When I sent Gnat off to camp I had a request: come back with several half-completed lanyards made of colorful plastic. Rolled eyes and grins. Okay Dad.
Week later: my wife and I join the throng in the church parking lot, waiting for the fleet of buses that bring them back from distant camp. Just a few minutes after the scheduled time, there they are. They honk their horns as they enter the lot. The parents cheer. And by "parents" I mean, hundreds of us. Some people have signs; we have two balloons. I'm ambivalent about the balloons. They're Happy Birthday balloons, appropriate for the day - but might she be mortified? Oh my God my parents are so lame they're standing there smiling and you guys they have balloons.
But that, it seems, can wait for the teen years. She bounds off the bus, all smiles. Beaming. She loves the balloons.
In her hand: a lanyard, half-completed. I laugh. "No seriously I learned how to do it and I finished some," she says. Better than I ever did. I do remember the colors I chose: turquise and beige.
“You can have a scoop of ice cream for every letter you wrote,” I say, and she said “really?” before it clicked in: oh, right.
I suppose that’s good. It means they were having fun. I don’t remember writing my folks either, although I do recall getting letters that made me feel guilty for not sending letters; that’s why everything I sent was a card with something pithy and inane.
Off to the local bistro - it has a sister establishment across the street, but no one ever calls them the local bistri - for pizza and a torrent of tales, then home for the birthday cake. She got what she had been hoping for: a new phone.
The old phone, you see, was impossible for texting. Just had a numerical keyboard. This meant she could not text if she wasn’t on wifi with her iPod. Can’t text on the bus. So I could go all grumpy old man with onions on his belt / why in my day we sent messages by pigeon and it took an afternoon and we liked it, or I could bend to the requirements of modern childhood, Lucky Child Bracket, and get a phone. Difficulty: my own cheapness. I can’t stand the thought of adding a phone to the plan - or, rather, adding another of those modern demons, Recurring Charges. This meant a pre-paid.
Do you know what your options are for prepaid? Sucktacular. I checked at Sprint, and they had a Virgin Optimus, which sounds like the Head Vestal - $179, and it ran Android, and did all kinds of things for which she has an iPad. Go down a notch and there’s not much else. The clerk said: go to Target. I like that. I like a clerk who says “you’re better served at another retail outlet, which will meet your needs with far more exacting precision.”
And it did. There were two clerks at Target who knew everything about pre-paid options. It takes a special type of personality to really get into selling cellphones. The Target guys were full of wisdom about the individual options. The Sprint guy had a certain . . . I don’t know. Like this isn’t his chosen career. Like he’d ditch it as soon as he could, but for the moment, he was all about Sprint phones, except that he cleared his brain of Sprint phones the moment he checked out, and filled the space with Xbox as quickly as possible.
It’s a profession that is not unfamiliar with skeeviness, is all I’m saying. But the Target guys - whoa. He could quote from memory the multiplicity of pre-paid options I had before me, a glorious world of choices. I ended up with a non-smart phone that had a slide-out keyboard, because some dim memory told me she thought they were super-ultra cool. And lo: I got the fervent YESSSS when she saw the package.
So the birthday was an immense success, and as I stood there watching her blow out the candles, I couldn’t help but think of the day 12 years ago when she was born.
Let me rephrase that: I couldn’t help but think that I should be thinking of that day, and wasn’t.
Isn't that the thing you're supposed to do on birthdays? Remember the moment of birth? I never forgot. It's never more than a thought away. Nor are the parties of yore lost to the mists of history: the bouncy in the backyard bedecked with images of Disney princesses; the year we had a magician; the Webkinz party where the squeee-peals of glee were followed with a solid hour of Code Activation (the other day I was reminding her of the dozens of slumbering Webkinz residing in a server somewhere, never to awaken, their dreamless sleep in a room she had designed and abandoned, the millions of cast-off Webkinz that would never eat, or visit the doctor, or . . . no, that’s all they did, really. It’s a haunting image. They’re deactivated after a certain time, I believe - a program automatically rummages through the files and deletes the code with robot ruthlessness. Built-in cybernetic death-panels with a little Logan’s Run: reach a certain age, and it’s Carousel for your toys), the scavenger hunts my wife would put together (one item was a shell, which I think we brought back from Cozumel when my wife was pregnant.
After the scavenger hunt I put it on the brick ledge on the house, one of those “put it here so I can pick it up later” things, and five, six years it’s still there. (Just checked.) Wind, storms, blizzards: it’s always there. Almost as if it represents some sort of journey that came to a place where it was supposed to be, and thereafter remained at rest! he said, looking for cheap symbolism.
Speaking of journeys: just got off the phone with my dad. He was in Colorado last week. Did a zipline. The man’s 86 years old. I expect this will now be a yearly treat for him for a decade, at least.
Hey, long time no see grocery store product commentary! This annoyed me:
Ahem. Dear designers for this product. I know what you’re looking for: that “retro” appeal that brings back the era of soda fountains! And Coke and bobby socks and Chubby Haley and “Great Shaking Balls of Rattlin’ Roll.” But this was not a font they used. This typeface, of course, is Fontdinerdotcom Sparkly, and I believe it’s circa 2002. It was beloved in its time for the retro emanations of its penumbra, but it’s played out.
Target has refreshed its Market Pantry line. That’s the low-end stuff. Market Pantry is the Old Navy, Archer Farms is the Banana Republic.
Old and shredded:
Virtues: doesn't look like it's half-empty. Demerit: the phrase "Same Amount of Product." No one wants to think of their cheese as PRODUCT. Swapped too much red space for too much white space. No reason Cheddar Jack couldn't be bigger. Brand now floats in the red space.
Both look somewhat generic. By the way, there’s a specific meaning to that term, not considered anymore: in the late 70s? early 80s? products in stores were sold with no packaging or labeling at all, just the most basic graphics possible. They were known as Generics. The term meant something cheap and standard and unencumbered by the slightest attempt at marketing. The default colors: yellow background, black text.
It was a sign of the times, and the future: things would be getting worse, things would be getting scarce. (I remember driving into the night heading up a North Dakota highway with a friend who was nodding sagely to the Police song “When the World is Running Down,” because that’s where it was all going and everyone knew it. We were pretty sure we were heading into a brown cloudy future drinking cheap BEER from generic cans, while fascist leaders spoke sunny bromides on the big TVs in the public square. I mean, c’mon, man, Reagan.
It ended up running down all right, but only here and there - and not for the reasons we thought.
Forgot all about tumblr and Instagram Monday: Horrors. That won't happen again. Full panoply of Stuff today; perhaps, for once, I'll do the modern annoying boastful thing it and tweet it all. Just an experiment. For now: Comic Sins. See you around!