I just purchased fourteen boxes of twelve Iced Gingerbread Clif bars to a box.
Hey, it could have been worse. Yesterday I was watching Filipino comic Rex Navarrette talking about balut, which to me looks like the world’s biggest hard-boiled egg fail. He described it as the ‘Pinoy Clif bar.’ That’s one of many reasons I like Rex’s comedy, that and my affection for Filipino cultures, from relatives to friends and beyond.
But no, I didn’t buy 168 baluts.
Self-revelation: I can be the world’s cheapest bastard. I pick up pennies in parking lots. I’m still attempting to use up a lifetime supply of drinking straws (want any?). I have enough saran wrap for several kinky parties. I built most of my garage storage out of junk, including a doghouse made from rejected forklift pallet pieces. I hate going to Costco (which is not to say that I hate Costco, just the experience), and my standard check to the cashier is about $550. I built my wife a holder for odd-shaped art stuff which I call the Nebelwerfer, after the WWII German rocket launcher. It’s five coffee cans canted slightly upward in a cluster on a stand. If I ever handmade you a gift, I probably made it out of garbage.
Not that I mind spending money to take friends out to a nice dinner, or to leave a decent tip, or something else socially productive. Nothing is finer than the opportunity to do a hospitable kindness people will enjoy. I do not mind spending money. But oh, oh, oh, how I hate to waste it. Or anything.
So I always check the grocery store’s bargain baskets and shelves. You never know what in hell they’ll be trying to get rid of. Case of decent wine, $7 a bottle? I’m on it. Ten jars of alfredo sauce, half price? Guess what we’re going to be eating. And the other day, I was at my local Fred Meyer buying ant poison and groceries. Stopped by the bargain corner, and saw boxes and boxes of Clif bars. Pumpkin Something and Iced Gingerbread.
I don’t care for Clif bars. Not that I hate them, just that if I were buying a chiseled-calf hipster-beard overpriced bicycle-advocate vegan granola-based energy bar, I’d pick almost anything else first. They neither look nor taste that appealing to me. And that’s good, because not only am I supposed to eat some form of breakfast, it has to meet my strict criteria:
It must cleanse my mouth of the residual coffee aftertaste, which I hate, and is the sole pleasure benefit of me eating in the morning.
It must require zero effort, because first thing in the morning, I will not make any, and if I have to speak, my first words will be vile.
It must be bearable without being appetizing, providing no temptation to overdo it, because I need to be less fat.
It must be minimalist, because I’m forcing myself to do this for reasons of good health. I really don’t want any food in the morning.
Pumpkin anything can be a weird taste for me, but I figured I’d buy a box of the Iced Gingerbread: twelve 59¢ breakfasts, and reasonably healthy to boot, would fit all my specifications. Paid, took home, tried them, found them bearable, and went back to the store to clean them out. Some days it’s helpful being absolutely indifferent to the looks you get, and believe me, when you have fourteen boxes of Clif bars in your shopping cart, you get some strange looks.
Cashier: “Wow. You must really like Clif bars.”
Me: “Nah, not much.”
Cashier: “Then how come you’re buying this many?”
(Such inquiries would be unthinkable some places, such as Seattle with its privacy bubbles. This is Idaho. In Idaho, people are rarely standoffish toward friendly conversation, and there is no invisible ‘I am the consumer and you must deify me’ bubble. Thus, by Idaho standards, this was not at all intrusive. He was acting like an Idahoan, presuming approachability and friendliness, anticipating only goodwill. Standoffishness would have shocked him, especially from a heavyset bearded guy, thus presumably an Idahoan Character. I find this aspect of Idaho invigorating. Seattle tolerates but ignores characters, not daring to comment, and any wacko buying fourteen cases of Clif bars is a character. Idaho talks to them and treats them like people. I will miss this.)
Me: “Cheap breakfasts, and nothing I’ll be tempted to eat two of. Yogurts cost over a buck, and are more perishable. I just saved myself about $80 over the next few months.”
(That, he understood completely. Idaho has a low minimum wage, vestigial social services, and a lot of very poor people, and the cashier was probably one of them. And his count was perfect: 168 Iced Gingerbread Clif bars.)
Cashier: “Enjoy! Have a great afternoon.”
Me: “I’ll try. You do the same.”
I’m writing this in March. By the time I have to start thinking about breakfast again, the leaves will be starting to turn autumn color. By my logic, the sicker I get of them, the better: less temptation, and more eating them out of obligation to realize value.
