Remember When You Didn’t Have to Sanitize Your Cheerios?

Hello everyone! Hope you are all staying as safe and as healthy as you can. I wanted to post a quick notice. For years I have been dreaming of moving to a self-hosted site, but I never made the move completely because did not want to lose my subscribers here. Well, I finally figured out how to do it. So, after this post, I am moving to my self-hosted site,, and, with your permission, your subscriptions are all coming with me. I hope that is all right. I’ll understand if you would prefer to unsubscribe.

If you subscribed via email, you will continue to receive email notifications of new posts as before. If you subscribed as a follower, then you will see new posts in the Reader only, and you will not receive email updates unless you subscribe using the subscription widget I have installed on my self-hosted site. But whether you subscribe via email, or are fine with the reader, or would rather not subscribe at all and just stop by once in a while to see if I’ve written anything worth your valuable time, we are always happy and thankful to see you. Mark

Sooooo….remember when you didn’t have to sanitize your Cheerios?

My wife and I had been planning the trip for weeks.  The night before the big day, we reviewed the procedure.  “While you are out, I’ll mark off the loading area on the floor with painter’s tape,” I said.  “This is where we put the groceries that have not been sanitized yet.”  

“Okay,” my wife said.  “But are you sure this is all necessary?”

“Yes,” I said. “I read an article about it. The experts say you need a marked-off contamination zone. They also said you could put the tape on the counter if you prefer.”

“No, that’s all right,” she said.  “The floor is fine.” 

“Are you sure you don’t want me to go instead?” I asked, reviewing the list again.

“Um, sure, you can go, if you want.  But do you know where to find everything in the store?  Like, do you know where to find the broccoli?”

“Broccoli’s back on the list?”  I started flipping through the pages. “I thought it was deleted from an earlier draft.”  I looked up, but she had already gone to bed.

In the morning, just after my wife left for the supermarket, the kids came downstairs demanding frozen pancakes.  I informed them that we ran out four days ago.  They demanded cereal.  Alas, I replied, no milk.  Bananas?  Oatmeal?  Bread?  All out, I reported.  

While they breakfasted on Triscuits and hummus, I put down blue painter’s tape in the shape of a trapezoid by the door and unlocked the Lysol spray from its bicycle chain by the sink.  I then opened the fireproof safe, moved aside the birth certificates and passports, and took out the roll of paper towels.  

I don’t know how long I was waiting.  Time had started to take on an elastic quality.  When at last we heard the garage door opening, the kids ran to the door, screaming about frozen pancakes.  With a swift, practiced move I handed each child a fully-charged iPad, and thereby neutralized the primary threat to grocery sanitization.  

As my wife brought in the bags, I went to work.  I sprayed each plastic container of perishables with Lysol, covering the entire surface as the experts had directed.  “You know that’s all the Lysol we have,” my wife said, and while she got more bags from the car, I got down on the floor to sop up the precious drops that had fallen.

The next step was to open each box of cereal, and dump out the sealed plastic bag directly into a mixing bowl.  As I attempted this method, a corner of the cardboard flap graced the edge of the bag as it fell into the bowl.  Now both bag and bowl were contaminated.  I put the box down on the counter while I got the Lysol spray, when I remembered that the box was still contaminated, and now I would have to sanitize both the box and the counter.  Did we have enough Lysol for that?

But just then there were some eggs that needed taking.  I took the eggs and paused. Was I supposed to wipe down the carton?  Or wash each egg with soap?  I searched on YouTube for that video where the epidemiologist showed you how to sanitize groceries, but it was so hard to type with one hand, especially after I saw my wife holding out a produce bag with broccoli inside.

I grabbed the colander – I had memorized its location the night before – and held it under the bag as she dumped out the broccoli.  Just then, a news alert from my phone distracted me, and I let the colander drift a few inches to the side.  The broccoli landed on the floor, right inside the taped-off contamination zone.  I read the breaking news on my phone, while my wife questioned my commitment to vegetables.

“It’s all right,” I said.  “The experts now say that we don’t have to sanitize our groceries at all.”


Filed under coronavirus

Remember When This Avengers Movie Wasn’t Everywhere?

