Category Archives: Review / Critique

Shamway

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While I worked at Cargill, one of my white coworkers approached me with his pitch. He was enthusiastic in his approach. What he didn’t know is that I saw him coming from a mile away and was already calculating how best to both amuse myself and learn something from him in the process. Being poor granted me the ability to avoid spending all my money foolishly; most of mine went for rent, pico de gallo, and an acre of french fries.

I’ve been thinking about some of my shenanigans due to the Showtime show, “On Becoming a God in Central Florida,” starring Kirsten Dunst. It takes a darkly comedic view of MLMs.

I invited my coworker Mitch (not his real name) to come to my residence. At the time I lived with a co-worker from Cargill. He owned a trailer in a park in Johnson. This is the trailer that would later give me the opportunity to say, “A plane crashed on my house.”

Mitch left his car running in the driveway, a common tactic used by converts to the scheme. As I listened, my roommate Ray shook his head in wonderment. He lived for years in California. As a result, his exposure to MLMs was vast. Later, he shared some of the stories of friends who had ruined themselves with such endeavors. I let Mitch do his pitch without being too problematic. It almost killed me. At the end of the first phase of his pitch, he asked me if I was interested. “Yes, but I’m more interested in how this ends for you, in three months or a year because it is going to end. Badly.” Because he’d spent a great deal of time with someone in his upline, he had a pat answer to redirect my point. I then said, “One thing I noticed is that you didn’t identify your company by name at any point. That’s one of the key warning signs for a pitch.” Mitch became nervous. I stood up and shook his hand and told him I wished him the best of luck. “Think of this as a training exercise. I’ll make a list of things that caught my attention.”

Ray stood up and told him, “Your pitch is pretty good, Mitch. I’ve heard a lot of them. But I recommend you quit now and start your own business or do your own thing before you spend a lot of money to make $10.”

Later, I gave Mitch a list of critiques. I made my comedic recommendations alongside my serious ones. He took the list. He stuck with the program for several more months, although after a couple of months, he began to drastically talk about it less. He quit Cargill without notice. Months later, someone told me he lost several thousand dollars buying his merchandise before quitting the MLM.

Over the next few years, I went to several pitches to see how much creativity might be involved. As you would guess, not very much.

Later, as people approached me with new opportunities to own my own company, be my own boss, I varied my responses from amused to indignant to gauge how it affected them. They couldn’t understand that I’d already peeked behind the MLM curtain. I asked them all, “Name one person you know who made the kind of money you claim. I want to talk to them.” No one ever gave me such a name, at least not a reasonable one. “I’ll follow up with you in a year. I hope you strike it rich. I’m rooting for you. And you should feel free to tell me ‘I told you so’ when you do!” No one ever did.

The same was true with timeshares and other similar high-pressure sales. One of the best I ever witnessed was in Mexico during vacation. The presenter was incredibly adept at countering every conceivable question or insight. Discovering that I spoke Spanish, he tried the ‘divide and conquer’ method. I switched to ‘batsh!t crazy’ mode and completely destroyed any means he tried to get back to normal. I ran down the clock and many of the other participants/victims joined me in ruining any chance we’d be stupid enough to buy a timeshare. Despite the free souvenir blankets, ponchos, bottles of tequila, and free meals, I finally got him to admit that each session paid for itself with only ONE person or family signing up. His usual success rate was 1 in 5, much higher than the average. This interaction was one of many that reminded me that when a person argues after the first “No,” you’re being manipulated and it is best to flee by any means necessary.

I learned long ago that you can’t convince a person in the cult of an MLM to listen to reason; they must finish the fatigue and finish line of their own accord, often after weakening countless friendships and connections.

One MLM currently going the rounds had to disclose that less than 2% make more than minimum wage doing it, and very rarely can someone live on the income generated. Most quit after losing more than they ever earned. Having a family member or close friend involved in any MLM is exactly like having a used car salesman living with you.

All of us have experienced the agony of a social media friend getting started in an MLM. The cringe factor is immense. Many of us have learned that it is impossible to tell them they are making a mistake.

MLMs are like religion; those involved want to do all the talking and seldom wish to hear your input.

All of us universally cringe when someone gets snagged by the tendrils of the promise of easy money.

