Living large in Hamburg…

I was chatting with my friend Sasha and reminiscing about my time in Hamburg where he is currently visiting and I was trying to remember where it was I stayed. Having visited 20 countries, and many of them numerous times, really only a handful of hotels stick in my mind. There was one in Egypt I remember and the one on the beach in Tel Aviv and a lovely one in Paris. There was the country club in Moscow. I always stayed at Hotel Central in Plzen, Czech Republic and I had a particular room I always took in a certain guest house in Schwangau, Germany as I felt it was the best in the city. Hotel Engel at the base of Castle Vaduz in Lichtenstein always had a fine room for me and treated me like a star. I even stayed above the Hofbrauhaus in Munich and surely a couple more if I took the time to think about it. All very James Bond like to walk into a hotel and get greeted with “Your normal room Sir?”. LOL

After a little brain twisting and Google Earth searching the place in Hamburg came back to me. It was Hotel Monopol. I remember it was mid December and there was a large park where they were holding the Christmas Festival and there were rides and food tents and I remember ducking into one of them to have a glass of warm red wine as I was freezing and I pondered with my traveling companion about how the prostitutes could stay warm in little more than a very short skirt, stockings and a light ski jacket. I wish we had the internet and digital cameras then like we do now as later I realized I had stayed just a few blocks from the location where the Star Club used to be. This is the place where the Beatles played for 1 1/2 months in ’62 and many of the big names in rock in the 60’s played there. The club closed on 31 December 1969 and the building it occupied was destroyed by a fire in 1987. The address in Hamburg area St. Pauli was: Große Freiheit 39; Große Freiheit is a side street of the Reeperbahn. I was also just a couple of blocks from the hotel the Beatles stayed in. Oh well.

Anyway, thanks to Al Gore and modern technology, and Google Earth specifically, I was able to grab a picture of the hotel I stayed in and the businesses on its’ ground floor. Here is the website for Trutti Frutti and the club next door Pearls.

trutti frutti star club the beatles hamburg germany

Yep, I was livin’ large. :)

Buy The Beatles: Live at the Star-Club here on Amazon.

Have you ever been to Hamburg? Do you think, as some do, that The Beatles are over rated? Share your thoughts in the comments. Would love to hear from you.

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Why I am quitting Facebook…sort of.

I spend a good bit of time on Facebook scrolling through the news feed seeing what my ‘friends’ are up to.

Recently I lightened up my ‘friends’ list by about 50% and this allowed me to scroll through the news feed and see more of what people I actually know and am truly interested in are posting on their Facebook page. I scroll through the feed and ‘like’ some items and comment on others while I watch the things I post collect cobwebs. Thanks to the algorithm Facebook uses, my posts will continue to do so too.

The algorithm Facebook uses can be summed up easily by understanding this concept: Actions you take on Facebook are going to impact what you and your friends see in the news feed.

Ultimately the goal of Facebook (at least as far as the news feed is concerned) is to show content to users that they find interesting, so that they will keep coming back to the site. Posts that get a disproportionate amount of engagement (likes, clicks, comments, shares) will be seen by a lot of people. If no one is liking, clicking, commenting on or sharing my posts they will just fall lower on the news feed and no one sees them unless they come directly to my page.

EdgeRank …or whatever Facebook calls it these days.

The news feed on Facebook was first implemented in September 2006, promising to provide “a personalized list of news stories throughout the day, so you’ll know when Mark adds Britney Spears to his Favorites or when your crush is single again.” (Yes, Facebook actually said that.) Facebook wanted to show users the most important content from their social network without making them click to visit their friends’ profiles. That would be just way too much work right? In trying to figure out a way to decide what was important to each person they came up with their ever changing algorithm.

So for instance, when your friends like or comment on something you post it tends to rise to the top of your news feed. The more people engage with your content, the more people will see that engagement in their news feed. No engagement and posts just do not get seen.

Quitting Facebook is a double edge sword in that I want to be able to know when The Paul Charles Band is playing. I want, and sort of need to be able to see what others are posting and to post for SpyCraftU, a company I am on the Board of Advisors for. I want to see what my friend and mentor Paul Kyriazi is up to regarding his teachings with The James Bond Lifestyle and his recent book releases. Plus I have the pages I run for my sites 1KSmiles and Best Tiramisu so I still have to be on Facebook. No just simply quitting Facebook.

Yeah yeah, I have heard the joke: Quitting Facebook is the new, adult version of running away from home. We all know you’re doing it for attention and we all know that you’ll be back…

And you are probably right. I probably will be back. Yet for now I have a bunch of big things I am working on that I need to concentrate on. Since whatever I post on Facebook does not seem to interest any one enough for them to like, click, comment or share it then it seems it is just a waste of time for me to do so. In the meanwhile you can find me here on my personal blog, at 1KSmiles or on Twitter or Google+. Texts and emails work too. ;)

And so I say good-bye to Facebook…for now.

one does not simply quit facebook quitting facebook

Confessions of a former magic shop employee

I used to work at a magic shop. Many people who came in said, “Oh this must be the best job in the world. It looks like you must have so much fun here.” Sure sometimes we did have fun there but the bottom line is it is still a job.

