“Withholding.”–(Heydrich’s Catholic Church Supplies, Books, Gifts, & Art, June-October 2007, Part I.)

A blog posted on April 23, 2007.

–Tuesday–3/27/07–I decided to check out the employment prospects at The Domain, the new hoity-toity shopping development a few miles from my apartment. James had taken me through it once at night. It had looked like a downtown area full of ritzy shops, restaurants, and apartments, bisected by narrow streets. James, with a straight face, said he couldn’t see a difference between this and the shopping areas of European cities, such as the Champs-Élysées.

So Tuesday I got off at what I thought to be the closest bus stop and walked through several office parks along the Mo Pac frontage roads. And walked. And walked. And walked. And walked. And finally said, “This is ridiculous.”

The frontage road ended, and turned and looped around back under Mopac and headed the other way. How the hell do you get into this place? (Apparently a lot of potential shoppers are having trouble finding the entrance as well.) I wound up crossing a vacant lot that was choked with cacti, walking over two railroad tracks, wading through some mud, and slipping through a gap in a chain-link fence, and getting in that way.

I’d also brought my camera with me to take pictures of everything–it occurred to me later that might not be such a good idea–would a guy with a really expensive camera around his neck look like he was desperate for a job?

I’d only been in one Neiman’s before–in 1984–the flagship store in Dallas, where I almost bought a genuine straw boater hat for myself. The new Austin Neiman’s is all right, I guess, but the main thing that impressed me were the hundreds of white cellophane butterflies hanging from wires attached to the skylight over the escalators–that and the Lalique glass display.

Naturally, they had the Human Resources office hidden out of sight. I asked an employee where it was and she told me, said she was going that way anyhow and would walk me there, then upon seeing my camera, added, “Are you a journalist?”

It was like a Buck knife in my belly. I explained that I was in fact a journalist, but an unpaid one, that I was coming to Neiman’s to look for a job, and that the camera was for my own personal pictures.

After I got onto the main avenue of The Domain, I was struck by how many people were around, shopping, eating, loitering around the fountains or under umbrella-shaded tables. Did none of these people have to work for a living? I had an excuse–I was essentially unemployed.

In one central plaza I saw a huge, attractive outdoor fireplace. Highly impractical in the hellishly hot climate, unless it’s been designed for roasting children on spits.

A few shops were hiring part-time clerks. A restaurant had me fill out an application, then told me to come back for a mass meeting Tuesday. But I don’t know how well I’d work there, since as the years have passed my hearing has become worse and worse and I’ve gotten to where I can’t hear a damn thing in most restaurants, due to the noise and the loud background music.

I applied at Macy’s too for some reason, and they wanted to interview me on the spot for a full-time job in the housewares section. But I don’t think I told them the things they wanted to hear, and anyway, I wouldn’t be comfortable in an environment with a monthly sales quota. I’ve done a lot of retail work, but it’s all been very soft-sell….

As for the rest of Tuesday night, let us pass over that with little mention. I got into a long, dramatic phone conversation… The subject was, as usual, jobs and finances. [I was told], “Well, if you can’t find a job you probably should be put in the State Hospital, since you clearly can’t look after yourself.” And I said, “People don’t get institutionalized because they can’t find jobs.”

–Wednesday–3/28/07–I woke, still tired, and prepared for the day’s project, which was about half medical and half job-related: I was going to a pharmaceutical testing company for an evaluation to see if I’d make a good paid guinea pig for manic-depression meds.

All the way down there in the bus I kept seeing signs of madness–mine and other’s. For instance there was one homeless man who every 30 to 60 seconds gave the “thumbs up” gesture into the air to no one in particular.

I watched another young homeless man unpack his clown car-like bag, evaluate his meager possessions, then pack them all back in again. Only about 16 hours before, [I had been] threatened me with homelessness and the loss of all my possessions and I had stated quite clearly that I would never allow that to happen to me, no matter what I had to do to avoid it.

