The Doom of Too Many Web Orders

Some poet I’ve long since forgotten wrote the following:

On my way to the place today the kids stopped me.
“Hey, let’s get a map, pick a spot and go there, okay?”
“No”, I said, “I have things to do.”
(I have to run ahead and be the spot because there is no map and I sometimes wonder if there are any kids.)

It’s been like that around here lately. Normally we sit on our thumbs in November and December and get ready for the January Trade Shows (the jewelry and belt biz). By February, the past few years (except for ’05!) you tighten your belt and wait for spring to hopefully bring more orders. In May, the orders are still sparse and you tighten the belt even more and hope for orders in July. August through October you’re busy as hell. At least you’d better be.

In mid-2004, I discovered that my various commercial websites, which had been up since ’96, ’98 and 2000, no longer had the search engine placement they once had. It was fairly dismal, and we had to rely on trade shows to brick & mortar stores for survival, which was also fairly dismal. So, not that we were getting desperate or anything, in October ’04 I tried a Google Ad Words campaign. Between October and December I spent around $12,000 in Google Ad Words and raked in close to that in web orders.

So, if you don’t count materials and labor, I just about broke even. In other words, I lost my shirt.

So, this year I didn’t buy any Google Ad Words. I actually don’t blame Google. I think I didn’t really understand it enough to properly mount a campaign. There’s a “tutorial”:http://www.seochat.com/c/a/Website-Marketing-Help/Using-Google-Adwords-for-Effective-Online-Marketing/ over at “DevShed”:http://www.devshed.com that explains the proper way to do Google Ad Words. Be that as it may…..I’ve got so many other responsibilities, that doing full time or part time, or even partial time SEO stuff is pretty much a luxury. And a very boring luxury at that. I start feeling like I’m running ahead all the time to be the spot, because there is no map and…..

At any rate, this year I spent quite a few hours readin’ and learnin’. Realizing, of course, that everything I learned is probably already outmoded. Still, we got our little hamster wheel a spinnin’, don’t we? What did I do this year? Too much and too boring to get into….niche key words, RSS feeds, a ton of crap.

But this year I’ve got orders out the wazoo. In fact, I’m starting to get stressed out over it. I try to tell myself, “Remember, the stress of no orders is worse than the stress of too many orders”. And “Seriously, you’re NOT DOOMED. Any time you can put a big sign on the sites – ‘SOLD OUT: PLEASE GO AWAY!'”

A major source of stress is that in early January, a Roadway Freight truck will stop by to pick up a 6′ x 2′ x 2’, 355 lb. crate containing new samples for the Chicago Gift Show. As of today, there are zero samples in that crate. The time required to make up all those new samples is about one month. And the web orders keep coming.

It gets worse. This is all happening under the reign of the worst President in US history. Think “Drunken Sailor Economics”. Seriously, it’s not possible that this is happening. At this point I’m thinking an extended stay with Nurse Ratchitt and about 500mg of Thorazine every 3 hours could be a viable alternative. Of course, I’ll have to ship a lot more than I am now to be able to afford that…better get some sleep. It’s already tomorrow. Oh, Jesus.

That Justice Thing

Yesterday, over at “Salon”:http://www.salon.com, I read an article by “Anne Lamott”:http://www.salon.com/mwt/col/lamott/2005/12/05/carpet_guy/index.html, someone vaguely familiar to me, but whom I had never read. My initial reactions? She’s a good writer. She’s a heavy Christian. (and after finishing the article) she’s an idiot.

Without getting into a bunch of quotes, here’s the gist of the article as I see it:

She’s driving around one day and spies a hole-in-the-wall carpet store. She picks up one of the pre-cut remnants rolled up outside the shop to take back to her church to be put in the kids’ playroom. Long story short, when the church people roll it out, there’s mold in the middle of the carpet and it’s unsuitable for kids. One of the church members takes it back to the carpet store and tells Anne she can pick up her refund check the next day. Anne goes over there and the store owner says someone from the church already picked up the check ($50). Anne goes back to the church and no, nobody picked up the check. She goes back to the carpet store and the guy shows her his ledger “proving” the check was picked up. This goes back and forth for several days and Anne gets madder and madder. She pleads with him, tries to get his sympathy for the poor kids who still need a carpet. That doesn’t work so she curses him. At one point, she arrives to confront the store owner and grabs the phone on his desk to call a man at the church. She thrusts the phone at the store owner. She can hear the man from the church screaming and threatening the store owner like Tony Soprano. Anne gets angrier and angrier, cursing the guy out and throwing threats herself. At one point, the guy gives Anne a check which turns out to be bogus. At this point, any normal reader is going, “duh, the guy is a crook, it’s way past time to send Furio over to kneecap him.” But at this point, Anne goes home and does a little soul searching. She doesn’t like herself, the way she’s been responding. In the end, she calls the crooked store owner and apologizes for her behavior. He says, “you’re right, you behaved badly”. She can see anger returning but this time sees it from a different perspective. “Yes, I behaved badly”, she says and they both hang up.

