Friday, November 18, 2005


The holiday shopping season is in full swing and the major credit card companies have jumped into the fray. Have you seen their latest gift idea? Visa’s offering one now and American Express has been promoting theirs pretty hard. It’s a pre-loaded credit gift card. Their value proposition is that the credit card works just like a gift card, but you can use it anywhere! Wow – what a brilliant fucking idea. A gift card that works at ANY store. That’s amazing.

Wait a second. Don’t they already have something like that? Oh yeah. I think it’s called CASH.

But cash as a holiday gift gets a bad rap because it can be perceived as thoughtless and uninspired. The appeal of the gift card is that it lets people take the easy way out of having to choose a gift for someone, without entirely removing thoughtfulness from the exercise. By giving someone a Borders gift card, you’re essentially saying, “I think you like to read, but I don’t have the time or the balls to pick something out for you.”

Of course, it’s always spun as a positive:

“This way I figured you could pick out whatever you want.”


But the proof is in the pudding. Gift cards have been wildly successful because people LIKE gift cards. They're easy. Plus, we LIKE being able to pick out the things we want instead of having someone else presume to know what we want. And do you know who REALLY loves gift cards? Retailers. They save a fortune every year in unused cards. Shit – I’ve still got gift cards in my wallet from LAST Christmas. That’s money that went directly into the bank accounts of big businesses in exchange for future purchases that were never made. And by the time I actually use them, prices will have risen and I won’t be able to get as much product as I would have a year ago when the cards were originally purchased.

If you've been post-holiday shopping for years, you may have noticed a trend. The number of post-holiday sale events have significantly decreased. There was a time when malls were packed post-holidays with people shopping for deals. Retailers customarily dropped prices after the holidays to keep traffic coming at a time when consumers felt financially tapped out. Not anymore. That's because we've entered the age of gift cards. If retailers drop prices, they'll be giving away more product when people use their gift cards. That's why, instead of using them right after the holidays, it's now better to wait a month or two.

I don't mean to badmouth gift cards here - heaven knows I've given out and appreciated receiving my share of them over the last decade. And I’m certainly not suggesting gift cards are a racket – they’re just good for business. And if they're good for business, they're good for the economy, which is good for people looking for work, which is good for boosting employment figures, which is good for putting money in peoples' pockets, which is, in turn, good for business. Ah, the wonders of capitalism.

I guess that explains why the credit card companies are finally getting into gift card the act. They’re banking on the fact that if they can talk people into giving out plastic cards as gifts instead of cash, people will lose or forget to use their cards and they’ll make out like bandidos.

So my advice to you this holiday shopping season is to resist the urge to buy preloaded credit cards as a holiday gifts. Especially considering I am more than happy to accept cash.

Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


A guy I work with told me the other day that if he didn’t complain he’d have nothing to say. And that got me thinking – do I complain a lot? I like to think I don’t, but a further analysis of my conversations has revealed that I bitch incessantly. And here’s some news – you’re a whiner, too.

Think about it. There are only so many things worth talking about. The old stand-by was, is, and forever will be “the weather.” That's because the weather is something we all have in common, and it’s also one of the two things in life over which we have absolutely no control, so you can bitch about it freely without blaming anyone.

But once we’re done talking about the weather, what else is there to say? As a courtesy, we've adopted the custom of asking one another how we're doing. Regardless of how I feel, I usually say I’m good – which isn’t entirely a lie, but not entirely the truth, either. It’s just that I know people don’t want me to tell them how I REALLY am, because that would involve a litany of pointless complaints.

“Fine, thanks. Well, actually, I’m not doing so great. My property taxes doubled, I’ve got an escrow shortage, my condo assessments are on the rise, business has been slow, my car is acting up on me, I’ve got a bad cough, the White Sox won the World Series, and I just got the worst haircut of my life. How have YOU been?”

The fact is, no one wants to hear that shit because we’ve ALL got problems. And, of course, we all think our problems are the worst. Ah, the ultimate relativity of distress. By the same token, no one wants to hear how GREAT someone else is doing, either. If there’s anything worse than a chronic complainer, it’s a person who couldn’t be doing any better.

