Sunday, August 21, 2011

Things I miss from days gone by - #2 - "Real" Classified Ads

"Real" Classified Ads in Local Newspapers.

All through high school and college I worked in the Classified Ads department of the Schenectady Gazette. It was an excellent job for a student -- good hours, nice people, pleasant working conditions, adequate pay, but, above all, the sense that you had an insider's knowledge about what was going on in the community...just because you worked in the building where the paper was published.

If you are older than me, you will remember when Help Wanted ads were divided into categories, Male Help Wanted, Female Help Wanted, and Male or Female Help Wanted. The Male Help Wanted category encompassed all the best-paying jobs in addition to the jobs involving heavy labor. The Female Help Wanted category included all the lower-paying and dead-end office jobs, child care jobs, personal service jobs, waitressing, etc. The Male or Female Help Wanted category was always much smaller and included the jobs that nobody wanted anyway, such as traveling magazine sales. Within each of the categories, employers were permitted to specify age, education, and marital status restrictions thought by employers to be critical to job performance whether or not those restrictions were in any way job related.

Fair Housing, too, was in its infancy at this time. While race and color restrictions had been disallowed for employment ads in our state some years before I started working, when it came to housing, landlords were still permitted to mention in a convoluted way their own personal race or religious orientation in ads, as for example, "Apartment for rent in home occupied by white, Christian family." I leave it to you to figure out who was probably not going to rent that apartment. Eventually, the law and newspaper policy eliminated such references, but meanwhile, my co-workers and I, as high school students, had the fun of explaining to employers and landlords why we could not word their ad as they wished.

There was a lot wrong with the system then, and no thinking person of conscience would ever want to return to those days of rampant discrimination, but sometimes I wonder if we haven't inadvertently embraced other types of discrimination. There are very few employment ads in any local newspaper anymore. Online editions of newspapers provide a link to sites like Yahoo Careers, Monster, Snag-a-Job, etc. Even if a job seeker presents himself/herself at the office of a major employer, before any real relationship is established, the job seeker is likely directed to a computer to complete an online application. Similarly, most housing rentals are done through Craigs List. Besides the mechanization of a human experience, there are a lot of evil people "out there" and one rarely knows exactly who they are dealing with. Applying for anything this way can be dangerous!

Disregarding for the moment the dangers possibly inherent in the application process, who can apply for these jobs or housing units anyway? Obviously, ONLY persons with basic computer literacy,
an active email account, access to a computer (their own, someone else's, or one at a library) plus, of course, the means to get to a computer frequently enough to check for an email response. Let's see now, who might this system eliminate from consideration? Maybe low income folks without a car, or gas money, or a computer or internet service? Older workers who never saw the need for a computer? Speakers of other languages? Non-readers? Do you think some employable folks with a good work ethic be included in these categories?

Assuming that the job or apartment seeker clears these hurdles, the individual must then know which websites to go to and which to avoid, be aware of the need to configure a pop-up stopper, or be tolerant of many unwanted and inappropriate ads. The unsophisticated may think that they MUST accept such advertising offers in order to access the job listings. Finally, the job seeker must remember to turn off the computer's speakers to avoid the audio ads that bypass the pop-up stopper. Optimistically assuming that the individual gets this far, he/she still will not know whether there is truly a job or apartment available or whether someone just wants to collect their email address to deluge them with email spam.

A job is a very personal, hopefully long term, experience between a worker and an employer. An apartment rental is a personal experience between a tenant and a landlord. The current system requires input of substantial personal information without a hint of human reaction such as a smile, a nod, a frown, etc. We have allowed the processes to become overly de-personalized and might all be better served by substituting just a little bit of technology with some old-fashioned humanity.

