Category Archives: shopping

Thief of Baghdad

There is a joke doing the rounds that you might have heard that goes like this: “If 2020 was a drink, what would it be? Colonoscopy prep”. Now imagine using that gallon (believe me, I know) to wash down a family size box of extra strength Exlax. Now you have an idea of the kind of year I’ve had.

It started a couple of months ago, when during my break I checked my phone to see who had called me. To my terror, it was a call from Human Resources. Now, let’s face it, it is never a good thing when Human Resources calls you. Like most people, my mind went into overdrive trying to find anything I’d said or done recently that might warrant a call. Thankfully, there wasn’t anything, although that didn’t make me feel any easier. I returned the call and was asked “Have you filed for unemployment recently?”

Wha!?!?!?!?!?!?!!? No, I hadn’t. I’d lost three hours a week, but that was it. I was informed that someone had filed an unemployment claim in my name, which meant that among other things, they had my Social Security number. Oh shiiiiiiiiiiit! Of course, as soon as I got home I went online and blocked everything to do with my SSN, visiting the state Unemployment Department site as well as the IRS and credit rating websites. To cut a long story short, no damage was done, but as you can imagine, it was pretty frightening, and to be honest, it really took the edge off what had promised to be a relaxing and enjoyable evening, it being my sweetheart’s birthday.

Crisis over, or so we thought. Not very long after this I took the opportunity to check my email while on break. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, but not so. Sitting in my inbox was an email from my bank informing me that they had spotted a number of suspicious charges on my debit card and they had blocked them. Of course, I called them immediately and let them know that no, I hadn’t used my card with Uber in San Francisco that morning. They cancelled the card and said they would issue me a new one which I’d have in about a week. This meant that I had no way to get cash, so I resorted to borrowing some from my sweetheart just so I’d have something on hand.

Less than two weeks later ( can you guess where this is going?) I got a text regarding suspicious activity on my credit card. Seriously? I mean, seriously? What the fuck? Again, I called the bank who rattled off a series of blocked charges totaling over $8,000 to something called “Connections”. Again, they cancelled my card and issued another one. All this in the space of about six weeks, hence my opening statement.

The lockdown and the resultant increase in benefits claims has made it a lot easier for scammers to take advantage of company computer systems that are no doubt overloaded as claims are processed and passed back and forth to the appropriate agencies, banks, etc. I’m just glad the bank caught the fraudulent charges on my cards, although I’d have been happier if they had a more secure system that prevented such attacks in the first place.

As for my employer, they, at least, were on the ball, and I wasn’t the only person at work to be so affected. Of course, I had to update my information on the various sites I use and inform the recipients of my standing charges, which took a little time as one of them is in lockdown mode, but it was sorted out, so no permanent harm was done. Still, it takes a lot of time to change data on various sites, and I certainly won’t use my debit card online ever again.

I realise that the scammers don’t care, that they don’t see their victims as people, but merely as anonymous units to be exploited and discarded, but it really does nothing to improve my opinion of humanity, but as the current administration has shown, never let a good crisis go to waste.

My only hope now is that with new cards I won’t have to deal with this again for a while, although my sweetheart had five attacks in a couple of years, so I’m not holding my breath. Balance this with the fact that due to our impending nuptials, I’m going to be doing a lot of online shopping, so who the hell knows?


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Filed under Banking, Credit card fraud, Debit card fraud, employment, Human resources, Pandemic, Personal finances, shopping, unemployment, Unemployment fraud

Emotional Haircut.

I know, I know. Yet another bloody blogpost about the effects of Covid 19 and the lockdown. Well, guess what? It’s still going on, and nothing much else is, so what am I to do?

Viewing pictures of the Michigan anti lockdown protests, one of the feeblest placards I saw read “I need a haircut”. Well, so what? So do millions of people all around the world, but you don’t see them toting assault rifles and wearing tactical vests. To be honest, I was about three weeks overdue before the lockdown began. I had planned to get one on my way to work on a Friday, as that was my first closing shift for a while, and the 1:30 pm start would give me plenty of time to get shorn before my shift.

I think I should point out that while most men my age are going bald, grey or both, I’m not. I do have a few, and only a very few grey hairs, and they are visible only upon close inspection. However, they did play a fairly prominent part in my beard, and one of the reasons for going clean shaven at the end of 2018 was that it was, in my opinion, making me look old. Not to boast or anything, but I don’t look my age, which must be pure luck, as clean living and healthy thoughts haven’t played much of a role in my life thus far.

Of course, I was bummed not to be able to visit the barber shop, so I resorted to the old standby of increasing my use of hair gel. This will only do so much, as the surest sign that I need a haircut is that no matter how much gel I apply, my hair always falls over my eyes and my glasses. It’s irritating to have to brush my hair back constantly, especially as my job doesn’t permit me to touch anything other than product or deli equipment while working, so I am forced to resort to a quick swipe with my forearm, a most decidedly sub optimal option.

Two weeks in, and I was overwhelmed by the irritation caused by my hair. Much as I didn’t want to, I decided that rather than stick with my usual style, I would gel my hair and comb it straight back, making me look like a younger version of 1970’s snooker legend Ray Reardon, but sans such an obvious Widows’ Peak. For those of you who don’t know what a Widows’ Peak is, it’s between 35 and 40.

