When last we left this tale, I had been weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the potential job offered to me by Big Box DIY over the uncertainty of a prolonged and tedious game of UnemploymentVille and, after some consideration, had accepted the position of Shipping & Receiving Team Member. And though accepting the job seemed like a good idea at the time – or at least felt as though something was finally going to go well after months of struggle – I honestly had no idea what I was in for.
As much as I had felt like a lackey at Liqu-O-Rama, it was nothing compared to the appalling serfdom I found myself in at Big Box. Despite being told by the Shipping & Receiving department manager – henceforth ‘The Wigger’ (and, yes, I use that term with as much pejorative venom as humanly possible) – that I would be able to work ‘as many hours’ as I could handle during their Big Spring and Summer Season™, the reality was that, no matter how often I requested as many hours as I could handle, I typically received about 20. However, because payroll is based solely on how many actual dollars the department generates on a daily basis, I was more often than not sent home early, once after being there for only 30 minutes.
It was also clear from the very beginning that The Wigger – a twenty-something punk with loads of tattoos and little tell-tale holes for a plethora of idiotic facial piercings – was enjoying the power trip of trying to make me his bitch by saddling me with every shit job imaginable, very little of which had anything whatever to do with the notion of Shipping & Receiving. Whether he was doing this because he knew I’d come from a previous position of management and, being weak and fearful, he perceived that as a possible challenge to his authority or simply because he had to assert his dominance to the rest of the team and prove himself the Alpha Male, I don’t know. But there was nothing I could do about it. There was no way to quit and go back on the dole, so I bit my lip, played along, and continued my rollicking game of UnemploymentVille at any and every available opportunity.
To make a very long, detailed, and mostly unpleasant story as brief as possible, the final straw – the day The Wigger finally got what he apparently wanted out of me – came on a bright sunny May morning during the last week of the spring term (and, so, just before Finals) when I was told to ‘power wash the bird shit out of bay13.’ Said bay was a 50x75 storage area, open to the ‘Outside Lumber Yard’ on one side and to the store, via a colossal glass and metal garage door covered in dried avian splay, on the other. It took better than four of the five hours I was scheduled to manhandle the damaged and leaking electric power washer and 150-foot garden hose about as I slogged through ankle-deep muck (because the bay sloped ever so slightly towards the store in a spectacular display of ignorance of design concept), spraying bird shit off the door and washing sticks, grass, plastic candy bar wrappers, food, bits of gravel, various sized cigarette ends, dead birds, grease, dirt and all manner of putrid debris into The Yard. And in the end, with one arm aching from holding the power cord out of the water so I wouldn’t get electrocuted, the other numb from the vibration of the sprayer and my shoes, socks, and clothing soaked and reeking of raw sewage, I went home and had a breakdown, understanding at that moment just why it is some people choose to suck on the end of a loaded shotgun.
Though I’ve willingly done my fair share of miserable and messy jobs throughout the years, power washing the bird shit out of bay 13 wasn’t merely the final straw in how I had been treated by The Wigger at Big Box, it represented the culmination of over five extremely dark months and the moment that I came to recognise as the point ‘when things have gotten about as bad as they can reasonably get.’
Allow me to elucidate…
In part one of this big sprawling saga attempting to summarise the reasons behind what turned out to be a fairly lengthy absence from the blogosphere because you are fascinated by the minutia of the traffic accident I call my life, I explained that things fell into three distinct and invariably linked categories. Trust me. No need to go back and look. And whilst the past school term (1) and the seemingly endless search for a decent job (2) don’t necessarily appear to have any obvious correlation, there were, as I also mentioned, aspects of my personal life (3) which wove in an amongst these two themes and roughly bound them together.