And though the temperature was in the upper 70s or higher, I saw a tiny woman–maybe 5’2–waiting for the bus while wearing a thick winter coat, muffler, wool hat, ear muffs, mittens, foul weather boots, and the whole bit. Just as the bus opened its doors, she worked her mouth around, and caused her lower dentures to protrude all the way out of her mouth, before sucking them back in again and boarding.

And then at the offices of the medical testing company, after I filled out my patient questionnaire, I found two well-worn magazines staring at me from a coffee table–the top one being a “People” that chronicled Britney Spears’s recent nervous breakdown. The TV on the wall was set to a local news channel. One of the newscasters mispronounced a local place name and I winced–had I been at home I would’ve yelled out a correction at the TV–but I couldn’t do that in the medical testing office–don’t want to seem too crazy now, do I?

I have no idea if the guy who evaluated me was a doctor or just a young man with a beard, a questionnaire, and some xeroxed diagnostic sheets from the DSM-IV.

I talked for at least an hour; he asked a bunch of questions, but it felt like a B____ monologue. Every now and then he’d ask me if I had another certain ailment or malady, and more often than not I did. He wasn’t that interested in my suicidal thoughts and excessive crying, but concentrated on my childhood seizures, whether or not I hear voices inside my head, any manic episodes, my OCD and germophobia, and the fact that meds often have the exact opposite effect on me than is intended.

Ultimately he said he was leaning against a diagnoses of manic depression, and concluded I was probably just deeply depressed with high anxiety. Maybe I’m Manic-Depressive Stage II, which is a milder form of manic-depression. I might qualify for one of their regular depression trials, but my seizure history might exclude me. He offered no advice, nor did he direct me anywhere for treatment. He did, however, have the really annoying habit of staring out the window from time to time while I was talking. I wanted to ask, “Am I boring you here, Doc? Is there some other place you need to be?”

Not too surprisingly, I walked out of there whistling Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” convinced I had a hell of a lot more wrong with me than I’d first thought, but not being especially upset about any of it. I was utterly without hope of help or a better future, and realized total disaster could be weeks or even days away, but I was accepting of it. I had really enjoyed talking about all the nutty stuff that’s been going on in my head the last few years without that talk involving yelling, scolding, or nasty recriminations….

–Thursday–4/5/07–I just heard back from the pharmaceutical testing place. They turned me down for their current studies on account of my history of seizures, though I might get called in for other tests in the future.


A blog posted on April 30, 2007.

Fred died six wretched months ago today.

It seems like this apartment has always been quiet, boring, and depressing, but I know it was once otherwise.


[Jeb Snyder got me two months of temp work with his new company, but after that ended, some really ugly things happened in my private life that required me to find work quickly.]


Heydrich’s Catholic Church Supplies, Books, Gifts, & Art–June–October 2007–Part-Time Sales Clerk.

…Not long thereafter I was walking through a small shopping center and saw a “Help Wanted” sign in a window of a Catholic gift, book, and religious items store. Even though I really, really did not want to work in retail again, …I walked into the store as if on auto-pilot, to apply for a job I didn’t want to do. I filled out the application dutifully, and to my great horror, the manager looked it over and asked if I could come in for an interview the next day.

The rest of the afternoon and night I was sick to my stomach. I prayed that I would get violently ill, so I could call the store the next more and say, with an honest-sounding voice, that I was too sick to interview. Why the fuck didn’t I just avoid it?

But the next day I woke up, unfortunately healthy, and went dutifully to the interview. I didn’t exert much effort when answering the questions in the interview, but I got the job anyway.

The manager was full of shit and flattery, and said because of my extensive experience he was going to pay me more than the usual rate and start me at $9 an hour, but he didn’t want me to tell my co-workers about this. He also hinted that he might not stay in that particular store more than a year, that he might transfer elsewhere, and that he would consider training me to replace him.

