Archive for the 'Shopping' Category

Brown Trucks and Pictures

The UPS guy has become part of the family. His brown truck, looking like something retro from the 50’s, lumbers up and down our street daily. Wearing similarly colored garb, including short shorts even in cold weather, he emerges from his vehicle and, like Santa, delivers packages to brighten our day. The recycle container overflows with evidence of his frequent visits.

His boxes and padded envelopes usually appear at our front door, or in our mailbox, where they are least expected. Like kids, we tear open the package, and are sometimes surprised by its contents. “Did I order that?” The efficiency with which the whole system works, delivering stuff on time and to the correct location, always astounds me.

I have become accustomed to deliveries occurring more than once a day. Sometimes they appear at our door in the dark of night. On my trips through the house, I often turn my head and look through the glass panel on the side of the front door; it’s just to be sure that I haven’t missed a delivery and left a package in purgatory limbo.

I was surprised this morning as I instinctively looked through the panel and found a medium sized paper bag with fancy handles sitting on the stoop. Devoid of the usual Amazon Prime markings, I went into level 10 curiosity mode.

Lifting the bag, I noted its high quality. Its thickness and construction went well beyond anything that might be found at Westridge Market, or even at Whole Foods. It was so well made that I immediately regretted the image of its passage to our blue recycle bin, its unceremonious dumping into the puke green E.J. Harrison garbage truck, and its eventual life ending compression as though it was just another piece of paper.

I took the precious bag into the house, placed it lovingly on the kitchen counter, and looked deeply into its contents. It was a book.

Not just any book. It was heavy and a foot square, like a book that you might display on a coffee table in your living room. Called Our Ojai, it was authored by the Ojai Valley Defense Fund. The front cover looked familiar; a view of the Topa Topas in their pink moment grandeur. It was a photo taken by me years ago. The bottom left corner showed a darkened oak covered hill on my former Sulphur Mountain property.

I was elated. The photo was better than I remembered; I searched for the photo credit just to be sure it was really mine. It was, and I recalled the work I had done photographing the hills, the oil wells and the faces of those who had hiked the dense oak acreage during my twenty years of being part of it.

I was reminded of how prolific I had been, taking and displaying photos in any number of settings, both on the property and throughout Ojai. This was before I had fallen into disrepair and begun a retreat from an avocation that consumed much of my time; one that had given me such pleasure.

The book is filled with wonderful photos, some drawn from Ojai’s earliest days. Fifteen photographers contributed works that commemorate Ojai’s desire to remain relatively free of the big city trappings that plague other communities. The Defense Fund receives donations from people who value protecting Ojai’s unique character. The fund is used for legal fees and related items…or simply to indicate a capability of doing so in the face of attempts to destroy the Valley.

Thumbing through Our Ojai excites me as I glimpse my work and that of more talented photographers. It’s similar to the feeling I get walking through a photo exhibit, attending a competition, or going to the monthly meeting of the Ojai photo club.

In all these venues I often silently compare my imagined work to the real work of others. I find that I am critical of some of the work, and then remind myself that at least my peers are working at it, contributing and learning. I soak up ideas and wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that.” I mentally pledge to, “Get back into it.” But at a deeper level, I fear that this apogee and nadir has happened before, and is likely to repeat itself.

Like the moon landing, maybe I need to take one small step at a time. Do it daily (except when I don’t want to) and give myself a passing grade whenever I just make the attempt. Sort of like my college mandatory weight-lifting class; I passed the course with a half-point to spare because I got that much just for trying a lift. I’m certain I became a CPA because, in large part, the partners liked my pecs.

Along the way I’ve given up heavy SLRs because I tire of carrying them; I’ve replaced it with a much lighter mirrorless camera. I’m taking more photos with my tiny iPhone and have begun a course on making the most of it. Jackie encourages me daily.

A breakthrough occurred because of Covid during which I took a series of photos of masked people, and shop windows bearing ominous virus warnings. But that was weeks ago. Since then, nothing.

Maybe the UPS guy will bring me a motivation-filled package…or another natural disaster.

