Black Friday.

Retail. It may not be a four letter word, but sometimes it comes out like one. I have worked in the realm of the retail and food service industry pretty much since I was legally able. I accept that as my lot in life, and I don’t complain (much) about the fact I have always had to work in very un-glamorous positions.

However, being in New Zealand has made me really examine the culture of retail in the United States compared to that of other countries, and there is one big thing that stands out to me: Black Friday. Never has a day been so aptly named, and so completely loathed. For my new Kiwi friends, let me give you a brief overview of what Black Friday means to every retail employee in the United States.

Black Friday is the name given to the day after Thanksgiving, which is always a friday, because, well, Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday.  The short explanation of this day is that it is known as the biggest day for blowout sales in all major retailers all over the United States. It officially marks the beginning of the “Christmas Shopping Season,” and there are some retail giants (Wal Mart, Macy’s, Gap, Best Buy, what have you) who like to celebrate by offering absurd sales.

As a little kid, I had a vague notion of the day as being when my aunts would all wake up “early”–I say “early” in sarcastic quotation marks because now, as a world-weary ex-Best Buy employee, I now no longer consider 7AM on Black Friday early–and hit the mall. We cousins were never invited because A) they were probably buying heaps of Christmas gifts we weren’t meant to see and B) This wasn’t strolling through the mall drinking an orange Julius shopping. This was serious Running of the Brides style shopping.

There are many things that are sick and disturbing about Black Friday. I will try to hit on them all without descending into a blubbering mass of rage spit, but I can’t really make any promises. The first thing that is wrong with Black Friday is that people camp our for it. They train for this shit like it is an olympic event. Shoppers go to their chosen store days before BF-Day and set up tents, grills, and lawn chairs. It’s like the bastard love child of a refugee camp and the worst kind of tailgaters at a football game.

This is a person who was camped out in front of my friendly neighborhood Best Buy on Monday. Let me remind you that Thanksgiving takes place on Thursday and Black Friday, obviously, is not until Friday. As I was leaving work that night, I actually was really tempted to throw heavy bricks at this person’s tent. First of all, I hail from Bean Town, also known as Freeze-Your-Beans-Off Town. On 2011, November 21 (the Monday before Thanksgiving), it was 35.6 degrees Fahrenheit  or for my kiwi friends, a brisk 2 degrees Celsius, a mere hair’s breadth above the temperature that is cold enough for water to transform into ice.  What on God’s Green earth could possibly be important enough for you to buy at a slightly lower cost that is worth the risk of dangerous hypothermia, death by exposure, or frostbite? And if any of you say an Apple iPad, I’ll break your nose.  The correct answer is NOTHING. If your loved ones demand this of you during gift buying season, you need some new loved ones.

Speaking of loved ones, it’s about time I leave temperature behind (because hey, maybe you have just enough of that good, all-American, McDonald’s induced blubber to keep you nice and toasty) and discuss something much more important. Thanksgiving is a holiday unique to America in a way that no other Holiday is. And I know the puritans were actually the worst and took advantage of their friendly Native American hosts by spreading blood and disease and claiming their land for themselves, blah blah blah, but for the purposes of this post, I don’t care about the gross, colonial, terrible roots of Thanksgiving. It has actually done the opposite of nearly every holiday: it has turned something terrible into something beautiful (unlike christmas and valentines day and every other commercial holiday): families. Families that normally fight or don’t talk or get wrapped up in petty interpersonal drama bullshit sit down, share a beautiful meal, and appreciate the good things in life. Since my parents are divorced, for me, Thanksgiving weekend always represented a magical four day slumber party with my cousins on my dad’s side, whom I grew up with and love like siblings. No matter where all the cousins were in stages of their lives, we all reunited for four days to not sleep, play video games, watch Mulan (still), play Risk, drink unhealthy amounts of coca cola and laugh endlessly. This brings me to the main reason I hate Black Friday. It eclipses the magic of Thanksgiving with its greedy corporate awfulness.  The people camping out days before are forgoing one of the most beautiful days known to man. You may be saying, “But Ali, not everyone has such a fabulous family life! Some people are alone in the world!” It’s a paradox; if any of those people don’t have anyone to spend thanksgiving with, then who the fuck are they buying all this shit for? Is getting 250$ off a 1400$ DSLR camera really worth forgoing a relaxing day spent eating and laughing and reminiscing with your extended family, or sometimes very close friends? No. It’s not. I would accept Black Friday if it was only “celebrated” by immigrants to the US who don’t give a rat’s patoot about Thanksgiving–much like jewish families flocking to the cinemas on Christmas day–but it’s not. Blue blooded ‘murricans forgoe spending time with their loved ones to huddle on curbs for days on end. It’s so backwards and kind of shows what’s wrong with our culture. It’s like, “I’d rather spend my money on my family to show how much I care than actually sit down and spend time with them.” I would like to call shenanigans on this nonsense.  Any person who buys me a gift on black friday should just save their money and come hang out with me for a beautiful meal instead.

