Brand Names Insult My Intelligence

I do not purchase clothing that prominently displays a brand name.  (On the other hand, I’d be tempted to wear an “I love Halliburton” t-shirt for the shock value.  But that’s another post…)  I am not a walking billboard and I am not stupid enough to pay for the privilege of becoming one.

Unfortunately, most people are not as wise as I am and I usually must remain silent about their mindless attire.

I’m not presumptuous enough to tell you that clothing should be art.  Since I’m less than wealthy, I see little point in plunking down over $100.00 for a designer shirt that will be shredded within a year or two.  (Those luxury goods aren’t always designed to last.  Rich people often care more about the latest fashions and they can afford to replace things more regularly.  In their minds, a shirt from 2012 has already gone out of style and belongs in the dumpster.)

Instead, I want my clothing to cover all of the necessary body parts and remain intact long enough to keep my bank account from crashing.   (Gender appropriateness is also important.)  Therefore: clearance racks!

And you thought this would be an advertisement for Wal-Mart…

This works for me because I’m a guy.  By contrast, women often like to accessorize with pretty things.  For example, a non-utilitarian purse.  They treat it like clothing and it has to match the outfit, so they often end up owning many purses.

I’ll leave the “battle of the sexes” content to the bloggers who do it better.  I’m more interested in the idiotic, and one particular design type stands out.  It’s the standard “look how special I am because I can afford an expensive brand” variety:

This demonstrates the owner's aesthetic excellence.  (Photo credit: )

This demonstrates the owner’s sense of aesthetic superiority. (Photo credit: prettycatty)

Let’s review.  You’re carrying around a container that holds cash, cards, and expensive electronics.  Why are you advertising to potential thieves that the contents might be especially valuable?  Of all the purses at the football game (note the obligatory transgression of gender stereotypes), yours now stands out as the most desirable to steal.  Brilliant!

Of course, your bag’s probably fake.  Just like you.

Funny how things work out…

Excessive Punishments Insult My Intelligence

Whenever I visit international markets, I make it a point to not laugh at any sort of unfortunate English errors I see.  Usually.  And so I chose not to photograph what I’m telling you about today.  You’ll just have to trust me.

Anyway…

I went over to the meat section and discovered a most shocking product being sold: grounded turkeys.

The market was apparently offering troublesome teenagers for human consumption.  I’m not sure if the packages contained thighs, breasts, legs, or other body parts.

 

The store must have thought he'd be yummy to more people than just the girls.  (Photo credit: Daniel Foster)

The market must have thought he’d be yummy to more people than just the Bieber fans. (Photo credit: Daniel Foster)

 

(Before you get all angry and stuff, my high school chemistry teacher lovingly referred to us students as turkeys.)

New Socks Insult My Intelligence

When preparing to travel, many of us often forget to consider the “small” objects that occupy so much room in a suitcase.  If you’re taking your SUV on a long road trip, your time can be spent on more important thoughts such as not forgetting those small objects; after all, you could fit a small department store in that vehicle.  However, this time of year sees many students (and a few others) preparing to spend a summer or maybe even a year or more in a foreign country.

Let’s assume that you’ve lined up a one-year job in France starting in a month.  You’re putting all of your furniture into storage because it’s too expensive to ship and you suddenly reach the inevitable realization: I can only bring three suitcases (or fewer if you can’t carry three on your own) and these three suitcases must contain the necessities for twelve months.

And so you ask yourself what you need to buy before embarking on your adventure.  Your destination’s climate is different and your clothing choices should reflect that.  That brings you to the stores and you inevitably make the ultimate impulse buy: socks.  Big beautiful fluffy white socks that will make your feet feel so good as you walk and walk and walk and walk around a country where it didn’t pay to bring your car.  Did I mention you’ll be walking a lot?

Well-worn socks.  (Photo credit: knitting Iris at http://www.flickr.com/photos/87255087@N00/8030202142/ )

Well-worn socks. (Photo credit: knitting Iris at http://www.flickr.com/photos/87255087@N00/8030202142/ )

Anyway, you bring your loot home and soon it’s time to pack.  Suitcase, meet socks.  Socks, meet suitcase.

And guess what.  Those socks take up a ton of room that could be used for other things.

Unless your name is Clinton, this type of "Socks" was never an issue.  (Photo Credit: Ben Sheldon at http://www.flickr.com/photos/bensheldon/3190911949/ )

Unless your name is Clinton, this type of “Socks” was never an issue. (Photo Credit: Ben Sheldon at http://www.flickr.com/photos/bensheldon/3190911949/ )

And with that in mind, I would like to share a few packing tips.  As I am not an expert on women’s clothing, my examples will come from the men’s side of the department store.  Nevertheless, most of my recommendations should also apply to the ladies.

