Office with a view…and corrective underwear.

A faithful reader suggests I pry myself away from The New York Times now and then, and take a peek at The Wall Street Journal. An excellent idea.

This morning’s spin through the WSJ site turned up several good finds, including Jonah Lehrer’s piece on how nice guys actually do finish first…and then turn into jerks when they’re the bosses. The next thing I clicked on was a piece by Ray A. Smith about “smart clothes” that change color when the wearer sweats or helps her monitor vital signs and diet.

Lehrer quotes Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California:

When you give people power, they basically start acting like fools. They flirt inappropriately, tease in a hostile fashion, and become totally impulsive.” Mr. Keltner compares the feeling of power to brain damage, noting that people with lots of authority tend to behave like neurological patients with a damaged orbito-frontal lobe, a brain area that’s crucial for empathy and decision-making. Even the most virtuous people can be undone by the corner office.

And Smith tells us that folks at North Carolina State University’s College of Textiles are working hard in the lab to develop sensor-laden fabric that tells the wearer when blood pressure or pulse rates are rising. He also shares the good news that a wicking, waterproof suit may be coming to a haberdashery near you, and even better, a Japanese company is pushing posture-enhancing underpants.

This last bit of news is especially gratifying, since the people who labor in the vineyards of unmentionables have not brought us any real innovative products since the days of edible undies. (Which, being very high in carbs, never had a chance.)

Now, what I want to see is clothing that keeps the nice guy from turning into a fool.

“Idiocy wicking” — yeah, that’s the ticket.

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(Note: This also appears on Crosscut. Good site to bookmark for regional news and nat’l/regional commentary.)

A little something from your banker.

I’m delighted to know that there’s a new kind of credit card out there — one that lets you set all sorts of conditions and limits for yourself. As reported in “Your Card Has Been Declined, Just As You Want” by Ron Lieber in The New York Times, the idea is to give you some power for a change.

You just know the first time some bright young banker proposed this in a meeting she was met with an appalled silence. Well, times change and even Big Banks do nice little things for customers every couple of years. This is one.

Reading this I was reminded of calling up a bankcard company some years ago and asking them to lower my credit limit. They had no mechanism, no paper form, no policy. But because it was a credit union and customer-service people were empowered to solve problems, the nice person on the phone figured out a way. It was a key part of getting myself out of some pretty deep debt. (I wrote about it in 1997, here, for the Seattle Times in “Debt Lite: Shedding ugly pounds of plastic.”)

I stopped myself from reading to the end of the NYT story or looking into it more deeply because I didn’t want to get to the part where the inevitable “service charges” get described.

The banking world is like one big fishing trip. We small customers are the fish and yes, now and then they do practice catch-and-release. They’re waiting for us to get big enough to make a decent meal. But, hey, enjoy the swim in the meantime.

Delta’s new Visa card sure makes me want to fly their airline. You?

Obviously Delta Airlines honchos read my blog and are ready for the sort of bold changes I endorse.

I saw a commercial this morning pushing their new Visa card that carries a terrific premium….one whole piece of luggage travels for free if you use the card to book a flight!

(I know what you’re thinking, but this isn’t one of those rich-people perks for frequent flyers. Anyone with a pulse and a willingness to charge stuff can get this card.)

More good news: I hear through my excellent network of sources that many other savvy businesses are following suit. Watch your email for new quick-approval charge and debit cards offers that include fabulous premiums.

Use those new cards for…

–a meal in your fave bistro… and get free toilet paper in the restroom! (Platinum cardholders get 2 free paper towels.)

–a trip to the emergency room…and get five squirts of hand-sanitizer!

–a trendy haircut…and they’ll rinse that shampoo out!

–your cellphone bill…and you can use the # key around the clock!

I haven’t confirmed it yet, but I’ve heard rumors that there’s a House/Senate Visa. You get a point for each dollar spent. When you get to 30,000 you can send email directly to your elected officials’ offices and ask tough questions. (One question per household. Some restrictions apply.)

Delta should be proud. Look what they’ve started.

IKEA washcloths have little loops so you can hang them up. Brilliant.

