Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Black Friday, Indeed

I was so lucky that growing up I was taught to be frugal, use what we had, and not pine (too much) for that which we didn't have. We struggled financially, but we never went hungry, and most of all, we were loved "to the moon and back." I'm so grateful for that, because from that consistent heartbeat of my childhood I know I have the tools and resources to pass those values along to my own child.

Thanksgiving. It's a time of reflection-- of gratitude for health and home, family and friends. It's also a time of decision making. Do what your country tells you to do: shop, shop hard, shop fierce, shop often. Shop on Thanksgiving Eve, Thanksgiving Day, the day after. Cyber Monday, countdown to Christmas, shop shop shop.

Every year the Christmas music starts seeping into our consciousness earlier and earlier; this year I heard Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer in a Rite-Aid before Halloween. Certainly, we are in a struggling economy and the stores are doing whatever they can to lure in shoppers' tight holiday budgets. This year, I have a particularly strong wave of disgust for the new lengths the box-shops are going to in order to get to the consumers first-- even if it means making your staff go to work on Thanksgiving, since apparently Black Friday now begins on Thursday (or a week ago, were you to see all the junk mail piling up in my gmail inbox). The media manages to support this frenzy. They find the box-store employees who are obviously happy for the overtime that will show up in their paychecks (presumably so they can shop), and you hear the soundbites of their refrains over and over again: "I'm one of the lucky ones, I have a job." Well, I hope you don't get trampled by the onslaught of "consumers" as they barrel down your doors at midnight, before their turkey is fully digested.

I'm sitting this one out. I've felt the fever before. I've wanted to hit the stores and find those deals. Who doesn't want to be done with their Christmas shopping early and spend less money doing so? You probably have the day off, so what else is a better thing to do besides get out and there and shop? Go shopping! Now! Some of you will go shopping, and I implore you that if you do decide to go shopping on Black Friday, consider your personal decision making process. Pick one indie business and spread your budget to the David's of the Perpetual Holiday Season David and Goliath fight. Should I spend money at Dinosaur Hill on East 9th Street, the toy shop that gives Jamie a little yoyo on Halloween since he was a baby trick or treating (and whose owner remembers his name), or Wal-Mart because it's a "steal"? Steal is a good word for it. The frenzy threatens to steal your quaint Main Streets; take away your valuable family time; put you into a debt cycle that is nearly impossible to break free from.

Take a hike. Read a book. Do nothing. Volunteer yourself to simplicity, and the rewards are far greater than what's in the bag.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Just the Right Book

It feels good to showcase an indie bookstore company, Just the Right Book, right before the official Holiday Shopping season begins. Oh wait, it began before Halloween this year, didn't it?
My feature that's on Publishing Perspectives today is about a creative bookseller named Roxanne Coady who launched a new business model online-- matching readers to books based on human to human customer service. Not eBooks, not discounted books... just books.

It was a pleasure to talk to Roxanne and learn about a self-imposed exile she gave herself from her bookstore four years back. She left the shop in capable hands and embarked on an 8-week journey interviewing people in the book business, from other bookstore owners to the heads of all of the big publishing houses to Ron Johnson, the visionary designer behind the first Apple store. Click here to learn about how those conversations reshaped the philosophy of her business practices.

Monday, November 14, 2011

New Museum: Carsten Höller

This weekend, we had a spontaneous opportunity to join old friends at the Carsten Höller: Experience exhibit at the New Museum, just a short walk from our apartment. On the surface, it seemed like something that kids would love: an interactive show with a giant slide, carousels, fish tanks and strobe lights. Visitors may enter a giant slide on the 4th floor of the building, zoom down two stories, and exit from the 2nd floor where they will be dumped into a room filled with strobe lights and fluorescent sculpture animals lurking around the floor. A blue chimp here; a pink alligator there. My friend Mary opted to cuddle for a moment with the blue chimp... I opted to stick my head into a head-shaped glass bubble inside of a fish tank, as did Jamie, which I began to regret when he started throwing up the next morning. All those people sticking their heads in there, gack...

This is how the New Museum summarizes the show: "Taken as a whole, Höller’s work is an invitation to re-imagine the way in which we move through the world and the relationships we build as he asks us to reconsider what we think we know about ourselves."

This is how I summarize the "Experience" show: The New Museum gets a big Fail for not managing crowds in more efficient way. If you head over on the weekend, be prepared to stand in three lines that are each no less than a half hour: line to get in; line for wristbands which you must be wearing to get in the lines for the carousel and the slide. And you must wear them, or you'll be asked to get off of the carousel at the midway point, as Jamie was because his mom didn't know she needed to stand in line for a wristband after paying the entrance fee. Really? Kick a kid off of a very slow moving carousel when he had like 4 seconds left to go? Fail! Three hour wait for the slide? Really? What's the hold up, you ask? Grownups being coached on wearing helmets and sliding down slides.

Also, if a child walks up to a giant vat of empty gelatin pills that's part of the exhibit, maybe the security guard standing there shouldn't hand him a pill so he can run up to his mommy holding the empty capsule and argue "But a man with a name tag gave it to me! He's giving them to everyone!" My bad for having him out of eyesight for five seconds flat. Was it the strobe lights that threw me off my game?

For some, this show will be the pinacle of a mind-altering and experimental hallucinogen-inspired experience. So don't be put off by my crankiness; just plan to go during the week when it's not so crowded. Or hit a playground and experience a slide immediately. Teardrop Park down in the Battery has an impressive one, and you don't need to put on a helmet and sign a waiver to go down the thing.