While we were sustaining pay cuts

The outrageous fact was the website was already losing $300,000 a year while scuttling the paid circulation and advertising that sustained it.

Or so we heard.

And just look where it’s led.

Small-time patronage

Another manifesto I cut from my novel What’s Left, is a vision of a wide community of artists who have employable day-jobs:

One night, as Nita will exclaim, Hey! We’re the biggest patrons of the arts around here! She’ll be right. We’ll have poets as bakers. Painters as mechanics. Sculptors as gardeners. On weekend evenings, there will be folk music and jazz in the restaurant, as well as Sunday afternoon chamber music recitals. Baba will change the art exhibits monthly. In time, we’ll even have to create mail-order catalogs for some of these expanding industries. And that’s the conservative forecast.

Oh, I’m so glad she stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy.

~*~

Well, we can dream, can’t we? Somewhere in Nita’s discourse I hear a plea for a less ugly, less brutal society – one overflowing with harmony and compassion instead. Rather than the mass-media push for blockbusters – movies, hit songs, or bestseller books – she emphasizes face-to-face, small-scale exchanges.

Do you resonate with anything in Nita’s vision? How do we support each other? How do you support your friends? And how do they support you?

Looking for ways to include everyone

Sometimes, when you look into the eyes of desperation, you wonder what the downtrodden might be able to do to help themselves – and others.

In my novel What’s Left, her family has the resources to make some things happen, but they’re small fry in the face of the bigger issues. Here’s a passage I trimmed from the final version of the story:

Baba, of course, retreats earlier by heading to the monastery, just as all the big moves start unfolding. He returns to a different world, apart from the family core – and its true love.

Not that everybody’s talented. Barney and even Dimitri come up with odd jobs for the vagabonds who materialize around the loading docks of restaurants … the aimless hippie, too … and rather than a handout, Can you lend a hand? You know, scrubbing or raking or sweeping or helping move supplies from a delivery van – anything that then might lead to a free meal or spending the night in Barney’s old car. If we don’t have something at the restaurant, maybe there’s something else to do around Mount Olympus.

Oh, I’m so glad she stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy.

I really do wish I had answers. Maybe we need to start small. Any suggestions for Barney and Dimitri in the novel, like helping unpack a truck or sweeping the walk?

What do you do to help others? Not family, but the wider community? 

Cassia as small-town royalty

From one perspective in my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s family begins to resemble royalty in a small-town setting. It’s not that they’re living a life of ease – far from it, everyone works hard, including long hours at the family restaurant. But they do inhabit an old Victorian house that resembles a small castle, and they are known throughout the community and are financially secure. For the record, even pampered royalty must perform daily duty and live up to standards.

I’ve sometimes joked that if were emperor, I’d eliminate some pet peeve of the moment, like maybe banning onions or requiring everyone to do something like go to the opera rather than another soccer match. Luckily, you’re spared the consequences.

What would it be like to be born a princess? Or even a prince? (Well, while we’re at it, is there even a country – real or imaginary – you’d prefer to rule over?)

Aldi comes to town

It took Trader Joe’s forever to get to New Hampshire. Now the other half of the Albrecht corporate identity in America has finally arrived, with a new store in Dover.

The nearest TJ’s, for the record, is in Newington, one town to the south of us, with its mall, cineplex, power plant, big industrial park and airfield, and a slew of retailers serving both Dover and Portsmouth.

If you’re familiar with the German-based Aldi discount supermarket chain, you know it’s spartan about low prices, boasting that it undercuts Walmart. Rather than a choice of brand-name products, the shelves present mainly storebrand items – still in the cardboard shipping box. You put a deposit on a grocery cart, if you need one, and you have to pay for a grocery bag, if you didn’t bring your own. And, despite the frugality or stinginess, there are customers who rave about its specialty chocolate and coffee. And those who complain.

The name Aldi stands for AL-brecht DI-scount. And, oh, yes, the owners, Germany’s richest family, have been feuding, providing plenty of gossip. By the way, the cart rental means you take it back to the store for your quarter, saving the company the expense of hiring someone to retrieve it from the parking lot.

