Friday, March 29, 2013

The Death of Originality

It's official. There are no more original ideas. This means there will never again be original stories, movie plots or thought, for that matter.

You may already have noticed this yourself.

I recently read that Brad Pitt is working on a new film about -- what a surprise -- zombies. The article indicated that this film (currently titled World War Z) will deal with the zombie world in an entirely new way. Really? And what would that be? Zombies have been around for decades with varying degrees of popularity. Hasn't this all been done before?

Meanwhile, movies are rehashed and redone ad nauseam. Movies -- even those with logical plots and well developed characters -- can become so worn and threadbare that the mere mention of their title can make us cringe.

Even one of my favorite movies -- The Godfather (1972) -- has somewhat lost its luster. In an interview director Francis Ford Coppola admitted his hesitancy to make a sequel of the first film. But he went ahead and co-wrote and produced The Godfather Part II (1974) and he was overwhelmed by the result. The fact that the result was a masterpiece brought us good news and bad news. The Godfather Part II joined the ranks of great films, surpassing even the original movie, a reward for Corleone fans everywhere.

On the downside, the success of the Godfather films fanned the fervor of filmmakers to wade into the sequel pool. The water in the pool seemed familiar, unthreatening and easily navigated. While sequels (also known as franchises) may have existed before The Godfather, they appear to have taken on their own life after that time. Why risk financial backing and even failure when the tried and true is so safe?

We were then offered Rocky I, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV and Rocky V. After Rocky V, the franchise opted to change the name of the next film to Rocky Balboa, as if to appear different and new. But little was fresh about another chapter of the same story. Other movies have tried adding a word or two after the original title in an effort to appear creative. One such franchise included Resident Evil: Afterlife; Resident Evil: Apocalypse; Resident Evil: Extinction. Most folks didn't fall for it.

Then there are flat-out remakes where someone at the film studio gets the silly idea of remaking a great, classic film, usually with appallingly poor results. Some films have been remade more than once. Others have been "revised," which can include updating a classic from a different past. Why these decisions were made is hard to imagine. Did the studios think they could improve great films by casting new faces? Some of these remade movies include:

Twelve Angry Men (1957) (1997)
3:10 to Yuma (1957) (2007)
Love Affair (1939); Affair to Remember (1957)
Annie (1982) (1999)
Arthur (1981) (2011)
Bedazzled (1967) (2000)
Brian's Song (1971) (2001)
Cape Fear (1962) (1991)
D.O.A. (1950) (1988)
Dawn of the Dead (1978) (2004)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) (2008)
Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1951); Heaven Can Wait (1978)
Father of the Bride (1950) (1991)
Flight of the Phoenix (1965) (2004)
The Fly (1958) (1986)
The Getaway (1972) (1994)
The Hills Have Eyes (1977) (2006)

The list is incredibly long, but this provides a sampling of how many films have been redone. What was the motive for remaking such a huge number of movies? Was it to win a new audience and sell some tickets? Was it an attempt to "improve" on the prior production? We might question what was going on with the studio heads who were so short sighted. What about coming up with a NEW idea once in a while?

Meanwhile, undiscovered writers and creators have some interesting ideas for which they can't find a publisher or distributor. 

While reviewing the very l-o-n-g list of remade films, I noticed a number of entries in which I have seen both versions. Rarely is the newer version any better than the original, despite certain casting improvements.

Do yourself a favor. Next time you are interested in watching a movie, check to see whether there was a previous version. If so, try renting that earlier one or wait until it comes around on TV. Why waste time seeing a renovation if the original production is still available?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Time is an elusive subject.

What is time? It's the way we measure how long we take to complete a task. We all know (more or less) what time represents and acknowledge that we can feel it's presence. But I think I would be hard pressed to describe it to a visitor from outer space.

"Can you see it?" the visitor might well ask.

"Not exactly," I would reply. "But you can see the effects of time. Paint fades and peels. People change and get older. Seasons come and go."

"Then you can see it."

"Not exactly."

Our daily conversations include frequent references to time. "Is the train on time?" "I don't have time." "What time is it?" "What time do we eat?" "Time for bed."

