Archive for August, 2008

Shrieking Parental Units

August 31st, 2008

Seneca Falls is damned low-key. On Lower Lake Road beside the still and even boat-less Cayuga Lake on a Wednesday morning well before 11, I was very surprised to hear panicked yelling.

This was a warning to all parents, disguised as protection for specific children.

A family of four — a pair of teens representing each gender and a matching parental set — slowly biked south on the otherwise empty road with a 25MPH limit. The kids were perhaps 50 yard ahead of mom and dad.

Suddenly, the maternal unit transformed into Crazy Lady. She stood on her pedals and pumped like she was in a spin class. Simultaneously, she shrieked at highest volume, “Stop! Stop! Stop!”

The children slowed but did not look surprised. I suspect they are used to this volatile behavior. Then, in the few seconds it took to close the gap, mom continued to scream, perhaps so all on the little beach or on the park side of the road could marvel in her concern.

She announced at high volume and with great authority that this was winery country (five to 15 miles south and almost certainly well beyond the family’s creeping range), that the roads were full of drunks (the roads were full of no one, the likelihood of an inebriated taster at 10:30 a.m. was tiny indeed), and that they had to be careful (as though watching a drunken driver suddenly serve across the road to crush them was something they could control by attention).

I had to wonder whether my boys ever see me like that — a neurotic and irrational parent acting out at their expense. May all parents guide their children, but never, ever in ways that make their kids and the rest of the listening world think they are crazy ladies and crazy guys.

Bikes Before I Doze

August 22nd, 2008

I did go to the second Bike Friday that Boston hosted. I had to, to atone for missing my connection to the convoy from Roslindale Square at last month’s version.

The punchline is that they are fun and worth a couple of hours. These were well attended and well received. I’m sure there’ll be more of them in 2009.

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The routine is keen, involving:

  • Getting to a starting point in any of 13 towns at 7 a.m. (helmets necessary and everyone there will dutifully ask you to sign a if-I-die-it’s-my-fault waiver).
  • A couple of bike cops will head up the convoy, with support from a basket full of leaders.
  • A cop will race to any large intersection, holding traffic until the convoy passes.
  • At various junctures, subgroups of cyclists may join in.
  • Arrive at Boston’s City Hall Plaza.

You get to break some rules, riding two or three abreast and passing red lights chief among them. For those privileges, you ride at the speed of the slowest of the convoy, something like 10 to 13 miles per hour. That’s not as dreadful as it seems, as the company is nice and it’s like a chat as if you were spinning through the countryside to a picnic.

curtis.jpgFor we JP-ites, staging was Curtis Hall at the monument. It was a jolly bunch, and helpful. One cyclist showed up with very low tires and a fellow biker hopped up to fix that.

About 18 of us went north on Centre, meeting up with about a dozen Hyde Square types at Boylston and Huntington.  Then we took Huntington to Bynner, crossing the Jamaica Way, skirting the Muddy in the park, crossing that dreadful Rte. 9 median road cut (it was great to have a cop with his hand up there), and picking up the Emerald Necklace bike path to the old Sears. We headed down toward Boston Latin and took the left by the back of the MFA. We picked up the real Boylston and turned left on Hereford by the firehouse. Then it was Commonwealth to Arlington and left on Boylston.  We finished off with a left on Washington, through Downtown Crossing and left on State to City Hall.prepedal.jpg

It took the better part of an hour for a ride that easily could have taken half that, but it was no race.

ac.jpgThe lead cop in our group was A.C. He eagerly put his bike and body in front of cars and trucks to protect us. When we passed the intersection, he’d race ahead and do it again, and again. He appears to be a cop’s cop.

I did have to ask as we pedaled. He’s like a thoroughbred in that he carries weight. His belt with gun, cuffs, communications devices, baton and such weigh at least 25 pounds he says.

At the plaza, there were the same and different booths from the July version. WZLX played boomer oldies at high volume. City cycle czarina Nicole Freedman handed out water bottles with enticement flyers for the Hub on Wheels ride next month. Cycling shops were there to show wares, offer raffle chances, do light bike repairs and such.

