Wednesday, August 20, 2014

1372 Don Pardo

So an old man dies.  A very old man.  And it’s no surprise, really.  But it’s still shocking. Ninety six and still working?  Except Don Pardo did not consider it work.


Neither did those around him. And a lot of people worked around him.  He had started with NBC as an announcer in 1944.  Everyone knows him as the voice of Saturday Night Live.  But that was just a side job.  


In the early days of the medium, “staff announcer” meant broadcast royalty.  A pretty humble member of the royal family, he was, along with other notables like Bill Wendell and Howard Reig, and Bill Hanrahan, and Roger Tuttle and Fred Facey and Johnny Olson (who also started at NBC in 1944) and Ed Herlihy.


Don was long retired.  But the SNL gig continued well past the days when he’d have to show up at 30 Rock to warm up a quiz show audience and then introduce the program to listeners or viewers.


And what shows! The Colgate Comedy Hour.  The Price is Right. Jeopardy.


Don was more than just an anonymous voice.  He had a style all of his own, that long, drawn out building-to-a-big-finish largo. He had a particular kind of personality that came through even if you couldn’t see him on screen. And a voice and delivery that stood out among standout voices.


While most staff announcers had regularly scheduled programs, they also were assigned miscellaneous voice chores within the company.  So Don and the others worked a full week for a mediocre salary and the fees associated with their programs.  The fees were where the bucks were. No one starved.  Not even when there were almost 40 announcers on staff. (Today, there are none.)


A personal memory:


It was New Year’s eve, sometime in the 1990s, but no later than 2000.  NBC’s holiday show competed with ABC’s for public attention kind of like the Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island competes with Henry VIII.


But we tried.   And Don had agreed to announce the show’s open and close.


Good thing everyone knew him on sight and on sound because he’d left his company i.d. home.


Well, not everyone.  Everyone but the security guard at the studio elevators at 30 Rock.


The guard may not have known Don, but he knew me, standing there right behind him.  So I said “He’s with me” and we both got in.


In the elevator Don looks.  Says “I think I know you but who the hell are you?”  I tell him, and then he remembers and we have a bit of a laugh over it.


While on the matter of NBC, Salvador Dali appeared on the Today Show in the early 1950s and told his interviewer, probably Dave Garroway, that “In death people become 10-thousand times greater than they were in life.”


Often true.  But not in this case. Don Pardo was a warm, intelligent, sensitive, widely read and talented gentleman then.  We knew it then. We know it now.


Guess St. Peter needed someone new to announce the names of the incoming at the gate.


I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2014


Monday, August 18, 2014

#1371 The Scarlet Letter

We ban things that scare us.  Sometimes its official, sometimes it’s an unspoken agreement.


There was a time you couldn’t legally buy James Joyce’s Ulysses or Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer.  They were banned.  Too racy.  They’re pretty tame by today’s standards.


TV’s Ozzie and Harriet had separate beds.  So did Lucy and Desi.


Then there’s mental illness.  No official ban there and a lot of people -- professionals, supposedly -- who preach about it.  But most of the so-called mentally ill suffer in silence and secret as long as they don’t exhibit obvious symptoms.


Robin Williams’ death removed the ban, at least part way.  Depression.  Mania. Addiction.  The walls didn’t come tumbling down.  But Williams in maybe his final act put some holes in them.


We admit to friends and family now that we’ve been popping Zoloft or something like it. It’s okay.


It really didn’t take the tragic death of a beloved public figure to do that.  But in the short term, it helped.


Mental illness -- an unfortunate term to begin with -- is stigmatized. People are often shunned when they are discovered to have tangled chemicals in their brains.


It happens to some cancer patients, too.  We fear we will catch what they have even though cancer isn’t contagious.


These conditions are seen as flaws, and they are.  But they’re not character flaws, they are biological. Chemical. Genetic.


You have a headache, you take a pill. It goes away.  Even a migraine is looked upon as treatable, although that one’s borderline scary.  Migraines are not contagious any more than cancer.  But we’re cautious.


No one faults you for having diabetes and treating it with insulin and better diet.  It’s a chemical problem, you treat it with chemistry.


No one faults you for having acid reflux.  It’s a chemical condition. You take a pill. It goes away.  Same with hypertension, too much cholesterol and hay fever.


But admit you take Prozac, a wall goes up around you.


Depression is a chemical problem, not a mental illness. You’re not crazy.  You just have something wrong.  It’s more like cut that doesn’t heal or a bruise that lasts too long, except for the part about longer lasting.


Putting aside so-called spiritual aspects of the human machine, you are an electrochemical mechanism.  So what’s wrong with fixing you in an electrochemical way?


Remove your scarlet letter.  Now.  Right now.


