Friday, June 30, 2017

Millennials to Blame for Killing Napkins

Millennials are blamed for a lot of things these days, and they don't deserve it.

Well, most of it.

Some of it.

I mean, I blame hipsters for a lot of things, like skinny jeans, flannel shirts in summer, and man buns, and I think we can all get on board with that. But I don't blame the entire 18 – 28 year old demographic for everything wrong in society.

Millennials currently outnumber Baby Boomers, and thanks to the laws of attrition, that won't be changing any time soon. Also, Generation X, my generation, is predicted to start outnumbering the Baby Boomers by 2028, which is a little depressing when you think about what that means.

But as the largest population demographic, Millennials have the biggest buying impact on our economy. Ten years ago, they were the biggest influencers on purchasing, but now they've got their own money, and they're starting to decide when and how they want to spend it. And that has a whole slew of industry experts in a tizzy, shrieking that the sky is falling. Again.

So it's not a surprise to see a slew of articles lately that blame Millennials for killing dozens of industries simply by not patronizing them.
For example, last year, the Washington Post reported Millennials are killing the napkin industry for a variety of reasons: they stopped buying napkins in favor of paper towels, because they prefer to use paper towels at dinner. They think paper towels are a better choice than napkins, said a napkin industry expert, because they're ideal for cleaning.

Paper towels, that is. Napkin industry experts are pretty useless for wiping up spills, and you're never sure if you can recycle them.

Also, says Big Napkin, Millennials are dining out more, which cuts into the napkin industrial complex. But they must be eating at fancy places with cloth napkins or they're wiping their mouths on their flannel sleeves.

On the other hand, despite all their dining out, Millennials are also killing chain restaurants like Applebee's, TGI Fridays, and Buffalo Wild Wings by not eating there anymore.

Sure, they went with their parents when they were little, but now that they can make their own big kid decisions, 20-somethings don't want to eat at the boil-in-a-bag, microwave-a-meal restaurants anymore.

They prefer farm-to-table restaurants. They love the phrase so much, they're turning it into a verb. "I wish I could just farm-to-table this chicken."

Okay, not really, but I'll bet it didn't surprise you either.

The point is, Millennials are getting picky about where they eat, what they do for entertainment, and even the things they do to help the environment.

They value experiences over possessions, so they're traveling more and buying less useless crap. So if you're in the useless crap business — which is about half our gross domestic product — you've got problems. Not because it's the Millennials' fault, but that you didn't find a way to appeal to them and their buying habits.

That's the problem. All these industries don't fit into what 20-somethings want out of life. They didn't do their research, they didn't find out what their young customers wanted, they just assumed that if their parents did it, their kids would do follow suit.

Anyone who grew up in the Sixties knows how well that worked out.

They're killing credit, they're killing traditional banking, they're killing the entire lending industry, cry the financial industry experts.

Can you blame them? They're cautious about spending money, because they're underemployed. They're underemployed because wages dropped after the Great Recession. A recession that was created by Baby Boomers at all the big mortgage lenders and banks. They can't find high-paying jobs because corporations are making cuts so their executives can get million dollar bonuses. Which means they're not buying cars or houses, because they don't feel like driving SUVs or owning 4,000 square foot McMansions to store all the useless crap they're not buying.

Except they got college degrees, and loads of college debt, because they were told that going to college guaranteed a good solid job.

Of course, someone should have explained that those degrees shouldn't be in poetry or art history, because corporations don't hire people to write about their feelings or stare at paintings. Said the guy with a Philosophy degree.

They're even killing golf, because they can't afford to play such an expensive sport. Also, because golf is stupid. Plus golf courses damage the environment. But mostly it's stupid.

Remember, these are the same people who want farm-to-table food because they care about an animal's life experience. Why would they support an environmental black hole like a golf course?

If you want your golf course to succeed, forget the Millennials. Go after the rednecks who put diesel-belching pipes on their pickups because Obama wanted to protect the environment. Tell them liberals think golf courses harm the planet, and they'll belch over to the golf course and sign up in droves.

But this blame game isn't anything new. The older generation always blames the younger generation. Go back as far as you can, and you'll see who was to blame for killing live theater, vinyl records, radio theater, Victrolas, pre-movie newsreels, silent movies, Vaudeville, the harpsichord, leeching, and having the vapors.

Sort of makes you nostalgic for the good old days, doesn't it?

Photo credit: Shari Weinsheimer (, Creative Commons 0, Public Domain)

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 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, 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, 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.