Saturday, March 31, 2012

Big Boxes, Salespimples, and the Great Backpack Caper


A friend of mine used to work at Circuit City, and was recently bemoaning its demise (this on the news that “Big Box Retailer with Oddly-Shaped Blue Sign” *, hereafter known as “BBROSBS” is collapsing, will re-do its business model, and will effectively become a kiosk – and – cell phone store.)

I'll tell you why I quit Circuit City (when it was in its heyday, I shopped at the West Little Rock CC, bought a lot of stuff there) for BBROSBS.

At first, the Circuit City stores were great; prices good (some better, some worse), nice displays, helpful salespeople.  Loved (and looked for) the "Open Box" specials.  But then sometime or another, they changed their business strategy, because suddenly you couldn't walk in the door without being ACCOSTED by a swarm of salespeople (in the old days, you'd stroll in the TV's, look for a minute or two; a salesguy would ask if he could help and if you didn't want any, he'd say ok, and that'd be it—but if you wanted to ask a question, he was nearby, friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful). The salespeople suddenly became much younger and less knowledgeable, while the attitude more and more resembled a used car lot.  Then the prices became higher than BBROSBS, and I quit.

“The COMPuter store which had USA in its title” had a good thing on computers and computer equipment, but they sank.  They got bought out by an online retailer and now have reopened a few stores, but I went one time and will not be back.

I have never been a big fan of BBROSBS; too big, too loud, too crowded.  I recently tried to buy a computer backpack there.  (Nathan had been telling me for months to get a backpack instead of a briefcase; I should have listened to him earlier.)**

Why BBROSBS, instead of the net?  Because I didn't decide to take action until 2 nights before a big (weeklong) trip.  YIKES!  I just –can’t- haul that sorry briefcase (genuine imitation fake pleather) the crappy computer company based in Austin, Texas (sorry, Ginger) gave/sold to my employer on ONE MORE TRIP.  Weighs 10 lbs. empty, has a bad shoulder strap, inconvenient to use, etc.). 

So, panic time!  I hurry up and do my online and word-of-mouth research and determine which one I want.  Check net.  Online retailers can have it here tomorrow, for basically twice the price.  I have already driven to one local place whose website says they have them; they don’t.  However, BBROSBS near me has 4, according to website.  Huzzah!

So I drive over there in the rain (in short--I need instant gratification).  Dig through the backpacks---nothing even the same BRAND.  Find salespimple.  He checks computer, they're supposed to have 2.  He looks.  He goes "in the back".  Nothing.  “Sorry, man (what happened to “Sir”?), we don’t have one.”  But he's checked the computer and the BBROSBS on Fry Rd. (10 miles away) has *15*.  "Ok, will you call them and have the salespimple there EYEBALL one, and put it away for me?” 

20 minutes later--during which time I sell a lady a “Book Reader from a Major Online Retailer which is inexplicably also sold at BBROSBS”, then take her over to my salespimple to ring her up--sure enough, "Dude at other store’s got it in his hand. Would you like to pay for it here and just pick it up at will-call? It’ll be faster." Foolishly, I do so.

So, I meander back through the mega parking lot in the rain to my wheels, drive 10 miles in rain in relatively heavy traffic on freeway to Fry Rd.  Meander back through enormous parking lot in downpour (now really wet), head for Will-Call.  While waiting for salespimple to get off personal phone call (“Oh yeah?  Yeah, baby, that’s gooood.  Then what would you do?”), I eye the will-call merch on the shelves behind him; I know what a backpack looks like and none of the items there are one.  He finally ends his conversation with his girlfriend/boyfriend (he’s getting off at 9, apparently, and can’t wait the extra hour to talk nasty with her/him), disentangles his tongue jewelry from his labret, and with a look of extreme disdain asks if he may help me.  Come on, now, Malvie, paste on a smile, honey draws more flies than vinegar, "Hi!  They're holding a backpack for me?"  He looks at the same shelves at which I’ve been looking for 10 minutes.  Of course it's not there.

He calls another salespimple, apparently back in the store.  “He’s looking for it.”  Then, "We don't have it."

I am still in work clothes, wet, tired, hungry, and have driven 5 miles one way to one location of BBROSBS, then driven 10 miles the other way in traffic and rain to the other BBROSBS, have waited on, been disrespected by, and flat lied to by salespimples, my debit card is hot in my pocket, all in search of instant gratification, and I am not instantly gratified.

I calmly and quietly demand the manager. 

He arrives.  I tell him the story.  He looks in the computer -- they have 8 (notice all the numbers are different).  He calls the original salespimple; he had been looking at the wrong one.  He gathers a platoon of salespimples and they scour the store (30 minutes) while I wait.  Finally he calls the original salespimple and tells him I can have 10% off any other backpack they have (I don't want their others, I want the one I went after....).