Shrapnel:


--Fourteen people were shot at in New York City last night, including at least one by a cop trying to stop  someone from stabbing someone else.  This is unusual for the city as a whole but not for the neighborhoods in which they occurred.  No riots broke out, no looting took place, no tear gas was fired and no armored personnel carriers were deployed.


--Does that mean we’re more civilized or more jaded than the people of Ferguson, Missouri?  Does that mean the NYPD has better relations with the communities it patrols?  None of the above.


I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com

© WJR 2014

Friday, August 15, 2014

1370 How to Get Rid of an Email Stalker

It started years ago.  An email from the “Wonder City Running Club.”  A long e-mail.  Coming events.  Reports of past events.  Pictures, endless pictures.

So not being much of a runner, and having decent knee-borne arthritis, I clicked on the “unsubscribe” button.

But the next day and the day after that, and practically every day after that, there was a letter from the folks at Wonder City, which is in a far away state.

So I wrote a “personal” email to them, asking them to please leave me alone.  

They replied that they had no record of my email address and if some “friend” was forwarding it and to please contact that friend.

I don’t have a lot of friendships with runners, football people, soccer people, baseball people, gymnasts,
marathon cyclists or, for that matter, gym rats of any kind.  And there was no evidence that anyone I knew was forwarding me all this nonsense.
Each day, I would dutifully unsubscribe.  And each day I would get the same return schpiel.  Even marking their stuff as spam didn’t help.

But as luck would have it, I found the name of a real person with a real email address.  Call her Kellie Fastfeet.

I wrote her the usual plea to get taken off the list, and then added:

“...so if you continue sending me these things each day or so, I am going to reply to every one of them with the news of the day.  For example, we had a lot of rain here last night, a couple of passing thundershowers, but nothing as bad as Seattle or Baltimore or Pittsburgh.

“And if I hear from you tomorrow I’m going to tell you all my secrets about getting good stuff at bargain prices at the Wal-mart produce department.”

About half an hour later, I get a note:  I found your email address in our database and taken you off the list.

I’m going to miss Ms. Fastfeet and all the latest from Wonder City and its runners.  But that’s the price one has to pay for being a counter stalker.

Shrapnel:

--Here’s another word that needs a vacation: “curate,” and its variants.  It is not synonymous with “collect.” You can’t curate expired pharmaceuticals, hardware, or wood chips.

--Late reports indicate Robin Williams had Parkinson’s Disease.  With any luck, this will put to rest the speculation about what caused him to kill himself. And it will spark a new round of tributes.

Radio Shoutout: Each time a post duplicates an A.M. radio frequency, we salute it.  This time, it’s WALK, a 500 watter at dial spot 1370 in Patchogue, New York on the south shore of Long Island.  More fish than people in its transmission pattern.  No real format.  But a long history... and off and on for decades the radio home of friend and competitor Jack Ellsworth who recently passed and one of the last… um… curators of the Great American Songbook.  His book is available on Amazon.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com

© WJR 2014

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

1369 Robin Williams

Robin Williams was crazy-funny.  And he never did anything half way. Until now. Now we get to see a part of him we either never saw before or -- if we did -- never wanted to think of as real.  He’s still funny.

Early on, he was a lonely little boy playing mostly alone in a spare room of the Michigan mansion in which he was raised.

On stage and sometimes on film, he still was that lonely little boy.  He was still playing by himself.  And we all benefitted just because we could see or hear him do it.

Now come the questions:  How far back do you remember him.  About the furthest back anyone can think of is 1978, when “Mork and Mindy” burst onto ABC and into all of our heads.

We never had seen anything like that program before.  And we were riveted.  And our sides ached by the time each episode ended.

So, 36 years of memories.  And they’ll go on for awhile. Williams had some films ready for release.

They’ll have film festivals with him at theaters and on Netflix and on HBO.  There will be re-released posters of Mork and “Good Morning Vietnam” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.”  There will be suddenly discovered lost or never released footage.

There have been crazy-funny quip masters before.  Groucho, Roger Miller, Oscar Levant.   And there will be quip masters in the future.  People who just seem to spout funny things and make you laugh and make you wonder how anyone can think that stuff up.

And you will remember Williamsisms but you won’t quote them because you’re smart enough to realize that Williams wasn’t just talking.  There was more to his standup and his films than that.  But it’s a more that defies analysis or definition.

Can we watch “Garp” or “World’s Greatest Dad” or “Man of the Year” again without a tear falling from our eye?  Yes, but not yet.

Williams’ suicide may have shocked or alarmed you: “how could this nice man who ‘had it all’ do something like that to himself?”

You can blame the celebrity culture.  You can blame the price of fame. You can blame hanging out with bad company.  You can blame the drug lords. But ultimately, blame may not be appropriate.

Great artists -- and he most certainly was a great artist -- often fight demons and often the demons win.

