Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Arts, crafts, and other reasons why I wound up at Michael’s, against my will

At about this time last year, I wrote a piece about The Container Store. Some might describe it as a “rant,” but those are probably the same people who believe shelving systems are a force for good and not the work of an organizational terrorist.

I have not returned to The Container Store since I wrote that post, and I’d nearly forgotten the whole episode until today, when I went to Michael’s, a place that makes The Container Store look like Key West.

For those who’ve never been there, Michael’s is a craft store. And in case it doesn’t go without saying, I am not craft people. In fact, you will not hear me utter the word “craft” unless it is followed by “beer.” (Which, tragically, they do not sell at Michael’s, in case you’re wondering. You can buy a jungle’s worth of fake greenery there, but forget trying to find a fermented hop in the joint.)

Best I can tell based on very limited experience, Michael’s is frequented by people who own glue guns and are responsible for the fact that scrapbook, which once existed only as a noun, is now a verb. Everyone knows verbs are action verbs, and I have never once viewed as a scrapbook as an item that inspires or requires activity. In fact, for me, a scrapbook is like a Bowflex: something you buy at a moment when you’ve come so completely untethered from reality that you actually believe you’ll use it. The truth is that after you buy it, it’ll sit in a corner, ignored and gathering dust until you feel guilty enough to donate it to charity.

Where was I, anyway? Oh right, Michael’s. I was there this morning at 11 a.m., and believe me, I was not happy about it. The unadorned walls beside my fireplace were to blame. I’ve been in my house for three years and the walls have been blank that whole time. I might not have cared, but I’m about to host some work people for dinner, and I thought maybe I should try to make the place look occupied, perhaps .by taking a few of my family photos and figuring out a way to display them tastefully. I tried to solve this problem on line first–my desire to make my home look inhabited yielded to my reluctance to leave the house –but I wound up in a Pinterest/Amazon death spiral that I could exit only by exploring my frame and display options in person.

So I decided to squeeze in a Michael’s visit before I met a friend for brunch. On your average Saturday morning at Michael’s, you’ll get a contact high from eucalyptus fumes. Because I visited Michael’s on a Sunday after Halloween, the eucalyptus fumes had been overwhelmed by a suffocating scent that suggested mulling spices. Awash in unfamiliar craft items, the only mulling I was doing involved formulating an exit strategy. If I’d been in The Container Store, at least I might have been paid a visit by Elfa, the Queen of Shelving Systems.

I lasted exactly 14 minutes at Michael’s before I realized I was no match for glue guns and the people who know how to use them.

Edward Steichen, an American photographer, once said “[a] blank wall is an appalling thing to look at.” Maybe so, but I bet he’d never been to Michael’s.


The Container Store: can we just put a lid on it, already?

I hate shopping, I’m not organized, and I’m not religious, so when I really need to conjure up a vision of Hell, I just think of the Container Store. Should my conduct in this life come back to haunt me in the next one, I know eternal torment will be visited on me not by Satan but by Elfa, in a place that features endless rows of wire mesh baskets.

Look at this place and tell me it’s not Hell.

In the two and a half years that I’ve owned my home, I’ve gone to TCS exactly once, and only then because I thought it could help my writing. (On that particular day, all it did was help me put off my writing.) Several of my friends are organizational evangelists who sing the praises of TCS –probably  because they sold their souls to Elfa–but I just don’t get it. Whenever I go there, it brings out the worst in me and leaves me feeling lousy about myself.

Today, I happened to be nursing the end of a bug.  I had no symptoms beyond lingering fatigue, but that was enough to leave me grouchy and not at my best. My condition could not have been more perfect for a TCS pilgrimage.

The real motivation for the trip, aside from my weakened state, was my spice rack, or lack thereof. I have a small kitchen where counter space and storage are at a premium. My spices have been living on the lone shelf in my pantry that isn’t tall enough to hold anything else. This configuration worked perfectly when my spice inventory consisted of salt, pepper and cinnamon, but it began to go south when I went wild and began adding exotic items like basil.

