Basket Case

So, here’s the thing: lately when I go into my supermarket — I won’t mention which one, but let’s just say they are committed to chopping prices — the cashier sometimes asks this question:

“May I help you with anything on the bottom of your cart today?”

To me, that sounds a little like:

“Are you planning to steal something by ‘forgetting’ it in bottom of your cart today?”

Hey, just because I haven’t shaved in three days and didn’t take a shower doesn’t mean I’m going to steal sh*t from your store.

It could be that they’re just being helpful, you know, for customers who can’t reach into the bottom of their cart. Except I’ve also noticed that there are discreet little signs posted near the cashiers that read What about BOB? BOB stands for bottom of basket.

There’s no question that theft is a problem for supermarkets. That’s why chains, like the one that chops prices, have a serious commitment to security; little things count in an operation that operates on a narrow margin. I once heard some crazy stories from one of their security workers about nabbing brazen grocery thieves.

It’s worth noting that they also now ask customers if they need help to their car. Could this be to have a look at what we’re hiding in the trunk? Perhaps, perhaps.

The Facts Escape Them

Vincent Musetto, who wrote the classic NY Post headline Headless Body in Topless Bar, died this week. You should read this fascinating story about how the Post fact-checked the topless part of the tale, and ended up printing the most famous headline ever.

headline

But speaking of headlines and fact checking, let’s talk about Dannemora.

I’ve been deeply fascinated by the recent prison break and read everything I could get my hands on, like the Times Union’s front page story today with this headline:

Fugitives end 150-Year era — Residents worked “The Job” with no escapes — until now.

They interviewed John Egan, who used to run OGS and once worked in the prison. An excerpt:

Egan was “flabbergasted” by last weekend’s breakout, the first such incident in the prison’s 150-year history.

Egan went on to say, “That record of no breakouts stood for 150-years. It spoke for itself.” Well, that’s quite a record — except it seems that Egan may be a little confused on top of being flabbergasted.

The New York Times ran a story this week saying that the prison has a long and colorful history of “breakouts,” including two that involved escaping through tunnels and pipes. Then, just minutes ago, I heard a similar story on NPR about the “two dozen” escapes from the prison.

It could be that the New York Times and NPR are completely wrong about this Dannemora thing. After all, the TU story was written by the paper’s star reporter, Paul Grondahl, with help from one Keshia Clukey.

So why does it matter? I guess because if you can’t get something simple right, maybe we shouldn’t trust you with something complicated.

Oh, and by the way: the Times Union — without an editor’s note — changed the online version of the story so that the second paragraph simply reads, “Egan was “flabbergasted” by last weekend’s breakout” — without the 150-years part.

To tell you the truth, I’m a bit flabbergasted, myself.

Put Your Hand in the Hand

Do they hold hands at your church? At mine they do.

In the past several years, people have started clasping hands during the Lord’s Prayer. They never did before – but let me give you a little background.

For years, my parish, St. Thomas in Delmar, was oppressively uptight. Mass was less a celebration than a sentence to an hour of tight-assed torture.

I would occasionally go to other places – like St. Vincent de Paul in Albany – and marvel at the inspiring atmosphere at mass. “Wow,” I’d say, “this is what Jesus must have had in mind!” Then, back at my church, I’d be subjected to the joyless, prison-like ordeal that did more to suck out your soul than uplift your spirit.

Then, several years ago, we got a new pastor, a no-nonsense guy who’d done his time at tough inner-city churches. He had little patience for the politics  inherent to our affluent suburban parish, and started making changes. That’s when people started leaving. It turns out that many congregants would rather drive elsewhere on Sunday than deal with a little change.

Our pastor’s latest terrible scheme? He’s rearranging the pews to create a more inviting atmosphere. You can’t imagine how angry people are about that. Heretic!

Back to hand-holding. Suddenly, it seemed people were unafraid to hold hands. For years folks have been doing this during the Lord’s Prayer, but never at our parish. It’s almost as if they thought they’d be yelled at or something, cowering at the raised fist of authority.

I’m ambivalent about the hand-holding. Personally, I could do without it, because it feels a bit artificial. I don’t really enjoy holding hands with strangers – but if it makes people feel good, who am I to complain?

