Online reviews, wolf shirt, and Rick

I don’t really have any unhealthy addictions…smoking, drinking, overeating (usually), gambling. But online product reviews…ohhh, online product reviews. I’ve mentioned before that no one will go to the drugstore with me because of the amount of time I can spend scanning the aisles, reading labels, going back and forth between different brands of toothpaste or conditioner. But little do they know the black hole that is me, my laptop, and online reviews.

I can seriously buy nary a baking sheet without researching it on the Internet and reading all available online reviews. And, it’s virtually impossible for me to commit to something that costs more than $20 if it doesn’t have at least a 4.5 average star rating on Amazon. Sometimes I even read online reviews of products I already own, as though my own review isn’t the only one that counts at that point. I try to limit this obsession for my own sanity, but relapses always occur. A fine line sighting in the mirror can turn into an hours-long eye-cream-review bender.

Needless to say…I like to make an (excessively over-) informed decision. But lately…something has cast doubt over my trusty online reviews. Well, first of all, in the course of my job searching, I’ve noticed a lot of “jobs” that offer to pay people like $10-15 a pop to write positive Yelp reviews. Which made me realize the same thing probably takes place with products on sites like Amazon. Then, I started noticing that quite a few reviews I’ve seen just didn’t sound quite…real. In fact, they sound a lot like the blog comments that get filtered straight into my spam folder.

And then…I found Rick.

I was – what else – reading online reviews of facial serums when I saw one by “Rick.” It said, “My girlfriends, I have four at this moment, say I have a baby skin. My secret: Kiehl’s midnight recovery concentrate. It is great, make me handsome and hot.”

Haha, I thought, and moved on to another product. But there…was Rick: “My skin is pretty new since I started to use Kiehl’s ultra facial cream, One girl, one day, stopped me and give me a kiss just for that. She said: your skin is beatiful and shiny like the moon. We have started a romance, but I think she is so obsessive and jealous. I have to end our relationship.”

Intrigued, I clicked the link to see all of Rick’s reviews. Here are some of the items Rick has left rave reviews for:

Maybelline nude lipstick: “I have bought this lipstick, But I never used it, ok? I am a real man. A macho man! I am only curious about it!”

Oakley sunglasses: “i feel the Power when I put my Oakley! I walk trough the streets and the people are afraid of me! I feel like the Terminator, like the Man! I recommend!”

A pair of Ipath sneakers: “I loved this Ipath. Everyboby in my street likes too. They asked all the time where did I buy it. I don’t say to anybody because I wanna be the only one, the coolest guy, the guy that have the most beatifull and different tennis shoes in my street, hahhaha, I am very smart…”

A little girl’s dress: “It’s so small for me. I think I will wear as a shirt in my job. I work in a office. I am afraid people say I get crazy. I dont care! I like it!”

The only thing not Rick-approved? A One Direction iPhone case: “I hated! But I needed to buy for my niece as a gift. The case is the most horrible thing that I have seen in my life.”

And the most intriguing part of Rick’s reviews? Each and every one is an Amazon Verified Purchase. Hmm.

So really…who’s behind all these online reviews? Someone being paid to write them? A robot? Rick?? It’s thrown my whole purchasing strategy into a tailspin!

But…the upside is, it also reminded me of this. That classic page of Amazon wolf t-shirt reviews that first swept the Internet years ago and still makes me laugh to this day. There are now 2,571 reviews! And good news – the shirt is still available.

Breaking it off (with a book)

I’m one of those people who has a really hard time not finishing a book once I’ve started it. I feel like I’m being a quitter (although I’ve quit plenty of other things so I’m not sure why this is such a sticking point for me), so I tend to just suffer through until the end, no matter how bad things get.

Back when I wrote my post Don’t ma’am me, I searched Google Images for an accompanying photo and stumbled upon a book called Just Don’t Call Me Ma’am. I read the description – woman quickly approaching thirty, confused about life, hates when people call her ma’am. Naturally, I assumed I’d relate. For the first chapter or so, all was well, but then things really went downhill…the writing was incredibly belabored, the book seemed like it hadn’t even been touched by an editor…I found myself setting it down for weeks at a time and dreading picking it back up. Still, I somehow felt I had to complete it before moving on to the stack of inevitably superior books sitting patiently on my nightstand.

This morning, I had an appointment for an oil change (AKA the most boring 30 minutes of life). So I threw the book in my purse knowing there would probably not be a single magazine at the body shop to tempt me away from it. Was I ever right. There was one magazine in the waiting area called the Upland Almanac – the headlines across the top were (I’m not making this up) – Bird Hunting; Dogs & Dog Training; and Shotgun Enthusiasts. Suddenly, my book was looking pretty good – until I opened it, that is.

It was somewhere around this sentence – “If my fall from grace is the climax of my life in Boston, then my first six months would be the series of inevitable events that were steps to the edge of the cliff I’d eventually tumble from” – when I just snapped. And then, I had an epiphany, right there at the oil change place (where great epiphanies tend to happen). Life is just way too short to spend your free time reading a book you dislike, much less one that makes you viscerally angry. Novel idea, right? (Book pun not intended but kind of enjoyed now that it’s happened.)

I slammed the book shut and decided not to waste another minute trudging through it. I feel free! The world of books is once again open to me now that I’ve closed the chapter (ha) on that embarrassingly long and terrible experience. Now, I’m happily putting together a summer reading list like the nerd that I am. It’s comprised entirely of books I have reason to believe will be good. But, if they’re awful – I won’t hesitate to break things off and move on. You just can’t stay with a book that’s not right for you. You deserve better.

What about you guys – do you stick with a book even when you’re not enjoying it? Read any good books lately that I should add to my list?

