Born in 1955 Yet Forever Young, Green, and Crispy


I was milling about with my old pal nostalgia and found this Thanksgiving post from 2011. Thought I’d turkey trot her around the blog one more time. Have a wonderful holiday!

Originally posted on Can I Take A Nap First?:

Today give thanks to Dorcas Reilly, the intrepid team leader who toiled in obscurity in the Campbell Soup Company test kitchen.  Although she very modestly denies it, she is given the credit for developing the iconic recipe for Green Bean Casserole, known in our home by its acronym, GBC.  (We like all our iconic side dishes to sound like something recently discovered by the CDC.  It lends a frisson of excitement to dinner at our house that our guests have come to expect.) I’ve discovered that the rabid lovers of GBC are not to be trifled with.  They need their annual fix of the creamy/crispy soup & fried onion combo, and they will throw their own mothers to the wolves to get it!  I should have learned my lesson last year when we had a GBC accident.   You see, we always make 2 casseroles and accidentally left one in…

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Get Into The Holiday Groove

Greetings, Napsters!  Here in the U.S. we are ramping up for that quintessential American holiday, Thanksgiving.  In true Can I Take A Nap spirit I invite everyone to join me in my warm up to next Thursday’s holiday with some bad haiku.

Somebody check fast!
Guests arriving in a minute ~
Extra T.P. roll?

Did we forget it?
Check the oven and the ‘fridge
Hidden G.B.C.

House is dark and still.
Foil wrappings crackle too loud!
Midnight sandwich time.

House full of kids’ friends
Loud, laughing. Now they can drink.
Pretend I can’t sleep.

Future Thanksgivings
Everybody gets a leg!
GMO turkey.




Short Fiction

Ruby Caught Red-Handed

The stacks feel so close. They stretch so high that they appear to meet.  It feels more like a cathedral than a library.  The colors of the books are so bright, and the sunlight pours down on Ruby though there are no windows in the stacks.

Ruby is looking for a book to hide the money and she feels irritated, rushed to complete this task though she doesn’t know why.  She pulls a blue book off the shelf, is it Moby Dick?  Even in her dream she thinks this is a poor choice.  The book is old and some of the pages have been mended with yellowing tape that’s making them stick together.  It smells funny, too.  Not musty like old paper, but antiseptic, like a hospital.  There are pictures in the book, drawings, really.  An old, tired classic long forgotten on the shelf.

She presses the bill into the center of a page, closing it with finality and pushing it back onto the shelf — squeezing it a bit because the shelf is so crowded and the books are so tight together.

A warm breeze brings a sweet, yeasty  smell, like bread rising and Ruby turns to see Artie, her late husband standing next to her.  He’s twenty-five years old, his face sunburned like the first time they met.  He’s holding his old, sun-bleached Red Sox cap in his hand.  Ruby’s frozen to the spot, hand to her throat, afraid that her slightest movement will make him shimmer away.

“Ruby, my jewel.”  He slides the cap through his fingers.  A small motion, unguarded and odd for a ghost.  “Always with your head in a book.  Too smart to end up with the likes of me, and yet….”

Ruby knows she’s dreaming.  Artie died five years ago and despite all her lonely nights of wishing this is his first appearance in her dreams.

“Artie, why now?”

“Just wanted to keep you on your toes, but you don’t need me anymore, Ruby.”  He smiles.  Light pulsates around him.  Ruby struggles to keep from squinting.

“Have you been playing ball, Artie?”  This is all she could think to ask.  She’s so much older, does he see?

“No ball playing, but we watch.  We watch over, and I watch over you, too.  You’ve always been good, Ruby.  They’ll never see, and they’ll never know, but that’s the point, isn’t it?  Life can be hard sometimes — even in the little ways”

Ruby wakes to the grey pre-dawn, hears the sound of rain against the window, feels Pinsky’s light cat-weight warming the bed’s edge.  She pulls the covers close around her and says quietly, “Artie, love of my life, you have no idea.”

Looking to catch up with Ruby, Viv and their friends of Benjamin?  Links below. 

Chapter 1 Introducing Ruby, Viv and St. Benjamin

Chapter 2 Boychik Luis and Bubbe Bev

Chapter 3 Bright Lights and Big Bev City

Chapter 4 Ruby and Viv Find Their Big Girl Panties

Chapter 5 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 1

Chapter 6 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 2

Chapter 7 Rich or Poor, It’s Nice To Have Money


Wither Black Friday?

