Peeve du Jour

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

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Thursday, August 27, 2009



This is a serious one.

I know that the elderly, especially those on a fixed income, frequent those big club and membership stores to partake of the free samples of food or beverages that are offered in the aisles throughout the store. These promotional samples are a way of getting customers to try new products and to buy things they hadn't come in for.

It works on me. I may try a sample of something, decide I like it, then go buy a couple of packages of the item to take home. I only take samples of things that I might actually be interested in. For example, I'd pass on free samples of anchovies. But I think some people try the samples just because they're free and if you can get enough of them, they might constitute a meal for some. I'm aware of that and I have absolutely no problem with that. It's not stealing, it's not harmful, and as long as it doesn't become an abusive activity where club members bring their family, friends and neighbors in for the free samples at lunch time, it may actually pay off for the store in increased sales of the stuff they're promoting.

The point I want to make here is that the sample-givers hand their samples to the customers in small containers, on toothpicks or forks, on a small plate, something that keeps the food from being handled or contaminated. Passing of the food from its source to the consumer is controlled and only one person touches the source of the food, and always wears latex gloves.

But then there are the oblivious, inconsiderate, abusive and disgusting slobs who frequent the open salad bars at well-known supermarket chains and help themselves to the food as if they were home eating over the sink.

I'd stopped into one of those local grocery chains to pick up a six-pack of a new drink that I like called FUZE. In particular the Black and Green Tea flavor which is hard to find. It's supposed to have all sorts of health benefits and vitamins. The label is quite enlightening, especially the part that tells me it "Contains equal antioxidant capacity as 2 SERVINGS OF VEGETABLES PER BOTTLE: Measured by Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC)." Pretty enlightening stuff and so much better than what you find on the side of a cereal box. Regardless, I like the drink anyway.

So I figured that while I was there, I might as well get a salad to take home for dinner later.

As I approached the salad bar I observed an old man with greasy hair and two day's stubble, his face covered with sores and blotches, standing over the salad bar helping himself to the pineapples bits.

With his hand.

Scooping them up out of the steel tray and slurping them into his mouth. Then scooping again and into his mouth again. As he moved on to the next item I decided to find the manager.

The manager asked me to point him out, which I did because he was still there, not eating at the moment, instead deciding what to sample next. As the manager approached, the old man casually backed away from the salad bar in what seemed to be an instinctive maneuver that made him look like an ordinary grocery shopper.

As the manager walked past the man, pretending he was on his way to the office, the old man watched him like a hawk, sensing he was being watched and knowing this guy was the manager. The manager turned, trying to catch the old man in the act, but the old man was ready. He had stepped back from the salad bar and appeared to be just another old man waiting for his wife to do her shopping. She was standing nearby, almost like a lookout. My guess is that this couple had this all worked out as a way to eat on a budget without any thought or concern for health issues. I don't know what caused the sores and blotches on the old man's face but I sure didn't want him handling food that unsuspecting customers might pack up and take home.

In this day of pending pandemics and runaway flu contamination, something needs to be done to keep people from sampling the goods this way. This is the kind of stupid behavior that kills people.

I'm sure the manager would argue that they can't afford to have someone there just to monitor the salad bar. But I would argue that if the entire salad bar is contaminated and might make lots of people sick, can the grocery chain afford to deal with the consequences?

To my way of thinking, the entire salad bar should have been thrown away, cleaned and replenished with fresh stuff. Instead, the manager said he would look at the surveillance tapes to see which salad items the old man had eaten or touched and would eliminate those items. He said he really couldn't do anything about it because he had not actually seen the old man do it. I told him I had seen him do it, but that doesn't count.

Not good enough for me.

I bought my FUZE and left.

From there I went to Whole Foods where I got a container of fresh salad ingredients. As I made my way around their salad bar I noticed a Whole Foods employee with a clipboard and a thermometer, testing the temperature of the trays that the food was in. I asked his opinion of what I'd just witnessed at the other store. He was appalled and agreed that the manager there should have scrapped the whole salad bar. He also suggested that the manager just didn't get it. "He really doesn't understand."

Almost simultaneously we said, "And that's why he's a manager at (the other grocery chain)."

I love shopping at Whole Foods.

This coming flu season, think about bringing your own serving utensils to the salad bar so you don't have to handle the spoon that someone else just used. And maybe bring a container of sanitary wipes to clean your hands, too.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009



I get packages from people who put tape on every possible seam and flap on the envelope or box they've mailed, and I wonder why.

Is it to prevent thieves from opening the envelope? Yeah, tape'll do it.

Is it to keep me from zipping open a FedEx box using the zip open pull-tab on the box, designed to allow the recipient to zip open the box?

Is it to keep the nosy mailman from opening the easy-open flap to see what's inside?

