Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Introducing the J. Crew Holiday Haberdasher

The J. Crew Holiday Haberdasher hit the streets of New York today. The Holiday Haberdasher, a Land Cruiser stocked with men’s gifts such as wallets, ties and cuff links, is making stops throughout Manhattan this week to peddle its wares.

The Holiday Haberdasher is a variation on the seasonal pop-up store concept which has proven popular in recent years with retailers including Target Corp. and J.C. Penney.

A complete schedule of the Holiday Haberdasher’s stops is available at

Fresh Squeezed

Supermarkets caught bewteen Wal-Mart and Whole Foods

Steve Kaufman, Editor, VM+SD

Just a decade after introducing its hypermarket concept, Wal-Mart has steamrolled the grocery business.

Its Supercenters thrive because, today, people shop almost entirely for price. Which, of course, explains the phenomonal success enjoyed by – Whole Foods?

Someone at our International Retail Design Conference said, "Whole Foods makes you feel good about spending $6 a pound on heirloom tomatoes." So much for price.

Caught in the squeeze, between Whole Foods' outstanding stores and Wal-Mart's outstanding prices, are the traditional supermarkets.

In a recent New York Times article, a woman from Denver said when she wants fresh fish, meats and produce, she drives 25 minutes to the nearest Whole Foods Market. And when she needs packaged or canned products, she goes to Wal-Mart. It has been at least a year, she said, since she entered a Safeway or Kroger. "Whole Foods may be more expensive, but it's worth it," she said, "and I make up some of the difference at Wal-Mart."

In 2004, the average American household made 70 trips a year to the supermarket; in 1996, it was 95. In those eight years, annual trips to hypermarkets and price clubs doubled, from 13 to 26.

But supermarkets aren't standing still. They know they can't get caught up trying to beat Wal-Mart on price. Rather, they're studying Whole Foods and Wild Oats for clues on improving the shopping environment. That means more fresh items, bigger produce sections, more natural and organic foods and more prepared foods. It also means figuring out how its customer shops. That's new stuff for them.

Kroger has developed three new formats: Fresh Fare, which emulates Whole Foods' level of service and carries organic produce, sushi, an olive bar, hundreds of cheeses and 2000 wines; Kroger's Marketplace, twice the size of a typical grocery store, selling everything from electronics and kitchen appliances to home office furniture and dishes; and Food 4 Less, a no-frills warehouse operation.

Supermarkets never had to understand their customers before. But Food Lion's popular new Bloom concept is "born from what the shopper wants," according to Robin Johnson, director for marketing and brand development. "For the past several decades, stores have been run in a way that benefits the store and the company's bottom line – not the shopper."

That had traditionally meant placing high-volume items – like eggs and milk – at the back of the store in hopes that the shopper will buy lots of other stuff on her journey. (Also easier to replenish stock from the backroom.)

Bloom places ice cream at the front of the store, on the shopper's way out, so it is less likely to melt before reaching home. And it bans promotional displays from the aisles, which – while they generate nice fees from vendors – annoyingly clog cart traffic. "Taking them out is scary," she told The Times, "because it's revenue." But shoppers hate them.

"Why have [supermarkets] played these games with customers?" Johnson asked. Because they could. But maybe no longer.

Operation McFly is LIVE !

The world's most famous sneaker activist (my friend Al Cabino) now has a blog for the world's first and only international sneaker petition, over 2000 signatures from over 30 countries in less than 10 days.

Check out Cabino Goes to Beaverton

The Shirt That Ate Manhattan

Steven Alan reinvented the button-down for artfully rumpled hipsters.

By Amy Larocca

In 1999, Steven Alan designed the perfect shirt. He did this not by reinventing the essence of shirtness but by tweaking it—very, very precisely. Alan started with a traditional button-down shape, bought up rolls of “jobbers” fabric—traditional checks and stripes—and then he went to town on the details.

His shirt had to be fussy in its tailoring yet unfussy in its final effect. Short enough to hang just right over pants but rumpled enough to distinguish its wearer from the desk-job grind. Unstudied, yet a perfect fit. Alan himself sums it up by saying, “I didn’t want it to look”—and here he’s careful to specify—“European.”

It took a while to get it right. Alan had to educate himself in the business of production: “We went through five or six factories in two years before we found one that was right,” he says. “We have up to 75 patterns, stripes and plaids and checks, which makes it difficult to match the fabrics. There’s tons of room for error.” Then the shirts go to various wash-houses, including ones that distress jeans, for a softening bath. After all the fine-tuning, Alan had captured the self-conscious “this old thing?” look that a generation of Spike Jonze–admiring, cool-sneaker-collecting guys wanted.

Steven Alan is now producing 1,000 shirts each week, enough that he has to be careful to retire fabrics that become too popular. “I never want to make too much of any one thing,” he explains. Demand at his shops in Tribeca and on Amsterdam Avenue, as well as at the various stores to which he sells wholesale, including Barneys New York, has grown consistently. In some California stores, the shirts rarely make it to the shop floor, they’re gobbled up so quickly by advance orders and wait lists. They’ve achieved a cult status, like those classics with which they look best: well-worn Levi’s cords and a beat-up pair of Chucks.

Now Alan is meeting all this demand with abundant supply at the Steven Alan Annex, a tiny shop on a deliriously trendy corner of Nolita (229 Elizabeth St., nr. Prince St.; 212-226-7482). It’s devoted almost exclusively to shirts cut for both men and women—who, it turns out, like the idea of looking sexy in a borrowed boyfriend shirt, particularly if it’s not actually borrowed and fits just right. There are also a few cashmere sweaters, Italian Army sneakers, vintage Rolex watches, and, Alan says, “whatever I realize I need,” which right now takes the shape of washable corduroy overcoats and the occasional pair of flat-front pants.

But the shirts take center stage: They’re piled to the ceiling in a dizzying mass of stacks whose artful messiness itself is another manifestation of Alan’s aesthetic.

The piles probably won’t stay high for long. For thirtysomething New Yorkers weaned on Beastie Boys and late nights at the Cherry Tavern, Steven Alan shirts are the finishing touch on an ideal look: preppy spiked with very calculated sloppy and just a little touch of street. “Refined,” as Alan says, “but disheveled.”

Run Athletics Launches Arthur Ashe-Inspired Shoe

By: Alyssa Rashbaum

Russell Simmons' footwear company, Run Athletics, is launching the Legacy line of sneakers and a special Arthur Ashe sneaker slated to hit stores in early 2006.

The Legacy and Arthur Ashe sneakers will feature classic designs with modern updates, with a portion of the proceeds from the Ashe sneaker benefiting the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, founded by tennis star Ashe shortly before his death in 1993 from AIDS contracted from a blood transfusion. The shoe will be available at specialty stores in February 2006, Black History Month.

The casual tennis sneaker - which will sell for about $75 - will be white with green trim and accents and will feature an Arthur Ashe logo on the eye stay, and engraved embroidery on the outside sole, with a gray custom suede toe guard.

The Legacy sneaker - which will retail for about $125 - meanwhile, will be targeted to sneaker collectors and will be available at high-end boutiques. The shoe features an old-school design including suede toe guards, cognac vegetable leather wrap, mock croc eye stays and more. Orange/brown and nude/burgundy will be the featured colors when the shoe launches in February.

"Arthur represents something we don't see much of any more in society and sports," Treis Hill, Head of Marketing for Run Athletics, said in a statement. "Arthur Ashe was a class act who considered being a role model part of his duty. He was an amazing athlete and humanitarian, who fought for equal rights for everybody."

Ashe was the first tennis player to win the U.S. Open and was the #1 ranking American tennis player in his 20s and the #1 ranking player in the world by his 30s. His Arthur Ashe Institute of Urban Health serves minorities in cities around the country.

1 more time for Witcher

Note from Steve: This is who I used to be able to call my "little cousin." His dad and my mom are first cousins. He's not so little any more, and it looks like he's going places.

Franklin County's star senior is happy with the decisions he's made and how his career has gone at Franklin County.

By Robert Anderson
The Roanoke Times

ROCKY MOUNT, Va. -- Forget the Timesland player of the year award he won last winter and the scholarship to Virginia Tech he signed last month.

Lewis Witcher always has been big in Franklin County.

Witcher has led Franklin County to back-to-back Western Valley District basketball championships, earning second-team All-Group AAA honors after averaging 17.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. However, the 6-foot-8 senior center has been creating matchup problems for years.

"I've always been the tallest kid in my class pretty much all the way through school," Witcher said. "When I was in kindergarten, my teacher was about 5-foot and I was about 4-9 or 4-10. I was about as tall as she was."

Twelve years and 22 inches later, Witcher has grown into one of the top-rated players in Virginia. His stature around Franklin County's campus is large.

The blocked shots, the dunks, the mid-range jump shots, the rebounds, the loping stride ... those assets are a big part of Witcher's package. However, Franklin County coach Doug Conklin measures Witcher by a different yardstick.

"I think the biggest compliment you can give him is the type of kid he is," Conklin said. "His mom and dad have done a tremendous job with him. Everywhere he is, they're there. He's just been a joy to coach for four years."

Off the wall
Lewis Witcher, a bad kid? You better believe it.

"When he was about six months old I remember my mother called me one night and asked me if I needed anything," said Witcher's mother, Velma. "I said, 'Send me something that doesn't break.' Every toy he would get, he would throw it against the wall."

Witcher dutifully confesses to many crimes.

