Friday, January 9, 2009

They're here.

I got a letter in the mail today. It isn't often that I get letters in the post, what with e-mail and text messaging. I wondered if it was a stranger sending me a check or returning that ATM card that I'd lost two months ago.

It was a handwritten letter addressed to Dear Neighbor. It went on: Most people will readily admit that along with some happiness, we also face a lot of problems. No argument there. Many are being weighed down by the stress of living in this fast paced world. When pressures of life get us down, we need the comfort of a willing and supportive listener. Finding someone to turn to can be a challenge. I suppose that's why the sender was facilitating my quest with a suggestive letter.

That is why I've enclosed this tract that discusses who we can turn to in times of trouble. The tract was one of those hand-out pamphlets that we've all seen decorating urinals and floors across America. Closer examination found that it came from the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society - the Jehovah's Witnesses.

For those of you too young to remember, they used to canvas the neighborhoods in little groups ("Flocks," I think the scientific term is) and proselytize for their cause which is ... well, I'm not sure what it is, really.

So, now they've gone 19th Century on us and are using the Postal Service to make their rounds. I was supposed to be impressed by the handwritten letter, I suppose. Mostly I was curious as to why they wouldn't just print something out on the computer.

The overriding theme of the missive was that I am supposed to take my 21st Century problems and hand them over to their God, the "willing and supportive listener." A more realistic option for a single person living a solitary life would be to have a person to talk to, who could actually do something besides listen. Frankly, at this stage, I'm thinking that talking to God is tantamount to talking to oneself. He may be listening, but we can't prove it, which is the principal way that religion works. None of us can prove it exists, so the safe thing for people to do is say that it does just in case, so that even if you're wrong, you have errored on the safe side. That's where human nature comes in.

So far, the only benefit I can see has been to the religions themselves and the people in charge. Had they succeeded, I wouldn't be so weighed down by the stress of living in this fast paced world.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What day is it?

The other stop on last night's mall walk was a calendar store. Calendar stores have a limited life-span, and this one was only 6 days into the new year, and prices were cut by 50%. There can't be much to say for a product whose asking price is halved in less than a week. Bananas last longer. I'd figure to have to wait until at least June to get half-price calendars, but by then the Christmas store would be moving in. Last night, the Christmas store was packing up, having finished its post-holiday 50% off sale. What schmuck pays full price for that stuff?
There were a lot of calendars. Most of the wall hanging ones were $12.99, and the little desk-top ones were ... $12.99 ... Something is wrong here. (By the way, what's 50% off of $12.99?) And you don't see too many of those 18-month calendars anymore, do you? Somebody figured out what a boneheaded idea that was. Give people less of a reason to buy a calendar. Good one. I wondered how those people replaced their calendars in June. 12 months is plenty.
All of the cliche bases were covered. Dogs, cats, sports, girls, guys, cartoons. I was looking for one that had all the Palin family illegitimate children.
There were lots of those witty One [something] A-Day desktop calendars where I can never figure out how they come up with 365 things to fill it. I'd bet they repeat some of February's stuff in November. Who's going to remember? How about "One Thing O.J. Stole-a-Day"?
You could do a "One Alzheimer's a Day" calendar where the same event is repeated every day, but that isn't funny, is it? No, it's not.
I'm always trying to figure out where the profit is in these kinds of places. As long as I've been mall-walking (40-some years) there have been calendar stores, and every year they have the same themes and offer the same discounts a week into the new year. That makes me think that (a) You're a stone-cold dope for paying list price for a calendar and (b) There is a lot of profit margin in the calendar business. All you're doing is taking somebody's photo or stupid saying or looking up 365 funny words in an urban dictionary and printing them out a page at a time. It's the opposite of creative, but it must bring in a shitload of money, otherwise, they would have given up this calendar scheme a long time ago.
They can't all be Ralph Kramden's with crazy hair-brained schemes, sitting around the living room in September, brainstorming ideas, when one says, "I know - let's open a calendar store."
"Are you out of your mind?"
"No, seriously. Dogs, cats, girls, cartoons ... how about that Alzheimer's thing I mentioned?"
"Will you stop! They can't remember where the store is."
That isn't funny either.
Maybe (just maybe) with cell phones, talking watches and computers we don't need to hang something on the wall to remind us which day it is? Or maybe it's because I get calendars in the mail for free. One came from the Phillies and the other from The Nature Conservancy. Even 50% off can't beat free.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


On my visit to the local shopping mall tonight, iSaw an iPod vending machine at Macy's. Actually, it was a Sony vending machine, because inside was a PSP, camera, headphones and all of those various iPod accessories that iPod owners are told that they can't live without.
iHave always felt that iCan live without an iPod, but for some reason (known only to the Sony marketing people) iFound myself strangely drawn to this machine. iDon't particularly desire an iPod, but seeing it in a vending machine made me want one. iWondered how many of them they sell and why it seemed like it would be more fun to buy one this way than to interact with a human.
However, after iStarted touching the screen and found out that the high-capacity ones are still $250, iRealized why the machine shouldn't influence my spending habits. Sure, they had the little 1 gigabyte mini (that iWould probably lose in the laundry) but that seems to me like a gateway iPod, and iWould soon be spending the two-fitty for something that iCould load-up with some stuff.
As a frame of reference, my entire 37" LCD television cost $800. The screen is about ten thousand times larger than the iPod's and (to quote Ron White) "it picks up signals from outer fucking space!" How do they get away with charging $250 for these gadgets? iBet the profit margin is something like $240.
What was even more noticeable than the iPod machine was the total lack of humanity at the mall. iCouldn't get a good softball game started with the people in there. iGuess it must be that economic crisis iKeep hearing about. Store clerks were leaning on their counters and wondering what happened to all of those gift cards people got for Christmas.
iBroke the spell check.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Cuddle up with Obama.

