Saturday, January 25, 2014

Except for that time when the towels melted...

Rogue Valley Roasting Company
16oz Soy Mocha
Breakfast Burrito

I have never done drugs.

No, seriously.  Except for that one time I took maybe too much Ambien and decided to brush my teeth instead of going straight to bed, I have never watched my hand towels get all melty.  When I told a friend once that I had never even smoked pot, he informed me, flatly, that I was lying.  When I insisted that, though I do occasionally drink, I had never even been drunk, he protested, incredulously, "You're from Santa Cruz!" 

To put that in perspective for those of you who are not familiar with that cradle of hippy/surfer culture, the student body at UC Santa Cruz chose their mascot to be the Fighting Banana Slug.  Yeah, it's a pretty high little town.  And yet, it remains true that, outside of a possible - okay, several possible - contact highs, I have never felt the desire to get baked.  It's just not for me.

I totally support the legalization of marijuana - so long as it's regulated so that I don't have to partake.  I don't judge anyone who smokes it, legally or illegally.  So long as it doesn't affect me, what do I care?  This is not a morality-based abstinence, either.  I don't have any religious doctrine that I am trying to adhere to.  I just evaluated what I knew of myself, what I knew of the way these substances affected people generally, and I came to the conclusion that I just didn't want to go there.  I didn't have to go through the whole process of experimentation to the stereotypical crash and burn-out.  I just recognized that I had real problems and none of that stuff was going to help with with any them.  In fact, they would almost definitely make things worse.

And that brings me to Bieber.

Not because I give a hoot about young Mr. Bieber, pro or con, but he is yet another embodiment of this myth of the misspent youth.  Despite all the hype, despite all the punchlines, there is nothing that says that you have to go crazy when you're young.  Just because you are and should be open to new experiences, that doesn't mean you have to try all of them.  You never in your life have to experience being black-out drunk.  You never have to take a single sip of alcohol if you don't want to.

Partying, promiscuity, and other self-destructive, self-indulgent behaviors, are not, in fact, just part of being young.  You can do those things on your journey to self-discovery.  You just don't have to.  I, for one, don't see how it's fun to destroy or steal other people's property, to endanger yourself and others in these insane pranks that are posted all over the internet.  I don't see the appeal of putting yourself in the situation where you have zero control over yourself and are completely at the mercy of and are a burden to the people around you.  Sorry guys, not for me.

This general assumption that kids are supposed to go crazy pushes people into doing things that aren't safe or, really, normal.  I think of my nieces and nephews, some of whom are starting college soon.  To them, especially, I want to say: you should be open, but you should still be mindful.  Treat yourself and others with respect and without judgement.  You can be centered in yourself without being self-centered.

And to Mr. Bieber and all the other young celebrities to come - settle down, son.  Your life will not be a waste if you don't get wasted all the time.  You don't have to act out, you don't have to buy all the expensive flashy crap your money allows.  None of this will do much to teach you who you are or who you want to be.  You might find your limits, but this is not the only way to figure that out.  Nor is it necessary to.  How will finding out how many beers it takes to get belligerent with the police help you discover that cause that becomes your passion?

Oo - I have an idea.  Shave your head!

Now, hear me out... 

I shaved my head a few years back (and, Bieleb me, my hair was even more impressive than yours) to raise money for St. Baldrick's Foundation.  They are a charity that raises money to fund research into cures for childhood cancers.  Ever since then, I have been fixated on the idea of various celebrities shaving their heads - probably because I could only raise a few hundred dollars.  Imagine how much someone with hair of that notoriety could raise...  What a great way to redeem yourself, Justin...  Wouldn't that feel so much more fulfilling than what you're doing now?

Okay - I want this to happen.  This must be a thing now, peoples.  Help me make it happen!  #ShaveYourHeadJustinBieber!  For the children... ;-)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Compassionate Classism and what really killed Borders Books

Mix Sweet Shop
12oz Soy Hot Chocolate
Almond Croissant

You don't have to hate black people to throw around the n-word.  Is it still racist?  Yes, Virginia, it is still racist.  And you don't have to hate poor people to hold on to equally invalid prejudices about wide-spread behaviors that supposedly cause those people to be poor.  That's classism.  And it, too, is incredibly damaging.

I got into a discussion online recently about raising the minimum wage.  Unfortunately, I didn't finish the conversation (I have a bad habit of doing that) with a proper rebuttal, but that does not mean I had nothing to say.  To be fair, this person seemed fairly intelligent and passably compassionate (we didn't have enough time to establish the depths of each others' morality).  But the rhetoric was... how do I put it?


Unexamined, or even passingly examined, it would seem logical to say that if you raise the cost of labor, then businesses will reduce their cost by reducing their labor force.  It would seem compassionate, then, to not raise the cost of labor, to raise the minimum wage, because that would then cause some of those people to lose their jobs or have their hours cut.  That, however, is... well, it's wrong in several ways.

First, people have to stop creating this false separation between "worker" and "customer."  Labor is not a static cost of operating a business.  Workers are participants in the economy, or need to be if we're going to have a democratic economy.  If your employees are not directly shopping at your store, they are funding the people who do shop at your store.  So, if your cost of labor goes up, so does the purchasing power of your customers.  And these are not 1-to-1 cost exchanges.  If minimum wage goes up a whole $1, the cost of a Big Mac will not go up by a dollar, too.  The price may go up a bit, but the cost will be spread out and absorbable for most consumers - especially if those consumers' paychecks have also gone up.