I’ve written about the IKEA experience before, but I continue to be amazed at the scale and cheerfulness of the place.

It is still like crossing a big country covered in forests of brightly colored plastic storage bins and coffee tables made of blond wood. Every item sold in the place has a name, presumably in Swedish, a language which seems a lot like English only with more consonants per word and a sound like a sneeze thrown in here and there.

There are people wandering around Portland’s IKEA who I’m pretty sure went in during the holidays of December 2008 and never left. They’ve existed entirely on Swedish meatballs and lingonberry juice since then. And they still don’t know how to put together an entertainment center.

In any event, all of this is just an excuse to post the photo I took today looking down on what had to be a half-acre of shopping carts. Even if every cart-pusher only buys a single 100-percent cotton pillowcase, IKEA will have a very good quarter.

Gathering of the Carts

Vote YES for BookTithe

I can’t be the only lover contemplating sneaking out on my beloved.

Some of you other book-lovers share my guilty fantasizing about getting a Kindle. Right?

Like you, I’m sold on the technology, which I could get either as the Kindle proper or as an iPhone ap. What could be cooler than deciding I want a book and being able to get it instantly?

I’m hesitating only because of Powell’s Books–the country’s best bookstore which has its huge mothership on the edge of downtown Portland, and is the destination for a significant chunk of my disposable income. Anything that could wound or shorten the life of this great company worries me.

Sooner or later, though, I’m going to give in. I’ll be just like my friends who so proudly declared “I don’t own a cellphone,” only to find themselves late for something important while stuck behind one of Portland’s raised bridges during its leisurely upppppp and downnnnnnn to let a ship pass under.

Technology has a way of twining itself around your legs like kudzu, no matter how determinedly you swing the scythe.

So, here’s my idea: Create a BookTithe option on each digital book purchase. It can work just like that Presidential election campaign question on the 1040 tax form. Do you want to contribute to your favorite independent bookstore? Check this box.

Now, true, this contribution is real, out-of-the-wallet dough, not the seemingly abstract money to the Presidential election fund.  And also true that the ten percent I send to Powell’s is not going to make up for the $10 or $25 I didn’t spend on a book there. But it’s better than nothing. And if I spend the usual $9.99 for the Kindle book (typically a lower price than a new actual book)  I can surely afford kicking in some of the savings to a bricks-and-mortar store of my choosing. Plus, it’s no threat to Amazon, B&N and the other giants of the electronic-book world.

No matter how many bells and whistles they put on electronic readers, we still need real stores. Browsing, buying and selling old books is vital activity. How else can I find that treasure of a new, unknown author? No amount of clicking through lists is every going to have the soothing properties of wandering Powell’s aisles. I’d love to be able to buy a book in the middle of some insomniac night…but the ability to do so shouldn’t replace the bookstore.

It can’t be too hard to set this up. The person who built the Kindle must be looking for work by now, surely.

--Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett, TypeLikeTheWind.com

Businesses behaving badly (updated, again)

There’s a bad behavior pattern cropping up in business dealings these days: management or owners taking cover behind tough economic times when they cut workers off at the knees.

Three examples are rolling around in my head, one big and well reported, the other two are smaller.

A New York Times story by Nick Bunkley reports that General Motors and Chrysler, after showing 2,000 auto dealers the door last year, are getting some up-close-and-personal attention from the feds. The automakers sent the dealers packing as part of a monster bankruptcy proceeding. But they didn’t reckon with the number of family-owned dealerships willing to call foul.

This isn’t just about money. As the son of one Utah auto-sales dynasty said:  “My mom and dad want their honor back as much as anything…It’s the ultimate showing of disloyalty, after all the years we’ve been loyal to them, to take our stores.”

This is a situation to watch. If the feds slap the automakers and forbid such sweeping “layoffs” and closures, it will dramatically affect bankruptcy reorganizations. Whether that benefits consumers remains to be seen.

The smaller, yet insidious, other examples: I’ve now heard from a few people about what I call the “work-now, pay-later” approach. It’s simple. You the employee put in two or three months at your new job…and THEN you get your first paycheck.

