Playing the Market


I popped into Publix, one of our local supermarkets, yesterday afternoon. Local is probably not a very apt description as, according to a quick search, there are 17 Publix markets within five miles of my home in South Florida. As supermarkets go, Publix is a good one. They tend to be clean and customer friendly. They do not yet have self-checkout, so they seem to care about retaining employees. Their store brand tends to be of high quality.

I probably do about 60% of my shopping there. I also go to Winn Dixie (dirty, poor service, sale items frequently out of stock), Penn Dutch (good for certain meat and produce products), Walmart (den of Satan, but they carry a couple of things I can’t get elsewhere), and a smattering of ethnic and specialty markets. As a writer, I have a lot of free time, so I check all of the sale items on my computer and shop for bargains rather than geographic convenience. Also, I LOVE food shopping.

Whether riding on the cart as a child, or pushing it as an adult, the supermarket has always been a special place for me. I spent much of my childhood in the cereal aisle while my grandmother shopped. After I picked a favorite, I would stand on the end of the cart while she explained her purchases and her shopping strategy. She would teach me by asking me to compare prices and help with the choices. I quickly learned to use the sale prices to justify my arguments for obtaining goodies and treats.

Not all of my supermarket experiences have been positive. When I was about twelve, my eggsgrandmother entrusted me with getting a dozen eggs. She explained how I should open the carton and twist each egg to make sure that none were broken. I did as I was taught and on the very first twist, the top of the shell came right off, exposing the yolk. Immediately, a large employee in an apron called out “Hey!” and strode in my direction. As I alternately stammered and tried not to crap my pants, the employee pointed at my t-shirt and said “Admiral Farragut Academy, do you go there? I went there a few years ago.” Great timing, dude. It wasn’t even my shirt. My brother went there.

On this particular trip yesterday, I had the added shopping thrill of engaging in one of my favorite pastimes, messing with the cashier. He was a young nerdy-looking guy named Giovanny. The bagger was a tall African-American kid named Deron. As he passed the items across the scanner, Giovanny asked Deron if he was familiar with a particular item. It sounded techy, but was unfamiliar to me. Deron responded that it sounded familiar but wasn’t sure. I noticed that both young men spoke very quickly in a somewhat robotic tone, as though they were in some sci-fi version of Gilmore Girls.

Giovanny explained that the product was a phone application allowing several gamers to communicate simultaneously while, well, gaming. Deron said he had heard of it but didn’t use it, as his gaming was typically with just a couple of friends who get together for playing. “So?” said Giovanny, “You can still use the app.” At this point, I was taking my credit card out of the slot and said to Deron, “I don’t think that Giovanny understands that you actually interact directly with the other humans.” Deron looked appropriately amused, but not so much Giovanny. He handed me my receipt with a curt, “Have a nice day”, not unlike a perturbed robot.

cartThe supermarket can be an awkward place as well. I did once find a cart where all four wheels touched the ground simultaneously, but only two of them turned. I’ve even had carts where only two wheels touched the ground, violating several laws of physics. I’ve also had the occasional slip and fall. I don’t know who is suing the store over this. I just sheepishly pop up and head to the next aisle.


My worst situation happened while waiting in line to check out. The cashier had a rather large stomach. She was too old to be pregnant, but her height caused her to rest her stomach on the scale when weighing a produce item. I had, years earlier, watched a woman pay $8.00 for three bananas when the cashier allowed a large can of Hi-C to roll onto the edge of the scale when weighing them. I tried to tell both the woman and cashier, who both chose to ignore me.

I simply could not think of a way to address the scale concern without embarrassing the woman. When I got up to the register, I handed her the bag of apples and told her I had changed my mind about them. Even my sociologist daughter was stumped by this one.

On one trip to the market with my kids, my daughter Abby was dancing or something and managed to kick her sandal off of her foot and onto the top of several bags of potato chips on the top shelf, about eight or nine feet above the floor. I had get a long-handled item from the next aisle, put my son on my shoulders, and have him pull it and several bags of chips down on us. They still laugh about it to this day. I do not recall laughing at the time.

shopritePossibly the funniest and most frustrating version of food shopping is the rare occasion that my wife tags along. Since she does it so rarely, she’s pretty clueless with regard to basics like unit prices, product recalls, and how much things cost. I usually drop her off in Aisle One, which is what we call the health and beauty aids aisle, since that’s where it was when we first got married and went regularly to Shop-Rite in New Jersey.

