26 March 2007

Beer Run

Hi there, blognoscenti. I had intended to post a couple of days ago, but the impending (well, next week) arrival of the Mrs.' dad for a visit forced us to confront some house-cleaning imperatives. We did take some time out from cleaning over the weekend to do some errands, including a run to the liquor store, which gave me the idea for this entry.

For more than a decade we lived about a mile south of Wellington Circle, which is the tangled and tricky intersection of routes 28 and 16 in Medford, MA. Now we live about a mile north of it. For pretty much all this time, I've been buying my beer from the Kappy's Liquors store that sits at the northeast edge of the Circle. I prefer to buy my beer by the case, because that way I only have to think about it every month or so.

Our friend Sandra has always referred to Kappy's as "the Liquor Palace" so I got in the habit of doing it too. It's arguably a palace of commerce, but not in the aesthetic sense: it's a plain white building with way too much fluorescent lighting inside. But when I walk through the door and see the mountains of beer cases stacked in rows, it makes me feel warm inside, the way I used to feel when I was a kid with a dollar to spend at the candy store. It usually takes me at least 20 minutes to decide what kind of beer I'm going to get, even if I walked in thinking I knew what I wanted. I just like to wander up and down the aisles, looking for something different, or something familiar.

But this weekend I decided to try another store in town. I was swayed by a radio ad I'd heard. I'd been there once or twice a while ago; it's not any more or less convenient than Kappy's. The ad claimed their prices were better, and I guess I wanted to see if they were. The store itself was somewhat dingy inside, done up in paneling straight out of Ralph Kramden's Raccoon Lodge and probably about as old. They had plenty of beer, and it was piled high like at Kappy's, but somehow it just wasn't the same.

And the prices weren't that great either: most of the brands I tend to buy were a couple of dollars more expensive per case. I did end up buying beer, but pretty much only because I'd already put my empties into the machine and gotten my deposit credit, but I don't need to go back. So, Liquor Palace, I've learned my lesson. Just because a store has a radio ad doesn't mean it's the better place for me to shop. Sometimes, the best place to shop is the place you've been shopping all along.

20 March 2007

I'm a Member of the Stupid Club

Have you ever done something that's just so painfully stupid you can't believe you're allowed to walk around using the earth's oxygen? I'm now a member of that club.

On Sunday I noticed that my winter parka was kind of dirty down the front, along the flap that covers the zipper, probably from reading the paper every day on the way to work. I was a little embarrassed that I hadn't noticed it sooner, so when I got home I pulled the gloves out of the pockets and put the coat in the washing machine. A little while later I was wondering where I'd put my cell phone, then I remembered it was time to put the coat in the dryer.

On my way down the stairs to the basement those two thoughts converged in my head in one of those "oh, no" moments that we hope never to have. Sure enough, the phone was in the inside pocket. I'd been in such haste to wash it that I allowed that thought to override my usual logical process: come in the house, take phone out of pocket and put it in usual spot so I can find it again later, hang up coat.

The phone was toast, although the battery worked fine in the Mrs.' phone (same brand). I still had my previous phone, so a call to customer service got that one reactivated and solved the immediate problem of having one to use. The bigger question is, what now? I don't want to continue using the old phone indefinitely. If I go to Verizon Wireless to buy a replacement, they're going to charge me some ridiculous amount (probably around $300, from what I can gather without asking them directly). I've had a cell phone for over ten years and until now I've never rendered one inoperable, so I don't feel that insurance is worth it--if I'd been paying for it all this time, I would have paid more than twice the cost of a non-contract replacement phone, and there's typically still a deductible involved.

eBay is an option--my reactivated temporary phone came from there--but there is a certain amount of risk in such a purchase, and current model phones aren't exactly bargains; to replace my drowned phone with the same model would cost one-third to one-half of what Verizon would charge me. Some of the more established cell-phone sellers on eBay are now offering guarantees, which would make me feel better about choosing that route.

Another possibility is craigslist. I have both bought and sold things on the 'list, and while it can be a pain for buyer and seller to make the arrangements to meet, at least you can look over the merchandise and ensure it works before handing over your money. But the selection of phones for Verizon is a little thin at the moment, and not surprisingly tends toward older models.

So I'll have to bide my time with my old phone while checking craigslist and eBay looking for the right deal. In the meantime, when I go to do laundry you can bet I'll be checking every pocket very carefully.

15 March 2007

Where Did My Products Go?

I realized that I haven't been keeping up with the "consumption" aspect of this blog's mission. I've still been a consumer, of course, but my recent entries have not focused on that so much. That's because I'm smart enough (thankfully) to know that not everything I buy is interesting enough to write about. I recently bought another pair of boots that were too big, but that didn't seem to merit a post of its own, especially since I was dumb enough (regrettably) to wear them for the better part of a day even though I'd already determined they were too big, thereby rendering them un-returnable. So I sold them on eBay, for less than I hoped I'd get, but they're on the way to someone who wants them, and thus no longer taking up space in the house, sitting there quietly mocking my stupidity.