But what about the studies that show unemployment goes up?  Sorry, they don't.  If you've heard that, you have been misinformed, or at least under-informed.  There have been (older) studies that make that conclusion, but studies that control for other factors and compare neighboring states where minimum wage was raised in one but not the other show that unemployment does not, in fact, go up.  Economists still remain divided because some still hold on to the old mythology that somehow "workers" are just numbers on a ledger.  They refuse to see the full balance of the economy, and the damage that underpaid consumers have on the overall health of everyone involved.

And that's the secret of what really killed Borders Books.  Payroll.

I worked for Borders for more than five years, from October 2000 to early 2006.  The common storyline is that e-books killed it.  Not so.  Did they have a major impact?  Of course.  Huge!  And people often forget that Borders also had a substantial music department that was brutalized by the rise of digital music.  So when the Great Recession hit, their fundamental business model had already been greatly shifted by fundamental changes in the market.  But there was already a fatal flaw running throughout the company, and I can say this from experience.

Borders was constantly trying to restructure payroll to make up for lost ground, both real and projected.  It was not the only thing they tried, but from the standpoint of the staff, the assault was vicious.  First, most assistant managers were made supervisors, departments and responsibilities were shuffled.  Then they started going for the way payroll was allotted to each store.  You got so many hours based on things like whether or not you had a second floor, and beyond your starting point, you were then rewarded with hours if you brought your sales up.

That's like telling a runner with cardboard strapped to his feet that he can have a new pair of shoes if he can run faster than the guy already wearing running shoes - the one that has the Nike endorsement.  Wouldn't you think that giving the guy shoes first would give him a better chance of improving his time?

And lest you think that more people on the floor would be excessive, let me give you two examples.  First, not long after I left, Borders was sued by their assistant managers. The AMs said they were being required to work 50 - 60 hours a week because they didn't have enough staff to delegate tasks to.  I spoke to one Human Resources manager after I left who said, "You know how they had cut payroll to the bone?  Now they're digging into the marrow."  The employees won their case.  Borders paid out a settlement... and restructured again.

Second.  There was a little commentary I caught after Borders filed for bankruptcy, that talked about the customer service decline.  Customers at the flagship store in Ann Arbor had commented how they had seen the customer service decline over the years.  As a former Training Supervisor, I can tell you that it wasn't because of Borders' customer service protocol.  They had great standards in the training manuals and videos about how to treat people respectfully, how to suggest without hard-selling, and so on.  They had the right idea.  They just didn't give their own people the ability to provide that kind of service.

How attentive can you be with a customer who stops you as you're barreling toward the massive line at the registers, and the phones are ringing non-stop, and you're under the gun from upper management to finish putting new releases out because that manager is now covering the cafe person's lunch, because the training supervisor was never given enough time to cross-train the new hires?  How am I supposed to recommend another title to that customer when there isn't even enough staff to reshelve the first one after it's been dropped in some obscure corner of the store by another customer?  Sales seep away through a thousand cuts to your customer service... not because your customer service staff wants to be able to pay their rent and - just maybe - buy one of those books on Employee Appreciation Day.

.... So that's where my battery died at the coffeeshop.  It is now 5 minutes till midnight and SNL is on.  And I'll be leaving another conversation unfinished...

Weekend Update is almost on - no time to edit out the snark.  But a good place to kick off a conversation... if you will...

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Well

Downtowne Coffeehouse
12oz Soy Black Swan
Pumpkin/Banana Muffin

The Well

The well is no less deep
and every time
I fall just as far
break the same bones
tear the red skin
that had no time
to knit scars.

I'd have ripped them open anyway
with fingernails
with knives
with a thousand guilty verdicts,
or a thousand tiny smiles
that shine only in my mind.

Maybe that's why I return...
why I tread the green grass
down to the bone,
round every corner
of this black circle of stone,
and stretch too far
beyond the edge...
to glimpse that siren light.

A spark of light
that flared,
that died.
A mushroom cloud of hope
against a starless sky.

That I snuffed out like a match
dropped down
this black hole
in the ground,
sizzling as it drowned.

Before I ascend again,
by rough handholds
worn smooth,
I'll tread a while
in salty water
and bone,
and drown
in the lost light
of fallen stars.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Ornaments on the ceiling

There's no place like home
Peppermint Tea
(Waaaaaay too much) Holiday nut mix

My favorite store is closing tomorrow, so I spent today shopping instead of drinking overpriced coffee and blogging for the internet bots. 

In other words, I'm keeping it short tonight.

A few days ago, my step-grandmother, Ann, passed away.  I'm still in processing mode.  One of the strongest connections, I've discovered, is a Christmas tradition.  I remember so strongly, the wonder I felt as a child, when I walked in to their (Ann and her late husband Ed) little apartment in Hollywood and saw no Christmas tree, but the ceiling covered with ornaments.  Complete with candy canes.  And a sprawling land of hand-painted miniatures covering half the walls in the living room.  The ceiling tradition started one Christmas when they couldn't afford a tree, and they kept it up every year after that.  I always eagerly looked forward to our annual holiday visit, and the warmth, and Dr. Demento on the radio...

So, as I took our little tree down this year, I decided I'd take one of the ornaments - a heart with copper wire - and I'd keep it up this year... high up on the wall, since we're not allowed to punch holes in the ceiling here.  And there it will stay through the year, through next Christmas, as Ann and Ed stay in my heart.