Jody Whitesides | Just Looking for Some Touch

Jody Whitesides

If you haven’t heard of Jody Whitesides yet, well, you have now. And you’ll be hearing more.

At first glance he could be one of those Renaissance multi-hyphenates you love to hate — artist-producer-athlete-businessman-Josh Hartnett stand-in — and then you can’t, because he’s just so damned talented and funny. Politically savvy, too. Plus he bakes. Bakes! Scratch bread, scratch brownies, scratch pizza. I am not making this up.

Yeah, the guy totally cooks. Whitesides is a musician who plays, sings, writes, and produces. He’s got some cool videos on his website, and publishes his music on Spotify and iTunes. He’s so into process, he even makes instructional tech vids for musicians. And posts crazy gifs and vines on Twitter. That’s where I discovered him. And unlike a lot of popular Tweeps who can’t be bothered, he actually interacts with followers. Which is how I ended up at his website, being impressed enough to write all this.

Whitesides prolifically generates fun music that’s infectiously danceable. And he markets all his product himself, making him kind of a poster child for DIY music career success.

Before roaring off on said music career, Whitesides was a nationally ranked freestyle skier and BMX racer. Swapping his earmuffs for earworms, he went on to lend his voice for backing vocals to the Swedish hard rock band Talisman fronted by Jeff Scott Soto, and played some guitar for NKOTB’s Danny Woods. Whitesides has his own studio where he produced recordings for the comedy rock band Throwing Toasters and bass master Seth Horan, among others.

Until recently his bread and butter was scoring video games and film trailers, and creating anthems for various sports (notably “Do You Want to Play,” for the NFL and NHL) and TV shows (“Nightwatch New Orleans,” “Top Golf,” and Dwayne Johnson’s documentary series, “Hard Corps”).

Sounds like a sensory smorgasbord, right? It kind of is, but the main theme of his musical style is this: Nobody sits. His repertoire is a lush and expansive romp covering a wide swath: techno-dance and retro pop, acoustic and power ballads, and high-energy modern rock.

“I take influences from everything around me,” says Whitesides. He credits his artistic open-mindedness to a music teacher who once told him: “Mediocre artists steal from one source. Great artists steal from many.”

“I’ve held to that maxim,” he says. “No two of my songs are ever exactly alike. And no two people will generally compare me to the same artist. That becomes a Catch 22, but I’m okay with it.”

Whitesides, who claims he didn’t start talking until he was two, has plenty to say on his latest single, “Touch.” I listened to it and it’s tasty; you should too. Then I read his bio. That’s where I learned he’s a New Yorker who’s into bikes. Yo — what’s not to like? So I asked if I could interview him. He said yeah. Here we go!

Touch shoot, from Twitter

Q What’s the story behind Google refusing to advertise “Touch”? Is that specifically “Touch (Explicit)”? That was the best version! I love the Borg dancers.
A The official response was that the content of the video was “Too Adult.” It was for the clean version. I didn’t even bother to try advertising the explicit version. The weird thing is, no one is naked.

Q Your newest song, “Thump Thump Thump” — is it out yet?
A It is not out yet, but will be soon. It will be on Spotify!

Q How many/what kinds of instruments do you play?
A Technically I play about six. But I can pretty much play any stringed instrument in some fashion. Guitar, vocals, bass, mandolin, ukulele, percussion. I futz around on piano, drums, and kazoo.

Q What’s the most memorable gig you ever played?
A One time a group of drunk lesbians jumped up on stage and proceeded to grind all the members of the band. This was after they formally announced themselves while jumping on the bar in the back of the venue. It caused quite a ruckus and was entertaining for the audience. I did have to get them offstage once one of them nearly broke my teeth when she knocked the mic stand into my mouth while I was singing.

Q When you were younger, did your parents believe you’d make a living with music, or did they unsubtly push you in other directions? (Can you tell I hang out with musicians too much?)
A My parents never initially questioned my desire to learn to play. Actually, they supported it, probably because they were both artists of their own right. Commercial illustrator, and interior decorator. The one requirement was to attend college and get a degree. So I did. Then I went to music school. [Berklee College of Music and Musicians Institute] While they’ve never come out against it, there have been times when my mom has questioned if I should continue. The typical subtle hint type of stuff.

Q Major influences?
A Anything and everything I’ve ever heard influences me, for good or bad. While learning to play, I did focus on guitar god-type players — Hendrix, Satriani, Vai, Tabor, Wylde, Bettencourt. Once I graduated from music school, I started concentrating more on song writing. That’s a whole different ballgame from being an awesome guitar player.

Q What’s the best advice you ever got?
A “Never quit.” However, there was a teacher at music school who did say: “Never get a day job! You’ll get too comfortable and music will become secondary.” Sure enough, many friends from music school did end up getting day jobs, got comfortable and quit. I took that to heart. Never got a day job.

Q Share some things on your bucket list.
A Win the WSOP Main Event. Mountain bike the Rockies from Canada to Mexico. Start an annual New Year’s Eve event. Tour all 50 states with my music, then tour the world. Restore an old car. Learn to fly a plane.

Q What kinds of bicycles do you own? Specifics, please. Bike junkies here.
A I have a Specialized mountain bike and a Cannondale EVO road bike. I also have a JMC Black Shadow BMX bike that I used to race as a little kid. The big kid in me still likes to ride it around now and then.

Q The skiing — were you on the national team? Pro sponsored? Spend any time at the Olympic Training Center? (The caf slop! Cement beds! Prisonish WCs… Asking for a wistful ex-USAC official.)
A As a skier I was nationally ranked but never on the U.S. team. I had some sponsors over the course of my competitive skiing career. I’ve been to the OTC, but not to train. I wish I had made that level — I missed it by 1/10th of a point, one place out of making the team.

Q What kinds of goodies do you bake besides brownies and bread? Where did your love of kitchen arts originate?
A My most famous dish would be pizza from scratch. I make the dough, the sauce, and on occasion the cheese as well. I’m much more into cooking. My mom had my sister and I fend for ourselves by having us use recipes out of a children’s cookbook. Mom is an excellent cook too, but wanted us to be self-sufficient in the kitchen. A skill that has certainly impressed members of the opposite sex.

Q Got any pets?
A I do have a dog. His name is Dorian. Many people think he’s named after The Picture of Dorian Gray. He’s really named after a mode of the major scale — Dorian.

Q Desert island, five entertainment must-haves, any media.
A:
1. A guitar, to allow me to entertain myself with writing songs.
2. An internet connection.
3. From #2, I’ll be able to watch movies.
4. From #2, I’ll be able to read books.
5. From #2, I’ll be able to listen to other people’s music.:-)

photog: Brian Gerber

Jody spots the drone bringing his Amazon delivery.

Jody Whitesides’ website: JodyWhitesides.com
Jody Whitesides is on IMDB
Jody Whitesides on Twitter: @JodyWhitesides
Studio photographs © 2016 Brian Gerber
Twitter photograph © 2016 Jody Whitesides
Everything else here Copyright © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

guitars

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.

DEAD SPOT on AmazonSydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

Celebs Behaving Badly | CalArts Edition

This is an installment in a continuing series of inconsequential but entertaining dish. See the first Celebs Behaving Badly here.

Copyright © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

I went to California Institute of the Arts. It’s an experience I can’t believe I survived. They really didn’t care what anyone did as long as no one got killed.

Giant penis graduates from CalArts. Copyright © 1976, © 2016 Brian Bailey

Monkey Business
My friend Diane Buckler was a raving beauty and inveterate people collector. (Also a damn fine photographer and barrel of fun. She once dragged me to a Holiday Inn disco in King of Prussia, which we turned inside out. They never recovered.)

One of Diane’s gazillion friends was kin of Groucho Marx — I forget which one, probably his grandnephew Gregg Marx (Gummo’s singer/actor grandson, he starred in “As The World Turns”).

One day this fella took Diane with him to visit Groucho. Old and sick by then, he was still a card-carrying letch. She was shocked when Groucho leered at her and wheezed, “Hey, little girl! Want a CHEESE SANDWICH?” But she laughed so hard about it later, his deathless invitation became her personal catchphrase.

Diane Buckler (right, as her alter ego Adrian) and one of her many friends, Craig (not Gregg). Photo Copyright © 2016 Diane Buckler

Diane Buckler (right, as her alter ego Adrian) and one of her many friends, Craig (not Gregg). Photo Copyright © 2016 Diane Buckler

Children of the Corn
I had the dubious honor of knowing too many children and siblings of famous people. Most were needy, narcissistic whiners accepted by the school because their parents paid cash. You could ignore them, but at your own peril.

Case in point: I was once the object of a masterful defamation campaign orchestrated by the otherwise talent-free spawn of an Oscar winner. Why? Because I made a funny joke about her friend/my roommate who always blabbed nonstop about sex (and was standing right there, btw, blabbing about sex). The joke? It was about how she was always blabbing about sex. Neither they nor any of their zombie pals ever spoke to me again, which was perfect.

Another one of “them” was autistic. By which I mean seriously-fucked-up-Adam-Lanza-autistic. Never spoke to anyone, ever. Except for that one time when a cadre of pompous Disney suits arrived to steal free ideas for DisneyWorld. They called a student assembly and they talked and begged, very self-importantly, to the sound of crickets. Until the autistic guy started yelling every word of the script of Escape to Witch Mountain.

Chris Lemmon was not one of “them.” He was fairly low-key about his lineage. You either knew who he was or you didn’t; Chris never shoved his genealogy in anyone’s face. He was sweet, cute, and unpretentious — all Oh, it’s time to toilet paper the provost’s car? Let’s go! And he could play a piano like he was born doing it.

We had a totally unlicensed bar on campus, Cafe Musique, where he would play and (yes!) read poetry with us generic types.

“We used to do all sorts of illicit things there, not the least of which was my piano playing and incessant yodeling and mauling of perfectly good music,” Chris recalls fondly.

One of Chris’ Cafe Musique partners in crime was my friend Tom Knechtel’s friend Jane Koch Gagle (she runs the Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre now). One day Tom burst into Jane’s dorm room to show her some crazyass costume he’d made, and unexpectedly found Chris and a stranger standing there. All Tom saw of the stranger was his back, but he panicked. He knew it was Jack Lemmon, and Tom was dressed like a monk, so he fled.

Tom Knechtel became a celebrated West Coast painter and professor at Art Center College of Design. The L.A. Times said he commands “the draftsmanship of the Renaissance masters.” An understatement, IMHO. His wonderful work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco.

Chris Lemmon eventually went into the family business, even though he majored in classical music. It was preordained, I guess, considering he grew up all Hollywoody. I loved his TV show “Duet.” He’s been in tons of movies and TV shows, plus a stage production that he wrote (and composed the piano score for!) called A Twist of Lemmon. It’s based on his literary memoir about his father. Opening in London’s West End soon, too.

Good guys. Good stuff.

