Is the global economic crisis leading to a severe shortage of snickerdoodles? My latest column in the Star…

One subject I wish that I had studied more closely in school is economics. What seemed like such an abstract field in my youth now appears to provide the secret decoder ring essential to deciphering the world.

My formal training in economics mirrored Father Guido Sarducci’s “Five Minute University” — which reduced college subjects to whatever graduates were likely to remember five years after graduating. All I recall of the entire economics curriculum is: “supply and demand.” Later, I learned from Russell Crowe — playing a dishy but deranged mathematician in “A Beautiful Mind” — that world-changing economic theory could be based upon the number of women a guy could pick up in a bar.

But for a crash-course in supply and demand, I encourage you to visit the coffee counter at Dean & DeLuca, where I am currently waging a one-woman campaign to educate the staff on the serious economic implications of their inability to provide as many snickerdoodle cookies as the public, specifically I, might wish to consume.

I often swing by D&D as I traverse the valley in my epic, eternal search for the elusive snickerdoodle, like some philosophical but low-blood-sugared combination of Kung Fu and Cookie Monster. I stride through the tourist-filled shop with the smug confidence of a Napa Valley local and former NYC D&D devotee who has seen everything — specifically their complete cookie collection — before. Making a beeline for the coffee counter, I scan the baked goods selection in guarded anticipation, spotting large peanut butter and oatmeal raisin cookies piled high.

“Do you have any snickerdoodles today?” I inquire, seeing none on display. “No,” they reply, “they are all gone.” Noting my disappointment, they add, forcefully: “You have to get here earlier,” clarifying — should there be any doubt — that my failure to obtain a snickerdoodle was due entirely to my own lack of character. What they don’t understand, aside from the time-demands posed by my multiple careers, is that I begin each day with a firm resolve to avoid snacking and sweets. It is only by late afternoon — when the pressure of construction-related traffic delays, dropped cell phone conversations and landline robocalls have driven me to the emotional breaking point — that I reach for a restorative cookie.

“Why don’t you bake more?” I once asked, realizing the folly of the question as soon as it left my lips. These cookies are likely not baked on the premises, and certainly not in quantities specified by local managers. They are probably imported from some distant NAFTA or Eurozone-partner and distributed by computer according to a demographic formula calculated by postal code. A global economic trade imbalance caused by Ben Bernanke and Ayn Rand has led to embargoes of Brazilian sugar, Sri Lankan cinnamon and Asian flour — creating a severe worldwide shortage of snickerdoodles.

“Why don’t you bake them yourself?” I hear you asking, hopefully realizing the folly of your question as soon as it left your lips. Yes, why don’t I have my chef do it, or my maid, or my movie star boyfriend, for that matter? The better question is: In an America where the customer is always right, where supply is supposed to be carefully calibrated to satisfy demand, and where elite gourmet food chains exist for the sole purpose of catering to a consumer’s urgent, illogical desire for a $4 tomato, a $40 slice of cheese or a $400 pound of cat-anus coffee — in that great country — why can’t Dean & DeLuca keep snickerdoodles in stock?

One doesn’t need a degree in economics to understand the implications of my writing this column. Having planted the seed in your beautiful but impressionable minds — for why would you still be reading a newspaper if you were not, to some degree, impressionable — you will now crave snickerdoodles, dream about snickerdoodles, and stop the owner of Dean & DeLuca in the street to demand snickerdoodles.

He will write a memo, which will be forwarded to corporate headquarters, where the VP of Baked Goods will elicit the assistance of the U.S. Department of Commerce to ease restrictions on sugars and spices (including cream of tartar — a dash of which distinguishes the true snickerdoodle). Guidelines will be promulgated to individual stores mandating that snickerdoodles be stocked at all times; failure to do so will lead to reprimands, loss of promotions and bonuses paid entirely in the form of those peanut butter and oatmeal raisin cookies that have been sitting around, untouched, all day. Snickerdoodles will become as ubiquitous at Dean & DeLuca as snazzy square napkins and crisp white handle bags.

But when that day comes, will I still want that snickerdoodle? Will you? Only an economist knows for sure.