The magic shop I use to work at is a chain of magic shops in Las Vegas. The one I worked at was inside a shopping mall attached to a casino. A lot of people that come to Las Vegas seem to think that anything goes and there are no rules or common decency. They think they can do whatever they want, be rude to whoever they want, and it does not matter because it’s “Vegas baby!” so the experience of workers and magicians at places such as Denny and Lee Magic or Magic Inc. or Jimmy’s Magic Shop will most likely be dramatically different than my own experience. I used to like to say to my co-workers, “This sort of thing probably does not happen at Mall Of America“.

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Zoltar machine at the front of the magic shop

People would come into the shop and demand, “Do me a trick!” They would often time come in to play what we would call ‘Bust The Magician’ where they would demand we show them a trick and they they would try to catch us mess up. As well, many people would have just seen a magic show at some casino and try to figure out how the trick was done.

Sometimes we got a lot of foot traffic past the front of the store. The general manager would call these people ‘twenty dollar bills’ as he said we should be able to get at least twenty dollars out of each of them…if they would only come in the store. Those who did come into the magic shop would more often than not be what we called ‘touchers’ as mostly what they wanted to do was come into the store and touch everything like most window shoppers will do.

Management had a way they thought would get people into the store. They set up ‘pitch stands’ at the front of the stores where an employee was supposed to stand and continuously perform magic tricks to catch the eye of people strolling by. They would give us a microphone headset at some of the locations so we could add dialogue like a carnival barker. Usually this would just cause more problems than did any good. Usually what would happen is people would walk by and if they did stop at the pitch stand it was just to demand a free show. I remember once I had a girl who walked up to the pitch stand and demanded I show her a trick other than the one I was performing at the time. Obliging I performed something else for her that she paid zero attention to. When I was done I said “There you go.” “What? Is that it? I should get more. I am cute.” Or there are those who stroll up to the pitch stand and proclaim, “It is Lisa’s first time in Vegas (or her 21st birthday or just got a divorce or whatever else) and you have to show her a trick.” Yep. That never happens at Mall Of America. Management said if the magician could attract a crowd then all of those people would come into the store and buy something. Just do three tricks and get them into the store we were told.

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An enthusiastic employee at the pitch stand trying to draw a crowd.

Management said that all the selling happens at the pitch stand and that once the customer is in the store they should have already seen the three top selling tricks and all we needed to do was get them to buy a couple of them. Yeah, not so much. Many of those who came into the store, whether they saw anything at the pitch stand or not, just wanted more free show. We often got treated like we were the fountains at Bellagio or the Sirens pirate show in front of Treasure Island…just another free show.

One of the ways management got the magician / salesperson inside the store to attempt to sell more is with a bonus program. Seems like a good idea at the first look but actually caused more trouble in the end. It tempted many of the sales force to put any ethics or morals they may have had in the first place aside and do whatever it took to make a sale that qualified for a bonus, or ‘spiff’ as we called them. Management overlooked the negatives because more sales meant a bigger bottom line. The spiff program would see many of the employees trying to sell items the potential customer had no interest in or where not qualified to use just to make a $2 bonus. They would sell items to parents of children who were much too young for the item and lie directly to the customer’s face, “Oh yeah, this is perfect for a three year old.” Management did not care because after the sale was made and the customer went home and realized there was no way their child could do the trick it was too late. All sales are final. Management was not giving their money back even if the customer did come back and since they were usually a tourist from out of town odds where good they were never coming back. Management always said their top priority was repeat business. Seems to me their top priority was actually getting the money regardless of sleazy salesmanship.

houdini's magic shop las vegas wall items houdini helicopter card

Those of us who refused to actually lie to the customers watched as our weekly spiff reports, ie: extra cash in our pockets, were so much lower than the ratty, unethical employees. We would then hear from management about how we needed to work harder and how we must be slacking because others are doing so much better. For some of us, being sleazy salesmen was not the reason we got into magic.

Many of the employees are magicians who enjoy performing and will just do free shows all shift long. Many times I have seen an employee perform a half hour card routine just to have the spectator up and leave without buying a thing. Often times they are just practicing their moves so they can leave and take a position as a corporate entertainer and make some good cash. Can’t blame them for that but while they are there doing their long free shows it puts pressure on the other employees to mind the shop.

