The card reader wants to know if I had an extremely satisfying shopping experience? What would an extremely satisfying shopping experience be? I was just there to pick up a prescription and some toothpaste. I can imagine ways that this would be unsatisfying, like if I picked up a tube of Crest and it burst into fire, but that didn’t happen. Surely an extremely satisfying trip requires more than just toothpaste not combusting? Does toothpaste even catch on fire? If not, could you use it to put out a fire? Why? It would have to be an extremely small fire and in that case couldn’t you just spray, like, mouthwash on it instead? Would that work? How does that help me figure out whether I’m “extremely” satisfied? I guess I didn’t find a new pair of cargo pants, but then I didn’t figure I was going to either. I just checked in case they had some. I have a lot of stuff I can’t do without having in my pants, such as my legs, quarters for pinball, and my iPod Touch. Cargo pants are good ways to satisfy those needs, since there’s more pockets than there are things to put in them. But if I didn’t get something I didn’t really expect to get am I satisfied? Anyway, someone please go to the soup aisle, get a can of lentil, bring it to the microwave aisle, warm it up, and bring it to me at the checkout lane. Thank you.
4:23. I stride confidently into the Great Lakes ACE Hardware store. I know what I need. It’s an O-Ring for the plastic watering tank we’re hoping to keep goldfish in this winter. I have the plastic plug we’ll be using to stop up the drain. Past conversations with our goldfish indicate they’d much rather the water didn’t drain at all, but if it must drain, it should drain as nothing as possible. I just need to find the small circles of rubber somewhere in the hardware store.
4:29. An employee tells me I’ll find it “just behind you”. I haven’t told the employee what I need. It’s not just behind me.
4:31. I ask the employee where the 1 1/4-inch O-rings are. They were the next row over. 65 cents per. I buy one and leave without asking what the employe thought I was looking for that was just behind me.
And if I may I’d like to offer a heads-up to people who need things to read but can’t find them on the Internet themselves somehow. I have this problem often. I’m not saying that’s why I own multiple histories of containerized cargo, but it might be why I’ve read a mid-90s book about then-current innovations in pasta technology. That or how many times I found the word “extrude” when I opened to whatever page to try it out.
But after a several-month hiatus A Labor Of Like has got to posting again. I enjoy the style of writing there and, who knows, you might also. Here’s a sample of a recent posting, built on the most universal of human experiences. That is wondering what can possibly explain this thing you’re staring at in the supermarket. Enjoy, insofar as that’s wise.
In short, yes, I’m running like a week behind answering comments and I’m sorry. I’m grateful for everyone who writes here. It’s just been kind of busy and I should maybe spend less time hiding under furniture instead of writing back. The furniture thing is just easier to do.
“Are you the souchong guy?” It’s not a question I expected to be asked. I doubt I’m alone. If any of you reading this now (or later, I’ll allow it) were expecting to be asked that please write in. I’d like to see how many are. But I wasn’t expecting it, so I was even worse than my average in responding to the guy at the farmers’ market. Not so bad as the whole “do you want to buy this pair of pants” fiasco, but worse than my average.
It’s really a grocery store, maybe a supermarket. It’s also got a garden center. But it styles itself a farmers market and I think there’s farmers involved with it somewhere. They carry the alt-weekly, and plastic bins of candy. And they’ve got a wine bar, so you maybe have the place scoped out now. I was there to get vegetables for our pet rabbit, and candy for our pet us, but I was wandering toward the tea section with the intent of getting tea. It’s the store where I got that scary box of Builders tea that I thought might punch me if I didn’t get it. They haven’t had it since, maybe after customer complaints about being punched by tea.
“Are you the souchong guy?” And the guy, who either worked for the store or was making off with one of their dollies, explained there was a guy with a beard who’d been looking for lapsang souchong tea. I was not that guy. I have a beard, and I drink tea, but that’s as far as things go.
I have a beard for considered reasons. If I didn’t grow a beard, I would have to shave, or have someone else shave me. And I can do that, when directed to by my love, or before that, my mother. Shaving once every two or three months may not be perfect. But it is between 98.3 and 98.9 percent of my ideal state of my face vanishing into a cloud of hair and spilled tea. That’s as much as one can hope for in this fallen world.