Rule #1: They sell socks in France. Actually, they sell socks in most countries and you won’t go broke if you buy them over there.  Once your travels end, they’ll be well-worn (read: more compact) and easier to ship home.  You only need to pack enough socks to last you until you can go shopping.  In some European countries, you can wear the same socks for a month (or so it seems) without anyone noticing the odor… so I wouldn’t worry too much about bringing a lot of socks.  Just sit back and appreciate the water conservation efforts.  Seriously.  If you’re lucky, you’ll stop noticing the smell just like the natives did.

Rule #2: You will be shipping a lot of stuff home unless you only pack two of the three suitcases you bring.  Besides souvenirs, you’ll pile up a ton of new stuff you’ll use while you’re there.  Of course, the empty suitcase trick only works well if you’re spending a couple of months with a host family that already has dishes and other household necessities for you to break borrow.

Rule #3: Some items aren’t worth bringing.  Unless you’re wearing it on the plane, skip the sweaters, leather jackets, and blue jeans.  Compared to fleece and khakis, they take up a ton of room and your first goal is to not be naked and still fit your TSA-approved travel-size toothpaste into a suitcase.  With a few exceptions, you should choose the clothing that takes up the least space.  After all, your most snazzy clothes may not appear too snazzy in a foreign context.

Rule #4: Underwear is ambiguous.  When traveling, especially if you’ll end up sharing a hotel or hostel room, you’re probably going to be undressing in front of people… unless you always utilize the bathroom for this purpose.  That silk banana hammock thong is probably going to freak people out even if you’ve all seen enough penises to start an Oscar Mayer factory.  And you probably will see that much nudity but you’ll get used to it quicker than you’d expect.  You don’t necessarily have to go with the bulky flannel boxers but you should plan to show some courtesy towards your roommates.

Rule #5: Bring an international size conversion chart because each country uses a different set of numbers.  Oh, and “extra large” can resemble a U.S. medium at times.  Also assume that your chart will usually be wrong, so be prepared to try everything on before buying it.  Except of course for that nice big fluffy 6-pack of socks in plastic wrapping…

Doormats Insult My Intelligence

In my pantry rests a barely used container of furikake.

Furikake on rice.  (Photo credit: Jason Lam at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mesohungry/3042065459/ )

Furikake on rice. (Photo credit: Jason Lam at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mesohungry/3042065459/ )

The uninitiated among you might like to know what the heck furikake is.  Lots of varieties exist, but it’s basically Japanese rice seasoning.  It can include a wide array of dehydrated ingredients, including (but not limited to) fish flakes, seaweed, sesame seeds, egg yolk, mustard powder, celery, and carrot.  This may sound less than exotic to many of you, but then again Ragu is beyond some people’s sense of adventure.

What?  You mean you’ve never heard of people eating ketchup on spaghetti?  I’m jealous.  The thought makes me vomit in a projectile manner.

Anyway, an old friend recently accompanied me to one of my favorite international markets where they sell a broad assortment of furikake.  We reached the display and I mentioned that I really like the stuff, quickly grabbing a couple of packages.  And then the discussion began…

What kind should I get?

What looks good to you?  This one has fish and this one has no seaweed and that one has a lot of vegetables in it.

Which one do you like?

I like them all.

So what should I get?

What will your family eat?

What’s your favorite?

This one…

(The conversation was a lot longer.)

And so that’s what he grabbed.  He wouldn’t let me remind him that I had already seen him, his wife, and his kids spit out food that contained seaweed.  I tried to warn him but he wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise.

Obviously, he was trying to impress me and he did succeed in making an impression of sorts…

And that’s how the shopping trip went, except he gradually got angrier and angrier when I wouldn’t just up and tell him which variety of something he should buy.  I mean, furikake is one thing because it’s so unfamiliar but it shouldn’t be too difficult to decide between a turkey- or beef-filled pasta.

And even if the choice challenges you too much, there’s no need to yell about it in public.  Instead, look up a good psychiatrist.

I also noticed that he only bought one small bag of the pasta to feed his family of four.  So… if you’re going to try and ingratiate yourself, at least be convincing about it.  I’m not asking you to waste your money on stuff you won’t eat and it makes no difference to me whether you buy the same groceries I do.

