Monday, March 31, 2008

(Tribe 2008): Opening Day!

The new logo of what was once fondly known as The JakeFollowing months of anticipation and breathless counting down of days Sarah and I took in the opening game of the 2008 Cleveland Indians season down at The Ja... er, Prog this afternoon. Luckily, there were no snow-outs at this year's opener (amazing, considering Cleveland was wrapping up its snowiest March on record), there were even had a few moments of actual shadows on the playing field, and the forecast rain showers thankfully never appeared.

The U.S. flag: full extension.The extended opening ceremonies, starting off with a big "Best Of The 2007 Season" clip anthology playing on the scoreboard, were pretty cool. A few moments later, "The Voice Of The Indians" himself, Mr. Tom Hamilton, appeared at a lectern in front of home plate and introduced the entire Indians lineup, right on down to the strength trainers. While all of this was going on, a flag nearly the size of the whole honkin' outfield was unfurled, along with a color guard presentation and some other people holding giant stars at hip level, looking like they were about to start blanket-tossing people at any second. The singing of the National Anthem that capped off all of this was, of course, sung in that American Idol contestant "Hey, I Can Sing Like Mariah Carey, Too!" style (you know, stretching the word "light" into about 6 syllables) that never ceases to drive me up the wall.

A look down the third base side of The Prog.Sarah and I attended a game against the Chicago White Sox last September, and while that one was mostly a depressing snooze (Cleveland was completely blanked by Jose freaking Contreras, for chrissakes), today's contest was far more interesting on all levels. At times more of a sloppy shootout than the pitcher's duel we had hoped to see, the game certainly managed to keep your mind on the field as Chicago quickly staked a two run lead that would switch hands three times before the end of the day.

Staff ace C.C. Sabathia was not exactly in Cy Young form, and a rather underwhelming effort from the Cleveland bullpen eventually left the big lefty with a no-decision. As it was, Sabathia was lucky in that respect: while the Indians did ultimately manage to win the contest by a final score of 10-8, most of the team's runs were scored in the second inning, during which the Tribe inflicted a ghastly 37.8 ERA on normally formidable White Sox starter Mark Buerhle.

Raffy B.. Dealing.Sarah was delighted as her hero, the indomitable Rafael Betancourt, not only managed to stop the defensive bleeding by walking one hell of a tightrope through that bizarre eighth inning, but was also finally awarded the win, though a typically dramatic ninth inning tightrope walk by Brodzoski (The Close) briefly made hearts skip a beat around the Indians Nation.

1 down, 161 to go.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Headline News

It finally feels like the winter of 2007-2008 is winding down at last (or at least the worst parts of it). That means baseball season is right around the corner ... hell, tomorrow, now that I think about it. Thus, with the 2008 Cleveland Indians season about to kick off at last, followed hopefully by a rare early spring (hey, spot me some optimism once in a while, ok?) it feels like a great time for a long-promised full "life update."

First things first, as I mentioned in my previous post, I have me a new toy: the apparently already-outmoded Sony Cybershot DSCW-200: a combination treat to myself and a needed accessory in the wake of our last camera's unexpected demise right before the end of baseball season last year (and just before the Central Division clinching game, to make matters worse!). This new guy is a leap forward from our old Cybershot, offering a whole range of shooting and setup options which I am still figuring out as you read this, not to mention far more detailed picture and movie quality than what we were used to before.

In addition to providing all kinds of new pix for this here blog, my new little gadget will also be contributing heavily to my recently-created Flickr site, where I've been busily editing and assembling photographic galleries for your viewing pleasure. A couple of Tribe games that Sarah and I attended last fall are already up on the space as you read this, soon to be joined by tomorrow's contest, some pix of the kitties, the store, and whatever else I get in the mood to shoot over the coming months.

