Posts Tagged ‘gamestop’

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Sly Waters & The Thievius Justinius (Updated)

November 23, 2015

sly shirt pic

Author’s Note: With the holiday season coming up, I’d like to kindly remind you to spend your video game shopping dollars anywhere besides Gamestop.  They are an evil, soulless corporation that doesn’t care about their employees, their customers or their stockholders.  I strongly recommend Oogie Games.  They’re local, they’re friendly and they’re competitively priced.  I thought I’d kick the holiday shopping season off with a little ditty about my time at Electronics Boutique from my third book First Person, Last Straw (2004, Authorhouse).  Enjoy!

I fear for the future of our country. I’m horrified of the children of tomorrow. They are barely literate simpletons with attention deficit disorder and poor social skills. Easily excitable and incapable of focusing on any one thing for more than five minutes. I worry about where their attention span will go (or how far out the window it will go) by the time they’ve reached my age. Lord knows mine is shot, but I used to be sharp. It happens some time during your reluctant box step into adulthood. You’re sitting at a traffic light dwelling on credit cards, romance, or a sitcom from the night before and bubbling up from your subconscious you think, “I believe I’ll have a grilled cheese sandwich today”. I’m father to a million children, and they are all addle-brained simpletons lacking in manners. I know because I’ve worked at a video game store for a year now, and it breaks my heart.

It’s not just a freak occurrence or a problem with the local water. One of my saner customers told me that he’d traveled far and wide and ran into the same character no matter what gaming store he’d been to. The most annoying scamps who won’t take a hint. Kids from 6-17 who come into the shop wide-eyed and making a mess in their pants over the fantasy land laid out before them. To them it’s a paradise filled with a million delights. Portly plumbers leaping through the air in raccoon suits, robots blasting the hell out of each other, cars running down hookers; a total sensory overload. And with no cue of body language or encouragement on my part, they shamble up to the counter and start speaking in tongues.

They relate every gaming experience they’ve ever had, rich with adjectives and spittle. Games that are coming out. Games out that they haven’t yet played. I despise these demon seeds. They don’t go away. They don’t take a hint. Shit tumbles out of their mouth whether you listen or not. I walk away from them, turn my back to them, flat out ignore them, snap at them, and they don’t notice. They go on uninterrupted, neurons popping off in their tiny little brains like stove top popcorn. And I hate them. I stop talking to them to concentrate on my work and they continue. I’ve learned that there’s more to life than the conquests and victories you’ve achieved inside of a television. One day I hope that they will too, and piss off somewhere else.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. Right now, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be, but in the words of Randall in “Clerks”, ‘This job would be great if it weren’t for the fucking customers’. There’s a lot of things that the corporation neglected to tell me during the interview. Before this, I had a cushy office job with a security company. They installed and serviced home alarm systems. It was 9-5, Monday through Friday. I had my own office, my own desk, and I learned to drink coffee and talk on the phone a lot. I handled the bad psychic end of the business, fielding customer complaints and cancellations across Western New York. I was the company punching bag. A lot of people would consider it the perfect job, but not me. I’m not cut out for 9-5. I really mean that. I’m terrible with free time. I’d been courting Electronics Boutique for a year and a half. I was a loyal follower. I hope I wasn’t as annoying as the bastard children of Ms.Pac Man, but I can’t be sure.

They started me off at a new store in Niagara Falls. I’ve worked in Orchard Park, Cheektowaga, Clarence, and Amherst. I’ve worked in three different malls. I’ve been in music, toys, security, pizza, books, movies, phones, carpet, and outside sales. I’ve never been to Niagara Falls. The people who live in Niagara Falls are a delicious blend of crazy and poor. I don’t know if they’re crazy because they’re poor or poor because they’re crazy, but it makes for an interesting mix. Every five feet there’s a hotel, motel, outlet store or buffet. The traffic is like nothing I’ve ever seen. People drive eighty five miles an hour in all speed zones and come to a screeching halt before turning into a plaza. It’s my theory that five people live in Niagara Falls and the other motorists are zipping into and out of town to get the hell somewhere else. I don’t blame them.

The second day I closed at the new store, someone wandered by outside asking us if we wanted to buy razor blades. The musky smell of poverty is thicker than the trash that rolled onto our lawn outside from the motel next door. This is when the job was still a dream come true. The manager who hired me got pregnant and moved to Florida to be with her family two weeks after the store opened, leaving me clueless, confused, and without an authority figure to report to. I’m an assistant manager by the way. Curt, the gentleman who took over, was a welcome relief. Curt was a soft spoken, semi-balding guy in his ’30s who did DJ work on the side. We both loved redheads, salt and vinegar potato chips and sarcastic wit. We made a good team. He came over from the downtown Buffalo store where I trained, so we already had a good rapport.

The first three months were like paradise. I love video games. I’ve been playing them since I was 6 and it’s been a constant hobby. It was like a dream to walk in every morning and have the store to myself, turning on the demonstration units and processing mountains of interesting titles I’d never played along with old classics that reminded me of simpler times in the industry. The business has grown up a lot in the last thirty years. It’s exploded. To think that we’ve gone from quarter-operated Pong units making millions in bars overnight to a multi-billion dollar a year market with 20 Playstation 2 units worldwide and Super Mario representing the 2nd most recognizable icon next to Mickey Mouse is amazing. To be a part of that machine is pretty interesting. It’s evolving at the speed of light, and it’s probably only a matter of time before 3 dimensions give way to 4 in the console market, and the next big game is a bigger deal than the next movie sequel. In a world full of stale ideas, all the fresh ones are arriving via polygons, cel-shading and bump-mapped Xanadus. But there’s more to life than games. And forty hours a week inside of a peripheral hobby can be trying.