Tom Knechtel embraces the monastic life. Photo copyright © 1976 Don Booth

Tom Knechtel contemplates the monastic life. Photo copyright © 1976 Don Booth/Tom Knechtel

Chris Lemmon and a friend. Photo copyright © 2016 Christopher Lemmon

The Fabulous Stains
My dorm suitemate was Megan Anderson, an actor (I think). Megan was constantly screaming at someone, “Don’t call me Meg-un! It’s Meeg-an!”

Don’t-Call-Me-Meg-un had a large collection of Jacques Brel records (quel bore) and a best friend, Randall Edwards (she’s a girl). Randall’s very good friend was Ed Harris (definitely not a girl).

Randall was a crazed Bruce Lee fan. She would frequently explode into my room, ranting passionate declarations of love for Bruce, who alas was unavailable. She was inconsolable when he died without her permission. I finally had to move out of the dorm. Randall became a soap star. Megan’s probably on a street corner, yelling at people.

But back to Ed. He and Randall had no place to go to run lines or whatever, so they often used Megan’s room that adjoined my bathroom, a raging vortex of inappropriate sounds. Ed was no Bruce Lee, but he was certainly one superfine hunk of manflesh. There must’ve been some chopsocky cosplay going on. A lot of weird noises emanated from that place. Also a lot of used condoms.

What’s That Smell?
For the six people who don’t already know, CalArts was the brainchild of Walt Disney. Walt, of course, was the Disney family’s visionary; his brother Roy, not so much, and he’s the one everyone got stuck with after Walt died in 1966. There was a terrifying rumor that Roy wanted to monetize CalArts by charging visitors to ride around in trams and watch the artists at work. And if that didn’t pay off, Plan B was to turn the campus into a shopping mall.

The territory was a sump of rich mythology. Like the Mickey Mouse pornos allegedly drawn by Walt himself (which turned out to be real; I saw them). The Holy Grail of CalArts myths, though, is also the creepiest, and in hindsight maybe the easiest to understand. It was rumored that Walt was cryonically preserved when he died, so that he could be revived in the future when a cure for cancer was found. We were always looking around for him. Where better to stash a body than a remote desert locale?

Officially there’s no forensic evidence that Walt’s on ice somewhere. However, there’s this

CalArtian Mark Edward is a professional mentalist, seance performer, and popular television consultant. He says that before Walt died, “there was a lot of conjecture among fans and my fellow magicians about why it was taking so long for Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion to be completed. [Twelve years to design, six more years to build.]

The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland

The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland

“I was going out with a girl whose father owned a top-of-the-line refrigeration company with a lot of government and scientific contracts. One night, when I was at dinner at their house, he took me into another room where he rolled open a blueprint of The Haunted Mansion. He pointed out an area that was curiously set aside from the rest of the ride and marked with a large X. He asked me what I thought of that. He further told me that this particular ‘room’ had its own independent self-sufficient power supply, so that even if the entire city of Anaheim’s power was cut off, this one room would continue to operate.

“Odd, to say the least. It was his job to deliver the tons of high-tech equipment to this site the next day. In one of the strangest dreamlike events I can remember in my ’60s experience, he asked me, ‘Why do you think they need this equipment I’m selling them?’

“I didn’t have a clue, other than maybe it was ‘cold spot’ technology to ‘haunt’ the house. Only years later did I learn from CalArts sources the myth about Walt being frozen. One wag said when I told him, ‘Why not? Walt Disney certainly had the money and the will to do it.'”

Illya-cracy
CalArts rents itself out to a lot of TV shows and movies as a set. Officially the reason is to impart firsthand knowledge to students about TV/film production, but really the school just wants money. One of the shows that shot there was “The Invisible Man” starring David McCallum.

Let me just say this: I adore David McCallum. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is one of my all-time favorite TV shows (I own the entire boxed set), and I never miss  “NCIS.” I watch The Great Escape every time it’s on TV. I’ll even watch that one “Sex And The City” with him in it. Love love loves me some David McCallum!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But back to CalArts. While the alleged purpose of whoring itself out to Hollywood is to provide students with filmcraft knowledge, we were nevertheless banned from “Invisible Man” sets. I guess they were trying to protect their super secret technology from people who were about to make Star Wars: Episode IV and “Star Trek: TNG.” Or maybe McCallum had suffered more than enough frothing teens during his U.N.C.L.E. tenure. Whatever. We never even saw him just walking around the place. I mean, everybody goes to the can sometime, right?

Anyway, one day I learned McCallum was secretly stashed in an empty conference room, secretly waiting to go onto his secret set.

A guerrilla paparazza even back then, I barged in with my Instamatic.

I was shocked to find McCallum alone in the room, sitting quietly in an old lounge chair, wearing the show’s “secret technology” — a Chromakey mummy suit. Basically the same “secret technology” that suffocated original Invisible Man Claude Rains in 1933.

I clicked away at my hapless idol. And then my mummy, David McCallum, spoke to me.

“Your pictures won’t come out without a flash.”

I was ecstatic! And then I fled before someone could throw me out. (And yes, my pictures came out black.)

Bonus points: I also got to meet the legendary Jackie Cooper, who was just walking around the place like a regular person. He played Walter Carlson on the show before Peter Gunn took over the role. Cooper was very kind and nice, although he did have a deer-in-the-headlights look, probably because everyone else wanted to meet him, too, all at the same time. Who wouldn’t?

NASA ain't got nothin' on this.

Above: David McCallum in “The Invisible Man.” Copyright © 1975 Dynamite Magazine

Illya Kuryakin on a mission.

Illya Kuryakin on a mission.

Go to the Head of the Class
New York painter Miriam Schapiro was a cofounder of the CalArts art school and its groundbreaking Feminist Art Program. She’s been called a figurehead of the art world, a feminist pioneer. Actually, her greatest talent was self-promotion.

Mimi definitely was a lot of things, but feminist wasn’t one of them. She was petty and vindictive, and wore her contempt like a mink stole. Her favorite students had parents rich enough to buy her paintings. She was cruel to others entrusted to her tutelage.

Part of her feminist art curriculum was something she called “consciousness raising groups.” In practice they were bully sessions during which entitled girls (they did a lot of self-portraits) brutalized less advantaged ones. Participants would break down in tears while Mimi sat there impassively.

To Mimi, her inexcusable behavior was normal and acceptable. No one ever interceded. The school’s president was Bob Fitzpatrick, who later mismanaged EuroDisney into bankruptcy; the dean of Mimi’s department was her husband, the abstract expressionist painter Paul Brach, whose lectures were self-aggrandizing extravaganzas of name dropping. Paul and Bob had other fish to fry.

When I was in the Feminist Art Program, I somehow got on Mimi’s shitlist. Without explanation she cut my contribution to the program’s Women’s Art Festival project. The companion book, Anonymous Was a Woman, contains letters from famous artists to Mimi’s students; my name appears in their salutations, otherwise I don’t exist. (The book, which Mimi edited, makes no sense whatsoever. It contains many self-portraits. Also many photographs without captions or proper attribution. Mimi copyrighted everything in her name. At the very end, for any readers still awake, there’s one page perfunctorily thanking everyone who did all the work.)

The project broke to lots of publicity. At the same time, Mimi publicly unveiled a new collection of her own artwork for sale entitled — shocker! —  “Anonymous Was a Woman.”

No one would tell me why I was disowned. I did make the mistake — fatal, in retrospect — of mentioning during group that I’d run out of money. Shortly thereafter Mimi saw me returning from a job interview and insulted my clothing. (Conservative skirt, blouse, low-heeled shoes. She called me a whore. WTF?)

I never complained formally about Mimi and Paul. But others did. A groundswell of unhappy campers easily explains Mimi’s increasingly disturbing behavior.

There were some students who’d transferred to CalArts to study with artist Judy Chicago, the Feminist Art Program’s original codirector. Chicago had founded the very first Feminist Art Program, a thriving Cal State University enterprise that Mimi hijacked. After enticing Chicago to relocate her program from Fresno to Valencia, Mimi banished Chicago and continued the program solo. Chicago’s students were horrified.

You can read more takes on Mimi’s program here. One student dropped out because “there was too much emphasis placed on group projects and complications. One book was enough.” Another regretted joining because of all the “fights, disagreements, jealousy.” Another learned that “women can be just as exploitative of women as men.” Another said, “we could not get beyond personalities and create a lasting support system.” “It was clear to me,” deadpanned another, “‘artist’ is a dead profession.”

At least 25 percent of the group bailed. One casualty ended up in a sanitarium. Another ended up dead. (Connie Marsh. Google her.) Mimi knew a PR bonanza when she saw one. She invoked Connie’s memory at every opportunity, like a martyred saint. Connie’s photo appeared — right next to Mimi’s — on the cover of Anonymous Was a Woman. Listen, I knew Connie; I liked her. But there were non-dead group members who deserved to be on the cover and weren’t. They found out after the book came back from the printer.

Anonymous Was a Woman book cover

Anonymous Was a Woman book cover

I’m being charitable when I say it’s criminal to subject children to this kind of stress. CalArts must’ve agreed because Mimi and Paul soon hauled ass back to New York.

A couple of years later I ran into Mimi in SoHo. She pretended not to know me. I assumed it was because I wasn’t famous enough to impress her retinue. But later someone in the loop told me I was being punished for daring to quit her worthless program.

Oh. I didn’t reenlist for Part Two of Mimi’s dumb vanity project. Who needs a program about free expression that censors people?

I will say Mimi was a talented artist — also a con artist who hitched her wagon to any horse going in a lucrative direction.

Mimi Schapiro died last year, and some of us didn’t care.

Miriam Schapiro gives a lesson.

Miriam Schapiro gives a lesson.

CalArts extra credit points:

🐀 Judy Chicago retaliated by eclipsing the Feminist Art Program with her masterwork The Dinner Party, and redlining Mimi Schapiro out of documentation of their seminal Womanhouse project. Mimi was entirely edited out of the Womanhouse film by Johanna Demetrakas and completely ignored in Molly Haskell’s Village Voice review of it.

🐀 During a graduation party, CalArts president Bob Fitzpatrick was thrown fully clothed into a pool by the CalArts pottery teacher.

🐀 When Roy Disney died in 1971, the CalArts tourist trams and shopping mall mercifully died with him. Walt’s body is still MIA.

🐀 Bacon points: Ed Harris played Paul Brach’s best drunk friend in Pollock.

🐀 CalArts has a bookstore. I asked them to carry my book Dead Spot. Their response: “Fuck no! Please check the box indicating your donation of $50, $500, or $5000.”

🐀 Just before his death, Groucho Marx left instructions that he be buried on top of Marilyn Monroe.

Text Copyright © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
Zombie art © 2016 Gabriela Gonzalez/artescritorio.com

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.

DEAD SPOT on AmazonSydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

RUN AMOK! | Mapping the Tour de Trump’s Mishaps, Foul-Ups and Egregious Exaggerations

Copyright © 1989, © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Did you know that before Donald Trump was buying presidential races, he was buying bicycle races? Here’s a 1989 article I wrote for Spy Magazine about the Tour de Trump, an extravaganza of cheating, demagoguery, and over-the-top hyperbole. Some things never change.