While we're discussing all-things internet related, there will be some big changes pretty soon around these parts, and I suppose now would make for an opportune time to hip y'all to what's coming up. First off, this blog will very soon be known instead as The Cantaloupe Machine. Some of you may remember this to be the name of a music-only blog that I started to mess around with a couple of summers ago and never really kept up with as simply creating content for one of these things (let alone two) was eating up more time and thought than I was willing to invest at that point. Since I always liked that name "The Cantaloupe Machine" much better than I Am A Bug, I've decided to resurrect the name at this location rather than simply wipe it out. Thus, the original Cantaloupe Machine has been deleted and the posts that were hosted over there will be reverting back to this space in re-edited form over the next few months once I finish wrapping up the Twenty Years series (which is about 1-2 posts from completion as of right now).

Going along with the renaming of this blog will be a re-formatting to change up the basic look of this place a bit. Don't worry, I'm not looking to drench my content in day-glo yellow with pink polka dot highlights or anything like that, but I do want something just a bit "busier" looking than the rather austere design I've been using here since late 2004.

Sarah's new job seems to be progressing pretty well, though by dint of her working environment alone, it's certainly a far more stressful affair for her than Case had been. As she is fond to quote from Ghostbusters: "Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities, we didn't have to produce anything! You've never been out of college! You don't know what it's like out there! I've worked in the private sector. They expect results."

Stress has been a shared element around here ever since last summer, when Sarah left Case and spent some time on the dole and I was finding myself with an evaporated bank account (again) after my root canal and crown. For her, many recent headaches have been due to her car's recent systematic breakdowns as nearly every possible thing that can go wrong has done so over the last few months. This puts much more stress than I'd like on the aging Beretta that I've been driving as she needs to use it to get to work, being that we live about six times farther from her place of employment than mine. Conveniently, the Beretta is now developing some issues that will need attention shortly ... assuming I can do so after my own maintenance dues are paid, and that is a situation that is also developing in unpleasant new directions lately.

I've already paid up on the first of two crowns I'll be getting this year from my dentist (the prep for this one was a couple weeks ago now, the completed crown will be in next Monday), which is no big issue as these procedures were part of my financial plans for this year since last fall. However, some new discomfort has been nagging at me over the last couple of weeks from beneath the site of my crown from last year, which has me worried that something about the root canal (done by an endodontist at Aspen Dental in Mayfield last summer) that preceded the placing of that crown may have gone wrong.

Now, if the above is indeed the case (and I hope to figure this out after my next crown placing via. an x-ray or two), I have no idea what to do about it or how to proceed with possibly un-doing and re-doing all of that work from last year. I do know that my dentist plans to send me back to that endodontist if the discomfort fails to improve by next week (on the assumption that this might be some kind of late-breaking infection, I've been on Amoxycillin for a few days now), but unless the x-rays show something is demonstrably wrong beneath that crown, I have no idea what to even ask the endodontist to do about it. If the procedure was done wrong the first time around, I get the funny idea I'm not going to get much of a break on having it done over again ... and if doing so also involves creating and placing a new crown afterwards, my slowly recovering finances will spin right out of my control yet again.

There have been a couple of new developments on the money front lately that have greatly helped with the bills and getting myself back to being caught up (which is basically where I am now). Knowing I'd be facing a couple grand more in dental work this year, as well as needing to start seriously setting aside some kind of money for a possible replacement for the Beretta, I decided back in January to open a store on in order to start generating some side income to get me over the coming springtime hump. After a couple of weeks of absolutely nothing happening, suddenly I started selling some of my older CDs and movies right and left. A few weeks later, I mentioned how my little operation was doing to Greg, and he started selling some items through my store as well (and paying me a generous commission for it at the end of every Amazon payment cycle).

By the middle of March, through a combination of my own sales and a portion of his, I'd made enough after expenses to wipe out the first crown prep and placement, and that more than anything else is what allowed me to catch up with bills after over six months of being behind. With another crown (and whatever else awaits) still on the horizon, I'm not out of the woods just yet, but I'm definitely optimistic that keeping my little online operation going a few more months will help make the worst of the expenses yet to come a bit easier to handle.

