Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The 5 Annoyances of Christmas

I know. You just read that title and thought, "This guy is such a Grinch!" But I'm really not. I love Christmas. I might not get as into the holiday spirit as a lot of people do, but I certainly don't sit around thinking of ways to ruin Christmas for everyone around me. There are just some things about this season that get slightly under my skin. After reading, if you still think I'm this century's answer to an unwealthy Ebenezer Scrooge, you are entitled to that opinion. And feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. For now, here are my thoughts...
  1. Early Christmas Carols - Don't get me wrong. I love Christmas carols. Someone who loves music and loves to sing as much as I do can't help but enjoy a Christmas song from time to time. My problem comes when your local radio stations begin playing those Christmas songs at the beginning of November. And they play them non-stop. The thing is, those radio stations only have the rights to so many songs. On top of that, there are only so many different versions of those few Christmas songs. So you end up hearing the same 20 songs over and over again for approximately 55 days. If that doesn't drive you a little crazy, number two might.
  2. Retail Stores - This one might just be because I work in a retail store. I would love for someone to explain to me why we feel the need to, throughout the entire month of December, stay open until midnight. Every night. I get that stores are busier, what with people buying Christmas gifts and all. But do stores stay busy past a certain time? Absolutely not. Most nights, we don't see a single customer in the last 2 hours that we're open. And when we do, it's the family that decide to bring their 3 year old twins to get all of their Christmas shopping done at 11pm. Yes, we talk about you while you're shopping. It's because we're angry at you and judge you as parents.
  3. Empty Threats - This is where I talk about Santa Claus. This time of year, parents love to use the "Santa is watching" thing when their kids' behavior is getting out of hand. It's an easy cop out kind of threat. The implication is that if the child doesn't behave, he or she could end up on the naughty list and, by extension, receive nothing for Christmas. But where's the follow through? I know there have got to be a lot of children out there who don't care about how badly they misbehave, but they still receive a ridiculous amount of presents on Christmas morning. I know these children exist because I see them every day at work. Parents, I'd like to hear from any of you whose children have been "naughty" and actually received coal, or nothing, on Christmas day.
  4. Decorating Vehicles as Reindeer - I might get a lot of flack for this one. Sorry, I just don't see the point in installing fake antlers on the roof and attaching a big red ball to the grill. Related: dressing pets up in Christmas attire. Also related: dressing pets up in any attire at any time of the year.
  5. Christmas Shoes - I really don't think I need to elaborate on this one. I just... don't. Okay?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

12 Years a Slave

I don't know why I don't jump at the chance to see movies at the Lyric theater. That place is amazing. Seeing a film in that old theater is how I imagine it would have been to go to the movies in Hollywood's heyday. It's also how I imagine it would have been to see movies in that old theater in Bluefield that I wanted to buy so many years ago. That's a good story, I should tell it sometime.

Anyway, last night I got the chance to see 12 Years a Slave at the Lyric with some friends. If you're interested in seeing an intense movie this season, this is the one to see. Based on actual events, it tells the story of Solomon Northup from the time he's kidnapped from his home in New York and sold into slavery until his eventual escape from bondage.

The cast list reads like a who's who of incredible actors: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt. And if you don't know the name Chiwitel Ejiofor, who played Solomon Northup, you will after this. He has been in a number of films and is a fantastic actor. I will be shocked if he's not at least nominated for best actor at the Oscars. I'll also be shocked if the movie overall isn't nominated for best picture.

There's a lot I could say about this movie. But I won't. I'm just going to insist that you see it for yourself. Like I said, it's intense, which probably isn't a strong enough word. It depicts an incredibly shameful and dark period in American history, so intense comes with the territory. If you see it or have seen it, let me know what you thought of it in the comments below.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

AFI 38 - The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Welcome to my journey through the American Film Institute's top 100 movies of all time (as of 2007). I've been counting down from number 100 and will eventually get to what they consider the best movie ever made. I've agreed with some. Others I've really not liked. Keep reading to see how I felt about this one...

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Directed by John Huston
Netflix sleeve: Wrapped in a classic tale of adventure, this Academy Award winner helmed by John Huston follows a trio of gold prospectors who set out to strike it rich and agree to split the take until paranoia and greed consumes one of them. Delivering superb performances as the three miners are Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt and Walter Huston, who copped a Best Supporting Actor Oscar while son John scored statuettes for his direction and screenplay.