-0-

I have heard from several people who work at call centers taking me to task for my rail earlier this week against profession. I’ve picked two from facebook to reproduce here. And don’t forget...This call may be monitored or recorded for quality and training purposes.
I.

Hello. Live call center person here. It's been done by people, to me, only they don't know I fight back. I tell them " You know why we have to say that? So you don't sue us. You what we do with calls like yours. We use them in training all right, under " Calls that are different". That category features people calling to threaten us ( we actually had one Texan show up at the NY site with a gun looking to kill us...he didn't get past the parking lot) , call us names that would make a stevedore blush and...jokers. No, we can't play back so nicely, but we will do it with a cheery voice lest we get scored off for not being so., It won't throw the people who toil with me off script, there isn't a script to be had.”

II.

I'm with (name redacted) on this one. Since I work in insurance, any time I make an outbound call to a ... business or patient I specifically say it so they know not to lie. The real reason is quality assurance in case of a lawsuit. However, you'd be surprised how many times I was lied too (sic erat scriptum) and could have launched an investigation into insurance fraud.

A few years ago when we had a semi-earthquake I was a brand new agent and completely panicked before I had a chance to say we were experiencing an emergency. I threw my headset down and ran for it. You could hear the caller saying, "I think something just happened at (the insurance company.)" Needless to say they use my call during training to show the new agents how to handle the situation calmly and appropriately.”


I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com

© WJR 2014

Monday, August 11, 2014

1368 Fitness Center, Sprint Cars, Reverse Customer Service

Awhile back, we joined the YMCA. Fine outfit.  Lovely people.  Good facilities.  Nice swimming pool and even a warmed bounce around pool for those of us of a certain age who do or tried to do underwater exercises.

But eventually the trip became a nuisance.  Drive a few miles.  Check in.  Change. Shower.  Exercise and or swim, shower again, change and drive back.

After awhile we just stopped going.  Some time goes by and we join a private club that’s closer to home.  Same kind of nice people and everything else… except no pool.

But after awhile, that got to be a chore, too.

And we rationalize.

Just remember, Jim Fixx, the guy who started the jogging movement died of a heart attack after his morning run.  He was 52.

We remember.
We also remember what riding a bicycle, even a stationary bike can feel like to your knees and your… um… hemorrhoids.

And what a “dead lift” can do to your back.

And the people who never wiped down the machines after using them.

Now a friend from the Jersey Shore has figured out something smart.

He’s joined a health club that’s in a hospital.

What a great idea.

You fall off the treadmill or have a heart attack among the free weights and you’re right there where you can get treatment.

Not only that, but you save time because you don’t have to call 911, all you have to do is say the magic words “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

The emergency people will be there in a heartbeat.  First, saving lives is their jobs.  And also, if they’re too slow, think about the headline: “Man dies of heart failure at hospital fitness center.”  Or “Hospital treadmill crushes elderly jogger.”

Or Dr. Oz does a segment on germs you find on those exercise machines.

Terrible way to attract customers and patients.  The friend isn’t elderly, but he’s working toward it.

But even with good service, the hospital faces a quandary.

How do you make up what you don’t charge for an ambulance ride … because there IS no ambulance ride?

They have to hope that the health club and the emergency room are not on the same floor.

That way they can charge you for the gurney ride to the elevator and then the elevator ride to the E.R.  And maybe they can slip you a couple of extra $50 aspirin tablets.

Shrapnel:
--Sprint cars in the news a lot lately, especially as Tony Stewart’s terrible track record for causing death, injury and pileups in small venues in small locales.  Hotheads on the track are as common in this “sport” as they were in Hockey a decade ago.  But unlike in a hockey fight, drivers are not using sticks, they’re using high powered machinery… cars with vertical wings that look like they might fly off the track as their drivers fly off the handle.

--When you finally reach a live body at customer service, start the conversation by saying “this call may be recorded for quality assurance and training.” That’ll throw them off script before they utter a word.  Or this: “your answer is very important to us, please wait for the next available customer…” and follow by humming an off-tune melody.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2014



Friday, August 08, 2014

1367 Don't Take the Kids

Like all other retail stores, restaurants are entertainment.  They’re not just places to eat.

Screaming babies and hyperactive toddlers are not entertainment.  Not on planes and boats and trains.  And certainly not in restaurants.

And neither are their doting parents or grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

“Oh, look! Little Jimmy is going ballistic again. Don’t you just love it?  They’re so cuuuute at this age.”

No, you don’t love it.  It gives you indigestion before you have anything to digest.

“Oh, look!  Little Jimmy is racing around the dining room, darting under tables, yelling and screaming and that’s just so darling!”

Nope.

And should some other patron complain, the parental retort is always something along the lines of “Little Jimmy is so good at expressing himself.  We wouldn’t want to stifle that, would we?”

