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I had a pretty busy Saturday at my church. First I went to a memorial service for a longtime church member who passed away recently. I had decided to attend an all-ages party that was being held at that church that same evening so I went to the memorial service, hung around for the reception that followed afterwards, then headed for the nearby Starbucks that is located inside of a Target where I brought my laptop with me and killed time by surfing the Internet until it was time for the second event to begin at my church.

We ended up having a pretty light turnout. The high point was that someone had brought Play-Doh and soon everyone—both adults and children alike—were playing around with the stuff.

I ended up joining in as well. I used to love playing with Play-Doh as a child but I outgrew it once I was around 9 or 10 years old. I haven’t really touched it in years. So I played around with it. I began to remember the old Saturday Night Live sketches featuring The Mr. Bill Show, which satirized children’s TV shows by featuring a character made entirely from clay who would end up getting abused in a gruesome yet hilarious fashion. I attempted with making Mr. Bill’s head but I was relying 100% on memory so I know it’s not that great.

It turned out to be all for naught because only one other person present got my Mr. Bill reference. Everyone else were either too young to remember Mr. Bill’s late 1970s heyday or they were way older than me and they could’ve cared less about Mr. Bill even when he was popular enough to spawn a line of t-shirts. (I still remember having my own Mr. Bill shirt when I was in high school.)

After that attempt, I took out a dolphin-shaped cutter and I began to just roll out the blue Play-Doh then used the cutter to cut out dolphin shapes. I ended up making this pattern of clay dolphins.

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Each week the New Deal Cafe in Greenbelt, Maryland have an Open Mic night where people of varying talents can take to the stage and show them off. This particular night I attended ended in a jam session between all of the musicians who took part in that Open Night as they played the song “Rock Me, Mama.” This video was filmed on March 8, 2018.

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I recently attended a new monthly event known as the Campfire Sessions that is held at the New Deal Cafe in Greenbelt, Maryland. The idea is that local musicians play a 15-minute set then answer questions from the audience regarding their music.  This particular event was held on the last day in February, 2018.

The Bachelor from the Bachelor and the Bad Actress prepares his guitar for the upcoming show.

The evening began with a set from Christopher Bronholm and his percussion playing partner.

Here’s a video I shot of Christopher Bronholm and his partner performing the song “It Rains in Baltimore.”

You can learn more about Christopher Bronholm through another YouTube video that he appeared in (and was shot by someone else).

The next photo shows the second set the was performed by The Bachelor and The Bad Actress.

I shot this video of the duo performing “The Bicycle Song.” As part of this song The Bachelor and The Bad Actress handed out bicycle bells for the audience to ring at various parts during the song.

You can learn more about the music of The Bachelor and The Bad Actress through their Bandcamp page.

Last but not least Dar Stellabotta performed a set with her homemade guitar that she built using a cigar box.

After the show she had CDs on sale along with an extra cigar box guitar that she built. (I don’t know if anyone purchased that guitar or not. If I wasn’t so short on cash these days I would definitely seriously consider buying it. I managed to purchase one of her CDs for $10.)

Here’s a video I shot of Dar Stellabotta playing with her cigar box guitar.

You can learn more about Dar Stellabotta through her website.

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There’s this story that’s currently trending on Buzzfeed that’s pretty bizarre. The gist is that Lisa Palmer was a student at Hunter College in New York City until two years ago when she said that the school forced her to drop out just a semester before she was scheduled to graduate because she couldn’t pay her student fees. She claimed that Hunter College said that she could remain in her dorm room as long as she paid off her course fees and re-enroll in classes. Since that time she has remained in her dorm room while not paying any room and board fees nor paying off her past debts to the college. She currently works two jobs but she has yet to re-enroll in any classes.

Hunter College has spent the past two years sending her notices of owed residency fees as well as repeated eviction notices only to have Palmer ignore them. Hunter College has sued Palmer asking her to not only leave the dormitory but to pay back a staggering $94,000 dollars that she has owed them for the two years she has lived in that dorm. Palmer has said that she hasn’t paid anything over the last two years because she can’t afford to pay so, therefore, she shouldn’t have to pay anything yet she should still be able to remain in her dorm room. She also said that she’s currently looking for legal representation but, according to her, “none have met my expectations in terms of their deduction ability.”

I stayed in a dormitory during my undergraduate years at the University of Maryland at College Park and this story has me shaking my head at both sides of this dispute.

