Sunday, October 29, 2006

Career Buster

After my first promotion in Research and Development, I was in charge of a group responsible for formulating laundry detergents. In those days two factors determined the success of a detergent. First, of course, was how well it cleaned dirty clothes and second was how well it sudsed up. This was before automatic washers and back then lots of suds were a virtue. Before long a new machine, the front-loading Bendix, appeared on the scene. Simultaneously, the low sudsing detergent "All" had a market no other popular detergent could touch. Those were fighting words and we had to hustle to develop a competitive product. When we thought we had one, the top brass was invited to watch a demonstration early one morning. My boss’ boss’ boss’ boss was to do the demonstration in the “laundry lab” where we had a big assortment of washing machines. It was a big moment for me because the plan included introducing me to the CEO and the other big- wigs.

Matching loads of laundry were put in our pair of Bendix machines. "All" was added to one machine and our new wonderful formula to the other. Hot water was added to both and the wash cycles started. On schedule, the foam rose to the middle of the widows. Not scheduled, the foam rose to the top of the window of our product’s machine. The suds kept rising and soon were pouring out the little hole on top where the detergent was normally put in. As the suds started to cover the floor around the Bendix, the CEO and his cohorts quietly left the lab and crossed the bridge to their offices.

Such embarrassment does not go down well with the semi-brass who started a big investigation. Our formula easily proved its innocence in more tests where it behaved as we intended. After many days, this was what was discovered. The laundry lab was in a factory building. Down stairs were a variety of filling lines that were staffed by women. Business was good and the lines were running a night shift. Some of the women considered it a perk to bring their family laundry to work with them. During their breaks or before their shift started, they would sneak up to the laboratory and use the machines to do the week’s laundry. Some gal had decided to try out a new Bendix the night before our dog and pony show. She didn’t know that it required a special detergent and grabbed a box of Tide off the shelf. No one thought to clean out the machines in the morning and BINGO! We had a foaming Bendix. I was far enough down the food chain to think it was pretty clever of the production ladies and to laugh about it. But, oh, the inter-departmental wars that broke out. Thus do careers collapse!

Don't Discard Today's Pleasures

I unabashedly stole the following neat parable recounted by Dr. Morris Greenberg in an article which appeared in the “Classic Close Up”, the monthly newsletter of the Classic Residence of Hyatt at Lakeside Village. While I think all seniors will enjoy and nod knowingly, the lesson is really for the younger folk that happen to tune in here. Read it all the way through, then recall the last thoughts you stored away when you went to sleep last night
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The 92 year old, petite, well poised and proud lady who is fully dressed each morning by 8:30 a.m., with her hair fashionably coiffed and makeup perfectly applied even though she is legally blind, moved to a nursing home today. Her husband of 70 years recently passed away, making the move necessary. Maurine Jones is the most lovely, gracious, dignified woman that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. While I have never aspired to attain her depth of wisdom, I do pray that I will learn from her vast experience.

After many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, she smiled sweetly when told her room was ready. As she maneuvered her walker to the elevator, I provided a visual description of her tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on her window.

“I love it”, she stated with the enthusiasm of an eight year old having just been presented with a new puppy.
“Mrs. Jones, you haven’t seen the room …just wait”.
“That doesn’t have anything to do with it”, she replied. “Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged, it’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice. I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away, just for this time in my life.
Old age is like a bank account…you withdraw from what you’ve put in,
”So my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of memories”.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Atlantic City

Among the really "older generation" most every one had a story about "their trip to Atlantic City". I remember mother told stories of loving what she thought of as gambling. She discovered pinball machines in Atlantic City. If you had a really successful game you were awarded a free game, hence, it was gambling. Atlantic City and the Catskills were the only resorts that middle income folk in the middle Atlantic states could aspire to visit.

We were lucky. One of my first wife's rich uncles gave us a trip to AC as a wedding present. After our honeymoon, we decided to cash in on that present before heading back to college for me, and a job for her. (She had graduated by then.)

