Tuesday, April 28, 2015


[This piece was rejected by - I kid you not - sixteen different newspapers. I think the reason was because I named a specific supermarket that advertises in each of those newspapers. At least, that's what I tell myself in order to stay sane. If I entertain the thought that it's just crummy writing to which they were objecting, I may as well go flip burgers. Ego is important when one is an artist, even if the initials B. S. are sometimes a prefix to "artist". Anyway, here you go. And if you're one of those sixteen editors, God bless you for leaving me the conjecture.]

I usually do the grocery shopping for my family. I don't mind. MY WIFE works a regular Monday-to-Friday 40-hour week, while I'm a catch-as-catch-can freelancer. She deserves the ability to sleep in and I don't mind getting up early on Saturday.

What I do mind is the move being made to eliminate humans at the checkout.

For instance, at my local Stop & Shop there is now ONE line open on Saturday morning staffed with an actual person. Four or five self-checkouts are open. In addition, they have stationed the human being at the very end of all the checkouts available, making it possible that shoppers approaching from one end of the store may not even be aware of the opportunity to choose a personal touch over a robotic and cold machine.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against progress in general. If self-checkout were an improvement, I wouldn't be totally averse to it. I'm all for speeding things up when nothing good is sacrificed along the way. For instance, I don't mind filling my own tank at a gas station. It usually results in my getting back on the road faster than in the days when uniformed attendants did the job. In this case, though, not only does the do-it-yourself checkout process take longer, but it will (likely, already has) cost employees their jobs.

I have to assume the folks at Stop & Shop have been making the move to self-checkout because it is cost effective. The machines, after amortizing the initial cost, will probably save them a decent amount of money.

There are, however, other considerations. We're talking about people here; people with whom I've dealt on at least a weekly basis. I've gotten to know them a bit, had pleasant conversations, discussed their – and my – troubles. If it's a matter of the company either surviving or going out of business, that's one thing. If, however, we're talking about the choice between making a profit or making a bigger profit, then I think faithful employees deserve more than an unemployment check and faithful customers deserve more than inferior service.

Well, according to an industry news source, Supermarket News, fourth-quarter income rose 15% for Stop & Shop, to $238 million, in 2014. Full-year operating income was $869 million. Sales for the year were up 4.6%, to $17.9 billion. These were reported as “profit gains”.[1]

I can't tell you for sure how much the nice women working the checkout counter receive for doing that job, nor can I say with certainty what, say, an elderly gentleman bagging groceries gets per hour, but I'm willing to bet subtracting it from those figures wouldn't make a dent anyone other than a heartless bean counter would notice. That's just a guess on my part, of course, but one made with the sure knowledge that the company wasn't losing money all of those years when just humans did the checking out.

One thing I can promise Stop & Shop: If I come in there some Saturday and all the humans are missing from the checkout counters, I'll be missing from your store the following Saturday. Maybe my $5000 of business each year is just a drop in your bucket, but it's more than you'll have proven willing to pay some poor soul in your employ.

[1]    http://supermarketnews.com/latest-news/stop-shop-posts-q4-profit-gains


Soon, with more better stuff (which I do not append to my newspaper pieces, so that isn't why it was rejected, wise guy.)


Friday, April 17, 2015

My Weekend Of Introspection

I spent last weekend in a productive fashion. I took every on-line quiz my Facebook friends recommended. Here are some of the things I found out about myself.

I am Linus Van Pelt. I am also The Joker. These results are from “What Peanuts character are you?” and “What Batman villain are you?” I would have preferred Shermy and The Mad Hatter, but I have a sneaking suspicion you couldn't get those answers even if you tried.

In “How well-read are you?”, I scored a bit lower than I expected (especially considering I know who Shermy and The Mad Hatter are.) On the other hand, I was William Burroughs on “What beat writer are you?”, and I guess that's about equal to being Led Zeppelin on “What classic rock band are you?” I've always felt that Howl would sound really cool set to the tune of Smoke On The Water, so I was hoping for Allen Ginsburg and Deep Purple, but I guess you can't have everything in life.

Despite being the only child in my family, I was not spoiled. This answer comes from having owned only 14 of the 100 games and toys asked about on that quiz. Of course, about 50 of them hadn't even been invented when I was a kid, but I don't care. I like the result, so it stands.

