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Posts Tagged ‘Long Island’

It’s Black Friday, and retail workers deserve more

In behavior, books, business, culture, life, Money, Uncategorized, US, work on November 29, 2013 at 12:48 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Today, thousands of Americans rush out to start their holiday shopping. It’s called Black Friday because it’s the beginning of the season that pushes retailers into the black — i.e. profitability.

While shoppers clamor for more product, more discounts and even more hours in which to spend their money, please pause to remember the hard-working people who serve them, since 70 percent of the American economy is created by consumer spending.

Retail workers also deserve more:

– More money (most earn minimum wage)

– More respect (until you’ve served them, it’s hard to believe how rude and nasty some shoppers can be)

– More hours (store managers scrimp on paid hours because every other cost is already spent)

– More opportunities for raises, bonuses and promotions into a decent wage. (No worker adding profits to the bottom line should be so fiscally punished)

Here’s my op-ed in today’s New York Daily News, America’s sixth-largest newspaper and the last newsroom in which I worked as a reporter.

An excerpt:

In a time of growing income inequality, no one should assume that retail staff are uneducated or have no higher ambition than folding T-shirts for hours. RAP also found that more than 50% of them either have a college degree or are working toward one.

Some, like our store manager Joe, who fought with U.S. Special Forces in Mogadishu, have served their country overseas. And some enjoy retail work and consider it a meaningful career choice.

For others, it’s a stopgap, a place to earn a wage while awaiting a better-paid opportunity. One multi-lingual young lawyer I know recently made the move from folding T-shirts at the Gap to working at a major investment house, the fortunate culmination of a lengthy and frustrating job search.

These workers deserve and demand more respect and better economic treatment.

Walmart

Walmart (Photo credit: matteson.norman)

As some of you may know, a frenzied crowd of shoppers trampled a 34-year-old Walmart associate. Jdimytai Damour — in his first week on the job on Long Island, NY — to death in 2008.

Walmart has yet to pay the $7,000 fine levied by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration:

Sitting on appeal with a review commission, the case of Jdimytai Damour’s death highlights how corporations can choose to fend off modest penalties over workplace dangers for years on end, according to occupational health experts.

For a company with sales of $466 billion last fiscal year, the $7,000 fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration represents little more than a single store’s rounding error. Walmart would have vastly outspent that sum simply in legal fees devoted to fighting the penalty. But the world’s largest retailer is less concerned with the monetary fine than with the broader implications of the case. A negative ruling could compel Walmart and other retail companies like it to take additional safety precautions for workers or face new liabilities.

“It’s not about the penalty,” said Celeste Monforton, a former OSHA analyst who’s now a lecturer at George Washington University. “It’s this interest in seeing how far Walmart can push back against the decision.”

I’m aware that for some people — including readers here — Walmart offers low prices and may be the only shopping choice in their area. I will never ever shop there.

I worked part-time, from 2007 to 2009, at an upscale mall near my home in suburban New York selling for The North Face, costly outdoor clothing manufactured — as most apparel now is — in low-wage nations across the globe, from Peru to China. I earned $11/hour, with no commission, for a job that demanded devoted attention to 14 simultaneous tasks, from spotting shoplifters (no store security staff) to scrubbing the toilets. We were given daily sales goals. The lowest was $400, the highest — during the holidays — $6,000.

malled cover LOW

It was the hardest job I’ve ever done. I’m glad I did it. I’ve never seen the world the same way since then.

It showed me a sort of corporate brutality I could never (naively) have imagined had I not stepped behind the cash wrap. Shoppers assumed we were stupid, uneducated, unable to get or keep any other sort of work, when many of us had lost much better-paid jobs in the recession. Or we were going to college, and/or supporting a family.

My second book, “Malled” My Unintentional Career in Retail” details my experience, as well as that of hundreds of others nationwide.

Yet the word most industry experts use to describe these workers?

Disposable.

Retail work is the largest source of new jobs in the U.S., yet most of them  — part-time, with very few hours and no benefits — pay such low wages that workers end up using food stamps to supplement their meager incomes. Enough already with corporate welfare!

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Huge snowstorm now hitting New York area. Enough already!