Let me set the stage for our visit; it was 1947, well before gambling came to AC, we arrived on a blazing hot day. Atlantic City was on the way down hill. Only the boardwalk, a very few fine hotels, the annual Miss America contest, and the high diving horse on Steel Pier were left of the glory that had been. Whether the casinos have now restored the glory or an expensive form of tackiness can be debated.

We checked into the Chalfonte-Haddon Hall (I'm showing off that I remember the name if not the spelling). There starts the first story. When we pulled into the little alcove under Hadsdon Hall to leave our car with valet parking, I noticed that the rear tire was going flat. I didn't know what to do, so I took the way any spineless kid would do. We ignored it and proceeded into the hotel. To avoid any calls from the valet parking people we immediately went for a walk. We walked too far in the dressy clothes people wore on the boardwalk in those days. (This is the start of the second story. First story concludes later.) Dying of thirst, we went into a pleasant looking lounge and ordered vodka tonics. We knew little about drinking. I knew that in the army if you were thirsty you chugalugged the first beer and felt better. So we did the same with our "sophisticeted drinks". "That tasted good, let's order another!" When we ordered thirds, the fatherly waiter asked if we knew what we were drinking and informed us that the vodka was one hundred and something proof . We didn't really understand all that , but agreed the next would be our last and that we would drink it slowly.

On the way back to the hotel we had this very serious and rational conversation about how we hadn't noticed that the boardwalk was downhill on our walk to the lounge, but it was definately uphill back to the hotel. It dawned on one of us that, of course, the lounge was south and the hotel was north. South is always down and north is always up. There, that solved that.

When it was time to leave several days later, we approached valet parking with trepidation. When we handed in our ticket, the valet smiled and said, by the way, you had a flat tire and we had to tow your car. We had it fixed, but we have to add $1.15 to your bill. (It was 1947). What an anticlimax!

(What I forgot to tell is that I knew my spare was also flat. I had locked the trunk and taken the truck key with me. In those days there were separate keys for ignition and the trunk. 10-30)

Friday, October 27, 2006

In English, please

I may be repeating myself, but HEY! It is just my way of proving that I really am getting old.

When we learned that we were going to be transferred to France for a limited time, one of the first things we did was check with M’s college to see if she could get off from school for a semester without any huge problems. M had taken French in high school and could help us with a language the rest of the family was totally helpless with. She came with us and if not fun for her, I’d guess it was at least interesting. She taught me how to say, in French, “I do not speak French.” That is probably the most useless phrase a non- French speaking person can learn. Natives assume that since you said it in French, you must understand French.

There were a few other phrases that were useful. I was in charge and like any boss any where in the world, I was talked and joked about behind my back - and in my case. right in front of me. One day as we were assembling in the conference room for a meeting, the laughter, sly looks in my direction, and general ruckus reached a high pitch. So as the last person in came through the door, I said casually and in French, “Mrs. Herbert, please close the door”. The stunned silence was one of those priceless moments that commercials are written about. Of course, I got quite good at saying, “Stupid American!”, when stopped by a traffic cop. The phrase, “How much?” also came in handy almost daily. I specially appreciated the gas station attendants who would write the amount on their hand with a ball-point pen.

Now I find myself in southern Florida, where English is fast becoming a forgotten language. It confuses the hell out of the Spanish-speaking folks when I say, I don’t speak French, in French.

More Mayo

In the continuing medical saga that has been our lives the last week, we are home for a brief respite. We go back in a week for more tests and we hope a conclusion as to what to do. The positive thing so far is that we have been told not that there is nothing that can be done, but that there are a number of options which further testing will help in deciding which to try. If the Mayo Clinic had a football team, I would volunteer to be a cheer leader.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Where in the World is Lil' ole Me?

It was not my intention to be mysterious when I signed off a week ago. We are at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL. I have been asking if there is any way to get me walking again. It looks like at the minimum I will be here another week, probably longer. I don't hope to run the Boston Marathon although my father did that and it was always in the back of my mind until I got fat and lazy. I don't even want to play golf again. I was never very good at that and why get all frustrated again? All I really want to do is stop feeling that every little Boy Scout thinks he should help me across the street.

