The Final Countdown: 28 Days Left

I have 28 days left in retail management, and I think I’m being thrown a crazy sendoff party. I’d like to present two vignettes from my past week. One, the tale of a young everyman, trying to find a way to make ends meet, interviews for a job. The other, a passionate relic of a bygone era sees hope for a continuation of his beliefs. Both, deeply funny, in an intensely depressing way. Now, with your permission, I present:

The Crapplicant: The Heywood Jablome Story

One Unemployed Man’s Journey into a Barnes & Noble

Only to Leave the Same Barnes & Noble Unemployed

A young man walks up in jeans and a drug rug. He’s tall, and heavily built with an expression that manages to combine apathy, malice, and wondering where that fart smell is coming from. Our heroic Cafe Manager approaches him.

“Nice to meet you! I’m Derek,” hand outreached, waiting for the customary response.

“Hmhmbubmle.”

“…Ok. Well, lets have a seat.” The handsome Manager shuffles through his papers, “I see you worked at Taco Bell and Cashwise before this”

“Yeah, I was in high school.” the Crapplicant grumbles defensively.

“Whaddya mean?”

“Well, I was in high school. Those were the only kind of places I could work.”

The Cafe Manager is perplexed by this statement. Had he offended the young man?

“… I was wondering if you liked working in food service.”

“No. Not really.”

“I guess we’re done here, then. Have a nice day.”

Fin

Willst du mein Freund sein?

Many months ago, when our Cafe Manager was still a Merchandise Manager, he stood at the customer service desk. An elderly man approached, smartly, but not expensively, dressed. He spoke with a thick accent.

“I’m looking for a book about Heinrich Himmler.”

The manager thought nothing odd about this request; a new biography on Himmler had been released the previous week.

“No, not that one, I’m afraid,” the man replied. “I’m looking for a different one. I left the information about it back at my office, though.”

That’s no problem,” the manager replied, having danced this jig before, “what can you tell me about it?”

The man began talking about the book, explaining how it used Himmler to show the social and economic climate leading up to WW2. He then explained why he wanted this particular biography.

“You see, this book isn’t put out by the Jew media. The Jews are a dirty people, and cannot be trusted.”

Needless to say, our fearless Manager was stunned. This customer was a Nazi. Not a, “Oh man, that guy is such a Nazi,” way. A real one. The Manager kept his cool, though. He realized that, if they found the book the man was looking for and had to order it, the Manager would now have the man’s name, address, and phone number. All useful bit of information for groups that track down potential war criminals.

Unfortunately, the search yielded nothing, and no information was collected.

-Present Day-

The Cafe Manager noticed the man standing at customer service, getting help from a bookseller. The Manager recounted the tale to the Cafe Server he was working with. After the man had been helped with his books, he came up to the cafe.

He put his book down on the counter to purchase it. It was Mein Kampf. The Cafe Server turned to the Manager, struggling to hold back shocked laughter. The transaction proceeded smoothly; the man didn’t drop more hard J’s, but did spout some interesting interpretations of the bible, then sat down to enjoy his drink.

When the man left, he left behind a gift:

A small twig, covered in sprouting buds.

The Cafe Manager put out a picture to the internet, asking for information. Some speculated that it was an oak branch, which are common in Nazi imagery and symbolism.

 

Is the twig a message?

Should the Cafe Manager try and track the man down?

Will the Manager see the man before he’s done at his job?

 

Only time can answer these questions. One thing is for sure though:

That guy is a Nazi.

 

BREAKING NEWS: Local Man Did Something

You may have been wondering about my vaugebook post about going confidently in the direction of your dreams being stressful from a few weeks ago. Well, I took a major step toward a dream today. As you may or may not know, I’ve been searching for a way to use my creativity for professional means for several months now. In pursuit of this goal, I put in my notice at Barnes & Noble.

My last day will be June 21st. You’ll notice significantly higher numbers of birds singing, and higher levels of sunshine. Maybe, wear a hat that day. Not to disparage my time there; I truly learned a lot. However, what was beginning to feel like career doldrums was really me not setting my sails to the right winds.

