I'll explain that right now. As most of whomever is interested enough to read knows, I'm unemployed at the time that I write this. I have been now for a few weeks. It's not from a lack of looking for more work. I've e-mailed and brought resumes and applications to plenty of places, only to be met with virtually nothing. I've yet to see an interview materialize from my efforts, but as I've been told, if I want the right job for me, I'm going to need to exercise patience.
It was just a few weeks ago that I was still at Vail's Dry Cleaning, my last job, where I was working my floor job with my partner whom I was training. Until I was called into the office on that last day. "Ray," I said to one of my bosses, "I can't believe you're telling me you don't trust me! I've been doing this job for a year and a half, and you're only telling me now that you don't trust me? Then why was I ever here to begin with?" His cohort/brainwasher/plant manager (or, mangler as I put it) Shirley stood by his side, arms akimbo, and reassured that a 'problem' was about to be erased.
"I don't want you on my lines screwing up my work, like you've been doing for the last year! You can't tell me it wasn't you making those same mistakes over and over." "There was TWO of us, Ray. I know what mistakes you're talking about. I know I made them in the beginning. I don't make those same mistakes now, and the new guy is only learning..."
"I'm stopping you right there." Well, at this point, I knew where this was all going. "I know for a fact you've been making those same mistakes because they're out there on the line right now that you were working on." I wasn't responsible for the work he's talking about that particular week. "What do you have to say about that?"
"Nothing." I crossed my arms. "Nothing? So you're admitting you made those mistakes."
"No, Ray." I looked at Shirley square in the eye, then back to him. "What I'm saying is, I know I can't win here. I know what's going on. She doesn't want me here, and now you don't either." It became clear to me in my final weeks that Shirley has been the puppeteer of her superior officers at the plant.
Five weeks beforehand, my last partner, Kim, left the job on the spot because the owners basically had her choose between her young son being home from school ill alone, and her job. Naturally she chose her son. She walked away and never came back. The following 3-4 weeks saw me managing my department by myself, with some help occasionally from others, but I was in charge of thousands of uniform garments being sorted numerically, separated by days and driver numbers. This isn't a job you can take any Joe from the street and expect them to have it down in a week. Or even two. Before Kim, her brother Darren was my partner, and he walked because of being completely and utterly under-appreciated. Darren was better at the job than I was, one of the smartest people to work in the plant. Before Darren, I worked with Craig, who wasn't cut out for the job at all, but got shafted by management with the classic layoff, telling him when the work picked up they'd have him back. That's four partners I've worked with during my 1 1/2 year tenure. Yet I'm the one who was making all the mistakes, apparently.
After Kim left, for those 3-4 weeks I was alone, I had that department humming. I explicitly asked the drivers, who deliver the rental garments after they've been assembled in order, to inform me of any mistakes, so that I might learn from them and not make them repetitiously. During that near-month, I never heard from any of them. Things were done on time, in fact most often far ahead of time. A two person job, done by myself, with efficiency. I have eyewitnesses who will attest to this.
Sometime in the middle of this period, Shirley informs me that I have to choose my vacation time. I'm brought into the office to see the calendar, to find the entire summer wiped out because it was taken by everyone else. Shirley herself took three weeks during the summer. I could take time in June or September, which was absolutely no good to me, because Alexandra is in school then, and I'm not taking vacation without my family. I tell Shirley there's no point in me taking vacation, then. "Well, around here you have to have time in to get your vacation." No joke, that's what I was told. Later, though, she reconsidered. She asked me to pick the time I would want to take. I said the last week of July, and the first week of August, and she said she'd talk to the boss. I never heard back.
Enter Mike, a tall, slender, tattooed fellow whom one might guess on first impressions is far less smart than he really is. But he is instantly likeable, and once you've conversed with him for some length of time, you realize how worldly and intelligent he really is. I have to believe that management underestimated his brainpower when they hired him, thinking perhaps they hired another puppet. Mike learned fast; perhaps not fast like Darren, but faster than I had learned, though experience and time would have to be taken to hone his skills in this department. Plus, he learned through techniques that I had developed after I had taken over that department. Had I learned via my own methods, I might have learned just as fast. I authored a booklet when Darren was there with specific instructions and pointers to keep the lines in good order, a booklet that Darren swore got him through a lot of tight spots.
