Saturday, December 31, 2005

the last word (for me) in 2005

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who visits steve’s blog. This year was my first full year of operation and it’s been a good one. Even when everything else in my life sucked, you guys have been there for me, keeping me moving forward.

We’ve disagreed from time to time, and there have been some things I tried that fell flat, but overall I’ve tried to keep everybody happy with and interested in this weblog, and I’ve been rewarded with over 22,000 unique visits, a number of new friends and dozens of new insights. None of this would have been possible with your participation, and I am forever grateful for it.

If life lasts and all goes well, 2006 will be an even better year for this blog and for me. Hopefully, I’ll give you plenty of reasons to come back and the New Year will be both prosperous and fun.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you all very much for stopping by. May God bless and keep you.

my favorite posts of 2005

January - Federated, May and the state of the department store industry

February - 10 great things about "The Price is Right"

March - friends, etc.

April - Sole of the Sneakerhead

May - wayne & melissa

June - Pigeon Forge and Sevierville

July - hey it's me linus

August (tie) - this is me, then the collection and everyone says "happy birthday"

September - a saturday in blacksburg

October (tie) - favorite songs or singles and spotted at tysons corner center

November - a trip to Boscov's

December - cartoon about malls

Believe it or leave it: strange stories of 2005

PARIS (AFP) - Alongside tragedies, wars and natural disasters the year just ending brought its share of unusual, outrageous and tragi-comic and just downright silly news items.

A selection of the stranger items:

- The authorities running a cemetery near Tel Aviv were bemused to find tourists beating a path to the grave of a 19-year-old British soldier who died in fighting 66 years earlier. His name, engraved on the headstone, was Harry Potter.

- A German inventor had the idea of placing a specially adapted mobile phone in the coffins of the dead. That way relatives could call up and speak to their dear departed without having to leave home.

- In Japan, police were so upset to hear that a student who was caught up in a traffic accident had to get to an important exam that they gave him a full escort with sirens, arriving with 10 minutes to spare.

- Police in Newcastle, Australia, reported a spate of frozen chickens smashing into house roofs with great force. They suspected a prankster with a powerful catapult.

- Local lawmakers in the US state of Virginia threw out a bill that would have banned young people from wearing low-slung trousers. "Underwear is called underwear for a reason," said the congressman who sought the measure.

- A Thai businessman who said he was giving up his massage parlour to enter parliament sought to demonstrate his new resolve by smashing a bathtub outside the assembly and then lying immobile in a coffin. The tub represented his former business, and the coffin showed that he was no longer his old self, he said.

- A man and woman held in adjacent cells of a Turkish prison made a hole in the wall through which they managed to have sex and produce a child, papers said. They got a further four-month sentence for damaging public property.

- The northern English city of Carlisle had second thoughts about an art project in which the text of an ancient local curse was set on a stone in the city centre. Not long after it was installed the city suffered disastrous floods, a bout of cattle disease and local factory closures.

- There were red faces in the office of Croatian President Stipe Mesic after a painting given to him as a gift turned out to have been stolen from a local art exhibition.

- Workers in a German post office thought they had a bomb on their hands when a parcel began vibrating and making strange noises. It turned out to contain an inflatable sex toy.

- Before setting off to rob a bank, a man in the west African state of Mali put on charms that he believed would make him invisible. He was jailed with gunshot wounds after police guarding the place saw through him, or rather failed to do so.

- Tourism authorities in Switzerland decided to wrap an entire glacier in PVC foam to try and stop it melting during the summer months.

- Christian believers in Chicago flocked to a highway retaining wall after a stain that was said to resemble the Virgin Mary appeared on it. A graffiti artist then scrawled "Big Lie" over it, before the city authorities had the whole thing painted over.

- A pastor in Denmark's established church who had been suspended because he did not believe in God was allowed back into the fold. "We're giving him another chance," said the religious affairs minister, who oversees the Lutheran Protestant Church.

- A mute young man who was found wandering on a southern English beach, and who was reported to be a virtuoso piano player, had media around the world fascinated for months. He was later found to be a German fame-seeker -- and it turned out he didn't play the piano all that well either.

- The Virgin Atlantic airline said it was setting up a frequent fliers' club called "Flying Paws." Initial membership was four dogs and a cat; humans need not apply.

- After a row with his wife about money, a well-off Israeli man opened the family safe, took out the equivalent of 680,000 dollars in banknotes and burned it to ashes on the front lawn.

- A top official with the tennis tournament at Wimbledon, England took the opportunity of his retirement speech to complain about vocal grunting by female players, which he said was getting ever louder.

- Educational authorities in New South Wales, Australia, protested when the state board of studies proposed making surfing into a high-school diploma subject.

- A Japanese woman who paid a contract killer the equivalent of 136,000 dollars to murder her lover's pregnant wife went to the police to complain when he failed to do the job.

- The German interior ministry said that people being snapped for ID photographs should no longer smile because it messed up their biometric recognition technology.

- An Iraqi man who enjoyed a night of love with a British woman in Cyprus got into hot water because of his bad English. He had apparently decided to say "Yes" to whatever she requested -- which worked fine until she thought to ask him, after the fact, whether he had AIDS. "Yes," he answered -- erroneously as it later turned out.

- The Munch museum in Oslo refused to sell copies of a board game based on the real-life theft of its most famous painting, Edvard Munch's "The Scream."

- A Chinese company calling itself "Lunar Embassy" tried to sell real estate on the moon. Its founder claimed there was no law against such a project, but the authorities thought otherwise.

- A Los Angeles taxi-driver found a pouch containing 350,000-dollars' worth of diamonds left in his cab. The driver, an immigrant from Afghanistan, simply handed them in to the police.

- Emily, a one-year-old tabby cat from the US state of Wisconsin, strayed into an air cargo container and before she knew it she was being unloaded in the eastern French city of Nancy. Unharmed, she was flown back in style.

Ghosts in the Department Store

The Hecht's store in Washington, set to close after Christmas. One recent shopper said: "Will I miss it? No." (Dennis Brack for The New York Times)


WASHINGTON - Perhaps no city in America has buried more hometown department stores than this one. First it was Lansburgh's in 1972, then S. Kann Sons in 1975, Garfinckel's in 1990 and Woodward & Lothrop in 1995. Each closing, from bankruptcy or buyout, brought more grief than the last.

So now, with Washington's last local department store, The Hecht Company, set to disappear after Christmas, what kind of public outpouring can be expected?

"It's not a big deal to me," said Deloris Scott, 49, who has shopped at the chain for more than a decade.

Dietrich Maager, 62, standing in the men's department of the chain's downtown store, asked and answered his own question: "Will I miss it? No."

So much for nostalgia. For nine regional department stores whose grand family names have defined communities for the better part of a century - Kaufmann's in Pennsylvania, Famous-Barr in Missouri, Meier & Frank in Oregon, to name a few - it has come to this. Shoppers say the stores have already lost their local identities and, with it, their customers' loyalty.

So when it became clear that these storied local brands would be unceremoniously replaced by Macy's stores as part of a merger of the Federated and May chains, consumers responded, for the most part, with a collective shrug. In Boston, the excitement was tangible when rumors began to swirl that the downtown Filene's building, which will be sold by its new owner, might be replaced by a Target.

It is an ignoble denouement for a collection of family merchants that profoundly shaped American culture, turning what had merely been an idea - a consumer democracy, where fashion and luxury were available to anyone to try on, buy or aspire to - into a brick-and-mortar reality.

But it is not, in the end, a surprising one. The regional department store has struggled for relevance and profits for decades. Its sprawling, one-stop-shopping structure, so vital to its early success, made it an all-too-easy target for competitors. Entrepreneurs began to bite off business, one department at a time, until there was nothing left for the department store to call its own.

Suddenly, there was Crate and Barrel for furniture; Circuit City for electronics; Gap for casual clothes. Department stores retrenched, focusing on fashion, but not even that worked. Over the last decade, apparel sales at department stores have fallen by $7 billion, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm.

Mergers, intended to give department stores strength in numbers, seemed only to hurt them, turning companies with local quirks into purveyors of "numbing sameness" said Robert F. Buchanan, a retail analyst at A. G. Edwards, the financial company. (This holiday season, eight of the nine May chains feature the same purple cashmere sweater, digital camcorder and diamond necklace on their Web sites.)

Now it is a merger, once again, that will try to save the department store. Federated, which operates Macy's and Bloomingdale's, has purchased May, owner of Hecht's, Filene's, Robinson-May, Famous-Barr, Foley's, Meier & Frank, Marshall Field's, Strawbridge's, Kaufmann's and Lord & Taylor.

By fall 2006, Federated will turn about 390 of the 487 May stores into Macy's. The 54 Lord & Taylor stores, which may eventually be sold, will keep their name. Federated plans to eliminate 6,200 jobs and sell or close 80 stores in malls and downtowns where there is overlap between the chains.

Federated executives are fond of arguing that shoppers' lack of loyalty for their local department stores will make it easier for Macy's to win over communities. They hint at internal polls, never released publicly in full, that show a majority of consumers would be happy to shop at a Macy's.

But there are plenty of skeptics. "There is a high hurdle for Macy's to clear," said Burt Flickinger III, a retail consultant, who says department stores rely too heavily on aging designers, like Ralph Lauren, who have lost their connection with the legions of young consumers who have turned retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch into a white-hot success.

A. G. Edwards says sales at Federated stores open at least a year, a widely used measure of a retailer's health, have fallen three of the last four years. "They are the best in the industry, but they are losing market share year after year after year," said Mr. Buchanan, the analyst.