What am I going to do now? Good question. At the present time, I’ll become the Taz of job applications while continuing to forge the many irons Danni and I have in the fire. Hopefully, I’ll be saying more funny things soon (not about cleaning up bathroom atrocities) but my focus will be on saying professional things for a bit.

With that being said, if you have any tips for someone looking for a writer, photographer, web manager, social media marketer, commercial jingle songsmith, or burgeoning goofball in the Fargo area, send me a message. My family and I appreciate it. I may even write you a limerick.

Thank you for your love and encouragement.

A Letter to the Editor

The following is a Letter to the Editor I submitted in response to an article featured on the Inforum website. I do realize that this isn’t funny, but it is important. Please read the original, my response, and tell me your opinion. As a manager in the service/retail industry, most of my employees earn wages that afford little luxury, often falling short of making ends meet. I believe that the act of spreading information and increasing awareness of this issue is the only way to bring about change, thereby increasing their job satisfaction and overall quality of life. Please share this, especially if you live in the FM area, if you think people deserve good wages for good work.

 

In Paul Campbell’s opinion column from April 21, he takes aim at the increase in minimum wage for Minnesota and the debate on it nationally. Unfortunately, Mr. Campbell’s arguments miss the mark, and instead, repeat tired political party lines.

First off, Mr. Campbell cannot even take credit for this affront to the world of print media, as it suspiciously parallels a much better article by James Sherk featured on The Heritage Foundation’s website. Mr. Campbell does at least make it his own by providing his hackneyed opinion throughout the piece. Since it was featured, read, shared, and likely discussed in my community, I will refute it all the same.

Mr. Campbell begins laying out his arguments with a misunderstanding of the meaning of words, claiming, “In order to redistribute wealth, you must first take from someone who has it, and use force if necessary.” Increasing wages is, by definition, not wealth redistribution. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, it is “The social mechanism, such as a change in tax laws, monetary policies, or tort law, that engenders the redistribution of goods among these subjects.” Increasing the minimum wage does not take money from businesses, but requires them to pay fair wages for fair work. His reference to using force is deplorable, and an unacceptable attempt to scare readers away from the opposing view.

From here, Mr. Campbell takes another misstep by stating, “The minimum wage comes down to simple economics. When you raise the price of something, the demand for it goes down. Therefore, when you raise the price of labor by raising the minimum wage, the demand for labor goes down.” While this is true in terms of goods and services, it’s more complicated when you’re looking at labor.

A business’ labor needs are dictated by demand for the product or service offered and the business’ other options to manufacture a product or provide a service. An increase in the cost of labor at a factory, for example, could result in an increase in automation, assuming that automation became more cost effective than employee cost at that point.

However, this doesn’t provide reasoning for Mr. Campbell’s claim, “That means a restaurant owner who employs 10 people and worriedly stares at a slim profit margin as it is would have to pass those costs on to his or her employees or customers, or sometimes both. That means letting employees go or raising prices.” The example Mr. Campbell gives is that of a restaurant, not a factory where work can be automated or outsourced. He is, of course, forced to give this example since factories are largely unionized, and outsourced work deserves its own conversation, entirely.

In the scenario given, the restaurant owner’s decision to have 10 people employed is not a function of cost, but in order to effectively staff the restaurant. Eliminating employees due to cost in this scenario would mean that the owner either: 1) Was over-staffed, a poor business decision in its own right, or 2) The business will no longer be able to provide the same level of service it had before, and will lose sales.

The other option in this scenario is that the owner would raise prices. This is a potential option for the business owner, but Mr. Campbell gives no information about the increase. This is because, to maintain the same profit margin pre-wage increase, the new cost for the customer would be pennies on the dollar. Let’s do some math:

Assume the owner is paying his employees $7.25 (which is probably too high, since they’re tip earning) and increases everyone’s wage to $10.10 (again, likely not the case). That is a difference of $2.85, per employee, per hour. In this scenario, we’re not given any specifics of this restaurant, so I’ll use average numbers from the café I manage, which has close to the same number of staff.

