What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Free gifts. As the amount of actual mail I need to send has plummeted, the number of organizations sending me “personalized address labels” as a “gift” has skyrocketed. It makes me wonder who’s running their marketing and fundraising department… and why they think this is a winning idea. I mean if you’re going to inundate me with junk mail, at least make it something that doesn’t stick to the blades of my shredder and give me an even worse impression of your organization.

2. Aggressive marketing of things I’ve already purchased. I bought a very nice marble urn for Winston. Since then I’ve been getting at least one email a week from the nice people at perfectmemorials.com offering me a wide range of other funerary items. This feels like another marketing fail to me. I mean urns aren’t exactly the kind of thing anyone need to purchase every week, right? I was very pleased with their service and the quality of the product I received and in time I would probably use them again as the need arose… but if they keep beating me about the head and neck with weekly messages in all likelihood I’ll go someone where else when the time comes.

3. Look at me-ism. There are few things I find more professionally unpleasant than people who demand attention for their ideas or presence in a room simply by virtue of position. Look, if I need a chief in the meeting, I’ll be the first one to invite them. More often, though, who I need is the person who actually does the work. If you need to be in a meeting just to feel important, maybe it’s time to check yourself.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Douchebags who litter. Driving through the historic summer tourist trap of North East, Maryland I was following a SUV towing a jet ski who eventually turned into one of the local marinas. There’s nothing unusual about that this time of year. Also not unusual, because people are mostly awful, was the fact that the passenger kept throwing cigarette butts and trash out the window. I assume, because of the jet ski, that these people enjoy being outside and on the water… which is about 50 yards away from where the last butt fell. That’s the head scratcher, for me. Where exactly to asshats like this think their ash and trash is going to end up the next time it rains? Then again, that question implies that they’re the kind of people who bother thinking at all and that’s probably a poor assumption on my part.

2. Online marketing. I brought home my newest pup over a month ago. While I appreciate the mission of the several dozen rescue organizations I looked at prior to that, I don’t now need to see the animals that are currently available… every time I log in to a social media account. It feels like the algorithms should take into account that the average person, regardless of how much they’d like to, is not going to adopt ALL the animals. Rest assured when the time comes I will seek these organizations out… but just now you’re wasting their marketing dollars by targeting me.

3. Panic as management strategy. I assume there’s a time and a place for panic. I’m not entirely clear what that time or place would be on an average day, though. Losing your head and making shit decisions as a result doesn’t feel like a best management practice. Especially when there are stacks and stacks of paperwork that tell you how to respond to almost any conceivable situation. I haven’t read them all… but I’ve read enough of them to know that flailing your arms and calling all hands to the pumps isn’t usually featured prominently as a how to recommendation.

All things in Xs…

I’ve been uncharacteristically patient in waiting until reaching (just) my one year anniversary with the iPhone X. The phone is a workhorse that in truth is far more pocket computer/communications device than any average user could ever need. Workhorse though it is, my trusty X is no longer the flagship of Apple’s iPhone fleet.

With my eligibility for an upgrade confirmed, I’ll be off tomorrow to slip by my very favorite retailer and hand off my trusty phone for its slightly newer, sexier younger sibling. Apple was kind enough to email me a confirmation of the order which means it should be a fairly painless visit – well under 10 minutes awash in the great American retail habitat.

I’ll give the marketing and sales department great credit. The know their target audience and continue too come up with new and interesting ways to help us feed the madness. I mean if you can convince me that going to a mall on Saturday is worth doing you should consider a career selling ice in the arctic.

There are some things for which I am willing to gladly suffer the indignity of being inevitably surrounded by people. The Xs just happens to be one of those things. I’ll be very happy to bring her home tomorrow.

Just different…

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.

Skin isn’t in…

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

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.

Neutrality….

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.