, we've taken surveys."

Billy: "How long ago was the last one?"

YW: "About a year ago."

Billy: "Well, would you consider taking another one."

YW: "Alright, Mr. Richards."

After what he judged to be more than ample time for such a survey, Billy called again and reached the same young woman.

Billy: "This is Billy Richards. I called you a while ago about cable access."

YW: "Yes, I know who you are, Mr. Richards."

Billy: "Well, did you take take the survey?"

YW: "Yes we did. I'm afraid not much has changed. Perhaps as the population grows . . . ."

Billy: Look, Dear, I'm an adult. I can take it. When are we going to have cable out here?"

YW: "Not in your lifetime."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Some Favorite Lines

(Some because they're so good and some because they're so bad)
  • Television:

    • I've seen variations of this credited to FSU Head Coach Bobby Bowden, so perhaps what I heard wasn't original. In the late 1970s or early 1980s, I was watching a college football game, and on one play a running back was faced with several defensive linemen roughly the size of Mack trucks. He lowered his head and plowed into them.

      Announcer #1: "Wow! He doesn't know the meaning of the word 'fear.'"

      Announcer #2: "Yeah, well I've seen his grade point average and he doesn't know the meaning of a lot of words."

    • I couldn't stand Howard Cosell, and watched him only on programs I "just had" to see. In my humble opinion he was phony as a three dollar bill, but I have to give him credit for this one.

      In the late 1960s or early 1970s, a USC football game was on TV and Cosell was in the broadcast booth. In running down the rosters before the game, he came to O. J. Simpson and said, "This is a young man with a serious character defect."

      I believe the reference was to the reputation Simpson had acquired for beating up girlfriends, a habit that police reports would lead one to believe he has not shed.

    • On being asked his opinion of the singing act, Joe Frazier and the Knockouts: "Joe Frazier can't sing, but who's gonna tell him?" - Muhammad Ali

    • Chris Schenkel, covering a golf tournament: "Joyce Kilmer must have had this in mind when she wrote Trees."

  • Books:

    • "Shut up he explained." - The Young Immigrants, Ring Lardner

    • ". . . the spiritual home of Russia, where one of the three surviving seminaries continues the hapless production of a dozen priests per year, like eyedropping holy water into Hell." Inveighing We Will Go - William F. Buckley Jr (the quote refers to visiting Zagorsk during the time of the Soviet Union)

  • Movies:

    • The Outlaw Josey Wales
      "I didn't surrender either but they got my horse and made him surrender. They got him pulling a plow up in Kansas, I bet." - Lone Watie (Chief Dan George)

    • Young Frankenstein
      "What hump?" - Igor (Marty Feldman)

    • The Lion in Winter
      "Give me a little peace." - Henry II (Peter O'Toole)
      "A little? Why so modest? How about eternal peace? Now there's a thought." - Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn)

    • The Princess Bride
      "Have fun storming the castle." - Miracle Max (Billy Crystal)
      (Added October 18, 2008)

    • Becket
      "Sheathe your sword, Morville, before you impale your soul upon it." - Thomas à Becket (Richard Burton)
      (Added March 16, 2009)

  • Songs:

    • "When rain has hung the leaves with tears"
      Catch the Wind, Donovan

    • "Once I said I wanted you, I don't remember why"
      How Do You Do? Mouth and MacNeal

    • "Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and everyone goes"
      Brother Love's Travelin' Salvation Show, Neil Diamond

    • "Your friends, Baby, they treat you like a guest"
      Somebody to Love, Jefferson Airplane

    • "You're my pride and joy et cet'ra"
      Elenore, The Turtles

    • "You got yer dead skunk in the middle of the road, stinkin' to high Heaven"
      Dead Skunk (In the Middle of the Road), Loudon Wainwright III

    • "Floating face down in that dirty old river"
      Patches, Dickey Lee

    • "Who'll take the lady with the skinny legs?"
      Skinny Legs and All, Joe Tex

    • "And no one heard at all, not even the chair"
      I Am . . . I Said, Neil Diamond

    • "Pain in my head, there's bugs in my bed, my pants are so old that they shine"
      Bottle of Wine, The Fireballs

    • "Sometimes all I need is the air that I breathe and to love you"
      The Air That I Breathe, The Hollies

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I'll Do It, But . . .

When I made Staff Sergeant, the Sergeant First Class who had been in charge of the enlisted men in the office was sent to the black hole referred to in the previous post, and I took his place.

