Harold Fox Update

Costco is my father’s Disneyland. First stop, food. Pizza and a drink, $1.50.

harold on the couch-w1200-h1200

Before my dad came to California our goal was to toughen him up. He’s been much too sedentary. It took its toll.

This morning, on his way to get something he’d left upstairs, he told Helaine it was a trip he wouldn’t have considered when he first got here.

We’ve been walking nearly every day. He’s pretty good on our .35 mile route with a brief pause.

dad drinkingToday our ‘walk’ was a shopping trip to Costco. Costco is my father’s Disneyland. First stop, food. Pizza and a drink, $1.50.

As Helaine headed toward the back of the store (a few zip codes away) my dad and I looked at the electronics.

harold at costco“It’s 80 inches,” he said while looking at a massive screen. “How come they don’t seem that big anymore?”

He’s right. Gigantic screens are becoming the norm.

We headed to the center of the store. My father wanted shirts. They were piled high on a table.

He didn’t get winded. His legs didn’t ache. He was tired when we were done, but I went home and took a nap myself.

When you’re 89, this is P90X.

America’s Last Bastion Of Co-Ed Shopping: Costco

I’d hate to think people watched me on an 80″ TV. Too much Geoff. I was built for the small screen.

Where were we?


Helaine’s car had a date with the upholsterer yesterday. A small tear on the side was growing. When we picked the car up today she asked if I’d go to Costco with her?

Costco! Be still my heart.

It’s the last bastion of co-ed shopping. Where else can a couple go?

I’m not really a store guy. Maybe Barnes and Noble. Do they still exist? Bookstores were my mall refuge.

FB_IMG_14054570239748519If you’ve never been, Costco stores are huge and aesthetically lacking with high unfinished ceilings and bright lights. Merchandise is piled on pallets to the ceiling. Many items are specially packaged to suit Costco’s way of selling–directly out of the shipping box.

“You can walk around,” H said after flashing her Costco card at the door. I turned right and walked to an aisle of huge TVs. The largest were 80″. That’s nuts… though appealing.

I’d hate to think people watched me on an 80″ TV&#185. Too much Geoff. I was built for the small screen.

IMAG1266Where were we?

I looked at monitors and printers and electronic add-ons of every variety. There’s no new technology screaming to me right now. There was no urge to buy.

People are getting home security systems with video. It’s like living in the Real World house. Thinking of my own home in that split-screen monitor is creepy.

Boredom had begun to set in when my pocket began vibrating. Helaine. “You know,” she said, “there are a lot of samples over here.”

FB_IMG_14054570449786734Mango and blueberry. Chicken Fajitas. Salsa. Lemonade. I sampled, then sampled again.

Most of my shopping is online. It takes an occasion to get me in a store.

I missed you Costco. It was nice to see you today. Let’s not to be strangers.

&#185 – Maybe more interesting to wonder is what people were doing while watching? Wasn’t part of my job description, ‘nightlight’?

The Economy

Like him, I really am worried about the economy – and not just the stuff that’s been mishandled, like subprime mortgages, and other monetary slights of hand. We have seen a fundamental shift in the way of the world. We are no longer only competing against other ‘first world’ nations.

I walked into a local business today. It was a place I hadn’t been in before, but the owner knew me from TV.

I didn’t prompt him. He just looked at me and said, “I’ve never seen the economy this bad before.” Then he began to talk about business.

Like him, I really am worried about the economy – and not just the stuff that’s been mishandled, like subprime mortgages, and other monetary slights of hand. We have seen a fundamental shift in the way of the world. We are no longer only competing against other ‘first world’ nations.

If you live in Kansas and answer phones for a living, it’s impossible to compete with someone in Bangalore who will work for 20% of your pay. The same goes for manufacturing and agriculture and nearly everything else.

JetBlue has airplane maintenance performed in Central America. Reuters has financial reporters look at US companies from India. The list is endless. There’s little you can think of that can’t be done cheaper elsewhere.

Then there are the box stores. When they replace 10, 15, 20 local business, they also displace the workers from those businesses. This ‘little guy’ I spoke with, a baker, was very worried about Wal*Mart, Costco and especially supermarkets.

