Category Archives: Thorstein Veblen

Centrifugal bumble-puppy, and other games

My grandfather’s team, circa 1910. That’s him squatting at the far right of the seated row. Notice that in those days, they didn’t even bother to go out and buy matching uniforms. They just came and played ball.

Over the weekend, I was out running errands after a long day of working in the yard, and I decided it would be a good day for us to have a takeout dinner. So once that plan was approved by headquarters, I called La Fogata and placed the order. I was told it would take 20 minutes.

I was easily within five minutes of the restaurant, so I drove in the other direction, looking for a way to kill time. I decided to visit the park behind North Side Middle School, and see what was going on there — I figured that this time of year, there’d be some action on one or more of the ballfields.

I was right. I drove through the parking lot, and had to pick my way slowly and carefully because of all the boys, who were generally within a couple of years of 12 I’d guess, and parents who were apparently returning to their cars after a game that had just ended.

And then I noticed something: Their progress back to their cars, and my progress through them, were both impeded by the gear they were hauling. And by the elaborate gear for hauling that gear.

The most cumbersome were the wheeled contraptions that held bags, coolers, bats and such. They looked like people preparing to sell things from a barrow. Those were the most noticeable, but everyone had an unusual amount of gear. The lightest were elaborate, specialized backpacks many of the players were wearing. The packs seemed full, and each had two bats sticking up from the pack, one on each side.

Back in the day, when I played ball, you brought yourself and your mitt to the game, and that was it. (Unless, of course, you were the catcher.) The coach would have a duffel bag full of bats and balls, and sometimes conscientious players (who were perhaps eager for more playing time) would help the coach by carrying that bag from coach’s car to the dugout.

But now, every player or player’s parent I saw was hauling at least as much as the coach would once have, and often more. I don’t even know what some of that stuff they were carrying and pulling was. But there was a very great deal of it.

Of course, all this brought to mind one of the books I’ve been rereading lately instead of the books I was supposed to read this year: Huxley’s Brave New World. If you’ll recall, in this super hyped-up extrapolation of Western consumer culture, all the games — like centrifugal bumple-puppy, and electromagnetic golf — require elaborate, expensive, easily-broken equipment to play. Everyone is conditioned from birth to want to play these games at every opportunity. Not to keep themselves in shape or exercise sportsmanship, but to keep them buying the stuff.

And I got to thinking about the various social influences that must have been at work over recent decades to convince these kids, and parents, that they had to have all this stuff to play baseball. Huxley had sleep-conditioning to bring about this effect. I don’t know what happened with these folks.

We used to have this wonderful, simple, pastoral game called baseball. Originally, there weren’t even gloves. Just a ball and a stick for everyone to share. And even after the gloves came along, for a long time players would leave them out in the field while batting rather than carry them back and forth to the dugout.

No more. Now there’s all this junk, and all this hauling back and forth. And don’t even get me started on the designated hitter…

Two generations later — about 1969. That’s me in the back, standing next to the coach on the far left. By this time the uniforms matched, but we mostly only brought those and our gloves.

Anybody remember Woolco stores?


That thread-within-a-thread we had going yesterday about the closings of Kmart and Sears stores reminded me of something…

Anybody remember Woolco stores? That was my very first experience of the big-box discount store, before Kmart or Wal-Mart or anything else of the kind.

I’ve written a lot about when my family first moved back to the States from Ecuador in 1965, and I happily overdosed on TV and many other aspects of American culture that I had done without. (As I wrote at one point, “It was so amazingly stimulating, as though all my neurons were on fire. It was like mainlining some drug that is so far unknown to pharmacology, one that fully engages all of your brain.”) The new TV season that fall seemed to this 11-year-old like the most exciting thing that had ever happened (“Lost in Space,” “Green Acres” and “I-Spy” all premiered on the same night!), but I also thoroughly enjoyed the smaller pleasures, such as drinking water straight from the tap without fear of hepatitis.

Anyway, all mixed up in that in my memory was the Woolco store not far from where we lived on the Navy base in Algiers, La., across the river from New Orleans.

It was enormous, and they had everything — way more exciting than the Navy Exchange. We drove there to shop often in our 396-horsepower 1965 Impala Super Sport. I used to spend a good bit of time in the record department. I have fairly specific memories of some of the new releases I saw on display during those couple of years we lived there — “Day-Tripper,” “Mellow Yellow,” “Paperback Writer”…

Woolco went away in 1983. Instead of closing in dribs and drabs like Kmart and Sears, all 336 U.S. stores closed in January of that year.