As with some religious views, don’t make the mistake of trying to get people to see reason. They have to discover it for themselves.

Whether it is skincare products, essential oils, nutrition drinks, or clothing, it is never worth it. I am still waiting to get to know one person who has made a living from it. I certainly know a lot of people who have lost their social media friends by abusing their connections with these ‘business opportunities.’

For just an hour a day and $43,543, I’ll teach you how to do the same.

Beanfield’s & Trombone Pants Syndrome

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In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy,” Douglas Adams described the alien Vogon spacecraft this way: “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”

While the description is metaphorical nonsense, it makes perfect sense. This is the sort of whimsical logic that appeals to me. While most observers would think it isn’t reflective of who I am, they are mistaken.

I recently tried another food which is nothing like the name would suggest. Somehow though, it eclipses the source inspiration for texture and flavor. In addition to a flavor that is plant-based, you don’t have to idly wonder how close to the pig’s anus the skin you’re eating might have been prior to being a pig carcass. When it’s fresh, it definitely fulfills one’s texture-based cravings.

On my last trip to my favorite cabin, I was shopping using the ‘anything goes’ method, one which is characterized by pure whimsy. On one of the aisles, I saw Beanfield’s Vegan Cracklins. The grocery stores in Eureka Springs and Holiday Island offer selections that are often unique, right alongside the expected staples of a smaller town grocery.

I’ve tried Beanfield’s bean chips. I loved the Pico de Gallo flavor. They aren’t available in my customary stores. I’ve been banned from Whole Foods ever since the incident on April 24th of 2019. Okay, that isn’t true either. But I like to think I made you wonder, just for a second, what I did to get banned from Whole Foods.

It sounds like a prank, doesn’t it? While I like putting fried pigskin in my mouth as much as the next guy, something about the packaging appealed to me. I picked the “Spicy Nacho” flavor under the mistaken notion that it would be the one my wife would enjoy the most. I usually choose based on whatever is the most outlandish.

Available in Chile Limon, Spicy Nacho, Ranch, Korean BBQ, and Frozen Bat’s Testicles flavors, there’s a flavor most will like. That last one? It isn’t real. They do, however, also have one labeled as “Aged White.” I can only ASSUME it is aged white cheese flavor, instead of some older gentleman named Archibald, Harold, or Bernard. Popular fads aside, most people don’t want products that are made from, or smell like, actual people. The people that do want to buy such products are not ones you should invite over for a game of poker unless you’re prone to self-loathing. Take note, Bachelor fans.

I didn’t buy them because they are vegan, gluten-free, rich in protein, or high in fiber. I bought them because it sounded weird to me.

My wife decidedly disliked the Spicy Nacho flavor, allegedly because it was ‘hot.’ Being of Irish, Scottish, and English descent, even white bread is a bit on the spicy side for her.

The texture is ridiculously crisp and the flavor pervades each cracklin.

For conservatives out there, eating this will not turn you into a liberal. You’ll experience a mild urge to tax and spend, so keep that in mind as you try them.

As with all bean products, over-consumption allegedly will give you Trombone Pants Syndrome. It’s not fatal, no matter how much your family groans and writhes as you all cluster together in the living room watching Netflix.

P.S. Eating these is what made me so buff.

 

Harp’s Violin

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One of the surprise Xmas gifts I bought Dawn was a tiny violin for her to play when her mom and sister whine.

My wife and I went to the Gutensohn Harps yesterday. Our main purpose was groceries. We ate lunch from the delicious deli bar upfront. The food was amazing. As always, we took a minute to cry and complain about the disparity of quality, selection, and presentation between Gutensohn and the store over by our house. I could hear tiny violins playing in the background as I whined. Harps, if you’re reading this, I’m asking you to replace the entire store in east Springdale. After I ate, I found the manager and heaped praise on her for the incredible store.

I have only so many tears to cry. I may need to take Dawn’s tiny violin to the grocery store with me from now on.

