Don’t Make Honey Where You Make Your Money

A few years ago I remember having a conversation with an HR person at the movie studio where I worked.  Two executives names came up during the discussion and I remember saying how horrible, demeaning and inappropriate they could be.  The HR woman’s response was simply “yes, but they make money for the company.”  Apparently, that made it all okay.

One of those executives I was speaking about happened to be a woman.  For the sake of this story I will call her Barb.  She ran a department and had an office near mine.  Barb was like a box of chocolates — everyday you just never knew what you were gonna get.  While extremely smart and oftentimes funny, she also had a hot temper.  Her screaming and yelling was common throughout the suite so much so that while I was on phone calls I would oftentimes be asked by the caller — ‘What the hell is going on over there?!  Is someone being murdered?!’  One guy even asked if I was watching a horror film.  “No,” I said.  “I’m living in one.”

I did have a button that I could press to close my door which I did use many times when the screaming became too loud.  I know a lot of attention has been raised to the fact that Matt Lauer had a button that he could press to close his office door without getting up.  One report even labeled it as “nefarious.”  At least at the company I worked at, it was commonplace in executives offices, men and women alike.  I think most of us used it when a confidential call or meeting was happening or in my case when it was too loud outside my door.  It’s not nefarious, just lazy.

One day while I was at my desk, I heard Barb ranting.  By that time, her outbursts became regular background noise, like hearing a freight train roll through town — you just went about your business while the building shook around you.  This time though a few things made me stop and pause.  Barb was talking to a few subordinates about someone else who was not there.  She was screaming “I will F@&#ING KILL him!  I will take him and STAB the F@&#ING SH#% out of him!”  This was said several times over, replacing STAB with other ways to murder the person including BEAT, STRANGLE and BLUDGEON.

After hearing this go on for about twenty minutes, I popped my head out of my office and with a smile said, “hey Barb, could you come down here for a sec, please?”  She made her way down, steam blowing out of her ears, as I closed the door after her.

“Hey, I just want to tell you as a friend, that you can’t threaten to kill someone.  The studio frowns upon it.”  I told her about another executive in a different division who a few years earlier had said to her assistant, ‘if it doesn’t get there on time I’ve got a bullet with your name on it!’  This was said in earshot of other employees and within an hour that executive was escorted to her car by security and the entire town knew about it within two hours.  A threat is a threat and she was immediately terminated.

As I told Barb the story, her face reddened and her stance became stiff — her arms locked straight down with fists clenched.  I was trying to be the “friend” “looking out for her” telling her to tone it down.  I don’t remember if she thanked me or acknowledged any appreciation, but she left a few moments later.  The next day one of her executives came and told me that Barb was worried I might go to HR and rat her out.  I reassured her that that was not my intent, it was only to give her warning that if someone else heard it, she could be fired.

I was complicit in allowing people like Barb to fester.

So now, as #MeToo plays on, I find myself thinking more about the bullying behavior that placed those men in positions where they could take it even further.  To begin with, it’s the bullying behavior that WE allowed.  These people were lauded and labeled geniuses, marketing wizards, powerful interviewers, movie moguls, and stars.  It didn’t matter that they treated anyone they perceived as a subordinate like scum or were canoodling with anyone in a skirt.  Because they brought in money, a blind eye and deaf ear were turned to any egregious behavior.  They were untouchable.

As I always say, everything comes back to money.  These men were paid obscene salaries because they were bringing in even more cash for their companies through advertisers, box office dollars and awards.  They were held high on a pedestal and given constant praise.  We ALL allowed it, regardless of how horrific we or others around us were treated.  It was the unspoken “it’s okay, he’s allowed.”

I can’t tell you how many times I was verbally abused or humiliated by an executive, filmmaker, agent, or publicist.  It’s part of the Hollywood culture.  If you are allowed to bully and no ones stops or calls you out on that behavior, then you continue to push the envelope.  It’s like The Blob.  As written in Wikipedia:  The storyline concerns a growing, corrosive, alien amoeboid entity that devours and dissolves citizens in a small community growing larger, redder, and more aggressive each time it does so, eventually becoming larger than a building — or Harvey Weinstein.  Okay I added that last part, but you get the point — he kept pushing the envelope until his bullying turned to assault.  He could do anything he wanted and he knew it.

Now since the first stories came out about Harvey, and the Weinstein Effect began to blow across the land, companies and comrades alike were saying “We had no idea!”  Of course they knew, they just turned a blind eye and a deaf ear.  Everyone at NBC heard the rumors about Matt, and usually where there’s smoke there’s definitely fire (and apparently there was a LOT of smoke!).  Everyone that ever worked at Miramax, The Weinstein Company or in Hollywood in general knew what a deplorable human being Harvey was.  These companies realize now that these behaviors are NOT appropriate and shouldn’t be ignored or deemed permissible because the person is abusing his authority.

This puts the human resources folks in a conundrum of sorts.  We are supposed to think HR is there to help the employee when in fact it is in place to solely protect the company.  HR is like a double agent – you think you are talking to someone on your side that you trust, when in reality they are taking information and handing it across enemy lines.  This is the reason most people don’t go to HR when something happens in the first place.  They feel they are caught between a rock and a hard place.  They are afraid of losing their jobs.

There’s a familiarity which also develops over the years in many offices.  Sometimes you see colleagues more than your own family, spending long hours together during late nights, lengthy business trips and in close quarters.  It’s in this familiarity where employees eventually cross the line.