So, yesterday after I read this, I’m thinking, “good writer, heavy Christian, idiot. She should’ve kneecapped him”. But today, her article kept worming its way through my thoughts. Not like a Diana Krall ear worm, but like one of those things that happens when you experience art. It started me thinking about my own concept of justice and the part revenge has played throughout my life.

When it comes to revenge and justice, I have an excellent memory and I have a long list. Back in Junior High, I met my first real girlfriend. Charlene was my age and just transferred over from a neighboring school. Not really knowing what to do with a girlfriend, it was pretty much self-conscious phone calls with my parents listening in and hand-holding in the halls at school. One day my friend Bud came over and said that he saw Charlene at the football game. “So?” I said. “She was making out with Harvey behind the bleachers and drove off in his car.” I didn’t believe him and walked away. Over the next couple of weeks, this guy Harvey started bumping into me in the hallways and knocking my books over. Harvey was a star heavyweight varsity wrestler and had 4 years and 100 lbs. on me. I told him to go fuck himself.

One day during gym, in the locker room, I saw a blur out of the corner of my eye. When I woke up, my friends told me that after he knocked me unconscious, Harvey threw me bodily from one end of the locker room to the other and back again and back again. My face looked like I’d gone through a car windshield. Harvey ended up getting thrown off the wrestling team and was banned from sports for the rest of his high school career. But that wasn’t enough justice for me. I added Harvey to my revenge list.

Harvey stayed away from me after that, but my “girlfriend” Charlene came up and spat in my face. Then Harvey’s very large friends took to stalking me. When they’d catch me alone, there’d be fights. I’d do my best, but it was never any contest. I was too proud to go to school officials, so I took it. This continued until they all graduated. (It occurs to me now, that in some weird twist, they were only pursuing justice for Harvey’s being banned from sports. Justice may actually exist in the eye of the beholder) At any rate, I added Harvey’s friends to my revenge list.

Later, after I finished college and was living in Boston, I heard that one of them, a guy who’d never been able to leave our small town, was working in the salt mines (like so many of my schoolmates ended up) and fell into a large salt vat, which sucked him under and smothered him to death. I felt a sense of justice for that one. But a few years later, a good friend of mine and a truly good person, a kid named Parky, was crushed between freight cars at the same mine. The only lesson that anyone could possibly learn from any of it is that justice is blind as a fucking bat.

After school, Harvey got drafted and went to Vietnam. He spent his two years, survived and came back to join a police force in a large city where he took part in drug raids against inner-city dealers. A friend of mine, who was friends of a friend of Harvey’s said that he took part in many drug raids. During one of them, there was a lot of gunfire. Harvey wasn’t hit, but he was shaken and ended up losing his nerve. He struggled with it, but just couldn’t do it any more and had to retire. I recall thinking that there was some kind of justice in that, but there was also something very human and tragic as well. I didn’t know what to think, except that I didn’t think Harvey needed to be on my revenge list any more.

Later, after my Dad died, my Mom was living alone in Ithaca. A neighbor living across the street in a rental property became the bane of her existence. He drank and partied all night. His dog barked all night, and Mom said that she was sure he was breaking into her home and stealing things. Incensed, I called my friend Gary, an old street buddy. I told him the story. He knew my Mom and wanted to go over and throttle the guy right then. I told him to wait until I could fly up. “I want to take care of him personally. I want to inject fear into this asshole’s life”.

Months passed and I couldn’t get away, but the asshole was on my list. Shortly thereafter, my Mom sold the house and moved to the town my sister lived in to be near the grandkids. She no longer had to put up with the idiot neighbor, but that didn’t mean that he was off my list.

A few years later, I was up in Ithaca visiting friends and ran into Gary. “Did you ever take care of that guy?” he said. I thought for a minute. “No”, I said. “I’m not sure why. Mom moved to Rochester. I dunno. But I still need to teach him a lesson.”

As I think about it, Mom’s old neighbor is probably the only person left on my list. The rest have pretty much gone on with their lives. And it looks like for the most part, so have I.

