Category Archives: Business

Your Right To Discuss Pay

I wrote this specific post about 8 months ago. It made some people nervous, as employers tend to have the balance of power and when people are told something over and over, it becomes difficult to openly learn about the issue and discuss it. It’s empowering for both employer and employee to know the law and learn how to keep a business healthy.

I’m not talking about my employer  and also not talking about anyone I know personally. This is a PSA-style something-most-people-don’t-understand post. Yes, this is a Right-To-Work state, which doesn’t affect the content of what I am posting. Anyone can be fired legally or illegally, for reasons both legal and illegal, which is also not the focus of this post. And one more: it is almost never worth it to irritate your employer, even if you are ‘right.’

How much do you earn at your job? Interestingly, I’m finding that many people aren’t aware that their employers generally *can’t prohibit them from talking about their benefits, including wages.

I know that many of you are saying “But my employer has a policy that says I can’t.” It’s likely not legal, and hasn’t been for a long time. You can investigate it, if you want.

There are exceptions, of course, and you should be aware of how you fall in the category. In general, if you work a traditional job for a private employer, aren’t a contract employee, aren’t a supervisor, and don’t work for the government, you can talk about how much you’re paid until your jaw gets sore.

That’s the majority of us.

You can go to the National Labor Relations Board website at: NLRB Website 

(The NLRB is an independent federal agency that is often overlooked, especially in states where unions don’t tend to have much influence.)

If you’ve been warned, fired, or told you can’t discuss your wages with others, call the NLRB and use their website to get educated. Most of us have the right to discuss our wages if we choose to do so. Much of the problem arises when employers or their managers fail to understand the law, even with good intentions.

If you are a good employee, you will of course not waste your employer’s time talking instead of working. Modern companies know better than to pay less for any reason other than value and merit. At least I think they do. You choose to work for the wage your employer offers. Likewise, what your employer chooses to pay you is for you to decide to disclose to another person. Just as your employer is free to determine prevailing wage, you are free to talk about it. Your employer is paying you a combination of what you are worth, what it can afford, and according to its own policies. Assuming other variables aren’t present, employees generally are being compensated in a similar manner within the same company, based on common criteria. It doesn’t have to be that way, of course. Your employer has the right to determine your wage and you have the right to decline that wage or not. Discussion of wages is a different topic and unrelated to that employer’s right to determine pay under the law.

While all of the above is true, I don’t recommend you run around with a banner with a picture of yourself shouting how much you make while giving the finger. It’s not smart. Many of our problems with our employers stem from the inability to honestly bring questions to them and see that they are addressed – and that no one punishes the messenger for voicing concerns or questions.

Hillary Clinton got some attention for getting the law wrong. Here’s a link to the Politifact article detailing what happened: Clinton Gets Pay Discussion Law Wrong

Studies have shown that discussion of pay helps a company for long-term stability. It helps avoid allegations of unfairness, eliminates accusations of unequal pay or glass ceilings, and demonstrates openness from employers toward employees. It builds trust among employees and with the employer.

A good employer knows that all of the above is true and works actively to build trust with employees. A cornerstone of this kind of trust is centered on both compliance and embracing employee involvement, even when the traditional view is one of prohibition. One myth employers tend to believe is that employees who know what their counterparts earn are less flexible and efficient. Great employers don’t even worry themselves with these considerations: they don’t discriminate unlawfully and do their best to have consistent policies. That’s why you don’t have innumerable news stories each week about employees filing complaints. Most employers are too busy running their businesses without worrying about needless arguments about pay.

I generally don’t talk about where I work on social media and I don’t complain about what I earn – because for requiring only a HS education, I have good pay and benefits as an employee. I choose to work for the wage I’m given and it’s a fair wage for my job and hours. I’m not concerned that my employer is going to see this and be upset with me. (And not just because an ‘employer’ is only a collective of people.) I don’t run the halls challenging people with how much I earn or flaunting my knowledge or chanting ‘nana nana boo-boo.’ I would like everyone I work with to make at least as much as me if they are doing the same job, even those with less seniority. I’m weird like that. Qualifications and merit rule.

