I conducted a scientifically valid survey and found that at least one of these two conversations occurred today in 100% of all American households:

  1. “I am not going anywhere near a store tomorrow.”
  1. “I can’t wait to get my hands on $1 DVDs and $4 HDTVs at Big Box Retailer tomorrow!”

Social media, for all that it’s good for, has been extremely vocal in the Thanksgiving Is For Families movement; please pardon me if I omit the requisite hotlinks to individuals decrying the commercialization of every sacred moment that Could Be Spent With Family. You’ve seen them. Yet despite all that spit and anger, stores still open whenever they want. Why doesn’t Big Retail get the picture?

Please stop posting these.

Please stop posting these.

RadioShack opened at 8am Thanksgiving Day. Stores that opened at 8am closed at noon to allow their employees time to go home and enjoy Thanksgiving dinner before returning to the store at 5pm and working until close (midnight).

Dear RadioShack,

Have you ever prepared a Thanksgiving meal (in under a few hours)? Why don’t you just tell your employees to have Thanksgiving at Denny’s? The message will certainly be clearer.


Superfan Rick

In a statement, RadioShack spokeswoman Andrea McCauley said: “Given the customer demand for store hours on Thanksgiving last year, we made the decision to open on Thanksgiving.  It gives us the opportunity to stay competitive.”

The same article notes that level of demand: RadioShack lost $137.4 million dollars last quarter. RSH is trading under a dollar. Its market valuation is $85 million (if you had $85 million dollars lying around with absolutely nothing better to do, you could buy the entire company, all 4,400 stores, or approximately $19,400 per store). Rabid shoppers will clearly bombard them this holiday season. Just a suggestion, RadioShack: you might want to keep doors in stock since America is about to bust ‘em down.

For every one (1) person who posts something about Families and Thanksgiving and The Sanctity of Employee Respect, there is one (1) nonvocal person who will be crashing the gates at your local mall, receiving 50% doorbuster discounts on all the crap they can grab at The Gap.

Don’t forget to pick up half-price yoga pants. Half-price yoga pants are very important. Looking good while wearing them is irrelevant.

Happy Thanksgiving. Now get ready for Christmas.

Christmas Eve: when legends are made.  You are one of three people left.  You’ve completed all of your shopping and can eat Chinese food with impunity, you are looking for supplemental gifts because you’re paranoid, or you’ve just started, taking advantage of zero hour sales and betting that the mall traffic won’t run you down on your way to the entrance.

I sincerely applaud you if you’re cruising for last minute deals.  I, too, like to live dangerously.  I went to Best Buy the other day to pick up a computer for a family member – a favor if ever I granted one.  Best Buy the week before Christmas is a hall of sorrow, with half of humanity stomping about wondering where they can buy the deal they saw in the flyer.  I stood in line behind an older gentleman who asked what the purpose of each port was in a Dell that was on sale.  The answer is plug in your keyboard and pay up for Norton, because you’re going to ruin it within three weeks anyway.

Sure, Best Buy was crowded, but it’s nothing compared to the real heavyweight of retail: Walmart.  I met a cousin for Christmas Eve lunch when I received this dreaded text message from my wife:

“Are you going to Walmart while you’re out?”

No, and I would never casually go to Walmart without heavy medication and Kevlar armor, neither of which I had for my luncheon at Ruby Tuesday.  Then the list arrived: Rolos, one can of cat food (one? are we donating to the homeless cat shelter, or do we just feel bad for one cat in particular, but only bad enough for one meal?), a jar of pickled red peppers, one lemon, and fuzzy socks.  The fuzzy socks bit made me think I was the butt of some joke, perhaps testing the limits of sanity and matrimonial vows, but my cousin was down for it and off we went to the land of the living traffic jam, Walmart.

Five weeks ago I had to brave Saturday mall traffic on another coincidental errand.  Here’s how I fall into these situations: I leave to do my one errand and, when I’m about 98.9% done with the one thing I have to do, receive a text message asking for a “small favor,” which usually involves finding Waldo somewhere in New England.  With plenty of shopping days left until Christmas, the mall crawled with filth wearing Volcom hoodies, while mere hours away from disappointing family and friends, the sloths of Walmart wore sweatpants and frowns.  I’m not sure which I prefer.