Work itself has been a bit touch and go from a numbers standpoint, though business overall seems pretty steady compared to last year. The big problem we have is that blizzard a few weeks ago in particular gave us one hell of a black eye, landing on one of the busier non-holiday weekends of the year. Thus, in the space of two awful days, the month March instantly became a lost cause.

Obviously, we're looking to make that lost business back over the rest of the year, but with the other two months of this year so far coming in at "flat" or "just off by a hair," and the general shaky state of consumer confidence and the economy as a whole, those two days might actually become the difference in our year unless we can catch a break. Then again, in modern music retail, flat is the new up, and Greg is still confident enough in our ability to lure business that we're in the process of negotiating our next five-year lease.

Finally, in perhaps the one shining ray of truly good news I've had so far this year: I actually made back a handful of money on my tax returns at both the state and local level (which in all likelihood means I did something wrong, heh heh). Sure, the combined amount I made back won't even fill my gas tank, but hey, a small victory sometimes means just as much as a big one.

Go Tribe!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

One Last Arctic Blast (?)

Looking south towards the now walled-off Route 2.Ok, this is getting a bit silly.

Weather-wise, March has been a complete bitch of a month around here. Exactly two weeks after the biggest snowstorm I can remember since I was 8 or 9 years old slammed into the area (and gave our sales figures a serious black eye that might take months to make up for), one more late season snow storm crept into the area Friday night and wound up dumping another foot of snow all over Lake County.

The snowglobe of spring.If nothing else, this gives me the opportunity to introduce you all to the imaging powers of my new Sony Cybershot DSC-W200 digital camera. As I write this, we are only 8 days from the first game of the 2008 baseball season at Progressive Field (which is half the reason I bought this new toy in the first place). I am becoming more and more sure by the hour that I'll be watching this game in a scarf, gloves, two sweaters and a winter hat. :-\

Me standing in the midst of the maelstrom.Happy Easter from Northeast Ohio!

Monday, March 10, 2008


A blizzard (but not this year's version).If last week's Ice Storm From Hell wasn't enough to make me sick to death of this endless winter (hacking through the 1/8" thick sheet of solid ice covering my entire car after work last Tuesday took a week's supply of brute force), then an epic blizzard on Friday and Saturday sure as hell was. We all knew it was coming, and it showed up right on schedule and dumped something like 2 feet of snow all over the place by the time it was over.

The shittiest part of this, predictably, was that I had to be at the store on Saturday morning in order to squeeze whatever blood from the proverbial stone that could be squoze out of that day, and what a complete freakin' disaster that was.

Business-wise, I suppose the workday itself could have been worse as far as people were concerned: generally, the folks who show up at the store on days like that are not the bright bulbs you'd care to be snowed in with ("WOW, MAN! I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU GUYS WERE DUMB ENOUGH TO BE OPEN TODAY!" they typically exclaim, perhaps not catching the irony in their own words). With only, uh, eight customers in the store the entire time I was open, it was a pretty peaceful day all things considered. I got some shelving done, shoveled and salted the front walk, caught up the orders, et cetera. As the afternoon wore on and the visibility actually worsened (it was maybe 250-500 feet on the way in that morning), I was given the green light to get the hell out of Dodge before sundown. We closed a bit later with a pathetic sales total, about three grand short of where we were shooting for. That was pretty bad, and on top of an abbreviated (and dead) Friday, and an abbreviated (and dead) Tuesday (a lot of Tuesdays recently have sported pretty terrible weather, come to think of it), the month of March is already looking like a lost cause unless we can turn this boat around in a hurry.

While the day itself was tranquil, the drive home (in the middle of a Level 2 Snow Emergency, whatever the hell that is), was a complete nightmare. I closed the store at 5 P.M. and waded into the parking lot drifts to get my car warmed up, and let it idle while I re-shoveled the front walk. When everything was finally ready, I jumped into the car, popped it into reverse, and floored it, going about five feet or so backwards before getting hung up in another drift (the snowplow guy had just showed up as I was leaving, and he had a long way to go before he reached my part of the lot). After some gunning of the engine, I headed back into the store to retrieve the shovel and dig myself out, openly cursing our decision to open up that day.