In an interview, Terry J. Lundgren, the chief executive of Federated, said the size of the new company would give it greater negotiating power with clothing manufacturers, and he held out the possibility that top designers would create exclusive lines for Macy's once the name change turns it into a national department store. Designers, he said, "are now coming to us" rather than the other way around.

But if consumer reaction - or lack thereof - to the coming name change is any indication, Federated faces an uphill battle. In interviews around the country, shoppers at the chains scheduled to become Macy's talked about the stores as if they were beloved family members whom they had not spoken to in years.

They expressed fondness for the brands, but many confessed they rarely bought much at the stores, relying on them for quick purchases like a pair of gloves or a bottle of perfume. Andrew and Laree Eby, who live in Portland, Ore., came to Meier & Frank with their young daughter to see the annual Santaland display, which includes a monorail.

Mr. Eby called the chain's demise "sad, because it's a tradition." But asked if he shopped at the store, he responded, "No, and we probably won't shop at Macy's either."

"We'd go to Target," he said.

There is at least one notable exception to all of this ambivalence: Marshall Field's, whose elegant State Street store in downtown Chicago, elaborate Cinderella holiday windows and widespread charitable giving have inspired fierce opposition to the name change.

A grass-roots campaign, called Keep It Fields, has created an online petition to stop Macy's from marching into the city. So far, 47,000 people have signed it.

Mr. Lundgren was worried enough about the reaction that he flew to Chicago to announce his decision to retire the Marshall Field's name, even meeting with Mayor Richard M. Daley to placate angry city leaders, who recently passed an ordinance that designates the Chicago store a city landmark.

For the most part, the diplomacy has not worked. "It's horrible," said Susan Brell, 56, as she plucked a box of Marshall Field's famed Frango mints from a Christmas tree at the flagship store. "Marshall Field's is Chicago, it's everything about Chicago and especially at Christmastime," she said. Macy's, Ms. Brell said, "is doing our city a disservice."

But there is no such organized campaign to preserve the May department stores in Portland, Boston or Washington.

Paula Bress, 52, a teacher who lives outside Boston, said the nation's remaining department stores ran together in her mind. "I think of them as all pretty similar now," she said.

A resident of Portland, Kristin Watkins, said she often browsed the 10-story downtown Meier & Frank store, with its Georgian Room restaurant on the top floor, but prefers Pioneer Place, a mall across the street. Meier & Frank, she said, has lost its luster. "Just look at the carpet," she said, pointing to a worn gray carpet in the picture-frames section of the store. "It's just not pleasant aesthetically anymore."

In Boston, home of Filene's, some shoppers mistakenly believed, after the merger of Federated and May, that the discount chain Filene's Basement, a separate entity that is owned by Retail Ventures Inc., would close, setting off a momentary panic. "I don't care about Filene's" department store, said Natalia Navarro, 22, who works at an insurance company in Boston. "So long as Filene's Basement stays here, I'm fine."

In Washington, where the four-story flagship Hecht's store rises like a stone fortress in the middle of downtown, consumers, not to mention the chain's holiday window design staff, appeared resigned to the company's fate. One sparse display, facing G Street, consisted of three perfume bottles on a podium, with a white orchid nearby. "Euphoria," read the writing on the walls. "A new fragrance from Calvin Klein."

Stephanie Weber, a 43-year-old engineer who tried to sneak some Christmas shopping into her lunch break, recalled setting up her wedding registry at Hecht's and buying "the most fabulous dress I own" there, a fancy blue sequined gown. But she is not mourning the chain.

"It's not really a local chain anymore," she said.

Reporting for this article was contributed by Brian Libby in Portland, Ore.; Gretchen Ruethling in Chicago; and Katie Zezima in Boston.

Emily Post on Men's Fashion

If you think there are a lot of clothing rules now, step back a couple of generations and see what Emily Post had to say on the subject:

The Clothes of a Gentleman

The Death Of Bling?

As Hip-Hoppers & Designers Eschew Excess, Jewelry May Just Be Jewelry Again

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer

The word "bling" has been overused by every two-bit jeweler selling cubic zirconium. It has been worn out by virtually all fashion publicists -- who for the past five months have been chirping, "Bling in the New Year!" -- and by every morning TV host trying to make the umpteenth holiday shopping segment sound fun and nifty. Use of the word has become like a nervous tic, as persistent as a dry cough and as annoying as old people who say "phat" and "You go, girl!"

If the word "bling" is never again uttered by an aging cultural observer -- some well-meaning baby boomer or a mainstream news organization proud to have incorporated "edgy" lingo into its coverage -- then 2006 will be a fine year.

Bling -- as a noun and a verb -- originated in the early part of this century with hip-hop performers, those arbiters of cool and practitioners of the most exquisite forms of conspicuous consumption. It used to be that "bling" was reserved for jewelry, decorative wheel rims or gold teeth -- all of it excessively flashy and extraordinarily expensive. It was a terrific term because it had the quality of a sound effect. It referenced accessories so bold and glittering that looking at them was equivalent to staring directly into a thousand camera flashes sounding off. Click, whir, bling! The word described gewgaws and baubles so wondrously flamboyant that simply calling them jewelry failed to capture their essence.

From the beginning, folks exuberantly embraced the word. It quickly entered the mass communication lexicon: the pages of weekly magazines, newspaper headlines and the latte chatter of soccer moms. There was little concern for its correct usage. It was applied to anything with the slightest sparkle. A -carat diamond ring could be referred to as bling. So could a brooch sprinkled with cheap rhinestones. There was no self-editing, no recognition that with all of the bling-bling-blinging it was all starting to sound frightfully embarrassing. People were slinging urban slang like drunken suburban party boys.

Still, for a while, it was tough to argue with the overuse. It seemed to be called for. Everything coming down the runway, squeezed into overcrowded department stores or sold from the back of a panel van seemed to be encrusted with something that glittered. If the word didn't apply to a single garment, it certainly applied to the overall fashion of the times. The style industry was in a "bling-bling" mood.

In the past few years, designers such as Miuccia Prada were at the forefront in celebrating elaborate glitz during the daylight hours. Prada embellished grandpa cardigans and heavy cable-knit pullovers. She decorated tweed shoes, leather handbags, camisoles and dresses.

Hip-hop performers were consistently photographed in thug denim and eight-inch diamond-encrusted crosses: "Just giving thanks to God, from whom all blessings flow!" (Thump chest several times and then point dramatically up to the heavens.) Rapper 50 Cent was draped in so many diamond and platinum medallions that one felt compelled to paraphrase a line from the film "I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka," which in 1988 first documented death by bling. "How'd he go to the bathroom with all that stuff on?"

Jacob the Jeweler established his reputation by cramming as many diamonds as possible onto a timepiece. Mary J. Blige practically invented ghetto fabulous, a look that evoked a nouveau riche street style founded on diamonds, furs and designer labels.

But by 2005 fashion and hip-hop had changed. Where there was beaded everything on the runways, there is now basic black and demure white. Sequins have been exchanged for lace. This fall, 50 Cent attended a Giorgio Armani fashion show wearing clothes that barely whispered. The rapper-turned-actor has packaged himself in the dignified grays of Wall Street. Blige has scaled down her focus on chinchilla and carats. She has found the Lord and a stylist who understands the meaning of discreet.

Even Elton John, pop music's master showman, opted for a sober black suit for his wedding to David Furnish in Windsor, England, this week. Cash-money flash is in the past. Folks are still wearing chains and earrings. John had a diamond stud in his ear at his wedding. Rappers still like their watches encrusted with jewels and their cross charms visible from 20 paces.

But that's not bling. That's just jewelry. The artists have moved on. So has the fashion industry. It's time for everyone else to do the same.

'Devilish' Jeans a Hot Seller in Sweden

By KARL RITTER, Associated Press Writer

A punk-rock style, trendy tight fit and affordable price have made Cheap Monday jeans a hot commodity among young Swedes, but what has people talking is the brand's ungodly logo: a skull with a cross turned upside down on its forehead.

The jeans' makers say it's more of a joke, but the logo's designer said there's a deeper message.

"It is an active statement against Christianity," Bjorn Atldax told The Associated Press. "I'm not a Satanist myself, but I have a great dislike for organized religion."

Atldax insists he has a purpose beyond selling denim: to make young people question Christianity, which he called a "force of evil" that had sparked wars throughout history.

Such a remark might incite outrage or prompt retailers to drop the brand in more religious countries.

But not in Sweden, a secular nation which cherishes its free speech and where churchgoing has been declining for decades.

Cheap Mondays are flying off the shelves at about $50 a pair. The jeans have also been shipped throughout Europe and to Australia, and there are plans to introduce them to the United States and elsewhere.

The jeans' makers say about 200,000 pairs have been sold since March 2004 — and note they've received few complaints about the grinning skull and upside down cross, a symbol often associated with satanic worship.

Even the country's largest church, the Lutheran Church of Sweden, reacts with a shrug.

"I don't think it's much to be horrified about," said Bo Larsson, director of the church's Department of Education, Research and Culture.

"It is abundantly clear that this designer wants to create public opinion against the Christian faith ... but I believe that the way to deal with this is to start a discussion about what religion means."

Other Christians, however, are calling for a tougher stance against the jeans.

"One cannot just keep quiet about this," said the Rev. Karl-Erik Nylund, vicar of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Stockholm. "This is a deliberate provocation (against Christians) and I object to that."

Nylund complained that Swedish companies don't treat Christianity with the same respect that they afford other religions.

"No one wants to provoke Jews or Muslims, but it's totally OK to provoke Christians," he said.

