Category Archives: Life

Life, Recently

We were never the most efficient planners of grocery-store trips.  In the old days — not all that long ago — we might go to the store every couple of days to replenish our inventory of this or that item.  But no more.  All our interactions with the world beyond our doorstep are now thought through ever so carefully.

After some awkward initial missteps, I have begun to refine my shopping-trip protocol.  My car’s interior and its exterior door handles are to be kept clean, which means they may not be touched with hands that have touched dirty surfaces.  Dirty surfaces, by definition, are those which may have been touched by someone other than my spouse or me in the last 24 hours.

When I go to the grocery store, I take two clean nitrile gloves with me — and now a mask, hand-sewn by my spouse.  After I park the car and turn off the ignition, I put my car keys, my supermarket courtesy card and my credit card in the right pocket of my slacks, a detail that will prove relevant later.  Then I put on my gloves and mask and head into the store.

As soon as I touch the shopping cart, or a product, with my gloved hands, those gloves are now dirty.   I may no longer use my gloved hands to push my eyeglasses back up my nose or get a wisp of hair off my forehead — those tasks are now reserved for my elbow.  If the mask makes my eyeglasses fog up, well, I will have to put up with that until the trip is over.

The gloves I wear are not so much about protecting my hands or the items that I purchase than about reminding me not to touch anything clean with them, especially my face.

In the old days, not very long ago, I would enter my shopping list into my phone — just by speaking into it, can you imagine! — and then I’d take my phone into the store, prop it up on the upper shelf of the cart, and go about the task of ticking items off my list.  But now, before I leave the house, I write out my list on a disposable piece of paper that gets dirty in the cart while my phone stays clean in the left pocket of my slacks.  Hopefully, no one will call me while I am shopping, because I will have to ignore them until my gloves are off.

Fresh fruits and vegetables present a challenge.  Although supermarket produce must be presumed to be dirty, I really don’t want to add to the dirtiness by handling the items with my dirty gloved hands.  So I yank a cellophane produce bag off the dispenser and use it to grab the potato or tomato or apple or onion and stuff the item into another produce bag, the one which will be weighed and taken home with me. 

I should note that my most recent trip to the grocery store got moved up on the schedule  because the supermarket chain announced they would have senior shopping for one hour from 7:00 am to 8:00 am on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  I was skeptical but went ahead and drove to the store about 7:30 am this past Wednesday.  The parking lot was packed.  At the checkout area, I saw plenty of cashiers but the lines stretched all the way back into the food aisles.  Most shoppers (not all but most) were my age or older, but why have them all show up at the same time?  Is it so seniors can get sick in solidarity?

Interestingly, when I left the store about 8:20 am, the parking lot was much less crowded.  I may be getting ahead of the story, but that’s the last time I will go shopping during the senior hour.

The self-check station is the way to go these days.  Yes, even if you have produce.  You just take the time you need to find the PLU number, or you ask the attendant for help without feeling guilty about holding up the show.  Older people would feel a lot better about life if they didn’t worry about holding up the show, which we so often do.  Maybe that is the one good thing about senior hour at the grocery store — we can be pokey, and we accept it.

The self-check station has a scanner gun, which means that you don’t have to swipe your dirty item on the dirty scanner window and make it even more dirty.  Instead, you just aim the gun at the barcode and then lay down the gun and figure out how to bag the item in the least bag-contaminating way.  Because those bags are coming home with you, in the interior of your car, they should not be allowed to get too dirty.  Probably best to bring your own bags, actually.

My protocol calls for scanning all grocery items first, no matter how often the self-check robo-voice asks me to scan my supermarket courtesy card.  That waits for the very end.  When the last item has been scanned, I take the dirty glove off my right hand, carefully, and put the glove in my cart.  I then use my bare hand to retrieve (a) my courtesy card, which I hold a few inches over the dirty scanner window until I hear the beep, followed by (b) my credit card, which I insert into the payment slot until the screen says APPROVED.  For the rest of the trip, my bare right hand will be my designated clean hand.

I use my dirty left hand to pull the receipt from the printer and put the bagged items back into the grocery cart.  I hold my clean hand away from my body to remind me not to touch anything with it, as I use my dirty hand to push the cart out of the store and to my car.

I use my clean hand to take my car keys from my pocket and unlock the doors.  I open the back door with my clean hand (I assume no one else touched my car while I was shopping) and then I put all the grocery bags into the back with my dirty hand.

The next step of the protocol depends on whether I will be checking our mailbox before I pull into our driveway.  If I will not need to get our mail, I carefully remove the glove from my left hand and lay it on the floor of the car.  Then I use both clean hands to get into the car, take off my mask, buckle up and drive home.  But if I intend to check our mail, I leave the glove on my dirty left hand and drive home with my clean right hand, resting my dirty left hand on my knee during the trip home.

