I love Black Friday. I never buy anything, but I never come home from the stores empty-handed. Or should I say empty-headed, because my noggin’ is chock full of scenes squirreled away as I plow through the crowds of consumers who may as well be wearing camo and greasepaint as if they were hunting for buck Up North.
Let me start with the big, big guy imparting his wisdom to the little, little lady about the early lull before the deluge. “It’s like this,” he said in his best philosopher’s/bullshitter’s voice. “The folks are either regurgitating or recovering (from Thanksgiving).” Too polite to call the lummox on his profound nonsense but not dumb enough to adopt it, she replied, “Must be. Or else they just haven’t yet arrived. It’s still early.” The big guy didn’t realized he’d been owned and mustered a lusty “See?”
It was Def-con 1 at the local Walmart, hours before the official start of Black Friday. The troops scurried to set up crime scene tape from the front clear to the back of the store, delineating the expected lengthy checkout queues. Men and women ran around like SWAT team members, armed with two-way radios, clipboards and earnest faces, ready to intervene during the inevitable wrestling match between customers fighting over the last 99,000-inch TV on sale for $1.50.
I’ll move on to an antique mall in Jackson, Michigan. That’s about 90 minutes west of Detroit off I-94. Somehow we ended up out there because it was a sunny day and it seemed better to take a drive then look for parking spaces at the mall. Now for those unfamiliar with Jackson, it’s main “industry” is home to a group of state prisons. I always thought a catchy little slogan for the town would be, “Making a Living Off Lifers.” Just never caught on. Anyway, we hit two antique malls. At the first, a sprawling one-story affair, a guy kept wandering into every booth we were in. He seemed legit except for him constantly telling us, “I got one of those.” It hurried our pace. We did find a few bargains if you count some old doilies and other stuff made of fabric my wife uses for crafting. There was a pot of free coffee, but it looked like an antique too. I mean..is coffee supposed to be solid?
About a mile away the second place was much bigger. Three floors of old stuff including a can of Liquid Wrench, which looked like the one I still have in my garage. The featured “guest” in this episode was the barrel-chested gray-haired guy wearing a University of Arizona jacket, pushing a stroller that would accommodate two toddlers. Psych! As he pushed the buggy through the tiny aisles I could hear women screeching little baby-waby-cutey-tooty things in voices of such high frequency it would compromise the integrity of bullet-proof glass. Those must be cute babies, I thought. So I waited until the guy made his way towards where we were standing and man, those babies were brothers from another mother…a mother with four legs! They were twin tea cup shitzus! Yeah, they were cute as hell and the guy was cool. We got talking to him because my wife and I are both University of Arizona alumni, which made him instantly cool. Had a nice conversation, gave each other the obligatory “Bear Down!” and moved along. As we thought about it, we figured the guy didn’t really want any antiques. He was one of those folks who wheels around their adorable pets to elicit squeals from others sane people.
I’ll wrap this up with today’s early morning trip to the mall. Wasn’t in the market for anything. It’s just a lousy, rainy day and it’s a place to walk and absorb. The big crowds hadn’t yet arrived, as most of the stores still were not open. What caught me attention was the kid getting the Cinnabon stand ready. The lights were out, but he was near the window so I could see what appeared to be a desperate young person apparently freebasing frosting, perhaps to get that kickstart for what would be a challenging day.
At that point it was time to escape. A nice line of cars followed me to my parking space which I was more than happy to relinquish. I have to admit though. I was a bit surprised at the initial lack of shoppers in the mall. Maybe they were just regurgitating, or recovering.
This summer I became something I never thought I would be, or want to be. In fact, I’d never before used the word in a positive light, let alone aspire to become one. Yes…I’ve become a..a..a..consultant!
