Wednesday, October 25, 2006

#385 Hurl

I saw an interesting headline the other day. It said: “Paris and Nicole seen eating together.” Now naturally my first thought was, “Which is the bigger news item here, that Paris and Nicole were together or that they were both eating?” Cause lets face it, Hollywood is a hotbed of anorexia these days. And Paris and Nicole each appear to have tendencies in that direction. Strange. I guess I could understand some people having enough of a negative self-image to terminally undereat. But celebrities? They set the beauty standards that create the negative image in others. There’s a pretty big body of research built up to indicate that America’s obsession with youth and svelteness forces many of our young women to subject themselves to a rigorous regimen of starvation. And it all stems from the notion that every picture and commercial and sitcom our young women are exposed to features willowy radiant women catching men’s eyes while they parade around town in designer gowns and survive on a nary a crumb. Eating like a bird as they say. Which like the descriptions beeline or sleeping like a baby misses the mark totally. The last thing a bee ever does is go in a straight line directly to its destination. It flitters and hovers and darts and dashes all over the darn place from flower to flower to flower. And “sleeping like a baby” to describe a long and contented sleep? Hardly. I’ve had babies. When someone says they’ve slept like a baby it sounds to me like they’ve woken up every two hours with their pants full. Eating like a bird is a similar misnomer. Birds consume twice their body weight on an average day, as their metabolism is so high they burn off nearly every thing they put in. Considering their lazy lifestyle, if Paris and Nicole ate like birds Paris would be as big as a hotel and Nicole would be challenging the Green Acres pig for porking supremacy. But that doesn’t let American girls off the psychological hook. And it’s too bad too. Especially with today’s fashions. The pants fashionistas peddle and push make today’s girls look like they’ve been poured into them—and are overflowing from the waistband. The narrow hips have no relation to the natural female form and the flat ass pushes everything up and over like a Wonderbra gone south. Unfortunately, what works for breasts doesn’t cut it for love handles. Still, I understand not eating more than eating and puking. I suppose from a taste standpoint, at least on the way in, it’s satisfying. But on the way out it’s gotta be pretty dis-tasteful. Hurling is not good. No matter how much it sounds like a Canadian winter sport. And Ralphing or upchucking or hugging the thundermug is even worse. I wonder if the rich Hollywood bulimics have stand up toilets. I would. To me the worst part of the whole blowing chunks scenario has always been the intimate contact with the area where I normally sit.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

#384 Halftime

All right. What’s all this business about gridirons? That’s all I hear lately, the high school gridiron action is starting, college gridiron action is on the way. Gridiron this, gridiron that. And I’m thinking, as I know are you, what the heck is a gridiron and what does it have to do with football? A mystery that I intend to address today, and I promise it won’t be as controversial as Jimmy the Greek or Howard Cosell evolutionary biology. There are some far-fetched notions about the whole gridiron thing. Among them that it has something to do with the elaborate Sunday breakfast many families prepare preparatory to the big game. That breakfast almost always involves waffles. The primitive precursor of a waffle iron was a gridiron. Eat waffles, watch football. Fanciful, and unfortunately, an urban myth. Another supposition is that like a gridiron, the players in a football game are on the hotspot, forced to move quickly lest they burn out or meltdown under the pressure of their opponents punishing offense or defense. They’ve got to get their game cooking or be scraped off the griddle like so much burnt bacon. The bacon thing relates to the pigskin-enclosed oblong of air that is the article of contention on the gridiron. When the players scramble and scrimmage, it’s like a well executed sauté, when every thing gets mixed up and stir-fried and eventually some peppery piece squirts through the restraining arms of the defending spatula and touches down on the counter. Actually, the answer is a lot more mundane. The real gridiron is derived from a type of griddle. And to one with an only slightly developed imagination, the lines chalked on the grass and the big goal post handles at either end, make the field look like an extremely large griddle. I’m willing to grant that observation and conclusion. Although to be honest, the last time I looked at my griddle it didn’t have lines and numbers on it. And I can’t remember if I ever moved little chains one-tenth the length of it at a time to keep track of my eggs scrambling. As with most analogies, it breaks down when you try to press it too close. Like certain quarterbacks during certain crucial games. So it turns out the waffle description is very nearly correct. Because a waffle iron is one of the closest cooking implements we have today to the ancient gridiron. Except perhaps for the Jenn-air style cooktop grill. Cause the ancient gridiron was something between a griddle and a skillet. A skiddle or a grillet, as in grill. A gridiron could function as a grill for steaks and chops and chicken parts. Quarters and halves and even a full back or two. Chicken parts could be arranged around the center and have a couple of wings patterned on the ends. Add soy sauce. When it’s all cooked up and sorted out you could serve it in a big bowl. Preferably sponsored by a national company. It could be like, um, the Kikkoman Teriyaki Super Bowl. Yeah!
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