I was a terrifying accountant, in a past life.
My line of work involves a lot of sticker shock. I’m sometimes the recipient, as in: I look into a situation, discover that it would require me to work for about $1.75 per hour, and realize that there are people desperate enough to accept that and people ready to exploit that desperation. Other times, I’m the shocker rather than the shockee.
I don’t make public my pricing methodology, but it’s based on the amount of time and effort required to do the job right. That, in turn, is affected most by the size of the job and the depth of attention necessary. Length is always the biggest factor: if someone wants a critical read with suggestions, and the ms is 400 pages long, well, that’s a lot of work. It’s a lot more involved than a 120-page short novel, and will require much more mental juggling to keep track of everything. (That critical read would also be included in an editing job, if that were wanted, as part and parcel. But one must do as one was engaged to do.)
Proofreading is least expensive, because my brain really is not on the storyline, but on catching errors. The author failed to deliver adequate character development? Not my purview. Author made a grammatical error? Fix it and move on. Story is insipid? Not what I was hired to address. Big ton of loose spaces? Fix them. I go over the entire thing at least twice, but that’s simply because I am better at this than other people.
Editing is more expensive, and more variable, because it depends upon what shape the writing is in. Good writing costs less because it may have sentences that can stand without my intervention. Bad writing costs more because I have to make it into good writing. Editing also depends upon length, of course, and on intricacy and complexity. No two are alike, and different mss require different treatments. A one-method-fits-all approach would not help to transform the ms into the best book it can be.
This can mean that I send a ms back to the author with strong suggestions and observations, and suggest some reworking before we get into editing. What I am really saying there is: “This has some flaws I consider lethal. If I fix them for you, in the first place, it will be very expensive. In the second, it will be me supplying the creativity, because a rewrite has no boundaries. I think it’s better if the creativity and flow of ideas are yours; it’s your book. Consult me any time as you go, but I hope you’ll rework this.” If the author can’t or won’t do that, and still wants me to edit it, that’s a problem because I’m not comfortable sending out a fatally flawed book. That means…
…rewriting. I undertake this with great reluctance, but if someone insists and accepts the greatly inflated cost, I may decide to take it. Rewriting happens when either the writing or the story have such severe flaws that plain editing won’t suffice. It’s also rare, because in my experience the worse the writing, the more certain is the author of that writing’s perfection and brilliance. Distilled to the result, the combination of sticker shock and the notion of complete change of even the basic style (which can have no other meaning but “this isn’t good at all”) usually end up sparing me rewriting jobs. And that’s fine, because they are arduous. I would so much rather offer feedback and guidance so that I can simply edit a much-improved ms.
Composition or ghostwriting is the next level up. This happens when I don’t have a ms to work with, just notes or guidelines. Creating that ms is my task. I have done a great deal of it as a contributing author, and I like it well enough, but it’s even more work to do well, and costs even more. It can entail travel, interviewing, purchasing of books, library trips, transcription, and every other manner of research available to me.
Thus, if you’re hoping to keep the price within reason, keep the length within reason. Big book = big project.
The book industry has changed, in case you weren’t paying attention, and the downfall of the New York model has gone hand in hand with the changes in the game’s admission rules. The bar has dropped from ‘has to make the publisher money’ to ‘author has to be willing to shell out a little money or become a DIY publisher him/herself.’ If you don’t hire any editing, proofreading, typesetting, cover art or printing, there’s no noteworthy cost. It’s guaranteed to be lousy on some level, because just about no one who writes well does all the rest of that well, but congrats: you’re published.
In short, the ticket price has dropped to a sliding scale, but there is no parking or mass transit, and traffic is horrible.
If you self-publish, of course, you’re also the marketing department. (Even under other forms of publishing, you are still the marketing department, though it’s more comforting to pretend that you are not.) That means trying to get some book reviews up on Amazon, which probably has 90% of the market share, or on blogs or other bookselling sites. Most people will read at least a few book reviews before buying a book. A book with no reviews appears to be a book that has generated zero interest, and inspires like in the shopper.
Where this leads: if you’re written any Amazon reviews of any note at all, there are a lot more people seeking reviews than there once were. Naughty secret: for whatever it was worth, under the old Amazon review system where someone named Harriet Klausner ranked as #1 for years by writing about three book reports a day, my highest ranking (out of about 150,000 reviewers) was #73. In 2000, that got me about 1-2 review requests per month.
