It’s too early, I tell you, way too early. I am not ready for this.

    • Home Depot has a virtual forest of artificial Christmas trees up.
    • I walked past a register at JC Penney today and heard the term “Door Buster” several times.
    • Santa’s Village is under construction at the malls.
    • There’s a Salvation Army bell ringer outside the NH state liquor store.

It’s November first. Halloween was yesterday.

It seems the holiday season gets extended a little every year and I’m sick to death of it. Some of this stuff started in October. 1414797470-covent-garden-christmas-decorations-set-up-in-london_6151688

At this rate, they’ll be running Black Friday sales in August, Santa will never leave the mall and JC Penney, Best Buy, Walmart, Sears et al. will be running super-deluxe-door-vaporizing sales every day of the year.

I’m starting to think, the guy who leaves his lights up all year was right.

Every year I feel less and less Christmas spirit. Usually, by the time we get to December 25th I’m sick to death of Christmas. This year, I can feel that starting already.

I’ve still got Christmas fatigue from last year.

Only 53 shopping days to Christmas, and just 418 shopping days until Christmas 2015.

Ugh.


It’s official, I have become that crusty, prickly guy that causes retail reps and customer service professionals to flee. There is just so much stupid in the world and my patience for it is exhausted.

Today, I discovered my debit cards were compromised in the Home Depot credit card fraud scandal.

“Oh, your debit card was locked by our fraud prevention department,” the teller advised, “You can get it unlocked at the platform” (whatever that means), gesturing to the cubicles at the other end of the branch.

Great.

So, I waited for ten minutes while the customer service guy installed updates on his computer.Debit Card

Once I explained why I was there, he called the fraud prevention department. While holding for them, he repeatedly said “it’s for your own protection.” Finally, he was able to speak to someone and determined that the card could not be reactivated and a replacement would be issued in 7 to 10 business days.

How convenient.

He mumbled something about my own protection again and then perked up and suggested that using a credit card would be a better choice for all my purchases. “That way, if it’s compromised, they don’t have access to your accounts,” he said enthusiastically. (I really appreciate the unstated premise that compromises are inevitable)

“We have a great card that would…” he started.

I cut him off.

“You are not, seriously, going to try to sell me a credit card right now, are you?” I growled.

“Its what we recommend instead of the debit cards,” he said.

Holding up my now useless plastic rectangle and waving it as I spoke, I said “These cards were the banking industry’s idea. You shoved them down your customers throats telling us they were so much better than writing checks all over the place.

It’s not like we were clamoring for them, you saw it as better not us. I’m confident that what the banks saw were fees for every single transaction – and that was better for the bank, than the checks you couldn’t charge fees to process. Too bad you bankers didn’t invest enough of those fees in your back-end security features.”

“This is the fourth time my cards have been compromised. The last time you had to reissue my card, you screwed up the reissue and had to reissue the reissued cards.”

And now, I will have to figure out what gets charged to my cards automatically, and change all those to the new card number……..again.

How come the fraud guys are so much smarter than your guys? How about hiring some of them?

Forty-five minutes I was in that branch.

Annoyed? You bet.

I’d be willing to bet, the next time I walk into my bank, that customer service rep will head for the hills.


I’ve always been a huge fan of breakfast cereal. It’s been a favorite food category for as long as I can recall. I was doing some reading this weekend and discovered something I found quite interesting about one of my favorite breakfast cereals – Cap’n Crunch.

Over the years Quaker Oats has rolled out several different versions of Cap’n Crunch. The original has always been my favorite. I am unable to stop eating it, even after it has cut up the roof of my mouth.  Quaker Oats, the manufacturer of the product, was sued over an issue revolving around the Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries cereal.

It seems a woman in California purchased Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries because she believed “crunch berries” indicated she was eating real fruit. After four years (yea, four years) of purchasing and eating the cereal, she discovered, to her utter dismay, that the “berries” were, in fact, just brightly colored cereal balls and did not contain any actual fruit.

In throwing out the case, the judge said hearing this case “…would require this Court to ignore all concepts of personal responsibility and common sense. The Court has no intention of allowing that to happen.”

So, Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries is not a good source of fruits and vegetables? Go figure.

But I digress. My connections to the original crunchy, sugary delight are several.

First off, it’s my all time favorite cold cereal. I’ve been eating it most of my life. I could not count high enough to guess how many of the square shaped corn/oat pieces I have consumed. Cap’n Crunch was introduced to the market in 1963, when I was just four years old. I’ve been crunching on it ever since.

Interestingly, it was developed, in part, by a local woman; Pamela Low, a microbiologist from New Hampshire. And this brings us to the my second connection.

She was a flavorist at Arthur D. Little in Cambridge for over thirty years. She was there when I was there. I don’t mean to imply that we worked together in the food labs or lunched in the reservations only dining room, but I’m sure we knew some of the same people. So, in a game of six degrees of Kevin Bacon, we’re only one degree apart. That’s practically family. My next connection is even closer.

