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.

Two out of three…

I have a standing order with Amazon to deliver dog food, cat food, and litter on a monthly basis. It hasn’t been an altogether satisfying relationship thus far. Two out of the last three orders have been what I’ll just call “defective.” Today’s order included a bag of cat food in fine shape, a box of cat litter in fine condition, and a bag of dog food with a blown out corner that emptied half the bag’s contents out into the shipping box.

Look, the dogs loved the fact that I schlepped this 50 pound box through the middle of the house trailing kibble behind me, but it wasn’t the kind of experience I’d have paid for if given the opportunity. I’m a simple guy who just wants things to arrive undamaged. I don’t feel like that’s really an unreasonable position on my part as the consumer.

I dutifully fired up Amazon’s customer service chat and to their credit they immediately offered to ship out another bag of food or give me a refund. The Amazon business model is a real wonder of the modern – as it seems it’s cheaper for them to replace every fourth or fifth thing I buy than it is to spend a few extra cents on proper packaging for their products.

Amazon isn’t the only game in town, but they are generally the most convenient for setting up recurring orders so I’ll keep using them. They’ll keep sending out items in piss poor packaging. I’ll keep sending for replacements. And the whole machine will keep on working. Somehow, though, it feels like there could be a better way.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

​1. Spoofed calls. In the last 7 days I’ve gotten twelve calls that caller ID indicates are originating in the greater Baltimore area. I’m sure there are still many people who answer every time their phone rings. That these spoofed calls even exist as a thing is proof enough of that. I mean scammers wouldn’t be doing it in the first place if there wasn’t money to be made. Of the 37 ways you can communicate using a modern cell phone, actual voice calls are my least favorite. If I barely use the thing to make or receive calls to people I actually know, I’m not sure what chance the average phone scammer has at getting me to pick up. All their doing at this point is basically finding a new and interesting way to interrupt me when I’m trying to use the phone for something else… and that’s really their unforgivable sin.

2. Packaging. Since last Thanksgiving or so, I’ve observed a continuing trend of my online orders regularly arriving damaged. Some of the damage can easily be attributed to being beaten to death by the delivery service – smashed boxes, items left where they can be rained on, etc. More often though, the outer boxes arrive in fine shape, while what they contain is scuffed, mangled, or mutilated well beyond what I’d consider “fair” for an item purchased in “new” condition. I’ve lost track of how many items I’ve returned to Amazon and other retailers at this point because they can’t be bothered (or most likely just don’t want to pay) to package items in an appropriate way to prevent damage in transit. Until they do, I’ll keep making them spend twice as much in returns and replacement of damaged items as they would if they’d have just packed the damned box the right way the first time around.

3. Weekday Protestors. I first observed this behavior when I worked in DC. Someone would get a bee in their bonnet and the next thing you know a couple of thousand people would show up on The Mall to protest in the middle of the week. I see it now all over TV. What I want to know is who are these people that have nothing better to do in the middle of the damned work week than finding a position in front of the television camera, stamping their feet, and throwing a hissy fit until they get their way? Seeking redress of grievances is well and good, but I’m curious about the people who have time to do it day after day and sometimes week after week when the rest of us poor working stiffs are busy, you know, actually working. I mean even on my days off, there’s errands to run, laundry to do, yard work to tend, and a list of projects a mile long that wouldn’t get done if I were out wandering the streets waving my homemade poster-board sign with its cheeky slogan. Feel free to do what you want and all, but I’ve got a household to run and actual shit to do.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Shipping. If you’re selling a book as a “rare first edition” in “like new” shape, don’t be surprised if I call raising three kinds of hell when it arrives at my house with a shredded dust jacket and mangled pages. especially when the only shipping method you offer is “dumped in an unpadded plastic envelope, slap a shipping label on it, and hope for the best.” There are entirely too many options available to justify dealing with a company that clearly has no regard for their own product. 0/10. Would not recommend.

​2. ​Disagreement. There’s a trend that has always been built into the internet – stretching back into the dim mists of newgroups and chat rooms – that is constructed around the idea that if you don’t agree with every single point of my 12-point statement, you are a communist Nazi heathen enemy of humanity whose father smelt of elderberries and we can’t be friends. I suppose it’s fine if you feel that way, but I generally like my discussion and opinion to have a bit more nuance that’s more fitting in a world where virtually nothing is ever 100% one way or the other. Whether you agree with me or not, I’ll continue to state my opinions in what I hope are reasonable and constructive (and often sarcastic) ways. What I won’t do is feel any compulsion to defend my opinion from someone having a “come at me bro” moment. If I do engage in that discussion, I promise, it’s purely because of the entertainment value I’ll find in it.

