Greetings! I know it’s been a while but that’s okay. Sometimes we need to step away in order to feel refreshed and reinvigorated about any and all things. I just want to start off by wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow! My life seems to have taken an unexpected turn for the worst but I know there’s still so much to be thankful for. Whenever I feel myself wallowing, I just think about the people in the Philippines who literally lost everything in Typhoon Haiyan. That snaps me back to reality and makes me realize how much I do have. Many people have more than me, some people have the same, but many more have even less. There’s no reason for me to complain.
I do, however, want to bring you up-to-date. The last time I wrote, I had injured myself at work and nearly drove over a dead boy in the road. I cringe at even bringing all of that up again but let’s start there. After that night, I never returned to my job of taking care of three wonderful folks with Alzheimer’s disease. I guess you could say it was a mutual decision. I was planning to return to work but I received a phone call from my supervisor basically telling me that if I couldn’t lift someone (who just happens to weigh the same as me) several times a day (it’s eleven times to be exact–I counted) than I am unfit for work. I performed this job for two years so it hurt more than anything to suddenly be deemed unworthy. They were like my family to me and in a strange way very much like the children I never had. I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with them. I bathed them, clothed them, fixed their meals, woke them up and put them to bed. They were my world.
I came back from Yellowstone and secured an apartment with a one-year lease with the knowledge and reassurance that I would have my job back when I returned. However, I realized the hard way that I was only promised my job back so that I’d watch the patients and the house 24/7 for an entire week in August so my supervisor could go on her yearly vacation. No one else wanted that responsibility and my supervisor knew that I’d be willing so she ployed me back here with the promise of work. After that one week of hell (in which one of my patients had a series of mini-strokes) my hours were slowly cut back to nothing. I later came to realize that the girl that they hired over the summer had a friend who wanted my job so the new girl was feeding my supervisor a bunch of lies to get me out. Well, it worked and now I’m unemployed. To make matters worse, since I’d just gotten back from working in Yellowstone, I hadn’t been put on the books yet. So when I hurt myself on the job, there was no Workers’ Compensation to cover me and I couldn’t receive any Unemployment Benefits. Yikes! It certainly is a blessing though in many ways but I miss my patients terribly. Last night I dreamt that I visited them and we were all laughing. I was telling them how much I’ve missed them. It was bittersweet to say the least.
At first, I was completely gung-ho about my new life as a free agent. I was going to take a breather, perhaps a month off, to gather myself and then dive into finding a job. I was going to restock my soap and craft stores, create like a crazy person, and work on getting the word out about my reiki and life coaching services. I did all of these things. And I found out the hard way that getting the word out about your services is extremely costly. Advertising is ridiculously expensive and will leave you penniless. A one-month ad in a local magazine here is $400 and that’s for the smallest size with microscopic print. A weekly newspaper ad is $99 and that, once again, is for the micro-mini. This is a terrible catch 22 of small business. You’ve got a lot to offer, you’ve got a great website, but you need advertising so that people know about you. However, you don’t have the money to pay for the advertising because you don’t have any clients. My advice for others would be to get a loan. In my case, I didn’t want to go there because I already have a school loan, credit card bills, etc… I’m just not comfortable having more debt hanging over me at this juncture. Nevertheless, I made some advertising investments that in the end didn’t pay off but at least I gave it a shot. I can never tell myself that I didn’t put in 100% effort. I have no regrets and don’t feel like I’ve cheated myself in any way.
So I began to apply for jobs. I returned to Jo-Ann Fabric’s, where I used to teach sewing and quilting classes. They gave me a job as an early morning stocker for the holidays. Sounds good right? Well…no. Honesty is always the best policy in my book so when they asked me on the background check consent form if I’ve ever been convicted of a misdemeanor, I checked “yes” and told them that back in 2004 I was convicted of a DWI. (In my defense, I successfully drove through a sobriety checkpoint on my way home, I was pulling into my driveway when they stopped me for a license plate light being out, I passed the field sobriety tests, I passed two of the three field breathalyzers, and I even passed the breathalyzer at the station. They charged me using one out of the three faulty field breathalyzer tests. The judge was pissed because he knew the officers were just trying to meet their quota so he basically let me off. However, it went on my record for a time.) Now, I knew that the DWI was going to be wiped from my record after a number of years but I honestly haven’t been keeping track. It’s nothing I think about. Well, my background check came back completely clean. (Just as an aside, have you ever seen your background check? The government literally knows everywhere you’ve taken a poop. I’m not even kidding! It’s freaky!) Soon after, I received a letter and a phone call from Jo-Ann’s headquarters calling me a liar. They basically accused me a making up a DWI misdemeanor and told me that I was not employable because of it. Why the heck would I falsify something like that? It’s outrageous and I hope you’re laughing right now because I sure as shit am.
Well, I foolishly still had hope at this point. I applied for a job as a wine/hard cider maker nearby. I was completely enthused because I have a lot of wine-making experience from my 10+ years of working in Finger Lakes wineries. I knew this job was mine. The woman called me and was completely psyched about my background and invited me over to the orchard for an interview. Everything was going great until she asked me what I’ve been doing for work these past few years. I told her about Sweet Pea’s Groceries and mentioned that I was also taking care of Alzheimer’s patients. She asked why I’m no longer doing that and I said that it was too difficult to continuously lift people the same size as myself all day and that I was getting severe headaches from the strain of it. Well, big mistake. After hearing this, she informed me that she could in no way hire me unless I had a MRI and a complete physical exam beforehand. I told her that I was uninsured and my focus right now is to find a job so that I can eat, pay my rent, have heat…and get some health insurance. So I walked away from this and Jo-Ann’s wondering why the heck I even bother telling people the truth since all it does is hurt me.