My father was Captain Crunch. I know, right now you’re flashing back to “The Empire Strikes Back,” but he was not Cap’n Crunch, but Captain Crunch. It was a nickname from his days in the Marines. I don’t know a lot about what my Dad was like as a drill instructor, but i figure, if the Marines were calling him Captain Crunch, that made him the hard asses’ hard ass.

Finally, and I really don’t believe I even have to write this connection? It’s so obvious. The Cap’n and the Shipguy?

They go together like… well… like cereal and milk.


• I can carry an entire week’s groceries inside in just one trip. No, I have not been going to the gym.

• There’s a real sense of community with the Market Basket shoppers and that’s why the boycott is working. It’s a little like being a member of an exclusive club and we’re holding our meetings at Stop & Shop, Hannaford’s, Walmart, Shaw’s, Target, BJs etc.

• I’ve totally reorganized my finances. It’s probably a good thing that I’m spending so much more for food. I used to throw away money on frivolous things like shelter, utilities and gasoline.

Market Basket shelves

• I can always get a parking spot in the front row, right by the door at Market Basket. No, I was not shopping, I just wanted to look around and see what a business that has lost 90+ percent of their customers looks like.

• I’m meeting new people. I’m talking to more Market Basket customers than ever before. Of course, I’m talking to them in Stop & Shop and we’re all saying the same thing; “I want my grocery store back.”

• It’s a geography lesson. Market Basket operates the only grocery stores in Haverhill, so I’ve been going to Methuen multiple times a week to shop or pick up some forgotten item. Everyone seems to be using google maps to see what stores are in or around their towns.

• Who doesn’t enjoy the occasional scavenger hunt? Everyone is wandering around with that same bewildered expression, looking for something. You can hear them in the aisles; “You seen the razor blades?” “No, have you found the salad dressing?”

• I’m trying new things. I buy the same things every week, and now, since I can’t find those brands, I’m trying out new, and more expensive, brands.

• The Market Basket diet. With the costs of groceries higher at other stores, people are buying, and therefore eating less. I suspect we’ll see Arthur S. hawking the benefits of his new Market Basket diet plan on Katie Couric’s show some time soon.

• People are standing up for people. I have been amazed to see managers, workers and customers all hold together for over a month. Based on the number and desperate tone of their press releases, the pressure seems to be getting to the board of directors.


Rosetta Arrives

06Aug14

Comets have fascinated human beings for longer than recorded history. They are beautiful, unpredictable and not well understood. The Greeks thought of them as stars with long hair. The Chinese kept records of comets dating from 1600 BC.Hale-Bopp over Stonehenge

It wasn’t until 1705 that scientists realized that some comets orbit the sun on a regular timetable. Edmund Halley suspected that the comet sightings of 1456, 1531, 1607, and 1682 were, in fact, the same comet cycling through the inner solar system on a regular, and predictable basis. He correctly predicted the comet would return again in 1758 and it did. That comet now bears his name – Halley’s Comet. (By the way, Halley’s Comet is due to return again in July, 2061).

Comets are small objects composed of rock, dust and ice that orbit the sun. Some have referred to them as the “dirty snowballs” of the solar system. Their orbits can range from a few years to several million years and are subject to change as they interact with the gravitational pull of other objects in the solar system – most notably Jupiter. As they approach the sun, comets heat up and water vapor and other gasses vent from the surface and interior forming a thin atmosphere and often a tail.

Ten years ago, the European Space Agency launched a robotic spacecraft called Rosetta – after the Rosetta Stone, the slab bearing the same decree in three languages that was the key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Over the past decade, Rosetta has photographed two asteroids but that was only a sidebar to it’s primary mission which begins today. Rosetta has reached it’s final objective – a comet called 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

“Chury” is an oddly shaped object about two and a half miles long and two miles wide. It looks like two rocks glued together.

Today, Rosetta fired it’s thrusters to place the spacecraft into orbit around the comet.

Rosetta will study the comet from as close as half a mile, as Churyumov–Gerasimenko zips around the sun over the next year. In November, it will launch a lander called Philae. Upon landing, Philae will fire two harpoons into the surface to secure itself to the comet. Philae is packed with instruments to provide a huge amount of data on Chury.esa_rosetta_navcam_20140803_cropped_scaledx2

No one knows what will happen as the comet approaches the sun. Will Rosetta and Philae keep working? Will they be damaged by the debris blown off the surface and venting out of the interior of the comet as it nears the sun?

Only time will tell, but it ought to be interesting.

 


Remembered

23Jul14

Last Saturday, my family and I visited the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York. It was one of the saddest events of my life. I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. I remember exactly how I felt while it was happening and the simmering anger that remains to this day, but I wasn’t really ready for what the Memorial and Museum had in store for me.

Saturday was, well, overwhelming is the only word I can think of. So much heartache for the survivors, the victims and those they left behind.