And this is but one of my unfortunate situations with BBROSBS.  This is not counting my three lousy experiences with their "Nerd Herd" with its cutely painted small car parked out front in Little Rock, wherein I swore I wouldn't make THAT mistake again...


The world’s largest Big Box Retailer?  Well, it and I share a home state.  I used to go there all the time.  I supported them when others dissed them.

Their stores are awful here; the crowds, the filth (dirty stores), the parking lot, the interminable lines (why have 60 checkouts if you only use 4?  Even at Christmas I’ve never seen them all used).  They’ve re-arranged their store and I can’t find anything any more.  It seems they want to be that OTHER Big Box Retailer, the one out of the north with the big red sign, which seems to be emulating the one down south---it’s enough to make your head hurt.  In any event, I go to the blue one twice a year now---I load up on personal hygiene stuff (shaving cream, toothpaste, deodorant, razor blades) and things like soap, laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, etc. I spend about $300 a pop.  Then I never run out and don’t have to go very often.


Meanwhile, I bought a Kenmore 90 Washer and Dryer from Sears in Hot Springs in 1998.  They're still in my laundry room, chugging away, 14 years later (and I need to be loading them right now instead of doing this).  If/when they finally die, I will go directly to Sears and buy another set.  I buy tools and ALL things like lawn mowers, blowers, hedge trimmers, etc. from Sears.  My surround-sound system came from Sears.

I'll just be a Sears customer for stuff like that.

Dillard's has a terrific fat man -er, Big and Tall- department, so as long as they hang around I'm good (wait for sales unless somebody dies and you've just ruined your best white shirt).

JC Penney’s Arizona brand jeans fit me great and they have them up to 60 inch waist in a variety of washes.  All set.

Otherwise, I’ll just buy on the internet (mostly Amazon and teh ebays).


Oh:  where did I get the backpack?  Two doors down in the shopping plaza at Office Max.  They had 4 of each type the brand I wanted offered.  And they were cheaper.

And I don't care if BBROSBS goes out of bidness or not.


*Why change the name?  To protect me from any suit-happy lawyer who might Google this.  The real names I show above—well, I figure they won’t mind free advertising from a satisfied customer.  And po old Circuit City is dead.

**The backpack has been the best personal-convenience item I’ve bought in forever.  It holds all my stuff—computer, peripherals, CPAP, iPod, noise-cancelling headphones (a must on the airplane), Kindle (yes, I’ve converted, but that’s another blog post), prescription drugs, portfolio—EVERYTHING I need to sustain my life somewhere if nothing else follows.  I rarely check my “big” bag, but have to do so sometimes.  With the backpack, the computer and CPAP are EZ-out, EZ-in at Security (“ALL LAPTOPS MUST COME OUT OF YOUR BAG! SIR! SIR! IS THERE A LAPTOP IN THAT BAG!?!?”  sigh).  All the stuff inside is within easy reach without removing the backpack from underneath the seat, where it fits.  I love being able to put it over my shoulders and just walk off the plane; this also is very convenient in the men’s room (sorry, it’s indelicate, but having to find some place to put the briefcase so I can use my hands---and knowing what the briefcase is sitting in---).  And, the car keys are on a convenient little clippie so no more fishing for them in the bottom of the briefcase in the dark at the airport parking deck.  I don’t know why I didn’t do this before!!! 

Oh, which backpack?    This one rat cheer

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hmmm, Not Sure What to Title This; I Guess “Idle Melancholia at 55”

Several things recently have reminded me of people who have been big influences in my life, who are now gone.

I’ve written recently about the death of my friend Steve Thurman (funny, silly, crazy, smart, talented, fun to be around).

And my wonderful friend Leroy Yarbrough; mentor, leader, adult male authority figure, later friend—so huge an influence on so many people (including me).

Then Mother, of course; Grannie; Uncle Horace and Aunt Edna; Aunt Paulie; Aunt Virginia; Uncle Cal; “Pop” (Uncle Bill); Granny and Gramp---I can still hear all their voices, remember their personalities and little idiosyncrasies---Mother’s wit, smile, and laugh; Grannie soft and pink and sweet; “H” in his suit and hat (very dapper, he), with a crystal iced tea glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigar in the other, headed to “Tunikuh” (Tunica, MS); Edna slim and composed, every hair in place, with a Virginia Slims 120; Paulie blasting around town in her ‘65 Impala SS, visiting all her friends; Virginia’s biting wit, southern aristocratic manner, and fabulous hostessing; Cal, logical, calm, cool; Pop’s great laugh; Granny’s voice and mannerisms (if you’ve seen “Driving Miss Daisy” you’ve met Granny); Gramp’s soft voice and gentle air masking an iron constitution…

…and then there was my friend Jimmy Thompson.

Jimmy has been on my mind a lot lately.  I’ve missed him through the years (he died over 20 years ago (!), of course, but for some reason I’m really thinking of him a lot right now.

