Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Retail Bluz Part 13 - The Last Crusade

In September, I started to chronicle my life in retail.  You can see by this being “Part 13,” that I've had a lot to tell.  If you’re new to this series, you should start with Part 1.  Otherwise, please join our hero as he wages one last campaign as a store manager.

After making the last post about my retail life, I took a look at an old journal entry and realized that I kind of underplayed the commotion that went on during my training at the downtown store.  The girl that took the poorly timed break had pulled several similar stunts as well.

My friend, Little Bit, who had gone from the craft store to the video stores just before I did, had problems with this girl during training, as well.  In fact, the girls at the training store made her cry.

No one makes my Little Bit cry and gets away with it, so I went in there already knowing what kind of BS might come to play, and was keen to throw my own weight around a bit.  I was a grown-ass retail ringer, not a little 4’10” ball of sweetness.

So when this particular Chickie pulled that break thing, I stood firm… professional, but firm.  Same thing when some of the other crap happened.  I sized it up as a couple of girls that were trying to run the store like the upper crust girls “run” the high school.  You know… popular girls making sure things work well for the popular girls, and not necessarily the school. 

Each time I opposed the little Chickie, it was for the betterment of the store.  It was stuff like not causing scenes with other employees in front of the customers, or turning on the A/C earlier than was traditionally proscribed, because it was 80 degrees in the store and customers were complaining.

She didn't like the upset to her little sub-kingdom, and I didn't like putting up with a bunch of bullshit from some snot-nosed little princess.  So she ran to the store manager about me on a number of occasions, which eventually resulted in a sit-down between the manager, our district manager and me.  We all came to an understanding… that I was right.

The two of them straightened out the little Chickie soon enough and the temperatures lowered across the board.  But it was funny because when I was in my first stores, I probably wouldn't have had the stomach for confronting the staff of a store in which I was training.

After a month or two, I was sufficiently trained up in store procedures that they began sending me out to other places to fill in when needed.  It was cool to get to know the other managers and their staffs, and see some other ways of doing things.  I attended a number of district-wide meetings as well and was able to meet some more of the managers.  Naturally, I saw one that was particularly cute.  I figured I’d have to do some recon with my craft store refugees, to find out what her deal was.

About mid June, my DM told me she would have a store for me soon, but couldn't tell me where.  That meant someone was about to get the boot.  But her reticence to tell me anything didn't mean I didn't know where I was going.  I started working it through in my head.

I first eliminated the stores that were far away or out of state.  I further eliminated a few managers that had been around forever and others that had received awards at the last District Meeting or had “Golden Girl” reputations.  That left two stores, the one in my neighborhood, and one in a run-down part of town.  Little Bit worked at my local store, and I also knew that it was a pretty nice facility, so I kinda hoped I’d go there.  But the manager there, I knew had just gone to fill in at another store.  Because they don’t usually send poor managers to go help out elsewhere, I was pretty sure I was going to the “rundown” store.  The downside?  That was the store where the cute manager worked.  It was kind of déjà vu for me, only without the felonious lesbian aspect.

I tried out my theory on my DM and she gave me a non-denial denial.  I asked another person who knew what was going on if I was wrong in my analysis, and she basically gave me the thumbs-up.  So now I knew were I was going.  My only concern was in scheduling, because I had my family reunion in Pittsburgh to attend.  Store management changes come with a lot of upheaval, so I didn't want to start any heaving until I was back from the Burgh.

Another thing I saw in my journal, last week, was that I had totally predicted what was going to happen.  By this time in my retail career, I was intimately familiar with what was going to happen with the staff when I take over a new store.

Someone will quit right off, upon seeing that the party was over.  An assistant manager or two will be combative and work against me, either because the manager was their buddy, or that they wanted the job for themselves.  Others would try to suck up and gain favor, in hopes that the party would continue.  All of these people would be gone within months.  But maybe, just maybe, there would be a really good employee or two just waiting for a little quality training and guidance.  That would have to be the person I’d build around.

Not until I cherry-picked the existing staff and then hired my own people, who would be loyal to ME, would I be able to turn a failing store around.  And this store was failing with a capital EFF.  They were last or second to last in all store metrics and measurables.

I started there on the last day of June and everything with the staff went exactly like I’d foreseen.  But we showed marked improvement in July and I had the store making sales goals by the end of August.  It was the finest work of my field retail career.

While I cleaned house and hired some shiny new employees, I went to work on the store.  There were two main areas where I made a major and immediate impact.  The first was in the store displays.  My favorite example was the candy rack. 

Do you know those candy bags that sell for, like 59 cents (or 2-for-a-dollar)?  Like gummy bears or burnt peanuts or twizzlers or circus peanuts?  They had them on a 4-sided spinner rack with 8 pegs on each side.  Sounds simple, right?  But they only had 2 or 3 varieties on the entire display!  The whole rack was loaded down with dinner mints (the unwrapped chalky ones; the kind you never take from the restaurant checkout), wintergreen gel chews, and starlight mints… the 3 most blah selections they made!  Obviously, they were just putting up whatever they had on hand after selling everything else.  No one under 70 would ever buy any of that shit.

First thing I did was get the candy catalog and order some of everything they had.  Once I loaded the thing with Gummy Worms, Nerds, Sour Patch Kids and stuff kids actually liked, the sales rocketed.  What I couldn't believe was not only did the previous manager not know to do this, the DM never made a point of it either!  I mean hell, 36 selections beats the shit out of 3 every time!
Once I was done with it, it looked like a smaller version of this.

It was the same problem with the Snapple they sold.  The only thing they had on display was a single Peach flavor.  I ordered a wider assortment and filled up the cooler with some alternatives and voila!  I’m a freakin’ genius!  But why did no one else think of it?  This was common sense, not string theory.

After tightening up the candy, drinks and getting the video sections properly organized and alphabetized, I had to address some store procedures.  My first order of business was to emphasize turnaround.  I made it Job One to get every returned movie checked in and back on the shelf immediately.  And if it was too busy up front to get the movie on the shelf, they were to put it up on the front counter, so that people could find them.

And people ALWAYS wanted to look at the stuff waiting to be re-shelved… it was like we were hiding Willie Wonka Golden Tickets in there.  But like I said, the video rental business thrived on re-renting the latest titles.  You can’t move a title from under the counter (where the drop box emptied).

I also worked on some things to help out the bottom line, like with the Coke deliveries.  In reading through some order forms, I saw that you could save up your empty Coke bottles and give them back to the driver, for a recycling credit.  So I instituted a bottle-recycling program, which put a few bucks back on our account.  Lord knows we drank enough of the stuff in the store.

