My nutty Thanksgiving weekend

This year my Thanksgiving weekend was crazier than usual.  Last Monday, I received a phone call from a temp agency that I registered with some time ago.  I’ve been trying to get work thru them for a while now, because it seems that they have a lot of good positions with really big companies, openings that pay well and might eventually lead to something permanent down the road.  It turned out that this temp agency wanted to send me out on an assignment, all right, but not for an office job.  No, it was a retail job at a big department store in the Herald Square area of Manhattan.  I would go in for a half day of training on Wednesday, and then return for an eight hour shift on Friday.  Yep, that’s right: Black Friday.

I’ve worked retail during the holiday season before, about a dozen years ago.  It wasn’t pretty.  Crowds of people packed in tight, scrambling to grab all the big “deals.”  I do not even like the idea of shopping on Black Friday.  So the thought of actually working on it filled me with genuine fear.  Nevertheless, I accepted the assignment because, as I said, I’ve wanted to get work from this agency for a while now, and I thought this would be a good way to get a foot in the door.

Everything went fine on Wednesday.  I showed up, did the four hours of training, and left.  Thursday I was nervous, but I tried my best to stay calm.  I went to bed early, so I’d have plenty of sleep.  Friday rolled around, and I got up around 6:15.  Made it to the store in plenty of time of the beginning of the 9 AM shift.  I get assigned to the third floor, and one of the supervisors tells me to walk around & straighten things up, because customers were leaving things in a mess.  I do this for about 45 minutes when the store manager calls me over and takes me to the back office.  I find out that there’s been a mistake made.  Of the 16 people who showed up on Wednesday for training, only 12 were supposed to actually return on Friday to work.  I was one of the four who wasn’t picked to work Friday, but somehow there’s been a miscommunication and everyone came back.  I’m told they don’t need me, and I should call the temp agency to find out what happened.

Hmmph!  After all that worry, I’m in & out the door in under an hour!  So I call up the temp agency, and they have a totally lame excuse.  According to them, everyone who the store wanted to return on Friday received a confirmation e-mail telling them to come back, and if you did not get an e-mail, you should have known not to return on Friday.  They acted like this was so blindingly obvious, and seemed to take the attitude that I made some sort of moronic mistake.  Uh huh.  If it was so obvious, why did everyone come back on Friday?  If all four people who didn’t get an e-mail were clueless that they were not supposed to be there, then it’s not so obvious, is it?  Really, it seems very apparent that the agency should have notified everyone as to whether or not they were supposed to report to work.

Anyway, since I was already in Manhattan, I decided to walk over to Midtown Comics, which was having a 25% off everything until 12 noon sale.  I purchased a handful of trade paperbacks that I’d been meaning to get for a while now, but that I’d been putting off buying for an occasion such as this.  So it wasn’t a total waste of a morning.

Back-tracking to Thursday, Thanksgiving itself was fun.  When I was a teenager in the 1990s, I used to watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon each Thanksgiving morning.  I miss those.  They used to be one of the highlights of the whole day for me.  I decided to recapture some of the spirit of those days by playing a couple of MST3K episodes on the DVD.  First up was the Turkey Day edition of Night of the Blood Beast, a 1958 cheese-fest produced by schlock filmmaker Roger Corman.  The monster in this movie looks like a giant flame-broiled parakeet.  Next I watched the MST3K edition of Gamera, which was the first of the giant flying turtle movies to come out of Japan.  Strangely, while it was on, I could have sworn our pet turtle Meeshee was watching the TV from her tank.

For dinner, Michele and I met up with her parents, and we ate out.  The restaurant put together a pretty good Thanksgiving Day spread, with turkey, gravy, stuffing, potatoes, and vegetables.  I wish we could have stayed out longer, but I thought I was going to be working the next morning.  We all know how that turned out.

After the Black Friday mix-up the next day, I returned to Queens.  Michele had been invited to a party by her friend Pam, so that night we headed to Brooklyn.  It was a cool get-together.  We were there most of the night.  It’s a good thing I quit drinking a few years ago, because there was a ton of booze at the party.  If I had been imbibing, I’m sure I would have gotten totally smashed.  As it was, I ended up spending most of the night watching a Jackass marathon on television.  I’ve never actually sat down and watched Jackass before.  Damn, what an incredibly stupid show… yet at the same time, absolutely hysterical in a really sick, twisted way.  I was totally laughing my ass off.  I really had to wonder at what sort of astronomical premiums Steve-O, Johnny Knoxville, and the rest of the gang need to pay on their insurance policies.  That is, assuming any carrier would be willing to cover them.