The outdoor recreational retailer REI has gone public with the decision to close their stores on Black Friday this year to encourage both associates and customers to go play outside on that day.  #OptOutside

I think this is a brilliant idea for a couple of reasons:

  1. Recognizes that shopping doesn’t need to occur in a physical store anymore. Even “lowest prices” are available on-line now.
  2. Highlights REI as a business in touch with their customer base and associates.
  3. Generates employee goodwill.
  4. Touches on the rise of “experiences” trumping material gifts.  What better way to burn off those turkey legs and extra stuffing than to take a hike with family and friends?  Have some memorable conversations with folks you don’t get to see often.  Or escape from folks you see too much.
  5. They don’t suggest a boycott of shopping or anything negative about Black Friday, but they open up an alternative.

We’re just at the threshold of Halloween, but I like the thought of both Halloween and Thanksgiving as holidays unto themselves and not as the bellwether and gateway to a season of mass consumption.   So I tip my woolly beanie to REI and will plan to spend some time in Nature on November 27, 2015.  I’ll be packing some leftover pie and cranberry sauce with me if you care to come along.


Big Wheel Keeps On Turning

An old merchant once told me that the business of retail moves like a wheel — everybody moves from the top to the bottom and sometimes back up to the top again.  There was a time when big department stores like JCPenney, Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck were at the top of the wheel.  Funny, they were also “multi channel” retailers long before that term was coined because they had both stores filled with merchandise and catalog “big books” for their customers who lived too far away to shop in a city store.

Next on the wheel were the regional department stores.  Stores that might have had eight to twelve branches within a state and catered their offering to a specific customer.  These stores forged an emotional attachment with the community by sponsoring fashion shows and other local events.  Your friends and neighbors worked in these stores.   It was a big deal to take the kids to have their picture taken with Santa there.   I always think of the movie A Christmas Story and the Santa’s Workshop scene in Higbee’s department store as the “warm and fuzzy with a dark side” example of these stores.  Most of them were gobbled up during the latter part of the last century in a frenzy of acquisition and are now just fuzzy memories.

Then we Americans continued to expand in our usual “bigger must be better” mode and  built destination malls to aggregate a whole bunch of stores under one roof with “anchors,” usually department stores, at the ends.  Instead of having to park on a street downtown we could just park our cars in gargantuan lots and spend hours wandering around in temperature controlled climates all year ’round.   There were pizza places and record stores to hang out in while your mom shopped.  And it became a bona fide teen hang-out with the advent of video game arcades.  These malls were a terrific setting of popular culture — think of Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Kevin Smith’s tour de force, Mallrats.  I worked a couple of mall store jobs in my youth.  One job was at a place that made smoothies and since I wasn’t old enough to drive my Dad used to fall sleep on a wooden bench out in the mall on the nights I had to close.  It was a terrible work environment, but I didn’t know any better and they let me go right after the holidays.  I had to return the Santa hat I was required to wear but they let me keep the pre-Hooters style tee shirts that were my “uniform.”

Since folks love to shop when they go on vacation some forward-thinking developers created malls for manufacturers to sell directly to the consumer without alienating their retail clients and the outlet mall was born.  Today’s upscale outlet malls entertain an international clientele because they offer a large range of product in big-name brands in one very large, easily accessible location.

And then there is Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer with $485 billion in revenue and 1.4 million employees.  The big WM hung around at the top of the retail wheel for a very long time, but now they are starting to slip as Amazon increases in strength.  I’m measuring this by market capitalization — back in July Amazon’s market capitalization (~$263B) surpassed Walmart’s (~$234B).

Now you don’t even need to go shopping in a store anymore which makes it perilous to maintain a physical store anywhere.  Back in September Macy’s announced that it plans to close 35-40 stores in early 2016.  Strangely enough this announcement came shortly after the chain launched its test concept of “Macy’s Backstage.”  The assortment of merchandise “Backstage” will include clearance goods from Macy’s stores and special items from other brands between 20 to 80 percent off the original price.  Hmmm,  does anybody else remember “clearance stores” in those big old malls of the 1970’s?  They weren’t pretty; cavernous spaces with aisles of tables and racks where strange colors of clothing assaulted the eye.  But it gave its elegant sister store space to bring in the “next best thing,” and it humbled merchants a bit to see their assortment errors all in one place.   Kohl’s is also experimenting with this concept as a way to liquidate its returns from web shoppers. As another wise merchant once said, “everything has a price.”  But if somebody returned it at least once…. well, why would I want it at even x% off?