IMG_7411The memorial is beautiful, two wells with water flowing into them marking the footprints of the twin towers. The names of all the victims are inscribed into the bonze parapets surrounding the twin Memorial pools. Behind the pools, the new Freedom Tower rises 1,776 feet from street level.

The museum is underground and is filled with all the horror, heroism and humanity of that terrible day. Displays include smashed fire engines and police cars, part of the aircraft that were hijacked and crashed, work ID’s, credit cards, wallets, shoes, rings and  assorted other bits and pieces of every day life.

The displays are tasteful and graphic. They show how people lived and died. The parts that choked me up were the voicemails left for and by the victims. LIke the one from United Flight 93 Flight Attendant CeeCee Lyles.

In the end, it was all a little too much for me. I rushed through the last third of the museum. I just could not take any more. It’s all so sad. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.

Stepping outside pushed the sadness a little back into my consciousness. It was a beautiful day, reminiscent of the weather on September 11th, 2001.

I took a deep breath and as I was walking and speaking with my family members, I noticed what I thought was a tissue carelessly discarded on the bronze name plate circling the South Pool. It was, in fact, a wilted carnation, and just a few feet from it was a fresh red rose. The rose as been placed in the “C” in Christopher Quackenbush’s name. IMG_7419

Once I returned home, I took a few minutes to find out who Christopher was.

He was born just a couple of years before I was. He was a founding parter in a law firm with offices on the 104th floor of the South Tower. He was married and had three children. He was an ardent Mets fan and grew up playing with Creepy Crawlers, baseball cards, and pretending he was an astronaut. He drank Tang, “just like the astronauts,” as Madison Avenue repeatedly reminded us all during Saturday morning cartoons.

When I think of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, I think not so much of the 2,996 people killed in the attacks. It’s too big a number to fully comprehend. It’s too abstract. I think about CeeCee Lyles and Christopher Quakenbush and the other individuals I was introduced to at the Museum.

Somebody put a flower in Christopher’s inscribed name, somebody who remembers him and wants the world to know that he’s remembered.

He is remembered more now then yesterday because now I know there was a man named Christopher Quakenbush who was a son, husband, father and friend and I, too, will always remember him.cq 10x10


My wife says she’s a nester and I guess I have some of that in me too. I have just traded in my 2004 Chevy Malibu Maxx and I’m both sorry and relieved to see her go.

I bought the car in May, 2005. It was a leftover 2004 model so I got a really good price. I spent a lot of time in that car, ate a ton of meals and took more than a few naps. In the end, we traveled 216,000 miles together.8999

It had some idiosyncrasies like it’s insistence on warning me of “Low Fuel” while I still had a quarter of a tank. The warning would come up on the status display, and the yellow light on the fuel gauge would come on. It was ridiculously early. So early, that I fell into the habit of setting the trip odometer to 0 when the low fuel warning came on. I learned I could go as far as 90 miles with the light on. The trip odometer became my unofficial gas gauge.

The only major repairs I ever had to do were a catalytic converter and a starter. The water pump started leaking last December, but I just kept adding anti-freeze, and then water right up until the last trip – the ride to the dealership.

Of course, there were lots of little things that broke or wore out:

The volume knob for the radio stopped working about 7 years ago -right after the warranty ran out. Good thing I had the volume set at a reasonable level when it died.

The factory-installed remote starter stopped working around that time as well.

About five years ago something strange happened; The engine warning system chimed three times then the power steering went out. It wasn’t a huge problem at highway speeds, but a slow speeds it took all my strength to turn the wheel. Over the years, this happened about 12 times, maybe more. I assumed it was just one more thing that needed to be fixed but it turns out it was a manufacturing defect. I got a letter about two weeks ago informing me that the car was part of GM’s massive recalls. Apparently, this problem has been linked to numerous accidents and some fatalities.

The arm that held up the hatchback broke a couple of years ago, so I had to prop the rear hatch open manually whenever I needed to load stuff into the back. I was always afraid it would slip and come crashing down on my head or back but it never did.

The side mirror control failed last year, but since I was the only one who drove it, I hardly ever had to move the mirrors.

All the seat control levers broke over time, so I carried a pair of vice grips so I could put the rear seats down when I had to carry a sheet of plywood, a Christmas tree, 23 bags of leaves or whatever else I had to haul. She was my family truckster and the sticks and pine needles in the trunk attest to her ability to move lots of stuff.

Something happened to the sensor that detects when it’s night or day and turns on the headlamps. It stopped working, most of the time, so my headlamps were almost always on. The downside of that, is it also automatically dimmed the dashboard lights, making it very difficult to see the odometer, trip odometer (i.e. unofficial gas gauge), radio station setting, etc. That made going those 90 miles on the light a little tricky.

She served me well, so I’m sorry to see such a fixture in my life go away, but at the same time I’m relieved I got rid of her before something really big, and expensive, failed….or the power steering went out at the wrong time and killed me.




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