I hope she was able to walk into the light.

I never saw any of the Poltergeist films, so I didn’t know Zelda Rubinstein from that series of films — rather, I knew her from a David E. Kelley show that aired in the mid-1990s, Picket Fences. She played sharp-witted Ginny Weedon, a dispatcher with the Rome, Wisconsin Sheriff’s Office.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many good clips of her from the show. Alas. Rest in peace, Zelda.

(And put the rest of that show out on DVD, Fox!)

AND J.D. Salinger?!

Interestingly, last night I picked up Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 and began reading it. The early bulk of the novel (I’m only about 80 pages in) deals with four academics obsession over a reclusive German author named Benno von Archimboldi. And I thought, “Huh, this reminds me of JD Salinger.”

Boy, that’s fucking ironic, huh?

J.D. Salinger, the enigmatic, reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye, has died. He was 91.

Salinger died Wednesday of natural causes at his Cornish, N.H., home, his son said, according to The Associated Press.

Published in 1951, Catcher became one of the most influential novels in modern American literature for its disaffected tale of teenage angst, seen through the eyes of protagonist Holden Caulfield, the anti-hero who despised “phonies” in an adult world and subsequently became an icon of teen rebellion.

Born Jan. 1, 1919 in Manhattan, the son of a Jewish cheese salesman and an Irish-Scottish mother, Salinger grew up in the city before attending Valley Forge Military Academy at age 15, where he wrote stories at night under the covers. In 1940, he published his first story, “The Young Folks,” about selfish young adults, in Whit Burnett’s Story magazine after impressing Burnett in his Columbia University writing class. After publishing several more stories, he served in the Army from 1942-1946, during which he continued to write and submit stories.

One of the stories, “Slight Rebellion Off Madison,” published by The New Yorker in 1946, introduced the restless and skeptic Holden Caulfield, and became the basis for Catcher. The novel quickly became a bestseller, spending 30 weeks on The New York Times’ bestseller list.

I read Catcher in the Rye once, probably about seven or eight years ago. I was living up in Towson, but I was visiting friends in the DC area for a few days. So they were off at work and I was left to myself in their apartment, and I was raiding their bookshelves. The same day I read Catcher in the Rye, I believe I also devoured The Hobbit.

In any case, now that Salinger’s dead, I guess we’ll get a whole bunch of new titles from him soon. From Ron Charles’ Twitter feed, comes the interesting tale of a publisher who nearly got a deal for Salinger’s Hapworth, and how it all went sour.

Howard Zinn, RIP

I haven’t read the complete A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, but I’ve read large chunks of it. It’s a fascinating look at American history from a point of view often glossed over: folks not in power. Back when I used to work at this Mom & Pop pizza place, the new owners (after Gary sold it) kept a copy under the counter to read when business was slow. It was old and well worn. I’ve been meaning to pick up a copy for myself, but I’ve somehow never gotten around to it.

In any case, I was sad to read this morning that Mr. Zinn passed away yesterday of a heart attack.

Noted author and social activist Howard Zinn died of a heart attack Wednesday while traveling, his daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn, said.

Zinn, author of “A People’s History of the United States,” was 89. Kabat-Zinn said her father, who lived in Auburndale, Massachusetts,” died while traveling in Santa Monica, California.

“A People’s History of the United States,” first published in 1980, tells a history not often in seen in other books — from the perspective of those not in a seat of power.

Zinn was a shipyard worker and Air Force bombardier before he went to college under the GI Bill and received a Ph.D. from Columbia University, according to his Web site. He taught at numerous universities, including Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, and Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts.

Kabat-Zinn said of her father that he lived a “very full and exciting life” and that there were many social issues that were very important to him. Above all, she said, her father believed that there is no “just war.”

Zinn’s death on the day of President Obama’s first State of the Union address was underscored by his contribution to a recently released special from The Nation magazine called “Obama at One.”

Here’s the link to his The Nation article.

And for the record, I disagree with the notion of “no just war.” This is why.

Borders: 10-15% of Staff To Be Laid Off

Boy, the bad news just keeps coming.

In an internal memo to employees after the holiday sales earnings were announced, Marshall said “we have some difficult changes to make in the days and weeks ahead within our organization. There is no way around it–without increasing sales, we are forced to continue to adjust our cost structure to allow our company to operate as we go about transforming the organization.”

