It’s A Wonderful Life!

[These are recycled blog posts about working retail during the holiday season from about a decade ago. Enjoy. If that is possible.]

I had another awful night at STORE, just when I thought I was getting on top of things.

The corporate/management won’t let them schedule enough people for sufficient coverage in all departments because they don’t want to pay for them to work, so when I get there on a weeknight evening, all the day people leave and there is like 1 person in housewares (me last night), one person in tabletop/china (another girl who is as new as me), one person in domestics (sheets/etc), who had a scheduled/required break he had to take which meant while he was on break, I got all his customers as well, who were angry there wasn’t anyone over there to help, one person in kid’s, one person in intimates. When I arrived, the day girl was having what I call a typical STORE problem. We sell Fiestaware dinner ware. It mostly comes in sets unless you’re buying a serving platter or something. However, the way they have the displays, all the plates, cups, etc that come in a set are all out, so there’s a whole line of red plates, blue plates, green, etc., so you can see all the pieces. A lady came in and just wanted to buy some plates. Like they have a set and some of the plates broke, and they just want the plates. They claim they have not only purchased just the plates before, but have purchased them at STORE, which is probably true. The employee has called two managers to find out what they know about it and both say I dunno, tell her we only sell them in sets. Which would be fine except for a) as I mentioned earlier, she’s bought just the plates before. And b) she has managed to find, on display, several random plates which happen to have a sticker/SKU on them, instead of no sticker like they would be as part of a set. Those plates have a price on them, which she is willing to pay, but we can’t find any plates in the color she wants that have a sku. Before I arrived, the employee had looked at all the boxes on the display, the floor and in the stockroom to try to find any red plates that had a sticker, none did. You can’t just ring up another color because if you ring up 5 or 10 blue plates, blue plates will come out of inventory on the computer and they’ll send us more blue plates from the giant warehouse in the sky, and we don’t want more blue plates. So when I arrived, the lady was calling all the other stores in the area to see if they have the plates and if so, could they go check ALL their red display plates to see if any have a SKU/sticker. If she has the SKU, she can enter it and do it manually, but we need the red plate SKU. You can’t look up in the computer to see if other stores have them because – yep – you don’t have the SKU. Nobody does. She’s calling the 4th store when I arrive and informs me that she is leaving in 3 minutes and after that, “this is your problem.” Nice. The customer, understandably, is getting more and more mad for the delay and the problem. She has the plates right there and just wants to buy them, and there’s no way to make it happen. Eventually the lady is told I’m sorry, we can’t do it, and she leaves completely disgusted and says she’s going to COMPETITOR to get them.

This kind of thing happens like 20 times a night on average in every department. Like Sunday this lady wanted to buy this Hannah Montana shirt but it was the only one left and there’s no tag. While there are 5 angry people in line because I’m the only one there, I have to call other stores and see if they have time to go look and see if they have the shirt so I can get a sku to ring it up. Half the stores have a stream of customers and nobody else working, just like me, and they cannot go look. The other half don’t have it. Customer gets upset that they can’t just buy the thing, and leaves angry. I can’t believe this is the normal course of business at this place, but it is. What’s supposed to happen is you’re supposed to pull items like this and put a “re-ticket” tag on them, and then the manager of the department is supposed to somehow figure out how to reticket these things. This basically never happens. The re-ticket tag gets ripped off or someone new doesn’t see it and they put it back on the floor, or it gets put in the back for re-ticketing and it never gets done because the manager is too swamped putting up and taking down sale signs, which is a daily logarithm they have to run exactly right or else you get 50 customers complaining that the sign says those items are 50% off and they don’t ring up that way, or that they’re supposed to get an additional discount with their card but they didn’t get it, because the sale ended yesterday and that sign was missed. I didn’t even know how to do a re-ticket tag, I just figured there must be a way to do it and I poked around in the computer until I found out how. This is how they train you here.

At one point, a customer wanted to buy something off a couple’s bridal registry. Stuff like crystal and high-end glassware are all stored in this one stock room, which is locked. The girl in tabletop (where that stuff is) couldn’t leave to get it because she was waiting on a woman who ended up being there for 2.5 hours in ONE DEPARTMENT. She was STILL THERE after I left at 10:10, AFTER THE STORE CLOSED. So she gave the registry print-out to the guy from domestics (who of course had to leave his register unattended), who handed it off to me after about 1 minute as he had to take his break. You get in trouble if you don’t take your break because they can be sued. I was shown where this stuff is stored ONCE about a month ago for about 5 seconds. Meanwhile I couldn’t leave my register as there was a long line due to the guy in domestics being gone, so I was ringing everyone in housewares plus angry customers from domestics who were peeved nobody was over there. I called the manager on duty to ask if she could pull the girl from intimates even for 2 minutes to ring while I go look for the glasses for the registry person, but she had to hang up in the middle of our conversation. I saw her walking by a few minutes later and ran over to her in the middle of a transaction and showed her the list and explained about the storeroom and asked for the person from intimates and she said she’d see what she could do. Meanwhile the registry shoppers are waiting and waiting, and I have to go back to ringing. I finally had a break in customers after they’d been waiting about 45 minutes, so I found the key for the stockroom, and guess what? There was ONE. The couple asked for 6. So it was completely worthless and the customer was understandably pretty annoyed that she waited around for an hour to find out she couldn’t buy what she wanted. She asked if I could help her find something else on the list and I had to tell her I couldn’t because there were people waiting for me to ring them up. I just shoved the box for the 1 goblet and the list back at her and had to run back to housewares.

