Empty Shelves

Life in the Time of Coronavirus

Most of my colleagues have been staying home and teleworking, just as I have been for the past week. It’s been a strange undertaking for all of us. “I’m right here,” I attempted to reassure one of my team members over the phone. “I’m just at the other end of the keyboard.”

We keep in touch by text message, by email, over Skype and on the phone. And then there are the endless conference calls, some of which have lasted into the evening. I’m fairly sure that I have been on more conference calls in the past week than in all the years of my professional life combined.

“No one is allowed to get sick,” I tell my team. “I need each and every one of you. Go wash your hands. Do it now!” In my mind, I see hot water faucets being turned on and hand soap being lathered. I can only hope that my imagination squares up with reality.

One of my coworkers ventured out to the supermarket a few nights ago. Next day, I asked her how it went. There was no chicken, no ground beef, no milk, no toilet paper, she reported. “How about canned goods?” I asked. Not much, she told me. The shelves were picked bare.

“What are things going to look like in two weeks?” I asked my wife. I could almost hear the infrastructure disassembling. Does it take a virulent microorganism to prove to the world that the foundation of our society is not love or faith or duty, but supermarkets and toilet paper? And does this mean that we need to start a new religion where all of us pray to Sam Walton?

I try to remember to check in with my elderly parents regularly. Mom is hunkered down for the duration and is dead set on preventing Dad from wandering farther than the mailbox across the road. On the phone with Mom, she admits that her pantry is starting to look rather bare, although they still have plenty in the refrigerator. She estimates that they have enough food left for ten days.

Holy mackerel, do you know what that sounds like, Mom? Like you’re marooned on a desert island or lost in the Antarctic. Better ration your comestibles now, or in ten days you’ll become polar bear food.

Sigh. I tell Mom that I’ll try to have some food delivered to her house, but that I don’t know whether anyone will deliver way out there on the wild prairie, or even if there’s any food to be had anymore. Amazon is taking orders to be delivered 30 days from now, Mom tells me. Oh, yeah? And what are people supposed to eat in the meantime? She asks for bananas.

In my dreams, I am speeding 200 miles down the freeway to rescue my starving parents, when I am pulled over by the cops for violating the “shelter in place” order. They drag me out of my vehicle, haul me off to jail and impound my vehicle.

I start perusing websites and making phone calls, looking for a grocery store willing to deliver out to the sticks. I quickly become frustrated. One supermarket tells me I have to contact DoorDash. When I ask for their phone number, I am placed on hold and listen to the same tune over and over until I am finally disconnected.

I go back to work and my wife takes over our mission of mercy. Instacart to the rescue! After several false starts, she finds that we can order groceries for delivery from Save Mart.

We start to make a list of items we think my parents would like. Bananas, cottage cheese, sour cream, French bread. White tuna in water? Sold out. Canned salmon? Only one can left. How about the packets? Not sure if they’ll eat that. Stuff for salad? Lettuce, yes. Beefsteak tomatoes? All out. How about Romas? Cucumbers? How about the little English ones? Marie’s bleu cheese dressing. Dad’s favorite Honey Bunches of Oats.

We close out the order: $160. The price of some items have mysteriously doubled.

Not long after, the store emails us. Bad news on the fruit. I call Mom again and sing a painfully off-tune rendition of “Yes, We Have No Bananas.”

We order a box of Entenmann’s chocolate donuts for my parents. Okay to substitute the variety pack if necessary? Sure. They end up delivering a bag of donut holes.

At least the delivery occurs. We breathe a sigh of relief as Dad reads off a list of the contents of the boxes. He is particularly thrilled with the bleu cheese dressing.

1,224 people have tested positive for coronavirus here in California. Far less than, say, New York, but still a lot. Will this number triple or quadruple in the next few weeks? Will the supermarket employees and delivery people start to get sick and disappear from the scene? What if the truck drivers can’t deliver food to the supermarkets? Thinking about these things makes my head hurt.

My wife and her sister head out in search of groceries. They hit up one supermarket after another, finding many bare shelves and picking up what’s still available. They hope to score lettuce and tomatoes to make sandwiches, but no luck.

After coming up empty-handed at five supermarkets, my sister-in-law was sauntering down an aisle when she spied both lettuce and tomatoes in a shopping cart. She looked around, didn’t see anyone, and transferred both items into her own cart.

Salad, anyone?