Now, in case it isn’t clear by the fact that I’ve spent 1000 words on this already, but I fucking love Thanksgiving. I love it. I love the food, I love the atmosphere, I love hanging around the kitchen all day. I love the motherfucking shit out of this holiday. That being said, I come to my final point on my “why Black Friday should be completely abolished” tirade. Shoppers really don’t think at all about the effect that their (literally) buying in to this ridiculousness has on all of the store employees. In my three black fridays working with Best Buy, I sacrificed my long Thanksgiving weekend with my family because if you work retail, you cannot ask for that shit off. It is all hands on deck, motherfuckers, and don’t you forget it. I still got to eat Thanksgiving Dinner with them, but I always had to skip out right after dinner and go to bed by 8pm at the latest. And why is that you ask? Because to be on time for my shift on Black Friday I had to wake up somewhere in the vicinity of 3AM. I then went to work in the dark, before Dunkin Donuts was even open. That’s seriously early as. I then proceeded to work for 12 hours essentially non stop, ringing out countless people whose sense of satisfaction at cashing in their “tickets” (we handed out tickets before the doors open for items we had limited quanities of that were sure to be big sellers, or tickets for especially good bundle deals that we were only offering a limited quantity of) was nearly sickening. This past year, the first person i rang out (at 4 AM) was buying nothing but an xBox kinect THAT WASN’T EVEN ON SALE. It also had been released two weeks previously. And I was so tempted to ask, “Why are you here? Not just in Best Buy at 4AM, but seriously, like why are you even on this earth? How can you possibly be a real person that walks among decent people?” My boyfriend worked about 18 hours this year. On one day. He was at Best Buy counting down the safe until well past 1AM after the doors had finally closed. This makes me feel ill. In no universe should this poor guy, who has been up since the ass crack of dawn, been yelled at constantly about stuff being out of stock, or stuff being the wrong price, or by people who feel the need to come in and do errands like returns and sending their computers out for repair ON BLACK FUCKING FRIDAY, then have to stay in the office, alone, and count dirty smelly money until almost two in the morning.

Not only that, but since Black Friday is, quite obviously, the single most profitable day for retail stores of the entire year, stores are changing their strategies to maximize sales potential. Last year, Wal-Mart stores in MA defied labor laws by trying to open at midnight (meaning employees actually had to be at work on a day that is technically still Thanksgiving). Thanksgiving is a national holiday. SHIT IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE OPEN ON THIS DAY. Best Buy opened at 1AM, meaning employees were not required to arrive until it was technically not Thanksgiving any more. However, a quick look at wikipedia tells me that stores are further pushing the limits of labor laws by trying to remain open for 24 hours, or open at 8PM on thanksgiving. THIS IS NOT RIGHT. It makes me so goddamn furious that I can’t even handle it. I started this post in a half joking tone and by this point in typing it I’m actually quite worked up. The fact that all these shoppers are actually making it seem like requiring employees to forgo Thanksgiving with their families as a viable business strategy is actually nauseating.

Don’t any of them care? The answer is a resounding “FUCK NO!” If these people can’t be bothered to care about their own families enough to spend thanksgiving with them, how can they be expected to care about lowly walmart, macy’s, and best buy employees? (And by employees I OF COURSE mean “iPad dispensers,” because lets be real, many of these people don’t even see retail workers as human, it’s very obvious by the way they often treat us)

If I were less emotional about this I would actually crunch some rough numbers based on money saved on gifts vs money spent on camping equipment,  gas burned up driving around parking lots for hours trying to find a space or trying to fight your way out once your shopping is done, and the priceless (and I know that word is heavy handed and cheesey, but just go with it) cost of missing moments with loved ones.

The bottom line is, it’s not worth it, and if you think it is, you really need to examine your priorities, morals and personal values. I would like to challenge everyone I know not to buy into this Black Friday nonsense. Show up at stores at a leisurely 10AM, and make these retail giants hemorrhage money on labor staffing stores at midnight so that the following year, we can all sit down, tuck into some turkey, and do what we’re meant to do afterwards: go out and get drunk, just like the Pilgrims.

