The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

August 21, 2013

The Ugly Little Bomb Pop Incident – A Short Story

Filed under: Short Stories — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:24 am

On a night like this, I’m pretty sure that just about anyone more creative and/or bored than myself could have come up with any number of better places to be than hanging out in the frozen food aisle at the supermarket, but with as hot as the weather was outside, I certainly couldn’t think of any.  Well, Alaska maybe, but that tends to be a little tricky when I’ve got a 9am meeting tomorrow morning that I’m expected at.  This was a lot cheaper anyway, and besides, as of the last time I checked the modern American supermarket tends not to be populated by too many wild animals inclined to devour you.  To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what I was even there for, only that it was way too hot outside, and the frozen food aisle seemed as good a place as any to get out of it.

After aimlessly wandering up and down the aisle a couple of times I decided that I should probably consider actually buying something there before someone decided I was loitering.  There was no shortage of potential choices here, but for some reason, nothing seemed quite right.  Ice cream just sounded too heavy right now, and none of the good stuff was on sale anyway.  The usual litany of ice cream bars, sandwiches and other novelties wasn’t exactly sounding all that appealing either.  And the pies, cakes and other desserts were just right out.  Without any idea what I was even looking for, I began to make yet another slow walk down the aisle, pausing only to let the occasional shopping cart pass by.

Then it hit me.  As I looked into the freezer case, I saw the Bomb Pops.  Even though I hadn’t had one in years, I could immediately taste them in my mind.  The combination of cherry, lime and blue raspberry flavors sounded like just the thing I wanted at that moment.  And yet, as I took a closer look at the case, I found a rather odd sign placed above them:  “Please ask an associate for assistance with these items.”  I quickly dismissed the sign as some sort of misplaced leftover from something else as I reached for the handle to the door, but strangely enough, the door would not open.  Further investigation revealed that for some unknown reason, there was a lock on this particular freezer door, which appears to have been a recent addition.  Not that it would have done any good anyway, since I could have just reached in from the next door over and grabbed a box anyway, but that was beside the point.  At this point, I suspect most people would have just given up and wandered a couple of doors over to the generic popsicles a couple of doors down, but at this point morbid curiosity took over.

Down at the far end of the aisle I found a store employee stocking the shelves, and wandered over.  Trying not to act too suspicious (which I suspect was rather difficult at this point since I had probably already spent twenty minutes slowly walking up and down the aisle by this time)  I got the clerk’s attention, and asked him where I might find the Bomb Pops.  In retrospect this was probably a really stupid question since I had been staring right at them no more than thirty seconds before, but I naively assumed I could feign ignorance.

The employee looked up from the shelf he had been stocking, pointed back to the front of the aisle, and said, “The popsicles are at the front of the aisle on the right.”

“Yes,” I replied, “But I’m looking for the Bomb Pops.”

“I’m afraid we don’t sell those anymore,” replied the stocker.  “But we do have a 2-for-1 sale on our store-brand ice pops…”

At this point, there was no point in maintaining any sort of pretense.  I pointed toward the locked case.

“It appears that you have at least three boxes in the freezer over there.”

“Fine, but I’m afraid those aren’t very good.  If I were you, I’d strongly recommend the Fudgsicles…”

At this point it was clear that this had become far more of a hassle than the situation really warranted, but by now I was determined to carry on, if for no other reason than to see just how ridiculous it could possibly get.

“Is there a problem with the Bomb Pops?” I asked.

“No, I can assure you that the Bomb Pops are just fine.  I stocked them in that case on Thursday.”

“Then why can’t I just buy a box?”

“BUY A BOX?” the stocker exclaimed, with a sudden look of shock on his face.  “Why on Earth would you want to do THAT?”

At this point, I found myself straining a bit to avoid breaking out into laughter.  After a pause, I replied, “Well, because I’m looking for a snack.”

“Well, if you’re looking for a snack, why don’t you just go get some POTATO chips?” the clerk quickly blurted out, sounding like a con artist who had just figured out a way to weasel out of his rapidly collapsing web of deceit  “The Pringles are currently Buy two get one…”

I interrupted before he could continue, “Potato chips aren’t what I’m here for, I’m looking for Bomb Pops, and I’m trying to figure out why this is so difficult.”

