Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A $400,000 October

Tuesday afternoon I arrived at work to discover we had sold $40 of merchandise. Which was how much we were paying a young man to dance for three hours outside the store in a wolf costume - and $140 shy of what we payed the regular staff to be there to that point. We ended the night at $166, or about $624 shy of what we sold that same day last year. It was a low ebb. We have the staff, we have the fun store, there is plenty of awareness. But we are tracking at about 30% compared to last year. Next week is the Zombie Pub Crawl. If that week is not enormous, that will not presage well a profitable business.

Anything less than a $400,000 October will be the end, likely, of Monster Halloween (in America). $400,000 would mean a reasonable profit to the partners, on their three year investment, the staff would be entitled to a bonus, there would be talk about opening a year-round establishment, which would help vitalize the neighborhood, and I would have a near guarantee of income, for the first time in years. HD Masks would have seed money, and I could finally take this house off the grid. I want to plant hops, fruit trees and shrubs, and a vineyard. I can imagine passive solar as a partial solution to the heating problem at the Washington Ave site. Less than $400,000 by degrees, means there is less likely money to pay me for my work for HD Masks, at any rate according to market value, and I will likely descend into a long cold winters exploration of the nether reaches of consciousness, with my potatoes and my cookies and my seeds, with the house for sale.

Longer term, the Halloween industry is doomed. There are some who say there is plenty of oil, in sand flats and shale deposits, but if it comes to that kind of exploitation, so we can ship oil to China, so they can make and ship us cheap Halloween costumes, then Humanity is without hope of redemption. I sometimes don't know whether to pray for the demise of commercialism, or for the health of our store. It is an impossible paradox at times, the difference between the fossil-fuel derived merchandise we are selling, most of which is destined for landfills, and the need to sell it to support my continued existence in my house, while helping the partners achieve some kind of success.

Wednesday I spent most of the day contemplating the failure of our venture, which would mean the failure of my vision for this house. If Monster Halloween isn't a success, then my judgment for pushing this location is suspect, and I might as well give up this house and drift off into whatever. Late into the evening we were tracking at a third of what we'd done this day last year. Most of the day when I wasn't contemplating the failure of the venture, I was cutting back people's hours, none more than my own, which will be cut this week by about eighty percent. This, with two people Thursday, out of five, not showing up for work. I won't be working much at all the next four days. I suppose it's the mark of a good manager that his business run without him, except that I don't get paid if I'm not working, which means I've managed myself right out of the means to pay the bills. Genius.

In the last hour Wednesday we sold more merchandise than we did all day. A former mayor came in and bought a leg, a vial of blood and some spiders, and a kettle to carry them in. Several beautiful couples came in and purchased costumes. We didn't match last years total but we came a lot closer than we did Tuesday. It was a lot more fun that night than it has been. And then there was a request for the green man to appear at the Renaissance Festival this Saturday. It just so happens I have the day off. That should be fun.


The days off have past. I went to the Renaissance Festival this weekend, and was saddened by the overwhelming commercialism of the venture. Much of the spirit has vacated the place, or so it seemed that day of the Queen's coronation, which happened, though I was on the grounds and did not hear a word about it. In such a Renaissance-age village, one might think everyone would flock to see the Queen, on her coronation. There were no heralds, no jesters, no one calling of the ceremony, to draw people away from the vendors. Yes, the vendors have to make money, just as we do at Monster Halloween, but where has the culture strayed, when even the Queen dare not compete with consumer spending?

That, and there was very little of the heckling like I remember. when I was last there, 25 years ago. It was like some sort of corporate overloads stepped in and demanded, "tone it down!" The pickle vendors were without a voice. We Minnesotans are a touchy people, not to be made fun of. The one guy who heckled me was the dude in the fake stocks, sixty feet from the tomato launching pad. It was a good thing they gave me tomatoes that had already been thrown, because I could have taken the dude's eye out with those leather-hard industrial things, if they were whole. With two left he ripped off his bandanna and flung his long curly locks around, mocking my receding hair line. The last tomato hit the wood just below his head, gobs of tomato guts splashing upwards onto his face and up his nose. The crowd had a laugh. I didn't really want to hit him anyway.

I wore my wood swords. I made them. I saw many other swords, all steal, very nice looking, hardly a man wearing one who looked like he knew how to use it. Puke and Snot were the only ones I saw using swords, but they, the swords, were fake (Puke and Snot, the longest running act in Renaissance Festival history, were spot-on fun.) No one asked if I knew how to use mine. I met a sword maker who makes the only true swords I have ever seen. He picked up the very one I was admiring, to show me. It cost as much money as I have in the world. Which is fine, because I have no desire to cut anyone. What is the sword anyway, in this age when any idiot with a hand and fingers can pull a trigger, and any jerk can lead him?

