Category Archives: Rants

Buy Nothing Day and Gifts That Don’t Involve Capitalism

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This Friday is not only Black Friday. It’s also Buy Nothing Day. Buy Nothing Day? you may be wondering. What does that mean?

According to the article “The Quirky, Anti-Consumerist History of Buy Nothing Day” by Nina Renata Aron,

Buy Nothing Day is an international day of anti-consumerist protest.

The day — which now also goes by the name Occupy Xmas — was founded by Ted Dave, a Canadian artist in 1992, but it gained traction through the 90s after activist magazine Adbusters…began to promote it.

Buy Nothing Day, on which participants are urged to buy literally nothing…is now observed in over 64 countries.

Photo by Anna Utochkina on Unsplash

Some folks use Buy Nothing Day as a time to reflect on the buying frenzy large portions of Western society participate in during the weeks leading up to Christmas. It’s not a coincidence that Buy Nothing Day coincides with Black Friday, the “official” start of the Christmas shopping season.

(You can read my reflections on Christmas spending in the post I shared last Christmas Eve, “You Gotta Pay Santa Claus.”)

Earlier this year I read a zine by my friend Laura-Marie River Victor Peace. Laura-Marie creates zines (you can find more information about her self-published writing on Facebook) and blogs at dangerous compassions. The zine that I read that made me think of Buy Nothing Day is called Resisting Capitalism for Fun. In the introduction, Laura-Marie writes,

this zine is about some anarchist stuff-resisting capitalism, community, gardens, environmentalism, not buying things.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Why would I want to resist capitalism? you might wonder. Isn’t capitalism better than socialism or (gulp) communism? Isn’t capitalism about freedom of choice?

First of all, it might help to know the definition of “capitalism.” According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, capitalism is

an economic system in which all or most of the means of production and distribution, as land, factories, communications, and transportation systems, are privately owned and operated in a relatively competitive environment through the investment of capital to produce profits: it has been characterized by a tendency toward the concentration of wealth, the growth of large corporations, etc. that has led to economic inequality, which has been dealt with usually by increased government action and control

As to why we might want to resist capitalism, I read a great summary of the system’s problems in a Teen Vogue article called “What ‘Capitalism’ Is and How It Affects People” by Kim Kelly.

Individual capitalists are typically wealthy people who have a large amount of capital (money or other financial assets) invested in business, and who benefit from the system of capitalism by making increased profits and thereby adding to their wealth.

The kind of impact that capitalism has on your life depends on whether you’re a worker or a boss. For someone who owns a company and employs other workers, capitalism may make sense: The more profits your company brings in, the more resources you have to share with your workers, which theoretically improves everyone’s standard of living. It’s all based on the principle of supply and demand, and in capitalism, consumption is king. The problem is that many capitalist bosses aren’t great at sharing the wealth, which is why one of the major critiques of capitalism is that it is a huge driver of inequality, both social and economic.

(If you can’t imagine why in the world Teen Vogue is weighing in on the pros and cons of economic systems, read the op-ed piece–“How I Can Critique Capitalism — Even On an iPhone“– Lucy Diavolo wrote for the teen fashion magazine.)

Photo by Leone Venter on Unsplash

Whether you love capitalism or hate it (or feel something in between or even apathetic), you might want to step away from the shopping frenzy at malls and big box stores this holiday season. Maybe you want to save money by making gifts to give to your loved ones. Perhaps you want to keep your religious beliefs or family traditions instead of material objects at the forefront of your holiday celebrations. Your friends and family members might not need more objects to clutter their homes, and you want to give gifts that don’t take up space and never need to be dusted. Perhaps you have chosen to support artists, writers, and craftspeople this year. Whatever your reason for wanting to take a break from capitalism, I’ll share with you where to shop, what to create, and from whom to buy so you can make your holiday season a little less corporate.

Where to Shop

By shopping at thrift stores, you’ll keep items out of the landfill and possibly help support a good cause. Look for stores that benefit domestic violence survivors, animal shelters, and drug rehab programs. In addition to presents, pick up wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, and gift tags.

Shop yard sales, garage sales, and fundraiser rummage sales. It might be too late to use this tip for this holiday season, but in the future, keep your eye out for gifts and other holiday necessities.

Search your local Facebook buy and sell groups as well as good ol’ Craigslist for gently used items that might be perfect for someone in your life. You’ll pay less than retail and help someone in your community finance their own holiday celebration.

Keep an eye on your local FreeCycle group to see if anything people are giving away fit your holiday needs.

Consignment shops tend to sell higher-end items, so check out the merchandise at your local ones when buying for friends and relatives who are perhaps a bit particular.

Do your shopping at community craft fairs, farmers markets, artist co-ops, and other places where you can purchase items directly from the people who create or grow them.

If you’re lucky enough to attend a zine fair, buy zines for the readers on your list. If you can’t attend a zine fair, look online for zine distros like the one Laura-Marie has for her zines. You can also take a look at list of zine distributors from Broken Pencil Magazine.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

You can use your points on BookMooch to get books to give to your readers. If you want to give only books in excellent condition, pay close attention to the condition notes. Alternatively, shop at locally owned used book stores. Consider looking for the childhood favorites of the adults on your list.

If you can’t find the right gift locally, shop at online stores that sell handmade products such as Etsy, Absolute Arts, Artfire, Articents, Hyena Cart, and Shop Handmade. Shopping on these sites will let you buy from creators and small business owners who will certainly appreciate your support.

Shop at museum stores. True, you probably won’t save a lot of money with this tip, but you will get high quality items for giving, and you will support the arts with the dollars you spend.

What to Give

If you can sew, make reusable tote bags. You can find lots of ideas on the All Free Sewing website. If you don’t have sewing skills, buy reusable bags at thrift stores and decorate with iron-on patches.

Sew neck coolers with water-activated beads in them. These items will help folks stay cool in the summer. Instructables offers simple instructions.

Photo by John Doyle on Unsplash

Make Christmas tree ornaments for family and friends who decorate a holiday tree. You can get more than 60 ideas for do-it-yourself ornaments from Good Housekeeping.