Bearing this gloomy sentiment out, sources tell DailyFinance that Borders will lay off between 10-15% of its workforce on Thursday, though the specifics have yet to be confirmed. When reached for comment, Borders spokesperson Mary Davis said “We cannot rule out job eliminations, but I cannot confirm what you have below, and have nothing to share specifically today.”

It’s my understanding, that as a part-time employee, the company does not “owe” me any hours. I do not get vacation time, or health insurance from Borders: my benefits are limited to my 33% discount on just about everything in the store (20% on DVDs).

But my full-time coworkers are vulnerable to lay-offs. Last year, Borders eliminated several store-level management positions (Training Supervisor, and Media Manager & Supervisors) which wound up providing additional payroll for booksellers. I blogged about this here. That provoked a complete mix of emotions in me: on one hand, some really good people lost their jobs in the middle of a horrible economic downturn. On the other hand, because of their departures, money started flowing to booksellers, and I started getting more hours after having spent nearly two full months only working one day a week (which wasn’t helping my income much at all).

I suspect that’s what is going to happen when I go in to work tomorrow. I’ll find out that R.J., or Stephen, or Rob K., or Jim, or Serena, or any of an almost unending list of good, smart, hardworking people will be gone.

Of course it’s just as possible the layoffs will pass over my store altogether: that number may be met just by the closing of all of the Borders Express and Waldenbooks stores nationwide. It’s also possible that if the layoffs hit the Superstores, they’ll hit low-performing stores heavily. Or the layoffs could hit Corporate HQ in Ann Arbor the hardest: and if this post is correct in Mike Edwards, currently Borders’ interim CEO (formerly Chief Merchandising Officer), that may well be the case.

And there are rumors that this coming Monday may bring an announcement of Chapter 11 bankruptcy … or liquidation.

To be honest, I would heartily welcome a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Again, this is a selfish response. Chapter 11 allows for corporations to reorganize, which for Borders would involve shuttering large numbers of superstores. In the DC area I can think of three stores off the top of my head that would probably be closed. Fortunately, none of those stores are mine. Closing underperforming stores would free up money to staff the remaining stores, which would mean my hours, while they might not increase, would at least stay the same (currently, I work Monday and Thursday evenings, and all day Sundays).

I won’t lie: I’m scared. I need my Borders income. It isn’t a huge chunk of what I bring in, but it’s enough that the loss of it would hurt my wallet. As much as I’d be hurting if that paycheck stops coming in every two weeks, I’d be okay.

I mean, sure, I’d be eating Saltines and drinking water until I found another part-time gig (or took up bank robbery), but I wouldn’t be in nearly as much trouble as those coworkers of mine for whom Borders is their only income.

It’s too bad. Tonight, I hosted a bunch of my coworkers from my Office job at my apartment for a screening of Inglourious Basterds. It went pretty well, and tomorrow I’m finishing two projects that’ve been driving me nuts for most of the last week and a half. And in the afternoon, my team is heading out for our quarterly lunch. But the whole day, what’s going to be going through my mind isn’t, “Hey, Friday I get two paychecks plus my bonus!”, but rather: “Tonight, I might find that some coworkers have been thrown to the wind.”

I don’t think I’m going to sleep well tonight.

UPDATE: 125 jobs lost, so far, all from Corporate HQ and Distribution Centers.

Ron Marshall Resigns As CEO of Borders Group

Bloomberg:

Jan. 26 (Bloomberg) — Borders Group Inc., the unprofitable U.S. bookstore chain, said Ron Marshall resigned as chief executive officer and director after about a year on the job.

Marshall will be named CEO of Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., a grocer, the Wall Street Journal reported without saying where it got the information. Michael J. Edwards, who was made chief merchandising officer in September, will act as interim CEO, Borders said in a statement today. The board hired Korn/Ferry International to help find a permanent CEO.

Borders, which last reported an annual profit in 2006, has seen revenue drop for the past three years as consumers spent less on books and non-essential items amid declining home values and rising unemployment. Marshall, seeking to stem those declines, said last month that the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based retailer will start selling digital books this year.

Marshall was named CEO of Borders Jan. 5, 2009. About a week later, the retailer named Richard McGuire, a partner at Pershing Square Capital Management LP, as its chairman. Pershing Square, a hedge fund run by investor William Ackman, is Borders’ largest investor.

I didn’t like the guy, but it’s hard for me to say that Borders Group is where it is because he was CEO — honestly, seems like the decision to give all the eCommerce business to Amazon rather then developing its own eCommerce site may have done more to harm the company (and that was all done years before Mr. Marshall started).