Which gets me back to Anne Lamott’s article. Apologizing to the crook who took her money because she cursed at him. What an idiot Christian thing to do. If you don’t keep score and avenge those who commit wrongs against you, then where is justice in all this? After worming her way through my thoughts ever since I read that article, I’m guessing that it’s more complicated than that.

Justice is somewhere inside us. Justice is the scale of balances that we each have to deal with in our lives wherever we go, whatever we do. We can’t control the lives of crooks and idiots and miscreants and the rest of them that would do us harm. We can only control what kind of person we are.

In the end, we can only try to live our own lives with humility and strength, as best we can. And if we work at it, sometimes we can find a little balance there, and we grow.

And maybe there’s some justice in that

Stuff

Since it’s officially December, and the work year is winding down, I can probably safely talk about “stuff” without fear of being morally chastened. Stuff, as in, December 25 is probably the biggest “stuff” day of the year; that kinda stuff. Trust me, around here (unless you’re a certain critter I know) Christmas does not even come close to happening in August, much less November. It’s a December thing.

So, as the work year winds down and deadlines have all been met and profits for the year have either happened or haven’t, we can turn our attention away from work and stress and start to focus more on the “stuff” we enjoy. For Loyal Americans, “stuff” is part of life and is usually quite expensive. Well, I’m pretty Loyal, at least to my country and my friends and family, (don’t confuse that with politicians), but my This Year’s Stuff didn’t necessarily cost much. Some of it was free.

To start off, my bunker in Kennesaw has traditionally been in the basement. That’s where my “main computer” was, my music, all my crap. It’s cool in the summer, and it’s pretty cool in the winter. Lack of heat and air conditioning lets a basement do its natural thing. Well, a couple months ago, Elaine mentions that she is planning on adding her sculptural studio to the basement, putting in some oxy-acetylene, torches, fire-proofing, etc. She was basically putting me on notice; when she’s down there doing sculpture, she doesn’t want company cursing and drinking 30 feet away in the bunker. I took the hint and started re-creating my bunker upstairs in the heat/air-conditioned area. Which gets us back on topic.

My main computer, running Windows XP had to stay in the basement because it’s needed for the Soho office. Okay, I can live with that. Upstairs in the living area, we had an old computer running linux that was sitting on a chest of drawers. Those same chests of drawers that will bark your knees on the drawer pulls if you try to pull up a chair to do some serious computing. (And how can you do serious computing on an AMD K-6 400?).

Okay, so that one had to morph into an AMD Athlon 2000+. No biggie, but the drawer pulls are still doing damage. Enter our “cheap desk”:http://shop3.outpost.com/product/3007299?site=sr:SEARCH:MAIN_RSLT_PG aka Stuff #1.
The computer running linux had been running Red Hat since Version 5.4 and was now upgraded into various renditions of the Fedoras. Problem? I couldn’t get the sound card to work on any consistent basis in any of the Red Hat family distros. But I couldn’t change OS’s because I’d spent $50 on a Red Hat Bible three years ago. Seriously.

Well….just for laughs, I put in a live cd for a new distro called “Ubuntu”:http://www.ubuntu.com/ Amazingly, it discovered all my hardware, including the sound card immediately. This led to an actual install of Ubuntu. It was free. It was too easy to be true. Ubuntu is basically a Windows version of Linux. (I can hear people cringing now) But really, it’s so easy, that it might as well be Windows as far as setup goes. Obviously, it’s built on Debian and is way better that Microsoft products, but hey, the forums aren’t even snotty and they welcome newbies. I’m sorry, that’s not in the Linux tradition.

Well, if it discovered the sound card, then a guy needs music in a bunker and $2 speakers don’t quite cut it. Enter the new “speakers”:http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16836116120 . “Shoutcast”:http://www.shoutcast.com is our buddy now. Anybody with “stuff” worth their salt with a Linux box needs “Firefox 1.5”:http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/ and the newest “Opera”:http://www.opera.com/products/desktop/ But wait, there’s more. I got this a year ago, but any bunker isn’t complete without “Tivo”:http://www.tivo.com/ And large quantities of “coffee”:http://www.capresso.com/prod_makers_mt500.html and obviously, beer, because what would cursing be without drinking?

I’m telling you, I can get used to 72 degree heat after winters in that dungeon in the basement. Well, it’s only December 3. I have two more weeks of stuff to accumulate. It doesn’t get much better than this. In January, it’s Back Ta Work, beginning with a Trade Show in Chicago, which is usually enjoying a Lake Effect blizzard or four at about that time. Enter our new waterproof boots….oops, at this point, I don’t even remember who I ordered them from. But Fedex should still be here Monday morning. The driver usually hits us first to clear space in the truck.