It was another slow day at the Little Puppet Theater.  The theater director, ringed by hanging puppets waiting to be used, hung up the phone.

“Dang!” he said.  “Another cancellation.  Big party too – fourteen cats from the cat shelter, with staff.  The cats wanted to see the new Avengers movie. What is it with this Avengers movie?  Everywhere I go, it’s Avengers this, Avengers that. Did you know it is 3 hours long? Did you know that Thanos destroys half the universe?  Uh oh! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!” The director waived his hands in the air.

The set designer looked up from his phone.  “Did you say something, sir?”

“What is it with this Avengers movie?”

“Well,” said the set designer, taking a deep breath, “the Avengers: Endgame is the culmination in the epic series of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, abbreviated MCU if you really want to sound cool, to rival the last epic series, called…oh I don’t remember what is was called.”

“Aha!” said the director, clapping his hands together.  “So that’s the secret! You need a series.” He rubbed his hands together.  “Well this gives me an idea!”

The first installment of the Little Puppet Theater Theatrical Universe (LPTTU) was “Pinocchio: The Beginning.”  A toymaker makes international sales of wooden puppets to belligerent regimes. While making a pitch one day, the toymaker is captured by partisans, but escapes by turning a pile of firewood into a large wooden puppet body suit and then doing a dance – “I got no strings…to hold me down” – kicking up his legs and twisting his head around – thereby distracting the kidnappers and making a clean getaway.

The performance had a decent run.  There were a few classes of school age children, and a bus from the nearby home for people who refuse to use touchscreens.  Reviews were mostly positive. The role of Pinocchio was praised for its energy, but a few critics found it lacked depth.

The next show – “Howdy Doody” – premiered a few weeks after that.  In this show, Howdy Doody – a puppet introduced in a small role in Pinocchio: The Beginning – is a scientist working for NASA when he discovers a wormhole to a planet 2,000,000 light years away.  On the planet, Howdy Doody finds a neckerchief that, when taken back to Earth, magically turns its wearer into a huge tv star even though the wearer is an extremely creepy-looking marionette.

“Howdy Doody” was both a commercial success and a leap forward for the franchise.  Critics praised the “growth in maturity” that the theater had shown in the sequel of what could only promise to be a series for the ages, something that would one day come in a box set wrapped in shiny cellophane and bearing a gold sticker proclaiming that there was contained therein additional material not in the original run.

For the third installment of the Little Puppet Theater Theatrical Universe, they decided that Kermit the Frog was going to hatch a diabolical plot to destroy the world, assisted by (and some would say, driven by) his partner in crime, Madam Piggy.  The play was produced in the greatest of secrecy, with a few well-placed rumors

circulating, such as the final battle with Pinocchio and Howdy Doody. The marketing started a year in advance. Fast food restaurants sold plastic figurines of the puppets with kids meals.  The puppets appeared on morning talk shows. Large companies ran tv commercials using cheap references to the LPTTU.

By the opening night of “Kermit and Piggy: Apocalypse” the media was saturated with coverage.  This promised to be the biggest opening weekend ever for a puppet show.

“You did it, sir!” the set designer said.  

“No,” said the director.  “We did it.  They said that puppets shows were dead.  We showed them!” It was a proud moment for the theater, and would have been prouder still, but the Estate of Jim Henson sued for copyright infringement, and the Little Puppet Theater Theatrical Universe met an ending that can only be described as epic.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Remember When People Kept Grain in Grain Silos?

Franklin “Frank” Ferple III, president of the Ferple Happy Homes Development Company, was sitting in his large oak-paneled office, behind his large oak desk, underneath a large oil painting of his grandfather, Franklin Ferple I. He had been trying for the last half hour to untangle his ear buds, and was finally starting to make some progress.

There was a knock at the door.

The door opened slowly, and in walked Richards, a senior associate in the sales department. “Mr. Ferple,”” he said, “I am terribly sorry to interrupt you. But there has been a development that I think you should know about.”

“Was there a break in those new water pipes we’ve been using? I knew I should’ve done more research before buying anything made of beeswax.”

“That’s not it, sir. It’s these grain silo homes. Instead of buying regular houses, people are buying these grain silos and converting them into homes.”

