Showing posts with label employment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label employment. Show all posts

14 February, 2020

Calling in well

artwork by Darrell McKinney
Maybe someone should give those Madison Street marketing cutthroats a cigar, because it's three decades on and I still think about those Sunday morning retirement commercials on television. Do you remember them? Sandwiched somewhere been Archer Daniel Midland commercials, Meet the Press, and Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood like cheese in a Dagwood?

Maybe it's because I'm turning 47 next week and it's getting that
What's a Dagwood?
period of life when people (I'm told) start paying closer attention to their retirement nest egg... assuming they have one to look at. Maybe it's because I'm looking forward to being someone's grandfather when my granddaughter makes her appearance sometime in the next 6 weeks or so. I've been thinking about my dad a lot lately, and maybe that has something to do with the fact that he didn't live long enough to meet his grandchildren, or with the fact that I'm getting older and seeing less of him in how I make my way in the world.

I've written about this before, so I don't want to hammer in on it too much. Instead, I want to talk about calling in well.

I first heard the term from Utah Phillips, on The Past Didn't Go Anywhere, a collaborative album put out by indie icon Ani DeFranco's  on Righteous Babe Records. Utah was talking about his friend, the musician Mark Ross, "America's most famous unknown folk singer."  Calling in well is what Utah called Mark's decision to stop trying to live someone else's life and live his own... which meant making music, no matter what.

The notion stuck with me... sort of a dream, an unarticulated goal.  As peripatetic as my employment life has been, except for a 2 1/2 year stretch as a full-time composition instructor at Arizona State University, you might be surprised to know I didn't call in decades ago.  As a matter of fact, most of my working life has been an attempt to do things The Right Way.

No. Really. Honest.

I think in the end it's all about the platitudes you choose to give your life over to. Most of my working life was given over to Give your life over to the work you love to do and you'll never work a day in your life. That's primary mantra of job coaches, HR reps, college admissions counselors, and my high school Guidance Counselor Mrs. Click.   And as much as I fought it, and regardless of how much my own experience kept shoving my face in the contrary, I still tried for that goal. Teaching was close and so was journalism; those jobs, even though I was largely underpaid and certainly unappreciated in both fields, came close to matching my skills and my need to be useful. Both teaching and journalism -- the real kind, not what passes for the press most of the time -- can be noble endeavors, and I know people who engage in them nobly. 

But it didn't last. Some of the reasons were my fault, but I still believe I was written off by both higher education (for having the temerity to suggest that economic exploitation is wrong) and journalism (for not game playing and politicking in a political town).  The part of both of those situations that was my fault is this: I'm not good at the whole "play the game" thing. 

That's another one of those platitudes, most often uttered by parental types and sports fans. Play the game... which is code for "compromise for a paycheck." Now I do enjoy watching a good baseball game, but I never understood treating my working life like trying to get to third base, only to be tagged out sliding into home.

Maybe it's a temperament issue. Maybe it's about my birth order. Maybe it's about my middle class upbringing that translated into a disregard for money. Maybe it's the chip on my shoulder that, chip away at it as I might, I can't seem to get rid of.   All I know is this:

I'm calling in well. Now. 

It doesn't look like I wanted it to look; I was hoping to have a slightly better idea where the little bit of money I'd like to make would come from. But I'm done with platitudes that don't work for anyone except a larger system that's built to exploit and hold out the promise of retirement as the time to "really live."  I'm a poet, a writer and teller of stories, and a collector of stories. I'm a wordslinger. I write Word-Things. I fully expect to take on gigs from time to time, but copywriting gigs aren't going to define my life. 

So, to borrow and edit from Charles Osgood... really the best part of Sunday morning when I was younger... I'll see you in between the words. 

15 July, 2014

Steady the Course Along the Dirty Sacred River: Sometimes the Universe Throws a Straight Pitch

This summer has not exactly gone as expected. I'd planned on heading west again, back to the big sky territory out in South Dakota and Montana. For a variety of reasons, none of which are particularly blog worth, I've not made it and probably won't. I am getting ready for another eastbound slingshot to attend The Kid's wedding to Plus 1... I mean Will... I mean The Soon-to-Be Son-in-Law.

the axis mundi
Mostly, I've stayed closer to the axis mundi here along the dirty, sacred river, tried not to kill the garden, and struggled with a few of those "all growed up" decisions that occasionally sneak into what I generally consider to be an idyllic life. I recently applied for a full time teaching gig that I didn't get*, which set up a whole series of stress-ridden mental labyrinths for me to navigate.** I've been trying to get some new projects up and going, which is surprisingly complicated when you're unemployed.

