Thursday, March 15, 2018

Toys "R" Us Kid

I worked at Toys "R" Us for five years, and though those were many years ago now, I'm still saddened to see the company preparing to shut down for good.

I started at Toys just before turning 17, figuring that if I had to work, I might as well work with toys, right? I certainly had a lot of fun at the Route 46 Totowa store: dinners at the nearby (and long-gone) Calico Kitchen with the mildly lecherous women of the front end who trained me, toy-gun fights in the aisles, store closing announcements (occasionally with assumed accents), flirtatious (and not-so-flirtatious) cashiers... I met many great people there, too, and while I'm sorry a lot of them have dropped out of my life, some of us are still friends on Facebook, and I've seen a few over the years. Jon and I still get together irregularly, more than two decades after deciding to try working on some tunes and naming ourselves "Not An Exit," after a sign hanging over the store entrance (which I took home after a remodel).

the Totowa Hell Patrol

Some of the most fun I had, of course, was in the creation and publication of the Underground Giraffe, with Steve and, later, Autumn. It started out as sly but predominantly innocent teasing, but we and the Company became rather more antagonistic toward each other over subsequent issues, to the point where Steve and I were written up and warned that our jobs could be on the line. While we did plan on changing our creative direction, UG effectively fizzled out after that.

At least, until I made the decision over a year later to finally leave T"R"U for good. Over the years, as the Company became more corporate and managers became more managerial, I found myself more harried and less happy at work, to the point where I was going home with headaches. After joking for a long while that I would leave upon becoming fully vested in the profit sharing and 401(k) after five years of service, I came to realize that it would really be best if I did. I wrote a lengthy open letter of resignation, which I turned in with my two weeks' notice. To my surprise, the assistant store director sat down with me to discuss the letter and several of the points I'd raised, and she convinced me not to leave just yet, but to give management some time to address my complaints.

It didn't take very long for me to give up again, however, and I put out the last two Underground Giraffe issues before walking out after work one night and... not coming back. Or calling out. I would never leave a job that way now, needless to say, but at the time, it felt like the only way. When I stopped back in at the store a week and a half later to get my last paycheck, everyone was so happy to see me, and apparently no one had interpreted my absence as a resignation. Heh. I set them straight.

For a few years afterwards, I wasn't very comfortable setting foot in a Toys "R" Us store, or even seeing a giraffe. I got over it, and I'm glad for the things I learned and the experiences I had and the friends I made at store # 6304. (OK, I worked a few months at the Cherry Hill store, too, while attending Glassboro State College, but it was never the same.)

One of my former co-workers, Judie, remarked on Facebook, before we knew that the chain's end was officially coming, that "we may need a final edition of the Underground Giraffe." I jokingly agreed that it might be time for the "Corporate Liquidation... of Death!" issue, but today I'm thinking that maybe I do want to put out one last issue, for old time's sake. Only I don't want to do it alone, so I thought I'd ask the old T"R"U crew to pitch in. If you've got a story, funny or scary or sweet or whatever, that took place in our old store, want to write it up and send it to me to be published in the last UG? Anyone have photos they might want to include? Jon, Steve, care to throw together a bit of artwork? I would love to print up some copies and bring them to the reunion. :-)

some of the many name badges I wore over the years

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


I've written a 'blog post a day for the past two months, since January 1st (some admittedly briefer and less inspired than others). My intention was to keep it up for the entire year, but I think I'm going to give the daily thing a rest. Some days, it's felt more like a chore than expression, and I don't need more thankless chores in my life. Pretty sure I don't.

I do plan to write more often than I had been before this year; a post every month or two just seems lazy. Not going to commit to a number, but I think a few 'blog posts a month would be reasonable, achievable, and possibly healthy. We'll see how it goes. At least, I'll see how it goes. Still not convinced you exist.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


"Congress looks for more clarity from Trump as it weighs response to Florida school shootings." What a load of dingoes' kidneys. First of all, clarity?!? From Trump?!? Then, since when does the co-equal legislative branch of government need guidance or clarity from the executive? I don't recall Republican or Democratic members of Congress waiting to hear what response Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or other presidents wanted from them on one issue or another. Sure, there will often be a lot of partisan falling in line, but it's telling that the GOP senators and members of Congress (not to mention the Democratic ones) can't even be sure in which direction Trump will ultimately lean.

And perhaps most importantly of all, on an issue as large as this one, grow a gods-damned spine. Whether you feel strongly that certain weapons should be banned, or that loopholes need to be closed and background checks need to be more rigorous, or that everything's just fine the way it is and this will all blow over sooner or later... search your feelings (you know it to be true), stake out your position, and stick to it (while retaining the right to evolve it), regardless of what the person in the Oval Office thinks. Plenty of U.S. Senators and Representatives have countered plenty of Presidents, whether they were in the same political party or not. If you can't hold an opinion or propose a policy change (or no change at all) without first hearing what Donnie "Out of His Element" Trump thinks, don't wait 'til your term is over. Just head for the exit door now, and let someone with a backbone and a brain at the upper end of it win your seat.

