Hanukkah Wrap-Up 2016

A week before Hanukkah, we wrote an essay that was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. It was our spin on the Twelve Days of Christmas song, so instead of “eight maids a milking” we had “eight candles burning.” You get the idea.

Right after it appeared, we got a phone call from Inquirer reader Elaine Fein Calvin. She liked our essay but wanted to be sure we knew that there were real, great Hanukkah songs. She sent us links to The Maccabeats and Israeli folksingers on YouTube. Thanks, Elaine. We’ve been singing “I have a little dreidel, I made it out of clay” for 50 years, but it’s always fun to see some new stuff.clay-dreidel

This year, Hanukkah arrived right with Christmas. Joyce thought it was great to celebrate the calendar convergence by being able to light Hanukkah candles and say the blessings at her friend’s annual Christmas party. The menorah sat on a table right next to the Christmas tree. But we still didn’t have maids a milking. We don’t even have cows. Here’s how it turned out:

Eight Candles Burning

We wrote about how we’re glad there are more choices for Hanukkah candles than the washed out ones that come in the blue box. We look forward to a lineup of tie-dyed and rainbow-striped ones. Joyce was certain she had a stash of pretty ones left over from last year, so she didn’t buy any new candles. She forgot that she had sent her candles to her son in Denver, so she had to rush out last minute to the local Acme. What was left? The old blue box with washed-out colors. The only good news – there were now washed-out orange candles among the red, white, blue and yellow ones. A small miracle.

Ellen shlepped three boxes of candles and a menorah to New York City, where her tribe of three children gathered. They lit candles in her son Andy’s NYU dorm room because he’s an RA and he was on duty. He had volunteered to work on Christmas. That’s what Jewish co-workers do.

Seven Latkes Frying

Ellen fried up way more than seven latkes. “Andy cooked a million of them,” she says. “He had two frying pans going. We had friends over for dinner and ate latkes and then had leftovers the next day.”  Joyce wanted photographic proof, so it’s posted below.

andy-latkes

There is, however, no proof that her house smelled like a McDonald’s deep fryer for days afterwards.

Joyce did no latke frying this Hanukkah, although she did latke eating at her friends’ house. Stephanie and Ray served two kinds – potato and parsnip. Joyce was surprised that she preferred the parsnip ones. (Heresy!) With applesauce.

Six Gifts Awaiting

We remember the days when the kids tried to convince us that Hanukkah required eight nights of presents. We used to give them books one night, toys for a few, and then we filled out the rest of the nights with socks and underwear and dreidels and gelt. Ellen’s neighbor, who has two little boys, confirmed this parental practice and proudly showed off the “plastic Star Wars cups” that were night #4 gifts to her boys.

But our kids are older – they’re young adults. And when we asked them what they wanted or needed for Hanukkah, some of them emailed us back links. So we clicked and ordered. Where’s the fun in that?

It’s a little better than going in blind and buying men’s moccasin slippers that we think are “very useful and fashionable” but the boys refuse to wear. That just earned us a trip back to the store to stand in the “returns” line.

Five Kids Arriving

Only three kids actually arrived back at their childhood homes. When Joyce’s son comes for a visit later this month, they’ll have their traditional Christmas Chinese food and a movie celebration. We’re used to moving Hanukkah around on the calendar to suit our kids’ schedules. Just because Hanukkah got the calendar right this year, why should we mess with our traditions?

Four Dreidels Spinning

We hung up the silver dreidel banner and put the laughing Mr. Dreidel on the back door. We bought several bags of gelt – but we didn’t actually get around to playing dreidel. Maybe we’re getting old? Maybe we just forgot? Maybe we like other games better? Maybe one day, when we have grandchildren . . .  dreidelman

We did, however, peel and eat the gelt, but it paled in comparison to the cappuccino truffles and the sea salt caramels we got as gifts.

