The continuing saga continues, lest you believe I’d forgotten and just left you clinging on perilously after only addressing the first issue you weren’t that interested in…
The Monday just prior to Halloween last year (that would be 2010 for those of you playing along at home) I walked into the liquor store to discover I no longer had a job. I’m still not completely certain just why it happened (but I have some ideas), though in retrospect I don’t particularly care. My brief two-year stint as a lackey at Liqu-O-Rama had been largely unpleasant and, as long time readers may recall, eerily foreshadowed by major aspects of my life crumbling to dust all round me like some great crumbly thing.
The coffeehouse I’d owned unravelled quite spectacularly (for reasons I will perhaps go into another time) and left me with close to a quarter of a million dollars in debt and two suddenly very absent ‘partners’ who left me holding the weighty financial bag entirely on my own. Shortly before the height of my life’s dream coming to a slow, agonising and painfully catastrophic end, I had been a manager at Dribble & Whizz, a competing liquor chain and long time rival of Liqu-O-Rama. I had been there for fifteen years. And then one dreary and grey February morning in 2008 I returned from making the bank deposit to find one of the owners waiting anxiously to tell me that I no longer had a job because, as he explained it, they had somehow found themselves in the somewhat unenviable position of having too many managers and not enough stores and so if I could please just hand over my keys and toddle on my merry way as quickly as humanly possible that would be just great.
In that the precedent for being rather curtly cut adrift had already been set, being let go from the shitty gig at Liqu-O-Rama didn’t leave me reeling the way it did the first time round from Dribble & Whizz, though I was still a bit shocked at the untimely and obscure nature of it. Because I’d not taken the small vacation time I had amassed, nor used the three paid ‘sick days’ I was allocated, I exited with a couple of decent ‘extra’ cheques which, when added to the remainder of my student loan for that term, meant I would have a fairly small albeit reasonable financial buffer prior to unemployment cheques beginning to trickle in.
However, shortly after I had filed my unemployment information, I received a letter from The State requesting ‘additional information.’ They were unsatisfied, it seemed, with ‘no reason’ as a reason for my abrupt departure from Liqu-O-Rama despite the fact that this is an ‘at will’ state – meaning that you can be rather curtly cut adrift from any job at any time and for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Because of the need for additional information, my request for unemployment assistance would be placed in suspension pending review. And if I could just get that additional information to them within the next ten days, that’d be just great.
The problem, however, was that I found myself at something of a loss, as I would be later when submitting numerous job applications, as to just how to respond to this request . Should I simply proclaim that I had worked for an unimaginably thick and backwards company that embraced mediocrity and rewarded sloth and ignorance? Or should I explain that, because I am typically a Type A/B personality, my fundamental desire to maintain a store that was neat, clean, and well organised, and one in which products are both properly and correctly priced and thoughtfully merchandised, had run counter to company policy?
There seemed to be no concise or simple method of fully encapsulating the ridiculous sequence of events between March (when I assumed control of The Party Store from Nardo, the previous manager) and October 2010 which seemed to suffice. After a day of contemplation, I decided that ‘Store not meeting projected sales goals’ would have to do. Because my faith in the US Postal Service has rather sharply diminished over the years, I went to Staples and faxed the completed additional information request to the Secretary of the Department of Workforce Development and, sometime later in the day, called the telephone number provided on the request to ensure the fax had been received. I was told to call back in a couple of days, as there appeared to be a backlog of faxes and no-one was readily available to sort through them all just now.
So I waited the requisite ‘couple of days’ and rang again on Friday. As it was a Friday, it was explained to me that it’s one of their busiest days – ‘because we close early’ – and so if I could try again on Monday that would be swell. Needless to say the chaos of Friday was nothing compared to the tumult of business on Monday and it was hours before I finally got through:
‘I don’t see your fax in here,’ I was told by the disinterested State Employee who had just enjoyed a relaxing weekend off. ‘You sure you faxed it to the right number?’
