22nd Jan2021

West YEAR Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 2020

by Will

I wasn’t gonna do it. I mean, who wants to actually reflect on 2020? Nothing really major happened in pop culture, as it was the year the pop culture world stood still. I managed to eke out a few posts, but nothing consistent. The more I thought about it, though, there was someone who had an incredible year. We’ll get to that in a bit, though. Don’t worry – I’m going to keep this rather short and sweet, ’cause y’all don’t like reading anyway (What? I check the site stats!).

Movies I Watched in 2020

  1. Moana
  2. The Jerk, Too!
  3. Wreck-It Ralph
  4. The Kill Squad
  5. Wonder Woman 1984

That’s it. You’d think after a year like 2020, I would have been knee deep in movies, but that’s all I got around to watching. I did, however, binge a ton of shows, including:

  1. Love Is Blind
  2. Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness
  3. Star Trek: Picard
  4. Schitt’s Creek
  5. Gary and His Demons
  6. You’re The Worst
  7. Saved By The Bell (2020)

Plus, I discovered Kim’s Convenience, as well as consumed A LOT of 90 Day Fiancé and its various spinoffs.

Top Posts of 2020

Due to the “disposable” nature of West Week Ever posts, I try to create a few “evergreen” posts that will hopefully be enjoyable no matter when you read them. Here’s what I cranked out this year:

Thrift Justice: I’m SO Board!

The Driver

Ain’t No Lie: 20 Years of *NSYNC’s No Strings Attached

That Time I Drunkenly Emailed American Pickers

The WBW40 – Will’s Top 40 Songs of 2020

West Week Ever Recipients of 2020

3/6/20 – FX Networks

3/13/20 – Love Is Blind

4/3/20 – Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness

4/24/20 – The Nerd Lunch Podcast

5/22/20 – Zack Snyder’s Justice League

7/24/20 – Jeopardy!

11/13/20 – Alex Trebek (West Life Ever)

12/31/20 – Wonder Woman 1984

Back in the early ’00s, I tried to dip my toe into the anime craze that was taking America by storm. I couldn’t really get into Dragon Ball or Neon Genesis Evangelion because they just seemed like too much was going on there. One that appealed to me, however, was a short series called Golden Boy. Based on the manga of the same name, the 6-episode series followed Kintaro, a smart guy who skips out on graduating from college, despite having all the credits to attain a law degree. Instead, he decides to just live life as it comes, moving from town to town, odd job to odd job. And usually each town brings a new woman who’s trying to sleep with him. They usually think he’s some sort of hapless loser in the beginning, but by the time he gets ready to leave town they full on wanna bone.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, when I really think about it, that’s sort of the same thing that’s going on with the new Jake from State Farm. Debuting the night of Super Bowl LIV – February 2, 2020 – Jake II surprised the world by taking over for the original Jake, who had really only starred in one commercial to date. Little did we realize at the time that State Farm was trying to create their own Progressive Flo. He would resurface in more commercials, each time in a new setting, with someone who seemingly wouldn’t mind having him check their policy between the sheets. There’s the non-binary pizza delivery person, the Great Value Nick Offerman, the hipster butcher, the beekeeper and more. They all think Jake’s pulled some strings to get them a policy discount that’s unique to just them. He reassures them that they’re just benefitting from State Farm’s typical low rates, but they refuse to believe him, instead offering him some sort of perk from their job. Like Kintaro, Jake moves from setting to setting, changing lives and making some folks question their sexuality.

Over the course of just 2020, Jake appeared in EIGHTEEN different commercials. I can’t even begin to explain how much of an oversaturation of marketing that is. While we were all locked down, State Farm was releasing a NEW Jake commercial roughly every 3 weeks. State Farm cranked out more original content than most studios last year! Meanwhile, I’ll bet Original Jake is PISSED he never got this kind of exposure. Do you know how lucrative commercial residuals can be?! In any case, Jake was the hardest working man of 2020, and he’s one of the biggest “success stories” of the year. That’s why Jake from State Farm had the West Year Ever for 2020.

 

23rd Dec2020

That Time I Drunkenly Emailed American Pickers

by Will

It may be my birthday, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a gift, as well! I’ve alluded to this over the years, but I’ve never shared the full story. I was cleaning out my email a few days ago, in an attempt to achieve “Inbox Zero”, and I ran across an email I sent to the History Channel show American Pickers one drunken Friday night a few years ago.  First, however, some backstory.

For those new to this site, I sometimes do a feature called Thrift Justice, where I showcase the crazy finds I come across at thrift stores and yard sales. The posts are few and far between these days, but it used to be a pretty frequent thing. Anyway, at its height, I found myself also becoming engrossed in TV shows like Storage Wars and Pawn Stars, where everyone was hoping their next find would be their ticket to retirement. Of course, those shows were staged, and I kinda drifted away from them once that all came to light. However, there seemed to be one bastion of honest treasure hunting still on the tube: American Pickers. If you’ve never seen it, it follows Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz as they travel the country looking for rare finds to add to their shop. They’re “pickers”, who typically receive a tip about some old hoarder back in the woods, who ends up giving them access to his property to find artifacts to buy off of him. Game knows game, and it’s the same with pickers. Most of them have been doing it for decades, and there’s something of a feeling of pride when another picker comes along and wants to pick through your wares. It means you’ve got some good, rare stuff!

I watched the show for YEARS, and the formula was the same: Mike and Frank would drive down some back road, noticing things along the driveway, like rusted out rollercoaster cars, or old oil company signs. They rarely cold called, as when they did, the old codgers were less than enthused about having them on their property. No, most of these tips came from networking, so the people already knew ahead of time that Mike and Frank were coming. Mike or Frank would call Mike’s shop, Antique Archaeology, and tatted up assistant Danielle would relay the tip to them. They’d end up picking through the yard, or a nearby barn, and then they’d start haggling. The property owner would always say something like “Well, I know you’ve got to make some money off of it, so how about X?” That was always peculiar to me, though, as I wondered why the salty codger would care about Mike & Franks cash flow. He should be more concerned that he was going to make HIS money. Anyway, that was the formula, day in and day out. Driving around, back roads, old White dudes.

As long as I’ve thrifted, I’ve always been worried about supply drying up. You see, I do it for fun now, but it used to be something of a side hustle. In fact, I really threw myself into it to help pay for my wedding, and after that I became more of a hobbyist. The thing is, when I first started, thrift stores were still exactly that: thrifty goods for economical shoppers. The landscape has changed, however, as now EVERYONE is scanning the items as they go down the aisles. Everyone’s a reseller, so thrifting ain’t so special anymore. As I’m always looking to the next thing, I wondered if I could be a picker. I mean, it sounds fun, and you can uncover some nice, rare vintage artifacts. One big problem, though: I’m Black. It’s not like these dudes I saw on the show seemed like the kind who’d just welcome me with open arms. Sure, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, but most of the covers on these dudes fell off decades ago. The more I noticed that a certain “type” of guy tended to be a picker, the more it started to bother me that there was this frontier that was closed off to me. One night, after a drink (I believe it was one gin  & tonic – yes, I’m a lightweight), and an hours-long American Pickers marathon, I’d had enough, and felt compelled to take my issue to the source. I found the email address for American Archaeology on their website, and I fired off the following:

Question Regarding Diversity In Picking

Hi Mr. Wolfe,

First off, I want to say that I’m a big fan of the show, and it has inspired me in my own treasure hunting. Keep making those episodes, and I’ll keep watching!

I’m writing because something has been on my mind for quite some time. As a thrifter of color, I’ve often wondered why we don’t see more pickers/collectors of color on the show. Since you’ve been at this for quite some time, I guess I’m wondering this: ARE there pickers of color? I’m at a point where I feel like they either don’t exist OR they don’t cooperate with the filming. Otherwise, we’d have seen them by now, right?

I know that I wouldn’t be able to just go on someone’s property and ask to look around the way that you and Frank can – especially in some of the parts of the country that you guys explore. In your travels, have you come across fellow pickers who happen to be minorities, and have they shared any of their stories with you? I’d love to know what their experiences are like, and to see how they differ from yours and Frank’s. It might even make for a good special episode, maybe in February 🙂

Anyway, like I said, it’s been on my mind, so I felt it was probably time to go to the source and ask your take on things. I hope I’m not overstepping any bounds, and I thank you for your time.

