Thursday, June 1, 2023


What they're saying about Jim's provocative blog:

--"Джим - забавный парень, но он не Яков Смирнов!" (Jim's a funny guy, but he's no Yakov Smirnoff!  Nyet!")--Vladimir Putin
--"Я думаю, мы могли бы использовать такого парня, как Джим."  (I think we could use a guy like Jim!)--Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the United States.
--"He's from this country, Mexicans don't read him, so that's good enough for me."--Donald Trump
--"The one thing I didn't delete from my private server."--Hillary Clinton
--"Jimaschizzle!"--Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. (aka Snoop Dogg)
--"The one thing I DO read!"--Sarah Palin
--"The most fun you can have with your clothes on (but DO take a shower afterwards)."--Dick Cavett

jimjustselling . . .

Actually, I'm not, but the good folks at HenschelHAUS are.

The book is also available at:



By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric

                    and whimsical observations about 

absurdities of contemporary life

·         Real men don’t tweet.
    Good news and bad news: The good? My blog got a huge plug on ”GMA” the other day. The bad? It was on "Good Morning, Afghanistan"!

    Someday is not a day of the week."--Novelist Janet Dailey

    Tailgating is a strange word. It can mean either (a) An impatient motorist following a vehicle too closely, or (b) Cooking bratwurst or some other fatty meat in a stadium parking lot.

    Speaking of which: “We have THE MEATS!” Recent headline out of New Iberia, La.: “Dead body found inside Arby’s freezer.” (“You want flies with that . . . .?”)

    Popcorn’s advice to all June graduates: Work hard, be honest and never let failure go to your head!

    jimjustsaying’s British-ism of the Week: A speed bump in England is called "a sleeping policeman."

    Return to sender? Retailers are clamping down on the rising cost of processing returns by shortening return windows, charging for mailed returns and offering discounts to customers who agree not to send items back, the Wall Street Journal reports.

     Actual quote from a questionnaire on the Axios Finish Line report for April 19:

    "I have asked AI what recipe I could make with three ingredients: tomatoes, potatoes and shredded sharp cheese. It gave me a delicious scalloped potato recipe."—Axios PM

    Popcorn’s reaction (after forehead slap): So THAT’S what artificial intelligence is all about! What a boon to mankind! I guess devising a cure for cancer is way down the priority list, but, hey, what’s the hurry? Keep those recipes coming! (I wonder what one could do with, say, black olives, kale and pomegranates? I’m sure AI will come up with something.)

    Wise words: “Some people say they have 20 years’ experience when, in reality, they have 1 year’s experience repeated 20 times.”--Business guru Stephen Covey

    jimjustsaying’s Actual Stupid Warning listed on an Actual Product of the Month (a Korean-made kitchen knife): “Keep out of children.”

    Name the only two words in the English language in which all five vowels appear in alphabetical order. (Answer elsewhere in this blog.)

    Do they make partial toupees? If so, they could call them . . . Throw Rugs. Or perhaps, Area Rugs?

    “Jazz is a music where we never play anything the same way once!”--Shelly Manne, legendary drummer (Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, first-call New York and Hollywood studio musician).

    Batter up! And, most important, head’s up!

    On August 17, 1957, future Hall of Fame center fielder Richie Ashburn of the Philadelphia Phillies hit spectator Alice Roth with a foul ball, breaking her nose. As Roth was being carted off the field on a stretcher, Ashburn hit her with another foul ball, breaking a bone in her knee. The odds of a fan being hit by a baseball are 300,000 to 1. The odds of the same fan being hit twice during the same at-bat, and breaking bones both times, are beyond astronomical.

    Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller once hit his mother with a hard foul ball. Again, what are the odds? Especially since Feller was a pitcher and unlikely to make hard contact in the first place!

    And the storied Ted Williams once flipped his bat in anger after a strikeout and in horror watched it strike his landlady, who was sitting in a seat he had provided for her! (In other words, eat your nachos between innings.)

    And if you’re thinking Lawsuit City here, you’ll strike out quickly. The small print on the back of the tickets that nobody reads says that you assume all such risks, so the ballpark is indemnified from any payouts. The only time team owners are vulnerable to litigation is when stands collapse due to negligence, or other rare mishaps occur.

    Did you know that Smokey the Bear’s original name was Hot Foot Teddy? (Sometimes going back to the proverbial drawing board is a damned good idea!)

    I understand they now have Family Dollar stores in Mexico: La Tiendas de Familia Peso! The Dollar Tree? That would be El Arbol Del Dólar. (They’re muy bueno when you’re feeling mucho cheapo!)

    The only trouble with Chinese fortune cookies is that 20 minutes later you want to read again.

    jimjustsaying's Name for Something That Doesn't Exist But Should: Fitting Persons Bureau: Where a man needs to go to find out if his wife is trying something on when he can't find her anywhere in the women's clothing department of whatever store you are in.

    Thinking outside the box: What if "they" ultimately discover that radiation is good for us!

    It took the so-called experts eons to reverse course on the egg and determine that "it isn't the cholesterol villain we once thought it was. Eat all you want." (To name but one example of FDA flip-flopping.)

    I think the egg has been around much longer than nuclear radiation, so there's still time. And readers of the AMA Journal know this: Science is still discovering things about aspirin, which has been around almost as long as the egg.

    Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.

    Why don’t they dump water (or Kool-Aid or Gatorade) on the coach whose team lost the game? Or throw a pie in the face of the losing pitcher? They’ve got it backwards, big time!