And speaking of “returns” — what about the concept of Rent The Runway?  Have a black-tie event once every five years?  Why buy a dress when you can rent one for three days?   Keeps you out of the stores and junk out of your closet.  Now before you think of that as a concept far from traditional retailing, just think about the liberal return policies of some retailers.  I’ve known more than one person who is the poster child for returning a dress on Monday that was purchased the previous Thursday.  I think it’s genius to bring that concept out in the open as a business.

Career-wise I “grew up” in retailing — what I liked most about it was the unpredictability of it.  Yes, we kept sales history by day, a weather diary when I worked in seasonal departments, and we wrote recaps of the month that we saved to review when we planned the following year, but the trends could still surprise us.  The year Nirvana exploded and flannel shirts blew out.  Nobody saw that coming when teenage kids bought every flannel shirt in patterns only a grandfather would choose.

Another merchant from my past counseled the team when we hit a rough patch of business that we didn’t get dumb overnight.  The things we did when the business was on the upswing were different from the things we will do as the business cycles down, but our collective business intelligence had not disappeared. The wheel of retail is spinning faster with both the need to be nimble with our business intelligence and ability to get bigger faster.  The massive collection of data drives a large portion of this growth — if you shop on Amazon just look at all the products it “recommends” for you.  Retailers have to make you want what they are selling or they need to make coming to their physical location more compelling than swiping a screen or clicking on a picture.  Maybe good retailers really do re-invent the wheel when they tap into both a need and a want, but this relationship now feels less emotional on both sides, more transactional.  Is the variable of human interaction less desirable for both parties?  Is “customer service” still an important attribute, and how is that defined now?  What I find intriguing about any successful retailer is how it anticipates the customer, but not in a creepy way.   Luckily Amazon still makes me laugh with its recommendations based on my buying history so I still feel smarter than its algorithms (for now), but it makes me wonder about the retailer who will surpass Amazon eventually.

Short Fiction

Rich Or Poor, It’s Nice To Have Money

Tina sat in the dark at the sticky little kitchen table.  Again she couldn’t sleep and needed some air.  The rain had stopped so she had cracked open the window over the sink.   She could hear and smell the lazy night wind mixing the leaves.   Luke left at ten after a nap — said he’d grab something at the hospital.  He didn’t think of food as something more than fuel these days.  She missed how they used to linger over dinner, but smiled at the thought of him falling asleep as Henry “read” his new books to him tonight.

She didn’t tell Luke about the money.  The bill was still folded in the greasy back pocket of her jeans because she’d be pulling them again tomorrow.  She thought Henry might have blurted out his discovery, but it turned out that he wasn’t all that impressed by the “green paper.”

Maybe she would keep it to herself for a little while longer. It wasn’t really keeping a secret so much as just not disclosing a finding.  If Luke found out she wouldn’t lie.  Maybe what she wanted most of all was a little break; a way to feel a bit more like her old self, the woman she recognized as competent, funny, joyful, sexy…. okay, maybe not sexy yet, but powerful, in a small way.

Tina walked through the house to check on Henry.  He was sprawled out on his bed, books and little X-men scattered on the floor, in that deep sleep of growing children.  She swore she could hear cells multiplying, piling up boy blood, bone and brain so in the morning he’d be a new boy to her again.  She moved into their room to peek at his little brother in the bassinet.  Tucker slept like a little old man, one arm flung imperiously overhead, belly rising and falling like a tiny bellows.  The air around him surprisingly warm.  “Like a small tyrant,” she thought.

Tina rubbed her eyes.  Like an over-tired baby, she was fighting the tug of sleep.  The rumpled bedding and familiar indents in their mattress were cool again and she relaxed with a exhalation as she sat back down on the bed.  She recognized the feeling now.  It was the luxury of falling into sleep.  A small reclaiming of herself.  Yes, she would keep that money stashed away.  A small reclaiming for herself for the future.  For now, a few  hours of sleep would be redemption enough.  Her last coherent thought was …”don’t forget to take the money out of your pocket before washing those jeans.” 


