Sunday, July 31, 2011
A finicky writer.
I've reached the point in the book where ideas are coming fast and furious.
As I've mentioned before, it is around the 50 page mark that I start to get a glimpse of the basic structure of the novel. At this point, I can start to diagram a plot line without it stopping me dead in my tracks. I may or may not even stick to the basic plot line; it doesn't matter. It just matters that I have something to work toward.
I'm amazed that many of the plot elements in the early chapters are still applicable. I don't think its so much because my subconscious had it all figured out, but that my subconscious is adapting to, and arranging the story so it fits. There have been 4 or 5 major plot elements that were included in the earlier chapters that took on significance later in the story.
The sixth chapter is kind of wordy and explanatory. What plot developments there are are character relationships and explanation of the mythos.
The seventh chapter is almost completely flashback, and a bit heavy. I figure by the seventh chapter, I can get away with it.
The story has gotten this far, so I think it has legs. I've got the basic ideas for the next two chapters.
Meanwhile, the 7th chapter catches me back up to my every two week pace. I'd been thinking that this pace was kind of slow, you know? But then I remember that the current formatting for my story is single spaced, and when I used to write books on my typewriter, it was double spaced.
Which explains why it all the threads came together around page 30. Because page 30 translates into page 60, in the old days. It's the tipping point, if you will; the threads have come together, and you can see if you actually have a story worth pursuing or not.
I'm excited that this is my first book with a more or less "high concept"; or an idea that can be explained in a few sentences. I didn't set out to do that, but that's what has emerged. The best I could do with my earlier books was describe them as "quest fantasy" or "heroic fantasy."
So far, at least, none of the later chapters have been a deal breaker; that is, none of them have necessitated going back and completely rearranging and rewriting the earlier chapters.
I have to honest with myself and admit: I really don't like re-writing. I enjoy discovering the story; finding connections. I don't mind smoothing over the language, fleshing out the characters and scenery and plot.
What I don't like is having to completely reorganize the book. It feels like a puzzle to me, and if I take out a significant section of the puzzle, it's extremely difficult to put back together again.
I say I don't like rewriting, but at the same time I'm very capable of becoming obsessive/compulsive about it.
When I started this project, I knew that half the battle would be my writing habits. I'm not worried about being able to write a book -- I've done it seven times before. But I am worried about pacing myself in such a way that I keep the inspiration up, and still have energy at the end to rewrite and improve.
I have to admit: I've missed this. The thrill of the first draft.
But I can also see why I wasn't able to follow through until now. I needed a minimum of time off -- not sure what that minimum is, but apparently I've crossed it. I had a friend visit yesterday while I was in the middle of writing, and it took the rest of the afternoon to recapture the fictional dream I was in.
The full days at the store mean zero writing on those days, or the day after really.
I guess I'm just a finicky writer.
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Writing and gardening go together.
Ah, the life.
Hopefully, I'll get some good ideas for the next chapter. I gave my subconscious strict instructions last night to give me some dream inspiration. Instead, I dreamed about huge equipment that I was returning to a huge store. Huh?
You'd think the further I get into a story, the more comfortable I'd get with it. But the more possibilities I see, the more pressure I feel. Pressure to complete the story; and to do a good job.
I have to throw out those notions and just write.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Cowboys and Aliens and you've been had.
Because the comic was such a cynical and manipulated effort that it's simple karma.
It was created by a 'comic' company whose real focus was to sell 'high concept' comic ideas to the movies, so it didn't matter really whether the comic was any good or not. From what I've heard, it wasn't a horrible comic, but not a great one either.
The quality of the comic was beside the point.
Something rubs me wrong when I know that what I do for a living is being used as a tool for something else. I don't like it.
Then they compounded my ill feelings by manipulating the market. Word is, they made a deal with a couple of large retailers, in N.Y. and elsewhere to buy thousands of copies (with the wink, wink, nudge, nudge -- guarantee, anyone?)
Well it doesn't take millions of copies to become the #1 graphic novel for the month.
Thing is, the comic market is so small that it immediately became obvious to everyone that it was bullshit. When most of us order one or two copies, but it becomes #1 in the country, you either wonder if you missed the boat -- or if something stinks. Adding insult to injury, I couldn't get any copies to sell until recently (yeah, yeah, I know....a little hypocrisy.)
And when I did finally get a couple of copies, it immediately went out of print -- again! But then, it wasn't about the comic, was it?
Turned out, something stank.
It was irritating that they were rewarded by a Hollywood contract, even more annoying that they got Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig to star.
But I'm not surprise the movie is pretty lame -- because it was a "Snakes on a Plane" idea in the first place.
Who needs a good movie?
The Real Economy in Bend.
Whatever the media is convinced to say.
Whatever the politicians want to say.
Whatever the P.R. people hope you'll say.
Whatever the business community is willing to say.
Whatever the economists are trying to say.
Individual results can't be used as measure, in my opinion. I've just had an absolutely great month: up about 15% after having 14 months of downturns. I'm pretty certain August will also be better than last year. Because I was prepared for a 10% downtick, I've had a 25% boost to my earnings. I'm pretty sure that's going to happen in August, too. Cool.
The Real Economy hasn't changed, however. It just means there was a bottom to the market, and then a new plateau and then another bottom and then another uptick -- and it doesn't distract me from the idea that the fundamentals -- housing sales and prices; unemployment; and idiot politicians haven't changed.
It seems like the further away from the actual real economy an "expert" is, the more clueless he is. The whole idea that we ever came out of the recession, at least here in Bend, is idiotic.
I mean, to me the wise thing to do is expect this kind of slow, slow growth -- if that. You can still make money if you are realistic. It isn't being negative to expect the recession to continue. It's the way you can prepare for the eventual recovery -- whether that happens this year, next year, or years after.
Meanwhile, living in the Real economy is a survival skill.
Debt limit diary.
I always wonder how many people in the Twin Towers had the instinct to run, but were convinced by others to "remain calm."
I don't think I panic easily. Y2K looked pretty phony, for instance.
But my feeling about the debt crisis is that, to use to cliche "If you play with fire, you'll get burned."
Tell me we haven't been playing with fire.
I'm writing this on Wednesday, the 27th, with the assumption that some half-assed, halfway measure will pass.
But I also think there is a chance -- that nothing will get passed.
Hey, playing Russian Roulette isn't my idea of a smart thing to do.
I got into a political discussion at the store, which I try to avoid. I avoid politics not because I don't care, but because I get too heated. If you'll notice, I've tried to keep political slants out of this post, except for the basic idea that I think NOT passing the debt limit would probably be a mistake.
But from the mild reaction from the stock market, you have to wonder.
It's probably all kabuki theater. I'm not saying anything new here, just observing from the outside.
O.K. It is now Friday morning, and the Republicans can't summon enough votes.
I'm still going to assume that something will pass, and it will be consolidated with the Reid plan and passed with Democratic and a few Republicans who are willing to risk their career.
Stock market is stable. Down just a little every day. A little hedging, but nothing much.
Friday afternoon. Obviously they've decided to hold off on the vote until after the stock market closes. Which doesn't inspire confidence...
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Writing through doubt.
I think I may have hit that point in the fifth chapter. Suddenly, the book takes on heft. Which makes it more of a responsibility, somehow. Like it has a life of it's own. I can't explain it.
We were chatting after writer's group last week, and I popped out; "Writing for me is writing through doubt. Yeah, that's it. Writing through doubt."
No one was much listening, but that thought had a real impact on me. Because that's exactly how I have to see it.
I have to keep writing; and as I write, I'll be conflicted and confused and scared and overwhelmed and self-questioning and worried. Which I just have to ignore and keep writing.
Well it be any good? Doesn't matter. Keep writing.
Has it been done before? Doesn't matter. Keep writing.
Will it make any sense? Doesn't matter. Keep writing.
If doubt is going to stop you, you'll stop a thousand times.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Is Downtown worth it?
I've had a few competitors over the years move downtown. With one of them, I took the time to walk the circuit of the core, and tried to explain how seasonal it all was, how one shouldn't be fooled by the crowds that are there when the crowds are there.
