Friday, November 25, 2011

Species of the Black Friday Shopper

Contemporary folklore tells us that Black Friday is so called because it is the day that retail businesses’ books go from being in the red, financial losses, to going into the black, financial profits.  Folklore indeed!  To most of us who tend to fight the ever rising tide of holiday bargain chasers and department store debutants, the black in Black Friday is less representational of glorified booty than it is of impending doom.

It is amazing to see the array of people bustling through a store, ransacking the discount bins leaving behind scraps of torn fabric, plastic wrapping, odd sized garments and the occasional finger or two.  It is these people who make up the species called shopper.  Of course, within this species there are several varieties.  Although these varieties of shoppers exist throughout the year, Black Friday is to the shopper like Groundhog’s Day is to the groundhog that brings our focus to the spices.

Always the first to be observed is the “marathoeous patroni,” or the Black Hole shopper.  This is the person who is waiting for the store doors to open in the morning.  They walk around the store like a depression in the fabric of space and time, that mysterious gravitational pull that sucks money from any and all points surrounding it.  The Black Hole shopper is difficult to see to the inexperienced because they are in the stores so long that they are often mistaken for employees.

Then there is the “upendus displayus,” also known as the Black Beard shopper.  This is the person who is constantly digging through bins like there is buried treasure at the bottom.  If they cannot find the exact item in their choice of size, style, shape or color, they’ll completely disrupt the entire department before being convinced that the store is out of inventory.

Very difficult to see and even more difficult to hear is the “montyous hallus,” or the Black Market shopper.  This shopper thinks every new store is the opportunity for a new deal.  They’ll negotiate everything from a store display to a mannequin’s clothing to a box of tacks with the price tag missing.

It isn’t until the shopper population is at it’s highest when we can spot the dreaded “kicksomeofus behindus,” or, commonly known as the Black Belt shopper.  This is the person who vows to get the popular toy of that particular year, and no one will get in its way.  This shopper can be quite dangerous and it is suggested to just get out of it’s way or you both may end up sitting in the store’s security office.

Of course it is wise for the novice to beware of all these species of shoppers, but the one most feared is the “wantus allofit” or the Black Widow shopper.  She is the deadliest of all shoppers with her bite most venomous.  Indeed it is the innocent mate who bares the brunt of the Black Widow’s sting.  She shops and spends unconcerned for her mate.   Once bitten by the Black Widow shopper spending, illness and severe pain follows.  As the mate waits in the home web, he is unaware that, if he makes the wrong move, the slightest error, the faulty comment, he can and will be eaten alive.

Not to be forgotten are the completely innocent victims of Black Friday:  the children.  Those poor little Santa seekers who are literally drug from store to store, standing in those women's sections where they sell those...things with their moms telling them to hold this for her while she checks the sales flyer, mothers avoiding any toy store or department like the plague, the Black Plague, and the embarrassment caused by being seen with your mom eating at the “cool” mall pizza place will still be a topic of conversation long into therapy sessions for years to come.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I am Merging my Family

Company mergers are nothing new, but I have recently become convinced that merging must be more than a mere mercantile roll in the corporate hay.  There really must be something to this merger thing or industrial giants would never consider it.  So, I figure, if it’s good enough for corporate America, it must be good enough for me.  That’s why I’ve decided it’s time to follow their lead.  I’ve decided to merge my family with the family down the street.

Merging is nothing new to my family.  We’ve already managed to merge the dining room with the living room so breakfast, cartoons, kids and mom may coexist peacefully and the bathroom and the family room must have merged because every time I’m up there, a sudden family run on the plumbing arises.

Now, as to the merger -- first of all, the family down the street has a far larger house, that is, physical plant, than I have.  Their two and a half baths combined with my one will improve employee as well as customer satisfaction by a whopping 250%! 

As one large single-family unit, I can drop my health insurance coverage and accept a generous buy-out check (adding fuel to the tax-your-benefits debate) resulting in an increase of liquid assets while utilizing the family down the street’s insurance more efficiently.  Even though the family down the street’s insurance may not be as good, it’s cheaper.

We will file our taxes jointly giving us a total of seven children and two stay-at-home moms guaranteeing us virtually tax-free status for at least the next 21 years.  That’s better than any old tax moratorium or shelter.

Instead of being a two-car family, we will now boast a fleet of four vehicles which, even though we may never actually need them all, must be a good thing because we’re bigger and have more stuff and can buy car wax by the bulk. 

Of course, as in any merger, there is bound to be a duplication of services that, as difficult as it may be, must be dwelt with.  Although years of devoted, faithful, loyal, productive service have been provided, it is with sincere and deepest regret that, in order to maintain an even greater profit margin, certain family members’ positions must be dissolved.  The position of father will be named by the family with the most assets brought to the table.  A position will be created for the other father with the job title of great uncle visiting from a Midwestern state to be named at a later date.  The position of mother will be maintained by the mothers from both families.  The said mothers will create their own job descriptions.  At first, an early retirement option was proposed for one of the mothers, but after realizing both mothers wanted it, the offer was quickly withdrawn.  Some children may have to be let go.  If there weight as a tax deduction is less than their benefit to the family, they can and will be pink slipped.  Please note that it is not the responsibility of the family to place them elsewhere.  It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been with the family.  They’ve picked up skills.  They’ll land on their feet.  We’ll give them a right jolly letter of recommendation.  Besides, there are plenty of programs out there to retrain them as adorable orphans.