If your employer has a policy against pay discussion, be human about it. Ask someone you trust at your company if they are sure it is legal. Give them a chance to investigate. All of the people doing jobs have a massive number of laws and rules to juggle. Some of the most obvious ones are most often overlooked. Don’t jump to the conclusion that your employer is inhibiting pay discussion out of a nefarious motive – it might be simple ignorance. If your employer gets angry at you for even asking about the law, chances are that you are working for an employer who isn’t interested in complying with the law, which is another discussion entirely.

You’ll be surprised how often many employers tell their workers they can’t discuss wages – even though it is illegal for most of them to do so.

In my years working, I’ve encountered many people who simply don’t understand the law.

 

Multi-Level Marketing Oopsortunities

oopsortunities

 

For another outlet, I wrote an insightful piece enumerating the warning signs of multi-level marketing “opportunities,” some of which are pyramid schemes. (Of course, they should be called “oopsortunities,” because most people come to realize that they should not have attempted to be a part of the “miracle” of whatever nonsense is being sold.) The only real miracle here is that companies can still devise methods to separate people from their money with such banal marketing techniques.

If a product is such a great deal or does such great things, trust me, it would be marketed for much, much less by the big players in the market. If you are shaking your head “No” to my comments, congratulations, you are one of those gullible people that some MLM companies love to indoctrinate. (Or that certain cults would invite to visit their compound in rural Nebraska, to get to know them, no obligation required.) And, if you are interested, I will be glad to sell you a membership to my new course, “Don’t Be a Dumbass” for $19.95. (Also available via a 12-month payment plan of $13 for 17 months. Or vice versa. Don’t focus on the math, focus on “you get out what you put in,” the most successful stupid way ever stated to place the blame for a bad company or bad product on the salesperson.)

We all have friends who start posting mysteriously worded posts about whatever snake oil they are using to become an instant thousandaire. Usually, it is health or beauty related. You’ve seen the posts: they have more adjectives than a bad poet’s dictionary. They depict calm, interesting scenery, instead of the more accurate hair-on-fire scenes that depict people after they’ve failed at selling this stuff. Most of the time, they spend more time recruiting people than selling. (PS: This is a major warning sign of impending failure.) Also, friends are hard to come by and they will become invisible like Batman if you keep pressuring them to buy or sell things from you. Or angry like the Incredible Hulk if you successfully lure them in.

Incidentally, the easiest way to tell how doubtful a product is begins with googling it. If you can’t find a lot of negative reviews, it might be a nonsense product. If you go to the company’s social media page and all criticism has been scrubbed, it is a warning sign to reconsider whether you should just hide your cash in a cereal box in the pantry. In this sense, the internet troll factor is a bona fide method to determine legitimacy: all products have a set amount of critics on the internet. The absence of criticism is itself a huge red flag, or at least a lightly-tinged yellow one.

So, save us the goofiness about being more healthy, losing weight, living better or having longer toes if we buy your product. If we can’t buy it at Wal-Greens or Wal-Mart, it most likely isn’t a good deal and we apologize if that isn’t obvious to you. As for recruiting me to sell your product, I might change my tune if McDonald’s creates a “Make Your Own Cheeseburger & Fries” just-add-water product.

Obviously, I haven’t mentioned any oopsortunity by name, as I fear that the horde of vengeful naysayers will descend upon me with pitchfork and scythe. There are a few legitimate MLM companies that do good work. Unfortunately for us, it seems like we tend to be subjected to the ones which would be better served with advertising in the late-night TV market of Argentina.

