I've also been told I have little tact, so if this offends you simply ride on.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Minimum Wage Blues

A couple of days ago, as I was scanning news headlines, I saw that Seattle had failed to pass $15 + minimum wage.  That's a lot of money for unskilled labor.  Now, I don't know what the cost of living is up in the northwestern states, but I suspect it's getting to be pretty salty.  If the cost of living is high the minimum wage tends to be high.  The two are fairly inseparable, so if one goes up the other follows.  You can't have a low cost of living and a high minimum wage because there's not enough revenue to cover the payroll expense.  To put it more simply, if you're running a McDonald's and you're paying your associates $15 an hour, you will need to sell a hell of a lot of burgers, or you're going to need to raise the cost of the burgers you sell.  Inevitably, it's the cost which goes up since only a certain percentage of the population is going to be buying burgers.  This is true everywhere and not just for fast food restaurants.

Funny how those states with out a minimum wage law or have minimum wage lower then the Federal Minimum Wage Law are major Tea Party States.

The economy depends upon unskilled laborers doing the jobs nobody else wants to do at a barely survivable rate of pay.  This is how it has always been and always will be.  People may think this cruel, but if you want higher rate of pay then learn a skill or trade.  Don't come to me and whine about how little you're getting paid when the trade off for your getting a higher minimum wage is for me to be paying higher bills.  I know some might find it surprising, but the number of people getting minimum pay directly effects what utilities can charge.  If the base pay for a region goes up $4 an hour the disposable income of those living within that region goes up as well, which means utilities can charge more without creating a 'burden.'  And it's not just utilities, the same is true with every retailer out there; everybody wants a piece of that pie.

Oh, and for those who think that when the minimum wage increases, everybody else's rate of pay goes up too, forget it.  It doesn't happen.  Ever.  What you end up with is a lot more people with a lower standard of living.  Now, I have no problem with the minimum wage going up, but it needs to be done in small increments, over time.  Just don't expect me to take a financial hit because unskilled labor wants it now.  This is not Utopia... this is the real world.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spring has sprung in Central PA

I thought that for Earth Day I'd write a little something about the weather.  Working for a retailer whose business depends largely upon the weather I do tend to hear a lot of comments about... the weather.  If I had a nickle for every time I had to listen to a customer complain about how bad this past winter was I could buy a really nice bottle of wine.  I'd really like to tell them they need to sit down at their computer and research the weather history for Central Pennsylvania.  If they did, they'd discover that between 20 and 25 years ago things started getting a bit warmer.  Back then, this was your standard winter.  Instead, they seem to think that the winter before, the one of 2012, was normal.  They don't seem to understand that past winter was the warmest we have every had since they've been keeping records.  Days when the temperature rarely rose above the teens were, at one point, consider normal.  Winter always included snow and ice, that's why it's called winter not late autumn or early spring.  Because this was a BAD winter a lot of retailers, including the one I work for, ran out of silly little things... like salt and ice melt.  In fact, people were buying 'water softener' salt to clear away their ice, even though that type of salt is not good for concrete.  As a result, in a few years, when their sidewalks begin to crack, we'll be able to sell them Quikcrete.

Now, a day doesn't go by when I don't hear someone complaining how spring is late this year.  They don't seem to understand the season is a transitional period.  It is at this time of the year when the Earth begins tilting on it's axis.  That's right, the Earth tilts back and forth.  In the winter the norther latitudes are actually closer to the Sun then they are in the summer....  This is Earth Day, remember?  If you are celebrating the planet you should understand the rotational process, how are orbit is actually elliptical.  Too many believe the definition of Spring is "warm and sunny days."  This is why we say 'April showers bring May flowers.'  We are transitioning between the cold, crisp days of Winter and the steaming hot days of Summer.

