The Unhappiest Place on Earth

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If Disney World is the happiest place on earth, then, aside from funeral homes, Home depot would have to be its polar opposite. I’ve never been a big fan of hardware stores, when I was younger because the smell of wood and sawdust gave me headaches, and more recently in life because every time I go to one, I’m reminded of how inadequate I am. The stereotype for males, is that we’re all handy, that we love working on projects around the house or doing yard work, illustrated perfectly and hilariously by Tim Allen’s character in his television show, Home Improvement, but for me, that couldn’t be further from reality. Maybe it’s because I remember mowing the lawn when I was growing up, my stepdad following me around the yard and yelling at me for not doing it good enough, or maybe it’s because I’m completely useless when it comes to reading instructions on how to put things together, like the bookshelves my wife and I bought last year, that she assembled, no thanks to me, but whatever the reason, I find hardware stores and the activities that follow making purchases there, completely dull and uninteresting.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to have the skills to perform handyman work around the house. It would certainly make things a lot easier, especially down the road when I buy a house for my own and can’t depend upon the inadequate apartment maintenance company to come around days or weeks after the request is made to fix or repair whatever the latest problem is. There are outlets in my living room and bedroom that still don’t work a year and a half since we moved in last July, so it would be great to be able to rectify this problem on my own, but again I lack the drive and determination to learn these skills, so I get by plugging to many chords into a single outlet, and hope it doesn’t cause a fire. So far, so good. Anyway, given my disinterest in stores like the Home Depot, it was rather unfortunate that I found myself there earlier this afternoon. It was my wife’s idea, because we needed to get some weather stripping to line the door of our apartment to keep the cold air from rushing in, which feels like an air conditioner tuned on at full blast coming through the cracks in its current state. I would’ve rather taken my chances at freezing to death, but there was my wife and dogs to think about, so I agreed to accompany her to the hardware store, for the sake of survival.

As soon as we walked through the sliding doors into the store, the depression hit me like a giant weight dropped directly into my stomach. If I wasn’t so used to the near crippling weight of depression, I might have assumed the feeling in my stomach was a direct result of the lunch we’d just finished eating at Chili’s, but I knew better. We walked around aimlessly, none of the signs at the tops of the aisles mentioning anything about weather stripping, feeling like we’d been dropped into the middle of the forest on the first day of boy scouts tasked with the mission of having to find our way back to civilization using only the moss growing on the trees and the position of the sun in the sky. After about fifteen minutes of this nonsense, my wife remembered she could look it up online and it would tell her the aisle number, so she did and we were directed to aisle fourteen. I don’t know how people survived before the internet. We found the aisle, but unfortunately they were out of the product that we were looking for. This is solely based on what my wife told me, because honestly I had no idea what specifically we were looking for, and I still don’t.

We walked around the store for twenty or so more minutes, my wife all of a sudden remembering things that we needed, like a drain plug for the bathtub and strong adhesives, like gorilla glue, an aisle we visited on more than one occasion to look at that item. She finally decided on one, for what purpose, I don’t know, but perhaps to shut me up so she could finish her shopping in peace. I followed behind her to the self checkout, realizing with a sigh of relief that at least for the moment, the glue wouldn’t be used on me. As we left the store, not having found what we had originally been looking for, but with something that wasn’t even on the list, I felt that weight being lifted from me as we stepped out into the parking lot and the cold January air hit me in the face. I had survived the unhappiest place on earth, and I couldn’t have been happier.

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Christmas Tree Shopping

IMG_4500With Thanksgiving behind us, we can finally shift our focus to Christmas, my favorite holiday of the year. I know there are some people out there, mom, that have been gearing up for Christmas for weeks now, watching holiday movies, listening to Christmas music, and putting up their tree, but I hold strong to the belief that one should not partake in these sorts of activities until after Thanksgiving, which is why as I drove home from my grandparents house Thursday evening, I felt no shame turning the radio over to 98.9 and letting the festive sounds of the season carry me home. When my wife and I moved from Florida to Memphis, my grandmother gave me her old artificial christmas tree that they no longer used, so last year when it came time to put up the tree, I pulled out the box and started the arduous process of piecing the thing together, trying to decipher the color codes on the ends of the metal branches, unable to distinguish between similar color hues. When I finally got all the branches attached, I realized that we were completely missing the bottom pole of the tree that connects to the stand, which was like half the tree, so we went in a different direction and put up a tabletop tree that we placed on a TV tray in front of our fireplace, at the base of which we put gifts.

