stupid list #167

  • I just paid my annual hosting bill for this site. It’s a bit depressing, because when I calculate how many posts I make per year, it averages out to like ten bucks per post, unless I make a whole bunch of entries in the next two months.
  • The Apple Airpod Pro release made me think I should make a lengthy post about every pair of headphones I’ve bought in the last few years, and why they ultimately didn’t work out. I have a bit of a problem when it comes to headphones, and can never find something that works perfectly. Then I spend an inordinate amount of time shopping for something that maybe would.
  • I’m 100% sure if I did buy Airpods, they would fall right out of my ear and I’d lose them, anyway.
  • I am not near the fires, and I haven’t lost power, so let’s not get into that.
  • Fitbit got bought by Google, which really pisses me off and depresses me. I have used a Fitbit since I think 2012, and now also have one of their scales. I have a lot of data in my Fitbit account, and it basically got sold to a company who is 100% going to kill it. Or every time I want to check my steps, I will have to watch an ad.
  • Caviar got bought by DoorDash. This also pisses me off, because DoorDash is a horrible company and Caviar has been great. I realize food delivery is lazy, but I am lazy.
  • There is this outdoor mall thing about a mile from my house. (Bay Street in Emeryville). Anyway, they at one time had like a dozen restaurants, and now they have one. In the last couple of weeks, Buckhorn and Fuddrucker’s closed, and Rubio’s closed a bit before that. Now there’s an upper level where every single store is closed except California Pizza Kitchen. I eat at CPK way too much, but when that closes, I’m done.
  • There’s also a Barnes and Noble in that mall, and I used to hate B&N and see them as this company that killed indie book stores (I talked about this before, sorry) and anyway, it’s only a matter of time before they shutter that place, too.
  • This outdoor mall was literally built on an Indian burial ground. I used to go to Weight Watchers with a retired Archaeology professor who was hired by the builders to dig around and identify graves and whatnot. Maybe that’s why they can’t keep any restaurants going there.
  • I think they discontinued the deodorant I have used since like 1993, and I have to switch to another. That kind of thing really pisses me off.
  • I hate to sound like an old person when I talk about this stuff closing, but it’s depressing, and makes me think a lot about how everything dies, including all of us, and I can’t process that. When I hit 50 soon, look for this worry train to go completely thermonuclear.
  • Speaking of DoorDash, I just placed a Caviar order at a place that’s usually pretty quick to fill deliveries, and got a text now saying the order will be late. The last time I ordered from DoorDash, they did this like three times and then completely no-showed. And so it begins.
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The Death of Blockbuster

Here’s an interesting long read over at Retail Dive on the death of Blockbuster Video:

Who Really Killed Blockbuster?

A couple of interesting (to me) takeaways. First, I like that this article gives all the details other than just saying “Netflix, duh” because that’s not what happened. The thing that annoys the hell out of me in death-of-malls or death-of-<store dying this week> is that they always say it’s Amazon, and it almost never is just Amazon. (I.e. venture cap choke-out run by a fervent Ayn Rand acolyte; tax scam by REIT not paying off anymore; etc.)

Like one of the factors the article mentions that most people forget: VHS tapes were damn expensive, and that was partially hidden to the consumer. Yes, you could buy a priced-to-own copy of Wayne’s World for twenty bucks during a certain limited sales cycle. But if you’ve had the good fortune of losing a copy of Apocalypse Now from a rental place, it probably cost you eighty bucks to replace it. They ran this two-tier pricing scheme for decades, and then when DVDs came out, the studios decided to go with low daily prices across the board, plus they flooded the channel at Wal-Mart and Target with cheap five-buck releases and multi-packs of their back catalog. That’s only one of the nails in the coffin, but that’s an interesting one.

The other thing, and this came up in discussion when I posted this article on FB, is that Blockbuster wasn’t that great of a place for customers anyway. There are a lot of folks nostalgic for the Nineties who were born in like 1998 and don’t remember how crappy some of it was, and Blockbuster was a good example. Like they were borderline predatory about their late fees, and good luck if you got sent to their collections department. They drove a lot of mom-and-pop rental places out of business. And their prices weren’t always great, compared to the non-chain places.

One of the things that always bugged me about Blockbuster was their family-friendly video selection. They were big on promoting mediocre big-budget movies and avoiding cult or obscure cinema. And they were incredibly vocal on not carrying anything beyond an R rating, or controversial movies. I went on a semi-boycott of Blockbuster for years because they refused to carry The Last Temptation of Christ. If you wanted obscure, it’s Not at The Block. If you need a copy of Day For Night, forget it. But they’d have plenty of copies of that new Will Smith movie.

Blockbuster was occasionally a necessary evil when I was in a small town. I really loved local rental stores that had obscure stuff, and of course you had to go to one of those places for the best horror movies. The clerks were always cool, the prices were lower, they didn’t give you as much of a hassle about membership, and sometimes you’d find weird stuff. Like there was a video place in downtown Bloomington — I wish I could remember the name. They never recycled out their old stock. Me and Larry used to go every week and find the most bizarre stuff, faded boxes that were completely forgotten. Like I remember never ever being able to find a copy of Johnny Got His Gun (probably because Metallica bought the rights to it and sat on them) and of course they had it. And I remember renting Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile, the (bad) Canadian horror movie loosely based on Ed Gein, and it also had the short documentary Ed Gein: American Maniac slapped on the end of the VHS. It was a weird homemade doc consisting of blurry found footage, narrated by some dude in a basement recording on a Bell and Howell mono tape recorder stolen from an elementary school or something. It was awesome. (And it’s on YouTube!) You’d never, ever find that at Blockbuster.