Some of you may have seen the really flattering news release, tweets and Linkedin posts from the kind folks at Detroit public relations firm Franco PR announcing my engagement with them as an “Integrated Media Consultant.” That’s lofty language for someone with a lotta miles on them in a position to perhaps share some guidance and insight based on 45 years of experience in journalism, broadcasting, social media and corporate public relations.
So why the initial turned up nose at the word “consultant?” To be honest, it started at my very first television job as a weekend weather guy at KGUN-TV in Tucson, Arizona, where I worked while earning my MA in journalism back in the late 1970’s. Our station had a kickass staff of reporters and videographers and actually paid better than our competition. The problem was, our ratings were awful–last in the market. How bad were they? If my memory serves me, reruns of MASH had a 40 share. The share for our early newscast, which followed directly after MASH was a measly 18. Now those were the days before remotes. Viewers had to actually get up off their chairs or sofas, walk over to the TV and switch channels. That’s how much they hated us. What to do? Call in consultants!
My station employed a pair of consultants–a fired news director and a woman who’s fashion sense could only be described, kindly, as, um, “industrial.” The first thing these idiots did was destroy everyone’s confidence. They spooked our anchor guy so much and made him so self-conscious he actually wrote himself a reminder on the set that said, “Don’t over-emote, don’t over gesture, don’t touch your pee-pee.” He’s not an anchor man anymore.
In my case they were borderline anti-Semitic. One of my signature things to say when only a light rain was forecast was to use the word “spritz.” My audience loved it since it’s not a word often heard in southern Arizona which made it memorable. When I was recognized on the street somewhere, often a viewer would smile and ask, “hey Ed, is it gonna spritz today?” It’s always helpful to have your own buzzword. But not according to our genius consultants. I was told to drop “spritz” because, they said, “it’s just too..um..Eastern!” I countered, “do you mean it’s too..um..Jewish?” The dynamic duo could only look at their Kmart shoes and stammer..”uh..no, of course not..um…why don’t we talk about your wardrobe?”
Ah..wardrobe! The woman consultant who’s favorite designer may have been Coleman, as in tents, deigned to offer advice on how to appear on television. Her sense of fashion leaned towards what someone like, oh, Oleg Cassini may have categorized as “tres fooking boring!” Then they told me to act “natural.” When I explained that I was, they offered, “well, try acting naturally a different way!” Hey..thanks! You morons.
The upshot of all this great advice? Our ratings sunk even lower, and they were fired. So was our news director and shortly thereafter, I was lucky enough to escape after landing a job with the then, up and coming CNN to help them launch their second network, then known as CNN2 and now HLN.
Well, that was my first, scarring experience with consultants and it always stayed with me. I know there are many, many fine consultants out there. I just had a bad first experience. Now it’s my turn in that position and I’m using that experience to help shape my approach. I know full well that people are always a bit suspicious of “that outside guy” and may feel threatened. I plan to be as good a listener as talker, simply offer some respectful insight into different ways of doing things, perhaps some advice and a lot of information. Use it as you wish, or not at all. Hopefully I’ll be helpful and at the least, get folks thinking and spark some creative ideas, all in the service of satisfying clients and of course, making money.
I just plan to act naturallly…in my own way. Hope it helps.
Two years after “retiring” I now have two new jobs. Both part-time but still, it ain’t exactly lounging on the beach, or playing golf with the other alta cockers or pushing a shuffleboard stick at a condo in Florida.
Regular followers already know I’ve been contributing to Forbes.com since the end of July. Today, the super official news release went out about my new gig…with the big boy pants title of Integrated Media Consultant at one of Detroit’s leading public relations agencies, Franco PR.
A reasonable person might ask, “what the hell’s the matter with you? You’re retired!” Let me clear that up. I retired from full-time work. I didn’t retire from wanting to use my skills, from creating, from collaborating with smart, creative, courageous people, from being excited at accomplishing something that fills me with pride and self-esteem. So now I have the best of all worlds. I’m old enough to retire from the full-time rat race but not too old to stop moving forward.