Best,
William West

Rereading that now, I’m struck by how friendly and articulate it was. I mean, keep in mind that I was DRUNK, but that’s what came out. I guess I was going for “killing them with kindness”. I mean, I was pretty sick of seeing the Jaspers and the Walters, and I just wanted to see a Leroy. Representation matters and all that. I don’t know if I expected a response or what, but it felt good to get it out, and taken to those in the know. According to the email, I sent this October 4th, 2005 at 1:40 AM. They HAD to know I was drunk. The only things sent at 1:40 AM are drunken emails and “You up?” texts. So, imagine my surprise when, just two days later, I received a response:

Hello, William!
Thank you for the email and the great inquiries!
We’re glad to hear you enjoy the show.

I’ve met quite a few pickers/collectors from a wide variety of minorities here in the shop, though I’m not sure how many Mike and Frank run in to in their travels. I’ll forward your email to the guys so they can possibly answer your questions! They’re currently on the road, meaning it’s a bit harder to hear back from them.

Thanks again,
Antique Archaeology Le Claire

As you can see, it’s a little better than a form letter, but still didn’t really answer my questions. I was pretty giddy that this was probably written by Danielle, but I never did hear back from Mike & Frank. Maybe I was supposed to do some back and forth. A “Thanks for the response, and I look forward to hearing from them!” I dunno. I suck at follow-up. I didn’t send that response so it all died on the vine. I’ll tell you this, though: I never watched the show again after this exchange. It wasn’t out of spite or anger. Honestly, it just stopped looking *fun* to me. It was kind of like a dream deferred. The silence seemed to be its own answer. I mean, if they really wanted to clear things up, and they had dealt with pickers of color, don’t you think they’d be pretty quick to defend themselves in that “We’re not racist!” way that folks resort to when asked these sorts of things? No, I feel like they didn’t want to make things worse by admitting it’s a pretty White pastime, so they just brushed it aside. That is, IF Dani ever gave them them message in the first place. Either way, it was a good ride, and I hear they’re still picking down those back roads. I’d love to be able to live that life, but I’d rather not get shot. I guess everything ain’t for everybody.

06th Mar2020

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 3/6/20

by Will

Welcome to the first West Week Ever of 2020! Yeah, you read that correctly. I’m gonna level with ya: I had one foot out the door. I was pretty much done, even though I didn’t necessarily want to be. It’s just that the world is a dumpster fire, and there wasn’t much happening in pop culture other than folks arguing about Star Wars headcanon or fighting over which old man director was gonna trash talk the MCU next. I didn’t feel like writing about any of that, and the whole enterprise was starting to feel like a chore.

Plus, I kinda fell off the pop culture wagon for a bit, and I’m not caught up on all the Mandalorians and Picards you kids are raving about. So, I sat on the bench. You still got West Year Ever, and I’ve cranked out a post here or there, but for all intents and purposes, West Week Ever was done. The problem with that, however, is that I don’t know how to quit anything. So, here I am. I’m not gonna make any promises. I could disappear quicker than your dad did that time when he went to get cigarettes (too soon?). I’m gonna try to give you something weekly, but only if I feel like it. Only if it’s fun. So, let’s try to capture some fun again.

The Dixie Chicks are back, with “Gaslighter” – their first new song in over a decade. I like seeing that they’ve still got that “Not Ready To Make Nice” fire in them. I’d call this a strong Feminist anthem, but I don’t know if I’m allowed to do that as a man. That said, the visuals of this video are really strong, driving home the message they’re trying to convey. I love this song, and I love them. I just hope they get some kind of airplay because I don’t think country radio is quite ready to make nice with them yet, even though it’s been almost 20 years.

Trailer Park

SCOOB!

This looks cute, even though I’ve never really been a Scooby fan. I won’t see it in the theater, but it’ll totally end up on Cartoon Network within 16 months of its release and I’ll just watch it then.

Connected

OK, I was already on board when it was just the story of a dad trying to reconnect with his daughter. Then there’s the twist around 1:45 where I was SO in. This looks great, and I plan to actually go see this in the theater. I didn’t know this was in development or anything until the trailer dropped this week, and it just seems so refreshing to have an original idea that looks great. This is when someone tells me it’s based on some YA novel or something :-p
Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • We got our first look at the Batmobile from the upcoming Matt Reeves film. It’s different. I like it. I know folks get all passionate about these things, but if it’s a Batman movie, I’m gonna see it, so just bring it on already.
  • The first Hollywood casualty of the Coronavirus that’s sweeping the world is the upcoming James Bond film, No Time to Die. Due to concerns about the virus (and the desire for that Chinese box office), the film’s release has been moved to November.
  • Speaking of Coronavirus, a lot of musical acts have postponed the Asian leg of their tours. One of these artists is Avril Lavigne. There are reports that Asian children are writing letters to the virus, thanking it for sparing them from Lavigne’s music.
  • She may have kissed a girl, but she clearly banged a man, as Katy Perry announced that she’s pregnant with her first child.
  • America Ferrera is leaving Superstore, which doesn’t come as a surprise if you watched their SDCC panel last year. Felt like there was some tension there.
  • I know some of y’all enjoy my Thrift Justice feature, which made its return this week, with me showcasing some board games I’ve picked up.

I don’t know if y’all realize this, but FX is cranking out some pretty good stuff over on basic cable. I mean, I’ve been a fan of their original programming since Nip/Tuck, but it was You’re The Worst that really showed me what you could get away with over there. And, of course, there’s It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. The same way film snobs love anything by A24, I’ve pretty much decided to give most FX shows a shot when they debut. I was scared that the quality might change after the Fox studios were sold to Disney, but boy was I wrong! This week saw the debut of 2 great, new shows on sister network FXX.

First up there’s Martin Freeman’s Breeders, which spoke to me in a way I didn’t really expect. It’s about an early 40s couple, struggling with the challenges of raising their two young kids, as well as being in a position where they now have to care for their elderly parents. Freeman’s character is 45, but I could relate to all of that at 38. The whole notion of “Remember when we had lives and dreams?” Yeah, I felt that. But this isn’t supposed to be a downer, and I’m supposed to be selling this to you! Since it’s a joint UK production, Freeman is the only actor I recognize, but it’s got a strong cast, and there’s great chemistry between him and Daisy Haggard, who plays his wife.

The show debuted Monday night with two episodes. If you’re going to give it a shot, I’ll say that the second episode is stronger than the pilot. It’s got an excellent cringe moment, where you think “These might not be great people”, conveyed in a way that only an FX show could do. I don’t follow many shows these days, as my TV is pretty much always on Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, but Breeders is now destination television for me.

Next up, there’s Dave, starring rapper Lil Dicky. I’ve got to admit that I’d never heard of Dave Burd/Lil Dicky prior to the show, but I guess he’s an internet rapper? Anyway, this show feels like FX stumbled upon a particular formula and tried to replicate it here. It’s a show about an awkwardly named rapper trying to make it big. They should’ve just called it Whitelanta and called it a day. Burd is an interesting character, as he’s basically a neurotic Jewish guy who just happens to have an amazing freestyle. For a show about a rapper, though, there’s not a lot of rap. It definitely follows the “Less is more” philosophy, so that when he finally does rap, it really hits you hard. You’re like, “Shit! This dude is talented!” Imagine a young Jewish rapper who finds himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm style situations, and you’ve got Dave.

In the pilot, Dave wires $10,000 to a stranger because a random guy he met at a recording studio put a random number in his phone for a producer who’ll get rapper YG to guest on his track, “Girth” (there’s a LOT of penile stuff in the show). Anyone with street smarts would question this, but nebbish Dave goes right along with it, and withdraws his Bar Mitzvah money to do it. In the second episode, Dave’s first public performance is slated for the memorial service of a kid who loved both him and Macklemore. Yup, Macklemore, which will come into play in a big way.

It’s an usual show, and it has its cringe moments. Still, those are what FX shows do so well, and Dave is actually an endearing character. You wonder if he might even be on the spectrum, but you get where he’s coming from, and you feel sorry for his naivete. The rap game is gonna eat him alive, but it’s gonna be a riot watching it all go down.

So, between Breeders and Dave, FXX is my new favorite channel. That’s why FX Networks had the West Week Ever.

03rd Mar2020

Thrift Justice – I’m SO Board!

by Will

I’m not a board game guy. I didn’t grow up playing them, and the idea of a “game night” makes me want to tear my eyes out. That said, I know that there are plenty of folks out there who do love board games, and the right games can net you a pretty penny on the resale market. Why do I dislike games? Well, I’m an only child, and there weren’t a ton of kids in the neighborhood when I was growing up. I used to play The Game of the States with my grandmother, but I never played any of the “staples”, like Monopoly, Candy Land, or The Game of Life. In fact, I’ve still never played a game of Monopoly outside of the annual McDonald’s sweepstakes. I didn’t learn Candy Land until about a year ago, because my daughter was playing it.

