Friday, June 23, 2017

My New Ken Doll Ideas for Mattel

Barbie's erstwhile, if anatomically challenged, companion Kenneth (Ken) Carson is finally getting a makeover. After Barbie has been redesigned and reimagined dozens of times over the last 58 years, Mattel has released 15 different variations of Ken, in all shapes, sizes, and looks.

Ken will come in three different body types, seven different skin tones, and nine different hair styles, including a man bun and corn rows.

As you would expect, there are already thousands of jokes on social media, especially about Man-Bun Ken Doll, including a couple favorites: "(He) interrupted me to tell me Bernie would have won" and "I'm already tired of hearing about his study abroad to Amsterdam where he just 'fell in love with the culture.'"

Except the Ken dolls don't have cool names, only different styles. There's no "Documentary Filmmaker Ken" or "Snotty Barista Ken." I think Mattel missed a golden opportunity to capture some of our quintessential American archetypes. These are a few of the Ken dolls I would have created.

Urban Lumberjack Ken: Dressed in jeans, heavy boots, and a cozy flannel shirt, and sporting an unseasonably thick beard, Urban Lumberjack Ken looks like he's ready to pick up an axe and chop down the nearest trees, if there were any around. His Twitter bio says he loves craft beer, cold-brewed coffee, and hiking in the outdoors, although he hasn't been on a hike since he was 16. Even then, it was a state park with paved walking paths.

You'll marvel at how baby-soft Urban Lumberjack Ken's palms are. You can even help them stay that way with Ken's callus remover and organic non-scented lotion. Don't forget his never-used antique axe accessory.


Youth Pastor Ken: A dynamic and charismatic leader of a youth group at a suburban non-denominational church. Youth Pastor Ken comes with jeans, untucked v-neck t-shirt, a suit vest, and a fedora. He also sports several Christ-related tattoos, including a "He's In Here" with an arrow pointing to his heart.

And don't forget Youth Pastor Ken's sporty vehicle, a Jeep Wrangler 4x4 with the top down. Press the steering wheel, and you'll hear a random selection of Skillet and Nickelback songs.

Finally, add Youth Pastor Ken's Wife Julie to your collection for that extra drama whenever teenage Barbie's around. Youth Pastor Ken's Wife Julie includes a look of pained understanding at realizing she's married to a 28-year-old man-child.

Frat Boy Dude Bro Ken: This Ken doll figures it's his job to catcall Barbie and make her feel uncomfortable whenever she passes in her convertible or on her bike. This broski with the brewskie could be one of Mattel's great mysteries: Is Frat Boy Dude Bro Ken in college, or did he graduate 10 years ago? Should he be putting the moves on on College Freshman Barbie, or is he a whole teenager older than her? Prolong his secret with a tube of Ken's Crow's-Feet Concealer, secretly shipped to your house in a plain brown box.

Frat Boy Dude Bro Ken is fully posable into 12 different manspreading poses. He can also mansplain about any subject matter to a woman, especially if that's her career or field of study.

You can even have him duke it out with his more enlightened rivals, Stay Woke Ken and Slam Poet Ken. Warning, do not leave Frat Boy Dude Bro Ken alone with Barbie's drink while she goes to the ladies' room.

Gym Rat Ken: Gym Rat Ken sure is buff! We're not sure what he does for a living, because it seems like we always find him pumping iron in the gym or flexing and posing in the mirror. With just a baggy pair of gym shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt that's ripped from armpit to waist, Gym Rat Ken is in peak physical condition even though he can't fully put his arms down at his side.

Gym Rat Ken comes complete with tribal tattoo on his right bicep, a 2-pound bucket of muscle bulk powder, and an unlabeled tube of "special muscle cream" Comically huge dumbbell set sold separately. Gym Rat Ken can also double as Frat Boy Dude Bro Ken just by putting on his favorite Big 10 University baseball cap on backwards.

Startup Entrepreneur Ken: New Ken is all about new careers. Rather than working a typical 9-to-5 like the other toys, Startup Entrepreneur Ken wants to be his own boss, pave his own way, and make his own fortune.

Help Ken live his passion with the Startup Entrepreneur Ken's co-working space expansion pack, complete with his very own standing desk, giant Starbucks coffee cup, and laptop computer covered with stickers from tech conferences and music festivals he's never actually been to.

Startup Entrepreneur Ken even has his own mobile app, the Marketing-to-English Translation Dictionary. With one touch, you can convert the random phrases Ken uses, like "full marketing stack" and "frictionless onboarding strategies" into proper English that real people use.

And finally, there's my own personal favorite, Suburban Barbershop Ken, who's there to clip off Man-Bun Ken's man bun once he finally realizes he's a grownup. Which won't be for another 20 years.

Photo credit: Mattel (Used with permission, Mattel Newsroom)




You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

On the Eighth Day there was Breakfast

Occasionally I'll accept guest posts from friends and fellow humor writers. This guest humor piece is from my friend, Randy Clark, who is branching out from his normal business writing into creative nonfiction and humor. I'm pleased to share this story with you.

It was the eighth morning of a ten-day excursion into the Southwest. My wife and I were meandering our way towards Phoenix for a flight back to Indianapolis. We overnighted in Flagstaff, Arizona staying in one of those roadside inns named by putting an adjective in front of their function, like Well-Being Motel or Amenity Inn. I awoke before my wife. The Happy Hotel had a complimentary breakfast. It was open from 6 am until 10 am. It was 5:40. I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and quietly headed to the lobby, leaving my wife resting peacefully. I’d bring back coffee.

The lobby/breakfast area was packed. There were folks everywhere. As I tried to make my way to the coffee, I was cut off, nudged, and ignored. I heard Excusez-Moi and guttural grunts—I believe some were directed at me.
Randy is also a singer, in addition to being a writer.

