Nine degrees

Yesterday, I got a call from Rita. I hadn’t heard from her since before The Election. The last I knew, she and husband J.L. were finalizing their plans to move up to Yellowknife, in the Canadian Northwest, in the event of a Romney victory. She called me from the Thief River Falls, Minnesota location of one of America’s largest discount Super Stores.

“I didn’t think they’d even have a ____-Mart in Thief River Falls,” I said. Then I thought for a moment as I remembered a conversation I’d had with her a year or two before.

“And speaking of which,” I went on, “why are you shopping there? Didn’t you tell me once that you were boycotting them because of their deplorable disregard for their workers? You know, low pay, no benefits for part timers, charges of racial and gender discrimination, and the big time issues you had with them about their foreign product sourcing, to say nothing of the way their cut rate pricing often undermines small local businesses and ravages communities.”

“Yeah, well,” she said. “That was then.”

“So?”

“So we were living in Hialeah when I told you that. This is Minnesota and it’s getting cold. J.L and I need long-johns and parkas and mittens. And since we don’t have any money we need all the doorbuster deals we can find. This is the only place we can afford to shop.”

“I see,” I said, “sacrificing principals for material goods? Putting it on the backs of the workers? Do you know,” I told her, “that each one of those stores employs an average of 200 workers, and in terms of unpaid benefits costs the American taxpayer over four hundred thousand dollars per store, and…”

“Oh stuff it, Trop,” she said, suddenly sounding irritated. “I still care about the workers, but it’s going down to nine degrees tonight. That’s a nine without a zero after it for you Floridians – as in NINE FRIGGIN’ DEGREES, Trop.”

“That’s cold all right.”

“You have NO idea. So I don’t need you preaching to me about the American Worker, while you’re poolside at the Intercontinental with a Mai-tai in hand, tapping out your blog, or whatever else you write to make a living.”

“You know I’m not at the Intercontinental.”

“Yeah, I know,” she said, “but you may as well be. You’re not here in Minnesota, and it is friggin’ cold, and I’m pregnant, and Jeffry Louis hasn’t worked in…so long I can’t remember, and the Scion needs tires and Jesus I’m exhausted.”

“I can loan you a few bucks,” I said. “It couldn’t be too much for a set of tires for the Scion.”

Long silence…

“Westhammer, aisle 3.” I head the voice clearly. Then it came again: “Rita…off the cell,ok.”

“Who’s with you Rita,” I asked.

“It’s Jamie, I gotta go.”

“Jamie?”

“My manager.”

“Oh no, you didn’t.”

“It’s just until after the holidays, Trop. I gotta go…”

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Cyber Monday

On the news this morning, I was reminded of the fact that today is Cyber Monday. A news reporter, live from one of the Phoenix, Arizona distribution centers of well-known Amazon.com, was reporting from a massive warehouse. Behind her ran an endless conveyor, zigzagging through the massive warehouse in which an army of workers toiled to keep a seemingly endless stream of various shaped boxes and parcels on course, rolling down the endless conveyer.

The conveyor ends, presumably, at some equally cavernous room in which the endless packages are fork-lifted onto an endless fleet of tractor-trailer trucks and step vans and eventually into the bellies of endless turbo-props and 757s and 767s and two dozen or so other types of short hop to long-haul aircraft. If we could see a bit past landing, we would find an endless number of welcome consumers, from Kalamazoo to Amsterdam, all receiving packages exactly as they ordered them from the comfort of their home/office/coffee shop.

Note the intentional over-use of the word ‘endless’ in the preceding paragraphs.

Some of you who know me are saying right now:

“I know where this is going. Poor old Trop, bless his heart. He’s probably pining for the days when kids got electric train sets and hand knitted sweaters for Christmas. Wonder what he’s getting his wife this year – a bolt of gingham cloth and a pearl hatpin?”

To this I say, nothing could be further from the truth. I have been a loyal customer of the aforementioned online distributor for many years. I embrace online buying for three basic reasons. First, it saves me time – time that I can use to make money; second, the products are often cheaper thus saving me money; third, I don’t have to drive anywhere which saves me more money. So you can see that I am far from being a baret-wearing, latte-sipping, pseudo-intellectual, Ivy League-educated, limousine-liberal, anti-capitalist. Far from it!!!

What I don’t like, however, are marketing ploys and thus my discomfort with ‘Cyber Monday’ (I have the same issue with ‘Black Friday’, but since it’s gone by I won’t bother to talk about it).

Cyber Monday was started back in 2005 by the U.S. National Retail Association to drive traffic to their website Shop.org. It didn’t catch on right away. By 2009, things changed. In that year 52.7% of the money spent on Cyber Monday came from employees making online purchases from their workplace. In a 2010 study conducted by Purdue University, an estimated 1 billion dollars was lost in worker productivity due to internet bargain-surfing workers. By 2010 Cyber Monday had officially won the title of the biggest online sales day of the year with a whopping $1.02 billion in sales. 2011 sales increased that figure by 22%. I won’t venture a guess as to what this year’s sales will amount to but I am thinking ‘record breaker’.

So I love online buying, but I am more than a little bit resentful of Cyber Monday. But, I am never one to force my beliefs on the masses. The rest of you can have at it…pound away on those keyboards…enter those credit card numbers with glee and await the arrival of your books and CDs and electric coffee makers and cocktail shakers and Thomas Kinkade holiday collectables. I shall not bear any ill will toward you, o’ Cyber Monday enthusiasts. But for me, my keyboard shall remain idle – until tomorrow.

What’s up with me since the election

“Your online presence is beginning to fade.” Those were the first words out of Tulip’s mouth when she called me yesterday morning from the largest big-box store in southern California.

“It’s good to hear from you too,” I shot back at her, and then I said, “what about my online presence?”