My immediate problem was that the Finance Office had become a dumping ground. When a payroll clerk got out of the Army or was transferred to some other post, it sometimes happened that no qualified finance clerk was sent by the Army to replace him. The Finance Officer would then call the headquarters of one of the companies affected and ask for a body to fill in. First Sergeants often saw this as an opportunity to hide a screw-up, and we would get him. An untrained screw-up. Later, the companies would complain that their men were not being paid correctly. Gee, I wonder why that is.

I set about getting these people some training and help, and started using the calculations unit to double check the vouchers that came from these clerks, instead of just doing calculations for whatever benefits were entered. Things improved some. And then . . .

Around early June, the former NCOIC, the one I had replaced, informed me that for the last two weeks of the year I was to keep all enlisted men for several hours overtime every night. This would last until the end of June. I asked him what this was about, and he told me.

It was the end of the Army's fiscal year, and the office was in the habit of giving the civilians lots of paid overtime in June, justified by all the year end "work" that had to be done. But they felt that they couldn't justify keeping the civilians if they didn't also keep the military personnel, even though there was no work for them to do. It just didn't look good. This was a nice racket for the civilians, but the military personnel didn't get paid, didn't get comp time, didn't get anything for thirty or forty hours of unnecessary overtime.

I informed him that I was not going to keep the military personnel past normal work hours, that they were not only ahead of schedule for June but had made skeleton vouchers for July. There was absolutely nothing productive for them to do.

The next day he came back to me. "The Colonel says you will keep the enlisted men here."

"If the Colonel is ordering me to do it, I'll do it, but my next stop will be the Inspector General's office."

I heard no more about it, the enlisted men knocked off at their usual time, the civilians got their overtime work, and life went on.

But . . . I got out of the Army the following May, and was in Phoenix until sometime in June. I kept in touch with a couple of people and learned that the old practice had kicked in again, and the enlisted men were kept for several hours a night during the last couple weeks of June.

I also learned that I could not get an employment recommendation from the Finance Officer.

Oh, well, there are some things you just gotta be a man about.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fiscal Year End, Army Style

I guess I have to toot my own horn a little to set this story up, but that's OK, we're friends, right?

On my return from Vietnam I was assigned to the post Finance Office at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. I was a Specialist Fifth Class (SP5, E-5) and basically just a drone there, with several companies to pay, but I was *good* at it.

Elsewhere in the office there was a calculations unit consisting of three lower ranking enlisted men and one civilian woman, Miriam. Morale was at rock bottom in that unit, which was run by a Staff Sergeant who knew nothing at all about managing people. The unit was behind in its work, and several months in a row he kept everone there at night for a few days at the end of the month in order to get the work done in time to meet payroll. Each month they got deeper in the hole and the overtime started a little earlier than it had the month before.

I don't know exactly what triggered his removal, but I can well imagine that there were fears by "the management" that the month would come when we would not be in a position to pay all the troops because of unfinished work. In any case, he was removed and put on the "staff" (a black hole for non-performing NCOs) of the Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the Finance Office.

At the beginning of my third or fourth month there I was asked to take charge of the calculations unit.

I knew everyone there just well enough to say hello to, so the first thing I did was get us all together in an isolated area, ask them a few questions about themselves, and tell them my plan:

"I don't know why you're behind, and I don't want to know. I do know that there are more than enough people here to accomplish the work, so here's the deal: There will be no more overtime. Also, starting this week and continuing on a weekly basis, one of you will get a half day off. You can work it out among yourselves who it will be each week and what half day it will be, but I need to know the schedule when you've settled on it. This will continue as long as we make progress on the backlog, and when we have caught up it will continue as long as we don't fall behind again."
This was well received and perhaps ten days prior to month's end there was no backlog and never a moment when there was any doubt about the work being done. In fact, when a clerk from another area was out for any reason, I was able to send one of my people to that area to take up the slack.

It is human nature that people generally resent this - doing other people's work - so I never let them spend more than half a day at one of these positions, and during those times I checked on them frequently to see how they were doing and to answer questions. I also explained to my people that if we didn't do this we'd have a different kind of problem: people sitting around doing nothing and getting a half day a month off as a reward, stirring up resentment in the rest of the office. Eventually we'd have to end the half days off.

