Archive for the ‘humor’ Category

Book Review: The Marriage Bureau for Rich People, by Farahad Zama

December 9, 2017

I  live in a culturally mixed community, and have many friends who are either from  the Middle East and India, or their parents are.  If you’ve seen the movies, “Meet the Patels,”  or “The Big Sick,”  you know that  parents are heavily involved in choosing mates for their children. Their parents did it for them, it worked, and ‘love matches’—that is, children finding their own spouses, is strongly discouraged.  Marriage is not so much about love as  maintaining communities. Obviously, it  does happen that people meet  and fall in love, and  that’s why there are ….stories.

This delightful, charming book is about a re8ired man who decides to start a match making  service, and  the nuances involved in helping people find partners.  It might help to know something about the caste system in  India, but Zama  describes this  well enough that you get  a good idea  of what people consider, and how they go about finding partners.

This is a great story.  Zama is not overly wordy, and the story is tight.  He describes his characters well.  The Ali family, Muslims, hire Aruna, a Hindu girl, to assist with office work.  She is supporting her parents and younger sister because her father’s  pension got screwed up and he can’t work because his health is poor (this is so very typical in  India).  Aruna is educated, and was supposed to marry, but her dowry was used to pay her father’s medical bills. This  dowry issue is still very much a fact in India.   As a subplot, the Alis’ have 1 son, who is an activist,  and this distresses his parents.  The dialogue is very  interesting, and  you get a better understanding of  how life in modern India is for educated people.

For  people who want a  nice read, who are considering a trip to India,  I’d  recommend  going on Amazon and searching for this book.

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2 Great Autobiographies About Young Jewish Men Coming of Age With Special Circumstances

September 28, 2017

When you’re a Jew in America, you are always an ‘other’.  Even if you grow up in a neighborhood filled with Jews,  as you mature and go out in the world, you meet people with a totally different  belief system, mindset about what is right and good and moral, and  you are always challenged about what you believe.

When Jews pray, we glorify God. We don’t  pray for things or events.  We don’t really worry about an afterlife. Our  commitment is always to community. However, that is not clear to a young child. I know Passover is our most dramatic even involving children, as we have ritual ways to eat, we have the  four questions, and we  explain , in our dinner  ritual, why we do what we do.  But that is not  like getting candy and toys on Easter and Christmas (even though it is a gift giving holiday for children—-by ritual).

I found these books pretty much  around the same time at book swaps.  “My Sense of Silence” is  by Lennard J. Davis ( University of Illinois Press, 2000) is probably out of print, but can be found on Amazon.  It’s mostly about growing up with deaf parents, not  necessarily about being Jewish.  However, because they were Jewish—Orthodox, that somewhat added to  his complexities. For those who don’t know , Deaf Culture is a culture. American Sign Language is not universal, but it is a complex language. Also,  in most families, the children interpret for adults.  Many people are born deaf,  some become deaf, and, amazingly enough, even though Jews are a minority, there is a minority of deaf Jews.  Davis describes his frustrations and how he coped, and  how difficult is was. Then, in retrospect, he realizes that his parents did the best they could…although he also understands that he has a lot of responsibility as a young child.  This is a short book, very well written, and  would be a good read for young adults dealing with  maturing and parents, deaf or not.

The other book was a best seller:  “Choosing My Religion,” By Stephen Dubner  (Harper Perennial 1998). Dubner was raised a devout Catholic by parents who converted from Judaism to Catholicism.  He writes very well about it—not really discovering his Jewish routes until he was a mature adult.  His childhood was fine, considering that he was  one of 8 kids and his parents could barely support themselves without farming.  He hardly met any of his relatives.

It was a girlfriend who encouraged him to learn  more about his family’s history, and why his parents converted from Judaism to  Catholicism.  As a  Jewish woman whose sister decided to become Christian, I m somewhat familiar with the dynamics of what went on.  Judaism is  full of questions.  Catholicism is  full of answers …as well as absolutes.  It’s impossible to get straight answers about faith from  our scholars. Forget asking your parents.  But we  Jews are such a minority, it is  a big blow when  one leaves our flock  and chooses to join another.  Dubner  does a thorough  job of researching his family, as well as exploring his own beliefs,  returning to Judaism in the end, for personal reasons.  If you have ever pondered why you believe what you believe, this book chronicles how  one man made  decisions.

It’s Not Obamacare…it’s the Entire Health Care Industry.

November 11, 2016

This may seem amusing to those who have health insurance that somebody else pays for…but it’s not so funny.

This started in April 2016.

I was having  pain in my hip that I thought might be arthritis (it turned out to be sciatica), and also …a rash—like heat rash, that I could not get rid of.  I also had ‘trigger finger.’

I made an appointment with a doctor in my health plan…but not only did it turn out that she was no longer at the clinic, they called me two days before to cancel the appointment because my insurance would not cover it.  Never mind that I planned to pay for it out of my Health Savings Account.

So, I called the insurance company, and thy told me I was entitled to a Women’s Wellness Exam. This would cover  a PAP smear, a full body skin cancer check, and a scheduling  for a mammogram. The insurance would pay. So, I made another appointment with a  clinic picked  gynecologist.

She was an hour late, so she didn’t do the skin cancer check (so would not look at the rash), and could not address the pain in my hip, but she did take a PAP smear & scheduled me for the mammogram. I specifically asked her if I needed any paperwork.  She told me, “No, just go to Mount Sinai Hospital. You are in the system.”