This worked reasonably well for a short while, although having hair against my ears didn’t do my mood much good, as my Aspergers makes me sensitive to the sort of minor irritants that Neurotypicals just ignore. I also looked a bit daft in that my hair, pushed back by the headband of my visor flopped over the top like a spider plant in a pot.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and so I decided to go straight for the nuclear option: I bought some elasticated headbands. Yes, that’s right. I walked into the hair care section of my local pharmacy and bought headbands. Plain black seemed the best option, and at $7 for a five pack struck me as  a reasonable deal, even if it did make my look like Real Madrids’  Gareth Bale, although considerably less ugly.  After a moderate amount of experimentation I found a workable angle at which to wear it, and it worked well, although my hair behind the band still seemed to want to go in every direction at once. At least I could tuck the band behind my ears, so it acted like a Croakie, keeping my glasses in place, as I can’t really adjust them behind my visor.

Problem solved, you may will think, but of course, there were unintended consequences. The arrival of somewhat warmer weather meant that the thick foam of my visor headband made my forehead sweat, and the hairband made my head itchy and sweaty. I also had to wash it every night while taking a shower lest it have Covid particles lodged in it.

I know most of this will come across as a whine, but I haven’t had hair this long in many, many years, and my main hope was to find a workable solution that would allow me to get my job done with the least possible distraction. Seeing as the nuclear option wasn’t working as well as I’d hoped, I dialed it up to 11. My Fiancee dug out a plastic headband as a joke, mainly because it had four rows of tiny Rhinestones set in it.

I pondered on it Thursday and decided that I’d start wearing it on Friday.  It was more noticeable than its’ elasticated counterpart, and was spotted immediately by my co workers, as you may imagine. Thankfully the responses from staff and customers alike has been entirely positive. I contemplated buying additional ones this weekend, but I didn’t see any I liked.  I do wonder how long I will need to wear one, as the county has now moved into phase two of the lockdown, with an easing of some restrictions, including the reopening of barber shops and hair salons. I might not have to place an order with after all.

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Filed under Fashion, shopping

Ghost Town.

“This town becoming like a ghost town. All the shops have been closed down”. Never a truer word spoken. Admittedly The Specials were singing about the urban decay of late 1970’s Coventry, but they could well have been singing about just about every town in the world right now.

My town is no different from most, and the effects of the shutdown are very apparent. Being the second largest town in the county, as well as the most accessible, we have more than our share of retail outlets, including a mall. Usually, it’s a fairly busy place, not least because of the presence of a branch of a well known big box store. The Mall in particular has taken a very heavy hit, one which may well be fatal.

Over the past few years, the mall has been in a slow, steady decline. About five years ago, all the units were occupied, the anchor stores were doing well and parking, particularly around the holidays, could be a challenge. I know that some of this decline is the result of online shopping, but even so, since that time, the mall has declined substantially. I was in J.C. Penney a couple of winters ago to buy some gloves and it was a truly depressing experience: there were more staff than customers present, and there were precious few staff. It comes as no surprise to me that they’ve just filed for bankruptcy. Likewise the death of Kohl’s and Pier One will have shocked no one. I’m also concerned that a lot of Mom and Pop businesses will simply never reopen, with the loss of character and diversity that makes many small towns enjoyable places to live and shop.

I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few fine dining establishments remain shuttered, as their fare is less suited to delivery than say, pizza, which is also a darn sight cheaper.

The malls’ death by inches has affected other stores as well. The road that runs around the edge of the mall used to have several well patronised stores, but the only ones left are the discount furniture store and the liquor store. No big surprise there.

Having said all this, the lockdown may well be a fatal blow to many businesses that were just about surviving. No one is buying anything other than food and essential household products, so even on a Saturday there is very little traffic through town. It makes me wonder just how many (how few?) stores will return once things return to what will count as normal. Are we, in fact, seeing the death spasms of bricks and mortar retail? Maybe. I will admit that apart from food, I do most of my shopping online. Books, video games, etc. are much more easily found via a screen than roaming a store. I do appreciate the convenience that online shopping provides and have to square the circle of knowing just how shittily warehouse pickers are treated. Not to mention any names, of course, lest I be sued by a certain third rate Bond villain lookalike.

I wonder, also, just what will happen to the civic life of towns after the pandemic is over. I remember reading Jane Jacobs’  “Death and Life of Great American Cities” and her belief that for a city to be vibrant it needed retail, entertainment, etc. to be spread out in order to encourage travel to different areas and maintain a level of social interaction. I realise that we drive to most places nowadays, but what of the coffee shops, etc. that depend on passing trade, the shoppers who stop off for a latte on their way to or from the store, the pizza parlours likewise? I realise malls act as hubs, rather than rims, but even so, the mall may be just one stop during the day, even though it allegedly offers all things to all people.

It really is creepy to drive past, or through empty parking lots on a Saturday. It’s almost like a scene from the first or second episode of a post apocalyptic mini series, but at least they have a limited run, while our current situation seems to be well on the way to a second season. I will admit that I’m thoroughly sick of the whole situation and just want to go back to normal. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that even now,  I see lots of people not wearing gloves or masks, WHICH ISN’T HELPING, PEOPLE! On occasion I have to go to my local Target as it’s convenient, more than anything else. I’ve seen whole families, no one taking precautions, wandering around the store, giving people in masks funny looks as if taking steps to avoid a deadly disease is weird.

I despair of people sometimes. Well, more than sometimes, if I’m being honest, and I don’t want to go off on a rant about political affiliation and belief in science, so I’ll leave it there. I just don’t see how the retail industry bounces back from this one, I really don’t. I don’t have any solutions, or snappy sign off, but I think that we are going to have to rethink how retail operates and I’m not confident that those stores that survive will necessarily be the ones that add colour and vibrancy to our lives.

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Filed under retail, shopping, Urbanism