Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Some memorable advice in commencement speech

By Dick Hirsch
As they do every year, commencement speakers across the land again this season strode to the podiums, where they attempted to impart some succinct wisdom to the graduates, while at the same time trying to avoid boring the audience of parents and families.
That is no easy task. The graduates are all preoccupied, so excited by the event itself and the anticipation of the parties that will follow, that few will ever remember what was said by any of the speakers. Even patient listeners up in the gallery often have trouble finding any memorable advice. I’ve tried and failed on many occasions, but this year it was different. Here is the notable comment I heard:
“You are all now high school graduates,” the speaker declared, “and that now will soon qualify you to vote, pay taxes and do your own laundry.”
I doubt that was an original line, but it yielded an appreciative response from the audience. It was one of the high points for me because I wish someone had made that observation at my commencement. As I sat there in cap and gown, I was ill-prepared to handle any of those duties, especially the laundry.
Of course, times were simpler then. Perhaps today’s graduates are more advanced, but as I embarked upon life’s journey as a supposed adult, I knew little of the mysteries of doing laundry. I doubt whether my friends knew much more. Somehow there always seemed to be a supply of clean socks and underwear in the dresser drawers.
And as I adjusted to the routine of the college campus, laundry was the least of my concerns. I was so worried about coping with certain daunting academic requirements, notably Differential Calculus and Survey of Botany & Biology, that I never gave much thought to housekeeping matters like laundry.
That gap in my knowledge soon resulted in a serious personal crisis. After familiarizing myself with the operation of a nearby laundromat, I became a regular customer. It seemed simple enough: place the clothes and soap inside, shut the door, and then turn the dial and push the button. Everything went smoothly for a few weeks and I assumed I was a laundry expert. Then I decided my recently acquired sweatshirt needed to be washed.
It was a maroon garment. I tossed it in with the underwear, pushed the button and left. One of the services provided by the woman in charge was removing clothes from the washers, then drying and folding them. When I returned to pick up my clothes. I was shocked to find that I now had a matched set of pink underwear. As I looked at my laundry I was on the verge of hysteria.
“What happened?” I asked. She pointed to the sweatshirt. “The color ran into the white,” she said. “Never mix darks with lights.” She tried to calm me, saying that regular future washings would eventually return the clothes to their original state. That prediction proved to be inaccurate.
Need I report that it does nothing to elevate a person’s reputation among fellow freshmen to be seen around the locker room or the dorm in pink shorts and T-shirts? It gave me yet another reason to try to avoid those mandatory gym classes.
The pink skivvies were discarded years ago, but the memory lingers, and that commencement speech brought the whole laundry episode once again into focus.
The fact of the matter is this: I was scarred by that early negative experience in doing my own laundry, and I have attempted over the years to demonstrate that, under controlled conditions, lights and darks can be washed together. I would never suggest tossing in a maroon or other deep colored item with whites, unless---and this part is important---unless they have had many previous washings and the dyes have become less likely to migrate to the whites. Given the opportunity to do laundry over the years, I have perfected the treatment of what I call the miscellaneous load.
It is an approach that conservationists should embrace since it saves soap, water and time. Despite those benefits, the miscellaneous load theory has been adopted by only a small percentage of launderers. It has become a matter of gender, with women, who have seized control of the laundry operation in most domestic jurisdictions, totally rejecting the concept and insisting upon separate but equal treatment. That has created occasional conflicts that often require negotiation and resolution. That might be a topic for a future commencement address.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A ride in the country

By Dick Hirsch
Can I afford to continue driving? I asked myself that question again last week after I took a ride in the country to meet an old friend for dinner. The roundtrip totaled 110 miles.
On the way home I did a little simple arithmetic, dividing 110 by 20 miles per gallon of gas, and then multiplying by $3 per gallon (although I had paid more), thus calculating that this drive in the country cost me over $15 in gas. I enjoyed the ride and the dinner and I will probably make that same trip again in the future because I am thus far unwilling to change my behavior because of the price of gas.
It’s a stubborn reaction, I realize, but like most Americans I am so dependent upon the automobile that other options have little or no appeal.
I can still remember the conversation that took place years ago where an insurance executive friend made what seemed to be a dire prediction.
“Gas is going to cost us a dollar a gallon by summer,” he said. “We’ll see how far people go when they‘re paying a buck a gallon.”
I wasn’t the only listener as he made that statement. He had a small audience and not a single person was ready to believe gas would ever break the dollar threshold. We all knew gasoline had always cost much more in Europe and most of the world but US prices were lower. “Where did you get that information?” they asked. “First hand,” he said. He had just been on the phone with a friend in California who had paid 99.9 cents, and who predicted that pricing was moving east as we spoke.
We all shook our heads in wonder, curious to know what was happening in the world of petroleum, and how we would react and adjust to that price, if and when it ever went up on the sign in our neighborhood. We were at that time paying about 85 cents for a gallon of regular, and the price had been escalating. This must have been about 20 years ago.
The price did top a dollar that summer and has been heading upward ever since. How did we react?
We adjusted. We never thought any of us would be able to accept the rising price with equanimity, but we have. The transition was easier than expected; we are so committed to the automobile, that there seems to have been relatively few who have curtailed their driving.
I filled up in Tonawanda a week ago. At the next pump was a man with a small truck. As I was watching the spinning dial of my pump approaching $40, his fill-up ended and registered $61.75. I pretended not to notice.
“I can’t drive this thing much longer,” he volunteered. “I don’t really need a truck and we have a small car at home. Besides, I only work about seven miles from home and I’m thinking about riding a bike to work.”
He might have been thinking about it but I doubted he would ever proceed with that plan. There was nothing I could say to console him. I cannot advise you, either. Should I have suggested trading the truck for a hybrid? People who own hybrids seem to endorse them, but prices are high and it will take years of saving to compensate for the higher purchase price.
I recently returned from a 1,700 mile drive during which I cruised through six states. The highways all seemed crowded, the roadside stops were busy and the gasoline stations had lines of cars with motorists patiently waiting for their opportunity to fill their tank to the brim.
There was little enthusiasm for the task with the prices hovering at over $3 a gallon, a number that didn’t seem to deter many drivers, and contribute to a noticeable reduction in traffic.
Those old enough to remember when gas was an incidental rather than a major expense have made a most astonishing transition. They can remember when, as young drivers, they might pull into a service station and order “two dollars worth.” That would give them about six gallons, enough for some serious cruising. Today it buys a little over two quarts. There are fewer fill-ups today because of the expense, and I regularly pass a station with a sign on the pumps announcing the minimum purchase is $5. I’m expecting them to change that sign any day.


