Monday, February 23

That's My Jam: Product Placement

I'll never, ever apologize for loving Cheap Trick. Sure they're horribly cheesy and at this point most their best hits seem dated -- but they wrote one of the greatest songs ever, and are a hell of a lot of fun to see live (or at least they used to be back in the day).
Plus, they're probably my all-time #1 band who writes songs that don't rhyme.
Granted, most of their lyrics follow standard rhyming logic -- but once you get into the second or third verses, they always seem to throw in one or two lines that phonetically had absolutely nothing to do with each other.
And yet it still worked on me every time.
The other thing that was important about Cheap Trick was guitarist Rick Nielsen, who aside from being a really underrated soloist -- always had the coolest looking custom guitars. Half the reason you saw Cheap Trick live was to see what he'd be playing next.
And that was all before the video for this song came out.
The 5-neck guitar is something of a legend among guitar aficionados, so much that Nielsen apparently keeps the thing sealed up in a locked vault at his house so that it won't get damaged between tours. He didn't even bring it out when he performed the theme for "The Colbert Report" (which he wrote) live on the show.

Guitarists in general are big on copycatting, so it's no surprise that half the guitars that you see in the stores look like the ones the stars play, or that as soon as one band gets really popular there are literally hundreds of others out there looking to rip off their style -- but it got me to thinking about the other things that happen when music and video get into peoples heads.

Have you ever adopted a fashion style or accessory or even something like a hairstyle just because of a singer/artist you really liked (you know, like when I bought all that Union Jack gear, or the time I got really mad that I couldn't find a decent FRANKIE SAY RELAX shirt back in the day)? And if so, what was it (and what was the song that made it seem like a good idea)?
"Mommy's all right, Daddy's all right -- They just seem a little weird.."

[Listening To:  Nada Surf"Popular" ]

Thursday, February 12

Thursday Thunderdome: Clash of the Pitchmen

You all know how this works; two things enter, one thing leaves.

Has this ever happened to you? You have a toilet stain that you just can't clean without hurting your back? You need to reach something on a high shelf but your arms are embarrassingly short? You spilled a 2-liter bottle of soda on your carpet and feel as if your non-German made chamois won't be enough to clean it effectively? What if you have trouble turning your lights on and off, but you know how to clap your hands? Or what if clapping your hands seems like too much work, and you wish there was something easier -- like, oh I don't know ..a switch?
Well who you gonna call?
I've talked a little bit about these guys before, but right now if you need that wonder product that you didn't actually know that you needed before you saw the commercial, you have a vital choice to make. Especially in this economy -- you have to be careful who you put your trust. There are vultures all along the road just waiting to pick your wallet clean with lofty promises and fancy tricks.

Usually you can spot them. They wear Billy Cosby sweaters and talk in Australian accents. They stand in crowded sound stages and cut soda cans in half with kitchen knives. They pour eggs into some plastic doodad, put it in the microwave for 10 seconds, and pull out a Filet Mignon.
If something looks too good to be true, it usually is.
But then something happened. TV seemed to learn it's lesson -- bringing forth a salesman who never apologized for being a salesman. He had 30 seconds to get his pitch across, and he used every friggin second available to yell the benefits of his products at us at the top of his lungs. He stuck his hand in a bucket full of dirty laundry (and one scoop of Oxi Clean) and stirred it clean. Like some kind of modern day Moses turning the Nile River into blood -- he stormed on the scene like some over-caffeinated prophet, and stamped his bearded face into our collective memories forever.
That man was Billy Mays.
And for a while, everything was gravy. Oxi Clean sold like hotcakes, it actually seemed to work (I think I've got some at home somewhere). The guy seemed genuine. Then after a while he brought out another product. And then another. A few people started to get tired of him, but it didn't slow down the train any. Folks kept buying the products, and the money kept pouring in.
Money. Power. 'Spect.
But as it always does -- once you reach the top of the mountain, you have to fight and claw to stay there. Because there are always others. Upstarts and wannabees. Pretenders and perpetrators. All legitimate threats to be dealt with, but all no match apparently for the power of Oxygen. Because no matter what they threw at him, Billy would just toss it right back down.
Until now.
Because now there is a new face. A legitimate, albeit unexpected threat to the Mays throne. A Luke to his Vader. A Showgirls handful of marbles thrown on the stage to trip him up and ruin his performance. Younger, hipper, and as impossible as it might seem -- faster talking, the prodigal son had risen from the masses, ready to usurp the throne.
We've seen them both. They're all over YouTube. Remixed to death. Somewhere there's surely a tape of Christian Bale hurling obscenities at them. Ironic or literal, they're the kind of mini-celebrities pop culture thrives on. 20 years from now when VH1 puts together the show listing what was great about the 2000's -- it won't be the throwaway reality show contestants they do montages of, it will be these guys.

