Wednesday, September 04, 2019

We Intended to Send Them Back (But Someone Beat Us to It)

I’ve never known anyone who lived “on the street,” so to speak.

Oh, wait, yes, yes, I guess I did. But I didn’t know them for long.

This is the short, scrubbed version.

One June evening, when I was sixteen, I attended an, ahem, impromptu party in an isolated area on the outskirts of town. During the evening, I met three girls; two of whom were seventeen. The third one was twelve. They had no compunction about admitting they had walked away from a juvenile detention facility in Albany, New York.

Somehow (I didn’t dare ask) they ended up across the state line, where they were befriended by pals of my then boyfriend. The girls had left the obviously low security detention home with only the clothes on their backs. One of them asked me if I had any spare clothes. I hadn’t.

And yes, the party involved alcohol, well beer. I confess that I did take a couple of sips of beer, but that was it. I didn’t care for the taste. I spent most of the night sitting in the car, wondering how I had gotten into this fiasco, and hoping the party would end before any cops showed up.

About three hours later, the evening ended in the second wildest car ride I have ever experienced. Twenty years later, I wrote that part into a short story for a fiction writing class and, more recently, included it in a scene in the novel I abandoned a couple of years ago.

But I digress.

The next morning, I told my best friend Kate about the party, complaining about the girls. “I don’t like the idea of those girls being around Jeremy,” I said. I had overheard one of the guys telling another that the girls were camped out on a friend’s father’s business property. The property, which comprised several acres, was located in another isolated area on the outskirts of town, close to where Jeremy lived.

Kate came up with the idea that we should go find the girls and have a chat with them. Sounded like a plan, but how to get there? Neither of us had a driver’s license.

Fortunately, Kate also came up with the name of an acquaintance who had a car. Acquaintance turned out to be a seventeen-year-old Avon lady. Avon Lady agreed to drive us to the fugitives’ hideout later that evening, after making deliveries to a few customers, including a customer in Jeremy’s neighborhood.

Around 8:30 p.m., Kate, the Avon Lady, and I trespassed on our friend’s dad’s business property and went looking for the girls with the intention of telling them to leave the area. Considering their backgrounds, I’m not sure how well that would have gone over. However, we never found them, which probably was in our best interests.

A couple of days later, I learned our friend’s dad had found out about the trio the day after the party and reported them to the police, which, no doubt, was in his best interests.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

My Form Went Above and Beyond

Help-wanted posts for local jobs are popping up all over on Facebook. Prospective employers instruct interested job seekers to direct message the hiring agencies or businesses. I wish that opportunity had been available to me the last time I had to look for a  job. It might have simplified my employment search. Well, maybe just a bit.

During the early 2000s, I was unemployed for several months when the company I refer to as The Zoo packed up and left town. The Zoo had been going downhill for about a year, so the company’s departure was not unexpected.

My friends and I knew we were working there on borrowed time, but we were determined to stick it out until the bitter end. No, it wasn’t the prospect of collecting future unemployment benefit checks that kept us there. The way things were going, if you took time off to go on job interviews, the powers-that-be most likely would terminate your employment, using the excuse that you weren’t reliable. And we all had bills to pay.

Around the first of June, I, along with about forty other former Zoo employees, started collecting unemployment checks. Of course, the Department of Economic Security (DES) expected recipients to look for work. After collecting checks for about six weeks, clients were required to have an interview with a DES counselor in order to verify that they were actively seeking employment.

To help in verifying job searches, the DES gave clients a form to track their prospective employment contacts. The form had thirty-five lines. Job seekers were supposed to write one entry on each line. Kind of cramped, I thought. I divided the form into seven sections of five lines, took it to Kinkos, and made a small stack of copies.

The employment ads came out in the newspaper on Sunday and Wednesday. I clipped ads for jobs I thought I was qualified for. I also clipped ads for a few jobs I knew I was over qualified or under qualified for, because why not? I taped the clips to a sheet of colored paper—using a different color for each month. Next to the ads, I scribbled what I had done regarding the advertised positions.