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Why 50 Shades of Grey is the Bane of The Universe

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Let’s face it: there are a lot of bad books out in the world. For every masterfully crafted novel there’s one filled with lusty wereotters or heaving bosoms or whatever the fuck else is in bad books these days. The ratio of shitty books to those with standards has, of course, become skewed due to the advent of self-publishing, but most of these books are just shoddily crafted and poorly edited. They are not dangerous. They’re just bad. 50 Shades of Grey, though — it’s both.

50 Shades of Grey is — and I fully believe this — the worst piece of literature to come out in the past decade. Back in the day when Twilight was becoming all the rage, I was convinced that I would never find anything I hated more. I was wrong. Twilight is a comparative masterpiece. Now, I’ll say right off the bat that I’ve read the first book of Twilight and none of the others. And I’ve certainly never actually read 50 Shades of Grey. I’ve read excerpts and that’s more than enough for me. I know it’s a bit of a faux pas to lambast something you’ve never actually read yourself, but I think I should mention that I don’t hate 50 Shades of Grey because it’s a shitty book. That’s only part of the reason.

So let’s start off with the fact that it’s terribly written. As a writer, I find it incredibly upsetting that Time magazine included E.L James as one of the most influential people in the world, because her writing style is just that awful. The main character, in the midst of sexy times, will say “Holy cow!” or spin long-winded metaphors about how her inner goddess enjoys sunning herself on the back porch sipping lemonade while — wait what’s happening in the book again? The  passage “I’ll agree to the fisting, but I’d really like to claim your ass, Anastasia…. Besides, it’s not something we can dive into. Your ass will need training.” is actually present. Some other gems include:

“‘His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.”

and

“I feel the color in my cheeks rising again. I must be the color of the communist manifesto.

These sorts of lines are cringe-worthy. The relationship is cringe-worthy. Everything about this book is cringe-worthy.

“But Kendra,” you may say, “What makes this terrible erotica/romance novel so much worse than every other terrible erotica/romance novel?”

I’m getting to that.

The reason I hate 50 Shades of Grey more than probably every other bad novel out there is because originally, it was a fanfiction. And let it be known that I think fanfiction is a glorious thing. I think it allows young writers to find their voices, and I think it helps people hone their craft while not worrying so much about worldbuilding. There’s still imagination, there’s still characterisation — but it’s an easier way to improve than just starting everything from scratch. But fanfiction is still only fanfiction. It stops being okay to write fanfiction when you start making money off it and when, god forbid, you start passing it off as your own.  And that’s what E.L James did.

Let me tell you a little story: way back before 50 Shades of Grey was a thing, there was a Twilight fanfic writer (known hilariously as “Snowqueen’s Icedragon”) who wrote a highly praised alternate-universe erotic trilogy called Master of the Universe.  This series featured the familiar characters of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan in a universe where supernatural creatures did not exist. Instead, Edward was a high-powered, sexually deviant millionaire who tempted Bella, a naive college student, into joining him in his world.

Fast forward a few years. Master of the Universe has done brilliantly among the sexually repressed housewives and horny teenagers who read Twilight but were disappointed with the lack of sexytimes, so good old Snowqueen Icedragon, high on anonymous praise from reviewers on The Interweb, decides to take the next step. She has put so much time and effort into crafting this series that, gosh darn it, why shouldn’t she get some kind of reward for all her hard work? So what if she didn’t create the characters or the relationship — she came up with the “plot,” right? So she changed the names from Bella Swan to Anastasia Steele and Edward Cullen to Christian Grey and published her reworked version of Master of the Universe (split into a three-part series) with a virtual publisher based in Australia, choosing the much more sophisticated pen name E.L. James. And eventually this heinous plague was unleashed on the rest of humanity.

Up until this point, the moral responsibility of stealing someone else’s characters and passing them off as  original creations lay solely on E.L. James’s shoulders. But that all changed when Vintage Books (a Big Six imprint) decided that this trilogy would make them heaps and heaps and heaps of money and offered her an incredibly enormous book deal. And here’s where I start to hate pretty much everything about the book series, its author, its situation, and its publisher: it does not matter one bit whether it’s a brilliant masterpiece or a deformed dog turd — what matters is that no one saw the slightest thing wrong with publishing fanfiction as a real work of art.

I know the characters names have been changed. I’m also aware that the selling point has nothing to do with vampires. But my point still remains: the characters, which the entire trilogy depends on, are complete and utter ripoffs of Stephenie Meyer’s characters. And while I know I wrote earlier that I find Twilight a literary abomination, I still feel that every author, regardless of how talentless he or she may be, deserves at least a little bit of credit for coming up with something in its entirety and seeing it through to the bitter end. Twilight may be a series filled with terrible role models for young girls, unrealistic (and dangerous) standards for relationships, and mediocre turns of phrase, but at least Stephenie Meyer didn’t rip anybody off to write it. No matter how much I dislike her books, I have to give the lady props. She dreamed up characters, she loved them, she wrote them, and she happened to make millions off them. And what I find terribly unjust is that now, someone else is taking these characters she loved and (presumably) put a lot of work into. She’s changed their names and stuck them in a slightly different plot — which, if you remove the supernatural creatures from one and the BDSM from the other, really isn’t all that different — and Stephenie Meyer gets no credit. Instead, James is making bank. Lots of bank.