The Associated Press filed a report the day Mr. Whipple died. Growing up, many of us used to know the name of the "Where's the Beef?" lady. Joe Isuzu landed roles on sitcoms for years after his relevance should have rightfully dried up. From P.T Barnum to that condescending Australian a-hole who tells me that he's the only one on the planet smart and/or anal retentive enough to design the worlds most perfect vacuum cleaner -- our materialistic free market society hails the pitchman.

What's more -- the salesmen know it too. So much so that they jockey like animals for that coveted top spot. Whether it's crap real estate deals in the profanity-laden imagination of David Mamet, or the endless streams of Ponzi masterminds clogging up our inboxes with spam, the battle lines are clear.
There can be only one.
So the question before you is this: Which one of the TV pitchmen do you like the best, and why?
Here are the rules: First, you can only pick one. If you love them both, you have to pick the one that you liked the most.
But here's the twist.
In order for your vote to be counted, you must also tell me if you own any products that are sold on TV, even if you ended up buying them in a store.

Also -- make sure you vote quickly, because apparently this battle is real. As you might have noticed, both of our contenders today are selling similar products. A fact that did not escape Billy Mays' notice -- which apparently (if reports are to be trusted) led to a actual confrontation between these two at the Superbowl where at one point Billy Mays had to be physically restrained from taking it to the next level against his spiky haired competitor for what he called "stealing his product."
And let me tell you something folks -- Billy don't play.

[Listening To:  Follow for Now"6's and 7's" ]

Wednesday, February 11

Glengarry Glen Sauce

They call it New South. It's a funny name, because it's been around for some 20 odd years -- but you hear it now and again in corporate sales meetings and commercials where companies based up north try to sell us things on TV. But most frequently the "New South" reveals itself as sort of an all-encompassing attitude adopted by companies, businesspeople, and politicians in this part of the world that seeks to shed all the negative connotations people have with this part of the country.
In other words, the New South isn’t so much new as it
is a desperate attempt to distance people from the "old."
The new south is business-minded. Smart. They believe in equality, and are frequently ashamed of the sins of the Confederate past. But at the same time they're almost overly polite, dress a little more business-casually than you'd expect them too, and can easily ramble on about college football for hours if you let them.
Renaissance rednecks.
They also rarely have southern accents. This is because the majority of the businesspeople who play this card are transplants. Smiling, firm handshaking sales-type dudes who just can't wait to tell you how they grew up in Michigan but then came here after college and just fell in love with the place.
The weather, the people, the golf..
I don't know what it's like where you are, but around here it's almost like a suit sales guys put on when they deal with clients who don't live here. What's even funnier is the way they take it off and become the "I don't know how you bumpkins do it down here, but back in Detroit we don't like excuses. What we like is straight answers and hard work, capiche?"

In other words, the New South is sorta like that fine china your ex-wife swears you need to spend hundreds of dollars on so you can pull it out whenever really important people come over for dinner.
It's impressive, but it's not necessarily the truest picture of who you are.
I'm not saying all sales guys are a-holes (although I've met quite a few), but I'm saying there's a certain level of smiling cutthroat-ness that you have to have in order to succeed in that gig, and it's not always the kind of thing you can just shut off.