Board games are a blessing and a curse when it comes to thrifting. If you find the right game, and it’s still sealed (score!), you could make a good deal of money. For example, I made about $100 a few years ago when I sold a vintage copy of Ghettopoly. It’s hard to find because it’s offensive as Hell, so it wasn’t on the market long. Meanwhile, some opened games can also net you some good money, but you’ve got to count the pieces to make sure they’re all present. That step right there is why I hate board games. You’d be surprised how many board game instructions don’t expressly list the count of all the pieces. Do you know how much time I’ve spent online trying to find the total of each denomination of Monopoly money that should be in every game?!

Check these groovy contents!

Anyway, despite my disdain for board games, every now and then one will catch my eye, and I just have to take it home. Today we’ll look at a few games that fell into that category.

I don’t know anything about The Magnificent Race, but the box art had a weird, Beatles cartoon-esque vibe to it. Supposedly, the players are chasing someone named “Dastardly Dan”, who seems like he’s a Great Value Dick Dastardly. Apparently it sells pretty well, too, but board games are such a chore to ship, as the shipping alone on a “standard” board game box is about $20. USPS even has a board game shipping box for these things, but I don’t know if there’s enough “meat on the bone” here to make it worth even trying to sell.

A lot of the games I pick up have a nostalgia bent, where they’re based on something I used to love, but I still don’t feel like seeking out 1-3 more people to play. So, they end up being collectibles more than things to actually play. Growing up, I LOVED The Beverly Hillbillies, so I jumped at this one when I found it at the thrift store. I still don’t know how to play it. A quick glance at the rules says that players are trying to fit the Clampetts’ old belongings into their new mansion, but is that it? Am I looking for “black gold” or “Texas tea”? Am I trying to keep Mr. Drysdale from stealing my money? No clue, but I also don’t see myself getting rid of this any time soon.

Children of the ‘80s will remember M.A.S.K., aka Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, as the line of quick change vehicles that came with 2-inch, helmeted figures. Where else could you find a Camaro with gull wing doors that allowed it to fly?! So, of course all of this fun would translate well into a board game, right? Right? Wrong! You see, the beauty of the toys was the transforming nature of the vehicles, which is completely lost when translated into a 2-D board game. It’s the age-old battle between good and evil, but there’s no way this is as fun as playing with the actual toys. I grabbed this for 2 reasons: 1) I didn’t want anyone else to have it and 2) I was drawn in by the box art. I’ll never play it, and I may even release it back into the wild, but for that very moment, I had to have it.

Because I love all things Saban, I used to be a big fan of the Sweet Valley High TV series (and not just because the original Green Ranger made a few cameos. OK, that was the main reason). So, I snagged this board game based on the adventures of the Wakefield Twins. I’ll be honest here: I got this and Mall Madness simply to resell to that “disposable income” crowd. I’ve done an inventory of it, and everything is here. Since it’s based on the books, and not the show, it’s missing some of my favorite characters, like Andrea Savage’s “Renata”. The problem I found here, however is the box is LARGE. Shipping this thing would be a bitch, so I’m probably gonna throw this one back to the thrift store.

Speaking of Power Rangers, I got this game from my Secret Santa last Christmas. I’ve actually owned it a few times over the years, but never had anyone to play it with me. I’m drawn to the fact that it features King Sphinx who, according to early MMPR merchandising, was apparently an important character. Spoiler alert: he wasn’t! You’d think he was the Big Bad, or at least one of Rita’s henchmen, but he appeared once. Still, he’s got a great agent, as he’s all over the first year Power Rangers merch. I haven’t felt this let down since the Star Wars “Black Jedi” marketing of Finn! Damn it, I’m gonna make somebody play this with me!

Finally, we’ve got King Kong, where the famous gorilla scales the World Trade Center. Ehhhhhhhhh… Sure, when it was made, nobody ever thought that it would be the site of one of America’s greatest tragedies. They just knew the dude liked climbing tall buildings, and the WTC was two for the price of one! I’ve been sitting on this particular game for about 5 years, as I didn’t know what to do with it. The previously sold prices on eBay are all over the place, plus this box had a bunch of tape on it and I didn’t feel like ruining the box art trying to get it all off. So, I finally opened it up the other night, only to find that it’s basically incomplete. I mean, most of it’s there, but it is missing a player piece, so it can only be played by 3 people instead of 4. I guess I could part it out, but is there really a market for a cardboard cutout of the World Trade Center? I’ll probably end up throwing this one back.

There ya have it. I don’t wanna keep this too long, as I know nobody’s got an attention span anymore. In the comments, let me know some of your favorite board games. Am I missing out?

17th Jan2020

West YEAR Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 2019

by Will

I won’t say 2019 was a complete dumpster fire, but it certainly wasn’t very noteworthy. It was a year that many are glad to have behind them, and we’re looking forward to a better 2020. As you probably know, I took about 1/3 of the year off from posting because, well, there wasn’t a whole lot worth talking about. It was just such a Meh year. However, this is the time when we look back, so let’s see how the year shaped up, shall we?

I remember back in an early West Year Ever, I watched about 70 movies that year. This year I landed on unlucky number 13. Comic Book movies and Rambo films were the name of the game in 2019. The Rambo thing, however, was a fluke, as I did a Rambothon to prepare me for a podcast appearance.

Movies I Watched
1. Captain Marvel
2. SHAZAM!
3. Avengers: Endgame
4. Spider-Man: Far From Home
5. Barbershop: The Next Cut
6. First Blood
7. Rambo: First Blood Part II
8. Rambo III
9. Rambo
10. Rambo: Last Blood
11. White Chicks
12. The Grinch
13. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: I never wrote about this, because I feel like people should be more willing to say “I don’t know enough about this topic to have a strong opinion”. I mean, I enjoyed it in the theater, but it’s got fan service out the ass, and feels like it panders. Still, the lifelong fans seem to love it, so I guess “mission accomplished”? I will say that I’m disappointed in Finn’s character arc. Sure, I was one of the fools who initially fell for “Whoo hoo! Black Jedi!” Even when that didn’t come to pass, however, they never did anything with him. He’s such a blank slate that he’s come to be known by his relationships. That’s why everyone’s constantly trying to ship him with Poe Dameron. EVERYONE Finn encounters becomes a potential love interest. Rey, Poe, Rose, Jannah. He can’t meet someone without catching feelings. I don’t know if that’s because he was snatched as a child so he never had any real nurturing, or if it’s simply bad writing. But they didn’t do my man right.

Top Posts of 2019

While my West Week Ever posts are somewhat disposable, as they don’t mean much once the week has passed, every now and then I write something that I feel is sort of “evergreen” and can be read at any time. 2019 saw the return of my fan favorite segment Thrift Justice, with a heavy focus on physical media I acquired over the year. Then there was also a healthy dose of nostalgia. Check out these posts:

Thrift Justice: Operation Kondo
Thrift Justice: Let’s Get Physical! Physical! Media!
Thrift Justice: Physical Education
The Great Sitcom Fires of the 80s & 90s
Kickin’ It Old School at Retro Con 2019
West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – I Love The 80s REMIX!