You know how video stores used to always have popcorn going?  We had that too, free for all customers, but the neighborhood kids were eating us out of house and home.  They would stop by on the way home from school, get a bag of popcorn and then head home.  The popcorn was supposed to be for our customers, but we were handing it out like free lunch.  I put a stop to that immediately.  The popcorn was for actual customers; I felt no obligation to feed the neighborhood kids from my store’s budget.  The kids got over it, and I didn't have to devote my staff’s time and energy to keeping an eye on them in the store.  I mean; you had to have a credit card to take out a membership, so the kids didn't have any business in the store anyway.

Anyway, within a single month, I was able to completely turn the store around.  It really was my best work.  I was able to take all the skills and experiences I’d picked up over my retail career and use them to completely make over this store.  Sure, it only took me 13 years…

So yeah, my DM and her boss were probably pretty pissed when I quit that October.  I already wrote in detail about that time in my life here, but suffice to say, I wasn't happy.  While I may have been killing at my job, the job was killing me back.  The hours were long and very late, so I had no outside life, or any real contact with my friends.  After spending my birthday alone, I realized I’d also be spending Thanksgiving alone and Christmas alone.  That was no way to live.

After a nudge from my dear friend Little Bit, I found the courage to pick up and get the hell out of New York and start my life over again in Baltimore, within easy access of my brother and sister.

It worked out.  I've been working in a nice, steady office job for the last 15 years (come March).  And every day I walk into my cubicle, I thank my lucky stars that I’m not opening a register, or sweeping a floor. 

And I never, ever, have to ask anyone, “Do you want blank tapes with that?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

No One Votes Early; It's Too Crowded

I really meant to wind up my Retail Saga today, but I want to take another breath before heading for home.  Plus, there’s a lot of shit going on this weekend.

With ten days remaining before the election, our state opened up for early voting this morning.  I’ve never done that before; I always run down early on Election Day, before work.  But the presidential elections can really bring in the crowds, so since my schedule was open this afternoon, I figured I’d run down to the voting place and get my vote locked in.  I’d be in and out in 10 minutes, and then treat myself to lunch.

There were no more than 20 or 25 cars in the lot, so I thought I was right on course.  When I got in the door, well, I thought otherwise.  I walked in at an “L” joint between two hallways.  The voting rooms were about 100 yards in front of me, with a line going back to where I was standing.

My first thought was, “Oh HELL noI got shit to do.” I hate waiting in lines and standing kills my feet.  But then I realized, “OK, I really don’t have any shit to do, so what the hell?

And then I further realized I was only standing at the halfway point… the line went another 100 yards to my right, and it was doubled back about half way.  Fuck.  Me.

But then I figured, “Maybe it’ll be fun… I’ll talk to some people and maybe gather some fodder for the blog.”  (You’re welcome.)
This is from the far wall of the section that was doubled back.  I wish I’d brought my camera, so you could see something, rather than this blurry blip from my dumb-phone.  I had to put it online by using my camera to take a shot of the picture on my phone.  Don’t ask.

It took a full hour to get down to the wall and back to the point where I came in, and it gave me ample time to consider what I was seeing.  The line was full of African-American people and a ton of seniors.  Most of them were there because they had to work during the week.  And with Frankenstorm Sandy coming, no one wanted to take any chances that they might not be able to vote later on.

You could see in their faces that they would go through anything in order to cast their vote for Barack Obama.  I heard people talking to each other in line, telling how they so regret their parents not having been around long enough to see a black man win the White House.  There were a good number of people that were wearing their Obama hats or t-shirts too, probably trophies from 2008.  People were taking this shit serious.

It also made me think about all the gyrations the Republicans are trying to put in place to prevent just this kind of thing.  Even something as simple as early voting has been made into an issue by the GOP. 

In Ohio, just this year, the governor tried to cut back on early voting, but was reversed by the state courts.  See, Ohio was one of the leading dirty pool players in the 2000 and 2004 elections.  They were notorious for understaffing polling places in urban districts, (read “likely to vote Democratic”), ensuring that the lines would be long and provide a deterrent from voting.  There was also plenty of room for foul play because the Republican state party chairman was also the CEO of the leading voting machine manufacturer in the state, Diebold.  Stalin couldn’t have engineered the results better himself.

Right here in Maryland, the legislature passed an early voting bill, which was vetoed by the (then) Republican governor.  His veto was overruled and the initiative upheld in a popular referendum.

There is really no substantive reason to prevent early voting.  Any safeguards in place on Election Day are in place when you vote early.  The movement to suppress our citizens voting rights under the guise of preventing voter fraud is not now, nor has ever been anything but a smokescreen to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters. 

Anyway, I got to vote after roughly a 2-hour wait.  They had 20 voting machines set up but the major holdup was in that besides the presidential, senatorial and congressional races, 3 judgeships and a raft of other judges running unopposed, there were 20 different “Questions” to vote on.  Most of them were run-of-the-mill financial and bond items, but lurking in all of those were the 4 referendum issues I wrote about a few months back.  These include permission of same-sex marriage, the Dream Act and an expansion of gambling.

That’s where all the commercials have been coming from around here.  The party leadership knows that Maryland is a true-blue democratic state, so neither party are wasting any money advertising here.  Judging from what I saw at the polling place, it had to be about 90% for Obama.  Granted, it’s probably the other way around out in western Maryland and the Eastern Shore, but there are many more of us than there are of them.  Maryland will go to Obama, I’d say, 65-35.

Anyway, I did my part to speed things up by coming prepared.  Earlier last week I’d received a sample ballot, which I promptly marked up with my votes.  So when I finally got my turn, it didn’t take me more than a minute or two.  I swear; I saw one lady at a polling station for at least 10 minutes.

I’m just bummed that I didn’t get my “I Voted” sticker.  I love those things.  Why vote if you can’t lord it over everyone else?

Stormy Monday
In other news, it looks like we’re going to have a whopper of a storm next week.  Baltimore is smack square in the projected path of Hurricane Sandy.  I’m already lining up my emergency supplies (booze) and entertainment options (confirming that the local bar is prepared).

It’s kind of funny, because “Sandy” is my Ex-wife’s name.  It makes all the headlines (“Sandy roars through Jamaica!”) that much more fun to read.  What’s even funnier is that for a time, there was a storm running around out there with my name on it too.
When these two get together, shit is going to blow up!  Obviously, she got custody of the Islands.