Shirley has her stool pigeons in the plant, those who will watch for any movements or missteps to be reported back to her, whether they were actually wrong or not. There's a clique of hers that she has protecting her, and newer employees are to be grafted into her network or wind up being canned as soon as she felt they were a threat. All those I mentioned above that came and went were all threats in some measure. And I was looming as perhaps one of the bigger ones. Rules persistently changed, seemingly daily, and they seemed to be designed to make her workers look inferior, to build a case for the point in time that came she wanted them gone. It was part of her puppet-master scheme.
Frequently, one of Shirley's stool pigeons came into our department and broke just about every single rule Shirley ever made for managing the rentals. Taking shortcuts, disregarding guidelines, and completely blind to the standards that I had set since I took over the department. I took more pride in my work than most there will ever know. I could never be perfect at my job... but that doesn't mean that I had to stop trying to be perfect at it. Still, "G" came into my department and made an utter mess of it. She would frequently give me 'pointers' and tell me what had to be done for her standards, which I absolutely had to disregard. Of course, since I did things so radically different, and superior, to her, she ran to Shirley with a whole ton of problems she had with the way I did things, none of which ever amounted to a hill of beans. Anyway, Mike continued with the methods that I had shown him, asking me for assistance whenever he hit a roadblock, with which I always graciously helped him with and put him at ease about, because I was once where he was.
One day I came in from a mid morning break, to find Ray and Shirley with Mike on the lines. I knew something was up, so I went and stood with Mike, as I'd done before, whenever he screwed up and had a talking to, just for support. I know I'd have wanted it. As they proceeded to explain to him what was wrong with one particular line he had worked on, they turned to me, and told me that they were MY mistakes. Mike insisted it was him because it was his line they were talking about, and they insisted it was me. Incredible. Shirley and Ray tag-teamed with their finger pointing at me, saying I'd done all this stuff wrong and that we have to clean up our act, and as I proceeded to just say that it was just Mike making a few rookie mistakes like I made when I started, they insisted I was still making them!
I stood there when the area cleared, just looking into space. I got a piece of paper, after some soul searching, and wrote my letter of resignation. "To whom it concerns: This is a notice of my resignation from the company. My last day of work will be [five weeks from that date]. Sincerely..." I wanted to leave immediately. But, against that judgment, I opted to give plenty of notice to find a replacement, so that I might train them and get them used to the department for when I left. This isn't an easy job to catch onto, but, I felt I was best equipped to train someone at that point in time. No one knew it the way I did. During that five weeks, I would make my job search while I trained a new guy, I figured. This is all without a net. I didn't have a job to go to. I was leaving because, like Darren, I felt underappreciated, not to mention unjustly condemned for faulty workmanship. This was my last bid at being a nice guy before I left.
Since the boss had been away, I left the notice with Ray, who was next in charge. "What're you giving me this for?" "Because you're in command when the boss is gone, right?" And I left him with my notice. "Do you have something else to go to?" "No, I don't." This was around 10:30am. I went back to my work with Mike.
"Well Mike," I informed him, "this is it for me. I gave my notice."
"That just sucks, man. That really sucks. I don't get why they said that." Mike knew exactly where I was coming from. His remorse was deeply emoting and heartfelt.
Lunchtime came, and I headed out to MacArthur's Nurseries to get my wife some roses and some lunch. I brought it in to her, told her what transpired very quickly, then headed back to work. I went back into the plant and began to work on the lines, when I was paged to go to Shirley's room.
"What's this?" she said, holding the yellow paper I'd written my notice on.
"That's my notice."
"Well, this is you telling us when you're leaving."
"Right. I'm giving around five weeks notice."
"YOU don't tell US when your last day is. WE tell YOU when you're done. Not you."
I'm standing there, obviously with a "WTF?!" look on my face. "Well, wait a minute now...."
"No no. If Rodd (the boss) had gotten this note first, he'd have told you to leave on the spot. He wouldn't be taking any of this."
"Taking any of what? I'm supposed to give two weeks notice, by company rules, and gave five to give YOU more time and help train a new person."
"You're not gonna be training anybody."
Wow. Once again, she's twisted and contorted everything to make it something that would best serve her, and not for the good that it was intended. I'd just been doused with several gallons of Instant Bad Guy.
I leaned on the counter across from her and looked her square in the eye, something she rarely does to anyone. "So this is what you want, then. This is what you've wanted ALL along. I guess I should have known better. You wanted me gone for a long, long time, and this is your chance to have it your way." I turned, shut the door and went back to my station. For about five minutes.