Some buyers have ripped off the logo from the back of the pants, or even returned the jeans once they realized what the symbol means. But such cases are very few, according to the brand's creator, Orjan Andersson, who said he doesn't take the logo too seriously.

"I'm not interested in religion," he said. "I'm more interested in that the logo looks good."

Henrik Petersson, 26, said he picked up his first pair of Cheap Mondays a few months after they were launched because he liked their punk-rocker style and the logo caught his eye.

"I think it's a cool thing. It stands out from the rest," he said. "I haven't really reflected over whether there is an underlying message."

Martin Sundberg, a 32-year-old co-owner of a clothing store in Stockholm's trendy SoFo district, said people shouldn't get upset over the jeans.

"It's just supposed to be a bit of fun, some kind of anti-culture," he said.

The jeans are selling in Norway, Denmark, Britain, the Netherlands and France. Andersson, the brand's owner, hopes to tap the lucrative U.S. market soon — and said he isn't worried the logo will hurt sales.

"Surely, most people understand that we are not evil people," he said. "My mom doesn't think so, at least."

Friday, December 30, 2005

merry christmas, dad

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Dec. 29 (AP) - A central Illinois bank robber who was turned in by his three sons was sentenced on Thursday to 40 years in prison for his string of small-town holdups.

The defendant, William A. Ginglen, drew the minimum sentence from a federal district judge, in keeping with a plea bargain he had struck with the government. Still, now 64, he will most likely spend the rest of his life behind bars.

The judge, Jeanne E. Scott, also ordered Mr. Ginglen to repay the $56,382 he stole, which, the authorities say, went to support a girlfriend and a crack cocaine habit and to pay for visits to prostitutes.

Mr. Ginglen robbed five banks, two of them twice, from November 2003 to July 2004. A married father of four, he had spent the bulk of his life as a civic leader in and around Lewistown, 200 miles southwest of Chicago.

His new life of crime and vice, which he had detailed in a diary that later became part of the evidence against him, began to unravel in August 2004, when one of his sons, Jared Ginglen, a Peoria police officer, recognized him on bank surveillance videos posted on a law enforcement Web site.

Jared and his brothers, Clay and Garrett, then alerted the authorities. They have said it was their father, a former marine, who taught them always to do the right thing.

In court Thursday, Judge Scott told Mr. Ginglen that his sons were "the greatest credit of your life."

"They acted in an exemplary fashion under circumstances that must have been incredibly difficult," she said. "Someone taught them right from wrong, even when you didn't. Their actions perhaps saved your life."

Mr. Ginglen's lawyer, Ron Hamm, who was a classmate of his at Lewistown High School in the late 1950's, pleaded with the judge to consider while passing sentence the defendant's service as village trustee, zoning board chairman, auxiliary police officer and firefighter.

Addressing the court before receiving his sentence, Mr. Ginglen started to speak, stopped for 90 seconds to compose himself and then said, "I'd like to apologize to everyone."

Afterward, Jared Ginglen said: "There are no winners here today. The whole thing has been a tragedy for my family."

William Ginglen pleaded guilty in July to seven counts of armed bank robbery and two counts of carrying and using a firearm during a crime of violence. In return, the government promised to seek the minimum sentence.

But there is at least a small chance the plea could be withdrawn. Mr. Hamm said he planned an appeal to suppress evidence that Jared Ginglen took from his father's house, including clothing and the diary. Mr. Hamm said that because the son was a police officer, the evidence was illegally seized.

But Jared Ginglen said that he was off duty at the time and out of his jurisdiction, and that he had gone to the house to find his father and confront him, not to seize evidence.

Dick Clark: Ready to Rock On the Eve

LOS ANGELES , Dec. 29 (AP) -- As he has for decades, Dick Clark is planning to let his TV work speak for itself -- and for him.

The 76-year-old Clark, the focus of increasing speculation as his annual New Year's Eve hosting gig draws closer, has shunned public appearances and interviews since a stroke nearly 13 months ago.

Thursday, responding to reports questioning whether he is healthy enough to work, the "American Bandstand" icon said through a spokesman that he's looking at "New Year's Rockin' Eve," airing live on ABC, as his personal coming-out celebration.

"He's in New York. He's going to be on TV Saturday," Clark publicist Paul Shefrin said from New York as he fielded still another request for an interview with the man known as America's oldest teenager. "He just wants the show to be the coming-out party.

"He's walking and talking as he has been for months. He's looking forward to doing the show Saturday," Shefrin said, adding that Clark will welcome the new year as he always has -- kissing his wife, Kari.

Clark and co-host Ryan Seacrest are set to welcome in 2006 from New York's Times Square. Mariah Carey will perform.

Clark suffered a stroke on Dec. 6, 2004, and was hospitalized for more than seven weeks at a Burbank hospital, forcing him to cancel as host of last year's "New Year's Rockin' Eve." Regis Philbin filled in, and Clark promised to be back this year.

"It will be good to be back in New York again for New Year's, and I'm elated that Ryan has agreed to join me in ushering in New Year's," Clark said in a statement months ago.

Recent tabloid photographs showing Clark using a walker are months old, Shefrin said.

"He's doing fine. He's walking. He's talking," the publicist said. "He'll keep doing some rehab stuff. He wants to get close to perfect."

Seacrest, who is making his debut as "New York's Rockin' Eve" co-host, said earlier that Clark "is one of the most driven and focused individuals on the planet."

"And so when he puts his mind to something and when he wants to do something like this television show and be there for everybody to see him, he'll do it," Seacrest said.

"New Year's Rockin' Eve," which Clark originated in 1972, will air on ABC starting at 10 p.m. Saturday.

Meatloaf Popularity Grows Among Foodies

The Associated Press

BEND, Ore. -- Growing up in Texas, chef Gavin McMichael used to ask his mom to make meatloaf for his birthday each year. Now that he has his own restaurant, meatloaf is on the menu, along with quail stuffed with foie gras.

"I was a huge fan, so of course I had to have meatloaf on my dinner menu," said McMichael, a partner in the Blacksmith restaurant in one of the fastest-growing sections of Oregon. "We are creating foodies as fast as we can. Then they want to try things like foie gras."

Mom made meatloaf to stretch the food budget. Dad ate it because it tasted good, especially with lots of ketchup. Now Baby Boomers are ordering it in restaurants. Meatloaf may not be tops on the healthy food list, though it can certainly be made that way with lean meats and lots of veggies. But this comfort food that became an American staple during the Depression is hanging on, growing up and branching out.

"It has graduated from diner food into restaurant food," while remaining a home-cooking staple, said Andrew Smith, editor in chief of the "Oxford Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink," from his New York home in Brooklyn. "It is real American food. It is something that is part of our early lives and part of our heritage."

Meatloaf comes out of the late 19th century, when meat grinders became popular, said Lynne Olver, editor of the Web site The 1884 "Boston Cooking School Cookbook" has recipes for ground veal mixed with breadcrumbs and eggs, baked in small individual molds.

"A big old loaf of meat would violate the American Victorian sense of decorum," she said.

The word meatloaf appears regularly in the New York Times in the 1930s and 1940s, when the Depression and World War II made stretching food dollars imperative. But it was the 1950s when America "embraced" meatloaf.

"I have cookbooks from the '50s with all sorts of filled meatloaf, gourmet meatloafs, meatloaf for the grill," Olver said.

James E. McWilliams, assistant professor of history at Texas State University at San Marcos and author of "A Revolution in Eating, How the Quest for Food Shaped America," sees meatloaf's roots in scrapple, a mixture of ground pork and cornmeal made by German-Americans in Pennsylvania since Colonial times.

"It's a food that's quite consistent with an American attitude," McWilliams said. "It is so open to interpretation and flexible. Its origins are humble."

President Ronald Reagan was a famous fan, and writer Jean Shepherd included family battles over meatloaf in the movie "A Christmas Story." Little brother Randy declares he hates meatloaf, and The Old Man threatens to use a screwdriver and plumber's helper to get some down him.

Chicago piano salesman and sometime food writer Lee Maloney grew up loving his mom's meatloaf, and kept looking for something that would measure up when he traveled the country as music director for various circuses and ice shows.

Most of the stuff he found in diners and truck stops was awful, but circus friends made marvelous variations. A Czech trapeze act made it with hard-boiled eggs in the middle. Others baked whole tomatoes, gherkins, sausage, stuffing and foie gras baked inside. But the closer to Mom's the better.

"My parents have long been gone, but it brings back very fond memories of coming home after school, and eating meatloaf, mashed potatoes and creamed corn," said Maloney.

About 10 years ago, cookbook author David Rosengarten started seeing meatloaf tarted up with wine sauces in New American Cuisine restaurants, but now finds it in neighborhood bistros, where it is treated with respect in the classic style, with ketchup.

Competing with New York steak and seared scallops, meatloaf is one of the top entrees at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, on Oregon's coast, where golfers fly in from around the world to walk as many as 36 holes in a day.

All that walking makes people hungry, and if they are staying over a few days, they also want something familiar, said executive chef Don McCradic.

At the Blacksmith restaurant, McMichael mixes ground beef and pork with eggs, cream, roasted tomato puree, poblano chilies, shallots, garlic, onion and Japanese breadcrumbs. He bakes individual loaves in cylinders, and serves them with a tomato sauce, mashed potatoes, green bean-carrot-and-onion saute, and creamed corn.

Smith said he expects meatloaf to keep going strong. His kids like it, and the reasons it became popular - low cost and good taste - remain.

