Happy camp and the last of the Bad Times

I liked camping. The camping we did this past weekend wasn’t “real” camping, where you take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints; it was the sort of camping where you take nothing but the beer-can chicken your hosts offer you and leave nothing but dubious initials on the “high score rankings” screen on Atari Pole Position in the campground game room. A-S-S is #1! Other snickery activities of the weekend included playing that road trip game where you read signs aloud and add the phrase “under the sheets,” except we used the phrase “in your ass” instead. Our favorite sign in this game was Pack Hot Dogs, Not Firewood. I’m sorry.

Wow, if the number of comments is any indication, you all really love to talk about the Bad Times. I have only a couple points to add to the discussion: first, that after some painstaking research I’ve determined that any Dominick’s that’s a just plain old Dominick’s and not a Dominick’s “Fresh Store” (in other words, a Not So Fresh Store), has a remarkably high incidence of Bad Times. Second, I believe that the misery experienced in Wal-Marts and KMarts is simply par for the course for those stores and should not be characterized as Bad Times phenomena. THAT IS ALL.

More Bad Times and other bitchiness

Wow, I almost forgot to tell you about my Bad Times at a CVS! It was in the parking lot at the Western and Elston location one night a few weeks ago. Chris and I were stopping there on our way home. I’d started to pull into a parking space when I saw an even closer spot along the side of the building, and directly across the aisle from me. For some reason I decided I HAD to park in that spot—that I would be a total chump to not park there, considering that all I had to do was coast straight ahead five yards or so. There were no cars in between, only open space and a single pigeon puttering around. I pulled ahead a few feet and stopped.

“I’m waiting for the pigeon,” I told Chris. Somehow it hadn’t flown away yet. There were parked cars on either side, so I couldn’t just drive around the pigeon. I rolled forward—slowly—and stopped again. Now I couldn’t see the pigeon.

“It flew away, right?” I asked Chris. “It had to have flown away,” he said. I pulled ahead into the parking spot and turned off the car. I had a funny feeling, though, and sure enough, when I looked back there was a crumpled ball of grey feathers right where I’d driven.

We got out and just stood by the car and stared for a minute. “How did I manage to kill it?” I said out loud. I was a little stunned. I wanted to blame my car. Maybe my Subaru Forester was a big clumsy killer, I thought, just like the halfwit in Of Mice and Men.

“Don’t worry about it,” Chris said. “It’s the city. It’s a dead pigeon.”

Another couple had come out of CVS and were walking to their car, which, as it turned out, was pretty much right next to the dead pigeon. The man had just walked over to the driver’s side when he spotted it a few feet away. He stopped, rather dramatically. “I think you just took out a bird,” he said.

I nodded. “Yeah, I guess so,” I said. “Weird, huh?”

But the guy just stood there, frozen with either horror or disgust. He opened his car door as if to get in, but then froze again. Definitely with digust. “God,” he said. He shook his head. “God,” he said again. The woman who was with him waited on the passenger side of the car. “Honey?” she said. “Let’s go.” The man looked at us one last time. He actually sighed. “Yeah. Let’s go.”

We could feel him glaring at us through the windshield as he started his car. “Does he think I ran over that bird just to ruin his day?” I asked Chris. “He thinks that, doesn’t he?”

“Good for you,” Chris said, and then we went in to shop at CVS. Though we have yet to determine whether this incident makes this CVS a Bad Times CVS.

In other news, USA Today liked my book just fine last year and thought us bloggers with book deals were just peachy, but apparently Stephanie Klein’s book sucks so bad that the rest of us now suck in retrospect. Awesome! Thanks, Stephanie Klein!

(Also, I hope Carol Memmott writes more publishing trend sidebar pieces about books written by people who got their start writing things that totally weren’t even books. Like maybe she can write about all those journalists who only got their book deals because they’re journalists, and who don’t make the USA Today Best-Selling Books List because, in the end, they’re nothing but journalists who can’t write anything as good as The Kite Runner or The Clique #6: Dial L for Loser (A Clique Novel) and therefore ought to go back to journalism, where they were “bigger” anyway, according to the latest hypothetical un-statstical non-data she’ll totally forget to cite.)

Side note 1: I’m going camping in Michigan this weekend, so any comments left after tonight may not appear on the site until Sunday night or Monday. Though, hey, if you’re a disgrunted Stephanie Klein fan, maybe you’ll just leave a multiple one-star reviews on my Amazon page just like you did with my friend Jen Lancaster’s book.

Side note 2: You know, I haven’t even READ Stephanie Klein’s book yet and I don’t know if I will, though if USA Today reporters are going to equate blog books with self-indulgent suckage, I’d sort of like to know what I’m being blamed-by-association for, so maybe I will read it, though when I do, maybe I’ll keep my mouth shut and stay out of all this.

Side note 3: Wow, I think I need to calm down. Let’s all watch this highly amusing video ad for John Hodgman’s book, shall we?

Bad Times, Bad Times, whatcha gonna do?

Ever since we moved we’ve been gradually getting our bearings. We’ve figured out where we are in relation to the various supermarkets and chain drugstores in the area—the Jewels (Jewels as in multiple Jewel stores, not the so-called ersatz possessive-form slang vernacular “Jewel’s”), the Walgreen’s (or are they Walgreenses?) and Dominick’s (Dominiquorum?). We know where nearest stores are, and as far as we can tell, none of them are Bad Times stores.

