Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wheelman - Part II - "Fears Allayed"

Top 'o the Marnin', to ye, Gentle Readers!

Well, my first evening volunteering as a driver for the Atlantic Film Festival kicked off  "trial by fire" style but now I'd mastered the van's controls and I was blazing out to the airport at warp factor two.

But when I got there I was confronted by another challenge: where to park?  I'd been told to drive up in front of the airport past where the taxis and limos wait and park in the same place where the tour buses stop.

Well, when I got up in front of the airport the right lane reserved for cabs was completely blocked off and the only other apparent route was to turn left into what appeared to be oncoming traffic. I'd been to the airport a slew of times before but never in my own vehicle so I was totally confused.

I turned back and went through the parking garage but ended up in the car rental drop off area. Nope, that's not right.

I looped back and ended up with a paid parking ticket.  Nuh-uh, wrong again.

By now I couldn't help but feel that security was flagging me as a possible terror suspect.  To allay their hypothetical fears I made for the payment booth by the exit and asked the super-helpful woman manning the desk there exactly where I was supposed to park.  She called up to the office and directed me back to the front of the airport.

"But, the right lane is blocked off," I protested.

"The right lane is just for registered cabs and limos," she replied with saintly patience.  "Take the left lane, it's one-way.  Then drive a bit further along and look for the designated bus parking. can see it by the shelter up there!"

She pointed off in the distance towards a large plasticy-looking lean-to.  Despite it's size, from where I'd been before I wouldn't have seen it.   

The attendant nullified the ticket and let me through.  I thanked her profusely and then darted back around to the front again.  This time I edged my way out into the left lane, cleared the phalanx of taxis and limousines and saw the bus parking lot appear before me as I rounded the turn.  To me it looked like Canaan must have first appeared in the eyes of the Israelites.

I grabbed my clipboard with passenger list, "Pick Up" sign, keys and cell phone and boogied on in to the terminal.  Once inside I checked the arrivals board and made note of the flight's assigned baggage carousel.  That accomplished, I proceeded to ensconce myself next to the domestic arrivals gate, held up my sign, and looked hopeful.  In retrospect, I probably resembled an urchin-like Oliver Twist holding up a "Please, sir, I want some more" placard.  Whatever I worked.

At exactly 7:30 a strikingly pretty woman emerged from the arrivals gate, instantly saw the sign, approached me and warmly introduced herself as Karen Lam.  I directed her down to the baggage carousel and we chatted amicably while we waited for the first shy pieces of luggage to appear.

Karen originally studied and practiced law but a passion for film lured her into the industry.  She'd worked as a production manager on the television program Edgemont (featuring a pre-Smallville Kristin Kreuk), served as co-executive producer for the British/Canadian horror flick The Bone Snatcher, and filled co-producer duties on the generational parallel drama Eighteen.

Despite having traveled all the way from Vancouver, Karen was bright, cordial and boundlessly effervescent. The last time I flew out west I had a headache for two days so she was clearly made of sterner stuff than I am.
If Karen seemed mildly irked by anything at all it was the fact that her in-flight viewing of Iron Man II had been truncated.  She seemed to take some solace when I told her that it paled in comparison to the original.   

Our conversation was boundless, to the point that we eventually noticed that we were the only people still standing by the baggage carousel.  Yep, you guessed it, folks, her checked bag had gone AWOL.  this was a  real shame since she was quick to tell me it contained some tasty-sounding preserves she'd brought with her as comfort food.  Amazed by the crummy misfortune, I led her over to the baggage services office and waited for her to file a report.

Now, I don't want to publicly call out the airline that lost Karen's suitcase (and who are also guilty of losing by my bags in the past as well) but their name rhymes with "Nair Banada".

If losing her suitcase had a negative impact on her mood, Karen didn't let on.  I led her out to the van and we continued to yammer on about movies and the like.  Just as I approached the vehicle I realized to my dismay that no-one bothered to put any official Atlantic Film Festival Transportation stickers on the van.  I prayed that Karen spider-sense didn't anticipate a possible abduction and start screaming running back to security as I unlocked the van and hopped in.

As we drove back to the hotel Karen began talking about an exciting new phase in her career as a horror-film director.  She'd met considerable success a few years back with a short film called The Cabinet and was just putting the finishing touches on her first feature-length film as a director with Stained.

This got us into a deep discussion about what we consider "scary" in movies.  Since both of us had obviously seen a lot of horror films, it became clear that we'd progressed way beyond the typical "maniac on the loose" flicks and had moved on to more subtle, atmospheric and creepy-type scares.  We professed our mutual admiration for Asian horror like Ringu, A Tale of Two Sisters, Dark Water, and The Eye.  She even managed to trump me by name dropping Takaski Miike's Audition, which up to now I've been too chicken to watch.

I guess for my annual October Horror Film marathon I'm gonna hafta nut up or shut up and watch this thing.

It was also a bit sad listening to her talk about the trials and tribulations of selling her first feature film.  It would seem that certain closed-minded distributors were having a hard time promoting Stained.  "It's too arty to be commercial, and too commercial to be arty," she'd been told.

I'm still amazed by people who are obsessed with trying to quantify and package every film that comes down the pike.  It's as if they fly into panic mode if they can't gift-wrap and sell the film to the masses with a pitch like: "Well, it's like a cross between The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pant and Dead/Alive."

What amazed me about Karen (and so many of the other guests I shuttled around) was just how interested they were in my story: why I was volunteering, what my favorite films are and what I did for a living.  After I spoke a bit about my recent liberation from cubicle purgatory we somehow got on the topic of The Office. 

Karen confessed that it was one of her favorite shows but I told her that I just couldn't bring myself to watch it while I worked at my last job because it reminded me too much of the place.

"Let me tell ya, that place was chock-a-block with Michaels and Dwights!" I chuckled.

She laughed and we both launched into some of our favorite quotes from the show.  At one point in time she said:

"You know, sometimes in my own circle of friends, they consider me to be the 'Dwight Schrute' of the bunch."

Well, Karen, I'm here to tell ya right now: you bear as much similarity to Dwight Schrute as "Larry The Cable Guy" does to a funny stand up comedian.  

As I dropped Karen off at the front of the hotel we bid farewell to each other and expressed a faint hope that we'd see each other again during the Festival.  But even as the words left my lips I was reminded of the irony of volunteering:  I'd likely have even less of an opportunity to catch movies than in prior years.  As it turns out I did get to see more films than normal but regrettably didn't bump into Karen again.

I hope she had a good Fest and her salmon preserves turned up intact.

I promptly maneuvered the van back up to the first landing in the parking garage and flew up to the Transportation office.  I was amazed to find it darkened and deserted.

I glanced at my passenger manifest and noticed another pick up at 9:10 PM.  Between Karen's lost luggage, filing the missing bag report and the travel time back to the hotel it was now a 8:47 PM.  Was anyone else picking the next group up?

I used my assigned cell to call my patron, explained what had happened and asked if anyone else was headed out there.    

"Ah, lemme check...mmmm, nope, no-one else is going out there tonight.  It's all yours, buddy!"

"Wow," I muttered.  "I'm really gonna hafta haul ass."

"No!" he said adamantly. "Do you best, but don't go speeding out there!"

I was kinda relieved to hear him say that.  It was obvious to me that safety and security was paramount in this guy's mind and that was encouraging.

"No, I won't," I assured him.  "But I gotta let you go if I'm gonna get out there on time."

I hung out and bombed back to the van like Adam West scrambling for the Batmobile.  Would I make it? 

I'd have do some pretty creative driving to get back out there on time and make sure my passengers weren't put out. 

But that, Dear Readers, is a story for another time.






Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Wheelman - Part One - "Trial By Fire"

Hidey-ho, L'il Shooters.

Despite past failed attempts in volunteering for the Atlantic Film Festival,  this would be the first year as an unrestricted free agent and I was determined to take advantage of it.

The first step in getting involved was to get a background check completed, which the application said I would have to pay for myself as a first timer.  I thought this seemed a bit cheesy, but regardless, I popped on down to the cop shop and sequestered the appropriate paperwork.  After I'd filled it all in, I brought it up to the desk and was pleasantly informed that the Festival had since changed their mind and would now  cover the $15.00 processing fee for everyone.  Boo-ya!

Within a few days I found myself in possession of an official-looking document testifying that I'd never knocked over any liquor stores Todd Bridges-style or rolled any senior citizens into a ditch for their pension checks.  Thank goodness for aliases, huh?

Whoops, you should probably ignore that last part...     

So I sent my application in and a few days later received this email reply back from the volunteer co-ordinators:

"Thanks for your application! We're just in the process of scheduling applications, we will be in touch when we've completed yours."

Yay!  This looked promising...

Things took a positively rapturous turn when I got a phone call a few days later from a dude with the Festival's transportation office.   He instantly seemed down to earth, amicable and strangely devoid of any pretensions.

"So, you're gonna be a driver," he announced.  "When do you want to come in for your first shift?"

I was taken aback slightly by the speed with which things were happening.  The application said there was supposed to be an interview.  Was this the interview?  I wasn't sure since I'd actually been through "interviews" like this before.

"Oh, listen, seriously, I can come in anytime," I enthused.  "Even as early as tomorrow morning if you'd like."

"Well, the first day would be Monday the 13'th but I think we've got enough coverage for that day.  Tell you what, let's make Tuesday AM your first shift, say 4:30?"

The pall of confusion crept over me as I wrote this down.  4:30 AM?  As in, like, a half hour after 4 AM!?  Was he nuts?  What in Odin's name did he need carted around in the middle of the night?  Was the Hospitality Suite to be fully stocked with blow? 

"Yeah," he continued, oblivious to my stunned silence.  "AM, Tuesday, 4:00.  Now, how about  Wednesday?"

"Um...hold up a sec," I said.  "Do you actually want me to to come in at 4:00 AM?  Like in the middle of the night?"   

There was dead air for a few beats.

"What?!" the voice on the other end of the phone sounded as if it was grinning from ear to ear.  "You'll be coming in at 4:00 in the afternoon."

I heaved a sigh of relief and scribbled this down, along with the name of the hotel the Transportation Office would be in along with the suite number.

"Okay, that's great," he enthused.  "Can I put you down for more shifts?  How about 4:00 AM on Wednesday?"

If I didn't know any better I would have sworn that this was some sort of elaborate disorientation test.  At this stage in the game I wasn't sure if I was passing or failing.

"Um, sure, whatever..." I muttered, now totally flummoxed.

"Okay, we'll see ya tomorrow night then!"

Just before he hung up, I was suddenly seized by an attack of paranoia.

"Listen, is there any way I can get a summary of all this in the form of an email, maybe?

"Yeah, I'm normally a phone kinda guy, but give it to me anyway and I'll see what I can do..."

I gave the caller my email address but took little comfort from it.  I would have to trust my hastily scribbled notes, which now resembled a self-administered prescription for percocet.

