Sunday, February 13, 2011

So Long, Seventies

This evening, I watched the final episodes of That 70s Show, after beginning the series almost two months ago. (I only watch episodes of old series while I'm exercising, generally watching one episode in the morning and another in the afternoon, so it takes about a week per season for half-hour sitcoms.)

From the very beginning, I found the shows little elements of 1970s life to be appealing. I continually found little set elements that reflected our own life at the time, from the macrame plant hangers and spider plants to the addition of cable tv to the first VCR. The addition of so many spot-on decade-appropriate references made the series particularly engaging for me.

The kids themselves--well, they could have been students of mine. I started teaching high school in 1975, so I taught a senior class that graduated the same year as the Point Place kids. I have fond memories of my students of those years--Steve Callaway and Debbie Marsh and Bill Schroeder and Scott Prince and Leanna Leithauser and Edith Anderson and Jodi Crim and so many others who shared one character trait or another with Hyde, Eric, Donna, Fez, Jackie, and Kelso.  So I found myself both empathizing with the characters as their experiences reflected my own, and viewing their experiences through the eyes of one who saw real-world high school students come of age at the same time.

The show's humor works so well for me because it blends timely cultural references, ensemble-cast interaction, cleverly written dialogue, endearing characters, and just enough physical slapstick to season the series without overwhelming it.  None of the other elements would have mattered were it not for the endearing characters, however; for a show to succeed (in my eyes, at least), I have to like the focal characters.  I not only liked Eric and Donna in particular, I actually cared about them and what happened to them. That's a relative rarity for television. I like the cast of Seinfeld and How I Met Your Mother and The Middle and Rules of Engagement and 30 Rock, but I don't care about them; I don't find myself wondering at the end of an episode what might happen to them next, or how their lives might be made better or worse by what happened to them in that episode. By the end of Seinfeld or Malcolm in the Middle, I was ready for them to move on.  At the end of That 70s Show, I actually hoped that the lives of these fictional characters would continue in the way that I felt that it should.

Friends was the last sitcom whose characters made me care about them. And like Friends, I found myself thinking that I'd like to know if life continued to treat these characters well... if they found happiness, if their lives became what they hoped they would be, if they remained friends for years more. That, to me, is the sign of a well-crafted work of fiction; the characters, born from the imaginations of the writers, become real enough that the audience truly wants to think that their lives continued beyond the end of the fictional work.

If there were any one element of That 70s Show that I didn't like, it was the strong emphasis on marijuana use. I went through the 70s (and in fact, through my entire life) without using marijuana or other illegal drugs, and I sort of resented the implication that drug use was such an inherent part of the decade that every person who came of age during that decade just naturally used the drugs, regardless of gender or background or social or religious standing. However, I like the characters enough that I can empathize with them in spite of the drug use--and when you consider my personal anti-drug militancy, that's quite an accomplishment on the part of the writers.

The last season--most of which struggled along without Topher Grace (who left at the end of season 7) and Ashton Kutcher (who left a few episdoes into season 8)--was weak, to be sure. The plots weren't awful, by any means, but the interpersonal chemistry was missing. Donna, Hyde, Jackie, and Fez remained interesting, but not interesting enough; the disgruntled alienation of Hyde needed the reckless exuberance of Kelso to balance it, and the serious strength of Donna relied on the mercurial, ineffectual whimsy of Eric to give it direction. The addition of new characters like Randy and Sam was detrimental, because it forced the ensemble cast to act out of character in order to make room for the newcomers.

The series ended on a high note with the return of both Kelso and Eric to Point Place on New Years Eve, 1979. That 70s Show and those 70s came to an end at the same time, and with just enough optimism for the future that I can believe that Eric and Donna finally found happiness with one another. If you think otherwise, don't tell me--I see the entire show as building to the point where they not only accept the intertwined nature of their lives (they did that early on, in spite of several stumbles), but that they embrace it and walk into their futures together as a couple. Life gives us far too many missed opportunities; for me, this show, from the very beginning, was the story of a love's fits and starts as it searched for its true course.

Sure, it's a lot of burden to put on a sitcom.  The fact that it stayed the course and delivered an ending that these characters deserved proves that the series and its writers were up to the challenge.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Re-Kindling My Interest

I really don't think I'm the right customer for a Kindle.

Oh, I have one--Amazon literally made me one of those offers I can't refuse.

The problem is, I absolutely love books.

Certainly, a Kindle allows me to enjoy the text of a book--but no matter how I try, I can't think of it as a book. It is, at best, akin to a galley proof, a review copy. Problem is, every time I got a galley proof of a book that I really liked, I had to procure a copy of the book as well.

I thought, "Well, I can use the Kindle to enjoy classic literature." There are a lot of books now in public domain that I can download through the Kindle.

Didn't help. Whenever I really enjoy one of those classics, I find myself tracking down a handsome copy of the book to add to my library.

So I've finally come to the realization that a Kindle is actually the electronic equivalent of one of those Brodart library book jackets (you know, the clear plastic sleeves that protect dust jackets from smears, smudges, tears, and wear).  It's a great way for me to read a book without damaging my physical copy.

Okay, I know that's not the plan they had in mind... but as long as I think of it that way, I can enjoy a Kindle a lot more. And you know, every now and then I find a book that I don't like that much, so I don't have to buy a copy of it.

