29th Jun2018

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 6/29/18 (TRU Edition)

by Will

I’m gonna take some liberties with the format this week, as it’s sort of a special occasion. I’ll cover this week’s news next week, and I hope you’ll forgive the departure.

As you probably already know, today is the final day of business for Toys “R” in the United States. Some stores closed earlier this week, but all will be closed by tonight. I’m still processing what this means to me. Sure, as a child of the ’80s, and a pop culture junkie, TRU has meant a lot to me over the years. I’ve touched on it here and there, but I don’t think I’ve ever told you my Toys “R” Us origin story. So, there’s no time like the present!

I’ve been talking with a lot of “cohorts” lately, and they’ve said things like “It didn’t mean that much to me.” Or “The toys were too expensive.” They also say they don’t have any real nostalgic connection to the brand. I can’t diminish someone else’s experience, but that simply wasn’t the case for me. I will admit that Toys “R” Us has suffered from something of an identity crisis over the past decade or so, but I think we all remember the golden age of cartoon Geoffrey the Giraffe, and his extended family (Gigi, etc).

For me, TRU was a magical place that I always hoped to sneak off to while my mom and grandmother were visiting the garden center down the plaza from it. I also didn’t get many toys from TRU back in the day, because toys used to be everywhere: People’s Drug, Kmart, Sears, Woolworth’s. But getting a toy from those places was merely pedestrian. To get a toy from TRU was like visiting Mecca. It’s like the song said, “From bikes and trains to video games” – it was the biggest toy store there was!

You know how when you’re a kid, folks are always asking “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My blanket answer was “I want to own a McDonald’s and a Toys ‘R’ Us.” Yes, young Will didn’t know about franchising and commercial real estate leases. He thought you could own one of those just like some rando can own the corner store. Other kids wanted to be astronauts or cops, and I just wanted to work with Geoffrey. Can’t say I didn’t aim high!

As I got older, I learned that folks actually look down on McDonald’s as a place of employment if you’re not a teenager (which is pretty messed up, if you ask me!). Still, that kinda marred the brand in my mind, so I gave up on that dream. That became a dream deferred. I didn’t give up on Toys “R” Us, though. I decided I was going to work for Toys “R” Us corporate. After all, everyone respects a businessman, and I’d still be working with toys!

Unlike most teenagers, I didn’t have an afterschool job. No, I didn’t get my first job until the week after my high school graduation. Where? Toys “R” Us. I had actually applied during the previous Christmas season, when I handed my application to the store director, Erin. Of course they never called (‘cause they never do. The onus of the job hunt is on the hunter), but I tried again the following summer.

Now, if you’re new here, you don’t know much about me. My dad died when I was 3, and I was raised by the Black Golden Girls. To say I was a “Mama’s Boy” would be something of an understatement, but it gets the image across. So, while most teenagers would confidently saunter into a place and ask if they’re hiring, I had my mom with me, and I think she did most of the talking. So, they didn’t call me. However, when I went back the next summer, Erin recognized me because I was the one who had brought his mother with him to apply. She either thought it was cute or sad. I never did find out. Anyway, she hired me and put me to work the next day.

Yay, I was finally working with toys! My dream job! Oh, the smiles I would put on kids’ faces! The funny thing about TRU is that, once you work there, you realize just how big (and kinda unnecessary) that store truly is. I began to realize that I’d spent my childhood worshiping aisles 6D and 7D (action figures), not even acknowledging that there was a whole lot more store than that. More, for which I did not give a shit. They kept putting me in bikes or in diapers, but I’d find a way to sneak back to action figures.

Plus, because I was seasonal (I was leaving for college at the end of the summer), they never saw any need to train me on the register. I worked at that place for 3 seasons before they trained me on register. By the time I was in Year 8, they were like “Here’s Paco. It’s his first day, and we want you to train him on the register.” That was so weird to me. We don’t know that dude, so why are we so quick to let him near the money? Anyway, since I held no “floor value” for them, they had me unload trucks, organize the stockroom, and bring up any big ticket pickup requests, like bikes, swings, etc.

Here’s why TRU means a lot to me: as someone who grew up pretty sheltered, that job gave me a crash course on LIFE. The cute girls, the old ladies – those were the ones they put on the floor. The guys in the back, however, were a rougher bunch. Some of them were ex-cons, while some of them were clearly headed for incarceration. It’s funny looking back on it because I had two very distinct Toys “R” Us employment experiences: the Wheaton era, which was basically Training Day, and the Columbia era, which was Saved By The Bell: The New Class.

These guys were telling me stuff about the women they were seeing, as well as what they were doing to those women. They’d also tell me about their wives. Yup, same dudes. Seventeen year old Will would naively point out “But you’re married!” One thing I will never forget is when Ramone laughed at me, saying “Man, you don’t marry for love. You marry for security.” That was deep, especially at 17.

That place was filled with a cast of characters, and that television show, despite being set in a toy store, would have to air on Netflix or premium cable. There was chainsmoking mumbler, Garrett, who built the bikes. I was working there when JFK Jr. and his wife died, and Garrett was the one who offered up his theory that sky head was to blame. You’ve heard of road head? Well, same thing, but in a privately chartered helicopter. In the sky. Garrett loved his conspiracies.

There was David, the other bike assembly guy, who’d just gotten back from overseas, and was clearly going through some kind of PTSD. He either looked like a fatter Tony Hale or a skinnier Bubba Ray Dudley. The jury’s still out on that. His arms were covered in sleeves, so management made him wear a light blue Oxford to cover his arms so he wouldn’t offend the guests. I remember he was really blinky, and I was always expecting a Falling Down episode from him. He totally took advantage of me because I was young and dumb and had more money than I needed. He had brought some Pocket Monsters stuff back with him from Japan (remember, Pokémon had just hit the US, so this was the original, pure shit), and I remember him selling it to me for some price that really didn’t make a lot of sense. But I hate conflict, and don’t know how to back out of a deal, so “Here’s your money, David.” The sad post-script is that most of that stuff ended up going to my then-girlfriend’s little brother. Yup, I did it all for the nookie. Or was trying to, at least.

Barbara was the first Black lesbian I’d ever encountered, and she scared the shit out of me (not the first lesbian, though – I’d seen the Ellen Degeneres-starring Mr. Wrong almost a decade prior, and well, I just knew…). She was mean, and if she threatened to cut you, I truly believe a cutting was in your future. She had a nice side racket going, where the old White G.I. Joe and Hot Wheels collectors would pay her to put the new cases aside for them, so they could get the good stuff before it hit the floor. I’m sure they were terrified of her, too, but those Treasure Hunts weren’t gonna scalp themselves. Anyway, I clapped back at her one day about something trivial (I was young and stupid) , and stayed on her bad side after that.

Ron was one of the managers, and he made me question every naïve thing I’d ever thought about leadership. Later, in college, I’d learn the difference between management and leadership, but at the time I thought they were the same. He had come from Foot Locker, and I spent a lot of time wondering “What’s he doing here? Shoes have nothing to do with toys.” See, I hadn’t yet hit that realization that retail is just a job. As the youngest person working in the store, I never stopped to think that I was the only one who WANTED to be there due to a love of toys. It was hilarious, though, watching him pursue a phat ass through the store. It’s like he had a sixth sense for it, and then he’d get on the walkie, telling the other guys to meet him in whatever aisle she happened to be in. That shit was pure harassment, but I’d never seen anything like it before. And, to be honest, none of the women ever seemed that offended. If anything, they were just happy to receive some kind of customer service which, as you know, has been lacking in a lot of places in recent years.

Finally, as the ringmaster of this motley crew, Erin was a short woman who wore a tight French braid. In some other life, she was a detective or a parole officer, but here she made sure that Mr. Potato Head was “edged off” (the practice of pulling the boxes to the very edge of the shelf, to give the illusion that the shelves are more full that they actually are. Plus, it brings the item closer to the customer’s reach). You knew it was a rough day when she would pitch in with the clean-up, and release her hair from that braid. She was tough, but fair. She had a maternal, Captain Janeway quality to her, and we were all her Sevens of Nine. They’d eventually transfer her to the Frederick store. I saw her a few years later, and she barely had any recollection of me, my mom, any of it. Through squints, she seemed to sort of register who I was, but I’m sure so many folks had passed through her “finishing school” by that point that they all start to blend together. Still, thanks for not letting Barbara cut me, “Mom”.

In all, I worked for the Wheaton store over the course of 7 years, during summers and Christmas when I’d come home from college, as well as some stints afterward. In early 2006, the company announced plans to close 75 stores across the country, which we thought was unheard of at the time. Still, I didn’t think much about it until I came in one day soon after Christmas to see Store Closing signs hung everywhere. These days you’d probably at least get an email or something, but not then. Were we so primitive in 2006? So, I found out the same way our customers did – seeing the signage in the store.

I’ve already shared some stories about those final days in Wheaton, but that store just kept on teaching me things. In this case, I learned how fun retail could be if you simply didn’t give a shit anymore. Sure, it’s probably not best for the customer, but I had a lot of fun during that liquidation period. Still, it was a part-time job for me, so it didn’t hit me like it probably affected others there. By that point, all the folks I mentioned had already moved on. As I saw it, my education was complete, and I was fine with the store closing. Plus, there was still a TRU across town, so it’s not like we wouldn’t have a local store.