I remember about 15 years ago my boss at the time had just come back from having breast reduction surgery.  I’ll call her Tina.  She was very open about EVERYTHING.  I knew when Tina and her husband (I’ll call John) had sex and where they liked to do it (the walk-in closet floor).  Tina told us that John was having a vasectomy because as she said “if we ever get divorced I don’t want him having kids with another woman.”  She even told me about how he needed to “ice his balls” after the procedure.

A few days after she got back from her surgery, Tina called me into her office.  As I sat across from her, she lifted her shirt exposing a bruised, stitched and swollen purple breast asking “does this look infected?”  Holding myself back from projectile vomiting, I told her “yes, you need to see a doctor.”

John had been labeled a “wunderkind” in our company as someone who made great deals and brought in lots of money.  Tina enjoyed his success and thought she was untouchable.  I remember thinking after seeing the Frankenboob “who would ever believe this, and what could they do?”  I decided to go to an HR person in another part of the company.

During the discussion, the HR woman recognized my bosses last name and asked me if she was related to John.  “Yes, John’s her husband,” I said.  “Oh, well, I think you just need to let this play out,” she said.  “I mean, there’s not much that you can do.”  She told me what I already knew.  If I pressed the issue, then I would be the one fired or laid off.

A few years later, we were at a movie convention in Vegas where Tina got drunk, stuck her tongue down a producers throat (he didn’t mind), and was whooping it up like she was at a Jimmy Buffet concert.  I remember getting into a car to escort one of our senior execs back to the private plane.  As soon as the car doors closed he said “what the hells up with Tina?!  Someone needs to cut her off at the bar.”

I worked for Tina for 6 years, 5 months and 23 days.  In the end, when her husband had turned a deal or two in the wrong direction and lost favor, her antics were less tolerated.  She was laid off a few months after that convention.  They say what goes around eventually comes around, but I had spent many of those years job hunting and very unhappy.  Oh and Tina and John did eventually get divorced.

The studio had a mandatory Understanding & Avoiding Sexual Harassment Class that each employee had to complete every two years.  It was a 3 hour course given by one of the studio lawyers (truly scintillating…).  A few days after the class you would receive a certificate of completion to prove you finished this requirement.  One of my bosses (I’ll call him Tom) taped his certificate to his lampshade and any time he said something off color would point to the paper and say “I’m covered because I completed the class!”

Once at an event Tom came over to me and buttoned the last button on my shirt closest to my crotch saying something like “oh your shirt was open down there and it bothered me.  I took the class so this is okay!”  I was taken aback and didn’t know what to say.  I always come up with great responses two days later, but even then couldn’t think of anything that would have worked in that situation.  It was a creepy, isolated, inappropriate moment…on a daily basis I was more offended by his cheesy mustache and cheap, two-toned suits.  Again, I was not in a position that I felt I could say anything without hurting my career.  A woman I worked with had filed a sexual harassment suit against her boss.  The company quickly “fixed” the problem by giving the assistant $75,000 and asked her to sign a non-disclosure agreement.  She took her $75K and never worked in the industry again.

So how do you go to HR knowing you’ll probably end up losing your job?  I think it’s like rolling a boulder uphill, it’s going to take a very long time for HR to be trusted by employees if they are not weeding out the bullies and harassers too.

In the meantime, we have to treat bullies like we do terrorists.  If you see something, say something.  The more people who speak up, the more likely the company will have to do something about them.  Strength in numbers.  As civilized human beings it’s our responsibility to call out egregious behavior so The Blob doesn’t become more aggressive, grow and fester.

We have to take a step back and be less familiar with our coworkers — I know, easier said than done.  But clipping your toe nails, showing your surgical scars, combing your mustache, publicly picking your nose, taking your magazines and coffee to the bathroom should not be done in the office (yes, I’ve witnessed them all).  What your significant other reluctantly deems permissible at home isn’t necessarily acceptable in the office.

Here’s the big one to avoid…gentlemen, under no circumstances should you ever pull out your junk in front of anyone in the office.  No one needs to see it or watch you play with it.  Put It Away!

And finally, men and women alike should not date or sleep with anyone that is a direct report or considered a subordinate.  Learn to live by the saying “Don’t Shit Where You Eat.”  If you find that too harsh, then try the more polite version, “Don’t Make Honey Where You Make Your Money.”

—–

If you enjoyed this post, please check out my book, Think Before You Ink and Other Cautionary Tales on Amazon!

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2017 Readers Choice Awards!

I’m so excited because my book, Think Before You Ink and Other Cautionary Tales, was just nominated for the 2017 Readers Choice Awards! Please vote for it at www.tckpublishing.com/readers-choice-voting.

It’s on page 5 — scroll down from there and click on it! Voting ends December 10th. THANK YOU!

 

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Magic in a Bottle

“She collected perfume bottles,” the man said to me as I picked up the small, carved white jade bottle.  The “she” he was talking about was sitting in a rocker, covered in a throw blanket on the porch.  Her long white hair and sallow complexion indicated a long life that was in its decline.

I had noticed the signs the day before – Antique Sale! Saturday from 8am-1pm.  Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved searching for treasure.  Maybe it was watching Indiana Jones ten times too many in the theatre or the fact that I would go antiquing with my mom on the weekends as a child…whatever it was, and is, I am hooked on garage, yard, estate and jumble sales.  I always think that I’m going to discover that one overlooked item that will turn into a huge find.  I watch Antiques Roadshow (American and British!) incessantly and I know the appraisers names and specialties by heart.