As I predicted, no confirmation email arrived so I took it upon myself to head in early on Tuesday the 14'th at 3:30 pm.  I reasoned that one way or another I'd either be early or REALLY FRIGGIN' EARLY. 

I met up with a different dude at the office who told me that nothing was really going on until 7:30.  He invited me to kill some time and come back in a few hours.  Trust me, in downtown Halifax there are worst fates.  The only lamentable thing: as a driver I wouldn't be able to take advantage of any of the welcoming and abundantly available bar patio seats all around me.

I did some distribution work for a local poetry outfit I also volunteer for and then returned to the office at 5:30.  I was instantly thankful that I'd gone back when I did since the genial guy that I'd talked to on the phone before was now on site.  He welcomed me warmly and then promptly fired a parkade pass, van key, cell phone and passenger list at me in quick succession.

He then gave me the quickest crash course ever in shuttling around VIP's and staff.

"You'll find the van up in the parkade... somewhere.  Just hit the panic button and you should see it or hear it at least.  This pass card will get you though the gates.  You're first pick up will be at the airport at 7:30.  Get out there, find a place to park, take this pick-up sign with you, stay obvious and drive 'em back here to the hotel."

Now, I used to train people for a living so I'm kind of a stickler for instructions and detail.  I know it's virtually impossible to prepare people for every eventuality but I do like to get as much specific and consistently helpful information as I can before I hurl myself into a potential arena of embarrassment.

Even though I wasn't going to be paid for this gig I approached it like any other paying job.  As such, I felt inspired to pepper my guru with a half dozen questions like:

QUESTION: "Where, exactly, do I park out there?"  ANSWER: "The bus depot just past the arrivals section of the airport."  QUESTION: "What precisely is the pick up etiquette?  Do I lead them to the van or bring it to them?"  ANSWER: "Get them to walk to the van unless the weather is 'inclement'.  QUESTION: "What if I run out of juice?"  ANSWER: "The Irving service station on Robie has a credit system set up for us."

He then asked me to go up in the parkade, retrieve the van and then bring it down in front of the hotel so he could install a CB radio.  I mercifully found the van on the first level but stood in front of it like an idiot for a moment as I gaped at the mutant key I'd been given:

Okay.  What the f%$^ was this?  It took me a second to puzzle out that it was one of them thar' new-fangled keyless entry dealies.  I mashed the unlock button and felt the heady intoxication of a minor victory.

But I couldn't celebrate yet!  I still had to maneuver this massive shitbox out of the close confines of the packing garage without re-enacting this little scene:

I cleared this hurdle only to be confronted with yet another.  I'd put the pass key into the machine but it wouldn't read it.  Then it did read it and told me to re-insert it upside down.  Then it said it couldn't read it again.

I was trapped.  At this rate, my theoretical Atom Egoyan would be risking cannibalization as he hitch-hiked down the 102 Highway before I got out of this infernal concrete cage!

With vehicles bearing irate drivers piling up behind me I mashed the emergency call button and babbled at the attendant like a redneck calling into 9-11 with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the face.  She calmly asked me to try my pass again.  I did so and got zilch, nil, nada, SFA.

She then got me to hit a reset button and wait for a second.  The gates miraculously lifted and I was free at last and on my way!

Now, let it be know that I've been driving the same crappy Toyota Carolla for the past seven years.  I don't think I've driven any other vehicle in that time so the van's alien instrumentation layout had me temporarily confounded.

All the signal lights (minus the cabin and main lights which, for some God-forsaken reason, were on the dash), the back and front wipers, windshield wash and high beams were all controlled by the left stick.  Somewhere between the parkade and the front of the hotel, the emergency flashers had been triggered.  I hadn't even touched anything on the panel and suddenly I was in a red alert!  WTF?!?

I stopped in front of the hotel and let my boy install the radio.  This was also followed by an equally abbreviated lesson on how to operate it.  And by that I meant he got me to plug it in, told me to "stay in touch" then sent my on my merry way.

I maneuvered slowly out of the downtown core.  Precious intervals spent at every stop light were burned frantically mashing random buttons on the panel trying to get the emergency flashers off.  I felt the eyes of fellow motorists on me.  They looked at me as if I were Homer Simpson during a nuclear meltdown.  Their eyes seem to say: "Oh, what a brave little soldier, fighting on despite his obvious mental challenges."

But not all were so sympathetic.  I limped onto Robie Street and pissed off a few drivers as I nudged into the required lanes.  I just drove REALLY SLOWLY, trying to give some legitimacy to the fact that the ass end of the van was lit up like a friggin' Christmas tree.

Just as soon as I'd get a fleeting moment to size up the Boeing 747-style dashboard the cell phone would ring or the radio would squawk to life (or both would fire off own personal favorite), often forcing me to pull over and call back into the office.

I finally managed to puzzle out where the emergency light was.  It was cleverly concealed as a big-ass black button smack dab in the middle of the dash with an angry-looking red arrow on it.  Y'know, it looked like EVERY OTHER FOUR-WAY FLASHER BUTTON ON EVERY VEHICLE ON THE PLANET.

I would have been flushed with triumph if I didn't feel like such an tool.  I now blazed merrily down the 102 for my pre-arranged date with some intriguing industry types.

Hopefully I'd actually get there...

EPIC: Glad I left so early, otherwise I would have pulled up to the airport like this:

FAIL: God, I hope there are no bodies of water close to the airport...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tell me something I DON'T know. Please, I'm beggin' you here...

Good day to you , Kind Readers!

Well, considering how much time has flown by since I left my job, my thoughts must invariably turn to puzzling out just what I'm supposed to do for the rest of my time on this wacky free-enterprise planet.

Now I didn't just start thinking about this.  I actually took my first baby steps in this direction a full year before I left my last job.  In December of 2009, completely poisoned by my current work environment, I marched into the Service Canada and asked to speak to a career councillor.

"Are you currently employed?" the shrewish desk attendant asked me.

"Uh, yes," I admitted as if concealing a boxed set of the T.V. show Small Wonder in my backpack.

"Well, if that's the case, I'm afraid we can't help you.  Here..."

She handed a pamphlet to me with a bunch of third-party career consultant offices listed.

"Someone at one of these places should be able to help you."

I noticed that one of the sites listed was just across the street from Halifax Shopping Center so I screwed up the courage, dashed Frogger-like across Mumford Road and went into Ye Olde Job Junction.

Despite the smell of desperation coming off the other visitors in waves, I was impressed by the bright, uplifting environs of the office and the positive nature of the receptionist.  She penciled me in to see someone just a few days shy of Christmas since the only time I could be there during office hours was during my precious holiday vacation time.   I returned about a week later with a song in my heart. 

I filled out a questionnaire at home, toted along a reasonably fresh resume and met with one of the councellors.  His first question to me:

"Are you currently employed?"

I sighed in world-weary style and confessed my dark secret:


"Uh-huh.  Well, since you already have a job I can help you this one time but that's it.  This is a service we provide only to the unemployed."

Wonderful.  What was I saying last time about feeling trapped in a job you hate? 

Regardless of my current unfortunate pall of gainful employment, he was kind enough to give me the following revelatory tips:
  • My resume format was atrocious.  I needed to restructure to so that all my skills were right up front with and supporting education and employment history to follow.
  • 80% of jobs are internal hires.  The gigs advertised in print, online or through referrals are usually so unpalatable that they can't sucker anyone already in-house to do it.  Soooooo, they usually try and pull in some stupid unsuspecting rube from the outside.   Wow, I wish someone could have told me that back in 1994.
  • In order to get a job, you're expected to f#@$%^& cold call business that you are interested in working for.  Call up, introduce yourself, ask to speak to the person in charge of recruitment and try and get a face-to-face meeting with them.  If you're successful in doing this, you need to get your resume into their hands, tie your grinning mug to the name on the paper and ask relevant questions about what education, experience and skills would by required before this anonymous asshole even considers hiring you.
And truth be told, when I heard this I wasn't surprised that nepotism and ass-suckery is often integral to getting a decent job.  Although depressing, it was also quite refreshing to hear this admitted in open conversation.

But I couldn't decide if it was sad or fortunate that the annoying skills I put to work every day harassing my customers could actually help me find a job someplace else.  Oh irony, you're just so gosh-darned ...ironic!   

I went away with this sage advice, updated my resume and waited for a time to begin this campaign in earnest.  When I left my job in April, the time had arrived.

But I still found it very difficult to debase myself by cold-calling potential employers out of the blue like a f%$#%^%& telemarketer.  It was too embarrassing.  It was too humiliating.  It was was too... was too much like my last job.

So, I recently decided that I wanted employers to bid, nay, to fight over me for a change.  So, I decided to do a career matchmaker test, find out what long-term assignment won't make me want to take cyanide capsules like Pez every day and then cross-reference it with market research to find out what hot, in-demand jobs may be on my results list.

Back I went to Service Canada.  This time they didn't even ask me if I was employed or not.

"Oh, I'm sorry, we don't do any career counseling at all here.  It's all though the Job Junction now."

Oooo-kay, fine.  I heaved a sigh of frustration and stalked out, thinking: 'Yeah, well, at least I now know one outfit I wouldn't mind working for...since they don't ever f#@$%^& do anything!"
Down I went to the ole' "Double-J" and made an appointment to see the same dude I'd talked to oh-so-long ago.  Next week I went back and he sized me up as I came into his office:

" I know you?" he said as we shook hands and sat down.

"Oh, uh, yeah," I replied sheepishly.  "I was in here about a year and a half ago." 

"Don't you already have a job?" he quizzed, sounding like a border guard.

I'd been waiting for this moment for eighteen months!

"Nope!" I replied proudly.  "I certainly don't!  I'm about as jobless as it gets!"

Upon hearing this he brightened up as if I'd offered him some sort of secret Masonic handshake.

"Terrific!" he said, "What can I do for you?"

I explained my scheme (test to confirm my dream job and try and match some result up with current hiring trends) but sat in stunned amazement by the reply which followed:

"Well, we actually don't do testing like that here (!) but I can give you an online option for starters and then get you in touch with someone at the Nova Scotia Community College for a more in-depth, face-to-face interview."

Unreal.  This would now be the third channel I'd have to go through just to get a face-to-face career/aptitude assesement.   

'Well, add another business name onto my dream places to 'work' list,' I mused to myself. 

Truth be told, I've being unfairly bitchy.  I didn't mind doing even an online self-guided test as long as it could give me a jumping off point to a new and focused career path.

Sooooooo, today I answered one hundred and nineteen questions under Career Cruising's "Career Matchmaker" quiz and got the following results.  In all fairness, they give you forty possible jobs, but for the sake of brevity, I'm only gonna list ten.  Besides, the last thirty are just increasingly unrealistic variation son the first ten.