Three Bubbes Kvelling

This holiday we saw friends and immediate family, but we didn’t get together with cousins, and we missed it. We got our fill of Bubbes – and some Zaydes – at our three book talks in December at local synagogues. And we got an earful from a Bubbe at Trader’s Joe’s when we overheard her stop a young woman who was wearing shorts on a cold rainy day. The Bubbe couldn’t resist warning her, “You’ll catch yourself death of a cold.”

Two Ladies Shopping

Hanukkah was late this year, so we put off doing our shopping. This meant we got caught up in the Christmas shopping madness. We saw lots of ugly Christmas sweaters and fuzzy socks. We resisted most of the sales and all of the half-price wrapping paper.

We did see a new Hanukkah tchotchke, a small, plush doll named Hannah the Hanukkah Hero, from the creators of Mensch on a Bench (the stereotyped Jewish competition to Elf on a Shelf).hannah

 

Hannah comes with a book, which according to her creators tells the story that … “Hannah Maccabee is mad! Her cousins have gone off to face the Greeks and defend the Jewish people, while she’s sitting at the Great Temple, not allowed to help. Luckily, Hannah is smart, strong, and has a heart filled with love. Nothing can stand in her way!“ We’re all for girl power, but we’re kind of glad our daughters are too old for this gift.

All in all, it was a good Hanukkah. We were glad to spend time with the kids. Happy to see our friends. Now it’s time to hope for a not-so-snowy winter and look forward to spring vacations.

The supermarket has already put out a bin of red Valentines hearts. That’s something to be happy about.

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A Song for Hanukkah

Hanukkah, our favorite family holiday, isn’t always convenient for the family. There have been many years when we postponed our celebration until winter break when our kids could make the trek home. This year, thanks to Jewish holiday drift, the calendar is cooperating: Hanukkah begins on Christmas eve.

If we turn on the radio that night when we are frying up the latkes, we’ll undoubtedly hear “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” While we don’t have lords a-leaping or swans a-swimming, we do have dreidels a-twirling. So join with us in singing of the eight nights of Hanukkah.

Eight Candles Burning –  Like sneakers (Keds) and coffee (Maxwell House), there used to be only one choice for Hanukkah candles: the blue box with the washed-out yellow and almost-red candles. Now we have beeswax candles in vibrant colors, tie-dyed striped ones, and artistic ones from the candle factory in Safed, Israel. We love to mix them up in the nightly lineup. Our Bubbe would call our display  ongepotchket (thrown together, not matching), but we love it that way.

hanukkah

We have a silver Hanukkah menorah from a trip to Italy and a ceramic one from the synagogue, but our favorites are the ones our children made. Every year our kids search for the one they crafted — out of clay or cardboard toilet paper rolls. We know better than to choose a favorite. We clear a space on the table and gather all the menorahs.

Seven Latkes Frying – Our families demand tradition, which means potato latkes grated by hand and fried in oil. No zucchini. No parsnips. No newfangled variations. For toppings, the grown-ups prefer sour cream. The younger ones favor applesauce. If you can’t decide? We say you can designate some latkes as the “main course” and eat them with sour cream; then you can eat the “dessert latkes” with applesauce.

latke3

Six Gifts Awaiting – It used to be so much fun to wander the toy store aisles in search of Star Wars LEGOS and a princess dress-up set. Our kids have outgrown plastic toys; they prefer the kind of plastic that fits in their wallet. But transferring money into their account or telling them our Amazon Prime password just doesn’t seem that festive. We search for something tangible that millennials will enjoy and that can fit in their 700-square-foot apartment. We have a feeling we’ll be gift wrapping socks and underwear again this year.

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Five Kids Arriving –It’s not a holiday unless the kids come home. We’ll fill the refrigerator with all of their favorite foods so they’ll be thrilled with how thoughtful their mother is and want to come home again soon. If we’re lucky, we’ll convince them to stick around until Dec. 31, when the last night of Hanukkah coincides with New Year’s Eve. We can light all eight Hanukkah candles, drink champagne, and watch the ball drop together.