As it was the only fax number provided on the information form, and because I have more than just a passing familiarity with the operation of facsimile devices and, by extension, the attached telephonic equipment, I was reasonably certain, barring a parsing error in the fax/modem handshake, that I had dialled – or, rather punched – the correct number: ‘Pretty sure I did, yeah.’
‘Well, you might want to try it again. Use this number….’
I copied down the number given by the disinterested State Employee (which, to no surprise at all, was precisely the same number as the one on the information request form that I had used the first time) and mentioned to her with some concern that there was a clearly-stated ten day deadline for receipt of the form and that all of this fiddling about waiting had taken up at least half of that time. She recommended that I ring back again later in the day after I’d re-faxed the information request to ensure it had been received just like I did the last time.
The joyful carousel of merriment had come full circle and I returned to Staples and re-faxed the information requests form, waited a couple of hours, and then rang up The State offices again.
‘Yes,’ a completely new and less bored-sounding voice assured me, ‘that information was entered into the system last Friday. Why did you send it twice..?’
About a week later, I received another letter from The State informing me that they would be contacting Liqu-O-Rama for verification of the information I had provided, a process which dragged out for approximately two weeks. When I called Workforce Development in late November to determine the status (because I was being blocked from accessing my information on the The State internet site pending review) I was told that ‘administrative inquiries could delay the process for up to eight weeks.’
I explained to the woman that if this dragged out the full eight weeks I would be living in a cardboard box under a bridge. She assured me that, should things become dire, they would try to expedite matters. Unfortunately the Obama Administration had initiated policy changes to the unemployment system and these sort of checks now happened with more frequency. On the positive side, however, if you weren’t put on hiatus pending an administrative review, the Obama Administration had also initiated policy changes to expedite the unemployment process so that a recipient would wait no more than four weeks for the first of their cheques to arrive and thereby negate the potentiality of them having to live in a box under a bridge.
Our government inaction…
On Friday, 3 December 2010, almost six weeks since I’d been rather curtly cut adrift, I received yet another letter from The State informing me that Liqu-O-Rama had not offered any response to (and so did not contest) my explanation for termination and, thus, I would be eligible to receive Unemployment Benefits. Well except for just one smallish thing – nothing, really – but I would have to wait an additional week before I could begin filing because I had received an extra paycheque from the little bit of ‘vacation’ time I had accrued. And, just one other thing – hardly worth mentioning – but the first week of filing will be factored against that other extra paycheque for the three sick days I’d got paid for.
Finally, by Monday, 13 December, I could begin filing regularly. And if it hadn’t been for the unused portion of my student loan from the fall term and the fact that I’d been excruciatingly frugal with what little savings I had, I would have been living in a box under a bridge. At least The State only require that you submit three job searches per week, because by the time I was finally eligible to file my unemployment vouchers I’d already submitted some two dozen applications and was well stocked with a backlog of information.
The bigger problem was, I hadn’t heard anything from any of the places to which I’d applied during the early weeks of November other than the occasional perfunctory email acknowledgement of receipt of my application. After having been rather curtly cut adrift from Dribble & Whizz at the beginning of the massive economic meltdown, it was nine months before I finally landed the gig at Liqu-O-Rama. During that time I had very quickly discovered just how much the job market had altered after fifteen years, and the rapid downward spiral of the country certainly wasn’t doing me – or anyone else in a similar position to mine – any favours. At that time I had created profiles on all the major job search web sites, including The State sanctioned site (mandatory for unemployment beneficiaries) and of course the much-advertised and yet completely worthless local site ShitTownHelpWanted.com – ‘Long Name, Amazing Results. And By “Amazing” We Mean the Amount of Cash We Rake in on Advertising Revenue, Not Because You’ll Ever Find a Job Here Amongst the Plethora of Bogus and Out-dated Listings!’