Cheap Chic

Saving money on everyday purchases seems to have attained a great deal of popularity these days.  I suppose this is really nothing new; I have fond memories of my parents pasting Triple-S Blue Stamps (from Grand Union), S&H Green Stamps (from Daitch Shopwell) and Plaid Stamps (from the A&P) into little books that were stored in a kitchen cabinet next to the refrigerator.  And then there were always coupons to clip from the pull-out sections in the Sunday newspaper.

My teenaged niece recently expressed interest in “couponing.”  I see that, these days, coupons don’t necessarily require scissors; you can just print them off your computer’s printer.  I call these “click coupons.”  Some coupons are even paperless.  You just wave your phone at a QR tag, scan a bar code or show the email/web page to the clerk.

There are a lot of bloggers out there writing about sticking to a budget and shopping economically.  I particularly enjoyed this post that encourages readers to make the dollar store part of their regular routines.  Nevertheless, I don’t agree with the author’s thumbs down on purchasing food at the dollar store.  Sure, you have to keep careful watch on expiration dates, but you can often spot large remaindered lots of soup or tomato sauce or canned vegetables that sell for more than a dollar each in the supermarket.  Junk food like chips and soda seems to be cheapest at the dollar store most of the time.  For nonfood items, however, you can pretty much run amok like a kid in a candy store.  (Speaking of which, it’s a great place for candy if you’re dying for sugar.)  We wouldn’t think of looking for greeting cards anywhere else.  And I credit the dollar store for the Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas schlock with which I have been able to decorate my cubicle at work.

I am a big fan of the “green” movement, and a fervent believer in reducing, reusing, recycling and repurposing.  So the Goodwill and Salvation Army stores are always fun places to visit.  Several times each year, we make donations of clothes that we no longer wear and toys that my grandniece has outgrown.  Better that someone else should enjoy them for 99 cents than that they should sit forlornly in our closets.  We like the fact that many donors have dumped off piles of books there, a few of which find their way cheaply (and temporarily) into our library.  We rarely keep them long.  After we’ve read them, we usually pass them on to someone else.  If no family member is interested, there’s always someone online who is.

I still get a kick out of the references to Grandpa’s coat and “poppin’ tags” with “twenty dollars in my pocket” from Macklemore and Lewis’ hip hop answer to conspicuous consumption, “Thrift Shop” (although I could do without the gratuitous profanity).

soy meat

When I recently had a day off work for Veterans Day, we took a trip up the freeway and over into Sutter County to check out Grocery Outlet.  My wife had stopped into one of their stores in downtown Sacramento after she dropped me off at work one day last month and was surprised to find my favorite “fake meat.”  There are a lot of these vegan products around, made from soy or textured vegetable protein, either of which can be formed into nearly any shape.  They are meat substitutes, good sources of protein and typically supposed to taste like beef or chicken (they don’t).  Most of these products make an excellent dish when sautéed in a little olive oil and garlic with a bunch of veggies and served over rice, potatoes or pasta (or done up as tacos).

So we decided to check out a Grocery Outlet store a little closer to where we live.  This place is a far cry from a 99 cent store, but it certainly does carry an eclectic variety of merchandise at relatively low prices.  You just have to be choosey and see whether anything you happen to need is available on the cheap.  In front of the store was a tall display filled with the largest bags of potato chips and barbecue chips that I’d ever seen.  Perusing the aisles inside, I was amazed at the quantity of non-food items they carry.  The last time I’d been in a Grocery Outlet store was back when we lived in the Central Valley, many years ago.  We used to call the place “the canned food outlet,” because that’s what we would buy there:  Lots of dirt cheap canned items, mostly dented or with the labels peeling off.

This place was different, however, and we were surprised at some of the bargains we were able to pick up.  A blue and white laundry basket for my niece, along with a matching rug.  (Merry Christmas.)  A Psalms calendar for Pastor Mom.

jacket

And that’s when I saw it.  A rack of zippered jackets, with enough insulation to be cozily warm without being heavy like a parka.  Most incredibly, they had some in my size!  I tried on a chocolate brown jacket and decided that this was indeed a bargain for twenty bucks.

Oh, and they had my fake meat, too.

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The King-Sized Sheet: A Veterans Day Story

My 80 year old parents use a fitted sheet on their king-sized bed.  Their one and only fitted sheet.  Once each week, they remove it, put it through the washer and the dryer, and back on the bed it goes.