There was a whole table of pans that were supposed to be 60% off, but only about 1/3 of them were ringing up at the correct price, the others were ringing up at like 20 off, or 40 off. They say you can just change the price in the computer by putting in the percentage or the new price, but it changes it over the EXISTING price, not from the original. So if you have a pan that was originally $30 and it’s supposed to be 60% off, it’s supposed to be $12. But it rings up as $20. And you put “60% off” in the register, it takes 20% off of $20, which is wrong. I literally could not figure out how to come up with what 60% off of $30 was because I was so tired and confused and busy, so I ended up selling a couple of pans for way less than they should have gone for. I finally had to write down on a scrap of paper how much each pan was supposed to be and then every time someone bought one, I had to go in and manually change the price or check that it was ringing up right. Then everyone has a coupon and wants to know why it only took 10% off when it says 20% off and “almost no exclusions.” Except it’s only 10% in housewares. Then you get done and are bagging them up and realize they wanted gift receipts. If you don’t hit the gift receipts key at the start of the transaction before you ring anything up, you can’t get them. So several times last night I would ring someone up, get to the end of the purchase, they or I would realize there was no gift receipt(s), then we’d have to do a return, they sign for the return, then re-buy everything, remembering to change the price and do the coupon AND push the gift receipt key first, then they have to swipe their card again and they want me to tell them I’m sure they won’t be charged twice, etc. People are understandably angry having to go through this, but there’s simply no other way to do it if they want gift receipts than to return and re-buy.

I spent 20 minutes with one woman while people were waiting in line, discussing cookware sets. She wanted to talk all about anodized and non-stick and how pans are made and she’s fucking lucky I know as much about pans as I do. Nevertheless, I know jack shit about our particular lines of pans and the quality they may be, so I was telling her these pans were no good because of X, and these were better because of Y, and finally convinced her that one of the best sets we had at the best price was this Emeril line of cookware, $200 for 10 pieces on sale. It’s All-Clad and how that’s a good brand and how it has a lifetime warranty and if you buy it, you get a free skillet for yourself and all this stuff that nobody else in that department even knows, and she agreed to buy it and I went in the storeroom and found we didn’t. have. any. more. sets. This is how my whole night went. Meanwhile while I was helping her, people were in line waiting to be rung up. Because there aren’t enough people working.

My feet felt bruised on the bottom by the time I went home from working the past 3 days/nights in a row. I think the CO2 or Radon or smoke detector on the 2nd floor of my apartment building has a dying battery so it would BEEP BEEP BEEP three times in a row really loudly about every 40 seconds all night long. So I finally got up and rummaged around in my purse for my earplugs, which I keep because I can’t stand listening to people yammer on the commute, and finally got to sleep at probably 12:30.

It’s a Wonderful Life!


It’s Christmas All Over Again

I recently saw a production of “The Santaland Diaries,” which I have not seen in many years. It was like seeing a brand new show, it’s been so long. A good friend was playing Crumpet the Elf, and we went out afterwards and had a couple of drinks and talked about life and theater and love and death and all the things friends talk about in a dark, Irish pub, jazzed from being in and seeing theater.

I noted to him that one marked difference between the two times I’d seen the show is I had actually worked at a large retail store during the Christmas season in the interim years. I recalled a Live Journal blog I kept about it at the time, and though nobody read it except my sister, I have decided to resurrect and repost some of the posts from the time, which was around 2007. And so, from now through to Christmas, as often as I can remember to post them, I hope you’ll enjoy these retro, rockandrollmama posts. As they say on the Food Network, please enjoy:

I was scheduled last night in the kids’ department. But when I showed up and asked the day lady (nasty old woman who told me, “We don’t put our hangers on the floor” my first day in kids) if she was leaving she said no. So I had to track down the daily “schedule” which is a piece of paper crazy Terry leaves SOMEWHERE in one of her departments that says who is where and what times they work, who takes breaks when, etc. And it listed me in the Intimates department, where I’ve never worked before.

The store doesn’t seem to understand that each time they put an employee, particularly a relatively new employee into a new department, it is like their first day all over again. You don’t know where anything is, you don’t know anything about the products, you are completely unhelpful to any and all of the customers. There are so many details that are different from department to department, it’s not like you can just step over to a different department and ring people up, no problem. Everyone has different boxes and bags in different locations. The key for the purse drawer is kept in different locations. There are different rebates or things on sale or whatever, and you don’t know what they are. So here we go again, I thought. The day woman was leaving and she only took a moment to let me know that were were starting a sale tomorrow (JUST FOR A CHANGE!) and that “they” had already put up the sale signs that night. This means that if a customer buys something, it will not ring up in the computer at the sale price, but you have to give it to them at that price because the sign is already up. GREAT! Since I had no idea what any of the products were, let alone what was on sale and what the sale price was, I just knew it was going to be a fun night.

The only good thing is that most nights this happens are Thursday nights. Thus far, Thursday nights have been RELATIVELY slow, at least, compared to the weekends. Since I have now resolved myself to this being the status quo at this place, I just tried to stay calm and not be too mad at them leaving me in this situation.

Older lady and her very elderly mother in a wheelchair came in. “She needs something with a wide back, almost like a sports bra. Where would those items be?” “I have no idea, I’ve never worked in this department before but I’d be happy to help you look.” This became my standard answer. The old ladies shopped for like 30 minutes and finally picked out several bras the woman wanted to try on, while I kept returning to ring people up. (Customer: I thought these pajamas were $21.99, that’s what the sale sign says. Me: Ok. *changes price*) Then the lady comes over, her mom can’t get into the wheelchair dressing room because it’s locked. “Where’s the key?” the lady says. “I have no idea.” I call the MOD and she says try the key in the children’s department for the purse drawer. There is like ONE key for the whole upstairs area. It’s just stupid. So I leave my register and the people waiting and go get the key and voila, it did open the door. I figured out how to unlock it and I left it that way. It’s probably supposed to stay locked but I couldn’t care less what’s supposed to happen; I’m not SUPPOSED to be left by myself like this when I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, but I am.