Where The Crawdads Sing

“Writing a book demands so much specificity, in disagreement with the obvious truth that our most profound moments and memories call to us from inside the gauzy shrines of cheap childhood blankets, our tiny, unlearned hands clutching portals to the world disguised as books. We remember the creeping heat of a wood stove in the middle of a room, the silence before grandmother could shout at us for slamming the screendoor, or the interval between day and night when the fields slowly darkened as lightning bugs began to dance, granting us momentary amnesia from the remembered itch of an army of mosquitoes. And yet, we ran outside to greet them, no matter how hot the air or tired our bones. Another moment awaited, even if the moment drummed its fateful fingers to get to us. If you find a book that effortlessly draws you into another state of feeling, you should add it to your list of gratitude. If it does so while not shying away from the lesser of our human failings, it is okay to weep for the time when the book will be finished and its last page revealed.” – X

I see no need to mention the plot of the confines of the book I’ve mentioned.

These words speak, as did the words of the book.

 

Robin Hood of the Retailers, Version Aldi

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I’m not going to share the ‘why’ of my previous oath to avoid Aldi grocery stores. Suffice it to say that they earned my dislike. Unfortunately, I carried the prejudice forward for years. Once bitten, twice shy, at least for this guy. It’s for the same reason I don’t buy meat products at a Dollar General. Russian Roulette is a game I like to watch in action movies – not participate in when my gastronomical choices are at play.

Aldi has many fans. People like blood sausage, too, as well as watching baseball on television, so popularity doesn’t equate to sensible. The store chain does have a few things going for it. It’s like the “Frugal Hoosiers” made famous in the tv show “The Middle.” The chain does have the “Twice As Nice Guarantee.” I’ll take the expectation of a safe, quality product or my money back. You don’t have to sing and dance for me – just meet expectations. Anything else strikes me as a means to acknowledge that you’re cutting corners on a square house.

“There’s a sense of discovery at Aldi that you don’t find in a traditional grocery store,” say many fans.

Yeah, like discovering the off-brand version of the mustard I had to buy tastes like a chicken fart.

I don’t mind that an Aldi store doesn’t have staff answer the phone. I don’t need to talk to a head of lettuce before I shop. It’s stupid, though. Just my opinion. Any corporation which reduces a customer’s ability to interact isn’t customer-focused, no matter how prettily they paint such an arrangement.

Location quality varies, as is the case for many retailers. Even I often forget that it’s unwise to compare one location of a business with another. There’s too much volatility between managers, cleanliness, and adherence to quality standards. Sometimes, a great manager can rescue an otherwise failed store. The Kroger Superstore in Hot Springs, for example, is spectacular, while the Kroger in my original hometown is… not. One of the Springdale Neighborhood markets is operated as if it’s a psychological experiment geared to determine how much people hate themselves. Harps Foods is so inconsistent in quality that I’m still incredulous that the individual stores are operated by the same system. I dare anyone who visits the Gutensohn and Lowell locations to challenge me to a pie-eating contest to decide the truth of my opinion.

On a whim, I stopped at a local Aldi earlier in the year. I went home a different way, and Aldi was locationally convenient. It didn’t hurt that I had recently suffered blunt-force head trauma. I don’t know what came over me, but the urge to eat a bowl of fish aquarium pebbles and stop at Aldi penetrated my reptilian brainstem.

The smaller footprint of the stores and parking lots of an Aldi store make a trip less invasive than a similar trip to the airfields found at Walmart. The smaller footprint of the stores means you might not find everything you need, either. Like your sanity.

I didn’t have a quarter, so I did the hands-full shuffle. I found some interesting items. One of the items I bought was inedible. (No, I didn’t attempt to return it.) On the next visit, I had a quarter. I stuck it in the slot for the cart, and it literally stuck. None of the carts would come out. I went inside and waited a couple of minutes for an employee to make eye contact. I told them the cart corral was needing attention, and I couldn’t get a cart. Eye roll. “There’s no one to deal with it.” Back to checking. Aldi’s employees often must do multiple jobs simultaneously. It’s not their fault: it’s corporate’s fault. Like Walmart, they ‘save’ money by eliminating jobs. Many of those jobs lost would have allowed for attentive customer service and real-time listening when things go awry. I didn’t get irritated at the cashier.

I can only hope that this attitude of cost-cutting doesn’t one day find me in the O.R. needing a suture to sew up my own abdomen.

For my next trip to Aldi, I withdrew $20 from an ATM and then stopped by the car wash and made change for quarters. I drove back to Aldi and parked on the outer perimeter of the parking lot.

