Friday, November 30, 2012

Pledge THIS

My apologies for not posting Thursday night, as is my custom.  I’m off today, so I’m having a go at it this morning afternoon.  Last night I was too keyed up in anticipation of Liz Lemon’s wedding on “30 Rock.”  Actually it was kind of traumatic, because I realized that now both Tina Fey AND Liz Lemon are married.  Gah!  Even my imaginary life can’t catch a break.
It was the only white dress she had.

A few weeks ago, I thought I’d be able to take a break from blogging politics, but even after the election, the Republicans are still acting as destructively as ever.  It starts with the dreaded Fiscal Cliff.

I mentioned in comments of an earlier post that to me, Fiscal Cliff sounds like the name of a punk band, although it would probably have to be spelled, Physcal Clyff.  (No doubt most would mispronounce it as “Physical Cliff.”)  It sounds like the combination of Rascal Flatts and Wyld Stallyns.
In Pittsburgh, they’d be called Wyld Stallyinz.  N’at.

Anyway, despite President Obama winning the election by a projected 5 million votes, while campaigning on the issue of raising taxes on the Jet Set crowd, there remains a great deal of foot-dragging on the other side of the aisle.  I’m not sure if it’s all for show, to ensure they can’t be accused of “compromising” too easily with a pinko Communist Muslim Kenyan, or if they really mean it.

I think they’re still reflexively opposing everything Obama wants to do, just from force of habit.  I think there will be some kind of agreement before we hit the cliff’s edge.  The Republicans don’t want to be blamed for sinking the entire middle class by appearing to want to protect only their corporate benefactors.  But watch out for any new angle where they can protect the rich, tank the country and shuffle the blame to the Democrats.  It’s never too early to stake out the campaign issues for 2016.

It’s sad that so much of this obstinacy stems from the legendary No Tax Pledge they’ve all taken, to Grover Norquist.  He’s the guy that has systematically, over a number of years, obtained pledges from every GOP Senator and Representative, never to raise taxes under any circumstances, for anyone, by even a single cent.  This includes eliminating current loopholes and tax shelters, levying fees, or enabling any other revenue generating method.

The “hammer” is that if anyone violates the No Tax Pledge, Norquist will spend a buttload of (other people’s) money to campaign against said violator in his next election, calling him a lying, untrustworthy, flip-flopping, big government spend-monkey, or in other words, a Democrat.

Besides the general lack of backbone, what irks me is that they’ve all taken this pledge to a single guy rather than pledging to do what’s right for the good of the country.  I mean, who the hell is this guy anyway, to hold the rest of us hostage?  He’s never run for anything or earned a single vote.  He’s just another corporate stooge who’s looking out for his own interest and that of his rich friends.  Fuck.  Him.

I think there’s a simple campaign to counteract this clown.  Granted, it will take money to get it out there, and that’s probably a pretty big obstacle.  But a candidate could counter that it’s going to have to take both increasing revenue AND cutting back on some sacred cows and take a reasonable look at spending, in order to get the deficit back under control.  There is no magic bullet or accounting trick that will handle so big a task.  This candidate should boldly state that he’s NOT going to sacrifice the well being of every American just to protect the precious few who have managed to enrich themselves on the backs of the middle class.  He should talk numbers and hammer the income gap between the 2% and the rest of us.  It can be done; all that’s needed is some backbone.

The other conservative prong of attack is to vilify Susan Rice for the assault on our embassy in Libya.  As I wrote in prior posts, this is a purely political play.  There were a whole fistful of American Embassy attacks that resulted in lives lost, during the Bush years, but we never heard a peep about them.  Now the GOP is falling all over themselves to blame this ambassador for going on the Sunday news shows and relaying details about the situation, as provided the CIA and White House.  

The goal of all this heavy-duty smearing is to keep Ms. Rice from becoming the next Secretary of State, when Hilary Clinton steps down.  And it doesn’t really even have anything to do with Rice!  The real tipoff that it’s all about politics is how they keep shilling for John Kerry to be appointed.

You remember John Kerry… he was the guy the Republicans crucified during the 2004 election.  They called him an un-American, traitor, Commie, hippy coward and made up horrible lies about his military and public service record.  And now they think he’d make a good Secretary of State?  When were they full of shit, in 2004 or now?  Can’t have it both ways.

But see, the reason they want Kerry at State is he would have to give up his seat in the Senate, where Scott Brown could run again.  This time, he wouldn’t be campaigning against the populist juggernaut that was Elizabeth Warren, or Kerry himself.  This way the GOP can reclaim a Senate seat and displace a powerful senator without having to actually defeat him.

I’m not sure what good a single senator is going to do them, but it’s a start.

Now, I don’t know who the best person would be for Secretary of State; there’s bound to be a lot of behind-the-scenes dirt on everyone.  To me, though, the Secretary of State does the President’s bidding.  The message will be the same, regardless of who delivers it.  The Senate is where laws are made and a single senator can wield considerable power, especially an experienced one.  I’d prefer to build on the progress made in the last election and try to get something done for the good of the country.

So who to put at State?  I’d almost suggest another try with Colin Powell, but I think his credibility is shot, after the Iraq War debacle.  But I have a better idea.  We need someone that by his mere presence says that this shit has got to stop or else things are going to get dangerous.  And I have the perfect man for the job…

“When you absolutely, positively have to kill every mutha fucka in the room.”

Director’s DVD Commentary: Yes, I know the quote is from a different movie than the picture… so sue me.

Holiday Guide to Yinzer Lingo
I saw this on PittGirl’s Pittsburgh Magazine article last week and it cracked me right the hell up.  If you’re not from The Burgh, consider this as kind of a visitor’s guide to our fair city, including our peculiar lingo.  The accents are especially thick… that’s probably what I like the most about it.  They probably should have subtitled it.  Because I’m not too proud to blatantly steal something I find elsewhere, I now present to you the Twelve Days of Pittsburgh N’at.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Odd Bits - The Culinary Lawn Darts Edition

I don’t have a single coherent topic to discuss today, so we’ll have to make do with a couple of smaller ones.

Just Say Moe
Someone emailed me this and I just had to post it…
Billy Idol must have gotten the song wrong.  This way is better.