It’s quite possible, that in a few years, people will look back and point to his leadership as the reason Borders survived a possible Chapter 11 restructuring and became viable once more. It’s also possible that he’ll be scapegoated if the company dies, especially since rumors within the company are that Monday, the start of the fiscal year, will bring with it an announcement of bankruptcy … or liquidation.

For me, I’ll always remember him as being indirectly, at least, responsible for the departure of one of the best managers I’ve ever worked for, regardless of industry.

For better or worse, he’s gone, and since he’s been the symbol and focal point of everything that’s been wrong with Borders for the last year, I guess this is good riddance.

Good Bye, Boss

This month, I read a lot of non-fiction about the US Marine Corps — Making the Corps, and Generation Kill, to be specific. And there’s a common theme to both books: Marines who serve out their enlistment, and then either rejoin the Corps after leaving, or who reenlist when their service is over. And for the most part, they’re not doing this out of a sense of patriotism, or a mission: they reenlist because they don’t want to let their buddies down.

I realize it takes a lot of hubris to compare working in a retail environment to warfare, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that selling books is anywhere near as difficult or dangerous as military service (I don’t), but I do think there’s a bond that forms between coworkers: when I contemplated jumping ship to Barnes & Noble, one of the factors that compelled me to remain at the Bookstore was the awesome people I work with.

Sure, I’m not best buds with everybody: there a couple of people there I don’t care to work with, but we get along well enough to work together. And as far as management goes, I’ve been very lucky. Having been working in retail and food establishments since 1994, I’ve very rarely been lucky enough to work with an entire team of smart, caring, management staff.

And the head of that group of managers just got fired.

Last week, our General Manager — I’ll call her “Winter” — was told she was being transferred to an under performing store in Virginia effective Monday the 25th. There’s something you should understand about the store I work at: within the Zone, it’s sort of the flagship store. GMs selected to run the store are usually being groomed for advancement to a district or corporate management level. Winter’s transfer is akin to Captain Picard being removed from command of the Enterprise to take over a garbage scow.

It’s also important to note that Winter built up a reputation within the company as a “fixer” — send her into a non-profitable store, give her the resources she needed, and she’d trim the dead weight, get the sections organized, and make the place profitable. But in this case, she was being asked to take a horribly broken store and to arrive Monday morning with no resources (i.e., payroll) and be prepared to take responsibility for the store’s number for the previous year. On her first day.

How would you feel, for example, if you got promoted to an open Account Management position at your job, and the first hour you’re on the job, the CEO yells at you for the major fuckup the previous Account Manager made the previous week?

Yeah, that’s some bullshit.

And our GM refused. “What happens if I don’t show up?” she inquired of the District Manager.

“You’ll be fired,” she was told.

And so she’s gone. She’s been looking for a reason to open her own company for a while, and she told me Thursday night she already felt a huge weight had been removed from her shoulders. It’s hard being a GM when the company you work for seems to be imploding. And deciding to leave was something she wrestled with all week, but decide she did, and she cleaned out her office Friday before leaving for the last time.

I came into work yesterday morning and opened the fridge in the employee break room to store my lunch. And there, on the rack, was a mostly devoured cake. Winter’s Goodbye Cake. I just sort of stared mournfully at it for a few minutes.

Over the last year, she had to take a six-week absence to attend to a personal matter. Never has it been more clear that she was the glue that held this place together. She made sure the schedule was sane, she pushed managers on long-term projects that probably would’ve fallen to the way-side, she was a hammer cloaked in velvet when she needed to be to accomplish the store’s goals, but she never placed the demands of the retail business over the safety or well being of her employees.

What happened to her is truly awful. But she wasn’t too upset, “Hey, the last event I get to work is Kathy Griffin. That’s a good note to go out on.”

As for the Bookstore — well, we’ll soldier on. As for Corporate? Hey, guys: the company is in trouble. We know it, and you seem somewhat (completely and totally) oblivious to it. Forcing excellent General Managers out of the company isn’t going to help our mutual problem, it’s only going to hurt. What happened to Winter makes me wonder if I’m rooting for the wrong horse.

Me and Kathy

me&kathy

Long night.

(I spent most of it holding that sign, so that people would know where the line ended, which did not, in fact, prevent one lost soul from asking me, “So, is this the start of the line?” Le sigh.)

