Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What does it take to become the next Yard Sale Star?

What does it take to become the next Yard Sale Star?

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live, you have the potential to become the next yard sale star. Your family will be proud of you. Your neighbors will put you on a pedestal. It is simple! Just follow the ten steps below, including the “do’s and don’ts,” and you will be able to relax while the money comes in. The greatest yard sale is the one you host yourself. So, why don’t you do it right and try to have a pleasant time?

Be advised to share the following steps and “do’s and don’ts” with your family members, so you won’t have unpleasant surprises. I speak from experience, sort of. Ten years ago, after moving from Brazil to the United States, I had an unexpected experience involving a yard sale. It was spring, and my neighborhood was filled with colorful fliers attached to the telephone poles saying “Yard Sale.” My mother asked me about it, and I briefly explained it to her. The next morning, I woke up to see my own mother selling my shoes in the front yard. She was having her first yard sale and she was glowing. Unfortunately, most of the goods on sale were mine. Only one of us was having fun that day, since I had to offer her money to get my shoes back. I guess I should have gone through the "do's and don’ts" with her. 

So, before starting a yard sale, communicate to everyone in your house that you will be hosting a yard sale on such-and-such a date and time so they won’t be caught off guard. Do ask them if they want to join you and participate. As you must know, a yard sale requires planning, organizing, advertising: it might take three days out of your schedule. So, any help you can get should be more than welcome! Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready to rock n’ roll? If you hesitated for a minute, you should hold on to your stuff; perhaps you’re not ready to take the further steps. If your heart beats harder, hands start to sweat and adrenaline runs like crazy into your veins, every moment you hear/read the signs of a yard sale, you have been chosen to be the next Yard Sale Star.

Step 1- Pick a weekend, a day, and a time (start and end). Schedule your yard sale far enough in advance that you can place classified ads in city and community newspapers. Check the long-range forecast for good weather. You should host a yard sale on a Saturday, so you have Sunday to clean up and organize yourself before getting back to work on Monday. Don’t you be late for your own yard sale. Be on time! 

Step 2- Select the items that you will be selling. Most goods come into your life with an emotional and monetary value. You must be ready to get yourself detached from the items beforehand. Meditate about it so you won’t get too frustrated when people offer you too little for that crooked picture frame that got damaged when you broke up with your ex-sweetheart. 

Step 3- Advertise. Do place an ad in your local paper. It is usually advertised on Thursdays. Tap into no-cost resources, such as online listings or community newspapers that publish free classifieds. Make the signs and place them along busy streets in your neighborhood (on telephone poles) the night before. Make the signs large and easy-to-read for the neighborhood. Place them at every busy intersection up to 3 blocks away (but not further because that's a waste of your time). Put firm backing on the signs so the wind doesn't fold them over. Be simple and don’t forget to include the address and time on the signs. To prevent buyers from coming to your house after the yard sale day, don’t forget to remove the street signs. 

Step 4- Cleaning. Do scrub, wash, polish and launder the items you plan to sell. Don’t keep the spiders’ webs with the excuse that you are saving the planet.

Step 5- Organize. Do separate the items into categories (books, clothes, shoes, furniture) and by price. Use masking tape or colored dots and a permanent marker to price everything. Setting up "$1 or less" and "$5 or less" tables or boxes will save you time and attract shoppers. Try to keep the items displayed in a limited area, so you can control the space and make it harder to be robbed.

Step 6- Safety. If you want to be very safe, you can use rope to delineate the area where people can hang out during the yard sale. Don’t make yourself a target for strangers, who are more interested in getting into your house and robbing you while you are distracted with customers. Keep doors locked! 

Step 7- Cash. Do keep the money with you. Have plenty of small bills, change, a cash box, a calculator, pencil and pen, bags, boxes and newspapers to wrap purchases. 

Step 8 – Be nice to customers and don’t get into any fights. They might not be nice to you and hurt your feelings, but the best thing you can do is to keep yourself calm. I recommend the “Warrior 1” yoga pose to reach calmness, along with “Warrior 3” yoga pose, which will change the vibe of your yard. If you’re not familiar with yoga poses, you can check the website: thesecretsofyoga.com

viribhadrasana1.jpg

Step 9- Pricing. Do price things with common sense. Be flexible and be ready to bargain down if you have to. 

Step 10- Up sell. Thumbs up for those people who want to sell lemonade and bottled water; thumbs down for those people who want to sell beverage with alcohol content. Why? It is against the law, dear Lindsay Lohan.