A day or so later my mom called and told me that they’d found the missing part of the tree in the garage and subsequently gave it to me a few days later when I went to visit. The tree had already been taken apart by this time, and the thought of having to put it all back together again, when we had a perfectly good mini tree already set up, just seemed like too much trouble, so we decided to stick with the little one for Christmas 2016 and revisit the big tree the following year. Fast forward 365 days and here we are, time to put up the tree again. The big tree my grandmother gave us is still sitting in our storage room, ready to be put together and Christmasize our apartment, but it’s the bottom box, on top of which are stacked other heavy boxes in the storage room, plus I’m like the least handy person I know, so having to put the tree together piece by piece again is something that would very likely suck the Christmas spirit right out of me, so we decided to buy a new tree.

The plan was to go to the store Friday after I got off work to get a tree, which we would then go home and decorate and have that picture perfect Christmas memory. It didn’t actually work out that way. We went to Walmart for the tree plus a couple of other small grocery items, and by the time we had left the store and were back in the car, we had acquired even more items than we’d originally intended to buy, including egg nog and peppermint pretzels, nice additions to our holiday themed night. The only problem is, we completely forgot to get the Christmas tree until we had already left the store and were back out on the road, so the picture perfect Friday night didn’t happen. Saturday morning, just as college football was about to kick off, my wife suggested we make another attempt at getting the tree, so I left the comfort of my couch to go to the circus that is Walmart on a Saturday. In the garden center we looked around at the artificial trees for a couple of minutes. There were quite a few to choose from, but given the fact that we didn’t want to have to open a Walmart credit card to buy a Christmas tree, our options were narrowed dramatically. We looked at a twenty dollar tree, which other than the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, was the saddest I’d ever seen. There were so few branches that you could clearly see right through it to the other side. Depression is already a problem around the holidays, so we didn’t need a tree staring us in the face all season making me feel worse than I already do, so we quickly moved on from that one.

The one we settled on was a six and a half foot Jackson something or other, much larger than the one we had last year and much easier to put together than the one from my grandmother, with all of the branches already attached. The tag on the tree said T21 so we walked over to the shelves where all of the trees were boxed and began searching for that number, to no avail. There were T19’s, and T22’s, which were exactly like the T21’s except they were white instead of green, which we didn’t want, so we kept looking. An employee actually came over and asked if he could help us find anything, a first in all my years of Walmart shopping, and he went to another place to look but couldn’t find the tree we were looking fore either, so it was decided that we would go to yet another Walmart in search of our beautiful T21.

On a mission to find the perfect tree, like Clark Griswold I whipped into the parking lot of the next Walmart and walked directly toward the garden center with purpose, and a twinkling of insanity in my eye. Like seasoned veterans we walked directly to the shelves holding the trees, not letting ourselves be distracted by the inflatable snow globe or the train set zooming by overhead, because we were on a mission. I scanned the boxes frantically, searching for T21, hoping harder than I’d ever hoped for anything that it would be here on the shelf and Christmas would not be completely ruined, and that’s when I saw it, wedged between two T19’s, a lone T21, all for me, a Christmas miracle. I was so excited, so full of adrenaline, much like a mother who lifts a car off of her child, that I carried that box all the way to the car, rolling my eyes at all the other weaklings pushing their baskets through the parking lot. That was yesterday. Today I put the thing together, and it was amazingly simple, even for me. There are some screws in the box for some reason, but I think the tree will probably be fine without them. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, at least it is in one corner of our apartment, the one by the bookshelf.

Black Friday

IMG_4496Today is Black Friday, the day where we people of all ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds, come together the day after Thanksgiving, to act behave like a bunch of wild animals. I’m not judging, because the truth is, as despicable as a lot of this behavior is, I will admit, I do enjoy reading the stories and finding out where the latest herd of cattle stampeded over one of their own in order to get forty-five dollars off of a four year old game system. It’s disgusting and hilarious and if you are one of the people behaving in this manner, then I have no problem calling you and Black Friday as a whole, ridiculous and idiotic. That being said, I’ve been Black Friday shopping before.

It was Thanksgiving night, 2012, and my wife and I had just finished eating dinner at the home of my brother-in-law’s wife in Port St. Lucie, Florida, a town that might sound glamorous, but is not, and one I wouldn’t recommend visiting if you can avoid it, but that’s not the point. We were sitting around the table, stomachs full of turkey, and my brother-in-law’s wife was talking about all of the sales she was going to go to that night and in the early hours of the next morning, apparently an avid Black Friday shopper, and it all sounded so exciting, rushing from store to store in search of great deals. So we started looking at the ads and picking out gifts that we could get people for Christmas that were a lot a cheaper than normal, and there were some small kitchen appliances that we were in need of, so we decided that perhaps this whole Black Friday thing was for us, and off we went.