Nobody in retail enjoys the holiday season and if they tell you that, they’re lying. After Thanksgiving, the flood gates open and torrents of vicious, greedy, obnoxious customers issue forth breaking against your point of sale like a sea of assholes. They all want personal attention, the lowest price in five states, and to take out all their seasonally related stress out on you. You see the worst of people during Christmas season in retail. Short tempered, short-changed, and short-sighted, they push your limits to the breaking point. Mantras of interpersonal wisdom like ‘The customer is always right.’ and ‘Treat every customer like your only customer.’ wear thin by December 24th. In my business, it is a war, and we’re on the front lines with no reinforcements arriving.

Following the wave of grandparents and parents seeking the object of their children’s affection are the children themselves. This job has made me hate kids. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate all kids, just other people’s kids. Watching them scurry around for twelve months unattended and neglected, I think it would be more humanitarian for me if their makers put them in a cage before they left the house. I babysat for years when I was younger. I worked at Toy’s ‘R’ Us later on and still managed to tune annoying rugrats out. As of today, my paternal instinct is gone. Snip the rip cords and stomp on my balls because I don’t want any children if they’re going to grow up like the ones I’ve seen. Crying, whining, simpering little shits who are given every comfort under the sun to shut them up. Ill-behaved adolescents who haven’t been raised to say please and thank you or keep from wigging out in public. They’re like a cloud of Tasmanian devils, swirling through the front door and leaving a path of destruction in their wake for us to clean up and arrange so that the next half-witted offspring can trash it all over again. We go to great pains to alphabetize everything for easy reference and parents feign ignorance and focus on something else while their demon spawn rearrange whole sections into a case study in entropy. Poor people should incinerate their eggs and buy pets. Stupid people are better off taking a bullet for humanity and pulling out during sex. If that’s too blunt, walk a mile around one of the stores I’ve worked at.

In January, I was asked to take over the store in downtown Buffalo. They’d been robbed at gunpoint. One of the managers was robbed making a deposit. Before they put a security gate in, someone drove through the front window. The store opened on September 11th, 2001. If it was built over a sacred Indian burial ground, I wouldn’t be surprised. Ever the corporate whore, I declined the promotion but agreed to transfer over and help pick up the pieces. Nobody else in the district wanted a piece of this location, so it was worth beucoups brownie points.

Instead of me, they gave the store to Tony, my current boss. Tony worked at the store and had a knack for not taking shit from the customers. If someone threatened to kick his ass (which happens pretty often at the store, to all of us), he’d agree to take it outside and show them his black belt degree. We’re roughly the same age, and, while we don’t have much in common, we’ve worked well together. We took a store that was on the brink of disaster, cleaned it up, and ran it like professionals. Why the past tense? Because I’m leaving in a few months. I’m getting my own store. And it’s a relief, because the downtown location is a living nightmare, every day.

In Buffalo (not the concept of Buffalo in the whole Western New York togetherness sense of the word, but the city of Buffalo itself), there are good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods, invariably right next to each other. There are sections that you just don’t drive through, get near, or talk about. The city itself is a dying metropolis with no jobs that’s driving its residents slowly mad. It’s a poor, run-down, depressed city. And like a rain gutter, all the trash runs downhill. So where do they go to buy their games? My store. We’re at the epicenter of the city bus route. We’re the heart of the city, located near a Target and a score of other discount stores for the financially impaired. Give me your poor, your tired, your white, black, and hispanic trash. Give me your humble bottom feeders and generations living off of the system.

The first of the month is like a holiday in our store. It creeps up on us and one day, you come into work wondering why it’s so busy for a Tuesday or a Wednesday and it hits you. Oh shit, it’s the first of the month again! But of course! People come tearing into the store throwing money around like George Soros, frittering away their allowance from Uncle Sam. These are the same people who trade their games in at the end of the month, or try to scam us and get their cash back so that they can pay the rent because they blew all their money on the first of the month. Don’t get me wrong, though, we get a lot of people who blow their Social Security Disability checks, too. Crazy people deserve our tax dollars, too, don’t they? Why get a job when you can get a prescription and sit on your ass at home playing video games and talking to your other personalities?

The bottom of the financial ladder contains every stereotype you can fathom. I’m not a prejudiced person, but working at my store has really strained that viewpoint. The majority of the black people who come in to shop smell like they rolled around in a marijuana sauna, or they reek of cheap gin and beer. At eleven o’clock in the morning. Some of the black guys who come in pay for their games by peeling a few twenties from a wad held together with a rubber band, and they don’t look like business analysts. I’ve never seen a hispanic person come in alone. They always seem to roll up in a beat-up, rust-eaten conversion van and pile out of the vehicle family reunion style, in packs of thirty seven. Like a hive mentality, they’ll rip the store to shreds in fifteen minutes and leave having spent ten dollars. The white trash is no better. Three hundred pound mothers with three teeth, hair that doesn’t look like it was washed this side of the century, and a white t-shirt with more stains than rolls of fat smack their ill-behaved kids off the walls when they whine for games. I saw an Italian mom put her twelve year old boy in a half nelson this summer and slam him against the hood of her car because he was throwing a tantrum. It’s pretty disheartening stuff. This must be what talk show audiences do with their free time.

