Thursday, September 11, 2003


I avoid some products like the plague because their advertising annoys me. I'm starting a list:
  • Anything from Arbys -- Aside from their mystery meat "roast beef" sandwiches, that talking oven mit is just annoying.
  • Michelina's frozen dinners -- The Macarena went out with the last century. Let it go, people.
  • Feminine hygiene products -- Well, OK, boycotting these isn't really causing me any great hardship. But with all the great market research out there, you'd think they could target these things better. Most men I know would be quite happy if they never had to think about the words "yeast infection."
  • Anything advertised on the folded over half page that comes on top of the Sunday comics. How are you supposed to get your "Get Fuzzy" fix with that annoying paper flap tacked onto the section? I make it a point to rip it off without reading it. Take that, corporate America!
  • Wal-Mart -- I confess to not really being 100% faithful to this boycott. But the company still bugs me. They have a penchant for image campaigns where they promote themselves as a down-home Mom and apple pie retailer. Of course, this after they killed off all the real Mom and apple pie retailers with their giant suburban mega-warehouses. (I did a paper on this for my marketing class -- and I had to admit that their strategy was brilliant, in a Dr. Evil sort of way.)
This list may be updated as events warrant.

Monday, September 08, 2003

The Washington Post Magazine sent Gene Weingarten to France to pen "A mature and balanced examination of the French, with an eye toward defusing international tensions and dispelling regrettable stereotypes." He describes his mission:
We are now facing a time of chill, with repercussions both silly ("freedom fries") and substantial (tourism and commerce in both directions have taken a hit). There is a great deal of hand-wringing about it on both sides of the Atlantic. No one seems quite certain how to deal with it -- least of all the French, who thought it a swell idea to enlist Woody Allen to tell us, as a specialist in ethics, how we are being unfair to France.

As usual, it falls to a journalist to make things right. This has happened before.

Back in 1834, during the Jackson administration, the French-American rift was trivial, really -- largely a matter of bookkeeping: We sought reparations for damage done to American shipping during the Napoleonic wars, and France was stiffing us. The whole matter was easily resolvable, but President Jackson was given to gruff, obliquely threatening pronouncements -- "bring 'em on" kind of stuff -- and before you knew it, France had recalled its Washington ambassador, and invited ours to leave Paris. There was muffled talk of war.

At that precise moment, a young French writer named Alexis de Tocqueville published a book about the national character of America, gleaned from a nine-month visit here. Democracy in America proved an instant balm to global tensions, not because it was entirely complimentary -- it wasn't -- but because it was entirely honest. It confronted openly the differences between Americans and the French, and found much for the French to like and admire. War reparations were paid and cultural exchanges began again between the two countries, with young Tocqueville himself in the middle of it -- an ambassador without portfolio.

Tocqueville had nine months, but he probably dillydallied. You know the French.

I figured six days should do it.

Go read the rest right here.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Fairy Floss

cotton candy machine According to today's Tennessean, cotton candy originated in Nashville about 106 years ago when candy makers William Morrison and John C. Wharton designed a machine that allowed them to produce "Fairy Floss" by using centrifugal force to force hot sugar through tiny holes. The confection made it big in 1904, when the pair 68,655 wooden boxes of the stuff at 25 cents each.

Miss Crumm Wed Nearby

I should be sleeping, but I'm still up going through the box of old papers. When my grandparents had their 50th wedding anniversary in 1992, I helped put together a display for the occasion. I just came across some papers left over from that project.

One was a partial copy of a letter apparently written by one of my grandmother's relatives in which she catalogged some of the wedding gifts and gave a description of the wedding day. Here's a snippet:

I'll try to tell you all about the wedding now. Whew!! what a job. Well, here goes and your mother can supply the gaps and details.

It started about five:thirty A.M. with me waking up and almost shreiking with joy because I peeked out of the window and found out it was going to be a perfectly beautiful day. We all got up later and had breakfast on the installment plan and then tried to get Lucile to pack her things from her bureau and dressing table. She started in the middle and went both ways, so up to now we haven't any of us been able to find anything! In the middle of it I happened to think that she didn't have anything to sit on besides her Davenport and one big chair, so I went up to the store room and got out two of the four solid walnut shairs that belonged to my grandmother and which a good friend had kept for me all these years until about four months ago. One was O.K, two were hopeless as far as any amateur cabinet work was concerned, but the fourth only needed a brace. So Papa put one on and I washed them and then waxed them. Then your mother and I upholstered them in a blue linen ex-skirt, and PRESTO-! they matched her livingroom suite! Then we got down the cedar gatelegged table Papa made and she is borrowing it for her dinette until she gets one.

We had just gotten that settled and Lucile off to the beauty parlour when Roscoe arrived so we packed everything into his car and Dolores and your Dad helped him over to the apartment and got the things into it.