The Wheaton store closed, and I thought that was it for my Toys “R” Us time. In college, I majored in Human Development, with a concentration on early childhood. The whole “I want to work with toys” wasn’t just a pipe dream to me. I took courses on play interaction, and interned at a daycare to study how kids play with each other. The problem, though, is that there was no real career path for that at the time. Sure, now there are schools with toy curriculums, like F.I.T., but that wasn’t a thing in 2001. Once I graduated, nobody knew what to do with me. I sent a bunch of blind letters to Hasbro, TRU, Mattel, and more. See, it turns out toy companies care more about design than intent. It’s more likely they’ll make a cool-looking toy educational instead of making an educational toy cool-looking. If it teaches something, great, but the aesthetic came first. So, the folks who did gave me the time of day wanted to see my portfolio – a portfolio that I did not have. I remember I got a really nice letter from some VP at TRU corporate that was basically “We don’t know what to do with you, but don’t give up on your dreams.” Sorry, lady, but I gave up.

After a stint in commercial real estate, I got a chance to work for Diamond Comic Distributors. It wasn’t quite toys, but it was as close to the toy industry as I felt I was going to get. The sad thing, though, is that you have to sacrifice for your dreams. So, I took a huge pay cut and then found myself with a life I couldn’t afford anymore. My commute was 100 miles a day round trip (that’s not an exaggeration), and I could barely pay my rent. So, I was going to need a second job, and I realized the Columbia Toys “R” Us was halfway between work and home. It also helped that a few of the managers from the tail end of the Wheaton days had transferred to that store. I had an “in”.

Remember when Saved By The Bell: The College Years got cancelled, and Screech kinda crawled back to Bayside in Saved By The Bell: The New Class? That was pretty much my experience here. I had started my TRU career as the youngest person in the store, and now I was something of an elder statesman. Everyone I worked with now was somewhere between 19 and 22, and I thought it was going to be my turn to teach them life lessons. It would by my Training Day. Yeah…that didn’t happen. The Columbia staff had different interests and were in different places in their lives than the Wheaton staff. The Wheaton folks were just working there until a better retail job came along, while the Columbia kids were working their way through community college and didn’t see retail as the end for themselves. With my prior experience, I expected to walk into some kind of Degrassi environment, but it was a lot more madcap than that.

I’ll admit that I probably wasn’t the best person to manage at this point. I mean, I was a good worker – a hard worker – but I did what I wanted. I just kinda took action figures for myself, and made it clear “Don’t you even think about putting me somewhere else.” And I provided good customer service to folks in those aisles, but I did not give a shit about anything outside of Boy’s World. The location of the store made sense on weekdays, as it was on the way home, but it made no sense for me to drive 30 miles on a Saturday morning, to work 5 hours – I was just wasting gas at that point. So, I kinda did what I wanted to “justify” the inconvenience. Yeah, I know it’s a job, and it was my choice to make that commute, but they let me get away with “creating my own experience”, so I guess I “won”?

While my early time with the company was about life’s hard lessons, the latter time was really just about decompression. I looked forward to my Saturday shifts as “Wow, I really tricked this company into paying me to hang out with my friends.” We had a lot of fun, and I still think about a lot of those folks.

Patrick was an interesting kid. He was Chinese, but somehow had a redneck, Tea Party uncle whom he idolized, so he was basically a Chinese redneck. He never understood the contradictions in that, but he never let that stop him. Still he was a lot of fun, as we’d talk about cartoons and Power Rangers. We would team up in the boy’s department, and called ourselves Team Bumblebee.

Crystal was the sweetest girl you’d ever meet, which is why it was perfect that they put her at customer service. Customers loved her, while she had an apple bottom that some folks would’ve paid to take a bite out of. She was our Kelly Kapowski, hands down.

If Crystal was our Kelly, then Amber was definitely our Jessie Spano. She and Crystal looked like they could’ve been sisters, but Amber was the spitfire of the two. She had little Lisa Loeb glasses, and took her supervisor role seriously – almost too seriously at times. That’s why it was even more interesting when she lightened up, and found herself in a love triangle with managers Paul and Jesse.

Bryan was the most responsible 19 year old I’ve ever met in my entire life. He had actually come from the Wheaton store, and was one of the reasons I was looking forward to working at Columbia. He had a mad-on for law enforcement, though. His dream was to go to the police academy, and he’d go on ride alongs during his free time. In the grand scheme of the Columbia store, Bryan was “The Adult”.

Marvin was basically Lord of the R-Zone, which was the electronics department of the store. I never really got a read on him, despite working in his orbit for years. Was he shy? Did he just not like me? I dunno, but I still run into him at comic conventions, as he has segued into the life of a cosplayer in recent years.

The best of the bunch, however, had to be Mike, whom we affectionately called “Special Forces”. Ya see, when he started, he was seasonal and those guys didn’t wear TRU uniforms because A) I don’t think TRU wanted to “waste” them on seasonals, and B) they didn’t want them to be instantly recognizable as employees to customers, as customer interaction would affect their ability to move in the background of everything. So, he wore a black shirt and black jeans, which made him look like some sort of special forces agent, so… Mike’s still around to this day, as many of you know of him from my Thrift Justice posts. He’s one of my best friends, and definitely one of the better things to come from that last TRU stint.

As much as I wanted to think I was the oldest, non-manager there, that wasn’t true. No, that “honor” belonged to “Stanley” (Yeah, that’s not his real name. You don’t need to know that). I’m gonna level with you here: there’s a good chance Stanley was some kind of molester. He was in his 70s, creepy, and wore a Dora the Explorer cap that he found in a shopping cart one day. I know for a fact that he offered $50 to a young employee to have sex with him. I also know she strongly considered it. He knew where all the hooker pickup spots were, and he had some stories. Just as earlier in my career, TRU was still teaching me things. I learned how you can like people who are possibly horrible. Like, I didn’t have *proof* that he had done anything illegal, but I also didn’t have proof that he had not done those things. Still, something about him still came off as “kindly”. I still think about him, and wonder if he’s still with us.

I made it 10 years with TRU, and not much longer. They even gave me a catalog of shit to choose from for my anniversary gift. I never did get that cordless screwdriver… Anyway, I had my performance review, and found out I wasn’t good enough to receive my $0.25 raise. I took a long hard look around, and wondered why I was fighting for a quarter. I’d been raised with the “Every little bit helps” mentality, but here was a company that didn’t think I was worth an additional quarter. Yes, I know that adds up when it’s a quarter for everyone, but TEN YEARS! Call it “Millennial Entitlement” if you want, but that was it for me. I was tired of the commute. I no longer had the job that made this one convenient in the evenings, and I had pretty much just met Lindsay, so I had other stuff I’d rather be doing. So, I basically quit that day of the review. I’d worked out my schedule, and I didn’t owe them any time. I’d show them!

In the years since, I’ve sort of regretted how it ended. I definitely missed the excitement of the holiday season, and even wondered if I was rehireable. I once applied to the closer Rockville store, but never heard back. Ya know, ‘cause the onus of the job hunt… So, my TRU career ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. That’s not how I would like to have gone out, but that’s how life is sometimes. My time at Toys “R” Us was filled with those life-affirming moments, so this just seemed like a natural, if not completely satisfying, end.

As a customer, I’ll definitely miss Toys “R” Us. Sure, Target and Walmart have a foothold in the industry, but their 7 toy aisles don’t hold a candle to the selection at TRU. I used to stop and think about how almost unnecessary a store like TRU was. I mean, think about it: it’s a big box store devoted solely to toys. Only in a capitalistic society could that idea fly and, as we have learned, that same capitalistic society would be what killed it.

Still, folks don’t realize that the concept of “childhood” is fairly young. Before, say, the end of the Industrial Revolution, kids were just seen as tiny adults. Sure, take them to that public execution, nobody cares! So, it’s always amazing to me that, not only did the concept of childhood develop, but that successful businesses arose to capitalize on that. Folks say that toy sales are down, with the internet and other time wasters available, so I often wonder what that means for the evolution of childhood. I guess time will tell.

Anyway, we’re not here to forecast the future of the toy industry. No, we’re here to say goodbye to an old teacher, an old friend. I got to take my oldest to say “goodbye” a few months back, but it saddens me that my youngest will know nothing of Toys “R” Us. She’ll know nothing of the place that helped to shape her father’s worldview. She’ll know nothing of Geoffrey the Giraffe. I only hope that she one day experiences something that affects her the same way that my Toys “R” Us experience affected me. That’s why Toys “R” Us had the West Life Ever.

31st May2013

West Week Ever – 6/1/13

by Will

69b576af-02bd-4e35-8355-1f73d6a95962wallpaper

oie_922142seDasWF9

During a recent marathon, a sad thought occurred to me – who were the Golden Girls‘ friends before the show? They went from strangers to best friends in such a short amount of time. Now, this isn’t so uncommon, due to proximity and the amount of time they spent together. Still, what did they do before answering that ad on the grocery store bulletin board? Who listened to Rose’s St. Olaf stories? To whom did Blanche brag about her sexual conquests? To whom was Dorothy a bitch? OK, that was clearly Stanley Zbornak, but still… Once they became roommates, they became all that each other had. I’m glad they found each other, but it just makes me think about the elderly folks who don’t have a group of friends like that. I always joke that I was raised by the “Black Golden Girls”, and I don’t know what they’d do if they didn’t have each other. That’s not something I really like thinking about…

Last week, I told you about my trip to NJ, but I forgot to post my meager toy haul. You can’t have a road trip without toy stops!