Instead, I urged, try to visualize the emptiness when the crowds aren't there.
I tried to explain parking, and how hard it was for drivers to see your store, and how long it took for people to actually find you, if ever.
He went in anyway. And lasted less than a year.
His store had previously been in a mall, and he simply didn't understand that the foot traffic downtown was simply not as steady as a mall, no matter how it looked.
The second competitor had a store that would have been the perfect "destination" store; that is, as long as he located in a reasonably noticeable main street, most of his customers would have found him. If one has viable product, word of mouth is strong. But he chose downtown, instead; he was basically paying twice as much rent downtown, because of the perceived "foot traffic."
But he was such a niche business, the foot traffic added little if any to his bottomline, I believe.
The third competitor started off downtown, as well, then moved to a much bigger spot in a prime location -- but from what I understand, also more than doubled his rent. I think this was O.K. for him as long as he concentrated on making his store attractive to outsiders, but the minute he stopped paying attention, the fanboys became his main customers and his rent became unwieldy.
(By the way, I still think rents are high downtown, despite the perception that things have gotten cheaper. Nor do I think that will change, as long as there always seems to be someone in line to fill the vacancies...)
So why am I downtown?
Well, we've been in this location for 28 years or so. We have generation(s) of customers who know we are here. I've just watched to many examples of stores moving, and losing their customers. Hell, the Book Barn merely moved across the street, and I still had people coming in years later asking where it went!
Plus my store is so packed, that moving would be a huge job. The smaller than ideal size of my store has forced me to be very creative in merchandising. Necessity being the mother of invention. (I've also arranged with my landlord to use some of the downstairs space for storage, which has been a blessing.)
I've designed my store to fit the changing landscape of downtown. New and used books, mainstream type toys, boardgames, pop culture items, and so on.
There is also the fact that, other than the Old Mill, which is suited more for Banana Republic and The Gap than a funky pop culture store, there is almost no place left in Bend where you can get ANY foot traffic.
Finally, and this is something that my competitors didn't see or understand -- my store once was a destination store, pretty much off the beaten track. Sure, I was downtown, but for most of my existence, I wasn't in a part of downtown that was frequented by shoppers.
That all changed, and so the foot traffic is so dramatically higher for my store in particular, that I have seen the benefit.
Would I locate my store in downtown if I was starting out today?
Probably not. My store is probably more than 50% a destination store. So as long as I was visible on a main street somewhere else, that would do the job. If I could trade twice the space for half the rent, I'd probably do it.
But I'm ensconced where I am, now. I like my store. But, still, I'd advise my competitors not to read too much of my success downtown as a reason to come downtown. Don't do as I do, do as I say. ..
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Toughened rules for events? yeah, right.....
1.) Gosh, golly, gee -- a city councilor and a city planning commissioner got 'inconvenienced' so they are going to get paid some lip service.
2.) "Warnings" as a solution. Whatever. Telling me something is going to be inconvenient doesn't make it less so.
3.) They won't be having any hard rock shows at Troy Field.
4.) None of the participants sound like they want to change anything much -- mostly looks like a P.R. campaign to smooth the complaints. When it dies down, it will be business as usual.
5.) Walk a mile in my shoes. The shoe is on the other foot. I loved the remark by Cameron Clark at the end of the article "...the art wasn't interested in what we had to say."
Well, exactly, Cameron. Pretty much what I've been saying about YOU and YOUR events for years....You set up wherever and whenever and however you want, not making any attempt to make it easier for my store.
6.) It wasn't long ago that the city councilors decided they could abrogate the rules as they see fit. So go ahead and make more rules. As long as the event cloaks itself as a "worthy" cause, they will get the go-ahead.
7.) It won't change until it becomes so overwhelmingly destructive that even the timid citizens and business owners rise up. And of course, there will always be the caveat for "existing events." So even then, not much will change. Personally, I think we went beyond the useful number of events years ago.
8.) Nothing will change. Events will be added, lengthened, made bigger and noisier. If the majority like it, the minority can suck eggs.
Some new shows to watch.
I can't believe I missed Green Lantern. Just seemed to have something come up every time we were ready to go.
Meanwhile, on T.V. I'm enjoying True Blood, which just seems to be getting campy-er every season.
We have tried Torchwood, which I'm not convinced I like yet, and which is definitely a risque program -- same channel as Spartacus, I remind myself.
Stumbled across Alphas on the Syfy channel (which usually has some pretty weak shows) and to my surprise, it's very well done. I like the characters, the plots, the writing and dialogue. The 'super' powers are intriguing -- just significant enough to matter but not so overwhelming as to become the sole focus.
I swear, there is one actress on the show who looks exactly like a dark-haired Sarah Michelle Gellar. We kept going back and forth on it -- she is an ensemble player, she looks too young -- and then we'd get a closeup and damn...
Credits proved it wasn't her...Of course the fact I like this show means it's doomed.
I have totally lost patience with Falling Skies. They just keep doing stupid things -- what I call "A moron show." Linda likes it, so I'm watching with her and trying not to scoff too much when they do something boneheaded.
Monday, July 25, 2011
The (No) News of the World.
San Diego Con has wrapped up. This event has become overwhelmingly Hollywood, a pop culture extravaganza, more than a comic show. Which fits into my postings a couple of days ago about positioning my store as a "pop culture" store.
Ironically, had a discussion with another dealer over on retailer's comic bulletin board, who responded to a post I made about "ignoring" digital, by saying, "How can you ignore the 800 pound gorilla in the room?" Ironically, the name of his store is Pop Culture, but he sells "100% comic merchandise", while my store is called Pegasus Books, and I sell about half books (comics and otherwise) and half pop culture.
Some comic dealers are totally joining the DC effort to get them to sign up for a third site and turning over their customers for a .30 payoff. Seems nuts to me. What do they need ME for? Especially when Marvel and the others aren't making any such arrangements; they're skipping the middle man.
Seems to me that DC is just saying, "Yes, we are going to screw you. But at least we're providing a condom!"
Other non-news. Apparently, no one really believes that the government won't raise the debt ceiling. I don't believe it either -- but like I said, I worry that one of the drivers will get their coat caught on the door of the speeding car and they'll sail over the cliff.
There seems to be a part of us that wants it all to blow up. But I know from wishing such things on product lines in my store that it NEVER pans out. (Like wishing that the sports card collapse would clear away the riff raff; never happened.) It's not even all that satisfying when something self-destructs. It just seems stupid and painful afterwards.
Made my annual contribution to the biking classic (that is, I lost the usual amount of money...)
Sales were about half on Sat. from the previous three day average. But everyone seemed to be having fun, so what are you gonna do?
My DC orders came in at basically two and half times to normal numbers. The normal numbers were pretty depressed, and I seem to have more than half of the increase covered by advanced requests -- and if worse comes to worse, I can return most of the product for credit.
Still it's enough to make me nervous.
It all depends on how the news breaks when the product is actually available. Maddening sometimes how much publicity we get when the product isn't available, and then how little when it is -- but timing the media must be extraordinarily difficult.
As they say, we can always hope for a slow news day....
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Hey, I can return what I don't sell? Go crazy!
My DC orders for September are coming in about about double the normal level.
To remind everyone, DC comics are starting 52 titles over again at number #1. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern -- all the big names, as well as a bunch of new (or old, defunct) titles: Nightwing, Batwoman, Justice League international.
It felt like a struggle to keep it down to double. I handed out "interest" sheets, and signed up people for a huge number of new titles.
I got them to fill out the sheet by telling them that the title they express interest in would be "optional". They could buy them or not. And I'm going to tell them they can return them for credit.
The danger is, they will either not buy after all, or they will return them because they don't like them, or they will drop the title after a month or two.
It was a real eye opener for me how many people expressed interest. Some titles I would have had no idea that I should order higher; Justice League Dark, for instance.
It's got me thinking that -- if this works, I need to find an excuse to list all the Marvel titles for people to fill out a sheet; and all the Dark Horse and Image and so on.
Of course, this starting over at #1 may be the trigger I can't reproduce.