"It's very good wholesome, nutritious food, depending what you put into it," he said. "And I like my way better than in the restaurant. Because it's my way and reminds me of what my mother made."

Routine Is a 6; Outfit, a Zero


NOW that the N.B.A. has pressured basketball players to start dressing like Mr. Rogers, and George Steinbrenner has gotten Johnny Damon to trade in the mullet for a hairdo that makes him look like a stylist from "Blow Out," the question arises of how it is that some sports consistently elude the long arm of the style police.

Figure skating, in particular, remains a mystifying holdout of supremely bad taste in sports, with athletes competing in presentations that favor bugle beads, tassels, fringe, hair extensions (that's the men) and costumes that often seem designed to invoke a Moscow Circus send-up of "Showgirls."

If past Olympics are any indication, the next Winter Games, which begin Feb. 10 in Turin, can be counted on to influence the style world, which often takes cues from the stuff athletes wear. In recent seasons designers as dissimilar as Francisco Costa (for Calvin Klein), Narciso Rodriguez, Ralph Lauren, Nicolas Ghesquiere (for Balenciaga) and Miuccia Prada have found inspiration in the high-tech materials, aerodynamic silhouettes and performance-based designs essential to uniforms used in sports like alpine skiing, speed skating and luge.

Just seven years after being recognized as a Olympic sport, snowboarding attracts 5.9 million participants in the United States alone and has spun off an apparel industry that last year brought in more than $100 million in sales.

Figure skating consistently posts among the highest television ratings of winter sports: 30 million American households tuned in to NBC's coverage of Sarah Hughes's gold-medal-winning performance at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City; coverage of the 1994 Olympics figure skating finals in Lillehammer, Norway, drew more viewers than any sporting event in television history except the Super Bowls of 1982 and 1983. Both NBC and Bravo have skating specials lined up to fill the weeks until the torch is lighted in Turin. And those shows can be counted on to demonstrate the weird truth that, seemingly alone among winter sports, skating seems trapped in the style permafrost of the 1950's, a sartorial dead end that, unlike snowboarding, has virtually no civilian fashion impact and even less cool.

"It's still all nude pumps and suntan pantyhose," the designer Cynthia Rowley said.

And it is. It is also boot covers the color of support stockings. It is Ice Princess flounces. It is movie theater ruches. It is spangled dirndls and black mesh bondage outfits or spider web appliqués. It is Sherwood Forest tunics with petal hemlines and draped cowls that look as if designed for a hooker who once dreamed she was Maid Marian. It is as cheesy and Lawrence Welk dated as the rumba costumes favored by contestants on shows like "Dancing With the Stars."

"Nancy Kerrigan was as close as we've come to real style on the ice," Ms. Rowley said, referring to the glacial brunette who remains more famous as the punch line of an ice rink melodrama (Ms. Kerrigan was kneecapped by her rival, Tonya Harding, and then lost the 1994 gold medal in an upset to the Ukrainian poppet Oksana Baiul) than for her skating or presence or style.

Almost as shocking as the attack or the loss was Ms. Kerrigan's costume for the Olympics in Lillehammer, created by Vera Wang, a starkly tasteful white skating dress with transparent sleeves.

"Most people probably looked at her and said, 'Poor Nancy couldn't afford sparkles,' " said Ms. Rowley, although in reality that design squarely located Ms. Wang, herself a former figure skater, in the public consciousness and on the fashion scene.

But it was apparently a one-shot. True, Ms. Wang still designs for figure skaters, among them 25-year-old Michelle Kwan, widely expected to lead the American team in Turin. But far from having elevated the level of taste in the sport that helped define her career, Ms. Wang continues to seem like an emissary from a distant planet, where spangled Heidi outfits of the sort favored by former skate stars like Nicole Bobek are rarely seen.

"Most skaters are in a rut," said Marc Bouwer, the evening-wear designer who dresses the Olympic hopeful Sarah Hughes and who also outfitted Ms. Kwan for the 1998 Olympics in a sleeveless tunic of ice-blue panne velvet that was, as he said, "very, very simple, but deceptively so."

The technical challenges of designing for skaters are formidable, Mr. Bouwer explained: it is no cinch to come up with uniforms for athletes required to look elegant while executing death- and gravity-defying spins and multiple midair rotations, all to an aural backdrop of, say, "Carmina Burana" or the saxophone stylings of Kenny G.

"The outfits have to function and be very strong and, unlike most clothes, not be binding," he said. "They have to allow the skater to have absolute freedom." The limits of that freedom, as Mr. Bouwer defines them, "are costumey circus outfits," as well as flesh-colored boots and plunging backs or necklines held together with "illusion" insets of nude mesh with a few fake diamonds sprinkled on.

It was not always thus, Scott Hamilton, the former Olympic champion, television commentator and producer of ice shows, said last week by telephone from Los Angeles. There was a time when sober good taste was the figure-skating standard, when Dick Button took to the ice in a modified Eisenhower jacket or tuxedo, when Peggy Fleming drifted across the gelid perfection of the professional ice pond wearing a high-necked mock turtleneck that owed a lot to Rudi Gernreich and that was subtly, ineffably cool.

Even the fake 70's naturalism of Dorothy Hamill's famous wedge hairdo seems somehow hip by contrast with the hard, lacquered surfaces now favored by practitioners of the sport.

"You look at all the beading and the sparkles, and the cringe meter goes to the red," said Mr. Hamilton, who attributes the current stylistic nadir to the influence of television, which made skating "more about show business and theatrics and less about athleticism" and, oddly, to an expanding fan base for the sport.

"It's a cultural thing," he said. "In lots of areas in the world, that theatrical look is desirable."

Mr. Hamilton makes no secret of the stylistic bloopers that marked his own career. What point would there be, he asked, in shirking the pirate shirts of yesteryear, the stretch-satin jumpsuits or even the mullet? They're all out there on the Web.

"I went with the flow of trying to do what everyone else was doing," he said. "What happens is, the still photo of your performance comes out and the athleticism is lost unless you're caught in the air upside down."

The triple axels, the double salchows, the toe loops and camel spins count for little if all anyone remembers your sad costume. "I'm no fashion critic, but if the costume is a little bit subdued and not with a neon sign flashing, 'Look at me,' it lets what you put down on the ice stand on its own," Mr. Hamilton said.

"I don't want to be critical," he added. "But you look at some of the stuff that's out there now - the gloves indoors, the sequins, the animals on outfits - and it all looks like a cry for help."

Michael Vale, played baker in Dunkin' Donuts commercials, passes away

NEW YORK (AP) -- Michael Vale, the actor best known for his portrayal of a sleepy-eyed Dunkin' Donuts baker who said "Time to make the doughnuts," has died. He was 83.

Vale died Sat urday in New York City of complications from diabetes, according to son-in-law Rick Reil.

Vale's long- running charac ter, "Fred the Baker," for the doughnut maker's ad campaign lasted 15 years until he retired in 1997.

Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin' Donuts said in a written statement that Vale's character "became a beloved American icon that permeated our culture and touched millions with his sense of humor and humble nature."

Vale was born in Brooklyn and studied acting at the Dramatic Workshop in New York City with classmates Tony Curtis, Ben Gazzara and Rod Steiger.

The veteran of Broadway, film and television appeared in more than 1,300 TV commercials.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Box Office Blahs: Blame It on (Fill in the Blank)

Reasons for Slump Are Cinematic in Scope

By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- Hollywood ticket sales took a little swan dive in 2005. Why? The consensus hypothesis appears to be that the movies were -- brace yourselves -- not good.

The industry and its observers are also variously blaming DVDs, video games, iPods, cellular phones, HBO, crying babies, $10 tickets, Chinese pirates, big screen plasma TVs, an aging demographic, liberal bias, video-on-demand, annoying pre-feature commercials and the Bush administration's energy policy.

The Great Box Office Slump has been covered by the entertainment press with a kind of giddy obsession ever since the summer proved blockbuster-deficient. Each week, the prognosticators sought deeper meaning in the weekend tallies for undercooked turkeys such as "Stealth" and "The Legend of Zorro." There was hope in the Hollywood press that "King Kong" might "save the day," but alas, the big ape has so far "disappointed," if it is possible for a $66 million opening five-day gross to disappoint (which it is, since Peter Jackson and Universal spent $220 million making the monkey movie).

The year isn't quite over, but Hollywood will likely end 2005 having sold about 1.4 billion tickets in the United States, which is a 6 percent decrease from last year. Revenue at the box office is expected to reach about $9 billion, trailing last year by 4 to 5 percent (the dip is slightly less than it would have been otherwise because of rising ticket prices).

This would be no big deal, except it appears to be a trend -- this marks the third consecutive year for declining attendance. And so the billion-dollar question: Does this represent the beginning of a fundamental shift in the moviegoing habits or was it just another off year in cyclical show business?

Not only are the studio suits and the pundits not sure what is behind the box office drop, there is disagreement over its significance.

"It's not a little off. Six percent is a big number," says Brandon Gray, founder of Box Office Mojo, an online movie publication and box office tracking service. "And they've got a big problem." In the press, some Wall Street analysts are using terms like "alarm" and "doom."

Not so, says Tom Rothman, the cheery chairman of 20th Century Fox, which had a record-breaking year. Rothman describes the current clamor as "the great over-hyped, over-exposed, over-reported box office decline." Rothman believes there is no fundamental revolution occurring in the movie theater business and that the year's totals were lower simply because a relative handful of high-profile potential blockbusters did not perform to expectations.

