April 13th, 2014

It has become apparent in our lives there are certain patterns reflecting a set of unwritten rules in retailing. Everyone lives within five minutes of a Walgreens drug store and 83% of the population lives within a 4-hour drive of an IKEA store.
In fact, no one lives near an IKEA store – everyone, no matter where they live, has to drive 4+ hours to get to one. Even if you live within sight of an IKEA, it still takes hours to get there. It is intentional. That way, since so much time and effort goes into the experience, more money is spent. “Get it, Lovie, we’re not coming back this way ‘till next June.”
We live equal-distance between the Detroit and the Bolingbrook, IL IKEA stores. Been to both. A little further is the Schaumberg IKEA but, while that blue and yellow store can be seen perched on its island in the middle of a spaghetti bowl of nine major highway exchanges, we have found it impossible to get there. Locals especially can’t. It is only accessible to them by first driving to Minneapolis, getting on the right highway system and then hitting the proper series of exits to the store two days later. The people who shop there, usually spend the night – after all, they have everything!
But once inside, the rewards are great. The merchandise is all of reasonable price, of intriguingly good design and its durability is fine for today’s “use it and discard it” mindset. If you’re looking for heirloom pieces, go elsewhere.
The only problem with IKEA are the names they call their items. For example, a “Gluj” is a couch. “Jfrobxlmc” is a frying pan. To make sense of what they are displaying, one has to look at it closely and do the mental translation to know what it actually is.
“Look over here, Lovie, look at this Hwdri bjr! What do you think it is?”
“It’s a dishpan, you silly man…”
Further investigation reveals it is actually an accessory drawer for their “Grubunik” – a child’s dresser, of course.
The food at IKEA is an attraction. The Thursday special was a (less then complete) chicken dinner for $1.99. I got a leg and thigh and a lump of mashed potatoes for my selection. Lovie got the white meat version. I added an extra piece of chicken, a side salad and a slice of Xfjguk (chocolate cake) and the bill came to $42.89.

To go through an IKEA is like the Bataan death march. To get from their Jkjunerv’s (stew pots) to their Hgfwklmx’s (stew pot lids) one has to weave his/her way through 12,789 other products, past screaming lost children who have aged three years trying to find their parents, to find the elevator to the second floor and then weave his/her way through that maze to the Hgfwklmx’s section.
Being a senior citizen and with a digestive tract that can get unexpectedly hyperactive, locating bathrooms are a real challenge at IKEA. In anticipation of going there, I engage myself in a six-week regimen of Kegel exercises just so I can buy enough time to find the washrooms there when the need strikes.
Then there are the Bronfikjs (shopping carts). All four wheels pivot, making it even harder to lean on one for lower back relief. Lean on it and it slides away and I find myself with face pressed against the Lgkwq (floor). There are no places to sit (Grovblk) along this route. Rumor has it that a few years ago, Edmund Hillary was in an IKEA and had to be med-evac’d out due to sheer exhaustion. “It was worse than conquering Everest,” he was quoted.
Again, it’s all about design elements – that is why the IKEA store roof contains a heliport for these events which happen with great frequency.
Ours was a great day at IKEA. We finally found our way to the Hbvwqp (checkout) and all our wonderful deals added up to a reasonable $1,376. One has to spend money to save money!
We found the Pklupg (exit), out to our car (Honda), secured our purchases in the glovebox and drove home.