“Clearly you have no idea what you’re asking for!” the stocker exclaimed.  Apparently our conversation had attracted the attention of several other shoppers in the store, who had now congregated at the opposite end of the frozen foods aisle.  By now we had also attracted the attention of a store manager.

“May I help you?” the manager asked as he approached the conversation.  The stocker took this opportunity to hastily  back away, apparently wanting nothing to do with this conversation.  It seemed that he had some pressing business in the cereal aisle that required his immediate attention.  A shortage of Cap’n Crunch perhaps?

I continued the conversation with the store manager.  “I’m just trying to buy some Bomb Pops.”

The manager paused for several seconds.  “Are you sure about that?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “It seems they’re being locked up in the freezer for some reason.”

“Of course they’re being locked up,” the manager replied, with a slight hint of condescension in his voice.  “We can’t just have anyone wandering in and buying the things now, can we?”

“I don’t see why not,” I replied.  “I mean, they’re just popsicles, right?”

“Popsicles?” responded the manager, who had now reached the point of full on indignation.  “Of COURSE not.  Only Popsicles are popsicles!  Those things are…  Are…  Are…”  He struggled to find a word.

“Quiescently Frozen Confections?” I offered.

“Yes, those!” the manager replied.  “But it’s a lot more complicated than that.”

“How complicated can it be?  I’m looking for some Bomb Pops, your store is selling them.  If it wasn’t for the fact that you’ve got the things locked up in the freezer I’m pretty sure I’d be halfway home with a box of the things already.”

“Wait,” replied the manager.  “You mean you would actually take the things HOME?”

“Of course I would, unless you expect me to sit around and eat a whole box of the things here in the aisle.”

“Clearly you have no idea what you’d be getting yourself into.”

“And just what would I be getting myself into?”

“Trouble, of course!”

“Listen,” I replied, “Just how much trouble could I get myself into with those things?  I mean, I’m pretty sure I could just walk into the Safeway three blocks away and buy the things off the shelf without any hassle.”

“Of COURSE those irresponsible nitwits at Safeway would sell the blasted things to anyone who wandered in off the street!” the manager snapped back, clearly irritated by now.  At the other end of the aisle, the other shoppers continued to watch, transfixed by the pointless-yet-amusing drama unfolding before their eyes.  The manager paused again, this time for several seconds, possibly noticing for the first time the stares of the other shoppers.  Afterward, he assumed a much quieter tone.

“I apologize sir,” he said.  “I suppose we can’t expect every customer that wanders into the store to understand.”

“Understand what?” I replied.

“Let’s just say that there have been certain… Shall we say… UNFORTUNATE incidents, related to Bomb Pops in this store.”

“Incidents?”

“Well,” the manager replied in hushed tones, almost as though he didn’t want anyone else to hear, “We still haven’t figured out all the details really, but the place was a disaster area.  It took three people an entire Graveyard shift just to clean up all the red and blue goop before the morning rush arrived.  I mean, we were finding the stuff in the BAKERY for Heaven’s sake!”

“So that means you have to lock up the Bomb Pops now?”

“It’s the only way to be sure.”

“Be sure of what?”  By now, It was pretty clear that this entire conversation was a was doing nothing but wasting everyone’s time, but nobody was backing down at this point.

“That there won’t be another Ugly Little Bomb Pop Incident.”

Wait,” I replied.  “Let me get this straight.  Somehow there was an incident involving Bomb Pops, and now everyone is so afraid of the things that they have to keep them under lock and key?”

“To make a long story short, yes.”

“So why do you even sell the things?”

“Believe me, I’d be more than happy to just get rid of the things and be done with them, but someone in corporate just keeps putting the things into the weekly ad, and the warehouse just keeps sending more.  We’ve tried explaining to them, but they just ignore us and keep expecting us to sell them anyway.”  By now, the manager’s face grew increasingly nervous, and as he spoke he made several glances to the side, as if to look for a way out.  I figure that by this time the stocker with whom this conversation started was hiding out in a dark corner of the breakroom, waiting for  the whole thing to blow over.

“Listen,” the manager said nervously, apparently getting as sick of this conversation as I was, “If I let you buy a box of Bomb Pops, will you agree to never speak of any of this again?”

