Sunday, March 22, 2015

Long-Lost John Lennon Letter Inspires Hollywood Movie

In 1971, a small music magazine called ZigZag published an interview with a 21-year-old British singer-songwriter named Steve Tilston. At one point Tilston was asked if fame and fortune — should he be lucky enough to achieve them — would change his art. He said they would probably have a negative effect on his songwriting.

Tilston needn't have worried — he never became famous (although he's sustained a career as a professional musician, and good for him). But his comments in ZigZag caught the eye of John Lennon, who at the time was 30 years old and in the early stages of his post-Beatles solo career. Lennon jotted out a note (see above) telling Tilston and the writer who'd interviewed him, Richard Howell, that money didn't actually change anything. Here's what he wrote:

Dear Steve Tilston + Richard Howell

Being rich doesn't change your experiences in the way you think. The only difference basically is that you don't have you worry about money - food - roof - etc. But all other experiences - emotions - relationships - are the same as anybodies. I know, I've been rich and poor and so has Yoko (rich-poor-rich). So whadya think of that.

Love,
John + Yoko

Lennon mailed the letter to Tilston in care of the ZigZag offices, but Tilston never received it. It's not clear what initially happened to it (maybe it was waylaid by a ZigZag staffer who opened the envelope and decided that a handwritten letter from John Lennon was too special not to keep), but Tilston didn't learn of its existence until around 2005, 34 years after it had been written, when a collector contacted him and asked him if he could vouch for its authenticity. Tilston was confused because he'd never known about the letter in the first place. It had apparently been bought and sold several times by that point. (Yoko Ono later confirmed that she remembered Lennon writing the letter.)

This story is now the rough basis of a new movie called Danny Collins, which features Al Pacino playing a popular singer in the latter stages of his life and career who receives a long-lost letter from John Lennon, triggering a major personal reassessment. Here's the trailer, which, frankly, looks awful:

I don't think I'll be seeing Danny Collins, but I do like that a lost letter has inspired a movie. And it's also nice that Steve Tilston is getting a bit of fame out of this after all.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Old Library Book Cards

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For all images, click to enlarge

When I was growing up in the 1970s, my Mom volunteered at our local library, and I'd sometimes go there when she was on duty. I remember thinking how cool it looked when she (or, really, anyone) used the rubber stampers to stamp the date onto the card for each book being loaned out.

I thought of that when I recently acquired some old library book cards, including the three shown above (those are the fronts on top, and the corresponding backs beneath them). The Etsy seller from whom I purchased them said they were from the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., so the people who checked these books out the library were probably spoiled rich kids.

It's fun to see these old cards, from the days before bar codes and electronic book-tracking systems. I love seeing how long the gaps were between the books being borrowed, the cumulative span of the books being on the shelves, the Dewey decimal numbers, the handwriting of the borrowers. I also love the title Further Adventures in Essay Reading (which begs the question of whether there was a previous volume simply titled Adventures in Essay Reading).

Here are two more:

fronts3 back3

Lots to like here, like the way Steven Anderson crossed the "t" in his first name. I also like how the date for April 11, 1973, was initially stamped upside-down and then re-stamped in the correct orientation. Did my Mom ever do that? Also, it's interesting to see that borrowers signed their names in pencil in the 1940s and ’50s, with pens becoming more common in the 1960s. I'm pretty sure this reflected the increasing nationwide use of ballpoint pens.

Where are these students today? And where are these books?