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This time, I also met Marty Walsh, the geek of GeekHouseBikes. His handmade road, track and custom bikes are trés funky. Their garish colors and unusual geometries disguise fantastic design and materials. notgranny1.jpg

Someone must have justifiably carped over the Dunkin’-class noshes last time. The food tables had coffee and OJ as usual, plus orange and banana hunks and bagels and cream cheese. The South Beach folk wouldn’t be happy, but it was a big step up from the fat/sugar family.

There was swag too. Several tables offered their own water bottles. There were lanyards from Kryponite locks and such.

The real thing though was cameraderie. The sloppy shorts, Spandex, too tight jersey, and themed t-shirt folk were all cyclists, digging the increasingly bike-friendly mood. I recommend it.

Pens Down Here

August 22nd, 2008

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The next week or so will have few, if any, posts here.

Ciao Bella Luna: One of Several

August 21st, 2008

A good chef doesn’t need to be a porker, but it’s hard to trust or believe one who’s skinny either. I like my cooks to like their food.

The new executive chef at Jamaica Plain’s Bella Luna, Jacob Zachow, has a hand like a ham and a smile you can trust. Bloggers at Tuesday evening’s food fest there left with a renewed or new affection for the Hyde Square pizza/bowling/club joint.

The short of it includes:

  • He’s been there for two months
  • He’s revamped the menu, leaving favorites and adding his gems
  • They’re there for months until they move to the Brewery Complex under the …FENREFFER chimney to a single floor
  •  If you liked Bella Luna’s food, expect the same and better. If you haven’t been, what’s the matter with you?

Jacob is very approachable. I learned among other thing:

  • He grew up in Cooperstown, New York, a relative hick even by even by our third-tier sized city.
  • He moved a couple of blocks from his Hyde Square kitchen and really likes JP.
  • He had previously been at the Mohonk Mountain House, where rich people play golf and dance stiffly.
  • That was across the Hudson from the Culinary Institute (CIA) where friends became cookies (and drank in New Paltz, where he was). We were able to compare memories.
  • He loves being at Bella Luna and getting a chance to do his own thing instead of the predictable.
  • He’s not afraid to add spice (consider his skewered shrimp with a biting mint pesto).

The manager, Carol Downs, was also full of herself in a gracious and informative way. I wasn’t all that polite and asked bluntly whether the previous chef had left in a huff or gotten pushed out. She said that no, he had been there three years, a pretty good tenure for the top guy, and was ready to move.

She too lamented the loss of the basement bowling alley when they move. They’ll add some games and have space for bands on their one-floor (much larger one-floor) central space. She’s aiming for the same ambiance.

I estimated 50 to 60 bloggers by my grouping of 10 count. That’s pretty good and  and more than we got for our first WR/Rozzie/JP fest. In our defense though, you had to buy your own beer at ours. Sadly too for this week, St. Gaffin did not show. While I didn’t know many of the bloggers at Bella Luna, several I did know asked me if Adam was coming. He and Steve Garfield (who did attend) are our idea of peer celebrities.

I confess my family has gone there for many years. Lackaday, my uxorial unit was ill and did not attend, and was thus unprepared to compare perceptions. However, she’s pleased that they have long carried one of our hot-weather wine standards, Muscadet. They had little kids’ food when we had little kids and adult spiced entrées for us. There was bowling in the lower level, and we’d catch music when bands that included friends played. We may live at the other end of JP, but this is our neighborhood too.

Both the Globe and the Gazette covered the capitalist tragedy-ette of the mini-complex feeling forced out by what they describe as an 85% rent  hike.  While there is a dispute over whether the restaurant carried the landlord or the other way around, the short of it is that Bella Luna got bumped out over a huge rent increase, it cut a deal with the Brewery complex, and there’s an extension to let them prepare the space and old landlord to find new tenant(s).

I’m sure the pleasant flacks for Bella Luna don’t want to know the business that is not of their business’ business. However, the freebie evening brought up:

  • My slightly sordid past of swag and freeloading.
  • Public relations and those who do it.
  • My shameless willingness to continue that legacy long after my journalism is over.
  • My fascination with my real avocation, cooking and eating.
  • Chefs I have known and related cooking stories.