Four Dreidels Spinning – We will scrounge up pennies or M&Ms so we can play dreidel. Anything we can do together than doesn’t involve an iPhone is a sacred tradition. That’s why, when one of our kids showed us an app that lets you play virtual dreidel, we weren’t impressed. Tapping the screen to spin isn’t the same as twirling a dreidel on the floor. And the prize is a picture of gelt! We’ll take the real thing, thanks. Pass the dark chocolate coins.

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Three Bubbes Kvelling – When we were young, we loved our Hanukkah parties with the whole mishpuchah (extended family). We ate latkes, played dreidel, traded presents, and giggled a lot. We’re lucky to have cousins who carry the torch. It’s nice to attend a family get-together with no dress code and no synagogue attendance — just a chance to ogle new babies, meet new significant others, and catch up on a year’s worth of gossip. It’s especially nice to see your distant relatives somewhere other than at Levine’s Funeral Home.

Two Ladies Shopping – Every year we pull out our box of Hanukkah decorations — and then we go shopping for more. We’re happy when we find one lonely aisle of blue-and-white tchotchkes sandwiched between the snow-covered ceramic villages and the wooden Santas. We’ve seen a glass dreidel too fragile to spin, a “Peace, Love & Hanukkah” pillow, and a Star of David cake pan, but our delight turned to dismay at the “4-piece Hanukkah ornament set.” We aren’t hanging a blue glass ball on a tree.

And on the last night, sing it together now … and a Gutsy Judah Macabee.

Happy Hanukkah !! to all our families, readers and friends.

Best Wishes for a healthy, peaceful New Year

hanukkah-bear

 

This article also appears in The Philadelphia Inquirer on 12/23

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A Little Love for Latkes

We’re thinking about latkes.

Latkes (potato pancakes) usually appear on our dinner table once a year during Hanukkah. Last year Hanukkah started on Dec. 7, so our stomachs are telling us now is the time.

But Jewish holidays drift along the secular calendar. That’s why in 2013 we celebrated Thanksgivukkah, when Hanukkah fell on Thanksgiving and the turkey sat right next to the dreidels. This year, Hanukkah begins on Christmas Eve, and while our Christian friends might be thinking about eight maids a milking, we’ll be focused on eight latkes a frying. But for now, we have to wait a few more weeks.

You might be wondering why we don’t just make latkes tonight. We could stand alone in the kitchen, grate potatoes and scrape our knuckles, and then make a big oily mess at the stove. But it’s not fun when the kids aren’t home to enjoy them and we’re not lighting candles or having a Hanukkah party.

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Instead we’ll spend our time looking up innovative latke recipes like zucchini and carrot or sweet potato. They’re tempting but we’ll end up discarding them because our families like the traditional potato version. And they like to top them with applesauce or sour cream, not the cranberry chutney that we tried out on Thanksgivukkah.

Latke is the Yiddish word for a fried pancake; in Hebrew they’re called levivot. While Israelis do eat potato pancakes on Hanukkah, sufganiyot, jelly-filled donuts fried in oil, are everywhere – and every Israeli bakery sells them in the month of Kislev. The varieties are almost endless; there are different fillings, icings and toppings. Ne’eman’s, which has 40 bakeries throughout Israel, offers bite-size sufganiyot that include varieties filled with cheesecake cream, chocolate custard, marshmallow fluff or date and halvah flavors, to name just a few. They even created a Bamba-flavored doughnut that tastes vaguely like the ubiquitous crunchy peanut butter snack beloved by Israeli kids.

poster from Roladin's Bakery in Israel advertising all their flavors of sufganiyot

poster from Roladin’s, another bakery in Israel, advertising all their flavors of sufganiyot

When we typed “latke” into the Google search bar, it brought up Ryan Lochte, the American Olympic swimmer. Maybe that’s because Lochte got “fried” in Rio and made a big mess.