The primary bonding agent had its genesis during the spectacular unravelling of my coffeehouse. And though I said, in the second instalment, that I would perhaps delve into the finer details of that particular subject at the ambiguously described ‘another time,’ now is not that time. Whilst that tale looms large, I think it needs a post of its own to really stretch out and make itself comfy. As I wrote in a recent email to the gracious Jillian Madison of Food Network Humor (who contacted me regarding my strangely popular Next Food Network Star ‘recaps’), words such as ‘quick’ and ‘short’ do not frequently find a home in my written vocabulary, as weary readers will attest. Suffice to say for the present that one of the minor bits of collateral damage from the aforementioned spectacular unravelling was an overwhelming sense of defeat which left me battling a reasonably mild depression. And though I appreciated the people who patted me on the back and told me not to feel like a complete failure for what had happened, those things are far easier said than done.
It didn’t happen all at once, the depression; mostly it undulated and festered like an irritating parasite, gestating uncomfortably during the nine months of job hunting after I was first rather curtly cut adrift from Dribble & Whizz in February 2008 and prior to finally getting hired on at Liqu-O-Rama in early October of that year just as the doors of the coffeehouse got closed for the last time. During that revelatory nine month period of getting to see just how useless it was to have fifteen years of business management, six years of military experience, and a virtually spotless work history dating to 1982 but with no college degree, I chose to take up President Obama on his desire to see people pursue their education – because without a degree, it seemed, I would be forever relegated to asking people if they wanted to super size their meals. So to combat the suppurating depression and the incredible loss I was feeling over the demise of my business (and the demeaning fact that I had been forced to take a giant step down in both pay and position by accepting the job at Liqu-O-Rama), I sat down in early 2009 with an advisor, after they’d unearthed my file from the bunker, and I returned to university.
By the following year, the start of the 2010 fall term, I had settled into an uneventful rhythm of work/school/homework – a cycle broken only sporadically to include Ina Morata – and, believing my life was slowly returning to something close to ‘normal,’ the depression had generally subsided to just a minor nuisance lingering off in the background. Unfortunately, also at the beginning of the 2010 term, I found myself in a writing class called Composing the Self, a crossover of upper level English Comp and Women’s Studies – which, in hindsight, seems somehow ironic. This particular course, chosen voluntarily because I’d nearly exhausted all my fiction writing options, struck my interest because it dealt with, as one would imagine, introspective writing. What I had not expected, however, was that it would soon tap into my depression and force me to confront the hydra of my malaise straight on for the rich bounty of a mere three credits.
Thus, in late October of 2010 when I was unexpectedly rather curtly cut adrift from Liqu-O-Rama, I was already in a relatively pensive frame of mind from having many of the badly healed scabs of old psychological wounds oafishly ripped away, and the run-around I was starting to get from The State over my unemployment benefits and the hideous lurking fear that in eight weeks I could be living in a cardboard box under a bridge only fuelled the start of a new downward spiral. As if these weren’t sufficient, I was also, at the start of November, just three weeks away from filing bankruptcy, a subject I approached with both relief and resentment. The relief was, obviously, that I would no longer have to be burdened with evading angry creditors or not answering my telephone or staring in dejection at the ever-increasing stack of official-looking documents scrawled in ruthless and labyrinthine legalese and, most importantly, not seeing the little money I had going to pay an attorney. The resentment… well, that’s a bit more complicated and perhaps better left for the eluded-to coffeehouse-only post. For the moment it’s enough to say there were the previously-stated feelings of defeat and failure coupled with the profound sense of loss for something I’d worked so hard for. I was – and still am – completely aware that the radical swirling of our economy round the event horizon of a massive financial black hole left millions of others in a similar position to mine. I get that. But getting that did little to quell the pain or the humiliation.