I’ve noticed in many jobs that I’ve had that the managers try to swear their new employees to secrecy, and promise them pie in the sky, but months later when the new employee is hanging around exchanging job complaints with his co-workers, he learns the manager told the same lies to all the others when they were hired. I find it particularly despicable that managers try to divide up the employees in that way, making the new employee feel he’s part of a secret pact and that his co-workers are the enemy.

The store sold all manner of Catholic goods: books (which interested me), as well as a bunch of other stuff (which did not): cards, jewelry, gifts, over-priced, poorly-made art reproductions, and church goods. Originally the store had been called St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Store, but the old couple who owned it retired, and sold it to a chain called Heydrich’s. The Heydrich people moved the store to a new spot in the same shopping center, and began de-emphasizing books and focusing on the other items.

My manager was a really short young guy. If Tom Cruise ever got his face stuck in a vise, he and this guy would be twins. He’d recently gotten out of the Army and was about to be married. Indeed, he married while I worked at the store, and took off a few months to honeymoon in Beijing and Shanghai. He was the grandson of the company’s founder, and nephew of the current President.

He had a really annoying habit of staying in his office all day, even when things on the floor got hectic and busy, and would pass the day giggling on the phone with friends at the home office in Omaha, or looking at drum-related websites on-line.

The office, by the way, was the only place in the store where the air conditioner worked worth a shit. The store faced west, and was the only business in the shopping center without an awning, so by 1pm the front of the store, where the register was located, was baking, and I was physically drained.

A young woman named Carol worked at the store when I first started, but she was already getting ready to move to another city. Kay was an older woman who had been with the store for decades, and was very warm and cheerful, with a deep interest in Carmelite spirituality. Elaine, a middle-aged woman, had been with the store for a year. Like me, she was a loner-type with a history of mental problems, who was still trying to deal with her deep grief over the loss of her mother  year or so before. Also like me, she wanted to move to Britain one day. Unlike me, she wanted to change her name to “Vanessa.”

The manager had pointless store meetings one morning a week. After a rather disorganized chain-wide inventory, it was decided that we would do inventory constantly, rather like the window-washing schedule for a tall building. This I regarded as busy work.

The proprietary software for the cash registers had been designed by the manager’s brother-in-law, and was incredibly complicated and user-unfriendly, slowing down transactions considerably. But the Heydriches were a hard-headed bunch, and refused to listen to calls for change from anyone who was a non-Heydrich.

I lived for the weekly shipments, and liked to unload, unpack, and put out new items—or rather, the new books—I didn’t give a shit about anything else. I found that if I concentrated on the shipment the others were more than willing to cover the registers.

I displayed the books in careful order—alphabetically in some places, and “tall to small” in others. I made a point of keeping everything tidy, and it really annoyed me when my co-workers blithely ignored what I’d done and stuck books in the shelves any old way.

The store had quite a few regular customers, including many priests, some of whom were very fussy and quarrelsome.

We closed early on Saturdays so any of us who wanted to could make the Saturday evening vigil Mass, and naturally we were closed on Sundays. (After I stopped working at this place I didn’t go to church for three years.)


Paddy suggested I call his old girlfriend, Sandi Perry, who worked for an alternative weekly in San Antonio. She gave an assignment to tour the studios of a Latino affairs radio show on the UT campus and write the show up. I went in with an agenda, and kept bringing up my theory that the whole illegal alien/border controversy then brewing had been cooked up by the Bush Administration to foster anti-Hispanic prejudice and divert the attentions of Americans from the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The folks at the studio wouldn’t play ball. They stayed totally neutral and non-controversial. As a result, my article come out disjointed. It was one of the worst things I’d written in a long time. Sandi wouldn’t run it, and I didn’t blame her. She suggested I review left-wing political books, but when I got back to her on that, she’d already moved on to another paper in California.


My life was unraveling more and more. I once took pride in my appearance, dressing nicely even after I’d gotten grotesquely fat, but even that flew out the window when I lost the uRb-N-gUyDz job. Whereas once I had dressed to call attention to myself, I now dressed in a bland, anonymous manner, symbolic of the non-person I had become.