"Even though it may not seem like it, I was a bad kid when I was little," he said. "I used to break stuff. When I was real little I used to throw everything. I had a Tonka truck and I threw it and it went down one of the hills at my house and it broke the thing. My parents got on me. They were like, 'How do you break a Tonka truck?' They were almost indestructible."

Witcher then got a big break ... from his father, John.

The elder Witcher took a cardboard box and taped it to an inside wall of the family home. Presto, an instant basketball goal.

"I would sit there and dribble and shoot when I was about 4 for 5," Witcher said. "I used to do that all the time."

John Witcher's solution might have cut down on the annual toy bill, but it created another problem ... for the current batch of basketball teams who face Franklin County. Soon, the box on the wall gave way to a backboard and net in the driveway. Witcher had been given the keys to the road to success.

"I would pretty much go outside and play every day," Witcher said. "I kept on playin' and playin'. I just fell in love with the game."

Love story
John Witcher, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, was working for the telephone company in Chicago when he took a trip to visit his niece at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

The army vet's niece had a friend. The friend had a sister. The sister became his wife.

John and Velma Witcher married and moved to Franklin County, near the farmland where John grew up in Pittsylvania County. The couple had a daughter, Khalia, now 26, married and living in Richmond.

A son, born eight years later, inherited his father's first and middle names.

"I'm actually named after my father, John Lewis Witcher," the Franklin County star said. "I go by Lewis. He goes by John so people can tell us apart. Sometimes in my family, they would call me little John. Now people call me Lew or Big Lew."

Witcher got his height from both sides of the family. Now he towers over his relatives the way he once did with his kindergarten peers.

"I'm pretty much the tallest in the family," Witcher said. "My dad told me that he had a cousin who was like, 7-2. I've never seen him."

Franklin County's basketball program has seen plenty of success with players named Lewis.

First came Lewis Preston, a 1988 graduate who played at VMI and is now an assistant at Notre Dame. Next in line was Lewis Muse, who led Franklin County to the 2001 Group AAA quarters before becoming a two-time All-American and the leading scorer in Division II and Concord University in Athens, W.Va.

"We're going to probably have to find a kid or two to change his name to Lewis," Conklin joked.

The next level
Witcher grew up dreaming of one day playing in the NBA, a league where another mild-mannered kid had a pretty nice career. NBA career scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was known as Lewis Alcindor before a name change.

Witcher's NBA dream is still that, but his first step up the ladder will begin next year when he joins Tech's program.

"I think he's going to be a big addition to Tech," Conklin said. "I still don't think he's come close to his full potential. I think he can be real good. He's the kind of person that plays better against bigger people. Instead of dominating against a kid that's 6-2, he doesn't do it as much as he does against a kid that's his size."

Witcher chose Tech over Maryland and a late offer from Wake Forest. No one else was really in the running.

"The biggest thing was distance from home," Conklin said. "That eliminated a lot of schools right away. He was going to play close to home where his parents could see him. His big thing was to play in the ACC too."

Tech began pursuing Witcher heavily during his sophomore year, when he scored 20 points against an Oak Hill Academy team that included 6-8 Josh Smith, the first-round pick of the Atlanta Hawks. Doubts about Witcher's ability vanished on that January night.

"That proved it to me," Conklin said. "When he went in as a sophomore against those kids, and I think it was Josh Smith, so it wasn't against cupcakes. He isn't afraid of competition."

Witcher, never one to boast, had no worries.

"I knew I could play with that kind of level players," he said. "I'm sure people when we first played Oak Hill were kind of worried about me. They didn't think I would be able to play with them. I just wanted to go out there and show people. I had played AAU and already had played against people almost as good as them, and as tall."

Hometown hero
There was a downside to Witcher's breakout performance against Oak Hill. It fueled the rumor mill the Witcher had grown too big for Franklin County.

"I never really thought about moving," he said. "I've lived here all my life and I really enjoy it. I felt I was good enough in my recruiting that I could stay here and still get looked at by colleges. But after the first Oak Hill game, it was crazy. Rumors were spreading across the whole county that I was going to Oak Hill."

Conklin was never worried about losing the big guy.

"I never once worried about him leaving. He likes being a high school kid. He's got a lot of good friends here."

Witcher, who has lifted weights to go from 205 pounds to 220 in the last year, might be a big man on campus. He's just never acted too big for his britches.

"He works hard in practice just like every other kid does," Conklin said. "He doesn't ask for or expect anything. He's not a kid that comes in and demands anything. When we're playing, he doesn't get mad. He doesn't say, 'You should have given me the ball.' He's a team player. He's never missed a practice. The worst thing he's ever done is be a couple of minutes late."

And break things ... like opponents' hearts.

Mall dismisses 'random' shooting

Eastland Mall, Charlotte, North Carolina, Center Court, Dillard's and the Ice Chalet. Photographed with camera phone 5/28/2005.

By: Brittany Morehouse, News 14 Carolina

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Many people continued to shop at Eastland Mall on Tuesday, one day after a shooting near the food court.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said two groups of young men were involved in an argument when one man
took out a handgun and fired two shots at another.

“That was a behavior and an unfortunate incident that could have happened anywhere at any time,” CMPD spokesman Keith Bridges said. “It's an unfortunate incident for the mall. Someone just used very sorry judgment and ended up doing something like that.”

Marvin Snyder, the mall’s general manager, feels the same way. He doesn’t think the shooting proves that his mall is more dangerous than any other.

“We consider this a random incident,” he said. “It could have happened any other place at any time.”

Others aren’t so sure. Mall employee Chris Whiteheart said the mall might need to tighten security.

“I think it’s a shame that you can’t go to the mall and go shopping without having to worry about violence or shootings,” he said. “Maybe they should use metal detectors and stuff like that.”

Amico Edwards, a regular Eastland shopper, agrees.

"I think maybe they need to tighten up security and keep young people away from loitering and stuff like that,” he said.

Franklin Simon is concerned about his family.

“My sister works has to work in this mall, and I am concerned about her,” Simon said. “I think she has to work here today, and I don't want her working there at all.”

Mall management said it will review its security measures although criminal activity is down 21 percent from last year.

“We are going to re-evaluate our security policy to see if there is any changes that need to be made,” Snyder said.

Police have yet to charge anyone with the shooting. They detained three people for questioning Monday and charged two of them with unrelated offenses.

Terrence McBride, 19, is charged with disorderly conduct and resisting a public officer. Ronald Tolson, 19, is charged with trespassing.

The other detainee was released.

Mall pulls plug on blue roof Christmas display

Associated Press Writer

Frank Evans thought the tiny blue-tarped roofs, little toppled fences and miniature piles of hurricane debris he included in the Christmas display he builds every year for a suburban New Orleans shopping mall struck just the right humorous tone.

Mall management decided otherwise and told Evans, a landscape architect from nearby Gretna, to dismantle it.

"Although most people did enjoy the decorations, a few customers found the display to be in poor taste," said a statement issued Tuesday night by Lakeside Shopping Center in Metairie.

Evans videotaped the display before dismantling it. The creation had sat since mid-November among a grand, more traditional display of gleaming Christmas trees, colorful gifts wrapped in holiday paper and Santa's elves on carousel horses.

Situated in a large open plaza in the heart of the mall, the display was 60 feet long, circled by a miniature train that children rode after sitting on Santa's lap. Plush stuffed animals sat atop hills with model trains running on tracks and through tunnels - and a rescue helicopter circling above.

Bob and Jill Patin of Gentilly liked the "You Loot, We Shoot" graffiti on one of the ruined refrigerators.

"It's priceless," Jill Patin said. The couple, who are rebuilding their home that had wind and flood damage, came to the mall just to see the display, she said. And they weren't alone.

Kim Koster heard about it and brought her camera. "It's like putting Christmas lights up on your FEMA trailer. It just makes you feel better," said the Uptown New Orleans resident, whose home was inundated.

As children rode by on the motorized train, Ray Smith and his wife, Marcia, chuckled at the "Caution -- Operates Only in Good Weather" sign next to a model of a Jefferson Parish pumping station. It was a wry reference to a decision by Jefferson Parish president Aaron Broussard to evacuate pump operators before Katrina hit on Aug. 29, inundating the area.

"At times like this, you need a little humor," Ray Smith said.

Evans has long thrown political humor into his displays. "It's fun for the adults," he said.

When former Gov. Edwin Edwards was facing racketeering charges in 2000 (he's now serving a 10-year sentence) Evans' Christmas scene included a model of a federal prison with a sign that read: "Louisiana Politicians' Retirement Home." It also featured sharks walking upright carrying briefcases.

Following the 2000 presidential race, Evans included two model trains representing each candidate. "The Bush train crossed the finish line, and the Gore train was derailed," Evans said.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

i'm the taxman

Good news! I passed the exam yesterday, and once I get my paperwork straight, I will be starting training with H&R Block!

I hope this all that I hoped, or at last if it's shitty, maybe I can do well enough to get a good recommendation

New P.E.: More fitness, less sports

Schools emphasize preparing for lifetime of physical activity

NORTHPORT, New York (AP) -- In a mirror-lined dance studio teenagers sashay through a number from the musical "Hairspray." Next door in the weight room, teacher Shawn Scattergood demonstrates proper form on the leg press.

At Northport High School on Long Island, physical education also includes yoga, step aerobics and fitness walking, as well as team sports like volleyball and basketball. There are archery targets, soccer fields and a rock-climbing wall where students inscribe their names to show how high they get.

For anyone who grew up when P.E. meant being picked last for softball, it's a dizzying array of choices.

"What we try and do is give them a real broad offering so that they can choose things they want to do," said Robert Christenson, the director of physical education. He said the current curriculum has been developed over the last five years.

