Sunday, October 22, 2017

I was number six.

I found this in the pocket of my jeans before they went into the laundry hamper:

If you've gone to the supermarket you know just what that is -- a take-a-number ticket from the deli counter. And you know how it works. You pull a number from the little dispenser, look up at the tote board on the wall behind the deli workers, die a little inside, wonder if you can get everything else on your list before they get to your number, and just wait in place, beaming hate rays from your eyes at all the people before you, especially the old lady who is catering a wedding and has to get some of everything in quarter- to half-pound increments (and try a slice of each before she orders it).

The Hubert company, one of many outfits that make these things including the ticket above, refers to these as "call systems" or "crowd control."

I got there early, so I was 6. Sometimes you get there late and you're 6, because they got through a reel of tickets and started over again. Sometimes you get there and no one has taken a ticket because they just trickled in, but then it became a mob, and no one has a ticket, and there's mass confusion about who's next, and the hell with it. Oscar Mayer is fine.

The problem is that deli counters, like butcher and baker counters, have a tendency toward chaos. You have several workers and a lot of customers and the people behind the counter can't all be counted on to remember the order in which everyone arrived. The ticket system is a brilliant, easily grasped, low-tech, and inexpensive solution. (Four tickets for a penny, by my calculation.) It doesn't always work, as I indicated above. Hyun Lee with Qminder noted two issues with the tickets, the first being: "tickets are tangible objects, which means they can be damaged or lost. Ticket stand may also run out of paper in the most critical moment, preventing people from joining a queue."

Most of the real problems with the ticket system come from lack of effort on all our parts. We're the ones not maintaining ticket condition and presence or refilling the ticket dispenser. We can do this, people.

We need it for the deli counter, which is unlike any other department in the supermarket. The bakery is mostly stuff you grab, like the butcher, and only occasionally there are special orders. Not the deli! And outside of food service, no one else has found it necessary to use the take-a-ticket system--not furniture stores, car dealerships, gas stations, or funeral homes. It's a great solution for a narrow audience.

There are some alternatives to this, but they don't really change the dynamic. Another supermarket in my area has an electronic system where you can use a screen to place your cold-cut order; a computer voice announces over the PA when your order number is up. But that does not remove the need for the ticket system for customers who want to work with the luncheon meat wranglers at the counter; it acts like the line-cutting Disney FastPass, but it takes a wrangler out of queue service and doesn't eliminate the line any more than FastPass adds more seats to rides. Other high-tech alternatives (phone apps and such) are just more modern means of the old ticket system. Restaurants that hand out beepers are another example. They are not ticket systems but they operate on the same queue-without-a-queue idea.

According to a really good article on queuing in Management Today, the paper ticket system was created in the early 1970's to replace a system with reusable (and less hygienic) plastic cards. Did you know that longer belts on checkout lines keep us from feeling like we're on line? Once you get your groceries on the belt you no longer think of yourself as waiting in a queue. I learned something today!

I don't know when the reusable card system began. It seems like the "take a number" system has been with us forever. I couldn't find a patent for it prior to the paper tickets, and I wonder if it just sort of emerged. The Management Today article makes it seem like a British thing, a result of postwar shortages, but I always associated it with New York delis. It's in the culture. Certainly for my whole life I've heard people who are kvetching about something being told, "Yeah, take a numbah, buddy." Anyone with information on this topic is welcome to correspond with me in comments or at frederick_key AT yahoo DOT com.

The other problem with the ticket system is the whole number thing. Hyun Lee writes, "ticket queuing is a non-personal way of interaction between a customer and a business. Studies show that people react more positively when they hear or see their name, while a numbered system reminds them of a DMV office." I suppose the latter objection is true, but I just want my olive loaf. If the person behind the counter is good at the job and friendly, he or she can call me number 6 every day. You may say, "I am not a number, I am a free man!" That's fine, but the deli has no time for your I Gotta Be Me malarkey. They got a lot of meat to move, mister. We all got places to be.

As for me, I am number 6, and I'll have a pound of white American, thanks. Along with the olive loaf.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Psalt of the earth.