The complete piece appears below the first illustration. My fuzzy screencaps of the original article are unreadable, but do take a look at the map, illustrated by John O’Leary. It’s awesome! The text is keyed to the map. The intro was written by Spy editor Jamie Malanowski.

Before we get started, here are some insider fun facts about the Tour (and things Spy wouldn’t print):
🚴 When Olympic gold medalist Viatcheslav Ekimov was assaulted, the only racer who stopped to help him was three-times Tour de France champion Greg LeMond.
🚴 The New York City stage almost didn’t happen. Gotham has a long and illustrious history of shaking down bike racing promoters, and Trump was no exception. He ponied up a five-figure cash bribe to nail it down.
🚴 The finishers of Stage 1 were greeted by a mob of protesters with signs reading “Fight Trumpism” and “Eat the Rich.”
🚴 When Trump wanted to ride bitch to view the race from a support motorcycle, officials made him wear a helmet. Think his hair’s bad now? You should’ve seen it then.
🚴 Trump brought his yacht to the race. The $100 million Trump Princess was formerly Nabila, the yacht of Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. It had a disco and helipad. (When it was Largo’s Flying Saucer in the film Never Say Never Again, it had nuclear weapons.) When Khashoggi was arrested for his role in the Iran-Contra affair, Trump scored the tub at a fire sale for $29 million. In 1991 Trump sold it for $20 million to pay debts when his Taj Mahal casino went bankrupt.

Read about everything else that happened at the Tour de Trump below the following screencap. It’s a pretty solid preview of a President Trump Administration.

On Your Mark, Get Set, RUN AMOK!
Mapping the Tour de Trump’s Mishaps, Foul-Ups and Egregious Exaggerations
originally published in Spy Magazine, September 1989
Text Copyright © 1989, © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

The Tour de Trump: who can forget the fun we had? If we couldn’t join sports nuts who flew into Atlantic City to attend the showdown, then (after calling our bookies) we joined our friends in front of the TV for a festive, sure-to-be-annual Tour de Trump party….

Oops — sorry! We were thinking of the Super Bowl. Actually, the Tour de Trump was that curious event last May that, according to its namesake, was supposed to have cycling’s hottest stars and the world’s most lucrative prizes (at least three European races award more), and was generally sold as being the premier cycling race in America. Maybe it was. However, it was also certainly an over-hyped, under-scrutinized event, characterized by snafus, Wile E. Coyote shenanigans, critical errors and a remarkably casual approach to facts. Cycling expert SYDNEY SCHUSTER recaps the highlights.

TRUMP TOWER, MANHATTAN
SUMMER 1987
Basketball analyst and entrepreneur Billy Packer, one of three partners attempting to launch an American bicycle race on the order of Le Tour de France, seeks the financial backing of Donald Trump. Before their meeting Packer thinks, If he asks me, “What’s the race’s name?” I’ll say, “Tour de Trump.” As Francophones know, this term actually describes a race where competitors travel around Trump’s body. Depending on which newspaper note-taker received Trump’s more accurate recollection, he replies either “You have to be kidding…. The idea’s so wild it’s going to work” or “Are you kidding? I will get killed in the media if I use that name…. You know, but it is a great shtick.”

THE PLAZA HOTEL, MANHATTAN
DECEMBER 6, 1988
This marks the third occasion on which Trump announces the race. At various times before the event, the promoters issue press releases that describe the Tour’s distance as 837 miles, 850 miles, 900 miles, 925 miles, 937 miles, 950 miles and 1,000 miles. The length is actually 782 miles. At the press conference. Trump unveils the obligatory commemorative LeRoy Neiman poster, showing a bareheaded cyclist crossing the finish line with arms upraised against a backdrop of the Atlantic City casinos. (In real life the cyclist, being helmetless, would have been disqualified.) Trump writes in the event’s official program that the Tour will feature the American debut of “the first Soviet professional team…a thrilling breakthrough in international sports history.” The Soviet team, Alfa Lum, does not show; they are racing in Spain. Trump, who has never seen a bike race in person, goes on to promise that the event will be “the most unique and spectacular event on the Eastern seaboard this year.” Unique, certainly.

ALBANY
MAY 5, 1989
(illustration 1) The prologue to the race is a two-mile individual time trial, in which each rider races along against the clock and the best time wins, thus establishing a race leader. Governor Cuomo is supposed to fire the starting pistol but backs out. A Trump spokesman describes Trump’s reaction to the news: “Privately, he might be a bit angry, but publicly he didn’t flare up at all.” At the last moment Cuomo finds time in his overbooked schedule to appear.

ALBANY
MAY 6
The first stage of the Tour is a 110-mile race down to New Paltz, New York. Though Soviet amateur Viatcheslav Ekimov is the world’s fastest track racer, the pros are flummoxed when he soundly beats them on the open road. This is not because he surprises them with his ability but because he has broken a tacit rule of racing etiquette: Amateurs do not show up the pros. (2) Trump watches this leg of the race from the caravan of 100 or so support vehicles following the cyclists, his stretch limo standing out among a pack of bicycle-laden hatchbacks, vans and Jeeps.

THE PLAZA, MANHATTAN
MAY 7
(3)
Trump wanted to start Stage Two of the Tour in front of Trump Tower, where, he had rhapsodized in the program notes, “more than 120 cyclists will explode onto Fifth Avenue.” Unfortunately, the city has regulations curtailing public gatherings on Fifth Avenue (and may well have an ordinance against exploding bicyclists), and the start is relocated to another Trump venue, the 59th Street side of The Plaza. The new location guarantees that the Tour de Trump will cross paths with the 25,000 recreational cyclists involved in the American Youth Hostels Five-Borough Bike Tour.

Though Trump promises that Mayor Koch will launch this leg, a 123-mile race from Manhattan to Allentown, Pennsylvania — “I just hope he doesn’t point the starting gun at me,” Trump says — Koch declines to make nice to his antagonist and stays home. [Trump had threatened Koch over his never-built Television City development; Koch called Trump “piggy, piggy, piggy” and “one of the great hucksters.“] In fact, the city denies the Tour a racing permit, effectively rendering the first 35 miles of this leg an escorted parade out of town. Meanwhile, little things go wrong: Clif Halsey, cycling expert for NBC (the network provides financial backing for the event as well as broadcasting it), fails to identify cycling superstar Andy Hampsten [two-time winner of Tour de Suisse, three-stage winner of Giro D’Italia, one stage win in Tour de France], and the racers discover that the hot-pink-and-black Tour de Trump race leader’s jersey bleeds profusely when washed (4).

BETWEEN GETTYSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA, AND WINCHESTER, VIRGINIA
MAY 9
(5)
The professional racers choose this stage of the race to send a subtle message to the precocious amateur, Ekimov. Fifteen or so racers surround him, grab hold of his jersey and jam a feed bag into his wheel, allowing 7-Eleven, Panasonic and PDM team members to speed away in front. Ekimov has to stop and remove the feed bag, which places him so far behind that it becomes impossible for him to win.

BETWEEN FRONT ROYAL AND CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA
MAY 10
(6)
The amateurs retaliate. Inspired by their Soviet coach — who commands his men, “No pee-pee today!” — the amateurs burst past the professionals at the moment the pros slow down to relieve themselves. Amateur Rishi Grewal establishes an extraordinary lead that lasts well over half the 107-mile race to Charlottesville. The pros eventually catch up, after which Grewal is “accidentally” hit by a support-crew Jeep. (7)

BALTIMORE
MAY 13
(8)
As the pros and amateurs continue to battle extralegally, Trump chooses to watch the next stage of his Tour, a 51-mile circuit race, from the Trump Princess. Later that day in Atlantic City he brushes off the cycling press and spends his time showing the boat to bigwigs.

ATLANTIC CITY
MAY 14
Pro races usually don’t end with time trials, but this one does. Because of the way time trials are held (racers go off at specified intervals), they offer Trump the picturesque vision of racer after godlike racer thundering past the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in prime time — indeed, he has it contractually stipulated that the race end this way. As befits an event run by amateurs and media hogs, the 24-mile time trial is marked by numberless incidents of hanky-panky. Racers illegally cut their times by riding in the slipstreams of their escort motorcycles. (9) Three riders converge head-on from three different directions at an intersection, meaning that at least two of them took shortcuts or wrong turns. Many riders go off course because of poorly placed markers and a lack of road marshals. One of the world’s foremost time trialists, Eric Vanderaerden, misses a well-marked turn, prompting speculations that either he was intentionally misdirected or he wasn’t exactly trying to win. Trump and his armed bodyguards commandeer official motorcycles to see the action better.

FINISH LINE, ATLANTIC CITY
MAY 14
After a race full of small disasters (a support van drives into a ditch, the chief motorcycle marshal totals an $11,500 BMW and a sportscaster on a motorcycle trashes an ESPN video camera), $93,150 is awarded to first-place finisher Dag-Otto Lauritzen and his 7-Eleven team, the same team that was featured earlier in the day in an elaborate three-and-a-half-minute NBC documentary — almost as if someone knew the results ahead of time.

The real winner, of course, is Trump. In return for his $750,000 sponsor fee, he has got an estimated $4.5 million worth of promotion for himself and his buildings on NBC and ESPN, reams of uncritical newspaper attention, and even some bonus publicity for his not-yet-completed Atlantic City Taj Mahal when a racer plunges into a barrier around the construction site (10).

🚴🚴🚴

Sports Illustrated ran a great article about the Tour de Trump, with lots of details about the racing. Read it here.

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Copyright © 1989 & © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.

DEAD SPOT on Amazon

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

Celebs Behaving Badly

Copyright © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

So you know how I always humblebrag about all the famous people I’ve met, and then veer off into an Emily Litella-ish rant about Soviet jewelry? Thought you might enjoy some actual celebrity dirt, so here you go.

Bridge Over Bongled Water

When I was 13 I was a rabid Simon and Garfunkel fan. They performed at my town’s convention center, back in ye olden days when concert security was one guy with a flashlight. If you knew where the stage door was, you could ambush the objects of your teenage lust. Which is exactly what I did after S&G’s concert.

At the time I had a business painting pictures of cute things on river rocks that I sold in boutiques. Most people used them for paperweights. So I painted Simon’s and Garfunkel’s portraits on two rocks, which I presented to them as they ran in terror to their waiting limo.

Simon was actually quite gracious about being handed a heavy blunt object. Of course he was confused and thought me insane, but he smiled a lot. Garfunkel was further away; I had to throw his rock to him. Apparently this sort of thing happens to him a lot. Perceiving that I was throwing a rock AT him, he picked it up from where he let it crash to the ground and nailed me with it. I’d never heard an adult curse like that before.

Bonus round: Years later, my mother-in-law reported seeing Garfunkel get into another limo with his wife. She was so clutzy (or hammered, your pick) that my MIL could see her tonsils from up her skirt. Along with everyone else on that well-lit, crowded Manhattan street. Stay classy, Art.

Art Garfunkel and Mrs. Garfunkel step out.

