jobs, life, memories, reminiscing, universal

First Job

My first job was working at the bottle register in a grocery store called Price Chopper (now known as Market 32). Back then, they didn’t have the machines that took the bottles for you. However, there was one thing that was similar to the machines of today: instead of me giving the customers money, I gave them a receipt for how much they returned, which they could then cash in at the customer service desk or when they went through the checkout line with their groceries.

Needless to say, it was a dull job. When there were no customers, I had to find things to do. There was always taking out trash, taking out the buckets that had all the smashed-up bottles in them, and cleaning up behind the counter. If I finished that up and there were still no customers, then I would either go over to the end of a cashier’s aisle and bag up groceries for the customers, or I’d go out to the parking lot to gather up the carts that customers left near their cars.

Was it a stressful job? No, it was a simple one. Not too hard to understand or execute. And that was what made it irritating when people did certain things. For example, there were these two “dudes” who looked like Keanu Reeves and what’s-his-name from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure  who would come in every now and then with MONTH’S worth of returns. Their order alone would take fifteen minutes.

The policy of the store was that we weren’t supposed to take any single order that was over $25. If someone had that much, then we had to tell them to go to the end of the line with whatever was left over. I knew this, but one of the girls who covered the register while I was on lunch break didn’t, so when I come back and take over, the next customer in line gets mad at ME for what someone else didn’t know.

“That was ridiculous! i shouldn’t have had to wait that long,” he said.

I understood his frustration, but at the same time I didn’t like him (1) getting mad at me about what SHE did, and (2) getting mad at HER when she didn’t cover my station a lot. I don’t think it’s right to hold it against someone when they didn’t have the knowledge to know any better, so I decided to address it.

“I’m sorry about that, but she was just covering for my lunch break. She doesn’t normally work over here, so she didn’t know the policy,” I said.

“That’s no excuse. She….blah blah blah blah blah.”

At that point, I realized there was no reaching him. I just processed his order while he complained.

Other employees could be irritating too. I remember going outside one morning to start bringing in carts. Another employee came in and said, “Hey, someone left a six-pack of empty beer bottles out there between my truck and that car.”

I looked at him, dumbfounded, and I said, “So instead of picking it up and bringing it to me, you just walked past it…even though you knew it shouldn’t stay there?”

“That’s your job,” he said. “You’re bottle boy, not me.”

As he went into the store, I said, “It’s probably better you left it for me. Wouldn’t want you to strain yourself.”

Then you had your usual pain in the ass supervisors, who liked to be condescending every chance they got and/or flex their authority. For example, one night I was upstairs cleaning the break room when I got a call that there was a customer at the bottle register. When the customer was gone, the front end supervisor said, “You can’t take breaks whenever you feel like it.”

I said, “I wasn’t, I was CLEANING the break room.”

She left without another word.

Another time, I was only halfway through my shift when I got an upset stomach. Fortunately there were no customers, so I made it to the bathroom in time. (Yes, this part of the memory is gross: I had diarrhea.)  When I got back, I asked the supervisor if I could leave because I could tell I might be hit with another bout of it.

She said, “Are you sure you can’t stay? Because if you go home, I’ll have to work the bottle return.”

I was thinking: aw, poor baby…so don’t be a supervisor…so now I have to run the risk of crapping myself because the bottle register is beneath you…sorry it would add one more thing to your plate, but that’s why they pay you the big bucks!

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all bad. In fact, during the summer when I went in and found out I would be on carts instead of the bottle register, it was actually fun. Between runs to the parking lot to get the carts, I would go inside and bag groceries for customers. There was one cashier in particular (a stunning blonde named Suzanne) whose aisle I would always pick. Things never went anywhere with her, but it was fun to flirt.

Also, I was completely unsupervised when I was out on carts. I’d often just walk around the parking lot, writing poems in a tiny notebook that I could keep in my pocket. If a supervisor did come out and see me, I told them I was walking around to see if there were any carts hidden between cars. Hell, one time I even took a stroll behind every store in the Price Chopper Plaza, simply because I wanted to kill time…although, to my surprise, I DID find carts back there!

I was young. My biggest responsibilities were homework, bottle return, bagging groceries, and retrieving carts. At the time I hated that menial job, but now…shoot, I WISH I could walk behind those stores again!