I was also turned down for unemployment benefits because, in the nomenclature of the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, I have "reasonable assurance" of future employment. Basically, I was denied benefits because I will probably have a job soon... though no steady paycheck until the end of August. I guess I'm supposed live on hay until then.  But, given the intolerance and general lack of human empathy demonstrated by Top Cop Commander Kim and by some of the folks I call neighbors*** I guess it's a good thing I haven't had to resort to panhandling.

But I'm feeling pretty good, and looking forward to the trip. I love my daughter, even if I have trouble reconciling myself with the fact that I was once stupid enough to marry her mother.  Stella's been going through some "all growed up" stuff of her own lately that I will not list at the moment. One of those things, though, has to do with the fact that conventional wisdoms -- in spite of being conventional -- are wrong.  She's a good person and has a smart head on her shoulders that she sometimes uses. She just wants to live her life, be happy, all that. But she is having to learn that doing the right thing doesn't always mean that you get the reward you deserve.

In fact, it's increasingly the opposite... and not just for Stella.

One of the nice things about children is that they have all the potential in the world to grow beyond the limitations of their parents... if they can dodge hard luck and if they can reject conventional wisdoms that worn paths of other people's success is the path to happiness.

As for me, I am reminded of Krishnamurti's insistence that the truth is a pathless land. And I'm also encouraged by the fact that even though I am still not "gainfully employed" ... ie, I apparently don't deserve health insurance or retirement benefits, but I am good enough to teach college freshmen how to write and think critically .... that I still have plenty to keep me busy. There's plenty to do.

I'm including a link to my latest story posted at my reverbnation page. Check it out. Hope you enjoy.

* My last full time teaching gig was out at ASU... an experience which drove me out of the classroom. And no, it wasn't the students. My usual beef with Upper Education is that the people who administrate it are morons. And by administrate I mean the ones who do not or have not ever step foot into a classroom since they flunked Intro to Literature... back when they still TAUGHT basic literature courses as a general ed requirement. Out at ASU in particular, I was enraged by an especially incompetent department chair who was more interested in sucking his way into a Dean's Office than he was in actually taking the concerns of his writing faculty seriously.
** My position as an adjunct, while financially insecure, is probably more appropriate. I suck at committee obligations and they suck on me. Also, the minute you sign on for full time employment, people immediately assume you have growed up, quit dreaming, and are working assiduously for a docile retirement during which you will actually allow yourself to live. If I have to wait until I'm 70 to live, I might as well crawl into a bourbon bottle now.
*** These folks run the gamut from comfy democrats to stalwart republicans to pissy tea bagger bigots. And all of them have one thing in common - for the most part they reject the notion that hard luck can hit anyone at any time.

10 February, 2009

Meat Grinder Opus

I rode my bicycle to the temp agency because my car died a month before and the management company of the apartment complex I lived in had it towed away. They called it “unsightly.” While I didn’t disagree with them – rust and primer orange tend to stick out in the parking lot when potential new tenants are looking around – I couldn’t afford to get it fixed and I couldn’t afford to get it out of whatever impound yard they’d stuck it in. I hadn’t actually ridden a bicycle since I started driving, but I figured, what the hell. It’s a bicycle, right?

The weather was hot and humid, and the distance was further than I expected. By the time I got there, not only did I ache from the seat being jammed halfway up my ass and from using muscles I hadn’t used in more than a decade, but I was also a sweaty, miserable mess. I dismounted the bike and locked it to the nearest tree I could find; it was an ugly bike, but it was the only transportation I had. The outside of the building was a discrete looking white panel and brick face. (I knew better than to think it was real brick; nobody used real bricks anymore.) The door was clear glass, except for a small sign that read

HOURS: 8:00am-3:30pm

I looked at my watch. It was just after three. Shit. I should’ve started out earlier. Who the hell closes at 3:30 on a business day? Every other temp agency I’d ever been to stayed open until five. I was hoping that they wouldn't tell me I had to come back tomorrow; the way home was up hill and I didn’t have enough cash to even stop in at a bar and wait for the sun to go down. I tried to calm myself. I took a few deep breaths, smoothed my hair back, and walked in the door.

The interior was an innocuous gray and off white. The carpet was cheap industrial. There were some solid but uncomfortable looking chairs in the waiting area, along with small tables covered with magazines like Fortune, The Financial Times, and Small Business Weekly. The woman sitting behind the reception desk was a vacuous looking bottle blonde (her roots were starting to show) who was clearly more interested in filing her stoplight red fingernails than in talking to me.

“Can I help you?”

“Uh, yes. I’m here to try and get on with the agency.”

“Do you have clerical or office experience?”