Well, you know what happens after a couple of years of this.  One day recently, my father hauled the sheet out of the dryer, spread it out on the bed, tugged at one of the corners, and rrrriiiippp!  A sheet that is used daily only lasts so long, and this one had reached the end of its natural life.

So my parents were forced to go shopping for a sheet.  They looked for a good price in several stores, finally settling on an Egyptian cotton number marked down at Ross Dress for Less.

It was apparent that numerous shoppers had put their grubby little hands on the sheet before it attracted my parents’ gaze.  The zipper on the plastic wrapper was partially open and an edge of the sheet was sticking out.  It looked as if someone had completely removed the sheet for inspection, rejected it, and stuffed the sheet back into its casing.  But my parents liked the color and they felt the price was reasonable, so they bought it.

Back at home, my father set down the package in the guest bedroom to disengage it from its plastic cocoon.  When it was out, my mother took one look at it and said “that’s not a king-sized sheet.”  “Yes, it is,” my father replied, spreading it out roughly on the guest bed to prove his point.  After all, the outside of the package had a large K sticker and the tags inside were marked “king” as well.

Very well, said my mother, who removed all the tags and threw them in the trash.  (Now I know why we keep our tags along with the receipts.)

Several days elapsed before my parents removed the torn sheet from their bed for the final time.  Time to bring out the brand new sheet.  In the washer went the sheet, then in the dryer.  My father carried the new sheet into the master bedroom for its inaugural run.  He tried to spread it out on the bed when he realized something was wrong.

“You were right,” he admitted to my mother.  “It’s not a king-sized sheet.”

My parents knew they had to drive back in to the city to exchange the sheet that very day.  My mother brought out the ironing board and ironed the sheet.  Then she folded it neatly and stuffed it back into its plastic casing.

The only problem was the tags.  My mother had thrown them away.  And my parents knew that the store was not likely to take back the sheet without its tags.

Thus, my parents proceeded to conduct the great tag hunt.  This involved rummaging through several days of accumulated trash.  Now, my parents live out in the country where there is no municipal trash collection.  Most of her neighbors pay a trash hauler to come by each week to pick up the contents of their trash cans.  Not my parents.  They are too frugal.  It’s a waste of money, in their opinion.

So they dispose of their trash themselves.  This means that when the trash cans in the kitchen and the bathrooms fill up, they dump it into their large trash bucket out back of the house.  When the bucket starts getting full, they haul the contents into town for disposal in a convenient location.  Dumpsters located at convenience stores, supermarkets and restaurants are likely targets.  When larger items (such as old furniture) require disposal, they are taken out back, where my father chops them up with an axe before dumping the pieces into “the hole,” a large trough that they had dug years ago, way back at the property line of their 2½ acre spread.

My parents pulled chairs up to the trash bucket out on the patio, tilted it onto its side and began sorting through the contents.  Partway down, the errant tags were located, covered in coffee grounds.  Breathing a sigh of relief, they cleaned off the tags as best they could, then washed them.  But they still were all crumpled and ugly-looking.  So (what else?) my mother ironed them.

Back into the plastic casing with the sheet went the tags.  My parents drove back into town, returned the sheet to be credited back to my father’s charge card, and headed over to Bed, Bath and Beyond to look for another sheet.  A real king-sized sheet.

Locating a sheet that satisfied them, my mother bemoaned the fact that here she was making a purchase from BBB just when she did not have one of their ubiquitous 20% off coupons that are always arriving in the mail.  Luckily, they overheard a conversation in the store about a discount granted to veterans.

My parents entered the checkout line with the sheet, and another elderly couple lined up right behind them.  When the clerk rang up my parents’ purchase, my father asked about the veterans’ discount.  “Sure, let me see your veteran’s card,” said the clerk.

The clerk, a young woman who appeared to be barely out of high school, didn’t realize who she was dealing with.  My father explained that he didn’t have a veteran’s card and, in fact, didn’t even know that such a thing existed.  “I served in the Korean War between 1952 and 1956, young lady,” began Dad, “but you wouldn’t know anything about that because that was before you were born.”

The manager had to be called, holding up the line.  Finally, the elderly couple waiting behind my parents came to the rescue.  “Here, use my veteran’s card,” said the man.  The clerk punched the card number into the computer, my father returned the card to his neighbor, and a receipt spat out with the veterans’ discount duly deducted from the total.

Word is that my parents are now enjoying their new king-sized sheet.