Okay.  Ready for this?  Are you ready to see what my "Top Ten" practical, satisfying and hopefully "hireable" job recommendations are?  Alright, here they are...
  1. Cartoonist
  2. Computer Animator
  3. Artist
  4. Historian
  5. Illustrator
  6. Film Editor
  7. Animator
  8. Craftsperson
  9. Technical Writer
  10. Translator
Wow, where the hell is "Underwater Basket Weaver", "Professional Philosopher" or "Rock Star"?
Okee-dokey, Kind Reader, seriously, let's just look at this for a moment.  What do all these "jobs" have in common?  Yep, you're right:

Not one of them represents a reliable, solid and bankable career path.  In fact, thus far, this little experiment has left me even more confused and paralyzed and this ain't good since I've been confused and paralyzed over my carer path for at least the past twenty years now.

So, Helpful reader, I put this question to you:

What the f#@$% am I supposed to do now!?

EPIC (?): Hopefully you'll have better luck than me and pull something boring but practical like "Pharmacist", "Transportation Manager" or "Industrial Electrician":  USERNAME: jobjunction PASSWORD: halifaxns

FAIL: In a "Jackass"-like dare, see how long you can watch this without power vomiting onto a nearby wall.  And, yes, folks...this shit is real.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rat In A Cage

What's crack-a-lackin', Gentle Readers?

For the past fifteen years I've been trying to volunteer for the Atlantic Film Festival held here in Halifax but due to the draconian nature of the attendance policies at the last two call centers I've worked at, it was never possible.

Last year I thought I'd start the bargaining process in earnest a full two months before the Festival was to begin.  In theory this should have given me plenty of time to get approval, complete the application process and sequester the required background check required from all first-timers.

Now, I refused to use my impoverished allocation of vacation time since (I know this sounds crazy) I wanted to actually use it for a vacation.  Sooooooo, that left only one other avenue: a two-week completely unpaid leave of absence to allow me to volunteer for this good cause. 

I went to my immediate supervisor and then to the call center manager in turn and rolled out the the ole' tried n' true "Bart and Lisa Simpson" method of asking for something:

But regardless of my methodology, I got nowhere.  I remained persistent and tried several employer-friendly spins:
  • "Hey, it would do wonders for my morale."
  • "I wanna give back to my community."
  • "I'll come back refreshed and more productive than ever!"
  • "I could make some good business contacts with local vendors."
  • "It will be a proactive experience compliment to help enrich my skill set value pool."
But no dice.

Of course, this may have had something to do with the fact that all the aforementioned reasons were completely transparent and unadulterated bull-s#@% and I was just trying desperately to find some inroads to a possible career in the local film industry.

Regardless, they should have been more accommodating. After all:

Well, several weeks of fruitless lobbying went by and eventually I gave up asking.  But I couldn't resist one last final twist of the screw before my precious ship sailed away once again without me on it.

About two days before the Festival was to start, I went to the call center manager and asked again, for a couple of reasons:
  1.  Just to see, at the very least, if the end indicator for the red tape roll was starting to show
  2.  To see if the Powers That Be had any inkling whatsoever when this local, high-profile, thirty-year-old   film festival was scheduled to begin (Hint: it's the same time every year!)
  3. To prove that their strategy to address my request all along could best be summarized as "IGNORE HIM UNTIL HE GOES AWAY".  
  4. To trowel on a nice layer of guilt
"So," I asked plaintively.  "Do you think we can swing this?

"," they stammered.  "The last thing I heard..."

Knowing what was imminent, I smiled sweetly without using my eyes, like a combination of Scott Thomson's Buddy Cole and the Cheshire Cat.  I tried not to be too obvious with the sadistic satisfaction I was getting out of watching this person squirm.

"...the HR department was still looking into how we might be able to do this for you.  You see..."

I held up my hand to stop the impending parade of lies that threatened to insult the both of us.

"Okay, listen," I said.  "The Festival starts in two days and I don't have enough time to complete the application, secure a background check and do an interview.  It's too late."

"Sorry," they told me, wincing with fake concern.

I got up to leave.

"That's okay.  I don't care how long it takes, but can you still look into it and let me know if it's a possibility for next year maybe?"

"Oh, yes, absolutely," they gushed, clearly presaging that I'd soon be out of their office.

Seven months later I still hadn't heard anything.

Little wonder people in the modern work place feel like f#@$%^& prisoners...
But mercifully, this year, I had no such restrictions...


FAIL: Yeah, it can be much worse...


Friday, September 24, 2010

Pinch me. Seriously, pinch me, just stay above the equator...

Ever since I left my staid office job in April I've found myself in some pretty surreal, out-of-body but refreshingly unconventional situations that would never have occurred if I hadn't left.

So, Kind Reader, I present to you...

  1. Brandishing a blood-covered collapsible camping shovel against a S.W.A.T. cop who has an M16 pointed at my face.
  2. Having actor Rutger "Roy Batty" Hauer ask me: "I'm sorry, but could you simplify your question just a bit?"
  3. Being unfairly chewed out by a ten-year-old girl over stage directions.
  4. Sitting in the apartment of a prominent member of a local comedy troupe with just him and his cat, hoping against hope that other volunteers show up as promised and alleviate the crushing awkwardness.
  5. Nearly being trampled by the town-marshall of Tombstone.
  6. Jason Priestley trying to convince me that accomplished but world-weary actor John Hurt is "Really, really funny.  Honest, like...funny.  All the time!"
  7. Having a perfectly normal conversation with an attractive young couple wearing nothing but life jackets.  Er, them, not me... 
  8. Getting applause from reading my poetry in front of a gathering of about twenty people.  Bless you, you sweet, charitable souls...
  9. Only getting to ask one question during a film-maker's Q&A session then getting my own personal Q&A session while driving the same director to the airport two nights later.  (Thanks for being patient, Richard!) 
  10. Dropping off a model/actress and her equally attractive friend off at her hotel, parking the car and being stopped by a Newfoundlander in the lobby who asked me: "Jesus, buddy, was' yer secret?  Lemme're hung like a bull moose?"  Classy. 
What's next for me?  I have no clue, and frankly, after knowing exactly what's going to happen to me every day for the past four years, that's kinda exciting...



Monday, September 20, 2010

"Yeah, I got yer 'Softer Side' Right HERE, pal!" - Part X I- Resignation

Hello, L'il Nibblers.

After being wiped and discarded by Staples back in May, I began the painful process of begging strangers for some semblance of a future all over again.  Mercifully my work experience over the past six years made me ideally suited to be readily abused in many similar surroundings, so by August 24'th, 2000, I had another job lined up.

This led to a bit of a quandary.  I hadn't experienced anything vaguely approximating a vacation for the past six months and my new taskmasters were requesting that I report for training within two weeks.  I saw a period of much-needed, stress-free down time evaporate with one arbitrary phone call.

But after considering things for a moment I thought: "Wait a minute, Sears f#@$%^ me!   They don't deserve two weeks notice!" 

The mindless work ethic my parents brainwashed me with was finally starting to show cracks in the edifice.  And to think, all it took was a company lying straight to my face and then...stabbing me in said face. 

What can I say?  I'm pretty but not too swift (pun vaguely intended).

So, still channeling my rage, I typed up an uber-pissy resignation letter and marched into Mutt's office.  Here's how the preamble conversation went:

ME: "Hello."
MUTT: "Hello."
ME: "I suppose you've heard all the rumors and stuff going on?"
MUTT: "Of course." (awkward attempt at a sound approximating laughter)
ME: "Well, I guess I have to make it official..."
MUTT: (disapprovingly) "Mmmmm-hmmmm...Are you starting (the new job) on the 5'th?"
ME: "Yeah, I was surprised by that myself.  Rumor had it I'd be going into a training class on the 11'th..."
MUTT: (very disapprovingly) "Mmmmmmmm..."  
ME: "Anyway, it kinda made things more immediate..."
Painfully awkward expanse of silence.
ME: "Aaaaaanyway, I wanted to make my last day the 28'th to have some time off before I start the new job.  I've got some projects I'm working on at home..."
MUTT: (cutting me off) "And my request is that you work the whole week."
Stone cold silence for a moment as I try to mentally process my way out of this Jedi Mind trick.
ME: "Oh, I'll work up until Monday but I have to have some time off before I start the other job."
MUTT: "Well, my response to that would be NO (!).  You have to make up your own mind on that if you want to make just a week from now your last day."
ME: (trying to interject a rebuttal) "Yes, I mean, really..."
MUTT: "This will be the second time I've responded NO. I don't think it's fair to us that you would ask to do that. (!!)"
ME: (finally interrupting) "Well, this whole issue wouldn't even be coming up if not for the announcement that was made on May 11'th."
MUTT: "Well, I realize could leave right now if you'd like..."
ME: "I mean, these are totally different circumstances. I'd ideally like to give two weeks notice, y'know, but..."
MUTT: "Well, that would be normal business etiquette for you, for them to let you give two weeks notice..."
ME: "No, I can't.  I really can't.  I'm sorry..."(What...sorry?!?  Why the f#@$ should you be sorry, they f#@$%^& shit-canned you, you stupid f#@$!!!)
Insert mother of all awkward silences here. 
MUTT: "Well, if you won't, if you can't give us two week's notice, what are we supposed to do?"
ME: "Sorry. (stop saying 'Sorry', you silly git!)   But, I...again, circumstances are unusual..."
MUTT: "It's not my fault and it's not the rest of your team's fault..."
ME: "Look, this is a pretty bittersweet thing for me, okay?  I've been with Sears six years and I like it here.  If not for the announcement, we wouldn't even be having this conversation!"

And by finally standing up to her, things changed instantly.  

She dropped the bad cop routine and suddenly started acting all sweetness and light.  She asked me about my new gig, about their interview process, and we both speculated about the current job market in Halifax.  A couple of times she actually laughed.  Like, legitimately laughed.  I'd never heard her do that before.

But there were greater shocks to come.  She thought the corporate decision to close our center was going to be a "disaster" and maintained that the other sites "never worked up to our standards".  She talked at length about how she would have loved to hear that we were getting a new building in the city.  About how there were plenty of available sites in the nearby Bayers Lake Business Park that could easily have accommodated us. 

It was a revelatory.  Her admissions were refreshing.  I could leave her office now without seeing her as the face of corporate betrayal.  In fact, I'd finally realized that she'd likely been screwed just as badly as the rest of us. 

Here's the letter I turned in:
"August 24, 2000

In light of the announcement on May 11'th, 2000, please accept this letter as notice of my resignation as Coach with the Sears Atlantic Call Center.  Because of the recently disclosed close proximity of my first day of training for my new assignment, my last day at Sears will be August 28'th.

I am leaving Sears through no control nor personal desire of my own.  Despite my best efforts and the best efforts of my co-workers, the company has decided to reward our diligence by taking away our livelihood.  I no longer wish to be associated with a company with such contempt and low regard for its workers.

Although angered by the circumstances necessitating my departure, I am most upset for being forced to leave the co-workers that I have come to know and respect over the past six years.  I can only hope to be associated with the same caliber of people in my new assignment.  Indeed, I have come to regard them as my extended family.  With their help, I have gained critical skills in communication, human relations and training.  I own them dearly and cannot thank them enough.  

