Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It fascinates me how all these catalog companies I've never heard of send us enticing offers for baby things we never knew we needed. How did we get on their list? Were we spied on in Babies R Us? Did a package of supermarket diapers tip them off? I'm still trying to figure out how the formula companies found us (and then sent us freebie cases of formula, which was a real leap of faith on their part since we hadn't, and haven't, bought formula. The food drives I donated them to thank you, formula companies).

But this latest unexpected catalog about takes the cake, in that it is entirely devoted to toys, clothing and gadgets you can use at your child's first birthday party. First of all, my kid's long past 1, so that's a tiny bit useless. Second, as they'd say on "Weekend Update": Really? A whole catalog devoted to your kid's first birthday party? Which your kid won't remember in the slightest no matter how much money you spent on it? Really?

Because they don't stop at cute li'l plastic plates and matching napkins. There's a special banner for decorating his highchair! A plush "royal throne" or "princess throne" (just $80)! A "birthday cake dress" (only $70)! Gigantic "walking" balloons of Elmo or Big Bird (because a 5-foot-tall walking balloon wouldn't scare the daylights out of small children in the slightest)! And other assorted pricey accessories that you'll have zero use for once the kid's party is over! It's almost enough to justify having another kid, just so you can use all this cool stuff again, isn't it?

But wait, here's my favorite part. Throughout the catalog appears this message: "Warning: Choking Hazard. Some products on these pages contain small parts." Excuse me, you're trying to get parents to buy choking hazards for their kids to party with? Is this why you only sell stuff for the *first* birthday -- you don't expect repeat customers? (Incidentally, to find out *which* of these lovely accessories may prove fatal to your birthday boy or girl, you have to go to the company's Web site.)

Occasionally I feel like logic doesn't figure much in marketing meetings.

But hey, keep sending the ridiculous catalogs my way. I'll keep making fun of them. This one, meantime, is finding a new home in the trash.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Boy, are there some snazzy cloth-type grocery bags out there. And boy, is no one using them.

Now things might be different in a crunchier area. Seattle or Berkeley or somewhere. But where I am in the Garden State, not so much. Plastic-bag it. Double plastic-bag it. Make it snappy. And there I am with my Trader Joe's red shopping bags (surprisingly durable, I am happy to report, after several years of use) and my hot pink little fold-up bag -- what, you would pick subdued colors? -- hauling them out at the check-out counter like the lonely little iconoclast I am.

Granted when I'm actually *at* Trader Joe's I see a few other people carrying bags of their own. And were I to mortgage my home every other week and shop at Whole Foods, I'm sure I would see reusable totes there too. But since I can't buy, say, diaper cream at TJ's, I do occasionally have to visit the regular supermarkets. Which sell their own "designer" reusable bags that no one ever uses.

This explains the cashiers, I think. They never check to see if maybe they've got an eco-conscious (of sorts) customer next on line. They just start shoving stuff in plastic bags, and I have to interrupt -- "No, no, wait, I have my own bags" -- while frantically digging them out of the cart or my purse. Generally I have to interrupt two or three times. And then, completely baffled as to why I would do such a thing, they go, "Oh, OK" and stop bagging altogether. Now I'm the only one shoving stuff in bags, because apparently if I brought my own they won't touch them on account of cooties, and the whole process slows to a crawl because I am no professional bagger. Meanwhile everything is rung up and the cashier is just standing there, mentally snapping gum.

Do I occasionally forget to bring the bags? Yes, because if I'm running out to get multipurpose solution and yogurt at 8 p.m. then my brain has already been fried for the day. And one time I did that, the cashier took my three or four sad little items and deliberately spread them over two bags. "Wouldn't they fit in one?" I suggested. "Oh yeah," she said and did that. It's like they've been trained to use as many plastic bags as possible. Are they trying to keep the plastic-bag industry afloat?

Of course the cashiers might do that because those plastic bags are flimsier than a wet tissue. Which is another good reason to use reusable bags.

If the supermarkets were serious about getting people to switch, though, they might try upping the per-bag "discount" for reusable-bag customers. Five cents a bag? Really? The cashier might as well give me a nice pat on the shoulder, because that and ten cents will buy just about the same thing.

Meantime, I'll keep doing my tiny, tiny part to save the planet. And that's my five cents' worth.