Electronics Question

If I am trying to get the same feed from the same output source (a Blu-Ray player) to two separate televisions, enabling them both to be on and displaying the same content at the same time, both utilizing HDMI cables, is there any particular splitter/goo-gidget-doo that you would recommend over another?

Because Newegg is making my head hurt.

Poe Toaster is ‘Nevermore’

Yeah, I’m just stealing The Baltimore Sun‘s headline for this:

A longtime tribute to Edgar Allan Poe may have come to an end with the absence of the “Poe Toaster,” who for more than half a century has marked the poet’s birthday by laying roses and a bottle of cognac at his original grave site.

This is the first time since Jan. 19, 1949 that the person, whose identity is unknown, failed to arrive, said Jeff Jerome, curator of the Edgar Allan Poe House.

“I was very annoyed,” he said.

“I’ve been doing this since 1977, and there was no indication he wasn’t going to show up,” Jerome said.

Boy, good thing Jeff Jerome doesn’t have a sense of entitlement or anything.

pt1

So: who wants to go halfsies with me on the Enterprise?

NASA_Enterprise_Star_Trek

I mean, y’know, not the Starship Enterprise … but the space shuttle Enterprise.

Which is apparently for sale.

The shuttles are for sale once they quit flying, supposedly this fall.

When NASA put out the call to museums, schools and others in December 2008, seeking buyers, about 20 expressed interest. NASA spokesman Mike Curie expects more interest, what with the discount.

Discovery is already promised to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. Atlantis and Endeavour are up for grabs. It’s possible that Enterprise, a shuttle prototype that never made it to space, also will be available. Enterprise currently is at the Smithsonian.

Of course, being the Enterprise and all, the first thing I’d have to do is bolt this to the deck.

Catoe’s Leaving: This Glass Is Half Empty

So the big news today in DC is that the General Manager of the Metro System, John Catoe, has announced his resignation — his last day is April 2nd.

Catoe has long been the face of a troubled transit agency, and has taken considerable amount of flak from bloggers and Twitterers. But as someone who rides the Metro daily, and who tries to stay abreast of news regarding WMATA, I have to admit I don’t know that I’m reassured by his resignation.

By which I mean I don’t think Metro’s failings are Catoe’s and Catoe’s alone, as opposed to some people who no doubt are certain that on April 3rd, Metro will order five thousand new subway cars and dump all of their rolling stock that’s over five years old. I don’t think money grows freely in subway tunnels, and while I’d love to see the escalators at Woodley Park and Bethesda completely fixed and up-again*, I don’t know that a thirty-year system can be maintenance or inconvenience free.

There are things I believe: it’s easier to break something than to fix it. Assuming Metro was broken before Catoe, was three years enough time to fix the system? Let’s be honest: was it? Assuming Catoe broke the system, how long will it take his replacement to fix it?

I guess what I’m saying is, I’d love to be an optimist who believed that simply by appointing a new GM, all of Metro’s ills would be solved over night. But I don’t believe that all of those ills began with Catoe’s appointment to the position in the first place.

It’s like the people who bitch and moan because some stations really don’t have, say, the number of exits or entrances they need: well, explain to me what exactly you want the GM of WMATA in 2010 to do to resolve an architectural design choice made in the late 1960s, okay? No Metro stop in Georgetown? How is that WMATA’s fault?

I wonder how long it’ll be until Catoe’s replacement goes from the person who was going to fix everything, to “just another Catoe”.

*For the first time since I started using it (irregularly) in July of ’09, both escalators are fully functional at Medical Center as of yesterday (possibly earlier).

Game Change

Dude was dressed in a snazzy three-piece suit that looked like it probably would’ve covered my rent for the better part of a year. Dude was alternately begging and being aggressive.

“But I’m here now, I’ll buy it, right now!” mixed with “You don’t know how much I need to have a copy of that book!” to “This is retarded!”

Yeah, well, we’ve also been sold out of it for six hours, so why don’t you go cry to the publisher?

He wanted a copy of Game Change, another insider’s tale of the 2008 election, this one written by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, that’s already made impact on the political world: witness Mr. Harry Reid’s current controversy, where he is quoted as having said Obama’s appeal was partially because he was “light-skinned . . . with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

We only got twenty-four copies of the book to begin with*. That was probably a bad sign, especially since an internal memo was posted to Bookmark, the Bookstore’s corporate intranet site, alerting staff of (among other things, erroneous lay-down information from the publisher) the media attention the book was receiving. We were sold out by noon.