In a typical business day, my café will require around 25 payroll hours. Payroll hours are the sum total of hours each employee works. The increase in payroll cost per average day then is $181.25 to $252.50, an increase of $71.25 a day.

On average, I sell about 90 things (coffee, pastries, sandwiches, etc.) an hour. Let’s put the average cost at $2.00. That means, on average, $180 of revenue comes into my café per hour, resulting in revenue of around $2,160 a day.

Daily revenue of $2,160 and daily payroll cost of $181.25 means that each hour an employee works needs to generate $11.92. What would the daily revenue need to be to maintain that number? $2,341.25, resulting in an average cost of about $2.17 per item sold.

Mr. Campbell really must have the poor in mind when he worries about such miniscule price differences. Of course, this is only considering the margins a small business faces. Large businesses operating at greater scale would see even less significant price differences. I wish I could say that this were the end of the problems in the arguments presented to us, but far from it.

Mr. Campbell goes on to cite the Congressional Budget Office’s claim that the wage increase would result in the loss of 500,000 jobs, a startling statistic if we ignore the fallacies within it.

First, job loss does not necessarily mean an increase of unemployment. Since we are talking about low earning jobs, it’s no secret that many of these people work more than one. In fact, in 2010 the U.S. census found that 7.6 million Americans work more than one job. A wage increase for low-wage earners would mean that people wouldn’t need to work more than one job. Conversely, it makes sense for a business to employ one full-time employee instead of multiple part-time employees due to insurance, training, and other costs that come along with maintaining a larger staff.

Second, this is the worst-case scenario presented by the CBO. To see the far more likely scenarios, read the letter over 600 economists have signed at the Economic Policy Institute. It discusses how an increase in wages results in more money flowing into the economy, less dependence on government programs, better outlooks for families and children, and other aspects of the American Dream.

At this point, Mr. Campbell provides another shockingly meaningless statistic. He tells us that only 2.8% of the population makes the minimum wage. This seems to say that people are, in reality, much better off than Obama would have us believe. Again, his argument makes no sense when you actually look at it.

First, employees receive raises. If an employee makes $7.30 instead of $7.25, they are no longer earning a minimum wage and aren’t included in this statistic. Are they earning a living wage? The point of raising the minimum wage isn’t to help only those earning the minimum, but all people that make up the working-poor class.

Second, he presumes that, since around 50% of that 2.8% (which we already know to be irrelevant) are between 16-24, and 64% work part-time, that they must be students working summer jobs. Perhaps Mr. Campbell should turn off his Leave it to Beaver episodes and take a look at the real world.

Sure, some of that number does represent high-school kids, earning a little money as purely disposable income. This isn’t a bad thing by the way, it gets recycled back into local economies. More to the point, I employ several people in that age-range that are not in school, don’t live with their parents, and are supporting themselves. Please, keep your Mitt Romney, “borrow money from Mom or Dad,” comments to yourself, because that obviously isn’t the answer here. These are working young people that depend on their paychecks just as much as anyone else does.

Once Mr. Campbell has finished “analyzing” the part of the statistic he wants to look at, he then fails to make the next logical step that 50% of these people are then NOT students, working part-time jobs. No, these are people working, trying to provide any income that they can for themselves and their families. Remember the earlier statistic about 7.6 million people working more than one job?

Now, Mr. Campbell takes a strange turn, saying, “Eventually, employees refuse to work for such little pay, and employers are forced to increase it. That’s the way it should be. The market essentially eliminates the minimum wage and sets one based on supply, demand and the cost of living.”

He seems to be talking about a labor force striking or taking other collective action to demand a pay increase. What, exactly, does Mr. Campbell think is happening in America? Are we to believe that a member of the media was unaware of the Occupy Movement, the fast-food workers striking in New York and dozens of other cities, and countless citizen outcries for this? I also find it hard to believe that someone who believes that minimum wage jobs are, “where they learn the practicalities of work and value of earning a dollar,” would support such efforts.