We were in a store recently where I was able to witness her using the self-checkout for theself-checkout first time. I should have intervened, but it was just too funny. She touched the screen like it was wired to several sticks of dynamite. She read each screen as though one false move would result in immediate destruction. We only had five items, but she seemed to think that she needed to hold them all at once as though someone was watching her from behind the screen.

My favorite cashier bit also helps to disarm annoyance with a difficult customer. Look, we’ve all gone through mental gymnastics to pick the lane with the shortest wait time. We’ve also had Karma blow up in our face by placing us behind someone with a problem. It doesn’t really matter whether the person has fifty coupons, or can’t read the circular, or has five overdrawn credit cards, or waits until everything is done before pulling out their checkbook in the express lane. Instead of huffing and puffing, I just carefully listen to as much detail as I can about the problem.

Once the episode is over, the cashier usually apologizes and seems quite happy when I smile and show patience. Then, I ask for exactly what the previous person did, as though I had no Idea what transpired earlier. The looks on the faces of the cashiers are generally cashierpriceless. I only wait a beat before saying “Psych!” or “Just kidding.” It never fails to give them a laugh.




The Death of Comedy

The Curse of the Irish


My name is O’Connell. O’Connell is a name of Irish origin and according to Wikipedia, it is an Anglicisation of the Gaelic “O Conaill”, which means “decendant of Conall”, whoever the hell he was. I personally, am descended from a gentleman named O’Connell, but my parents were divorced around the time I was born. I have actually never met any of the O’Connells. I grew up with the Weissbergs. Still, it seems that my cells contain 23 Irish chromosomes.

I recently did a bit of research regarding “The Curse of the Irish”. It seems that the Irish actually have been cursed in a number of ways. I have listed some of these curses with some historical perspective below:

The English – The Irish have been enemies at some level with the English since there were well…Irish and English.

Bad Teeth – The Irish are noted for their soft, chalky, teeth. When it comes to teeth, many of the Irish envy meth addicts.

Alcoholism – This should come as no surprise. See James Joyce, Peter O’Toole, etc.

Penis Size – Apparently, at least one study has determined that Irishmen have, on average, smaller penises than the average throughout the world. As a side note, it is rumored that Jews may be blessed with slightly larger than average penises. Porn stars Harry Reems and Ron Jeremy are part of the tribe. Considering that we are starting at a disadvantage due to circumcision, I am happy to take after my maternal side.

Inability to Maintain an Erection – This is probably heavily influenced by the previous two curses.

While all of these curses may have some historical accuracy, since the early 1960’s, the Irish have been cursed with a new scourge, maybe the worst of all.

The apostrophe. Yes, the Irish put the punk in punctuation.

Around 1962, the database was invented, and over the next few years, large companies such as General Motors and United Airlines, began implementing this tool in order to manage data. Eventually nearly all companies, large and small, began using the database. Unfortunately for the Irish, this also included the problem of many of these databases having difficulty processing names containing the dreaded apostrophe.

As an O’Connell, I have experienced hours and hours of torment explaining to low-level clerks that I do indeed have an account with their insurance company or video store.

Clerk: You’re not in the system.

Me: Dude, I just handed you my Blockbuster card. Try it with an apostrophe.

Clerk: We don’t use those.

Me: So just check anyway. (By now, the people behind me are looking at me as though I were trying to by a case of Colt 45 with a WIC card).

Clerk: Can’t find it.

Me: I was just here yesterday. You rented me the movie. Try Oconnell.

Clerk: Nope.

Me: Try O Connell.

Clerk: Nope.

Me: How about Roberto Connell?

Clerk: Yeah, here it is.

You see, the apostrophe is used as a delimiter or marker in a lot of computer code. As such, many database systems, particularly early ones, do not allow its use even in a name field. This puts the Irish at a significant disadvantage. In about a third of the systems out there, I’m correctly identified as O’Connell. In another third, I’m OConnell, and in the last third, I’m O Connell or some other twisted interpretation.

When my daughter was married a couple of years ago, she and her husband decided to come up with a new name combining each of their names. The only condition she had was to insist that no apostrophes would be used. My other daughter is getting married soon and will be taking her husband’s non-apostrophe name. My son is on his own.

I personally, have no issue with the English other than each season of Sherlock being only three episodes long. I also have pretty good teeth and I do not drink spirits of any kind. I also have been fortunate to have no complaints about my genitalia to date. I have however, lived the entirety of my adult life during the era of database storage. As the software has become more sophisticated, I will admit to fewer problems with my accursed apostrophe.