Make draft stoppers (also known as draft dodgers, door pillows, draft blockers, etc.) to stop cold air from coming in at the bottom of doors. You can get 20 draft stopper ideas on the Good Stuff website.

Make cards or bookmarks decorated with pressed flowers. (Better Homes & Gardens will tell you how.) Use flowers you grew yourself or those picked on private land. You can also ask a florist for discarded flowers or check the dumpster behind the shop.

Make melt and pour soap for everyone on your shopping list. If you have more time and energy, make soap the old fashioned way. The Spruce Crafts will tell you how.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Use yarn purchased at thrift stores and/or garage sales to knit or crochet hats, scarves, mittens, socks, or blankets.

If you have one of those small looms, make potholders for everyone you know.

Recycle old candles bought at thrift stores and garage sales or collected from FreeCycle into gift-worthy items. Get the candle holders for free or cheap too. Add flowers, seashells, stones or other small decorative items to the candles.

Use hemp to macrame necklaces, key rings, and bracelets. The Spruce Crafts will teach you the seven basic knots you’ll need to know. Buy supplies from a local small business or from an independently owned company like Hemp Beadery.

Compile recipes (especially favorite family recipes) in cute notebooks or on recipe cards.

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Homemade treats are usually a hit and less expensive than buying mass-produced yummies, especially if you shop sales. In addition to baking cookies, try puppy chow (aka muddy buddies) snack mix, Christmas crack, buckeyes, Chex mix, popcorn balls, Rice Krispies® treats, fudge, chocolate covered pretzels, haystacks, no-bake cookies, and rosemary thyme spiced nuts. You can also give homemade pickles, preserves, jams, jellies, and canned fruits and veggies. If you don’t like to cook, buy yummy gifts directly from the makers or give friends and family honey bought directly from a local beekeeper.

If you’re a gardener, grow loofahs or gourds that can be turned into birdhouses. If you grow houseplants, propagate new plants from cuttings. Repot the new plants in pots and jars you get from thrift shops or FreeCycle and give them as gifts.

For the kids in your life, make sculpting dough, sidewalk chalk, bubble solution, rainbow crayons, moon sand, wooden blocks, and/or bean bags.

Most grandparents love photos of their grandkids. Assemble photo albums with pictures of the kiddos and some of their artwork as well. Use goofy candid shots as well as serious, posed scenes. This gift could also work for great-grandparents, godparents, doting aunts and uncles, and a parent who is often away from home for work.

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

If you’re a visual artist, give your art as gifts. Turn artwork into notecards, postcards, or bookmarks or give original pieces.

If you have nice handwriting, write inspirational words on cardstock or pretty paper.

Give a membership or passes for a special excursion to a museum, science center, animal park, or botanical garden. A season pass for a family of four may be less expensive than four individual gifts, the family can enjoy good times all year, and there’s no stuff to clutter the house.

Give an annual America the Beautiful Pass to an individual or family that likes to visit federal recreation areas (national parks, forest, monuments, etc.). A lifetime Senior Pass is also available.

Write letters to everyone on your gift list. Tell the recipients everything you admire about them or recount a fun or special experience you shared.

Create handmade books from scavenged or leftover materials.

Writers and students can always use notebooks. Buy spiral notebooks or composition books at thrift stores or during back-to-school sales. Update the covers using contact paper, stickers, chalkboard paint or chalkboard contact paper, or heavy craft paper and spray adhesive. Sometimes you can find brand new blank journals at thrift stores too.

Make coupon books redeemable for your services (such as a night of babysitting, doing the dishes, washing the car, giving a foot or back rub, scrubbing the bathroom, mowing the lawn, cooking dinner, taking down the Christmas tree, vacuuming the living room, raking leaves, doing the laundry, etc.). The Spruce Crafts collected 15 sets of free printable love coupons to help with the project.

Give certificates promising to teach a skill (such as how to bake a cake or bread, how to change the oil in a car, how to sew on a button, how to build a fence, etc.).

Of course, even do-it-yourself projects require materials. It you’re trying to avoid capitalism this holiday season, don’t rush out to buy new supplies. Do an inventory of what you have on hand. Perhaps old supplies can be used for new projects. If you must buy materials, shop at thrift stores first. You might be able to get what you need via FreeCycle or you could trade supplies with a crafty friend. If you must purchase new materials, try to buy local, from small businesses.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Hopefully you’ll be able to use the ideas in this post to remove at least some of the capitalism from your holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Las Posadas, Solstice, Hanukkah, Festivus, or Kwanzaa, you’ll be able to give meaningful gifts that won’t line the pockets of the already rich.

I realize the first part of this post focuses mostly on Christmas. I understand that other holidays are also celebrated during the winter season. However, Hanukkah, Las Posadas, Solstice, Festivus, and Kwanzaa are not known for their contributions to rampant consumerism. Also, the gifts mentioned in this post (with the exception of Christmas tree ornaments) are suitable for all gift-giving occasions.

I have not tried any of the projects to which I have linked in this post, so I cannot vouch for instructions given. The links are simply starting points for your own research. I hope they help. Also, I have not and will not receive any compensation for linking to other websites in this post.

Kick in the Nuts

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It’s not a good sign when the work day starts with wanting to kick a customer in the nuts.

I’d opened the fuel center that morning, and even though I’d gone to bed at 8:30 the night before, I was tired. I hadn’t stopped for coffee at the one open-all-night convenience store on my route although I was close to falling asleep at the wheel several times during my commute. My spirits hadn’t lifted any when I looked at the schedule and saw I had to open the next two days as well as two days later in the week. One month on the job and I was already burnt out.

Still, I was trying to do a good job. I counted the money in the cash register drawer, unlocked the coolers, and made sure all the merchandise was neat. Then I went to each pump and cleared paper jams in the receipt printers. Maybe I would make it through this day.