Need a refresher?  See the links below to get back into the groove:

Chapter 1 Introducing Ruby, Viv and St. Benjamin

Chapter 2 Boychik Luis and Bubbe Bev

Chapter 3 Bright Lights and Big Bev City

Chapter 4 Ruby and Viv Find Their Big Girl Panties

Chapter 5 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 1

Chapter 6 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 2

Short Fiction

Mother’s Little Helper — Part 2

“Mama! You got a book today, too,” Henry exclaimed in that high-minded way toddlers have of announcing news. Tina made Henry carry his own books. She wanted to foster his independence and she was carrying her own book, plus a small backpack and twelve pounds of squirmy infant strapped to her chest, gearing up to demand his own lunch.

They lived a short walk from the library. One of the best things about the little house they rented was its location in an established neighborhood with a mix of trees and residents.   There were retirees and families, working people who spent their weekends working in their yards.  The little yards held evidence of family activity:  trampled grass with play sets, bikes and picnic tables.   A couple of the middle-school aged girls liked to coo over Henry and Tucker – if Luke ever got a night off maybe one would want to baby sit?

They tumbled into the kitchen. Henry was already pulling at his pants to get to the bathroom and Tina was extracting Tucker from the Baby Bjorn. He was red and sweaty like an overripe tomato, his small fists churning. Tina knew it was now a matter of minutes until let-down — she could feel that tingle. Now her dilemma was either to help Henry complete his foray to the bathroom or to settle herself to nurse Tucker and let Henry splash around in the sink creating puddles and extra laundry.

A hungry baby and the relief of sitting down won. Tina felt herself relax as Tucker latched on, his greedy snuffling making her smile as a bovine sense calm settled over her. Nursing the baby seemed to make time, and her brain, slow down. She could hear Henry talking to himself in the bathroom, the sound of water – as long as there wasn’t silence she could enjoy putting up her feet for ten minutes.   She took another deep breath and felt her neck and shoulders relax.

“Mama, you have paper in your book,” Henry stated matter-of-factly as he waved what looked like a dollar bill from where as he sat on the living room floor.

Tina moved Tucker off her breast. She was always amazed at how enraptured he looked, sated by her milk, a sleepy smile on his wizened face. She glanced up at Henry as she hoisted Tucker up to her shoulder.

“Hold it still, Henry, let me see,” she said rubbing Tucker’s back with alternating pats and circles.

Henry came close to his mother and she put the “burping” arm around him. She wanted him to still feel close to her, too. It wasn’t that long ago he was her only baby. How did he get so big? She felt as though she was coming back from sleep, a light moving through her brain, waking her with a spark.

Henry was holding the paper in front of him and Tina saw that it was currency. Somebody used a dollar as a bookmark in a pinch, but then she saw that there wasn’t a picture of George Washington on it. It had to be a joke.  There was no way somebody used a one hundred-dollar bill as a bookmark. Gently she said, “Henry, can I see that a minute?”

Her son handed it to her gravely. His own little fingers rubbing over the unfamiliar feel of the paper one last time. Tina held the note up in front of her face, mystified as to how it got into her home.

“Henry, where did you find this?” she asked lightly.

“In your book! I was putting all the books on the table and yours fell down. It fell out and I picked it up. What is it, Mama?”

Tina felt a little stunned. Maybe she had twenty bucks in her purse right now – a hundred-dollar bill seemed unreal. “It’s money, Henry, and thank you for finding it. I’ll put it somewhere safe and take care of it.” She folded the bill with one hand, leaned over onto one cheek and slipped it into the other back pocket of her worn and saggy jeans. With shaking hands she moved Tucker to her other breast as Henry resumed playing on the floor. Was she imagining it or was the baby studying her face? She cooed to Tucker and brushed his cheek with her nipple but he turned away.

Chapter 1 Introducing Ruby, Viv and St. Benjamin

Chapter 2 Boychik Luis and Bubbe Bev

Chapter 3 Bright Lights and Big Bev City

Chapter 4 Ruby and Viv Find Their Big Girl Panties

Chapter 5 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 1