Sunday, February 7, 2016

Chapter 27: Best Job Ever

This chapter is dedicated to Tim “Casher O’Neill” Pouncey, one of the best friends and without a doubt the best writer anyone could hope to meet, in “real” life or on-line.

Chapter 27: Best Job Ever

2006 -2009

Job #82:  Vendor

I seem to operate opposite of the old wisdom “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I’m finding it difficult to think of anything to say about this employer (whom we shall call “Intersection”), because I have nothing negative to say about them. This was – hands-down –  my favorite job (so far). I’d probably still be working there if fate – in the form of economic forces and consequent corporate decisions – hadn’t intervened.

As mentioned in the previous chapter, Intersection provided what’s known as in-store services to a popular chain of home improvement stores, whom we shall henceforth call Home Improvo. “In-store service provider” is a bit of a mouthful (that’s what she said), so we answered to various titles, usually “merchandiser” or – most often – “vendor”, although vendors usually represent a particular manufacturer. Intersection didn’t do that, instead providing general merchandising services for all the products in the electrical department at Home Improvo.

The job was so simple that I almost felt guilty for making 15 dollars an hour doing it. It really required no special skills or even any knowledge of electricity or electrical products. The going rate for new hires was nine dollars an hour, and 14 for more senior employees, but it tended to vary on a case by case basis. Pete talked his regional manager, Nan, into offering me 15 an hour because he knew I was a good worker and had supervisorial experience, and that they had to make it lucrative enough to lure me away from my higher wage at Osmosis. Actually, I was so grateful for any reason to flee Osmosis that I would have done it for peanuts. Later Intersection officially set the top wage at 14 an hour, but they continued to honor my wage, so I was actually making more than other people who had been there longer than me. I kept that a secret from my co-workers to avoid engendering resentment.

It wasn’t a hard secret to keep, because I rarely saw any of my co-workers. We usually worked alone, which suited me fine. If there was a big project, such as a “reset” of several “bays” (the shelves between the upright supports) of a major group of products, some other vendors would come in to help. I never traveled, because I still had transportation limitations, in the form one crappy automobile which I couldn’t deprive my family of. I spent two days a week in the O-Town store, and three days a week in the College Town store. On O-Town days, Mrs. R or Step-Rimpyette would drop me off and pick me up, and on College Town days I would take the bus.

The co-worker I saw the most often was my supervisor, Pete, at first. He would stop by about once a week to see how I was doing, and to give me any supplies I might need to do my job. Pete soon left for a different job, and he was briefly replaced by another young man whose name I can’t recall. When he departed, another former co-worker was my supervisor for a time, and then my former peer Lisa took over the position, and she remained in that post until shortly before I left Intersection.

My life soon settled into a rhythm of contentedly working at Home Improvo, without actually working for Home Improvo, if you take my meaning. Of course, my company worked for Home Improvo, so I guess the case could be made that I did, in fact, work for HI, although we once worked in an Orchard Supply Hardware Store. For all intents and purposes, HI was basically Intersection’s only client. It didn’t seem particularly wise to me to put all their eggs in one basket like that. What if HI changed their minds? We’ll find out.

It seems like it was almost no time at all before I had passed that mythical two year mark which always seemed to be the death knell for any job I had. I did indeed start to experience that familiar sense of ennui after having done one job for too long. But rather than doing something stupid like quitting, I just kept plugging away, and eventually the feeling passed, and before I knew it I had breezed past the three year mark, which left my previous longevity record at Lear Memorial Chapel in the dust. All told, I was with Intersection for about three years and two months.

Despite the generally non-strenuous nature of the work, I managed to injure myself rather grievously a couple of times on that job. One time, I was resetting a bay, which involved removing the shelf beams from their slots in the upright supports. This usually involved smacking upward on the underside of one end of the steel beams with a small sledge hammer until it popped loose, then repeating the process on the other end. It was usually tricky trying to find a balance between hitting the beam hard enough to dislodge it, and not hitting so hard that you sent it crashing to the floor. Sometimes the end you had loosened first would work itself firmly back into its slot while you were smacking away at the other end, so you’d have to wang away at that end a second time. If you were doing this while standing on the floor, you could support the middle of the beam with one hand while flailing away with the hammer on the end.  I could have recruited the help of one of the store associates, but I tried to avoid having to bother them while they were trying to do their jobs.