“Grain silos?”

“Yes, sir. Grain silos. It is the latest trend. Just google it and you’ll see.”

“But I don’t understand. Why a grain silo? Where do they put all the grain? They must keep in their homes in case they need to bake bread.”

“Yes, sir, that must be it.”

“Okay, so people live in houses made of grain silos. What does that have to do with our core business of houses made of houses?”

“Sir, our sales have already been in decline for years. With this competition from grain silo homes, we’ll be totally out of business before long.”

Frank leaned back in his chair, put his fists together, raised his two index fingers to form a steeple, and then pressed the little hand-made structure to his mouth, and said, “Hmmmm.”” He said it a few times while the associate stood there, not speaking, wondering if this was not the best time to request a sabbatical.

At last Frank said, “”Aha! I’ve got it. We will fight fire with fire. If they are going to convert grain silos into homes, then we will beat them to it.”

“But how, sir? It’s going to be very difficult to break into the grain silo market now.””

“Then we will have to convert something else, something better than a grain silo.”

“But Mr. Ferple, what could be better than a grain silo?”

Frank stood up from his executive chair, and went over to the window overlooking Main Street. In his mind he saw not the pawn shops and vacant store fronts, the drug dealers and the destitute offering to untangle ear buds for cash, but rather the bustling downtown of his youth, the healthy crowds of well dressed people, out to spend money at vibrant shops stocked with the latest in home appliances, clothing, and entertainment. At least what was considered “latest” back then, he thought grimly. He thought of his most cherished memory at his favorite store, and then spoke with the deep authority of a company president.

“Richards, have you ever heard of Blockbuster Video?”

“Um, it sounds familiar, sir. Is it a streaming channel that you can get on a Fire Stick or Roku?”

“No, Richards. Blockbuster Video was a place. An actual place where you could rent videotapes of your favorite movies. At one time the Blockbuster Video was as ubiquitous as traffic lights and telephone poles. There was not a downtown in America without those gold block letters against a field of truest blue. And I’ve recently heard that the last one has shut its doors forever, and no one has stepped in to replace them.”

He turned to face his young associate.

“But Richards, we are going to make those Blockbuster Video locations into homes.”

So the Ferple Happy Homes Development Company began buying abandoned Blockbuster Video locations, and converting them into homes. It was a challenge installing kitchen and bathroom fixtures when shelves of videocassettes covered the walls. But the key to the popularity of these homes was the sign out front. Frank was adamant, against the advice of his lawyers, to keep the Blockbuster Video sign exactly the same. And for once the president’s instinct was correct, for it quickly became the apex of cool, the very embodiment of trendy, to live in a house made out of a converted Blockbuster Video.

In fact, the trend was so popular that Happy Homes expanded into other types of conversions. Soon they had people purchasing homes that were once locations of Borders, Toys R Us, and even Sears. The Sears conversions were especially lucrative because these were made into apartment buildings. Each apartment occupied a different Sears department, so they became known as department buildings. And instead of saying you live in Apartment 3C, you lived in “Housewares” or “Men’s Clothing.”

“You did it, sir!” said Richards after the quarterly stockholder conference call was over. “Our profits are through the roof. The Ferple Happy Homes Development Company is back!”

“I knew we would do it,” Frank said. “You can get us down, but never out. What’s wrong? You look worried all of a sudden.”

“Sir, there is still a lot of unsold inventory of regular houses. No one wants to live in a house that was originally a house anymore. They just want to convert something into a house. What will we do with the regular houses we built. Who is going to live in them?”

Frank smiled and said, “I’ve already thought of this.” And he held up a video tape. Richards peered at the object and furrowed his brow and tried in vain to name it. Frank laughed. “It’s a video tape. We’ve got thousands of them now. And we’re going to put them in the houses we’ve built, and sell them to people out of the houses.”

“Sell them? But, Mr. Ferple, how will people watch the videos? Don’t they need a V-C-Whats it?”

Frank shook his head and smiled again. “Watch them? Richards, haven’t you learned anything?”

Leave a comment

Filed under Home

Remember When You Weren’t Asked to Rate Every Experience?

