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1313 Words About 30 Minutes in Wal-Mart

 

I don’t really have any kind of fashion sense, especially since I never go anywhere besides work, Starbucks, supermarkets and gas stations. I wear the same thing I’ve been wearing for however many years now. Jeans, never shorts, steel toed boots, two t-shirts and a “work shirt” over those. Usually one of those Dickies ones in blue or black. Even if it’s 107 out, this is the outfit I have on. Unless someone I love dies and I have to go to a funeral, I’ll probably never wear a suit or a tie for the rest of my life. I’m fine with this. I don’t care what other people wear and try my hardest not to associate with anyone who does care about trivial things like clothing. So it was with great sadness that I tore the black Dickies shirt I had owned for about five years now. (The blue one I wear has been going strong since the 90’s, really) The closest place between where I live and where I work to buy one of these is Walmart. I imagine there are other places I can buy these shirts such as THE INTERNET, but I really needed to get this shirt today if I wanted to satisfy the OCD thing in my head that was starting to make some noise at the fact I’ve been wearing the blue one exclusively for a couple of months now.

 

This particular Wal-Mart also has a Subway in it. Subway is currently enjoying a spot at the top of the fast food chain game world in the United States according to recent articles I didn’t read but saw the headlines on Huffington Post. Since I brought no lunch to work with me today I decided I’d give it another try. I hadn’t eaten at Subway in a year or so. I’ve recently lost a good amount of weight, about forty pounds, so most fast food is out of the question at this point. SUBWAY HAD THAT GUY THOUGH SO IT MUST BE GOOD FOR YOU. I figured I could find some sort of cold cut thing in there and I’m not eating chips anymore so I should be okay…but not really.

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I walk in and the Subway is on my right, I notice about five people in line so I decide to go find the shirt I need first. I panic a little as they only have the tan ones, and since I’m not about to join the Nazi Party I certainly don’t want one. Also, I don’t want to look like a walking cantaloupe. Finally I notice there is one black one left, my size on the shelf below, not hanging on the peg. I grab it and make my way to the registers which are all about a dozen people deep. I figure I can take the shirt into Subway and pay for the shirt after.

 

The line in Subway is significantly shorter now aside from some old woman and what I presume is her daughter. They are ordering…I try not watch the Subway people making the sandwiches and pulling the various meats out of the little trays as it really is disgusting. It would be what I imagine watching a video collage of yourself being conceived and born is like. While in line I am also keeping tabs on the lines out in Wal-Mart CENTRAL I guess we’ll call it. I briefly look at various escape routes and where cameras are located, and think of where I’m parked thinking I can just walk out with the shirt and not pay for it. It’s Wal-Mart, I would not feel a shred of guilt stealing from them. Sort of how you feel when you see someone young fall down on the ice and don’t stop to help them. They’ll figure it out. While I’m daydreaming about minor theft a guy steps in front of me in line, he’s apparently with the women in front of me and they were holding his space. I was pretty excited to learn this same gentleman was here to order FOUR FUCKING SANDWICHES. I briefly thought about how I joked on Facebook earlier about someone ordering three breakfast sandwiches. That story was not true at all. A guy did order one breakfast sandwich in front of me this morning, but as is often with things I post there, they are made up incidents created for humor. Most people can relate to mundane little annoyances like that and that’s where my humor and daily observations often come from. THIS FUCK IN FRONT OF ME THOUGH, NOTHING FUNNY ABOUT HIM AND HIS FOUR SANDWICHES AT ALL. This whole process adds about nine minutes to my experience in the line. I notice he is talking kind of softly when he orders each sandwich, like he knows he messed up my whole life and now I am staring at him with daggers. He is finally gone and I order my cold cut sandwich which I just ate and it was truly disgusting and I will never go there again as long as I live, but I don’t want to get into that.