Happy Veterans Day, everyone!

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End of an Era

Kmart3

The only K-Mart in this area is closing down on December 7.

I suppose I shouldn’t care very much about this.  After all, neither my wife nor I am much for shopping.  We get ‘er done and get out as quickly as possible.  Yet there is something vaguely disconcerting about a local institution passing into history.

The store itself is nothing to write home about.  It is more or less your typical box store, with a garden center at one end.  But this K-Mart has at least two strikes against it.  For one, the store hasn’t been updated in some time.  It reminds me for all the world of the S.S. Kresge/K-Mart in the old Garden State Plaza (before it was enclosed back in the 1970s) in Paramus, New Jersey.  For another, its location on a back street several blocks off the main drag doesn’t attract the kind of business that an establishment of that size requires to survive.  Sears seems to be closing a lot of K-Mart stores all over the country in an attempt to remain profitable in an economy that has changed considerably since the days of the mid-20th century in which I grew up.

Kmart1

My wife likes to browse the K-Mart racks for discount clothes.  You never know what gems may show up at any given time.  When we took a walk through the store on a recent weekend, there were “30% off” and “store closing” signs everywhere and many of the displays were just about empty.

Kmart2

Still, the store was crowded with bargain hunters.  My wife and I each managed to score several shirts in our respective sizes.

Once K-Mart closes, I am certain that the storefront will remain empty for years.  The less than ideal location is unlikely to attract another box store.  Perhaps someday it will be cut up into small retail spaces that will house more schlocky dollar stores, Chinese restaurants, taquerias, rent-to-own shops and payday loan operations.

Until then, it will remain a beached whale decaying in the sun, an eyesore serving as a painful reminder of California’s glorious economic past.

Meanwhile, we still have Wal-Mart, and very few alternatives to challenge its dominance.

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Christmas in September

wreath

Hey!  All you last minute procrastinators had better get on the stick.  There are only 102 days left until Christmas.

Before you start pummeling me, allow me to assure you that there is evidence aplenty of the impending arrival of Santa.  In fact, word on the street is that the big man has put on mandatory overtime for the elves on account of the lateness of the hour.

I don’t know what it is that has led me to begin humming bell songs.  You know, the ones about jingle bells, silver bells, carol of the bells.  Ding dong.

At first, I thought it was just the festive atmosphere surrounding preparations for my grandniece’s upcoming birthday party that was getting to me.  She’ll be two years old, so this Christmas will be the first time she will really be able to appreciate all the hoopla.  Last December, she was barely a year old and I don’t think she was able to understand too much about what was going on.

I guess it’s probably the snow that did it.  Sure, here in northern California, the mercury has climbed over 100°F daily for weeks and all of us are dripping sweat and wilting like buds that are past their primes.  But I hear the Rocky Mountains had a pretty good snowstorm last week.  Fellow blogger Trouble Face Mom of Calgary, Alberta (yes, that’s Canada) thoroughly entertained me with her tale of how she dealt with three consecutive days of snow.  She was starting to get depressed, considering it’s only September and officially still summer.  So her family took the only logical course of action.  They put up the tree, roasted a turkey and had Christmas.

What really got to me, however, was a visit to Sam’s Club.  We needed to pick up hot dogs and buns for a church function.  But mostly, it was a water run.  You see, water is always on our minds these days.  Between the ongoing drought, the forest fires and the heat wave, some days water is all we think about.  And when we’re not thinkin’ it, we’re drinkin’ it.  The water here is contaminated, so we purify tap water and still have to buy bottled water.  Cases and cases of it.

I did a double take right after pushing a shopping cart into that cavernous warehouse.  There it was, right in front of the checkout registers.  Artificial trees all lit up in red and green and gold.  The regular green kind and the ones with fake white needles that are supposed to look as if they have been snowed upon.  Globular ornaments that looked like miniatures of the big balls from Wipeout.  Flocking.

You read me right.  Flocking, for heaven’s sake.  Faux snow.  In September.

I know, this is California, we need fake snow because we never get any of the genuine item.  I’d be happy to just get a little of our “poor man’s snow.”  You know, that wet stuff that drips from the eaves and causes (gasp) puddles.  I have it on good authority that the proper name of this substance is “rain.”  This is how I know:  There was a sign posted on the local frozen yogurt shop yesterday, offering a 10% discount on all froyo purchased when it is raining.  Believe me, they don’t have to worry about losing so much as a penny in receipts.