Of course a number of retailers don't like this.  They want Spring to turn on instantly, like turning on a light.  They want to be able sell vast quantities of mulch, and soil, and grass seed, and they want to do it now.  How well they do on Wall Street is a direct reflection of consumer's spending habits.  How foolish to have your profitability depend upon a transitional period which may actually keep people inside.  Today is Earth day and in Central Pennsylvania it is cool and rainy.  Since it's my day off I would have preferred the weather to be nice and sunny.  I do have yard work which needs to be done.   However we are passing from a cold season to a warm season which means we're not always going to get what we want from the weather.  Hey, it's Earth Day!  Ain't it great to be on a green planet in the Goldilocks zone? 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Painting through customer service

Spring has arrived, for the most part, and it is the season of paint and deck stains.  This is that time of year when people dolefully look at their decks and realize they need to do something to slow down the aging process.  This is also that very important time of year when retail associates, especially those selling paint and stains, need to polish off their customer service skills.  While the vast majority of customers we deal with are honorable, we also need to deal with the liars, scam artists, and thieves.  Here is a prime example from yesterday.  Late in the afternoon an irritable customer came up to the paint desk complaining that earlier in the day a paint associate had sold him the wrong color stain.  Now occasionally this will happen when we will accidentally mix the color to the left or to the right, mistakes do happen.  The customer claimed he had asked for 4 gallons of Bordeaux (a dark purple color) and my associate had mixed Grand Cayman (a pale orange color).  There were seven different color paint chips between the Bordeaux and the Grand Cayman, and the associate in question has been mixing and tinting paint for 17 years.  That kind of mistake never happens.  But, demonstrating good customer service, I offered to mix him 4 more gallons.  He was happy with that, so, grabbing a swatch book and put a check mark in the correct color and asked if he wanted the premium or the regular stain.  He pointed to the premium, so I put a check there.  I had just started tinting the 2nd gallon when he began complaining I was mixing the wrong stain, that he did not want the premium quality and that I had made a mistake.  When I showed him the swatch book, he claimed that I had checked the wrong box.  Ha ha.  For those of you who don't know, this is an old trick.  Think of it as bait and switch from a customer perspective:  they pick an expensive finish and claim you made the mistake, that they wanted the cheaper finish, so you need to give them the paint or stain at a cheaper price.  His problem was that he thought I was farther along in the tinting process.  I demonstrated my good customer service skills by smiling and mixing him 4 gallons of the cheaper stain.

Now I'm not saying that this customer was a scumbag, but his behavior does fit the pattern.  Each one of those gallons will be retinted, each to a different color, and marked down as a mis-tint.  You see there are people who have a bad habit of changing their mind after they've returned paint.  The lower, mis-tint price has a way of making the color more attractive.  I wouldn't be surprised if he showed up on Tuesday to see to see if those 4 gallons were now in a color he could live with.  It's a sad way of trying to keep some people honest.  

Of course, I suspect if you were to question this customer about my customer service skills he would probably rate me a little below average.  I didn't really give him what he wanted.  On the other hand there are many more customers who think I'm a joy to work with because I do really give them what they want.  All of my associates are reliable and tenured, they rarely make mistakes and all of us provide the customer service people expect.  Of course, if you're a scumbag, beware.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Norton Anti-virus fail

Of course the big, scary monster in the room right now, at least as far as the Internet is concerned, is the Heartbleed bug.  This is not a good thing.  From what I've been reading it's everywhere and large numbers of computers have been infected, or were infected at one point in time.  It hasn't really effected me.  I do all my banking on line and which means I'm in my bank's website a lot.  They were right on top of the situation, as was the credit card company I have my Visa through.  This does not mean I need to let my guard down, however.  About three weeks ago I received an email from L. B. Smith Ford, a local car dealer, thanking me for having my 2005 Ford Focus serviced and requesting me to participate in an online survey.  Well, I don't drive a Ford Focus, I drive a 2013 Honda CR-V so I knew this was one of those ho-ho phishing things, which may or may not have been connected to the Heartbleed bug.  There are a lot of people out there who would have clicked on the link to rectify this problem with L.B. Smith, not me, I just deleted the email.