Bought a shirt…

March 6th, 2014

…in fact I bought two (count ‘em) TWO shirts today. J.C. Penney over at the Mall. One is a plaid flannel – the kind that proud grandpas wear year ’round – sometimes with a tie for more formal occasions like going to the movies or riding on an airplane.
The other one is a horizontally striped pull-over long sleeve polo. It looks like an old fashioned chain-gang topper. Got them off the rack, went into the dressing room, tried each one on and stepped out to get Lovie’s thumbs-up. Simple so far.
Then I went to pay for the shirts.
“Do you have a Penney’s charge card?”
“Yes but not with me.”
“How recently have you used it?”
“Not really recently, it might be dormant.”
“Do you want to open a new account?”
“No, thank you. I have more than enough credit cards already.”
“But you know, if you open a new account you get an additional 15% off today’s purchase (that is 15% of $23.00 – whatever that comes to). And you get a coupon for ten dollars on your next purchase and 20% off your next visit and double points for the next 30 days (whatever that means).”
My head began to spin and my eyes began to flutter.
“I just want to pay for these two shirts that are already marked 60% off.”
The clerk swipes my card and her terminal begins spewing out 32 yards of printed receipt tape…enough reading material for the next month. Then she begins to explain it all to me.
“Here is our website and if you complete our customer rating survey, you will get a coupon for 20% off anything you buy in the men’s shoe department in the next two weeks.” She continues, “What is your email address?”
“Why do you need my email address?”
“Then we can send you special offers and you can check your points toward future purchases.” I love those points – everybody’s got them. At the grocery store recently I earned an actual pint of bottled spring water when I cashed in my 50,000 points. I had to do it just before they all expired.
I was overjoyed at that prospect of Penney points so I gave her my email address.
“OK, we just need you to verify the email address and initial where it is indicated.”
“Why?” I ask.
The clerk is getting a little exasperated with my questioning. She sighs. “So we don’t make a mistake and send these wonderful benefits to the wrong person.”
I initial in the right place. No alarms go off and things seem pretty hunky-dory. Two more yards of register tape churn out of the magic machine.
“Here are two more coupons that are good for double points and a 15% discount for anything you purchase over $100.00 before the end of the month. Each month you will begin a new cycle for the discount.” I was beside myself with joy and take out my cell, “Can I take a selfie of you and me for the grandkids?” I ask. “I want them to believe this good fortune I have come upon.”
The sarcasm was lost with her. I stuffed all the paperwork into my pockets and they comingled with my keys, the Kleenex, my shopping list and the cellphone. My pockets were bulging like Captain Kangaroo’s.
I paused to fantasize about the old days at Billy Crowley’s General Store in Ironia, NJ when he’d take out a carpenter’s pencil, scribble out and add-up my purchases on the brown paper bag. I’d pay him real money and he’d give me real change and a smile. No points, no discounts and no hassle. Just two shirts, some basic cash and we’d skip all the other bull.
It amazes me retail employees put up with that corporate stuff having to repeat the litany with every customer they encounter during their shift.
It’s enough to drive a feller or gal to skip the decaf and go right to the hard stuff.

Home Movies

February 25th, 2014

The Herkimer (NY) Telegram newspaper reported the following:

Posted Feb. 23, 2014 @ 2:48 pm
HERKIMER — State police arrested two individuals for inappropriate contact with farm animals in Herkimer.
Michael H. XXXX, 35, and Reid A. YYYY, 31, were both charged on one count of sexual misconduct, a class A misdemeanor, after an investigation by state police.
Police report that the owner of a local farm set up video surveillance in his barn to determine why his cows appeared anxious and were not producing, as usual. The owner then contacted state police when the video allegedly showed the cows being abused.
Police say an investigation showed that XXXX agreed to videotape YYYY as he attempted to have sexual contact with several cows.

A few thoughts are raised…
Herkimer…oh yes, renowned cheddar cheese…second thought, I don’t think so! Ever again.
Defense lawyer…”It was consensual.”
What does this say about the locally available alternative choices for these two amorous adventurers?
Did they bring flowers?
Has “America’s Funniest Home Videos” finally gone too far?
What was being discussed at the State Police Headquarters around the water fountain that day?
How many copies of the video were made and shown around town?
Did they even call the next morning?

“George and Martha celebrate their silver anniversary at their local gun shop. “Last year I got her a dozen roses but this year is special!”