The first person who told me about this practice was a broker in a large Bay Area brokerage; an experienced and successful transplant from a Pacific Northwest firm. He waited three months for the first check…no small challenge when moving to spendy San Francisco. The next story that wafted my way came from a fellow freelancer, in this case an award-winning journalist of considerable stature. She’s writing for one of the biggest news sites on the planet…and the first paycheck came two months after she started.

And this:

An international cosmetic company, let’s call it Terrific Skin Co.,  places its employees at counters in upscale department stores. These workers are in an odd netherland: Not employed by Terrific Skin Co., its huge parent company, nor by the department store.

Instead, a third party, a “staffing agency,” employs them as temporary workers. They have contracts, but the terms all favor the employer. As a result, the Terrific Skin Co. salespeople are often let go without any reason or warning. They may not even be eligible for earned vacation time or anticipated benefits if the axe falls early in their tenure.

This business model is cropping up more often since the economy tanked. It allows operations like Terrific Skin Co. to staff their counters with top-drawer supervisors (licensed skin-care experts in this example) during holidays and sales, then send them packing when things slow down. This model is one that adapts easily to any number of employment scenarios, from department-store counters to basements full of software-code writers.

Worker bees getting delayed paychecks and staffing-agency casualties: Take a leaf from the book of the auto-dealership victims. Tweet, blog, out your employers; complain at city and state levels. Tell the rest of us so we stop buying whatever it is your cheesy bosses are selling.

(Second Update: Check out this blog item from NYTimes about low-wage workers getting routinely cheated.)

(Third update.)

The Macy’s bomb

First, let me assure you that you are not alone if you are just now figuring out that your credit cards are touchy little bombs, ticking away in your wallet and ready to blow no matter how careful you are.

In the past the only way to know how these cards worked was to read and decode the disclosures that come with the bill. What a handy word, disclosure. It’s derived from Latin roots meaning “dense, impenetrable jargon in 4-point type.”

Since the last round of changes to credit-card regulations, however, we have greatly improved “transparency,” meaning less Byzantine code about “grace periods” and obscured interest rates.

We do indeed have clearer info at our fingertips. As proof, I offer this quote from my January Macy’s bill:

“As a result of the minimum INTEREST CHARGE of $2.00 being applied to your revolving account, the actual ANNUAL PERCENTAGE RATE charged on that account is 60.84%.”

(The capitalization is theirs. What better way to be transparent than to use uppercase letters, right?)

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I do appreciate the clarity of that “60.84%” spelled out in type large enough to read. I appreciated it right through my nose with the half-cup of coffee I inhaled as I read the bill for the first time.

And I do appreciate Macy’s. If you’ve had a charge account at this mother-of-all-department-store-chains in the past, you know they bend over backwards to make it easy for you to buy things and feel smugly special. Coupons, cardholder sale days, even a “Star” club for those of us who really know how to shop. The Macy’s charge-account marketing people do everything but pick us up and drive us to the January white sale.

Now they have embarked on a breathtakingly clever strategy. It works this way:

(1) On Monday you charge $180 worth of stuff.

(2) On Wednesday you pay the bill in full online.

(3) Approximately two weeks later you get a bill that pretends you didn’t pay yet. The bill is for $180 and a $2 “interest charge.” (Remember, the payment was not late.)

(4) All of this is kosher because they spell out the interest rate associated with this out-of-nowhere interest charge.

When you dial them up to complain, the folks living on the other side of the world who answer such calls will assure you that the $2 will be credited back to you next month.

Thoughtlessly you go online and transfer another $2 to keep the account current. Only later it dawns on you that you’ve sent Macy’s a two-buck tip and asked them to keep it safe for a month, then give it back as a credit towards more stuff in their store.

I know: No one with a real job would dog this issue for a measly $2. And I won’t punish you by recreating the dialogue I had with the polite customer-service agent sitting 14 time-zones away. The bottom line is that refusing to pay the $2 is pretty much pissing into the wind. Feels good for a second, and then….not.

