December 2003 Archives

My Perfect Life


Some of you may be wondering what has become of me lately. Those who only read my intermittent, topical posts can hardly be said to have noticed my absence, what with the unrelenting hubbub of the holiday season and all. But those of you who live in our little commune may indeed be wondering. A great many things have occurred recently that have moved me ever closer to the modern American dream.

  1. I got a job, and not just any job, the perfect job.
  2. My old car finally passed on to a better place, affording me the chance to buy a new car, and not just any car, the perfect car.
  3. The Chrismas orgy of commerce brought me only the things I wanted, and not just any things, the perfect things, like C.K. shirts and D.K.N.Y shoes.

There is also Christmas cash that can help me acquire the remaining necessaries for my perfect life. I may buy furniture. I could tell myself: this is the last sofa I'll ever need. No matter what else happens, I've got the sofa issue handled. Then, the right set of dishes. The right dinette.

Do I need to be delivered?

Who knows? Maybe I do feel trapped and desperate. Maybe I am trying to impress the world by buying too many things. A significant portion of my furniture is Swedish--I have a Eurotrash bookshelf. I even consider myself better than others for buying a New Beetle instead of a Honda Civic. I grow more upwardly mobile by the minute.

Yet tomorrow I head to LA to mourn the passing of my uncle, my favorite aunt's life companion, and by all her accounts, the best of men. They were married thirty-five years and for months he had been dying of pancreatic cancer. When I face her at his grave, we will see how much of my soul is left.

Culinary Expedition, Part 4

Today I returned to Safeway, for the first time in a month because I desperately needed Claritin. I suppose Walgreens might have had it, but I didn't think of that. After explaining to the picketers that I was only buying medication, I grabbed my item and headed for the express lane. Surprise of all surprises! but who should be scanning items? Why, my favorite checker, Neal. He seemed a little low on energy, understandable at six o'clock on a Sunday evening, and he didn't seem to recognize me. I decided to move on from our movie-themed conversations.

"What do you think about all this strike business?"

"I think it's sad," he said. "Those people have been on strike for three months. They have families to support and some can't pay rent."

"How come Northern California Safeway workers aren't striking too?"

"Our contracts are offset by a year. This year it'll be us."

I have been paying pretty close attention to the Safeway handouts and had no idea that the same issue would hit home so soon.

When I got back to an internet connection, I decided to do some poking around (as I apparently do more than I ever realized before starting this blog) and found the following:

Safeway has been trying to convince customers that it is asking a reasonable $5 or $15 copay for health benefits. Two public policy economists from UCLA and UCSD took a closer look at the offer being negotiated and found that it substantially eliminated affordable healthcare for employees (see SF Chron article).

California Congressman Tom Lantos took a closer look too and came to the same conclusion (see letter to Safeway CEO).

Safeway claims that it needs to ask workers to shoulder a larger part of sky-rocketing health costs, but health costs may not be the economic trigger for the new policy. Competition from Wal-Mart is a more likely factor. Wal-mart intends to build forty superstores throughout California in the next three years, all of which will contain bargain-rate supermarkets, the same stores that have made Wal-Mart the number one grocer in the country(SF Gate article).

Wal-Mart offers groceries for 14-39% less than large chain grocery stores, and Safeway must start to copy its business model if it wants to compete. How does Wal-Mart do it? There are several answers to that question (see LA times article).

  1. Wal-Mart pays its workers less than half what Safeway pays them.

  2. Wal-Mart is avidly anti-union, making it impossible for workers to organize demands for affordable healthcare or a living wage.

  3. Wal-Mart does not accept slotting fees (essentially legal bribes to place certain products at eye-level and on end-caps) or the higher wholesale costs that accompany them, though all other major chain stores do (source here).

  4. Wal-Mart exports all production to the cheapest producer in the world market.

So what do you and I do to make sure Neal still has a job next year? Support the Safeway workers strike by shopping elsewhere and calling 1-877-SAFEWAY with our Customer Card numbers to tell them that we won't shop there until they support workers' health benefits, and that we won't shop Wal-Mart if they come.

    Alternatives to Safeway
  • The Costco Cartel--Every Thursday I will go to Costco and purchase goods for my friends at the price+10% (tax and service) rounded to the nearest dollar. I will then park in front of Noe and you can retrieve your goods when assembling for or returning from pub night.
  • Seven-Eleven at 18th and Noe
  • The closest to you of the hundreds of tiny, privately owned markets
  • Trader Joe's on 9th street between Brannan and Bryant
  • Whole Foods at 399 4th St. between Fulsom and 80
  • Rainbow Grocery at 1745 Folsom St and 13th (under the Duboce offramp)
  • Add your favorite grocery store in the comments section
  • I haven't yet figured out how to square the competing interests in this globalization beast, but if you have, the people to write to can be found here: know your legislators.