But if the shoe fits, wear it. Or sell me an “amazing” shoe insert that only one company in the world is allowed to sell, due to an “incredible” marketing opportunity. Yes, I am interested in becoming a Tier-16 Pioneer in your business. Sounds legit. Please let me know whether I need to recruit an army of sales zombies for my team or if I can just start printing money on my HP printer.

Don’t Put Me On Your Email List…

I’m getting more frequent and accidental calls for someone at Tyson. The urge to start helping these people is almost overwhelming. It’s like free entertainment.

A few years ago, Dawn and I bought decorative window film for a door glass. Due to a problem, I e-mailed the company, after carefully investigating and finding an email instead of a phone number. Through some accident of their own, I started getting included in their very private internal email chains. After writing them a couple of times (to inform them what was going on and telling them there was some sort of mix-up), I started participating in the emails, providing specifics that I created from thin air. And a couple of them started answering ME, even though the email was clearly under my real name and in no way resembled theirs. In one scenario, I gave them advice on endcap displays in a large home improvement chain; during another, my input involved some sort of scanner implementation that I knew nothing about – but nevertheless offered some solidly imagined solutions. In the last, email, I also recommended that Bob be left out of the display design, given the mess he had created before. Naturally, I didn’t even know whether the company I was getting emails from even employed someone named Bob. If they did, I giggled at the idea that a nonexistent employee like me might have made his coworkers wonder whether he might be doing a bad job.

 

 

Pictures below not related to above post.

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GOOGLY EYED DEER

 

opinion

 

Oxfam Report: Give Us A Break

Oxfam Poultry Practices Report

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I am putting the link to the Oxfam report on practices in the poultry industry in the comment section, as well as a couple of others. It’s a comprehensive report across several states and companies. This isn’t a hatchet job from a single source– it is a serious reminder that many people are treated with inhumanity in some industries. I challenge anyone with an opinion to read the report in the link in the comments. For anyone who has worked a production poultry line, I am certain that you will be nodding your head in agreement while saying, “No Sh*%, Sherlock.” If you are in poultry management, it will piss you off because you either agree that it is inhumane or you will disagree because you will claim the issue doesn’t exist or, at least, isn’t as bad as some would have us believe. If you believe the latter, cash your check and ignore me.

For those working production lines, especially poultry, this report highlights the ongoing substandard practices found in many poultry plants. I’ve written about it many times.

I don’t want to hear blanket objections such as “But it doesn’t happen at my plant.” If it doesn’t, that is great news – and I mean that. In your case, the bad managers or companies are harming other companies in your field.

I’ve witnessed the type of inhumanity described in the Oxfam report. People were denied convenient access to the bathroom or were arbitrarily delayed. Production speed and cost vs. efficiency factors directly affected the staffing levels needed to give safe and necessary bathroom access. Did people suffer and sometimes urinate themselves? Yes. It may be going on right under your noses, even at your plant, where you think it doesn’t happen. In line production jobs, the odds are greater that people are made to feel bad for needing to go to the bathroom. “Hold it or else” can still be heard echoing the plant’s lines, in various languages.

The lower on the socioeconomic rung you or your job falls, the greater the chance that you are faced with the need to go to the bathroom but don’t have permission. If you’ve never worked in such a position, you are lucky. For politeness, I refer to ‘peeing,’ when in reality, who among us has not intestinal cramps so bad we couldn’t stand up, only to run for the bathroom before defecating ourselves? All of us – because we are human. That’s how people end up standing in production spots with urine or worse trailing down their leg. Of course they are ashamed and afraid to talk about it.

Being bilingual gave me a much better insight into how systemic and pervasive the problem was. Most of the poultry industry is minority-staffed and this reality distances the owners and managers from those doing the work, both in economic overlap and language.

I often give companies the benefit of the doubt, despite continuing to hear bathroom horror stories from many people. I still hear stories of people being denied bathroom breaks or being made to wait. The same factors from my past still affect human beings working in the poultry industry. Reports such as this one remind me that companies will all too often lose sight of the humanity of those doing the work.