I’d once been a social creature, but I was no more. I had become unable to enjoy any social or professional networking gathering unless it directly and immediately resulted in my financial betterment. I was now impatient, when meeting with friends, to get back home to the quiet and my solitary pursuits.  I cut down on my outings, partly because I didn’t know when I might have a panic attack or a crying fit.

I no longer felt love for other people. If, eighteen years before, an out-of-town friend had come to Austin to visit me, it would’ve been the highlight of my month, or even my year, but now I couldn’t think of a soul I was interested in seeing.

In some cases my friends and I had just drifted apart. In others, we just seemed to grow tired of one another. In still other cases, I was disgusted to see my friends had become boring, hen-pecked suburbanites, with stressful, pointless jobs, and castrating, controlling wives. (Perhaps I was projecting here—I was angry at myself for letting [other people] ruin my wife, so I in turn became angry at those friends whom I felt were having their lives ruined by their wives.)

There were, of course, a few people I could still tolerate, but for the most part I’d lost all feeling of connection with the human race.  Fred was the last person to whom I’d really had any kind of true bond—and yes, I considered him a person, certainly more of one than the monsters who surrounded me daily–and with his passing I had no reason to stay anywhere, no ties, no commitments, no love. I wanted to get away, but wasn’t sure where to go or how to get there….

It was during this time I finally sought treatment for my psychological problems, though I had to get it through city/county services and a low-cost counseling center. Though others claimed the treatment did me “a world of good,” I really wasn’t convinced it helped much at all in the long run.


Not surprisingly, I was miserable the entire time I had this job, and prone to panic attacks. At lunch I’d go into the stock room and shut the door so I could get away from the noise of the people and the music and the ringing phone. I’d eat my bland peanut butter sandwich and hope no one walked in while I was crying.

As often happens with jobs I can no longer deal with, I started getting sick and calling in sick, more and more. I was constantly depressed. Often I sat at my desk at home or in my bed, wishing I could smash my head through the wall, crack open my skull, and let loose all the white noise that was roaring inside.

And as usually the case when I have a bad job, I found that even my free time was tainted by the specter of this fucking job. Every hour on the clock and every day on the calendar was blacked out as long as I was in this shitty state.

I felt I was on a permanent downward trajectory, that I’d been set on it by [others] for twisted reasons known only to them, and that I had no chance of escape. I was becoming more and more obese, but the idea of dropping dead from a heart attack or some other ailment seemed to me nothing short of delightful.

One Friday morning I was heading to another shitty workday which would start off with another pointless staff meeting. I began to have a serious panic attack on the bus. By the time I’d finished the first third of my trip I’d decided to get off the bus and call in sick. During the second third I was trying to figure out which stop to get off at, but I couldn’t think of any that had pay phones nearby. Finally, at the beginning of the last third of my commute, I pulled the cord, jumped off the bus, ran into a diner, and called the store. Then I went across the street, to the bus stop in front of my church, and waited for another bus to take me back home….

In early October I developed a serious cough. Though I took medications for it, I couldn’t shake it. Elaine had worked for years at a pharmacy, and suspected I had bronchitis….One night after work Elaine drove me to an after-hours clinic. I was given an X-ray and exhaled into a spirometer, and was told I had bronchitis. I was out sick for over a week.

But then again, I’ve always preferred being seriously ill and at home, over being more or less healthy and at a bad job. At the risk of being melodramatic, I can say that the one can only kill the body. The other kills the soul.

Still, I think my old blogs from that period will best illustrate what was going on inside and outside of my head.


A blog written on July 16, 2007, but posted on October 5, 2007.