Art Garfunkel and Mrs. Garfunkel step out.

The Man Who Fell Into My Floorthru

Back when actor Candy Clark was still lukewarm from American Graffiti, I lived in Los Angeles. My boyfriend at the time was her brother. Her boyfriend at the time was Nick Roeg, the director. To give you an idea of how tight we were, she claims to not remember me even though I was her sister-in-law for, like, eight years.

Call that what you will. I call bullshit. In a 2015 interview about The Man Who Fell to Earth, Clark said this about one of her doubles: “They hired this older actress and I thought, wow, that David Bowie is pretty brave — he was making out with her and she was about 60 years old.” The older actress whose name Clark couldn’t remember was her mother.

So Candy invited herself and Roeg to my place one Thanksgiving. I was young and broke and lived in a modest apartment in West Hollywood, when WeHo was still a hellho. Lenny Bruce lived there too, but not at the same time. My landlord swore it wasn’t the apartment where Bruce died, but I think he just said that so tenants wouldn’t bug him about the angry ghost in the coat closet.

Anyway, there wasn’t enough food to go around at this party, or even chairs. Clark arrived in a dress that took up my whole living room. Roeg clearly wished he was someplace else. (He was directing Clark and David Bowie at the time in The Man Who Fell to Earth, and this was not the kind of networking he enjoyed.)

Apparently they had no place else to go. They hijacked my intimate party, holding court in my parlor with most of my guests crowded around them like a trash fire. I spent the evening with my besties on a couch as far away as we could get without leaving.

Bonus round 1: Around this same time, Clark reportedly also swapped fluids with David Bowie , Ed Ruscha, and Mikhail Barishnikov.

Bonus round 2: Clark subsequently was incinerated by a hack-phobic demon in Amityville 3-D (1983) and ingested by The Blob (1988). Somehow she survived to sell autographs at hot rod rallies.

Bonus round 3: When Clark was shooting The Man Who Fell to Earth, I visited the set and met the incomparable Rip Torn. He’s very nice, and handsome.

Schadenfreude Bacon points: Roeg directed Art Garfunkel in the awful Bad Timing (1980).

Candy Clark takes a meeting.

Candy Clark takes a meeting.

I Am Tootie Hear Me Roar

When I lived in L.A. I worked at a store in Hollywood. One day showbiz poobah Jeff Wald swaggered in and screamed at everyone for no reason. (Wald managed Sylvester Stallone, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, George Carlin, Donna Summer, Flip Wilson, and a mountain of nose candy — $100,000 of it per year, in 1980s dollars.) He was dressed like a pimp. Everyone ignored him.

Eventually he left. Not for nothing, but we were relieved. In 1983 he tried to kill his ex-wife’s fiancé with his Maserati, with their 10-year-old inside. Helen Reddy (the ex) trashed Wald’s car with a mop while Wald’s bodyguard encouraged him to shoot her with his .45 stashed in the glove. I was never a Reddy fan before that. Wald also broke into Reddy’s house (kid in tow), breaking doors and windows and fleeing with $35,000 worth of stuff, including a Chagall print and a shotgun.

The well-traveled Wald was arrested for shoving the shotgun into the mouth of a Sahara Tahoe picketer, and he knocked out Rod Stewart for making him wait for a hotel room in Hawaii.

When Wald ODed in 1986, the only hospital that would admit him was Cedars-Sinai, and only because he’d built them a clinic.

Schadenfreude Bacon points: Wald married Candy Clark.

Jeff Wald and Helen Reddy

Jeff Wald and Helen Reddy making friends.

Royal Pain

You remember Jane Powell, the MGM contract starlet from so many forgettable films of the ’50s. No? Probably the most famous were Royal Wedding and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and that’s not saying much.

She was about 50 when we met, and very tiny (her Wikipedia stats say 5’1″, but that’s wildly optimistic). I was an indie fashion designer at the time. One of my customers, Wanda, owned a boutique on Sunset Strip, and one of Wanda’s friends was Jane. Actually, it was more like Jane waddled in one day and started ordering Wanda around.

Anyway, I had made an awesome custom dress for Wanda, who was a size 4. Jane saw it and wanted it. Not one like it. She wanted the exact same dress, cut down to fit her size 0 frame. Understand that this dress was engineered without any straight-line seams, like a baseball, in two difficult fabrics (silk and suede), to fit someone much bigger.

Wanda and I got into a big fight about it. She said she’d never hawk my stuff again if I didn’t do this thing. So I did it. Rebuilt the custom dress for Wanda into a custom dress for Jane. There was no CAD then, and a lot of the work involved hand stitching. It was the most elegant pain in the ass I ever attempted.

Fast forward to the fitting. Jane hated it. One of her hips was higher than the other, causing the hem to hang unevenly. It could’ve been fixed easily, but she decided to use it as an excuse to throw a temper tantrum and storm out. Hey, when Hollywood stops calling, how else ya gonna get any attention?

There was no way to resize it to fit a normal human, or even Wanda. And that’s how she got stuck with a size 0 custom dress that would fit no one ever. She hung it up in her store, but I have no idea if she ever sold it because I never spoke to her again.

The dress I made for Wanda and Jane.

The dress I made for Wanda and Jane.

How Wanda saw Jane (left); How Jane saw Jane (right).

How Wanda saw Jane (left); How Jane saw Jane (right).

The skirt I made for Jane (left); Jane's skirt from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (right).

The skirt I made for Jane (left); Jane’s skirt from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (right).

Greatest American Hero

I used to be a USOC-licensed bicycle racing official. I worked many races where Lance Armstrong competed as a junior drug monkey, before he won 47 Tours de France. The officials would arrive at the race venues all excited to be there, for they loved their sport. Then they’d obtain the start list and see his name on it, and go “Ohmygod Lance is here ugh.”

Lance Armstrong smells a fart.

Doug McClure or Troy Donahue (I can’t tell those guys apart)

Okay, this isn’t really my story, it’s my friends’ story which makes it hearsay, but it’s true and too funny to leave out.

Couple of my friends in high school, Laurie and Susan, they were like twins. Creepy alien twins, but cuter. Went everywhere together, had secret codes only they knew, laughed hysterically at stuff nobody else thought was funny. They were adorable.

I don’t remember how the following situation came about, but one night they were in a bar, in a state where the drinking age is 21. It was a bowling alley or something. They were maybe 17 at the time.

Also darkening this bar was red-nosed ’60s icon Doug McClure, or Troy Donahue. (Google them.) Although his showbiz shelf life was long expired, he alas had not and was still inadvisedly hitting on jailbait. He badgered Laurie and Susan relentlessly. They thought this hilarious and blew him off, repeatedly. He was obstinate, and kind of angry. He kept sniffing them and they kept ignoring him until eventually their ride came and they split, laughing hysterically.

Doug McClure and Troy Donahue. You figure it out.

Doug McClure and Troy Donahue. You figure it out.

Grouch-In-Chief

There was a restaurant I loved in New York that I visited a lot. Felidia, on 58th Street. They serve Italian food. Not the spaghetti and red sauce kind. The other stuff.

One night I was there with the better half, quietly enjoying a fabulous meal until the party at the next table got out of hand. Damn, they were loud. Look-At-Me loud. Someone at the table would say something, and then someone else would crush any spontaneous social interaction by demanding (loudly), “What do you think, Morley?” And then famed Canadian newsreader Morley Safer would hold forth interminably about something nobody cared about. Very loudly. Then they’d start all over again.

We would’ve scrammed early but the food was too good to wolf down.

Above: In his 2009 60 Minutes interview with Vogue boss Anna Wintour, Safer called her a bitch four times.

Princess Boogedyboo

One day I was standing on a long line at a big post office in Manhattan. The woman in front of me was squirming and twisting relentlessly, slinging her bags around, dropping stuff and picking it up, and generally having shpilkes over absolutely nothing. While everyone else waited quietly, she looked around nervously, like she expected them to assault her. Nobody did. Nobody cared. In fact, few people have ever been ignored so definitively. At length I realized she was Phoebe Cates.

Related posts:
No Degrees of Separation | My Date with Kevin Bacon
End of the Eighties | Walter Monheit
Joan Jett, the Queen of Rock’n’Roll, Finally Gets Crowned
Memo from the Dead Zone | 1986 World Cycling Championships
Doesn’t Harley-Davidson Make Training Wheels?

Photo Credits:
Art & Kim Garfunkel © 2004 Mitchell Levy/Globe-Photos
Candy Clark © 1976 British Lion Film Corporation
Jeff Wald & Helen Reddy © Hollywood Reporter
Jane Powell’s uglyass skirt & Christmas photos © 1954 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 
Lance Armstrong © 2015 EPA/European Pressphoto Agency
Doug McClure © 1962 National Broadcasting Company
Troy Donahue © 1960 Warner Brothers Pictures
Phoebe Cates © 1994 Ardican Films

Text and all other photos Copyright © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.

DEAD SPOT on Amazon

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

More Great Adventures in Cheap Wine

Copyright © 2015 SYDNEY SCHUSTER

My last posts about liquid refreshments were such big hits, here’s some more!

wine

And now, the bad news. 2012 wines blow.

What 1929 was to the stock market, what 1963 and 2000 were to presidential debacles, what 2001 was to the demise of the Fourth Amendment and 3,000 people who mostly weren’t bothering anyone, 2012 is to wine.

I say this because every single 2012 I’ve tried — and there is no nice way to put this — sucked so loud I needed earmuffs to drink it.

Flat. Bitter. Mediciney. Weird colors. I will not touch any more 2012s with a barge pole. Unless someone gives me one for free, in which case I’ll cook with it. Maybe. 2012s are not — repeat NOT —  going to improve with age.

Why? A good question. And I have a theory. So permit me to winesplain.

Before you suggest that perhaps my neighborhood packies park their stock too close to the radiator, let me just say this: All wines usually aren’t bad at once.

That means the problem with the 2012s is something else, something way bigger. (Although the radiator thing is pretty bad too, and it actually happened at one store I used to frequent and don’t anymore.) That’s why this is such a disaster. Being a wine aficionado without being a dick is hard enough without obstacles like this.

As you know, we here at Casa Loco are ardent fans of cheap good wine. We consume it like pop. We don’t care if it has a screw cap. We’re fond of spritzers and goofy cocktails. It’s not that we don’t have refined palates. It’s just that, for the most part, expensive wine is wasted on us because we’ll drink it with corndogs.

Until 2012 it was easy to score cheap delicious wines from all over the world. It’s stupid not to. Our go-to winners were Berco Do Infante Regional, a $6 super-Tuscan-like red from Portugal that I just adored, and a bangin’ $9 Medoc from Chateau Haut Queyran. Good stuff! Until 2012. Our first bottle of 2012 Berco mostly went into the ragout. There was not a second. And after we cleaned out the 2011 Haut Queyran Medocs, the store didn’t get any more.

An endless parade of 2012 swill ensued, along with my theory: I suspected 2012 was the first year wine growers got slammed by climate change, and it was major. Too much heat or cold, too much rain or not enough, hail in deserts, shorter growing seasons. The result: a uniform awfulness of product beyond description (and the reason I didn’t post about wine for a long time).