Last week I bought a hamburger and fries from a restaurant using its online ordering system. This way I could pick the food up directly at the register without having to stand in line and be around other people. As soon as I was back in my car with an old CD case absorbing the grease from the bag, I received an email asking me to rate my experience in ordering and picking up the food. I was driving so I could not respond until I was stopped at a light, which is both illegal and unsafe in my jurisdiction, but these are the risks you have to take if you want to respond quickly to automated emails.

Then I got home and ate the hamburger and fries, wishing I had taken the ketchup out of the fridge earlier so that it was not so cold. When I was done and trying to digest the meal while watching an award-winning documentary about spoons, I received an email from the same burger joint asking me to rate my eating experience. Yes, the email used the words “eating experience.” The link brought me to a survey that asked me rate a number of attributes about the meal on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 labeled “Great” and 10 labeled “Really Great.”

The questions were expected ones like “Was your meal tasty?” and “Was your meat cooked to your exact specifications?” But there were also questions like “How quickly did the smell of the meal dissipate from your vehicle?” and “Did you experience any bloating?”

I answered the questions as quickly as I could, and when I was done, hoped that this was the end of all the rating surveys I would have to complete based on this one hamburger and one fries that I purchased. But the following morning I received another automated email from the restaurant. “Your survey response indicates that you experienced some bloating after your meal with us. Would you have a few minutes to rate your experience so that we can better serve you in the future?”

And below that were another ten questions about my experience getting sick after eating the hamburger and fries. I won’t get into the details, but the questions were extremely invasive and brought up topics that I did not even know existed. What the heck is “good” bacteria?

I completed the survey, cancelled my weekly juggling lesson, and sat on the couch to wait for the next survey. I did not have to wait long. Within ten minutes there was indeed another email in my inbox requesting that I complete a survey about my experience filling out surveys. I thought I was seeing things but in fact they really were asking me to rate my experience in rating experiences related to my purchase of a hamburger and fries.

I took a deep breath and read the first question. “Did you find our rating surveys easy to complete?” It contained so many contradictions that I was unable to craft an appropriate selection of integer between one and ten, and could only stare at the screen and think about what I wanted for dinner.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Remember When Live Entertainment Was the Only Entertainment?

Our 55 inch television (which is really 54.6 inches, but under the Supreme Court’s 1983 decision in Accuracy v. Simplicity, the decimal point gets rounded up) was getting a little long in the tooth. The faceless demon hounds from the upside-down universe in Stranger Things were not looking as threatening as they should, and what should have been high-definition sound was so delayed and garbled that singing along with the opening credits to My Little Pony was impossible.

So at the next regular meeting of the Committee on Unnecessary Purchases, our application to buy a new television set was approved, 8-7, and we were officially in the market for a new entertainment center.  A 70 inch screen would significantly improve the image, an 80 inch screen would qualify us to vote in local elections, and 90 inches was the neighborhood average.  But we did not want just be your average nobody with a 90 inch television.  We wanted something special.

After taking the recommended course “A New TV: Your Ticket To Real Life” we decided on the Globe 9000, boasting unparalleled definition and a diagonal of 118 inches.  Just a quick insertion of a credit card and deletion of a wall in our living room, and the largest viewing frame for miles around was as good as ours.

When the construction crew handed me the remote control and I pushed power, instead of a screen lighting up, there was a curtain that parted and revealed four people inside the TV – two men, and two women.

“My good sir,” said one of the men with an exaggerated bow, “thank you for choosing the Globe 9000.”  He spoke with a deep, crisp voice, was dressed like Pinocchio, and appeared to be the leader of the troupe.  “And what shall be your choice of entertainment tonight?”

“Um, how about Game of Thrones?” I asked.

“Very good, sir,” he said, and all four of them took their places on the 118 inch stage. One of the women put on a crown and turned to the leader and said, “When you play the Game of Thrones, you either win, or die,” and then she brandished a sword and stabbed him. But she didn’t really stab him. Rather, she stuck the sword in between the leader’s arm and torso, so it just looked like she was stabbing him. The leader then said, “Ah!  I am slain!” and fell to the floor while the other two actors, who were supposed to be courtiers or stable sweepers or something, watched in shock, hands to their mouths.