 

I decide against stealing the shirt after briefly thinking I might be able to just put the shirt on over the ones I already have on. I’d have four shirts on. Maybe I could go hang out with Mr. Four Sandwiches Guy. I scope out a line to stand in. The express line at Wal-Mart by the way is “LESS THAN 20 ITEMS” What the fuck kind of express line is that? HOLD ON, LET THESE FIVE PEOPLE WITH NINETEEN DIFFERENT TYPES OF DORITOS AND BOYS UNDERWEAR AND FAST AND FURIOUS DVD’S GET IN FRONT OF YOU AND YOUR ONE SHIRT OVER HERE IN THE EXPRESS LANE. I find a line with five or six people. I look ahead and the woman checking out is putting potted plants on the conveyor thing which for some reason makes me sigh. I don’t know why I think a potted plant will take longer than say, a can of Glade to deal with but I do. Just then the dreaded happens. The lighted number above the register starts blinking and the cashier is now holding up a pair of boots. Probably not as intense as my semi-expensive steel-toed ones, but nonetheless, work boots. WHO THE FUCK PICKS AN ITEM THAT ISN’T PRICED? The cashier decides to leave us and go find the price herself. WAIT WHERE IS THE SHOE DEPARTMENT. WHAT IF IT’S ALL THE WAY IN THE BACK? WHO IS GOING TO TAKE CARE OF US NOW? Another woman shows up and rings up the rest of the boot lady’s items. Now there is one party in front of me, a woman in her sixties and a younger woman who have a carriage filled with stuff. The older woman suggests I go in front of her as “you look like you probably want to eat your lunch there” ARE YOU SAYING I AM FAT? We had a little small talk banter about the other Wal-Mart’s around. She apparently enjoys the one in North Reading. I let her know I’ve been there as I used to live in nearby Woburn and fuck I would rather be in the back of a police car on the way to the joint for stealing a $17 shirt from Wal-Mart than having this conversation with this perfectly nice lady. Just then a new register opens and I am motioned over. I swipe my card and the whole transaction takes maybe two minutes. I thank the lady who was going to let me go in front of her and now I think I am going to go stick a Sharpie down my throat and get rid of the Black Forest Ham and Turkey on Seven Grain Wheat. Perhaps I’ll write about how that goes.

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Dead Man Walking

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 I’ve now been involved in three layoffs in my life. The first one, I was laid off with a number of other folks, these last two (at the same company) I was saved.

 

At my last job, for part of my eleven years there I was head union steward. On more than one occasion I would get a call from a manager (usually that one from the warehouse with the ponytail and mustache that smoked weed and looked like a roadie for Black Sabbath) telling me they would be firing someone that day and I would have to represent them. More often than not they would have them finish working on some project and then fire them. When I say “project” I mean some menial task like emptying trash, sweeping an area or moving a bunch of heavy shit. I remember one particular employee calling him out on it once “you mean you had me do all that shit today knowing you were gonna fire me, that’s bullshit”

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Walking around work knowing someone is going to get fired or laid off that day is an awful feeling to have inside you. Even if the person was a horrible employee, there is still that little piece of empathy you carry. I heard about today’s layoff about a week ago. It is pretty slow at work right now and without getting into details and politics about my boring mundane job, they could have done things a lot different there the last few months and avoided this, but I’m just some guy that works out back, what do I know? They would be getting rid of four part time guys and one full time guy; I knew the whole list of employees that would go. Now I just had to work with these guys for a week knowing they would soon be gone. At one point last week one of them asked me if I could get a “direct deposit form” from the office. I told him I’d get it “next week, she’s out the rest of this week” (she wasn’t) I figured if I could hold him off a few days, he didn’t know he wouldn’t need a direct deposit form anyway. I briefly considered somehow talking him out of direct deposit, but couldn’t come up with any arguments quick enough. Is there a pro-paper check movement out there? Doubtful.

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In my opinion, the best way to deal with a layoff as a manager doing the firing is to do it when the employees that are staying are nowhere to be seen. The last thing you want to do is parade a bunch of freshly fired people past the employees that get to stay. From what I understood, they were going to do this at lunch today while the remaining five of us would be out of the building. In one particularly awkward moment, direct deposit dude asked me what I was doing for lunch. We often get lunch together. I had to quickly come up with some excuse and for some reason came up with “Oh, I have to call my doctor…” I have no idea where that came from or what kind of answer to “what are you having for lunch today?” this was. I don’t have a doctor. I haven’t had a doctor since I was probably seven years old. I should probably get a doctor at some point, but that’s a situation for another day. I know in my head I had the scenario planned out for him if he questioned me more. Which was basically me going to some place to get lunch and talking on the phone to my fictitious doctor while I drove. What if he had said he didn’t mind me talking on the phone while he was in my car? I didn’t have a back up plan for that. I’m a horrible liar. For whatever reason, they gathered the employees ten minutes before lunch, not informing me or anyone else. So there we were standing around like a bunch of jackasses in the hot-as-piss warehouse as their supervisor walked them out of the office with their little green folders just like I got when I got laid off that one time.