But that's far less common than I would have hoped...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Flaky Weather

This year, the weather forecasters have been particularly focused on the "mention every possibility and hope one of 'em is right" school of prognostication. Last weekend, they were saying that we had a chance of 1/2" to 1" of snow on Wednesday night/Thursday morning. As the week progressed, the same forecasters backpedaled, reducing the totals to 1/10" to 1/4" of snow. This afternoon, Atlanta's meteorological Cassandra, Glen Burns, backpedaled even further, claiming that the snow was turning into a light rain event instead, with virtually no snow predicted for metro Atlanta.

Well, the snow began at about 10pm, and as of right now, we have about 1/4" to 1/2" of snow on the deck, with the yard lightly covered in snow as well (it's too warm for it to stick to the road, thankfully). So you can be sure that come tomorrow morning, Glen and crew will tout the fact that they had predicted this a week ago... ignoring the fact that they modified that prediction to the point of total inaccuracy by this afternoon.

It's sort of like giving a darts player a hundred darts, then letting him paint the target where he wishes after he's thrown all the darts. That's one way to ensure that one of 'em hits the bullseye...

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

So Long, FedEx Ex-Warehouse

This was the first week that Diamond Comics Distributors sent my freight shipment to the new FedEx Freight hub in Smyrna, GA (formerly a National Freight hub, I believe, prior to the merger of the two). Prior to that, we've been driving 45 miles one-way to the South Atlanta hub in Conley, GA. We didn't ask to make the change, and in fact were willing to keep on driving to Conley in a while, but as someone at Diamond explained to us, "It's like having the USPS open a new post office in your neighborhood. That's your post office now; you don't get to keep getting your mail delivered from the old post office."

I had wonderful experiences with the Conley warehouse and the wonderful crew who worked there--Tommy, Chris, Don, Barry, and the rest of the crew there always went out of their way to give us unprecedented service, and I really appreciated them. But now that the switch has been made, I have to admit that there's something good about an 18 mile drive that never takes me out of Cobb County (where my store is located). I figure it's going to save me more than 5000 miles a year, as well as saving me at least an hour on the road each week.

The folks at the Smyrna hub were very friendly and helpful today, and I think the transition is going to be a smooth one. It's going to take a little getting used to, though!

I'm an Equus-trian

I forgot to mention after my post on 12/28 that Ed Voyles Hyundai came back with a very aggressive offer, made up for the shortcomings of that initial experience, and ultimately made the Equus irresistible.

The problems with the vehicle's shortcomings still exist, of course--but I've become all too aware that there is no perfect vehicle for me. I've driven a BMW, a Mercedes, an Infiniti, a Lexus, an Acura, a Cadillac, a Lincoln, an Audi, a Volvo, a Jaguar, a Range Rover, a Bentley (okay, I never even for a moment considered buying it, but they were willing to let me drive it, so why not?...), and a Porsche as well as the Equus, and there isn't a single one of them that doesn't have problems and shortcomings. Let me pick and choose features from each and I could build the perfect car... but that's impossible, so I have to determine the best combination of features, performance, comfort, and price.

The Equus ultimately won out. At the price they were originally asking, the shortcomings made it an unacceptable vehicle--but at the revised price, complete with a full ten-year extended warranty, the positives outweighed the negatives. So I now have a black-on-black Equus Ultimate, and we've thoroughly enjoyed it so far. Between this car and the Acura MDX, I think I have the best combination of price/features/performance/comfort available.

Getting a Job IS a Job

I own a business. As a result, I routinely hear from people who wonder if we're hiring. Problem is, most of them don't have the slightest idea how to search for a job, and as a result they do it quite wretchedly.

Some of the lowlights include:
•The person who walked in, looked around, said, "They still make this shit?" And then in all seriousness came up to the counter and said "Are you hiring?"
•The fellow who asked "Are you hiring? My parole officer said I need to get a job."
•The surly young man who said, "You wouldn't hire me, would you?"
•The flighty young woman who came in with her coterie of friends (all of whom rearranged merchandise for us), asked if we'd hire her, and then said, "If you do, all of my friends will come in with me every day!"

Here's the basic fact, folks: If you're applying for a job, you need to realize that you already have a job, and that job is selling yourself. If you don't make yourself as desirable an employee as possible, you've already failed at your first job.

Try dressing for the job. Don't come in wearing dirty clothes, offensive clothes, trashy clothes, exercise clothes, wifebeater shirts, baggy shorts, risque clothes, or with garish piercings or tattoos evident. It says, right off the bat, that you value your comfort and your personal statement more than any job.

Tell me what in the world you have to offer that might make you worth cash. A business isn't a charity; I need to know how I'm going to make money on my investment in you.

Have some idea what we do.

Don't make demands prior to even being given an interview. "I don't work weekends" is an exit strategy, not a entrez into a job interview.

Don't assume that telling me I have the best comic shop on earth is going to get you a job or even an interview.

Identify yourself. Sending me an email with an address like or isn't going to win me over. It's even less likely to win me over when that email is my first contact with you, and you don't even fully identify yourself in the email.

Another hint: I don't ever hire from an email.

If you're not following these rules, it's no wonder you're not finding a job.