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…get out of The Woods.

But let’s back up. A few weeks ago Jimmy, the boyfriend of my neighbor Angela, sold me a window unit air conditioner that belonged to his recently deceased mother. I put it in my bedroom window and have been sleeping better than I have in years.

This is the third summer I’ve lived in this apartment complex. It was built in the 1950’s, presumably by workers on loan from the local chapter of the Special Olympics. On the ground floor there is a single unit that has heat and A/C, similar to what you see in hotel rooms, but older and less efficient. The bedrooms are upstairs, with no A/C, and windows that slide horizontally rather than lift up. Of course hot air rises, so the ground level unit doesn’t do jack shit for the bedrooms, and putting anything in the window requires a solid understanding of architectural physics. Essentially, I placed the window unit on the window sill, one bracket pushed up against the wall and the other against the sliding window. I slid a piece of plexiglass into the window frame to weigh down upon the unit. I then filled in the cracks with foam insulation tape and covered almost everything in duct tape for extra security. Fun times.

The first summer I lived in this complex was bad, but mostly bearable. Last summer had several days that topped 100 degrees, with nights when it was still in the 80’s until dawn. I got physically sick on numerous occasions, getting headaches, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. It was then that I hatched the plexiglass idea, and I was determined that this year things would change. And it’s been great – like I said, I’ve been sleeping like a baby and things seem wonderful. Or they did, until the other day.

I got a letter in the mail from my landlord saying that window units were not allowed. Friday morning I called up to the office with the intention of telling them how secure it was, and how I didn’t have to drill any holes or do any modifications, so therefore didn’t violate anything in the lease. Evidently none of this matters as much as how a unit looks hanging from the window. To quote the property manager, “If everyone had window units hanging out this place would look like the hood.” Nevermind the fact that it is the hood. I offered to pay a fee, but they still wouldn’t budge. I told them how last year I was physically sick from the heat, but he assured me that since there are 190 units and only two have installed air conditioners, there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to cope with the heat like everyone else. He said that one option some people choose is a portable A/C, but those typically cost around $300, still require feeding a tube out the window, and don’t cool nearly as well. When I brought up those objections, he had the audacity to suggest I should start looking for a new place. Three years as a tenant in good standing, always paying my rent on time and never causing any problems, and that was as close as he would come to a compromise. So I told him I would find a new place, but I planned on leaving the unit in the window until I move out. He said that if that was my choice, then they would send a notice and I would have seven days from then before they began the eviction process.

This long phone call ended up making me late for work, but it didn’t matter. When I got there I was still so worked up I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I told my manager what had happened and asked if I could just take the day off to calm down and look for a new place. I came home and hit up Craigslist and started searching. I ended up going to a rental office downtown and applying for a trailer in Woodfin, so in 3-5 days I should find out if I’m approved or not. Then I went by the complex I nearly moved into before this one to see if they had any open apartments. There was a note on the door saying the office manager would be gone until Tuesday. Then I went to my bank to see if I qualify for a personal loan, so I won’t have to do a cash advance on my credit card to pay for a new place and a security deposit. I’ll most likely find that much out on Monday, which will determine what I’ll do next.

My roommate was pretty pissed when I told him all of this. Not that I really care about his feelings anymore. He constantly uses and consumes everything of mine without asking, and he is quite possibly the most disgusting person I’ve ever lived with from a personal hygiene standpoint. But he is a pretty nice guy, so I’ve done my best to tolerate his shit and convince myself that the problem isn’t him, but my own OCD. So I told him I would pay for this coming month’s rent to help him out and not leave him in a bad place on such short notice. Tomorrow morning I’ll go down to the office and give them a check dated for Friday, which is when I get paid. I’ll find out the absolute last day I can keep my A/C before they start to evict me, and take it down at the last minute. Hopefully by then I will know where I’m living next, maybe even have the keys to a new place so I can sleep in a cold bedroom there instead of sweating it out here. After work and on my only day off I’ll do a bunch of packing and moving, and if I need to a friend has agreed to let me store some non-essential stuff at her place.

Also tomorrow morning before work I will call a few other places that weren’t open on Friday. There’s a string of “affordable housing” complexes in town, most run by the same rental agency, which is only open four days a week. The main ones I’m interested in are the apartments I mentioned before that I almost moved into, and a complex they just built in the River Arts District. The place I almost moved into had a waiting list, and by the time a unit came open I had just signed a lease at my current place. Hopefully they have something open right away this time, because it would be pretty much perfect. They have two bedroom units starting at $345 (only $70 more than what I’m currently paying) and the complex is really nice. It’s also right off the highway, so it might even be more convenient than my current location. The complex in the River Arts District is around the same price for a one bedroom, but a two bedroom is about $50 more. And then there’s the place I applied to Friday. It’s a trailer park, which isn’t ideal, but the location is good. The price is a little more, and a quick drive-by revealed that these are pretty old trailers. They couldn’t show me the inside because the tenants hadn’t moved out yet, but hopefully I’ll find a way to see it on my lunch break or something one day this week. As long as the inside looks okay I don’t really care about the outside, and if the other places have waiting lists this might be my only option.