After grabbing a cup of joe, I found a seat in the lobby of this L-shaped breakfast hall. I had eyed a USA Today on the table next to a plush black leatherette lobby chair. I picked up the newspaper and read the news of the day. The headlines included the aftermath of Trump’s European tour and Tiger Woods mugshot.

As I quietly sat and read the paper a man came over and without saying a word, or making eye contact, picked up the large foyer chair next to me and moved it alongside of a couch where two companions sat. He didn’t know if I had a purpose for the chair. I could’ve been saving it for my wife, I wasn’t, but I could have been.

Across from me was a table of five friends speaking loudly with food dangling from their lips as they all chewed and talked simultaneously. The breakfast area was self-serve as well as self-clean, and although there was a trash receptacle next to the table of the full-mouth-talking clan they left their mess of saliva moistened crumbs for someone else to dispose of.

At another table, a young couple with a cute toddler ignored their son as he threw fistfuls of baby squeezed scrambled eggs for three feet in every direction.

Still others jostled past people as if they weren’t there, and stood in front of the coffee blocking access as they slowly deliberated which cream to use, French raspberry or vanilla grape.

I perused the paper. As I finished scanning each section, I placed them on the table perpendicular to each other. When I was done I went for a second cup of coffee, grabbed one for my wife, and headed back to the room.

It was our tradition that I’d bring her coffee and then we’d return together to eat. Not today. She’d had eight days of Cheerful Roadside Canteen breakfast and wasn’t prepared for the food, or the crowd.

I returned for a breakfast of hard tater tots, greasy sausages, and what I hoped were scrambled eggs with at least a bit of warmth remaining. Hey, it was free. Don’t judge.

At the dining hall I saw the chair had been returned to its rightful place, the tables (and floors) were clean…and the USA today I had left scattered on the table was neatly stacked. Maybe, I shouldn’t be casting stones.

It was a lesson in humility. As I was judging those around me and smugly back-slapping myself for being a superior person, the truth was I wasn’t much different. I was as selfish as the next person. I left the newspaper not as I had found it, but in disarray. You could argue that my offense was less intrusive than some of the others, but that’s not the point. The point is I was inconsiderate of my fellow human beings.

The eggs were cold, the sausage was hard, and the tater tots burnt, but only slightly. I finished my plate. Like I said, it was free.





You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Toilet Paper Prank Sinks High School Kid's Graduation

I was your normal, average kid growing up in normal, average Muncie, Indiana. I wasn't a goody two-shoes, but I wasn't a troublemaker either. Oh, sure, I was obnoxious, but show me a teenage boy who isn't.

Usually, when I got in trouble, it was over something harmless, like staying out too late or going to a rated R movie when I was 14 and lying about it to my parents. (Only to be caught later, because I was not very good at being devious.)

Even my pranks were harmless. Like stealing For Sale signs out of someone's yard and putting them in someone else's. We got my band director, Mr. Pritchett, that way a couple times.

My pinnacle achievement was sticking five or six signs in his yard over Spring Break. (I don't think he ever found out who did it, and I'm hoping he doesn't read this.)

The last day of the year was always Senior Prank Day, but a few of us — Mike, Chris, Jon, and me — wanted to be first. We decided to pull our prank the night before, so it would be waiting when everyone showed up the next morning. And I wanted to top my previous record.

We spray painted "EAT ME" on a bed sheet and "borrowed" 15 or so For Sale signs from a local realtor's office. We stuck the signs in front of the school, and Mike and I climbed onto the roof and hung the sheet in front of the building. We also tied a dead possum next to it.

(We spotted it on the way to the school and picked it up. Don't ask.)

Then we all went home, except for Jon, who had to drive past the school once more. Which is when he got stopped by the cops. Which is how our dean got the first inkling about the culprits.

The next morning, when we showed up, everything was gone. It had already been cleaned up, and no one witnessed our victory! That's when things began to fall apart.

Jon was called into the office immediately, and asked who had pulled the prank. He admitted to it, and was threatened with being banned from graduation that night if he didn't name his co-conspirators. So he named Chris.

Chris got called into the office and was offered the same deal. So he named me.

I realized we were all done for, so I thought, "Screw it," and nailed Mike.

Bingo! That was the guy the dean had been gunning for. For four years, he'd had Mike in his sights but could never make anything stick, and now was his chance to come down on him hard.

He banned Mike from graduation.

An hour later, Mike's mom was screaming at the dean about "calling a #&%$! lawyer," when he caved and rescinded his ban.

I don't remember what happened to the others after that, but I was grounded for an entire month, including my 18th birthday. I also had to take the signs back to the realtor, who thought the prank was brilliant and said if I had called him first, he would have loaned them to me.

Live and learn.

I was reminded of my little prank none-of-your-business years later, when I read about a kid who was banned from crossing the stage for his graduation. (Tonight, as I write this, in fact.)

Hayden Anderson of Virginia Beach, Virginia and some unnamed friends unfurled 250 rolls of toilet paper around the high school, but only Hayden was found out. He was banned, not because of his role in the prank, but because he wouldn't name his accomplices.

The morning after, Hayden was escorted to the principal's office by security guards — in my day, you were just called down and you went — where he was asked about his accomplices.

Unlike the four of us, Hayden wouldn't rat anyone out, and so his principal suspended him for three days, banned him from graduation, and will mail Hayden's diploma to him. According to a story on WTKR.com, Hayden said "those are his best friends and he can't give them up."

"Taking away his privilege to walk on that stage, to me that's just wrong. He earned that right," said Nick Yarrington, who says Anderson is more than a best friend, "he's a brother."

Now, I'm no police detective, but I think if the school wanted to get some answers, they might want to lean on Nick Yarrington a bit. But what do I know?