    Breaking News, Language Division: The Wall Street Journal is getting less formal. Journal editor-in-chief Emma Tucker said on May 16 the news outlet is dropping “the routine use of honorifics, or courtesy titles.” In other words, it will no longer use titles such as Mr. or Ms. in news stories. Instead, after the first reference of a person’s name in a story, it will just give their surname.

    (There’s no truth to the rumor that the ultra-formal New York Times once referred to Snoop Dogg in second and subsequent references as Mr. Dogg. Ditto the denials for referring to Meat Loaf as “Mr. Loaf.”)

    At the risk of seeming heartless, I pose this question: Aren't these police funeral "shows of solidarity" getting just a wee bit over the top?

    I'm sure the sorrow is as sincere as it gets, but do we need hundreds of law-enforcement personnel saluting for the cameras while the pipes are piping? The recent deaths of two Wisconsin officers saw this play out in funeral/memorial services in not one but two towns!

    The obvious problem: Who's minding the store? Answer: Personnel from nearby towns--personnel not all that familiar with the territory they are temporarily "covering"--leaving their own towns shorthanded and inadequately protected! Wonderful. Good thing the crime rate is plummeting!

    If you look up news accounts of police/firefighter fatalities from decades ago, I doubt you'll find evidence of what we're seeing today. The deaths were just as tragic, but the aftermath much less grandiose. (Similarly, did football players of the pre-TV era do end-zone dances when they scored a touchdown? Once again, the media has become part of the event instead of the fly on the wall.)

    I abhor these tragedies as much as the next guy, I'm strongly against gun ownership, and if I won the lottery, I'd buy a bullet-proof vest for every police officer who needed one. I'm just put off by these mawkish, gratuitous public displays that put the public at risk.

    (At the risk of being labeled anti-cop, consider that police work doesn’t even make the Top 10 of Most Dangerous Professions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Firefighters didn’t make that list, either.

    Logging workers, commercial fishermen and aircraft pilots and aircraft workers are in the Top 3 of annual fatalities, and police work also trails roofers, truck drivers and even landscape workers. Ever seen a procession of lawn mowers for a fallen landscaper? I rest my case.)

    jimjustsaying’s You Gotta Be Kidding Factoids of the Month: To become a barber in several states requires significantly more training time than to become a police officer. In North Carolina, licensed barbers need 1,528 hours of training, police officers only 620 hours. There’s a similar split in Florida between licensed interior designers (1,760 hours) and police officers (770 hours). In Louisiana, it requires more training to become a licensed manicurist (500 hours) than a police officer (360 hours)

    She said it: “Fashion passes; style remains.”—Coco Chanel

    He said it: “In a nuclear war, all men are cremated equal.”—Dexter Gordon

    Planned obsolescence will never go out of style.

    You know you’re an old-timer when you can easily recall the days when most Major League Baseball players—even some of the stars—had regular jobs during the offseason, most commonly as car salesmen. Some even worked construction jobs to make ends meet.

    That was during the time when the major league minimum was $6,000 (it’s $700k now). The Cubs were considered to have landed a bargain this last offseason when they signed Cody Bellinger, a 2019 MVP with the Los Angeles Dodgers but coming off three definitely subpar seasons, for only $16.9 million—for one year! (Don’t look for Cody at a Chicago-area car dealership next winter . . . unless, perhaps, he’s buying a dozen or so cars for Christmas gifts.)

    No one has ever complained that their internet connection was too fast.

    Memo to managers of grocery (and other) stores with shopping carts: How about taking them aside and doing a little wheel maintenance once in a while? Turn them upside down and give 'em the once-over. A little bolt-tightening and a little lubrication (WD-40?) would probably do wonders for those oh-so-wobbly wheels. Replace as needed. Rinse/lather/repeat.

    Wobbly, sticking, misshapen wheels and dented carts (that can’t be unstuck from another cart) just irritate the customer, so you would think more attention would be paid in this area.

    But this is yet another example of corporate blind spots or indifference; if “the suits” think of this at all, they don't see such maintenance as contributing to the bottom line, therefore why bother? And the CEOs and bean-counters probably never do their own shopping in the first place, compounding the problem. (And they wonder why "profit margins" are down. Sometimes it's the little things, folks.)

    To the kind soul who inquired: Yes, I’ve written two books (“A Portrait of Bill Chase,” 2007, and “LOL-i-Gags,” 2014) and have two more in the works: “Cruising for Burgers With Eric Clapton and Other True Tales From 33 Years in Music and the Media,” and a comedic memoir, “Egg On My Face . . . with Traces Of Ham!” Neither figure to be made into major motion pictures, but as in life, the journey is often more rewarding and memorable than the destination.

    DRUDGING AROUND: 1 in 4 high school students abusing Adderall . . . Americans now spend more on legal weed than chocolate . . . Florida’s ongoing battle with Jew hatred . . . Leg-lengthening surgery gaining popularity . . . Study: Face masks may raise risk of testicular dysfunction, cognitive decline . . . Member of “White Lives Matter” tried to burn down church to stop drag show . . . Once-a-week nightmare: Mass killings on rise . . . Demand for bullet-proof cars skyrockets . . . When your boss is an algorithm . . . Phony doc treated patients for years, even for cancer . . . Sperm donor father of at least 550 kids banned from donating any more . . . Driven to suicide by weed: Familiar tale across USA . . . Navy hires active-duty drag queen to be face of recruitment drive . . . Russian men changing gender to avoid war . . . Mothers living single together in “Mommunes” . . . Half of people say their soulmate is their pet . . . Ohio woman arrested for defecating on church altar . . . Does God exist? Only HALF say yes . . . Man spends millions a year trying to look 18, swapping blood with his son . . . Seaweed washing ashore in Florida contains flesh-eating bacteria. (Thanks, as always, to Matt Drudge and his intrepid band of aggregators.)