My DC are higher than Marvel for the first time in ages. When DC went to a higher minimum per month for the bigger discount level, I found even with all the graphic novels I sell, I would come up just a little short of the level every month, even when I was looking for extra stuff to buy.
Once I can can't reach a plateau, I feel like I have no incentive to order the extra -- in fact, I have the opposite incentive. Since I can't lose the next lower level, I pare it down. So I've been WELL below the that better level for a long time.
I easily hit Marvel's higher level without trying.
It used to be the other way around, by the way.
If nothing else, I'm hoping this venture will push me permanently into the higher bracket for DC. I went into this thinking that if I get a semi-permanent boost in subs, it'll be a winner. I'm not thinking, with any decent response from non-regulars, we might see much more than that.
Of course, the higher the sales, the higher the risk, but that's showbiz.
"Hopefully this relaunch doesn't set off a rush of similar relaunches over the rest of the publishers as a sales incentive as well." A comment from one of the other comic shops.
With all these new sign-ups I've gotten, I actually wonder if it wouldn't be a good thing....
I think what I'm seeing are people who have always wanted, in the back of their minds, to buy Batman or Superman, but haven't because it seemed too overwhelming.
I think I'm seeing people who might sign up for Nightwing or Red Hood, but because they aren't paying attention, miss the first few issues and then skip it altogether.
I hope that I'll have time to absorb the lessons of this surge first, though. It may be that we will have a backlash. Normally, a comic I put on someone's shelf as an 'optional' will be bought; usually if I say they can return it for 'credit' they don't. Usually they continue to buy that comic for awhile.
So we'll see.
Meanwhile, I'm having such a good summer, I'm thinking of holding back a couple of thousand for cash-flow and investing even more in the DC titles -- with the idea that I can return them.
They have three incentive levels.
For some of the biggest titles, we'll get variant covers. For half a dozen other titles, they'll give us 15% extra. For all the rest, they'll give us the right of return, at a 10% charge.
The incentive covers, unfortunately, aren't much of an incentive for me. The 15% extra, more so. The returns seem like a no brainer. But I've still got to PAY for these comics in the short run, even if I get money back in the long run, so I need to be conscious of the cash-flow. One good thing is, I can currently afford to spend a little extra -- with July and August and December in this half of the year. By the time I get the credits -- first half of next year -- I could probably use them...
I've got to mix that alchemy in such a way that I don't lose money.
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Why you....you....yellow bellied marmot!
Fortunately, the backyard is nicely fenced and I don't have to worry about deer.
I sell "Anarchy" buttons. Isn't "sell-anarchy" an oxymoron?
"Have you read Dance with Dragons yet?"
"I'm setting it aside like a fine wine. Someday, when I have a couple days that no one can disturb me, I will pop the cork and savor it..."
"I'm going to have Soylent Green crackers for sale. Don't know yet if they are Kosher."
"Are you Jewish?"
"Dude. If I'm willing to eat Soylent Green, does it matter?"
"I'd like to put native wildflowers in my backyard. I'm a native Bendite, so that seems right."
"The neighbors I'm staying with were natives-- who came back after years away..."
"Doesn't count! They left!"
I dreamed all night about a bad comic. That is, a comic I ordered that was the worst thing ever written.
What a waste of dream.
There are bad comics all over the place. (Sturgeon's Law.) Nothing was resolved.
This weekend, I'm collating my surveys sheets for the new DC 52 comics. Then rewriting my subs list, then doing my orders. Throwing in the occasional comic reading session, alternating with gardening.
A test order that is highly preliminary came in at TWICE the usual levels.
Since I can return these comics if they don't sell, the last thing I want to do is underorder.
But it will definitely strain the old cashflow, especially since to extends four months.
What to do? What to do?
Friday, July 22, 2011
Pop culture is right where I should be.
And as Pop Culture moves every so closely to being the whole enchilada. Well, I own a Pop Culture store. How can I complain about that?
If I own a Pop Culture store and I can't find things to sell people -- then I would be a complete failure as a merchandiser. I mean, look at all the wonderful stuff I can get!
I've never had so much access to cool material. It used to be a bit of struggle finding things I could: A.) Find at all. B.) Be given access to at a reasonable price, and C.) Could afford.
Now? My only problem is finding enough space to actually display it.
Let me give you some examples.
On next week's invoice I have some foam rubber Thor Hammers (Mjolnir's, eh) coming in. I plan to break one out and set it next the cash register and flatten annoying customers. I'm getting a Sonic Screwdriver in, in case anything needs fixing. I also have a pack of True Blood coming in. In the catalog on my desk, I'm being offered Soylent Green crackers. So some time soon, you'll be able to chow down on Soylent Green crackers and wash it down with some True Blood soda. (I wonder if the Soylent Green crackers are kosher?)
We live in an atemporal time. (Look it up: Atemporality.)
Everything cool is cool again. (Yes, I'm mystified by some of the blank looks I get, especially from younger people -- but there are enough, thankfully, enough who Get It.)
Everything pop culture is available -- from the fifties to the teens. Hell, I have art books about medieval times. It's all connected in this wonderful web of nerdishness.
Anything cool at some point in our history becomes cool again.
I mean, it's been a strange life experience to see everything I loved as a teenager in the sixties and seventies move front and center into the pop culture center ring. It's as if someone is checking off my own personal checklist, one by one. (In fact, it's weirdly egocentric as if the pop culture universe was designed just for me. Why, thank you.)
And at the time, I felt I was the ONLY ONE who loved this stuff as much as I did.
Sure, half my sales are comics and graphic novels, which I truly appreciate and am thankful for. And sure, digital will make inroads into books and comics -- but, those are people I can lose without worrying about, because they probably weren't really my kind of people in the first place.
I expect the vast majority of people to come in the door not to connect. But there are enough, thankfully, enough, and every day I'm being given the opportunity to connect with more people....
So whatever happens, I'm not worried about having viable product to sell. In fact, if you can't adjust to this atmosphere of pop culture dominance, you can't adjust to anything.
How boring. I liked what one author said. If the only book you have on a table is a Kindle, you are a "bloodless nerd."
Anyway, the news keeps a'comin'. Marvel is going to do "day and date" on their comics, too. Which was inevitable.
Meanwhile, book sales haven't actually dropped, you know. They're admittedly flat, but nationally, books are selling at about the same level as last year.
Borders? Borders made huge mistakes that have little to do with books. They expanded too fast and took on too much debt and signed too long leases; they handed their online efforts over to Amazon; they didn't come up with an e-reader option until too late; they dove into CD's and DVD's just as they were collapsing; and so on.
I wonder if anyone but a local bookseller realizes how many people confuse Barnes and Noble and Borders.... I expect people will be showing up at the local B & N looking for liquidation deals.
Meanwhile, I go to the movies and I see previews for John Carter of Mars, and at San Diego Con they are talking about Frazetta movies, and another Sin City, and Heavy Metal, and my geek mode goes into geekasm.
How can what I do become obsolete when it moves ever so ponderously into Taking Over The World!?
So, What? Me Worry? I'll adjust and bring my immensely nerdy knowledge into play and by golly, the mass market doesn't really have a clue until they are told.
Sure, I've mentioned that movies don't really have an effect on comic sales. But they provide cover and legitimacy and bring people into the store. Almost anyone who comes in the store now can find something they can relate to.
A full third of my current sales are in categories I Wasn't Even Carrying a few years ago. All my categories continue to have ups and downs, which I simply have to be aware of and order appropriately.
So -- am I insufficiently worried?
I really don't think so.
Linda's comment: "And you're a worrier..."
"Yeah, I know. Right?"
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Next day, I woke up with a stiff knee. Huh. I didn't remember anything happening, but obviously....
But the knee has remained stiff, and if I turn a certain direction, I get a stab of pain.
That's what I get for getting off the couch. Couch potatoes are delicate, you know.
When I was out in the Badlands, I started walking one of the trails, and I only got about 5 minutes in before my leg started to stiffen up, from the knee down to the shins.
That's it. I got to do something about that.
