Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It's 3 a.m. I Must Be Lonely

"I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind.  There was something so pleasant about that place.  Even your emotions have an echo in so much space."  Gnarls Barkley

Hale:  "Your out of your mind." 
Deak: "Yeah... ain't it cool?"

Two more days, and the decade is over.  How absolutely crazy is that?

Anyway, not much to discuss... well, that's not true--there's probably a lot to talk about, everything from reviews of "Avatar", "It's Complicated" and "Sherlock Holmes" to what in the world is up with my Go Gators and the Urban Meyer, "I'm resigning cause my heart can't take it no I'm not I'm just taking a leave of absence but is that really the truth maybe I am resigning I'm just saying 'leave of absence' so my recruits will be okay" dance. 

But, as it is, its 217 in the morning... and my iPod is syncing, which is why I'm still up.  Its a blessed problem, really... "blessed problem" being, I have no reason to complain, I'm only whining about my toys and how annoying they can be, and if I sat back and had perspective, I'd know that I not only have 1 iPod, I now have 2 iPods, and those without would look at me and say, "Quit your whining, you big baby."

I opened up iTunes the other day, and nothing was there.  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  I sighed, because this has happened before.. my music is right where I left it on my computer, in my music folder, but its as if I had downloaded iTunes for the first time.  This means all my ratings, all my lyrics, all my playcounts gone, all gone... now I'll never know the lyrics to Jason Mraz's "The Remedy (i won't worry)" or know whether I rated Garth Brooks' "Wild Horses" higher than Whitney Houston's "Savin' All My Love For You", now my knowledge of how many times I truly listened to "Party in the USA" by Miley Cyrus or "Steel Bars" by Michael Bolton or "Everything Zen" by Bush was gone!  No more ratings!  No more playlists!  No more 'last played'!  No turkey! No turkey sandwiches! No turkey salad! No turkey gravy! Turkey Hash! Turkey a la King! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone, ALL GONE!

I guess there are worse things in life... well, I'm pretty sure there are.  Cancer... car wrecks... He Who Must Not Be Re-Elected's Health Care Plan... (random song names.. check... random line from "A Christmas Story"... check... potshot at The President for Brad Latta's sake... check...).

The only upside is that I get to re-organize my music, and for a nerd like me, this is a big deal.  I have one folder, called "Distribute", and anything downloaded goes there.  If I've downloaded the song from a less-than-paid for site, I can do a virus scan on that folder to make sure everything is on the up and up.  If I rip a CD, it goes there, as does any audiobooks I get.  Over time, and because I'm too lazy and forgetful to move stuff when I load it, it builds up. 

This iTunes issue happened last in August of 2008.  In 16 months, my "Distribute" folder had collected 245 different artists worth of stuff.  It took me about three hours to move music and audiobooks out of that folder into their proper places. 

The Lovely Steph Leann did well this year.... she usually does, but this year especially.  I got some great stuff, like some books, my "Mountain Soul II" CD by Patty Loveless that I was hoping for, a cute little Mickey Mouse tie, Super Mario for the Wii (more on that later), and in my stocking, I pulled out some candy (Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are the best, aren't they?), some weird little "put them in water and they grow!" animals that The Lovely Steph Leann got a big kick out of and at the bottom... an iPod Touch. 

I held it, I looked at her, looked back at it, then looked back at her smiling face.  "You... you got me... got me... an iPod Touch?" I stuttered.  Very little leaves me stammering, but this did the trick.  She smiled, and told me that she won it at work in some sort of contest... she was quick to point out that, "Had I not won this, you wouldn't have gotten it.  Just so you know."

I had kinda been wanting an iPhone, but my issue with that was the phone bill per month would be higher... not necessarily the actual phone plan, but the cost of all the bells and whistles that went with it.  An iPod Touch is basically the same thing, just without that pesky phone part.  I can connect to the interweb, download applications, load contact info and so on... in fact, I'm not even sure what I'm capable of with it.  Tomorrow, I'm going to try to launch a cupcake business and tap into the space shuttle interface. 

Its been a learning curve, using both iPods on the same iTunes... yeah, yeah, I know, poor me, pity me and so on.  I'm just telling you how it is.  The Touch is great, though... the screen is really wide, so I've enjoyed watching music videos and TV shows on it... on a weekend trip to Tullahoma, TN, last weekend, I managed to take in Family Guy's "Blue Harvest" and the first episode of "Mad Men", a show I have a feeling I'm about to plunge headfirst into. 

So now, at 253am, I'm reloading my iPod, the 60gig.  Essentially, I have to wait for it to unload 54 gigs of music, videos, audiobooks and podcasts in order to then reload 54 gigs of newly organized music, videos, audiobooks and podcasts.  Whilst I wait, I watch the last few minutes of "Broken Arrow" on Fox Movie Channel, an incredibly bad, incredibly awesome flick starring Christian Slater as Hale and John Travolta as Deak, awaiting my iPod's new sync of my reorganization of iTunes. 

Also got Toy Story Mania for the Wii... it rocks.  I'm killer at the Plate Skeet Shoot.  I tried Super Mario Brothers.  Apparently, there's a glitch in the game that doesn't allow you to go to the first world.  This happens only on certain games, though... I looked it up on the interweb, and seems like lots of folks are having this issue, with the only solution being to call Nintendo directly.

Okay, so I'm going to bed.  Its too early... late... whatever.  "Sweet Thing" by Keith Urban?  Fun song.  Listening to it now on my new iPod Touch (movie just ended).  Why bring up Keith Urban?  Cause its 3am, I must be lonely.  She says baby, well I can't help but be scared but oh sometimes the rain's gonna wash away I believe it... (that may not be the exact lyrics, but I swear that's what Rob Thomas says...)

Ah, the problems of a guy who owns 2 iPods.  I'm going to bed.  Right after this Bob Seger song goes off, that is.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown

Hey, Facebookians... click on over to Clouds in My Coffee to see this post correctly...  and then, come back to Facebook and become a fan by searching "Clouds In My Coffee"!

Hey, Coffee Drinkers... Merry Christmas to you and your family.  I'll allow Linus to explain the truth of what we celebrate...

Be honest... you find it kind of surprising that this program is still allowed on television, right?  What, with "Christ" and "Jesus" and "Saviour" in the text, its almost enough to make you think about God--wouldn't want to force that on America, would we?

By the way, for some light reading, here is the story behind A Charlie Brown Christmas, via Wikipedia:

Bringing the Peanuts characters to television was not an easy task. The strip's creators, with funding from sponsor Coca-Cola, presented the CBS network with an idea for a Christmas television special starring Schulz's characters.

The production was done on a shoestring budget, resulting in a somewhat choppy animation style and, from a technical standpoint, poorly mixed sound. With the exception of the actors who voiced Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) and Lucy (Tracy Stratford), none of the children had any experience doing voice work. This was especially challenging for Kathy Steinberg, who voiced Sally: she was too young to read and needed to be cued line by line during the soundtrack recording. The technical issues are in evidence on the show's audio track, which to some may seem noticeably choppy and poorly enunciated. One of the more noticeable quirks in the special include a shot in which Schroeder abruptly stops playing the piano, but several of the characters continue dancing for a couple of seconds. Melendez has said he remains somewhat embarrassed to see the show repeated every year with all its problems, but Schulz vetoed his idea of "fixing" the program years later.

Network executives were not at all keen on several aspects of the show, forcing Schulz and Melendez to wage some serious battles to preserve their vision. The executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke;  the network orthodoxy of the time assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Version of the Bible. A story reported on the Whoopi Goldberg-hosted version of the making of the program (see below) that Charles Schulz was adamant about keeping this scene in, remarking that "If we don't tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?"

Another complaint was the absence of a laugh track, a common element of children's cartoons at the time. Schulz maintained that the audience should be able to enjoy the show at their own pace, without being cued when to laugh. (CBS did create a version of the show with the laugh track added, just in case Schulz changed his mind. This version remains unavailable, though unauthorized copies have appeared on YouTube.)