He then claims that the free-market eliminates the need for a minimum wage, which is so far from the truth, I had to make sure I hadn’t misread it. If the free-market ensured fair wages, there wouldn’t have been a Labor Movement, we wouldn’t have Unions, and we never would have had a minimum wage in the first place. Why does Mr. Campbell think these things exist? Also, if the minimum wage had kept up with the cost of living (inflation), the minimum wage would already be $10.86, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics Consumer Price Index. So why does he claim these things?

We’re nearing the end, and Mr. Campbell rolls out the party talking points, arguing that reducing government regulation will magically result in higher wages. If you believe this, please re-read my previous paragraph because my fingers are getting too tired to reiterate it.

Finally, we reach the thrux of the piece. Mr. Campbell asks, “So what’s the point of raising the minimum wage?” He asserts that this is all political posturing, simply trying to win votes. I assert that this is our workforce, regardless of age or station in life, getting fair treatment. I believe that some people genuinely do have the interest of the common good in mind. I do agree with one thing though, Mr. Campbell, let’s think bigger.

You Need These?

My professional life reached a new low recently. As you may know from some of my earlier posts, I work in a bookstore. For some reason, bookstores attract the…what’s the opposite of the “cream” in cream of the crop? Well, what ever that is, it’s walking among the rest of the perfectly normal book-lovers.

This particular notch in my Olympian punishment belt was earned on the most recent Sanctimonious Saturday, the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It’s named this thanks to the following conversation.

“Are you open on Easter?”

“Yeah, regular store hours.”

“Oh my. Well, I won’t be shopping here anymore.”

Now read that, like, a dozen more times.

My day already had an odd vibe, I had helped a woman with translucent pajama pants and flowery thong before 10am, and I was curious to see what the rest of the day would bring. Luckily, around noon, a very unique person returned to my store.

He had been in the previous evening, and asked for an ambulance to be called because he suspected that he was having a heart-attack. As he and a manager waited for an ambulance to arrive, he explained that this heart attack was probably caused by his earlier use of meth, cocaine, ecstasy, anti-depressants, and a few other medications. The ambulance eventually arrived, and he was carted off.

Now he was back, less than 24 hours later, and looking to make amends.

“Thanks for calling the ambulance, I feel much better today,” He told the cashier, who happened to be the same cashier from the previous night.

“Oh!” She said, surprised by the unusual resurrection before her. “I’m glad.”

The man then proceeded to take a seat in the cafe of the store, and begin reading some magazines. After some time had passed, I was grabbing some dirty dishes at the table next to the man. There were some unused napkins at the table, and as I was clearing them, he reached for them as well.

“Oh, did you need these?” I asked.

His outreached hand then began moving strangely, like he was trying to work out a cramp in every muscle in his hands and arm, and he made a peculiar face. A face that my wife, when I recreated for her later, described as, “very upsetting.”

It was at this time I noticed the large amount of opened pornography underneath his table and put the pieces together. Needless to say, this made me more than a little angry at the man. Realizing that my current emotional state would not lead to a good resolution in this matter, I called for a fellow manager to assist.

“Hey, our friend from yesterday just had an…episode.” The words oozed out of my mouth like sick, thick blood.

The other manager arrived quickly, we began questioning the man about his intentions with our store. At this point, a woman from a nearby table revealed that she was a nurse at a local homeless shelter and believed that she may have helped the man in the past. I, seeing that the situation was under control, went outside and said every swear word I know in alphabetical order.

Oh, I forgot to mention one thing: he had a bunch of nail polish jars on the table. They didn’t come into play, but I just thought it was weird.

The f-ing End

 

 

On my ill-ness

My nose runs and my throat tickles,

My brain swims and my eye trickles.

 

I don’t feel well and I don’t think good.

I want to write a post, but don’t think I could.

 

I started a story, then had to quit,

my knees shaking as I try not to -

 

Flit to another idea.

 

I need to sleep, I need some Zzz’s.

I submit this poem, now if you please…

 

- Forgive the slant rhyme,

Poor meter,

Bad structure -

 

Turn of the light as you leave.

