baking potatoes!

I love self-checkout and use it whenever possible. Like the ability to swipe your own credit card, it's a flawed step in the right direction. Self-checkout is not always quicker because you have to follow its rules. You have to answer questions. It frequently forces you to wait on scanning the next item. Sometimes it makes you wait until you've placed the last scanned item in a bag, relying on a scale underneath the bagging area. What if I don't need a bag? Go back and buy more groceries, the scanner thinks. I don't understand the requirement of putting one thing down before scanning another. Do they think you're stealing if you scan something and then don't put it down? Do they have a database in there of how much something should weigh, such that if you scan a bag of spinach and bag a steak, alarms go off?

Harris Teeter has the worst self-checkout. It asks you twice to scan your VIC (Very Important Customer, gag me) card. Then, when you've committed to paying, it asks you if you have any coupon or items on the bottom of your cart. These are two separate questions, and two separate screens, two separate times when you have to hit a button while you're fumbling for your credit card. I suppose the first one is to be helpful to the customer, but I'd rather be in charge of remembering my own coupons and skip this step. The second step is to keep you from inadvertantly stealing, because they know you're not going to come back and breathlessly explain how you accidentally stole that bag of Purina One, here's $20, now say three Hail Marys.

Food Lion, my regular grocery store, has only a slightly better system. They don't ask you a lot of questions. However, they send your groceries down a belt, where they accumulate at the end. There are sensors on the belt, so that if the bagging area gets full, you won't be allowed to scan any more groceries. The trouble is that self-checkout has replaced staff, and so there's never anyone to bag your groceries for you. You're expected to scan a few items, then go bag them, then scan some more, then bag those. This is not efficiency. At least at Harris Teeter, where bagging is enforced, you can bag as you go because the bagging area is next to you instead of five feet down a belt. Wal-Mart has a spinning bagger, which allows you to put more items in more bags. However, once the scale was broken, and so I had to do a manual override after every item because it thought I wasn't bagging. After every five items or so, a manager had to come over and say it was okay for me to do all these overrides.

The best part of self-checkout for me is the Voice. She's very friendly and upbeat, and always welcomes me as a MVP customer. I like ringing up produce the best because of the way they've programmed the voice to insert the name of your item. They recorded a woman saying the phrases "please move your" and "to the belt." Then they recorded all the possible fruits and vegetables with the same woman, but of course it's really obvious that the phrases are cut and paste together. "Please move your. Baking potatoes! To the belt." I am unable to keep myself from mimicking the Voice. I wish that I had that job. I think I would be good at it, bringing a whole new level of excitement to phrases like "hot house tomatoes," "your total is," and "arugula."

I complain about the self-checkout problem, but I don't know how to solve it. I like the bagging area to be next to me, but I don't like being forced to use it. And I want to scan things as fast as I'm able. I don't want the scanner to ask me about coupons or my discount card or items under my cart. I don't want to have to swipe my card at one place, then move over and sign my name somewhere else. However, I don't have any complaints about the Voice. She's fine by me and can ask me to move my Baking potatoes! any time she wants.


14 hours by the skee-ball machine.

Rhonda and I are sitting at the table in the games room, and I'm telling her about how my niece and nephew drive me nuts. Of course I love them and I think they're good kids, but really, they drive me nuts. It's to the point where I'm starting to wonder how we continue as a species, and why we haven't become one of those animals that destroys their young.

And here we see the adult male human trying to calm his young whilst they fight over a toy. The youngsters are ignoring the parent and sense no danger, when look! Yes! The adult female has entered the room, scooped up both children and thrown them out the window! Well, we have seen something today, folks, man in the wild.

Rhonda doesn't have any children either, but then Patrick comes in. He has two little girls, and so suddenly, he's the expert. I explain that my niece and nephew drive me crazy, to the point that I'm worried I won't have any patience with my own kids. I ask him for reassurance. "Do you find that you have more patience with your own kids than with other peoples'?" He hems and haws, which tells me he can't honestly give the answer I want. Then he asks for examples.

