Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Kiehl's was a legendary New York skin-care store that everybody loved. They carried maybe thirty products, each specially formulated with natural ingredients. They dated back to the days before marketing -- something like 1851 -- and they were as simple as a Wild West General Store. If you had one moisturizer that worked, went their thinking, why would you need to sell two? Every product was high quality and worked like a charm, and everybody in New York was addicted to the brand.

And then L'Oreal bought them. "We'll keep Kiehl's exactly as it is," they chirped. "Nothing will change." And before they even finished talking the advertisements started: "TRY OUR ORGANIC QUINOA SKIN CREAM!!!" "DON'T MISS OUR KOSHER LIP BALM!" The shelves multiplied and different bottles appeared until it took professional help to actually shop. Pomegranate, mango, rose hips, beeswax. Forget the legendary family-run firm: now they were just a free-range guava away from being Bath and Body Works.

I was almost comatose from over-choice when a salesclerk walked up to me. "Can I put you on our email list?" she asked. "I promise we won't email too much. And we'll send you coupons!"

She clearly knew my soft spot, and two minutes later I had fourteen emails clogging my inbox. "TWO SAMPLES WITH EVERY PURCHASE!" one screamed. Then "THREE SAMPLES WITH EVERY PURCHASE!" When I went sixty seconds without replying they upped the ante: "TWO DELUXE SAMPLES WITH EVERY $45 PURCHASE!" "THREE DELUXE SAMPLES WITH EVERY $55 PURCHASE!" When it hit "FIVE DELUXE SAMPLES WITH EVERY $65 PURCHASE!" I caved. In fact, I'd have passed out if I hadn't been near the Thai Basil de Provence smelling salts.

I picked out $65 worth of products -- a moisturizer, a toner, a tube of stuff for under-eye bags -- and then pondered the sample possibilities. I had to be methodical to get the biggest bang for my buck. Some were a quarter of the size of the full-size product, so theoretically they'd be worth $10 and up. Eye cream was the priciest, so I figured I'd get three of those. Wrinkle-reducing moisturizers were a close second so I'd get two of those.

I hadn't even thought about checking out when a clerk yelled, "I can help you over here," and then ran behind a register and stared at me.

I wandered over and dumped my selections on the counter. "I got an email about five free deluxe samples?"

"No problem," she said. She scanned the products with a little plastic gun and said, "That'll be $70.12."

Instantly I got sucked up in a tornado of déjà vu. As an avid bargain-hunter, I'd run into this dozens of times. I'd see a newspaper ad from a desperate store offering a discount. "HALF OFF EVERYTHING!" it'd say. "COME IN!!! DON'T MISS IT!!! And then I'd go to the store and the clerks would be like, "I never heard of that. Nope. What do you want to talk to the manager for?"

The ads blare about amazing, fabulous free offers FOR A LIMITED TIME that only a fool would pass up, and in person they're, "Wow. You're really gonna waste our time with that shit?"

"I want to get some eye cream samples," I said. "I travel a lot so I need them."

"We don't have any of those," she said. Then, to the woman holding products and standing behind me: "I'll be right with you. This will literally take ten seconds."

Really? I thought. You just promised somebody that you wouldn't waste any time with ME? I was mystified by how she'd arrived at that estimate, as it clearly didn't include human speech. It didn't allow for "Do you have any questions?" or "Have you used this before?" or "Do you honestly believe Moroccan spices can erase those frown lines?" It was barely enough time for "Have a nice day!"

Unfortunately for her, I wasn't playing along. "Would they have it at another store?" I asked.

She glared at me. "I can call and see," she said in the tone she'd use to say, "I can dance around and we'll see if it rains."

"That'd be great," I said. She shot me a look that said, "Seriously?" and said to the woman behind me, "I will literally be with you in just one sec."

She ran up my credit card and I signed the receipt, then she threw my stuff into a bag. To the woman behind me she said, "Here, let me get all of that." She took the woman's assorted items out of her arms and set them on the counter, then without a word she ran through a side door. I moved out of line to an unused counter, and a minute later she reappeared and dumped a pile of assorted samples in front of me. "I found an eye cream," she said. "Take whatever you want." And she scurried back to her register.