Photo of Tire Inflator at a Gas Station

While I was cleaning one of the gas pumps, a young woman approached me and asked for help with the air machine. She’d used her credit card to pay for her five minutes of pressurized air, but she wasn’t sure she was using the hose properly because the car’s sensor still said the tire’s air pressure was low. I said I’d try to help, but warned her I had zero training in how to work the air pump.

What does this number mean? the young woman asked pointing to the machine’s screen. I had to admit I had no idea.

She said when she’d tried before she’d removed the hose from the tire before the machine beeped. She wondered if that might have been the problem.

Could be, I said, but I had no idea.

During my interaction with the young woman, I’d seen a man approach the fuel kiosk. I have a strict one-customer-at-a-time policy, so I continued to try to help the young woman.

I look at it this way: whatever customer I’m with at the moment deserves my undivided attention. When I’m finished helping that customer, I’ll move on to the next one and give that person my undivided attention. Even if the line in front of me is long, I can get through if I concentrate on one customer at a time. Besides, I get distracted and make mistakes if I try to do too many things at once (and by “too many,” I mean “more than one”).

I saw the waiting customer look over and realize I was the worker on duty. Probably the fluorescent pink safety vest gave me away.

I’ll be right with you, I called out to the guy, and he started grumbling loudly, acting as if he’d never in his life had to wait in line at a gas station.

I wasn’t really helping the young woman with the air pump, so I excused myself. The young woman apologized for asking for help, and I assured her it was no problem.

As I walked back to the kiosk, I turned on the (fake) good cheer, and said, Sorry for the wait! I was helping the lady with the air pump.

Up until this point, I was a little miffed with the guy’s impatience, but not really angry with him. Maybe he had a good reason to be in a hurry. Maybe he was on his way to work or a medical appointment. Maybe he couldn’t afford to be late. However, what he said next caused a flash of white-hot anger to shoot through my being.

She should know how to do it herself, he sneered. It’s not that hard.

This was when the desire to smash his testicles reared up inside of me. His attitude was so unkind. There was no reason for him to say such a thing. I was furious. I hurried to the kiosk before my leg could shoot out and land my foot between his legs.

I killed him with kindness through the bulletproof glass of the kiosk. I hope he knew I didn’t mean one bit of my niceness.

I know violence doesn’t solve anything and an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. I know being an asshole to an asshole only increases the world’s net sum of assholeness. I know the company I work for does not condone kicking (even deserving) customers. I know I behaved the right way, did the right thing, but I really wanted to be an angel of vengeance and righteous anger in that moment.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-tire-inflator-at-a-gas-station-1886580/.

Why I Quit My Job (Blog Post Bonus)

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Today is my last day as a clerk in a fuel center! By this evening, I will be a free woman!

Photo of Car on Gas Station

I started working in the fuel center (aka gas station) at a supermarket in mid-June of 2019. It was the only job offer I’d gotten after a half-assed job search, so I took it. I immediately disliked the job, although I did find some good aspects of it. Reason after reason to hate the job piled up as the weeks went by; here are 13 reasons why I quit.

#1 Working the opening shift. The worst days on the job were the ones where I had to open the fuel center at 5:45am. I lived about 40 minutes from where I worked, so I had to leave around five o’clock to get there on time. I move super slow in the morning, so I had to get out of bed no later than 4:15 in order to leave the house on time.

I’m typically an early riser. I wake up around the time the sun rises, anywhere from 5:30 to 7:00 (if I sleep in), but getting out of bed in the dark is difficult for me. Also difficult? Making a 40 minute drive in the dark. There were many mornings I knew I was falling asleep at the wheel, but I kept driving.

To be fair, once I arrived at work and got into the swing of things, I was ok, especially if I had a cup of coffee on my way in. However, at the end of the day I was physically and mentally demolished, especially since I never got to bed early enough on the nights before opening shifts.

#2 Having to deal with fuel and the chemicals used to clean it.  I had to clean up fuel spills nearly every day. To clean up spilled fuel, I sprayed another chemical on top of it, scrubbed the chemical soup with a long-handled brush, then used super absorbent pads to soak up the whole mess. What kind of chemical neutralizes fuel? I have no idea. Is that chemical safe for long-term exposure to humans? I have no idea. I’m pretty sure gasoline fumes and car exhaust are no good for human people, even if the chemical used to clean the spills is harmless.

#3 Lack of hand-washing facilities. There was no sink and no soap in the

Person Wash Hands

fuel center kiosk. We were supplied with vinyl gloves and hand sanitizing gel, but those things are not as good as using soap and water (in my opinion). There was a water spigot at the far edge of the fuel center, and I suppose I could have brought my own soap, but such a hand-washing situation was inconvenient at best.

#4 Limited breaks.  If I worked less than 8 hours, I was allowed one 20 minute break. In that 20 minutes I had to walk across the parking lot and into the store to get to the break room, wash my (filthy) hands, use the restroom, wash my hands again, eat my lunch, then walk back through the store and across the parking lot. If someone was in the only employee restroom when I got there or if I had to heat my food in the microwave, I lost precious minutes.

If I worked an 8 hour shift, I got two 15 minute breaks. Two breaks are better than one, but getting everything done in 15 minutes was an even bigger challenge.

When I worked the morning shift, a cashier from the supermarket would come out to give me a break right around 9am. When I worked afternoons, I was supposed to get a break around 3pm, but good luck with that! A customer service manager (CSM) told me early in my fuel center career that I was out of sight/out of mind, and if I wanted a break, I’d have to remind the person in charge of scheduling. After I was given this bit of info, every afternoon I worked, I paged the CSM on duty to remind them about my break.

The CSM on duty might not have been prompt about giving me a break, but I sure as hell needed to be prompt about leaving and returning in my allotted amount of time.

U.s. Dollar Banknote Lot

One morning just as my relief showed up, the cash register prompted me to make a safe drop. I said I’d do it when I got back. My relief (a veteran cashier) pulled a long face and said the prompt would keep popping up the whole time I was gone. I knew he was right, so I stuck around for a few minutes to complete the safe drop. Then one of the big bosses arrived, and I had a couple of things to tell her. I was maybe five minutes late leaving.