One this particular day I had to move the top shelf of the bay, so I procured one of the huge rolling metal stair cases you’ve probably seen in warehouse stores. I got one end of the beam just loose enough to support itself, and then I moved the stair to the other end. From this precarious perch, I couldn’t support the middle of the beam. When the second end came loose, the beam flew out of the bay and went crashing down the stair case to the tile floor below. The noise was incredible. As it fell, the end of the beam struck me on the right shin. While the echoes of my catastrophe were still ringing throughout the store, I pulled up my pants leg to see an L-shaped wound in my leg. A split second later blood came welling out of that new hole. So…much…blood. I think that was the most I have ever bled at any one time. A store associate called out from a neighboring aisle, “Are you alright?” I quietly said, “No”, then sat down on the floor and applied pressure through my pants. The associate ran and got some gauze pads and bandages and did a good job of patching me up. I sat down in the break room with an ice pack on my elevated leg and called Lisa to tell her what happened.

I ended up finishing my shift that day with a goose egg-sized lump and a bloody bandage on my leg. My pants were black, so the blood didn’t show, so I wasn’t frightening the customers. I really should have gone ahead and gone to the hospital to be checked out, but I didn’t want to be any more trouble after my stupidity with the beam. When I got home, I showed Rimpy Jr. my pants leg and said, “You see this dark stain here?” He said he did, and I said, “I’m sorry, son, but that’s blood”, then I showed him my gory bandage and formerly white sock. He said, “That’s terrible, but why are you sorry?” to which I replied, “These are your pants.” I had unintentionally grabbed his pants out of the dryer.

I think Intersection told me to take a couple of days off, which I gladly did. The next day, my lower leg was turning some interesting colors, which concerned me, so went to the hospital after all. I’m a bit of an idiot when it comes to work-place injuries, and the whole miasma of rules and regulations surrounding Disability Insurance and Worker’s Compensation. When I innocently told the doctor I had hurt my leg at work, he had to call my employer. Lisa had to bring me yet another form to fill out. I had already filled one out the day before so that Home Improvo could be exonerated from any blame. She was a little peeved that I hadn’t informed Intersection before I went to the doctor, but I didn’t know I was supposed to. My leg was okay, but it took a while to heal. I still have an ugly mark from that beam. After that I got smarter about how I moved beams. I got a couple of bungy cords and used them to support the beams at both ends while I smacked them loose. I wish I had thought of that earlier, rather than inviting injury, embarrassment and inconvenience.

My other on-the-job injuries were less dramatic, being of the repetitive-stress kind. One of my duties was the care of the “light cloud”, that section of the store with working models of ceiling fans and wall and ceiling lights. The hardest part of that job was hefting heavy chandeliers and other hanging lights up a ladder and into place in the overhead rails.

One day I began to notice discomfort in my shoulders while doing this. I figured it was just muscle soreness and took ibuprofen. When that didn’t help, and the pain worsened, I decided it was time to seek help. I had learned my lesson from the incident with the beam, so I called Lisa to inform her of the problem.

Intersection sent me to a doctor, where I was x-rayed and diagnosed with bursitis in my rotator cuff. All that extending my arms over my head to install heavy fixtures had taken its toll. I had never been at a job long enough to acquire a slow-to-develop injury like that. Intersection’s insurance offered to pay for some physical therapy, but I couldn’t get to it with my schedule, so I let it go. I just made sure to be extra careful when hanging fixtures, but the pain didn’t completely go away until long after I left Intersection. To this day I still have twinges of pain when I reach over my head.

This was in the late summer or early fall. About this time a lot of things were happening at once regarding my future. Because of the great economic downturn which occurred in 2008, Home Improvo decided that they could save money by forming their own teams of associates to handle the merchandising services which they had been paying contractors like Intersection to provide. Now that “all the eggs in one basket” business model I mentioned earlier was biting my employers in the butt. They were scrambling to find ways to survive the loss of their biggest and practically only client. Finally it was announced that almost all of us would be laid off at the end of September

I applied to be one of Home Improvo’s in-store services team members. They had seen my work for over three years, and I was well-liked by the staff of the stores I worked in, so I had no trouble being offered the position. Before I could accept, though, a much more attractive opportunity presented itself.