And it turned out that the one black guy we had on our staff was behind the store robbery. That was a real blow to the team morale. Not only did he rob our store, he robbed two other stores within the company and the deposit mugging happened a month after he got hired. Our sewage system has backed up and flooded the back room with shit three times since I got there. So it’s no wonder that the other stores think of us as the hemorrhoid of the region. The first manager who took the store was led out in handcuffs for stealing (along with the rest of the staff) and the second manager up and quit because he was too pissed off with the clientele. My boss and I have made a go of it longer than any other management team since the store opened. What’s our secret? We’ve been through a lot.

Management is a case study in stress and tolerance. How much can you take before you flip out and start breaking things? I smoke a lot of cigarettes. That takes the edge off a bit for me. When I have an absolutely horrific day at work where my face is beet-red and I want to scream against the back of my hand, I go home and sit down in front of the t.v. with a stiff belt of whiskey or bourbon. Not the healthiest way to cope. Plus I’ve got a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m paid very well right now, and when I leave and get my own store I’m certain to get more. Playing career leap-frog is exhausting, and I’m sick of starting over and working my way up through the ranks. It’s a great company with a lot of perks. Health, dental, 401K, employee discount, and lots of freebies. You could fill a closet with all the promotional t-shirts the game companies give out. The majority of them come in black and extra large. The companies assume that most gamers are overweight and like to hide it. They’re right. We’ve got a lot of lofty sales goals and expectations, but I’m not worried about them. We’re a great team that’s been through a lot and whatever doesn’t kill you gets you through another day at our store. Or rather, if you get killed, you can start again from a save point.

Tom ‘Power Up’ Waters

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Newsletter Feed: One Bigass Sit. Rep! Two new podcasts, two new articles and a whole bunch of other stuff!

November 7, 2008
Whew!
 
    You’d think that being jobless would resemble some manner of paradise involving sitting on my ass, eating government cheese and doing absolutely nothing, right?  Wrong.  In the last month, I’ve put more time into my career (writing) now that I don’t have gainful employment than ever before.  I can honestly say that I’m going through one of those quantum leaps marketing-wise.  The kind I haven’t enjoyed since way back in 2001.  Most of my days have been spent schmoozing on the phone until the battery dies out on my portable, writing any number of different personal projects and assignments, blogging and working on my sites as well as those of others, and spending what little time is left in the evening taking care of things around the house and spending time with my wife while shoehorning research into other side projects. 
    Yesterday alone, I got up at eight in the morning, got a good running start at life and didn’t stop until around midnight.  Aside from a ten minute nap, I didn’t stop.  When I get a full-time job, it’s going to be a bit of a relief, because I’ll have the sort of structure again where I can allow myself to rest once in a while.  Even after getting a molar pulled last week and suffering from related migraines, I felt guilty taking a portion of two days in the last seven to relax and recuperate.  With as many hours in the day as I have at my disposal, I still feel as if there isn’t enough time to accomplish everything I’ve been setting out to do. 
    Bret Easton Ellis told me during our interview a few years back that he treated writing like a job, ‘clocking in’ at 9 a.m., breaking for lunch and then banging out of work around 5 p.m.  I wish I could stop that early.  While tiring, I realize how crucial the time I’ve been given is.  I’ve decided that I’ll be taking this holiday season away from the horrific nightmare that is retail to actually enjoy spending time with my family (new and old) for the first time in 16 years in addition to working on the multitude of projects that are currently under construction or already in progress.  As you may or may not know, the next two essay collections (Slapstick & Superego as well as Merry Prankster) are complete.  I haven’t penned a shred of new poetry for two weeks, but Poke The Scorpion With A Sharp Stick (the next poetry collection) is well over 140 pages without even including the freaky 50 page project I worked on in July (‘Rock/Pop Goes The Weasel’).  And then there are the freelancing assignments….
    My beloved editor at Gusto (Brian Connelly) is apparently moving me up to the big leagues in terms of freelancing and I couldn’t be more grateful.  In addition to the Club Watch bar reviews, he’ll be phasing me into their ‘Tell Me’ section at the very FRONT of Gusto (page two after the front page), conducting interviews with artists, writers and musicians on the cusp of making their big break inside as well as outside of Buffalo.  In regards to that, I’m going to humbly request that if any of you know of an artist (preferably a musician or band) with an upcoming gig in November or December who doesn’t have a firmly established fan base and deserves a wider audience, please email me at once with biographical as well as contact information.  My musical tastes tend to run about twenty or thirty years behind, so I’m woefully ignorant where current up-and-comers are concerned. 
    ArtVoice has also given me the green light on one of two projects I hatched during the idea-storm I was besieged with on my honeymoon at Silvercreek in early October.  With Thanksgiving fast approaching, I’ll be writing a piece about the hot spots to hit on the day before Thanksgiving, which happens to be the biggest party night of the year, eclipsing even New Year’s Eve and/or St. Patrick’s Day.  Again, if you happen to be ‘in the know’ on a bar, club or pub that blows the doors off business wise before the turkey hits the table, drop me a line.  My deadline window is one week, and I NEVER miss deadline.  It’s one of the qualities that’s reinforced my reputation as a serious writer in Buffalo and I’m certainly not going to call that into question now. 
    Yesterday, I had the pleasure and privelage (sp?) of recording an hour long show plus with my podcasting hero Uncle Hal from the Pissed Off World Of Uncle Hal show.  He was my first choice after being offered my own show at Think Twice and with zero notes, bullet points or questions, we managed to fill 70 minutes worth of the most offensive, irreverent comedy imaginable.  If Hal didn’t have an appointment, I seriously would have gone for two hour-long shows in a row.  I raced Episode XV out as soon as I could and my producer Richard Wicka at Think Twice uploaded it at once.  I strongly encourage you to listen at once over at:
 