And I noted all those prospective employment opportunities on the DES form, indicating the position advertised; the name, address, and phone number of the company; the person spoken to; the outcome of the conversation; and any additional comments. If I had e-mailed or faxed a resume and cover letter, instead of making a phone call, I noted the name of the person I had sent them to, if applicable.

I also researched local jobs on the Internet (yes, including Craigslist) and e-mailed or faxed a resume and cover letter to any company that seemed promising. I dutifully noted that information on the DES form.

Before I found a new job, I had filled about fifteen forms with at least one-hundred entries. However, at the time I was called into the DES office to discuss my job search, I had only sixty-four entries. The counselor seemed impressed by my detailed job search record. According to him, I had gone above and beyond. Most recipients listed a maximum of two or three job searches each week.

Because my records were so detailed, I asked the counselor if he wanted to make copies for his records. He said it wasn’t necessary. I was disappointed.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Not a Drunk, Not a Druggie, I Fell

At the end of March, I got distracted while walking across the parking lot of a neighborhood store. I tripped on a curb and face planted on the sidewalk. At first, I didn’t know how badly I was hurt and I panicked. At least four people saw me sitting on the sidewalk, intermittently sobbing and struggling to get up.

A couple of fellows who looked a bit sketchy walked by and ignored me. That didn’t surprise me. On the other hand, I was so disappointed by the elderly couple I asked for help. Yes, I understand that they might have been reluctant to get involved. But I did not ask them to help me directly. I called out to them saying, “I’m not drunk, I’m not on drugs. I fell. Would you please go into the store and tell an employee that a customer has fallen outside” They stared at me, stuck their noses in the air, walked to their car, and drove away.

Apparently, it was asking too much to almost beg them to go into the store and tell an employee that a customer needed help. Yes, sometimes sketchy individuals do hang out in the area, but I’m not one of them. I guess the couple assumed I was lying about not being an alcoholic or drug addict. No, I am not one of those and never have been. And, like that couple, I’m also a senior citizen.

Eventually, I picked myself up and hobbled off, hoping I could successfully stay upright until I got to where I had to go. When I did get there, I discovered my cell phone was missing. I wasn’t on the phone when I tripped, but I did have it in my hand.

By some miracle, I survived with only several painful scrapes and bruises. I was lucky. It could have been so much worse. I could have broken my nose or my cheek bone. Or my wrist.

People, don’t be so quick to judge others. When someone obviously is hurt and is floundering around on the street, struggling to get up, they deserve to be helped, no matter who they are. If you see anyone, anywhere, who seems to be ill or injured and in distress (even if they do look a little sketchy), you DON’T have to help them directly if you have doubts about how they would react. But, please just do the right thing, and go into a nearby store and tell an employee that someone needs help. And if there is no store nearby, call 9-1-1.

And yes, I got my phone back. Another customer found my phone and turned it in to the store. I don’t know who he was; he didn’t leave his name. I am sorry I wasn’t able to thank him.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Not Exactly a Domestic Goddess

I’m decluttering my apartment. I’m plugging away at it in between doing my taxes and beta reading, both of which I’d rather be doing.

Doing housework has never been one of my favorite activities. But I’ve learned to do it and do it well. I just tend to put it off. These days, I’m seriously considering hiring someone to clean my apartment every few weeks. Only thing is, I’d feel obligated to clean the place before the cleaner arrived.

As a child, I admit I was a bit spoiled when it came to helping around the house, but there’s a reason for that. When I was two years old, I was terrified of the vacuum cleaner. If Mom wanted to vacuum the living room rug in peace, she had to draft someone to take me for a walk.