In fact, this was savvy PR at its best. Like Deval Patrick and Barack Obama showed, a little attention to bloggers and occasionally recognizing them as community journalists is cheap purchase  of coverage. We each have our followings and provide coverage and credibility you aren’t likely to find in MSM, for whatever that’s worth.

I’ll deal with each of those and reference related topics’ posts as they go up here or at Friendly With Food. Meanwhile, here and at Marry in Massachusetts, I’ll post lightly or not at all for a week or so.

For more focused coverage, you can see a few pix at Steve’s Flickr feed. Andrew and I had a nice chat and he was quick on reporting at Changing Way. There are several foody bloggers there sure to post too.

And More Update:  Over at Cave Cibum, Pam has a short post and there’s another pic from one of the We Are Not Martha women at Better Than Cupcakes.

When they do, food will likely be up early and late. A bevy of young women (one even featured red sequined ballet slippers) served the noshes Jacob prepared. There were a couple decent wines (red overly chilled though) and two trendy drinks, a mojito/cosmopolitian variant and a Martinique (vodka, Cointreau, mango nectar, rose water and lime juice).

There was a bit of buzz early from a couple of us who had heard that the rush would mean they catered the blogger offerings. Not so…Jacob was everywhere.

My respect for him swelled as I peered over the kitchen bar to see his flying fingers. There was the tender morsel of pork on a non-greasy sweet potato chip with a corn salsa. The executive chef personally whipped out an office-desk sized tray of them.

I am much into presentation and Jacob seems to be too. While my chums at the CIA dissed garde-manger, I have always respected both cold foods and artistic display of all food. Watching Jacob work, I shall expect pretty plates on every visit.

We has black-bean based sliders with a great cumin, hot-pepper zip. There were a few crowd pleasing mundanities, like fried mozzarella, but in the main, food was like Oscar Wilde described ideal lovers, chosen for their good looks. The sustenance was both pretty and palatable.

Alas, Poor Forest Hills

August 21st, 2008

No longer…

The Walk Hill Gate of the Forest Hills Cemetery has been open for the past two days. Considering that the office staff figured it would be a couple of weeks after the bronze thefts from a mausoleum and the sculpture collection before we could enter there, that’s good news.

What’s not good is that anyone would steal from a cemetery (kind of puts the ephemeral in perpetual care as it were). Moreover, that such nogoodniks would take part of tombs is horrific.

Local The Bulletin papers carried the story on today’s edition.  They verify that there’s a $2,000 reward for info leading to recovery of the pieces. We can hope that the publicity 1) would make the thieves rethink the risk and dump the pieces where the cops can find them, 2) that the notoriety inspires any fence or antiques dealer to turn the loot over and report the perps, or 3) that whatever vestige of morality the thief or thieves have kicks in, leading them to bring the spoils back to this gorgeous garden of the dead.

We abutters who use Forest Hills as our park, for our recreation, for our edification through their programs, and with an eye for it as our final resting/rotting places are aghast. Stealing from the dead! Stealing public art!

Yet, in keeping with the staff’s thought that the rising prices of bronze and brass prompted these thefts, USA Today ran a feature reporting just that.  They cite cases in Chicago, Maryland and Delaware — mausoleum gates, urns, ornaments and memorial plates, all gone.

Some thieves tuck these into bins of bronze or brass. Others try to pass them off as folk art instead of what they are. The trade association the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries urges its members to record all transactions with ID, refuse clearly stolen material, and work with the police.  One of the successes it cites is a Fort Wayne company whose efforts led to 161 arrests.

I miss the Garden’s Edge bunny and am sorely sorry that the unique (not from casting) Seated Ceres is gone.  May they be home to my neighborhood soon.

Phelps Chop

August 16th, 2008

Bowlers and golfers — top ones at least — learn early and indelibly to follow through. The long glide and whole-body continuation of action are essential.

That metaphor recurs in sports, becomes perceived wisdom, and turns into cliché. It insinuates itself in diplomacy, management and political coverage. We all must follow through. We all must glide to victory and turn spasms of competition into the last moment ease of the winner.