Lisa Palmer is 32 years old and I don’t even know why she wants to continue her fight to remain in a dormitory, especially at her age. A typical college dorm tends to be cramped. I once lived in a dorm room with two beds, two bureaus, two desks, two chairs, and a large closet but I had to share it with a roommate. Based on a photo of one of Hunter College’s dorm rooms that I saw posted on the Buzzfeed site, it looks like Lisa Palmer had a room to herself but it still looks very cramped with a bed, a desk, a chair, a closet, and a small bureau. She can’t really own too many clothes or other things because her room is so small. Dorm life was barely tolerable for me when I was in my early 20’s and I’m not exactly pining for that experience again because living in one can be a total hassle—which only gets even more annoying the older you get.

If you need to use a toilet, brush your teeth, or take a shower, you have to frequently leave your dorm room to go to one of the communal bathrooms that are located on each floor. If you need to eat a meal, you have to leave the dorm and walk to the nearest dining hall. The dining hall was only opened during certain hours of the day so if you were hungry at—let’s say—2 a.m. you had to stay hungry (or come up with an alternate way to satisfy that hunger) because the dining hall was closed. Unless you’re lucky enough to own a tiny refrigerator that’s suitable for a dorm room (which I never had due to tight finances) you have to leave your room and go somewhere else if you’re in the mood for a soda or a glass of wine or even a drink of water.

I remember during my time living in a dorm I wasn’t allowed to have a hot plate or a portable stove in my dorm room due to fire regulations. This was also back in the day when microwave ovens were very big, bulky, and expensive so they weren’t practical for a dorm room at all. There were a couple of kitchen ovens that were located in the basement of my dorm near the laundry room. I only used one of the ovens once and that was to bake a birthday cake using one of those boxed cake mixes and pre-made frosting for my then-boyfriend’s 25th birthday. (He later became my ex-husband.) It was such a hassle having to leave my upper level dorm room, take an elevator to go to the basement, whip up the cake (which I recall had its own disposable pan that you can bake and serve in and it only required adding water then stirring the mix with a plastic spoon that I swiped from the dining hall), pop it in the oven, then wait around for the oven to finish baking because there was a rule where we had to stick around whenever we used one of the ovens because the dormitory wanted to avoid oven-related fires. It was easier to just go to a dining hall for meals than to try to cook your own meal using one of the dormitory ovens.

As for Hunter College, I don’t know why they didn’t move to evict her sooner instead of filing a lawsuit after two years. I know that during my undergraduate days the dormitories at the University of Maryland were only available to students who were 1) single, 2) childless, 3) pet-free, and 4) enrolled for a minimum of nine credit hours per semester, which generally equalled to three courses. If, for whatever reason, a student had to completely withdraw from all of his/her classes before the semester ended, he/she was expected to move out of the dorm soon afterwards. A dorm resident could also be kicked out before the semester ended if he/she engaged in acts of violence against another student or did something extremely destructive (such as setting a bed on fire). Each dorm resident had to sign a contract acknowledging that he/she would abide by all of the rules as long as he/she wanted to stay in a dorm.

I assume that Hunter College has those same standards. They could’ve evicted Lisa Palmer the moment they found out that she hadn’t enrolled in any classes in a semester. All they had to do was to send a notice saying that she would have to leave by a certain date or else she would be evicted then stick to that schedule if she ignored that notice. They could have gotten the campus police to remove her from the room while hiring some movers to place her belongings on a nearby street corner. For added measure, they could’ve hired a locksmith to change the lock to that room so she couldn’t sneak back in. That’s no different than what I occasionally see at a local apartment complex that’s located near my home where someone’s furniture, clothes, and other belongings suddenly appear in a giant pile near the curb because a tenant has just been evicted. I just don’t understand why Hunter College dragged its feet on this.

There is so much weirdness on both sides that it resulted in the escalation of something that should have been resolved with very little drama two years ago.

Not too long ago I went to a fundraiser that was held at the New Deal Cafe in Greenbelt, Maryland for Ben Jealous, the former leader of the NAACP who is running for governor of Maryland. He had previously worked on Bernie Sanders’ campaign back in 2016 and he was inspired by Sanders to run his own gubernatorial campaign where he is accepting micro-donations from average people instead of big corporate donations. In some ways that event was reminiscent of a similar fundraiser for Heather Mizeur’s ill-fated gubernatorial campaign that was also held at the New Deal Cafe back in 2014. Hopefully Ben Jealous’ campaign may have a better result this time around.

