NSS: Look For The Helpers, Always.

“There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – Goddamn it, you’ve got to be kind.” – Vonnegut



One week ago it was announced that an American, Abdul-Rahman (formerly Peter) Kassig, who had been captured by ISIS in 2013, had been killed.

My heart broke, as just a few weeks prior my friend Erin had written a beautiful piece about their friendship during her time in Beirut. Her article also goes into detail about his aid work before his capture. It’s an amazing, but painful, read – I truly hope you take the time to read it. I’m proud to know Erin from her time in Boston before travelling for her PhD – she’s bright, amazing, and caring. And it cuts to my core that she’s suffering, and his friends and family are suffering, in the worst way possible. I’m a parent, and I can’t imagine how his parents are even sitting upright in the morning. How anyone survives day to day in the face of such unimaginable grief is a thing my brain cannot even comprehend.

Erin and Peter, Lebanon, 2012

Erin and Peter, Lebanon, 2012

What struck me immediately about Abdul-Rahman’s life was his sheer selflessness. He wasn’t a tourist. He wasn’t in this for selfish reasons. In the face of a horrid war, he was not satisfied until he helped get medical supplies and help to the wounded civilians who needed them most. How many of us would take that risk? How many would have done what he did? He put his life on the line to help people he didn’t know. He knew the risks, and he did it anyway. He knew he had a higher calling.

After horrible incidents of unspeakable evil, there is always the refrain that Mr. Rogers (patron saint of generation X and now the millenials) popularized – look for the helpers. Instead of wallowing in the unfairness, the pain, the violence, the hatred – turn that focus on the helpers. The folks who made a difference. The people who care about the most vulnerable of humanity so much that they are willing to put their lives on the line for it.

And Kassig was that person. He didn’t have to take those risks. He could have stayed home and helped here. He could have remained in college, remained an Army Ranger. He could have stayed helping Palestinians at a refugee camp as he had been doing, but he knew there was nearly no one helping injured Syrians. And he knew they needed help. He went out on a limb to tend to the most vulnerable. He was a helper to the utmost degree.


Pete, Bourj al-Barajneh. 2012 (Courtesy of Erin Cory)

Pete, Bourj al-Barajneh. 2012 (Courtesy of Erin Cory)


His life is an amazing legacy. You can kill a person, but you cannot kill the light they brought to the world. You can’t erase their love, their mission, or their determination. ISIS killed Abdul-Rahman Kassig, but they can’t destroy who he was. They can’t take back the lives he touched, the lives he changed, or the friends he made.

We could all learn so much from his legacy.

If you want to help, Peter’s family has made the following statement:
“In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions in honor of Abdul-Rahman Kassig be made to the Syrian American Medical Society, which is working to meet the medical needs of Syrians displaced and injured by war:
SAMS Foundation
3660 Stutz Dr. Suite 100
Canfield Ohio 44406

Len’s Phonetic Alphabet for Call Center Workers Who Hate Their Customers

[Today’s post is written by guest blogger Len Pal.]

From time to time over the last twenty years, I’ve worked in some capacity or another in call centers. Occasionally while speaking with a customer over the phone, one must spell out names or words. In technical support even more than in other types of call groups, accuracy is critical. If a customer doesn’t type the right letters, the command they are typing either won’t work at all, or worse, it WILL work, but will have a very different result than the one intended. To avoid this, we use phonetic alphabets – saying things like “B as in boy, A as in Apple, D as in Dog”, and so on.

I personally always fell back on the phonetic alphabet I learned in the army: alpha, bravo, charlie, delta, foxtrot, etc. This worked well nearly all the time, and most of my co-workers used it as well. But every once in a while, some unenlightened customer would take issue with our choice of words, despite that alphabet being designed by experts to ensure clarity over radio waves, and the fact that it has been in use by NATO forces for over SIXTY FUCKING YEARS. It is the most widely-used phonetic alphabet in the WORLD, and this customer is annoyed that I said “November” instead of “Nancy”.

Do you think I LIKE spelling out everything for you? Buy a damn “For Dummies” book if you don’t like my word choices. I’m doing this for YOU, to make sure you don’t make your problem any worse by typing the wrong phrase into your Windows registry file. You know how when you press the power button, eventually Windows comes up and you can play FarmVille and look at pictures of cats and stuff? Do you like that? Because if you put the wrong stuff in your registry, your Candy Crushing days are over.

Instead of letting myself get all worked up, I decided to offer an alternative. I wrote my own custom phonetic alphabet, just for those special customers who feel the standard NATO alphabet is too weird. I don’t do much phone work any more, but I’m passing this alphabet on to those that still do. I encourage you to use this alphabet whenever someone gives you crap for using NATO’s… it will teach them to keep their opinions to themselves. And so without further ado, here it is:






















V VOILA (pronounced well-ah)




Z ZWIEBACK (pronounced swee-beck, it’s a kind of biscuit)

The Open Door Is Awesome, So Pay Attention.

If you hadn’t noticed by the incessant commercials and the fact that it gets dark at 2:45 PM, the holiday season is upon us. And unless you live under some kind of overturned fishing vessel, conversing only with passing whales, you know that the holiday season can be the toughest for families already struggling financially.