2013-05-19 22.21.32

It appears the latest wave of Hot Wheels Pop Culture Collection cars have hit stores, as I didn’t even know these existed. They don’t get me as excited as the first series, but I had to have them for completion and all that. It seems like the cars in series 1 were iconic in spite of their movies, while series 2 seems to be comprised of obscure cars from hit movies/shows (with the exception of the Back to the Future DeLorean). I mean, I can’t even remember Axel Foley’s car, and this certainly isn’t the car that comes to mind when remembering Ferris Bueller. I think Hot Wheels is just fleecing us at this point, ’cause they know we’re completists.

2013-05-19 22.24.18

Out of the LEGO minifigures, only 3/5 were new figures for me. So, if anyone needs a Roman soldier or an Ogre, let me know!

I was cleaning the “store” and ran across some notes from Diamond. A really good quote that every prospective comic creator should know is:

“All these guys who want to do comics in the worst way do them the worst way.”

It means that a lot of small press comics come from a place of passion, yet there’s nothing professional about them. We used to call these “vanity projects”, as these guys really just wanted to walk into a comic shop and see their names on something. What they don’t realize is that their shop probably ain’t even gonna carry it unless the creator has a relationship with the shop owner. Passion is not a substitute for preparation. I think that’s valuable advice for many things in life.

COMEDY CENTRAL RADIO LOGO

I’ve written about my love of SiriusXM before, but I have to gush about their newest channel, Comedy Central Radio. I was really into Raw Dog Comedy, but they were playing too many Andrew Dice Clay deep cuts. I do miss some of the regular shows, like the Alternative Comedy Show with Mark Says Hi, as well as Besser’s Back Room. That said, CCR plays selections from Comedy Central’s library – a lot of which I missed by not having cable growing up. They don’t seem to really play too much old stuff, though. Right now, there’s a lot of Tosh and Amy Schumer – just like the TV network. Still, I’m finally hearing bits that are new to me, as I was really getting tired of the constant loop of Carlos Mencia talking about Bill Clinton lying about the blowjob.

204px-UNIQLO_logo.svg

I like to think I’m “in the know” when it comes to popular stuff, but I didn’t know a thing about Uniqlo until this week. I was reading a really old GQ (December 2011, to be exact), and there was a profile on The Unique Clothing Warehouse, now stylized as Uniqlo. Basically, they’re trying to out-H&M H&M and out-Gap The Gap. They don’t look at clothing as “fashion”, but rather as a necessary commodity. They feel everyone should have equal access to said commodities, so they keep prices low. So, their pricing is like H&M, but their styles are solids and wardrobe basics like those carried at The Gap. To hear the corporate culture of the place, though, it sounds like a cult. They have mantras like this:

Uniqlo is the elements of style.

Uniqlo is a toolbox for living.

Uniqlo is clothes that suit your values.

Uniqlo is how the future dresses.

Uniqlo is beauty in hyperpracticality.

Uniqlo is clothing in the absolute.

Anyway, I kinda wanna check out their clothes, but I know I’m still too fat for fashion. Nope, it’s just the TJ Maxx clearance rack until I lose another 20 lbs or so…

from the Marvel Cinematic Universe facebook page

from the Marvel Cinematic Universe facebook page

This image was released of The Winter Soldier from the set of the upcoming Captain America sequel. Say what you will, but I think it shows the weakness of the Captain America concept that the sequel is The Winter Solider. Don’t get me wrong – it’s an amazing saga, but it’s like doing the second Batman movie and making it about No Man’s Land. You kinda need to have established the world before jumping into those concepts. Winter Solider is Cap 3 material, not Cap 2. What would’ve been a better idea for Cap 2? I honestly don’t know. There aren’t a ton of iconic Cap storylines. I guess they could’ve done the one where he runs for President. Otherwise, a lot of his major character beats happened during Avengers stories.

Captain-America-2-The-Winter-Soldier

Oh, for those not familiar with the Winter Soldier, you saw the first movie, right? Remember when Bucky fell off the train? Well, in the comic, he’s not dead. The Soviets find him and turn him into this amazing assassin called The Winter Soldier. He has that name because he’s cryogenically frozen between jobs, so he’s been carrying out major assassinations over the past 60 years, and they just put him on ice until he’s needed. He’s brainwashed, so doesn’t remember being Bucky Barnes. So, that means half the movie will just be Cap vs. Bucky until they both realize who the other is. Maybe Cap 2 ends with Steve Rogers dying, so Bucky can take the shield in Cap 3. This is what happened in the comics, and I’m sure Marvel wouldn’t blink if contract negotiations don’t go well with Chris Evans next time everyone’s at the table.

Marvels-Agents-of-SHIELD-cast-shot

(The following was a Twitter rant, but I felt it bears repeating, especially for the fools who choose not to follow me.)

I’d explain my issues with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but everyone’s excited about it, and nobody cares about the dissenter. Fine, here it goes. The problem is with it’s structure. It’s in the same universe as the movies. That’s HORRIBLE. On the one hand, it can debut characters not worth their own movie. On the other hand, no broad strokes can be made because it essentially has to “Dance between the raindrops of continuity” of the movies. This has NEVER been done before. Sure, you have spinoff shows, but never a spinoff operating concurrently with an ongoing FILM franchise. Even when Power Rangers did it, it wasn’t canon. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie never happened as far as the show is concerned. And those are just my problems with structure. It doesn’t even get into the Whedon problems. He’s the Gail Simone of TV. He doesn’t have fans – he has DISCIPLES, and they’re never objective about his stuff. Just blind followers. Another issue is Coulson. He always seemed like a “less is more” character to me. Avengers was almost too much. I’m fine with shorts, but the last thing I want is a weekly one hour dose of him. It neuters his concept. Finally, you run into the Birds of Prey problem: no matter how much fans claim they’re fine with the characters they’re lying. They’re secretly hoping the big guys (Avengers) will show up, which will never happen.

colpic_2

Did you know that Will’s World of Wonder is now on Facebook? Well, it is! Come on over and give us a Like. Also, don’t forget – now until 6/3, use coupon code “memorial” via Google Checkout for 20% off EVERYTHING. Please! My children need wine!

Meanwhile, go read this post that I wrote over at Cool & Collected filled with yard sale tips!

Fans demanded their return, while another made it so with a slice. One teabagger used to be a pimp, while another is giving Marion Barry’s legacy a run for its money. Only one, however, could have the West Week Ever!

This week was rough. I mean, Arrested Development rose from the ashes, but folks thought Patrick Stewart, at 73, ate his first slice of pizza. Meanwhile, James Lipton admitted to having been a pimp in Paris, and Toronto’s mayor smokes crack with reckless abandon! Who really deserves it?!

I enjoyed Arrested Development when it was on, but I was never a devoted fan. Also, I haven’t seen this new season yet. Patrick Stewart’s had pizza – he just hadn’t had a NY slice before, so that kills the wind in that sail. James Lipton celebrated the 250th episode of  Inside The Actor’s Studio AND admitted to Parade Magazine that he had been a pimp. With whores and everything! Meanwhile, Rob Ford is simply unstoppable. I haven’t done this before, but this week, I’m leaving the choice up to you, the reader! So, tell me: Who had the West Week Ever?

oie_922142seDasWF9

UPDATE – In light of new information, a new player has entered the arena. I’d like to congratulate my bud, Howie Decker, and his wife on the birth of their second son, Lucas Daniel Decker. Forget all the celebrities – I think it’s safe to say the Deckers are having the West Week Ever!

Green-Lantern-Batman-underscoopfire

24th Apr2012

Reflections At 30: My Life at H&M

by Will

 

Since I turned 30, I’ve become a lot more introspective. This came as a surprise, I didn’t know that I could devote any more time to thinking about myself. I mean, I’m fairly self aware. Not in the “I’m so awesome” narcissistic way (even if I do have a website named after myself) but in a “why are people friends with me?” kind of way. One thing that has occurred to me is that I’m a much more successful toy peddler than blogger. I mean, it’s nice to be good at something, but this isn’t necessarily where I wanted to be. Sure, 10 years ago, I swore I’d eventually work in the toy industry, but I didn’t think this would be how I did it. Honestly, I’ve done more with the toy industry in the 4 months of having Will’s World of Wonder than I did in 10 years at Toys R Us. Most of that time at TRU was spent hiding from customers, and engaging in debates as to who were the hottest female cartoon characters. Looking back, I also realize that I don’t much talk about my time at H&M anymore, which is odd since I have quite a few opinions about that time and that place.