Every store chain has at least one Bad Times location. The Walgreens closest to Chris’s old apartment, the one at Lawrence and Western, is a Bad Times Walgreen’s. I grew up near a Bad Times Jewel on Madison near Ridgeland. There is a Bad Times Dominick’s on Lincoln Avenue at Bryn Mawr, just a quarter mile or so north from the old Bad Times Osco, and together with the Walgreens they formed a Bad Time Triangle, a veritable vortex of shitty store-going experience.

What constitutes Bad Times? It’s not just bad service or poor merchandise selection. It’s almost never a single thing that can be isolated and remedied. No, it’s an elaborate matrix of factors that make you miserable practically every single fucking time you shop there.

Bad Times conditions produce varying results within a consistent pattern of badness. Your shopping cart gets swiped. You wait in line and then the line closes. They’re inexplicably all out of water, or candy, or something amazing like that. Everything you need is available only in some horrifyingly wrong form, size and/or quantity, i.e., tampons which come in boxes of two hundred and are the super-ultra-maximum kind with scented musical applicators. The ATM is down, always. You’re lost in the aisles and the song “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is playing. So many things around you suck to distraction that you forget half the things you meant to get, and you stumble home defeated and with the distinct sense that none of this bullshit would have happened if only you’d gone to the other Jewel or Walgreens or Osco or Dominck’s. Bad Times stores are the ones you find yourself going out of the way to avoid for one reason or another. Sometimes you can articulate why, sometimes you can’t.

Nothing ever gets cold in the beverage coolers at the Bad Times Walgreen’s. Shopping at the Bad Times Jewel-Osco in Andersonville is weirdly tedious, and it always feels like you’re pushing your cart through sand. One time, at the bad times Dominick’s, there was this cashier who wore makeup in such a way to as to make her entire head look like a fleshy Lucha Libre mask, and she barked orders at every one of us in line. “Have your Fresh Values card READY! In your HAND and READY! Take OUT your Fresh Values Card and HAVE IT READY!” At the Bad Times Osco a few years ago I smiled at an old man standing near the doorway on my way out and he followed me to my car and tapped on my window and said “DON’T I KNOW YOU?” He was holding down a button on his neck as he spoke. “I SEEN YOU BEFORE,” he said, in a voice that I think meant to be friendly but instead sounded like a tiny demon calling long-distance. I knew I hadn’t seen him before, because if I’d had I probably would’ve tried a little harder to resist the sudden visceral impulse to clutch my own throat. But as it happened, I was doing it right then, right in front of him. “I’m sorry!” I said. It was deeply awkward and not in the least bit a good time.

Bad Times knows no boundaries, lest you think Bad Times equals “ghetto.” My recent experiences have all been urban, but store can be in the middle of a manicured suburban Strippe Mall Named For An Olde Tree and still be infested with a bad case of Bad Times. Many places carry a certain variant strain of Bad Times in which nothing about the store itself is objectionable but bad things happen to you—you forget your wallet, or you leave your car headlights on, or you drop a case of canned soda and it starts hissing and you have to leave it in the aisle and scurry away like a water rat. And you can’t go back; you won’t go back, and you don’t for a very long time until one day it seems sort of silly and inconvenient to not go there, so you go, and you have Bad Times AGAIN, and you curse yourself the whole unhappy drive home. That’s what I mean by Bad Times.

Bad Times tend to make themselves known as soon as you visit the store for the first time, but do they ever go away. I’m curious about this, since the Bad Times Osco on Lincoln and Foster has now become a CVS—a chain I haven’t visited enough to know where its Bad Times locations are. Will the Osco Bad Times transfer seamlessly to CVS, just like its prescription records? Or will the change in management cause a butterfly effect disrupting the unique circumstances under which Bad Times flourished? Or what? I’ll have to go there again sometime and let you know. But I’m in no hurry.

Notes on the new place

We’re figuring out that settling in isn’t just a matter of putting things in place. It’s more that you do about 85 percent of all the stuff you want to do, and then you develop whatever blindspots you need to not give a shit about the other 15 percent. That’s where I’m at right now–my mind seems to have grown little mental calluses over things like the sight of extension cords, and blank spots on the wall, and the closet in my home office, which is a crap avalanche waiting to happen. But who cares? I love it here. The days have a whole new shape here.

The neighborhood is weird in a good way. Sometimes it feels like I’ve fallen into some pocket of time filled with sensory details from my childhood neighborhood, with the overgrown, softly crumbling alleys, and the cicadas, and the wide wide front steps of houses, and the little copper stamps in the sidewalks. I mean the side streets are like this; it’s different along Lawrence Avenue. You really can’t trust an Albany Park business unless it has at least nine signs (all in different fonts) (and this doesn’t include the window lettering) neon, and/or a strobe light. The only dollar stores worth going to are the ones you can still see imprinted on your retinas when you close your eyes. It’s awesome.

The only trouble with this place is that there’s no really good bar within staggering distance. Any local readers who live west of Rockwell know of anything? There’s a few places right around Rockwell, but that’s still a pretty long, er, stagger. Which is not to say that we like to drink until we are cartoon characters with hiccups and little bubbles around our heads. Not all the time, at least.

Speaking of old-timey depictions of drunkenness, our friend Phineas has been drawing hoboes and this one is one of my favorites.