One more thing I would like to emphasize: the ten steps, along with the “do’s and don’ts,” are meant to be understood by you before the “big day.” Do your homework ahead of time. Consumers don’t deserve, on a beautiful Saturday morning, to wait for you to undo the boxes in front of them or wait for you to figure out what the price is going to be for your goods. Nor do they deserve to wait for you, while you try to find change. DO enjoy your yard sale, and DON'T give into the temptation (as I almost did) to throw a yard sale and sell Mother's shoes, this time around. Do all the “do’s” and avoid doing all the “don’ts,” and the title is yours “The Yard Sale Star.”

Three Generations of Navy Men

I sat down with retired Lieutenant Commander Mark Kaufmann in New England Sports Academy’s Birthday Party room with two murals of smiling children playing games and blowing out candles on either side of us. Certainly not the images you would expect to see when talking to a Navy man directly involved with the War on Drugs. Mark Kaufman, however, is not your typical Navy man.

Mark spent a good portion of his childhood years in Oceanside, California, which is just north of San Diego. Mark is a very modest, humorous, and compassionate man. He describes the area he grew up in as diverse. What he really means is this is not an area you want to be caught alone in at night.

He recalls vividly his first experience with learning how to defend himself. “I was walking the halls of school and I guess some guys decided I would be a good Jew to use for initiation for the Aryan Brotherhood Gang.” He was attacked with a knife, which he instinctively dodged, and managed to disarm the hostile gangbanger. No initiation for this guy. “I felt bad for him”, Mark said, “not only did he fail against a tiny freshmen, but then he had to deal with the cops and a beat down from the family gang.” That’s Mark for you. Leave it to him to feel bad for a guy who just tried to kill him.

Mark always knew that he wanted to be a Navy man. His father was a doctor in the military for 23 years and was a great role model for Mark. At the time his father enlisted, he did not have a choice. He was just finishing up his fellowship at the Lehey Clinic when a military recruit came into the hospital, looked around, pointed to four different doctors, and informed them they had just been drafted into World War II. While military life was not his first choice, he enjoyed working with the large number of soldiers he came in contact with. Mark mentioned that his father looked at the military as a “huge private practice, but not.” He retired as a Lieutent Commander, as all doctors do, and moved to the Northeast with his family.

When Mark decided that he wanted to enlist and mentioned it to his father, he responded with “you have a distinct lack of creativity in career choices.” This type of humor was another characteristic he passed down to his son, as well as the desire to be a frogman. His mother was very supportive of both her men. She knew it would be hard for Mark, but was “happy that he had a job. There was no sense in trying to talk him out of it, just like his father, he was headstrong and would not listen.” Mark attended college before entering the Navy and was involved in the Department of Naval Sciences where he was a member of the NROTC program. As part of the program, all of the guys would go through boot camp every summer so that they would be prepared right out of college to join the ranks of the Navy. That is also the time when Mark began his SEAL training. Mark attended Hofstra University in New York where he majored in Political Science and graduated with honors.

His first mission was in Central America in 1981 for six months. This is where he first became involved in the War on Drugs. As a kid he had been down there a million times on the weekends with his buddies. Since he lived so close, and didn’t need a passport, it was easy to just run down for the weekend and have some fun. Being down there was slightly different with the military, however. “That is when I really got a taste of what it meant to live a military life versus a civilian life. You give up your liberty when you enter the military; not being able to run wild like I did with my buddies was interesting.” When I asked him what his most vivid memory of his time in Central America was, he replied very frankly, “the smell of shit everywhere.” I was surprised by his response as he could tell. He told me, “You have to understand there is a very different standard of living down there. They don’t have the plumbing and luxuries we have here, so you would literally be bombarded with the smell of shit everywhere.”

Even though Mark was a Navy SEAL, during his time in the Navy he was only involved in one underwater mission. The bulk of his time there was spent above water involved with maritime interdiction. He would spend months on one boat just searching for other boats. They would board a ship, inspect its cargo, take inventory on the types of materials they had on board, and if they found drugs, hold the ship until the coast guard arrived. “Most of what I did was pretty boring. I wasn’t involved in any battles really. It was scary the first few moments boarding another country's ship, not knowing what you would find, but that’s about it.” Even though he stopped large amounts of drugs from entering different countries, he does not view anything he did as heroic. “They said we were stopping terrorists, but really the only people they terrorized were themselves.”