I did give full retirement a shot for about three months when I first left Fiat Chrysler but I got so bored I almost longed for a staff meeting. Almost. Well. Never. Then my series of part-time things began and that was just right.
I have just enough free time to be either of use, or annoyance to my wife and family, to go play hockey, paddle in my kayak, jump on my bike, scare myself on the ski slopes and bang on my drums and guitar and still be able to write for Forbes.com to maintain my reporting and writing chops and advise the awesome team at Franco that’s so skilled and open to new tricks..even from an old dog, who’s open to learning new things too.
A little work. A little play. Most afternoons around 3 p.m.? A tall glass of Jack on the rocks. Retirement? Nah..It’s living.
Oh people, when will you realize there’s a quiet controversy polarizing this nation that goes far beyond the white noise surrounding the White House and directly into the hearts, minds and bellies of anyone who has ever had to take a stand to defend a vital personal choice.
Indeed, once one has chosen an option, that’s it–there’s no turning back and that person becomes a stubborn, surly, inflexible advocate, willing to take you to task for even suggesting some sort of equivocation.
Deep in your heart you know of what I speak, because you are quietly simmering the more you think about it as your pour yourself a cool, calming glass of milk, considering the move that will define you among family and friends with the fear your choice will blow previously warm relationships permanently asunder.
I tell you this because a discussion during a recent family meal quickly escalated into harsh words and accusations of questionable loyalty. You see, I innocently remarked I could be perfectly happy eating an oatmeal-raisin cookie. But, aha! My family turned on me with the force of the Pillsbury Doughboy’s belly with the barb, “you say that, but if faced with the choice of an oatmeal-raisin or chocolate chip cookie which one would you choose? Don’t lie! We know no one REALLY prefers oatmeal-raisin. You will guiltily go for the chips!” While not under oath, my personal code did not allow me to fudge my reply as I mumbled, “mmmyeah, like the chocolate chip but ok with oatmeal-raisin….IF NO OTHER CHOICE.”
“What a wimp!,” said a family member. “Your alleged loyalty for oatmeal-raisin is totally conditional on it being the only cookie in the jar. Most sane and honest people would just as soon go cookie-less than descend to the depths of the oatmeal-based outlier.”
Feeling further pressured in this would-be CA…”Cookies Anonymous” meeting I crumbled and admitted to a dalliance with an alluring Snickerdoodle. Was it so bad to stray, just once? But my exposure as someone who cookied-around while trying to pose as an ardent oatmeal-raisin advocate was complete.
I helplessly asked the group, “are you telling me I have to stick with one cookie and make the same choice every single time?”
“Here’s the deal,” the biggest and bulliest family member shot back. “If you’re faced with the choice of chocolate chip and oatmeal-raisin, you better pick the oatmeal -raisin. You may be the only one to save it from gathering mold at the bottom of the jar.”
But I suddenly rallied. I noticed something on the face of the family member who first launched the attack, smugly claiming to be a chocolate chip loyalist and fired my coup de grace: “What’s that on your face.??..OREO CRUMBS!” Indeed…there’s no victory for those caught in an argument half-baked.
With just six weeks left in the regular Major League Baseball season I’m surrendering–surrendering to the endless babble of numbers, acronyms and abbreviations known as Sabremetrics…or as I call them….”WTFetrics”
As a lifelong fan of the national pastime I was content with knowing a batter’s average, a pitchers earned run average and other stats like how many homers a guy hit, bases he stole and runs he batted in.
I get that things have moved along and we now know esoterica that help managers, owners and players supposedly make better decisions on the field and off. Therefore, I’ve decided to go with the flow and adapt this development to my own life.
I started today at noon with my midday repast. As I lifted my ham sandwich to my piehole I asked my meal mate to take some video on their phones that I could later examine to better understand what I have designated my “Lunch angle.” Could I more effortlessly ingest my ham on rye by reducing the angle at which it enters my mouth? By adjusting my lunch angle, I might be able to keep my mouth shut longer, thereby allowing me to listen to the gossip being offered before taking another sloppy, noisy bite. I love anything that improves cognition.