Maybe it’s time for a new curse of the Irish. Global warming will mean an even greater risk of sunburn on our pasty skin. I also hear that Liam Neeson is in talks to make Taken 4. Donald Trump still has a golf course in Ireland, so he could show up at any time. The future looks bleak, but I’d take any of these curses if I could just get rid of that damned apostrophe.

Cruise of the Jaded Monkey

jade-monkeyMy wife and I recently returned from a cruise to celebrate our 34th anniversary. It really wasn’t a celebration. It was more of an extreme bargain for a five night cruise when we really needed a break, which coincidentally fell on our special day. Incidentally, there is no specific gift for the 34th Anniversary. I was surprised to find that after the 15th, the special gifts pop up only every five years. I figure by now, that Hallmark or somebody would have filled in the rest; something like, 32nd – Origami, 33rd – Animal pelts, 34th – Inert gases. You get the idea. The 35th, however, is coral or jade, so I was just a bit early.empress3

We hadn’t been on a cruise for four years which is a long break for us. It was barely more expensive than staying home for the Labor Day weekend and going out to dinner twice and seeing a movie. We were on the Empress of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean ship. It is a smaller and older ship that the line had sold, but recently reacquired to be used for travel to Cuba once that opportunity becomes available. For now, the Empress is used for four and five day cruises out of Miami to ports in Key West and Cozumel. With the threat of the Zika virus, we weren’t even sure that we would be leaving the ship.

key-westFor the first day and a half, I found myself comparing the experience to that of our last cruise aboard the Oasis of the Seas, also a Royal Caribbean vessel. The capacity of the Empress is 1840 passengers, while the Oasis holds 5400. The Oasis has 21 swimming pools compared to 4 on the empress-oasisEmpress (including 3 hot tubs). After listening to me make one comparison after another, my wife pointed out to me that I had become jaded.

Me? Jaded? Was that even possible? This would mean that I was tired, bored, or lacking enthusiasm. So far that seemed about right. But also, it meant that this empressbehavior was based upon having too much of something. I always thought that being jaded was the purview of the idle rich and privileged. There certainly was no silver spoon in my mouth. I decided to reflect on that previous trip and the intervening four years.

The trip on the Oasis was about as good as a vacation could cozumelbe. We traveled with friends and had an absolute blast. The ship was relatively new and was a marvel. Unfortunately, a few weeks after the trip, I lost my job of 29 years and we had to drastically adjust our lifestyle. Still, we have had many blessings including health, happiness, and empress2achievement for not only my wife and me, but our children as well.

It seems as though even being jaded has worked out for us. It reminded me to count my blessings. With a new attitude, I jumped back into life. We took an unexpected excursion in Cozumel with new friends that we met on the ship. We had a great time and created new memories that were hopefully good enough to be jaded about on our next cruise.

Tyrone in the Middle

Stat Shirt

I recently was having a phone conversation with my friend Tyrone. We were talking about parenting. It was probably a tangent of a discussion about some noise from the internet, such as an athlete acting inappropriately. Tyrone mentioned doing something with his kids that I felt might not be considered great parenting. As usual, he took umbrage.

jsI told him that I was not suggesting he was a horrible parent. My exact comment was, “I’m not saying that you are Joel Steinberg. But I’m also not saying that you are Ward Cleaver. In case you don’t know or recall, Joel Steinberg was convicted of unspeakable acts of child abuse and ultimately murder of his young daughter Lisa. Tyrone’s response surprised me. He said, “So, that means I’m in the middle of the pack.” Now it was my turn to take offense.cleaver

“The middle of the pack? That’s a pretty big pack,” I said. “True,” he replied, “but if I’m not the worst, and I’m not the best, I’m still technically in the middle of the pack.” I told him he was nuts and went on to explain to him how statistics worked including mean, median, and mode, as well as the bell-shaped curve and standard deviation.

Tyrone was steadfast in his position about, well, his position. I continued to mock his interpretation of his parenting, but he ssremained entrenched in his delusion. Sometime later, we were discussing a woman that we both agree to be a pretty despicable parent. I related a positive story I had heard about the woman and Tyrone said, “I guess that proves that no one is all bad.”

He had unknowingly just exposed his Queen. He was going to be checkmated, but hadn’t realized it yet. I said, “So, you’re saying that she’s no Susan Smith, who drowned her children, but she’s no June Cleaver either? Well, I guess that puts her squarely in the middle of the pack…with you, Tyrone.”

I could hear him sputtering over the phone.