Saturday, November 29, 2014

Getting Down To Small Business Saturday ™

Hope you’re all out there enjoying your Small Business Saturday ™. Which people say is a holiday. I guess not so much people as just one company that says that. American Express likes to remind you to think small this holiday season. Think small while racking up thousands of dollars at 20% interest.
Some that are far too cynical had the gull to question the intentions of American Express in founding and pushing this holiday. Sometimes a large multinational financial services institution just looks at the runaway consumerism and disconnect and has nothing to do but shake it’s head. So American Express did the noble thing. They thought it would be a good idea if people used their American Express cards not to pad the bottom line of large multinational corporations, but of smaller brick and mortar retailers. So American Express came up with the idea of a day dedicated to patronizing smaller local brick and mortar stores. Presumably local brick and mortar stores that then have to fork over untold millions in transaction fees. Then American Express immediately trademarked the idea so nobody could profit off of the idea but them.

A company that took in 33 billion dollars last year urges you to shop small

Even though I think we all have to applaud American Express for their efforts (which are of course no way crass or disingenuous) to combat how removed we’ve gotten from what we buy and from where it comes. Despite their best efforts though, Small Business Saturday isn’t really a holiday in any real sense of the word unlike it’s big brother Black Friday. 
The time these people spent in this line has negated any savings they would've enjoyed. 

Now there’s a holiday. I know because my phone automatically corrects me when I forget to capitalize it. Black Friday is unique because unlike every other holiday that exists there was no meaning behind it before it became a holiday. Every other day had some significance before we decided to go nuts and buy shit for it. Not Black Friday though. This was just a day where we, as a people were going nuts and buying a whole bunch of shit some day in November. This kept on happening year after year so eventually they decided to give it a name. Now it’s on the calendar. 

What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?  - Some asshole
I like to think that it’s going to be the reverse. Generally a holiday has a great deal of importance then slowly we forget what the original meaning behind it was until one day you’re punching in the teeth of some jackass at a toy store so you can buy your ungrateful kid’s love on Christmas morning. Slowly over time the holiday just gets more and more perverted until it has no meaning aside from the commercial. Black Friday is the opposite of that. It’s never had any meaning. It started out as what most holidays end up like. So I’d like to think that it’s going to go the opposite direction. Where in the future where every holiday has become a sick excuse to waste money and trample people to death that in that future one holiday will have a solemn feel to it, and it’ll be black Friday.

Black Friday: All gave some. Some Gave all.
I have to tell you I don’t see that happening though. In the years I worked retail I was always struck by the amazing disconnect between people reporting on it and what I was experiencing myself. I heard countless stories on my way into the Best Buy I worked at about how we were changing as a society. Black Friday wasn’t going to be like it has in the years past. You see there’s been a movement of people who’ve decided not to degrade themselves by coming to a shitty store hours or days in advance to save a little bit of money. We’re wising up as a people. Those would be the stories I would hear on the radio. Then I would get to work and be warned about the risk of being trampled by animals in search of a moderately discounted Blu-ray player. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A (True) Story About A Guy Named Mitch

I went to high school with a guy named Mitch. Mitch was a cool dude who did cool things. Drugs mostly. Drugs wasn’t the only thing Mitch was ahead of the curve on though. Mitch used to be into listening to shitty music pumped up to high volumes through oversized distorted bassey headphones. Just like the kids are into these days.

Mitch used to listen to his music really fucking ear blisteringly loud. People (nerds) used to wonder what the point of listening to music that loud. “Hey MItch” the nerds would ask. “Arent’ you afraid of hearing loss?”

“Nah.” Mitch would answer.

“Oh, well maybe you should be. Because that’s currently happening.” The nerds would say like a bunch of stupid nerds.

Then Mitch would give them 250 db of cool cranked up to eleven. “Nah, man. I ain’t worried about hearing loss, because fuckin’ I want to loose my hearing.”

You see Mitch was an ideas man. And like a lot of ideas men Mitch had an idea. Mitch loved music. He loved listening to so much that he didn't want to listen to it using his ears anymore. He wanted to get his other senses involved in the process. So his plan was to deafen himself. That way he would only be able to feel the music. Seriously. I imagine even if feeling the music is as great as Mitch thought it’d be,  there is going to be a serious hangover period in regards to phase two. The part where he has to go through only feeling what once he was able to hear.
And he want on to...
That was the only conversation I ever had with Mitch, and I never found out what became of him. Sometimes after high school you’ve found you’ve drifted apart from the people you care about. Sometimes as in the case of Mitch, you really just don’t give a shit what happens to people. That being said I have wondered what happened to him. I wonder if he ever made his dream of losing all his hearing come true. I also wonder that if he died shortly thereafter because he wasn’t sufficiently able to feel a fire alarm.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Internet

I made a venn diagram about what's been keeping people busy on the internet this week.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

All Aboard The Train(ing Seminar)!