However, I do have a consumer-related issue that's been on my mind for a while. I seem to have what is becoming an alarming tendency to choose personal-care and grooming products that later disappear, inevitably after I've decided that Product X is the best thing ever and I never want to use anything else. It's just happened for the third time in the past several years.

The first instance was a hair product. It wasn't anything fancy; in fact, it was one of the cheapest products in that aisle of the drugstore--after having been burned by $10, $15, even $20 products that didn't work, its low price was the reason I decided to try it. But it worked, so who cares? Then it went away with no warning, no "get it while it lasts!" signs. The rest of the product line was still there,
taunting me in its gaudy aqua packaging (it seems like it was aimed at gum-snapping teenage girls, but again, who cares?). I looked in the clearance section. I looked in other drugstore chains. I looked in the supermarket's health & beauty aisle. I looked in Target, Costco, and even the dreaded Wal-Mart: nothing. I gave up and resorted to a succession of inferior products.

Fast-forward about two years to the winter of 2005. I found myself wandering the aisles of the discount paradise known as the Ocean State Job Lot (an odd sort of hybrid of a dollar store on steroids and a Big Lots, indigenous to New England, but primarily found in Rhode Island, southern Connecticut, and southeastern Massachusetts) when I spotted the unmistakable aqua containers. Could it be? It was. Had they been sitting in a warehouse somewhere this whole time? Didn't know, didn't care. I knew from previous use that each bottle lasted me at least eight months (because I don't have much hair left). I grabbed six bottles, which I think ended up costing 75 cents each. I'm on bottle three four.

The next such incident involved a product I used to use to wash my face before shaving, that did nice things to my pores and helped prevent cuts. Again I got hooked and again it disappeared, except this time the supermarket continued carrying it for a while. I should have stocked up then, but I didn't realize it was happening again. When even they no longer had it, I looked to the company's web site, which claimed it was still available. Their retail locator offered a list of stores that carried the brand,
but wasn't any more specific. After another week or so spent running around, I again gave up; this time, at least, I was able to find a comparable replacement product.

Most recently, I've used and lost a clear-gel acne treatment product which I would apply before going to bed. Fortunately I'm at an age where I don't have to deal with acne on a regular basis, but we all need a little help now and then. It was remarkably effective; often the offending breakout would be gone the next morning, and without causing any irritation like some acne treatments do. I still have some left, but when it's gone I really don't know what I'm going to use in its place, as I haven't been able to find any comparable products.

Repeated disappointment has made me cynical, and these days I'm trying not to grow too attached to my products. Maybe it's time for another trip to Job Lot.

11 March 2007

TV Wasteland

It's been a rough few weeks over here at the SAR household. The Mrs. has been struggling with a persistent cough that turned out to be bronchitis. It took two doctor visits to affirm this (even though I guessed it three weeks ago), as the doctors didn't see the need to do a chest X-ray the first time around. So helpful. The antibiotics she got on the second visit did what they were supposed to do, but when they ran out earlier this week, her cough returned. So she made a third visit to the doctor yesterday and got another round of a different antibiotic, which seems to be working and hopefully will clear the gunk out of her lungs for good. (It had better, because I'm really, really tired of hearing that cough.)

As a result, we haven't done much outside the house lately, especially with the cold blast we had this past week. Even a short amount of time in front of the TV confirms that March is the dead zone for network programming, since it immediately follows the February sweeps period. There's some college basketball tournament coming up that we don't care about, we're not interested in who
is going to be the next anorexic model or slutty dancer, and we don't partake of that despicable emotional beatdown masquerading as a singing competition (and what does it say about our country and culture that this is what now passes for entertainment?), so the pickings are slim.

The networks also use this time to try out new shows, away from the clutter of new episodes of established shows, and sometimes it works out well--Grey's Anatomy started in March two years ago, and it's turned into a top-rated show. But last Sunday we did make the mistake of watching the first episode of The Winner, a mind-blowingly bad new "comedy" on Fox, mostly because it was sandwiched between new episodes of The Simpsons and Family Guy and there wasn't anything else on that we cared about at the time. Two-thirds of the way through, the Mrs. stopped coughing long enough to comment, "I hate this already. Do we have to finish watching it?" We didn't have to, but we did, because there were only ten minutes left, but we opted to skip the second episode shown later the same night.

It's not all bad news, though. Because of their networks' scheduling quirks, there are new episodes of Lost and 24 on every week. NBC is showing plenty of reruns of one of our favorites, The Office, which is always worth watching a second time, but they're sweetening the deal with some with scenes that didn't make it into the episodes the first time around. The New Adventures of Old Christine comes back tomorrow night, promising us a few more laughs. And there's always Netflix. And before we know it, April will be here, and with any luck, the Mrs. will have stopped coughing, the weather will improve, and we'll be able to go see a movie.

06 March 2007

Up in Somke

I don't smoke. I don't know anyone who does, except my father, who's been smoking so much, for so long, that I don't think he could quit if he wanted to. I was thrilled when Massachusetts passed the law several years back banning smoking in restaurants, bars, and clubs. But with that law came the exile of the smokers to sidewalks everywhere, often in clots that need to be dodged.