I woke up early and got there around 8:30am.  The man told me that a dozen people had been waiting outside the gate before he opened at 8 o’clock.  They had come and gone and I was alone as I meandered around the picked over items.  The yard was strewn with old records, knick knacks and other vintage items up for sale from her long life.  I saw the jade bottle and after he told me what it was, I placed it back down, maybe because it was missing the top and I was unsure if I wanted it at all.  For some reason after walking around the tables a second time, I came back to the small bottle that fit in the palm of my hand.  I looked at it, then over at him.  He said with a shrug of his shoulders, “a dollar”.  So I gave him the money and dropped the bottle into my purse.

At first glance, I wasn’t even sure if it was real jade.  So I Googled how to identify real jade from fake.  A basic scratch test proved that it was indeed genuine.  Since the top was missing, I had envisioned an ornate white jade perfume topper that emerged from the bottle like a pineapple head.  I wondered where that must have gone.  Did it break?  Was it thrown away?  Or was it still in the old woman’s home?

I searched through eBay looking at old perfume bottles but nothing was as small as mine.  Just about the time my eyes began to cross, I Googled perfume collectors and found the International Perfume Bottle Association — who knew?  I found an archivist and sent her an email with pictures and dimensions of my little bottle.  Two days later I received the following email from the her:

“The bottle is really lovely but it’s not a perfume. It’s a Chinese snuff bottle. Snuff is a fragrance-enhanced tobacco product. Note the tiny opening in the top which was made to accept a snuff spoon. The stopper would have had a rounded shape like a mushroom, and have an attachment that looks like a dauber but actually has a tiny spoon at the end. It’s hard to date snuff bottles because some styles have been made for centuries. Although I’m not an expert in snuff bottles, I believe this one is probably 20th century.”

At that point I wondered if there was an International Snuff Bottle Association!  I checked eBay again and found a bigger-than-I-could-have-ever-imagined quantity of snuff bottles for sale.  They ranged in price from $40 up to $14,000!  Who were these snuff bottle enthusiasts?  What kind of underground group are these folks part of?  Why snuff bottles?

Then I found the mother of all snuff bottle information on a webpage in Chinese and in English.  A Dr. Tsou started the site and his About page reads the following:

“Researching and collecting snuff bottles is completely a personal hobby. I love these miniature bottles so much and spend lots of time in the study and research. Hope to use this place to exchange information and make friends with all snuff bottle lovers around the world.”

Well, he seemed like the natural next step in finding more information about my little bottle.  I emailed Dr. Tsou sending him pictures and details.  A day later, I received his response from Taiwan:

“Hi! Alison:  This is a A CHINESE MONGOLIAN-STYLE SNUFF BOTTLE. Made in 19C White jade on the face, good quality. The jade is very very beautiful. The jade is {more} expensive than the snuff bottle itself, I think.  Value about 500 USD. You are very lucky to have this treasure. Can you tell me where and when do you get this bottle? Thank you!”

WOW…how did this little bottle make its way to Venice Beach, California?!  I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  I wrote him back and told him I bought if for $1 at a yard sale.  He wrote again telling me I was “a very, very lucky person!”

But there was one man who I wondered what his thoughts would be about this treasure.  His opinion above all others would be the icing on the cake…Lark Mason is the foremost authority on Asian antiquities for the Antiques Roadshow and I’m a huge (nerd alert) fan of his!  I searched the web for his contact info and when I found it, I sent him an email with details and photos of the snuff bottle.  I really didn’t think I would ever hear from him.  But I hoped for the best.

In the meantime, I decided to post my snuff bottle on eBay for sale on Friday at 12noon.  At first I thought I’d start the bidding at $850, then I thought $650.  I finally placed it in between at $750.  I’m not sure why I chose this number, given that it was $250 more than what Dr. Tsou had estimated, but my gut told me that $750 was a good, solid number.  It was listed on a seven day auction without a Buy It Now option.  I had no idea how much the bidding could go up to, so why limit myself to a Buy It Now price?

Within an hour of the posting, I received two emails from buyers asking if I had a Buy It Now option.  I told them I did not.  Then a few minutes later, another buyer asked if I would take $1000 for the bottle!  At that point I knew I had something very special.

A day after I posted it for sale on eBay, I received an email back from Lark Mason!  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  Here’s what he wrote:

“A terrific buy Alison!

This is a Mongolian or Tibetan mounted Chinese jade snuff bottle. The body is low-grade silver or silver plate and the stones are jadeite and pink quartz or perhaps tourmaline. The bottle was created in the early 20th c. and the white jade plaques are from the 18th or 19th c. At auction the bottle is probably worth around $600-900. The two plaques were originally from a Chinese belt buckle.”

I was gobsmacked!  I was also extremely thrilled that I had placed my starting price right in the middle of what Mr. Mason had valued it at.  He also said that his company would be delighted to offer the snuff bottle for sale on my behalf adding “I think your example is extremely nice and will do very well in one of our sales.”  He also thanked me for my nice comments and for watching the Roadshow.  I geeked out…Lark Mason not only told me the history of this little treasure, but also valued it for me!

As I monitored the auction, I noticed that there were not only a lot of views, but also many “watchers.”  Watchers on eBay are keeping track of your item.  They can be sellers of similar items, buyers who want to keep an eye on how it sells, or people interested in buying your item and want to be notified when a bid is placed.  By the end of the auction there had been 257 views and 32 watchers!

I knew that the bidding wouldn’t start for a few days, but seeing the the number of views and watchers increase hourly was very exciting.  Then on Tuesday evening around 11 o’clock as I laid my head down to sleep, the sounds of the eBay bidding chime rang from my computer!  Two bids had come in raising the price to $770 — I know this because I jumped out of my bed to look!  I was surprised the bidding had started this early.  Then it remained quiet until Thursday.  Three more bids came in that night raising the value over $900.