After awhile Mark decided that he’d rather be the one driving the boat instead of getting off the boat. He became a skipper of a 50-foot long, 17 and half foot wide boat that was capable of reaching 45 knots in a matter of seconds. The ship was powered by water jets instead of propellers, which gave it that extra kick. He fell in love. “It was a little guy, but fast,” according to Mark, “it was the best gig in the world and I got to do it for 10 years. I was promoted to Lieutenant Commander while on board, but that didn’t matter much to me. I was just a dumb squid doing what I was told.” Mark retired in 2001 from this position.

Mark’s son is about to graduate from the University of California, San Diego, with plans on being a Navy man just like his father and grandfather. When he told Mark that he wanted to join the Navy, Mark told him the same thing his father told him. “He had a distinct lack of creativity in career choices.” His son has gone through two summers of NROTC and when he graduates he will be a midshipman. Just like Mark at that age, his son has the mentality that he wants to run all over the world killing terrorists to make it a better place. While Mark knows better now, he resists the urge to correct his son on how the world really works. He knows that with all the exposure his son has had with swimming, diving and surfing, no matter what the motivation, he will do just fine. His ex-wife, and mother to his son, encourages their son’s participation in the Navy. “I just want him to live his dream. He’s done it so far by getting into the college that he wanted, now he achieved another by being a Navy man like his father.”


Mark now spends his time coaching kids in a form of marital arts known as Krav Maga. He first learned this type of self-defense during his training for the Navy from the Israeli Army. He has continued to practice it ever since. While he loved being in the Navy, he truly enjoys civilian life. “Now I can grow this thing on my face”, he tells me as he rubs his beard. “I can watch stupid TV shows, mess around in the gym, teach kids something I love to do. If I were 21 would I still want to be in the navy? Sure, but not now.” I asked him if it was hard at first to get used to civilian life and being able to do anything he wanted. He told me that the Navy always taught him to “adapt and overcome,” so that is what he does. That is what he will always do in life, whether he decides to teach Krav Maga for many years to come, or change it up and do something else he loves. “Everyone has to realize that you are always going to be more then one thing. Whether you are in uniform and have to be serious, or whether you are in civilian skivvies and get to be yourself. Just adapt and overcome to your surroundings and you will be fine.”

Michael's Story

I had the honor and the opportunity to sit down with Michael Spinnato for an interview about his life in and out of the military. It was quite revealing.

He is a UMass-Boston student who was in the Marines. He has been involved in several anti-war demonstrations, and has been a member of the Iraq Veterans Against War (IVAW).

Mr. Spinnato is a 26 year old man who is in a loving relationship. He has no children and no pets. When I asked him if the war has affected his family in any way he said with a heavy heart that "they are in denial of the war and the reality of war."

He said that the reality is that there really is a war going on and that we should all be aware of it.

Sadly, they do not bring him any comfort. Writing to his girlfriend was his sole source of comfort and kept him going. She was the first person he wanted to see when he got home.

Mr. Spinnato served in the Marine Corps from 2003 to 2007. He spent around three years in North Carolina until the Navy transported him across the Atlantic Ocean for deployment in Iraq.

In 2005 he went to Iraq with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. His base was attacked several times by mortars, and his convoys were attacked regularly by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). He lost three men in an IED attack. This was absolutely devastating.

He was a Humvee and 7-ton driver, but he mostly manned a machine gun for convoy security. He was promoted four times to become sergeant and despite all of the danger and trauma Mr. Spinnato does not suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and was not wounded. He was very modest about receiving medals; he said, "they were nothing exciting.”

When I asked Mr. Spinnato what made him decide to join the service he told me that he was heavily influenced by 9/11, as were a lot of veterans.

He told me that people should not join the military as a way to solve their personal problems, and he wants others to know what they are getting into.

He has met Marines who “deny the realities of our military presence around the world.” I was told that the reality is that there is a war despite the people who behave like ostriches. He has also met Marines who think that we are “Imperial and we should crush whoever we want.”

I asked Mr. Spinnato how he was treated by the government once he got home and he told me that his only interaction has been with the Veteran's Administration (VA) hospital and that that has been fine.

Although Mr. Spinnato admits to having made adjustments he is well and is going to UMass on the GI bill. When asked what he wanted to do as a career after graduation he told me in three words “Become a doctor.”