    Still more consumer upheaval! If you thought the new wrinkles in our lives have ended . . . enter the Reverse ATM card!

    Stores don't want your cash, so they're bringing in reverse ATMs, which gobble up your bills and spit out stored-value cards.

    The cashless trend was accelerated by the pandemic. But states and cities are passing laws banning stores and businesses from eschewing cash, in deference to people who don't have bank accounts or credit cards, Axios' Jennifer A. Kingson writes. Handling cash is also a hassle for retailers, with problems including theft and constant runs to the bank.

    Reverse ATMs are quickly being installed in all manner of venues that want to go cashless without flouting the law. Amusement parks, casinos and sports stadiums are taking the lead.

    Remember the days when you’d hear “The customer is always right”? And how it seemed to have morphed into “The customer is always wrong.”

    Well, wrong in both cases. Absolutes are rarely valid. Sometimes the customer wasn’t right (for myriad reasons), just as the customer isn’t always wrong--despite what some institutions of commerce, etc. would like you to believe.

    I used to think "awesome" and "totally" were the two most mis- and/or over-used words in the English language these days, but "literally" is rapidly closing in on them, unfortunately. “Iconic” is in the running, too. ("Figuratively" is probably safe for now. And thanks to Target for the photo-op!)

    Chinese Fortune Cookie of the Month (from Hong Kong Buffet, Sturgeon Bay, Wis.): "The fortune you seek is in another cookie."

    She said it: "There is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic, because it means the person has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing."--Maya Angelou

    He said it: "We have created a Star Wars civilization with Stone Age emotions."--Biologist E.O. Wilson

    Sure-fire concert package no promoter ever dreamed up: Johnny Cash, Eddie Money, Johnny Paycheck . . . and--for diversity--50-Cent. Tickets would surely be top dollar; no crypto.

    jimjustsaying’s Word That Doesn't Exist But Should of the Month: "Halaska, n. The boxed area on a U.S. map where our 49th and 50th states are located."--"Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe," Rich Hall and Friends.

    Memo to all sports announcers (especially radio guys): No one has ever complained about a play-by-play announcer giving the score too often.

    Believe it or not, there is another slew of drugs just approved soon to be saturation-covered on the airwaves:

    Get ready to hear about Uzedy, Abilify Asimtufii, Vowst Capsules, Qualsody, Omisirge, RizaFilm, Qulipta, Prevnar 20, Trikafta, Hyqvia, Hizentra, Sogroya, Evkeeza, Hyrimoz, Taflinar, Illucix, Verzenio, Kevzara, Austedo XR, Jemperli, Eylea, Trodelvy, Takhzyro, Tezspire, Odactra, Tukysa, Brukinsa, Adacel, Actemra, Tymlos, Vraylar, Pemfexy, Asceniv, Tecentriq, Brexafemme, Rylaze, Adcetris, Imfinzi, Liletta, Libtayo, Rotarix, Cotellic, Vemlidy, Menveo, Lyumjev, Boostrix, Dovato and, last but probably far from least, Oxlumo.

    Popcorn’s author suspects that some of these drugs could be for diseases and conditions that haven’t been invented yet and that many drug stores are going to have to build an addition to stock these additions to the burgeoning pantheon of nouveau pharmaceuticals.

    And one I had on a recent drug list sounds to me like an action figure: “It’s a bird, it’s a plane . . . no, IT’S SKYRIZI!”

    But in addition to all this, America is staring down its worst shortage of life-saving drugs in almost a decade--and the situation is poised to get worse. Shortages of cancer drugs and other vital medications are forcing physicians to develop workarounds, according to news reports.

    More than 300 drugs are in shortage, the highest since 2014, per the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. The American Cancer Society warned last month about potentially "life-threatening" supply problems of chemotherapy drugs that don't have an effective alternative.

    IV antibiotics used in hospitals, such as penicillin, have also been running low across the country. And the shortfalls are surfacing deeply entrenched problems in America's drug supply chain, particularly around commonly used generic drugs, drugs that don't turn a large profit, and companies are increasingly reluctant to manufacture them.

    jimjustsaying’s Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month: “Dodo.” As in, Gary L. “Dodo” Stuller, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 1, 2023. R.I.P., Dodo.

    Blast from the past: Remember “Casual Fridays” . . . before they became . . . Casual Everydays? Not long ago the Associated Press reported (with photos) that visitors were arriving at the Vatican in tank tops, cutoffs and sandals! And these days . . . any restaurant with a dress code would be in receivership.

    Speaking of which: Sporting a pair of jeans and a denim jacket, Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh declared at a recent Axios BFD conference in San Francisco that skinny jeans are never going away, Axios' Kelly Tyko writes.

    The big denim trend at the moment is looser, baggier fits. But Bergh told Axios’ Hope King that skinny jeans are "a staple in women's closets and will always be a staple."

    Now the clincher: Bergh wears his Levi's for major occasions: "I met the pope wearing jeans. It's in my contract."

    I submit there is such a thing as the rules getting too relaxed. And where nothing is too nutty-sounding to be real—such as the society were now living in, in which taxpayers, some courts have ruled, must foot the bill for prisoners’ sex-change operations! (Just shoot me now!!!)

