It’s okay to blog about shoelaces

Marc Fisher blogged Friday about how hard it was to find replacement shoelaces anymore. Most of his commenters suggested places that still sell the things, but a significant portion slammed him for writing about something to trivial. They hit him hard, and I bet these people never liked Seinfeld. Yet many of the shoelace haters also suggested places he could try.

You can be sure I read the entry. I find myself needing to buy replacement laces every few years — my subconscious must care deeply about a firm fit — and it always takes a couple stops to find them. When they turn up, I wonder if I’m buying the last brown pair and if they’ll ever be stocked again. Can a supermarket order just six pairs of shoelaces at a time? Or do you have to buy them in bulk with combs, shoehorns and polish?

Fisher has an interesting theory on the scarcity. While the stories last year about watches dropping off was no surprise, he guesses at a trend I wouldn’t have expected, “that laces are perhaps on their way to becoming a technology of the past. Check out the footwear on teens and folks in their 20s: We’re talking flipflops, slip-ons and, among little kids, the always-annoying Velcro.”

Maybe I don’t spend enough time looking at people’s feet, but I feel like I don’t hear Velcro very often. The slip-ons make appearances sometimes — they’re noticeable, saying something about the wearer — but I still see lots of laces. And maybe those people are like me. And maybe their shoes are like Ross, replacer of Fred. Both my shoelaces have been snapped in half for a while now, maybe a year, so I’ve reset each to run halfway up the eyeholes.

It’s very easy to write a full post about shoelaces.

Folo on the Chicago high-rise fire

“Only those who lived on the building’s 26th floor and three to four floors above and below were evacuated by firefighters, but many other residents scrambled from their homes. At least 10 people ran up to the building’s roof and were spotted by a Fire Department helicopter, Orozco said.”

That’s what the Sun-Times reported Saturday after a fire ignited on the 26th floor of a Chicago high-rise Friday night. The fire left two people dead and several other hurt and got a breaking news headline on most of the major Chicago news sites. Jess and I were ordering Thai food at the time — try Sawatdee’s Kao-Pad-Pu, stir-fried rice with crabmeat and egg that’s never been unsatisfying — and Karen was on the roof.

Tracy called while I was out of the room, left a concerned message about calling Karen to find her saying something between static about a roof and a fire, and wondered if I’d heard anything on the news. The breaking news heds quickly confirmed there was a fire in a high-rise in Karen’s neighborhood, and I called Tracy back.

Me: “What’s her address? There’s definitely something in her area.”
Tracy: “Yeah, I think her building’s on fire.”

From the news, it sounded like the fire was contained. From Tracy’s call, it sounded like Karen was fine on the roof. We figured we’d get the full story later.

The story turned out to be that, an hour earlier, minutes after getting off the phone with me — I was giving the pitch to sign up for Facebook and Karen was counting on a quiet night in — she heard commotion from the hallway. She opened the door to find smoke and her 29th-floor neighbors evacuating.

They went down the stairs, Karen said, until running into firefighters on the 27th who said the fire was just beneath them and to head upward. The neighbors suggested the roof, and the firefighters thought that was a good idea. So they hustled to the 42nd floor and vented stairway smoke into the cold evening. In the midst of the evacuation, a friend down the street called Karen to let her know her building was on fire. It was a funny call to take in the middle of fleeing the smoke, Karen said, but two minutes earlier it would’ve been news to her.

As the group of a dozen waited on the roof, they watched all sorts of helicopters above their heads. The friend down the street text-messaged that the fire was out, and the group cheered. The firefighters eventually took them down in the elevator. Despite living on one of the close floors evacuated, Karen had no apartment damage. But the entrenched smoke smell has booted her out for a little while.

Musical notes

–I’ve extolled his virtues here previously, but J. Freedom du Lac has to be one of the best indie-aware mainstream-expressive music writer out there now. The comfort of conversation in his chat this week shows it well. It’s a shame so many of the Post job changes mentioned on Fisbbowl involving people leaving Style for other sections. Hopefully they’re restocking.

–Song I’m liking this week: Child of the Sunset, Slo Mo ft. Lauren Hart. After some ordering confusion, the Marah-helmed Night of Phidelity finally made it to my house, and Philadelphia’s slide guitar-playing friend of hip-hop, Slo Mo Mike Brenner, had the standout track. You can hear a minute snippet on CD Baby (track 42).