So yes, I do realize that we are supposed to have Thanksgiving and Halloween before José Feliciano begins singing “Feliz Navidad.”  The back to school sales are still going on and the stores are just now beginning to pull out the dusty boxes full of cardboard pumpkins and Indian corn.

My father insists that, back in the day, it was against the law to so much as mention the C word before Black Friday.  So you tell me what a ubiquitous box store is doing with the PVC and LED Tannenbaum displays in mid-September.  The least they could do is wait until after Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, don’t you think?

Well, there’s only one possible explanation for this madness.  Clearly, the stores are trying to remind us to get crackin’ before it’s too late.

After all, there are only 102 days left until Christmas.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUPGxVCIvrI

Bubbies

Bubbies

Friday afternoon and everyone seems to have brought their kid to the grocery store.

A woman in a zebra-striped blouse who appears to be nine and a half months pregnant is holding the hand of a little blonde girl in a Rainbow Brite jacket, about four years old I would say.  I hope Mom doesn’t give birth right there in the parking lot.

Another girl, maybe six years old, emerges from the back seat of a white Honda, griping mightily about some perceived injustice. Apparently, she’s drawn a picture and wants to bring it into the store with her.

“No, leave it!” says Mom, “we’re just going to get Connor.”

“Where are we going after that?” whines the girl as her mother practically drags her across the parking lot.

We are here with one objective only:  To purchase four jars of pickles.

Not just any pickles.  Bubbies pickles.  The salty, sour, garlicky ones that are pickled in brine instead of vinegar.  One bite and I am transported back to the kosher delis of the New York days of my youth.  Even though Bubbies products are made right here in California.  Go figure.

This constitutes the tokhes end of my birthday present from my very generous wife.  Now, my birthday was back in January, but we’ve had a hard time finding my pickles in the intervening couple of months.  First of all, you can’t get them around here.  You have to drive down to Roseville.  On our first attempt, they were all out.  Next time, I called ahead and was assured that they had restocked.  When we showed up, there was one jar left.  One of the managers assured me that they would have more the following day.  But, of course, we were not going to drive all that way two days in a row.

So here we are in April, and just in time for Passover, I have my four beautiful jars of salty, garlicky deliciousness sitting in the refrigerator just waiting for me to savor them, one luscious pickle at a time.

Bubbies pickles are not cheap either.  They go for four to five dollars a jar over here, and usually northward of six dollars a jar down in Fresno.  This is no small thing when you’re looking down the (pickle) barrel of your last unemployment check.

I parcel out my lovelies and try to make them last as long as possible.  When we arrived home with my stash, I still had three pickles left in the bottom of my one remaining jar.  My nephew came over to visit and I shared them with him.  After all, with four pristine jars just awaiting my delectation, I felt in a position to be generous.  We each savored one in the living room, after which I offered him the last of the Mohicans.  He politely declined.  Score!

In a few days, I’ll be heading south to spend a week visiting my parents.  We’ll celebrate the two Passover Seders together, catch up on the news, watch some movies.  Hopefully, my mother won’t get too feisty on me, which I assure you, even at the age of eighty she is perfectly capable of doing.  I am 55 years old and I cannot believe how she can sometimes bug the shit out of me just as she did when I was a teenager.

At this point, however, the signs are looking good.

I hear they bought a jar of Bubbies pickles.

 

Inconsiderate Me

ass

Before there was Back to the Future, there was Peabody and Sherman and their Wayback Machine on “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” a standard of 1960s Saturday morning cartoons.

So today, let’s take a quick trip in the Wayback Machine.  We’ll just turn the dial a hair — not all the way to Camelot, just a few years to, say, 1999 or so.  Before Twitter and the iPhone.  Before Words with Friends, Angry Birds and Ruzzle.

If you were on the internet back then, you may possibly remember word games such as UpWords and WordOx.  And, yes, both of these games are still around (although I haven’t heard them mentioned in years).

In accordance with my night owl proclivities, I often played both these Scrabble-like games until the wee hours of the morning.  And who knows?  You may have met me back in my WordOx days.

My screen name was “Inconsiderate.”  I chose this name after my wife, quite rightly, tagged me with this moniker.  Honestly, I was pretty bad back then.  When we were first married, I had no clue what I was doing and continued on in many of the selfish (and childish) ways I had cultivated as a single guy.  Okay, so I’m still pretty bad.  I like to think that I’m a little better than I was back then, that I’ve learned a thing or two in fifteen years of marriage.