Again – I am not saying ALL poultry plants operate this way, nor any specific one, local or distant. I am saying that it is still widespread. Further, I knew some great administrators and poultry managers who would say they never condone denying people access to bathrooms. Likewise, I knew that bathroom abuse was happening at their plants, on their watch. They would never believe it, even today. The people they trusted to run their plants felt like making people feel like they were not entitled to bathroom access was saving them money and that it was the right thing to do to perpetuate a system that humiliated or denied people the right to bathroom access; a necessary evil, if you would like to call it that. Regardless of whether the corporate offices or plant management know about unsafe and inhuman practices, the truth is that the entire company culture is their responsibility. These types of practices don’t become common unless cost is stressed at the expense of intangible considerations, including the human impact. If you can’t make a profit without doing things like those described in the report, find another business.

It costs money to operate production lines. Staffing to allow a human being to step off and go urinate, take their medications or do necessary bodily functions of course has an economic impact. We all know that if companies could engineer a way to mechanize all the production elements without people that they would do so. Until they do, however, it is an ethical and moral obligation for the company to honor people’s humanity and not only condone bathroom access, but to acknowledge and embrace it. Avoid the reputation of behaving like monsters and encourage training so that everyone from the production workers to the plant managers must structure their processes in such a way as to ensure that people aren’t standing in a line peeing themselves or being made to feel less-than-human because they need to step off their production spot to relieve themselves. One story of a grandmother peeing herself because she couldn’t get permission to leave her spot is one story too many.

It is such an obvious thing to say that I get angry writing it. If your mom worked at a poultry company and she said that her line supervisor laughed at her for asking (or begging) to go to the bathroom, I am sure that your first impulse might be to remind them via knuckle sandwich that your mom is a human being who needs to go to the bathroom when she asks. Would you be surprised to know that some production keep track of how many bathroom breaks you need – and would reprimand you for violating their arbitrary number? Is once a week too much? Once a day? If you’ve had nothing except jobs which honor your humanity, this will sound like a bad movie script to you.

Imagine all the times you went to the bathroom during the last work day you had. Imagine this: no matter how bad your need, imagine that you worked with hundreds of people and that you had to wait for someone to give your permission and replace you when you needed to go. Now imagine that instead of seeing someone walk up to you and allow you to go, that they called you ‘lazy’ and told you that you had to hold it an hour until the next line break. Or that you had to beg and provide intimate details of why you needed to go. Or decide whether to go without permission and risk losing your job. Now imagine that your mom, wife, or sister had to hear that kind of horrific inhumane response. That scenario is reality for a lot of people.

Kudos to those companies which don’t denigrate people like this. Shame to those which still do. I don’t doubt a single word of the Oxfam report.

When asked about the Oxfam report, many of the CEOs and marketing departments of some of the poultry companies were “outraged,” and “will be checking on the veracity of these reports.” Dear millionaires, can I save you some time? Call me. Of course this craziness is still going on. Not because some report says so. It’s because the people working on the line jobs at your companies say so, day in and day out. The reputation of line positions isn’t accidental. You’ve created it one bad incident at a time.

I put it out of my mind as I’ve moved on to jobs which aren’t monstrous in this regard. I still hear stories, though. And I read reports such as the one I mentioned. I hear it in English and Spanish.

Countless times people have asked me, “How do I find out if these things are true?” It’s strikingly simple, even for management. Find the lower-end employees, the ones working sanitation and production jobs, the ones with mops and knives, the ones speaking Spanish or other languages. Stand around them, listen, and ask questions. Listen again. Then ask them a question like this: “Is it common to be denied access to the bathroom?” All of them will tell you, “Of course.” That’s a problem. It’s a human problem aggravated by a profit motive.

Those doing the work experience the reality and consequences of cost control over humanity more directly than anyone else. If you can get them to talk, listen. And treat them with respect. They are doing jobs that we won’t, all so that we can eat the things we want to.