Hurricane naming cycles repeat every 6 years, with the names of any particularly damaging storms getting replaced.  So I saw the possibilities of this occurrence in 2006, but there weren’t enough named storms to make it come to pass.

Unfortunately, my storm never came anywhere near land, and just kind of drifted around in no-man’s land before running out of steam.  I must say it was pretty well named.

The Mojo Boogie
This has been a weird year in mojo too.  So far, every single Steelers game has been on local TV, including tomorrow’s game against the Redskins, and the next 3 after that.  Now I’m all for watching the game on my big TV from my easy chair, but I kind of miss going out to the sports bar to see the game in public.  So I decided to go out for the game tomorrow anyway.  Sitcom Kelly is going to meet me there.

It’s going to be unusual, though, because the Steelers are wearing their 1934 throwback uniforms, which happen to be the butt-ugliest things I’ve ever seen. 
You can pull off this look when you’re young and buff.  I feel sorry for poor 360-pound Casey “Big Snack” Hampton.  He’s going to look like a cross between a bumble bee and the Michelin Man.

So naturally, I’m going to have to wear MY ugly jersey.  No, I didn’t buy one of these atrocities… I already had a different one.  Back in 1994, to celebrate the Steelers’ 75th anniversary, they brought out the jerseys from their first season, in 1933.

I remember when I first saw them, I said to myself, “Those are the ugliest jersey’s I’ve ever seen.”  But I wish I would have said it to someone else instead of just myself, because for my birthday that October, guess what I got?

Yeah, I got the 1933 jersey.  Gee, thanks Dad.  So I don’t wear it much, especially since the 50’s-60’s era throwback jerseys look so good.  (Gold block numbers on a black jersey.)  So I might as well take it out for a spin on this occasion. 

Now I just have to see what kind of mojo it packs.  If the Steelers lose tomorrow, it’ll go back to the back of the closet, with the Zubaz pants.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Retail Bluz Part 12 - The Last Lap

In September, I started to chronicle my life in retail.  You can see by this being “Part 12,” that I've had a lot to tell.  If you’re new to this series, you should start with Part 1.  Otherwise, please join our hero as he tries to rekindle his managerial spirit in a new retail industry.

After about a year and a half at the craft store, our happy little family began to break up.  One of the assistant managers ended up in the doghouse; in fact, the general manager literally offered me her job.  If I would agree, she’d can the assistant immediately.

Now, I didn't care one way or another about what happened to the assistant.  We weren't particularly close, nor were we at odds either.  But I’d seen the job and I didn't want any part of it.  For me, I need to know when I’m coming and going.  I needed to know when I was coming home so I could let Future-Ex know if I’d be there for meals or not, or whether I’d be there to run her kid around.

The assistants’ schedules were like, “Come in early and I’ll let you know when you can leave.”  Also, a promotion would then put me in charge of people with whom I’d become good friends.  While I would have appreciated the (modest) bump in salary, the negatives were just too steep. 

Under other circumstances, I might have taken it, because I was starting to get antsy about what I was doing there.  I wasn't some drifting college kid; I needed a real job where I could go somewhere, not just stock some shelves for 15K a year.

It turned out that the assistant who was in the doghouse quit a couple months later, to become a District Manager for a video rental chain.  (Remember those?)  Not long after that, two of my favorite co-workers went with her to train to become store managers.  I don’t remember if she came to me or I went to her, but I also agreed to jump ship and dip my toe into video rental.  At least I’d be getting back into a medium I knew something about. 

My manager was nice about it; she knew I’d been slumming and needed something more.  She only asked that I put it in writing, to which I agreed, provided I could do it in limericks.  She agreed, provided there was no haiku.  I threw in a haiku anyway, because that’s just how I roll.  (I posted that “letter” before, if you care to have a look.  It was pretty good work, if I do say so myself.)

So in March of 1997, I became a trainee for Video World, a 19-store chain that ran from Virginia to upstate New York.  They started me in a downtown store because that’s where their best training manager was.  It was nothing I hadn't been through before at my record store in Cleveland.

The biggest difference was in me.  I was no longer the unsure 20-something, testing the waters of wielding authority.

All I really needed to do was learn the store systems and procedures.  I was confident I could handle everything else.  But it was funny because right off the bat, I started bumping heads with some of the staff there.  They expected me to let them run things, but they got the old what-for.

There was one time that we were getting slammed with customers.  I was up at the register alone and asked another girl to come open up another register.  Chickie had the nerve to tell me she was about to take a break.  I told her she could have a break once we cleared the line, but she wheeled and went back to the break room anyway.  I wasn't going to get into a pissing contest in front of all the customers, but I later told her (pointedly) that breaks were taken when it was convenient for store operation and NOT whenever she felt like it. 

The second my training manager came in the next day, Chickie was complaining to her about me.  Once I was pulled into the mix and laid out the situation, the manager was like, “Trainee Bluz is right.  You need to take your breaks when it’s slow, not when you’re needed elsewhere.”

That’s right.  Homie don’t play ‘dat.

Video rental was a strange business… it was was similar to the record stores, but still completely different.  (And remember, this was 1997; DVDs weren't invented yet, so the medium was all VHS.  There’s a lot more that can go wrong with VHS than with DVDs.)

Record store business wasn't dependent on customers to bring shit back.  In video rental, it’s all about the turn-around.  Older or “catalog” movies had the 5-day return terms.  But the big money was to be made on new releases, so those were 1-day or overnight returns.  The idea was to get those things in and out as many times as possible, so to equal the cost of the tape quickly and begin making money on it.

There was a big misconception about how much the tapes cost.  At that time, only certain movies were released to stores (aka “sell-through), and they were usually either the big Hollywood hits or children’s movies.  So everyone figured that the videos cost around $20 because that’s how much they were at Target.

In reality, most videos released for rental cost between $60 and $100 per tape!  It was obscene!  Somebody was making a shit-pot full of dough on those prices.  And you could believe it because there was no alternative.  When you wanted to see a movie that was no longer in the theater, you had to go to a video rental store, period.  Or wait another 3 months and see it on HBO.

Anyway, people would lose their freakin’ minds when they brought back a mangled tape and we’d try to charge them the replacement price.  That was the other unique part about video rental.  We had to spend a considerable amount of time trying to get people to return our goddamned tapes.  Every evening we’d have to make calls to anyone with a tape overdue by a week or more.  Man, I hated that… I hated becoming that which I hate the most… a dinnertime caller.  Sometimes, they’d be, “Oh OK, I forgot.  I’ll bring it right in.”  