So, the choices are clear: Cancel your card and give up those discount coupons. Or resort to an Abbie Hoffman-like  gesture and pay the interest charge in some annoying way, such as sending a box of pennies or transferring an odd overpayment, like $2.02, via your online bill payer.  Or pay $1.98 today and .05 two days later. Yeah, way to mess with that computer’s mind!

It won’t diffuse the little wallet bomb, but you’ll feel better having lobbed one back over the fence.

Mourning the mail

I’m not sorry to see the holidays in the rear-view mirror, but I will miss the season’s mail-order catalogs.

Along about September, my mailbox began to fill with those ever-smiling, smartly dressed families. These folks live in spacious, well-appointed homes and they have everything, absolutely everything: puppies on monogrammed dog beds, log-filled fireplaces, backyard ski hills, attractive multi-generational gatherings in which no one is groping anyone else’s spouse or dropping the good china.

Yet they aren’t snobbish, you can tell. These are people who are just grateful to be living in a time and place when every man, woman, and child is entitled to a full wardrobe of plush flannel sleepwear. It makes sense. No one sleeping in one of those polished oak sleigh-beds would be caught dead in a ratty blue t-shirt from the Kerry campaign.

These folks have drawstring sweatpants—with the original drawstrings—that are inevitably slimming. Their slippers match their robes. There are never any white splotches on the front of those terrycloth robes from errant toothpaste spittle.

A lot of the middle-aged women are confident enough to let their hair go gray, and you have to admire that. We could all learn something from these gals. Despite their lack of age-fighting salon time, not one of their chisel-featured men ever seems to have a much-younger partner hanging on his arm, or a passel of second-round kids who will be in junior high when he is 80.

The kids who do show up in these tableaux are dazzling. Not one needs cripplingly expensive orthodontia. It’s hard to know for sure, but it doesn’t seem likely that any of them have head lice.

The catalogs don’t stop coming, of course. But once the holiday season is over, things just aren’t the same. People spend less time at home. Puppies grow into dogs. Flannel sleepwear gives way to brushed pima cotton. It’s just a few weeks until the bathing-suit catalogs come out.

Now there’s a bunch of shallow phonies. Don’t even get me started.

Admiring a master

I found myself at the nearby enormous Fred Meyer store on Christmas Eve morning, something I would normally avoid like a hot-tub full of Republicans.

But my watch battery died and that night’s cake recipe called for chocolate chips…and Freddy’s is the place where one can find both necessities. In fact, this particular store is so big that it has a full-size jewelry store inside it.

There was a queue for the watch-repair man, a very tall fellow with a German accent, who was attracting the sort of attention usually reserved for a magician. He changed watch batteries, untangled gold chains, attached poodle-shaped charms to bracelets.

I was shocked to see that people were tipping him. This is not a big gratuity town; a parking valet outside the swanky Benson Hotel told me he can tell locals from visitors: locals are the ones who say, “Darn! I only have a five..catch you next time.”

When my turn came, I could see why the tips were flowing: the watch-fixer opened my battered Seiko, removed the battery, replaced it, put the thing together again. Elapsed time: 2 minutes. Cost: $10.

He didn’t sit down, but bent over a work bench behind a low glass wall, moving his elegant hands with the grace and speed of a surgeon or a pianist.

Each time he completed a task, he quoted the price, took the money and gave a slight, courtly bow.

It isn’t easy to appear dignified when hemmed in by half-price poinsettias and talking over a recording of Alvin & the Chipmunks singing “Jingle Bells,” but he managed.

e-ponderings

David Pogue, possibly the only person on the planet who can write about using the shift key on your iMac and make it sound fun, raises provocative stuff in a recent blog post. Pogue of course is the genius behind the books, blogs, articles and podcasts on Apple products and other goods in the computer world.

In “Should e-books be copy protected?” he mulls the rising storm around Kindles, Nooks, and the like. If you have a Kindle library of books, should you be able to switch to another e-book gadget and drag all your literary luggage along with you? And, what about passing that book to a buddy who then doesn’t have to pay for it?