Problem was,with regard to bankruptcy, State Law requires that your worldly wealth held on reserve be no more than a combined total of $350 between your savings and chequebook account (or accounts, if you should have more than one) on the day of filing. So when I exited Liqu-O-Rama with extra cheques for unused ‘sick days’ and the small amount of vacation time I had amassed, I couldn’t deposit the money in my credit union. Neither had I been able to direct-deposit any of my paycheques nor the untapped portion of my student loan. I could also not claim that I had this money, so it had to be stored ‘elsewhere.’ This was a trick my attorney advised me to pursue as a means of skirting the $350 maximum allowable assets rule and a marginal glimpse into the greater workings of our sham of a legal system in this country. You will note that the pertinent wording regarding account balance is ‘on the day of filing.’ This means you could have millions in the bank just prior to filing bankruptcy, however the moment that petition is filed, your combined holdings must be equal to less than $350. Of course you must have a very sound and rational reason for the abrupt disparity should you suddenly decide to move large sums of cash, but the trick is that – on the day of filing – you appear to subsist at or below the level of poverty. The next day you can legally dump those millions back into your account and no-one would bat an eye. And stashing money away, outside of a bank, would not typically be an issue unless you are trying to pay your bills. Hardly anyone takes cash these days, it seems. And, perhaps in some small way, the fact that my unemployment claim was subject to an ‘administrative inquiry’ relieved me of the complicated burden of juggling two accounts.
On Monday, 15 November, I had a call from my attorney who said she would be ready to file my petition – likely on Thursday – and reminded me to be sure my credit union account was under the $350 allocation by that time. She would, she said, co-ordinate with me later in the week just prior to filing to be certain we were ‘on the same page.’ I asked if she could wait until Friday, as I was waiting for a number of bill payments to clear (which would then put me well below the allocation) and she said that would be no problem. By late afternoon on that Friday, when I hadn’t been ‘co-ordinated’ with as promised, I rang her to determine the situation.
‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘Did our paralegal not call you yesterday?’
‘It’s been filed,’ she assured me with sort of a breathless laugh. ‘I got it to the clerk’s office just before closing yesterday.’
In a frenzy I accessed my account history on line and discovered that only one of the scheduled bill payments had cleared by Thursday leaving me with a final balance, on the day of filing, of $348. Seems to me I drank rather a lot that evening. Early in the following week, I received a nicely official letter from the courts extending their warm regards on my impeding bankruptcy hearing, which they had conveniently scheduled for 9am, Monday, 6 December, my birthday. And, yes, that makes me a Sagittarius, or Ophiuchus if you follow that sort of thing. Yet another reason I am still single. Then on Friday, 3 December, I received another letter from The State informing me that I would be eligible for unemployment benefits after all – in about ten days.
The enormity of my relief over the latter issue was, unfortunately, eclipsed later that same day when my attorney left me a voice mail (I was nowhere near the phone at the time) to ‘co-ordinate’ with me again and to remind me of the things I would need to bring along with me to the hearing on Monday. Amongst the items was a copy of my November bank statement indicating that I did, indeed, have less than $350 dollars to my name on the day of filing. She had left the voicemail at 4.45pm. I discovered it nearly an hour afterwards around 5.45pm. My Credit Union closes at 6pm on Friday. Thanks, Nice Attorney Lady, for waiting until the last possible moment to deliver this information. Couldn’t have called at any other possible time during the week or any time earlier in the day…
Fortunately, through the miracle of on-line banking, I had access to that information and was able to print a copy of my statement – that is, after making a trip to Staples to purchase a fresh cartridge of black ink, as the one presently inside my printer decided that this particular Friday night was really the most advantageous time to run dry and just further compound the frantic irritation.
Monday, 6 December, my birthday, was a grey, windy, rain-swept, utterly miserable day. Because I had never previously needed to know the location of the bankruptcy court, I had to do a Google search on the address – and a Street View of the building was enormously helpful. To my consternation, though, Google had the wrong location and I was told by the large irritated black woman behind the Plexiglas that I needed to go across the street. As I marched through the downpour, I thought to myself that, for people who are extraordinarily well compensated for the minimal amount of effort they need to exert, the State and Federal employees I had been dealing with of late were a cross and unpleasant lot.
