Sunday, February 21, 2016

JobJobs 5: Post-Millennium Employment

Motel work was fun, but I still wasn't making ends meet. Luckily, as always, the women in my life moved me forward, yet again. This time my girlfriend directed me to an ad in the paper about the new Borders Bookstore that was soon to open in downtown Santa Cruz.

What qualified me to be on the management team of a 10,000 ft. bookstore? Not a damned thing. Well, nothing that technically exists in the actual world.

Look, even though I only write nonfiction now, that doesn't mean its accurate. People think that the opposite of Fiction is Non-fiction. Nope. Truth is the opposite of Fiction. Non-fiction is somewhere in the middle.

Borders (2000 - 2005)

And so the line in my resume that said I was the supervisor of a 400 ft. witchy
store that carried maybe 100 books got 'liberated' to say I was the Manager of a 4000 ft. occult BOOKSTORE that carried 1000s of titles.

I used the last few dollars to my name and invested in a collared shirt and a haircut. The last haircut and I have yet to have a trim in this Millennium. I aced the interview - like I always do, and after 6 months I was an assistant manager at Borders Books and Music. Ta-da!

My first office, showing my unique sense of decor:
Crop Circles, Star Wars and fake, severed limbs.
A real job, with real benefits. First order of business? Vasectomy. Second order? Glasses. Third order? Celebrate Admiral Karen's 40th birthday in her car at the top of the parking garage next door. On my lunch hour.

By day I was the Special Order Clerk, tracking down mom and pop publishers who put out things like "The Bibles Awesome Number Code" and "Australia's Mary Schneider Yodeling the Classics, volume 2" - I ordered another copy just for myself.

And by night I was riding herd on the 54 proto-alcoholics that I called my employees. Seriously - the store was across the street from the Dakota bar. When anybody late from "Lunch" I'd go collar them there.

May, 2000. Setting up the new store.
My grandest achievement was the Midnight release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. At midnight I slowly tolled my gong 12 times, signaling the roadies upstairs to load all of the library carts of books into the elevator, along with 10 pounds of dry ice.

A short speech from me, revealing the name of the book (OMG), and I dramatically pointed my wand at the elevator, which thank-the-goddess opened right on cue, and my clerks, clad in dark cloaks and pointy wizard hats, stepped out of the billowing wall of dry ice and wheeled the carts of books slowly to the cash registers.

July 7th, 2000. About 1am by this point.
So yeah, Borders was all kinds of fun, except they ran on a business model that was state of the art in Mark Twain's time. And the 21st century was here. And this particular cruise liner was now sailing against a current called the "Internet" and had just struck an iceberg by the name of "Amazon".

Cabrillo Bookstore (2005 - 2011)

So in 2005 I jumped ship and landed on the deck of the Cabrillo College bookstore, who needed an accountant.

Wait, what? Accountant? Did my resume say that? Well, by golly, I guess it did.

Me, who had to take algebra 8 times between High School and College to finally pass it. Me, who wrote passionate, longing poems about how much I hated math. Accountancy is all about numbers, but talking about it (as in getting the job) was all about words. And words are my best friends. Words do my bidding.

Endcap displays are fun.
And so the 3 year old running with a spider web on her face blunders into another hopeless situation. And, what do you know: I was quite good at Accountancy, and I enjoyed it, because of two things that were not on my resume: Virgo rising, and because of being desperately poor for so long, I can budget the SHIT out of things.

So the debits and credits and riding herd on a 5 million dollar annual operation was fun, but the rest of the job was like drinking menthol buffalo death. I counted once and there were 17 levels of bureaucracy above me. And none of them wanted to hear me about my ideas on innovation.

Technology wise I had taken a step back from Borders, which is fairly incredible. The data base for all of the credits and debits? A series of ledgers. Ledgers. Ledgers - this word does not exist here in Silicon Valley. Like, get a feathered quill pen and write down the numbers on paper, exactly like Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol. Or exactly like a Eunuch in China 4,000 years ago.
We could never convince our boss
that "Hawkshop" made us sound like
a pawn shop.

And everyday I worked in a DOS program, which seemed even older than 2,000 BC. I'm kidding, of course. Working from the Command Line was state of the art in the mid 1980's, back when I was banging my boss in the back of a Dominos Pizza.

Worst of all though was the singular fact that the stock we sold in our little bookstore, was not anything we chose (The professors choose the textbooks), at prices we did not set (that comes from the publishers) for books that our customers would not willingly buy on their own.

We took all of the grief for a ghastly retail experience that was completely out of our control. And that bites.
Office at Cabrillo. Man, I must really like colored paper.
Derby as the desktop picture. "Sting" on the wall to handle
customer complaints. The big binders above were the current
ledgers for the Accounting (there were many, many more).

And if you are a student faced with buying a $250 Spanish book, you are going to do anything you can to avoid paying that. Like use your smartphone (which does not run off the Command Line) to record the ISBN number and then comparison shop online.

Online. I had jumped ship from the Titanic and landed on the deck of the Lusitania. But what really torpedoed this vessel wasn't an iceberg named Amazon but a recession named 07 to 09. And the money from the State dried up and blew away like so fraudulent motel receipts. And the students were buying their books from companies more savvy than a Eunuch writing numbers in a ledger.