    Here's an idea: Next time someone floats the idea of taxpayers footing the bill for upgrading a sports stadium (as was recently the case in Milwaukee regarding the Brewers), how about having the players pay for it? With their outsized salaries and licensing royalties, they obviously can afford it. Otherwise, the fans are paying twice: Once for tickets, twice for added taxes. Most folks would cry “foul” over that.

    Quiz answer: abstemious and facetious.

    jimjustsaying's Party Ice-Breaker of the Month: "Say [actual partygoer's name here], did you know that researchers at MIT revealed that virtually every story in human literature—from King Lear to "The Hangover"—is based on one of just six core plots that form the building blocks of complex narratives?" (Kind of hard to work into a conversation, but I'm sure you'll plot a way to do it.)

    Another in a list of jimjustsaying's Media Words (words you see or hear only in news reports and never hear a normal person use in real life): "garb." (As in, "The gunman was said to be wearing military-style garb.")

    Uplifting news: More than 100 kids and young people recorded safety messages for transit systems in New York and other major U.S. cities as part of the Autism Transit Project, according to news reports.

    Many autistic kids cling to familiar phrases they listen to while being deeply focused. The project has aimed to broaden acceptance of children with autism and to give them a chance to have their voices broadcast at train stations, which many of them adore.

    Many children with autism focus intensely on the technical aspects of trains and buses, subway maps and train schedules, said Jonathan Trichter, a co-founder of the Foundry Learning Center--a school for children with developmental disabilities in Manhattan--and the driving force behind the public service announcements.

    Transit officials said they were glad to support the project.

    “We know that children on the spectrum are some of our biggest fans,” said James Allison, a spokesman for Bay Area Rapid Transit, which has played the children’s announcements at all 50 stations this month. “It seemed like a natural thing, and what a great way to give them a thrill.”

    Sometimes “enough is enough,” even for a robot! “Digit,” a robot on display at a trade exhibit in Chicago, collapsed after a mere 20 hours of shelf-stacking. (Popcorn intern Sal Monella reached out to the Robotics Union of America but has not heard back.)

    Who knew? Zelda, Breath of the Wild is one of the best-selling console games of all time, with nearly 30 million copies sold and counting.

    When you’re hot, you’re hot: Taylor Swift's 52-night, 20-city tour through the U.S. is breaking attendance records and could be one of the highest-grossing tours of all time, writes Axios' Erica Pandey. But the Eras Tour's influence extends beyond just ticket and merchandise sales.

    The concerts are fueling an entire Taylor Swift economy as fans spend big on travel, lodging, makeup, fashion and food to attend the shows. Many fans are traveling to different states to catch shows because they grabbed whatever tickets they could get.

    In Houston, Swift boosted hotel occupancy rates more than the NCAA men's Final Four. (Somewhere Michael Jackson is thinking, “And I thought I was a hot ticket?!”)

    Ripped from today’s headlines: A story about teens and young adults having less sex says it can be attributed to, among other things, the prying eyes of parents, says college student Abby Tow, who wonders if helicopter parenting has played a role in what she calls the “baby-fication of our generation.”

    A senior at the University of Oklahoma, Tow knows students in college whose parents monitor their whereabouts using tracking apps. (Really? Baby-fication, indeed!)

    Popcorn comment: If this trend results in fewer births, so much the better, as scientists with heavy credentials are saying the planet is going to be virtually uninhabitable before too long. So let’s hear it for baby-fication!

    Matter of Fact Dept.: Bill O’Reilly’s book “Killing Lincoln” is replete with references to the Oval Office, even though the Oval Office wasn’t built until 1909.

    Tuning In: Tennessee has eight--count 'em--Official State Songs. New Jersey? None. (Kind of hard to work into a conversation, but there you have it.)

    It would be amusing if academics like anthropologists had colorful nicknames; you know, like gangsters used to have. Like . . . Chauncy "The Primordial Realist" Wellington. Ellsworth "The Punky Paleontologist" Whitney.

    Today's Latin lesson: Utor es postulo purgo manuum pro recidivus laboro. ("Employees must wash hands before returning to work.")

    Special thanks to Abby Rhodes, this month’s Popcorn intern.


'With this ring, I thee  . . . plunge us into serious debt’

Weddings are roaring back with bigger budgets, longer guest lists and grander settings.

Why it matters: Almost every aspect of planning, hosting and attending weddings is getting pricier. Even guests are going into wedding debt.

The average cost of a U.S. wedding ticked up from $28,000 to $29,000 from 2022 to 2023, according to wedding planning website Zola. But the average was far higher in some places, including D.C. ($45,400), New Jersey ($44,219) and Massachusetts ($40,097).

What's happening: Inflation and high demand are driving up costs, as everything from music to flowers to makeup gets more expensive. Plus social media has infiltrated the wedding planning process. More couples feel pressure to spend big to make their events pop.

One in three 2023 couples are looking to TikTok for wedding inspiration, Zola notes.

Guests are getting hit, too: 40% of people who've gone to weddings in the past five years went into debt to be there, according to a LendingTree survey.

That jumps to 62% if they were in the bridal party — which comes with obligations like showers and bachelor and bachelorette parties.

Trend to watch: One wedding cost that's declining: attire for the groom. Guys are increasingly opting for a more casual outfit than a tuxedo.

--Erica Pandey, Axios 

GenZ’s nonchalance infects the workplace

When it comes to the job market, Gen Z doesn't seem to care all that much. At least that's how some managers and employers feel corralling a generation of workers they believe (erroneously or not) is entitled, lazy and full of pushback. How are "zoomers" affecting the workplace?