Mayo Clinic is a beautiful campus, amazingly computerized, and quite sober. They claim serious respect for the patients' privacy. The patient's guide says that on-campus photograpy is prohibited out of respect for patients' privacy. At the head of the lines defined by velvet ropes, there is a sign saying, To preserve patients' privacy, please wait here until a consultant is free." Where there is a sign-in sheet the instructions are to use only your last preserve patients' privacy. Just when you have absorbed this good thought, you are startled by a voice over loud speakers everywhere shouting out, "HUGO CHAVEZ OF VENEZUELA, PLEASE GO TO WINDOW 8." A nurse will come out from the inner reaches and shout to the assembled patients, " Mr John Doe, Mr George Doe, Ms. Jane Doe, Please follow me." An hour in the waiting room and you can learn the name of everyone there.

Please don't think that everyone spends as much time in waiting rooms as we have (and will). I am here on a stand-by basis. As such, my unbelievably wonderful S has to wheel me over two buildings and up four floors by 6:45 AM tomorrow to start hoping someone has a flat tire on the way here. That is not nice, I will just hope they decide they don't want to get up that early.

This was a day off and I bought a book on blogging to read during the waits, so watch this space. I may start blogging in 3D

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Herculean Strength - One Day Only

Recently I wrote about the brook that was doing its babbling on two sides of our house and mentioned that in addition to being toxic to our lawn, it also went amok at one time. The rest of the story -- I was at work one summer day when I got a phone call from my wife who was at our shore house. She said she had just received a call from a neighbor who knew her number, but not mine at work. The neighbor wanted us to know that the creek was rising and water was well up in our back yard and approaching the house. I knew it had been raining all day, but I found out soon how hard a rain it was. I left quickly, but ran into road flooding and had to take a circuitous route to get home. It took a while and by the time I got there the water was getting very close to the house.

This to me is the part of that story of that day that I can’t believe even though I know it is true because I was there. With no one to help, I carried all of the furniture out of the room on the ground floor across a hall and up the four steps to the second level of our split-level house. There was a large sofa, two large easy chairs, two large bookcases full of books (I can’t remember how the books got up), our TV (a big old tube type) and the old phonograph-piece of furniture the TV sat on. Also assorted lighter stuff like end tables, floor lamps, a box of children’s toys, etc.

By then the water was coming into the utility room between the wall and the foundation. All my tools were in danger of a drowning, but I had only gotten most of them up to the top of the workbench when I decided there had to be a better way. I slammed the door to the utility room and the rec room and stuffed towels along the door bottoms. (This latter did no good at all.) Then I open the front door and finally the back door. Quickly, water was flowing straight through the house and back to the creek bed out front. However, at least six inches of dirty water did take up residence in the utility room and the rec room even after the storm abated. I hadn’t thought to try to save the rugs and they were a total loss. The next morning I carried them out to the curb for the trash men. I broomed and squee-geed muddy water out of the ground floor all day. Along the way I figured out that it was safe to turn on the furnace fans (no heat). These stayed on for a couple weeks until things dried out.

The downstairs furniture didn’t all get back where it belonged until my wife and kids came home at the end of the summer and helped. I found it too heavy and awkward to handle alone. Our day will never even be a footnote in the history of storms, but it gave me a mystery I never have resolved.

PS. I will not be able to blog for the next week or more. See you soon, I hope.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Justice Can Smell - A Not Nice Story

I believe it was around 1958. I was involved in the formulation of laundry detergents. Some one had the brilliant idea that what the world needed was a detergent with a special deodorizing ingredient. This brainstorm ignored the fact that the simple act of washing soiled fabrics would usually improve their odor. No, we had to have an ingredient that made this product better than any other. To test the product we needed some really stinky something to wash. So each morning a bunch of employees with young babies had to wake the poor baby, change its diaper and take the soiled diaper to work with them where it became a tool of performance evalution.