Things You Might Have Missed This Year

  • We bid adieu to HarassmentWatch(TM), as #MeToo seemed to have calmed down.
  • All Elite Wresting debuted, finally giving WWE some competition
  • My pals at the Nerd Lunch Podcast announced that their show would be winding down
  • The latest incarnation of Power Rangers, Beast Morphers, debuted
  • The X-Men film franchised limped to the finish line with Dark Phoenix
  • Aunt Becky got caught cheating to get her daughter into USC
  • The Bat Penis made an appearance in Batman: Damned #1
  • The public outcry following the debut of the Sonic: The Hedgehog trailer caused Paramount to go back and change the character’s design.
  • Taco Bell Quarterly took the literary world by storm
  • Adam Levine left The Voice – ya know, that show that has never made a household name
  • We celebrated the 30th anniversary of 1989’s Batman
  • DC Comics shuttered the critically acclaimed Vertigo imprint
  • One of my favorite shows, The Amazing World of Gumball, came to a sudden end.
  • A bunch of y’all crowdfunded a $600 Transformer, so there’s that.
  • The X-Men comics got a major overhaul by writer Jonathan Hickman
  • Verizon, which paid an estimated $1.1 billion to acquire Tumblr, offloaded the site to WordPress’s parent company, Auttomatic, for a mere $20 million. At least the porn’s back.
  • Avengers: Endgame unseated Avatar to become the highest grossing movie in the world.
  • Sony opted not to renew their agreement to allow Spider-Man to be used in Marvel Studios films. And there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. And then they changed their mind.
  • Get ready for the purple pill, as a fourth Matrix film was announced
  • SNL made history by hiring an Asian guy, but they also hired a guy who liked to make fun of Asians. And hilarity ensued! Not really. They fired that second guy.
  • NBCUniversal announced their own streaming service, peacock, which will carry the NBC library, as well as revivals of older shows, like Punky Brewster and Saved by the Bell
  • Taylor Swift released my favorite album of the year, Lover
  • McDonald’s celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Happy Meal, with a strange 5-day promotion that featured shoddy reproductions of old toys.
  • John Legend was named People‘s Sexiest Man Alive, and even his wife, Chrissy Teigen, is like “Huh?”
  • Disney+ showed up on the scene and changed the streaming game. It’s a wonder Disney makes any money on it, though, as it seems like there are about 6 different cheat codes to get your first year for free.
  • I counted down the top 40 songs of 2019, as decided by moi.

West Week Ever Recipients of 2019
1/11/19 – Marie Kondo
2/15/19 – HardRockNick
3/1/19 – Star Wars: Always trailer
3/8/19 – Power Rangers Beast Morphers
3/15/19 – Captain Marvel
4/5/19 – SHAZAM!
5/3/19 – Avengers: Endgame
5/17/19 – Fox Network
5/24/19 – Live In Front of a Studio Audience
6/21/19 – Blanco Brown
7/19/19 – FaceApp
7/26/19 – Marvel Entertainment
8/16/19 – Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich
8/23/19 – Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich
9/20/19 – Taylor Swift: Lover
11/15/19 – Disney+
11/22/19 – Baby Yoda
12/6/19 – Xfinity’s E.T. commercial
12/13/19 – Ghostbusters: Afterlife trailer

 

So, normally we get to this point, and I add up how many things got the West Week Ever more than once, and the West YEAR Ever recipient becomes sort of obvious. That’s not the case this year. While the Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich did get the WWE twice, I refuse to consider 2019 The Year of the Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich. No, some special math is needed here.

If you notice, Disney made the list 5 different times (I’m not counting the Star Wars: Always entry, as that was a fan project). Disney was behind the 2 most anticipated films of the year, they tied up the Thanos Saga of the MCU deftly, and they introduced the character of the year: “Baby Yoda”. On top of those successes, they closed to deal to acquire 21st Century Fox, bringing several other franchises, such as X-Men and Alien into the Disney fold. Ya hear that? Ellen Ripley is a Disney Princess now!

So, even though those sandwiches had folks lined up around the block, they eventually lost momentum and now you can just get one whenever you want. Disney, however, is still making moves to increase their vast empire. Some think they’re evil. Some say it’s “just business”. Whatever it is, it’s hard to deny Disney’s success, which is why they had the West Year Ever in 2019.

There you have it. We can finally close the book on 2019 and start focusing on what 2020 has to offer. There’ll also be some changes on the site, but we won’t get into that too much right now. As always, thanks for reading, as Lord knows there are 1,000 other things vying for your time these days. I truly appreciate it!

22nd Mar2019

Thrift Justice – Physical Education

by Will

I swear, I’ll eventually get back to pop culture ephemera and old toys, but I’ve spent so much time taking in physical media “strays” that I still have some stuff to say on the matter. I know folks love seeing crazy “Oh my gosh! Can you believe it?!” stuff, but I also know folks like to see complete busts, because it’s 2019 and schadenfreude rules the day! Here’s a situation that falls somewhere in the middle.

While I pick up a lot of stuff from thrift stores, during my Thrift Justice posting break, I adopted a new approach, where I scour yard sale apps for deals. I mean SCOUR! You know how folks spend a ton of time on Twitter or Instagram? That’s me on Facebook Marketplace. My wife says that I have an addiction, but I don’t think I’d ever perform oral sex on a stranger in a dark alley for any of this stuff. THAT’s addiction! So, to her, I say “Whatever”.

I already explained my strategy last time, so you should now be familiar with the stuff that I feel looks promising and what kind of stuff I’d pass on. Let’s talk about a recent example, where I initially passed, eventually caved, and then learned a valuable lesson.

I saw these pics on OfferUp a few weeks ago, and there was some pretty interesting stuff there. Just at a glance, you see the complete Six Feet Under, the complete Sex and the City, the complete 24, most of Nip/Tuck, and some Star Trek: Voyager seasons sticking out here and there. Not a bad lot. The bad thing, however, is that this fool wanted $200 for everything. Yeah, unless your name is Samuel J. Goody, you have no right asking for that kind of money for this – especially when it’s all used. Here’s the thing, though: with all the stuff I listed, it was definitely WORTH $200, but here’s where psychology comes into play: This is a great profit for a reseller, but it’s a terrible price for a reseller to PAY.

If you’ve watched American Pickers, or any show like that, you know that you’ve got to be able to make some money on your acquisitions. There needs to be “meat on the bone”. There’s not a lot of meat on that bone at $200. A used complete series of most television shows is in the neighborhood of $30-40. You can get a bit more if it’s out of print (For example, the season 1 & 2 set for California Dreams will still net you about $40 by itself. No such thing as a complete run, as they never released the final season. Not even in one of those on demand programs). Keep in mind, though, the series needs to have at least 5 seasons. Don’t expect to make any money off Da Ali G Show or something like that (for example, Chappelle’s Show is borderline worthless because everyone owned it at some point. They might as well have given it out at stoplights). So, just looking at the series I mentioned above, that’s a good $150-200 right there, and those were just a fraction of what I saw.

I saw the listing, but it was too rich for my blood, so I passed on it. I knew he was never gonna sell it at $200, though, and that was proven by how it just sat for weeks. So, I wasn’t surprised when one night I noticed he’d slashed the price to $50. Now we were in business! I messaged him, but we were also in the middle of a snowstorm and my car was in the shop. I wasn’t gonna miss out on dis bitch, tho!

I manage to get over to my mother’s house, and steal her car while she’s still asleep (CRIME!). I drive down to the guy’s apartment, which is in complete disarray. Ya see, he’s actually moving to Richmond that day, which is the reason for his desperation price drop. He can’t take the stuff with him, so he dropped it to fire sale prices. There are boxes everywhere, as he’s waiting for the movers to come. Still, on the far wall, I see that familiar media case, with the Star Trek: Voyager sets on it. He’s out of boxes by this point, and apparently expected me to bring my own. I did not, so he hands me some garbage bags. And I start bagging. He tells me that everything on this side of the apartment is up for grabs, ’cause it’s not coming with him. I don’t know if that means I’ve got to pay more or that he’s throwing it in with the DVDs. We’ll come back to that.

As I’m bagging, I’m kinda overwhelmed by everything he has. I mean, for one thing, there are about 25 travel DVDs and Blu Rays. I don’t even know who would watch those things, and he clearly wasn’t the type, as none of them had been opened. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, they’re the kind of video you’d play for ambiance if you ran a nail salon. Top 10 National Parks and Europe In A Day. Stuff like that. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice that 24 season 7 is on the floor, off to the side of the case. I didn’t think much of it, as the rest of the series was in one of my trash bags, so I just grabbed it and threw it in.

He also had quite a few collections from motivational speaker Anthony Robbins, and I wasn’t sure if they were included in the sale. I’ve had a strange fascination with Tony Robbins over the years (Does that stuff really work?), but I knew I probably couldn’t sell it, ’cause that Guthy-Renker/BeachBody infomercial stuff is always covered by copyrights that can get your eBay account deleted. Anyway, I said “Screw it”, and threw them in the bag, as well.

