Tag Archives: despair

Back (Somewhat) From The Wilderness

We’re in the process of finding a worthy successor to Comcast for our home internet service, so I’ve pretty much been stuck on my phone when I’ve been online this past while, and I’m not going to attempt to write anything sizable on tiny screen without physical keys. A lot has happened since I last posted something, and even as I’m typing these words, I’m trying to sort it all out in my head, so that I don’t tell a rambling, disjointed anecdote (not that that has stopped me before!). For the handful of you that have been checking back daily to see if I’ve actually written anything: thank you. I’m hoping that, by the end of today’s column, you will have reason to look forward to the coming months. Well, that is, if I can get the interwebz at home again. As much fun as it is trying to write at Cafe Milano in Berkeley, I believe that I’ll most likely want to mosey on home when my days are done, and the fact is that there are sometimes bloodsports involved in gaining access to an outlet (which I need because my laptop is a 4-year-old Acer, and hates being without a source of energy).

So, big news first: I am no longer working at Big Lots, which I do not believe I actually mentioned by name during my time there. It was an… interesting experience, and the tens of dollars that I made while working there enlightened me further to the plight of the working poor. What surprised me the most (viscerally, as I’d known it intellectually), was just how hard the job was, and just how little we were valued. Even as I was pushing for a promotion (because dozens of dollars are better than tens), I could almost not believe just how little they were willing to pay us. In the department where I’d been working, there was only one employee allowed to have Full Time (not me), and everyone else had to try to live off of minimum wage rates at less than thirty hours per week. Now, it wasn’t as bad as that winter I had to work for Labor Ready in Seattle, excavating frozen earth, but it was a close second. And to add insult to injury, after the good manager left (I wrote a piece about him), not a single other manager really wanted to take his place. They were pushing for me to advance to a supervisory position (a position which lay vacant long before I’d been hired- one of the sticking points of my former boss), not as way of recognizing my skill set, but as a means of avoiding physical labor, and the warehouse entirely.

So,when I got an email, out of the blue, from someone with whom I’d worked during my time at the Kenpire, informing me of an opportunity, I responded immediately. As it turns out, it couldn’t have come a moment too soon. The morning of my interview for this new job, I had another interview at Big Lots, this time with someone higher up the food chain. It was a good conversation, and perhaps if I had been dealing with him instead of the GM I was under, things may have been different. But no matter how well it went, they weren’t going to offer me more than $12/hr, and considering all that they wanted me to do, I kept my fingers crossed that the afternoon offer would be better. I have not always had the best of luck with interviews, and knew better than to throw away a pittance, if I pittance was all I’d got. It turns out that my fears were unfounded. The interview went swimmingly, and I was offered $3 more per hour than the level at which I’d set my minimum. Taking into account the fact that I no longer have to commute to San Francisco, and was also offered real benefits, I’m actually making more now than I was when I was GM of Blondie’s in San Francisco.

Of course, I’m terrified with every passing day that I will screw everything up, and come face to face with indisputable proof that I should never have quit Big Lots, but I also know that this is normal (for me) and that I do actually know how to ride upon the sword’s edge of despair, sliding along the sharpened blade in cut-resistant slippers, down to the sweet spot of my neuroses, where I am invincible. Part of it is that we’re still in that time before the restaurant is even open (it’s still under construction), and there are too many variables for me to properly calculate the outcome using my superhuman pessimistic powers. It is coming together, though.

I’d planned on giving nearly two final weeks to Big Lots, but when faced with the enormity of the task, and the time frame in which it needed to be accomplished, I cut my losses, and dedicated myself to the job which paid me twice the rate of the other (with more hours, to boot). I felt bad as I was penning my letter of resignation, especially as I could do no more than say say, “So long, and thanks for all the fish!” I’m glad I had the opportunity to see just how bad people have it, so that I can do my best to make sure that no one working for me ever feels that way again. And I’m grateful that I got so see the inner workings of a corporation that couldn’t give less than rabbit turd about its employees. I’ve spoken out against them, but now I know just how bad they are (and I’m sure I didn’t even come close to working for the worst). It isn’t done with terror, at least not overtly. They get you by whispering lies into your ear, and pretending that they’re looking out for you. And then when they finally crank the heat up, they remind you that there are people out there who somehow make even less than you, and that they’ll replace you if you get out of line.

I’m in a better place now. I’m also out of time, as I have to start getting ready for my workday. I’ll do my best to stay in touch.