Another stat I find useful is how I measure and regulate complaining. I’ve set a hard and fast limit by establishing a firm Bitch Count. When I find myself getting too whiny, I cut myself off after four complaints within an 8-hour period. Then I engage in a self-enforced cool-down cycle by swilling two fingers of Jack Daniels on the rocks. The same goes for anyone I happen to be with. Hit the Bitch Count and you’re cut off–forced to join me for happy hour until you calm down. Could take several rounds.
The one baseball stat I find mind-numbing is OBP, or on-base percentage. Here’s now the pros figure it: On Base Percentage (aka OBP, On Base Average, OBA) is a measure of how often a batter reaches base. It is approximately equal to Times on Base/Plate appearances. The full formula is OBP = (Hits + Walks + Hit by Pitch) / (At Bats + Walks + Hit by Pitch + Sacrifice Flies)
In real life one can use a similar formula to measure a person’s inability to use tact or diplomacy or Obtuse Bile Percentage. The formula would be expressed thusly as: OBP= Swear words + Corporate slang + Inappropriate hand gestures / Text messages with angry emojis + Selfish demands + Supportive References to Sean Hannity. A perfect score of 1.000 wins the designation as PTB or Perfect Trump Boor.
My final example is the fascinating, yet polarizing stat known as the WHIF…or Wife plus Husband per Issues Fought. It’s fairly self-explanatory and is considered an important predictor of future evenings bereft of connubial connection.
That’s just a start but I’m sure by the end of the season I will have established a new benchmark for UNR or Useless Numbers Referenced. Play ball!
Are you upset Google can track your every move? I’ve decided I don’t care. Oh, I’m not naiive. I just look at this situation as an opportunity to have some fun. For instance, when I get in my car today to go buy some bagels, I think I’ll take a route through several church parking lots and the nearby Christian book store. Hopefully, someone at Google will catch wind of this curious route and deduce, “That Jew’s got identity issues..let’s make sure he gets ads for both the kosher deli and dating sites to find a shiksa.” I’m already married to one so Google’s already got the algorithm wrong. I wouldn’t mind knowing where I could buy a box of those tasty communion wafers, though..and a matching wine.
I might decide to take circuitous routes to further confuse the nerds in Mountain View, Calif., say, driving to a gun range then directly to a shrink’s office and then Victoria’s Secret. I wonder what conclusions they might draw. Of course, I’m not actually getting out of my car at those places but the little “timeline” map I could call up on my phone would make a nice conversation starter while waiting in line at my ultimate destination..the pharmacy.
As a kid I became fascinated with maps when my uncle sent us a huge atlas of the U.S. that literally weighed 9 pounds. My father was an engineer so we always had pads of tracing paper around and I traced the maps of every state, learned the capitals and major cities and roads. I’m still that way.
When I traveled with my CNN crew they nicknamed me “Rand” as in mapmakers Rand McNally because I’d learn routes and cities I’d been to only once or twice. One time we were going through Findlay, Ohio..a place we hadn’t been to in five or six years, and it was lunch time. Shooter wondered out loud, “where the fuck are we gonna eat in this town?” “Oh,” I chirped. “There’s an Arby’s if you make a left here..about a mile down the road.” “No!” he yelled. “You shouldn’t know that! Why would you?” “Well,” I replied tartly. “In case we were in Findlay during lunchtime some time.” Yes, I believe I may have been the model for Google’s location tracking.
So it makes sense I would embrace Google’s awesome ability to basically make a map out of my life and have fun creating nonsensical itineraries just to screw with them.
To be honest, I wish technology had come along this far way back when I was an aimless teenager. Who knows? Maybe it would have helped me find myself.