[–July 16, 2007–I have decided to write this blog, but wait awhile on publishing it, because if it came out why I was still at the job I describe, it could get my ass fired. It’s not that I want to stay in the job, but rather that I cannot currently afford to lose it. ]

[October 1, 2007–Fuck it. I’d LOVE to lose this job! ]

The work day Wednesday a few days [now months] ago was up and down.

I woke after actually getting a good night’s sleep–for a change.

Then I had to walk to the bus stop in a rain storm.

Then I missed the early bus by seconds.

But I caught a connecting bus and met up with mine further down the line and got to work 30 minutes early.

Since I had so much time to kill I sat in a bench in the strip center where I work and breakfasted on orange juice and pound cake.

It was only then that I noticed I had a huge rip in the seat of my pants. My lucky black pants. The pants I’d worn to Paris–the only pants I wore in Paris in fact, because I didn’t have the room in my bag to pack any more.

The rip was the size of a baseball. I don’t know how the hell I’d managed to miss it. It started below the zipper and went down my right leg. Fortunately I dress to the left and never go commando, or else I’d have probably been arrested before I got to work.

So yes…work. Gentle readers, I have another job. My 33rd or 34th since 1980. But not to worry–this doesn’t seem like it’ll be permanent either, since it’s not in my field of writing and editing. No, it’s a retail job–in a Christian book and gift store. Part-time. Low pay.

I’ve never been a fan of retail jobs. They’re not as bad as the heat and stress and speed and filth of restaurant jobs, but they’re certainly down there near the bottom of the barrel. Many of my retail jobs have involved selling books, and that makes people think that since I’m so bookish I’d be as happy as a pig in slop as a result, but nope–I loathe retail, no matter the product sold, for a variety of reasons.

I don’t like waiting on people. I don’t have a servile bone in my body. I can sympathize with William Faulkner, who quit his job at a college post office because, as he put it,

–I didn’t want to be at the beck and call of every son of a bitch who had two cents for a stamp.

I remember my first job outside of my family, as busboy at a yacht club restaurant at an upscale subdivision and resort. The patrons were nouveau riche boors–property owners or rich assholes from Mexico City who’d come up for a long weekend at the resort. One of the more popular waiters used to bow repeatedly whenever he talked to customers. It sickened me that anyone would have so little self-respect that he would behave like that.

Another thing I hate about retail is the constant standing. I’m not good at being on my feet for long periods of time, because it really fucks up my legs, feet, and back. When I mentioned this to James, he made the idiotic observation,

–Oh well, you’ll get used to it.

I replied,

–The fuck I will! I worked three-and-a-half miserable fucking years at Discount Book City and was constantly on my feet then, and even though I was bicycling about two hours every day back then and had powerful leg muscles like Earl Campbell’s, I was in constant pain and my back and spine was twisted like a corkscrew, so no, I will not “get used to it”!

The store I’m at now is small and so far that hasn’t been an overwhelming crush of customers at any one time–another thing I don’t handle well.

[–October 1, 2007–This has changed. It’s gotten crazy and hectic and stressful.]

I get along fine with the manager, customers, and at least one of the staff members, but I suspect things might get ugly sooner or later with me and one of my other co-workers.

I think the manager is trying to train me for a future management position [This has since stopped, thank God.], but I’m not remotely interested. He won’t listen when I tell him that he needs to turn up the air conditioning. It’s hot as fucking hell in that store–like a commercial restaurant kitchen. Before we’ve even open in the morning I’m sweaty and stinking badly. By early afternoon the heat has sapped my strength and brain power so that I’m really out of it and prone to making careless mistakes. By the time I get home and shower my overheated body just sucks up the shower water like a sponge.

One of my co-workers is not much of a people person, is easily annoyed by screaming children, but is very devoted to her pets. She’s also a huge Anglophile who’d love to live in Britain one day. (Sound familiar? Although unlike her I have no plans to change my name to “Vanessa” should I ever move there.) We get along okay except for one very major problem–her taste in music.

I once believed that there was something decent and redeemable and worth listening to in every genre of music, that there was no kind of music that was just completely wretched.