Nevertheless, I did not start this post to write about a shopping trip.  Last week, I visited his place and, after reaching into his pantry, he handed me the mostly unused package of furikake.  He mumbled something to the effect of “I guess it only tastes good if you’re used to stuff like this.”

Uh… yeah.  You wouldn’t let me warn you before you bought it.

And so it goes.  One cannot keep old friendships going (or new ones for that matter) by pretending to love what the other person loves.  It leaves a bad taste in your mouth and you can’t keep up the charade forever.

Then you look like an idiot when the veneer falls… especially because the veneer was already transparent to begin with.  While I also suspect that the idiot might have been symbolically getting rid of the friendship by handing over the furikake, at least I got some free food out of it.  It tastes pretty sweet.

Seriously.  The fish has a sweet flavor.  Add some buttercream and you could slather it on a cake.

Okay, maybe not that sweet…

Valentine’s Day Can’t Insult My Intelligence if There’s Snow

Mother Nature has bewitched us this year.  Her winter storms have been transforming birds into feathery icicles and freeing the sky from bees.  However, her frosty prestidigitations will be enabling the birds and bees on Valentine’s Day.

This image has been modified from the original at http://www.laceyoem.org/winter-storm-warning-has-been-posted-for-our-area/

This image has been modified from the original at http://www.laceyoem.org/winter-storm-warning-has-been-posted-for-our-area/

Most years, Valentine’s Day insults my intelligence.  Women usually want a romantic gift or a vacuum cleaner and I’m no good at picking out either of those.  Fortunately, Mother Nature has eliminated such difficulty from my life this year.

I live in the South.  One inch of snow closes everything down for days, leaving death and distress on highways and anywhere else people dare to travel.  That includes the little side road I live on, which means I can’t drive to fetch roses, candy, or the usual holiday scams.  And delivery people won’t be able to get them to me, unless stuff is sent through the post office.

If the post office can’t handle delivering a book without smashing it up like a piece of glass, those flowers stand no chance unless they’re headed for my salad instead of the vase.

And the horrors keep piling up.  Guys like me love spending time in stores like Victoria’s Secret because we look less creepy when we’re surrounded by women’s undergarments.  If the roads are covered in ice, I guess we’ll just have to buy something leathery or lacy online.

I hope the post office has not yet figured out a way to destroy lingerie, but I’m not holding my breath.

Buying lingerie for a woman has never been less risky because one can’t actually see how big something is until it arrives.  If it’s too big, we can’t possibly think she’s that fat because we bought the same size as what’s in her underwear drawer.  If it’s too small, we can use the same excuse to squirm out of whatever accusations come flying our way.  And because of the snow and ice, we now have an airtight excuse when it inevitably arrives late.

Of course, that means the unfortunate lady will be forced to go without underwear on Valentine’s Day and, on top of that, the storm may have knocked out electricity by then.

No electricity?  No problem!  One romantic BBQ dinner on the gas grill coming right up, minus the obligatory chick flick viewing.

Mother Nature really is just one of the guys…

The American Food Companies Insult My Intelligence

Vegetables

Food should radiate beauty, not subatomic particles.   (Photo credit: neonbubble)

Unbeknownst to many people, cooking requires as much artistry as poetry.  And like most artists, I enjoy visiting the holy temples of art supplies, also known as grocery stores.  The beauty they contain rivals the world’s greatest museums.

On this blog, I occasionally write about visits to farmer’s markets, international grocers, and other unnecessary specialty retailers.  Today I’d rather mesmerize you with the magic of your typical everyday supermarket. Unfortunately, most people overlook the wonders that await them under the glare of fluorescent lights and screaming toddlers.  Forget about those distractions and let the food shine.  If you want your culinary creations to sing, you need melodically enhanced ingredients.  So pick up any product and you’re sure to find poetry where you thought none had existed.  Let’s start with a soft drink label:

Phosphoric acid,
Brominated vegetable
oil, and Benzene

Acid rocks!  Although you could go all hippie and call this the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, soft drinks taste better during the summer.   So let’s say that the Age of Cancer will arrive soon at an unsuspecting body near you.  It will be more magnificent than liquor!  And it will be smooth like butter!  Nice, healthy, natural butter with no added chemicals that melts on your tongue and leaves a warm milky feeling.  So maybe a stick of butter will add to our culinary symphony:

Sodium chloride’s
reduced!  Healthy!  Safer than
our regular stuff.