“I’m fantabuliffic! Things could not be going better. My property taxes went down, an uncle I didn’t even know existed left me $43,000 in his will, a publisher contacted me out of the blue for a book deal, that mysterious lump I found turned out to be a golden testicle – I’m having it removed next week – I just got a massive raise and promotion, won 6 tickets to the Super Bowl, my doctor says I’ve got the cholesterol level of a Japanese fisherman, and my dick seems to have gotten bigger. Can you believe that shit? So, how are YOU?”

People like that suck. The truth is, life is hard work and is full of disappointment. We worry about our health, our finances, our jobs, our loved ones…and so much more…day after painful day. We’re under the stress of so many commitments and obligations, it’s a miracle any of us ever find the time to sit back and reflect upon how amazingly wonderful it is to JUST BE ALIVE. But we’re all lottery winners in that regard. We’re here – fortunate enough to have shit to bitch about day after day.

So, yeah – my taxes doubled. That sucked. But I’m still breathing. And yeah, business isn’t what it could be. But I’m still breathing. And yeah, this is the worst haircut I’ve ever had. But I’m still breathing.

Basically, life is good. So if you hear me complaining, don’t let it get to you. I’m just making conversation.

Monday, November 14, 2005


Here’s an oldie but a goodie!



Have you ever had a really bad haircut? Me neither.

Okay, I KNOW you’re lying – and so am I. I mean, just look at me. This is fucking ridiculous. I can’t believe I paid someone money to do this to my head. Stevie Wonder could’ve given me a better cut with a pair of garden shears. Drunk. Speaking of Wonder, I wonder if he ever drinks himself half blind. [gratuitous rim shot]

So I waited and waited and waited to get a haircut. And day after day, Geri would politely remind me by asking, “So when are you going to get a haircut? You could always go this afternoon. How about tomorrow then? Will Friday work?” And I would shrug it off – “I know. I know. It’s getting shaggy. I really need to go.”

On Saturday, I finally went. But for some reason there was a run on the barber shop that day. People must want to look their best for the apocalypse (I hear it is nearing). As I stepped up to the front door I noticed there were 4 people seated in the waiting area…all patiently reading day-old newspapers. My well-kept secret was out – the Russian immigrant I’d discovered down the street from my apartment took a lot of pride in his work, and it showed. For $20 (after tip!), he’d give you a clean, crisp cut every time...without taking, or talking, your ear off.

On any another day I might have pulled up a stool and waited for his reliable services. But I had places to go and people see that day. So after waiting and waiting for weeks to get a haircut, I chose not to wait just one more hour. I got in my car and drove uptown to one of those fast-food haircut joints where they fleece folks like sheep for $10 a pop.

I eagerly took a seat in the chair of a slow-moving, older lady who I was certain moonlighted as a tarot card reader. She had a thick accent I couldn’t place and a pleasant, if unhurried, way about her. I felt comfortable in her care, assuming she’d been cutting hair for boys of her own for decades.

Oh, the horror that followed.

I watched on in helpless agony as she began chopping away at my dark brown dome, her clipping fingers weaving up and down randomly like drunk butterflies, slivers of hair shooting like sparks from my scalp. I wanted to stop the madness, but she was the professional, I thought. I decided to close my eyes, relax, and give her experienced eye the benefit of the doubt.

10 minutes later I opened my eyes to a whole new me: one who looked like a lobotomy addict. I smiled graciously and thanked her for the cut, eager to get home and patch things up with some hair gel.

But this was wishful thinking, it turned out, as she’d left me with disturbingly little to work with. There wasn’t any hair left to direct with the gel – and what WAS left was not in good shape. I envisioned a stoned high school kid “mowing” the lawn with a broken weedwacker, leaving patches of dirt in between tufts of thick, uncut bluegrass. Yeah - it's THAT bad. I then remembered Geri's five year old son enthusiastically offering to give me a haircut just a week ago. In hindsight, I should have taken him up on it. Would've saved a little money, anyway. (But not much - ever since discovering the value of money, he's been driving some pretty hard bargains). I sit at work, just hours before a client meeting, wondering if the partners will mind me wearing a golf visor during the presentation. I am a “creative,” after all. It'll be part of my schtick.

Here's the photo you nosy people keep clamoring for. Go ahead - make your jokes. It'll grow out...eventually.