My food tastes like garbage when I think that people were treated this way in the United State while they were making my food. Raise the price of your product if you need to, if it allows people the right to behave and be treated like human beings worthy of respect for their biology, if not their humanity.

Lives on The Line Link

 

Lives On The Line Full Report

Humanity aside, if a company perpetuates an environment wherein treating people like this happens, what do you imagine is ‘really’ going on in the production and food safety side of the equation?” – X

PS: I started writing this yesterday, after seeing it on a “Southern Poverty Law Center” comment. Within 60 seconds of me posting this, someone who knows me well had tagged me on social media on another site to draw my attention to it. That’s how much this issue bothers me.

 

A Friday Barrage of Pictures

 

adam ruins everything

I only wish there were 2,652 episodes of the show. There is so much misinformation in the world. I guess I should stop making it up?

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alligator friend

I wrote this for someone who lives in California, aka “The Polka State.”
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arm of leg

 

bette davis font

This joke is potentially completely off the charts for the young whippersnappers crowd.
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can you find

 

dr oz

 

fame thrower

 

handyman

 

landing

This one was during a conversation with an actual boss.

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logic meets bureaucracy

Because no matter how great your idea, there is inevitably a manager who will strangle either you, or the implementation of the idea.

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look away from a sunset

 

no news fox news

If you are a Fox News fan, no offense is intended, although I did send this one to the RNC headquarters for pre-approval. They laughed, so you should too.

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springdeal


Because honestly, those marketing geniuses are creating ideas faster than I can mock them. Just shuffle a few letters around and we have something to work with here. You’re welcome, Springdale.

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sunset b

 

the mirror hyprocrisy


This above statement is so true that I almost went back in time when I created it.

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z elegeanteee


I made this for a friend because she loves “Sons of Anarchy.” Plus, rumor has it she can’t ride a bicycle without smacking her head into the low branches of a tree.

The Abilene Paradox Is Alive And Well

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Abilene Paradox Wikipedia

An explanatory video of the Abilene Paradox

It seems like I’ve seen this in action more in the last few months than I had in the last few years combined. Perhaps it’s because I’m getting older or perhaps I’m just over-thinking things.

I listen to people interact at work or when discussing their personal lives and see the Abilene Paradox in their words and actions. Quite often I am the voice of dissent or ‘pull,’ trying to get others to stop and honestly walk themselves through decisions.

It’s fascinating.

At first glance, many people feel it is just a clever turn of phrase, not realizing that it accurately expresses a common problem we tend to experience.

 

When I posted the picture below a couple of years ago, people didn’t take a second to understand it and thought I was being clever or had just made it up.

Everyone Has A Choice

 

 

 

Mixed Feelings About Personal Branding

“Be careful what you put up on social media….Protect your personal brand.” [Russell Tooley, Tyson]

I have mixed feelings about this type of protective stance. Not because it is bad advice – quite the contrary. Overall, it is probably what you should do. Mostly, I hate to see it because I’ve never once checked behind someone who is preaching it that didn’t have some crazy stuff already out there. Business leaders, lawyers, teachers, doctors, ditch-diggers, poultry workers – everyone in any occupation has been guilty of doing the opposite. Which is also okay. I’m not the hypocrisy police, especially given my life choices.

Because I observe how people behave, once I note that someone is closely guarding their image, I default to the assumption that the person is deflecting attention, usually away from a less than stellar past. At a minimum, their content is stale, aloof, and smacks of falsity. I assume they are hiding their character. If not their character, at least some missteps in life.

There’s a huge difference between showing yourself upside down on a keg when you were at a college party and concealing your true interests, beliefs and background. In many ways, I trust someone more implicitly who in fact shares the drinking picture. That person trusts our humanity and knows that we’ve all also done some stupid things. They don’t define us and shirking from them in horror is what perpetuates the myth of ‘normal.’