One of my longterm customers was asking to use the bathroom yesterday at the store. "You know how it is when you get older," he said.
"Tell me about it. I was out checking out all the trailheads of the Badlands the other day, and everytime I stopped I had to...well, uh....let's say, I had to Mark the trailhead.
"I OWN the Badlands, now...."
I've been so used to sales being lower every month, that this month caught me offguard. In a good way. There is almost no doubt that I'll beat last July, and almost no doubt I'll beat last August. If I can keep that up in September, and onward, then I may believe the store has leveled off for the time being.
We had a year of drops with the great recession, then 7 months up, and then another 14 months down.
Checking the numbers, sales are almost exactly what they were the year before last.
I'd been telling people over the last few years that I thought Magic had peaked out.
Well, maybe I was wrong.
Sales are really, really strong right now, despite have more competitors than ever. I've noticed that when I have one strong competitor, they tend to eat into my sales.
But now that I have about 4 competitors, sales are up.
Not sure what to think about that. I'd like the believe the pool of customers has gotten bigger, but it's more likely that tourists are spending more -- which means the overall pool in the country has gotten bigger.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
If Walmart sold everything, wouldn't everyone work at Walmart?
I carry a set number of sports supplies: 3000, 800, 660, 400 count boxes, shoe boxes, 9-pocket sheets, soft sleeves and hard sleeves.
I've simplified the supply chain -- I'm not sure I even have accounts with suppliers of anything else.
See, once upon a time I carried probably 10 times that number of ancillary products. I carried them because I was selling a lot of the primary product; sports cards.
It's been 20 years now since that dynamic changed. I slowly but surely extricated myself from the trap, simplifying, carrying only the product that had reasonable margins, and so on.
Nowadays, I think maybe cards are earning 1.5% of my sales.
I really should shed them completely, but I haven't quite gotten around to it.
I do not have the time, space, energy to carry the odd sizes of supplies -- nor is there any profit in it.
See, the customer can't buy all the easy stuff from the mass market, and then turn around and try to buy what's left over from the specialty stores. Because the specialty stores won't be there -- or if they somehow manage to survive, they will only be carrying the product that makes sense.
I'm going to make a bold declaration -- one that no one will agree with, that everyone will think is hyperbole -- in 20 years or so, everyone will be running around looking for things, trying to sell and trade things, and missing things they can't even think of yet -- but the book, game, toy, comic, record, card, etc. etc. stores will be gone.
O.K. Gone is hyperbole. But there will be less of them, and they'll probably being even higher priced for the hard to get product, and it will just be all around harder.
Sometimes, it's the ancillary product that make your hobby worth doing. A stack of sports cards is just a stack of sports cards. You need plastic sleeves, and stands, and display racks, etc. etc. You need informational guides. You need lots of things to really make it work.
But you can't expect shoe stores to survive if all they can sell are shoe laces, you know?
Linda and I have a friend who needs a certain type of shoe that only one of the shoes stores in Bend used to carry.
"The online place I was buying from doesn't have them anymore," she said. "So I went back to the retail store, but it was gone!"
It's the stuff you're not thinking about that will be much harder to find-- the stuff you won't miss until you miss it.
I had a blog awhile back where I said how useless it is to say, "You'll miss us when we're gone," but I'll say it nevertheless. (I know in your heart you don't believe it.)
But, fortunately for me at least, I only have to worry about the next few years -- not 20 years down the road.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
I've been busy writing the 5th Chapter of I'm Only Human. It's coming together nicely.
I went out with my laptop to write at one of the trailheads out in the Badlands.
I hadn't realized that the Badlands were all civilized and everything. Trailheads, maps, even picnic tables.
I think I'm going to try to walk most of those paths. sometime in the next few years. More in the winter months, I think, than the hot summer months. Though the last couple of days would have been perfect.
Not a soul in sight at any of the trailheads.
Anyway, I find that I can really immerse myself in stories when I'm out in nature. Don't know why that is.
(Hold on...Cameron's whooping and hollering cause he got a letter published in his favorite comic, Power Girl. Fanboy...._)
I think I've come up with an "elevator pitch" for my book. But I'm refining it still..
Monday, July 18, 2011
World Series of Poker Sucks -- but I watch, anyway.
The conversations at the tables aren't all that interesting; in fact, they're kind of inane. The players are usually anything but good looking. The ego and status displays are pretty basic low level animal kingdom behavior. The plethora of "Bracelets" seems bogus.
I think it's just the sheer size of the thing -- both the attendance and the prizes. Winning that kind of money for playing a game -- that anyone could win with a lot of luck and some skill.
You can imagine yourself laying down those cards, Edward G. Robinson style, with an all-knowing stare.
I don't watch poker the rest of the year; I'm not interested in playing myself.
In fact, for some reason, I have a gut disapproval of gambling. I think it leads to addiction and lost lives.
I read recently that people lose nine times more money gambling than they spend at the movies. I think our society made a mistake letting this genie out of the bottle.
It runs in my family -- I questioned my brothers and sisters, and they had a similar antipathy.
And yet I watch.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Layers of Irony.
So a year or two ago, if memory serves, a rather high powered real estate agent, Lawnae Hunter, (I believe she came from the great state of California) decided that we local hicks were going about this real estate analysis thingy all wrong.
We needed to hire an outside professional to come and tell us what's really, really, happening to our economy.
Well, I have some sympathy for that notion.
What you had then were bubble bloggers, who most readers just rolled their eyes at, (I suppose we came off as cranks except for the little fact that we were usually right) and you had the 'professional' real estate folks, who were so immersed in their world that they couldn't see past their own noses, and who resorted to knee jerk reactions of "Best time to Buy!" and "The Market has hit Bottom!"
The media didn't know which way to turn. After years of collecting ad revenue from the real estate market, suddenly it was clear that --well, things were going wrong.
So the local media has swung back and forth over the last few years -- trending toward the "things are getting better" camp, but still willing to publish the occasional inconvenient fact.
Anyway, back to this outside "expert" they hired. Bill Watkins.
I'm pretty sure they expected him to give us all some good news. And he tried. He really really tried. He had a list of prescriptions for our economic health that sounded hopeful and helpful. Except, as any of us bubble bloggers would have told you, most of these solutions weren't going to work in Bend because of the unique nature of our location and resources.
But they sounded good.
At the same time, though, he was willing to point out the dangers to our economy and warn that it was going to take a long time to recover EVEN IF his rosy solutions took hold.
Turns out, the more physical distance he actually has from Bend, the more realistic he is.
According to the article in the Sunday Bulletin, he gave a very negative picture of Central Oregon to a Portland radio station.
"I don't pull punches," he said.
So the irony is, this "Deschutes Economic Alliance" which originally was going to pay the fellow, has asked the County to help pay for it.
And the County doesn't want to pay, because the message is "negative." (Not whether it's true or not, they just don't like his tone, apparently.)
So what about the business folk who banded together to create this survey? Hey, they are "pursuing a fundraising initiative to assure its solvency for the next five years."
Which means, what?, they are willing to pay for a objective outside expert who will tell them the opposite of what they really want to hear?
Good luck with that.
The high powered founder "could not be reached for comment." Big surprise Another grand plan that the founder assured would be -- to paraphrase -- 'easy, don't worry about it, it will all be paid for...'
The Deschutes Economic Alliance -- which I'm betting is filled with members who really don't like the government much -- nevertheless see nothing wrong in asking the County to save their ass.
The expert, meanwhile, wasn't expert enough to see that he might not get paid.
I want to repeat that irony -- the expert wasn't quite expert enough to figure out he might not get paid.
Nevertheless, he was willing to be blunt about our prospects:
"They're in bad shape," he says about us, "with an unemployment rate ranging from just a little below 15 percent to over 17 percent...
"Home prices have just been decimated, still are very weak."
Here's the most ironic statement of all -- and a sure indicator of the mindset of our government and business leaders:
"County Commissioner Tammy Baney said that Watkins' comments went against the Deschutes Economic Alliance's goal to change the region's image from 'poverty with a view' to 'possibilities with a view.'"
So, we want your objective assessment -- but only as long as we agree with it?