But I also heard every excuse in the book.  They’d swear up and down that they’d already brought it back, and we’d go and double or triple check.  Usually, we’d find it in the overnight drop box the next day.  People bringing back overdue tapes almost always used the night drop box.

Very rarely was it a mistake on our part.  Our systems were simple… the tapes were scanned out and scanned back in right from the drop box.  So even if it wasn't where it was supposed to be on the shelf, we still knew if it was in the store. 

The most common occurrence was that they gave it to their kid to return, but he didn't do it.  Other times, they’d return the case with the wrong movie… sometimes even their own movie… in the box.  And then they’d claim that they shouldn't have to pay any additional overdue fees.  I’d be like, “Why, for returning the box?  Nobody rents the box…

People ALWAYS complained about the overdue fees.  And we did have some leeway to remove them and we would under compelling circumstances.  But a deal’s a deal.  You agree to return it the next day and you don’t?  You owe the overdue fee.  Don’t come squawking to me about it.  We need to recoup the money we lost by being unable to rent it again.

Another adventure was the porno room.  Yes, we rented hardcore porn videos, which were separated into their own little room.  There were two issues with that.  First of all, the customers… I had quite a number of regulars, including one old guy (like 60s or 70s) who came in 3 times a week for his porn fix.  No matter what he rented, I’d have to act like I’d seen it all before and it was just another transaction.

And we had to make sure we were discreet, especially with late fees.  If I guy is in there with his family, renting some standard fare, you couldn't just go, “Sorry, I have to charge you a $4 late fee on “Spooge Girls 12” and $6 on “Debbie Does Donkey.”

The other challenge was maintaining the room.  I usually tried to do it myself… if you've ever seen the video covers for porn movies, you know how graphic they can be… I just couldn't bear the thought of one of my sweet little clerks going into that den of visual filth.  And the room was always a wreck… maybe dudes kept knocking the tapes off the shelves when they turned around quickly, I don’t know…

One week, I made it my priority to get things alphabetized in there.  I mean, there were so many “series,” like “The Best of Anita Dickens, Volumes 1 – 23,” but they’d all be on different shelves.  There was no reason why they couldn't be all together.  But it did make for some interesting decision making… like trying to decide whether “10-Inch Butt Blasters” should go at the beginning, with the digits found before the “A’s” and “A Connecticut Wankee in King Arthur’s Court,” or with the “T’s” right before “Ten Tawdry Tails of Turpitude.” 

Who knew my organizational and copy editing skills would be put to such practical use?

The best perk of the job was getting to take the movies home for free, (as long as we had it back the next morning).  The store had a vested interest in the staff being familiar with all kinds of movies, because as opposed to in the record stores, we were constantly asked for recommendations. 

I loved this and soon realized that I’d better keep some good ideas in-hand for any viewing situation.  It was then that I began assigning a 1 – 5 rating to each movie I saw.  It’s a habit that I still keep today.  When I started, I kept the ratings and a brief description on a notepad for later reference, but as soon as I got my first computer, I transferred my notes to an Excel sheet.  I’m up to 478 listings now.  I've actually rated more movies than that, but when I see a movie for the first time because I bought it, the ratings and description go on my Movie Roster (inventory) spreadsheet.

Next up: Bluz takes his last store.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Retail Bluz Part 11 - The Honing my Craft Edition

In September, I started to chronicle my life in retail.  You can see by this being “Part 11,” that I've had a lot to tell.  If you’re new to this series, you should start with Part 1.  Otherwise, please join our hero as he tries to regroup a second time, after again getting laid off, this time from the music department of a big box store he was managing (quite well).

Once again, I had to spend another summer job searching.  There were no more office jobs for which I was qualified this time than there were the previous year.  I bumbled around for a couple of months, with nothing panning out at all until one day I noticed a store under construction right there in the neighborhood.  Unfortunately, it was a craft store, but under the circumstances, I just needed something. 

Future-Ex wanted me bringing home something… anything… it didn't much matter to her where it came from.  I don’t know if that was for monetary purposes, or just because it bugged the shit out of her every day when she had to get up early for work and I didn't. 

Not long afterward, I saw an ad in the PennySaver saying that they were taking applications for the set-up crew and gave the date and time.  Well, I've never been one for whom “craft” was ever a verb, but I sure knew how to get a store set up, so I went down and put in my application.  Once they got a look at my specs, they practically jumped on me.  I was sooo in, and I should have been!  A stone cold retail “ringer” had just dropped into their laps.

They already had their management team in place, with one general manager and three assistants, so there was no need for me to even worry about it.  But they had a plum spot in mind for me… I was to be in charge of the “promo” aisle.

Before I get into that, let me first describe this store, in case you’re not intimately familiar with large crafting superstores.  There were a number of distinct departments, each with someone in charge of stocking the product.  There were departments for (fake) flower arranging and wreaths, balloon bouquets, greeting cards, (ink) stamps and scrapbooking, model building, picture framing, knitting and cross stitch, dollhouses and miniatures, paint, pastels and artist supplies, and so on.

The managers of these departments had it pretty easy.  The company sent the layout and the product, the managers put them up, and then the rest was just reordering and maintenance. 

The “promo” aisles were the seasonal things.  The company would send out the product and layout map, then I would put it up like the other managers did.  But as the product sold through, I had to condense the goods, forever moving them forward up the aisle, to make room for the next event.  Once the holiday or event was over, most of the stuff got marked down until we were rid of it.  Some of the markdowns could be significant.  Final price was always nine cents.  Didn't matter what it was, from Christmas decorations to bags of candy… if it didn't go for 50% off, or 75% off, or even 90% off, it ended up at nine cents.

The scheduling was crazy.  I mean, we had the Christmas stuff rolled out in freakin’ JULY.  You had to figure, it takes a while to make all the wreaths or stockings or whatnot, so we had to provide lead-time.

I used to love the fall assortments, of imitation colored leaf clusters and swags.  Halloween was cool too, with all the intricate costumes and masks.  And any holiday with candy was brilliant!

Anyway, I was constantly in a state of condensing old stock and setting up the new.  They definitely had the right person for the job.  I could have done the other departments in my sleep.  And because I had such an intricate job, it got me out of trying to meet the “quotas” everyone had to produce demo crafts for display.  I told everyone I was “Crafting Impaired,” and hence I actually counted as an EEO hire.

But I made deals.  The little old ladies that worked in the floral department would do my crafts, and I’d reach things on tall shelves for them, or move heavy boxes.  In fact, one of them made me a Santa Hat, with “Top Shelf Elf” emblazoned in glitter glue.  (I still have it, too.)