In the courtroom, a cramped area with a low, water-stained drop-ceiling, ugly blue carpet and cheap plastic chairs reflecting the harsh fluorescent lighting, I sat alone and isolated, clutching my raincoat and required paperwork. Although I wore khaki pants, a white shirt and a tie, it was clear that I had over-dressed for the community meeting at the trailer park. After watching as a seemingly endless parade of greasy, tattooed, corn-rowed, slipper-shod, sweat-clothed, food-stained, dentally challenged people went through the expected motions before the Judge, it was finally my turn. My attorney (from out of nowhere) settled in the seat across from me and the Judge, apparently bored, grilled me with questions which veered far afield of the ones I had been told he would ask – the very questions he had asked of the unwashed masses who had teemed before him ahead of me. It was an embarrassing and unwanted scrutiny through which I struggled to keep my answers brief and direct. When it was finished, I was told to relinquish the entirety of my 2010 tax refunds so at least some money could be dispersed amongst my creditors and to file those taxes as quickly as possible. Should those taxes not be filed and delivered to the court with 90 days, my bankruptcy would be reversed. My attorney hadn’t seen that coming any more than she had anticipated my public flogging before the great unwashed. Probably because we hadn’t ‘co-ordinated.’ Happy Birthday to me…
Shortly before noon I was back home, where I sat in utter silence, staring at the floor, humiliated and feeling mentally and emotionally drained. In my head I kept hearing Richard Dreyfuss in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: ‘Generally speaking, things have gone about as far as they can possibly go when things have gotten about as bad as they can reasonably get.’ Unfortunately, it was still only early December so things hadn’t got quite as bad as the could reasonably get. Yet.
I decided to give my classes a miss that night, lacking the energy to be even just the slightest bit social, and, instead, worked on the finishing touches to the final writing portfolio for Composing the Self which was due that Wednesday. And that seems an appropriate segue into a small matter briefly allude to in the second part of this epic saga: One of the wounds laid bare in Composing the Self, and conveniently done so the week after I’d been rather curtly cut adrift from Liqu-O-Rama, had to do with the nine years I had spent working at The Library. (Lest you think Composing the Self was a thinly-disguised armchair psycho-analysis class, it wasn’t. Yet it does seem that I just happened to choose one of the hardest possible times of my life to take such a class. The teachings of Carl Jung, however, will tell you there are no coincidences, so, in some way, maybe it was something I needed and just didn’t know it).
Being an avid reader and lover of knowledge, working at The Library was a job I truly enjoyed. Problem was, as it was another Federal institution riddled with an impassive bureaucracy, I could not – not matter how often I tried – get full time hours and, so, I made an ill-fated decision to leave (and not really in the most delicate of fashions) in 1993. And after languishing nearly18 years in (primarily) the liquor industry, that momentary and yet monumental lapse in judgement still plagued me.
Encouraged by a few friends – a couple of whom still worked at The Library and who’d explained that a massive systems upgrade in early 2006 had lead to the purging of all records more than five years old– I decided, as I was abruptly in the market for a new job, to take a chance and re-apply. Due to the time of year (early November) and the still wretched economy, the positions available were, to say the least, slim. Much to my surprise, however, the week of 13 December (the same week I was finally able to receive unemployment and just a week after the bankruptcy hearing) I had a call from Human Resources who wanted to know if I might be interested in a Branch Liaison position just opening up. I said I certainly was and then enquired as to the hours. There was, it turned out, a marginal conflict with my class schedule on two of the days where I would need to work at 1pm rather than noon but, if that minor adjustment could be made for just a week until the Fall Term was finished, I was at their complete disposal. No, was the short answer. These hours were carved in stone and could not be altered.
And I never heard from them again.
