Tag Archives: Shopping

With Chair-ity Towards All

3 Apr

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The other day my wife Diane said that her back was hurting, but she felt better when she sat in the car.  That’s probably because the driver’s seat is the best, and most expensive, chair we own. It certainly is the only chair we have that can be adjusted  eight different ways.

One of the few things I remember seeing in Washington D.C. was the exhibit featuring Archie Bunker’s favorite chair, from the   1970’s  television series, All in the Family. In 1978, Norman Lear, the show’s creator,   donated Archie and Edith’s chairs to the Smithsonian Museum of American History, when he thought the series was being cancelled. To his surprise it was renewed for another season and he paid thousands of dollars to make exact replicas of the  chairs that originally cost only about $8.00 each. The notion of a family member being territorial about a shabby,  but treasured,  chair, is something familiar, that surfaced again on Fraizer.

I  personally can understand Archie’s reverence for his favorite chair.  When Diane and I  started dating in the 1970’s,  we were both  just out of school,  poor,  and worked for  not-for-profits My apartment was sparsely furnished with second-hand furniture from my parent’s attic and Diane had also accumulated whatever furniture she could.  I remember complaining  to her  that whenever I visited,  she didn’t have a decent chair to sit in.  It’s hard to look very cool sitting in a bean bag chair.  I kept falling over.

Besides comfort, chairs are also symbolic of social status. Having a “chair at the table” has come to mean that you belong to a group and have co-equal status. A few years ago when we asked our daughter what birthday present our youngest granddaughter, Rosie,  would like for  her second birthday, our daughter said that Rosie really wanted her own chair. Rosie couldn’t wait to escape from her accursed “high chair” , a symbol of babyhood, and take her rightful place at the table with her siblings, as a peer,  rather than a second class citizen.

Of course,  where you’re seated  and the nature of your chair also says something about your status.  People seated at the head of the table  generally have the most  power. It is said that Merlin created King Arthur’s Round Table to avoid quarrels among the knights as to who had the highest status, although they still probably squabbled over who got to sit closest to the King.

Chairs took on a political dimension last  year   at the Republican National Convention,  when  Clint Eastwood delivered his monologue to an empty chair, intended to represent President Obama. Obama’s reelection team countered by tweeting out a photo of the president sitting in his Cabinet Room chair, and saying “this seat’s taken.”   These theatrics may not have made much difference in the election , but addressing an empty chair is a time-honored technique  in Gestalt psychotherapy (another 70’s phenomena). It was used to help patients resolve “unfinished business” with  others,  or even among different  aspects of themselves.

Writing in the on-line Magazine Jacobin,     design student Colin McSwiggen says that sometime  in the Stone Age between 6,000 and  12,000 years ago,  people of high-status  began sitting on  raised platforms containing  some sort of  backrest. He says,  “This was an effective way to signify  elevated status among people who otherwise sat on the ground.”  Throughout history the elevation,  size, composition, and expense of a seating device has conferred status.   Even today many companies have strict policies on who can order different kinds of office chairs.  Some only allow high backed  “executive chairs” for employees  above a certain rank in the hierarchy. On Star Trek, it’s obvious that the captain has the only decent chair  and view of the wide-screen TV.

Having a designated seat is also related to status, like having a personal  parking place.  Arthur’s Round Table had one special seat with a chair that was marked “Siege Perilous”, which means “the dangerous or perilous seat”.  Only the singular knight who was destined to find the Holy Grail could sit there safely. If was fatal for anyone to try.

I was once helping out at an outdoor festival and brought my own comfortable wooden folding chair to sit in because I didn’t care for the small metal chairs provided. Every time I got up to do something and came back, the same guy was sitting in my chair. I sure could have used some of that  Siege Perilous stuff.

According to  environmental psychologist Sally Augustine,  when people sit in a recliner  and  stretch out they generally  feel more powerful, confident, and have a higher tolerance for risk taking. They also get less angry when provoked by others.  Sitting in a confined or restricted posture, however has the opposite effect. Maybe this is the source for the sit-com folk wisdom that suggests it is best to confront mom or dad with bad news at the end of the day when they are relaxing in their recliner,   preferably with a potent cocktail in hand.

According to the health  quiz in Parade Magazine, that Diane  gave me last Sunday, these days chairs are actually considered to be even more dangerous to your health than cigarettes.  Research by The American Cancer Society  shows  that sitting is a significant risk factor predicting how long you’ll live. One recent  study found  sitting more than six hours a day increased female mortality  by 37% and male mortality by 17%.  Prolonged sitting also exacerbates back pain, which  afflicts 80% of adults, as well as  neck pain,  balance,  and flexibility.