I’m so sick of living with people, so that’s a distant last option. I replied to a Craigslist ad thinking it was for an apartment, but when I got there it became evident it was a room for rent. The guy seems pretty cool, but he’s older and the place smelled like smoke. He also has a big dog that doesn’t like new people. If that wasn’t enough, I just don’t think all of my stuff would fit in the available space. Today I attempted to go see a trailer out in Candler, not realizing just how far away it would be. I found the street but couldn’t find the trailer. The guy had said to call him if I had any trouble finding it, but I didn’t get any cell phone service from the second I turned onto the street until the second I decided to give up and turn back onto the main highway. I don’t like the idea of a half hour commute to anything, and not getting any service would make life inconvenient on so many levels.

After giving up and heading home, I decided to make a quick trip to Wal-Mart in Weaverville before doing my laundry. On my way home it began to pour, and all of a sudden my car wouldn’t get out of second gear. I put my hazard lights on and turned off the highway onto Merrimon and drove 30 miles an hour the whole way back home. I braved the rain and popped the hood, but didn’t see anything unusual at all. I waited a little while to see if the rain would stop, and eventually decided to just head to the laundromat. This time my car drove beautifully, so I have no idea what its problem was. This is the second time in two days my car has done something like that. Yesterday on the way to work my brakes squealed. Then they suddenly stopped and it braked normally. I attempted to take it to the shop just to get it looked at rather than take a chance, but they were too backed up to do anything because of all the people bringing their cars in before the 4th of July. So yeah. My car is weird. But I already knew that.

And that’s pretty much where I am now. I’m sitting in my cool, air-conditioned room (for now) not sure where I’ll be in a week’s time. I’ll still be working crazy hours at my shitty job, but I’ll probably be having to cut into them for a while so I can look at places and sign leases and all that good stuff. And hopefully I’ll have a car that will take me to all of those things without any hassle. If I have to bring my car to the shop, the only option is to bum a ride to and from work. By the time I get off work the last bus has already departed the station for Merrimon, and in the event I move into one of those places in Woodfin, the bus doesn’t go that far anyway. Maybe I’ll finally get a fat check from unemployment. Maybe I’ll get approved for that loan. Or maybe I’ll give up and decide that I’ve had enough of Asheville and its low wages, high rents, and hot summers. All I know is, I wish I could find this Murphy guy and teach him a few laws of my own…

 

Disclaimer: No American in their right mind (aside from Miss Piggy) should ever refer to themselves as “moi.”

Yesterday made two weeks at my new job. So far I pretty much have all the same complaints that I mentioned in my last post. I put in slightly over 50 hours last week, which was pretty exhausting. But at least the paycheck will be nice. My feet have mostly gotten used to the hours, but this was my “long” week (only one day off) and no matter how you slice it that’s rough. My next day off will be Thursday, but I’ll have next Sunday off, so it won’t be quite as bad as last week.

On Tuesday I had an interview at an animal hospital. I think it went really well, fingers crossed. She said the next step would be to set up a “working interview” where I’d meet with some of the higher ranking people and then shadow an assistant for an hour or two and observe everything they’re doing. Evidently in the past they had a pretty high turnover – they’re an emergency animal hospital, and I guess a lot of people didn’t realize they’d be seeing dogs and cats that were hit by cars and had other life-threatening issues. So they decided to start doing these working interviews so people could see exactly what they were in for and weed out those who probably couldn’t handle it. I think I could. Especially if it gets me out of retail. They’re looking for mostly second shift, which is from 4pm to midnight – essentially perfect for my body clock. It would most likely start as part-time and transition into full-time. If that’s the case I can see if my current job would let me cut back to a few days a week so I can do both. If not then I’ll go with part-time and make it work until I either find a second job or transition into full-time hours. She said that someone would contact me in a few days to schedule my working interview, but as of today (Monday) no one had, so I called up there on my lunch break. I spoke with someone who said he would talk to her sometime today and they would call me back either tonight or tomorrow night. Nothing yet, so hopefully tomorrow night I’ll hear from them.

This past Thursday, in addition to being my day off, was my birthday. The big 3-5. Or as I like to refer to it, my “seventh annual 29th birthday.” Nothing too eventful happened. I did some grocery shopping; a card came in the mail from my parents; I watched a movie; I got birthday wishes on Facebook from people I haven’t had actual conversations with in 15+ years. Fun times.  When I returned to work on Friday I bought myself a little present – a purple Silvertone Strat copy that we had for $129. We get a 30% employee discount, and a part of me has missed having a guitar with a whammy bar, so I figured why not. I spent a big chunk of last week tuning all the guitars and seeing how they play, so even though this guitar was pretty cheap I had a good idea what I would be getting myself into. I really like it, even though I doubt I’ll use it that often. But after the past few months, I feel like I deserve a little treat.