If at First You Don’t Secede… Please Reconsider
All the talk about people signing online petitions urging their states to secede is cracking me up.  Talk about Stooges…

While the phenomenon has been reported all over the country, it’s tending to be concentrated in the South.  (Go figure.)  All these bastions of Amurkan Exceptionalism and the glory of the old red, white and blue, want to turn tail as soon as they don’t get their way.  The portion of the country that crucified the Dixie Chicks for daring to speak ill of the (idiot) president now wants to disown the country the claimed to revere.  It’s no longer the Tea Party, it’s the I’m Taking My Ball and Going Home Party. 

I say, do it!  Go!  Secede now and good riddance.  This would be the easiest way to repair our gene pool, lower teenage pregnancy, raise literacy and raise America’s collective IQ.  Of course the Jerry Springer Show will lose 80% of its guests, but I can live with that.

But can we please keep Louisiana?  They’ve got Mardi Gras, jambalya, fan boats, drive-thru daiquiris, and I don’t want Jessica to have to get a passport just to visit Cassie again.  Because it will be surrounded by several other secessionist states, hence cut off from the rest of us, Louisiana can be our Alaska, only with gators instead of bears.

Maybe the unhappy conservatives won’t secede at all, they’ll just make good on their threats to leave the country.  I’ve got the perfect destination for them…

Fork Me
In my prior post, I wrote about how I needed to go out and buy an electric carving knife and a large serving fork.  (Trust me, it was fascinating, if not a bit disturbing.)

I was off yesterday, so I added that to the list of errands for the day.  I thought I had a nice, efficient trip planned, but it basically turned into a daylong clusterfuck.

CF #1: Getting gas.  This shouldn't have been any trouble, but the gas pump wouldn't take my credit card.  (It’s one of those Visas sponsored by the gas station, which gets me a rebate or .08 off per gallon.)  Anyway, it said I had to go see the cashier.

The problem with that was that I wanted to fill up, so I didn't know exactly how much to ask for.  I took a stab at $50 and hoped for the best.  But then when I went back out, it still wouldn't work.  So I go back in the station again.  By this time, there was another customer that was having the same problem on another pump.  The guy came out and basically kept pushing buttons and jiggling the handle like it was a toilet the charged by the gallon, until the pump sprang to life.

Unfortunately, it sprang to life at the non-discounted price.  I pointed it out to the cashier, who in his limited English, intimated that I’d pushed the wrong buttons on the keypad inside.  I hadn’t, but not wanting to spend the rest of my day arguing at a gas pump, I said “screw it,” and just paid the higher pump price.  (I mean, it would have come to a savings of $1.12 overall.)  Pissed me off though, because the $50 came up just short of filling the tank.  That meant I wouldn’t be able to calculate my mileage since my last fill-up, nor after my next.

CF #2: I had an appointment to get a new contact lens prescription at 1:00 and I had been hoping to stop in for some Wendy’s beforehand, but due to spending an extra 10 minutes trying to buy gas, I wouldn't be able to get there in time.  At my next destination, I wanted to get my eyes checked, pick up my electric knife and fork, and do some other shopping for Christmas presents and groceries.  You know where I can do all that?  Walmart, of course. 

Yes, I know, I should hate going to Wally’s, what with their being the kings of employee mistreatment and all, but hey, I want my one-stop shopping.

By the way, when Pinky learned I was going there for contacts, a knife and a fork, she naturally requested that I also pick up about 11,000 more things, hence the groceries.

The eye test went fine… It’s no secret that I really need bifocals now, and contacts just don’t work very well for both distance and close-up vision.  The doctor is trying a thing where my right eye is keyed for distance, and my left is for close-up.  I have to try this variation for a week before I order the lens stock.  It’s kind of weird because as I look around, everything to my left is blurry, like I need to get a new lens.  And I keep walking in circles to the right.  This explains a lot about old people.

CF #3: My next objective was to procure my new utensils, but this proved to be as elusive to me as clear vision.  I couldn't believe that in a place as big as Wally’s, they had neither an electric knife OR a big serving fork.  I mean, for Pete’s sake… they had an assortment of knives that would make Jack the Ripper envious.  I think that’s a “thing” now… especially for those that watch all the cooking shows.  They have to have enough knives to do a circus act.

And what’s with the forks?  They had rows and rows of spoons, ladles, tongs, strainers, and spatulas, but no goddamn forks??  I wondered if someone had put his eye out with a serving fork, so now it had become the culinary equivalent of the lawn dart.  I mean; there wasn’t even an empty hook where the forks used to be.

I circled the kitchen appliance aisles for 15 minutes and couldn’t find squat.  So all told, I went to pick up contact lenses and a knife and fork.  I left with $167 worth of groceries, no lenses, no knife, and no fork.  Fork’n A…

CF #4: Even checking out was an adventure.  I thought I’d hit the jackpot when I found a register that had one lady with half a cart of groceries already rung and bagged, with an other half to go.  There was one more guy with about 20 items, then me.

FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER, we hadn’t moved an inch.  The lady had 4 or 5 of these WIC checks, and there was apparently some kind of involved procedure necessary, where the casher looked at an item, examined the fine print on a WIC check, scanned the item and then discussed the situation with the customer.

I don’t blame the lady for using the WIC checks, but there has to be a more efficient way of conducting the transaction.  This was just mind-numbing.  I wanted to tell the guy that rolled up behind me, “Run!  Run for your life!  This is the Black Hole of Walmart, it’s Purgatory on Earth!” 

At least there weren’t any screaming kids in the vicinity.  (If there had been, it was fortunate that I couldn’t find my big fork.  I’da used it, real good.)

CF #5: Later, as I pondered my fate while eating a delicious Baconator burger at Wendy’s, I realized that I should probably try my luck at Target, which happened to be right nearby.  But when I got there, I had the same problem… rows and rows of every utensil, but no forks.  And no electric knives.  But WAIT!  There it is!  I found a single steel serving fork, down at the end of the row of hooks.  The trip wouldn't be a total loss.  (And I wouldn't have to turn in the “back-scratching fork” from my nightstand.)

I eventually spotted a Target worker and asked about the electric knives.  I hope he wasn’t too startled by the big, loud, wild-eyed guy, stomping around his department, waving a giant metal fork.  He couldn’t find the electric knives either, but he called around.  The word came back that they were in with the crock pots.