What is the economic impact if his handful of employees is replaced by one or two in a big store?

In the past, labor saving devices made lives better for employees. After all, the forty hour week is a relatively recent arrival. Today, labor saving devices produce higher productivity for employers and if jobs can be cut, so be it.

My bosses, bosses, boss has a legal duty to protect the financial interest of his shareholders. If he puts me first, he’s violating the law!

Globally, we are on shaky ground trying to defend our standard of living to the Indians and Chinese who are taking our jobs. Look where we are. Look where they are.

I have been through recessions before, and we’ve always recovered. I have always been pessimistic going in, but once the economy was properly repriced, growth returned. My pessimism was misplaced.

This time, I am petrified our economic engine will have to be revalued against a world that can do what we do, only cheaper (and in many countries like China, with less kvetching from the workers). It’s a very scary scenario.

Right now, I have no answers, only questions.

Great Day For My Dad

Let me talk about my father as if he wasn’t reading this… which he most certainly is. At 82, my dad’s totally sharp, but some of his parts are definitely out of warranty.

Botched cataract surgery left him with one working eye. The good eye has cataracts too, but he’s petrified to do anything about it. I can’t blame him.

Over the years his hearing has also begun to fail. If my parents are watching TV, anyone within a few hundred yards knows and when the telephone rings… holy crap, it’s like noontime at a cuckoo clock factory.

Of course the problem with my dad’s hearing loss is he really has no way of knowing what he can’t hear.

He wears a hearing aid in each ear, but why? They do nothing, except squeal when he removes them. It’s been frustrating for everyone involved, my dad included.

When we were visiting a few weeks ago, I asked my folks to check. Maybe there’s a better hearing aid available now, or his could be adjusted? It couldn’t hurt to ask.

They went today.

Yo, Costco. Shout out from Geoff. You rock! My dad can hear again. Let me kiss you on the lips.

My dad and mom went to Costco this afternoon. He met with an audiologist who gave him a hearing test and then adjusted the electronics in his hearing aids. It’s not just volume that gets tweaked. A good hearing aid should compensate differently at different frequencies.

“You don’t need new hearing aids,” the audiologist said. In fact, as it turns out, there’s still plenty of room to adjust them should his hearing continue to change. And did I mention – since he bought them at Costco originally, no charge.

My dad put them in and… oh my God, he can hear clearly. It’s the first time in years.

My mom was so excited she left a message on my cellphone. I could hear her voice bubbling as her voice played back.

When I finally spoke to my dad, I’m certain I could actually hear him grinning. “I can hear the microwave,” he said from the kitchen. “I never did before.”

I started to cry.

Actually, the most telling evidence came when my dad walked out of the bedroom. He complained to my mom the TV was too loud.


Sunday With The Folks

Last night Helaine and I slept on a blow up bed in my parents’ spare bedroom. I’m not complaining. We used to come here to Florida and sleep on a pull out couch.

You can’t spell couch without ouch. It used to kill my back.

My mom had a great breakfast for us. Bagels and lox. Pickled herring.

Hey, we’re not Presbyterians. We are not a Wheat Bran family.

After breakfast we went to visit my cousins, Carol and Howie. Carol is the daughter of my grandmother’s sister. There’s an correct term for our relationship, but in our small family cousin works fine.

One of their sons, Michael, came by. I’m related to him too, though I won’t even venture a guess what the correct title is. Michael’s a physician in the ER of a local hospital.

Yes – one of their sons became a doctor. Mission accomplished!

We went back to my folks condo, looking for something to do. Before we left Connecticut, Helaine told me, no flea markets – no shopping.

You have to understand, for my parents, going to Costco or BJs is entertainment in and of itself. We really wanted no part of that exciting South Florida lifestyle.

Helaine suggested seeing a movie. Luckily, there’s a theater two minutes away where Dreamgirls is playing.

We got there a few minutes before showtime, but waited through the scheduled start when the ticket machine ran out of paper… then jammed after being reloaded.

It’s OK – we missed the commercials and coming attractions but saw 100% of the movie.

