I’m old enough to have caught the tail end of what could be called “local retail.” When I was a kid even our small town of a few hundred had what in generations past would have been called a dry good store. My home town wasn’t big enough to justify its own hardware store, but the next town of any size in either direction along the George’s Creek valley had one – Pritchard’s in Frostburg anchored the central stretch of Main Street, Ternent’s in Coney sat (where it still does business) at the center of town on Jackson Street. Ames provided a primitive “big box” style of retail while G.C. Murphy represented the last bastion of traditional American department stores. Murphy’s, though, was “in town” and usually involved a special trip. You didn’t end up there to pick something up on a whim.
There was a proper 1980’s mall, of course, decorated in shades of beige with it’s glass dome and sunken fountain centerpiece. It was anchored by JC Penny, The Bon Ton / Eyerly’s, K-mart, and Sears.
I’m taking this stroll down memory lane because of all these stores – many of them one-time giants of American retail, only a handful remain. Ternent’s lives still, I suspect as much due to the loyalty of the surrounding community (and inconvenience of making the 30 minute one-way drive to the next closest hardware store) as anything else. JC Penny creaks along providing the area with “something that isn’t Walmart. Now Sears has filed for bankruptcy protection. Its lone store back home isn’t on the closure list this time, but I don’t think anyone really expects it will last forever or even that it will last long. It’s only a matter of time before Sears too becomes part of consumer history.
Protected here by my walls of books and largely tucked away from people to the extent I can manage, it’s easy to dismiss just how much the world has changed in the last 30 or 40 years. A guy I use to work for was fond of saying that on average “it’s not better or worse, it’s just different.” It’s a nice sound bite and maybe it’s even true. But I can tell you without a moment’s shame that the older I get the less interest I have in “different” overall. Slowly, the words “different” and “worse” feel like they’re becoming synonymous.
I know intellectually that bankruptcy delivers creative destruction to the marketplace, but I’d consider it an awfully big favor if we could somehow avoid sweeping away all vestiges of the world that was.
Sometime next year you’re going to be able to walk in to local quick stop and pick up a copy of Playboy magazine and not have to worry about your eyeballs being offended by what most would consider some of the most tasteful and understated nudity in the business. The skin-is-in revolution that Hef started in the early 50s has finally overwhelmed his old fashioned publishing company.
That makes me a little sad. I can still very distinctly remember my first look between those storied pages – of tattered magazines wrapped in plastic, stashed in the woods, and passed between half the neighborhood. Within a few days of my 18th birthday, there may or may not have been a fundraiser among some of us to pay the rental for a post office box in the next town over so we could have the latest edition delivered with some semblance of discretion. If I remember correctly, Jenny McCarthy was Playmate of the Month way back when. All these years later I’ll probably still catch three kinds of hell for admitting that out loud.
That was right at the beginning of the internet – that diabolical, always available peep show that blasted a wide swath of destruction through the “dirty magazine” business. No matter what you’re feelings about the industry, venerable Playboy going the way of all the other men’s magazines is a milestone. It’s another reminder of why I seem to hate the 21st century just a little bit more every day.
I was raised in a world where “be a man,” wasn’t considered a derogatory or inappropriate thing to tell a boy. It was a world where problems were solved with fists just as often as words, but no one ever really seemed to take it personally. We were the last who saw our formative years in a world where being a man didn’t have to mean touching your feminine side. I can’t help but think I’m so uncomfortable about the future because it’s going to bear so little resemblance to the world in which I grew up and for which I still have such fond memories.
1. Pumpkin Spice. I have no understanding at all of the obsession with making everything pumpkin spice flavored. In all my long years the only thing I’ve ever wanted to taste like pumpkin is Thanksgiving pie. Coffee, cookies, doughnuts, scented trash bags, english muffins, beer… all things that are fine in their “usual” flavors. I’ll be pleased when this fetish of the moment passes… except then there will be some new flavor to obsess over. Be on the lookout for eggplant parm yogurt, coming soon to a grocer near you.
2. “Small Government” Conservatives. My friends on the extreme right wing like to say they’re the party of small government. That’s great, except it’s not really true. You can’t really be in favor of small government but still want a government big enough to regulate what services are or aren’t available from healthcare providers. Small government means just that – it’s less intrusive, less regulatory, and less concerned with what legal activities its citizens engage in. A believer in small government is concerned with maximizing personal liberty and limiting how much influence that government has on our day to day lives. My read on most of our dearly beloved members of Congress who claim the mantle of “small government” are really just busybody prudes who think the universe needs to behave exactly as they want it to. I’m sure there’s a name for that but it sure as hell isn’t small government.
3. Apple. God love them. They rolled out a lot of slick looking new kit yesterday. Much of it immediately landed on my want list, but I didn’t see anything that fills the gap as a “must have” bit of equipment. I’m leaning towards upgrading to the 6S+ to get more phone real estate, especially after seeing them in use “in the wild” for a year. And while the new features, most notably the upgraded camera, look like something I’d get mileage from, I’m decidedly underwhelmed at the prospect of getting up at 3AM Saturday morning to drop in an order at full retail price (since AT&T insists I’m seven months away from upgrade eligibility). We’ll see.