From childhood, we all are aware of time. Remember how long it took for Christmas to appear each year? We were certain that our birthdays would never arrive. Beginning a new 9-month school year seemed like a lifetime commitment. How would we ever survive until the end of school? Later, some of life's big events -- college graduation and weddings, for instance -- seemed to take forever to arrive. Our anticipation and planning only made the event more eventful.

Even by a kid's standards, some periods of time flew by. Family trips and summer vacations evaporated. Weekends? Those two days were just a blur on the way to Monday mornings. It was time to have fun and we didn't mind just "goofing off." We enjoyed being kids.

At what point in life did the time machine kick into high gear? About the age of 40? Earlier than that? No doubt that point of ramping up varies from person to person. It does seem that time now flies by. Seasons morph from one to the next sometimes with little fanfare.

I don't feel old until I hear some news story about an event that I recall clearly, then hear how many years ago that was. For instance, in November of this year, it will be 50 years since President Kennedy was assassinated. Fifty years! I was in high school but I recall the details of that day clearly. That's a half century!

It's observances such as this that send shock waves through those of us over 50. Where did those intervening years go? Concern about the fleeting passage of time is not confined to Baby Boomers. Wise folks have long been concerned with time and its impact on our lives. I discovered the following comments about time and thought they were worth revisiting.

The years teach much the days never know.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.
Marthe Troly-Curtin

If you judge people, you have no time to love them.
Mother Teresa

Time is what we want most but what we use worst.
William Penn

Time is a created thing. To say 'I don't have time' is like saying, 'I don't want to.'
Lao Tzu

There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.
Mahatma Gandhi

Never waste a minute thinking about people you don't like.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Lost time is never found again.
Benjamin Franklin

And my favorite:

How did it get so late so soon?
Dr. Seuss

Keeping in mind what these folks chose to share might help us recognize the importance of every day. 








Saturday, March 23, 2013

All I Wanted to Do…

All I wanted to do was check the daily headlines on the internet. Just a simple click and I could discover the latest news stories.

A couple of times each week when I perform the same task, I uncover some huge story. Two weeks or so ago, I was clicking around and learned that the Pope had resigned. I'm not Catholic and that event really was of no importance to me personally. But it was quite newsworthy and a big story at the time.

Recently some of the internet's major websites have revamped their formats, greatly reducing their readability. One websites on which I depend and visit often has changed its entire look with horrible results. Instead of finding tidy sections beneath subject headings, it now offers viewers one long, continuous ribbon of garbage. Stories and features are combined in a mish-mash, sandwiching subjects like politics with issues like how to keep your man interested and recipes for internal body cleansing.

Other tried-and-true websites seem to have jumped on the bandwagon to remodel. Perhaps this is the internet's method of Spring cleaning. But it is generally annoying and unwelcome, based on my personal experience and the myriad of comments posted from fellow users.

Currently, websites devote a great deal of space daily to certain "celebrities" that someone must have declared as "celebrities." These are people with no discernable talent and no claim to fame other than having a "reality" TV show or having given birth to multiple children at once. It's surprising in this era of constant public criticism that some people can become the subject of ridicule yet seek continual exposure for their lack of judgment.

Forget the "fashion police". Where are the "good taste police" when we need them?

A recent website review included the following articles:
An upcoming interview with a convicted child molester
Details of Obama's trip to the Mideast
Where classic toys are made
Punxsutawney Phil is in hot water
Effective beauty gadgets
Latest celebrity couple to break up (names to be inserted)

That list was a brief sampling. But if you have come across the reshuffling of "news" and "information" on some websites recently, you will recognize the scrambled and nearly incoherent approach.

First, why just throw all of the subjects into the mix? What's wrong with guiding the viewer/reader to a topic of his/her particular interest? The tossed salad approach sounds like an idea originating from a 20-something. Unnecessary reshuffling of good ideas -- in such areas as network television and marketing -- often smack of inexperience.

In addition, doesn't it seem like we have more serious issues on which to focus right now? I'm all for diversion from everyday concerns but focus is necessary to get attention where it belongs.

Things in our nation right now look fairly grim. The U.S. Congress is a joke. Those folks can't seem to get it together long enough to agree on anything. The result is the silly sequester now in effect. The budget is important to the entire nation and putting off its resolution can't continue.