In behavior, cities, domestic life, life, nature, news, urban life, US, Weather on November 8, 2012 at 2:16 am

It’s hard to make this up….with tens of thousands

New York City in Winter (NASA, International S...

New York City in Winter (NASA, International Space Station, 01/09/11) (Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center)

of New York and New Jersey residents already suffering after Hurricane Sandy without heat, light or even a home, we’re now in the midst of a huge snowstorm with high winds. I just measured five inches of snow on my sixth-floor suburban balcony, so thick and deep I could barely shove the door open against it.

My husband, again, is staying in Manhattan at a hotel (paid for by his employer, The New York Times) but this time sharing a room with his co-worker of four years, whose own wife is now huddling in a small studio apartment with her own daughter because she has no heat or light.

The euphoria (for some of us) of last night’s win by Barack Obama is now tempered by the freezing, windy, snowy reality of a closed railroad on Long Island and a closed highway there as well.

I’m lucky, right now, to have heat and light and a generator for our building. I know and like my neighbors. I made a huge roast chicken and vegetables tonight and baked banana bread and painted bookshelves, oddly grateful to be snowbound….as a native Canadian, I miss snowstorms and their silent aftermath.

I stocked up today with dozens of batteries for the radio; have multiple flashlights and candles and plenty of food and water in the apartment.

But I’m not pregnant or old or frail or ill or caring for small children, as many others are here tonight, some of them huddled in three layers of clothes and four layers of blankets in their dark and cold homes.

Please say a prayer for them!

Trick or treaters, sirens and gas shortages

In behavior, business, cities, domestic life, life, nature, news, politics, US, Weather on November 2, 2012 at 10:27 pm
Photo of a Halloween trick-or-treater, Redford...

Photo of a Halloween trick-or-treater, Redford, Michigan, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I write this — sitting on a friend’s sofa who has power and wi-fi — I hear two sounds, the wailing of sirens and the calls of little kids out trick or treating in their Hallowe’en costumes.

But I also heard a third lovely sound, the rumble of the commuter train once more heading north.

Life post-Sandy is weird indeed.

I went out today for a business lunch and had a great three-hour meeting with a potentially really interesting and valuable client. The restaurant was full, the lights on, the music playing, the food delicious.

Then it took me 30 minutes to drive back to my town, normally about a 10 minute journey, because the line-ups for the very few gas stations that are open right now stretch for miles.

The New York City marathon got cancelled today, the idea of starting the race on Staten Island — where they are still digging bodies out of the rubble — too offensive for many people to stomach. From CBS News:

The New York City Marathon was canceled Friday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg after mounting criticism that this was not the time for a race while the region is still recovering from superstorm Sandy.

With people in storm-ravaged areas still shivering without electricity and the death toll in New York City at more than 40, many New Yorkers recoiled at the prospect of police officers being assigned to protect a marathon on Sunday.

An estimated 40,000 runners from around the world had been expected to take part in the 26.2-mile event. The race had been scheduled to start in Staten Island, one of the hardest-hit areas by this week’s storm.

“We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it,” the mayor said in a statement. “We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event — even one as meaningful as this — to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track.”

I read friends’ posts on-line and hear horrific tales: exploding cars, homes on Long Island and New Jersey utterly destroyed, people putting up old, ill family members in their tiny apartment, the sudden value of a camper’s headlamp for reading and getting safely around a darkened home. (We have two. Yay!)

The challenges now are:

1) stay warm, dry, bathed, fed, safe, connected; 2) making sure your vehicle has enough gas; 3) not driving to make sure the gas you have lasts; 4) checking up on neighbors to make sure they are OK and offering them whatever help you can that they need, from sharing your fridge to using your power and/or wi-fi.

What’s really interesting is how (we pray, oh, how we pray) this terrible disaster may also affect the Presidential election, which is scheduled for November 6, only a few days away. There is a video clip making the rounds of Mitt Romney saying how immoral FEMA is. Perfect!

FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

You’re right…what were we thinking? Disaster relief is for losers and government-dependent leeches, says dear Mittens.

It’s hard right now know what to focus on — work? friends? groceries? gas?