http://www.thinktwiceradio.com/tom-waters/tom-waters.html
 
    I had some issues finding the new episode with more luck refreshing on Internet Explorer, so if you don’t see Episode XV (and the subsequent ‘Bonus Round’), click Refresh and cross your fingers.  I’m not sure if the site is experiencing technical difficulties, but I’ll be getting to the bottom of it over the weekend.
    In addition to the Big Words One Man Mobile Unit, the Monsters Of Verse are full steam ahead.  I returned to Clarence High School on Tuesday to teach my first workshop on the mechanics of poetry as well as writing in general to Ms. Foster’s Poetry Club while recording the event.  That episode (#3, for those keeping track) can be heard over at:
 
http://www.thinktwiceradio.com/monsters/monsters.html
    
    Once again, I experienced issues finding the newest episode of each show on AOL, so if you have Internet Explorer, you’re better off visiting the site from there. 
    And last night, the Monsters Of Verse launched their second official reading at Talking Leaves on Main St. in Amherst.  JR Finlayson, Carrie Gardner and myself kicked off the evening in alphabetical order with fifteen minute sets of amusing, insightful and philosophical poems that the crowd really seemed to respond well to.  Due to a small snafu regarding our start time (I forgot that we started at 6 p.m. instead of 7), we read for an additional forty minutes for the sake of entertaining those who showed at or shortly after 7 o’clock.  Twenty minutes of the second set were lost from the digital recorder, so if you weren’t there, you won’t get to hear it once the non-stop rock block of genius goes up online.  Depending on where my day (and my weekend) take me, Episode IV of the Monsters Of Verse should be up on the web by Sunday afternoon at the latest.  I’ll shoot you all an email when I’m positive that it’s up. 
    I’ve had a lot of time to think in the last four weeks.  One of the things I was turning around in my head yesterday was just how…overjoyed I am to have two like-minded creative maniacs to tour Buffalo and beyond with for the next six months.  With Jeff Finlayson and Carrie Gardner on deck, I honestly couldn’t ask for two other people I’d rather be out and about reading with.  Aside from sustaining, supporting and inspiring each other, they remain my dear friends and I’m not so much surprised with how well our collective dynamic is growing and improving so much as I’m pleased with the results.  Maybe we’ll hate each other come the beginning of May, but I doubt it.  Their talent, professionalism and their knockout prognostication skills continue to sustain and inform my burgeoning poetry skills.  At the risk of getting gooey, thank you, Jeff and Carrie.  Our events (and this project) are a feather in our cap that I’m very, very proud of.  I realize that putting up with my thousand event-related emails, phone calls and frequent tantrums is far from fun to deal with (just ask my wife), and your respective patience and professionalism is slowly molding me into a better team player.  You two are the best.
    Our next stop on the quest for global spoken word domination hits next Thursday (the 13th) at Spot Coffee on Delaware and Chippewa from 7-9 p.m.  Three days later, we’ll be at my favorite bar, Desiderio’s on Broadway on Sunday the 16th at 7 p.m. with special musical guest Shaky Stage.  Attendance so far has been admirable, but where the hell have you guys been?  Carrie has brought the majority of our audience and I’m embarrassed to say that most of the Big Words army have been missing in action.  PLEASE make the time to show your face for one (if not both) of the next two events.  I’m disappointed in the total lack of support in terms of these promotions where you’re all concerned, and it would be nice to see some if not all of you out during this new experiment in our collective creative careers.  While I realize that our performances are not at the top of your list, you’re missing out.  We’ve had a great big barrel of fun so far and it’s only going to get better as we continue to sharpen our skill set on the road.  Forget everything you know about poetry and give us a try.  I promise that we won’t let you down, and the after-parties thus far have been phenomenal.  I’ll leave it at that.
    And, on a final note, two new articles popped up online this week.  This month’s issue of Acid Logic is rolling out hot at 15 mph with ‘Sawed Off Sam Walton’, a strangely topical essay about spending half of my life in the hell known as retail.  Read all about it over at:
 
http://www.acidlogic.com/retail_sucks.htm
 
    And after a month long unintentional hiatus from comic book reviews, I put my nose back to the grind and started pumping a few new graphic novel critiques and sending them off to my new editor at Comics Bulletin.  You can catch them every Wednesday on www.comicsbulletin.com.  Top Shelf Comics has been kind enough to send me more than my share of advance copies, review copies and entire libraries for research purposes having to do with the radio show, and one of the books they sent me stood head and shoulders above anything I’ve read this year.  Despite what you might think, I actually do read comics that don’t have Batman in the title.  This previous Wednesday, I gave Nate Powell’s Swallow Me Whole the credit it truly deserved.  Check that review out over at:
 
http://www.comicsbulletin.com/reviews/
 
    You may have to scroll down a tad as my show-notes inform me that it is no longer Wednesday and there isn’t a direct link to each review.  Since the Swallow Me Whole review, I’ve been hard at work building up a stockpile of other new reviews so that there aren’t any gaps on that site.  I’m neurotic about taking advantage of each and every site and publication I write for and I hate to be tardy to the party with any of them unless it’s absolutely unavoidable.  Writing comic reviews is a labor of love and it doesn’t even feel like work to fire off 5 or 600 words about every book I shovel into my brain.  Excelsior!
    That should be all the news that’s fit to print for the time being.  Thanks are in order to: JR Finlayson, Carrie Gardner, Richard Wicka, Greg Sterlace (farewell and good luck, new friend!), Jonathan at Talking Leaves, Josh Smith, Uncle Hal, Wil Forbis, Thom Young and last but not least, my wife.  Lindsay has had to endure hell and back and back around again in the last four months.  This wrongful termination from Gamestop was another curveball that we didn’t deserve or anticipate.  She’s a real trooper, and without her love, support and reliability, I’d be well past the point of sanity by now.  I love you, chipmunk! 
    Oof.  One final word.  Now that Hal has popped onto my show, I’ll be doing a walk-on over on his.  We’ll be recording Episode 61 (or is it 62?) next week and you know I’ll give you the head’s up once it’s online.  The two of us are the politically correct equivalent of a keg full of dynamite strapped to a minivan doused in nitroglycerin whenever we get near a microphone.  The Big Words episode was brutal, but now that we’re back in the groove, our show on his site will be worse.  You have been officially warned.  Have a great weekend,