I figured I’d interview some real experts to get the poop, because I was going there anyway.

Everyone should have a wine store like my favorite, owned by two guys (Terry and Terry, I am not making this up) who sample everything they sell because they, you know, care. They’re a reliable source of great sleeper wines, and stuff like premium single malt scotches, craft beers, and boutique tequilas (which we also enjoy, but that’s a post for another time). So I can always ask Terry, “Is this any good?” and they’ll answer “Yes!” or “Maybe get this other one instead.”

Anyway, I asked them what’s the deal with the 2012s. There was a lot of whispering and shoulder shrugging, followed by crickets.

Okay. So next I visited the Interwebs to see what I could find about the death march that is 2012 wine. Here ya go:

It turns out 2012 was a benchmark year in wine fails. According to this lady who clearly knows more than I do, European vineyards were ravaged by bad weather in 2012, “leading to what could be the worst grape harvest in 50 years.” Crop damage was so widespread, some fancypants French and Italian vintners, such as Château d’Yquem, wrote off 2012 altogether rather than produce crap wine.

So much for Europe (and my beloved Berco and Medoc). Unfortunately, I endured equally vile stuff from South America, so don’t believe any PR blather about what a great year 2012 was for their malbecs and carmeneres. It wasn’t. Although some whites took somewhat less of a beating. We did get all the way through a 2012 Concha Y Toro sauvignon blanc magnum. Not terrible, just meh.

Now if you’ll recall, 2012 also was the year Hurricane Sandy destroyed most of the east coast of the US and seven other countries, so don’t expect anything good from them. Not that I was such a fan, but Martha’s Vineyard and Newport do produce wine that some people actually don’t mind drinking when it doesn’t taste like lighter fluid.

Over on the left coast, 2011 was the start of a rough streak for the Northwest. Which makes me sad, because Oregon and Washington state wines had always been among my favorites. I remember a pre-climate change Columbia Crest Two Vines shiraz so divine, it made me weep. RIP, my friend.

Northern California wines got T-boned too, with their climate-related slide starting back in 2010. Out-of-control wildfires aren’t helping them, either. I’d bag Napa and Sonoma brands for now. Also Central Valley. The current drought there pretty much ensures they won’t be producing anything promising any time soon.

Reportedly SoCal wines dodged the ick bullet. But I tired of them a while back — the whites are too minerally and acidic for my taste, the reds too big and unnecessarily complex, and most are stupid expensive.

Doubters: Check out this chart below from Wine Folly. It only covers 2004 to 2011 vintages, but the point’s pretty obvious.

Vintage Badness Chart

Vintage Badness Chart

For what it’s worth, this guy here swears some 2012 German wines aren’t so bad. And while Australia had smaller 2012 crop yields due to drought, they’re not necessarily nasty-ass ones so don’t dismiss them out of hand if you can afford the jacked-up prices.

Now if one were to ask me, I’d guess that many 2012 wines that did make it to stores are “special blends” cobbled together from leftover dregs of previous years and recent rejects that in a million years would never have made it into any bottle. Except, obviously, in an emergency. Which clearly 2012 is. And I’m guessing the few 2012s that don’t suck aren’t really made from 2012 harvests.

Mystery wines to try at your own risk

Mystery wines to try at your own risk

I’m telling ya, it’s been a long year waiting for reinforcements to replace the dogshit 2012s that still bogart the store shelves. So it was with great emotion and gratitude that I flung myself upon the 2013s that finally rolled in and, just last week, a 2014! I was so happy to see it, I took a picture.

Frontera malbec

Frontera malbec (above) is a long-time bargain fave here at Casa Loco. (If you have a choice, 2014 is better than 2013.)

And now you know what torpedoed 2012. Take a moment. Breathe. Then buy something else, okay? Anything else. Thank me later.

Herewith are some wines that are affordable, available now, pretty damn tasty and, most important, not 2012s. Enjoy!

🍷Tricky (Rabbit) Reserva Sauvignon Blanc/Carmenere blend (white, from Chile) 2013 $11.49
🍷The Bean Pinotage (red, from South Africa) 2014 $12
🍷Concha Y Toro Frontera Malbec (Argentina) 2014 $10 magnum!
🍷Concha Y Toro Frontera Carmenere (Chile) 2014 $10 magnum!
🍷Black River Malbec (Argentina) 2014 $12 magnum!
🍷Hedges Family Estate CMS Red Blend (Cab/Merlot/Syrah from Columbia Valley, Washington state) 2011 $12
🍷Lab Vinho Regional Lisboa White Blend (Vital, Arinto, Moscatel, and Sauvignon Blanc, from Portugal) 2013 $6
🍷Lab Vinho Regional Lisboa Red Blend (Castelao, Tinta Roriz, Syrah, and Touriga Nacional, from Portugal) 2013 $6
🍷Slavcek Sivi Pinot (white, from Slovenia) 2014 $13 (a splurge for a bargain wine, and totes worth it!)
🍷Mandrarossa Nero D’Avola (red, from Sicily) 2013 $10
🍷Purato Nero D’Avola (organic red, from Sicily) 2013 $13
🍷Tilia Bonarda (red, from Argentina) 2013 $10
🍷Fairview Goats Do Roam (Cote du Rhone-style red blend from South Africa) 2014 $10
🍷Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava (bubbly goodness from Spain) 2014 $11
🍷Mionetta Prosecco Brut (bubbly goodness from Italy) $13
🍷Terrilogio Primitivo (red, from Italy) 2014 $10
🍷Morgan Cotes du Crow’s (syrah and grenache blend from Monterey) 2013 $18 — well worth the splurge!)
🍷Ninety+ Cellars Old Vine Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina) 2014 (earthier) and 2015 (cleaner) $11

wine

Copyright © 2015 SYDNEY SCHUSTER — All Rights Reserved

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.
DEAD SPOT on Amazon

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party video advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

Joan Jett, The Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll, Finally Gets Crowned

joan jettThe only person happier than me that Joan Jett was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame on April 19 — finally! — is Joan Jett. The multitasking sex goddess is WAY overdue for this accolade.

Not for nothing, but Joan is an icon. For real. I’ve been an unapologetic fan since she was a Runaway.

Like every good Joanaholic, I’d always wanted to meet her, despite that old adage about meeting your idols being a bad idea. I have to admit, having met many of mine, that it’s kind of true. Joan eluded me, but we almost met many times. Ergo, I’m at a loss for how to calculate our degrees of separation. You decide!

When I lived in the West Village, a scarily reliable source (my busybody neighbor) insisted Joan lived on the next block. Never saw her. Then for three years she and I lived in the same suburban town, a few blocks apart. We even went to the same chiropractor. Somehow we never collided. I heard the local post office had one of her gold records, which they’d taken down during a renovation and not replaced, but I did ask them about it, and it is a thing — a thing I stood a few feet from in the dusty box where it was cavalierly abandoned by unworthy civil servants. Then we both moved back to civilization, she to a building not far from mine that I passed six days a week — before she moved in and I moved away. I did have one fun Joanless close encounter, when I shared a pizza at the beach with a woman whose brother wrote “Too Bad on Your Birthday.”

Ever the good Jettster, I’ve been to a gazillion Joan shows. I used to try to find out where she was signing autographs, but I was always too late or at the wrong place. At one show I had an in with the backline company, but all’s I got was an autographed CD from Kenny Laguna. I mean, he’s adorable and I appreciated it, but he’s not Joan.

So what’s that? Like, three degrees? Two? Whatever. We ain’t dead yet, me and Joan, so I guess it could still happen.

I sent Joan an email once, asking her advice on band marketing websites because she was one of the first to have one. I received an autoreply saying something like “Joan gets an awful lot of mail, she’ll get back to you.” She never did. That was seventeen years ago, but it’s okay. Joan was likely too busy fighting the good fight to wade through terabytes of gushing emails.

If all you know about her is how she fought with the Runaways and their cretinous manager Kim Fowley and rude industry execs (she had to sell “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” out of her car trunk after 23 record companies rejected it, and then it became No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 for 7 weeks and the number 3 song of 1982, neener neener), you’d have a pretty good idea about her scheduling issues. But Joan does USO shows and benefits, like for PETA and Farm Sanctuary. Plus she saved a 3-year-old from drowning in the ocean. I mean, how many people do all that in their spare time?

Joan Jett is a force of nature. She works incessantly. She made three platinum and gold records. In response to the “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” brouhaha, she founded Blackheart Records in 1980, making her among the first women ever to start a record company. That very elite group includes Vivian Carter (Vee-Jay, 1953), Sylvia Robinson (Sugar Hill, 1979), Florence Greenberg (Tiara, 1958), and Estelle Axton (Stax, 1958).

Joan also produced three movies, and many albums by The Germs, Bikini Kill, Circus Lupus, The Vacancies, and L7. She toured with The Police, Queen, Aerosmith, Tom Petty, Cheap Trick, the Ramones, Motörhead, Def Leppard, Green Day, Alice Cooper, Van Halen, Heart, and The Who.

She does some other stuff, too. If you didn’t see her awesome 2014 Hall of Fame performance with the surviving members of Nirvana, you must be dead.

It would’ve been enough for me had she stuck to music. But I was just agog at her star turn in the 1987 film Light of Day. She was luminous. Geez. If you ignore the secondary plot about the annoying mother, it’s a wonderful, painfully truthful depiction of gritty bar band life in the pre-Internet Midwest, with actual musicians (Joan, Michael J. Fox, Michael McKean, Trent Reznor, Paul Harkins, Jimmie Vaughan) playing the fictional ones. The soundtrack is bangin’, natch. Paul Schrader directed it (as well as some of my other favorite edgy flicks — Cat People, Auto Focus). Schrader said of Jett: “She’s phenomenal.” If you haven’t seen Light of Day (or even if you have), do it today.

light of day cast photoMany film reviewers expressed shock that The Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll can also act, but it should come as no surprise. (Did you see her on Walker, Texas Ranger? Holy shit!) She played Columbia for over a year on Broadway in The Rocky Horror Show. For cryin’ out loud, she was a professional performer before she could legally drink. She founded The Runaways in 1975, when she was a mere 16.

Since then Joan has faithfully, unflinchingly championed the empowerment of women. The guitar, the leather, the snarl — it’s all showbiz, baby. Yeah, she’s the queen of that, too. I’ll never forget one of her concerts years ago, where a bunch of JJ wannabes were picking fistfights with each other, trying to out-Joan Joan. Their mall gear and decal tattoos were no match for Joan’s divine glam punkness and couture S&M outfits, designed by the likes of Norma Kamali in the old days and Saint Laurent today. Those stupid girls didn’t get Joan, and never would.

Joan is not mean. She’s a true pioneer. She made it possible for female rockers who followed her to actually have careers in an industry that had been a male preserve. While clueless suburban debs were kicking each other in their tragic Riot Grrrl misinterpretation, Joan was kicking down doors for real women who totally got what she was about. And it changed everything.