I no longer have these cards in my possession (I recently gave them to my friend Gilmore as a gift but scanned them first), but I have more of them. Perhaps I'll share them in future entry.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Student of the Week: Madeline Garbarini

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For all documents, click to enlarge

Our latest Manhattan Trade School student is Madeline Garbarini, a dressmaking student from Staten Island whose primary card is shown above. I should admit from the outset that her story is not particularly remarkable, but I was drawn to her student record because of her photo, which is one of the most engaging and likable portraits to be found in my report card collection. Let's take a closer look:

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Nice haircut and jacket, right? Here are her grades, which were generally solid if unspectacular:

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And here is Madeline's work record. The interesting thing here is that she left the school in 1927 but was still taking job referrals from the school in 1937 — another case of the school maintaining a surprisingly long relationship with its students:

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And here are the comments regarding Madeline's work experiences:

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Here's a transcript of some of the more interesting commentary (as usual, I've spelled out some abbreviated terms and made other small adjustments for the sake of clarity):

Oct. 14, 1927: Working with tailor and do not like it. Rather work on dresses. JBA [job placement secretary at school] called O'Sullivan [the employer], who said she would arrange to have girl do part-time work with tailor and part-time dressmaking.

Dec. 21, 1927: We get an extra dollar if we get to work on time every day. I like this place very much.

Feb. ??, 1929: "Don't like it." AMG [school official] wrote telling girl to come in last [day] of month if still dissatisfied. Dressmaking positions scarce now.

Dec. 14, 1932: Worked two months this fall. Prior to that, I was unemployed for one year. Anxious to get a position as a finisher or [sewing machine] operator.

Feb. 15, 1937: Attending Manhattan Trade evening School, Millinery Dept.

Very interesting to see that Madeline went back to Manhattan Trade to learn millinery. This was during the Great Depression, of course, and she must have been desperate to increase her employment prospects.

That's all I have for Madeline. If you know more about what became of her, please get in touch.

• • • • •

Every now and then, someone will email me out of the blue and say, "I was doing some genealogical research and spotted a family member on your list of report card students. Could I see her student record?"

I receive only two or three of these emails per year. So it was rather amazing when I received two of them, just a few hours apart, this past Tuesday. In both cases, I've emailed the report card scans to the people who got in touch and am hoping they'll agree to do follow-up interviews with me for Permanent Record. Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Lifetime's Worth of Pay Stubs

I recently received the following email from PermaRec reader Jim Wooley, who grew up in Manitoba, Canada:

Both my parents have recently passed away (Mom in May 2014 and Dad last week). Mom was 85, Dad 88. Due to poor health, my Dad had been in a care home for the past two years. Mom was able to be on her own and lived in their condo until she passed last year.

Mom was always a bit of a hoarder but in the past few years she started giving things away to anyone who was interested. She gave me some really cool things, including a box full of old pay stubs. My Dad was a zinc and copper miner and worked for the same mining company from 1947 to 1985. They kept every single pay stub he earned during that time [see above], bunched together by year. According to the first pay stub, he earned 94.5 cents per hour.

Interesting. Much like cancelled checks and savings passbooks, which we examined last week, pay stubs are, for many people, a bygone relic from another age. Most of us are now paid via direct deposit, and even the corresponding stub is often delivered electronically.

Jim examined his father's stubs and found that the mining company used four distinct stub formats or designs during his father's 38 years with the company. Those designs are shown on the following four stubs, which date back to (from top to bottom) 1947, 1951, 1965, and 1970:

1947 1951 1965 1970

I love that the company was called the Hudson Bay Mining Mining and Smelting Co. There's something about the word "Smelting" that sounds very old-school industrial, no? The company still exists today, although its name is now far less satisfying: HudBay Minerals.

Other notes:

• The first two stubs are watermarked, while the latter two are not. Feels like a downgrade.

• Similarly, the shift from purple type to black type somehow makes the latter two stubs feel less "official" than the first two.

• I've always wondered why British- and Commonwealth-associated corporations use "Limited" instead of "Incorporated." Could anyone give me a decent explanation, in layman's terms?

Jim later followed up with a photo of his dad, taken on his last day at work. Everyone says mining is a rough job for tough people, and there's certainly nothing in this photo to refute that (click to enlarge):

Garnet Wooley

(Huge thanks to Jim Wooley for sharing these interesting artifacts, especially during such a difficult time for him and his family.)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Love Tokens From the River Thames

The two coins shown above were both found on the banks of the River Thames in England by a guy named Steve Brooker, who's made a hobby of scouring the river's banks for odd objects. Based on the notations that have been scratched into the coins, the one at the top was apparently cast into the river on Jan. 11, 1921, but we don't know by whom; the other one was tossed in by (or perhaps for) somebody named Benjamin Claridge, but we don't know when.

