Nickel and Dimed to Death

Penny wise, dollar foolish works both ways.

The phrase is meant to convey that it makes no sense to watch your pennies with one hand while you’re squandering dollars with the other.  Look at it this way: Are you scrounging pennies off the ground and then forking over ten bucks for lottery tickets?

But this philosophy can work in reverse too.  Too often, businesses, so concerned about collecting every possible penny from the customer, overlook the damage they are causing to their bottom-line dollars.


Some years ago, I found a great Chinese restaurant.  I went there once a month—every month for three years—for take-out.  It was my monthly treat.  The food was top-quality, and the prices were in line with all the other Chinese restaurants for miles around.  My wife didn’t eat Chinese, and so it was all for me.  (I felt just like Macaulay Culkin.)  I would spend roughly $30 during each visit.  And although it was enough food to typically feed a family of four, I liked to have an enormous variety of delectable taste treats—and it also ensured that I would have plenty of leftovers.  And thirty bucks wasn’t chump change in the early ’90s.

file000783834896Despite the fact that, even after three years, the same greeter would seem to not recognize me—and address me in the same robotic way as she did the new customers—I continued to patronize the place because the food was good.  A little recognition and appreciation for my loyal patronage would have been nice, but … what are ya gonna do?  So I overlooked that and continued to procure my wanton wonton soup (sorry, I couldn’t resist) and moo shu fixes.

During one visit, as I left the restaurant with my cardboard box—my copious cache of aromatic delights teetering—I decided I would like to have a little more mustard.  And this restaurant didn’t give you those awful plastic tubes of pus; they mixed Colman’s mustard powder and water and gave it to you in those little cups with lids.  (It’s the little things that matter sometimes.)  So I went back in and asked for one.  The greeter reached under the counter and handed it to me, and as I placed it atop the already precarious stack of boxes, soup containers, and other plastic cups, she asked me for five cents.  A nickel.  I had just spent $28.73—as I had done on many previous occasions—and she asked me for a nickel.  I gave it to her and told her I would never be back again.  The perplexed, befuddled surprise in her expression was … I don’t know … what’s the word?  But it was still on her face as I butted open the door and went not gentle into that good night.  In fact, I was pretty dang … I don’t know … what’s the word?


Let’s extrapolate, shall we?

Thirty dollars per month, times twelve months, times three years.  Ka-ching!  I had spent, over the course of three years, approximately $1,000—in that one restaurant.  And I am just one person.  After that much loyalty, not only had I never been acknowledged as a regular customer, but neither had anyone ever expressed gratitude for my repeat business.  Well how could they, after all?  If, after three years, they were still treating me as though I’d never been there before, why should I have expected anyone to toss an “appreciation egg roll” or  “nice-to-see-you-again crab puff” into the box?  Instead, I was asked for a nickel.


Let’s extrapolate further …

In the twenty years since I’ve stopped going there (assuming they’ve stayed in business), and all other things being equal, and not adjusting for inflation, they’ve lost $20,000 in revenue—from just one person.


What I understood—and they didn’t—was that they didn’t see people walking into the restaurant.  They saw ten- and twenty-dollar bills fluttering in through the door.  And their vision, obscured by all that green paper, made them unable to see that it was people they were supposed to be serving.

So be careful.  Don’t worry about the nickel, and the next $20,000 will take care of itself.

It Was Only a Dream

Note: The following is not a suicide note—so don’t call the police.  I don’t answer the door anyway.


No one likes to hear about other people’s dreams.  But bear with me …

My dreams of late are extremely indicative of how I feel about life—my life, specifically—but also my inability (unwillingness?) to value life in general.  It’s not an easy thing to admit, but it’s true.  So there it is.

Most people value life above all else.  The survival instinct is very real—God built it into us.


It seems to me that most people are fearful of death.  They want to put it off for as long as possible—as if they were procrastinating over some really dreadful chore they just don’t ever want to do—a task even worse than whitewashing a fence.  Unfortunately for them, and unlike Tom, they can’t get anyone to do the job for them.  Most people want to live forever.  That’s to be expected—when you consider that most people are unsure about what comes afterward.