I don’t mean to imply beardedness dictates tea-drinking. I could drink coffee. I often get some at the farmers market’s complimentary coffee bar. But most of the time when I get coffee it’s because I didn’t hear the question right. I never drank enough coffee to get over the fact that it tastes like that. Tea, though, I’ve long since drank enough tea to accept that it tastes like that. The souchong guy might usually get coffee, but when he gets tea, he wants a tea that still takes time to get used to, and thus the souchong guy’s question.
The store guy explained that they hadn’t had any souchong, but he made some calls and found the last couple cases of Twinings souchong tea in the area. And they put it up on the shelves, ready for purchase. That’s sweet. The action, I mean. And I figured that since I was open to tea or tea-like products, why not go with this? After all, if it’s good enough for one Lansing-area guy with a beard, why not another?
As I drove home I got to thinking. I’m supposed to just believe a person asked for a specific kind of tea from the tea-selling staff at the store? I have a hard enough time working up the courage to impose on fast-food workers my preferred choice for lunch. To ask for something that isn’t even on sale there would be impossible. Oh, I hear of people going off and asking for things they’d like from stores that might sell these things, but I always took them to be the stuff of fantasy.
At this point my parents would like to point out the time when I was maybe five years old and my aunt asked what I wanted for Christmas. And I described this awesome toy spaceship. This sent my aunt on a crazed search through every toy store in northern New Jersey. The search ended when she realized that she had assumed I was talking about a toy that actually existed in any form anywhere, and I had not. I just answered what I would like, and never mind what exists. My aunt eventually talked to me again.
But! The situation is completely different. My aunt has, so far as I know, never even been in this farmers market and has no responsibility for the tea selection. Why would she have anything to do with souchong guy? I bet they had more souchong than they knew what to do with, and figured I was an easy mark for a little beard-based flattery.
Well, the souchong’s not bad with a bit of cream or milk. I can get used to it and call that liking it.
I want to feel excited. The last big shopping trip we did, we used up all the coupons left in our little plastic folder of coupons. All that remains in it are some receipts with the codes we got after telling companies’ web sites how the shopping experience was and a loyalty card for the carousel ride at the Freehold Raceway Mall food court in Freehold, New Jersey. Being able to use up all the coupons we had feels like we should have unlocked a new achievement, like, “Market-Driven Consumer Capitalism Temporarily Bested: Plus 1”. But deep down I know what it really means is we let an offer of 50 cents off two packs of Sargento cheese sticks expire without noticing it in the middle of May.
We forgot to buy shampoo.
|What We Needed||What I Got|
|Eggs||Pond thermometer seems useful|
|Condensed milk||More Noodle-Roni maybe?|
|Paper towels||If I pick up some hamburger buns, we might turn out to have veggie hamburgers, which we can then eat|
|Soda crackers||Leftover Easter egg coloring boxes? And only a dime? Score!|
|Chow mein noodles||Didn’t know they even made Woody Woodpecker chew toys for pets|
|Printer paper||I could get a Strawberry Fanta Zero from the freestyle Coke machine up front|
|Those felt pads for the bottom of furniture so they scratch the floor up a little more slowly||It’s not like salt for the sidewalk will rot by next winter|
|Peanut butter||Chunky peanut butter|
I stand at the brink of the Home Decorations aisles at Meijer’s. Amongst the printed posters, ready for hanging in no home I have ever seen, is this holiday imperative: “Don’t Get Your Tinsel In A Tangle”. I stare at it. I try parsing the instruction. I can tolerate a reasonable level of twee; I’ve read some of the later Wizard of Oz books for crying out loud. But I try imagining the person who sees this and figures it’s exactly what he needs to Christmas up his home a little. I get lost, wondering if I can be even the same species as such a person. I start to have that sensation of feeling lost and bewildered and kind of like when I’m in Best Buy with a $5 gift certificate that’s expiring next week and there isn’t a single thing even remotely tempting to buy, even including USB plugs to connect to strange and obscure mini or micro USB devices.
Finally an associate comes over, and gently guides me to the Pet Care section, where I’ll be some other associate’s responsibility, and I can try to work myself back to normality by comparing the English and Spanish instructions on small-animal bedding material.