While the offerings at Northport, where the median household income is $86,456, may exceed those at many public high schools, the school is representative of a national phys ed trend that promotes fitness and downplays competitive sports that leave the uncoordinated feeling left out.

"There's been a major trend by school districts to improve their fitness centers," said Tom Caione, director of physical education for the suburban Bedford Central School District north of New York City. "It's really not 'roll out the old ball,' as it was."

George Graham, a professor of kinesiology at Penn State University and past president of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, said there has been a revolution in the way physical education is taught in America.

"Historically, there were two emphases -- competitive team sports and physical fitness testing," he said. "The emphasis today is more on helping youngsters develop the competence that leads to confidence and enjoyment of a lifetime of physical activity."

"We have schools teaching yoga, rock-climbing, martial arts, fly-fishing," Graham said. "If a kid is in a program that hasn't changed from when the parents were in school, it's just not OK."

Countering childhood obesity
The changes are occurring amid growing concern that sedentary lifestyles are fueling an epidemic of childhood obesity, with experts estimating that 30 percent of American schoolchildren are overweight or obese. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 6 percent to 8 percent of schools provide the daily physical education classes that advocates recommend.

In Florida, high school students need only one year of P.E. to graduate, said Jane Greenberg, who heads the Division of Life Skills and Special Projects for Miami-Dade County public schools.

But more Miami-Dade students are choosing to take phys ed since the district started providing elliptical trainers and heart-rate monitors and adding classes like kayaking and snorkeling, Greenberg said.

"By offering these more innovative lifetime activities we're getting them back," she said. "On the average the kids that are overweight are losing 8 to 10 pounds a semester."

At Northport High, the gleaming weight machines and well-maintained tennis courts rival an expensive health club. There is also a sprawling "adventure" area where students can perform team wall-climbing exercises or reach for a trapeze from the top of an 18-foot pole.

Fourteen-year-old Stephen Jackman said he enjoys team sports like flag football and ultimate Frisbee but was looking forward to the weightlifting unit, because "you're just competing against yourself."

As remarkable as the up-to-date equipment, the school district's mission statement is striking, too: "Classes are undertaken in an active, caring, supportive and non-threatening atmosphere in which every student is challenged to grow. ... Every student, regardless of ability or ability level, is provided with a learning environment that is modified, when necessary, to allow for maximum participation."

At the recent dance class, led by full-time dance teacher Kaylie Howard, pupils were at all ability levels, and one was in special education.

"There's no reason to feel bad," said Michael Carbuccia, 16. "Maybe it's just Ms. Howard. If you have trouble with something she'll help you personally. We're all doing our best and we're happy with it."

Bird loses head, shows inner life

An accidental beheading provides a chance to peek inside the hidden life of Virginia Tech's Hokie Bird.

By Erinn Hutkin
The Roanoke Times

The stadium is sold out on this night where it is cold enough to see your breath. The Virginia Tech Hokies are leading North Carolina 6-0 in the first half.

The stands are full of the roaring faithful decked in VT lampshades and orange-wigged Hokie hair. Yet on the field, unknown to anyone, disaster is about to unfold.

Somewhere between playing with pompoms and using a megaphone as a telescope, it happens.

The Hokie mascot -- a six-foot maroon turkey with feathered arms, an orange beak and a fuzzy, teddy bear complexion -- loses its head. It tumbles to the sideline ground, landing near the cheer squad's feet.

"Ohh nooo," a male cheerleader shouts, covering his mouth in giggles.

It's not the Super Bowl. Janet Jackson is nowhere around. But here, in Blacksburg's Lane Stadium, the Hokie Bird mascot has just experienced the ultimate wardrobe malfunction.

This is, after all, a job that comes with maintaining a secret identity.

During a game, the Hokie Bird struts into the stadium through a long, white-walled tunnel. He pats the ceiling at the field entrance, just like the team. He is first to run onto the field, among coaches and players and giant "VT" flags as flashbulbs pop, fireworks explode and the crowd roars so loud it's hard to hear anything else.

Under stadium bleachers -- where he sits in an armchair gulping water during breaks -- the Hokie Bird is sweating.

"That's never happened before," he says, fixing a broken chin strap on the fallen Hokie head.

Three students who share mascot duty also share the suit. They get no pay.

Unlike the cheerleaders and the band, only one Hokie Bird travels to bowl games.

There are paid appearances -- birthday parties and wedding receptions, usually a surprise for the bride from the groom.

Before leaving early for a bartending gig, the Hokie Bird handed a woman an engagement ring as she tailgated Saturday. One Hokie Bird's brother asked him to be the best man at his wedding -- complete with a tuxedo over the bird suit.

Before each game, the Hokie Bird gets feathered inside "the cage," a corner in the bowels of the basketball gym lined with cinder block walls.

"This smells like Chinese food," says the Hokie, lifting the bird's fuzzy orange pants.

The bird's gut pokes out, thanks to taped-together hula hoops inside the costume's chest. The wobbly thing on his beak wobbles. Its feet are plastic and orange and almost too big for climbing steps -- the kind that might make Big Bird envious.

Two seniors who play the Hokie Bird will wear the feet on graduation day, revealing their faces and ending a job that began three years ago with 43 students and tryouts spanning three weeks.

On the field, the Hokie Bird steals kisses from cheerleaders, pressing his beak to their lips. He picks one up, carrying her across the end zone like he's a groom with a bride and a threshold.

He flirts with the crowd, high-fiving and posing for camera phones with anyone within wing's reach.

"Hoo-kee Bird," fans shout from the bleachers.

There are hazards -- his tail feathers catch in an open fence. A TV camera cord gets wound around his foot.

But there are perks.

"Ooo! Hokie Bird! Yea!" a pretty girl squeals as the mascot perches himself on her lap.

In the stands, the bird jumps to the opening chords of Metallica. A college-aged fan leaves his seat and bounces with him.

On the sidelines, the Hokie Bird's voice is muffled as he confides about losing his Hokie head. He talks to a young man, the one who will wear the costume for the game's second half.

"I can't hear you," the young man says, noticing a TV crew. "You've got a camera on you."

The conversation ends, mascot dancing for the camera begins and as soon as the crew is gone, the Hokie Bird resumes talking to Hokie Bird No. 2, who begins to laugh.

The second-half Hokie Bird tells all the cheerleaders the mascot's head toppled off.

"Hanging out with the Hokie Bird is like running around with a chicken with its head cut off," he jokes to people on the sidelines.

At halftime, under the bleachers, the first Hokie Bird's job is done. He kicks the bird feet off first. Then the Santa-style fur jacket fastened with zipper and Velcro, leaving only shorts, socks and a sweaty T-shirt.

He sits in an armchair with the upside-down bird head in his lap. The beak pokes his stomach as he digs inside, double-checking the faulty chin strap.

"You're all sweaty," his second half replacement groans, knowing he has to pull on the same costume.

"We're going to make the bird smell good," the second-half mascot says, reaching into his duffle bag and dousing the costume with musky Axe body spray.

He tosses the just-finished mascot a boxed dinner, who reaches in and bites into a cookie.

"Hey, bird," a man standing nearby calls to the mascot, offering him an uneaten sandwich.

The halftime clock ticks, the band plays and the cheerleaders rest against the wall.

"Oh, I really don't want to do this," the second half Hokie Bird says.

Off go his warm-up pants, hooded sweatshirt and hat. He shivers bare-chested in the cold as unseen feet clomp up and down the bleachers overhead.

"Oh, this is so cold," he stutters.

On go orange suspenders. On go the Hokie feet with yellow, molded claws. On goes the teddy-bear-textured maroon jumpsuit. On go the feathered gloves.

"Warmth," he shouts as the first-half Hokie zips him.

Finally, on goes the head. The first-half bird pats the mascot, sending him into the field. His tail feathers bob up and down as he marches. His hula-hoop gut pokes with pride.

The flag corps runs with banners spelling H-O-K-I-E-S. Cheerleaders flip across the field. A touchdown raises the score to 20-3 in favor of Tech, on the way to a 30-3 victory, and fireworks explode over the scoreboard. The Hokie runs across the zone spreading both feathered arms like he's an eagle.

It is five months until graduation, the day when those big bird feet will poke from a graduation robe. For now, the Hokie Bird sweats in his costume on a cold night, standing with those big feet crossed as he leans against the goalpost.

1st C2C house nears construction

By Matt Chittum
The Roanoke Times

ROANOKE, Va. - Building an environmentally friendly house has been an experiment in frustration.

C2C Home, Roanoke's effort to show that environmentally friendly building is practical and cost-effective, is poised to begin building one its green designs.

Blue Ridge Housing Development Corp. has acquired a lot in Northwest Roanoke, the construction documents are drawn up, and an application for a building permit is probably days away.

This tangible progress comes six months after the hoopla of May's ceremonial groundbreaking for the effort to build eight of the designs entered in the C2C home design contest, which was hosted by the Roanoke architectural firm of Smith-Lewis.

It also follows six months of frustration as the idealism of the C2C vision has slammed up against the real world: a hoped-for building material lacking a patent, a firm that created one of the designs disbanding, some designs proving too impractical to be built here, few of the designers having the skills to produce precise construction plans.

"Trailblazing is messy, but that's OK," said architect Gregg Lewis, who organized the contest and has carried it forward into an attempt to actually build some of the best designs.

This is an experiment after all, Lewis reminds, and for all the lessons success will teach, the more potent ones may come from failures.