As the countdown to the end of the auction came near, the chime was ringing every few minutes.  It was hard to keep up, but when the value jumped from $1400 up to $2,000, I almost slid off my chair.  I sat slack-jawed staring at the computer screen.  When the cash register Cha-Ching sound rang from my computer, the final price for this little gem rang in at $2,118.

How this exquisite little find make its way from China or Mongolia between the 18th and 21st centuries to land up in a yard sale in Venice Beach is beyond me.  In under two weeks though, my research had found the right people to offer up an incredible history on the snuff bottle.  Finding the experts and uncovering the backstory was the exciting part for me. I felt like Indiana Jones and even had my Antiques Roadshow moment!

——-

If you enjoyed this post, please check out my book, Think Before You Ink and Other Cautionary Tales on Amazon!

That’s Entertainment!

The former White House Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci reminds me of home.  I’m from Long Island which is oftentimes jokingly pronounced Lawn Guyland.  Some purposely say it like that in a derogatory way, while with others it’s just their natural speak.   I began reminiscing about my days growing up on Long Island.  It brought me back to the straight forward, in your face, matter-of-fact way many Islanders speak.  I’m not in any way defending The Mooch, because the way he spoke was completely out of line for someone working in and representing The White House.  It is however, the way many people speak on Long Island and harkens me back to the days working at one of my part time jobs.

Ever since I could remember, I’ve loved movies and television.  When my dad would walk into the den, as I sat transfixed watching whatever show was on TV, he would come over to me and twist my nose while saying he was changing the channels.  I was hooked on TV and was a walking TV Guide.  Then as a teenager, on Saturdays I’d cut out the movie listings for the UA Sunrise Mall theatre and spend the day with a friend theatre hopping.  We were good at it, coming prepared with a hair tie or sweater to make us look different in between shows.  We’d also loiter a bit in the ladies room until the next showing.  Periodically we’d be asked to leave, but we’d be back the next weekend.  As I watched the movies, I dreamt of one day working in entertainment.

I began my after school, part-time job career in ice cream working at Baskin Robbins.  But the itchy polyester dress along with cleaning up after slobs turned me off completely to working in the food industry.  After that, I was a “Brooksy” at Brooks Fashions in the Sunrise Mall, but when neon came into vogue, I practically went blind searching for shirt sizes.  My dream of working in entertainment finally came true, closer to home and in a slightly less glamorous place.

I landed a job at South Shore Video.  My family had been members of this store for about three years shortly after Dad bought our first VHS machine.  There was a one time membership fee of $100 plus $10 for each family member.  That was for a lifetime membership!

Tony owned South Shore Video, along with co-owning three other sister stores in nearby towns.  He was a short, stocky Italian American born and raised in Brooklyn.  With slicked back chestnut colored hair, a pot marked face and donning a gold Italian horn necklace, Tony was the King of Video.

I remember there wasn’t much of an interview process except asking what days I could work.  I was hired on the spot.  The store was in a shopping center and ran from busy Merrick Rd. all the way to the back parking lot.  The long counter spanned almost half the store from the front door.  Opposite the counter was a one hour photo booth which some folks rented from Tony.  The main part of the store held all of the empty video boxes on shelves that were divided into categories.  There were two rooms that split off from the main one — the sci-fi section which led into porn.  Tony’s office was attached to the porn room.  The process was easy, you grabbed the box for the movie you wanted and brought it to the counter and I’d fill out a slip, you would sign it and I’d take the box and cash and give you the video.

The only weird thing was when a man would bring five or six porn boxes to the counter.  They were twice as large as regular videotape sleeves and included lots of explicit movie scenes.  Movies like On Golden Blonde, Flesh Gordon or Ms. Twin Towers were popular.  A year or so later, Tony had plastic numbers attached to the porn boxes so a customer would only have to take that tag up to the counter to get the corresponding movie.  It made it less awkward for everybody.

It was 1986 and the video store was the place to be on a Saturday.  The line would span from the front counter to the back door and oftentimes spill into the parking lot.  The place was always jammed — he had a huge selection of movies and multiple copies of the most in demand titles.  I remember when Rocky 2 came out on VHS — Tony had about 30 copies — that was more than any other store around!  Considering that VHS tapes could cost between $80-$100 back then, it was amazing he had so many.   The rental price was great too.  Regular movies were $1 each and new releases were $2 bucks – CASH ONLY.  Tony only hired girls, mainly for the eye candy.  So the front counter had at least eight girls working at a time to move the line along quickly.

I was about to leave for a pre planned vacation just a few weeks after I started working  when Tony came over to me and palmed me $40 — wishing me a good trip.   That’s $90 in today’s money!  I was psyched to say the least.  He was very generous and always appreciated hard workers.  Every Friday was payday.  We were all paid in cash, provided in a plain manila money envelope.

A few months into the job, Tony was over by the photo booth area developing some film.   He turned and asked a couple of us if we knew anyone interested in photography.  I jumped at the chance and told him I was.  Right away he summoned me over to the booth.  I asked him what happened to the people who were renting the space.  He said “I dunno, they just up ’n left in da middle of da night and left me wit all dis equipment.”

He showed me how to open a film container inside the box where my hands did all the work without exposing the film to light.  I then looped it onto a small wheel which would then dip into the chemicals, ending in the final water bath.  I would take the negative off the wheel carefully, squeegee it and hang it dry.  After drying, I’d feed the film strip into the other machine where the prints came out.  I was so excited about this!  I was in charge of my own little area, and register.  Tony never showed me how to match the receipts to the cash, so every once in a while he’d just come over and pop open the register.  Once his eyes bugged out when he saw how much cash was in there.  “Wow, Alison, your makin a lotta money here!”  He then turned around and handed me $60 bucks.