…and while we’re waiting, you might like to see more of the Our Ojai book by visiting this web page…

A Place in the Sun

I went to Westridge Market this morning looking for a few things to make this really yummy sounding pear recipe. Pears, blue cheese, tart dried cherries, lemons and brown sugar. I already had the final ingredient, port wine, at home. Port is not my favorite mind bender, but until it spoils it can serve as a safety net if I exhaust my scotch, gin, vodka and bourbon. Oh, and the white wine too.

I visit the local markets frequently. It’s something to do while the virus tracks me down and a bit of a challenge. I’ve made a game of it, with toilet paper playing a leading role. Other less challenging roles are assigned to canned goods and baking supplies. All have been in short supply and the game has become more problematic as the days go by. Dire messages from the news-hungry media and the President’s semi-factual, self-taught pronouncements have encouraged me to stock up in anticipation of the rapid evolution of a new ice age populated only by cockroaches, termites and English sparrows.

This morning’s Play Station worthy episode began with an exploration of the offerings available on the Internet. I dove into the quest anticipating the usual disappointment. The object of my desire, toilet paper, was unavailable at Costco, Amazon or Vons. “Out of Stock” was the most popular response to my incessant clicking. “Available in June” was a close second. Visions of self-imposed constipation lit up my morning.

Convincing myself that there was a critical, not to be postponed, need for the components of my pear recipe, I drove to Westridge. Optimistic, I extracted two cloth grocery bags from my trunk, dropped them into one of several thousand empty shopping carts and wheeled my way into the store. Shelved stock was pathetic, except for liquor which seems to self-regenerate without human intervention. Usually abundant, now scarce, cans of tomatoes were standing apart from one another as though they too dreaded the touch of some other can’s corona-infested tin cladding.

The object of my search was two aisles removed from the unsocial tomato cans. Not wishing to seem obvious, but also wary of losing my place to others, I moved casually in a feigned disinterested manner.  I stared down the coveted aisle. Shelves normally laden with rolls of toilet paper were barren. I cruised aimlessly down the empty shelves and noted the signs that were taped to the metal. Written unceremoniously with a Sharpie, they severely admonished hoarders. Three Rolls to a Customer. Leave Some for the Next Guy. No Exceptions. I half expected that I’d find one that said Get Used to It or a page of instructions, complete with photos, demonstrating a more efficient way of wiping your fanny. There were so many signs that, for a moment, I thought I might take them home as substitutes for the real thing.

I wondered how, if they really had toilet paper, they would enforce the no more than three rolls per customer rule. Could a family of four, including two infants nestled in the shopping cart, buy twelve rolls? Might a couple split their groceries and check out separately doubling their bounty? Could the same purchaser check out three rolls, exit the store, come back five minutes later and get a second helping? Could seniors double-dip since they tended to make more daily visits to the throne than younger people?

As I stood there fantasizing, I glimpsed a flash of white set back in the shadows of the bottom shelf. My heart raced as I reached in and grasped it. A roll that had somehow eluded my competition was now mine. It bore no resemblance to any of the usual brands. It was clumsily wrapped in nondescript paper and looked as though it might have been previously fondled and rejected by several seekers less amorous than I.

I stared at the roll in my hand. I’ve learned a lot about toilet tissue while cruising the web. Number of layers and the thickness of each prominently jump to the top of the list of important characteristics. Some rolls have more sheets, but each sheet may be thinner. Or shorter. The status of your septic system may trounce all other considerations. These critical issues should cause one to pause as they review the qualities that most closely match their particular preferences.

Rolls made for commercial use often have narrow holes in the center of the roll that make it unsuitable for hanging on your common garden-variety tissue holder. Perhaps this deliberate impediment limits the number of rolls purloined by employees or visitors who don’t want a hundred feet of toilet paper cascading down the center of their bathroom. If you have ever attempted to re-roll a runaway roll, you know what I mean.