Monday, November 29, 2010

Review: Edward Hirsch at Umass Boston


I am very wary of poetry readings. I’ve been to a few in the past, and without fail, it’s always been a bunch of horn-rimmed hipsters and granola-mouthed hippies whose naïve and idealistic verses about free love and happiness have never failed to drive me to the edge of sanity. So as I stepped into the Umass bookstore to attend Edward Hirsch’s reading full of dread and apprehension, I made straight for the free cookies and grabbed half a dozen of the sugary bastards and took my seat, already projecting an aura of angry indifference to combat the feel-good bullshit tsunami that I was certain lay in my future. How wrong I was.

After both the introductory speaker, and her introductory speaker passed without any single significant word within either of their prepared remarks, Hirsch took the stand. Right away, he won some major points with me for not being a hippie. And right after that, when he began reading, he won my blackened, dead heart in an instant.

Number one: Edward Hirsch is not a happy man. His life’s significant events seem to be one despairing loss, torturous relationship, or failed endeavor after another. Two: He does not take the ‘Poor me’ avenue and churn out a bunch of bitter and knee-jerk stanzas of ranting pain. Three: He refuses to make any excuses at all for himself. Each poem read was more depressing than the last; eulogizing his best friend with a basketball metaphor, describing the soul-numbing loneliness of the pioneering frontier wives, several poems making reference to a long-divorced harpy of a wife he was stricken with for a couple decades. Nothing light and airy to be heard in his works, no sir. So why do I like it so much?

Easy. Because Hirsch is an extremely intelligent writer. His subject matter is of some of the blackest depths of his soul, yes. But he manages to convey these feelings of loss and despair and nothingness by often piggybacking them onto quick little wordplays or jokes. In doing this, his overall messages of bitterness and grief aren’t lost but at the same time aren’t overwhelming. It’s kind of like eating an entire pizza in one sitting, but convincing yourself that it’s healthy because there’s pineapple on it; Hirsch does in fact take too much of a bad thing but layers it occasionally with not-so-bad things to keep you from noticing how much he’s beating you over the head.

On a personal level, I connected greatly with his works, and his overall attitude towards the composition of poetry. As an aspiring musician, I face some of the same challenges that he will, in terms of both what I must write lyrically and musically. The way he spoke about how he pictures his reader as someone who doesn’t exist yet because he’s writing his poetry for not just the audience of today, but for everyone who will come after. And it made me think about who my audience is, and who I want to speak to with what I’ll create. His wisdom and honesty in answering questions about the content of his work, and his creative process were very illuminating and helpful for me; because if I’m going to write something, I want it to be intelligent and thought-provoking, entertaining and self-examinative and honest and uncompromising.

So long story short: In my attendance of this reading, I discovered a very talented writer, good man, and powerful personal inspiration. Bravo, Edward Hirsch.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Facebook is Taking Over the World...One E-mail At a Time


What is it about Facebook that draws its nearly 500 million users back to it every day? Basically, for those who don't know, it gives you a front row seat into your friends' personal lives. I've heard it is comforting to some to log on and see status updates galore, birthdays and upcoming events neatly laid out on the side panel, and silly games like FarmVille and FishWorld that keep you entertained for hours. Admit it, you get excited if you log in and see a message or notification waiting for you. Kids as young as eight years old are using Facebook, and are constantly going on their phones and computers to check it. Have you noticed that no one reads on the train anymore? Instead, everyone is playing with their phones. But how much is too much? Just when you think Facebook couldn't get any more popular, founder Mark Zuckerberg has just announced the launch of Facebook e-mail. It is a new messaging system that will include chat, text, status updates and, for the first time, e-mail. Zuckerberg, who is just 26 years old, said he got the idea after talking with teenagers a few years ago, although it "makes him feel really old" to do so.


In my opinion, having something new like this will definitely overwhelm users and create even more chaos. Facebook has had many problems in the past with security issues, and who wants to have to deal with that when it comes to e-mail? E-mail is still alive and well even in the midst of Facebook domination, because it is a formal way to reach out to people on a professional level. I don't think e-mailing your doctor or teacher from Facebook will ever be a good idea. They will not take you seriously for having such an e-mail address, and who knows what else they might be able to see about you without your knowledge. Combining these two worlds, while providing convenience to some, will no doubt spell out disaster for others. Teenagers will obviously find this appealing, since most barely use their e-mail accounts to begin with. Adults, however, may have a hard time having all of their eggs in one basket. Isn't it enough that we have most of these abilities on our cell phones already? What more do we really need? If Facebook e-mail accounts are this alarming to some, imagine what they will think of next.