I convinced my dad, who wears two hearing aids, to get the headphones many theaters offer. A few minutes into the movie he threw them off. That came a few seconds after he said “Too loud,” very loudly.

I went to adjust the volume, but found the theater had set their input volume so high, anything coming out of the headphones was going to be terribly distorted. There was nothing that could be done at the headphone end to fix it.

What a shame. The theater spent the money to offer this service, but by misaligning the equipment their investment is worthless. I told the young girl at the ticket counter, but I doubt that will do any good.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a movie that was sold out. This one was. Maybe it was the Sunday afternoon price of $5.25? We actually sat in the first row – something I’d never done before.

Now on to Dreamgirls.

Wow! I was pleasantly surprised. This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.

The true star of the movie is Jennifer Hudson. Again, wow! She can sing. She can act. When she is on the screen, you cannot look away.

I’m not an American Idol viewer, so she was new to me. Now I’m a fan.

Though there is plenty of denial, Dreamgirls is obviously based on the Supremes. Beyonce Knowles is Diana Ross. Jamie Foxx’s character is Berry Gordy.

Dreamgirls is a true musical, with much of the dialog sung (especially through the second half). There’s a lot of Motown influence in the beginning, and I was reminded how much I liked Motown music in the 60s and 70s. Much of the rest of the music is “Broadway” styled. Still, a farewell song was so reminiscent of “Some Day We’ll Be Together,” I started to hum the original at the hooks.

Most of the movie was great and none of the movie was bad. Performances by Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Hudson, Keith Robinson and Danny Glover were superior. That’s a lot of excellent acting. How can you not credit the director for that?

Dreamgirls is stylish. It is compelling. It moves (though I’d have been happier had it been 25 minutes shorter). I really liked it a lot.

Chalk up another good recommendation from Helaine.

Juno Beach Art Show

My promise to Helaine was, this would not be a trip spent in flea markets and Costco. We would do stuff in Florida other than kill time. Today was my first opportunity to come through.

The Palm Beach Post had an ad for an art show in Juno Beach, about 35 miles north on I-95. Everyone agreed we’d go!

While waiting for the last Fox to be ready (no names), I checked the website of the show’s promoter and saw David Gordon was one of the exhibitors. Helaine and I know David and have a half dozen works by him scattered around the house. We hadn’t seen him in at least ten years, so this would be an added bonus.

The trip to Juno was uneventful. The promoter had wisely set up a remote parking area and buses to the exhibition. It was a beautiful, sunny, warm Florida day – and the exhibition was adjacent to the beach.

Rather than bore you with more details, I’ve taken some of my photos and put together a slide show.

I have no idea why, but youtube.com hosts videos like mine for free! How could I resist, especially when I can’t remember how to properly embed the wmv file which contains the show.

Actually, I put it together with Microsoft’s free Photo Story 3. It’s simple and heavily automated, and as you’ll see, it really works.

What will tomorrow bring? Who knows! In my parents world, every day is Sunday. How nice.

Click the video button (above) to start the slideshow.


For the last six months to a year our television station has reported on the ‘soon-to-be’ Ikea store about thirty thousand times. Well, why not? It’s a big deal. The largest retail opening in New Haven in anyone’s memory.

About a week ago the store opened, and we reported again. This time it was the traffic and the impact on the businesses nearby.

Tonight, as Ann Nyberg (one of our lead anchors) and I were heading to dinner, we decided to take a detour and see Ikea. Ann, of Swedish ancestry, treated this a like a homecoming or a visit to a long lost relative.

The store is immense – not only in square footage but in its vertical reach. The concept is similar to warehouse stores, like BJ’s or Costco, in that the stock is adjacent to the selling floor, stacked to the very high ceiling. Judging by the signs, the idea is to walk through Ikea as if you’re on a trail, going from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’ and so on. Somehow we started at the end and walked against traffic for the rest of our visit.

On this Monday night, the parking lot was full and the store jammed. I have been told, and had seen on our news stories, that it was busier last week. That’s to be expected.

We turned first to the Swedish food section. Ann bought some sort of Scandinavian cookies which she later opened with her teeth as we drove back to work. I bought a small tin of herring&#185. Then we walked through the store.