 
Tom Waters
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Monday Big Words Update! Week 101 on stands/CHS Workshop Tomorrow/Talking Leaves THIS Thursday!

November 4, 2008

So…..

The Monsters Of Verse are full steam ahead and this crazy rig isn’t going to let up until at least the beginning of May.  Once the calendar year closes, we’ll be investing a great deal of time and energy into booking additional events, new venues and bigger appearances from February through May.  For now, though, we’ve got plenty to keep our hands full with the events we’ve got and new engagements keep popping up without us even trying!

Moving on, Night Life magazine assaults the Buffalo/Toronto market today with a Big Words edition of ‘Unenjoyment’, a stoical look at how my life would play out after Gamestop wrongfully terminated me so that they could promote a total incompetent racist drug addict into one of their new stores in the Buffalo market.  Scoop up a copy while it’s hot!  If you were on the free newsletter list (which you can subscribe to by emailing bigwordsmailbag@yahoo.com with ‘subscribe’ in the subject heading), you got to see it first over three weeks ago.  If not, now’s your chance to read it in Night Life.  With 70,000 copies rolling off the presses every single week all over the Greater Buffalo/Niagara area, there are plenty of bars, restaurants and pizzerias where you can read all about it!

Tomorrow, I’ll be making a return trip to the hallowed halls of Clarence Central High School to teach my first writing workshop to the kids in the Poetry Club, the staff at Chrysalis, the on-site literary magazine (which has grown by leaps and bounds since I graduated in ’93), and a few other stragglers who got the exclusive invite from Ms. Foster and Kevin Starr.  You can hear the entire event some time later this week when it pops up on Think Twice Radio’s Monsters Of Verse site. 

This Thursday, the Monsters Of Verse kick off their second scheduled appearance/reading/signing at Talking Leaves on Main St. (near Bailey) at 6 p.m.   Jonathan (the owner proprietor of both locations) has been extremely supportive and helpful with all of my books for the last seven years, so bringing the crew out for another hoorah was a no brainer.  You can check out his listing/brief synopsis of the book over on Talking Leaves’ official site at:

http://www.tleavesbooks.com/watersplus.htm

Jr Finlayson, Carrie Gardner and myself will be reading selections from our newest poetry collections in fifteen minute blocks (so we have time to schmooze/hawk some books before the store closes at 8 pm sharp).  I don’t like to hold up employees at the locations where we have events scheduled near close, so please show up on time, bring plenty of friends (and cold hard cash!) and feel free to join us out afterwards!

I also pounded out two new graphic novel reviews for my editor Thom Young over at www.comicsbulletin.com.  One of the two should be going up this Wednesday, when they premiere their graphic novel reviews on the site.  I’ve been pretty negligent with them lately and I get neurotic when I’m not taking full advantage of every media stream I’m plugged into, so I’ll be focusing my creative efforts (with what diminishing free time I have) on getting a few more reviews backlogged for Mr. Young.

I’m not sure if there will be a new Big Words One Man Mobile Unit episodes this week, but we’ll see what happens.  This week is pretty hectic and I’m still reeling from my molar extraction.  I feel guilty for loafing even for a day or two, but some bed/couch rest wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.  We’ll see what happens.  If Uncle Hal stiffs again (which is becoming an increasingly more common occurance lately), maybe I’ll set something up on Wednesday with somebody else. 

And DON’T FORGET TO VOTE MCCAIN/PALIN ON ELECTION DAY, Tuesday, November 4th!  The Republican party needs all the support we can muster, so make the time, hit the polls and make your voice heard!  Our nations economy and global stance for the next four years depend upon it.  Don’t let the Spendocrats win this one, even if our last contender turned into a bumbling moron.  Who knows, maybe W. can find gainful seasonal employment with the soulless jackasses currently running Gamestop into the ground?  He’s got half a brain, and that appears to be qualification enough lately….

Have a great week and see you out, about and in print in Buffalo!

Vote Republican!,

Tom Waters

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Viva Las Thomas!

October 24, 2008

 

Viva Las Thomas!-a vegas travelog

Sunday

 

8:05 AM. Departing into Chicago we dove through a cloud cover and it was like going head first through a field of white cotton candy. The sun was coming up over the clouds and we had a sea of city lights greeting us in Chicago. After deboarding, Colleen and I take a labyrinthine route outside to find a designated smoking area. After chaining three cigarettes, Colleen has to surrender her lighter going back through customs. We hop onto our second plane (Ted), which is a lot bigger. We gained two hours and the passengers are starting to wake up.

8ish? We hit some residual turbulence compliments of the blowback from Hurricane Rita and things get a little scary for a few minutes. The two managers in front of me raise their hands up like we’re hitting the dip of a rollercoaster. Things start to settle down outside of the plane so they start up the in-flight movie. It’d be impossible for the plane to go down because if the last thing I saw before dying was a Jennifer Lopez movie, there would be no god.

