Friday, September 26, 2008

View from My Office

And this is what I see every day.....I see the Hollywood Hills between the skyscrapers and I can see the tourists (rich ones too) swimming and drinking on top of the Standard, a shwanky hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Direct Buy - Scam or Consumerism at its finest?

Speaking of consumerism, let me tell you about our experience this weekend. Dena has been bugging me to go to this Direct Buy open house. You've seen the ads on TV? They'll save you money buy allowing you to buy direct! Yeah, right. I knew I was in trouble when I found out that it's an invite only, "open house" to a membership club. Sounded sort of time sharey to me.

But, in true supportive spouse fashion and a little "I'll do anything to make my girlfriend happy" thrown in for good measure, I went. I was a skeptic when I watched the ad on TV and turned more sceptical the moment we were greeted at the front door. We were immediately assigned a "greeter or guide" who takes us to a table, chats us up, feeds us donuts and coffee and tries to make us at ease. Mr. Slick #1 we'll call him. Then at the appointed hour we are ushered along with other "families" to the presentation room. Mr. Slick #2 gives a little spiel and we watch some truly horrible presentation. The presentation was so repetitious I thought I would knife myself. It was definitely written to the lowest common denominator but really points towards brain washing. Join and we will save you money on all your large purchases. After all, you're going to buy it anyways, right?

Also during the presentation Mr. Slick #2 engages the audience in direct participation, a very basic tactic in direct pushy sales. Near the end of the presentation the bomb is dropped. $6,000 to join for the first two years and $ 200 per year thereafter. You'll save that right, because after all, you "consume" ~ $ 15,000 in consumer large goods every year, so imagine what buying power you'll have now! Who are they kidding? In this economy? They tried to tell me that you buy a fridge every 8 - 10 years. Are you kidding??? I make that son of a bitch last til it leaks all over the kitchen!

After the presentation we are ushered out into the showroom (a big room with tons of manufacturer's catalogs) and our "guide" meets us. We're back to Mr. Slick #1. Dena wanted to find out about their kitchen cabinets. She wanted to know if they were green. I wanted to know their price on bamboo flooring because I thought it was my chance to find out inside info because G-D knows I'm not joining! I'll give you that six grand over my dead body. So we met their very inexperienced kitchen designer and during that process we are suddenly surrounded by 4 people. Seriously, surrounded. my mind immediately shifted to the flight or fight philosophy. Neither won and instead I gave an excellent barb into Mr. Slick #2. In his effort to "get to know me" he admitted he was Microsoft Certified. I replied, "If you're a propeller head then what the hell are you doing here selling memberships?" I left him speechless and the circle of sales terror was broken. hehe

I did however, find out the price of bamboo "hand shaved" flooring, $ 3.99 per square foot. It varies from $ 2.99 to $3.99 manufacturer's cost. I'll let you know if that's really a bargain when I go to the flooring store. You MUST join right then and there, no thinking about it. You wil never be invited back. That's some high pressure. Oh, by the way, if you join, you can never use the pricing info to bargain with retailers, an 8% "handling fee" is added to all orders except some electronics, all purchases must be picked up at the Direct Buy warehouse and there is like a five week delivery on just basic normally in stock stuff. Run I say, RUN!!! If you are susceptible at all to high pressure sales, do not even enter the building.

Search the web if you don't believe me, use direct buy opinions as a starting search.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Gift Cards - the battlecry of consumerism

This weekend Dena and I finally used a gift card we were given about four years ago. Yes, that's right, 4 years. We received it from the tile/bath store called Waterworks as a thank you for buying $ 1000's of dollars worth of tile from them. It was for $ 50. I find gift cards both a blessing and a curse. They truly embody the American obsession with consumerism. Consumerism is the equation of personal happiness with the purchase of material possessions and consumption.

We used the Waterworks gift card in the true spirit of why gift cards were invented by retailers. Buy stuff you probably don't need. We bought soaps and a sachet for ~ $ 55.00. So, the theory bears true. I have a card for $ 50. What I want to buy is either a few dollars less or more than that. If I buy something > $ 50 then the retailer gets additional cash from me and someone who might not have come into the store at all has just spent money. If I buy < $ 50 then the remaining balance on the card just sits there and my gift giver has effectively made a donation to the retailer. Both not positive for the consumer but all good for the retailer.

At least in California there are now laws protecting consumers a little. A gift card can never expire, a retailer cannot charge a few for you to use it or keep it and now if there is < $10 on the card they MUST give you that back in cash. I love cash. If there is a small amount left over on the card retailers are allowed to start drawing down the money once a card is left with less than five dollars and unused for two years. The reason why Dena and I did not suffer this fate and have a card worth nothing is that they cannot do it on an unused card. So if you have a $ 200 Best Buy gift card. You go into the store and end up using the card for only a DVD. You've just triggered the fee cycle. If you forget about the card and discover it two years later the retailer will have been allowed to deduct fees and who knows how much you may have left. So be careful.

Oh, and by the way, these rules do not apply to Visa, Mastercard and American Express bank issued gift cards.....they can do anything they want regarding fees, etc. Surprised? I would hope you are not.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

It Really Must Be Bad When.....

Everyone says the economy is bad. The pundits can talk of nothing other than the jobless rate, the price of gas, the price of food on the rise, the demise of so many banking institutions, the mortgage crisis and on and on the bad news goes. You hear about these things, talk to people you know about their issues and you know that it is not good. But how bad is it?