In other news, I finally settled upon a concept for my piece(s) for the “Rock Show” at Zapow. I have a collection of oddly shaped frames that I’ve been waiting for just the perfect time to use, and I think this might be it. One large one will be a painting of a Marshall amp head. A small one will be a drawing of a humbucker pickup. And a small frame with three small openings will feature a “pedal board” consisting of three classic effects pedals. Basically, taking my recent technology theme and applying it to the technology used to make rock music. I figure everyone else will be doing portraits of rock stars and cartoons of head bangers and band logos and whatnot. I need something that will fit with my distinctive styles, and I think this works perfectly. Now all I need is time to work on it.

And that’s pretty much where we’re at right now. Time to wrap things up and force myself to sleep so I can be up before the sun tomorrow morning. Oh joy!

 

A Week Of Work

So I have now been employed by Alan’s Jewelry and Pawn for a week. I’m still training, but I’m not sure how long I’ll stick around. It has its good points and its bad points, much like any job. But the bad seem pretty overwhelming to me. I have a few major complaints…

1. The hours. I knew going in that it would be over 40 hours a week, and I don’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is how those hours are arranged and what you can and can’t do during them. The shifts are enormous – typically from 8:30 in the morning until 7:00 or so at night. One week you work five days, the next week six. During those shifts you get two fifteen minute breaks and an hour lunch break. The only problem is there’s no break room, nor anywhere to sit at all except for the stairwell, and unless you’re on one of the above breaks, you’re not allowed to sit there. You’re also strongly encouraged to limit water and bathroom breaks to the absolute minimum.

With no break room, lunch becomes a wasted hour that ends up costing more money than it’s worth. No one wants to sit in a stairwell for an hour, and the summer heat makes sitting in your car unrealistic. That leaves going somewhere as the main option. Going home is cheaper than going out to eat, but either way I’m wasting gas. I’d much rather take another fifteen minute break and leave 45 minutes sooner, but that’s not an option. Also not an option: moving your days around, switching shifts with coworkers, or getting any time off around Christmas. So basically it’s 45-50 hours a week, spent on your feet, with very little water entering or leaving your body, and if you don’t like that there’s really nothing you can do about it.

2. Everyone who ranks above me tells me to do things in a different way. It’s pretty much impossible to know if you’re being trained correctly when the answers you get to your questions are completely different depending on who you ask.

3. I’ve barely been able to do what I was hired to do (sell musical instruments). I understand there are many departments and many different types of products and transactions, but it’s a bit frustrating when you take a job specifically to focus on something you like, only to spend more time learning other things. I’ve spent entirely too much time messing with guns and jewelry (our two biggest money-makers, neither of which interests me even a little). I’ve mostly gotten the hang of the pawn/sell process, bill pays are easy, check cashing isn’t too hard, and walking the sales floor is like every other retail job I’ve ever had. Why can’t I do those sorts of things when there’s no one in the music section and when I get someone asking about guns or jewelry or power tools or whatever else, find someone who knows about those things? There’s something to be said about workers who can cover all the bases and do a variety of tasks, but the Industrial Revolution was built on specialized labor.

4. The pawn business is crooked as hell. We base what we pay for things on what they sell for on eBay, giving about a third of what they go for in decent condition. Then we turn around and sell them at scarcely less than full retail. We pride ourselves on being a place where people can bargain, but we refuse to come down too low. Today there was a man who bought a $20,000 diamond who was also interested in an XBox 360. The store manager told me to treat him like the most important customer I’ve ever had. When I pulled out one of the 30 XBox’s on the shelf and he asked how low we could go on it, I assured him we would give him a great bargain. Then I asked the store manager how low we could go, and he told me to take 20% off the sticker. The “most important customer” who just spent $20,000 can only save about $15 on his video game system. Something seems a little off there. And we haven’t even gotten to the crazy interest rates on loans and the many fees for check cashing, bill pays, and using a credit card.

So yeah… those are my main complaints. I’m sure the money will be good (they still haven’t told me my exact rate of pay) but I’m not sure it’s worth it. I’m still keeping my eye out for something better, and when I find it I’ll jump. Speaking of which, tomorrow night (night?) I have an interview with one of the animal hospitals I applied to. They’re a 24 hour hospital, and luckily the person in charge of hiring veterinary assistants works night shift. She called me and we played phone tag for a while before I finally got to speak to her the other day. I’m hoping she likes me, and that they give their assistants full-time hours. If so I’ll definitely take the job, even if the money isn’t as good. If it’s only part-time hours, I’ll talk to my current job and see if it’s possible to cut down to part-time. If not I’m not passing up the opportunity to do what I’ve been studying the past few months, so I’ll settle for part-time and try to find a second job, possibly going back to the gas station if I have to. One way or the other I will have a job I like that pays well, even if it takes a little work to get there.

