April 29, 2007

Sealed for whose protection?

Forget going green. I grew up in the day of "Give a hoot. Don't pollute." I remember the first Earth Day ever. That was in the late 1960s, at a time when the most challenging package to open was a cardboard milk carton. In the 1960s, the golden word was "plastics."

These days, the packaging industry, in particular the clam-shell and shrink-wrap divisions, is alive and well, and trying to make it impossible for you to open, in no particular order: a CD (why does it come with theft-proof tape when I bought it online, and the retailer doesn't have any brick and mortar stores); ditto the calculator or camera trapped in a clam shell, which has also never seen the light of an actual store; or the vitamins with an outer clear plastic seal, an inner foil liner, and of course, a "childproof" cap.

And our pharmaceuticals: the "childproof" prescription bottles for which you need the child, especially when you would need to put on your reading glasses to see what the opening instructions were; a "squeeze to open" Aleve bottle, when one of the medications main uses is to help those with arthritic hands, and hands with problems -- arthritis, tendinitis, loose tendons, and the like -- can barely button a blouse, much less tangle with the great God plastic.

Following those challenges comes the squeeze bottle, whether it contains moisturizer, shampoo, chocolate syrup, or mayonnaise. Without the ability to press one's fingers comfortably to one's palms, you will need to reorder these supplies more frequently than someone who can squeeze every last drop out of the squirt-top (not removable, of course).

And finally, the toothpaste tube: you know that toothpaste manufacturers adore the fact that no one can completely empty the tube, unlike in days past when the tubes were metal and you could attach a toothpaste key to make sure you'd finished off the tube. This practically defines planned obsolescence.

What I want to know, in the age of An Inconvenient Truth, is whether it takes more energy and a larger "carbon footprint" to manufacture all these items from plastic, or whether it took less energy and we were less wasteful in the days of glass and metal, without shrink-wrapped plastic covering our every purchase.

'Cause my cohorts and I aren't getting any younger or gaining more manual dexterity, and right now, at the supposed height of our buying power, we are not the happiest of consumers.

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April 23, 2007

Brother's Little Dividend

Coming soon to a theater near you.

(This film is not yet rated.)

Above the Mason-Dixon line, it's got aspects of G, PG, PG-13, and R. This post is primarily PG-13; expletives that would make it an R have been deleted in print, albeit not in Alice's mind. Below the Mason-Dixon line, it seems to be for anyone and everyone, for no one there is inclined to say, WTF? In Wonderland, we can't help thinking anything else.

Aunt Alice has previously celebrated the birth of her niece, Kayanna Rosalie. For Kayanna's 3-month birthday, Alice's brother has announced that their family will be relocating, back to Tiny Town, Slow Southern State, from the relatively sophisticated Florida town to which they had decamped last fall. Tiny Town is Alice's sister-in-law's hometown. Alice hopes her niece will get to see more of the world, long before the age of consent.

It appears that Brother's Little Dividend will grow up in Tiny Town, Slow Southern State -- far, far from Wonderland and its influences (Alice and her mom?). Once again, brother changes venues: just yesterday, Alice and mom were attempting to count the number of addresses crossed out in each address book -- roughly a dozen, in the years between his five engagements and four marriages. Brother has been relegated to post-it note status in Alice's book; even a mortgage has not proved a guarantee that he will remain in one place for more than two years.

Alice doesn't consider herself overly materialistic, but she can't help noticing that over the years, brother has left behind his father's watch and inherited cookbook collection, their grandmother's good silver and their family's photographs, not to mention a good chunk of their mother's money, lost to various investment schemes, alimony, and house payments for places from which he had moved on.

Alice's mother grew up in what was a comparably Large Town in a Semi-Slow Southern State. When she turned 18, she crossed the Mason-Dixon line and never looked back. How ironic, isn't it, that Alice's brother should deliberately choose what Alice's mother eschewed.

Alice has never felt more like an only child. Surprised, too, to have this feeling at age 46. She has often heard, "a son's a son 'til he takes a wife (or four); a daughter's a daughter the rest of her life." Never has she been so keenly aware of the truth of the adage.

Meanwhile Alice, she of the six continents of traveling, has moved once in the past 25 years, keeping the same telephone number, and, until July, the same zip code. Thanks to the post office, in July Alice's street becomes declasse -- her mother retains the family zip code, but Alice's new zip will leave any New Yorker clueless as to her locale. She suspects the letter carrier will be as well. Alice is clutching her area code with both hands.