This morning I received an email from Norton Security about the aforementioned bug which I thought was interesting.  They detailed how it work to insidiously steal your information.  It talked about phishing emails and how official they looked and to avoid clicking on links.  This was nice, but odd because two paragraphs later there was a link I was supposed to click on to get more information.  And then there was another link I could click to make sure my system was fully updated so I could be worry free.  This sounds really good... except didn't they just tell me how phishing works, how the emails look so official and I should never click on links?  Duh!

Phishing for stupidity

When did Norton start hiring Jello Heads?  In my opinion this is pretty much a super fail if the email was truly from Norton.  If it was a shitty attempt at phishing it was pretty damn shrewd.  There are a lot of people out there who subscribe to Norton.  I can see hundreds of people clicking on that link to see if their computer was safe.  I can see them signing in with their password.  DUH!  With all the stuff on the Internet about how bad this Heartbleed is, people want to alleviate all of their concerns, they want to be worry free.  This is why they have an Anti-virus installed in the first place.  So, if this was truly a legitimate email from Norton they should not have provided links, rather they should have just told their subscribers to go to the website using the link every one of them has on their desktop.  Of course this world is full of stupid people and I wouldn't be surprised if some of them work for Norton,c  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dog License Day

Here in Pennsylvania, as in many other states, dog owners are required to license their dogs.  There are various rates available depending upon certain circumstances.  For example, if I were over 65 or handicapped I could get a discounted rate.  Since I'm under that age and have no disabilities neither of those two options apply.   However, I can take advantage of the spay / neuter discount.  I have no interest in dealing with puppies so both of my dogs have been fixed, Gertie 4 years ago and Lilly just this past Monday.  Knowing I would need documentation I held off on Lilly's license until today.  Now I could have just zipped up to the township office, a 5 minute walk for the standard license, but there is one more option for dog owners.  You can purchase a 'lifetime' license if you don't mind driving to the County Treasurer's office.  For me, this is a 25 minute drive to Carlisle.  The cost for this license is $31.45 - gee.. no brainer, right?  At 9:30 this A.M. I clambered into my CR-V and headed down Interstate 81 to the County Seat.  I could have saved myself the trip.

To get the $31.45 rate for a lifetime dog license you not only need to provide documentation that your dog has been surgically sterilized, your beloved pet also needs to have been either tattooed with a serial number or had a microchip implant.  Lilly has had neither.  This means she is not qualified to get the lifetime license at all, unless, of course, I decide to spend the money to have her either tattooed or chipped.  Suddenly that lifetime license is such a deal.  How do I know?  I talked the implant thing over with my Vet - they charge $50.  Add that to the lifetime license fee and you got $81.45.  The standard fee for a spayed female is $6.45 per year.  If she lives 12 years that's only $77.40.  Does she really need that lifetime license?  Will I actually buy her a new license every year?  Was that drive to Carlisle a waste of time?  Did I answer 'yes' to anyone of these questions?

Now I can understand the license thing to a point.  If your dog gets loose and ends up in the pound it's a way for them to contact you.   However you don't see a lot of stray dogs running around my neighborhood.  Most people here take care of the pets.  My yard is fenced in and the gate is locked.  If I am going through that gate the dogs are in the house.  Outside of my house and my yard, my dogs are vulnerable.  They would be like children in a world they do not understand, so I keep them safe.  As of today, they do both have licenses.  I suspect the license fee is just another way for the state to put money in its coffers.  This is, I believe, the reason most states have dog license laws on their books.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Retirement - waiting for the fun to begin

Even though it will not be happening soon, I usually tell people that when I do retire I want to move to the south of France where I can drink wine and ride my bicycle.  My brother keeps asking me if I'm serious and I always reply 'yes.'  Of course, being a realist I understand those plans may never come to fruition.  I may end up spending my senior years in Central Pennsylvania, which is a world away from the south of France.  No matter where I am, I do plan on having an enjoyable time.  Quite often I tell people there are only two times in your life when you can be, for the most part, carefree.  The first happens when you're a child.  The second occurs when you leave the work force, which is why rarely does a day pass when I don't think about not having job responsibilities; when I don't think about all the things I can do that are not work related.