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I went through the air-conditioned office to get to my car so I could go get lunch. On my way through I walked past the desk of the manager/owner who did the laying off. On his computer screen was a website for some ultra expensive looking hotel called “The Manhattan Club” for one of his upcoming business trips. I drove to a supermarket up the road that sells premade sandwiches and meals. As I got out of my car it seemed as if the hot air outside smelled of mashed potatoes. For a moment I wondered how horrible it would be to sit in an 81-degree warehouse eating mashed potatoes. I went with something more sensible. 

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Jury Duty

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A postcard was sent to an old address I haven’t been at since August of 2009 informing me I had been selected for jury duty. I was more than happy to take a day off from work in the middle of the week. This was maybe my sixth time going to jury duty since I turned eighteen seventy-five years ago. Most people sigh when they tell you they have to go to jury duty as it usually means you end up sitting in some room for three hours with a bunch of squares who also don’t want to be there. What’s there not to like? I think of it as one of those civic duties you feel good about after doing like voting, giving blood, or wiping your ass on a piece of paper and mailing it to the Westboro Baptist Church.

 

I was scheduled to be there at 8:00 AM this morning. When I registered online after receiving the notice I put my new address in, since the court I was scheduled to appear at (Woburn) was in a different county. I’ve had four addresses since I lived in that county. Last night I received a “confirmation e-mail” that it was a go for this morning.

 

My normal social anxiety that takes place when I have to go to any kind of event that isn’t part of my daily routine would possibly be in full swing. Knowing that, I always try to dress as inconspicuous as possible. Sometimes it backfires. Today I wore all black, with a black Boston Bruins baseball hat. Halfway there I realized I was dressed like a cross between Kirk Hammett and a guy about to break into a house at night. I try to never wear anything that makes me stick out in any situation. I hate being in out with someone dressed like that as well. For instance if we were to ever meet up for dinner and you showed up wearing a yellow jacket I would probably leave. If you wear any kind of hat around me that has an elaborate brim, or has a feather in it, forget it, we’ll probably never be friends aside from on the Internet and maybe through some text messages.

 

Jury duty is generally a lot of sitting around and waiting for some adult to tell you it’s okay to go home. It’s kind of like being at a birthday party but without cake and singing. You always want to bring a book or a magazine with you. Some courts let you bring a cell phone, laptop, e-reader, etc. with you. I decided I wasn’t fucking around and brought two of those things in with me.

 

I arrived right on time, about five minutes early. Seeing security and metal detectors without a long line in front of them is always nice. I realized I was wearing steel toed boots about twelve seconds before walking in. Fuck. I emptied my pockets of everything and was reminded of the time I decided I would try smuggling marijuana on an airplane after September 11th, 2001. (I was flying a red-eye somewhere, for a brief three or four day trip. Upon arriving at Logan Airport I put a small amount of marijuana in a cigarette wrapper and put it in my mouth, like I was chewing tobacco. Looking in the rear view mirror my cheek was bulging. I decided to try behind my upper lip. Nope. Lower lip. Sorry. Looks like I wouldn’t be bringing any marijuana on my brief trip. My next best idea was to just smoke all of it, or as much as I could while sitting in the car. Maybe it would make me so high I would be high for the whole trip. Midway through that idea I realized, no, I’d be going through a security checkpoint, dealing with baggage people, and getting on an airplane. Social anxiety kicked into high gear as I made my way to the security checkpoint. Thankfully flying at night makes lines pretty much non-existent. I got to the metal detectors and emptied my pockets, placed my bag on the roller, and realized I had a cup of coffee in my hand. I put the cup of coffee in the bin with all of my emptied pockets stuff and sent it through the machine. Once I got to the other side, and one of the agents was guiding me along we noticed my coffee had spilled all over the inside of the bin, on my wallet, keys and everything else in there. The agent let me know I should have just walked through the metal detector with it. For whatever reason I thought this was the correct response to that: “Well, couldn’t someone sneak plastic explosives through like that?” The agent informed me I was not allowed to make comments like that. Now petrified of everything in the world, I made my way down to the gate.) Immediately the buzzer goes off and I’m told I am going to be checked with the wand. Just then one of the agents says “What happened to those Bruins last night?” I ignore him and then he says the same thing again. I realize I’m wearing a Boston Bruins hat yet I can’t for the life of me think of the single name of one professional hockey player even if I tried for five minutes. I don’t watch hockey. I like it, but I also like playing Boggle but I’ll probably never play Boggle again as long as I live. Wait, that’s not true. I kind of have an unwritten rule that when I am in a town other than Boston I’ll wear a Boston hat. If I’m here in Boston I’ll wear a Dodgers hat, or my St Louis Cardinals one I bought with my friend Mike from St Louis, in St Louis. Either way, it never fails, every time I wear this Bruins hat someone asks me about the game the night before. I should probably start wearing it the night they play so I look like I’m waiting to hear the outcome of the game. My boots don’t go off with the wand and I’m sent on my way.