 

I had a pretty big day planned Wednesday. First I was going to go down to the Humane Society and start on my volunteer work. Then I planned on doing a little job-hunting and going to Zapow to pay my bill. So naturally, I walk out to my car and see a flat tire.

The good news is I’ve had my car for nearly ten years, and this is the first flat tire I’ve ever had. The bad news is that my car had some fancy rims on it when I bought it. They have these weird little “wheel locks” that require a special key. I only know this because every time I bring it in to the shop for anything that requires taking off the wheels they ask where the key is. But having never had a flat, I couldn’t figure out how to get the damn wheel off to change it. So I ended up having to get it towed to the shop…

The shop I go to is a pretty small operation, with only one tow truck. They were doing something for the city and had to tow a vehicle from a construction site. Unfortunately the guy didn’t leave the keys in it, so they had to try to get ahold of him. This took about three hours for some reason. I kept calling and he kept saying they were still waiting. Fun times. At least when I finally got to the shop they didn’t charge me for plugging the tire, only the towing. But by the time I got home it was after 5:00, so my day was effectively ruined. I attempted to salvage it by touching up my resume and starting a painting, but that was about all I got accomplished.

Little did I know that the very next day would be a complete turn-around. I started ironing my dress pants so I could resume my job-hunting when the phone rang. It was the pawn shop I interviewed at calling to tell me I got the job. With no need to go around looking for a job, I decided to take care of a few other things. I went to the unemployment office to tell them I got a job and then did a little grocery shopping.

I eventually did make it to the Humane Society, and my first hour of volunteer work went pretty well. You have to log three hours of “bed, bath, and beyond” (laundry and dishes) before you can do anything else. Everyone I met there seems really cool, and the vibe is really relaxed and fun. I can’t wait until I get to actually work with the animals. After that I went out to buy some new pants to meet the dress code of my new job, then came home and finished my painting and cooked some dinner.

That brings us to today. This weekend is my last weekend of being unemployed, but I’m not exactly making the most of it yet. I planned on going on a hike today, but last night I got sick to my stomach and didn’t get much sleep. When I woke up I just didn’t feel up to anything more strenuous than walking around the lake a few times. I did a little more shopping, watched a movie, and started on a new painting. I’m finally getting around to using the gigantic canvases I got for free months ago. I’m going to try to limit myself to only house paint and india ink, and all of the pieces will be rather loose and abstracted. I haven’t figured out what I’m doing tomorrow, but my date for the evening cancelled, so perhaps I’ll get that hike in after all. Then on Sunday I have two more hours of volunteer work, in addition to my usual laundry day. Then Monday it’s finally back to the daily grind, after a month of sleeping late and bumming around.

 

A few interesting things have happened in the past week or so…

Shortly after writing my last entry, I found out that I was approved for food stamps, and that I’ll be getting way more money than I typically spend on groceries. So I guess I’ll be living large. Except that over a week later, my card still hasn’t come in the mail. I keep putting off grocery shopping, because why spend a bunch of money on food when you have a card full of money on the way? Today I finally had to break down and buy a few things so I could make a meal or two. Hopefully before I run out of leftovers my card will come and I can do a real shopping. Fingers crossed.

I spent most of the day this past Sunday watching the new season of Arrested Development, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s not as laugh-out-loud funny as previous seasons, but the plot is so dense and everything is so interconnected. It’s probably going to take several re-watches to catch everything, there are just so many little details and references. I was a bit worn out after a nearly all-day marathon, so I spent most of Monday trying to be productive, going on little walks and trying to get fresh air and exercise.

On Wednesday I had not one, but two job interviews. First up was Alan’s Pawn – they’re looking for a “musical instrument specialist.” I saw an ad on Craigslist but they never mentioned the business. I sent a resume and a cover letter talking about all of my music experience and knowledge. The interview went pretty well – they seemed to like me and gave me every indication that they plan on hiring me. They had me do a criminal background check and a drug test, and said that when the results are in we can go from there. It will be about 42-45 hours a week, with Sunday counting as an overtime day. They asked what my minimum salary expectation would be, and I said I could probably be comfortable with $9 an hour. They told me they would be able to beat that, and after the drug test and background check they would be able to make me an exact offer. After 90 days I would be eligible for commission on any sales, so that plus 5-10 hours of time-and-a-half would mean a pretty sweet paycheck. It’s not exactly my ideal job, but I have enough knowledge of musical instruments to sell them, and for that kind of money I can’t really refuse.

My other interview was at Pet Supermarket. It’s the kind of job that could help me in the long run with becoming a veterinary assistant, because it would give me more experience with and working knowledge of things like pet foods, medicines, and basic pet care. But on the other hand, it’s your basic shitty retail job. Chances are it wouldn’t pay much above minimum, and there probably wouldn’t be any incentive to advance. The final part of the interview was one of those self evaluations, which I never seem to do very well on, so chances are they won’t offer me a job anyway. But at least I know that all of my applying and dropping off resumes hasn’t been in vain.