Oh, here’s a bonus question for Pee Dee denizens: Anybody remember Treasure City in Florence? Similar concept if I remember correctly, although maybe not as big as a Woolco. My brother and I got our first GI Joe there, also in 1965. The building still stands, although I think it has housed a flea market in recent years…

Anybody remember Treasure City, right across the highway from the Florence Airport?

Anybody remember Treasure City, right across the highway from the Florence Airport?

Something off-putting about those ‘patriotic’ uniforms

unis 1

I thought about posting this on Memorial Day itself, but decided to wait.

For me — a guy who’s all about some patriotism and support for the military (and if there’s a spectator sport I love, it’s baseball) — there’s something off-putting about those special uniforms MLB players donned over the holiday weekend.

It’s not just that it’s so contrived, such a cheesy, sterile form of tribute to men who died in the blood and noise and fury and filth and noise of battle. They did not wear clean, white uniforms with camouflage numbers. They did not wear caps that look as much like what a deer hunter would wear as anything you’d see on a soldier.

But there’s also something… decadent, something last-days-of-Rome about it.

Of course, I’m guilty of romanticizing baseball. I think of it in very anachronistic terms as a humble, pastoral game played by plain men who did it for the love of the sport, guys who maybe had one uniform to their names, and that uniform made of wool that caused them to roast in the summer sun. (And they liked it, as Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man would say.)

I just can’t help thinking of all the money spent on these uniforms that these players will probably wear only once. Which makes me think about how much — way too much — money there is in professional sports today, so much that vast sums can be thrown away on PR gestures that, as I said above, seem inadequate to the kind of tribute our war dead deserve.

I’m not blaming MLB here. This occurs in a context in which the fans, the entire society, seem to have lost all sense of materialistic restraint.

You, too, can have a genuine copy of the jersey your hero wore for one game for only $119.99. Or, if you’ve really lost your marbles and have more money than anyone needs, you can have the actual jersey that a player wore, for $2,125! Unless someone with priorities even further out of whack outbids you!

It just all seems kind of nuts to me. And vaguely offensive. Does this make any sense to anyone?


In the past, even the great were satisfied with so much less

That's the Little White House itself in the background. The building in the foreground contains servant's quarters.

That cottage in the background is the Little White House. The building in the foreground contains servant’s quarters.

That headline sounds a bit like the kind of judgmental cliche you hear from your cranky old grandpa, like, “Why back in my day, we didn’t have your fancy-schmancy devices, and we liked it!”

But actually, this is about a realization I’ve come to over time regarding the way things were in a time before my time, based on physical evidence I’ve encountered.

Over the weekend, my wife and I drove our twin granddaughters to their summer camp in Warm Springs, Ga. That place name is redolent with history, so we weren’t going to go all that way without seeing the “Little White House,” where FDR stayed when he went there for the waters, and where he set up institutions for helping people with all sorts of handicaps.wheelchair

I highly recommend going to see it, and the nice little museum the state of Georgia has put next to it, with all sorts of artifacts such as a couple of FDR’s modified cars, a special wheelchair to use at the pool, hats, canes, cigarette holders, and lots of stories not only about the Roosevelts, but of regular folks who lived through those extraordinary times.

Of course I went into grandfather mode, pointing out things that I hoped would help our little girls understand that time. At one point, I called them over to a photograph of Roosevelt seated at a dinner next to a young boy (possibly another polio victim) and flashing him that great FDR grin. And I told the girls this was what FDR did for the whole country — he rose above all the setbacks and suffering of his own life, and put extraordinary energy into keeping everyone else’s spirits up. (If only I had a small fraction of that strength of character!)

Another exhibit helped me drive that point home — a small kitchen set up with period appliances (I explained to them what an icebox was), including a modest little radio that was playing one of the president’s Fireside Chats.

Anyway, once again, I recommend it.

But I wanted to share an impression I personally gained from what I saw. It was in the truly tiny “Little White House” itself. I couldn’t help thinking, This was the favored retreat of this great, patrician man who held the fate of the world in his hands? Few upper-middle-class types today, much less someone with the stature of a Roosevelt (were there any such people today) would be satisfied with this as a second home, based on what I see down on our coast.