A third complaint was the use of children to do the voice acting, instead of employing adult actors. Finally, the executives thought that the jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi would not work well for a children's program. When executives saw the final product, they were horrified and believed the special would be a complete flop.

The half-hour special first aired on Thursday, December 9, 1965, preempting The Munsters and following the Gilligan's Island episode "Don't Bug the Mosquitos". To the surprise of the executives, it was both a critical and commercial hit. None of the special's technical problems detracted from the show's appeal; to the contrary, it is thought that these so-called quirks, along with several other choices, are what lent the show such an innovative, authentic and sincere feeling. For instance, Linus' recitation was hailed by critics such as Harriet Van Horne of the New York World-Telegram who said, "Linus' reading of the story of the Nativity was, quite simply, the dramatic highlight of the season."

50% of the televisions in the United States were tuned to the first broadcast.  A Charlie Brown Christmas won an Emmy and a Peabody award, and is considered by many to be a timeless Christmas holiday classic. Watching it is an annual tradition for countless viewers. The success of the animated special, A Charlie Brown Christmas has given rise to numerous other specials (including ten others that are also holiday-themed), a miniseries devoted to America, Saturday morning cartoon, and four full-length feature films.

In January 2000, one month before Schulz's death, the broadcast rights were acquired by ABC (as part of a deal between the network and Schulz), which is where the special currently airs (and has aired there since CBS's final airing of the special on December 25, 2000). On September 12, 2000, the special was released to DVD [it had previously been released on VHS through Shell Oil for sale at their gas stations]. The show enjoyed its 40th anniversary with its broadcast of Tuesday, December 6, 2005. This broadcast had the highest ratings in its time slot.

On December 6, 2001, a half-hour documentary on the special entitled The Making of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (hosted by Whoopi Goldberg) aired on ABC. In 2002, it was replaced by Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales. This documentary was released (along with the special Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales) as a bonus feature with the special I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown on October 26, 2004.

Merry Christmas, everyone!  Join us soon for the beginning of "The 100 Coolest Things of 2009"... will you make the list?  Find out!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Prayer of Chantal

Another entry into d$'s Random Emails of Encouragement Series...

This morning at KidStuf, my character (Marshall) was learning how to say "Merry Christmas" in different languages... this included Milad Majid (Arabic). Feliz Navidad (Argentine). God Jul (Norwegian). Bo Nada (Galician). Sretan Bozic (Croatian)... and it made me think about God's love, and how it translates to all languages... which made me think about this, written on June 11th, 2002.  Chantal is gone, I haven’t heard nary a word from her since she left for Pretoria, South Africa, a few years back. That makes me sad, because her accent… whew.

The Prayer of Chantal

It never sunk in how much I Americanized my God until last night.

Chantal Els is an au pair (fancy word for Nanny) from Pretoria, South Africa. She's been in this country since last summer, and though I haven't spent as much time with her as I would have liked to, I've gotten to talk to her a lot in the last 12 months. For that, I'm thankful. She's 20, maybe 21, short blond hair, big smile, and of course, an accent that can make you swoon. And her love of Christ and how much it’s grown in the last year is so evident... this isn't an email to glorify Chantal, though, this is an email to glorify God in what He's doing in her. Meeting her back then and talking to her now, there is a huge difference.

Many, many months ago, Chantal and I were having a conversation about prayer, and she mentioned how she really wanted to pray in her language, which is Afrikaan. I asked her why she hadn't done it, and she said she didn't know how anyone would feel about it. I told her I thought the group would be totally receptive, plus, she wasn't speaking to us anyway, so what did it matter what we thought? God would know.

So, last night at Sybil's, during prayer, I hear Amy Vos pray... and Sarah Hasha pray... and Drew Morris pray... and out of nowhere, is this accented voice in the back. And she's saying things that I would have no idea how to even repeat, much less understand. It was Chantal, praying in her native language. Apparently, she prayed for friends, because I managed to pick out "Josh", "James", "Meredith" and "Jimmy", with dialect in between. I didn't understand a word of it. But it hit me... God did. And He loved every word.

Then I began to think about how Americanized my God is to me. My God knows English. My God lives here in town. My God knows words like "y'all", "Coke", "possum", "sweet tea" and "Peachtree Street". At least He'd better know them... I've used all of these terms in conversation, sometimes in prayer. Though it seems like common sense, really, I never thought about the fact that my God also knows French. And Filipino Sign Language. And Bengali. And Sanskrit. And Portuguese. And Russian. And Zulu. And, of course, Afrikaan.

Even more than that... He SPEAKS these languages. He's not flipping through an "English to Whatever Language" dictionary to reveal Himself to people around the world... He's not speaking extra slow so that kid in Nigeria who barely knows English will understand Him. He is powerful enough to hear and speak the words of His children, from all races, from all countries. Heck, American English isn't even the original language of the Bible, and yet sometimes in my small mind, all I know is a Savior who speaks only southern dialect. Thank God He's bigger than that.

You and I hear God saying, "I love you".
The French hear God saying, "Je t'aime".
The Saudis hear God saying, “I love you”
The Icelanders hear God saying, "Eg elskta thig."
The Navaho hear God saying, "Ayor anosh'ni"
The Welsh hear God saying, "Rwy'n dy garu di."
The Malaysian hear God saying, "Saya cintamu".
And Chantal hears God saying, "Ek's lief vir jou."

Afterwards, Chantal and I sat and talked on the Common Ground couch, and she told me she'd been wanting to pray out loud like that for so long, but she never could... but finally, the words just came. Not only did God understand what she was saying, He was longing for her to say it to Him! He was urging her to speak, to call out to Him, until finally, she couldn't hold it in anymore, and not only was God pleased as His daughter spoke to Him in love, the rest of the room was totally encouraged and blessed.

Anyway, this whole email is just to remind you of how big our God is... how awesome He is... and how much He understands that we never will. Thank you God for a friend like Chantal, and using her to remind me of your wisdom over everything, every language, every voice. The next time you think God does not understand you, know that He not only understands what you are saying, He understands what everyone is saying.

Romeine 3:23... Almal het gesondig en is ver van God af kyk na uself aanmoedig,

ps... I used an English/Afrikaan translator, so there is no need to email me back and tell me how I goofed up in spelling and writing. =)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday Happy Times

If all were there when we first took the pill, then maybe, then maybe, then maybe, then maybe... Miracles will happen as we speak.  But we're never gonna survive unless...  we get a little crazy.  No we're never gonna survive unless... we are a little... crazy... No no, never survive, unless we get a little... bit... -- Seal

We don't have animal bracelets.  Barbie dolls, The Grinch, Alvin & the Chipmunks, the Happy Feet penguins, anything Madagascar, anything Shrek, the Tale of Despereaux, Snoopy and the like are not Disney properties, and I really don't know where you can find the Pink Panther on a comforter.  Sorry.  Love to help you but I cannot, other than to offer you the usual places like Target and Wal-Mart, and perhaps Toys R Us. 

"Aladdin", "Alice in Wonderland", "The Lion King", "Lady and the Tramp" and "Cinderella" are all in The Vault.  It's quite alright to ask, and perfectly acceptable for you to not know this--thats why I'm here--but I didn't come up with the idea of The Vault, nor do I have any control of release dates, so please don't get angry with me when we don't have copies of those movies.  Furthermore, you had a small window of only 2 years to get "The Little Mermaid" and "Peter Pan" before they went back into The Vault in January of 2009.  "My child didn't want to watch it when it was out, but they want to watch it now!" isn't a good excuse for not getting it when it was available.  Try again in 2017 when they come back out. 

And when I offer you "Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs", or the three movies that ARE going into The Vault in January 2010, "The Jungle Book", "101 Dalmatians" and "Sleeping Beauty", please pick them up either here or somewhere, because perhaps your child won't want to watch them now, but when they do in 2013, you'll come find me and fuss at me for not having them.  Just wanted to get that out of the way.

(ps... "Beauty and the Beast" will be out next October and "Toy Story 1 & 2" will be out in March, so be on the look out--and don't miss 'em!)