A few years back I was looking through the old Psalter at Lent in the hopes that exposing myself to more of the Bible I should become upright, upstanding, even outstanding in my goodness. Nothing ever seems to do it for me, though. I'm going to have to keep praying that Jesus drags me over the finish line.

Still, it can't hurt. As a side benefit, the Bible is the cornerstone of Western civilization, and anyone who wants to understand Western Civ should have more than a passing acquaintance with the book.

Since part of a psalm is read every Sunday, it seemed like a helpful part of the Old Testament upon which to focus. Read a few psalms a day and you're through all 150 before you know it!

Well, it proved to be a tougher assignment than I expected. I have the attention span of a 12-year-old, so sticking through some of the longer psalms is work. Theology is hard!

The psalms are heartbreaking in some cases, fearful, trembling, or joyful in others. They reflect the honest and strongest emotions of a people who know God knows exactly what they’re thinking. Many of the early Davidic ones reflect the various perils he encountered, so there’s a lot of similarities among them---my enemies are after me, they really suck, why won’t you help, I trust you Lord.

I can’t help feeling grateful that I was born when I was and not some time in the distant past, before air conditioning, cheeseburgers, and modern dentistry. If your man Fred had been a writer in the time of King David, the psalms might have been a much different and probably lousy affair. Here is my attempt at a psalm (Psalm 13½):

For the leader. A psalm of David. (By Fred! Woo!)

How long, LORD?
Have you totally blanked me out?
I’m in big heaping piles of trouble here.
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I go on whining and whining
Like a sniveling kid whose balloon broke
And he lost the top off his ice cream cone
And he didn’t get to go to the circus
Sorry: MR. DUDE Sir?
How long will my enemy keep beating on me?
He kicks my hienie
He slaps my face
He calls me Herbert
He knees me in the groin
Which was great on Jerusalem’s Funniest Home Videos
But didn’t win the 10,000 shekels.
Help, LORD!
I’m in trouble here!
I am not kidding, even!
Don’t let my enemy get away with this!
He’s a real jerk!
But I trust in your mercy.
Everyone around me doesn’t care,
But you still care.
No matter how much I whine
And lie
And cheat
And sin
And---um, could you forget about the last few verses?
Grant my heart joy in your salvation,
And I will sing of your mercy,
Because no one needs it more than I do,
Except my enemy
Who is a jerk.
Thanks, God!
(Sorry about the “Dude” stuff.)

And then David would probably have separated me from my neck.

"Zing! Like butter."

Friday, October 20, 2017

The ten-minute special.

Around the house I have a reputation for a five-minute special.Yes, you know what that means -- I can go in the bathroom dirty and come out showered in five minutes. Others around here who shall be nameless take longer. Take considerably longer, for that matter.

I don't want to be crass and sexist enough to point fingers at one gender or other, but let me just mention that we have a friend with four daughters, and until the older ones started to move out of the house he couldn't tell you what color his bathroom was.

But I have certain advantages, as will come clear when I describe the ten-minute special.

The five-minute special only works if I don't shave and am willing to start my shower under freezing cold water. It's really only for emergencies, The ten-minute special allows me to do the job right. Here's how it works:

1) Chase out the dog that followed me into the bathroom before he chews up the rug. (The timer does not actually start until the dog has been removed.)

2) Turn on the water. While water gets warm, shave with the Braun electric razor. It's not as good as a razor shave but it's considerably faster. Check for odd ear or nose hairs that must be removed. (Guys who don't bother with that last part can shave -- har! -- a few seconds off the time, but men, please. Come on. No one likes a hairy ear unless you're in the Lord of the Rings.)

3) Strip, jump in shower. (Elapsed time so far: two minutes, twenty-three seconds.) If using dandruff shampoo, put that on first and leave it there through the shower; a dermatologist once told me that it helps to get the medicine into the scalp. Scrub chest, torso, etc. Continue through various and sundry bodily parts. Using the same bar of soap or body wash as a shampoo will save a little time, and if you get buzzed like an alpaca the way I do it hardly matters. I don't exactly give my golden tresses 100 strokes with a boar-bristle brush morning and night. Rinse well.