The samples were actually okay. In fact, I had a hard time narrowing it down. I finally settled on five, then looked to the clerk for her okay. She and the next customer were busy. A thought ran through my head: these were free samples, right? FREE. And wasn't that word usually followed by "for the taking"? I shot the clerk a carefree smile and said, "I am literally taking them all," and with enough açaí in my bag to choke a camel I hit the road.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Nocturnal Animals

As the sun goes down, the frog hops onto a lilypad and croaks loudly in hopes of attracting a mate. The fox leaves his den, his sharp hearing giving him an advantage over the prey that futilely attempts to flee through fallen leaves. Rachel -- the woman who lives directly above Roman -- re-enacts Bruce Lee's role in Enter the Dragon while wearing cement shoes.

Darkness settles in and other nocturnal animals venture out. The owl stretches and swoops off his perch, knowing that mice won't see him approach. The desert iguana crawls out from under his rock and forages for plants and small insects now that he won't bake in the hot sun. Rachel tries to hold a thirty-pound canned ham with just two fingers that are covered with Vaseline.

The hours pass and the sky deepens to velvety black. The coyote ventures out of his burrow now that his main competition for food, the mountain lion, is fast asleep. The sea turtle swims onto the shore to lay her eggs under cover of night. Rachel tries to answer the question, "Do different colors of floor tile make different sounds when you hit them with a sledgehammer?"

Finally, the sun inches its way back to the horizon and the first ray of light illuminates the land. The aardvark returns underground now that he has no chance to sneak up on his prey. The wasp flies back to his nest before the harsh sunlight can burn his porcelain carapace. Roman puts his bell collection into the washing machine before heading off to work, hoping to make the nocturnal world regret that they don't go to sleep until fucking 6 a.m.

Twitter Firestorm Forces Paul Simon To Retitle Song "Six Ways To Leave Your Lover Along With Forty-Four Positive Affirmations"

Friday, February 19, 2016

One problem with being intelligent is that television will always be disappointing. It's aimed at mainstream America, so when we turn on a program that's ostensibly about cooking, we discover people forced to make coq au vin using six chopsticks and a piece of cheese. When we turn on a program about design, we see a guy try to make a coffee table out of two thumbtacks and a sweater-vest. When we encounter a program about extraterrestrial life, we find a rubber alien on a card table being cut up by Michael Strahan.

Of course, maybe I'm not all that smart, because I thought Treasure Detectives would be educational. The name implies a modicum of brainpower, and it airs on CNBC, which sounds like a news channel. It starts off promisingly enough: somebody brings in something they found -- an art object, antique or collectible -- and then a bunch of "experts" delve into the history of the piece. Unfortunately, eight seconds into the program it dives straight into a bucket of stupidity and doesn't surface until the end. I compiled the idiocies endured in a dozen programs into one typical, fake episode.



HOST: Ralphie Klumsted of Tecumseh, Tennessee writes in and says, "I was going through the trash behind a Taco Bell the other day when I found a giant metal cannister under an old chalupa. I've seen five Peter Sellers movies so it immediately hit me: could this be a nuclear bomb?"

We'll certainly help you out, Ralphie. As you know, bombs are dangerous. Bombs are frequently carried into the sky by airplanes, and then dropped onto things. You might feel stupid when you drop a frosty mug of beer, but this can be far worse.

First, let's take Ralphie's bomb to somebody who doesn't know anything. Here's Tatum, a six-year-old who lives next door.

Tatum, one of our viewers thinks this might be an authentic nuclear bomb. What do you think?

TATUM: I saw a bomb on TV once. It sort of looked like this, except it had numbers on the side so the coyote would know when it would blow up. This doesn't have numbers on the side. [PAUSE] I bet it's a bomb. Can I keep it to throw at my brother?

HOST: No. But interesting! Lots of information! We certainly learned a lot, though the main lesson seems to be that if you ask total randoms for their advice you aren't the smartest tool in the shed. Next let's ask an old Italian exactly how bombs work.

OLD ITALIAN: Bombs work by splitting atoms. It's very dangerous. It's not like splitting a pizza. When you split a pizza, everybody gets a slice. Maybe somebody winds up with sauce on their shirt. But when you split an atom, something called "fission" happens. Every building in a thousand miles explodes, radioactivity burns up the atmosphere, and a billion people melt like cannoli cream.

HOST: Wow! Ha! I guess I'd better stick to splitting pizza! Now that we know how to make a bomb, can just anybody do it? Let's ask the director of Johnny Depp's Mortdecai.

DAVID KOEPP: A bomb works by causing a chain reaction among unstable atoms. One atom breaks apart, which causes another to break, and so on until the unstable material is spent and incredible amounts of energy have been dispersed. Can anybody build one? Absolutely not. Even if you had a machine shop and could fabricate all the metal parts, you'd still need enriched uranium.