H&M, in case you’re not a 17 year-old girl, is a retailer that basically exists to provide a “disposable wardrobe”. The clothes aren’t well-made, but you don’t care because you paid $7.90 for a shirt, and $29.90 for a blazer. It’s perfectly priced for college kids and recent grads who need to beef up their business casual work wardrobe. In recent years, they have been as plentiful as roaches in the ghetto, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, if you go back to the year 2000, there were only about 5 of them in North America. In college, we used to take road trips to Syracuse just to shop there, as one of those few stores was located in the Carousel Mall. As a Swedish company, it was basically The Gap abroad, but it was still a quaint treat here in the States. I loved all their clothes, and due to some freak weight loss junior year, I was actually able to fit into them. This was the beginning of my whole what they used to call “metrosexual” phase. I was shopping at H&M and watching Queer Eye. So, OF COURSE I’d want to work there, right?

If you go back in my archives, you’ll see posts I wrote during the time when I first came home from school. It was during a time when I wrote like no one was reading, so it reads like a goth kid’s Livejournal. That said, I don’t really talk about that era, as it was probably the worst time of my life. I was an aimless kid, working with a bunch of other aimless kids, thinking I was big shit. I guess I was a late bloomer, ’cause this was also the “You can’t tell me what to do!” phase that most people go through around 17. Anyway, how I started working for H&M …I saw an ad in the paper, explaining how they were opening a store in nearby White Flint (according to the property owner, it is NOT to be referred to as a “mall”). They were providing paid training, and they’d also handle any travel expenses, etc. I’d worked in retail before, but this seemed above normal. I mean, I’d never been a part of something on the ground floor, and I was also excited about the prospect of a nearby H&M.

I’d worked in retail at Toys “R” Us, but H&M is a different kind of animal. I can’t attest to how it is now, but it was a company that took itself way too seriously. It was something about that whole European thing, but I’ll get to that later. One unique part of it was that they really made you think you had a future with that company. That’s why you couldn’t tell me shit. I was convinced that in a year I’d have my own store in Brooklyn, and there’d be some kind of 30 Under 30 article about me. So many possibilities: you could be a Visual Merchandiser, which just meant you dressed mannequins, you could be an Admin and count the money, you could be a manager or even a store director. The fact that you could actually be promoted to manager from associate was foreign to me; at TRU, if they needed a new manager, you got some guy who just came from Foot Locker. At H&M, if you were feeling macho, you could join the Building Team to set up new stores. If you were really awesome, you could join the Support Team, which meant you constantly traveled to help out newly opened stores or understaffed store – kinda like a retail mercenary. I mean, this wasn’t just “retail” – we were changing how the world shopped! Oh, how young and stupid I was…

An interesting thing I noticed was that H&M wanted you to better yourself through them, and not elsewhere. I saw store directors try to convince people to drop out of college. I mean, who needs school when you could make $40,000 a year?! You could buy a fucking boat for that money! Wait, no, you can buy a lot of happy hours.  You see, that money sounds really good when you’re 22, but then you have to realize that it’s a bitter 42 year old divorcee trying to get you to take a bite of that apple -the one who’s wearing the same thing she wore the day before, and slightly smells of Hot Pockets and sadness. Still, I was certain I’d soon be working at H&M HQ in Europe, living in an apartment furnished by the good IKEA stuff (not the dreck that we get, but the stuff they put their hearts into making – ALSO, notice how I’ve already jumped from Brooklyn to another continent?).

The best thing about H&M was also the worst thing: customer service. In layman’s terms, their customer service policy was basically “Fuck the customer.” You see, in Europe, the shopping experience is a bit more…self-motivated. If you want something, you find it. When you’re ready, they’ll ring it up for you. When H&M came to America, they felt that American shoppers expect you to hold their hands, and that it was a pathetic way to go about the retail experience. Instead of adapting to America, they were determined to retrain the customer. So, there wasn’t a bunch of “Welcome to H&M. Can I help you with anything?” Nope. Instead, it was best not to make eye contact until someone specifically asked you something to your face. If they were in the fitting room and asked you to get them another size, the answer was, “I’m sorry but you’ll have to get it yourself. I can hold your room for you, though.” If Cornell had already given me a chip on my shoulder, this experience provided the entire Frito-Lay bag. Oh, to be young and smug! Those halcyon days, however, couldn’t last forever. Eventually, H&M got enough complaints that they realized they had to change to fit their customers.

I eventually made it to Admin, but realized I still had to do registers, but it also included counting money at the asscrack of dawn. Plus, the people were just kind sad. Such a transient bunch, and most of them not memorable. I’m sure they say the same about me. What an impetuous little shit I must’ve been! It’s like if Holden Caulfield actually had to read Catcher in the Rye and think to himself, “How did I not end up getting shot.” I hear a lot of people do dumb things in their twenties, but those things are usually fun. I can’t say that I had that experience. I had a few years of a grandiose sense of self worth, fueled by selling cheap blouses to trophy wives. Huh. Where was I going with this? Oh, who cares? I’ll write about some thrift store stuff next time for my regular readers. If you came here for my toy store, you’re on the wrong site, but you can still click that box up in the right hand corner of the home screen. Until next time, take care of yourselves, and each other.

 

11th Jul2007

Four Year Blogiversary – A Look Back

by Will

“‘Cause you said forever, and ever. Who knew?”

Ahh…a cute White girl, eating watermelon. Be still my Negro heart!

Anyway, four years ago today, this blog was created. Yeah, I know I celebrate a *lot* of anniversaries on this thing, but this is the real deal. Williambrucewest.com has only existed since 2004, when I bought the URL. However, the blog portion, “The World According to a Russian Exchange Student”, was created on July 11th, 2003. It used to be found at waynemanor.blogpsot.com, which somehow belongs to someone else now…

So, 4 years of rambling. The odd part is that I feel my life has come full circle. I’m almost right back where I started. There’s not a lot of progression found in these posts. Sure, there are broad character arcs, from the Natalie saga (“I’m so in love with this lesbian who doesn’t love me back”) to the H&M rants (“I can’t stand this place and I’m too good to be here.”). God, I can be such a drama queen! But have I really grown as a person? Is there any evidence of that? I don’t know about that.

In 4 yrs, I’ve documented 4 full-time jobs, 2 part-time jobs, 2 girlfriends (in “real-time”), 1 car, and 3 moves. I look back at my first week of posts, and I still feel the same way about much of that stuff. Not much personal growth there.

I’ve watched this site change from “the thing I do when I get bored at work”, to the “please read my blog because I’m funny and I really depend on attention from others” phase, and now the “hey, I’m gonna write this shit because it’s funny to me, and at least Tarek, Marcus and James (and possibly Austin) are reading it” phase.

I’ve gone back and forth between the “I’m only going to riff on pop culture, but not talk about myself too much” stage to the “I’m gonna wear my heart on my sleeve” phase (see aforementioned lesbian and the “Alouise” saga). Contrary to popular belief, I’m actually a pretty private person. I love getting in everyone else’s business, but I don’t like them in mine. That’s why I’ll write about observations, and crazy situations in which I’ve found myself, but you’re not likely to find me in a discussion regarding how I “feel”. That’s why I think I like the pop culture stuff more. Going forward, I think we’re going to gravitate more in that direction.

I don’t really know what I set out to do when I started this. I mean, blogs were somewhat cutting edge back then. They were seen as “the next big thing”, and while Blogger existed to help you along, blogs weren’t standard with each Facebook, Friendster, and Myspace profile like they are now. In fact, Facebook didn’t even exist back then, while Myspace was still just for high school drop-outs. My, how times have changed!

Anyway, I think I just created this thing as a vanity project. I thought I was funny and I wanted attention. Every now and then, I’d have a great post (in my mind, anyway), and I’d aspire to greatness. I’d think that my site would become a destination website, where people would come for the funny. I thought I could be an everyman version of Wonkette. Why do you think my URL is my name? It was pretty much a way for me to maximize the attention I got, but maximizing exposure.

Here we are, 4 yrs later. Wonkette’s pretty much a shell of its old self. I go to sites like elephantlarry.com, and think, “Now, that’s funny!” Me? I’m kind of a hack. I think that’s become more apparent in my recent humor, as I’ve devolved into BET “Man, aren’t White people crazy?!” humor, and my liberal use of “Negro” and “Nigga”. That’s the easy way out. That’s the Comicview approach, but it’s not going to cut it in most situations. Especially seeing as how only 1.5 Black people even read this site.

Don’t misunderstand me; this isn’t a pity party, but more of a bit of introspection. So, where do we go from here? Why do I even keep this site going? Well, it’s all I’ve got. I’m at a point in my life where this is the one thing that’s truly mine, and it’s the one thing I’ve got control over. It’s my canvas to do with as I please, and it’s my vehicle for expressing myself. I don’t do this for anyone but myself. There are no more “why haven’t you posted in awhile” or “when are you going to continue such and such story?” comment posts. No, I’m more about, “I feel like talking about dating shows today, and that’s how it’s gonna be.” Sure, I get the occasional “Anonymous” comment (even if you don’t have a Blogger account, you could still write your name), but it’s not really an exercise in audience participation anymore. And I think I’m fine with that. I’m cool in my little cyber shell. I think it’s the Model of Blog Identitiy Development. Jenn went through the same thing as she dealt with the transition from personal blogger to feminist blogger to Asian American Activist destination site. The cycle ebbs and flows, but if you get too wrapped up in it, you start pandering to an audience. My audience thinks like me. If I get the occasional straggler from another site, I welcome the company, but we’re not going to have a discourse. Up until now, I didn’t even respond to comments. I think I’m going to change that going forward. But I’m not here to change lives. I’m just here to live mine, and sometimes take you along for the ride. If that sounds like something you might like, take your shoes off and sit a spell, ’cause I’m sure I’ve got a story to entertain you. In any case, I think I’ll break character and *not* end this post with an ellipsis. Thanks for putting up with me all these years!