February 18th, 2014

Death Takes a (sort of) Holiday

February 18th, 2014

The NRA has either a serious cause for concern or a reason to take a bow (your choice)
According to today’s (February 18, 2014) Chicago Tribune, there were no shootings in Chicago over the most recent weekend. For some of the locals that is akin to the Bears, Bulls, White Sox, Cubs, Blackhawks all losing on the same days. For others it was a brief moment in time when one could take a breath of relief without it being their final one.
Why in this day and age, did this happen? Such supreme efforts have been made to make it more convenient and easier for folks to shoot one another and yet it is embarrassing to report this lull in gunplay.
Is it because everyone is wearing their SWAT designer originals and are walking the streets from the Gold Coast to King Drive with their AK-47’s? Was there an abundance of free, mind-numbing drugs available? Was there free porno on TV? Did everyone suddenly take their prescribed meds? What kept people from shooting one another from Friday night through Sunday night?
The County Coroner must have felt like the Maytag repairman. “Honey, I’m thinking of retirement, after all, what’s it all about if the phone doesn’t ring?”
He continued, “Maybe I should explore other related career choices, like being a USDA meat inspector, after all, I do have that silly rubber stamp and the purple ink pad the kids once gave me in my Christmas stocking. I’ve hardly used it – except for that one night at the morgue when we got a little carried away.”
She responded, “There, there, darling, I’m sure people will soon, once again revert to their quick-fix, (contains lead) problem solving methods and their impulsive street- justice. Just be patient, they have never failed you yet.”

February 11th, 2014
Freddie has been watching the Olympics nonstop since the start of the opening ceremonies.

Freddie has been watching the Olympics nonstop since the start of the opening ceremonies.

A Woodcutter’s Ball(s)

January 30th, 2014

Chopping wood is as American as..um…chopping wood. Axe in hand, it is swung over the shoulder and brought down with all human force to split the fibers of an oak that had thrived on nutrients from the soil and energy from the sun for a hundred years or so. Chopping wood to warm the hearth, the heart and a pot of stew is as American as….ah…chopping wood.
As children we were buoyed by the image of George Washington chopping a cherry tree. Abraham Lincoln chopped wood for his parent’s Kentucky cabin and for railroad ties. Ronald Reagan chopped wood in California and Dubyah did the same in Texas. Flannel shirts, snuff bump under the lip, hale and hearty, testosterone flowing like the Johnstown flood – are all part of the image. Pickup drivin’, Little House on the Prairie, gun-totin’ rugged individualism…the perception is usually better (or scarier) than the reality. One cannot be viewed as more American than that. Republicans all? Not quite. Pete Seeger chopped wood only days before his death at age 94 – even though his “Americanism” was challenged by the Joe McCarthy bunch and remained suspect by some for the decades that passed. Yep! The image of a man chopping wood is as American as one can get. Almost.
What could possibly be more American than chopping wood?
Let’s stay with the topic of wood for this.
J. Douglas Magnate sees potential in woodcutting and hires a commercial artist to create a corporate logo that depicts the previously described images – that of burly man applying axe to wood. It was the same artist who rendered the Brawny Paper Towel guy, the Marlboro Man and John Wayne. Stationery is printed, logos are painted on axes, tractors and trucks. More logos are embroidered on denim shirts and printed on beefy T’s. Country stars, Garret Straw and the Ramblin’ Boys sing about it on the radio. A TV reality show is created that depicts the manly adventures of woodsmen. Stores begin to feature specially licensed related and non-related products bearing the logo – lunchboxes, ratchet wrenches and pencil boxes for the kiddies.
Meanwhile, back at the corporate office, J. Douglas Magnate got a bunch of his buddies together to form a limited partnership with an offshore address (post office box and bank account). They buy a forest and hire sub-minimum wage migrant workers to clear-cut the forest. The mineral rights are sold to a related company for mining and oil drilling. The bared land is then portioned off and sold to a developer who sells lots to builders for tract home sites. The logs from the land are transferred to a company that is “owned” by their girlfriends in the British Virgin (irony intended) Islands and transported by non-union truckers to their privately-owned shipping port. They are loaded onto a ship and sent to a third-world processing plant that hires underage workers who toil in non-OSHA plants. The workers are paid pennies per piece that they process but it costs many of them an arm and/or a leg. The factories are owned by the cousins of the owners who also use their offshore vacation home addresses as their business addresses.
The wood is then shipped back to the U.S. under a tariff-free agreement that was an earmark on a bill to prevent excessive government regulation, then distributed for retail use in upscale fireplaces and wholesale materials for paper production plants that they own.
The Board of Directors of each of these companies hold annual meetings and after applying a percentage of profits to lawmakers for favorable votes and to turn their backs on environmental concerns, they high five one another and pass out performance bonuses that make millionaire baseball stars jealous.
That’s what’s more American than chopping wood.