Got a first job story that YOU would like to share? Comment below!!!

~~~Steve

everyone, habits, life, observation, universal

Strange Habits We All Have

Ugh…I didn’t get to do anything that I wanted to do this morning because, for some reason, my alarm was set to go off only on Saturdays and Sundays. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on how the day goes), I woke up just in time to get ready and not be late for work.

Still, it irked me to no end that I missed out on my morning ritual of getting up, having a cup of coffee, and then taking care of various tasks. Writing this blog is one of them. The other two are: (1) submitting my novella Maybe the Dream Knows What is Real to ten blog sites that accept submissions for reviews and (2) properly formatting at least 5 pages of a novel I uploaded to Amazon.

Out of everything I just wrote in that last paragraph, there is one word that stands out: “ritual.” Routine. Habit. This is what inspired today’s blog because it got me wondering: “What peculiar habits do other people have?” I just revealed a few of mine, although you might not realize it. Let me describe things a little deeper, and you will see what I mean.

Submit to at least 10 book review websites

How is this a peculiar habit? Simple: I have a list of over 600 websites that accept submissions for review. However, I can’t think of the list as a whole. If I did, then it would be too overwhelming for me. (“My God…600 websites to submit my book for review!!! I’ll never finish!”)

Also, aside from having to submit books I already wrote for review, I’m also thinking of ones I want to publish. When I upload them to Amazon, I know the formatting doesn’t translate exactly how I want it when I view it on Kindle. That means having to revise and reformat (more on that shortly).

Last but not least, as of this writing I do this only on weekday mornings. That’s because I have my kids on the weekends. The last thing I want to do is ignore them while I type away on a computer.

Therefore, I had to break down the list to a number that would accomplish three things:

  • It wouldn’t feel so daunting.
  • It would leave me with time to work on other things.
  • It would leave me with a sense of accomplishment by the time I was done on Friday morning.

I settled on the number 10. Multiply that by 5 weekdays, and you get 50. That means in two weeks, I have reached out to 100 sites. At a rate of 100 every two weeks, that means I will have contacted all these sites in approximately 12 weeks/3 months. Then I can give myself two weeks off, and start from the top again.

Formatting at least 5 pages of a novel I uploaded to Amazon

In MS Word, the novel comes to 195 pages. If I do 5 pages per weekday, that means I do 25 per week. 4 weeks would be 100. That means I would finish reformatting in about 8 weeks/2 months. That might seem “long,” but believe me: it takes me a while to slog through those 5 pages because I am very particular about how the writing will look on the Kindle. This means I agonize over those 5 pages. If I tried to do more than that, I’d burn out.

Miscellaneous

Here are some other areas where I have strange habits:

  • When it comes to debts, like a credit card, I plan out how much I am going to pay them by dividing the amount I owe by 10.
  • When I read a book, I count the number of pages and divide that by 10. If there is a remainder, then I read a couple extra pages on the first day. (EXAMPLE: A book is 303 pages long. Divided by 10, that would be 30 days, but there are 3 pages left, so I will read 13 pages on day 1.)
  • Let’s say I come up with a list of CDs, movies, and books that I want to buy. What I will do is look at my calendar for my next few paydays, and I will pick one item from each list to buy on those days.

What quirks/strange habits do YOU have?

Please feel free to share them below. I promise: there will be no judgment here!

~~~Steve

criticism, lesson, writing

The Worst Question to Ask a Writer?

Usually I write blogs that can relate to anyone. Today I want to be self-indulgent.

Stephen King once said that one of the questions he hated being asked was, “Where do you get your ideas?” At least I THINK he said that. I’m pretty sure it was an inquiry he didn’t enjoy. Even if he never said it, I know for a fact David J. Schow didn’t. He wrote about it at length in one of his “Raving & Drooling” articles in Fangoria.

My point is that I don’t understand why this question drew such repulsion. After all, there have been many non-fiction pieces written by many authors (King was one of them!) where they specifically say, “I was walking through the store when I saw something, and it made me think, ‘What if…'” In other words, there are many occasions where they know EXACTLY what inspired a story idea.

Maybe it’s because they think the question means, “Why are you so creative when the rest of us aren’t?” I can’t say. The only time a question related to my ideas annoyed me was when one person said to me, “All I kept thinking is, ‘Why would anyone write a story like this?'” That’s because she was a romance novelist, and I had asked for her assistance with a novel called The Size Curse.