Some believe that when you die it’s over; you simply cease to exist.  You took the ride, and now it’s time to get off—just nothingness from then on.  Others believe you go around and around again.  No one has yet been able to explain how we managed to “evolve” a soul or spirit that keeps hopping on the ride.  Wouldn’t a “god” have to make that possible?  It seems to me that people’s inability to remember a previous life is proof enough that it’s nothing more than a silly, made-up hypothesis (invented by someone who was afraid of what lay beyond the grave).

Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

—Don Nix

Where’s the person who can remember that he hauled enough crumbs to the nest—and then worked really hard through his next sixty lives—to finally get promoted to human being?  Give me a break.


And then are those who believe that Christ is real, that He asks only for us to believe in Him—and believe that He died so that we could live forever with Him.  Is that any harder to believe than evolution or reincarnation?


Anyway, that’s what’s at the root of my non-fear of death.  Not only an absence of fear but anticipation.  I know where I’m going after this silly journey.  And honestly, I can’t wait to get there.  Yes, I embrace the idea of dying—even though I’m only 54.  The only thing I am afraid of is a painful and/or prolonged death.  But who isn’t?

It’s truly amusing to see the horrified expressions of those who react with alarm at the thought that I am not enjoying this ride and would like to just get off now.  You mean you don’t want to live forever—or at least as long as you can because dying is just so … I don’t know … unnatural?  You mean you aren’t afraid of what happens next?



In the past, during some occasional bouts of depression and anxiety, I’ve seen physicians, hoping to find some relief.  But when discussing depression or anxiety, the doctor will predictably ask: “Do you feel like you want to “hurt” yourself?”  (Who says doctors don’t have a sense of humor?)  Yes, I want to hit my shin with a tire iron; I want to plunge a shish kebab skewer through my nipples.  I would stick bamboo shoots under my fingernails, but the only ones I can find are the canned variety at the grocery store—and they’re soggy, so they don’t hurt—not even a little bit.  Are you so afraid of the word killSuicide?  People who are terrified of the word “died” are the reason our vernacular now includes such euphemisms as: He “passed away”.  Or … We “lost” her.  I want to react just like Annie Wilkes: “Slipped away?!  SLIPPED AWAY?!

So I’ve learned to just keep my honesty locked up—as tightly as the doctors lock up the prescription pad, which is one of the things that would help.  You gotta love the irony; you ask a doctor for relief from depression, and the response is, to paraphrase: I can’t give you anything that works (read schedule III or IV controlled substances) because you could use it to “hurt” yourself.

“Yes, but I’d feel better.”

“Well, that may be true … you’re allowed to feel better … but you’re not allowed to feel good.”

“Why? Because I might enjoy life again and want to live, after all?”

“No, because you could become addicted.”

“To life?”

“No the …”


And who hasn’t thought about suicide?  If you’re honest, you probably have—if only as a philosophical pondering while reading People in the doctor’s office waiting room—or maybe even during some difficult times in your life.  You’re not a freak—you’re normal.


It’s not that I have such a terrible life.  Not at all.  I’m thankful for my many blessings.  But somehow, despite all that, I’m not enjoying myself the way I’d hoped I would.  I’m lost in the past.  I am continually recalling the “good old days” from my late teens through my twenties.  Those were “the good times”.  And not just because time has erased most of the pain—but because I really did have more fun back then.  Back then, I thought the really good times lay ahead.  And I suppose for some they do.  I got all mine at the beginning.


Anyway, my dreams …

Last night I dreamt that I was walking along a road in upstate New York.  And when I separated some foliage to see what lay beyond, a lake suddenly appeared, and I fell off a cliff that was really high—like two miles high.  And because I was so high up, I knew I had a lot of time to fall; but better than that, I realized there was absolutely no way I was going to survive the hit.  Or feel any pain.  So I relaxed and decided to enjoy the descent.  Like a skydiver I began to just … fly.

A few things made this dream extraordinary:  I didn’t get jolted out of my sleep when I fell; I was certain I was going to die (which gave me satisfaction because I knew that in a minute or so I’d be in God’s presence); and I actually began to enjoy that ride—the one that was going to take me home.

In dreams similar to this one I’m in an airliner that’s plunging to the earth—with a 100% chance that we’re going to get smashed into tiny little hors d’oeuvres for the wildlife, served on aluminum shrapnel; but rather than scream and claw and clutch at the nearest passenger, I begin to pray … and just wait … because, again … I know where I’m going—but above all, I know it’s not going to hurt.