Really?  What the hell is up with that?  All kitchen things with a plug get lumped in together?  Made no sense to me.  And I’d been through that aisle too, without finding anything.  But armed with the knowledge that they were supposed to be there, I found a couple boxes jammed in between two rows of crock pots. 

Victory is mine!

And the kicker is… the electric knife comes with a big metal fork.

Now I just have to wait for Pinky to make something that needs carving.  I’ll probably treat it the way a kid treats a new toy… The first month I’ll use it at every opportunity… on ham, roasts, pizza, sandwiches, pickles, egg salad…  By the end of the next month, it will either be broken or I won’t know where it is.  (But I’ll be sure to check the nightstand before I blame Pinky.)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Odd Bits - The Rivalry Edition

Big doin’s afoot this weekend, which make for good jumping off points for a couple of stories.  But first…

The Game
Today is the annual clash between Ohio State and Michigan. 

Having learned college football while growing up in Ohio, our family has always considered this to be the biggest college game of the year.  In fact my brother and nephew are on their way to Columbus for the game right now.  It will be the boy’s first Michigan game and he told me how excited he was to be going.  His father (the OSU grad) has obviously raised him properly.

All I can say is that if the high school in Red Dawn had been named for the Buckeyes instead of the Wolverines, they would have mopped up the invading army in twice the time.

Or on the other hand, they might have spent so much time getting tattooed; they might never have even noticed the invasion.

Fear the nut!

Brown Out
The other big game for us is the Steelers/Browns game on Sunday.  This will be the first Steelers game all year that isn't on local TV, so I’ll be off to the sports bar tomorrow, with my wing-man, Sitcom Kelly.  (When you’re done here, check out her most recent post!)

FYI, because I’ll be at the bar, I won’t be Live-Tweeting the game.  I don’t want to risk spilling beer on my iPad.  OK, I never spill a drop, but I don’t trust Sitcom Kelly.

The other day, my blog friend Val at Flying Platypi told an embarrassing story about being on the road and really having to “GO.”

It reminded me of a similar story from one of our many road trips from Toledo to Cleveland for the annual Steelers game.  I wrote a post about them back in 2009, so if you've never seen it, do click the link… it’ll be worth your while.  (Lots of vintage Steelers pictures!)  But this is one story I didn't include.

By the end of our tenure in Ohio, Dad was buying maybe 30 tickets to the game for our friends and neighbors, and we’d caravan our way across the Ohio turnpike to Cleveland.  One year, my buddy John and I rode in the back of my sister’s boyfriend’s pickup truck.  (It had a cap over the bed.)  We brought along a 6-pack to split and made ourselves comfortable.

Before too long, though, I had to pee.  Normally, I would have just rapped on the back window and had the driver pull over, either at a rest stop or somewhere beside some bushes.  But since he didn't really know where he was going, he had to stick with the caravan.  And in this age before cell phones, there was no way to communicate with the rest of the cars.  So I had to tough it out.

Some guys would have just flopped it over the back gate and let it fly.  I was much too modest for that.  I can’t even pee when there’s someone standing at the urinal beside me.  I was beginning to consider how I might pee out one of the little gaps between the tailgate and the side of the truck bed.  But every time I worked up the courage to try it, we’d pass someone.  I didn't have the heart to leave pee mist all over some unsuspecting driver’s windshield, so I ended up holding it all the way to the hotel.

By the time we arrived, I was in severe pain.  In fact when we pulled up out front and I crawled out of the bed, I couldn't even stand up straight.  I shuffled into the hotel lobby like Quasi-freakin-Modo, desperately looking for the men’s room.  Probably took me five solid minutes to empty, because any elasticity in my bladder was long gone, having been stretched beyond recognition.

Stick a Fork in Him, He’s Done
This has been a total turkey week, all week long.  Not only did I have turkey on Thanksgiving (at my brother’s house), Pinky made one last Sunday.  That turkey picture I used in the last post?  That was it.  The shot was taken long before I assaulted it with a knife.

It’s my job to carve the turkey.  After last year, I was determined to get myself an electric carving knife, but I promptly forgot about it.  I have some decent knives, but it’s just easier with the electric one.  I can’t get the nice sandwich slices; once I start to cut, I always end up with hunks that break away.

The problem this year was that I couldn't find my big fork… you know… the one you use to hold the bird steady?  I've had this old plastic set for years… a spatula, ladle, serving spoon and fork.  Everything else was present and accounted for, so where’s the fork?

I tore through our utensil drawer, grumbling the whole time. 

Where’s the damned fork?  I didn't leave it anywhere… I always put things back where they belong!  When was the last time you used it?  Where else could it be??  Dammit dammit dammit…”

I ended up using a regular silverware fork and it didn't go well.  The pan slid around the counter, the bird slid around the pan and my hand cramped up from holding the little fork so tightly.  And it’s really hard to hold a fork steadily when you have turkey juice on your hands.

So we had our “chunky-style” turkey and all was well.  It was delicious.  Cut to Monday morning, as I swung my legs out of bed and looked down at my bedside table.
Fuck.  Me.

I totally forgot that several months earlier, I’d been having this problem with getting an itch at night, between my shoulder blades.  I put the fork there within easy reach, so I could get a scratch at night without having to get out of bed.  (Otherwise, I’d have to get up and rub up against the door frame, like a bear on a tree.)  The fork had been there so long, I didn't really even see it any more.  Idiot.

I’m off Monday, and the day’s chore will be getting my ass out to the store for an electric carving knife and a new serving fork.  And I probably owe Pinky an apology.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Obligatory Giving of the Thanks Post

OK, Internet, you win.  I saw your requirement that every blogger do a post about what they’re thankful for, so I will comply.  And that has nothing to do with my trying to come up with a suitable topic for today’s post.  Plus… I have it pretty good.

Today I am thankful for…

…Having people around with whom I can celebrate holidays.  That wasn't always the case, when I lived in cities that were far from any family members.  The fact that I can go to my brother’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas gives me comfort and joy beyond measure.  Which brings me to…

…Having two practically perfect nephews.  Daniel (13) and Sam (7) are the best kids I’ve ever met.  They’re polite, whip-smart, well behaved and always at least act as if they’re happy to see me.  I can sit and talk with them for hours and the time just seems to evaporate.

…Having both parents still around, with whom I can yak with and receive their sage counsel.  A lot of people my age can’t say that.  I enjoy just hanging out with them, when I can.  It’s always a lot of fun.  Just think of all the crazy stories about them I've told you… Realize that all the goofball stuff that I'VE done is likely the result of their ongoing influence.