#383 Hopped up

So I was looking at a bottle of beer. Beer bottles, like cans, haven’t changed a whole heck of a lot. You got your long-necked 12 oz bottle, your stubby, and your Mickey’s Wide Mouth. Mickey’s Wide Mouth was one of those weird ideas that caught on for no apparent reason other than it was weird. Like the Volkswagen “Thing” or the Pet Rock. More T-shirts and college dorm carpets were ruined by Mickey’s Wide Mouth than just about any other beverage. And it’s funny because those same individuals who had trouble with a wide mouth had no trouble whatsoever with frosty metal mugs of beer or bodacious glass schooners, or even the ceramic tankards with flip down lids brought over from Germany, the stein. Or more accurately “schtein.” Hearing slurring collegians try to speak German with the word stein was like watching rednecks try to say croissant. Intoxication is not a facilitator of cross-cultural elocution. But the famous Mickey’s bottle was always sloshing at just the wrong time. Unlike a tankard, you couldn’t actually dip your nose in it and feel the liquid before it hit your lips and unlike a small-necked bottle you didn’t have enough orifice tightness to hold the flow back once you actually felt it on your lips. A regular bottle allows the possibility of a sip and semi-suck action, which, like crawling across the floor on your knees on the way to puke in the thundermug, is a way to safely engage in a particular drunken action with the assistance of all available motor resources. Mickey’s did not assist that possibility. The mouth was too wide for a suck and too narrow for a preview. Beer was destined to run outside your lips and down your shirt. And if, like many collegians back then, you had a T-shirt with a big screen print of an authentic German beer stein on it then you could say: Oh Mickey you’re so fine, you’re so fine you stained my stein, oh Mickey. Then again that was probably pretty rare. The bottle I’m looking at now is from a company that prides itself on freshness, flavor and specialized hop flavors. This I gather from reading their label. It’s also apparent they’re making a bid for a particular niche of beer-drinking aficionados, as the label also sports the banner “Certified Organic.” Which is a wonderful thing. Lord knows it’s probably not a great idea to be quaffing brewskies laced with pesticides. Who wants a Budweiser DDT boilermaker? But the “organic” is fairly derivative. The final libation that we call beer is pretty far removed from the mash of hops, grain, and yeast that our caveman ancestors first found fermenting on their primitive sideboards waiting for whoever first got sick of the mess enough to finally do the dishes. And it’s not like alcohol is a healthy broccoli smoothie. I would think that by the time the brewer had enough poison alcohol in the drink the poison pesticide percentage would be tiny. Chug-a-lug the elephant and strain at a gnat?
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, October 16, 2006

