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Ramadan

I had a pretty busy day. In the morning I went to one of the trainings and town hall meeting for the Poor People’s Campaign in the morning. In the afternoon I decided to go to Third Eye Comics in Annapolis, since that day was also Free Comic Book Day nationwide. (If all that weren’t enough, it was also Cinco de Mayo. I ended up eating tacos at home that I made myself using ingredients that I purchased from Aldi. I learned a long time ago that it’s total folly to attempt to eat in any kind of Mexican/Hispanic/Latino restaurant on Cinco de Mayo.)

So after checking out the Poor People’s Campaign, I drove to Annapolis. I arrived at Third Eye Comics only to find that parking was harder to find than usual. I ended up parking a few blocks away in an office park, which had some nice wall murals.

The next photo shows how crowded that store was. The next photo shows the line to the checkout counter.

I saw these vintage Atari video game cartridges on sale. I remember when Atari originally came out but I never owned one mainly because I was in college at the time and money was a bit tight at the time. It never bothered me that I never owed an Atari because my college (the University of Maryland) had plenty of arcade games on campus and some of the local off-campus fast food places also had arcade games.

I saw a few other interesting things on sale at Third Eye Comics.

I came across a whole aisle full of the ever-popular Funko Pop! statues. I found one new trend: Funko Pops based on real dead rock stars like Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead and Joey Ramone of The Ramones.

There were plenty of Funko Pops based on comic book and video game characters such as Rocket Raccoon, Mega Man, Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent, Wonder Woman, Batman, Batwoman, and Batgirl.

I also found an actual WTF t-shirt and a special edition of the Monopoly game board based on the latest Jurassic Park movie called Jurassic World.

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Ramadan

Last month I was browsing through Target where I took these pictures. Later this month the latest installment in the ever-popular Jurassic Park movies, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, will be released. I saw so many LEGO and Duplo sets that one could easily create his/her own Jurassic Park in the privacy of his/her home. I have a friend on Facebook who is mad about dinosaurs so I took a whole slew for her benefit. Knowing her, she has probably purchased at least one or two of these sets by now. (LOL!)

The Jurassic Park/Jurassic World hype isn’t limited to just LEGO and Duplo. I saw this poster book on sale that includes tearaway poster pages that one can hang on a wall.

Soon after our wedding my new husband and I took a trip to the Orlando area where we spent the bulk of our time at Walt Disney World. Throughout our marriage we kept up with Disney and Mickey Mouse and we made a few return trips to Disney World while making a few trips to the original Disneyland theme park in California. I used to be well-versed on when a Disney anniversary was coming. Ever since my husband left and my marriage ended in divorce, I had let my Mickey Mouse fixation slide big time. (The majority of Mickey clothes I still own were ones that I either bought or were given to me while I was still married.) If it weren’t for seeing these special Mickey Mouse edition of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers on sale at Target, I would have totally missed the fact (which is printed on the back of these packages) that this year is the 90th anniversary of the release of Steamboat Willie, which unleashed both Mickey and his girlfriend, Minnie Mouse, on the world.

Nintendo’s latest video game system is the Switch. (I still have the original Nintendo Wii and Sony Playstation 2, which should give you an idea as to how far behind I am on the latest video games. LOL!) One interesting thing is that Nintedo has come out with the Nintendo Labo, which definitely taps into the current STEM/STEAM/Maker movement.

I also saw another STEM/STEAM/Maker focused product on sale at Target. Google has a line of AIY, which are described as “Do-it-yourself artificial intelligence.” The products I saw on sale that day were an intelligent speaker and an intelligent camera.

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Ramadan

A look at the digital ruins of a forgotten future called Second Life.

U.S. mints coins for Donald Trump-Kim Jong Un summit that might not happen.

Fewer tourists are coming to the U.S. and experts say that it’s largely Trump’s fault.

Barbie “Shero” doll with a hijab honors Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad.

Martin Luther King may have been killed by a Memphis police officer, not James Earl Ray.

How white Americans used lynchings to terrorize and control black people.

Laminated jewelry crafted from vintage books by Jeremy May.

A look at the guerrilla grafting movement—secretly grafting fruit-bearing trees onto ornamental city trees in order to feed the poor.

A Princeton sociologist spent 8 years asking rural Americans why they are so pissed off. Hint: It’s not about the economy.

The surprising secret to aging well.

New York City has genetically distinct “uptown” and “downtown” rats.

Why the DNC is fighting WikiLeaks and not Wall Street.

How Australia all but ended gun violence.

83,500 vintage sewing patterns put into online database from Vogue, McCall’s, Butterick, and Simplicity.

Stunning images of pagan costumes worn at winter celebrations around the world.

Watch the illustrated version of “Alice’s Restaurant,” Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving Counterculture Classic.

The bots that are changing politics.

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Today is Tax Day in the United States, which means that everyone must file his/her state and federal tax returns today or else. Unless you happen to be President Donald Trump, which means you can continue to somehow evade paying taxes (and maybe not even bother with filing), brag about being smart for not paying taxes, deny ever saying that despite video evidence to the contrary, and get away with it—if you are Donald Trump then you can just treat today like it’s any other day in April. (He’s currently in his Mar-a-Lago estate as of this writing. He’s probably playing a round or two of golf while you’re reading this, which is what he usually does when he’s there.)

Five years ago this month I got a notice on Facebook that Occupy Baltimore and Luminous Intervention were doing a joint rollout of a new video game called Tax Evaders that emerged from the Occupy Wall Street movement and they planned on projecting that game outside on the wall of a building whose exact name and location was kept secret until the very last minute. (The secrecy was due to the organizers trying to avoid the local police learning about that event and trying to shut it down while possibly arresting people.) That rollout was scheduled for the same day that I was due in divorce court. My divorce case was scheduled early enough in the morning that I could easily make the trip to Baltimore to check out Tax Evaders that same evening.