 

Upstairs in the jury waiting room I’m sent to fill out a questionnaire to make sure I qualify. It gets to the part asking if I’ve ever been arrested and I have to think back to the few times I have been arrested more minor stuff. It was so long ago and so stupid (doing graffiti twice and driving with a suspended license once). I put the suspended license one down and made my way to the counter. The guy takes one look at the sheet “MAHBULHEAD? YOU SHOULDN’T BE HERE”, I look over at all the folks sitting there with their newspapers and looks of despair and now jealousy and I’m told to move down to this guy that will dismiss me. “You’re all set, you’re now set up for Essex County, they’ll probably call you at some point, or maybe not, have a good day” Thanks.

 

It’s 8:04 AM when I get back in my car. I should just go to work I’m only a half hour late now. I could go to a Chinese food buffet! The movies! Shopping! Nah, I’ll go home and write about my four minutes at jury duty today.

1035 – Laid Off From “The Music Business” Pt. 3: Back to Work

 

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I’ve turned into one of those guys that bitterly mutters things under his breath all day at work while watching the clock tick tick tick until 4:00. I wasn’t always like this though.

Much the same way I got every job I’ve ever had in my life, through networking, I finally ended up getting a job. I had an interview on a Wednesday and was working the following Monday. Exactly one-thousand and thirty-five days after being laid off from “Square Records” I started work in a warehouse.

To say the adjustment getting back to work was a little rough would be an understatement. Actually scratch that, it was easy going back to work. After a few days though, I was physically exhausted beyond what I had felt in years. My job is a physical job, doing work that doesn’t require that much brainwork. After the first day my hands and wrists felt like they were going to break off. The third and fourth day I was on my feet for eight hours straight. I could barely stand by the time I got home. I thought “I bet this is what it’s like to get off heroin” or what Nelson Mandela felt like.

After working in the music business for most of my life, I figured getting a normal blue collar job would be an easy adjustment. Here I am a couple of years later and I spend forty hours a week hating every second of my existence. The job itself is easy, mindless work for the most part. It doesn’t matter what I do for work, or where it is. What does matter though, are the people I work with.

When I started the job there was a small group of guys in their early twenties, a couple of them right off the bat rubbed me the wrong way. One of them was constantly coughing and spitting phlegm into the various trash barrels around the warehouse. The other guy was just plain dumb. I kept to myself for most days and just listened to their conversations. “Reagan, he was around like in the 60’s right?”, “Patrick from Spongebob is kind of a dickhead”, “Obama used to sell weed”, etc.

Over the next few months newer kids would start working there, the majority of them were hired because their parents knew the owners, or were somehow connected. They would work during breaks in school, the summer and the occasional day here and there. Most of these kids were young, Massholes-in-training. Everything was “gay” (bad) or  else it was “bomb” (good) One day I flipped out on one of them telling him to stop saying everything is “gay” In retrospect, who am I to tell people how to talk, especially since I rarely have any kind of filter. And I’m usually joking.

One thing a lot of people might not realize, or want to admit, is how racist every white person really is. You get any group of white guys together for an extended period of time the conversation is eventually going to get racist. One time they told the story of driving down the street and calling some black guy a nigger out the car window and laughing about it. In 2011. Upper-middle class white kids who wear camo baseball hats, chew tobacco and like modern country music. Good old Americans working boys.