As for any family pets:  any and all will be stored in a warehouse in Piscataway, New Jersey for no longer than five years and, if no use is found for them, they can and will be sold at auction along with any unused furniture, fixture or appliance.  What is not sold at auction will be abandoned.

When we are one large, functioning family, we will begin to eye up other families on the block for hostile takeovers.  Since we can now buy higher, sell lower, work faster and more efficiently; other small families haven’t a chance at survival.  After we’ve acquired the block, we’ll market an aggressive expansion program into the next block and then the next until anti-trust laws stop us or our competition is merely a handful of other larger-than-life families who will work with us to keep everyone’s prices and wages even and “fair.”

As businesses begin to meld into larger and larger institutions, the smaller, middle-of-the-road businesses have less of a chance of success let alone survival.  If this trend continues, society will be split into two classes:  the laboring class and the executive class.  History tells us what happens next.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

They Don't Call It a Number Two for Nothing

Every great society throughout history has had its vulnerabilities.  The Trojans had their horse.  The Romans had their hedonistic excesses.  The Russians had their inequality of classes and the French had all their heavy sauces and thick creamy pastries.  It seems that one of America's vulnerabilities has been under our noses all along, but no one seemed to notice:  the number 2 pencil.

The first writing implement handed to a child is generally the crayon -- that colorful extension of an unbridled imagination and that great waxy smell.  With the crayon the sky can be green, grass can be purple and smiles can be larger than the faces that hold them.  Maybe people would be a little happier if they colored at least once or twice a week.  It's fun.  And don't worry about staying within the lines.  Too many people get hung up on coloring within the lines.  A teacher once told my parents that I had trouble coloring in the lines, but my original artwork was brilliant.

The first pencil most kids use is that thick blue one that makes those wonderfully broad soft lines on green paper with the wide spaces between the lines for big capital letters and numbers.  Suddenly the child's work is grayed a little and the lines within which they colored have become rigid and taught and highly structured so the letter "E" will always and forever have only three lines sticking out of one and not four or five or eight.  This shift from creative openness to unbending lines will, to many, be associated with the pencil.

Without warning the thick blue pencil that felt like something of substance in your hand is ripped away.  The child is told that it is now pass to use big blue.  I have even teachers "actively ignore" kids ridiculing their peers for holding onto the big blue pencil.  Now it is the thin, mousy yellow number two that is introduced.  And like a virus, it grows into the consciousness of society that this by which you will be tried, assessed, judged, measured, quantified, discriminated, condemned.

Thanks to the “No Child Left Behind” act, by third grade the number two pencil is used for the standardized test that will assess little more than the ability of an eight or nine year old to take a test.  It begins the conditioning process that fools our society into believing that standardized tests actually reflect knowledge and predict future academic success.

If it wasn't for the number two pencil, our school curriculums wouldn't be destroyed by being "aligned" to state and national tests.  By changing curriculums to what is being tested sends the message that anything taught that is not covered on the state tests is irrelevant and unimportant. 

If it wasn't for the number two pencil, kids who have vision and drive, but were not lucky enough to live in an affluent area where schools could afford to give them enrichment classes on the tricks to taking standardized tests, could get into better colleges.

If it wasn't for the number two pencil, people could be judged on ability and authentic knowledge and aptitude and not word games and numbers play.

The day I see a standard child is the day I will agree that standardized tests are good for more than just keeping testing services in business, school administrators in excuses and the less fortunate in repression.

The more we rely on the number two, the less likely we will be to find number one.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Coffee Level

­Living in an area where commuting is not only essential to earn a living but also necessary to buy a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk, most frequent drivers have become especially sensitive to road rage. 

To safely survive jaunts about our highways, it is wise to keep more than just a level head.  The poet Seamus Heaney, in his book, “The Spirit Level,” tells his son to run “And tell your mother to try/ To find me a bubble for the spirit level...”  Literally, a spirit level is what the Irish call a carpenter’s level, but what Heaney is referring to is more of a state of mind.  However, if drivers cannot find a “bubble” for their spirit level, then I have another solution:  simply maintain a coffee level.

I like most of my commuter counterparts, drink coffee in the car.  (Please note acceptable substitutions:  tea (green or otherwise), hot cocoa, soda, or any other staining liquid.)  Keeping the coffee at an even keel will act as a good barometer for friendly driving, although it’s imperative for me to have a cup or three prior to departure. Before my first cup, I can barely speak, let alone think straight enough to find my car in the driveway.  Herein lies a paradox:  I need coffee to think straight and I need to think straight to make coffee. 