My divorce case started at 9 a.m. and the entire trial ended at 9:20 a.m. It took 20 minutes to dissolve my marriage to my college sweetheart that was mostly a happy one until he abruptly left me for a woman with severe mental health problems (but that’s another story altogether). I arrived home and I felt depressed and drained. I drove back home in an effort to decompress from what was a surreal nightmare but I felt restless. I decided to drive to Baltimore several hours early where I walked around the the Inner Harbor snapping pictures. (You can see the pictures I took that day along with detailed descriptions of both my day in divorce court and my time in Baltimore right here.) I kept on walking around the Inner Harbor snapping pictures like some kind of a dazed zombie photographer until it was close to dinnertime when I boarded the Charm City Circulator bus and went to Fells Point.

Once I arrived at Fells Point I ate dinner at Brick Oven Pizza then headed to the Broadway Market, which was the designated meeting place for the Tax Evaders event. A small group of like-minded people were there and we hung around making small talk until someone from the Occupy Baltimore group met us and we were directed to the nearby Bank of America building where the Tax Evaders video game would be projected. The video game itself was being played with an X-Box Kinnect, which meant that people could play the game without needing to use any kind of gaming controls. I shot a short video showing what it was like.

I also shot still photos of that event as well, which you can view right here.

I found another short video on YouTube of the same event that was shot by the event’s co-sponsor, Luminous Intervention. This one includes short interviews with the activists behind that event along with the reactions of the people who played that game.

Five years later the entire Occupy Wall Street movement is mostly dormant (with the exception of various Facebook and Twitter accounts that use the name Occupy Wall Street but they seem to be more focused on sharing links these days than doing any kind of real-life organizing street protests on behalf of the 99%) while Occupy Baltimore is defunct. The Luminous Intervention site is still online but it hasn’t been updated in a year. Tax Evaders still remains online and it’s still available to play for free. Tax Evaders is basically a Space Invaders clone where you have to shoot down corporations who have successfully evaded paying their fair share of taxes. If you shoot down enough of those corporations, you will see government funding get restored to schools, libraries, and other government programs that benefit average Americans.

If you like Space Invaders and are concerned about economic inequality, then Tax Evaders is for you. The only sad part about this game is that the entire game’s premise has not been dated at all. In fact, the game is still just as relevant today as it was five years ago (if not more relevant in light of President Donald Trump’s recent tax reform bill that successfully passed last year).

So if you’re feeling frustrated about figuring out your taxes for this year, then you can take out your frustrations on Tax Evaders. One major caveat, you will need to have Flash installed in order to play this game.

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UPDATE (April 18, 2018): It looks like Tax Day has been extended to today due to the fact that the IRS website had literally crashed yesterday with the throngs of people filing their tax returns. So that means you can have some more time taking out your tax-related frustrations on the Tax Evaders video game.

Back in January I shot some photos at a Toys R Us in Annapolis, Maryland. At the time Toys R Us had announced a closure of around 200-300 stores across the United States. I had heard rumors that those closures were going to be the first in a wave of closures that will eventually end Toys R Us as a business. I picked the Annapolis store because I wanted to take photos of a store that wasn’t on the list of stores that were closing so I could document what a typical Toys R Us store was like on an average business day. I also wrote about my own memories of shopping at various Toys R Us stores since my own childhood along with the factors that led to Toys R Us to file for bankruptcy then start closing some of its own stores.

I honestly thought that the rest of the stores weren’t going to start shutting down until summer at the earliest. Imagine my surprise when Toys R Us announced last month that it was going to just liquidate all of their stores (including its Babies R Us stores).

Like I wrote back in January, Toys R Us originally started in the Adams-Morgan section of Washington, DC in the space that’s now inhabited by Madam’s Organ Blues Bar. Local station NBC4 recently ran a news story about Toys R Us’ DC origins that’s definitely worth checking out. There’s another page on the Ghosts of DC site that goes even further. It traces the entire history of that same Adams-Morgan building starting from 1907 when that address was listed as the site of a birthday party for twin brothers in The Washington Post‘s society column.

Toys R Us’ original founder, Charles Lazarus, died at 94 soon after the chain announced that it was liquidating. I know that he was at an advanced age but sometimes I wonder if he had died of a broken heart. It must be really tough to see your life’s work just metaphorically go up in smoke like that, especially after being in business for 70 years.

I recently started a new day job where I’m doing office work for a therapist who also happens to have financial investments and rental properties on the side while also dealing with his late aunt’s estate. He gave me this comic that he clipped out of a newspaper about Toys R Us.

While I’m not denying that the playing habits of children are changing but I learned that there is another factor behind the demise of Toys R Us that I learned about. This video thoroughly explains why Toys R Us are literally closing up shop and it had little to do with other factors frequently cited (such as kids being more into smartphones and tablets than traditional toys, competition from other big box retailers like Walmart, and competition from online retailers like Amazon) and more to do with some disgusting Wall Street shenanigans where the executives at the top are making off like bandits while thousands of their employees are being laid off.

I decided to make to make a return trip to Toys R Us on a Friday afternoon. The day before I had a successful interview that led to the day job that I’m currently working at. Despite my good mood I was still struggling with a head cold when I went. I decided to go anyway despite being tired and sick because I wanted to go to check out the going out of business sale before most of the inventory got sold. I decided to go back to the same Annapolis store that I went to in January just so I could take more photos comparing the store in its beginning death throes with the earlier January photos. (You might want to flip between this post and that post for comparison.)

One man was standing at a corner near the store with a giant sign reminding drivers that Toys R Us is having its going out of business sale.

The signs in the Toys R Us window were cheerfully touting its products, especially with the upcoming Easter holiday.

It sounds strange to see a “Now Hiring” sign when the store was going out of business. I later read that Toys R Us was looking to hire temp workers who would help with winding down the stores.

One of its entrance doors didn’t work and it sported a handwritten “Out of Order” sign near the floor. Given the fact that this store will soon close, I don’t anticipate that door being repaired anytime soon.

Here is one of the signs announcing that this store was going out of business.

Despite the fact that the store would soon close, I saw a whole array of Easter-related candy, baskets, and toys available for sale.