“Well, that’s what I’m here for, right?”

“Are you sure there isn’t something I could do to talk you out of this?”

“OF course not,” I replied.  Sure, I had just wasted the last fifteen minutes in a pointless argument over a three-dollar box of popsicles, but I sure as heck wasn’t leaving without them after all that.

“Very well then,” the manager finally said, with a barely concealed sigh.  “Now if you can follow me over to the customer service desk, we have some papers we will need you to fill out.”

As we proceeded down the frozen foods aisle toward the front of the store, I noticed another “Please ask an associate for assistance” sign located above the case holding the Eggo waffles.  I’m pretty sure I don’t even want to know what prompted that one.

August 19, 2013

The Stupidiest Idea I’ve Had in a While: Crowd De-funding

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:13 am

Right now, one of the hottest trends on the Internet is crowdfunding.  These days, it seems like practically everywhere you look there’s someone out there trying to get random people off the Internet to fun their pet projects for them.  Granted, it’s usually a lot more complicated than that, but basically it’s a fancy way of buying stuff that doesn’t exist yet in hopes of making it actually exist some day.  Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Occasionally you hear about some big-name project that draws in millions (and subsequently disappoints pretty much everyone, but that’s beside the point.)  but those seem to be far more the exception than the rule.  The vast majority of projects on sites like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo arrive with far less ambitious goals, and typically just squeak in.

Really, there’s just one problem with the whole thing:  There’s really no way to stop it.  Sure, you can just not contribute to a project you don’t care for, but that doesn’t do much good if there’s thousands of other people throwing money into the thing and funding it anyway.  Most of the time you can just ignore the whole thing and move on, but every once in a while there’s a project that’s just so obnoxious, so hipsterish or so just-plain-stupid that you just wish you had some way to tell the people behind it to just shut up and get a life already.  And there’s no good way to do it. aside from random Internet trolling, and we all know how well that usually works out.  What we need is a way  to “vote against” Kickstarter projects like that, and put money behind that vote.

Since the obvious name for something like this has already been appropriated for a far less interesting idea, we need to come up with a different name for this.  For lack of anything better, I think I’ll call it Kickswatter for now.  Basically, it works just like any other crowdfunding scheme would work, aside from the fact that there’s also a “Defund” option added to the page, which will allow people to put up money to be subtracted from the project’s funding goal.  For example, if a project has raised $7,520 and someone puts up a $50 anti-contribution, that puts the total contributions for the project down to $7,470.  Basically, the anti-contributions go against the other contributions, possibly putting the project at risk of not being funded if enough anti-contributions are made.

Of course, there’s just one minor flaw in this whole thing:  Nobody in their right mind would go anywhere near a crowdfunding site like this, unless they had a really good reason to do so.  Which means we have to provide some sort of an incentive for people to use this system, which is where things really start to get interesting.  Let’s say that in spite of numerous anti-contributions being made, a project ultimately reaches its funding goal anyway.  If this happens, then the project not only gets all of the contributions that have been made to it, but also gets all of the anti-contributions added to their total.  They are under no obligation to provide any sort of donation incentives to any of the anti-contributors although they are welcome to provide such incentives as they see fit.  I’m picturing something like giant color glossy photographs of a middle finger in cases like this.  Actually, in (almost) every scenario, you have to guarantee that the anti-contributors “donations” are paid out to somewhere in order to make sure that people don’t just put down a bunch of anti-contributions on everything they see.  I suppose there’s always the ever-nebulous “charity” that they could be put to, but that seems like it could be open to abuse as well.  Then again, given the fact that I don’t even pretend to think that any of this is a good idea in the first place, I suppose I can just figure out that part as I go, right?

