May, 2010


I am going to be losing a lot of tenants at the end of May. Quite a few of my tenants are graduating this year. I have only one piece of advice to give graduating seniors, but it's a biggie: Don't wind up like my Uncle Lou! Uncle Lou had the same job for 30 years, and he hated every minute of it. There are a lot of people in this world like Uncle Lou, working for years, for decades, at jobs they hate. These people are wasting their lives, regardless of how much money they are being paid. You may already know people like Uncle Lou. You may have a few of them in your own family. Don't become one of them yourself.

Aunt Sara. My mother died when I was 10 years old. After that; my father, my sister, and I used to go over to Aunt Sara's house for lunch every Sunday. It was always a very big meal. Aunt Sara covered her large dining room table with food. It was not unusual for Aunt Sara to have a dozen dishes on the table at the same time and with more food on the sideboard. Lunch lasted at least an hour.

Uncle Lou. After my Uncle Leon died, his widow, Aunt Sara, invited her brother Lou to live with her. Lou worked at the Complaint Department for the Sewer Division of the Baltimore Department of Public Works. He received phone calls and letters from people with sewer problems and forwarded their complaints to the appropriate repairmen. Lou was not an interesting person. He had no hobbies or other interests, so he talked about his job and nothing else, which I found very frustrating. My seat at the table was right next to Uncle Lou. It never, never occurred to Uncle Lou that other people at the table might not want to hear long stories about what was going on in the sewers while they were eating.

My Sister. One day, after lunch at Aunt Sara's house was over, and while my father was driving us home, my sister Judy said some things about Uncle Lou that had been on her mind for a while. She said: "I don't understand Lou. Every week, he complains that he gets phone calls all day long from people with complaints and that nobody ever calls him with a compliment. What does he expect? He works at the Complaint Department. Why else would people call him? Nobody is going to call the Sewer Department with a compliment. Nobody is going to call him and say: 'I just flushed my toilet, and it worked fine.' People are only going to call the Complaint Department if something is wrong." I was dumbstruck! I turned around and looked at Judy, who was sitting in the back seat of the car and just stared at her. I knew she was absolutely right, but what she was saying had never occurred to me before. I was very impressed.

You. You may think to yourself: 'I'll never wind up like Uncle Lou', but the sad fact is that millions of people do. Given the lousy state of the economy today, you may have to take a job that you don't like, but don't stay there. At the very first opportunity, get another job. A life spent working at a job you hate is a life wasted. I like my job, and I enjoy writing this newsletter, as you can probably tell. Do you like your job? You should think about that, or you may wind up like Uncle Lou.


It is amazing how many serious scientific papers have been written on this subject! People have studied this question from every angle. One study, conducted here at U.C. Berkeley, compared how much toilet paper is used per flush by people who use a one handed tear versus how much toilet paper is used by people using a two handed tear, that is where one hand is used to hold the roll and the other hand is used to tear the paper. Another study compared how a toilet paper holder's mounting angle in relation to the toilet affected toilet paper use. The consensus is that toilet paper should go over the roll. Numerous studies have shown that people use significantly less toilet paper if the paper goes over the roll as opposed to under it. It has to do with the sheet tear point. See the picture below.


Chocolate Wedding Gowns? In March, renowned haute couture designer Richard de Chazal unveiled his first formal gown made out of chocolate. The gown, pictured below, contains 45 pounds of chocolate. Model Bree Warren said the dress was extremely heavy and does not recommend wearing chocolate dresses on hot days. The dress was made by attaching chocolate with a heat gun and a spatula to a bodice lined with swimming pool sealant and resin to insure that the chocolate did not seep through the fabric. The gown features a skirt decorated with Ferrero Rocher chocolates. While I know nothing about haute couture, I don't think this fashion trend is going anywhere, but I could be wrong.


How can they call it Grape Nuts cereal when there's no grapes or nuts in the box? That is one of those questions that kids ask their parents and parents find frustrating because they think that they should know the answer, but don't. Maybe that question crossed your mind when you were a kid.

In 1906, Congress passed the Food and Drug Act. This law prohibited food products from using 'deceitful names.' Hundreds of products had to be taken off the market when the law went into effect: canned beef stew that was made out of old horses, whole wheat bread that was made out of sawdust, etc. Many companies found that they could keep using misleading brand names by making small changes in the spelling or punctuation. Last year, I did an article about German's Chocolate. It isn't German, but the apostrophe and the 's' after German means that it doesn't have to be. Take a close look at the picture of the cereal box below. The brand isn't 'Grape Nuts,' it's 'Grape-Nuts.' See the little hyphen between grape and nuts. You probably never noticed that hyphen before, did you? Legally, that hyphen gets them off the hook. If there was no hyphen, they would have to put grapes and nuts in the box, but with the hyphen, Grape-Nuts becomes just a 'fanciful name', as the FDA calls it, so they can put whatever they want in the box. I think this is a mean trick to play on young children who pour Grape-Nuts into their cereal bowls for the first time. They look for the grapes and the nuts and then get mad or cry when they don't find any.


Doesn't anyone know what a metaphor is anymore? When people ask me what I think of 'war on terror,' I tell them: "International terrorism is a real menace, but the 'war on terror' is just a metaphor." I usually get either a confused blank look or an angry stare from people who think that I'm endorsing terrorism. The only person who agreed with me immediately is a friend of mine who is the head of the English department at a local Catholic high school. She knows what a metaphor is.

Politicians love to use the word 'war' metaphorically. When Lyndon Johnson was president, the 'war on poverty' was his principal domestic program. His wife, Lady Bird Johnson, declared war on highway billboards. Richard Nixon declared war on drugs. Gerald Ford declared war on inflation. George W. Bush declared war on terror. And right now, Google has over 300,000 web pages for 'Michelle Obama's war on childhood obesity.' You know, you can't really make war on childhood obesity, or poverty, billboards, drugs, inflation, or terror. People should be very suspicious when politicians use the word 'war' metaphorically because in real wars, governments restrict civil liberties and assume powers that they don't have in peacetime.

By the way, the only one of the so-called 'wars' above that was successful was Lady Bird Johnson's war on highway billboards. As a result of her campaigning, Congress passed the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 which eliminated commercial billboards on most interstate highways. That law is still in force.

Czar Wars. Another metaphor that's been in the news a lot lately is 'pay czar.' Ken Feinberg is popularly known as 'Obama's pay czar.' He's the guy who has to approve pay compensation packages for executives at banks and other businesses that received federal bailout money. Other presidents have also had metaphorical 'czars.' Carter had an 'energy czar,' and Nixon had a 'drug czar.' I find these titles annoying. My grandparents came to America to escape from the czar, not a metaphorical czar, but the real thing. The czars of Russia were absolute despots. Right to the end, they believed that they ruled by Divine Right and were answerable to no one but God for their actions. I think it is very inappropriate in a democracy to call any government official a 'czar.'

Mark Tarses

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