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So many times I have had parents drop their children off at the store so they could have a drink at the bar on the other side of the mall. Once there was an unaccompanied child who was smacking a pain of glass on the Zoltar fortune telling machine. I told the child to stop and the child left and told the parents I scolded him. The father came over and yelled at me and told me not to tell his child what to do. He continued to yell at me and eventually spit in my face. Yes, he spit in my face. I suppose I should have just let the child hit the glass so hard it would break, cutting his wrist open and he could bleed to death in the store? Either way I would have been wrong I guess. That sort of thing does not happen at Mall of America.

I have been spit on and had my life threatened by a different man. I had several other people want to fight me for whatever reason. We had a mannequin dressed in a pink gorilla costume in the front of the store. The things people will do to that thing. I have seen people pretend to have sex with it. Both hetero and homosexual simulated sex acts. I have seen quite a few drunk people leaning on it to take a picture and knock it over. I even saw one guy run up to it and punch it so hard in the face it broke the mannequin’s nose. Good thing that was not a real person!

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Notice the bored magician at the pitch stand? Maybe he could show a trick or two to the pink gorilla?

We had a display of Melissa and Doug puppets and I can not tell you how many people would come into the magic shop and perform puppet shows for each other. Often times it would take the form of marriage counseling where one person puppet would tell the other things like, “You don’t lick me enough.” Oh the things we would hear!

It wasn’t all bad though. We did get a lot of cool people that came in including celebs like Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson and Nick Cage and many others as well as magicians from all over the world including David Copperfield, Criss Angel, Amazing Johnathan and Smoothini the Ghetto Houdini. Most were cool but one started an argument with me and told me I had no right to work in a magic store after he quizzed me with, “What is the magic capitol of the world?” I answered with ‘Las Vegas’ and he started to go off about how worthless I was as the correct answer was Colon, Michigan. Oh sure they have a magic festival for a week every year and call the town ‘The Magic Capitol of the World” but I figure he was asking a serious question about the other 51 weeks of the year. We would have people come in and give us pop quizzes on the topic of Houdini. What was his real name? Where was he born. More ‘Bust The Magician’ times. The funniest was when the people came in all convinced Houdini died while performing the Chinese Water Torture Cell. They quiz us all smug like get huffy when we correct them.

While working there I got invitations to stay with people from all over the world. I have been invited to Fiji, South Africa, India and many other places.

Management installed cameras throughout the shops. They told us it was for after hours security as one employee with a key came in late after the store closed and stole money from the safe. The IT guy told me it was so management could monitor us during work hours. Many of the employees got very paranoid and were constantly looking up at the camera to see if the tell-tale red light was flashing, indicating whether we were being watched or not.

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Notice the bored magician? Maybe he could show his co-worker a trick?

Many of the employees would come into work high on drugs or would drink or smoke weed while at work. Don’t get me wrong. There were a few good apples there. One was Don. I think he actually liked working there. All the customers loved him and he seemed to enjoy being there. He even got some really nice reviews on Yelp although management accused him of writing them himself.

At the end of the day, for most of us it was just a job. A place we could be around magic, something we loved to perform and watch being performed. Sadly the people that came into the magic shop spoiled it for most of us. What does it tell you about a company when probably 90% of your employees do not want to be there and are planning to leave?

Have you ever worked at this particular magic shop or any other magic shop? What was your experience? Share your thoughts in the comments. Would love to hear from you.

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If you are looking to order magic tricks on line, do so at a company you can trust such as Jimmy’s Magic Shop or Magic Inc. or Denny and Lee.

If you would like to read more about this particular magic shop please read these two articles from Magic Leaks: “The Decline of Western Magic” and “Real Life in a Magic Shop

(The images I used in this post of Houdini’s Magic Shop were taken from various places on the internet including Magic Leaks, the Las Vegas Review Journal and various other websites and should be considered available for use by the general public. I do not personally own the images and to the best of my knowledge neither does the magic shop.)

Breasts are my kryptonite

Brenna and I went to the M Casino and Resort the other night to watch some Chicago Bears football and the girls serving the food and drink at the 32* Draft Bar where all dressed in referee uniforms. Difference from the referees officiating the game being these where super low cut and accented with a push up bra.

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Photo courtesy of Hooters Facebook page

In the story of Superman, kryptonite, a mineral from the planet Krypton drains Superman of his strength. In modern culture kryptonite has become a reference to an individual’s perceived weakness, irrespective of its nature.

Breasts are my kryptonite.

Whenever I get in these situations like with the girls in the referee uniforms at the sports bar, I always turn into super polite guy and go to extra effort to make sure my eyes stay above the neckline. Brenna says it is cute how awkward I get. It is a weird thing too in that I am never sure if I am supposed to look or not. I mean they are just girls at work trying to make a buck but… they are dressed in such a way it is kind of hard not to notice right? I am sure when they dress like that their tips go up so they must do it on purpose.