I was wrong.

Daily I am subjected to the wimpy, craftless dreck that is Contemporary Christian Music. I try to balance the shit out by also putting on classical religious music, Gregorian chants–stuff like that. I cannot understand why the Church would turn to bland modern shit when the greatest composers in history wrote magnificent works of religious music. It’s rather like my friend James’s insistence on eating at McDonald’s and Pizza Hut when he’s in Paris, rather than enjoying French cuisine.

Contemporary Christian Music is for people who don’t really like music, who distrust it, who see the Devil in every corner. They kinda, sorta want to seem hip, but are terrified to do anything secular, and feel they have to put a religious spin on everything. The result is a “sub-music,” so to speak; reaching neither the inspirational and reverential heights of truly religious music, nor the buoyant joie de vivre of pop music.

I like old gospel music, be it Southern or black. But this modern stuff is awful. Still, I can endure it in small chunks.

My main problem with my co-worker can be broken down into three parts: 1) She’s got a thing for one specific performer–John Michael Talbot; 2) She’s crazy about one CD of his–”Simple Heart;” and 3) She plays that fucking CD five or six or more times in a row EVERY FUCKING DAY.

John Michael Talbot–not to be confused with character actor Michael Talbot, who played Lieutenant Switek on “Miami Vice”–is a lay Franciscan monk (that means he can marry), is a veteran of the Jesus Movement of the 1970s, and wears a big beard and bangs. And a monk’s habit. And he’s the kind of twat who refers to his musical career as his “ministry.” As for his singing…well, imagine Dan Fogelberg–only a lot less masculine. Now set him in the middle of a Renaissance festival. It’s as if Cat Stevens had gone Christian, rather than Muslim.

Talbot’s style is defiantly wimpy. Did I mention he’s the Number One best-selling male Chistian recording artist?

I am reminded of Denis Leary’s famous routine in “No Cure for Cancer:”

–What was that thing about heavy metal bands on trial a couple of years ago because kids were committing suicide? Judas Priest was on trial because (whining) “My kid bought the record and he listened to the lyrics and then he got into Satan and blah blah blah blah!” Well, that’s great. That sets a legal precedent. Does that mean I can sue Dan Fogelberg for making me into a pussy in the mid-seventies? Is that possible? “Your honor, between him and James Taylor, I didn’t have oral sex until I was thirty-one years old. I was in Colorado, wearing hiking boots and eating granola. I want some money right now.

But Talbot is skilled–I’ll give him that much. His music is not merely annoying in a superficial, monolithic way like an air horn is. It is a deep, richly-woven, complex tapestry of annoyance. While you’re being annoyed with one part of it another part is drilling into your other ear and annoying the shit out of you almost without your being aware of it. Then suddenly you notice that second part and say,

–Dammit, where did THAT shit come from?

And by the time you’ve noticed that a third and fourth string of annoyance has set up a beach head inside your skull. Talbot’s work is less like music and more like a flesh-eating virus. I haven’t had a musical experience so complex and exquisitely annoying since about 2004, when I was wandering around an independent video store and kept hearing something relentlessly obnoxious coming from every video monitor in the store. I finally looked up and wondered out loud,

–What THE FUCK are we listening to?

It turned out to be a Tenacious D concert video.

Saturday I was the first person in the store. I even got there before the manager. I made a point to go up to the register and put something decent into the store’s CD player. But damned if at 9:30am, when the lights went on and the door was unlocked, that woman didn’t turn on “Simple Heart.” I was doing section work, so I grumbled through one playing of it, but when she pressed “Play” a second time I ran up to the register, making angry snorting noises. She said she just wanted to hear one song over again, but after I went back to the section sighing heavily, she changed CDs. After that I hovered around the register like a hawk.

I am tempted to buy her a copy of this CD so she can listen to it privately during the 128 hours a week she’s not in the store. It’s not even like the CD is all that new–it came out in 2000 and she’s been working at the store since September. So she’s had plenty of time to get tired of it.

