Sunday, February 28, 2010

Horror Show

Once again, I've got to hand it to U.S. TV media. While Chile lay in ruins, the nation's cable news networks spent a solid hour Saturday focusing their reports on a 3-foot-high "tsunami" (I believe the correct term would be "wave") that "hit" Hawaii. The drama didn't stop there: A 4-inch "tsunami" bashed the Pacific island of Minami Torishima. Wow, that's almost enough to get your ankles wet. For shame.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

U.S. Census Employee: Week Four

Spent the entire week in the field, as my PT temp job with the U.S. Census continues to evolve. We're still in between the greater task that will come after April 1, when questionnaires are mailed to every U.S. residence.
If you don't respond, you'll get a reminder. And then we, your dedicated federal employees, will be sent to sic you, one by one, house after house, apartment by apartment.

My role as a Crew Leader will ultimately be to supervise a handful of "enumerators," the folks that will actually be knocking on doors. I will assign addresses, check their paperwork, make sure they're fulfilling their duties and meet with them on a daily basis to collect information.

But first—and my assignment for the next couple weeks—is to walk through my immediate region in Brooklyn, to secure facilities for training those enumerators. Community centers, churches, dorms and any other neighborhood locale that will agree to lend space—free—where 20 or so new staffers can be trained.

Among the qualifications: proximity to subways and local transportation, safe and secure and well-lighted, and places close enough for meals. The training will be taking place at all hours, seven days a week, depending on what a given facility makes available.

So I'll be out and about, first marking off my list of 53 pre-screened facilities within my local zip code. The goal: at least 35 approved.

It's money, cool cats. And I'm still loving the adventure of being out and about, discovering Brooklyn. Below, some more architectural finds during the week, before snow-topia shut things down Friday.

New (Old) Obsession: "Rhoda"

It's been a gratifying week, with a flurry of freelance coming my way, at last, in addition to working 30 hours for the U.S. Census and making progress on the proposal for my memoir with Liz Derringer.

But when I needed to give my fingers—and feet—a rest, I've had a blast watching reruns of "Rhoda," starring Valerie Harper, which is now airing on "baby-boomer" cable network ALN. The spin-off of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" ran from 1974-1978. Along with 50 million others, I remember watching the classic episode where Rhoda has to take the New York subway to her own wedding in the Bronx. What a blast seeing the scenes shot on the Upper West Side, and in the subway, in 1974 NYC. Graffiti everywhere!

That episode became one of the highest-rated events in 1970s television, at the time ranking second only behind the birth of Little Ricky on "I Love Lucy." Harper won an Emmy as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1975...

Season pass is now going strong on Tivo—which also picked up her performance in the Neil Simon movie "Chapter Two," starring James Caan and an Oscar-nominated Marsha Mason, where a slimmed-down, no-NYC-accented Harper played her best friend.

And how ironic... Valerie Harper began previews last week on Broadway, here in New York, with the lead role in "Looped," a biopic of Tallulah Bankhead. I's gonna have to see that one.

Dear Sen. Bunning: FU

Jim Bunning, R-Kentucky, named "one of America's five worst senators" by Time magazine, single-handedly blocked an extension of benefits and health insurance for unemployed Americans Friday, insisting that the federal deficit was more urgent than trying to get the nation's economy on its feet.

At 78, the former pro-league baseball pitcher, heralded by National Review as the nation's second most conservative senator, and deemed "The Underperformer" by Time, has previously shown little interest in his job—unless it involved the issue of steroid use in sports. Pres. Bill Clinton once remarked that Bunning "was so mean-spirited, he repulsed even his fellow know-nothings. I tried to work with him a couple times, and he sent shivers up my spine."

For his part, Bunning has proudly proclaimed, "I don't watch the national news, and I don't read the paper. I watch Fox News to get my information."

On Friday, during a debate with Democrats over unemployment benefits, Bunning was reported as saying "tough shit," when senators criticized his obstinance.

On Monday, March 1, the jobless (hey, that's me) will no longer be able to apply for federal unemployment benefits or the COBRA subsidy, unless the feds approve an extension.

Hey, Mr. Bunning: Please let me speak for the millions of Americans who are trying to resurrect their careers, and in the meantime, eat and sleep indoors: Fuck you.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Overnight Sensation

Conditions were just perfect. After a big sloppy wet snowfall most of Thursday, temps fell into the night, as snow continued to ease on down. This morning: 16 inches of snow, 26 degrees and a whopping (fabulous) mess outside.