I’m still doing as much of my work as I can, checking in with clients and sources in Michigan, Minnesota, Georgia, Florida and Toronto. But it feels surreal and annoying to have to do any work at all when we all feel so disrupted and ill at ease.

Yet it’s good to be able to keep the machinery moving, to send an invoice and be able to deposit a check. My friend needs to find a new job and get some freelance work lined up and a week without Internet or power means another week of financial anxiety.

I hear a woman on her cellphone say: “I have no idea what time it is anymore. I feel like a cavewoman.”

I suspect there’s a lot of that right now.

My Writer’s Week…And Yours?

In blogging, books, business, domestic life, journalism, life, women on October 9, 2011 at 12:01 am
Boys' Life, July 1917

This is one of the magazines I write for...Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a week in the life of a full-time mid-life, mid-career writer in suburban New York…Well, mine anyway!

Saturday: I drive into Manhattan — paying $4 in tolls each way — to attend an eight-hour class in outdoor survival skills I’ll be writing about for a major publication.  When I asked what they pay (mistakenly, based on past work for them), I assumed it would be twice as much. Ouch. Oh, well.

I’m eager to learn these skills anyway, everything from how to make fire without matches or a lighter to building a rabbit trap. I feel pretty certain I’ll be able to spin off some other stories from this initial investment of time.

I arrive much earlier than necessary, like 45 minutes early, but snag a parking spot, free, on the street. Yay! The day proves to be a lot of fun, despite the final hour spent in pouring rain. I tuck my notebook beneath my rain poncho so it doesn’t get wet and hope I can remember all the details I can’t write down. I normally avoid working on weekends, so I have time with Jose and to simply relax. But I also have the flexibility to take a day off mid-week to compensate.

That night I come home to a meal Jose made in my absence, fried chicken and a very good bottle of red wine.

Sunday: We attend church at our local, small Episcopal (Anglican) church, a stone building from 1853, designed by the same architect who created St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a tourist’s must in Manhattan. We are given a public blessing on our recent marriage in Toronto, with a lovely prayer taken from the New Zealand BCP. I visit a friend’s apartment in my building to discuss my new book, “Malled” with her book group, eight women in their 50s and 60s.

Monday: Real life starts again. I pitch story ideas to Marie-Claire, Boys’ Life and Arthritis Today, all publications I’ve written for this year. I email my agent to remind her to write a reference letter for me for a writer-in-residence program I’m applying for, ask about the status of a reality television show I’m hoping to work on and request her edits on the proposal for my third book. She has serious questions and wants to talk by phone. At 8:30 we talk for 90 minutes; it needs a major re-do.

Tuesday: I ride out to Long Island with my neighbor, a professor who teaches there. I’ll be speaking to students there about “Malled” which was assigned to them as their summer read — every freshman had to read it. Nice sales for me! At last week’s lecture, one female student pronounced it “OK”, before grudgingly admitting she found it informative. About 25 students come to the lecture and have good questions. I love meeting readers face to face. I sit in the cafeteria and do a call-in commentary for a Winnipeg talk radio show about what to do when a retail associate answers the phone in front of you.

Wednesday: Normal life. Trying to wade though the piles of unread magazines, both for pleasure and for story ideas. Pitching more story ideas. Mulling over all the changes to my book proposal my agent has requested. Applying for a teaching position for 2013 in Virginia. Applying as a menber of a class-action Canadian copyright lawsuit for whatever damages I might be owed.

Local errands. Mailing back two edited manuscripts to clients in California and New York, both of whom found me on the Internet. One found me through this Harvard Business Review blog post for which (natch!) I was not paid.

Fighting a cold (after eight hours outdoors in the rain), I skip a bike ride (sigh) but sit for 20 minutes on a bench beside our town’s lovely reservoir. Saw swans, geese, cormorants and ducks gleaming in the late afternoon sunshine.

Thursday: Chill day. Took my pool aerobics class and lunch out with them. Discovered that one of my classmates, now 73, worked in Rhodesia at 21 teaching phys ed. How cool! Checked in with a few editors but no feedback yet on my ideas.