So, I set about the tedious task of updating all my information on the various sites to include my recent tenure at Liqu-O-Rama, including the carefully considered ‘Store not meeting projected sales goals’ (and only when it was absolutely necessary to do so), brushed up my résumé as best as possible and began the irksome undertaking of marketing myself to every place imaginable. On the downside to all of this concerted effort (and that is presuming there is an upside to any of it), because virtually every company has now moved to the cold, faceless, and impersonal process of internet submissions and an applicant is given no follow-up contact information or is highly discouraged from contacting companies with statements implying that attempting to do so ‘may result in unduly hindering the selection process’ (meaning someone would actually have to read your application), a hopeful candidate is often left with no other recourse than to wait.
I think the overall process would make a fabulous new game for Zynga to market to Facebook users. It could be called simply UnemploymentVille! And because of the inherent constraints in the nature of game play which, by necessity, would rather limit the abilities of the players, the rules would be fairly straightforward and easily recognised:
In it, a player, known as the Special Human Interface Tool (SHIT), would start off either by losing or not having gainful employment and so would be tasked with attempting to find said gainful employment in a stark and joyless netherworld known as the Deliberately Unpleasant Metropolitan Precinct (DUMP). The player would attempt to search for work via Persistent Livelihood Enhancement and Advancement Duties (PLEAD) which would be easily accomplished by frequently prostrating themselves before the mysterious, oppressive interface called the On-line Resource and Workforce Engagement Liaison Link (ORWELL) which, in turn, would be accessed by the Beneficiary Enquiry Generator (BEG) where a player would then be forced to utilise the Calibrated Remittance of Allocated Weekly Lot (CRAWL).
Almost continuously through each stage of the game, the player would be inundated, entirely at random, by helpful and informative pop-up dialogue boxes which would, naturally, guide them through the DUMP and would often suggest alternative courses of action:
Once a player has gained sufficient confidence in navigating the sometimes difficult and uncertain terrain of the gaming matrix and has managed to accumulate a large enough quantity of self-respect points after utilising the demoralising and demeaning BEG, PLEAD, and CRAWL functions, they could sometimes be presented occasional opportunities, special offers, or perhaps one-time promotions which, needless to say, would not be without their restrictions:
So as not to completely discourage players, and just to keep things lively, alternative and less costly solutions may be recommended. After all, where’s the fun if you don’t keep playing?
…Anyway, as winter turned darker and colder and stretched out interminably into the early months of 2011, nearly fully displacing the anticipated rains and wistful breezes of spring with bitter winds and radical temperature swings, I plodded on through the treacherous minefield of UnemploymentVille, submitting some 150, possibly more, applications and all the while grappled with the nemesis of The First Three Minutes as inflicted by the evil Doctor Cyclops – as the intrepid reader might recall from the previous instalment you weren’t interested in reading either. Other than one telephone call in mid-December (from The Library – and a story for another time) the months slipped away without the tiniest hint of response from anywhere.
Although I am an honest person – sometimes to a fault and almost always to my own detriment, it seems – and cannot abide lying and deception, I started second guessing myself and became concerned about using Liqu-O-Rama on my applications, thinking it was a death knell, forever dooming me, and part of the reason for the rousing lack of response from prospective employers. And, though it ran counter to my very nature, I opted to delete all references to it on all of my on-line job profiles, omitted it on all subsequent applications and adjusted my résumé accordingly, slightly doctoring the closing date of the coffeehouse to fill in the void. I felt fairly horrible about doing it, but I was feeling even more horrible about not having a job for so long and living on the dole.
Finally, after months of deafening silence, I was contacted in early March by UPS. It was a ‘pre-interview’ call to determine if 1) I was willing to work second shift hours of approximately 3-9pm (I was), 2) was I capable of lifting 20-35 pounds frequently and up to 75 pounds occasionally (I was), and 3) I had any experience operating a forklift (I did not).
And I never heard from them again.
