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You Deserve a Break Today

I read recently that McDonald’s is reintroducing its McRib sandwich for a limited time.  Memories immediately flooded me, not necessarily of the boneless pork sandwich drenched in barbecue sauce, but of the six years I spent right out of college toiling for Bay Area McDonald’s franchisees publicizing their products and corporate good works.

I had graduated from UC Berkeley in June of 1981 full of hope and no job prospects.  Armed with my superior education, (a Bachelor of Arts degree in history), I felt certain that the business world would vie for my services.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The United States was consumed by a severe recession that had begun just a month after I graduated and continued unabated until the end of 1982.  I didn’t understand the meaning of a recession, only that I couldn’t get a job.

At Christmas, my sister Cathy visited me and my parents (with whom I had resumed living) from the Midwest where she resided.  We went for a run during which I practically hyperventilated about my sorry lot in life.  She asked me what I wanted to do and I replied “public relations,” because it had sounded glamorous and appealing when I was researching my career options.

Cathy advised me to hand-carry my resume to PR firms around town and offer to do entry level work.  I swallowed my pride and within a week I had a job.  Within a month I had moved out of my parents’ house.

I worked as a secretary for a public relations agency known as Lowry & Partners.  The firm had several high-profile accounts including the Bay Area McDonald’s franchisees.  Within three months, one of the account executives had moved on and her job became mine.  I had finally made it.

I remember my first assignment.  I booked Ronald McDonald, the corporate clown mascot, at a birthday party where he had been requested, and finalized all the details in writing, crossing my “t’s” and dotting my “i’s.”

Ronald McDonald

Ronald McDonald

Then I received a wake-up call from the clown, which shattered me.   As I recall, Ronald McDonald scolded me for my failure to book him in a high profile appearance, thereby rendering him “cheap.”   I had mistakenly arranged for Ronald to appear at birthday party off site from a McDonald’s restaurant, which was against all rules.  Birthday parties, unless they celebrated famous people, had to take place at McDonald’s.

First, I felt stunned that Ronald McDonald could act so mean.  Then I cried as I realized the error of my ways and the futility of my life.  After I hung up the phone, the jaded and more experienced PR pros with whom I worked howled with laughter.  Watching me get chewed out by a clown and take it seriously pretty much made their day.  My bosses’ response served to ease my pain, but I scrupulously paid attention to the McDonald’s account rules (and there were thousands of them) from that point forward.

Within a year, one of the partners at Lowry & Partners left to start her own public relations agency and tried to take me and the McDonald’s account (not necessarily in that order) with her.

I was only 22-years-old, but I had come to know the McDonald’s account inside out.  It had its own special culture filled with acronyms and idiosyncrasies.  I had demonstrated a fondness for minutiae and an ability to get along with a wide variety of people and personalities, which made me the ideal candidate for the job at hand.  Ronald and I had also resolved our initial misunderstanding and I had earned his respect with my dedication and sensitivity to his myriad needs.

I remained with the partners who hired me and helped them retain McDonald’s.  I worked there for six more years and have a lifetime of stories and experiences that still make me laugh.  I never quite developed “ketchup in my veins,” which was the expression the McDonald’s corporate honchos used to assess one’s loyalty to the Golden Arches.

I faked it for an awfully long time though and feel grateful for everything I learned at the oversized feet of the clown.


Sleeping in San Francisco

I love a routine.  Take me out of it and my whole world turns upside down.  I eat more, sleep less and growl a lot.  Last week, my routine went south.  I had a series of events I either hosted or attended and since I’m almost 52, I tire easily.

I anticipated the impact my “busy-ness” would have on me and I tried to build in down time.  But inevitably, the adrenalin I generated from one event would prevent me from resting up for the next one.  By the end of the week, I felt ready for the hospital.