These coins are among the countless tokens that have been thrown into the Thames. Many were simple "make a wish" offerings, but others — most likely including the two shown above — were love tokens, as explained in this article about Brooker and his salvaged coins:

For centuries, smoothed coins were used as love tokens, with the initials of the sender engraved or embossed upon the surface. Sometimes these were pierced, which gave recipient the option to wear it around the neck. In Steve’s collection, the tokens range from heavy silver coins with initials professionally engraved to pennies worn smooth through hours of labour and engraved in stilted painstaking letters. In many examples shown here, the amount of effort expended in working these coins, smoothing, engraving or cutting them is truly extraordinary, which speaks of the longing of the makers.

They're highly evocative artifacts. I'll include a few more of them here, but you can see the full assortment, and read more about them, here.

(Big thanks to David Brown for letting me know about this one.)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Pre-Electronic Banking Records

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I recently received a package from my friend David Greenberger, an artist and musician who does, among other things, the great Duplex Planet project. Inside was his latest CD (recorded 20 years ago but newly released) and the cancelled check that's shown above.

At first I was confused by the check. Did David owe me money? Did I owe him money? Then I realized the check was from 1981, and that there was a note written on the back:

12 Feb 15

Paul —

Another new CD (recorded 20 years ago).

Best wishes,
David

So instead of writing a note on a piece of scratch paper or a Post-it, David had used an old cancelled check! I emailed David to ask him about this. Here's his response:

Glad you liked the check stationery. I was clearing out decades old envelopes of taxes dating back 30+ years and had this stash of checks from an old account (bank now gone, bought by some other bank, I think). Haven’t lived in Brookline since ’84.

If that’s one of the green checks with the little guy repairing a toaster or something in the upper-left corner, here’s how those came to be. One of my roommates back then, for my birthday, went to that bank, which was around the corner from our apartment, and ordered new checks for me with that little picture on it.

I love this. It's particularly interesting given that, for the most part, banks no longer return our cancelled checks to us — instead, we get small facsimiles of the checks along with our statements or, for those who've gone paperless, we access scans of the checks online. So future generations won't be able to repurpose their old checks as note paper, or to tell stories about how the little illustration on the check was a birthday present.

Cancelled checks aren't the only hard-copy aspects of banking that have been replaced by electronic recordkeeping. If you're older than, say, 40 or 45, you may recall bank passbooks, which provided a record of all the deposits, withdrawals, and interest payments on a savings account. This was before the days of ATMs — if you wanted cash, you had to go to the bank and present your passbook to the teller, who would put the passbook into some sort of special machine/printer thingie that would record the transaction on the passbook's pages in very official-looking type.

I recently went looking for old passbooks on Etsy and bought several of them from one seller, including this one, issued by a Massachusetts bank in the early 1980s (for all of these photos, you can click to enlarge):

As you can see, the pages of this passbook were stamped "Cancelled." That's nice (I'm thinking this was probably before the days of self-inking stampers and that a bank employee therefore had to keep moving the rubber stamp back and forth between the passbook and an ink pad in a rapid-fire rat-a-tat-tat), but it's even better to find a cancelled passbook with those dot-matrix letters punched through it. Here's an example of that (click to enlarge):

Then there's this old passbook, which was punched with all sorts of numbers. Not sure what that was about, although I'm fairly certain it had to do with the cancellation process (click to enlarge):

The first two of these books were issued to a couple named Roger and Helen Motta; the third belonged to a woman named Florentine Agrella. I haven't yet done any research on these people to see if they're still alive — not even a simple Google search — because for now I'm enjoying the mystery surrounding these artifacts. As I've said before, sometimes the questions are more fun than the answers.