By the time I had finally burst out of that drift, it was nearly 5:30 and I was so happy to finally be moving that I neglected to realize I still had the shovel in my passenger seat until I was more than halfway home. Ugghhh... HULK SMASH.

No, wait! My co-worker (Brian) lives on my way home now! I can just drop by his place and leave the shovel with him since he is working on Sunday anyway!

Wooo! Great idea!

Oh wait ... back up. Hold it right there.


When you went back into the store to grab the shovel to dig yourself out, you didn't remember to lock the door behind you when you left, did you?

Awwwwww shit!

Yeah, thought so.

So, I turned around angrily and returned to the store, taking care this time to stick to the plowed areas of the parking lot (and very nearly getting stuck again anyway). Luckily, I had indeed left the door unlocked, so the trip back was certainly worthwhile, if aggravating.

It was about halfway home again when my mind chirped again: hey, uh, didn't you intend to bring home a bag of packing supplies?

You know what? Screw the goddamned packing supplies.

Roger that.

Right now, the roads are clear and dry, and snow is piled up in conical sight line-blocking hills all over the place. Perhaps it's me, but I detect a bit of a bias towards SUV drivers in the way snow piles are arranged at the front entrances of plazas and driveways, completely blocking your car-eye view of oncoming traffic. Getting out of our plaza at work has become a pretty dangerous proposition since Saturday afternoon. Here's hoping the melt-off hits quickly before someone gets killed.

Anyway, the suffering is only in the here and now. Three weeks from today (and, hopefully, about 20 degrees-and-change north of our current temperature), Sarah and I will both be in attendance down at the Jak ... uh, Progressive Field for Opening Day 2008. With a bit of luck, we'll soon have a bitchin' brand new digital camera with us in order to take plenty of slick pix of the day's events, followed with mucho footage of the kitties, the condo and points all around the area (and I'll soon be putting up a link to the Flickr account you can scope 'em all out at).


(Twenty Years) Part 12: The Dead Walk!

November 30, 2007 marked 20 years to the day since I started at Record Den, which has inspired some thought and reminiscing on the person I was then, what the job was like as the years went by, and what has kept me around until now ...

The Record Town drone who drew up the sales contract on the Great Lakes Mall Record Den location, sometime in January 1998.We'd been privy to random strokes of luck (both good and bad) over the years, but this one just might have topped them all: Record Town had royally fucked up. Big time.

At odd times over the month of December, Greg and Deak would discuss the new store we had been promised in exchange for working that Christmas season at Great Northern Mall. The news from Deak was, at first, discouraging: it was a foregone conclusion that a non-compete clause in the sales contract that had been drawn up for the Great Lakes Mall store would keep us out of the city of Mentor for good (or long enough that it might as well be). In most cases, the terms of these agreement keep you from operating anywhere within five-miles of the place you sold your property to, which would mean that if we wanted to call ourselves "Record Den," we'd have to open somewhere in Willoughby, possibly Painesville, or maybe even Mayfield Heights.

Before we started scouting out locations, we'd need to know exactly what our legal options were, and Greg asked Deak to verify what we could and couldn't get away with. A few days later, the word came back from Deak's lawyer: not only was no such "safe distance" spelled out anywhere in the agreement, but there wasn't a "non-compete" clause in the contract at all.

We looked at each other, stunned, as this news was relayed to us: this was better than we ever could have hoped for. Deak set about looking for a vacant location in Mentor and eventually settled on a half-empty strip mall that was located within sight of Great Lakes Mall which, for our old customers, would make us a cinch to locate. On the negative side, however, we would also be about 500 feet from the front door of the local Best Buy location: certainly not the most desirable new place to set up shop, but it was the best option available.