These industrial rolls are often sold in boxes of sixty or more. Rejected in normal times, these lifetime supplies from China are now in demand. However, one must often give up one full space in a two-car garage to house these monstrosities. And what about the impact on the neighbors’ sensitivities when seeing the over-sized cartons being wheeled off the large shipment FedEx truck. On the other hand, an otherwise cranky but needy neighbor can become your new best friend overnight.

There I was, holding an orphaned, undersized and rejected roll of paper. One that normally would have been consigned to the parking lot dumpster. But today, it was found gold. I placed it lovingly in the center of my shopping cart and began my march to the checkout station. And then I wondered what I was doing.

Had I become so besotted with my search for toilet paper that I had lost my sense of proportion? Was I so bereft of my senses that the acquisition of one runty ill-wrapped roll could consume me? Did I even know how many rolls I already had or even where I had stored them?

My accomplishment paled as I reached the checkout. I felt a twinge of embarrassment as I tossed my purchases onto the conveyor belt. I was sure the checker was thinking “Poor guy. Only one roll of toilet paper.  And then what?  I shudder to think.”

Bagging my purchases into my own ancient, germ-infested cloth bag revealed the extent of my shame. The toilet paper went first, to be buried by my other menial purchases before anyone but the checker could be made privy to my dismal situation.

Arriving home, I considered possible storage locations for the orphan. Housing it with rolls that had familiar pedigrees like Scott and Charmin just would not do. On the other hand, a dark, recessed place of its own seemed too harsh on the little fella.

I decided that anonymity was the best course of action. Unwrapping the roll gave it life and a certain air of mystery. Able to assume any identity, it is no longer an outcast as it hangs with honor waiting to serve me.

I think both of us are quite happy with the way it all turned out.

The most precious thing

What is the most precious thing in the world?

What are the characteristics that make it so? A short list might include beauty, timelessness, desirability and scarcity.

Until last week, my most precious list would have included a unique jewel much like the Hope Diamond. At 45 carats, about a third of an ounce, the Hope luxuriates in Washington DC’s Museum of National History. Legend has it that the diamond is cursed and the owner, or anyone else who touches it, will die. Sort of like forgetting to clean your doorknobs of the Corona virus. If the stone was in the Museum’s gift shop, its price tag would be about $350 million plus tax. Not sure if they offer gift wrapping.

The Mona Lisa is also in the running. Housed in the Paris Louvre, the lady with the mysterious smile is estimated to set you back nearly a billion bucks, plus tax. Framing is extra. The Italian noblewoman, believed to be Lisa Gherardini, was painted by da Vinci around 1503. She displays an enigmatic expression that undoubtedly reflects Lisa’s awareness that twenty-first century art connoisseurs would assuredly be foolish enough to pay her over inflated price.

Faberge eggs have captured the imagination since the 1800’s when they were produced in Czarist Russia. Most were made for royalty, but the majority did not survive the revolution, or the misguided melting of the undervalued eggs for their gold. One such egg, purchased at a flea market fifty years ago for $14,000, currently has an estimated value of over thirty million. The ignorant flea market purchaser kept it in his Midwest home located next to a highway and a Dunkin Donuts until an antique dealer spotted it sitting next to some cupcakes on the owner’s Formica kitchen counter.

These three items have at least one thing in common. None have any utilitarian value. If you awoke next Monday morning and discovered that your Faberge was cracked, your diamond shattered or the Mona Lisa looking like DC Comics’ Joker, you would probably shrug and say something like easy come, easy go. Then turn over in bed, snuggle with your sweetie, and your morning would go on as always, without the diamond, the painting or the egg.

The most precious list takes on a wholly different flavor when we are faced with something that can seriously impact how we live. The current Corona crisis helps put things in perspective. Especially at the grocery store. Tough times with real or imaginary shortages of taken-for-granted items, often reveal some of our baser instincts.

In 1967 we lived in Chicago when we had 27 inches of snow in a single day. The freeway shut down and people used it as boardwalk to the nearest market. Gallons of milk disappeared from store shelves, probably into homes where it was never consumed. It surely spoiled before it could be wolfed down by people who hadn’t had a glassful since they were in Mrs. Weintraub’s first grade class.