As I’m shoveling stuff into bags, I start to notice all the stuff I hadn’t been able to see in the pics on the app. For one, dude really loves musicals. And the Royal Family. So, if I had to do a sidewalk assessment of the guy, I’m picking up “gay man who learned to love himself through the power of Tony Robbins”. I start looking at other stuff over on the side, but nothing really catches my eye other than 2 things: a new Xbox One remote/keyboard, and a new pair of furniture covers to protect your couches from pets. You see, we were headed to Richmond that afternoon to go check out the dog that would eventually become ours. Oh, I haven’t mentioned we have a dog now? Yeah, he shits in the house and terrorizes the children. I’m not a fan right now. Anyway, I knew I didn’t want this potential dog messing up my furniture so I grabbed those covers. I had already thrown the Xbox remote into one of the bags, but I actually showed the covers to the guy, ’cause I wanted him to know I was taking them, and didn’t want to get shot in some stranger’s apartment over a pet cover dispute (You laugh, but a guy in TN was murdered by the guy offering him $200 for his Xbox One from Facebook Marketplace just a few weeks ago). At that point, he’s like “OK, how about $10?” Oh, so he’s gonna monetize everything he’s got, huh? Should I tell him about the remote? I think NOT. So, I only have $5 left after the DVD purchase, and tell him I’ll only take one since that’s all I’ve got. Some folks might be like “Don’t worry about it. Take both.” He was not one of those folks. So, I shove the cover into one of the bags, give him the $5 bill, thank him, and leave.

As I’m driving home, I’m giddy about these 2 giant trash bags of physical media that were going to make me a mini fortune of “walking around money”. Maybe I can finally show my face at the comic shop that’s been holding merchandise for me since October. I’m kinda hoping they think I’m dead by this point. Then, as I’m driving, I’m starting to have my Usual Suspects moment. I’m piecing together all the Keyser Soze stuff in my head, reliving the past hour or so. And it starts to occur to me all of the stuff I don’t remember seeing. Despite what I had seen on the app, I now couldn’t remember actually putting Six Feet Under in one of the bags. Or even Sex and the City. As I kept driving, other stuff was now apparent that it wasn’t actually there when I got there. No wonder he had dropped the price – THE MOTHERFUCKER HAD PULLED A BAIT & SWITCH AND REMOVED ALL THE VALUABLE STUFF! At this point, the lot was basically worth the $50 he was asking.

You’d think I’d rush home and immediately take inventory, but you would be wrong. I kinda stewed in it for a while. Life got in the way, we got this shit machine of a dog, and the bags sat in the back on my car for about 2 weeks. When I finally got around to seeing what it was I’d actually gotten, my theory became truth. There was no collection about a sad looking White family that runs a funeral home. There was no collection about Carrie Bradshaw and her antics in a pre-cell phone New York City. There was no collection about plastic surgeons with no moral compass. Don’t get me wrong – there was still stuff there. I mean, he had all of Prison Break, and most of Oz and 24 – all still sealed. He had some new Martha Stewart collections, for the DIY folks out there, as well as some rare Wilton cake decorating tutorial DVDs. He had some musicals I could add to the personal collection. But the lot was no longer the goldmine it was teased as being.

This was a “teachable moment” to me, as it made me aware of some things I do in these transactions that probably need to change. For one, when I make a sale, I never count the money in front of the person. I think it comes down to not wanting to insult them, and then have that escalate into me being shot. I’ve never been stiffed, but I just try to be “Cool Dude” who’s all “Oh, it’s no problem. Thanks for meeting me!” Another thing I need to do is take my time and really assess what it is I’m buying in these transactions. I used to forget to do this when I first started reselling. I’d go to the thrift store, find something like an old G.I. Joe vehicle that was about 70% complete, and swear there was a buyer out there for it. Sure, maybe ONE, but I wasn’t on his radar, and I’d end up sitting on junk. In that setting, I learned to take my time and really inspect the stuff I was buying, so I wouldn’t end up with a ton of Beast Wars Transformers, with exposed ball joints indicating there were limbs missing. Here, I should have at least glanced before I started just shoveling into bags, and I should’ve had the balls to ask about the missing stuff had I noticed it while I was still in the apartment.

For a brief moment, I considered messaging the guy to ask “Hey, what the Hell?”, but I didn’t really think that was the best approach. Plus, Tony Robbins might have instructed him to stand his ground and curse me out, and I simply couldn’t have that! He didn’t mark the lot as sold on the app for weeks, so I wasn’t being asked to leave a review for how the transaction went, which was actually a relief. I mean, I don’t blame him for removing the more valuable stuff if he had another channel to sell where he’d make more money. No, I blame him for not updating the pics on OfferUp, making it seem like I, the buyer, would be receiving things I did not, in fact, receive. To borrow from the vernacular of the day, his ad was simply FAKE NEWS!

I’ve already flipped Prison Break for $35, and the Xbox remote for $25, so I’ve gotten my money back, but 24 was missing the final season, and one of the Voyager seasons was missing a disc, so it’s gonna be an uphill battle unloading some of this stuff. Look before you leap, True Believer!

Notes From The Road

When I first started Thrift Justice, it was supposed to end with this little segment where I give a little tip or trick that I’ve learned while thrifting. Since this whole post was something of a cautionary tale, however, I figured it already took care of that. So, instead, I wanted to connect you to some others out there with thrifting experience.

 

First up, there’s my brother from another mother, Team Hellions. He’s got quite the reselling cottage industry going, where he specializes in anything from VHS to old print ads. He’s also one Hell of a writer, and he just celebrated his 10th blogging anniversary. Visit his site to see the massive magazine lot he probably just acquired, but stay for the in-depth coverage of his latest project: the pop culture of 1983!

Also, be sure to check in on The Surfing Pizza. When I discovered this site, it was incredible writing about nostalgia – ya know, “Here’s something you probably remember.” In recent years, however, the focus has changed into “Here’s something that you probably remember, and here’s how it affected me.” That personal touch made all the difference, and the site has been firing on all cylinders ever since!

They’ve both got some thrifting stories to tell, so be sure to check them out!

22nd Feb2019

Thrift Justice – Let’s Get Physical! Physical! Media!

by Will

 

“The world is a trash fire…” (in the style of Billy Corgan)

Yeah, so this is another one of those weeks where I don’t feel like writing about pop culture. Thanks a lot, Jussie Smollett (womp womp) and Robert Kraft (LMAO!). So, that means I have to reach into my bag of tricks and pull out something else to entertain your eyes and your mind this week. And since errbody seems to love Thrift Justice, Thrift Justice is what you shall have!

So, in recent years, my bread and butter has been to flip physical media – primarily DVDs and Blu Rays. Sure, everyone is all on a streaming kick, but they’re the first ones to whine when Netflix threatens to take Friends off the service. Oh, you mean the complete series of Friends, which I routinely sell for $30? Basically, there’s still a market out there for a lot of this stuff, and I’ve spent the time finding these people and studying their whims.

As I said on Twitter the other day, it’s to the point where I could teach a class on selling physical media. First, nobody is meeting you at the library to pay you $3 for Road Trip. Sell that shit in a lot. Next, nobody is paying $1 per disc in said lot. You’ve got to sweeten the pot. 100 discs better not be > $50. Now, the rules can change if the stuff is 1) out of print or 2) Criterion. But that’s not what most folks are selling. They’re selling Band of Brothers, Entourage Season 1, Serenity, and the Matrix trilogy. You should be paying ME to take that shit from you not vice versa.

See, places like FYE messed with folks’ heads, so pricing is all over the place. Let me also remind you, though, that most FYEs are on their way to Hell to meet their uncles Sam Goody and The Wiz. Common DVDs basically have a resale value of about 50 cents when sold in a lot.

Anyway, I spend a lot of time scouring Facebook Marketplace, letgo, and OfferUp (we’ll get deeper into those in another post), looking for people off-loading their physical media. “Moving, and can’t take it with us.” Or the ones trying to be funny with, “Does anyone even use DVDs anymore? Then come get these!” I’ll pretty much go as high as $40 as long as the selection is right, and the the quantity is there. I can pull some from the lot to sell separately (especially if there are any complete series of any television shows), which make up what I initially invested, and then flip the rest for pocket change. Let’s be real here: I’m not paying my mortgage with this, but it’s an easy way to get some “walking around money”.

Take this lot, for example. I found this on letgo, and the listing said there were “About 300 movies”. The pic wasn’t great, and looked kinda like the aftermath of an earthquake, so I just figured maybe everything wasn’t on film. The only thing I could see in the image was Charmed, and I thought “Well, that’s a start – especially if they’re all there.” The clincher, though, was that the entire lot – however many were there – was only $5. SOLD! It could’ve been nothing but 300 copies of Hitch, and I knew I could get more than $5 for it. Might take a while, but I could do it.

So, after some back and forth (it took this chick hours to reply to messages), I set off for the meeting spot. Turns out it was located near my job. Oh, shit. We were going to the ghetto.