I then went to the cart corral nine times. Each time, I inserted a quarter and ‘rented’ a cart. I took each cart to the edge of the parking lot and used the nine carts to make a large arrow facing the store. I’m no Banksy, but I did feel a twinge of stupid pride when I finished my artwork with the shopping carts.

I then went back to the cart corral and took out ten more carts, one at a time, by paying a quarter. I left them loose to the left side of the return corral. Because I always carry white index cards, I left a card on the first few indicating, “Free Cart. Please leave loose.” People observed me doing all this but didn’t comment.

Was it petty? Yes. Worth it? Yes. I was also paying it forward, though, even as I entertained myself.

One of the women shopping exited the store and told me she had watched me assemble the arrow on the other end of the parking lot. “It’s stupid, isn’t it? Just hire a person and keep the store tidy.” Due to her appearance, I was sure she was going to scold me. Her face was pulled back so tight I could hear her ears yelling in pain. She was nice, in any case.

People saw the loose carts with the cards on them, and each smiled and grabbed their free cart.

I felt like Robin Hood of the Retailers.

Imagine. Free carts, with each of us leaving them for the next person. Like a typical store not corraling us into doing their jobs for them.

If I can enter a store and not worry about expired food or being unable to shop easily, I’ll pay for the entirely reasonable expectation of a normal shopping experience.

When people ask me, “What do you like best about Aldi,” the only thing I can tell them is, “I don’t have to go there.” The second-best thing is, of course, the feeling of walking out of one of them.

If I have to choose between Aldi and Walmart, I’ll choose a lobotomy.

If I make the mistake of going to Aldi again, I plan to take 500 quarters with me. I’ll let you imagine what I might do with such a quantity of quarters.
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P.S. If you’re a fan of Aldi, I’m not worried about you reading all of this. It’s a lot of words.
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Poldark Ends. Or Does It?

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Guest Post:

 

The series finale of Poldark ends, as Ross turns away from Demelza and boards the ship to France, to spy for the British… “I will return,” he says, his devilish grin belying nothing.

It’s likely he will return, albeit years older, in the inevitable sequel which will pass to the next generation of Poldarks, assuming both he and his friend Dr. Enys survive their foray into French espionage.

In the finale, George sees the ghost of Elizabeth once last time. Her back was turned as she entered Trenwith, even as George departed his adopted home, perhaps forever. For me, this was the nod to the sentiment of the series. It’s inescapable that some of the show is indeed soap opera-ish. Almost 90% of all the plot twists could have been avoided if people simply communicated directly. On the other hand, this sort of logical human discourse would make good drama impossible.

The actor who played Poldark in the original version of the series in the 70s made several appearances in this series. Poldark’s horse Seamus has its own Twitter account. (Yes, really.) If you want to visit Trenwith, it’s Chavenage House, in Beverston, Gloucestershire. If you were confused by the layout of the surrounding mines, villages, and towns, don’t be: in reality, they are not proximate. (And Poldark didn’t travel everywhere via the coastline and cliffs, as the series would have you imagine.)

Like Elizabeth’s ghostly return, the rebirth of another Poldark storyline is inevitable. Everything rests on the shoulders of the writers who can imagine the full world that Poldark brought to us.

The series finale is a call to remember that the principal characters will carry on, even if in our imaginations.

All of our stories must end in a predetermined conclusion. Drama, laughter, and finality.

May this serve as a tentative ‘goodbye’ to the series. I will miss the show, but certainly not the hat.

I am certain that another line of Poldarks will live to remind us what we found so sublime and delightful in this series. I’m predicting that they’ll find another unnaturally good-looking actor to serve as the focus of the revival. Don’t bother calling me, BBC One. I’m busy.
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Gringo Needs a Taco

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One of the worst restaurant experiences I’ve ever had happened this week. It wasn’t because my stepson was with us, either, because he coined one of my new favorite phrases/restaurant names: “Gringo Needs a Taco,” in comedic response to our increasingly despondent faces as we realized that we were in the middle of a culinary catastrophe.

We have some amazing restaurants in Northwest Arkansas, especially Tex-Mex ones.