A publishing house should know better than this — especially one that’s so influential, especially after all the book scandals of the past few years (James Frey, I’m looking at you, you big worst). Vintage shouldn’t sit there and say “oh, it’s okay” — they should be outraged! No work is, of course, wholly original, as it’s all been said and done before — but this is conceptual plagiarism. Without Twilight, this novel would not exist — and Twilight, unlike Jane Eyre, is not exactly in the public domain just yet. Without Edward Cullen, Christian Grey would not be a character — and Christian Grey is Edward, just as Anastasia is Bella. A rose by any other name, in this instance, smells exactly the fucking same.

So why does this bother me so much? Two reasons. The first is the implication this has in the publishing and writing world. I know the publishing industry is struggling in some respects. But is it really that far gone that we have to resort to skirting around copyright issues just to make a buck? Does it mean I can publish my novel and four or five years down the road find someone else making money off characters that resemble mine in every way but name? I know imitation is a form of flattery, but that is taking things too damn far.

James wrote fanfiction about a series she enjoyed by an author she liked. She liked it so much she used Meyer’s characters and wrote her own little stories about them. And then she turned around and slapped Meyer in the face wearing a shit-eating grin that said, “Hey! You’re great but I’m going to make ALL the benjamins and I’m not going to give you any credit at all for making my work what it was.” Now what kind of person does that make her?

The worst part about all of this is that, unlike the James Frey situation (in which he lied and the publishing house got slammed for not checking into things sooner), Vintage was well aware right from the beginning that 50 Shades of Grey originated as a Twilight fic. In an article I read long ago, a spokesperson from Vintage stated that the book barely resembled its fanfiction roots — and just a few paragraphs later claimed that 50 Shades of Grey had been left virtually untouched. And I know that they’re trying to cash in on the Twilight craze; they even vaguely referenced Twilight in the similar cover art styles! But there are other ways to make money that don’t infringe on other writers’ rights.

The other scary implication for me is what this will do to the fanfiction community. Yeah, fanfiction isn’t the most glamourous thing, but as I said above, it really can help young writers. It gives them a sense of community, a place where they can get feedback on whatever they’ve done, and this can really help boost their confidence. Certain authors, such as Anne Rice, have already expressed a dislike for fanfiction, and will not permit it written about their book. Many more authors are okay with fanfiction — so long as the writers adhere to the stipulations that A) they write a disclaimer that explains that the characters and world are someone else’s brainchild and B) they make no profit. 50 Shades of Grey crosses both lines. It claims to be a standalone work, derived from nothing (though paradoxically James freely talks about the books’ beginnings as a fanfic) and is making millions upon millions of dollars. Will this set a bad precedent and make other authors more leery of allowing an otherwise harmless hobby? And will it teach aspiring writers that it’s okay to cheat and to steal so long as your work makes it big?

I won’t tell you not to read the books. If you feel the need to lower your IQ and turn your retinas into goo, please, by all means, read them. But don’t buy them. Pirate them, get them from your local library, read snippets online — because after all, it’s a book and it is meant to be read. But by giving this harpy your hard-earned cash, you’re telling her — and the rest of the world — that creativity and respect mean nothing.

The Ten Most Useless Kitchen Tools that People Actually Buy

As a fledgling cook, I definitely worship at the Altar of Brown: Alton Brown. One of my favorite Brown psalms is that you should 86 anything from your kitchen that only has one use. He doesn’t mean items like knives, that can only chop, he means things like a Strawberry Huller, that ONLY hull strawberries. There are so many gadgets out there for convenience that just end up being expensive clutter. After working at a home electronics store, I have witnessed with my own eyes as the heathen non believers have shelled out money for these items. Here are the worst ones.

Breadmakers

This is potentially the most controversial one on the list, so I figured I’d list it right up front and get everyone all good and pissed off. Many people swear by bread makers. These people are the worst. Basic bread is approximately three ingredients. If you can’t figure out how to put flour, water and instant yeast in a bowl, you shouldn’t even really be in the kitchen. Plus, bread maker bread often tastes like oasis foam. As far as I can see, bread makers are for people who want to give the illusion of being able to bake*. You can make beautiful sourdough bread easily in your regular old oven with a cast iron pot. Instead of spending 80 bucks on a bread maker, spend 20 on any of Peter Reinhart’s books and you’ll be much, much happier.