Friday: Still feel crappy, so mostly lying low. Heard from the Hollywood writer who is working on turning “Malled” into (we hope) a CBS sitcom. It’s highly instructive to see how very, very slowly those wheels turn; I now watch television with a very different sense of how that material even got chosen or made it to air. Gorgeous fall sunshine, into the 70s. Wish I had more energy to get out into it.

Things were crazy at our home yesterday as Jose, who works in the business section of The New York Times, was scrambling to gather as many photos as possible to illustrate global reactions to the death of Steve Jobs. By the time he staggered home, there was little left of him.
I’m posting this on a Saturday evening after a golden fall day, having had lunch with my dearly beloved members of Softball Lite, my co-ed team (here’s my New York Times love letter to them!),  with whom I am forbidden to play until my damaged hip is replaced. It was our first lunch with them as a married couple, and it was lovely to be feted and congratulated.

One of them is a literary agent and I asked his advice for a friend living in Europe who is shopping a book proposal right now, her first; she and I spent two hours on the phone today helping her prepare for all the questions she has about this scary and exciting process.

How was your week?

Details?

My Weekly Ritual — Softball Lite — In Today's New York Times

In sports on June 11, 2010 at 7:50 pm
BEIJING - AUGUST 12:  Lovieanne Jung #3 of the...

Image by Bongarts/Getty Images via @daylife

The joy of a new editor and a new section….here’s my story in today’s Times about my beloved co-ed weekly softball game. It’s been nine years and we’re still going strong, even as I now need someone to run the bases for me (my hip) and I’m still, on a good day, lead-off hitter:

It’s lite because, with an age range of 14 to over 70, we’re looking for fun, not more pressure to perform. People don’t yell or look at their BlackBerrys or answer their cellphones while on base. We’re skilled and competitive, but chill enough that we don’t obsess over the score.

Since a number of players are in their 50s and beyond, some of us have been known to limp to the diamond. My team has seen me through shoulder surgery and a foot stress fracture, so when I hobbled up recently and warned the gang that I’d need someone to run for me — I had a newly arthritic hip — everyone shrugged. “I showed up on crutches,” said Joan, a medical editor.

I can still hit to the outfield, so even unable to run, I was lead-off hitter, and Alan, a lean, swift lawyer running for me, scored a double. In Westchester County, N.Y., not known for its diversity, we’ve got a pretty good mix, with players driving or coming by train from Queens, Long Island and Harlem: five lawyers, a literary agent, a pastry chef, schoolteachers, a retired ironworker and his three adult sons, a psychiatrist, a scientist. Perhaps most fortunate, an orthopedic surgeon, one of our more competitive players.

One unspoken rule of Softball Lite is that men don’t help the women — who usually make up roughly a third of about 20 players each time — or tell them what to do. We know what to do, and after a few games, our teammates know and trust our skills as well. If we goof up, well, it’s not fatal and we’re quite aware that we goofed. I usually play second base, and I didn’t appreciate one new male player who marked a spot in the dust and told me where to stand.

Even the photo than ran with the Times piece was taken by a good friend, fellow freelancer Alan Zale.

As a Canadian, I didn’t grow up playing softball, so my skills came much later in life, which is half the joy of them. I so treasure this little island of camaraderie in a sea of competitiveness.

Do you have a beloved sports team you still hang out with?

Living In A Target-Rich Environment, As The Times Square Car Bomb Reminds Us

In cities, Crime on May 2, 2010 at 8:55 am
Landsat 7 image of Manhattan on September 12, ...

Image via Wikipedia

I read the news last night at home, in the suburban apartment where I live — after spending the day in Manhattan.

Anyone who lives or works or plays, and many of us do all three, in Manhattan do so, since the attacks of 9/11, with the knowledge we are, certainly a delicious, tempting and obvious target for terrorism.

There are so many places a bomb blast would wreak tremendous havoc: Times Square, eerily emptied last night after a bomb scare; Grand Central Station, the commuter terminus for thousand of trains arriving daily from the northern suburbs of Connecticut and New York; Port Authority, and its bus commuters; Penn Station, the Amtrak hub and arrival point for commuters from Long Island.

Not to mention the trains themselves– as Spain discovered in March 2004 when terrorists attacked their trains (191 dead, 1841 injured) and the subways and buses within the city, as London learned on 8/8/2005.