Without further ado, a special Christmas edition of Happy Times.

Made a special needs child dry at The Happiest Place in the Mall. Oh, come on, don’t fuss at me yet… hear me out.

Throwing plush animals is kinda like an Olympic Sport at The Happiest Place in the Mall. Kids feel the need to pick up something from the bottom, look at it, and rather than place it, even just drop it where they picked it up, they just toss it in the air towards the top. The bottom row of Plush Mountain looks empty and shallow, with some Mickeys, Patches, Pennys and Squirts just smushed on the bottom, while a cornucopia of The Happiest Characters in the Movies are piled high on top.

So, I walked up on three kids, and one set of parents, tossing animals. Two boys over the side I recognized as kids I’d already asked to stop. My instinctive response is simply, “Please don’t throw the animals… thank you!” You know, its polite, but firm, yet smiley, but slightly forceful. The two boys tossed Nemo and Stitch high into the air, while the little girl—and this part is important—had her back to me. She tossed a Daisy Duck high into the air. So, instinctively, I say, “Please don’t throw the animals… thank you!”

The little boys took off. The little girl, maybe five or six, turned to face me, and when she did, I immediately thought, “Aw, crap.” Sometimes you can tell when a child is dealing with retardation, sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you can tell when a child is autistic, sometimes you can’t. However, if a child has Down Syndrome, more often than not, you can tell. And this little girl had Downs. She turned to me, looked up and me, and looked back at mom and dad. I heard mom whisper to dad, “He didn’t tell those other boys to stop.”

The little girl looked back at me, then leaned over, laid her face into the pile of Mickeys and began to cry. Silently sighing, I sweetly said, “Oh, sweetie, its okay… you didn’t do anything wrong…” Dad leaned over and said, “C’mon baby. Let’s go next door [Build-a-Bear]”. Ah, Holiday Happy Times.

Speaking of the Plush Mountain, I passed by a guest mom with her guest child, both kneeling by the mountain.  As I walked by, I heard the mom saying to the child, "You DO NOT throw these animals.  These people work really hard to keep the Happiest Place in the Mall clean and organized, and its very, very rude to come in here and start throwing things around, especially things that aren't yours.  Now, you put Pluto back where you found him and DO NOT throw him." 

I wanted to stop, turn around, give the mom a hug and offer her a deep discount on anything and everything. 

Because we get shipment every day, I spend many hours going back and forth from the stage to the “back dock”, which is essentially the big sidewalk in front of the South Parking Deck. There’s a large green… something or other. It looks like a big heat radiator, but I that’s not what it is. It’s not electrical, or at least not on the surface (which is good for what I’m about to tell you).

I was onstage, helping some guests and making some magic, and had a moment to go grab some stuff from the shipment.  Both Chip and Dale are coming in later to work on shipment, so I wanted to get as many boxes emptied as I could to help out, so I walk out and see an older gentleman… and he’s facing the Big Green Thing… and I see him a second later turn to his right and walk toward the mall entrance… and I see him, from behind, look as if he’s… well, zipping up… and the spot that he stood seconds before, a puddle… of something… dripping off of the Big Green Thing… and mind you, this is about 3:45 in the afternoon.

I stood, perplexed, as my brain battled my eyes, my brain telling my eyes, “You didn’t just see that,” and my eyes retorting, “Heck yes, I just saw that…” The Magical Manager came out. “I need you to… what’s wrong?” she asked, seeing the bewildered look on her face. I told her what I finally determined to be what I thought I saw, and she had the same repulsed, yet somewhat bewildered look on her face. “Are you serious?” I nodded yes, pointing to the drip drip drip off of the Big Green Thing.

“Well, I live out in the country, and my sons think its okay to do that anywhere,” the Magical Manager laughs. I respond, “Yeah, but your boys are 8. This guys was like, 58.” Then, with a laugh, I said, “Well, I could give him the benefit of the doubt… maybe he just chose to pour out his Mountain Dew right there, with his back turned towards the door.” Ah, holiday Happy Times.

Ring Ring

“It’s a Magical Day at the Disney Store, and my name is d$, can I help you?”
**“Yeah… I uh… I know you probably don’t have any… any of this stuff at all, but I wanted to call and ask anyway…”
“What are ya looking for, ma’am?”
**“Well, I wanted to know if you have any Princess & the Frog stuff.”
“Uh… ma’am, we have lots and lots and lots of Princess & the Frog stuff.”
**“Really?! (voice in overture of surprise) Like, what do you have?!”
“Well, we’ve got dolls… figure sets… shirts, both adult and kids… plush animals, big and small… Mardi Gras instrument sets… kids cooking sets… pajamas… nightgowns… books… sticker books… headbands… collectors jewelry boxes, snow globes and book ends… tote bags…”
**“So, you do have Princess & and the Frog stuff there at your store?”
(pausing, trying to determine which part of “Well, we’ve got dolls… figure sets… shirts, both adult and kids… plush animals, big and small… Mardi Gras instrument sets… kids cooking sets… pajamas… nightgowns… books… sticker books… headbands… collectors jewelry boxes, snow globes and book ends… tote bags…” can be misconstrued as “I’m giving you an ambiguous answer”)

Reason #2,933,003 why I don’t gamble. Snow White, one of my fellow Cast Members, is a big Alabama fan. I, as you may know, root for the Gators of the University of Florida. So when Alabama played Florida about a week or so ago, Snow White and I had a friendly wager. Florida wins, she buys my lunch. Alabama wins, I buy her lunch.

And having to watch Snow chow down on the McDonald’s meal she requested the very next day was humbling. Of course, Florida fans, you can blame Tebow’s performance on me. Had I not made the small wager, the Gators would have won the game by about 38 points. I jinxed it, and for that, I’m sorry.

We stopped taking checks at the beginning of November. I’m perfectly okay with it, because it reduces the pressure that some of our Cast Members have when determining whether to take a suspicious check or not. This can be difficult, especially if someone is buying a lot of movies and/or high priced items, who are we to tell someone that we can’t take their check because they look sketch?  If the name on their ID is similiar to the name on the check, but spelled different, now that might be easier (and it was, when that happened).

Not too long after the "no check" policy took effect, a guest spent about 45 minutes in our store shopping for some items.  Picked out some great toys and apparel, all kinds of magic, and made it to the register.  Whomever was taking her transaction, though I'm not sure if it was Bo Peep or Lady Kluck, immediately spotted the older guest taking her checkbook out.  "I'm sorry, ma'am, but we no longer take checks."

Confused, the lady looks around the counter for a few seconds and responds, "I don't see a sign that says that," as if not having a sign present will preempt any policy we might have.  "No ma'am, we don't have a sign available, but we have stopped taking checks.  I do apologize, ma'am.  Do you have another form of payment, a credit or debit card, or cash?"  The Cast Member was nothing but polite.

"I don't have anything but a check.  I don't have one of them debit cards, and I don't want to use my credit card.  Why don't you take checks anymore?!"

Seeing this might be an issue, I stepped in, and simply explained that our policy had changed, and truly there was nothing we could do about it.  This is true, by the way--our "check" button has even been disabled on the abacuses we call registers at The Happiest Place in the Mall, so even if I wanted to bend the rules in this instance... and believe me, I wasn't about to...

SIDEBAR... I've learned in retail that I'm pretty easygoing and very willing to work with guests, not only at The Happiest Place in the Mall, but also the Most Caffienated Place in Greystone.  Usually, I can offer solutions, I can come up with a compromise, and even if it puts me out a little bit, I'm willing to do what I can do make sure if you don't walk out the door happy, at least you are satisfied with the resolution and knowledge that I did what I could do to help you.  Perhaps I could do more, but the effort has been made--and this is what I expect at other places. 