Things went so well with my promo aisles, they also put me in charge of receiving, or in other words, signing and accounting for all deliveries.  Again, because I’d been doing that kind of thing in record stores for years, it was old hat.

The thing I liked best about working there, despite it being kind of an odd fit for me, was that I was just part of the team, for a change.  I didn't have to manage anyone, nor was I responsible for anything but my own work.  After my past experiences in stores, this was a welcome respite.

There were some really great people who worked there, from housewives earning some extra scratch, to empty nesters, to retirees, to a bunch of young kids either going through school or trying to figure out what they wanted to do with their lives.  Everyone got along real well and we always had a blast.  We had great happy hours and went midnight bowling and generally enjoyed each other’s company.
My friends from the store.

Unloading the trucks was always an adventure.  We’d get our product in huge tractor-trailers, usually first thing in the morning.  Everyone had to fly into action.  These trucks were packed floor to ceiling with crap, like it was a giant Tetris game… usually boxed but not necessarily.  Sometimes we had to get really creative, and luckily, we had employees in all shapes and sizes.  I could pull out a lot of things that were stacked high, but sometimes we’d have to hoist the little girls up to the top so they could dig things out that had been balanced precariously on other product. 

We’d toss all the stuff onto 4-wheeled handcarts and roll them out to the floor, dropping them off in their proper departments like we were bus drivers for low-cost Chinese goods.  It could be a real workout.

We also used to store our fixtures in a stationary truck at one of our two loading docks.  One time, I was helping another guy take a large 4 x 4 bin out of storage and onto the floor.  It was definitely a 2-man job.  Anyway, we each had an end and I was walking backward out of the truck, when I stepped into an 8-inch gap between the back edge of the truck and the front edge of the dock.  It was kind of like when you think there’s one more stair but it’s not there.  When I took that last step, my leg plunged down between the two right-angled edges until I was down to my knee… all the while holding up that heavy-assed display bin.  And I was lucky I didn't tear the ligaments in my other knee that was still up on top, as it got twisted and torqued around.  Holy ACL!

My buddy got the bin off me and hoisted me back up, but at first, I thought I tore my Achille's tendon.  Had to limp on out to the emergency care unit nearby, but luckily it was just a bad bruise.  It was my first Workman’s Comp claim, though, (for the clinic bill).  I probably should have milked it more, but I was back at work the next day.

Christmases could get really crazy, but it was weird.  Because of all the lead time needed, we really weren't all that busy for the two weeks leading up to Christmas, other than selling off the pre-decorated Christmas trees we’d made.  But the day after… it was sheer madness.

See, word was out about our discounts on post-seasonal merchandise.  We’d pull out the things that would easily sell the next year, like lights, fake trees and stockings and such, but everything else had to go.  So people were in early and would run through like a 9-year old with a $100 gift card at the candy store, grabbing fistfuls of whatever they could reach.

The honest people would take their discounts and leave.  But there were others that made me question my belief in the innate goodness of people.  (OK, I lie… I’d abandoned that notion after only a couple years in retail)  But we had folks that would fill 2 shopping carts with the best stuff and then just wait… for HOURS… until the discounts started to pile up. 

My manager wouldn't play, though.  I’d ask her, “When are we knocking down to 50%?

She’d say, “Just as soon as THOSE assholes check out.”  Sometimes she’d have to go over and tell them that under no circumstances would she go any lower on their ton of junk.  She was the best.

In fact, my boss there gave me my first video taping job.  Remember when I wrote about my starting a video taping business and almost getting to film a swing party porno movie?  (And if you haven’t, you simply must!)  That went on during my time at the craft store.  And because I needed a boost, the manager contracted me to film the store’s 1-Year Anniversary festivities.  It was mighty nice of her to do that for me (and of course I did a stellar job for her).

But despite the cool people and the highly doable job, I still wasn't terribly content.  I mean, first off, I was only making about 15K a year, which was barely enough to keep up my end of the mortgage and utilities.  And then there were the nights when I’d be running the dust mop around at the end of the night.  That’s when I’d start thinking…

So this is what it’s come to… 4 years of college, 12 years working for a living, and you’re pushing a fucking mop?  Is this the life you want?  You want to do grunt work all your life?  What the hell is the matter with you?

Next up, an exit strategy…

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Retail Bluz Part 10 - The Rebuilding Edition

In September, I started to chronicle my life in retail.  You can see by this being “Part 10,” that I've had a lot to tell.  If you’re new to this series, you should start with Part 1.  Otherwise, you can join our hero as he tries to regroup after facing the biggest setback of his professional career… getting laid off.

Losing my job with the record company was a devastating blow.  I even never considered that I wouldn't be with this company for my entire life, especially after all I’d put into it.  It was probably the second lowest point of my entire life.  (I wrote about the lowest point a couple years ago.)

Now, my top priority was to find another office job, preferably within the music business.  I still had a number of contacts, so I began my job search fairly optimistically.  My first order of business was to retrieve evidence of my skills and general.

I went in on Saturday to clean out my desk.  I was there for about 15 minutes before our top Loss Prevention Officer, whom I’d known and worked with for the previous nine years, came in to monitor what I was doing.

Besides collecting the things I’d brought in with me, I was hoping to take some documents that showed my work.  Unfortunately, the LP guy had other ideas and kiboshed it… something about “proprietary information.” 

I was pretty disappointed.  It wasn't like I wanted to sell our secrets to the competitor; I just wanted to show what I’d been doing for the last few years.  I tried to explain that I just wanted to get new job, but he was unmoved.  In retrospect, I can’t say that I blame him.  I should have offered to scrub the real data out of the documents, but I wasn't thinking all that clearly and was under a great deal of duress.  Luckily, I had brought home my Rolodex cards on the day I was canned.
Kids, this is a Rolodex.  Back in the Olden Days, it’s where you kept all your phone numbers and business cards.

As I went through my contacts list, I quickly realized that they weren't going to do me nearly as much good as I’d hoped.  The reason for that was that none of my business contacts were located in my area and I was newly married to someone who’d worked 20 years for with the State of New York.

If I was single, I could have gotten a job with any of the One Stops I worked with, in Miami, Chicago, Cincinnati, or Baltimore.  Hell, I even had a firm job offer from a former co-worker of mine, who worked for a record distributor in Sacramento.  But I couldn't pursue any of them because the wife wasn't going anywhere.  That long tenure with the state meant a major pension and damn-near eternal job stability. 