I could tell by the way she looked at me that she didn’t believe me. I did my level best to come up with professional looking attire – but I didn’t really have any. While I had suffered through office work in the past, most of my spotty work history was made up of monkey work – low paying light industrial and warehouse work. Sure I had a college degree ; but what the fuck did that count for in the end? Besides, I wasn’t looking for a career. That’s the problem. When they graduate from college, most people still suffer from the delusion, often inflicted on them by their parents, that they will get a job, get married, move up in the company, and eventually retire. AND THEN, they tell themselves, THEN I’LL BE ABLE TO ENJOY LIFE. And even those who know better – those who realize that nobody works for the same company forty years and then gets a gold watch – still buy into the dream of retirement. World travel. Nice cars. Plenty of time for golf and photography. Pure bullshit.

I was just looking for another job that I fully expected to quit eventually; which was why I tended to stick to low paying monkey work. It was the easiest to get and the easiest to quit. The only reason I was trying to get an office gig was that it was too hot to work where there wasn’t any air conditioning.

She handed me a clipboard. “Fill out this application,” she said in an unconvinced tone. I took the clipboard from her and sat in one of the waiting room chairs. The clipboard held a standard application form, which I filled out from memory. It wasn’t hard. The only problem I had was trying to keep from sweating all over the form. I wasn’t worried about them checking my work history. They never did. I made up names for personal references, then handed it back to her. She sighed and looked at the clock . Ten minutes to close. Then she picked up the phone and called someone. At first, I thought it was a girlfriend or her manicurist.

“Somebody’s here,” she said. She didn’t look at me. “Yeah. Sure.” She hung up the phone.

“An employment coordinator will be out in just a moment.”

“Thanks.” I was starting to cool off. I was about to ask if I should sit back down when another woman came out. She was a shortish, shapely brunette in a very tidy looking gray business suit. She extended her hand. I wiped my palm off on my pants before I shook it.

“Why don’t you come this way,” she said walking quickly towards the back. She didn’t look at me either. It didn’t bother me much because I wasn’t really paying any attention to her face.

“What kind of work are you looking for today?”

“Uh, office work,” I answered. “I have a lot of clerical and data entry experience.” I was only lying slightly. I had a little of both, and both were pretty horrible. But I stayed focused on the dream of central air. The brunette with the nice ass led me into a small room with several cubicles lining the walls. There was a computer in each one.

She stopped at one, leaned over the chair, and typed some kind of password. “You need to complete this series of tests,” she said, “to give us a good idea of your skills. That way we’ll know where we can place you.” I nodded and said ok, though mostly I was imagining her bent over the same chair, naked. She stood up and turned to face me. Not a bad face I thought. Nice lips.

“When you’re finished, go on out into the waiting room. Claire will take care of you from there.”

“When will I hear something?”

“We’ll call you.” She was smiling in a way that told me she had no intention of ever calling me.

“Ok. Thanks.”

She walked away without shaking my hand again. “Good luck,” she said.

I sat down. The instructions on the screen were pretty simple. HIT ENTER TO BEGIN TESTING.

The first test was a simple typing test. There was a laminated sheet next to the keyboard with about long paragraph about the qualities of a good employee. I recognized it immediately from at least two other temp agencies I’d been with. I remembered it because it began with part of a Mark Twain quote, and I always felt bad because the poor white haired bastard was always being taken out of context. I ran through the typing test pretty quickly; not because I’m a great typist, but because my fingers remembered doing it before.

The next test was a math test. Math was never my strong subject – if it wasn’t for online checking, I’d be screwed – but I muddled my way through what I thought probably basic math that any twelve year old of average intelligence could do half asleep. I didn’t bother to check any of my answers.

The next test was timed. It was a data entry test that corresponded to a laminated handbook that was also sitting next to the computer. I had to go through and enter some five hundred items in less than ten minutes. Data entry isn’t hard. It’s just boring as fuck. The trick is to not hit the tab key too many times and skip a cell. I’d taken these kinds of tests before, of course; but they’re never the same. I didn’t even come close to finishing, but I felt confident that I made hardly any errors.

When I finished the tests, a message flashed on the screen, thanking me for taking the test. I had no idea what my scores were. I stood up and looked around. The brunette was nowhere in sight. I wandered back out into the waiting room. It was empty except for Claire the vacuous bottle blonde receptionist. I could tell by her expression and body language that the brunette bombshell had left and made her stay until I was finished.

“All done,” I said, trying to sound friendly. For some reason, whenever I try to sound friendly, it disturbs people.

“Ok.” She started turning off her computer.

“When will I hear something?”

“We will call you,” she answered, not looking at me.

“Should I check back tomorrow?”

That got her to look up. Pretty quickly, too. “NO,” she answered. “WE will call YOU.” She went back to getting her things together.

I stood there for a few seconds, feeling like an intruder. I turned and walked back outside. The humidity hit me in the face and I immediately started to sweat. I looked over at the tree where I’d locked up my bicycle. It was gone. Someone had cut the chain. I thought briefly about going back inside and asking for a ride, or even some change so I could take the bus. Then I heard the door lock and the mini blinds fall. I checked my pockets again. No change. Not even a piece of lint.

I started walking home.