The furniture and furnishings for sale are spartan but nicely designed… maybe aesthetically pleasing is a better phrase. Though the word Swedish is liberally thrown around when describing the place, I picked up a few items and they were all from China. I guess they were designed in Sweden. At least I hope they were.

As we waited to pay for our items, we ran into the Achilles heel of the organization – the checkout line. Though our items all had UPC stickers on them, the clerk had to look them up in a book and then scan those UPC codes.

For a store that’s so streamlined and efficient, the checkout was too long, too tedious.

As we waited to pay, two families from Fairfield County, shopping together for their, soon to be entering the workplace, daughters let us get ahead. This furniture is perfect for them. It’s also perfect for Ann’s daughter who will enter college in the fall. I could see it as the right thing for a spare room or a first house. It’s simple, functional and relatively inexpensive.

As long as you’ve got a way to carry it home, you’re set.

I’ll be curious to look back at this store in a year and see if the throngs are still here. I guess, since it scratches an itch unserved by others, it will do well. There are no others in New England, and the closest Ikea to our south is opposite Newark Airport.

I just wish everything wasn’t made in China.

&#185 – My tin of herring is 2.5 servings. Somewhere along the line the idea of nutritional information has become a scam with companies ‘gaming’ the serving size in order to post acceptable calorie, carbohydrate and other numbers.

The Guys Go To Fry’s

Sunday morning – only one day to go. Very sad.

As always, Las Vegas woke up to sunshine. People here sometimes complain about the consistent, predictable sunshine. Give me a break.

After a quick breakfast at the coffee stand I took Michael and Max to Fry’s. I have heard about Fry’s over the years. The are stories about Fry’s in Silicon Valley during the early days of the dot-com boom… geeks picking up motherboards and nachos in the middle of the night.

It is a more technically oriented version of CompUSA, but the size of BJ’s or Costco. I saw displays of CPU’s, motherboards, cases, everything tech! Good God, I was in heaven.

I ended up buying a 120 GB Western Digital hard drive for $60 after rebate and two $22 books, both free after rebate. Not bad. Michael bought a DVD for Max and a few more very esoteric art film type DVDs for himself.

Before I leave the subject of Fry’s, there is one very tacky thing. The entrance of the store, which faces away from Las Vegas Boulevard, is styled like a slot machine. It’s very cheesy. The vertical stands, used to prevent cars from driving in, are fashioned to look like stacks of quarters.

We came back and I took a nap. Then it was back to the poker room. Though there was only one table playing $6/$12 and four on the waiting list, the woman with the clipboard told me it would move quickly. Right – I don’t think so.

I sat down at $3/$6 and bought a $100 rack of blue chips. It didn’t take long to notice a heavyset man with a large, though old, tattoo on his right arm. His long brown blond hair was askew as if he had slept on it, but hadn’t showered, or had just been up for a long, difficult time. He was loud. He had two drinks in front of him. He was drunk.

I really don’t care if there’s a drunk player, because they usually play stupidly, giving me a shortcut to their money. He was loud enough and off center enough to take my concentration off the cards and onto him. And, his irrational large bets totally changed the strategy necessary to stay afloat.

I lost a close hand – what should have been a cheap hand, but wasn’t because of his constant raising. I didn’t lose to him, but I lost. Before long I had shed $70. I tried hard not to go on tilt, to keep my play steady.

Little by little I played back and after a few hours left up $15.

During my play he was visited by at least two floor people. One came on my insistence. The other was called in by the dealer. He should have been cut off from liquor. He should have been removed from the table. I suppose if I would have pressed a little more he would have. On the other hand, I don’t want some huge drunk upset with me.

Dinner tonight was just Steffie, Helaine and me at the California Pizza Kitchen. Helaine and I are positive we’ve been served by this waiter at least 5-6 times before.

And now, my last chance at poker.

Blogger’s note: I continue to add photos to the gallery for this trip. You can see them by clicking here. The whole Vegas trip has its own category, which means you can link to these stories specifically by clicking here or read about the 2003 Vegas trip here.