By the time I was eight, my parents were fairly certain I had gotten over that nonsense. So, early one Saturday morning, Mom flipped the switch on the vacuum cleaner, turned it over to me, and pointed me in the direction of the living room. Within minutes, I had toppled a couple of lamps, knocked my little brother into the magazine rack, and scared the cat out of three or four of her nine lives.

“Do it yourself before she kills us all,” Dad hollered, extracting Mopsy from his shredded trouser leg.

Unfortunately, my father’s instinct for self-preservation condemned my mother to doing most of the housework forever.

When I was thirteen, my parents decided I was old enough to start helping out around the house on a regular basis. But, by that time, I was beyond rehabilitation. I just couldn’t seem to get the hang of housework. Mom complained that I dusted around knickknacks and doilies and failed to vacuum the corners of the living room—or any room.

My incompetence annoyed Mom even more when it came to keeping my bedroom picked up. She claimed the place looked like an explosion at a rummage sale. “How can you tell the clean clothes from the dirty ones?” she frequently asked. Sometimes I couldn’t. I also suspected that I held the town record for having the most overdue library books. I had a habit of shoving them under my bed. They stayed there until the librarian reminded me that the books were due back weeks ago.

When Mom couldn’t stand the sight of it anymore, she cleaned my bedroom. Coincidentally, she usually did this right before we were expecting guests. Throughout my adolescence, Mom had a recurring nightmare in which a guest took a wrong turn on the way to the bathroom, stumbled into my bedroom, and disappeared forever.

[Note: A slightly different version of this mini-essay was posted on Blogger in May 2005.]

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Interview Didn't Go Well, but the Job Did

Were you ever belittled during a job interview? I was.

In December 1970, I was on a layoff from the Second Best Electric Company (SBEC), and collecting unemployment benefits, aka a weekly check. I had just completed my first accounting class at the local community college and had registered for another evening accounting class during the spring semester.

On Thursday, December 31, I went to the Department of Employment Security (DES) to discuss employment opportunities with a counselor. After he reviewed my work history and education background, he thumbed through a stack of index cards to determine if I was qualified for any of the available jobs. “How would you like to work for a CPA?” he asked, flashing a Cheshire cat grin. “Mr. C is looking for a receptionist who can help with the bookkeeping.”

That sounded like a good opportunity. I liked accounting, and I had done very well in the class. I also had worked temporarily in the accounts receivable area at the SBEC, so I did have some experience in basic bookkeeping procedures, well, mostly in auditing accounts receivable balances. Getting experience in small business bookkeeping seemed like something that eventually might get me a better job, preferably in a larger city that had more opportunities.

The counselor wrote out a card introducing me to Mr. C, gave me directions on how to get there, and wished me good luck.

At first, I thought I had walked into an empty office. Then I heard voices coming from somewhere. I ventured farther into the front office, peeked into another room, and discovered two more offices. An older woman was sitting in the back office, talking to someone I couldn’t see. When she noticed me, she came out and asked me what I was doing there. I explained that a DES counselor had sent me for a job interview with Mr. C. She frowned, rolled her eyes, and went back into the office, where she muttered something I didn’t catch. A few minutes later, Mr. C. shuffled out.

Mr. C looked past retirement age, way past retirement age. He also looked as if he had slept in his suit that seemed to be a size too big. After greeting me with a scowl and a growl, he parked me at the shabby not-so-chic receptionist’s desk and told me he would be back in a few minutes. He then proceeded to keep me waiting for what seemed like forever while he chatted with the woman.

I gave up trying to eavesdrop on their conversation and picked up a coffee-stained document I found on the desk. I spent the next 15 minutes or so trying to make sense of a convoluted list of office rules that referenced Mr. C’s wife and his brother who apparently were partners in the business. I wondered where the brother was and how old he was. I assumed the woman talking with Mr. C was Mrs. C.

I put the list aside and checked out my potential office. A couple of metal file cabinets sat against one wall. Additional standard equipment included a telephone, a manual typewriter of undetermined age, and a bulky machine studded with what looked like a half-zillion numbered keys. It had no electrical cord attached; instead, the machine had a lever on one side.

