Saturday, July 28, 2012

Let's Go Shopping (Revisited)!!

***Author's Note***

Although the following was written in 2010, it's just as pithy and appropriate for Back to School 2012 as it was way back then***

Back To School is a wonderful, magical time, which is obvious because each word in the phrase is capitalized. My memory of BTS wasn't going shopping for new supplies for the school year. No, it was my (former elementary school teacher) mom crying at the kitchen table the night before she inherited a classroom full of pre-pubescents with a snootful of who-knows-what. Magical indeed.

We didn't have school supply drives when I was a kid. You got the stuff you needed and went to class. Pretty simple, really. Ah, but in this age where anything simple has to be made unnecessarily complicated, we now have endless so-called "Stuff The Bus" drives (again, every word is capitalized to stress the importance of this monumental event). Usually pushed by media outlets, the Stuff The Bus drives are done to gather supplies for students for the upcoming school year. I saw an anchor last week saying that most families are having trouble (in these tough economic times, naturally) coming up with the money to buy even the most basic of school supplies. I audibly scoffed when I heard that, but then got to thinking that perhaps he was right. From last Sunday's paper, I picked up a flyer for Walgreens that focused on BTS supplies and started adding things up. Certainly, if "most" families can't even afford the basics, the prices for these items must be much more expensive than I remembered back in 1975.

So let's shop. I'm only listing the most basic supplies for elementary school kids, so that rules out calculators and certain geometric tools which- in this atmosphere of zero tolerance- are probably considered deadly weapons punishable by a lifetime expulsion should poor Caleb or Kellan get pinched (so to speak) with one.

Pencils: 10 for $1
Pens 10 for .79
Folders .09 each. Let's buy five. .45 total
Glue .49
Crayons .39 (for a box of 12. Do you really need Burnt Sienna?)
Notebooks .50-$1.50, depending on number of pages. Let's buy two at .50 apiece
Ruler .29
Backpack $4.00 (that's the big one, but if you have a desk that can store your supplies, it  might be unnecessary. Since you probably don't know if you do before the school  year starts, pick one up

Did I miss any of the basics? I don't think so. Scissors? Yeah, right. Start your academic year in Mr. Weatherbee's office by bringing a dangerous weapon. Still, the girls might think you're a badass, so at $1, it'd be worth the risk.

Total for basic supplies? $8.31. ($9.31 with those bad-ass scissors)

Or, in other words, lunch. One lunch. Brown bag lunch for a week, and the kid is covered through most of his elementary school years. Yes, I realize that most parents have more than one kid. Tops, you're spending $30 on supplies. If you're buying Kaela and Tristin their own pen and pencil sets, just think of it as one McDouble you could've spoiled yourself with and split the items.

So, my exhaustive research reaffirms to me that Stuff The Bus is a crock. Put down the frappe and get your own damn stuff for once. Handouts now lead to dropouts later.

(Oh, I don't want teachers to feel left out. That same Walgreens flyer has a bottle of generic aspirin (500 ct) on sale for $7.99. That ought to last you until Thanksgiving)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Different Wavelengths

I don't regret choosing radio for a career. Because of the path I took, I've been able to buy a nice house, marry a shockingly normal, baggage-free wife and have several close friends. It's all someone at my age can realistically hope for. I just wished that radio liked being radio. If there's one positive to be taken from today's terrestrial radio, it's that it gives other businesses a blueprint for what not to do when competition encroaches. What radio has done is de-emphasize it's strengths to focus on tertiary aspects that it can't pull off nearly as well.

Exhibit A: As iPods rose in prominence, radio's response was to pump up the music. More commercial-free music sweeps. Don't be fooled by that. Sure the number of "stops for spots" per hours at many stations was cut from three to two. It's just that the number of spots run during each break increased. Few things are more frustrating than sitting through a lengthy commercial break only to hear a song you hate. I've always given radio first crack at my ear, but if my three primary stations don't give me something like, I'm quickly on to my own music and radio will not get me back for the rest of my trip. More music doesn't work. I know what I like. I don't have to depend on radio to play my favorite songs anymore.

Exhibit B: Radio now seems to emphasize going to the station website more than actually keeping you listening. Imagine going to a store and the clerk tells you that to get the information or product you  need, you can go to their website. Radio does this all the time. Instead of giving the listener all the information they need about an artist, concert, or contest, that listener is constantly told to go to the website for more information. Because really, what business hasn't succeeded with the motto, "Always Give Your Customer More To Do"? By the time the listener gets to their destination, the thought of going to the station website to look up "Thousand Dollar Thursdays" has long been replaced by work and/or home demands

What radio has de-emphasized is personality. Less is more, we've been told. DJ talk is a tune out. Well, so is playing a long burned-out song and a commercial featuring the local nutty car dealer. Yet radio management would never dream of changing that approach. People once listened to radio for music, but since music is more omnipresent than ever, something else has to hook them in. The radio stations that make the most money aren't the ones that play the most music, they're the ones that have the biggest personalities. It's really that simple.

Of course, if you have successful personalities they're going to want (gasp!) more money. And there's the rub. Radio is successfully killing off personality to save money and the result has been a near death knell for the entire industry. Listeners tune out the approach. Corporate tunes out the solution.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Man's Best Friend (and other Brilliant Manipulators)

If you read the previous post (not the one I deleted for fear of career implications), you know that I have a three-legged dog. He gets around OK, but obviously doesn't have the "scamper-ability" a four-legged model has. There are exceptions, of course. Garbage Day, for one. The unmistakeable squeal of the brakes of the Republic Services trash truck seems to transport Maverick back to 2003, bolting to our gate at peak speed to tell Javier and Julio that this 'hood is his. After the truck leaves (because of his presence, of course), he'll come back in with the smug satisfaction that it was his work that drove them from the block.

Of course, he used to come bounding at the sound of the freezer door opening (ice cubes!) or the rustling of a box of Milk Bones. No more. While still getting somewhat excited over the prospect of a treat, he no longer does the work needed to come get it. Blame the parents. He now knows we'll bring it over to him. Maverick, in a certain way, has become not unlike many who now collect unemployment for 99 weeks. Why go and get it when it's going to be brought to you anyway? I can't rightly ask the garbage men (sorry, "sanitation engineers") to drive into my backyard so Mav can woof at them from the comfort of our living room. He has to work to get the satisfaction and, as I said before, seems to have a (three-legged) strut about him when the truck leaves his view.

I take a lot of pride in not having any debt, other than a mortgage (which isn't underwater). My spending is disciplined. I don't need to budget. I'm old enough to know what I can and can't afford. I save voraciously without denying myself the comfort of simple things that are deserved from a life well-lived. Still, all the work taken to get to this point is seeming to be increasingly worthless. Those that should be suffering for their bad or reckless behaviors are absolved. Debts are wiped away. Sentences are plea-bargained. Freeloading has become an art form.

My Gold's Gym is having a contest where the grand prize is a flat-screen TV for whomever best transforms from flabby to "fabby"(sorry). Forgetting the irony of a gym giving away a TV to the winner of a fitness contest, I'm punished in this case for being a normal body weight with decent muscle tone. I've discussed with my wife a master plan to 1) become an alcoholic, 2) hit rock bottom, 3) rehab in Malibu and 4) hit the lecture circuit for 10K a pop, all without becoming physically abusive toward her. She's surprisingly against it. Maybe I'll shoot for becomingly morbidly obese. It worked for Jared from Subway.

I'm having grilled chicken with rice for dinner tonight. Some fruit, too. Maybe I'll start that tomorrow.