According to Wikipedia:

New York City is distinguished from other cities in the United States by its significant use of public transportation. New York City has, by far, the highest rate of public transportation use of any American city, with 54.2% of workers commuting to work by this means in 2006.[4] About one in every three users of mass transit in the United States and two-thirds of the nation’s rail riders live in New York City or its suburbs.[5] New York is the only city in the United States where over half of all households do not own a car (Manhattan’s non-ownership is even higher – around 75%; nationally, the rate is 8%).[6]

… New York City also has the longest mean travel time for commuters (39 minutes) among major U.S. cities.[7 ...Of all people who commute to work in New York City, 32% use the subway, 25% drive alone, 14% take the bus, 8% travel by commuter rail, 8% walk to work, 6% carpool, 1% use a taxi, 0.4% ride their bicycle to work, and 0.4% travel by ferry.[12] 54% of households in New York City do not own a car, and rely on public transportation.

I take the subway, of course, but don’t love knowing I am such a potential victim there; the bus is really, really slow and taxis expensive. Every day, my sweetie rides a commuter train (also a great target) into the city, then walks through many of these areas to reach his office. I worry every day.

He has been responsible and loving enough to make sure, God forbid anything does happen, I am financially protected in case of his death. Would we have taken these steps if we lived somewhere rural and bucolic — or Germany or Italy or Canada? I doubt few places are now free of terrorism or serious unrest.

I used to work at the Daily News, in a building that also houses the Associated Press — an absolutely essential element, still, of traditional, international mass news-gathering and dissemination — and a local television station.

I couldn’t decide if that made us a juicier target (attack those decadent lying reporters!) or whether it might spare us, since whoever attacked us would so badly want our shocked, outraged, 24/7 coverage.

Do people think like this in Salt Lake City or Tampa or Oakland or Seattle? Either one of the coastal Portlands?

We’ve discussed what we would do if it all happens again, which is why I know exactly where to find my passport and green card and a credit card with room on it for a fast airline purchase. That seems unlikely and unworkable, and lousy to leave my partner behind — although in his newspaper job they would need him.

We’ve talked about how or if one would flee this area…boat? canoe? kayak? car?…and figured it would all get apocalyptic and Mad-Maxish very, very quickly. A gun might well be necessary for self-protection. I see a nuclear power plant from my window, barely 10 miles north. Not a happy sight in these times.

Our county of one million people — including some of the nation’s wealthiest and most powerful, from David Rockefeller (who lives nearby and whose helicopter thuds over my balcony multiple times a day as he commutes to Manhattan) to Martha Stewart — has never practiced an evacuation plan. Too disruptive, they said.

Now, that’s intelligent planning.

I don’t live in a conscious pulse-quickening kind of fear. No one can walk around in that state for years.

But anyone who lives in or near Manhattan knows this constant white-noise sound in the back of our heads. Waiting for the next time.

In New York, (And Elsewhere) Scammers And Killers Hunt Immigrants; Some 6,000 Children A Year Arrive Alone

In Crime, immigration on March 22, 2010 at 8:07 am
A picture of Mexico as seen from outer space.

Image via Wikipedia

Dodgy iPhone out-of-plane-window shot of one u...

Long Island....look out.Image via Wikipedia

This got lost in the shuffle yesterday — a huge march for immigration reform yesterday in D.C. — overshadowed by the health care reform bill.

Reported The Los Angeles Times:

Determined to push a major overhaul of the immigration system to the top of the nation’s political agenda, tens of thousands of people rallied Sunday on the National Mall, challenging Congress to fix laws that they say separate families and hurt the country’s economic and social vitality.

Organizers and supporters of the “March for America” campaign — who demonstrated as House members cast a historic vote on healthcare — want to make an immigration overhaul the next big undertaking in Washington.

“The reality is that immigrants keep jobs in America, they help businesses move forward,” said Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, one of hundreds of community, labor and faith-based groups nationwide that joined the march.

The organizing group, Reform Immigration for America, said Sunday’s rally was larger than the massive Washington demonstration in April 2006, when thousands protested around the country over immigrant rights and enforcement practices. On Sunday, the crowd stretched nearly five blocks on the mall.