This turned out to not  be true. I was in the system, but they still wanted paperwork, Thankfully, I had the clinic card in my wallet , and called them to FAX the paperwork.

Now, although I was in the system scheduled for the mammogram, I then had to go to Mount Sinai intake and have my contact info entered  again. Even though the  clerk had all my info in front of her, she managed to spell both my first & last names WRONG:  Robin Micheals—but I did not  see this until I was actually in the x-ray room.

It took over a month to get the mammogram, so I had to schedule a different visit at a different clinic with a general practitioner to look at my rash &  address the pain in my hip….and my finger.  I don’t doubt the doctor is a decent doctor, but the pills he prescribed  for the sciatica did not help at all, and the ointment he prescribed (yes—at $26 a tube) me  did not work, either.  He did tell me that if the problems did not go away in 2 weeks, to call him.  He referred me to another doctor  for the ‘trigger finger’, who gave me a shot, and told me it would only last 3—6 months.

Well, due to his being on vacation and  my taking a different job, a month went by.  I decided to see a chiropractor who was highly recommended by  neighbors who had had sciatica treated.  She really is good….but her treatments didn’t hold.

I did called the general practitioner about the rash, but could not talk to him directly. The clinic insisted I make an appointment to see him to get a referral to a dermatologist.  I haven’t been billed yet, but I went in, and he told me to wait and left the room.  About 1/2 hour later, he came back & told me that the clinic had to find a doctor who would accept my insurance plan.  I laughed.  I said, “This is ridiculous.  I have a $6000 deductible, I’ll pay for it out of  my Health Savings Account.”  He rolled his eyes and wrote down the name of a dermatologist.  A few days later, I got a letter with the name of a dermatologist in my plan.  I called, and could not get an appointment for 8 weeks!  Not until after….Thanksgiving!

I mentioned this to a friend, and she said, “I had that—just get some Desitin.” Which I did. It took about two weeks to work.  I will cancel the dermatology appointment.

Meanwhile…I got a letter from Mount Sinai.  My mammogram was inconclusive. They tell me to call my doctor and have her reschedule another mammogram.  You see, I can’t do this myself, for some reason. So, I call that clinic…& they want me to schedule an appointment (and pay for it—or charge health insurance) just for her to make another appointment!

But wait—there’s more!  So the chiropractor suggests I  get an MRI to find out why the adjustments she’s making are not holding.  She tells me  that the cash rate will be $350—400.  That is no problem…but when I call  and ask if I can submit it  to insurance—they may pay (and—how can you reach your deductible if you don’t submit)…ah, no.  Because…they may charge the insurance company $1500, and if THEY DON’T PAY, I have to. That is the difference.

Now, why would an insurance company be charged  double or triple?  Well, that’s how it works.  When you add a step, you add ‘overhead’—and people on a payroll pushing papers, and filing, and a guy at the top who makes $28,000,000 a year.  This is how we create jobs.  They all have a vested interest, which is why they continue to pay our politicians to not have single payer, and allow this  waste.

As I write this, Trump has won the presidency.  He may replace the Affordable Care Act, but the health insurance industry has too much invested in Congress to  allow any changes. We are not going to get anything like single payer  for at least  four years.

I was telling a colleague about this, and she said, “It doesn’t seem like this should be legal.”  Well, anything that is not specifically illegal is legal.  It’s what makes America great.

Are all experiences better shared?

June 17, 2016

I am not the most sociable person, but for a long time, If I wanted to do something, I  often asked a friend to join me.  More and more, I  feel it is better to  just do what I want to do—alone.

My friend Mimi has a personality ‘thing’ where she is annoyed by people making superfluous noise.  Noises like  slurping the end of a drink through a straw, or crinkling a candy wrapper.  Especially in a movie theatre.  She makes more  noise complaining about these people than the people actually make.  It’s irritating. It’s also irritating trying to go anywhere with her because she is compelled to  schmooze with  absolutely any stranger. She thinks  that by ‘networking’ this way  that she will ultimately get more business.  She doesn’t, but this is how she is. so, we can’t get anywhere in a timely fashion, because she is always stopping to talk and joke.

My friend Patty is very interesting, and has a lot of interests, and she can be very funny, but she also has  two annoying habits;  she will  agonize over buying something, buy it, and immediately regret the purchase.  Also, she can’t have a good time without alcohol.  I didn’t realize this until I traveled with her. I bought a bottle of local liqueur as a souvenir, and she drank it without asking.  Oh sure, she promised to replace it, and didn’t. When she drinks, she can be nasty and confrontational.

Then there is Lena.   She is always complaining about my car.  It is a mess. I often have my dogs in the car.   Also, Lena likes to have a window open.  My last car was in an accident, and the windows would not always close, so I didn’t open them. The sun roof was not good enough for her.  She’s like a dog—who wants to stick her face out the window.  Always complaining, but  she doesn’t drive and was getting a free ride. We both like art, but we can’t go to an art fair together, because Lena has to stop and peruse everything—even though she is not going to buy.  This is how her Asperger’s is manifested.

Kate is always late, but insists on  picking me up and driving…then really not knowing how to get where we are going.  Also, even if we discuss the plan before hand, if we go to a movie, she always wants to spend more money…by either going out to eat or shopping  for stuff she really doesn’t need.  I had to stop doing anything with her that wasn’t at my house or her house.

the interesting thing is…..these women, while pet lovers, don’t share my interests in dogs, or in Africana.  Those people who do shave my interests, don’t live close enough by for me to develop a  ‘social intimacy’ with. so, will all our friends in the future be on Facebook or other social media?  I wonder.

