Conspicuous Consumer WINDFALLS

Dumb Thumb

Some unlucky people, it seems, are born without that necessary appendage for growing plants, a green thumb. No matter how diligently we water and feed, plants die as if infected with the plague. But even the most inept gardener need not despair, for we have unearthed three plants that are practically indestructible.

The Kentia Palm, although similar to the Areca Palm, is much hardier. This plant requires medium light. It should be kept uniformly moist, but be careful not to over-water. The Kentia Palm needs to be fed by spraying food on the leaves rather than the soil. Baths of water or a mild biodegradable cleanser and water every three to six months will keep the leaves shining. Commonly called the “Queen Palm,” the plant grows very slowly, and therefore is fairly expensive. A three- to four-foot palm will cost approximately $60.

The Spathiphyllum, also very hardy, blooms with a lily-white flower several times throughout the year. The plant can live in low to good light. The Spath should be kept evenly moist, never bone dry, and appreciates daily misting. Relatively inexpensive, the plant should be fed twice a month.

The Dracaena Massangeana is only one member of the populous Dracaena family. These plants thrive in low to good light – anything but darkness or strong sunlight. Popularly known as “Cornstalks,” the plants should only be watered when the soil feels dry, but never allow them to become bone dry. Feed the small plants monthly, and the larger ones three times a year.

-Megan Mastal

Two for Tee

Golf addicts, if you’ve constantly been losing your golf balls, become an official golf ball breeder. Buffalo George can make you the proud owner of two male and female balls and can even instruct you how to tell them apart. Included in the owner’s manual are chapters such as “Care and Feeding” (they like grass and mud) and “Dating Tips.” A marriage certificate is included as well as advice on breeding and whelping. Available for $4.95 at all Thomas and Hart Stores; or order by mail from: The Buffalo George Empire, Inc., Suite 101, 3003 Carlisle St., Dallas TX. 75204.

Undercover Agent

Despite a steady growth in the number of “good” bookstores in Dallas, it’s been difficult to locate out-of-print or unusual books outside the field of Tex-ana; retail stores usually don’t have the time to help you search. But finally the services of a book tracer are available, and acquiring them requires less expenditure than you might think.

Julie Clem began book tracing while working for a Dallas bookstore and, recognizing the need for such a service, began the Tracery as a full-time enterprise not long ago. She receives all kinds of requests and can usually satisfy even the most esoteric, such as finding a book when she isn’t supplied with either title or its author.

The process takes about 30 days; when she locates the book, she informsyou of the condition and the price, the latter dependent on the base priceas well as the time required to find the book. Write Mrs. Clem at P. O. Box29733, Dallas 75229; or call 361-5269.

-Gail Garvie

Whose Hue

There seems to be no limit to the tricks they’re teaching Xerox machines to do. Now you can make your own designs with the new color copier. This nifty invention can print copies of color slides and photographs, and create collages from all sorts of materials – leaves, rocks, even your own hand or face. Prints can be made as large as 8 1/2″ by 14″, and images can be reversed so they can be put on iron-on transfer paper.

Prices for copying vary, begin-ing usually around 50¢ for a single copy. More complex prints are $1 and up. Some of the most imaginative users of the color copier are Betty Maddox of Copy Services at the University of Texas at Dallas (McDermott Library/ 690-2267), and Clare Malmberg of Daddy-0 Productions (3007 Maple Terrace Apartments, Apt. 609/ 748-1050). Other locations are the Oakwood Tower Secretarial Service (3626 N. Hall/521-9932), Ridgway Enterprises (2720 Oak Lawn/ 369-3111), SMU Media Services (1st floor, Fondren Library West/ 692-3199), and Kwik-Kopy (12700 Park Central/233-5964). All have slide adaptors except Kwik-Kopy, which will be acquiring one soon.