6 PM-Vegas Time: A busy day and we’ve still got five hours to go. We arrived in Vegas at 10 AM after a 4 hour flight and got shuttled to the Mandalay Bay Casino, a gold leviathan a stone’s throw from the Luxor, a black glass pyramid casino with a pharaoh up front. I feel like a lemming. We move in a convention wave over to registration, then in a wave to the elevators and another surge to our gorgeous suite on the 17th floor overlooking the annexed second half of the casino. Curt (my room-mate) and I settle in and unpack. Then we’re off like a shot to meet up with Chris, Stephanie and Colleen to find food since we haven’t eaten all day.

Instead of hitting an over-priced restaurant inside the casino we strike out for food on the strip and end up getting Chinese food at the Panda Buffet. Since all our lighters were confiscated going through various customs checkpoints, I have to buy a new one from a corner store down the street. That’s when I see a glimmer of the real Vegas. It reminds me of Niagara Falls. A town with the promise of vast riches where poverty and squalor hide around every corner. We’re all exhausted and really fucking sick of walking. After registering for the company and getting our appropriate itineraries and identification, Curt and I sack out for an hour before the first meeting. We’ve been up and on the run for thirteen hours.

I never expected to grow up to become a guy who attends company conventions. Flash forward to 6 PM and we’re sitting down to the opening company fanfare Mced by our former boss. As I expected, it feels like a Nazi rally. One hive mind hooting and catcalling to the service of the company brain. Make no mistake, I love my job. But it’s unnerving to hear thousands of my peers in the same room howling for blood. I finally cash in some free drink vouchers and we settle down to a dinner of filet mignon as well as chicken. I have two plates. Microsoft give the keynote speech for the evening and it’s all about the Xbox 360. Some Playstation fan boys won’t shut the hell up behind us and Curt’s getting upset. If this weren’t a company situation, I’d turn around and shut their lights out, but I behave myself. I firmly believe that if people had the money to buy all three game consoles (like yours truly), they wouldn’t hold on so firmly to the notion that their system is the best. That, and the 360 looks like it’s going to be unbelievably sweet.

10 PM. The first meeting is down and Curt and I decide to dump off our complimentary gifts and pop back out for a quick drink. We’re practically sleep walking but I don’t want to miss a trick. And speaking of, there are a score of hookers walking the casino floor. I’ve seen more implants in one day in Vegas than a lifetime of men’s magazines. The town is just starting to wake up. The casino is jammed with a flurry of activity. We walk around for a bit and then cash in some drink vouchers at the China Grill, an upscale lounge far away from the gambling areas. For forty bucks, I get a vat of Kentucky bourbon, a bottle of bad light beer and a Vodka and Cranberry for Curt. There are three older blondes drinking at the bar next to us, but Curt’s got no fight left in him. After an hour of light conversation, we shuffle back to our room and crash and burn.

Monday5:30 AM. Lindsay calls at five in the goddamned morning (8 o’clock Buffalo time before she leaves for work) and Curt picks up. After a shower and a shave, we head back to the conference hall for breakfast. A few managers have already been ‘relieved of duty’ for public drunkenness and other assorted nasty behavior, so there are a few empty seats. There are a lot of hungover, strung-out faces in the crowd. Some managers were very bad.

11 AM. A series of half hour vendor programs. Individual video game publishers, developers and designers hammer home the notion that they’re the greatest company in the world through a series of game trailers, voiced over goofy live action segments and pep rally rabble rousing. We take a fifteen minute break and the complimentary regular Pepsi is gone within seconds. Plans are discussed for drinks and gambling once we’re free tonight.

5 PM. A long day in back to back meetings. By four in the afternoon, all of us are punchy, over-caffeinated and running on empty. If I drink anymore coffee, I’m going to start shitting coffee beans. The presenters for the vendors start bleeding together. If I see another promo for a World War 2 first person shooter I’m going to start screaming. There are a million World War 2 first person shooters coming out this year, just as they have every year for the past five years and I’m no longer interested in the medium. If it weren’t for war veterans and young kids who love to blow shit up over and over again without any new tricks of any kind, there wouldn’t be World War 2 shooters anymore, or at least there wouldn’t be such an avalanche of them. I wish the genre, much like Mario, would go away for a long time so that the industry wasn’t so inundated with them.

The presenters for the vendors start to run together. They seem like the sort of people who should be selling time shares and steak knives. And the abundance of free fluids is killing me; water, coffee, juice, soda and tea. I’ve gotta piss like a race horse and there are no breaks to speak of for four hours. If I don’t piss soon, I’ll need dialysis for the next day of meetings. Things wrap up by 6:30. Curt and I collapse and try to get a quick nap in before we head out for some night life, but the phone keeps ringing with people wondering why we aren’t out yet.

8:15 PM. Back downstairs to the hospitality suites sponsored by the vendors. Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, Activision, Lucas Arts, Vivendi, Ubisoft, Rockstar, Take Two and a number of smaller fish. This is all voluntary, and there are more endless lines at the bar for free beer and there are no prizes or gifts being given away as I’m told they have in the past. There are ten rooms with rows of screens, playable versions of games coming out four months from now, and thumping techno music. I’m in no mood to wait, so we hook up with Jeff and head to the buffet on the casino floor. All I want at this point is a few stiff drinks and a long, dark, dead sleep. They don’t serve any alcohol at the buffet, so I get a water and start getting really steamed because it’s taking all my friends forever to figure out what they want to do.