But--there's always a big but--if the guest begins to become rude, belligerent, nay, just a jerk about it, justified or not, or I can sense "a scene" coming on, suddenly my accommodating nature shuts down, ESPECIALLY if the guest is wrong on the issue at hand, or is not taking the time to understand the explanation.  I no longer want to help you.  I want to do something quickly and get you out of here.  My temptation is to make sure you understand 1) how wrong you are, 2) what a jerkweed you are being and 3) my willingness to assist you in your troubles has left the buidling, replaced with my own selfish, albeit unrighteous, need to prove to you that you are, in fact, wrong.   Hey, I'm not perfect, and I'm kinda of ego-driven when it comes to being right.  Just sayin'.

As the Bo Peep had done, I let her know that there was nothing we could do.  "Ma'am, I'm really sorry about this.  There is an ATM machine at the food court, right around the corner (doing the two-fingered Disney point) and we'll be happy to hold all of this merchandise until you can return, if you'd like."  She then, in not so few words, let me have it.  I won't bore you much with the details, but it included phrases like, "Some of us are older and don't use debit cards" and "You're going to lose so much business this way" and "I've been shopping here for 20 years and you have always taken checks" and "You need to have a sign not only up here, but also out front that says 'We Don't Take Checks' so people won't spend 45 minutes in here shopping, wasting our time!"

I apologized again, she left in a hrumph! and that was that.

Smashcut to a few days ago. 

I'm in the back, working on some things via email, and one of our Happiest Place veterans, Fauna, comes to me.  She asks if we truly have stopped taking checks, and I replied that yes, we had, starting in November.  Fauna said that she hasn't worked that much since then, and didn't know about it, and asked me if it was just our store, or nationwide.  I told Fauna that it was in fact nationwide, and though I didn't know about the stores in Orlando and on WDW property, The Happiest Places in the Malls had stopped taking checks.  Fauna informed me there was a highly unhappy guest outside who had come in to buy some things and we had told don't take checks.

You know where this is going.

I walk out and see our No Check Guest giving Fauna her own earful.  I didn't catch it all, but she said phrases like "Some of us are older and don't use debit cards" and "You're going to lose so much business this way" and "I've been shopping here for 20 years and you have always taken checks" and "You need to have a sign not only up here, but also out front that says 'We Don't Take Checks' so people won't spend 45 minutes in here shopping, wasting our time!"

A few minutes later, the guest gave Hollipop at the register a similiar, though thankfully shorter, diatribe about our no-check policy.

As I bit my lip to stop a slight smile--perhaps I'm terrible that this kind of amused me, maybe I'm just jaded by over-the-top reactions--I thought about the signs all over our store.  Many of them describe the sales that are going on, many of them give a "price point" to the particular fixture its resting on, some of them tell you the "2 For $12" deals and "$3 for $20" and so on.   Now, I'm not saying this is a slam on anyone who does this, because I do this in stores too, but many times people will ask me the price on something that is clearly marked, or ask me if something is on sale, when there's not any signage to allude to it at all.

It occurred to me that if there was a sign posted at the register, anyone who spends 45 minutes shopping in our store will not see this sign until they get to the actual register, which means the 45 minutes had already been wasted.  It also occurred to me that there are very few stores, if any, that have a "We Don't Take Checks" sign at their front door, save for the temporary kiosks or stores that sell Hickory Farms Sausages or 2010 calendars.   And if people are picking up a Buzz Lightyear Plate that's sitting under a sign that says "Meal Time Magic... 3 for $12" and asking me if they can get three of them for $12, they certainly aren't going to see it posted around the store. 

Christmas Happy Times indeed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Princess & the Frog

Transmogrification central!  Can you feel it?  You're changin', you're changin', ou're changin', all right!  I hope you're satisfied, but if you ain't, don't blame me.  You can blame my friends on the other side! -- Dr. Facilier (Keith David)

In late June of 1994, the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at Troy State U, I met up with Tonya Windham in Enterprise, Alabama.  Our purpose was to take in a viewing of Disney's latest movie, "The Lion King", the fifth (out of the ten) movie in the fabled Disney Renaissance.  For the most part, there is no better person to see a highly anticipated movie with than a good friend, which Tonya was, and we laughed at the antics of Timon and Pumbaa's fart jokes, we marveled at the brilliant animation of the wildebeest stampede and were both shocked at the death of Mufasa.  And we loved the film.  I still do, all these years later.

"The Lion King" was truly the first Disney film I could remember watching in the theater... this isn't to say that I didn't see "Aladdin" or "Beauty and the Beast" at the movies, cause I might have, but I don't remember it.  I know when I was about 7, I was taken to see "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" when it was re-released to theaters, but I don't remember anything about it... except for the fact that I wanted to see "Jaws 3-D".  But I do remember "The Lion King".  What I didn't realize at the time, though, was that I was watching a classic.  I was bearing witness to one of the most successful, critically acclaimed film of all time (currently 19th on the Biggest Movies Ever list), and was watching characters--Simba, Nala, Timon, Pumbaa, Scar, Mufasa--being presented that will live on forever... my kids will watch Simba grow from a cub to a king, my grandchildren will do the same. 

And this is what I thought about as The Lovely Steph Leann and I sat down to watch "The Princess & the Frog" this past weekend.  I'd heard nothing but stellar reviews over the weekend from people, including Bo Peep, a fellow CM at The Happiest Place in the Mall who had seen it at midnight the day before.  Before the movies wide release, it had been garnering raves in its limited runs in NYC and LA, and I had high, high hopes for this film... and it didn't let me down.

Plot in a nutshell, its a Disney twist on the story of The Frog Prince, the story that has a girl kissing a frog who turns into a handsome prince.  In this tale, however, Naveen, the handsome prince, has been turned into a frog by the voo-doo man, Dr. Facilier, and when he convinced our heroine Tiana to kiss him, she turns into a frog herself.  Hijinx, hilarity and romance ensue as they, along with Ray the Cajun Firefly and Louis the jazz playing crocodile, try to find Mama Odie to help them turn back into humans again.

The question isn't "What did I love about this film?", the question is really "What didn't I love about this film?".  The answer is only two-fold... first, the songs might have been a little longer.  I was totally digging both Dr. Facilier's villian song, "Friends On the Other Side" and Mama Odie's huge gospel choir-infused "Dig a Little Deeper", and both ended too soon.  Secondly, Dr. Facilier, the bad guy, is a great bad guy... and they give him the Darth Maul treatment, that is, they show him off, he gets a few winks and nods here and there, and then he'd dealt with and done.  Not enough of the mean doctor... voiced by Keith David, he comes across not really as evil, but as a big, selfish jerk.  (for those of you who don't know who Keith David is, he was in Sandy Bullock's "All About Steve", he narrates "City Confidential" on A&E and he was the stepdad in "There's Something About Mary"--he was the one who sees Ben Stiller's predicament and says, "Well, which is it, son, the frank or the beans?")

The animation is stunning.  The film is beautifully drawn, and to its credit, its done so much so that there's no way this film could have been a computer animated feature--it would have lost most, if not all, of its charm.  Tiana is a heroine who is working hard for her dreams to happen, not waiting around for someday, her prince will come, and that is to be admired.  Much has been made about Tiana being the "first black princess", and yes, that's true, but this film definately takes liberties with history--she's best friends with a rich debutante named Charlotte, which alone is an impractical thought in the time period this film is set in.  I didn't get caught up in that, though, and you shouldn't either.

The supporting characters, including Charlotte, are wonderful, and never get annoying.  Ray the Cajun Firefly turned out to be my favorite of the bunch, with his cay-joan accent and missing teeth, though watching Louis, the gator who just wants to play jazz on his trumpet, also makes for great laughs.  There are a few scary scenes, though, when Dr. Facilier sends The Shadow creatures out to re-capture the escaped Naveen, and I even told The Lovely Steph Leann that if I were 5, I would have been terrified... today's kids are a little more desensitized to such frights, though, so you can decide for yourself if your crumb cruncher can handle it.