At this particular Walmart, a violinist playing Christmas carols accompanied the standard bell ringer, making for a festive white trash atmosphere.  The violinist’s friend / relative / number one fan stood next to her and cheered her on, which really ruined the tempo of O Christmas Tree.  Several people blocked the main entrance to gape at this foreign stringed instrument of heaven.

“Quickly!” I said to my cousin.  “While they’re distracted!”  And we dashed by, through the carriage return, and into retail desolation.

Things Walmart has truckloads of: bras, underwear, regular socks.  Things Walmart has zero inventory of: fuzzy socks.  I think my wife called the store before she sent me off and played twenty questions with the operator: “Hey, what’re you out of?  Duck Dynasty DVDs?  Fuzzy socks?”  I became further suspicious when I found only one jar of pickled red peppers, on a high shelf behind jarred olives.  Walmart was even out of lemons – we had to rip open a multipack and screw someone else out of a lemon.  But, as the saying goes, it’s Christmas.

Along with fuzzy socks, entire displays had been picked naked.  Even the things people didn’t want, like bento box Tupperware and direct to DVD rollbacks, found their way into shopping carts as desperation mounted.  A certain economy arises when you are faced with such a situation: the product in question increasingly fits the solution the fewer there are to choose from.  Toaster ovens become great gifts in the absence of waffle makers.

On our way to the checkout, I had to pilot my cart across an aisle strewn with empty cardboard displays.  Another man with a cart wanted to be where I was standing, and of course, he was where I wanted to be.  After the initial game of chicken, revving the carts to where we both thought we can make it and realizing at the same time that this could only end in disaster, we stood across the aisle, waving at each other to pass through.  This continued until next Christmas when I finally told him to drag his cart to my side.

“Come on over,” I said.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, Merry Christmas to you.”  He skated on by and that was that.  If only gifting was that easy.  The exchange of thanks without insular commercialism: a Christmas miracle, much like making it out of Walmart alive on Christmas Eve.  We used the self-checkout, a system designed by angry billy goats, got caught up in the jam around the violinist, froggered through traffic, and drove away at warp speed.  To all the people I cut off in traffic: a Merry Christmas to you and yours.  I want to go where you’re going, but it’s hard to communicate through all that noise.

I found myself walking around Michael’s Saturday night because my wife needed clothespins for a craft project.  Here’s an abridged list of thoughts I had upon entering the store:

–       Why does every craft store smell like a potpourri factory?

–       There is no way this place would pass a fire inspection.

–       Michael’s hates disabled people because the store is merchandised like a Tough Mudder track.

Craft stores must be run by people featured on the TV show Hoarders.  Here’s the concept: fill a few dump trucks with yarn and popsicle sticks, trough it in a 10,000 square foot store, and invite the general public to pick over the pile and put things back wherever they please.  Price tags and item descriptions are optional.  Add a few Christmasy signs and an aggressive holiday soundtrack to let everyone know that you mean Christmas.

I was wondering why life had forsaken me to wander the claustrophobic aisles of Michael’s on a Saturday night when I heard this:


Next time you are dining out with someone, ask them to pass the pepper as loudly as you can without screaming, and then shove past them to grab the pepper yourself.  This is what I was confronted with.  I stepped into a display of Christmas ribbons to let her pass and she plowed on by, a round little troll wearing a striped purple shirt and hideously dimpled yoga pants.

I am a reasonable man.  I am walking around, looking for wooden clothespins in the made-out-of-wood aisle.  Surely you can understand my confusion when I discovered them in the tiny-paint-bottles aisle.  And I know these are narrow aisles with no regard for ADA compliance, but shouting ‘excuse me’, shouldering past, and stopping right in front of me so I can immediately bump into you is an affront to decency.