As we continued our exhaustive research, we discovered that the merits of latkes have been a topic of debate since 1946, when the University of Chicago hosted the first “Great Latke vs. Hamantashen Debate.” Since then, tongue firmly in cheek, academics, lawyers, philosophers and several Nobel prize winners have pondered this weighty issue at seminars at revered institutions including MIT, Mount Holyoke and Harvard, citing sources and offering educated opinions as to the superiority of either beloved food.

University of Chicago philosophy professor Ted Cohen, moderated the great debates for over 25 years until his death in 2014. He concluded that an analysis of philosophical reasoning would lead one to the latke because “a world without hamantashen would be a wretched world …. but a world without latkes is unthinkable.”

Latkes are fried in oil to remind Jews of the story of Hanukkah, the miracle of the re-dedication of the Temple, when a tiny bit of oil lasted for eight days.

Latkes are fried in oil to remind Jews of the story of Hanukkah, the miracle of the re-dedication of the Temple, when a tiny bit of oil lasted for eight days.

 

In a paper entitled “The Archetypal Hamantash: A Feminist Mythology,” Divinity professor Wendy Doniger wrote that hamantashen are a womb equivalent (because of their shape? because they’re squishy?) and were worshiped in early matriarchal societies.  We’re matriarchs, and we love a good prune hamantashen.

hummies

But we can’t take sides. That’s like asking which child you love the most. We love them both. We’re looking forward to frying latkes in a few weeks and eating them with sour cream and applesauce. And when Purim rolls around in the spring, we’ll be baking and eating cherry, lekvar and mun hamantashen.


 

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We Wrote a New Book – And We’re Giving You The Whole Spiel!

Through the years, when we presented our book talk, audience members would ask if we were working on a second book. We laughed. What could be a follow-up to our Dictionary of Jewish Words? A thesaurus? A phonebook?

If you know us and you read our blog, you know that that we can’t simply define a word. We have a lot to say about Jewish holidays, foods, family and the general state of current events. We’ve written about these topics and more for newspapers and various online sites.

We collected 34 of our stories about modern life as members of the tribe in a new book: The Whole Spiel: Funny essays about digital nudniks, seder selfies and chicken soup memories. It’s been a year-long project and the book – in paperback and Kindle editions – came out yesterday!

 

stacked_books-with-back-cover_ereader

To go along with our words, we wanted funny pictures – of bubbes shvitzing on the beach, of chubby baby pulkes, and of women of a certain age who are all farblondjet – and we were happy to connect with Philadelphia artist Terry LaBan, who drew original cartoons for our book. “Edge City,” Terry’s syndicated cartoon strip about a Jewish family, ran in newspapers across the country for 15 years. Our collaboration was a fun and funny one. When we told him that we use Yiddish words in modern situations, he got our sense of humor right away. He said, “You mean when the ATM gives you bubkes?” His ATM illustration graces the cover of The Whole Spiel.

Much of the content was inspired by you – the audiences at our book talks, the readers of our blog and the people who comment on our Facebook page. You always give us inspiration. You’ve shared sweet reminiscences about growing up Jewish, told us how knishes don’t get the respect they deserve, and how sometimes you just need a good “oy.”

That’s why, when you read The Whole Spiel, you’ll recognize yourself, your Bubbe and the whole mishpuchah. You’ll read about the great shnecken vs. rugelach battle, the newly discovered Jewish summer holiday of Simchat Squash, the Jdate that turns out to be a nebbish, and why body parts sound cuter in Yiddish.

Did you notice that our blog page looks all spiffy and new? We recently redesigned our website and made it all fapitzed and mobile-friendly.

We hope you enjoy the new book. It’s available on Amazon.

Wishing you a sweet new year. L’shana tova.

 

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THANKSBUTNOTHANKS

It was recently big news in legal and banking circles when Citigroup, the American investment banking and financial services corporation, claimed to own the words “thank you” and filed suit against AT&T for infringing on its intellectual property.

For many years, Citigroup has used the words THANKYOU, CITI THANKYOU and similar terms as part of its customer loyalty programs. How dare AT&T use “AT&T THANKS” in its new marketing campaign?

