Sunday, May 18, 2014

Junk Food For Thought

A few months back, I stopped at 7-11 for coffee on my way to work. 7-11's coffee is pretty delicious, is less expensive than Starbucks, and this particular 7-11 store is ideally located halfway between my home and my place of employment. Most mornings, I make coffee in my coffeemaker, but sometimes I want more. So I'd been stopping there for my morning coffee about once every two weeks.

The guy who has the morning shift at this store is a curmudgeon. Not an old curmudgeon; he's probably not a day over 45. But he doesn't greet customers, and while he's ringing up your purchases you're lucky if you get any more than a grunt out of him. He either hates his job or his life, but I don't begrudge him for his attitude. I'll let the guy be. As long as I get my coffee.

On this particular morning, I was adding sweeteners to my drink while dodging two little kids in pajamas who were frolicking around the store. As I approached the curmudgeon and his cash register, I saw a lady, also in pajamas, piling things on the check-out counter. Well, not just any things. Junk food. And tons of it.

"Hurry up!" she called to the kids, who ran up with fistfuls of Laffy Taffy.

"Can we get these?"

"Yeah, just put 'em on the counter. And go get some more stuff. Get some licorice. And some chips."

I was now behind her in line. All I wanted was to buy my coffee and get to work on time. But not only did this lady have a huge pile of junk food for the cashier to ring up, but the kids kept throwing more things on the stack, confusing the cashier. And the lady was encouraging them to keep adding to the pile.

Then I saw it... peeking out of the lady's hand -- an Oregon Trail card. Our state's 21st Century answer to food stamps. If you fill out the application and claim to be penniless, you can get something like $200 put on your card each month. For bread and milk and apples and Laffy Taffy.

Now, debate over food stamps is nothing new. I know there are those who need 'em, those who think they need 'em (I have friends who use the OT program; friends who also have $100-a-month cell phone plans they think they need, too) and people who are just plain ripping off the system.

This may or may not include people who wake up one morning and realize they still have X amount of money to spend that month, so heck, they'll just go to one of those most expensive convenience stores and buy the crappiest of food. And why the hell should they not? This is AMERICA, after all! Land of the freakin' FREE!

Meanwhile, I just want to buy my coffee. In that moment, I figured I had two choices:

1. Wait my turn, as long as it took, for curmudgeon to ring up every last thing those kids added to the pile, watch him turn an ever-darkening shade of red, gather juicy material for my next short story, and be late to work.


2. Hand over money and leave.

Somewhat regretfully, I chose #2. The coffee cost $1.75. I had $2 in cash, so I held the bucks up and asked if I could just pay. The cashier nodded once, and accepted my money.

But that wasn't the end of it.

The lady with the OT card must have missed the transaction, because as I was going out the door, I heard her say to the cashier, in surprise, "Did you just give her that coffee for free?"

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Random Things From My Childhood Part 9

Random Things From My Childhood
Part IX

1. Dixie Cups

I don't know what kids in other schools got for their random holiday and you've-been-good treats, but at my school, we usually got these. Search Google for "Dixie Cups," and you'll probably just see the boring paper cups people place near the bathroom sink or take on picnics. But I'm talking about the little cups of vanilla & orange ice cream with the wooden spoon thing.

You know...

2. Playskool Pipeworks

Some friends of ours had a set or two of Pipeworks, and I remember spending hours in their garage building things when I was about 12 or 13. I'd take the pipes and the connectors and build any manner of functional objects -- chairs, tables, wagons, cars, even jungle gyms that could support the weight of a 50-pound child. The annoying part was separating the pipes from the connectors (they were really sturdy, and hard to get apart), but despite this drawback, Pipeworks unleashed my inner-mini-engineer, and gave me hours of creative fun.

3. Now You're Cooking

Even as a kid, I enjoyed cooking -- but I rarely got to do it. My mom liked to have the kitchen to herself, and I was usually shooed to the basement playroom, where I had plastic dishes and food and would "pretend eat" the mutant strawberries and mushy lettuce.

Then along came Now You're Cooking, which were plastic dishes with a twist -- you could really cook with them (in the microwave) or serve meals in them. Not only that, but some of the dishes were multi-functional! There were tall spoons that were hollow and could function as straws. Trays could be flipped upside down and be used both ways. And the commercials were oh-so-catchy...

But then I actually got a few sets, and learned about their downside...

"Different than Mom's."

Oh, sure -- the dishes were certainly more colorful than my mother's Correlle. More plastic-y. But you still had to wash them after using them! UGH, CHORES. Who wants to play with something you have to clean after each use? LAME. Go into a box -- into my closet. My future grandchildren can deal with you.

4. Bouncy Balls

We used to have non-carpeted steps leading down to a tiled laundry room in the basement. I don't remember when the game was first invented, but it was pretty simple: one person would sit at the top of the steps with a bouncy ball, and fling it down the stairs as hard as possible. It would, with any luck, ricochet off the laundry room walls. With every launch, it would do something different, land in a different place. Once it came to rest, the person at the bottom of the stairs (assuming they hadn't received a rough blow to the head) would retrieve the ball and give it back to the person at the top of the stairs. After several launches, the two players would switch places. 

We found the game highly amusing -- and our parents didn't seem to mind, except for, perhaps, the noise we made. The same can not be said for the time we thought it would be fun to throw tennis balls from the front yard to the back yard. You know, across the roof of the house.