Oh yes we would.

There’s little more maddening behavior than some spoiled brat exploding his lungs at you when you’re trying to have a private meal in a public place.

Then, there’s Chris Shake.  Shake owns a seafood joint, The Old Fisherman’s Grotto.  It’s on the wharf in Monterey, California.  And he’s up to his gills in hot water.

Grotto now bans strollers, booster seats and high chairs.

There are signs in the place telling you so.  On the restaurant’s website, he adds (in huge type) “Children crying or making loud noises are a distraction to other diners… and are not allowed in the dining room.”

Score one for peace and quiet.  Elsewhere on the website: “We welcome families with children and we serve many every day.  We only ask that they abide by our rules.”

It’s a small restaurant and although the policy isn’t new, there’s a shipwreck-caliber storm brewing about it.  

One parent was heard to harrumph “I’ll take my business elsewhere.”  Fine. Please do.  And while you’re at it, pick another airline or tour bus, too. And tell us which ones you’ve chosen so we can avoid them.

This is not the Confederate State lunch counter where people were barred because they weren’t white.  This is striking a blow(fish) for calm waters.

It’s also great publicity for a small business.  You can’t buy this kind of advertising.  

The United Mommies of America will try to fry Chris Shake.  

Batter up.

Grapeshot:

-Take the brats to Chuck E. Cheese where screeching is expected and welcome.

-Who but the Russian people will suffer now that Putin has banned food imports from the US and the EU?

-Airstrikes in Iraq… another brilliant move from the geniuses in the Obama administration and maybe even the president, if someone awakened him.

-Sen. Plagiarist (D-Montana) has ended his election campaign and people are wondering who wrote his announcement.

Shrapnel:

--The teeeny town of Loving Texas wants your nuclear waste, since there’s nothing else to do there in anti-government Rick Perry country but hunt for government contracts.  They’ll probably get what they’re asking for.  The 98 residents will turn green, and it won’t be from envy.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2014

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

1366 The Experience

It’s an old story.  You’re fresh out of school looking for work.  Employers want someone with experience.  You have no experience, therefore you have no job.

But you have to. But you don’t. But you can’t.  An endless loop that eventually gets you to put your B.S. in subatomic physics from Caltech on the shelf and start experience saying “welcome to megamart.”

The other side of that rock goes like this:  “You’re overqualified.”  So you put your 25 years of experience at Big Burger on the shelf and get a job pushing broom at the Caltech physics building.

You can’t un-do “overqualified” any more than you can break the first-job loop.

Looking for a solution here?  You won’t find it.  But what you will find are adventures with yet another overused and devalued piece of word currency, experience.

Your shopping experience.  Your customer service experience.  Your volunteer experience.  Your concert experience.  

What?

Yes, it’s right there on the Velveeta box.  “You could win … a concert experience.”  

They probably mean you could win tickets to a concert.  That would be nice as your printer keeps churning out those resumes.

What is a “concert experience?” Do they strap you into a concert simulator and play videos?

Then, there’s “Experience Washington dot com.” That’s a tourist site for the state, not the nation’s capital.  

Just what is a “Washington experience?”  Rain? Legal pot?  Or just another tightly grouped Starbucks and its competitors.  Couldn’t they just say “Come to Washington and thread the Space Needle” or something?

And not to pick on Washington, how about “Experience Grand Rapids?”  Put that on your bucket experience list.

To bend the word a little more toward its original meaning, the AARP invites you to the Experience Corps.

This means once you break that no-experience-therefore-no-job loop, you can help others with their own fear-of-poverty experience.

Your correspondent is a graduate of the Antioch University School of Adult and Experiential Learning which has since changed its name several times.  The acronym “SAEL” does not roll off the tongue easily and it’s not nearly complicated enough for Antioch.

But that name wasn’t exactly straight forward, either. It’s a school.  

Soon we’ll be training our cats for a litterbox experience.

McDonald’s or a competitor will get the bright idea and advertise their dining experience.

Once we tire of the word, we’ll need a substitute.  And waiting in the wings is “adventure.”

Let’s all forget about the concert experience  and wait for a concert adventure.

Shrapnel:

--Rupert Murdoch says he wanted to play nice in taking over Time Warner which rejected his $80 billion offer. So he withdrew it, which isn’t his style. Wonder what his next move will be.

--The country’s largest newspaper publisher, Gannett, is taking a tip from Murdoch and separating itself into two companies, one for print and one for everything else.  Another vote for the future of dead tree news. Oh, and they’re “restructuring” their newsrooms, which means firing people.

Grapeshot:

-News in papers may be old before the ink is dry but usually it’s more reliable and deeper reaching than any other medium.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com and tell me all about your experiences.
© WJR 2014