But there are a lot of days when it is clear to me that I am still the same idiot as always.

Take today, for instance.  My wife and I were walking around Wal-Mart.  I was pushing the cart.  We had quite a bit of shopping to do, as did the other zillion shoppers sharing the store with us.  Except that I acted as if I was the only person in the whole store.  At the end of an aisle, I made a sharp right turn without looking to see who was coming.  I’m just glad I wasn’t driving my car.  I “cut off” a little old lady with a very full shopping cart.  She promptly pointed out that she had the “right of way.”  I agreed that she did and apologized for not paying better attention.  She made some other choice comments.  My wife later opined that the woman was rude, and I agree.

But that’s how it is:  If you don’t pay attention to how your actions will affect others, you will inevitably piss them off and they will let you know in no uncertain terms that you are a douchebag.

I probably wouldn’t have thought too much about this little incident if it hadn’t been the second consecutive day that someone had called me out for being, like my WordOx screen name, inconsiderate.

Allow me to explain that I have played in a regular Scrabble tournament via email for the past decade and then some.  I have gotten to know some very lovely people from all parts of the world in the course of playing our turns back and forth.  But I currently seem to be in a feud with one of my opponents who feels personally injured because I frequently do not bother to say “good luck” at the start of a game and “congratulations” at the end.

I don’t know.  Maybe it’s “a man thing.”  I don’t stand on ceremony.  I am not big on the social niceties and, frankly, I rarely notice whether or not others bother with them.  “We’re here to play a game,” is my line of thinking.  Just play!

Or maybe I’m still just plain inconsiderate.  You know, not a very nice person.

I’ve been trying to figure out how I got this way.  Laziness?  Yep, probably has a lot to do with it.  Upbringing?  Maybe.  I am a native New Yorker raised by two native New Yorkers.  And New Yorkers are, if nothing else, a jaded lot.  We push our way into buses and subway cars, cut in line if we can get away with it, flip people off if we are annoyed.  We engage in every ilk of unsavory behavior that I’d rather distance myself from.  We tend to undertip, pocket the excess change given us by mistake and engage in acts of Schadenfreude and one-upmanship that keep the Park Avenue therapists in business.

Suffice it to say that things are a lot different here on the west coast of the United States.  Californians are renowned for their mellowness.  Or so I’m told.  I’m still not sure how the road rage and drive-by shootings of Los Angeles fit into the cool groove of La-La Land.  Chalk it up to the stress of inching along on the freeways and breathing smog.  I am glad I don’t live down there.

A fellow blogger recently posted about a study conducted to determine which states were the most “courteous” and which had reputations for “swearing like sailors.”  California fell squarely into the latter category.  So I think a lot of the groovy surfer dude stuff is more myth than reality.

I’m not sure where exactly I fall on the spectrum.  My annoyed Scrabble opponent asked whether, in my desire to forego the niceties, I don’t bother to say “please” and “thank you.”  My wife, who is extremely courteous, has taken me to school over this issue in the past and I am proud to say that I am somewhat less Neanderthal about it than I used to be.

I still tend to push open store doors and walk straight out without turning around to see if anyone is behind me or holding the door for them if there is.  I’m not trying to be rude; it’s just that most of the time I don’t think about it.  And if the person ahead of me does the same, I blame only myself if the door slams in my face.  I should have been paying attention.

So, as you can see, while I have exhibited some improvement, I’m still rather inconsiderate.

The whole Scrabble thing is an issue that I’ve heard discussed on numerous occasions when I’ve attended “live” tournaments.  Isn’t it being rather duplicitous to wish your opponent good luck before starting a game?  Let’s be honest here:  You hope your opponent draws nothing but vowels and that all the good tiles land in your own rack.  You hope your opponent is preoccupied about something else and misses all the juicy bingoes.  Heck, you want to win!  If you didn’t, why would you have spent all this money on entrance fees, hotel bills and travel expenses?  So isn’t it a big fat lie when you wish your opponent good luck?

Several years ago, one of my Scrabble buddies filled me in on a socially acceptable solution to this problem. The answer, he says, is to say “here’s to a good game.”  Therein lies the appropriate social nicety and an ambiguous turn of phrase, all wrapped up in a pretty little package with a bow on top.  A good game for whom?  We needn’t specify.  It’s perfect, as it allows you to be polite without being a liar.