In each case, I usually go to the other end of the envelope or box, the one where the package is glued together during the manufacturing process, and peel it open from there. It's easier than wrestling with the tape.

Sometimes I get big, flat packages custom-crafted from big sheets of cardboard to hold big, flat artwork or vintage comic strips, and these are often double taped on all four sides. While I appreciate the concern for the security of the contents, it usually requires a chain-saw to get the package open, inevitably slicing a good chunk out of the contents. Sometimes the tape is even attached to the contents.

Once in awhile I get one sealed with duct tape. After I manage to get the contents out of those packages I write on the side, "BOMB SHELTER."

Occasionally, after getting one end open, I try to pull the contents out, only to discover they've been taped in position to the inside of the package to keep the item from moving around.

I imagine this obsession with tape over-kill stems from some sort of traumatic childhood experience with snoopy parents who "accidentally" opened some package containing some "none-of-your-business" material that little Billy ordered from the Johnson Smith Company.

So now little Billy, 40 years later, tapes the crap out of everything he puts into a mailbox out of consideration for the little Billies of the world still living at home, to spare them the embarrassment of being caught red-handed with a three-month run of Little Orphan Annie comic strips from 1940, or the Complete Equipment for 10 Professional Type Tricks so you can Amaze Your Friends With MAGIC.

Trick #10: How to make a playing card mysteriously stick to your forehead.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Hooks and Anchors

Two Prime Time newscasters switch back and forth reading from the teleprompter. First Andy Ankerman, then Cindy Glammerschott.

"And when we come back, what was it that neighbors saw in their backyards in Altadena? We've got the exclusive pictures."

"I know you're all sitting down to dinner right about now, but you won't want to miss this: Later tonight on the 11 o'clock news, a special report from Ben Dover on what you need to know about something that we all eat every day."

"And science editor Nova Kane reports on what scientists say is headed our way and there's nothing we can do about it."

"And meteorologist Wendy Coldfront gives us the five-day forecast for the weekend and the beginning of the work week and what those green clouds moving in from the west could mean for you and the future of your children."

"And see what hikers caught on video tape, right after this break."

Well I always thought "right after this break" meant right after this break. When "this break" was over I expected to see what they promised to show us.

Oh, and "break" means "seven or eight commercials."

So I used to hang in there through the commercials. By now they'd been on the air for nine minutes. Three of those minutes were spent telling us what was coming up after the break, and another three minutes was commercials.

And what did we get right after the break?


Biff "Boom Boom" Barbelli with highlights of all of today's games and scores, followed by more commercials.

Three minutes later, they'd be back with the Entertainment Report, the Police Chase Report and the latest Gossip from Hollywood.

Once in awhile they'd come back from the break and say, "Okay, neighbors in Altadena are a little shaken by what they saw in their neighborhood last night, and we've got the exclusive video tapes. But first...," and off they'd go with some other story. Just as bad.

I'm not going to tell you what the neighbors saw in their backyards, what food you need to know about, what's coming our way, what the green clouds mean or what hikers caught on video tape. I can't because I learned my lesson years ago. "Right after this break," has become my cue to switch channels.

Whatever it was, it was never worth hanging in there for anyway. It was always something stupid and lasted about 15 seconds.

Oh, and one other thing - Ever notice that they never interrupt a commercial for BREAKING NEWS? They only interrupt the news report you've waited 25 minutes to see or whatever other show you're watching.

"Don't go away." " Stay right where you are." "Don't touch that dial."

I might. Bite me - I'm going to grab a sandwich. What dial?

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Fire Season News Video

It's fire season again.

Time for the annoying news video of every brush fire in the country, shown on every major network and local news channel, each showing just about everything except the actual fire. Here's how it's done by the pros.  

First and foremost, be sure the reporter (TV news personality and likely a member of SAG) stands squarely in the middle of the picture so that when he says, "As you can see behind me..." we won't be able to see a damn thing because he's in the middle of the picture and thinks he's the reason people are watching and that they want to see him as much as possible. 

Secondly, be sure to run a banner across the bottom 25% of the screen, ensuring that the most important moments of the visuals will be pretty much completely obscured by it. This banner should say something like BREAKING NEWS - MAJOR FIRE IN POTRZEBIEVILLE. Just above that banner, add a smaller banner that says something like LIVE - INFERNO ON THE PLAINS or some such panic-inducing title for what's sure to be a multi-day epic.

And make sure the cameraman frames the action so the important stuff that we really want to see all takes place right where that banner sits. This is especially effective when airplanes make water drops. Having the water hit its intended target right where that banner sits, that's how it's done by the pros.  

Oh, yeah, and don't forget that news crawl that runs along the bottom of the screen just under the banner, so you can read what other news is going on in the world.