However, it is not always so. Michael Phelps’ tissue-paper thin 100-fly win in the Olympics yesterday was in equal parts extraordinary luck and his contrarian nature.  His impulse when fighting from behind was to force the ragged and awkward partial stroke as his last. In contrast, the loser by a single one-hundredth of a second, Serbian Milorad Cavic, went with the follow-through, the final glide propelled by his 50-plus second exertion.
touch1.jpg

The pic is heavily adapted from a Nick Laham shot. Phelps’ winning touch is on the right.

That made perfect sense. It was in this case perfectly the wrong decision.

I was a competitive swimmer in high school and college, a breaststroker. I was well below Olympic class and didn’t start until I was 15, but I learned a few things, including getting power from the glide. In breast, even more than fly, the start and turn underwater strokes often make the winner. Likewise, you learn to glide exactly long enough so you don’t fight your forward momentum when you start your next stroke.

I also learned to guess that last stroke. There’s a choice of:

  • completing the arm and leg combo, propelling to the wall on the glide
  • if the distance is pretty short, using a spasmodic arm-only stroke
  • it it’s a tiny bit farther, but not a stroke away, using the more powerful legs that can also create more drag

Swimmers put in hundreds of thousands to millions of strokes in practice and races. We learn how many it takes per 25-yard or 50-meter length. That works much better in practice than races though. When you come from behind or push to stay in front, you have that half-stroke or full-stroke differential.

In the 100-fly race, the minuscule Phelps victory the electronic timers showed brought an understandable protest. The tiny pic slices concurred and convinced even the Serbian swimmer and coach — Cavic, 50:59; Phelps, 50:58.

It would just as easily gone the other way. Phelps said that his chop-the-wall impulse on the last mini-stroke seemed to have cost him his race, his tie with Mark Spitz for seven golds in one Olympics, and his chance for eight. “I really thought that cost me the race, but it happened to be the direct opposite,” Phelps said. “If I would have glided, I would have ended up being way too long…Trying to just take sort of a short, fast stroke to try to get my hand on the wall first – it turned out to be in my favor.”

He’s so mellow that he wouldn’t have been destroyed if he had taken the wrong urge and lost by the same time sliver. This will give Cavic a lifetime of conversation starters and finishers.

Others, including me, could drag this sports metaphor up and down the hall until it’s ragged and torn. We know it doesn’t apply to non-speed-measured sports like golf or shotput. We can never accurately weigh how much luck or keen instinct served Phelps best here.

We do know that he’s smart enough to handle all the stimulus and data flooding him in those last few feet of the race. He was also gutsy enough to take that sudden risk that made the tiny, yet huge, difference. Sometimes slow and steady does win, sometimes it’s form and follow through, and others it’s hellbent plunge at what proves to be the exactly perfect moment.

Tomb Raiders Strike!

August 15th, 2008

Low life…what kind of low life steals from graves?

Over at my neighborhood sanctuary/park/treasure chest, someone or someones has stolen two sculptures, plus urns from a mausoleum. Horror movie threats and jokes aside, taking anything from a grave is immoral as well as illegal.

Wednesday, tooling back on my bike from a patio philosophy session at the downtown Boston Beer Works, I found something amiss. As an abutter to the Forest Hills Cemetery, I walk there, picnic there, and enjoy biking my last leg home in the garden that it is.

Doing so also is considerably safer than taking Hyde Park Avenue south and crossing three lanes of traffic for the left turn at Walk Hill, where the Doughboy no longer is. Besides, a cruise by Lake Hibiscus is ever so much more pleasant.

Alas though, I arrived at the inside of the Walk Hill gate to find it chained tightly and double locked.

In the evenings, it has long been locked. Like good parents leaving a door unlatched for their kids, FH locks a chain with enough play for the strollers and dog walkers (and bicyclists) to squeeze in and out and enjoy the cemetery as the park it has been since it opened as the nation’s second garden cemetery in 1848.

This week though, there was a forbidding sign. With no explanation or time cited, the gate is temporarily closed, all day.