29th Jan2007

My Life, In Watches

by Will

“But we’ve just lost the beat.”

I’ve always had a thing for watches. Carrie Bradshaw has her Manolo’s, and I’ve got whatever Fossil/Casio/Timex catches my eye. Sure, we’re talking low price points here, but that’s how I roll.

Now, as far back as I can remember, I was into watches. When I was 2, Mommy bought me a Ronald McDonald watch. I had some sort of tantrum, and destroyed in the foyer of our house. When she questioned me about it, all I could say was, “Well, he was fat, anyway.” She vowed not to buy me a new watch, but I had a Michael Jackson watch soon afterwards.

After Daddy died, I had a Knight Rider watch. Man, did I love that watch. If I remember correctly, it didn’t even tell time. It was fake and plastic, but it had a picture of K.I.T.T. inside, and that’s all I needed.

Recently, I’ve come to notice that I get new watches to signify new phases in my life. For some miraculous reason, it becomes “new watch time” whenever there’s a sort of shift in the things in my life. Now, sometimes “new watch time” is signalled by a dead battery. Let me let you in on a little secret: I don’t change watch batteries. I just buy a new watch. So far, the batteries have lasted for years, and they tend to die at just the right time.

In middle school, I had my Radio Shack calculator watch. Yup, I was THAT kid. But I loved that watch, with its calendar function and “deet-deet” alarm. I was a geek, but I didn’t care. At that point, I didn’t much care what people thought of me because I knew I was kind of weird and I was fine with that. I was my own best friend and I had my imagination to keep me company.

In high school, I went through several different watches, mainly because none of them really held much meaning for me. I was trying to settle on watches as I tried to figure out who I was. Honestly, though, high school was NOT this time of angst that people make it out to be. In all truth, I expected it to be like ‘Saved by the Bell”, and was disappointed when it was NOT like that. Either way, I didn’t have the growing pains of not being asked to dances, or learning to drive. Life is like the lottery: you’ve gotta be in it to win it, and I decided to sit it out. My high school weekends involved me watching tapes of pre-recorded TNBC while talking on the phone to my friends while they were out living their lives.

In college, I had 2 watches that come to mind. When I first went to school, I had this really bootleg musical watch that Mommy really pushed on me at City Place. Now, I liked the watch and all, but it had a big G clef on the face, and little notes for each hour. I was emerging from a few years playing piano, and it was pre-a cappella. If anything, I was in my musical theatre phase. The watch, though it sounds kinda gay, was actually nice. The downside, though, was that I felt a musical watch should PLAY music. It didn’t have a little song, so I felt gypped. Anyway, I got the watch and wore the HELL out of it. By Christmas (maybe 6 months after buying it), the band had worn off (thanks City Place!).

I came home for Christmas, and Mommy bought me a Relic watch from JC Penney. “Relic” was basically a generic “Fossil”, but it was a beautiful watch. Oddly enough, it had a blueish-green face which matched the stone in my class ring. It was like my accessories had been destined to be together. It’s funny because we HATE Penney’s, but sometimes what you’re looking for is where you least expect it. Anyway, I wore that watch for the rest of Cornell and through graduation. In fact, I wore it up until about 6 months ago.

Now, a few people might know this, but 2004 was pretty rough for me. In a LOT of ways. Hell, you can go back and read the archives. Sometimes, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Anyway, I was working at H&M and it’s a freaky place. It’s not simply retail, but instead it’s this weird, neo-hippy, bohemian enclave that happens to sell clothes. I decided , “Hey, I’m gonna ride this opportunity til the wheels fall off”, so I started crafting “H&M Will”. Part of that involved a Fossil leather cuff watch. Now, I never would’ve looked twice at the thing 4 years ago, but at this point, I felt it would complete the ensemble. Several returns, fitting room shifts, and gay bars later, I realized that I didn’t really like that world so much. Plus, I felt it was a lesson that I shouldn’t have traded up watches “before it was time”.

Unfortunately, while lost in the world of leather, my pretty, blueish Relic died on me. It died on me when I needed it most. I was working in the illustrious commercial real estate industry as the world’s worst telemarketer. I didn’t know how I got there, nor did I know how to get out. Everything was changing around me, but I felt stuck. And my accessories didn’t match anymore. The high school ring had given way to the Cornell ring. For some reason, I decided that I didn’t like the traditional A.D White ring and designed my own, with black onyx. It had always clashed with the pretty watch, but it went quite well with the leather cuff. And that didn’t sit right with me. I always wanted to have class, be a little GQ, but now I felt very “gloryhole”. And it didn’t help that I didn’t know what I wanted to be or how to get there.

Finally, prayers were answered, and “it was time”. Not only did I gain my emancipation, but I also fell into my dream industry: comics. As a brand manager, I would have to be a figurehead at cons and whatnot, and there’s a certain emphasis on appearance. Suddenly, I knew it was time to do something about the leather cuff. I wasn’t really that person anymore, nor did I want to be. Right before my birthday, I was looking through a magazine, and I fell in love. Right there, I saw a attractive, black Fossil with a diamond at 12 o’clock. No, re-read what I wrote: It was an attractive, black fossil with a diamond at 12 o’clock. For all of you English majors out there, that’s what you call metatext, so I’m not going to ruin your analysis. I had to have it, and actually bought it for myself before buying most of the presents I needed to buy for my family; hey, I’m an only child!

The watchband was actually too large, and I needed to take a few links out for it to fit better. Yesterday, I finally got around to getting the links taken out. It was at that time that I realized I hadn’t really tried the watch on. Sure, I’d sampled it, but what can you tell from that? I was left with the feeling that it was more beautiful, more attractive on paper than on my wrist. Sure, I could grow into it. As Mr. Humphries would say, “It’ll ride up with wear”. Either way, as I sit here typing this, I look down at my attractive, black Fossil with the Diamond at the top, and I wonder if it’s really for me. Maybe it was meant to stay on paper. I hope I don’t come to regret my new watch/phase of life. Regrets…that’s a topic we’ll revisit tomorrow.

25th Jul2006

A Bully Revisited

by Will

“Superman’s a little too ‘milkman and war bonds’ for me.”

So, allow me to take you down memory lane with me. Many people don’t know this, but when I had my lone year of public school (7th grade), I was victimized by a bully. Sure, it was nothing out of the ordinary bullying, but I had never experienced that before. I had attended all of these utopian schools where everyone was equal and nice. Sure, I had to pay for it, but it was worth it. But now, in the throes of Parkland Middle, there was no utopia. And Avery was the asshole who made me aware of this.

You see, Avery wasn’t especially big, nor was he tough. He didn’t beat me up or take my lunch money, but it was more of a psychological bullying. In hindsight, if I told you some of the shit he pulled, you’d think I was stupid, but it really had an impact on me back then. He made my first semester a living Hell. I remember that Mommy even had this Bible verse she used to read every night which was supposed to make him go away or wake up covered in sores or something. I forget which book it was in. The point was that this guy, I believe, was the beginning of my whole “pessimist-depression” world tour I’ve been on for the past few years. Surprisingly enough, I was once a sweet, happy kid. But now I don’t trust too many people.

So, why do I bring this up? Well, what do you do when you find out your former tormentor is now a flaming homosexual?

Yup. I was working at H&M the other day, and noticed this fidgety guy standing in line. Just as with any Sunday, he seemed like your average restless customer. “How do you know he’s gay, Will?” Trust me; I KNOW. You didn’t need a litmus test for this one, but even so, I KNOW. Anyway, he was also kinda giving me the eye. It was a cross between the “gay eye” and the “do I know you from somewhere? eye” To tell the truth, I didn’t even really recognize him. But I didn’t feel like getting hit on (I’m not vain, but as one of the few males working at this store, it’s inevitable), so I tried to slow down my line so that he would have to end up going to another cashier. I’m a master of working the line to my advantage, but this day was not going to work out in my favor. He ended up as my next customer, thanks to the new stupid french chick who’s still learning how to count american money…

Rang him up, still didn’t recognize him. But didn’t make eye contact, ’cause that’s when they get ya! So, he hands me his credit card, and that’s when I see the name “Avery Peters”. Son of a bitch. If my life had been a TV show, there would’ve been quite the flashback montage at that moment. And most of the images would’ve shown me as quite the little porker. Either way, it opened up the floodgates.

Now, I had a small window in which to react. Do I say, “Hey, remember me, cocksucker?” Surely, he wouldn’t. I’ve tried that on other tormentors from that era, and met with similar responses. Seems like I’m the only one keeping a grudge lately. Does nobody respect the idea of an archenemy anymore?!