The shelf compensates for its lack of height with depth, extending back at least two feet, so as I accumulated more spices, I just kept stuffing the new acquisitions in there. (Right now my mother is reading this and shaking her head, having watched me apply the very same technique to the clothes on the floor of my bedroom when I was a kid. Haven’t changed a bit, Mom!)

From the outside everything looked fine because all of my spices were out of sight. But on the inside that shelf functioned a lot like your average law school classroom: it was packed from front to back, but only the occupants in the first row got any attention. If I ever wanted the garam masala a friend brought me from India to see daylight, I had no choice but to head to TCS.

I don’t like to go into dangerous places without cover, so I went into TCS today just behind a mother-daughter duo that was gushing with excitement about a closet project. Thanks to them, I was able to dart off to the kitchen section unnoticed. I had just begun to stare at a dizzying array of spice arranging options when I heard a chipper voice announce, “Attention, Container Store customers: join us in the kitchen section for a terrific bow-making and wrapping demonstration in ten minutes!” That gave me 9 minutes and 59 seconds to complete my mission.

I grabbed an expandable, plastic, single row spice drawer and made a beeline for the cash register. Another customer was already there, and I arrived just in time to hear the cashier ask him if he wanted to join the TCS rewards program.

Judging from his reaction, she might as well have asked him if he’d embraced Satan as his friend and savior. I recognized a kindred spirit and wanted to hug him. Before the cashier could even bag the items he bought, he sprinted right out of Hell. I fought the temptation to yell, “Save yourself!” as he fled.

On getting home and putting my spices into their new home, I had to admit the arrangement represented a major improvement in both form and function. But I still can’t stand TCS, and that probably won’t change unless they come up with a receptacle that contains my loathing.

I know, I’ve got a great rack now.



On this Black Friday, I, along with millions of Americans, hopped out of bed at 3:00 a.m.

But instead of trekking to Wal-Mart, Toys R Us or a mall, I went to the bathroom, then made a U-turn and promptly went right back to bed.

Of the quintessentially American things that embarrass and confound me, Black Friday ranks pretty high, meaning somewhere behind Las Vegas but waaaaaaaaaaay ahead of “Duck Dynasty.”

I just don’t get it.  (And I don’t think Philippa does, either.)

We spend the entire month building up huge stashes of gratitude, practicing it and seeing it on the news, on Facebook, and in blogs, only to blow it all in gladiatorial battles for half-priced TVs.  Even worse? We’ve let our love affair with bargains overwhelm the one holiday that’s supposed to be meant for gratitude and togetherness.

I’m not saying that I don’t experience powerful cravings to buy stuff, as anyone who’s ever seen me in a piano warehouse can attest.  Or that I don’t like to save money on the things I buy, because I do.  But none of it’s worth trampling people or cutting Thanksgiving short.

The only early bird special I saw this morning was a squirrel’s assault on my Halloween gourds. Clearly I don’t believe in cutting holidays short.

(I know there are people out there who can’t stand spending time with their families and, therefore, love companies like Macy’s that offer them a reprieve by opening on Thanksgiving night. To these people, I say even if Macy’s stayed closed, you could still escape your loved ones using the same tactic the Pilgrims did: a trip to the gas station for fuel and lottery tickets.  The “cheap” gas station –every family’s got one – is always at least half an hour away, so this buys you a minimum of 75 minutes of freedom.  Not that I’d ever do such a thing, ahem.)

If someone I love has got to have Skylander action figures this Christmas, I’ll be happy to get ‘em, but I refuse to face Target on Black Friday.

I’ll buy them on Amazon, where I might very well pay full price and will do so happily because I’m shopping on my love seat while wearing my woobie pants.

If you braved the stores last night or this morning and are someone who just has to have your Black Friday retail fix, think about doing it on your laptop next year.

As I like to say, why bust a door when you can crash a server instead?

[Only one more shopping day ’til NaBloPoMo ends!!!]


The princess and the plea

Homeowners know to expect the occasional surprise.  A ceiling can leak at any time; a major appliance that looked perfectly healthy when you saw it the day before might die in its sleep.  But a Mattress Emergency?  That’s one you just don’t see coming, probably because most homeowners don’t find it all that difficult to maintain the proper mattress-to-inhabitant ratio.