Culinary Expedition, Part 3

So today I returned to the Safeway, after a month of avoiding it, shopping at Albertson's in Lafayette when I went to take care of my parents' house, eating at The Castle etc. But today I needed laundry detergent and it couldn't wait. My eating habits have struck a hesitant medium between cheese nips and canapes, so when I walked up to the checkout aisle with pasta sauce, bagels, tide, lactose-free milk, apple cinnamon cheerios, and Christmas animal cookies, I decided to check for my favorite checker. Sure enough, he was there. He seems to like lane 11. He was peering down at the scanner, saying nothing to anyone but the obligatory "Have a nice day, Mr. shmmmffffzz." I expected nothing to come of this experiment of mine. Certainly he wouldn't remember me from three months ago, nor change his demeanor for my laundry-day self, decked out in overalls and a thermal from junior high. The man in front of me stepped forward to pay and another bagger came to relieve the first. Looking virtually nothing like Laurence Fishburne, excepting in color, he said, "We missed you, Neal." This brought a chuckle from our friend. Maybe it wouldn't come to nothing after all. It was my turn now, and I presented my Safeway card. He scanned it, then continued to stare at the scanner as he began passing my items over it. As he grasped my Vodka Sauce emblazoned with a sketch of Paul Newman in a babushka, he said, "Paul Newman, what's become of you?"
I apologized quickly, "It's the only vodka sauce you carry. There's nothing to be done."
"Well then, there's nothing to be done. He's sold his soul to the sauce," he conceded.
"I think all the proceeds go to charity," I said.
"Really! What's become of you, Paul Newman!" he said admiringly.
"Who's Paul Newman?" the bagger interjected.
"Oh! Break my heart! Cool Hand Luke?" I burst out.
"You don't know who Paul Newman is?" from my checker friend.
"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Oh, wait! Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!"
"Do you know the movies she's talking about?"
Still a blank stare from the bagger.
"Who's the other actor in that?" Neal asked.
"Oh...Rrrroo..." mentally, to myself, I'm thinking, don't remember so you can talk to him just a minute longer.
"Oh, this is going to drive me crazy. I'm gonna wake up at two o'clock in the morning, sit bolt upright and remember... Ahhhh..."
I just made it the ATM before he called "Robert Redford."
I smiled, or beamed more likely.
I muttered to happily to myself the whole way home.

Culinary Expedition, Part 2


I keep delaying this grocery store series because I don't really have a crush on my local grocer, I just find him so endearing. What follows is the original text from October.

When I finally made my way to the checkout counter with what seemed much more than I could carry, I pulled into Lane 11, Neal�s lane. Neal will henceforth be my favorite checkout person. He said �hello,� I replied with the same and then politely stared at my groceries while he passed them over the scanner. After a brief moment he said, �So, did you do anything fun today?� I was a little surprised, never having had a cashier begin a conversation before, but replied,
�Why, I went to the grocery store.� I could tell from his response that going to the grocery store was not quite what he would consider fun... but then, neither would I really. So I added, �I got to read the Odyssey all morning; that was fun.�
I�m getting ahead of myself now. Let me put this in context. Neal looks like he is about nineteen with short brown hair, standard blue eyes, pale, tall, and thin. In short he was young, a living definition of the word 'callow.' He replied to my Odyssey offer, bless his heart, �from the TV show or the original?�

I caught myself just before laughing out loud and grinned, �No, the original.� From there I shifted the conversation to the upcoming movie portrayal of the Iliad with Brad Pitt as Achilles, and mentioned that I needed to apply for a Safeway Customer card since I had just moved here.

He looked me in the eye and replied, �Don�t worry, I�ll get you one.� We talked for a while about Chicago, bands there, and more movies until he finished scanning my selections and went to retrieve a card for me. He asked if I had an ID since I was buying beer.

�Oh yeah, I always forget that� I replied, shaking my head.

�Sure you do,� he said in a mocking tone. His final comment before I wheeled my cart away was to recommend that I see �Identity� with John Cusack. I�m not entirely sure what prompted this recommendation, other than the possible Chicago connection (Cusack is from there). Nonetheless, it was a novel experience, having my grocer make viewing recommendations. I think I should watch it as fodder for future conversations... just to see what unfolds.

Culinary Expedition

This is the first of two posts that I wrote nearly three months ago, but didn't post because I didn't have enough material for the story to really go anywhere, until today, when I crossed the picket lines for laundry detergent. Now I'm hooked.

Today I acquainted myself with my new neighborhood grocery store. In Chicago, I had the luxury of living adjacent to the 24-hour Jewell, allowing me access day or night to virtually anything my gourmand little heart could desire. This led to a steady diet of Cheese Nips and Dreyer�s Grand (there called �Edy�s�) which lost me about 10 pounds combined with the breakneck pace of my grad program. I had been sizing up our Safeway ever since we began looking for apartments and today was to be the fateful day of our first meeting. I could tell simply from the late-nineties, yellow-tan stucco job that this was no down-the-street-from-the-projects, fake-watch-out-front-peddling, meat-and-potato-dispensing Midwestern Jewell. Clearly the full red letters proclaimed this an establishment for those who enjoyed culinary skill and a finer dining experience. This was not the sort of place you walk into at 12:30 am to buy easy-bake brownies at the self-check-out aisle; this was the sort of place that aging hippies and amateur chefs came to gather the ingredients for their latest forays into gourmet cooking. So I had prepared myself, purchasing the September issue of �Real Simple� while at the Container Store a few short days ago, and chosen recipes from their feature article on end-of-summer tomatoes. Armed with a list that would allow me to fake culinary street creds, I set aside the afternoon to learn the layout of my new agora.