In closing, I would like to wish everyone victimized buy this poorly motivated decision the best of luck in all their future endeavors.  I can only hope that what Sears has done to all of us collectively does not become an acceptable trend in business, otherwise luck, not hard work or competence, will be what ultimately guides our fate.


David Pretty"

And so concludes my series about my very own "Sears Days".  Thanks for reading. 

I did it for a few reasons.  I primarily wanted to do this series to prove that I'm not just Whistlin' Dixie when I say I've been abused by a company.  This true story was an integral part of why my enthusiasm to work for a large organization has been systemically beaten out of me.  I wanted you to know just how deep down this rabbit hole went.   

Now, having said that, I also don't want anyone to think that the sort of shenanigans Sears did to me and my co-workers hasn't happened to anyone else.  In fact, I think it's so commonplace that I wouldn't be surprised if you read this and thought: "Big deal, the same thing happened to me.  It's just par for the course."

But really, if we've gotten to the point where we feel pleasantly surprised that the company we work for hasn't jammed us up das poopenchute by now we really need to take a hard look at what kind of society we've de-evolved into.  We need to ask the question: "Who really benefits when big business makes these hair-brained and ethically bankrupt decisions?" 

Now before I sign off I want it on record that I'm not a fan of government intervention in business.  But this story (not to mention the recent global economic meltdown) proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that large corporations often can't be expected to do the right thing.

Most companies are kosher but quite a few of them are in it just to improve the bottom line, keep shareholders happy and make CEO's more filthy lucre than they could ever be able to spend in five lifetimes.

If layoffs or cutbacks are required, these organizations should be forced to throw open their books to an independent government-based review board so that they can approve the request.  If, after a investigation, it's obvious that the layoffs are required to improve the company's economic viability or improve poor staff performance, then they should get a pass.  But if the review shows that the organization is chopping heads and growing new ones in Rangoon just to keep their investors happy and their executives in suits made of one-hundred dollar bills, it should be soundly rejected.

After all, how much profit is enough?  Doesn't money become abstract eventually?  If it didn't, then we wouldn't live in a world in which celebrities pay $32,000 for a f#@$%^& manicure.       

Of course, Gentle Reader, I can hear you scoffing right now.  You just know if my idea was instituted, it would probably only take a week and some change for the first government official to get some kind of super-sweet kick back. 

Ain't life grand?

Keep it real, peoples...



Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Yeah, I got yer 'Softer Side' Right HERE, pal!" - Part X - Indignation

Cheers Me Dears!

I come from a small town that's very trusting.  Everybody pretty much knows everybody else. 

As a teenager I could go into any of the Mom and Pop video stores and rent a VHS classic just by giving the staff my name and phone number.  Nine times out of ten they didn't eve have to ask. 

One day I went into one of my usual haunts, picked out a coupla flicks, went up to the counter and was promptly confronted by a young stranger.  Was it the owner's kid or something?

"Could I get your name and phone number?" he asked in a squeaky my-testicles-haven't-quite-dropped fashion.

I muttered my reply as I fished out a couple of bucks.  He scribbled something, turned the rental slip around on the counter for me to sign and then walked away to retrieve the movies.

I picked up the pen and went to sign my Paulie Walnuts but hesitated when I noticed the "Customer's Name" written on the slip of paper:


Wayne Brake?   

'Who the f#@$% is Wayne Brake!?'  I thought.  How did this Clearasil casualty get "Wayne Brake" out of "David Pretty"?

When the l'il nibbler returned with the movies I just thought, 'F#@% it' and signed my name Wayne Brake.  

I then proceeded to watch both movies that same evening and returned them the next day as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.


Here's a letter sent in to The Coast (our free weekly newspaper here in Halifax) by a plucky chap in defense of the recently-cast-aside staff at the Sears Atlantic Call Center:

To the editor
"I read the May 18'th, 2000 edition of The Coast from front to back and could find no reference to the OTHER major news announcement from Thursday, May 11.  Sears Canada, the organization that invites the Canadian upper middle class to 'see it's softer side', is leaving close to 900 Haligonians high n' dry just after Christmas. 

"Perhaps it's the initial media treatment that has already caused this story to drop out of the spotlight.  Yes, these are mostly part-time jobs, but I assure you that in this day and age, most are.  People are trying to raise families and pay mortgages with part-time wages.  

Perhaps it's the fine spin job performed by Nova Scotia's Department of Economic Development.  Gordon Balser seems to think that Haligonians should be happy Sears decided to grace you all with the benefit of 800 "seasonal" jobs as long as they did.  

So why is the call center closing anyway?  Well, if we're to believe Scott Marshall, Sears' Vice-President of Catalog, it's because the internet is killing the catalog enterprise.  But anyone who takes even a cursory glance at the facts can see that this is a total lie.  Revenue for the catalog channel topped $1.45 billion dollars in 1999.  With the Halifax site being the largest and most efficient amongst Belleville, Regina and Montreal, you find yourself asking, why?

Well, two words: maximum profit.  This company is so cheap it won't go through go through the bother of re-locating the call center somewhere else in the city.  Despite extorting numerous handouts from the Nova Scotia government for the privilege of exploiting its workers ($100,000 in grants in 1992, $700,000 more in 1994, plus alleged six-figure tax breaks for each year of operation), Sears has decided to take its shiny, corporate, eleventh-consecutive-quarter-of-record-profit ball and go home.  Did John Hamm's Tories refuse to bow to this sort of piracy and not offer to build the company a new home for free?  Or did the government of Ontario just offer a sweeter incentive package?  

Whatever the reason, Sears is abandoning the Maritimers who did such a good job for them during a period of bitter recession.  You have to remember that the company was going the way of Eatons back in 1992.  It was only due to the unexpected success of the catalog enterprise that this company could afford to buy the ailing Eatons with all the profits.  

I'm guessing that the dedicated workers at Sears are feeling a bit betrayed now.  It's not quite the same scale as non-unionized sweat shop workers being used up and then discarded but it's damned close.  Since the general public is so numb to stories of layoff and downsizing, I encourage those affected by this and other similar crimes to contact the media with personal stories about their own situations.  

I assure you that the company certainly did consider all their options, but none of them had anything to do with the people they're leaving behind.  Stress, divorce, depression, substance abuse and other societal ills are never factored into a decision like this.      

To any customers who have received great service from the people of Halifax, I ask that you write to the Sears Headquarters building and ask why the best, most pleasant and efficient Sears employees they've dealt with are being rewarded with a kick in the teeth.  

Invite the executive officers to Halifax to explain the rationale to the people being effected.  If they succeed, all's well and good.  The company gets away with the abuse and lives to abuse again another day.  If not, the court of public opinion will pass judgment as it sees fit."


Wayne Brake


FAIL: "The company gets away with the abuse and lives to abuse again another day"...sadly prophetic words.

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Yeah, I got yer 'Softer Side' Right HERE, pal!" - Part IX - Elimination

Why hello there, Dedicated Followers of the Infinitely Ludicrous.

Thursday May 11'th 2000 began like any other day at the Sears Atlantic Call Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  I came into work, hung up my jacket in the coat room ("Y'arrr!"), went upstairs, greeted my co-workers with a winning smile and proceeded to do what I did on any other day.  I answered questions from my staff, joked around with them to perk up their spirits, thanked an employee for making an awesome mixed CD for me, and spoke with my fellow Coaches as to what our strategy was going to be for the day.

And then something weird happened.  The tote board went down.

Now when I say weird, I mean, WEIRD.  Like Clinton Portis weird.  The tote board is the heart monitor for any call center, constantly displaying on-line staff count and how many calls, if any, are backed up.  We'd seen odd things associated with the board before, like when we rolled the tote board with calls in queue during the busiest time of the Christmas season.  But it had never just shut down before.

But it wasn't down for very long.  Within minutes the following message began to display:


My heart froze in my chest.  This didn't bode well.

Exchanging uneasy glances, the Coaches got our staff to log out of their phones and we led them downstairs, weathering a storm of questions along the way.  I responded to them in the same manner I'd always been told by upper management to respond:

"Look, they keep telling us that we're the best center in the entire country, both in terms of customer satisfaction and profits.  We're not going anywhere."

We all shuffled into the cafeteria like workers in the movie Metropolis.  Just as soon as we entered the room, our spirits collectively brightened somewhat.  The tables were covered with pristine white tablecloths, there were flowers in vases everywhere, snacks and beverages where arrayed all over the place and a microphone stand was set up smack dab in the middle of everything.

Like a moron I remember excitedly saying to everyone within earshot: "Oh my God!  Look at this!  They can't have all this stuff out if they plan to give us bad news!  I bet they're gonna announce something awesome, like they found a new building for us.  No, it's good news, just wait and see!"

Please keep in mind that, at that tender young age, I hadn't been to very many wakes.   

We anxiously waited while district manager Greg Patterson took to the mike.  Greg fit the classic Sears physical executive template: tall, good-looking, white and male.  This template was so ingrained in the psychology of our HR department that a tall, good-looking, white, male friend of mine was actually propositioned by our HR department to enter the manager training program just because they saw him walk by one day (?).

Well, like an emotional roller coaster ride, our spirits began to take a collective dip when we noticed the expression on Greg's mustachioed and bespectacled  face.  He looked sheepish and apologetic even before he uttered a single word.

"Hello, everyone.  Thanks for coming.  Well, as you are well aware, this building had been for sale for quite some time.  We've been advised by Real Estate that we'll be required to vacate this site by December 31'st, 2000.  Knowing this, we've had to review all available options for the the business that operates from this site.

"For the Halifax Catalog Call Center, these option were:
  • to relocate the Call Center within Halifax
  • to expand existing call centers to cover business needs that are currently performed in Halifax.
After careful review, the decision is that effective December 31'st, 2000, the Catalog Call center in Halifax will be closed..."

Just as these words were uttered, hundreds of people in attendance took in a breath as if they'd been stabbed by something sharp. The crying began almost immediately.  Patterson continued on after a brief pause.     

"...and the work currently performed in Halifax will be moved to Montreal, Belleville and Regina.  This decision in no way reflects the excellent efforts and performance of the dedicated associates in our Halifax Catalog Call Center."

The sniffling, wailing and hugging began in earnest.  A handful of people confronted Patterson before he could get a few paces away from the mike stand.  My reaction?  No too dissimilar to this:  

Actually, truth be told, I kinda got hung up on Stage Two.  I remember stomping around, pacing back and forth and uttering a few choice epithets that I really can't repeat during the family hour.  I certainly know that, even after all these years, I still haven't reached "Acceptance" yet since it would cause me to lose all faith in my fellow human being.

The reason I got locked into "Anger" is because of my own unwitting part in the deception.  I'd been encouraged to lie to my associates by the powers that be, to tell them everything was going to be alright and that their jobs were safe.  My mind reeled.  Just by my actions alone how many of my people had passed up an opportunity to look for work when the rumors were at their worst?  I felt sick to my stomach.      
The experience of being in the cafeteria that day was one I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.   It was crushing.

