Got to meet Penn after the show:
So yesterday I bought running shoes.
No one told me how complicated it would be.
Years and years ago—back in college—I once went along with my friend John to buy him some running shoes. He talked a lot about pronation and supination before we went, but I knew that he had his mind on Saucony.
When we got to the shop, some Randy-Mac girl (who was cute as a button!) was helping him. And she was wearing one of those post-Flashdance ripped-up sweatshirts (without a bra), and as she was bending over to fit his shoes I was thinking about anything but pronation and supination. I was thinking that she had the most beautiful breasts I had ever seen, and how they were hanging oh-so-nicely, and how if she had ripped her sweatshirt just a wee bit more I could see her nipples. I don’t know what John was thinking. But I don’t think he was thinking about pronation or supination, either.
But yesterday there were no Randy-Mac girls in sight.
Instead there was some woman who looked angry and was waiting for combat.
She asked if she could help.
I said I was looking for shoes that were “günstig”.
Now, by günstig I meant (obviously!) that I was looking for a bargain.
But she would have none of that nonsense.
She said, “by günstig do you mean ‘cheap’ or ‘good’?”
I suppose a brief digression about the German language is in order. The word günstig means something like “advantageous”. So when someone is looking for a price advantage, they are looking for something günstig. Of course, what I myself meant was cheap.
I said, “I mean inexpensive”.
She said, “because what is günstig in price may not be günstig for your feet.
I said, “OK, let’s look at it this way. If price were not an issue, what shoes would you recommend?”
She said, “Sit down. We need to look at your feet. We need to analyze the way you run. How much do you run?”
I said, “I don’t run at all. I’m planning to start.”
She called for her colleague to help me, and abandoned me.
The colleague came and asked, “How much do you run?”
I said, “I don’t run at all. I’m planning to start.”
She looked like she wanted to abandon me, but carried on.
She had a lisp.
That’s not relevant to the story. It’s just a colorful detail.
She told me to take off my shoes, roll up my pants legs, and hop onto the treadmill.
She asked, “have you ever been on a treadmill?”
I said that I hadn’t.
She carried on.
I got onto the treadmill, and she started it up and made it go way too fast. I think that was to get me to start running instead of walking. But then she left, and I found myself in an awkward position. First, although the pace was too fast for walking, it was a bit too slow for running. Also, I was leaning forward and hanging onto the hand rails, which she had told me I wasn’t supposed to do. “Just touch them lightly, if at all.” And all of this matters, because she complained that I had been too far back on the treadmill. So I did it again.
Then we looked at photos of me running. She analyzed them in complete seriousness, and suggested a different shoe.
Let’s go back a bit. The shoes I was wearing were WAY COOL. They were black and white with florescent, lime-green laces and soles. I looked like I was ready for the olympics. I would have been proud wearing those shoes.
But she wouldn’t have that. I needed more arch support, because my left foot slightly pronated towards the toe on the uptake of my foot from the treadmill.
So she got a nearly identical shoe—same brand, same price–but black and white with florescent, lemon-yellow laces and soles. They make me look like a Pittsburgh Steelers or Borussia Dortmund fan. Neither of which is a particularly bad thing to be, but it’s not my style to flash my sport-fandom-associations while running. Not that I am all that familiar with running, since I haven’t started yet.
But she sold me the shoes, and she didn’t even have to rip up her sweatshirt. Here they are:
Now all I have to do is start running.
OK, it’s strange to post something like this. But I feel compelled to do it. I’m in love. I feel the need to “out” myself.
Go back six months or so. I felt lonely, depressed, desperate.
I did something very, very, very, very strange for me. (Can I insert another “very” and still pass the Strunk and White test?) I signed up to an online dating service. It made me feel like I was out of my mind. But in my despair, I did it.
Within the first few days, I realized it was a stupid decision. I simply couldn’t relate to all the “is he the right one?” messages that people were posting, and I myself had only received two or three messages of interest. Or non-interest, if we want to be precise.
OK, let’s be precise. I got three messages. One from a woman who said, “you sound nice, but you are too far away.” Another from a woman who said, “I’m too pretty for you.” And a third just sent me sexy pictures.
I wrote back to the woman who said I was nice but too far away.
She wrote back. I wrote back. She wrote back. I wrote back. I suggested we meet. We met. We loved.
And we have been loving ever since.
It’s time to update this blog, because the last post—in remembrance of a loss–fails to reflect my state of mind. Right now, I’m feeling a deep sense of hope.
Sometimes we human beings get sort of stuck: stuck in how we eat and drink, stuck in how we think, stuck in our prejudices and fears. And God knows, I’m not one who knows how to unstick himself very well. In fact, I’m rather poor at it.
But I’ve made a few decisions lately. Some were very hard to make. But all were a long time coming.