*Side note: Kendra did bring up a good point that bread makers ARE a huge time saver, whereas many of these items really don’t save you much time at all. So I will give that kudos to breadmakers: they ARE fast, and the bread is better than buying wonder bread. And mixing and matching ingredients can be fun.But if you’re short on cash, and space, in your tiny apartment kitchen, and you buy a bread maker, you’re a damn fool.

Any “Slicer” That Can Only Be Used for One Food

How fucking lazy are you? You seriously can’t use a knife? Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you liked having no room left in your kitchen drawers and having to make deals with God every time you try to open or close one, because you have plastic handles and metal springs sticking up every which way to block the sliding mechanism. Yes, having slices that are uniform in thickness is better for cooking and baking, but how much are you cooking or baking with slices of bananas or strawberries? You’re probably throwing these in a fruit salad or lunch box snack. Just use a knife you waste of space.

Cupcake Maker

I love cupcakes as much as the next gal, but if you are shelling out money for a cupcake maker, you have some serious, serious mental problems. It saves no time, no mess, and instead of soaking a cupcake pan in the sink for 20 minutes after baking, you have to gingerly and carefully clean an electronic device. The only conceivable excuse for this purchase would be if you actually don’t own an oven. And then, I think you really need to re-examine if your priorities. Should you be figuring out how to make cupcakes or instead finding a way to be a little less homeless? It just seems like utter nonsense to me. I’m not even sure what the point of this is actually supposed to be, since unlike even the breadmaker which saves tons of time and effort, you still have to fall all of the same friggin steps as you would when you put them in the oven. The sole purpose this is sold is because cupcakes are so god damn trendy right now (and don’t even get me started on that).

Yogurt Maker

A Yoplait costs like 60 cents at the grocery store. It’s honestly most likely not going to save you like, any money to make your own yogurt in a yogurt maker, especially because you have to buy certain size jars and little packets of mix. I understand the desire to make things from scratch that you probably shouldn’t be bothered to try making, believe me (true story: I am looking into how to make my own tofu), but guess what? You know what you really need to make yogurt? A bowl, a spoonful of existing yogurt, some milk, and a slightly warm oven. That’s it. Seriously. Google it. It’s like, science or something. If you are curious enough in the kitchen (and I commend you if you are!) to want to make your own yogurt, you really shouldn’t be lazy or foolish enough to buy a yogurt maker.

Automatic Whip Cream Whipping Can

If you are at a point where you even desire homemade whipped cream, I think it’s safe to assume that you bake on the regular enough to own a fucking electric hand mixer. They cost the same amount and you can use the hand mixer for many other delight full things like mixing cake batter, or cookie dough. It takes about four minutes of whipping to whip cream with a hand mixer. You can even do it with a regular whisk if you’re really hard core and you have the forearm strength of a Swedish shot put. If anyone came up to me and said, “Check out my new whip cream whipper!” I’d roll up a news paper and smack them on the nose.

Egg Cooker

What that phrase should mean is a pot full of water, or a frying pan. Tragically, what it actually means is a huge dome shaped electrical device that you rest some eggs in, and it cooks them for you. Seriously. I’m not sure who looked at the kitchen supply market and though, “I see a need, so I will fill it!” I eat eggs almost every day for breakfast. I really don’t want to have to haul out a specific machine, plug it in, heat it up, and go through an involved cleaning process, especially before I’ve had my coffee.

Pie Maker

Don’t get me wrong, if I could buy Lee Pace at William’s Sonoma I would be lining up to sell my remaining Ova to afford it. Sadly, this is not what they’re charging about two hundred bucks for. Much like the cupcake maker, this is a very pricey, very cumbersome device that takes up precious room in your cabinet. It has four little cups in it for making adorable teensy pies. Believe you me, I am a sucker for anything mini. Or adorable. Or made by Breville. But this is…ugh. How often do you honestly have a craving for tiny pies!? At least eggs are something people often eat almost daily. If you were packing away mini pies on the daily you would…be fat. Period. And, if you were good enough at making pies that you could successfully make them every day, you should be man enough to just make the teeny ones in a cupcke tin. You can also buy mini cake pans. That are small, and cheap. And probably dishwasher safe AND NOT TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS.