What complaints do people have about working with Gen Z? 

In a survey, researchers found that "of 1,300 managers, three out of four agree that Gen Z is harder to work with than other generations — so much so that 65% of employers said they have to fire them more often," Rikki Schlott wrote for the New York Post, adding that 21% of managers also believe "entitlement is an issue" with new Gen Z hires. Peter, a hospitality manager based in New Jersey, told the outlet that he feels "kind of hamstrung on what [he] can and can't say," adding that he "doesn't want to offend" anyone and always worries that he'll "get freaking canceled."s most controversial moments

How does Gen Z feel?

Zoomers are making it very clear that their sole purpose in the workplace is to get in, do the job, and get out. Rather than forming emotional attachments to their roles, they prioritize a work-life balance over everything. Perhaps because Gen Z and even millennials are the only generations to have experienced the combined trauma of the debt crisis, gun violence, climate change, and the Covid-19 pandemic, losing a job sounds almost like a vacation. "It's not necessarily that different generations hold different attitudes about work," Sarah Damaske, an associate professor at Penn State University, told Vox. "For millennials and for some members of Gen Z, they've witnessed two recessions, back-to-back. This is a very different labor market experience than what their parents and grandparents encountered."

So are they slackers?

"Young workers are not lazy, entitled or keen on slacking off," Kim Kelly argued for Insider: "They're simply choosing to reject some of the practices that previous generations were forced to accept." Not to mention they might also find themselves working under managers that "are so burnt out they have little time to spend training the next generation, or even noticing what their workplace experience is like," Melissa Swift, a partner at the consulting company Mercer, told Financial Times' Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson. In other words, Edgecliffe-Johnson summarized, "you can't pin this all on Gen Z."

But while "quiet quitting" and detachment may seem enticing initially, younger workers would do well to remember that the world is constantly growing and evolving. In "slacking off" now, they run the risk of ruining their chances for a job down the line, Allison Schrager, an opinion columnist, wrote for Bloomberg. "Careers are long and so are institutional memories," Schrager said. "The pandemic aftermath may have given workers more power for now, but young staffers with decades of employment ahead should be thinking about what happens when that inevitably changes."

Is Generation Alpha any different?

Generation Alpha, which includes people born in 2010 and after, "will perpetuate our workplace burnout crisis" as a "side effect" of their ambition to "make work and societal change," said a 2020 LinkedIn analysis from Dan Schawbel, a managing partner at research agency Workplace Intelligence. Despite these intense efforts, which will "increase productivity temporarily at the cost of their mental health and long-term value contribution," Alphas "will demand even more from their employers than Gen Z's and millennials," Schawbel said. "They simply won't work for a company that doesn't align with their values and that isn't producing a product that benefits society."

Work and life will be "completely integrated" by the time Alphas enter the job market, where they will choose to work for less at a flexible job that supports their "emotional, physical and mental well-being" rather than deplete their tank for higher pay somewhere else. They will also "shatter old work norms and recreate the workplace based on how they interact in their personal lives," Schawbel concluded.

--Kelsee Majette, The Week

Why won't corporate America answer the phone?

When I recently called an MRI facility about an overcharge, a prerecorded voice told me, over and over again for 45 minutes, that call volume was “unusually high” and, by the way, the weather was compounding a labor shortage.

On another recent day, I needed to resolve a problem with a company with no listed phone number at all — which is how I found myself furiously pounding the keyboard in conversation with, yes, a chatbot at a vegan meal delivery service.

It shouldn’t be this hard to speak to a human. But, increasingly, companies large and small are making it difficult to access a real, live person when help is needed. Contact numbers are hard to find. Wait times to speak to an operator are long — one industry analyst estimated the average wait tripled from 2020 to 2022 and says he believes they still are a third worse than before the pandemic. Some phone lines are seemingly staffed entirely by robots, forcing you to go through menu after menu in quest of a live, real person. Or, increasingly, companies don’t offer a telephone option at all.

This is not simply inconvenient. It’s contemptuous. And consumers pay the price in emotional aggravation, in precious time and in literal money, as people give up on legitimate financial claims because they are unable to surmount the barriers in their way.

“It’s an absolute disaster,” says Abraham Seidmann, a professor of information systems at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. “It’s a major abdication of corporate responsibility.”

Companies say they are reducing options for human contact by popular demand. They claim customers often prefer a virtual option — so said Frontier Airlines after it recently ceased offering customers access to live phone agents, directing them to text, chatbot or email instead. But as the Wall Street Journal noted late last year, Frontier is simultaneously telling its investors that call centers are “expensive,” while use of chatbots eliminates the customer’s ability to negotiate.

There are nods to surveys showing millennials and Gen Z’ers prefer online contact. (Little wonder, since they’re naturally phone-shy, but it’s worth noting that they have also come of age in a world of dreadful phone service.) Employers also say that in the post-pandemic world, they can’t hire enough help.

All of this is, for the most part, excuse-making. If there are humans clamoring to end customer contact, it’s the ones in the c-suite, where the suits are happy to save a few pennies on call services at your expense.

“I don’t want to put nefarious intent in people’s mouths, but I’m positive that a lot of these companies looked at it and went, ‘Hey, our service levels went down [during the pandemic], and we didn’t lose customers over it, so let’s keep them a little lower. Let’s see how hard we can make this before they start pushing back,’” says Jeff Gallino, the chief technical officer at CallMiner, an analytics firm.