It went on this way throughout the night. “Do you have silk pajamas?” “I have no idea, I’ve never worked in this department before but I’d be happy to help you look.” “Are all these bras buy 2, get 1 free?” “I have no idea.” “Do you have yoga clothes up here?” “I have no idea, I’ve never worked in this department before but I’d be happy to help you look.” “Do you sell housecoats?” “I have no idea.” “If I buy these and they don’t look right under my dress, can I return them?” “I have no idea.”

Then of course the “typical” nightly transaction where someone has a transaction that I have no idea how to complete. This woman came in and was buying several things and she had two merchandise only certificates. These are basically like receipts; you get them if you return something without a receipt and it works kind of like a gift card, except it’s a paper receipt. So I scanned them and the computer wouldn’t take either one, said to use other forms of payment. They were from last November. I called the MOD and asked if these ever expire, and got a wonderfully typical STORE answer: “Well, they *can*.” “Normally,” we would call the big certificate store in the sky to see what they can do about it, but they were closed since it was 9:30 at night. So I ended up just changing the price of two of her items to take off the amounts of her two certificates. Unbelievable.

At one point, a lady brought over these two iPod speaker/clock radio type things. I rang them up, they were $50 each and she’s like, “I thought those were $29.99, that’s what the sign says.” So I went and got the sign, it was for a product we don’t even HAVE! The last time I worked in housewares Terry tried to get me to put a sign out about these fucking iBlaster things and I *told* her we don’t have those, this is a completely different product, different name, different manufacturer, we DON’T HAVE THE iBLASTER! So I told the lady the sign was for a different product and it must be “downstairs on display,” which I thought was pretty creative. She said she didn’t want them. I took the sale sign down and tore off a piece of register tape and wrote in all caps: TERRY, WE DO NOT CARRY THIS ITEM” and taped it to the sign and left it at my register. I have no idea if she’ll see it or not.

All night I just kept checking the time and doing what I could to straighten, which is tough when you don’t know what goes where. Towards the end of the night I went to clean out the dressing rooms and there was TON of stuff in there. It took me 40 minutes just to hang everything up on the tiny hangers and then play concentration by walking around with the item in front of me and checking it visually against things I walked by to see if they matched. I don’t even bother to see if I’m putting it back with others of the same size; if it’s the same item, I just put it back on whatever rack is closest.

Another fucking sale.

I swear, anyone who pays full price for anything at this store is a goddamned moron.

Our Arms Were Heavy But Our Bellies Were Tight

Grandpas beer ration card

My grandfather’s beer ration card from the Navy years

Today I was lucky enough to get an invitation to visit a retirement home, to see and talk with some veterans who live in the home who were interested in talking to other vets. I know a veteran who was part of organizing the group of people going, and he said I would be welcome to join them, so I did.

I am not a vet. Nobody in my immediate family has served. But we identify as a Navy family. My grandfather was in WWII in the Navy, and I have some relatives whose kids went into the Navy as well, some are still serving. My son’s grandfather was also in the Navy. They had a Veterans Day assembly at his school and kids were invited to bring a family member who was a vet for the performance by first graders, and my son lamented that he didn’t have anyone he could bring. “I could bring Pa, I guess,” he said, “But they would have to have a wheelchair for him.” His grandfather is advanced in age and suffers from severe dementia as well as very fragile health, and the facility he lives in is an hour away. Travel at this point in Pa’s life is pretty impossible, and certainly not for a school event like this, which would only last an hour or so. But I thought it was nice he thought of his grandfather, like I thought of mine on Veterans Day.

I dressed up for the visit; way up. I knew nobody else would probably be dressed up, but I was thinking of the probable age of the fellows I’d be seeing, and how it’s probably been a really long time since they saw a pretty young girl (well, I’m a young girl to them still, even at 48) in a dress, with lipstick and her hair done, and I wanted to look nice for them. They deserved it, I thought, even if all they did was get to look at me and think of their younger days with some moments of remembrance that would bring them joy.

I met my friend and his posse, all veteran guys and their wives/girlfriends. Vets have an instant ease around each other, even guys who are much older who have never met before. It’s a camaraderie and club membership thing that nobody on the outside can ever really understand or get, and I respect that tremendously.

We walked to the main building and then in to retrieve four of the older guys, who we were going to walk outside to another building, where we would all meet up with other vets. These four needed special assistance so we were retrieving them to help them over. I grabbed one fellow’s wheelchair and tried to carefully commandeer it across the parking lot in my high-heeled boots and stretchy dress. At one point, we bumped up against a lip coming out of the parking lot and we bumped over it hard enough that my passenger lurched forward. I instinctively reached out and pulled him back, the same instinct that drives similar moves with my child, and I thought about how much things change from birth to death, how we are given to our mothers or other (usually) female caretakers, we then live our independent lives once we grow up, and then again, when we are old, we are likely given over to female caregivers, such as were all the women working in this facility, and angels, every one of them. Gregarious and tireless and fearless, with a ready napkin for someone with a coughing fit, to nitrile gloves in the pocket for handling and serving the snack food that was put out, cookies and punch and little cubes of cheese.

A young family was there with three small children, and the littlest two, girls, handed out little thank-you cards that they had signed inside with their crooked writing. They placed the cards in front of each guy and then reached out their little hands to shake the guys’ hands. It made me tear up.

I was content to be what I hoped would be pleasant window dressing, able to offer a joke or a helping hand or whatever anyone needed, but I didn’t know what they might want or need, so I just tried to be present, and listen.