Here’s one reason this feels urgent — the “sport” of hunting Latinos for sport on Long Island.

From The New York Times:

In a packed Long Island courtroom, a prosecutor laid out in chilling detail the “sport” that she said the defendant and his friends had made out of attacking Hispanic men.

“On Nov. 8, 2008, the hunt was on,” Megan O’Donnell, the prosecutor, told 12 jurors and 4 alternates in State Supreme Court on Thursday.

The defendant, Jeffrey Conroy, 19, was one of seven Patchogue-Medford High School students who the police and prosecutors said attacked an Ecuadorean immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, in November 2008. The fatal stabbing of Mr. Lucero shocked many on Long Island and focused new attention on assaults and harassment.

The same day’s paper carried this story:

Three members of a family in Richmond Hill, Queens, have been indicted on charges that they stole $1.75 million from 19 fellow West Indian immigrants by falsely promising to help them obtain green cards and bargain deals on federally seized property in New York City and Florida, the Queens district attorney announced on Thursday.

Shantal Ramsundar, her mother, Gomatee Ramsundar, background, arriving in court Thursday, and her father, Shane Ramsundar, have been charged with victimizing 19 fellow West Indians.

As part of the scheme, the authorities said, one defendant, Shane Ramsundar, 50, masqueraded as an agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement on loan to the F.B.I., carrying an air gun, a phony badge and a false ID card.

“Our immigrant community here in Queens can be especially vulnerable to deception and fraud,” the district attorney, Richard A. Brown, said in a statement. “In this particular case, many of their immigrant victims are alleged to have implicitly trusted the defendants, who were West Indian like themselves.”

I ate dinner last week with a young, very successful Canadian woman who plans to move to Boston this summer, able to do so legally because she has, and can prove it, a thriving business. I just sent in $370 and a copy of my green card, which I received quickly and easily in 1988 as the unmarried child of an American citizen, because it’s time to renew it.

The legal right to work and live in the U.S., even in a terrible recession and appalling income inequality, remains alluring. American workers making $10 an hour, desperate to make more, already take home a day’s wage in Mexico. I’ve lived in Mexico and traveled there many times. If you have never visited a developing nation and seen these conditions firsthand, it’s difficult to imagine the poverty in other nations that annually compels so many across our borders.

As I wrote in the Daily News in 2005, children are also involved:

Of the 6,000 children a year placed in “removal proceedings” by the DHS, the more than 1,000 sheltered nationwide in group homes float in legal limbo. They can be deported at any time.

The number of such kids changes every day, says Maureen Dunn, director of the division of unaccompanied children’s services of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

“Our load has doubled in two years,” Dunn says. “We don’t really know why. It might be increased apprehensions or perhaps because immigration authorities are releasing these children faster.”

“We’re getting slammed,” agrees Adriana Yserna, program director for the five-month-old nonprofit National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children. Yserna, an immigration lawyer, matches needy children with the more than 100 lawyers around the country willing to represent them without charge.

From a white paper on this issue:

The United States clearly cannot ignore the moral and ethical dilemma presented by a five-year-old being tossed across the border with a note to call a relative. But rather than respond simply by creating a new social-welfare bureaucracy, this phenomenon should point to the need for an examination of the policy decisions which forced the dilemma upon us in the first place by creating an anarchic situation where immigration laws are unenforced…

It requires a paradigm shift to think of the U.S. government as an active participant in human smuggling operations. And yet, looking at our response to the problem of unaccompanied minor children, smugglers themselves could hardly conclude otherwise.

Powerless twice this month, I'm one of 500,000 Northeast homes affected by storm

In news, Weather on March 15, 2010 at 9:07 am
Storm Damage

A typical sight here now...Image by Tobyotter via Flickr

The Westchester hotel parking lot was filled with Mercedes and Lexus, with MD and DDS plates — hotel refugees fleeing their suburban homes after this weekend’s brutal wind and rain. The diner across the street from it was so full we could barely find a spot to eat breakfast. Our newspaper delivery man — God bless his work ethic — had braved six dark flights of stairs to bring us our New York Times and New York Post.

On Friday morning I watched the tree on our terrace, the sixth and highest floor of our 50-year-old suburban New York apartment building, rocking on its base like a metronome in 50 mph winds before we brought it indoors for protection.

