Saturday, March 28, 2009

Radio from a different time

Boston radio legend Larry Glick died last week. I was pretty much a young'un when I listened to Larry Glick on WBZ radio, so I don't have a lot of memories of his characters or what he talked about to while away the midnight hours, but I do remember the thrill of listening to my transistor radio under my pillow when I should have been sleeping. While a lot of kids would sneak in the flashlight and comic books after lights out, I was definitely a radio guy.

I do remember that listening to Larry Glick when I was 10-years-old was like being let into a secret grown-up world that mixed a good amount of silliness and gentle absurdity into the issues of the day. Unlike today's talk radio world filled with yelling, screaming and rigid talking points from the left and the right, Larry Glick was kind to his listeners and callers, almost to a fault. He was a friend to insomniacs and third-shifters of all sizes and stripes all across the Eastern seaboard. Some nights, it seemed the show served as a sympathetic ear for some lonely people who may have had few other friends. And God bless Larry, not only did he provide an outlet to let a lot of people feel better about themselves and their lives, but he could also make it interesting radio for all of us listening in the dark.

I'd hate to think what Larry would have thought of all the current crop of political and sports shouters and haters that muck up most of the current air waves. Who knows, maybe he would have taken it all with a grain of salt and been able to get them to calm down a little bit. Next caller ...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A very short post for those of you who are still trying to finish my last one, or who ignored it altogether because it was too freakin' long

If the economy is in the tank, how come it took me longer to find a parking space at the Burlington Mall on Saturday than it does on the weekend before Christmas.

See, with pithy observations like that, I'll be doing open mike night at the Giggle Hut any day now.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

This may very well be the original Endangered Coffee post, even though it was written years before I had heard of this thing called a "Web log"

So here it is, a little something I wrote back about a decade ago, which I have misplaced on numerous occasions, but which my best friend has kindly kept in his e-mail file for nearly 10 years. I don't think Winner's Advertising is around any more, but there I think there are still a lot of similar "promotional" companies out there ...

I should have known.

I should have known right from the get-go that interviewing with a company that schedules anyone who can ready the Sunday paper and dial the phone was a bad idea.
But what the hell, it was a slow Sunday, the future Mrs. EC was working, the football game was on but Bledsoe was doing his best Tony Eason impression, hitting Bills defenders between the numbers when he was getting decapitated by slow-footed linemen, and the help-wanted section of the Globe was sitting in front of me. Why not circle some adds, make some calls and see what happens?

So I get an interview scheduled with Winners Advertising. Winners Advertising. Another sign. I should have known that any company that has to call itself Winners Advertising has some sort of serious corporate esteem problem. Kind of like if I started my own newspaper and called it the Really Excellent Gazette. Who the hell would I be fooling?
Mass interviews. I should have known. One o’clock? Fill out this form and sit with the other half-dozen prospective employees also scheduled for a one-o’clock interview. Christ, I think, this is going to be one of those standing in the mall, holding a clipboard, asking people what they think about Pepsi commercials jobs.
But hey, the actual “pre-interview” went well and helped shoved the initial warning signs to the back of my addled mind.
“You’ll get trained in all aspects of the business- sales, marketing, public relations and management,” I’m told. I’ll be creative, I’ll have people working under me. If I get the job, I’ll be handling accounts and could be moved up to an entry-level management position inside of six months.
Not bad. A job where I can pick up some skills to complement what I’ve learned in my five years as a reporter. Make myself marketable down the line for a wide-range of business and public relations positions.
I get the callback for a second interview later that night. All the warning signs -the mass interviews, the desperately placed phone number in the help wanted section, the cattle call interviews -are a distant memory.

I drop my suit off at the cleaners, I put in for a personal day off from work, I get a haircut, shine my shoes, pick out the best tie to go with my charcoal-striped suit coat. I am ready. I have an extensive eight-hour interview planned so I can view the inner workings of a growing advertising company and have them judge my worthiness for employment.
I am prepared.

Yet still.

I should have known.
Friday morning, 11 a.m. Time has come for my all day interview with Winners Advertising. Still excited, thinking I have a real chance to get somewhere with this company. It’s all due to a positive attitude. See, I tell myself, you really don’t need to carry that protective layering of cynicism around with you.
From this point on, the warning come rumbling back and erupt into a full-fledged code-red, nuclear panic. Within an hour, I’m weighing the possible injuries associated with ditching out of a moving car in Cambridge with the benefits, namely, getting away with everyone and everything that has to do with Winners Advertising.