The men sat around a big, square table, the younger vets mostly standing. The ones in poorer health were in the back of the room, in wheelchairs, some who needed more constant care with their attentive caregivers nearby. The younger vets praised the older ones, said they were there to listen if the olds had stories they felt like sharing, and whether they did or not, they just wanted the older guys to know they weren’t forgotten, that their service meant a lot to everyone in the room, and in our country. “And to some,” my friend said, “As I know some of you never, ever had a chance to hear it, ‘welcome home.'” I thought of the terrible reception home some soldiers have gotten and it made me feel so bad.

I am a peacenik. A hippie. A liberal. I am against wars of all types, and think they solve little to nothing. I think wars are largely fought for stupid reasons created by stupid men with big egos who get out of control when too many people think their particular brand of stupidity is worth supporting. I went to Kent State, and we all know what happened there, and though it was 17 years after that when I arrived at the school, we all still visited Daffodil Hill and the quad, touched the bullet hole in the metal statue outside Taylor Hall. The parking lot where some of the dead kids were found was the one outside the windows of my dormitory. The incident there is never too far from anyone’s consciousness. So why was I here? Honoring these vets?

It would be hypocritical not to, in short.

I’m an artist. I’m all for self-expression, standing up for what you believe in. A support of human rights and justice and equality. Ironically, this is what many veterans fight for, even if they only joined up for the GI bill benefits or because the other avenue was a dead-end street at home that only leads to ruin or early death by drugs. I looked around the table at these guys – WWII veterans, a lot of them, but also Korean and Vietnam. By a show of hands, they indicated who was with which branch, many quoting their division and unit. A man in his 70s talked about being in artillery, and a young vet joked how there’s always someone in grenade class who pulls the pin, throws the pin and keeps the grenade. They all nodded and some chuckled knowingly. Another talked of serving in France, and the guys all talked geography – where in France, up through Luxembourg, into Germany.

It wasn’t lost on me that a lot of these guys sitting around the table fought Nazism, and that there were multiple thousands of white supremacists who marched in Poland last night. I wonder if they are aware of the desperate and horrible nature of things in the world now, despite their amazing best efforts. In a way, I hope they aren’t. I looked hard at the Vietnam vet across from me, and thought of the guys I’d gotten to “know” by watching Ken Burns’ excellent Vietnam documentary on PBS earlier this year, which really explained a lot about the war that I didn’t know, from all sides; the soldiers’ sides, the peaceniks’ side, and the side of members of both NVA/Viet Cong and South Vietnamese forces, who are all just as proud in their remembrances of war as our veterans are, but all old enough to also see the futility of the lives lost.

The men told their stories, young and old, and I gave them my full attention and respect. I looked at their hands, their faces, their clothing. I could see some who were likely devilishly handsome when they were younger, and some whose faces had aged so much they had returned to an almost childlike state in their expression, and I could see the little boys inside there. Like my child, these men probably played basketball with gusto, or threw a football around when they were young. They slung shoulders around their friends and ate junk food and then, when they got older, they were called to serve by something internal or external, and so they did. Proudly and bravely.

It is bravery I do not possess, one which I am grateful for, even when I have disagreed with the reasons behind the action. They went representing and defending our way of life; my ability to sit right here where I am and do what I am doing today, decades after those actions were over. And others, men and women, are serving right now for the same reasons.

I hope just for a few moments, they felt that brotherhood once again in that room today. I cannot ever enter it or fully understand it, but I am lucky to have witnessed it and feel awed in its presence.

Thank you for your service.

How Many Times Must The Cannon Balls Fly Before They’re Forever Banned?

10K steps

The time change always takes me a few days to adjust to, even when it’s in our favor and we “gain” an hour of sleep. I took the kid to school and had so much to do, I was just overwhelmed and stalled, even after a big cup of coffee. I went back to bed? Took a nap? What is it when you sleep on the couch but it’s still pretty early.

I had so many goals today. Hook up that scanner with the slide attachment my friend is letting me borrow, put some things in storage, put aside more things for the Goodwill and drop them off, get a run in.

But it was pouring. I mean, really pouring, like when I came home from dropping off the kid, the flash flood had flooded the drain in the parking lot and the water was up past my ankles as I waded back inside.

I crashed hard, and had weird dreams. The freelance work I’ve been doing has suddenly and inexplicably come to a grinding halt, through no fault of my own. This means all I’m getting going forward is unemployment, which is not good news. The anxiety is bleeding into everything, probably adding to my fatigue. Everything in my life continues to be in flux, I continue to have no anchor, no grounding.

Today was the day of parent-teacher conferences at school, one of two such days this week, and I had a conference with the teacher at 5. I usually plan these dinners, and tried to plan this year’s as well, but failed spectacularly, my depression and anxiety making the dinner almost a FUBAR situation, which was thankfully rescued by my wonderful co-planner, Jen. When I broke down crying hysterically on the phone with her after fucking up an order for the food, she just took it all from me, and said show up and help out if you want, or don’t, whatever you need to do, I got this.

I so needed that.

I did show up. I got myself a big goddamned espresso drink from Starbucks first, too, which I know I should not spend the money on, but damn, it tasted good and got me through the night. There is a LOT of walking involved in these things, and someone had decided that we couldn’t set up where we normally do, and had us set up way down the hall in some auxiliary room, which made time and space tight, made me crabby, and resulted in 20 teachers descending upon us when we weren’t even ready yet, them grabbing at pizza boxes and me running down the hall with rolls of paper towels because we didn’t have any napkins. It all ended up ok in the end, even though it wasn’t in the usual place. Oh and that guy that was arguing with me about where and how we should do it? The new assistant principal, I guess. Oops. Hi dude, nice to meet you, I’m sure I made a fantastic first impression.

I told his teacher at the conference that the kid has been complaining that 3rd grade is too easy, that he is bored. She’s going to work with him to give him some additional, special assignments. I told her to be sure not to tell him it was my idea, just say she recognized that he is excelling and maybe needs an additional challenge and she thinks he is up to the work, and then make him do it. She said she has noticed when he seems appropriately challenged he actually kind of frowns and looks frustrated and asked if that is what she should be shooting for and I said YES! That’s just what I did, and that means you’re doing it right. She got it, and I’m encouraged. His dad didn’t have anything to say, but he didn’t disagree with me either, and that’s something.