The next thing lovely that happened was Harry calling up unexpectedly from the airport and maybe THAT didnt set us wild with joy!! We weren't expecting him until quarter of seven and were worried about the timing, as it takes 45 minutes or longer to get here from there, and the wedding was a seventhirty. While your Ma and Pa went to the airport with Papa, Dolores and I had already decorated the church in the afternoon, and I must say it looked beautiful. Roscoe had gotten a whole carload of laurel and pear blossoms, we had lilac, bridal wreath and forsythia, and Papa actually got two dozen gladiolas.

Alas, the copy of the letter I have ends there, so we'll have to rely on the newspaper for a description. I found a copy of an article (and bridal photograph) that ran in the Washington Evening Star on May 21, 1942. It reads, in part:
Miss Crumm Wed Nearby

Lucile Crumm - Evening Star Amid decorations of spring flowers and palms the marriage of Miss Lucile Marianne Crumm of Mount Ranier to Mr. Roscoe Daniel D--* of College Park took place last evening in the Mount Rainier Methodist Church, where the Rev. Clarkson R. Banes officiated at 7:30 o'clock.


The daughter of Mrs. Mildred E. Crumm, the bride was escorted to the altar by her grandfather, Mr. Christian Eckert, and given by him in marriage. She wore a gown of white satin made on princess lines with long sleeves, a sweetheart neckline and a full skirt ending in a train. Her veil was fingertip length and edged with lace and was held by a pearl trimmed net coronet. A necklace of pearls, the gift of the bridegroom, was her only ornament, and she carried a shower bouquet of white roses and lillies of the valley.


Out-of-town guests attending the wedding included Mr. and Mrs. George Eckert of Chicago and Mr. and Mrs. B.A. Kilby of Laurel, Md.


Mr. and Mrs. D-- will be at home after May 1 at the Prince George Garden apartments in Hyattsville.

* name omitted to prevent voyeuristic googling of this site.

I am fascinated by this sort of thing. Here are the lives of my forbears laid out from the grand to the mundane. My grandmother, who has never let me live down my frantic last-minute packing binge at the end of my senior year of college, is revealed as a young bride frantically throwing things in boxes.

I would not be born for another 33 years, yet I feel like I know these people.

The car

I was going through a box of papers, and came across this piece I wrote for a magazine class in college. The funny thing is that I'm still good friends with Brian, and he's perhaps even more eccentric now.
As we sit in my living room, my friend Brian keeps glancing anxiously out the window toward the parking lot where he parks his car. He is checking for tow trucks -- he is convinced that the parking company is out to get him.

He is obsessed by this.

Of course, his concerns are not totally unjustified. He just mailed a late payment, and the last time the company was convinced he owed money, his car was towed. But when you get right down to hi, there's something a little odd about Brian's relationship with his car.

"I think parking lot attendants are automatons," he tells me. "They're an unwitting part of the system." The "system," in Brian's world, includes parking attendants, the police, tow truck drivers, meter maids, and anyone else who tells him where he can park his car. (Or for that matter, how he can drive it -- he says he doesn't "believe in 'no right turn on red' signs.")

This is no idle pursuit. Brian spends an almost frightening amount of time coming up with ways to foil tow truck operators.

"If you park your car," he says, "leave the wheels turned in such a way that if the two truck pulls it out, the car will turn and smash into something!" And woe betide the poor schlub who does succeed in towing his car. There is a scrape on one of the doors left when his mother ran into a snow bank. "If my vehicle is ever towed," he says, "I'll have something to hold up against the towing company for damaging the car!"

I wonder if perhaps this kind of fanaticism runs in the family. Brian says that his uncle removes the starter from his engine whenever he parks it. And although he boasts that this technique once foiled a thief, you have to admit that there's something a little, uh, weird about taking a wrench to the engine every time you pull into a parking lot.

On top of everything else, Brian's car has a name. Baby. "I think of my car as feminine," he says. And by anyone's estimation, "Baby" leads a pretty sheltered life. Her oil gets changed religiously every 3000 miles, and her fluids are checked on a biweekly basis. She gets a wax job every time she heads for Syracuse. And Brian refuses to move the car, turn on the defroster, the radio, or any other accessory until the car has been running for at least 45 seconds. ("It puts strain on the engine.") And if Brian has to avoid hitting something or someone, Brian says he tries not to slam on the brakes. ("It would cause them to wear.")

Despite all this rationalization, you have to wonder if there is something else to this whole car obsession. For most people, a car is simply a device that gets them from point A to point B. Brian's car seems to fall into the category of loved one.

"Have you ever considered," I ask him, "that you might be using your car as a surrogate for a woman?"

"Shut up," he says. "I'll tell you when I have a girlfriend."