No cell phones (Or: How to make a bunch of twenty-somethings’ heads explode)

On Saturday night, my boyfriend and I went to a She & Him concert in Central Park. Despite the fact that it was about 187 degrees, it was such a perfectly pleasant night – outdoors in a lovely setting; sun setting and sky changing colors; mellow, happy music. A really perfect time to be present, in the moment.

On our way in, we overheard event staff saying “no social media.” Then, as we entered the venue, we saw this sign: “At the request of She & Him, we ask that people not use their cell phones to take pictures and video, but instead enjoy the show they have put together in 3D!” In other words, look at the band as they’re performing – not into your cell phone. Just before the show started, an announcement was made reiterating the band’s request.

She & Him, featuring M. Ward and "New Girl" star Zooey Deschanel, will perform at the Riverside Theater June 28.

And, I’m sure you can guess what happened. Security reprimanded a few people on the outskirts of the crowd, but there wasn’t much they could do. At one point, the girl in front of me indignantly said to her friend, “How can you tell people, in 2013, that they can’t use their cell phones?” My boyfriend agreed with her. I didn’t.

Because I get it – this band is up there giving their heart and soul to this performance, sharing their music with the world. What would they rather see – the whole crowd looking back at them, or a bunch of bowed heads and illuminated screens?

Moments earlier, I had watched that same girl take a photo with her iPhone, edit it, peruse every filter on Instagram, finally choose one, and then post it to her account – missing at least two songs in the process. She wasn’t watching the band that she had paid to go see, of whom she was presumably a fan – because it was more important that she keep her legions of followers up-to-the-minute on her goings-on.

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I could literally rant for hours about how people my age and younger seem to have no concept of being present when you do something. Of focusing more on the experience at hand than how you can sum it up in 140 characters. Of making a memory with the people around you without frantically trying to describe it to everyone else. Of — call me crazy — just enjoying a moment yourself, without broadcasting it to anyone.

I’m not saying there’s something wrong with taking photos at a concert, of course not – everyone likes to have mementos of their experiences to look back on. But there’s a big difference between snapping a photo, and missing half an event because you’re so focused on making sure your “friends” know just how much fun you’re theoretically having at all times.

Honestly, it drives me bananas.

One single time, I peeked at my phone in my purse to see what time it was. I did not experience any angst, discomfort or withdrawal during our separation. Instead, I noticed things like the fireflies floating above the crowd and the little girl with pigtails being tossed in the air by her dad. I noticed how the sherbety-colored stage lights melted into the backdrop of the setting sun, and relished when a rare breeze passed over me and broke the heat.

It was a beautiful night, and I’m glad those are the things I’ll remember when I look back on it – not what it was like to scroll through my Twitter feed for the 50th time that day.

Domestic bliss

I used to think I was just not the domestic type. In my early twenties, “cooking” for me entailed making spaghetti. I once had to look up a recipe for scrambled eggs. True story. A recipe. For scrambled eggs.

When I was 20, I was dating an older guy and we’d often make dinner at his apartment. By which I mean he would make dinner and I would stand in the kitchen trying to look cute. I distinctly remember him asking me once to chop a bell pepper and I was like, “Uh…”

                                             ???

I mean, sure, I could figure out how to cut something with a knife, but it was kind of disturbing that the whole concept was so foreign to me. I started to become gravely concerned that I had no wifely skills.

Soon after that, I was visiting my grandma and decided it was time to learn to cook. She had a Rachel Ray “30-minute meals” cookbook, so I chose a recipe, we went to the grocery store for ingredients, and then I got to work. Suffice to say…the “30-minute” recipe took me about 90 minutes, as well as about 90 questions to my grandma, who maintained saintly patience and a look of amusement/sympathy through it all. Cooking, it seemed to me, was a lot of work for very little payoff. Besides, I loved spaghetti.

Fast forward to today…I have a drawer full of aprons. I hit up farmers’ markets on the reg. I get excited over things like pink Himalayan sea salt. I go to my parents’ house to rescue their overripe bananas and turn them into bread.

Why the drastic change of heart? It’s because I discovered the meditative properties of cooking. By my mid-twenties, I had progressed beyond boiling water, but cooking still wasn’t really my thing. But then – I suddenly found myself living in Virginia alone, miserable, with no friends, and a Trader Joe’s across the street. Recipe for success.

I remember getting home from work each day, the evening stretching endlessly before me, and little to fill it with besides reruns of How I Met Your Mother. So, I started cooking elaborate dinners for myself. It didn’t matter if it took me three times longer than the recipe stated – I had all the time in the world. And I baked – my kitchen basically turned into a confectionery, producing batches upon batches of sweets for my coworkers. Not because I liked them – I didn’t. But because it soothed me.

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                                         Where it all began 

Somehow, all the measuring, grating, mixing and stirring became meditative. It quieted my mind. It made me forget how miserable I was and focus only on the next step of the recipe, and the delectable end product that was my reward (of course I got kind of fat from all this, but that’s beside the point).

Yoga, meditation – that stuff’s never worked for me. But baking, and cooking – that’s where I found my zen. When I’m feeling stressed out, nine times out of ten I’ll find myself in the kitchen, whipping up some cookies or testing out a long and involved recipe. I think cooking also provides a sense of control – when everything else is going wrong, you can take some ingredients and shape them into exactly what you want them to be. It’s satisfying.

Of course, I’ve had some stumbles along the way…once I tried to make my mom’s famous raspberry cream cake for my boyfriend’s birthday – which ended with me in tears and the cake in the garbage. But, as time goes on, I get more and more sure – free to make substitutions, and go off-recipe. Experiment, make things my own. Rescue near-failures and turn them into success. As with life, things don’t always turn out. But at least with cooking, I can zone out and enjoy the process.