Okay, so technically, we weren’t sold out of it: we had a couple of copies on hold for customers behind the registers. But even though the vast majority of people don’t pick up their holds, violating that reserve feels sacrilegious: especially since, as things go, I’d probably be working the cashwrap when the person’s whose hold we raped came up looking for their title, and I’d take the brunt of their anger.

No, thanks.

*Don’t yell at us: yell at HarperCollins.

Be Star Trekkier in 2012

enterprise_wall04_1280

I’m always curious, when you re-launch an established movie series, if you then proceed to number them in line with the previous films, or start anew. This problem has so far been avoided by the new Batman films, and I am curious about the J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films — the second one of which has been announced for a June 29th, 2012 release date. Star Trek XII? Or Star Trekkier?

Maybe Jim Graham Was Right? Re: Metro Fare Hike

Lately, a lot of DC Blogs have been discussing the possible fare hikes v service reductions that’s been all in the news about the DC Metro system. To meet Metro’s budget gap, the Metro leadership has opted for $36 million in cost reductions, in addition to a four million in service reductions. Jim Graham, who represents DC’s Ward One, and who is on Metro’s Board, blocked the Board from considering an option for a twenty-cent fare hike.

I first read about this on Greater Greater Washington:

Graham, however, wasn’t willing to even hold a hearing giving riders the option of choosing a fare increase more than 10 cents. With the support of City Administrator Neil Albert, he successfully used the DC veto to limit the hearing notice to a 10-cent increase, saying he feared “agitation among the rising public”.

As urged to by the writers of Greater Greater Washington (which, honestly, is probably the best transit blog about DC and the Metro area), and other local blogs (notably Left of LeDroit), I wrote Mr. Graham an e-mail:

Dear Mr. Graham,

I am a resident of DC who commutes via the Metro to both a full time job in Bethesda, and a part-time job near Farragut Square. I do not oppose a twenty-cent fare hike, but I am very worried about the service cuts that might result if Metro is unable to meet its financial needs.

I believe WMATA’s Board should be allowed to continue discussing this option with rider input. When I’m leaving my part time job at 9:30pm, having gotten into my full time job at 6:30am and gone straight from one to the other, I will be far more forgiving of a .20 cent fare hike than I will be of having to wait an extra thirty minutes for my bus.

Thank you,

And he wrote back to me a few hours later:

But it ought not to be a choice…between higher fares and poor service. By no means. The gap regarding possible service reductions is but $4.5 million. There are a total of five options for dealing with this. One of which is the idea of a fare surcharge of up to ten cents for a four month period that would achieve more than double of what is needed. What’s the problem with that?

By the way, 25% of the people I represent in Ward 1 live below the Federal poverty level. This concerns me also.

And something clicked in my brain — wait, ten-cents per fare is double the money that is needed to close the financial gap?

I ran back through my archives to post I wrote on September 8th of last year, titled Metro’s Fare Increase. However, back then, the estimated budget shortfall was one hundred million dollars, not four and a quarter million. Basically, what I came up with, given the average number of weekly riders, is that a thirty-cent fare increase one way (so, really, a sixty-cent fare increase assuming most people at least make a return trip on the Metro) would more than cover the gap. Admittedly, this does not account for riders who might skip the Metro in face of this increase.

So, if an extra sixty cents per rider per day covers $100,000,000 over the year, a ten cent fare increase (which would be twenty cents a day) would, over a four month period, unless my math is completely totally fucked all to hell*, would actually bring in a little under six million bucks — okay, not quite double which is what Mr. Graham said, but still more than enough to cover the necessary costs to keep service where it is now.

Of course, it’s possibly my math is bad, or there’s something I’ve neglected — or maybe Metro really does need more cash and a higher fare is necessary for reasons other than the service cuts. That said, I gotta say, judging from what I’ve read, and what I’ve been able to arithmetic, a ten cent fare hike should be more than enough.

*My math is this: four months equals roughly sixteen weeks, times five business days per week, times 700,000 trips per day (which is a bit less than average business day rider level, I believe), times ten-cents per trip.

UPDATE:

New e-mail from Mr. Graham:

I confirmed this AM–Metro CFO conservatively estimates a ten cent hike (on all modes) will raise $8 million over a 4 month period. Where the Post got $4 mill is anybody’s guess…Bests Jim

So, if .10 cents is more than enough to cover the budget gap, what’s with all the moaning about Graham killing a twenty cent fare hike?