Mine had been fine for a while.  For the past several months I’d been storing a king-size mattress and box spring for my friend, J, and the set had been living in my guest room, along with a friend who’s between places.  J endorsed this whole arrangement, so it had been working out perfectly.

I knew this relationship wasn’t meant to last, yet, as so often happens, I was still totally unprepared when the end came.

Last Monday, J called and left a voice mail saying, “Sorry for the short notice but I hope it’s okay if we come by on Thursday to pick up the mattress. ”

The mattress didn’t belong to me, so even if I loved it, I had to set it free.  That part was okay, but a suddenly unfurnished guest room was not.  My housemate happens to be out of town at the moment, which would have helped if only another friend weren’t coming to stay a week after the mattress’s scheduled departure.

You can’t just snap your fingers and make a decent new mattress materialize.  And around Memorial Day, you need a week or more because it’s the high holiday of the mattress year.

I got to work immediately and started doing online research.  Soon I was mired in a swamp of conflicting mattress advice from self-appointed experts.  I tried to make sense of it by constructing a mental matrix that consisted of air, foam and coils on one axis, and pillow, plush and feather on the other.

The scions of sleep were unanimous on only one thing: you should lay on each mattress you’re considering for at least twenty minutes.

The idea of allotting twenty minutes per mattress troubled me.

First, I just didn’t have that kind of time.  My work and travel schedule left me with exactly one forty-minute window on exactly one afternoon to conduct my in-person mattress shopping, and I wasn’t about to limit myself to two choices.  Second, twenty minutes on a comfortable mattress is long enough for me to conk out and start drooling, and I assume most stores have a “You lake it, you buy it” policy.

So there I stood last Thursday, on the verge of making a major purchase and facing a dizzying array of almost indistinguishable options with little time to ponder them. I felt paralyzed.  In the end I just picked one, which is pretty much the same deliberative process I apply to buying toothpaste.

Getting the delivery scheduled before my friend’s arrival was the next hurdle. The soonest the company could get the mattress to me was Thursday, which was as late as I could push it.   On Wednesday, an automated voice called and told me the mattress would come the next day between 11:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m., a range I could work with as long as the crew showed up on the early side.

In between meetings at work on Wednesday, I decided to call the store’s customer service line to make a plea.  I pressed “0” to speak with an actual customer service representative.  A man with a booming voice answered.  Slowly.

“Gooooooooood morning and I thaaaaaaank you for your call today.”  He took a long pause, probably because that first sentence left him winded.  “My name is Ba-roooooose. How might I be able to help you this morning?”

Oh, I don’t know, maybe by truncating a few syllables?

I swallowed my snark and said, “Hi, um, Bruce, is it? I already have a delivery time for tomorrow.  It works just fine for me so I don’t want to cancel or change it, but I was hoping you could put a note on my order to see if there’s any way they can come on the earlier side?”

“Suuuuuuuuure. I’d be happy to do that for you, ma’am. I’ll just need to cancel your current daaaaaaaa…”

“NO NO NO! Please don’t cancel my date or change anything.  I really need the mattress tomorrow.”  Obviously I’d erred in calling but now I had to finish the call just to make sure my date didn’t get lost. “I’d just wanted you to put a note in there.  I know it doesn’t guarantee me anything, but…”

“Welllllll….I can put a note in there but it won’t guarantee you anything.”

I rooted around for a frying pan to clobber myself over the head while Bruce made notes. When we hung up, I had little confidence that my customer service prayers would be answered.

Yet to my complete astonishment, a two-man delivery team showed up ahead of schedule yesterday.  And before they moved my old mattress to the guest room and set up the new one, they vacuumed. Both rooms. Without even being asked.

Bruce had somehow managed to get the mattress-to-inhabitant ratio in my house corrected in time and to fulfill a major female fantasy in the process.  It was a customer service miracle.


My new field of dreams: a foamy, coiled hybrid.