I let the kid run around school after eating some of the leftover pizza. He and another boy stalked the book fair, which runs concurrently with the conference nights so parents can browse and hopefully shop while they wait. I cannot buy anything for him right now, of course, but had him come and get me when he had some favorites picked out and I took pictures of them and said maybe I could get them from the library.

almanac book fair

Santa might be able to manage one, we’ll see.

He asked me point blank the other day if Santa was real and I said certainly he is, why do you ask, are you considering doing something awful so you’ll be on the naughty list this year? He just kind of laughed and didn’t push it. I really don’t know that he believes anymore, and I know the kids talk…I was exactly his age when the bubble burst for me. If he goes through the motions this year, that will probably be it. This will be the most convincing year yet, since he knows I am broke as fuck, so anything I manage to come up with will help sell that only some magic spirit could make these things manifest.

He has an enormous amount of homework to do this week and I insisted he get started on it when we got home, and made myself do a tough mat work out while he did it. I stupidly signed up for the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot race, a FIVE-MILER, which will be a real challenge since I am not running that long or that regularly these days. I’m trying to get stronger for it and have started in on a new lower body workout. So, I did my couple hundred different kinds of squats while I read him the spelling words for the week, and made him grade his own test and write out the words he got wrong so he would learn how to spell them correctly. We re-test in a couple of days, we’ll see how that goes. He also did a math thing with algebraic equations, and I had to explain to him why writing out the equation is important since that’s part of what the homework asks, not just solving the problem. It doesn’t matter why. The assignment is to a) write the equation and b) solve the problem, and learning how to follow directions completely and accurately is the point, because that’s a lot of what the real world is about, so I made him erase the answers he had put down, helped him understand how to write out the equations, and scratched his back and let him have a piece of Halloween candy while he worked through it. Because he was also tired, and it was late, and the time change made us both crabby.

There is no school tomorrow, which I didn’t know until I got to the conference dinner. It’s on the calendar, but I just forgot, like so many other things these days. I am just not on my game, not organized. I forgot to stop and buy ice for the dinner at school, the only thing Jen had asked me to do, and someone else had to go get it.

In setting up for the dinner, I saw different groups of classes traveling around the building, following the teachers in a single follow line to go here or there for this reason or that. Gosh, the kindergarten kids look so very tiny now compared to my kid. Even the first graders are so, so small compared to my big kid.

As always, Sandy Hook is right there, and what an honestly horrible fucking country this is that this happened and not one thing has changed about unfettered access to way too many guns. So many unhinged people who think that “collecting” weaponry is a normal, acceptable hobby, and the Texas church shooting done by yet another “normal” gun collector and shooter hobbyist, according to the shooter’s neighbor. It’s not normal. It’s not. Not anywhere else in the whole world. This country is sick in the soul, and I hate it. I carry a small but incredibly sharp knife with me almost everywhere. I pictured how I would deal with someone who showed up to conferences who has mental health problems AND unfettered access to deadly weapons, and how quickly and with what force I would sacrifice my life for those little tiny things I saw in the hallway, girls in their sparkly pink and grey Sketchers tennis shoes, boys in their Cavs shirts and jeans with the knees blown out. White and black and brown and yellow kids, and I’d fucking kill for them, immediately. But I just pushed my carts of cases of pop, schlepped buckets and cases of water, replenished plasticware and desserts and smiled and said, “You’re welcome” to the throngs who came through, who take care of these kids every day, all day long.

Res ipsa loquitur. The thing speaks for itself, and speaks no louder. There is nothing I can do about the things I cannot control, so I am trying to work on the things I can influence. But it feels like spitting in the wind.


Earth Bound Misfit

hotel essentials

I’ve been having more and more problems with my toilet since about June this year. I tried switching toilet paper but it still kept getting clogged up periodically. But it was weird.

Since I lost my job in July, I’ve been working from home. I do a lot of freelancing, and a lot of writing of my own that I pitch and pursue, and networking and job searching for another full-time gig, so I’m home and at the computer almost every weekday, all day. I started hearing this weird burbling, bubbling noise once in a while, and realized it was coming from the toilet. I wasn’t even using it, it would just start making these weird noises. Shortly thereafter, I would find that it wouldn’t flush right. Like it would partially flush, but fill up the bowl, and then sloooooowly drain out. If I gently plunged it a little bit, eventually the water would all drain away. Then it would flush normally for awhile. Eventually, it wouldn’t go down even with gentle plunging and so I would call and maintenance would come.

It’s a huge complex with more than 900 units so it’s always a different person. One guy said I had an older toilet with a big tank and it should be “plug proof” because of the size of the tank – the ones in other units were smaller tank, power-flush type toilets. But it kept clogging. More and more often. I’d hear the bubbling and know it was imminent and would call. Sometimes they would just plunge it and it was fine. I started mentioning to each guy that came that maybe something is WRONG because this keeps happening and they’d each say, well, this is my first visit about it so I don’t know. And I’d explain – this is happening a lot more often, go back in the records, something is wrong. And they didn’t care. Because nobody fucking cares about anything, nobody has any fucking integrity about their goddamned jobs.

A couple of weeks ago when it happened I asked the kid why this keeps happening and he said, “the neighbors,” which is cryptic. I said well maybe you can tell the neighbors to stop doing whatever they are doing and he just kind of laughed like I was kidding. Nobody gives a shit, because I’m just one tenant and “nobody else is complaining.”

Over the weekend things came to a head (see what I did there?) when it wouldn’t flush at all and the bowl wouldn’t recede and there was FECES FROM ANOTHER UNIT BACKING UP INTO MY TOILET.