#382 Hung up

Anyone who’s listened to this column by now knows I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to English. And the word “who’s” in this context, is spelled w-h-o-’-s, as a contraction for “who has.” The other whose, w-h-o-s-e- is the possessive form of who. As in, “The shirt, whose owner even now hung from the whipping post, stripped naked to the waist as he endured the pain of the lash, lay crumpled in the corner.” We recently received a PSA from a supposedly erudite source that not only misused and misspelled “who’s” but also managed to use it improperly in the same sentence with First Annual. “The celebrity, ‘whose’ (sic) been in a number of charity events, is participating in the first annual read-a-thon.” I am sick and tired of anything that is a first annual. It’s not an annual event until you’ve done it at least once and come back to it the following year. So the inaugural event can not be the first annual event. Not that I expect a lot in a country where the president says “nuke-ya-lar.” It’s nuke-lee-er by the way. And not that what I think matters. I’m just a “control freak” when it comes to language. So I’ve always wondered: Who is the control freak, the one who changes the status quo by doing something totally off the wall or the one who seeks to maintain the status quo? Cause it seems like the off the wall one is definitely controlling the situation by taking it down a different road. If someone was the pilot of a motorboat heading steadily up a safe passage between the shoals of destruction and suddenly yanked the rudder in one direction or another, sending the boat plummeting towards disaster, I would think that someone was controlling the outcome of the situation. The status quo guy sitting in the back without his hands on the wheel, but who nonetheless wishes for the safe passage outcome, can hardly be said to be a control freak. Nope. The control freak is always the one who’s standing in the way of the one who wants to do something wild and crazy. I digress. I was disconcerted the other day when I heard some candidates for public office speak. One of the candidates in particular seemed to have a hard time with certain words. And they appeared to be “ex” words—not words that were formerly words, but words that contained some variation of “e” and “x.” He used the mispronunciation ex-cetera. The correct pronunciation, in case you want to be a usage control freak like me, is et-cetera. There’s no “ex” in etcetera. That’s okay, like people saying hundert rather that hundred, it’s kind of an Americanism. But then the candidate launched on any extended exposition of seagull poop and in order to avoid the use of the word poop instead popped out the term extra-mint. As opposed to excrement. Extra-mint. Sounds like a gum flavor doesn’t it? Oh yeah, for fresh breath I chew extra-mint. And there’s nothing like extra-mint for controlling the build-up of plaque.
America, ya gotta love it.

#381 Help 98

First off let me say I don’t know that much about computers. I thought C-Mos was the stuff that washes up on shore after an ocean storm. So whatever operating system I’ve used over the years has been largely a function of what computer I happened to be on and not any conscious choice based on reliability, functionality, or delightful variations of industrial beige. It’s been one unexplained unexpected error forcing Windows to shut down after another. But I’m told by those in the know that of all the Windows systems Microsoft has ever come up with, Windows 98 is the best. It’s a rock hard, boilerplate, system that is as reliable as anything Microsoft has ever produced. So reliable in fact that Microsoft is having a hard time getting 98-o-philes from giving it up. Offices across the land have Windows 98 operating systems at every desk and, particularly with the debacles of XP, and its immediate need for an XP service pack, and viral vulnerability issues and one emergency patch after another, many an office manager just doesn’t see the necessity to give up 98 so that he may plunge into the morass of constant dink-abilty. Managers don’t like to be dinking with stuff all the time and many small businesses can’t afford to hire an IT guy that’s up on every last line of code. And, let’s face it, most IT guys embrace the title Geek—even when told of its origins involving circuses and chicken heads. So lately, Old Ma Microsoft has decided to no longer offer support for Windows 98. You get a little reminder on your computer to check for upgrades and you go to the Microsoft site and it say Windows 98 support is being discontinued. Now I know how my grandfather felt when Ford said they were moving away from the Model T. Or 70s engine enthusiasts when first introduced to black box mechanics and diagnostics. Why take a perfectly simple, functional, reliable, system and complexify it to the point where even random quantum electrical spurts can do so much damage? It’s like that gingerbread decoration stuff people use for trim boards on their house. It’s perty as can be, but it’s so delicate a sparrow collision could tear out a chunk. A solid flat trimboard would survive with barely a dent. But Windows 98 is old, it needs to be put in a home. All the hot young buck new peripherals are having a hard time communicating with it. And suddenly, many computers with Windows 98 are inexplicably sick. Now as I said before I know next to nothing about computers, but I know a lot about paranoia. I’m guessing the latest Windows 98 update contained a retrovirus. Yep, Microsoft, tired of extended care and waiting for people to move on naturally, and facing the Vista of declining sales, has resorted to killing Windows 98 on purpose. What’s the word? Like that young peoples singing group from China. Oh yeah. Youth in Asia.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