Quick note before the real meat of this week's blog starts. One of the things that really excites me as an occasional blog poster is the chance to give life to stories that weren't good enough to be jokes. Sometimes for whatever reason a story just isn't good enough to live as a joke. Usually that reason is it's not funny enough or has too many words. Luckily those aren't problems in the medium of blogging. So here's #1 in this series. I hope you enjoy it more than anyone who ever saw me tell a version of it on stage did.

I’ve mentioned it numerous times, but I worked at Best Buy for a number of years. Three and change to be inexact. It wasn’t my first choice in jobs, but it was the only job that wanted me to work for them so I did it. I spent most of my time at Best Buy selling TVs. And most of that time I spent doing that poorly. I don’t really have that salesman personality. I have nothing against salespeople. I’ve worked with and for many. Some are great people some are real sacks of shit. Just like any other profession. I myself just don’t have that salesperson thing in me. I don’t have it in me to fight tooth and nail to make a sale. Some people are just built with that. I would have trouble doing it to begin with, but at a place like Best Buy I found it damn near impossible. Retail sales is a tricky business, because unlike a normal sales job there’s no motivation to try harder. Some guys would go crazy to make sales then spend the day bragging about how much better they were at selling the warranty plan. That always just seemed nuts to me. I would always offer the people the horse shit stuff like the warranties and the hundred dollar HDMI cables because if we didn’t we’d get hassled. I don’t like being hassled. Whether or not they’d buy the jacked up cables or the warranty didn’t really bother me one way or the other.

I bought a Best Buy shirt at a thrift store  when I was fifteen. I knew I was destined for greatness. Also those headphones aren't plugged in. I just thought they looked cool.


The fact that me, and a bunch of people like me, worked there ended up being a problem. Best Buy’s business models involved selling a lot of things, and we weren’t selling enough things. If you’re a company and need to motivate people to do something you have a few options. You can pay people the amount necessary to get that effort. This is tricky because it’s hard to know what that amount is. It could take years of trial and error to come to the right amount and that was time Best Buy just didn’t have. So they did not go this route. Another motivational tool is trying some non monetary compensation. You can try to make the work experience so great that people will forgo a higher wage to keep working their. Best Buy also did not go this route. Or at least if they thought they were they were failing. The third option is by tricking people. This is what they decided to go with.

The sales training attendees from my store and our "professor." This is what the future of a Fortune 500 looks like. 

They sent us to a sales training program where we were told that what was acceptable behavior in the past just wasn’t gonna cut it anymore. They needed to whip us into shape and make us put out the kind of effort that a professional sales staff would. But they didn’t want to put out the kind of money that would take. So at this training where it was explained that we’d have to put out some big money effort without big effort money, BUT this was a good thing for us! You see in the process we would be getting skills. Skills we could use to get better jobs once we got sick of working at Best Buy. We needed to sell a 32” Panasonic like our lives depended on it, because one day we’d have jobs where we’d have to try that hard. So we better start practicing now. Seriously.

I wasn’t happy about doing the sales training. I wasn’t too crazy about working there as of about two weeks in, and this was three years after that. So I was pretty fucking sick of it at that point. I didn’t much want to be there, but now I had to get trained to be there for the long haul. It’s like going to counseling for your marriage that you only agreed to so you get a green card. So when I was told I needed to attend this training seminar I wasn’t thrilled, but at least got to spend the week away from customers. Also if I bitched about it I might get hassled, and as I said earlier I’m not a fan of being hassled.
One of the customers I was happy to be getting away from. Some asshole wearing a flak helmet. Not pictured is his stupid razor scooter. Go to hell buddy. 