At the same time, when you're a hard-charger from up North who knows how to do business a certain way -- you have to imagine that there's a certain amount of suckiness that comes from having to sort of put a muzzle on it in order to fold it into the way that things are done south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Not that those kinds of things probably don't happen in other places, but one of the things I've noticed working at a company that deals almost exclusively with Northern and International clients is that there's almost as much "selling the atmosphere" as there is "selling the product" going on. In other words, whenever we get some big whale client coming down from Baltimore to see how our operation runs -- there’s a lot of golf involved. There's a lot of "We'll tour the facility -- but then we'll go take in some local color for lunch".

And I'm not naïve enough to think that potential clients don't look at pitch meetings as potential mini-vacations where they're gonna get at least one free meal and a couple of comped tee times in a sunny climate at a time of year where the links back home are probably covered in permafrost -- but when everyone's working the okey-doke like this, you sometimes wonder how anything ever gets done.
But we do keep getting new projects to work on around here -- so somebody upstairs must be doing something right.
The funny thing is that while you can easily add the southern to the salesman, you can't always get the douchebag out of the guy who's earning commission -- even when he's trying to do you a solid.

Case in point -- one of the cards our sales guys apparently keep in their sleeve whenever a big fish from out of town gets on the line is the BBQ lunch meeting. It's a thing of beauty -- guys in dress jackets and women in business suits all gathered around a conference table talking numbers are prompted to take a break and let their hair down a bit -- at which point a huge spread of Sonny's BBQ gets wheeled in, and everyone gets their fingers sticky.

One of the things I never really realized living in this part of the country for so many years is that real BBQ doesn't exist everywhere. So when you have a chance to get the authentic stuff, you've gotta jump on it. But much like eating a full Maine lobster -- the taste is only part of the experience. Real BBQ is work. You have to get in there with your fingers, peel stuff off. You're not getting out of the experience without getting a little messy -- so almost instantly the suit jackets come off and the sleeves get rolled up. Things get incredibly casual in a hurry, and a good salesman can use that shift in tone to their advantage.
As a result, the Sonny's truck has become a bit of a harbinger around here.
Because not everyone gets the BBQ. If you're a tough sell, or you're representing a fat payday -- expect to get some ribs. But if you need us more than we need you, or there's not that much to be gained either way, you're going to the Town Center to rub elbows with the locals on your way to a quick lunch.
Why do I care about this?
Because no one brings leftovers back from the Capital Grille.
But when you see that Sonny's BBQ truck in the parking lot -- that's a call to action.

Anyone who's ever worked as a cubicle cowboy knows that the most important thing about scavenging leftovers is timing. You have to get there early. Just because there's a lot of stuff leftover from the sales meeting doesn't mean it's all worth eating. And with BBQ meals, showing up late when the email goes out alerting people to "Enjoy a free lunch compliments of the sales staff" means one thing:
Cole Slaw.
No one eats cole slaw. Why would they -- it's disgusting. So whenever there are BBQ leftovers you're guaranteed an entire platter of ice-cold-congealed-because-it-was-utterly-ignored-during-the-actual-lunch-proceedings cole slaw will be there, but it's only the early birds who will have a shot at the surplus chicken, pork, and beef.

Which is why I have a bone to pick with our sales guys. Or actually better said, don't have any bones to pick -- which is why I'm pissed off. Because I can say with high confidence that when there's extra BBQ around, I'm always among the first to answer the call -- and the last couple of times the Sonny's truck has shown up in the parking lot:
ALL that's been left out for the rest of us is cole slaw and baked beans.
Seriously, how can I be expected to eat this pudding if you're not gonna give us any meat?