At the induction ceremony, Miley Cyrus said, “all of us are going to experience people who try to tell us who to be and what to be. Fuck those people! Instead of changing for all those people, if you don’t like how the world is, change it yourself. [Joan] made the world evolve, her life and her success is proof that we can’t stop evolving.”

English translation: You da bomb, Joan! Congrats on your Hall of Fame induction. You’re my queen!

Joan Jett - The Kamali Years

Joan Jett – The Kamali Years

Joan Jett : Light of Day 1987DEAD SPOT on AmazonDEAD SPOT
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Text Copyright © 2015 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
Photo 1 Copyright © Corporal Steiner / corporalsteiner.tumblr.com
Photo 2 Copyright © TriStar Pictures
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Photo 4 Copyright © TAFT Entertainment Pictures/HBO

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party  advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

Why Selling Your Book (or Anything) on eBay Is Hopeless

Copyright © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Note: I will keep updating this post with new developments.

Do you sell your book (or anything else) on eBay? If you’ve had more than zero sales, consider yourself lucky.

eBay sellers have seen catastrophic drop-offs in sales, while eBay steals scads of their dough. WTF happened?

The easy blame is Cassini, the glitch-plagued, useless search engine eBay rolled out in 2013 just when sales started flatlining. (Sellers call it “Can’tSeeMe.”) Naturally everyone assumed a connection. And there is one, but eBay started doing things that are way more awful than Cassini:

● eBay gives preferential treatment to foreign mass marketers, pushing aside smaller domestic sellers.
● eBay deliberately hides many listings. (See Here’s how and why eBay limits visibility of your listings below.)
eBay hides your listing descriptions, too. Except when it replaces them with random nonsense phrases.
● eBay interlards the listings you pay for with eBay product promotions and links to competing listings, along with advertising from external retailers like Target, who pay eBay to skunk up your listings with pop-up ads that redirect buyers away from eBay. Schadenfreude points: Those retailers are paying eBay big bucks for ad placement on listings no one can see.
● eBay forces users to use PayPal. PayPal is bad. Even eBay knows it. eBay will not accept PayPal payments for its annual seller outreach events tickets, where you can share in the warm fuzzies for just $199!
eBay’s 2015 user agreement forbids you from adding your customers’ email addies to your marketing list.
● eBay forces sellers to use its Global Shipping Program (GSP). You mail your international packages to a Kentucky distribution center run by Pitney Bowes, who removes your packing materials to save money on postage and then ships broken purchases, often to the wrong place, with exorbitant export fees due to buyers (typically 33% of item value) that eBay keeps if customs doesn’t. Despite assurances that sellers bear no responsibility for packages GSP loses, eBay docks sellers anyway. GSP has been caught stealing shipments and reselling them on eBay.
● If you call eBay customer service and the CS rep doesn’t like your attitude after you’ve been on hold for hours, watch out for damaging retribution.
eBay is notoriously cheap. It’s US customer service reps are mostly Filipinos who are paid $5 per day plus a sandwich. In 2015 eBay tried to trick Ecommercebytes.com, an independent news site, into carrying eBay’s baggage for free. When that failed, eBay tried to trick eBay sellers into providing support, for free. Meanwhile eBay invested lavishly in a massive eCommerce talent training center in China.

eBay vs Google

There’s more. Remember all that action you used to get from people finding what you sell via Google search? Wave bye bye. eBay shot off its own foot by aggravating Google so egregiously that Google eliminated eBay listings from Google search. Here’s how:

● In 2006 eBay rolled out Google Checkout as a payment method, then rolled it back in a few days later.
● In 2013, eBay published a study claiming paid search ads on Google were a waste of its money.
● Over three days in 2014, eBay rearloaded 97 commercial tutorials onto YouTube, hoping its guides on how to buy belly button rings and not lose socks would boost eBay’s presence in Google searches (Google owns YouTube). Mostly it just boosted Google’s pique.
● In retaliation for eBay being dickish, Google minimized the presence of low-quality and/or thin content promotions, like eBay’s poorly thought out AdWords campaign.

eBay Adwords In 2014 eBay sellers suffered massive cutbacks in their listings on Google Shopping search after Google made the service pay-to-play and eBay didn’t want to so much. eBay punished Google by moving its Internet ad business to Bing, used by no one.
In 2015 shoppers reported receiving “Suspected Phishing Site” warnings on every eBay page they viewed using Chrome (a Google product).
In 2016, when eBay’s Gumtree classified site was hacked, affected users with Gmail accounts found their hack notifications — eventually — in their spam folders.

Anyway, here’s how and why eBay limits visibility of your listings:

Rolling blackouts (rotating exposure). eBay’s file management system herds what it considers less-desirable listings (ie, yours) into dead zones. It assigns server locations and listing numbers based on criteria like category and seller volume, allocated regionally, which eBay can manipulate discreetly. So like, if eBay needs you to step off because they got boxcarloads of bad art and Korean Rolexes to fence and you’re hogging their precious bandwidth with your dumb book, they just turn off your whole server and the entire Midwest (or wherever you are) goes dark.
Restricted visibility of listings to small, distant areas.
By forcing you to sell far away, eBay gets a bigger postage kickback. When you buy postage from eBay, eBay gets a fat cut from carrier services (a whopping 58% from USPS, 13% from FedEx). And eBay doesn’t want you selling locally, where buyers can — horrors — pick up for free!
eBay physically turns off listings (tap-on-tap-off) without notification (including ending auctions early, often within one minute of the end. One reason is to block snipe bidding, which overtaxes eBay’s inadequate infrastructure and bandwidth.
Secret selling limitations (throttling). No matter what you do, you’ll only be able to sell as much as eBay allows, and not one widget more. You’ll still be allowed to list things and pay listing fees, of course, but instead of your listings, buyers  will see this:

ebay unavailable message

eBay’s rationale regarding restricted visibility is actually codified in their user agreement:

Accordingly, to drive a positive user experience, a listing may not appear in some search and browse results regardless of the sort order chosen by the buyer.

I now invite you to share my horror upon discovering that “a positive user experience” means my eBay listings are visible ONLY in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. They’re not big readers of cutting-edge literature there, so I gave up selling my novel Dead Spot on eBay.

Fun Fact: In December 2014 an eBay forum moderator leaked an internal company memo explaining nine different kinds of limits to which sellers are arbitrarily subjected, including this one: “Silent limits (limits placed on an account that can’t be seen by the seller).” The post was deleted immediately. Here it is:

eBay secret seller limits

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Earth to eBay: Your technology platform blows

You’d think an ecommerce company as big as eBay would try to keep up with technology. But no.

● eBay recruits programmers from the local bus station. (Most are H-1B foreign workers.)
● Instead of using standalone servers to conduct its cavalcade of bad experiments, eBay beta tests on live listings. Worldwide, eBay had 16 site crashes in 2014 alone, on top of site hacks resulting from inadequate security. In November 2015, the site was down three times. eBay UK was down for three days in February 2016. Broad downtime outages are pretty much the norm.
● Due to lousy security, eBay experienced a hack in May 2014 by cyberthieves who stole the unencrypted names, passwords, email addresses, physical addresses, phone numbers, and birthdays of 100, 112, 128, 145 or 233 million eBay users (depending on which report you believe, although there’s a consensus that the hack actually occurred the previous February and eBay informed no one for three months). As a direct result, 24% to 49% of customers abandoned the venue.

Fun Fact: So many sellers fled, eBay now encourages buyers with complaints to file IC3 Internet fraud reports, thereby relieving eBay of responsibility to refund buyers when sellers go AWOL. If you thought selling on eBay sucked before, wait until your name’s on an FBI list.

● eBay’s user database was hacked again in July 2015, and then again in December. eBay wouldn’t say how many accounts were compromised, and ignored the second hack for a month before patching the related security flaw.
● eBay UK was occupied for 3 weeks in September 2015 by hackers who installed booby-trapped ads on the site. The ads infected millions of users’ computers with malware that stole their data. eBay notified no one. “The attacks that are documented publicly are only the tip of the iceberg,” said a representative of the security firm that discovered them. (In March 2016, the same thing happened on Australia eBay.)
● Instead of building firewalls, in October 2015 eBay started storing security data in temporary Flash cookies stored on your computer. When you clear browser cookies during regular maintenance, you’ll be locked out of your eBay account and see this message: “We don’t recognize your computer.”
In 2014 scammers started using cross-site scripting (XSS), a malicious Javascript code, to steal names and passwords of users by redirecting them to spoof sites. eBay didn’t patch the security flaw until 2016. Fun Flashbacks: In April 2016 eBay said it would ban active content (Java, Flash, plugins, form actions) — beginning in spring 2017. eBay also said it was banning active content in 2008, and then didn’t.
● April 2016: eBay’s Gumtree classified site was hacked.
● April 2016: hackers successfully robbed eBay users with ransomware.
● April 2016: eBay commenced testing password-free user authentication on live accounts, demanding that test subjects identify all other computer users in their building. Credit card and banking data for everyone!
● May 2016: eBay withdraws its latest seller tool, which replaces sellers’ PayPal email addies with strangers’ and/or gives 100% of your sale proceeds to charity.
● July 2016: eBay users are tormented by inescapable popup boxes exhorting them to “object Object OK.”
object object
● Magento, a popular ecommerce service that was part of eBay Enterprise from 2011 until November 2015, is a jackpot for cyberthieves using malware and ransomware to freely steal customer credit card information from independent web stores that use Magento.

Fun Fact: 149,000 users successfully sued over a data breach in 2008, and another breach-related class action began in 2014. eBay didn’t fix its security then, so you can safely assume eBay will never fix it. Paying off claimants is cheaper.

● eBay sells discounted postage to sellers, but the service is frequently ultra-slow or completely down. When it does work, the program generates return labels with addresses for the wrong seller and duplicates tracking numbers on unrelated shipments.
● eBay encourages sellers to input “item specifics” on their listings, ostensibly for better search visibility. Then Cassini systematically excludes listings from search by those attributes.
● eBay now bullies sellers into using UPCs, even if what they’re selling doesn’t have a UPC (handmade) or predates the use of UPCs (vintage). Listings without UPCs are relegated further in search results (if that’s even possible). According to Market Realist, forcing sellers to use UPCs “is helping to increase exposure for items in organic searches.” Translation: Foisting busywork on beleaguered sellers is how eBay avoids paying for search engine exposure. Fun Fact: Buyers can’t search items on eBay by UPC or item listing number.
● The main thing eBay’s new Amazon-ish UPC cataloging system has succeeded at is further confusing braindead buyers, who don’t understand the difference between product reviews and seller feedback and stick scathing irrelevant rants against sellers on catalog descriptions.
● eBay’s mobile app is virtually useless. It omits item descriptions and changes all your listings to Free Shipping! If a buyer tries to leave you five-star feedback on his iPhone, eBay’s mobile app will erase it. Plus the shopping cart doesn’t work. The September 2015 app update is even worse than what it replaces. Among other things, it hides bidder IDs from sellers.
● eBay’s Apple Watch app was so abominable, Apple yanked it from its app store — one of only two dumped out of some 3,500 available. The other one belonged to a scumbag who stole cancer charity donations.
● Got a problem? Call eBay’s award-free customer service all you want. They won’t help you. They WILL activate bots that identify keywords in your tirade that enable eBay to spam you with Internet ads.

eBay’s unwillingness to modernize its staff, coding, or infrastructure is a big mess of stupid, best exemplified by a market launch on October 9, 2014, when eBay began hosting live auctions with real-time bidding for a consortium of major art auction houses. The highly publicized event crashed eBay’s American servers the first day and its European ones the next. The buyer premiums alone ranged up to 30% of price realized, and eBay wasn’t about to forfeit that. So it shut down other marketing operations and/or transferred their databases to foreign servers to free up bandwidth and server space for the live auctions. According to reports on technical issue reporting boards and eBay forums, US sellers found their stores had become Russian or Chinese ones, their PayPal accounts were German, and their auctions had vanished. Some members could only access their accounts by logging in via eBay Canada. US buyers were blocked from making purchases from US sellers because, eBay insisted, one party wasn’t in the US.