When I returned to the kiosk, the person who had relieved me left immediately. I hadn’t been back two minutes when the phone rang. It was the CSM in charge of scheduling breaks calling to find out if her cashier had left. I said he had. She wanted to know why he was late returning to the supermarket. I explained I was late leaving because of the cash drop and having to talk to the store manager. She told me if I was late getting back from my break, it threw off the schedule of all the breaks that came after mine. She said if I was late leaving for a break, I’d have to take a shorter break so her schedule wasn’t messed up. I understood where she was coming from but her pissy attitude did not endear her to me.

I simply told her, I understand (which actually, I did) and made up my mind

Fireman Illustration

that I’d never be late leaving for a break again, no matter what was going on. Safe drop needed? Sorry. I’ll have to do it after my break. Irate customer? Sorry relief person, you’ll have to handle it because I have to go on my break. The fuel center is on fire? Could you go ahead and call the fire department and the management team because I have to take my break now?

The worst part about having only one break in a shift was that I only got to use the restroom once in 6 or 7 hours. I learned quickly that I needed to visit the restroom immediately before I started work, but some days I was desperate to see the toilet when my break rolled around.

One day I mentioned to one of the (female) store managers that three hours is a long time to go without a bathroom break. She said to just ask if I needed to visit the restroom during my shift, and they would get someone to the fuel center to cover for me. I appreciated her support but was skeptical of how asking for an extra break would work out. I could imagine the pissy CSM fussing at me for messing up her break schedule by having a bathroom emergency.

#5 Not knowing when my breaks would be. If I had known what time I was supposed to get my break, I’d have spent less time worrying I wasn’t going to get a break. I also wouldn’t have had to call the CSM to remind them I still needed a break. However, such a level of organization and communication was much too high of an expectation when dealing with the company I worked for.

#6 Being required to stand during my whole shift. Why do corporations think excellent customer service can only be provided while standing? I think I would have given better customer service if my feet and legs hadn’t hurt from standing for 6 or more hours. I guess the rule against sitting is part of the if you have time to lean, you have time to clean mentality, but I think morale would improve if cashiers were allowed to sit while ringing up sales.

#7 Having my availability ignored. When I applied for the job online, I had to provide my availability. I said I was available any time other than Tuesday mornings. When I was interviewed for the job, I told the assistant manager conducting the interview that I was not available on Tuesday mornings. The first several weeks I worked, I wasn’t scheduled to work before noon on Tuesdays (and often I got the entire day off), but suddenly I was scheduled to open on a Tuesday. No one asked me to do it as a special favor. No one apologized for scheduling during a time I said I couldn’t work. I strongly suspected that if I stayed at the job, I’d find myself scheduled on Tuesdays more and more often.

#8 I was working too much. When I was offered the job, I was told it was a part-time position. The assistant manager who hired me said the job offered no set number of hours. He said one week I might work 16 hours; the next, 23; another week I might work 35 hours. Since I was hired in June, I was consistently scheduled to work at least 32 hours each week. In reality, I never got out of there when I was scheduled to. I was lucky if I only worked 15 or 20 minutes extra at the end of a shift. Of course, I got paid for every extra minute I worked, but I’d rather have the time than the money.

Three shifts a week would have been ok, but five were too many.

#9 No sick leave with pay. When I was hired, the human resources person

Clinician Writing Medical Report

told me nothing about vacation time or sick leave. I found out later from a veteran worker in the supermarket that the state we worked in doesn’t require employers to provide sick pay. Guess what? Because they’re not required by the state to provide it, the company didn’t offer sick pay. This means anyone who is too sick to come into work doesn’t get paid for the shift.

I suspect workers who can’t afford to miss a day’s pay go to work no matter how sick they are. Most of the company’s employees work in a supermarket. Think about that for a moment. Those sick people are touching food. Even if they don’t touch the food directly, they’re putting their germy hands all over the packages containing food. Yuck! Now I understand why it sometimes seems like an illness is hitting everyone in town: germs are probably being spread through the supermarket.

#10 Selling tobacco products was a drag. From the day I started working

Close-up Photo of Red Cigarette Butt Lot

in the fuel center, I hated selling cigarettes, chew, and cheap cigars. I think using tobacco products is a bad idea, and I don’t like participating in people’s addictions in order to line someone’s pocket.(Every time I sold a pack of cigarettes, I ended the transaction by saying have a nice day, but I was thinking good luck with your lung cancer.)

I hated the hassle of checking IDs and entering birth dates in my POS (point-of-sale) system, but I hated even more the fear of getting busted for selling tobacco products to some underage kid. There just wasn’t enough time to do a thorough check of an ID when I had a line of customers, and I was worried someone was going to slip a fake one past me.

Selling tobacco products really slowed down my process. Although I’d learned the most popular brands and their varieties by the time I quit, searching for what the customer wanted took time. Then, unless the customer was obviously older than I was, I felt compelled to check the ID. All the while, the line behind the tobacco buyer grew.

I’ll be glad if I never have to sell a tobacco product again.

#11 Having too much responsibility. Not only did I feel responsible for not selling tobacco products to minors, I felt a huge amount of responsibility to make sure the fuel center did not go up in flames. The smallest fuel spill had me rushing outside to clean it up ASAP. I was constantly on the lookout for anyone smoking or doing any other stupid things that might lead to a fire.

Of course, I felt responsible for making correct change, helping each customer promptly, and being as polite as possible, but keeping the place from turning into the towering inferno was more than I had bargained for when looking for a summer job.

#12 The damned intercom system was driving everyone crazy. The intercom system was old and didn’t function very well. Often I’d press the button that was supposed to allow the person on the other side of the bulletproof glass to hear me speak, but something would go wrong with the system and the customer heard nothing. Sometimes the person on the other side of the glass spoke to me but no sound came through. Sometimes the sound that came through was garbled or crackly. Even on a good day, the poorly functioning intercom system was enough to irritate a saint. My customers and I were mere mortals and the misunderstandings caused by the crappy intercom system often led to frayed nerves and sharp tongues.