I’m fine with moving an e-book from one e-reader to another. It’s like moving a book to a new shelf. Should I be able to pass it on to a friend without paying again? Well, yes. How is that different from lending a printed book to a buddy?

But what about the enterprising folks who pirate and sell the book online for a fraction of the “official” price? Those people we need to send to the electronic woodshed for sure. Of course, we all learned some lessons from the music-piracy mess. Controlling media sharing is pretty much a joke. It’s like catching a greased pig–possible, but laughably difficult.

Here’s what I’m waiting for: Some big macher in this debate to jump up and yell, “Hey! A lot of book-loving, round-the-clock readers are willing to pay for titles! Let’s ask some of them how they’d like to do it!” We rabid readers will rise to the occasion.

I imagine a future in which I make regular PayPal-like payments for increments of reading material — a kind of electronic punch card. Yes, the impoverished student next door will still download pirated stuff for free, but so what? She’s been standing in the aisles at Powell’s reading the stuff without buying it anyway.

Bookworms turn and unite! Pay for your pleasure!

Winter coats (and boots?) for the herd

A lovely ad on the back of Sunday’s New York Times Style Magazine may have solved our ambivalence toward animals once and for all.

We want them to have a nice life–including a view and space to run around–right up until we kill and eat them.

A woman wearing a fur coat is treated as if she slung her first-born on as a poncho, yet most of us walk down the street with a leather purse (filled with smaller leather doodads), leather shoes, maybe even a leather belt.

Let’s not even get into the animal products used in that hair gel.

To our credit, we know we’re hypocrites. But what’s an animal-lover to do? Canvas shoes only get you so far.

Well, while we were wringing our hands over free-range arrangements, the Hermes people were wracking their sharp French noodles for solutions.

The company’s “Winter at Last” ad shows a lovely model in profile, silky Hermes scarves twined around her neck and head. Next to her is an antlered critter (elk? mule deer?) who is also sporting Hermes. A single tasteful silk scarf, wound around his neck with a suitably small knot. (No worries about snagging it on a tree branch.)

At last, a solution to our uneasy bond with animals. Grain-fed lives are one thing, but nothing says humane treatment like a good accessory.

“A (huge) jug of wine, a (giant) loaf of bread, and thou…”

Some big dogs can learn new tricks, to wit: Costco has agreed to accept food stamps at most of its locations.

This is very good news. At first the giant warehouse store (headquartered in Issaquah, Washington) said no to the idea, assuming the $50 annual fee was too much of a deterrent to people getting government aid. (Store execs were probably also wary of dealing with the government paperwork involved, and it’s hard to blame them for that.)

It’s true that membership fees and big-discount sizes of stuff are tricky for thinner wallets. When broke, you often spend more to get less. You buy small sizes of things because the sticker price is lower. The fact that the $3 bottle of ketchup is half the size of the bottle that sells for $4 doesn’t matter. You have $3 today, not $4, and you need ketchup today, not the promise of cheaper condiments all month.

But this is not a hard-and-fast rule for poor people any more than it is for folks of means. Costco pilot programs showed a level of nuance in shopper trends that’s been overlooked. It seems that people on food stamps are indeed willing and organized enough (imagine!) to plan ahead, spend more upfront, and save money. People gladly get away from the $3 ketchup behavior if it is really worth their while.

The success of the Costco food-stamp pilots may also be helped by the fact that a $50 membership can be shared with another “household member” and Costco doesn’t check to see if that person with the extra card is really, truly your sister who lives in the attic. This benefit is already widely claimed by people not on food stamps, trust me.

It also helps that the visuals of giant-sized products are so enticing. There is something about the sight of 4 pounds of Rice Krispies and a half-gallon of shampoo that makes one feel somewhat more secure, as do the vats of red licorice and hunks of Tillamook cheddar cheese. If I have clean hair and snacks, all is not lost.

Given the huge amount of taxpayers’ money that has been handed over to banks and automakers to little positive effect, perhaps the feds should subsidize warehouse-shopping memberships and local-transit routes that serve Costco locations. (The stores are usually a long walk from the nearest bus stop, and you still see people climbing aboard with a shrink-wrapped raft-size cargo of toilet paper.)