Within the span of this first hour is when I first realized my guide into the world of Winners Advertising for the day, Todd, was not taking me to meet with high powered business clients about their latest corporate campaingns. Oh no, I was heading to Cambridge to knock on people’s doors to ask them if they were interested in buying coupons good toward free meals at some new restaurant in Kendall Square.
When Todd handed my the little coupon books and made perfectly clear what the day would consist of is when I knew I wouldn’t take a job with Winners Advertising even if I was offered my own Winners automobile and a Winners mansion with a panoramic view of Lake Winner.
And the warning signs before I got to the streets of Cambridge with Todd intent on selling coupon books to all the domestic help and trusting old ladies who happened to be home and open the doors of some very exclusive Cambridge addresses?

Yeah, they were there. Perhaps I’m to blame. Perhaps I had more than enough warning to get back in my Hyundai and putter out of the parking lot before becoming a promotional foot soldier for an afternoon.
Perhaps the fact that Todd looked younger than the student representative on the School Committee I cover. Most likely the fact that when Todd asked when I could start working, giving a two-week notice at my current job didn’t seem like a good enough answer.
“We’re looking for people who can start immediately,” he told me.
Of course. All the best companies are looking for help who can drop their current job at a moment’s notice. If you want to work for a winner, I guess it helps to be unemployed or a transient who can jump right into the high-profile advertising world.
In the car, the warning signs came so fast I quickly advanced from slightly puzzled to dazed to angered to total lack of interest in anything winner-like.

This is all happening while I’m stuck in a car with Todd heading toward Cambridge. Todd quizzes me about my business knowledge in a vaguely condescending way that makes me want to vaguely put my well-polished shoe up his ass. Later, I’ll figure out that this is most likely part of the expert training he has received and that I shouldn’t take his artificial and condescending manner too personally. He was probably scarred with it as part of his Winner training. When I ask him questions, he sees like a reasonably pleasant kid who graduated from URI with a general business degree last spring and started working in the world of winners in August.
Which of course brings up further troubling questions, such as if Todd has only been with the company for three months, hell, if he’s only had a job in the real world for three months, and he’s already far enough up the company ladder to interview prospective new employees, should I worry about how long this company holds onto workers?
At some point shortly after this, I’m suitably unimpressed with the story of how a Winners Advertising saved the New York Yankees for George Steinbrenner by handing out free tickets to 100 home games in 1996.
“Do you know what was going on baseball in 1995 and why baseball attendance might have been down?” Todd asks me in the condescending advertising voice.
Umm, war, strife, disease… a baseball strike perhaps?
Long story short, Winners Advertising saves the day by somehow reaching out to 99% of the people in the New York area and Yankees attendance increases by a huge percentage. Silly me, all this time I thought it was because the Yankees started to put together a killer team in 1996 and won the first of three championships in four years. But, as Paul Harvey would say, now I know the rest of the story.

And on my day to follow one of these saviors of the corporate world around, we are going to establish a new Italian restaurant in Cambridge as the next Olives. By knocking on every goddamn door in Cambridge. During my pre-interview, I was told that Winners Advertising doesn’t do telemarketing. Nope. They go the extra mile in pissing people off by actually knocking on people’s doors in the middle of the day. Why give people the opportunity to hang up on you when you can actually draw them away from whatever their doing in the privacy of their own homes and make them answer the door.

Before leaving the advertising office in Woburn, when I still think I might be applying for a legitimate job I might be qualified for, some exceedingly cheerful manager named Liz tells me to ask lots of questions and gather as much information about the business as possible. Once I’m on the street with Todd, one of the first important lessons I learn from Todd is that Jehovah’s Wintesses usually travel in pairs and are usually well-dressed young man. To combat the negative connotations of being sterotyped as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Todd has me take off my suit jacket and put on a fleece. He also tells me that Jehovah’s Witnesses also stand side by side when they knock on doors, so I’m instructed to hang back a little when we go to houses. Apparently, it’s better to look like a shifty-eyed criminal who is casing a building for a break-in than to look like a religious fanatic. Granted, that probably is a toss-up, but I digress.

By the time I’m wearing Todd’s fleece and being instructed on how to avoid acting like a Jehovah’s Witness, I’ve decided there is no way in hell I’ll ever do this job. I start looking around for any T stations in the area I can make a break for if only I hadn’t left my suit jacket in Todd’s car. I also definitely piss away any chance I might have at getting this job by launching into a rambling monologue about how I like it when Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door because it gives me someone to talk to about my Pembroke Welsh Corgis. I think I also offhandedly use a profanity during the telling of this story, shit, I think. Because I certainly don’t give a shit how I get evaluated by Todd

..and I never did get the job. Todd had to break the news to me that I would not be a winner. Along the way, prior to crushing my winning dreams, Todd tries to sell the coupon books to a grieving family preparing for a funeral, as well as to many housekeepers at some of Cambridge's finer addresses. I am also let into the secrets of selling, which as far as I could figure at the time, consisted of nodding your head up and down in a yes-like fashion whenever you were asking someone if they wanted to buy something.