We lost electricity at 7pm Saturday evening, just as we were starting dinner. We often eat by candlelight, but this was now a necessity. Reading required so many candles, (we did have a flashlight), we gave up and were asleep by 8:30. Makes you appreciate 18th-century life in a whole new way.

We’re very lucky to have a hotel three blocks from our home and the rate wasn’t terrible, so, for the second time — we lost power recently in a huge snowstorm, and shared a room there that night with my Dad, visiting from Toronto — we checked in there Sunday afternoon. I can handle having no power — but when it goes, our building also loses heat and hot water and the temperatures here are still in the lower 40s.

One night in a hotel, luckily for those who can do it, is an affordable adventure; two or three, plus meals out, quickly adds up.

One occupant of the room next to our practiced cello for seven hours, lovely at first, annoying after endless sawing and scratching. They had several dogs with them. The dining room, normally an elegant quiet space, was filled with screaming infants and restless teenagers. I had hoped to use the indoor hotel pool — but it was closed due to fears of a lightning strike.

The damage to homes, landscape and people is frightening and sobering. Six people have been killed, as my former Daily News colleague Russ Buettner reports in today’s New York Times:

The scenes of devastation in the New York area were so widespread that some compared what they saw to the worst of natural disasters. Nearly everyone had a storm-related tale, mixing inconvenience and a sense of wonder at forces that effortlessly ripped trees from the ground, roots and all. And there were stories of loss and tragedy.

By the time the worst of the weekend’s storm was over, at least six people were killed, countless vehicles and homes were smashed, scores of roadways were left impassable and more than 500,000 homes had lost power — many of them to face darkness for days to come.

On Sunday, the storm’s lingering effects — and the recovery it required — became clearer…

Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Power Authority, called the storm among “the top five or six weather events that have impacted Long Island in the last 40 years.”

One of the many issues that is not receiving coverage — people who are ill, disabled and elderly who do not live in single-family homes. While news  reports and photos inevitably focus on the terrible damage done to private houses — trees crashing through windows and ceilings — millions of us here also live in multi-story apartment buildings. On our top floor, a 96-year-old woman lives alone, but usually has a a day-nurse and has a nearby daughter; we make it a point to check up on one another down the darkened hallways.

I’m under doctor’s orders right now to avoid walking and stairs until I get an injection in my hip — and had to climb down six flights of stairs to leave. The pain was so bad I wept, and I had managed to leave my codeine pills upstairs. Advil helped.

I am home now writing this on my desktop, tea freshly made, fridge humming, lights on.

How long will it be until the next time?

Yes, Canadians Are Nice. We Also, At The Olympics Or Not, Compete Hard. Get Over It!

In behavior, sports on February 13, 2010 at 12:19 pm
Handshake

Image by Aidan Jones via Flickr

Canadians are nice. Yes, we are. We also want to win.

The two, to the intense confusion of every (yawn) American commentator (OMG, why aren’t they just like us?) are not in total opposition as cherished values.

Anyone who’s had a Canadian punch to the face during a hockey fight knows that Canada isn’t wholly against sporting aggression. It’s simply a nation with other sensibilities.

Its murder rate is around one-fourth of the United States’ (2007 homicides: America, 14,831; Canada, 594). And while homicides per capita isn’t generally considered a harbinger of Olympic success, there’s no arguing that offing someone is about the most aggressive of human behaviors. When you’re from a culture where it’s somewhat common, elbowing a competitor for position on a short-track speedskating race can seem like second nature.

Even in their most popular sport, rough-and-tumble hockey, their greatest player, Wayne Gretzky, was known as smooth and sportsmanlike, not a cutthroat competitor.

Still, the Canadian government is trying to usher in a new mentality. The signs of “Go Canada!” are everywhere, from the sides of 7-Eleven coffee cups to signage hanging around British Columbia.

“This phrase, ‘Own the Podium’, isn’t this a little arrogant for Canada? No it’s not,” Canadian Olympic Committee chief Chris Rudge told the Associated Press. “Being self-confident and being the nice people we’ve always been at Games, these things aren’t mutually exclusive. You can be both. You can be aggressive and win with grace and humility the way Canadians always have. But let’s do it more often. Let’s win more often.”