Can I ask you a question? OK. Can I ask you another question? And another, and another and another? If you’re like me, your email box is is stuffed with surveys that seem to pop up almost as soon as you’ve walked into a store, checked out of a hotel, debarked from a flight or stumbled out of a schvitz. It’s getting ridiculous.
One day I expect to receive a survey from my lungs asking how satisfied I was with my last 9,000 breaths and how likely would I choose them to process my subsequent breaths..on a scale of 1 to 5, of course.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate a business asking for input as a means of improving their product or service. My only regret is, to respond to every survey I receive would mean answering to my family and friends as to what I’d been doing for the last six days. “Oh, just answering some questions,” I could reply, which would, I’m sure spark the rejoinder, “here’s a question. Are you an idiot?”
Sometimes I actually warm to the task, especially if I’ve had an extremely positive or negative experience. True story: recently we checked into a mid-priced hotel for a two-day stay. Everything seemed fine…at first. We went about our business for the day and when we returned for the evening discovered a little surprise in the shower..a still-wet washcloth hanging over the tub. Maybe the housekeeper needed to hose off after a vigorous vacuuming of our room, or the hotel offered “pre-soaked terry cloth” as an un-advertised feature. Either way, it was gross. I gently removed it and tossed it in a corner where we would eventually dump the rest of our wet towels. No, I didn’t ring up the front desk because honestly, we had a full schedule and didn’t want to get involved. I also knew I’d be receiving a survey by the time we got home, which we did.
In the section asking if there was anything about my stay that was less than satisfactory, I related my encounter with the wet wash cloth. The next day I received a very apologetic email from the manager who asked if I’d like to have a phone conversation about the incident, I guess, so she could ask me more questions. Seems pretty cut and not-dry. What more could she ask? Maybe, “did you not appreciate not having to soak the wash cloth before using it? Many of our busy business travelers appreciate saving those 20 seconds.” I graciously thanked her for her response but declined the phone call.
On the other hand, I’m very happy to point out excellent service or the fine quality of a product, if asked. Sometimes, however, even a compliment is not accepted well. I once wrote positive thoughts about our experience at a restaurant located in a Michigan casino. The manager thanked me for the nice review then asked, “what didn’t you like about our other restaurants? Huh? Oh..well..the restaurant we ended up at just had a shorter line but ended up serving fine food accompanied by super service. Sheesh. Take a compliment and shut up!
The airline survey is the one that gets me the most. Unless you’re in first class you know the experience is pretty much gonna suck from being herded through airport security, to wrestling for an overhead bin with a guy trying to store his cello up there, to having to hold your breath on a transcontinental flight because the guy sitting next to you is wearing Eau d’Possum cologne to gagging on the bag of trail mix you bought for a buck because they ran out of free beverages.
So when I ultimately receive the airline’s survey I find it’s much quicker and easier to complete by skipping all the “on a scale of 1-5” questions and going right to the field asking for comments where I can write, “my ordeal on your airline actually made me covet the experience of a feed lot hog awaiting its metamorphosis from living being into pork chops.” Curiously, I never receive a follow up email requesting I expand on my thoughts.
I think it might be fun sometime to turn the tables and reply to the survey senders with a a survey of my own. I might ask questions such as:
1-On a scale of 1-5, how do you think you treated me?
2-On a scale of 1-5, how satisfying do you think your “free” breakfast offerings are which consist of toast, greasy breakfast sandwiches, watery oatmeal and a waffle maker that always seems to be fought over by 3 old guys who may not live long enough to see hear the beep when their waffles are done?
3-How would you characterize the stains on the carpeting?
a-usual shit hotel guests drop and don’t clean up
b-detritus from “trucker’s night” in the lobby lounge
c-evidence in recent homicide disguised as “prom night faux pas”
4-Would YOU stay at your hotel? Only available choice, “NFW!”
So..what do you think? On a scale of 1-5, of course.