31 August 2009

16 August 2009

Books: Retail Hell: Confessions of a Tortured Sales Associate by Freeman Hall

This book is for anyone who works in retail. And its for anyone who shops and wonders why most retail employees hate you. Author Freeman Hall details the life of a retail slave, one who has to put up with an endless parade of people who live by the mantra that the customer is always right (a fallacy created by the retail stores themselves. I’m with Curb Your Enthusiasm star Larry David when he says most customers are wrong. And are probably assholes. I’ve always found that living by that slogan day in and day out is a miserable way to run a company. It seems unfair that abusive people will and should get better treatment than nice ones).

Anywhoo, Hall’s hilarious rant on customers, customer service and working for The Big Fancy - a probable combination of Macy’s and Nordstroms where he used to work - hits many spots. As an aspiring screenwriter, Hall’s dose of customer insanity will remind anyone of David Sedaris and ultra hyper-reality in which he lives.

For some, they’ll say his stories are absurd, that the situations in his book could not happen. Hell, after 12 years of working with Borders (and add on 22 years in the book business and 29 years in retail overall), I can tell you stories about catching three men having sex in the men's bathroom, or the ones shooting up in the stalls; of hearing a story in my old store about a teenage boy completely naked -for whatever reason - in our bathroom. Then there's the story of me cleaning up a trail of wet, sloppy poop from the front of the store to the back. Yes, what we do for the unforgiving love of our customers.

So, what stories he tells are far from his imagination.

Interspersed, he tells his tale of coming to LA to become a screenwriter, and how working for The Big Fancy is crushing that dream. All of us know that our off days are truly not ours and even though we plan to grand things when we get those days off, we usually fail to do it, because exhaustion usually gets the best of us.

And while other jobs -ones outside the service industry - can be soul crunching, for some reason retail is worse. It’s all about numbers, quotas and reaching a higher quarter than the previous (even though, theoretically, along with the law of averages, is something not possible.

Anyone can quote leadership gurus like John Maxwell and Peter Drucker, but the reality of retail -and of Freeman Hall’s book - is that while the customer is always right is a good idea, in reality it’s a poor excuse to let people screw you up and down the month.

And who gets blamed for poor sales? Not the slumping economy, surely. Nope. It’s the guy, the girl behind the counter who gets blamed. I mean, how many times do we have tohear if we just sold $5.00 more bucks worth of merchandise, we would’ve made plan?

10 August 2009

Books: NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society by Michael Buckley

Despite being a title for the young, Michael Buckley’s (The Sisters Grimm) new series is a comic treat, as fifth graders become secret agents, ala James Bond.

Combining all the excitement of international espionage and all the awkwardness of elementary school, NERDS, features a group of unpopular students who run a spy network from inside their school. With the help of cutting-edge science, their nerdy qualities are enhanced and transformed into incredible abilities. They battle the Hyena, a former junior beauty pageant contestant turned assassin, and an array of James Bond–style villains, each with an evil plan more diabolical and more ridiculous than the last.

There is much to like about this novel, and you can tell Buckely is enjoying himself. It's a nutty, sort of cousin to CN's The Venture Bros. series. The Hyena is the best, and her backstory is just brilliant. The villain Jigsaw reminds me of Hank Scorpio from the classic Simpsons episode You Only Move Twice.

Look for it September 1

08 August 2009

Books: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

The final book in the Riordan’s Percy Jackson series is action packed from page one to its conclusion. The majority of the novel takes place in Manhattan, as the forces of Kronos and his Titans head towards The Empire State Building and its 600th floor where Mount Olympus resides. Percy, Annabeth, Grover and the rest of the campers at Camp Half-Blood come face to face with the meaning of the prophecy that started the series and traitorous Luke’s past is finally revealed. We also learn the fates of all as the Clash of Titans comes to a close.

While I think this is the best book in the series, I also felt that Riordan made it all too easy for Percy to defeat Kronos. I sensed that Riordan painted himself into a corner with his plot -which sometimes happens when dealing with a first-person setting. It was like he knew the only way Percy could figure things out was to cram a whole lot of dreams with all the exposition. I feel, somewhat, cheated that Percy could not figure it out himself without the dreams revealing it.

Then there’s Luke. While I had hoped that the kid was just a spy in the house of Kronos, his absolution rang sort of false, and reminded me of Harry Potter again.

Still, those are small quibbles to what was a funny, often clever series that also was history lesson on Greek myths. And while this was the final volume, apparently Riordan will return to Camp Half-Blood sometime in the future.

I’ll be waiting.

06 August 2009

Candy Everybody Wants

John Hughes, writer/director and the voice of 80's teens, dies

As a writer and director, John Hughes, who died today at the age of 59 from a heart attack, found an ability to communicate to teens in the 1980s. His sharp-eyed look into their lives was a rarity in the age of Porky's and other somewhat nefarious teen comedies that proliferated the 80s like stale perfume. With such films as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Some Kind of Wonderful, he gave new insights into their lives rarely, if ever explored, and offered looks into their social habits.

Other great films included Pretty in Pink, National Lampoon's Vacation, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the Thanksgiving classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles and the Home Alone franchise.

"He was such a great writer who created so many enduring characters for film, both as a director and a writer. His real gift was in creating these identifiable characters," actor, writer and comedian Steve Martin, who starred in Planes with John Candy, told CNN. "The script for 'Planes, Trains, and Automobiles' was the best script I had ever read," Martin added. "I asked John how long it took to write it, he said, 'I wrote it over the weekend.' The weekend. That shows you what he was able to do."

Like most prolific writers, he turned out some duds, such as Curly Sue and She's Having a Baby, but he could still save them somewhat with his sharp dialogue and great catch phrases. Even the uneven, heavy FX movie such as Weird Science (a personal favorite) still had some great lines in it.

He also did wonders for my home town of Chicago, were most of his films we set and filmed. Who cannot forget the parade sequence in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, with star Matthew Broderick singing Twist & Shout?

Hollywood did not make films for teens like he did before the 1980s and they've not done such a great job since he stepped back - he was spending more time with his family, maintaining a functioning farm in northern Illinois city of Harvard, where he supported independent arts.

He was a writer who understood the written word and how to make it work in a film, but he was also an important voice for teens and young adults during a decade that altered how young and old interact.

A sad passing indeed.

02 August 2009

Books: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Battle of the Labyrinth

With penultimate volume of the Olympian saga, author Rick Riordan ramps up the suspense and action, as Percy Jackson and his friends must battle more Greek monsters, meet more plot twists and prepare for what is bound to be the ultimate battle between the half-bloods and the Gods.

With Battle of the Labyrinth, Riordan continues to re-create the old Greek myths with clever, modern turns. This novel mostly focuses on Daedalus, the famed inventor who created the Labyrinth that housed the Minotaur (that Percy battled in The Lightening Thief) and who’s son Icarus, flew too close to the sun. The story is also about seeking absolution for past sins and understanding how, and why the world works the way its does. Labyrinth also continues the theme of betrayal and the cost of power with friendships.

Now on to the finale.