Our closest go-to Tex-Mex place, Acapulco, is still closed due to a kitchen fire in January. They claim they’ll re-open in July, although I don’t believe it. Most of the great staff they had have found positions at other restaurants. One of our favorite people surprised us at Las Palmas in Springdale. The other similar eatery on this side of town has never managed much success. (Which basically applies to any restaurant on the east side of Springdale.) I’m convinced that Americans mistakenly believe that the other Tex-Mex place is taqueria-style. It doesn’t help that it’s in a shopping center that seems like the shooting stage for season one of the Walking Dead. By the way, Playa Azul has a buffet some days. It’s great, especially since it’s impossible to find a Tex-Mex buffet anywhere.

The shining grace was an effort by one of our favorite waitresses – one not assigned to our table or area of the restaurant. We tried to reward her with a tip before we left. She noticed that my 4-lb. order of pico de gallo had been left negligently on the serving shelf. Evidently, I’m the only one who orders massive quantities of this delicious menu item. She came back later to hesitantly ask, “Has someone taken your order?” I think her first clue was that we had read the entire first book of the Harry Potter series since we entered. Our assigned waitress seemed like someone had swapped her favorite beverage with a chilled cup of straight white vinegar.

She might have been Amish, as her shunning ability was expert level.

It seems like we were unwitting participants in a customer dissatisfaction experiment. We felt terrible about the experience. The manager was simply speechless at how badly things had gone and struggled to explain it. He was relieved when I told him, “No harm, no foul,” even as I complimented the waitress who wasn’t assigned to our table. We left and were rewarded with a torrential downpour. Our spirits were so hammered that we all drove to Burger King. As you probably know, its new motto is, “Where Dreams Go To Die.”

Saturday, Dawn and I went to another Tex-Mex restaurant. We walked out after 15 minutes. On the way over, we discussed the consequences of not following our instincts. The person seating walk-ins could not have been more reluctant, with the exception of the admiration and attention she was giving her personal cellphone. The matriarch of the family by the door was throwing eye darts as she uneasily shifted back and forth, waiting, while attempting to corral two young boys. We had the misfortune of being seated in the far back corner. The matriarch and her family received great attention. I could tell that woman simply wouldn’t tolerate shenanigans or inattention. It’s difficult for me to be pushy, though. The manager was so engrossed in something unrelated to work that I couldn’t even let him know that we were leaving.

I’ve been known to get up, go outside, and then go back inside sometimes as if I hadn’t just walked out. Usually, this either makes people confused or laugh. We left. I’m glad we did because our final choice was a delight.

We ended up at another restaurant and were delighted. The food and service were impeccable. We joked with all the staff. I drew pictures on my index cards as we chatted with everyone, even as watched a table of gringos make their faces numb with way too much alcohol. (The one bad moment was when one of the gringos was a little violent with a precious curly-headed little girl. He doesn’t know how close he came to being force-fed a plate.) It was strange to have such a great eating experience after two terrible ones.

As I always do, I ensured that karma was paid forward by tipping the waitress 100%. She was delighted. So was I. Belly full, and smiles for all.

One consequence of a bad dining experience is that I always find a way to pay it forward to the next great person we encounter.

P.S. I didn’t even order pico de gallo at this restaurant, as I didn’t want to tempt fate.

Gringo needed a taco.

Cloakfriends & Loonlinks

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Cloakfriend: a social media friend who unknowingly helps you keep your sanity by posting ridiculous links to ‘loonlinks,’ thus allowing you to hide/block those sites permanently.
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A loonlink is a link which allows people to share something they didn’t create, likely to be either untrue or at best questionable, without thoughtful consideration, usually at the expense of critical thinking. Most such sites and links were created specifically to antagonize rational discourse. They appeal to the basest of ideas and most social media users despise them.

Sometimes, social media does us all favors. I have at least one friend, for instance, who has helped me to permanently hide several hundred fringe and/or ridiculous sites and pages in the last couple of years, just by using his or her news feed to identify them as they were posted. He’s a cloakfriend.

When I see a loonlink, I use my instincts and without much thought, right-click the options and hide/ban the site permanently. There are too many legitimate websites and new sites to use without stressing about possibly removing a useful one. The truth is that once you begin to do as I’ve done, you’ll find that the same sort of site tends to be shared, regardless of the particular name.