If I were an employer and noted that all of a person’s content was ‘safe’ or curated, all I would assume is that they had cleaned it prior to coming forward for a job. If you’ve said nothing controversial or done nothing stupid, I don’t want you on my team. I want flesh and bones, smart and creative, and while not dwelling on past indiscretions, not afraid to reveal them to me. My view might go against conventional wisdom, of course but I reach this conclusion repeatedly as I go around social media, reading, watching, and listening.

‘Protecting your personal brand,’ in my opinion, is usually another means to conceal your true self for an illusory chance to control how people perceive you. It doesn’t work, we know who you are. And if does work, it works against you in regards to people like me.

For most people, it is safer to play it safe and curate everything you share with social media. Just know that people like me play with a different set of rules and if you’re in the game assuming everyone honors the same rules, you have to be prepared.

 

 

 

 

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To clear up a point, I went to Buffalo Wild Wings due to its proximity to a critical appointment nearby. It’s been a long time since my last visit. I think part of my hopeful delusion was caused by a couple of other bad experiences recently – and their comparison somehow caused me to abandon all sense and reason. Weirdly enough, my wife and I both thought it might be good, for reasons I can’t recall, as if they had occurred to me in a feverish dream. Honestly, though, what person of sound mind thinks to himself, “We should eat at a place frequented by young males?” I can’t think of a single great place to eat that markets primarily to this same proud demographic, one characterized by the sound of knuckles dragging across tiles. And infinite sports on 345 televisions, all blaring the banal nonsensical chatter of sports. In short, it is basically my idea of hell – and I went in there with OPTIMISM. As Dierks Bentley quipped, “What was I thinkin’?”

Within minutes of being inside, I was painfully reminded of the myriad reasons for my absence.

The first thing entering today: a person training a new-hire walks past, and says “Who the F%%% does s### like that?” in a loud voice, complaining to the person he’s training as well as several employees nearby. I don’t personally mind obscenity – I just normally wouldn’t expect it in from an employee right in my face, absent a great circumstance to justify it, such as a gunfight, light-sabers being unsheathed, or being tackled without warning in the bathroom. It occurred to me that the person he was training was going to learn the habit of cursing like a sailor in front of other employees and customers. What a joy to consider.

Our visit didn’t improve from there. I think the employees drew straws to determine who was being forced to wait tables. The demeanor of some the staff, with the exception of the employee who evidently once manned a pirate ship in order to learn every bad world imaginable (and then practice it at high volume), was one of a captured battalion of soldiers being marched to certain death.

In all fairness, my demeanor at this point could best be described as Scrooge-vs.-Cruella. Had recently-cut flowers been nearby, my surly disposition would have withered them. Using medical terminology, I was “pissed.”

We waited so long that I began to wonder if Search and Rescue was heading my way. I was waiting for The Guinness Book of World Records to call me and tell me that I had successfully achieved “Longest Restaurant Wait Time.” After 30 minutes, I was praying for a loose ceiling tile to fall out and knock me unconscious.

The cheddar fries portion was so small that my wife and I literally laughed when the waitress placed it at our table. I halfway expected her to pull out a dollhouse-size set of plastic cutlery and hand to me. The only way to have reasonably shared such a portion of fries would have been if I had chosen to eat the cardboard boat they were served in. Perhaps the salt on the fries had been made from the delicate dried tears of a unicorn? I’m not certain but someone lost the equation for portion size versus cost.

By the time our food arrived, I was seriously contemplating whether to eat the cardboard french fry boat with ketchup or soaked in water.

After eating my “grilled” chicken sandwich, I desperately wished I had opted to eat the cardboard french fry boat.

I signed the bill and tipped the waitress as a solitary tear trailed down my right cheek, onto the table. My melancholy followed me out the door, as I realized that BWW was another one of those places I would never be able to return to, unless forced at gunpoint – and even then, I might opt for the gunshot.

Tagline: “Because life is too short to punish yourself with bad experiences.”