When she finally came out of her building carrying the box, I thought “There’s no way this is 300 movies”, but it was still only $5, so I kept that sentiment to myself. Once I got home, I counted everything, and there were 97 movies – less than 1/3 of what I expected. Or so I thought…

This stack of 13 was comprised of nothing but bootlegs. Sure, from a distance, the art looks OK, but trust me when I tell you it’s not simply faded, but rather printed off a home printer. The discs are just plain, unmarked DVD-Rs. So, can’t do anything with these. I won’t even donate these, ’cause I don’t need the local thrift store thinking I deal in shit, so into the trash these went. Seeing as how Charmed – the one that had led me to buy the lot in the first place – turned out to be fake, it wasn’t looking good for the home team.

This stack is comprised of the movies that were instant flips for me, not because they held any real aftermarket value, but rather because I either already owned them or had no desire to own them.

OK, don’t judge me, but this was the Keep stack. Either I’ve never seen these before, or I have seen them, but never felt like buying them (looking at you, We Own The Night!). After taking this pic, some of these would make their way over to the Flip stack (Like Mercy. Who needs a one-season NBC medical drama when current network TV is LITTERED with medical dramas?!).

This is the Womp Womp stack. Why? Um, because THEY WERE ALL EMPTY CASES! And I was really looking forward to watching Hustle & Flow, mayne…

So, from a promised lot of 300, I ended up with 71 actual, commercial discs that could be kept or flipped. Then, this is where the science happens. You see, I bought a similar lot a few months back, for $40, where the highlights were the complete collector’s edition of Seinfeld, as well as complete series of The Wire. I sold Seinfeld for $50, and The Wire for $35, so the rest of that box was just “pot sweeteners”, waiting for a lot like this to come along.

That created THIS lot, comprised of 84 commercial releases, ready to be flipped. You’ll notice the “dogs” are conveniently lost within bigger movies, like Baby Driver and Jaws. The eyes are drawn to those bigger titles when these listings go live. I could’ve pushed my luck and asked for $40, but I really wanted to move them in about 12 hours. So, I put them up for $35 late Saturday afternoon, and sold them for $35 Sunday morning. To borrow from Storage Wars math, without having to account for the cost of the 2nd lot (which was more than taken care of by the Seinfeld/The Wire sales), I made 7 times my initial investment in the ghetto lot. Sure, it’s only $35, but that’s $30 more than I had when I got into this whole mess. Oh, and I totally didn’t miss the irony that this lot includes Band of Brothers and The Matrix. You CAN sell these as long as you bury them in a lot, and price accordingly.

Before closing, there’s something to be said for stereotypes. They can be dangerous, yadda yadda yadda, but I employ them from time to time because they tend to be rooted in some semblance of reality. I call this the “ghetto lot” because that’s exactly from whence this lot came. And while there were a lot of things you’d come to expect (horror and movies starring rappers), there were also some surprises:

“Yo, son – what you know ’bout The Hours?”

“Yung, you mean the veritable tour de force, starring Streep, Moore, AND Kidman? That’s my shit, yo!”

I really hope that conversation took place. We have a lot of fun around here.

Anyway, those are the inner workings of the physical media trade in 2019. You ain’t gonna get rich, but it generates an income flow you can hide from your wife when every other red cent is diverted to bills and feeding your kids. I know some folks would look at this and think it’s too much work for the payoff, but I kinda find it fun, and I’m clearly not doing it for the money. If anything, I do it to bolster my own DVD collection, and the surplus is used to generate money. So, I’m killing two birds with one stone. Pesky birds! I saw this as a surefire way to turn $5 into a minimum of $30, and the odds were better than a scratch-off ticket. Your mileage, however, may vary. So, if it’s not your “bag”, then that’s awesome because it means you’ll stay the Hell out of my way!

 

25th Jan2019

Thrift Justice – Operation Kondo

by Will

I miss writing, and by that I mean that I miss writing about more than just the week’s pop culture news. If you look at the slider on the homepage, there used to be other columns here: Adventures West Coast, which was my graphic novel/trade paperback review column; Best of the West, which showcased the jewels of my various collections; Track Star, which was my music post that sadly never really found its identity. And, of course, my baby – Thrift Justice, where I showed you all the stuff I managed to find while scouring the local thrift stores.

As I was telling some friends recently, Google killed blogging. When Google Reader was taken out behind the shed, nothing came along to capably take its place. Yes, I said capably, just to ward off all of y’all who are about to go, “Well, Feedly…” A lot of folks quit, while others pivoted to other media, like video or podcasting. I, however, am still a fan of the written word. I feel a lot of videos could’ve been blogs, and that also goes for a lot of podcasts (especially the short ones). I’m too old and fat to move to video, so blogging is where I shall stay.

So, this is all a long-winded way of bringing us to why we’re here today. I’ve been sitting on this idea for about 6 months, as I know it should probably be a video, but that’s just not my bag, baby. Instead, I feel like this would be a great way to bring back Thrift Justice: We’re going to liveblog an unboxing. This could be really interesting OR it could end up like that time Geraldo found Al Capone’s vault. Either way, it’s new content, so yay? But first, some backstory.

Back on the 4th of July, I was at a family cookout, when a cousin of mine told me she had something for me in her car. Apparently, I had let her borrow some toys when her nephews came to town, and she had run across them while she was cleaning her house. There are some very important things you should know here, though. First of all, those nephews are about 18 & 20 now, so if I’m doing my math right, this took place around 2004. Secondly, I’m not exactly the world’s greatest sharer, as I’ve had a bad track record of visiting relatives breaking my shit. So, one of two things happened here: 1) I let them have some stuff about which I didn’t give two shits OR 2) my mother gave them some stuff behind my back, which I clearly didn’t care about if I haven’t missed it in 15 years.

Anyway, for the life of me, I could not remember what these kids had of mine. As I followed my cousin to her car, she handed me a shoebox (think Timberland size) in a shopping bag. I’ve got a toddler, and the last thing I need is to be opening toys around her, so I figured I’d just get around to checking out the contents once we got home, and she went to bed. Instead, the box rode around in the back of my wife’s car for months until she eventually had to put it into the shop for body work. So, there’s no time like the present, right?

Here’s how we’re going to make this interesting, though. Thrift Justice is usually about the stuff I get from the thrift store, but this installment is going to be about stuff I’m sending to the thrift store. Everyone in the world is Marie Kondo-ing, by reducing the clutter in their lives by ridding themselves of the possessions that fail to bring them joy. Will anything in this mystery box bring me joy? Let’s see what’s inside, shall we?

Somebody call Geraldo, ‘cause I think I’ve got him beat. Man, what a box of garbage! Ugh, let’s take a closer look, though. I mean, we’ve come this far.

So, first up we’ve got Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender, along with his…friend? Enemy? Anyway, let’s call him Pinkeye McGillicuddy. I vaguely remember buying this set because I thought Aang’s wind blaster pack was kinda cool. I’ve never seen one episode of Avatar, but I knew it was one of the hip things back then, so I guess I wanted to gain entry by getting the toys. Plus, when I first got it, Aang’s pack lit up or made noise or some shit. The batteries are dead now, and I’m too lazy to change them.

Look at Aang’s eyes, though? It’s like he’s been radicalized. What the Hell was that show even about?! Isn’t “air bending” just a polite way of saying “farting”. I’m bending air as I write this.

Next up, we’ve got these Masters of the Universe 200X Happy Meal toys from McDonalds. I remember these being pretty cool because they were decent action figures, in a 4-ish inch scale, with just a hint of an action feature. They were highly detailed, and we’d kill for something like this today. Sadly, though, nobody gave much of a shit about that show, as the Internet had yet to evolve into the geek hive of scum and villainy that it is today. Thrift stores are littered with these figures, and they’re about to get 4 more.

What the Hell?! Is this alien being LYNCHED?! I don’t even know what this is. It’s the same texture of those spiders you throw at the wall in order to watch them crawl down, but I don’t know what the goal is here. Do you swing him around by the loop? You can kinda yo-yo him, but that doesn’t feel right, either. This is like 2 of the darkest periods of American history rolled into one pathetic gashapon toy.

Gather ‘round, kids, as I tell you a tale from the turn of the century! You probably know (recently deceased) Stan Lee as That Old Man Who Keeps Popping Up In The Marvel Movies, but this wasn’t always the case. Back around 1999, ol’ Stan wasn’t exactly on the best terms with Marvel. Sure, he was getting an annual salary for being the company mascot/cheerleader, but he wanted MORE. So, he decided to start Stan Lee Media, which would go on to inspire a quagmire of lawsuits that continue to this day. From this venture, nothing they threw at the wall stuck, but one of the highest profile creations was The Backstreet Project.