This got us thinking: We, too, could make some words all caps, squish them together, and own them. We’ll be calling our trademark lawyer to get him working on IAMALWAYSRIGHT and LISTENTOYOURMOTHER. When the substitute teacher writes LISTENTOYOURTEACHER on the blackboard, he won’t even know he’s treading on thin ice. We could file a lawsuit.

We’ve been writers for more than 25 years, and we know that words belong to the person who wrote them. That’s why we’re thrilled when we get a byline and see our names in print. We know enough to attribute quotes when we refer to something someone else has written. We taught our kids that they couldn’t copy straight out of the encyclopedia or just cut and paste from Wikipedia.

“Yes, you need to put quote marks around ‘I have a dream,’ unless it’s you dreaming about an ice cream sundae for dessert.”

The copy center clerk knows you can get in trouble for photocopying when you don’t own the copyright. But when we brought in a newspaper clipping of an article we had written, the clerk refused to help us resize and copy it. We took out our driver’s licenses to prove we were the authors, and that still wasn’t good enough.

“All rights revert back to the author one week after publication!” we shouted, trying to impress him by flaunting our copyright knowledge, but it was no use.We felt like criminals when we had to push the “print” button on our own to make 10 copies of our article. We’ve been unknowingly violating copyrights and skirting the law for years.

Until recently, Warner/Chappell Music owned the rights to the classic song “Happy Birthday.” Violators caught singing the song in public risked a $150,000 fine. Well, we’ve done that hundreds of time. Through the years, when we belted out “Happy Birthday” at our kids’ parties in bowling alleys, skating rinks, and mini golf courses (public places), we knew we were risking embarrassment but not possible arrest and a hefty fine. Happily, last December the song entered the public domain. Phew! We have a birthday coming up next week and we know we’ll be singing.birthday cake

We’ve gotten away with violating a music copyright, but one of our sons did not. Back in the day when online music sharing sites were born, our kids were thrilled to be able to download “free music” from Napster. We weren’t thrilled when we got angry emails from our internet service provider, warning us that our computer had been traced to illegal music downloads and cautioning us to cease and desist. Now our kids can get all the free music they want from Spotify, Pandora, and iTunes, because it’s our credit card that’s saved in the account.

As bloggers, we need photos to illustrate our words, so when Pinterest and Google Images became popular, we were happy to click and copy like everyone else. If we were writing about wedding cakes, Google could serve up more than 9,000 images for us to choose from, and we could even sort the fabulous photos of cakes by “over the top,” “buttercream,” and “purple.”

If Reader’s Digest and the Huffington Post, two respected publications, can scan the internet for content they want to use, so can we, right? Not so fast, as it turns out.

Hormel Foods Corp., the 125-year-old pork processing giant, didn’t take kindly to our posting a picture of its most famous “canned meat product” to illustrate our essay about junky spam messages clogging up our inbox. A lawyer friend advised us that big corporations don’t have much of a sense of humor, so we deleted the photo.

And then there was the beautiful photo of crispy potato pancakes that we found online. In our blog, we gave a shout out in the caption to the talented chef who actually made them, but that wasn’t good enough. Two days later, we got an irate email from the chef who recognized her latkes and asked us to take the photo down. Oops.

We’ve wised up since then. We no longer “borrow” random online images of delicious desserts. We’ve learned that if we take the picture ourselves, we own it and there’s no question of copyright. That’s why you’ll find us snapping photos of the fruit tarts and takeout sushi in our local gourmet supermarket. Or baking it ourselves, to snap a photo.

our own homemade hamantashen

our own homemade hamantashen

So when we go to the copy center next week to make copies of this article, and the clerk doesn’t believe that we’re the authors, we’re going to do it anyway. We know the law. And if he turns us in and the judge sends us up the river, you’ll find us “stuck in Folsom prison and time keeps draggin’ on.”*

*Folsom Prison Blues©, written and sung by Johnny Cash, 1957 Sun Records.

johnny-cash-johnny-cash-sings-folsom-prison-blues-1600047

This article originally appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer 8/7/16

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New and Improved  . . . Not Really

 

Back in the day, you didn’t have to ask if the gefilte fish was “free range.” You knew it was because the carp had been swimming free in your bathtub the day before.