I think they don't understand the words "objective" or "facts". The intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy are so immense that I have to believe that these people have never had to think rigorously and logically in their life.
Look, you can't hire an "outside" expert for his "objective assessment" and then not pay him when he doesn't tell you what you want to hear! (Another lawsuit, costing us much more than the original tab anyone?)
More dangerously, to us citizens of Deschutes County and our budgets, she seems to think the whole problem is a public relations issue.
"Factual yet positive" she demands.
So what happens if the facts aren't positive? We'll only pay you if you whitewash the facts, fellow. (Pay attention, whatever expert they hire next! Pay attention citizens, to the quality of the report what will ensue.....)
I'm amazed that someone in a position of authority, with millions of tax dollars in her power, could say something so ridiculous out-loud.
Well, I would be amazed, if I hadn't heard similar thinking out of our local business community and local government before, during, and after the crash.
The irony is so rich, I feel sick to my stomach.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Hey, a good two weeks. How about that?
Don't want to make too much of it. It seems like the second half of every month has been pretty down.
The increase is pretty much across the board, and I think maybe each of the inventory lines are in a mature phase. Possibly, my young employees have another year of experience under their belts.
Or it could all be just a normal statistical thing. Or a fluke. Or an anomaly.
So, I'm not getting my hopes up.
Still, it's nice to be going into the second half of the month with a margin, rather than trying to make up lost ground!
Friday, July 15, 2011
Big City Plans, Small Town Results.
There seems to be a bit of pattern here.
First of all, any art festival in Bend is going to have trouble reaching critical mass. Cascade music is gone; Bend Film is struggling -- even some sports events have trouble, for instance the big golf tournament (The Tradition? Oxymoron, eh?)
Cause we in Bend seem to forget we are a small town in the middle of nowhere.
The thing to do in Bend is to go ahead and try to present yourself as a big city kind of deal -- but never lose sight of the fact that you aren't.
Don't just ask yourself what will happen if everything goes right, also ask yourself what will happen if everything goes wrong.
You ask yourself if the event can survive the "founder" moving on. Or whoever is the motivating force.
Try to take into account the normal up and down cycles. For a small group, for instance, a good rule of thumb I once read is to have 3 times more regular members than the number you need for a meeting. So if you need 8 people for a meeting, having 24 members is safe. So there will be times you'll get 15, and times you'll get 5, but you average out. I'm sure bigger events have similar rules of thumb.
You have to remember that the newness wears off -- the excitement of the new.
By the way, all this applies for small businesses, too --- maybe more so.
The interesting thing about the article about Bend Film is that most of the boosters seem to feel that the organization isn't thinking "big" enough. While it struggles for cash in the real world.
My sister, Betsy, who runs a longtime non-profit choir in Seattle, says that lots of arts organizations are having trouble raising money these days, which stands to reason.
But unless one of these big thinker boosters is willing to step forward with a cash infusion, I think Bend Film is probably settling into more realistic aspirations.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Running for cover.
If Congress wants to play Russian Roulette, then I think I'd rather be further away from the blood splatter. Hey, they may miraculously arrive at a good solution, and the stock market may go up, but even if I miss it, I'm pretty sure it will settle back down because there is still plenty of bad news to come and there will be chances to get back in.
But the downside seems much bigger than the upside to me right now. At worse, I'll still have the same money I started with. No one thought they'd vote down the TARP, either, and the market crashed 700 points in one day.
So...well, that would be a buying opportunity.
If you read history, this sort of reminds me of WWI. Nobody thought the other guys would be so stupid as to escalate, until it was too late.
Like then, there are so many entanglements in the market -- Greece, and Spain and Italy, and the good old U.S. of A.
Or maybe like James Dean racing the other guy to the cliff, and the other guy's shirt gets caught and -- whooops, iiieeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!
They say don't time the market, but I just did. Let's see what happens.
(If --as what probably will happen-- it just goes sideways, I'm still wanting to invest in less risky if lower earning investments.)
I had to ask myself what was most important about our retirement money and the answer was -- 'security' and there are just safer places than mutual funds right now.
Linda and I have always had a modest lifestyle and if we continue that way, we'll be fine if it doesn't all go down the rabbit hole.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Downtown's got the funk.
The article in the Bulletin about downtown Redmond was a bit of deja vu for me. It reminds me of downtown Bend in the '80's, on the verge of a big comeback.
I've maintained before that the downtown Bend core comeback was not a foreordained conclusion. I think we were somewhat lucky in the timing of renovations and the arrival of certain investors and the combination of stores. You had to be there.
Bend was actually smaller at that time than Redmond is now, which is astounding. But I believe Bend had more core businesses than Redmond has -- Redmond is a bit of a satellite of Bend, and a bit of a bedroom community. (Don't take offense, Redmonites.)
The title of the article is "Redmond Looking Younger."
Well, I'm not convinced of that. I would look instead at the idea that Redmond has more beginning hardscrabble from the groundup type businesses -- which coincidentally means that more businesses are started by young people in the prime starter age of 28 - 40.
I've noticed that bohemian type businesses -- started on a wing and a prayer -- are most often started by people in their early 30's. I was 32 when I bought Pegasus Books, for instance.
Bend really doesn't have a place for these type businesses anymore. The rents are simply too high in downtown Bend and the Old Mill.
So Redmond seems to be filling that need. They are getting the Funk that Bend used to have but which slowly drained away to jewelry stores and art galleries and high end restaurants.
Stealth & Shadow, a goth and punk store, Sweet Peas N' Me, children's clothing and toys consignment shop, Urban Legends, Atomic Music, The Hive, all those kinds of business.
Good for them. I think they are in for a grand adventure.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Half again as much money in just 5 years!
Sister Sue and family visited, and to my delight, we all ended up sitting on the back lawn while my two nephews, Nick and Carl, tumbled and rough-housed. Which is the image I always had of the back yard -- friendly and comfortable.
Didn't get a chapter done for writer's group, so I'm still stuck at four chapters. Summer has always been harder for me to write. Often, I get the urge to write about the time school starts, which I think is just a Pavlovian reaction to to the Fall season.
But I'm still committed to the story, and will make absolutely sure I have a chapter done for the next group.
Sales were down about 25% from last weekend. Which is better than the 50% drops I used to get. Considering there are literally 10's of thousands of people downtown, it seems just O.K.
My guy on Sunday actually seemed frazzled. "You wouldn't believe how many kids were in here running around!"
Have been having ostracism dreams as usual. Last night I was wandering New York city, lost, trying to find the subway, and finding store after store after store, in a bewildering maze.
Second dream, I was at a golf course where the clubhouse was more like a funhouse. Tiger Woods was with me for awhile, but he was a real nincompoop, so I ditched him. Couldn't find the dining room and my food was getting cold.
A site called Business Insider had this to say about Bend:
The Best Housing Markets For The Next 5 Years.
#2 Bend, Oregon.
Projected annualized growth 2011 to 2016: 11.7%
The time to buy in Bend is now. The market is projected to trough in Q3 before several years of accelerating growth. Home prices are down over 42% from peak.
Annualized growth: 11.7%.
I guess if you believe that, you deserve whatever happens. Since we'll probably still be dropping for a year or two, that would mean the last two or three years of that timeline would be, what?, 18% annualized growth? I know that 5% growth in ten years adds fifty percent to your beginning number, so I'm assuming that 10% growth over five years would have about the same result.
That's a pretty crazy number.
It would be funny if it wasn't sad. I mean, I think bringing people to Bend to spend their money is great -- but I think I'd feel guilty if I didn't at least post a word of warning.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Pick a number.
Anyway, my biggest problem in business has been budgeting my purchases. I'm well over the break-even point in my store, so as long as I order correctly, I can be profitable.
So I set strict budgets, and then try to stay within them.
And then, most often, I don't.
I can't seem to help it. I see a product I think the store should have and I order it.
It all should even out in the end, right? Good stuff will sell, and compensate for the extra purchases. Except it doesn't seem to work that way. I have a particular level of sales at any time and spending twice as much may boost it slightly, and spending half as much might depress it slightly, but on an ongoing basis, overspending is overspending.