Anyway, I shot this footage of the band Kiva performing with a belly dancer.

Unfortunately I had less battery power in my camera than I thought so I basically used it up shooting Kiva. When Ben Jealous took to the stage at one point, I made these shots using the Photo Booth software on my MacBook.

I’ll end this post with a group photo that was taken by someone else and was later posted on Facebook. Ben Jealous is standing third from the left. I’m the woman who’s wearing the blue Eeyore sweatshirt in that photo.

One Saturday I had quite a day. My car was having break problems and I was trying to raise enough money so I could afford to have them fixed while job-hunting at the same time. The weather forecast was calling for snow but the original forecast said that the snowstorm wouldn’t begin in earnest until 6 p.m. So I decided to walk over to the Greenbelt Makerspace because there was a special event that was happening on both Saturday and Sunday.

Basically people were invited to bring their home movies that were shot on outdated formats (such as super 8 and VHS) in order to have them digitized. Here are a few photos I took of the process.

I learned that there was a time when one could buy Hollywood movies on super 8. Apparently they were either excerpts from feature-length movies or movie shorts. The next photo shows just three of these types of films that one could buy decades ago.

One guy was helping this couple with converting their old super 8 home movie to digital.

Here’s a shot of some of the equipment that were used in digitizing old super 8 movies.

The next shot shows an old vintage Polaroid camera in the foreground while this man prepares a super 8 movie for digitalization.

This particular super 8 reel had heart-shaped holes.

Here is what one super 8 movie looked like on the computer desktop after being digitized.

Here’s the equipment that is used for converting super 8 and VHS movies into a digital format.

When I left home it was starting to snow but it wasn’t laying because the temperature was above freezing. After I stopped by the Greenbelt Makerspace I walked on to the library because I needed to return a book that I had checked out. The snow still wasn’t laying and my Accuweather app was saying that the storm wasn’t set to begin until after 6 p.m. Since the library was opened until 5 p.m. on Saturdays, I decided to hang out for a while while I was surfing the web using the laptop I had brought with me.

When the library was starting to kick people out at around 4:45 p.m. I stepped outside and I saw that not only had the temperature dropped but the snow was laying on the ground. (So much for the weather forecast predictions.) As I walked back towards home I saw kids playing around in the snow.

I took these photos while I was walking back home.

The following day the temperature went up into the 40’s and the snow began to melt. By the late afternoon the majority of the snow was gone.

Lately I’ve been doing more walking and riding public transit and I’m doing it because I have to. My car’s brakes have failed and they barely work these days. I’m looking at a steep repair bill that I can’t afford at the moment so I’m stuck. Last week I needed to run a few errands and I decided to go on foot rather than pay for a Metrobus fare.

There is a footbridge that was originally erected for the kids who attend Eleanor Roosevelt Hight School and it enables them to walk to school without having to walk along a major highway (Route 193) and risk having an accident with a passing car.

An emergency callbox was installed because there were too many reports of kids fighting each other and people getting mugged by juvenile delinquents.

The footbridge crosses over the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, where one can see the cars buzzing past at all hours of the day and night.

Once I got on the other side of the bridge, I encountered two sections of sidewalk with graffiti permanently inscribed. I don’t know when this was done but it’s obvious that whoever did this had a penis obsession.

The next photo shows Eleanor Roosevelt High School. I know a few people whose kids attend that school and they seemed to be happy with it.

I eventually made my way to Safeway where I took a break at one of the tables the store has at the front. I noticed that the store has installed one of those Amazon Lockers that I’ve heard about. (Basically Amazon customers can request that their newly purchased items be sent to one of these lockers instead of being sent to the customer’s home or office. It’s a good idea since I’ve heard about some people who’ve had their packages stolen from their own front porch in broad daylight.) The idea of seeing an Amazon Locker is still pretty new and novel to me so I decided to take a few pictures for posterity before the novelty wears off for me.

Safeway was having its Monopoly contest where customers collect stamps each shopping trip in the hopes of winning prizes.

Someone even created a soda carton display based on Monopoly‘s Rich Uncle Pennybags.

Safeway had a display of both Valentine’s Day and Easter candies. I noticed this chocolate bunny based on the classic children’s book Peter Rabbit. Recently someone made a movie version of Beatrix Potter’s book. I saw a preview and I wasn’t impressed with it mainly because I read Peter Rabbit numerous times and I don’t recall the story being this wild and hyperactive.