When we were kids, we didn’t know from “locally sourced.” We didn’t think about where our food came from; it just appeared on the kitchen table three times a day. In the summer, the supermarket was loaded with blueberries, cantaloupes and peaches; in winter the selection dwindled to oranges and grapefruit. There were certainly no year-round grapes from Chile or avocados from Mexico. You couldn’t get raspberries in January.new5

Now, if you are one of those people who will only eat food that is locally sourced, you’ll be eating the mushrooms that spring up in your backyard after a rainstorm. If you’re lucky, there’s a cilantro farm down the road and your neighbor has a goat whose milk makes the most delicious cheese. We don’t have any of that.  Finding locally sourced food isn’t always easy in the suburbs. That’s why when we signed up for a community-supported agriculture program, we got beets and turnips in our box week after week.

If you wait long enough, everything old comes back around – but it’s not always new and improved.

TV dinners have come full circle. We have fond memories of the Swanson turkey dinner with whipped potatoes in a divided aluminum foil tray. Our moms would heat it in the oven for 45 minutes to undo the deep freeze. We never touched the little compartment of diced carrots and canned peas; our favorite part was the apple cobbler dessert. We felt so space-age and cool eating dinner on our snack table in front of the TV.new

Now, single-serving, ready-to-eat dinners are available everywhere – from Wawa to the new hip chain Snap Kitchen. Snap’s takeout meals include Bison Quinoa Hash and Grilled Kale Hoppin’ John. All of their “nutrient-dense, portion-controlled” meals come in plastic, microwave-ready containers with calorie counts on the label. For dessert, their 160-calorie Chia Seed & Date Pudding is advertised as “gluten-free, non-dairy, paleo, sodium conscious and vegan.” If we eat that for dessert, we’d be back in the kitchen to hunt for a cookie at 10 p.m.

Then there are kitchen trends. Along with electric knives and fondue sets, Crock-Pots were a popular bridal shower gift some 30 years ago. The Crock-Pot would come with a tiny booklet of recipes: Chicken Mexicana that called for chicken thighs and canned green beans, Dr. Pepper pulled pork, and beef stew with Lipton’s onion soup mix and ketchup as the main components of the sauce.

While we blinked, we discovered that slow cookers are back in style with busy millennials. There are 97 Pinterest boards filled with organic recipes, vegan recipes and ways to use your cooker to make everything from bread pudding to cinnamon rolls.

All this hype sent us to the store to buy a new model. Ours was 33 years old – a shower gift. It was harvest gold with a tasteful daisy design and one switch for off, low and high. You dumped in the ingredients and hoped it cooked all the way through and didn’t burn on the bottom.new2

Nowadays, slow cookers are silver and sleek and digital and programmable. You can set them to cook dinner while you’re at work building a new app. We bought one, read the 23-page instruction booklet, and returned the cooker to the store the next day. If we can’t figure out where our favorite show is — on Netflix, Amazon or Hulu ?  — how can we set the digital timer for “delay start” to cook lemon bourbon chicken for dinner?

Everyone knows that fashions come back around. After a 30-year hiatus, jumpsuits are back in style. For women our age, it’s not a good idea to make it any more difficult to get to the bathroom. Remember when you stopped putting your toddler in overalls so they could make it to the potty in time? That’s just one of the reasons why we don’t wear a jumpsuit.

If you saved your acid-washed denim jumpsuit from 1982 hoping it would come back in style – and you can still fit into it – congratulations. However, we have some bad news. You’re not Beyonce. When a style comes back, it’s meant for your daughter, not you.new4

 

Our daughters have asked us if we’ve saved any cool clothes from the 1970s. Do we have white vinyl go-go boots and hot pants, a fringed leather vest, or a gold lame disco dress that we could pass on to them? No, we gave them to Goodwill long ago. We never thought they’d come back in style.