I saw this sign promoting the Toys R Us mobile app that included a game. I wonder how much longer this app will work once Toys R Us closes its doors for good.


I read articles that said that one should expect empty shelves because a number of vendors had cut ties with the company before the company decided to close down. Sure enough, I saw far more empty and half-empty shelves than I did back in January.

There were a number of Toys R Us exclusives that were still in stock.

There were a number of toys that were still available the day I was there including dolls, action figures, stuffed animals, and more.

Compared with my earlier trip in January, I saw more people in the store this time as employees were busy and shoppers were milling around.

There was a long line at the checkout line. That was due to the fact that there were only two cashiers working the cash registers. They worked fast enough that I was only in line for about 15 minutes.

I made one purchase during that trip to Toys R Us.  It’s a Harley Quinn doll.

Here’s a photo of the entire long Toys R Us receipt.

Here’s a closeup of the top half of the receipt. This one is trying to encourage me to share my feedback about that store in order to have a chance to win a $500 Toys R Us gift card, which is pretty ironic since the entire store chain is in the process of closing. As for the Toys R Us gift card, I had heard that Toys R Us will soon stop honoring gift cards altogether.

Here’s the bottom of the receipt. I saw that same Harley Quinn doll at the Target that’s located closer to my home for $20.99. I had heard complaints that Toys R Us is more expensive than the other retailers but when I was there I saw that Toys R Us was selling that doll for the regular retail price of $19.99 (which was $1 cheaper than Target). With the going out of business sale, I got 10% off, which meant that I only paid $17.99 for the Harley Quinn doll, which meant that I save $2. Sweet!

When I was at Toys R Us in January I was offered a free frequent rewards card, which I took. I ended up not using that rewards card when I purchased the Harley Quinn doll because it would’ve been pointless since Toys R Us is closing soon. Here’s a photo of that card, which is colorful.

I never got around to completing my member enrollment online mainly because I rarely go to Toys R Us these days. It was just as well since it would’ve ended up being for naught.

This week Toys R Us put up this notice at its website announcing that it was no longer going to process online purchases and customers should go to the bricks and mortar stores if they want to purchase any remaining toys in stock.

Passover

The day after St. Patrick’s Day I helped a friend of mine with his booth at the annual Maker Faire NoVa that was held at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. I had attended previous STEM Maker events in Greenbelt, Silver Spring, and Washington, DC but it’s the first time I ever checked the Northern Virginia one. I have to admit that this event was the largest event of its kind that I had ever attended. To give you an idea as to how big it was, here’s a video I shot of this event.

And now it’s time for the still photos. I knew I had come to the right place when I saw this statue of George Mason (whom the university is named after) all dressed up for the occasion.

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These signs were further giveaways that I was at the right place.

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The reason why I was there was that I was helping a friend of mine with his table. His name is Phil Shapiro and he frequently hangs out on YouTube and Twitter. He wanted to demonstrate Inkscape, which is the free open source alternative to Adobe Illustrator. He brought a couple of Linux laptops that he made available for people to use. At the last minute he decided to have one of those laptops run Tux Paint, which is a free open source graphics program that is made for kids under 7, which turned out to be a good move because a lot of visitors were kids. The kids seemed to really like Tux Paint so it was all good. In any case, here is what the sign looked like.

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Here are a few shots of the table that I took before Maker Faire NoVa opened to the general public.

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Here’s Phil Shapiro at one of the laptops setting everything up before the show began.

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And here’s Phil showing off the two laptops with Inkscape and Tux Paint to the general public.

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One of the many kids tried his hand at drawing with Tux Paint.

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Near our table was one that was manned by Bob Coggeshall, who’s famous in the Unix world for inventing the Unix command sudo.

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There were all kinds of projects that were run off of Raspberry Pi, such as this vintage teletype.

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There were also all kinds of 3D printed projects that looked amazing.

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There was a refurbished gumball machine that dispensed 3D printed charms for only 50 cents.

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It was at that gumball machine where I made my one and only purchase from Maker Faire NoVa: A tiny 1-inch printed 3D printed Darth Vader who’s seated like a Buddha. I only paid 50 cents for this cool item.

Maker Faire NoVa, March 18, 2018

There were also some vintage bikes that the public can ride.

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It was at Maker Faire NoVa where I got my first-ever real life glimpse of a Bitcoin mining machine.

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It was also at Maker Faire NoVa where I got my first glimpse of American Girl’s 2018 Girl of the Year doll. Her name is Luciana Vega, she’s into STEM and her big ambition is to be the first person to explore Mars.

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This boy was showing his work in progress on his latest project. He was in the process of building his own BB-8 robot from the Star Wars movies.

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There was just a variety of things I saw at Maker Faire NoVa that were simply astounding.

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George Mason University’s Fairfax campus is pretty big. In fact, I think it may be as big as my own alma mater (University of Maryland at College Park). I briefly went through the campus Barnes & Noble store, which had copies of Michael Wolff’s controversial bestseller about Donald Trump’s first year in the White House called Fire & Fury.

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I really had a blast at Maker Faire NoVa. It helped that the weather was in the 50’s that day so I was able to wear a light jacket instead of my heavy winter coat for a change. I even saw my first robin of the year while I was walking around outside going from building to building while checking out the event. (The entire event was spread over four buildings.) Sadly that warm weather was a short-lived thing because the weather turned really cold and rainy the next day followed by a snowstorm.

The only downside about that event is that for about a couple of days before that event I started to have stuffed sinuses. By the time of that event my throat felt more scratchy as I talked more and more with the general public while I worked at Phil’s booth. My legs had grown stiff and sore by the end of the day due to the huge amount of walking and standing I did throughout the day. The following day I felt extremely tired and sick. I ended up spending most of the next week sleeping (with the exception of the couple of times I went out in the snow where I did some shoveling two days after Maker Faire NoVa). I even ended up skipping the big March for Our Lives on the following Saturday due to being sick. But the video, photos, and fond memories from Maker Faire NoVa made it all worthwhile.

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This February was probably the worst February for me in recent memory. It was like everything that could have gone wrong for me did.