HOST: Hmm. I eat cereal all the time. Is that like regular uranium with a multivitamin thrown in?

DAVID KOEPP: [PAUSE] Yes. Yes, it is.

HOST: Okay, we've learned that regular people can't make a nuclear bomb. But there's another possibility: let's see if maybe Ralphie found a nuclear bomb that some government agency made. Let's consult an actual expert.

HOST (CONTINUED): The United States supposedly dropped a bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. Is it possible they missed? Could somebody have caught the bomb before it hit the ground, and they kept it and it somehow ended up in a dumpster behind a Taco Bell?

ACTUAL EXPERT: For that to happen, you'd need a five-thousand-foot trampoline, a hydraulic elevator, a Winnebago the size of the Hindenburg that was impervious to sound and movement, and eight thousand assistants who'd fake the devastation wreaked by a nuclear bomb and then not tell a soul.

HOST: So that's a yes?


HOST: Okay, I think we've decided. Let's call in Ralphie to give him the news.

HOST (CONTINUED): Ralphie, it's been a long week, but we've finally reached a conclusion. This is not a nuclear bomb.

RALPHIE: Huh. That's a shocker. How'd ya figure?

HOST: Well, first we decided that it's virtually impossible to make your own bomb. Then we determined that no government has ever lost a bomb. And finally we saw the word 'HOOVER' on the side, and when we hit the ON switch it sucked our curtains into that tube. We're 99% sure this is actually an old vacuum cleaner.


HOST: I know you're disappointed. If this had been an actual nuclear bomb, it would be worth millions of dollars, assuming you have no problem in dealing with bedouin. As a vacuum, though, it's worth approximately ten dollars.

RALPHIE: Oh. Okay. Thanks.

HOST: Everybody tune in next week when we examine a diary possibly written by Hitler where he talks about rollerblading through Disney World. See you then!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

I'm not crazy about so-called "smart clothes," since there's such a fine line between helpful apparel and a nagging cloth version of your mom. Most wearable tech is also vastly overhyped: there are smart bras, smart shoes, smart pants and more -- that do nothing more than the average Fitbit.

Belty, on the other hand, is far more ambitious. I got to test a prototype recently and highly recommend it to anybody concerned about health and wellness. Just to get you up to speed, here's how the website's far-reaching claims translate into reality with the world's first smart belt.

"Belty is a high-end, lifestyle and wellness belt."

NEW MSG FROM BELTY: Thank you for splurging on Belty. Eat some kale. By using Belty you agree that these proprietary messages may not be published elsewhere without written permission from another article of clothing.

"When walking, Belty can increase your walking pace through rythm."

NEW MSG FROM BELTY: Belty detects that your movements are weak and irregular. Tap once if you are walking, twice if you are having coitus.


"When static, Belty will invite you to drink more water, stand up straight and explore new habits."

NEW MSG FROM BELTY: Belty needs to check your hydration. Press Belty against your bladder until Belty beeps.

NEW MSG FROM BELTY: Belty needs to check your posture. Put Belty on top of your head until Belty vibrates.

NEW MSG FROM BELTY: Let's go skydiving!

"Belty is for the everyday go-getter who wants to increase their energy levels and improve their wellness."

NEW MSG FROM BELTY: Run fast! Get that ticker pumping! Always consult your physician before beginning an exercise program recommended by a belt.

"Belty keeps you on track and sends good vibes your way!"

NEW MSG FROM BELTY: You go, girl! Tap Belty once for another affirmation. Additional charges may apply.

"Belty is the only intuitive and antonomous wearable that integrates artificial intelligence to promote a healthy lifestyle."

NEW MSG FROM BELTY: Initiating search sequence to detect nearby broccoli.


"Belty manages energy by suggesting power naps when they are needed the most."

NEW MSG FROM BELTY: Belty detects that your movements are short and jerky. Oh, sorry -- are you having coitus again?

"Through the mobile app, Belty encourages users to develop new habits and makes them stick!"

NEW MSG FROM BELTY: Didn't you tell your ex you've been working out recently? Whatever happened to that?

"The smart belt adapts to the rythtm of life!"

NEW MSG FROM BELTY: Belty's going to sit down and smoke some weed now.


"With customizable straps you will never have to worry about your belt going out of style."

NEW MSG FROM BELTY: Belty feel ugly. Don't look at Belty. Tap twice to order new Belty. Additional charges may apply.