Lewis and his firm orchestrated the contest to promote green building concepts championed by internationally known architect William McDonough in a book he co-authored, "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things." The idea is to move toward building materials and methods that will do less harm to the environment, such as solar energy and synthetic and recycled materials.

The C2C principles have been used in furniture and in elements of houses, but no one has ever built a full-on C2C house, let alone eight.

"There are enough variables in the mix that it's going to keep this ultimately from going as fast and straightforward as some of us would have hoped," Lewis said. Most especially Lewis, who has become Roanoke's most visible advocate of green building.

"I've shot myself in the foot so many times now that it's starting to get a little sore," he said.

The learning curve has been steep.

To get a house from a design on paper to actual walls and a roof, you've got to have construction documents -- the precise plans that give the builder measurements, materials specifications and so on. No one accounted for the fact that most of the designers are students who lack the expertise to develop those documents.

One of the homes slated for construction was to be made of "rammed earth," a process of building walls by compressing a mixture of earth and concrete. Only it turns out that wouldn't be entirely practical in this climate, Lewis said.

Another design slated to be built on Day Avenue in Old Southwest was discovered to have a two-story glass front wall -- an aspect that was neither clear in the designs sent in, nor practical in a neighborhood.

To complicate matters, the firm that produced the design has since disbanded.

The bright spot of the last six months has been the Blue Ridge Housing Development Corp. project.

Blue Ridge has taken possession of a lot in the 400 block of Harrison Avenue from the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority, where it will construct a design called the "Nutrihouse." The house, designed by Jon and Kandy Brouchoud of Wisconsin, is intended to keep those living in it connected with the natural world. It features, among other things, an integrated birdhouse.

Lewis' wife, Jennifer Smith, drew up the construction documents in connection with the manufacturer of one of the primary building materials, structurally insulated panels.

But even those panels are not what C2C advocates would hope for. The wood skin that surrounds insulation material contains the same formaldehyde common in many wooden building materials. It's exactly the kind of chemical the C2C approach hopes to eliminate.

Lewis said that when he first proposed the C2C Home contest to McDonough, the University of Virginia architecture professor warned him that he wouldn't be able to build front-door-to-rooftop C2C houses.

Lewis says he knew that, but since May he's been learning the realities of why that's so.

"Every time we hit an obstacle, we've got to figure out a right way to proceed," he said. When a material isn't available, for example, they have to find an alternative, and too often it comes down to choosing from options that are both compromises and hoping for the one that is "less bad."

He comes back to the fact that the whole process is an experiment intended to start a conversation about the importance of environmentally friendly building. That means not only how and why it can be done, but also how and why it sometimes can't be.

"We want to talk about where the shortcomings are," he said. The effort is a bust if people fail to realize all that's left to do to make green building practical.

"This is all about failure," he said.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Mall Stores See Trouble in Sales Data


As the nation's retail executives began poring over, and in some cases despairing over, sales receipts from the holiday weekend, one pattern became clearer: consumers mobbed discount chains, with their $398 laptops and 5 a.m. openings, but largely shopped right past other specialty retailers at the mall.

The disparity, analysts said, could indicate a tough season ahead for clothing retailers like Gap and Aéropostale and even deeper discounts for shoppers as the chains scramble to build momentum in the crucial approach to Christmas.

ShopperTrak, which measures purchases at 45,000 mall-based merchants, found that sales for the day after Thanksgiving fell 0.9 percent from last year, to $8.01 billion, a figure not adjusted for inflation.

"The specialty guys just got outgunned this time around," said John D. Morris, a retail analyst at Harris Nesbitt.

The winners, he said, were the discount chains with locations outside the malls, apparently the beneficiaries of an 11.4 percent increase in weekend spending among Visa USA cardholders. Wal-Mart reported that a record 10 million shoppers walked through its doors before noon Friday. In a recorded phone call over the weekend, the company said Friday sales "exceeded plans" and that consumers continued to shop after the early discounts expired.

One possible explanation for the in-the-mall, outside-the-mall discrepancy: discount chains, led by Wal-Mart, blitzed consumers with advertising well before Thanksgiving, opened their stores even earlier than last year and offered the most talked-about discounts, like a $188 15-inch flat-panel television at Circuit City and a $77 H.P. four-megapixel digital camera at Staples.

The mall-based merchants, on the other hand, largely avoided circulars or television advertising. Gap, in a surprising break with tradition, stopped marketing its marquee brand on TV after years of aggressive campaigns with stars like Sarah Jessica Parker, Missy Elliott and Joss Stone. (Gap, saying store traffic "deteriorated beyond anticipated levels," is predicting a relatively weak holiday.)

It appeared that the Web snatched at least some of the traditional mall business. ComScore Networks, a market research firm, said online purchases rose 22 percent for the day after Thanksgiving, to $305 million.

Later mall openings may have also hampered specialty retailers. "If you look at the retailers that went all out on Friday, many of them opened at 5 a.m. You did not see a lot of malls doing that," said Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group in Washington

Karen MacDonald, a spokeswoman for Taubman Centers, said most of the company's 23 shopping centers did not open until 8 a.m., three hours after bargain hunters sprinted into Best Buy, Circuit City and Wal-Mart.

Discounting at mall-based stores nevertheless may have lowered their overall sales for Friday, said Bill Martin, one of ShopperTrak's founders.

For the day after Thanksgiving, the Gap ran a "buy one, get the second half off" promotion; American Eagle Outfitters offered 15 percent off before noon; and by Saturday Aéropostale marked down much of its inventory 50 percent.

At the Aéropostale in Manhattan Mall on Saturday, where striped hooded sweaters and distressed denim appeared thoroughly picked over, Damaris Torres, 23, bought a pair of jeans, regularly $50, for $10. "It's like basically free," she said.

The 50 percent off sale "is really, really good" agreed Yomhyra Martinez, a 15-year-old from Boston, who stood in line at Aéropostale to buy two hooded sweaters because "most of my friends own hoodies."

Despite a slower-than-expected start at the mall, the National Retail Federation stood by its forecast for the holiday season yesterday. It expects sales to rise 6 percent over 2004, which would make this year's performance good, but by no means great. Since 1999, when sales grew more than 8 percent, merchants have learned to live with more modest gains.

In a survey of more than 4,000 consumers over the weekend, the federation found that 61 percent made purchases at discount retailers, 47 percent at department stores and 41 percent at specialty stores. Over all, it estimated that the weekend's spending would rise 22 percent, to $27.8 billion.

A handful of department stores proved a bright spot at the mall. J. C. Penney, whose sustained turnaround has surprised analysts who long ago predicted the death of the midtier department store, said Black Friday broke a record for customer traffic and sales. "The day clearly exceeded our expectations," Ken Hicks, the chain's president, said in an interview.

But customers showed little interest in paying full price. Inside Macy's flagship store in Manhattan, a whirl of gold ornaments and red carpets, customers waved 20-percent-off coupons at the checkout counters. Marilyn Rivera, a 37-year-old single mother, bought two pairs of cowboys boots: designed by Jessica Simpson, for herself; the other by Nine West, for her daughter, both 50 percent off.

"The deals seem to be better than other years," said Ms. Rivera of the Bronx.

It was unclear how much of the increase in spending by Visa users was simply a result of more shoppers with new debit and credit cards. The company said purchases of computers and electronics, a category ShopperTrak largely overlooks because the biggest sellers have moved out of the malls, rose 20.6 percent.

Spending on home furnishings, meanwhile, jumped 14.1 percent. "You don't make those kinds of purchases if you are not feeling somewhat comfortable with your financial position," said Paul Cohen, a vice president at Visa.

On Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, that comfort was apparent. Kathleen McLean, a 41-year-old lawyer from South Dartmouth, Mass., split four bags from American Girl Place with her husband. Neatly packed inside were two pairs of pajamas, one for her niece, the other for her niece's American Girl doll.

"I kind of went overboard," Ms. McLean said.

putting me into day care

Could someone explain to me why in the hell I should feel guilty?

My mom came in here a few minutes ago and gave me a dressing down about not spending any time with Allen this Thanksgiving. She was trying to make me feel guilty for not subjecting myself to the boorish, self-centered garbage I had to deal with all the time before, and that cut of after our big fall-out a while back.

The fact of the matter is that I've been studying for my tax exam, resting, and just finished writing an article for the paper, but what would facts have to do with anything in my life? All she sees is "you're ignoroing Allen!"

I know she means well, but he doesn’t. I have forgiven Allen dozens of times for being a jackass and when he thinks he’s got me comfortable, he starts bossing me around and using up all of my shit. You can’t argue or plead enough for him to stop being a jerk. He just bounces back to what he is and there’s no way to get around it, so I ignore him, and that pisses off Mom.

She’s now resorted to “the hate will eat you alive” tactic, which is full of shit. I don’t hate my brother. I don’t care to be around him though. All the time he uses me as his punching bag. He’s like an intelligent version of that guy Lenny in “of Mice and Men.” He loves me (supposedly) so much that he’s squeezing the life out of me at the same time. His Lenny is turning me into George in her view, and though I’m a fan of that book, I think her analogies are a little off.

I don’t need another parental figure or an abusive idiot telling me what to do. I feel trapped when I’m around him, mainly because my parents always try to find a way to take up for him. It’s sad to say, but even at my age, people still want to turn me into a 4 year old. All the fucking time somebody wants to guide my hand as if I don’t have enough sense to think for myself.

The only way I’m going to break out of this is to get away from here, and the only way to break out of here is to get a job making enough money that I can leave without having to move back. But I can’t seem to get a better job or a raise, so I’m stuck.