Bill Clinton naps

Bill Clinton napping

When I’m feeling insecure, which is just about every day, I view my inability to sustain a brisk pace as a serious character flaw.  I know other women my age and older who run circles around me.  My friend, Alicia, is the managing partner of her law firm, travels almost every week around the country to both glamorous and God-forsaken locations, and has managed to raise three beautiful children.  She also has a full social calendar and a stylish wardrobe, not that I noticed.

My friend, Helga, who is 74 stayed out until 12:30 a.m. on Saturday night.  We attended the same event and I tucked into bed by 10:30 p.m.  I called her the next afternoon and she rightfully crowed about how much she had accomplished that morning, cleaning two bathrooms, changing sheets on multiple beds and baking an apple cake.

I took a nap when I heard this.

If I don’t get enough sleep, look out world.  Just ask my children.  And unfortunately, as I age, sleep is starting to elude me.  I think it’s related to my plummeting hormone levels (TMI!) and I don’t like it one bit.

A good night’s sleep and/or an afternoon nap remain at the top of my list of favorite things to do.  Frankly, I don’t envision any other activities toppling these pursuits.

I view people who need only four hours sleep a night with suspicion.  Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart and Madonna are famous short sleepers.  Bill, of course, is charismatic yet inherently untrustworthy; Martha Stewart went to jail for insider training; and Madonna, well, you can draw your own conclusions.

Sleeping has always been a huge priority in the Crowley house.  My husband does not get enough of it during the week, but does his level best to recapture his lost zzzz’s on the weekends.  I have long admired his ability to turn on the TV and instantly fall asleep.

My teenage children gladly adhere to a 9:30 p.m. bedtime during the week with no prompting from me, although my 17-year-old son finds it increasingly challenging, given the demands of his senior year in high school.  To compensate, he has discovered the joys of napping on the weekends.

I feel a strange sense of pride that my children share my sleeping values.  They are very productive when they are awake and sleep like bears in hibernation when they rest.

Many successful people take pride in not needing much sleep, but they do not impress me.  I’m too busy napping to care.

If you have trouble sleeping, take a moment to listen to Kenny Loggins singing “House at Pooh Corner,” a Crowley family favorite lullaby.  I’m sure it’s everyone else’s too.


You’ve Got Mail…Or Not

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is under siege.   Mail volume fell from 213 billion pieces in 2006 to 177 billion pieces in 2009, a 17 percent decline in just three years.   By 2020, USPS deliveries are projected to plummet to a mere 150 billion pieces.

This still seems like a lot of mail to me.  I think if you have 150 billion pieces of mail, you need to keep the system going.   Yet, there are calls from different corners of the world, usually the right corners, (you can take that one of two ways) to privatize the U.S. Postal Service, lay off hundreds of thousands of workers and compromise or cancel those pesky benefits.

Legendary postal carrier Cliff Clavin

Legendary postal carrier Cliff Clavin

I like getting mail.  When I hear the mail drop in my box in the garage as I work upstairs, I interrupt my day to see what has landed.  The mail often includes stuff I have to shred immediately such as credit card and loan offers.  I own two shredders for this purpose and they get a workout after the mail arrives.  I never throw an intact piece of mail away as the prospect of identity theft haunts me.

In spite of the plethora of junk and bills, the mail typically contains something I want.  My kids and I each subscribe to at least one favorite magazine and there’s usually a thank you note or invitation we enjoy.

I know my mail carrier by name, Richard.  He is as dependable as the fog in my part of town and unfailingly cheerful.  Richard works hard hauling his sack of mail from door to door and puts my mail on hold when we go on vacation.  I reward him with a bottle of wine, but it hardly seems adequate for the valuable service he provides.

Some of the finger pointing over the post office’s financial straits has been directed at e-mail, which has replaced traditional letter writing.  I disagree.  I think the telephone rendered most letter writing obsolete a long time ago.  Now we e-mail or text when we don’t want to pick up the phone.