With the opening of the new Mentor location set for early February, we had to play out the string at Great Northern just a little bit longer. For me, this was easier said than done: the standard post-Christmas slowdown that had always driven me to distraction in Mentor was far worse in North Olmstead, probably because I was now driving about 40 miles to feel bored instead of 5 and change. I tried to let the promise of a new store forty minutes closer to home give me the energy to withstand the grind out there for a couple more weeks, but by the middle of January, with the Fiero continuing to run erratically and real winter weather finally starting to arrive in the area, I couldn't take it out there anymore and requested a week off, timing my first day back at work to be the day we started fixing up our new location.

Looking forward from the back room.Our new digs had previously been the domain of a waterbed emporium and had been vacant for some time. Most of the preliminary work our District Manager had done was centered around removing some old drywall slabs that had once sectioned off the floorspace for display purposes and replacing them with two new (and slightly leaning) walls that sectioned the store off into a sales floor and a back room. The dimensions of the new back room were quite large, giving us room for a rear manager's office and nearly thirty feet of open space opposite that space for ... a whole lot of storage and a lunch table, I guess. It seemed like a lot of space was being wasted back there, but the sales floor itself was more than big enough to suit our purposes for the time being, so we didn't really mind.

Greg makes the first of many, many, piles of CDs on his newly acquired Front Counter Of Doom.One of the first things we did was relocate a freakin' huge two-level counter squatting uselessly in the back room area to the front of the store. That behemoth was absolute murder to move (and will likely never move again without busting), but we figured (correctly) that Greg would positively flip over the all the open space he would have to place piles of CDs, blank tapes, lighters, patches, incense, key chains, and whatever else he could think of in people's faces. To this day, the front counter remains the center of the action, if you will: all regulars who drop by make it a point to stop there first and scope out what is new, noteworthy, or on special.

Brian and I start the laborious process of stocking inventory. It ultimately took us the better part of a decade to fully utilize all of the room we had available in this new store: early on, we were far more spacious than we are as I write this. While the basic layout of the new Record Den is still pretty much the same as it was in early February 1998, this location was stitched together slowly, as pieces and parts from the old "Traveling Road Show" arrived whenever another location closed down, and it was this haphazard fashion of acquiring displays (and product) that allowed us to shape and re-shape the store over time.

Record Den, Mentor: Version 1.0By the time we opened the new location on Saturday, February 14, 1998, a conga line of mis-matched CD bins stretched down the entire middle length of the store. The east wall was dominated by cassette display cases, while plastic and metal shelving occupied the slat boards arranged from head-to-toe level everywhere else. As a final touch, we hung up dozens of rock-themed black tapestries from the acoustical tiles in the ceiling (a little display trick we'd picked up from Great Northern) to try and eat up some of what felt like an ocean of open space.

With a little spit and polish, we had made ourselves look presentable for the public, but a few new issues were already presenting themselves by Opening Day, with a few more coming up over our first few months of operation that not only dulled our early euphoria, but also made us begin to regret our decision to stay within the Record Den corporation.

The first issue we had was the new sign for the store: done on the cheap (surprise!), it was a two-piece red-on-yellow design printed on lightweight corrugated plastic that tended to bow and vibrate in the wind. While it was big, bright and clearly visible from hundreds of feet away, it was also a major pain in the ass to deal with. None of us liked the sign from the day we set it up (we had to use transparent packing tape to hold the damn thing together, for crissakes), and it often came loose from its mooring, even blowing halfway down on a few gusty (and embarrassing) occasions.

Far more worrisome to us was the product situation, which was in flux once again. While boxes of CDs and tapes had been shipped our way the instant we started setting up shop, there were nowhere near enough of them for our liking. Despite loading up the TELXON with stock orders, very little was appearing from the warehouse, and a lot of what was appearing was obviously being shunted our way from other stores in the chain. To our mounting irritation, it had become apparent that we'd be opening with only a skeleton inventory: our initial plan had been to overwhelm people from the instant we opened, in effect saying "we're back and nothing is changed!" but that was just not to be.