I really don’t want to do this, I thought. A few minutes later, I made up my mind to go back to the DES office and ask for another referral. Before I could sneak out, the woman came and told me that Mr. C would deign to speak with me. She ushered me through the second office that had cardboard boxes piled several feet high against one wall. A tin box about the size of an apartment refrigerator sat on the other side of the room, along with more cardboard boxes and a few metal storage cabinets.

Mr. C’s cluttered office looked as if it hadn’t been updated — or dusted — since the beginning of the Eisenhower Administration. In addition to the outdated furniture and office equipment, packages of snack food and jars of Planter’s peanuts were strewn over a second desk. Mr. C pointed at the chair the woman had recently vacated. Against my better judgement, I handed him the introductory card and sat down.

I don’t remember most of the things we discussed. But I did mention that I had used an electric typewriter and an adding machine at my previous job. Mr. C sneered and said, “Electric typewriters and adding machines are no good for this type of work.” In answer to one of my questions, he told me the machine with the half-zillion keys was a comptometer, which, apparently, was good for this type of work. He then belittled the accounting class I had just completed and informed me that I knew absolutely nothing about accounting.

I guess he wasn’t impressed by my A in the accounting class.

Mr. C’s patronizing attitude made me feel like the dumbest thing on two feet. I wanted to get up and walk out. But what would he tell the DES counselor?

Despite my perceived shortcomings, he offered me the receptionist/bookkeeper position. I wanted a job, but not that one. Working there wouldn’t be a good fit for me — mainly because of Mr. C’s crummy attitude and the prehistoric office equipment I would be required to use. And then there was his wife. I probably would have to work under her supervision. If she was anything like him, would I be able to get along with her?

My first instinct was to tell him thank you, but no thank you.

However, I knew the DES counselor would follow up with Mr. C. So I felt I had no choice; it was either accept the job or lose my unemployment benefits. I accepted the job and went home and spent the long weekend sobbing intermittently.

I showed up for work on Monday, resigned to making the best of it until I could find a more suitable job. I arrived before Mr. C did and was greeted by my new co-worker who was sweeping the front office. I thought it odd that his wife had arrived before he did. And she seemed surprised to see me. She was horrified when I addressed her as Mrs. C. Oh, wonderful, she wasn’t his wife. Her name was Esther, and she was his secretary/ bookkeeper.

Mr. C strolled into the office about twenty minutes later. He also seemed surprised to see me. I figured that, for some unknown reason, they never expected me to show up. After Mr. C left the office, presumably to visit a client, Esther confided that I was a replacement for a previous DES referral who had turned out to be an unreliable slacker. When I asked about the list of rules, she told me to disregard it. Mr. C’s brother and his wife no longer worked there. So far, that news was the most positive thing about the job.

After I got to know Esther, she admitted she didn’t like working for Mr. C. She planned to stick it out because she wanted to retire in a few years. I later learned she had walked out on her long-term former employer about ten months before because of a conflict of interest with his wife. Although she had interviewed at other companies, Mr. C was the only one who had offered her a job.

I suspected that Esther also was a DES referral.

Esther and I were a great team. We worked with minimal supervision. We knew what had to be done, and we did it well and on time. If there was a chore one of us didn’t particularly like to do, we compromised. For example, Esther agreed to keep on sweeping and dusting the front office on Monday. And I agreed to maintain and operate the tin behemoth in Esther’s office, which turned out to be an ancient copier, aka the glorified ditto machine.

Mr. C usually was out of the office for part of the day. And when he was there, he seldom discussed anything with us. Most of the time, he didn’t even say good morning when he arrived. And if he did, he just sort of growled it at us on the way to his office. When there was something special that had to be done, he left us hand-scribbled instructions that often were confusing. He always wrote them in one paragraph, no matter how long they were. In hindsight, I think Mr. C would have loved e-mail. E-mail would have saved him from spending money on yellow legal pads and generic sticky notes. And the e-mail messages would have at least been legible.