And where there’s butter, you’ll find toast.  Nice warm hearty toast.  And basic too: grains, water, yeast, and a little salt.  However, we need artistically enhanced toast, one that crisps up with convenient speed to a beautiful dark color.  I wonder what sort of prestidigitation makes that possible…

Sugar.  More sugar.
This bread is not safe for you.
Diabetes, right?

Having lived in Europe, my wonderment never ends over the riches of salt and sugar that the American food companies add to everything.  Witness the pageantry of low-sodium canned corn and tomatoes, both of which Mother Nature got wrong by not enhancing their flavor like in the original canned product.  And let’s not forget the sugar-free desserts that abound with spectacular chemical sweeteners while maintaining a gloriously elevated calorie count that reveals the aesthetic shortcomings of a basic Italian biscotti.  Speaking of all this wonderful processed food, let’s look at a can or two:

Canned bisphenol A:
More cancers, Obesity,
Disrupts dopamine

See?  You can always improve the classics.  Nature’s radiance finds its completion in the laboratory, much like Haiku ascends to unimaginable heights once we eliminate our reliance on a culturally constructed notion of “natural beauty.”  And on the topic of natural things, we ought to conclude our supermarket tour by visiting the produce section.  There, we can observe a helpful sign above the merchandise, one that kindly transports our minds from dark thoughts of pesticides:

We coat fruit in wax.
It looks shiny, crisp, healthy.
You’ll pay more for it.

But what are a few extra cents for produce compared to the bills for a lifetime of health ailments?

Beauty.  Poetry.  Groceries. 

Big Juicy Bones Insult My Intelligence

turkey leg

(Photo credit: briface)

Visiting the farmer’s market is always fun.  Today, I bought turkey legs and I am very happy with my purchase.  In the United States, chickens and turkeys are bred for their breast meat and the remaining parts end up being a lot less expensive.  In other parts of the world, the breast is considered the least tasty part of a bird other than the feathers.  Having lived outside of the U.S., I had the opportunity to gain an appreciation for dark meat.

However…

I learned something from my visit today.  I asked for three turkey legs and they gave me the ones that looked like they came from a pterodactyl.  So they sold me as much product as possible while still following my instructions.  And I’m sure the next person, if he asked for 3 pounds of turkey legs, would have received the smallest of the bunch.  That means more bone and less meat for the same price… and the store wins again.  (There is proportionally more bone per pound in a small turkey leg than in a large one.)

So, if you would rather gnaw on a nice meaty leg instead of a big juicy bone, order your meat by number of pieces, not weight.

Paying Full Price Insults My Intelligence

Models in a mall

(Photo credit: Toban B.)

Although I am unemployed, I still have to wear clothes.  (Trust me, that’s not negotiable around here.)  That means I have to own clothes and I can’t own clothes unless I buy them.

I’m not a big fan of Wal-Mart and similar stores because the merchandise just doesn’t last very long.  However, I have a fairly strict budget.  And in spite of this, I don’t have to walk around naked.   So I’d like to share an easy tip with all of you.

First rule of shopping on a budget: don’t go to the advertised sales.  Advertised sales are designed to get customers in the door to view a very limited number of reduced price items in hopes that other (more expensive) merchandise will also be purchased.  You should also know that some clothing manufacturers prohibit stores from advertising their products below a certain price point.  It tarnishes the brand’s image if everyone knows you can get Armani for ten bucks.

Instead, stop in occasionally when there’s no official sale going on.  Stores still have to get rid of unsold merchandise and they do it under the radar when there’s no publicized “special event.”  After all, stores are allowed to sell products below the agreed-upon minimum if a customer has the product already in hand to see a physical price tag.

This, incidentally, is why Amazon doesn’t list the prices for some items until you click on the product’s page.  Viewing a list is like browsing the racks and clicking a product is equivalent to looking at something more closely.

The only downside to shopping like this is that a lot of the super-clearance stuff looks really tacky on the rack.  About half of it will look good if you take a moment to try it on.  The other half was designed by clowns, and probably for clowns as well.

But if you were Bozo, you would have gone to the advertised sale instead.

The Poor Man’s Snobbery Insults My Intelligence

You may think that only rich people can be snobs.  I intend to prove you wrong.

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I like international grocery stores.  Besides the selection of food, the products are usually cheaper and sometimes significantly so.  For instance,  you can find spices for obscenely low prices; the brand name companies represented at your regular grocery store sell you a small bottle of spice for a lot of money, but I get my spice for one to three dollars per pound.  These are Indian brands or direct imports by the international market for consumption by the local immigrant community.  I may not get the “comfort” of a familiar brand, but that’s relatively unimportant.  If a spice brand is good enough for people in (or from) India, it’s good enough for me.  The quality is there.