I remember once while I was squeegeeing a negative I was wondering what the hell the pictures were — I saw people but then bright stripes all over their bodies.  It was weird looking.  Then when the prints came out of the machine I realized they were beach nudists with colored zinc oxide on all of their appendages.  And I mean ALL of their appendages.  I thought, wouldn’t these people want to mail their photos away instead of having me develop them.  Most of my regular customers were home appraisers though, so the pictures were pretty innocuous.

Once a year Tony would host an MS fundraiser at a nearby catering hall.  He asked all the girls to work the event and wear nice dresses.  I remember going to JC Penney where I bought a pretty red dress.  It was $90 and I really couldn’t afford it so I did what my immoral friend Pam suggested and bought it, left the tags on inside the dress, then returned it a few days later after airing out the smoke.  As I walked into the party, the theme to the Godfather was playing. Several men were dead ringers for Marlon Brando.  There was even a crooner who performed and sounded exactly like Sinatra.  At certain times during the evening, all of us girls would carry silken bags and walk around to tables asking for donations.  The wads of cash flashed in front of me were astounding.  Tony raised a lot of money for a very good cause that night.

When the photo booth wasn’t busy, I would help at the video counter.  Tony was getting a bit irritated with how slow some of the girls were working so he called for a staff meeting on a Sunday morning at 10AM.  There were about twelve girls and Tony had us all sit on the floor in front of the counter.  He was gesticulating wildly and pacing around as he spoke.  “Youz girls don’t know how easy you got it here.  Back on the docks in Brooklyn if a guy wasn’t pullin’ his weight you’d just throw ‘em up against da wall and tell ‘em to just FUCKIN do your job! But I can’t do dat wit you girls.”  He sounded a bit disappointed.

After a few minutes of telling us how he wanted us to work, he looked at me and pointed “But Alison, I’m not talkin about you here.”  I didn’t look around or smile or move at all.  I just sat there staring straight ahead.  I hoped that the other girls wouldn’t give me any shit.  Fortunately no one did, or at least not to my face.  Tony trusted me and knew I was a hard worker.

He called the store one day and asked me to go into his office to get some paperwork he needed.  I put the call on hold and walked through sci-fi and porn to unlock the office door.   He had told me the papers where in the top drawer of his desk.   I found it pretty quickly laying underneath his .38 caliber pistol.  It was the first time I’d seen or touched a real gun. I moved it very carefully then picked up the phone giving him the info he needed.  I had a reoccurring nightmare for a while after that where I went through the drawer and the gun went off shooting me in the leg.

With his four video stores doing extremely well, what does Tony do?  He decides to open an Italian restaurant.  Now Italian restaurants on Long Island are like Chinese restaurants in Chinatown…they’re a dime a dozen and you have to be the best of the best in order to succeed.  The restaurant was only open about six months when a kitchen fire burnt the place to the ground.

I worked at the video store while I went to junior college.  After transferring to a four year school, I’d toiled there during summers and holidays.  When I graduated from college, I picked up hours at the store until I found a full time job in Manhattan.  Tony let me manage the store on Sunday’s from 11-5, and that cash helped pay for my subway and railroad costs during the week.  He’d gotten rid of the one hour photo booth by then, so I was strictly in video.

It was 1990 and Blockbuster and Hollywood Video stores were popping up everywhere.  South Shore Video wasn’t as busy as in its heyday and many mom and pop video stores began closing up.  Tony hung on though.   Then South Shore 3, the store he co-owned with his brother Joey, burnt down.

I applied to graduate school in California and left in the summer of 1992.  When I came home for Christmas, South Shore Video had shuttered.  I ran into Rita, a former coworker, who told me that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had raided the store.  Apparently most of the videos, especially those with multiple copies, were bootlegged.  Tony had a guy in Brooklyn that would make the dupes along with their boxes for a fraction of the cost of buying the originals, hence the reason why he had such a large selection of tapes.  Looking back, I realized that after multiple viewings the pirated videos were distorted and the color was pretty bad.  During the raid, agents pulled the fakes off the wall and piled them high in front of the counter.  Rita said it was just awful especially when Tony was arrested.  He ended up doing six months at Riker’s Island.

I never heard much about Tony after that.  From what I understand, he owned an auto body shop then later a construction company.  Periodically I fondly think back about him and that job, especially when I get my Social Security update.  Once a year I’m sent a document indicating how much money I’ve contributed to social security since I began working.  I smile as I see zero dollars listed for 1987.

As for me, I remained in California and have been working in TV and movies for the last twenty-five years.


If you enjoyed this post, please check out my book, Think Before You Ink and Other Cautionary Tales on Amazon!

Polite Part-Time Pescatarian

I’m constantly confused at what to consume on a daily basis.  Every day there’s a new study listing The Top 10 Best/Worst/High Fat/Low Fat/Cancer Causing/Anti Oxidant/Blah/Blah/Blah Foods to Eat.  And then there are the drinks — green tea, alkaline water, cranberry juice, bulletproof coffee, mint tea, coconut water, soy milk, pomegranate juice — just thinking about them gives me the urge to pee!  I am left feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all. So what can I consume?

Last year I read coffee is good for you after years of hearing it would kill me.  Or is it that the caffeine is bad, but the coffee can stave off Type 2 diabetes?  Then there are the soy beans which utterly confound me.  Are they healthy or not?  And fish is best, except ones like catfish or tilapia since they’re bottom feeders with inferior nutrition compared to other fish, not to mention the farm raising crap, and all the mercury in the fish.  I always wondered though, since the Japanese eat fish all the time (like a 1/2 pound a day per person!), do they worry about mercury poisoning like we do?