Starring boyband The Backstreet Boys, The Backstreet Project was a comic concept that envisioned the group as superheroes. Remember, this was 1999, and things were different. The Backstreet Boys were one of the biggest pop acts in the world, while comics were on the decline. In 2018, you’d ask “Why would anyone make a comic about the Backstreet Boys?!” but in 1999, it would have been more fitting to ask “Why would the Backstreet Boys slum it in the comic industry?” Since Stan Lee Media was poised to harness the true potential of this newfangled thing called The Internet, the focus was more on webisodes than print.

Anyway, Burger King somehow found itself as the official restaurant of the Backstreet Boys, as they were selling CDs and VHS tapes to go along with your diarrhea-inducing Whopper. And for the kids, they had Backstreet Project toys in the Burger King Kids Club Meals. I actually had the entire set at one point in time, as I thought the concept was pretty cool, plus I had a mad-on for any boyband. If you’ve been to this site before, none of this is news. Hell, a friend of mine was actually working at Burger King at the time, so I just asked him to grab the stuff for me from his job. I wasn’t eating that shit! Because I was a huge BSB fan (until Brian had to go and get all political), there was no way I was letting those kids have my prized BSB toys, so these were probably my doubles.

Here you have Brian (the one holding the basketball), as “Top Speed”, while Nick is the one dressed like a ninja, named appropriately enough “Ninja Man”. Jesus, Stan. Were you even trying? Anyway, the gray thing in the middle is some sort of stasis tank that Brian breaks out of. I have to remind myself that this was an era when these guys could’ve pissed in a Sprite bottle, and it would be distributed all across Europe, but in hindsight there’s not a lot of care or attention invested in this concept.

 

Another Burger King premium. Who was eating all this Burger King? It sure as Hell wasn’t me. Anyway, this is some Dragon Ball thing. I don’t know if it was Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball GT, or Dragon Ball GTFO. I know nothing of that franchise, but I know this little guy does some sort of balancing act. I just don’t seem to have the base upon which he does the balancing.

My Ronin Warriors! Man, I loved that show. That might’ve been my first anime, come to think of it. Anyway, I used to have the whole team because when KB Toys was in their death throes, Ronin Warriors were a mainstay in the 3 for $10 bin. Sadly, I donated mine some years back because I couldn’t find them all and didn’t feel the need to keep an incomplete team around. Well, I couldn’t find them all because they were chilling at my cousin’s house. As you can see, they lost a good portion of their shit, as well as a figure (where’s the White one?). These are probably the best thing in the box, but I’m met with the fact that I don’t want an incomplete team, so maybe these figures will be reunited with their brothers in the thrifting afterlife.

Ooh, this one tickles me to no end. If you know me, then you know I don’t give a shit about Harry Potter. In my mind, JK Rowling just stole all of Roald Dahl’s best ideas, and nobody’s called her on this because they teach the wrong things in school these days. Anyway, my hatred aside, I’m a sucker for a good, translucent action figure. Whether it’s the Spirit of Obi Wan Kenobi that I got from Lays Potato Chips, or this boy wizard I picked up from Toys “R” Us (a moment of silence, please), I love them all. The reason this is funny to me, though, is that those boys’ mom is really pro-Black and pro-Jesus. If she knew her boys were playing with a plastic representation of the White Devil, slinging his witchcraft around from his cloak of invisibility, she would shit a brick. I’m actually gonna see her in about 2 weeks, so maybe I’ll just drop that into conversation to see what happens.

This is probably the worst Optimus Prime toy ever made. I tend to think of Happy Meal toys along the lines of rack toys, as they’re all “toys for poor kids”. But this Transformers Armada Happy Meal toy is so bad that even a poor kid would say, “Man, get that shit up out my face!” There have been many bad Transformers Happy Meal toys over the years, and this is merely one of them.

This isn’t even a quality yo-yo. This is no Duncan, and is more like the kind of thing the dentist gives you at the end of your cleaning if you were a good boy.

Good old little green army men. A true classic. Hey, wait a minute. What the Hell happened to the dude in the middle at the top?! He ain’t got no arms! What did my cousins DO to him? I hope they at least said a prayer over him. It’s what their mom would’ve wanted.

“How are your crayons hanging?”
“Low, and to the left”

How does this happen? I mean, I guess they got hot or something and then cooled down, but they’re all curved like that. It’s eerie. It’s somewhat perverted. I have questions.

This is a Wild Planet motion alarm. Whenever there are commercials for things like this, it’s always some little boy trying to protect his worthless shit from being touched by some bratty little sister. I don’t think they really work like that. I’ve never actually used it, but my pal Tarek got it for me in college on an a cappella gig I wasn’t able to attend. Looking back, though, I could think of quite a few uses for this thing for a growing man…

Ah, we come to the end, featuring a pair that will set off all your nostalgia boner alarms. Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow here were from a G.I. Joe two-pack that I think contained a DVD. I remember they were on clearance, and I think I only bought them for that DVD. I don’t even collect this scale, ‘cause these are just “dolls” at this point, but it must’ve been quite a good price, because here they are. They came with a shit ton of accessories, half of which you see strewn about here. There are also a lot missing. Like, where are Storm Shadow’s ninja booties? I’m not even gonna try to put this stuff back on them. To the thrift store they go, and their next owner can worry about all that.

So, there ya have it. My journey back in toy time ends not with a bang, but with a whimper. You win, Kondo!!!! None of that brought me any joy. Still, it was nice to take a stroll down memory lane, thinking of all the terrible ways and reasons I’ve wasted good money. I hope you’ve gotten some kind of enjoyment out of this, and if you want more like it, then leave a comment below. Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe! I don’t know what I mean by that…I just hear the YouTubers saying it all the time.

18th Jan2019

West YEAR Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 2018

by Will

2018 was the longest year in the history of years. It’s funny – I always look at past posts to figure out if I ever decided on a format for this wrap-up, and the past few years all start with “Man, this year SUCKED!” So, I guess things are just getting worse, huh? Anyway, when I first started doing West YEAR Ever, it was two-fold: 1) to bring attention to some of the “evergreen” posts I’d written throughout the year that you might have missed and 2) provide something of a director’s commentary to the West Week Ever choices I’d made over the past year. Here’s the rub, though: I didn’t really write any evergreen posts this year. Nope, my focus was pretty much solely on West Week Ever, which are totally disposable posts – which is a great way to think of 2018: disposable.

Between HarassmentWatch(TM), Trailer Park, Things You Might Have Missed This Week and, of course, West Week Ever, we talked about the celebrity wang danglers (reigning WYE Champ of 2017), looked at some movie trailers, I gave you bulletpoint news, and then I tried to point out something about the week that stood out above everything else. That’s the West Week Ever formula you’ve come to know over the past 6 years.

The most interesting stuff about the year is probably the stuff I didn’t write about. For example, I was interviewed by Vulture in anticipation of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, as I was considered a Miles Morales “superfan”. I sat on that chestnut for a couple months, anxiously waiting for the article to come out. Finally, my views on something would get more exposure! Well, it came out, and none of my contributions made the finished article. Womp womp.

Or the fact that I won a $50 gift card at the county fair by DOMINATING at 90s song trivia. I promptly used it to buy a gaming chair from Staples. I’m not even a gamer, but that’s a sweet ass chair!

Or the the fact that I won a pair of Google Home Hubs the week before Christmas, because I was miraculously caller #9 to a radio station (Thanks, WMZQ and iHeartRadio!).

Nah, I didn’t write about any of that. Probably should have. Oh well. Hindsight, and all that.

Anyway, let’s take a look back on 2018, and see if anything really stood out about it.

2018 In Movies

As far as movies went, I only saw 15 – down from last year’s 18, and WAY down from 2015’s 78.

1. Gotham By Gaslight
2. Black Panther
3. Ready Player One
4. Blockers
5. Avengers: Infinity War
6. Pitch Perfect 3
7. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
8. Ant-Man and the Wasp
9. Sorry to Bother You
10. Teen Titans Go to the Movies
11. The Meg
12. Venom
13. Megamind
14. The Christmas Chronicles – I have to review these last two here, as I watched them in that gap between my last post of 2018 and my first of 2019. This was a cute movie. Kurt Russell as Santa actually works, but I have SO many questions about the universe in which the movie is set. I mean, Santa is real, but he only comes to Believers. Are we sure this thing wasn’t sponsored by The 700 Club?
15. Commando Ninja – I didn’t know anything about this movie until someone in a Facebook group mentioned it. After about 5 minutes of research, I felt like it looked like Kung Fury, so I was immediately on board. I think I’ve said it before, but I didn’t grow up watching 80s action movies. And I still haven’t seen most of them. So, I’m sure this thing hit all the right notes for some folks, while some of it just goes over my head. Still, it was hilarious, it was free on YouTube, and it was short. What more could you ask for?