Up The Valley: Love on Sale

February 7, 2013

Can you put a price on love? Some people try. Today’s column in the Star newspaper…

In 1930, composer Cole Porter introduced a cynical song about certain shady aspects of romance entitled “Love for Sale.” From my experience owning a retail store, I’ve concluded that today’s paramour — particularly on Valentine’s Day — is looking for love on sale.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that money doesn’t equal love; the best things in life are free, etc. and so forth. I know sweethearts who celebrate without spending a dime, lavishing upon one another the kind of thoughtful affection that makes us single girls sigh with envy. The words “I love you” can be sincerely scrawled on a 50-cent box of conversation hearts.

And yes, it can be a day for splurging, with creditworthy courtiers springing for sumptuous feasts and serious bling. Yet Valentine’s Day also brings out the very cheapest of skates seeking to wring the maximum result from the barest minimum of expense and effort.

Not surprisingly, my shop’s Valentine bestseller was the greeting card, and if I had a dollar for every husband who told me “my wife only wants a card,” I’d be a rich woman with a devoted pool boy. Yet men seem perfectly happy to receive greeting cards, presumably confident that their real gifts will be forthcoming later that evening. A woman telling a man she doesn’t really want a gift is akin to her asking for his honest assessment of her physical appearance — a honeyed trap for those who would spend Valentine’s Night sleeping on the sofa.

Mushy mothers sometimes bought Valentines for their kids, which is sweet — within limits. A “Mommy Loves You” card or plush “Pucker Up” frog making kissing noises is perfect for your 6-year-old; an adult child will interpret it as your judgment that they are unlikely to receive a Valentine from anyone else.

One memorable customer was a local low-budget loverboy — to protect his identity (and wife), I’ll call him Cheap Throat. He would spring for a card, usually on sale, and then spend an hour digging through a bowl of tiny metal heart tokens ($1.50 plus tax, gift-wrap complimentary). He purchased two tokens in six years; usually concluding that his wife would be happier with just a card. He wanted the card gift-wrapped.

Why does Valentine’s Day, of all days, draw the discount-Don-Juans in droves? It’s the only holiday where gift-giving holds the promise of sexual reciprocation, which should lure male shoppers out of their man-caves earlier than 5 p.m. on Feb. 14. Perhaps it’s because gifting is that rare arena in which men lack natural self-confidence. They fear any failure, and shopping is a subject in which they have repeatedly received a failing grade; sometimes even a public reprimand. Since there is no “little blue pill” guaranteeing purchasing performance, they turn to the tried-and-true, procrastinate, or panic.

Women bear some responsibility for this. One regular customer selected a beautiful bracelet for his wife, extolling the virtues of her slender wrists and anticipating how the sea-colored stones would compliment her like-tinted eyes. He left carrying an artfully festooned box, beaming. Two days later, his wife returned it — her eyes red with rage. “How could he buy me a bracelet?” she screamed at me. “He knows that I don’t need a bracelet — why doesn’t he ever listen to me?” What she needed was a crash course in gratitude in my opinion, but what did I know — the next Valentine’s Day he tried to buy her another bracelet (I sent him to Woodhouse Chocolates instead — the better to plump up her adorably scrawny little wrists).

Of course, one bustling business on Valentine’s Day is Safeway, where the lines are express, the chocolates cheap, and the roses guaranteed to last as long as the bubbles in the bulk-priced sparkling wine. Speaking of which: why are flowers considered a traditional romantic gift, anyway? A diamond is forever — a dozen roses merely demonstrate the inevitability of wilting, and the last thing a woman wants to encounter during a romantic rendezvous is a limp stem.

Valentine’s Day is not a “day-off-work” holiday, but I think Feb. 15 should be. On “Morning After Day,” lucky lovers could languish in bed till noon, recovering revelers could nurse their hangovers, and the lovelorn could work off calories from chips and ice cream consumed while watching “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Titanic,” or the all-day “Lovers Who Kill” marathon on the Lifetime television network.

Incidentally, during my brick-and-mortar-going-out-of-business sale, Cheap Throat came in and bought fistfuls of deeply-discounted Valentine’s Day cards. On the day his stockpile runs out, I predict that the marriage will be over.