A survey by OnePoll in 2021 found that more than two-thirds of respondents ranked speaking to a human representative as one of their preferred methods of interacting with a company, while 55 percent identified the ability to reach a human as the most important attribute a customer service department can possess. “When people are anxious or have problems, they really, really want to talk,” says Michelle Shell, a visiting assistant professor also at the Questrom school. “You need human contact.”

As for the claim they can’t find willing employees? Yes, turnover is traditionally high in the call center industry, and even higher in the wake of the Great Resignation. On the other hand, given that call centers are located around the globe, that’s quite the worker shortage.

What’s really going on here is a question of power. Increasingly, leverage belongs not to the customer paying the bills but to the company offering the needed service — sometimes one for which there is no competition. Foisting the work onto the consumer is a bet that the customer has no other options or won’t choose to exercise them. And often, that bet is a good one.

None of this to say is that it’s always necessary to speak to a human. It’s easy enough to make a restaurant reservation online. But we need a human touch when things go wrong. We want help, not to spend hours looking for a useful phone number for Facebook (in case you were wondering, it doesn’t exist) or navigating endless phone trees.

There are some models for better regulation. In 2018, for example, California passed legislation mandating that chatbots disclose when there isn’t a human on the other side of the conversation. But there is no pending legislation in Congress that demands companies offer a human point of contact.

The difficulty of reaching humans for customer support is an imposition on both our time and our finances, forcing us to spend what can be hours of labor — sometimes known as shadow work or a time tax — to resolve what should be simple problems. It’s one factor contributing to the sense that we as American consumers are fighting our battles alone, as so much prey for Big Business. And it’s not so unreasonable to say we deserve better than that.

--Helaine Olen, Washington Post


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By Jim Szantor

Some people do not cry when onions are peeled, chopped sliced or diced.  Others cry when they are merely mentioned or even implied.  What is it about the allium cepa that causes it to be de rigueur in recipes, seemingly mandatory at McDonald’s and compulsory in casseroles?

What magical properties accrue to this vile vegetable of the hollow, tubular leaves and edible, rounded bulb? What culinary clout does it hold? Do onions cure cancer, prevent baldness or remove unsightly age spots? Are they a surefire Covid killer?

Were onions served at the Last Supper?  Does Taylor Swift eat them?

Some answers, assertions and affirmations in a moment. First, though, a position paper of sorts on the plight of one who must make his way as a consumer in an onion-obsessed world.

If the onion does to you all the things it does to someone who cannot stand, bear, countenance, abide or otherwise tolerate its taste, you know what it is:

--To sit down to a meal anywhere and find the main dish (not to mention the appetizer, soup or salad) loaded with the loathsome ingredient.  How to negotiate this culinary minefield politely if not furtively without offending the hostess?  How to suppress the whimpering and retching attendant to the ordeal?

--To wait endlessly—punitively—at fast-food establishments that package the item with other, more respectable and comestible condiments.  Kudos to the franchises that make the onion an option; a pox on those that operate under the assumption that those little white, chopped interlopers will be loved and consumed with relish by all.

--To grab eagerly for a new entrée in the supermarket’s frozen food section, only to recoil when it is discovered that onions--dehydrated, flaked, powdered or fuel-injected--are part of the bargain, take it or leave it. (In the finest of print, of course.)

It is a mystery why the onions are so omnipresent in the gustatory scheme of things, when to some they are slimy if boiled, repugnant if raw and palatable only if fried to a crisp—to such a crisp, that is, that only the crisp, and not the actual onion essence, is tasted.  (Full disclosure: I recall quite fondly the Onion Straws served by a New Orleans eatery, a close encounter I have yet to live down, there being is a living witness.)

The true enemy of the onion feels not only persecuted but also triumphant when able to detect the faintest evidence of its flavoring.  Cook a beef stew with boiled onions in a mesh bag and remove them prior to serving? The congenital onion-hater can tell.   That’s because the onion has little subtlety, is totally devoid of finesse.  It always lingers near the scene of the crime, fouling the breath and otherwise making its ingestion hard to forget.  But this seasoned onion adversary survives each close encounter, his palate and olfactory glands able to detect its unpleasant properties everywhere.

It could be argued that eating a hamburger with onions is—dare I say it?—an antisocial act.  My hamburger with tomato and pickles flies under the radar, even in close quarters.  Someone eating one loaded with onions in whatever form?  He or she is, in effect, broadcasting with appallingly broad bandwidth, callously indifferent to the consequences!

The onion’s raison d’etre?

According to noted chef Jean Banchet of Le Francaise in the Chicago suburb of Wheeling’s fabled Restaurant Row, “Onions add a lot of flavor, a unique flavor, to soups, sauces and salads.”  He prefers cooked over raw, though, and opts for the shallot, an onion cousin, for fish and bordelaise sauce.

The onion, in the allium giganteum genus, is a real attention-getter, both in the garden and in cut flower arrangements.  It is one, however, that even Mr. Anti-Onion can appreciate, for this flowery version is not to be eaten.

But the more common garden variety is one that a former colleague, Chicago Tribune food editor Joanne Will, says “is worth crying over.”

“Onions not only enrich other flavors but they make a statement of their own.  Just think of some of the things onionophiles would have to give up: deeply browned and caramelized sweet onion soup, boiled baby onions saturated with cream sauce (a must with Thanksgiving turkey), crisply delicious, battered onion rings.”