Pete Seeger

January 28th, 2014

Pete Seeger was the real deal. Unpretentious. Accessible. He walked the walk. Ten days before his death last night he was outside the cabin he built seventy years ago and was chopping wood. Ninety-four years old, he still but had the inner spirit and idealism of his youth.
I spend a few hours with him in 1964 when I was part of a group who hosted him after an appearance on our college campus. I walked alongside him as we made our way from Kendall Hall’s auditorium to a house on the edge of campus. His banjo was carried over his shoulder as if he were a miner carrying a pick-ax, emerging from the darkness of his day’s labors.
He was upbeat and we chatted as if we’d been friends forever. Although we were part of his temporary entourage on this walk, every one of us felt as if he was attending to each one alone.
Pete wasn’t a great musician and he wasn’t a great celebrity in today’s sense. He was a great teacher.
Pete Seeger was the real deal.

January 26

January 26th, 2014

The new lightweight snow shovel that collapses to fit easily into the car came in handy today. I knew Lovie would like it! The snow began to pile up on our deck against our slider doors and melting might have brought water inside.
We had planned to go to Grand Rapids (about 35 miles to the NE) to see a play at the Civic Theater and dinner at Charlie’s Crab House but cancelled due to risky roads, and other risky drivers. Instead of red snapper for dinner we’ll dine on the ducats.
There is about 30” of snow outside except for the few places where it has been removed. The soon to be unused tickets are marinating in regret right now and soon, into the slow cooker they’ll go. Ketchup might help. I feel guilty for friends who were going to come along and will now also have to also dine on their tickets.
The TV cable system at the downtown Warm Friend apartments for seniors is out due to the dish collapsing under the weight of snow. The nearby pharmacy suddenly ran out of Viagara. I predict a baby boom there in 9 months, akin to the famous NYC blackout of decades past.
I made a fire in the fireplace this morning and to do so, I had to turn on a nearby lamp. I turned the switch and after a brief delay, the bulb came to life. I began to recall those thrilling days of yesteryear when one turned on a light and it produced illumination right away! Full strength!
But now things have been improved (or so they say). In those olden days when we had to buy light bulbs, there was basically one kind, the incandescent variety. Then choices came along; full spectrum, soft white, warm white, bug yellow, cathouse red all in a variety of wattages.
Now we need to carry around a wattage translation table to learn which strength bulb we need to buy to replace the old kind. But that’s only at the final decision time.
There are lights of limited application – they must not be placed in certain areas that might be sealed, outdoors or in dark areas, I suppose. We have to wade through the myriad of choices ranging from CFL (Canadian Football League?) to LCD (Liquid Coke Dispenser?), Halogen, LS/MFT and AFL-CIO bulbs. THEN and only then we have to decide if we want a bulb that produces a certain number of units of light they now call lumens, and then we have to figure out how many lumens an old-time 75-watt bulb produced, check the chart and make the purchase. What’s a lumen anyway? I first thought it was a wild flower that is everywhere in Nova Scotia, then I thought it was a herd of those silly little furry animals who love to run and jump off cliffs. Oops, I guess they’re called lemmings. Whatever. Others thought lumens related to little candles in brown paper bags placed along outdoor pathways to light the way to fancy/schmansy events. I hate going out to buy light bulbs.
Yep!! The winter crazies have set in!

