Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Consumer Tips From An Outsider

I am aptly suited to give consumer advice because I am a real good non-consumer. Like, you don't want diet tips from a big heavy guy, do you?

Here's my credentials. I've never been in Wal-Mart in my life. Not to get off track with politics, here, but let's say that Wal-Mart is not a good civic nor global neighbor. Their meager payroll is supplemented by government infusions to the workers they underpay. That's where their corporate billions come from. That, and the slave labor in China they foster. So I don't visit them.

Anyway. I want to talk on a lesser scale here. I simply don't shop much. How much does a guy in his fifties who lives alone need? I already got, as the blues song says, everything I need, almost. Tables, chairs, lighting, bedding, shelving, window treatments, an ottoman. So I shop for food, and the occasional wardrobe update (to stay in the game, so to speak), and that's about it. Beyond Wal-Mart, I am hardly ever in a place like Target, either.

I mean, for consumer needs, you have to replace your shower curtain, every nine years or so, but you can do that at Wegman's. (Strictly speaking, what does a guy who lives alone, and rents, actually need with shower curtains? What do I care if the floor gets wet ? There's no one coming up behind me here to ask who did this. After my shower, the bathroom is closed for the day. The floor will be dry by the time I'm home from work. And, as I say, I rent, so what do I care about floor maintenance?)

(I do, however, care about landlord relationship, so let me point out to mine, hey, M. & C., I'm a JOKER! I have, and use, a rain-room curtain!)

(Hey, readers, too: just kidding. A guy needs fresh shower curtains and bath towels at all times: for that game, if nothing else.)

As a non-consumer, I never look at those big flyers that come in the mail and with the weekend Journal. They look junky and I need no junk. But this weekend I succumbed, because my microwave oven died on me, and I thought, if enticed, I would replace it.

So: here is where my experience comes in. I flipped through a Target insert, and wow, saw a microwave advertised for $39. I forget what brand, but I recognized it. And it was marked down $20.95. Beautiful.

So I figure I am going to Target. No big deal, I go to Planet Fitness up there in mall-land, I'll make a quick side-trip. Let me see if there's anything else in this flyer I can use.

There is. Target advertises a mirror that hangs over a door for $4.95. The only mirror I have, outside the bathroom, sits on an antique (i.e., old) dresser I have, and makes me look worse than I do, I think. So, a new one, for $4.95? To help me show up my old one? Great.

I go to Target tonight after the gym. There is a shelf in the housewares department for microwave ovens. There are a lot of them. But not the big-sale one. Its shelf-talker is there. But it is out of stock. There are, however, a lot of other m.o.'s, for a lot more money.

Forget that, of course. I go on to the mirror section. The one I saw in the ad is in stock. However, it does not include apparatus to hang it over a door. It was advertised as a mirror that hangs over a door. And, apparently, it is, if you have things to make it do that. What they are actually selling is a mirror that stands on the floor. But I guess this is not a strong selling point.

"Caveat emptor" is probably the oldest consumer tip there is. It remains pertinent. I would add, don't bother looking at newspaper flyers. They will rob you of time, at very least.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Saving Grace For Rold Gold (A Bit More About Pretzels)

A few weeks ago, we wrote about 300 words here on Paul Newman brand pretzels. This is probably too few, but go back and judge for yourself.

There is probably less to say about Rold Gold pretzels, although if anyone can push it, it is us.

I got a bag of Rold Gold pretzels at Wegman's. They probably have Paul Newman brand, but segregate it over in the natural foods section, which somehow doesn't seem kosher to me, plus it can be a little wearying in Wegman's after a while (we love Wegman's, but sometimes in the way we love the gym, that we are happiest leaving).

Rold Gold makes a fine pretzel, but talk about wearying, check their on-bag salesmanship. They try too hard.

Their pretzels are "utterly chompable." They take you "straight from the big crunch to great taste," which I hadn't really noticed, and still don't. I would prefer not to have to. They "are made to satisfy even the most discriminating pretzel lover," which actually puts me off, if Rold Gold thinks I go around thinking of myself as a discriminating pretzel lover as part of my psychic identity. I don't.