#380 Hunch

I was watching a young person take a picture the other day. She was hunched over and squinting and holding a small device at arms length. I flashed back to the fifties. My grandmother with her Brownie box camera, peering through an inverted window, hunched over, trying to line up the picture. And the hunch was surprisingly familiar. What goes around comes around as they say, your past comes back to haunt you. Or, if not haunt you, at least remind you that some things really don’t change. Today’s cellphone cameras are the direct descendent of the Eastman Kodak Brownies of long ago, when photography first made its way into the hands of the masses. And it’s only a passing irony that people of today, like me, when I take a picture with my phone, have to adopt the same hunched posture, as I try to line up the picture-viewing window on the phone with what I want the final picture to be. Having gone through the single-lens-reflex period of cameras I still find the method of actually looking at the soon-to-be final picture a little disconcerting, especially since with the old SLRs, my vision and focus issues were not a problem. My bad close vision wasn’t an issue, as I was looking through my close plane of focus to the distant plane of the subject where I could see clearly. Today’s camera phones mean that the image I’m trying to compose is right there. A foot and a half from me, which means that I have to get out my reading glasses just to make sure I have the image aligned properly. And yet the image is of something distant. Which is one of those mysteries that I understand intellectually but never seem to get on a gut level, like when you look at a mirror and focus on the image therein. Now say I have a problem with my distant vision. Things far away are out of focus. I hold up a mirror to that distant object. I can see the mirror clearly because it’s close and I’m holding it. The glass of the mirror is in focus and clear. The edge of the mirror and its handle are crystal clear. But the image in the mirror is blurry. Because it is a reflection of something far away. But the reflection is actually right there. On the same surface as the glass of the mirror. Yet the image in the mirror is unchanged and as if I was looking through a clear lens at the distant object. Funny, one method astronomers use to increase light sensitivity when they are viewing distant stars is highly ground mirrors. You would think that if an image bounced off a mirror it would be less visible, not more so. If only because the image has to take that extra step, like a pool ball bounces off the cushion with less velocity not more. The other method Astronomers use to enhance and capture images is the light gathering CCD, the forerunner of today’s digital camera cellphones. I wonder if they have to hunch over when they use them. Or if they can download supernova noises as ringtones. Phone home…
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

#377 Macaroni

I heard a national commercial the other day for an establishment called Romano’s Macaroni Grill. The menu items they described seemed to put them firmly in the Italian restaurant category but with the added incentive of steaks and chops. But their name? America seems to have gone all schmegehgee when it comes to conflating nationalities in our food. The Jack-in-the Box croissandwich is a fine example. So I was interested to see the word macaroni popping up again. Back in the late 80s, America went through a cultural convulsion with their noodular dishes. All of a sudden, everything that bore any resemblance to a noodle was called pasta. Pasta thisa, pasta thata, if it was made of flour and could be boiled in water it was pasta. Macaroni was about the only noodular thing that emerged relatively unscathed, although “pasta and cheese” was much bandied about in certain social circles. Mac-and-cheese is of course the quintessential American dish. Of all the imports and transmutations from the Italian peninsula, this one stuck hardest to the American palate. Even now, in BBQ joints across the land, one of the classic sides of which you can pick two is almost always mac-and-cheese. We know that macaroni is an Italian word. And it’s fun to say. “Elbow pasta” always sounds like a contortionist at the circus for some reason. And frankly, I’m not a big one for naming food after body parts. That’s why words like ham and hock and white meat and roundsteak always make me more comfortable that flank steak, rump roast, and the weirdly confusing pork butt shoulder. To me the Italian connotation to macaroni came late in life. I learned about Mac-and-Cheese and macaroni long before I knew there was such a place as Italy. And almost the first song I learned was Yankee Doodle—which certainly begged for a rhyme with noodle, but instead called it macaroni. So now we’ve come full circle in the pasta wars. A place is calling itself a Romano’s Macaroni Grill. Hmm. The one way I’ve never had macaroni is grilled. To even contemplate the clean-up raises blisters on my steel wool. Romano is an Italian cheese. I’m guessing the company is trying to project the flair of Italy but the hominess of America. Have a little taste of the forbidden but don’t give up on the steaks and apple pie. Romano—purely Italian; Macaroni—half breed; and Grill—red-blooded truck driving American. Grill sounds as American as ex-country singer turned sausage-maker Jimmy Dean. The other patty. Jimmy Dean pure pork sausage. Why, you don’t get much more American than that. I heard yesterday that he’s caved into corporate food trend analysis. His newest microwavable breakfast offering? The Jimmy Dean sausage breakfast croissant. Wow. If pork sausage can bring Jimmy Dean and the French together, can world peace be far behind? Peace through Pork. If only everyone ate it.
America, ya gotta love it.