Personally, I try not to write anything personal in e-mails.  Why?  Because they can be forwarded with a click of a mouse.  Has this ever happened to you?  I know I’ve received a few e-mails that the sender would have preferred I not see.  I especially enjoy the drunken e-mails sent around midnight.  I haven’t seen a lot of them, just enough to inspire a tortured scene of degradation and disgrace in my first novel.

And then there’s the “Reply All” e-mail.  I plead guilty of using “Reply All,” but do so sparingly and reluctantly.  It never ceases to amaze me that people think their replies interest the collective e-universe.   Do all 15 recipients really need to know that SallySue is not available Tuesday or Wednesday because she is booked in high-level meetings, but that she could, if pressed, squeeze us in Friday?

While snail mail lacks the instant gratification that e-mail offers, I think it still has its place in civilized society and deserves our support.   Few services positively impact the taxpayer the way that our postal service does.   I can’t think of too many businesses that provide door to door service for 44 cents.

Since the early 1980s, the U.S. Postal Service has not received direct tax subsidies except for costs associated with accommodating disabled and overseas voters.  In other words, it has paid for itself until now.   There are a variety of complicated reasons for the USPS’ financial woes, but I am reluctant to alienate my handful of readers with my opinions any further.  Suffice to say, our mail carriers were not bundling subprime loans in their mailbags.

The James A. Farley Post Office in New York City bears the famous inscription that has become synonymous with our mail carriers:  “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”  Apparently, only Congress has the power to get in their way.

Enjoy the Marvelletes’  “Please Mr. Postman.”   I don’t think my Internet server could inspire lyrics that yearn like this song does.


Application Season

‘Tis the season for applications at the Crowley home.  My daughter is applying to high school and my son is applying to college.  I am cooking a lot of food.  When my kids hunker down to do extended schoolwork or in this case, extended applications, I function like a combination cheerleader and short-order cook.  I check on my kids occasionally, talk them off the ledge if they are despairing, and provide liberal servings of turkey and grilled cheese sandwiches and steak fajitas.  This gives my son and daughter the strength to complete their tasks and I feel immense satisfaction that I am contributing on some level to their success.

Mention the word “application” and parents of teens shudder.  In my day, I applied to two colleges.  I was going to apply to a third, but the essay seemed like too much trouble and I felt confident that I would be accepted to one of my first two choices.  Times have changed.  My son will probably apply to nine colleges, which is considered on the low side.  The common application AKA “the common app” is supposed to alleviate some of the tedious data entry, but only four of the colleges to which he is applying accept the common app.

Some of the application questions elude me.  For example, my daughter has been asked to identify her favorite quote.   If I were asked this question, I would be dumbstruck.  The ability to summon up a favorite quotation represents a major hole in my education.  I can tell you the lyrics of a number of Top 40 songs that ruled the charts between 1970 and 1981 especially any Carly Simon, James Taylor or Carole King hits.  I specialize in these three artists’ recordings.

But I was never asked to memorize a single literary quote in my long education.  Now it’s too late because my memory is shot.  Anything from my life that I remember took place between the ages of 10 and 21.  I don’t know what happened to my brain after that, but I never learned all the words to a favorite song again, let alone a poem or quote from literature.

Sometimes I feel intimidated when I read a book that uses a lot of quotes from other sources.  I wonder, “Do these authors annotate everything they read and if so, where do they find the time, or do they have amazing memories, or do they just Google a lot?”   Personally, I Google a lot.  I’m not proud of this, but let’s face it, everyone does it.  I couldn’t write my way out of a paper bag without Google and my virtual Thesaurus.

I do have a few sayings that I draw upon, and naturally they’re from my mother who could quote Shakespeare if prompted, even though her daughter can’t.   They’re more like Patsy proverbs because that was my mom’s name and her words communicated useful thoughts like a proverb does.   She often told me, “Simplicity is the key to style,” advice I have taken to the extreme at times.

My mom also told me “not to get attached to material things,” counsel that I did not appreciate when it was dispensed but has carried me through many a disappointment.