Two-one-two, now and forever. Or was that Cats? Some other Broadway show has since supplanted its run. Alice hopes her area code changes only if she has a change of venue of more than 100 feet. Given real estate prices and her relationship with Wonderland, this does not seem a likely prospect in the foreseeable future.

What is foreseeable is the demise of the last public horse-and-pony show in Manhattan: the Claremont Riding Academy is closing May 1, probably to make way for another 30-story condominium on what was, until recently, not a block considered fit for such residences.

Alice's cousin is a Central Park Ranger, who has procured her horses from Claremont for Saturday volunteer cantering around the park. Alice wonders, where will the ponies go? She doesn't wonder where to bet on them -- a family tendency she has managed not to inherit; she is simply curious: where they will live and breathe won't be in Wonderland, but where will it be?

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April 22, 2007

Four things about me...

(a) Four jobs I've had in my life:
freelance editor/writer
financial planner
wine glass washer at Adirondack hotel
real estate agent

(b) Four movies I could watch over and over again:
almost anything with Katherine Hepburn or William Powell/Myrna Loy
The Big Chill
Boys on the Side
Rocky Horror Picture Show

(c) Four places you have lived:
In an apartment in Manhattan
In people's homes in Paris
In a dorm in Bennington, VT
In my parents' house in Westchester County, NY

(d) Four TV shows I watch:
Brothers & Sisters
Grey's Anatomy
C.S.I. (the original)

(e) Four places I have visited:
Rotorua, New Zealand
Capetown, South Africa
Xian, China
Galapagos Islands, Equador

(f) Four places I visit daily:
My email
The menu drawer
My pill box
My apartment building's lobby

(g) Four of my favorite foods, not in order:
Chocolate souffle
Roast filet mignon with roasted new potatoes
Asparagus with Hollandaise
Wild raspberries

(h) Four places I would rather be right now:
In bed with a lover
In Europe at a great hotel with room service and a spa
On the beach in Haiti, if the political climate weren't an issue
With my niece, Kayanna

(i) Four favorite songs
Mexico -- James Taylor
White Rabbit -- Grace Slick
Summer, Highland Falls -- Billy Joel
Twisted -- sung by Joni Mitchell

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April 10, 2007

Paypal is not my friend

So, yesterday I attempted to purchase something I had "won" on ebay. I pressed "pay" as I usually do, entered my password at Paypal.com, and was then rejected. I had surpassed the dollar amount in charges Paypal allows without a "verified" bank account.

Paypal's winning number is $2,000 -- over the life of the account. I can't say I wasn't pleased to know that it took me a full 5 years to hit $2,000 -- I thought I'd pissed away a lot more on insomniac ebay purchases, but Paypal's customer service people give new credence to my theory that when you think you've met the stupidest person on earth, another one is just about ready to come along.

(One exception: these reps are brighter than my health insurance provider's, who never fails to send a check to my doctor after I have specifically told them to send it to me.)

One might think Paypal would consider me a good customer: they have never received a penny late on anything I have owed them; my ebay sellers love me; and my available credit far exceeds their $2,000 limit. But no: to continue to do business with them -- basically the only, or the biggest -- game in town, they wanted more information from me.

Specifically, they wanted my bank account number. I pointed out to the representative that having a bank account didn't make me a major player in the credit sweepstakes. For all they knew, I could have 4 cents in my account, and that would be sufficient for Paypal to lift my spending limit to eternity.

Should I make any further purchases using Paypal, I will now have to specify if I want to pay from my bank account or charge to my Paypal account. In other words, for the privilege of being a good customer, I will have to go through an extra step to process my transactions.

I suggested that adding a second step to my paying them was not generally considered a good business model. I suggested this more than once: to the initial customer service rep, who cut me off; the subsequent rep, who was dumb as dirt, and to the supervisor -- who said, I'm just following orders, ma'am. We know what road that leads to.

Just to stop arguing with some powerless peon given the title "supervisor," I relented, and typed in a bank account number, truly resenting the Paypal policy of how to treat good customers as I did. It makes me think people in general must not be very bright if they accept this policy as reward for being a prompt-paying customer (who also knows that $2,000 in 2007 doesn't buy you nearly as much as $2,000 in 2002 did: hello, inflation? Recognize it?).

So it seems only reasonable for pay-us-now to delete the word "pal" from their service. Because any pal of theirs is no friend of mine.

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