We made two stops that night, at Walmart and Macy’s, not because these were the only two stores that had sales on items we were interested in, but because the experiences at these two hellholes were completely draining, both physically and mentally, that we couldn’t stomach the notion of stopping anywhere else to shop. We hit Walmart first, because we knew exactly what we were looking for there, kitchen appliances, and I should have realized as soon as I entered the parking lot that this whole Black Friday thing was a mistake, because it was packed, so much so that despite circling the lot twice, I couldn’t find a parking spot, and had to park across the street at the Golden Corral, which was beckoning with warm lights through the window and smells of a roasted turkey coming from within, but we were on a mission, so we turned our backs to the happiness, and trudged across the street into the mayhem.

I hate going to the store on a normal day because of all the idiots pushing carts in different directions, standing in the middle of aisles on their phones keeping people from being able to get to the products they are shopping for, so I should have known that Black Friday was going to be a nightmare. We had a shopping cart, but soon wished we had tried to brave it without one as the aisles were so jam packed with people and pallets full of sale items that it was complete madness just trying to maneuver our cart down one of the big aisles, like salmon swimming upstream against the current of other shoppers coming towards us. We finally found the items we were looking for, a toaster oven, coffeepot, blender, and a dartboard, which wasn’t on the list but I saw it in passing and wanted to get it (it’s still in the box five years later), and headed for the checkout lanes. The lines were so long that I actually said something to my wife about cutting our losses and just leaving. Sure we got some deals on small kitchen appliances and an awesome dartboard, but was it really worth standing in line for that long? Surely my time was more valuable than that. We stayed, and within the hour we were pushing our cart out the door and through the parking lot, across the street to the Golden Corral.

I was ready to call it a night, but we hadn’t actually accomplished what we’d set out to accomplish when we decided t begin this horrific journey at the dinner table a few hours before. We still hadn’t gotten any Christmas gifts for anyone yet, and since I didn’t think my brother would be too fond of a cheap blender, we went on the mall, planning to spend the night there going from store to store, racking up great deals and getting a good chunk of our Christmas shopping done. We started at Macy’s. As soon as we went through the sliding glass doors we were met with a dinging sound and a voice over the intercom talking about an employee who had just earned a certain amount of magical points for hitting a sales quota, informing the masses who didn’t care, that this individual had leveled up and were now in contention for some prize that I’m sure even the employee himself, wasn’t too impressed with. This continued every few seconds, lauding their employees while driving the shoppers crazy. We found a few gifts, enough so the night didn’t seem like a complete waste, and got out of there as quickly as the crowd would allow. That was my first and last time Black Friday shopping, and I don’t plan to ever do it again.

The New Car

IMG_4114I can’t imagine hell being much worse than a car lot in Little Rock, Arkansas on a hot August day, which is exactly how I found myself spending the majority of my day today. Yesterday when I told someone I was coming to Arkansas today they asked if I was going to Little Rock, and that is when I started to think if I would ever go to Little Rock again, which is strange since it’s where I grew up and spent the majority of my life thus far, but I don’t have family there anymore which has been, since the time I moved, the only thing that has kept me coming back to a city that doesn’t offer much in the way of appeal, and just like that, I was back in my old hometown. It was a spur of the moment trip, brought on because my mom needed to pick something up there, and then afterward, decided it might be prudent whilst in a much bigger city than which she currently lives, to stop at a dealership to look at cars since she is desperately in need of a new one.

The salesman spotted us pulling onto the lot and directed us to an unauthorized spot right in the front of the dealership, royalty among the peasants. My mom knew exactly what she wanted, well sort of, she had it mostly narrowed down to a sensible option and a more luxurious option that she kept bringing up occasionally, debating aloud whether or not it was okay to spend a lot more money for a car that wasn’t all that practical, while I the bad influence egged her on. Reason won out and she decided to pursue, with all of her focus, the Toyota Camry, which the salesman Deshaun was more than happy to show us, especially after he found out that she was paying cash and could smell her desire to buy before we even stepped out of the car. We saw some preowned models, none of which tickled her fancy and then went on to some new models that seemed more in line with what she was looking for. There was one she really liked and after the test drive was just about ready to buy, especially since the salesman “thought he could get the price down” into her range, an old sales tactic, but an effective one, but I convinced my mom that if he was willing to make that deal today, then he would be able to do it a week from now, which the salesman confirmed to my delight, and she decided to talk it over with my grandmother who was waiting inside the dealership.