As for Valentine’s Day, I saw that Oreo came out with a special cookie edition that had red cinnamon-flavored cream that was hyped on the package as being hot and spicy. (I didn’t buy this so I have no idea about how it really tasted.)

This is the first Final Friday Art Walk in Hyattsville I’ve participated in since last year. (There were other Final Friday Art Walks between then and now but I didn’t go on them because the weather was too cold for my taste.) The weather was mild that night so I did the arty thing.

First I went to Studio SoHy where I checked out a reception for this exhibition by Isak Shah called “People Person.”

Final Friday Art Walk

Final Friday Art Walk

Final Friday Art Walk

Final Friday Art Walk

Final Friday Art Walk

Final Friday Art Walk

Final Friday Art Walk

Final Friday Art Walk

Final Friday Art Walk

Final Friday Art Walk

Next I went to the Three Little Birds Sewing Company where I saw a demonstration on shoe painting.

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

Finally I walked over to the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center where I saw that they had recently installed a new neon sign.

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

I checked out this exhibition called “Imaginary Funhouse” which featured the art of Clara Cornelius.

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

This exhibit was carnival-themed and it had some hands-on interactive exhibits. There was a gumball machine where, for 50 cents, once can get a small button based on one of the artworks in this exhibit.

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

I put my two quarters into that machine and here is the button I received.

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

This exhibit had a few large colorful banners on display.

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

There were some smaller prints on display as well.

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

There was one interactive exhibit, called Match-O-Rama, which was a glorified Match Game where one turned over tiles in an effort to find matching pairs.

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

There was another interactive exhibit, called Mix-O-Rama, which was the opposite of Match-O-Rama in that one had to take two or more pairs and mix them up in order to create a unique piece of art.

Final Friday Art Walk, January 26, 2018

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.

Ever since Donald Trump has gotten into office there have been so many incidents of ICE agents cracking down on immigrants and deporting them along with so many stories about families who have literally been torn apart. To be fair, Barack Obama’s administration did a lot of deportations as well but those flew under the radar because President Obama was the first African American president and there were plenty of people leery about criticizing him although one could easily criticize President Obama’s policies without resorting to racism. Since Donald Trump is an old white guy who ran his campaign based on his racist imagery of Mexican drug dealers and rapists and building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, there is now more media attention on those deportations—most of which affect immigrants with black or brown skin. (And that’s not to mention President Trump’s recent descriptions of Haiti and Africa as “shithole countries.”)

Recently a white immigrant was rounded up by ICE agents and they are trying to deport him as well. Lukasz Niec was a guy who was born in Poland and he was brought to the U.S. with his parents back in 1979 when he was only five years old. (At that time Poland was a communist country that was aligned with the Soviet Union and it did the usual communist repression against its own citizens so it was understandable why his parents wanted to leave.) When he was a teenager he got into some minor troubles with the law. He got a green card and he decided to straighten out his life by going to college then to medical school. He became a doctor and he eventually got married and had two children. His most recent offense was an arrest on a domestic violence charge in 2013 but he was later found not guilty by a jury.

Those brief brushes with the law were enough to provide an excuse for ICE agents to round up this guy and begin proceedings to have him deported back to Poland. This is a country that this guy had not even lived in since he was five years old. He has long since forgotten how to speak Polish and he has no immediate family ties in that nation.

When I saw this story blow up on social media I read social media posts from people acting surprised that the Trump Administration would focus on a white man. As I think back to my childhood, I have to say that I’m far less surprised that his ICE agents would pick on a Pole than most people.

Let me give you a brief history lesson here. There was a time prior to the Industrial Revolution where most Americans considered themselves to be WASPs—White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Beginning with the Industrial Revolution there were plenty of immigrants from many European nations, including Poland. While many Polish immigrants had white skin, they were not Anglo-Saxons so, according to attitudes of the time, they didn’t count as being real white people. On top of it, most Poles were either Roman Catholics or Jews, which made them be seen more as outsiders by the WASPs. Given that attitude, it was no wonder that hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan considered Jews and Roman Catholics to be just as bad as African Americans.

Even though Poles gradually were assimilated into the melting pot, there were stereotypes that still persisted. I was born in Baltimore, where many Polish immigrants settled, and I grew up in nearby Glen Burnie. Even though my family lived next door to a Polish American family and there were plenty of people of Polish descent, I still grew up hearing Poles being described as “Dumb Pollocks.” I heard a lot of Dumb Pollock jokes being told on the playground while I grew up. Here’s one such example, which was among the milder Dumb Pollock jokes I heard:

Q: Take Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Smart Pollock, and the Dumb Pollock. Put them all into a single room together. Place a $5 bill in the middle of that room. Who would get that $5 bill?