Blenders Marketed as Alcoholic Drink Makers

Again, I want to be clear that it’s not the end product I have a problem with. Pina Coladas are some of the tastiest things ever. However, I really don’t think even the most boozy of folks need a two hundred dollar monstrosity (note: the one in the picture is 500 bucks) of a blender that looks about as tacky as a chipped plastic Santa on your neighbor’s lawn that’s still out in February. A regular blender would really do just fine, I promise. I have used one of these blenders before, and they are kind of fun. They do shave the ice in a very efficient way, but there’s really no way I would ever justify even just the space it takes up. This thing is about two feet high and has about 8 million removable parts. What owning this item really says about you: “I don’t need a real blender because I drink all my meals.”

Electric Salt and Pepper Mills

“Don’t you just hate when you can’t summon the energy to grind black pepper after a long day’s work?” Said no one ever. I think this might win as most useless out of all of these, even though it is not the most expensive, or the most cumbersome. It wins because … is anyone looking at their meals saying, “You know, this could really use some ground black pepper…but that grinder is just so hard to use!” No. So how can you justify shelling out forty dollars on it? ….It’s rechargeable?

Pasta Maker

Let’s get something straight here: fresh, homemade pasta is incomparable. On lasagne, for ravioli, you really can’t go wrong. However, this beauty costs over 500 dollars. Do you know how many ingredients pasta is? Two. Flour, and eggs. The only cool thing about this is that it can make ziti, where rolling zitis by hand would probably make you want to kill yourself. The thing is, unlike lasagne or ravioli, any dish that features ziti really doesn’t showcase the quality of the pasta you use. When you think Baked Mac and Cheese, are you thinking about the Mac, or are you thinking about the cheese? I rest my case.

Salad Spinner

I saved this one for last because I feel like the salad spinner is like, the original useless kitchen supply. I’m not really basing this on any knowledge of kitchen utensil history, except that salad spinners to me SCREAM cheesy 70s wedding gift. You cant use a tongs to mix your salad? Seriously? You have to buy a device to use centripetal force to move your damn vegetables around? Now, readers, tell me honestly. Have you ever either as a dinner guest, or had a dinner guest who, complained about your salad portion not having the perfect ratio of tomatoes to onions to lettuce? I mean come on people, barely anyone cares enough about salad to actually eat it, and those who do only pick out the shit they like anyway. Unless all of your dinner guests are obsessive compulsive who will lose their shit if their salad components are not perfectly and completely 100% coated with dressing, you can probably just “jeuje” it around and call it a day. Apparently, according to my dear friend Jesse, salad spinners are actually used to spin the excess moisture off of salad ingredients. Embarrassed though I was to be corrected, I think this actually makes it even better! getting rid of minuscule water droplets is even more useless than mixing. I have never once sent back a salad, or refused to eat one, because it was too moist. If you need your salad to be that perfectly dry…well, I actually wouldn’t even know how to react to that.

In conclusion: Don’t invite me over for dinner because I will probably just scowl at all the stuff in your kitchen and make everyone super uncomfortable.

Why I Won’t Date Someone Who Hates Board Games.

The Recht family does not have many traditions. We don’t go on holiday to any specific place. We don’t do movie nights or Friday night pizza dinners or whatever the fuck most “All-American families” are supposed to do. But if the Recht family has one thing, it is a great passion for games of all sorts, particularly Setback.

Setback is the most addictive game you’ll ever play. I challenge anyone to dislike it after learning — which so far, no one has. This game is the glue that binds my family together. It’s kind of like a rite of passage: you fully become an adult member of the Recht family when you are indoctrinated into the realm of Setback. Other families have heirlooms that they hand down to their children — an old engagement ring, a scarf, what-have-you — but we have this game and it’s our game and it’s the best game in the entire bloody world. When I was a kid, my parents and aunts and uncles would shoo us out of the kitchen, make us go to bed, and then play this game until two in the morning. Now I am one of them, a member of the cult of Setback, and I’m spreading my teachings to the general public.

But this post isn’t about Setback. It’s in defense of every game that has ever existed. It’s about Monopoly and Scattergories and Balderdash and May I and Taboo because oh yes, board — and card! — games are exceptionally fun and that’s why they are called games. I know that not every board game is every person’s cup of tea. But dear god how can a single person dislike every board game that has ever existed? I do not trust people who don’t play board games. As soon as I hear a phrase like “Board games are lame/stupid/boring/[insert negative or derogatory comment here]” my interest in that person screeches to a grinding halt and fizzles out like a poorly made sparkler. I become very concerned about their character, because seriously, how can you hate board games? Do you hate fun? Granted, I could probably be friends with someone who hated board games — okay, maybe just friendly acquaintances — but when it comes to someone who is, at some point, supposed to join up with the rest of the Recht clan, a disdain for board games is a big no-no. Because, really, how can you hate all board games? Is it even possible? If you don’t like word games, there are mystery games. If you don’t like those, you can play strategy games or cards or trivia or party games or anything, because let’s be real: there is a board game for every occasion, for every kind of brain.