Rothman insists that history is on his side. "They said sound was going to kill the movies, that TV would, that home video would, that cable would, that pay-per-view would. Every time -- the hand-wringing! The woe-is-me! And instead what happened was, the pie gets bigger."

John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, a trade organization representing 37,500 screens, also argues there is no reason to panic. "It was a bit of a down year for theatergoing," he says. "There's been bigger down years."

True, there was a 9 percent fall in ticket sales in 1980, a 12 percent plunge in 1985 and a 6 percent drop in 1990.

"We're having another fabulous year," says Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros. Pictures, whose studio business was up 15 percent. "A lot of people are crying wolf early." Actually what happened was that Fox and Warner Bros. had a great year, and "a couple of guys had a tough year," Fellman says.

A couple of guys like Sony Pictures ("Stealth") and DreamWorks ("The Island")?

It is interesting that there is consensus that one big reason for the box office slump was the films themselves. "If you make good movies, people go," says Rothman. "If you make crappy movies, they stay home."

Says Fithian of the theater association: "When the movies come back, the patrons will come back . . . and the movies this year, unfortunately, were only so-so."

Or were they?

Judging movie quality is an imperfect science, but Senh Duong, founder of the Web site Rotten Tomatoes, ran the numbers for us. Rotten Tomatoes tallies critical reviews of the movies and then rates the movies as either "fresh" or "rotten." In 2005, Duong says, 44 percent of the movies in wide release received positive reviews in the media (both print and online), compared with 42 percent in 2004, 43 percent in 2003 and 45 percent in 2002.

"As you can see from the charts, quality-wise, it's pretty consistent with previous years," Duong says. "So no, the movies this year don't smell much worse."

Duong says that revenues might be off this year because the summer of 2005 only produced one breakaway blockbuster ("Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith") and that sequels, though generally seen as creatively uninteresting, pack the multiplexes; though the summer of '05 had plenty of remakes (of TV shows such as "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Bewitched") there was really only one mega-sequel, and that was "Star Wars." (The other big hits of the summer were "War of the Worlds" and "Batman Begins," which was sorta prequelly.)

Of course, relying on the Tomatometer suggests that critics matter, which is an idea many in Hollywood find quaint. Consider critical duds like "The Longest Yard" (panned by reviewers but embraced by viewers, it grossed $158 million). Or "Fantastic Four" at $154 million. Or "The Pacifier" at $113 million.

So when Hollywood studio heads and theater exhibitors talk about "bad movies," what they really mean is movies that audiences don't pay to see.

It is a subtle point but worth remembering.

Of course, there might be more going on here than "bad movies."


Cost. The average American sees five movies a year. Fithian of the theater owners association concedes that a top complaint from patrons is the price of a ticket, which nationally averages about $6.50 but has now settled in at $10 for adults in New York, Los Angeles and Washington. Studios and exhibitors share the ticket price revenue; where the theater owners really make their money is on popcorn, sodas, Jujyfruits and the like. When moviegoers pay for all that, plus parking and babysitters, a movie date can run $50, easy. Fithian counters that when compared with other two-hour entertainments (like the ballet or a ballgame or a rock concert), movies are still a bargain.

Gasoline. Harry Knowles, the founder of the movie Web site Ain't It Cool News, has another idea. It is not the cost of the movie ticket that is depressing box office. Or the quality of cinema. "The movies are fine," he says. "It's George W. Bush's failed energy policy that is eating away at the family entertainment budget because that extra $70 a month in gas is the money that they would have spent on frivolous things like movies, except now they don't have the money."

Liberals. Govindini Murty, co-director of the conservative Liberty Film Festival, wrote in the Los Angeles Times that "Hollywood could turn things around, but that might mean tolerating films with pro-conservative themes." This theme is echoed by others who say that Hollywood makes too many violent, nihilistic and sexually explicit films, and that is why people stay home.

The multiplex experience. Ringing cell phones, crying babies, loud talkers, sticky floors and 20-minute-long commercial packages of advertisements. Fithian says theater owners are concerned enough about the complaints that they are planning to hire more ushers to shush rude patrons. As for the commercials? The forecasting firm ZenithOptimedia expects that advertisers will increase their buys in movie ad packages by 15 percent next year.

Couch potatoes. Bruce Feirstein wrote in the New York Observer that he knew the home entertainment movement was about to take off when he saw that Costco was selling lounge chairs with holders for popcorn and drinks.

DVDs. Everyone agrees there is more competition for eyeballs and ears than ever, with video games, cable TV, video on demand, the Internet and DVDs (and the high-definition units just around the corner). Some call DVDs "movie killers," but Hollywood executives don't see it that way. DVDs have been out for eight years, during which time movie box office has mostly boomed. A strong theatrical release generally means stronger DVD sales, and let's not forget that the studios now derive more than half their film revenues from DVD releases. (Tangentially, it is important never to confuse box office receipts with profitability; a movie that costs $220 million to make has got to sell a lot more tickets than one that was shot for $22 million -- a fact always ignored in weekly box office roundups).

Most worrisome to theater owners is the prospect that Hollywood may close the so-called "video window." Currently, there is a four-to-five-month lag between theatrical release and DVD sales. This allows a movie to play at the mall before being sold at the mall. If the release were simultaneous, or nearly so, that could change the landscape.

At least one mogul plans to test the waters. Billionaire entertainment impresario Mark Cuban believes that consumers should be able to watch a movie in whatever format they like, whenever they like: on cable, DVD, download or movie theater. And he plans to do just that next month when his company releases on the same day, on DVD, digital cable and in theaters, Steven Soderbergh's new movie, "Bubble." The film is a low-budget indie, so this might be more of an experiment than a true test. But if the major studios follow suit -- and Bob Iger of Disney has suggested he might be interested in doing just that -- the future releases of "Mission: Impossible 7" or "Dodgeball 4" could challenge the moviegoing habit.

It takes a lot of work to achieve a messy look

Eric Susyne
Special to The Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND - There they stood, three in a row before the mirror. Pulling. Teasing. Plucking up. Twisting. Rearranging.

A common sight in any mall bathroom, you say?

Perhaps. Except this was the men's room, and the object of such furious and devotional upkeep was none other than the trendy "It Male" hairdo of the past year.

Although it has escaped a particular name, unlike the Shag, the Caesar or the Faux Hawk of the recent past, its hallmark is immediately recognizable: short, tapered sides topped by upswept, soft yet voluminous spikes. A studied sense of messiness is key to this look.

"Bed head" is what the casual observer might call it, but don't let that fool you. No one wakes up with a look this studied, this stylized. Not even Eric "Greg Sanders" Szmanda, of television's "CSI," whose 'do in the third and fourth seasons not only popularized but also defined The Look.

"I call it organized mess," says Jimmy Sharaba, managing director of Dino Palmieri and self-described "hair coach" at Studio Palmieri on West Sixth Street in Cleveland. He should know. He creates variations of The Look daily for zany media types and power-suited attorneys alike. His particular specialty is a soft-lined textured cut that goes from office-approved by day to "up, up and away" after 5.

That so many guys in their teens and 20s have embraced The Look seems like a direct reflection of the more stylized, formalist aesthetic that we're seeing in men's street fashion. Slim suits, skinny ties and very pointy-toed dress shoes have replaced the vintage track suit top and indie-rock Adidas of the late 1990s. Take a look at any of the members of Brit band Franz Ferdinand or the Kaiser Chiefs. There's neither a sneaker nor a barber's buzz cut in sight.

You would be right to think that this all sounds like a case of sartorial history repeating itself. The Mods, those first style-obsessed, Vespa-driving teenage dandies of the early '60s, have at least in part provided the inspiration for up-styled young men's hair.

While the infatuation with self-styling has remained from the Mod era, styling products have made it easier to achieve the all-important inches of height.

Eddy Maddox, owner of Fast Eddy's Chop Shop on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights, agrees that the latest range of matte-finish products allows guys to easily "create weight on top like the Mod style." The secret to creating volume without either a greasy flop or the dreaded hard spikes (aka "the Gotti boy" look) is the use of a matte-finish styling product such as d:fi molding cream on dry hair. For $10, it's street cred in a plastic tub.

Although the bulk of his clients are asking for the "textured, up look," Fast Eddy also crafts an asymmetrical version if you're feeling edgy.

"Guys are definitely polishing up their look like [the rock group] the Killers, and growing their hair out and putting it up," he says, pointing toward a stack of well-thumbed British rock magazines in the waiting area of his salon, where both Mods and rockers peacefully coexist.

A word to the wise, though, guys. If you haven't already textured, teased and matted up your hair, you may want to do so while it's still hot this season. Amy Yang, stylist at Studio Palmieri, predicts the next It Look will be an extremely sharp side-parted, shiny style a la '50s Hollywood glamour-inspired models seen in the recent Dolce & Gabbana ad campaign.

If the anti-bed-head aesthetic does come to fruition, you might just find yourself rummaging for a relic, the comb.

Remember that?

Is Lord & Taylor leaving Raleigh?

Lord & Taylor, Crabtree Valley Mall, Raleigh, North Carolina. Mall entrance. Photographed with camera phone 7/15/05.

Store scheduled to close in January, but lease was extended.

Sue Stock, Staff Writer
The News and Observer

RALEIGH, N.C. - The future of the Triangle's only Lord & Taylor store is muddled at best.

Store employees are telling customers the 120,000-square-foot store will close in mid- to late January. Some display cases are already empty.

But mall officials say Lord & Taylor's parent company, Federated Department Stores, hasn't notified them that the store will be closing.

There is still a small chance that the store could stay.The company exercised an option to extend its lease by five years, through Jan. 31, 2011. But the chain has committed to operate Lord & Taylor there only through next month. It opened at Crabtree in 1996.