 

Book Review: Charlie Wilson’s War, by George Crile.

June 3, 2016

The movie (created by people I would call the ‘dream team’:   director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts), came out in 2007… about 9 years ago.  This is the Wikipedia link to the review:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Wilson%27s_War

I came across the book (which I didn’t know existed) while traveling.  Crile was an amazing writer.  This is an absurd, almost unbelievable story. It’s actually a story about how ‘democracy’ works.

Do you remember where you were in the late 1980s?  I was in undergraduate school, working part-time grooming dogs,  and modeling for artists.  I had had a roommate who had volunteered with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.  Related to that, I had an FBI file.  That’s another story, which I blogged about previously: https://disparateinterests.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/how-i-got-my-fbi-file/ .

The reason  my roommate volunteered to work for the Sandinistas was because of our ‘covert’ was in Nicaragua.  President Reagan wanted to  help the ‘contras’—a really ragtag group of’ anti-communists’ with no real strategy to govern the country, fight communism.  Unfortunately for them, in spite of  Reagan and the CIA pouring money into training and paying soldiers, they  really weren’t getting support of the Nicaraguans.   They did not exist at all, but were a contrivance.  Apparently, not only were there  several other political parties besides the  Sandinistas, the Nicaraguans did not fear communism or socialism the way we Americans had been led to.

This only matters because the war was not ‘covert’:  the news media knew of it, as did many Americans, who  pressured Congress to cut off funding.  We all knew Reagan was not a deep thinker, and he allowed key players  in the Republican Party to set policy.  What this has to do with the story of Charlie Wilson, and the war in Afghanistan (also covert—and a secret to us), is that, at one point,  Oliver North/the Reagan Administration asked the CIA and the Appropriations committee to hide money for the Contras in funds earmarked for the mujahedeen in Afghanistan.  :”Wait!” you  shout.  “The mujahedeen?  Aren’t they the people  waging  jihad against us now?  Haven’t they been since…?”  Yep, You got it.

The movie  was written  as a comedy.  Charlie Wilson was a playboy congressman from Texas, whose constituents didn’t ask much from him.  Having served in the navy, and grown up during the cold war, he was  strongly anti-communist.  On the advice of a vivacious socialite, Joanne Herring, who had met the  president of Pakistan ( Zia ul-Haq…who had his predecessor assassinate…), Charlie, who sat on the Appropriations Committee in  the House of Representatives,  got money  appropriated for arms for people in  Afghanistan fighting Russians/Soviets.  The Russians were in Afghanistan to prop up a  socialist government.  As we believed at the time—and it could have possibly been true—according to the domino theory:  if the USSR got a foothold in  south Asia, they could dominate the world.  The reality was—and is—that Afghanistan —as a country—is a contrivance.  It is a geographic parcel of land within a border.  It will probably never be a country with a viable economy.  It is a failed state without ever really being a state.

Who writes our history?  Is it what we get in primary school history books?  Is it journalists who write news  reports and turn them into books?  No matter. At the time the CIA was  buying and providing arms for the Afghan rebels, I was a student working part time.  What I DO remember is that very suddenly, the Soviet Union fell into chaos, and the Berlin wall came down.  I don’t think many Americans understood why this happened.  All we really knew of the Soviet Union was that it was a dictatorship with no press freedom, and only of consequence to us insofar as their influence on other countries.  Crile  gives us a better understanding  of what really happened.

We have to  understand what we  did in the rest of the world.  While the do-gooders took to the Afghanis, who were not united in any way, and have proven to not be unitable, what the do-gooders did—with out tax money, was ignore their human rights record, ignore how they treated  each other—let alone women, and gave them the power to  terrorize us after they finished with the Russians.  As I write this, in early 2016, we have Syrian refugees fleeing the middle East, and a bunch of right-wing politicians calling them all terrorists…meanwhile ignoring the fact that  they supported the cause of all this.

Worse, the front-runner, Hillary Clinton,  the former Secretary of State, continued to allow the Pakistanis to hold us hostage, along with President Obama, so we could kill off Osama bin Ladin and temporarily slow down jihad leaders.  We are not going to stop how foreign aid is doled out unless we  organize for a radical shift in leadership (which is another reason I support Bernie Sanders). The   countries receiving it hire lobbyists, and the  companies manufacturing weapons also have a huge stake in  continuing the status quo.

The 2nd Blog About Going Back to Africa

February 4, 2016

I’ve been doing research almost every day on transport, say, from Mua mission to Mangochi (in Malawi), and places to stay.  Google ‘Lilongwe to Lusaka by bus.’   You can get Lusaka to lilongwe, but not the reverse. Traveling in inland Africa  is so …difficult. Roads are bad, transport is badly regulated, bus companies go out of business or  radically change their routes.

a colorized version of G.P. Murdock's ethnic map of Africa

a colorized version of G.P. Murdock’s ethnic map of Africa

I paid for the airfare back in June 2015.  I did this after Zambia removed the requirement for a Yellow Fever shot. Having had 3…I would have gone to Hong Kong or  Costa Rica if the requirement was still in place (no word on Zika—now in the news…).