Oh yeah, we didn't unload one damn coupon book, either.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

10 possible thoughts going through the mind of a coworker I caught pulling my Swanson's Hungry Man box out of the trash in the lunch room

  1. Hungry Man? Well, I'm a man, and I'm hungry, where would I go about finding one of these things?
  2. What the hell kind of idiot still eats this kind of crap? The sodium alone will probably send him into a coma.
  3. Chicken Parmigain? Everyone knows the only Hungry Man dinner worth two shits is the Salisbury Steak with mashed potatoes.
  4. What kind of moron threw away this perfectly recyclable box?
  5. I wonder if they make these for women?
  6. Oh, shit. This guy just caught me going through his trash. Just act natural and keep reading it like it's the sports section or something.
  7. Six to seven minutes? Who has that kind of time?
  8. Here I am with my Budget Gourmet. What kind of preening Mr. Moneybags is showing me up with a full-priced frozen dinner?
  9. I wonder if they use free range chicken?
  10. What? Chicken isn't even one of the top six ingredients?
I'd be willing to take any other suggestions on the matter.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Where Mommy's coffee?

There's nothing more heartwarming and heart tugging than being a parent and having your two-year old shed a tear at the prospect of you heading to work or out of the house for a while.

Unless you're the dad who gets left behind.

I was home with Big Boy EC for the morning while Mrs. EC was heading off to a meeting at work. The tears started almost as soon as she put on her coat to go while BB EC was strapped into his booster seat nibbling on a banana and some cinammon swirl toast.

"Where's Mommy going? Mommy stay here!"

We tried to answer by explaining the American capitalist system, that Mommy and Daddy have to work to be able to buy him toast and bananas and Thomas trains. BB EC was not taken in by our Cliffs Notes economic lecture.

"Mommy Don't Go." Tears. Mommy explains that she will be home for lunch. No go.

Finally, as all good parents do, we broke out the big guns.

"Mommy will bring you home a happy meal," the missus told him.

"Happy Meal?" BB EC sniffles. "Fries?
"Yes, fries."


"Yes, we'll get you a cheeseburger, but we have to wait to lunch time."


For a two year old who, I swear, doesn't have fat food that much, BB EC is intimately familiar with the McDonald's menu. I expect him to start asking when they are going to bring back the McRib sandwich. Once the Happy Meal negotiations are squared away, Mrs. EC is able to get out the door with a minimum of tears.

This lasts for maybe four or five minutes. Once BB EC realizes that Mommy isn't coming back immediately, at 8:30 in the morning, with a Happy Meal, the crying starts again. "Where's Mommy?" We run to the front door and show how far our motor skills have advanced by undoing three different types of lock on the door. We run crying to the window, looking for Mommy's car. I try to distract him with books, but its a no go. We recreate the island of Sodor on the living room coffee table, but someone is just pissed that Mommy isn't waiting with Thomas at the train station. "Where Mommy? Happy Meal?" I once again make the mistake of using logic with a two year old, telling BB EC that Mommy is at work, and that McDonald's won't be making Happy Meals for at least another two hours. I keep Egg McMuffins out of the discussion, for fear of future morning repurcussions. The logic doesn't work, more red-faced screaming. I think that some music might help calm the situation, so I throw some Beatles in the CD player. Who doesn't like the Beatles? When Mommy is away, apparently BB EC doesn't like the Beatles. He runs screaming to the CD player, hits the tuner button so it changes to a staticky radio station, and cranks the volume up to about 30, and runs back to pout on the couch.

After about a half-hour of similar fun toddler activities, BB EC starts to simmer down a little, and brings me one of his favorite Max and Ruby books for us to read. As we snuggle on the couch and read, about halfway through Bunnycakes, he looks up on the top of the TV cabinet and sees my coffee mug.

"Daddy's coffee," he tells me.

"Yes, very good, that is Daddy's coffee." Good sign, he is quiet and interested in Daddy's things.

Suddenly, he lets out a little cry.

"Where Mommy's coffee?"

Luckily, this is one of the parting shots of the missing mommy meltdown morning, and we spend the rest of the morning playing happily until Mommy and his Happy Meal come home. After lunch, I head to work and get home around six.

BB EC runs to see me as soon as I get in the door.

"Did you miss me when I left?" I ask, wondering if he carried on for 45 minutes, pining for my missing coffee mug."

"For a minute," he tells me.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

I am not exactly what you would call smooth on my feet.