In the upper left corner put something like Ben Dover Reporting Live From Flaming Potrzebieville. And just above that, squeeze in the capitalized words LIVE FROM POTRZEBIEVILLE. 

In the upper right corner put your station logo, in big letters so people will know what station they're watching. Oh, and a clock, so we'll know what time it is. Maybe even throw in the temperature so we'll know if it's as hot in our living room as it is near the fire.

The occasional teaser for an upcoming show riding across the screen is good too. It's best that it's a comedy, with lots of happy graphics to punctuate the promo.

This should leave about 50% of the screen for showing some images related to the news. That's a good time to do a split-screen, with the "on location" reporter on the right half of the screen and the "in studio" reporter on the left. 

The "on location" reporter should talk as fast and breathlessly as possible to lend an air of urgency, panic, danger and pending death to the broadcast. Be sure to tell us what we're looking at (because we're never going to get a chance to see around you) as if you were reporting on the radio. But DO NOT abandon you position in the middle of the screen.

If they cut away to some action not involving the reporter in front of the camera, be sure it's an extreme close up of a branch burning and refer to it as the forest fire. Or show close ups of fire fighters in yellow jackets standing next to a big red fire truck. That's also good. Adds a little color to an otherwise dreary news picture. And be sure to show those residents who all have an opinion about how it started. I always love it when they're asked, "What went through your mind when you saw the fire roast your farm animals and level your house?" 

Whatever else you do, never, NEVER show an establishing shot so we can get some idea of the scale or location of the fire. If you are back far enough to see anything, be sure to ZOOM IN as soon as possible and as close as possible to a burning branch or smoldering outhouse. Stick to the news helicopter hovering overhead, the fire fighter in the yellow jacket, the big red fire truck, the shimmering red lights, the cool sirens and close ups of people watching the fire. 

Use key phrases like:
"People are in shock... Suspicious origins... The alleged arsonist...The tinder-dry vegetation...It's hot  out here...Winds are gusting up the canyons...People with asthma should stay away from the area..." and the inevitable closing salutation, "Reporting live from the Potrzebieville fire watch command center where raging brush fires have surrounded the community and threatened everyone who lives here, this is Ben Dover, KJRK, back to you in the studio."

Of course the "in studio" reporter wraps the whole thing up by telling us, "You've been listening to a live report from reporter Ben Dover reporting live from Potrzebieville where a brush fire has surrounded the community of Potrzebieville."

If you really want to see the news and can wait a day, go to YouTube and watch all the raw footage before it was edited down to a series of close ups, before all the reporter-yakking was added, before all the banners, crawls and graphics were added, before the obvious was spelled out for us as if we were in front of the radio, and before the one-man show featuring the "on location" reporter who can hog the spotlight and upstage everything was added.

Just wait 'til the rainy season gets here.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009


The Lost Art of Grocery Bagging

Used to be, the grocery bagger at the end of the checkout line actually packed your purchases into a grocery bag in some sort of logical order. The short width of the bottom of a paper bag is pretty much the same as the long width of a six-pack, so you could put three six-packs into a paper bag and they'd fit just right. Nowadays they'll put one six-pack into the bag then put stuff in around it. This puts all the weight and pressure onto the center of the bottom of the bag and makes it more likely the handles will break when you lift it.

When I load stuff from my shopping cart onto the checkout counter I put the salad and vegetables together, the dairy products together, canned goods together, cleansers and soaps together, bread and crackers together, hoping they'll be packed together. That way, when I get home, I can take matching products from a single bag and shelve them all at once.

But inevitably when I get home I find that there'll be two cans of tuna in with the cheese and a box of crackers. In another bag will be one more can of tuna, my container of salad, and a loaf of bread. Another bag will have the final can of tuna, a six- pack of Dr. Pepper, and a box of cereal. Whatever was within easy reach of the bagger as he grabbed stuff as it came down the counter was what went into the bag.

No order, no logic, no care.

Speed is of the essence.

Get it all into a bag as fast as possible, plop it into the cart, move 'em out.

And if you get plastic bags, it's worse. For every two or three items, you'll get a bag. Sometimes I get one item per bag, so when I get home, not only do I have to find everything that should have been bagged together, I get a truckload of bags, too.

The only exception I've seen to this process is at Whole Foods. There I've observed the bagger actually setting things aside as they came down the counter, looking for ways to pack the bags logically and with reason, putting like items in one bag, putting heavy items on the bottom, lighter items on top, placing things squarely so they don't flop around, keeping the salad horizontal so the container doesn't leak and make the bag soggy, placing the bags into the cart so they fit without piling other bags on top.

Smart. Like the old days when grocery bagging was an art.