Note: I would use my dirty left hand to grab the steering wheel if both hands were needed to make a maneuver.  I’m not going to drive dangerously.  But that means I would have to wipe down the steering wheel when I got home.

To check the mail, I drive up next to the mailbox, put the car in park, reach over with my clean right hand to roll down the window and then open the mailbox and remove the mail with my dirty left hand.  I toss the mail on the floor, close the mailbox, roll up the window and head up the driveway to the garage.

In the garage, I use my dirty hand to take the bags out of the back seat and carry them to my workbench, which is now the grocery decontamination area.  Non-perishable items are quarantined in the garage for 24 hours before I bring them into the house.  The perishable items, however, need immediate processing.  With my dirty hand, I put all the perishables in a bag and enter the house, using my clean hand to operate the doorknob.

Inside, I take the perishables to the laundry room, which is right next to the garage.  There, I spread out the items on the wipe-down counter next to the sink and throw the bag away.  Unpackaged produce, like scallions, cannot really be wiped down, so I carry those items to the spare fridge and put them on the quarantine shelf for 24 hours.

Now I am ready to process the other perishables.  I remove the remaining glove and wash my hands for 30 seconds.  I also wash my face.

I have a bottle of 91% isopropyl alcohol sitting next to the sink.  I create my own wipe by dampening a paper towel and then putting some alcohol on it.  I wipe down the packaging of items like butter, milk, lettuce and carrots.  I let those items dry off a little, then I wash my hands again and put the items in the fridge.  Then I wash my hands again.

Oh, I almost forgot — the mail.  Before I bring the perishables inside for wipe-down, I get the mail out of the car and carry it to the mail-processing station next to the recycle bin in the garage.  At this point, I have one dirty and one clean hand.  For junk mail, I use the dirty hand to toss the item right into the bin.  For important mail, I open the envelope with my dirty hand, then I carefully extract the contents with my clean hand and set the contents aside.  The dirty envelope gets tossed into the recycle bin.

Netflix DVDs present a challenge.  Since the DVD is returned in the same envelope it was  mailed in, the envelope has to be processed at the laundry room wipe-down station before it is brought into the house, along with the packaged perishables.

And that does it for grocery shopping and getting the mail.  It’s all the excitement I need for one day.

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Emitt Rhodes was, and is, a musician and songwriter who was once best known as the “One Man Beatles” (link to documentary) and is perhaps now best known for his fade-out into obscurity.  I was, and am, a big fan of Rhodes’ music: his early-1970s self-made albums inspired my own college musical creations.  Rhodes was often, and unfairly, compared to McCartney but he was neither a knock-off or imitator.  His songs were just as well-crafted but much more personal — perhaps best described as wistful pop.

One of my favorites from the first Emitt Rhodes album (1970) was Promises I’ve Made

Ever since you have gone the days don’t seem so bright
And I wish I could forget you but I can’t
Ever since you have gone I haven’t felt quite right
And I promised I’d forget all that you meant
But now that I’m alone I can’t stop my self from thinking
I can’t stop myself from breaking promises I’ve made to myself
Babe, you must believe

I have promised myself I wouldn’t dream of you
But I find that awful hard sometimes to do
I have promised myself I wouldn’t think of you
But I find that just as hard you know it’s true
Because when I’m alone I can’t stop my self from thinking
I can’t stop myself from breaking promises I’ve made to myself
Babe, you must believe

… all sung to a bright melody and jaunty tempo, belying the lyrical content.

In 2016, Rhodes released a new album, Rainbow Ends, 43 years after his previous album and the day after his 66th birthday.  The musicianship was still evident but the brightness was largely absent, with even more wistfulness in its place.  Now, I can get wistful myself, but listening to Rainbow Ends makes me want to call up Rhodes and say something to cheer him up.  I’m not sure what that could be.

• • • •

I have made a few promises myself in my 66 years, several of which have appeared here on The 100 Billionth Person.  Let’s see how well I have kept them:

  DIRECTV (March 2011):  “I intend to cut back on services, and the thought has entered my mind of cutting the cord completely…”  Result:  It never happened.  I’m still paying too much for TV because there are no easy alternatives in our area.  That, plus inertia.

  VITAMIN WATER (September 2014):  My open letter to Glaceau/Coca-Cola complained about that company’s poor response to my defective product report, and I declared that I would no longer drink VitaminWater or other Coca-Cola products.  Result: I have in fact sworn off Glaceau VitaminWater, but I did unknowingly consume a Coca-Cola product, when I had a bottle of hotel-provided Dasani water.  I consider that a minor infraction.

  WEIGHT LOSS (January 2016):  I committed myself to losing 36 pounds and listed a number of foods that were now off the table.  Result: I lost 25 pounds, then hit a wall, forgot about the diet, and gained just about all the weight back.  More on this below.