My starting wage was $2.00 an hour, which was more than the current minimum wage; however, I received only a five-cent an hour raise each year during the next two years. To keep us around, Mr. C paid us a small annual bonus in May. The promise of that money was like a carrot on a stick, so to speak. The bonus was our reward for not bailing during tax time.

Our workload could get super crazy during tax time, which lasted from the middle of January to the April deadline. One year, Mr. C took pity on us and hired a part-time employee to help out. Lillian was a previous DES referral who had worked in our office for a short time a few years before. She needed a temporary second job and had contacted Mr. C. I was put in charge of training Lillian. As it turned out, I also was in charge of correcting most of her work.

Although clients appreciated our efforts, Mr. C never praised us for doing a good job in keeping the office running smoothly. On the other hand, he never complained about our work. I assumed I was doing a good job, but it would have been nice to have received some positive feedback.

One morning, about three months after I had started working for Mr. C, a personnel specialist from the SBEC called my parents’ house and told my mother she had a job for me. When I got the message, I considered the offer for five minutes. Then I told Mom, “Call the SBEC and tell them I’m not coming back. And ask them to please send me the money I contributed to the pension fund.”

The way things were going at the SBEC, I eventually would have been laid off again. I didn’t want to work for Mr. C forever. However, I realized that experience working in a CPA office would look better on a resume than experience auditing accounts receivable balances or doing whatever busy work the SBEC personnel specialist had in mind for me.

I worked for Mr. C for two and a half years. I prepared monthly write-ups and all types of tax-related forms, including quarterly payroll tax reports, sales tax reports, and individual and small business income tax returns. I prepared a weekly payroll and wrote payroll checks for a popular restaurant. I also typed annual financial statements on translucent master copies and made duplicate copies on the glorified ditto machine.

Among my “other duties as required,” I deciphered many of Mr. C’s hand-scribbled hieroglyphics and edited them into intelligible documents, including letters to clients and the IRS. I searched through old client records stored in the cardboard boxes and located documents needed for IRS audits. And I learned how to fib to clients, IRS agents, and a process server.

I left when felt I had learned everything I could learn there, along with a few things I didn’t necessarily want to learn. It was time for me to move on. After I gave my notice to Mr. C, Esther told me how pleased he had been when I accepted the job.

[Note: For another story about Mr. C, please see the blog post following this essay: “We Suspected He Lied About His Age.”]
Excerpt from Adventures in Working
copyright 2019

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

We Suspected He Lied About His Age

I recently found some old newspaper clippings I’ve kept since the 1970s. One of them reported an adventure involving my former employer, the late CPA. For a short time, Mr. C was sort of a local hero. My co-worker, Esther, and I weren’t impressed by the newspaper article. Nothing that man did surprised us.

Mr. C most likely was past retirement age when I went to work for him. At the time, I had just completed an introductory accounting class at the local community college. Although I hadn’t much liked math during high school, I discovered I liked accounting. I was happy when the counselor at the Department of Employment Security sent me to an interview at a CPA office.

That is, I was happy until I stepped into the office.

I think Mr. C ran out of filing space about ten years before he hired me. Cardboard boxes were piled up all over the place in Esther’s office. I was even less happy when I saw the comptometer and manual typewriter on the desk in my prospective office. I had used an adding machine and electric typewriter at my previous job.

After a discouraging interview, he offered me the job on the spot. I wanted a job, but I didn’t want that job. However, thanks to being laid off from the Second Best Electric Company, I was collecting unemployment checks. So I felt obligated to accept the receptionist/ bookkeeper position.

About a year after he hired me, Mr. C earned his brief claim to fame by chasing down two teen-aged purse snatchers. He might have been old, but he was feisty. Mr. C never discussed his background or personal life with Esther and me. However, we knew he had grown up in New York City. We figured he probably had some previous experience with muggers.

