Sibling Job Share

MVWJ was my childhood newspaper route. My brother (12 years old at the time) decided he and I could share our neighborhood route when I was 8 years old. Being young and naive, it never occurred to me that people would screw me over at every opportunity. The job started out well enough; I delivered the papers to 20 houses each morning before school.

The problems started happening when I had to collect the monthly fees from the customers who didn’t put their subscriptions on their credit cards. People would refuse to answer the door, slam their doors in my face, argue that they didn’t owe what I asked for, and short-changed me constantly. One woman didn’t answer her door for six full months. When I called the newspaper office to complain about her, they said that only the customer could cancel their subscription and I would just have to keep trying. When I finally got in touch with her, she asked me to come to her house at midnight on a school night to collect the money!

For three years, I would come home in tears and beg my parents and my brother to let me quit because customers would scream at me, other kids would tease me, and one time a group of teenage boys spat on me and shoved me in a snow bank while I was trying to collect money from one of their parents’ houses. Another time, a dog bit my leg, and the owner said it was my own fault for “showing fear.”

Maybe the worst part of all? My brother handled the money once we collected it, and only paid me $10/month for my work. I didn’t realize until years later that he was pocketing way more than his fair share.


What a Pair

The landlords were a couple, she managed the kitchen and he managed the bar. They were both hideous alcoholics and it became clear pretty quickly he was violent towards her as well. One night, he threw her down the stairs. Another night he made a mistake in an order that went to kitchen and a huge fight broke out between them in the middle of the restaurant. Eventually she went back into the kitchen and he to the bar. A moment later he stormed back through the restaurant, into the kitchen and hurled two pint glasses at her showering everyone in the kitchen with shards of broken glass, including me. I should have quit that night, I still don’t know why I didn’t.

They hired another couple to work there who eventually ended up moving into the top floor of the building (the landlords lived on the second floor). One night about three months later the couple who moved in packed their bags and left in the middle of the night without a word. It turns out that this had happened twice before to the same landlords when they were at a different place. They couldn’t understand why it kept happening to them.

Not a FEMA Fan

As we all know, there was tremendous suffering during that horrible day of September 11, 2001. In this context, my story is insignificant, but as a result of that attack, my Very Best Job turned into My Very Worst Job. In a previous life, I worked for a federal agency that responded to national disasters. And no, this was not FEMA. In fact, we hated FEMA. I loved where I worked and I loved the people. I actually consider them my friends. My pay grade was relatively low and at the time there wasn’t any room to move up, but I was so happy in other aspects that it compensated for it. I remember that morning very well. The weather was gorgeous and I was looking forward to a fun weekend. And then I was summoned down to our emergency operation center. And when the gravity of the situation hit, it hit like a ton of bricks. I never worked so hard or got so stressed in my life. I had first-responders literally screaming at me on the phone and all around me there were monitors that showed the buildings burning. And when the first tower went down, I turned away, but right there was another monitor.

They finally told me to go home after 16 hours. One of my co-workers, a grizzled old fireman, told me to follow him. In the darkness of his office, he reached into a locked cabinet and gave me a first-responder shirt, which is worn by real heroes. He lost a lot of brothers that day, so this was a tremendous honor and I will always keep that shirt. For the next couple weeks I worked 12 hour shifts, since our center was obviously running 24 hours. Even after that, there was a lot of work to do. But these people were my friends, and we all supported each other, so it was an honor to be a part of it. And then FEMA happened. You see, in the examinations after 9/11, we were considered “redundant” to FEMA, so someone had the bright idea to consolidate us. Since FEMA was substantially larger than us (“larger” as in “bloated”), they won out on the merger.  And what does an evil conqueror do to their victims? You first kill all the leaders among them and separate the remaining people from their family and friends. And that is what they did. They took my supervisor away from me and put me under one of their trolls (an incredibly vile woman).

With federal employment there is what is known as an “FTE” (Full-Time Equivalent). This is a “job slot.” An employee is the body that fills that slot. Even if an employee is gone, the slot is still there to be filled by family and cronies. So even though FEMA didn’t want me, they wanted my FTE, so it became clear that they were going to force me out. So many things were horrible, but I’ll give you an example: right before Christmas, the troll summoned her slaves for a meeting, and made the sudden announcement that she was canceling all holiday leave requests. One man was almost in tears, because he was supposed to fly across the country to bring presents to his family. The troll replied that the airline “may” refund his ticket if he called them immediately. Merry Christmas. It took me two months to get out. I found a job that gave me a huge promotion and an excellent career ladder. And I got out right before our annual conference, so FEMA got their precious FTE, but not a body to work during this extremely busy time. So I couldn’t have given them any bigger payback than that.