"Belty helps you enjoy simple moments throughout the day by encouraging you to do the little things that change everything."

NEW MSG FROM BELTY: Yes, that is a pretty scarf, but there's a reason people carry credit cards, Wynona.

"The app allows users to customize activities based on their preferences."

NEW MSG FROM BELTY: Tap to confirm: do you really want Belty to stop texting you during coitus?

"[Our] dedication ensures a high quality product and makes Belty a unique accessory."

NEW MSG FROM BELTY: Are your socks as smart as Belty? Belty think not.

"From the start, we made a strong commitment to offer a product made entirely in France."

NEW MSG FROM BELTY: Time for Belty vacation. See you next spring!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Shocking study by the Wall Street Journal on the perils posed by older drivers:

In Japan, drivers 65 and older accounted for about a quarter of traffic deaths in 2014, compared with about 15% in the U.S.

Random, totally unrelated facts:

Population ages 65 and above (% of total)

Country name 2011 2012 2013 2014
Japan 24 24 25 26
United States 13 14 14 14

Friday, February 5, 2016

I just got a cat. Pretty much a rescue cat, since his previous owner moved away and abandoned him. He's big and gray and very sweet, but he's also twelve years old, which means I'll have him about as long as an American Apparel t-shirt.

Before the cat, I always wondered why people got offended when you referred to their pets by the wrong sex. Say there's a man walking a Pekingese outside your apartment building. You want to share your admiration as well as reinforce someone's poochy pride. "That's a great little dog!" you chirp. "She's a gorgeous little thing."

Instantly the man turns defensive. His face hardens. It's the expression Mark Wahlberg makes when he goes to the bathroom after eating cheese. "It's a he. A HE."

You apologize, but you walk away mystified. I mean, who really cares? Masculinity doesn't feature very prominently in Hairy Pawter's life. He wasn't going to the strip club with his buddies after a hard day at the quarry. No, he was going to find a sunbeam and warm his tummy. He was going to yap at a butterfly for eight hours before chewing up a rubber donut. Is there such a huge gulf between him and a chick?

Besides, what's the option? I wanted to hear these pet owners verbalize their thoughts. "I know you can't tell the sex of my pet with zero outward evidence, but it's offensive to the both of us when you guess wrong. In the future, please lift Mary Puppins and visually inspect for either a penis or a vagina before addressing us."

I stopped talking to people about their pets, but it never stopped bothering me. I mean, if misidentification is such a horrible crime, why don't pet owners do like human parents and give us a clue? Human parents determinedly avoid misunderstandings: it would mark the end of life as they know it if they're pushing little Briantha in her carriage and somebody comes up and says, "My, that's a handsome lad!" They were on their way to Connecticut Muffin, but now they run to Psychiatrists R Us. Dad snaps a tiara on little Briantha's head and pokes two chandelier earrings through her earlobes. Now he swaggers while pushing the stroller, all but daring bystanders: "Now say she looks like a dude, motherfuckers!"

Still, the first time somebody misidentifies my cat I get it. I'm irritated. It's a personal insult, and it's demeaning. It says, "I don't care enough about either of you to use the correct pronouns. Does that bother you and your, um, thing?"

I smile, but inwardly I scream at them. "He is not a she. He is a he. You think a male cat can't be fluffy? A male cat can't be soft? I'll thank you to keep your tired gender stereotypes to yourself. This is 2016, and my cat is free to be whoever he wants to be. If he wants to go into fashion, he can go into fashion. (I'm pretty sure he can't, since he's a complete fuckup on a sewing machine.) If he wants to be a race-car driver, he can be a race car driver. (This is likewise pretty fruitless, since he dives under the bed when he hears a bird chirp.) If he wants to be a giant pudding-shaped paperweight that only stays awake long enough to bite me, then it's fine with me! (I didn't just pull that out of thin air; I'm the kind of person who only tells the truth when he's mad.) But you will not cow us. You will not intimidate us. You will not bully Chairman Meow!"

Of course, I don't say any of this. I don't even correct them. I understand my anger, and control it. I just got the cat, and in a month or two it won't even bother me. It's exactly like what happened with my third husband. On one of our first dates he says, "I'd like to go dancing," so we go to dancing. "I'd like to have Thai food," he says, so we have Thai food.

A month later we're on my couch reading newspapers. "I'd like a foot rub," he says.

I flip to the next page of my paper and don't even look up. "You like a lot of stuff," I say.