Sunday, June 03, 2007

Admitting an addiction

By Dick Hirsch
I’ve never been very good at returning items that have disappointed me. Oh, sure, if the soup is lukewarm or the toast too soggy, I will point it out and ask for a replacement. But I don’t go much further than that.
If the chicken is overcooked and tough or if the shirt I just bought doesn’t exactly match well with any of the the sweaters I have at home, I’m likely to accept the situation without a complaint. Some people are unrestrained when it comes to rejecting and returning things, whether it involves French fries that aren’t crispy enough or a skirt that makes them look too hippy.
For me, it’s always a challenge to decide when the fault is serious enough to warrant a return and when it is modest enough to be accepted. Returns are a sensitive subject because most customers are not anxious to criticize the product of a supplier, yet they don’t want to accept less than the standard for which they are paying.
The question of returns became an issue when Peter Pan announced the national peanut butter recall. I have had a serious relationship with peanut butter since childhood. As the years passed, I have been waiting to outgrow that yearning, believing that when a person reaches a certain maturity the taste buds will no longer react to peanut butter with the same exuberance.
Maybe it works that way with some people, but not with me. I still love peanut butter, even though I have memorized the nutrition information on the label, announcing, among other things, that a serving size of two tablespoons is 200 calories, of which 140 are the dreaded fat calories. When that fat statistic is mentioned, as it sometimes is, I always respond by pointing out that peanut butter has zero milligrams of cholesterol.
With that as background, consider the question of the Peter Pan recall. I understand that Peter Pan is the leading brand, and it is a fine product, but I prefer another brand. In fact, I actually endorse another, having made it a policy to tell friends who are peanut butter aficionados to try the private label brands produced in Fredonia by Carriage House Foods, formerly Red Wing. I am not compensated for this endorsement, except for the grateful response of friends, one of whom continually expresses his appreciation, saying the switch was a life changing event.
However, I must admit that at the time of the recall, I had in my possession the second of two large jars of Peter Pan, creamy, not crunchy. (I have been told that crunchy has been making spectacular gains in recent years, but I still prefer the traditional smooth variety. I will, of course, accept a serving of crunchy whenever that is being served.)
The Peter Pan was a special purchase, an acquisition for the pantry not sanctioned by me, but I accepted it in a positive manner and soon opened one jar and put it into play. There are those who, over the years, have threatened to force me to submit to a blind taste test, with my Fredonia brand facing off against national brands like Peter Pan or Jif. They claim I could not tell the difference. I have thus far refused the challenge, not out of concern that I would fail the test, but because peanut butter is a very serious topic and such a test would be a charade.
The announcement of the recall was accompanied by the news that many customers had been sickened by Peter Pan. Some jars were contaminated with Salmonella, a food borne bacteria that can cause illness and serious discomfort. At the time, I had just finished one large jar of Peter Pan and still had another in the cupboard, unopened, imprinted with the ominous code number---2111---on the lid of the jar. I assumed the first jar was from the same lot since they were purchased at the same time and were actually wrapped as a twosome.
Yes, of course I knew I should discard the unopened jar and apply for a refund. Yet, I must have the latent instincts of a conservationist, and since I had consumed the first jar without incident, wasn’t it likely that the companion jar was untainted? It seemed a shame to toss one of those jars in the garbage, leaving the pantry barren of peanut butter.
But that’s what I did; tossed it out, with considerable remorse and reluctance, and mailed back the lid to Peter Pan for a refund. However, on my way to the mailbox, I did stop at the supermarket...