I hate hack pages, regardless of agenda. Even as a liberal, I don’t want to see sensationalism or obvious stupidity, unless it’s satire, informative, or humorous. Or my own stupidity, which I’m obviously blind to. On the other hand, I’m not one to linkshare, as this practice is one of the single biggest reasons Facebook has a problem. If it’s easy to share, it’s prone to abuse by those impersonating idiots.

Anyway, thanks for pointing out all the pages that stink. I couldn’t have done it without you and all my other cloakfriends on social media.

Coffee Kiosk Crying at Walmart

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At a local supercenter, they’ve had an on-demand Rubi coffee kiosk installed near the deli for most of the newer store’s existence. I’ve decided that its presence is, in fact, a complex social experiment to test us, much like the infamous “fat-free but great taste” all of us morons routinely fall for when we buy new foods, only to curse our ongoing stupidity.

Despite the coffee kiosk being installed for almost all the store’s history, I’ve never successfully managed to elicit a cup of coffee from it. My theory is that no one has – ever.

Today, in an incident which substantiates that I do have a sense of optimism left in my old bones, I approached the machine with suspicious eyes. This kiosk is an old enemy of mine, one whose promise of delicious coffee remains unfulfilled. I fed a dollar bill into its sophisticated electronic payment receptacle. From there, I continued to select options. I noted that a strange feeling of “This time it’s going to work” grew in the pit of my stomach. I watched in wonder as the successive notifications built to a stunning notification: “Your delicious cup of coffee is brewing.” I could literally smell it doing something with some unseen exotic coffee beans hidden in the guts of the machine. Yes, my mouth watered, and I’m ashamed to admit my optimism.

Then, without fanfare, the machine said, “Enjoy!” and then “Thank you!” The coffee cup, carefully positioned under the brew spout, sat empty. I swear I heard a scream of maniacal laughter from inside the machine as I made a face comparable to a four-year-old as he tried broccoli for the first time. I quickly looked around to see if someone nearby might be recording me for his or her own amusement. “Local Moron Falls For Coffee Kiosk. Again” would be the headline on the HuffPost story.

As most of you know, I routinely carry a stack of note cards in my back pocket. I took out my marker and wrote “Out of Order” on several cards and stuck those cards in every surface with a place to squeeze a card inside it. I wanted to write something a bit more curse-worthy, though.

I walked away to resume piling unneeded items into my wife’s shopping cart. Because I had been defeated yet again by the Rubi coffee kiosk and couldn’t shake the feeling of stupidity, I returned to the scene of my bitterness and corralled an employee from the deli area.

“Oh, my manager won’t leave the Out of Order signs on the machines because they are hand-written,” she told me when I asked her why the machine wasn’t marked. “Yeah, it’s been out of order again since at least yesterday. A bunch of people has complained. I bet hundreds of people have had their money taken by this machine since they installed it.” She laughed. She told me I could go to Customer Service if I wanted to be ignored by a different set of Walmart employees.

“We’re not happy until you’re not happy,” I told her. “Is that still their motto?”

I showed her the cards I had placed all over the machine. She was impressed that I carried cards in my pocket.

“So the manager would rather customers get defrauded than see a hand-written note on the machine?” I asked, just to be certain I had a clear grasp of the managerial stupidity obviously at work.

“Yes, it’s like Dilbert minus the entertaining punchline around here all day.”

I laughed. “Tell the manager that if he or she takes my cards off this machine, I am going to get my lost dollar back in the most creative way possible.” As I said this, I placed another card on the machine, one on which I had written, “Shop at Target.”

“Nice!” the clerk said and laughed again.

Currently, the Rubi coffee machine is at least 4-0 where I’m concerned.

Fairly or not, I’ve decided that the Rubi coffee company’s brand of coffee undoubtedly must take like boiled rat doodoo. It’s the only logical justification for NEVER having dispensed me a cup of coffee on any of my attempts.

I’d like to thank the unnamed manager, the one who thinks it’s better to knowingly leave a broken machine unmarked than to simply put a sign on it. It sounds like Walmart logic, of that I’m certain.

I’ll keep trying, though. The next time the machine wins, though, I’m going to have 500 notecards in my pocket, and each of which will be autographed and personalized in a such a way that everyone will be scandalized.