We have scores of real problems in this country including:
Poor education: School budgets are being slashed and large cities are forced to consolidate schools. The quality of education continues to slip.
Stagnant job growth: Let's be honest. Many of the jobs lost in recent years will never be coming back. The future looks bleak for the long term.
Increasing health care costs: Health care is absurdly expensive. Too many people have to choose whether to eat or see the doctor.
Gasoline at nearly $4 per gallon: The cost of gasoline is as volatile as the stock market. People who must commute to work have no option but to fill the tank.
Crumbling infrastructure: Resolving this problem should be high on the list. Roads and bridges must be repaired. But who will pay the tab?

The internet is a wondrous link between the public and news sources. However, it seems vastly misused when space is devoted to insignificant matters. No doubt, large, widely-read websites have trouble satisfying the unending appetites of the public. A complex website is like a ravenous pet which demands food and attention 24/7. But selectivity should be a high priority.

We deserve more than rehashing of the same stories and constant babble. Websites managers: give us actual information, not merely opinion and shallow coverage.

We deserve more.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Just Passing This Along

In a world long ago and far away, movies were fantastic. If you took the time and spent money to buy a ticket and see a movie, you were rarely disappointed.

Just going to a theatre was special. Theatres of the 1950s and 60s were lovely places. Ornate trim outlined the aisles; sconces with lights resembling sea shells or torches. Seats were comfortable, often covered with velour or some other elegant fabric.  Movies were designed to entertain and, though aimed at distinct audiences, appealed to a large number of viewers.

To die-hard film buffs like me, the downward spiral in movie quality has been disappointing. It is rare now that I see a movie which expands my horizons, catches my attention or speaks to me.

I saw such a movie this past weekend. It is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012) and it was shown on HBO. I tuned across it, intending to watch for a few minutes. But the film quickly pulled me in and I was hooked.

As a writer, I know the secret to great writing is to hook the reader immediately. Same technique applies to film, though we are less likely to change the channel or walk out of the theatre than to simply close a book. There is plenty of trash made into films these days in the hope, I suspect, of merely selling tickets and popcorn.

Big movies are still being made. These get talked about in connection with Oscar buzz. Everyone recognizes Lincoln, Les Miserables, and other blockbusters, whether or not fans ever go to the theatre to see them.

But bigger is not always better.

I have found that some of the best movies -- the ones worth my time -- are the so-called smaller movies, with a more sensitive and intimate story to tell. After all, there should be more substance to a movie than car chases and special effects.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a gem, particularly for viewers over the age of 50. It is packed with great British star power, too: Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy among others. I won't attempt to summarize the entire plot here but I found it very charming and touching.

The movie is based on the book These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach.  Each of the characters in the movie finds himself at a crossroads in life and living (rather unexpectedly) in India. For most, the lower cost of living is a factor but each has his/her own reason for moving there. In a nutshell, they learn what is important in life and to live without fear. As Bill Nighy says, "We need to learn to make the best of the situation." There you have it. Bill Nighy has summarized the meaning of life in 11 words.

Each of us feels alone at some point in our life -- mid-life crisis, financial setback, death of a loved one, reviewing what we have/have not accomplished. The characters in this film find themselves having to make decisions by themselves and taking comfort in the choices they make.

I've previously stepped up on the soap box a few times to complain about the prevalence of fear among the population in general. We tend to worry about all sorts of silly and insignificant things. With the wide use of social media and the majority of people linked by the internet, we experience an onslaught of trivia, gossip and "junk mail" for our minds. A good practice is to evaluate what is of importance and react accordingly.

Watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel had a surprisingly profound effect on me. I felt uplifted by the characters and their bravery. Reading more about the film, I discovered that the movie was somewhat of a "sleeper," making a nice amount of money world-wide. No doubt part of that success was due to word of mouth.

In this tough economy, movie companies spend little on promotion and advertising. They give a movie a shove, hope that fans who watch the trailer will be interested, then sit back and wait. Fans need to be vigilant for movies which strike their fancy. Then they need to go and see movies that are intriguing.