Like a good little busybody, I went to the main gate and the office. Staff there looked at each other like they were in a sit-com. Yes, the gate was closed and would be for maybe several weeks. No, they wouldn’t say why.

Well, the why is disturbing. They have shut the barn door after the horses have left. Two urns from a grave site are gone, as are two sculptures  from their magnificent public art display.

Apparently their reasoning for the closure is that 1) the thief or thieves avoided the main exit and left through Walk Hill and 2) that they somehow would have noticed and stopped any such attempt at the main gate.

Seated Ceres statueI doubt both. Anyone brazen and lawless enough to steal from a tomb and take public art would not be deterred by an unguarded gate. Moreover, the pieces — two stone urns, the smallish Seated Ceres and smaller Garden’s Edge were fairly portable.

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I’d bet they’d all fit in my large trunk of my Volvo sedan.  I’m sure they would in a Crown Vic. The low lives probably didn’t even need a pickup or van. (Although looking at their image of Kahlil Gibran’s harvest goddess, maybe the base plate would have required a van.  The casting itself is only 28 inches tall. However, even with that, I doubt art thieves would have feared detection at the front.)

Another sculpture was a crowd favorite, the arrogant and indolent rabbit formally known as Garden’s Edge. Tim Cherry’s piece is 41×21-inches according to his site.

You’d suppose trying to fence two very distinctive and well-known public sculptures will end up tripping up the thieves. I hope so and I bet the cemetery (and likely its insurance company) are working that angle too…although they aren’t telling me.

I suppose they’re being discreet about this, perhaps befitting a cemetery. Even museums have tried to retrieve stolen art quietly, at least at first. I’m sure a portion of this is not wanting to suggest anything to folk who haven’t considered stealing from cemeteries.

We have four other big ones handy — St. Michael, the city-owned Mt. Hope and both old and new Calvary. There must be a special place in hell for those who would steal from them or Forest Hills.

Morning Update:  Just before I published this, the Globe arrived, carrying an article on the thefts. They have stored several other bronzes for safe keeping. They have also offered a $2,000 reward for info leading to the recovery of any of the sculpture. Also, another oh, no, is that near the front gate, they stole Carol Spack’s Bark Balls, which I love. The FH folk figure the thieves may sell the art for scrap value.

Second Update:  The Globe may have mangled some details. Word from FH is that the bark balls are in storage to prevent them from being stolen.

Third Update: Oh, recurring sadness. A more definitive report is that the thieves visited at least two days in a row. They took all listed, including the bark balls. Unfortunately, that part of the newspaper piece is true.

The unwelcome gate at Walk Hill, now tightly padlocked unwelcome.jpg
notgoddess.jpg The block where Seated Ceres formerly rested. The four holes are clean and wresting it out must not been too much of a challenge.
The Hanley mausoleum until recently had a pair of large bronze urns on each side of the steps. There is a pre-theft (a bit dark) image of the front with the urns at Mr. Ducke’s photo feed here. unurned.jpg
pried.jpg The urns apparently were pried off from their metal retainers.
No longer the site of a bronze bark ball. Kind of like the Boston Common duckling, this set intrigued little children, who loved to poke inside them as well as straddle them. notball.jpg
notrabbit.jpg The very comfortable looking rabbit, Garden’s Edge, used to sit on this block on the opposite side of Lake Hibiscus from Ceres.

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Where Did All the Lanterns Go?

August 9th, 2008

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Mid-July in JP requires attendance at the Japanese lantern festival.  Yet, I’m sure if you are as anal retentive naturally curious as I, you wonder as you marvel at the hundreds upon hundreds of lit and floating rice-paper and wood treasures who has to clean up this mess?

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Don’t let that worry your pretty little head anymore. I managed to buttonhole my neighbor two doors down to find out.

When you attend, you can rent a lantern platform, with four upright dowels in a raft-like base. Beside the little lake, two large carts have loads of hundreds of these platforms each. The festival folk provide a four-sided paper form to decorate. Calligraphers are there to paint on characters. Abundant craft supplies at nearby tables let you create your own or augment what they do for you.