In the end, I was able to walk across my graduation stage. We all were. But I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we kept our mouths shut. Would anyone else's mom screamed at the dean about a lawyer? Mine wouldn't. I would have been kept out of graduation and told I was lucky it wasn't worse.

To tell you the truth, I don't remember much about graduation these days. Sure, it was fine at the time, but I couldn't even tell you where my high school diploma is now.

I think Hayden has made the better choice, and he's going to remember the day he was true to his friends and refused to back down from a pencil-pushing bully. If anything, that's the most important life lesson Hayden's high school could have ever taught him.


Photo credit: Chase Urich (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)


You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Letter to my 16 Year Old Self

Dear Young Erik,

It's probably pretty weird to be hearing from your adult self. If you're reading this, it either means I'm hallucinating, or that you invented time travel. (If you did, invest in a company called Apple Computers sometime in the next five years. Tell Dad too. As much as you can. Don't ask, just do it! Trust me.)

You probably have a few questions for your future self. First, yes, you're married. You have three kids. Yes, you've done that. And that too. Yes, you still have all your fingers.

Your hair? Uh, let's just be happy you still have all your fingers.

I'm writing to you, Young Erik, because I just read an article that said that we're pretty much destined to be the kind of people we were when we were 16 years old. That the way we reacted to situations and people as teenagers will influence the way we react to situations and people when we're older. In fact, this article said we do it more than we're actually aware of. And I wanted you to know I didn't blame you. Actually, things are pretty good here, so don't screw this up.

If only that were true for our physical shape though. Do me a favor, and try to cut out soda by the time you're 21. Okay, 25. Okay, 30, but only on special occasions. Like with rum. Or pizza.

Also, don't eat so much pizza.
Otherwise just keep doing what you're doing, keep the friends you've got, and go to college. Don't run off and follow the Grateful Dead or anything stupid.

Or do. I don't actually know what would happen if you did. Hell, maybe you'll end up rich selling Mexican cotton blankets to a bunch of Deadheads.

Ooh, nope! No, don't do that. I just checked with the time machine, and you absolutely must not follow the Grateful Dead. Not if you want to keep all your fingers.

Also, pay attention in school a little more. At least in algebra class.

Don't worry about being popular though. I remember that we never actually liked the popular kids, and we were fine hanging out with the not-so-popular kids. So don't feel too bad. It's actually for the best. Besides, we had fun.

You've no doubt already figured out that most of the popular kids were jerks in high school. Believe me, they did not get better! I wouldn't worry too much about them. Let's just say they didn't change the world as much as their mommies and daddies said they would.

On the other hand, you were spot on in predicting the incarcerated kids.

Of course, this also means you and your plucky band of band nerds are going to pretty much stay the same. Except somewhere in your 20s, you're going to trade your French horn for a fountain pen and join a plucky band of word nerds instead. That's why you spelled it "clique" earlier and not "click."

Once a nerd, always a nerd.

But you're going to have a much better chance of making it as a professional writer than you are a professional French horn player. Even now, in the 21st century, there's not a lot of demand — by which I mean "absolutely none" — for a professional French horn player.

It's true about the way social interactions guide us as adults though. Even today, when I'm out meeting other people or going to networking events, I can still spot them. The little cliques of former jocks, rich kids, theater kids, troublemakers, burnouts, science geeks, band nerds, and the loners. They still all find each other, even as adults, and they hang out together.

So I wanted you to know that everything, for the most part, has turned out okay, and that you should keep doing what you're doing. Be a nerd. Keep doing the weird stuff that no one else does. Read the books no one else likes. Buy comic books and listen to New Wave music. Play the sports no one else plays. (Just try to keep playing them once you turn 40. Seriously.)

And I'm serious about investing in Apple.




You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Men's Feelings Get Hurt Over Wonder Woman

Men have become a lot more delicate and precious than I remember when I was growing up. In the '70s and '80s, real men never spoke about their feelings, never shed a tear, and never said a word when something was bothering them.

These days, some men get their feelings hurt, their bowels in an uproar, and their panties in a bunch over the tiniest incident that might prick their frail masculinity, they'll raise such a fuss you'd hardly recognize them as men.

I don't mean man-bun yoga boys or urban lumberjacks who've never actually held an axe. I'm talking about the so-called men who lost their ever-loving minds over an all-women's screening of Wonder Women at the Alamo Theater in Austin, Texas on opening weekend.

It was innocent enough. One theater decided to do something special for one showing on one screen for one day. They even had female ushers, projectionists, and other theater staff.

But to hear the protests, you'd have thought DC had decreed that, like the island of Themyscira, no man would ever be allowed to see Wonder Woman.

When the story hit the news, precious men everywhere were apoplectic. "How dare they?!" they thundered. "That's discrimination! That's sexism! You're leaving us out of your thing because of our gender. That's not fair!"

And women everywhere rolled their eyes and said, "Yep, we know all about that."

I don't see the problem. Why shouldn't women get their own showing? For one thing, it's a superhero movie starring a woman. It's the first female-led blockbuster action film. It was directed by a woman. And the message of the movie is women can be badasses.

But mostly I didn't see the problem because I'm not threatened when a group of women wants to do something for themselves. My sense of masculinity does not shrivel up with the empowerment of women. I do my thing, and they can do theirs.

But some men refused to accept this. They whined to Alamo Theater that there weren't men-only screenings of Demolition Man, Iron Man, or Man of Steel.
If they really wanted to see it so badly, they could have waited for a day and gone to that very same theater and watched the very same movie in the very same seats, assuming they had been vaccinated against girl cooties.

Instead, they created a bigger problem for themselves. Alamo Theater's decision was so popular, thanks to all the media attention, they have started doing women-only showings in some of their other theaters across the country, as well as additional shows in their Austin theater.