To be honest, I kind of had it coming. I mean, Size Curse does not have your usual plot. Not a lot of people “get” it. However, I fired back at her and said, “Well, in that case you could ask why any author writes ANYTHING. I mean, I could just as easily ask you why you write the stories you do when Danielle Steel already got there decades before you, and did it better.” The reason for the snark in my reply was due to the implied snootiness in hers. If you think about it, what her question was really saying was, “I can’t imagine how anyone could be SICK ENOUGH to write a story like this.”

Meanwhile, the news is full of stories of terrorist attacks, serial murder, people selling their kids for their weight in drugs, etc. Given how horrifying real-life stories are, I don’t think it’s an indication of a sick mind if you come up with a horrifying story. (And if it’s a sick mind who comes up with these stories, what does that say of those who CONSUME them? I mean, the writer gets paid to write them, but the reader has to PAY to read them. Think about that for a moment!)

At any rate, enough about the close-minded Danielle Steel clone. My point is just that I don’t think being asked where you get your ideas is a bad thing. It’s not like they’re saying what Danielle 2.0 said: “This idea is so repulsive that I can’t imagine coming up with it. How could you possibly think of such a sick idea???” THAT would be a question worth hating, yes, but not the inquiry I’m discussing.

I like when people ask where I get ideas. Sometimes it’s easy to answer. For example, with The Size Curse, I was thinking about how so many people wish they are something they’re not: taller, more handsome, in better shape, etc. I combined that with a riff on the Franz Kafka story Metamorphoses, and BOOM! Instant Size Curse.

Being asked where I get my ideas make me think about it, and sometimes it’s an interesting exploration. Oh, and sometimes it will even make me think of NEW stories. So let’s dial back the hate for this question. It’s undeserved.

And in case you’re wondering what this Size Curse is all about (after all, reading it would help you understand this post more), then you can find out about it here:

The Size Curse

criticism, life, medication, mental health, misunderstanding

I’m the Anti Anti-Pharmacy Guy (Mental Illness is Real)

The other day I was listening to an interview with a guy who I shall not name, but I will give his initials: GC. He was being interviewed because he is someone who has made his business blow up through YouTube. At any rate, he started out by giving some good advice, but then things took a turn for a worse when the interviewer went into something called “the lightning round,” where he asked some quick questions unrelated to the main topic. One of them was, “What is your favorite movie?” GC said, “Oh, man, what is that one…that meteor one…I watched it seventeen times, and I cry every time…oh yeah Armageddon!”

I actually paused the video and thought, “Wait a minute. Do I really want to take advice from someone who is THAT excited about a movie that is universally regarded as one of the worst ever made?” I decided to keep giving him a chance. After all, I’m sure I have liked movies that made people question my sanity.

Then the interviewer got around to the topic of a new book that GC had coming out, and he revealed that the proceeds of the book were going toward some cause (Drug-Free America and Drug-Free World) toward educating parents about how kids are being “overprescribed” drugs for ADHD and so on. He said, “The drugs that are coming from the ‘big pharma’ are massive, MASSIVE drugs.” He said he wanted to educate kids and tell them, “Hey, maybe there is NOTHING wrong with you. Maybe you’re a genius. It’s like Van Gogh. Everyone thought there was something wrong with him, until one day someone looked and said, ‘Wow, he’s a genius.'”

Yeah, a one-eared genius.

I’m so sick of these dime-store psychiatrists who think they know so much. Oh, so the medications from “big pharma” are heavy drugs, eh? Hmmm…maybe that’s why you have to jump through hoops to get them. It’s not like crack where you can go down to the street corner. Then again, maybe you can. I’m sure drug dealers peddle legal drugs just as much as they do the illegal ones. But if someone is going to a drug dealer to get something that they aren’t prescribed illegally, that’s not something that rests on “big pharma’s” shoulders.

All I can say is this: from MY own experience, the life before and after being on medication is like night and day. My self-esteem is better, my outlook on life is 1000 times more positive, and I am happier than ever. Oh, and for those of you who are wondering if medication has dulled my creativity, here’s your answer:

IT HASN’T DULLED IT ONE BIT.

