March 26, 2008

Going Green -- Latest Baby Step

Here's another easy step I came up with to become greener, with a couple of side benefits. If you're like me, you get inundated with catalogs and junk mail. This includes catalogs from brick and mortar stores such as Pottery Barn and online businesses such as The Company Store, junk mail coupons such as the Monthly Mailer, papers such as the PennySaver containing classified ads, and credit card offers from various banks and airlines. Especially before Christmas, but at all other times as well, these catalogs and materials quickly stuff my small mailbox. If I'm out of town or simply don't check my mailbox for a few days, it's sometimes so full that I have trouble removing the contents. If you're even more like me, you find most of these materials useless, and toss them out at the first chance you get.

So what I did a month or two ago was, every time I received a catalog or junk mail, I tore off the page containing my address and the company information, and threw the rest of the item out (in the recycle bin, of course). I then entered the company web site that was written on each catalog and most of the pieces of junk mail (if the junk mail had no web site, I merely looked up the company involved and found its web site), and navigated to the "Contact Us" or "Customer Service" link. In just about every case, this took me to a simple online response form where I could enter my name and address, as well as a box where I could ask a question or make a comment or request. I filled out the form, and asked to be taken off the company's mailing list for catalogs and other promotional materials. If my catalogs had a customer i.d. number, I included this in my communication.

Requesting to be removed from these companies' mailing lists was an easy process that only took about two minutes per company. In nearly every case, I received a response within two days or less, stating that my request would be honored, and that it may take a few catalog cycles for me to be removed. In the very few cases where there was no web site, I simply called the telephone number listed on the piece of mail, and made the same request by phone.

Now, a month or two later. I am seeing the results. The amount of catalogs and junk mail coming into my mailbox is drastically reduced. I feel like I have made another small contribution to saving the planet and some trees. The added benefits are (1) I have reduced annoying mailbox clutter; and (2) I have removed tempting spending opportunities from in front of my face. I am also expecting some thanks from my mail carrier for saving her back.

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March 14, 2008

Welcome to the World of $4 Per Gallon Gasoline

I spotted this sign at an area gas station on Friday. The posted prices are typical of current gasoline prices out here. Somebody please send this photo to George Bush. When asked by a reporter just two weeks ago about the prospect of four dollar per gallon gasoline this spring, Bush said, "That's interesting . . . I hadn't heard that."

I guess George Bush cannot be expected to know the price of gasoline. After all, Bush rides in the back of a limousine driven by Secret Service agents. Bush doesn't buy his own gas. We, the taxpayers, buy it for him. So the price of gasoline is this Bush's supermarket scanner.

And it isn't even spring yet.

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March 13, 2008

Starbucks Gets Owned by Dunkin Donuts

Ever since the highway rest area Hot Shoppes were turned into Starbucks, I have imagined a fat, grubby, smelly redneck truck driver (my apologies to fat, grubby, smelly redneck truck drivers everywhere) lumbering out of his truck and into a roadside Starbucks to order a "grande double skinny decaf moca latte with extra foam." Now Dunkin Donuts has joined in to poke fun at the pretentious Starbucks ordering process with a couple of funny television commercials.

In one Dunkin Donuts commercial, a bunch of customers in a Starbucks-like place sing a song -- which sounds like something from Blink 182 -- about how they cannot order coffee drinks because they cannot speak "Fritalian." (Clip courtesty of YouTube). In another Dunkin Donuts commercial, a woman goes to a Starbucks-type coffee shop and asks for a large coffee. The "barrista" keeps interrupting her and says "it's a 'deici'". Finally, the barrista is forced to admit that a "deici" is merely a "large." (Clip courtesy of In case the Starbucks connection isn't obvious enough, the number ten in Italian is "dieci" (same pronounciation), while the word for a large coffee at Starbucks is"venti," or "twenty" in Italian, referring to the size in ounces of the Starbucks cup.