I think if admissions officers really want to understand the essence of a student, they should ask them to identify and interpret a memorable quote from a parent or caregiver.   The variety of responses would open up a Pandora’s Box of emotions.  One thing I know for sure, you can’t Google those memories.

Here’s one of my favorite songs from Carole King.  I could sing this song in my sleep and probably have, just in case you were wondering.


A Walk in the Fog

San Francisco can be so miserably cold and foggy you have to take a walk to warm up.  About three days a week, I suit up wearing several layers of fleece and head out to the walking path that borders the Great Highway next to Ocean Beach.

To the uninitiated, this intersection of land and sea may appear unwelcoming, desolate and grey.  It’s grown on me to the point where I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather start my morning.

The path begins where the Great Highway meets Sloat Blvd, just west of the San Francisco Zoo.  Built in 1983 by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission with monies from the Clean Water Act, the route is an easy one, stretching two miles from Sloat Blvd. to Lincoln Way, which borders Golden Gate Park.  It follows a straight line, with the occasional rise and fall.   Its straightforward topography makes the course an ideal choice for small children and old people to recreate, and there are plenty who do.

Snowy Plovers at Ocean Beach

The salty air assaults and invigorates me the moment I get out of my car.   I can’t see the ocean right away as the sand dunes obscure my view, but I can hear the rhythmic sound of the waves lapping the beach.

I look to the right and notice the outer Sunset homes and apartments sandwiched together like a Giant hoagie…grey, brown, white pieces of meat with an occasional tomato or yellow pepper.   The bright-colored houses amuse me.  I always imagine that the owners are overly optimistic people who think the sun will come out soon.  It almost never does.

Barefoot surfers clad in full body wetsuits cross my path and bravely enter the Pacific.  They suffer from serious bedhead, but it hardly matters given their sleek physiques.  I believe the 55-degree ocean, bracing wind and ubiquitous fog freezes their body fat off.

I mark my progress by the streets that bisect the Lower Great Highway…Santiago, Rivera, Quintara, Pacheco, Ortega, Noriega, Moraga, all named for Spanish explorers and pioneers and in alphabetical sequence, which is reassuring for someone like me who prefers an ordered procession.

The final four street names before the park provide an introduction to 19th century American history:  Lawton and Kirkham, two American generals; Judah, the forgotten engineer who dreamed the Transcontinental railroad; and Irving (Washington), the famous American author who wrote the short story Rip Van Winkle.

Golden Gate Park and a large expanse of Ocean beach known as Kelly’s Cove beckon at Lincoln Way, but after nodding to the newly renovated Murphy’s Windmill at the base of the park, I turn around and head back.  At Noriega, I cut across the Great Highway and walk the sea wall path next to the ocean where soft grasses and waxy ice plants attempt to hold the bordering sand dunes in place.

I’m not a bird watcher, but I am drawn to the protected snowy plovers that gather in an assembly at the water’s edge.  They are small, cute and apparently, very social.  They travel in packs of hundreds.  From what I have observed, they mostly sit on the beach and talk to each other, an activity that strongly resonates with me.

Amidst the snowy plover convention is a smattering of fishermen who plant their poles in the sand and cast their lines into the approaching waves.  They wear hip-high boots and waterproof jackets to protect themselves against the unpredictable surf.

Ocean Beach apartment

At Taraval, the seawall path ends and I resume my walk on the other side of the highway and a few short blocks to the end.  After four miles of strolling in the damp fog and wind, my hair has grown wider and is in desperate need of a flat iron.  But my soul has been nurtured by the raw beauty of the Pacific Ocean and the ironic Sunset District beach culture.  I’ll sleep well tonight.


The Boys of Fall

This Saturday, a third generation of Crowley men will suit up for the St. Ignatius (SI) Varsity Football Team of San Francisco and do battle in their season opener against Marin Catholic.  Expectations are running high.

