Google has introduce a new device to complete with Echo, the Amazon robot-lady assistant. It is called Assistant. Looks cool. I don’t want it. There is something cold about Google I can’t quite shake - time and again I am tempted to use one of their products, because they’re sensible and well-designed and clean, and it’s nice to have everything in one ecosystem. Calendar, mail, writing apps, and so on. But I’ve never been able to make the jump. I know that their main business is data collection and mining to sell ads and products, and accept the terms and conditions, but the entire company feels like a shiny white plastic mask. It doesn’t feel creepy, it just feels vast and remote.

Apple should have made one of these things. I find myself thinking “they should have made that” and “they should have made this” more and more. (They have HomeKit, which helps with home automation, but they make nothing for it. Probably just as well, because they’d be expensive.) There’s Siri on the phone, but she’s boring. I find myself talking to Alexa on the Echo several times while making dinner, playing Jeopardy every day, ordering things when I’m out - still amazed when I asked her to order some dishwasher soap, and she said “based on your order history you want” and named the product. This is Star-Trek level stuff.

Amazon is simply more human, and I can’t quite say why. Perhaps because it sells books and socks. It seems far more interested in trying new things, little things, big things, convenient things. Daughter texted me today to ask if I would be home when a delivery was made, and I said probably not; what did you get?


They had a sale. Two dollars. That’s $1.50 off what I paid at the store tonight. They also sold me a suitcase and a spare USB cord and a movie and a book. You’re always happy when an Amazon box shows up. No one ever feels a little thrill when they call up Google.

As you may know, if you’ve been following this page for awhile - say, 20 years - I like to grocery shop. This is not an unmanly act, he said, defensively. I remember going to the grocery store with my dad, and it was like diving into a cornucopia that gave forth things Mom would never see. Thing is, I doubt this was regular. I may have accompanied him four, five times - but they made an impression. Pizza and ice cream and watermelon, that’s what we got.

I recall making trips to the SuperValu with Mom, and hearing her lament the high cost of everything, and putting the bread in the freezer IMMEDIATELY so it would stay fresh (Bread was never allowed the normal life-cycle in our house; it was sent to cryogenic statis the moment we got home). I stopped accompanying her at the time most kids do.

Because you don’t have to.

Daughter likes to come with from time to time, so that’s good. It’s a lesson on how to get along in life, how to balance the staples with the indulgences, how to parse the specials and prices, and how it’s necessary to take a chance now and then and step outside your List, because the List will shape what you think, and what you eat. The reason I got to four different stores is because I don’t want to be locked into the same-old-same-old. Taco Tuesday? Not this week! I went to Lunds, and they had a sale on ground turkey, so it’s Turkey Burrito Tuesday - but on Wednesday! Things like this shake everything up. Keeps everyone guessing.

I finally went to Fresh Thyme, a new chain that opened in the burbs a year or so ago. The exterior has this faux corrugated-barn look, to assure you that the food within is natural and free of whatever you’re terrified about today, and since they have 9394 organic products you will live forever if you shop here. It’s an amusing place. The parking lot it small, and it’s a ramp - you can go down a floor and park in a narrow spaceand bang your door against a concrete pillar if you like. Mind you, this is the suburbs: land spreadin’ out so far and wide, as the man said. This used to be a car dealership with acres of vehicles waiting to be sold. But the city wanted a dense urban development, something Vibrant, with people walking on the sidewalk, window shopping before meeting a friend for wine and dinner at a bistro, so they came up with a master plan that required density and housing.

BTW, all suburban density projects must include the word “vibrant” in some form and mention someone window shopping before meeting someone for a glass of wine, this being the quintessential urban experience. It’s like being in New York! People are always stopping and looking in the window before they think “oh, I’ll be late for the glass of wine,” and then they hustle along.

Fresh Thyme isn’t bad; it’s certainly preferable to a parking lot. But a downtown it isn’t. Anyway, you have to troll for parking in this tiny lot, like you’re in an actual city. Inside the store is busy and a bit cramped, because the development didn’t want a huge store with a huge lot, so everyone’s working their way around other people’s shopping carts. It’s very dense. And vibrant! There are brand names here, so it’s like Whole Foods But Not So Much So, with a dash of Traders Joe funkiness in the signage, but the main font looks like it has Marker Felt somewhere in its family tree. There are a few things you’ve never seen before, and that’s good - makes you realize that the genius of Traders Joe and Aldi is that almost everything is foreign, at first.

It’s definitely pitched at people who are worried about their daily antioxidant consumption, but also like cupcakes.