So, at that moment, I looked him in the eye, and I think he got it. And he seemed kind of embarrassed. Maybe it’s all in my head. Maybe I was simply too sexy for him. But there was a slight chill. And man did I want to say something. But at the same time, I kinda felt bad for ME. I mean, THIS was the guy who tormented me? Hindsight certainly is 20/20, and if I’d had a glimpse of the future back then, I’d probably have kicked his ass. But no. I didn’t know what I know now. We’ve both grown, and learned from the past. We’re probably not even the same people we were then. I’m certainly not. But a lot of that I blame on him, for being my “encounter phase”. He ruined my innocence. At least, he ruined my happiness for quite some time. Was it all his fault? No, but I don’t remember being as happy after meeting him as I had been prior. My only hope is that Karma is the bitch that I believe her to be, and I hope that cocksucker gets what’s coming to him…

23rd Jul2006

Wanna Honor Your Dead Loved One? Put ‘Em On A Hoodie!

by Will

“Dear Lord Baby Jesus, I’d like to thank you for my two beautiful sons: Walker and Texas Ranger.”

So, there’s this new trend going on in the inner cities of America: the Memorial T-Shirt. Yes, if you’ve lost a loved one, be it your dad, dog, or dawg, you can let the world know that they’re gone but not forgotten by having their image emblazoned on a t-shirt.

I recently read an article in the City Paper about a guy who only wears memorial gear in honor of his dead dog (4 legs, shits on newspaper). He’s got sweats, hoodies, etc.

Well, anyway, I was working at H&M today (yeah, I’m back @ H&M part-time; story for another time) and one of the trainees was wearing a Mem-T AND Mem-Hoodie in honor of her dad. In a way it’s touching, and in a way it’s a bit overbearing. I mean, what’s someone supposed to say to that? Do you ignore it? I mean, it seems like something to garner attention, and it would be hard to generally “respect the privacy” and all that jazz. I mean, she’s literally wearing her heart on her sleeve, and it’s a size 4. All I could think of was, “So…you lost your dad, huh? Kinda sucks. But it IS cool that you’ve got him on a shirt. I wish I got a shirt when my dad died. I mean, all I got was an insurance settlement, but you know, a shirt’s cool, too…”

21st Nov2005

Marion Barry – 2nd Printing

by Will

“A chick who can screw AND quote The Rock? I’m gonna marry you!”

So, in honor of the one year anniversary of what is, by far, one of my best posts, I hereby present The Best of WilliamBruceWest.com, and reprint the entry that I like to call “The More, The Marion, AKA The Bitch Set Me Up…Again”.

“Watch out, ’cause here I come. It’s been awhile, but I’m back in style!”

Today’s Episode: “Oh No He Didn’t (Oh, YES He Did)!”

A little backstory: I’ve got a couple of friends at H&M who’ve never received “the blog treatment” before. Anyway, Juwan and Bruce are fellow retailers-in-arms, and we tend to have a good time whenever we’re at work together.

So, last night was Bruce’s birthday & he was throwing himself a party at the Banana Cafe. Well, I didn’t really know what to expect, but NOTHING could’ve have prepared me for what the night would bring. NOTHING.

I swear, folks…you’ve read some wacky shit on this site before, but NONE of it holds a candle to this crazy night in SE Washington…

So, Shelly and I decided to go together ’cause we didn’t really know where the place was. Let’s see…2 sheltered kids in S.E. DC. I guess we figured they couldn’t kill us both, right? Strength in numbers, and all that jazz…

The party started at 6, but we didn’t roll in until around 10. Bruce was way drunk, bless his heart! He was glad to see us, as he led us inside. Apparently, it was Karaoke Night @ the Banana. So, he leads us up the stairs, and what do we find? A room full of young, Black gay guys. They weren’t all gay, but you couldn’t swing a dead cat in the room without hitting one. Now, when I say this, I don’t mean it in a derogatory sense at all. I say it ’cause I have never seen a room so CHOCK FULL OF BLACK GAY GUYS!!!

I think what struck me, too, was that it wasn’t all stereotype. It wasn’t like the “Men on Film” guys from “In Living Color” (Wow, I’m seriously dating myself here). Instead, it was an array of NBA jerseys and denim jackets. They looked like they were in a G-Unit video or something.

Anyway, Shelly and I kinda look at each other; the White Chick & The Straight Guy. We were basically a bad UPN sitcom waiting to happen. But, what the Hell? We’re there to have fun, right? So, we get to the bar and Juwan’s drunk, too. I mean, DRUNK. But it was cute. He was kinda stumbling around. Every so often, he’d yell “Aw, this is my JAM!” and start dancing.

So, we’re drinking our SoCo & Cokes, getting settled, taking it all in. As I look around the room, I kinda start to feel like the last rib at a Black cook-out. There were all these eyes on me, ranging from “What’s he doing here?” to “Where’ve you been all my life, playa?” Now, for you frequent readers, you know that I tend to find myself in these situations ever so often. But this was only the TIP of the iceberg. Let the craziness begin:

A few minutes after we get our drinks, Bruce comes over and whispers, “Y’all will NEVER guess who that is over there!”

I ask who he’s talking about, and he points to a table near the window. Brace yourselves, folks

“That’s Marion Fuckin’ Barry!!!”

I look over and, “Holy shit, that IS Marion Barry!”

Yes, the crack-smoking DC mayor-for-life was sitting right there, about 10 feet from me. For all you uninformed, he’s that guy that Chris Rock loves to make fun of. I swear, he’s been milking that routine for 10 yrs….

Anyway, at the table sat Marion Barry and the cheapest, Sandra Clark imitation hoochie I have ever seen in real-life. This is one of those chicks who was clearly an escort. Not a hooker, but an escort. What’s the difference, you ask? Well, a hooker is someone you just pay for sex, while an escort is someone you pay to be seen with you. She might have sex with ya later, but that’s gonna cost extra.

Also, allow me to say that the good mayor looks like SHIT. I mean, during his recent campaign, there was talk of how bad his health was, but I had no idea it was THIS bad. The poor thing looked WRECKED…

“I’m gonna go say ‘hi’,” I said, as I rushed over to the table. Not really knowing what to say to a world-renowned figure, I offer my hand and say, “Congratulations, sir.” Hell, I didn’t really know WHAT, specifically, I was congratulating him on. Was it his recent election win? Was it his ability to find a woman to come out with him tonight? Was it the mere fact that he’s still alive? Damned if I know. I just figured such a phrase would make him feel good about himself or some shit.

He gave me a limp handshake and kind of mumbled something. I figured it was a pearl of wisdom from a man who’d clearly enjoyed a colorful life and career. “I beg your pardon?” I responded. Once again, he mumbled something. I leaned closer and asked, “What?” The third time, I heard him: “Do I have to go up to the bar, or will they come to the table?” Yup, that’s what the old fool asked me. I kinda stammered: “Uh…they’ll come to the table…..Did you need anything?” Yup, I was gonna buy old Marion a drink, but he just kinda waved me away. Yes, the good mayor and I were about to become enemies…

So, I decided to sing something, while Shelly & Juwan chilled on one of the couches. The first song was “A Song For You”, sung by the Temptations, but better known as a Ray Charles song. Surprisingly, the crowd seemed to like it, or they were just blowing sunshine up my ass.

When I was done, Shelly & I just kinda hung out together, the whole time trying to figure out how the Hell we ended up in a gay bar with Marion Barry?!!! But wait kids, there’s more!

It turns out Marion’s skank wanted to sing, too. How to describe her… Well, she was wearing an all black catsuit, with a chain around her waist. She thought she was cute, and Marion seemed proud to have her on his arm. That chick had the audacity to try to sing a Mary J. Blige song, and I don’t think she hit a single note in the song. But she was just smiling and singing like she thought she could sing. Marion decided to get a closer seat, but as I’ve said, he’s a bit out of sorts these days. As he started to sit down, his chair was tipping over and almost spilled him onto the floor. If someone hadn’t caught it from behind, he’d have fallen and I KNOW he wouldn’t have been able to get up! So, he sat there, drinking his drink, watching his girl. A couple of the divas decided to help her out ’cause she just wasn’t doing that song justice. When she finished, Marion smiled and clapped.

The entire time, we’re drunk, off in the corner, asking, “Is that REALLY Marion Barry?!!!’ Juwan would scream out, “Why is he HEEERREE?!!!” Bruce came back over, and I asked if Barry was a regular there. His response: “I ain’t never seen his crack-smokin’ ass around here before!” Barry’s like 4 feet away, mind you. I cringe and say, “He’s right there! He can here you!!!!” Bruce replied, “I don’t care! He knows what he is!”

So, the night continues on, and the drinks keep flowing. I decide to sing another song, but what to sing? Well, I went for the “ringer approach” and chose a song I already knew: This I Promise You (Which, btw, can be downloaded from my music section *wink*). So, I chose my song and signed up on the list.

Turns out, “Catwoman” had signed up for ANOTHER Mary J. song before me. I swear! So, I sat back and watched her butcher yet ANOTHER song, but I also noticed Barry talking to the DJ off to the side. Something nefarious was going on. I think he was trying to arrange for her to sing another song. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna watch THAT happen! You see, I was next on the list, and I wanted to sing my damn song.