Among president Obama’s many programs to stimulate the economy was a series of courses to train displaced workers for new careers. In my area, a geography professor at College Town University had put together something with the weighty title of “Geospatial Workforce Training Program”. Essentially this course would train people with no prior experience in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to find work in that field. It was just a stroke of luck that I found out about the program, and just in time to apply and be approved. The best part of the program was that participants could collect Unemployment Insurance payments. Normally UI won’t allow you to receive benefits if you’re in school.

The fact that I had prior training in GIS was not a bar to qualification. One problem was I needed to actually be a displaced worker. It was true that I had been downsized from Intersection, but I had an offer from HI. If I accepted the new job, I couldn’t take the course. So I had a choice: work for HI at about my same pay, or subsist on unemployment for a year or so while getting re-trained for a more lucrative career. I chose the latter. I thanked HI for the offer, but politely declined.

Another problem was that the geospatial program was going to start before my last day at Intersection. I couldn’t leave Intersection early without disqualifying myself from the program. Fate intervened once again on my behalf, albeit in a rather painful manner.

My final on-the-job injury couldn’t have had better timing. Vendors spend a lot of time on their knees, in order to service the lowest shelves. After a bit, my knees were getting a bit sore from this, so I started wearing knee pads, which helped. Toward the end of time at Intersection, and despite the use of the pads, a large lump appeared below the cap of one of my knees, accompanied by discomfort. I dutifully informed my employers, who once again sent me to a doctor. It was my old nemesis bursitis. I had to take a couple of weeks off from work, which meant I missed my last official day there, but I was still a displaced worker, so I was able to start the geospatial course on time.

The other interesting thing that happened near the end of my time at Intersection was that my supervisor Lisa suddenly departed shortly after the announcement of the lay-offs. Intersection needed somebody to fill her position, but apparently there were no qualified people in-house, and they didn’t want to hire someone for a job that was only going to last a few more weeks. I called our regional supervisor, Nan, and offered myself for the job. She said she was very glad to hear me say that and the job was mine if I wanted it, which pleased me greatly (although I wondered why she hadn’t asked me) Actually, I hadn’t properly thought through the realities of the position. I was still transportationally-impaired with the one oil-hemorrhaging Chevy Blazer we owned. I couldn’t go ver well go gallivanting all around the region, checking up on vendors and visiting the company headquarters in the Bay Area (which I never once saw the whole time I worked there). I think I knew these things in the back of my mind when I called Nan, but I really wanted to see whether she would accept me or not. It was an ego thing. So I had to embarrass myself a little by calling her back the next day and admitting that I had made the offer in haste. If I’d had a dependable second car, I probably would have tried my hand at being a supervisor. I hadn’t enjoyed being a foreman at Osmosis, but I think I could have made a go of it at Intersection.

Intersection almost went under after they lost Home Improvo. They went through some serious restructuring and even changed their name. A year or so after I left I visited their website, just to see how they were doing. The employee portal, where we kept track of our current and up-coming projects, had not been updated since that fateful September of 2009 when we were all laid off. It was a little eerie – like a cyber ghost town.

I just checked again to see if I could safely use their real name in this chapter. They’re again using the original name and talking about their glorious history with Home Improvo. I'm glad to see they survived all the economic turmoil.

I was in College Town’s Home Improvo store with the family just before Christmas when we were shopping for a tree. I paid a nostalgic visit to the electrical department. In the bay with demo models of work lamps, I saw that my handwritten “TRY ME” in Sharpie was still visible on the switch box. It made me wish I was still working there, but I’ve been driving the bus for so long that I’m finally making more than did with Intersection. And oddly enough, I don’t hate bus driving so much that I’d be willing to take a cut in pay to get out of it. Funny how life goes, isn’t it?

But getting back to the narrative, I had left job number 82 – the best job ever – and was about to embark upon a new journey with the Geospatial Workforce Training Program, but we’ll save that for the next chapter.

The end.

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