Your email specifically said "Free BBQ compliments of the sales staff" -- but what you've left us with is soooo far from being barbecue that I'm literally insulted. Sure, people serve baked beans and slaw as side dishes at BBQ meals, but in no part of the country could these count as entrees -- especially after they've been sitting around untouched for an hour or two.
Something that speaks volumes about the overall appeal of shredded
cabbage and carrots dunked in mayonnaise, when you think about it.
But beyond all that is just the sheer WTF factor that's involved in this gesture. Who offers you a free plate of slaw and beans and calls it BBQ? Sure you can never predict how much the clients going to eat, but if you've got nothing leftover worth advertising -- isn't it sort of a dick move to offer it anyways?
Which when you think about it is kind of the reason I generally dislike salespeople in the first place.
I'd actually think a little more of you if you knew me well enough to not send out that email. If you spared me the excitement of thinking there was something tantalizing and delicious around the corner only to find the crushing defeat of realizing that it’s nothing I would ever want to put in my mouth.
Because when you get right down to it -- nothing's more "old south" than that.

[Listening To:  Dizzy Gillespie"Manteca" ]

Tuesday, February 10

I've Been Through Diamonds, I've Been Through Minks

[Listening To: Say Anything"Every Man Has a Molly" ]

Monday, February 9

That's My Jam: Effed Out

If there's one good thing you can say about awful pop songs, it's that they're inherently temporary. Whether they're describing some new dance move, commenting (or introducing) a popular trend, or whatever -- there's sort of a clock built in to the vast majority of Top 40 music. In other words, awful music is an annoyance -- but the vast majority of it eventually goes away.
In other words, "Soldier Boy" sucks -- but it's pretty much run it's course and
your odds of hearing it any and everywhere you go anymore is pretty much zero.
But what we're talking about today is when the opposite occurs. When a genuinely great song appears on the scene, gets it's proper due and respect, maybe even wins an award or two -- but then either as a result of it's goodness or it's adaptability as soundtrack music for feel-good comedies or chick flicks finds itself literally beaten to death with overexposure to the point where you still love the song because it's good, but if you have to hear it one more time you're going to stab someone in the neck with your car keys.

I had trouble picking just one song for this -- because the list of songs I love that have had their greatness kinda sucked out by overplaying (at least for me) is surprisingly long. In other words, I'll never stand in the way of anyone who wants to tell me how great a tune Aerosmith's "Walk this Way" is, but for the love of God -- please don't make me listen to it again. The same goes for Queen's "We Are the Champions," Billy Joel's "Piano Man," Or any of the collected hits of George Thorogood or Lynyrd Skynyrd ("Sweet Home Alabama" particularly needs to be taken out behind the boathouse and shot as soon as humanly possible).

Even worse, the overwhelming popularity of some of these "hit" songs tends to overshadow even better songs by the same artists to the point where some people don't even realize that Radiohead recorded anything after "Creep."
It's a little something I like to call The Warren Zevon Problem.
The funny thing is that even though I found myself thinking of all sorts of songs that have just become utterly effed out, the answer I came back to was the song that originally got me thinking about this. A wonderful little pop song with deceptively deeper-than-they-appear lyrics that I loved the first time I heard it -- but honestly never want to hear again.
So, what are some of yours?

[Listening To:  Sevendust"Separate" ]

Friday, February 6

The Friday Hot Sheet

So a couple of big things happened this week. One, I changed cell phone plans -- effectively cutting my cell phone bill in half. Secondly, I tried to do the same to my cable television bill but instead ended up adding some 250 channels to my lineup, possibly increasing my bill almost exactly as much as I saved when I adjusted my cell phone minutes.
Net financial gain -- bupkis.
Now that you understand the kind of intellect and motivation you're dealing with, lets get on to talking about the week. Because stuff happened this week. Celebrity yelling, swimmer pot-smoking, I'm-so-pissed-at-Voltron-that-I-don't-even-know-what-to-do-with-myself kind of stuff that it absolutely has to be discussed.