10 PM. Nobody can decide where to go or what to do so I lone wolf it and hit the Island Lounge in the middle of the casino floor. I have a double of Maker’s Mark and a Bud Light and get down to it. A trio of blonde soccer moms sit down next to me and I mind my own business. After another beer I head back to the elevators and get onto the wrong one. I find my way on the right one and crash out by eleven.

Tuesday6:30 AM. A lot of tired faces at breakfast. Some of the managers just went to sleep three hours ago or haven’t slept at all. The meetings go until 7:30 at night today, so we’ll be schmoozing and processing company propaganda for twelve straight hours.

9 PM. A thirteen hour work day. The morning is filled with seminars on basic work business. More coffee, more soda, then lunch, where some girl has a seizure and has to be taken out on a stretcher. Another manager is out for the afternoon with ‘food poisoning’. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the drinks he had the night before. For the afternoon, we have a massive vendor show, where we’re all sardined in to visit booths in sections. 1,000 greedy, smelly, sweaty, wheezing game geeks posing as managers elbow to elbow in a single file racing past each sponsor for two minute snippets. Booth babes, free games, t shirts and key chains.

By five thirty we’re ready to drop again and during the stretches of un-marked time some of the managers are cutting out and hitting the bars already. Seven thirty and we’re set free. Curt and I pop back to our hotel room for a bath, a nap and a phone call to the little woman. We head out for dinner with our complimentary vouchers. Turns out everyone in the company is cashing theirs in at the ten or eleven clubs that accept them. Jeff, Curt and I are tired of trying to find other places with available seating and settle for eating at the bar in the Red, White & Blue, one of those homogenized restaurants with American food that caters to everyone and offends no one. I order two beers and a mushroom cheeseburger that I douse in condiments.

The restaurant is packed with conventioneers acting like frat boys or kids on a high school band trip. Grab assing, hooting, hollering and getting outlandishly drunk. I’m glad I’m sitting at the bar away from it all. This is our last night in Vegas and I’ve barely left the Mandalay Resort and Hotel or done any sight seeing, unless you count my excursion to the Panda Express. There just isn’t enough time to be a sturdy, attentive employee and party our balls off at the same time. I’ve taken all of five pictures and shot ten minutes of casino footage with my camcorder. I haven’t even gambled yet, for chrissakes.

11 PM. We finally get around to doing Vegas right. I wash my burger down with an eighteen dollar double of single malt Jack Daniels with one of the veteran managers that’s so smooth I could gargle with it every morning. Then I wash that down with a few more beers. The Rochester rookies send over a double of 151 as a formal ‘go fuck yourself’ for my dominating numbers in the district rankings. I don’t touch rum and the double of Jack is hitting me something fierce. I send Mike back to my Rochester counterpart with a gherkin. The whole table laughs. Then I walk over to apologize for the green dick joke and drop another pickle on the guy’s dinner plate that I palmed in my hand.

Five or six of us buddy up and I finally get down to some gambling. I lose a whopping four dollars on the one armed bandits. More beers are had weaving and wandering from one end to the other on the casino floor. Then we elbow our way into the House of Blues, where they’ve got four dollar beers and Karaoke with a backing band. There are a ton of company guys blasted off their ass and looking to hook up. It’s wall to wall. I run off to use the bathrooms and one of the managers is in there talking about what he’s not going to tell his wife when he gets back. A parade of shots go by and things get crazy. Adam, one of the guys from Rochester, has been going on two hours of sleep all week and looks it. Curt and I call it a night and discover that it’s 1 AM. We’re getting up in five hours and I haven’t been outside casino property for three days. All this fluorescent lighting is messing with my head because everything looks exactly the same when I get up in the morning as it did the night before.

Wednesday

6 AM. The last day of the convention. I can’t wait to go home, but I don’t want to leave, either. It takes me a few minutes to shake the cobwebs out of my brain and pack, as we have to be out of our rooms by the time we leave for breakfast and on the go for the rest of the day. We meet up at the main conference room for breakfast and there are a lot of empty tables, as a good portion of the managers went for broke the night before partying and gambling. We have a series of meetings on the upcoming holiday season and my brain is fried. I’m five steps beyond running on empty and the coffee isn’t making a dent. I’m focusing on trying to stay awake and retain some sort of information at this point. We wrap up at around one o’clock and meet up one last time for lunch, which consists of hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken fingers.

Maybe it’s the sleep dep or maybe it’s a case of Stockholm syndrome, but I start to get really emotional about the whole week. They have a motivational speaker who talks about bringing your A game every time to everything you do, and maintaining the level of excitement for our jobs that we all had during the week. They run a video with clips of our time covering the last four days and I get a little choked up. It’s strange how you can work amongst your peers but have an entirely different experience with them in such a short amount of time. I feel a lot closer to my other managers as a result. By three o’clock, we wrap up and go our separate ways. It’s time to get down to some gambling. I haven’t put a penny in the machines or on the tables, and I don’t want to miss out, so I drop a few bucks in the quarter slots and hit sixty dollars. After going to the Fallsview Casinos in February, I decide to follow some of my own ‘best practices’ and people watch for consistent losers on the machines and dive on the one arm bandit’s the second they get up and go somewhere else. The system is working. Curt is plunked down on a Star Wars nickel slot, so I stop back to let him know where I’m at in the forest of blinking lights, clicking handles and bells and buzzers.