I sent my passport to the Zambian embassy for a visa in October of 2015—before the ‘holiday rush’, and checked the Malawian embassy website—still no visa needed. Apparently the requirements changed  just after I checked the website.  From $0 to $100.  How did I find out? By checking the Peace Corps Malawi Facebook page…someone just happened to post asking if anyone had trouble getting a visa!   This was now the middle of January, 2016.   So, I checked the embassy website again, and sure enough, yes, a visa is now needed. Why?  It’s only fair:  they charge  now for whatever country  charges their ‘nationals’ for a visa, and the USA charges $161.

So, I emailed the embassy.  All the emails bounced back. So I called…and they graciously returned my call, and told me, as the website says, they could get it done in 5 days…and to Fed Ex my passport.  I asked if I could get one at the border, and they said I couldn’t.  I don’t know if this is true or not, but I could picture having to get off a bus at the Zambian/Malawi border, and being asked for $100 & to fill out forms, and a bus not waiting,  and being stuck.

So, I got the application, flight info, photos, passport together and Fed Exed it.  This was on Jan.19.  It got to the Embassy on Jan. 20.  On Jan 28, I called to ask how things were going. Not well. Seems that—due to the blizzard that hit Washington, DC earlier in the week, the embassy had been closed, because the roads had not been cleared (let alone the sidewalks).  But, I was assured that  the passport would be sent out  on Friday, Jan.29.  But it wasn’t.  I checked the  Fed Ex tracking number—for the return envelope I had sent, and it was still sitting there!

Now, I’m frantic.  I can’t get on the plane without a passport.  I called my credit card company, Chase Freedom, because they insure  for ‘trip interruption ‘ when you pay on their card (my airfare).  Ah, no…they never heard of anything like this, but this wasn’t weather related as far as they were concerned. So, then I called the travel insurance company, WorldNomads.net, to see if I was covered.  No, If it is not explicitly listed  in their causes, no.  I am not covered.  I call Emirates asking about penalties for rebooking.
They tell me to call the travel agent to see about fees.  What to do?

I decided to call FEdEx and arrange a pickup at the Embassy for Monday morning. I even offered to pay overnight express.  Funny thing—they say the Embassy has already paid it on my tracking  number!  They just have not set it out!

Here’s the thing:  if your envelop is not ready to go, the Fed Ex driver will not wait.  Due to the embassy people being behind on everything, they  did not see that it was not picked up on Friday, then on Monday, they had a question about the address (I had it sent to a local receiver  due to my running around), but it finally got out Monday night.

So I have a few other questions & continue to email contacts in Malawi. What denomination bills should I get, as the exchange rate is Mkw 726.38 to  $1 USD…and do I need to bring my heavy  electric converter to recharge my cell phone.

You Can’t Miss it!

Since roads are often unmarked (but everyone knows what they are…)

Here’s an example of  directions I got for  Chishawasha Children’s Home outside Lusaka:

From Kathe Padilla: You will probably need to take a bus from the main bus station downtown out Great North road.  About 5 K out of Lusaka (going North) there is a
Police Checkpoint, where all the automobiles and trucks are checked.  A bus may or may not get checked, I am not sure.  Three K beyond that check point
on the left hand side is a large sign for the Chishawasha Children’s Home of Zambia.  It is quite a few years old by now, so it is looking old (presuming
it has not been re-painted since I was there in July of 2015).  Take that road (a dirt road named Minestone road, but there is no sign for the road) and walk
about 4 tenths of a kilometer and you will see the gate, which says Chishawasha Children’s Home and the school itself is visible from the road. FYI the school
is pink)  Go to the guard and tell them that Aunt Kathe invited you to come visit and the guard can direct you to the administration building.  You will want to
talk to Mary or Carol.
Another way of arriving at the same place is:  about 7 K from Lusaka (again on Great North Road a few K past the police checkpoint) there will be a large billboard sign on
the right side of the street for “Spinalong”.  When you see that sign look down the road (going North) toward the left side of the road and pick out the
tallest tree on the horizon.  That tree is located just at the road where you will need to stop (you should see the CCHZ sign before the bus stops).  Againwalk 4 tenths of a K and you will see the CCHZ gate.
Good luck.  It really is quite easy to find.
And….
Directions on getting to  Friendly Gecko Rest House, outside Senga Bay, in Malawi:
Public transport is pretty straight forward from Lilongwe to Salima, and you can get minibuses from the main bus station.  From Salima, you will want to take a minibus, truck, or whatever transport you find towards Senga Bay, but make sure to let them know you want to get out at the Lifuwu turn-off (parachute battalion)If you get lucky, you’ll find a truck going directly to Lifuwu.  If not, when you get to the turn-off you can hire either a bicycle taxi or a motorcycle to bring you to the village.  When you arrive, you can ask anyone where the azungu cottage is, or pay your taxi a little extra to get you to our guesthouse.
And here are directions to Malawi Children’s Village:
I asked:
I plan to  come from the north—from Mua Mission.  If you are closer to Monkey Bay, there is no reason for me to go all the way into Mangochi—especially if I  catch a matola. So—-once I get to Mua, should I take  M10 towards Malemba?”  Then, towards Mzima Bay, or south then towards Club Makolola?
Response: We are south of Monkeybay Mangochi road.  From Club Makokola we are almost 3 kilometers going south.  When you catch Matola just tell them you are dropping at MCV.  Everybody knows this place.  We are looking forward to meeting you soon.

It’s Only Dog Hair

January 1, 2016
The trim is a 'Town and Country'. I wanted to do a classic 'Dutch', but the owner was a retired groomer , herself, and this was what she wanted. Note the balance, that her pants are not 'falling off'.

The trim is a ‘Town and Country’. I wanted to do a classic ‘Dutch’, but the owner was a retired groomer , herself, and this was what she wanted. Note the balance, that her pants are not ‘falling off’.

Saul Bellow wrote a book that  became a best seller, called “The Adventures of Augie March.” It’s about a working class Jewish kid trying to make his way in the world.  He has no education, gets involved with seedy individuals, and tries a lot of jobs. One of the jobs is as a dog bather for dog groomers.  I believe the book takes place in the early part of the last century.  All the dogs were poodles.  He  is ambivalent about the job.

Being a dog groomer, I never forget that part of the book, because I work for a lot of businesses owned by non-dog groomers…or  people who have had any experience in  the pet industry, like ever working in a kennel or assisting a groomer or veterinarian, and they think they are doing me a favor by hiring dog bathers.

Unless I train the bather, what I get is some kid with no  aspirations  to make an actual living, who thinks he loves dogs, but clearly doesn’t like the job task, who slows me down and usually does a half-assed job,  At my most recent job,  due partly to lack of proper equipment, they even  re-matted the dogs while drying them. Why?  Because my managers really didn’t care  whether these guys acted with integrity or not….and they were not brushing out most of the dogs.

I’ve written before about how non-dog groomers, or people whose only experience with dogs was actually in dog grooming school (“because they loved dogs”) are running businesses offering dog grooming, This was the case of one of my most recent jobs.  One of the guys who is a manager actually told me his parents ran a commercial breeding kennel (what we know as a puppy mill).  Yes, he has his own personal dogs whom he adores….but you  have a desensitization when you think it is ok to breed pets as livestock.  The other manager was trained by a very well known groomer, and is a very good scissor artist.    However, neither guy has worked in as many places, for as many mentors as I have.  Nor will they get their hands wet.  They are excellent groomers and horrible managers.

So, you couple these excellent groomers/horrible managers, with an investor/owner who really doesn’t have a clue about who has integrity, or that it matters, and you get….a real communication disconnect about what is needed to  make the business run efficiently, and why integrity matters.

I came on because the managers  got married and went on a vacation, leaving no experienced groomer, but a lot of work.  Had they really cared, they would have done this in January or February, when business  is slow (lots of people don’t get their dogs groomed in the winter—cold is the excuse…), not September, but no matter.  The investor owner pleaded with me, I came on part-time, saw they had full time, told the owner that there would be a lot of complaints as the managers LEFT NO GROOMING INSTRUCTIONS ON ANY CLIENTS, and his  other groomer was too inexperienced.

We muddled through. The guys returned, and suddenly, the efficiencies I had instituted so we could get through the day were  ignored.  Matted dogs were, again, being sent for bathing, and, and WE were expected to demat these dogs (even though, when the owner hired me, he told me the dogs would be brushed out for me).  Dogs were not towel dried properly, and so they stayed wet forever.  But more, I was being treated like…a necessary evil.  The guys  didn’t work with us.  One ‘managed’ the front, the other would come in late &  be constantly taking breaks to talk on his cell phone, or go out for a smoke or whatever.

I come in at  8:00 a.m., ready to start work immediately, and I  generally work until we are finished.  One is constantly warning  me to NOT cut any hair on the face before the dog is bathed, and not cut off any hair on the legs.  They do not clean ears. They forget to clip toenails, they  decided that because too many dogs are   frantic and  scraping their nails on the tub grates of the drying table (frantic—yes…now why would that be?), we are to cut nails after the bath.  If we get blood on the dog, we will rewash it.

I was being paid a decent hourly wage, but not great. No tips, I was not allowed to  interact with clients.  We were demating too many long-haired dogs.  I told both the owner and the manager that we should be telling people, the interval between groomings is too long and we are stressing out your dog.  That’s tactful, isn’t it?  Nobody is blamed for not brushing their dog. We know it is not a matter of money…it is they just don’t know and nobody has told them.

But they—owner and manager— refuse. THEY are not doing the  work, we are.  Yes, one of the managers will help if  a dog is very  horribly matted, but for the most part, another groomer and I do the work.   It is tedious, and in the end, doesn’t solve the problem. It is not fair to the dog, but nobody but me cares.

The icing on the cake was Christmas week. We had been slow the two weeks before, and I had been taking days off because there wasn’t really enough work, and I knew my co-workers needed the pay.  But X-mas week, we were grooming 30+ dogs a day.

What the manager would do would put the name of the dog on the board, the time in and out, and the ‘instructions’, which, for the most part, was one word:  “Cut”.  Sometimes it would say “long trim”.  On one dog, ‘Joey’, it said ‘E’. E is a long, attachment blade.  It leaves the hair about 2 inches long.  So, I did our regular pattern, and suddenly, Carlos/manager walks into the room (his partner is talking on his cell phone), lots of yelling in Spanish:  “What did YOU do?  You cut off the topknot!  Didn’t you see it was long?” and  what ensued was Carlos telling me the owner wanted a big head, she complained that while he was gone, we made the dog look like a monkey, why didn’t I ask…and all I could think was, You mean, when you left on vacation  and there were no grooming instructions on any dog…? 

You really can’t guilt me when you  make a mistake.  I  am amused, but I don’t feel bad.  And you know what?  The owner  came, picked up the dog, said it looked great, and left. No complaints.

As an aside, this happened to me about  25 years ago. I was working in a shop, and I had instructions to scissor a Cocker Spaniel.  Ugh!  but I got the dog fluff dried and  did it, and my co-workers were telling me how great  the dog looked, and my boss came into the room and yelled, “You made  him a half an inch too short!”  At first, I thought he was joking, but he was  distressed because  he  KNEW the owner would complain.  Now really, do you think any of these owners know how long their dog’s hair is?  But sure enough, she  called (maid picked the dog up, of course…) and  complained.  I told him I thought   it was a good time for me to tell him I was joining Peace Corps and would be leaving in  a month.

What did me in  on my  current job was that, as busy as we were, trying to  be efficient, the manager, not caring,  sent a matted Doodle to be bathed.  The bather knew the dog was felted and should be shaved, but he does what he is told.  It took him over 1/2 hour to dry the dog, and I was wondering what was going on, as I had not  touched the dog before the bath.  He finally finished drying the dog, and I told him to put the dog on my table. The dog was a solid mat.  I looked at  the bather, and he rolled his eyes and said, “I know…”  So, I went to Carlos and said, “I’ll have to take a thinning shears, and I don’t think there will be that much left.  He’s really badly matted.” So, Carlos now  has heard the dog is badly matted from 2 people.  He said, “Just give the dog a sanitary trim, and we’ll brush over the top and send him home.”  I know why he said this.  It’s Christmas, they probably want to take pictures, and don’t want the dog shaved.  So, I do the sanitary and nails, and Carlos comes in  and starts brushing over the top  of this dog.  I  was not going to  do that.  It wouldn’t have done anything.   The dog was matted at the skin.  Brushing was not making the dog look better as it was already fluffed out.  I was thinking  of who all would be ready for me to  finish grooming, as there were  at least five wet dogs  back there, and suddenly Carlos barks, “You are one of the  most annoying people.  I am not paying you to stand around, just leave!”

I almost laughed, but I did smile, I said Ok, and left.  I had been working since  8:00 a.m. and it  was now 2:30.  He knows i don’t waste time, don’t go out for a smoke, don’t stand around.  If there is no dog to work on, I clean the place, as there is always dog hair all over.   Why would I waste time brushing a matted dog over  the top of its mats when it wasn’t going to look any different?  He  knows I don’t stand around or waste time.  But if that’s how it is, that’s how it is.  I  had gotten another  part-time job two weeks before.  I can start later in the morning, I do my own bathing, it’s not a frenzy, I can have a relationship with clients…and I get tips.  This is why  shops have trouble getting talented groomers.

 

So, where do you see yourself in five years?

December 19, 2015

bewaresignSince I failed to marry someone to keep me in the style to which I wanted to become accustomed….I know the only way I would be ‘independently wealthy’ is to sell my house within the next year and move to a cheaper place.  Cheaper meaning a place with lower or no property taxes, as my property taxes are now higher than the mortgage!  Really. We pay about $400 a month  in property taxes (more or less, with exemptions), and  Mayor Rahm,instead of promoting the tax on  investment trades, is closing our public schools and laying off teachers (all the while with evidence that the charter schools are not providing a better  education product for our students) & lets not forget Barbara Byrd Bennet, who  ripped off the students not just  for her outrageous salary, but for $20 mil in  a skim for her ‘consulting firm’!  & lets not forget payouts for  bad police behavior.  Yeah yeah yeah—this has been going on since at least Daley, if not before, but it’s now over the top.

At one time, I saw myself owning a boarding kennel and showing dogs, but it really took Enron, 911, and the financial crash of 2008 (read Michael Lewis’ “The Big Short” if you’re unclear about  this), to dash that. In fact, I had learned about  the craziness of land speculation  when I was in grad school, but we all had to be in denial  or we  would have  given up.  In any case, that  was  one of the first nails in the coffin of ‘the fancy’, which I have blogged about ad nauseam.   Many of my naive kennel club members really believe we have to support AKC lobbying efforts on behalf of commercial breeders, as this affects all breeders. But come on—can we not come up with  a number of dogs a dog lover can keep  and have a relationship with?  Sure, some puppy mills, like Blythewood, breed excellent dogs….but is Joan Huber or her staff actually screening buyers….or do they  just think that anyone who would pay that much will automatically provide a good home?  I am sure she doesn’t care if less honorable  puppy mill breeders buy from her.  I am sure the explanation is that ‘at least they are buying genetically sound dogs to breed.’

I love grooming dogs, but I can see what’s happening, too. Fewer people  care if the  dog  actually looks good, and fewer people are training their dogs anything.  Fewer people are middle class.  I’ve been working at businesses in upscale areas, where  people can afford the service, but more and more are getting mixed breed dogs—and they are not rescues.  They are still believing the marketing.   It’s very discouraging, because many of these mixed breed ‘designer dogs’   you can’t make look good. Their coats are just impossible. I may spend more time training my own dogs .

About 30 years ago, after Peace Corps, I was thinking of  academia, but it’s hard to  get in, except as an adjunct, and frankly, though it is hard to believe, dog groomers make more per hour!