4) Pop out of shower--elapsed time, six minutes and forty-five seconds. Towel off, apply antiperspirant, aftershave; run brush over scalp. Brush teeth (forget about flossing or singing "Happy Birthday" twice so you brush for two minutes; just get the choppers clean). Total time: Nine minutes, forty-two seconds. So there's even a little time to use a Q-tip or apply jock itch or athlete's foot spray if you need it.

5) Get dressed. Done! All in under ten minutes.

Here are some extra tips:

🚿 Opinion is divided about whether peeing in the shower saves time, and even if it does, is that okay. My take is: You're there to do a job (get clean), not pee. Urinate in the toilet, outside of the ten-minute window.

🚿 Don't have a really nice bathroom. You think I could get through a shower in ten minutes if I had one of these babies in my bathroom?

I might never leave the house.

🚿 This is not a good time to use Crazy Foam. It may make getting clean fun, but fun is not time-efficient.

In racing to get this done on time, it's easy to forget some key steps, so let me remind you once again: wash everything, rinse off, and make sure the water is on before you start. And get the dog out. He's gonna eat that whole freaking bath mat, man.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A seasonal induglence.

How many times do I have to tell everybody?



At least hire a proofreader.

This was a flyer I received in the mail from CVS, the Pride of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, #7 on the Fortune 500 list as of last June, the drugstore giant that pulled in more than $177.5 billion in sales (according to Hoovers). And yet with all that dough, all that moolah, all that Social Security money in their Scrooge McDuck-like vaults, they couldn't cough up fifty bucks to get a professional editor to look at this so they could spell INDULGE correctly.

This is a black eye for you, CVS, and I am doubly disappointed since just a few months back, in January, I mentioned how proud I was that you could spell stationery properly (meaning the paper stuff).

And yet I have had to take you to the woodshed before, CVS. In 2014, when I was posting on my old (now defunct and inaccessible) blog, you stopped selling cigarettes because (you said) you were so concerned about our health. I called you on your hypocrisy, on your attempt to get grace on the cheap. Not that I smoked at that time or since, not for quite a few years now, but I pointed out that you continue to sell candy, all the time, every day; there's a section of the store that's just candy, the seasonal aisle always has candy, and of course the checkout area is candy out the bazooty. (Never mind the snack aisle, which is very cookie-centric.) And I wondered if you were willing to cut off all that revenue, even though diseases of obesity are going to kill far more of us than diseases of smoking, and now our fatness is "astronomical," and even more out of control than it was in 2014. Heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer.... Well, CVS? Are you going to chase out the lardbuckets the way you chased out the puffers?


Now, about your complicity in the rampant and deadly opioid drug epidemic that you're only just now addressing...

$177.5 billion and they can't hire a proofreader. Sheesh.

Monday, October 16, 2017


October 16. You think the season is autumn.

But really... Christmasssstiiiiiiime is heeeeeeeerrre.....

In your mailbox!
In Home Depot!
At Walt Disney World!
I suppose there's no point in fighting it, although I would like them to wait until Halloween at least. Thanksgiving is pretty much a lost cause at this point, just a high-caloric speed bump on the road to the big wahoo on December 25.

I understand that people have to plan for the largest celebration of the year. If you're going to take the kids to Disney, for example, you have only a couple of weeks to figure out how to break into a bank vault or successfully counterfeit $100 bills. In addition to the catalogs shown, my wife gets a lot of craft catalogs, like from Michaels and JoAnn Fabric and Hobby Lobby and Yarn Bomb Monthly and Cross Stitch Hell and God knows what else. Of course, those outfits started with Christmas catalogs in June, but it takes a lot of time to knit that festive '69 Firebird cozy for Cousin Earl.

As I write this is, it is 70 days until Christmas. (That's 10 weeks, 1,680 hours, or 19.18% of 2017, according to, for those of you playing Calendar Bingo at home.) For perspective, 70 days ago was August 7, which to my mind was pretty much yesterday. On August 7 I was complaining about bugs, as I was last Saturday, so it doesn't seem like much has changed. Therefore, Christmas will be upon us before you can take your next breath.

I guess what I mean to say is, tempus really fugits, especially when it comes to Christmas. Consider this your first warning.