A number of years ago, the dental assistant who cleaned my teeth retired.  When I asked what her plans were she told me "I'm going to sit on my porch swing and read."  I felt really sad for her because there was so much more she could be doing.  For a lot of people, however, that is how they define retirement.  They feel they've put in their time.  This is true, but don't turn yourself into a fossil.  Why would you want to become a relic?  My Dad did that and died 6 years after he retired.  If your idea of bliss is sitting in a chair watching television you've kind of missed the point.  Retirement shouldn't be defined by the cessation of all activity, rather it should be considered a new direction in which to channel your energy.  Do something physical.  Use your muscles.  And don't complain.  Holy Shit, I am so tired of hearing seniors list their ailments as though they're merit badges they've earned by being old.  Working in a retail position where people need to wait to have paint mixed, I hear them daily.  You have no idea how many times I want to ask if they want cheese with that whine because I know every person they've talked to has heard about their problems.

Nice little area in the south of France

You can call me unsympathetic if your want, I don't care.  You see I believe the real problem for these people who just want to shut down, and those who change careers from one of working to one of complaining, is that none of them actually sit down and think about what retirement means.  All sorts of possibilities open up once you are no longer a permanent associate relying on a weekly paycheck.  Time becomes something you can spend on all those things you couldn't do for the past forty some years.  Get on a bicycle and ride it, even if your pedal is slow.  Write a novel, climb a mountain, learn to play the drums and have fun.  When I look at my future retirement I see all the chances in the world opening up and I may sell my house and move to the south of France where I can drink wine and ride my bicycle. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cheap weddings and bad reception food

Well, my niece's wedding has come and gone.  The weather was beautiful, unfortunately I couldn't be outside doing all of the yard work which needs to be done.  Instead I had to sit in a church and endure an hour long ceremony.  That's right, 60 minutes (actually 62, but who's counting).  I tell people about the length and they ask if I'm Catholic, the answer to that question is 'no.'  The couple decided to have a lot of 'add-on's, like an intercessory prayer.  That's right, if you were a guest, or a member of the wedding party, or just some stranger walking down the street outside, you could go up front, lay your hands on the bride and groom and join in their prayer for a happy, successful marriage.  Other then the members of the wedding party, only 4 people went front and laid hands on them.  This is not a good ratio when you consider there were 125 guests in the church, but it did take up time.  Then there was the 10 minute homily on how holy marriage was and that it was between a man and a woman.  Eighteen times we heard that marriage was between a 'man and a woman.'  Now if you ask me that's either a little excessive or a little paranoid, or maybe just a little Christian Crazy.  In fact, most of the hour focused  more on the joys of being a Christian then it did on the business of getting married.  If you're wondering, they are both more then a little excessive in their faith.  I have not seen them, but he has several graphically gory tattoos of the Crucifixion.  Nice.

Waiting in line at the Catering Truck

For reception food they opted for variations of pulled pork, which could have been a tasty end to the afternoon, however the reception hall was on the 3rd floor and the meal was served from a catering truck out in the parking lot.  This entailed taking your plate down 2 flights of stairs to get your food and then carrying it back.  Service was slow.  I am so glad I was related to the bride and got to sit at table number 4, we didn't have to wait too long.  Those guests sitting at the higher number tables (18, 19 and 20) waited almost 2 hours to get their food.  If you wanted a 2nd pulled pork sandwich you had to wait.  The problem was they spent a lot of money on things involved with the ceremony (like embossed programs) and chintzed out on the reception.  If they'd spent a couple hundred dollars less on the 3 tiered cake with edible, gold, filigree roses climbing the side, they could have paid the caterer to bring the food up to the reception hall.  What made it worse was that the prices for the food were posted on the side of the Catering Truck.  Look at the picture above and you can see the most expensive thing you could have purchased, had you just stumbled upon that truck in the parking lot, was $9.  Cheap.  Receptions are supposed to be fun and this one wasn't.  This was a waste of time.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