To a close and cherished associate (one who has prepared this author’s meals for 53-plus years), the onion is an ingredient both pleasurable and problematic.  To cater to her husband’s unfathomable oddity, meal preparation is fraught with strategies, dodges, reluctant omissions and, sometimes, downright deceit. In short, to keep peace in the family, she has to keep the onions out of the crock pot.

There are untold hardships for one who was born unequal in that his tase buds are out of step with the rest of humanity’s.  The onion, in its ubiquity, has made coping more cumbersome, ordering more odious and tasting more tentative for the afflicted.  Unquestionably, the onion is an affront, an imposition, equally detestable, whether served by gracious hostesses, celebrated chefs or sullen countermen.

But if you are among the majority who cannot live without onions, by all means indulge and enjoy.  This is only an open admission of an aberration, a venting of a lifelong loathing, not a produce section polemic.  Some of my best friends buy, cook eat and even grow them. But they’ve never grown on me.

Until the onion makes the headlines (remember the Great Potato Famine, the cranberry scare of 1959, Red Dye No. 2 and other periodic pantry-related panics), it will be the same old story for those who can’t stand them, those who dream of the day when restaurant signs and menus everywhere will contain these words:

No smoking, no substitutions, no onions.



The chili could be malicious and downright unforgiving.  The omelets sometimes look like yellow Play-Doh flecked with foreign bodies.  The coffee isn’t strong enough to defend itself, and the waitress puts the plates down with an offhand finality.  Breakfast served any time.  Eggs any style.  The soup? It’s navy bean.

 It’s easy to put down the greasy spoon, that ubiquitous testament to the tacky and the Tums.  But by whatever name—luncheonette, diner, café, grill, coffee shop, ptomaine parlor—it used to account for 40-50 percent of the eat-out dollar, according to industry sources.  Now?  Not so much, as changing tastes and the sweep of urban renewal have relegated it into a virtual museum piece--a slow-food square peg in a round hole of a fast-food, instant-everything, drive-through and highly hyphenated universe. Some things just sort of happen, with no grand design or Machiavellian malice aforethought.

 But the greasy spoon was a slice of Americana that clung to the fork with nary a nod to fad or fashion.  There were no vegetarian plates, as meat and potatoes carried the day and the night and the mortgage.  The Serv-Naps filed out of their countertop compartments as the daily duet of eat-and-runs and lingerers played their way through an unconducted arrangement.  The beef was “govt.-inspected”—but did it pass?  There was a counter-top jukebox selector, with some pop, some country, some rock but definitely no Rachmaninoff.

You know the place.  Everyone, whether through happenstance, resignation or momentary indifference has ended up at one of these Edward Hopper-esque establishments, clutching a greasy knife or fork. How the spoon, which generally just stirred the coffee, got left holding the bag is a mysteryforever lost in the mists of time.

Whatever their culinary merits, one could develop an irrational affection for the emporiums of this genre.  And they were more than eating places.  Sociologically they could be an over-the-counter salve for the tattered psyches of the urban disenfranchised, who hoped they wouldn’t close on Christmas and trap them in their cheap hotel rooms.  They were sort of halfway hash house social clubs, with no membership list but plenty of dues, where the help was as transient as the trade.

Some of these motley establishments were actually respectable—sometimes good—and do not deserve to be painted in such tawdry tones.  Almost always locally owned, they were probably more consistent at their level than some tonier “destination dining” spots and had a more devoted clientele, who prided themselves on being regulars, never had to state their orders and were probably as good as the National Guard should someone get surly with the waitress.  Perhaps the key to their fate is how many such places are opening these days, not how many are closing.

But while there’s time, the eyes above the menu survey the scene and laugh and marvel at a few things:

--The waitress always looks like she is glad they sre out of whatever they are out of.

--The catsup bottle says “restaurant pack,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

--The busboy is a strong man--a bit too strong—but he didn’t shower up with Irish Spring.

--There’s a fill-up-the-sugar-container fetish that is hard to fathom.  Today’s two fingers’ worth on top of yesterday’s two fingers’ worth.  The sugar at the bottom was refined in 1952.

--The “chef” has more tattoos than specialties and thinks “Guide Michelin” plays for the Montreal Canadiens.

--The cream pies and such are kept at a tongue-numbing 33 degrees.

--The sandwich plates are larger than they need to be, but the dinner plates. . . .

--The cashier/owner always seems to be eating ice cream out of a coffee cup on a stool near the cash register.

--They honor the “law” that says coleslaw shall be served in flimsy paper or plastic cups and in minute amounts.

--The spaghetti always comes with “rich meat sauce.”

--The menu always has an item or two that no one has ever ordered.  Who orders Red Snapper in places like this?

--If you want something to go, you have to stand in a special place, probably so they won’t confuse you with people who prefer to eat standing up with their hands in their pockets.

--The floor is usually brown-and-yellow tile squares, in accordance with the Seedy Restaurant Color Scheme Act of 1942.

--Some old guy always comes in about 10 p.m. and orders a bowl of bran cereal.

---The menu is a Sargasso Sea of misspelled names and fanciful if not fraudulent descriptions.  From the Broiler.  From the Sea.  But never From the Freezer.

--The server never fills in all those bureaucratic squares at the top of the “guest check” and writes diagonally across the lined form.  What’s more, she has a Ph.D. in abbreviations.

--One of the customers always looks like he is doing his income tax at one of the tables.

--Somebody always walks by the window and waves in just before he disappears.

--You’re the only one at the counter, and some guy walks in and sits right next to you.

--The french-fried shrimp comes with enough cocktail sauce to cover about two pieces.

--The table’s wobble is always half-corrected with a dirty folded napkin or three.