Today, under the new ranking system (in which my body of work is unremarkable) and having written about ten reviews in the last ten years, I get 1-2 review requests per week. It has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with the exponential increase in self-marketers. Self-publishers, even those who hire professional assistance and produce quality work, are of necessity self-marketers. The self-publisher who is not also a self-marketer is either disinterested in making money, or disinterested in facing reality.
Some of those seeking reviews are doing it right, and some are doing it wrong. Here is how to do it right.
- The approach must be personal and by name. ‘Dear Reviewer’ is of minimal worth; that tells me it’s spam, and should be deleted.
- The approach must indicate why I was selected. A generalist approach (“as you have reviewed many books on Amazon…”) is a failure, because that tells me it’s spam.
- The why must be credible and sensible. At the least, it should refer to a genre of material I have read, and better that it include specific titles. I’m not saying that someone needs to butter me up, just that it needs not to look like spam.
- The offer must include a print copy of the book. Of course, this is not true for many reviewers, and is not possible for many books. To me, an author serious enough about wanting a review is serious enough to mail me a copy. Therefore, this one’s optional, as I have specific conditions that don’t apply to everyone else.
- The offer must not involve a pre-publication version, a.k.a. a galley. Galleys may be rarer today, but I remember a number of approaches where someone wanted me to review a .pdf of the galley. I don’t think too many reviewers are interested in pre-publication galleys–they want to review the book after it’s gone gold.
- The offer must include contact information beyond an e-mail address. This is business. We are real people. If you are an author, you’re a public figure on some level. Providing your contact information highlights your authenticity and encourages me to take you seriously. If you write under a pen name, you should provide your real name, or if not, explain candidly to me why you can’t (your ex-husband is a complete psycho, you are living under an assumed name in Ecuador, etc.).
- The offer must not put me on a mailing list of people to spam later. I will generally remember who has written to me before, so if you send out a second round hoping for better results, you won’t get those results from me. I realize that this sounds implausible; who would do such a stupid thing? Please believe me when I say that some people are so desperate for publicity, they will do exactly this. When I see it again, I get very grouchy. I had to report one author to her ISP.
- The offer must be phrased in your best writing. Because if you can’t write well when you step into my spotlight (and presumably are presenting yourself at your very best), that tells me that your book may be badly written. If I suspect that it is, I won’t proceed further.
Because my time is finite, and I don’t want to accept a commitment to read a book that will be torture to my brain. Especially when good practice demands that I drop whatever else I am reading and fulfill my commitment to read it.
Because I will then be expected to review it (and professional ethics demand that I do so in a timely manner), and I have zero fundamental desire to impale a book in public. The idea of harming an aspiring author’s prospects is completely counter to my line of work, my thought process and level of enthusiasm–it feels like a police officer ordered to slap around a nice elderly lady. Most would refuse.
Three, because I get nothing from this. I don’t have tremendous motivation to write book reviews, as anyone who looks at my body of work at Amazon (seven serious book reviews in the last four years) can tell. When I write a book review, I am donating my time almost for free, and to make it worse, Amazon is going to whore my review out to anyone it wishes (a major reason not to donate them free content).
Even if you do everything right, I may not end up accepting a review copy, and the reasons may have nothing to do with anything you said or did. I could just be too busy to do it right and on time. But if you do everything right, someone else will.
…you may not make much time for blogging.
You really can’t. If you have time to write blog posts, which all your clients can see, how will you explain to them why their stuff isn’t getting done sooner? That’s why there’s been less new material recently here at The ‘Lancer. For example:
I recently finished a major rewrite job on a crime thriller. It was extremely difficult going, because when you rewrite, think about it: you’re responsible for everything. This character was not introduced sooner? That’s what you’re paid to correct. Wait, what did we say about how that situation went forty pages ago? Have to go back and look. Rewriting is expensive, and in some cases, needs to be (and is about to become) more expensive.
Shortly thereafter, an editing job reached my desk that I don’t even know how to categorize (except as fiction), but it’s about death and rock and roll. Much easier work, but also more commercial potential and higher expectations as a result. At times like this, it’s handy to have another gear that I am not sure others in my line of work can access. Of course, when I deploy it, I’m wiped the whole next day. Two naps. Zero social function.