I Can See You

I Can See You
By Christine Norton

Has Facebook gone too far? According to Miguel Helft of The New York Times "Americans already spend more time on Facebook than on any other website, and more than 500 million people around the world have signed up for it."
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook thinks e-mail has seen better days. He doesn't think that "a modern messaging system is going to be e-mail."

In 2007 Mr. Zuckerberg described a new advertising system by Facebook, but had to shut it down because of privacy issues. That incident suggests that Mr. Zuckerberg has no idea just how much personal information people want to share.

Analysts agree that Facebook is facing numerous challenges including managing spam and providing privacy and security to an already questionable practice.

Facebook has intentions of storing all of your messaging history including e-mail correspondences. Is this really a good idea?

Facebook has a lot of privacy issues and they seem to change their settings a lot. People want to be able to go to a website that they trust. They don’t want to worry that their personal information might fall into the wrong hands. 

Privacy is a safety issue and if a site can’t guarantee safety people will not go to it. 

Facebook needs to be able to provide its followers with some measure of safety and privacy. E-mail and Facebook together just doesn’t seem like a good idea.

Privacy and e-mail should go hand in hand. If we have a system that includes a social networking site and e-mail then how can we be assured privacy? How will interacting on Facebook and receiving Facebook e-mail be separate? 

I know that when I go to my e-mail account I don’t want a flag or something popping up on Facebook letting people know that I am checking my mail. This would be like Big Brother.

The same holds true for messaging. What if I don't feel like taking a message, yet I can be seen online? That would put me in an awkward position. 

John R. Quain of FoxNews.com said that users will get their own @facebook.com e-mail address. He went on to say, "But rather than making life easier, this system may simply overwhelm users."

I do not need any additional Facebook features that will compromise my privacy or my sanity.

Facebook has a lot of glitches and I don’t trust them to keep my privacy private. For my own safety I would not use the e-mail system that Facebook will be offering. 
How many times have you checked your Yahoo e-mail account only to see a window pop up with somebody saying, “Hi, what are you doing?” 

I don’t want that to happen with Facebook. On Facebook you can have friends of friends see what you are saying. Do you really want Susie’s friend Alice to know that you have mail?

As it stands now, you can opt to hide so that nobody knows you're on Facebook unless you want them to. You simply click on the online chat feature and then people can see you if they are also online.

I want to have an e-mail account that is separate from my Facebook account. Can you imagine that if something happened to cause Facebook to collapse? You would lose all of your data including your contacts. I am sure that I don't want to take that chance.

I really don't think Facebook is secure and I wouldn't trust my e-mail to them.
This is not privacy to me and I would be very upset to think that my personal e-mail, through some glitch, can be read by Steve in Ohio or Mary over in Ireland.

I like keeping my e-mail account separate from my Facebook account and as such will not be jumping on the bandwagon. "Indeed, e-mail may be making a comeback, even as leaders of the Facebook generation denounce it as old-fashioned" said John R. Quain.

I want my confidential e-mail to stay confidential. You can bet that I will be one of those who do not delete my e-mail account in favor of Facebook's competition. 

I don't know about you, but I don't want to be on Facebook and have a window open up with somebody saying "Hi, I can see you."

A Renaissance Man


A Renaissance Man


It is impossible to label Stuart E. Krentcil in only one way. A photographer, a businessman, a husband, a father, and a former soldier. Stuart's passion for photography started when he was very young and he loves to talk about it.

"I have always had a camera with me for as long as I can remember,” Stuart said. “First, as a child taking pictures, then developing them in my bath tub, and continuing through almost 50 years of image making. My wife and friends say it is my security blanket and that is why I always carry a camera with me. I started with portraits and places. Later, fashion in New York and Boston, model and actor portfolios, documentary, travel photography and fine arts. In 1970 while in Vietnam, I was able to hone my skills as an action documentary photographer."

Western Avenue Studio in Lowell, MA is the venue where Stuart   shares memories and stories through the eyes of his camera. Stuart has seen beauty and seen ugliness. With Stuart’s inseparable companion, he registers moments of life, beauty and despair. “This place is like a student dorm,” Stuart said, “People are always coming here to talk to me. Sometimes, my artist friends join me in my studio to drink a glass of wine and talk about art.”

Stuart showed me some of the pictures, which had been taken by him while in Vietnam. There were portrait of soldiers, mostly.

tumblr_kyzcqnAftU1qaqzfdo1_400.jpg


“Why portraiture, Stuart?” I asked.