Thanks again,



I’m mainly writing this for myself, because there are times when I just cannot bear to feel the overwhelming sadness any longer. I look at the long history of institutional violence in this country of mine, and I think that it is simply too much, too ingrained to ever hope to change. Our politicians have long since let us down, sold us to the multinationals who finance their campaigns. The police view everyone who dares speak up as a clear and present danger. Our military is engaged in diplomacy by drone strike, draining billions from the budget while failing to make the world a safer place. I am white man in mid-thirties, straight, and doing okay for myself. I should be the beneficiary of at least some sort of pandering, and yet even my voice is not enough to give consideration, let alone the voices of those far less fortunate than I. We have been marginalized and dehumanized, and told not to rock the boat. We are products to be bought and sold so that the ultra-rich can sleep in peace, and are kept comatose by shiny new distractions which we kill ourselves that we might have enough to buy them.

The only things which keep me going are a faith in the notion of what I believe this country might one day stand for, and the future which my son and grandchildren will otherwise be forced to endure. The system is broken. In a nation of riches, there are too many people who don’t even have enough to be considered poor. And while the folks in our nation’s capitol spend what little time they have allotted for their taxpayer-funded duties screaming about the legislation of morality, their words are undercut by a complete disregard for anyone who doesn’t live like them. It’s easy to say that all politicians are corrupt, and then do precisely nothing to change it. It’s easy to believe that if you don’t break any laws, the cops will have no reason to come calling, until, one day they do. As long as you aren’t the one oppressed, it’s easy to ignore the suffering of others; they must have done something to deserve it.

I’ve heard that from my family so many times it makes me sick. They agree that the police might be a little heavy-handed, but spout that privileged, clueless nonsense that if you don’t want to take that chance, then you better not do anything illegal. It doesn’t work that way, in the same way that corporations don’t generally change long-held policies for the benefit of their workers or consumers until they forced to do so. The Free Market will sort everything out, I’m told. Tell that to the polluted air, the warming climate, and the water we can no longer drink. Tell that to the barely-teenaged workers making dirt cheap crap that we don’t need half a world away. Tell that to the parents working several jobs just so that they don’t have to choose between a place to live or food to eat. And pray they don’t get sick. We are the property of other men.

Those who would represent us have sold us for blood money. The employers to whom we trade away the best years of our lives will only care about us as long as it doesn’t cost them anything. The moment we are no longer profitable resources is the moment when we are discarded. Local governments are funding themselves on the backs of those who can’t afford to pay, saying that they’ve lowered taxes, but then criminalized with monetary penalty the act of being poor. They ship us off to prisons which somehow got privatized; for-profit institutions that require a constant influx of new product. We are told that we don’t matter. We are told we have no worth. We are sold the lie that if we can just work hard enough, the world can be our oyster, and then criticized for laziness upon our inevitable failure.

But there is a glimmer of hope: It doesn’t matter it it’s always been, it doesn’t have to be this way. We are a species that has proved itself capable of eradicating some disease. We have put people on the moon. The moon, damn it! We have connected the entire world and found inspiration there. We have shown that we are capable of being so much more than the mere sum our genetic code and history of aggression. Before the clock runs out, before there’s nothing left to save, we need to find it in us to stand together and cry out, “No more!” It’s not about the individual. It’s not about the cliques. We are bound together by the very nature of our lives. And not just us, but all life on this planet. We’ve had our chance at infancy, and we’ve since outgrown our childhood. We’ve faced struggles in pubescence, and now the adulthood of our species is upon us.

We are kept isolated so that we can’t unite, for the power of a people demanding justice with one voice cannot be silenced, and those who would slaughter us just to keep the status quo know it. I know it seems too big. I know they seem too powerful. I know that it looks like things will never change. I didn’t add my voice when they were Occupying across America because I was too worried about the repercussions. Not that I would be arrested, or mistreated, or harmed in any way (I was born with mithril pigment in my skin), but that if I left my job to go and stand for what I felt was right, that my family would be forced to suffer for my idealism. We all have things which bind us to them and keep us from acting for the greater good. Except that when we do not stand, and do not speak, and do not defend the things we truly value, we will discover that those things which we thought we were protecting have been nothing but shackles all along.

It’s so easy to let someone else stand up to do the difficult things which must be done, but we don’t need another martyr. Let’s stand together and face down the darkness, hand in hand. No more! No more! No more!