A big knock against Rold Gold, in our booklet, is that they are part of Frito-Lay, Inc. We didn't know that. We always think of pretzel companies as small, independent enterprises from places a lot of Germans used to live. Somehow it makes us feel fat eating anything by Frito-Lay, even though you can eat an entire bag of pretzels and get only 1,300 calories. Something about that red-and-yellow Frito-Lay logo on the bag makes you feel you eat from convenience stores.

But here is a saving grace for Rold Gold. We have been aware of their product a long time. But it never occurred to us before: there is no such word as "rold."

We like it when someone can toss a linguistic curve like that past us. Of course, maybe they simply can't spell. But they've been around since 1917. You think someone would have noticed by now.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Thought Too Short For The Ithaca Times

As noted here in our last post, the Ithaca Times has started publishing our Ithaca Blog-type writings in a column. Some of our thoughts are too short for them; or maybe even for here. Such as this one we had recently: there are two industries we're glad we never invested in: address books, and ashtrays.

Too-Early Birds/GrassRoots Fest News

Along with the occasional feature and review, we have started writing a column for The Ithaca Times. Called, for now, "Ithaca Notes," it will appear every few weeks. This first installment appeared this week:

rIthaca Notes: Early Bird, Grass Roots - Ithaca Times : Opinion

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Reading at Buffalo Street Books, Tuesday 24 June, 6 PM

I will be acting as a sort of fancy check-it-out guy at Buffalo Street Books, one week from tonight

Boy of Summer: Ithaca's Burke Reflects on Brooklyn Upbringing - Ithaca Times : Arts & Entertainment

Why Hillary Won't Win: Iraq

In 2002, as senator from New York, Hillary Clinton voted to authorize George Bush's war on Iraq. So did New York's other senator, Charles Schumer. I wrote to both of them at the time and said, you represent millions of New Yorkers who know this war is phony and illegal. You know it is, too. But you're not willing to say it. It might complicate your career. You voted for it as the politically expedient thing to do.

But (I wrote), maybe it's not. I know that personally I will never vote for either of you for anything again, no matter the circumstances. I'll write somebody in, as a protest vote. I hope and trust there are millions of people like me, and you have earned the ends of your political careers with this acquiescence to lies and slaughter.

In 2008, Clinton lost her campaign for the presidency to Barack Obama, who had opposed the war on Iraq. With the new upheaval in Iraq, the war remains an issue, as it should. And Clinton's complicity haunts her, as it should. It should haunt more than just her campaign.

As it did in 2008, it opens the door for less conservative challengers. Elizabeth Warren says she doesn't want to run, but we hope she's thinking about it now.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Yes, Pittsburgh

Ithaca is paradise in the summer, but if you want someplace to go on a quick summer vacation, with some urban excitement? There is always NYC, a place we dearly love, and will visit at hat's drop. But if you want something a little less known, a bit farther afield, and to make a discovery, go in the opposite direction, west instead of east, and visit Pittsburgh.

Yes, Pittsburgh. We visited Pittsburgh for the first time 6 years ago. We were going to a conference, and staying with friends. We had good, particular reasons to go: the conference (paying us), and those friends. But we found that Pittsburgh has attributes, as a city, of its own.

Its image is of a smokey, smolten steel town. Of course, this is no longer true. The city, to its enormous credit, did not die with the death of its first industry. Instead it recreated itself, as a center of education, and a home to health care and insurance businesses. It stayed economically strong.

Emerging from the transition was the physical beauty of the place. It got clean, and its three rivers, in their mighty confluence ("confluence" is a commonly-heard word in Pittsburgh) became prominent in their loveliness, recreational capacities, and interesting, cool-to-think-about, geographic and historical importance.

Also physically lovely about Pittsburgh are its hills. The hills are above those rivers. (That's where the water runs from.) Pittsburgh's hills reminded us of San Francisco, a place we have visited many times, and love. But San Fran's hills don't run with water, like Pittsburgh's. And they don't have trams running up them for thrilling views, as Pittsburgh's do.