“There is this special moment between the person whose portrait is being taken and the photographer, which I try to capture. This moment,” Stuart said, “is so important in intimate portraits; it is what makes the picture stand out. It is the inner beauty that I want to capture; also, the process of manipulating the film is a very personal response, which gives the final image an emotional impact,” he added.

Stuart is very passionate about his work as a photographer and skillful with reproducing images. Stuart talks about photography as if he is talking about life, or vice-versa. In photography, and also in social interaction, we try to capture the inner beauty of others. Likewise, the process of reproducing is very personal and delicate.

“Do lighting techniques help to transform your photos into works of art, Stuart?”

“Some of my work is technique driven, but this alone cannot make great photography.” Stuart explained that using techniques can’t make a weak image into a great one. He said you must start with a strongly composed, interesting image, and then use your vision to transform it into an arresting image.

Although Stuart is a resourceful man, no one can be fully prepared for war. I asked Stuart, “What would you like to say to young soldiers, who were/ are serving in the Middle East and are coming home?”

3891_inside-vietnam-war-7__04700300.jpg


“It is hard, since it takes one day after the other,” Stuart said. According to him, the process of readjusting is slow and it requires little steps.

“This young man I know, who was serving in Afghanistan, was in combat on a Friday, and was sent home on a Sunday. His family is very religious, so for their first meal together they invited the priest. While they were eating, the young man yelled at his mother, ’Pass me the Fucking potato salad.’” Stuart explained that his family couldn’t understand why he was behaving like that. What Stuart told them was that what they have to understand is that this kid was in combat a few days ago. “It’s not easy for him to participate in social interactions such as family meals; his mind is still in war,” Stuart said. “He wants to eat fast and get ready for the combat; he is behaving according to that environment.” Stuart added.

“I know that now, but when I returned from Vietnam I didn’t know and I behaved just like him.”

“You leave the war, but the war comes home with you. Would you think counseling might be helpful?” I asked.

“Yes,” Stuart answered. “We go through a serious of events that cause us PTSD - Post-traumatic stress disorder.” According to Stuart, it’s important for them to talk to someone about it, and it is important to talk to their families too. “I was invited to give a lecture one day,” Stuart said, “where I was talking about this and I realized that I’ve never talked to my family about my own experiences on the Vietnam War.”

“Why is that, Stuart?”

“At first, my children were too little. Then, they grew up and …”
Stuart paused. Then, Stuart continued, “When people ask about the Vietnam War, they don’t really want to know about it. They can’t bear to hear about what happened during that war. Every soldier goes through the same; it doesn’t matter which war he/she served. However, soldiers who served in Vietnam came back without being welcomed back home. The other day I went to the supermarket with my wife, Stuart said, and this guy stood right in front of me and didn’t move.” Stuart was wearing his Vietnam hat, so he wasn’t sure how the stranger would react towards him. The stranger asked Stuart if he had gone to Vietnam. Stuart said yes. Stuart wouldn’t be able to predict what was about to happen. The stranger hugged Stuart, and then, he said, “Welcome home.”

soldiers450.jpg

“We all cried,” said Stuart. “I found out later,” said Stuart, “he had just come back from Afghanistan.”

“With tearful eyes,” Stuart said, “It has been so long ago, but it is still so present and overwhelming. What everybody should say to a soldier is welcome home.”

“Stuart,” I said, “welcome home!”


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Coffee & Vodka


There is a time and a place for each.  In a casual setting, amongst friends, the latter is socially acceptable.  But you most likely won’t see a bottle of Grey Goose on my desktop come Monday morning. 

Maybe it’s our ingrained, Protestant work ethic that has lead to our discriminatory segregation of business and pleasure.  Regardless, the corporate world has a couple injunctions against such coalescence: one, it’s bad; and, two, don’t do it. 

Mark Zuckerberg may be underestimating the extent to which executives (i.e., the people in charge of shaping and defining the image of the company and, thus, of hiring) adhere to this principle.  For someone whose net worth increases with every wall post, who can blame him.  Yet, as a purveyor of image, Mr. Zuckerberg might be expected to be a bit more in tune with such sentiments. 

But it is a curious question as to whether or not Zuckerberg will be able to translate his dominance of social media into email market shares.  John R. Quain points out a number of obstacles to such a hostile, communications takeover by Zuckerberg and the Facebook machine.  For one thing, he makes reference to “the company’s on-again-off-again privacy and security problems.”  He also talks about how an integration of email with Facebook’s existent chat, text-messaging, and status update features could simply overwhelm users.  Yet he does not make mention of the professional stigma associated with an @facebook.com email address, which seems to be the most logical point of criticism against successful expansion.