While I worked in the fuel center, a young man came out to repair the malfunctioning diesel pumps. (Spoiler alert: the diesel pumps were not repaired when he left.) When he was finished not fixing the diesel pumps, he worked on the intercom system.

He took a plate off the back of the intercom box and wiggled the wires hidden behind the plate. He said the intercom worked better now. Maybe it did, but not for long. I’m sure those wires wiggled right back out.

He said we could wiggle the wires back in ourselves if the intercom malfunctioned. Huh. I had neither a screwdriver to remove the plate, nor the time to remove it and futz around with wires. When people were in line to buy gas, they wanted to buy gas, not wait around for the clerk to repair the communication system.

I’m not surprised the company I worked for didn’t want to spend the money to get a modern, functioning intercom system in the fuel center. Why should the big bosses care if customers and workers alike are pissed off because communication is difficult? The big bosses don’t have to deal with it, and they’d rather save money instead of spend it to make the lives of workers easier.

#13 Dealing with grumpy people.  Oh lord. Grumpy customers. Grumpy coworkers. So many unhappy people, and they all seemed to want to bring me down to their level of agitation and dissatisfaction. I tried to be pleasant to everyone, but after being spoken to sharply several times in one shift, I was ready to pack it in. I will not miss the folks who wanted to take their troubles out on me.

Can you understand now why I quit the job? What would you have done? Would you have quit too or tried to stick it out until winter? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-car-on-gas-station-2440998/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-wash-hands-1327213/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/abundance-bank-banking-banknotes-259027/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/accident-action-danger-emergency-260367/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/clinician-writing-medical-report-1919236/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/dirty-addiction-cigarette-unhealthy-46183/.

Space Aliens

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These space aliens have probably never in their whole lives been to a gas station before today.

I swear some of the people who come to the fuel center where I work must be space aliens. I constantly want to ask people if they’ve never in their whole lives been to a gas station before today. I’m not talking about 15 year old kids, either. I’m talking about grown-ass adults of middle age or older.

Many confused space aliens, (aka my customers) have no idea what pump they’ve parked at when they come to the kiosk to pay. It seems to me it’s basic gas station procedure to be able to tell the cashier what pump to authorize. I know some percentage of my customers are illiterate or don’t speak English as their first language, which accounts for some of the confusion. However, these situations don’t account for all the people who come up to my window (or make it part of the way there) then have to turn around and look for the number of their pump so they can tell it to me. Space aliens, I tell you!

How much money do you folks want to spend on gas? No idea? I figured as much.

Another thing people who seem to have never been to a gas station do is come up to my window with no idea how much money they plan to spend. Folks constantly come up, open their wallets, and start counting their money. Once they determine the amount of their funds, then they decide how much gas to buy. Don’t they realize they’re going to have to give me money in order to make their purchase? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to count the money and decide how much to spend before approaching the kiosk? Apparently space aliens don’t think that way.

Space aliens often don’t understand how our loyalty rewards work either. Folks are often mad at me when I check their reward balance and tell them they’re not getting any discount today. I shop here all the time! one man/extraterrestrial said in anger before he stomped away. I tried to explain he had to earn 100 points (which typically means spending $100, although there are ways—bringing reusable shopping bags to pack groceries in, completing surveys, buying girt cards—to bump up one’s points) to receive a reward of 10 cents off the regular price per gallon of fuel. He was gone before I could help him reach an understanding. 

Let’s go to a gas station and study human behavior.

Often customers don’t know they have to lift the pump’s nozzle before they can select the fuel grade. This is somewhat understandable because at the other gas station chain in town, prepay customers tell the cashier what grade of gasoline they want. However, even there, if one is paying at the pump, one lifts the nozzle, then hits the button for the fuel grade desired. If the procedure isn’t obvious (and believe me, it must not be) the screen on the pump gives step-by-step instructions for pumping fuel. Perhaps space aliens should up their game on reading comprehension of American English before they try to pump gas in the USA.

The strangest that-person-must-be-an-alien encounter I had at the fuel center involved an (apparent) elderly man who didn’t understand beef jerky.

There’s a big merchandiser in the middle of the fuel center. It looks like a cooler; maybe once it was a cooler, but now it holds nonperishable items. One side is all snacks: chips, nuts, cookies, crackers, popcorn, energy bars, and cereal in single serving cups. The other side holds automotive supplies (fuel injector cleaner, motor oil, windshield washer fluid, etc.); a few big bags of chips; and an array of beef jerky.

I’d been outside when the man/alien pulled in. I’d told him good morning, and he attempted to chit chat with me. (He was probably trying to study human behavior). It was early in the morning—I’d opened the fuel center at 5:45—so I wasn’t very talkative.  Sure, I was polite, but I kept the interaction to a minimum. I was tired and wanted to expend as little energy as possible.

I didn’t get away with my silence for long.

Your cooler’s not working, I heard the man/alien say. He was standing by the merchandiser that looks like a cooler but isn’t a cooler. He must have opened the door and not felt the gust of chilled air he expected.

It’s not a cooler, sir, I told him.

But there’s meat in there! he said frantically.

It’s jerky, sir, I told him.

How did he look in there and see meat but not realize it was jerky? The meat in the cooler/not a cooler was in bags hanging from hooks not in trays lying flat like in a grocery store meat department. Also, if he had really looked at the meat, he would have seen it was brown and dry, not red and moist like raw meat. If those clues didn’t lead him to understand this meat was not perishable, perhaps the word “jerky” on the packaging would have offered him the information he needed. Besides, what gas station sells raw meat as snack food?

 It’s meat! he insisted. He wasn’t wrong, but he was confused.

Jerky doesn’t have to be refrigerated, sir, I explained.

How does he not know that? I wondered. How could anyone over the age of 25 not know that jerky doesn’t need to be refrigerated?

The only answer I could come up with? Space alien!

I took all the photos in this post at the Alien Fresh Jerky store in Baker, CA.