…Having clear memories of all four grandparents.  As I learned when I spoke at Pinky’s assisted living facility, a great many people have no memory of their grandparents, due either to estrangement or early deaths.  I was 11 when my first grandma died, so I was old enough that I still have many wonderful memories of her.  Plus, I still have my paternal grandfather, who will turn 97 this February.  The guy is a freak of nature and is as tough as the day is long.  I’m thankful that I have his genes rambling around in me somewhere.

…Having a Pinky in my life, who takes amazing care of me.  Even when she’s driving me bugshit crazy, I have to admit that she takes a lot off my plate and runs the everyday business of our lives.  It’s hard to believe I’ve been with her longer than anyone else, ever.  All I can say is that she has amazing tolerance.  I’m not the easiest person to put up with on a daily basis
Oh, and she makes a pretty mean turkey, too!

…Having a job I love for the last 15 years (in March).  While there have been ups and downs along the way, I've generally worked with some great people and made some wonderful friends.  Right now, I love my boss, I love my co-workers and I don’t have to wear a name tag!  Even though my company is still up for sale, meaning I can’t necessarily expect that things will continue as is, I’m ridiculously happy there.  There are zillions of people, employed or not, that can’t say the same thing.

...Having a couple of life-long friends who are always there for me.  I don't make guy friends easily... good thing I met these guys early on in life.  They've been there ever since.  I know if I was ever in trouble, they would be here in a heartbeat  (and vice versa).
Don't give me any trouble... Would YOU want to have to answer to these two?

…Having generally good health.  After having heart surgeries in 2002 and 2007, I maintain a steady beat with very few spells of arrhythmia.  Even my hives (Delayed Pressure Urticaria) seem to be on hold lately.  Ever since the weather turned in September, the hives have ceased to be a problem.  I’m not saying they’re gone; I still get the lumps on my body from time to time. 

I got them on my knees after kneeling down to go through a low-level shelf.  And I got them on my forearms from extended use of an iron armrest.  But they weren't really bad in either place.  But on my hands, where they tend to be the most painful… nothing.  I can push a shopping cart, noodle with my guitar or carve a turkey, without any hives popping up the next day.  All of those activities usually generate itchy, swollen hands.

Maybe it’s just the change of seasons… the hives are always worst in the summer.  But still, I’ve had the problem in past winters, especially when scraping my windshield.  So I have hope that this weird condition of mine might have finally run its course.

…Having teams to root for that are generally competitive.  I can count on the Steelers and Penguins being in the thick of a playoff chase, year in and year out.  The Buckeyes have been on an incredible run of winning football, and “bowl-eligible” or not, they’re still a formidable team this year.  And even the Orioles made the playoffs.  The Pirates… well, OK, they gave us hope right up through August, which lasted several months longer than they’re usually relevant. 

It’s so much more fun to be a fan of teams that aren't mathematically eliminated by the halfway point of their seasons.  Imagine rooting for a city’s teams where a winning season is an anomaly (Cleveland) and all you have to look forward to every year is the inevitable disappointment.

…Having people actually use their computers, on purpose, to come see what I have to say.  I’m so thankful that you take the time out of your day to come here and check in with me and my random bullshit.  I’m especially thankful for those of you that participate via comments.  That way, I know what you think, as opposed to when I examine my StatCounter data and assign you your opinions.  (Yay!  They agree with me again!)  And I'm especially, especially thankful for those whom I've gotten to meet in real life, some recently, others not so recent.  Getting to know these people has been a joy and their friendship means the world to me.  Thank you for encouraging my behavior.

Somehow, the winding path of my life has brought me to this happy place.  Everything’s OK.  I’m as content as I've ever been with what’s going on around here, so like I said,I have it pretty good.  My Thanksgiving wish is that you have the same good fortune.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friend.  Hope to see you again this weekend…

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Loose Ends Part 4 - The Final and Completely Random Edition

I've only got a few more odds and ends left about my long, sordid career in retail, but none of them really fit together.  So I apologize in advance for the lack of clear direction with this post.  It will jump around a lot.

The Night People
One of the recurring events of in-store life was the annual physical inventory.  That’s where someone has to count every single item that’s for sale in the store.  It was a long, tedious and exacting job.

In my earlier retail years, we members of the store staff had to do it, and back then, the tech was pretty primitive… as in there was no tech.  We made tally-marks by price point.  It took a couple of years until we could use the fancy scanners that would scan the product bar code.

Once a big company bought our little record store chain, our physical inventories were farmed out to companies that specialize in the field.  We’d spend the week making sure everything was tagged properly, and doing pre-counts of the stock we had in boxes in the back room.  Then when once the store closed at the end of the day, The Night People would show up.

Well, that’s what I called them in my head.  Because these inventories were always done overnight, after closing, the Inventory Company had to have people with inverted schedules, so they slept in the day and worked all night.  I know factory workers (if there are any left in this country) have to do the same thing, but these were some pretty strange cats.

Shortly after closing, you’d see these pale faces begin to assemble outside the glass doors, waiting to be asked in like vampires; drawn to the light inside like so many moths.  We’d unlock the doors and they’d scurry in and begin setting up their scanners and form a triage, like in MASH.  The Alpha scanner would give them their instructions and direct each one to a particular area.

We on the staff worked with them, by remaining available for “price checks” when they’d come across an untagged piece of merchandise.  I don’t mean to badmouth an entire class of worker, but some of these people were a little “off” when it came to social skills.  All I’m saying is that there was probably a reason why they were drawn to this very solitary line of work.  I swear, one of those dudes slept with his scanning gun under his pillow.  I think I saw a carving on the scanner’s barrel, which said, “My Precious.”

I Was There
Over the 13 years I worked in record retail, I got to witness the gradual changing of the guard when it came to music media.  When I started at my first record store, they still sold 8-track tapes.  Sure, most of them were the “4 for a dollar” close-outs, but I remember seeing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on the shelf as an 8-track.

The cassettes were kept under glass in a long counter that ran the length of the store.  In order for a customer to look at one, they had to summon one of us to get it out for them.  As I mentioned in Loose Ends 2, cassettes became the dominant medium during the 80s and LPs began their slow fade to obscurity.  But the advent of CDs was the real bombshell.