At 7:30 a.m., light snow is blowing sideways in Brooklyn, roads are covered and sidewalks have a layer of ice underneath the snow. It's the kind of day where you just wish you could stay in... ah, wait, my hours for the U.S. Census are done for the week. This time, I am the lucky one! Going to sit at this desk all day and work on book projects. My excursion for your photos below will be my only steps outside for the rest of this day. Amen, cool cats.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Slush Puppy

As usual, dramatic forecasts of 6-10 inches of snow were little more than hype. With temps just above freezing, New York is getting dumped with big white flakes that are pretty coming down, then turning streets and sidewalks into a slush pile.The smart one: Kirby stays indoors, dry and warm.

Diary Of A Layoff 11: One Year Ago Today

We all knew it was going to be bad news. That Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 25, 2009, the publisher of Radio & Records, had called a “Town Hall” meeting for all staff, both on the East and West Coasts. He, in fact, had flown from New York to L.A., along with the head of human resources. If that’s not a sign, then the sky is green.

Our New York bureau comprised the smaller group of staffers for R&R—my editor P, a sprinkling of fellow editors and writers, and the charts department—all shared with Billboard. As the conference call began at 3 p.m., we shifted anxiously. “As we all know, these have been difficult times in publishing, with ad revenues down and a challenging economy,” H, the publisher began. “Unfortunately, today is not going to be a good day for R&R. There are going to be layoffs.”

And then—in what might possibly be among the cruelest, if not least professional methods to follow up such an announcement—we were told to return to our desks and wait for a phone call, which would then reveal our fate. Apparently, the publisher was a pro when it came to “Layoffs for Dummies.” I sat, locked at my cubicle, explaining this unorthodox maneuver to my Billboard co-workers, when... ring.

It was editor P, asking me to join him in the human resources office. It took all of two seconds to figure this one out: My boss is calling. He sounds tense. If I’m staying, why would I be called into human resources? Standing up, I announced, “It’s me.”

In the office sat a human resources woman I’d never seen. Editor P was seated on the other side of her desk, beside a chair for me. He did not look good. “As you know, we’ve had to make some tough decisions today,” he began. The room began to spin as I watched him make words, until he said, “Please know that this has nothing to do with your performance.” “Damn straight,” I thought. Then, silence. The human resources chick was stoic. Editor P looked grave. Jesus Christ, I can’t deal with the weight in the air, so I decided to slice it with humor. I said, “Well, shit.” She almost smiled. Editor P’s posture eased.

Next came 10 minutes of goop about the execution of my layoff… I would be allowed to stay on payroll with benefits for one month, to continue working… then 13 weeks severance… Cobra… on and on… I finally said, “I hope all of this is written down, because I’m not hearing a word you’re saying.”

Once the script was completed, I told the woman and editor P, “I’m dreading, more than anything, walking out this door, because I know everyone is staring, waiting to see what happens when it opens.” I was correct. With heads down, all eyes focused on me as I exited. I waved my blue folder, containing all of the info about “what happens next, now that we’ve kicked your booty out,” and said, “Yes, they got me.” God, I fucking hated those sympathetic stares.

First stop: my work wife Kristina’s desk. “Honey, I’m out.” Blue folder. She was stupefied. “I need to walk around the block. Can we get out of here… now?” Without a word, she grabbed her coat and we high-tailed it to the elevator, before anyone had a chance to ask well-intentioned questions that I didn’t want to answer. I didn’t even think to get my coat, in the middle of February. It made no difference. I felt nothing. At the building’s entrance, co-worker and friend Christa was coming back in. The three of us circled the block for 15 minutes, cursing a good deal and sensing the weight: Everything is different now.

We went back in. A few conversations. I quickly learned who else was canned—six in total, including my sweet, hard-working friend A, who sat next to me. Out of the half-dozen of us that worked in NYC, three were canned. Out of the 40 in L.A., three were canned. Nice division there.

As it turns out, H the publisher—who is also pub of Billboard—hadn’t bothered to let the editor of Billboard know that I was being fired. As single reviews editor and a contributor for Billboard, he hadn’t just laid off R&R’s features editor, but also sacrificed an integral role at Billboard. Savvy planning on the publisher’s part. Dummy, indeed.

From there, I had to call Ayhan. I was utterly calm. “What are you going to do? What’s going to happen?” He was not calm. “We’ll figure it all out,” I said, explaining that I was working for another month and had severance through June. “This can’t last forever.” Of course, as we now know, on Feb. 25, 2010, I was obviously very wrong about that.

I walked. Heading nowhere. I ended up six blocks from the office, in Union Square Park. People were chatting, laughing, milling about. Vendors selling food and art. Life looked perfectly normal. How is that possible? I sat down and leaned against a tree. “Everything has changed.” It kept going through my head. After nearly 14 years, I would no longer have a routine. A defined purpose. A career. God, an income. What a major mind-fuck.