Anyway, here is what I figure some of the potential end scenarios for a crowdfunded project under this system could be, along with what I would expect the results to be:

  • If a project doesn’t reach its funding goal in the first place and the anti-contributions are irrelevant, nobody pays anything (thinking in gambling terms, this scenario would be considered a push.)
  • If a project reaches its funding goal, but is brought back below it by anti-contributions, then the project does not get funded, and the contributors don’t have to pay.  The anti-contributors do have to pay, and their money goes to the unspecified charity mentioned above.
  • If the anti-contributions to a project outnumber the contributions (resulting in a negative end total) then the result is the same as above, but the creators of the project are then prohibited from posting any new projects on the site for at least a year (yeah, I know there are other presumably less evil crowdfunding sites they could use instead, but we’ll just conveniently pretend they’re going along with the whole thing for a minute.)
  • If the anti-contributors manage to contribute enough to reach the inverse of project’s funding goal (for example, if a project with an $50,000 funding goal manages to end up at $-50,000,) all of the contributors’ funds get sent off to charity along with the anti-contributors’ funds, and the funding site sends someone personally to tell the project creators to get a life, and permanently bans them from the site.)
  • As outlined above, if the project manages to meet its funding goal in spite of anti-contributions, then the project gets the contributors’ funds plus the anti-contributors’ funds, regardless of the amount contributed against the project.  Presumably the anti-contributors get to feel really stupid at this point.

I’m sure that there are some minor details I’m not considering here (like the fact that I’m probably running afoul of about a dozen different gambling laws with the whole thing) but those can be worked out later.  Probably the biggest problem with this right now is figuring out a good place to put the anti-contributions.  Well, that and making sure that you don’t get about half a zillion undersupervised preteens using their parents’ credit cards to make big anti-contributions to everything on the site, but I’m sure an appropriate safeguard could be devised for that scenario.  There’s also the question of whether to permit people to create incentives against a project they don’t like (but I’m leaning toward no on that since there’s too much potential for it to be abused.)  Either way, I’m pretty sure nobody in their right mind would actually bother with this kind of thing in the first place, so it’s all pretty much academic anyway.  But it might make for a few amusing trainwrecks to watch for a while.  I’m sure it’s all quite amusing until you’re the one trying to fund your project.

Like I said up front, this was pretty much the stupidest idea I’ve had in a while, right?

August 7, 2013

A Twilight Walk Through Downtown Bellevue on a Fine Summer’s Evening

Filed under: Bellevue, Wanderings — Brian Lutz @ 11:18 pm

In case you haven’t noticed, around here Summer weather is a finite resource, and the time you’re spending reading this probably means you’re wasting it right this very minute.  Unless you happen to be reading it in the middle of the night or in the middle of February, in which case carry on.   After all, the climate around here provides no shortage of dreary 45-degree overcast days throughout the Fall, Winter and Spring, but the local meteorologists have taken to keeping track of summer weather (which they define as any recorded temperature over 80 degrees)  in minutes (in case you were wondering, as of the time this post is being written, the count stands at 4,537 and change for the year.)  Naturally, this means you need to take advantage of the nice weather whenever you get the chance.

With the way things have been at work lately, I’ve found that it’s been a little tough to find the time to take advantage of the Summer weather.  Sure, there’s (usually) weekends to go out and do stuff, and me and my friends have generally made adequate use of them when work doesn’t get in the way, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the week can be ignored.  A couple of evenings ago after I got home from work, the weather was just about perfect to go out and spend some time outside.  Lately in the evenings I’ve been spending time in the exercise room here at my apartment building, but since I managed to do 40 minutes on the elliptical trainer the night before, I figured I could get away with something a little less strenuous on this particular evening, and went out for a nice little walk right around twilight as darkness began to fall upon the city.

As I’ve alluded to in some of my previous posts, since I work over in Downtown Seattle these days and seem to spend inordinate amounts of time at the office lately, on occasion I find that I can feel a bit disconnected from the community I live in.  At times it seems like I end up going from home to work and back for weeks at a time, without much more than an occasional trip out for supplies or food in the evenings to break up the routine.  And yet, even if I’m spending all my time in this “disconnected” state, as soon as I return for a visit everything is immediately familiar once again.  Over time as you spend a lot of time in a certain place, you build up a mental map of it, to the point that you could be away from somewhere for years, and yet as soon as you return there you immediately know your way around.  Sure things can and will change over time, but ultimately things will still be familiar.  And yet, even if you think you know a place, you can still find things you never knew about, especially if you get a bit outside of your normal routine.

Sure enough, as I took my journey on this particular evening, I found a few surprises waiting for me in places I thought I knew well.  After the jump, follow along as I take a walk through Downtown Bellevue as nightfall descends upon the city.

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