Consumer Retorts


          I’ll be sixty-three in a few weeks, which means I’m invisible to every marketer besides the ones who advertise on Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune. I guess I’m at that point where I simply don’t need anything, or at least not another one of the same thing. Madison Avenue must recognize that most of my purchases these days replace something that’s broken, worn out or outdated, not something new and shiny.

          I did buy a new winter jacket this past weekend because, for some reason, every jacket I own did not have nylon inner sleeves. This may be a trivial reason to buy a new jacket, but since ninety-nine percent of my winter shirts are flannel or corduroy, taking off a jacket without nylon inner sleeves is sort of the same as wearing clothes made out of Velcro and burdocks. If you combine that with the somewhat shortened range of motion of my left shoulder, watching me take off a jacket is the same as watching a turtle trying to wiggle out of its shell.

          In addition to nylon inner sleeves, I wanted a jacket with useful pockets inside and out, a collar that zipped up higher to keep out the wind, and a real hood, not a thin Rube Goldberg hood that unfolded out of the collar. I also didn’t want one of those newfangled layered jackets within another jacket within yet another jacket. It had to be a discreet color, lightweight and not have a zipper with two pulls. I have no idea why a jacket needs two zipper pulls. I have never, in my life, zipped up a jacket and decided that I wanted to unzip only the lower portion. I found a down jacket at L.L. Bean that checked all of my jacket boxes and remarkably, it only had one zipper pull. Sold.

          My consumer habits are pretty simple these days. I’m gradually replacing items that annoy the heck out of me. I recently replaced a pair of perfectly good slide-in slippers because they kept sliding off my feet, plus I couldn’t wear them to go up or down stairs and they forced me to shuffle when I walked. I kept envisioning the headline of my obituary: Local man killed by his slippers while shuffling down the stairs. I probably would have worn them a little longer, but my wife wisely said, “Why don’t you get slippers you like that won’t murder you when you’re walking up or down stairs?” So I did. I went online to Zappos and ordered a pair, which were on my feet fourteen hours later. I love them.

          The other aspect of my shopping habits is that I now buy what I want, not what is on clearance at Kohls that is close enough. This is within reason, of course, but in the case of the above-mentioned jacket and barring any unreasonable weight gain, I’ll be in my middle seventies before it wears out, if it ever does. As is the case with many older people, I’d rather have one good thing than five lousy things. I remember when I was about twelve, I inherited my grandfather’s wool Pendleton shirt-jacket and wore it until I outgrew it. That jacket had to have been thirty years old before it was finally retired.

          When I do go shopping in what is now called a brick-and-mortar store, I generally use a credit card because we get cash back and because I’m a practical older person, I appreciate somebody giving me money for doing something I was going to do anyway. Old people live for free money, which is why they search out useful coupons as if they were truffles. Not me, but other old people who have way more time on their hands, probably while watching Wheel of Fortune. The worst place to be in a grocery store check-out line is behind a senior citizen with coupons and a checkbook. If that’s the case, I hope you’re buying a chair, because it’s going to be a long afternoon.

          My phone is linked to my credit card because I like to pay for items electronically. It’s fast and efficient, which I appreciate. It’s gotten so bad, I’m annoyed when I have to take out my wallet and pull out a card and then figure out whatever idiosyncrasies the chip reader may have or in the case of a gas pump that doesn’t use a chip reader, figuring out which direction and how deeply the card goes in the slot and how quickly I have to do this. Why is the speed in which a card is put in and removed have to be so mysterious and magical? Who am I? David Blaine?

          There are times when I pay cash for items and the moment I do, I remember why I don’t.

          When did it become OK for cashiers to hand people a sandwich made out of a long, curly, thermal paper receipt which is under the bills which are under the coins? “Here’s your wad of whatever this stuff is. Now move along so I charm the next person in line with my indifference.”

          I’ll be honest here: I don’t believe anyone who works in retail can do any sort of math let alone make change without the machine telling them how much is due. I’ve never seen a cash register screen, but I’m pretty sure it says, “give them three paper slips with the one in the corner, the big, shiny thing that looks like a button and four of those brown things.”

          I like to be organized. I keep my bills in my wallet in order of value, the receipt goes into my shirt pocket and the coins go in the left pocket of my pants. What sort of parlor trick allows somebody to do all that with a disorganized collection of coins, rebate slips, scratch off discount nubs, Monopoly game pieces, regular receipts, survey forms, sweaty crinkly bra money and tri-folded bills without feeling guilty for holding up the line? I’ve seen women take upwards of an hour trying to rearrange everything in their purse after a cash transaction. Lately, I’ve been taking the time to slow the roll of the entire retail community and count my change. I put the receipt back on the counter, count the bills, count the coins and if it all checks out, I put it all away where it belongs.

