Coffee heat rising

Life in Dystopia

Today I needed to accomplish three fairly minor errands:

  • Take the clogged-up vacuum cleaner to the repair shop to have it cleaned out;
  • Go to the post office and mail tax returns, return receipt requested;
  • Buy a new mattress to replace my 15-year-old number, which is sagging on both sides.

How easy does that sound, eh? None of these places is very far away. It should take maybe an hour, an hour and a half at the outside, to accomplish these small chores.

And how much time did it take?

Three hours of miserable, frustrating running around. I left around 11 a.m. and got back at almost 2 p.m.

First, to the post office, the one over by the freeway on the other side of Conduit of Blight Blvd. There I found a packed parking lot and a line extending to the back of the big reception area and curving along the wall.

Okayyyyy. Got better things to do than stand around with a sore back watching postal employees move as though they were swimming through molasses. Turn around, walk back out, climb in the car. Back out of the space, with  no one coming. A moron down the aisle can’t stand it, so floors the gas pedal and shoots around behind me. Fortunately I’m watching and so see the bastard coming. He misses me.

Schlep across the freeway and through a depressing slum, therein to visit the fabric store/vacuum cleaner repair store. Go to the front counter, where I ask about vacuum repair. (The place is primarily a fabric store for quilters.) Am told to go to the back of the (very large) store.

Walk to the back of the store. They tell me to go to the front counter.

Walk to the front counter. There I’m told they don’t repair Shark vacuums because they can’t get the parts. “That’s why they’re so cheap,” says the broad behind the counter. If you think I’m going to replace this thing with one of those Mieles you folks are peddling, you are FREAKING NUTS. They’re evidently lying, because at Amazon customers remark on having this, that, or the other item repaired on their Sharks, and Amazon sells Shark parts. But if the only repair shop in town refuses to fix it, my sole alternative is to buy a new one, which probably wouldn’t cost much more than paying those clowns to fix it. Ask them if they’ll toss the thing, and they say sure. I figure they’ll fix it and resell it, but WTF.

Now for another try at the post office.

There’s another PO near the ’hood, about the same distance from the Funny Farm as the one over in the blight by the freeway. This one is usually less busy; it’s better staffed, and the regulars there seem to be more competent than the bunch over by the freeway. So, traipse north of Gangbanger’s Way into Sunnyslope, park a good long distance from the door, and without much hope, trudge into the building.

And yup: the line there is even longer! People are backed all the way up to the door, a good 20 customers standing there looking bored and annoyed.


Drive down to the Albertson’s shopping center. There one can find a Matchbox Car store that has a postal counter.

“Can you send these envelopes return receipt requested?”

“Sure. Fill out these forms.”

No line. Zero waiting. Nil aggravation. Why didn’t I think of this at the outset? I must be getting senile.

Head on down to the Target, thereinat to buy a new Shark. To get there, I have to navigate endless signals around the accursed train tracks, playing touch-tag with the Bum Express lightrail all the way down to the Target/Walmart/Costco shopping center.

This Shark-purchasing task used to be easy. Not so anymore!

First time I bought a Shark at the Target, they had one (1) model. No hassle. Next time, they had two (yes, just 2). Not much of a hassle there, either. But today? They had a freaking can-can line of Shark vacuum cleaners! What exactly were the differences among these contraptions is unclear. Which is what and why? I decide to go home and look them up on Amazon, where I can at least see the rants and raves of random consumers.

Pick up a bag of tennis balls for the dog, walk to the front of the store, where the longest wall in the whole huge building is lined with checkout stands…most of them closed. Two self-serve stands way down on the south end and one self-serve stand way over on the north end are open…and vacant. Two (2) cash registers staffed by humans are serving lines of customers backed halfway to the cosmetics department.

Well, I figure, if I have to order from Amazon, I might as well buy the tennis balls there. Out the door.

On the way to the car, I reflect that Costco, which is right next door in an adjacent parking lot, vets its products pretty well. They have in the past carried Shark vacuums. If they have one, it’s probably the one their buyer thinks is the best.

Okay. Move the car a quarter-mile, traipse into the store, and track down the vacuums.

Yea verily, they do have Shark: only two models, each well rated at Amazon. I buy the one that looks most similar to the one I just tossed. A hundred sixty dollah!

Cheap, eh?

Peruse the mattresses. See a couple that will do the job nicely. Confirm that you can’t buy them there and arrange for delivery: you have to go online to give them your money and beg them to deliver the thing.

Having been told this before, I’ve watched for mattress stores as I’ve been trudging around the city. These seem to have been put out of business by Tuft & Needle, a popular mail-order product that has two stores in more affluent parts of the Valley.