The other morning, while making coffee, another paradox hit me right in the forehead.  I was reaching up in the cabinet for the stack of filters for the electric drip coffee machine.  Half the stack tumbled and I was plummeted with coffee filters parachuting down looking like an invasion of a tiny army.  After picking up the mess, I tried to separate two filters so I could make the coffee.  The paradox:  It takes the dexterity of a neurosurgeon to pull these things apart and it takes at least a cup and a half of coffee for me to have the dexterity to pick my nose.

No matter whether it’s in a $20 travel mug or a convenience store paper cup, by observing the coffee level, commuters will have no choice but to maintain proper vehicular etiquette.  Sudden moves like merging into a space that couldn’t fit a tricycle or changing lanes without signaling can upset the coffee level. 

Flying past as many cars as possible until the merging lane ends forcing traffic to halt just to let in a car that is now riding on the shoulder of the road instead of merging when there is a space available tips the coffee level of several. 

A gaper, one who stares with mouth wide open, is never good for the coffee level of commuters on the road and those who haven’t even left home yet.  Innocently cutting someone off without the apologetic wave is a serious disruption to the coffee level as is not offering the “thank you” wave after someone has slowed to let a car in.

 Other pointers for maintaining the coffee level:  listen to music, leave talk radio to the unemployed; put in a tape or CD before departure, not doing 68 mph while changing lanes in time to merge; leave the other half of the doughnut on the floor, it’s not the dirt that’s unhealthy; and, for goodness sake, shut off the cell phone, the possible price of the call is just not worth it!

People of the highways, let’s preserve our coffee levels.  Let’s keep our papers free from dirty brown spots.  Let’s have our pants and ties stainless.  Let’s keep our cars free from the smell of old spilled coffee.  Just think, if the smallest spot of coffee on a freshly pressed white shirt is enough to spoil a person’s entire day, imagine what blood can do.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

When Alternate Route Becomes Routine

Living in a state where your alternate route needs an alternate route, one must not let a little highway congestion develop into a serious road condition which is easier said than done when studies show that we New Jerseyans sit in traffic for over thirty hours a year. 

Nevertheless, we commuters cherish our alternate routes even when they, too, back up longer than the line at the convenience store when winning lottery amounts are up while all you want is a gallon of milk.  Our alternate routes are so valued in fact that we are scarce to let anyone in on them.  I was once at an early morning meeting that was supposed to start at eight.  As people drifted in around eight-twenty, many looked at me and asked if I had hit the back-up on the highway.  I shrugged my shoulders.  “How did you get around it?”  They asked.  I plastered the dumbest expression I could muster on my face, shrugged again and shook my head because everyone knows that the less people know about an alternate route, the more effective the route.

And then, one morning, for no reason at all, I took my alternate route to work.  There was no accident, no wet roadways, no gaper delays, no on-going construction, no police or fire activity.  In fact, it was moderate to light traffic.  But I exited nonetheless.  When I arrived at work, it was really no sooner or later than when I usually arrived.  And then, the next day, I did it again.  Before I knew it, I was taking my alternate route to work more often than my main route.

Suddenly my commute was a calmer, gentler ride and I started noticing things.

A man in slippers walking his dog and I remembered Tammy, the beagle of my childhood.  I remembered running with her in the back yard when she was only a puppy.  I remembered when I was a senior in high school, gently placing her paralyzed body in a box, wrapped warm with the yellow blanket that she’d had for as long as I could remember, and carrying her into the vet’s office and saying good-bye.

Children waiting for a school bus – the younger ones with enthusiasm in their eyes, the older with sleep in theirs and I remembered picking little purple wildflowers for Miss Lalama, my second grade teacher with whom I was madly in love.  I remembered waiting for the bus for the last time in high school.

A deer nibbling tender sprouts of grass at the edge of the woods and I remembered the woods that we kids once ruled.  The trails, the forts, the make-believe hunting with pop guns.  I remembered going back there later, after my parents had passed away, walking along that path I had known so well, disoriented by its overgrowth, etching it in my mind, knowing that, in all probability, I would never find my way back there again.

A woman in a robe holding a baby, both waving bye-bye to Daddy and all I wanted to do was turn the car around and give my wife and kids one more good-bye hug and kiss.
I also noticed how people behind you react when you actually go twenty-five in a twenty-five miles per hour zone.  Try it sometime.  See just how slow twenty-five can feel.  People swerve across the white lines to see if they can pass, they veer into the shoulder to see if something in front of you is slowing you down.  You can actually read their lips as they yell for you to speed up because no one really goes twenty-five miles an hour anymore.

And right before I was about to give in to the urge to go faster, I noticed a man in a suit sitting on the steps in front of his house, his briefcase on one side and a little boy on the other and I remembered mornings with my dad.  I remembered him putting down his briefcase and picking me up, telling me to be a good boy and he was there with me, next to me and he told me that I was doing the best I could, and that being a father was like commuting to work:  While traffic jams were inevitable, there were always ways around them.

By taking my alternate route more often than not, now I am slowing down, yet not losing any time.  I am somehow gaining time, and more than that, I am getting some lost time back.  Not a bad way to start a day.