The point was driven home when I saw the room, and the bed, in which he died. The room could barely contain the tiny single bed in which he lay. There was hardly enough space to walk past it. The bed itself reminds me of the twin beds that my brother and I slept in when I was about 8.

And this was not an anomaly. Since Hobcaw Barony is a client of ADCO’s, I’ve had occasion to visit Bernard Baruch’s house there, preserved much as it was when he lived there. It has its nods to grandeur, to be sure, some of the rooms containing some very fine things. But I was struck by the smallness, the dumpiness even, of the beds and rooms where FDR and Winston Churchill slept when they were visiting the great man.

Yes, these were vacation homes, and those who owned and visited them were no doubt deliberately embracing a certain ethic of “roughing it.”

But it still strikes me as amazing, when I consider the kinds of accommodations that so many people expect as the norm today.

And it made me think even better of the people who went before us, and shaped the world in which we live…

FDR's bed

… but lay off my Starbucks, George!

In his latest column, George Will makes similar points to ones I made in my last post, about our national orgy of conspicuous consumption. (And thank you, Thorstein Veblen! I’ve always thought that was a great term — and not just because of the alliteration.)

He concludes it thusly:

In any American city large enough to sustain a social ecosystem of snobbery, there is a magazine to guide fastidious consumers to “the five best craft breweries” or “the five best artisanal cheese shops.” Heaven forfend that anyone should have to settle for the sixth-best. For discerning tipplers, there are artisanal ice cubes. In San Francisco, The Mill, a cafe and bakery, offers artisanal toast for $4 a slice. It is to die for, say the cognoscenti.

Where will the positional economy end? It won’t. Stanford University professor Francis Fukuyama notes that it is a peculiarity of human beings that they desire some things “not for themselves but because they are desired by other human beings.” Hamsters have more sense. This characteristic of our species — the quest for recognition by distinguishing oneself from others — provides limitless marketing possibilities because for many wealthy people, “the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches.” So wrote Adam Smith in “The Wealth of Nations,” published in the resonant year of 1776.

And I’m down with all that. My one beef is that the thing that got him mounted on what Bryan would term his high horse was… my beloved Starbucks.

He was indignant that Starbucks is going to have these special, exclusive places called “roasteries” to attract the true poseurs among caffeineheads.starbucks_corporation_logo_2011-svg

Yeah, OK, those places do sound a bit pretentious. But a lot of people think regular ol’ Starbucks is pretentious and conspicuous, in the Veblen sense. And you know what? It isn’t. It’s just great coffee, and it’s consistent — I know that if I walk into a Starbucks in Columbia or Charleston or Memphis or New York or even London or Bangkok, I will get the same great cup of coffee.

Also — the really snooty people claim allegiance to their local, nonchain coffeehouses, and I suppose they’re all right in their way. But the service is better at Starbucks, and so is the coffee, IMHO. And I know I’ll get that same experience wherever I go.

As for the cost, people go on about $6 cups of coffee. Yeah, I suppose some of those slow, indecisive people I sometimes get behind in line are paying that and more for their over-elaborate soda-fountain drinks. But a cup of coffee — which is what I buy there, just black coffee — costs about 2 bucks. Which is about the same I pay for a large cup at Lizard’s Thicket. And a refill’s only about 50 cents.

So there…

Enough with the materialism orgy, already!


Maybe it’s envy. Maybe it’s just that I don’t have money to buy expensive gifts. Or maybe it’s that I wouldn’t buy these kinds of gifts even if I could. I’d give people something more practical. Or burn the money.

But it seems to me that each Christmas, the materialism orgy gets several degrees more offensive.

Get a load of the guy in the screengrab above. Excuse my imagery, but he looks for all the world like he’s about to have an orgasm from sticking his nose into a wineglass.

This is from a pop-up video act that forced itself upon me when I tried to read a story on the New York Times website. The video went on and on like this, in slow motion. With “Ode to Joy” as the background music, just in case the images didn’t lay it on thick enough. It all just seemed to embody perfectly everything that bugs me about the ads for jewelry and perfume and watches that cost more than my house (and what’s more pointlessly ostentatious than an expensive watch, in an age when we all carry phones that keep perfect time?) with which we are inundated this time of year.