About eighteen months ago, I decided to go meatless.  I have GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disease), so eating high alkaline, low acid foods helps reduce the heartburn.  But honestly I can eat something one day that doesn’t give me the burn, and a few days later it does.  Nothing seems to make sense with food.  I also have osteoarthritis, so throw that into the mix and more foods have to be chopped out of my diet to reduce inflammation.

Usually when I travel outside the US, I find my GERD is asymptomatic (I know, I sound like a doctor, right?!).  The food, especially in Europe seems fresher and much healthier than at home.  I love trying the local delicacies wherever I am, and usually find at least one thing that I’ll attempt to replicate at home.  It wasn’t always the case, though.

Many moons ago, I took a high school trip (my first abroad) to Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  It was the typical American trip where we traveled through three countries, seven cities and a quick drive by of Lichtenstein all in eight days.  While there I ate food I had never experienced back home.  On Good Friday, a trout was placed in front of me which included the head and the tail.  It was the first time I had eaten something that was staring back at me.  It was ok, but I learned I didn’t love fresh water fish.  Then on Easter Sunday, we dined in a small village where most people didn’t speak English.  My German was not great, so when a gorgeous appetizer consisting of a creamed meat overflowing from a small phyllo dough tower came to rest before me, I devoured it, no questions asked.  Three days later, while chatting with one of our chaperones I found out that I’d consumed sweetbreads…basically organ meat.  I was disgusted with myself for eating it AND liking it so much.  If I’d known it was sweetbreads at the restaurant I’m sure I would have passed it up.  Sometimes it’s just better NOT to know what you’re eating.

As my palate has evolved, I’ve taken more risks whether it be tasting street food in Vietnam, chowing down blood pudding in Ireland or gorging on tripe in China.  That last one is actually cow stomach, but give it another name and what you don’t know, won’t hurt you!  I learned over the years to try it first, ask questions later.  I have huge respect for Anthony Bourdain as he tries everything, but I often wonder how his stomach holds up off camera.

I have to be honest, I haven’t completely given up meat in the last year and a half.  When I first decided to try it out, I knew that I wouldn’t be a full-time vegetarian, since I love fish (saltwater) and shellfish.  So, I saw myself as a pescatarian.  But then I also knew that anytime I’d visit my mom, I’d have to eat meat. And then there’s Thanksgiving, which I love, so I knew that I’d eat turkey at least once a year.  When visiting friends or family, I’m not going to recoil in horror when presented with a filet mignon either.  I find it rude to turn away good food just because I’m personally avoiding it.   I’m a polite part-time pescatarian.  It’s not like I have an allergy that could kill me if I ate something.  That would be totally different.

My friend Betsy was diagnosed with Celiac Disease over twenty years ago (before it became hip to be gluten intolerant).  She would get horrible rashes on her knees and elbows and had to take a drug that could permanently damage her liver if taken too long.  That’s some real shit.  But now everybody wants in on the No Gluten thing.  People say they’re allergic to it, even if they’ve never seen an allergist.  The only good thing to come from this “epidemic” is that the taste of the gluten free food has improved immeasurably.  I remember making Betsy a birthday cake not long after her diagnosis.  I bought a gluten free cake mix from Whole Foods. It smelled like I was mixing wax with burnt plastic.    I don’t know how she ate it.  But she liked it.  I think I put the fake cake leftovers into the recycling bin so it could be made into a plastic bottle someday.

I guess in the end, I have to pick and choose what’s right for my body and soul.  I won’t fit neatly into every diet fad that comes along and as a traveler I want to experience foods from around the world.  Moderation is the key for me.  The only thing I will remove permanently from my diet will be those lists telling me what I shouldn’t eat or drink!

I Love to Travel, Except for the Traveling Part

I’ve been around the world a time or two, so boarding a flight is like getting on a bus for me.  I know this is just transportation to get me from point A to point B and back home again…hopefully without incident.  I know how to board, behave and deplane a flight like a pro.  With over 1.7 million miles on American Airlines alone, I’ve seen what airlines have to put up with:  novice fliers, drunks, crusty folks who haven’t bathed in weeks, children running amok — it’s a living nightmare.

How did it get like this?

My first flight ever taken was from New York’s JFK to Bermuda in 1977. Mom told me I had to dress up for the flight (her last flight had been in 1958, so that’s what people did in those days).  We shopped for a new pair of blue bellbottoms with a matching long collared blouse in a wild, swirling print.  I was 10 and I looked good in that outfit, sporting my Dorothy Hamill haircut.  I remember walking through the TWA terminal seeing men in suits and women in high heels and dresses.  Some ladies looked like they were going right to the disco!  I, on the other hand, was uncomfortable — the polyester was scratching me.  Flight attendants, or stewardesses as they were called back then, were perky and happy as they served me a tray of cellophane covered food in Economy Class.  I thought flying was the greatest thing ever and wanted to become a stewardess when I grew up!

There was a mutual respect between those in uniform and their guests who dressed for a flight.  People clapped when the wheels touched down and graciously helped others  around them remove their bags from the overhead compartments.  It was a different time.

In the forty years since that flight I’ve seen comfort overtake fashion to the extent that folks roll out of bed, still in their pajamas, and with pillow in hand head straight for the airport.  Luggage runs from the trendy Tumi down to Hefty green garbage bags and everything in between.  Today, flying is a hot mess.