The ending to both types of dreams is always the same: I survive.

And then, as I wake up, I’m really disappointed … because it was only a dream.

Chilly Pads


It was 5° when I woke up this morning.

My cat—whose pads were cold—jumped onto my stomach and nearly burned patches of frostbite into me as she kneaded my formerly toasty body.  She’s strictly a house cat, so I deduced the kitchen linoleum must have been a tad cool—and she obviously needed a warm-up.  I was happy to oblige.

But then she took me hostage—settled against my ribs, put her paw over my paw, and wouldn’t even let me start the coffee—for two hours.  But it was 3 a.m., so I had a little time to kill.

If you’re a feline lover, you know that the cat makes the rules.  If you’re not, it’s probably because you can’t abide the cat making the rules.  I’m not here to pass judgement.


As you can see, I was finally allowed to get up and come over to the keyboard.

But first, I gave the little cutie a treat for inspiring this blog.

Locavore Schmocavore

People concerned about my general well-being often urge me to “buy local”.  They don’t come to my door, but they offer this advice by posting flyers in the library entryway, on my favorite telephone poles, and even in places I wish I could avoid but must pass in order to get to the frozen pizzas—such as the supermarket Starbucks.

This annoyance du jour was engineered by people interested in advancing the notion that it is somehow better to purchase and consume food in proximity to where it is grown—generally considered to be within 100 miles of wherever you are at the moment.

Unlike so many other touchy-feely ideas concocted by people with nothing important to do, I’m actually amused by this latest in a series of utopian ideals—suggested by a bunch of busybodies who aren’t interested in anything other than controlling your life and making you live the way they want you to live.  This particular … “suggestion” … or whatever … amuses me because it doesn’t raise my taxes or stomp on my liberty; I’m able to just sit back and grin without becoming angry.


What difference does it make whether I buy “local”?  I’m all for supporting local businesses and cultivating meaningful relationships with the shopkeeper on the corner, but the whole idea of comparative advantage gets tossed out the window when some uninformed group decides it’s the “right” thing to do.


Tell me, where, exactly, do you buy your “local” bananas?  You people in Nebraska … where do you buy your “local” razor clams?

Just because something may be grown nearby doesn’t mean it’s any better.  And if the argument is for economically supporting Jake, the local lettuce farmer in California, consider this: You may not buy his lettuce, but someone else will—someone in New York, perhaps—and Jake may even realize a larger profit margin.  So the result is that someone else (much farther away than the ambiguous 100 miles from his farm) has purchased his lettuce anyway.  And so New Yorkers support Jake, and you support someone in Florida when you buy those oranges.  If I lived in Florida, I’d still want to get my strawberries from Oregon, my blueberries from Maine, and maybe even my citrus from California.

file6671336123521  That’s because I prefer to obtain the best product at the best price—that’s basic human nature—and basic economics.  It seems to me that those who promote this “local” ideal have an inadequate understanding of economics, specifically of comparative advantage and opportunity cost.

And how can you NOT buy local?  Do you drive from Nevada to Maryland for your blue claw crabs?  I’m pretty sure you go to your “local” store but buy products from elsewhere.  If you truly shopped “local” your choices would be extremely limited, and you’d get bored pretty quickly.  And then you’d also realize what a bunch of hokum this latest feel-good nonsense is.

Alaskans have salmon, but that would get tedious—boiled salmon, baked salmon, grilled salmon, salmon croquettes … you couldn’t even make salmon ice cream without some “imported” sugar, cream, and rock salt.  Alaskans obviously have to get their wheat from the Midwest, their oranges from California or Florida, and their chocolate from … mmm … chocolate …

So how is an Alaska resident supposed to buy local?  By going to the local Wal-Mart—that’s how.

bg-1-136591 There’s this ridiculous hatred that the confused among us have about big-box stores, but try getting your locally grown limes from your neighbor in Anchorage.  (By the way, this is why Wal-Mart has to be open 24 hours: the cars with the anti-Wal-Mart bumper stickers can all be found in the parking lot in the middle of the night.)



And consider this: Sometimes eating local can kill you.  Want to support the local crab fishermen?  Okay.