So I said (shouted) “EXCUSE ME!” and dropped a shoulder, charging into the mason-jar-fad aisle.  The jars were marked down for a pre-Black Friday sales event and arranged on the shelf to simulate a recent earthquake.  Jars were on their sides, upside down, on the ground, everywhere but looking nice.  Ugly as they were, this is an unfortunate merchandising strategy many retailers showcase around the holidays, if not year-round.  There are three general holiday strategies retailers follow:

–       Pile ‘em high and watch ‘em fly

–       We’re participating because everyone else is

–       We had to buy insurance in case our customers develop seizures

Michael’s seems to have mastered the town dump concept, which saves the company money by paring merchandising and signage costs, but creates a disorganized, chaotic atmosphere that makes people like me want to take a swing at ignorant purple trolls desperate for seasonal glitter.  Stores that employ this method usually survive because they are a specialty retailer and shoppers are there for specific items.  Like craft clothespins.

My retail alma mater, RadioShack, is what I call a “me too” retailer: their only motivation for doing anything is other retailers, and they can’t be left sitting alone in the lunchroom.  The last Christmas I worked there, corporate provided clear stickers to put in the windows as holiday decorations: a set of snowflakes and a set of cellular logos.  Nothing says ‘we’re really trying’ quite like a holiday-themed window sticker riddled with air bubbles advertising AT&T.

Here’s a fun field trip: go to your local RadioShack and take a look at the signage hanging above the wall paneling (it’ll say RadioShack, or The Shack, or whatever they call themselves now).  When the floor associate isn’t looking (close to all the time), climb up there and rip one of the signs down.  It’s double sided.  Right around this time of year, the store manager flips all the signs so the Christmas ornament side is showing, and that is about 80% of the holiday merchandising strategy for RadioShack.

Some stores go overboard.  After being mauled at Michael’s, my wife and I went to Bath and Body Works.  My nickname for the place is The Headache Store; when you walk in, the air is chewy, and I’m under with a migraine in about five minutes.  But I am not ashamed to admit that I like their smelly hand soaps.

Bath and Body Works sells Christmas by the pound.  The store is bathed in shades of red, flashy ornaments hang from every display, the music is a mix between trance and Burl Ives, and the store’s seizure insurance policy is framed in the manager’s office.  It’s clean, bright, shiny, and completely over the top.  The atmosphere works and the upkeep is manageable because the store sells approximately twelve products.  Candles, soap, shampoo, and lotion, in scents ranging from aquatic starfish pine nut to red velvet mandarin chicken.  Stores with narrow inventory are successful by selling a pleasant shopping experience.  Purple trolls do not smash into you at the local craft warehouse while looking for cotton balls, located in the googly eyes aisle, across from beveling knives.

I would like to postulate Rick’s Theorem of Retail Congregation: the quality of signage and merchandising across a retail brand is directly proportional to the quality of customer it attracts.  Here’s how to test this: does the store appear generally nice?  Do the customers appear generally nice?  The theorem holds when the answers match.  If they don’t match, have another look.

We grabbed three packs of clothespins and headed for the registers, where we had the fortune of waiting in line behind the purple troll.  She was telling a friend in a staccato whine how badly she wanted all the things she had seen on her trip to Michael’s.  Answers: no and no.  The theorem holds.

Americanized Chinese food is readily available three hundred and sixty-three days out of the Gregorian year.  Nom nom nom, kung pao chicken and moo goo gai pan for all.  The other two days require a little patience and even some strategy to munch on shrimp and lobster sauce in a timely fashion.  Even more impressive is if you get your order at all.  If you would like to witness the slow devolution of the human race in a controlled environment, look no further than a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve.

I had the pleasure of picking up the family Chinese food order on Christmas Eve.  It was handed to me in a cardboard box, a box I might have used to put personal belongings in on moving day, making that the happiest and most depressing evening of my life.

I'm very hungry.

I’m very hungry.

While I was waiting for my thirteen pound order to be wokked, an old man wandered into the restaurant and started a fight with the woman manning the counter.

Several gray hairs earlier, I worked at McDonald’s to bring in some extra cash, and the single most annoying thing to happen near the end of my greasy shift would be a soccer bus pulling into the parking lot.  Aside from despair and suicide, two thoughts would roll through my mind:

1)      It is imperative that I leave on time regardless of food safety;

2)      I don’t care about who orders or gets what.

That established, hamburger buns would fly, patties would splat on the tile floor next to the bun it was supposed to be on, and food that didn’t belong in the fryolator would boil into the fryolator.  A good chunk of the storeroom freezer needed to be cooked that very instant with no delicate way of doing it.  There was a period of time when I wouldn’t even look at a McDonald’s knowing what I knew after I left.  Time heals all greasy wounds.

This old man ordered something with something else, hold the annoying, with a side of gross.  His wife called in the order; where is it?

“Number thirty-three,” he said, “number thirty-three.”

Broken English with a few exaggerated hand motions.  “No thitty-thee.”

My attention was screwed to an enormous fish in a very small tank.  I couldn’t place it – was it a Chinese eel?  Or just a disgusting eel?  I nodded amiably, sarcastically appeased by my fishy answer.



“This must be a joke.  No thirty-three?  I ordered a thirty-three!”

This nasty eel turned hard to port and did his best to lap the goldfish bowl, scraping glass on his way by.  I bent over and mimicked its undulating mouth.

“No thee-thee,” she snipped.

“This must be a joke,” he repeated.  He nosed up and threw his hands into the air.  I thought it a little dramatic that he did so after he made his objection.  The eel charged the glass with what little room he had, realizing that I was ceding my attention to some other dope in the room.

“No joke.”  Stern.  Like telling a child that he forfeited dinner for behaving badly.

“Give me a phone,” he decided.  “I’ll call my wife.”

“No,” the woman said.

I sidled up to my wife, ready to take in the shit show.  The eel watched with a special gnosis.

“Fine,” the man grumbled.  He pulled an antennaed dinosaur from his pocket and stared down the bridge of his nose.  The woman directed traffic around the wreck, handing out bags of food in exchange for plastic swipes.

“Do you think—”

My wife hushed me.

“Yah hallo?” the man was saying.  “Hallo?  Yah.  I’m here and they don’t have the order.”  The man cocked his shoulders.  “Yah!  They don’t have the order!”  He suspended his free hand in the air away from his body, palm out, waiting for his meal to fall from the sky.  “Yah.  It’s a thirty-three, right?—thirty-three?  Yah, that’s what I told them.  They don’t have a thirty-three.”

The woman cleared out the line behind the old man.  I counted about a hundred and fifty in receipts.

“Okay.”  The old man pocketed his phone.  “Yeah, my wife said she called in a thirty-three.”

I sighed.  My wife sighed.  The eel sighed.  A few bubbles wiggled to the surface.

“Okee.   We cook now.  Okee?”

“No!” He pounded his fist against the particleboard counter.  “I called it in like I was supposed to!  I want it now!”

“Thee-thee?” a cook called from the back.

“YES!” the old man hollered, lunging past the woman with his index finger.  “Thirty-three!  That man has my order!”

“No no no—” the woman urged, backed hurriedly by the kitchen staff.

“Ahhhhh,” the old man huffed angrily.  He threw his palms into the woman’s face and shook them pinky to thumb.  “This is a bad joke, a bad joke,” he chanted.  “A bad joke.”

“We cook—”

“Forget it,” he interjected with biblical importance.  “I’m leaving.”

The man ruffled the collar of his faux leather jacket.  He turned, pushed open the door.  The bell attached to the hydraulic swing-arm clattered against the glass.  He shot one last forlorn look back at the woman before the door eased shut.  The woman pounced on other orders piling behind her on the stainless steel prep counter.  I turned to my wife.

She smiled.  “Do you think he’s at the right restaurant?”


Many of you have finished your Christmas shopping.  Some are aghast that Christmas is tomorrow.  I am in both camps.  Though I am writing a bad gift countdown, it is still outrageous to think that the big day, the day of all yearned for days, is a few hours away.  An apocalypse averted in the interim is even more impressive.

Christmas Eve holds a special place in my heart.  Any cares in the world can be dismissed with the simple reckoning that Christmas is tomorrow.  The world slows down, if only for a second, to acknowledge that we can take a step back and shut off our minds to the constant beating of that consumerist drum once the clock strikes seven – the retail monoliths close their doors and it’s game over.

You have precious little time, yet there you are, standing agape in the malls of America, wondering what to get all those people you didn’t shop for.

You are not alone.  For every person that finished in November, there are a hundred hungry souls looking for a deal on Christmas Eve.  The malls are packed, the streets are crammed, and you are honking your horn, angry at the car that stole your parking spot in front of Nordstrom.  You are ready to throw in the towel and buy the first item with a price tag stickered to the front, but worry not, weary Consumer, for you have the wisdom of those before you.  When making those last minute buys, you should avoid…



It is reprehensible to gift a fat-loss solution to someone.  It is worse to give them a corset to hide the problem.  On the list of things I’d rather die from, shock from receiving a muffin top masker appears between being smothered to death by grimy pennies and being shot at point-blank range by a close talker with onion breath.

This is an ‘As Seen on TV’ product, which is a nudge-nudge and a wink-wink that means your hopes for this product will be dashed.  That little red sticker is a beacon for the damned: come all, ye with heavy wallets and light heads, for I will solve your problems.  Bed Bath and Beyond designates an entire area of their stores to this product category, helpfully alerting You to avoid that useless area and waste your time elsewhere.

Busting your ass is the only way to lose weight.  Busting your ass into a corset will not.  Read the reviews and count how many people mention the zipper breaking easily.  Protip: the zipper ain’t faulty.  Unless you’re looking to lose a few names from next year’s shopping list, skip this one and buy literally anything else instead.

The Mayans were wrong, which means you can’t avoid the icy stare of death from Aunt Ethel when she discovers that you bought her a doggy DNA kit for the dog she doesn’t own.  With Christmas bearing down on you like the cosmic reality of a solar flare wiping out life in the habitable zone, it’s time to get serious and avoid this truly awful gift.



Continuing in the tradition of people willing to buy literally anything, Sky Mall is offering an emergency meal kit for the holidays.  There are plenty of emergency kits that I would buy during the holidays (a bad conversation ender; an emergency food spice kit; a flask), food is the one thing that Americans supply in abundance around the holidays.  Just last week, I went to two holiday parties in one day, and pooped out an emergency meal kit the next morning.  Our level of binge revelry is excessive.

Why is Sky Mall selling this product?  This seems like the forte of Cabella’s or doomsday bunker builders.  Sky Mall is the QVC of the airways, selling overpriced junk to people who believe they need it at the price Sky Mall is offering it.  As I wrote that, I did a quick search on Cabella’s website and found that they do indeed sell the same product, and – Sky Mall is undercutting them by thirty-nine cents.  Perhaps they are trying to corner the thrifty but upscale doomsdayist.

Nothing says poor planning like gifting someone an emergency meal kit days after the purported end of existence.  At this point, it would make a great gag gift, but deep down, you know that Aunt Ethel deserves better cooking than this.  Save some face and leave this one in the trunk of the car – you never know when you might be trapped in your vehicle for days.

The hoary specter of Christmas hangs over you like the dreaded sword of Damocles.  You have but six shopping days left to snag a gift perfect enough to make friends and family feel poorly about leaving you off the Christmas card list this year.  The sword dangles nigh in the midnight hour, and there is much trash to choose among the treasure.  Follow me, Faithful Consumer, for I will show you the foolishness in the gold.  At all cost, you must avoid…



I freely admit that I am a lazy person.  However, like a yellow belt or a letter grade of ‘F,’ there are levels and branches of laziness, and those who are lazy loathe branches higher and lower.  The Nap is reserved for people who eat French fries and slurp ketchup out of the packet.  I am willing to look past the half-assed recliner (see what I did there?), but attaching it to your bed reads like the start of news articles about 800 pound men who are removed from their homes by firemen.

How is this convenient?  When I come home from a long day of getting my ass kicked by life, the last thing I want to do is to set up a pop-up couch.  The second to last thing I want to do is break down my pop-up couch and lie in the spot that I previously occupied but in a slightly different position.  What I love most about getting into bed is the crisp coolness of the sheets; I might as well crawl up a sweaty buffalo’s ass and go to sleep.

How does this product work with a spouse or significant other?  “Excuse me honey, could you move over?  It’s time to deploy the NAP.”  To the uninitiated, this sounds like a safe word, a come on, or a fair warning before a nuclear Dutch oven.  Yes, yes, right away: if this Rube Goldberg machine is anywhere near the mass of an actual couch, then your partner is better off sleeping on the floor or in the bathtub.

How is this comfortable?  I’d rather try my luck in a hammock swinging over a bed of hot coals. With a couch or a chair, the line of action is reasonably direct: bend knees, plant ass, say “ahh.”  Do you approach this from the foot of the bed and slither like a nasty eel through the covers and into the seatback?  You might make it if you jump from the side of the bed, but watch out for a rogue bedspring.  Putting a cup of coffee on the armrest might need some serious reconsideration.

I get the feeling that this product is the half of the ejector seat that made it out of the plane.  At a hundred smacks, this is a black hole on your credit card, and it’s a surefire way to lighten your Facebook feed without doing any extra work.  Grant a Christmas miracle this season and avoid giving this gift.

Christmapocalypse continues to bear down on us like an ancient Mayan prophesy of doom.  It is foretold that Christmapocalypse will turn the flesh of the living into the gangrenous rot of zombies, forever marching through the department stores and specialty shops of suburban America in search of the perfect trinket that will express love and affection to whom it is bestowed.  Do not be fooled by mere promises of materialistic ecstasy; there are products out there that exist only to lighten your wallet.  Follow me, Faithful Consumer, for I will show you number two on the list of items to avoid this year…



This contraption is a skateboard designed to take you straight to the hospital.  The first sign of imminent injury appears when you have to wiggle your body below its center of gravity just to get the damn thing to go, like starting a hula-hoop while standing on a slick of petroleum jelly.  If you do manage to get it going and need to dump off, your feet are surrounded by the wheel wells.  There’s a reason why the product video shows the rider skatecycling along at a maximum speed of one foot per second: if you take a sudden turn and lean too far over, you’re going to end up with a pair of broken ankles or a concussion with road rash on top.

I have never witnessed one of these in action and I don’t expect to.  Skateboarding has been around for years, and while there’s new technology in the decks and trucks, I do not believe a reimagining is going to dent what we know it is today.  When the Razor was popular circa everyone I hate, I saw one outfitted with a gas engine that really made it zip.  It also made it hit potholes and rocks at a much faster clip.

This product looks like the result of the owner of Razor Scooters asking his research team, “What if we take off the handles?”  What we have here is something that looks neat but is entirely impractical.  There were probably a hundred models that came off the line before the finished product that is advertised today.  My condolences to the hospitalized whose job it was to test each failure that came out of the lab.  Be a pal and stay a pal – leave this one to a crash test dummy.

Christmapocalypse is nearly upon us, and you stand among the savages in the malls of America, desperate to throw your money into the hungry flames of a greedy incinerator in an effort to please those around you with plastic baubles.  I am here to help you make good decisions, Faithful Consumer, with gifts to avoid giving this Christmas season.  To kick off my yearly contribution to your wellbeing, the first on the list to avoid is…



Americans love to eat and be lazy.  Combine the two and you get THE SNACKMAN, a motion activated ‘treat’ dispenser that goes beyond all that is wrong with our muscle-relaxant society.

This is a simple gadget.  You slap some batteries in the slot, fill it with your favorite junk food, and wave your hand underneath the chute.  It works exactly as the quarter operated peanut dispensers did at Bradlees back in the day, but with this modern iteration, it omits the side of lead paint chips.

Imagine the invention process:

A man sits on the couch watching reruns of Friends and Seinfeld.  A Costco-sized bag of peanut M&M’s lay draped across his lap.  His rheumy eyes drift back and forth from the bag to the television set, back and forth, dilating on the space between.  The man coughs, doesn’t bother blocking the discharge as it takes flight into the scuzzy atmosphere.

“I wanna eat these M&M’s,” the man sputters, “but I don’t wanna reach into the bag.”

CHA-CHING.  The bastions of American consumerism, with ears to the rails and glasses to the walls, seize upon the Pavlovian need among breathing and blinking Americans to wave a hand and have it.  A waiter, attention, the dog to stop chewing on the corner of the couch, treats.

I get it, though.  We’ve all been there: hungry, lazy, don’t want to get up from the couch, want someone to get something for you.  In the past, that’s been Domino’s and the corner Chinese food place.  With advances in modern technology, Domino’s and Chinese can stay in the past – until you’ve waved the Snackman empty, at which point Domino’s and Chinese is in your very near future.  Be a pal and remain a pal – don’t put a bow on this one.