– Gail Garvie

Conspicuous Consumer

Survival in Toyland

The next time Mr. Webster revises his word book he should seriously consider updating the definition of “toy,” which now reads “a trinket or bauble, something paltry or trifling.” If $69.95 for a Telstar TV ping pong adapter is paltry, the national defense budget must rate no worse than modest. Cheer up, though – a discriminating approach to shopping can save you a lot of money this year. And you might even buy something your child will like.

The first thing you have to do is put the role of the specialized toy store in proper perspective. Since most toy stores are individually owned, your neighborhood fun time dealer cannot buy Weebles Haunted House in lots of 100,000. To make a buck or two, he has to charge you more than K Mart does for the little guys that wobble but never fall over. So there’s no percentage in buying Weebles Haunted House at a toy store. In fact there’s no need to pay toy store prices for the products of any of the major manufacturers – Marx, Mattel, Fisher-Price, Tonka, Kenner, Ideal and Hasbro. If your child has seen it on Saturday morning TV, the discounteries have it.

But in the name of Saint Nicholas, don’t shut the toy store out of your yuletide strategy. Sure, K Mart has G.I. Joe, but for Lizard Man you have to go to Toys by Roy. Toy stores are full of the unusual, the imaginative surprise that can make or break Christmas morning. And it might even be to your advantage to do one-stop shopping at a store like Toy World, at 6821 Preston Road, which has an amazing selection.

Some toy stores practically never overlap with the discount chain offerings. One such establishment is Designs for Growing, located in the Park Cities Bank Building, Preston at Mockingbird. It’s a place where you’ll be disappointed if your child doesn’t dilly-dally. It’s home to a 10-foot giraffe, an 8-foot grizzly bear, and hand puppets named Tooth Fairy and Little Foot (son of Big Foot). There are Creative Playthings, Montessori products, European imports and a stuffed otter who’s just dying to go home with you. And strangest of all, it’s a toy store where children can touch, without raising the ire of a grumpy clerk.

The Drummer Boy in the Quadrangle is also loaded with delightful puppets and educational toys. If your youngster gets his ho-ho-ho’s from model air-planes, Crown Hobby and Toys, at 8400 Preston Road, is a regular aeronautical North Pole. And for the physically creative, consider the Gym Dandybackyard climbing equipment at The Toy Chest, Belt Line at Piano Road.

But let us not drift from our resolve to complete our toy shopping with enough change left over for fruit cake and mince pie. The best toy prices in Dallas are found in that old favorite, the Sears, Roebuck Catalog. The disadvantage of most catalog purchases is the seller’s annoying practice of penalizing you for every mile you live away from the distribution center and for every pound of merchandise you order.

But we’re lucky. Our Sears Distribution Center is right here in Dallas at 1409 S. Lamar. Phone in your order, pick it up at the Lamar store, and you won’t be gigged a single cent for extra charges. J.C. Penney catalog prices are comparable to Sears, but our J.C. Penney Distribution Center is in Atlanta.

While you’re at the Sears Lamar ! store, drop by the Catalog Surplus store in the basement. This is a bargain hunter’s paradise full of toys and games !that have fallen from grace, often for no [greater sin than having a bent or discolored container, and just as often selling at about half price. This place is perfect if you’re loading up for a church nursery or a children’s home. Open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The selection changes daily.

The next best prices are at the discount stores, if you can stand the hassle. I found K Mart and Target prices to be quite similar. J.C. Penney, though technically not a discount store, offered toys priced in the same general range. Wool-co and Gibson were 7 to 8 percent higher.

The next plateau is comprised of the better quality general merchandise stores such as Titche’s and Sanger-Har-ris. Toy prices at these operations are generally higher than the discount store median, but more competitive than the specialized toy stores, which are at the top of the range.

What should you buy? Buy at least one toy that’s sneaky-creative. Astoundingly, it’s the educational toys that your child will turn to on a day-in-day-out basis after the thrill of Christmas has passed, the toys that run on imagination rather than batteries. Legos, Brix-Blox, Lincoln Logs, the multicolored multi-shaped wooden blocks – all offer endless possibilities in juvenile ingenuity. If you have the space, the J. C. Penney catalog offers a fascinating set of huge blocks (12″x6″x3″) for $4.99, ideal for any idea from a cavalry fort to a pirate ship.