"They have to pay rent, but they don't have to be open," said Monty Daniels, director of leasing for Plaza Associates, which manages the mall.

If it does close Lord & Taylor, Federated could sublease the vacated space, but the mall would have some say in the replacement tenant.

Plaza Associates has been considering a plan that would eliminate the department store anchor and replace it with 30 smaller stores. If that happens, Crabtree will be left with three department stores: Belk, Sears and Hecht's, which will become a Macy's next fall.

But Plaza can't move forward with that plan until Federated indicates what it wants to do.

"They have not responded," Daniels said. "We would like to know what they plan to do with it."

Federated spokeswoman Sharon Bateman said she had no announcement regarding the Crabtree store.

"Our philosophy is, until all the 'i's are dotted and all the 't's are crossed, we just don't comment," she said.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

“Do my Timberland boots make me look hip-hop?”

As my friend Ben O. likes to say, “Here’s one for ya.”

Are racial connotations (real or imagined) a reason to wear or not wear a clothing item?

The reason I ask is because I was confronted with this question last night after I got home from the mall. I was checking my email and an IM friend I have messaged me, telling me about his new Timberland PRO Boots. Timberland PRO is a series of boots designed for construction, and while they leave something to be desired aesthetically in my opinion, they are decent boots overall.

My friend already owned a pair of the premium Timberland boots, as do I. But because of Timberland’s popularity with the “hip-hop” set, my friend was squeamish about wearing them. In fact, the way we first met was that he emailed me asking if “regular guys” still wore Timbs. Why this is an issue escapes me, but that’s what he said. I tried to allay his fears and explain to him the while a lot of hip-hoppers wear Timbs, it’s not really a “hip hop shoe.” In fact, after several years of frequent wear, Timbs are becoming passé in hip-hop circles. I thought that was the end of it.

As we began to IM over the past couple months, the subject of the Timberlands came up at least once a week. I kept telling him that the shoes were not hip-hop, but he never believed me. He sent me pictures of him wearing the shoes, and I told him again and again that they looked fine, but he never believed me. It continued to bother him.

He then tried a new tactic. He began sending me pictures of boots that weren’t Timberlands but looked a lot like them for my approval. This went on for several days, and I told him that there was no need of buying boots that looked pretty much identical to what he had simply to get something that was not Timberland.

The last tactic he used was posting his query on message boards I frequent looking for yet more answers to this question, which had become an apparent issue for him. Most people who responded told him the same thing I did.

This brings us back to last night when he was telling me about the new boots he bought, and that he was getting rid of the other, presumably "more ghetto" boots. I got concerned (but not upset) and expressed those concerns to him. My primary concern was that he was telling me (as a black person) that he didn’t want a shoe that was connected to a mostly-black cultural movement. My secondary concern was that even though I tried to steer my friend in the right direction, he obviously did not trust me.

We both walked away from that conversation with some mixed emotions.

I’m curious about what other people think of this. Should the boots (or any clothing for that matter) be an issue if you personally like the clothing? Is this something that other people struggle with? Should I be offended that my friend doesn’t trust my opinion or want to be associated with hip-hop?

I just don’t know what to think, and anything you can add or offer would be appreciated.

The Nights Before the Last Christmas at Hecht's

Cindy Ford, left, and Eula McClung have been at the Hecht's at Tysons Corner Center for more than 30 years. They carpool; McClung calls Ford "chauffeur," Ford calls McClung "co-pilot." (Photo Credit: By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

For Some Workers, Macy's Won't Be the Same

By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 23, 2005

The three friends have spent more than 30 Christmases together at the Hecht's in Tysons Corner Center: Henry Kurosaka overseeing the furniture inventory, Cindy Ford ringing up sales in the home department and Eula McClung wishing her pint-size customers in the children's clothing section a hearty "Merry Christmas."

This one will be their last.

Four months ago, the local chain's parent company, May Department Stores Co., was bought by rival Federated Department Stores Inc. The new owners plan to convert most Hecht's into the company's flagship Macy's stores by the fall. And the friends know that even if they stay on, it won't be the same. It won't be Hecht's.

"There's only a few of us that really understand the real nature of the store," said Kurosaka, 50, of Falls Church.

The trio from Tysons can remember a time when shoppers dressed up for an outing to Hecht's and the other big-name stores. One of McClung's bestsellers during the holidays when she started in the early 1970s was fussy red velvet suits for boys. Ford said her department used to be filled with bolts of fabric, notions and needlework. Now she oversees the Ralph Lauren Home collection.

The three friends seemed to lose themselves in their memories as they recalled the chain's heyday: Remember when there was a restaurant inside the store? When they got in those silk sheets from Dior? When Hecht's sold ice cream and wine and cheese and toys and -- gasp -- vinyl records?

"This was the only place to go," Kurosaka said. "This was the hubbub."

Hecht's was founded in 1857 by Samuel Hecht, a Baltimore furniture store owner. He operated flagship stores in Washington and Baltimore and expanded the chain across the region. In 1959, it was bought by the May Co., which had been gobbling up other big-name department stores in Baltimore and Denver. Later, the retailer shortened its name from the Hecht's Company to simply Hecht's.

"They thought it would be more hip to be like, 'Hecht's,' shorter," Kurosaka said.

"Like Bloomie's," Ford added.

"Soon to be Macy's," McClung reminded them.

The three have been together almost from day one. McClung, 71, of Herndon was the first to sign on as a sales associate in the children's department in 1971. Kurosaka was hired in the furniture department in November 1974, the same month that Ford, 62, of Reston was brought in to work in the home section.

"November 4th," Kurosaka said. Then he looked sideways at Ford. "I think I have seniority over you," he told her. She slapped him playfully.

Their lives have become inextricably intertwined with the history of Hecht's over the past three decades. Kurosaka used to ride his dirt bike through the fields across the street from the mall -- now home to Tysons Galleria. Ford and McClung have carpooled to work for more years than they can count.

"She's my chauffeur," McClung said, pointing to Ford.

"She's my co-pilot," Ford said, pointing to McClung. Then they both started giggling.

There was the time when everyone had to sleep in the store because of a snowstorm. There were the horrible bell-bottom pants they once sold along with "anything polyester," Kurosaka said. From pet rocks to puka shells, the trio has seen them all come and go.

"We're like family almost, in a sense," Ford said.

"I've probably seen you guys more than I've seen my family," Kurosaka added.

Ford nodded in agreement. "Especially during the holidays," she said.

They are the face of Hecht's for countless customers, part of an era when workers stuck with their companies and shoppers sought out their favorite salespeople. Kurosaka likes to joke that he started working at the store as a teenager and now qualifies for an AARP card. McClung said she has watched parents who came to her department to buy clothes for their children age into grandparents looking for gifts for the next generation.

"They'll say, 'Are you still here?' I'm like an old fixture," she said.

Hecht's seems to have grown older along with them. It was the last of the once-formidable downtown department stores to remain standing. Garfinckel's, Woodward & Lothrop, and Lansburgh's have all fallen by the wayside, casualties of changing consumer tastes and a national decline in traffic at department stores.

The $11 billion Federated-May merger was an attempt to create the first national department-store chain, with 950 stores from coast to coast, according to Retail Forward, a market research firm. In addition to Hecht's 61 stores, the May properties also included Lord & Taylor, Marshall Field's, Filene's, Kaufmann's, Robinsons-May, Foley's and Famous-Barr. Federated already operates Macy's and Bloomingdale's.

Federated will begin the first round of store closings at the end of January, mostly on the West Coast. Cooperate offices will switch over in February, and the company will begin cutting jobs in May.

The Hecht's store at Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton is the only one in the area scheduled to shutter its doors for good, company officials said, because it would directly compete with a Macy's already there. The Hecht's in Chevy Chase will be converted into a Bloomingdale's. All others will become Macy's.

Retail industry analysts said Federated's push into the Washington area is a natural fit. The regional market has grown increasingly upscale with developments such as the Collection at Chevy Chase at the Friendship Heights Metro station, featuring high-end retailers such as Dior and Jimmy Choo, and the revitalization of downtown Washington. Housing prices have skyrocketed. The median household income in the region jumped from $63,591 in 2000 to $72,128 this year, according to data from Claritas Inc., a marketing information company.

All that new money needs somewhere to shop -- and Hecht's doesn't cut it.

"I think [Hecht's] will be missed by people, but I think that it's also good for downtown" Washington, said Michael Pratt, a principal with Madison Retail Group, a commercial real estate firm. "Macy's has a little bit more of an urban flair to it. . . . They've got a little more cachet."

Ford said she has not fully absorbed the news of the merger yet. It's the holidays. It's busy. She'll worry about that in the new year.

"I mean, it's in the back of our heads," she said.

"We never thought that this would happen," McClung added.

McClung said she still has plenty of regulars. As many as 35 customers have told her that they prefer Hecht's to Macy's.

"There's a lot of customers who don't like this change," Kurosaka said. "They feel this is a staple of the area."

He would like to keep working at the store even after the new management comes in but does not want to commit until he understands a bit more about what lies ahead. "We have to see what cards they give us," he said.

But McClung and Ford said they hope to stay at the store, whatever its name may be. They are proud of their years of service, displayed on their nametags. This is no time to abandon ship.

"Yes, 31," Ford said she tells customers when they ask her about the tag. "It's probably longer than some marriages."