Jimmy had a fascinating life.  Born in Paris, Texas, America (as opposed to “that other” Paris), Jimmy grew up a musician, prankster, and general “citizen of the world”.  He went to college, got his degree in Organ Performance, became an officer in the Marine Corps, eventually becoming Director of the Marine Band (The President’s Own) for President Eisenhower (one of his predecessors in that position was John Philip Sousa…).

He lived all over the world; painted, sculpted, played the organ with dash and fire.  He was a High School Band director in San Angelo, Texas (never quite sure how he got back there), then returned home to Paris, Texas, America (as opposed to “that other” Paris).  (I repeat the phrase because that’s the way Jimmy ALWAYS referred to it—the phrase, in its entirety:  Paris, Texas, America (as opposed to “that other” Paris).  Moved back into the family home and cared for his aged mother (father died, rest of family on their own). 

When I met Jimmy, he was serving as  Organist/Choirmaster at a church in Paris, Texas, America (as opposed to “that other” Paris).  I met him through mutual friends and we immediately hit it off, despite our significant age difference (he was 60, I was 25).  Besides mutual shared interests, I think we enjoyed each other’s sense of humor; Jimmy could always be counted on for a wisecrack, a wry observation, or some sly remark at the exact most inopportune moment.  We’d be somewhere SERIOUS; you could hear a pin drop, and he’d lean over and make some sotto voce remark that would have the rest of us dying, biting our tongues, lips, hands, anything--trying not to howl with laughter while he sat there serenely.  I had (and have) a sarcastic sense of humor that I think…well, know…he enjoyed as well.

There were many adventures best left untold here—some in the shiny black Cadillac with the red interior (“Black-Ass”), some in the shiny red Thunderbird (“Red-Ass”)—all of Jimmy’s cars were “-insert color- Ass”—most out running around or traveling, always with music mixed in.

I was reminded of Jimmy yesterday; I’m in the Magnavox club as I’ve mentioned, and someone wanted a piece of music that would be a good “test” of the bass of his freshly restored Magnavox console.  I immediately knew what to suggest:  Camille Saint-Saens’ Symphony #3 in C-Minor, otherwise known as “The Organ Symphony.”  (And yes, I know they co-opted this 1887 masterpiece into the theme for the movie Babe…).  If you want to test some audio equipment, that’ll do it—everything from winds to reeds to trompette enchamade to 32’ bombardes to Zimbelstern, that piece has it.  It was one of Jimmy’s favourites and he played it as often as he could get away with it.  He loved to “part those old ladies’ hair”, blasting away full organ (he never made a Sunday or any other service without some bluehair complaining to the Rector about “all that loud damn music!”). 

Here’s the Saint-Saens piece on one of the world’s great organs, at St. Ouen (near “That Other Paris”)

Jimmy always said, “If you get lost and can’t find your place, just fall to playing great crashing chords; those cretins won’t know the difference and everybody’ll think you’re wonderful.”  And he was right, I witnessed it—he got lost in a Buxtehude piece one time and “fell to playing great crashing chords”.  I was turning pages for him and I couldn’t find where he was at all, then realized he was lost and just making it up.  Afterwards he got many compliments on how beautifully he’d played…with all of us standing there dying and him smiling serenely and thanking them with the utmost humility.

Jimmy had a darker side that he let very few people see.  He was haunted by depression; he was alone and missed old friends and family dreadfully.  He had manufactured his own “family” to fill that void—but he missed the others (while more current members of his “real” family drove him to distraction).  When his mother died, he decided to move to Dallas (to go to work with an old friend in his organ-building business, as tonal director), but couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else living in the family home.  He had it bulldozed to the ground, antiques and all, while he stood there alone and wept.

Jimmy died during a season that was both wonderful and hellish for him—Christmas.  He loved all the Christmas music (though, as with all church musicians, he was tired of it and ready for it to be over when the big day arrived), but had to spend time with his “real” family.  He’d had a heart attack, and the doctors had finally prevailed upon him to give up the Marlboros.  He quit for 6 months, then Christmas came and all the stresses with it; he had Christmas dinner with his “real” family and it stressed him enough that he stopped at 7-11 on his way back to Dallas and bought a pack of smokes.  The doctors told us later that was what caused the massive—and fatal—heart attack, the sudden resumption of smoking after being without.  So really, his family did it.  That’s my version of the story and I’m sticking to it…

We had many good conversations, Jimmy and I, and I asked him one time about the sadness and depression and loneliness (he’d withdraw and we wouldn’t see him for a week or so, then the sun would come out and he’d be back).  He smiled wryly at me and said, “Well, you’re awfully young.  When you’ve lived as long as I have, and had enough scars, and enough pain, and enough loss, you’ll understand.”

And now I have.  And I do.