No Sugar

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The Man and I had spent a quiet night at a state park in a rather remote location. We woke up early, as we tend to do, and The Man realized he’s forgotten to buy ground coffee before we left civilization. The Man needs to drink his coffee every morning or he gets irritable and ends up with a headache. Since he wasn’t going to be able to make his own, he said we really needed to head back into town.

I wasn’t ready to leave the state park; I’d paid my $7–my half of the $14 camping fee–and I wanted to get my money’s worth, dammit! However, what could I do when my partner needed his fix? I could wish he’d thought about being out of coffee when there was a Wal-Mart nearby. I could wish he wasn’t a coffee fiend. I could wish whatever I wanted to wish, but my wishing wasn’t going to change the fact that he needed coffee and we didn’t have any. So we packed up the dog and the few items we’d left out on the picnic table during the night, and he drove the van to the town where we were headed, about twenty miles away.

When we got to town, he decided he didn’t want gas station coffee or McDonald’s coffee. He wanted good coffee, coffee from a local coffee shop. He asked me to use my phone and ask the GoogleMaps lady to find us a local coffee shop.

As we pulled up to the place the GoogleMaps lady had found for us, I saw it was just a drive-thru, not a place where we could go in and sit down.  A drive-thru is fine, except for the fact that the van’s driver side window doesn’t roll down. I usually avoid drive-thrus for that reason, but The Man was driving, and he wanted coffee, so I figured he could deal with the window situation.

The second thing I noticed about the place was the Bible verse posted on their sign. I wish I had taken a photo of that sign! I don’t remember what it said, but I immediately knew it had something to do with Christianity. I told The Man, This is some kind of Jesus place.

Neither of us is really into Christianity, although we both think Jesus himself was probably a pretty cool guy. We wouldn’t go out of our way to support a business whose owners are flaunting their religious beliefs, but we wouldn’t necessarily leave for that reason either. This place had coffee, and The Man wanted coffee, so we would go through with our transaction, Bible quote notwithstanding.

There were several cars in line, so we joined the queue. Two wholesome young people–a man and a woman–approached the van. The Man opened his door to facilitate communication. The wholesome young man mentioned the coffee shop was having a fundraiser. He said he and the woman were taking people’s orders before they drove up to the window in hopes of speeding up the transactions. So far, so good.

The Man told them he wanted a large cup of regular coffee. So far, so good.

Then The Man asked about sugar. The Man likes a lot of sugar in his coffee, as do I. However, because he always gets a large cup of coffee, he needs A LOT of sugar, as in twelve packets. Really, he just wants to pour sugar from a big container into his cup, but most places these days, offer no big containers of sugar, only little packets. I’ve heard a lot of rants lately about having to rip open twelve packets of sugar and pour them one-by-one into a tall cup of coffee.

Anyway, The Man asked the wholesome young people something about sugar, and I heard the young woman say she would go find out. She walked away from the van and over to the little building from whence the coffee was to come. She had a conversation with someone through the building’s window, then came back to the van.

They’re out of sugar, she said. Will Splenda be ok?

No, The Man said. Splenda will not be ok. Nevermind. We’ll go somewhere else.

How can a coffee shop be out of sugar? Don’t a lot of people take sugar in their coffee? I bet if Jesus had been around, he would have miraculously turned that Splenda right into sugar for us.

We ended up at a gas station for The Man to get his coffee. They had sugar too, in little packets that he ripped open and poured into his coffee one-by-one.

Easy Bake Oven

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It was a couple of weeks before Christmas, and I was in a Wal-Mart in the metro area of a large city in the Southwest. I was in a hurry. I’d grabbed what I needed and was booking it to the check out counter to pay for my purchases and get the hell out of there.

On the outskirts of the toy department, I saw an endcap stacked with boxes of Easy Bake Ovens.

I always wanted one of those and never got one, I thought idly.

Then I saw a young boy pictured on the box.

That’s nice, I thought. Hasbro is showing that boys like to bake too. Inclusivity is a wonderful thing…

Then I thought, WAIT! WHAT? as I realized the boy was dominating the use of the Easy Bake Oven.

Ever hear about those studies of toy advertisements that show boys are depicted as being more active while girls are depicted as passive? Thought that kind of thing went out of fashion in the 70s or maybe the 80s at the latest? Uh, no. We’re living in the second decade of the 21st century, and I’m showing you a real world example of sexism aimed right at kids.

So yeah, the boy is taking the active role in the baking game while the girls look on in admiration and wonder. Wow! the girl in the middle seems to be thinking, He sure can slide in that cookie sheet! (Gag! I hadn’t even thought of the sexual undertones of having the boy slide something long and thin into a small opening until I started ranting here. How could that seem like a good idea to the Hasbro’s marketing people?)

The girl in the purple shirt seems to be adoring his baking prowess.

In an article called “Care Bears vs. Transformers: Gender Stereotypes in Advertisements” (http://www.sociology.org/care-bears-vs-transformers-gender-stereotypes-in-advertisements/), references a study by B.A. Browne published in the Journal of Advertising in 1998 [Browne, B.A. (1998), “Gender stereotypes in advertising on children’s television in the 1990s: a cross-national analysis”.  Journal of Advertising, 27 (1), 83-97.] The study

provides further evidence of the substantial gender stereotyping that is found in advertisements.  According to Browne,

Boys appeared in greater numbers, assumed more dominant roles, and were more active and aggressive than girls. (p. 12)  In commercials containing both boys and girls, boys were significantly more likely to demonstrate and/or explain the product even when the product used was not sex-typed.

So um, yeah, Hasbro, sociologists already know this kind of gender stereotyping is a problem. You too should know it’s a problem and YOU SHOULDN’T DO IT!

While I’m ranting, can I point out just how white that group of kids looks? I know we can’t determine everything there is to know about a person’s ethnic and cultural heritage by the tone of her or his skin (and maybe the girl in the purple shirt is Latinx), but some diversity in skin tone could have gone a long way here.