Now passengers are dragged off flights, fights break loose, and we are all nickel and dimed for everything.  I’m actually waiting for the day that during the safety instruction video they will say “in an emergency your oxygen masks may fall from the ceiling…please deposit 50 cents to initiate oxygen flow…”

There’s a natural give and take in the world and unfortunately the airlines keep taking and passengers keep giving, in money and bad attitude.  American Airlines just announced they would remove 2” from the legroom in Economy.  I’m 5’8” and find it uncomfortable to sit in the seats the way they are currently configured.  Take another 2” off and I’ll be able to perform a tonsillectomy on the guy in front of me when he reclines his seat.  Our comfort is being taken away and we are paying for it through the nose.

Last month I traveled on 7 flights covering about 13,000 miles.  In my estimation I didn’t need to be on at least two of those flights.  When I booked my travel through American Airlines all of my flights had to somehow transit through London’s Heathrow Airport.  FYI American, no one actually likes flying through Heathrow…even those flyers who rave about how fabulous Terminal 5 is…they’re lying. It sucks.

Los Angeles to Lisbon, Lisbon to Paris, Paris to New York — all of them included a stopover in London.  I get it when there are no direct flights, as in the case with Los Angeles to Lisbon.  But even the security guy in Portugal, who when he asked me where I was flying and I replied Paris via London, told me “you know we have direct flights to Paris, right?”  Yeah, thanks for that Sherlock, I know, but AA put me on BA through London.  It wasn’t until I left Paris that it really pissed me off though.  I walked right past an American flight heading directly to New York — no stopover at Heathrow, except for me. I saw that just after the BA check-in agent told me I looked “tired.”  Thanks asshole.

My final leg of the journey was JFK to LAX, fortunately not through London.  I was gone for almost three weeks and had dragged a large checked bag around Europe.  When I left LAX I was pleased that the bag weight came in exactly at 50 pounds.  While in Europe, I moved some items from my checked bag into my carry-on and didn’t buy much so I knew the bag weighed about the same.

So I was a bit surprised when I placed my checked bag on the scale at JFK to find it was now 53.5 pounds.  Here’s what followed:

Agent: You’ll have to remove some items otherwise I will have to charge you $100

Me: When was the last time this scale was calibrated?

Agent: (a bit flustered at my question) Well, um, you can try your bag on this scale if you want.

I moved the bag to the next scale over only to find it had mysteriously gained weight and now read 55.5 pounds!

Me: Well that’s odd, it gained two pounds.

Agent: Um, that’s strange, I don’t know what’s wrong with them…

I pulled the bag off and opened it up.  The agent saw my jacket and said I should probably take that onto the flight because it can get cold on planes.  Really?  Not my first time at the rodeo, I thought.  I pulled the jacket and a pair of slacks out and threw them directly onto the scale — 4.5 pounds.  Ok, well, I am at least underweight from the first scale’s reading.  After zipping up the bag, I then placed it on the heavier scale to find that it had only lost one measly pound.  If this were a Weight Watchers scale I would have been really pissed off!

Agent: It’s ok, just make sure it’s zipped…it’s fine.  It’s fine.

She stumbled through her words but at least I didn’t have to pay the $100.  I walked away feeling like I’d just thwarted a pickpocket.   I also had a lot of questions…

  • How much money do the airlines make every day just from overweight bags?
  • How often are the scales calibrated?
  • Who has oversight of luggage scales?
  • How do we know the scales are accurate?
  • Why do passengers get 50 lbs. when traveling domestically but 75 lbs when traveling internationally?

I tried Googling some of these questions, but I felt like I was walking into the warehouse scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  This would not end well, and I would be lost in the abyss!

Over the last few years I’ve become a huge fan of Southwest Airlines.  They don’t pretend they are something they are not.  They don’t charge for extra bags.  They give you some peanuts and sodas.  They don’t charge you a “change fee” when you have to rebook a flight.  It’s nothing fancy, but they seem to understand that without their customers they wouldn’t have a business.  Overall, interactions with Southwest have been positive and pleasant and I don’t feel like I’m getting fleeced.

All of the airlines put up with a lot from unruly passengers, but the old saying — you catch more bees with honey than vinegar — could help the other airlines if they made it part of their business practice as Southwest seems to have.  If you make the flights more comfortable (don’t take away inches), provided a few “free” food items (make it seem like you’re giving us something, instead of just taking $$$), cleaned the plane before we board (steam those lavatories and tray tables maybe?), don’t drag us off flights…just these little things would make a huge difference in our attitude.

Give us some respect and we’ll respect you in return.

#americanairlines #southwestairlines #unitedairlines  #airlines #airplanes #respect #travel #dontfleeceme #flying #travelinggram

Too Soon

The calls started about three weeks ago.  They called my home number and my cell phone.  They were relentless.  Then I began getting the mailers and postcards.  Soon, it was the TV commercials.  Hateful commercials.  I just wasn’t ready for it to start up again so soon.

It’s an election.  Again.  Seriously, an election on March 7th.

Didn’t they think this could be just too much too soon?  Haven’t we had enough?  We’re a democracy of course, but couldn’t they have scheduled it for say, June?  They could have said the machines are down for repairs or something.

There’s a county measure on homelessness; city propositions on cannabis taxation, enforcement and permits; another city prop on harbor department leases and one on a building moratorium.  The mayor is up for reelection and there are the city attorney, controller and city council seats up for grabs.  Only in Los Angeles can you find people with names like Diane “Pinky” Harman or David “Zuma Dogg” Saltsburg running for mayor.  She’s a retired educator/actor (of course) and he’s a community activist (of course).