I’d made a very slight run to Meijer’s, and got, and I want to list this for you because it kind of matters:
- Cough drops (I’ve had a cough lingering from a cold I originally got in 1994, which makes this cold a very efficient purchase, averaged out over the years)
- Toilet paper
- Packs of sliced cheese (5 of them)
- Quorn imitation-chicken nuggets
- Boca vegetarian burger patties (2 packages)
- Bread (2 loaves)
- Soda, or as it is known in the local vernacular, “pop” [said as “Pope” but with a short vowel] (3 boxes of 12-packs)
Along with the receipt and a couple coupons the machine spat out at me one (1) gift receipt, and I’m trying to think which of these items triggered the “this might be a gift, better offer a gift receipt” part of the register’s programming. Spitting out a gift receipt for a package of long underwear or a magazine, I understand, but, a bag of cough drops? One but not all five packs of sliced cheese? Something in potentially poor taste? This is all very mysterious.
I don’t participate in most traditional guy behaviors. This is because most traditional guy behaviors are bottomlessly terrible. The generic formula for making a guy behavior is to find something which might be interesting or exciting and do so much of it that it’s awful, which is how we get hot-sauce-drinking-contests, World War I, soccer riots, and pieces of furniture set on fire and shoved into the streets. Guys are pretty much the male dolphins of civilized society, which is why we shouldn’t have anything to do with them. But there are some guy behaviors which are not terrible to the point of cruelty, and I partake in some of them.
The commonest is bringing in the groceries. It’s very important that I bring the groceries inside with as few trips as possible. My love is amused to see how I’ll hang shopping bags all the way up and down my arms, and maybe loop a couple around my legs, and hang two or three lighter bags from each ear, and if I could get away with it I’d hold one in my mouth too. Sometimes I’ve bought an unnecessary Chapstik or roll of Necco wafers so I could stuff them in my nose just so I can bring in more stuff on the one trip. The saddest thing I can do is get up to the door and realize I’m surrounded by a protective layer of grocery bags reaching up to the second-floor windows, because that means I have to set something down to fit through the door, which I forgot to open so I have to kick it in and repair the frame afterwards. But, boy, if I can get it all in in one trip and fall over into a titanic sprawling mass of packs of frozen French fries and cans of condensed milk that roll through the dining room, into the living room, and come to a rest under our pet rabbit, whose ears are perked up to full attention over this collapse, then I am happy.
Less common but at least as satisfying is hardware stores. I feel a wonderful sense of place when I’m in a hardware store, for whatever reason, and I would let my father mention here how hilarious this is except when I asked him to write something about it he started laughing hysterically and he’s barely stopped to take breaths, much less to get his composure enough to write anything, since, and it’s been eighteen days now. I am not your traditionally handy person. Would you believe that I have attempted to change a flat tire and, after having got the car jacked up not nearly enough to do this but finding myself unable to either lift it higher or let it get back to the ground again, I’ve abandoned my car in the intersection where the flat tire became un-ignorable and taken the bus home, on three separate occasions? Sure you would, and it doesn’t even matter that nothing all that much like this has never happened to me, because it makes too much sense that this is the sort of thing that should, and you know that too.
But set me in a hardware store, where I have absolutely no business being and no ability to identify anything past “this is probably not a wrench”, and I feel this wonderful inner peace. I think it’s the sense of a world of potential all organized into little grey boxes of metal and plastic parts, surrounded by tools that for some reason aren’t in alphabetical order. Or it’s getting to occasionally overhear people talking about “joists”. I’m not sure what a joist is but I know they are subjects of legitimate discussion when in hardware stores, and that reassures me. Life may be chaos and a struggle for comprehension, but for a little while, there’s cylinders of steel or iron or aluminum of something and gaskets of some kind of plastic or whatnot, and people walking around casually hefting things that are probably not wrenches and they have plans to make joists of things and maybe fix the doorframe. It’s perfect.
You know, I suspect I’d be happier if I could get the groceries in without any trips, but I haven’t worked out the details of that just yet.
Your computer’s been pleading for the system upgrade for a long time now. A very long time. It was never insistent, but it kept asking, pointing out how the current operating system dates back so so very far, back to primitive times when the Internet was a bare-bones affair, much of it conducted on teletype machines or by throwing rocks at one another, when technical limitations required the caption on a cat photo to be sent on a separate Vitaphone-printed record. Why, back when the current operating system came out people had completely different ideas about what made an acceptable desktop background picture.
You click the installation button. The computer wants a password you never even knew you had. Maybe it’s the one you use for everything. Maybe you forgot to ever set one. Maybe you just have to hold a rock over the computer until it accepts the threat. The download begins.