Up the Valley: The Skinny

January 24, 2013

Explain-away unwanted weight gain, Hollywood-style. Today’s column in the Star

One of the advantages I’ve always imagined attaches to being a film star is the ability to blame unwanted, unsightly weight gain on the need to “bulk up” for a movie role.

De Niro and Streep can eat all the pasta they want, plus dessert; it’s assumed that they are simply in the midst of another miraculous physical transformation, preparing for an upcoming biopic of Pavarotti or Clooney (Rosemary), respectively. “The Oprah,” herself a film star of sorts, can not only use this particular excuse, she can reuse any pesky holdover post-production pounds as fodder for her latest cookbook, inspirational-coach-turned-TV-host spinoff, or highly rated tear-soaked primetime special. Even chubby opera singers can croon about reaching their “perfect singing weight.”

Yet it seems that Hollywood actresses continue to shrink to unprecedented, unhealthy and unattractive levels.

I had finally gotten used to the modern ideal of movie beauty: impossibly young puffy-lipped females with oversized heads bobbing above sinewy muscular frames onto which two giant breasts had been stapled. Resembling Olympic marathon runners (men’s division), their bodies displayed the benefits of long lunch-less office hours spent at the gym, with a quick stopover at the plastic surgeon’s office on the commute home.

But now the muscles seem to be disappearing, consigned to extinction along with the curvy hip and the plump bottom, leaving only bones and artificial bumps. Picture Popeye’s Olive Oyl in a D-cup.

At a recent film opening, the adorable actress Emma Stone appeared so thin and lollipop-like that comments on fan sites ranged from “OMG” and “This is frightening” to “Somebody please get that girl a sandwich.”

Contrast such actresses with their male counterparts. Other than Daniel Day-Lewis, who could clearly grow a horn if cast as a unicorn, you don’t generally see male movie stars losing weight to an alarming degree. In general, an actor’s only reason to purposefully slim down is to eliminate his gut and reveal six-pack abs, thereby increasing his odds of selection as People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, or at least a guest shot on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Yet no one anticipates publication of People’s Skinniest Woman Barely Alive issue, although it would be a page-turner. It simply doesn’t matter how unhealthy actresses appear; the red carpet recap focuses on the svelte wearing a pelt, never mind the pallor.

Of course, this is old news in the fashion world, despite occasional movements to feature “healthy” models who are only slightly emaciated, as opposed to all-out anorexic. That models can appear dewy and bright-eyed despite prolonged undernourishment merely proves that they are either 12 years old, heavily medicated, or are digitally produced holograms.

What would land a normal person in an eating disorder clinic lands these girls the cover of Vogue. I’ve often wondered whether there is a special French fashion cemetery for the European variety of the fast-living gamine, where they can be efficiently stacked for all eternity, like kindling, alongside the black-clad magazine editors and chain-smoking ballerinas.

But back in Hollywood, it’s not surprising to see male actors shrink or expand, since sudden temporary weight gain is one ticket to an Oscar nod, as is playing a character who is physically or mentally challenged (see De Niro and Day-Lewis, above). The equivalent female formula requires a spectacularly glamorous actress to render herself almost unrecognizably unattractive (try serial killer or crime victim), to be imprisoned by Nazis, or to be Meryl (see Streep, above).

But what does this all mean to you and me, we unfortunate many who cannot attribute unwelcome weight gain to our film commitments? Let’s just come up with a few excuses of our own, and agree — as a community — to accept them, no questions asked.

For example, people in the wine industry might try: “My increased body mass helps me more efficiently metabolize alcohol.” Or those involved in tourism could claim a need to “be more relatable to visitors from Kansas City.” The culinarily employed already rely on the reasoning: “Well, I have to taste everything to recommend it, don’t I?” And you are welcome to use my excuse: “I am suddenly sedentary from spending so much time working on my novel.”

Actor Jonah Hill reportedly lost a great deal of weight a couple of years ago, hoping to “age up” so that industry bigwigs would stop associating him with frivolous juvenile roles. This weight loss succeeded in broadening his range of potential parts, raised his salary demands and triggered the inevitable Oscar nomination. But recently, according to photos posted on online gossip sites, he has regained much of the weight he had previously lost. Word is, Hill is bulking up for an upcoming movie role.

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