The Dawn of the Breastaurant

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Photo courtesy of Twin Peaks Facebook page

According to Wikipedia a breastaurant is “a restaurant that has sexual undertones, most commonly in the form of large-breasted, skimpily-dressed waitresses and barmaids and double-entendre brand name.” The article goes on to say term ‘breastaurant’ dates from around the early ’90s, which is about the same time Hooters, which is generally considered the first breastaurant, started gaining its popularity. There are many restaurants with this style including Tilted Kilt, Twin Peaks, Bone Daddy’s, Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill, Blondies, Mugs & Jugs, Café Teaze and Heart Attack Grill. In October 2012, Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill successfully registered the term “breastaurant” as a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

I always wonder about these girls that work at a place like this. Do they feel objectified? They must be there voluntarily so they are certainly not being exploited as it is their choice. If they do not like the uniform they can leave. Maybe they make better tips showing what they got as opposed to working at Applebee’s or IHOP or some other ‘family restaurant’. If only there was a way to know what these girls are thinking. Fortunately there is. I found a sort of interview with a girl who works at Twin Peaks which is a popular ‘breastaurant’. She went on Reddit and hosted a session of Ask Me Anything or AMA. On AMA the person hosting fields questions from folks online who are allowed to ask the host anything they like. Some of the answers were pretty interesting. You can read them here. I did not read the whole session, yet in my scanning of the Q&A session a few things caught my eye. She did say that her tips were higher there than most other places she could work. She also talked about her job responsibilities and what is required of her. It seems she is hired as an ‘entertainer’ and as such she can be required to meet certain physical appearance standards. Interesting.

So should I look or not?

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Photo courtesy of Twin Peaks Facebook page

I was working by myself at the bakery the other day and as such I got to interact with the customers who came in to pick up their cakes and treats we had made for them. I rarely get to do this as I am usually busy baking and we have a counter person for that. One particular girl came in wearing a sundress and nothing more. At one point she bent over to write something on a paper at counter level giving me a full and clear view of her breasts. Obviously this is not the appropriate time to look right? Of course I don’t know if she meant to do this but I can not be sure and so of course I go into Eagle Scout mode and quickly turn my head and subtly shift my position so as not to look. This is different than the girls at Tilted Kilted and the other breastaurant type establishments. Generally with girls in public if a guy looks he is called a pig. Not supposed to look. But the girls are showing so… Then there is the argument that they have a right to look sexy without being objectified. I just don’t know what to do.

It is a different environment at a breastaurant though. It seems to me the whole point of the breastaurant is the objectification of these women. Don’t get me wrong. I like boobs. Most of them at least. Natural. Enhanced. Big. Small. (especially small) It’s all good. I just feel weird when they are just right out there as the main focal point.

breastaurant tilted kilt las vegas breasts vitalvegas

Photo courtesy of www.VitalVegas.com

I am interested in what people think. Are you supposed to enjoy the view with these girls? And I don’t just mean the ones who work at the breastaurant. What about the girl at the bar in the referee uniform? Or the cocktail waitress? I am interested in what you fellas and ladies think.

Share your thoughts in the comments. Would love to hear from you.

Thank you to Vital Vegas for the use of their Tilted Kilt picture. Visit VitalVegas at www.VitalVegas.com

In the heat of the moment…

I used to work in a very busy area of a public place in Las Vegas and I would see a ton of tourists six days a week. I love people watching and since The Man was paying me to do so I got to do it a lot.

couple arguing in public relationships

There is something I observed that bums me out though. Sometimes, quite often actually, I saw couples fighting. Usually they look drunk or at least a bit tipsy and in my city that is the norm for half the tourists. Anyway, these people are often very upset with each other. The pity is they are on vacation. I wonder how much they spent to spend this quality time together. Money saved, time off work (income lost), energy expended, resources consumed. And I get to thinking there is no going home where one can sleep on the couch. They are going back to a small hotel room. When the vacation is over they go back to their lives and back to work and the vacation that was supposed to be relaxing or at least fun is now a memory of that stressful time and perhaps they feel like they are already ready for another vacation. In a year they will probably not remember what the argument was about.

How do I know? Been there. Done that.

My companion and I had the opportunity to travel to the Middle East and had gotten in some argument about something most likely quite trivial though it must have been a big deal at the time. It was a bummer because my friend and I were at arms with each other despite the fact she had picked this location and I had spent a ton of cash to get us there and here she was asking me if she should just catch the next flight back home.

Years later I find myself seeing couples in what could well be the same situation and wonder if a dozen years later they will even remember what the argument was about.

So I challenge you to do this- Next time something is about to blow up into an argument ask yourself this- Is it really worth it? Is it better to be right or to be happy? Will you remember this in ten years or ten months or even next month?

Troy and Brenna at Disneyland Cinderella's Castle

Enjoy your times together.