This is what's called the Streisand effect, so named when Barbra Streisand sued Pictopia.com, demanding they take her house off their website because she didn't want people seeing it online.

Before the lawsuit, the photo had only ever been seen six times, including twice by Streisand's lawyers. After the lawsuit hit the news, it was seen 420,000 times in the first month.

And that's what the precious male snowflakes have done. They pouted so much about a single two-hour block of time that this may just become a national movement.

One of the things I've always appreciated about the males of most species is that they'll step up and protect their herd/pride/troop/family. When a younger male tries to encroach on his territory, the alpha male will fight the incomer and run him off. Then he'll strut around the watering hole that night and brag to his buddies, "You see that kid try to throw down with me today? I totally kicked his ass."

You can even see this behavior among human men. We posture and strut and show off for each other and our women, challenging each other's masculinity and prowess. We get bigger trucks, bigger guns, louder engines, louder stereos, anything that lets us shout our barbaric yawps from the rooftops of the world, "I'M A MAN! HEAR ME ROAR!"

But let 200 women see a movie by themselves, and those guys turn into whiny children fighting over the last juice box.

Ultimately, I question the masculinity of those men who are upset by this all-female screening. If you were truly masculine, you wouldn't be threatened by it. You wouldn't be threatened by a group of women wanting to see a movie without you. It's not like you were clamoring all this time to see "27 Dresses" and "Steel Magnolias." (If you really want us to believe this is about equality, demand an all-male screening of "Steel Magnolias.")

You would already believe in your own strength and your own fortitude, and you wouldn't be intimidated by anyone. You'd say, "Meh. I still have every other superhero movie ever made."

But if you really want to make a statement for male equality, take a few hundred of your burliest buddies down to the Alamo Theater, and buy up every single ticket for next weekend's screenings of Wonder Woman. That'll really show 'em.

And don't forget the all-dude movie candy, Mike & Ike.


Photo credit: Unsplash (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)


You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Missing Out on the 101st Indianapolis 500

I should be in Indianapolis right now, but I'm not.

I should just be sitting down to an early lunch, on the 3rd floor of the IMS Media Center, but I'm not.

I'm not in Indianapolis this year, for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500. I'm in Orlando, Florida, where I moved in 2015. And this year, my road to Indianapolis was filled with too many obstacles to even make it there.

And so, for the first time in eight years, I missed my sunrise shot of the IMS Pagoda. I missed my early breakfast. I missed seeing people already drunk — or maybe still drunk from the night before — in the infield. I'll miss hearing the traditional songs. I'll miss Mari Hulman George giving the all important command. And I'll miss seeing the most exciting motorsports event of the year.

My first year at the 500, back in 2009, was so eye opening. I had never watched the race, only listened to it on the radio. Growing up in Central Indiana, you couldn't see the race on TV, so I had no idea what it looked like. And finally seeing everything live shattered the images I had built in my mind about what it all looked like.

That first year, I was nervous walking around Gasoline Alley, getting interviews with the different drivers and crew members, taking photos. There are certain rules journalists must follow, and I didn't want to run afoul of them and get blacklisted. But I was also a little awestruck by being at the one place that my family recognized and revered for so many years.

My first ever interview was with Justin Wilson, who was racing for Dale Coyne Racing. He was a true gentleman and he answered all my questions. I think he could tell I was nervous, and he was very gracious and understanding, and he put up with my rookie nonsense. He became my favorite driver that day, and I always hoped he would win the 500. I was devastated the day he died. My dream had been to help write his autobiography when he retired.

The Race on the Radio

It was a Memorial Day tradition when I was growing up that we would work outside in the yard on race day. We'd listen to the race — it took three and four hours back then — and work out in the yard, burning our skin to a nice, stinging pink, and imagine what the race track looked like. My mom and stepdad would cheer for Rick Mears, but hope for the best for AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti.

I finally got to meet Rick Mears a few years ago, and told him what he meant to my stepdad, Tom. He thanked me and said he appreciated it.

I also got to meet Howdy Bell several years ago, at a networking event. I heard him before I saw him, and thought, "I recognize that voice!" We always heard him, in Turn Number 3, hollering about one pass or another. Then I saw him every year at the race, and even gave him some advice on running his website. (Howdy is also a wedding officiant, and is available to perform at your special day.)

When I lived in northern Indiana, I could have watched the race on TV, but I didn't. I saw a few minutes of it one time, realized it looked nothing like what I had imagined, and so I shut it off. I went back to doing what I had always done. I sent my family off to church and lunch at my in-laws', and I sat and listened to the race on my radio. Although, I did it indoors, where it's nice and air conditioned.

But this year, I'm going to do something I've never done. I'm going to sit and watch the Indianapolis 500 live on my television.

It won't be the same, and so I'm already making plans to get back there next year.






You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, May 26, 2017

I Wish My Sandwich Artists Would Listen Better

Would you just listen to me for a minute? I mean actually focus on what I'm saying. Stop what you're doing, look at my face, and watch my mouth make these words. Process them in your brain, consider what I said, and then respond appropriately.

That's probably something my wife has said to me more than once, I think. But it's also something I want to shout at every sandwich maker I ever engage with.

I go to an unnamed local sandwich shop almost every Thursday night for dinner, because that's when I write this column. I won't say which one, but it rhymes with "Scrubway."

I step up to the counter and place my order: "Footlong spicy Italian on white bread with Provolone. And could you toast that, please?"

Maybe I'm saying it wrong. Maybe I have a funny accent and I'm hard to understand. Or maybe a 14 word request is too complicated, and I should break it into three-word chunks. Because that's invariably what I have to do.

The "sandwich artist" — they call them "sandwich artists" at, uh, Scrubway — pulls out my bread and asks, "Did you say spicy Italian?"

"Yes," I say, and he adds the meat.