“You haven’t posted a word since The Election…you know the one you were so worried about just a couple of weeks ago. What happened to you…the Prez got reelected, no problem, and you dropped off the blogosphere like there was nothing left to discuss in the whole big United States…there’s a big ole’ fiscal cliff out there in case you haven’t been paying attention and wars bustin’ out all over and…?”

I cut her off. “I was busy with a paying gig. Blogs don’t pay too well, and I have people who actually pay me to write stuff. I guess I was just too wrapped up in keeping the lights on down here in the 954. Jeez Tulip, my cable bill alone is almost a fiscal cliff, cut me some slack.”

I mean, I really wanted to blog. I wanted to take time out to describe what a mess yet another election became, and still is, here in the Sunshine State, but the folks that put cash into my checking account twice a month once again won over my dedication to a timely blog.

So here, directly out of my blog notebook, are my handwritten notes, transcribed verbatim, regarding all of the blog topics that did not get written this month:

  1. Wed. 11/7 — Have we Floridians really managed to botch another election? Was it really necessary for us to be saddled with a ten page ballot that (apparently) took forever to scan?
  2. Thurs. 11/8 — Address Republican voter fraud paranoia. Include fact that of 22 million votes cast in Florida in the past 12 years, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has received only 175 complaints of voter fraud…complaints that have led to a whopping 11 convictions.
  3. Fri. 11/9 – Nation still does not know which candidate won Florida. Few probably care at this point. Might blog about why the (Republican) Florida legislature, overturned the long-standing law that allowed voters who had changed their home address to vote after they swear under oath that their new address is correct. Such voters were allowed to cast only ‘provisional ballots’ that could not be counted until after the voter’s eligibility was proven.
  4. Sun. 11/11 Why did the 2011 Florida Legislature prioritize changes to the election laws that made voting more difficult for students and minorities.
  5. Sat. 11/16 — Blog about Mayan End Age on December 21st. Emphasize that both Mayan and Hopi Indians consider the End Age to be a time of transition, not of global cataclysm. According to noted Mayan shaman, Miguel Angel Vergara, “the cosmos is talking to us – we need to listen.”

“So you can look for some blogs coming your way soon,” I told Tulip. “Now that things have settled down a bit.” It was then that I noticed the time. “Hey,” I said. “It’s only 5:15AM on the west coast. What are you doing up?”

“It’s Black Friday, sweetie,” said Tulip. I could hear tension in her voice. “I been in line since 11:30 last night.”

“Black Friday,” I said. “I didn’t think you went in for all that blatant consumerism.”

“I don’t,” she replied. “But I ain’t nuts. How else am I gonna buy a 60 inch flat screen  TV set for 69 bucks.”

That’s Tulip. And this is me…

Mahalo

Trop

My final post before Election Day 2012; Rita texts me from Thief River Falls

I am promising myself that this will be my final blog regarding the U.S. Presidential election of 2012. My words here will serve little purpose, beyond being an outlet for my own frustration and confusion.  As I listen to the pundits, and the poll takers, and the lovely television anchor ladies, and to all of the great talkers of our day, describe an election as “too close to predict”, I can only shake my head in disbelief. Can it be, I say to myself almost daily, that this many people are going to get it wrong – and if they do, I fear the surprise that may await them.

I have noted the date of August 14, 2012 as the day that my misunderstanding of Presidential politics became apparent, leaving me only with dogged misgivings and doubts about our future as a nation – these feelings too would wane, leaving me with a state of mind I can only call: Chronic Confusion (or, in current text messaging parlance, “wtf”). For it was on this day that I witnessed (via television), U.S. Republican candidate Mitt Romney, standing shoulder to shoulder with a lineup of worshipping Ohio coal miners. My first reaction was that it must be a comedy skit, staged by some clever Obama operative out to show the world just how out of touch the Republican candidate is with the working man.

After all, didn’t the mine owners of years past fight tooth and toenail against any federal regulations that would impose health and safety regulations (and thus cut profits) on their mines? Certainly these miners must know that CEOs like Mr. Romney, a man whose own taste for corporate profits leaves little to the imagination, could have any empathy or understanding of workers who toil beneath the surface of Ohio, drilling and blasting and shoveling and bringing to the surface great heaps of carbonized carbon. It is not work for the faint of heart.

How could it be then, I asked myself on August 14, 2012, that this group of miners could take the stage with such a man – they, dressed for work in a mine, and Mr. Romney in shirtsleeves with the same slick-CEO look in his eyes that I’ve seen in the eyes of other slick CEOs as they’ve taken to other stages to distribute awards and commendations to unwitting employees, while at the same time, office space was being readied in India and China for their replacements.

“The Federal Government has sold you a bill of goods with those expensive gas monitors,” I could almost hear Mr. Romeny say. “Your grandfathers’ used canaries. And they were hardworking men who didn’t need some slack-jawed Beltway bureaucrat coming out here to Ohio to tell you guys how to run a mine. The money saved on those expensive gadgets can go right into your pockets.”

Or something like that.

My friend Rita, who is at this moment living up in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, poised to make a run for the Canadian border with her husband and unborn child feels that a Romney/Ryan victory would be eclipsed only by a polar shift, or asteroid strike in terms of creating global disaster. I am not so sure about that. But I do hear the drumbeats of war. Not since the late GWB have I felt so uneasy about a presidency leading us into another conflict – this time, perhaps Iran?

Rita sent me a text the other night, from the Thief River Falls Wal Mart where she was busy stocking up on disposable diapers for the trip North:

“j L sas Rmny vic in the bag now”

Rita has trouble texting, but I know it meant that her husband J.L. thinks that Romney has it locked up.

“would n’t B 2 sure” I replied.

We shall all see on Tuesday.