Little did any of us know then that four months later, Nielsen would pull the plug on R&R, and dismember a 35-year-old brand. No print, no Web site. Gone. Along with 40-some employees. The way I saw it at that point: at least I was pushed off the gang-plank before the ship went down. Over the course of 2009, some 75 staffers were sacrificed, as Nielsen streamlined operations in preparation for the sale of its business publications division, which was finalized Dec. 31, 2009. Again, where they couldn't find a buyer for a title, they simply shuttered it.

I can write about this day as if it happened last week. Despite the overall blur, I recall every moment and feeling and movement of that fateful afternoon. I’ve dealt with the aftermath, the fall-out, the emotions, anger, resolution and finally picking up the pieces in numerous posts since, but that occasion remains so very clear. A year ago today.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

JMU Revisited: Coverage Of CCO Event

Boy, this one came of nowhere… a random email from the editor of Madison, the alumni magazine for James Madison University, where I received my undergrad degree in journalism/speech more than two decades ago.

One of my profs recommended me as a New York journalist to cover an event last Friday—the JMU Music Department’s theater group was premiering a mini “comic opera” before an audience of 200 for the Center for Contemporary Opera, at the stunning, historic National Arts Club, located in the Tilden Mansion in Gramercy Park.

For two hours, I worked at warp speed, interviewing the cast, the opera composer, JMU department heads, attending alumni and as many other relevant folks as I could find, while drinking as much free wine as I could pour down my gullet and talk at the same time.

All weekend, I worked on three stories, the first of which (click on yellow to read full text) landed on the home page of, this morning. Truly a fun excursion to revisit collegiate times—and even get paid for it.

Nicole Henry Shares Smoking Nun Review Of NYC/Metropolitan Room Appearance

Click on subject heading to read review... Click on image below to see bigger than a bug.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Olympics: Are They Ever Going To End?

Okay, this Winter Olympics thing... It started Feb. 12 and seems like it's been going on for a full millennium. Hello? Gay. With no men's diving, why do I care? I checked the schedule and discovered this snoozefest continues through the end of the month. Thank god, February is only 28 days.

At least it's airing on NBC, which no one watches anyway, so all this damn sports isn't interrupting "Ugly Betty," "Modern Family," "The Middle" and "Cougartown," or cable musts like "Nip/Tuck" and my HGTV shows.

This might be easier to digest if I didn't log into Yahoo! every day and read about nothing but how great America is, how we're topping every other nation, as if that matters. Do any U.S media outlets care that an Olympian from the nation of Georgia died while performing some ice something? Isn't this about global unity? I think it'd be fascinating if some under-the-radar country like Azerbaijan walloped the arrogant USA.

Because in the end, it's sports. Only sports.

Whore Scheduled To Play TV Whore

Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol will make her acting debut this summer on ABC Family's "The Secret Life of the American Teenager"—an ideal outlet for the harlot teenage mama, since the show is all about teen-agers screwing each other, having babies out of wedlock and ignoring contraception!

Bristol, 19, will play herself in an episode that involves a gang bang with the entire h.s. football team. Ha, ha, just kiddin'. ABC says "it will deal with the consequences of teen pregnancy." Wait, you mean like getting paid for being a celebrity whore? I just hope it doesn't conflict with the Palin's favorite TV show, "Family Guy."

'80's Flashback: Tracey Ullman

Tracey Ullman's latest variety series, "State on the Union," on Showtime, is yet another gratifying display of the actress' chameleon charms, as she satirizes countless characters "across the U.S.," from average working Americans to genius parodies of Ariana Huffington, Barney Frank and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Not that she's ever been off my radar. My iTunes playlist includes a category called "The Best Songs Ever Recorded," which features Ullman's only U.S. hit, 1984's top 10 "They Don't Know" (which, on my own chart, finished the year at No. 3, behind Sheena Easton's "Strut" and Madonna's "Borderline"). I've been listening to the song as if were the latest Lady Gaga hit, loving it all over again.

After sharing the videoclip with Ayhan—who remembers it as a hit in Turkey—I managed to find my original vinyl album for "You Broke My Heart in 17 Places," which I knew intimately, even though, at the time, I had no real idea of who the hell Ullman was. Ah, the memories. Oh, the '80s.

Shh! Grocery Aisle Secrets!

Shh! Don't tell a soul. I was recently at my local supermarket late at night and discovered this all-important top-secret document: how Coca Cola products are arranged, for maximum eye-level impact and sales potential...

Actually, I'm kind of not kidding. When I worked for Nielsen, one of the biz rags that the company owned was called "Beverage Aisle" (Nielsen shuttered it, like so many others), and there were numerous articles on arranging product so that we consumers would go, "My god, Fanta. I love Fanta. I need Fanta. Now."

So I swiped the diagram so that you, too, will know how you're being targeted. Forget terrorists. Coke wants you, cool cats.