In many ways, Mark Zuckerberg is to be admired.  He certainly has a vision.  But, more than that, he is something of a mass-culture avant-gardist, trying to free communication from its rusty, chastity belt.  There is something lovably irreverent in his denunciation of email as “too formal.”  But, as with all avant-garde movements, there must always stand some collective in moral opposition to them.  That collective is the business world.  And since they are the ones who have resisted professionally a trend towards open communication by retreating to the confines of email, they are the ones who must be converted to Zuckerberg’s way of thinking.  While the CEO’s of this world may update their status’s with as much frequency as they make phone calls, I just don’t think they’re ready to recognize Farmville as a legitimate place of residence.   

Michelle

She likes the pulled pork sandwich with melted Swiss cheese, extra crispy fries with extra seasoning, no onion rings, no pickle, a large side of ketchup and a large side of mayonnaise. On the weekend, it’s the American breakfast with melted cheese on scrambled eggs, extra crispy bacon, well done English muffins, no sausage, two large butters at room temperature and a side of honey. 

Michelle is one pain in the ass, but we love her. She has been coming into the Asgard for as long as I have worked there and well before those two years. But, it was not until recently, after pouring her two large iced teas (extra ice, no lemon with Sweet and Low) that I slid my butt up next to her at the bar and really got to know this women who gives you hell if you dare place her drinks on napkins instead of coasters. All of us knew Michelle had been a boot-camp instructor at one point, but we didn’t really know what she had been through. I told her to tell me everything, starting with when she entered the Marine Corps. 

Michelle told me that back in the early eighties, her boyfriend at the time, who was entering the Marines himself, had given her an ultimatum to get married in order to stay close to each other. She accepted, but not too long after, at the age of twenty-four, she herself entered the Marine Corps because she wanted to finish her degree and did not want to be a dependent. Michelle scored high on the entry tests, guaranteeing her military occupational specialty. She soon got rid of her husband and joined the Marines at Paris Island, South Carolina where she would first endure the rough experience of boot-camp before going on to work as a budget analyst. 

I made sure to tell Michelle my secret dream of wanting to go to boot-camp, JUST boot-camp, and asked her how it was. What she described was nothing close to a fun obstacle course. Aside from the extreme physical component, Michelle conveyed the pressure of having to constantly attend to her uniform; ensuring that there were absolutely no loose threads or wrinkles. She went to bed at eight o’clock in a dorm of fifty other women and woke up at four in the morning with twenty minutes to get ready and another twenty to eat. She said it was stressful to learn about the history of the Marine Corps, how to fire an M16 rifle, get in shape and do field practice all in the short time period of just eight weeks. But Michelle persevered and made it to the next eight week long course of her accounting training. 

She graduated and began working as a budget analyst in 1981. Within four years, Michelle received a Navy Achievement Award, the highest non-combat award in the department, for designing a computer program and was meritoriously promoted twice, the second time to the position of Sergeant E5, in which she was asked to go to the drill field to train new recruits. When asked was it was like to be a trainer, after going through boot-camp herself not too long before, she replied: “Well, it was a power trip for one thing!”. She said that she, and the other trainers, knew damn well that the new recruits could probably kick their ass if they met in a dark alley but they listened and were respectful. She said it was nice to witness young girls come in off the street with purple hair, learning manners and making their families proud. Unfortunately, due to a bad knee, Michelle returned to her budget analyst job after two years on the field, only to soon become discharged in 1988. 

Michelle told me that after being discharged, she was actually quite comfortable in South Carolina with her own home and several dogs and cats, so she started her own business; a paper route serving 1400 customers and a contract with Pepsi and Coca-Cola, in which she purchased products for soda machines that she owned and kept the profit. She did this for six years, bringing in about $1000 a week; a sum which Michelle admitted was good for the 90’s. In 1994, a gambling habit that had developed three years prior caused Michelle to lose her house and give away her pets. She packed up and moved to North Carolina where she worked in an auto part factory and was the assistant manager at a Burger King for a year before she decided she wanted to be a truck driver. 

Michelle said she loved being a trucker because for one, she was able to see the country but what ultimately destroyed her, was gambling. After six years of trucking, making pit stops at casinos and missing sleep in order to get loads delivered on time, Michelle was hospitalized for psychotic episodes and bipolar disorder. 