Basically, two things had happened:

1. The money from the sale of the Mentor store was already nearly used up, and Deak was in the process of selling off the rest of the chain piecemeal. One of the stores he sold that spring was the Great Northern Store we had just refurbished over the previous Christmas break. It's only business, of course, but I felt oddly cheated to have spent five weeks of my time getting that store back on its feet only to have it sold to NRM the minute we were finished.

2. Deak was in the process of completely screwing over every single major supplier he did business with. Playing shell games with his money (largely as a result of his divorce settlement), he cried poverty with the major labels, declaring himself bankrupt and forced the labels to either accept reduced payments (say, ten cents on the dollar) or nothing at all. The labels, having no choice, took the reduced amounts and zeroed out their Record Den accounts for good. It was stunts like this that left the chain saddled with an absolutely horrendous reputation at the wholesale level: a reputation that would be tripping us up for years to come as we'd search for new or alternate suppliers as the need arose.

Then came the worst news of all: with the Record Den chain being chopped up and sold off to the highest bidder, Deak obviously had no further need for a warehouse. With only one or two remaining stores left to worry about, he also had no need for his support staff. Paring down the workforce to two (both of them largely secretarial positions), Deak shuttered the warehouse/headquarters complex in Mayfield and relocated his office ... to the "mysteriously" over-sized back room of our new store.

To say we were horror struck by this development would be underselling it: things had been tense enough around the store when we dealt with Deak face-to-face only once or twice a week during the transition and opening, but now we'd be dealing with his presence every day for the foreseeable future. Once we realized the real reason the back room was so large, it became obvious that this move had been in the cards from the day this new store had been picked out. Moreso than ever before, I thought we should have bolted when we had the goddamned chance. I felt like we'd been had.

Greg wasn't at all pleased with this development either, but he had also been developing a fair degree of bargaining leverage with Deak ever since the selling of the Great Lakes Mall store and the refurbishing of the Great Northern Mall location. Thus, an understanding of sorts had apparently been reached between the two of them: no matter what, he knew what he was doing and Deak was to step back and keep out of the way and let us run the store as we saw fit. Incredibly, this understanding seemed to sink in, and Deak largely stayed out of our hair over the next three years. It wasn't always easy having him back there, and there were a few occasions when Greg would deliberately play the loudest, most obnoxious CD he could get his hands on (Deak's office was positioned directly below one of the massive speakers at the rear of the sales floor) as a measure of revenge for being second-guessed or micromanaged.

It took a while for our new location to become viable: business had started off very wobbly (our gross total for the month of February, 1998 amounted to less than a current week's total business), but by the fall we'd started to hit a respectable stride upon which we could base our expectations from month to month. We also changed greatly in character as a store: following many years of being a "Top 40" kind of outlet in composition and sales, competition with the Evil Empire across the street had started us down in a far more overtly college rock/underground direction. Within a year or so, we had started figuring out how to flank Best Buy and eke out an existence batting clean-up on some mainstream titles while delving farther into independent, deep catalog, and import product.

As time passed, and the effects of the music industry's short-sightedness became more apparent, we began to realize just how lucky we had been in the long run that Deak had sold the Great Lakes store out from under us. It's funny to write this now, but Deak's desperate, ill-fated attempt to save his own floundering company ultimately resulted in what we have now (though certainly not by conscious design). We now depend heavily on used vinyl, CDs, DVDs and even some VHSs to generate the profit margins that are now a near-impossibility with contemporary hits, and this reliance would have been impossible in the mall (who frowned on the idea of anything used being sold anywhere on the premises). We have no dress codes, no silly restrictions on window displays, no enforced sidewalk sales, we can set our own opening and closing times and we play whatever music we like. Perhaps even more than our original run-down, cluttered J.J. Newberry's location, this is truly our own store.