As it gets dark, many dozens of families and individuals have their gems ready to launch. They provide lighters and matches for the votive candle on the lantern base. Then in ones, twos and tens, participants squat by the shore of Lake Hibiscus and nudge their lanterns into play. There is almost always an east-to-west breeze. The paper becomes a feeble sail and the aided coast is on.

The silent, flickering display is calming. The festival has its roots in Japanese ones to honor the dead. Locally, most of the lanterns seem to follow that tradition, blessing recently or long deceased loved ones in words and pictures.lanternold.jpg

So you’d suppose the related cultural groups or Forest Hills Educational Trust would be overwhelmed after the event. I can hear by grandmother calling out, “Who’s going to clean up all this mess?”

Well, it turns out from an employee’s wife to me to you, that the cemetery staff does the scut work. They had already spent a couple of days doing extra chores, like parking signs and tapes. Then that evening and mostly the next morning, they manhandle the lanterns.

There’s collecting the platforms, removing the paper and burnt out votive candles, and stacking them back on the wagons. Those carts, by the bye, normally are in service hauling decorative plants to various cemetery locations. Oh, yeah. FH Cemetery stores the platforms between festivals.

For the few stragglers and the lost, there is a boat that is used only to collect those and on occasion mount or unmount art in the lake.

The process seems a bit more glamorous but in the same line as following behind the elephants in the circus parade, being the guy with shovel.

Hidden Jewish Cemeteries

August 6th, 2008

hahmabel.jpgAn eye-opening walk means I’ll never think of Toys R Us and Super Stop & Shop the same. At the West Roxbury/Dedham line I strolled into an amazing maze of Jewish cemeteries.

I had an hour and nine minutes to fill on Spring Street in WR. The map showed Hand & Hand Cemetery. Burying grounds are an avocation, so I walked Spring to Baker to Centre. Wowsers, the entry at the Temple Mishkan Tefila Memorial Park was just the loose strand on the ball of yarn.

There were nearly two centuries of graves there. Some stones, like that sweet, floral one for the young girl Mabel could be in any goy graveyard in New England. Others were in Hebrew or had Jewish-specific symbols.

Oddly to me, accustomed to Forest Hills, St. Michael and Mt. Hope in my neighborhood, this turns out to be a grouping of 13 separate cemeteries. They largely belong to particular temples, each with its own area. As you pass from one to another, a subtle stone or a chain link fences easy to pass delineate the boundary of each.

The map with the 13 sections is here at the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts.  Boy, was I ignorant. I learned that there are 209 Jewish Cemeteries in the commonwealth, of which JCAM operates 101.

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hahrose.jpgSome of the 20th Century stones use standard, old-fashioned iconography. For example, Rose Kowinski’s has a fairly traditional use of a broken tree. This, of course, symbolizes life cut short.

Rose was only 17 when she died in 1920.

This is not the usual tree used in such carving and probably indicates a European stone worker instead of the WASPy or Irish sort.

hahflow.jpgAn older stone is in Hebrew shows a rarer symbol, a vase or urn pouring liquid. This symbolizes life leaving the body. I know very little Hebrew and do not understand the age or name of the deceased. However, iconography conventions use this type of symbolism for someone who has lived a full live, and not a child or young adult.

A totally different symbolism and one more generally seen in Christian cemeteries is on the stone of Rosa, who died at the end of the 19th Century. Originally, this suggested the passage from one form of life to another — typically with the implication of resurrection.

hahrosa.jpg

However, it also became popular in Germany, the rest of eastern Europe and elsewhere.  The stage-curtain tassels generally are included. The motif seems to have come to stand more for the end of the play. Also, in this case, it is easy to project that a woman then at 54 may well have been a grandmother and taken to wrapping herself in a shaw, replete with tassels. There’s much possible here.

A particularly Jewish stone with two hands would stand out at Forest Hills, and not just because it has Hebrew inscriptions. It seems to show the Vulcan salute from the Star Trek shows.

hahhands.jpg

Old fans will recall that Spock (played by Leonard Nemoy) introduced the raised hand with pinkie and ring finger together, and middle and forefinger together. Vulcans and their kin used this in the TV shows and movie.