On a related note, newspapers throughout the country are experiencing diminished revenues and staff layoffs. It used to be that a good ad section helped sell papers. Yet newspapers have forgone their revenue from classified ads by providing only links to monster, yahoo careers, etc., and they might even be paying for those links. It seems as if a community newspaper should have a certain responsibility to the community they serve. Jobs and housing are a huge factor in any community and I feel that newspapers are shirking their responsibility in this regard.

Maybe, just maybe, there more people could be working and more housing occupied if seekers could more easily connect with decision makers. Wouldn't it be nice if just for a little while, just until we figure out if it works, we went back to advertising local jobs and housing in local papers, with applications reviewed by "real" people who would engage in in-person discussion with applicants?

Could we try it?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Simple Foodie Pleasures - #2 - Slovenian Sausage

Slovenian Sausage. I'm not a sausage enthusiast. Except for an occasional hot dog and possibly Italian sausage with pasta, I rarely buy or order sausage or wurst. But that all changed when our good friend and neighbor, Jim, introduced us to Slovenian sausage. On that occasion, Jim's brother, John, was visiting from Joliet, IL, and had brought a generous supply with him, so Jim hosted a cookout and offered the sausage along with hamburgers and hot dogs. This batch had been made at a local meat market and was neither branded nor pre-packaged. I was told that three brothers at the store make several varieties of sausage, each doing 2,500 lbs. a day, but that they are all of advanced age and have neither children nor grandchildren who wish to take up the occupation, so these "home made" sausages will not be available for much longer.

That was a year ago, and I was hooked with the first bite. When Jim went back to Illinois for a family gathering a few weeks ago and brought back enough to share, I was delighted.

Slovenian sausage is known by several names including Carniolan sausage and Kranjska klobasa (various spellings). See the package below on the left. The contents are coarsely ground pork and beef, plus spices peculiar to that type of sausage to give the distinctive flavor. You can see the coarseness of it below on the right.

Slovenian has been called both the queen of sausage and the scourge of the digestive system. No doubt in my mind that it's both! Eastern European cooks do a lot with it, including it in casseroles, etc., but I'm well satisfied by just putting a link of it into a really good bun (such as from the Publix bakery) and adding a good deli mustard, like Boar's Head.

Another poster here introduced the blogspot community to Dat Dog sausage restaurant in New Orleans where Slovenian is included on the menu. You can see that her reaction is similarly enthusiastic. Dat Dog gives you a choice of dressings. Here it is with onions and peppers besides the mustard. Doesn't it look good?

Don't know how I missed this special sausage during all the years
that I lived in the ethnically-rich city of Schenectady, NY, but I will be forever grateful to Jim for the introduction. It's getting more and more difficult to find this treat (even in Europe) as the old-time sausage makers are passing on, so if you live in an ethnic area where you can find it (that would NOT be Athens, GA), buy it. Taste it once and you, too, will be hooked. (If I'm wrong, email me and I'll come get whatever you have left.)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Simple Foodie Pleasures - #1 - Tomatoes!

Fresh, juicy, homegrown tomatoes. Growing up in Columbia County, New York, then living in the Schenectady area, we so looked forward to the homegrown tomatoes and sweet corn that used to become available about mid-July through August. Lucky New York City folks got world-class tomatoes for a longer season as growers on Long Island and nearby New Jersey could eke out several crops a year.

During my middle years in Southwest Florida, I was always disappointed in the local tomatoes. They looked absolutely beautiful but had a thick white core, were not as juicy, and in my mind, were not as tasty. I don't miss them at all.

Georgia generally has wonderful produce -- sweet corn, blueberries, super-sweet vidalia onions, and, of course, peaches. But Georgia tomatoes are AWESOME! They rekindle my memories of the flavors that I enjoyed in childhood -- plain tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches (if lettuce and bacon were not readily available), sliced tomatoes and sweet corn almost every night for dinner.

I'm not sure why tomatoes vary so much between locations. My attempts to grow tomato plants in potting soil in the "perfect growing climate" of Naples, Florida still produced fruit with more of the white core than I appreciate. The heat in Northeast Georgia is way more intense than Southwest Florida and it's been cold enough for snow for the past several years. Maybe it's the variation in weather that the plants need to produce tasty fruit? Does anybody know?