Yes, it helps the long term growth of the store. But meanwhile, the cashflow can get hammered.
So I construct a budget that theoretically allows me to do both.
And then I bust the budget.
So what do I do about it? (I know, I know --show a little self-discipline. Other than that, because I've had years to do that and haven't managed.)
I joke that I need a CFO, chief financial officer, who would only give me enough money to stay within budget. Or, try to turn my checkbook over to Linda -- but we both know I'd wheedle her until she gave in.
I'm sure there is a trick that will work.
For instance, I tried for years to save money at the end of every month. Theoretically, I should most often have been able to do it. But...well -- see the rest of this post. Extra money got spent.
I finally imposed an automatic withdrawal every month that would be kind of a hassle to change and somewhat ego deflating to have to ask to change -- therefore, I make sure I have the money in the account on that date. I'm on my 10th month of doing that, and it's working.
My newest technique is to pick a number of items I'll allow myself to order per week -- say, X number of graphic novels, X number of new books, X number of games.
I've only been doing this for a few weeks but it seems to be working. It forces me to choose the most important items every week. If I sell a lot, I order the most needed, if I don't sell a lot that week, I can order the most needed and go back further onto the list and order the next level of need.
Of course, nothing will work without a mindset change. I can be budgeted all I want, but unless I'm really committed to saving money, it won't matter. Ironically, I'm able to be disciplined when my back is to the wall --when a big bill is due. But as soon as I create a little breathing room, I start getting ambitious again.
But this picking a set number of items is just challenging enough to be satisfying, while doing the job.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
The gardening bug.
I've always suspected I had a bit of the bug in me, but I always seemed to do just enough and then let the garden slide.
This year, I went buggy.
I think limiting the hours at first to about 3 hours at a time was hugely helpful. Having the lawns and sprinklers in place. Being willing to spend some money on new plants.
I start out doing the easiest simplest projects -- and then, inevitably, I get more ambitious.
Yesterday, I went out planning to do a tiny bit of weeding. My two sisters and their families are in town this week, and I kinda wanted to show off what I've done.
I ended up spending the whole day outside.
My Mom taught me a couple of tricks to make a garden look good.
1.) Edge the lawn with a straight edged shovel, about an inch average, for a nice clean looking cut.
2.) Turn up the soil in the garden and smooth it out. I do this with a trowel and my hands, and lightly once over with a rake.
So that's what I did -- all day long.
The garden won't really start looking good for another year or two, but the profile is in place.
I still have about 15 feet outside the fence to complete weeding -- and then I will have finished what I set out to do. But I don't think I'm done yet. I still have the urge.
Where did that come from?
Good 'ol Archie.
How can you go wrong with Archie? It is essentially the same Archie comics as decades ago-- though the styles might change. Archie's eternally playing the field between good girl Betty and rich mean girl Veronica. Mr. Lodge's befuddlement of 'kid's these days.' Reggie obsession with designer clothes. Jughead's binge eating problem.
Yeah, so what can go wrong with Archie?
So I thought this store from the comic news site ICV2 was amusing:
"Archie Comics Publications has filed suit in the State of New York against Co-CEO Nancy Silberkleit accusing her of, among other things storming into a meeting in 2009 and pointing at the participants and yelling “Penis, penis, penis, penis.” She supposedly repeated the “penis” outburst again in 2010 and followed it up by exclaiming, “My balls hurt.” "Silberkleit was quoted in 2010 complaining about the resistance she met from the entrenched old boy network when she joined the Archie Comics management team, so there may well be another side to the “penis taunting” incidents, which will undoubtedly come out if the suit goes to trial."
Nothing to do with the content of the comics -- except: You have to wonder if the 'traditional' nature of the comic is reflected by the "old boy" network.
I just read a rave review of A Dance With Dragons, the fifth Game of Thrones books. I was torn by this -- waiting 6 years for book four took some of the steam out. And then, I didn't think the fourth book was all that great. Pretty much wandering the devastated countryside without advancing the plot.
I mean Martin is very readable even then. But I'd somewhat lost track of characters.
Now it's another 5 years later.
And there are two books to go.
But...I suspect I won't be able to resist.
Meanwhile, I needed to order 10 book minimum to be sure to get the book on Tuesday, which is too many. I will feel obligated to point out that people can purchase the book cheaper elsewhere. I do this, because I don't want enraged customers coming back and yelling at me.
So I'll be ordering on the Tuesday, for Thursday delivery, and hope I can sell a few.
My desktop has slowed to a crawl. As soon as I can transfer the needed info to my laptop, I'll be replacing it with my Mac.
But I realized something this morning.
I'd gotten rather used to the slow pace. I'd sit and sip my coffee and contemplate my day and so on, while I waited. It was a lazy pace, and I kind of like it.
My laptop is -- here it is NOW! Right in your face! What are you going to do about it!!!
Well, slow is O.K., but glacial has become a problem. It just stops sometimes and stares back at me, and I sip my coffee and wait, and contemplate, and wait, and ....
Finally, I turn it off and turn on my laptop.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
Weeds are sneaky little bastards.
No sooner than I clear out one kind of weed but another takes their place.
I think it's more likely they're seasonal -- but I'm sure they appreciate me clearing out the competition.
I'm also convinced that the easier they are to pull, the more likely they are to have spread seeds hell and gone. The harder they are to pull, the farther down the roots go, and the more likely they'll pop right back up if you leave even a little of the root.
It's either one or the other.
Evolution created some sneaky little bastards when they created weeds.
The economy is complicated, man.
It's sometimes easier to predict the perimeters of an event when it is still on its way, than it is while the event is actually happening.
We had a great first 7 days of July in business -- which is neat, except that it seems like every month we have a strong first week or two and then it tails off.
I don't look for signs of recovery to the economy, because I don't think they are really there.
Sure, upticks here, upticks there, followed by downturns here, downturns there.
But the basic facts -- a lack of good paying jobs, underwater houses, pretend and extend commercial loans -- haven't changed much. They may have even gotten worse. At least, around here. People piled into Bend, which has a certain momentum to it, but I'm not sure that isn't as much a negative as a positive. Without a change to the fundamentals.
What we can hope for, more tourists and retirees, helps keep Bend from falling into the crevasse, but it doesn't really create the strong, dynamic economy we might want. I'm not sure we'll ever have that kind of economy. I'm pretty sure we're stuck with "Poverty with a View."
And, I don't see anything that is going to change that dynamic anytime soon.
We see people opening new businesses, and investing what to me are extraordinary amounts of money in Mom and Pop storefronts (how do they ever expect to earn that investment back?!) and this is great for downtown vacancy rates and for the image of vibrancy it gives to Bend -- but, well, I'm not sure it's good for the pocketbooks of the actual entrepreneurs.
That's the big difference between now and the awful '80's. Some real money came to town during the boom, and some real large debt loads, and I think that is still happening to some extent.
Anyway, I try not to let the daily, weekly, and even monthly trends get me down or up. I think we're still in this for the long haul.
I just figured this bubble would play out the same way every other bubble I'd experienced -- a steep, mind-numbing drop, followed by a long period of thinking things would get better only to be dashed, followed by another long period of thinking things would get better (Repeat and Rinse as many times as necessary), followed by giving up expecting it to get better, followed by the day when you suddenly realize that things are better and have been for a while but because you had given up you hadn't seen it.
So, I figure we are still in one of the "expecting it to get better" phases, and thus nowhere near it.
It's best to run your business as if things might go up a little or down a little, but not to expect major changes. Settle in, hunker down, try new things -- but don't let the news headlines distract you from what is actually happening.
Friday, July 8, 2011
By reneging on their internet deal, Qwest lost not only my account at the store, but the account here at home and at Linda' store.
I was pretty stoic yesterday, except that I got into a "these darn kids today..." discussion with a guy, that became less than accepting of what I can't change. It also started to veer into politics, which I opted out of: "I don't want to talk politics."
"That's not fair."
"What's not fair about it? I don't want to talk politics...."