That one had to be done that quickly, because I could not keep the next project waiting: an intriguing comic political fiction tale about Latin America. For one thing, it’s four hundred pages, reckoning at 300 w/pp. For another, it was scanned via OCR, leaving a goodly number of small scanning flubs. I like the ms and believe that it’ll do well, but it’s going to take me weeks to do correctly.
I may or may not finish that one by the time it’s time to dig into a Native American historical fiction novel that’s a little longer than the previous ms I mentioned. It all depends how quickly the author is able to devote the time to addressing the matters we discussed beforehand. You see, sometimes a ms needs a significant amount of work before it’s to the stage where I can do what is called editing, not rewriting. If there are major issues to address, I would prefer that the creative remedial actions come from the author; it is his or her book. This need usually reveals itself on the evaluation read, which I don’t undertake unless I’m pretty sure I’d like to be the editor. Anyway, depending on life events, that ms could arrive any time, and I’d at least have to start evaluating where it had gotten to while still working on the previously mentioned project.
And out there beyond those are shades of more, early discussions, early contacts.
Anyway, that’s what’s keeping me off the blog lately, and away from the tough ‘hoods and fleshpots of Boise. We actually have a lot of those, no joke. I’ve seen all sorts of places that look to me like strip joints. Not of interest to me personally, but considering how desperately poor so many Idahoans are–the outcome of a chillingly effective philosophy that believes, at its heart, that the best way to keep Boise from becoming Denver is to give the poor absolutely zero incentive to come or stay here–it surprises me not one bit that there are enough young women desperate for money in Boise that it can support half a dozen strip-o-terias.
As for me, even if I were the type, I have too much on my plate. But I promise I’m not forgetting you fine souls who stay in touch with The ‘Lancer. I just have to pick days when I can set aside some time, ideally days when my brain activity exceeds that of muesli.
Word has come of the final demise of Epinions.com, one of my early writing sandboxes. I can’t say that I’m sad, but like an old apartment where one lived for a time, one may look back at it and say: there is a piece of my life’s days.
To explain why it matters, I must tell what it was and why it became popular. Epinions was born as what we might call the people’s product review platform. Anyone could create an account and write reviews of books, diaper pails, cars, wines, cell phones, travel destinations, games, what have you. And therein lay its greatest flaw: you could only review what was in the Epinions database, which meant a significant delay between purchase and waiting for the item to be added. By the time it were added, it might be discontinued, though people tried hard to keep the database as current as possible. That wasn’t a factor at Amazon, where if you could buy it, you already had an account and could review it. It’s not hard to see why Epinions reviews failed to become a go-to product research resource, in spite of significant talent and effort.
Epinions also meant exposing one’s work to public critique, because anyone could comment on and rate a review. Enough negative reviews, and your review wouldn’t show up as readily. If people didn’t like something about your review, they’d say so–although one learned to be careful taking on the site’s evident intellectual heavyweights. It developed its own culture: product detail fanatics, wiseacres who wrote reviews not meant to be taken too seriously (hi, there; my name is jkkelley), lazy two-line reviewers, moms trying to out-mom all other moms, honest hard workers, prats, and idiots.
Oh, and one got paid. At first, quite a lot, enough that unscrupulous people created click circles to scam the site out of wads of venture capital. As I arrived, pay became a trickle. I probably made $500 for over a hundred reviews spread over the course of ten years, heavily concentrated in the first three. I’d guess that I made less than $1/hour. When I started to get paid real money to write, I became less interested in donating my creativity to a site that avowedly shopped my writing to other sites with no extra compensation for me. While that wasn’t the only reason I stopped writing, I’d be false if I presented it in idealistic terms. When I learned that my work was worth more than Epinions would ever pay me, the incentive was gone–unless I had an ax to grind, as I sometimes did.
I came to know a good number of great people at Epinions. A couple are now acclaimed authors. I met perhaps a dozen or more in person. I stay in touch with quite a few. It had a few freaks, most easily avoided. Some I became close to in real-world terms that I knew would long survive the site. Some I have seen through major life changes, been drunk with, mourned. Some I’m pretty sure would take me in if I were homeless, and a few would more likely give me the coup de grace.