The green man didn't make an appearance. Though had I known what the day would look like, I would have brought what I needed in with me, and crashed the staff-only after-party. (Thinking about it now, I'm a little surprised I didn't just get myself painted up and crash the party anyway - except that I was a little ill with a nasal infection, I drank too much, and I didn't have any bud.)

It's looking less and less like I'm going to have the money to maintain this house, or take it off the grid, like I've dreamed. If I have to sell it and give up that dream, I think I'll stop dreaming about achieving anything in this life altogether, and simply live. Without this house, then it's not the house, but myself I'll take off the grid - off the rez, so to speak. Who knows where that will lead? I'm thinking now of emptying the house and the garage of everything but my computers, my bikes, my canoe and some clothes. Quite honestly, homelessness doesn't sound so bad, knowing I can live outside too. The potato harvest looks like it's going to be a bust. Too wet the first half of the summer, too dry the second half and I didn't water much. I was shocked at how dry the soil was, when I began the harvest. Shocked more, at how few potatoes there were, and how small. The wine I spent two days making, is ruined. Nothing is certain in this life.

Though I did sample forty of my immature heavenly blue morning glory seeds, last night, in despair, weary of my life (as it is). I've come to a place knowing that no man or woman can do anything to pull me out of the dark place I find myself in, but me. Little happened, until I fell asleep.

If I could dream like that every night, I would be considerably stronger than I am.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bad Judgment

Here I am again, at the front desk of Monster Halloween. An employee and I just smudged the building; though I said to Dave, of Mind Wave Comics, that if there was energy in the building that was negative, in need of clearing, it was that we have filled this building that was once filled with flowers, with fossil fuel derived costumes, costumes accessories and home decor. Then again, the basement is full of wheelchairs, and the men who built the building thought nothing about the use of the sun to heat a building. And by smudging I mean only the burning of sage and the speaking to ancestors and the Goddess and the Earth that I acknowledge my place in the arrangement. Which came at the end of a long day, after a day in which I had been accused of a kind of theft by one of the partners, and today, the next-door Vikings, upon whom we have been depending, losing another game in inglorious fashion.

Sales have been tracking significantly lower than last year's. We've built what I wager to be one of, if not the coolest Halloween store in America, and few people have seen it, and far fewer still have supported us with the dollars that are required to maintain it. As to the accusation of theft, I brought this upon myself, as I used a business credit card to pay three personal bills.

That I did not have the means to pay the bills when they were due, otherwise, does not change the fact that I didn't tell the partners what I was doing. That I fully intended to pay them back with the cash that, at the time I did not have because my credit union puts a seven day hold on my pay check, does not in any way prevent the assessment of this as bad judgment - which then calls into question everything I do and every decision I have made, in the management of this Halloween store in downtown Minneapolis (including everything I said that helped lead us here.) I did this at a time when this particular partner is particularly anxious about being over-extended. He asked a multitude of his business mentors about it, and every one of them told him to fire me. He didn't, because he would have to quit his job, and he has a wife and a kid. That he could fire me, without any harm to Monster Halloween or HD Masks, is not a risk he is willing to take. That I thought I had built sufficient trust, in my service to the partners and their businesses, was plainly naive, and perhaps a sign of a greater naiveté that has lead me to that service? It is all reason again for me to question what it is I do and where I am, and why? And wonder again how it is I have come to this strange place.

I've been dancing again, on the street, though it isn't as much fun as it was in Uptown, last year. The traffic is heavier and the drivers are angrier, colder. I surmise they are all working downtown and they hate their corporate jobs, driving home from those jobs when I am trying to embody joy, there on the curb in my orange afro and wacky jacket and gold and glittering bronze shoes. It's also true that I haven't really worked out the new dance playlist; and, the aforementioned partner no longer seems eager to have me out there, representing the store. He'll have to fire me to keep me from dancing (for Monster Halloween), though.

My heavenly blue morning glories are still doing well, flowering every morning and making seed. I've been listening to Terence Mckenna again, dissatisfied with the vast majority of discourse I encounter, and I'm struck by my desire to explore the internal landscape, of dreams, and altered consciousness. I mean to map that landscape, as much as I am able. Part of me wants to take my potatoes and morning glory seed and float down the Mississippi. But I would rather be here, taking my house off the grid, planting fruit trees, tripping periodically and having the time and stability to contemplate it while reporting faithfully.