I remember being there the day we received our first box of CDs.  It was a box from Warner/Elektra/Atlantic, with maybe 30 or 40 titles in it.  I clearly remember seeing the CDs for ZZ Top “Eliminator” and Dire Straits “Brothers in Arms.”  At the time, I didn't realize how drastically these shiny little discs would change the music industry.

As CDs took off, they made LPs superfluous almost overnight.  They were smaller, rarely skipped and sounded crystal clear.  By the end of the 80s, most of our mall stores had completely gotten rid of LPs… usually they were sent to the larger, freestanding stores for sell-through or return.

The new technology kicked off a 5-year period of immense growth in music sales, as people replaced their scratchy old vinyl with these slick new CDs.  For me, it was excruciating to have to wait for my favorite catalog albums to become available on CD.  Once I got my first CD player, I wanted all the CDs, right now!  But you can’t buy what they haven’t made yet, right?

These were the first 3 CDs I bought:
AC/DC’s “Who Made Who,” MeatLoaf’s “Bat Out of Hell,” and Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellowbrick Road.”  See, I’m so organized, I bought my first CDs in primary colors.

In the mid-90s, after most everyone had replaced their LPs with CDs, the industry tried to recapture the magic by introducing Digital Audio Tape (DAT) and Mini-discs (like CDs, only smaller).  Neither of them caught on.  In fact, I’d be impressed if you remember ever having seen one.  Unable to replicate the CD revolution, music sales were solely dependent on new artists and music catching on, so sales plateaued.  Flat profits caused much consternation in the executive offices, resulting in belt tightening and store closings throughout the industry. 

After the way I was treated in this business, I laughed heartily as online sales and music downloads have made record stores functionally obsolete.  Instead of embracing these new technological concepts, the industry fought them tooth and nail before eventually trying to get into the game, waaaay too late.

In business, as it is in life, progress always wins out.

A Few Good Ones
Anyone that has worked retail for a while will have a steady supply of Awful Customer Stories.  I know I do, but I also had some great regular customers.  Sometimes people can really make your day.

When I was at the first place I managed, the mall store in Parma, I helped an older lady find something in particular for a grandchild.  Her name was Doris and she must have liked my service because she came back fairly regularly, whenever she needed another gift.  We got to kind of be friends and we’d yap for a little while, whenever she came in.

I don’t remember if I told her, or if someone else did, but she found out about my impending transfer to a store on other side of town.  One afternoon during my last week there, she came in with a goodbye present for me; a nice travel bag from Avon.  She said she wanted to thank me for all the help I’d given her.  Well, I was just floored.  As far as I was concerned, I was only doing my job.

I guess sometimes you forget the impact you make on people as you’re going about your day.  She sure impacted mine… I was quite touched. 

Over at the Maple Heights store, I befriended an old, white-haired black guy, who always wore one of those Kangol hats.  He had also been friends with my predecessor, Kenny the Viking.  Again, I never did anything extraordinary; I just helped the guy and yapped with him from time to time.

I don’t remember the reason, but he brought me a present once too: a case of Coors.  I think he came by it accidentally… maybe a prize or something, but he didn't drink beer.  I certainly had enough manners not to insult this good man by refusing his gift, so I had the opportunity to toast him on 24 occasions over the next month few weeks week weekend.  A broke-ass retail manager does not turn down free beer.

Call Me Maybe
The only “obscene phone call” I ever got happened while I worked at that store.  I was sitting in my office and someone buzzed a call back… they’d asked for me.  When I answered, she said she “wanted to know how big it is.”

Now, with our practical joke environment being what it was, I wasn't sure how to answer.  So I said, “Here, let me whip it out for you,” then I put the phone down and dropped a massive product catalog on the desk.

Nah, I didn't really.  I was too shocked to be clever.  But I knew I didn't want to say something that could possibly be recorded and played back at every subsequent district party.  I forget what I said; I was trying to get her to keep talking, so that I might figure out who the hell she was.  Anyway, she hung up pretty quickly, which bummed me out.  She sounded cute and I was available that night.

Lesson Learned
One last quick item… When I was at the store in NY I was rehabbing, I began keeping a store journal in a small spiral notebook.  I’d write down my tasks for the week, how business was, what was going on with the staff and so forth.  I also began recording observations I was making regarding problems with various staff members.

If only I’d secured the book better.  (Or at all.)  Dumbass me left it in my desk drawer for one of my employees to find… one of the ones I was complaining about.  I know she saw it because of the nasty note she wrote back to me on a page about her.  She didn't stick around much longer.

I’m just lucky that all I wrote was stuff about how she seemed disinterested and resisted taking direction.  What if I’d written that she had a nice ass and a great rack?  Pretty sure my retail career would have been much shorter.

So, fledgling store managers; take my advice.  If you must record personal notes about your staff, keep that shit at home!  You never know who might go through your drawers.

Oh, you know what I mean…

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Odd Bits - The Hostess Edition

First thing I need you to do is leave this post right now and go read my prior post, by either scrolling down or clicking here.  It’s a story about the time I had to take a lie detector test… not as a demonstration, but to clear me of a possible crime.  Not that it has anything to do with this post, it’s just that it’s a good story and no one has read it.  Seriously… I’ll wait. 

Oh, OK, you can come back to it.  This is me, getting on with it…

Pocket Review: The Amazing Spiderman
When I first heard that they were remaking Spiderman and covering the original story, I couldn't believe it.  I mean, the Spiderman movie with Tobey Maguire only came out 10 years ago… do we really need a remake already? 

I was dead set against seeing it.  However, seeing the trailer for it, when I was at the movies this summer, pried my mind open a little bit.  It looked cheeky and very exciting.  So when it came out on Blu-Ray last week, I bought it.

Turns out, it was a good call.  While it’s essentially the same “origin” story, they tweaked it enough that it wasn't just a copy of what had already been filmed in 2002.  The action was good and the CGI wasn't nearly as noticeable as it was in the first film.  (They also used more of a real guy swinging from a wire in order to use less of the CGI.)

I also liked the female lead, Gwen Stacey, (played by Emma Stone), who was much more than a damsel in distress.  She was the intellectual equal of Peter Parker and helped him as much as he helped her.  The dialog between the two snapped and crackled like this morning’s Rice Krispies.