The above is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which you may remember from your Marketing 101 class Freshman year. The basic premise is that higher levels of the pyramid can’t be reached without satisfying the lower levels first. So without food, nothing happens. A family without food security can’t even begin to advance until that need is met. There is also a Maslow’s New Hierarchy of Needs for Clamtributors, which is below.




 Let’s be honest: food is the pretty much the best thing ever.


So with that in mind, we all need to give a huge high-five to the folks at Open Door. I took a trip over there (don’t worry, they had wifi) and sat down with Julie Lafontaine, the executive director, to talk about their holiday programs and all the awesome they’re doing for the community. Hint: it’s a lot of awesome. Like a few dump trucks full of awesome straight from the awesome quarry.

First of all, something like one in six residents of Cape Ann is served by the Open Door. And the people who receive services may not be who you think. Julie says she asks her teenage interns who they think visits the food pantry, and most assume it’s the homeless. However, they are surprised to learn that many clients are holding down multiple jobs to make ends meet, having had their hours reduced or losing their job altogether. They’re trying to hold on to their mortgages and car payments. And again – without food, you can’t even think about looking for a higher-paying job. Even more enlightening is that the majority of clients don’t use the food pantry as often as they are allowed to, instead coming once a month. For so many families, the pantry is a safety net – or more like a safety trampoline that helps them bounce back (That is the first time the words “safety” and “trampoline” have ever been put next to each other, by the way).

The Open Door doesn’t just serve meals in-house and provide a food pantry – they have a whole range of sweet-ass services they provide to the community. There’s summer meals for kids – providing lunch for kids who relied on school lunches for a square meal. There’s an after-school supper at Veteran’s School. They run mobile markets full of fresh produce out of schools and assisted living centers. They offer nutrition-specific boxes for clients who have medical issues as well as food stamp advocacy. And they also have a garden out back!

They also do a heck of a lot for the holiday season.


This upcoming Saturday is their “Super Saturday”, where they plan to distribute hundreds of baskets with a turkey, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, apples, and vegetables to families who have signed up for the program. They give out about 1,000 of these baskets for Thanksgiving, and do about 800 more around Christmas as well. It’s such a large program that they’re putting a 20×40′ tent in their front parking lot and setting up out there. I mean, that’s a pretty big freakin’ tent.

Also on Saturday, they’re running a Holiday food drive from 9AM-3PM at Market Basket, Stop and Shop, and the Eastern Ave Shaws. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, Bruce Tarr, and North Shore 104.9 will be there. The items that are most needed are staples like tuna, peanut butter, cereal, and 100% juice.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday they’ll be distributing for the holidays. The turkey baskets ensure that families who want the traditional family Thanksgiving at home can have it. They also pair up with other agencies like the American Legion, North Shore Health Project, Wellspring, and Action to provide food for those agencies to cook and serve holiday meals at their locations or deliver to members of the community.

So pretty much what I’m saying is that Open Door is pretty badass, and they do so much for our community. If you’re shopping, get a few staples for their food drive. Or, donate on their page.


The Gloucester Clam’s Tournament of Crappy Intersections: Finals!

Wow, we’ve finally made it to the last battle in our Tournament of Shitty Intersections. We started with 16 of the most awful intersections in town, and we’re down to our last two. Let’s take a look at our contestants:




Last round, Flannagan Square took on Centennial at Washington St. It was a tough battle with a close margin – Centennial and Washington is quite the quarter-panel destroyer of an intersection. But Flannagan Square just has so much more crazy swirling around it. I mean, just yesterday we were discussing how this city doesn’t like change, especially regarding traffic habits. So naturally, one of the worst intersections in town will be the ONE THAT JUST CHANGED THE STOP SIGNS AROUND. And by “just” I mean, like six years ago, but that’s barely any time at all on the island. And no one, NO ONE coming west from Rogers to go down Main ever actually successfully navigates the stop. You have to stop. At the stop line. After the car in front of you proceeds. It’s not an option, you are not a train. When there are two stopped lines of cars, the person who stopped first goes. Not “the person who stopped and then the DeVille behind him.” I’m looking at you, old lady who I beeped at in a terrified manner because you kept on truckin’.

Flannagan’s is most definitely deserving of its spot in the finals. I have barely even scratched the surface of how annoying it is when there’s approximately seventy-three people trying to get gas after work at the exact same time, or how LITERALLY NO ONE on Rogers St will let you take a left – seriously, anywhere else in town, you’re likely to be let into traffic quickly. It’s like people go through a cloud of nerve gas that makes you be a dick about driving just in the general vicinity of Flannagan’s, but usually it’s just a cloud of burning fish fryer oil.

Our other finalist is, unsurprisingly, Maplewood, Railroad, and Prospect. Whoever designed this intersection really pulled out the big guns on this clusterfuck. “Let’s take three super busy roads and make them intersect in a K, but make it so there’s no stop signs anywhere in the entire intersection. No, make one stop sign, just to mix it up a bit. Make the crosswalks kind of faded. Make sure you stick a buoy right in the goddamn middle. It’s genius! I have clearly been paid off by the local chapter of the Horn, Bumper, and Taillight Plastic Manufacturers Union.”

So make sure you vote on the winner! We’ll be back next week to crown the champion!