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Ghosts of Retail Past

December 26th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Christmas is over. I hope yours was nice. Mine was pretty great. Here’s me wearing the stuff my best friend got me.

In return, I got him this pillowcase.

There are a lot of different things that made this holiday season great, most of all being that it’s my first Christmas with my two nephews, Jack and Syd. Being an uncle rules.

A lesser, but still important, factor into what made this season so fantastic was that it’s the first time in nearly 10 years that I haven’t been working holiday retail. I had worked for Barnes and Noble for seven and a half years and with that was there for eight holiday seasons. When I discuss my time there, I tend to tell people, “I worked there for seven and a half years and enjoyed seven of them.” For a long while, I felt very loyal to the company and did my best. That got chipped away as the years went on, mainly towards the end.

There were a lot of things that set me astray, I suppose. I remember finishing off the 2012 holiday season with a feeling of, “Never again,” without putting much thought into it. Shortly after, a managerial miscommunication over a necessary day off I asked for a month in advance soured me pretty badly. Everything was beginning to wear on me and I started feeling like Randy the Ram during his last day at work in the Wrestler. Another big thing was how we got a new, stricter district manager and that led to a big “shit rolls downhill” environment in the store. Everything became more corporate and less fun, even though we were a store that consistently met our goals.

I can bore you with specifics, but one of the big things was selling the membership. Or more importantly, selling new memberships. We had quotas on that and the increased pressure made it unbearable due to the “lead a horse to water” mentality of it all. Even if you had a good week, it didn’t matter because maybe next week you don’t do so well and you get talked down to for your failure. I had my opinions on it and I had my own methods of motivation, which got results. Those got me in trouble to the point of being told I was on thin ice.

Initially, I became emotional. I was afraid for my job and I felt that I was one misstep from being let go. I told myself and my coworkers, “I need this job. Barnes and Noble is all I have.” Then I calmed myself and realized that that wasn’t true at all. I wasn’t happy anymore. I used to be, but not anymore. Even if I didn’t feel like my employment was in danger, what was I working towards? A management position? I’ve been wanting one for years, but with my patience for the more rotten customers wearing incredibly thin, all I’d be doing would be dealing with the negative aspects of my job for a little more pay. Nah, I needed to just secretly find a new job and then give my two weeks.

The moment I made that decision, I felt so free. It was amazing. I was quick in finding a place that wanted me and was able to say my goodbyes and move on. It was a good thing too because while I certainly had my problems with the place’s new direction, I wasn’t the only one. In the month or two surrounding my leaving, there was an exodus of like a dozen employees for a variety of reasons.

Oh, and they changed it so that people can only apply for jobs there via online and that slowed down the process so much that it was like four months before they finally filled my position. Jesus.

This year, I didn’t have to deal with all the holiday madness. Sure, my current job got pretty busy in the last week, but it was a drop in the bucket compared to B&N making $7,000 an hour in sales. I didn’t have to spend hours cleaning up messes of people who decided to take out ten books and leave them in a pile in the café. I didn’t have to endure the impossible parking and extended hours. I didn’t have my Christmas ruined because I’d need to get to sleep early and wake up at 4am because I was scheduled for a 5am shift on the 26th. I also won’t have to deal with two months of assholes wanting cash back for a gift that somebody else bought them with a gift card.

As a way to celebrate, I thought I’d tell some stories. I have a million tales from that establishment and since they most certainly didn’t want me mentioning them while I was on the payroll, I guess I might as well have some fun. These are just some from the top of my head.

- I once gave a piggyback ride to a customer. It was a weeknight and the place was pretty dead. I was at the information desk and a couple showed up to ask me about a book.

“It looks like we have it.”

“Can you show me where it is?”

“Hell, I’ll give you a piggyback ride if you want.”

“Okay.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“All right, then. Let’s do this!”

Then I walked over, had him hop on my back and walked him over. He proceeded to give me a $5 tip. I went back to the info desk, feeling pretty good about myself. Then I saw that the next customer was like 300 pounds and knew that wasn’t going to be a repeat.

Later on, I was reading my horoscope and it said that I’d make a small fortune in an unorthodox way. Swear to God.

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The Ghost of Christmas Past Comes Back to Bite Me

December 24th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

First off, merry Christmas. Hope you’re having a great holiday. I myself have been blessed with some nice gifts like a Superman bathrobe, a broken Mr. T boxing puppet, a Duff Beer wallet and a La Parka mask.

Look at that style. Is it just me or does this look like it was taken in the 70′s?

Anyway, that’s not why I’m posting.