The 1976 Neato Awards

The Neiman-Marcus robots. Piston Robot ($12) and Space Commander ($8) both walk, and emit mechanical gurgles, like any self-respecting robot should. But that’s not all. P.R. has a window in his tummy through which a set of red-orange pistons can be seen frantically bobbing up and down like corks in a crappie pond. S.C.’s midsec-tion houses a color television screen offering panoramic views of outer space.

The Green Machine ($21.96 at Woolco). This is a riding cycle, similar to the perennial Big Wheel, except that it has twin joy sticks instead of handlebars. Great for sharp turns and spin-outs. But don’t buy for children under six or for any child who lacks a safe place to ride.

Speed Wave Radio Controlled Vehicle ($19.95 at Sanger-Harris). Choose between a Datsun 280Z and a Corvette Stingray. No track, no wires, no strings – it’s operated by a remote-controlled, hand-held radio signal gadget. The vehicle, which can be operated as far as 100 feet away from the controller, makes only left turns, but this is no handicap once you get the hang of the over and under left back to right looping maneuver. Performs poorly on shag carpet.

Legos are small interlocking pieces in a variety of colors and a multitude of sizes and shapes. Patterns are available, but the real joy of this toy is the opportunity it affords for a child to let his imagination run rampant. Even 4- and 5-year-olds are likely to become so enthralled that whole afternoons pass like minutes. Legos do seem unnecessarily expensive, however, with the intermediate size (Model 145, which has 402 pieces) selling for around $25. Brix-Blox, which are similar in design but don’t hold together as well, are available through the Sears Catalog much more economically – a 1,000 piece set costs $14.95.

Model a. A high quality sculpturing material imported from Caran D’ache in Switzerland. Ideal for the artistic urchin. It’s actually plastilene though it looks and feels like clay. Not as sticky and smelly as Play-Doh. The Drummer Boy in the Quadrangle has a 10-color set with two sculpturing tools for $7.95.

The Bionic Woman ($7.98) and Bionic Beauty and Repair Station ($8.98). Move over Steve Austin, this is Jaime Sommers’ year. The lovely super heroine’s ears ping bionically when her head is turned. Her skin rolls back from her thighs to reveal her bionic units. You may think this sounds twinky but you probably thought that the Adams Chronicles should have out-Nielsened the Bionic beauty’s TV show, too.

Big Jim’s P.A.C.K. (Professional Agents and Crime Killers). Press Big Jim in the back and his expression changes from a tough look to aggressive determination. Dr. Steele’s muscle gets big, and Torpedo Fist (he lost the original to a shark) ejects a powerful thrust to ward off sneak attacks. Warpath, a mean Indian, and The Whip complete the P.A.C.K. There’s only one enemy – Zorak, the poor devil. His face turns a terrifying evil green when his back is pressed. The characters are about $5 each, clothing and accessories, $1.50 to $2.50, and riding vehicles, $5 to $12.50.

This is one of the few toys in the world which will entice a 5-year-old and a 10-year-old to play together. And don’t worry about the fact that generi-cally speaking these are actually d _ _ _ s. It’s perfectly acceptable these days for little boys to play with d_ _ _s, as long as the d_ _ _s are meaner than hell.

The 1976

Yuck Awards

Tinker Toys. I can only attribute the demise of this perennial favorite to corporate reorganization. I suspect that there are now two separate divisions in the Tinker Toy hierarchy – one manufacturing sticks, the other producing the round things with holes. Each is independent, coordinating only at the final stage when the pieces are dumped in the can. The result is sticks bigger than holes. Don’t buy Tinker Toys for your 5-year-old unless he can bench press 200 pounds.

Lite-Brite. Oh this one’s fine with Junior, but Mom will grow to despise it. This gizmo involves hundreds of tiny pegs half the size of a dime which light up to form attractive designs. These tiny pegs, however, take on the characteristics of a chameleon against the backdrop of your shag carpet. To recreate the sound of a Lite-Brite bulb being swallowed by a vacuum cleaner, drop a 100 watt light bulb into your garbage disposal.