There are two kinds of people who hate playing games. The first kind of person is bland, beige, and wholly sans personality. If you ask Bland about anything, they give monosyllabic, monotonous answers. They have no real interests, no concept of the word “fun,” and because of this tend to stick together like an enormous flock of dull-eyed pigeons or latch onto more vibrant, dynamic people, leeching their heart and soul from them bit by teeny tiny bit. The Blands don’t like board games because board games, while not nearly as exciting as white-water rafting or dancing, are inherently fun and interesting and require a person to also be fun and interesting. Have you ever tried to play a board game with a Bland? They suck out all the enthusiasm you may have once had and leave you either irritated beyond belief (best case scenario) or soulless and beige just like them (worst case scenario). These are the people who forget that Apples to Apples is not supposed to be literal and play the word “Chocolate” for “Sweet” and get all offended when you happen to play “Helen Keller” for “Senseless.” Everyone else gets it. Everyone else falls off their seats laughing and Bland sits there, rigid as stone, and says “That’s not even accurate” and then all the joy is gone and Bland becomes The Board Game Grinch who no one ever wants to play with or even be around.

Let it be known that Bland is a person no one ever wants to date, even outside of the board game scenario. They’re awful no matter what, and I’d say (thank god) that they are far less prevalent than the other type of person: the Cool Dude. The Cool Dude is just way too bloody hip for board games. Cool Dude is busy smoking weed or hiking or writing slam poetry or whatever else he finds to be the most respectable (because Cool Dudes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and ages, ranging from bro to hipster to suave businessman). He’s not interested in your silly playtime because board games are for children. And Cool Dude is not a child. Cool Dude is the coolest of the cool, and board games don’t fit under the list of acceptable activities he’s allowed to engage in. The only way he’ll ever join in is if it’s maaaybe poker, and even then only if all his other Cool Dude friends are into it. He thinks that there is nothing more geeky, more silly, and more stupid than playing Clue. This is the kind of person who, even if he thinks Cards Against Humanity may be the most intriguing specimen of game he’s ever encountered, will stick his nose up in the air and say, “No thanks. I’d rather be doing something more my age.” The Cool Dude is worse than the Bland, because Cool Dude is a fucking fake. Crying inside is this little tiny child that wants to get out and play Charades but can’t because some big old mental bully is pinning him down — all because Cool Dude is trying so hard to look impressive.

If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s people who aren’t honest, and Cool Dude is dishonest, which probably makes him the worse of the two. Bland is just Bland, but who likes Bland anyway? They can stick together and create awful beige babies and maybe claim a patch of land that no one cares about, like Arkansas or Oklahoma, and no one will ever have to deal with them again. But Cool Dudes are everywhere. Although there’s nothing wrong with preferring other activities, playing cards or board games every once in a while allows you to take a breather and have some good old-fashioned fun without overexerting yourself mentally or physically. It’s a good bonding experience with friends and family, and a great way to save what could be a dull, rainy day — or worse. Because of Hurricane Sandy, my family was without power for over a week, and when I got brief, emailed updates from them, my Dad wrote, “We still don’t have power, but we’ve been playing card games all weekend. We’re making the best of it.” And while I understand that maybe Cool Dude’s time is better spent taking foreign language classes or writing the next great novel, every once in a while it is nice to take a breather.

So please, people, stop and think long and hard about who you want to be: a Bland, a Cool Dude, or Just A Regular Human Being. Before you proclaim loudly to the world, “Board games? I hate board games!” you should first consider your happiness, your mental health, and most of all my mental health, and then maybe find something less retarded to say instead.

Ten Pokemon Who Were Clearly Afterthoughts

Just about everyone in my generation at least experienced the periphery of the Pokemon craze, and though I’d say it’s not nearly as popular now as it was then, I and and millions of other gamers worldwide still shell out about 30 bucks every year or two to buy the latest version. Whenever someone asks me what I’m playing on my DS and I answer, “Pokemon!” I get a number of responses. One of the most popular is the following:

“EW! I don’t like ANY Pokemon besides the original 150.”

Now, while I agree that most of the originals put recent iterations to shame, I find this perspective extremely narrow minded. First because let’s face it, some of the original 150 were ugly as (I’m looking at you, Magmar). Second, because some of the new ones are actually really cute, pretty or awesome (personally, I am a huge sucker for Umbreon and Espeon, two additional evolutions developed for Eevee). However, I do give the people who hate all new Pokemon some credit: many of the newly designed Pocket Monsters are ugly, weird, and completely uninspired. I debated making a list of the ugliest pokemon since Mewto, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that MANY of the original 150—Mr Mime, Eggsecutor, Koffing—were just as ugly. I decided instead to make a list of Pokemon whose designs, names, and abilities are so unimaginative that it’s clear the designers were like “Ah shit, we only made 97 new ones for this game, we need 13 more.”