As for me, I usually introduce myself to my opponents, ask where they’re from and how they’re doing in the tournament, and then shut up.  We’re here to play, and that’s what we do.

This particular online opponent, however, continues to take issue with my behavior and suggests that my failure to say “good luck” and “congratulations” is tantamount to being a robot rather than acknowledging my opponents as real people with feelings.  And when I tried to mollify her by typing “good luck” at the start of our most recent game, she responded that I probably wasn’t being sincere and that most of what I write on this blog must not be sincere either.

Am I really supposed to be sincere in wishing my opponent good tiles and an excellent score?  As for this blog, I will leave that judgment to my readers.

Perhaps I just need to come to a full stop at the end of the Wal-Mart aisle and look left and right before proceeding to reduce the likelihood of running over little over ladies.  Perhaps I need to remind myself to stop dead in my tracks when I push open a door.

And if you expect that to happen, I say good luck.  And I mean that sincerely.

After all, they don’t call me Inconsiderate for nothing.

 

Stupid Signs Seen in Retail Establishments

Listen up, business owners!  Today’s topic is:  Stupid signs in retail establishments that annoy the crap out of me.

These are signs that are not cute, are not funny and generally bespeak the fact that the owner and/or manager is a cretin with the IQ of a cockroach.  The fact that the establishment believes that its customers will enjoy such signs is indicative of its belief that the patrons are as soft in the head as the management.

So without further ado, I present to you the top four items on my list of infamy:

in God we trust

In God we trust, all others pay cash.

These days, most stores do not accept checks for obvious reasons:  Too often, they are worthless.  Cash is backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government (although the bank will send a counterfeit bill directly back to the merchant, but that is another issue entirely) and credit card payments (with proper I.D.) are guaranteed.  I cannot fault businesses for wanting to be paid.  If this means not accepting personal checks, I am fine with that.  I occasionally run across a business that does not take credit cards due to the fees involved, and I can accept that as well.  But please do not insult my intelligence.  Prominently display a sign describing what forms of payment you accept.  Please do not bring God into it.  Not only is this blasphemous, but it gives you away as a hick that is not worthy of my patronage.

you break it

Lovely to look at and lovely to hold, but if you break it consider it sold.

Aww, what a cute rhyme.  This informative sign immediately tells me three things:

  1. Children not welcome here.  I definitely would not bring my little grandniece into such an establishment.  Everyone knows that children like to touch things; in the case of my grandniece, she has to put them in her mouth and taste them.  Yes, parents are responsible for controlling their children in public.  However, there is a limit to what a parent can do.  Children will be children and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Even if you are holding your little one tightly in your arms, there is no guarantee that he or she will not suddenly thrust out an arm and unintentionally knock over one of your precious pieces of inventory.  And guess what?  My grandniece doesn’t have any money.  But I do.  And you’re not getting any of it, sucker.
  2. Customers with disabilities not welcome here.  I am probably lucky if I can get a wheelchair through the door of your shop.  Having surmounted that hurdle, however, I now have to deal with maneuvering tight little corners and narrow aisles so that you can get the maximum amount of stock into the postage stamp that you consider a store.  If, in the process, a wheel should happen to hit the edge of one of your displays and jar loose an item that a previous customer has replaced too close to the edge, I will have the pleasure of arguing with you (and probably the local constabulary) about why I am not paying for your overpriced schlock.  The same goes for those of us who, while still able to stand on their own two feet, have balance issues and might end up breaking something when quickly grabbing onto a shelf to avoid falling.  But really it’s not a problem, as it is obvious that you don’t need our money or our business.
  3. You are an ass who does not understand costs of doing business.  Your sign is forcing me to assume that you are an uneducated peddler who failed to graduate from high school and does not have even the most rudimentary understanding of economics.  So allow me to educate you.  Breakage/spoilage is a cost of doing business.  (Ask your accountant how to deduct this from your income taxes.)  If you are unprepared to assume this risk, or your paper thin profit margin does not allow for this, get out of business.  The fact that you wrongheadedly attempt to pass these costs onto your customers will not bother most patrons who walk through your door… until they break something.  If your merchandise is really that valuable, make sure it is enclosed in a locked case the way jewelry stores do.