And why does it cost more?  If it’s locally obtained—and didn’t have to take the Orient Express from Istanbul to Paris and then a flight to London to New York to Memphis to Seattle—but simply needed to be thrown into the back of my neighbor’s pick-up for a three-mile drive from the field, why does Jake’s lettuce cost a dime more than the one I get at the supermarket—also three miles away?  Partly because of the various food chains’ volume-purchasing power, but also because of the hype; local dealers of arugula and radicchio know their target audience—and they charge accordingly.  I have no bias against foodies; sometimes, I am one.  But the snooty foodie (who wouldn’t dream of using a smoked curry powder from out of town) is (ostensibly) willing to pay more to support a meaningless ideal.  That’s not so smart.

It doesn’t have to come from around the corner to be healthful, beneficial, or, most of all—desirable.  If someone in Tennessee buys strawberries from Oregon, and someone in Oregon buys … well, whatever we get from Tennessee … both win.

Peaches don’t stop growing at the border; you can get one in South Carolina, but Georgia peaches are considered to be the best.  So people want peaches from Georgia.  And they want Maine blueberries, and Vermont maple syrup.

file3581249560814And here’s further proof that locavorism is nonsense.  Consider the supporters.  A criticism of the locavore movement was defended by Dr. Kathy Rudy, associate professor of women’s studies and ethics at Duke University, in her article “Locavores, Feminism, and the Question of Meat” published in The Journal of American Culture.  Rudy refers to this work as a

“feminist analysis of locally grown (pasture-raised, sustainable, grass-fed, free-range) meat.”

A feminist analysis?  Of meat?  (I must have forgotten that feminism, meat, and eating cabbage from the communal garden located behind the library parking lot are inextricably linked.)  And as we all know, you cannot obtain pasture-raised, sustainable, grass-fed, free-range meat from far away.  So unless you live near a ranch in Texas … oh, well … you’ll just have to settle for biscotti or tofu.

 “Feminist formulations of the relationships between humans, nature, gender, and culture … shed a great deal of light on the value of the local farm.”

That’s just what I would have said.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bag to pack.  I’m going to France to procure a few ounces of truffles for my next quail-egg omelet.

Soundoholics and Silenceophobes

One of the more dramatic changes to the American culture I’ve witnessed over the past few decades is the proliferation of noise.  And I don’t mean there are more trucks, buses, planes, and trains.


You can’t pick up a pizza, sit in a waiting room while the mechanic installs a thingamajig, or get your hair cut in peace and quiet anymore.  Everywhere you go, there’s music blaring.  Or a TV (or four) that have apparently been manufactured to broadcast only that universally loved “entertainment”—sports.


And the problem is twofold; this odious din has not only become more widespread, but it’s also frequently—and unnecessarily—too loud. (Quiet talkers are doomed in this society.)  Of course, this phenomenon is not considered unusual or outlandish by Generation Whatever Letter We’re Up To Now.  (Z-squared?)  They grew up in the culture.  This practice—and its acceptance—is ingrained in anyone born after 1990, and today we (that’s all of us) are either part of—or doing our best to avoid—a population of soundoholics and silenceophobes.



Pity the hapless book reader—for we are strangers in our own country … outcasts … creatures in a zoo.  So often, while I’ve sat waiting for my car—reading a book rather than gluing my eyes to the doofus in the helmet—I could sense the curiosity from those around me. What’s that he’s holding?  Why is he staring at that instead of the monitor?  Why isn’t he making any noise?

They must be wondering what, after all, could be more exciting, while some guy balances your tires, than listening—simultaneously—to a bunch of discordant raving lunatics screaming:

TV 1: “He shoots!  He scores!”

TV 2: “Oh, man!  Nahasapeemapetilon kicked it right into the goalie’s face!”

TV 3: “ … was the top scorer when he played at UCL—Whoa!  The ref’s not gonna like that!

TV 4: “Is he gonna make it!?  I don’t thiiink soooo!”


Oh, please.

I’d never realized that by reading my book, I was missing out on the opportunity to admire a true role model and hero run across grass.  A role model because he’d been arrested for felony assault only twice—and a hero because he’d been arrested for felony assault more than once.



