by Gilles d'Aymery
"My dog is worried about the economy because Alpo is up to 99 cents a can. That's almost $7.00 in dog money."
Joe Weinstein"If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.""Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."
Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Groucho Marx (1890-1977)
(Swans - January 12, 2009) SKINNING CATS...AND DOGS: It's been a long practice for food companies to cut the size of the products you find on your markets' (super or not) shelves. The trick is to keep the size of the box or can the same, the price unchanged, but the contents reduced. In the timber world a so-called 2"x4" has long become a 1.75"x3.5". Everybody has gotten used to it. No one complains. Fact of life. The food industry has followed the patterns. So, one should not be surprised to see the pet industry follow suit. Our two dogs, Mestor and Priam (yes, Greek names), are our pride and joy. They've always deserved the best food we could find. For years we have served them, breakfast and dinner, the dry food made by Innova, a trademark of Natura Pet Products, Inc., a company based in Santa Clara, California. Since moving to Boonville in 2003/4, we've been buying the doggy food at Rainbow Agricultural Services in Ukiah, a store that belongs to a wealthy family that owns several Ace hardware stores in Mendocino County, north of San Francisco. We used to pay $40 (actually, $39.99 as everything is priced in our psychedelic country) for a 40-pound bag -- a buck a pound. Fine. We'd buy two or three bags at a time. With the complement of biped food we share with our friends, that supply would last months. Two weeks ago, we were getting dangerously low on the stuff. So, Jan bought a bag in San Francisco, avoiding me a trek to Ukiah (50 miles round trip). She paid $42 for the bag, and instead of being a 40-lb bag it weighed only 30. How come, how come, I shouted. That's a rip-off. Let me drive to Ukiah and buy the goodies from Rainbow... I drove... I bought...
RAINBOW'S price had shot up to $45 (sorry, $44.99) AND the size of the bag had dwindled to -- what would ya' know? -- 30 lbs. In short, the price has gone up by close to 50 percent. Not bad, one would argue, in our ailing economy. Someone (the many) has to pay for the bonuses of the few. Both Mestor and Priam are oblivious to the change. All of America -- but for the happy few -- knows the trend...though they cannot connect two and two.
HEY, EVEN the 100-years-old Milk-Bone company has apparently decreased the weight of their dog biscuits -- at least the price remains more or less the same (which means more). Do you see a trend?
DARWINIANS in our midst will argue that dogs do not deserve their food, anyway. Food made with turkey, chicken, barley, brown rice, potato, apple, carrot, egg, cottage cheese, and alfalfa sprouts would better serve the dietary needs of the "cockroaches" (as Israelis lovingly call the Palestinians) in Gaza, those sub-humans who have been "put on a diet" for the past two or three years.
FOODSTUFF is not the only product whose prices have shot up to the stratosphere. Take something as mundane as paint. In 2004, we used to pay $28 (okay, $27.99) for a gallon of Moorgard Latex HP made by Benjamin Moore -- a high-quality product which we bought in substantial quantity to repaint our little house. Today, the same gallon is sold for $48 (sorry, $47.99) by the same retailer -- a mere 71 percent jack-up, forcing us to downgrade to Glidden premium paint, Endurance, which costs just about $28 a gallon (oops, $27.49 to be precise). What I can't figure out, and this is a parenthesis, is why paint manufacturers, armed with the great prowess of American science and technology, have yet to develop a product that would allow to paint a given surface, in or outdoor, in just one coat, instead of having to apply a primer, and two coats of the final paint. You'd think that by now they ought to have worked out a solution -- or is it possible that both manufacturers and painting contractors would lose valuable business?
BACK TO OUR great economy. Did you notice the interview VP Cheney gave to the Associated Press on January 8? Cheney said that his boss did not need to apologize for the state of the economy and the financial crisis because nobody saw it coming. He actually said, "nobody anywhere was smart enough to figure it out." Err, Dick, when in retirement, perhaps will you find a few minutes to peruse my Blips and other articles on the subject? Here are a few, and I don't even go back to 1996:
September 11, 2006 (Blips #40)
September 24, 2007 (Is The USA Heading For Third World Status?)
November 19, 2007 (Blips #61)
December 17, 2007 (A Battered America)
January 28, 2008 (Blips #64)
February 11, 2008 (Blips #65)
February 25, 2008 (Blips #66)
March 10, 2008 (Blips #67)
March 24, 2008 (Entertaining Hullabaloo)
April 21, 2008 (Blips #69)
July 28, 2008 (Blips #71)
August 11, 2008 (Blips #72)
September 22, 2008 (Blips #73)
October 6, 2008 (Blips #74)
October 20, 2008 (Blips #75)
November 17, 2008 (Blips #76)
NOT SMART ENOUGH, Mr. Cheney? Speak for yourself. However, I must confess that I was unimaginative enough to predict the Madoff debacle and the spurt of suicides that lay in this wreck, from a financier in England, to Thierry de la Villehuchet, who invested the funds put in his care with Madoff, Eric Von der Porten, who managed a relatively small hedge fund in San Carlos, California, and Adolf Merckle, the German billionaire and head of a business empire (Ratiopharm, Phoenix, HeidelbergCement), who threw himself under a train after losing hundreds of million of Euros. Not that I particularly mourn their deaths, and feel that it would be an honorable exit for Bernard Madoff, but evidently death is in the air -- some sadder than others.