"But I wanted to comment on the health system,"
"Yes, but you were coming at it from a political persuasion....I don't want to talk politics."
Apparently, they started putting up the yellow tape on the block of Oregon Ave. last night, which is a full day in advance.
Do these promoters have any idea how daunting the yellow tape is to people? Even though the streets aren't officially closed until 10:00 tonight?
I have to cross my fingers, like I do for every event, that when they set up the stage in front of my store, that they do it in such a way as to allow easy access and visuals to my store, and somehow not encourage people to stand in front of my door.
Of those three goals, they usually allow my door to be opened, but the other two -- the visuals and the crowd control pretty much suck.
Because the promoters pretty much don't care about us. These events aren't about the small businesses....
NOTE: On the way to work, I noticed that they have already set up for tomorrow. So Oregon Ave. gets to have a closed street all day, but no activities. Pretty much the worst of both worlds.
Hey, downtowners. If you don't speak up, they'll just keep encroaching and encroaching.
The solution, of course, is for me to make myself scarce and put my guys in the store. Last week we had a pretty good weekend, and I'm hoping for the best this weekend too.
I ran out of Pokemon cards, yesterday, one of the few items I can sell to the kids at these events. Bad planning for me -- I very rarely completely run out of a viable product...
Watched Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call last night.
Expected it to be a harrowing movie; the descent of a cop into drugs and corruption.
Well, it was all that. Along with a bullmouse looney performance by Nick Cage -- which at the same time was funny and pitch perfect.
His relationship with his girlfriend was kinda sweet, and he obviously had a moral code -- that maybe only he understood.
It was more Hunter S. Thompson as cop, than Requiem for a Dream.
It had a strangely redemptive and uplifting tone, that I couldn't explain if I had to, and I think it's become one of my favorite movies....
Thursday, July 7, 2011
He must be earning karmic movie brownie points somewhere...
Watched the documentary about Spitzer last night.
If a man is judged by his enemies, he's a saint. (A prostitute frequenting saint.)
Hank Greenberg of AIG looks like a troll -- if a man's character is reflected on his face, the guy is a shriveled up little gnome. Then the guy who was one of the founders of Home Depot, who was a big fat bully, and who part of the way through mentions is "good friend" Jack Welch -- who, if you read this blog you know I despise -- and I thought, yep, birds of a feather.
Wall Street is irredeemably corrupt.
I need to read my Stoic philosophy again.
The month has started off really well at the store.
Whoops. I just jinxed it. Forget I ever said it.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Epictetus. Part 1. Here's where I lose you...
I not saying my reaction to these philosophical thoughts are going to be deep or mind-blowing, but I believe thinking about them just might help make me a little more patient and understanding of other people.
I've been reading an entry in the morning, and the same entry just before bed, and I've been trying to consciously maintain them through the day. I think writing about them will help.
The numbering is mine.
Epictetus. A Manual for Living. (Interpretation by Sharon Lebell.)
I think it's pronounced Epic (as in an epic movie) tea-tus.
"Know What You Can Control and What You Can't."
"...some things are within our control, and some things are not."
"...things within our power are naturally at our disposal, free from any restraint or hindrance..."
This idea really appeals to me. It doesn't require anyone else; nor tools, nor money, nor a situation. My own "aspirations, opinions, desires," are always there and I can always access them.
I just like the self-sufficiency and completeness of this idea. It is always with me. I can work on this now. I can carry this idea with me -- in traffic, with customers, with bills, with friends and family. My attitude toward these things are the only thing I can control -- but at the same time, I can control them as much as I am capable. It's up to me.
"...those things out of your control are weak, dependent, or determined by the whims and actions of others."
I think, perhaps, some of the things Epictetus counts as beyond our control, like wealth and status, were probably more under our control today than when he was born -- but, then again, I know what he's saying. Certainly, others opinions of us are not under our control.
So much frustration in wanting other people to act differently.
More on that tomorrow.
Ignoring the obvious.
Rodney King, O.J. and now this Casey Anthony trial. Apparently if you can get 12 average Americans in a room and drown them in extraneous information, you can get them to ignore the obvious.
Roger Clemens probably has a pretty good chance.
According to the Bulletin, no arrests for fireworks. Only warnings?
We had a cop car come roaring down our street, and stop about a block away, and urgent calls to "get out of the car!" And then another cop car, and another, and another. Seven cop cars in all.
Must have been some warning.
I manage to read all the New York Times Sunday, except the magazine. Apparently, the magazine is a bridge too far. The articles are interesting, but not quite interesting enough.
Last three gardening sessions started out as just wandering the garden and then starting to do something simple and then before I know it, 3 hours have gone by.
Problem is, I'm wearing my street clothes, t-shirt, shorts, sandals, and I'm covered in scratches and scraps and slivers and...I just about itched myself to death last night.
I also drank some diet cola left over from the 4th. I used to be addicted to soda -- I mean, really, really addicted -- but I managed to wean myself off. Except the occasional treat. But drinking caffeine at 9:00 at night isn't a good idea for me anymore.
Had an old customer who only comes into the store every 8 months or so, exclaim, "You look healthy!" Thing is, he said almost the same thing last time he was in.
He remembers me during the dog years -- the years when I was working every day for 7 years straight, and even when I wasn't, I was scrambling to make a deposit every day just to cover the ongoing checks.
So, the stress is off a little nowadays. That, plus I think I've let myself hit my "natural" weight, which is about 15 pounds over what I fought to keep down for years and years, and I've been outdoors a lot this year.
But mostly the stress.
I've decided to read one small chapter of A Manual for Living by the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, per day. Same chapter in the morning and in the evening and cogitate about it.
I thought of blogging it, but I don't think my thoughts are deep enough. Maybe I'll do it, with fair warning.
A Dance with Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, the 5th book in The Song of Ice and Fire, is coming out on the 13th. It's a $35.00 book.
I was just starting to carry new books when the last Harry Potter book came out in hardcover, and I still managed to sell 3 or 4 copies -- despite it being half price just about everywhere else.
I also managed to sell some hard copies of the last two Robert Jordan books, as well as the Patrick Rothfuss's first two fantasies.
I was going to order five, with the idea of reordering immediately if I needed to (I'm only a few days at any time from getting a shipment.) Cameron, who was working, suggested 2, I settled on 3 in my mind, and then ordered 4 -- knowing that I'll always be able to take one home if they don't all sell.
Also, busts my budget a little.
Speaking of the obvious. The Bulletin has an article saying that "Defaults drop 25% in Deschutes"
Fair enough, but I have a bit of a problem with the sub-title: "Opinions differ whether change represents waning of foreclosure crisis."
When you read the article, it's pretty clear that no one believes the foreclosure crisis is "waning". The foreclosures are being held back for procedural and legal reasons. Instead of the 581 bump in April being an outlier, I suspect it's more like the number it would really be if the banks let loose.
Pretend and extend.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
I had also checked out about five minutes of Hard Days Night, to listen to some tunes, so I don't know how that fit in.
The last two movies we watched were "Hot Tub Time-Machine" and "Secretariat."
Let them try to figure that out.
When I was helping my son Todd weed his garden, he mentioned that he was more interested in the "architecture" of the garden than the plants. Which is the exact phrase I always use.
An article in the Bulletin today mentions a Master Gardener who know the names of every plant.
I think my Mom was a blend of both; eventually, the plants became part of the architecture.
I don't usually comment on political columns, but I think "Obama's Original Sin," by Frank Rich in The New York Magazine is right on. The subtitle says it pretty well:
"The President's failure to demand a reckoning from the moneyed interests who brought the economy down has cursed his first term..."
Don't get me wrong, I won't vote for any Republican I can see on the horizon -- but I really wish he had taken the bull by the horns.
Monday, July 4, 2011
Super 8 - 4th of July.
When we did the math, the boys in the flick would've been about the same age as our own boys at the time, maybe a bit older. (Just before I entered the picture...) So she got on the phone and called both Todd and Toby and told them to go see the movie.
It was kind of a mix of Goonies and 3rd Encounters and E.T., but perhaps a bit more threatening.