#376 My Brief Dissertation

I had occasion recently to purchase some briefs. I play racquetball, and unable to wear the spandex, thigh-length, accoutrement of basketball players, I elect to secure myself otherwise. For racquetball is nothing if not an active sport, and it goes without saying that the boxers I normally attire my nether regions with would be wholly inadequate to the task of preventing errant balls from causing damage. I’ve been hit by fifty-mile-an-hour balls in just about every location, and see no reason to tempt fate when the play gets hot. So I employ ordinary off-the-shelf mid-rise briefs for the security detail. Or de-front as the case may be. And I noticed something odd. I bought the briefs in two-packs. Hmm, they should market them to other sports players for the same purpose—securing themselves—and they could call it two-pack secure. In any event, they appeared to be cheaper that way. Always a consideration for the budget conscious brief buyer. The packet was arranged in such a way that the front brief was folded over the other brief, exposing only a small portion of its waistband. A less attentive buyer would assume that both briefs were the same color. As I am more attentive, I attempted to pry the briefs apart through the plastic and get a glimpse of the brief underneath. To no avail. No amount of worrying and twisting and sliding would dislodge the inside brief from its secret niche. The store clerk started giving me odd looks, I suppose seeing someone wrestling with a packet of underwear was a little disconcerting, so I ceased my investigative endeavors, paid and left. When I opened them at home, low and behold, the inside briefs were all hideous patterns and colors. I had bought three packets—two apparently black, one apparently navy. The external ones that is. The internal ones were all some hideous, revolting, garish, stripe and color arrangement that looked like linear dog vomit. When the pattern’s so bad you don’t even want it on a garment no one is likely to ever see you know it’s bad. Thank goodness I was only going to use them at the gym. God forbid I should get in a fatal accident and have to have the hospital personnel cutting them off my lifeless body. So the question of the day is: If they feel like they have to hide it in order for you to buy it, why did they make it in the first place? Did they get a deal on the fabric? Was the fabric maker on drugs that day, or were they taste disabled? If some people like the pattern better, why weren’t any of the patterns in front, in plain view for the tasteless public to be able to pick. Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to package all black or all navy and all hideous? Why did they force me to take a butt-ugly brief with every good one? It’s like a restaurant telling you: Sorry sir, the only side dish you can get with the delicious mouthwatering burger is the Brussels sprouts. America, ya gotta love it.