(eBay achieves this remarkable feat with Docker and Kubernetes, technologies that package up all the components of an application so that it can run anywhere. In eBay’s case, out of a car trunk.)

In Dumbest Ecommerce Site On Earth News: On Sept. 4, 2015, eBay announced more real-time auctions with Phillips and Sotheby’s, presumably because of the success of the previous live auctions that crashed eBay’s servers and got it sued. One auctioneer reported that 10% of his sales went unpaid, and all his deadbeat “winners” registered through eBay.

More Fun eBay Tech Facts:
In May 2014, then-CEO John Donahoe blathered freely to the media that eBay would integrate Bitcoin as a payment option. A year later, eBay was banishing sellers who accepted Bitcoin payments.
On January 27, 2015, eBay announced it had created a new horrible technology division to build a new horrible payment gateway to replace PayPal after its spinoff, despite a non-compete agreement with PayPal.

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Seriously, WTH?

This seems like a good time to remind everyone (especially eBay) that even though eBay acts like a retailer, it’s not. It has no inventory, warehouses, fulfillment capabilities, or salespeople. It’s just a brokerage for independent sellers who provide stock and manage their own sales, and pay eBay a commission to use the venue. But for reasons that defy all logic of commerce, eBay has commenced jettisoning the small and mid-sized sellers who made it the 800-pound gorilla it is today.

In 2013 (and reportedly as early as 2008, when ex-Bain & Company CEO John Donahoe became eBay’s CEO) an anonymous eBay manager posted this chilling warning on the sellers’ forum, accompanied by details of the secret Machiavellian makeover designed to result in exactly what has transpired:

“[Small to mid-sized sellers] are not wanted. Leave. If you stay, you will be crushed. Leave. Go away. You cannot win. … You do not know how much they [eBay] hate you.”

Reports vary, but eBay admitted to (translation: probably grossly understated) 54,000 seller suspensions over just two days in 2013. In addition, ridiculous sales limitations were placed on an undisclosed number of active sellers.

After a tsunami of bad publicity, eBay clammed up about whatever it’s doing. (One possibility: driving disenfranchised sellers into its disastrous Valet selling program. Another possibility: unloading small sellers before US ecommerce sites are forced to collect and disburse sales taxes to all states. Big etailers have this ability; eBay doesn’t.)

Whatever the answer, on the 20th of every month thousands more sellers are kicked out, nominally for “underperformance” (directly caused by listing invisibility, duh).

Your turn will come. In the meantime, eBay doesn’t care if your listings never sell. Why? Because fees, dog. eBay has no skin in the game. You sell, you don’t sell — eBay wins either way.

When buyers can’t see listings, sellers relist perpetually, paying a fee per listing of 30 cents (plus $3.05 more for optional listing upgrades). eBay collects a minimum of $31.20 in fees for one unsold $10 item relisted weekly for two years, compared with $1.20 if it sells once. If a seller ends an auction early and there were bids on it, there’s a penalty fee. Do you prefer 30-day fixed-price listings? Don’t worry — eBay will convert them to Good Til Canceled without notice (no, you can’t change them back) and bill you monthly in perpetuity. Yes, even after you’re dead.

Want more (or any) buyers to see your listings? You’ll pay extra for that. And if you do manage to actually sell something, eBay will relist it without telling you — and charge you a listing fee. When buyers don’t pay or return what they bought, you ain’t getting your seller fees back. For returns you’ll pay for shipping, at a specially inflated rate that’s hoovered from your PayPal account against your will, along with the refund you’re forced to give. So you lose all that and all the fees you paid, plus the thing you sold if your buyer doesn’t bother returning it. Buyers don’t even have to pay for what they “buy” to score refunds. Try to fight them, and you’ll be arrested.

In November 2015 eBay announced it will no longer investigate seller claims of buyer return fraud. Why? Raw naked greed. Fees eBay collects from countless failed transactions like the following are too lucrative to pass up:

In May 2015 a woman sold her boat on eBay for $8,500. The buyer paid with PayPal, used the boat all summer, then filed a credit card chargeback. eBay and PayPal sided with and refunded the buyer, who refused to return the boat unless the seller paid him an additional $2,690.

In April 2016 an eBay seller sold a $1,400 donut fryer to a buyer who claimed it was broken and wanted a refund, despite the fact that the buyer is the one who broke it. eBay sided with the buyer, seized the funds from the seller’s PayPal account (because they’re still not connected, at all, lol), and forced the seller to pay the return shipping, too. The only alternative given the seller was to let the buyer keep the fryer and the refund.

In Campbell v. eBay Inc., a 2012 lawsuit that challenged eBay’s “the buyer is always right” policy, the plaintiff’s lawyer stated: “eBay does not and will not review the facts of the case to arrive at a fair resolution of the dispute between the buyer and the seller.” eBay’s boilerplate response to every dispute is that its TOS overrides any policies stated by sellers. Anthony A. Ferrigno, a lawyer in the case, told The New York Times: “If the contract is rescinded, if there is no sale, then the company does not collect final value fees.”

See how that works? eBay reportedly rakes in an average of $100 for every sale that goes south. Now multiply all of the above by millions of returned/unsold/unpaid-for listings to get the big picture.

But wait, there’s more fees!

● eBay collects store fees — $25-$350 per month. If you signed up for a store and you want out, you’ll pay an early termination fee, from $5.32 to $719.80. Cha ching, sucker!
● eBay pushes eBay MasterCards with a vertigo-inducing variable purchase APR of 19.99% or 23.99%.

Fun Facts:
● For books, eBay caps your shipping charge at $5 to $7 and then steals 13% of that in fees (10% to eBay + 3% to PayPal). Selling coffee table books? Reference books? Textbooks? Good luck with that!
● American Express, having tired of account hijackers and scammers who abuse chargebacks to “rent” eBay stuff, revamped its Return Protection in 2015. It now covers only US purchases returned unused/unopened/undamaged within 90 days, with a $1,000 annual cap and no reimbursement of shipping costs.
● eBay customer service reps are trained to call 911 in response to the many calls from sellers who are suicidal or having heart attacks.

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What a shock. eBay is hemorrhaging money.

Despite valiant efforts to fleece sellers, eBay’s revenue nosedived in 2014 and 2015 (including a $200 million loss due to the Google debacle alone) and remains stagnant in 2016. Three of eBay’s biggest partners bailed: Toys R Us, Martha Stewart, and Neiman Marcus, who said the partnership “did not meet all our expectations.

Why? Because eBay is to modern ecommerce what MySpace is to Instagram. But according to eBay, all its failures are someone else’s fault.

The company blamed its 2014 slump on the data breach (and blamed that on employees) and food stamp reductions (after partnering with bottomfeeder mega-retailers like Wal-Mart and Sears). In 2015 eBay blamed its revenue reversals on the US dollar being too strong. John Donahoe blamed mom-and-pop sellers for tanking eBay. CFO Scott Schenkel blamed “the SEO headwinds” (codespeak for Google exiling eBay) for eBay’s inability to attract new buyers.

2014:
According to its Q3 report, eBay had $749 million net profit from 128 million users. Sounds like a lot, right? Dogs, that’s $1.95 monthly profit per user. Who needs massive infrastructure for that? Homeless people make more money selling soda cans.

A Seeking Alpha article explains that eBay’s 2014 net income was actually $46 million, down from $2.856 billion in 2013.

13944842-14332855049573948-Adam-Klein_origin

2015:
Q1 revenue declined 4%.
The ecommerce consulting company ChannelAdvisor.com noted that eBay’s Q2 active user growth was 6% way lower than its 14% growth a year earlier.
A Q3 earnings conference call in October downplayed eBay’s 2% revenue decline from the year earlier. US gross merchandise volume (GMV) accelerated 1 point over the previous quarter (due entirely to ticket sales on StubHub), but YTY GMV declined by $433 million and net revenue by $51 million. Q3 auctions declined 21%.
Q4 revenue was unchanged from a year earlier.

2016:
eBay’s “fundamentals continue to be weak” and it “has not shown the revenue growth necessary for profit upside,” said Barclays after downgrading it in March.
In April Morgan Stanley downgraded eBay to underweight, blaming “erosion” in the UK and Germany cited in a survey. It showed that “62% of respondents in the UK and 68% of those in Germany said they had no plans to shop on eBay in the next 12 months. That is up from 21% and 17% respectively at the beginning of 2015. The rising level of buyer churn and/or lack of interest from new potential buyers is troubling.”
● eBay’s Q2 revenue growth was down 1%, with active marketplace buyer growth  unchanged YTY. The figures weren’t worse only because of StubHub and classifieds sales. Amazon reported 31% sales growth that quarter. The average annual growth rate for the whole ecommerce industry is 15%.

eBay hasn’t disappeared beneath the waves yet because it uses fake sales to inflate its GMV report to investors. It basically just exists to be sacked by insiders until there’s nothing left to pillage.

In June at Code Conference, new CEO Devin Wenig told tech industry leaders and investors: “We sell $90 billion worth of stuff a year!” It’s a lot less than $90 billion’s worth when adjusted for theft and nonpayment. “We are doing what we said we would do!” boasted Wenig, who ascended on July 20, 2015. He received half-year compensation of $14.5 million for losing vast sums of money.

eBay is “on life support,” Scott Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor.com, told Bloomberg.

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Fake IPOs

The upshot: eBay is hurriedly liquidating assets of any value, most notably via scams best described as fake IPOs.

The PayPal IPO was July 17, 2015. PayPal represented nearly half of eBay’s value. eBay announced the spinoff on September 30, 2014; the next day eBay assumed $7.5 billion of PayPal’s debt (ie, all of PayPal’s debt).

eBay bought PayPal in 2002 for $1.5 billion and won’t reveal the amount raised in the IPO (neither will PayPal), but when the dust settled there was a $13 billion spike in market cap. eBay took a $2.194 billion writeoff for its “discontinued operation” of PayPal. PayPal received a $5 billion cash divorce settlement from eBay (80% of eBay’s entire 2014 end-of-year cash). CFO Bob Swan said “more likely than not” the gift would be parked offshore to evade tax liability.