–If you have issues with your local radio stations, this excerpt of Marc Fisher’s new book is a must-read. As Beau D. notes right away, it explains the death of Motown Mondays. The casualty comes amid a first-person depiction of focus-group song analysis, totally explaining the “classic hits” formula. The best part of the story is the seven seconds the focus group has to recognize a song. Why is this good? I play the same game with their stations. Seven seconds, recognize the song as overplayed, flip. It’s as much fun as last summer’s Wyclef Watch, when Shakira’s hips got tired. No fightin.

–Yes, Washington got its second classic hits station last week. I don’t have much to say about the local classical format impacts. I respect classical music, but just like I don’t like hearing talk on the car radio, the no-words extreme doesn’t fit me at the wheel either. GMS had a spot on my dial for the couple times a year when the volume of words in my life got overwhelming. In the station’s passing, the only thing I can note is that its on-air transition to “George 104” was no second coming of El Zol. (Check out the Format Change archive for audio of lots of on-air transitions.)

–And about that George 104. I’ve been listening some last night and this morning, and it’s been nice to be at the beginning of 104 commercial-free days. The early playlist positions the station as broader than its main competitor, Big 100.3, and somewhat younger, but it’s still aiming twenty years over me. It’s got that early MTV feeling where hip-hop doesn’t exist and even the harder rock comes in soft focus. The mullet ballads — not you, Bono and Dr. Jon Bon Jovi — are in thankfully short supply but have an odd lurking quality. … And as write that, three play in a row. Concerning.

–All this radio talk comes from my car CD deck that’s still out of commission. The ideal solution is a MP3- and satellite-jacked replacement, but I’m waiting to see how Vista changes the system at home. This month’s release or Service Pack 1? The summer car stereo selection wasn’t too helpful. Wires coming out of the stereo? Really, still? But Billboard hears that’s changing.

Some design changes

Not many design changes, but a few. I started out thinking the post text size was too big, but then I decided to reduce the elements around it. That felt more comfortable. For now. Three other issues I’m thinking about:

–Blockquotes. I’ve tried them out for a few months now, but they feel like a lot of white space. I’d rather work the quotes into the posts, but sometimes lengthy quotes are necessary. Thus my indecision.

–General post width. The width, for some reason, still feels a little uncomfortable. I’ve tried lines around the posts; now I’ve turned those off. I don’t know. I need usability testing in my apartment.

–Italics. I go by USAT’s itals policy — and went by CNN’s when I worked there — just to keep in practice. So publication names, album names, song titles, etc are all in itals. But honestly, I’ve had some postmodern angst about this for a few years. In a media-soaked world, should media titles be treated any differently than regular proper nouns? The italics bring an extra level of emphasis that feels, to me, like it does too far. Same with the quote marks that the AP and plenty of other news groups use.

Consider it. Haven’t The Washington Post and How I Met Your Mother and My Love become as culturally common as Jim and Suzie and PNC Bank? The usual-italicized words do tend to use some lower-case separators that aren’t common to regular proper nouns, but is that really enough to justify the itals?

I haven’t totally convinced myself yet. But something’s there.

Helping out the smells

I don’t read too many fragance reviews. I don’t wear colognes, don’t sniff-browse at the department store, don’t even give a thought on the way past them. But I respect good writing about things I don’t use. Think of Dan Neil’s car columns or the annual New Yorker fashion issue.

So it was pleasant stumbling across Chandler Burr’s “Scent Notes” in The New York Times recently. I’d never buy or stop to smell what he was writing about, but as a fragrance columnist, he made me stop to read.

It was a December 3 story….

This strange time generates strange scents, though their strangeness is comforting, equal parts loneliness and love. I have spent certain Christmas Eves sitting on smooth, unfamiliar wood pews under the tall, chilled stone vaults of borrowed religions, and like everyone, I know the darker, private Christmas smells: thick candle wax, burned wick, cold, incense, smoke, fire.

Smoke fills many perfumes. Some are misfires; Yves Saint Laurent’s M7 might do better if it didn’t smell like a Renault engine in flames: burned rubber, seared chrome, frying polyethylene. It was as alarming as a flashing red light. But some smoke perfumes are as seductive as a kiss: Dzongkha. Here is an exquisite scent as mysterious — and as fragrant — as Orthodox icons covered in the sweet soot of a thousand years of devotional candles.

Read the rest on Burr’s site, and read his other Times columns.

The Dan Neil of scents?