Tuft & Needle, I’m sure, is wonderful. But their mattresses are made of foam. I’ve never cared for foam mattresses. Sorry, I may be retrograde (again), but I want an innerspring mattress, dammit! Besides, even if their mattresses are miracles from heaven, they don’t deliver and cart off the old stuff. The mattress I’ve got is so heavy I can’t even rotate it by myself, to say nothing of hauling it out to the alley.

No mattress companies. The department stores that used to carry mattresses have closed. WTF?

So I give up and figure I’ll have to order a Sealy or something from Costco’s online site. And lemme tellya…I really, truly, do NOT want to buy a mattress sight unseen.

There’s a Penney’s next door to that Costco, but the area is so downscale I think I’d do better to schlep to the Penney’s in Paradise Valley, or go over to the Whole Foods shopping center in the Biltmore area to see if the mattress store that used to be there is still holding forth. Choices are likely to be better in either of those garden spots.


Think of that: three hours to mail two envelopes and buy a (relatively) cheap vacuum cleaner.

The other day I was chatting with a friend about the dystopic nature of life in Our America. I think this kind of experience is emblematic of that dystopia.

Consider: in the name of political correctness, globalism, and corporate greed, what do we have?

  • Washers that do not wash clothes
  • Dishwashers that do not wash dishes
  • Wall ovens that burn themselves out if you set them to “broil,” to say nothing of trying to use the self-clean feature
  • Cheap foam mattresses sold to us as the be-all and end-all of sleeping luxury
  • Water-saving toilets that have to be flushed three times each time you use them — assuming they’ll flush at all
  • Water spigots that dispense water at a slow drizzle
  • Water heaters that cost $800
  • Steak that even fairly affluent Americans cannot afford
  • Farm-raised fish full of filth and chemicals
  • A steady diet of unhealthy, processed food
  • Cars that cost three times as much as your first home cost
  • Weed killers that do not kill weeds
  • Medications that promote drug addiction
  • Doctors whose goal is to get you hooked on medications of all varieties
  • Homeless drug addicts swarming the street corners and living in our alleys and yards
  • Prisons run by corporations that don’t even provide basic healthcare for the hordes of minor offenders warehoused there
  • Schools like prisons, where children are regularly terrorized in bullet-dodging drills
  • A plague of untreated mental illness (hence the need to teach children to dodge bullets)
  • Costs for basics — like cars and homes — that are now so high that most mothers have to work, leaving the kids in day-care: no option there
  • Cameras and microphones spying on us at every corner
  • Computers that record our every move, from purchases of bug spray online to what TV shows we watch
  • Jobs that do not pay a living wage
  • Decently paying blue-collar jobs sent off-shore
  • Junk merchandise, sold at upscale prices, shipped back into the country, made by underpaid workers in those off-shored jobs
  • Desperate, beleaguered citizens who elect a batsh!t corrupt administration in a mistaken effort to bring back the good old days…which really were better than what we have now, objectively speaking

Lovely, isn’t it?

We live in a dystopia. What marks that dystopia is exactly what my father used to worry about and, in his most pessimistic moments, would predict was gonna happen: Our standard of living is slipping.

He believed that America, simply by its top-heavy nature, risked sliding back into Third-World conditions. This, he feared, would happen for political and economic reasons. And he knew whereof he spoke, when it came to Third-World conditions. As a young pup, one of his first jobs was delivering milk in a horse-drawn wagon. He escaped Texas and went to sea, and then along came the Great Depression — when he and my mother passed ten days eating nothing but oranges and pancakes. And he spent most of his life sailing to Third-World countries, plus for 10 years we lived in a country that was a relic of the Middle Ages.

I used to think, when he’d go on about this subject, that it was just his right-wing craziness speaking. But he was right. 

It’s highly unlikely he would have voted for Donald Trump, and neither would my mother — they recognized corruption and lies in action. But the woman he married after my mother died surely would have — she shared his thinking about the inexorable downward slide of America, but in addition she was very stupid.

Still, my guess is he’d have cheerfully voted for Mike Pence. In a heartbeat. And it’s no wonder, when you look at what has happened and continues to happen to the lives of working-class Americans.

And in the lives of all of us.

Anybody Know How Well This Vacuum Works?

This afternoon I came across a Shark Navigator Never Loses Suction upright vacuum at Costco, where it’s selling for somewhat less than Amazon wants. Customer reviews at Amazon are pretty good.

I really have no business thinking about this thing. Just a couple of months ago I bought a Eureka Boss Smart-Vac Upright HEPA Vacuum Cleaner at Fry’s Electronics. Bad move: whereas the Eureka does not suck (literally!), Fry’s return policy decidedly does. I just hate the Eureka. And I hate taking things back to Fry’s so violently that I’m resigned to keeping the piece of junk, or donating it to Goodwill.