I don’t have a large intestine and CANNOT WAIT long periods of time when I need to go. So I had to flee my apartment at 2:45 a.m. and desperately drive around suburban Cleveland trying to find SOMETHING open at that hour. Bars are closed. There are no 24 hour restaurants near me. The gas stations on my street were all closed. I was panicked, in pain and crying, frantically driving faster and faster. I finally found a Speedway that was still open and raced in and used their thankfully working facilities (I’ve stopped there before and all the bathrooms were closed for repair, which is pretty much a nightmare for me).

The guy came out and snaked my toilet and said there is a big problem, the water is backing up in your tub too which means the whole line is clogged. I explained how long I have been complaining about this and he said it was the first he’s heard of it and I said DO YOU GUYS NOT FUCKING TALK TO EACH OTHER? WHAT THE FUCK. He said they were going to have to replace the whole pipe in the coming week, which would be a 4-5 day project, but I “should” be good for the rest of the weekend.

I wasn’t. The next night my son and I were watching TV and he said mom, the toilet is making that bubbling sound again and I went and looked and the water was RIGHT up to the line of the bowl and filthy. I turned off the water to the toilet but it continued to bubble and bubble, a shit cauldron from hell. It drained all the way out again save for a tiny bit of water, and bubbled and spat occasionally like a fucking horror film. Same guy came out and snaked it again and said in the morning he would see about if there was another unit in my building that I could use the bathroom in. There was, and he came by in the morning with the key.

He had a plumbing contractor come out that morning (Saturday) and said I “should be good” if I wanted to give him back the key, and I said I didn’t really feel he should be sure about that, and he said I could keep the key until Monday.  Good thing, of course, because things weren’t good, and we had to use that bathroom most of the day yesterday.

This morning, they told the people in the unit next to mine, under which this pipe problem is originating, and whose plumbing is now also affected now that the problem has gotten way worse, that they are going to have to get out almost all week, that the landlord will prorate their rent to compensate for the loss of those days, and that they can go to a friend’s or a hotel and if they go to a hotel, leasing will pay for it, and to call the office to make arrangements immediately.

I waited for the knock on my door. Nobody came. So I called the office when it opened, was transferred, put on hold, and then told they would have the property owner call me. He is a dick and is about the least nice person you will ever talk to on the phone, but when he called, I tried to be friendly and explain what was going on. He was gruff and short and was like, yes, we are aware of the problem, and they are fixing it this week. I’m like well, my toilet obviously isn’t working well right now, and we aren’t going to have any water at all for at least two days this week, and they are going to be jackhammering and sledgehammering through the floor all day today. It’s extremely loud and I work from home and I can’t get any work done and I can’t use my toilet and I can’t go upstairs to use the other one because they have literally pounded a giant crater right outside my door, so to leave I have to go out the patio door. He didn’t care. He said we are allowed to make noise during the day, it’s an emergency repair and everyone in the building has to deal with it. I said yes, but their toilets all work and mine doesn’t. He said well they won’t work when we shut off the water, that affects everyone and it’s just how it is, we are fixing it, what do you expect. I said I EXPECT that since you guys have been negligent in dealing with this for MONTHS and I have repeatedly been inconvenienced by this and had to leave in the middle of the night and have ASKED and BEGGED the right hand to talk to the left here and something to be DONE about this that perhaps I would also be temporarily relocated for my inconvenience. He said no, we’re not gonna do that. Period.

He offered to take two days off the rent for the two days there will be absolutely no water. He said I could go up to the office and work and I said I need wifi and he said they would give me the password, and I said I need a printer and he said then print at home and bring it with you. I said well what about FOOD. I cannot prepare food in my apartment, wash my hands and dishes with no water and he just said well, it’s a temporary inconvenience. Deal with it.

I just cannot deal with it. I cannot deal with one more motherfucking thing right now. I am finally getting my hearing with the county next week and I know they’re going to deny me benefits because I am getting unemployment PLUS working part-time, but I’m going anyway. I have two conference calls I need to take this week and I can’t do it while a gaggle of workers are slamming sledgehammers 5 feet from where I sit and conduct business.

I was so angry. I cannot tell you how angry I am about this. It is a murderous rage. The bombardment of the terrorist-in-chief and every horrible thing he does every day, me losing my job, and the stress I am constantly under, the edge of hysteria that I live upon each fucking day, this completely uncaring and callous dismissal of my problem and ALL THE GODDAMNED MONEY I have sent to these people for FOURTEEN YEARS, it makes me really, really angry.

I really just want to run away from my whole fucking life right now. If it wasn’t for my kid, if he didn’t love his school and his friends so much, I swear…

But, and so, through the kindness of people who love and care for me, I am happily ensconced in a hotel tonight, and here I will remain until they are done with this bullshit this week. It is warm and dry and there are TWO bathrooms. There is a fireplace, my son is sleeping, and the ice maker is SUPER instantaneous. I have a small bit of bourbon and some coffee for the morning and there is free breakfast here, so that’s where D and I will eat, and he will buy lunch at school all week because his dad very kindly sent me money to put in the account for his lunch so I don’t have to worry about trying to pack with everything going on. And so we will get by, because for some reason or other, people like me, people love me, people care about me, and are still, after 3.5 months of this garbage situation I’m in, able to find it in their hearts to help me out.

And so the anger subsides, and loses itself in the bottom of my watery glass.