I am pleased to know that there are still gems out there like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The quality of the film is a reminder to look beyond the 30-second trailer that might be shown on TV. We need to be willing to take a look beneath the surface.

Just like the characters did in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.











Friday, March 15, 2013

Complaint Department

Recently I was on my way to the local post office. Near the door, I heard two women talking loudly. One of them began to complain that she was "soooo" tired. This occurred last Monday morning after we turned our clocks ahead one hour for Daylight Savings Time. "I'm exhausted," she said. "This changing the time is killing me and I'll have a hard time getting back on schedule."

Her petty comment confirmed something I have long recognized -- that there are people who will complain about nearly any topic. Perhaps they believe that complaining sounds like they have an opinion when actually they have nothing to contribute. Complaining gets the attention of others and you feel as though you are involved with current social events. For others, complaining is merely a habit.

We have become a nation of whiners.

I have always disliked whining, even in children where that activity remains somewhat amusing. Kids can whimper and carry on dramatically as though they are about to lose a limb. It seems that the bigger the injury, the less likely they are to complain. When I was an elementary teacher, I would see kids take falls or be otherwise injured on the playground with barely a tear.

Once a little girl of about 10 walked slowly up to me and held up her tiny arm. It was quite obviously broken about midway between the wrist and elbow and hung bent where there was no joint I calmly asked, "What happened?" "Oh, I fell out of the swing." She looked at me with enormous blue eyes while holding the broken arm. "Well, let's get you to see Mrs. Jones." Off we trotted to the nurse's office for medical help. Perhaps she was in disbelief over the injury, perhaps a bit in shock. But she was muddling through and that's more than some people would do.

If you don't believe that a large percentage of Americans are chronic whiners, just click on to the internet and read a few posted comments on nearly any subject. People whine about all sorts of small things, perceived slights, inconveniences, and affronts. It doesn't seem to matter how insignificant the issue. If people believe they have been wronged in some way, they are likely to vent about it.

Personally, I'm a believer in venting immediately about some topic -- either aloud or silently -- and then moving the heck on. I've been exposed to too many people in my life who would rather seethe over some tiny incident and let the issue ripen into eventual hatred. My theory is: get mad, move on.

Some people make a mountain out of a molehill and pay the price for such action. I just read that physicians are now uncovering a link between prolonged stress and heart problems. No kidding. I'm not a physician but I could have volunteered that information based on my life experiences. The connection between suffering and health damage is not confined to heart-related matters either. All sorts of stress can prove unhealthy.

As my life grew more complicated with age and career, I became fond of saying that I couldn't get too upset about small issues for which I had neither energy nor time. I was fond of saying that "I like to pick my battles." Don't know who was the first person to use that phrase, but it had to be someone who would rather focus on more important matters than trivial annoyances. It seems a better approach to life.

Spring isn't too far off now, with only a few more weeks of cooler weather before the flowers bloom. How can anyone feel bad about that type of future event? Well, I hear whining every day about what hasn't even happened yet. "Spring means my allergies will be at full volume again." "That means yard work (or home repairs) to fill every spare moment." "I haven't missed mowing the grass, that's for sure." "My skin is so sensitive that I have to avoid the sun entirely." "I need to start exercising again." The complaint list is lengthy.

When it comes to special days/holidays, the same thing occurs. Rather than focus on the magic of Christmas, there are ongoing complaints about shopping, busy calendars, demands, folks who didn't send cards yet, etc. Rather than spending warm summer evenings conversing with friends in lawn chairs, the air is filled with negative comments about mosquitoes, chiggers, loud music in the neighbors' yards and other annoyances. We are becoming so fond of venting about little things that the big pictures are being overlooked entirely.

When we find ourselves slipping back into a pattern of constant complaining, we need someone poke us in the ribs and say, "Hey, stop it. Listen to yourself for a minute." That's a good way to be jolted back to reality.

Let's not lose focus entirely.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The mere act of people getting to their places of employment has evolved over time. The "commute" can now be almost as daunting as the actual job itself.