#375 Moothie

The espresso stand is today’s version of the old soda fountain. Coffee bars have replaced that made-to-order niche once occupied by the soda fountains of yore. If so, then the old malt shop replacement is the smoothie bar. Now first, let me say I don’t like to wait in line. It’s probably because I grew up in Southern California not five miles from Disneyland and spent much of my formative years fidgeting in endless lines waiting for rides like Dumbo and his super-sized kinfolk, Mumbo and Jumbo. When Disney was parceling out his insensitive animal names in that fearsome coming-of-age saga, do you think calling an elephant-sized entity Jumbo was his first inspiration, or did he start with the slam against slow-witted Dumbo? The cute, the likable, the heartwarming, Dumbo. Where was I? Oh yeah, smoothies. I hate to go into espresso bars that serve smoothies. Because I hate to find myself in line behind a smoothie orderer. Let’s face it, most baristas are pretty good at what they do. Making the esoteric concoctions that people feel mentally active and creative enough to order but too lazy to fashion at home keeps a coffee jockey on her toes. But smoothies are an afterthought for most espresso bars, a jump on the bandwagon sort of add-on the reminds me of regular bars adding stir-fry or pizza places offering alfredo. Not sticking to what you know increases line time for the unlucky schmucks behind the smoothie princess. So that’s why I liked it when I saw smoothie bars opening up. The health-conscious made-to-order junkies could now get out of my coffee line and hustle their capacious derrieres down to smoothie-ville. There to imbibe banana and fruit potions till they’re vitaminized to death. I went into a smoothie bar once and was amazed at the variety, but just my luck, they offered coffee drinks too and the woman ahead of me had ordered some of both. It took forever. So here’s what I realized. My problem with smoothies was that they take so long for a beverage. But if I had been standing in a line at the burger joint, the same wait would have been perfectly appropriate. Like most things in life, it all depends on context. If I call someone Dumbo on the playground, it’s cruel and insensitive. If I make a children’s movie about it I’m a saint. So smoothies crossed over my tolerance threshold for a beverage but were within my patience perimeter for a food. Ergo, if I want to smooth my ruffled feathers, I had best reorganize my calorie categories to place smoothies firmly in the food column. When I was a cook in a rundown convalescent hospital, we had folks on liquid diets. Which meant taking the regular meals—burger, potatoes, salad—and running them together through a blender. Set for puree. Serve with straw. Kind of a proto-smoothie. But with meat and vegetables. Damn. If I’d only had the patience to wait in line at the patent office.
America, ya gotta love it.

#374 Mulligan Mileage

I saw this car that had apparently been in a fender bender. Although fender crumpler was more like it. Modern cars are lightweight and oh so aerodynamic. And safety engineers have determined that the safest possible configuration for a car is to have a rigid frame and a crumple zone of metal in front of the driver to absorb maximum energy should a collision occur. What that means is the least little sneeze causes your body to crumple. Body shops are kept busy mending the corrugated fenders of persnickety auto owners night and day. Some, like me, wait for sufficient bungs and dings to build up and then pray for a deer to hit our cars so we have an insurance claim to share the load. Unfortunately, though good in theory, deer collisions are few and far between. Even though I cruise recklessly through my neighborhood in the wee hours, today’s deer are so tame, and let’s face it, traffic conscious, that unless I plow through my neighbor’s yard I have little chance to initiate a collision. So dings it is. The owner of the crumpled can I saw on the freeway apparently had the same problem. I say crumpled can because that’s exactly what it looked like. Beer cans are sleek and apparently solid objects but the least little pressure, like squeezing them in your hand, can leave them crinkled and frail looking. The owner of the can in question had apparently had a fairly major encounter with the hand of misfortune involving most of his front fender. Then he had taken to doing his own bodywork. Apparently grabbing a balpeen hammer and tapping out the dented aluminum from the backside, making it look like a reinflated crumpled beer can, with all the coruscations, spalling and coarse-textured bumpiness you’d expect from such an operation. It looked like a golf ball. That got me to wondering. I once read something about golf balls having all those little indentations in them to increase loft. It was a fairly learned dissertation and it attempted to establish some point of physics regarding Bernoulli effects on curved surfaces and other scientific gobbledygook. When I finished the article, I was left with the notion that the author spent too much time thinking about golf balls and the dimples on them. Probably while he was hacking through the rough looking for his own. But if, in fact, multiply-dimpled golf balls do fly farther, if they are aerodynamic wonders, then why aren’t cars, planes and trains made to look like orange peels? What’s all this smooth stuff? I’d be willing to bet it’s another plot from the price-gouging oil bandits to make us consume more fuel. Come to think of it, my civic does get better mileage since I built up a few dings. Yeah that’s it, I’m not a cheapskate, I choose to have it crinkled, to use less fuel and reduce greenhouse emissions. I’m not just saving money on gas. I’m saving the planet.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