That puts Blockbuster nostalgia in a weird place for me, much like Barnes and Noble. I’m a bit sad B&N is on the verge of shuttering, but back in the day, they were the chain to hate, because they pushed mom-and-pop stores out of business. (And deep analysis that I’m too lazy to do might show a story that independent booksellers were pushed out by someone else in the 80s/90s, like the rise of Ingram or the changes in book printing after NAFTA, or some damn thing.)

I visited one of the last Blockbusters in Anchorage a year and a half ago. (Yes it was the one with the Gladiator jockstrap. No, it wasn’t there yet when I visited.) It gave me a strange and sad feeling, not specifically because it was Blockbuster, but because it was a video store, period. It was all DVD, but wandering the aisles reminded me of the weekly exercise of going from A to Z on a Friday night to find what I’d watch.

That entire era is gone, replaced with a button on my TV remote that lets me scroll through thousands of titles. But something’s missing, with the lack of the Tarantino-esque clerk telling me what I really need to watch, and the tactile experience of pacing the aisles. We now have great convenience and instant access, but it is at a cost that’s hard to quantify, and it’s definitely felt by those who do remember.

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The Wards nightmare

It seems that my most common recurring dream/nightmare has to do with me working at Wards, or rather not working there. There’s usually some part of the dream in which I am not working there and I’m probably on the schedule, but I haven’t quit or anything, and I’m too embarrassed to go back in and tell them I’m not working there anymore. There’s also usually some component in where they still owe me a paycheck or two, and I’m not sure whether or not I should go ask for it or if they will eventually mail it to me. There are a lot of other side plots and situations to the dream, but that’s the basic deal.

This is the part where some wise ass says “have you ever had that dream where you’re in college, and you find out you have a class you didn’t know about?” Let me tell you something: that really happened to me, on a pretty regular basis. Okay, maybe it didn’t happen every semester, but I skipped a lot of class in college (because I was an idiot) and there were many times I had like a Calculus 5 class that I had only gone to the first class and I was somehow planning to go in and take the midterm cold and somehow get enough points for a half a semester of missed quizzes and homework. I have that dream regularly, to the point where I wake up and I have to verbally tell myself over and over “I’m not in school anymore. I graduated. I’m not in school. Go back to bed.”

Anyway, I always wondered if there were other people out there that worked at Wards on the web, like an alumni association. I mean, this place was around for a hundred years, with a lot of people that worked there for their entire lives, starting out in the shoe department and working up to be store managers, in charge of hundreds of employees. Some stores were the only thing in their communities, the equivalent of Wal-Mart these days, except even bigger because there was no Target or Meijer or Best Buy to go against them. I wish I could remember or write down a tenth of the stories I heard with people as I watched the clock and dealt with customers on the watch at that store. Everyone that worked there had a story, from the giant pro wrestler-looking receiving manager who still lived with his mom to the ex-schoolteacher who lived in the UK for ten years in the Air Force and now sold NAPA parts at the auto counter, to the janitor who seriously won like $2.6 million in the state lottery, yet loved working so much that he still kept his $5.15/hr job mopping up puke in the restrooms. (He did, however, buy a house on a golf course, a Lotus, and entire dispensers of those scratch-off lottery tickets from 7-Eleven, because he had a severe gambling habit and was convinced lightning would strike twice.)

So there’s never been much out there. But now, it seems someone has re-bought the Wards brand. I knew they were trying to sell everything but the fillings out of the employees’ teeth when they got down to the last days in 2001. GE credit bought them during their earlier chapter 11, and I’m sure they counted on salvaging out every sign and shelf when they tore out the stores. Now it appears the domain name and trademarks went too, because wards.com is now an online store with the same logo and look, selling housewares and other junk to web surfers. I couldn’t find any more information about how it happened, who is running it, what kind of PR went out, etc etc. You’d think there would be a picture of the president or a letter from the CEO or some sort of news item that said “we’re back!”, but I can’t find anything. It appears to be some kind of shithole, cookiecutter business-in-a-box that was incorporated by a paralegal in a strip mall and run out of someone’s basement. Too bad, because part of me would almost be interested in seeing Wards come back. I didn’t drink all of the Kool-Aid they fed us back then, but I took a few sips, and I really did believe in the place, as much as a kid in high school could.

What’s funny is that this is the second time this has happened to me. My first job out of college, spry.com, is now running as a pseudo-bizarro phantom business, this time an ISP. I don’t know if it has any relation to the original company – maybe someone bought their network infrastructure and name and tried to run with it – but it also has a fake-ass web site that doesn’t list who works there or what their deal is. I care less about Spry, but it was still an interesting place to be for a year.

Not much else is going on here. I am barely scraping at the next book, maybe writing 40 words a day, just trying to write down ideas and not much else. I have lots of scraps and pieces, and the eventual goal will be to melt all of that down into a real book, but the theme isn’t there at all. The pieces, though, are great. I haven’t named it yet, but it goes through title changes weekly like a bad heavy metal band. It was Zombie Fever!, then Toast Fucker, then Anal Sushi, and there were a few others.

OK, I fell asleep this afternoon, so it should be a long night.

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