I’m not a parent. It’s not a decision I’ve ever had a reason to regret. While I haven’t had the direct experience of what it’s like raising kids, I can speculate at least from the perspective of having been one once… contrary to the misguided notions that I was either hatched in a lab or sprung full grown from Zues’ head.
The interwebs are cheering Target’s bold, forward thinking decision to do away with gender-based signs in favor of gender neutrality. The CNN article on the topic quotes a Target shopper as being thrilled because she was “so tired of my daughter trying to play with her best friend (a boy) and him not wanting to because whatever she has is a girl toy. Or not wanting to watch the show she suggested because it’s a girls’ show…”
Now it’s been a long time since I was a kid, but I don’t remember making thoughtful, informed toy choices based on color or what aisle something happened to be in – I wanted GI Joes, Micro Machines, toy guns, and styrofoam airplanes that were guaranteed to crack the first time you threw them. In fairness, growing up we were just as apt to make our own toys out of pointy stick and rocks, spend the afternoon trying to catch frogs, or throw a dam across a stream, knock it down to see the “flood,” and the build it back again as we were to play with anything store bought. I don’t remember my toys ever being so much about gender as about interest.
None of that is really the point though. I don’t rightly care if you want your little Johnny to play with dolls or your little Susie to play with balls (or whatever it is that boys are “supposed” to play with these days). My point is we seem to spend a hell of a lot of time and effort in this country to satisfy whatever wild ass issue of the day one special interest after another comes up with. The better option, if I may be so bold, is for the parents out there to actual do some parenting.
Instead of expecting Target to do it for you, how about you as a parent decide what is an isn’t an acceptable choice for your child. Just because Target or Sears or LL Bean put something in a particular aisle, really shouldn’t flavor how you’re choosing to raise your lovely little hatchling or what you’re encouraging them to play with. Kids, being the ill tempered, uncensored little hoodlums that they are will tell you quickly enough what they want to play with and whether they consider it a “boy toy” or a “girl toy.” That’s a decision for you and them… whether Target puts it in Aisle 4 in a blue box or Aisle 6 in a pink box is likely to be incidental at best.
1. Wasting my goddamned time. Sometimes things happen that are unavoidable. Life can’t always be expected to run like clockwork. I get it. That said, when standard procedure ends often as not in a week’s worth of work ending up in the trash bin, I’m not sure that’s really the best possible use of resources. Look, I get paid whether I split the atom or fling spit balls, but on average I’d rather spend my days doing have some semblance of value. I mean I’m going to keep taking your money either way, but it seems like everyone would be better off if there was something more to show for the time other than half finished powerpoint.
2. Websites with ads that automatically play music or video clips. Stop it. Just stop. I will immediately close the offending screen. You will never get my business because your marketing is obnoxious and distracting. Be subtle. Build a great product. I’ll happily buy your stuff then – maybe even pay a bit of a premium for a premium product. I don’t care how good a widget you make is, though, if you insist on assaulting my senses just to get me to look at it.
3. The Office of Personnel Management. I like to think if I were as ragingly incompetent at my job as whoever is responsible for network security at OPM is, I’d be on the street looking for a job right now. Seriously, though, losing 25 million (and at this rate probably more) individual social security numbers and other identifying information about employees, their friends, families, college roommates, childhood neighbors, and former employers is really an extraordinarily impressive accomplishment. I’m sure I appreciate the free “credit monitoring” and all, but if we could make some heads roll I’d at least feel a little better that someone, somewhere was being held accountable. I’d ask for the immediate initiation of hostilities of the nation or group responsible for the theft, but it already feels like that’s just a bridge too far for the asshats running the show in the District.
Retribution: Chasing Hearts and Minds has been out there in the wild for a little over a week now. I know from a few private messages and from the retailer’s weekly reports that a few copies are floating around. The individual feedback has been overwhelmingly positive – and trust me I never get tired of hearing good things about myself so I thank all of you who have taken the time to drop me a note. I do, however, have one small favor to ask of those of you who have already purchased your own copy (and those of you who plan to purchase your copy in the future).
It would be incredibly helpful for me if you’d go back to your retailer’s page and leave a review. I’d never presume to tell you what kind of feedback to give – either positive or negative – but as I’ve learned the hard way, when it comes to selling ebooks, nothing gets a no-name work noticed like good reviews and ratings. In addition to total sales numbers, reviews are a big part of the secret algorithms the big retailers use to decide what moves up the rankings, what gets featured, and what doesn’t.
Retribution will probably never make it to Amazon’s top ten in ebooks > sci-fi > dystopian, but if someone were to happen across it using a key word search, a few reviews could really help make the difference between picking up their own copy and moving on to the next alternative.
To pick up your own copy or leave a review, all you need to do is follow one of these helpful links:
I keep seeing these Terminator-esque news stories pop up fueled by fear of computers gaining sentience and destroying humanity. Apparently it’s an actual concern and not just something you see on TV. I can’t quite bring myself to lose sleep over it, though. As long as Facebook keeps prompting me to “like” 5k runs and exercise clothes, I’d say we’re all pretty safe from Skynet. I realize an inordinate number of my friends have this strange obsession with running for “fun”, but I’m not going to be in the same town as that bandwagon at any time in the foreseeable future. I have a feeling it’s safe to assume that if our would-be evil computer overlords can’t get the advertising right, AI clearly isn’t quite ready for prime time. Sleep well Sarah Connor.