2018 In Television

  • Roseanne announced that her character would be a Trump supporter when her show returned. She subsequently said some dumb shit and the show got cancelled. Then her TV family made deals to return to the show without her. Awww, family!
  • Murphy Brown also returned, to the delight of…well, nobody, really. She fired off her Trump jokes, and will probably be put back in moth balls by CBS.
  • ABC pulled an episode of Black-ish that would deal with the NFL kneeling issue. While it was reported as a “mutual decision” between the network and series creator Kenya Barris, Barris would go on to leave ABC for a 7-figure deal with Netflix.
  • The Fox adaptation of Lethal Weapon was a hotbed of problems. First there were reports of misconduct by show star Clayne Crawford, which put the show’s renewal chances in jeopardy. Then, Crawford was fired and replaced by Seann William Scott (the extra “n” is for flavor!). Then the show’s other star, Damon Wayans, announced he was leaving after fulfilling the season’s original 13-episode order.
  • The Simpsons surpassed Gunsmoke to become the longest-running, scripted primetime series on television, with 636 episodes.
  • After 27 scandalous seasons, The Jerry Springer Show went out not with a bang but with a whimper.
  • The Sharknado franchise came to an end with The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time. Yes, it was time.
  • The Power Rangers 25th anniversary special aired, with obligatory Jason David Frank cameo. Hell, the whole thing was a JDF wankfest.
  • Brian Robbins was announced as the new head of Nickelodeon, which is significant since he and his former Head of the Class costar, Dan Schneider, got their behind the scenes careers started by creating All That for the network back in 1994. It’ll be interesting to see if he throws any work to Schneider, whose Schneider’s Bakery production house was sent packing by Nickelodeon earlier in the year after allegations surrounding Schneider arose.
  • DC Comics debuted the DC Universe streaming service, which is still struggling to find subscribers
  • Kanye West went on TMZ to declare “Slavery was a choice!”
  • And, of course, I wrote my annual Network Upfronts post, with my thoughts on the upcoming TV season.

2018 In Music

Yeah, I already covered that. No, you didn’t read it because you’re scared of the unknown!

West Week Ever Recipients of 2018:

1/12/18 – Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House
1/19/18 – Black Lightning
1/26/18 – Vince McMahon
2/2/18 – WWE Royal Rumble
2/9/18 – Quincy Jones
2/16/18 – Black Panther
2/23/18 – Black Panther
3/2/18 – Atlanta
3/9/18 – DC Black Label
3/16/18 – Avengers: Infinity War trailer
3/23/18 – Nothing
3/30/18 – Roseanne
4/13/18 – Wrestlemania 34
4/27/18 – James Shaw Jr.
5/4/18 – Avengers: Infinity War
5/11/18 – Donald Glover
5/18/18 – CBS
5/25/18 – The Middle series finale
6/1/18 – Solo: A Star Wars Story
6/15/18 – Charley
6/22/18 – Nothing
6/29/18 – West Life Ever: Toys “R” Us
7/13/18 – Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
7/20/18 – DC Entertainment
7/27/18 – Teen Titans Go to the Movies
8/3/18 – Lebron James
8/10/18 – Patrick Stewart
8/17/18 – Omarosa Manigault Newman
8/24/18 – Crazy Rich Asians
9/7/18 – Nike
9/14/18 – John Legend
9/21/18 – Marvel Studios
9/28/18 – Lady Gaga, “Shallow”
10/5/18 – Venom
10/12/18 – Kanye’s MAGA Hat
10/26/18 – Roman Reigns
11/9/18 – Jeopardy! Champion (and friend of the site!) Mary Ann Borer
11/16/18 – West Life Ever: Stan Lee
11/30/18 – Wolverine: The Long Night
12/7/18 – Avengers: Endgame trailer
12/14/18 – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
12/21/18 – Nothing

This is normally where I’d give you some insight on my thought process, but I feel like a lot of this needs no explanation. It’s either obvious why it was chosen, or it’s indicative of just what kind of a shitshow pop culture was for that particular week. I’m particularly proud of my West Life Ever posts, for both Toys “R” Us and Stan Lee. Unbeknownst to most, the West Life Ever distinction was created with Adam West and Stan Lee in mind. As they got older, we all knew it was only a matter of time, and they both meant a lot to me. While the designation has been given to a few other things, (like TRU), it was custom made for those two, and I don’t know when, or if, it’ll ever be used again. I can’t think of anyone else in pop culture that meant as much to me, but I guess time will tell.

The year basically started with Black Panther and ended with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. In between the two, we all lived about five lifetimes and have the scars to prove it. I spent a lot of time thinking about what this is all about, and why it is that I do it every week. In the end, I guess I want to make some kind of an impact – leave something behind. While pop culture is fleeting, I pour a lot more into “disposable” posts than makes actual sense. I know I’ve said that I stop caring about these things once the clock strikes 12:00 on Saturday morning, but up until that time, I’m as wired as a kid waiting for his dad to come back from “going out to get cigarettes”. “Are they reading it?”, I anxiously wonder as I constantly retweet the links and look for engagement. Like the aforementioned kid, whose dad is never coming back, the audience never really comes. It leads to a lot of existential questions, like “Well, who am I?” and “Why would anyone care what I think?” Maybe the posts were too long. Everyone’s in a hurry, and don’t like reading long things. I don’t want to contribute to “Hot Take Culture”, and I try to write reasoned arguments for my opinions. Yeah, yeah blogs are dying. I get it. Maybe I need a podcast, ya know, ’cause everybody has a podcast. Maybe this should be video, but that hardly seems worth the effort. Still, in all this introspection, one thing stood out – one thing that proved my “impact”, and would withstand the test of time.

If you’re a longtime reader, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, ’cause I did it for my first kid, and I don’t need to look like I’m playing favorites. Still, the best thing about 2018 was Charlotte Bruce West. I know it’s the hip thing now to hate kids and love the Hell out of dogs instead, so if that’s you, then you should probably stop reading.

This was not a fun year for anyone, and some days were harder than others. The thing about Charley, which was so surprising to me, is that she’s such a happy baby. Sure, those first few months she didn’t realize she was smiling, and it was just something her mouth was doing. Over time, though, they became genuine smiles. Smiles that could make a bad day better. She’s just such a happy baby. Where does she get that from? Was I ever that happy? If so, what happened? I only hope it’s something she can hold onto throughout life. I hear a positive attitude can take ya places, and I sure as Hell wouldn’t know. I’m not one of those parents who’s all “She’s going to be President someday.” She could be a blogger with readership in the double digits, and that’d be just fine. At least she came by it honestly.

I read this Conan O’Brien interview in The New York Times the other day, and it really resonated with me. If you’ve run out of free NYT articles for the month, or just don’t feel like clicking, it’s him discussing the decision to change his TBS show from a full hour to a half hour format. After 25 years in late night, he looked back on what he had done, and thought about how he would like to go forward. He said that, while it might seem selfish, he wanted an experience that allowed him to have the most fun because, in the end, none of it matters. “This is going to sound grim, but eventually, all our graves go unattended.”

On the worst days, I can come home and play “Grocery Store” with my oldest, while keeping the youngest from swallowing a Hatchimal. I’ve made, and continue to make, my impact on them, and that’s what matters. As for this, let’s make it fun again. No more “writing for the audience”. I want to be as blissfully happy as a 7-month old baby, and that’s accomplished by focusing on things a lot of people don’t care about, like 90s boybands and forgotten teen sitcoms. Let’s bring back Thrift Justice! Let’s dive into that backlog of comics that’s only been growing. No more expectations, as I’m leaving that mentality in 2018. It won’t be an overnight process, but it’s the destination I’m working towards. I’ve already made a mark somewhere, so let’s see where that takes us. As a great, rich man once yelled, “You wanna get nuts?! Let’s get nuts!” Let’s consider 2019 the year of How Will Got His Groove Back. In the meantime, let’s leave 2018 behind like the garbage year that it was.

So, for being the best thing to happen to me in 2018, and for inspiring this introspection, Charley West had the West Year Ever.

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.

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