In an only vaguely related point, the reason I'll never vote for a dick like Stephen Harper is because I have a good memory.  Back when his Alaskan-Malamute-peepered ass was a tub-thumping member of the Alliance Party (the closest our otherwise progressive country has come to harboring a group of neo-Nazis) this clique habitually referred to Maritimers as "lazy".  This always burned my ass since unemployment rates are always inflated here because Maritime jobs have a tendency to gravitate back to Central Canada during times of economic recovery.

But here's a heart-rending fact: our staff was so professional that, a mere two hours after being told they were losing their jobs just after Christmas when bills would become due, they were back on the phones taking orders again. These people would doggedly continue to do their usual excellent job up until their final days there.  Big business intended to treat them like chattel but they couldn't diminish their solid work ethic and pride in their jobs.

There were more shocks to come.  After we'd all drifted back upstairs like wraiths and were politely told to act as if everything was still copacetic, "Mutt and Jeff" happened by and told us Coaches and Leads to start calling people at home to tell them that they were losing their jobs!  I promptly invited these two clowns to go pound sand when they came around to me.  I was officially done with doing the dirty work of corporate pinheads.

And as if that wasn't bad enough, the media was now ensconced just outside the call center and asking completely oblivious staff such tactful questions as : "So, how do you feel after hearing you're losing your job?"  just as they were coming into work for the day.  They hadn't even heard the announcement yet.

Here's how our local newspaper The Chronicle Herald reported the story the following day:


837 people to lose jobs by year's end

Sears Canada confirmed months of rumors Thursday, announcing it will close its Halifax call center by year's end, throwing 837 people out of work.

The retail giant has received roughly $1 million in government incentives since it opened the call center here in 1992.  And government officials were still trying to tabulate late Thursday how much it received in tax credits.

Company officials said the center is being closed as part of a corporate plan to intensify Sears' e-commerce operations that can't be done here.

"This is really part of a longer-term strategic decision (that) relates to our customers and the evolution of our business to the Internet," said Scott Marshall, vice president of online sales for Sears Canada.

The Sears building has reportedly been acquired by an Ontario pension fund, which owns the Halifax Shopping Center, as part of the deal to move Sears into the shopping center.  Mr. Marshall could not confirm these reports, saying the deal is confidential.

Sears talked with the province last fall to see if the jobs could be saved, but by January no deal had been reached, he said.

"(We said) we would like to know what could be possible to keep the call center.  It just didn't work."

Sears, which knew the call center's business would be winding down by 2002 because of the upswing in online sales, wanted to find a partner to take over the employees, he said.

"We were prepared to put in our calls over the next couple of years...We thought there should be a new call center created (using Sears' workload and staff).  We were saying 'Can you find a call center...that come to Halifax.'"

The government proposed re-locating the call center elsewhere in the province, and also put forth another idea, but Sears couldn't see either working, he said.  He would not outline the government's second suggestion and didn't know where the other location might be.

An angry call center worker said the retailer's decision was made in bad faith.

"They kept us in the dark," said the employee, who asked not to be named.  "They dropped this bombshell on us."

The worker says the decision saves "a few extra bucks on the balance sheet."

"They turned their backs on the province and taken the money and run.  They made us feel there was a sense of permanence."

The call center job is the primary source of revenue for many of the part-timers, he said.

Some workers could transfer to the company's other call centers and Sears is contacting other centers to see if they can hire staff, Mr. Marshall said.  Job counseling will also begin.

He said the company might have entertained staying if the government had offered more.

"Had they come forward and offered more incentives, we would have considered (it)."

Otherwise, the company couldn't justify moving and readying another call center in this area after the Sears building was sold, he said.

Economic Development Minister Gordon Balser confirmed the province asked Sears if it wanted to move to another part of Nova Scotia.   

"That wasn't part of what they were considering," he said.  "They simply had taken the decision to get out of the business that they were currently in."

Mr. Balser said the province has gotten its money's worth from Sears.

"The company, Sears, has had an eight-year history with the province and we're pleased to think that over that length of time it would have had a net benefit to the province in terms of tax revenue and employment opportunities and ripple effects."

Mr. Marshall said the retailer gave the government a "60-to-1" return on its investment, handing out $43 million in payroll since 1992.

"The agreement there was that the call center would exist for three years," he said.

Mr. Balser said he believes the province gave Sears roughly $1 million between 1992 and 1994.

"There are also tax credits allocated to the operation and we're internally trying to determine exactly what that constitutes in dollar value."

NDP Leader Robert Chisholm wasn't suprised to hear the news.

"This is a very unstable type of business.  It's transitory," Mr. Chisholm said.

"They're going to move whenever they feel it will best serve their interests.  The money from the taxpayers in this juristiction has run out and they will move somewhere else."

Mr. Marshall said Sears' growing e-commerce business is expected to generate $650 million in sales over the next three years.

"Our business has been in a continuous evolution.  That's why we've been able to survive."

Welly, well, well, well.  Ain't that somethin'?

The article does a great job intimating the real reasons for the move.  The most galling thing about it is, however, is just how successful the corporate and government spin was in convincing readers that the whole operation was temporary and had a limited shelf life.

Here are some points to consider after reading this article:
  •   Revenue for the phone-in catalog enterprise topped $1.45 billion in 1999 and the call centers were tasked to handle about 23 million calls per year.   At the time we lost our jobs, customers that went to the Sears website couldn't confirm item availability, get delivery dates, or find answers to even the most basic customer service inquiries.  
  • Marshall later claimed that the catalog division would suffer a 30% downswing in productivity as the Internet gained more dominance as a ordering channel and that relocating the Halifax call center "made no sense".  What he fails to address is why a comparable amount of staff was re-hired in Belleville, why the Halifax site still hired a slew of people that Christmas season and how service would be impacted for a huge segment of their customer population (I.E. seniors) who couldn't afford or operate a computer.
  • There were a lot of headlines around that time regarding major government grants being doled out to already profitable operations such as ICT group and Sobeys, which give a lot of credence to the theory that Sears just didn't get a sweet enough deal from the province of Nova Scotia and decided to go home to Ontario.  Did John Hamm's Tories opt not to continue the eight-year legacy of Sears' extortion that the Liberals had been forced to swallow, for fear that the company would up and leave?  Did the Tories refuse (as they should have!) to construct a free new home for the already wealthy company, giving Sears ample reason to pull out and leave it's associates in the lurch?
  • The old call center building was pretty dilapidated.  For example, it wasn't unusual for you to come in for work at seven o'clock in the morning and sweep mouse crap off the edge of you desk with a piece of paper before you started your day.  IMHO a new building wasn't even necessary.  There were plenty of vacant existing structures that we could have moved into.  One day of promotional sales profits from the Halifax staff would have been enough to refurbish an existing space and reward their diligence at the same time.  
  • Management also tried to argue that customers could call the same 1 (800) number and expect the same great service from the Belleville, Montreal and Regina sites.  Why then, did droves of customer in Ontario call up in the weeks and months that followed to lodge a complaint as to why the friendliest and most adept people they'd ever had the pleasure of dealing with over the phone were losing their jobs?  I mean, if you can't expect a company with such a family-oriented face and an internal commitment to be a "great place to work" to mirror this in their business practices, then who will?  In the months after the announcement I really expected the company to change it's motto to "Come See the Strong-Arm Side of Sears".         
  • The corporate weasels also made a case that this was the best solution in the long run.  But was it just the best solution for the company? Was the fate of the people that helped propel it to dizzying heights of profit considered for even a moment?  Downsizing set the trend in the Early Nineties but the two Sears examples show the difference between questionable necessity (having to close down the Halifax warehouse) versus the rank odor of greed (the closure of the call center).  After all, it wasn't as if the company could throw it's books open, point to record losses and claim that cutbacks were needed to financially stay afloat.  A mere month before closure was announced, Sears announced it's 11'th consecutive quarter of record revenues and earnings.  
  • Our esteemed Econimic Minister at the time Gordon, Balser, claimed that we should have felt privileged to have had Sears grow prosperous off the backs of Maritime labor for as long as it did.  I wonder if he had a hard time sleeping at all after trying to persuade the general public and the people downsized that we were lucky to have had the benefit of 800 "seasonal jobs" for eight years.  I'll tell ya right now, if this dude had come into our call center and tried to convince people that their jobs were just "seasonal" he wouldn't have gotten out alive. 
  • Job loss is sometimes so prevalent that the sheer number of people effected starts to sound abstract and intangible.  But there were lives that were impacted.  Do companies truly believe that the extinction of nearly a thousand part-time jobs (including a scant handful of full-time jobs) won't have an impact on a local economy that's already economically depressed?  Do they honestly believe that it won't have an effect on divorce rates, substance abuse, chronic depression, crime, suicide and other societal ills?  
Sears still needed people to man those phones after December 31'st, 2000.  Why not reward eight years of dedicated service on the part of Maritimers who undoubtedly contributed to the resuscitation of a company that was on the downswing in the early Nineties?  Why not re-train most of them to answer internet inquiries?  While the sale of the retail space might be considered one solution, it was cheap, maximized the company's overhead and left a lot of earnest, hard working people feeling like washed up failures.           
     My anger over this just wouldn't subside.  I sent a pleading letter to my MP at the time but got no response back.  It seemed nobody cared.

Months wore on and the mood in the center became more and more oppressive.  By the end of the summer the place had become a karmic minefield.  In retrospect I probably should have tried to stick it out, taken the laughably small severance package and perhaps gone back to school to try and generate some biddable skills for myself.  Unfortunately I just couldn't preside over the work environment equivalent of watching a once-vibrant family member waste away in a coma, so I eventually jumped ship to the next call center that would take me.

But before I left I came across an old "Rudy The Rumor Buster" sheet and decided to do my own custom parody with it.  This is what I came up with and stuck back up on the bulletin board:




Sunday, September 12, 2010

"Yeah, I got yer 'Softer Side' Right HERE, pal!" - Part VIII - Intuition

Guten tag, Mein Herren!

Well, even at my admittedly low level, everything seemed hunky-dory in my role as Coach for Sears Canada Catalog in the late Nineties.  Even when new call centers like CIBC and Staples were starting to spring up and some of our staff were lured away by the promise of nutty things like mo' money and affordable benefits.  Pfffft!  Pretty fickle, huh?

But the majority remained, loyal to the company that had given them an opportunity back during the lean years of recession when it seemed as if there were no jobs in Nova Scotia at all.

Renewed rumors began to circulate for the first time since the Sears warehouse and distribution channel in Halifax closed down in 1992.  The now decrepit building housing us was up for sale and speculation began to fly about the fate of the call center.

We were assured by the powers that be that our site was still doing gangbusters and, as such, our futures were secure.  In their defense, there was a lot of evidence to back this up.   In 1999 the three Sears Catalog call centers accounted for 25% of all company profits with our very own Atlantic site generated $860, 385,977 all by it's lonesome.  Sweet jezum crow, that's a lotta pound cakes, valances and dickies!