First I learned that my ex-husband had stopped sending me alimony payments. I knew it was going to run out at some point but I always thought that it would be sometime in June (when it would’ve been the anniversary of the judge handing down the decision that the divorce was final) but my ex decided to stop sending further payments after late December. Of course he didn’t notify me of this. In fact he has pretty much avoided speaking to me as much as possible since the day he walked out on me back in late 2011, which has made the entire divorce process far worse than it was. (Ideally I would’ve loved for the two of us to meet together somewhere in person to hammer out a few things and communicate about such things as payment schedules and similar matters but, with him, everything can only be done via email or text—and that is only if he feels like responding.) As a result I only learned about this when the alimony check has stopped arriving. I sent a polite email asking about the payments while stating that I have had a run of bad luck (which I’ll get into in a bit). I didn’t resort to name calling or making accusations. It was basically a short polite email where I asked about the payments while explaining my current situation. I even expressed my sympathy for the death of his father back in October. He responded with this businesslike tone where he said that he had fulfilled his obligations and thanked me for my kind words regarding his father. The whole thing had the tone of a business transaction instead of two people who used to be married to each other.

Unfortunately consulting a lawyer was out of the question because I really can’t afford to launch any kind of lawsuits at the moment due to extremely tight finances. On top of it, my original divorce lawyer passed away back in 2016 so I would have to hire a brand new lawyer if I wanted to launch any kind of legal challenges regarding the original separation and divorce agreement.

Then there was that church service that I attended on the last Sunday in January, where I ended up experiencing raw emotions that carried through February. Here’s some background. When I was still married my husband and I used to attend that church together. When we separated, I tried attending Sunday service only to see my estranged husband there and I found it to be a major distraction and I couldn’t focus on any part of the Sunday service. I stopped attending church for a while because I just couldn’t stand attending with my ex. There were times when I arrived at church only to see his car parked there and I would immediately turn around and drive back home. I even contemplated quitting church altogether or switching to a different church, which wouldn’t be unusual because over the years I’ve seen other members’ marriages or longterm relationships end and one or both former partners would end up quitting. I had members of my support group for people who are separated or divorced tell me that they ended up either switching churches or stop attending in order to avoid seeing their ex on a weekly basis.

But then I had friends from my church tell me that my ex had eventually stopped going to Sunday service so I felt comfortable enough to attend on my own. I attended one service on the last Sunday in January where I didn’t even look up what the topic of the service was. It was also the same Sunday where I was scheduled to attend the 90th birthday party of a fellow church member that was held at a retirement community near my church so it made sense for me to go to church then go to the birthday party afterwards. It turned out that it was a lay-led service where it was being put on by members of the Men’s Group at our congregation. I found out that my ex was not only involved in the Men’s Group but he was among the speakers.

But then it got worse. My ex mentioned at the beginning of his speech “My marriage fell apart…” That had me livid because that statement implied that either I had left him or our marriage had broken down over a long period of time because we were arguing and not getting along so we both made the mutual decision to separate. In reality he didn’t even let on that he was the least bit unhappy until one night, three days after Christmas (and three months after I underwent hip surgery), he came home, announced that he was moving out, left behind two handwritten letters and the first alimony check, then bolted out the door. In fact, I wrote this post on the night he abruptly left indicating my hope that he would return soon. The following month I learned from friends that he had hooked up with a friend of ours who has long been suffering from severe mental health issues and he married her just two months after our divorce was final. For him to say “My marriage fell apart…” implying that it was something that happened to him is totally disingenuous and dishonest. If he had simply said “I got divorced” I probably would not have been as angry and upset.

I’m the one who had more right to say “My marriage fell apart…” than he did because he was the one who left me for a woman with severe mental health problems, insisted on a divorce, refused to consider marriage counseling, demanded that we separate all of our finances according to this schedule that he worked out in his head or else he would sue me, got engaged to the other woman eight months after he left me (while he was still legally married to me), sent divorce papers in a .pdf format that was attached to an email that was sent on Christmas Eve, and married the other woman just two months after our divorce was final.

As it turned out I ended up tuning out the rest of the service because I was fuming and I focused on perusing Facebook on my smartphone instead. I bolted out of the church as soon as I could, headed to a Starbucks that’s located inside of a Target that’s located near the venue where the birthday party was scheduled to be held, and just sat there drinking a soda I had purchased until it was time for the party to begin.

My biggest lesson is that from now on I’m going to look up the topic of a Sunday service before going to church. That way I can avoid hearing any future talks from my ex-husband.

On top of that there is my ongoing job search for a new day job. I’ve gone to various networking events and job search seminars and job fairs only to come up empty. I could write a separate post about how broken the job search process has become—complete with emailing resumes to various websites with no responses, people not returning phone calls when I did follow-up calls on job applications and left messages, and things like that. Even temp agencies have gotten completely dysfunctional where recruiters now tell you to go to their website, look at all of the jobs that are posted there and if you see a job that you like, you should send a resume and if the recruiters think you’re qualified, they will call you. Years ago I used to be able to easily find work through temp agencies simply by calling for an appointment and taking a series of tests (which measured typing speed, the ability to solve simple math problems, and knowledge of basic English grammar) but now most of them no longer give any kind of tests and they aren’t even into seeing you in person any more. I can’t even recommend temp agencies to anyone. And I’m not the only one. I have a friend who was let go from her job, which she had originally gotten after working there as a temp. She tried the temp agencies herself and she has gotten the same runaround as I did.

My car brakes started to make a grinding noise every time I used the brake pedal, which freaked me out. I initially decided not to drive the car to any place that was more than 10 miles away from home. Then the grinding noise got worse and I became too afraid to even drive my car because I was scared of not having any brakes at all. I couldn’t afford to get them repaired because of my money situation so I was left with no other alternative other than to leave my car parked while running the engine for a few minutes once a week so the car engine wouldn’t deteriorate from disuse. (I’ve know someone whose car stopped working after she didn’t use it at all for about a month or longer so she had to get it towed and repaired.) I started walking or using public transportation, which definitely put a crimp in my job search because I was limited to applying only to places that I could get to by Metrobus or Metrorail or some other form of public transportation.