I’ve been hanging around the internet for many years. David and I have known each other for, what, 12 years at this point? Fact is, I’ve been around and I’ve moved around. Like back in the day, I was a writer on a site called Higher Voltage that’s long gone. It was a middle-ranking but funny site about fighting games, which were everywhere during the late 90′s/early 2000′s. On the forums, I wrote up a poem as a goof of a writing exercise where I retold the story of the Grinch with Akuma from Street Fighter. Under the gag name “Vokter Seuss”, I entitled it “How Akuma Kicked Christmas’ Ass”.

Some people liked the poem and it got reposted onto the forum of Shoryuken.com, the top fighting game community site, which, unlike Higher Voltage, hasn’t fallen into internet obscurity so many years later. I don’t recall when I wrote it, but it’s about ten or eleven years ago. Definitely college time. It got brought up again every few years and it’s even been retold through some really impressive animated gifs, which I sadly cannot find a link to at this moment.

As the years continued, it was pretty much forgotten. I, for one, had forgotten I wrote it. A brief Google search shows that some forums still repost it every couple years, which is really nice. The real shock came when an old internet acquaintance from the Higher Voltage days NeoChaosX found me on Twitter to tell me that the story has been revitalized once more. This time by Maximilian, a big name in the fighting game community who is known as a pretty good mind when it comes to the game genre.

Renamed “How Akuma Stole Christmas”, the thing absolutely made my day.

For a little context, I was really big into obscure Capcom game Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure at this time and there are a handful of references to it in here. From Iggi the dog in the Max role to the head-shaking namedrop of Death 13 (just pretend he says “Freddy Krueger” and it’ll make more sense). The knowledge that only three people will know what I’m talking about there is pretty embarrassing, but that’s not on Maximilian. Everything else is wonderful and I can’t thank him enough. That was a great Christmas gift.

I feel like Honey in that old Tiny Toon Adventures episode where Babs Bunny is showing those old Bosko and Honey cartoons and– see, there I go again. None of you have any idea what I’m talking about.

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How Mike and Joel Saved Christmas: The Top 9 Holiday Riffs

December 13th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

It’s the Christmas season and amongst all the joy and laughter comes the utter strangeness that is the Christmas concept. Whether you’re talking about Jesus or Santa or whoever else, the whole season is a cultural mixing bowl of strange pop culture. That makes it all too fun to laugh at.

Throughout its many decades, Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its many spinoffs have given us much to celebrate. So many bad movies have been pointed at and made to look even more foolish. Like all good TV shows, there would be the occasional Christmas episode. These Christmas-themed riffs are always fondly remembered by the fans and tend to be revisited every December.

But what’s the best? I’ve decided to rewatch all of them and rank them based on my own fair and just rating system pulled directly out of my ass. I’m covering all corners of the Riffverse for this: Mystery Science Theater 3000, Mike Nelson’s offshoot Rifftrax and Joel Hodgson’s Cinematic Titanic. I wish I could have included the Film Crew – the other offshoot created by the Rifftrax guys – but with only four episodes, nothing really fit with the season.

I’m also disqualifying any of the Rifftrax shorts releases as individual entries. Everything on the list has to be at a minimum of 20 minutes. As for the ratings, each entry will be graded on four things:

- WTF Factor: Sometimes the best fodder come from movies that are just so strange that you have just as much fun explaining them to others as you do watching them.

- Watchability: I enjoy a good bad movie, but sometimes a bad bad movie can be a bear to sit through no matter how funny the jokes are.

- Riff Quality and Extras: The movie may be a mess, but how funny are our guys giving it the business? Not to mention the stuff that isn’t part of the movie itself, like skits and such.

- Christmasness: You’re watching this because of Christmas, right? Well, how much does it really have to do with Christmas?

I wanted to go with a top 10 list here by including Space Mutiny to round it all out, but I decided against it. It didn’t feel right that it would rank so highly when the only reason it’s on the list is because one of the supporting characters looks a bit like Santa Claus. So let’s get going with the Top 9 Best Christmas Riffs!

9) NESTOR THE LONG-EARED CHRISTMAS DONKEY (1977)

Rifftrax (2006)
Mike Nelson

Rankin/Bass, the people behind such holiday classics as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and A Year Without Santa Claus, go in a more biblical direction by telling the story of Nestor, a donkey born with exceptionally long-ears. These ears end up getting him in trouble and make him the laughing stock of the animal kingdom. After the death of his mother, he’s greeted by a cherub who gives him an important mission to find Joseph and Mary, as he will be instrumental in the survival of their baby.