Epinions was a good place to learn how to write, thanks to the open-ended platform and potential for critique. Not all of it was constructive, but even the mean-spirited and bitchy critiques taught me things. I wouldn’t call it a finishing school for writing, but it was a useful boot camp. If people were heckling one’s reviews, well, there might have been a reason for that. One learned to organize one’s work (or not). One learned to be sure of one’s facts (or not). One learned how to handle critique with grace (or not). For many, Epinions was the first place where they turned to face the blast furnace of public reaction to writing.
My own specialty at Epinions was the art of the parody review. It was designed so that it could not deserve bad ratings, because it still contained helpful consumer information. It was experiential without taking the concept seriously. I reviewed Hustler as a women’s magazine. I reviewed a sippy cup for utility in drinking alcohol while operating power tools or behind the wheel. I reviewed Grand Theft Auto III as a homeschooling tool. I reviewed a CD called The Power of Pussy by Bongwater. I reviewed a game called Team Barbie Detective, playing it with my own inclinations and seeing how it went. Amused yet annoyed by a freakout review by a religious fanatic of a children’s animated DVD, which alleged that it was demonic, I bought the same DVD and evaluated it as a practical guide to demon summoning. (Hey, kids need to know this stuff.) Epinions had some review topics that just pleaded for mockery, such as ‘How To Use Action Figures And Sets.’
At times, I got serious. I reviewed Everclear, telling the story of the time it came near to ending my life in its second decade. When I decided to hammer a stake through the heart of the University of Phoenix, I was all malice and business. It wasn’t all comedy.
The defining moment, I suppose, was the breast pump review. They told me it was the funniest, craziest thing I’d ever done at Epinions. I’m not sure I’d agree, but I enjoyed the reception it got, especially from quite a few women who had actually deployed a breast pump in anger at some point. There’s a story behind it. Mark Arnold, of St. Louis, was one of the funnier writers at the site. Those of us who felt there was room for mirth commingled with the consumer helpfulness were something of a fraternity at Epinions, and Mark was in good standing. He was also dying, rather swiftly, of kidney cancer. We could do precious little for him, but we could bring our A-games to make him laugh while he was suffering, and thus convey to him our affection. I am reliably informed that we made a real difference for Mark, and I’m proud of my own small donation to the cause.
And that it may be preserved for those who enjoyed it, and survive the fall of Epinions’ flaming timbers, I present it here in modestly edited form. We remember you, Mark. You were a good guy and a funny writer.
Venturing among the forlorn, giving a whole new meaning to “self-expression”
Evenflo Breast Pump Kit Press and Pump Battery/Electric, reviewed by jkkelley on 2001-09-05
Pros: can be returned to Wal-Mart, sex toy potential
Cons: didn’t make me lactate, painful, noisy, sold at Wal-Mart
Summary: not recommended for milking your breast, though you might get someone aroused with it
After posting my fiftieth review at Epinions, I hit upon an idea for #100 that I nursed, so to speak, for four months. At Epinions we hear a lot about stay-at-home moms this, the Mommy Brigade that, and so on. It’s mostly silliness, but there’s an element of truth in it. My own mom was a stay-at-home mom, and she worked hard.
So, in regard for moms everywhere, I want to write for Kids & Family. Who says you have to have kids to write in this area, anyway? Bah. A fresh perspective is needed: one from someone who has no children, has not even been to Chuck E Cheese’s, and therefore has no biases. For, as we all know, it is true that just once in a great while, the occasional Kids & Family junkie gets just a little militant.
Did you realize that men too can lactate? It’s not a simple matter; our normal acquaintance, at least in the case of straight men, involves a radically different approach to the breast. Milking our own is usually not on the agenda. But we can; just ask any doctor. And we should. Who says that only women can nurse babies? I call upon males of all persuasions to break these chains of oppression and show that we, too, can be nurturing and life-giving.
With that, I resolved to milk myself, if I could, and in so doing, review a breast pump. I figured that a new viewpoint would add a lot of consumer value, result in Informed Buying Decisions, and help me gain valuable Kids & Family-related insight so that I could better relate to the plight of nursing women.
Now, granted, unless I attempted to do the dairy routine in the shopping mall food court–and since I wasn’t going to have to clean up any baby barf–I admit that I knew in advance I wasn’t getting the Total Lactatory Experience. That part I couldn’t help. But I tried valiantly anyway, good reader, and if you’d like to hear the story, read on.
It was a typical Tri-Cities August afternoon (about 95° F) one fine Tuesday when I did something which normally for me would be anathema. Something so bizarre I had to really psych myself up to get through it. I would venture to a circle of Hell to walk unto the tormented and the damned, with faith in nonconformity as my fortress.