MJ Pizzeria – A Review

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Food review: MJ Pizzeria. Warning: Hyperbole, With a Dash of Negativity…

When I anticipate a new place, you can be sure that I enter with both high hopes and the expectation that I will not be disappointed. For quite some time, we’ve discussed the pending MJ’s opening, when we might be able to go, and just how much salivation might occur during our first visit. We were looking forward to it, in other words. Perhaps it is because I fully expected to be outrageously satisfied that I left feeling like I saw Santa’s beard droop while he was passing out presents, recognizing that Saint Nick was in fact my Uncle Jack as he handed me a package of socks. Remember, a review can only encompass what one experiences – I wanted to love everything about it. Money should buy a similar experience one day compared to the next. While I’m no food critic, I never shy from loving a place or singing its praises. Conversely, when I try a place fully expecting to be amazed and yet depart with my head hung low (like a Cowboys fan, for instance), you can be sure that I’m being honest. I might exaggerate or pontificate, but my review is no less accurate.

I’ll give the pizza crust and cheese an A+. It’s easy to see that the owner is shooting for quality in this arena. MJ is aiming toward an eclectic selection of pizza toppings. Don’t expect Domino’s as you look over the choices. But don’t be surprised if there are things to choose from that you would have never thought of in the same sentence as pizza. That’s a good thing or bad, depending on your expectations and the size of your appetite.

As for the salad, other reviews have pointed out the consternation of seeing such a haute cuisine presentation of “Big Caesar Salad” arrive at the table. I finally know what my wife looks like when she is so puzzled and surprised that her brows point almost vertically in reaction. Given that there are no pictures on the menu, you can only imagine my idiotic look when the waitress brought us the culinary equivalent of an orchid to our table. It was a sheath of romaine in a potato crisp holder. The waitress could have told us it was not substantive in order to minimize the shock. Yes, I know that this is indicative of fine dining. But on the other hand, this particular place is indeed located next to a massively popular liquor store and behind a gas station. $9 for such a visual pleasure but gastronomical anomaly was a bit excessive. There will be people of great hillbilly persuasion other than me gracing this place with their presence– and they will not understand that a joke is not being played upon them if such a presentation is both offered and charged to them. My wife felt hoodwinked by a “Big” Caesar salad which was neither big, nor really a salad. The average diner wants a more traditional salad. Keep the quality and lose the presentation on this one. Few will appreciate that it is “supposed” to be served as if the Count Deschene would like it that way.

Even though we went when it was less busy, it was too hot inside and in combination with unusually-placed and staged seating, the environment was both awkward and almost not suitable for relaxing adults. . (Figure out better seating. No one wants to sit next to someone unless there is at least 2 feet between the edges of the tables. It kills intimacy and makes me feel like a commodity number when I’m too crowded.) Had we been dressed like wayward hipsters we might have felt more comfortable.

Our incredibly simple salad took long enough that it arrived only momentarily before the pizza, which caused some confusion on the part of the helpful waiter who brought the pizza to us instead of our waitress. We then had to flag down another person for both a plate and cheese. My wife wanted to flag down some nonexistent staff member to ask if we were being secretly filmed and tested. The parmesan cheese grater was literally behind me, but I controlled my urge to grab it and start shooting cheese in every direction.