Part of this is that I’m kind of jaded about foodie stuff. (And may that’s because I have such a limited diet, and tend to think good food is anything I can use for fuel that won’t kill me.) People make WAY too big a deal over how good a bite of food or a sip of a drink — or in this case, the smell of a drink — can be. Face it — if there’s a cake recipe that you think is better than sex, you’ve got a problem.

But there’s much, much more than that going on here. A lot of effort was put into making this guy look posh, upper-class, refined, better than you, and something to aspire to — if only you can afford and appreciate this product, you, too will be a superior being. It’s so extreme, it’s laughable. Like a Thurston Howell caricature of wealth and snobbery, only with better production values. The makers of the ad were going for the same effect I was going for in my own cheesy way with this selfie, except they weren’t kidding.

This is actually expected to appeal to… somebody. Donald Trump, maybe. He probably thinks it’s classy.

This holiday started with celebrating a poor child born in a stable. And now this.

Do y’all know what I’m saying here? If so, what’s the materialism-deifying ad you hate the most? Share, so we can heap scorn upon it.

Grow up and put your clothes on

Two weeks ago, when I arrived back at CAE from my trip to Key West, I saw an unusual sight in the baggage claim area. A woman had brought two children to greet an arriving man — husband and father probably, but I have no way of knowing — and the kids were in their pajamas. Fine. Made sense, I suppose, being a little before 9 p.m.

But here’s the thing — the woman I took to be the Mom was in her bathrobe and slippers. Presumably, also pajama-clad beneath the robe.

This seemed a bit much. It’s not like the arrival was not scheduled, and/or was taking place at 3 a.m.

Then, I ran across this on the Web:

Pajamas are on the rise. Across the land, according to the Wall Street Journalteenagers have taken to wearing PJs all day, even in public—even to school! Apparel companies like Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle are cashing in on the trend, stocking their stores with leggings and sweatpants and other comfortable, flowy, elastic waistbanded apparel. Pajamas are even popping up in high fashion: Here’s Sofia Coppola happily, gorgeously stepping outside during the day in Louis Vuitton pajamas, and here’s designer Rachel Roy attending a movie premiere in her own brand of jammies. Last week, a women’s clothing site that tracks new “looks,” exhorted its customers to “get comfortable with pajama dressing.” Among its wares were several silk blouses selling for more than $200 each; a pair of silk drawstring plaid pants with elastic cuffs for $495; and these $845 (!) wide-leg print pants constructed out of sateen, a fabric that I think is mostly used to make bed sheets.

As you might expect, a whole lot of silly and just-plain-mean people aren’t happy about this nascent pajama craze. A number of school districts have banned sleeping clothes on the theory that they somehow inhibit students’ motivation. The idea, I guess, is that taking the time to dress up for school makes you ready to learn—which sounds plausible until you think about it for five seconds. Isn’t spending time worrying about what you’ll wear an even bigger distraction from academics?

Some people are so upset with pajamas they want to bring in the law. Michael Williams, a commissioner in Louisiana’s Caddo Parish, won national headlines a few weeks ago by calling for a ban on pajamas in public. Under Williams’ proposed ordinance, people caught wearing pajamas—which he defines as clothes sold in the sleepwear section of department stores—would be forced to perform community service. (I wonder if they would be required to wear orange jumpsuits—which look like very comfortable pajamas—while serving their sentences.) Williams told the Journal that the daytime pajama trend signaled America’s dwindling “moral fiber,” and then added a nutty slippery-slope argument to bolster his point: “It’s pajamas today; what is it going to be tomorrow? Walking around in your underwear?”

Precisely. And there’s nothing nutty about it, given that that’s precisely what I wear to bed, and I’m guessing a lot of guys are with me on that. I have only this to say about the PJ trend: I don’t hold with it. I mean, come on, people — make an effort. Count me among the “silly and just-plain-mean people.” Somebody’s gotta draw a line somewhere.

There are related phenomena which I will also decry. Saturday night, I saw an SNL rerun from just before Christmas. The musical guest was someone unfamiliar to me, a Michael Bublé. He is apparently a crooner who aspires to the Sinatra-to-Tony Bennett spectrum. Although I’m thinking Andy Williams-Wayne Newton is more like his speed.

Anyway, he was perched on a barstool with a microphone, dressed in black tie. Which was appropriate, this being well after 6 p.m. But here’s the thing: He hadn’t shaved in a day or two. And if his close-cropped hair had ever known a comb, it was not obvious. He kept smiling at the audience in this particularly smarmy manner, and all I could think was, Hey, you want to ingratiate yourself? Take a minute to shave. It’s not that freaking hard. It takes less time than putting on a tux. Give it a try.