During the post-war period, people who found themselves going to a job felt fortunate. Many lived close enough to their work place that they actually walked! Living in a small town, several people that my family knew used their own feet to reach the store/building where they worked. At the time many families got along with only one car and if that car was otherwise occupied, there were few alternatives left. Workers could "car pool," an option if two or more workers held jobs in the same area. Even our small town had a bus service which could pick up and deliver riders for a few cents.

As the economy boomed and an increasing number of families needed a second car, people began to drive a greater distance to work. They were fortunate if this did not involve many miles and parking was provided. In cities, there was often a toll or parking fee involved. But such constraints were the first indication of how much compromise workers were willing to tolerate to find and secure work.

Times have changed.

In the 1970s and 1980s, I drove to work, jobs that I really enjoyed. The pay was good and I was able to buy a new car for reliable, comfortable driving. The drive was through a lovely area with good streets for a total of about 8 miles. Gasoline was less than $1 a gallon at its peak -- an estimate on my part, but that seems about right. It was high enough to be noticeable but not high enough to induce cardiac arrest.

A few years later saw me moving to the Eastern U.S. where I grew to appreciate the luxury of mass transit. Traveling this way was an expensive endeavor but I continued to make the "big bucks" and was not concerned. It was another chapter in compromise. My life centered around work and the hassle of getting there was just part of the deal.

I remained on the East Coast for eight years and once figured that one full year of that time was spent in merely getting to and from work. A rather insignificant amount of time compared to others who have lived there for decades. But nonetheless this amounted to one year lost forever to any other use.

Now as I near the fourth anniversary of my more-or-less fulltime retirement, I occasionally think I would like to work again, at least part-time. During the past few years, I have worked as various situations have arisen. I like work and the structure that makes me get up and keep moving. Old habits are rather hard to break.

But the most enticing work I have found -- even on a part-time basis -- would require driving to nearby towns. I have done that, too, but as the price of gasoline has increased, this is a less viable option. No amount of part-time pay is worth the hassle of driving an hour or more for a part-time job. It doesn't work out on paper. Commuting now puts a halt to my independence and flexible schedule. Topped off with gasoline nearing $4 a gallon, wear and tear on the car and perhaps a paid parking requirement, it doesn't make sense.

So I continue to look locally for a part-time position with flexibility that might actually be fun. I liked the fact that a work day partitioned my time into tidy compartments where my actions were dictated and achievements obvious.

One of the drawbacks of retirement: "What did I accomplish today?" is a little intimidating sometimes.

The first thing that I noticed when moving to the East Coast was how few people I encountered on a daily basis who appeared to be over 50. It was rare to see senior citizens on the street during working hours or on mass transit. At first, I thought perhaps they avoided being trampled during rush hour. That may have been true. But I also think that people with insight into the demands of city life have long since moved to the suburbs -- or farther away -- and are busily enjoying their newly tranquil lives.

I can appreciate that now.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Remembering Customer Service

A recent news report examined the state of so-called customer service. Apparently the public is pleased with most -- but not all -- retailers. The details, revealed by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, indicated that e-commerce businesses received higher ratings than more traditional retailers. Anyone who has utilized both methods of shopping would not be surprised.

The report examined nine retailers which are considered to have the lowest ratings. According to the article they are in this order:

1. Walmart
2. Netflix
3. Safeway
4. CVS Caremark
5. Sears
6. Supervalu
7. The Gap
8. TJX Companies ( including T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods)
9. Walgreens

No doubt store managers and corporate heads can justify why their particular businesses were included in this collection. Times are tough in the retail world. Folks obviously have less money to spend and are extremely careful how they spend what money they do control.

This particular survey dealt with "customer satisfaction" which seems to include how satisfied the customers were after dealing with these specific enterprises. In all fairness, reduced sales have resulted in employee lay-offs, leaving fewer people to assist customers, handle questions and speed check-outs.

Over the years I have dealt with several of these businesses and found only one name on the list which completely surprised me. It is a business with which I continue to deal with frequently. I have found it to be thoroughly efficient with helpful employees eager to answer questions. My experience with this one retailer has caused me to at least question the entire survey. Favorable and poor ratings must be somewhat subjective from one location to another. In all cases, shoppers might encounter employees/managers who really care and those who do not.