How idiots choose a paint color

For those of you who don't know, I manage the paint department for a very large home improvement retailer.  This means I know a little bit about color, about how light effects color, and a smidgen about what colors go together.  The worst thing a customer can do is to walk in, look at the paint swatches on a sample wall and choose a color without any consideration to the lighting in the room, or the furnishings, or the flooring, all things which are going to effect the way that color is going to look after it has been applied to the walls.  One of the best things a potential customer can do is to purchase a paint tester, one of those little 8 oz jars of paint.  This gives them an idea as to just what their room is going to look like when finished.  However, there are some people who just don't understand this process.  I call them the 10% people.  They are the ones who believe paint department associates can minutely manipulate the amount of tint added to these testers to give them the precise, original color they want.  These individuals want designer paints.  They want to be able to brag to their friends about how long it took to get the precise shade they needed for their walls.  These people are idiots.

Let me give you an example.  About a week ago a mother and daughter approached one of my paint associates with a paint swatch which was a pale coral color.  That color, however, was just a tad too light for them so they had the associate adjust the color up by 55%.  One evening, a few days ago, they returned and talked to me.  The tester was just not the right color.  They wanted me to add 10% more tint.  I didn't laugh at them.  I did try to explain that in a 8 oz tester there is not a lot of tint and since they had already applied some of the paint to a wall it was not even a full tester.  In their sample there was 1 drop of black.  It is impossible to add 10% of one drop, even if the tester were full.  I could have given them what they wanted in a new tester, but that wasn't what they wanted.  I didn't even try to explain how a 10% adjustment would be was so negligible the difference would have been imperceptible.  So I added 4 drops of red and 3 drops of yellow to make them happy.  After shaking the sample up, I put a dot on the lid next to the original dot so they could compare the colors.  There was no change.  The mother looked at her daughter and asked "Do you think it's too dark now?" and the daughter replied.  "We need to think about this."

Paint tester hell.
You see the whole thing had nothing to do with the shade of the color, making it just 10% darker.  It did have quite a lot to do with control.  Of course they couldn't admit both dots looked the same, that would have meant admitting failure.  So, they were going to go home and think about it.  In the end, if they paint the room, I suspect they will go with the original color, that tends to be what these 10% people do.  Of course a lot of them are never going to be satisfied.  I worked with a couple who both happened to be dentists, and who probably went through  7 or 8 different shades of gray, having them adjusted up and down, matching them to different paint swatches, and noting each time the adjustment was either too dark or too light.  They ended up going with Dolphin Fin, one of the first testers I made for them.  For these people it is all about controlling the process.  They need to be in charge.  In the end they will tell friends and neighbors how it took "so many hours," to get precisely the color they needed.  These people are idiots.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Marriage Free Fall

Next Saturday my niece Jessica and her fiance Joe are getting married.  I am not excited.  You see I'm not really sold on the marriage thing, at all, for anybody.  In reality it's nothing more then a business arrangement.  For most of its existence marriage was more about making a good match then anything else.  Love had nothing to do with it.  What mattered more then anything was the end deal.  How many goats and pigs could you get from the farmer for marrying his daughter.  She might have been hideous but face it, twelve goats is better then seven chickens.  This is why dowries were so important.  Getting married meant making sure you were getting your money's worth.  And it applied to men as well.  Being handsome might allow you to diddle your way through town, however it didn't mean you could marry above your station.  That cute little burgemeister's daughter?  She'd be married off to someone who could afford her.  The studly guy?  He'd be married to the girl who was missing her front teeth.   Falling in love and getting married was a fiction most usually presented on stage, where things could end happily ever after.

Most people really don't want to admit that marriage, as an institution, is pretty much a failure in its current state.  When I worked for Interstate Hotels there was a catering secretary who sat just around the corner from my office who'd been married and divorced 5 times.  You read that right.  Five times she said "I do," and then five times changed her mind and broke her vows.  There was a time when religion kept divorce in check.  You got married and you stayed married.  If you got a divorce you were excommunicated from the church, or you were snubbed by the community.  That did not make marriage a good institution, but it did help it to endure.  Today divorces are common place.  The only time they make news is when they're between same sex couples.  The Crazy Christians feel they need to throw as many stones as possible.

