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I do some of my best critical thinking when I'm wearing my old blue chenille bathrobe. So when it came time last week to make one of life's tougher decisions, I headed straight for the closet and put on the threadbare garment that's never let me down.

But chenille or no chenille, I was not looking forward to the arduous task confronting me: to identify, seek out and purchase the right pair of jeans.

The research material alone had been piling up on my kitchen table for weeks and the variables were staggering. I decided to concentrate first on the mathematics of the problem. Using my calculator I narrowed the choices down to these: the 501 jeans -- straight leg, pre-shrunk; the 505 jeans -- regular fit, straight leg; the 506 jeans -- snug seat, straight leg; the 550 jeans -- relaxed fit, tapered leg.

I knew if I was going to make any headway I'd have to rule out certain factors. So I threw out the entire 900 series. I eliminated the new 560 "baggy" jeans. Then, emboldened by the elegance of my solution, I recklessly cut from the list the 401k jeans . . .

(Oops. That's my retirement plan at the office. But I bet the day will come when all the other numbers are used up and they'll have to use 401k -- unless BMW beats them to it.)

At this point my head was spinning so I decided to put off the zipper-or-buttons decision. I did not, after all, want to make the same mistake I made last month when purchasing new running shoes.

I hadn't prepared at all for the shoe-buying thing. For starters, I made the mistake of walking into one of those stores where people shop for the perfect shoe with all the singlemindedness of tourists who've lost their luggage. It was like a bad dream: 300 pairs of shoes -- all strikingly similar in appearance -- displayed in endless rows around the room. I could see I was in way over my head.

Each shoe had a name: "Air Pegasus," "Shadow 6000," "Exult." Worse: I didn't know a hi-top from a no-top. A cross trainer from a cross dresser. I thought "The Pump" meant sneakers with high heels. In my defense, I should point out that the last time I bought running shoes was a dozen years ago. But since I don't run, my shoes tend to last longer than most.

(By the way, did you know that only 5 percent of all persons wearing running shoes are actually runners? Now compare that with this statistic: 100 percent of persons wearing skis are skiers.)

Well, anyway, I loved the twenty-fifth pair of shoes I tried on and was perfectly happy with them until I got home and this message dropped out of the shoe box: "The Wave Conquest -- designed for the serious basketball player who demands performance with style."

That night I dreamed I was back in the shoe store. I was walking by a counter displaying plain, white Keds. They called out to me: "We are the friends of your youth. Why have you forsaken us?" I woke up in a cold sweat.

The next day while shopping for lettuce and trying to decide among chicory, endive, red leaf, romaine, curly endive, radicchio, arugula or dandelion greens, I experienced a flashback. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the iceberg lettuce. It seemed to be saying: "Remember when there was only me in your salads? Why have you turned your back on me?"

Later that morning it happened again. In the drugstore at the pantyhose counter. There, among the racks holding ultra sheer, silky sheer, silky satin, opaque satin, satiny sheer, sheerly satin and sheerly sheer pantyhose, a vision appeared to me. It was an elderly saleswoman holding up a pair of stockings and saying: "Stockings. Sheer. That is all ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know."

It went from bad to worse at the toothpaste counter. Gel, powder, paste, whitener, brightener, anti-plaque, anti-tartar, breath-freshening, cavity-fighting -- so many choices, so much time spent on decision-making. Suddenly a voice inside me whispered: "Pepsodent. A toothpaste by any other name would brush as well."

I decided to skip the nightmare of the hair spray counter with its choices ranging from flat to fluffy and extra-light hold to wind-tunnel-strength hold. The apparitions and flashbacks had left me too tired to make any more decisions.

Outside I saw a woman get out of a car called an Infinity and put a leash on a Bison Frise that answered to the name of Mizue. It made me wonder: Wasn't life really simpler when you could spend more time living it and less time making decisions about what to buy? Wistfully, I thought of the friends of my youth: cars named Ford, dogs named Fred and jeans named jeans.

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