Oh, one more angle to follow up before we move on: not long after we opened, a gaggle of Record Town execs stopped by for a visit and oh, were they pissed. No longer was it all smiles and "glad to have you aboard," but instead a lot of veiled threats, banging of shoes on tables and cries of "vee vill crush you!!" I sometimes wonder if one of these guys (or, more likely, some poor schmuck in their legal department) eventually lost their head for neglecting to dot their i's and cross their t's when they drew up that sales agreement for the Great Lakes Mall store. It didn't matter much in the long run: within a year, they had quit fencing with Camelot Music and opted to simply swallow them up instead. In time, this newest subsidiary of the Record Town empire changed their name to FYE (For Your Entertainment), and their massive, sprawling "lifestyle"-themed superstore was cut down to less than half its old size and refitted into a typical mall record store. C'est la vie.

The front of the new Record Den on a warm spring night, April 1998(Pictures of the store taken by Dave M.)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sci-Fi From My Wonder Years II

In an effort to get caught up with the massive backlog of DVDs and DVD-Rs stacking up in a silently mocking fashion in the office and on the shelves downstairs, I am attempting to start watching these things at a more accelerated pace (say, more than one every few weeks) for as long as is feasible and writing about the ones I feel are worth passing along. Perhaps this way I'll keep myself writing and hopefully lose this nagging feeling that I am unwittingly turning this condominium into a museum full of pretty silver discs. I'll also try to keep the spoilers to a minimum. Promise.

Trancers falls into that low-budget 80s sci-fi subgenre inhabited by such peers as The Terminator and Wavelength in that all of these films seem to be set in the shadier areas of Los Angeles after dark, all of them feature score music almost exclusively provided by "futuristic" synthesizers and whose characters live in neon-lit, austere living spaces that look like they were previously used in a Missing Persons video.

While it starts off wobbly establishing the 23rd century world where we first meet Jack Deth, Trancers gets into motion the instant Deth is sent "down the line" to 1985 in what plays almost exactly like an R-rated episode of Quantum Leap. Thomerson is tough as nails and impossible not to like, as is a pre-stardom Helen Hunt who plays his 20th century love interest. A complete treat, and a joy to rediscover again all these years later.

That said, I must pass along a buyer beware on the DVD edition, which seems to follow the same low-budget chic as the original feature, but with a few even cheaper quirks: I'd swear this was transferred straight from VHS. The website linked off the main menu doesn't appear to exist anymore. There is a also TRAILERS option on the main menu that when accessed tells you that over 40 trailers are available to view the moment you flip the disc over. Problem is, the other side of the DVD is coated in artwork and, of course, has nothing on it. How can I not smile at such lame authoring technique?

On the other extreme of the budget scale from Trancers sits what is, in my humble opinion, one of the all-time greats of any genre: Ridley Scott's bleakly futuristic film noir epic Blade Runner.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Wal-Mart stirs CD pricing pot with multi-tiered plan

The Wal-Mart logo. Squint hard at their sign the next time you drive by a location (but now while you are driving).

Wal-Mart stirs CD pricing pot with multi-tiered plan

By Ed Christman Sat Mar 1, 9:14 PM ET

NEW YORK (Billboard) - The major music companies have been resistant to lowering their price on CDs, but now they may be dragged to that point: Wal-Mart, the largest retailer of music with an estimated 22 percent market share, has proposed a five-tiered pricing scheme that would allow the discounter to sell albums at even lower prices and require the labels to bear more of the costs.

According to sources, the Wal-Mart proposal would allow for a promotional program that could comprise the top 15 to 20 hottest titles, each at $10. The rest of the pricing structure, according to several music executives who spoke with Billboard, would have hits and current titles retailing for $12, top catalog at $9, midline catalog at $7 and budget product at $5. The move would also shift the store's pricing from its $9.88 and $13.88 model to rounder sales prices.

Executives at the Bentonville, Arkansas-based discounting giant wouldn't comment on the specifics of their promotion, but Wal-Mart divisional merchandise manager for home entertainment Jeff Maas acknowledged the proposal. "When you look at sales declines with physical product, and you have a category declining like it is, you have to make decisions about what the future looks like," he said. "If you have a business that is declining and you want to turn it around, it really takes looking at it from all angles."