And having made them, I do indeed have the sense that maybe I have finally be in the process of unsticking.
For those who are playing a role (jk;ab): thank you!
…the world became a lot less beautiful.
Not a day goes by that I fail to remember her. May she rest in peace.
I’ve been wondering about the demise of Hostess, and yet I have been quite unsurprised in some ways.
Let’s start with this: the strike and the labor dispute might indeed have been the death blow to the company (not to mention the alleged misconduct of senior management giving themselves getting 300% raises as they were preparing for bankruptcy ). But that’s like discussing the behavior of those on the sinking Titanic. The question is what made the Titanic sink.
So in this case, what was Hostess’s iceberg?
Well, I don’t know.
And why would anyone ask me? I know very little about economics (other than the words “supply and demand”, which I learned from Father Guido Sarducci ).
But I like the pies.
So I do have some anecdotal evidence that might suggest an answer.
First, lets go to the most obvious factor of all: much of Hostess’s product line was based on products that might have been innovative in their day, but which later encountered an onslaught of local competition. Take Wonder Bread: that soft, moist, fluffy white bread that must have seemed something incredibly different and special when it was introduced later became just another—more expensive—brand on the shelf. Regional and local brands eventually learned to serve up a nearly identical product. If you want soft, moist, fluffy white bread, why pay more money to buy it from Hostess? And although Hostess used regional and local bakeries to do the baking, I can imagine that in the last thirty or forty years Hostess was constantly fighting against the perception that the local bread came from the local bakery (the one wear someone’s cousin works), and that Wonder Bread comes from Chicago.
(To digress completely: I’ve long wondered how Frito Lay manages to keep such a large product line on supermarket shelves. In Pennsylvania, where I come from, I always bought local brands of chips—with the exception of Fritos, of course. And I can’t hardly recall seeing Lays potato chips at any of my friends’ or relatives’ houses. I myself had one of those gallon sized Charles Chips cans; though, to be honest, it didn’t always have Charles Chips in them. I kind of liked variety back then. But even Charles Chips had trouble competing. Why is that? I mean, a totally different product—like Fritos, or like Pringles—can compete. But how can Lays compete with the local, riffled potato chip when Charles couldn’t even keep up?)
That leaves me to the second, rather obvious point: if Wonder Bread wasn’t going to be the flagship of the Hostess brand, then maybe the industrially made sweet snacks like Twinkies could keep it in competition; but how many moms have been trying to keep such nasty, unhealthy products away from their kids in the last 25 years?
I think there is something to this. If you want a total sugar/fat/calorie bomb, just go to the bakery section of your local supermarket. There you will find enough calories to keep the entirety of India alive for a day. All sweet, all fatty, all delicious—and made with things like sugar, cream, butter, vanilla, and so on. But if you want something with undefinable textures–gooey and sticky to the point of rubbery, sweet to the point of teeth-itching, indescribable flavors (like the non-coconut parts of a Sno-Ball)—then you must reach for the industrially produced sweet snacks. To put it succinctly: your local bakery can’t produce a Twinkie. They can come close, but they can’t achieve it. Twinkies are unique. Industrially unique. And I suspect that Healthy Mom has been more likely to reach for the appearance of “local and fresh” than “industrial and unique” over the last several years. That is, when she wasn’t reaching for carrot or celery sticks.
The third point is not obvious at all, and it regards my special expertise: Hostess pies. Hostess pies had become increasingly difficult to find. For some reason, I seldom (if ever) found them in supermarkets during my last, say, ten trips to the States. You had to know where to look. Truck stops were a good choice. 7-Eleven was nearly a sure bet. But other outlets—like Sheetz stores (remember, I moved to Germany from Pennsylvania)—switched over to other brands. (The last time I bought my cherry pies from a Sheetz, I bought 10 cherry pies made by JJ’s. Only six made it into my freezer here in Germany. ) Meanwhile, the supermarket chains tend to have either their own brands (like Safeway) or alternative brands (like JJ’s or Drakes (which is owned by Hostess—nothing like competing with yourself, huh?) or Little Debbie).
And listen to this: although I have visited large portions of the United States over the last decade, I have personally never seen a Hostess Cherry Pie at a Wal-Mart.
Think about that. An industrial, nationally produced food product that isn’t distributed through Wal-Mart.
This amuses me because of the dreams I talked about in a previous post. My dreams in which I’m frustrated because I can’t seem to find a Hostess pie are not simply referencing the fact that I can’t buy the pies in Germany; they are also a reflection of the fact that I have also had difficulty finding them in the United States in the last decade or so.
So my own suspicion is that Hostess has—for probably two decades—been the victim of its own management. Its own management didn’t know how to face up to regional and local competition, didn’t know how to keep increasing sales on distinctively unhealthy products as the demand for healthier products increased, and it didn’t know how to maintain a reasonable distribution of at least some of its products.