Oddly, just two days later, I was contacted by FedEx. The very chatty woman I spoke with said she would ordinarily do a telephone pre-interview, but felt my work history and qualifications negated such a silly formality and if I could just go ahead and come in for a real-life sit-down interview within the hour that would be just great. I dropped everything – and by everything I mean the remote control for the TV – and dashed to change. The interview seemed to go exceptionally well, dragging out to well over an hour, and Linda (the very chatty woman and assistant district manager) and I got on quite nicely. But after jumping through the requisite hoops for her amusement like a gaily painted circus poodle and being told with a wink and a nod she would be making a decision ‘very soon,’ the only response I got was a terse email some ten days later explaining that due to a lack of management in a key area at the facility to which I’d applied, there would be no further hiring at this time, but if I wanted to go ahead and re-apply some sunny day when they were hiring again that would be awesome. Thank you for playing.
By this point, well into the fifth month after having been rather curtly cut adrift from Liqu-O-Rama, I was beginning to reach a point of desperation and exasperation from the silence and felt as though I would slide further into insanity if this ordeal went on much longer. To compound the problem, many of the job search sites (like Monster, for example) were sending me weekly ‘alerts’ about exciting new jobs available in my area such as Shift Leader at Dairy Queen, Sandwich Artist at Subway, Hourly Manager – I’m Lovin It! at McDonald’s, or Geophysicist (Depth Imaging and Time Processing) at Petroleum Geo-Services in an undisclosed location in the US. It seemed as though I could have written my résumé in crayon on a piece of construction paper and drawn bunnies and rainbows on it for all the good it was doing me. Although my desire for work (and to live on more than just the embarrassing pittance I was getting from The State) was nearly all-consuming and sometimes drove me to apply for positions I may not have ordinarily considered under traditional circumstances, I was not yet ready to admit defeat and go wear a paper hat.
In the early evening of Tuesday, 29 March, I had an unexpected call from someone I had sort of vaguely once known called Lyndsey. She had been a teller at ‘The Bank’ where I made our daily deposits when I worked for Dribble & Whizz and was now the Human Resources Co-ordinator for one of the local Big Box DIY Megacentre locations. She had seen my application on their company website and, thinking my name sounded familiar, she thought she might ring me up and see if I was still interested in talking about a job. I told her I most definitely was and, by 8pm, I was sitting across from her in the ‘back office’ (a large table tucked behind padded partitions at the far back of the store) discussing the various options for employment Big Box might be able to offer me.
It was advantageous, Lyndsey explained, that I had applied when I did, as March and April were very nearly the only months Big Box did their hiring due to the necessity for getting all new personnel trained in time for The Big Spring and Summer Season™. A slight disadvantage – and there is always a disadvantage – had to do with the fact that Big Box only hired for part-time positions, though the hours varied depending upon the needs of the given departments. The advantage was, she said, that they had several part-time options available from which to choose and any future full-time positions to become available were always filled with part-time staff. Another of the disadvantages, she told me, was that all staff were required to work at least every other week-end. The advantage, however, was that they were paid a ‘Premium’ of an additional $2.50 per hour for their trouble.
Finally she outlined for me the presently available options. Only one of them fitted easily into my current university schedule – Shipping & Receiving – and I met with that department manager who then elaborated on the finer points of the potential job. Turned out, he explained to me, they were very short-handed at the moment and, because it was ‘the nerve centre’ of Big Box and ‘unlike any other job,’ not only did it pay slightly more than the other departments but I could easily ‘get as many hours’ as I was willing to handle during The Big Spring and Summer Season ™ – so how did that sound?
I considered my options and weighed the advantages and disadvantages. Honestly, after having sacrificed nearly every holiday, week-end, and birthday for the better part of fifteen years to the liquor industry, the disadvantages presented by Big Box were seemingly minimal compared to the even greater disadvantages of continuing to play UnemploymentVille for some indeterminate length of time. And if I had done my calculations correctly (and many of you know by now my rather spotty history with mathematics) it appeared that I could potentially make more with this one part-time position than I could sitting idle at home suckling on the meagre government teat. Certainly nothing could stop me continuing to look for another part-time job or, for that matter, a much more lucrative full-time position whilst employed there, so, after a few moments I said:
And by ‘great’ I meant ‘apparently I wasn’t listening…’