"What kind of cheese? Was it Swiss?" asks the guy.

"No, Provolone. And toast it, please."

"Did you want this toasted?" asks my "sandwich artist."

Not a sandwich from either anonymous sub place
Sure, that's a good idea," I say, and the artist beams with pleasure at thinking of this all on his own.

I'll give him credit, he's good on the vegetables. They're all good on the vegetables.

"I'll have lettuce, tomato, onion, black olives, and pickles. Plus a little mayo and Sriracha."

And they nail it every time.

But then we're back to not listening. When everything else is done, I ask for "all the dry stuff" — salt, pepper, oregano, Parmesan cheese, all of it.

Now, these same people have made my sandwich on Thursday night for over a year. They're all veteran sandwichers. And I ask for my sandwich to be made the same way. Every. Single. Time.

But when I say "all the dry stuff," one guy always asks, "So, salt and pepper?"

"Yes," I say.

"And oregano?"

"Yes."

"And Parmesan?"

"Isn't that part of the dry stuff?" I ask.

"Well, yeah."

"Then I want it," I say.

I even explained it to him once. "I know what's in the dry stuff because I order it every time. So when I say 'all the dry stuff,' I mean all of it. Just add it all. Okay?"

"Okay," he agreed, and I felt like we bonded a little bit.

And then I had to explain it to him all over again the following week.

The only place more infuriating — again, not naming names — rhymes with "what the smell is wrong with you, Jimmy John's?!"

Sometimes, the whole family will want subs for dinner, but we're in the mood for this other place. So I order five sandwiches for us, and the sandwichers very carefully set each sandwich on the counter. Then they look at me, all pleased, like a dog that's dropped a dead animal at my feet.

"Can you put those in a bag?" I ask. They stare at me like I've sprouted an extra head, and it's ordering more sandwiches in Latin.

"You know, so I can carry them?" I say. Do they expect me to tuck them under my arms like Paul Bunyan carrying a couple of trees?

"Help yourself, Chief," a sandwicher told me once, no doubt the Employee Of The Month.

Now, a normal Jimmy John's sack is only large enough to hold four regular sandwiches. I know this because that's all I can fit whenever I "help myself." But every time I persuade them to do it for me, they always try to cram in that fifth sandwich.

"It won't fit," I say every time. But they shove and twist, and twist and shove, and either smash the sandwiches or tear the bag.

"Huh. It tore," said one guy, genuinely surprised.

"That's because they only hold four sandwiches." He offered me the torn bag of sandwiches.

"Could you just put them in two bags?" I sighed. He looked at me like my extra head was now wearing a new hat and singing "I Feel Pretty." He handed me my sandwiches in two bags, looking pleased with himself again.

The problem isn't with the people themselves. They're smart and capable, and they're nice kids, they just don't listen. They don't pay attention to what's being said to them, and they don't think about the next step.

While I appreciate people who "live in the moment," I don't think that moment needs to be a three word burst of what I want on my sandwich. I would like it if they could pay attention for 30 seconds and retain an entire 14 word order longer than a couple laps around the ol' goldfish bowl.

So, just listen to me for one whole minute, and we'll both be happier with the experience.

Because I want chips with that.


Photo credit: jeffreyw (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Avocado Toast Destroys the American Dream

Man, Millennials sure love their avocado toast.


Like, pry it from their cold dead fingers love it.

It all started when Tim Gurner, a 35-year-old millionaire real estate developer, told Australia's "60 Minutes," "When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn't buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each."

You'd have thought the government was requiring a mandatory pruning of all man buns, because social media went on a full-on freakout that someone would insult their love of, well, smashed avocado.

"We’re at a point now where the expectations of younger people are very, very high," said Gurner. "They want to eat out every day; they want travel to Europe every year. The people that own homes today worked very, very hard for it. . . They saved every dollar, did everything they could to get up the property investment ladder."

He does have a point about the coffee though, although I don't drink four lattes in one sitting.

So what's his problem with avocado toast? I've heard of it, but I thought it was one of those made-up dishes you'd see on Portlandia. Except it's a real thing, and it apparently costs 19 damn dollars!

Except it doesn't.

I did a little sleuthing (i.e., I Googled a couple bistro menus) and found that unless you live in Brooklyn or San Francisco, avocado toast is around $9 - $10. But if you're in those hipster meccas, you can find it for as much as $16 – $20.

Which only proves that some people will spend money on the stupidest things. (Looking at you, Skymall!)

It's actually pretty good!
So what's so special about avocado toast? Do they sprinkle edible gold on it? Are the avocados harvested from trees guarded by a bank of Komodo dragons? Is it carried to your table on satin pillows by young men and women who have trained for this since birth?

No, but it does prove that some people have more money than sense, even if they don't have a lot of money.

I made avocado toast at home today. The avocado cost $.69 and two slices of bread cost $.26, which means my avocado toast cost $.95 to make. And if I could sell that to unwitting hipsters for $9, or even $19, I'd be able to buy a new house outright in about three months.

The Sanctum restaurant in Orlando charges $9 for their avocado toast. You can choose from fermented sourdough bread, or sprouted grain Ezekiel toast, which is very carefully prepared slices of nasty death. Then they put on smashed avocado, tomato, watermelon radish, black sesame, and sprouts.

Still, even if I skip a once a week treat of $9 avocado toast, that's not going to get me a house anytime soon.

Here in Orlando, an average 3 bedroom/2 bathroom house is around $250,000. In Indiana, it's $200,000, or even $150,000 out in the country. Of course, you won't find many places serving avocado toast out in the country. Most pretentiousness is confined to the bigger cities.

A 20 percent downpayment on a house in Orlando will be $50,000, or 5,555 avocado toasts, assuming you don't tip. If you skip your once-a-week avocado toast, you can save your downpayment in almost 107 years, give or take a few months.