One day my friend who got me the job recommended another of his friends a job there. He was closer to my age and apparently really into music and craft beer. I could care less about beer, and even less about craft beer, but the idea that we may have an employee that like me, knows every verse to “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” was enticing. He was into stuff like Guided by Voices and Dylan and “good music”, with an encyclopedic knowledge of those artists. Most of the time though, he wore headphones, presumably to drown out the constant barrage of racism and “gay” talk. On a couple of occasions he flipped out on them and it was extremely funny and uncomfortable at the same time. Thankfully he was there for the brief time he was as well as one of my best friends’ younger brothers. He was in his twenties now and worked alongside me for the time he was there and we had a great time listening to hip hop and making fun of these other fools. There is also a younger guy there that works alongside me now who is into music like Rush and Iron Maiden. I think he is maybe twenty years old, and is a great kid. I still feel disconnected to a lot of these kids since some of them I am double their age.

The other thing about all of these kids: They’re all future serial killers. Talk of killing animals is the norm. Everyone owns guns and has killed various animals; sometimes on hunting trips, other times just for the fun of it. One particularly gruesome story told was about a rooster that was making too much noise in the yard (who has a rooster in their yard?) so one of them hit it with a bat, another one slit it’s throat with a knife. AMERICA.

For the last year or so there has been a former policeman working there. I’ll call him “Frank the Cop” Frank the Cop is a former cop who was injured on the job, had to retire, got addicted to pain medication, worked at a couple of different strip clubs and DOESN’T TAKE SHIT FROM YOU FUCKING KIDS. He works alongside the twenty somethings in another area of the warehouse but when you turn the music down a little you can hear him in all his glory. He talks and talks and talks all day. They ask him questions like “Frank the Cop, who do you hate more blacks or Hispanics?” He immediately replies “oh, spics” He talks about getting his dick sucked and Chinese food and tittie fucking and movies. Frank the Cop knows about every movie ever. Except he doesn’t really. He knows about the last nine Clint Eastwood movies, that kind of shit. He’s the kind of guy that will go see a Denzel Washington movie in the theatre in 2013. For whatever reason Frank the Cop is allowed to just kind of come and go as he pleases. Some days he just won’t show up, no call, no text, nothing. Some days he leaves at 9:00 AM, comes back an hour later and then leaves at noon. He’s pretty much the reason you don’t like cops if you don’t like cops.

The bleak days there are tough to deal with forty hours a week and I find myself burning out fast. A low paying, dead end job at my age, surrounded by people I wouldn’t associate with outside of there is tough to swallow. Having a routine is comfortable, it numbs your brain. Most days though it belittles me and makes me feel like a failure. A series of bad decisions, depression and no motivation brought me to this place every day and I need to escape it soon.

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1035 – Laid Off From “The Music Business” Pt. 2

(the first part of this can be found here: http://wp.me/p1zaMw-1f )

When the phone at my desk rang I immediately knew what was about to happen. I had just arrived at work via taxi after dropping my car off at a garage for a number of repairs that cost just under $1000. In the dead of winter, smack in the middle of January, there was still filthy grey snow and ice everywhere. I walked from the garage to a Dunkin Donuts, and then a convenience store. I found a card on a bulletin board for a taxi service, which ended up just being some local guy in his 60’s with a Lincoln Town Car. I told him I would call him back later in the day for a ride to the garage when my car was ready if I couldn’t get a ride over from someone at work.

I was working at Square Records for a little under eleven years. Unfortunately they had been laying people off for a few months. I felt pretty safe. There were two other “equals” in my office. One had been there much longer than I, the other a little shorter than I had been. A few weeks before someone “from upstairs” accidentally printed a document in the printer room listing the salaries of everyone in the company, (even the owners, president, etc). A co-worker and I both discovered it. We of course immediately decided we needed to look it over. The best way to go about this was to make our own copy. The person who printed it could be showing up in the printer room at any moment. One of us acted as a “lookout” while the other quickly made a copy of it and put it inside of a manila folder. I still have this document at home in a folder along with other stuff from there. If you ever want to feel like shit at your job, find out what all those people you don’t like above you make on their paychecks.