A: The Dumb Pollock because there is no such thing as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or a Smart Pollock.

The Dumb Pollock stereotype didn’t end with just jokes. There was a liquor store that I used to go with my parents when they made an occasional trip there. That was because that store had a shelf that sold novelty gag gifts and I loved looking at them. Among the gag gifts sold was a box marked “Polish Gun.” When you open the lid, you see a gun with the barrel bent backwards making it look like you would get struck with a bullet when you pull the trigger.

But that’s not all. When my family used to make its annual summer vacation to Ocean City, I remember the raunchy t-shirts. Among the t-shirts I remembered was an illustration of a guy looking down his own pants with the slogan “Polish Peeping Tom.” Another shirt had an illustration of a guy in a boat holding a fishing rod where the hook was on the back of the guy’s pants that had the slogan “Polish Fisherman.”

Even though I lived next door to a Polish American family and grew up attending a Roman Catholic parish that had Polish Americans among its membership, I still heard those Dumb Pollock jokes. Given that Donald Trump spent his entire life in New York City, which was another place where Polish Immigrants settled in large numbers during the Industrial Revolution, I’m sure that he heard those Dumb Pollock jokes as well. Except he was more insulated from actually knowing any person of Polish descent than I was because he grew up in a wealthy neighborhood in a WASP family (two of his grandparents were German immigrants and his mother was from Scotland) and his father was arrested back in the 1920s for attending a Ku Klux Klan rally. (Like I wrote a few paragraphs ago, the KKK hated Roman Catholics and Jews just as much as it hated African Americans.)

Growing up I used to love telling Dumb Pollock jokes as much as the other kids on the playground. But it has been many years since I told those jokes because I don’t find them funny anymore. What happened? I can’t say for sure but there were a few factors. First of all I grew up and I became exposed to more sophisticated adult humor (especially from watching TV shows like Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Saturday Night Live) that made those Dumb Pollock jokes seem stupid and childish by comparison. Then I went away to college at the University of Maryland at College Park where I met a variety of people and there was sort of an unsaid social thing against telling ethnic jokes of any kind. (At least that was the case among the groups of people I socialized with.)

What finally got me to quit telling Dumb Pollock jokes for good was when I converted to Unitarian Universalism a year after I graduated from college but shortly before I got married. That faith has seven principles, the first of which is this:

The inherent worth and dignity of every person.

In a nutshell every person is entitled to being respected no matter what that person’s background is. Telling Dumb Pollock jokes—or any other type of ethnic jokes—dehumanizes a certain category of people simply because they were born that way and it’s not something that one can control.

While I managed to let go of the Dumb Pollock stereotype, it’s obvious that President Trump has not. In fact back in the 1980’s it was said that he broke the law by hiring illegal Polish immigrants to work on building his Trump Tower without even providing the proper safety equipment necessary to do the job. He paid them $4 per hour, which is far less than the minimum wage at that time. Of course that was when he even bothered to pay them. Many of these workers weren’t paid at all yet they were forced to continue working on that building project because they were threatened with being reported to authorities and deported. If that weren’t bad enough, here is what one Polish worker said about his time working on the Trump Tower project:

Trump also hired a smaller crew of unionized demolition workers who teased their nonunion Polish counterparts. “They told me and my friends that we are stupid Poles and we are working for such low money,” Adam Mrowiec, one of the Polish workers, later testified.

So here is a man who was probably exposed to the same Dumb Pollock jokes that I was, except he grew up in a more insulated environment than I was so he never learned to consider Polish people as being anything other than Dumb Pollocks to be used and discarded for his own purposes just like inanimate objects. And if these Dumb Pollocks aren’t useful to him, then they should just go away.

With a mindset like that, it’s no wonder the Trump Administration has sent ICE agents after a Polish American man to be deported from the only country he has ever known to a nation that he hasn’t seen since he was five years old.

If you’re a Polish American who voted for Donald Trump back in 2016 expecting that he will—to quote his campaign slogan—Make America Great Again, then the joke’s on you since he’s basically a con artist who could care less for anyone who isn’t a wealthy WASP like he is and who basically looks down on people like you.

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