I had to call my own mother telling her about my car situation while telling her that I didn’t know when I would ever be able to visit her in person again because she lives in a part of the state that has no public transportation whatsoever.

My Sagittarius Dolly channel was let go from the YouTube Partner program this month because I didn’t get enough subscribers or watch hours. I never earned any money from that program (that’s because of YouTube’s policy of not issuing payment until it reached the minimum $100 threshold and I never earned more than about $10 or $20 total) but I was still peeved because I was among the hundreds of less popular channels who were essentially paying the price for what Logan Paul did in Japan last month, which I already went into once, twice, and three times.

My PlayStation 2 console stopped working and today I found out that my Wii remote has stopped working even though I’ve been putting in new batteries with the same result. Those two console problems are nothing compared to what I’m going through but they seemed to be part of a continuum of how horrible February has gotten for me.

If all that weren’t enough, it had been raining most of February, which made me feel even more depressed. There was the occasional sunny day but it was mostly gloomy clouds and rain.

And I’m not even about to go into the constant news about President Donald Trump’s latest antics other than I find it so draining learning that we have a totally immature man-child in the White House. I’m also not even going to bother with the Parkland shooting in Florida on Valentine’s Day other than to say that I’m totally pissed that nothing has been done to enact gun safety over the past several years and this latest shooting would have never happened had some common sense gun laws been passed years ago. I’m glad that the kids who survived that shooting are starting to agitate for change and other students from around the country are also starting to launch their own protests as well.

So I was down and out. But then a few things happened that made me less down and out. I had one friend loan me the money to repair the brakes on my car (which came to a whopping $560). I made arrangements with my co-op regarding being able to pay my co-op fees. By the end of the month I got my car back. I also had friends who were very kind to me, especially when they learned about my situation. One friend gave me $100 out of the blue when she learned about my car situation. I will always remember that act of kindness. I have a friend who wants my help in making a documentary about someone who is going to celebrate her 100th birthday this year and she said she will pay me. I have another friend who needs my help regarding computers and there may be money in it as well.

Plus I’m expected to pay off that loan from my friend by helping him with putting various things for sale on eBay while giving him the proceeds from each sale. I told him I can’t guarantee that any of those eBay listings will lead to actual sales. I’ve had mixed results with eBay and Etsy over the years where I seemed to have more unsold stuff than stuff that actually sold. I’ve generally done better with selling things at street fairs and I think it’s because people are more likely to make an impulse buy if they see something in person than some picture that’s on a computer screen. Maybe I can do a big yard sale if the eBay thing doesn’t work out. But in any case I’m going to give the eBay thing a try first so I would have more time waiting for the weather to improve so I can put on a yard sale if I need to do so.

The biggest lesson about my story is that it always helps to have friends who are supportive because you’ll never know when you’ll need to rely on them. In any case I’m ready to put February behind me starting tomorrow.

Recently I decided to take extensive photographs of a typical Toys R Us store mainly because late last year, just before Christmas, Toys R Us had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This month Toys R Us is closing a large number of its stores throughout the United States. Nearly three years ago I did an extensive post covering the two-month period that the Kmart in Greenbelt, Maryland conducted its going out of business sale. This time I decided to take a photo of a Toys R Us store that is NOT among the stores that are slated for closure because I wanted to provide sort of a time capsule as to what it was like to visit a Toys R Us store on a typical day when it was in normal operations.

The biggest irony about the upcoming store closings is that this year is Toys R Us’ 70th anniversary. When I looked up Toys R Us’ Wikipedia page I learned one interesting fact—that chain started its first store in the Adams-Morgan section of Washington, DC. That store, which was then-called Children’s Supermart, was operating in a space that is now occupied by the iconic nightclub Madam’s Organ Blues Bar. A few years later the first store with the Toys R Us name was opened in Rockville, Maryland. Toys R Us went from being a local business to a national (then international) store chain when it was sold to Interstate Department Stores, Inc. in 1966.

In a way it’s kind of sad that this is happening to Toys R Us because I grew up watching those commercials on television that featured someone dressed in a Geoffrey Giraffe costume while the ad jingle went “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid/There’s a million of toys at Toys R Us that I can play with.”

There was only one Toys R Us store in the town that I grew up in (Glen Burnie, Maryland). Sometimes my mother would buy toys from that store but she also purchased toys from Montgomery Wards and Sears as well. I still have memories of when I used to go to the one in the Glen Burnie Mall and it had a sign that said that children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Sometimes I would get permission from my mom to go to either the Record Bar (which sold vinyl records, 8-track tapes, and cassette tapes) or the video arcade (both of which have long since gone out of business) while she and my grandmother went inside of some clothing store. I was somewhere between 12-15 when I did this. (I know that for a fact because I pretty much lost interest in doing this once I reached 16.) I always made an effort to go past the Toys R Us entrance in the mall where I would enter that store without being accompanied by an adult just so I would flout that rule. None of the store employees ever did anything to kick me out for being an unaccompanied minor under 16 but it still filled my juvenile ego to know that I flouted a store rule. I never stayed too long inside Toys R Us because most of the toys were geared towards younger kids and I had pretty much outgrown any interest I had in things like Barbie dolls or Play-Doh. I only went inside because a sign said I couldn’t do it and it was an easy way to rebel against authority without getting into any kind of serious trouble. (LOL!)

Ironically that Glen Burnie Toys R Us is still going strong and it’s among the stores that is being saved from closure for now. The same can’t be said for the rest of the mall and, in fact, that mall had finally closed down for good last year.

When I moved closer to the Washington, DC area as an adult, I was lucky enough to be in an area where there were three different Toys R Us stores all located just a short drive away from my home—in New Carrollton, Laurel, and Langley Park. I used to periodically shop at Toys R Us mainly to purchase presents for my then-husband’s nieces and nephews or to buy baby shower gifts for various friends, relatives, and coworkers. There was a time when my church had a Toys for Tots-like program around the winter holiday season where we purchased toys for the children at this non-profit community center in Washington, DC that strived to provide programs for inner city kids from low-income families that would be an alternative to gangs and I used to shop at Toys R Us for that reason as well.