Moving to Los Angeles that same year to avoid future blizzards, we were welcomed with earthquakes. The worst was the 1994 Northridge quake. No electricity. No open markets. We became a third world country overnight. Hot dogs from our non-functioning freezer were roasted over our still operating gas stove. Candles provided light. Empty fifty-gallon metal barrels appeared on the street; their burning wood scraps providing a place for people to gather. We avoided driving our cars, fearful that we might never find fuel in gas stations that could no longer pump it. Hush hush messages were shared with friends whenever a secret stash of store-based vitals was discovered; we invariably arrived too late to grab anything that we didn’t really need anyway.

The blizzard cleanup and the quake reconstruction were short term impediments to our lifestyle. They were localized, allowing billions of people to be mere TV voyeurs watching the drama unfold without being directly affected by the events. We intuitively knew that our lives would be restored to normalcy before the next Olympics.

In agonizing contrast, the Corona madness has the entire world at its feet. Any permanent respite is impossible to predict with any certainty. At seven every morning we watch ABC’s George Stephanopoulos lean forward in his Good Morning America swivel chair and tell us how god-damn awful this thing is. How the rate of infection will soon fill every hospital bed, the Superdome and all the sea-going Maersk shipping containers with victims who have no ventilators and no hope. How anyone George interviews is deemed crazy by him if they say things are getting under control. We multi-task by staring at the streaming crawler spewing more bad news at the bottom of our TV screen…repeating these disasters every sixty seconds. Like lemmings, we are too paralyzed to turn it off and switch to the fifteenth episode of the fourth year of our favorite depressing Netflix series.

Images of food shortages race through our frontal lobe. Some of us remember World War 2 ration books, victory gardens and meatless Mondays. We mentally inventory our available foodstuffs. We have no idea when this worst of all flu seasons will end. We see the Vons’ parking lot filled from six in the morning into the night. Cars sliding snail-like up and down the aisles looking to catch a break. We think they must know something we don’t. So we join them.

We grab an available cart, ladling germs onto the palms of our hands. We enter through the automatic doors, thankful we don’t have to touch them. We grab a disinfectant tissue and wipe our hands and the cart’s push bar. We dispose of the tissue on top of the overflowing garbage can.

Once fully inside, we stop. Where are we going? Left or right? So much to choose from. Better make up our mind quickly before someone else snatches our number one item while we procrastinate like Lot’s wife. We finally decide.

We stare at the overhead signs. And then we spot it. Paper Goods. We move quickly. Our heart is pounding. We look down the chosen aisle. Our eyes shift right. A sea of off-white metal meets our gaze. Having never seen an empty Vons display rack, we are momentarily stunned, unable to move. How is this possible?

Now we know what the most precious item is. What will change sensible shoppers into glutinous hoarders. What we can’t do without. Names that had little importance two weeks ago have come to the top of our most precious list. Northern, Charmin, Kirkland, Angel Soft, Cottonelle, Scott. All gone.

The Hope Diamond, the Mona Lisa and Faberge eggs are still available. But who gives a shit?

Shopping isn’t for sissies

I took my aging Mercedes to the dealer on Monday. It was my first service that was not free, having crossed the fifty thousand-mile warranty mark about two months ago. It was not even close to being free.

My original focus of the service was an oil change, checking the air in the tires and washing the car. Two-thousand-five-hundred dollars later, I had a clean car, oil you could fry fish in, and three pages of other things that defy description. Truthfully, I was somewhat relieved that it was only two-thousand-five-hundred dollars, since I had heard that Mercedes often sells one’s spouse into slavery to collect the bill.

Never quite trusting that Mercedes trained mechanics really know what they’re doing, I spent the day following the service listening for odd noises, sensing the feel of the road through the newly aired tires, and planning my moves should the car merely decide to be grouchy and strand me in the middle of the apparently always-to-be road excavations on Ojai Avenue.