Then I applied to Kohls. Holy Mother of Mary! This was an eye-opener. I was herded into a conference room with four other candidates for a group interview where they asked me questions like:
♠ “When was the last time you went out of your way for a customer?” –At which, my mind went completely blank and I had to pass while everyone else had a scripted answer. In fact, all of their answers were perfectly scripted and exactly alike. It was like something out of the Stepford Wives.
♣ “How do you know when a customer is satisfied?” –Everyone gave their scripted answer and I went the importance of making a meaningful connection route. The record skipped and everyone looked at me like I had two heads. Clearly, they knew how to play a game that I wasn’t aware existed. I always considered myself a smart person–both book smart and street smart. I have several degrees, received an ivy league education, earned my master’s, etc… This experience made me feel like a complete dummy. I didn’t realize there was a third kind of smart but there is: corporate smart, which I clearly am not.
♦ “Would you feel comfortable suggestively pushing credit card sign-ups while you’re checking customers out at the register?” –At this point I began to feel completely sick. The manager told us that the job was going to be temporary for the holidays but the people who got the most credit card sign-ups would be the ones offered permanent full-time employment. So basically, the more people you bring into debt and encourage to spend beyond their means, the further you will get. It made me feel so yucky.
Then he went on to say that the hourly wage is higher than their competitors such as JCPenny’s. Drum roll please…the wage is something like $7.16/hour. I can’t remember the exact wage because I gasped out loud before I even had a chance to stifle it. No one else even batted an eye because a few of them were making less at other stores. So after taxes, what are you taking home? Something like $5.72. Oh but wait, the extra incentive is that employees start out with a 15% discount and during the holidays it goes up to 35% on certain days. How can employees even afford to shop? Oh…you probably make them sign-up for your credit card and encourage them to go into debt. I see…
Then I applied to be a pet bather at PetSmart. I figured this would be a great fit since I’m a licensed veterinary technician. Well, the online application took at least two hours because they have to administer a GRE test. Oh yes. There’s a timed test filled with math, word and logic questions–none of which I could finish. Then there is a 12-page survey filled with questions re-worded in various ways which attempt to boil you down to a few mere traits that will either make you desirable or undesirable for employment. Here’s a sampling of the survey questions which you’re supposed to rate from strongly agree to strongly disagree: I would never do anything to embarrass this company when I’m outside of work. I would never question authority. I prefer to not be recognized for my achievements. I do not mind my work being heavily criticized by my superiors… All this to deem me worthy enough to bathe a dog. Realistically speaking, despite my tiny bit of optimism, a high schooler is more likely to be given the job over someone like me with an advanced degree and experience. My application was probably swiftly thrown in the trash. They want people who believe they have no other choice. They’re looking for a captive workforce. Tests and creepy surveys can never convey the fact that despite my background, I still NEED a job, and I would work like a dog for them (pun intended).
However, the real eye-opener came yesterday when the food stamp office called me because they saw from my HEAP application that I was in dire need of assistance. The case worker said that if I came down and dropped off some paperwork, I would be given a benefits card so that I could buy food for Thanksgiving. So I went. The office was a madhouse. It was a scene nothing short of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It was jam-packed with distraught people, security officers were all over the place, the young guy next to me was taken away by a guard because he was harassing the food stamp secretary, and the secretary (a very kind older woman) was literally at the end of her rope. Her heart sank when I handed over my paperwork because she thought she was going to have to take time, that she clearly didn’t have, to copy it all. I told her to have no fear because I’d already made the copies for her. Well, she nearly cried with relief. I’m not joking. Tears began to well up in her eyes and she thanked me profusely. This nice woman was completely defeated.
I walked out of that office knowing full well and with complete certainty that I needed to see all of that. I need to go through all of this and share it all with you. Do not feel sorry for me. This is exactly where I need to be and I’ve found comfort in that. We all should fall at some point. It should be mandatory. Never have I felt more humbled. Never have I felt so grateful. Never have I been so angry with OUR situation–not my situation–OUR situation. It came full circle. People are being paid $7.16/hour-> then they’re being taxed so they probably make something like $5.72/hour-> “free” money (debt) via credit cards are being pushed on them by people who are forced into it in the name of job security-> then they have to go on public assistance in order to get medical help, pay for their heat, and feed themselves and their families. How in the heck can anyone ever get ahead? They can’t. This system is not set up for success, it perpetuates failure. It’s just corporate greed. Now, more than ever, I feel sick when I think of anyone snubbing their nose at someone on public assistance. No, we should all have to fall at least once. I can’t recommend it enough.
This experience has made me realize that Sweet Pea’s is not going to put food on my table–unless I have some desire to sell out to Colgate, raise my prices so only the few can enjoy my products, or do something similar that would compromise my values–and that is fine with me. And I don’t want to charge people for reiki services. This is something I would feel better doing free of charge. In fact, once I get a job, I would like to volunteer at the local hospice and freely offer my reiki and animal assisted therapy services. Perhaps I can help to comfortably usher the dying out of this life and on to the next. In a world that’s all about taking, I would like to tip the scales by freely giving as much as I can.
So that’s where I’m at. I’m here, at my computer, applying for jobs, still strangely hopeful even after all I’ve been through, and I’m feeling the need to share my story with you. I’m not ashamed at all. In fact, I’m proud of my ability to move through this as best I can. This is what makes a person strong and humble. These experiences build the best of characters. My tale is cautionary–it can happen to anyone and perhaps it should. No matter what though, tomorrow when you stuff yourself full of delicious goodies, stop to think of those people suffering all over the world, and be grateful for what you have. And please know, that I’m grateful for you!