But then Toys R Us encountered its first problem when the dotcom boom happened and it was very slow in getting an online presence.  Amazon, which sold only books at the time, wanted to start selling toys so Toys R Us entered into a ten-year contract with Amazon to allow that online site to be its exclusive online supplier. It might have sounded like a good idea at the time but, in retrospect, that deal was like having Coca-Cola decide to let Pepsi-Cola handle all of its marketing and distribution of Coke products. Amazon soon allowed other third-party retailers to sell toys on its site, which resulted in a lawsuit.

One-by-one, over the next few years, the Toys R Us stores that were located closer to my home started to close. The one in New Carrollton was located in a building with a flat roof. A major blizzard hit the area where two feet of snow accumulated. The flat roof of the New Carrollton Toys R Us had accumulated so much snow that it literally caved in. I still remember seeing local news reports about that roof collapse along with pictures of stuffed animals floating on top of huge puddles that were created by melting snow. The chain decided to permanently close that store rather than rebuild. The building was razed then rebuilt and a CVS Pharmacy now sits in that location.

As for the one in Laurel I remember that the chain decided to do a remodel of that store while remaining open for business during the remodeling. Once that job was done that store looked really nice with a fresh coat of paint and bright lights. A year or two later the chain decided to close the Laurel store, which had me rolling my eyes since that chain had spent time and money remodeling that store only close it soon afterwards.

At that point the one in Langley Park was the closest Toys R Us store to my home. Compared to the Laurel store or even the New Carrollton store, that Langley Park store was a major hot mess. The floors had scruff marks everywhere and the shelves were totally messy and disorganized. It was almost like no one cared about having that store looked its best so it would encourage customers to return. I don’t know if the clientele had anything to do with the store deciding not to do much to keep up appearances or not. (Many immigrants, mainly from Central America and the Caribbean, started to settle in Langley Park starting in the 1980’s.)

Early one morning the bodies of two men were found in the parking lot of the Langley Park Toys R Us. Each of the men have had their their throats slashed. A third man was also knifed and survived. Naturally this story of three immigrant men being attacked in a Toys R Us parking lot was extensively covered by the local news media. Police found out that these slayings were the result of a drug deal gone bad and a suspect was arrested. That Toys R Us store closed soon after that incident.

As a result of those closures, these days if I want to shop at a Toys R Us, I have to drive at least a half-an-hour in any direction in order to get to a store. As a result, my shopping at Toys R Us has become very rare. These days if I need to buy a toy for whatever reason, I’m more likely to go to the Target store that’s located only three miles from my home and it has a pretty decent toy selection.

At this point there are only two Toys R Us left in my county and they require at least (depending on the traffic) a half-an-hour commute. One is a regular Toys R Us store in Clinton and the other is a Toys R Us outlet store at National Harbor. The Clinton store is the one that is among the stores that Toys R Us plan to close soon. Once that happens, my county will only have the outlet store left and no more regular Toys R Us stores.

At one point Toys R Us had opened a giant flagship store at Times Square in New York City. I went there many times whenever my then-husband and I visited his father and step-mother. I used to be awed by the four floors that not only included toys but I remembered there was a giant life-sized version of Barbie’s dreamhouse that you could walk through while browsing the selection of Barbie dolls that were displayed on shelves inside of that house, an animatronic t-rex robot, a giant candy section, and large 3D displays that were built from LEGOs.  In addition there was this giant indoor ferris wheel that was as tall as the store itself so one could see all four floors of the store while going on that ride. I never went on that ride myself because I still have memories the one and only time I went on a ferris wheel when I was seven years old and it literally made me feeling so dizzy that I never cared to repeat that experience. On top of it, the lines to that ferris wheel were usually long and I wasn’t in the mood to wait in a long line to get on a ride. I last went to New York City in 2011 (just a few months before my hip surgery and my husband’s subsequent sudden walkout) and I walked past that store while seeing the ferris wheel through the glass windows from the outside. I’ve heard that this store is now closed, which is too bad. Here’s a video tour of the Times Square store I found on YouTube that was shot shortly before it closed.

As for the chain itself, it has been going through more troubles in recent years. This article said that Toys R Us has an e-commerce site that’s very clunky to use compared to Amazon while also mentioning that kids these days are more likely to play with computers, smartphones, and tablets than traditional toys like Barbie dolls and Lego. Another article said that Toys R Us’ prices are higher than what Walmart, Amazon, and Target charge for the same toy. There is another factor in Toys R Us’ decline and it has less to do with kids’ playtime, their parents’ shopping habits, or the cost of toys and more with the fact that in 2005 the management decided to sell the company in a leveraged buyout to the real estate investment trust Vornado Realty Trust and the private equity firms KKR and Bain Capital. This trio of companies have focused more on doing a complex financial deal that would leave them richer while drowning Toys R Us in debt. It’s the usual Wall Street financial shenanigans that focus more on extracting huge short-term profits for the very wealthy 1%  class and less on operating a viable profitable store chain in the long run.

In a way one could say that karma had finally struck Toys R Us. When that chain first started opening stores throughout the United States in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, a lot of the smaller toy stores that were locally owned were driven out of business because many of them couldn’t compete with the wide selection of toys or the low prices that Toys R Us provided. Now it’s Toys R Us’ turn to eventually get driven out of business through a combination of increased competition (from the likes of Amazon, Walmart, and Target) and being literally milked heavily for profits by a bunch of Wall Streeters.

Of course it’s the employees who are suffering the most due to increased workplace stress and losing their jobs.

Which led me to my recent visit to a Toys R Us store in Annapolis, Maryland. I wanted to pick a store that isn’t among the stores being closed and I ended up picking the one in Annapolis because I decided to attend the weekly Thursday night meeting of my support group for people who are separated or divorced. The meetings are held in Crofton and Annapolis is just a few miles away on Route 50 so it made sense for me to go to the Annapolis store then head back to Crofton for the meeting.