While we contemplate this, join me in enjoying this season's crop of "love apples." In some areas, there are only a few more weeks!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Things I miss from days gone by - #1 - Youth talent shows

Local amateur talent TV shows for kids. I grew up in Upstate New York where the major TV channel was WRGB. For many years running there were two amateur shows. Juvenile Jamboree for younger talent aired on Saturday afternoons. Teen-Age Barn for older youth appeared on Friday evening at early prime time. Both were produced by Tommy Sternfeld.

Groups, duos and individuals were all represented in every possible talent area. There were vocalists, ethnic dance groups, ballet dancers, ventriloquists, musicians, acrobats, as well as any other talent that you can think of.
Short interviews before each act relaxed the performers and instilled pride in the communities mentioned. Each act had to audition for each appearance so some performers only appeared once or twice while others became regulars. A few eventually went on to professional careers in the entertainment world while others enjoyed careers as attorneys, CPAs, teachers, hair dressers, and owners of various businesses in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area but nearly all were remembered as former Juvenile Jamboree or Teen Age Barn "stars."

I don't even know if kids still take ballet lessons, learn to be ventriloquists, etc. any more. If not, it's too bad as excellence in these pursuits is satisfying and leads to self-esteem as well as keeping kids out of trouble. Viewers looked forward to the shows and paid sponsors must have been abundant as one of the shows ran for 17 years. (Juvenile Jamboree did not last quite as long as Teen Age Barn.)

Why don't we do this any more? We still have kids with talent, an abundance of TV commercials, and time slots where such a show would be an improvement. It may also be that we owe our communities' children a little more than we're giving them. For sure, if I owned a company able to buy TV commercials, I would look into the cost effectiveness of buying a commercial spot that was certain to capture the loyalty of some talented local performers, their parents, and the communities in which they lived.

Is anybody listening?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's Not Always the Food ... or the Price

Sometimes it's just about making people happy.

Husband and I recently vacationed in Naples, Florida, where we used to live.  On a rainy Sunday evening in July, one of the slowest months of the year, we visited an expensive, relatively new seafood restaurant in the pricey Third Street South area.  We sat at the bar and enjoyed a glass of wine while we contemplated whether or not this was the place for dinner.  Although there was a wonderful outdoor seating area, there was no one seated at that particular time, possibly because the exceeding warm temps were not offset much by the rain.  There was one other party at the bar and two parties seated in the indoor dining area.  Our bartender gave us a menu and the first thing that caught my eye was a $39 raw platter appetizer for two.  My everlovin' cannot eat raw seafood, so I asked for a half-order, just for me.  Request denied.

Often, if we feel that we've established a relationship with the bartender, we will eat at the bar, especially on this kind of a night, but this time we decided to eat inside.  Thinking that my request was not unreasonable, I asked our table server and again received a firm but polite No.  Since I was disinclined to order a $39 appetizer and leave half of it, or attempt to bring the leftovers from a raw platter back to the hotel, I ordered something else.  

I'm an extreme foodie and a seafood foodie, in particular.  For real foodies, once we get a taste for something, there can be no substitutes. 
We'll just think about that item forever until we finally get it.  The near-miss on the raw platter happened a month ago and I'm still thinking about it and wondering how I can ever enjoy it.  Maybe make a paper sign indicating my interest in sharing a raw platter and stand outside the restaurant on our next visit?  Probably there will be no next time for us at this particular establishment, and unfortunately, we live in an area where there is little fresh seafood, so my craving cannot be resolved at home.

Back home in Athens, GA, our most-patronized restaurant (DePalma's East Side) is not our favorite because of its extraordinary food but rather because they always go overboard to assure a pleasurable dining experience.  Want to try a new wine?  They will pour a sample.  Want a different side?  Sure, no problem.  Want a little more sauce than usual with your entree?  Of course.  Any reasonable request is accommodated, and at a very nominal charge, if any.  And so, we go there at least once a week.  