- WTF Factor: There’s an awkwardness to the special based on the desperation to reinvent the wheel on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The basic concept is incredibly similar, only it has none of the charm and fun that makes Rudolph such a holiday staple. There’s not much else to mention other than the truly bizarre ending. In the beginning, Nestor and his mother are taken care of by a really abusive donkey breeder named Olaf, who angrily throws them out into the cold, where Nestor’s mother dies. After Nestor’s journey to Bethlehem, the story ends with him returning home and all the animals – AND OLAF – are all happy to greet him, like they somehow heard news of Jesus being born over Twitter or something. 4


“All those of you who rubbed raw my soul with your bitter mocking laughter: THANK YOU! You truly are my friends!”

- Watchability: Despite being 25 minutes long, Nestor is rough to get through. Like I said, it’s Rudolph with none of the charm. Remember the beginning of Rudolph when the other reindeer make fun of him for his nose? Imagine that for about twenty minutes straight. Mix that with Nestor’s mother’s death and the whole thing is teeming with depression. Even worse is the soundtrack, made up of the same forgetful song played again and again with different lyrics. It isn’t even weird enough to be enjoyable. But hey, at least it’s short. 2

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An Elf’s Story: Elf on the Shelf is Watching Me Watching Him

December 1st, 2011 Posted by Gavok

Working in the retail book business for so many years, I’ve seen my share of weird stuff. I’ve seen cookbooks written by Coolio. I’ve seen Twilight‘s popularity reach such an apex that we have a “Teen Paranormal Romance” section. Not only are there Nascar romance novels that come out two per month, but every year we get at least one Nascar Christmas romance novel. Still, few aspects are as head-scratching as the book/kit known as Elf on the Shelf.

Elf on the Shelf is deemed a new holiday tradition and makes enough money that they may not be kidding. When it first hit the scene, we underestimated it and sold out immediately. Over the past few years, we’ve sold hundreds of units. But what is Elf on the Shelf, you ask? Created by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell, the kit comes with a smiling and leering toy elf. There’s a book that explains the backstory and has a space for you to write the elf’s chosen name. Rather than play up the idea that Santa is omnipotent and knows if you’ve been naughty or nice through his… crystal ball… or Professor Xavier telepathy or whatever it is, it’s shown that he gets the intel from his elves. This disturbing little creature vacantly stares at your children all day in the weeks leading up to Christmas and when nobody’s looking, he tells Santa what the score is. The kids are also meant to tell the elf what it is they want. The parent is supposed to move the elf around every day to give the illusion that he’s in some way sentient while the children are warned NOT to touch him else it might remove his magic powers. In other words, don’t touch it or you will realize this is a rickety sham.

The whole concept bewilders me because of the hoops one has to jump through to make it work. The Santa myth has just enough inventive magic and reasonable doubt that a kid can go for years without questioning it. I can’t really understand how most kids don’t call BS on this one if they’re old enough to even talk. The holes in logic are legion. If it’s only checking up on kids between the end of November to the end of December, does that mean you’re allowed to be a total bastard in July? If mom and dad just brought home Elf on the Shelf for the first time, how did this whole Santa thing work before this? What’s the point of having kids tell an inanimate object about what they want if the parents won’t hear it? Santa is at least represented as a talking human being at malls, which holds more water to the immersion than a doll that doesn’t even have joints.

And more than anything else, it’s creepy. Both in concept and appearance. I’ve even had a parent return the item a couple weeks ago because her children found it creepy. But you know what? I’m okay with that. I hold no ill will towards the product for the same reason I hold no ill will towards Twilight or Jeph Loeb comics or any other book I’m supposed to look down on. It’s the retail business. These little guys pay the bills for me and my extended family. Just existing doesn’t raise my ire.

It’s the promotional video that does it. Elf on the Shelf is such a big deal that during the holidays, we have a DVD player set up to hype it. The video lasts three and a half minutes, is annoying and changes tone in the audio enough times that it’s impossible to mentally redirect it into background noise. Just hearing that thing on loop again and again is enough to drive anyone insane after a couple hours. Make it a month during the most stressful time to work and you’re in even worse shape.

This year, the boxes feature an ad for Elf on the Shelf Presents An Elf’s Story, a brand new animated movie featured on CBS on the night of Black Friday while at the same time released on DVD and blu-ray. After all the mental trauma this thing’s caused, I knew somebody at the store had to sit down and sit through this. That man had to be me. And so, a couple days after it aired, I mentally prepared myself the way one does to clean the cat’s litter box when they know they’ve waited a couple days longer than they should have and I pressed play.

The thing to know is that I didn’t go into this set on hating it. I never do for these kind of reviews. I may set my standards low, but I’m open to being wrong. Plus I love Christmas specials in general. Unfortunately… this is not a very good Christmas special.