As we saw when the Phillies won the World Series, everything is for sale. Commemorative items up the yinyang were made "celebrating" the Phils' dramatic post-season run. You aren't a fan if you don't have a World Series flag for your car or a set of pint glasses with the logo.
For the record (as if it matters) I have a hat that says "2008 World Champions." That's it. I was at the games. I'll remember just fine.
Now, the consumer suck-fest has set its sights on Barack Obama's inauguration. The fine gang at QVC are leading the way. Surprised?
Among the items QVC has been selling since the election are a Barack Obama stamp collection, with stamps from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Grenada, St. Vincent and The Grenadines ($38.88). One set has an Obama-Biden half dollar coin and a 1939 stamp depicting George Washington taking the first oath of office ($23.75). An Obama throw blanket is marked down from $41 to $36.84.
Try to spend that Biden half dollar and let me know how it goes.
What a shame they had to mark-down the throw. They're probably still making $34.84 on the thing. If you try to use it, I'd bet it won't last as long as his presidency.
A gold presidential pocket watch with Obama's image will sell for $90. A coin and stamp set commemorating Martin Luther King Day and Obama's inauguration is $20. And QVC will also sell a portfolio of newspaper front pages from inauguration day.
Sure, you want all of that junk because you're likely to forget all about it if you don't buy something, and you never know when you'll have to mail a letter in Liberia.
ShopNBC is offering Obama coin sets and throw blankets. The New York Times Store offers framed photographs, a framed copy of the front page announcing Obama's election victory and an Obama jigsaw puzzle.
Well, nothing says "patriotism" like a nice puzzle. Forgive me, but the whole thing sounds crass and classless. My first impression is that people like QVC are taking advantage of history for their own benefit.
With all the stupid laws we have in this country, you'd think that it would be illegal to sell doctored coins or a useless stamp with the image of the president while he's still alive and in office - or dead for that matter. I could list a half dozen things that we do have laws against that are dumber than that, believe me.
POINT OF ORDER: Few things are less collectible than something that proclaims itself to be "collectible" on the package. Sometimes, it will say it's a "Limited Edition." That's a vague term, because it's limited to the amount of them that they can sell.
This is another one of those things that, to me, is like art. I know art when I see it. I know when retailers are taking advantage of people. I can't imagine someone sitting on their sofa thinking, "Boy, it's cold in here. I wish I had a Barack Obama throw blanket to keep me warm."
"Hey mom, where's that Joe Biden half dollar? I need to buy some Liberian stamps."
"Let's gather around the fire and put that Obama jigsaw puzzle together. His ears are three pieces."
You get the idea.
The reason I don't like it is because I think certain things and people should be above such nonsense, and the President is certainly on that list. If you want to put Elvis Presley on your pet's food dish and write "Hound Dog" on the side, go ahead. He was an entertainer, that's how he made his money. Being president is supposed to stand for something, and I'm pretty sure it isn't painted coins or a forty-dollar Liberian stamp collection.
Pardon me for being a wet blanket.

The many manifestations of suffering.

Head colds are the worst. My nose started tickling on Saturday, but I chose to ignore it, even though I knew exactly what was coming on Sunday.
To paraphrase J. Peterman, “My head is one gargantuan monkey fist.”
It’s a good excuse though - “I have a cold.” It can get you out of doing a lot of stuff you’d otherwise not do. The downside is that my lunch is tasteless.

“Oh, I’m sorry – I’m really fighting this head cold.” we say - as though we can fight them. I bought some liquid Tylenol and those Sudafed pills that look too small to work. (Which is probably why they don't) Now, I’m drinking water like crazy trying to fight off the full-body dry-out. That I can fight. The cold is another matter.

Getting up in the morning is a bitch. Lying horizontally brings all the junk to my head, and the first half hour is spent re-learning how to breathe. Nothing works right until I get into the shower and let the hot water steam me loose. I used to be able to use my nose. Now, I have to breathe like one of those geeky kids with the pocket protector and taped glasses.

It’s strange that I get them at all. I don’t touch people and when I am forced to shake hands, I run to the nearest sink to wash up. I guess that’s OCD? I watch people sneeze and cough into their hands because we were taught to cover our mouths when we sneeze. It seems to me like a barbaric practice. How about if you just spit into your hand?

I could have taken a sick day, I suppose, but it wouldn’t matter much since I’ll still be sick tomorrow and probably for another 13 days. They have to run their course. We’re told that by everyone except the people selling us the cold medications.

Meanwhile, my workplace MUZAK is still playing Christmas music, seemingly as a punishment for my sucking it up and coming to work. I think Christmas music on January 5 is a violation. After all, do you still play Sousa marches on July 5? Christmas is one of those holidays that lingers and dies a slow, painful death while so many of us continue to suffer.

Like a head cold.