To most of the world, this seems second nature.

Why is this idea that winning doesn’t automatically come with a middle-finger salute to the vanquished — instead of a pumped fist, a smile and a gracious handshake to your competitors, whatever your podium position, so alien?

Maybe it’s having 10 percent of the U.S. population. Or offering everyone free universal healthcare, or having the best colleges (all of them public) costing $5,000 a year, not $50,000. You compete hard in Canada for good housing, jobs, promotions. But, getting to the starting gate of life has fewer obstacles, and maybe that’s part of why Canadians are more mellow. There’s more room at the table so shoving hard to get at it all seems…tacky and weird.

I know a Canadian middle school teacher, who taught on Long Island and in Canada. The differences between how kids are raised, socialized and praised for their behaviors in the two countries was profoundly different, she told me. Canadian kids want to win, but not at the expense of making others feel like crap. American kids, certainly those in suburban New York, didn’t give a rip if the losers ended up in tears of humiliation. They were losers, weren’t they?

If that’s the only lesson these bewildered-by-niceness Yanks finally take away from these Olympics, terrific.

I'm Working Retail Black Friday — Here's Some Shopping Tips

In business on November 24, 2009 at 7:52 am
Facade of Shoppers' Center The Gateway

Image via Wikipedia

Last year, a stampede of crazy people killed a sales associate working on Long Island on Black Friday. This year, fractured foot and all, I’ll be safely stashed behind a heavy, fixed metal sales counter working the register at The North Face, in a fancy White Plains mall called The Westchester. Come say hi!

If you’re heading out this week on a mission, a few things to keep in mind:

1. Pre-shop on-line or using our catalogue first, if possible, to determine the name, size, color and prices on items you want to find fast within a busy and crowded bricks-and-mortar store. If you wander in, as many do, asking for “that jacket, the one with the belt”, we  can’t do much for you. The more detail you can offer, the more quickly and easily we can help.

2. Build in plenty of extra time for finding a parking spot and/or standing in line to pay. Please don’t roll your eyes or sigh or curse or threaten to call corporate if things don’t run perfectly smoothly. We’re dancing as fast as we can.

3. Please, please, please bundle your requests: if you want to see something in black, brown and blue, or two different sizes, ask us once. We’d rather bring them all at once than run and schlep to the stockroom over and over. It’s only once for you, but it’s dozens of times in our long day.

4. Don’t throw tantrums over items we don’t have, whether gift boxes or a certain object you crave. Almost every retailer this year is hedging their bets with much smaller, tighter inventories.

5. Eat, drink, pee. Bring water, energy bars, aspirin, Pepto-Bismol — whatever it takes to keep you relaxed and comfortable. Stay hydrated. Take breaks and sit down. It will significantly improve your stamina and your mood. Ditto for anyone shopping with you.

6. Don’t freak out or take it personally if we’re watching you more closely. Shoplifters love Black Friday and holiday shopping — lots of crowds and, ideally for them, distracted associates. We have to keep a close eye on everyone. It’s our job.

7. Say thank you and please to the people trying to help you. Really. We know you don’t have to, but it makes the day a lot easier and so much more pleasant for everyone.

8. If at all possible, leave the kids at home, especially smaller ones who get bored, noisy and run all over the store, worrying us, if not you.

9. The store is actually not a garbage can. It’s not like going to the movies, no matter how entertaining — so do not dump your half-eaten pretzels and cookies on the floor or your loose-lidded soda cups filled with sticky fluids high on a shelf where someone is going to knock it all over the clothing/items.

10. If you are truly getting nowhere with an associate ask, nicely, to speak to the manager. Don’t abuse the help. In most instances, no matter how bad it can get, many of us are really trying our best to help you.

11. Get off your cellphone/Blackberry while we’re cashing you out or speaking to you. It’s rude, slows everyone down and makes it difficult for us to communicate with you in order to accurately and quickly fill your needs.

12. Have fun! Shopping can indeed be an exhausting and overwhelming ordeal. Remember it’s a great blessing if you still have the health, strength, mobility and income to even head into a store these days.

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