If anyone can enlighten me as to why Sea Salt in Naples or any other restaurant would  choose not to accommodate a customer request on a slow summer evening to shuck just a half-order of that fabulous-sounding raw platter appetizer, I'd sure like to be able to understand. 

In the meantime, if you're ever in Athens, GA, give DePalma's East Side a try.  (Don't expect northeast/middle Atlantic style traditional Italian, but you will get good food and they will do their best to make you happy.) Take a look at their dinner menu here.          

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Wandering Watch

What an amazing weekend!  I'm mentally exhausted but emotionally exhilarated.

Saturday started off normally. 
It was my everlovin' husband's birthday, so I was planning on taking him to dinner.  During the afternoon I made a mall run to get a replacement battery installed in my watch.  Most people would see this watch as a very dated vintage piece as the band is the nugget gold that was popular in the 1980s.  But to me, it's a very special watch because it was a gift from my darlin' and I've worn it every day since April of 1986, except for the few days when it needed a battery replacement and wouldn't run. 

The actual battery replacement was quick and uneventful.  The jeweler commented on the watch, saying that because gold had increased so much it price that it would cost more than a thousand dollars to buy a comparable watch today.  I wasn't planning on selling, but that was good news.  Since I was already wearing my "emergency watch" I put the good one in a zippered outside pocket of my bag, stopped for an Orange Julius in the mall, made a purchase at one other small shop across from Orange Julius, then went directly home. The first thing I did upon arriving home was to check for similar watches on ebay.  Sure enough, there was a watch exactly like mine offered for a starting price of $1,199. 

As husband and I readied to go to dinner, I opened the zippered pocket of my bag to retrieve the watch.  IT WAS GONE!  Since I often tend to think that misplaced items are "gone," husband assured me that it couldn't be and he helped me search every pocket of the bag and felt every crevice of the lining.  No watch.  Then I noticed that the zipper was defective and after being zipped, would split apart.  It must have fallen out.

We both checked my car.  No watch.  I called the shop where I had made a purchase to see if they had found a watch.  No watch.  We enjoyed a lovely dinner but I was heartsick.  Even woke up several times during the night, thinking of the watch. On Sunday, I drove back to the mall just before they opened to check out the exact area where I parked.  Even if the watch had been crushed, I still wanted it.  There was no watch.  I went back to the jewelry store and asked one of the same clerks as had been on duty the day before if I might have left it on the counter.  She told me that I had put it in the outside pocket of my bag, which is exactly what I remembered.

Sadly, I headed home.  As I passed the Orange Julius stand, I noticed that the same two women were working and that at the moment, there was no line awaiting service.  I stopped and asked the same person who waited on me if, by any chance, they had found a watch yesterday afternoon. 
With a big smile, she picked up the watch from under the serving counter and handed it to me.  I was so stunned and so pleased that I burst into tears.  I tried to get her name but was unable to do so because of the background noise from the food court and because it was not a name that I have heard before.  She explained that her boss, the other woman on duty, had found it.  Jubilantly, I went back to the jewelry store, still crying with delight, and told the clerk what had happened.  The following day I went back to Orange Julius with a thank-you card containing an appropriate reward for each of the two women who had held my watch for me.  I will never be able to thank them enough and will always think of their honesty and accommodation every time I pass an Orange Julius stand.

While I'm thrilled to have my watch back, I cannot help but ponder how limited the opportunities are to recover lost property.  There are few "Lost and Found" procedures still in place.  There was nothing potentially helpful in our rarely-read local newspaper. Have we become so insensitive that we cannot relate to another's profound sense of loss and make sure there are ways to match lost items with their owners?  It may be old-fashioned, but it's part of a sense of community and I miss it.