I really don’t know what is supposed to be achieved with the “I can’t be bothered to shave” look. It wasn’t even careful, Sonny Crockett can’t be bothered to shave. It was actually like he got up that morning and looked in the mirror and said, Nah. Not gonna do it. I’m just going on live national TV, and my thing is to look like somebody from the 40s, when men were carefully barbered, but nah…

Back to the PJ thing. Ladies, if that’s what you want to do, go for it. But be advised — full-length PJs are not a good look, for anybody.

As for guys, I’ve gotta ask — how many guys even wear pajamas to sleep? I’m thinking, not that many. I mean, what’s underwear for? I know that nobody wants to see me in public in what I wear in the sack, and I respect that. So should everybody else.

A woman with priorities so far out of whack doesn’t deserve such a… weird outfit

Well, this is a first for me. You don’t usually see me holding forth on fashion; I leave that to the Shop Tart and other respected experts. But I couldn’t resist making this observation (OK, really, I couldn’t resist writing the Ferris-alluding headline).

This was on the front of a section of my Wall Street Journal this morning:

Who Buys These Clothes? They Do

A Peek Inside the Closets of Shoppers Who Pay Full Price for Designers’ Latest Runway Looks

After Ana Pettus, a 42-year-old mother who lives in Dallas, watched a gold minidress with a plunging, fringed V-neck go down the runway at the Balmain show in Paris last year, she knew she had to have it.

She bought the piece—she wears it as a tunic instead of a dress—along with three others from the fall 2010 collection at the Paris boutique of the luxury French fashion house. Price tag: €55,150, or about $74,000.

The Balmain pieces now hang in one of Ms. Pettus’s four closets, joining styles from Alexander McQueen and Yves Saint Laurent, as well as a $50,000 voluminous black-and-white gown with a giant picture of Marilyn Monroe on the skirt by Dolce & Gabbana. “I buy what I love,” says Ms. Pettus, who is married to the owner of a construction business. “They are beautiful pieces. They’re not mass-produced. You pay for that.”…

And at first, I thought it was just saying the obvious — that no normal person would actually want to wear the bizarre stuff that those sadly emaciated girls wear on runways.

But then, I realized that what it was really saying was, these women actually pay full price to wear these clothes, straight from the designer.

And I thought, “How can anybody waste money like that?”

It puzzles me greatly. Maybe it’s because I’m not the kind of person who would ever become rich in the first place, but I’ve always thought, even if I were a billionaire, I would be reluctant to just waste large amounts of money.

OK, I might be tempted to buy one of those choice little Lexus sports cars, or a vintage Corvette. But I wouldn’t even think about a Maserati or a Lamborghini. I mean, it would just be wasting money, spending far more than any practical use I would get out of the thing could possibly be worth.

And even with the Lexus or the ‘vette, I know I’d feel considerable guilt before, during, and after the sale. Because I would be so conscious of how much more good that money would do, I don’t know, building a Habitat house, or inoculating several thousand kids against a deadly disease, or providing earthquake relief somewhere.

And in that story in the WSJ, well… it’s just a frickin’ DRESS; it’s not like it’s anything cool. It won’t go fast or anything. Spill coffee on it, and it’s ruined. What insanity! And what possible difference could it make that it’s unique? Does it clothe one’s nakedness more than something from Steinmart? No. Are the materials stronger, more stain-resistant, warmer, softer? No! The only difference is a completely meaningless intangible.

As I’ve said before, if I had great wealth, I would buy a newspaper, and run it right (which would be a novelty in that industry), and explore ways to make journalism pay in the 21st century. Maybe that sounds exorbitant, but hey, I think I could pick one up at a pretty good price these days (a small fraction of what I thought it would have cost when I wrote this)…

Hamlet misses out on the new iPhone

Alas, poor Blackberry...

Alas! poor Blackberry. I knew it, Horatio; a device of infinite usefulness, of most excellent fancy; it hath borne me on its back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! ... Where be your emails now? your Tweets? your texts? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the Blogosphere on a roar?