The problem is not merely Talbot’s studiously wimpy, limp-wristed, light-in-the-Birkenstocks, prancing-through-the-posies style–it’s my being force-fed that shit five or six or more times in a row every single fucking day. Now I’ve been known to listen to my favorite CDs every day, but not back-to-back. Repetition annoys me. Repetition of crap annoys me more.

A co-worker that’s leaving in two weeks told me,

–If you don’t like the music, why don’t you just tune it out?

I said,

–I can no more tune it out than I can tune out a baby screaming in a movie theater or a phone ringing over and over.

She was a bit shaken when I told her and the manager that if I have to hear that CD many more times I’m going to climb up the UT clock tower with a high-powered rifle.

I know what some of you are thinking:

–Well, at the rate he’s going, he’ll probably be fired soon.

Au contraire. I’m a great worker. Always busy and industrious. Always with a list of suggestions for the manager to improve sales or better the level of merchandise. The manager is always seeking my advice on what sort of books we should order. My first day I schmoozed one customer into buying over $300 worth of art and statuary.

Others of you might be asking,

–Is there ever a job he’s happy in?

Is there ever going to be a job he doesn’t bitch about?

No. Not until I land another job in writing and editing. Until then I will not be happy or satisfied and I will not stop my bitching. I know what my skills are and it pisses me off seeing them go to waste.

Still more of you might dismiss my complaints as merely the excuses of a lazy man.

Clearly you’ve never been on a job with me, because even with jobs I hate I make a good hand.

A few weeks [months] ago we got in a shipment of 27 boxes of books and other products in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. The manager said that if we got the shipment unpacked, processed, and the boxes all thrown out by the next Friday he’d buy us all lunch–albeit sandwiches, which I consider a snack, not a real meal. The Talbot fan asked,

–What if we finish by Tuesday? Lunch all week?

Well, I unpacked, processed, and shelved about 75% of the shipment myself in the first 4 1/2 business hours (Saturday afternoon and Monday morning) and flattened and tossed almost all the boxes. There was scarcely anything left for the rest of the staff Tuesday morning. Still, we only got lunch Friday.

I’ve always been embarrassed when, in more dead-end jobs, management has offered incentives to the workers to increase production. These incentives 1) are always a lot less than an across-the-board raise or fair benefits would be for all staffers; 2) usually involve something that is fairly tacky, like a car or a trip for two to Orlando, but which to the low-skilled, poorly-educated drudge represents a dazzling, never-to-be-reached-or-imagined dream. The poor slob who wastes his or her life in a call center or retail store, trying to raise uninsured three kids in a shitty little apartment and making car payments, can never even hope to obtain something as banal and commonplace as a Florida vacation. I used to sign up every so often with temp agencies, and hated how, in the orientation session, they wasted my time describing those stupid incentive programs. I am no great advocate for the human race–by a damn sight–but I think incentive programs like that are a cynical and demeaning insult to human dignity. They’re like dangling a steak over the head of a starving dog, then never even giving him a bite. I’m not saying my manager was trying to be insulting with his offer, but I do know there are certain condescending behaviors inherent in the DNA of managerial types.

In recent weeks the Powers That Be have been fretting over inventory, which was supposed to be completed by midnight on June 30th, the end of the company’s fiscal year. Initially we were threatened with the prospect of having to stay late to finish. Then in the last week the manager said there was no reason for us to kill ourselves with work–if we didn’t finish Saturday we’d just keep doing it the first week of July.

Then early Saturday morning we got a call from the manager’s boss at the home office. There’d been clerical snafus–too complicated and boring to explain here–but we were told to just drop everything and stop counting. Whether this inventory was going to be considered official or not we weren’t sure–we only had maybe 2% of the store left to do by then. And of the 126 sections in the store I had personally inventoried 63 and was interrupted while doing the 64th. So fuck all of ya’ll who think I’m lazy.