--The clock is always stopped at something like 2:42.

--The Muzak is always playing something like “Never on Sunday” or “Nom Domenticar.”

--The cook  flip-slides the plates across the high stainless-steel counter, and they always stop short, as if equipped with disk brakes.

--The cashier always puts your change down on a spikey rubber thing that looks like an oversized scalp massager.


In the early morning lull, after the midnight rush hour subsides, the buzz of the fluorescent now equals the sizzle of the grill as the beat cop walks in and sinks into the house booth.

 “Say, where’s Sally?  She off tonight?”

“Nah, she quit.  Went back with her old man.”

“Oh . . . . Say, you got any a that meat loaf left.  Haven’t eaten all day.”

“Nah, meat loaf’s out.  All’s I got left is thueringer.”

“Thueringer, huh.  Well . . . gimme a piece of that blueberry.”

(Illustration:  Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” 1942)

Forecast Follies (or . . . "Here's Jim with the Weather")

Mark Twain famously said, ”Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” 

And since reports of Mr. Twain’s death were not highly exaggerated, I’d like to fill in for him and address something we apparently can’t do anything about, either—the nonsensical, downright insulting barrage of verbiage issuing forth daily from what used to be called TV “weathermen” (and they were all of that gender back in the day) but are now known as “meteorologists,” as if space rocks were an omnipresent factor in our lives.  As in, “60 percent chance of precipitation by daybreak, with 0.000001 percent chance of meteor collision.”  (Meteor showers do occur, but usually are not perilous enough to cancel your picnic plans. They have yet to be seen in the Bus Stop Forecasts or the Car Wash Advisories that “humanize” these bloated segments.)

The weather portions (there are usually two—a fairly brief “teaser” early on and later, the Big Production) of most TV newscasts are, first of all, way too long (and coupled with all those time-wasting teasers about “what’s coming up,” leave precious little time for what we actually tune in for—news).  We don’t need to know where the Alberta Clipper fizzled, that an El Nino is in mid-formation or that a front in central Montana caused a “dusting” in northern Iowa.  And as for those “pockets of snow” we were supposed to get last night, I looked in mine and, blessedly, found none. But the station has paid serious coin for all of the glitzy graphics and radar capabilities, and by God, they are going to be used, if even just to show us what the rainfall looks like in downtown Racine “right at this very moment.”  Gripping.

And then there is the universal, comically contrived “personalization” factor, apparently de rigueur on all stations. It’s never “Thursday’s forecast,” it’s (ahem), “the forecast for your Thursday . . . .”  One can only envision the rapturous glow viewers must feel when luxuriating in the warmth of that gratuitous pronoun! (As if that forecast applies only to you, no one else. Ah, exclusivity.)

If one were to awaken from a 30-year coma, he or she would probably be mystified not only by cellphones, laptops and GPS devices but also by the existence of a curious phenomenon known as The Weather Channel: All weather, all the time--a nonstop barrage of jargon, gaudy graphics and arcane factoids.  How did we ever exist without it? When it’s a slow weather day (and in this day of acute climate change, there’s always a crisis on the front burner somewhere), footage of past calamities will fill the bill for weather junkies or the aficionados of disaster porn.

Those with (ahem) backgrounds as editors find the nightly weather segments to be cringefests in the extreme.  Temps don’t just drop into the 20s, they “drop down,” as if “dropping up” were a physical possibility.  Is snow or rain in the forecast? No, we’ll have “snow showers” or “rain showers.”  And it’s never just “sun”; it’s “sunshine,” as if that extra syllable ramps up the warmth.  These folks never pass up an opportunity to gild the lily, because we’re often told of the possibility of “rain events” or “snow events,” which leads me, at least, to wonder if I will need a ticket, if there will be guest speakers and if refreshments will be served.  (Spotty Showers?  That was my clown name back in the day, a story to be told when the Vernal Equinox rolls around.  Which this year, in the Northern Hemisphere, will be at 10:33 a.m. CST on March 20.  Mark your calendar.)

But my pique rises to fever pitch in winter, when we’re often told during our seven-month layered-look season to “bundle up,” as if we lifelong Midwesterners have no prior experience with winter weather--as if we had all just parachuted in from Jamaica in our underwear and had no idea on how to adorn ourselves in these brutal climes.  We don’t need to be told how to dress when icicles form—we’ve been there, done that—and resent the insinuation. One of the local weather wordsmiths hails from San Diego, and he’s telling us what to wear?  Outrageous.  I’d like to send him back to sunny California on his surfboard or his skateboard, preferably when the barometric pressure equals the dew point and, optimally, on a jet stream.

More and more women are seen these days holding forth during TV weather segments, and they have proven themselves every bit the equal of the men—long-winded and grammatically challenged. Positive role models apparently are non-existent; the often-parodied “weather bunnies” are blessedly a thing of the past (their anatomical attributes far outweighed their academic credentials), and the first exemplary female trailblazer with any gravitas has yet to be found. 

So please, Mr., Mrs. or Ms. Meteorologist, do us all a favor:  Stop behaving as if you are getting paid by the word, spare me the details about weather phenomena that have no bearing on our locale and, most of all, stop insulting our intelligence.  Chill out, stick to the weather and let us worry about our wardrobes.  Failing that, my fondest wish is that I could take all of you, get you all bundled up and sent to the Sahara.  There’s a 99.99 percent chance that you won’t need an umbrella or have to worry about a lake effect, a polar vortex or banal banter with the anchor desk. 

And now here’s Al with the Sports.

--Jim Szantor