Note:  Just because a retailer posts such a sign does not necessarily impose liability upon a customer who accidentally breaks an item.  How much a hapless customer must pay (if anything) largely depends on the law of negligence in your state or country.

helen waite

Our credit manager is Helen Waite.  If you need credit, go to Helen Waite.

Ooh, now we’re getting back into religious territory again.  No matter, I need to make an appointment with Ms. Waite, please.  I need to meet with her to discuss my excellent credit rating, my superb purchasing power and why your sorry business will not be the beneficiary of any of my disposable income.  In my magnanimity, however, I have added your establishment to my Christmas list.  Your gift this year will be a recording of “I Gave Her the Ring, She Gave Me the Finger.”

free beer

Ye Old Announcement:  FREE BEER!  December 32nd

I actually saw this one today when the family was having lunch at Shakey’s Ye Old Public House (otherwise known as pizza parlor) in Oroville.  This type of sign is the progeny of the old-fashioned candy store notice in which the proprietor announced “Free Candy Tomorrow” — and never took the sign down.

I so wanted to take a bit of white paint and a brush and very carefully change the “3” to a “2.”  I wonder if anyone would notice, not to mention how the management would react to the lines outside the door a few days before Christmas.  My guess is that the sign would mysteriously disappear without delay.  Which is a step that the management should take immediately.

Idiots.

 

Christmas Comes Early in America

menorah tree

When my niece and her friend walked in the door a couple of nights ago, I could tell these young ladies were all giggly about something.  Turns out the friend had spontaneously started singing a Christmas carol, which got them all exuberant about the upcoming holiday season.  I expressed approval of such positive thoughts, but what stuck in my mind is:  We still have a couple of weeks to go until Halloween; isn’t it a bit early to be thinking about Christmas?

Apparently not.

cornucopia

Traditionally, the holiday season in the United States kicks off the day after Thanksgiving (known to retailers as Black Friday), the biggest shopping day of the year.  Just after midnight, the “door buster” sales begin, the success of which determines whether many businesses make it or break it for the entire year.  I never cease to be amused at the lines of people extending out from the doors of the big box stores, (im)patiently waiting all night (and sometimes comically consuming their Thanksgiving dinners) in their lawn chairs and sleeping bags.

As the years go by, however, it seems that the holiday season begins earlier and earlier, the rotten economy notwithstanding.  After all, the survival of retail sales is at stake, so every store will be sure to do its utmost to let the public know that Christmas is just around the corner, by golly.  Let’s get the children in a parent-annoying frenzy as early as possible.  All you kids out there, get off the freakin’ PlayStation and write your wanna-wanna and gotta-have lists for Santa immediately.  This will give you plenty of time to add to and lengthen your lists so that your parents and assorted relatives will have no choice but to buy, buy, buy and thereby save the American economy from going to wrack and ruin.

To me, the holiday season begins whenever I hear the first Christmas song while out in public.  Some years this happens over my car radio when some zealous DJ is suddenly overcome with a burst of holiday feeling.  One year it happened right after we sat down to eat at Outback Steakhouse, when the grating rock music they tend to play suddenly switched over to Madonna performing her version of “Santa Baby.”  Another year it happened while I was taking a dump in a Burger King men’s room and what should I hear over the public address system but the opening notes of “Silent Night” being crooned by Bing Crosby.

You never know where it will happen, but one thing is constant:  It always takes me by surprise.  And my first thought is always the same:  No, no, not yet!  It’s only October!  Can’t you people at least wait until November
1?  You know, the day after Halloween?

jack

And so, two days after my niece and her friend brought the issue to my attention, it happened.  The 2013 holiday season officially began on October 16 as I pushed a shopping cart through Wal-Mart.  This had nothing to do with the store’s choice of music-to-buy-by, either.  No, my wife and I were in the baby aisles looking for diapers for my grandniece when I had the bad luck to hear “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” blaring out of a Fisher-Price display.  Tag, I’m it!

Sigh.

You know what they say:  If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

And so, conceding to the inevitable, I have Michael Bublé singing a jaunty version of “Holly Jolly Christmas” through my late night headphones.

Luckily for me, music closer to the holiday traditions of my own faith are more readily available now than ever.  And so I am thrilled and delighted to have discovered Matisyahu (the singing Chasid from Brooklyn) performing “Happy Hanukkah (I Wanna Give a Gift to You)” in his wonderful reggae style.  Thanks, Spotify (and YouTube).

And to you, all my readers, I say merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah and, uh, trick or treat!  And to all a good night.