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

Hecht's, Tysons Corner Center, McLean, Virginia. Upper level mall entrance. Photographed with camera phone 10/2/05.

the suddenly sporadic blogger

As you may have noticed, I’ve been making fewer posts over the past several days than usual. There’s nothing wrong, I’m just busy with holiday stuff. For me, the days following Christmas can be more chaotic than the days preceding. Like tonight, I was shopping several after Christmas sales, and didn’t get back until late. I wasn’t really in much condition to be humorous, helpful or odd.

As if my schedule wasn’t enough trouble, there is also less content in the news that would be relevant to this blog’s primary subject matter around this time of year. Pretty much every newspaper runs the same five articles about holiday shopping and nobody’s talking about new sneakers or fashion, and I don’t think most of the mundame-ness is suitable for this forum. It’s my job to edit and present the best stories I can find, and there’s precious little to choose from.

Keep checking in either by clicking by or checking your RSS/XML feeds, because I will attempt to add cool new things as I find them (and maybe some actual personal content). In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your holiday. As always, talk soon.

Mall marketers turn to fun, food

Owners try to keep up as consumers seek nicer experience

By Mary Ellen Podmolik
Special to the Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO - For years the typical trip to the mall meant shopping at department and specialty stores and grabbing something to eat in a generic food court. For entertainment there was a visit with Santa during the holiday season.

But this year shoppers at Randhurst Shopping Center in Mt. Prospect took a break by riding a carousel installed in center court. At Westfield Old Orchard in Skokie, consumers found something unusual: Steve & Barry's University Sportswear filling a space once occupied by anchor tenant Saks Fifth Avenue. And at Spring Hill Mall in West Dundee, small children watched a musical dancing water fountain while teens played video games in a "Pepsi Zone" high-tech lounge.

These changes, made since the 2004 holiday shopping season, show the shifting mentality of mall owners, who once ascribed to a "if we build it, they will come" philosophy.

Time-crunched shoppers now prefer open-air `lifestyle' centers that group retailers of a similar caliber and brand positioning, and the stores all open onto parking lots. Meanwhile, budget-minded shoppers are finding fashion, one-stop shopping and low prices at behemoth discounts.

In a preholiday poll by St. Louis-based Maritz Research Inc., one in two consumers planned to shop at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. during the holidays. The second most favored chain was Target Stores, at which 38 percent of consumers said they would shop.

All of this spells trouble--or at least a big challenge--for traditional shopping malls, especially those without some cachet like supersized Woodfield mall in Schaumburg.

"The discussion over the past few years over whether malls are dying is ludicrous," said Stan Eichelbaum, president of Marketing Developments Inc., a Cincinnati-based retail consultancy. "They are still formidable. The biggest issue is they needed to go into a new cycle and they were stagnating, and retail can't stagnate. Retail has to progress with the product and the consumer."

Malls in the next year are expected to make some strides in both areas. As the department store industry consolidates, malls are seeking high-powered anchors that five years ago were unheard-of tenants in a regional mall, names like Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco.

They also are upgrading the entertainment and dining options beyond the standard movie theater with stadium seating and generic restaurant, to increase the "fun" factor. And they are turning parts of malls inside out, creating streetscapes that give mall tenants greater visibility and customers quicker access to their cars.

"It really is all about fun and having the right retailers," said Bob Michaels, president and chief operating officer of General Growth Properties Inc., a Chicago-based mall owner and management company. "Today you need a good mix of the right retailers and the right restaurants. Food is really entertainment and it's becoming a big part of our redevelopment."

The firm's list of just-completed or ongoing renovation projects includes upscale restaurants and movie theaters and the addition of popular apparel and bookstore chains. General Growth's 2005 rehab of Spring Hill Mall also included interior improvements and booths in the renovated food court.

"The customers have just been very pleased," said general manager Diana Miller. "People say, `Oh, I haven't been to the mall until just recently.' "

The consolidation of the department store has sparked the search for new tenants that will bring in families and teens and give consumers a reason to visit malls regularly. "Broadly, what the industry needs to do is developers need to think differently in terms of their tenant mix," said Michael Niemira, chief economist of the International Council of Shopping Centers. "You're going to have to see more services in the malls, even government services, with the intent of driving traffic."

Randhurst lost four anchor tenants, but its redeveloper, Chicago-based Urban Retail Properties Co., now considers the mall--built in 1964--to be one of its success stories. A Costco opened in the fall of 2004 on a razed Montgomery Ward's site, and this fall budget-priced apparel retailer Steve & Barry's opened, with interior and exterior entrances. The mall also includes a number of doctor and dentist offices.

The next year is expected to be pivotal for Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale, which is in the midst of a $20 million-plus repositioning following its acquisition almost exactly a year ago for $93 million by Feldman Mall Properties Inc., of Great Neck, N.Y.

"It's a mall that I would characterize as somewhat underperforming versus its potential," said Chairman Larry Feldman. "We believe people are driving inconveniently out of their way to Woodfield and Oak Brook and other malls because this mall does not have enough of the quality shopping experience that shoppers want to see today."

Feldman's first priority is to expand and renovate the existing movie theater. Last week his firm signed a lease with Century Theatres Inc. to replace the existing theater with an upscale 16-screen complex. Feldman reasons that higher traffic within the mall will lead to leases with upscale restaurants, coffee houses and bookstores.

Says Marketing Development's Eichelbaum, "We are learning that the mall is not about just product. It's about total experience and enjoyment. The challenge is to realize we are not done."

Monday, December 26, 2005

Wal-Mart Is Grinch In New Mexico; Store Boots Toy Drive for Needy

Albuquerque Journal

TAOS, N.M. -- Don't blame it on the Grinch this time.

An annual Christmas toy drive for needy families sponsored by civilian employees of the Taos Police Department got booted out of the local Wal-Mart last week.

And organizers of the annual Angel Tree project are fighting mad.

Shirley Lujan, head of central communications, which dispatches police calls, said she is beyond annoyed and intends "to tell Wal-Mart corporate headquarters what I think about this."

She said it will be a letter they won't soon forget.

"How mean can you get?" she said Thursday while helping Santa Claus -- a.k.a. Jim Simmons, facilities supervisor for the town of Taos convention center -- distribute toys to kids at the town's Coronado Hall complex on Civic Plaza Drive.

"Fortunately, we were able to collect all the toys we needed to meet the kids' needs, so Wal-Mart didn't spoil the kids' Christmas after all," Lujan said, adding that she is especially perplexed because this is the sixth or seventh year the group has collected toys at the Wal-Mart store without complaint.

"The local Wal-Mart people have been just wonderful," she said. "It was some district manager from I don't know where who told me we had to pack up and get out. I don't know his name."

The local acting store manager declined to be interviewed and sent word out via an assistant that "we have no information to share at this time."

A call to Marty Heires, communications spokesman for the New Mexico region at Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters in Arkansas, was not returned Thursday.

Lujan said the unidentified district manager told her only two charity groups were allowed to collect at Wal-Mart stores -- the Miracle Network for Children and a second organization, whose name she said she couldn't remember.

The Angel Tree project set up shop inside Wal-Mart at the end of October, staking out its prime location inside the store with a tree and collection box. Shoppers take a paper Christmas ornament from the tree that requests a gift suitable for either a boy or girl in a specific age range, and then buy a gift and put it in the box with the designated age and gender.

The gifts are then selected according to a list supplied to the Angel Tree project.

"Most of the people interested in donating to Angel Tree bought the gift or toy right there at Wal-Mart," Lujan said. "So I can't help wondering what this is all about.

"And they had to do it just before the biggest weekend before Christmas, when we tend to get the biggest gifts," she said. "But that's OK, we had enough for this year."

Marie Pacheco, who works in the police department records section, said she enlisted the aid of her husband, Paul, when Lujan called her last week and told her they had to get the Angel Tree display out right away or "they were going to pack it up and ship it to us."

Lujan said between the Wal-Mart location and people who dropped off toys and other gifts at police headquarters, the Angel Tree project collected about 300 gifts this year.

The organization had between 225 and 250 kids enrolled, so there were more than enough to go around.

The Real Reason Children Love Fantasy

Kids aren't escapists, they're little scientists.

By Alison Gopnik

This Christmas innumerable children will be immersed in worlds of noble lions and seductive witches, wizard academies and broomstick sports, and, of course, stout old gentlemen in red suits driving flying reindeer. And these are only the official, public imaginary worlds of childhood. Even more children will be immersed in private imaginary worlds. Three-year-olds will spend all day in the company of tigers and princesses and superheroes. Older children will invent "paracosms," entire fictional universes with their own politics, economics, and sociology. The fantastic world of children's books and films is only the tip of the iceberg of children's imaginary lives.

Adult thinking about children tends always to the grimly instrumental. So, discussions of children's fantasy lives, like discussions of children's lives in general, center on whether a particular fantasy, or fantasy in general, is Good or Bad for children. (There is a lot of that discussion around both Harry Potter and Narnia.) But there is a deeper and more interesting question to ask. Why are children and fantasy linked at all? Why does the marvelous, the wonderful, the fantastic seem to be the natural territory of childhood? And why do children spontaneously choose the unreal over the real?

Some explanations that might once have seemed plausible, and that are still current in the popular imagination, turn out to be just wrong scientifically. There is no evidence that fantasy is therapeutic or that children use fantastic literature to "work out their problems" or as "an escape." Children's lives can be tough, certainly, but relatively speaking they are considerably less tough, more protected, more interesting, even, than adult lives. Happy, healthy children are, if anything, more likely to be immersed in a world of fantastic daydreams, public or private, than unhappy or troubled children.