But it’s good to see these changes. Could it be that a church based on humility is finally returning to its roots? Let’s hope so; the church had better embrace change or else we won’t have one.

Wash Your Melon

In the kitchen one recent morning, I set about to slice up a watermelon.

My wife was reading the obituaries — as often does over coffee — pointing out the men my age who’d died, some of them quite suddenly.

“You wash these before slicing them, right?”

“Why would I wash a watermelon?”

“The same reason you wash anything — except melons are worse. They grow on the ground and the soil could be contaminated with E. coli. I read somewhere that the farm workers don’t have proper toilet facilities and they poop in the fields. The E. coli gets in the soil, the soil touches the melons… next thing you know, you’re in the hospital.”

I paused.

“Would you like some to bring to work?”

Smudge Report

A co-worker suggested I check out a new website, saying it’s like The Onion, except local. I set my expectations on low. I’ve spent enough time reading Times Union blogs to know that when people try being funny, it usually sucks.

But I went to Albany Smudge anyway – and I was pleasantly surprised.

At Albany Smudge you’ll find satirical news stories that are both funny and dead on target. Many of the pieces use references that display a deep knowledge of local culture and the stereotypes we have of area towns. For example, this jab at snooty Bethlehem:

“The Town of Bethlehem is even a little less friendly now that it has announced it will remove all “welcome” signs by the end of the summer. The move, said one local official, is being made so that area signage “conforms more accurately to the evolving views of our residents toward outsiders.”

The writer knows Bethlehem, right down to the annoying hyphenated last names.

People will be curious to know the author’s identity. Whoever is behind this is a real writer — not some hack like me who bangs out silly blog posts — and he or she deserves credit.

My only critique is a tiny one: some stories might play better using the names of real local figures and politicians, but that’s easy for me to say; I’m not the one responsible in case someone gets angry — and the fake names are pretty good.

Chalk up this one up as a winner. A bright spot on an increasingly bleak and depressing internet.

Canis Populi

If you take your dogs to Thacher Park, it’s best to go early. More often than not, you’ll have the place to yourself and they can race up and down the trails without bothering anyone.

One recent morning was different. Instead of the usual empty parking lot, we found three school busses — and the hiking paths were far from empty. We were barely out of the car when college kids started approaching us and asking to take pictures of the dogs.

Pictures of the dogs? Of course you can — but why?

Dogs

It turns out that this was a biology class from Siena College who were out learning about the forest by conducting a scavenger hunt, and among the things they needed to find was a mammal. As we walked along, we continued to be approached by mammal hunters, petting the dogs, shooting pictures and checking off an item on their list.

At one point, we encountered their instructor, who looked on sourly as the students discovered our dogs. I’m sure he had squirrels, chipmunks or other woodland critters in mind — not dogs — when coming up with the activity.

But hey, you take what you can get, right? And the dogs loved being queens of the forest for a day.

Segue Fever

The college DJ in me is constantly hearing songs that belong together.  

Today I present two artists who couldn’t be more different with two songs that are long lost twins, The Offspring’s Get a Job and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by The Beatles.

Seriously, you can’t convince me that The Offspring didn’t have that song in mind. You be the judge.

Nowhere Man

Ooh, look! Delmar now has an intersection where Abbey Road and Penny Lane meet!

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Don’t get too excited. Abbey Road and Penny Lane are not quaint byways that will remind you of merry olde England, but posh townhouses that run in the $350,000 to $450,000 neighborhood. And that’s a fancy neighborhood.

And there does not appear to be a cool crosswalk where you can take a picture.

I’d love to name a street after a rock & roll song. Thunder Road, Shakedown Street, Creeque Alley… how about Desolation Row? I’m curious what you would name your street.

Burger Bites Man

Every year, local reporters and photographers head to Scotia — a place typically avoided unless there’s a murder or a particularly interesting fire — to cover the opening of Jumpin’ Jack’s Drive-In, the ad hoc beginning of spring in the Capital Region.

You know what would be news? If Jumpin’ Jacks DIDN’T open — yet every year we get the same damn story. Here’s an example from last year. Sorry in advance for the terrible video player. Continue reading