Because as much as I get down on this fossil fuel derived endeavor we call civilization, I wonder too if we are not somehow the Earth becoming conscious of itself, or attaining some form of higher consciousness through this increasingly connected, boundary dissolving species, Homo sapien sapien? I am curiously drawn to this notion of Mckenna's that we as a species are being drawn toward some singular point by some strange attractor, and that point will mean a change unlike anything the human mind is capable of imagining.

But then, I am human, and I make mistakes, and I am prone to errors in judgment, and I and my ideas about anything are ever to be questioned. I don't claim to be right. I only claim to report faithfully.

And now that I think about it further, I used that card a fourth time, to buy wine making supplies - wine which is now spewing out of carboys and their air locks, all over my sister's kitchen floor.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Toy Guns, deux.

The store is in place, making quite an impression, many people walking through the store, overheard saying, "this place is so cool!" I have assembled an excellent staff, who are mostly responsible, as I have been mostly chained to this desk pouring myself into orders and packing slips and interviews and emails et al, on less than six hours sleep any night except last night (6.5), the last three weeks, or something like that. I don't really recall, there is so much to remember, and I have stretched myself to some sort of limit.

I'm sitting at the front desk writing, knowing I can return to my house tonight after two nights here, and sleep in. And yet I'm in no hurry to return, as the business we've built is much more comfortable than my house. The only thing I have to return to is my plants, who I miss. I'm hoping Tuesday morning to make wine, with the grapes at my sister's. I might even take the next three mornings off. Though it's a critical time, the partners are leveraged to the hilt, and traffic and sales have been anemic. We thought the Vikings football opener, five blocks away might help. The Vikings were up 17-0 at the half, though the radio announcers made note of how quite the crowd was. Rosie, the General Manager of next door's Maxwell's, stopped by to ask how sales were. He said Maxwell's was slow too. The Vikings seemed to be infected by the mood, losing 24-20.

We've grown increasingly pessimistic about the location we've chosen, and it seems we may have ordered too much merchandise. That, and a critical vendor, Rubies, is considerably late with a delivery of makeup and fake blood, which is critical to our making some kind of profit from this venture. Without that, for the Zombie Pub Crawl, we aren't necessarily sunk, but the hull will have been breached, of this peace pirate ship called Monster Halloween. It's preposterous for me to even care, knowing as I do how bad all of it is for the Earth, except that I'm aware of the financial risk the partners have taken, and there are at least twenty people who are depending upon the income generated, including myself.

So it is, for all of us, as we trend toward that precipice called the changing of everything, or the like, for those in the know. I overheard two elders on the light rail; one, of the so-called greatest generation, the other a clear boomer, the one sounding like a local radio celeb, the other like a politician or a member of the Metropolitan Commission, talking about all the light rail that would be built. I thought, how much light rail there had been in Minneapolis, and how much there could have been, and now the hour is very late.

I checked in an order of fake guns last night. I ordered them, replicas from a Tennessee company called Parris MFG. They take their replica's very seriously, at Parris. They sent us a pair of boxes of matching Confederate and Union hats which we didn't order. I'm not sure what to make of that, or the warning, or advocation, that these toys are, "appropriate for ages 5 and up." As I was entering these items into the system, a song was heard on The Current, with the refrain, "All the other kids better run, run, run, faster than my bullets," a very catchy tune. Last year at this time I was building a monster out of toy AK-47's, M-16's and Uzi's. This year, I'm contemplating Americans using these guns against each other.

I don't want to be. I think instead I'll close up shop and head next door to see if Rosie is working. Or maybe I'll just go home and sleep.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Solitude Interrupted

Well, it's been some time since I last posted. What a time it has been. I've been investing 12-16 hours every day, the last two weeks, in Monster Halloween. Along with the staff, I'm transforming this 92 year old building that had been filled with flowers for 50 years prior to the last five, into the coolest Halloween shop in the Midwest, and maybe America. The transformation has been astounding, and I'm the only one privileged to see most of that progress. The staff is shaping up; I have a core of strong people from last year's store, and some who've worked the last two years, exceeding my participation. The most recent hires, three impressive young women: one, a clothing designer inspired by David Bowie, to replace last years clothing designer, who rumor has it, had some sort of hand in the design of Kim Kardashian's wedding dress; another woman, from a military family, with an abundance of steel in her face (literally) and a radically elaborate neo-gothic style, who trains horses; another young woman of extraordinary beauty, who Twittered as she worked, with impressive presence, who has fans on her blog and Twitter account more than I, by a factor of 100.