So if you like the “comic book movie” genre, give it a shot.  Even if you liked the last three Spiderman movies, there’s no reason not to see this one.  I’ll be interested to see how they progress the series from here.

The Hostess with the Mostest
It’s cracking me up seeing everyone lose their minds about Hostess going out of business.  People are buying up Twinkies and Ho-hos as if their childhoods couldn't be relived without them.

My siblings and I pretty much missed the whole Hostess thing.  Hostess snacks never graced our pantry nor our lunch bags.  All I could do was look longingly at my classmates as they snarfed up their Wonder Bread sandwiches and crème-filled Twinkies, while I ate my little box of raisins. 

Twinkies were OK, but I never got hooked on them… I was much more interested in obtaining Pop Tarts, which were another verboten treat.  Every so often, I’d get a Twinkie out of a vending machine, just to satisfy my rebellious side, but they weren't that great.  Other than that, it was Little Debbie who was more of a presence in our household.  Boy, that little tart could bake some mean-ass brownies.

But there was a time, as a young adult, when I ate Hostess Fruit Pies like they were going out of style.  Man, I loved the cherry and lemon ones. 
I know that graphics have changed, but this is the package I remember.

I’d still eat those things by the truckload, if they weren't so high in calories.  You could tell by the weight of the package that a fruit pie would fill you up between meals.  It had “heft.”

Anyway, I don’t think there’s any reason for America’s sugar junkies to panic.  I’m sure someone will buy the rights to produce our cherished goodies.  There’s too much money to be made.  In fact, this may just be a hoax after all.  Maybe Hostess just needed to clear some room on the nations 7-11 shelves, for some new product.

Unleash the Pointless Investigations!
I can’t really take the GOP “outrage” over the Benghazi attack seriously.  I think they've decided their strategy for the next four years is going to be endless, pointless investigation of every blip in the geopolitical world.  In other words, they’re going to “Clinton” the president to death.  Benghazi and Patraeus are just the beginning.

Remember all the outrage over the seven fatal incidents at US Embassies during the Bush years?  Of course you don’t, because there wasn't any.

The GOP knows that as long as they’re monopolizing the press by pointing fingers at Obama, nobody is talking about their own toxic message that got their asses kicked in the November elections.  When in doubt, shift the blame.

Ratbird Stew
One of the Steelers two biggest games of the year is coming up, when they play the Ratbirds on Sunday night.  (The other one is the 2nd time they play the Rats, two games later.)  Before last week’s game, I was expecting a Steelers win against the Rats tomorrow and a loss two weeks later when they play in Baltimore.  But that was before QB Ben Roethlisberger got knocked out of the Chiefs game with a separated sterno-clavicular joint and a dislocated first rib.  The way things look, he’s going to be out for quite a while.

The Steelers are 0-4 against the Ratties when Ben isn't playing.  I think it’s going to take a heroic effort on everyone’s part, especially the Steeler defense, if they are to win on Sunday.  Personally, I doubt it.  I mean, I’ll still be rocking my game-day mojo, but I’m not expecting any miracles.
The Steelers are going with their 1934 “jailbreak” throwbacks, so I’m wearing my 1933 “butt-ugly” throwback, with white Steelers sweat pants and Steelers socks.

I was going to wear it to work on Friday for jersey day (aka Purple Friday, for those that aren't me), but since I knew I was going to wear it for the game, I declined.  I haven’t had much success when wearing the same jersey on both Friday and Sunday.  Good thing I have my spreadsheet to check these things out.

Source: Benstonium.com

If you like the Steelers, you should check me out on Twitter, during the game by following me at @DarwinfishBluz.  I’ll be dropping my keen strategic observations, making fun of the Ratbirds, complaining about our quarterback and insulting the announcers.  (OK, maybe not much of the latter… Michaels and Collinsworth do a good job.)  It’ll be just like watching the game with friends at the bar, only without the noise, peeing and beer breath.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Loose Ends Part 3

In Loose Ends Part 1, I wrote about how our company’s loss prevention guy showed us how they could use a copier as a lie detecting machine.  They couldn't really; it was just a con that seemed to work on stupid people.  But I had my own experience with a real polygraph machine; in fact, I had it used on me by Cleveland’s Finest.  That experience will be today’s retail story.

It was during the time I was managing the Maple Heights store on the east side of Cleveland.  My store wasn't in the safest location, so we had some tools to deal with that.  First of all, we had this huge safe, like one you’d see in a jewel heist movie.  It stood about 6 feet tall and was as solid as a rock wall.  In fact, I’m pretty sure they used a crane to lower that safe into the store and then built the office walls around it.  And not only was it formidable, it was also alarmed.

Right by the office door, there was a toggle switch that activated the safe alarm.  If you wanted to get into the safe, you had to flip the switch; otherwise it triggered a silent alarm straight to the cops.  Lord knows how many times I’d forget about the alarm and open the safe to prepare the morning drawers.  Then when I’d walk out to the floor, there would be a couple of cops in the foyer, with their hands on their guns.  (Oops.)

That was one service the cops provided; another was a bank drop service.  See, part of secure cash management was making sure there was as little cash on hand as possible, to provide disincentive to any prospective robber and reduces losses if you ARE robbed.  Most of the time, that meant taking cash drops from the register and moving it to the safe.  After closing, we’d put the day’s deposits into a lockable bank bag and put it our bank’s night drop.

But during the holiday season, we would be seriously rolling in cash, so much so that it could be pretty risky just transporting that much dough to the bank, especially at night.  Enter: the police department.  Our strip center had a deal with the local precinct, which allowed uniformed off-duty cops to pick up our deposits and take them to the bank drop for us.  During weekends or busy holiday times, we would call them up and our hard-earned money would receive an armed escort to the bank.  In the morning, a manager would go to the bank, get our coin rolls for the day and pick up the deposit slips.  It was a simple and effective routine, right up until one of our deposits went missing.

It was during the holiday season and early in the evening, I prepared a couple of deposit bags.  (I believe we’d make separate deposits for each register.)  The cop came and took them away, which made our end-of-day deposits much lighter.

But the next morning when I went in to get our bags and deposit slips back, there was a slip missing.  I had the teller scour the area, but they had no record of any other deposit.  When I got back to the store, I matched the slips to our records and easily determined the missing deposit was one of those we gave the cops. 