Can’t Find No Place To Grab On

older workers

Yesterday, the near-perfect credit I have worked my entire adult life to obtain and maintain, was destroyed. Since losing full-time employment, I had to send a lot less money to all of my credit cards (I usually send much more than the minimum, though with interest rates what they are, I have no hope of every paying them off in my lifetime). One card, however, the minimum was just too much for me to make. I tried calling them several times (CHASE) to work something out. First, they refused to help me because I wasn’t delinquent on the account. Then when I was, and called back, they said they’d give me another month and I could just “make a double payment” when I got another full-time job. But I didn’t get one, and couldn’t make that payment either. This is how it goes, people, you’ve all heard the song and now I’m singing it. By the third month, the account was officially reported as delinquent and was closed, an account I’ve held in good standing for more than 15 years. I called them again, and they agreed to put me into a repayment program for it over the next 5 years, and changed the credit reporting from 90 days late to 30. I don’t know how I’m going to come up with that money every month, but that’s all I could stand to do, I couldn’t just sit and ignore it any longer.

But the damage was done. Yesterday, the bank in charge of my other two cards emailed me that they’ve reduced my credit limits to the amount that’s currently charged on them. Imagine if you had a $25,000 limit and had a $1500 balance on the card, and then suddenly that limit was reduced to $1500. That’s what happened with both of my cards, so now I have NO available credit, even for emergencies.

Settle in for a brief finance lesson. In case you aren’t sure how “credit worthiness” works, how banks determine what level of risk you pose if you apply for something with them like a car loan or a credit card, or even in evaluating your risk as a potential employee or renter, a number is calculated (your “credit score”) using your total available credit everywhere, then the balance against that credit, your payment history, and your income. So in the previous example, if I had a card with a $25,000 limit, and had a $1,500 balance, and made, oh, say, $50,000, had never been delinquent on an account or had any problems like bankruptcies, I would be considered a very good credit risk. The bank might spontaneously decide to increase your limit after an annual review to $40K or $50K. This makes you an even better credit risk. Your “debt-to-income” ratio is considered very positive, and you can get the best rates for things like car loans, which has always been the case for me. I have a lot of revolving accounts but almost all of them have no balance on them, like store cards – I keep them open, because that adds to your total available credit and makes for a good credit picture. But I do carry high balances on the major credit cards. I have for more than 20 years, since I was sick and couldn’t work and had no insurance, and ran up multiple thousands in debt. Then I ran up another $15K in going through IVF, which gave me my son. It’s just debt. It’s not me or my character. I pay on it and try not to let it bother me, and mostly, it doesn’t.

But all that is over now. If I don’t have money to put gas in my car, I won’t be able to go anywhere, even to take my son to school. We will have to walk. I know, there are bigger tragedies, and I will deal. But the larger issue is, if something breaks on my  current vehicle, particularly something major, which is increasingly likely given it’s 127,000 miles, I will not be able to get another car. Even if I can get approved for a loan, it will be at pretty bad terms and a high interest rate, which sucks ass. There are a lot of people in this boat, I know. But it’s hard when you’ve worked very, very hard your whole life to avoid boarding that boat and have never, ever been in it, even when you were broke as fuck, horribly sick, and making $4,000 a year.

I did nothing wrong with the other accounts. I’ve not missed a payment, nothing. But this is just how it goes. Word gets around the financial neighborhood that you are down on your luck and they apply all the boots on your neck with as much force as possible, in case you don’t already feel bad enough about yourself. It feels terrible.

I got an email from Target this month, wanting me to “verify my income.” I didn’t respond. They will do what they will.  But that is my last avenue to get groceries in an emergency, or things that I need just to survive like metamucil wafers, which help prevent me going to the bathroom 25 times a day and instead take it down to 7 or 8. It makes me queasy thinking about them closing the account, so I’m trying not to think about it. There is nothing I can do about any of this. Nothing. There is no recourse.

If you can’t fix it, you have to stand it, so I am trying to stand it.

We stopped to get D a pop yesterday at a gas station, after I picked him up from school, and I gasped when I opened my wallet and my debit card wasn’t there. I literally have no alternate way to pay now. I realized I had put it in my running belt before my last run, in case I ran down the street and then wanted to get a cold drink at the halfway point. I happened to have a $5 bill on me, so we used that, and I made a note that I’ll have to withdraw some money to keep at home for emergencies in case my card goes missing or gets stolen, or the numbers compromised, which is likely now as I will have to use it for any online shopping. Which is a necessity, as sometimes they just don’t have things in stores I need, like the aforementioned wafers, or the sweat pants I bought D that are part of his Halloween costume.

Some generous friends brought over fresh produce late last night, and it was better than getting a bouquet of flowers every day for a solid year, I swear. I had a salad today with crisp, fresh lettuce and wonderful, ripe tomatoes, and me and the kid enjoyed non-rotted grapes for a snack. They brought coffee as well, because honestly some days I don’t know how I would get out of bed and get anything done without it. I am so grateful for people like this in my life, and yet feel so incredibly shitty and awful accepting charity.

So I control what I can. After breakfast, I cleaned the ceiling fan blades – boy, can those get nasty. Swept the patio and cleaned it up. Washed the baseboards and the front of all the kitchen cabinets and the appliances. Dusted and windexed everything. There is always more to do. But these things are done. I worked out for an hour solid. My shoulder is still twingy and painful but has come a long way since I injured it in February. This is how long it takes for things to heal when you are near 50 years old.

The kid and I are going to a free fall festival this evening, and we will have to eat before we go and skip the food trucks and donuts and whatever else. If it’s not free, we can’t do it. It will be a logistical nightmare as well, the kind where I really wish I had another adult to help me. There is an outdoor movie in some park, and I will have to carry both our chairs (they are big and bulky and very heavy, D can’t handle one on his own), blankets, bug spray, water, whatever snacks I can throw together. Honestly, I want to do fun stuff with him but just contemplating what we’re doing tonight makes me so tired. I wish he hadn’t seen the flyer and asked to go, and THAT makes me feel bad too. I’m short tempered with him and impatient, and then I’m angry with myself for being that way with him. But we did watch a movie last night and I had a credit at the pizza place so we had an enjoyable night together, and then after the movie we sat around reading until he got tired, which was lovely.