I went to Wal-Mart.
First priority: avoid being ‘greeted’. I chose my entry timing with care. Evading the underemployed senior in blue, I moved with a purpose toward the pharmaceutical section. I was in the Wal-world, as they say, but not of it. I stepped over dropped pork rinds (that is not a joke). I disdained a cart. I dodged corpulent, aimless cartpushers lacking in depth perception. I met the vacant stares of staff and patrons alike without flinching; just as in a burn ward, it is important to people not to deny their humanity even when in a state of degradation. Exile from humanity is far worse torture.
How unfortunate for me, then, that I couldn’t find the damned breast pump section with both hands and an annotated map. I wandered around for a good twenty minutes (the place was about the size of a big league ballpark) before at last bungling across the breast pumps. Naturally, some Queen Bee had her cart parked right in front of them. Naturally, it took several minutes for it to occur to Her Majesty that I might want one, and that I might greatly appreciate it if she would kindly back her rig up. This is normal in the Tri-Cities. They mean no harm; it just doesn’t occur to anyone that they could ever possibly be obstructing anyone, so they just stand there doing nothing, letting the mental solenoids work.
My main decision was whether to get the manual or the electric one. Since I knew I would be returning it anyway (no other reason to set foot in Walton Memorial Arena), I splurged on the electric one. Perhaps I could milk myself while reading, or preparing possum stew, or playing solitaire Pictionary.
The waiting is the hardest part, and never more so than when being in line to check out takes you out of the Brownian motion of shopping and forces you to register what you see. Two of the three customers ahead of me had some problem or issue (probably a twenty-cent discount that they failed to receive). It took about fifteen minutes before I finally got to plunk down the card. During that time, the Mother of the Year behind me threatened to cut her son’s finger off if he touched a pack of gum. (I shot the boy a look of solidarity. If I’d had a sow like that for a mom, I would have wanted a few looks of solidarity.)
The checker, a thirtyfiveish woman with a sad expression and a fading shiner that spoke volumes, couldn’t determine whether the credit card slip she printed was for a credit or debit card. This is normally a fairly elementary question, I believe, but the elementary is complicated at Wal-Mart. After seeing the black eye, I gave her incompetence a pass. My façade fading, I just signed the slip and bugged out of there.
To my great joy, I also evaded being ‘greeted’ on the way out. Exultation of the kind I felt when I was leaving Hell High School for college. Ha, you gravy-suckers. You got to borrow my money for a week, but you didn’t get my soul. You didn’t even provoke in me any reaction but pity. I get to leave, and you will remain here, slaving away for the world’s worst employer outside of a few shoe factories in Shenzhen. I had a sense of triumph and achievement as I headed for the White Lightning, my truck, which I’d deliberately parked in the lot’s farthest corner. At the 27th and US 395 Wal-Mart in Kennewick, Washington, that effectively meant parking it in Idaho.
After my appointment that afternoon (I wonder how the nice elderly lady having trouble getting her Verizon dial-up going would have reacted if she knew; I felt slutty), I headed for the barn, pump safely stowed atop my briefcase full of computer and business paraphernalia.
I showed my beautiful bride my purchase.
“NO! You aren’t really going to milk yourself, are you?”
“Why, certainly, dear. Why should women get all the glory?”
“You are such a freak.”
“By the way, dear, I need you to help me.”
(groaning) “Oh, god. With what?”
“The before and after pictures, obviously!”
She looked at me in shocked disdain. She is so culturally conservative sometimes.
That evening I tried to assemble it. Deb’s efforts to help made the task more challenging; I had to shoo her off, on the grounds that I couldn’t evaluate the assembly directions fairly if she did it for me.
Instructions: lousy. In English, Spanish and French, interspersed together, but in a way that’s difficult to follow. The drawings are not to scale, so the parts they’re showing as being big are actually small and vice versa. I’m reasonably mechanically inclined, but I found them badly formatted and confusing–the fact that I understand Spanish and French notwithstanding. I can only imagine how much fun this might be during postpartum depression. Hell, even during partum depression.
In the back, also in three languages, are some questions and answers about breastfeeding. Engorgement (full hooter syndrome, basically), storage, refrigeration, scheduling, milking oneself and massage techniques are all covered. None of them helped me personally, though some of them look promising as foreplay.