I had personally prepared the deposits and recorded all of our data and my assistant and I brought the night deposits to the bank, so I knew that those were squared away.   The problem was; have you ever tried to intimate that a cop was at fault for something?  Suffice to say, it gets really ugly.

As far as the cops were concerned, our records were meaningless, and to an extent, they had a point.  If I had been a crook, I could have falsified it all up.  They didn't know me though; that I’d already seen how embezzling cash from a store is a no-win situation.  That’s how I got my first store… remember the Legend of the Felonious Lesbian?  No way would I go there.  So if it wasn't me, and it wasn't my assistant who was with me, who’s left? 

I spoke with the cop that picked up our deposit.  He was an older, white-haired guy and he told me that there was no way he was risking his reputation and pension and everything, for a bag of money.  He said he retraced his steps, double-checked all over his car and checked with other banks along his route, in case they found a strange deposit.  Nothing turned up.  The thing is, I believed him.  I don’t think he did anything dishonest or crooked.  But that doesn't mean he couldn't have made a mistake somewhere along the line.  The money had to go somewhere, and I knew for a fact that we handed him that deposit.

So we filed reports and got our Loss Prevention guys involved, but it still came down to my veracity and that of my assistant, and the cop.  That’s where the lie detector came in.  All three of us had to take a polygraph.  Much like the way I approached jury duty, I thought it would be kind of cool to experience.  Unlike with jury duty, I was incorrect.

The setup itself was pretty simple… primitive even, by today’s tech.  I sat beside the machine with the wiggly pens and moving paper, and they attached a blood pressure cuff, put some clippie things on my fingers and looped a ridged, hollow tube around my chest. 
The setup looked a lot like this, except we weren't in black and white.  Well, maybe the cop was… (snicker…)

After establishing my “baseline,” with routine questions about my name, age, address and stuff, the shit got real.  Obviously, they asked me if I took the money or knew who did, and I said no.  But the way they did it was pretty aggressive.  They weren't just asking me, they were telling me they knew I did it.  It was pissing me off, because I knew I didn't.  They told me the machine said I was lying.

After a few minutes of such torment, they left me alone to “think about my story,” for a few minutes, and “decide how I wanted to play this.”  When they came back, I was like, “ I've decided… I still didn't take the money.  We handed it to the cop and that’s the last we saw it.”

And with that, they said I was free to go.  Lying bastards… It was all a big act, really.  I figured that must be part of the strategy; to get the person all riled up and flustered.  But because I knew what I had and hadn't done, they were about as convincing as the old copy machine test.

I wish I could have been there when they tested my assistant, who we called “Big Jon.”  He was huge… I’m 6’3” but standing beside him made me look like Michael Cera on a heroin jag.  Luckily for everyone involved, Big Jon was a mild-mannered, church-going sort.  Still, it would have been something to see him get riled.  They hadn't invented tasers yet, so they probably would have had to go nightstick on him.

We compared notes after the ordeal, and he said they pulled the same stuff with.  He was pretty angry about it, but he kept his cool.  But he was very UNcool with being called a liar.  Much like all of us, I guess.

Ultimately, all three of us passed our polygraphs, so we ended up right back where we started… what happened to the money?  We never did get to the bottom of it.  Our LP guys couldn't find anything to show we were at fault, so the loss was never held against us.

If I had to guess, I’d say the cop dropped the bag on the way in or out of his car.  We gave him several of the nylon bags, so it wasn't hard to imagine one slipping out without making any significant noise.  And in that neighborhood, if anyone walked by and found a deposit bag on the ground, there was zero chance it was going to get turned in.  I think the bulk of that cash ended up in the till of a local liquor store.

Based on this experience, we devised a new procedure, in which whenever we had the cops pick up a deposit, we also had them sign for it.  Going forward, we’d be able to track each bag to the guy who picked it up, thus eliminating any questions about the chain of custody.  I don’t know why it hadn't been done all along.  The whole system was set up before I ever took over the store, so I just ran with it as it was.  Live and learn…

And You Thought I Was Italian
To end on a funnier note, let me tell you this quick story. 

I've always hated wearing name tags.  I found it unsettling when complete strangers would walk up and address me by name.  My first reaction was always to wonder where they knew me from and why I didn't remember them… But one time it led to one of my favorite spur-of-the-moment comebacks.

My badge had my name and title… it said “Bluz   Mgr.” I always was one for economy of words…until I started writing a blog, anyway.

One day this dude came up to me and just to be a wiseass, he says, “Mgr…That’s a funny name.”

I instantly deadpanned, “What’s wrong with it?  I’m Hungarian”

Dude fell all over himself apologizing, until I laughed in his face.  I probably should have let him believe he just insulted my heritage…

In retrospect, I should have said I was Czechoslovakian.  “Mgr” is closer to…
Jaromir Jagr, the Czech

…than it is to
Al Hrabosky, The Mad Hungarian

But because at the time, the Penguins were still a couple years away from drafting Jagr, I can be forgiven for mixing up my Eastern European surnames.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Loose Ends Part 2

Now that all the election hoopla is over, except for a few odds and ends… (coughPetreuscough…) I now return to my regularly scheduled bullshit, which is some orphaned retail stories that didn't fit in my 13-part magnum opus.

Art-ifacts
During the time that I worked at my first record store, I was in college, getting my degree in what was then called “Radio/TV/Film.”  I had intended to use it to go into the radio business, but it never quite worked out.  However, I was able to put my media training to good use in the store.

During the first few years I worked there, we were a small, regional chain, so we operated with a high degree of autonomy.  The store manager basically had free reign.  But the owners eventually went “bust” and had to sell out to a larger music chain.  At that point, everything was highly controlled from the home office.

Those first few years, though, were a lot of fun.  Our store was a hip, happening place to be (and work.)  I just missed the real “heyday,” when they used to keep artists on staff to produce the “album boards.” 

These album boards were 6-foot by 6-foot airbrushed paintings of album covers, and hung inside and outside the store.  Before I started there, the boards would hang for a while, and then be sold off via auction.  By the time I got there, they weren't producing any more album boards, so what we had hung up there permanently… at least until the company went under.

There were times that we had to trim our product orders to fit within how much money we made the previous day.  So eventually, they decided to sell the album boards.  While I desperately wanted the one for Joan Jett/Bad Reputation, I didn't have any extra scratch to blow on a giant wooden album cover.  But my Dad did.