Butter Day

January 20th, 2014

When I was five, the smell, taste and texture of butter made me retch. A major curricular event in Kindergarten was making butter and I was about to enter the formal education phase of my life…kindergarten.
With the day of infamy looming in my near future it caused sister Carol to chant a version of the childhood classic, “Nah-Nah-Nay-Nah-Nah! You’re gonna have to eat buh-ter!” My nervous system would freeze in panic. Deer in the headlights. Hair standing straight up. My galvanic skin response could light a major city.
Sibling rivalry knew no boundaries. There were no rules other than it was mandatory it be applied. The ultimate prize was to either get your opponent sentenced to room confinement or to make him toss his cookies. Yet I preferred taking the alternate route to childhood power and control employing humor – to make her laugh at dinner so milk would come out her nose.
Alas and alack, in early September 1949, I started in kindergarten. The law said I had to. The inevitible day arrived one fine morning when teacher, Miss Land O’Lakes, announced, “Boys and Girls, tomorrow, we shall make butter! Each child must bring in a saltine (this was a low-budget classroom) and everyone will sample the butter that we make.”
I got home from school that day in a state of panic. My mind raced with fear, “I can’t go to school tomorrow! I HATE butter, always have and always will!” “Sick!! That’s it! I’ll get sick!” But, bye and by, I found myself sitting in school the very next morning. In my shaking, cold-sweaty palm was a little folded square of waxed paper containing two saltines.
The chairs had been placed in a circle facing in. The teacher brought in a mayonnaise jar – carefully prepared by removing the label so we could witness the formation of the coagulated lump of pale yellow, stomach-cramping, gag producing butter.
Into this vessel of doom, she poured some kind of dairy product. The top was twisted into place and she told us we’d each would have the “fun” of giving the jar a little shake each time it passed our way as it made its way around our circle. The chant-approach was used, as it was in many activities in those days. We took our winter boots off to a chant, we put our toys away to a musical chant, we lined up to go to the bathroom to a rhythmic chant. So it was not surprising that Miss Land O’Lakes led us in a little kid song that kept the rhythm going and mezmerized our little brains into patterns of complacent silly putty (a major goal that remains with some educators to this day – regimentation and control).
The jar of doom made a few laps around the class, and with each pass the contents became increasingly intimidating. Finally, Miss Land O’Lakes took the jar, held it up to the light and examined it closely. As though it was the Warden ordering, “Throw the switch!” she pronounced, “It’s BUTTER!”
No clergy was there for comfort, there were no prayer beads involved, the governor had not called with a reprieve. No blindfold was offered and there were no sad strains of “Oh Danny Boy” coming from a distant harmonica. The waxed paper rattled as I unwrapped the saltine with my shaky fingers.
Miss Land O’Lakes’ slowly and menacingly walked the inner circle of our seats. Jar in one hand and a little spreader in the other. She was the priest of butter and it was holy communion time. Vinny Barbato was next to me and he received his sacrament without blinking an eye. How could he do it?
She took one step to her left and there she was, face to face with me. I tried to look away. “Hold out your hand, Jackie, it’s your turn…” I tried my best but she had to place the jar on the floor and steady my hand in hers. Her aim was true. A pale-yellow smear was now on my saltine. “This is our butter – given for you…” I briefly looked down and struggled to keep my breakfast within the confines of my stomach.
Like a cat backed into a corner, I reacted. I attacked the cracker and in a blinding flurry of action, it was engulfed and masticated. The faster the better! But wait…this did not taste like the terrible stuff I’d rejected at home. This tasted good! I swirled it around my mouth a bit more slowly as if it were strawberry jam on white bread. It was one of those “Ah Ha!” experiences one has only a few times in a lifetime. In the classic sense of the definition, education had taken place!
I raced home that day, excited to tell my mom, “Why can’t we get the kind of butter like we made in school?”
After some basic research our family switched from sweet butter to salted butter and I became a regular butterball.
Unfortunately, since then, butter has had a checkered voyage on and off the toxic substances list generated by the purveyors of health knowledge. Sometimes it is regarded as dangerous as spreading nuclear waste on our toast which has led to margarine, then to light margarine. More recently we’ve been trying an Extra-Lite Omega Oil Butter-Like Spread called, “You Bet Your Sweet Patootie This Tastes Like Real Butter” (marketing geniuses, they are) which is actually fake, fake, fake butter. It concerns me because I always thought the Greek word, “Omega,” means death.