In the old days you would wastefully go out to a store and pick up the operating system in a box large enough for a microwave oven, containing a cardboard box skeleton with a fascinating puzzle of cutout circles and rectangles believed to be landing instructions for ancient astronauts, and four sheets of paper offering stuff, you guess. Then you’d get caught between clerks who really, really want you to know that if you’re having trouble finding anything they can help you, until you curl up in a ball somewhere between flat-screen TVs and adaptor cables hoping all this social interaction will go away. Then a clerk would ask if you’d like a sports pillow. No more. Now you just download stuff for as few as 46 hours while you wonder if this was really a good idea, particularly given how your mail client growls like an riled tiger as you approach it anymore. If you want to curl up under a sports pillow nobody’s there to help.
In the new days finally the download is done and the computer asks you for permission to do the installing. You thought it was done already. It wants a password or at least a properly-held bludgeon. The mail client finishes growling and announces it’s going to shut down, which it will do over a course of three hours and a number of messages about how if you really cared about it you’d know why it was shutting down. There’s evidence the web browser might be going feral.
You shut down everything. Probably it’ll need to shut down anyway, right? You couldn’t do an upgrade like this without shutting things down. It’s just saving time. The computer is busy thinking about whatever it thinks about in the middle of a major upgrade. Probably it knows what it’s doing. You can sit there waiting for direction for a little while. Maybe a little longer. These are the moments when it’s easiest to believe the computer doesn’t actually need you to do whatever it’s doing. It couldn’t hurt to read reviews about what programs you use have conflicts with the new system so you’re ready ahead of time to feel the agony of stuff no longer working.
If the Internet is accurate part of the upgrade involves instantiating a small yet viciously quarrelsome demon who spends his days making the ‘find text’ function on your web browser no longer work right anymore, and occasionally will toss through the screen a used sneaker set on fire, plus they’re figuring before the end of the year they’ll have an update so your word processor doesn’t crash every time you use the subjunctive case. The programmers say it’s a very tough bug to track down because they keep mixing up which is the subjunctive and which is just petty arguing about “who” versus “whom”. It’s difficult to say just what the future will hold but you do consider whether the best action is to lie in the street and let a truck run you over. It turns out there’s less truck shipping on this street than you imagined.
The computer reboots, and spends some time before saying it needs to reboot again. Next, let it finish rebooting and reboot it again, and then finally reboot once for good luck.
E-mail doesn’t work anymore, the web browser is being cranky, and the chat client appears to be some manner of tire fire. But, you know, those are some lovely new desktop backgrounds. There may someday be joy back in life.
There’s a new major system update out Tuesday.
It’s a common refrain about silent movies that they’re often fascinating just because they’re accidental documentaries. 1917’s The Butcher Boy, here, is one of them because it showcases a model of store that’s basically extinct in the United States: the general store in which all the merchandise is kept safely tucked away from the customers’ hands, thank you, and for that matter the person who gets what you want off the shelves isn’t necessarily the same person who wraps up your packages, and may well have nothing to do with the person who takes your money and counts your change (if you didn’t just put it on your account).
Since the model of the self-service market took over — it really got going in the 1920s — it’s hard to quite believe this used to be normal. It almost seems designed exclusively to stuff movie scenes full of comic actors, standing at the edge of an abundant supply of missiles, with hapless customers standing in the middle ready to get hit by accident when the grand battle inevitably starts. I’m honestly a touch disappointed when the action moves from the store to a women’s boarding house; as energetically paced and frantic as the action gets at that point, it seems like they’re giving up on a fantastic setting. (Were they worried 25 minutes was too long to spend in one location?)
Anyway, here’s another “Fatty” Arbuckle film, featuring also Buster Keaton’s screen debut, which makes clear pretty quickly why he was going to be a movie star. Archive.org has a copy of it with French intertitles, and played a little faster than the version on YouTube. (Converting film speeds from silent movie days to modern speeds is a bit arbitrary.)
In a coincidental bit of business, Steve McGarry’s TrivQuiz biographical comic strip/quiz panel features Ben Turpin, who you may remember in collages of silent movie stars as “oh yeah, that guy”. Funny fellow. Besides a touch of information about the actor, the panel also includes a couple trivia questions related to silent movie stars which should probably make you feel better for being able to answer.