5. Fisher-Price Crib Activity Center

I am amused by how things have changed since I was a wee lass. Nowadays, babies have to be kept in a crib with minimally-spaced bars, no blankets, no stuffed animals, and no bumpers or else -- DOOM AND DESTRUCTION. Plus we now have baby monitors (with sound if you're a good parent, video if you're a better one). Now they even make little monitors that attach to the baby's diaper that send off a signal if the baby goes for X amount of time without moving.

But in the 80s, we were still in the era of "put a bunch of shiny stuff in the crib and see how long you can leave the baby to its own devices." And that era was awesome.

You'll find several versions of this "activity center" out there, but the one pictured is the one I grew up on. Our church had about four of them, and I could sit there playing with it for ages. To an adult, it may not look like much, but to a toddler, there are like 200 things to do on that toy. 

6. Sleepover Friends

About a year before I got into the Baby-Sitters Club, I saw two Sleepover Friends books in the Scholastic catalog and my parents bought me them. I read them, loved them, and wanted more. I soon discovered they had more of them at our library, and I spent fourth grade simultaneously loving the crap out of the SF's, while ignoring the BSC-gushing the other girls were doing.

Lauren, Patti, Stephanie & Kate > Kristy, Stacey, Claudia & Mary Anne... or so I thought at the time.

The Sleepover Friends were in fifth grade, and every Friday night they would gather for a slumber party at one of their homes. They would gorge themselves on snacks -- chips and dip, Dr. Pepper, whatever -- and watch movies, talk about boys, call in requests to the local radio station, and do random girly things. When they weren't partying, the girls were pwning everyone else at school (especially that horrible brat Jenny and her "sidekick" Angela), hanging out at the mall (usually at the pizza joint) or riding their bikes around town (helmetless and parentless.) 

In my adult years, I have picked up most of the books in the series at thrift stores, since it seems nobody else besides me is ever looking for them. The earlier SF books, especially, are still enjoyable, innocent, and make me want to go order a pizza, guzzle some Dr. pepper, and prank-call a boy.

6. Sweet Roses Barbie Furniture

Behold the shoulder pads!

Let it be known that I, a 9-year-old Barbie enthusiast, was not content to just play with the dolls. Those dolls needed furniture. And around the time I got into Barbies, the Sweet Roses furniture was among the must-haves.

My cousin had the Sweet Roses bed, and I was so envious of its silky pillows and reversible bedspread and ruffles.

MY Barbie "beds" consisted of a hardcover book underneath a doll's blanket, and a beanbag for a pillow.

One year, I did receive the Sweet Roses kitchen, and when my cousin (the one who had The Bed) and I got all our Barbie stuff together, we were able to set up a small Barbie condo. (A camping cooler stood in for the fridge, and the dolls did their bathroom business, you know, in the woods or something.)

7. Temporary Backyard Swimming Pools

You know the ones. The ones your parents bought, set up, maintained, and then sold within a year because they were just too much work.

We'll always cherish the memories of that freezing water!

8. Giant Metal Slides

These are becoming more & more rare, but they're not extinct yet. Here's to burning the undersides of your legs on a warm day! (Second only to the big plastic slides, from which you'd receive a static shock.)

9. Somewhere Out There

It was part of one of the most angst-filled children's films of my youth, yet it was an extremely popular song with kids. Somewhere Out There was the Let It Go of 1986.

10. Capri Sun
I could talk about the fact that the straws were nearly impossible to get in without bending them (or destroying your patience) but instead I really think I need to talk about Walmart.

Stick with me.

In the early 90s, before we even had a Walmart in my region, they played commercials for it on TV, and there was this one that featured an elderly Walmart greeter. He was so freaking cheerful. At one point in the commercial, he would start to clap and sing "Down the Walmart way!" Nooo idea what that meant. Still don't. But it was hilarious.

So this one time, my cousin and I were drinking Capri Sun and doing that thing everybody did where you suck in all the juice and make the pouch flat. Then you, um, put the juice back in the bag, along with air, and make the pouch fat again. Oh yes, the grossness. But anyway. So as the story goes, I had just sucked out a bunch of juice and the bag had flattened, and all of a sudden, my cousin started to sing: ''Down the Walmart way!"

I'm not sure exactly what happened after that. I think I was in the middle of doing a spit-take when I realized I should not spit juice everywhere, so I tried to keep my mouth closed, but then I choked, and... yeah.

Capri Sun.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Favorite TV Shows: May, 2014 Edition

Favorite TV Shows: May, 2014 Edition

 (Previously: January, 2011, May, 2012, May, 2013)

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My Top 5 Shows That Are Currently Airing (Or Have Aired Within The Past 6 Months), Regardless Of Whether Or Not I'm Caught Up With All The Episodes...

1. Community (-TIE-) Call The Midwife
2. Jeopardy
3. Rick Steves' Europe
4. Antiques Roadshow
5. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

What The Above List Looked Like Last Year (May 2013):
1. Community
2. Call The Midwife
3. Jeopardy
4. Auction Kings
5. Antiques Roadshow

Guilty Pleasures I Like To Watch On Cable When I'm Housesitting:
1. Love It Or List It
2. Auction Hunters
3. American Pickers
4. House Hunters International
5. Little House On The Prairie

Shows I've Been Watching Via Netflix Lately:
1. Merlin
2. MST3K
3. Little House On The Prairie
4. Veep

Shows I Need To Catch Up On/Finish Watching:
1. Merlin
2. Raising Hope
3. Burn Notice
4. Robin Hood (seriously, I've never seen the last handful of episodes and it's been roughly 5 6 years since they aired)
5. Road To Avonlea (kind of hit a snag in season 6)

Shows I'd Like To Check Out:
1. The Tudors
2. Reign
3. Firefly