To switch or not to switch, that is the question…

Get thee to a Verizon, go!…

Something is rotten in the state of 3G…

Neither a Twitterer nor a blogger be…

My hour is almost come
When I to sulphrous and tormenting flames
Must render up my PDA…

OK, so none of those work as well as I’d like. But the thing is, my Hamlet-like indecision caused me to miss out on the first wave of iPhones being offered by Verizon, so I will not be one of the cool kids (I’m sure this amazes you). I was thinking about making the move today, but then I see that they’re all gone. There will be more next week, but that’ll be like being the 27th man in space, instead of the first. And now that the first rush of lust for the new gadget has been disappointed… I’m wondering if I should wait a bit longer than that.

Here are the facts, which I’m sure Shakespeare could render more beautifully, but I will stick to plain prose:

  • I work in an office full of Apple people. All the computers in the office are Macs. For my part, I bring my laptop PC into the office every day, and work from that. Yeah, I get it; Macs are cool. But my fingers do all the PC commands so automatically that I find the Mac functions awkward, laborious.
  • Some of these people I work with are fanatical about their iPhones (and their iPads, etc., but that’s not what this is about). And over time I’ve seen what their iPhones can do that my Blackberry Curve can’t, and how beautifully they do those things, and I’ve thought that if I could have one, I might want to.
  • My entire extended family (and I have a large family), except for one of my sons, is on Verizon. Several of us are on the same family plan, which is economical. I just couldn’t see getting an AT&T device. So for the last year or so, I seized upon every rumor that Verizon would get the iPhone.
  • My Blackberry has been acting up for months — losing the data signal and having to be reset (by turning it off, taking the battery out, putting it back in, and waiting a long time while the hourglass spins before it works again) several times a day. Lately, it’s started turning itself off completely, and refusing to come back on unless I go through the whole reset routine.
  • I was due for an upgrade as of January. Miracle of miracles, that’s when Verizon and Apple made the announcement that the longed-for day had come.
  • I figured I could spring for an iPhone at the upgrade price ($199) from my blog account. I would need to, because it would not fit into our new, super-tight, post-England household budget. Besides, Mamanem, who pays the household bills, does not believe anyone needs such a gadget, even though I do. (I’ve tried to explain the critical importance of having constant, excellent connection to my blog readers, Twitter followers and Facebook friends, but she looks at me like I’m babbling in Sanskrit. She thinks of me as being the Dad in the commercial, Tweeting “I’m… sitting… on… the… patio“)
  • I started worrying that another barrier could lie in my way: What if the monthly cost of data access was greater than with the Blackberry? No way I’d get that through the family Ways and Means committee.
  • Last week, I went by Verizon (that is to say, made the trek out to Harbison at the end of a long day) to ask some questions about the upcoming iPhone, asking specifically whether it would cost more per month, and no one knew. All they knew was that I could order one starting Feb. 3. So I left, figuring they’d know more then.
  • Meanwhile, asking around, I learned to my shock that my friends with AT&T iPhones were only paying $25 a month. This kind of ticked me off, because I was paying $45 a month (part of a family plan account costing well over $200 a month). They had a better device and were paying less for it, which seemed to me outrageous. I began to wonder whether I should secede from the family plan and go with AT&T after all. AT&T had been tempting me with an offer for a TV/internet/landline deal that sounded better than what I had with TimeWarner; maybe I could save even more by adding mobile…
  • Then someone told my wife that I was probably paying more than the usual because when I got the Blackberry originally, in January 2009, it was on a corporate server (you know, “Corporate Server” is on my list of potential names for my band). This hassle sort of ticked me off at the time, because up until that time I had had a company phone, but now the paper was making people go buy their own phones, and then be reimbursed a set amount that, of course, would not match the full monthly cost of the device. Two months later, I promptly forget that enormous injustice when I learned of another innovative cost-saving measure — I was laid off. No one at Verizon ever told me that I was paying $45 a month because I was initially connected to a corporate server. Nobody at Verizon noticed that I was no longer connected to anything of the kind. So for almost two more years, I paid $15 too much a month.
  • Last night, it being Feb. 3, I went back to Verizon, hoping for some answers. I was happy to learn that an iPhone would NOT cost any more a month for the data. Then I told the guy that I suspected I was paying too much a month already, and he looked it up, and said yes, I was. So he fixed it, and said from then on I would only have to pay $30 a month for data. I asked him whether I would be reimbursed for all those overpayments. He said no, quite flatly. This was one of those techie sales people who makes you feel like all your questions are stupid and an imposition on his valuable time (every question I asked, he answered with a tone and a look that said, “Are you quite done bothering me?”), so the cold look in his eyes as he let me know what a stupid question the one about reimbursement was was in no way a departure from the rest of our conversation.
  • He said if I wanted an iPhone, I’d have to order it online, and that the first day they’d have them at the actual store would be Feb. 10, but that if I weren’t in line by about 5 a.m., I probably wouldn’t get one.
  • I had thought that the new iPhone would work on the new 4G network when that rolled out, but he said no, it wouldn’t.
  • Then he raised a new problem… he mentioned, in passing, that in moving to an iPhone I’d lose some data — such as old voicemails. Well, I didn’t care about that, but it made me wonder: Would I lose any of my 2,044 contacts I’d accumulated over the years, starting in my Palm Pilot days (and when I say “contacts,” I mean several phone numbers and email addresses each, street addresses, extraneous notes about each person — the crown jewels to me, and quite irreplaceable) or my calendar, and would it still sync with my data on my laptop? (As you may know, I lost access to it all on my computer for several months after a disastrous Outlook crash.) My stuff was all on Google now, connected to my gmail account (which is what is), so surely it would work, right? He said he didn’t know. When I insisted upon knowing, he wearily passed the question on to another Verizon employee. She didn’t know either. So I asked the clerk whether he thought I should get a Droid instead, since it is built on Google. He shrugged. I asked him what he would do. He said he had a Droid, and showed it to me. I asked whether he was thinking at all of getting an iPhone instead, and he said, no, not unless they gave him one. Which they wouldn’t.
  • To me, there is little point to a PDA — Twitter and email and all aside —  if the contacts and calendar don’t sync smoothly with something also accessible via laptop. Might as well have an ol’ dumb phone as that.
  • Lose all my contacts, or even not be able to sync them smoothly? Must give us pause: There’s the respect that makes technological indecision of so long life. I was 99 percent sure that there was no way Steve Jobs would make something that wouldn’t connect smoothly with gmail data. But that wasn’t good enough. Sure, I could go home and order an iPhone online, but I wouldn’t be able to get my questions answered first. Even if I could chat with a person online, to what extent could I trust their assurances? Wouldn’t I need it in writing? And no online salesperson would have time for that — there were millions of others who wanted to buy the thing without asking stupid questions and making demands.
  • So I began to wonder whether I should do the equivalent of what I do with movies — not rush out and see them in the theater, but wait for Netflix. Patience is, after all, a virtue. Maybe I should even wait until 4G was out, and the rumored iPhone 5, which (maybe) would run on the new 4G network. Maybe, after a few million people actually start using Verizon iPhones, I could find out from some of them whether they sync well with Google. Or I could just go with a Droid. But I’ve looked at both, and like the iPhone SO much better.
  • I had also learned that a new Blackberry Curve would only cost me $29. So if my old Curve was dying (and it seems to be), maybe I could get one of those now, and wait for more info on how the iPhones actually work. Except that that would use up my upgrade. And without the upgrade, the iPhone would cost more than $700. Which might as well be 7 million. So that’s out.