          Yes, the fine line between me and check writers/coupon fiends is blurry, but I accept this because it’s my job as an older person to befuddle cashiers with my fussy old person insistence that there is a right way and a wrong way to do even simple tasks and the wrong way doesn’t fly. It could be worse. I could tell them endless stories about how we used to do things back in the twentieth century and how a cup of coffee was fifteen cents and a pair of Levi’s cost eight dollars and how we didn’t have forty-seven flavors of Cheerios or packaging that required a hacksaw and tin snips to get into. I could do that or better still, next time I’ll hand the cashier a twenty that has been folded into an origami swan.

            OK, now I’m heading straight to the Google machine to find out how to do that


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Hi, I’m Rick, and I’m Bifocal


This is the story of how I came to have five pairs of eyeglasses, and how a person who isn’t Elton John can fall into this trap.

            I started wearing glasses in the spring of 1963, which would have put me on the short end of nine years of age. That seems awfully early for body parts to start going south, but my football-shaped corneas decided on their own that they would not focus light properly. This is a highly unscientific way to describe astigmatism. Fine. Lots of people have this problem and it’s easily corrected with glasses or Toric contact lenses.

            Flash forward about thirty-five years or so, where I found myself under my mother’s kitchen sink doing some plumbing. While crammed IMG_20160315_0001 (1)inside the cabinet, upside down and staring at the trap, I couldn’t focus on what I was doing. Just like that. I slid my glasses down my nose and two things became clear: the pipe and the reality that I might need bifocals. Most people realize that this will happen at some point in their lives, but it never occurred to me that it would strike with such suddenness.

            I spent the next few years in a state of denial, but when it became too much of a nuisance to remove my glasses to read or to focus on my watch or the dashboard, I got bifocals—the fancy “no-line” type because I didn’t want anyone to know, plus they were supposed to allow vision to feel more natural. I picked them up and tried them on and immediately felt as if the floor was tipping away from me and ramping down towards Hell itself. “You’ll get used to that,” the optician said, herself wearing a pair. Meanwhile, I was still trying to figure out how it was possible to read better without glasses than with, yet still need bifocals. The moment I got there, my brain started to do that thing it does when I try to figure out where the universe ends.

            Over the course of about two weeks, I did get used to them by contorting my head to find my visual sweet spot before learning how to move my eyes instead. If I was doing something that involved different fields of vision, my eyes darted around like those of a chipmunk on an all-espresso diet. It was a process, but I eventually figured it out with a few exceptions.

            When I was working on the computer, I found myself tipping my neck back so that I could see the screen through the bifocal part of my glasses. It turns out that the bifocal sweet spot of sixteen to twenty inches was in that perfect range to read the screen. I ended up taking off my glasses entirely but as time went by, I found I needed some assistance seeing the screen, so I asked the optometrist the next time I had my eyes checked what I should do. “Get a pair of computer glasses,” he said. I wasn’t sure what sort of ophthalmic sorcery they used to maprogressive-660x326ke these, but I bit the bullet and got a pair, so now I had two pairs of glasses—one for everyday tasks and one for computer tasks. I also used the computer glasses to read the newspaper because the size of the paper requires all sorts of swanky eye focusing.

            Soon after I got my bifocals, I discovered that watching TV while lying in bed was impossible because the angle aimed my peepers through the lower “reader” part, which blurred the screen. I dug out an old pair of single vision glasses, which became my watching TV in bed glasses. Problem solved.

            That’s three pairs if you’re counting.

            It didn’t take long to realize that my old single vision sunglasses were the same nuisance as my old single-vision regular glasses, but I didn’t want to choke down a mortgage for a pair of bifocal sunglasses, so my next pair of glasses had lenses that darkened in the sun. Perfect solution, right? These have been around for decades, but they still haven’t figured out how to make them perfectly clear indoors and really, they aren’t very good sunglasses. Plus I always felt like Jack Nicholson at the Oscars. I wore them for a while but never liked them. Luckily the guarantee allowed me to replace those lenses with clear no-line bifocals and clip-on sunglasses. This seemed to be the perfect solution and worked well, but I was always losing the clip-ons or breaking the fragile frames. I put up with this for years, reasoning that new clip-ons were still cheaper than dedicated sunglasses.

      Jack Nicholson holds the Oscar he won for Best Act      Last year, both of my prescriptions changed slightly enough (distance vision improved somehow, while my close-up vision didn’t) to justify new sunglasses, and the place where I got them—it rhymes with Bostco—had a great price on one pair and an even better price on two, so I bought a pair of dedicated bifocal sunglasses and an extra pair of everyday glasses. I use my “close enough” glasses as an alternate pair. This is something that I have never had in over fifty years of wearing glasses. I can now wear different everyday glasses depending on my mood or whichever pair is closer.