In other words, for those of you who think Van Gogh wouldn’t have been able to create all those wonderful paintings, you are wrong. The other difference? He would have still had both ears.

criticism, intelligence, misunderstanding, reviews, writing

How Reviews SHOULD Be Done

Not too long ago I got a 2-star review about my novella Maybe the Dream Knows What is Real. It wasn’t the 2 stars that angered me; it was the reasoning behind it. Here is what the review said:

“REVIEW TITLE: You can’t blame everyone for everything…

Every so often I come across a story that I find hard to review, and this was one of them. The main character wasn’t likable, and I found it hard to empathize with his plight. He was written as an awkward kid short on friends who grows up to be cocky and opinionated. He blames everyone for how he turned out in life, taking little responsibility for himself. The story had some very graphic scenes, more than I found enjoyable, which is saying a lot since I spend most of my time reading horror stories.
The synopsis stated, ‘This is a story about the dangers of depending on others to give you a sense of self-worth, taken to the extreme.’ This is probably why the world is full of psychopaths and unbalanced people. To hinge your feelings and views on the world on the feedback of everyone you meet in your life can only lead to disappointment. To blame all past interactions as the reason for your current and future behavior is a problem and the situation the main character finds himself in. If you want a dark ride through the eyes of a crazy person this is the book for you, for me it didn’t hit the mark.”

Right off the bat, this reviewer shows he didn’t get the entire idea behind the story. He is critical of the main character for not being likable and not taking responsibility for himself.

Um…well…yeah, that was kind of the idea of the story. That is why the my synopsis says, “This is a story about the dangers of depending on others to give you a sense of self-worth.” He wasn’t meant to be likable.

In fact, I want to talk about this whole idea that main characters are always meant to be likable. It’s foolish, and it hasn’t been the case ever since the whole “anti-hero” motif came along. To base a review on whether or not you and the main character could be best buddies seems a bit odd to me.

That shouldn’t be what informs a review. What SHOULD inform are two simple questions: (1) What was the author trying to achieve? (2) Did they do that? I mean, can you imagine if every reviewer based reviews on whether or not they liked or could identify with the main character? Books like A Clockwork Orange and By Reason of Insanity would have nothing but 1- and 2-star reviews.

Look at it this way: I bet Roger Ebert was not a fan of every genre of every movie he was sent to see, and yet his reviews were not based on whether or not he liked horror movies. They weren’t based on whether or not he liked the characters. They were based on how well the filmmakers made their world believable. End of story. For example, if a movie was about a character who was insane, he didn’t give it 2 stars and say, “The main character was crazy, and I couldn’t identify with him.”

Thankfully, there are still some people understand this rule. They know how to look at the story without any personal biases. They know that depending on others for a sense of self-worth is the EXACT downfall of this main character, and they understand I’m not asking anyone to empathize or feel sorry for him.

I’m not sure if the majority of reviewers write like the quote above, or if they know how to separate those emotions. The jury is still out on that one. However, I am grateful for those who do.

 

context, music, Nirvana

Don’t Be Too Lazy to Put Things in the Context of History

On Wednesday I wrote about Nirvana and how, to music fans today, they might seem like just another band. However, at the time they came out, they had a massive impact on the music industry. What was once considered “alternative” was suddenly mainstream, thus rendering that adjective obsolete. (To be honest, it never meant much to me anyway. It certainly wasn’t a “genre.” I mean, how can you say alternative was a genre, which means it was one particular kind of music, when you had a band like the Catherine Wheel and a musician like Bjork lumped under that moniker? They are clearly NOT the same kind of music; therefore, your “alternative” label didn’t mean a damn thing.)

However, it isn’t easy for most people to look at a phenomenon like Nirvana within the context of when they came out. Most people just look through their “today” glasses, and that is all they see.

Of course, this isn’t limited to just music. The passage of time can make the significance of anything fade. Take the movie Psycho as another example. Not many people would know this, because we’ve been bludgeoned over the head with a lot worse, but that movie was the first one to show a toilet being flushed on screen. Now in this day and age, where you have gross-out teen comedy movies that show you what is IN the toilet, that might not seem like a big deal. However, that is only if you think about watching the movie TODAY.

The material of stand-up comic Dick Gregory also suffers a reduction in significance with the passage of time. This was the first black comic to go on stage in a suit, looking handsome and speaking intelligently about the racial issues of the day. Now we think about comedians like Kevin Hart and Chris Rock, and what Mr. Gregory said doesn’t seem very controversial or groundbreaking, but again, you need to go back and look at how the rest of the world was. You might listen to his routines in 2019, but you have to imagine how they would have made you feel if you’d heard them when they first came out.