As we walked through the showroom on our way to go revisit the preowned cars one more time just to make sure that she really didn’t want any of them, we walked past a brand new silver car that she stopped to admire and instantly fell in love with when she discovered it had all of the features she wanted. The salesman looked at the price and regretfully informed her that unfortunately it was too far out of her range and there was no way he could get “permission” to bring the price down enough that she would still want to buy it. We looked at the rejected pre-owned’s once more and once again saw why someone had decided to give them up in the first place. My mom was ready to buy the other car, the one she test drove, but it didn’t have one of the big features that she wanted and didn’t like the interior color of the car. That’s when I had an idea, an idea so simple I couldn’t believe that I didn’t think about it sooner. I asked her if she would be willing to trade in her current car and have the salesman negotiate the price down on the showroom car that she loved to the price that fell within her range, and she, as expected was of course thrilled with my proposal. The salesman agreed to my terms which was great for my mom, and she ended up getting the car that she really wanted, all thanks to my sharp mind and negotiating skills, both of which were unfortunately nowhere to be found a couple years ago when I needed to buy a new car. We drove away from the dealership three and a half hours after we arrived in a silver Toyota Camry and leaving the GMC Acadia behind. The end result was a good one with my mom getting a good deal on her car, but I’ve gotta be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been more ready to get out of Little Rock. It was a very long day.

A Trip to the Mall on a Tuesday Afternoon

IMG_4082I have to work this Saturday which means that today I only had to go into work for a few hours, so when I got home I took my wife to her chiropractor, not because I love going to the dimly lit building where my wife’s spine gets shoved back into place, but because it’s rare that we are ever off work at the same time and I wanted to hang out with her today. After the appointment that took maybe ten minutes, and cost roughly two dollars per minute, which in all sincerity is money well spent since my wife could hardly even walk before, we decided it might be fun to go to the mall since we were already over in the area, and since school started here yesterday, we figured it wouldn’t be obnoxiously crowded like the rest of the summer. Sadly, we were wrong.

I’m not kidding when I say that the parking lot was as crowded as I can ever remember and I had to park pretty far from the entrance, not that I minded that aspect all that much since it turned out to be a pretty pleasant summer day. We walked into the food court, the place where any good trip to the mall starts, and got a snack of bacon cheese fries and a soda. You really haven’t lived until you try walking around the mall on a miserably full stomach. The cheese fries were overly salty, but they were devoured nonetheless, and with no particular destination in mind, we began to wander around the Wolfchase Galleria. There were quite a few stores that have opened up since we’d last been in there, so we ventured inside, were hassled by salespeople wanting to help us find something that we ourselves didn’t know we were looking for, and subsequently left, moving on to the next one.

The process repeated in this fashion with each store we went into, which left me remembering why I don’t like the mall that much in the first place, because browsing just isn’t as much fun without unlimited funds in the bank account, and it’s uncomfortable the way the shop owner’s eyes will follow you around the store, waiting expectantly to make a purchase that never actually happens. We went into Bath and Body Works, a store that I both loathe and love, because nothing is offensive as the combination of odors that you might smell, but there are few things as satisfying as walking away with the perfect scented candle that brings back some unknown memory that translates to happiness. We walked around taking the tops off of various candles and smelling them to see if that is what we wanted our apartment to smell like for the next month or so, but more often than not we shook our heads in disgust as candles with names like “Flannel” or “Pomegranate” gave off overwhelming scents that were altogether unpleasant. We did however find one that we love, an old favorite of ours, “Pumpkin Apple”, but agreed that was a scent better suited for a nice and cool fall evening than a warm and muggy summer afternoon that is currently our reality, so we left the store empty handed, vowing to come back for that candle once the leaves begin to change and life seems much more optimistic. Although we didn’t end up buying anything, I wouldn’t consider the afternoon a bust, because it was just nice getting to spend some quality time in the mall with my wife on a Tuesday, which in itself is a pretty rare occurrence.