I walked into the HR woman’s office and she had a bunch of paperwork ready for me and told me they were letting go go of my job. I could tell she must have hated doing this job. I think that particular day five of us got laid off. I signed all the papers including ones that basically said I wouldn’t talk shit about the company. I think this was just during the period where they were paying out my severance. Now it’s probably okay to talk shit about that sweatshop of a warehouse that released albums by some pretty amazing artists but also some really bad music as well. that’s for another time though.

I don’t really remember the reasons why I was laid off, all I can say as boy was I excited. I had hated the job for quite some time and I had just been told to go home, forever. They would still continue to pay me for four months and keep me on the 100 % full health and dental plan. Since my car was still in the shop and I had only been at work for a few minutes I had nowhere to go aside from back to the garage. My car wouldn’t be ready until way later though. The company offered me $25 to catch a cab back to the garage and then one of my co-workers offered me a ride. The ride was a bittersweet drive. I had seen this woman every weekday for years and now would probably not see her for some time. She was one of my favorite co-workers.

I got back to the garage and told the guy fixing my car I just lost my job but to “keep working on it” I then called my family, and texted a few friends and my girlfriend. Not knowing some of the turns my life would take over the next few years I was filled with excitement. Also, I was scared. Arriving home I hugged both cats and sat on the couch wondering what to do. I think I made a bunch of chicken cutlets. Or got high. Probably both.

That night I went to sleep and for the first time in who knows how long, and didn’t turn my alarm on. There was something liberating about that. I of course woke up early the next morning anyway. My first though? “Fuck, I have about twenty-five minutes left to make McDonalds breakfast!”  This was a mantra I would become very familiar with for a long time. The Mc Donalds breakfast had become a ritual for a while until one day walking in I saw a rather large man in his 50‘s walking out. I went in and bought a newspaper and waited in a brief line. When I got my food a few minutes later I went and sat at the window. Outside was an ambulance and a small group of about four or five people gathered around. Seems like my buddy from the way in dropped on the ground. I quickly ate my two egg and meat sandwiches, hash browns and coffee and left. I made it to my car without having a heart attack. It was a good day indeed.

When you get laid off it’s almost like having someone break up with you. They’re not really pissed at you, they just don’t think you should see each other anymore. I guess this would make a severance package a period of make up sex that abruptly ends a few months later.  I spent a few months confused not knowing what to do at first. Knowing I could collect unemployment at some point, knowing I had a place to live and a patient girlfriend that was working a good job was comforting. I decided looking for a new job would be maybe the fifteenth priority. My top priorities would be buying things from the internet to a point where a package was arriving everyday. I memorized the sound of that mailman’s truck pulling up in front of our house. Peeking out the window until he drove away and making my way outside to grab my presents. It was like Christmas every single day, just without the having to spend your money on other people.

I was making relatively good money so once I started collecting I would be getting a good amount of money every week as long as I checked in every Sunday. I supplemented my income with the sale of various collectable items I had acquired through the years working around music. Music collectors have deep pockets, and it’s always been a way for me to make extra money for as long as I can remember. The first week I started selling on eBay I put a Slayer 12” single I bought in 1987 for probably $4.00. A guy in Canada bought it for $450.00 FOUR-HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS. Yeah, I know right?

Music would end up helping pay a lot of bills. Not music I was playing, music I was selling. Whether it was promotional items I held onto for years or expensive Misfits albums (I had doubles of some so it was okay), I was always able to make some sort of money. At the same time I was burnt out from that business. Selling things I wasn’t supposed to and that kind of thing seemed ridiculous to me, and still does. It’s not my fault some asshole thinks buying a rare CD by the Cult for $60.00 is a good idea. Of course I eventually ran out of stuff to sell and grew tired of hunting down cheap stuff to turn over for more money so I slowed down. Thankfully, the government was in a generous mood as I was somehow able to collect for well over two years.

For the longest time, well for one-thousand and thirty-five days, I had no idea what going back to work would be like, What being responsible was like anymore. Without really knowing it I was entering a mid-life crisis. It was kind of fun though.