So basically now I just wait to hear back from Alan’s and hope this is a move that pays off. In the meantime, I signed up to volunteer at the Humane Society. I have my volunteer orientation this Saturday. Also on Saturday is an opening at Zapow. Even though I don’t have any pieces for the show, it would be the first opening that I can attend as a member artist, so I’ll definitely go. I’m also just about finished with my online class – one lesson and the final exam left. I’ve been kinda procrastinating, but I have nothing at all to do tomorrow so I’ll probably finish it up then. And that’s basically what’s going on in the life of me. The End.

 

Forgive my overuse of apostrophes at the end of words. I don’t know what I was thinkin’.

But in all seriousness… I must be the least productive unemployed blogger on the planet. I just don’t feel like I have much of anything to write about, and I pretty much never feel inspired to write. Yet I have a ton of newfound free time and I’m running out of things to do with it. First world problems?

Basically I’ve spent every business day dropping off resumes and doing related things. I’ve done more online applications than you can shake a stick at. About the only one I haven’t done is the application for Lead Stick Shaker, and that’s mostly because the hours are terrible. But I digress.

Last Thursday I went to a job fair at AB Tech. It was mostly medical and manufacturing, so not a lot of good leads. There was one animal hospital there, and I gave them my resume and talked for a while. They’re way out in Hendersonville almost to Flat Rock, so if I had to travel that far, salary would definitely be a deciding factor in whether or not I accepted any job offer. There were a lot of staffing services and companies advertising their job bank websites at the fair, but I’ve yet to find anything I’m both qualified for and interested in on any of them.

I’m also not sure if the people working these booths are poorly informed, or if they have quotas to fill and feel compelled to lie, but quite a few of them did just that. For a data entry position at AB Tech, the woman at the booth told me I just needed to have a degree, it didn’t matter what it was. I went to the website to apply and it tells me I need to have a degree in a business-related field. A hotel that was represented there told me I didn’t need any previous hotel experience, but their website said it was required. I can probably think of another half-dozen examples, but you get my point. It’s a little frustrating when people tell you to your face that you’re qualified and hand you a sheet with a website, but then you go to the page and see just the opposite.

But yeah so, not a of luck with the job search as of yet. Besides that, not a lot of anything going on. I’ve been spending entirely too much time watching DVD’s from the library and other assorted mind-numbing television. I’ve hung out with my neighbors so much that I’m almost sick of them. On Saturday I went to the Montford Music & Arts Festival for a while and stopped by a house that was having a yard sale and had their unsold leftovers on the curb. I managed to snag a few CD’s, a bunch of fountain pens and accessories, and a really sweet little shelf. That’s pretty much been the highlight of the past week, if that tells you anything.

So yeah… thus is my boring life. I need a job or some other influx of money, and then I need to meet a cute girl to spend that money on. Or something like that.

*yawn*

 

A Week of Joblessness

I thought that now since I have a ton of free time I might actually update this more often. I was wrong. But oh well. Here’s how the first week has treated me…

I’ve been dropping off resumes everywhere. I made two, one for generic retail jobs and another for veterinary assistant jobs. For the retail ones, I’ve mostly stuck to retail jobs I might actually not hate – Mr. K’s Used Books, the visitor’s center, pet stores, etc. I had an interview at Michael’s, but it’s 15-20 hours a week at minimum wage, so it might not be worth my time. Even if it is, I haven’t heard back from them, so yeah. For the veterinary ones, I compiled a list of every animal hospital and related organization in a 20 mile radius and I’ve been targeting different parts of town each business day.

I got a call from the Haw Creek Animal Hospital, who evidently have an ad on Craigslist. The woman said she was going through all the resumes and trying to narrow it down to see who she wanted to call back for an interview. I was caught off guard when she called (I was on the toilet!) and I probably didn’t come across as eloquent as I would like to. I doubt she’ll call me back, but you never know. After hearing they had an ad I decided to be more diligent about checking Craigslist, and I saw Brother Wolf had a posting. I went down there and as it turns out they have four open positions, including one that is mostly data entry. When I told the woman I have over six years of data entry experience her eyes lit up. I went back there today to see if the positions had been filled and they gave me the hiring manager’s card. I called but got her voicemail. I left a message and the woman at the desk said if I don’t hear from her by the end of the day to call again. So I guess that’s what I’ll be doing. Fingers crossed!

I have yet to actually get anything from unemployment. When I got my letter in the mail it said my claim had an open issue. I went back there to see what I should do now that I’m not working at all, and they told me to do my weekly certification and there would be a question asking if I had gotten fired from a job. I clicked yes and submitted my certification and it said there was an issue. It said the main office in Raleigh would contact me within three business days, and if they didn’t to call the number on the screen. I tried calling today but never got through. Once I was on hold for over 20 minutes and gave up. Every time I tried back after that I got a busy signal. Perhaps I should get a job answering phones for the ESC? It seems no one else wants to do that.