I kinda got belligerent at that point. Ask anyone on that couch. “What the fuck is he doing?” I asked. ” I will fight Marion Barry! I ain’t scared of no old Marion Barry!” Sure, I wasn’t screaming at the top of my lungs, but I was vocal. That’s what alcohol does. It’s pure science.

I wanted to sing my song and, I’m sorry, there’s a line! Luckily, he didn’t get in front of me. Shelly swears I wasn’t going to do anything, but I don’t know…considering how surreal the night seemed, I kinda thought it was all a dream by that point anyway!

So, I got up and sang This I Promise You. It probably wasn’t the best venue for such a song; did I mention Black, gay, and S.E. DC? But I wanted to sing it anyway. I guess I was singing it for Alouise. That’s my girl, ya know? And we had THE BEST DAY on Saturday, so it was still on my mind. So that’s where my heart was.

During the instrumental part of the song, I got a little creative. I said, “This goes out to Bruce, on his birthday. And I also wanna give a shout-out to Marion Barry.” People kinda laughed and/or looked shocked. “What? He’s right here. We all see him!” I said. Did I mention that Marion was like 2 ft away from me? No? Well, he was. Yeah, it was dick of me. But in a drunk, funny way…

I think I got a little too into the song, actually. In fact, I think I might’ve been as off-key as Barry’s girl. Why, you ask? Well, this dude came up from behind me and said, “You’re lucky you’re cute.” OUCH. Back-handed compliments. Thanks, boys…So, I finished that song, and I think Shelly was the only one who clapped. Thanks, Shel! 🙂

But the night was about to jump the shark. Just when you thought it was safe, what happens next? Well, I’ll tell ya!

When I get back on the couch, who do i see heading up to the mic? I thought he was lobbying for his girl again, but it was something bigger than that. Something more unexpected. Something monumental. Yes, Marion Barry was gonna SING KARAOKE!!!

I’m about to lose my mind here!!! Am I really seeing this? Is he really who he claims to be?!!! It’s all a blur. And what song did he choose for himself? “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”, by Otis Redding. Yes, I was about about to watch the tides roll away as Barry butchered a soul classic. We’re falling out of our seats in disbelief! We’re scrounging for camera phones and anything else to immortalize this moment. I yell,”Do you know how much Wonkette would pay for these pictures?!!!”.

He was beyond bad. It’s not that he was tone-deaf..it’s just that he wasn’t listening to the background track. Then, his lady decided to join him for the WORST duet….I can’t even….I’m fuckin’ blown! And to cap it off, you know how the song ends with a whistling solo? He sang it! No, he didn’t whistle it; he SANG IT!!! Words can’t explain…

When he finished, the crowd erupted. I guess we were all in awe of what had just transpired and, as they say in the ‘hood, “Marion was getting his propers”…Some of the guys helped him off of his chair, and after a few more political handshakes, Marion and ‘ho left the building. It was like a mass UFO sighting, though. For the next hr, we were all asking each other, “Did you see that?!!” or “Did that really just happen?” or, my fave, “Fucking Marion Barry?!!” It was like, for that night, we were all brought closer due to our shared ordeal. I can say that I’d do anything for Bruce, Juwan, and Shel. Well, maybe not ANYTHING, but you get the point. God bless alcohol and fallen celebrities…

The party wound down, we closed out tabs, and Shelly and I laughed about that shit all the way back to MD. I hope this made some kind of sense in print, but you really had to be there. And I’m sure it’ll never happen again, so you missed out. But from this day forward, children around the world will sing songs of the time Crack-smoking Marion Barry Sang Karaoke in the Gay Bar. And if you ever hear them sing these songs, you just tell ’em my name and that I was there on that fateful day.

Marion Fuckin Barry…

22nd Sep2005

The Lost Adventures: The Lion King Audition

by Will


“I’m me again, baby! I’m back!”

So, where have I been? “We’ve been waiting a whole month for Post #450,” you say. Well, I had it all plannned out. If comics have taught me anything, it’s that round numbers, such as 450, equate a special occasion. Sure, you could say that I should’ve reached #450 over a year ago if I’d been posting everyday like other good bloggers, but I digress. In any regard, an event like this usually involves a new headquarters, a new status quo, a back-up story, and a death. I was really gonna WOW ya, but something was missing. Most of the components were in place, save one. It’s funny how life works sometimes…

Originally, I was going to use this post to debut the reason behind my recent lack of funds. That’s right, you were going to see the new West Lair! I got an apartment. Finally, I can get out of this Negroid Golden Girls lifestyle I’ve had to endure for the past 2 years. At last, I would have a place of my own, where I could hide from the discussions of Ben-Gay and Old Testament God vs. New Testament God. I would have my Fortress of Solitude.

Anyway, I signed the lease back on September 1st, and I was gonna move in Labor Day weekend. My Cousin Joe was gonna help me, mainly ’cause he had a pickup truck. Now, few of you have been to a West family function, but those of you who have (Tarek), have surely met my Cousin Joe. He’s basically like a brother to my mom (first person with the Southern incest jokes gets it!), and he’s one of the few father figures I’ve had in my life.

So, Cousin Joe was all set to help me move, but come Saturday morning, I wasn’t prepared. I hadn’t packed up a thing, and I had no desire to rush crap into a box. So, I called Joe to tell him not to worry about me; we’d do it next weekend. He wasn’t there, so his wife, Rose, said she’d give him the message.

Fast-forward to about 3 hrs later: we get a call from Rose saying that Joe had been rushed to Washington Hospital Center. The Golden Girls jump into action, and we make our way down to the hospital. Turns out, Cousin Joe was washing his truck and had a massive heart attack. We were in that hospital all night, from 5 PM Saturday to 11 AM Sunday morning. The staff tried to brace us for the worst, but nobody wanted to hear it. Cousin Joe passed away Sunday morning. I still haven’t moved.

Since then, time has been wrapped up with funeral arrangements, as well as life’s other little dramas. The family hasn’t been taking it so well, and I can only think, “So, it begins.” You see, Joe was a year younger than my mother. I always felt that when the dying started, it would be like a domino effect. These people have been together all of their lives. They grew up together, moved north from Alabama together, and they don’t know how yo be apart. I fear it’s like when a husband dies, and his wife dies 6 months later. It’s a cohort effect, and Joe fired the opening salvo. Selfish, I know, but all I find I can be lately is selfish. I guess it’s my defense mechanism. I keep thinking how close I was to witnessing the heart attack. Had I not called, he might have had the heart attack WITH me, while moving MY crap. I don’t know if I could’ve handled that. No hyperbole there, I truly don’t think I could have held it together had that scenario transpired.

But here I am. I’m still alive, and I guess I’ve got that’s what I’ve got to work with. A lot of people think I’m a pessimist, but I feel it just comes with living with the old folks. Many of you don’t realize it, but I have to worry about things that most people dont even think about until their 40’s. And now I’m more worried about the gals than I have been before. But there’s my milestone post. There’s my death. This is no publicity stunt. He’s not coming back.

Anydangways, I also wanted to give y’all a nice back-up story, A hidden tale that few people know. You see, about a year and a half ago, I took a little blogging hiatus. Prompted by a bunch of personal drama that simply hit the fan, there are about 3 months of my life that went undocumented. One such event, I’ve hinted at, but never fully revealed. You see, right before I started working for H&M, I had delusions of actually continuing the whole singing thing, and I auditioned for the National tour of “The Lion King”.

In my unemployed days, I used to troll the classifieds in the Arts section of the Post, looking for auditions. Since I was still in my “I’m Will West” mindset, most of the community theatre productions were beneath me. I mean, I was THE Black voice of Cornell A Cappella! Cornell! A Cappella! “Today Show”! Surely, that meant something. I would have to wait, until a role came along befitting my stature. One day, I saw it: The Lion King. I mean, besides “Porgy and Bess” or “A Raisin in the Sun”, it’s probably the most sure thing in theatre if you’re Black. And if they aren’t doing colorblind casting!

Since I was days from starting H&M, I figured it was God’s way of saving me from the sad, dreary life of the proletariat. He would deliver me to the stage, to the spotlight that was destined to be mine. I was sure of it. All I needed was the right song. Immediately, I called up my old drama teacher, and we started to brainstorm. She wanted me to do something from when I was Pippin, but that wasn’t enough. She suggested a song from when I was in Hello, Dolly, but I was having none of it. I felt I needed a Disney song, but nothing actually from the Lion King. After all, it’s kinda dick/facetious to go into an audition with an air of “You know that song you guys sing? Well, I sing it better!” Anybody out there who’s sat through people auditioning for them knows exactly what I’m talking about. Finally, I settled on “A Whole New World”. It had been our graduation song (*gag*), but “Aladdin” is the next best thing to “The Lion King”, at least musically. I’d be showing them that I can sing “the Disney way”, without slaughtering one of their signature numbers.

I practiced for a week. I had it down. But the night before the audition, I decided to showboat a little. I realized my sheet music wasn’t in the right key for me, so in order to use it as accompaniment, I’d need to transpose it. Now, we’re gonna get musically technical, so try to bear with me. I downloaded a program, and moved the song to a range that I could sing, both comfortably and well. But when I was done, the song had about 8 accidentals. You know those little “flat” symbols? Yeah, I had 8 of them. But whatever, it’s Disney. They should be able to follow that, right?