I told James about my potential upgrading to full-time status, and he said,

–Well, it sounds like you’ll be set then.

And I said,

–Now I’ve just gotta find a way out of this job completely and back to work I can do from home.

And he said,

–You’re unbelievable

or words to that effect.

[All that full-time talk has also stopped, now that’s it’s been shown how unstable I am in hectic situations. Now I’m just hoping for this job to end, one way or another.]

People have said to me,

–Why do you change jobs so often? It makes you look unstable.

And I reply,

–And I should try to look stable so that other bosses in other dead-end jobs will want to hire me? I don’t want to be good material for crappy jobs the rest of my life.

–July 2, 2007–The idiots at the corporate HQ hadn’t set up the direct deposit of my paycheck yet–though they’ve had a fucking month to do so. As a result I was impatiently waiting for my check to arrive by mail, hoping my rent check wouldn’t bounce.

It was a hectic day. We sold several copies of books I’d recommended we stock. We sold the only for sale/non-demo copy of that annoying John Michael Talbot CD. We brought out new CDs and played them, and the customers were so delighted to hear new music they actually bought most of our new selections.

The credit card machine went down for a couple hours. An elderly customer suffering from deafness and dementia came in and later called, confused as to what he’d purchased and what he’d brought back. A little boy in a big black cowboy hat was fidgeting and picking up things here and there, banging his palms on the sides of a glass case, while his baby sister was screaming her fucking head off. This made me extremely nervous and I found it hard to ring people up properly. The manager said,

–You think this was bad? At Christmas it’s like this all day every day.

I had to bite my lip to keep from telling him I had no intention of being in his employ that long.

Still, in the midst of all this crazy bullshit, I managed to, of my own volition and without suggestions from anyone else, go through the book section and impose order. Some shelves I alphabetized, while others I arranged according to the “tall to small” system (tallest books at one end of a shelf, stair-stepping down to the shortest) that we used to use at Discount Book City. This makes the books look neat and tidy.

I’ve only got two days off for the holiday. Thursday I’ve got to stay and extra thirty minutes to learn how to do the evening register drawer count. Lucky me.

–July 9, 2007–I waited on two large women today, apparently a mother and daughter. The mother looked to be in her sixties. I saw she had what appeared to be a big pot belly, but then on closer inspection realized it was riding way too high for it to be her stomach. Only then did I figure out she was sporting a pair of enormous breasts that were sagging and dragging down to a comic length. Neither the natives in “National Geographic” nor Ms. Choksondik on “South Park” had anything on her.


I have a knack for finding words that set off people’s alarm’s. I learned, for instance, that women get rather irate when they hear the term “high maintenance.” I used this in telling a story in private to one friend of mine at a party, and yet it was like I had broadcast it, because as soon as it escaped my mouth, every female antennae in the room shot up and I found myself being glared at until I explained I was talking about someone the party-goers didn’t know. Could it be because many women realize they are high maintenance and don’t want to admit it?

Similarly I have found that managers and supervisors get very irritated when one refers to pointless assignments they ladle out as “busy work”–that is, work that serves no real purposes other than to occupy the worker’s time and to underscore the fact the supervisor can give orders.

I have not used the term busy work to my current manager’s face, but I am about to. I have used it with my co-workers.

I was listening to my co-workers grumble the other day about the job and I mentioned I don’t plan to stay here long, that I am always on the lookout for work that pays better and that is in my actual field of writing and editing. This seemed to shock one of the gals, who said,

–Oh, don’t let [the manager] hear you say that!

Apropos of nothing – it never ceases to amuse me that when retail managers come back after an absence – be it a business trip of several days, a lunch off-site, or a quick trip to the bank, post office, and office supply store–they always seem a bit surprised and even a little disappointed to learn that the business didn’t run itself into bankruptcy, the workers didn’t devolve into anarchy, and the building didn’t implode because of the momentary lack of their imposing leadership.


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