What to do, what to do? I was too tired to figure it out last night. Today, I had a busy morning of meetings with clients and such. Twice during the morning, I had to reboot my device to check my email or the web. Once, it did that thing where it dies completely, and has to be force-reset. So I’m going to have to do something.

At lunch today with Lora — the most fanatical of my “iPhones are better” friends — I started blathering about my dilemma. While I was doing so, she glanced at her device and informed me that Verizon had just run out of iPhones.

So now I don’t have to think about this for awhile. Until the Blackberry dies completely, that is.

Isn’t it wonderful living in our modern age, with all these fantastic devices to make our lives easier?

‘The new iPhone’s here! The new iPhone’s here!’

In the 20th century, it was Navin Johnson and the new phonebook. (Phonebook! How utterly primitive!)

Today, it’s whatever the latest gadget Steve Jobs happens to be pushing.

If you check out the blog I help ADCO maintain (and yes, there will be more posts once the new Web site is launched), you’ll see a picture of my colleague Lora Prill using her old iPhone to take a picture of her new iPhone. Really. You can’t make this up.

And she is far from alone.

Personally, I think the grapes are sour, because my whole family is on Verizon, so unless I want every personal phone call counting against my minutes or whatever, I’m stuck with my Blackberry.

iPhones are cool, I’ll admit. But get a grip, people…