“Commerce in a Time of Crisis” or “Adapt or Die”

Remember the good old days when you could buy stuff online and have it delivered to your door? For a few extra dollars, you could get something called, “White Glove Service.” No, they don’t actually wear white gloves, but they want you to think that for those extra dollars the delivery man will care a little more about your product. It’s a deluxe package! Additional services rendered. These are premiums. Money still works as the ultimate exchange. You can’t buy a vintage-style turntable with a winning smile. Not yet.

Amazon is losing business to competitors. Example—I placed an order March 29 with Amazon, but guess what? It won’t be shipped to me for nearly five weeks. They’re telling me it won’t be shipped for nearly five weeks. I know. Boo-hoo. Amazon might as well tell me, “We don’t want your business. We don’t serve your kind.” We know Amazon is prioritizing shipments. They’ve told us some orders will have preference over other orders. The little old lady in Duluth gets her face-masks faster than I get my … what did I order? I don’t even remember. This goes in strict defiance to the rules of commerce we’ve all agreed to — in that all purchasable items should have priority; that the CUSTOMER is always right, not the VENDOR. The VENDOR is the servant of the CUSTOMER. How is the opposite of this reality permitted to happen?

If this is truly the case, Amazon should shut down its business, or devote all of its time to providing only what they deem to be “essential” products and services. But who gets to choose? Who gets to decide what is essential in a crisis? If you ask me which of the products I’ve ordered are essential, I’ll tell you — 1. That’s none of your business OR (in a tone reminiscent of Veruca Salt) 2. All of my purchases are essential. Just do your job, Amazon. Take my money and give me my products. Instead, you’ve forced me to purchase my items through competing vendors, namely Best Buy.

Best Buy has not given me any grief, or any prioritization. Of course, we can’t just walk into a Best Buy anymore, but they’ve increased their delivery output from online shopping. I placed an order with Best Buy a little more than a week ago. Deliveries started appearing at my door three days later. That’s more like it. Best Buy has learned to adapt during the crisis. They’ve stepped up their delivery game. Food services have also learned to adapt. Restaurants that never delivered before are now stepping up because they can smell the opportunity in the air — the opportunity to make money in this strange vacuum.

Yet, in less than three weeks time, Amazon has alerted us to the possibility that their business model is completely flawed, and only because they refuse to adapt. Suppliers of certain products have also dropped the ball. Two items I’ve had difficulty locating since precisely March 15, 2020 are bathroom tissue and Lysol. Suspiciously, these items started flying off the shelves days before “the Ides.” If you are the CEO or Chairperson of the Board of the company that produces these products, and you see the empty supermarket shelves (and the panic those shelves can provoke), would you not double, triple, or quadruple your current development and manufacturing numbers to meet the demand of consumers? Would you not make multiple shipments to vendors? Would you not see this as an opportunity to make even more money? You can’t complain about shipping costs when EVERYBODY wants your product right now.

This lack of vision extends to online supermarket services such as Fresh Direct. For years, Fresh Direct (in New York City) had the corner on online grocery shopping. Not only groceries, but prepared foods and quality meats. If you go to the site today, you’ll see they have everything in stock, but no delivery time windows. None. Why? The obvious answer would be that people are panic-buying and causing a bottle-neck (even as Fresh Direct replenishes its stock daily) with available delivery times, but this has been going on for over a week (which is close to an eternity in New York time – it’s the “city that never sleeps,” come on).

Fresh Direct is sending us the same Amazon message. Their business model is flawed, and they refuse to adapt. I’ve decided to open an account with a competitor, and the competitor is more-than-happy to give me their business. Consider that if their revenue is increasing dramatically, they would have more than enough cash on hand to hire more drivers, hire more vehicles, and quadruple their sales. Fresh Direct (as well as Amazon) have an opportunity to laugh all the way to the bank, but they refuse.

Stores and small businesses are being shuttered all over my neighborhood. There were promises to unlock their gates and re-open, but those promises faded. Chinese restaurants have suffered due to the bigotry and fear engendered by American consumers. If I go to Grubhub or Seamless, I will see that all my favorite Chinese restaurants are now closed with no hope of re-opening in the near future.

Movie theaters are shuttered, and economists are speculating these may be the last days of cinema. Movies are being streamed to American living rooms. No Time to Die may be the first James Bond movie to premiere in front of audience of people in their underwear instead of the hallowed pop-culture cathedral of a cineplex. It’s only been, realistically, four weeks. Is four weeks enough to kill our economic staples? When will vendors learn to adapt and change? We may be dealing with an irrational public, but the irrational customer is still … always right. At this point in time, I have become the irrational customer. I just remembered what it was I ordered. Furniture protectors! My cats love to scratch up my couch. I must have my furniture protectors.

D.L.

April 10, 2020

Vintage Cable Box: Repo Man, 1984

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“The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.”

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Repo Man, 1984 (Emilio Estevez), MCA/Universal

A state trooper pulls over a ’64 Chevy Malibu, and asks the bizarre driver what’s in the trunk.  The driver tells him, “You don’t wanna know.”  The trooper opens the trunk and is instantly disintegrated, and all that is left is a pair of smoking boots.  This opening bit sets the tone for what is to come.  The dystopic contemporary depiction of a Los Angeles in the grip of poverty, writer-director Alex Cox’s Repo Man is a landscape of smashed windows and busted televisions, of manipulative evangelists, and UFO nuts.  Emilio Estevez is not quite a punk. more of a poser (the kind of person who admires the lifestyle, but really wants a house in the sticks with a 2-car garage – I know many people like this), because he holds down a steady job (until he loses his cool) in a supermarket, and while he joins his friends for nightly “mosh” sessions, he has more on his mind than getting wasted.