Costco’s long check-out lines are full of well-dressed people pushing carts of fine wines, gourmet cheeses and premium meats. It’s a good thing to open the doors to people who actually need cheaper food.

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How dry I am

Here at Type Like the Wind, we’re very cautious about product endorsement.

It’s a big responsibility, as well as a slippery slope. One glowing review here, another one there and — bam! Next thing you know, I’m sitting here with my PJs covered with brand logos, like a NASCAR driver.

Yet there are some products so superior that they simply must be singled out. Introducing DampRid by WM Barr. This busy little company, based in Memphis, makes stuff that does some utterly thankless work.

Its calcium chloride-based goods suck up moisture without machinery, toxic fumes or slurping sounds. This may not sound like a big deal, but if your closets smelled like a wet (and perhaps, ill) small animal when left to their own devices, you’d love DampRid too.

My personal favorite from the DampRid line is the Fragrance-free Hanging Moisture Absorber. This device is simple: a two-part clear-plastic bag on a small hanger. The top section has a chunk of what I presume is calcium chloride, a substance about which I know absolutely nothing except that it’s white and described in two words. The bottom bag is empty. Within about 3.5 weeks, that bag is full of water and the clump of white stuff is gone.

(That’s in my closet. My husband got the one in which it takes twice as long for the water-bag to fill. I’m sure he didn’t realize the vastly different moisture levels when he gallantly insisted I take the slightly larger closet. The one with the gigantic, sweating water-heater in the corner.)

Once I got over feeling creeped out that my clothes hang in the indoor equivalent of a protected wetland, I came to enjoy the Fragrance-free Hanging Moisture Absorber for its cool magic-trick performance. I don’t actually watch it work (that would be just weird) but I do check it every few days. When it’s full, I empty the bag and put in a new one.

(A true Portlander would use the collected water for plants. I pour it down the drain, listening nervously for the Eco-Police to pull up in their Prius, with solar-powered blue lights flashing.)

I order the Fragrance-free Hanging Moisture Absorbers directly from the company because no store in Greater Portland sells the unscented ones. Sadly, the “Fresh Scent” version turns the closet into a place that smells like an ill, wet, small animal who made a long stop by the perfume bar at Macy’s before coming over. I get a $35.95 six-pack every few months; probably the only six-pack of any kind I’ve purchased in 20 years.

I’m grateful that whatever it takes to assemble these products is happening way out there at WM Barr. That somewhere out there is a big, big pile of calcium chloride and people willing and able to shovel it into small bags, then send it across the country.

I worry about a lot of things: unrest in the Middle East, hate crimes, my own inevitable bone and memory loss; the fate of newspapers. One thing I don’t worry about is my closet. It’s important to take comfort where one can find it.

Taking it on the chin


I keep hearing and reading that tough economic times mean much lower profits for luxury and cosmetic services. This is good news for the little people: On the off chance that one of us gets called for a job interview, we can get a chic new haircut at the last minute, in time to sit down with the 12-year-old manager and enthuse about teamwork.

Evidence of frightened exfoliators surfaced here last week, when every house on the block got a discount-coupon from a posh new massage-skincare-haircut place a few zip codes away.

I’d say the 30-percent savings on chemical-facial peels isn’t going to spark much interest in this neck of the woods, but I could be wrong. For all I know, everyone will look fresher and younger the next time we meet for a day-long graffiti paint-out.

This morning I read that cosmetic surgeons aren’t letting any grass grow under their Guccis either. An article in The New York Times describes growing popularity of a kind of plastic surgery that should go a long way to make up for the decline in nose-job work.

The story is about Marcus Davis, a 35-year-old boxer and martial-arts ninja whose face has been stitched up 77 times. Bleeding profusely is not good in the ring; it stops the fight. Not only was Davis an easy bleeder–apparently just the sight of his waffle-textured mug made judges jump to the conclusion that he was the lesser man.

A Las Vegas plastic surgeon “burred down the bones around Davis’s eye sockets. He also removed scar tissue around his eyes and replaced it with collagen made from the skin of cadavers,” according to R.M. Schneiderman’s article.