A DYING WORLD: Do you recall the story of Kepler's, the famed bookstore in Menlo Park, California, which I covered in my Blips #25 in September 2005? In those Blips I also covered the death of a local business, which in light of the ongoing economic onslaught, you should revisit. (Not everybody was blind and oblivious to reality, right?) Kepler's was saved thanks to an outpouring of community support, though it remains on life support and is walking on crutches. In June 2007, the affable 75-year-old Stanley Bard, owner of the also-famed Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan (on 23rd Street, between 7th and 8th Av.) was unceremoniously debarked by angry shareholders. The reason for the defenestrating was, as usual, money.
THE VENERABLE Hotel Chelsea, for those in the know, had been home to the cream of American (and international) writers, poets, cinematographers, singers -- all in all artists. Woody Allen, Andy Warhol, Ethan Hawke, Patti Smith, Nico, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Sid Vicious, Christo, de Kooning, Robert Mapplethorpe, Milos Forman, Elliott Gould, Stanley Kubrick, Dennis Hopper, Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, Tennessee Williams, Thomas Wolfe, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Arthur Clarke, Arthur Miller, Joseph O'Neill, and many more illustrious intellectuals (sorry, no, Noam Chomsky was never at par and never made it there!) frequented and inhabited the establishment, often gratis prodeo.
STANLEY BARD was a bit of an oddball patron of the arts, but he was no fool and certainly not a poor businessman. By harboring the artistic cream of the cream he attracted a lot of money-paying guests -- including me -- who were often lured by the titillating idea of crossing paths with one of those luminaries. Bard was not losing money -- the hotel was going on cahin caha -- with little profits. That was his sin. Investors wanted at least 10 to 20 percent return (cf. Madoff). He was offering 3 to 5 percent. Bard is gone (so is Madoff). Artists are gone. What do you think investors' returns are nowadays? I do not know for sure, but in light of the current economy, I would not be surprised that they are navigating in negative territory. Idiots!
ANOTHER ICON of culture is closing its doors due to greed. The Librairie de France, an old-fashioned, 70-some-year-old bookstore located on the Rockefeller Center Promenade at 610 Fifth Avenue (between 49th and 50th Street), with a stock of over 2 million books -- many rare and out of print editions -- will become history next September. It was founded in 1928 by Isaac Molho, a Jewish Greek from Salonica and devotee of French Literature. In 1935, the bookstore moved to Rockefeller center, becoming the oldest renter at this illustrious location. Upon Isaac's death his son Emmanuel took over. Emmanuel kept the quaint place...quaint -- even their Web site is quaint. But legions of people have walked down the stairs to the basement and spent countless hours sitting around, sipping through unaffordable literary gems. When I lived in Manhattan, not a month would pass without a visit there. On recurring journeys (until post-9/11, when I decided not to travel by plane until the humiliating experience of getting stripped for so-called security reasons would get reversed), I would not miss a trip to La Librairie and purchase a few books. During WWII, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, André Maurois, Jules Romains, Claude Lévi-Strauss, André Breton, and many other French authors spent their years of exile in that temple -- a temple of refinement, knowledge, art, and thinking.
THE LIBRAIRIE de France is going to be thrown in the dustbin of history because its rent is being increased from $360,000 to $1 million a year. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, had dinner at the Rockefeller Center last September. He did not even bother to visit the bookstore, the oldest (and only) French bookstore in Manhattan. Some people, including Pierre Assouline, a liberal blogger for the French Le Monde, argue that bookstores that do not make it financially should not be allowed to survive. After all, who needs culture in the age of the iPhone and the Blackberry. I'm sure Obama will concur, he who values his Blackberry as a window to the wider world...
SO GOES Stacey's Bookstore in San Francisco. That 85-year-old iconic bookstore located in the historic Flood Building on the corner of Market and Powell streets will close its door in March. It had established a niche market for technical books. Over the years it had expanded all over California, to Cupertino, Los Angeles, Modesto, Palo Alto, Richmond, and San Bernardino -- which eventually got closed in recent years. Its flagstaff in S.F. was doing well in spite of the competition from the likes of Amazon and Google, until the economy turned south in a hurry. It seems that in the age of Obama's Blackberry, human interaction is becoming as quaint as sitting in a leather armchair in a bookstore.
THE OLDER CREW on Swans (Peter Byrne, Charles Marowitz, Michael Doliner, Martin Murie, Art Shay, etc.) will undoubtedly appreciate the trend. Will I too become the last of the Mohicans, eventually? I'm afraid I will.
WHY DON'T they bail out culture and beauty? We could use the money.
. . . . .
C'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can. Supporting the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.