It’s like the whole world is closing in sometimes. My dad is slowly losing his sight, my mom’s family is fighting over inheritances, my dad’s family is fighting over nothing, my church is in a big power struggle, and all my friends except for Kevin are either far away or busy all the time. I’m alone. Very alone. That makes me sad.

I sometimes wonder how I’d deal with all this is if I didn’t have this blog and an extended network of friends to spew to from time to time. You guys help me out immeasurably, but I still feel sad. Maybe God will answer more of my prayers and work it out for me, but until then, I’m very stuck and kind of sad.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

a trip to Boscov's

I saw something last night that I haven’t seen in ages: an honest to goodness full-line department store. Boscov’s made their Virginia debut at Piedmont Mall in Danville earlier this month and I had a chance to visit last night.

For those who aren’t familiar with Reading, Pa.-based Boscov’s, it’s a cross between Macy’s and Sears with a little Wal-Mart thrown in. They claim to be the largest family owned department store chain in America.

They’re located primarily in the Northeast, but are expanding out from their base into new markets. It's not a high fashion store, but it's chock full of practically everything else. The prices are reasonable for what they carry, and the service is very good.

Boscov’s stores are typically very large (The Danville store is 173,000 square feet) and they carry a truly astounding variety of merchandise. From Estēe Lauder to Lego to Waterford crystal to fresh-made fudge to a multi-purpose room (!), this store covers a lot of territory. And it was packed with customers.

The Danville store replaced a shuttered Hills/Ames location, and has made a huge difference in the mall already. Boscov’s appeals to much of the same demographic to Hills and Ames did, but offers a higher-quality presentation with better brands and substantially better aesthetics.

Because Boscov’s is considered a classier co-anchor, the other department stores in the mall (Belk, Sears and JCPenney) have upgraded their presentations to compete and a number of new retailers have taken some of the prime empty spaces in the mall, including Pac Sun, Hot Topic and Aéropostale.

The only thing I was somewhat disappointed about was that Boscov’s had modernized their presentation to the point that they famously tacky interiors I’ve heard about on older stores was nowhere t be seen. It’s actually a good thing, but it would have made for more interesting pictures. LOL

Country Comedy Is an Evolving Tradition

The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- There's a recurring plot on "The Andy Griffith Show" in which outsiders from the big city _ sometimes the state police aiming to set the locals straight, sometimes crooks stalking an easy mark _ pay a visit to tiny Mayberry.

With a single bullet tucked in his shirt pocket, Deputy Barney Fife invariably finds a way to bumble things and confirms the outsiders' bias about small-town yokels.

But by the end of the episode, Sheriff Andy Taylor has outfoxed everyone, and good old-fashioned country wisdom has once again trumped big-city sophistication.

It's a classic story line of country comedy, one of the most recognizable exports of the South, a region that arguably is lampooned _ and lampoons itself like no other. From Minnie Pearl's "How-Dee!" to Gomer Pyle's "Gaaawlee!" to Larry the Cable Guy's "Git 'r' Done," the simple humor of the backwoods is an art form that has endured through changing times and even transcended its Southern roots.

"We understand that other people laugh at us," said comedian Jeff Foxworthy, "but I think it's also understood amongst us that even though we talk like this we're not nearly as stupid as other people think we are."

Foxworthy, host of "Blue Collar TV," is best known for his "You might be a redneck ..." routine, which chides and celebrates redneckism all at once. "If you've ever taken a beer to a job interview, you might be a redneck." Or, "If you use a fishing license as a form of ID ..."

The tradition that Foxworthy calls a "glorious absence of sophistication" goes back to vaudeville and the traveling minstrel and medicine shows of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Blending music with cornpone wisecracks, early country comedians found a wide audience on radio shows such as the National Barn Dance in Chicago and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Uncle Dave Macon, Grandpa Jones, Archie Campbell and, most notably, Minnie Pearl, were Opry regulars.

Minnie Pearl, a college-educated actress from Centerville, Tenn., whose real name was Sarah Cannon, wore knee-length country dresses and a straw hat with the dangling $1.98 price tag. Teaming with veteran comic Rod Brasfield, she greeted post- World War II audiences with a big "How-DEE!" and wide-eyed banter about her mythical hometown of Grinder's Switch.

"They were the cream of the crop," said Opry museum curator Brenda Colladay. "They did what Minnie referred to as double comedy. There was no straight man. They'd work off of each other. She'd come walking in and he'd say, 'Well, if it ain't Marilyn Monroe _ and it ain't.'"

But beneath the stereotypical surface, early country comedy may have played a role in maintaining the delicate social fabric of the South. University of Georgia history professor James C. Cobb said the redneck comedian created the illusion of white equality across classes.

"It was designed to keep whites unified, to prevent a rift in white society because a rift is going to weaken them in the face of an onslaught by Northerners or an effort by blacks to gain equality," Cobb said.

In the 1960s, with the Federal Communications Commission scrutinizing TV for increasingly violent content, programmers turned to country comedies, including "The Andy Griffith Show," whose fictional Mayberry was modeled after Griffith's hometown of Mount Airy, N.C., "Petticoat Junction," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C," "Green Acres" and the long-running variety program "Hee Haw."

The humor was often self-deprecating but, like Sheriff Andy Taylor, the rural characters often duped the city slicker, who usually sounded as though he'd wandered down from Cleveland.

"Our kind of comedy was, in an indirect way, a putdown, but we were putting down ourselves and laughing at ourselves," said Sam Lovullo, producer of "Hee Haw."

Critics derided "Hee Haw" as a hillbilly knockoff of "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," but it aired almost continuously from 1969 to 1997. The comic skits were interspersed with performances by country music stars such as Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Garth Brooks and Willie Nelson. The most memorable prop was a cornfield where guests and regulars popped up from the stalks and told jokes like this one:

Grandpa Jones to Junior Samples: "I saw you riding on a mule and your wife was walking behind you. Why was that?"

Samples: "My wife ain't GOT no mule."

Lovullo said the jokes worked because they were natural, often derived from personal experience or from funny stories the performers heard growing up.

George Lindsey, an actor from Jasper, Ala., who played Goober on "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Hee Haw," said Southerners have historically relied on a sense of humor to help them deal with the region's poverty.

"You have to have something to laugh at when you don't have anything," Lindsey said.

While most country comedians were Southerners, their humor wasn't always specific to the South. "Country" eventually became synonymous with "working class."

Foxworthy's "Blue Collar TV" on the WB network is an example. With characters like "Larry the Cable Guy" and skits about family life, marriage and bad jobs, the show celebrates the everyman _ whether he lives in Alabama or Nebraska. In fact, "Larry the Cable Guy," whose real name is Dan Whitney, was born and raised on a pig farm in Pawnee City, Neb., before coming to Georgia and Florida to create the character.

Foxworthy says the humor is universal, no matter the accent of the comic.

"If Jerry Seinfeld comes to a punch line in Atlanta, people are going to laugh because Jerry is funny. And if 'Larry the Cable Guy' is performing in Detroit, people are going to laugh because it's funny."

If Foxworthy sounds a bit touchy, it's because he is. He grew up in Georgia and says that while he's proud of his heritage, he thinks the Southern comic label is inaccurate and confining.

"Garrison Keillor is never labeled an Upper Midwest comic. Seinfeld is never labeled a Northern comic," he said. "In everything I've ever done, I've prefaced it that people think it's about the South, but it applies everywhere in the country. The redneck thing, for the most part, applies everywhere."

Indeed, Foxworthy's "Blue Collar TV" redneck seems a milder species than Minnie Pearl's, more at home in modern suburban sprawl than in the bygone barnyards and hay bales of "Green Acres" or "Hee Haw."

"It wouldn't work today," "Hee Haw" producer Lovullo said wistfully of his old show. "Somewhere along the line we've lost what 'Hee Haw' was about."

On 'Isaac,' Food Tips and Stars, but Fashion Is King


IT'S not often that Isaac Mizrahi, the quick-witted fashion designer turned television personality, is left speechless, but so he was one recent afternoon on the set of his new show, "Isaac."

Curled on an electric-orange lounge chair, Mr. Mizrahi was interviewing the actress Sela Ward and playing an innocuous game of fill-in-the-blank with her. "Southern woman never do blank," he asked Ms. Ward, a Mississippian. Demurely but without hesitation, she replied, "Southern women never grunt while having sex." Her curveball of a response "made me sweat a little bit," Mr. Mizrahi said after the taping. "I was not expecting that at all. I thought this girl is all prim and proper on the outside, but she's a wild woman on the inside."

Since he shuttered his faltering ready-to-wear business nearly seven years ago, Mr. Mizrahi has tried everything from theater to mass market design. His wallet-friendly line at Target aims to bring style to the masses with $24.99 tule skirts and $14.99 striped shower curtains. For a Birkin-bag-clutching clientele, he designs couture pieces for Bergdorf Goodman. Now he is heavily focused on television, readying "Isaac," his daily hourlong talk show, for a Dec. 5 premiere on the Style cable channel.

The other afternoon he raced about his West 30's loft space in Manhattan taping several segments before a small, giddy studio audience and a resident band, the Ben Waltzer quartet. He learned how to make ice cream, he interviewed Ms. Ward and the actress Jaime Pressly, and he oversaw a makeover. But fashion is king. During the "Sketch and Answer" portion of the show he fielded questions and offered advice, illustrating his suggestions on a sketch pad.

"Can I wear leg warmers over boots?" one woman asked.

Another inquired, "How do I wear flats without making my legs look stubby?"

"No" was the answer on the leg warmers and boots, and as for the flats, "yes" when paired with a mini-skirt or an ankle-grazing skirt.