Despite the fact that our staff saw little personal compensation despite the gross profits they generated for Sears, they were still selfless with their own meager earnings.  Our employees donated generously to local charities.  Personally I was very proud to be affiliated with an operation that raised almost $10,000 between the end of 1999 and the first quarter of 2000 just from staff efforts alone.   The Special Olympics, Metro Food Bank, Kid's Help Phone, Coverdale Women's Shelters, Callow Wheelchair Buses, Salvation Army, Children's Wish Foundation, Christmas Daddies, Phoenix Youth Programs, and the Canadian Red Cross all benefited from having our call center in Halifax.   

The scuttlebutt continued to the point that it began to negatively impact employee morale.  When spirits were at their lowest during the Fall of 1999, the site managers at the call center decided in their infinite wisdom to create "Rudy the Rumor Buster", an ombudsman type arrangement whereby you could anonymously submit a rumor that you'd overheard on a official form to a suggestion box.

For those brave enough to fill the slot with one of these things (the box was nailed to the wall a mere eight feet away from the HR department) the site managers (who from here on in I'll refer to as "Mutt" and "Jeff") would retrieve it, rub their heads together, and then puzzle out the most effective way to BLATANTLY LIE TO OUR FACES THAT ALL THE RUMORS WERE FALSE.

Don't believe me?  Think this rant is the fever dream of a paranoid delusional lunatic?  Well, here's my proof:

That's right, folks.  Drink it in!  I'm tellin' you, man, if you need any more proof that truth is stranger than fiction, there it is in black and white starin' you right in the mush.

Through this Machiavellian device staff were blatantly misled by management as they read the replies that were posted.  It's partly because of this that many people passed up job opportunities; convinced that their positions at Sears were secure, at least for the foreseeable future.

I think it goes without saying that every single rumor I ever saw posted up on that board eventually came true.  The eventual purchase of the space by the Sobey's group, the Annex plans with Halifax Shopping Center, the complete lack of the company's effort to find us a new home in Halifax...everything. 

Strap yourself in, Kiddies.  From here on in we're in for a bumpy ride!  

Next time on "You Can't Get There From Here":
  • A surprise announcement looks face value
  • I provide my own subversive answer to that lying f#@$% Rudy.
  • For the first time ever I gag on the company Kool-Aid and vow never be a corporate mouthpiece ever again.
  • Angry letters abound!
  • The official story: Death By Interwebs!   
Thanks for reading, folks.

EPIC:  Promise me you'll watch this, Loyal Readers!   Unlike "America's Next Top Mannequin" this is actually good for your brain...



Friday, September 10, 2010

Officially in Mouring

Hello, Constant Reader.

Every kid in school (usually in the form of a creatively bankrupt essay topic) gets asked at some point in time what his or her favorite season is.  Invariably, I always picked summer.  Maybe because I never liked being cold, which I think had a lot to do with nearly freezing to death on a parade float when I was in Cub Scouts.

It was during the Sydney Christmas Parade back in 1978 when it actually used to snow.  And be cold.  At the risk of sounding like I've got a case of the "Matlock's", back in my day we had winter storms.  Lot's of 'em.  And how did we safeguard ourselves during these winter squalls?  Why, we had a parade and sent our children out into it apparently to appease Njorl, the Arctic God of Frostbite!  And we liked it that way!

Actually no, no we didn't.  I sure as hell didn't want to go out there and wave like an idiot just for the sake of a baker's dozen people who were obviously too stupid to stay inside during a blizzard.  But my dad was one of the scout leaders so I kinda got drafted for the event.  So me and six or so other mates were sent out on an odyssey of misery and suffering.  An hour or so into it, we began to made peace with our respective gods whether it be Jesus, Vishnu or Crom.  The general consensus was that if the Antarctic-level wind chill didn't kill us, the exhaust from the Plymouth Trail Duster pickup truck that was hauling this pint-sized "Death on the Ice" recreation would.

The "float" itself was nothing but a flatbed cart wide enough to put a coupla quad runners on it.  It was done up sorta like a camping/woodland scene with a few "Chuck Brown"- style trees, a fake plastic "campfire" that lit up but helpfully dispensed no heat whatsoever and a lean-to which looked like it was built by Mr. Magoo.  Half the time there weren't even any visible kids on the float since all of us were crammed into the shelter like pint-sized university students shoe-horned into a phone booth.

Every once in awhile the procession would stop so that the scout leaders could root us out of the shelter with a rake.

"I'm cold!" one wailed.

"Why, Baby Jesus, WHY?" another lamented.  

"I can't feel my hands and feet!" I screamed.

"Just wiggle your fingers and toes and they'll warm up," muttered one of the scout leaders.

Y'know it's a pretty crushing moment in a kid's life when he or she realizes that some adults will lie right to your face and in doing so clearly indicate that they're more concerned about the proper representation of a crappy parade float versus the lives of eight innocent children.

So, yeah, I survived this debacle (barely) but it left me hypersensitive to the cold.  I've just resigned myself that between October and April (sometimes September to May on a bad year) I'm going to feel as if I'm dying of hypothermia 24-7.  I doesn't help that I have the circulation of a eighty-year-old stroke victim.  I could be wearing woolen fleece mittens with solar panels attached to them and my hands would still feel like two junks of ice.

Beyond the obvious perks of summer (meals on patios, trips to the beach, having feeling in your lower extremities) if someone were to ask me right now what my favorite season is, I'd actually say spring.  Why you ask?  Because spring guarantees good things are ahead.  It's the season of hope and promise.

I've never understood the mentality of people who think Fall is their favorite season.  Beyond the aesthetic value of looking at colored leaves (?), really, what else is there?  Cripes, if you want color, just take a hit of acid and stare at a "Yellow Submarine" poster all day long.

Beyond the presence of Halloween (still my fav holiday of the year next to "Talk Like a Pirate Day"...Y'arrrr) Fall depresses the crap out of me.  It's kinda like when you start to notice that your Aunt Bea is getting dotty 'cuz she gave you a set of prayer beads for your forty-third birthday.  You know it's only a matter of time before you go into her fridge and see cartons of milk stacked up like cordwood.

Whoa, sorry, that was too grim, wasn't it?  Okay, I got another one.  It's kinda like when your per hamster Mr. Wigglesworth stops eating and the vet tells you he has hamster cancer and...whoops!    That's worse, isn't it?  Yeah, I thought so...

Anyway, bottom line is, Fall is some grim shit.  Everything friggin' dies and, frankly, I'm tired of presiding over the inevitable every year in protracted fashion.

Also, think about all the depressing stuff that happened in September:  the dread of school starting as a kid, 9-11, the invasion of Poland, the premiere of Scary Spice's reality show...

We won't even talk about the people that like winter the most.  Sick f#@$%.  Seriously, seek help before the sane people lock you up.

The biggest issue issue IMHO is that regardless of how  great a summer we had weather wise and how much fun we tried to pack into a few long weekends, we still feel ripped off.  The reason for this is: we are getting ripped off.  If people think that one week off in the third week of July represents a summer well spent than you've been properly deluded to the point that vacation-stingy companies want you to be.

Take me for example.  I've been liberated from the traditional 9-5:30 gig since April and this summer has still flown by like the average three-day weekend.  The only difference this year is that I packed about ten years of what once passed for summer into six awesome months.

But I still want more and kick myself for not taking advantage of it during the first few months.  After all, the circumstance I find myself in will likely never occur again in my entire adult life.  Unless I can puzzle out some way to become independently wealthy in the next six months, likely I'll soon find myself in yet another gig offering even less available vacation than I had last time.

I remember in July my infinitely wiser half said to me: "Look, I know you're working hard on your writing and job search stuff, but c'mon!  Live a little!    Enjoy some of this beautiful summer before it passes you by.  Don't have September roll around and you haven't taken advantage of all this beautiful weather."

Unbelievable.  She was right.  I currently had no boss and no binding contract demanding that I sit in a seat for eight and half hours a day underground, with my unused mole eyes slowly atrophying.   But I was still ensconced on my patio writing six to eight hours everyday.  Why was I still being so mindlessly self-driven?

It's because I'd been brainwashed.  We've all been told since day one that a minimum forty-three hour work week is normal and that two weeks of vacation time is plenty enough for anyone.  Who gives a crap how many unique opportunities we miss because of this, it's just the way things are, okay?  Stop asking questions!

And that's what I'm on about here.  August 31'st, 2010 only came by once.  Unlike Spring, it'll never come by again.  Do you remember how you spent that day?  I do.

I finally took my wife's advice.  I went to the beach by myself once but didn't dig it since the water was nigh-Arcticlike and I'm still not one to bake in the sun for hours.  But someone I know suggested I check out some lakes close to where I live I was all over that like Snooki on a guido juicehead.

During the recent heatwave we experienced between August 30'th and September 3'rd, I spent a few hours every day lakeside writing my blog entries olde-skool style with pad and paper.  I had a blast alternately lounging in the shade and sun and taking a quick dip when it got too hot.

Needless to say it was a slice of heaven.  Anyone who's still wondering what human beings are supposed to be doing with the lion's share of their time spent on this rock flying through space should take note.

I'm reminded of my buddy Mike's patented "Thatched Hut Theory".  He believes that all people truly need to be happy in life is a nice little thatched hut on a beach, some shitty twenty-hour-a-week menial job designed to keep you in food and other necessities, the capability to get drunk periodically and the freedom to spend each night sitting around a campfire hanging with your homies.

Notwithstanding the fact that he couldn't answer how my X-Box 360 fit into his little scenario, I have to admit that, the older I get, the more this kinda makes sense to me. 

Like you, Tireless Reader, I didn't get a vote in this whole "let's all be cogs in the wheel of big business-style free enterprise so that they own you lock, stock and barrel" but I've started an experiment to see how far I can scrawl away from it before I get lassoed back into place.  I don't fancy my long-term chances, but at least I'm gonna try.

By the way, I'm writing this now by the lake.  Literally the day after Hurricane Earl blew through, the temperature dipped fourteen degrees, the sun is suddenly taken by stage fright and the water is colder than a barrel of November rainwater.

F#@$%^% Fall.    


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Yeah, I got yer 'Softer Side' Right HERE, pal!" - Part VII - Communication

Good day to you, My Lovelies.

After reviewing a l'il sampler of the emails I sent out to staff and fellow managers I've managed to group them into the following categories.  Before you proceed you need to know two basic things: we were Team One and our lame-ass name was "The Flock" and that there was an ongoing contest for cleanliness called the "Golden Feather Duster" award.  I'm serious, you can't make this shit up.

Unless otherwise noted, these emails were sent to every TSA on our team email list, anywhere from 30 to over 100 people at a time...


Dated 12/15/99  Subject: Only ten day 'til Christmas?  Whoa. 