When Last Call did the Today Show, it was really hard warming up vocally that early in the morning, so I decided not to sleep. After all, I could sleep after the audition. I spent all night practicing and warming up. Auditions were taking place at Howard University, so I was scared there was gonna be a LOT of competition. I mean, casting the Lion King at Howard is like finding Bush supporters at the 700 Club. I expected PANDEMONIUM, with a hip-hop soundtrack. I figured there would be lines around 12 city blocks, as we all vied for a chance to have our 15 minutes of fame. So, got down there at about 5:30 AM. Auditions started at 10:00. What did I find? Nothing. A whole lotta nothing. Plus, it was February and FREEZING. Plus, security doesn’t like random Black guys hanging around buildings. Even at a Black school! Go figure…

Around 11:00, the Hippie Chick shows up. You know the type. If you’ve ever been in a show, you’ve met her. She’s the girl who’s all about “The the-ah-tur”. You never know when she’s acting and when she’s living. It all blends together in a fake, blah soup. So, apparently, she’s all nervous, ’cause all she does it dinner theatre and she doesn’t know what to expect. Plus, she’s scared of her chances, seeing how it’s a Black show. Man, that was priceless. She was scared that she might face discrimination. I’m not gonna get preachy, ’cause it’s not what I do, but that schadenfraude was just what I needed at the time. Guess I should’ve known what was coming to me.

Soon, other people start to trickle in. You’ve got typical “stage dad” going, “My boy can sing. Watch my boy sing. Do that thing you do, boy!” You’ve got “classically trained Black chick”, who should be doing arias rather than hakuna matata’s. And you’ve got “sad R&B wannabe brother” who really just wishes he’d been in Soul for Real (whatever happened to those fugly Dalrymple boys?). You know the kind: all he can do is wail, but rather than music, what he emits sounds more like what I’d cry if I got my penis caught in my zipper.

And they’re all looking at me, like “Why’d you bring the White girl?” But I DIDN’T! Hippie chick came on her own. Just ’cause we were the first ones there didn’t mean she’s MY fault. Story of my life…

So, they start lining people up, and you’d have thought there were ribs up for grabs or something. Somehow, I actually get to go first, seeing as how some people had vouched for the fact that I’d been the first person there. So, finally, it was the moment of truth.

I walk into the room, and hand my music to the guy at the piano. I warn him about the accidentals, but he doesn’t seem worried. But here’s where I started to worry. He had just sat down as I walked into the room. They were running late, and he’d never even warmed up at the piano. Now, an expert should be able to play on any piano, but it’s still a good idea to get a feel for your instrument prior to performance. So, he starts banging out my music like a retarded kid trying to smash ants. I mean, he wasn’t even near my scale. But I’m just singing away, in MY key, him in another. I tried to give him some death glares, hoping he’d straighten up, but this only mademe look worse. When he was done, I knew I was done. Then, began the Q&A part of our morning.

“So…’William’, what have you done…musically?”

“Well, not much lately. I did a cappella and glee club in colege, but not much since I graduated. Mainly just karaoke hereand there. I’ve been in touch with my old music teacher, and we were going to work on some things.”

“Yeah…well, it might be a good idea to hook up with your ‘music teacher’. You know, to add a little more…technical ability to your…’natural gifts’.

That last line was the one that did it. It was a harsh, modernized, personalized “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

“Well, thank you for the opportunity. *fake smile* It was a really great experience.” And I walked out.

I kinda lingered for awhile, trying to understand what had just happened. I was NOT the best thing since sliced bread. I was NOT as great as I had made myself believe. And I WOULD be reporting to H&M on Monday. But hear me out, it was NOT my fault. Yes, my ego was out of whack, and I was in a bigger pond, but that was NOT my fault. I am my own worst critic, and I RARELY give myself credit. Heck, I never even thought of myself as “Will West”; that’s a caricature that other people had forced on me after concerts and whatnot. But I was ready, as ready as I could ever be, and I sounded GREAT! I wanted it, and I could taste it within my grasp. How it slipped away, I don’t know. Well, I DO know. It was the guy at the piano. But I guess what I will always wonder is “why”. Well, I guess everything happens for a reason, and I don’t have many complaints about the past year. In any regard, I saw the show about 3 weeks ago. It was good. A lot different than the cartoon. But it was nothing to write home about. Just something to blog about, apparently…

Here’s that variant cover. If youve been to James’s site, Jeen’s site, or the site of James’s e-mistress (Oh no he di’nt!), this’ll look familiar. Everybody on the avatar wagon!

avt_wilberforceclayborne_large-797888

10th Aug2005

Stuck: Taking Stock Of Life

by Will

I’m so lost, and I don’t get to show this side of myself often. Most people think of me as the nice, corny guy, but I’ve got the same worries and fears as everyone else. It’s not all shits and giggles for me, but everyone thinks my toys and comics must make me this happy Willy-Wonka-esque character. In all honesty, I’m probably the most neurotic person you’ll meet.

Lately, I’ve been struck by how thin the line is between “pensive” and “lazy”, at least to the observer. My mind runs a mile a minute, wondering and fearing. “Am I making the right choice here?” or “Where will this action take me?” or the ultimate “What was I put on this Earth to do?” But there are SO MANY options! It’s bewildering.

I’ve often said that I wish we lived in the ’50s. Now, that may be an odd statement coming from a Black man, but the Mythical ’50s were such a simpler time. You didn’t go to school to necessarily major in anything. I mean, you’d get your degree, but then you’d get you cookie cutter job that afforded you the 2.5 kids and the house in the suburbs. Sure, there were scientists and the like, but Average Joe had his nondescript job, that he performed every day for about 35 years.

Now, we’ve got SO many choices. Do we choose a field in our major, or our minor? How will our GPA, from 3 years ago, affect this decision? Do we go for the unpredictable private sector, or go for the security of the Federal government? Do we save for a house or a ring? Do I want to start saving for a retirement I’ll probably never see due to my level of stress and freak-outosity, or do I stop hiding from my Federal student loans and actually start paying them back?

I AM thinking and planning, and just because I haven’t settled on anything doesn’t mean that the journey isn’t ongoing. But so many people want to stop me and ask, “What are you doing? What’s your plan?” I’m sorry, but every man in his own time! It’s like there’s a Universal Schedule, and I didn’t get the memo. Once everyone else gets their stuff figured out, then they start worrying about Will. Will wasn’t worrying you when you were distressed. I’m glad you’re going to law school. I’m glad you’re moving to your dream job halfway across the world. Sadly, the timing is not right for me yet. It’s not out of fear. Nor for lack of trying. I am planning, and I’ll let you know when I get there.

So, I’m sorry if I seem flaky or wishy-washy. I’m 23! The same people who like to say, “You’ve got time” are the same ones who forget and ask, “So, what now?” No, I haven’t made up my mind yet because nothing has struck me. I hate to sound all jaded, “looking for inspiration”, but I’m different. I was never the kid who said, “I wanna be a lawyer when i grow up.” Sure, I said that for about a week, but I knew even then that there were many (some might say TOO MANY) options in life. And I’m trying to find my way.

I could go to grad school right now. But I am not passionate enough about any field to make it a worthwhile investment. To go to school right now would just be me postponing the real world, and I realize this. I MISS school. I do. But I also have about $30,000 in loan debt, and I’m not exactly sitting on the goldmine to pay that back anytime soon. Why, oh why, would I go back to school to add to that, possibly in an industry that doesn’t exactly ensure I will be comfortable enough to pay off said debt. Yes, if someone is passionate about something, then they’ll find a way. I can honestly say that i’m not that passionate about it. I’m sorry if that sounds like a cop-out, but I feel it’s me knowing my limits. Yeah, it sucks that I make money so important to the equation, but it is.

I worry more about money with my “real job” than I did at H&M, and I really don’t make much more. I made great money for retail, but average money for “real world”. I’m not struggling, per se. I pay all my bills. But there’s no cushion. I have no comfort zone for a rainy day. Simply living paycheck to paycheck. Now, I realize that MANY people are in this same boat, and I’m nothing special, but I also like to think that they’re worried, too. Sure, they may have found corners to cut and methods for coping, but they’re not just sitting pretty knowing that they may be a couple of sick days away from homelessness. So, with the whole “paycheck from poordom” coupled with the “don’t feel like I’m living up to my potential”, I’ve got a lot on my mind. As I know many of my cohorts are going through the same.

And I HATE the whole “if money weren’t an option, what would be your dream job?” exercise. I’ve never had a “dream job”. My future plans were more personal. I wanted to be a good father and husband. As dumb as that may sound, that’s what was important to me. I really just wanted my cookie-cutter job that allowed me to have that life. I’m sorry if I don’t sound ambitious, but I was never the person who saw happiness as being dependent on a career. I’d like to have a job that I enjoy. Who wouldn’t? But I guess I never really wanted to have a job that consumed my life. Rather, I wanted a life that consumed my job.

So, the next time you see me goofing off, please allow me my fun and understand that it took a lot for me to get there. And if you see me frowning, just know that I really am a good, ambitious person underneath, just trying to sort some stuff out.

Pages:123456»