Booze Your Own Adventure: Chapter 3

You turn to your friends, “What should I do?” With the wisdom of cheap alcohol flowing through their veins, a resounding cry for a confrontation rises up. You keep a cooler head, though.

“We had fun together, I just want to say hi.”

You get up and walk over to your ex’s table, feeling a little nervous. How would your attempt at fence mending be taken? Is it even worth the effort?

“Hey.”

“Oh, hi.”

“I, uhh… just wanted to say that, I know things were bad at the end, but I guess I just wanted you to know that I hope we can… bury the hatchet or something.

Your ex is visibly stunned, likely expecting a major confrontation or emotional plea.

“Yeah, yeah that’d be cool.”

“Great, well, see ya around.”

You walk back to your table and your friends all lean in, demanding to know what happened. You tell the story and their faces are overcome with a mixture of the disappointment of witnessing a disaster avoided and acknowledgement of the higher road.

“Alright, well that’s something to celebrate,” your friend enthusiastically says, “Shots!”

You feel good about your fence mending, and don’t want to end the party just yet. At the same time, you’ve had a couple of drinks already and don’t want to get carried away.

 

Babies on a Plane

I took my young daughter on a plane recently, and I was surprised by a few things. The first was the airline’s treatment of my child. When getting my ticket, I had to list her as an, “Infant in Arms,” which makes me think of a baby military.  This process included writing her name, and birth date, and NOTHING ELSE! I didn’t need to provide a birth certificate, any sort of hospital records, nothing. Nothing at all. I could have brought, literally (and I mean literally) any baby on that plane. I’m trying to figure out if there is a way to make money from this, but so far all my ideas involve me being a truly terrible person.

The next thing is that when we left the hospital with our little bundle, we were required to have a car seat. They wouldn’t let us leave with the baby (in a car) without one.  Planes, on the other hand, you can (again, literally) hold the baby in your arms. Car going 65mph 2 feet off the ground? That baby is gonna need a special, rear-facing seat with a five-point harness, only to be used in the back seat of the car. Plane going 500mph at 30,000 feet? NBD, you can just hold it, or something. Heck, even your drink has a special spot on the tray so it doesn’t slide around.

One thing you cannot hold during landing or take-off, on the other hand, is a laptop. In fact, your laptop needs to be stowed, in a bag, either under your seat or in the overhead bin.

“Uh, excuse me sir?”

“Yes?”

“I’m afraid you’ll need to stow your laptop before take-off”

“Oh, this isn’t a 5lb laptop, it’s my 25lb child.”

“I’m so sorry to bother you, I thought you were holding something important, like a computer.”

I was also surprised that people didn’t hiss and boo as I walked through the airplane. I was fully expecting that, at some point during the flight, for someone to turn around and say something awful to my child and I like,

“Stupid baby, why does your stupid baby make so much stupid noise?! I’m trying to watch 13 Going on 30 on my iPhone for the millionth time and your stupid baby is really taking me out of the movie!”

Or

“Your damn diaper baby keeps crying! Why is your diaper baby so damn annoying. I didn’t bring any headphones on this plane because I want to annoy the person next to me with bland conversation and I can’t do that with your friggin’ diaper baby crying!”

I even spent time coming up with responses. All of them level headed, and on-point.

“F- YOU, YOU STUPID JERK!”

And

“OH YEAH?! Spits on face.”

Luckily, I didn’t need to bust out any of these. To the contrary, a few people on flights helped entertain my baby by waving, clapping, and making funny faces. These people helped remind me that, in the mountain of shit that is modern air-travel, a few people are not garbage. Thank you, fellow humans. Thank you.

Internet Museum

In 8th grade typing class, where I learned nothing (srsly, I type like I have ninja turtle hands) we had a favorite way to pester the teacher. A new website had just come to our attention and we loved bringing it up on our computers. The only real deterrent the teacher had was telling us that she could watch what we were doing on our computers from hers. That only made things worse.

This was the website.

This was one of the first internet memes, and has a somewhat interesting story. Read about it here.

This brought me to an interesting thought: why isn’t there an internet museum? Well, a .43 second Google search revealed over 1,200,000 results, with one being good. It’s here.