After a few seconds of twitching on the floor inside the TV, the leader got up and all four of them got into a line and bowed in unison.  They stayed in the bowed position, and then the leader raised his eyes at me, like he was expecting me to do something and was annoyed that I was not doing it.  I started to applaud slightly and the leader smiled and the four completed their bow and then raised their arms together in triumph and the curtain closed.

I pushed the power button again.  The curtain parted just enough for the leader’s head to poke out.

“I’m sorry, sir,” he said, “but you shall have to try tomorrow, after the players have had a chance to rest.”

“So I can watch just one show a day?” I asked.

“Sir,” the leader said, as if explaining to a child why you can’t have ice cream for breakfast, “great performances require great preparation.”  He then withdrew his head and closed the curtain.  Not half a second later he poked his head out again.  “Also, it would greatly help if, when you wanted to enjoy a performance, you announced it by saying, ‘Oh Great Globe 9000, I would like to watch’ and then say the show you wish to watch.”

The next day I turned on the Globe 9000.  Nothing happened.  Then I remembered and said, “Oh Great Globe 9000, I would like to watch, um, Fixer Upper.”

The curtain parted and the actors were pretending to fix a house. The leader was hammering nails into an invisible wall.  The blonde haired murderess from yesterday was now painting an invisible chair.  And the other two were pretending to carry a table, a rather heavy one with sharp corners from the looks of it.

Then the scene ended and the four of them joined hands in a line and took a bow, and then they gave me this look and I applauded.  Then they drew the curtain and that was all the TV for the day.

The next morning I called the store and said that I wanted to return the Globe 9000.  “I do not need a refund,” I said.  “I only want to exchange it for a regular 80 inch TV, even a 70 inch.  I’m not picky.  Just please nothing with people living in it.”  The manager told me that I had to first file a petition demonstrating that I’d made a good faith attempt to bargain with the actors collectively.

I then tried to sell the Globe 9000 on eBay, but the sale was prohibited because the TV contained “humans, the human body, or any human body parts” in violation of the terms of service.  As a last resort, I sued the TV store, alleging false advertising.  But when it was revealed that I was not accommodating the actors’ dietary restrictions, I was subjected to a public shaming on Twitter until I withdrew the lawsuit.

Accepting my fate, I clicked the power button, and said, “Oh Great Globe 9000, I do not care what I watch.  Please show me anything except the Smurfs.”  The curtain opened and the leader stood by himself and pretended to hold a remote control and click it at the other three actors, who would pretend to do one thing, then another, then another, switching to a new pretend scene at every click.  I guess there is something special about having the only TV in the neighborhood that makes fun of its owner.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Remember Retail Stores?

It was my first year as president of a major electronics retailer facing a serious financial crisis.

Photo by DMedina at

“Decker, get in here,” I called to the closest analyst who wasn’t watching videos on a smartphone.

“Yes, sir.”

“We have a problem. It’s the future. Our cars are driven by computers. Our coastal cities have all been swallowed by rising sea levels. Tom Brady has finally retired from football and returned to his home planet.”

“Yes, I heard that, sir.  Drew Bledsoe has been practicing his throw.”

“But there are no more retail stores. Look at this map” – I motioned to a large map behind me – “this was once the extent of our retail empire, and now – Decker, are you paying attention?”

“Yes, of course, sir.”

“Each blue pin point was one of our retail stores. Look at how many blue points there are! Ten years ago, you couldn’t drive 50 miles in any direction without passing one of our convenient locations. Now…nothing.  All our stores have closed.”

“I know, sir.  Everyone’s got that new Amazon Think installed in their brains.  They just close their eyes, think of what they want, choose two-day or standard shipping, and…poof, a drone drops the product right on their doorstep.”

“Ok, Decker, I get the picture,” I said. “You don’t have to act it out for me.”

“I wasn’t acting, sir. I need more Raisin Bran. It should arrive by Wednesday.”

I rubbed my face.  “We need to think of a way to get people back in our stores.”

“But, sir, customers stopped shopping at retail stores years ago.  There’s the limited selection, higher prices, long lines. And don’t even get me started on returns. Customers just aren’t willing to go through that kind of hassle for a product.”

