Hello Spilotro?

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If you’ve seen the movie Casino, you have an idea of the mob influence in Las Vegas in the 70s and 80s. A major player at the time was Tony Spilotro and whether you’d ever met him or seen him in person, you knew his name … and you knew the rumors: Tony Spilotro was a mob enforcer and someone you didn’t want to cross. It didn’t matter that my crowd was a bunch of showgirls and dancers on the Strip. We didn’t want to cross him either, even if that meant catching his attention and having to decline a dinner invitation or say no to a request to have drinks with one of his friends. No one wanted to be anywhere near his circle – not even on the fringe. There were too many stories about girls who, flattered, accepted an invitation for a drink or a dinner date with a mobster or mobster associate and then found herself in an unwanted relationship that she couldn’t see her way out of later. No one knew what would happen if you turned down the invitation in the first place, but who wanted to be the first to find out? (That leads to a totally different influence at the time – Lefty Rosenthal – but that’s another story).

If you read up on his history, Tony Spilotro was brought to Las Vegas to help the syndicate embezzle profits from the casinos but that wasn’t enough for Tony. He formed his own illicit group – the Hole in the Wall Gang – and his team of burglars would break into hotel rooms, wealthy homes and high-end stores to steal merchandise. Spilotro was a ruthless, violent man who gained notoriety for an infamous interrogation where he put his victim’s head in a vice grip and tightened it until the man’s eye popped out. So, really, would you want to be in a position to have to say no to this man for any reason at all?

So there we were on a nice summer evening after having finished two shows of Casino de Paris at The Dunes Hotel, two dancers who’d decided to head over to the latest hotspot – Paul Anka’s club Jubilation.

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The moment we walked in the door, my friend was stopped by a man I didn’t know who invited us to join him and a group of his friends at a table near the back. We walked up to a long L-shaped set-up with somewhere close to 20 people sitting the length of the table and a couple of people at the head of the L shape. The revelers made room for us and asked what we’d like to eat. We knew the kitchen was closed at this late hour but somehow the table was full of food with even more being served. Odd. Someone must have clout.

I turned to my friend and said, “Who are all these people?” She replied that she didn’t know and leaned across to ask her male friend who everyone was and why we were able to order dinner. He responded that he didn’t know everyone because it was a mixture of dancers from various shows but, pointing to the head of the table, said, “And that’s Tony Spilotro.” Bloody hell! I don’t remember staying long and although it may have been rude, I figured there were so many people in the party that one defector wouldn’t be noticed so I didn’t stop by the head of the table to thank him for his hospitality.

Within the next few years, Tony Spilotro was lured back to Chicago for a meeting and he and his brother were brutally beaten and killed and then buried in a cornfield in Indiana.

It’s funny how it takes a little distance to look back at snapshots in your life and realize how extraordinary they were. At the time, nothing seemed particularly unusual about ending up at a table in Paul Anka’s nightclub in Las Vegas with a notorious mobster but it makes for a great story now, especially considering his demise.

 

Crooked Career Path

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Approaching retirement, I look back at my career path and see a meandering, crooked line and I wonder about it sometimes. How many of those changes were my fault? How many were great opportunities? I’ve spent decades feeling guilty about some of the exits I had, wishing I’d been a bit more circumspect on the job. Then again, I recently put my career path within the parameters of an interesting study I read that described the expectations of the different generations and how their career paths were impacted by the common beliefs of the group they grew up in – Traditionalists (1900-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980) and Millennials (1977-1994).

I’m a Baby Boomer. Here’s how the study says I differ from my parent’s generation. Where they were influenced by parents who survived the Great Depression, who taught them to adhere to the rules and conform, and that you must respect authority and trust the government, I was influenced by the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution and the hippie movement and was taught that things were better for me than for them and that I could chase that great American dream and have anything I wanted. My “spend now, worry later” generation most definitely affected my money management lack of skills for decades and has resulted in not enough money saved up to be truly comfortable in my retirement. I didn’t actually start paying serious attention to budgeting and saving until I hit my 50s.

My parent’s values, which they valiantly tried to instill in me, included talks about being thankful for a job and taking whatever money I was offered and being grateful for it. That stuck with me and made it very difficult to discuss raises, and then when I didn’t get the raise I thought I deserved, it left me unhappy but unwilling to speak up.

Additionally, I saw that although my parent’s generation traditionally got a job and stayed in it until retirement, my generation saw employees getting fired from jobs they’d had for decades in favor of a younger group – and that was frightening. It meant that my generation (well okay, I won’t generalize) – it meant that I put in longer hours to show my dedication and was afraid of taking too much time off in case someone looked around one day and said, “Where the hell’s Lisa? She sure takes a lot of time off. If she doesn’t want to be here, then maybe we should get rid of her.” It’s a terrible thing to worry about your job every day.