Hate, loathe, and despise it! The Eureka is so heavy I work up a sweat pushing it around the all-tile floors in this house—and that was before I dislocated my shoulder. With the arm out of whack, I couldn’t use it at all. It doesn’t pick up. You have to pass the thing back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and FORTH over small particles of debris before they get lifted from the floor. It has no suction at all around the front and sides, so you have to use the hose and attachment to vacuum along the baseboards. All the baseboards. Every. single. goddamn. baseboard. It’s so wide you can’t get it around the furniture or squeeze it between the toilet and the bathroom cabinetry. And the foot lever is so stiff I have to wear a sturdy pair of clodhoppers to operate it—you can NOT push the foot lever barefooted or in flip-flops. To snap the machine back up into its upright position after vacuuming, I have to roll it up against a wall, brace it firmly, and then shove it into place hard; otherwise I can’t get it to pop it upright to put it away.

Disgusted—and needing to vacuum the floors willy nilly, sore arm or no sore arm—I repaired the broken handle on my good old Panasonic with soft felt fabric and yards of duct tape (the home handyman’s secret weapon!), relegating the new junk to the garage. So now it’s functioning again.

But the Panasonic is really old. Sooner or later it’s going to give up the proverbial ghost. Feeling a little stung after the Eureka débâcle, especially since Consumer Reports puffed the thing, I hesitate to run out and buy another vacuum cleaner. At least not without some real-life reports from people who have actually used it in their homes.

Do you have any experience with the Shark Navigator? If so, do tell…in the comments below, please! 🙂

Consumer Reports: Renew, or not?

I run hot and cold on Consumer Reports, the organ of Consumers Union, the nonprofit that has appointed itself the guardian of your interests and mine. In general, I do feel supportive of CU, because it has done some remarkable and excellent things for the common good. And since I can’t donate to every worthy cause that comes my way (or even to more than a couple of them), subscribing to CU’s magazine feels like a way of supporting the organization.

But. Though I do enjoy reading Consumer Reportsmost of the time, a number of issues about it bother me. Videlicet:
A paid subscription to the hard-copy version will not get you into their website. Annoying.
Once again, I started receiving hysterical “YOUR SUBSCRIPTION IS ABOUT TO EXPIRE” notices four months before the annual bill was due. That particular high-pressure sales tactic is not only annoying, it’s dishonest. It disturbs me to see an alleged guardian of the consumer’s interest engaging in a scheme to get people to pony up more money than they have to, sooner than they have to.
Sometimes their recommendations are strictly a matter of taste, and that opinion often doesn’t jibe with mine. Because Consumer Reports is so hugely influential, manufacturers will occasionally change products to accommodate something said in one of these opinion pieces. In at least one instance, this led to a change in a favorite shampoo’s formerly mild perfume, so that I quit buying it and had to to find another, more expensive product that met my desiderata (i.e., “doesn’t stink of some industrial chemist’s idea of what the sheep think smells good”).
Occasionally, their product reviews and advice are just flat wrong.

This month’s issue is unusually heavy on articles that fall into the last two categories.

Take, for example, “Vets Weigh In on Fido’s Food.” Parenthetically, the authors admit that seven of the eight experts in veterinary nutrition interviewed for this article were funded by the pet-food industry. That disclaimer out of the way (way out of the way), they then go on to report these worthies’ statements as gospel. One such statement was that pets are being made ill from homemade pet food, something that has gained popularity since the last episode in which hundreds (possibly thousands) of American household pets were poisoned by adulterants in animal feed.

It certainly is true that if you feed your dog table scraps, you’ll likely make Fido sick. Three reasons for that:
1. Onions (and other plants in the onion family, such as garlic, scallions, and chives) are toxic to dogs. They cause a type of anemia that can, over time, do the animal in. A large dose of onion can make any dog—especially a smaller breed—very sick, indeed. Most human food contains onions and garlic. Read the labels on the processed foods you buy, and you’ll be surprised at how many of your favorites contain onion. And sodium in various permutations. And sugar in many forms.
2.Few humans eat well consistently. We favor junk food that is high in salt, unnecessary fat, and sugar, and even if we cook at home, we’re likely to fry our food and sprinkle on plenty of salt and sugar. These ingredients are no better for other mammals than they are for humans. Of course, if you feed your dog junk food, you will damage its health just as you will damage your own health.
3. Chocolate and alcohol are toxic to dogs. People who feed their animals off the table are likely to let Fido clean up dessert as well as the entrée. A slice of leftover chocolate cake is akin to a meal of rat poison for your dog. And there are fools who think it’s funny to watch Fang quaff a beer. Did you know that “Boozer” is one of the commonest names for cats?