Writing in the on-line Magazine,  Jacobin McSwiggen says, “No designer has ever made a good chair, because it is impossible. Some are better than others, but all are bad.” He says they are not only a health hazards that we are addict to,   but they  are also  “inextricably tied…  to our culture of status-obsessed individualism”.   .

 McSwiggen says that uncomfortable chairs can create pressure that leads to soreness, poor posture, restricted circulation, impeded respiration, and intestinal dysfunction. Even comfortable chairs encourage long durations of static positions,  which  in turn stress   the spine, weaken  muscles, and cause circulatory problems.

The science of ergonomics unfortunately has  shown little consensus regarding the best chair design, although  some progress has been made  with  Scandinavian innovations such as  ball chairs, kneeling chairs, and chairs that encourage sitting in different positions.  Even most of these, however,  are not compatible with current workspace designs  or acceptable in business settings due to appearance.

Some experts suggest  abandoning the chair altogether.  In the 1980’s   Jerome Congleton, from Texas A&M,  created  a standing desk and among  the newer products being marketed  are  standing work stations.    There is a famous photograph of President John F. Kennedy looking out of the south window of the oval office.  He was standing over a table reading newspapers. Due to his wartime back injury, President Kennedy couldn’t  sit in a chair  for more than a short time  without   walking  around.   He would often work and read standing up,  leaning over his desk. This may be the new work  model for many people– working while standing and/or  taking frequent breaks for walks.

               I’ve thought about trying one of the exercise ball chairs at work.  I hear, however,   that they are supposed to get sticky in warm weather.  I’m also afraid of accidently falling off and dribbling down the stairs.   

Based on a column that orginally appeared in the Southern Indiana News-tribune

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The Cat Food Standard

10 Dec

 

 

I’m in hot water because we ran out of cat food, again.  I didn’t forget to buy it.  My wife is mad at me because I have this aversion to stocking up on consumables like cat food,  dog food, applesauce,  ketchup, and other condiments. And rather than admit to my neurosis I become defensive. Whenever she says, “Do we need more cat food?” I automatically say no– Just how much cat food do you really  need? Suppose poor Felix, bless his heart,  gets flattened by a truck; there we’d  be with $500 worth of  superfluous Puss-in-Boots on hand. Furthermore  it  would be emotionally devastating to dispose of it,  even if I could find a buyer.  Now if you only have a few cans it’s not a problem to toss them into the donation container at the store.  
 When I was a younger my stepfather would buy cases of dented cans from  this shady surplus store. This stuff was left over from old train wrecks and truck hi-jackings and usually was about a decade old. For years we had cases of  canned pepper steak, chicken chow mein, and tamales crammed in our basement. The rancid stuff didn’t have labels and I was scared to eat it. I developed nightmares about moldy  cans of decaying food crawling up through the floorboards. Hence more of my negative associations with stocking up behavior.
 Another rationalization is that I don’t want to tie up all my readily available cash in  pet food and groceries.  That stuff just isn’t all that liquid. What if a kid says, “Dad I need  lunch money.” and all my cash is invested in a case of Fancy Feast, sitting in the pantry. What you do, throw him a  surplus can and say,  “Here kid, trade this for  a lunch ticket ?” 
 Perhaps instead of the gold or silver standard our economy should switch to the cat food standard. I would feel  much more secure but vending machines would need very large slots.
 This habit partially stems from my single days when I was always broke and spent most of  my spare time  grocery shopping. I literally shopped on a  daily basis. Each night on the way home I stopped at the store and bought tiny quantities of food, barely enough for one meal.  Soft drinks were the only foodstuff I bought in any quantity.
 I imitated the highly efficient Japanese “just-in-time” production method, in which manufacturing companies  have component parts delivered directly to the  assembly line on the plant floor at the precise time they are needed. Their cash earns interest  longer and they save a lot of money in storage space.  The analogy breaks down because I guess, unless you eat in weird places, you usually can’t buy food just as it enters your mouth.
 Using the same logic, I’d seldom  filled up my car’s gas tank. If  I filled up the tank I usually didn’t have enough money left to go anywhere.  People have finally convinced me that buying in bulk is cheaper and that  small portions  are much more expensive. Evidently what’s good for Toyota ain’t necessarily good for most of us. I’ve gotten  better, but those traumatic years occasionally intrude and overpower me.
 I’ve always admired how my friend Tony stocked extras three deep in his pantry. Over at his house, when you’d run out of mayonnase,  magically there would be new jar migrating to the front row, just like a shark’s tooth. For generally  being an idiot  he managed his dry-goods really well.