Things went swimmingly for two months, and then I had a cup of coffee with the supervisor of the office's civilian employees, and he took that opportunity to tell me that someone - some civilian - had complained about Miriam getting half days off. Sheesh. I had to explain to her that I could no longer give her that time, and she understood and took it very well.

Presumably on the strength of this performance, I was sent before a batallion promotion board and made Staff Sergeant (SSG, E-6). That set up the conditions for a major problem.

NEXT: I'll Do It, But . . .

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Mondegreens and Their Cousins

For those who've never heard this, a misheard lyric or phrase is sometimes called a "mondegreen." Here are a couple of real life examples: when

'Scuse me while I kiss the sky

is heard as
'Scuse me while I kiss this guy

then the latter is a mondegreen. And when

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life

is heard as

Surely Good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life

then the latter is a mondegreen.

The charming story behind the label "mondegreen" is that as a girl, Sylvia Wright (an American author) misheard the lyrics to a 17th century ballad, The Bonnie Earl O' Murray. The first stanza ends with

They hae slain the Earl O' Murray
And laid him on the green.

But the young Sylvia heard it as

They hae slain the Earl Amurray
And Lady Mondegreen.

In general, to qualify as a mondegreen the replacement must be as good as or better in some sense than the original.

(I am absolutely wild about Gladly the Cross I'd Bear/Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear.)

OK, that's a long introduction for an otherwise short post regarding misheard (and obviously misunderstood) quotations I've encountered. They are not quite mondegreens.

With an educational background that ended with a high school diploma, a friend and mentor (R.I.P.) had attained the executive vice-presidency of a large corporation and that corporation paid the tuition and expenses he incurred in subsequently acquiring a Bachelor of Arts degree through one accelerated program or another.

He returned from this program with his degree and a head full of information new to him, including a couple of mangled quotes:

  • O tempores amores for O tempora! O mores! (This one went out in a memo sent to EVP's at other companies.)

  • Separate the wheat from the shaft for Separate the wheat from the chaff (confined, as far as I know, to meetings in his office.)
Only tangentially related (because not misheard), when my father pointed out a trait I had inherited from him (we both on occasion talked to other people as if they were idiots), I quoted Deuteronomy: "The sins of the father are visited unto the son."

The next time we found ourselves in a similar situation, he informed me that "The sins of the father are twice the hypotenuse."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

My Union Experiences

I have belonged to only one union, and that for less than four years, so am no expert regarding unions and union matters. Still, it would be not much of an exaggeration to say that the experiences I *did* have were uniformly bad, at least from my perspective.

All that follows occurred during the period June 1968 to February 1972, and at what was then the Record-American, a Hearst Corporation tabloid in Boston, the result of a merger beteen the Record and the American, two of what had once been seven daily newspapers in Boston. In 1968 there were still three: the Record-American, hereinafter the "Record," the Herald-Traveler, and the Globe.

Fresh from the Army and years of working in Army finance, I got a job as a payroll clerk at the Record, automatically becoming a member of the American Newspaper Guild. Dues were very small and for quite a while the Guild had no visible effect or influence on me or my situation.

In 1971 (I think) the Record acquired its first computer, an IBM System 360-20, a mainframe computer with 24k of memory and requiring its own room and environment - raised floor with the cables running beneath, air conditioning, and humidity control. Input was in the form of 80 column punched cards and output in the form of magnetic tapes and printouts. No CRT's, nothing interactive.

The Hearst Corporation sent a data processing manager and two programmers to oversee the installation and to write and put into production the first systems pertaining to the Record's business.

A few months later the company set about acquiring its own programming staff, with the intention of that staff replacing the Hearst programmers. All employees were given the opportunity to take an aptitude test and two would be selected for transfer and training.

The selections, of course, were not based on aptitude or merit, but simply on seniority within the list of those who had taken the test and not failed egregiously. I had scored highest among the applicants, but based on seniority there was little chance I would become a Record programmer in this lifetime.

But uneverno. One of the two selected, Gerry, disliked the work and did not do well at it. Eventually he requested and got a transfer back to the accounting work he had been doing. The company and the union went back to the list of applicants, their results, and their seniority.

By this time, the company had a pretty good investment in Gerry, what with off-site training courses, on the job training, and little in the way of results, and naturally they wanted to avoid a repeat of this experience. They negotiated some kind of deal with the union that allowed them to ignore seniority, and I was suddenly a programmer in training.