            This brings me up to five pairs of glasses—two for everyday, one for watching TV in bed, one for the computer and newspapers, and one pair of sunglasses. The reality of this struck me this past Sunday, when I spent about fifteen minutes cleaning five pairs of glasses, each pair looking as if I had worn them in a haboob. It’s become an actual chore to clean my various glasses. Life is funny. So is the word haboob.IMG_0009

            Anyway, that’s how I, a normal person who is not Elton John, came to have five pairs of glasses. One final note:

            Since I’m older and practicality is more important to me than appearance in nine out of ten circumstances, I’ve solved the problem of what to do with my sunglasses when I have to change back and forth into regular glasses. I have this magnetic thingamajig that I can stick to whatever I’m wearing, which allows me to hang whichever pair of glasses I’m not wearing safely and out of the way. It’s higher on the dork scale of dorkiness than even clip-on sunglasses, but I don’t care. Not anymore. I’ve crossed into the bifocal territory, which means the gloves are off now.


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Battery Park



A battery is a device consisting of one or more electromechanical cells that convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy. Each cell contains a positive terminal, or cathode, and a negative terminal, or anode. Electrolytes allow ions to move between the electrodes and terminals, which allows current to flow out of the battery to perform work. Chances are, you won’t have the size you need when you need it, but if you’re like me and you do have the right size, there’s a very good chance that you’ll put at least one battery in backward. 


            There’s a little box up in the corner of my computer screen, which is letting me know that the mouse batteries are low. The box suggests that I replace them soon, which is what I will do as soon as I find two AA batteries. We generally buy a loaf of these things, but for some reason, they are all gone. I don’t know where they all went. Aside from the mouse and the keyboard, the only things in the house that use them are a few clocks and the thermostat, and those seem to last for years. It’s one of the big mysteries of life, I guess. Where do the all the AA batteries go?

            I grew up in an era where very few things had batteries. Flashlights, of course, with their dim yellow lightflashlight took a few D cell batteries. Those were the big, heavy ones, and I can’t think of a single thing in our house now that requires them. Maybe the car, for all I know. Every flashlight we have has bright and efficient LED bulbs, and any one of these flashlights would probably work for weeks by plugging it into a potato.  I think these tiny flashlights take AAA batteries, but I’m not really sure. I’ve never replaced them.

            We have a wall clock in our laundry room, which takes three AA batteries every few years, but we had a kitchen wall clock in the house in which I grew up that had to be plugged into a socket. The clock had a stubby cord with a plug that was maneuvered into a wall plugspecial recessed socket made solely for this purpose, and every house on the street had one in exactly the same location. When our electric kitchen clock finally ticked its last, we got a newfangled clock with a battery and put it over the obsolete plug. This was the dawn of the battery age, bringing us to now when everything seems to be powered by a battery of some kind.

            The other morning, the dog was lying on our bed. He was let outside before daylight and was now curled up on the residual warmth I had left for him. His collar was blinking. When this happens, I often wonder what he makes of it. I mean, collars, in general, are outside of the natural wardrobe of dogs, so a flashing collar must be viewed with a bit of wonderment. I think he’s ambivalent about it, as he is with most things that aren’t a UPS driver, squirrels or other dogs.

            We have an invisible fence type of system, which requires Milo to wear the collar, although he automatically stops at his boundary even if he isn’t wearing it. Still, there’s no point in taking chances. Squirrels can be very tempting.

            Those batteries last about three months, and we buy them from the place that installed the system. They gouge us a hefty sixteen dollars for one of these things, but what are we going to do? They’re actually two separate batteries shrink-collar batterywrapped into one barrel, and I did find a store that sells nothing but batteries that had the type that fit the collar. Not surprisingly, they were cheaper but the store is a thirty-five-mile round trip, and for some reason, the batteries didn’t last as long.

            So Milo was sprawled out on the bed, oblivious to or hypnotized by his blinking collar. I couldn’t tell which. Luckily we had a spare battery, so now we have three months to get another one, and if things go according to plan, we’ll forget all about it until his collar starts blinking again.

            That’s the state of contemporary batteries. Oddness. AA is probably the most common, but that doesn’t always mean it’s the battery that’s needed. I have a clock on my upstairs desk that takes an N battery. What the heck is an N battery? When I finally found a place nearby that sold them, I bought four. I put one in the clock, but I have no idea where I put the other three.

            I wish every device with a battery sent out a warning of when they were losing power. My watch will start to tick off ten-second chunks of time when the battery is going, and most of the devices with a screen of some kind will have an icon, but there are still some things that will simply stop working.

      low battery      Many of our battery-controlled devices are rechargeable, which is terrific, but they eventually have to be plugged in to be recharged. On one hand, there’s the convenience of cordless, but on the other hand, that convenience can’t go far without the mothership. My phone is a great example of this. The charge will last about fourteen hours before it blinks out a warning that there is only twenty percent power left, then ten percent, and then it will simply fade to black. The last twenty percent of life fades remarkably fast, so I hurry and try to take advantage of every last bit of what’s left. There’s an analogy here that is too grim to even think about.

            Batteries. They’re as much a part of our lives as anything else. Cars are running on them now, although not for very far, and I’ve seen them silently zipping down the road and at the public charging stations, tethered to their lifeline. I think that’s remarkable and I hope they improve to the point where they are a real choice for people. I doubt I’ll ever get one, though. I have enough things blinking at me.


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