So, I've had this disc sitting in my room for months. And it was sitting in my room at my previous apartment for several months before that. Good thing Netflix doesn't believe in late fees. I finally remembered that it was there. And remembered that I hadn't even touched the AFI list since April. So here we go. This is a first time viewing for me. I finally got to experience the origin of the classic line, "We don't have to show you no stinking badges!" All in all, the movie is pretty good and shows just how three guys in the middle of nowhere looking for gold can go a little (or a lot) crazy.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Autumn Soulstice

The thoughts I'm sharing here are far overdue. The thing is, when I experienced these events, I was still in my funk where I just didn't feel like writing anything on this blog. That's different now. And since I did experience a lot of life during that month or so that I wasn't writing much, I have a lot to look back at and dip into.

Back story...

Several months ago, I found out that one of my Old Navy co-workers sings in an all female a capella group at Virginia Tech. That group is called Soulstice, and they're pretty much awesome. But I only found this out for myself about a month ago.

When I first discovered Cameron's extra-curricular activity, I tried to get her to sing at the store. She wouldn't budge on that one. But I finally got a chance to hear her and the rest of Soulstice at Virginia Tech's first ever Riff-Off. If you've seen the movie Pitch Perfect you'll know what I'm talking about.

I'll admit, the real life Riff-Off wasn't quite the same as the movie, but it was pretty cool nonetheless. Four of Tech's a capella groups competed in an effort to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The audience voted for their favorites by donating dollars. In my opinion, the ladies of Soulstice were robbed, but they did get second place. All in all, it was a fun night.

More recently, I attended Soulstice's 15th anniversary concert "Soul'd Out". This time it was just the one group singing hits by Alicia Keys, Maroon 5, Christina Aguilera, and a lot more. And the biggest surprise was the encore at the end of the show. Once they completed all the songs listed in the program, the singers left the stage. Moments later, they reemerged and began with a chord familiar to anyone who's witnessed the end of Pitch Perfect. That's right, Soulstice performed the incredible mash-up that the fictional Barden Bellas performed in their competition at the end of the movie. And they nailed it.

Here's a taste of that concert with their performance of "Titanium". Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Home Alone's Honest Trailer

Got a little carried away with stuff going on today and didn't get a chance to write anything original. So I'm bringing you something entirely unoriginal. Have you ever been to the Honest Trailers channel on YouTube? Their stuff is pretty funny. Since Christmas is coming, here's the honest trailer for the Christmas classic, Home Alone. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Shelf Elf

This time of year, I see a lot of pictures on Facebook from people who have active elves in their homes. These elves, the Elf on the Shelf variety of elves, are said to come to life at night when everyone's asleep, then fly to the North Pole to give a nightly report to Santa. I realize that I don't have any kids, but I thought it would be cool to have an elf in my home as well. So I wrote a letter to Santa. I knew it was late in the holiday season to expect to get an elf of my very own, but I thought I would at least try. Sadly, I never woke up to find an elf anywhere in my house. But I did get a response from Santa

Dear Aaron,

Thank you for your letter. It was good to hear from you after all these years. You're right, it has been some time. Believe it or not, it's still nice to hear from you kids, even after you're all grown up.

I'm sorry to say, I can't spare an elf for your home this year. It isn't because you don't have children of your own. If you'll remember, there was an elf that sat in your grandparents' home for years, even after all their children had grown and moved out. The problem is, all my elves have their assignments this year. But I'll be sure to keep you in mind next year when Christmas comes back around.

I truly am sorry that I can't spare an elf for you and your roommates. I've been trying to think of someone I could send in place of an elf. I'd recruit a garden gnome, but they really don't like to spend any time indoors, even in winter. Leprechauns are no good to anyone outside of March. And even then, they only like to cause trouble. I wouldn't do that to you. Would you like me to check into sending a Keebler elf? You'd never see one of them, they really don't like to be seen. But you could wake up in the morning to fresh baked cookies. They love to bake. Think about it and let me know.

I hope you have a very merry Christmas!

S. Claus

So, that's what I got back. I'm a little disappointed, but that's what I get for procrastinating. On the other hand, I guess I might be able to look forward to the delicious smell of freshly baked cookies throughout the rest of the month. I mean, if Santa was able to convince one of the Keebler elves to come by. I probably shouldn't hold my breath, though. Maybe I should let Santa know that I'd also settle for Stacy Keibler. I wouldn't complain about a visit from her.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Question of the Week: Haste

In the haste of your daily life, what are you not seeing?

Nothing. I don't not see anything. Wait... what?

I actually catch a lot. Pretty good eye sight. Though, with age, I'm discovering that the eye sight is something that's gradually declining. I get it honestly. Both my parents needed glasses. Pretty sure mom has had glasses all my life. I think dad got his in his 30s. Which is right where I am. Maybe it's time to visit the optometrist.

Anyway, I don't usually describe my life as a hasty one. I'm not generally in a hurry. Pretty laid back. Though I guess I do get caught up in the day to day busyness of life and work and what not. So that means I unintentionally make sacrifices.

So what am I not seeing?

I'm not seeing some of the TV shows that I'd like to watch. Ain't nobody got time for that!

I'm not seeing some of the movies I'd like to see in the theater. Ain't nobody got money for that!

I'm not seeing (reading) some of the books I'd like to read. Ain't nobody got time for that!

I'm not seeing the woman I'm gonna marry someday. Ain't nobody got... well, actually... I could make time for that if I could figure out how to have a coherent conversation with a woman. I mean, I can have a coherent conversation with women. Sometimes. Occasionally. But they have to initiate. And they can't expect more than one word responses.

I was just kidding about the thing where I can't initiate a conversation with a pretty girl. I do it all the time. I just have to have something to talk about. I'm not a big fan of small talk.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Carbon Dioxide

Have you noticed that it's been getting cold lately? I'm sure you have noticed it since we're quickly approaching winter. Unless you're in the southern hemisphere, then you're heading into summer. But I'm pretty sure that all of my 23 readers live north of the equator.

Anyway, we've had a couple of decent cold spells in Blacksburg so far. So the roommates and I decided to turn on the heat for the first time a few weeks ago. That's when we noticed that we actually had no heat. At one point, our thermostat read 58 degrees. Not quite as cold as it had been outside, but not exactly comfortable when you step out of a hot shower.

It took a few days, but eventually a maintenance worker came to fix our problem. He left a note asking us to leave the covering off the furnace. Easy enough. He also suggested that we get CO2 detectors. That confused me a little.

I've heard of carbon monoxide detectors, but carbon dioxide? If we have a carbon dioxide problem in our home, shouldn't we just get a few extra house plants to clean up the air for us?

I guess it's possible that he meant carbon monoxide and got carried away when writing the CO. It's easy 2 throw in a 2 where one isn't needed. I do it sometimes, 2.

Thus far, we haven't installed any new detectors of any kind. But no one has come down with carbon monoxide poisoning, either. Yet.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Smart Phones, Dumb People

Do you ever have a craving for certain foods? Of course you do. I'm not talking about the stereotypical bizarre cravings that can come with pregnancy. Do those even really exist? Do pregnant women really crave chocolate covered pickles or is that just something they use for comedic purposes in Hollywood?

I digress. A few weeks ago, I had a hankerin' for pancakes. Personally, I feel that I'm not very good at making pancakes. I mean, I'm okay, but IHOP can do a much better job. So I treated myself to a delicious stack of pancakes at the International House of Pancakes one fine fall evening.

I was dining alone that night, so I pulled out my smartphone to kill time while I waited for my food to arrive. Candy Crush may be ridiculously addictive, but it is a highly effective cure for boredom. Of course, once my plate was in front of me, the phone went away.

While I ate, a family of six came into the restaurant and was seated near me. This family consisted of a father, mother and four daughters ranging from preteen to preschool in age. I couldn't help but notice that, as soon as they all sat down, three of the six of them were on their phones.

To me, this seems like a really sad and all too common sight in our modern world. A few months ago, when I had downgraded to a dumb phone for a while, I debated going back to a smartphone for this very reason. For someone like me, who finds conversation difficult at times, it's easy to retreat into my phone. Even when I was around people I enjoy being around, I would pull the phone out and surf through Facebook. With a dumb phone, I was able to completely be in whatever situation I was in.

I thought it was heartbreaking to watch a husband and wife who were sitting across from each other but were really worlds apart. If you're going to be there together, be there together. Couples seem to have a hard enough time communicating without mobile devices distracting them. When one of the younger girls tried to talk to her dad, she called him several times before he huffed and put down his phone to give her some attention. 30 seconds later, the phone was back in his hands.

This is sort of a cautionary tale. Hopefully it will serve as a reminder that we should be present with our loved ones who are in the room with us, rather than checking the latest tweets from celebrities that don't know we exist.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Renewing the Lease

Do you know where you'll be a year from now? I do. I'll be in the same place I am now. That's because, after only three months of living in the townhouse, the property managers wanted a commitment from all four of us to renew our lease for another year.

I rarely plan that far ahead. How should I know where I'll be in the summer of 2014? What if I take a new job somewhere that's even farther from Blacksburg than where I currently work? What if my financial situation changes and I decide to buy my own home? What if I meet a beautiful woman and get married after a whirlwind romance? I know, I'm laughing at that one, too.

Point is, life has a tendency to take your plans and toss them aside. This is why I don't like to plan so far in advance. I really like my living situation. The rent is affordable and I consider my roommates to be friends. That's something I haven't been able to say since college.

But to be asked to commit to a second year in a place before you've even gone through half of your first lease period? Seems a little extreme.

Part of me gets it, though. Blacksburg is the epitome of the college town. That means the population is always in flux. I'm sure property owners like to know if they'll be receiving that regular income. And if people can't commit, they'll have plenty of time to find someone who will.

So I signed the lease. As did my three roommates. This will be the first time I've lived in one place for more than a year since I left North Carolina. I might start calling my nomadic behaviors into question.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


Since moving to Blacksburg, I live only a little more than a stone's throw from the school where my church meets each Sunday. One day a couple months ago, when the weather was still warm in the early morning hours, I decided to walk to church, rather than drive.

The walk took me through a neighborhood or two, across the grounds of an elementary school, and over a couple soccer fields before I reached my destination. While I crossed the soccer fields, I noticed that there were a lot of things laying around.

I could only assume that there had been a number of soccer games played the previous day. Apparently, the players, parents and spectators decided to leave many of their belongings behind. Without even trying, I found a decent pair of sunglasses, a gently used pair of sneakers, a half eaten can of Pringles and a child's jacket.

And that was after just one weekend of games. Imagine what a scavenger could find if they walked across that field week after week. Who knows what kinds of treasures one could find?

Before you ask, no, I did not eat the remaining Pringles. They were pizza-flavored. Much as I love pizza, I think pizza-flavored potato chips are of the devil. And are gross.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


Remember when # meant pound or number? I do. Sometimes that symbol is still called the pound key on a phone. But ask most people what the # is and they'll call it a hashtag.

Where did it all begin? According to our friends at Wikipedia, the hashtag has been used for decades by the IT department to highlight special meaning. Then it grew in popularity with the general public as Twitter's popularity grew. The word hashtag was first used in a 2007 blog post by Stowe Boyd.

Now we're faced with the ability to use the hashtag on Facebook as well as Twitter. Is this a positive step? Does this make it easier to pay attention to our Facebook friends' status updates? Is it just Zuckerburg's way of convincing us that Twitter is obsolete?

A part of me understands the Twitter hashtag. It's a way to keep up with who in the entire Twittersphere is discussing the same subjects in 140 characters or less. Do the hashtags on Facebook function similarly? I don't actually know. I'm not familiar with the practice of hashtagging on Facebook yet. But shouldn't we limit hashtagging to one form of social media? Doesn't it get redundant? Although, I am guilty of using a hashtag or two on Instagram from time to time. And I know I've seen people using them on Vine. In fact, hashtags are recognized by more than a dozen social media sites.

I guess I just can't keep up with all this technology in my old age.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Question of the Whatever: Defining Moment

What is the most defining moment of your life?

Maybe it's a generational thing, or maybe it's just me. But I'm not good with definitions. I mean, when it comes to vocabulary, definitions are a good thing. I'm just not good about defining myself.

A lot of people I know would probably point to a decision to follow Christ as a defining moment. I agree, as moments go, that's a good one to point to. Even for someone who dislikes definitions. But I still have a difficult time calling myself a Christian. It's a label that I fail to live up to so often. That's my own hang up though.

Some people are defined by career. But I'm not. I love my job, don't get me wrong. But if I lost it tomorrow, my identity wouldn't be shattered.

Still others define themselves by their families. I'm single with no children. And I'm not as close to my relatives as I'm sure anyone would like. Most of that is because I learned long ago that family is defined by more than just blood.

So does that mean I'm defined by friends? Not really, no. I love my friends and I love hanging out with them. Most of the time. But they, for the most part, understand that I also like my alone time.

In all of these things that can define our lives, is there a single moment that I can point to that defines who I am? No. I believe that I've been defined and continue to be defined by all of life's moments as they come and go.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

New Tales from Old Navy: The Blackest Friday

It's highly likely that a lot of what I write here will come off as a complaint. So I feel the need to start off by saying that I really enjoy my part time job. I'm grateful to have it. I've felt grateful for it ever since I was hired last year and, especially, since the manager opted to keep me on past the holidays. While I may not always love the necessity of having a second job, I enjoy the paycheck and I like the people I work with.

That being said, let's spend some time talking about Thanksgiving and the dreaded day after, Black Friday. What a crazy couple of days, am I right?

About a month ago, I got an email from one of the managers. It was actually a mass email looking for volunteers to work on Thanksgiving. That's right, the store was open on Thanksgiving. We were open last year too, but I didn't have to work until after we closed and were preparing for Black Friday. Anyway, when I was planning my Thanksgiving, I called mom to find out what we would be doing. The answer was pretty much nothing. So I volunteered to work the holiday.

Don't feel too bad for me. For working on Thanksgiving day, I got paid time and a half. Also, we were dead. There were very few customers in the store during my entire 5 hour shift. That didn't exactly make time go by quickly, but at least it wasn't a very long shift. I later found out that we only took in roughly a tenth of the projected income for that day. Optimistically, I'd like to believe that those numbers will send a message to corporate and we won't have to be open during the day on Thanksgiving. But we all know I'm not really an optimist.

Then came the madness of Black Friday, which actually began on Thursday night. We closed for a few hours during the day on Thanksgiving, only to reopen at 7pm. Like a lot of other stores, Black Friday began the night before. I'm sure by next year, Black Friday will be moved up to 9pm on Wednesday.

Again, I enjoy working for Old Navy. But I've never truly understood the necessity of opening up so early for Black Friday. And I've never understood why people wait in line to get into our store. Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Target... sure, I get it. When you can get a great deal on a state of the art TV or washer/dryer set by being one of the first 20 people through the doors, by all means, wait in line for hours in the bitter cold. But to get a few shirts and a pair of jeans for 50% off? Really?

Thankfully, I didn't have to endure the mad rush of people as the doors opened on Thursday evening. In fact, I didn't have to be back at the store until 2pm on Friday afternoon. And as soon as I got there, I realized just how crazy things had been. The line of people waiting to be checked out stretched from the front of the store all the way back to the toddler section. If you've visited that particular store, you'll know that's a pretty long line.

I got there early, so I spent a few minutes relaxing in the break room. From there, I could hear the children screaming. So many children, forced to suffer through an insane shopping day. It's likely that many of them were pulled from one store to the next with no rest. You know how in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom the children were used as slaves to find Sankara stones in the caves beneath the temple? You know how they would randomly scream in agony? That's about what it sounded like for the kids in my store on Friday.

It was a long shift. I was at the cash register for the vast majority of my time there. Since we were so busy, the time went by fairly quickly. It wasn't until the end of the night that things became eventful.

There was a lot to do as we closed shop. As you can probably imagine, the store was a wreck. Clothes were unfolded and kind of all over the place. Then there were the piles of clothes that various customers decided at the last moment not to buy that needed to be returned to the sales floor. Ditto for the clothes in the fitting room. Also, we were expecting a shipment the next morning. That meant that the closing folks needed to make room at the back of the store for that shipment to arrive.

But things don't go smoothly when you want them to. Particularly when you've been on the clock for 10 hours. We were due to close at 11pm. Guess what happened at 10:58pm. If you said that a family of four walked in with no clue as to what they were searching for, you'd be right. They were there until nearly 11:30. For a while, I was afraid I was going to lose my job. Why would I have lost my job? Because I was nearly willing to go to these late arriving customers to make an impassioned speech about how ridiculous it was for them to wait until the last 2 minutes of our sale to come to the store when they had a full 28 hours to do so. I also would have thrown in a little something about how most of the employees who were going above and beyond to help them out had been there for 10 hours or more that day. We were tired and we were kind of sick of people. Cooler heads prevailed and I made no such speech. But I was thinking it. A lot.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of our late night troubles. Remember that shipment that was scheduled to arrive the next morning? It came early. The truck arrived approximately 2 minutes after that family of four left. Don't get me wrong, we were already planning to clear the back room to make way for the shipment. But the arrival at 11:30pm did nothing to help our manager on duty, who was desperately trying to count the cash drawers before our midnight deadline.

Midnight, by the way, was the time at which we were all scheduled to leave.

So, for many of us, our long shifts included an extra half hour. We were given the option to leave if we wanted. Sure, I wanted to. But I would have felt bad leaving anyone behind to do extra work. So I stayed. I folded more clothes. Those of us who stayed really didn't make a dent in the mess that had accumulated throughout the day. But we did the best we could.

All in all, it was an exciting weekend. I mean, I didn't get a lot out of it, other than a slightly larger paycheck, which I will greatly appreciate when it comes next Wednesday. But it really wasn't that bad. Here's to next Black Friday. And here's hoping that next Thanksgiving will be a non-workday.