My mental age is 34. My wife took the same quiz and her mental age came up as 36. Since we're both in our fifties, it's nice to know we're still hep enough to be only slightly ridiculous to a crowd of teenagers. Those were our ages at the time of our marriage, by the way, so it also means we haven't matured a bit in 23 years.

I would survive for three months in a zombie apocalypse. The unanswered question: Why would I want to?

According to “What were you in a past life?”, I was a farmer. I'm not sure if that's better or worse than being Max from Where the Wild Things Are, which is the children's book character they say I am, but I know it's better than being Dwight Schrute in “Which character are you from The Office?”

How good a friend am I? I'm not just good; I'm great! That's what the quiz said. Some friends I haven't spoken to in 20 years might beg to differ, but to hell with them.

Despite being happily married, I decided to find out “Who's your celebrity zodiac match-up?” Supposedly, it's Tom Cruise. For “Who should I go on vacation with”, I got Benedict Cumberbatch. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but there's a heck of a lot wrong with that. I decided to get more sexually specific and take a dating test that guaranteed a female answer. I got Jennifer Lawrence. Ding-Ding-Ding! We have a winner! Sorry, Tom. Sorry, Benedict.

Finally, I decided to see what Wizard of Oz character I am. From the rest of this you might think I have no brain and would make a lovely Scarecrow, but I am the Tin Man. Considering Tom Cruise and Benedict Cumberbatch, I'm happy I'm not Dorothy. I'm also glad I'm not Toto (and that goes for the classic rock band answer, too.) What have I learned? Next weekend I'm shutting off my computer.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Hello! Go Away!

Yup, I'm in the Boston Herald again.

(If you like me, that's a good thing. If you don't like me, what in hell are you doing here?)

So, you may as well go there and read what I have to say.

Or you could run out and buy a hard copy of the paper. If you do so, it will serve as your admission ticket to my Pulitzer-winning party, sometime in 2029. There will be free sauerkraut!

That's all I've got today. Go there and read more.


Soon, with more - and likely much lengthier - stuff.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Super-Duper Amazingly Fantastic Friday - All Sins Forgiven Or Your Money Back!

What follows is a repeat from many a Good Friday at this blog. I've always given serious thought when putting this out here again and this year is no exception. In the end, I still believe every word in it. Whether I put it out here or not, the sentiments expressed in the piece are still in my heart. So, if God is omnipotent and likes a joke as well - both of which I believe wholeheartedly - I have nothing to lose and everything to gain by re-publishing.

The only other thing nagging at me is whether or not it's self-serving to publish it again. After all, I just said "I have nothing to lose and everything to gain by re-publishing" and that sure sounds self-serving.

Nah. As I say, God knows what's in my heart. I might be misguided - I'd say it's 7 to 5 in favor of that proposition - but I have to believe He would find my intentions to be good. And, as everyone knows, the road to heaven is paved with good intentions!

I think it's something like that; I may be mistaken. Anyway, enough blathering! Enjoy. Or, if you don't enjoy it, be a better Christian than me and say a prayer for my forgiveness.


It may be Good Friday as you read this. If you're late getting here, it could be Easter. If you're really late, maybe it's Christmas. In any case, what in hell are you doing reading this crap, you heathen? You couldn't possibly believe anything I have to say is divinely inspired. Get your ass to church.

OK, now that the easily-guilted holy rollers are gone, let’s get down to business.

Jesus is hanging on the cross. He looks down and sees Mary Magdelene crying.

Jesus says, “Mary...”

Mary looks up, still crying, and says, “What is it, Lord?”

Jesus says, “Mary...”

Mary again says, “What is it, Lord?”

Jesus says, “Mary, it’s... amazing.”

Mary says, “What, Lord? What is it? What’s amazing?”

“I can see your house from up here!”

Whoa, Pilgrim! Don’t go away mad. You may think it’s just a crummy blasphemous joke, but I can justify almost anything. Nothing up my sleeve... PRESTO!

See, Jesus is closer to heaven and he can see Mary’s house IN HEAVEN. He’s telling her that her faith has saved her and that she will spend eternity in paradise. Hah!