Another of the businesses listed above is of particular note to me. I had a negative experience with that retailer earlier this week. To start with, I do not care for this retailer and rarely go there because it is extremely unpleasant on a number of levels. But this same retailer is the sole provider of at least two items which are not available elsewhere locally.

This recent shopping trip was extremely frustrating. Oddly enough, there was only ONE container of either item available for sale. And in each instance the item on the shelf had been opened. One, in the frozen food area, had its box ripped open and stood with its flaps toward the ceiling. I did not purchase it.

The other item was a household cleaner. I like this particular item because of its cleaning ability and because a bottle does a lot of work. One bottle of the cleaner stood alone on the shelf, its lid standing open. A significant amount of liquid had dripped down the front of the container, bleaching the label and making a mess.

In neither case was any employee around to tell about the situation.

I also looked for a third item which I had purchased there before -- a type of adhesive in a tube. There were other brands available, of course, as was also true of the first two products. But that wasn't the point. I wanted these particular items and went there specifically to buy them. Of course, the adhesive was not on the shelf, there was no indication that might be out of stock and no one to ask.

When I returned home unsuccessful at finding these materials, I decided to send an email to the corporate office. Most corporations have websites with an option to "contact us" somewhere on the page. I sent a brief note explaining what had happened and as I clicked "send," I received a response listing the company's store locations in the area and asking me to select which store was involved. This seemed a hopeful sign.

An opportunity to explain this event made me feel as though someone -- somewhere -- cared. Whether anything ever comes of such a measure is not my concern. The store/district manager may simply delete the email. But a chance to describe my experience was more satisfying than ranting at some cashier who has no idea what is going on among the aisles.

I believe strongly in contacting a corporate office about an outstanding shopping experience, whether positive or negative. That's the only way that we can have direct input on the issue of customer service.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Weight of the Matter

Most people are keenly aware of trying to be "politically correct" ("P.C."). Since the phrase first came to be widely used, it has loomed overhead like a giant balloon from Macy's parade, casting a large shadow.

The so-called P.C. movement is dominant in our culture. No one wants to say or do anything that is not P.C. On the plus side, there is nothing wrong with being careful about what we say. After all, we've become a population of loudmouths who often speak before we think, typing thoughts then hitting 'send' with little awareness of what we've done.

The world could benefit from a little more consideration toward each other.

But somewhere in the process of this increased consciousness, the scales have tipped toward the ridiculous. There is a tendency to tip-toe around what we say and do for fear of being un-P.C.

I've been a fan of "Seinfeld" since it first appeared in the 1990s. I confess to having every episode in my library. If you think I'm an isolated case, just pay attention to the many Seinfeld-isms that have morphed into our popular culture. There are many phrases heard daily like "not that there's anything wrong with it" and "sponge worthy." But this entry is not intended to praise "Seinfeld," although that discussion may soon occur.

One of my favorite episodes of "Seinfeld" involves agonizing about remaining P.C. Jerry has a crush on a girl who happens to be Native American. He takes pains not to offend her by describing such activities as getting a table at a good restaurant ("reservations"), buying tickets from a seller who charged too much ("scalper") and asking for the return of an item given as a gift ("Indian giver"). The show reminds us that if we become too aware of every detail, we'll never accomplish anything.

In case you have been stranded on an island until recently, the inhabitants of the world are becoming fat. It's true. Just stop by any public location -- grocery, discount store, shopping center, movie theatre -- if you doubt this statement. Our transition from size 8 to size 28 did not happen overnight. The transition sneaked in, perhaps like a Snickers, and coaxed us to nibble and snack until we were full.

Obesity is here, like it or not. Shows like "The Biggest Loser" have turned weight loss into a rather pathetic game. How much will the big bear weigh this week? Let's watch and see! While we watch, let's prepare a snack and sit in front of the television. What fun.

Obesity is a real health concern. Look at the plethora of related products advertised routinely on television or in print: insulin injection devices, blood glucose monitors, diabetic foot pain treatments. It's astonishing. Diabetes is certainly a condition to be avoided and brings with it a host of problems including circulation loss and vision dangers.