"Yes, you heard me right, only ten more days 'til the KING OF THE ELVES pays a visit to all you good little doobies.  No, I'm not talking about Elvis (or is that Elfvis?), I'm talkin' 'bout da man!  'The Kringle', y'know...Santa! 

Well, the 'Clausinator' should be particularly generous to you folks this year since you've all been sooooo good.  No, I'm serious, here are the facts: (insert boring stats here)  So, from all your ever-lovin' Coaches on Team One, we wish you a joyful Christmas and a looter-free New Year.

P.S. You can use the Christmas card we gave you to play the '100 Dave's of Christmas' Contest.  Look at the signatures on the card: only one of them I signed 'David' instead of 'Dave'.  Bring this card to a Coach for a special treat!

P.P.S. Don't get too excited about the prize, it ain't like a Ford Windstar or anything."

(2) Cleanliness is... :

Dated 07/17/00.  Subject: to Godliness. 

"Hello fellow 'Flockerites'!  How are you?  Good?  Good.

Lissen, this is just a semi-friendly (quasi-hostile?) reminder to make sure your stations are in order before y'all run screaming across the parking lot.  Just take five minutes before you hit 'make busy' to separate your soft and hard cover catalogs, put your forms in order, and wipe the donair sauce off the keyboard (okay, I just threw in that last one to make sure y'all were paying attention).

Failure to comply will result in the offending parties being tied to a call center chair with the back and arm padding removed while being forced to listen to every CD in the Kid Rock library until you beg to be put out of your misery.  Trust me, it won't take long for you to crack.  That is all."

Dated 10/21/99  Subject: Our pretty catalog library...

"One of the reasons why Team One secured this 'Bronze Downy Award' for a second consecutive year is our comprehensive and well-organized catalog rack!  Like a good library, if you need information, its resources are always at your fingertips.

But unlike a library, YOU GOTTA PUT BACK WHAT YOU TAKE and back in the right place.

Failure to do so will result in offenders being restrained and then forced to listen repeatedly to Christina Aguilera's 'Genie In A Bottle' until they black out of loose control of their motor shills, whichever comes first.  Thank you and have a nice weekend." 


Dared 04/25/99  Subject: Order from chaos.

"Hey, folks.  This is just a brief nag, er, reminder, to tidy your station just before y'all run screaming across the parking lot.

Failure to take these necessary steps will result in the offender being restrained and then forced to watch 'Savage Garden' videos  'Clockwork Orange'-style until they lose control of their bodily functions.  Thank you and take care."


Dated 02/23/99   Subject: Semi-idle threats.

"I must say, for the most part, the members of 'Da Flock' have been quite good about keeping your little nests clean for the 'Platinum Plumage Cleaner' award.  Unfortunately there have been a few isolated 'dirty birds' that have 'flown the coop' before cleaning their stations.  We, your 'mother hens' ask that you take the time during you last few calls to do some 'preening'.  This will hopefully ensure that our chances for the award won't 'fly south' and we will be 'crowing' the good fortunes of our Team come award time.  Thank you for your support.

(The proceeding message was the grand prize entry in the 'Atlantic Call Center Most Lame Bird Puns in an Email" award for 1999.  The winner was rewarded a solid gold imitation feather duster, a handful of scratch and a kick in the head)"

Dated 01/26/99  Subject:  Points of Interest 

"The spot check people for this 'Golden Feather' thingie have been all over our section lately like white on rice.  Overall it's been a good effort by the team to keep their stations neat, except for a few BAD PEOPLE.  If you lose this 'Brass Chicken' cleaning deal 'cuz of a few BAD PEOPLE, I'm not gonna be impressed.  Everyone's continued co-operation on this is greatly appreciated.  We are watching the BAD PEOPLE.  We are giving you one last chance to reform.  If you force our hand we will make you wear a ski-do suit made entirely of 'Milk Bones' and throw you into a pack of rabid wolverines." 

Dated 07/04/99  Subject:  What else? 

"I fixed up our catalog bin again.  Please return any expired books you might have and re-unite them with their mates.  If you take a catalog, put it back where you found it.  Older catalogs are stored down below.  Do not cram coverless catalogs in wherever you see a space.

Anyone who does not adhere to the above directive will be shot.  Survivors will be shot again.

Thank you, good night and always remember to 'Live La Vida Loca'."

Dated 03/27/00  Subject: Cleanup in section "MM" 

"Okay, who lost their lunch while sitting in the end seat in the 'MM' section?  It was gross, there were bits or orange, crackers and what looked like fragments of 'Cheesies' all over the keyboard and monitor!  Now we gotta go and call 'Sears carpet Cleaning'.  Uuuuugghh.

Seriously, folks, would the person who left a paper bag lunch in this seat on Monday come to the Coaches desk to claim it?  I figger you only gots about forty-eight hours before the still-intact cheese and cracker pack goes missing."

(3) Ain't Too Proud To Beg:

Dated 03/27/00.  Subject:  Bonus four hour shift?  And I don't hafta take calls? 

"Hey, folks, just a friendly reminder not to miss the new 'Customer Contact' workshop.  Remember, attendance is not an option!  This ain't such a bad thing, however, 'cuz this is a bonus four-hour shift and it's gonna be a blast!

We'll have videos, skits from the trainers, perception exercises and all kinds of cool stuff.

So, in the words of Mr. T...'Don't be a fool, sucka!  Go to the workshop!  I pity da fool that don't!  Go that is! To the workshop!  Don't do drugs!'"


Dated 02/11/00.  Subject: Quality Time. 

"Are you stressed?  Anxious?  Looking for an unexpected windfall of 'quality time'?  Then boy do we have an offer for you!  We're looking for a few hearty TSA's to make the ultimate sacrifice and cut their shifts.  Here's the situation (insert boring scheduling info).

Think about the potential in an obligation-free day off!  You could go to the park, eat breakfast at McDonalds or read a good magazine for free at Chapters!  The sky's the limit!"


Dated 11/23/99  Subject: The usual story. 

(Sung to the tune of 'Let It Snow')
"Ooooooh, the weather outside is mild,
But at Sears, the calls are wild!
It's backed up again, you know.
Please don't go, please don't go, PLEASE DON'T GO!

Well. folks, another week, another pickle of a fix we're in.  We really need a few good folks to help us out for our expected call volume from Sunday November 28'th to Saturday December 4'th.  Here are the times:  (boring list of dates)

Any kind of help during these times would be appreciated (extensions, extra shifts, donated oxygen masks)."


 Dated: 11/26/99  Subject: Like a broken record... 

"Seriously.  I mean it.  No foolin'.  I ain't kiddin' now.  We are desperate.  No, no, no...I mean REALLY desperate.  WE NEED YOUR HELP!!!  Please don't make us're're gonna make us beg, aren't you?  Well...well alright.  Here we go.  We're begging you now.  Watch us beg.  A-beggin'- we-will-go, baby!

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE SIGN UP FOR AN EXTRA SHIFT!!!!!  Here are the times.  There are plenty.  If you have one little shred of compassion, one tiny iota of pity, please sign up for an extra shift:  (boring list of available shifts)

For the love of all that's good and holy, please, please, please try and help us.  Sweet mercy, just consider it?  Please?"


Dated 12/03/99  Subject: Three guesses. 

(sung to the tune of 'Jingle Bells')
"Alarms and bells, tote board spells:
Ten million calls backed up!
Need more staff, please don't laugh,
The country just hung up!"

We need you good folks to continue your excellent efforts volunteering for extra shifts into the week of December 5'th to the 11'th.  Here are the times:

Dec 5'th: Short 58 staff. 
Dec 6'th: Short 148 bodies.
Dec 7'th: Require additional 110 elves.
Dec 8'th: Need 93 more l'il helpers.
Dec 9'th:  81 people required
Dec 10'th: Missing 84 good little tin soldiers. 
Dec 11'th We're short's (which, we all now, stands for 'Those Santa Assistants')"

(4)  "Here today,":

(Sent to my fellow Coaches) Dated 02/11/00.  Subject: 'That person does not work here nor have they ever.'

"Well, in true 'Orwellian' fashion I have removed any visible trace of ____ _______'s existence and placed it all in the files deep in the 'Ministry of Truth' (I.E. the left-hand side desk drawer).

Except for this e-mail (which you are not reading) and a few trinkets (which aren't really there anyway) there is absolutely no proof that the person I am not talking about ever didn't exist.  We must now collectively decide what not to do about this evidence that isn't real to begin with.

Thank you for listening.  Signed, Little Brother."

(5)  "I'm just trying to help..."

Dated 07/04/99  Subject: Stealing Team Two's Ideas 

(sent to my fellow Coaches) "Team Two keeps a well organized binder containing inserts for the release of every new catalog.  We, on the other hand, throw all of these in a folder in the roller drawer and hope to God we can find what we need when we go to look for it.

Well, no more!  We have a new binder I, BORROWED from the warehouse.  I threw out all the boring 'Y2K Corporate Emergency Contingency Plan' info I found in there and put a 'Catalog Inserts' note along the spine.  That way, all the crap they include in the shrink wrap can be neatly filed away, to be scattered and lost across the call center in a slower, more protracted and organized fashion."


Dated: 05/10/00.  Subject: The Gift to Gab.

"TALK TIME.  'ARRRRRRRRRGHH!'  The mere mention of this dreadful stat sends shivers down the spine of even the most seasoned TSA.  Team Seven has found a revolutionary new way to curtain their 'gab factor':  watch the personal talk.

It's okay to be friendly.  It's okay to share experiences.  But if you customer hangs up knowing any of the following information about you, you may have broken the 'TMI' rule:
  1.   "You want these clothes for you hospital stay, Mrs. Brainsample?  Let me tell you, I just got out of the hospital myself last week.  I got my gall bladder out.  Too bad you can't see the scar; it's scabbing over nicely..."
  2. "So these shirts are for your son's birthday?  I wish I could send something to my son but he's in Rhodesia right now raising lemmings for profit and sport."
  3. "You think the weather's bad where you're at?  My dear, I'm looking out the window now and I've seen three cows and one SLH truck fly by..." 
Also keep in mind that the talkative thing goes both ways.  Most likely it's your CUSTOMER talking about how her sister is making a fortune selling parsnips over the internet, how she thinks 'Tae-Bo' is SO 1999 and 'Pilates' is now THE new-wave exercise 'cuz Oprah said so, or how Willow could POSSIBLY have picked that flaky Sarah McLachlan wannabe chick instead of Seth Green on 'Buffy'. 

In a case like that, be polite and friendly and say something like: 'Well, it was nice talking to you Mr. Tapedispenser but it's gotten rather busy and I have to take another call now.'  Y'know, somethin' nice."

Dated 03/23/00.  Subject: Orders made easy.

"If you guys wanna place an order for yourselves please use one of the following two methods: (1) Call it in from home.  Remember, the classics never die.  (2) Write it up on your own time and give it to a neighbor or a Coach to key in.