So before Etta James kicks my ass for singing "At Last" in the shower this morning -- here are this weeks risers and fallers, and the buzz as it looks from here.
Bring on the CableWhile I'll probably be kicking myself for this decision in a few months, right now it doesn't matter at all because suddenly I have like 200 new channels to watch. Suddenly I have access to Anthony Bourdain, The Bad Girls Club, and all the Spanish speaking MTV's I could possibly choose to watch (even though I probably never will). There's also a whole new section of On-Demand shows suddenly opened to me, and I'm not just talking about the porn. The only possible drawback is that amidst this orgy of Encore movie channels and BBC repeats of Top Gear, I have apparently still been denied access to Cinemax, which means that I'll still have to find something else to do after 11 on Saturday nights.
Voltron: The Fleet of DoomYes, you saw that right. Two down arrows. If I could put 50 of them I would. I have half a mind to do a completely separate blog post about this where instead of using words I just do 10 paragraphs of down arrows. And I know some of you out there are like, "Voltron? ..Wasn't that a kids show from the ..80's?" And if you are one of those people, you are now officially DEAD TO ME. Now, for the rest of you -- picture this scene. I'm sitting at home last night, looking for something to watch among the On Demand channels when I come across a listing called Voltron: The Fleet of Doom. Interested, I click on the title to find out what it is and discover that it's a Voltron movie (awesome) in which the car Voltron (awesome) and the Lion Voltron (even more awesome) TEAM UP (super awesome) to defeat the COMBINED FORCES of King Zarkon AND the Drule high command -- Full fucking stop. Make sure you understand what we're talking about here: BOTH VOLTRONS FIGHTING ROBEASTS AT THE SAME TIME. Possibly the greatest idea in the entire universe, like ever. How have you not heard of this? I'll tell you how -- BECAUSE IT'S A TOTAL LIE. Voltron: The Fleet of Doom does indeed feature both Voltrons and both villains, but only because the producers spliced together footage of two separate episodes, one featuring the lions and one featuring the flying pickup trucks that turn into the giant robot. So you literally have Lion Voltron against a light purple outer space backdrop fighting the bad guys with a voiceover guy saying "Vehicle Voltron, I need your help!" and then the Vehicle Voltron is shown against a suspiciously blue outer space background where a different voice over guy says "Sure, I'll be right there!" I don't know that I've ever been so pissed off iin my entire life. I mean seriously, what the hell? And of course it's just Voltron so it's not like Obama is gonna do anything about it -- but make not mistake, something needs to be done here. You know what I should do -- sick Etta James on his ass. Hey Etta -- Princess Allura was singing your song at the Inauguration too!
Bangkok DangerousLets get this out on the table right now: Nicholas Cage has it in him to be a really good actor. It's just that for whatever reason he rarely feels motivated enough to share this potential with the rest of us. I'm not gonna stand here and tell you that he's not done horrible movies, because he clearly has. But for every Con Air, Ghost Rider, and Wicker Man you throw at me, I can easily counter with Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation, and Wild at Heart. We can argue all you want about Windtalkers (which I love despite it's cheesy ending), The Rock (which I love despite it's cheesy beginning, middle, and ending), or the two minutes of Grindhouse that he showed up for -- the consensus is clear: when he wants to -- the man formerly known as Nicholas Coppola can totally bring it. The other bonus is that as a lifelong comic book, Hong Kong Cinema, and Elvis fan -- Nick Cage frequently uses his celebrity status to help bring financing to interesting projects that probably otherwise never gotten off the ground. In other words -- no one would have ever made a movie version of vastly underrated comic book Ghost Rider without a star like Cage attached -- but the resulting two hours in which Cage proceeds to take a giant dump all over the thing makes you wish he sorta hadn't. So it was with some trepidation that I broke the seal on my Netflix delivered copy of Bangkok Dangerous -- an America remake of a Thai movie directed by exciting new John Woo ripoff artists The Pang Brothers. Bangkok Dangerous is an OK movie, as long as you understand that it's another in a long line of the very, very, tired "Weary Assassin Looking to Complete One Last Mission Before Leaving the Game" genre. If you can do that, the fact that the plot seems horribly predictable won't bother you so much, because when you get right down to it -- all Samurai/Cowboy/Assassin for Hire movies have exactly the same plot. It's just a question of how they execute it. In that