Michelle stayed in a homeless shelter for six months until, at the referral of a social worker; she came to a program in Boston for women veterans with substance abuse and mental health issues. In Boston, her Social Security Disability that she was waiting for was finally approved. Now, Michelle lives in subsidized Cambridge housing with her dog, Boston and works part time at the VA Medical Center, managing a call center. Michelle reflects on what could have been, telling me that if it was not for her knee, she would have hopefully stayed with the Marine Corps, retiring after twenty years of service and possibly never having triggered bipolar disorder. But, it was a good experience that was worth it for her. 

Michelle was also very happy and enthusiastic to tell me that she is going back to college in the fall to get her Associate of Science in Digital Computer Forensics, which she says is a new field with many opportunities. It was pleasant to sit down with Michelle and learn more about her life before coming to Boston. She can be damn picky, but she is friendly and her experience in the Marine Corps was interesting to hear as a change of pace from the usual “This is not the right iced tea glass!!”

Summer Sanctuary by Hannah Rosenberg

Are you sick and tired of the hot, sweltering days in the city? As a beach bum who has grown up in the hub, I think all of us can relate to reluctantly turning to MDC pools, crowded city fountains and polluted beaches to cool off in the summer. While Castle Island, Revere Beach and the Boston Frog Pond are awesome spots to stroll around or grab a bite to eat, it’s a little uncomfortable to tan on cigarette-scattered sand, much less step over dead jelly-fish and rocks to get in the water. That is why I am here to share with you a beautiful beach destination that may seem far away, but in fact is only a forty-five minute train ride from the heart of Boston.

Singing Beach is a breath of fresh air, literally. And, for just $13.50, the commuter rail will bring you there and back in less than an hour each way. Located in the charming town of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, Singing Beach, which is named for its odd sand that squeaks when you walk, is just a half-mile down the road from the train stop. Once there, rest assured you won’t be gazing at skyscrapers, but a vast lovely view of ocean, boats and islands. As a New England beach the water can be cold at times, but the waves you can often catch there are bigger than any you’ll experience in the city.

If you are tired of swimming and need a bite to eat, Singing Beach serves chili dogs, cheesy fries, pretzels and cold drinks right by the bath house. If you don’t want to spend much, or don’t want greasy food, that’s no problem: just hit up the friendly local food market or Beach St Café right when you get off the train. 

When you’re sunburned and sandy but aren’t ready to end the day just yet, make sure you check out Cala’s Restaurant, right across the street from the train stop. From 3-5pm this warm and casual spot serves select appetizers for half off and pours certain drafts for only $2! Arriving late? No worries, you can still get a mouth-watering burger for a good price. But don’t spend all your money there because Captain Dusty’s is just around the corner. This locally owned family ice-cream shop serves up the biggest “small” ice-cream cone I have ever seen and you can choose from over twenty-five homemade flavors, including my favorite, bubblegum. 

Still early for the train back? Manchester-by-the-Sea is home to many little quaint bookstores, antique shops and art galleries. If you don’t feel like being inside, there are wonderful views of the harbor and right across the street from Captain Dusty’s is Masconomo Park, with benches by the harbor, a playground and a baseball field. The park also holds events, concerts and even a carnival throughout the summer. 

Bay State residents are often surprised and excited to encounter another person who calls this beach "theirs" because many don’t know about its existence, or how convenient it is to get to. When asked what he thought about Singing Beach, having just discovered it this summer, a Boston waiter replied: "I was slightly disappointed that there were no seal pups and the sea swallowed my sunglasses but, I like how many people are oblivious about it because it adds to the peace and tranquility". 

So if you’re feeling stifling and sticky and you don’t have to work at night, hop on the commuter rail. Believe me; this seaside town beats any city beach, pool or fountain. 

Singing Beach:
119 Beach Street Manchester by the Sea, MA 01944 - (978) 526-2019

Captain Dusty’s:
60 Beach St Manchester, MA 01944-1436 - (978) 526-1663

Cala’s Restaurant:
7 Beach Street Manchester, MA 01944 - (978) 525-3304

Beach Street café:
35 Beach Street Manchester, MA 01944-1547- (978) 526-8049

Crosby’s Market:
3 Summer Street Manchester, MA 01944-1516 - (978) 526-4444

For driving and public transportation directions, parking information and admission fees visit: http://www.manchester.ma.us/pages/manchesterma_recreation/singingbeach