"Well, there's two of them. There's a boy who is eight and a girl who is twelve. And they're just at each other all the time. The boy is constantly provoking his sister in little ways. Just picking at her and touching her and trying to steal her chair when she gets up. But the girl is always trying to assert some sort of imaginary authority, telling him what to do or what not to do, warning him not to spill his drink on the computer." I pause. "I think I could probably strangle one with each hand."

Then Tom comes in, and Rhonda explains, "We're trying to help Sandra decide if she wants to have children." At that point, I realize the conversation has gotten away from me. I really don't want to get into a discussion of my future in child-bearing.

"I am not asking that. I'm just trying to determine if people tend to have more patience with their own kids than with other peoples' kids." I explain the situation with my niece and nephew again, during which Frank walks in. Tom replies, "They're eight and twelve? That's the way kids act."

"I understand that. The issue is not the way they are acting, but my reaction to it."

"You know how you know when you're ready to have kids?" Frank asks suddenly. I fight the urge to clarify that I'm not asking whether to have children, and I'm especially not asking whether to have children now. "You go to Chuck E Cheese, and you sit by the skee-ball machine all day. If by the end of that, you still want to have kids, you're ready."

It's a wonder the human race is still going.


my peeps.

It used to be that the day after Easter was a very exciting one for me. That's when all the candy goes on sale. And it's Easter candy, which means that it's not just chocolate kisses wrapped in colored foil. No, Easter gets its own kind of candy, egg-shaped and pastel colored. I've never been a fan of Cadbury cream eggs, though I have fond memories of those bizarre old commercials with the clucking rabbit.

So really, Easter candy is all about the Peeps, marshmallow animals covered with sparkling pink and yellow sugar. You can buy them in packs of nine or twelve, depending on whether you get bunnies or chicks. I haven't done any comparative weighing, but it seems that you get a better deal with chicks. Regardless, you can really only eat about half the pack before you get a stomachache. I'm sure there's a very good scientific explanation for this, what with all the marshmallow research going on these days, but I imagine the various chick and bunny parts swimming in the stomach and slowly swelling until you feel all full and empty at the same time. Gummy worms work on a similar principle. You feel kinda gross and think, man, I just ate a whole lot of nothingness. Then half an hour later, you happen to see the rest of the package, just sitting there, getting stale, and you forget all about any tummy ache.

It's best not to buy very many packages of half-price peeps, because you pretty much have to eat the whole package at once, or at least within an hour or so of opening them. Peeps do get stale once opened, and the delicious marshmallowy center becomes hard and unpleasant to eat. You start venturing into dangerous thought territory when you eat them, like wondering what in the world this crap is made of anyway. You're supposed to be thinking about how delicious they are, and whether you prefer chicks or bunnies, not to mention the whole question of whether to eat heads and ears first or just throw the whole thing in.

But honestly, I haven't gorged out on Peeps in years, and I realized why only yesterday. It's because of their yearlong availability. You can get Peeps on any holiday now. They have ghosts and bats and pumpkins for Halloween, hearts on Valentine's Day, snowmen for Christmas. Even the Fourth of July gets little red, white, and blue chicks. Peeps have sold out to the other holidays. They're just chemical marshmallow coated with chemical sugar that makes you feel funny if you eat them. And while that's all they ever were, at least then, they were special.


the avocado council.

Someone alert the Avocado Council. Their fine fruit is being done a disservice. I cannot yet tell how widespread the problem is, only that I have observed it in both the mountain and piedmont regions of North Carolina. There is no evidence to suggest that the issue started here, so there is the distinct possibility that it started elsewhere and spread here and who knows where else. It must be stopped.

I'm speaking of bad guacamole.