A few years later, there was Katrina. FEMA took a tremendous beating from an enraged public. And I loved every second of it.

An Unhappy Holiday Job

At the start of my sophomore year of college, my aunt had hired me and my roommate to work at a store she was opening up in the mall in November.  Unfortunately, it was September, and I was out of money.  Since I had to find a way to pay rent and buy groceries, I found a job listing for a haunted house. J was the owner of a laser tag arena and he thought it would be goldmine to convert said arena into a haunted house for the month of October.

My roommate S and I were both desperate for money and decided to go to the orientation for potential employees or “spooks” as J liked to call us. Attending the orientation were about 30 people, all high school or college age. We were all hired on the spot.  The haunted house would be open every day, from 6-closing (basically, whenever J felt like closing). We were to be paid per shift, not per hour, getting paid higher on the weekends. All of our wages were to be paid at the laser tag/pizza party J was throwing on Halloween after our final shift. We were required to show up an hour before the shift started to get into costume, makeup, and take your place. This meant that we were all paid the same amount, regardless of what you did, or how long you were there.

This all might sound like a good idea, in theory, however, there were many haunted houses in the area. I should have been clued in to how horrible this would be on my first tour of the arena…I had attended haunted houses before. This looked more like a spook alley my middle school put on to raise money for a field-trip, not a Haunted House that people were supposed to shell out 10-15 bucks to get into. It was more of a maze of black lit rooms then anything scary. And how could we compete with the man with no legs that chased you on his hands at the Haunted Trails just 20 minutes away? How?

S and I were assigned to be skeletons. We were to hid in the darkness, and jump out at you, with only our white skeleton face and costume showing up in the black light. J had advertised for this heavily at the local colleges, so there was a good line the first night. During my first shift there, I got punched in the stomach. Having never been punched like that  before, I ended up vomiting. Awesome. Since I was required to work the whole shift to get paid for it (J’s words), I stayed my time and got made fun of by my fellow spooks. After a couple of other near misses, I got good at evading punches or scratches or other various things people do when you jump out at them.

Word started to get around town about how much this haunted house sucked. Most people attended the other, more terrifying haunted houses close by.  Because of this, most of my shifts were spent lying or sitting on the floor trying to read my flashcards or talking to whichever spook was close by until someone would shout “someone’s coming!” and we’d all take our places. The weekends were a bit busier, but never the steady flow of people J had envisioned. We would all do the best we could with what we had, but all we had were crappy costumes, bad makeup, and an even worse location. We managed to get a few scares out of some people, but most people were only mildly startled.

The most frightening part was when a guy in a Jason mask would chase people with a chainsaw. Since this was all in a relatively small laser tag arena, the chainsaw made the entire place smell of gasoline. Both S and I would dread coming into work, as it was spectacularly boring, but neither of us ever missed an assigned shift. We both needed the money. Finally, October 31st arrived. The last day! And, it being Halloween, we actually had a good amount of people show up. When it was over, the party began. And by party, I mean J making us tear down the haunted house and set up for laser tag. But we at least had pizza. At about 2AM, J sat us all down to talk to us about the last month. He stated that “he didn’t do as well as he thought” and that “I’m gonna have to pay you all in 2 weeks instead of tonight” since he just hadn’t figured out the “numbers” yet. I was pissed. I needed that money to pay rent. After much complaints, he pretty much told us that there was nothing HE could do and we were free to leave.

Two weeks went by, and I hadn’t received a check or even a phone call. So I called him. He said it would be another two weeks. After a week, I called him again to remind him that he needed to pay me in a week. He tried to push it to two more weeks again. I told him that he had one week before I took action. He laughed, and scoffed at what I, a 19-year-old kid could do. He then offered me free laser tag for life in exchange of paying my the $500 he owed me. Um, no. After the week, I called him again. He hung up on me.