Hopefully this will standardize the process and cut down on the 'Hey-Look-At-Me-I'm-Wandering-Aimlessly-Around-Trying-To-Find-Someone-To-Order-This-Windsuit-For-Me-But-Nobody-Is-Around'-itis.  Which can sometimes be misdiagnosed as 'Hey Why Are You Two Sitting On Not Ready When There's Fifty Customer In the Queue?'-itis.

Any questions?  See A Coach.  Which, co-incidentally is the title of Part II of my autobiography and sequel to the best-selling 'So, I Got This Lady On The Line...'.  You can find it in better bookstores everywhere this summer."


Dated 10/18/99  Subject: "Carpet Cleaning" 

"Just wanted to let you all know , if a customer calls up asking for a number for carpet cleaning, be sure to give them the number in your 'Quick Reference Guide' and NO OTHERS.  No others are accurate.

In fact, one of the old numbers we were using now belongs to the good folks at 'Today's Office Supplies'.  I guess they didn't appreciate hoards of Sears customers calling up to get an estimate to Scotchguard their ottoman."


Dated 01/26/99  Subject: Points of Interest 

"We've caught quite a few of the new employee 'Quick Reference Guides' roaming the aisles.  Already they're starting to pack up and attack passer-by's for food and attention.  Please, please prevent this tragedy of unloved, unowned QRG's with a revolutionary new medical procedure.  Just bring your QRG into our 'Coaches Clinic' and we'll implant the l'il fella with a new high-tech 'name page'.  That way if you and your beloved QRG get separated we'll know who to call if it's picked up.  Hopefully this will cut down on the sad number if orphaned 'guides without guidance' that are destined to be put to sleep (read chucked in the bin).  Please, oh please, won't you do your little part to help?"


Dated 05/08/99  Subject: News in breef. 

"Hey folks.  Ever get a call from a guy calling himself 'Mike' who talks incessantly about bras and sounds like he's got twenty or thirty gummi bears in his mouth?  In you ever get him again, call one of us Coach-type people and we'll transfer the little freak over to security.  Just ask and ye shall receive deliverance from yon weirdo."

Dated 07/04/99    Subject: Memory Meltdown 

"Remember a little while back when a bunch of people's e-mail nearly exploded because no-one knew how to delete anything?  Well, after we got that all rectified, we have a new problemo.

Y'see all of us also has something called a note-log.  It's where old email (sent and received) goes to retire, kinda like a cyberspace Palm Beach.  Trouble is, the little buggers eat up memory like Oprah eats hams."

(6) The Enforcer:

Dated 10/18/99.  Subject: Touche Pas 

"Yello.  Just want to let y'all know, if you sit at a workstation with one of the new computers DON'T CHANGE ANY OF THE SETTINGS!  I've selected optimal screen savers and other stuff so if any screen shows different, I'm gonna hafta put the smack down on the little jabroni who did it.

Ahem.  In other news, the new chairs have a 'rocking' feature if you pull out one of the bars.  I recommend you don't use it , but if you do, FOR THE LOVE OF THE ALMIGHTY, make sure you push the bar back in so the seats and back lock.  I don't want anybody to be doin' no 'Cirque du Soleil' action when they go to sit down.  Alright?  Alright."   


Dated: 09/19/99         Subject: "Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr...." 

"Arrrr, t'was a cold one this mornin', eh, Ned?"
"Yes, that it was, lad.  So cold in fact that I had to take my sou'wester to work."
"You don't day, Ned. Where ye be workin' now since they closed down the fishery?'
"The Sears Call Center, Billy.  'Tis a fine place.  The only thing is you gotta make sure to store yer gear down in the hold.  The skipper don't take too kindly to a mate leavin' his slicker thrown around.  They run a tight ship they do."
"Do tell, Ned..."
"Yes, my son.  The other day they made some poor swab walk the plank for usin' the 'S' word."
"The 'S' word?  Surely ye don't mean..."
"Yes, Billy...STAPLES.  The poor bugger never knew what hit 'em."

The moral of this fish story: the weather's gettin' nippy and heavy coats will soon be surfacing.  Make sure they don't come ashore upstairs.  Keep 'em in the coat-room unless ye wants to be keel-hauled."    


Dated 04/11/99  Subject: Fashion Police

(sent to a fellow Coach) "Hey, Chico. _____ and ______ claim that there are several dress code offenders in the call center tonight. It would seem that these people are under the mistaken impression that we collect money for 'Track Suit Day' and not 'Jean's Day'.  If your headache gets worse and you want to channel your rage you may want to hunt down and destroy these scum.  P.S. if you leave blood on the carpets and be a dear and at least TRY to clean it up."

(7) I Clearly Have No Creative Outlet:

Dated 08/06/99  Subject: Collectors Item 

(sent to my fellow Coaches)  "Hey, folks! ___ ______ was auctioning off three mint copies of 'Catalog 57' (issue one!) so I bought one.  It cost us all of our 'Ideas @ Work' money but I think it was worth the investment.  You'll find it in the right-side filing drawer, sealed up in a mylar crystal polybag and mounted on an acid-free diamond-cut backing board.

P.S. I called an appraiser friend of mine and he assures me that even though I paid $225.00 for it, it's worth at least three times that on the internet." 


Dated 09/19/99    Subject: Revealing a mystery... 

(written to one of our staff who'd left work in a rush the previous night)
"Reading fleetly 'tween the calls
Phone and clock upon the walls
Scream in your ear 'You must take flight!'
Alight in carriage, bold and bright.

Epiphany strike, a thought declare:
'I left my book and notes back there!'
Dawn a class comes, naught to show.
'I'll skip the damn'd thing, I WILL NOT GO!

So knowledge gain'd and lesson learn'd
Accoutrement all I must confirm
Before the mad dash to the brink

Sorry, I couldn't resist.   You'll find your Edgar Allan Poe book and binder at the Coaches desk.

P.S. Make sure you read 'The Tell-Tale Heart'.  Good stuff."

Dated 01/03/00  Subject: Flock's News 

"And so it begins.  I know we're all still writing '1999' on our credit applications, but AFTER that, we'll come to the realization that IT'S THE YEAR 2000, BABY!  I don't know about y'all but when I was back in school and we had to write about the year 2000 I had us all wearing gold lamé jumpsuits and coming to work in hover-cars.  As it turn out, I'm still wearing the same crappy clothes and driving a Toyota Tercel.  What a letdown."


Dated: 10/03/99  Subject: T-Shirt 

(sent to my fellow Coaches) "One of ________'s newly hatched goslings didn't get a 'Wish Book' t-shirt.  That's why a shirt is sitting in the right hand drawer by the black book.  If Pamela shows up asking for her t-shirt, giver her that one.

Signed...The Team One Ministry for the Fair Distribution of Seasonal Self-Promotional Clothing.

P.S. If Pamela ANDERSON does come looking for a t-shirt, tell her I was awarded said article of clothing legally by our justice system and she should be able to by a new one from all the alimony I'm sending."

Dated 10/30/99  Subject: That time again... 

It's that time of year when we begin to think about Christmas, which, in turn conjures up thoughts of our ANNUAL CHARITY DRIVE.  Last year our efforts were incredibly sucessful.  This year we hope to surpass our achievement with the help of the following theme:

'Y2K: Party or Panic?'

Starting next week, 'The Flock' will begin to assemble two gift baskets, all centered around the 'Event of the Century'.  For the 'Party' basket (great for the fun-lovers in our midst) we're asking for items that will help the winner have the best New Years celebration ever!  Please let good taste and common sense prevail in your donations.  In other words, nothing that costs under a dollar at 'A Buck or Two', no free gifts from 'Sister Sarah's' ( and no alchohol content (we hafta make at least a TOKEN effort to protect our semi-innocent underage TSA's here!)

The second basket will be 'Panic' themed and will be filled with the kinda stuff to make the end of the world more tolerable.  For this basket think 'preparation and relaxation', i.e. candles, non-perishable food items, preserves, a good book, first aid stuff, bath oils, home barricade kit, sawed-off shotgun, riot gear...okay, I'm getting carried away now, but you know what I mean."

(8) Ennui:

Dated 01/17/99  Subject: Tote that barge, lift that bale!

(sent to my fellow Coaches) "I came in at 7 am on Sunday and no-one was here.  Then _____ ____ showed up a half-hour later.  We played checkers until 10:30 am when we nearly trampled to death by a stampede of two other TSA's.

The point of all this is that I cleaned out all the stations from KK to NN.  I smell a spot check a-brewin'!  Let me tellya, I found some interesting stuff in my travels: three pens obviously stolen from our desk drawer, a 'Chocolate Lip Smacker' and something that resembled a piece of a donair.  Everything (except the brown thing) is neatly stored away in the desk drawer.

P.S. I hear Team Five WIPED DOWN THE LEGS OF THEIR CHAIRS!  Perhaps if someone is feeling ambitious we could, BORROW this idea.  Let it be known, if we don't win this 'Golden Shop-Vac' award I'm gonna be upset!   Lot's o' luv."

(9) Shameless Self-Promotion:

Dated 02/02/00  Subject: I RULE! 

(sent to my fellow Coaches) "Well, I managed to do two reviews, fix _________'s availability, remind ____ and _____ about their discount cards, answer a slew of hands, take a transfer call, return _____'s money and make a pound cake from scratch all at the same time!

Someone wanna chip in and get me a Sears staff shirt with a big red 'S' on it?  Heh, heh.

And no, ______, the 'S' doesn't stand for what you think it stands for."

(10) Sionara:

Dated 08/24/00  Subject: Correction... 

In my prior note I mentioned that my last day at Sears would be August 8'th.  This was written before my funding was declined for my special project.  I was planning to convert the photocopy machine by the Chebucto Room into a fully functional Time Machine.  this would have allowed me to retroactively avoid working for the better part of August.

However, despite my best efforts, the likelihood of transforming our old Xerox workhorse into a device used to alter space ant chronology has proven to be a bit trickier than originally surmised.  I guess I watched too many episodes of 'MacGyver' in the 80's.

So, my last day wil be, in actuality, Monday August 28'th.  Sorry for the confusion.

P.S. If any of you find Team Two's 'Spring and Summer' booklet can you please turn it in.  _____  _____ has been unable to sleep lately and seems increasingly prone to fits of random violence."


Even when threatening my staff to clean up after themselves I sound happy in these emails, don't I?  Don't I sound like someone who likes his job?  Someone who actually digs coming to work and is clearly committed to stay with the company for the long haul?

So, you're probably asking yourself, what's with this last note telling people that I'm leaving?

In the last few parts of this series you'll see that I wasn't exactly given a choice.  Little did I know that despite being unquestionably loyal to Sears and contrary to what we were being told to our faces, the coldest sort of betrayal was looming that would take this naive and unquestioning corporate puppet and turn him into the forever wary and disillusioned contrarian who's typing this right now.

Check back soon for the dramatic and sad conclusion...


FAIL:  To paraphrase Mike Myers as Dieter from Sprockets:  "This video is more boring then being ALIVE!"