"You've got to create a long continuous line," he explained.

The loft space doubles as his design studio. During the taping two women could be seen in the background diligently sewing. But he has no plans to put up partitions. Rather, in this day and age, he sees the two enterprises - design and television - working as one. "Synergistically - I hate that word; it's so 90's - but each of these projects feeds one another," Mr. Mizrahi said in an interview. "I don't know how the clothes can exist without the show, and I don't know how the show can exist without the clothes."

And soon the Style channel may wonder how it can exist without Mr. Mizrahi. "Isaac" will be on three times a day, five days a week. "He's going to be the face of the network," said Ted Harbert, president and chief executive of both the Style and the E! networks. "We're putting it on his shoulders, because he can take the weight. He's magic with people. People either want to hug him or laugh with him."

Mr. Mizrahi's on-camera style is more gabby best friend than serious interviewer, more Hanna-Barbera than Barbara Walters. His interview questions for Ms. Ward ranged from the soft ("Did you grow up knowing you were gorgeous?") to the silly ("Tell me about your husband, is he cute?").

Occasionally he offered up a zinger: "You're so pretty, have you had any work done?" (No, she answered.) But for the most part he minded his manners, rarely probing for anything that would give a celebrity's handler an anxiety attack.

Spontaneity is the key, Mr. Mizrahi said afterward. "One of the things that I'm very hellbent on doing is not pre-interviewing the hell out of subjects," he said. "On a lot of shows you can feel that the guest is being set up to tell the cute story. I'm like, 'Let's not and say we did.' "

An astrology buff, Mr. Mizrahi often asks his guests about their zodiac signs. (He's a Libra with a Virgo ascendant.) Ms. Ward said she was a Cancer. This was telling to Mr. Mizrahi. "It meant that I would have to sit up and get closer, because I can't hear Cancers," he said. "They tend to speak very lowly, and usually they need a little coaxing."

His large hands flitter about like wayward kites when he speaks, and like any designer worth his weight in fabric, he is given to grand pronouncements that are often underlined and italicized. Subtlety has never been his thing. When the fashion world was besotted with grunge and heroin chic in the 90's, Mr. Mizrahi offered bold colors: sky-blue faux furs, bright yellow pea coats, pink dresses shimmering like rock candy.

Raised in the heart of Brooklyn, the son of a children's clothing manufacturer and a stay-at-home mother, Mr. Mizrahi watched an inordinate amount of television growing up. To this day, he said, he is unable to fall asleep without the TV on. The Food Network is his favorite, he revealed, before offering a 10-minute testimonial to the genius of the chef Emeril Lagasse. He was not being ironic.

As a child, Mr. Mizrahi said, he dreamed of being a raconteur: the über-dinner guest sprinkling bon mots over red wine and beef Bolognese. "My biggest goal and biggest ambition in life was to be a great conversationalist," he said. "I care about clothes and design, but more than anything I care about being this unscripted personality."

Mr. Mizrahi attended the High School of Performing Arts and flirted with the idea of acting before deciding on fashion design. After apprenticing under Calvin Klein, he branched out on his own in 1987 and quickly became the manic darling of the fashion industry. His shows became must-attend events, featuring Naomi, Linda, Kate and other supermodels with no need for surnames. In 1995 the documentary "Unzipped" introduced Mr. Mizrahi, fabulous warts and all, to a mainstream audience. By his early 30's he'd won three Council of Fashion Designers of America awards, the industry's equivalent of the Oscar.

But he would ultimately prove better at selling himself than his clothes. While he made cameos in films like "Men in Black" and on television series like "Spin City," opined about the style influence of Katharine Hepburn on "Nightline" and walked away with the top prize on "Celebrity Jeopardy," his frocks were often relegated to the sales racks. His main financial backer, Chanel, pulled the plug in 1998. A photo of Mr. Mizrahi bounding down a runway ran on the front page of The New York Times under the headline: "Mizrahi, Designer Most Likely to Succeed, Doesn't."

Running a company became a "drag," he admitted, but he said that the perception that he failed in business was false. "I was given the opportunity to not have the rug pulled; they were like, 'If you only lose X amount of money a year, you can stay in business indefinitely,' " he said. He did not want to be a successful loser, he said. "I made the decision at the time to stop and do something else."

A one-man show, "LES MIZrahi," soon opened off Broadway, to good notices. Then came a weekly half-hour kaffeeklatsch on the Oxygen channel; it ran for three years.

"The shows were very gratifying, and I loved them, but I thought that at some point I'd better state my real intention to the world, which was to do this hourlong show," he said. "If you're Diana Ross in 1970, or whenever it was she split from the Supremes, she had to say at some point: 'O.K., I am no longer the Supremes; I am Diana Ross. This is who I am.' "

Marisa Gardini, Mr. Mizrahi's business partner, said that he had always dreamt of a talk show. "We have been working toward this point for years," she said.

The three psychics with whom he regularly consults believe his new series will be a success, Mr. Mizrahi said. "Really good to amazingly good" was how he described their responses. A few weeks ago he was "screaming and freaking out every minute," he said, terrified that he had made a colossal mistake, that everything from the space to the concept was all wrong. With each passing day he grows more comfortable in his orange lounge chair, he said, more sure of what he's doing.

"I don't know if it's going to work," Mr. Mizrahi said. "It might flop, but I can't imagine that it will because the intention is very pure. It's so who I am."

Get your fashion fix on N.Y.C.'s Elizabeth Street

Get your fashion fix on N.Y.C.'s Elizabeth Street

Rick Nelson, Star Tribune

My credit card was burning a hole in my pocket.

As well it should have been. I was in New York City, the nation's style capital, and in the gleeful position of facing nearly limitless browsing possibilities. I quickly ran through a few options in my mind. Should I pretend I'm in a much higher tax bracket and stroll Madison Avenue's spendy boutiques? Or convince myself that I'm a good decade younger and whirl through the East Village?

I was so antsy to start testing my MasterCard's outer limits that I'd totally blanked on two words of advice given to me back home: Elizabeth Street.

I pulled out my subway map, and 10 minutes later I was boldly going where I had rarely been before, to NoLIta (shorthand for North of Little Italy). Sure, I'd visited the area a few times, years ago, once to buy cheese at DiPalo's, another because I got lost on my way to Chinatown.

This was not the NoLIta I dimly remembered, a ghastly tourist trap with a fake Italian ambiance, like Epcot in NYC.

My friend and I walked a few blocks until we stumbled, Brigadoon-like, upon a single, highly shoppable block on narrow Elizabeth Street (named, I later learned, for a distant relative of Peter Stuyvesant, governor of the Dutch colony that became New York). It took a moment to realize what was so unusual about the micro-neighborhood, but then it dawned on me: Beyond the lack of New York's ubiquitous sidewalk vendors, there was a refreshing absence of familiar chain stores. The street's skinny tenements, once packed with Italian immigrants, may not be suitable for national retailers' formulaic real estate requirements, but it turns out that their storefronts are ideal incubators for the block's nearly two dozen fashion and home furnishings entrepreneurs.

The eclectic, you-gotta-see-this merchandise mix -- up-to-the-minute men's and women's wear, kid's clothing, tabletop items, gifts, jewelry, even a store with nothing but Day-Glo colored pillows -- occurs in one of the bizarre vagaries of Gotham real estate: The primo shopping abruptly stops south of Prince Street and north of Houston Street. It's the embodiment of the New York shrug that says "Don't ask me."

Based upon a number of shamelessly eavesdropped conversations, I discerned that the area was a native habitat for trend-obsessed Manhattanites, but few tourists.

Could it be that Elizabeth Street is so new that it's not yet a blip on the guidebook radar? Maybe. One thing's for sure: The upscale prices no doubt reflect high rents. Elizabeth Street may not be 5th Avenue, but it's still in Manhattan, which explains the dent in my plastic.

By the time I returned to Elizabeth Street eight months later, three of my favorite boutiques had closed and new ones appeared to be replacing them. No problem. The street still had its one-of-a-kind vibe. Besides, I'm confident that a previously unnoticed neighborhood will follow Elizabeth Street's example and become the next in-the-know destination, just another snack feeding New York's voracious appetite for the latest and greatest -- which is why it's hard to shop anywhere else.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


Thanksgiving was petty much drama free. We only had a handful of people over to the club and way too much food, and nobody really got mad at anybody else. The tables were impeccable (thanks to me) and the food was delicious (thanks to mom).

Today's been recovery day. Nothing special at all happened. I did help another friend having a vaguely suicidal temper tantrum by being a shoulder to cry on, but it’s been uneventful otherwise.

Allen's still here, about a day and counting longer than advertised. He was supposed to go have gone to a football game by now, but I don't know whether it was tomorrow or today (and he blew it off). He didn't even tell me that much; mom told me. He never said either way.

He's supposed to be gone soon, but who knows? He does have to fly to San Francisco next week; so maybe he'll get out of here by tomorrow night or Sunday night.

Shoppers flock to Carolina Place mall

Charlotte Business Journal

Carolina Place mall, which opened its doors at 1 a.m. Friday in an unprecedented move to draw more holiday traffic, says shoppers have been flocking to the south Charlotte, N.C. mall.

"It ended up being well-beyond expectations," Carolina Place General Manager Michael Payton says.

Between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., Payton says, personnel had counted more than 15,000 cars in the mall's parking lot, making it 85% to 90% at capacity.

Payton estimates Carolina Place's early-morning opening, a program that was rolled out at other malls owned by General Growth Properties Inc., attracted some 30,000 shoppers.