I then, along with S, made my way to small claims court and filed a claim. When they served him, he called me up, cursing me out for being a “trouble-maker” and “instigator.” He said I should just accept his free laser tag offer, because neither I nor Stacy were ever going to see a penny from him. I laughed at him and told him that if he didn’t pay the entire amount, plus court fees, in cash or money order, I would see him in court.

Another week went by, and he called me again telling me my money was ready. I don’t know why he had the change of heart, but I went to pick up my money as fast as I could. As S and I were picking up our money, he yelled at me again and told me he never wanted to see my face in his place of business again. Um, no problem, man. No problem.

A year later, he went bankrupt.

The Phantom Editor

MVWJ was not really a bad job at all. In fact, it was a really good a job in a field where I’d trained (journalism). But let it serve as a cautionary tale of how NOT to run a company or treat your employees. I had been job hunting for months. I interviewed for a writer job at an online news site. The future editor interviewed me over the phone from his remote office. I interviewed again at their local office with him (still on the phone at his office as he almost never came to the office in my city) and guy I would be replacing. The job had great benefits and salary. Most of the employees were young and fun to talk to. I would be writing stories for the news service and would be trained to produce programs for the website, usually panel discussions and interviews.

I  trained for a week with my predecessor. He was a bit of a geek, but funny and easy to get along with. The editor who hired me was another story. He had been pleasant and humorous on the phone, but from the day I started, I heard dire warnings about his ‘difficult’ nature and fights with management. “Watch out for Mr L!” “Oh, Mr L is your boss…good luck, you need it!” He was reputed to be even worse in person, but I only had to deal with him over the phone. So I was warned, but not worried. I’m not easily bothered by cranky editor types and not thin skinned about criticism of my work. It’s part of the job. However, the warnings began to make sense very quickly. The Editor was like one of those abusive men who acts really sweet until you get married. As soon as I was hired, he no longer felt the need for any social niceties. Even that isn’t necessarily a deal breaker in a high-stress environment, but he was really rude and insulting, way beyond what was necessary.

If I asked a question about the job, he would insult and berate me, then he’d tell me in the next second not to worry, that I would receive his support through the three month probation. It was rather disorienting. I knew I was a good journalist and got the hang of the routine, even the editor’s ‘difficult’ behaviour. To be fair, he did compliment work that was good, and I thought things were fine, no further problems. I took it all with a grain of salt because, as I said, he was mostly a voice on the phone like Charlie’s Angels. But I felt like my job was in peril every moment because I never knew if/when he’d call me up and berate me. I should point out he was like this with everyone, so I didn’t take it personally and after a few weeks, I didn’t have that feeling of peril.

However, some strange things did happen. Employees were fired from various departments after only working there for brief periods and everyone would be totally surprised and talk about it over lunch. One morning about six weeks after I started working, I was called into HR. The editor was on the speaker phone. He informed me that I was being let go because, as he said, I hadn’t gotten the hang of it. I was stunned, because there had not been any indication. No one had complained or talked to me, there had been no warning at all and it had only been a month. I told him that but he insisted I wasn’t doing a good job. He convinced that I wasn’t going to pull it off, despite the fact that he had not once stepped foot in the office since I’d been there and I’d never even met him. I reminded the editor that he had been impressed by my experience and the writing samples I had supplied with my resume. His response was that, “It just isn’t working out.” Everything he said contradicted everything he’d said in the interview: that I would be trained and that I would get three months probation. I pointed that out to him but his response was good bye and good luck.

I simply went to my office, got my stuff and left without even saying goodbye to anyone. I cried on the way home. I dreaded having to tell my boyfriend, who had been so proud when I got that job. They did save me the trouble. When I got home, he told me he already knew. He had called the office to say hello and the receptionist told that I’d been let go. I am highly critical of my own work and would have admitted if I did a shitty job or had any trouble ‘getting it’ as The Editor so eloquently put it. I tortured myself, wondering how I could have screwed up a great opportunity that I had needed so badly. About a year later, I was at a party and met some former employees. I learned from them that my experience was typical. The editor was notorious for firing people on the spur of the moment and they were surprised I’d even lasted a month. In fact, no one who worked there at the time was still employed only a year later (most were on contract, I should point out). They never hired anyone to replace me. The company ended up in financial trouble and nearly everyone was laid off. It was later bought by another company. The editor continued to work at the new company. Of course, I never got to meet him.