Now some of that is my fault. I’m a bit of a nonconformist and have been known to stand up for my rights in rather juvenile ways. Take, for instance, the college summer job I got  working the switchboard at a local department store. The fashion at the time was to wear tops that were cut in at the shoulders all the way to the collar and since those were the burn-your-bra days, no one wore a bra with those tops. I didn’t think it really mattered because the switchboard crew were tucked away in a corner of the building and didn’t interact much with other employees. Nevertheless, a zealous manager called me aside one day to tell me it was improper to come to work without a bra and that one would be required in the future. So what did I do? I showed up the next day with a bra under a similarly sculptured top. I presented quite a look  with the bra straps on clear display on my bare shoulders. My rationale was that I was just following directions but could I have chosen a different top? Of course!

I also look back at my career moves and see that the different mindsets of the generations also played into my comfort level, influencing my anarchism. At first, the differences stemmed from the fact that a free-thinking Baby Boomer was working for a Traditionalist who valued conformity and respect for authority (whether or not that authority figure deserved any respect for the way he/she treated the employees). And then as I got older, I worked for Generation Xers, the ones who tried to balance work and outside life, who looked at work as “just a job” and were viewed by me as slackers. If I could stay late to finish a project, so could they, right?

I’m not really sure if a “big picture” view of the effects of generational changes at work would’ve altered my approach, but it might’ve. If nothing else, it might’ve helped me to see that the workplace was in a state of flux, moving from lifelong careers (which my parents preached was the ultimate goal) to a constantly moving target of fitting in and finding satisfaction and discovering that getting a job no longer meant keeping a job. Although I learned lessons along the way and ended up in a career better suited for me than many of the ones I left or lost, I nevertheless felt guilty about not having the ability to stick with one career until retirement.

Truth be known, my problems really began when I retired as a dancer, because show business has a completely different mindset. Individuality is embraced – indeed, expected. I’ve said many times that once I hit the “real world,” I felt like I put on a mask every day to go to work. That never changed. And because of that show business background where individuality was prized, I had to work hard to be a “team player.” Why? Because I don’t really want to be a team player; I want to stand out as having something unique to offer.

One last thing: I could probably go on for pages about the generational differences and how they subtly affect our exchanges, but I’m told blog posts should be relatively short because no one likes to read any more! Pity. I feel like I’ve short-changed the subject but I’m still trying to be a good team player.

 

 

 

A Short in the Brain

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It was a simple Christmas gift card that eventually led to my realization that my brain is not wired symmetrically and I may no longer be as confident about learning new things as I used to be. Here’s what I mean.

Back in high school, the most complicated electronic thing I had to work  with was a typewriter, figuring out how to carbon copy without making a typing error that required either starting over or tons of white-out. (And I feel certain the younger crowd, if any of them read this, are probably wracking their brains trying to figure out what that means).

Then I entered the computer age and with my verging-on-midlife confidence, knew I was capable of learning anything. Why should computers get the best of me? And learn I did … sort of. I always picked up  enough to do my job but not really much more than that. I would equate it with my capability with cars: I can start them and figure out all the interior bells and whistles but when it comes to how a carburetor works, I’m out. Or maybe it’s just a question of my interest level. Perhaps I could learn it if I needed to; the problem is, I don’t need to and I have zero interest in it.

So that brings us to my gift card. I decided to buy an Amazon Echo Dot and play with Alexa’s fun capabilities around the house. However, I opened the package and panic set in. The instructions seemed straightforward enough but the second I hit a snag and the computer told me one thing (you’re connected to WiFi) but Alexa told me another (you’re not connected to WiFi), I knew it was going to be hours of frustration before anything was resolved (this is why I hate gadgets nowadays). And I was right. It took two trips to Target and three phone calls to Cox to figure it out. It doesn’t help that they ask me questions like, “Is your original equipment a modem or a router?” I finally had to explain to the technician that I had no idea. Those two words are just that – words. They have absolutely no meaning attached to them for me.  He might as well have asked me if my equipment was a squingle or a skelpty. Same damn thing to me! All in all, it took a dedicated four hours to get this simple gadget up and working. Yes, it’s fun but next time I’ll live without it.

What I’ve learned is that there is a limit to my keeping up as I age. Thing is – I don’t really care. I like my world the way it is, thank you.

Climbing the Ladder

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As a woman, and a pretty adamant one about being in control of my own destiny, it’s interesting to look back at my own journey and the journey of many of my friends and colleagues over the years and tally the common things I’ve noticed about that fight up the ladder – whether or not any of us ever reached the top rung.