• • • • •

Update: Shortly after this post was published, I received an email from reader Doug Keklak, as follows:

Oh how this entry takes me back! I have worked my entire adult life in the banking industry. In the late ’90s, when I was getting started, things were in the midst of a change. We began to offer a free service known as "check safekeeping" — instead of returning all your cancelled checks each month, we'd make any copy available to you upon request, free of charge. In order to accommodate those "old-timers" who still wanted their checks returned, we still offered that, but at a monthly fee to offset the shipping cost to the bank. Of course this was prior to the post-9/11 world and Check 21 legislation, which really changed everything.

It was similar story for the passbook accounts, as they were being grandfathered at that time as well. While we still serviced existing passbook customers by entering their interest, deposits, and withdrawals, all new accounts were opened as "statement savings," not passbook savings. For these accounts, we'd simply give the customer a register, just like with their checking account, where they would be responsible on their own for entering withdrawals, deposits, and interest. They would also receive a statement to "balance," should they choose. This was a complete 180 from the days when the passbook was it and was treated pretty much like money by the customer.

Another topic, not mentioned on your post, is Certificates of Deposit or CDs. At one time, they were printed on official-looking certificate-style document paper (hence the name). Customers would often place them in their safe deposit boxes for security purposes. Again, as with the passbook, these were treated like money by customers and you could not redeem on maturity date without the certificate. These days, customers are given a paper receipt, but it's only for recordkeeping purposes. With proper ID, they can redeem any CD at the bank on the maturity date.

Very illuminating — thanks, Doug!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Student of the Week: Virginia Carucci

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For all documents, click to enlarge

Our latest Manhattan Trade School enrollee is Virginia Carucci, a dressmaking student who took classes at the school from 1928 through 1930. As you can see above, she was part of a large Italian-American family (she had six siblings) that lived in the Bronx, where her father worked as a butcher.

Unfortunately, there's a sad note at the top: "Deceased 9-19-31." Virginia would have been only 19 at the time. We'll learn more about this later in her student record.

Before we get to that, let's take a look at Virginia's grades and teacher comments (as always, E = Excellent; G = Good; F = Fair; P = Poor):

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As you can see, Virginia's grades were generally quite good. She made the Honor Roll several times but was occasionally called out for carelessness.

Next up is a document that I don't think I've ever shown before here on the blog: an application for admission to Manhattan Trade. For whatever reason, this card doesn't show up in most of the student records in my collection, but Virginia's was preserved in her file:

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Next up is Virginia's employment record, showing the jobs to which she was referred by the school's job placement office:

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There are a few interesting entries here. For Virginia's second job, for example, her "Reason for Leaving" is listed as "too short." Does this mean that the duration of the job was short, or that Virginia herself was too short to do the tasks required of her? If you scroll back up and look at the lower-left corner of the first card in her file, you can see that she was indeed short — 5'1". Hmmmm.

Virginia also left several jobs because she objected to "piece work" — in other words, being paid by the piece instead of by the week, which is a hard way to make any money for all but the very fastest workers. But in one instance, an employer (whose comment is listed in red) rebutted Virginia's claim: "Told her it was not piece work. She just did not want to stay."

Now we come to the final card in Virginia's file, with comments from the school's job placement staff:

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Lots of interesting comments on this card. Here's a transcription of some of the more intriguing bits. As usual, I've spelled out a few abbreviated and omitted terms for the sake of clarity:

Oct. 14, 1930 [comment from Althea Kotter, the placement secretary]: Frail and pretty. Determined, but can't sell herself well. Will not take [any position] but dressmaking.

Nov. 5, 1930 [comment from Virginia, who at the time was working for a lingerie shop called Carol's]: I realize dressmaking is very slow, but after Christmas I would like to go back to dressmaking.

Nov. 11, 1930 [from Ms. Kotter to Virginia]: Wise to stay at Carol's for the present. Jobs are scarce. Besides, it's excellent to know negligee work.