Nemoy, who was a Jew from Boston’s West End, created this salute to enhance  his character. As he tells it, he simply adapted it, adding the live-long-and-prosper greeting, from his own childhood religious memories. The kohanim, those priests descended from the first high priest, Aaron, use a two-handed version in their blessings.

In Hebrew the two hands in this position represent the first letter of the word for the Almighty. It is a powerful blessing indeed, and well suitable for a tombstone.

As I visited each of the 13 areas, I came over a small rise and down to a plain. It was only then that I realized I was behind the Dedham Racquet Club, Super Stop & Shop and Toys R Us. I have shopped on the other side of Hand & Hand for many years without realizing there is a necropolis there.

Clipping Coupons Wings

August 6th, 2008

Coop-ons, q-pons…regardless of pronunciation, they are useless as I knew them. From childhood, until a couple of years ago, they were integral. Now, alas, they almost all exceed my choke point. Grocery makers want too much from me for too little.

A typical Sunday Boston Globe has two to four booklets of grocery and non-food coupons.  While I still look at them, I find more amusement than thrills there.

Let’s make it plain:

  • I don’t want to buy four boxes of a cereal to save $2.
  • I don’t want to buy 10 cans of kids’ pasta or 6 yogurts to save a dime off each unit.
  • I don’t want to buy two $8 shampoos to save $1 on each.
  • I don’t want to buy five of anything to get one free.

If these coupons work for enough people to keep the manufacturers happy, this new model works. It doesn’t for me.

I used to edit a grocery magazine and am sympathetic to stores with tiny profit margins, more like 5% instead of a software vendor’s 60%. They have to look for expensive items and non-foods, like HABA (health and beauty aids) for big markups. They figure rightly that you’re there for your groceries and likely to buy the toiletries rather than plan a separate trip to save a bit on them.

The old coupon model plucked several consumer strings.  First, it introduced you to new products. Then, particularly for the many commodities like laundry soap or hot dogs, it inspired you to favor their brands. Until recently too, with most grocers doubling coupon value through 99¢, you’d get serious percentage savings with a doubled 75¢.

The new model largely does away with the advantage of doubling. There’s the $1 trick that exceeds the limit. Getting $1 off on four is far worse than 50¢ off on one, and no doubling.

They want you go stock up on absurd amounts to get any discount too often. One or two of something is possible, but a half dozen or 10? When needs four boxes of the same cereal at one time? I have two teens at home and these multiples are dumb even here.

Every Thursday, I still give the three grocery filers in the paper a drilling. Between specials and now the occasional coupon, I figure I save at last $40 a week and buy absolutely nothing I don’t want.

That does not compare to a friend’s father in high school. They were Jewish and Arthur used Sunday as his grocery-sport day. He had his coupons and would use the grocery fliers in the Sunday papers there to plan his runs. It was $1 for ten cans of OJ at Grand Union and so forth. He’d run to multiple stores, gathering the bargains at each. Their freezer and pantry were jammed with deals.

My late mother-in-law used to discuss my couponing with a tone of awe. She found it confusing first to evaluate the advertised specials and then to link them with stored coupons. Once in the supermarket, finding the specific items were tough for her. Pattern recognition is one of my innate abilities, so those are naturally easy for me, but I can sympathize. (I hope the musical can feel for my poor singing.)

Now when I scan the coupon booklets, I usually clip one or two out of maybe 100 choices. It used to be a cheap (literally) thrill to flourish a dozen or two dozen coupons at the register. I apologize if you were annoyed at the extra two minutes cashiers would take with me. Now, the grocers claim their savings are built right in, that there’s no need for coupons.

I’m still a careful shopper and still bring home what we want and need with savings. So, there’s some truth to the grocers’ claims. However, they know they are not doubling coupons and that their margins are better for it.

Importantly though, my game is over. There’s less sport in marking up store fliers and creating a shopping list for one or two stores than there was in coupons when the were COUPONS. The oh-boy moment is gone. I miss it.