Tomorrow I’m going downtown to finish applying for food stamps, now that I have my last pay stub and a copy of my lease to show them. While I’m downtown I’ll try the unemployment office and see if there’s any other number I can try to get through to Raleigh or if I should just keep calling and getting put on hold. I’m hoping something gets resolved quickly, because I honestly don’t know where my next meal is coming from. I’ve been putting everything on my credit card, but eventually I’ll have to pay the credit card bill, and then what? I do actually need some form of income. After my trip downtown I’ll hit up a few more animal hospitals and the humane society and hope for the best. At this point in time it almost seems like I’ll find a job before the government gives me anything. I have to wonder how people can stay on unemployment for so long. My friend told me that if you say you’re homeless your case gets immediate attention, but evidently if you’re honest about your present situation you have to wait until you are homeless to get a response. Fun times.

Other than that there’s not a whole lot to write about. I’ve been spending most of my free time working on new Predator Drone pieces and watching Arrested Development DVD’s from the library. Oh and cleaning. I’ve finally organized my room and my apartment in general so it doesn’t look like a complete disaster. And cooking. I’ve been making lots of big elaborate meals that make a few days worth of leftovers each, because it’s a lot cheaper than a bunch of single serve meals. And that’s really about it. I’m going somewhat stir crazy, another reason I don’t understand how people can stay unemployed for so long. Me and my stupid work ethic.

 

Someone in my apartment complex drives a car with a bumper sticker that says “I <3 Handmade!” (Obviously the <3 in this case represents an actual heart symbol, for which there is no key on my keyboard.) The heart in question is almost completely faded from its original (presumably) bright red, and is now just barely visible. The edges of the sticker seem to have become brittle and started to chip away. Now I have no way of knowing exactly how long this sticker has been on this car, but the car itself appears to be a late 2000’s model – perhaps 2008 or 2009 – so I’m going to assume it’s been on there for about five years, tops.

My car is covered in bumper stickers. Every year, when the weather finally decides to stay warm for a while, I go through the process of scraping off old stickers that look like shit and replacing them with new ones. Over the years I’ve had some that didn’t even make it a year (Moroccan flag sticker from stickergiant.com I’m looking at you!) and I’ve had some that have lasted almost as long as my car (Who’s awesome? You are, OBX sticker from 2005 that still looks brand new!) But I can’t help but feel a sense of irony when I see the car with the faded “Handmade” sticker.

As my regular readers (both of you) know, I live in Asheville, NC. In addition to being the “cesspool of sin,” it is also the unofficial Hippie Capital Of The East. Everyone here is all about things that seem to preserve the hippie ideal – local businesses instead of chains, local food instead of stuff trucked in from three states over, organic and sustainable, handmade products instead of something from a factory, etc. While I have nothing against these ideals, I feel like sometimes we sacrifice quality for the sake of pleasing our guilty conscience.

The first obvious example would be the bumper sticker. What better way to tout your love of handmade products than with a sticker that will fade and deteriorate faster than the other ones on your car? This sticker doesn’t speak for the entirety of handmade crafts and goods – there are plenty of quality things produced every day that are head and shoulders above anything made by a machine. As an artist, my first default is to handmade paper over that which is produced on a machine mould. But in the cases where a handmade product is not superior to a machine-made one, should we continue to buy the handmade one just on principle? Chances are most people in Asheville would answer “yes.” That is the mentality that I’m protesting with this blog.

How about another example? My former roommate Sofia insisted on buying an organic and biodegradable dish detergent made with a fair amount of post-consumer content. It would barely even lather, and when the winter temperatures would dip, it froze inside the bottle and would not come out. I’m all about the principles of organic, biodegradable, and recycled. But if the product in question is clearly inferior, why should I use it? It doesn’t accomplish its most basic purpose. It completely fails at its raison d’être. I would much rather buy a dish detergent that wasn’t organic, yet produced a good lather, cut through grease, and didn’t freeze every time the overnight low fell to the mid 30’s.

In addition to supporting people and companies that make inferior products, we also form a very damaging paradigm for contemporary consumer culture. If you produce it, and appeal to the right emotions, people WILL buy it, regardless of quality. There’s a sucker born every minute. Go to your local grocery store and compare the price of standard onions versus organic ones. The organic onions routinely cost as much as double, yet every major food website that I’ve seen says that with a vegetable with a non-porous exterior like an onion, no pesticides enter the inner layers and organic farming techniques are completely pointless. But if you grow an organic onion, someone will buy it. If you make organic dish detergent, someone will buy it, even if it fails in every way. If you produce a handmade good that falls apart, it won’t matter, because people with guilty consciences feel like they’ve done their civic duty by choosing it over a competing product.