Nov. 28, 1930 [from Virginia]: Forelady wanted to cut my salary from $14/week to $12/week. Didn't do any sewing, just laid the cloth for the cutter. Had to come in 14 mins. earlier every morning to open up the closets. And had to stay overtime, sometimes until 7.

Dec. 8, 1930 [from Ms. Kotter]: Dye from laces made her sick. Too much standing.

March 18, 1931 [from either Ms. Kotter or another school administrator]: Do not place. Much too particular, and her record does not warrant it.

March 20, 1931 [from Ms. Kotter]: Father came in. Very fine person. Father urged us to be lenient because of Virginia's peculiar disposition. Says she is afraid of things, particularly afraid of facing the world of business. Wants us to try to get her a dressmaking position regardless of salary.

May 7, 1931 [from Virginia]: No chance for advancement here. Could I get a position for the summer? [It's not clear what job this was, as Virginia's work record shows no entries after March 31, 1931. — PL]

May 7, 1931 [from Ms. Kotter]: Stay where you are until position ends. Will put you on the list for summer positions.

Sept. 21, 1931: Card from Josephine Radacinski, announcing death of Virginia on Sept. 15, 1931.

Sept. 21, 1931: Letter of condolence sent to father.

Sept. 29, 1931: Josephine Radacinski reported Virginia died of spinal meningitis.

And that's where it ends. Interestingly, there is now a vaccine to help prevent meningitis, which seems particularly relevant given the current controversy regarding childhood vaccinations. Had such a vaccine been available a century ago, Virginia might have lived into adulthood.

• • • • •

Update: Remember Tony Trapani, the 81-year-old Michigan man who found an old letter indicating that he had a son he'd never known about? There's a sad ending to that story: A DNA test has shown that his purported son is not his son after all. Both men are devastated but say they plan to treat each other as family anyway.

(My thanks to John Chapman for alerting me to this updated info.)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Seven-Alarm Fire Exposes Private Records

There was a huge fire in Brooklyn over the weekend. The building, which was located on the shore of the East River, was a storage facility for New York government files, including documents from the state court system, the city Administration for Children's Services, the city Health and Hospitals Corporation, legal and financial records, and more. Many of those documents, whipped by winter winds, were expelled from the building during the fire and are now littering the river, the shore, and the surrounding neighborhood. Examples include the medical photos and sonogram shown above.

This superb New York Times article provides a good overview of the types of documents that were strewn about:

[A] glance at a rocky jetty just south of the warehouse revealed a scattering of records stamped “confidential,” a health insurance form with a person’s Social Security number, a urinalysis report complete with a patient’s name, and copies of checks featuring bank account numbers.

“If you wanted to steal an identity, I’m sure if you looked at that piece of paper, you’d find a medical record,” said Sherry Hanson, 50, one of the many curious onlookers who clambered down the rocks at the edge of Bushwick Inlet Park to get a closer look at the heaps of paper on Sunday.

The city has dispatched a team of "disaster recovery contractors" to collect as many of the documents as possible. Here's a shot of one such contractor gathering those medical photos shown above (which, as you can see, are quite large):

Obviously, I don't want to encourage identity theft or privacy invasion. But there's something very enticing about all these records, many of which are similar to other documents we've examined here at Permanent Record. Decades from now, will people be finding some of this ephemera buried along the shore?

I'm clearly not the only one who gets a little tingle from such materials. Again, quoting from the Times article:

The current carried more papers to shore, luring people who paged through some documents, photographed others and kept more than a few as souvenirs.

“What if this was all diaries, instead of personal information? Love letters?” mused Loretta Rae, 38, who lives nearby. “If it was diaries,” she joked, “I’d definitely be down there reading it.”

You can read the entire Times article, which is accompanied by lots of additional photos, here.

• • • • •

Update: After I posted the link to this entry on Facebook, my friend David Brown quickly noted that the "medical photos" I referred to are actually shots from photographer Richard Avedon's book In the American West. You can see two of those photos on this page from the Richard Avedon Foundation's website.