Maas referenced the DVD business as a model for tiered pricing. "(It) has been around for years and has worked very well," he said.

While Wal-Mart's negotiations with the labels have yet to take place, the proposal is already causing agita at the majors. Some consider the proposal a non-starter, others say further negotiations might eventually yield a workable solution, and a few see it as appropriate, given the big picture.

"I don't think this is a Wal-Mart discussion," one top executive at a major label said. "I think this is a future-of-the-business discussion. Right now everyone is paralyzed."

Some executives raised the question of whether the Federal Trade Commission would take issue with such a program were it rolled out only to Wal-Mart. But one executive said, "Making it legal is not the difficult part. The difficult part is coming to terms with it."

Another top executive said, "The decision might come down to: Do we give up 20 percent of our business (i.e., Wal-Mart) in order to not lose the entire business?"

That question assumes that Wal-Mart would either penalize or stop doing business with a major that decides not to participate in the pricing program. Moreover, if all majors take a pass, some speculate that Wal-Mart could pull music entirely from the store.

This type of speculation abounds, although the Wal-Mart proposal was presented only as a starting point. One label executive said, "This sounds like the Hail Mary pass, and if it doesn't work, they could be out of the music business; or maybe they reduce music down to a couple of racks" from the 4,000 titles carried by Wal-Marts with larger selections.

Maas declined to rule out those possibilities, but said he'd rather look at how Wal-Mart can help a declining category. "The customer votes every single day in our stores, and based on what they want is how we merchandise our stores."


Ruh roh, Raggy ...

Dear Music Industry,

Don't you just love it when the 800 pound gorillas you helped create start throwing their weight around and now have you bent over the proverbial barrel? Looks like your biggest customer is gonna start a whole new game of hardball and dictate terms to you, the very people whom they pay to supply them with their music stock. Funny old world, isn't it.

I can see you all sitting in the meeting rooms, throwing up your hands and crying poverty and maintaining to anyone who will listen that Wal-Mart is asking for the moon and stars, yet at the same time I can hear the wheels turning upstairs as you try to think of how this idea might .... just might ... bail your asses out of the frying pan, at least for the short term. We all know how seductive short term thinking is for you guys, but before you pick up the pen in desperation and sign on to this agreement, try just for once to think beyond the next quarter and walk this thing through. I'm not saying "NO! DON'T DO EET! EET'S TOO SEXY!!", but asking in effect how you're going to handle the rest of your business if you give in to your rampaging pet monster once again. What next? Will an almost certainly enraged Best Buy get the same pricing consideration when they angrily demand it? How about Target? One-stops? Independent accounts?

I guess we'll just have to wait and see how all of this falls into place. Depending on how serious Wal-Mart is with this idea (and whether they use it as a "either you are with us or against us" tactic to get their way), I get the impression this deal will not get off the table in its present form, but I can't rule out the idea of a compromise reached by all parties, especially as Sony/BMG and Universal are already experimenting with deep-discounting their lower-priced catalog tiers in a pricing fashion similar to what is in this article. If these new promotions are tied into the proposal reported above, it's not very difficult to imagine WEA and The Company That Was Once Respectfully Referred To As EMI falling into line.

I'd be delighted to see an across-the-board re-figuring of pricing strategies from the label, but I want to see these new prices offered to everyone, not just the one or two companies who can scream louder than all the others combined. That said, remembering how Universal caved in to these guys in the wake of the JumpStart kickoff, I'm also bracing for bad news.

I guess this is where Matt Drudge would say "developing ..."

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Not The NY Times Book Review, 2008 Edition

The Road

World War Z

My Bass And Other Animals

The World Without Us

The Mad Scientists Club

The Assault On Reason


A Rough Guide To Pink Floyd

The Buzzard

Mind Over Matter 4

Taken By Storm