Certainly, the Dunkin Donuts television commercials are not the first time someone has made fun of Starbucks' pretentious ordering system. Jackie Mason has a hilarious comedy routine about Starbucks (sample -- and use your best Jackie Mason inflection here -- "You want coffee in a coffee shop, that's 60 cents. But at Starbucks, Cafe Latte: $3.50. Cafe Creamier: $4.50. Cafe Suisse: $9.50. For each French word, another four dollars. ")

The Dunkin Donuts commercials are also not the first time Dunkin Donuts has highlighted its pedestrian image. Dunkin Donuts has for years prominently placed its products in the hands of blue-collar television and movie characters, including Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in "Good Will Hunting." There have even been numerous references in the current Democratic primary election cycle to Barack Obama being the candidate of Starbucks drinkers versus Hillary Clinton's alleged Dunkin Donuts-drinking supporters.

I have to hand it to Dunkin Donuts for trying to win back Starbucks customers by poking fun at Starbucks and by upgrading its own drink selection to include latte and other drinks commonly found at Starbucks. I agree with Dunkin Donuts and Jackie Mason that it's completely asinine to have to learn a new language to order a coffee, especially since Starbucks has about as much in common with Italy as a can of Spaghetti-O's. Not to mention that, as Jackie Mason says, "it's burnt coffee at Starbucks, let's be honest about it. If you get burnt coffee in a coffee shop, you call a cop."

Here in Southern California, where people take their beverage consumption very seriously, we have the best of both worlds in coffee shop chains like Peet's, which serves tasty coffee fully in English, as well as numerous local mom-and-pop coffee shops, some of which roast their own beans on the premises. Unfortunately, while Dunkin Donuts' regular coffee is the sh*t, I drink decaf, and Dunkin's decaf does not quite measure up. As for Starbucks, if I want to order in Italian or "Fritalian" to drink burnt coffee, I'll leave my coffee maker on all day while I attend a Berlitz class.

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March 08, 2008

Two Police Roadblocks, Just Another Day at UCLA

Yesterday, after manning my writers' group booth at a UCLA arts event, I encountered a police roadblock in Westwood Village at the edge of the UCLA campus. Something was happening atop a large wagon. People were making speeches. Folk musicians were playing. A crowd had formed. Some of the people wielded handmade banners. According to the signs, I had stumbled into the International Women's Day protest, where I could "[j]oin women of Iran and Afghanistan in their struggle against the woman-hating Islamic Republic of Iran and the imperialist U.S. empire."

As I walked a couple of hundred yards down the street to acquire a most imperialist badge, an icy coffee beverage from a soon-to-be global corporation, I ran into another police roadblock and pedestrian barricades hemming in a much larger crowd. There was orange everywhere -- orange carpeting laid out in the street, orange signs on the building, orange t-shirts. Had I tripped over the latest orange revolution? Quite the opposite. It was the ultimate in male-dominated, imperialist U.S. export fare: the Horton Hears a Who world movie premiere.

I did not stick around long enough to experience the anti-abortion demonstrators crashing the premiere. Apparently, the demonstrators placed red tape with the message "LIFE" over their mouths. Good thing the demonstrators didn't use orange tape, or the spectators would have thought it was some cutesy part of the premiere.

Maybe at next year's UCLA ArtsDay, I'll teach a seminar on the importance of toting one's camera everywhere.

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March 03, 2008

How to Make a Living on Venice Beach if You are Not a Lifeguard

Residents and tourists flock to Venice Beach, California to experience the local color, in one of the most colorful places in the United States. Along Venice Beach, many people try to earn, or sometimes scratch out, a living. Here is how some of them do it:

I'm going to be all over you like ... name on rice?

If a t-shirt featuring der Governator isn't your thing, how about John Goodman's crazed Jewish bowling Vietnam vet character from "The Big Lebowski," proclaiming "I don't roll on Shabbas."

Panhandlers need to be extra creative on Venice Beach. Passers by simply won't stand for the usual "can you spare some change?" request. Handmade signs and frankness are minimum requirements.

Artists of all types abound along Venice Beach. Perhaps this artist should have made use of the nearby receptacles.

This pricey eyewear shop never seems to attract many customers. Perhaps because it's a pricey eyewear shop ... on Venice Beach.

On the other hand, tattoo parlors are a popular staple of Venice Beach...

...almost as much as glass bongs.

But ultimately, Venice beach goers seem to be a hopeful bunch.

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