Apparently now they sell plastic bags full of bright orange cheddar dust, the kind you mix in to make macaroni and cheese that glows bright enough you can see it from inside a black hole. It was just sitting there on the shelf, next to the Wheat Germ Or Stuff Like That and the Powdered Flaxseed Food Product I Guess and things like that. I didn’t buy it, but if I can think of something to do with it I will. I don’t need it for macaroni and/or cheese purposes, but I haven’t ruled out something like hooking it up to the tire pump so that I can have a backyard filled with cheese-dusted trees. But trying that is sure to attract attention from the squirrel community and I don’t know if I want that, exactly. I just want the magic of having some solid reason to buy a large plastic bag filled with powdered cheddar the color of public art sculptures.
I noticed, on the edge of the plastic bag from Meijer’s, this warning:
Patent No. 8,067,072 And Other Patents Pending
Now I’m enchanted. I mean, I understand how you might have one patent for a plastic bag, what with it being a totally non-obvious idea of having a sheet of plastic folded up again that holds stuff and can be held at the same time, but, what about the patents pending? What other mysteries of advanced technology and imaginative design have gone into this thing I got to hold a canister of canola oil because we forgot it the first time through and I ran back in? I’m kind of hoping they’re Wi-Fi enabled plastic bags, because I like the thought of recycling centers just turning into vast natural repositories of accumulated Wi-Fi signal until they reach the point that the styrofoam packing we weren’t supposed to put in the recycling bin and that’s become an unwanted pile of junk over there can send out its own e-mails about how excited they are regarding their own patent applications.
You know, it’s just a convention that we (I’m talking here about the United States) put out money in denominations of one and five and ten and twenty dollars, plus some other highly fictional amounts like fifty or a hundred or even two dollars. There’s no reason we couldn’t do it in a more orderly fashion, by which is meant the way computer programmers would do it, which is in denominations of one, two, four, eight, sixteen, and so on. Then an ordinary transaction could be much more logically handled, like this:
“Hundred and forty dollars, all right … uh … here’s a 64-dollar bill, and … 140 minus 64 is … more than 64, right? Well, I guess I have a 32 here and that’s … 140 minus 32 is … wait, 32 and 64 is … something and then that away from 140 is … uh … I could swear I had a couple 8-dollar bills when I set out this morning and … uh … OK, 140 minus 64 has to be like 86 … 76, thanks, and then from that I take away 32 and … no, I put in 32 and … ”
All right, so we’d have a couple more people who finish buying things at the supermarket by curling up in a ball and weeping, but that’s why the rest of us have credit cards for crying out loud.
This, now, this just made me smile. It’s “The Daily Extra” that’s on the back of my page-a-day Peanuts calendar, a feature they include so as to distract people from how they don’t have Sundays as separate days anymore even though the “page-a-day” calendar is implicitly one (1) page for one (1) day, of which Sundays (S) are one (1). Anyway, from the back of the 3/4th of August calendar for the year 2013:
Unique Gift Idea
Do you have a unique gift idea, but you can’t find the item locally? There’s a very good chance that you’ll be able to find it on the Internet. Have a friend help you search the Web if Internet shopping is outside your comfort zone.
That’s outstanding advice and I figure to put it into practice just as soon as I’m in 1998.
I was in Walgreen’s, which is not a joke by itself except to the CVS partisans, and noticed by the checkout counter a transparent plastic stand featuring a sign: “FREE!!!!! If we fail to offer you one at the time of purchase.” The stand was empty. The cashier didn’t say a word about it.
What am I supposed to do with a checkout counter transparent plastic stand? I bet the stand is a loss-leader, and they’re hoping to make the real money selling me the Walgreen’s to fit around it. But I’m on to their game. It’ll serve them right if I go to Music Comics instead and buy the stuff to open a Music Comics shop. Although they’ve palmed off some free comics and flyers on me, come to think of it.
Maybe I can open a shop holding nothing but the stuff I’ve got thrown in free from other shops. That’s a good plan. Anything I charge will be pure profit.
Shopping malls are complicated and busy things. We need a more relaxing one. I’m thinking here of a zen shopping mall, one stripped of everything distracting about the mall experience. My concept right now is an enclosed area containing just a concrete planter, and one of those perennially green plants of no identifiable species but kind of fern-ish and growing on abandoned quarter-filled cups of coffee, placed next to a Spencer’s Gifts holding a going out of business sale. What do you think?