It takes about forty minutes to drive from my home to the Mercedes dealer in Oxnard. Never one to pass up an opportunity, I decided to visit Costco which has conveniently placed itself walking distance from the Mercedes Bank and Trust. I had forgotten that it was Veterans’ Day and was confronted with a parking space so far removed from Costco’s front door that required use of my hiking shoes. A horde of shoppers augmented the holiday festivities; some of whom seemed way too happy while standing motionless in the checkout lines.

The principal item that prompted my visit to this shopping colossus was toilet paper. Ever since Jackie and I have become an item, I have graciously accepted the responsibility for buying the toilet paper for the two of us. It binds us. And the savings helps move the day of her retirement ever closer by augmenting her IRA and, eventually, her Social Security. Jackie has more than once commented on my selflessness, which, now that I think about it, seems to coincide with the periodic exhaustion of thirty rolls of Kirkland’s best.

The man-sized packs of Kirkland’s best are located on the right side of the overactive thyroid building, right next to the dog food. I cruised down the aisle, feeling the excitement that accompanies the purchase of toilet paper. Normally, one can find dozens of the thirty-roll packs lined up, each ready to be loaded in that nice little space at the bottom of the shopping cart. The same cart that always looks in need of a steam cleaning and a new set of wheels.

I reached the dog food but didn’t see Kirkland’s best. I thought I must have missed it in the reverie generated by thoughts of septic-tank-safe tissue. I retraced my steps all the way back to the Huggies and Nappies. And back again to the dog food. I was finally confronted by a large empty space that had once housed the object of my quest.

How is that possible? In thirty years of buying that stuff, there had always been an inexhaustible supply. Enough for every starving child in India. Plenty of tissue that lets you, given its paltry cost, double and triple up on the folding before applying it one’s nether parts.

I looked left and right. Charmin met my gaze on the right. Soft, cushy, expensive Charmin. Its presence at Costco has always been static, seeming to neither diminish nor increase. Perhaps it’s there simply to push us to Kirkland’s best which, except for its bargain price, would otherwise remain dusty and homeless.

To my left was something called Marathon. The name made me think it was intended for those who spend an inordinate amount of time on the porcelain throne. Perhaps reading is the user’s favorite pastime or they just want to avoid their spouse and kids.

The Marathon packaging was dull, listless and uninviting. It did occur to me that the packaging has little to do with the quality of the contents, but it was just another reason to bemoan the absence of Kirkland’s best.

I gave Marathon an opportunity to redeem itself from its poorly designed packaging. I caressed the thirty-roll parcel. I yearned to read about Marathon’s features and accept this newcomer. Unfortunately, the package was relatively devoid of glorious descriptors that could have included “Softness that makes you come back for more.” Or, “Absorbs the messy things that you leave behind.”  Or my favorite, “Using a roll a day keeps you regular.”

I decided on the Charmin, filled my cart with other things I really didn’t need, and proceeded to the checkout. Every lane was open. Every lane had six or more people with carts filled to overflowing. I scanned each lane, counted the number of items in each cart, and finally, gauged the agility and maximum warp speed of the shoppers ahead of me.

Having made my evaluation, I settled into a lane and waited. Two minutes later, I looked around and did a re-evaluation. There, two lanes away was a much better prospect. One that would surely be faster than the one I was in. One that would allow me to spend my remaining years somewhere other than Costco. So I moved.

Big mistake. There’s one factor that cannot be predetermined. That of random chance. The act of god that shuts down the lane for the same time that it took the glaciers to scrape across North America. A lane delay that gives you the opportunity to watch the people you just abandoned move forward at the speed of light and leave Costco well in advance of the next ice age; one in which I am sure to participate.

My turn came. I charged the obligatory minimum of three hundred dollars to my fraying Visa Card, and pushed my now over-filled cart to the outer reaches of the Costco archipelago.

Early that evening I delivered the Charmin to sweet Jackie. Suitably impressed by my purchase of the expensive stuff, she kissed me tenderly, stowed the thirty rolls in her closet and we sat at the dining table recounting the day.

We agreed that you know you’re settling into a very special relationship when you get excited talking about the qualities of toilet tissue.


Pages

Recent Comments