regard -- Bangkok Dangerous is pretty cool, offering some interesting twists on a familiar story. It also features a very heartfelt and authentic portrayal of Thailand as a backdrop (it was filmed there), and not some Hollywood backlot or Japanese studio set made to look like it. The problem is that Nicholas Cage decides that it would be a good idea to play the role as Nick Cage: Movie star -- and not the character that's in the script. It's the same problem I had with Ridley Scott's Body of Lies, in which Leonardo DiCaprio unsuccessfully spends two hours trying to convince us that he can somehow walk around downtown Iraq and not have at least one person say, "Hey look, it's Leonardo Dicaprio!" So in the end Bangkok Dangerous is kind of a failure, even though it really didn't have to be.
Fake Twitter SnitchesTwitter, just in case you've been living under a rock is an internet service that lets people post short updates (much like the statuses on Facebook). It's horribly addictive, because the short character limit makes it perfect for life's little observations that don't warrant a full blog entry but still demand some sort of announcing. You can also post to it via text message, which means that it comes in really handy when unexpected things happen that you want to tell the world about. But beyond being the newest and easiest way for narcissists like me to inform you about every detail of our banal little lives, it also features a number of celebrity profiles that enable you to kind of voyeuristically know what some of your favorite stars are up to during their everyday lives. Even better, that celebrity wrinkle adds a whole new potential for parody, which is the spirit that created one of my favorite Twitter feeds, authored by craptastic movie director and reported self-aggrandizing blowhard Michael Bay. Here's the thing, two or three posts into the thing, you instantly knew it wasn't Michael Bay, but instead just some guy lampooning Bay's larger than life antics. That was part of the fun. But now when you open up twitter the profile name reads Fake_Michael_Bay, because apparently someone was bothered by this and reported it to the Twitter administrator, who then sent the real guy behind this some sort of cease and desist email. It's possible that the complaining person might have been Bay himself -- but considering that guys taste for self-parody, it's more likely that it's just some anonymous killjoy out there who can't stand a world where people like to have fun. The same thing happened to the Chuck Norris and Henry Rollins feeds (although I was among the poor slobs out there that actually thought it was Hank), and will probably happen pretty soon to the Nick Nolte, Magnum PI, and Santa Claus feeds I follow. Honestly, don't we have better things to worry about than this?
Michael Phelps Hitting a Bong SnitchesSpeaking of which, what the hell happened here? Look, when Katie Couric (inexplicably) interviews Little Wayne, I kind of expect her to seem shocked that he freely admits to smoking tons of weed. That's sort of her job (although to be honest, Katie -- you probably have never looked whiter in your life, which is kind of hard to do when interviewing the worlds lamest rapper. And don't you people even start with your comments. He's terrible. He's not even kinda good. Want proof? Noted Hip Hop fan and Industry writer Adam Bernard once broke up with a girl because she admitted to liking "Lollipop"). But when you're Joe student at some College party and Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps shows up, what exactly was it that you expected him to do? Did you think he was there to get in a couple of practice laps in the bathtub? He was there to party, someone passed him a bong, and then he did what 99% of the people in the world do in that situation. The problem is that some asshole out there decided to do what 99% of people at college parties (or any party for that matter) wouldn't do -- which is rat someone out for having a good time. Seriously, what kind of douchebag takes a picture like that? But beyond all that -- it's 2009; are we honestly still freaked out about pot? I don't smoke weed, but it's not like I run screaming from it when it shows up. I'm not saying legalize it tomorrow (although I'm generally in support of that idea), but for crying out loud -- are we all still really this uptight?
Christian Bale       Yeah, he's sort of a hothead. Yeah he went sorta overboard. But now he's being forced to apologize for something that he's probably going to go back to work and do again tomorrow. Honestly, I would have yelled at the guy too. But of course now it doesn't matter who was right or wrong, because now it's a whole new game. Now it's who can remix the clip the fastest. Who can make the best T-shirt. How much of the next Epic/Hero/Date/Disaster Movie plot concerns itself with you. Welcome to instant immortality, Batman. Your seat is right there next to the "Don't Tase Me Bro" guy