The next photo shows the outside of the store. Some of the stores in this chain are Toys R Us only while other stores are its Babies R Us subsidiary. (The latter store focuses on items for babies and toddlers such as furniture, formula, and diapers.) This location is a larger store that has both Toys R Us and Babies R Us under the same roof.

Here’s what I first saw when I entered the store.

The next photo shows the Fingerlings, robot toys which were THE Hot Toy of 2017. These critters were sold out everywhere just before Christmas and these toys were sold on eBay for several times the original $15 retail price. As of late January I saw a few of these toys on the store shelves at the original retail price.

There was a section devoted to toys that were based on recent movies, such as Coco and Batman vs. Superman.

The store was nearly empty when I visited it. I know that the fact that I visited it on a Thursday in late January was a major factor. But this particular Toys R Us is located across the street from Annapolis Mall and I noticed that the mall was filling up with cars when I was leaving the area yet Toys R Us was mostly empty.

The store had a few Toys R Us exclusive toys, such as this Funko Pop! vinyl set featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

They had some retro video games based on Space Invaders and the old Sega Genesis console system on the shelves yet they kept the games for the newer console systems kept behind locked cases.

Curiously Toys R Us had a bunch of Sharper Image products that it was selling on its store shelves. (The Sharper Image is a separate store chain that specializes in upscale electronic products.) This store sold mainly robot dinosaurs.

Toys R Us had an entire display devoted to last year’s hot trend, Fidget Spinners. (Remember them? I certainly do.)

Toys R Us carried a few American Girl dolls but they were all of the 14-inch Wellie Wishers.

This next item was among some of the more unusual toys I found on sale. This one is a Bear Surprise, where each bear is a pregnant female who could carry anywhere between 3-5 cubs. (The person wouldn’t know for sure until after he/she purchases a Bear Surprise and take her home.)

The one thing I most remember about Toys R Us is its mascot, Geoffrey Giraffe. I remember when that store used to sell Geoffrey Giraffe stuffed animals where the giraffe wore a sweater with the Toys R Us logo. I didn’t see any stuffed Geoffrey Giraffes on sale. In fact, I didn’t see much of Geoffrey Giraffe anywhere in this store except for this graphic. It’s obvious that they’ve redesigned him but he looks incredibly lame compared with the Geoffrey Giraffe I knew when I was growing up. It was like someone decided to make Geoffrey into this bland forgettable character that would blend in with a corporate environment. I can’t imagine any child being enthusiastic about this Geoffrey Giraffe.

The Journey Girls are 18-inch dolls that are Toys R Us’ answer to the ever-popular American Girl doll. They cost around $40, which is cheaper than American Girl’s $110 dolls.

Curiously Toys R Us had a section devoted to jewelry from Claire’s (which is a separate retail chain that sells jewelry and other accessories).

Here’s another Toys R Us exclusive I found, a Zoomer robot unicorn.

Naturally Toys R Us had a line of Star Wars toys.

They had a whole shelf full of Sharper Image drones.

Here are some more toys I found at Toys R Us, which includes Wonder Woman, Gremlins, and even a stuffed Godzilla plush.

I remember when Teddy Ruxpin first came out back in the 1980s and I saw news stories about this teddy bear. I was amazed by the animatronic technology back then even though this product was aimed at young children and I didn’t have any young children of my own. Teddy Ruxpin has been re-released and he’s compatible with a smartphone app and Bluetooth.

Toys R Us had a section devoted to bikes, small cars that children could ride in, and rollerblades.

Here’s another shot of an empty store aisle.

Toys R Us had an arts and crafts section including a shelf dedicated to nothing but Crayola products.

A quarter of the store was devoted to Babies R Us, which had cribs, blankets, and other products geared towards infants and toddlers.

Here’s a shot of the hall in the Babies R Us section that has the restrooms.

Toys R Us had a couple of STEM-focused high tech toys that are designed to encourage making and coding but they were pretty small compared to what Target and Best Buy offer.

They had a bunch of shelves devoted to board games. Some were the games I knew from my childhood, such as Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots, while others were definitely ones I hadn’t heard of before.

There was an aisle devoted entirely to LEGO products.

This one was another interesting item where you create your own version of a Kinder Surprise Egg.

Toys R Us had toy vacuum cleaners and toy irons for those budding young housewives.

I remember when Zhu Zhu Pets were the big Hot Toy way back in 2009. Like Fingerlings, Zhu Zhu Pets were sold out in stores everywhere just before the holiday season but then they became plentiful once Christmas passed. I haven’t seen Zhu Zhu Pets on sale anywhere in my area in a few years so I was surprised when I found them at Toys R Us.

Toys R Us also had Barbie dolls on sale along with newer dolls, such as the DC Super Hero Girls dolls.

I saw one discount bin full of polar bear Christmas ornaments.

I found a few dolls and plush based on Disney’s Moana movie and Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. video game series.

I decided to make one purchase. The woman at the cash register offered me a free frequent rewards card. I accepted it even though I rarely shop at Toys R Us these days and I don’t know when I’ll make another trip to any Toys R Us store in my area. (Like I wrote earlier, most of those stores are located at least a 30-minute trip from my home.) I have to admit that the card is pretty colorful.

Here’s the one purchase I made. I bought a $15 Fingerlings monkey for the heck of it. I shot a video of the first time I played with this baby monkey, which I’ll write about in my next post.

UPDATE (March 8, 2018): Toys R Us is now seriously considering liquidating all of its stores in the U.S. That chain had recently started doing the same in the U.K. I’m glad I managed to take these photos of the Annapolis store when I did because I now have a time capsule of what a typical Toys R Us store was like when it was in business.

UPDATE (March 14, 2018): It’s official! After 70 years in business, Toys R Us will close its remaining 800 stores, including the one in Annapolis where I took the photos in this post.

UPDATE (April 10, 2018): I made a return trip to the Annapolis Toy R Us store where I was able to compare what I saw on that subsequent trip with the photos I took for this blog post.