"Mike come to my office." Ray summoned me this time. I took a look at my Vail's jacket hanging by my station, looked at Mike, and headed to the office. I peeked into my buddy's room, said farewell, knowing full well what was happening, and marched on. I stepped into the office, with Ray holding the yellow paper, and.... Shirley standing right beside him.
"So what's going on here? What do you think you're doing?"
"Well that's the notice I gave you this morning."
"What are you doing telling us how long you're going to be here? It's up to us how long you're here."
You see what happened here? The puppeteer was at work. Ray got the same notice at 10:30, over two hours earlier. He asked me, seemingly concerned, if I'd had something else lined up! And now...
"Ray, I'm just trying to help out before I go."
"What, you can't take being told you made mistakes?"
"I didn't make those mistakes you said that I did."
"I was there on the line! I saw the mistakes! The driver showed me!"
I stood there in silence.
"I'm not going to argue," I said. "I know it's something I can't win. The writing's on the wall."
"You're not going to be doing this for another two weeks. By law, we only need to keep you for another two weeks, because that's the law. None of this five weeks stuff. Shirley will give you stuff to do around the plant, but you're not gonna be working my lines. I'm not gonna let you fuck it all up just as you're about to leave. I don't trust you."
"Ray...I can't believe you're telling me you don't trust me! I've been doing this job for a year and a half, and you're only telling me now that you don't trust me? Then why was I ever here to begin with?"
"I don't want you on my lines screwing up my work, like you've been doing for the last year! You can't tell me it wasn't you making those same mistakes over and over."
"There was TWO of us, Ray. I know what mistakes you're talking about. I know I made them in the beginning. But I don't make those same mistakes now, and the new guy is only learning..."
"I'm stopping you right there. I know for a fact you've been making those same mistakes because they're out there on the line right now that you were working on. What do you have to say about that?"
"Nothing." I crossed my arms. "Nothing? So you're admitting you made those mistakes."
"No, Ray." I looked at Shirley square in the eye, then back to him. "What I'm saying is, I know I can't win here. I know what's going on. She doesn't want me here, and now you don't either."
"So you're going to be here for two weeks."
"Try two seconds."
I turned and slammed the door shut on the two of them and walked through the plant to gather my belongings. I got my radio and my lunch bag... and my Vail's jacket that was hanging up, as Shirely stood there watching, I threw in the garbage can. Then, I picked up the booklet I'd authored, and tore it into shreds, while Shirley watched in a panic, her stool pigeon at her side ready to take over my duties.
"What are you doing!"
"I wrote this. This was MINE. What good is it to you if all I ever did was make mistakes!" I threw it in the garbage with the jacket, shook Mike's hand and wished him well, and left.
The anvil was off my chest.
As I drove back down Mountain Road that day, to see my wife at work to inform her that her husband is out of a job, I felt a mix of an odd sense of freedom, and a feeling that I let my family down. Though I knew Janice was going to be supportive of everything I had done. But that kind of support doesn't pay the bills. And that's what worried me. But Janice actually congratulated me on leaving. So did just about everyone I told. It seemed it was the popular consensus that Vail's is a dirty, backstabbing place to work, and that a lot of people waited to see if I could go the distance. I went as long as I could.
The last time I was at my doctor's before then, I was tempted to ask to sign off on stress leave, because it had been bad at that time too. It was tough to take a lot of times, but this was just the last straw. Maybe I should have asked for some kind of exemption, in retrospect. But, here I am now.
With all due respect to those who have had to claim EI at any time in their lives, it's not a place I ever wanted to visit. But after I'd applied to business after business for work, all in vain, I realized that I may need that cushion of support. My aunt Bernice was so gracious so as to leave me money in her will, which arrived shortly before I left my job. I'd paid off all of our debts, but it left me with enough to help us get through a month or two while I continued my job search. Still, it's slow going.
I entered the Services NB desk with my wife at my side, and asked how I would go about applying for benefits. I was directed to a wall of cubicles with computers where I would fill out my online application, with a rather unexpected questionnaire. After filling out my essential information, the questions began...
"Do you feel you were forced out of your workplace?"
"Did you feel that you were abused in any way?"
"Were you discriminated against for any reason?"
What is the old Klingon proverb, "revenge is a dish best served cold"...