Pittsburgh has also become a culinary center. There are great food people working there, running the range from farmer's markets and inventive food trucks, to fancy, splashy joints. When we were there, we talked to our restaurant host/chef, after a fantastic meal (at an expensive place, let's be clear - we like to spend money on such evenings pretty nicely, once in a while - though we can tell you, it was maybe only 60% NYC expensive), who told us he chose Pittsburgh over Brooklyn, as a place to ply his trade in comfort and calm, at a reasonable rent, to appreciative clientele. We can tell you he was doing it to great results.

The other thing, for summer, is that Pittsburgh has a major league baseball team. They play in a park that is regarded as perhaps the loveliest in the nation. (San Francisco's is its rival - there's that comparison, again - but tickets in Pittsburgh are about half the price of S.F.'s.)

As restaurateurs do, at least one bookstore has chosen to be in Pittsburgh rather than New York. It's called Amazing Books. It is a great shop and is run by a guy from the Bronx who married a woman from Pittsburgh and settled there. He has invited us to do a reading of our book, "Brooklyn 3, New York," at his place, and we are sure doing it. It is scheduled for Sunday 29 June, at 11 a.m. The New York Mets are in town that day to play the Bucs. Our plan is to do our reading first and then go as a group to the game. If any of this interests you to the point of involement? Let us know, and we'll see what's doing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Or A Marriage Counselor

I am a not-very-good guitar player, and I have a not-very-good guitar. We suit one another that way. The guitar had a previous owner, but a long time ago: 33 years. I bought it from the first owner in 1981. I forget what I paid for it. Maybe $100 bucks (1981 money, about a month's rent). It has sort of a bastard pedigree. Technically by Guild, a reputable maker, it is a "Madeira" model, which I think is sort of an ersatz knock-off. It doesn't matter to me. It's my guitar. It knows all the songs I know. I have never had another.

I take care of it okay. Periodic cleanings, adjustments. I recently took it to a friend who does repairs and such. He looks at it and scowls. At it, then me. It's okay, we're friends, he can scowl at me. He says to me, though:

- You ever think about getting a new guitar?

Now it's my turn. I scowl at him. I'm actually mad, though. At least a little. "It's a good thing you're not a veterinarian," I say.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Peter De Mott Trot, For Great Legs, and Great Work For Peace

Once and only once in my life did I ever dress in drag, or anything approximating it. It was for a costume party that I didn't want to go to because I don't like costumes anyway, at least not on me, plus the theme to this party was "The Brady Bunch," a show I never watched in my life, because I was never a prisoner of war, and only torture would make me do such a thing.

But, I was letting down a friend by not attending, so I went, and dressed up, not as some TV character, but as my friend Teresa Grady. My idea was to say I thought the theme was "The Grady Bunch."

I wore a knit dress and tights, as Teresa did in those days, plus a crucifix. I was a hit, for the most part, doing this thing my own way, as I love to do, except that after about an hour one of the women at the party came up to me, on behalf of herself and the other women, she said.

"We want you to go put on pants," she said. "You have nicer legs than any of us and you're showing us up."

I think of this because I am thinking of my late, great friend, Peter De Mott, Teresa Grady's brother-in-law, husband of Teresa's sister Ellen. If you want to see the greatest pair of legs on a man you ever saw in your life, look at the photo of Peter on the publicity for the De Mott Peace Trot, the annual 5K run/walk held every Father's Day in Peter's honor. The 5th annual event takes place on Sunday 15 June, at the Cornell Plantations.

Peter had the body of the ex-Marine he was, maintained by exercise that Peter took as he did everything in life, scrupulously but with joy. "A day without sweat is a day to regret," he said, and is the slogan of the Trot.

You don't have to run. The course is a beautiful place for a stroll, and the gathering is fun and heart-warming, one of the best community events of the year.

Proceeds from registrations and other donations go towards Peter's work for peace, which is carried on most directly by Ellen, their four daughters, others of the Grady Bunch, and the Catholic Worker group. Please contribute. More information at