One day, he hooks up with Harry Dean Stanton (always a joy to watch in any film), who asks him to hot-wire a car for $10 because he “lost the keys, and his sister is pregnant.”  Estevez agrees, but wonders why a Mexican man is trying to stop him as he does it.  He drives off with the car, and Stanton leads him to a junkyard, where the car is impounded.  Estevez’s Otto isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he comes to the conclusion he just repossessed a vehicle.  Stanton offers him a job; good money and benefits, but Estevez hates these people, and I can understand why.  They repossess cars (a kind of legal version of theft) when the owners don’t make their payments, or for other reasons (say they’re late on house payments or utilities).  To Otto, they contribute to the downfall of a schizophrenic economy and the cultural wasteland.

When Otto discovers his parents have given his college money (See? Not a real punk!) away to a televangelist, he reluctantly takes up Stanton on his offer, and soon he’s lifting cars at an impressive rate.  He gets to know and bond with the denizens of the Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation.  He listens to crazy theories about alien spacecraft and time travel, life and money, and, inexplicably John Wayne’s sexual orientation.  Otto’s life is turning around, and a schism develops between him and his punk friends (one of them bears a striking resemblance to my buddy, Noah).  He gets a kooky girlfriend, who is obsessed with the UFO culture, and he finds he’s been cased by spooks and weird chicks with mohawks.

The Malibu is making the rounds and a bounty goes out on the vehicle.  $20,000 to the person (or persons) who can repossess the vehicle.  It makes sense the vehicle would be hot (figuratively as well as literally), and Stanton is locked in a battle of wits with the Rodriguez Brothers, the only other hacks in the game as bad-ass as Stanton’s Helping Hand cronies.  You have an unusual convergence of like-minded nitwits in skid-row: car repossessers, alien abduction nuts, Feds, and religious fanatics all coming together to unlock the power of this vehicle.  In the mish-mash of social commentary littered about the grounds of Cox’s narrative, what we see are emerging trends.  Cox’s worldview is not unlike that of a punk.  There are forces out to control you, and none to liberate you.  That makes a whole Hell-of-a-lot of sense if you consider yourself disenfranchised.

The Malibu changes drivers a few times when the Rodriguez Brothers lift the car, which is then stolen by a couple of Otto’s friends.  The original, crazed driver taunts them into opening the trunk, and they get zapped.  He takes back possession of the car, picks up Otto hitchhiking, and promptly dies behind the wheel, after confessing to him that he had a partial lobotomy in order to negotiate the heavy stress of driving this beast.  As government agents, priest, rabbis, and UFO enthusiasts swarm on the vehicle, it emits lightning and fire, and only Otto and his co-worker, Miller (who told him earlier he refuses to drive and does all his thinking on a bus), can get behind the wheel.  The Malibu ascends into the air and flies into space.  We never really settle on what is inside the trunk.  The crazy driver tells Otto it’s a neutron bomb.  Otto’s girlfriend tell him it’s the corpses of two aliens that emanate dangerous radiation.  I’m guessing it’s a MacGuffin, merely to keep up our interest in the movie, but it doesn’t matter.  This is such an interesting and entertaining film populated with incredible characters that it doesn’t need this device (or vehicle, as the case the may be) to tell the story.

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For this movie to come out when it did, March of 1984, in the middle of the sex comedy and slasher film explosion, and the beginnings of the opening weekend mindset of Hollywood, Repo Man initiated a major smack-in-the-face to the conventions of filmmaking.  Similar in style to something like Jim Sheridan’s Breathless, but with a story and characters we give a crap for, Repo Man is a cultural send-up of science fiction, crime-drama, and tales of government paranoia.  It shows a side of Los Angeles we aren’t used to seeing.  An extraordinarily bold and gifted filmmaker, Alex Cox would follow-up Repo Man with Sid & Nancy, and the much-maligned (although I liked it) Straight To Hell.

Sourced from a VHS tape recorded off the Independent Film Channel (IFC), extended play, circa 2002-2003.  This was back when IFC ran uninterrupted films with no commercials.  Also on the tape were Harmony Korine’s 1997 oddity, Gummo, and the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers starring Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy, and Brooke Adams.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

BlissVille Fridays: “Protect This Rocket House (And All Who Dwell Within The Rocket House)”

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OUR 50TH EPISODE!

I wanted to talk a little about Socialism, not the original Socialism, those tenets of Charles Fourier or the French Ideals, it was actually the French and the British that were the first adopters of the economic system of Socialism, not Marx or Lenin or any of that – our friendly neighborhood idiots would have you believe Communism and Socialism are one in the same – they are not, we’re talking the separation of economics and government, for one thing – but rather, the American doctrine, the system supported by people like Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, to name one.

There seems to be a disconnect in the very definition of the word. Many people are not aware of what Socialism truly represents. These are very interesting theories that could not be put into practice today, in these United States, in this iteration, mainly because we’ve gotten used to the idea of Capitalism. Think about this way – if you make money, and you want to keep your money so you can buy, oh I don’t know, stuff – you can’t be a Socialist. If you want to stand in line and buy the latest iPhone, you can’t be a Socialist.

It should go without saying (at this point) that Andrew and I have fairly loose tongues and we tend to pepper our speech with obscenity and profanity.  This is because we record a podcast in an atmosphere where we like to be comfortable.  If you are easily offended by harsh or foul language and terse pronouncements, don’t listen.