In fact it reached a point where, after applying for literally dozens of positions as they became available over the following months (including my former job when it became vacant) they no longer bothered sending me email acknowledgements indicating they had received my numerous applications. In late February of this year when a position opened at a branch managed by a former co-worker of mine (and who is also a close friend of Ina’s) I was informed – after I told him I’d applied – that my application did not appear anywhere in their system-wide data base and a search for it found nothing. As I was fairly deeply mired in playing UnemploymentVille at the time, I simply lost it. And so, frustrated by the wall of sheer silence, angry at the ridiculous games being played by yet another faceless institution, and disgusted that a Federally-funded establishment could be allowed to operate in such a contemptible manner, I washed my hands of The Library.
So with Composing the Self to help poke sharp objects at the lumbering demons of the past, losing my crap position as lackey at Liqu-O-rama, and suffering the humiliation of bankruptcy which left me with no credit and little money, the once nearly dormant depression came shambling out of the darkness fully revitalised. Add to that the long winter months of constant rejection and no viable prospects of employment – not to mention moving straight away into spring term and the albatross of The First Three Minutes with Dr Giggles – it felt much like being trapped in a 24-hour advertisement for Cymbalta. The various temporary agencies I had eventually resorted to using had done nothing for me, the unfulfilled promises and the so-called ‘stimulus package’ of the Obama administration had clearly given me a miss and the portion of it which was supposed to aid small businesses had been far too little far too late. And to add a little dollop of creamy goodness to the shit sandwich I was already choking on, I got to sit back and watch as two friends – one in a position roughly similar to mine and another one who really only ever seemed to have a nebulous career as The Guy Who Smoked Pot – g0t their dream jobs literally handed to them on silver platters. Though it’s nice see friends accomplish things, it was the endless gloating Facebook posts about My Fabulous Life and I Am So Blessed that made me want to fucking scream.
Of course the endless search for a job wasn’t the only place I faced constant rejection. It manifested itself in my personal life as well, becoming the secondary bonding agent and the final prod that the big skulking ogre of depression needed to really get going. Upon returning to university in 2009, I very quickly learnt that I was The Old Guy™ in most of my classes which, frankly, had done absolutely nothing for my already floundering sense of self-esteem or the acute self-consciousness over my lingering weight issues. And although I had lost just over 60 pounds during the first year back I was not, by that time – nor am I currently, due in large part to a combination of the aforementioned reasons – a ripped, tan supermodel and compensated endorser like the happily transformed fatties on the various NutriSystem or Jenny Craig adverts. Consequently, I went almost entirely unnoticed – except on the few occasions I was mistaken for an instructor – and nothing gives your self-worth a better pommelling than being invisible. As such I tended to (and still do) keep mostly to myself, sensing that any discourse with the plethora of twenty-something women on campus might illicit a Creepy Stalker Guy alert. I can deal with that because, barring the occasional geeky types for whom I have a fondness, there’s very little common ground there to begin with and I simply don’t have the interest or the patience.
What I have found much harder to deal with is that, amongst the women I do know, I seem to have fallen into the Not If You Were the Last Man On Earth category. There’s a very peculiar irony to that – at least to me anyway– especially considering that, for example, according to the weekly analytics I receive on this pointless little Time Out Chair, more than 70% of the readers here are women between the ages of ± 30 to 40 (precisely the demographic that finds me as riveting as Eric Forsberg’s performance in Mega Piranha) and I have at least the same percentage of female friends. That’s a lot of disinterest. And it’s a dichotomy which makes little or no sense to me. Recently a friend of mine – a woman, not surprisingly – asked me, possibly jokingly (or maybe not), given my propensity for things like cooking, gardening, home renovation (not to mention all of the other things one can find over to the right under the title About, just above the profile picture), if I was sure I wasn’t gay. I assured her that if by ‘gay’ she meant was I a lesbian trapped in a man’s body, then yes, because, with some clear exceptions and notwithstanding some of the nightmarish oddities I’ve seen trawling through Walmart on objecting motorised buggies, I am very attracted to the all of the appropriately soft and roundy bits and generally find women perfectly intoxicating, providing they don’t resemble Rod Steiger in The Illustrated Man or have the sort of piercings which could potentially lead to a bloody and disfiguring accident given the right circumstances. This same friend also, in the course of conversation, referred to me as ‘safe,’ which felt rather a lot like being called ‘inconsequential.’