[Listening to:  Nine Inch Nails - "Head Like a Hole" ]

Tuesday, February 3

5 Financial Scams I Have Fallen For

Have you ever been watching one of those cop shows -- Law and Order, CSI, whatever -- and they come to that scene where they have a crime to solve, they have suspect in mind, but they're still unclear on what his motives might have been for killing the victim, at which point the grizzled police sergeant says,
"Pull his financials, follow the money, and see where it leads."
Well if they ever had a legitimate reason to do that to me, once the results came back there would be a scene where they look over the numbers -- and then after a moment of quiet consideration, David Caruso would put on his sunglasses and proclaims, "This guy's idiot."
To say that I've not always been good with money does sort of a disservice to the general idea of what "good" is. I'm a hell of a lot better than I used to be at juggling my finances, but I think a big part of the reason why is that I've been burned so hard in the past.

I wouldn't exactly call myself materialistic -- but there are certain things in my life that I don't necessarily equate with their cost versus the amount of money I have at a given moment as much as I see them as kinda groceries for my soul. For example, music is vitally important to me. So for me, the cost of buying music is a lot like the cost of buying cigarettes probably is for smokers. At certain points in my life it ranked in my budget with the same kind of priority as say, rent. So it was never really a question for me of "Do I have enough money to buy this CD?" as much as it was frequently a case of "Hmmm.. It appears that I'm about $15.99 short of the funds I needed to pay my electric bill ..again."

It's a problem that I've dealt with in a variety of forms over the years -- which speaks volumes about who's actually to blame for the majority of my financial troubles; but when you couple a person with this already flawed mindset of supply versus demand economics with the time honored tradition of bait and switch marketing schemes -- what you sometimes end up with is a perfect storm of financial stupidity.
  1. 12 Cassettes for a Penny -- Where it all began. I think it says a lot about your future as a functional, taxpaying adult when your first experiences with harassing phone calls from a collection agency occur somewhere around your 11th birthday. While I certainly wasn't the only one who fell for this particular evil plot over the years, I sometimes feel like I'm the only one who didn't really learn anything from it.

  2. Emerson Home Electronics -- Once upon a time, when you wanted a cassette player/radio combo, you went to Sears. You'd never walk out of there with anything resembling top of the line equipment, but like everything else they sold -- you were guaranteed to be saddled with it forever, because Zenith made things that simply couldn't be killed. Sure you could break the knobs on their TV's or bend the radio antennae's on their boom boxes just by breathing on them -- but the actual appliance itself would keep on working, which for our parents (many of whom grew up in more practical times) was motivation enough not to replace anything. A broken knob is certainly no reason to trash a perfectly good TV set, especially if you had a pair of pliers around that could help you change the channels, right? I think subconsciously it instilled a deep rooted hatred in many of our souls for the old brand names, regardless of their relative quality. As a result -- brands like Zenith sort of went the way of the dodo, as people chose to buy their home electronics from electronics stores rather than be associated with the stores their parent's shopped at. The problem is that Circuit City doesn't have any sort of vested interest in which brand of VCR you purchased, as long as you gave them your money. So invariably you'd end up with this scene where you'd be standing in the aisle in front of a wall of microwave ovens thinking to yourself, "All of these things look exactly alike -- except that this one costs $300, and this one over here is $11.95" I think a lot of us are discerning when we buy things like computers and cel phones, but when you get down to stuff like boomboxes or coffeemakers, people don't always get that cheap = crap as much as they probably should, deciding instead that by purchasing the less expensive yet seemingly equivalent item, they're getting a 'good deal.' I fell into this trap a few times when I was younger, mainly because even though I knew Sony made a better product, my goal wasn't so much getting a quality appliance as it was just having a boombox. So I would buy the Emersons. I would buy the GPX's. And then they would break. And not just the knob or the antennae -- the whole thing would just freeze up and die. So I'd end up back at the store buying the Sony anyways, thereby spending twice as much to accomplish the same goal.