Some of you, those who have already been infected by bad guacamole, say that the phrase is redundant. I used to be among you, counting myself as anti-guacamole and indeed, anti-avocado. Because who ever heard of anything that the avocado ever did, except make guacamole? I shunned the green chip dip, asked for burritos be served without it, and abandoned friendships with those who claimed to enjoy it.

But my friends, I tell you that I had a revelation! I had a fresh and delicious epiphany, I saw the light, and it was light green. I was in a Mexican restaurant in Manhattan, where my friend was served something with a light sweet smell. She called it guacamole. But no, I said, guacamole has a gross brown tinge to it and smells like the bottom of a little kid's shoe after a rainstorm. At the next table over, a waiter came by with a tray bearing four bowls of different ingredients and one big empty bowl. He scooped some from each bowl, diced tomatoes, something white and tiny, some spices, and a bunch of mashed green goo. Right there he mixed them all together in the empty bowl and served it to the couple, who immediately dug in with tortillas. They looked happy. Intrigued, I asked my friend if I could sample hers. Then I looked happy.

So why is bad guacamole allowed to exist? Is it the avocadan equivalent of instant mashed potatoes? Is it too old, too processed, or just using the wrong ingredients? Are the waiters at those other Mexican restaurants just serving it to see if the silly gringos eat it?

I am hear to spread the guacamole gospel. Making delicious guacamole is as simple as taking ingredients from bowls in putting them in the same bowl. Tasting the real stuff will make you think eighty-seven times before you declare yourself anti-guacamole. Now you, too, can spread the word.

  • 3 avocados - peeled, pitted, and mashed

  • 1 lime, juiced

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 cup finely diced onion

  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

  • 2 roma (plum) tomatoes, diced

  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic

  1. In a medium bowl, mash together the avocados, lime juice, and salt. Mix in onion, cilantro, tomatoes, and garlic. Refrigerate 1 hour for best flavor, or serve immediately.

Avocado trivia : Avocados are also called "alligator pears" due to their leathery skin. For a long time, avocados were thought to be a sexual stimulant, and so if you wanted to keep your good reputation, you wouldn't be caught buying them. The Avocado Council (or the actual, not made-up organization in charge of avocado public relations) launched a campaign to improve the public perspective. The word itself comes from the Aztec word ahuacatl, meaning "testicle." The Spanish soon substituted their own similar-sounding word, avocado, their word for "lawyer." So if a Conquistador ever tells you that someone kicked his lawyers, you'll know what he means.


brain fuel.

It's a well-known fact that bananas don't grow alone, but they've also got something to say. That story, and no others, on tonight's Ad Watch.

doot-do-do-loot-doot, doot-do-do-loot-doot, doot-do-do-loot-doot, do!

Notice anything different about everyone's favorite yellow fruit? You'll have to look closely, for you might not notice that those familiar blue stickers say more than just the brand name nowadays. The Chiquita banana company still says cha-cha-cha, but now it's saying a little more.

Stickers now bear sayings promoting the fruit, things such as "Peel Me - I'm Fat-Free!" While these last minute marketing notes may not directly cause consumers to pick Chiquita over Dole or even bananas over berries, the quirky and cute tactic might make people think favorably of Chiquita in the future. Slowly, the company may win themselves loyal fans with phrases such as "Brain Fuel" or "PSSST! I'm Full of Vitamins!"

Local grocery stores have noticed people lingering a little longer in the banana section to check out these tiny blue ads, and a Harris Teeter in Raleigh, North Carolina even reported one customer stealthily taking stickers and then nonchalantly purchasing nectarines. Some companies might consider that a marketing failure, but we talked to the Chiquita banana lady herself, who said that the stickers are just a way of attracting attention. She then added, "PSSST! I'm Full of Vitamins!"

Another reason to love fresh fruit, another reason to go cha-cha-cha, and for the easily amused, another reason to hang out in the produce section. This is Ad Watch. Goodnight.

doot-do-do-loot-doot, doot-do-do-loot-doot, doot-do-do-loot-doot, do!