I liked it, too. Found myself laughing a lot by myself at the kid's antics and interplay -- and no one else was laughing and I'm never quite sure if I'm laughing inappropriately. Sort of like laughing at the old lady flying out of the house in Gremlins or Bill Paxton's lines in Aliens -- I mean it's tense and people are dying but it's also funny. Linda says she remembers laughing at lines no one else was laughing at, too. So there you go.
Going to finish up the gardening in the main yards today. Heavy, heavy work, which is why it's happening last. But it's got to be done. And I have a free day.
I still want to do the side of the house, but that is out of sight out of mind and often never gets done. For one thing, I want to do a thorough job so I only have to do upkeep next year.
Linda's brother, Dave, is coming over for hot dogs and fireworks. We can see the show from out back deck, though even in just the 7 years we've been here, the trees have grown enough to obscure some of it, dammit.
We were in Crescent City last year on the 4th, but I told Linda I don't feel safe with all the neighborhood fireworks and with all the dry brush in the 'wild' side of our backyard, so we're sticking close to home from now on.
I think it's a day to relax -- well, digging holes for the boxwood will be hard work -- but it's still relaxing, too, somehow.
Sunday, July 3, 2011
"Entrepreneurial Spirit is Alive."
BEND BULLETIN: Business Section: 7/3/11.
"THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE NEW BUSINESS."
"Bend Chamber reports increases in new licenses."
Except, when you do the math, it's an increase of..... drumroll please! ...are you ready to be bowled over?....here it is!.... 1.5%
Yep. One point five percent. We are talking about an increase of 81 business out of 5,623.
According to the executive director of the Bend Chamber of Commerce:
"The economy has been depressed since the last quarter of 2007, and I think the increase in new businesses we're seeing this spring show people are tired of the doom and gloom."
"People are picking themselves up, dusting themselves off and getting back in the game. They are not waiting for someone else to save them. People around here are not sitting on their derrieres looking for government to bail them out. They are embracing innovation and using that as a guiding light to start a new business, or take and an existing business to a new level."
Good lord. He hammered that boiler-plate with a sledge hammer!
I love the way he uses quasi new age positivism -- "...guiding light.." "...a new level..." with conservative dogma "are not waiting for someone else to save them" with relentless boosterism "people are tired of the doom and gloom" "getting back in the game."
Well -- at least 1.5% of the businesses are.
I'm not sure the tone of the article matched the actual reality. I'm not sure that a 1.5% increase is worth the hype.
That dead cat just bounced 1.5%.
Gardening: two steps forward, one step back.
But they left a mess. Not really their fault --when you dig down a foot or two in Central Oregon you dig up a mess of rocks and pebbles. Pebbles, pebbles everywhere. The soil was left soft and dusty on the path.
So I spent a couple of days going back and flattening the upturned soil so it could become firmer, and scooping up as many pebbles as I could. But there are years of pebbles to scoop up.
It was also a little bit of a bridge too far financially. I had to borrow from Linda for a few days until I could come up with the money.
I think the basic outlines are in place -- both of the watering infrastructure and the plants -- from now on, I want them to mature, and then I'll subdivide.
What I remember about Mom's garden was she was never satisfied. She was always starting a new project, digging up a section of the garden.
Sort of like what I do with my store.
Got ambitious last night after the sun fell, and edged the front yard. I do this with a straight shovel, foot by foot.
Two tricks I learned from Mom -- edging the garden and digging up the garden soil, makes everything look great. (Digging up the soil also has the benefit of getting any weeds.)
Meanwhile, I have about 10 square feet of mulch, about 2 inches thick, covering my driveway which I need to dig up and use -- and two pile of gravel I need to spread when I'm finished.
Early morning, or after the sun goes down kind of work.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
Getting ready to start thinking about maybe starting to....
"I would think this would be good for you," the woman buying the books said.
"I haven't found it to be so, strangely," I said. "But it's been a few years, maybe I should try, especially since it's summer and a lot of that crowd are probably tourists."
"We're tourists," she said. By then, it was 6:15.
So I went and flipped the sign. I decided to stay open one more hour.
So I sat there, and about 10 more people came in, and I sold another 10.00. (Hordes of people streaming by my door.)
I never learn.
Still, I'm thinking it might be fun to spend one Friday evening a month visiting with people --IF Linda was with me, so when I got home I asked if she'd be willing to come straight to Pegasus on First Fridays after work, and we'd be all social-like for an evening. "I'll just drink a couple of glasses of wine and relax," I said.
Of course, Linda is always up for social things. (Don't know why she married me, but I'm glad she did.)
So, no promises, but we'll maybe be giving it a try, and not have too high expectations, but just look at it as a way to see some old friends and customers....
Friday, July 1, 2011
Shoot me first.
I haven't been to a Micheal Bay movie since Armageddon, which I loathed. I have a unreasoning hatred of Bay movies.
Don't get me wrong. I love big loud dumb movies -- just not Bay's big loud dumb movies. I think it's the false sentimentality, the cynical use of explosions (every 10 minutes for that T.V. generation) and the lame humor.
A meaningless phrase.
I usually elaborate. "You don't think so right now, but later you will. In ways you haven't even considered."
While true, it's a pretty meaningless phrase.
And one in which every threatened industry can indulge.
I just read a story about newspapers that used those exact words. And -- it washed right over me.
For one thing, what can I do about it? I do buy the Bulletin and the Sunday New York Times, but a paper I used to buy every day, I now read online: U.S.A. Today. Part of me says, "Well, they'll just have to figure out ways to survive..."
It's so easy to get caught up in your own industry, that you forget that other businesses are even more threatened.
For instance, I had a German tourist in who was looking for a camera shop because he needed his camera fixed.
"There is no camera shop downtown," I said. "But you know what? Camera shops used to survive by not only fixing cameras, but also by selling cameras and film and processing the film and accessories. But you don't MISS the camera shop until you need your camera fixed."
Like I said, I still believe that people will miss the brick and mortar stores, but I understand that
saying so makes absolutely no difference. Appealing to people to buy local and support their small town stores works with some people, but not all people.
The problem is the 20% of people who are simply going to leave without looking back. (I'm making up the 20% -- it could be 10% or 50%, more likely the latter than the former....)
A simple question: Can you do as good a job with 20% less revenue? Well, neither can most stores. And of course, that just creates a downward spiral.
I'm very aware of all this, and have found a bunch of ways around the problems, but ultimately the problems will get too big for most stores. So, for instance, one of the ways you'll miss us when we're gone is that you'll have a bunch of decaying storefronts everywhere, right? I guess we can turn them all into parks, right?
It's not going to happen all at once, but I'm glad I'm nearer the end of my career than the beginning, because it's going to get real challenging for the next generation of entrepreneurs.
I know that a lot of people are going to say, "Why not go online and also run a brick and mortar?"
But if the online part of the business is what makes you viable, and the brick and mortar requires that you be there every day paying rent and employees and overhead -- why bother? Just go online.
There will always be the exceptional people -- who are smarter, work harder, and are just more talented than your average person. They'll create exciting storefronts (at least until they burn out being "harder worker"s) and it will seem all is well. But the exceptions don't prove the rule.
I'm thinking boutique businesses, who depend on shopping browsers, in high rent districts, may survive -- as well as low rent, extremely thrifty stores. It's the middle that will disappear.
By the way, that first description describes downtown, and I think it's no accident that downtown Bend has managed to keep up appearances.
I'm sure something will fill the hole. Service businesses, who need actual people to accomplish the services, seem to do better in this new world. They can expand into areas that were once retail oriented. Secondary stores -- who take all the mass of material that is sold online and in mass market stores -- and repackage it, will probably take the place of stores that used to buy new material.
I'm not sure a world of high end boutiques and thrift stores is exactly healthy, but we're well on our way. There is nothing that can or should stop it. And saying, "You'll miss us when we're gone" is as useless as saying, "Gosh, I really miss the old A.M. radio stations playing the Doors, and my bell-bottoms, and all those headshops."
NOTE: I should always add when I write a blog like this -- we're not going anywhere. Both Linda and my stores are doing just fine, thank you very much.