I don't know what deal they negotiated, but it couldn't have been much or the union would have gloated and all of us would have known about it. I wouldn't be surprised if the "deal" turned out to be nothing more than a statement along the lines of "We're not going through this again. Either you let us pick the highest applicant or we'll simply keep using the Hearst Corporation programmers as consultants and you'll have fewer union members."

After a one week course at the IBM center in Hartford, Connecticut, I was given responsibility for maintaining and enhancing some of the existing production programs. By any standard, the Record was not yet making much use of the computer. It was in use only from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. My own shift was from nine to five. I learned how to IPL (start) the machine and how to operate it, and how to shut it down, but there was little opportunity to apply this knowledge. Moreover, testing time for any code I wrote was limited because production was run during the day and the computer could run only one program at a time.

Now - the union.
  • Regarding the Hartford experience: I was put up in a nice hotel, and meals and transportation expenses were to be paid for. I returned to work on Monday morning and was immediately approached by a union representative who told me to be sure to include in my expense report any time outside the classroom during which I had worked on homework assignments. The union would see that I was paid overtime. This seemed excessive to me, but I did as I was told.

    That afternoon the Personnel Manager called me into his office, a little distressed by my expense report's claim for overtime. He said that the company simply would not train anyone else if this stood. I explained that it had never occurred to me to make that claim, that the union had instructed me to do so, and that I would not be the least bit distressed to receive only the lodging, food, and transportation expenses.

    Somehow it got worked out between the Record and the Guild, and neither payment nor further conversation about overtime occurred.

  • I now knew how to operate the machine and was a little frustrated by the small number of opportunities for testing. I did a deal with the DP manager which allowed me to come in a couple of hours early and leave a couple of hours early, thus having the machine all to myself from seven o'clock to nine o'clock. For several weeks things went swimmingly. I was learning more every day and more of my programming was getting into production - good for me and good for the company.

    And then . . . I was approached by a union rep who asked about the specifics of the deal and how the deal came into existence (I had proposed it to the DP manager). In short order the union filed a complaint with the company, taking the position that by beginning at seven o'clock I was starting during "night shift" hours and would have to be paid the ten percent differential.

    Immediately on hearing this I went to our chapter head to try to talk him into withdrawing this claim. I explained that it was good for *me*, a union member, but it was like talking to a brick wall. Eventually the deal was cancelled and I was back to nine to five. Thanks, guys.

  • Somehow I wound up on the Guild's negotiating team as our contract expiration approached. I don't know how this happened, exactly, but I am absolutely the wrong person to put in a situation like that, as it is my inclination to see both sides of a matter while everyone else is seeing only whatever interests they serve.

    In any case, the Herald had recently completed some union negotiations, making what were considered by newspaper people to be scandalous concessions, most particularly in wages.

    Our rep began trying to negotiate for those same rates for the Guild employees at the Record, and was told that those rates were "off the table." Our guy wanted to know why the Herald management had been so "reasonable" and the Record management was being so "unreasonable." He was told "If the Herald lives to pay those contracts then we will renegotiate."

    The Herald did not live to pay the contracts, and the Hearst Corporation bought the paper, did away with the Record, moved into the Herald's facilities, and began publishing the Herald-American. This all occurred shortly after I left the paper, and the surviving paper, which has changed hands a couple more times, is now called the Boston Herald.

  • A thought, not directly related to union membership: During these negotiations I incurred the wrath of a Hearst Corporation jerk who was sent in to participate with the Record management in these negotiations and to meddle in other matters. I would gladly give you his name - so you would know who he was and how incompetent he was - but it has escaped me.¹

    In any case, a few months later I accepted an offer to take a position at Blue Cross. The offer was made by Drew, then an acquaintance from the Board Room (bar) and later both my superior and a friend. Perhaps a month after I started at Blue Cross, Drew and I were having a drink at the Board Room and he said "You know, we almost didn't get to hire you."

    I learned that it was Blue Cross policy to solicit a recommendation from the current employer of anyone proposing to join Blue Cross. Spitefully, the Hearst jerk had directed the Record's Personnel Manager to answer "No" to the question "Would you rehire this individual?"

    And so the Personnel Manager did, but he was wiser than that. He knew that I had been praised in writing for my performance and added a handwritten note: "It is company policy to answer 'no' to this question but I would rehire this man."

    But for that, the Record would have been wide open to a law suit.

¹ February 11, 2009: It just popped into my mind - Bill Klouda