One of my label salesman friends said he could get me a job as a “rack jobber.”  That’s a guy that goes store-to-store setting up and maintaining product displays for a vendor.  That might have been worth a look, but the territory spanned all across upstate New York.  I’d basically be living on the road and that didn't appeal to me (or the wife).  Bottom line, I’d have to look locally.

The bad news was that my old company was the biggest fish in town and there weren't many other music industry businesses around.  There was a One Stop in town, and I did a good friend that worked there, but my company had never done business with them.  There was some kind of situation between the two CEOs.  I got an interview, but despite the recommendation of my friend, and despite my playing on their softball team, I never got another sniff.  The odds of my landing another office job seemed pretty much nil.

The wife wanted me to go back to school and study for a specific trade, like becoming a pharmacist’s assistant (her dad was a pharmacist) or an occupational therapist, (who she licensed with the State).  She even said she’d pay for my schooling, but I had no interest in doing either of those things.  I said without a burning interest in a particular career, I couldn't let her spend that kind of money on me.  (I thought I was doing her a favor, nevertheless she held that against me for the rest of our time together.)

Unable to land a new office job, I started looking for a decent retail job.  I found that my old company’s top competitor was opening a “Big Box” store in town, so I applied there.  The basis for this store was simple: it was to be a combination of 4 distinct stores under one roof.  It would contain a huge record store, akin to the Virgin Superstores, a large bookstore, akin to a Borders or Barnes and Nobel, and giant sell-through movie and computer software departments.  They had a snack area and a common spot where authors could do readings and bands could perform.

They had just opened when I applied to manage their record department.  (And yes, I still call it a “record” department, even though there were no LPs.  They sold CDs, cassettes, various accessories, sheet music, and the like.)  They hired me almost instantly and once I dug in, I could see why.  No one there knew what the hell they were doing.  There was no one on staff with any record business background at all.

I had to go in there, relay the store (alphabetizing was only an afterthought there), clean out the back room and train the staff.  I dug into my contact list and got the store on the list to receive promotional CDs and posters, and had some of my old salesman pals come by to help us out.

They saw the value I brought to the table, so a month or two later, when work was to begin on opening a second location, they asked me to transfer over and manage the record department over there.

I jumped at the chance.  They did things the hard way at the first store and it took considerable time and effort to get things fixed.  At the new store, I’d be able to see that things got done right from the outset.  We had a large pool of temp employees to do the opening set up, from whom I was able to pick the ones I wanted to stay on in my department.  This way, I got to train them properly from day one, on how I wanted things done.  Life is so much easier when you don’t have to make people unlearn bad habits from an earlier time.

The opening went well.  I had a steady stream of promo stuff coming in, so that we needn't open as much live product to play, and I also had lines out to invite bands to come and play.  I had good people working for me and aside from a little sniping from the book department nerds about our music; things went along just fine.  Their goal for my department was to make up 40% of the store’s overall sales.  I was making 45% (and yes, I always knew my numbers).

After opening in the fall, we conducted our first physical inventory in May.  That’s when you have a service come in overnight and do a count of everything in the store.  These can be fairly chaotic, especially if you’re not well organized.  I was there long into the night, answering questions and making sure everything got tallied.

I was pretty happy when I came in to work the next day.  As I was setting up for the day, the manager asked me to come with her in to see the DM.  I figured they wanted to say thank you for such a smooth inventory.  Instead, I got laid off again.

I should have seen it coming earlier in the week, when the DM asked me to write down all my label contacts for him.  Motherfucker…  Stupid me, I did it happily, eager to show off the depth of my network.  (The next week, I called everyone on it to tell them I wasn't there any more, so don’t do them any favors on my account.)

Again, because of an overall downturn in business, they were cutting salaries and revamping the entire management structure.  I had driven a pretty hard bargain when they first hired me so I’m sure I looked like a good target.  Perhaps I made things look so easy, they thought anyone could run the music department.  They also let a couple other people go, including the personnel manager.  . 

It was one year, almost to the day, from when I’d gotten the ax from my previous job.  This time around, I wasn't shocked as much as I was pissed off.  When the DM stuck out his hand and offered me “good luck,” I told him to “get bent,” turned on my heel and worked out.  As I left with the manager, she said, “I guess this means those bands won’t be playing here.”

Yeah, that was a pretty good bet.  I felt bad for her… I could see by the look on her face, throughout the ordeal, that this wasn't her idea.  We always got on well.  But I think she liked my scene with the DM, because word of it leaked out.  (I’m pretty sure the DM didn't say anything.)  I was at a hockey game once, and ran into a couple of people that worked for me there, and the first thing they said was, “Did you really tell the DM to get bent?

Fuck yeah I did.  I went out like a mouse the first time; I wasn't going to do it a second time.  But here I was again, jobless and on the outside looking in.

Coming next: Starting over again

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Retail Bluz Part 9 - The Promised Land Edition

In September, I started to chronicle my life in retail.  You can see by this being “Part 9,” that I've had a lot to tell.  If you’re new to this series, you should start with Part 1.  Otherwise, you can join our hero as he finally got himself out of the stores and into the home office.

When I finally made the leap over the walls and into the home office, I thought I landed in the Promised Land.  No more name tags.  No more working late nights and weekends.  No more supervising a bunch of unreliable kids.

I’ve written before about the benefits of working in the office as it related to meeting famous people office before, in my Brushes with the Greats and Near Greats series.  Suffice to say that the Big Wheels in the office had the juice to draw in the higher caliber artists to meet.  I hoped to at least become a Training Wheel.

Early on, I loved working there.  My boss, Dave, (who I wrote about in my “Code of Silence” post) was great to work for.  But it was Vinnie with whom I worked the closest.  Vinnie was our singles buyer and a genuine character; the one guy that was truly indispensable. 

First of all, he knew everybody in the music business.  He used to own a nightclub in town, where a great many big acts played before they were “big.”  Vinnie knew the bands, their managers, their families, the promoters, people at the labels… Whenever the brass needed an act to play our convention or any other company event, Vinnie was the guy to corral the talent.

Vinnie was also the one guy who would go toe-to-toe with anyone, from the label salesmen right on up to our CEO.  He’d been around so long, I’m sure he knew where all the bodies were buried, so to speak.  Sometimes when he felt he’d been slighted, he’d storm into the CEO’s office and threaten to quit.  I don’t know what went on in there, but Vin always got his way.