It's not clear, at least to me, whether those are original prints, pages from the book, or what. If they're prints, they're highly valuable. It's also not clear why Avedon photos would have been stowed in a municipal storage facility. Hmmmmmm.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Student of the Week: Kate Abrescia

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For all documents, click to enlarge

Today we're going to examine the student record of Kate Abrescia, who studied dressmaking at the Manhattan Trade School for Girls in the early 1930s. The most interesting entry on her main card, shown above, is at the top-left corner: "Do Not Place." We will soon find out why.

But before we get to that, let's look at Kate's grades and teacher comments, which were generally quite good. Note that she routinely made the Honor Roll, and that she received lots of positive commentary from her teachers (remember, E = Excellent; G = Good; F = Fair; P = Poor):

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Additional approving commentary can be found on this next card, where Kate is lauded for "[carrying] out directions without constant supervision" and described in an array of glowing terms, including "completely honest":

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But things apparently began to sour between Kate and school when she was sent out for job referrals. Here's here employment record:

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The first problem involved a lingerie job in April of 1934 for a Miss Van Hasslacher. According to the "Reason for Leaving" column, Kate left the job because she "did not like the work," but a not in the next column indicates that she left without telling her employer that she was leaving. She apparently left another job because she was "not quick enough in fagotting" (a kind of decorative stitch technique) and left yet another because it was "out of the way and did not like working in an apartment."

Further problems are spelled out on this next card:

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Here are some of the entries from this card (as usual, I've spelled out some abbreviated terms and filled in a few missing details for the sake of clarity):

April 27, 1934 [comment from employer upon Kate's departure from job]: Does beautiful work but is slow. I thought she would work out nicely. — Miss Van Hasslacher

Dec. 19, 1934: "Hemmed" and "hawed" about going to a job immediately. Wanted to know if she could go the following morning because she had to stay out home [because] mother was out.

April 2, 1935: Independent. Unreliable. Fussy. Uncooperative. AB [Althea Borden, the job placement secretary] refused further placement.

Jan. 10, 1935: Very sorry about her disagreeable attitude. Wouuld like to be placed.

Jan. 14, 1936: RP [apparently a school administrator] wrote that we cannot take the risk of letting you handle one of our jobs. Suggest you watch the New York American ads [this was one of New York City's many daily newspapers at the time] and register with the New York State Employment Service. Best wishes to you.

Wow. And that's how "Do Not Place" ended up at the top of Kate's file. In a few short years she went from teacher's pet to persona non grata and was basically told to fend for herself — in the midst of the Great Depression, no less. I suspect there may be more going on here that is spelled out in Kate's file, but her story nonetheless shows the high standards the school expected when it referred girls for employment.

That's all I have for Kate. If anyone knows what happened to her, please get in touch. Thanks.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Ghost of an Apartment’s Former Inhabitant

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What you see above is a New York City landlord's ledger entry for a tenant named Vivian Grant, who lived in a Manhattan apartment building in 1960. The ledger was found by a woman named Joanne O’Connor, who now lives in that same building. A few years ago she became curious about the building's history, so she poked around in the basement and discovered the ledger, which indicated that Vivian Grant had once lived in Apartment 2F. That happens to be the same apartment where Ms. O'Connor now lives, so she decided to learn as much about Vivian Grant as she could.

As it turns out, there was a lot to learn. Vivian Grant had died in as the result of a botched illegal abortion, which was a major news story at the time. Here's how the Daily News covered it (click to enlarge):

The more Ms. O'Connor learned about her apartment's former occupant, the more obsessed with the story she became. She spent long hours poring over microfilm, examining court records, tracking down relatives, visiting Vivian's grave. She even named her cat Vivian Grant.

All of this, and a lot more, is described in this excellent article, which I can't recommend highly enough. Engagingly told and endearingly written, it's a great story. PermaRec's highest rating — don't miss.