Baby Bouncer. Nothing is cuter than watching a would-be walker barrel across the living room in one of those little contraptions with a cloth seat and leg holes strapped to two “U” shaped aluminum frames on plastic rollers. But non-walkers are just not ready to handle the speed they can generate with one of these things. And the scissors action where the two frames meet can produce frightful pinches.

The Daisy Air Rifle. Red Ryderwould never forgive me for this, but BBguns are losers in a society of 80’ by 120’lots. For the sake of the people, pets andwindows of your neighborhood, don’t doit. -Tom Peeler

Conspicuous Consumer

Some Eleventh Hour Tax Planning Tips

Less than a month remains until the end of the year, and that means you only have a few weeks to make adjustments in preparation for your 1976 income tax. We bring this to your attention because new legislation known as the Tax Reform Act of 1976 has changed some of the rules in the game. Here are some items of interest to keep in mind:

1. Many working parents have been given a break. Child care expenses are no longer simply deductions in determin-ing your taxable income but are direct credits to be taken off the taxes you owe. The credit is limited to the lesser of (a) 20% of expenses incurred, or (b) $400 for one dependent, and $800 for more than one dependent. If you and your spouse with two children make $36,000 in 1976 and owe, for example, an income tax of $6,500, the credit allows you to pay a tax of $5,700. That’s the good news.

2. The rules allowing a deduction for office space in your home have been considerably tightened. This provision is now generally limited to situations in which the home is used exclusively and regularly as the taxpayer’s principal place of business, or for meetings in the normal course of business with patients, clients and customers. And you should be prepared to back up your claim.

3. If you own a Colorado condo or beachfront house which you’ve treated as a separate rental business, check the new rules. A limitation is imposed on business deductions such as depreciation and maintenance if you use the home in excess of the greater of (a) two weeks a year, or (b) 10% of the actual rental time. Another thing to watch: if the home is rented for fewer than 15 days out of the year, no business deductions are allowed, and you need not report any income for the rental. Interest and ad valorem taxes continue to be allowed as deductible regardless of the rental status. Obviously, the government has an eye out for those who have treated their vacation homes as businesses only on their income tax forms.

4. If you’ve guaranteed somebody else’s bank notes recently, note that a change has been made in how you must treat the loss in the event of a default. In the past you may have been able to write it off as a bad business debt which would qualify as a deduction from ordinary income. Now you must treat the payment as if the loan had been made directly to the borrower. If the guarantee was not part of your business, even if the transaction was profit-motivated, a short-term capital loss would be required; if, however, the guarantee was a part of your normal business, the treatment would be an ordinary deduction. In other words, watch those bank guarantees you gave your brother-in-law.

5. One of the major changes affectsyour year-end planning. Interest maynow only be deducted in the period towhich the interest applies; in otherwords, you cannot prepay the interestfor 1977 to obtain a deduction for 1976.This change affects many tax sheltertechniques, so obtain good tax counselbefore entering any last-minute deals.One exception: points pre-paid on the acquisition of your personal residencecontinue to be deductible.

6. And don’t count on investing aspartner in a deal on December 31 andreceiving a share of the partnership’s1976 loss. Deductions are now allowedonly for the period of time you haveowned a partnership interest. Yourshare of the loss must be determined ona pro-rata basis for the past year.

7. One other thing to keep in mind: after December 31, 1976, the gift and estate taxes will be merged under a unified tax credit system. Because of the transitional provisions in the law, gifts (even substantial ones) made before the end of the year may be a wise estate planning move. Once again, check with your CPA or tax counsel.

While working on your end-of-the-year tax planning, you may decide to throw up your hands and jet to Las Vegas to pick up some last minute income. Even this activity has been affected by our new legislation. The law requires the house to withhold 20% on winnings over $1,000 for certain forms of gambling. Nothing is sacred.

-John D. Jackson


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