Wobbuffet

I think it’s important to mention that my cousins and I nicknamed this pokemon Condom-on, mainly because he just looks like a condom that somebody blew up with air. And what the hell is coming out of his ass? Solid flatulence? Apparently they are very protective of it though. According to bulbapedia, this pokemon will turn aggressive if it feels as though its tail is being threatened. Got to protect your only friends, I guess… Its species is listed as Patient Pokemon. What does that even mean? My best guess is ‘mental patient drew this pokemon.’

Pineco

 Literally, they just took the word pinecone, struck the “ne” off the end, and stuck some googly eyes on him. “Hmmm…he still just looks like a pinecone…” “I know, make him grey!” Another feature that Pineco has that most average pinecones don’t is that, when agitated, it will drop to the ground from its tree and explode violently without warning. 

Luvdisc

This Pokemon is a fish, in theory, but what it really is is a heart drawn by a drunk, blind four year old. They then rotated it ninety degrees, slapped a fishy face on it and called it a day. The reason this Pokemon exemplifies what’s wrong with recent editions of the game is effort, or lack thereof. Like, come on. Compare this with Pokemon like Rapidash, or even a simple one like Oddish. You could draw this stupid thing in 10 seconds. It’s made of approximately three lines and some blush pink color. Just sad. Its type is listed as Rendezvous Pokemon. Coupled with its name, I can only guess that eating this pokemon will cure erectile dysfunction.

Gulpin

This Pokemon’s species is literally listed as “stomach Pokemon.” What on god’s green earth could have convinced an art director that a sentient, green human stomach with a yellow feather on its…head? Back? Membrane? would be a good character for a game for children? It’s “hidden” ability? Gluttony. No Shit. One of the moves this pokemon can learn is called Gunk Shot. Gunk. Shot. Someone at nintendo actually thought up this move, put thought into what the animation would look like, and how much damage it would do. Thinking about that too hard makes my soul sore.

Trubbish

This Pokemon is a sack of garbage. But actually. It is a bag of trash, and in fact its species is listed as “trash bag Pokemon.” It is 100% obvious to me, and anyone with half a brain in his or her skull that this character design took zero thought or imagination. Seriously, I’m thinking that perhaps their office was just kind of dirty when they thought this up. In Pokemon Black V. 2, I was just recently engaging in a fierce showdown with Team Plasma, and “Team Plasma Grunt” leapt out at me and said, literally, “It’s Trubbish Time!” And then my Vulpix burned it to death. And I was glad. 

Spiritomb

Who drew this? Seriously. Unless the answer is “an adorable three year old with her first box of crayons,” the artist should be hit by a bus, and that result should be turned into a new Pokemon design, and it would be 10x better than this P.O.S. It is made of exactly 108 malevolent spirits who did bad deeds 500 years ago. But actually. This is 100% official data from Nintendo.

 

Cottonee

Pokemon trainers have precious few spots in the party, and are often faced with really tough calls on who makes the cut and who doesn’t. Do they really have room for a Pokemon whose only real use is removing chipped nail polish? In the wild, cottonee’s only form of movement is to be blown around on gusts of wind. It literally cannot move during rainy seasons,because it gets soggy and has to lie under a tree in a heap until it dries. Super useful.

Vanillish

I think one of the most ridiculous about this one is that the creators took this idea, which wouldn’t intimidate any other Pokemon in battle unless it was lactose intolerant, and ran with it for three fricking evolutions. I chose the middle evolution because it really represents the derpiness best. But just so we’re clear, the final evolution is a mutant two headed icecream that, it appears, someone has put a cigarette out in. Top notch, people, top notch.

Klink

Two gears stuck together. Oh, but they’re creative because they’re winking charmingly! Right? Right? Righttttttt?

Sudowoodo

Sudowoodo This crap heap reeks of lost potential. Pokemon has turned inanimate objects into cute or cool looking creatures since day one. Trees are pretty, trees are strong, trees are wonderful forces of nature. There are pines, willows, oaks, birches, so many beautiful things to choose from! And somehow, they landed on this. And that name? Sudo Wood. Like…put him with condomon and there you go!

I would like to say that it was hard to narrow down this list to ten Pokemon, and the universe of this game series there are many, many terribly designed creatures. Who would you have included on this list?