“Well,” I said, “if they won’t endure the hassle of retail for the product, then the hassle of retail will be the product!”

The opening of the world’s very first “Hassle’s” was met with little fanfare. So many retail stores had disappeared that most people figured it was another nail salon, or maybe one of those high-end pastry shops that specializes in stale biscuits with a dollop of whipped cream, except calls them “langue du chat” and then charges $7 for each one.

The people who wandered in, however, were surprised to the shelves filled with televisions and computer monitors, and adapters and cables, and infrared trackballs and cell phones and portable a/c units that you placed inside your pillow to keep it cool on hot summer nights.

“This isn’t even the latest model!”

“They don’t have the size I want!”

“And look at the price! At least $20 more than it would cost online!”
And when they took the products to the checkout, they had to wait on a long line of other customers.

“Wow, this line is really long.”

“Yeah, I can’t believe how slow it is going.  Why do they just have one register going?”

“What they are talking about at the checkout? How complicated can it be to pay for something and print a receipt?”

And then when they got home they tried out their item and found that something was wrong.

“There’s a purple line through the middle of the display!”
“Once you turn the volume up, you can’t turn it down!”

“The TV shows nothing episodes of My Little Pony!”

But when they called our customer service number to find out how they could return the product for a refund or a replacement, and successfully passed the seven levels of automated menus so that we could “better serve” our customers, they were told – by a recording of my own voice – that they had to bring it back to the store they bought it from.

And then when they arrived at Hassle’s with their defective product, there was of course a long line of other disgruntled customers, a line even longer than the line they had to wait on to buy the item, in front of the “Returns” desk.

And after they spent more of their precious time standing on the Returns line while holding a heavy piece of electronics, and finally reached the Returns desk, they were told that they would have to pay to ship the item back to the manufacturer, and if the defect was something covered by the warranty, then it would be fixed and the item shipped back to the them, again at their expense.

“And how long does the repair take, sir?” asked Decker some months after Hassle’s had first opened.

“Six to eight weeks is what we say.”

“Six to eight weeks! But…but the History Channel says that the only advantage of buying the item in the store was so that you could have it that very day.”

I laughed. “Yes, we say that in our Super Bowl ad, too. But the real answer is…they buy it in the store so that they can have the experience of suffering with a group of complete strangers.”

Decker shook his head. “But how can that be, sir? Why would people voluntarily choose that path when they can have the same item, but cheaper, easier, and in working condition?”

“For the same reason that people shop in the first place,” I said. “With robots doing all the work, people have got to do something!”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Remember That Mysterious Space Object?

Remember that strange elongated object hurtling through our Solar System from another star? The object – named ’Oumuamua for easy reference – that was so strange and so elongated that scientists said that rather than an asteroid, it was probably a spaceship containing alien technology? One minute they were speculating on how the aliens’ smartphones would at compare to the iPhone X, and the next minute the object had vanished from everyone’s news feed, replaced by a Chinese space station that they are planning to have crash into Earth in case the Olympics are too boring.

What we did not hear about was the mission to explore this object. In fact, there were three camps of scientists that speculated on what the elongated asteroid spaceship might contain.
“It has to be bacteria,” said one group of scientists. “Bacteria is the only organism that can survive the harsh and unforgiving elements of space.”
“No,” said another group. “it has to be plants. Only plants could survive in a place where the only food was sunlight and ice.”
“No, no, and no again,” said a third group. “It must be cats. For only cats would have a coat and neck fluffy enough to survive the cold of outer space.”

It was agreed that there was merit to all three views. But Netflix increased its monthly subscription fee by a dollar, we could afford to send just one mission.

After a day of voting, Team Space Cats was way ahead. The mission to confirm the presence of space cats launched a week before Christmas.

But it turned out to be an asteroid ship full of cards. The cards had been sent because there was no room. The mission was a failure.

“There isn’t life at all. These aren’t space cats. It’s just a pile of birthday cards that someone couldn’t bear to throw out!”
Everyone on the mission shook their heads. And they read the cards. There was nothing else to do. And there, at the bottom of every card, instead of a signature, was a little paw print.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized