Thrift Stores

Thrift Store

When I was young I worked in a fast food place similar to McDo. This was inside-only service and we had to collect when served. Every time my manager passed one of us hs’d mutter: “Get the money!” He drove us crazy with that, but now, being older and wiser, I have to say he was right. We were there to make money. Here’s a quote reputedly made by a man far wiser than I am:

“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption to our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so.”
— Mahatma Gandhi

When we go into some of our local thrift stores we’re constantly faced with the same thing: a store full of workers, wandering about, clogging aisles with their wagons and generally doing little but stocking shelves (a job most stores primarily do during off hours), while a long line stands behind a yellow line waiting for a lone cashier to handle each customer, one…by….one….More than one time my wife and I have laid our potential purchases aside and walked out, unwilling to stand there while the cashier piddles with some customer over the price of an item or whatever. I wonder how many other customers do the same.

The object of all stores, aside from training etc., is — or certainly should be — to get money. I realize that most of the people wandering about on the floor may not be trained to work the cash register, but that should be an important part of  training. For us, it’s infuriating to see all this personnel, all this activity while we have to climb around aisle-clogging wagons filled with merchandise while employees push rolling hangers of clothing about, and then when we finally settle on our purchases and get to the register, STOP! Stop and wait…and wait and wait.

On the plus side, most of the employees we see are very polite and greet visitors and try to be helpful.

For us, going to thrift stores is sort of a scavenger hunt. We usually don’t know what we’re looking for, and never know what we’ll find (even if we don’t need it), but we stopped shopping at Kmart years ago because of the very same problem: aisles clogged with merchandise, unmarked merchandise and long, long waits at the register while a clerk calls out over the loudspeaker, “Price check on register three!”

We won’t stop going to thrift stores. We enjoy poking around and we almost always end up buying something. But don’t make it difficult for a customer to spend money.

And back to what I said in the beginning as I feel  my former boss’s ghost hovering above my shoulder:

“Get the money!”


Rules of Writing

I sent an early crime novel to a publisher who had already published one of my novels, but she rejected it, saying that, in a mystery, the victim is only there to provide a puzzle for the reader. Therefore, I should bump somebody — anybody — off in the first few pages and devote the rest of the novel to the investigation whether it be by police detectives, a private detective, or an amateur sleuth. Carefully following her own advice, she rejected my mystery on the grounds that I didn’t murder anyone until just over a hundred pages into the story.

I felt bad, naturally, but at the same time, something in me rebelled. Over the years I had read a great many detective novels and mysteries, and, although at the moment, I couldn’t offer book and page number, I was pretty certain my publisher’s theory was in error. I was almost certain I had read many crime novels, be it private eye tales or police procedurals,  in which a murder didn’t occur until later in the book.

Okay, I got over it and moved on.  A bit later I  found a new publisher.

But the other day I chanced to pick up a tattered old novel by Ngaio Marsh, arguably one of the true queens of mystery fiction, and decided to read it. In this particular novel, “Tied up in Tinsel”, we don’t stumble across a body until page 242 in a book that has only 286 pages. Wow! Obviously, the editor who rejected my little novel also would have thrown Ms Marsh’s effort into the circular file and in her disgust, she might well have sent Ms Marsh a stern message about the way to write mysteries. Too bad for an editor who had made up her mind about what constitutes a mystery novel. But reading the book and remembering the editor’s remarks, the entire incident poured back into my mind and I got all wound up again.

All this the above is a prelude to my remarks that in novel writing, there are no rules. The very word novel conjures up images of something new and different. Now a mystery novel with no murder might not go over well with readers, starting with editors, but still it is legal. There’s no law that says you have to have a murder. A short story, maybe. Remember “The Purloined Letter” by Mr. Poe.

In “Vanity Fair”, Thackeray talks frankly, to his reader. He knows it’s just a story and he knows the reader knows it’s just a story, so tongue in cheek, he goes ahead and tells it, stepping in from time to time to remind us that, after all, it’s just a story.

Fowles puts himself right into the background of a novel while observing the proceedings and of course, in my favorite mystery novels, the narrator, the detective, tells his story as he remembers it. He’s just a reporter giving us, as Sgt. Friday would say, the facts. He’s not the real author of course, but we can suspend belief and assume that private eye Raymond Chandler is just calling himself Philip Marlowe to avoid being stalked by beautiful women with pearl-handled .25 automatics in their handbags.

In fact, being a very young reader when I began reading Marlowe novels, I was severely traumatized to learn one day that Mr. Chandler was in his sixties, meaning Marlowe was in his sixties. Philip Marlowe kicking butt in his sixties? To me, a kid of sixteen, I couldn’t believe anybody in his sixties was still able to walk, much less kick butt or write about the butts he kicked. And I felt very betrayed, almost the victim of a bad joke. But I was a vapid youth of sixteen. Maybe only fifteen.

Most people today lack the patience to wade through “Moby Dick”, but when it was written, I believe people liked a more leisurely novel, something they could spend hours, even days on. They wanted their money’s worth. Remember, at that time there wasn’t much else in the way of entertainment, at least not in that price range. But today what editor would accept a long tedious novel that stops cold, and before continuing, offers lengthy dissertations on whaling, or any other industry?

If there is anything to be gleaned from this little outburst, it is that as author, you are God. Rules, schmules, it’s your creation and you have the right to say anything you want to. Now if you step too far out of recognized lines, you may never find a publisher, but these days with the Internet and self-publishing opportunities being offered every time you log on, you can still get your stuff published.

Now, I don’t suggest you go too far off the grid if you hope to find a traditional publisher who is willing to take a chance on your work, but I do feel that, as the writer, you still have the right so say what you want to.

I should mention that what makes books  like Moby Dick, Sherlock Holmes, Don Quixote, etc. isn’t always their construction, but their unforgettable characters. Remember that.

So the takeaway here is to write what you want to. Once you’ve written it, you might want to see how it compares with similar works. If you feel it’s a little outré in some respect or another, you might want to make a few changes. If you like it the way it is, submit it and see what comes out of that. BIG PUBLISHERS probably won’t look at your masterpiece no matter what it is, but there are a great many independent publishers now. Most of them are open to unpublished writers and if all of these reject your stuff, you may want to revisit the entire work and see what’s holding you back. If you do get feedback, by all means, listen to it. Listen to it, but you don’t have to do more than that. It’s up to you. You’re the writer.

In my case, hearing about the rule that the murder should happen on page three or thereabouts, I nevertheless stubbornly felt I was okay with what I had written and time has proven me to be correct, insofar that another publisher accepted Deadly Reception, and I haven’t had any complaints. So you just have to consider what you’ve written and if you firmly believe you’re right, then stick to it. Sooner or later you’ll connect with the right publisher and hopefully you’ll establish a good relationship.

One last thing that may give you solace: If and when you do get some BIG PUBLISHER to publish your book, you’ll have a very short window of opportunity. If sales after a couple of months or so aren’t what the publisher wants, off with your books head (or cover). It’s gone. Buried without any ceremony, and all you’ll have are the few copies sitting your shelf to remind you that you once had a book published. As an added humiliation, if you’re really unlucky, you may stumble across a few copies of your book in Big Lots or a 99c store but let’s hope that doesn’t happen to you.

If you allow them, most of the indies will keep your book on the Internet forever. You may not sell a lot of POD copies because of the cost, but your masterpiece can float around as an E-book on Kindle, Nook and so on forever and who knows? Maybe one day, like Van Gogh, you’ll be DISCOVERED! Hey, if Picasso and Warhol can be “discovered”, anything can happen.


The Rich and Taxes

My wife and I follow the news every day, as does much of the world. Conservatives insist that, if we keep taxes low for the rich, they will invest their extra money in business ventures, thus providing more opportunities for the employment of more workers.

Sounds reasonable. Remember Ayn Rand? Coming from the Soviet Union it’s understandable that she was all for rampant capitalism. Let aggressive people get out there and stay out of the way. The more successful they are, the more successful we all will be as we ride on the wave of their personal success. People will be working and buying products and so it goes. Well, Ms Rand certainly had one thing right:

When a person starts up a business venture, his interest in inherently personal. He’s not doing this for mankind; he’s doing it for himself. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s one of Mr. Schultz’s “greedy bastards”. It just means that, like nearly every one of us, he places his own interests ahead of the interests of other people. He sets up a business to be able to do things the way he believes is good for him, and in doing so, he hopes to make a profit. Who wouldn’t like to have more money? Hiring employees comes later. As the business grows and improves, the entrepreneur needs help and begins hiring employees. He doesn’t do this because he wants to give them a job, but because he needs help to run his business. The bigger and better his business gets, the more employees he’ll hire, and all this is beneficial to the community. What’s wrong with that?

In theory it all sounds very good indeed. Makes sense. It’s sometimes called the trickle-down effect. The problem is that sometimes things don’t trickle down in the straight line we may have anticipated. They go off on angles and trickle in directions we never saw coming.

The impulse that causes entrepreneurs to go into business in the first place is, of necessity, profit-motivated, and with good reason. If the business doesn’t make a profit, it fails. There are exceptions; churches, business that pretend to be churches and other non-profit enterprises, but most of these are simply businesses that have learned to work the system.

When a real businessperson learns he can have his product produced in Mexico or China for a fraction of what it costs to produce it in the United States, he’s been doing his research. If he deals with a foreign entrepreneur, he pays much less per unit and can sell each unit for less, thus giving him not only a lower unit cost but a more competitive advantage in the marketplace. Some of his profits are trickling down all right. But they’re trickling into other countries. While his factory is churning out product in another country, his home state has an ever-growing unemployment rate. Does this bother the entrepreneur? If it does, it certainly isn’t going to bother him enough to cause him to relocate his operation to the US. The United States has a great many complicated and stringent laws about labor, environment, pollution and working conditions, etc., and while other businesses continue to have their products produced in other countries, a businessperson who continues to stick to the United States can’t really compete.

Almost all the products we grew up with, which used to be manufactured in the United States, are now produced in other countries. Tires, televisions, computers, radios, shoes, socks, bicycles, silverware…the list is nearly endless.

Around 1970 when you could buy a dandy Toyota or Datsun pickup truck for as little as $3,500, why would you pay much more for a GMC or a Ford? Our government finally took the step of heavily taxing these imports to offset the price difference, thus helping US automakers.

My wife and I were discussing this when a neat idea sprang to mind. Okay, it sprang to her mind.

Many want to raise taxes on the wealthy while others think it more prudent instead to raise taxes on the middle class to help the wealthy have more investment money. We’ve just discussed what happens with this investment money.

But what if our government would cut out all subsidies and raise taxes substantially for the rich while  keeping  taxes reasonable for the middle class…and then make the rich an offer they couldn’t refuse.

For every product a company produces in the US and for every employee the company hires, the company gets a tax rebate. The more American workers hired and the more products manufactured in the US, the lower the tax rate the company would enjoy. Seems simple and workable to us.

We feel this would create a win-win situation for American manufacturers and workers and for the middle class as well.

As stated above, manufacturers are motivated by self-interest. When it is in their best interest — read: when they find it profitable — to hire American workers and manufacture their products here at home, then that’s exactly what they’ll do. They frankly don’t care about helping workers in other countries, many of whom are horribly exploited anyway. Some of these countries have terrible human rights histories.

What can you do about all that, you ask. Well, if you think this is a viable idea, you can write to your political leaders. Write to your newspapers and favorite magazines. Fire off e-mails to everyone you know. Start a blog. Discuss this at church or the bowling alley; around the water cooler. Send text messages. You can do a lot.

Please! Just don’t do any graffiti on buildings.

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