Of course, this makes a case for moving to Indianapolis, because you can make a $40,000 downpayment in roughly 85.5 years, 22 years sooner.

I don't know how quickly real estate millionaire Tim Gurner amassed his first downpayment, but something tells me not eating avocado toast was not his big secret.

Maybe he worked hard and made smart investments. Maybe he and his wife shared a double income. Maybe he got several million dollars from his dad which, like another real estate mogul we know, he managed to turn into a few million dollars.

Regardless, Tim Gurner insulted a group of people he has nothing in common with about a lifestyle choice he knows nothing about, giving advice to people who don't want it.

And that's my thing!

I don't need some Australian rich guy waltzing in here, telling American hipsters that everything they do, wear, and eat is completely wrong and stupid.

That's also my thing.

The guy's already got enough money that he's being interviewed by Australian "60 Minutes" (which is metric "37.28 Minutes"). Meanwhile I can't even get a pizza delivered in that time.

So check your math, Tim Gurner, because it's faulty and completely unreasonable. And check your attitude as well, because if anyone's going to grouse about how a bunch of man-bun-and-flannel wearing hipsters turned a 69 cent vegetable into a $9 breakfast snack, it's going to be me.

But I still think he's right about the coffee.





You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Karl the Curmudgeon is Proud of His Stupid Salt Shaker

"Hey, Kid, check out my new salt shaker," said Karl, beaming with pride.

Where? I looked over the table. We were sitting on his back patio for a Saturday night baseball game — my Reds were taking on his Pirates — and he had laid out a big spread of hot dogs, potato salad, beer, and other ballgame necessities, like more beer. He had installed a flatscreen TV in the porch, and we were going to sit outside and eat and drink ourselves silly.

"That thing," he said, pointing at a black plastic obelisk in the center of his table.

That thing that looks like a space-age thermos?

"Yep. It's a Bluetooth salt shaker."

Ha, that's funny. I thought you said Bluetooth salt shaker.

"I did," he said. "It's called the 'Smalt,' which means 'smart salt.'"

That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Sorry, the dultest thing. Who needs a Bluetooth salt shaker? What's it do, tell you how much salt you have left?

"No, no. Check it out!" Karl was excited. I hadn't seen him grin this much since his youngest daughter finally got a job and moved out of the house. "It plays music, it has a light ring, and the light even changes color."
Alright, I admit it. I want one. I even entered a contest to win one.

Why do I need my salt shaker to do that? Why don't we just string some Christmas lights around the porch and use the regular salt like a normal human being.

"Because this is more than just a salt shaker. It's a smart salt shaker."

But it's not a smart salt shaker. It's a speaker with a salt shaker inside it.

"The package called it 'The first multi-sensory device to make the dining experience fun."

Seriously? If you need a salt shaker to make dining fun, you're eating with the wrong people.

"You're here, aren't you?"

Hey, I'm a damn delight, I said. Besides, how much fun can a salt shaker actually be.

"It's not just a salt shaker," said Karl. "It's a multi-sensory smart kitchen device."

What are the multiple sensory things?

"Well, the lights and the sound."

That's it? I said. How is that a multi-sensory device?

"It uses your sense of sight and hearing."

So does my television, but I don't shake it on my scrambled eggs.

"Ah-ha! That's a third sense: your sense of taste," Karl declared.

Oh jeez, try not to look so triumphant about that. It's just sad.

"You have to admit I'm right though."

I admit nothing. Calling something multi-sensory is just puffed up marketing jargon. By that definition, everything is multi-sensory. I can hear and watch my phone. All I need to do is lick it, and I've got the trifecta.

"Ooh, I almost forgot. The Smalt is wired into Amazon's Alexa system, so you can give it voice commands like you do Alexa."

Alexa, schedule a mental competency test for Karl on Monday.

"Knock it off. I'm fine," said Karl.

You know what'd go great out here? A Siri-enabled froyo machine. Maybe a barbecue that streams Netflix. I call it Netflix and Grill.

"You're just jealous because you don't have any cool tech like this back in the 19th century."

Actually I do. I have an Alexa and I have a salt shaker. They're modular, so I can just attach them together with some duct tape. I can even swap it out with the pepper shaker. Bet your Smalt can't do that.

"I don't know. It didn't say anything about pepper in the instructions."

I held my potato salad up to the Smalt. Okay, how's it work? Where's the button?

"Oh, it doesn't have a button," said Karl. "You have to shake it out."

Shake it? How is this a smart salt shaker if I have to shake it like a caveman? Do we have to bang on a log to change the TV channel too?

"No, you preselect the amount of salt you want and then shake it out."

How the hell do you do that?

"You can turn the dial—"

Turn the dial? Do I have to put my stone knife down?

"—Shut up. Or you can ask Alexa to dispense the amount of salt you want."

Why can't I just shake a normal salt shaker and stop when I have enough?

"Because you lack imagination."

I lack imagination? I'm not the one who couldn't imagine life without a $200 musical thermos. If you want music, turn on the giant stereo in your living room and get a $.97 disposable salt shaker from the store.

"But this is voice activated."

So is this: Karl, can you hand me the real salt shaker?




You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, May 05, 2017

All this Spinning is Making Me Dizzy

Erik is out of the office this week, so we're reprinting a column from 10 years ago.

After the new year started, I looked down at my stomach and realized I had broken last year's resolution. And the year before that. And the year before that.

"I'm going to exercise more this year," I vowed yet again, only this time I meant it. Not like all those other times I meant it though.

I had been an avid bicycle racer for more than eight years when I was a teenager, so I was sure I could easily whip myself back into shape if I could hop back on the old horse. So I drove down the street to my local gym to fulfill my new promise.

"I want a gym membership," I said to the guy at the front desk.

"Great," he said. "We've got a one year, five year, and a lifetime membership."

"Hold on there, Sparky. I'm not one to rush into commitment. Do you have anything shorter?"

Sparky gave me a look usually reserved for people who use the sauna to warm up their cinnamon rolls.

"We have a one week trial. Give that a shot, and if you like it, we'll set you up with something longer."

"Sounds great. Do you have any of those pedaling classes?"

"Uh, I think you want the Sales Training Institute."

"Not peddling, Sparky, pedaling. Like a bike."

"Oh, you mean spinning," he said with a sniff.

"Yeah, whatever."

"You're in luck. We've got one starting in 15 minutes. But I have to warn you, Brigitte can be a real taskmaster."

"Not to worry, son. I was riding 40 miles a day when you were still falling off your trikey."

I found the locker room, changed into my old riding gear, and made my way into the spinning room.

A muscular young woman, Brigitte, was pedaling a stationary bike at the front of the room, while a group of men and women of various fitness levels were slowly spinning away.

"Let me guess, you're Erik," said Brigitte.

"Yep, how'd you guess?"

"Geoff said you used to race years ago. I saw your shiny lycra spandex outfit and guessed it was you."

"I wore this in college. It was my lucky racing outfit."

"Uhh, I don't know if lycra is supposed to be stretched that much. Can you breathe alright?"

"Sure," I said, taking a deep breath. I heard a few seams pop, so I let it out quickly. I walked to an empty bike behind a somewhat large woman and prayed she wasn't gassy. As I mounted my bike, I heard another small tearing sound. As snug as my outfit was, I hoped it was my hamstring and not my shorts.

"Okay class, here we go," shouted Brigitte. As we started pedaling away, I flashed back to my college days when we battled fierce headwinds mile after grueling mile.

"Erik, what are you doing?!" Brigitte hollered.

I raised up. "Drafting. Good riders draft to conserve energy. With Gertrude up there, I'll be fresh as a daisy."

Gertrude turned around and glared at me.

"Alright, class, hill time!" Brigitte shouted. "Out of the saddle and attack that hill."

We stood up and cranked hard. I adopted the traditional side-to-side rocking motion that racers use to speed up hills. The guy next to me stared, mouth agape.

"Good riders rock their bikes like this to get up hills faster, Chester," I told him.

"So why are you doing it?"

I ignored his snide comment, and assumed the tuck position and coasted.

"No resting, Erik! Keep pedaling," hollered Brigitte.

"I reached the top first, so I'm coasting down the hill to conserve energy."

"We're not at the top yet."

"Maybe you're not, but I am. You all ride like a bunch of tourists."

"Stand up and pedal."

Chester snickered. I decided to show him how we dealt with troublemakers back in The Day.

"Brigitte, this guy keeps leaning on me," whined Chester.

"I'm showing Chester how to ride in a pack," I said, innocently. "It can get pretty hairy in there, especially in a race. We can't all draft off Gertrude."

Gertrude glared at me again. "One more crack like that and I'll shove your seat-—"

"That's enough. We're here to ride, not to argue. And we're certainly not racing. You need to take this seriously, Erik."

"I am taking it seriously. I'm wearing my helmet and everything."

"Yeah, that's another thing I wanted to talk to you about."


Photo credit: TheReady199 (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Oregon State Board Fines Engineer for Using Math, Engineering

Mats Järlström is an engineer. He has a degree in electrical engineering from a Swedish university, and was an airplane camera mechanic in the Swedish Air Force, before holding several other technical, engineering-y jobs, until he emigrated to the U.S. in 1992.

But the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying (OSBEELS) has fined him $500 for "practicing engineering without a license," because he does not have an official Oregon engineering license. So he's suing them for violating his First Amendment rights.

The flap started when Järlström's wife was ticketed by a red light camera in Beaverton in 2013, and Järlström decided to take action.

Using highly technical and complex procedures typically only learned in top-notch engineering schools — like numbers and time and stopwatches and stuff — Järlström measured the length of yellow lights, and found that the time was too short.

Basically, the state was ripping people off by making the yellow lights too short. Järlström believed the cameras were using an out-of-date formula, failing to allow more time for a car turning the corner as compared to a car driving straight through.

So he presented his case to everyone he could. He spoke to local media, he spoke to the national media, he went on "60 Minutes," and he was even invited to speak to the Institution of Transportation Engineers. He also emailed his findings to OSBEELS — which is an anagram for BE LOSES — who got mad because he wasn't in their little club.

Järlström was fined $500 by OSBEELS —which is also an anagram for SEE SLOB — after explaining how the stoplights were putting the public safety at risk. They took two years to investigate Järlström, whose only crimes seem to be calling himself an electronics engineer and writing "I am an engineer" in his email.

I know engineers like to be thorough, but two years? Are you seriously that bad at your jobs?

They said that there were Very Important And Serious state laws in place that makes it illegal to practice engineering without a license. And if he continued to tell people about how the state is ripping drivers off, they could fine him thousands of dollars.

In their letter, they said, "By providing the public with his traffic engineering calculations, Järlström engaged in the practice of engineering."

I sort of see their point. I would be wary of going to a doctor who was not licensed. I expect my lawyer to have passed his or her bar exam. And in Indiana, you need 1,500 hours of training before you can get your cosmetologist's or barber's license.

In Oregon, to become a really-and-for-true professional engineer, you have to pass two engineering exams and have four years or more engineering work under a professional engineer. So while it takes more effort to become an Oregon engineer than an Indiana barber, at least Indiana doesn't lose its ever-loving mind when a barber from another country says "Hey, I'm a barber."

And lose their mind they did, because OSBEELS — also an anagram for EEL BOSS — said that Järlström simply saying "I am an engineer" and doing math was enough to violate their Very Important And Serious laws.

But Mat Järlström is not one to take things lying down! He is getting some help from the conservative public interest law firm, Institute for Justice, and is suing OSBEELS — also BEE LOSS — for violating his First Amendment rights.

"The First Amendment guarantees to every American their right to debate anything and everything. And nobody needs a government permission slip to talk,'' said attorney Samuel Gedge — an anagram of EGAD LEGUMES — of the Institute for Justice — an anagram for UNJUST TIT FEROCITIES.

"You don't need to be an engineer to talk about traffic lights," Gedge — also EAGLE SMUDGE — added during their press conference.

This isn't the first time OSBEELS — also S.O.B. EELS — has overstepped their bounds. They lodged a $1,000 fine for "illegal, unlicensed practice of engineering" against an activist who told the La Pine city council that a new power plant would be too loud for nearby homes.

They also investigated a Portland City Councilman who has a bachelor's degree in environmental and civil engineering from Cornell, and a master's degree from the MIT School of Civil Engineering. His sin? He described his professional background as an environmental engineer in a Voter's Pamphlet.

I hope Järlström prevails, otherwise he may have to create a GoFundMe drive to cover the fine. That shouldn't be too hard though, since his last name is an anagram for Mr. Slot Jar.


Photo credit: Kevin Payravi (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)



You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Inside a United Airlines Customer Service Meeting

Helen McCarthy: I'd like to start by welcoming our CEO, Mr. Oscar Munoz, to our weekly customer service response meeting. Mr. Munoz, it's truly an honor to have you here.

Oscar Munoz: Thank you, Helen. Peter Drucker, the famous management consultant, was a big proponent of Management By Wandering Around. And with all the bad press I — I mean, the airline — has been getting, I wanted to get a better sense of some of the problems we've been facing. So I thought I would wander down here, among the average people, and see how you deal with complaints. I can't imagine we have very many, so this won't take long, will it?

Helen: Actually, sir, we spend every Thursday dealing with hundreds of complaints. Lately, we've also been taking half of every Monday to manage weekend complaints. We discuss each one and then figure out a response for the little bastar— I mean, the customers.

Munoz: Heh, nice catch. Well, let's see if I can help you speed things along. Who's first?

Kayla Thompson: We've got a female passenger traveling with her 12-year-old daughter who was seated next to a man who kept groping her.* Apparently he was already intoxicated when he boarded, tried to grope one of the flight attendants, and then we kept serving him alcohol.

Munoz: How bad did it get?

Thompson: The woman told the crew, but they couldn't move her, so she made an official complaint—

Munoz (waggles his fingers): Oooh, an official complaint.

(Everyone laughs.)
Thompson: —good one, sir. We're going to send her four $100 gift vouchers, but not admit to anything. We don't need the FAA breathing down our necks again.

Munoz: Sounds good. Who's next?

Barry Smoot: A newlywed couple wanted to sit together on the way to their honeymoon, and even purchased their tickets together, but they were upset that the system charged them an additional $80 for it. They complained to the gate attendant who kicked the complaint up to us.

Munoz: Have they taken their return flight yet?

Smoot: No, not yet.

Munoz: Cancel their tickets, and rebook them on separate flights. Put her in the last row in the middle seat, and put him in a business class aisle seat.

Smoot: How does that punish them?

Munoz: He'll gloat about it when they land, and she'll blame him. They'll be divorced in three years.

Thompson: Speaking of couples, we've got a young couple flying to their destination wedding in Costa Rica, tried to move seats during a layover.* The plane was half full, so they jumped up to economy plus. Flight staff asked them to return to their seat, which they did. Twenty minutes later, a U.S. Marshall boarded the flight and kicked them off.

Munoz: Did they get another flight?

Thompson: We put them on a flight the next morning.

Munoz: Did you charge them a ticket change fee?

Thompson: No, sir.

Munoz: Oooh, too bad. Missed opportunities, people. Remember, we need to always look for tiny ways to gouge the customer. Small nicks and cuts, not shovel-sized stabbings. Your victims shouldn't know they're dying until you've drained them dry.

Thompson: We've had some media people asking about this one. What should we say?

Munoz: What do you recommend? Anyone?

Thompson: Say they were drunk and became verbally abusive?

Munoz: Let's call that the nuclear option. Stick a pin in it and we'll circle back.

McCarthy: Say we found contraband items in their bags?

Munoz: No, because that means they snuck it past TSA, and they give me enough trouble as it is. Plus, people might think we were snooping in their luggage.

McCarthy: Don't we?

Munoz: Well, some of the baggage handlers have been known to help themselves, but we say it's not our responsibility.

Smoot: Ooh, I know! Say they tried to repeatedly change seats, and that they failed to comply with crew instructions!

Munoz: Nice one, Smoot! You'll go far in this airline!

(The others congratulate Barry on his insights.)

Munoz: Well, folks, I have to to go my next meeting. But this has certainly been an eye opener. I didn't realize we had so many complaints. I only know about the ones in the press, so thank you for the education.

Smoot: Mr. Munoz? Before you go, what was the final result of that doctor we dragged off the plane?

Munoz: Oh, man, you guys will love this! His two front teeth were knocked out, right? Well, the Chicago PD inventoried one of the teeth and have it in their evidence lockup. We sent his luggage on to Louisville even though we pulled him off. And two days ago, I promised we weren't going to fire anyone over the whole incident.*

(Everyone laughs and applauds.)

McCarthy: Mr. Munoz, it has been a real pleasure to watch you work.


* Actual incidents from the last two weeks.

Note: This is satire, and not a true transcript of any meeting at United Airlines. However, the incidents marked with a *
actually happened since Dr. Dao was dragged off an airplane in Chicago.



Photo credit: Luis Argerich (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)


You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.