Assembly: poorly thought out. For example: to get the bottle in place like the manual says, you have to shove with all your might, bending the plastic. I was sincerely scared that I would break it, which would give me postpartum depression (because then I couldn’t take it back to Wallyworld). I tried every direction and method. If you follow the instructions, you will ultimately damage the pumper. My recommendation is to lightly grease these parts with Vaseline or something so you don’t have to honk on it so hard.
What it looks like: imagine a white one-demitasse coffee maker, if such a thing exists. Then imagine a milk bottle about the size of a champagne split, topped by a clear plastic trumpet bell coming out at an angle. You position the little valve on top of the bottle on the drip part of the coffee maker, at an angle, then cram and force the bottle vertical.
Attachments: it also comes with a little blue bag, so that you can cart it around in public without horny guys forming a pack behind you waiting for you to uncover an inch of breast flesh. There are also some nursing pads (probably to mop up in case you’re doing the Old Faithful thing), a little ‘silicone nipple adapter’ (a euphemistic term for ‘miniature mammary adapter’), and a rubber hose called the ‘flushing tube’ (for if you get truly infuriated with the thing and find yourself about to flush it down the can). In some ways it was sort of like a little Kirby vacuum cleaner.
Getting going: one problem most women don’t have to face is chest hair. Like Esau, I am ‘an hairy man,’ so I shaved off a circle of chest hair centered on my nipple. The trumpet bell thing, which we should just call the sucker, is about the diameter of a baseball; I shaved an area about like a saucer. Having not shaven anything in four years, I actually had to go digging for a shaving razor. Finally found one in an old travel kit. It was that or steal from the wife.
Firing that sucker up: the instructions said to stimulate my “let-down reflex” by relaxing, thinking about my baby, and massaging my breasts. Since I don’t have a baby, or much in the way of breasts, I substituted thinking about experiences I’ve had in the past that sucked, such as Micron’s warranty service, talking to Dell Computer on the phone, and dining at Casa Chapala. Day by day I recorded my experiences:
Day 1: had some difficulty getting a firm seal (some of these aquatic mammals really need to take up Tae Bo), and when I did, yeouch! I immediately turned down the suction. It felt like I was nursing a remora. No middle ground; either there wasn’t enough suction and it fell off, or there was enough to hurt like all hell. Five minutes of this left my whole nipple area swollen, and if I’d kept it on full, I’m sure I’d have blown a blood vessel.
Day 2: the problem with this thing is that the suction level doesn’t stay put, meaning it keeps sliding up until it could suck-start a Harley. Nipple very swollen and tender. This isn’t for wimps, let me tell you. Feels like a baby, all right: a baby badger.
Day 3: hurts even worse, though I’m getting the hang of keeping my thumb in the right place so it can’t do the Electrolux thing to me. Feels like a needle in my nipple. It is absolutely impossible to do anything else during this–can’t chat online, can’t write, can’t even read a magazine.
Day 4: I’m building up my endurance a little here, though the thing is still painful. I’m beginning to despair that I’ll actually get any milk this week. (It was at this point that I actually, for the first time, asked myself what in the world I would do with it if I did in fact begin to do the dairy thing. Sell it on eBay, I think.)
Day 5: left the suction up higher this time and sucked it up, so to speak, when it came to the pain. I paid the price–I think a blood vessel is about to go. Tomorrow I’m going to have to shave again. In the mirror, with my shirt off, I look pretty odd. I would have a lot of explaining to do at the beach.
Day 6: weird effect; my areola (the skin around the nipple) is getting all wrinkly, like women’s do when their nipples get erect. We may be getting somewhere here, even though with the pump attached it still feels like my nipple is in a pair of vise-grips. This has real potential as a S&M sex toy. It would give a manageable amount of mildly erotic pain.
Day 7: oh, great, I’ve finally developed a tolerance for the ‘high’ setting now that the experiment is over. It hurt acutely at first (and my nipple is always tender) but after about five minutes it didn’t bother me. The hell with it; I’m taking this back. I’m also saying the hell with the before and after pictures, on the grounds that I have to admit that it didn’t do me any visible damage.
Results: very poor. This device failed to express even a drop of colostrum from my nipple. I therefore cannot recommend this pump; I must join the ranks of the many dissatisfied customers. I see now why it has the unflattering nickname: “The Nipple Ripper.”
I don’t know of any women I’d wish it on. Couple guys, maybe.