3. The rules. In this place there are many rules. I did not write them. I am not making them up on the spot. The rules were here before I arrived and will be here long after I am gone. The fact that there is a rule (or rules) preventing you from doing that which you want to do is one of those facts that is interesting, but not particularly relevant. While I may share in your frustration, you’re really going to need to find someone with the authority to change the offending policy, regulation, or law before there’s a damned thing I can do about it.

The virtue of Prime…

After getting my notice of another Amazon Prime subscription price increase, I’m realizing that I either need to start using it for more than watching 10 episodes of The Grand Tour a year or get rid of it. I signed up way back when Prime’s major benefit was two day shipping on books. Although it offers many more features now, I find I’m barely using it for any of them. With many of items I’ve bought from Amazon recently not making the 2-day shipping window and/or being damaged to some degree in packing or transit, it’s starting to feel like less of a bargain overall – especially when Amazon has opted to push it over the $100 price point.

I’m well aware that arguing over the value of $21 per year increase is patently ridiculous on its face, but there’s just something about that three-digit bill that really sets me wondering just what the hell I’m paying for and if it’s actually worth it. In all likelihood I’ll just go along letting apathy and inertia carry it along, but don’t let that in any way be confused with my willingness to bitch and complain every year when that $120 bill shows up in my list of financial transactions… because I still want my dented and damaged crap showing up in two (or three or four) days.

I supposed that’s what Amazon has been counting on all along.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Over sensitive douchenozzels. Many documents we pass around require some kind of specific coversheet. For years now, hanging on the back wall of all the cubes I’ve inhabited are fictitious versions of these covers, identifying them as coversheets for information that is Stupid, Futile, Bullshit, etc. In the wake of morale hitting rock bottom and starting to dig, it seems that those little bits of paper have now been adjudicated as being “not funny and inappropriate.” I wish more people understood sarcasm. I also wish people were less thin-skinned. Most of all, I wish I didn’t spend five days a week in the company of at least one cowardly douchnozzle whose identity is unknown, because as of this week I know there’s at least one person in that room who can’t be trusted.

2. Cicadas. I found the first evidence of cicadas on the back porch this very morning. The two things that stick with me from the last round of these little beasts being above ground is the unholy amount of noise they generate and a particular chocolate lab who thought they were treats in the wing called forth just for her indulgence. Of course I deny these dogs almost nothing, but watching them chow down on a yard full of bugs is just a bridge too far. I wonder if somewhere on the dark web someone is selling a can of DDT. It would be awfully tempting if I thought that would do the trick.

3. Shopping for clothing. I don’t know that there’s a word in the English language strong enough to describe just how much I hate clothes shopping for myself. It ranks well below tagging along while other people shop for clothes, if that tells you anything about where it falls on the list. There was a time when I would just force myself to physically go to the store and do it. Now, mostly I just go to the closet, find the brand and size of something I have and already like and then order the exact same thing (or as close to it as is currently available) in three or four different colors. I don’t suppose I’ll ever need to wonder why my basic wardrobe hasn’t much evolved since the late 1990s. Still, it’s better than leaving the house for clothing.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The value of time, or lack thereof. I’m a largely self-directed kind of guy. Give me a task and the day you want it completed and it’ll be on your desk, usually with a few minutes to spare. I prefer operating free from micromanagement. It’s usually when I do my best work. Sometimes, though, additional guidance is necessary, or perhaps one of my five bosses has asked for an update. I’m good with that. They need to know (or at least should know) what’s going on… but what chaps my ass to no end is when they schedule the meeting and then don’t bother showing up for their own update. Things happen, I know, but when you’ve done it six consecutive times, it shows a monumental disregard for anyone who isn’t you. Sooner or later a guy just might start taking that kind of insult a little personally. Thank God we don’t worry about little things like morale.

2. Buying essentials. Shopping for new tires is sucks. It’s a necessary evil, of course, but that doesn’t in any way make it as fun and exciting as say looking for a new puppy. I’ve got a laundry list of widgets I want to add to the Jeep for summer driving enjoyment, but instead of ordering a fancy new head unit or LED headlights I’m spending the week price checking local tire shops and looking at product reviews so I can buy four tires and a new battery for Big Red. Making responsible adult decisions is lame.

3. Any internet site that offers “127 things you didn’t know about Some Random Topic.” Of course I know 99.98% of these sites are pure click bait, but every once in a while one looks interesting enough to make the slog through the land of Click For Next Page feel worth it. The real problem is I read a lot of books, watch a lot of documentaries, pay attention to details, and have a genuinely curious mind. So if you could divide your click bait into separate “general knowledge” and “advanced” categories I’d find it extremely helpful. It would save me a great deal of time muttering “who the hell doesn’t know that?”