Mr. C seldom directly communicated with us about anything. (He left lots of notes; the man would have loved e-mail.) He never told us what happened at the shopping center that November evening. Esther and I read about it in the newspaper, like everyone else did.

Mr. C and his wife had finished shopping and were walking to their car. That’s when one of the teens yanked Mrs. C’s purse from her shoulder and took off across the parking lot, followed by his accomplice.

Mr. C chased the thieves through the parking lot, across the street, and into another shopping center. When he got to the second parking lot, a passerby realized what was happening and joined the chase. Mr. C and Good Samaritan had cornered the teens against a fence, while a third person called the police from a nearby store.

Mr. C was the star witness at the teens’ trial. The newspaper article stated that he had refused to reveal his age in court. A court official told the reporter that Mr. C was “in his sixties.” Esther and I snickered when we read that. We suspected our boss had lied to the court official. We were pretty sure he would never see 70 again. Apparently, Mr. C swore to tell the truth about everything except his age.

Excerpt from Adventures in Working
copyright 2019

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Never Really Homeless, But I Felt Like I Was

I have compassion for individuals who are homeless because of circumstances beyond their control. On the other hand, I can understand why people don’t want them squatting in their front yards. Homelessness is a sad, tough problem with no easy solution.

I never actually was homeless, but there was one time in my life that I felt as if I were. And during another time, technically, I guess I really was.

In the late seventies we lived rent-free in an old bunkhouse on a ranch north of Tucson. I lived there at the whim of the owner who didn’t like me, despite never having done anything to cause her to dislike me. Initially, both late Other Half and I had been promised work there, but my bookkeeping job fell through. In hindsight, I suspect that the owner never intended to hire me.

To make a very long story short, I hated living there. I never had felt so lonely before--- or since. I don’t suffer from depression. Good thing, too, because living in that place was depressing. The ranch was located in the Catalina Mountains, aka the middle of nowhere.

After doing a few household chores, I had nothing to do for the rest of the day. Because of the drug drops rumored to be taking place at a nearby airstrip, I was warned not to wander outside the ranch grounds. So my leisure activities generally were limited to: 1) hanging out with the ranch cats, or 2) visiting the foreman’s wife and watching what seemed like endless soap operas while listening to her complain about everything and everyone.

I frequently woke up at night wondering if I would ever get off the mountain. Worse, not having been employed for months, I wondered if anyone would ever hire me again. Oh, yeah, I did have a job in town for a short while. I quit after a couple of weeks. I just wasn’t cut out to be a bartender.

Eventually, I did get off the mountain.

After a week of unsuccessfully looking for work, I walked into the personnel office of a big box store and almost begged the clerk for a job. She called the controller, who came down and interviewed me. I walked out with a job in the accounting department. I think the controller hired me against his better judgement because he realized I was semi-desperate for a job. After I had worked there for a couple of months, he told another employee, “I hired her off the street. I didn’t think she would stay.”

But I stayed for a little over two years. Fun times.

I left the store when I went to work at the university. I am grateful for that university job, not only because it later looked good on my resume, but also because of the many college credits I was able to accumulate for a very low cost.

Fast forward several years. Those university credits transferred to another college during the time of my second experience with perceived homelessness.

I was living in an apartment that was close to my job and to the college I attended. But it wasn’t my apartment; I was never on the rental agreement. Fortunately the landlord was cool with me being there. And the legal tenant acted as a buffer between me and . . . well, not going for the long explanation at this time.

However, it didn’t take me long to discover that there was an individual in the area who was not thrilled to see me there. And unlike my experience with the ranch owner, I confess that this person probably had a valid reason to feel that way. Person probably was delighted to learn I was moving back to the West shortly after finishing my last class.

I still joke about living at the post office box I rented for several years while I was completing the requirements for my degree.