People with weight problems have a higher occurrence of conditions other than diabetes. They risk heart conditions, perhaps stroke, joint pain and weakness, and breathing difficulties. This information is nothing new. What is surprising is how many people are in denial about the entire matter.

The prevalence of obesity has become more common in the last decade. Commerce has not missed a chance to profit from this growing condition. Large-size clothing stores are easy to find. Furniture is now being made bigger, including everything from recliners and sofas to coffins. We want to help the overweight perform their everyday tasks, especially if there is money to be made.

Why is it that we rush to use "nicer" words for someone who is fat? We identify someone as plump, overweight, chubby, heavy, big-boned, stout, portly, chunky, beefy -- any of a number of options rather than say "fat". Perhaps if we were less inclined to dance around the actual term, we would be less fearful about speaking the truth.

P.C.-ism only goes so far.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Thrifty Shopping

My kitchen contains a large, old container of heavy glass that originally dispensed some type of liqueur. The jar is unusual and interesting, painted across the front with a stencil announcing the name of the product. A small spigot near the bottom was used to dispense the contents.

The container is a favorite item. It currently dispenses drinking water and is both useful and artistic at the same time. A few days ago the lid was broken when a can fell from an overhead cupboard. Items had previously fallen on the jar without damage. The glass is extremely thick so I was surprised and very disappointed when the lid broke.

After carefully measuring the top of the jar and the flange of the broken lid, I decided to see if a new lid could be found.

The task was actually quite easy and, thankfully, I was successful at finding a replacement earlier today. Cost of the lid: 30 cents. Location where the replacement was found: a local thrift store about 3 miles from my house.

As an adult I have developed a fondness for thrift shopping: flea markets, yard sales, discount/thrift stores. I have been pleased at some of the bargains discovered there at a fraction of their original costs. And best of all, the search is actually fun. There is no pressure to shop at such events and I set my own pace.

This type of shopping seems to have become more popular since the 1960s. Before that time (when I was a kid), the only events remotely similar was an occasional church rummage sale. But even these were rare.

Several years ago, I was on vacation traveling through New England. A friend and I had taken a train out of New York City to pick up a rental car in Connecticut. It was early in October and the trees were displaying their multi-colored hues. We drove into a little town in Connecticut and happened upon a huge number of yard sales in the same community.

I don't know if the town was observing some holiday or this was a regular event. But I had never seen so many yard sales at the same time. The items that we saw were lovely -- old mirrors, small lamps, miscellaneous treasures -- I was actually overwhelmed.   Perhaps that was the moment that I became addicted to yard sales and retrieving bargains. Shortly after that experience, I realized the thrill of searching out treasures with bargain prices.

With the downturn of the economy in recent years, many folks in small towns around the country have begun holding sales to rid themselves of things no longer needed. The reasons are as varied as the merchandise. Some people are merely downsizing or preparing to move. Others are cleaning out a house after someone else moved. Maybe the kids are now grown and their old rooms contained childhood items nearly forgotten. Some folks clean out rooms when remodeling.

The actual cost to hold a sale are minimal. In some locations, newspapers will run ads for yard sales at a very low cost. No ad is really needed. Sellers need only to make a sign and place it on a nearby cross street, showing the address. People will show up looking for bargains.

I have found fun items as well as some lovely treasures in just this manner. However, I know people who have openly expressed a dislike for bargain hunting. When a friend once asked me what I was doing for lunch, I replied that I was going to a nearby building where a large rummage sale was being held. She indicated that she might go along. As we walked among the large tables of items, she was clearly out of her "comfort" zone. She avoided even touching any of the items displayed. Finally she said, "I don't understand why anyone would shop like this. I mean, everything seems so dirty."

In recent news, a well-known national conservative minister remarked on his television program that some second-hand clothing may be infused with "demonic" forces. However, he went on to explain that it is doubtful that every second-hand sweater contains such evil forces. I was relieved to hear that!

If for some reason -- other than fear of demons -- you have never shopped at a flea market, yard sale or thrift store, you might want to make that leap and see what you have been missing. All sorts of bargains await shoppers. If you need to downsize or are cleaning out a basement, think about having a sale of your own. It's a great way to empty out closets during Spring cleaning.

Exorcism not required.