From an article in the New Humor Magazine

Banishing Black Friday

22 Nov

 

The   day after Thanksgiving  also known as Black Friday, has traditionally served as the start of the holiday shopping season since the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began in 1924. So it’s time to snap out of your turkey-atropine induced stupor and head for Wal-Mart, the mall, or at least fire up the laptop. The term, “Black Friday” can be traced back to the 1960s, when policemen and bus drivers in Philadelphia used it to refer to the terrible traffic jams cause by the rush of holiday shoppers.

The phrase also harkens back to 1929 when “Black Tuesday” was the day the stock market crashed, ushering in the Great Depression, which is maybe a little too close to home this year. “Black Friday” also suits the day because many businesses depend so heavily on holiday shopping to make their year profitable and being profitable is referred to as being “in the black”. Black ink was traditionally used in bookkeeping ledgers to record gains while red ink was used to record losses. Black Friday is often thought to be the busiest shopping day of the year, but this is not always true. While it has been among the top 10 shopping days for the past 20 years, it has risen to first place only a couple of times. Days towards the middle of December usually rank higher. When I was growing up in St. Louis, I remember a well-known local radio DJ getting in serious trouble for saying that this is the day when the merchants downtown dance around their cash registers, singing What a friend have in Jesus.

In 2005 the National Retail Federation coined the term “Cyber Monday” for the Monday following Black Friday, to mark the beginning of the on-line shopping season. Like Secretaries’, Bosses’, and Emergency Medical Technician’s Day, Cyber Monday is essentially a marketing ploy, intended to whip us up into a buying frenzy, as if we needed one. Even so, Cyber Monday is not the busiest on-line shopping day of the year. This also takes place later in the season, when we start to feel really desperate. With greater broadband availability, many people start their on-line shopping Thanksgiving Day itself or earlier. For some, on-line shopping has taken the place of the traditional Thanksgiving walk, nap, football watching, or family argument. Many on-line retailers have responded by offering their sales a day earlier. For the past few years DealTaker.com has created a special Black Friday website (www.dealtaker.com/blackfriday.html). You can find out what promotions are taking place in stores, as well as get access to items that are available online, at the same or better price. There are lists of the hottest toys, electronics, household items, and latest fashions. as well as exclusive coupons. You can even compare bargain hunting strategies on one of the discussion forums. So what is the outlook for today? According to Deloitte’s annual survey, more than half of all consumers plan to reduce holiday spending this year and the average reduction is about 14%. People blame higher food and energy costs and job uncertainty for the cutbacks.

About one in ten say they are still paying off last year’s holiday debt. People plan to cut in the areas of home improvement, household furnishings, clothing, charitable donations, and entertainment. Spending on gifts showed the smallest planned decrease (only 6.5%). Shoppers plan to spend an average of $532 on gifts this holiday season and buy around 21 gifts (down about 2 gifts from last year). This year’s shopping strategies include buying lower-priced goods and sale items, consolidating shopping trips and using coupons whenever possible. And the top gift this year? – same as the last five years– the gift card. Retailers love these things. Last year the Tower Group consulting firm estimated that unredeemed gift cards totaled nearly $8 billion annually, about 10 percent of all purchased. It is like tithing to VISA. Over a quarter of us have had at least one gift card expire before we could use it. Although I’ve personally given a lot of these cards, I’m still not sure I understand it. Sure it’s easy, especially since you can get almost anything at the checkout counter of the grocery store. Most of us were taught, however, that giving cash was lazy and impersonal, but somehow retailers have convinced us that if we convert our cash into a plastic card decorated with a holiday theme, then its okay to give it as a gift. We can pretend it is really a dinner, shower curtain, or maybe a book. Shoppers are somewhat concerned that stores might go out of business before the gift cards can be used. I should mention that the phrase “Black Friday” achieved special recognition a few year ago. Along with words such as “perfect storm”, “webinar”, “water boarding”, and “surge”, “Black Friday” has made it onto Lake Superior State University’s 2008 list of banished words. For the past 33 years language experts at this school have complied a tongue-in-cheek list of words, that they say should be “banished from the Queen’s English for misuse, overuse, and general uselessness”. Also making the list this year are “organic”, “wordsmith”, “give back”, “Blank is the new blank.”, “sweet”, “decimate”, “pop”, “throw under the bus”, and “It is what it is.” I would say the list is awesome, but they banned that word in 1984. “Black Friday” probably made the list because it reflects our country’s current obsession with the economy. Also many pretentious columnists run this phrase, into the ground thinking it makes them sound more knowledgeable and cool.

All this reminds when I was in high school and our freshman English teacher told us that there were two words that never should be used– one word was “nice” and the other was “swell”. So, of course, someone immediately asked, her, “So like, what are the two words?”