And I guess that’s today’s lesson: It all depends upon your point of view. This is "Good" Friday, right? Why? Why do Christians call this "Good" Friday, when this is the anniversary of the day when their savior was murdered, the day He was nailed to a tree and died a miserable, painful death?

It's because without the cross – without that death - none of us can ever see our house in heaven, no matter how high up we are here on earth.

Hey! That was pretty good! Quick! Are the easily-guilted holy rollers still within shouting distance? Call them back. Maybe this is divinely inspired.

Let’s see if I can wriggle out of another one.

So, see the painting up above, of Jesus on the cross? There’s a plaque nailed to the cross, just above His head. The plaque reads "INRI." Want to know what it means?

I’m Nailed Right In.

Well, what it really means is lightning bolts should be coming any minute now, and I’ll be going to hell immediately, IF God doesn't have a sense of humor. However, I believe that God has an amazing sense of humor. My belief is that, when we die, we’re going to find out that this whole thing was one long and involved joke. And we’ll laugh and laugh and laugh when we hear the punch line.

Or, if you don’t find that terribly convincing, try this on for size. If God doesn’t have a sense of humor, what can we expect in the afterlife? An eternity without laughter? Hey, kill me now and leave me dead. None of that resurrection shit for me, thanks.

Or are some jokes theologically sound and others not? Maybe. We all have subjective senses of humor, I guess. Maybe God does, too. If so, the only way to know for sure is if we can hear God laugh. Then we’d know what He finds funny. Let's try it. Everybody be very quiet for a minute. Here goes.

Two nuns cycling down a cobbled street. The first one says "I've never come this way before."

The second one replies "Must be the cobbles."

So, I don’t hear God laughing. I’m assuming you don’t hear anything, either, right? Well, that's OK, it wasn't a great joke. Maybe we'll try again later.

What it comes down to is having faith. One way or another, you've got to have faith. If you don't, you're screwed. My faith lives in the belief that everything is for the best and that everything will be revealed in the end. Now, if what's revealed in the end is that God has absolutely no sense of humor at all, and He's royally pissed off at me for this, then that's the way it goes; I'm doomed. But, if God has no sense of humor, I've been doomed for a long, long time now. You, too - so at least we'll all fry together.

(The following will seem totally unconnected, but wait for it.)

I remember watching The Mike Douglas Show one day when I was a kid, and he had this comedy troupe on. For the life of me, I can't remember their name. However, the bit they did has stuck with me forever. It was a parody of Moby Dick.

Ahab and Ishmael are standing on the deck of the Pequod. Ahab is looking through a telescope. Suddenly, he sees something and gets all excited.

Ishmael: "What is it? What do you see?"


Ishmael: "Give me a look."

Ahab hands him the telescope. Ishmael puts it up to his eye and looks out at the sea. After a little while, he takes the telescope down from his eye and hands it back to Ahab. He says:

"Eh. It's a good white whale..."

I know why it's called Good Friday. It's because people were saying, "What a horrible day! They've croaked Jesus!" And so it had to be explained, over and over, that this was actually not a bad thing when you consider how it plays out in the end. So, "Good" Friday.

But why not really get the point across? Why not go all the way and call it Great Friday? Or even Super-Duper Amazingly Fantastic Friday - All Sins Forgiven Or Your Money Back? A little salesmanship wouldn't hurt.

Well, that's about it for me. I'm doomed, right? Eternal damnation; fire and brimstone; some guy with horns, in a red union suit, poking me with a pitchfork.

Nah. See, Jesus died for our sins and that even includes crummy jokes, Thank God. And, if you're an atheist or otherwise not a believer in Christianity, I got you to actually consider this stuff for five minutes. I got you to read the name - Jesus - 12 or 13 times. I figure that's got to count for something.

Have a joyous Easter and I'll see you next week - unless I've been struck by lightning (in which case, I still might see you but only if you die, too. Best of luck!)

(By the way, I would consider it proof positive that God has a sense of humor if we both get struck by lightning, although personally I'd find it much funnier if He did it to the producers of Real Housewives of Orange County.)

ADDENDUM: Hilary believes it was The Ace Trucking Company who did the Moby Dick routine, and I do believe she's correct.

Soon, with more better stuff.