English: Brazilian Linguiça or pork sausage on...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But instead of seeking good deals, many Americans buy (literally) the food companies’ advertising.  The grocery stores keep telling us how much of a bargain their prices are and the manufacturers also bombard us with messages about their products’ quality and budget friendliness.  And people absorb these messages unquestioningly.

So, I was visiting some friends one time and decided to bring some sausage from a local mom-and-pop butcher shop run by immigrants.  (Usually, my friends supply all the food for everyone; this doesn’t seem right.)  The sausage at this shop costs 30-40% less than what the grocery store sells.  It’s also fresher and of much higher quality.  However, my friend (who is not poor by any means) responded self-righteously to my contribution and did so with more than a little discomfort; he had agreed to let me bring food but I think he overestimated his ability to deal with it.

Some people who aren’t rich take their economic status as a sign of virtue; my friend was no exception.  It also didn’t help that people have learned to equate price and quality.  I brought better stuff, which somehow meant that I was flaunting my “higher” status.   (Um… I’ve been unemployed for a while and wasn’t rich before that, but no matter.)   I recommended the store and mentioned the lower prices but my words fell on deaf ears.  “Our prudent Kroger is better than your profligate place, you scum.”  Or something like that.

If that’s not snobbery, I don’t know what is.

If you want to spend the extra money to finance a world of wonderful advertisements, be my guest.  I’d rather spend the cash on something useful, or perhaps keep it in my bank account.  I’m a big fan of frugality, but I guess that makes me a snob too.

Cheap Materials Insult My Intelligence

Whenever I leave the house, I like to wear pants.  That means my belt is my companion, constantly protecting me and the people around me from unpleasant situations.  In the old days, which weren’t even 15 years ago, you could buy a sturdy braided leather belt made of real leather.  These belts were constructed of a single piece of material and they were thick, so you could wear them every day for years.  In contrast, here’s a nearly departed companion:

Belt

This belt, like most others sold today, was made of much thinner strips of “leather” glued to a center piece of unknown material.  It only looked braided.  The strips of leather quickly started peeling off and pretty soon the belt will break in two.  You can see that the top half has already torn.

Incidentally, this was not an inexpensive belt.

Misplaced Priorities Insult My Intelligence

I went on an organized tour of Italy a few years back and some of the other tourists’ behavior appalled me.  I don’t mean the typical misbehavior we usually hear about.  Instead, I’m thinking of a focus on drinking and shopping.  People spent significant money to visit a place many people only dream of seeing and they used most of their time on superficial things.

I took this photo in Assisi.  The tour guide requested that we respect the religious procession coming down the stairs by not aiming our cameras directly at it.  I thought the procession was amazing and wanted to capture it somehow, so I ended up with this:

BC1

Ah, the wonders of Italian engineering.  Although I was attempting to capture a significant part of Italian culture with this picture, it also illustrates the world of tourism in my eyes.  The cheap materialistic car dominates the foreground while the amazing architecture falls to the background, far from where the eyes focus.  Plus, the authentic cultural practice remains off to the side, almost unnoticeable as it exits the frame.

“Say Yes to the Dress” Insults My Intelligence

You only thought the worst thing you could tell a woman is “that outfit makes your butt look big.”

Welcome to the world of “Say Yes to the Dress.” This show presents little more than brides shopping for wedding dresses.  Exciting, right?

On this show, any negative commentary about a dress will make the bride’s mother/sister/friend a villain if the bride loves it.  If someone points out that a bride’s beloved dress (which she hasn’t purchased yet) gives her a serious case of camel toe, that person is evil.  Even though the bride brings people along to obtain their opinions, their only acceptable commentary is to say yes to the dress.  It’s like a page from The Emperor’s New Clothes.

A bride in a very traditional long white weddi...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The show title says it all.  Actually, it sounds more like a tired advertising slogan: “Say yes to the dress!  Women’s clothing up to 66% off, this weekend only at Macy’s.”

In spite of this, I wouldn’t call the show an infomercial because no product is being advertised.  Instead, this show conditions potential shoppers to behave in a way that will benefit the dress shops.  That means no criticizing the dresses and no fear of exorbitant price tags.  Oh, and it’s also not unusual for a bride to purchase two dresses: one for the wedding and one for the reception.

It doesn’t even matter if the bride’s butt looks big on her wedding day because she’ll feel like a princess.

Until the wedding photos come back.