One thing to be aware of when watching this film... you are witnessing the birth of a classic.  This is a movie that, no matter how successful it will end up--and it will end up successful--that Campbell Isaiah and Lorelei Addison will watch, and their children will watch as well in 2040 on whatever home video format we're up to then.  This is a movie that will be released in Blu-Ray and DVD in April of 2010, and will disappear into The Vault in June of 2011 or so, not to be available for 7 to 10 years. 

This is the birth of a true Disney Princess, one that we'll be seeing with the likes of Cinderella, Belle, Ariel and Aurora for a long, long time.  The last time we saw a true Disney Princess emerge?  Mulan.  The last time we saw a true Disney classic not-named-Pixar unfold before our eyes?  Yep.  "The Lion King".  That was the last movie heralded and beloved enough to go into The Vault (well, "Fantasia 2000" also is in The Vault, coupled with "Fantasia", but that's kinda another story)...  For me, and perhaps I'm the odd case, this is exciting.  I'm thrilled that Disney has finally broken through the ceiling they put on themselves with "Dinosaur" and "Brother Bear". 

I was discussing this film briefly with Hurricane Rhett, who simply said, "2-D animation is dead."  After bearing witness to atrocities like "Home on the Range" and the poor storytelling of "Treasure Planet", I could see where the argument could have been made.  Its the same argument I'd heard for ten years now, and with Disney shutting down its hand-drawn animation studios in Orlando, and even going as far as to say that they were done with 2-D animated films, it looked like 2-D animation was truly dead. 

I, however, had always contended that if the story was good, people would go see it, be it 2-D or computer animated. "Lilo & Stitch", one of my favorite Disney films, was completely 2-D, and was one of Disney's biggest hits sans Pixar this decade.  It had a great story.  "Valiant" or "The Wild", both computer animated films, were bombs, and rightly so.  I've seen part of both, and both were pretty terrible... its important to note, though that neither are techinically Disney films, because Disney only distrubuted them and had no hand in making them. 

I make no illusions that this film is the next "The Lion King", or even "Aladdin"... and after second and third viewings, I cannot tell you that I'd rank "The Princess & the Frog" above "Hercules", an only moderately successful Disney film (on the tail end of the Renaissance) that I absolutely adore... but for now, "The Princess & the Frog", is fantastic... great jazz music, incredible color thats perfectly timed to the scene in progress (watch how the colors around Mama Odie are somewhat muted until you find out she's one of the good guys, then the color explodes brightly), two very likable main characters and at its heart, a moral of not just wishing and dreaming, but working hard to make those wishes and dreams come true. 

So which Disney flick did I like better this year, "Up" or "The Princess & the Frog"?  That is a great question... almost like asking me who I rank higher, The Goddess or Amy Adams, whom I'm in love with.  Both films will be ranked in The 100 Coolest Things of 2009, coming in January, so perhaps you'll get your answer then.  To both questions. 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Blind Side

Clear to the left, clear to the right, without a sound it came around, hit me on the blind side.  Look to the front, look to the back, down for the count, I'll tell you how, hit me on the blind side.  And though I could see the truth staring right at me.  Well, I did not ready myself for the blind side.  -- "Blind Side" by Susan Ashton

Sandra Bullock is having quite a year.  First, "The Proposal" does monster business, everyone I know that has seen it just loves it, and I gave it quite a glowing review on this here website (you can also see my own list of favorite Sandy B movies).

Secondly, the movie "All About Steve" was released, a movie actually set for release in April, but was pushed back to September, so it would be after people had fallen for Bradley Cooper in "The Hangover" and fallen again for Sandy Bullock in "The Proposal".  Well, "All About Steve" got terrible reviews, it was painted as an incredibly awful movie... but several people I know that went to see it said they thought it wasn't that bad.  The Lovely Steph Leann and I never got around to seeing it but... (just took a second and added it to our Netflix Queue, discovering it will be released on 12/22). 

And now, "The Blind Side" has come to theaters.  We've been seeing the trailer for this flick for a few months, and The Lovely Steph Leann would always lean over and whisper, "I want to see that movie."  So, when it was released, we had to go see it. 

I knew the basic story--Sandra Bullock plays Leigh Ann Touhy, a well-to-do wife in Memphis, TN, with a husband, Sean (a surprisingly good Mr. Faith Hill), and two children Sean Jr (SJ) and Collins, living a simple, successful life.  They come upon Michael Oher (played by Quinton Aaron with the perfect amount of charm and subduedness), a large black boy, who has no home, no place to go, no way to better himself.  They take him in for the night, and "for the night" turns into "for a few nights" and "for a few nights" becomes "for a while". 

The movie then follows along with how not only Michael's life is changed, but how the Touhys--specifically Leigh Ann's--life is also changed.   What's so dazzling about this story is that its all true.  The real life Touhys have seen it, and commented that its pretty accurate, at least for a Hollywood film.

Its full of laughs and heartwarming moments, but its never preachy or manipulative.  The movie's intent it never to make you feel like you have to cry, and it doesn't seem like its showing you the "Hallmark" moments just for the awwwww factor... its part of the story.  In movies with this "helping each other out" theme, there's always an uncomfortable moment when the kids hate the new person, only to have this togetherness scene that brings them together--"The Blind Side" never has that.  SJ and Collins are nothing but loving and supportive of Michael, and it even enhances Michael's rebuilding of his life.

There is conflict, of course, first when Michael faces his past, and then we he faces the question of "Why did the Touhy's do this for me?", but being the movie that it is, the conflicts don't end badly. 

Probably the most impressive part of this entire movie is the evolution of Sandra Bullock... this is unlike a role that she's ever done, and she takes it full-on and does a tremendous job channeling the real Leigh Anne's will, spitfire and spunk.  Her accent is slight, but not bothersome, and in my favorite scene, she faces off against the other well-to-do women over lunch.  Its remarkable because you know that she was one of those women before Michael Oher showed up in her life.  One of the ladies, in a pleasant tone, asks if Leigh Anne was worried that a large black boy was sleeping in the same house, downstairs from Collins, the Touhy's pretty daughter.  Leigh Anne simply says, "Shame on you."

In a side note, I read a column in Entertainment Weekly where Sandra Bullock said she met Leigh Ann Touhy in real life, in research for the role--and was completely intimidated.  Apparently, in real life, as in the movie, Leigh Ann Touhy does in fact carry a gun in her purse and her vehicle, and is one of those "when I'm for you, I'm for you a thousand percent, but if you hurt me or someone I care about, you'd better watch it, cause I'm taking you out." 

When a movie's credits are rolling, sometimes The Lovely Steph Leann says, "I really liked it!" and I'll say, "Yeah, it was pretty good."  Sometimes I'll say, "I thought that was great", and she'll shrug and say, "Yeah, I liked it okay."  When the credits rolled for "The Blind Side", we both said, "That was fantastic."  And it was.  Everyone that I know that has seen this film has loved it.  The critics haven't been as kind, calling it a little sappy, a little schlocky, one even lamenting the fact that there was no conflict between Michael and the Touhy children, a fact that I really liked because that's done in every other film like this.  I'm guessing there was some conflict in real life, but Michael's relationship with SJ and Collins was not the center of the movie, it was all about Leigh Anne and Michael.

Tim McGraw is actually really good as Sean Touhy, the loving and supportive husband who gives way to his wife when needed, without ever giving the appearance that he's a doormat. 

Of course, Michael Oher, in real life, is playing in the NFL, selected in the as the 23rd pick overall this past April by the Baltimore Ravens after a very successful career at Ole Miss.  And that brings up a hilarious part of the film, when he's being recruited by colleges.. several college football coaches played themselves but at former schools: Phillip Fulmer (was Tennessee head coach, now out of football), Lou Holtz (was South Carolina head coach, now does TV and routinely embarrasses himself by picking Notre Dame to win), Houston Nutt (was Arkansas head coach, now Ole Miss head coach), Ed Orgeron (was Ole Miss head coach, now assistant at Tennessee and might possibly be crazy), Nick Saban (was LSU head coach, now Alabama head coach, practicing the phrase "We Got 13"), Tommy Tuberville (was Auburn head coach, now out of football... remember him?). 