Unfortunately, he was drawn to a different album board.  I’m sure you can see why.

My boss sold it to Dad for $50, and he took it home where it hung in our Barn, right up until we sold the place.  Then it became mine.  I schlepped it all over the country with me as I moved about, until I finally sold it in 2007... on CraigsList, for $50.  In the ad, I said that there was a minor smudge mark in the middle, from old nose prints.  It was a joke.  But that was the first thing the buyer asked about.

Radio Daze
Anyway, the reason I told you about the album boards is that once we started getting rid of them, my manager cut a deal with a couple of radio stations.  In exchange for hanging up 6x6 boards featuring their logos, they would give us 30 radio ad spots per month.  We would write the spots at the store, then they’d produce and air them.  With my radio training, the job of writing the spots fell to me.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that most of my spots were quite pedestrian… workmanlike, if you will.  We had fabulous low prices for the time, so that was what I hit the hardest.  But one day while I was putting out stock out on the floor, I came by an idea for a spot.  It started with a play on words using a band’s name and then it just snowballed from there.  The first chance I got, I went to the back room and started getting some ideas on paper, and then quickly, I had the finished script.

Our radio contact guy loved it.  In fact, he told my manager that it was one of the best spots he’d seen, including those they wrote themselves.  This was the 80s, so I assumed the radio guy was stoned.  But so were the listeners, so I took his compliment seriously.

Because I wrote the spot as a conversation while a couple is watching TV, the station needed a female voice, but at the time, did not have any female on-air talent.  So they used one of their office workers, an admin or receptionist or something.  She did very well, in a tough spot.  I mean, I probably over-wrote for the 60-second spot, so they had to really fly through the dialog.  I don’t think I ever heard the spot broadcast, but they did give me a copy on cassette.

Last week I dug it out of the archives, came up with some graphics to go along side it, and put it all together with Windows Moviemaker.  May I now present to you, in all it’s monophonic glory, The WRQN Spot.

The radio station totally should have offered me a job.  But because I never spoke with the radio people myself, my boss probably put the kibosh on it.  Probably told them that I had herpes or something, and couldn't be trusted to handle their mics.

Bluz Schmooze News Crews
Ours was by far the largest record store in the area, so whenever there was a music related story on the news, the local stations would come to us to film their reports.  My boss used to handle that stuff, until one of the crews edited his responses in a less than flattering way.  (They made him look like a dipshit, to tell the truth.)  From then on, he sent me out there to handle the film crews, which was fine with me.

It turned out that I most always knew someone on the news crew, either the reporter or the cameraperson, from my radio or TV classes.  In fact, one time, the reporter was a girl I’d dated.  (Luckily, it had just been a one-time thing; we were never an “item.”)

I remember appearing in two news reports and helping set up camera shots for a third.  The first time was on the occasion of Elvis’s death and they wanted to know if he was still a factor in record sales.  He wasn't, but I lied and said he was.  “He’s still the King,” I said.  (Somehow, I kept myself from going “Thankyouverrmuuuch…)

It may have been my ass on camera, but my boss always told me what he wanted me to say.  We had to make sure that the store, the chain, and the music industry was represented correctly, lest it come back to bite our asses later.

Like when a reporter came out to talk about how cassettes were surpassing LPs as the dominant music medium, and about the effect of home taping.  I had to make sure I didn't formally come out and embrace home taping, or we could incur the wrath of the record industry, who was fighting tooth and nail against it.  (They wanted to sell you the tapes, they did NOT want you taping an album for your own use and ESPECIALLY didn’t want you taping an album and giving it to a friend.)

Another time someone came out looking for album art to use under voice-over.  The guy asked me to show him “the wild covers,” but what he really meant was the “devil” stuff.  I showed him some Sabbath, Ozzy, and Dio before I caught wind of what he was trying to do.  I pretty much stopped helping once I realized he might be setting up a music censorship piece.  (This was the time of the PMRC, when record censorship labeling came into play.)

It turned out that they were interviewing a professor of pop culture at my alma mater, Bowling Green, who was saying that music is no more or less of an influence than any other factor in our violent, sleazy culture.  So I guess I didn't do any lasting damage to Free Speech, by helping the guy.

When I conceived this post, I figured I’d spice it up by showing you the clips.  When they were originally broadcast, I recorded them on our brand new VCR.  7000 video tapes later, I can’t find squat.  I KNOW I have the “cassette versus LP” clip around here, but I can’t find it.  It’s probably jammed on a tape somewhere between a couple of movies, or HBO comedy specials.  I did find the “devil music” clip, but it’s not terribly interesting, (in that I don’t appear in it).

BUT, while I was scouring my video files for you videophiles, I did find that Internal Theft training film I was in, that I mentioned in the previous Loose Ends post.  The whole thing runs about 15 minutes, so I just pulled out two short clips.  Before this morning, I honestly haven’t seen this thing since we made it in 1991. 

One thing I forgot is how they told us that the final product would be all voice-over, so anything we said while filming would not be heard.  Can you imagine that?  ME? With a camera rolling and able to say whatever I wanted to my fellow “actors,” with no consequences?

There is one scene in particular, at the end of the Clip 1, when I’m up at the register with the other younger guy.  The stuff I was saying to him was completely foul and profane.  I was dropping F-bombs like confetti in a tickertape parade.  You can see him, right at the end, put his finger to his mouth to keep from busting out laughing.  They cut right before he did.  I was so proud.  That was a fun night.

The other thing that kills me is how skinny I was.  Good gravy… it must have been that “All Stress and Long Hours” diet that so many of us were on. 

So, forgive me for not showing you a clip of me waxing on about the glory of cassette tapes.  Instead, may I present yours truly, your humble bluzdude, in his starring turn as The Good Manager, in the underground hit training video, “Internal Theft – The Biggest Ripoff.”

Clip 1 – 1 minute 26 seconds

Clip 2 – 32 seconds

I love the look on her face at the end, as she looks upwards, thankful that I’m not calling the cops yet.  Also, damn, I looked young… not a gray hair to be found.  I must have been 29 or 30. 

Geez, I was still older, waaaaaaay back then, than Cassie or Jessica are right now.

Director’s DVD Commentary: I did have one detail wrong in that Loose Ends post… When we made this film, I was not yet in the home office; I was still in the store I was running immediately preceding my joining the office.  The rest of the cast was made up of other store managers and employees.