That's well beyond the 5,000 to 7,000 people mall spokeswoman Jackie Tyson had previously predicted would hit the early morning sale, dubbed Rockin' Shoppin' Eve.

"On Black Friday, we'll typically have 20,000 to 25,000 cars throughout the day," Payton says. "We're expecting between 50,000 and 60,000 people (Friday)."

Payton attributes the steep increase in traffic to the normal holiday season as well as aggressive pricing by the mall's retailers.

"Rockin' Shoppin' Eve was a smoking success," Payton says. "If there's good value for the consumer, the consumer will take advantage of it."

Pat Morita passes away

Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES - Actor Pat Morita, whose portrayal of the wise and dry-witted Mr. Miyagi in "The Karate Kid" earned him an Oscar nomination, has died. He was 73.

Morita died Thursday at his home in Las Vegas of natural causes, said his wife of 12 years, Evelyn. She said in a statement that her husband, who first rose to fame with a role on "Happy Days," had "dedicated his entire life to acting and comedy."

In 1984, he appeared in the role that would define his career and spawn countless affectionate imitations. As Kesuke Miyagi, the mentor to
Ralph Macchio's "Daniel-san," he taught karate while trying to catch flies with chopsticks and offering such advice as "wax on, wax off" to guide Daniel through chores to improve his skills.

Morita said in a 1986 interview with The Associated Press he was billed as Noriyuki "Pat" Morita in the film because producer Jerry Weintraub wanted him to sound more ethnic. He said he used the billing because it was "the only name my parents gave me."

He lost the 1984 best supporting actor award to Haing S. Ngor, who appeared in "The Killing Fields."

For years, Morita played small and sometimes demeaning roles in such films as "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and TV series such as "The Odd Couple" and "Green Acres." His first breakthrough came with "Happy Days," and he followed with his own brief series, "Mr. T and Tina."

"The Karate Kid," led to three sequels, the last of which, 1994's "The Next Karate Kid," paired him with a young
Hilary Swank.

Morita was prolific outside of the "Karate Kid" series as well, appearing in "Honeymoon in Vegas," "Spy Hard," "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" and "The Center of the World." He also provided the voice for a character in the Disney movie "Mulan" in 1998.

Born in northern California on June 28, 1932, the son of migrant fruit pickers, Morita spent most of his early years in the hospital with spinal tuberculosis. He later recovered only to be sent to a Japanese-American internment camp in Arizona during World War II.

"One day I was an invalid," he recalled in a 1989 AP interview. "The next day I was public enemy No. 1 being escorted to an internment camp by an
FBI agent wearing a piece."

After the war, Morita's family tried to repair their finances by operating a Sacramento restaurant. It was there that Morita first tried his comedy on patrons.

Because prospects for a Japanese-American standup comic seemed poor, Morita found steady work in computers at Aerojet General. But at age 30 he entered show business full time.

"Only in America could you get away with the kind of comedy I did," he commented. "If I tried it in Japan before the war, it would have been considered blasphemy, and I would have ended in leg irons. "

Morita was to be buried at Palm Green Valley Mortuary and Cemetery.

He is survived by his wife and three daughters from a previous marriage.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Is This the Most Trusted Man in Fashion?


YOU probably didn't notice, what with all the excitement about the return of "Project Runway," the release of a survey by a marketing company last week noting that Donald J. Trump had beat out Giorgio Armani and Donna Karan as one of the most trusted fashion names in America. That's right: Donald Trump, the real estate mogul, television star, hair aesthete and confessed "germ freak." Even the editors of Women's Wear Daily seemed to be in a state of disbelief, since their report of the news was buried on the inside.

It couldn't be true. Mr. Armani has worked his fingers to the bone to be a world-renowned designer; spent a fortune advancing the idea too. And what about Valentino, Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney and those boys - what are their names? - Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana? They don't even make the list. Shut out of America. Ignored. Trumped. It's true.

The Donald J. Trump collection of suits, ties and dress shirts has been available for the last year at Macy's and other Federated department stores, a couple of hundred outlets in all. Terry J. Lundgren, the chief executive of Federated, has characterized the Trump apparel business as "an unbelievable runaway success." Mr. Trump doesn't design the clothes, he doesn't make them, and he doesn't spend a dime to promote them. And unlike most designers, he doesn't expend any effort trying to convince the American public that a billionaire, the keeper of Mar-a-Lago, the defender of capitalist culture, would dump his $5,000 Brioni suits in favor of his own $495 make. He wears his suits, which are produced for a royalty by a firm called Marcraft, but he also wears the other.

"I like Brioni; they treat me fantastically," Mr. Trump said last Friday from Florida, where he was watching a women's golf tournament at one of his clubs.

He may have been surprised himself to learn that he had done in a year of light lifting what has taken Ralph Lauren nearly 40 years to accomplish. That is, according to the survey, by Brand Keys, a marketing company in New York, his brand is seen as having the qualities that consumers most desire in clothes, namely comfort, style and fit. Brand Keys asked 500 adults, chosen from the nine census regions, to rate a total of 1,200 brands, ranging from banks and fast-food chains to apparel and consumer electronics.

Out of 50 fashion brands, however, only five ranked in the top category, called Human Brands, which simply meant that whether you hailed from a red state or a blue one, said "tomato" or "tumaytuh," you recognized values beyond the commoditized subsoil of price. The five were Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Isaac Mizrahi, Victoria's Secret and, of course, Donald Trump.

A number of designer labels fell into a next-best category, called 21st-Century Brands, which suggested that names like Prada, Armani and Versace also resonated with consumers but without the same degree of meaning as the Human types. The inclusion in a third, more lowly category, Label, of Anne Klein, Bill Blass and Calvin Klein points up the staying power of a name long after the company's founder has died or retired and its product has struggled to be relevant.

"Anne Klein you can find, if you look hard enough," said David Wolfe, the creative director of Doneger Group, which forecasts retail trends.

Robert Passikoff, the president of Brand Keys, said research indicated that Chanel got a boost from the celebrity of Nicole Kidman, whereas "Madonna negatively impacted Versace" after she appeared in its ads. Apparently respondents didn't buy the link between the febrile pop star and the brand, any more than they believed that Sarah Jessica Parker, fresh from "Sex and the City," shopped at the Gap.

Mr. Passikoff said that Victoria's Secret has managed to "humanize" its brand, and Mr. Mizrahi has benefited by his association with Target, though Mr. Trump wonders if it isn't really because Mr. Mizrahi appeared twice on "The Apprentice."

Although Mr. Trump represents a type of success that is clear and compelling to many Americans, Mr. Passikoff said "there were serendipitous events that surrounded him." His reality show and the clothing brand hit just at the moment when more young men were beginning to dress up for work; sales of suits increased 34 percent in 2004, halting an eight-year decline.

That only one designer, Mr. Lauren, made it into the top category on the strength of his own steam is interesting, though. It says to Mr. Passikoff, and perhaps everyone else, that designers are not the cultural symbols we suppose them to be.

"They rely on the old marketing model, which is, 'If you know my name, you'll go out and buy my products,' " he said. "Things have changed dramatically. Those rules were set back in the early ages of marketing, from 1955 to 1975. Designers haven't looked to see how the consumer has changed."

You can understand the consumer - and, in essence, modern marketing - by playing a simple word-association game, Mr. Passikoff suggests. "You ask someone what Mercedes means, they say, 'Luxury.' You say BMW, and they go, 'Engineering.' Toyota? 'Reliability.' You say Pontiac and they go, 'Uh.' " He paused. "The 'uh' is the sound of a dying brand."

Asked how designers might feel to learn that Trump and not Prada struck more meaning with consumers, Mr. Trump answered mildly: "I don't think they would be happy. It's not my first job."

He said that when he first discussed a suit line with Sheldon Brody, the chairman of Marcraft, he naïvely thought it would retail for $5,000. "Then it was explained to me by Terry Lundgren that .001 percent of the population spends that much for a suit." You can only imagine how often that reality has been spelled out to young designers.

Mr. Trump continued: "I think a lot of people like what I like. I don't want to have shirts with sagging collars. I know what people want, whether it's a building or a shirt."

Mr. Trump may not know, but he believes he does, with a childlike simplicity, which seems to help keep his message in front of consumers: If you wear my shirt, you will look successful. Designers, by contrast, seem happier talking in abstract terms like "quality" and "creativity."

Maybe they think this is the sort of thing that editors like to hear, but the terms usually produce the opposite effect in consumers. "Uh."

Of course it helps Mr. Trump that he is on television, but as he points out, any number of famous people, including Tommy Hilfiger and Martha Stewart, have done reality shows without connecting in a real way with consumers. One reason may be that Mr. Trump doesn't shrink before the comedy of his own act: the wives, the grandeur of the lifestyle, the hair.

"He's a camp icon and also a very American icon," said Simon Doonan, the creative director of Barneys New York.

Marcraft is preparing to offer made-to-measure Trump suits, for less than $1,400 with delivery in a week, when it moves into its new office in Trump Tower next year. In February, Macy's will add golf shirts and other casual separates to the Trump mix.

The prospect of designers gnashing their teeth as Mr. Trump collects one of their industry awards seems remote, for now. In the meantime more and more young designers are entering the business - Vogue mentioned a handful this month - without a clear idea of how they will fit in.

"They're topstitching their labels as the next group arrives," Mr. Doonan said.

Mr. Wolfe says that all brands will face the problem of increasing retail consolidation. The other day he was at Garden State Plaza, the mall in Paramus, N.J., meeting with 35 financial analysts. "All they wanted to see were the publicly traded stores - Ann Taylor, American Eagle," he said. "Trends are now being bottom-lined. If it doesn't make money for investors, then it's not a trend."