Visit a Barnes & Noble and try to concentrate on the book you’re perusing while the satellite radio soothes your soul.  More than once I’ve left the store empty-handed because I couldn’t focus.  Billy Joel once said that music should never be used as wallpaper.  I guess I’m the only one who heard him.  Our library tried the music-in-a-bookstore experiment awhile back, and I’m glad they had a suggestion box—because I didn’t waste any time using it.  I remained polite but firm:

This is a library—not a Barnes & Noble—not a Starbucks.  Please get rid of the music.

And to their credit, they did—within the week.  Of course, I’d like to believe I’m the only one who voiced that opinion … because that would be a validation of my awesome power.  But it’s likely that at least one other patron disapproved of the distraction.  And it’s the first time I ever encountered a suggestion box that was more than just a decoration.

Now, if they would just do something about the screaming brats whose frequencies often approach 12,000 Hz—and almost the same decibel level.  Who decided it was a great idea to create library/day care centers?  Theoretically supervised by adults—who were raised by lousy parents—who converse at levels more appropriate for tire shops, they dump the kids on those of us who were smart enough to never have the bratty little boiled monkeys in the first place.


Not everyone is guilty, of course; you have to give credit to the parents who appreciate that a library should be quiet and join in a chorus of “Shhhh”s that turns the children’s corner into a TVbroadcasting “snow” at 3 a.m.  They receive my I Really Mean It This Time Award.  My Lieutenant Dan Award is reserved for the ones who scream at their children: “Get down! Shut up!”

     file0001900059289          file0002024901196

I know what you’re wondering.  And the answer is, no, I was never a child.


My wife and I went to a small, nondescript restaurant for breakfast before setting out on some sightseeing.  We were the only patrons, so other than some murmuring between ourselves about what to order, there was no conversation.  But a lone speaker mounted on the wall ten feet from our table (from any table) blared a radio station at a level that made the flatware dance.  I chuckled at the thought of the waitress coming back with our mugs of coffee and wondering if she’d missed out on the Rapture.


I used to be able to concentrate while out in public.  I could do my grocery shopping without a list because I could remember what I needed.  Now I’m bombarded by a cacophony of sounds—professionally produced snippets featuring really happy people—usually perky moms whose big smiles practically ooze from the overhead speakers—who blather constant invitations to visit aisle X to take advantage of blah, blah, blah.  The moment these interruptions—paid or otherwise—begin to seep from the ceiling, I tune them out so thoroughly, I can’t even tell you—immediately afterward—what they’d been yammering about.  Because I’m too insulted to listen.  And I’m also too distracted and grumpy then to remember half of the things I went in for.

And of course, between these maddening interruptions, we must have mutant music—some too-loud, thumping contrivance with vocalists even more annoying than that guy from AC/DC. And whassup with this passive acceptance of rap?  As if it had any merit whatsoever.  It’s a plague masquerading as entertainment that makes me embarrassed to be an American.  It’s the PC “music” genre; people are too afraid to shout down this idiocy that passes for music.  Or perhaps it’s because we can’t be heard.

I know, I know … I sound like my grandfather.  But before you label me as an old fogey who longs for the days of elevator music and Lawrence Welk, let me say, I can handle loud, thumping music.  In fact, I embrace it—if it’s worthy.  I crank it to 11 when I put on my old Rumours and Born to Run 78s.  


But it’s not just music and televisions and the incessant advertising.  Even people—who are supposed to be listening to the wallpaper—add to the din because they never stop talking.  I am not amused when I must ask a stranger to repeat his question, only to realize—as he continues walking past me—that my existence never even showed up on his radar.  He was communicating with blue phone phairies.  I don’t mind if you want to use a hands-free device, but once in a while … just shut up.  Would it kill ya to wait until you got to the car?  You had to prattle on about last night’s game while picking over the grapes?  Next to him is the woman transmitting an extremely crucial communiqué: “I’m picking over the grapes.  What’re you doin’?”

People are loud too.  The uncouth (read white trash) among us (who should be required to remain in their homes until the rest of us are safely back in ours) shout across the length of six booths at a craft fair or farmers’ market rather than walking over to someone to converse in a respectable, civilized manner.

I daresay I wouldn’t want to be living in a severely restrictive and stuffy society (and have to suffer through an August day in a celluloid collar and starched shirt), but the Victorian and Edwardian eras had their virtues.

     beachwear_1905     home-sweet-home

And it would be nice to go out in public without having to continually put my hands over my ears.