When I decided I was done I pushed the cart to the front to check out. Eight registers. Three were in service. I got in a line I assumed was a common queue; it was flanked by cosmetics and Natural Products like Burt’s Bees and generic Witch Hazel and other stuff I couldn’t imagine would be an impulse item. I mean, c’mon - it’s the checkout aisle. This is where you move the jerky and batteries and moist wipes and magazines about pretty people who are now having sex or are no longer having sex with the person we assumed they were having sex with. There was a few pyramids of soap, those rude bars cut from an enormous slab, stamped with the store’s name. One was black, and smelled nice. The other was green and smelled like pine, which was nice as well but we’re still six weeks out from Pine Season. I could imagine the bars leaving gobs of soap crud in the dish, and black soap crud is one of those things you can move to the NEED THIS NOT AT ALL column with ease.

Whatever happens to that last sliver? It never vanishes completely in the process of usage. You throw it away because it’s cracked and nasty and no longer has sufficient soapability. (There’s a word I cannot believe Mad Av never used.) Bar soap never completes its mission. The happiest soap is probably ceremonial soap, which you find in bathrooms that have ruffled towels and baskets of wrapped soap and sachets. It may be frustrated, since it never gets to do what it’s meant to do, but it will never find itself reduced to a nubbin and discarded.

In the 70s, I remember, there were magazine articles about combining soap nubbins into reconstituted bars so you could save 39 cents. What a time to be alive.

When I got to the end of the aisle I realized that five aisles fed into the cash register area, and you couldn’t tell that from the outside. Not only did the layout mean you couldn’t see which line you wanted to join, you had two aisles emptying into one register, which meant people had to merge. Since the shelves were high, you had no idea if the person who wanted to merge in front of you had been there longer. And that matters, brother. That matters.

In my case, there was an old lumpy guy in a white T-shirt with a cart full of things in plastic bags. He waved me ahead, but no, I waved him on, because I was already annoyed by this place and wanted to be more annoyed. And also because my picture has been in the paper for two decades and it’s entirely possible this person will say “oh, that’s that guy. What a jerk.”

It took 20 minutes to check out.

“Short on cashiers?” I asked the manager-type lady who was bagging.

“Short on everyone,” she almost barked.

I will never go back. No reason to go back. I wanted to find a happy new interesting place. I ended up staring at cosmetics for seven minutes because I wanted to buy a box of shelf-stable humus.

On the other hand, I have a box of shelf-stable humus.





A yegg was indeed a term for a crook. The Hitchcock reference is silly and makes you wonder if the author thought this was funny, or some sort of erudite references.

"More virulent when all the disease bacteria hasn't been all cooked out."







Five thousand souls, and a downtown that suggests it used to be bigger.

The name? Glad you asked: "Its nickname is "The Only One" because no other town in the world is known by the same name. The origin of the word Ahoskie, which was originally spelled 'Ahotsky'" came from the Wyanoke Indians who entered the Hertford County area at the beginning of European settlement."

How it came from the Wyanoke, Wikipedia does not deign to say.

Well, let's look around. You might fear this is typical:

Windows boarded, painted over - and small doors put in the windows, which were then boarded over. If I had to guess, I'd say it had been a grocery one day, and had neighbors on either side. It's like an old man whose best friends have passed away.

A ghost ad that either was done long ago or long, long ago: in the late 60s they like to copy Art Nouveau styles, and I wouldn't be surprised if that was from that era. On the other hand . . .

"Exclusive for yarns" seems an archair locution.

It's like a buiding that strains krill and plankton to survive:

If you can figure out what's going on down in the bottom right-hand quadrant, put it in the comments. That's just one messed-up building.

When the drugstore goes, the downtown goes.

Established in 1947, the internet says. Don't think the facade dates from that era. The brick looks like it's late 70s / early 80s, but the brick on the pillar is 50s. They took a few runs at it, I guess.

If "Walking Dead" was shot in the 60s:

Of course, places like this exist now, so the Walking Dead could be set in modern times and still have that 60s signage vibe.

No one ever praised that "new fridge smell," did they.


Gold-leaf handpainted sign. It was a proud downtown.

The bottom might have worked if they hadn't botched the midsection:

The windows rhyme, even though the original windows were much wider. But that lousy wooden abomination - it almost gives the building a hideous grin.

They loved to paint their brick in Ahoskie:

This is notable, if oddly scaled:

It looms. Banks should rise, not loom. The pediment is too big and dull; the columns look trapped. The entryway looks like a door comes down after you enter and you never get out.

I like it, though. It's something grand, and everyone was proud when it was built.

An unexpectedly elegant array:

The Federal Style. Every town profited from a handsome structure like this.

On the other hand: Haircut and bricking, painting and A WHITE PICKET GATE for a door to the upper floors.


Not that anyone went upstairs. There were probably lawyers and dentists up there, accountants, or apartments. Perhaps one day there will be residents again, but I wouldn't pull up an old metal sofa and wait.

Another inscrutible arrangement: obviously, it had big showroom windows. The sign says FURNITURE. There was a bay for the delivery truck. But . . .

What was the reason for the second-floor window arrangement, and the deep deep doorway?

Finally: a gem.


An old pre-war service station. The pumps are gone, but they still works on cars.

That's something.

That'll do! See you around.



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