Around three in the morning a bunch of us headed out to a local bar, the Cobra Club.  With a name like that, you would think it would be a douchebag type of place, but turned out to be really cool.  While we were there, I ran into this guy Alex who I knew from way back when I was living in London, England for six months.  I’d bumped into him in NYC a couple of times since, but it had been years since I’d last seen him.  That was cool.  Back around 2004 he was in this local industrial metal band Still Life Decay whose work I liked.

Shortly before last call, the DJ played “Imagination” by Xymox.  I had not heard that song in years and years.  It was so long, in fact, that I’d forgotten who recorded it.  I ended up downloading it off of Amazon the next day.  It’s always cool to re-discover old music like that.

The rest of the weekend was pretty low key.  I was mostly relaxing and reading comic books.  Sunday night I popped another MST3K episode into the DVD player.  Warrior of the Lost World is one of my all time favorite episodes of that series.  I’ve mentioned it before on this blog.  Suffice to say, I was laughing non-stop as Joel, Tom Servo, and Crow went to town on it.  It was a fun way to end the holiday weekend.

Not all futures are created equal

“Oh, our old future.” – Crow T. Robot, Mystery Science Theater 3000

A couple of weeks ago, a fellow blogger posted the cover to an old science fiction paperback short story collection (I finally located that post again, and it can be viewed at this link).  The art was what you might regard as your typical mid-20th Century vision of the future: an image of a gleaming metallic cityscape with flying cars darting back & forth above it.  The blogger made a comment along the lines of it isn’t the future unless you have some flying cars in it.

This got me thinking about how popular culture has conceived of the future playing out.  Growing up in the early 1980s, the 21st Century still seemed far enough away that all of the images of personal jetpacks, robots in every household, and traveling to other planets being just a few short decades away still seemed at least semi-plausible.  Whether in a cartoon series like The Jetsons or more serious fare such as Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was a commonplace prediction that some sort of hi-tech, shiny future was just around the corner.

Where's my flying car?
Dude, where’s my flying car?

I remember when 2001, that is to say, the real year 2001 rolled around, I half-jokingly commented to some friends “What the hell is this? Shouldn’t we have flying cars by now?  Where are the colonies on the Moon?  Why aren’t we flying back & forth in outer space in rocket ships, fighting aliens with ray guns?”  I say half-jokingly, because there was still that part of me that was just the tiniest bit disappointed that none of this had come to pass.  Well, okay, I can do without the bug-eyed monsters packing heat.  And if we really did have flying cars, I’d probably drive one just as poorly as I do a regular automobile.  But, still, the future just seemed like it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

And most speculative fiction from forty or fifty years ago really did miss the mark as far as what kind of technology we would have in the early 21st Century.  Instead of teleportation and time travel, what we got was the microchip revolution, the Internet, MP3s, iPads, flash drives, etc.  We’re still stuck on Earth, unable to colonize the galaxy, but the ability to spread information across the globe has grown in astonishing leaps & bounds.  Perhaps some of the disappointment lies in the fact that these developments, as incredible as they are, were not what we were led to expect.  And there is also that lingering disappointment left over from the previous century that technological advancement would eventually lead to the betterment of humanity.

Of course, it’s not like most fictional conceptions of the future were totally utopian.  George Jetson had his flying car and his home in a floating city, but he still had to deal with a douchebag boss, nagging wife, and spoiled kids.  Kubrick & Clarke’s vision of 2001 saw humans traveling to the other side of the solar system, but we still did a half-ass job at programming computers, to the point where HAL 9000 wanted to kill off its entire crew.

So I guess it wasn’t so much that those visions of the future were perfect, because they weren’t.  It’s just that they had such cool stuff.

Mind you, for every romanticized prediction of the 21st Century, there were also plenty of conjectures that the future might turn out to be a much darker place.  On one hand, the mid-20th Century rise of both the Axis powers and Communism begat visions of the all-encompassing totalitarian dystopia, best exemplified in the George Orwell novel 1984.  On the other hand, nuclear proliferation led to forecasts of ragged survivors roaming radiation-ravaged post-apocalyptic wastelands, as seen in such films as The Road Warrior.

The Lost World: a nice future to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there
The Lost World: a nice future to visit, but you certainly wouldn’t want to live there

And if you want a really pessimistic outlook on the day after tomorrow, you should consider the so-bad-it’s-good David Worth film Warrior of the Lost World, which I would have to describe as “1984 meets The Road Warrior.”  In that future scenario, you would face the prospect of having both fascist stormtroopers and mutant cannibal biker gangs simultaneously chasing after your rear end.  Not a pretty picture!

(Incidentally, Warrior of the Lost World was screened on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which brings us back to quote that opened this blog post.)

So, considering all of the options, the real future that we have right now isn’t nearly as bad as it could be.  Yeah, it isn’t The Jetsons, but at least we haven’t had to live through World War III yet.

That said, I’m still holding out for flying cars.  But knowing how things work out, we’d probably still have traffic jams.