People there fit into one of a few different groups. There were the people who didn’t take it seriously because they thought they were better than this shit. That group included myself and a couple other folks. There were also the people taking it very seriously to better their Best Buy career. There was only a few of them, but they were annoying well beyond their numbers. A big part of the sales training was learning how to read off a “sales experience worksheet.” The worksheet was really just a script we were to read so we didn’t accidentally say anything too dumb. Learning how to read these things involved a lot of role playing with each other. Getting paired up with the people taking it seriously was always a pain in the ass because the company had spent money to send them here and goddamnit they were gonna get that money’s worth! Not only did they want to get better, they wanted to make sure I was getting better too. So during these role playing sessions they would not just pretend to be customers, but they would pretend to be really shitty customers. They would really be a tough sell and give me trouble over every single product I was supposed to be selling them. Keep in mind that these are all just pretend products. I’m not actually selling them anything and they’re not actually buying anything. No money is changing hands. This is all just make believe. And that being the case they would talk about how money’s tight lately (probably because they work at Best Buy) so they don’t think they can afford a new TV these days, unless of course I could spend more time convincing them. This was an everyday thing. Luckily there weren’t that many of these assholes.

The largest group were the idiots. These were the people who had no business being employed anywhere. Some of the standouts included a couple who spent most the week snuggling. They found a nice desk in the middle of all the action and decided they were going to take this opportunity to get some spooning done. Nobody seemed to think this was odd except me. There was the gentleman who wore his Best Buy blue shirt which he made his own by rolling up his sleeves all the way to reveal a giant pot leaf over flames tattoo. My personal favorite though was a grown man who went by the name “The Wolf.” He would answer to Wolf, but preferred it when you included the “the” before Wolf. They were easier to work with. They certainly didn’t make you work your ass off in the role playing but looking at them seriously depressed the shit out of me. Because we were all in the same place. As superior as I thought I was, I wasn’t. We were at the same company working the same jobs blowing off the same the sales training seminar. I realized that I had to make a change and quick. I either had to start taking this job seriously or else just leave.

Professional salesperson.

To help us do our job the way they wanted us to we were told we needed to live by our new company values. Company value number one was “have fun while being the best.” The fun having part was a challenge, but of course we were the best. Our team included The Wolf. Ain’t no Wolf rocking second best that’s for damn sure. Company value two was “learn from challenge and change.” When he told us that I couldn’t help but think of the manager who, upon my hiring, urged me to opt out of the 401k program so I could invest all my money in Best Buy stock. I’m pretty sure she will be changing after that challenge. Company value three was “unleash the power of the people.” If it was good enough for ending the Vietnam war then goddamnit it’s good enough to sell reasonably priced electronics. Company value number four was supposed to be the least insulting, but sounded the worst. The final company value was to “show integrity, respect, and humility.” On the surface that’s not all that shitty. I mean respect and integrity are both good things to be showing I guess. Do they really need to remind people who work at Best Buy to go in everyday and be humble? There’s nothing more humbling than working a job where everything is designed to make you know how replaceable you are.  The whole retail experience is designed from the top down to let you know that if you’re gone nobody will notice. That being said, you are not allowed to call out. Everyday you will show up dressed like a hundred some odd other people, you will all say the same things that we’ve read off identical scripts. That seems like a shitty thing to drive home. “Hey, you in the blue don’t you dare be thinking too highly of yourself, we can’t function in a place where people recognize their self worth!”

I understand there are certain professions where being humble is a necessity. If you’re a priest you have to remember who you’re there for or you’ll go mad with people throwing all those Hail Marys your way. You may start thinking you’re God. Same with the being the president. You probably have to work to keep yourself grounded so you don’t start developing a king complex. When you work at Best Buy you are never once at risk of letting that power go to your head. The second you put that blue shirt on every ounce of pride in who you are as an individual will evaporate. Also in working retail you’re not serving some greater purpose the integrity of which that is in need of protecting. It’s just some stupid big box store. The second you start thinking that this is an institution that you need to be humbled at the foot of that’s the moment you’ve lost all sense of perspective. From then on I knew I had a choice. Either get the hell out of there or keep working to the point where I'd humbled myself into thinking I belonged there. At that point I would claim my place alongside The Wolf, pot leaf guy, and the seminar snugglers.