The actual shopping was fairly simple, going up and down the rows, checking each sign to learn how items were grouped, checking the list over and over. The only real obstacles arose when I found they only had cocktail tomatoes, and not plum, which would suffice, but at additional cost. Also, since Jewell was owned by a competing conglomerate of grocery stores, all the brands were different. I had to translate all of my products into a new language. Instead of buying Kraft or Wisconsin cheddar, I got Tillamook with the California cheese sticker. Instead of Green Giant frozen spinach, I got Safeway. Instead of Jade or President�s Choice Thai peanut sauce I got San J. While these are not significant differences in fact, the packaging is entirely different. It took me two hours to locate the 25 or so items on my list because I had to verify that they in fact did not carry Jade or President�s Choice before I could go about finding the most suitable replacement product, checking both ingredients and price. Finicky ? Perhaps. But it's all part of the game. Once you let your guard down, the grocery store can get you--force you back to Cheese Nips and Rocky Road when you take your eye off the organic tofu. Extra Firm. That's how it's got to be.

Games, Part 2

Recently, we (in the royal sense) managed to deduce that Clue, Settlers of Catan, and Yahtzee are fun if you like computing probabilities, but only then. That's not their only problem, after awhile your friends get tired of losing (as well as playing with someone who ignores them in favor of calculating probabilities). However, there is another genre of games: word games.


This game merely depends on your fuzzy logic abilities to recall names of objects beginning with particular letters. Either you�re good at it or you�re not. You may get better with practice, but it doesn't matter since nobody cares who wins. The fun part is seeing how your friends think, kind of like a constrained Freudian word-association test. Bantering between answers may even rise to the level of non-game-based interaction.


Winning Balderdash depends on your knowledge of obscure words and dictionary style. You can get better at it by reading the dictionary, but again, nobody cares who wins since the fun is in hearing the ridiculous definitions your friends come up with.


This depends on you and your partner either consciously or unconsciously agreeing on a specific kind of clue: synonym, cue word/phrase, etc. This game would be more fun if it let you talk more, like taboo.


This game requires you to describe a word without using certain commonly associated words (like describing baseball without 'base,' 'ball,' 'play,' 'field,' 'hit,' 'bat,' 'home,' 'run,' or 'catch') within a limited amount of time. This also lets you see how your friends think, and what sorts of nervous ticks they develop under pressure. The buzzer is obnoxious and should be foregone in favor of a timekeeper.


An interesting blend of strategy and word games, Scrabble requires you to scramble and unscramble words quickly enough to compute the values for all possible words and choose the statistically best word to play. You must also carefully block your opponent from the triple-word scores and be the first to play (no matter how short the word) when they do open. Always plan to clear your board. Those so choosing can lower the strategy component by narrowing the field of usable words to "foreign language," "naughty," or any other mad libs designation.


Perhaps the most promising of the word games. Someone finally took the average distribution of letters in the English language (a la Scrabble) and made a deck of cards. The possibilities for adapting traditional card games are seemingly endless (poker, gin, rummy, etc.). Gene insists on playing the game according to the rules at least once before exploring the possibilities, but the instructions are so convoluted that we haven't been able to get a group to stay long enough to play it through right.

The Non-Conformists

Word games don't fit so well into the "Never Settle" philosophy of life, but they let me pass time with friends (which is better after all than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick). This still leaves timeless classics like Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Memory, Set and Uno, and attractive new possibilities like Cranium, TriBond, Apples to Apples, Loaded Questions, Barbarossa, Mystery of the Abbey, Scene It?, Break the Safe, Clue FX, The Perilous Parlor Game, Smarty Party, Inkognito, Puerto Rico, Quarto, Batik and a host of other potential favorites that move closer and closer to actually doing something with your friends.

Games, Part 1

We're trying something new with formatting. Instead of posting each paragraph as a separate entry, the whole series will be one entry that continues via links. Hope it helps. Some of you may have heard my opinions on games before. I�m not a very big fan. I would nearly always rather discuss strategy with my friend than play against him. The word 'against' may strike some of you as inaccurate, but it�s largely beside the point. The thing I don�t like about games is that you rarely learn anything important about your friends while playing. Many of you also know that this is a fairly game-loving crew. How then will I cope? It remains to be seen, but I have accepted that some playing of games is permissible when one lives close enough to see friends virtually every day (after all, how many meaningful conversations can you have on such a regular basis?). Therefore, I have spent some considerable time and thought recently on game strategies. I think this comes from consistently being the worst player on any team in elementary school, and the consequently desperate fear of having no one to hang out with at recess for lack of skill at games. Some of the strategies seem so fool-proof that I would practically assert them as algorithms for winning, in which case, the games again seem hardly worth playing. But then, what do I know? The following games may be won according to my simple plan:
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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from December 2003 listed from newest to oldest.

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