Santa Claus

I had a busy day on December 2. First I went to The Doll and Teddy Bear Show in Gaithersburg. I took so many pictures at that one event that I decided to make a separate post about the other things I did on that day after I left the show.

When I went to The Doll and Teddy Bear Show, I noticed that there was a flea market being held, which I don’t recall ever seeing before during visits to previous Doll and Teddy Bear Shows. (I hadn’t gone to that show since 2011 and I never went to those fairgrounds for any other event.) So after I went to that show, I went to the flea market that was located on the other side of the Montgomery County Fairgrounds.

The flea market had a variety of dolls and action figures on sale as well, except they were all of the more recent variety than the predominantly pre-1960 vintage/antique dolls that were on display at The Doll and Teddy Bear Show. I found a vintage Barbie doll-sized Michael Jackson doll from the 1980’s on sale. (This doll even had the sequined glove on one hand, which was Jackson’s trademark look at the time.) The doll that’s next to the Michael Jackson doll reminded me of Diana Ross. (I have no idea if it was actually a Diana Ross doll or not.)

Like The Doll and Teddy Bear Show, the flea market had a variety of Christmas decorations available for sale, including Santa Claus.

The flea market was a total vintage treasure trove.

The flea market had stuff other than vintage items on sale as well, such as packaged food, hair dye, and even tires.

There were some good prices on a few computer laptops.

Cash-strapped parents of school-aged children can buy school supplies at the flea market.

I’ve long heard conservative Republican politicians complain about poor people and immigrants who still have consumer goods and they use that argument to favor such things as cutting programs that would help them. When I was at this flea market I heard a lot of shoppers speaking Spanish to each other and many of the vendors are bilingual. I realized that this is how many of these immigrants are able to afford consumer goods on very tight budgets. This particular flea market operates every Saturday and Sunday so cash-strapped shoppers have an affordable place to go when they need to buy something. Heck, if I lived closer to Gaithersburg, I would be shopping at this flea market on a regular basis. (Depending on the traffic, Gaithersburg is about a 30-45 minute drive from my house so it’s really not feasible for me to make regular trips to this flea market unless I happened to be in the area for a different reason on the weekend and I decided to make a brief stop while I was there.)

I saw one table that had toothpaste on sale. I bought this tube of Colgate toothpaste for only $2. The package was a little bit bent in one corner but, otherwise, the toothpaste was still usable. In fact, I’m currently brushing my teeth with this toothpaste and it works just as well as the toothpaste I’ve purchased in the regular supermarkets and pharmacies.

On the way back home I went to the annual Festival of Lights Craft Show that was held at the Greenbelt Community Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. I really wanted to go to that show since I missed the opening ceremony of the Festival of Lights the night before mainly because I had opted to go to the Holiday Warm-Up Party that was held at my church instead. One of my friends was selling her fused glass jewelry and plates. On top of it I ran into several of my other friends who happened to be there at the time. Here are a few of the handcrafted items that were available for sale.

I’ve gone to previous Festival of Lights Craft Shows but this was the first year I’ve ever seen a vendor table with a 3D printer. This vendor made items that could be used in spinning yarn.

The Festival of Lights Craft Show was held in the Greenbelt Community Center, which also had this display explaining how some of the earliest Greenbelt residents had celebrated Christmas during the height of the Great Depression.

The Greenbelt Community Center also had a special red mailbox where people can deposit their letters to Santa Claus.

When I was on my way back to my car after visiting the festival, I noticed this hilarious car sticker.

I only purchased soap at the Festival of Lights Craft Festival. I purchased two bars of Lilac Wood soap—one is for me and the other I planned to give to my mother for Christmas.

I bought one additional soap that I also plan to give to my mother. The cupcake in the next photo is actually soap. That’s right, it’s soap that looks like a cupcake. I think it’s cute.

Since the winter holiday shopping season has officially started three days ago, I’d thought I’d post pictures of stuff I’ve seen lately on the store shelves. I took these photos mainly to show some of my friends on social media who would be especially interested in these products.

First, here are some photos I shot at Target over the past month or so. Target is selling the 3Doodler along with the DoodleBlock Kit.

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target has a LEGO aisle filled with all kinds of LEGO kits for all ages.

Target, October-November, 2017

Last year American Girl came out with a line of multiracial 14 inch dolls known as Wellie Wishers, which cost $60 each. Target is now selling a line of multiracial 14 inch dolls known as Glitter Girls for $20 each.

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target also sells a line of 3-foot tall dolls based on various Disney characters.

Target, October-November, 2017

You know Christmas is coming soon when you start seeing special gingerbread spice cereal like this.

Target, October-November, 2017

Target has been selling a line of STEM toys, kits, and games for makers of all ages. You can now make a variety of things including LEGO stop-motion animation, piñatas, video games, drones, Raspberry Pi computers, and more. Below are just a few of them.

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

Target, October-November, 2017

This is probably the most unique and off-beat product I found at Target: A Funko Pop! vinyl toy based on the late painter and television show host Bob Ross.

Target, October-November, 2017

I also found some Hot Wheels toy cars that seemed to be made with Baby Boomers in mind. How else can you explain cars based on The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night and Mad magazine.

What I Found at Target Today

What I Found at Target Today

What I Found at Target Today

What I Found at Target Today

Recently a new Guitar Center store opened up in Laurel, Maryland so I decided to check it out.

Coco Guitars

I saw these special edition Cordoba acoustic guitars for adults and children that are tie-in products to the Disney/Pixar movie Coco, which was recently released. (I haven’t seen it yet. All I know that it’s based on the Mexican El Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead holiday, which happened earlier this month, and which also explains the skull motif on these guitars.)

Coco Guitars

Coco Guitars

Coco Guitars

Last, but not least, are a few of the photos I took when I made my last trip to a local Five Below store.

What I Found at Five Below Recently

What I Found at Five Below Recently

What I Found at Five Below Recently

What I Found at Five Below Recently

What I Found at Five Below Recently

What I Found at Five Below Recently

What I Found at Five Below Recently

What I Found at Five Below Recently

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