So I left for the job at 6:30 in the morning with briefcase in one hand and a securely wrapped diaper in the other. On the commuter train the package went into the overhead rack. When the train got to Hoboken, I was half way through the station when I realized I had left the package on the rack. I hurried back to the train, but there was no sign of the diaper. Asking the conductor yielded nothing. Lost and found had no package turned in that morning.

I continued on to the office wishing I could see the thief's face when he found out what he had swiped.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Travel Insurance

This is another post which, if the index is right, was never posted. I apparently wrote it last November. I hate to waste things, so here it is. If you do remember seeing it before, just skip it.

If you were to look into the deep recesses of my wallet you would find a $100 bill. It is my “mad money” and I have been sitting on the same bill for well over thirty years. It’s antique value may exceed the face value soon.

When I arrived in France to start work, a co-worker showed me a short-cut from our office to my home. It was through the back roads of metro-Paris, but avoided the twice daily traffic jams of the main roads. At one point it crossed a wide open area populated by real European gypsies living in shacks and “covered wagons”. The place teemed with children playing, interspersed with dogs chasing the kids and each other. It sounds romantic, but it wasn’t. Just a scene of poverty and grime. My guide informed me that the gypsies would train the dogs to come quickly when called. With the dog and the caller on opposite sides of the street, they would wait for a car to come along. The caller would attempt to time his call to have car and dog meet – to the detriment of the dog. The collision would bring crying children surrounding your car and wailing about the loss of the old family pet. It would then be suggested that the purchase price of a new “old family pet” would assuage their feelings.

My co-worker suggested always carrying a 100 franc note (about $20 US at the time) to stop the tears of gypsy children before your car was laid waste. And possibly you too.

When I returned to work in New York City, the streets of the city as well as the subways were not comfortable to walk alone. There was an epidemic of muggings. The wishful thinkers byword was that the victim would not be harmed severely if the “crime paid”. Familiar principle. Hence the $100 bill in my wallet.

Actually, I never killed a dog or met a mugger so I don’t know if my prevention measures were valid.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Taking Home Company Pencils and...

Back in the 1950’s corporate life more closely resembled the ideal “one big happy family” than later when computers largely replaced face-to-face communications. Personalities played a bigger role and, perhaps, more real friendships were formed. At least, I will use that as my excuse for the favors that were traded back and forth between departments. For instance, my section had lots of product where the packages were opened, but only a dollop of product removed for testing. There was no accountability and that product found its way home in many a briefcase. I once asked the engineers to make me a little dolly that a two-draw file could ride on. I got a lot of phone inquiries and I could pull the file over close when on the phone – and push it away when I needed the floor space. Now visualize me involved in a diligent search with the file more or less between my legs, feet close together – sole to sole. Now visualize me pulling the top drawer all the way out and the whole business tipping forward and the bottom drawer sliding out and slicing both my ankles. Next, picture my secretary driving me home and then to my doctor’s for stitches in both ankles.

After that adventure I established that I was not a fast learner. We had purchased a new home and the lawn had been seeded after we moved in. It was a hot summer and it was a struggle to get that seed growing into a lush lawn. It took lots of expensive watering to achieve that objective. The next summer it continued to drink water at an embarrassing rate. It was then my mouse trap mind snapped. There was a beautiful little creek that ran by the back and side of our property. Its babbling was a delight to go to sleep to, but all that “free” water was just running down to where ever water runs down to from New Jersey hills. I hustled into the engineers and described my idea. Within a week I had a small pump complete with electric motor delivered to the house. Whee! showers of free (almost, water cost more per hour than electricity) water poured onto my thirsty lawn.

Again, my calculations had missed a crucial item. Where did that pretty creek flow before it got to my house? To this day I’m not sure, but it was certainly polluted! . The lush lawn turned brown and never, as long as we lived there, did it regain its pre-pump glory.

The pump did come in handy years later. Our beautiful babbling brook became a raging river during a torrential summer storm. Thr river missed a turn and its course was diverted to one that took it in our back door and out the front door. But that is another story.