#373 Mad Envelope

So I’ve noticed a disturbing trend recently and I think it has something to do with the topsy-turvy world in which we live. Upside down envelopes. Now I admit I’m a creature of habit. Habits are nature’s little shortcuts. The more we don’t have to think things through as if they were new each time, the more time and brain matter we have to devote to getting by. And as we age and that brain matter becomes scarcer and scarcer it’s nice to have a little shortcut every now and again. It’s like a riding a bicycle. They say you never forget. Habits are the “don’t forget, don’t even give it a thought” things that get us through. Sometimes they’re scary, like when you’ve driven from home to work and don’t remember any of the intervening miles. Or when your habit of thought becomes a prejudice and you automatically think less of someone because he or she reminds you of someone else you didn’t like.
So I guess you could say I have a prejudice about opening envelopes. I’m one of those old-fashioned 20th century guys who still thinks an envelope is like a receptacle. It has a bottom and it has a top. The bottom is totally sealed, always. Not because it’s glued together but because it folded there, preparatory to being glued on the other edges. A classic envelope is like a basket or a cup or a briefcase. The down end hold the rest of the stuff in, so when you insert your letter or bill or payment, it stays there when you lick the glue and seal it in place, or more recently peel back the protective strip, etc. When your recipient gets the envelope he takes out his finger, or if he has sustained more than one paper cut in his life, his knife or letter opener, slides it under the flap and rips open the top of the envelope. Or grabs a corner and pulls it open. He then lifts out the letter or bill and, voila, your news has reached him. One hopes, if the sender has engaged in proper letter or bill folding, it will fall open to the important first page. That is if every one else has followed our society’s habits in these things. Society’s habits, also known as tradition and culture, subtly dictate this conformity. Society’s habits can be summed up with the phrase: It’s the way things are done.
Not so two of the companies I deal with. They have started sending out their bills in upside down envelopes. The folded end is on top and if you break the seal you would ordinarily break, everything is upside down. One of the companies is Pacific Disposal. I thought before, I get it, dump the contents of envelope. But the other company is just a regular company. Why? If they got a bad batch of envelopes, well send ‘em back. Because it’s upsetting us old habit-driven fuddy-duddies. We don’t like to pull an envelope open wrong side up. And we sure as heck aren’t gonna push it.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, October 02, 2006

#372 Most Likely To

I always like it when the new phone books come out. The first thing I do is turn to the lawyer section. A lot of my friends are lawyers and because I don’t see them as often as I used to, I want to check out their pictures to see how much they’ve aged. I feel sorry for lawyers. Advertising goes in cycles and the current one has everyone jumping on the full-page color phonebook ad¾or at least dentists and lawyers and chiropractors. And I’m not sure why. Phone books are what I call a passive advertising medium. The people that sell you on sinking a thousand or more a month into the phone book say that your ad is there 365 days a year and it’s always on your potential client’s desk. The truth is the only person who uses a phone book that much is the phone advertising salesman, looking up the poor sheep he fleeced last year. Because while a phone book is great for looking up a number once you decide you need a service, it really sucks when it comes to suggesting that service in the first place. Phone books can’t do suggestive selling. Nobody drives to work in the morning listening to a phone book. And nobody picks up the phone book for some light recreational reading. Until someone absolutely needs your service, your phone ad is like an old piece of candy moldering in the corner of a kitchen drawer. And now that there are three phone books you just tripled your ad budget without even trying. Which of the three do you turn down? You might as well have a matched set of moldering candy in the drawer. So tell me this, at what point in our Hollywood celebrity culture did we cross over into the thinking that having a picture of yourself was so important to getting business. Go through the phone book these days and it’s pictures, pictures, everywhere. Did the advertiser think, hey I’m spending a lot of money for this ad I might as well get a professional picture out of the deal I can use someplace else. Or heck, maybe a picture of my family too. That way next Christmas, we could just send out our phone book ad to all the relatives. Is America just that vain? Aren’t there ugly people in business too? What about people who have the misfortune to look untrustworthy but aren’t. The best practitioners of various trades that I’ve ever had, have been the odd ducks and the misfits and the obsessive compulsives who have poured so much of their life energy into their profession they didn’t have time to comb their hair this morning. I mean really. I was looking through the phone book and I came to the section on auto repair. Is it really important that I make my buying decision based on how my mechanic looks? This picture thing has gotten completely out of hand. The phone book is starting to look like a high school annual. Look there’s Ted, voted most likely to repair a transmission….
America, ya gotta love it.