There are any number of directions I could go with these observations, and maybe I’ll take one or two of those in other posts, but for now I want to talk about the propensity for women to use skills we learned as kids in order to maneuver in a male-run world (especially the Baby Boomers, I think) and how they may have gotten some women ahead in the male-dominated corporate world, but they also made them disliked by other women. Interesting, isn’t it? Is that because they became different people during that journey to the top, a person their friends and colleagues no longer recognized, is it a bit of jealousy that one woman found a way to succeed when they didn’t, or is it that they now emulate the very male behavior they tried to overcome to get there? Like their male counterparts, they become no strangers to hubris.

In the business environments where I’ve worked, I noticed one thing that remained consistent: regardless of the spoken words, the top echelon set themselves apart and their actions (speaking far louder than words) essentially showed us that the rules don’t apply to them, the implication being that they’ve earned something better and don’t really need to be a part of that “team” they so often tout. It’s always frustrating and leads to morale issues. Is that strictly a female behavior? No, not really. But maybe women dislike it more from their own sex because they feel like the women who reach the top have become different people. I don’t know what organizations would look like if those powerful women set up new playbooks with feminine rules, but I suspect I never will, either.

And what, you may wonder prompted this post? It was a conversation I had with a co-worker – a smart, savvy, self-assured woman – who admitted her scorn for Hillary Clinton because of her “demeanor.” I realize this is a whole different discussion but I couldn’t fathom voting for the likes of Donald Trump when the only argument against Hillary seemed to be her “demeanor.” I could only surmise that part of the issue was the Baby Boomer upbringing and our views on a woman’s place in the business world. And that led me to look back at all the women executives I worked with over the decades and why we’d feel that way. This post then, is an exploration of the issue and I’m not entirely certain I’ve drilled back to the core but I know much of it is apt.

New Year’s Resolutions?

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Another New Year’s. I’ll bet most of us, through the years, have done every combination of resolution list that’s ever been proposed. In my high school and college years, I sat down and very seriously came up with the one thing that absolutely had to be accomplished during the ensuing year. It took at least a decade for me to abandon that method as a total waste of time. I can’t think of a single resolution that I actually achieved that way.

Then came at least another couple of decades of following different but somewhat similar plans every year: Don’t call it a resolution, make a list of the top ten things and be happy with crossing off 2 or 3, ten ways to stick to this year’s “goals,” rethinking what “achievement” means, etc., etc., etc.

So here we are – the cusp of 2018. What have I learned? Apparently nothing. I’ve put a different description to my contemplative end-of-year exercise and I choose goals that are a little more general in nature – like eat healthier (what, exactly, does that look like?), keep a cleaner house (like that’s going to happen), and make it to 2019 (I think that one’s achievable). I now say that I like to do a “mental reevaluation” of the year and where I’d like to focus in the next one but that sounds suspiciously like watered down resolutions, doesn’t it? Oh well. Who knows? If I keep at it, I may hit one on the nail this time. And what are those things that crop up every year? Publish a play, find a lucrative part-time outside source of income so I don’t have to worry about reverting back to my college living conditions when I retire (fun then – not so much now), publish a series of novels about my showgirl and casino marketing days (each one in a different Las Vegas decade), lose weight so I look as fabulous at 65 as any senior possibly can and check out another country or two as possible retirement sites. I’m not sure I can cram all that into one year so maybe I’ll just stretch it out for a few more.

Happy New Year to all you dedicated resolutioners!

Hemorrhoids Aren’t for the Faint-Hearted

Hemorrhoids. Horrible word. Not talked about. Embarrassing subject. Who me? Happens to someone else. Pretend it’s anything but that for as long as you can. Any of those sound familiar?

Well, they do to me. Although I’ve since learned that the majority of people develop hemorrhoids at some point in their lives, I managed to make it to 65 before it invaded my every waking hour. It all started about five months ago when I ended up in the hospital overnight with what turned out to be GERD. That’s another Who Knew? moment for me. That I could end up in the ER and subsequently overnight in the hospital because GERD mimics heart attack, was quite a surprise. It took another few weeks of tests to discover that I have no heart problems and a trial (suggested by the heart doctor) of using Mylanta to discover that it did indeed stop the burping and tummy rumbling.

Fast forward to five months later. I’ve now been on a blood pressure pill and a GERD prescription and now I have extra issues: not only has the burping not gone away (although it seems better), but now I have this horrible pressure at the other end that makes me uncomfortable all day, every day. Of course, working in hospice, we have a tendency to “awfulize.” Every day we have a family member comment about how healthy and happy their loved one was just the week before and now they’re dying in hospice. Because of this, we have this tendency to advance our symptoms into terrible things. Have a headache? Glioblastoma. A tickly cough? Must be throat cancer. Back pain? Surely it’s kidney cancer. And so on and so on.