Vinnie took a lot of shit for being a short, loud guy from Brooklyn, but he had a huge heart and would do anything for anyone.  I was fortunate to be tucked under Vinnie’s wing and I think it was a mutually beneficial arrangement.  I learned a ton about the top-side of the music business, and I think I proved to be a good sounding board for him.  Plus I could help clean up some of the memos he had to write.  Formal writing and grammar were not exactly his strong suits.

I remember one time when he read me something he put on his self-evaluation, which I immediately put into my “Quote Book.”  He said, “ I've greatly improved my ability to communicate with others. What I need to improve is other people’s ability to understand me.”

With the nature of my job (trying to reduce our stores’ use of outside vendors, called One Stops), we needed to work together closely.  If I was getting a lot of requests for a new single in a particular region, as often happened, I had to make sure Vin knew about it, so that he could start bringing the title in-house.  And it was by watching him that I was able to learn the principles of ordering for the warehouse. 

When singles first started appearing in the CD format, they were mostly dance mixes; the CD equivalent of the “12-inch single.”  Because it was such a niche market, all of our CD singles were obtained through One Stops.  Once we saw that these were becoming a sustaining product, the decision was made to bring them in-house and service our stores through our warehouse.  They tabbed me to run the transition.

I loved it!  This was the business I was made for!  I set up the systems from the ground up and ran it once it was complete.  And the best part was that I got to use a computer to do it.

Yes, this was the first time I’d ever used any sort of office applications on a computer.  They didn't use Microsoft products at the time… I believe those were still in their infancy.  But I used Lotus and WordPerfect, which operated similarly to Excel and Word.  But coming in with zero PC experience, I had to lean on the department admins a lot. 

It was mind-blowing for me.  Just learning how to construct a simple list of titles in inventory was amazing.  The fact that I could add and subtract from an alphabetized list without retyping the whole thing… brilliant!  If only I had this revolutionary technology when I was in college, I would have had so much more time for eating pizza, drinking beer and chasing girls.

I made some really great friends in the office.  We worked together, lunched together, played on the company softball team together and went to industry events.  And we still had the Store-Opening Swat Team, like in the old days.

Just like when we had to open the big Terminal Towers store in downtown Cleveland, when we opened a mid-town Manhattan store, right behind Radio City Music Hall, it was a big freakin’ deal.  All of us from the Merchandising Department bussed down there and set up the store from the ground, up.

You know how they say New York is the “City That Never Sleeps?”  Trust me, it sleeps.  It’s really weird going out onto the streets of Manhattan at 2:00 AM and finding them deserted.  We were so punch-drunk from working, we ran down the middle of the streets yelling and singing like it was our playground… It was a crazy time.

I also got one of my favorite trophies from that experience.  Remember this commercial/print ad?

Our store had a big interactive Maxell tape display consisting of an identical set, where you could put yourself in the famous ad.  How could anyone possibly resist?
They really should have spread the set out more though…

Once my boss Dave left the company, things started to get a lot less fun.  First they brought in a guy from the Toys industry.  That was pretty bumpy, because he really didn't have any idea what he was doing.  (This is the guy that I wrote about yapping away for 2 hours at a company seminar, blowing through everyone’s time, then telling everyone else to “wrap it up quickly.”  I didn't and went on to kill the room.)

He was replaced about a year later, by the Regional Manager who originally brought me to NY.  Unfortunately, the guy was a complete prick.  For some reason, I ended up on his shit list.  I think he thought I didn't stay at work late enough.

In another time, I probably would have stayed every night.  But now I was married to a woman that worked for the state.  For her job, you punched in at 9 and punched out at 5, period.  She didn't understand the private sector culture, where if you leave at 5, people wonder why you’re such a slacker.  Same with working on weekends… to her it was just unheard of and if I mentioned going in on Saturday to work on a project, I had to hear about it for the rest of the week.

In 1994, the music business entered a big downturn.  Most relevant back catalog titles had finally been put on CD, so people were pretty much done replacing their LPs with CDs.  It was left to new releases to drive sales and that didn't work so well.
The company hired a new kid, fresh out of one of our stores, and they had me train him on how I managed the One Stops.  But I began to suspect I was in trouble a little later, when we were in a staff meeting where everyone reported on what they were doing.  The boss skipped me.  Vinnie spoke up and said, “Hey, you forgot to ask Bluz…”

I gave my report, but I could see the guy was checked out.  He didn't forget; he just knew I was irrelevant.  He called me into his office the next day and let me go.  (About 20 other people from the office were laid off as well.)

I was totally shell-shocked.  I mean, I’d given this company 12 years of my life.  I’d worked my ass off, worked over holidays, missed time with friends and family, moved across the country, improved their systems, and always acted in the company’s best interests.

Having me train my own replacement was the final insult.  It was purely a cost cutting measure.  They still needed the job done and they still wanted it done the way I was doing it (or else they wouldn't have had me train him), they just wanted to pay less for it.  Fuckers.

He said he wanted me to leave all my stuff and come back to get it on the weekend.  That way it wouldn't make a “scene.”  I was too numb to even say goodbye to anyone except Vinnie.  He was mad as a wet hen and tried to intercede on my behalf.  But he didn't get his way with this one.

So now I had to go home and tell my new wife of eight months, that I was out of a job.  And you know by now how THAT all worked out…

Next up: Same story, different company.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

That's Debatable

I don’t know how I’m going to get through this month without going postal.  The political atmosphere is rife with the caustic mixture of toxicity, stupidity and money and it’s making me yearn for the relative calm of when it’s just plain ‘hurricane season.’

I do want to get back to the conclusion of my Retail Mini-Series, but I want to scrub a couple of political issues out of my head and into yours.  You’re welcome.

You’re Not the Boss of Me
Is anyone noticing the disturbing new trend of company CEOs trying to strong-arm and threaten their employees into voting Republican?  It started with David Siegel of Westgate Resorts, and has spread to other companies from there.  This morning, I saw that the Koch Brothers, the well-known conservative financiers and cancerous tumors on the very heart of the workingman, have gotten in on the act as well.

Whether these well-fed jagoffs actually enact layoffs as the result of the election is still anybody’s guess.  I guess they won’t, but then, it’s not MY ass on the line.  It’s gotten past the point of just laying out positions and letting employees choose.  These fuckers are holding their employees hostage and violating the very principles of the country that provides that environment in which they’ve prospered.

“If I don’t get my way, I’ll take my factory and go home (to my mansion and wait-staff.)”