The online internet museum is great. Just like a real museum, you learn enough to go, “huh, I didn’t know that,” but don’t really leave any smarter. It did make me wonder about something else, though.

Eventually, human consciousness will be overtaken by artificial intelligence. This isn’t science-fiction; acting unit Keanu Reeves is already capable of displaying over 4 human-like emotions. When this happens, I like to think that robo-anthropologists (robothropologists?) will explore the early internet the way we explore early civilizations. What will they think? What will they find?

Surely, some websites will no longer be accessible, leaving holes in the available knowledge. We encounter the same problem, though. When this happens, we hypothesize in order to see a complete culture. Our future robot-overlords may need to do the same thing with images like this. What will they process when they find this image everywhere, but seemingly no b0eginning? Will they make the same error we do and assume that it must be some sort of meaningful icon, and not just internet-fap-assery? Maybe, they won’t have the need to fill in these knowledge gaps, and just understand that it was, and then wasn’t.

I wonder about what our internet culture will make us look like. Don’t worry, this isn’t a, “back in my day, we…” rant. No, I greatly enjoy our democratized humor, where cat photos and funny grammar reign supreme. I mean genuinely, what are the important internet artifacts? What would you hope that Skynet finds as it combs through the digital wasteland of a post-human earth?

 

Booze Your Own Adventure: Chapter 2

Last week’s choices were to meet up with your friends, or stay in and work. Like the Choose Your Own Adventure series, once choice can lead you down a very different path than the other. This week, I’ll give both options (because I wrote them, and liked them both) but here on out, I’ll only post the chapter that wins.

You Chose: Stay in and work on your presentation

“Sorry, I have a really big presentation tomorrow. Gotta pass tonight. Next time?” As you hit Send on your phone, you feel your heart drop a little.

Many years later, while reading the holo-news in your driverless car, you come across a startling story about your former friend. “… was hit by an automated garbage truck while leaving Zorbaks Liquor. Authorities have ruled out foul-play, but say alcohol was involved.”

You haven’t seen your friend in years, but you had heard rumors from mutual acquaintances of an alcohol problem. Your friend always did love a party, but near the end of your friendship seemed to no longer care about finding pretenses to drink and instead drank for the sake of drinking.

As you wonder if it would seem odd for you to attend the funeral, or if there would even be one, you think back to the last words you said to this person. “Next time?” rings in your ears the way only the silence between a question and an answer that will never come can.

After achieving massive success with your company and eventually going on to run the entire organization, you had always looked back at that day as a turning point. Before, it was the day you became someone in your field, the day you finally came into your own professionally. Now, you look at it as the day you turned your back on a friend truly in need.

THE END

You Chose: Meet Your Friends for a Drink

“Alright just one” you send back to your friend. “I’ve got everything I need ready. Why not have a little fun?” you think to yourself.

You change out of the sweatpants and t-shirt you had been wearing, shower, and put on your favorite shirt. As you check yourself in the mirror, you stop and say, “Remember, you have a big day tomorrow. Be good!” Your friend has a way of convincing you to have more fun than a person typically should in a single sitting, but you’ve got a good feeling, and commit yourself to having a fun evening.

Traffic was light as you head downtown and you make good time. After finding a nearby parking spot, you head inside your favorite bar.

“Over here!” Your friend is turned around and waving to you enthusiastically from a table. Several of your other friends are there and you sit down at one of the last remaining spots.

“What did I miss?” You ask.

“A couple of cheap-ass shots.”

“Is it still going on?”

“Nah, it was just for an hour.”

You turn around to order a drink with the server and notice, in a booth across the bar, your ex. You two had been together for three years, and in one horrible month, it all fell apart. You were left with an apartment you couldn’t afford, a cat you didn’t want, and a broken heart.

Five tough weeks later and you’re finally feeling comfortable in your single life. That is, until chance encounter has it all slamming back again. The fights, the differences, all the anger. But good stuff too. You two were really happy together. Most of the time, anyway.

You want to talk to this person, to say all that was left unsaid.