And now, let’s turn this personal and address the reasons that inspired me to write this in the first place. This morning, after an unfair “probationary period” in which my hours were cut in half without prior warning for mostly invented and irrelevant performance issues, I was fired from my job. I was working for a small local business. A business run by one person, with a small staff, that has become a local institution. Asheville is king of the “buy local” scene, with people here regularly cursing those who choose to shop at chain establishments and chastising them about how they feel chains are destroying the economy and forcing the mom-and-pop businesses to close. For the most part, I agree with these sentiments. But just because a business is local, does that automatically make it the kind of place you should patronize? Hardly.

The store that I worked at was notorious for several problems. As long as I was there, we had a revolving door of employees. People would either get fired, or quit on their own because they could no longer tolerate the owner and her attitude. She was also notorious for putting people in the position where they feel their only option is to quit. I saw that happen with two coworkers, both of whom were at one point in time valuable assets to the company who simply grew tired of the bullshit and stopped putting their all into their performance. When their performance dipped in the owner’s eyes, even if it was due to very legitimate reasons, (one of the aforementioned coworkers quit anti-depression medications cold turkey and can’t really be blamed for withdrawing when she refused his request for some time off because we were “too short-staffed”) she would amp up the criticisms and do everything in her power (especially tweaking the schedule) to make the work environment as unfriendly as possible.

In addition to personnel problems like these, we were notorious for the owner’s complete incompetence when it comes to ordering products and stocking the shelves. We routinely run out of things an art supply store should NEVER run out of, (black and white paint, pens, gesso, handmade specialty papers, artist-quality spray paint, etc.) and rather than order in advance and create any sort of back-stock, she would always let things run out completely, causing us to go a week without these items. There are several lines of products that for one reason or another she has chosen not to restock, letting the displays continue to empty until she can’t stand the sight of them and pulls them off the shelves. All the while, we would get shipments of kitschy craft supplies, (paper garlands, cheap-o enamel hobby paints, tie dye kits) specialty items that should logically only be done as special orders, (projectors, light tables, expensive top-of-the-line brushes) and displays of new lines that she thinks would be “neat to have” (a full line of Pentel technical pens) that would proceed to sell down and then never get restocked. If we were out of the item a customer wanted (or if it was something we didn’t regularly carry) we would offer to do a special order. While some customers took their sense of self-entitlement to the extreme (we have limited space and money, we can’t realistically carry every brand, which might include your favorite) most had valid complaints against this process. We should NEVER have to do a special order for a black Micron pen or a tube of white oil paint, yet all too often that’s exactly what happened.

Granted, I am not a businessman. I’ve never run a company, I’ve never been in charge of inventory for a company, and I don’t have a business degree like some people, who shall remain nameless. But unlike my former boss, I was in the store every day. I interacted with customers. I heard their complaints. I knew the things they asked for. When a store owner takes such a hands-off approach to running their business, it would only make sense to cede some control of the inventory process to the employees who actually run the store in your absence. It would make sense to refocus your business model and give more emphasis to your strengths, leaving your weaknesses to be picked up by other businesses that do a better job of things. It would make sense to do everything in your power to use what limited financial resources you have to stock the products that sell the most and are the most in demand. It makes no sense to complain about money and get aggravated with customers who just expect you to have certain staple items on hand, while simultaneously trying to compete with chain craft stores and toy stores and stationery stores that can do that much better than you can. At that point, you’re no longer providing a quality service to the local community. You’re doing what you think you should do, and forcing them to find ways to work around that. That’s the kind of mentality that forces businesses to close their doors for good.

So to make a very long story short, the “buy local” mentality suffers from the same sort of problems that plague handmade bumper stickers and organic dish detergent. There are plenty of local businesses that provide quality merchandise at great prices, quality customer service, treat their employees well, and are well-respected within the community. But there are also local businesses that don’t provide quality merchandise, can’t compete on prices, treat their customers like shit, and fuck over their employees. Maybe you’re too idealistic to see the forest for the trees. If so, then by all means continue to lecture me about how Wal-Mart is anti-union and sells sweatshop goods and you’d support ANY local business before you would a chain. But it’s this lack of peripheral vision that allows these businesses to continue to exist and continue with their ridiculous practices and policies. And let’s not forget, while it’s true that chain establishments have led to many a local business having to close, every chain began life as a local business. Before they were the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart was some guy in Arkansas who just wanted to sell stuff at a lower price. If we’re going to preach about how the free market will always prevail, then we need to back that up with our actions. Don’t shop somewhere just because it’s local. Shop their because they provide quality merchandise, excellent customer services, and treat their employees fairly. If the free market principles we always hear about are true, then the market will decide who lives and who dies. Businesses that succeed in all of those areas will prosper, and perhaps eventually grow and expand and become the gigantic chains of tomorrow. Businesses that fail in those areas will see their customer base dwindle until eventually they have no choice but to throw in the towel.