The other morning I walked into my local 7-11, I have three of them that surround me and I frequent them all and pretty much know the main staff by name. I went to purchase lottery tickets because, hey, winning the lottery would solve all my problems, right? So in I walk to the 7-11 on the corner of Whitworth and Fairfax bright and early Sunday morning. Kahn, the regular guy who is always there, is snoozing in the corner and there is no one in the store. How odd. No one in a 7-11? I say "hi" to Kahn and wake him up. We chat, I get my lottery tickets and I ask him what's up with the empty store. He said for the last 3 months that business has been really down. Not as many customers and the customers he does have are not buying as much. We had a great talk about the impending election and how that might affect his livelihood and I left enlightened and thoughtful.

This morning I stopped at the 7-11 on Hauser and San Vicente. I wanted to speak with my Burmese friend. I don't come by as much anymore and he asks why. I tell him I'm trying to save money. He says me and everyone else. I tell him about Kahn and his plight and he says that their store is the same way. It must be true because when I pulled into the lot at 7am on a Wednesday morning I had my pick of parking spaces. About 6 months ago if I pulled into the lot on a weekday morning I'd have to wait for a spot. Things must be bad if 7-11 is suffering. Do you remember Reagan's trickle down economics? Well this is Bush's trickle down effect. Nice, eh?

Oh by the way, the Burmese 7-11 proprietor works 10 hour shifts (all co-owners of course, same family), 7 days a week. Ouch. He also wants to marry me for my US immigration rights. It's nice to be needed isn't it?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11th, 2001

I'm driving to work in the early morning fog listening to Michael Josephson's Character Counts on news radio. Then it hits me, it's September 11th. It hits me like a ton of bricks complete with tears welling up in my eyes. Memories flood my mind in quick flashes. My chest tightens. So many memories.......I remember having a drink with Arlene in the Top of the World bar in the rain. I remember the elevator ride up and up and up to the top. I remember seeing the sculpture in the lobby of the World Trade Center and then visiting it later at Battery Park. It's called the Sphere and I recommend clicking the link and reading about it. I remember the emptiness that now graces the skyline of Manhattan. I remember now.....

Anger soon replaces the sadness as I think of how our world has changed so much since that fateful day in 2001. The Republican Bush administration successfully turned the American pyche towards fear. We became a fear based society. Afraid of the next attack, afraid of terrorism, afraid of our own shadows. We changed our way of life in every way including surrendering our privacy and liberty in the name of fear. We are afraid. A public constantly afraid is easy to control and that's the entire point isn't it. Ironic that the World Trade Center will be replaced with the Freedom Tower. Are we truly free?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My First Baby Shower

Today I attended what I think was my first baby shower, ever. I might have been to one decades ago. Oops, did I say decades? But I'm not sure if I did. I don't think so. I'd remember such silliness. I was invited by the gals at the Los Angeles office. To be honest with all of you, I was kind of jazzed just to be invited. It was kind of cool to be "one of the gals". I've never had that "gal" office experience. Ever.

As I rushed across 6th street to the Daily Grille for the party I wondered how I would have 90 minutes of uninterrupted time. I usually only get maybe one lunch a week so would this be the lunch? I only got 4 phone calls so I suppose it was a success. The whole experience was fun but odd. I don't really fit in as my title puts me quite a bit further up the food chain than the "gals" but I know they sort of want to accept me but they sort of don't want to talk to me. Also, I'm the IT person. IT people are a cross between saviors and police. We save you from your problems but in a company we police the network. We record, monitor and police where you surf on the Internet, what programs you download, what kind of computer you get, what files you can look at, and the list goes on and on and on..... It's a weird situation to be in.

Then of course there's the whole gay thing. They are all straight, either looking for guys to make babies with or having babies with their guys. That's a bit of an outsider feeling to be sure. Wow, I'm just freaking myself out just writing this blog. I feel so alone.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Womanly Wiles

The word "wile" is kind of interesting isn't it? It's defined as "A trick or stratagem practiced for ensnaring or deception; a sly, insidious; artifice; a beguilement; an allurement " I know that men are frequently the victim of such behavior from women and that women love using this weapon. After all, each gender has it's weapons.

I'd never had the experience of having this particular weapon used on me that I can remember until this morning. A little early for weapons I might add..... but regardless, this woman at work walks up to me at one of the job sites. Being in IT now everyone wants something. They want you to fix something, help them with their computer at home, a newer faster laptop, get free software, get their music on or off their computer, they always want something.

So this assistant walks up to me in her tight dress (a little odd for a construction office) and high heels, leans over me, bats her eyelashes and starts asking me about a laptop with a bigger screen. Seriously, she batted her eyelashes. When I explained that currently we were out of large screeened laptops and that it would be months until we can deploy anything else to her she said, "well, would you save me one, promise?" There was a smile, some more batting of the eyelashes. I'm not sure if my jaw had dropped as I was quite shocked by this entire display. I kind of felt like I was watching it in the 3rd person.

Each time she's walked by me in the last 2 hours, I get another smile and eyelash bat. I guess she really wants that laptop, eh.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

It's Starting.....

I have a big announcement to make. We've done it my faithful readers. Dena and I have put down a deposit and retained a kitchen designer. Finally. This is probably step 5 out of about 100 in getting the kitchen re-done, maybe 1,000 steps. I'm actually quite excited. We decided on Bradco Kitchens, an outfit not too far from our house. We interviewed many designers and had such a great warm, fuzzy feeling with this one we felt we could finally move forward.

It's amazing how hiring a kitchen designer can open your eyes to the possibilities in your kitchen, make your life easier now and for all your remaining cooking years. I'm scared, yet happy to report that we'll be demolishing 3 walls. Yes, three walls. She'll be out to measure Wednesday night and hopefully in a week or so I'll have a sketch to post up here on the blog, so stay tuned.