The story itself was the center of a bestselling book in 2006, entitled "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game" by Michael Lewis, and as of this blog post, it was sold out on

The movie is excellent... its feel good, its warm, its funny, its everything a family movie should be, one that pokes at you to say "awwww" without demanding you tear up or feel sympathy and guilt.  After the movie was over, I leaned over to The Lovely Steph Leann, and in my most politically incorrect tone said, "We should go to Ensley and adopt a black child."  She frowned at me, then rolled her eyes and got up to leave.  She's good at that.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Hurt Locker

"I hurt myself today to see if I still feel, I focus on the pain, the only thing that's real..." Johnny Cash

When they announced several weeks ago that the Academy in increasing the number of Best Picture nominees from five to ten, I, as a movie lover and sometimes critic, had the same question about 2009... "Is there enough quality films to fill all ten spots?  Or will spots 8,9 and 10 just be something popular that they had to add in to take up the extra space?"

Well, my guess is that one film that will be there, and would have been there regardless of the five or ten movie limit, even if this film had been released in the vaunted 1993 Great Year At the Movies...

SIDEBAR... I've heard that the year 1939 is considered the best year in film, all time.  Its not surprising, because the list of movie classics--movies that to this day, people are still relishing--is long and heavy... in 1939, there was "Gone With the Wind"... "The Wizard of Oz"... "Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs"... "Stagecoach"... "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"... "Gunga Din"... "Goodbye Mr. Chips"... and the original "Of Mice and Men".  That is a Murder's Row of timeless cinema.

I've also heard that 1993 is a considerable heavyweight when it comes to film.  Perhaps because I was 17/18 at the time, aware of the impact of movies in my own life that 1993 probably resonates more... consider this list of movies that came out in 1993... "Schindler's List"... "The Fugitive"... "Groundhog Day"... "In the Name of the Father"... "The Piano"... "Philadelphia"... "In the Line of Fire"... "Dave"... "Sleepless in Seattle"... "Dazed and Confused"... "Tombstone"... "The Nightmare Before Christmas"... "Short Cuts"... "Jurassic Park"... this year alone constitutes 7 films in The Dave100.  

Don't know if this is the best year in film or not... but it has to come darn close.  Just sayin'.

Where was I?

Yeah... "The Hurt Locker". 

Been hearing about this film since late summer, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, probably most famous for Keanu "I AM AN EFF BEE EYE AGENT!" Reeves in "Point Break", and wanted to see it.  I'm really wary about recent war films, as a few of them have come off very anti-Our Guys and anti-Our Country, so I usually stay away.  And, I think everyone else stays away too, as "In the Valley of Elah", "Stop-Loss", "Redition" (which is a waste of my beloved Reese Witherspoon) and "Lions for Lambs" were all disasters at the box office, commonly known as "bombs".  I've only seen one of the previous movies mentioned, and it was pretty terrible. 

I kept looking for "The Hurt Locker" here in Birmingham, but never saw it.  There's a few big theaters around, and perhaps it made it in and out before I knew it, but one day I saw it advertised at the Ghetto Theater for a buck.  Called up my Ghetto Theater Buddy Mikey and said, "Hey, let's go see it!" and he said, "Yeah, dog" and so we did.  We met up with our friends Jimmy B and The Good Doctor Earl, and settled back in chairs that were probably filled with H1N1, the Avian Flu, lice, gingivitis and clamidia, all at the same time. 

"The Hurt Locker" is about a group of solders in Iraq that disarm Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs, which are really just like they sound--simply made bombs that are triggered by tripwires, or remotes or whatever, made to kill people, namely American soliders. 

After the Spc. Eldridge and Sgt. Sanborn's team leader, Sgt. Thompson, is killed by an IED, SSgt James is brought in to replace him.  James and Thompson are miles apart, with Thompson exact, careful, precise and always putting safety first, while James is borderline reckless, approaching the IEDs with a devil-may-care attitude, alienating Eldridge and Sanborn with his style and his lack of discipline.  Still, James is very, very good at what he does.

One of the most chilling scenes is when they run upon a sniper attack, and after they return fire and hunker down, the waning minutes turns into hours, as they sit, hiding, afraid to move, trying to take out the snipers before they get hit themselves. 

I've never been at war.  I've never been shot at.  I've never worn the gear of the military, so I cannot tell you that this movie does or does not correctly identify what these soldiers go through, every day, with IEDs just stuck everywhere from random rubble on the roadside to being surgically implanted in the stomachs of small children.  Not kidding.

There are three main reasons why I thought this film was brilliant... first, the lack of superstars helps this movie quite a bit.  No Tommy Lee Jones, no Jake Gyllenhaal, no Jamie Foxx... only a cameo appearance by Kate from Lost, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes and That Guy Hall of Famer David Morse, but beyond that, its starring no one you'd recognize.  Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty have been in other stuff, but you likely won't remember much of it.  Taking away this stardom almost makes this feel like its a documentary more than anything else, like what you are seeing on screen is actually happening 5,000 miles and a half-dozen time zones away--maybe because it is. 

Secondly, its not preachy.  Anyone who has read this site enough will know I'm not into being preached at by films that are supposed to entertain.  It doesn't dive into politics, into why we are there, why we are or are not winning or losing the war, or anything else.  It just tells its story.

Finally... its just a really good movie.  Its a movie about war, so none of the language is Emmy Turnbow Safe, and it does have its bloody moments, but its paced well, it doesn't veer into subplots (much... there is one small one, but it resolves itself quickly) and after its over, you just nod your head and say, "That's a good movie."

Its hard to imagine that this movie might win the Best Picture, as its not flashy and the marketing machine of Hollywood hasn't taken this film to new heights, but as far as quality, its one of the best films I've seen all year... certainly better than "Slumdog Millionaire". 

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Kicks Just Keep Getting Harder to Find

"And your kicks just keep gettin' harder to find, and all your kicks ain't bringing you peace of mind..." Paul Revere & the Raiders

"Give me two pair, cause I need two pair, so I can get to stomping in my air force ones..." Nelly

There's nothing... I mean nothing... like a good pair of shoes.  Even with The Lovely Steph Leann, who spends much of her working day sitting at a desk (she does much more than that, but she does spend time at a desk...) shoes are essential, as she deals with plantar fasciitis.  I, who not only spends at least 8 hours a day on my feet at The Happiest Place in the Mall, then at least 10 hours a week standing in front of an espresso bar at The Most Caffienated Place in Greystone, have to have good shoes.  A must.

My problem with shoes is two-fold... first, my feet are very wide.  Like, short and stubby, but wide.  I only wear a 9.5, sometimes I can wear a 9, every now and again a 10.  Secondly, I never grew up with a whole lot of money to buy the right kind of shoes... so after a decade of wearing & tolerating ill-fitting shoes, its only been recently that I would splurge the money to make my feet comfy.

When I was a kid, it was a huge deal to, every September, travel to nearby Geneva with my dad.  We'd go to Moore's Clothing in the little shopping center right past where they build the Wal-Mart (though it wasn't around in those days), and Dad would drop about $70 on a pair or Nikes, or Reeboks, or (one year and one year only) a pair of L.A. Gear shoes.  Paging 1988, come in 1988....

For my family, $70 was a lot of money, as we bought many of my clothes in cheaper establishments... but those shoes were great.  That was my pair for the whole school year.  In September, they'd be gleaming white with a blue stripe down the side, in May they'd be a muddy grey with a blue/black half-stripe barely hanging on.  But, when you went to a place like Moore's, before Dick's Sporting Goods and before Academy Sports & Outdoors (the right stuff the right price... Academy!) and before Target and before outlets and such, you had places like Moore's, places that would not only sell you a pair of shoes, they would sell you the correct pair of shoes. 

You would have an old guy who had that silver, metal foot bracket, and you'd place your sock feet in it, heel back, and the old guy would move the little brackets to barely touching your toes and the side brackets would slightly squeeze your feet.  The old guy would make a few notes based on those miniscule little notches on the foot bracket and come back with a couple of pairs of shoes from the back, a couple of pairs that would fit your feet perfectly.  And they did. 