I’ve now worked for two local businesses, and I’ve seen a lot of what goes on in the background that customers can’t see. At the end of the day, by blindly supporting a local establishment regardless of their business practices, you’re ultimately just buying frozen dish detergent or a sticker that will fade and peel. Don’t be fooled by misguided ideology. Support companies that make the best products. Support businesses that treat their customers and employees the best. As consumers, we hold the power. We can change practices with our purchases (or lack thereof.) Investigate and inform yourself, and then choose wisely. If the superior product happens to be handmade or organic, that’s all the better. If the superior business happens to be a local mom-and-pop shop, great. But if not, don’t fool yourself and settle for inferior quality. That only unnecessarily prolongs things and no one really wins.

 

The past few days have been rather productive…

Thursday was my day off. I started by paying my rent and dropping a bill in the mail. Then I went downtown to talk to the ESC about my claim. They told me everything was processed, but evidently there’s still some issue with my claim, so I’m gonna have to call there before work on Monday and see what’s up. I got my letter in the mail and it said there was something wrong, and when I filed my weekly certification it said I wouldn’t be getting paid this week. I’m wondering if the fact that I’m still employed complicates things, or if maybe my boss is trying to fight it or something. Hopefully I can get it figured out soon, because still no bites as far as other jobs go.

When I got home I went on a cleaning spree – vacuuming the living room and my bedroom and cleaning the microwave. I watched a little television and then cooked a nice dinner. Then I went to work on some art. A while back my friend Cassidy asked me to paint her a puppy, so that’s what I did. I did a light wash on some Japanese paper, then when it was dry I drew a cartoon-ish puppy, his doghouse, and some trees in the background. It’s pretty cheesy looking, but I’m fairly certain she’ll like it. Then I started on another piece in my Musings Of A Predator Drone series, which I eventually finished Friday before work. Other than that, Friday was pretty uneventful.

Today I woke up entirely too early to go to Geekout, a convention modeled after the big comic-cons that happen all over the world. I met up with James and Nici there and we roamed around for a while. We were all surprised by just how small it was – they didn’t even fill up the bottom level of UNCA’s basketball stadium. Most of the booths were just people selling prints of their geek culture-themed artwork, and a ridiculous amount of nerdy jewelry. There was live music, but it wasn’t particularly good. There was sword fighting with giant foam swords, a few panel discussions on things none of us were interested in, and gaming rooms where you could pay to play in tournaments. After about an hour and a half we were bored, having walked by every booth three or four times. They left to go see a movie and I picked up a quick lunch and then took a nap. I went back a little before 5:00 for a “shadow cast” of Doctor Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. Basically it was a handful of people lip synching along while the actual production played on the screen behind them. The only one who was really in costume was Doctor Horrible, and while he definitely looked the part, he wasn’t particularly good at miming the motions. The guy playing Captain Hammer was tall and scrawny – he’s lucky if he weighs 100 pounds. He basically just wore a black t-shirt with a paper print of the Captain Hammer logo taped to it. The girl who played Penny was actually incredibly hot, and seemed to have a bit more personality than the others, even though her timing and lip synching skills weren’t exactly great either. They recruited people from the audience to do some of the non-essential characters, and in all honesty they did just as good a job as the supposed professionals putting on the production. Overall I’d say Geekout was basically a bust – a good way to kill a few hours, but ultimately disappointing and definitely not worth the cost of admission.

As of this writing I’m basically killing time before dinner, and then after dinner I’ll be going to a concert. The band Murder By Death is playing the Asheville Music Hall. While they’re not necessarily popular, they’re still a pretty big name for a venue that typically gets only local and regional bands. I told my neighbor Angela about the concert, and she looked them up online and decided she wants to go too. She’ll be bringing along her new boyfriend, and based on what she was saying, they’ll most likely leave early or right when it ends. While I’m not a huge fan of MBD, I really like the sound they have going on. Hopefully it will translate well and they’ll put on a pretty good show. I’m under the impression that any band with a cellist will make for an entertaining evening. James and Nici invited me to some burlesque thing at The Boiler Room, but it starts at the same time as the concert. Depending on when the concert ends I might swing by there and check it out, but probably not. I’ll more than likely just come home and veg out, in preparation for a nice boring day tomorrow…..

 

My piece “Galvanized Electronic Zapping Apparatus (the floating robot head formerly known as ‘Disconnect’)” will be featured on the blog Handmadefuzzy for their Spotlight Friday, which this week will be featuring drawings.

I was contacted via my page on Zibbet.com by who I’m assuming is the author of the blog. They said the link will be live around 6:30 am, which is way before I will be awake. The blog itself seems to be mostly focused on crafts, but there’s a lot of variety on there. I’m pretty interested to see what other styles of drawings will be featured alongside my piece.
If nothing else, this could give me some visibility and introduce my art to people who might not have seen it otherwise. So yay. Be sure to go check out Handmadefuzzy tomorrow (although you don’t really have to do it at the crack of dawn.) The end.

 

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