  3. The No Down Payment Adjustable Rate Home Mortgage -- You know all those shit mortgages people in Florida got suckered into that they couldn't afford? The ones that ruined sorta killed all the banks six months ago and got everyone fired from their jobs? I had one of those. I was married. My wife wanted a house and kids. It seemed like her life was incomplete without them. I could afford neither, but I wanted her to be happy. If she was happy, I could be happy again -- so despite a considerable amount of debt and a crappy credit rating, we began looking for one. Surprisingly, there were a number of people at the time who were telling us that we could qualify for a mortgage. Whenever we balanced the checkbook it didn't seem true, but I gotta be honest here -- the idea that we could "get a house" seemed like an ivory tower. Buying a house was something it seemed only stable people could do -- and it was nice to hear bankers and realtors tell us that we were in that group. But when we found a home we liked and started trying to work the numbers -- the guy we were working with started saying things like, "Well, you don't really qualify for this mortgage, but we might be able to get you into that one instead." Not being able to qualify for a mortgage really should have been the red flag -- but when it was presented to us as "You can't afford the BMW, but we can probably get you into a Hyundai" I think I felt as if we could still sneak into the rarified air that we were shooting for, even if it was through the service entrance. It sucks to say this, because it shines light on one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made -- but when I look back all I can think of is that I sort of bought my house in much the way that I ended up with an Emerson VCR (which is kinda depressing to consider). Getting the house for my then wife was more important to me than how it happened. Not only did I not understand that what I was really buying was not so much the house but the mortgage itself, but at a certain point all I really wanted was for the endless paperwork and negotiation to be over, regardless of the deal. I can put a certain amount of blame on the realtor who saw me for the sucker I was and roped me into a deal so ridiculous ("Can't make a down payment? How about this -- we make an offer the broker will accept and then simply backload it onto the principal of your loan.") that even I can't believe I fell for it -- but in the end it was my foolishness, my impatience, and my pride that got in the way of my common sense -- and there's really no one else I can blame for that other than myself.

  4. Marriage --      

  5. Transfer Your Credit Card Balances and SAVE! -- The bad habit I'm still the most vulnerable to right now is the shell game. In other words, I do a lot of moving my debts around -- which does nothing at all to diminish them, but helps to make them more manageable in the short term. It's based in a good idea, which is that making regular payments is one of the most important things you can do, but it's a risky proposition because you're always sorta robbing Peter in order to pay Paul. I'm not exactly rolling in assets, so having lower payments is important to me -- but in the world of financed debt, nothing is more useless than making a minimum payment. This was something I didn't understand as well when I was younger and loaded with credit card debt. Which is probably why I so readily jumped into a deal with another credit card company to consolidate all my balances under a different card. Sure I got those cards covered, and ended up in some places with a lower interest rate -- but the resulting accumulated balance rendered any small payments I threw at it useless. At the same time, as the balance got higher, that cherry minimum payment I was working with started to rise as well -- until eventually I reached the point where I was actually struggling to make the minimum payment each month, with predictably disastrous results.
Unfortunately there are a lot more of these skeletons hiding in my closet, but these are just the main ones I can think of right now. It was sorta sobering to put them altogether on a page like this, because it sort of points out a pattern of mistakes, instead of being a highlight real of dunderheaded moments from my past (which is what I envisioned when I came up with the idea). But like I said before, sometimes you need to get burned to realize your mistakes.
So what are some of yours?

[Listening To:  (hed) P.E."Represent" ]

Monday, February 2

That's My Jam: Grazin' in the Grass

I'm thinking about starting a new semi-regular thing around here where I link to songs that I love and will not apologize for adoring regardless of how dated, overplayed, hokey, or just plain cheesy they might be. And if that's the game, there's no better place to start than with this classic from the Friends of Distinction -- a song I desperately wish I could sing along with but usually ends up in failures so epic that Viking legends are written about them.
"..And lo, despite his best intentions, Dan set the state of Caucasian soul back fifty years when he decided to drunkenly step up to the karaoke mic and sing, "I can dig it he can dig it whiskey biscuit mickey brisket slippy disc-it.."
Great tune. Always makes me smile.
So, what are some of the songs you'll never apologize for?

[Listening To:  One Minute Silence"1845" ]

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