So much of the power and importance can be lost if you don’t exercise your mind a little. Imagine what the rest of the world was like back then; don’t just examine it with your modern-day view. Like the title of this blog says: “Don’t be too lazy to put things in the context of history.”

memories, music, Nirvana, reminiscing, Smashing Pumpkins

Thinking About Kurt Cobain

Why am I thinking about Kurt today? It’s not like it is the anniversary of his death; he died in April. I can’t say for sure, other than I was driving around in my car yesterday and decided to put on some Nirvana tunes.

All these years later, it’s easy to forget the impact Nirvana had on music. Music listeners these days look at them as just another band, but in 1991 they caused a seismic shift. Before them, the airwaves were cluttered with songs like Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” and Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me.”

Then Nirvana came along, and we heard things like this:

“Just because you’re paranoid

don’t mean they’re not after you.”

~~~Nirvana, “Territorial Pissings”

Man, what great lyrics. They have the ability to evoke dread and a laugh at the same time. A lot of Kurt’s lyrics can do that.

For example, there are these lines from “Smells Like Teen Spirit:”

“And I forget just why I taste.

Oh yeah…I guess it makes me smile.”

While the obliviousness/cluelessness of the narrator is humorous, it also has a dark side to it. Think about it: this is a person who might be running the world someday. Do you really want it left in their hands? Sure, we could maybe attribute his “duh-ness” to being young, something they might outgrow, but we can’t be sure.

Imagine if someone like Bill S. Preston Esquire (Keanu Reeves’ character from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) was the guy in charge of pressing “the button.” I can just see him looking at it and going, “Dude, what does THIS do?” That is the fear Kurt’s lyrics evoke in me because I grew up with the generation listening to his music. I knew those people, and most of them were fucking idiots!

I can’t say for certain Kurt was writing about the upcoming so-called “Generation X” when he composed those lines. According to Dave Grohl, the lyrics were cobbled together only minutes before they were recorded, so he finds it hard to believe they were “about” anything. However, even if that is true, that makes it even scarier how on target he was about the attitude most youth had at that time.

Kurt wasn’t just a lyricist. He was a poet, which is another class of artist entirely. (It’s kind of like the difference between a singer and a vocalist, but that’s for another blog.) In a way, he was like the “Gen X” version of one of his heroes (and mine): Leonard Cohen. By that I mean they discarded the usual topics that most musicians favor (girls, cars, and any other shiny happy topics) and went for something deeper. They used their words to explore their souls…and, whether it was an accident or not, they explored ours as well.

From interviews with him and about him, I feel like I knew the type of person Kurt was. For example, there was an interview with Billy Corgan (from MY favorite band, the Smashing Pumpkins) who said that Kurt was a better guitar player than the albums might lead you to believe. According to Billy, Kurt could play a mean lead guitar, but on record he always played the “I can’t play the guitar solo” type of solo.

What do I mean by that? Well, listen to most Nirvana guitar solos. “Teen Spirit” would be a great one to check out. You will notice that the solo basically copies the notes that he sings in the verse. That is how MOST Nirvana solos go. The only exception that comes to mind is the solo on “In Bloom,” which is one of my favorites, not just from Kurt, but from any guitar player ever. It’s proof that he could play a REAL solo instead of just mimicking his vocal line.

So why did he do that? My guess: Kurt was uncomfortable with praise. If he let out his inner guitar god and played wicked solos on their albums, then he’d get people saying, “Wow, man, you are awesome!” To avoid that, he just played the vocal line as his guitar solo. Then, instead of hearing praise, he got to hear people say, “That dude sucks. He can’t even play a real lead part! Lazy bastard just plays the notes he sang!” I believe he was more comfortable with insults than with praise.

Sadly, there are many people like him. I’m one of them. (After all, one of my previous posts was about not being able to take certain compliments.) This is just based on interviews with him, but I feel like Kurt was a gentle, humble soul. He strikes me as someone who didn’t want to be perceived as arrogant; he didn’t want to let the praise he received go to his head, so he sought to reject it.

Of course, he went too far in the opposite direction. Not only did Kurt not become arrogant, but he also never felt like he was worth much of anything. His actions on April 5, 1994 prove that much.

The impression I get of him is that, in terms of personality and demeanor, he was a lot like me. If we had met, we would have been close friends. I wish that had been so, because I know one thing I definitely would have done: I would have tried to do something to make sure he was still here.

Make no mistake about it, folks. Even if he DID only play the vocal line for his guitar solos, we lost a talented, sweet, gentle soul when he went away. He had the ability to do whatever he wanted with his music, but for whatever reason, Kurt felt like it had reached the end of the line.

RIP, dear Mr. Cobain.