That brings us back to pressure all day every day in an area that most people don’t want to casually discuss with anyone else. Must be colon cancer. I made an appointment with a gastroenterologist, had an endoscopy and colonoscopy and was relieved to find out I have acute gastritis (a diagnosis I don’t mind discussing with fellow workers) and hemorrhoids (a diagnosis I do mind discussing with fellow workers).

Why is it that gastritis can be kept under control with a swallowed medication but hemorrhoids require suppositories? Can’t they come up with something a little more palatable? Truthfully, I hate the remedy almost as much as the problem. In any case, it has taken the suppositories almost a week for me to notice much of a difference so I put my herbal skills to work and created a salve that worked instantaneously and has continued all day.    I infused Evening Primrose, Avocado, Safflower and Olive oils with Witch Hazel Bark, Yarrow leaves, Plaintain, Chamomile, Calendula and St. John’s Wort and then added beeswax to get that salve consistency. I applied it topically this morning and it’s still working almost half a day later. You can bet I’ll be adding this product to my web site, Scentsibility. Maybe there are tons of other “closet” hemorrhoidians out there who could benefit.

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Hopefully, this will not be a retirement issue but just a diet and lifestyle issue that I can manage. However, I’m not pleased to have made it all the way to 65 and then get slapped with this indignity!

Who’ll Take Care of Me?

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I often hear people ask those of us who aren’t married and have no children, “Who’ll take care of you when you get older?” Interesting question. Yes, it has crossed my mind many times and I used to believe that my brother and/or my friends would take care of me. I ‘ve never been uncomfortable on my own and living by myself is something I treasure. I never have to argue over what television show to watch, clean up after someone else or let him know what time I’ll be home. If I want to waltz around the house naked, there’s no one to point out my flabby parts or use that as the right time to suggest a healthier diet. So it’s not loneliness that concerns me – well not now anyway. I might one day eat those words but right now, I don’t see that as the issue.

But what if I live to a ripe old age, and most of my friends and my brother are gone? I must admit, it is a concern. On the other hand, working in hospice, I see how abysmally family members can treat each other and fight over money and possessions. The patient is more often than not the one who bears the brunt of the disrespect and, sometimes, outright neglect. So, if I were married and had a bunch of children, could I necessarily count on any of them to do the right thing by me? I think not. Many times the children dislike each other and fight over who’s right concerning the patient’s care. The thing is – it’s usually the patient who suffers because the kids aren’t making a decision on what’s best for the patient; they’re deciding based on their own comfort levels. I guess I’m glad I won’t have a child who’s so determined to keep me here that he/she makes hospice staff withhold medications that would make me comfortable so I can be what they would call “alert” even though I’m thrashing around in the bed.

My biggest concern is the in-between stage – the stage where I’m no longer able to live on my own, require constant care but am not hospice appropriate. I hear horrible stories about the care the elderly get in many of the nursing homes. And I can see it clearly. Nursing homes, like most other businesses, have a plethora of employees who are primarily interested in the paycheck and not the job. Many of them have little or no empathy for the elderly people and how could they? They have zero understanding of living with legs that no longer hold them up, or having to take a ton of medications that take care of one thing but bring all kinds of side effects that may make the elderly person seem “slow, ” when, in fact, the brain works just fine. Those are the circumstances that concern me. I’m not sure the outcome of being in that environment has anything to do with whether or not I have children – and children who truly care about my best interests to boot.

So the fact that I don’t have a husband or children doesn’t bother me about growing older and ending up in a nursing home. What concerns me is ending up in a home where the culture is one of “just wheel them into a corner and let them sit all day.” And I’ve seen it. We had a case of a patient who was brought into the hospice to find placement in a different home because the one where he had been living had wheeled him outside ostensibly to “get some sun and fresh air” and left him in the Las Vegas summer sun for the better part of a couple of hours. I worry that I’ll need to go to the bathroom and someone will be irritated that I ring for help too often. I worry that I’ll reach a point where I have to defecate in a diaper and no one will come to change me for hours and hours. I worry that I’ll end up with Stage IV decubitus ulcers because it’s too much trouble to constantly turn me. I worry that I’ll be hungry but someone forgot to take me down to the lunch room to eat. I worry that I’ll be physically broken but mentally alert and people will come in and talk to me like I’m a two-year-old.

Bottom line: it’s the people in the facilities who will be tasked with my day-to-day comfort that worry me.