  PINTEREST (June 2017):  “I will never sign up for Pinterest, never, ever.” Result: I am still as un-pinterested as ever.

  CHEERIOS (July 2017):  I vowed not to buy Cheerios or any other oat cereal until their manufacturers stopped using RoundUp to desiccate the oats.  Result: Soon after that post, my spouse mistakenly bought me one more box of Cheerios, which I ate, because I do not like to waste food.  But I have been O-free since then.

  READING LIST (December 2017):  I used to publish a list (in the sidebar of this blog)  of books I intended to read in the current calendar year.  Result: I quietly dispensed with the Reading List because, year after year, so many books would remain unread.  The list was clearly an ineffective way to shape my reading behavior.

  CREATIVITY (December 2017):  “In 2018 and every year after that, I pledge to myself to do something creative every day.”  Result: It was a nice thought.  I haven’t kept count but I’d guess the actual figure is more like 30-40 percent.

  PRO FOOTBALL (March 2018):  In disgust, after viewing yet another crippling injury to an NFL player, I declared that I was done with pro football.  Result: My boycott lasted only a few weeks.  I was soon back to following the action in the newspaper and I resumed watching games before the year was out.  Since then, I have watched many more players suffer concussions and season-ending injuries.

  SAMANTHA BEE (June 2018):  I decided that comedian Samantha Bee crossed the line when she called Ivanka Trump the c-word, and there would be no more Bee for me.  Result: Does Bee still have a show?  I wouldn’t know.

⊗  PAINTING (November 2018): I proclaimed I was (finally) ready to start painting again!  Result: I did start a canvas, worked on it a few weeks, then made a dubious artistic move that I feared ruined everything.  I haven’t touched it in nine months.

The final tally of these promises, pledges and proclamations: 4 mostly-kept vs. 6 reneged.  Not a stellar record, is it?  What kept me from keeping more of them?

Making one’s promises visible to others is supposed to help one keep them, but evidently that did not matter here.  I don’t see a pattern in my successes and failures, except perhaps that my aspirational pledges seem more fragile than my principled stands.  There is probably some tortuous socio-psychological explanation for this, but I’m not convinced that it would be useful. 

The larger question is, must a person abide by every promise made to himself?  I find it interesting that the maxim “Don’t make promises you can’t keep” focuses only on your promise-keeping failures.  It means that you can comply with the dictum using one of two strategies: keep all your promises or make no promises at all!  Many people actually advise the latter, as if the negatives of a broken promise far outweigh any positives from efforts to uphold it.  In this way, our culture unwittingly promotes under-commitment.

The importance of keeping promises to oneself should not simply be a moral imperative but should be correlated to benefits and consequences.  That being the case, I should focus more on commitments such as losing weight (to stave off future problems) and less on my personal boycotts that may feel satisfying but have little real impact on social ills.

Which brings me back to the weight-loss issue.  Acknowledging my own poor track record on this count, and recalling what finally got me to quit smoking, I literally asked my doctor to tell me I needed to lose weight and how much I should lose.  At my insistence, we made a handshake agreement that I would weigh 190 pounds by next May.  We will see whether my externalizing this commitment produces the desired result.

As for those other pledges and declarations, I say this:  I am done making promises here!

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I just checked my Gmail inbox and, despite periodic clean-ups, it currently has 224 items. My sent mail folder is even more glutted, with 569 items.  These numbers bother me, and they make me wonder: have I become an e-hoarder?

In the days of snail mail, a person might save a piece of correspondence here and there.  Normal people would not save all of it.  And no one (lawyers and businesses excepted) would save a copy of what they sent.  So what has changed?

Some email retention is justified, such as one’s upcoming hotel reservation or the most recent note from a friend that has not yet been answered.  But these kind of emails are only a handful of the hundreds now in my inbox.

In some cases, I have saved emails to compensate for my poor (or lazy) social memory.  When friends share personal details with me, I don’t want to insult them — or embarrass myself — by forgetting what they said.  It could be the names and ages of children and/or grandchildren, or current health issues, or upcoming life events.  I worry that, if I don’t keep a mental/digital record of such items, I am disrespecting what has been shared.

In other cases, I am hanging onto information that — as every hoarder says — might be useful someday.  For instance, I once asked a friend about his experience with drum pads and drum software.  His responses, still in my inbox (and still un-acted upon), are nearly four years old.  This is the email equivalent of saving an AOL installation disk.

I also get overly attached to attachments.  The best way to ensure that I don’t erase your email to me is to attach something to it.  When I do cull my inbox, I rarely touch an item with an attachment — it is usually too much trouble to open the attachment to see if it is something important, which by default it is.

These are all habits that I have slipped into and can’t seem to break.  I would love to know how others deal with email management, and how many items are currently in your inbox and sent box.  This post will be a lot more interesting with some thoughts from readers.

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