Meanwhile, I distracted myself by unavoidably hearing and watching the person in charge aggressively discuss placement of prep and cooking scenarios with the staff. I don’t want to see or hear management redressing staff when I’m trying to enjoy food, especially if I am paying more than average for the privilege. I had no choice, though, because booth availability is less than you might imagine and as a result my wife and I sat precariously perched at a very small table against a pony wall only inches away from a high table behind us, very near the bar seating along the prep and kitchen area. The manager barked several times at staff. (Yes, I know that MJ’s is a higher class of food and that the owner has a lot of experience in restaurants. However, as a person of large girth, I have more years of experience dining – and distinguishing what I find appealing in my choice of dining.) To be clear, unless there is a direct food safety issue involved, such as staff using my pizza crust as an outdoor Frisbee or moths in my tea glass, I don’t want to see staff being barked at while I’m eating. I know that it’s dangerous to characterize what I saw, given the expected “It wasn’t so bad” argument. But being so close to the staff before, during and after the boisterous complaining by the owner, I could well see the dismay and unease they felt, as they knew they were on display and with no means to salvage their dignity. I’m not saying the owner was mean per se, but I am saying that a couple of the workers expressed their displeasure and unease non-verbally. As a human, I saw that they felt a little shamed. I want to see management, not hear them.

The waitress didn’t offer us alcohol or desserts, even though I’m certain she had to have overhead me telling my wife that the dessert reputation was exceedingly high. (I had heard great things and expected to be delighted.) Given the lackadaisical service, I decided that her lack of enthusiasm either meant that I looked like a starving hobo who wasn’t worthy of a dessert of after-dinner drink – or that she had been horrified to find that the dessert tray had just been chewed by a raucous squirrel when she went behind the prep area – and she was looking out for my welfare. Given her lack of interest, I didn’t see any point in arguing to get a dessert. We abandoned plans to sample the cookies, sorbet or cake. It seemed as if the customers were outnumbered by staff, which normally would be ideal. The ratio, however, didn’t result in better service at all. My wife had to ask for a drink refill, a plate to eat with, and cheese. The bill, however, arrived so quickly that we looked outside for a DeLorean, or Marty McFly lurking nearby.

I left a stellar tip, which I paradoxically often do after being disappointed. Doing gives me the ability to criticize with a clearer conscience. But I didn’t leave with that feeling of accomplishment one has after eating a fine meal at a place which you would expect to be your future “go-to” place to eat in the future. My wife and I shared barbs with one another as we drove away, making humorous scenarios and with me doing the voices of the owner and those behind the prep area: “Aaargh – I said LESS romaine fronds, you nitwit,” or “We need MORE plates obstructing the view of the bar, all the while making your area to work less comfortable and more likely to cause a floor-shattering cascade of dinnerware. These people want pizza AND ear-shattering opportunities to laugh!” And, “Take those irritating $ signs off the printed menus. How are they going to know we are aiming toward quality if you put decimal points or dollar signs on them? Jeeeshh!!!”

MJ’s has a massive drink menu, far exceeding the scope of the food menu. If you want to sample a huge variety of alcohol (and why wouldn’t you?), this establishment has just what you would like. Sit at the narrow table of your choice, fork and knife in hand, after putting in earplugs, and drink to your heart’s content.

There is a slew of competition to MJ’s. It will do well, though, all my commentary aside. In combination with the owner’s reputation and location, I know that there will be no shortage of sacrificial lambs who will shout that this place is a cleverly-disguised Nirvana. I will give it another shot at some point in the future. For now, however, if I’m craving delicious pizza or pasta where I know my comfort and service will be matched by a high level of quality and selection, I will go elsewhere. Northwest Arkansas is too well-situated with fine eating places to need to feel obligated to grant second chances automatically.

If you are on the fence about trying MJ’s, go in and order a simple pizza, no appetizers, no desserts, and a drink that you already know. Go when it is not busy and when you are not in a hurry. Don’t bring anyone with you who uses words like “city folk” or “y’all.” (Their brow will be burrowed nonstop trying to understand what is going one…) This will greatly improve your chances of a better experience. Whatever you do, do NOT order the “Big Caesar Salad” – unless you want to have a good laugh as you pull out your wallet.

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Failed Product Design

Warning: It turns out my new design of a Slip-N-Slide at ‘Six and 1/4 Flags’ was NOT a success. I thought it would be a great idea to replace a 3-foot section of the slide with alternating strips of thumbtacks and cheese graters. The screams that I heard during test runs turned out not to be shouts of joy.

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