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“Healthy Mix” Should Have Been Warning Enough

May 12, 2010 6 comments

When I’m at work and say “I’m stepping out for a few minutes,” what I usually mean is “I’m hungry and I’m going to the CVS.” Sometimes it involves going out to lunch with a side-trip to CVS for something I didn’t realize I desperately needed (like a Spinz pen) until I got there. But most times it means “I’ve already eaten my lunch but I’m still hungry so I’m going to see what’s on sale at CVS.”

I recently had one of these hungry days — at seven a.m. I’d breakfasted on a bowl of bran flakes and a banana in Vanilla Silk, by nine I’d eaten my orange, and by ten I’d finished off my peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich. By one o’clock I was feeling like Eric Carle’s very hungry caterpillar.

Now, I work on a fairly large college campus so my food options come in all three varieties: fast, very fast, and out of my price range. Yet for some reason I keep gravitating to the CVS, partly because it’s one of very few establishments which hasn’t changed in the more than 30 years since I settled here, partly because I’m cheap and there’s usually something on sale. But I think it’s mainly because it reminds me of my childhood trips around the corner to the candy store (I called it that, but it really was a stationery shop) where I’d deliberate for many minutes among the jujubes, wax soda bottles and those strips of paper with the candy dots on them.

I always start with the candy aisle, checking out the twofers. From there it’s the snack section (CVS has a new line of pita chips which are actually quite good and 50 cents cheaper than Nancy’s) and the wall-o-cookies, where I can often find discounts on CVS’s worthwhile and cost-effective Gold Emblem brand (I highly recommend their chocolate covered biscuits and shortbreads).

On this day there was a half-price sale on one of their snack mixes, located with the nuts. I vaguely remember having gotten this before, but it had been a while — probably because it was over my snack-price threshold of $2.99 when not on sale. It had sesame sticks, dark chocolate covered cranberries, almonds, and I really didn’t have to see what else was in it because those three had already aroused my taste buds and like I said I was still hungry.

Back at the office, I removed the plastic lid and enjoyed the reassuring “whoosh!” as I pulled back the foil seal. The sesame sticks definitely delivered (they were honey roasted, yum) as did the cranberries and the almonds, which were sufficiently plentiful. I ate half the can and saved the rest.

Now, I’ve been a non-meat-eater for thirty years, and am well acquainted with many varieties of soy-based food. I’ve happily consumed tofu, tempeh, the above-mentioned soy milk, textured soy protein, and all manner of veggie burger, bacon and weiner. I’ve had my soy blended, scrambled, grilled and puffed. But no matter how many times and ways I’ve tried them — salted, smoked, wasabi or cajun spice — I’ve never developed a taste for roasted soy “nuts.” There’s something about the flavor that I find fundamentally unappealing, and I suspect I’m not alone — other than in mixes like this one, I’ve never encountered them outside the bounds of the health-food aisle.

Thus it was that the next day I was heartbroken to learn that eight and a half ounces into my ten ounce can of snack mix, I’d hit soy. I was overcome by a feeling of deja vu… a feeling of disappointment similar to first hearing the one Phil Collins song on an old Genesis album, or finding that the only unbroken crayon left was green-blue, a color I’d never encountered outside the 64-crayon box (the one with the built-in sharpener).

That 85% empty can of fail stayed on my desk for two more days — during which my attempts to nibble out the last non-soy crumbs remained consistently futile, as it is very difficult to distinguish between an intact soy nut and a fragment of honey-roasted sesame stick — before I finally admitted defeat and threw away an ounce and a half of perfectly good and completely inedible soy nuts.

I know I sometimes have trouble seeing the common thread in my failures in life. I don’t know how many times I need to learn that buying the wrong thing is never a bargain at any price point. I just hope that next time it doesn’t involve soy nuts.

Categories: Essays, Whining Tags: ,

Love of Chair

February 2, 2010 2 comments

What’s the first thing you think about when you start a new job?

As an information worker — and doesn’t that sound better than desk jockey? — I spend a good amount of time in the saddle. Add to this my chronic lower back pain and you might understand why whenever I start a new job, my main concern — before finding out whether I’ll have a window, free coffee, or a garage space — is where I’m going to be parking my butt.

But unlike the guy in the picture above, I’ve never had the perk of getting whatever chair I wanted — otherwise I’d be luxuriating in an Aeron right now. And when I’m shopping for a home-office chair, it all comes down to what’s on sale at OfficeMax and making the necessary tradeoffs between price and comfort. So it helps me to think about what’s worth spending extra for and what’s just a frill. Here’s what I look for in an office chair, in order of importance:

  1. Back support. And by this I mean the whole back, especially the lumbar. Chairs with just the little thing that goes across the mid or upper back? Pure agony in half an hour.
  2. Adjustable height. Even though desktops are generally a standard height (about 28″) I find that, because of my long torso, ordinary chairs make my wrists come down at a sharp angle. That gets uncomfortable pretty fast. Adjustable height is also good if you use a table as a workspace because tables tend to be a few inches higher than desks.
  3. Armrests. Yeah I know this moves most office chairs from the “nearly stylish” to the “fugly” category but then I don’t get paid to look good. The rests should be wide enough to support an arm, and at least somewhat height adjustable.
  4. Swivel. I like to work in an “L” formation, with my keyboard and monitor slightly to my left and room to spread out papers on my right, so being able to turn is nice. But if I’m just working at a desk, I can give on the spin.
  5. Casters. When my desk was in the same room as the office fridge, rolling was a definite plus. Otherwise I can give on this. But if there are wheels, there need to be five and not just four because I have a tendency to lean back and stretch from time to time. Speaking of which…
  6. Lean-back. Another nice-to-have but only if I can adjust it to make it very firm. Frankly I’d prefer a non-wheeled, non-leaning chair that was well built enough that I could rock onto the back legs — just like my mom always told me not to — but you can’t really find those with adjustable height.

I tend to spend a fair amount of time in office supply stores with someone who enjoys hanging out in the pen aisle so I’m looking forward to test driving the chairs soon. But no matter how much planning or sampling I do, I won’t know if I’ve got the right chair until I can go an entire day without even thinking about what’s keeping me off the floor — besides the coffee.

Categories: Essays Tags: , , ,