Searching for the Perfect Gift

IMG_4073My grandpa and cousin Abigail share a birthday, August 7, which is tomorrow, but since it falls on a Monday the whole family got together to celebrate the greatness that is the two of them. I procrastinate on a lot of things, and unfortunately buying birthday gifts is one of them, so that is how I found myself driving to Walmart at about 2:30 this afternoon. I know, I know, what kind of idiot buys somebody a gift at Walmart? Well again this is unfortunate, the answer is me, but in my pathetic defense it is conveniently close to where I live. Maybe that makes it even worse, I don’t know. Anyway, I can’t turn into the parking lot because a stream of Mustangs are flowing in a cohesive line through the parking lot like a funeral procession, no matter that I had the right of way and they should have been stopping. I finally butted in front of one and got honked at, but it was a nice tradeoff to being forced to look at anymore of these lame people who have nothing more interesting to do on a Sunday afternoon that meet up in a Walmart parking lot with other people who drive the same kind of car that they do.

So I head into the store, knowing exactly one gift that I’m getting and with a couple options in mind for the other one. For my cousin I’m getting her a stainless steel bottle/tumbler/whatever that keeps drinks cold or hot for an excessive amount of time. I got one of these last year and it quickly became my favorite cup, eventually becoming the only one I drank out of, so I’ve decided to share the experience and have given it as a gift to a couple of people who really like it, so I figured my cousin would too. Now my grandpa is quite a bit more difficult to shop for. He’s not the sort of person you can just buy any old t-shirt for. There are certain brands that have been met with his approval, so it’s best to stick to these, but since I’m kind of balling on a budget at the moment, his shirts weren’t really an option so I had to come up with something else. As I walked down the aisles I scanned the ground hoping it would be my lucky day and I would find a very rare and valuable coin lying on the ground, which would make a great gift for my grandpa who just so happens to be an avid coin collector. But then again if it was really valuable I could sell it and get him one of his shirts plus something for me, which would be the ideal scenario in my selfish world, but alas, I had no such luck finding a coin.

I decided to get him a puzzle, which is actually something I think he enjoys working on, so I walked past all of the board games to the microscopic puzzle section of Walmart. Most of them were really annoying to look at, so I could just imagine how excruciating it would be to stare at that same picture for hours trying to put the thing together, so once I weeded out all of the unacceptable ones there were very few options remaining, a Monsters Inc. puzzle for children and a one thousand piece puzzle featuring a house with some tall grass and a couple of deer out front. I got him the latter and it actually seemed to go over well when he opened it, as did the tumbler with my cousin, which just goes to show you that good gifts CAN actually be bought at Walmart.

Stealing Cars & Groceries: Nobody Cares

Car alarms are useless. It doesn’t matter what kind of car you own, whether it’s a Lexus or a Hyundai, there is no real protection offered to you in the case of auto theft. I’ve never been the victim of this sort of crime in my life, but if it happens to me, I can’t say that I would be surprised. Just today I heard a car alarm going off in a grocery store parking lot, and neither me nor any of the people in the area cared enough to see what was going on. That’s just the way it is. An alarm is seen as more of an annoyance rather than an alert that something bad is going on, which is why I find car alarms completely useless and ridiculous. I click the button on the remote a couple times, first for the initial lock and the second to make sure the alarm is set, but that doesn’t really matter at all because nobody cares. Unless you are within eyesight of your car being broken into, the thieves will get away with whatever they want, and unfortunately this doesn’t just apply to automobiles.

As I left the grocery store today, I was behind a woman who set off the stores alarm when leaving, and and she didn’t even stop, not that it mattered because an employee was quick to offer her an apology for the “malfunction” and send her on her way. For all anyone knew this person could have stolen every item in her cart, but because nobody cared, she left the store free of any suspicion that any wrongdoing had taken place. The popular phrase, “the customer is always right” seems to take away any responsibility of the customers that shop at a particular store, one that is much more interested in having said customer return than the potential loss that is taken if a non trustworthy person decides to walk out the door with more groceries than they have paid for. I just don’t get it, and I wonder why stores let people get away from the flashing lights and beeping sounds of the security sensors as if the store is the one at fault.

I don’t plan to steal a car or anything from a grocery store but I have to say that it seems pretty easy to do so. When was the last time you heard a car alarm in the parking lot and actually went to investigate what was going on. That is somebody else’s problem, just like when a teenage employee doesn’t think twice about the person leaving the store while alarms go off all around them. I don’t condone stealing, but if other people are getting away with it then why should I continue to pay my weekly grocery bill at full cost? Don’t people care enough about what they own to step in and put an end to this madness? The evidence clearly says no, and that is why I won’t be surprised if either of my cars are stolen at some point in the near future.