Mrs. EC and I took swing and salsa dancing lessons in Medford a couple of years ago.Mrs.EC was very good. To say I had two left feet would be an insult to left feet everywhere. Let’s just say that after four weeks, Mrs. EC was ready to do all sorts of swooping, jiving, spinning moves. I was happy that I had almost mastered the rock step. One, two, three four and back two three four. And this was only with Michael Jordanesque amounts of concentration, sweat and focus.
The instructors were very sweet, but for the first time in my life, I was in a “classroom” setting where I was the one who needed the extra help.
Once per class, the dance teacher would take my hand and try to show me how not to trip all over myself.
“There, loosen up, listen to the groove of the music,” she would say.
Every week, I would make the same spastic steps and lurch toward the center of the dance floor. Whatever groove was going on in my head apparently had more to do with some kind of Devo song than with whatever swing classic was playing over the sound system.For someone who loves music so much, missing the beat that badly was a source of great embarrassment.

Eventually, the instructors must have felt bad for Mrs. EC, so I got stuck in the remedial dance group while Mrs. EC got to go off and dance with people who had graduated beyond the modified stutter step. The missus got to do the advanced moves while I swayed gently back and forth with a group of middle-aged who probably hand’t left the house since the Carter administration. Having almost mastered the box step, I was far and away the Baryshnikof of this group.

“That’s good,” the instructor would say to the ladies. “You’re moving your feet one after the other. It’s called DANCING. Good job. Those sounds you hear with your ears are called MUSIC. Very good ladies. And EC.”

Eventually, I got to dance with Mrs. EC again, and although not up to her level, at least I didn’t hurt her or myself.

Sometimes, we’ll be at weddings, and people will comment on what good dancers we are. Guess my remedial lessons paid off.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

If Mel Gibson makes another Mad Max movie, it will be set in a Market Basket on a Saturday

First, let me speak in praise of the Market Basket. It is a store with a good selection and prices that are considerably lower than any other supermarket around.
Of course, those low prices are countered by the fact that it feels like you went 12 rounds with Mike Tyson, circa 1985, in order to save that $30 off your bill.
The fun starts in the parking lot before you even get in the door. Cars line up on Friday night to snag spots on Saturday morning. Cars litter the side of the road like its the second day of Woodstock while stalkers with their directionals permanently on
 slowly circle shoppers heading back to their cars, hoping to land a valuable piece of asphalt real estate.

Once you're lucky enough to snag a parking spot and a carriage, it's time to enter the crucible. Since, to its credit, the Market Basket constantly has all of its registers open, along with some satellite registers located somewhere down between the cheese shop and the flower display, every customer coming into the store is faced with only one way into the main part of the store. Anyone who has tried to leave Foxboro after a Patriots game or a concert can appreciate the frustration of the funnelling effect that seems to send thousands of cars or customers through a single four-foot opening. Except that in the case of the Market Basket, that four foot opening is surrounded by mile-high stacks of pastries, cookies, Ho-Hos and Ring-Dings. Just perfect for people like me and Mrs. EC, who are trying to push a grocery cart through the eye of a needle. Soon as Big Boy EC sees the cookies, he's into snack mode hyper overdrive.

"Cookie, Cookie, Cake!"

Depending on the parenting mood for the day, we either try to gently explain that you can't always get cookies everytime you ask for them as lines of angry shoppers trying to get to the dairy section bottleneck behind us, or, as more likely is the case, we grab a container of donut holes as we fly by, and let BB EC dig in as we try to find a little bit of breathing space nudged up against the display of two-pound Velveeta blocks.

The rest of the shopping trip is a blur of attempting to cross off all the items on the shopping list while staving off a constant barrage of shopping cart attacks from customers young and old. Retired folks meander through the aisles, making sure to gently run their carts over the tops of your toes. Anytime you think there might be a little running room in an aisle, some family of 12 comes careening around the corner, parking their cart in front of you and arguing about what kind of Pop Tarts they should buy this week. For good measure, employees will also wheel out towering pallets of breakfast cereal during the busiest part of the day, drop them in the middle of the floor, and then stare idly at the shelves.

By far, though, the worst crush of humanity in the store is at the deli counter. Trying to buy some American cheese and a half-pound of turkey turns into an endurance contest, as Market Basket may be the only grocery store in the world that has deli tickets that run into five digits. I'm pretty sure that one week, by the time I got my roast beef and muenster, Mrs. EC had finished shopping, gone home, and come back next Saturday for the next week's shopping.

And once all the shopping is done and whatever grab bag of groceries you might have been able to pull off from an open space in the shelves is in the cart. It's time to wait in the checkout line. Because of the great hordes waiting to pay for the groceries, Market Basket has very specific rules for making sure there is room for everyone in the lines, such as making sure everyone is standing on top of their carts.

By the time our endless shopping excursion is over, I'm not sure if we need an oxygen mask or a stiff drink.