However, there’s a difference between throwing table scraps into the dog’s dish and actually preparing food that is appropriate for dogs to eat. It’s not difficult to prepare healthy dog food in your kitchen. The principle is simple, the same principle that underlies healthy human food: varied sources of starch (such a rice, potatoes, yams, oatmeal), varied sources of vegetables (green and yellow, not to include corn), and varied sources of protein (beef, lamb, venison, pork, fish, chicken, egg, cottage cheese, yoghurt). Meat items should be cooked and, IMHO, free of bones (I know, I know! But unless you enjoy paying for veterinary surgery, spare your dog the bones, especially cooked bones).

Condescendingly, CR tells us that “if you insist on making your own pet food,” you should go to websites certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. Go there, click on “homemade foods,” and you’re directed to two sites where you have to pay to get pet food recipes. Understand: these are pay-per-recipe enterprises! The proposition is that you will pay someone to tell you to mix various combinations of three sources of starch, vegetables, and protein about 1/3:1/3:1/3!

Consumer-friendly, that ain’t.

This month’s matter-of-taste piece is a squib on coffee, in which the researchers tell us you don’t have to pay for Gloria Jean’s or Peet’s to get a decent cup of java, especially if (surprise surprise!) you dilute the stuff with milk and sugar. Peet’s is described as tasting “burnt and bitter” (might they accidentally have brewed up some Starbuck’s?). They do report that Dunkin’ Donuts, which IMHO offers up the best coffee of any fast-food joint, has a good decaf (though they fail to note the oxymoron). But they fail to discover that Costco’s dark roast coffee is the best buy on the brick-and-mortar market, with beans that are almost as good as the expensive “gourmet” variety at very reasonable prices.

And speaking of matters of opinion, we’re invited to peruse the latest and greatest in televisions, since after all we’re about to lose our analog signal and so this might be an opportunity to replace the old 90-pound clunker parked on a table in the living room. Under “Budget Buyer,” we’re told that “low-priced sets from major labels can be good buys.” Of these bargains, the cheapest “smart choice” is a Vizio 32-inch LCD set for $450. A sharp 42-inch LCD qualifies as “low priced,” too, at $1,100.

Four hundred and fifty bucks is low-priced? Get freaking real! If this is low-priced, then I am effectively priced out of the television market. I already know I can’t replace the handy little TV that sits atop the fridge, and so when digital finally arrives with a vengeance, the PBS News Hour will be history at my house. But evidently once the second-hand set I have in the TV room wears out (that would be the one that periodically tells me PBS, NBC, CBS, Fox, or ABC has “no signal”), I won’t be watching any television that can’t be downloaded for free from the Internet.

Then, by coincidence, we find one of my perennial sources of CR irritation, this year’s rehash of their vacuum cleaner ratings. As usual, Hoover and Kenmore are way up there.

Hoover used to make a great vacuum cleaner. Some years ago, however, the company was purchased by Whirlpool, which promptly junked up the product. So, of late the things are unreliable and inefficient. The changeover came about the time SDXB found a Hoover that was THE top-rated model, on sale at a smokin’ price at the Luke AFB Base Exchange. In fact, staff there had accidentally put the wrong price on it. But because SDXB found the thing with that price, they sold it to him…and sold him two more units at the same absurd discount, one for me and one for his daughter.

Minutes after the limited warranty expired, all three vacuums crapped out. They all died of the same flaw, and they all died within a week of each other.

Hoover, we understood, had taken planned obsolescence to the level of high art.

Interestingly, in this month’s issue, Hoover vacuum cleaners appear as second only to Simplicity as most unreliable among upright models, and third in the race to unreliability among canisters, after Electrolux and Miele. If these things are unreliable junk, then why are two Hoover uprights flagged as “recommended” and two canisters as “best buys”?

After the Hoover hat trick, SDXB and I each bought the highest-rated (expensive!) Kenmores. I hated my Kenmore. It was clumsy, difficult to use, given to falling over and whacking me on the foot, and generally a nuisance. Because my house had all hard floors, before long I took the thing back to Sears and then trotted over to Fry’s Electronics, where I bought the cheapest Panasonic on the shelf. The thing did all I needed it to and then some, and, years later, it still runs. SDXB, whose house was mostly carpeted, kept the Kenmore but was no happier with his than I was with the one I returned.

All these ruminations over the current issue lead me to ask myself: Why am I paying to have this magazine delivered to my house?

I think the answer is about to be I’m not.