Nobody paid any taxes. eBay now may be able to avoid RICO and antitrust indictments, too.

On July 15 eBay claimed it also sold Enterprise, its ecommerce services division, for $925 million at a loss of $1.475 billion. (eBay acquired it in 2011 for $2.4 billion.) Part of Enterprise is now owned by Permira Funds’ Innotrac Corporation; Morgan Stanley, who’s managing eBay’s debt financing on the Enterprise deal, says it can’t find buyers for the remaining $640 million of eBay’s loans still outstanding and eBay lied to investors about its earnings on the deal.

Fake IPO Fun Fact:
Remember Magento, the eBay service that allowed hackers to loot its customers with malware? It was part of the Innotrac deal, and was then spun off from eBay Enterprise in a big hurry (November 2015). Mark Lavelle, the eBay boss who let hackers run rampant at Magento, is the new CEO of Magento Commerce Technologies.

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So caveat venditor, dogs. eBay is no longer a venue for modest indie sellers. Besides big box stores and Asian mass marketers, eBay only values sellers who are bloodthirsty international terrorists or high-volume fraud factories or fencing shit stolen from Amazon and sick people. But eBay isn’t copping to that because they’re too greedy to blow off all the free dough. The big question is, where does it all go?

eBay openly admits hiding money in Switzerland and Luxembourg. But if eBay’s not spending it on programmers, inventory, infrastructure, advertising, or customer service, what does it spend money on?

That would be lawsuits (at least 36 major ones since 2001 and a federal DOJ criminal investigation). Also golden parachutes and businesses it doesn’t need. (Over 40, according to Wikipedia. Remember Skype? And in July 2015 eBay announced it purchased the retread rag business Twice.com to beef up Valet, then a week later eBay announced it was ending Valet, and then it didn’t.) But mostly eBay spends its money on litigation payouts.

Despite plenty of complaints, there’s no action yet against eBay by either the SEC or FTC. The FBI and DOJ announced an ecommerce counterfeits crackdown in 2015, and the SEC at least still pretends to prosecute insider trading. You’d think they’d look into eBay’s vast off-the-books slush fund, called the black budget, that eBay uses to finance illegal activities.

The most plausible reasons why eBay has dodged greater regulatory scrutiny should make you think, and squirm:

1) Boardroom bully Carl Icahn (he owned 2% of eBay before the PayPal spinoff, then 3.8% of PayPal) makes generous political contributions to Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Mitt Romney, Orrin Hatch, John McCain, and other cash-before-Constitution carpetbaggers who endlessly block cabinet appointments and kill meaningful regulatory legislation; plus, he has successfully evaded SEC investigations himself;
2) While he was eBay’s CEO, John Donahoe contributed $35,800 in 2011 to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign and $15,200 to the DNC in 2009. Donahoe was recently appointed a member of the President’s Export Council, an international trade advisory committee. In November 2015, the President begged eBay sellers to support the onerous TPP by selling more internationally (despite that — or maybe because — a padded flat rate mailer sent registered priority to Europe or Japan costs $47 and coincidentally provides huge seller fees and postal commissions to eBay). Draw your own conclusions.
3) eBay is used by the government to spy on … well, everybody, the same way it uses Facebook and Google and Uber. eBay saves searches and purchase histories of users, and maintains a proprietary email system for them to rant at each other. Connect the dots, yo. Back in 2006 an eBay executive claimed the company doxxed 200 members per month. (This being eBay of 10 years ago, probably add a couple of zeroes to that figure now.) “I don’t know another Web site that has a privacy policy as flexible as eBay’s,” he said. We are doing a lot of work with law enforcement agencies.”

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Which brings us back to the seller purge that’s destroying millions of small businesses…

Giant fees from big box retailers and generous government payments for member records (no hard figures for eBay, but the Feds pay Verizon $775 each and AT&T $325 each; Cricket and U.S. Cellular, $250. Facebook pays no taxes in exchange for providing records) mean eBay doesn’t need your pathetic little sales commissions anymore.

That has freed eBay to painfully drag out and monetize the exodus of all the small sellers it loathes. The question remains: Why? Scuttlebutt is rampant in eBay forums and elsewhere as to the reasons. Pick your fave:

1) fewer members means fewer payouts from upcoming lawsuits
2) fewer members means fewer claimants from a rumored bankruptcy filing
3) easier reincorporation of eBay in another country. eBay UK paid a paltry £620,000 income tax for 2013 sales of over £1.3 billion (eBay US paid $6.1 million on $2.86 billion net revenues). eBay Australia and New Zealand paid only $6.2 million in income tax on billions in revenue over the past 12 years, and wrote off goods and services taxes it didn’t collect.
4) prep eBay for sale to another company, like Alibaba.

FWIW: In September 2014 eBay announced the PayPal split. The following December eBay commenced layoffs in the thousands. According to the Wall Street Journal: “Analysts have said an independent eBay would be a candidate for a buyout, and job cuts would help lower operating costs, a key metric for buyout firms.”

So let’s just say it: eBay transferred all its cash and assets to PayPal and offshore banks, and absorbed all of PayPal’s financial liabilities, obviously in preparation for (one way or another) The End.

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Anatomy of a trainwreck

It’s been nearly a decade since eBay’s profit machine comprised buyers and sellers of stuff. Now you are the product being sold. (When I logged in for 10 minutes on June 23, 2015, eBay injected 127 advertiser-paid cookies into my computer.)

eBay also flat out steals stuff. On Nov. 14, 2015, eBay colluded with UPS to illegally auction off a rare custom car engine made for and stolen from tech entrepreneur Rob Dahm.

The rest of eBay’s revenue comes from fee theft, fake IPOs, selling customer records to governments, and pump-and-dump.

Here’s how the latter works. eBay unlawfully gooses its stock price by planting acquisition/spinoff or technology overhaul rumors in the media. (Google to buy eBay! Carl Icahn to buy eBay! eBay may accept Bitcoin! eBay to sell off PayPal! John Donahoe going to PayPal! eBay to adapt artificial intelligence!) Insiders know every press release is a dinner bell.

Every time eBay’s share price spikes, board members and top execs sell theirs, then buy them back low (via company discount), and resell them at the jacked-up market price for huge profits.

An example:

Along with the official PayPal spin-off announcement on September 30, 2014, eBay also announced the imminent departures of the much-despised then-CEO John Donahoe and CFO Bob Swan. The share price spiked 7.5%. To squeeze off a shitload of Hail Mary stock dumps, eBay’s management dragged their gold-digging ass for six months before divulging the exact spinoff date (July 17, 2015) and triggering the massive sell-off destined to accompany it.

As a parting gift to himself, all of Donahoe’s restricted stock unit and stock option awards were accelerated. So on November 17, 2014, Donahoe bought 297,573 eBay shares at $25.85/share for $7,692,262. He sold them the same day at $55/share, for $16,344,000. His one-day profit: $8,651,738. The next day he dumped another 485,665 shares for $26,672,721. (These numbers were later cooked to show he instead sold 188,092 shares for $10,346,940 at $55/share.)

Then on Feb. 2, 2015, Donahoe sold 129,445 shares for $6,865,815. He bought them back on Feb. 10 for $3,227,063 and resold them the same day for $7,119,475. Donahoe’s one-day profit on Feb. 10: $3,892,412.

Many other eBay insiders joined in the fun, until the PayPal spinoff bombed their party. Before the split, eBay stock eternally hovered between $50 and $60, and never paid dividends. Even with a last-minute buying frenzy by opportunists taking advantage of the impending stock split (one share of PayPal received for every eBay share already owned), the price never rose above $66. (Fun Fact: Rival Amazon’s share price was $466 the same week eBay and PayPal split.)

On the first trading day after the split, July 20, PayPal’s share price was $40.76, while eBay’s sank to $28.57 and never recovered. Donahoe left eBay for PayPal with a $23 million retention bonus for “helping out.” Swan received an obscene retention bonus, too, of $12 million. Other top execs left with booty, too.

The dump continues. Among the high-profile escapees were German hedge fund Meag Munich Ergo Kapitalanlagegesellschaft, which sold its entire eBay stake of 521,357 shares for $14,326,890 in Q3 2015. In Q2 2016 the Third Point hedge fund sold its entire eBay stake of 9 million shares. And the giantest dump of all: right after the PayPal split, Carl Icahn unloaded all 46.3 million of his shares his entire 2% stake in eBay.
Schadenfreude points:
In July 2015, right after the spinoff, activist investor-nudnik Icahn traded his eBay holdings for 3.8% of PayPal, where his old eBay nemesis John Donahoe chairs the board. The next quarter, Icahn dumped 18.25% of his PayPal stake.

Icahn Enterprises cut to junk status by S&P

Carl Icahn to close Trump Taj Mahal casino

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More fun dysfunctional family news:
eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and PayPal founder Peter Thiel are in a duel to the death over (I am not making this up) Hulk Hogan. Gawker.com published a video of Hogan shagging the wife of his best friend, radio DJ Bubba the Love Sponge. Hogan sued Gawker for invasion of privacy. A jury awarded Hogan $140 million in damages. Gawker is appealing. Omidyar is supporting Gawker, and Thiel is paying Hogan’s legal fees.

Thiel, a registered Trump delegate, spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention about his everyguy struggle as an obscenely rich white gay man. Facebook, on whose board Thiel serves, proactively issued a statement claiming anything Thiel might say does not represent anything Facebook believes.

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eBay corporate culture in a nutshell

Where’s the beef? For one brief, radioactive moment, it was at PayPal. Just ask Icahn and Donahoe.

Under the seven-year stewardship of John Donahoe — who calls eBay sellers “noise” — eBay became an easy road to huge piles of money (ie, yours) for thieves and insiders. Especially Donahoe. He says his first job, which mainly involved wrecking trucks and drinking stolen beer, taught him everything he knows about leadership. What’s left of the new, PayPal-free eBay is a hollow shell making a loud thunking sound.

Few Nasdaq companies need to be investigated more than eBay does. In the meantime, eBay still laughably promises sellers better visibility in exchange for sellers providing 24-hour turnaround, free shipping, generous return policies, and of course lots of fees. But in reality seller compliance doesn’t buy blackout immunity, and eBay penalizes sellers for things they can’t control. eBay forums are clogged with complaints from cooperative sellers whose stuff is still deadweight at the ass end of search results (when it’s visible at all) behind thousands of duplicate listings for Chinese counterfeits and other dreck that don’t even have the search terms in the titles.

In other words, eBay’s current business model is you giving eBay money for nothing and eBay pimping you out to advertisers, not you selling stuff on eBay.

My advice: RUN LIKE HELL! Don’t bother selling your book (or anything else) on eBay. Short of worldwide famine or collision with a comet, eBay is your worst nightmare.

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Copyright © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

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