Earlier psychologists, from Freud to Piaget, also suggested that children might be unable to discriminate between reality and fantasy, truth and imagination. It's not so much that children embraced fantasy as that they were unable to recognize reality. But 20 years of empirical research have shown that this also is simply not true. Even the very youngest children already are perfectly able to discriminate between the imaginary and the real, whether in books or movies or in their own pretend play. Children with the most elaborate and beloved imaginary friends will gently remind overenthusiastic adults that these companions are, after all, just pretend.

In fact, cognitive science suggests that children may love fantasy not because they can't appreciate the truth or because their lives are difficult, but for precisely the opposite reason. Children may have such an affinity for the imaginary just because they are so single-mindedly devoted to finding the truth, and because their lives are protected in order to allow them to do so.

From an evolutionary perspective children are, literally, designed to learn. Childhood is a special period of protected immaturity. It gives the young breathing time to master the things they will need to know in order to survive as adults. Humans have a longer period of sheltered immaturity, a longer childhood, than any other species. What we call play—in wolves or lions or preschoolers—allows the young to learn in this protected, safe way. A baby wolf can play at chasing and biting other pups and so learn about chasing and biting, without the risks of real chasing and biting.

Wolf pups and lion cubs use play to learn about hunting and affiliation and dominance. So do human children, of course—watch the chasing and biting in any schoolyard. But human children also learn in a distinctively human way. Human beings, unlike other animals, develop everyday theories of the world around them. Two decades of research have shown that children construct and revise an everyday physics and biology and, above all, an everyday psychology. These everyday theories are much like the formal, explicit theories of science. Theorizing lets children understand the world and other people more accurately.

At first, you might think that the idea that children are intuitive scientists would be completely at odds with the childhood passion for fantasy. But in fact, theorizing and fantasizing have a lot in common. A theory, in science or in everyday life, doesn't just describe one particular way the world happens to be at the moment. Instead, having a theory tells you about the ways the world could have been in the past or might be in the future. What's more, a theory can tell you that some of those ways the world can be are more likely than others. A theory lays out a map of possible worlds and tells you how probable each possibility is. And a theory provides a kind of logic for getting to conclusions from premises—if the theory is correct, and if you accept certain premises, then certain conclusions and not others will follow. If Newton's physics is right, then if you accelerate a rocket ship sufficiently, it will escape the earth's gravity. Of course, in Newton's day no one had any idea how to do this—but the theory told you what would happen if you did.

This is why theories are so profoundly powerful and adaptive. A theory not only explains the world we see, it lets us imagine other worlds, and, even more significantly, lets us act to create those worlds. Developing everyday theories, like scientific theories, has allowed human beings to change the world. From the perspective of my hunter-gatherer forebears in the Pleistocene Era, everything in the room I write in—the ceramic cup and the carpentered chair no less than the electric light and the computer—was as imaginary, as unreal, as fantastic as Narnia or Hogwarts. The uniquely human evolutionary gift is to combine imagination and logic to articulate possible worlds and then make them real.

Suppose we combine the idea that children are devoted intuitive scientists and the idea that play allows children to learn freely without the practical constraints of adulthood. We can start to see why there should be such a strong link between childhood and fantasy. It's not that children turn to the imaginary instead of the real—it's that a human being who learns about the real world is also simultaneously learning about all the possible worlds that stem from that world. And for human children those possibilities are unconstrained by the practical exigencies of adult survival.

The link between the scientific and the fantastic also explains why children's fantasy demands the strictest logic, consistency, and attention to detail. A fantasy without that logic is just a mess. The effectiveness of the great children's books comes from the combination of wildly imaginative premises and strictly consistent and logical conclusions from those premises. It is no wonder that the greatest children's fantasists—Carroll, Lewis, Tolkien—had day jobs in the driest reaches of logic and philology.

Still, we might ask, why do children explore the far and fantastic possible words instead of the close-by sensible ones? The difference between adults and children is that for most adults, most of the time, imagination is constrained by probability and practicality. When we adults use our everyday theories to create possible worlds, we restrict ourselves to the worlds that are likely and the worlds that are useful. When we adults create a possible world, we are usually considering whether we should move in there and figuring out how we can drag all our furniture with us.

But for human children, those practical requirements are suspended, just as the jungle laws of tooth and claw are suspended for young wolves. Children are as free to consider the very low-probability world of Narnia as the much higher-probability world of next Wednesday's meeting—as free to explore unlikely Middle-earth as the much more predictable park next door.

The point is not that reading fantastic literature or playing fantastic games will make children smarter or more well-adjusted or get better grades in their chemistry classes. Perhaps it's the inevitable constraints of our adult nature that make us think in terms of these practical future questions. But, still, since it's Christmas, we might indulge in a moment or two of sheer childlike pleasure in a beautiful reality. The spirit of possibility and play that leads children to read the Narnia books and watch the Harry Potter movies, and to just imagine, is at the heart of what it is to be human.

Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, co-author of The Scientist in the Crib, and author of the forthcoming How Children Change the World.

blank media

I went out to buy blank DVDs and I discovered that the technology is one huge clusterfuck. My new DVD recorder handles most of the popular disc-types, but only at certain speeds (e.g. anything over 8x doesn't work too well), so here I am in Target trying to get my discs and help out this other dude who wants to record DVDs with a CD-R drive (you can't).

I finally settled on Sony DVD+R discs that were somewhat overpriced but yet still cheaper than videotapes, after making a trip over to Best Buy to get some technical reassurance that the cheaper 16x DVD+Rs would in fact not work and realizing Best Buy's blank DVDs are a bit of a rip-off.

The Chronicles of Narnia Rap

It won't save Saturday Night Live, but it could save hip hop.

By Josh Levin

If you haven't seen Saturday Night Live's Chronicles of Narnia rap, then you don't have any friends. Or at least any friends with Internet access. The two-minute video, which debuted on SNL last Saturday before resurfacing as a much-forwarded "digital short," has accomplished what seemed impossible a week ago—making Saturday Night Live a cultural touchstone for the first time since Christopher Walken pleaded for "more cowbell." The popularity of the Narnia rap might augur a reawakening at SNL—in fact, there are already T-shirts that parrot the song's catchphrases. It's more significant, though, for what it says about the state of rap.

The video, officially titled "Lazy Sunday," depicts a day in the life of a pair of dorky New Yorkers. Andy Samberg (aka Samberg) calls up Chris Parnell (aka Parns) "just to see how he's doin'." Soon enough, they "mack on some cupcakes" from the West Village's Magnolia Bakery and debate which online map service will reveal the "dopest route" to an Upper West Side screening of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Then the chorus kicks in: "We love that Chronic—what?—cles of Narnia / Pass that Chronic—what?—cles of Narnia."

Some of the humor here derives from the fact that these whitebread guys—Samberg is wearing a John Muir T-shirt; Parnell looks like a 12-year-old accountant—are moonlighting in what's traditionally been a black medium. Sure, white rappers aren't a novelty anymore. But guys this white, rhyming about getting "taken to a dreamworld of magic"? It's the nerdy, white-boy version of Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day."

This racial switcheroo is the schtick behind Parnell's "Weekend Update" rap routines, in which he pines for hotties like Kirsten Dunst and Britney Spears while bragging about gangsta gunplay. But these earlier bits are funny only because of the racial juxtaposition therein. (Sample lyric: "Yo it's a west-side hit, I got my Mack-10 lit / Britney get down, you don't wanna see this ****.") The Narnia rap doesn't use the MCs' extraordinary whiteness as a comedy crutch. Rather than invite easy laughs by reciting a tired checklist of ghetto stereotypes, Samberg and Parnell ditch the bling and Cristal to riff enthusiastically about the stuff they like—Magnolia Bakery's "bomb frostings." Instead of clichéd images of cars and yachts, there's a pop-up graphic of the phrase "Double True" in the iconic Google font. The most conspicuous consumption is that of Mr. Pibb. (The one rap convention that does get mocked, to no great effect, is gunplay. When they answer a movie trivia question "so fast it was scary," there's machine gun fire in the background.)

Rather than lampoon today's artists, Samberg and Parnell evoke old-school rap. The whole presentation—the lyrics, the flow, and the aesthetic—owes more to New York rappers from the '80s than to anything that's getting made today. The way they trade rhymes and enunciate the end of each line—"You can call us Aaron Burr / From the way we're droppin' HAM-IL-TONS"—recalls the delivery of 1980s artists like Run-DMC. The production values, New York street scenes, and silly similes call to mind early Beastie Boys tracks. Really, is "I've got mad hits like I was Rod Carew" any less ridiculous than "I love those cupcakes like McAdams loves Gosling"?

Of course, part of what Samberg and Parnell are sending up is nerdy white nostalgia for the Beasties' heyday. Still, it's notable that these moments of goofiness and whimsy are what make "Lazy Sunday" work as a rap song, not just a comedy sketch. It's hard to think of a Top 40 hip-hop track that's similarly playful. Eminem's subgenre of silly songs ("The Real Slim Shady," "Ass Like That") all feel calculated—the references to MTV ensure that his videos get a ton of airplay on MTV. Sure, Ludacris co-starred in a video with Mini-Me. But for the most part, whimsy gets buried. The highlight of 50 Cent's oeuvre, for instance, is a sidelong lyric from "21 Questions": "I love you like a fat kid loves cake."

People aren't forwarding this video because it's a parody of what's bad about rap; they're sending it around because it's an ode to what can be great about it. Instead of auguring a new day for SNL, maybe it points up what's missing in mainstream rap—an awareness that it's OK to be goofy. Who needs Biz Markie and Tone-Loc? We've got Samberg and Parns.