Future Ignatians Kerry, left, and Chris Crowley

Future Ignatians Kerry, left, and Chris Crowley

After SI went 2-7-1 last season, my husband, F.X., a passionate SI football alumnus, proud papa and uncle, believes the team has the potential to win every game.  My goals are more modest.  I want the boys to be safe.

Last year’s football season gave me pause.  My son, Kerry, began the season with a badly sprained ankle that he sustained in pre-season practice.  He recovered and played and ended the season with 13 carries and a concussion against a formidable St. Francis team.

My husband calls Kerry “the little engine that could.”  His 5’ 7”, 175-pound frame has been finely honed and strengthened through a rigorous regimen of practices and weight lifting.  Kerry’s cousin, Chris, is 6’2″ and the center on SI’s offensive line.  We are counting on him to block for Kerry and protect him from all evil tacklers.

As excited as we are for the season to begin, we also feel the absence of Chris’ father and F.X.’s brother, John.  A little over three years ago, John succumbed to pancreatic cancer, leaving his lovely wife and two young sons, Chris and his brother Jimmy.  John’s extended family and hundreds of friends and colleagues filled St. Ignatius Church on Fulton Street to mourn his passing.

John played football at SI, too.  He also sailed the world as a merchant marine and cooked enthusiastically, studying recipes and sharing tips he gleaned from PBS cooking shows.  He hosted Christmas dinner, serving up generous portions of prime rib and manicotti made from scratch.  He loved to laugh and tell a good story.  He was well-read and smart, but the smartest thing he ever did was marry his wife Charlene.  She anchored John, and together they raised and adored their two boys.

I like to think that John is watching over Chris and Kerry and Jimmy, who plays SI Junior Varsity football.  We welcome support from heaven where John surely is residing.  We miss you John.  Go Wildcats!


My Black Wardrobe

About a year ago, I remodeled my closet.  My old closet stood about a foot and a half off the floor, which put the closet rod just out of my reach.  Since I am short, I stretched on my tippy toes to select my clothes and when I wanted to dig deeper, I stood on a chair.  Heavy, sliding doors further restricted my view of the closet’s contents.

My new closet was a revelation.  I organized all of my clothes into three smaller compartments with rods of various heights and opened the doors with ease.

I discovered a wardrobe that read like the uniform manual of a professional mourner.

My Black Wardrobe

My Black Wardrobe

Black clothes dominated the closet rack:  jackets, coats, pants, blouses, skirts and dresses from size six to 12.   I brightened when I noticed a black skirt and a pair of pants with a pop of white as an accent.

I used to embrace bright colors.  I remember a gorgeous plum wool turtleneck and matching raw silk pants that I favored in college.  At one point, I owned a lavender raincoat that I thought was so smart.

In my 30s and 40s, I gained weight and a black wardrobe to hide it all.  I am now in my 50s and trying to turn it around.

I’m starting gingerly with accessories.  A friend’s daughter invited me to a jewelry party and I purchased a two-tiered silver necklace with blue gemstones, which I boldly wear on occasion.  I bought a violet North Face jacket that looks terrific with my black performance apparel.

My ultimate goal is to wear stripes again.  Stripes convey a classic style, yet suggest fun and youth.  I’ve stayed away from them because as Marie Claire magazine accurately opined, “Stripes can widen your figure.”

In spite of Marie Claire’s admonition, stripes have returned to the fashion forefront, and I long to incorporate them into my wardrobe, perhaps with a pair of stripey pumps, as Glamour Magazine has advised.

Or I may go out on a limb and don a striped sweater, taking my fashion cues from the ever-optimistic SpongeBob SquarePants who says, “The best time to wear a striped sweater is all the time.”   I could do a whole lot worse.


NOTE:  My sugar-free pledge runs through August 14 and so far I am abiding by the “Rules of Engagement” as outlined in my previous post.   Last night, I wanted a mocha fudge ice cream dipped in chocolate from Mitchell’s, but I couldn’t face the blogosphere if I indulged so I didn’t.


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