On the Last Days of Christmas This Is What to See

Some 361 days remain until Christmas 2015, but for those who want to enjoy 2014 holiday windows and displays in New York City, the time grows very short. Here’s a quick list of must-sees, with few spoilers about store themes and no images included. These sights have to be experienced first hand. 1. Macy’s at Herald Square – these are light-years beyond even the fine designs of recent years 2. Bergdorf Goodman – a salute to the arts with an especially textured tribute to Literature 3. Lord & Taylor — an enthralling contact with the enchantment of books. How wonderful to see two great retailers celebrate the pleasure of reading. One humbug to L&T: for years I have been looking for Asian and black revelers, fairies and elves among the tiny white faces so that your imaginative displays reflect all the skin tones of New York. I recall one figure in an Afro last year, but give us more! 4. Tiffany & Co. – crisp and relatively simple tableaux celebrate urban moments while setting off the store’s diamonds and gold. These clear the visual palate after the ebullience of other store windows, even as the building itself is lit up as the best present ever 5. Saks Fifth Avenue – a New York tweak to the fairy tales of the ages. Could you enjoy an apple purchased from the hands of an evil stepmother at a food cart? 5. American Museum of Natural History – best origami tree ever! Salute the topiary dinosaurs on Central Park West then head to the 77th Street entrance where folded paper magic awaits. Spirit of Christmas Past (2012): American Museum of Natural History 2012

Your Identity or Your Life, Jobseekers, Submit to Abuse

Target Corp. just announced that it would stop running criminal background checks on potential employees. Good, because among other things the practice discriminated against needy, capable senior citizens who committed minor infractions during the Summer of Love. Worse yet, job applicants must supply their Social Security numbers and birth dates to people who may expose them, however unwittingly, to identity thieves.  No one could quibble if responsible Human Resources personnel checked into those in the final stages of the hiring process on any level, but today a job application form with a low wage employer — or even a classy one — is like something one should fill out before being approved for a U.S. ambassadorship. This has disturbing implications for all of us.

Some (not Angela Merkel or Edward J. Snowden) would say we are paranoid to protect our little-people identity and guard the on-ramp to all our financial information, so let us monetize this issue. The Internal Revenue Service says it mistakenly pays as much as $5.2 billion annually in tax refunds to criminals filing false returns using Society Security numbers they have stolen. The IRS estimates that known identify fraud cases have grown by 650 percent since 2008. I suspect that is due in part to exposure of personal data on the Internet. I myself was amazed to obtain the foreign passport number of my pesky neighbor when I entered his distinctive name alone into a Google search. I, of course, will use this power for good, but protecting my own information from faceless or over-eager strangers has worked against me.

Three years ago I was dumbstruck when two sympathetic, responsible women at the New York Botanical Garden asked for my Social Security number and birthdate the first (and only) time they interviewed me for a position in their public relations department. Not having looked for a job in a while, I said I knew they would need that information if I became a finalist for the job. I never heard from them again. The request shocked me and felt like a horrible violation. Common sense indicated it was a terrible risk.

Yesterday to prove my point I applied for entry sales jobs at New York City stores. Target’s on-line application required my Social Security Number. When I did not supply it, I could not proceed. CVS asked for my date of birth explaining that it wanted to send age-appropriate ads (mascara and condoms vs. adult diapers and Medicare spam). Then CVS “proposed” that I take an optional survey. When I tried to take advantage of my proffered right to decline, pop-up boxes insisted that CVS really wanted me to take it. Then I had to agree to a privacy policy that would have permitted robocallers to “contact” me and would have allowed CVS to disclose my information to “third parties.”  I declined other CVS opportunities (I don’t know how many jobs they have anyway because they use check-out machines instead of cashiers).  Macy’s wanted me to take a tax survey. I declined, but after more coaxing pop-ups, I agreed because this was clearly the only way to apply. The first question on the survey was my Social Security number and my age — literally whether I was over or under 40. Then we proceeded to the question about the year I graduated from high school. I would hate to be a 41 year old single mother, unless I had a job in a human resources department. What do these people do nowadays or have they all been laid off? We might not be getting jobs, but we sure are getting ads and robocalls.