We’re all making adjustments these days: cheaper grades of beef, fewer movies, stalling on car payments. We’re all a little scared. Even as I type this, somewhere in a medical-office building close by, there is a board-certified plastic surgeon poring over Boxing Monthly magazine and hoping for the best.

The (under) Wire

I took a wrong turn at the mall yesterday and instead of the Apple Store, I found myself in the Semi-Annual Sale at Victoria’s Secret.

Wow.

The place is an estrogen tsunami: dozens of women swarming over sale bins, yanking out pink, purple, black, brown, green and ivory bras and waving them like flags. (God forbid anything white is on sale.) The sales crew is uniformly young, all dressed in all-black, with elaborate headsets clamped over their shiny hair and black waist-packs full of pink stock-order cards. The waist pack also doubles as a sort of lipstick holster.

The headsetters whip out measuring tapes to size up women on the spot: Want me to fit you? I can do it over your t-shirt? As usual, most of customers are told they are wearing the wrong size. If it’s true that most women wear bras in the wrong size, could it be that the definition of a good fit needs revisiting? New guideline: If an undergarment isn’t flapping in the wind or cutting off air supply, it fits.

As any riot-squad cop can tell you, this sort of behavior is contagious. So I find myself in line clutching my own pink card that notes my name and size. (I resist the tape measure; nothing is flapping or choking me, thanks.) There is one other middle-aged woman in line, and we exchange small smiles: Wrong turn at the Apple Store, right?

The noise level is high, both volume and pitch. It sounds like the Superbowl, only without men. (Actually, two young guys have ventured into the store with girlfriends. They look exactly like rabbits in the headlights. Happy rabbits, willing to get run over.) A headsetter comes to my side and raises her voice to explain the drill: Off to a roomy dressing room where I am handed a drawer containing one of each of the Victoria’s Secret bras in my size. (Why don’t they do this at shoe stores?) She urges me to try them all on, so I can “find out what really works” for me. I’m left to imagine my bra really working while I sit around and think deep thoughts.

The bras (unlike their sister garments from, say, Target) are made of lovely material and do indeed deliver on their various slogans. “Extreme lift” is exactly that.

As I gaze at my new Extreme self, I wonder if this is how I’m supposed to look. Where my 51-year-old chest once was, now sits a handy shelf. A counter, even. A full luncheon-service place-setting could be set on it, salad fork included.

I consult with my headsetter. She ponders. “I think,” she says solemnly, “that it looks awesome.” Of course I bought it. When someone uses that word about your underwear, $48 seems quite reasonable.

Just to be on the safe side, when I got home, I lugged out the Oxford English Dictionary (the massive two-volume edition with magnifying glass) and looked up “awesome.”

In some uses it has meant “appalling, dreadful and weird.” But, no, I’m sure that nice salesperson meant she was feeling “profoundly reverential.”

Yeah, that must be it.

You read it here first

I don’t want to brag, but I did think up the idea of pump toothpaste about a year before Colgate introduced this wildly successful product. Sadly, I sent my letter to them regular mail, not registered, so my chance at millions of dollars evaporated.

I did what any inventor worth her notepad does: I picked myself up and resolutely went on to hatch new notions.

My latest grows out of personal need, the best source of inventions. (I’m sure the Post-it guy was just sick of writing on the backs of envelopes.)

No matter how large my desk space, I always need a side table for materials I’m using–big notebooks, maps, paper documents I’m comparing side-by-side. Sometimes the table needs to be even with the computer desk, other times higher or lower. It also needs to be something I can easily put away. Due to square footage of my work space as well as personal preference, I go for furniture that can be used more than one way, like furnishings on a boat.

Today, Dear Reader, I hit on the perfect solution: the ironing board. It’s easily adjustable, the right width (not too wide, but big enough for my large loose-leaf notebooks) and it can be folded up and stashed in the closet in a few seconds. Plus, once it’s out, I have no excuse not to iron the linen napkins for Shabbat dinner.

If the Colgate-Palmolive people try to horn in on this one, I’m ready to fight.