I had two interviews last week, one in person and one on the phone, and another phone one the week prior. The company I’ve been freelancing for is steadily sending me a small amount of work every week so that’s helping to keep me afloat, and next week they want me to actually join in on the weekly company conference call, so I must be doing something right. I also heard from an employment agency last week and they claim they have a lot of work right now, so maybe something will pan out there. Something had better pan out, and soon. The slide and decline goes faster and feels steeper every day. I feel like I’m on a sled and people are watching me heading for a tree. As with my credit, there’s nothing anyone can do about it, just sit back and watch it happen.

It’s embarrassing and terrible and I’m angry.


Empty Promises and Broken Dreams

scary art

Confounded. That’s really how I feel today. It’s three months to the day since I lost my full-time job. Freelance life has its benefits and rewards, but health insurance and a great salary are not among them. Everything just feels so heavy. I feel heavy. I’m moving less since all I do is sit all day. No commute, no people I have to walk to go visit, no going out for lunch, even the minimal amount of movement I got previously doesn’t happen most days.

Each time I go out for a run, my body seems more and more insistent that I start to understand it does not like doing this. My feet have gotten flat now and lack the right kind of support. The cartilage in my knees is rapidly disappearing. My ankle ligament, which I severely injured last November, is forever over-stretched and weak, and I have to be careful not to land the wrong way on it every single step I take. And my crooked back, not just from scoliosis, but from the vertebra that healed wrong after a horse riding accent years ago which has forever plagued me with daily pain, seems to grow worse with each run. It’s hard to understand, a spondylolisthesis. Usually I can walk, even really long distances, without too much of a problem. I can run, though only so far. But standing is murder. Ten minutes of standing and I’m in so much pain it will take the entirety of laying down the whole rest of the night until it’s better enough the next day for me to go on about my business.

Some days are better than others. While I really enjoy running this time of year, because it’s finally cooled off a little and I can enjoy it more from a cardiovascular point of view, the drop in temperature and barometric pressure also means arthritis flares, which my doctor also suspects is at play with my back. Well, back when I saw my doctor regularly, for the tending to of my myriad physical problems. The problem is, I don’t really like doing anything else for cardio. I kind of hate swimming for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which is this big mop of hair I have and how pool water ruins it, and riding any kind of bike, stationary or not, has really never been comfortable for my lady parts and I just am not into it.

Tonight I was going to make the kid a chicken pot pie. But I got it out of the box and it said it would take an hour, plus 10 minutes to cool off, plus 10 minutes for the oven to preheat. We literally have 2.5 hours on a weeknight for the kid to do all his homework, eat, and get ready for bed and literally every minute of it is taken up with those tasks. I can’t have dinner take an hour. I was going to microwave it, which I hate, but it did have instructions, but a big part of the crust had broken off and was scattered in the box and then I couldn’t fit the pie back in the cooking box the right way and then the kid was screaming at me about something I had to read for school and how I had to give him his spelling test NOW and I just lost it and yelled at him.

I have had a sore throat for five days now. This does not make me feel like doing anything and makes me very crabby.


I have also had something in my left eye literally for over a month. It’s not coming out, I can’t see it, and just when I think my eye is fine and it’s been several days without whatever it is suddenly appearing over my field of vision, it comes back, and then my eye is irritated and I can’t see right out of that eye and it’s like having a bamboo shoot in there, it’s so fucking bothersome. It moves all over, whatever it is. Eye drops don’t help. I have literally put my head under the faucet and done an amateur eye wash and that hasn’t helped either. So I just live with it. Like I am living with everything, all of my burdens. All the meals, every single thing I pack and send for D every day, every meal for myself that I cook, then clean up the fucking dishes, put everything away, and repeat it a few hours later. I realize at least when I was working I didn’t have to do dishes and clean the kitchen three times a day.

In the afternoon, I always used to have coffee, but now I’m trying to conserve coffee, so I skip it. I had tea, but some days my GERD rejects tea very violently. Plus the tea is almost gone too and I’m not buying any more anytime soon.

I’ve been taking Spanish lessons online and today I was so confounded by the lesson it took me three times as long as normal to get through it. It’s like it just wasn’t making any sense anymore. They’re talking about stuff I don’t even know what it is in English – past subjunctive verbs and shit. I may be too stupid to learn any more of this language, though I did complete the lesson, even though I didn’t want to.

I finally found what smelled in the fridge – a rotted cucumber. I was SO MAD I had forgotten about it. I really wanted to eat that cucumber. Every piece of produce from a real grocery is a treasure these days and I beat myself up mentally so bad over that rotted veg, you wouldn’t believe, because it was like throwing my money away, and I have precious little of it with which to do so.

Never again will I take for granted the grocery store produce. Which, if a bunch of it is bad, you can actually return and get your money back. The food pantry really doesn’t have much produce at all, and most of it is potatoes, which are not helping with my growing waistline. This time, they had carrots and green grapes, and radishes. At least half of the carrots were black and rotted and I had to throw them out. The grapes, maybe only 1/3 of them, but the rest have held up all week and are in the kid’s lunch every day. The radishes, almost all of them were so old I couldn’t even save them with roasting. I cooked up and ate what I could salvage. I don’t even like radishes. Well, I like them pickled, but those really fuck with my GI system so I can’t do that more than once in a while.

I’ve had several phone interviews and a couple of in-person interviews for jobs. The pressure is actually increasing on me. If I don’t get something this month, chances are I won’t get anything until next year, as companies slow their hiring processes around the holiday season. The freelance work I have, plus unemployment, are keeping me afloat, but just barely.

And that’s how I feel most of the time. That I’m hanging on, but just barely.