What's a 21st-century designer to do?

Mr. Wolfe laughed.

"Date Nicole Kidman, obviously."

Thursday, November 24, 2005

november 24th article - dry but comprehensive

I had to cover a lot of ground with this article, and it’s pretty boring, but it is mine.

mild rant

After being up until almost the afternoon, Mom wakes me up and wants to go to the club to set up for tonight. I pull myself together, but surprise, she's not ready to go. So now I have to hear at least a half-hour of "The Greater Adventures of Allen Swain:" he who has seen everything, done everything, no matter what you say has suffered and triumphed more than us mere mortals, according to him anyway.

I got up and came back up here. Nerves are bad this week anyway, and this isn't helping.

happy thanksgiving

Best Buy Launches Holiday Web Site

Best Buy has launched a new Web site,, to assist consumers with their holiday shopping. The site offers updates on hot gift categories, gift suggestions and more. It also provides information on the company’s holiday operations, from exchange policies to extended hours.

Ritorno al futuro parte II

This was a cool Italian movie poster find by Al Cabino, who recently reported that his grassroots sneaker petition to bring the iconic Nike Air McFly from "Back To the Future Part II" to production is getting close to 1500 signatures. I'd like to think this blog was responsible for at least a few of those :-)

The latest press on his efforts appears in this Boston Phoenix story

To view the petition online, click here

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

up down and in the middle

First things first; actually good: the interview went well at Block. The job is mine if I pass my test Monday. The happiness is intoxicating, but before I get too wasted, I have to study.

I also went to do some article research at the local swanky jewelry store and got to handle at least $2 million dollars worth of diamond jewelry, including a $480,000 pink diamond ring with white diamond accents in a platinum setting, and am seriously considering buying a Raymond Weil watch once my sanity completely leaves and I get more money.

Oh, and Starbucks makes a very sweet but tasty Peppermint Mocha coffee sampled today at the new Roanoke store.

Last thing last; pretty suprisng: my cell phone dropped in the driveway as I went to get the mail, unbeknownst to me, and miraculously didn’t get run over by Kevin or my uncle. God is good.

Department stores discover power of email

By ELLEN BYRON (The Wall Street Journal)

Thirty-one-year-old Lyss Stern hates spam, but she eagerly subscribes to email advertisements from more than 20 retailers.

"I'll be working hard all morning and just take a few seconds to look at one when it pops up. It's like a quick shopping trip," says Ms. Stern, who heads a New York event-planning company. "It's a guilty pleasure."

On any given day, Ms. Stern will glance at email from Saks Fifth Avenue, Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, Bergdorf Goodman, Williams Sonoma and Toys 'R' Us. She quickly deletes any that simply tout a big sale. "I only read the ones that tell me what's new, what's fabulous and what's the must-have item right now," she says.

She does get some that she can't resist: When Prada sent her an email announcing the arrival of a new style of black flats in stores this fall, she immediately called the Prada store near her and asked the manager to hold a pair of nine-and-a-half's. "When I saw the email, I knew I had to have them right away," Ms. Stern recalls.

Once limited to primitive, annoying all-text messages, email ads have emerged as one of fashion's most effective marketing tools. As high-speed Internet access becomes more widespread, retailers have been able to reach more consumers with sumptuous photography and sophisticated text messages. Stores can even market at the level of the individual shopper, sending customized pitches that target shoe lovers or handbag fans based on their previous buying behavior.

"What we're seeing is that retailers are getting smarter about how they use email, not just using it more often, but using it more effectively," says Bart Sichel, an associate principal with consulting firm McKinsey & Co. "There's no doubt that promotional offers work, but at the same time, especially for the higher-end players, they're learning how to create compelling messaging, too."

When email marketing first began in the 1990s, retailers sent basic messages that referred customers to Web sites featuring postage stamp-size photos of clothes that were too small to be seen, let alone be seductive. Retailers say technological limitations were one reason that Internet sales of fashion, which consumers want to touch and try on, lagged behind other categories.

Now, retailers are crediting email marketing with being the most immediate, versatile and one of the cheapest forms of advertising. When winter struck a large part of the country in November last year, J. Crew Group Inc. was able to quickly ship an email highlighting J. Crew's coat selection, a spokeswoman says. Online sales of coats went up that day.

Indeed, this holiday season Gap Inc.'s Gap division dropped its splashy, celebrity-filled TV ads in favor of more trackable online promotions and a beefed-up magazine campaign. Gap spent more than $26 million on TV advertising in November and December last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence. It tested the holiday ads during the season and found they didn't generate a critical increase in shopper traffic in stores.

"Because the cost of (email) distribution is so inexpensive, you have the opportunity to tailor messages," says Scott Key, vice president of business development for Gap Inc.'s online division. "The click-throughs and purchases go up dramatically when you give customers a message they care about, rather than just broadcasting to them."

Retailers like the economics of email ads, especially in a holiday season as uncertain as this one. A retailer might spend as little as $2,500 to $15,000 to establish an email marketing program, according to Shar VanBoskirk, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. After that, the costs of maintaining and segmenting the email database and executing email campaigns are unlikely to exceed $300,000 a year. Space for a prominent print ad in a high-profile magazine might cost ten times as much, she adds. Roughly speaking, it costs about two dollars to send 1,000 email messages, and $20 to send 10,000 messages, she says, not including creative costs, such as photography or a celebrity endorsement.

Do email ads work? On average, consumers open them at a rate of about 33 percent and "unsubscribe," or ask to be taken off the mailing list, at an annual rate of 9 percent, according to a Forrester survey of 137 online retailers. Shoppers "click through" to retail sites at an average rate of 11 percent, and place an order at an average rate of 4.3 percent, according to the survey.

Online sales of apparel, while still a small fraction of total revenue, are the fastest growing segment of the business for many companies. Gap's online sales have grown 41 percent over the past two years, to $563 million or 3.5 percent of total sales for the fiscal year ended in January 2005. Neiman Marcus Group's online sales rose 46 percent to $313 million for the fiscal year ended in July.

This year, online apparel sales are projected to reach $12.5 billion, up 23 percent from $10.2 billion in 2004 and almost triple the $4.4 billion retailers rang up in 2001, according to Forrester.

Email costs far less than catalogs, but few retailers see it as a replacement. Instead, they see it as a way to tempt shoppers to shop more, which pays big dividends. Neiman Marcus says its customers who shop via all three retail channels - catalogs, online and stores - spend six times as much as customers who shop in just one.

Still, email's capacity for customization is one of its great strengths, retailers say. Gap, which emails customers twice a week, usually segments messages by nine different customer groups. Segments include gender and shopping behavior, such as what item a shopper bought, in which season and at what price. It also looks at merchandise category, be it seasonal basic, fashion or a basic item that is in the store year-round, Mr. Key says.

From there, the company relies on a host of mathematical metrics as well as human intuition to determine which emails are appropriate for each customer segment. While a retailer such as Amazon relies heavily on algorithms to determine what products to advertise to a specific user, "we're more handholding about the process," Mr. Key says. Gap also asks subscribers for their email preferences on its Web site.

In early September, Gap sent its most fashion-forward customers a message touting trends for fall, such as oversized hats and sweater jackets. Another email geared toward a broader audience of female shoppers offered free shipping on orders of more than $50. Shoppers who have bought men's clothes received a message outlining three reasons why no man should be without a blazer this fall.

Other retailers have similar systems. When signing up for email from Nordstrom Inc., subscribers can choose to receive messages about women's or men's apparel, petite- or plus-size fashion. The messages are further customized according to online purchases, the company says. Shoppers who bought boots might receive an offer for free shipping on boots; a shopper who buys fashion by the label Theory could receive emails previewing a new Theory collection or even one similar to Theory.

Neiman Marcus, which sends emails almost every day to more than one million subscribers, goes a step further. It customizes its email according to categories recently browsed on the site, as well as recent purchases. Subscribers who arrive at the Web site via an email ad may find their favorite designers or items highlighted on the home page. "We know what you shopped last time, so we'll show you more of the same or something similar," says Brendan Hoffman, chief executive of Neiman Marcus Direct, which oversees online and catalog operations.

Retailers like email's immediacy. Neiman says its core luxury customers consider it a priority to see the latest styles right away - a demand the company takes great pains to satisfy. "You might get your catalog three days after your friend did," says Mr. Hoffman. "Email is much more democratic."

corrupted files, martha stewart, ugh

I have been having the most annoying day. Gmail was screwing up like you wouldn't believe, exactly when some images I need for the upcoming diamond story were coming in. I had to have the lady from the jewelry store resend the images to my other email address to get them to work, and then one of those was corrupted.

At the same time, my VCR ran out of tape on "Martha" on the very episode when she had Patti LaBelle on! Talk about some shitty luck! Mom loves Martha and Patti (I like them too)! The worst part is that I didn't have any tapes left in my room and the 10-PACK of tapes we bought the other day was missing. So I ended up having to record over something else to get the back end of the show, and lost at least 15 minutes of show fumbling around looking for the tapes as Gmail was simultaneously freaking out.

Then I had to look up another Christmas tree for my upcoming Christmas tree story because the Martha Stewart one I picked out from Kmart mysteriously disappeared form their website and the picture I sent my editor was, you guessed it, corrupted.

All of this was going on at the same time.

...And, my brother's calling every few minutes trying to build up anticipation for his arrival. Give me a break!

It's gotta get better from here!

I'll calm down in a few minutes.