Monday, February 26, 2018


I wouldn't want to be the teacher who had to explain how I was actually trying to stop the assailant when I accidentally shot a student instead. Or the official who advocated for it. Or the parent or law enforcement officer listening to the explanation. Or the student who saw it happen, or the student to whom it happened.

Yes, sometimes the only real option is a difficult and bitter pill to swallow. I don't think this is the only real option, and it sounds like both educators and the police overwhelmingly agree.

Sunday, February 25, 2018


Why didn't anyone tell me "The Tick" was back?!? While I'd been apprehensive when Amazon Video announced the new live-action version of the show last year, the first half of the season, released in August, quickly won me over. I still want to hear Patrick Warburton's voice, but Peter Serafinowicz is at least as quirky in the title role. I burned through those six episodes in no time (I rarely binge-watch, but I've made exceptions for "The Tick," "Stranger Things," and "Ash vs. Evil Dead"), and I knew there were more coming, but I guess I'd lost track of when.

Amazon, along with Apple, Roku, and Google's YouTube, is under fire facing demands to drop the National Rifle Association's channel NRAtv from its streaming services. I'm no fan of the NRA's radical-right leadership, but with the second half of season 1 of "The Tick" being released this past Friday, and the first season of "Personal Space" coming this Friday, I'll still be an Amazon customer for at least the near future. I suppose I could get through the remaining six "Tick" episodes tonight... but I'm going to try to savor them this time. One, maybe two tonight.

Saturday, February 24, 2018


I went to the "International Sci-Fi Shorts 2" portion of the Philip K. Dick Film Festival for Nicki Clyne and "Personal Space," and stayed for "Nano," "The Last Protester," and other short films. Nicki played Cally on "Battlestar Galactica," and she and her late "BSG" colleague, Richard Hatch (Tom Zarek in the modern take, and Apollo in the original "BSG," for which I still have a soft spot), star in "Personal Space," a Web series that is deservedly coming to Amazon Video next weekend.

The first three episodes were screened at the festival, and they were a lot of fun! Clyne plays Gail Gartner, the incoming commander of the "second shift" of the generation ship Overture; Hatch is the first shift's commander, stalling his trip to cryo because he doesn't think the new shift (and its commander) can handle the responsibilities... and probably also because he doesn't want to let go of command. It was bittersweet to see him on-screen in one of his last roles, with the character resisting the order to turn over the ship and leave. Definitely looks like a fun show, though, with the hook being that the crew of the ship are unaware that their sessions with Ami, the "therapy computer," are being broadcast as a reality TV show back on Earth.

The five short films that were screened after "Personal Space" were all excellent, too. William Minsky's "Resonance" deals with a future where no one really sleeps, or dreams, anymore, and stars Briana Rayner. Mike Manning's "Nano," starring Brooke Butler, imagines a world where mandatory mobile-phone upgrades synched with bio-nanotechnology mean there's an app for just about everything, including changing your hair and eye color on the fly... and allowing law enforcement to temporarily paralyze their adversaries. Nicole Castillo's "The Last Protester" shows us yet another bleak future state where books are forbidden and smuggling them in is punishable by death, with Joe Duffy as a regime stalwart loyal to Elizabeth Lambert's Ambrose. "Sound from the Deep," directed by Antti Laakso and Joonas Allonen, is a rare venture into Lovecraftian territory (without directly adapting any of his stories, though there's definitely an "At the Mountains of Madness" vibe, with some "Dagon" thrown in) that has the right feel; it stars Lasse Fagerström and Eero Ojala. Lastly, Daniel Andrew Wunderer's "Shelter" stars Alexander E. Fennon as a man taking, well, shelter. And coming across the body of a boy with some odd wounds...

After all the films had been shown, Nicki Clyne and "Personal Space" producer Jeff Hammer talked a little about the show and took some questions. It was nice to learn that Nicki is also involved with the Knife Media, which "strips news of spin so it's just the news." Gods know we need less spin and more facts these days, all around.

Friday, February 23, 2018


Surely, I can't be the only one tired of hearing how someone "destroyed" or "eviscerated" or "nailed to the wall" or "burned" or "shut down" someone else, when all that someone really did was make some good points to which the other party maybe had no adequate response. The hyperbole sucks on both sides, guys. If your person's argument or comment or putdown or quip was so perfect and infallible, then why hasn't everyone else just conceded defeat? Oh, right, they're too stupid and/or evil.

I realize that a lot of this is just the propaganda game, but some of us, liberals and conservatives and progressives and libertarians and socialists alike, are truly more interested in dialogue and finding ways we can move forward together than in winning pointless points via zingers. Not to say that the occasional zinger isn't fun, but c'mon now. Even when someone does get zinged, it doesn't mean that person is now incapacitated or physically damaged somehow.