So, I see myself now as mostly retired, maybe grooming  2 to 3 days a week,  doing volunteer work, and traveling several times a year.   I really have enjoyed the Saluki Club of America and the American Whippet Club weeks of specialties, with all their activities.  I still have not been to Central America or Hawaii.  I’ll just have to see how it goes…

Businesses Make ‘Make Work’ Jobs

December 4, 2015

When I was  a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi over 20 years ago, I  ‘inherited’ a staff of  about  20 to 30 employees. I tried to get a handle on  who they all were and what they did. Frankly, bureaucracies  are the same where ever you go…especially  when politicians are involved.  In any case, I had several people assigned to my department  whom I could not  see as doing anything that added value to making the city run smoothly.    However, the British had set up a system where  we  didn’t just file the files, but assigned the files an additional filing number, and in order to get a plot file…rather than going into the filing  room and getting the file, we had to go to a clerk who would look up  the file number for the plot records and then fetch the file for us…or not.  Files would go ‘missing’.  Even though you were supposed to  sign for a file, I  learned that  another department head was not signing, and just taking  files.  After all, there was really no way for an employee to make the  guy sign for the file…especially if the employee in charge was paid something extra.  After a few months of this, I, of course, insisted we  do away with this ‘system’ and refile by plot number—and perhaps we’d find some missing files (we did) or get a handle on what was missing.

But what to do with the superfluous  employees?  I went to the Human Resources guy, and he told me  I had to  go to the town clerk, as he could not move  people around. The Town Clerk agreed with me, but told me that if I had people I needed to get rid of, I had to find another department head and make a trade. The only way I could get rid of someone not working is if they died or left voluntarily.  The Town Clerk warned me that if I made a trade, I might get someone even worse than what I had.

In the USA a few weeks ago, I got a call from my bank (Ally Bank, for the record), as well as an email. They had an urgent matter to discuss with me.  I was told to ask for a specific employee.  Having had a not great experience  emailing (although I did email the person), I called.  Hilarity and frustration ensued.  I was asked my mother’s maiden name, my address (including the 4 digit suffix to my zip code), my favorite color, and my favorite singer—by three different people…but nobody could tell me why I was contacted. So now several people know  my confidential information. They asked me how many accounts I had at the bank. one.  Just one. Finally, after all this and being put on hold—about 20 minutes of my life…I was told that I used the wrong deposit ticket to make a deposit.  How did this happen?

I was running low on deposit tickets, so I emailed the bank to order more. I got an automatic response stating they would contact me. They did not.  After  three weeks, I CALLED THE BANK.  The customer service person told me to use the  sample ticket I got in my welcome packet (three years ago) and she would put in an order for more deposit tickets.  So I did that, since I had several hundred dollars in checks.  I thought I had the right routing number, but apparently, it was for an account style I had opened…and then changed.

So, my deposit was just sitting there on somebody’s desk—not deposited—until I told them I had only one account.  This could have been taken care of in less than five minutes if —when I was initially contacted, I was told I used the wrong deposit ticket.  It wasn’t like I was taking money out—I WAS PUTTING MONEY IN!

Think I am being picky?  I work with my hands.  If I have to hold a phone, I can’t work.  I don’t play games on either my phone or my computer. I am not putting outfits on my dog, polishing my nails, or watching YouTube videos learning to put make-up on. My time is precious.  By making  something complicated, it doesn’t make it more serious or important.

Here’s another good one:  the valve stem broke off one of my tires.  I got a flat tire.  My roommate, who  hasn’t noticed if I painted a wall a different color or  moved art around, noticed that I had a flat tire, and this was the reason.  He put  the spare on the car, but told me to have it fixed ASAP.  He told me it would cost about $30. So, I went to the  tire dealer, and, indeed, that was the cost…except the law since 2006 is that the computer in the car has to be reset, as it would indicate low tire pressure…and that cost over $140!  Why is this?  Up until about  20 years ago, car engines didn’t last that long.  In many cases, you’d get to 75,000 miles (sometimes less)m and you’d need a ring job, or a new timing belt, or another major repair. Well,  due to  Asian competition, everyone now makes pretty sturdy car engines. That’s not what’s going to go on your car. It’s going to be something smaller. Maybe the battery, or the tire.  The car repair  businesses can’t really make any money on small repairs, so, by having the  computer  and access to proprietary codes, and charging us for it, they can stay in business.

Where I currently work, a dog grooming business, we have  two  guys who bathe dogs. That’s all they do. Yes, they clean cages at the end of the day, but neither does anything they are not told to do. Hence, we are always running out of something, and the place is a mess. In theory, they are supposed to make our work easier and help us complete grooms more quickly.  The reality is, they slow us down.  Partly because  when I started grooming, I had to bathe a lot of dogs before I could get to clipping and scissoring, and partly because, traditionally, we’ve been paid commission,  my average dog bath takes about five minutes, and I get  the dog clean and the soap rinsed out, and I get the dog dried quickly.  Not these guys. We are constantly sending dogs back to be rebathed.  It takes them four times as long as it does me.  Not only  that, but they clock in, then stop for breakfast! Why  does my boss allow this?  He’s not a groomer and he justifies this because he pays them $11 an hour, and I am too ‘valuable’ to be doing this task.  It’s a false economy.

All this is make work.  None of this is adding value.  I don’t know that there is a solution as long as  people in charge  rise to their highest level of incompetency, and think the goal is job creation.

Performance Competition: Why am I Doing This?

July 3, 2015

Dash&meNov14My mother was not a ‘dog person’.  She grew up urban, Jewish, and Jews (much like Moslems) did not own dogs—for the most part.  My father was also urban, but his father owned a pet shop for a number of years.  My father got his first dog after he married my mother, and he knew he had to train the dog.