 

 

 

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We Have No Loyalty to the “Loyal Shoppers Club” 

As we waited in the airport for a plane back to Philadelphia recently, we glanced at our boarding passes and were pleasantly surprised to see Group 1 printed at the bottom. Group 1? We are usually in Group 4, along with the woman who forgot she has a 24-ounce bottle of shampoo in her purse.

When the agent announced that the plane was ready for priority boarding, we got up from the plastic seats, ready to go. Then he welcomed those seated in first class. Then families with small children were “welcome to board.” Then, “any uniformed members of the Armed Forces.” That seemed fair. They served our country.

We moved toward the front: Group 1 had to be next. Then he called for “all members of the Admirals Club, the Advantage Club and those with elite status: the diamond, ruby and emerald credit card holders.” What credit card did we use to buy these plane tickets with again? As our fellow passengers streamed by, it seemed like everyone but us had E-ZPass. By the time he preboarded all the “special people,” we were standing alone. Turns out, Group 1 wasn’t very special at all.

We know that when we don’t pay $18 for extra legroom, we’ll be squished in our seats. That’s what we bargained for. But we didn’t bargain for this, and we don’t recall ever even being invited to join the “elite diamond club.”

Many other clubs do want us as members, and not a day goes by without them emailing us with offers of bonus points, free food, rewards, and advantages. Sometimes the advantages are dubious, but if you ask us, we’ll likely sign up — just in case. We once stood in line to try a cronut and found ourselves signing up for the delicious cronut loyalty club — just in case we have the urge to spend $5 on a trendy iced pastry, in a city we once visited, again.

When the clerk in the frozen yogurt store looked at our cups overflowing with Oreo cookie crumbs and wet walnuts, she asked, “Do you want to join our frequent eater Yummy Yogurt club?” We couldn’t resist.  We were hoping that the next time we flipped the handle to start the flow of mint chocolate chip, she’d announce: “All members of the super secret Yummy Yogurt club get free jimmies today.”

Between us, we now belong to about two dozen loyalty programs. That’s a lot of loyalty. keys

We can remember a time when we guarded our privacy, reluctant to divulge our email addresses and phone numbers to strangers. But now that we — and everyone else in the world — can see the front of our houses on Google Maps, we know that keeping our details private is a lost cause. Privacy is a pipe dream.

At the chain drug store, the employee at the register prods us to enter our Plenti rewards number before she’ll even think about ringing up our greeting cards and Q-tips. “You get points and some money off,” she chirps happily every time. We do as we’re told, but invariably, we get Plenti of nothin’. At the competing chain, our reward is a coupon for $4 off — next week. Since we just bought $45 worth of cold medicine, it’s unlikely we’ll need to come back in time to use that coupon. It’ll expire on the floor of our car.

We do like our supermarket loyalty program, which provides instant gratification. After we rack up hundreds of dollars in groceries, we scan our super shopper card and watch the discounts come off with a “ding.” Blueberries: — $2.50. English muffins: — 50 cents. At the end of the receipt is the proof: We saved $23.76. Woohoo! That $20 will cover our impulse purchases of caramel sea salt gelato and organic cucumber face wash.

Even though the club cards clutter up our wallets, we prefer them to clipping coupons and then searching for each item in the store. We never mastered the art of extreme couponing. And those computer-savvy companies who use reward apps? We’ve downloaded some that promise to keep track of what we eat and what we earn, but it’s hard to remember our user name and password, and when we do, we have to swipe through five screens to choose our salad ingredients online so we can get credit for our purchase.

So what do these loyalty clubs get us? When a friend wanted to get a speedy appointment with a world-famous gastroenterologist, her membership in the Rita’s Water Ice cool customer club didn’t impress the receptionist enough to get her in to see the doctor. Maybe it would have worked if she were a member of the “elite diamond club.”

 

This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on April 25, 2016 

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