The most contentious is the member of the board of education for the Los Angeles Unified School District.  I don’t have kids, but will obviously vote because well, as they say, kids are our future.  And lately, the future has been looking a bit bleak.  Not four horsemen of the apocalypse bleak as I see written on Facebook daily, but ordinary, everyday bleak.  Like the other day when I went to the store and the cashier said I owed $7.36 cents.  I handed her a $10 bill but then I said “oh wait, I’ve got a penny.”  The look of horror from the cashier was, well, priceless.  I was truly rooting for her deep down inside and I knew she could figure out the change if she really wanted to.  The look of horror quickly changed though. I could now see the bubble over her head which read “you bitch!”  A moment passed and the lady behind me gave her the answer.

We live in a great country, but our education system is extremely flawed.  You see it every day.  Kids seem more interested in Snapchat than civics.  If they even teach civics at all anymore.  And basic math like providing change — is that taught? (obviously not) What about life skills you need when you get out into the world?  Wouldn’t it be great if they could teach a class on budgeting, filing your own taxes and how to negotiate buying a car or a house?

When I was in high school there was a class only open to seniors called Contemporary Problems.  Mr. Herman was the teacher and his classes were packed.  He would have interesting people come in to speak to the class on what they did, how they got into their profession and how they were making a difference in the community.  On days when he didn’t have guest speakers we talked about what was going on in the world.  He asked us questions, asked us our opinions and asked us to back those opinions up with facts.  Our only “tests” were things like – write an essay on your meaning of life…or death…or whatever.  It was engaging and interesting and yes it was before we could hold the information of the world on a little computer in our hands and find out everything in a split second.  We had to think.  We had to use the gray matter in our brains.

It was also before we were completely bombarded with information from more than just TV, radio or newspapers.  We could hear or read what was happening, but we could also turn it off or put it down.  Now we can’t.  As I sit here and type this, my cell phone chimes, my iPad beeps and my computer scrolls messages into sight.  We are distracted by nonsense.  We are distracted by shiny objects.  We are distracted by reality TV, cute kittens, and Instagram posts.

Full disclosure, I’m an Independent who voted for Hillary.  Like many, it wasn’t because I really wanted her to be president, but more so that I didn’t want Trump to become Commander-in-Chief.  And I liked her “Love Trumps Hate” thing.  Although I didn’t really hear what either candidates platforms were since they just spent a huge amount of time slinging shit at each other.

Then like most people, I was more than surprised with the outcome of the election.  I watched as the reporters and pollsters squirmed, refusing to call the results in many states until most precincts returns were counted. It was hard to watch, so I turned it off at 10:30pm Pacific time, hoping for some crazy turn of events while I slept.  I awoke to the realization that reality TV show host Donald J. Trump would become our next president.   For better or for worse, this could only happen in America.

I found that my biggest disappointment that day after the election results was with the press and the pollsters.  How could they have gotten it all SO wrong? Where were they conducting these polls? Of the over 231 million eligible voters, why did only about 138 million of them actually cast a vote?  Why did over 93 million people sit this one out?   On Monday it seemed like a fait accompli that Hillary would win.  By Wednesday, at least two close friends told me they had been sobbing all morning and voices of a coming armageddon cried across social media.  I went on with my day — my thought is that it’s not going to last forever, just the next four years.  The pendulum has to swing in the other direction now and again.  If it didn’t we’d be communists and nobody wants that.

Over the next few weeks with the holidays and New Year approaching I started hearing such hate speak for the “idiots,” “red states,” and “middle-American’s”  that voted for Trump.  It was nasty and vitriolic speech aimed at people they knew nothing about.  “Hillbillies” and “red-necks” they were called.  So much for “Love Trumps Hate.”  So I checked the internet and found the breakdown of counties on Politico for the state I’m originally from and the one I currently live in.

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New York State was a big surprise — mostly Republican with blue around the major cities, except part of New York City where Staten Island even voted Republican.  And Manhattan, Queens and two other counties in the state which are in light green only show partial results (I got this off Politico, so I’m not sure why it hasn’t been updated at this point).

California was less of a surprise, except for how many people actually voted.  A little over 7.3 million voted for Hillary while about 3.9 million voted for Trump.  But there are 17.9 million registered voters in California.    So where were the other 6.7 million voters that day?

The way folks were talking it sounded like only people in the middle of the country voted for him, but as you can see this is not the case.  I knew several people who voted for Trump and while I disagree with them, I don’t think they are idiots or crazy or racist people.  I realized that the extremes on the left and the right have become so polarized and are unable to understand that as American’s we are each allowed our individual beliefs.  The extremists have gone so far that they belittle, berate and boycott those who disagree with them.    But we can agree to disagree, can’t we?  We can still respect each others points of view even if we don’t agree with them.

What am I looking for in our next presidential election?  I’m looking for a strong MODERATE – Democrat or Republican – not the extremists who dig their heels in and refuse to compromise.  Not the politicians who stomp their feet like children because they point across the aisle and yell, ‘but you let them do it, why can’t we?’  They sound like they’re in kindergarten.   I want a candidate that is not told by the party it’s “his or her time” — give us the candidate that is the best for the job and has the best shot at winning.  Black, white, asian, latino, male, female, gay or straight — I DON’T CARE, as long as they are up to the task!  I’m looking for someone who won’t sling shit everywhere — I want someone to tell me what they CAN DO and NOT what their opponent CAN’T DO.  Is any of this too much to ask?  Can the moderates all get together to create a new party?  We can call it Moderates United Against Hate — MUAH!

I don’t know whether it’s just too soon from the last election or the fact that I’ve been binge watching Scandal, but I’m tired of politics.  I’m tired of elections. But I’m mostly tired of the hate.

In the meantime, I will vote on Tuesday, March 7th…it’s my civic duty as a citizen of these United States.