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New Ultimate Edit Week 4: Day Seven

December 25th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

Merry Christmas! We end our penultimate week on a day about Jesus being born, Barney getting his Pebbles, Pre-Crisis Dick Grayson laying an egg and me getting both a Spider-Man chalice and tickets to Spider-Man Musical Deathtrap 2011. God bless us, everyone!

Last we checked, Loki got run over by a reind–er, Thor. Now he appears to be at the Ultimates’ mercy… or is he?! Forgive the lack of punchlines as it’s almost entirely Loki talking here and we really needed to move the plot forward, verbally.

And another issue bites the dust. Thanks to ManiacClown for putting up with my absolutely horrible holiday retail schedule. We’ll be back soon for the conclusion of the Ultimate Holiday Wars. In the meantime, enjoy Iron Maiden doing a cover of a Gary Glitter Christmas song.

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Sharing My Holiday Pain

December 19th, 2009 Posted by Gavok

You may have noticed that 4L has been rather light on content lately. hermanos has been writing for like 50 other sites and Esther, from what I understand, has been taken down by seasonal illness. Me? I just haven’t had the energy due to my job. I’m working Barnes and Noble and we all know how fun retail can be in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

I’ve been through it many a time before and you know I’ll be back to it with the strength of a gorilla. But in the meantime, I want to show you a defining sting of the 2009 holiday season.

There’s a product called Elf on the Shelf. It’s a book that comes with a little sitting elf doll. Last year, the B&N chain completely underestimated how popular it was and the warehouses were sold out immediately. I think we sold a dozen before being tapped dry. This year, they decided to go balls out. They sent us about 180 copies of it and starting in mid-November, we put up three different displays for it throughout the store. The main display is on a table a few feet behind the big Customer Services desk in the center of the store. This area is somewhere most employees have to spend hours around during each shift.

On this table is a big pile of Elf on the Shelf boxes surrounding a DVD-playing monitor that’s been tied down by like 5 locks so nobody runs off with it. In the player is a special DVD lasting a mere 3 and a half minutes. Then it loops. This is what we’ve had to put up with NONSTOP FOR A MONTH!

Jesus Christ. It’s creepy and annoying, but I don’t know which trumps the other. Now imagine having to listen to that day in and day out for a month. It starts with that annoying theme song blaring. Then the generic holiday music is okay to take in. The talking is harsh, but you can filter it into background noise after a while. That is, until the whole thing restarts and the loud jingling bells in the intro song remind you of this hellish DVD!

Just yesterday, we were finally able to shut off the DVD player and put it away for the holidays. Why? Because we finally sold out of this shit! Yes, people actually get this… and they get it a week before Christmas! The whole point of this thing is that you use it for the weeks leading up to Christmas, so what’s the deal here?

One last thing about this abomination: I was looking it up in the store computer one day and I noticed that under the product’s information, it was labeled “Light-Skinned Elf”. Intrigued, I found that yes, we did also carry the “Dark-Skinned Elf”, though in far less quantity. I figured it made enough sense, since it’s little different from there being black Barbies. Then I came across one of them and found that by “Dark-Skinned Elf”, it was just an elf who had spent 3 hours in the sun and came out with a very slight tan. He also has orange pupils, making him even more disturbing than usual.

And that’s the story of how I saved Christmas.

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A Gift to Begin the Holidays

December 2nd, 2009 Posted by Gavok

Let it be known that the best part of Beavis and Butt-head was the videos. The fact that the first Christmas special was nothing but them watching TV makes this my all-time favorite episode. Thank God for YouTube.

16 years later and that discussion about Christmas movies still makes me laugh like an idiot. That and the first five seconds of the third video.

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We Care a Lot Part 5: Wrath of the Butterface

December 3rd, 2008 Posted by Gavok

Last time on the Venom Marathon, we discovered that the symbiote is an entity that can extrude itself as a molecular filament and travel along communication cables. In other words, Carnage Unleashed is the greatest awful comic of all time. Yet somehow, Marvel brass decided that Larry Hama should continue writing the series.

Continue he did, with Sinner Takes All. Had they gone with a real numbering system, this would be Venom #31-35, meaning that we’re halfway into his series. I have fonder memories of this one merely because as a kid, I had the entire five issues. Boy were they big issues. The first four came with a Jury back-up story that I’ve never cared about enough to actually read. The fifth issue came with a quick Venom story that I’ll get to after this Sin-Eater business.

The artist here is Greg Luzniak (Ted Halsted takes over for the last issue), who had a really nice art style for the most part. The catch was that his Venom, as you can see, is a little bit overboard.

Yikes. From what I understand, Hama is less into the superhuman and more into badasses armed to the teeth, so this storyline comes more natural to him.

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