(to be continued)

1035 – Intro/Pre-Laid Off Life in “The Music Business” Pt. 1

Intro

In early 2008 I was laid off from my job. I didn’t work again until almost three years later, or 1,035 days later. Not something I’m proud of but also, who gives a shit really? The government gave me money for two years of that, other times I made money by selling all sorts of collectible stuff, gambling and somehow managing to have every single person I know buy me at least one meal (I swear I’ll buy them all a meal soon).

At the end of the day, I had some great experiences as well as some horrible ones. I moved to Los Angeles and then back to the Boston area, had a couple of significant relationships end, old friends and family members die, quit smoking and above all sat around and pretty much did nothing.

These writings will cover those times, as well as some of the times leading up to being laid off, and the adjusting back to life as a normal working person. When I was hired for my current job I mentioned to a friend how crazy it had been not working for two years, she informed me it was close to three years. I swear I have a strong work ethic, you’ll see.


Pre-Laid Off Life in “The Music Business” Pt. 1

Sure I worked for a pretty prestigious, famous independent record label for a decade, but really this job could have been any job. When you work in fulfillment or service it doesn’t really matter what you’re selling, music or paper towels. It’s a product. I never  really considered this working “in the music business”. My whole life has been around the music business since my dad has been in it since before I was born and still is, the vast majority of my friends are musicians or have something to do with it, I’ve played music, recorded music, released music and just spent time immersed in it in some way for as long as I can remember. That part of me is more “music business”,  this job was just a job…it just happened to also be a record label.  People who work at record labels or in the business in general are pretty gross. While telling the world how awful it is to steal their music they themselves pretty much never pay for music whether recorded or live. There is an entitlement in the music business there that is way beyond art and what music should be about. It’s a different place than it used to be, and as cliche as it sounds, the DIY/underground is where you’re going to find people who are truly doing it for their love of music. The good people who worked with me at the label were these people. Life there would have been awful if it wasn’t for them.

The company I worked for was an independent record label in the Boston area. I’ll refer to the company as “Square Records” since the higher ups were just that, a bunch of fucking squares. The label had a reputation of putting out quality music, also of being a shitty place to work. There were obvious perks to working there. Aside from a small handful of folks that were short lived, the vast majority of people I worked with were great people and remain at the very least friends on whatever the latest social network is right now. Anytime I run into these folks in person it’s great. We spent a lot of good and bad times together. As with any job there was a network of people you associate with that are “in the know”. The ones you complain about work with, talk about other people with, go to lunch with and maybe even hang out with outside of work. These are the people that made going to work everyday okay. In general this place wasn’t as horrible a place to work as I might make it out to be, but how boring would that be to read about?

In close to eleven years I held a few different positions there. Mostly my positions had something to do with fulfillment and direct to consumer sales and customer service. For a good chunk of this time I somehow got promoted into something I’ll never do again: managing a group of people. Everyone who worked under me was pretty cool, we had a nice tight knit group and I really have to say I miss working with them all. Even the woman I fired that one time.

One thing that set the company apart from other record labels was Square Records was a union shop. For a brief period I even became a Union Steward. I kind of got talked into it by fellow employees and then when I discovered a girl I had a slight crush on was also a steward, I joined. Unfortunately I was painfully shy and socially awkward and she had a boyfriend so nothing ever happened there. If someone was disciplined at work or fired I had to “represent” them. My first “case” was the firing of the head Union Steward who had been with the company for years. A recently hired General Manager pretty much fired him for nothing and I had to help him fight it. Even though I got involved with the union for other reasons once I realized how serious of a job I had it became more interesting and serious to me. A few years later I would end up in contract negotiation meetings on the union side of the table up against some of the higher ups including my own boss. Listening to grown men say right to your face that giving people a five cents raise on their hourly wage once a year was okay was beyond disgusting. Eventually I somehow managed to get myself into a position where I negotiated myself out of my job and into a management position. This is when things got real fun.

I was kind of the lead customer service guy in my department. Now I was the manager. Our little group had become pretty tight knit so it was a little difficult having to now be the boss of people who I considered my friends. With the mixture of my employees being union employees and my boss being very detail oriented when it came time to do yearly performance reviews I had to be extra detailed on everything. Dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s. Making sure I justified why this particular person deserved a fifteen cent raise. Reviewing people’s work performance might be the single worst thing one can do. For one thing, you are in control of if someone is going to be getting more money and how much. This is a lot of pressure for someone with no managerial experience whatsoever. My boss was a cool guy if not a little nerdy. He was into auto racing and used a lot of racing metaphors in his management and in training me to become a better manager. I still use some of his ideas to this day, well aside from that time he ran through the office with a big checkered flag because we had a good month in sales.