The absurdity of my life is profound in a way that I can only describe. I am currently smoking pot and drinking beer at 2:52 AM, listening to my Sing playlist, the only time I've dedicated to writing, in ten days or more, and I can hardly spell - thanks be, to my new Linux Ubuntu Lemur thingamagiggi. I'm sitting under a lamp, at the front desk, my back to the widows open to the sidewalk on Washington Ave, downtown Minneapolis. I've slept an average 6 hours a night, these two weeks, and there is much left to do, before we open, this coming Thursday the 15th. Today's management started at 9 AM, ending at 1:30 this morning, after a conversation with a conservative hire, who was rock-solid for us last year, in which I tried to awaken him to the idea that it is not just the poor who have brought this country to the precipice of ruin - this tenth anniversary of the terror attacks of 9/11. I missed the last train at 1:22.

My tomatoes would be rotting on the vine but for a neighbor. The wine grapes at my sister's are ready for harvest. I'm trying to imagine a way to harvest and ferment the juice, between now and the opening of the store. The store is progressing nicely. As manager, and generally, I am on task and clear and relaxed as I've ever been - women have begun to notice; and yet I have neither a toilet or any functioning drain in my house but for the basement washing machine rigged with pvc to the floor drain - oh and what the fuck, raging around my house Friday morning at two AM, ripping apart the plugged tub and shower drain, wondering how in the fuck it is I came to this weird place, trying to save the world, off-the-grid or something or other, what the...? in my house that has descended into what has all the appearance of a homeless man's abode.

In deference to at least one government program, how thankful I have been for the Hiawatha Light Rail, that I have awakened every morning at my house, since the Halloween store began in earnest, since my Heavenly Morning Glories began to bloom. It looks like I'm sleeping here tonight @ Monster Halloween. Oh right, and I maintain a blog.

Taking another sip of beer at 3:28, wondering about another puff. A starling flew in the back door today, and didn't want to, or have the sense to leave, or it was sent. Several crickets have taken residence. There was a grasshopper on my computer screen today, as I was entering Cinema Secrets products into our point of sale system, liquid latex, face paint, latex zombie prosthetics and the like. Our system is designed and run by Canadians, and it is maddening. Somehow, we chose a Canadian web-design firm to handle the HD Mask website, as well. As Creative Director, I've given these Canadians as clear and concise direction as I am capable of, and they have consistently returned, asking me to resend documents, and complaining that they haven't received adequate direction, even as they betray that they haven't actually read the slim trail of emails, or the content on the website they are designing. They've done a decent job otherwise, from an engineering aspect, except for the spacing thing between words and punctuation, on certain pages, and the squashing of certain product images. I met the designers of our Monster Halloween point of sale system, this past January, in Houston at the Halloween Expo. They talked of vast changes to the website, but it was clear today as I was entering merchandise manually, which I shouldn't have to do, that they haven't done a damn thing with the site but make it more inefficient, which would be an impossibility if not for the changes that were made last year, at our oft-repeated and almost as often ignored request. I have an employee who is brother-in-law to one of the store owners, who is a nice guy and who I like, but he doesn't always listen well, he's too often looking for a short-cut, and he doesn't always bother to measure or plumb or think things through, who I am relying upon for certain construction projects, because I'm manager and I built the stairs and the desk and the back door but I can't build the store myself.

Pack another, at 4am. Crack another. Staff showing up at 10. What was my point? Oh yes, I manage a Halloween store, full of fossil-fuel derived replicas of archetypes, time periods and fantasies. I'm looking now past a collection of beer bottles at a plastic valkyrie, perched upon blue plastic crystals, winged with a sword like a gun and a shield that isn't as big as either of her breasts, with a diameter equal to her waist, thigh-high white tights with a golden fringe, with a golden waist-clasp with a piece of purple fabric hanging in the front and the back, retrieved from the ample remains of last years pile of Miami merchandise, apropos and absurd but meaningful nonetheless. She watches over the desk.

Even the crickets have gone to sleep. Oh wait, there's one, further afield than before. Now he's letting go. I found a harmonica in the building. What a gift that has been, a world of sound I've never heard. I've been thinking about a band, and a Halloween party. That would be fun. But all I do is sing and dance. I drum and play this mouth harp, but like just about everything else I do, I do alone. What do I know about music? And yet here I find myself, managing a Halloween store at the heart of this metropolitan region, in the twilight of this great Empire. And now there are two crickets out there in the field, a call and response. Hmm, what a trip, this life. I think I'll crack another, and puff, just because. At five, going on six.