I was blissfully unaware that my feet were wide.  I was ignorant of the fact that to shoe my feet, it would take some special searching.  And though you have a few younger folk that will flip out that shoe bracket when you go into a shoe store, I think foot sizing is a lost, lost art, the knowledge driven away by the convenience of walking in, trying a few pairs on, figuring out what fits best in the store, hoping it will still feel okay in two weeks and purchasing.  I'd pay a little extra for the old guy with the bracket.  And I finally did.  But I'll get to that.

I've had a few pairs of shoes purchased on how they fit in the store, or shoes that I thought, "Yeah, its a little tight, but they look cool, so I can deal with it..."  I bought a pair of Timberland slip-ons that were on sale for $20, and thats what I thought... but as The Lovely Steph Leann and I drove home from the beach, I decided to wear them, and I remember stopping somewhere and me getting out for a minute.  By the time I got back in the car, I was limping.  The shoes were tight across the top of my foot, left a bruise and I walked a little funny for three days.  Some years later, I sold those shoes to a Mexican guy for $3 at a yard sale that we had with Mikey Nipp.

Skechers are the worst.  I've owned several pairs in my life, and I have two that were decent, only one that was good.  Bought my first pair in college, through a mail order catalog, a pair of white-toed black shoes that I still have.  Usually, when The Lovely Steph Leann & I hit Panama City for Thanksgiving, we spend time at the Silver Sands Outlets in Sandestin, and a few years back, I fell into the, "Buy 2 pair, get 1 Free!" trap, and bought three pairs of shoes I didn't need... a pair of sneakers that were awesome--until they prematurely fell apart--the rubber started tearing lose of the sole within six months... a pair of brown loafers that, within the first few months, had a split in the sole... and a pair of black shoes that buckle in the front and still look great--of course, I only wear them once per month or two.  I've sworn that I'll never buy another pair of Skechers again.

There's a couple of pairs of shoes that I would toss into the d$ Shoe Hall of Fame, including a pair of Timberland sandals that were one size too big and that I wore on every beach trip I'd taken since 1999, a pair that The Lovely Steph Leann finally threw out not too long ago... a pair of American Eagle... well, my friend Allysong called them "clods", but they were like loafers, and are approaching their 12th year in my care and unfortunately are drawing near to the end of their life... and a pair of Lugz shoes I bought at Sears for $12, and have been fantastic tennis shoes.  (I once wore the Lugz shirt, my favorte FUBU shirt and my "W: The President" hat out to dinner, and someone remarked 'that outfit is a contradiction in terms'")

By the way, if you look close, you can see the wear and tear on the inside heel of these  "clods".  Everyone has a pair of shoes that just feels so good, and you want to keep them as long as you possibly can, because "just feels good" shoes are hard to come by.

Almost 7 years at Starbucks has caused me to go through 8 pairs of shoes... I've had tennis shoes, mostly, but I've done the lace-less slip on shoes as well, but they've always been a $20 or less pair that I knew I was going to destroy.  When I took the job at The Happiest Place in the Mall, I was told that part of costume was black shoes, so I had to go out a buy some.  I bought some new brown Starbucks shoes at the same time, and in July 2008, I put my brown GXS flats and my black Reebok runners in motion. 

During our trip to The Most Magical Place on Earth in June, my feet were getting blistered.  The Lovely Steph Leann chalked it up to my Lugz that, while comfortable, were just not made for the walking, standing, running and walking more that we were doing for 14 hours per day, four days in a row--the Skecher tennis shoes weren't doing any better.  After watching her to go New Balance and spend over a $110 on a pair of shoes (which, all these years in marriage later is almost still unfathomable), I decided it was finally time to get myself a good pair of sneakers.  We discussed it, and, still coming to grips about the fact that I might have to spend that much to fit my wide feet into some comfy shoes, I went to a local shop called The Trak Shak

The guy there wasn't old... but he knew how to size a foot.  I told him what I was looking for--a pair of tennis shoes that could be used for three things--running, walking and if needed, playing tennis, if I ever decided to get my chunky tail up and do something.  I told him that my problem was my feet were wide, and it was hard to find a good pair of shoes that I liked.  He listened, he asked me to walk around and he told me that he could tell from my walk that I tended to walk inward, probably due to lack of good footwear.  Long story short (too late?) I came out with a pair of Nikes that fit... perfectly.  What size?  9 1/2.  I call them my Trailer Shoes.  Why?  Cause they are "Double wide".
So, a few weeks ago when The Lovely Steph Leann and I were in Pensacola/Destin, we stopped off at the Sandestin Silver Sands outlet, and I went into the Reebok store.  It was time to find a good pair of shoes for The Happiest Place at the Mall.  Reebok and Rockport were side by side, and had a deal... a "Buy 2, Get 1 Free!" deal.  Skechers had got me on this some years back, so I told The Lovely Steph Leann I wouldn't buy 2 pairs just to buy 2 pairs... but I did need some Magic Shoes and I did need some good sandals (remember, as she tossed my Timberlands when I wasn't looking). 

With a little shopping, I managed to find a pair of great Rockport sandals, a great pair of brown loafers (since my "clods" aren't permissable by The Lovely Steph Leann many times, and my Skechers have a gash in them) and finally, a solid pair of Reebok Walk Ultra III DMX, size 2E--that's Double Wide.  Total cost?  $102.  Thought I'd got a deal.

At The Happiest Place in the Mall, I feel like I'm walking on one of those spring shoes, as the shoes feel great.  They feel wonderful.  I've got my Nikes, which feel awesome when I'm lounging, walking or running, and I've got my Black 'boks, which feel awesome when I'm making Magic. 


(There's always a big but...)

Yesterday was a full day for me.  I had to be at The Happiest Place in the Mall all day, then at Starbucks last night.  I usually carry my khaki shorts and my black polo, a pair of white socks and my heavily syruped, heavily grounded Starbucks shoes in my backseat, so when I leave The Magic, I can grab something to eat, then head to The Beans.  Well, I forgot my socks and shoes.  No matter... I've got on black socks, which will make me a look dorky, but the shoes are black, and they are springy, and heck, I need springy at Starbucks.  I'm considering buying a pair of these Walk Ultra III DMX, size 2E, for the coffee shop.

Its raining, quite hard actually, and I run the garbage out.  Toss on my blue hoodie, throw on the hood, roll the garbage can out and to the dumpster.  Come back, take off the blue hoodie, throw it on the rack and go do the dishes.  As I'm standing in front of the sink, rinsing off an empty tray of cranberry bliss bars, I hear a squeaky sound.  Almost like a whistling, almost like that "wheeeeeeee" sound you hear when a firework goes up, right before it explodes.  A whirring, if you will. 

No... it can't be... no, its not... it cannot be... not... its the mat.  Its the mat I'm standing on.  Its the mat, the rubber mat, because there is water under it... there's... no way that...

I walk off the mat, to the front.  As I walk, I can hear it.  Whir whish whish whish whirrrr whish whish.  I stand still, and lean a little, putting a little more weight on my left foot.  The whirring is a little louder.  I do the same on my right.  Whisssshhh. 

Somehow, someway, a slight hole has developed in the sole of my Black Reebok Walk Ultra III DMX, Size 2E, and as I walk, air--moist air--is being pushed out.  As I lift my foot, it re-inflates, and as I put my foot down, it pushed out more air.  This is a problem that cannot be fixed.  This is an issue that cannot be resolved.  When I told The Lovely Steph Leann, she just shrugged and said, "Eh, it'll go away."  I shook my head silently, knowing it never would.  And as I walked onstage at The Happiest Place in the Mall, I heard the slight sound of a whirring whish. 

I think I'm going to write a strongly worded letter. 