It seems to me if they have not been able to prosper over the last 10 years, which have featured the lowest corporate tax structure in the country’s history, then when will they?  If the only way they can turn a profit is with government subsidies and slashed tax rates, how good of businessmen can they really be?  There were plenty of businesses that thrived under the Clinton-era tax rates, and there’s no reason why they won’t again. 

This is just one more way that the very rich are blackmailing the country into submission for the sole purpose of protecting their own nut.  This election is being bought right out from under us and we’re not putting up as much as a whimper about it.

Debate and Switch
The 2nd presidential debate is on tonight.  I’m not sure how we survived the first one and the VEEP debate. 

“Common knowledge” is that Romney won the first debate convincingly.  The only thing of which it convinced me was that we Americans would rather have someone toss off smooth lies than tell the truth awkwardly.

Neither side was completely true but the post debate fact checkers were all over Romney for basically saying the opposite of the things he’s been saying throughout the campaign.  The metaphorical Etch-a-Sketch that was mentioned early in the campaign has solidified right before our eyes.  The only thing he’s been consistent with is misrepresenting the current state of things and the President’s plans for it all. 

At one point, Romney tried to blame Obama for the lack of bipartisan cooperation, noting that Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil managed to work some things out.  In response, I tweeted the following:

Tonight, the President is supposed to come out much more aggressively and has essentially been forced into addressing the “47%” comment.  I’m not sure it’s worth bringing up any more.  You have to know that the Romney camp is just waiting for it with a full slate of snappy retorts on hand. 

Everyone knows what he said.  Unless the President has a novel way of throwing it out there, he shouldn’t be pressured into mentioning it.  That’s what the VP debate was for.

Now, I didn’t get to see the VP debate, myself.  If you recall, it was on opposite not only a Steelers game, but the Orioles playoff game.  I was already DVRing the other shows I was missing, as I flipped between the two games.  I followed the VP debate on Twitter and there was plenty of post-debate coverage.  So I don’t feel like I missed all that much.

From what I read, Joe Biden took the boy wonder out to the woodshed.  It was like he was fact-checking Ryan in real time.  I’m glad someone is trying to address the chronic bullshit that comes out of the Republican side.  If the moderator or the media won’t do it, that leaves the candidates.

I have to laugh about all the post-debate fuss about Biden interrupting or being too mean.  I mean, seriously?  After all the interruptions and “one last word” bits from Romney in the Presidential debate, they have no grounds to stand on.  No one complained about that; he was merely crowned as the winner. 

As for “mean,” no one ran a meaner spirited primary campaign than Romney.  He left nothing but charred, smoking ground in each of the primary battleground states, and his vanquished opponents still can’t sit down comfortably. 

This scenario has been going on throughout this election cycle.  Every time the Democrats get tough, the GOP whines about it.  The Dems finally take a page or two out of the conservative playbook and the Republicans don’t like it.  It’s like when the bullied kid finally fights back and hits the bully in the mouth.  Suddenly the game is not so much fun any more.  The Democrats have spent years running principled campaigns and coming in second.  Playtime’s over.

Same with fundraising.  For years, it was a given that the Republicans were going to be the fundraising champs.  After all, they’re the ones doing the bidding for Big Business, who in turn donated handsomely to ensure they keep their lapdogs in place.  So the Democrats outflanked them by maximizing grassroots donations through the Internet, and won themselves the 2008 election.

Republicans love to point and cry about donors like George Soros (and assorted Hollywood types) contributing to Democratic campaigns.  They never mention two things:

1) There are only a handful of these super-rich guys that support Democrats.

2) They are giving money to a party that may legislate against their self-interest.  In other words, they’re spending their dollars to benefit the greater good, not to insulate their own wealth, like the legion of fat cat Republican donors.

Next thing you know, there’s a campaign finance lawsuit where the Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices voted to allow Big Business to spend unlimited and anonymous money on campaigns.  Thus the scales of justice tilt once again to the wealthy and powerful. 

They called it freedom of speech.  I call it the freedom of the rich to buy any office they like and keep it from the rest of us here in the unwashed 99%.

We Have Issues
We don’t usually get much in the way of advertising for national office.  Maryland is dyed so deeply blue that we rarely see ads for the presidential race. 

I’ve seen a few come by here and there, but mostly it’s been a parade of issue-based ads.  I wrote earlier about the referendum issues on the November ballot, most notably same-sex marriage and an expansion of gambling to permit table games and build one more casino.

I swear, the gambling ads run constantly.  After all, there are huge amounts of money at stake.  If Maryland builds this additional casino and table games are permitted, it will affect the casinos in our neighboring states.  So guess who’s putting up most of the money to shoot down the gambling question?  The company behind Charlestown Casino in West Virginia, that’s who.  And they’re throwing up every gimmick in the book to refute the issue.

The Baltimore Sun ran a blurb early this week, deconstructing one of their ads and pointing out all the misdirection, half-truths and missing context.

* The ad said, “the Baltimore Sun called the proposal “hooey.”  In fact, the op-ed in the Sun said that both sides were full of “hooey” on this issue.  The ad cherry-picked one word and completely changed the context.

* The ad said, “(the new casino owners) still haven’t even begun construction (on a previously approved casino.)”  In fact, the license was only awarded this year, after years of legal wrangling over the proposed site, nor do they know if the new site should include facilities for table games.  So of course they haven’t broken any ground yet.

* The ad said the new casino deal contained a tax bailout for the owners, while taxes were being raised on working families.  It’s a double whammy here.  First, there can’t be a “bailout” on a business that’s not even open yet.  They’re just using the “b-word” because it elicits a negative emotional response.  Secondly, there is a tax increase planned only for high-income families, making over $150K, I believe.  Sure, they’re “working families” too, but not in the way the ad language is trying to depict.

The same-sex marriage ads are starting up as well, again, supported by lots of outside money.  The “Anti” ads usually hang on the traditional definition of marriage and “oh my God what will happen to The Children?”

From the pulpits, the Catholics and Baptists have been leading the charge, with fiery sermons and printed take-home materials, strongly urging their flock to vote down same-sex marriage.  Just like Jesus would have wanted, right?

The best ad I’ve seen on this subject (or any political subject recently) features Rev. Donte Hickman, where he simply speaks to the camera in favor of religious freedom for everyone.  He points out that the proposed law will not force any church to perform services that are against their beliefs.  He goes on to say that he wouldn’t want someone else’s religion forced on him, so why should he want his to be forced on anyone else?  Here, you can see for yourself:

That, my friends, is the very heart of the situation, made without exaggeration, hyperbole or scare tactics.

Would that all the other noisemakers follow suit…