I quit shortly thereafter. I got a job walking dogs. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Adam de Sokol: Democracy In America

Tuesday is election day. I urge you to vote. Statistically speaking you probably won't though. And really that’s fine too. I used to spend a lot of time caring what was going to happen on election days. When I wasn’t worrying about upcoming elections I was worrying about what happened last election cycle and how it was affecting my day to day life. If people were in office that I didn’t care for I’d spend 2-6 years just angry at them for being in there. The thing is my day to day life was the same. They weren’t in there passing anti-Adam Sokol legislation. Elections are very important events that can dramatically change the direction of the country over the next couple years, and with that in mid I urge you not to spend too much time caring about it. It’s important don’t get me wrong, but there are too many people who spend too much time caring about what happens. They spend all the time between election cycles being miserable, and if it doesn’t go well they get even worse. Worse yet sometimes you have to spend time with these people they’ll make you miserable as well. Part of the problem stems from the fact that people just don’t understand our system. So, as a holder of most of a political science degree from a real university I will give you some things to keep in mind about our democracy.

Relax!

Listen, it can be tough. I understand that. You feel very strongly that the world should be one way, and it’s not. You’re sure that you’re right and if only everyone would see things your way then the world would be a better place. Thing is, everyone thinks that. You don’t have a monopoly on conviction. When you’re at the dinner table try to remember that sometimes people vote differently because they’ve had different experiences and have different values. This happens sometimes. It's okay. Your dad wasn’t bought and paid for by the the Koch brothers and your daughter wasn’t brainwashed by her liberal professor. So how's about you just say "fuck it" and talk about something else. Instead of blaming each other for the miserable state of everything why not just ask about movies or talk about baseball.

That politician you hate is probably a better person than you think.

Regardless of who you voted for both of these guys are probably pretty nice

There’s been a trend over the past while where you can’t just not vote for someone you have to think of them as the enemy. There are a shitload of pundits who make a handsome living whipping you into a frenzy. When really that politician who’ve been told by either Rush or Maddow to hate because they're destroying the country and must be stopped at all costs is just some asshole who’s trying. You might not agree with them and that’s fine, but they’re not trying to destroy the country. They’re doing what they think is best so just try to think of them as just another person who’s trying. They put their pants on one leg at a time. Then they go to work and help destroy the country.

The politician you love is probably a shittier person than you think.

Regardless of who you voted for both of these guys are horrible blood sucking monsters

People running for office are generally egomaniacal assholes. You vote for the one you vote for because that’s the one who’s lies resonate with you. I don’t want to get all Ralph Nader on you, but both parties are run by jackasses who really don’t give a shit about  you or your stupid problems. If you vote for whatever party you vote for because you think they care about your issues, you are very much wrong and should grow the fuck up. Also Ralph Nader is also an egomaniacal jackass who doesn’t give a shit about your problems either. He’s just not successful so folks think that he has integrity.

I view my major party vote as a protest against this assholes like this


Maybe this isn’t the country for you.

America was founded on people who didn't care for how a country was ran so they left it for another one. This happens. You have no control over where you’re born. Your parents lived here and now you do too. America has had a pretty specific economic and political system for a while now. I’m not one of those “love it or leave it” assholes, but if you find yourself jealous of countries with strong-arm dictators or bemoaning the fact that America doesn’t have a parliamentary system perhaps you’d be better off living elsewhere. Just for your own sake. It might lead to a lot less heartache. Instead of trying to get this country remade the image of Uzbekistan why not just move to Uzbekistan! There's nothing wrong with choosing another country that you find preferable. Which leads into my next point…

There’s a good chance you’re wrong.

No offense, but this does have to be addressed. I mean who the fuck do you think you are? There are only like four people on the planet I will just assume are right. You sure as shit are not one of them. A lot has been written about how efficient large groups are at decision making. Often when a number of people independently reach the same conclusion, the prevailing answer is the correct one. Even though this isn’t always the case if you find yourself on the losing side of every ballot initiative and political race (probably while longing for a nice refreshing Josta) then maybe you’re just not correct. Everything you believe. The values you hold dear. The way you look at the world is just plain wrong. People are wrong a lot. Groups are usually good at making good decisions. But you’re not a group. You’re just a person. A person who’s wrong. 

Sorry, it's science


For fuck’s sake, RELAX!

The question you’re supposed to ask yourself whenever elections roll around is whether or not you’re better off today than you were however many years ago their basis of comparison is. You may or may not be, I don’t know. That’s a shitty question though. The question you should be asking yourself is whether or not you’re really naive enough to believe you’d be that much better if the other asshole was in there. Things would probably be largely the same. Unless you’re in the military or an abortion provider who the President is or who the Senate Majority Leader is won’t really mess with your day to day life. 

So vote on Tuesday. Then forget about it, go out, and live your stupid life.