Kicks... good kicks... just keep getting harder to find.  Alas.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dahlonega Days & Thanksgiving Buffets

(note.... part one of this non-epic, yet still frankly enjoyable half-week vacation, the part that takes place at the home of Cabbage Patch Kids, can be found here)

So, after we left Babyland General Hospital (thankfully, I never found the nursing station...), we hopped in the car and headed up the road... down the road?  I still don't even know where we were... over to a town called Dahlonega.  My first thought was the Six Flags roller coaster, Dahlonega Mine Train, and who knew there was a real Dahlonega?  I didn't.

Dahlonega is one of those touristy type towns with a big central landmark (in this case, the Gold Museum), surrounded on all four sides, and then some, by antique shops, boutiques, small bookstores, cafes, ice cream parlors and the like.  Angie, the niece & nephew, Mama Ruthie, The Lovely Steph Leann and I parked on one of the side streets and found The Crimson Moon Cafe, which declares itself to be "The South's Most Intimate Music Venue".  No wonder... walk in, and there is a dining area with about 70 seats (while waiting for our food, I counted), and as you walk through the cafe, in the back of the room there is a door to a small coffee shop.

On the left side of the dining room, there is a small stage which would hold maybe a four person band--definately not a drum set.  The food was a bit overpriced, it perhaps relies too much on "quaint" to be a great restaurant, and on a random Thursday night when there is a blues or jazz band, or a decent cover band playing some good music, I'm sure a burger and chips and a big glass of something (I don't drink beer, but you can imagine it might work), there's probably not a better place to be in Dahlonega than The Crimson Moon.  For me, however, it was overpriced.  And burger was just eh. 

After lunch, we walked the block down to the little fudge shop, containing about all the chocolately goodness you can possibly imagine.  Cookies, brownies, fudge, taffy, candy, hard candy, soft candy, chocolate candy, tarts, M&M covered everything, sprinkle covered anything... The Lovely Steph Leann and I settled for a piece of fudge each (her the peanut butter, me the cheesecake), a couple of chocolate and white chocolate pretzels, and one each of the dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate covered cherries.   Its vacation.  We're not concerned.  Our diabetes might be, but we are not.

Outside, we met up with White Jada and her childrens, and the rest of the vacation group.  The Lovely Steph Leann and I split up from the others, and headed down the road to tour some antique shops and see the sights. 

Saw a group of these guys on the left here.  No joke, I swear I had no idea they still had black and white striped jumpsuits for prisoners.  I questioned if they were in some sort of costume, but there was a small group of them cleaning up, hanging decorations around the town and such.  Thought it was kinda fun.

We walked through some of the antique shops there in the downtown area, but really, none of them had the charm or flair that we found from the one in Panama City we always visit.  One of the more bizarre and odd finds, though, was this plate.  I missed it completely, but The Lovely Steph Leann called me over, pointed, and said, "Check that out."  I had to get a picture.
We did manage to find a few things of interest, though.  There was a little area with some older books, soft and hard back, and she found a pretty decent copy of "Fiery Cross" by Diana Gabaldon and I managed to procure a copy of "The Regulators" by Richard Bachman.   Also, The Lovely Steph Leann found the hat area, and tried on several.  Someone at my church, Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship, natch), once said, "No one wears a hat like The Lovely Steph Leann", and I deem it true. 

We walked around the square, taking in the sites and enjoying the shops and such, even stopping into the little General Store for some rock candy.  Matter of fact, while I type this, my piece lay uneaten on our kitchen counter... excuse me just a minute...

(currently nibbling on a piece bubble gum flavored rock candy from the general store in Dahlonega, Georgia)

(slowly realizing why its important to eat rock candy within 24 hours of buying it, as when I bit my piece of bubble gum flavored rock candy from the general store in Dahlonega, Georgia, it crumbled into a dozen pieces, spilling all over my lap, the recliner in which I sit and all over the floor)

(distressed because I'm having to pick up the pieces from the rug and floor, and of course, eating them because I don't want to waste it)

(further distressed because that last piece was not only spongy, it had a hair on it.)

Okay, I'm back.  Mmm mmm mmm, that was good rock candy. 

We returned to the cabin that evening, had some dinner--which was green bean casserole and poppy seed chicken, two of my favorites--and played some Mexican Train Dominoes with Bill, Jennifer, White Jada, Jake & The Lovely Steph Leann.  Sat up reading, and just felt great being lazy.

Thanksgiving allowed me to sleep in just a bit, and then we were on our way to some country club up... down... the road to have a big Thanksgiving buffet.  There are those who are traditionalists, and feel that Thanksgiving meal should be a meal cooked only at home, with turkey and ham and dressing and the like... but not me.  Yes, yes, at home is great.  But if someone else will do it for you, that's fine too. 

If you are keeping score at home, remember this is the Campbells, the Wests, the Smiths, the Youngs, all the children, and The Lovely Steph Leann and Yours Truly.

We took a few pictures in front of the rather large Christmas tree, had some fun family moments, I snuck around to the bar to watch a few minutes of whatever game was on--I don't remember, but its football, it doesn't matter--and finally, we were seated.  They brought me my Co-Cola in a goblet, I waited for the signal, and then I was up and in the line for some hearty Thanksgiving lunch. 

An on my plate, I managed to throw on some corn casserole, some creamed potatoes, about a half dozen chilled shrimp, some crab legs, a biscuit, a crouissant, some sweet potato souffle, some salmon, some stuff there on the right side that I cannot even remember eating (nor liking) and, after my plate was full, and I was at the end of the line with no more room on my own plate, I turned around to see The Lovely Steph Leann in another part of the line, and said, "Hey, The Lovely Steph Leann, please hand me another plate!"  She did, and I got some roast beast sliced and layed on it.  Calm down, calm down... she got to the line a minute or so after I did, and when I motioned for her to join me, she waved me off, not wanting to offend those ten people between she and I.   So that's an example of how great she is... she knew I'd need another plate, and when I did, I turned around, and there she is.

And of course, there is dessert.  There is always dessert.  After two plates of lunch (though no more crab legs--they were delicious, but crab legs are just too much work), I headed towards the superb dessert spread, gathering up a banana pudding parfait, a piece of pumpkin pie (covered in homemade whipped cream), a piece of pecan pie (covered in homemade whipped cream), a pecan pie brownie (covered in homemade whipped cream), a piece of German chocolate cake... and I think a cookie.  And I ate.  And I ate some more.  And it was awesome.  And just when my stomach knocked on my insides and said, "Hey, yo... uh... we're getting kinda packed down here, so you... uh... you may want to ease up, or even stop..."  To which I said, "Stomach.  Shut up.  Its vacation.  Its Thanksgiving.  You'll speak when you're spoken too.  For now, take what I give you."  And with that, I took another bite of the chocolate parfait I had just retrieved. 

Full, stuffed to the gills and knowing that deep down inside, my stomach is snickering, muttering, "Yeah, yeah... you wait... laugh now, go ahead...", we loaded up the vehicles and headed back to the cabin.  There were naps in all of our futures... and we took advantage.

Later that night, The Lovely Steph Leann played some rook with Jason and some others, I watched an excellent football game between Texas and Texas A&M, chatted with Randy, Tyler and White Jada and later that evening, after chowing on warmed up green bean casserole and poppy seed chicken, it all wound down to a game of Phase 10. 

I joined the game late, wanting to watch the end of the football game, and though I always finish any card game I start, I just couldn't finish... tired, full, sleepy, and knowing I had to get up the next morning (Black Friday!) to travel back to Birmingham, to go to work at The Happiest Place in the Mall later in the afternoon.

What am I thankful for?  Well, I'm thankful my own mom is still kickin' it, I'm thankful that my in-laws are such great people, and I'm thankful that I married The Lovely Steph Leann, who has such a great family.  I'm thankful that I'm blessed enough by God to have the resources to travel a little bit, and though its frustrating to have to join vacation mid-week, then leave before its over, its thankful that I have a job that I enjoy so much that forces me to do just that very thing. 

And I'm thankful for chilled shrimp, buffets that have crab legs, pecan pie (covered in homemade whipped cream) and poppy seed chicken. 

And thankful that you, dear Coffee Drinker, keep coming back.  Thank you.