What can parents do to combat this sexism and racism? Contact Hasbro and call them out on it. Send them links to this blog if you like. More importantly, talk to your kids–your girls AND your boys about this kind of gender stereotyping and racism. Point it out and have a discussion when only white kids are pictured playing with a certain toy. Tell your girls they don’t have to look at a boy with adoration simply because he knows his way around the kitchen, and tell your boys not to expect a girl to think they’re the greatest things since sliced bread just because they can put cookies in an oven.

In my ideal world, all people will take turns baking for each other because baking is fun and a cupcake is a lovely gift.

I took the photo in this post.

 

I’m Not Going to Tell You What to Do

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I’ve spent the last few days reorganizing my van home. It looks awesome, and I will definitely write about it and share photos.

What I won’t do, however, is say that other folks “should” or “need to” do what I did.

In the almost four years of being a single female van dweller, many people have told me I “should” or “need to” do this thing or buy that thing or go this place. (I swear to god [in whom I’m not even sure I believe], if one more gray-haired man tells me I “need” solar, I am going to lose my shit!) I have a rebellious nature. If someone tells me I “should” or “need to” do something, well that something goes to the bottom of the list of things I have any interest in doing.

However, the main reason I am not going to tell you what you need to do is because I don’t know what you need to do. I don’t know how your van is arranged (or if you even have a van, for that matter). I don’t know what things you want to tote around in your van or RV or travel trailer. I don’t know what your physical limitations are. Maybe plastic tubs make you grit your teeth and shake your head, and maybe you can’t stand the colorful tapestries I can’t seem to live without. What you need to do, what you should do, is what makes you happy, and I don’t know what exactly that is.

Recently, one of my readers told me she wished I’d “write a book on how to live free and still make enough money to live !!!!!” I responded. “I couldn’t really write a how-to book on living free…because everyone’s needs and desires are different. All I can do is tell people how I live. Maybe I can inspire people to figure out how to make living free work for them.”

I feel the same way about the organization of my van. I’ll tell you what I did, and I’ll show you photos too. I’ll answer questions. (I love to answer questions. Questions show me people are really interested in what I have to say. Please always feel free to leave questions in each post’s comments section.) But I won’t even pretend to believe that what works for me is going to make sense for anyone else.

My welcome mat, a carpet remnant bought for $1 at a thrift store. I took this photo.

Scam Artist: Western Dental

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Folks who’ve been reading my blog know that I had a lot of problems with my teeth this past spring, culminating in having a molar extracted. It’s been six months since my last cleaning, so I called to make an appointment at the local Western Dental office. I figured the dental chain would probably have lower prices than a dentist in a private practice. When I spoke to the woman on the phone (who was not in the same town where the dental clinic I’d be visiting was, but at some corporate office), I told her I needed to have my teeth cleaned. She told me there was a special running, and I could get the cleaning for $39.99 with free x-rays and exam.

On the day of my 10:30 appointment, I arrived early, at 10am. I tried to confirm with the receptionist that the cleaning would cost $39.99. I told her that was the price I was quoted when I made my appointment. She told me the exam and x-rays would be free, but she couldn’t quote me a price until after the dentist examined me and recommended treatment. She said if I needed an extraction or a root canal, it would cost more than $39.99. I told her I understood that, but I wanted to confirm the cost of the cleaning. I told her I didn’t want to spend any time there unless I was going to get a $39.99 cleaning. She said they would get to my cleaning that day, and that the $39.99 special was still in effect.

Although I arrived at 10am for the 10:30 appointment, I  was not called to the back until 11:15. At 11am I asked the receptionist how much longer I would have to wait. She confirmed my name and then left the front desk to ask someone when I would be seen. When she came back, she told me I would be next. I sat there another 15 minutes before the x-ray technician called me to the back.

When the x-ray tech asked me how I was doing, I told her I had not expected to sit in the waiting room for 45 minutes.  She apologized and said they were down one x-ray tech,but  she didn’t know why. She also acted like I was an idiot to have made an appointment on a Monday, which she said is pediatric dental clinic day. I didn’t know that because when I called to make the appointment, I talked to someone at the corporate office. In any case, I am not a pediatric patient, so I don’t know why the pediatric clinic determined when I was seen.

In addition to every messed up thing that happened in the office, I am also concerned about the x-ray tech flipping a switch in the hallway, then sticking her hands in my mouth. How often is that switch cleaned throughout the day? Also, although the computer keyboard was covered with plastic, she touched it after having her hands in my mouth. How often is that plastic changed? Is it changed after each patient? I shudder to think she’d had her hands in someone else’s mouth, then on the keyboard, then in my mouth, then on the keyboard. Gross!
 
After the x-rays were taken, the tech tried to get me into a cubical where I would be examined by the dentist, but none were available, so she sent me back to the waiting room. I sat there over 30 minutes. When I asked when I would be seen, a different receptionist tried to tell me the wait was so long because I was a new patient. The x-rays are computerized. They didn’t have to be developed. I don’t know what was taking so long.  I think I was repeatedly forgotten.
 
In any case, five minutes later, I was called to the back and put in a chair. The dentist was soon there to examine my mouth. I told him I was there for a cleaning, told him I had a regular dentist in another state, but needed a cleaning now while I am in the area working. He looked in my mouth for less than a minute, but managed to ask me a question I had just answered, showing me that he was not paying attention to what I was saying. (I had just told him I was working in the area. The next question out of his mouth was, “So you’re here for a visit?) He told me he had to write up his observations, then one of the “ladies” would be along to do my cleaning.
 
Ten minutes later a woman came over. I asked her if she were going to do my cleaning. She laughed and said, “We’ll get to that.” She was there to explain the cost of my treatment options. 
 
She immediately started talking about dental implants, even though I had given no indication I had any interest in dental implants. (If I wanted dental implants, I would have that work done by my regular dentist.) She was kind enough to tell me which of my teeth had been extracted. I laughed at her and told her I knew which of my teeth were missing. She tried to explain the payment plan for the implants I didn’t want and hadn’t asked about, but I told her I had no interest in implants, that I just wanted a cleaning.
 