The Happy Couple

My Mom tells be her dress was expensive and the ceremony is going to be on the elaborate side.  What a waste of money.  The bride who buys a dress that costs as much or more then an inexpensive refrigerator is dumb as a brick.  Of course most brides have already convinced themselves this is going to be the most important day in their life - until they marry for the second time.  You see, that's another big problem with marriage which so many people choose to ignore.  Divorce rates are high.  Very high.  In some states 65% of all marriages end up in divorce, which means only 35% don't get divorced.  It doesn't mean they are happy marriages, just that both partners end up going their separate ways.  Think about that percentage.  What would you do if, after successfully completing all of the training, your instructor were tell you, just before you stepped out of the plane, "hey, you've got a 35% chance of surviving this jump?"  Of course in one or two states almost 45% of all marriages survive.  Would you want to bet on a horse with those odds? 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Broadway's going to the girls

This past Sunday, while scanning through the NYT on line, I came across an article by Patrick Healy regarding attendance on Broadway.  Evidently the chicks are outnumbering the guys when it comes to filling seats.  Having been involved in theater while in college, I'll not say this completely took me by surprise.  Back then most of the straight guys who bought tickets did so for dating purposes, not because they had a driving desire to see "Once upon a Mattress," or "Damn Yankees."  Knowing this I took a gander at the latest fare on Broadway.  Woah, is it any wonder guys are staying home?  "Bridges of Madison County?"  This was a chick book turned into a chick flick which has now become a chick musical.  "Mamma Mia?"  I don't think I need to explain this one.  If you want guys to start buying tickets, write shows they're going to like.  This also goes for those pudding brain producers who don't know the difference between a 'hit' and a 'tourist attraction.'  They are not synonymous.  If a musical has been in residence at the same theater for two or more consecutive years it needs to be defined as a 'tourist attraction.'  If I remember correctly, "Cats" was the first show to mutate into a true 'tourist attraction.'  I actually paid money to see that show.  I hated it.  It took about fifteen minutes before the cute kitty costumes and makeup became boring as I realized the show was just flash and splash with no meat on the bones.  There are a number of these 'attractions' on Broadway at this time.  A word to the wise, if you have tickets to a show and there's a yellow school bus unloading under the marquis it's an 'attraction,' from overture to bows music.  I suspect these are the shows men are avoiding.

In Mr. Healy's article he mentions sports musicals as a possible way to bring back the waning male audience, or at least this has been the thought of some producers.  There are jello heads out there who find nothing wrong with this line of thinking and have brought "Rocky," the musical to the Broadway Stage. My first thought when I read this was "Holy Shit, are their people out there that damn stupid?"  I asked people at work if they might have an interest in seeing a musical reworking of "Rocky" and every single one of them got this glazed look of confused stupidity on their face.  I informed all of them that at one point in the show a boxing ring slides out into the audience.  None were impressed.  One gentleman scratched his head and asked if it was for a dance sequence.

Going down for the count

Of course I'm sure investors didn't see it that way.  No doubt they heard "Rocky," the musical and thought they were putting their money in the next 'tourist attraction.'

According to Mr. Healy two recent shows, one of which is still playing, that bring out the guys are "Spamalot" and "The Book of Mormon."  I've talked to people who have seen "Spamalot" and claimed it to be hysterical.  While I don't know anyone who has seen "The Book of Mormon," from everything I've read it is filled with smutty humor.  In other words, if you want guys buying tickets because they want to see the show you need to throw in a couple of tittie jokes.  Wouldn't it be funny if the writers of "Rocky" threw in a couple of wisecracks about Adrianne's jugs and ticket sales went through the roof?  I mean, hell, even gay guys will laugh at a good tittie joke.  Of course that would mean the school buses wouldn't be offloading under the marquis, but would that be such a bad thing?  Wouldn't it be better to have people buying tickets because they wanted to see the show, not because it was a tourist attraction?  You know I might have enjoyed "Cats" more if those felines had gotten a little frisky and told a couple of tittie jokes?