I was thinking about this as I went to get lunch the other day. I work in the midst of a cluster of top-tier hospitals, without exaggeration some of the finest medical care in the world, so I don't see a lot of people standing around on the street smoking. But the law of averages says that a certain percentage of people in any workplace are going to be smokers, and the medical area is no exception.

The rear entrance to the Longwood Galleria food court is at the end of an alley; it's a natural gathering spot for smokers who have finished lunch and are grabbing a puff before going back to work. Also abutting the same alley is the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which, according to their web site, "provides expert, compassionate care to children and adults with cancer." Is it just me, or is this the height of irony? At least the smokers will know where it is when they need to go there...

03 March 2007

Random Acts of Weirdness (Pet Peeve Unit)

It was a week of random weirdness (and rudeness) out there in the big city. Here are some examples:

—The other day I went out to get lunch and drop off a bill at the mailbox. (Yes, I still pay one or two of my bills by check, but only because the companies in question don't offer an appropriate online payment method. In this case it's National Grid, our electric company. The only way you can pay online is to set up a recurring monthly payment, and I choose not to do this because I like to retain control over when and how much I pay.)

But I digress... as I approached the mailbox, I noticed a guy standing in front of it. I figured he was dropping off a piece of mail like me. As I got closer I saw that he was outside for a smoke break. He was standing in such a spot that there was no way I or anyone else could get to the mailbox without stepping around him and into his cloud of smoke. The mailbox is directly in front of an open area, and had he chosen to stand in any other spot nearby, his smoke bomb would have offended no one. I have to wonder if a smoker would feel marginalized enough by the laws to do something like this on purpose, but I decided against asking him.

—Even if the T never gets around to putting transmitters in the subway tunnels, cell phones still work some of the time, which is unfortunate. Wednesday morning on the Orange Line, a young woman sat down next to me in the midst of a conversation that proceeded to go something like this:

"Tell her about MY new sneakers...Did you tell her?...Did you tell her?...Tell her about MY new sneakers...Tell her about mine...Tell her about mine...Did you tell her?...Did you tell her?...Did you tell her?...
Did you tell her?...What did she say?...Really?...I'm gonna lose you, I gotta go."

I'm not exaggerating: she really did say "Did you tell her?" ten or twelve times. I'm thinking it was a reception issue. If there had been actual cell service in the tunnel, would she have had to repeat herself so many times? We'll never know.

Then I noticed she was wearing headphones. I noticed because, since she was done talking, I could hear the music coming out of her ear. And I wondered, was she listening to the music while talking on the phone? Because that probably would have affected her ability to hear the other end of her conversation.
But I didn't want to look too closely at her, because the music coming out of those headphones was Journey's "Faithfully," and that's just so wrong on so many levels, I don't know where to begin.

Now, she could have had a cell phone that plays mp3s, and I'm fairly certain that those are engineered in such a way that you can't listen to music while on a call, but since I have an iPod with far more capacity than any phone-sized memory card, I don't really pay attention to such things (even though my own cell phone has this capability).

This was at 8:30 AM. Sometimes when I overhear these conversations, I wonder about why people feel the need to have incredibly lengthy and involved conversations so early in the day. I think back to twenty years ago, when I was young enough that I might have felt such a need, but even if cell phones had been common then, I can't imagine myself needing to talk to even my best friend before getting to work, wspecially about something as banal as new sneakers. And anyway, I'd much rather show my new sneakers to my friends than tell them about them over the phone.

—At the end of that same morning's ride, I was preparing to get off the train to switch to a bus. There was a fairly bulky dude standing directly in front of me, so I went through the motions of folding up my newspaper and putting it away, putting my cap back on, and otherwise telegraphng to him in the universally understood (or so I thought) mass transit code that I was about to get off the train, and it would be helpful to me if he would move a couple of inches in the direction of his choice to give me some room to stand up.

The train wasn't really crowded by this point, so he had plenty of room to move, but he chose to remain in the exact spot where I needed to be when I stood up. So the train reached the station and I stood up, putting myself very much inside his personal space, hoping he'd get the message that he was impeding my passage. As I moved toward the door of the train, instinct told me to look over my shoulder, and I saw him glaring at me, as though I had somehow committed an offense against him. I felt I had no choice but to glare back because it really was his fault, even though the whole incident was ridiculous and pointless, and never should have happened. Fortunately the rest of my trip to work that day was without incident, but some days it's just such a challenge, you wish you didn't have to bother.

01 March 2007

Can You Hear Me Now? (Crazy Gadgets Unit)

The post I was planning for today is gonna have to wait, because just when you think the world has become too boring and homogeneous and has run out of weirdness, this comes along to restore the faith...

Courtesy of Engadget, a tech blog, and those wacky Japanese and their penchant for gadgetizing their entire lives, comes today's little moment of joy: a device that lets you see inside your ear canals while cleaning them. Wow. Just...wow. This sort of thing is guaranteed to make my day, every time.