Oh yeah, it should be noted that during my whole time employed at Square Records I came into work high on marijuana probably every single day aside from maybe ten days out of ten years. There were quite a few people working there that were doing the same thing. Some of them managers. Since my initial position at the company was pretty much mindless warehouse work I was able to get away with being mindless most of the time. I somehow managed to get things done every day, even if it meant delegating it to other people so I could check Facebook, I mean Myspace…or maybe it was Friendster. My boss even told me once his goal for me was to have everything delegated out so I could just put my feet up on the desk and do nothing.

“Wow, management sounds intense!” I thought to myself

The warehouse was a hot disgusting place to work. In the summers it was often just as hot if not hotter than it was outside. Since there was a union that promoted from within, when a coveted office job was posted warehouse folks often scrambled to get their resumes to the particular manager in hopes to finally make it back to the air conditioned heaven of the offices.

Once you made it to the offices you were home free. It was true, people with desk jobs don’t really do much work at all regardless of what they try to tell you. They get stressed out but for the most part, desk people have really bad people skills and can’t work as a team so they are constantly talking about each other and complaining about their job. Every single person I know that works a job that is spent at a desk will often let you know about their shitty day at work or how much crap they had to put up with. You rarely hear this from warehouse workers, laborers, etc. I consider myself one of those people now. I enjoy being tired and dirty when I get home. If I had a shitty day at work or got hurt somehow then I probably did a good job that day. If a desk/office person has a bad day at work it’s probably because they couldn’t log on to the internet or they had to wait seven minutes for the IS guy to come and fix a printer.

When I became an office person and realized how office work was I was initially happy, in retrospect I feel like I learned very little beyond just how petty people can be. Office politics can be a dirty game and I certainly wasn’t willing to play. I was willing to get paid more money for doing things like keeping an online journal with well over fifteen-hundred entries (most of which were written in the office), e-mail friends, take ninety-minute lunch breaks so I could go CD shopping. I even took a four hour lunch break once without telling anyone so I could go to a Red Sox day game (they lost).

In retrospect I really wish I saved some of the ridiculous e-mails from there. In ten plus years there was a vast amount of communications between me and customers, me and artists and of course me and coworkers that would surely make me laugh out loud if I were to read them. For instance what kind of e-mail exchanges did I have with that woman I was secretly sleeping with for a little while there? What were those awkward e-mails from the even more awkward president like? He was like a creepy, younger, extra tall version of Mr Burns from the Simpsons mixed with Bill Gates and someone who looked like they probably never had really disgusting sex. Talking to him was awkward, he had a voice that sounded like Jim Henson or Frank Oz was inside of him. I really did not like this man. After working there for as long as I did he barely ever spoke to me and when he did it was to ask for something to get done for him and his interests. He was another person that basically told me my co-workers and I didn’t deserve more than fifteen cents/hour once a year for a raise (if we did “excellent” in or yearly review) in contract negotiations.

At one point, while I was a manager they had a vote to decertify the union. They brought in these professional union busting guys  to train us managers how to talk our employees into voting to decertify the union. We had to meet one on one with this guy. I remember him having longer hair and a mustache, but obviously more put together. He didn’t look like Doug Henning is what I’m saying here. I sat in a small office with him across from me. He held a clipboard with the names of the employees in my department. At the time my office consisted of four people. Three women and one man. Two of the women were former union stewards or active in union activities and the one man was a current steward. He went down the list:

“Okay so these two women used to be stewards so we can forget about them” he tells me

“Probably a good idea”

“And this guy, he is a current steward so we know how he is going to vote”

“Sure”

“What about this other girl here…?”

“I’m not one hundred percent sure about her but I used to also be a steward so the anti-union vibe in our office is pretty much non existent. You guys might want to concentrate on other departments”

The union was decertified shortly thereafter. The company started putting all of its money and time towards a horrible all girl “tween-pop” group which featured our president’s daughter. In my opinion, and I’m sure in many other’s, this is when the company started getting way worse. And then people started losing their jobs.

(to be continued)

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