Since my mother was not a dog person, and my father worked long hours, it was about 10 or so more years before we—-as a family—got a dog. It was a Poodle, maybe  three or four years old, that a guy was giving away because his fiance didn’t like it.  Jack was not a great dog, but he was amazingly tolerant and learned tricks quickly.  That was my first taste of dog training.

My parents had very bad luck with dogs:  being poisoned, , inept veterinary care,  but when I was 12, I was obsessed with getting a dog to show in conformation.  We  had gotten a Miniature Schnauzer after Jack died (amazing, we only had him  four years), and  he was very sweet, but I wanted an Irish Wolfhound.  My mother said that if we got another dog, it would be an Afghan Hound.  That’s how it started.

My father insisted I train the dog, and back then,  in the late 1960s, not only did you not start training a dog until it was a year old,  every dog trainer discouraged us from even attempting to train an Afghan Hound.  My father could not understand why.  Granted, they are not Golden Retrievers or Border Collies, but if the dog is not brain damaged, you can shape its behavior (at least we know that now—-about 40 years later).

Back in the 1960s, we  really didn’t know that much about how dogs learned.  My first Afghan, Khyber, did ok.  He would have been more reliable had I been a better trainer.  When I got my second Afghan Hound, Aswan, I had no choice but to learn better training methods.  She was very smart, and I had to find a way to communicate with her.  I also had to find obedience classes so she could understand that I expected her to listen to me even when there were other dogs around.  Aswan ultimately got her Companion Dog title. It took  five trials, and  she squeaked by with  a 170.5, 172, and a 184.  I  then trained her for Open.  She  knew all the exercises and was very reliable, but I got divorced and  the stress of that really prevented me from following through. Another Afghan Hound owner who got  two qualifying scores out of over 20 trials also made me stop and think about the point of gambling on a title..  All she needed was one more qualifying score, but she felt the entry fees (back in the day when they were $12)  were too expensive.

I next titled Bari, although I believe Sue Crum-Sommers handled him to two qualifying scores. Once he was fourth High in Trial.  I know it was her handling.  A good handler makes all the difference.

Then, I went to college, then graduate school, and Peace Corps,and  both Aswan and Bari had died.  My next dog, a Saluki, was  not obedience material. He hated classes, and did everything he could to let me know it. I got Dazzle, the second Saluki after Sadiq died.  He came to me obedience trained, but he was way too nervous to  compete  in obedience.  In the 14 years I owned him, I don’t think he ever sat.  He stood or laid down.  Even on most of our walks around the neighborhood, he’d turn around to see if anyone was following him.  The cowardly lion.  Bebop  came into our lives from WRAP  (whippet Rescue)  a few months after Dazzle, and he had also been obedience trained,  and was smart enough, but by that time I had bought a business, and  wouldn’t devote the time to  polishing him up for competition. Also, since he was a rescue, he wasn’t registered, so I never got that together.

Dazzle died, and we got Dash. Dash had, apparently, been  obedience trained by his former owners, and we was very attentive, so I started with a Canine Good Citizenship certificate, and  we’ve kept going.  I do it  for several reasons: the discipline—-my own discipline, to follow through.  I learn so much from people at the classes, and at the  trials.  I learned how to housebreak a difficult dog, and how to train the various tasks that look like magic to the non-dog trainers. I learned why the collar should not make a difference.  I also do it because I love communicating with my dog.  It’s such a great feeling when the dog  gets it!

When I started training, over 40 years ago, having titled an Afghan Hound in obedience gave me immediate credibility to other fanciers, as well as employers.  I got a job training dogs because the guy who hired me said that if I could train an Afghan, I could train anything. Could be true.  The sighthounds are a challenge because they’ve been bred—for centuries (over 5000 years)to think for themselves.  You really have to challenge them to get their attention.  Now, employers don’t care,and many seem to suspect that I hurt my dogs to get them to behave, because so many  groomers now don’t believe in training, breeding  for the betterment of a breed, or showing dogs. When you  compete in  performance, you are judged by your peers.  You can’t hide anything, You and the dog  are out there.

I have to really think about this, because  last weekend, on Saturday, we qualified (by the  judge’s benefit of the doubt) for one obedience leg and one rally leg.  On Sunday, after  we had completed 2/3 of the rally course, and I was sure we’d qualify with a good score, I asked Dash to return to heel to the right instead of the left, and as he was correcting himself, his expression changed to f** that s**t, and he walked out of the ring.  Then, I gave him a hand and vocal signal on the stay and I  got us not qualified.  $60 down the tubes.  Well, you  win some and you lose some. That’s how it goes.  So why bother?  For me, there is nothing like knowing  I am communicating with my dog, and he understands.  I have stimulated his brain.  Also, I am with other people who feel the same way.That is the magic.

Now,  I could have  very possibly worked with the Salukis I owned, as well as BeBop the Whippet, but you have to pick your battles.  Even the late Janie Wondergemm who owned and trained TCP Crystal Payday, U.D., our last  Saluki U.D., didn’t bother with her younger Salukis.

I am somewhat disappointed that both the pet  grooming and  boarding  industries have evolved  to the point that owners and managers do NOT value what I have done, and that pet owners don’t think this is important (thank you, PIJAC—for marketing the competency of retail managers over actual pet lovers), but it is what it  is, and I hope  readers of this blog will forward it.