As if being labelled by one person with the hideous Tweedledee and Tweedledum of Safe and Inconsequential wasn’t enough of a blow – making me understand how it was Arthur Dent must have felt knowing the Earth was considered amongst other worlds as ‘Mostly Harmless’ – I very foolishly set myself up a short while later to let Ina take the final kill shot. As the musical wisdom of Michael McDonald teaches us, What a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away, and what I believed I saw with Ina led me, in early March, to do A Stupid Thing™ and very timorously dip my metaphorical toe into the turbulent waters outside of the rigidly undefined area in which I resided and it was made clear that I ought not to have done so. So sometimes when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours it just means you’re both weird.
And with all of the cumbersome weight of five really bleak and calamitous months sitting on my shoulders like two very bleak and calamitous things, writing, which had always been my one escape, was suddenly a firmly closed door to me – one swollen from the humidity and refusing to budge no matter how strenuously I twisted and turned the knob and swore profusely at it. I struggled to articulate the mush churning in my head to absolutely no avail and found myself often staring at stories I’d written the previous semester in Fiction Writing – two rough pieces taken out of context from the novel I’d been procrastinating on for ages and third one I’d been meaning to work on when I had the time – and wondering why it all looked so completely alien to me. I’d toyed with the idea of posting them here to see if some responses from the Outside World would help get things going again but, well, that never quite happened.
So on that bright sunny May morning during the last week of spring term, I stood in a cold reeking pool of bird shit and other incomprehensible detritus realising that I had come to the last straw, the tipping point where things had, for me, generally got about as bad as they could reasonably get. And five months of misery came crashing down, leaving me gutted and angry.
‘You just have to say, “No, I won’t” one more time than they can say “Yes, you will,”’ John Sheridan says in a pivotal scene from the fourth season of Babylon 5, and I was determined that I was going to say ‘No, I won’t’ to The Wigger, even if it meant I would be living in a cardboard box under a bridge with no job and no money. I don’t know if he saw the hate and the loathing and the contempt for him in my eyes the next day or if he understood that, given the opportunity, I would visit unbelievable physical pain upon him, or if having finally broken me down had taken all the fun out of it for him, but near the middle of the shift he told me I was going to be transferred the very next day to the Paint & Wallcoverings Department. And for the remainder of the shift he was suddenly Mr Congeniality.
Since the transfer, things have generally got better: I’ve been given a relatively more stable schedule with considerably more hours and have only been sent home twice in three months due to payroll issues; I’ve distracted myself, when I’m not working, with all those presumably ‘gay’ things which make me Safe and Inconsequential; I’m sort of writing again, or at least blogging, and the depression has mostly slipped back into the background. That or the breakdown simply left me desensitised.
As to whether there is an Amy Farah Fowler to my Sheldon Cooper, a Scully to my Mulder, a JoAnne Liebeler to my Dean Johnson, a Joe L’Erario to my Ed Feldman… Who knows? The increasing likelihood is that there isn’t one. But, whatever the certain Wessonality is that I clearly fail to possess which would make me a viable choice for a relationship of any kind I more than make up for by being a great Drinking Buddy®, or so I’ve been reliably informed. No need for all that messy and silly emotional or physical nonsense when a perfectly good handshake will do, providing that it’s done reasonably quickly and exhibits no warmth or compassion of any kind.
And I don’t really mind if I’m nothing in your eyes, it’s no surprise to me , say the amusing alternative group Wheatus. So maybe that just has to be good enough.