My desk out on the sales floor.
Check out the legroom!
Side note: The REALLY smart kids we barely saw at all. On the first day we started selling books for Fall Rush a quiet group of geeks would slither in, search for the classes that were required, find the sections that had a card that said “No Text Required”, enroll in those classes right there on their laptops and phones and poof! We'd never see them again.

So the squeeze was on. I took on more jobs as people were let go. I helped buy the textbooks, I sold the computers and printers. I moved my desk out to the sales floor and became the information station. I became the buyer for the food and drinks, which mostly consisted of deciding how much Red Bull and what flavors of Pop-Tarts to go with that week.

From 2009 - 2011 I was doing 7 peoples jobs, while the little bookstore that couldn't circled the drain, dragged down by 17 levels of managers, shrapnel from the burst housing bubble, and an archaic mindset that had ancient Chinese eunuchs working in DOS programs.

This is the kind of thing I did with
my copious free time.
Gentleman of Leisure (2011 - 2013)

And 7 years to the day from my first day, I was let go. You know, like someone who is holding a rope that you are clinging to while you dangle over the piranha pool. You are hereby "let go".

And so for the first time in 28 years of employment, I was "un".

So I was a "Gentleman of Leisure" to borrow Jason Mankey's phrase. But I don't do leisure well. I am relaxed in everything I do, but I am always doing something. So my part-time job became looking for a full time job. Which I did. In 22 months I sent out 329 resumes, from which I garnered exactly 4 interviews. TEDIOUS.

Upper left: Tool Cubby before.
Upper right: Cleaned and cleaned out.
Lower left: New containers & organized.
Lower right: Much happier.
Another part-time job was battling the EDD, the Unemployment people, who made the bloated community college bureaucracy look like a lean, hungry Pre-IPO start-up by comparison. I mean, 3 different times I received notices of termination and renewal on the same day. Their letters were so convoluted and byzantine that Admiral Karen and I, with 3 college degrees between us, could not figure them out.

It got to the point that when my local EDD office would mail me something I would get on my bicycle and ride to the office and hand it back and have someone there read it and explain it to me. ANNOYING.

So I got into other activities to break up this moronic monotony. I systematically rearranged every single item in the Freaky Tiki, to the tight-lipped dismay of Admiral Karen. But I had lunch waiting for her every day, and dinner every night on the table, so that made up for the fact that she couldn't find anything in her own house.
Farm life: Dig a big hole and try not to piss off
the Brahma bull who is trying to nap.

And eventually I was running 6 different side (meaning under the table) businesses.
         1) I was a farmhand for hire. The thing about a farm is that there is as much killing as there is growing. Weeds, brush, livestock, insects, the flexible cartilage in your knees, all must be terminated. And what the postcards don't show is that EVERYTHING on a farm smells. Sometimes sweet, but mostly like wet buffalo death.
         2) I was a house organizer. This is like super porn to a Virgo Rising. I arrive as you head off for work, and when you get home I show you what rooms I've transformed. After a week you have a sparkly clean, completely rearranged, super-logical house, where you cannot find a single thing, and which you will no doubt mess up immediately. But I will be long gone by then.
         3) I transferred Cassettes to CDs. And sadly, 20 year old Realistic tapes from Radio Shack sound better than anything from iTunes.
         4) I scanned and digitized photos - which I figured we had all done about 10 years ago, but nooooo, some of you (point to myself) still have boxes full of moldering photo albums out in the shed.
I also traveled the Psychic Faire
circuit as a Tarot Reader.
         5) I transferred VHS tapes to DVD. And man, it sure didn't you long to go straight to the gutter with that one. Sleazeballs! YES, I saw a lot of tube socks and women with actual pubic hair. People are surprisingly sentimental about their 80's porn, but I don't judge, or even watch: I just make sure we have picture and sound in sync and then I mute and leave the room.
6) And I read the tarot down at Serpent's Kiss. I can't discuss clients and spreads of course, that's sacred space. But I will say a lot of people are having lives that are far steamier than anything in VHS porn.

And I will tell you the single best line I ever heard from a petitioner: It was an early reading: just after 12 noon, which is very rare. Sure enough it was a odd one. The woman was very agitated and not really 'there'. I only got about 10 minutes in before she proclaimed that 'this is all wrong'. I apologized and tried to get her to calm down and focus. She protested some more and just before she stormed out she proclaimed: "I've been to every psychic in town - and you are all telling me the same thing!"

And I trained and competed in more
triathlons. This is a picture of me,
competing.
And if I've learned anything in my 20 years of reading the cards it is this, the one complaint I have heard more often than any other: If you want to keep your partner happy, don't be a boring boyfriend. You can be nice, you can be sweet, you can even be 'safe', but TRY to not be dull. Snuggling is fine - even key - but do get off the couch now and then and DO something with your life. You - and me - will be much happier in the long run.

So I spent almost two years looking for a job, trying to solve the multiple mysteries of what the fuck the EDD was trying to tell me, and working 6 different jobs. 

I was, as one friend pointed out, the most UN-unemployed person they'd ever met.

Next: Read excerpts from the 'Gentleman of Leisure' REPORTS.

Angus McMahan
angusmcmahan@gmail.com
@AngusMcMahan


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