The local Aldi doesn’t sell alcohol, tobacco, or lottery tickets.

~*~

The grocery business has always been competitive, with thin profit margins. Success has depended on volume, for the most part, and niche loyalty, where possible. There’s little room for error.

Regionally, the Market Basket chain dominates. It has the lowest prices overall, wide variety, locally responsive product selection, fierce customer and employee loyalty, and a 1950s’ New England identity. We’re grateful it survived its own Greek family feud and continues with its enlightened leadership.

Meanwhile, the other two players in town pitch themselves toward stylish, but they’re almost never crowded. You might stop there if you don’t want to face the crowd at Market Basket or prefer closer parking, but there’s definitely a sense that they’re not where the action is, despite the corporate decor.

Scarborough, Maine-based Hannaford is owned by the Ahold Dehaize group in the Netherlands, which also operates the Giant, Food Lion, and Stop & Shop chains in the U.S. It feels sterile.

Shaw’s Market operates jointly with Star Market out of West Bridgeport, Massachusetts, and is owned by Boise, Idaho-based Albertson’s. Its tone is somehow greener or more intimately lighted. Do we really care if it’s the official grocer of the Boston Red Sox?

In Dover, Hannaford and Shaw’s sit side by side north of the hospital.

Intriguingly, Aldi chose to tuck its new store in across the street. Rather than building, it could have taken over the former Staple’s site a bit up the street, closer to both the freeway and to Market Basket. We’re curious about the corporate thinking here.

Our guess is that Aldi figures it can pick off at least one of the two rivals that share its traffic lights. Hannaford has a satisfactory pharmacy, one that my health plan pointed me to. Shaw’s turns out some fine baguettes and the tortilla chips are superb. So we’d miss either one.

For perspective, the Shaw’s in Newington recently folded, unable to keep up with its neighboring Market Basket and TJ’s.

Aldi is closer to downtown Dover than Market Basket, and for some prices, it’s coming in lower. But is that enough to cut significantly into No. 1?

We’ll see.

~*~

For now, I’m viewing it more as a convenience store with low prices. A gallon of milk is a dime or two cheaper than anywhere else … for now.

The shrinking newspaper page

Cost-cutters have long found ways to shrink the product to meet rising costs or boost the profit. As was said years ago, “It’s getting hard to find a nickel candy bar for a quarter anymore.” I hate to think what it costs now, much less in a vending machine.

Newspaper pages are no exception. The first jolt to tradition came back in the mid 1970s when there was a newsprint shortage. The Canadian suppliers, for whatever reason – a labor strike? – just didn’t have enough to meet demand. One solution was to narrow the width of the page.

In recent years, as the Internet has disrupted the business model of the news industry, the pace of cost-cutting has quickened.

The ones around here are now 11 inches wide, versus 15½ when I started in the business or one paper where I worked where the page was nearly 18 inches wide.

In other words, today’s broadsheet is as wide as a tabloid was back then, only longer. It’s lost two columns of news on each page – or a quarter of its surface. It’s so skinny I wince.

We never had enough room to print everything we wanted as it was.

For some out-of-this world sensations

In my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s father balances his career between work as a professional photographer and as an American authority on Tibetan Buddhism.

This description seemed a tad overcooked for the final serving:

In the end, Baba creates a dozen-and-a-half commercials before returning to his seat between a pair of six-foot-long brass trumpets and a twelve-hour holy recitation.  

~*~

No matter how much I like the image of long trumpets and chanting, the average reader is going to require too much explanation to get it. Oh, my. Maybe it’s a danger of my being a poet, too.

I have no idea about your father, but I can assure you mine was nothing like that. Mine worked as an accountant for a division of a global corporation. He wore suits and ties, and I never, ever got to see the floor where he worked.

Let’s just say Cassia’s Baba had a lot more freedom and flexibility than most.

Could you imagine having a father like hers Or maybe a famous TV actor? How would your life be different?