This is when I really start to see the soul of Vegas. Old people with VIP cards chained to their wrists holding down chairs and staving off death. Young gambling addicts tapping their feet psychotically from sleep loss hoping for that rush they get when three icons line up on the screen and they’re rewarded with a surge of cash to recoup what they’ve lost. High rollers who pretend they’re Rat Packers working a con on the blackjack tables. Cocktail waitresses weaving in and out of the throng, outfits showing everything they can get away with by law. It’s glamorous and deceptively expensive, and the pace of gambling is make or break. After two hours, we pry ourselves off the machines and shuffle over to the Rum Jungle to meet up with the rest of our district for a farewell dinner.

I’m practically sleep walking by now, and wonder if I should have a beer at all or if I’ll fall flat on my face if I do. I order a beer anyway and we go to our table for twelve towards the back. They’ve got hundreds of bottles lined up twenty feet high behind the bar and the presentation is pitch perfect. I order a strip steak and a chilled shot of Knob Creek. Jokes are dispensed, insults are volleyed, and we goof on one of our peers by sending him a chocolate birthday cake sculpted to look like an exploding penis. I hit the bathroom and, feeling guilty, tip the attendant five dollars after he hands me some paper towels and makes light conversation. Colleen and I cut out early to hit the casino floor one last time.

I’m up sixty dollars and we follow her system. She swears that you’ve got better odds working the nickel slots with criss-crossing pay outs. It’s not working for me, and I get frustrated. Tony and Joe find us and Curt almost wanders past us. I’m starting to lose money on the system, so I go rogue and leave it up to chance. There are sweepstakes cars strategically planted on the floor and a monstrously large jackpot machine where I hit two identical icons in a row and miss out on the third. I’m back up thirty dollars and Curt wants me to cash out so we don’t miss the shuttle bus. I bet big and lost thirty. All in all, the casino takes me for about sixty bucks, which I can live with.

9 AM. We grab our luggage and line up for the shuttle to the airport. There are a lot of drunken, tired, irritable people catching the red eye home. The exhaust fumes from the bus are killing me, and I’m wishing I filled up my water bottle because I’m dehydrated beyond belief. We hitch a ride to the airport and lug our bags to the tram where we check out and board the plane. It’s filled to capacity, and there’s barely a millimeter of play between my knees and the seat in front of me in the aisle seat I’m stuck with. I can’t fall asleep during the three hour flight because it’s impossible to find a comfortable position and my right hip is locking up from the awkward position I’m trying to get at to nod off. We’re tortured with some horrific coming of age in flight feature presentation about five young girls who share the same pair of jeans. My legs are stretched out in the aisle and passengers keep tripping over or stepping on them. One of the managers ahead of me comments about going home smelling like bad cheese and French fries. We’re all delirious and giggly. Those of us who are awake, at any rate.

Thursday

6 AM (Chicago Time). Home seems so far away when we touch down in Chicago. Colleen doesn’t even want to grab a smoke in the interim so I go it alone and make the hike to the designated smoking area, where a local grifts me for a two dollar donation in exchange for a copy of The Onion. Its six AM Chicago time, and I hit the bottleneck going back through customs. Some businessman huffs and puffs ahead of me going through the metal detector. We get onto the next flight late and it’s a puddle jumper of a plane that holds around forty people. I make jokes with Stu about Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. The view is a lot better below with the smaller plane and we’ve got a queeny flight attendant having a bad day who’s forced to sit in a seat in front of the captain’s quarters and stare ahead because there’s just no room. When I start to nod off we begin our descent into Buffalo. The plane feels like a stone being skipped across a pond going down through the cloud cover and we go down hard onto the pavement.

I could take artistic license and claim that we all hugged goodbye, or high fived and huzzahed as we left in one group, but we went our separate ways and got as far away from the airport as possible. My dad picks Curt and myself up and we find our way home. It feels like eons since I’ve seen my apartment, and I check my email and sack out. I’d been awake for 25 hours straight for the most part. What a long, strange trip it’s been.

Tom Waters

6:15 AM: Flight departure from Buffalo. I love to fly. It’s been five years, and five of us from the convention pile on to the morning trip to a layover in Chicago. There seems to be a lot of Asian people.

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Big Words Radio One Man Mobile Unit Episode XIII: The Intentionally Bald Mike Show!

October 22, 2008
Yo yo yogurt!
 
    Last week, while I was enjoying my voluntary exile on ‘this half-Lake of Rushford’, Intentionally Bald Mike took the prestigious honor of hosting the Intentionally Bald Mike Show on Big Words Radio.  In this ‘reversal of roles’, Mike used his vocal ‘shotty’ to blast both barrels of comedy directly at yours truly.  Dark Knight lines were employed, Guinneii were pounded down in rapid succession, Red Bull was funnelled through our mouths after three hour mini-comas, and local yokels were goofed on within the vicinity. 
 
-Cost of a novelty whoopee cushion, railroad whistle, plastic hand-clapper and portable half-tambourine: $9
-Cost of a twelve pack (bottles) of Guinnei: $12.95
-Cost of gas driving to and from this ‘Hotel of Belfast’: $8
-Cost of restorative and miraculous powers of Red Bull: $4
-Bar tab for one evening with Tom & IBM: $40
-Cost of dry wood for cabin stove in the middle of nowhere: $5
 
-Cost of implicating, insinuating, and infuriating Tom’s former company of employment:
 
Priceless. 
 
Tune in to all the madness and government cheese references by clicking on over at:
 
http://www.thinktwiceradio.com/tom-waters/tom-waters.html
 
Big thanks go out to Intentionally Bald Mike (best host EVER), Richard Wicka’s phenomenal audio work, the Belfast Hotel, and last but not least, Gamestop for providing such great cannon fodder.  Soak it up, kids!
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