Then she told me I need a filling to the tune of $303! That seems exceptionally expensive to me. I told her I was not prepared to have a tooth filled, that right now I just wanted to have my teeth cleaned. (At this point, I was beginning to feel like a broken record.)
 

She told me the cleaning would cost $197! WHAT? I had been quoted $39.99 for the cleaning.  I think this was the old bait and switch. You know what that is, right? That’s when a business quotes a low price to a potential customer, only to require a higher price when the customer is actually in the store.

The woman claimed to know nothing about the $39.99 special I was quoted over the phone. Strange, the first receptionist I talked to didn’t tell me there was no such the special, she said that special was still in effect, but the second woman told me the first woman must have been “confused.” I think they tried to trick me into paying more than they quoted me, thinking after they wasted so much of my time, I would just go along with whatever they said I needed to do. I got out of the chair and didn’t let them do any work on me. When the woman asked me if I wanted to take the paperwork explaining the cost of the procedures, I told her no, because I am never coming  back here.

When I walked out of the office, I was so angry! I called the Lady of the House to let her know what had happened, and I started crying while thinking about all the poor people this corporation is taking advantage of. The company gets poor people in there with the promise of free x-rays and payment plans, then jacks up the prices after keeping people there for hours and wearing them down. Luckily I escaped.

I have an appointment for a dental cleaning with a dentist in a nearby town scheduled for September 14. The price is $59.99 for x-rays, exam, and a basic cleaning. When I talked to the  office manager, she told me the dentist might recommend a deep cleaning, depending on the condition of my mouth, and said a deep cleaning costs more. But, she added, it would be up to me to decide if I wanted a basic cleaning or a deep cleaning.

Imagine that. I get to decide what’s best for me.

Earth Day

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astronomy, discovery, earth

Today is Earth Day.

According to http://www.earthday.org/earth-day-history-movement,

[e]ach year, Earth Day — April 22 — marks the anniversary of what many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.

The idea came to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment” to the national media; persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as his co-chair; and recruited Denis Hayes as national coordinator. Hayes built a national staff of 85 to promote events across the land.

As a result, on the 22nd of April, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.

Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. “It was a gamble,” Gaylord recalled, “but it worked.”

 

As 1990 approached, a group of environmental leaders asked Denis Hayes to organize another big campaign. This time, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It also prompted President Bill Clinton to award Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1995) — the highest honor given to civilians in the United States — for his role as Earth Day founder.

 

I hope Earth Day actually helps the earth. I’m afraid it’s just a day to make people feel better about their shopping habits when in reality their other 364 days of the year are anti-earth days. I’m not saying I’m an environmental angel. I drive a gas guzzling vehicle, I use electricity, and I love me a long hot shower. However, I’m also not walking around feeling like it’s ok to empty eight 8 oz plastic water bottles a day because I recycle them.

And on a side note rant, why does recycling get all the publicity when reduce and resuse come first? Hey, I actually know the answer to my own question. If consumers reduce and reuse first, big business isn’t going to make as much money off of us. Recycling is an afterthought. Corporations do NOT want us to buy less, so we’re made to feel a bit better about what we do buy when we’re told the empty container can be recycled.

Do we  know how much of what can be recycled actually is? I tried to find a statistic to share, but couldn’t find much information on this topic. According to https://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=47701,

[d]epending on the [public recycling] bin and on the city’s recycling system, between 60 and 80 percent of recycling is actually recycled. Those numbers have probably improved over the past few years…

The article goes on to compare single stream and multi-stream recycling programs in New York City and Phoenix at the turn of the 21st century. Of course, this article gives information only about what people put into public recycling bins, not what percentage of everything that can be recycled actually is.

Here’s my #1 tip for saving the earth: Stop buying all that brand new crap you don’t even need.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/sky-earth-galaxy-universe-2422/.

Earth Day Rant

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Ok, so this rant isn’t actually about Earth Day. Rather, it’s a rant about an image I found when I was looking for images to go with my Earth Day post. Honestly, I had no plan or desire to write a rant. I just wanted to say hey everybody, it’s Earth Day, think about what you can do to help the environment, here’s a little history of Earth Day, thanks for reading.

But when I scrolled through the images that popped up when I did a Google search on Earth Day, I saw this:

Hey everybody! Let’s use an image of a basically naked woman to save the earth! (Caption mine)

Really? It’s the 21st century, and that’s the image some folks are using to celebrate Earth Day? First of all, who is the intended audience of this image? Probably not a classroom full of 3rd graders. (However, certain members of a middle school environmental club might be very excited by this picture.) Is this an image somebody thought would get men interested in Earth Day? Even if this illustration is aimed at men/teenage boys/lesbins/fairy fans of any gender, will it actually influence anyone? I can’t imagine someone saying, I used to not give a fuck about the earth, but then I saw a picture of a naked chick covered in flowers, and now I CARE!

Is the woman in the picture supposed to be Mother Earth? I can halfway accept the image as Earth Day propaganda if someone can make a case that the woman is Mother Earth. But wouldn’t Mother Earth be fatter? Super models and actresses aside, most mothers do not have bellies that flat or breast that perky and full. Perhaps I’m mistaken and this is not Mother Earth, but Maiden Earth. (But really, have you ever once heard one single person refer to “Maiden Earth”?) Give me a picture of a chubby gal with stretchmarks (and extra points for body hair) representing Mother Earth on Earth Day, and I’ll get behind that.

I think this is yet another example of using a socially acceptable, beyond natural (and I’m not talking about the pointy ears and the flowers for hair), “perfect,” skinny, young woman’s body to sell something. I don’t think this is an acceptable way to sell anything, but especially not Earth Day.

Earth Day Comments & Graphics

This gal is more what I have in mind when I think of Mother Earth.

(Both images from http://www.magickalgraphics.com/earthday2.htm, where they “offer beautiful free Earth Day graphics, animations, comments, glitter, pictures, Images and codes.”)