So, It’s Gonna Be Like That…

Eh, Universe?

Just before New Years, I got an email from my property management company. They were letting me know they’d be raising my rent…effective March 31.

Nice to get plenty of notice.

I signed a 15 month lease last year – well, 2017 – in mid-December. This was after my landlord in the unit right next door refused to negotiate my rent after this unit sat on the market for $200 less than mine…for six months!

When she finally agreed to talk pricing, my current unit had dropped another $100. When she came to me with a $50 reduction, I wished her well and opted to save $300/month on my largest expense. I iced my decision-making cake by telling myself that having a property management company versus a weird mix of hippy and dilettante for a landlord would be better, anyway.

When a property management company can’t figure out how to change the batteries in a smoke detector, run! That was indicative of each of the issues I’ve had since I moved in.

Garbage Disposal: 2 weeks to get a repairman here, 10 minutes to fix.

Balcony Doors Warping: 2 weeks to schedule a handyman, they show up to assess and three weeks later, still not fixed.

But it’s ok…it’s just winter and cold air is just pouring in around the edges of the door.

By all means, though…send me that rent increase email while you’re proving you’re not worth it. That 7% increase is pretty high, given that rents overall in Portland decreased 3% year-over-year from ’17-’18.

But at the same time, I knew I was getting a fairly good value. If they hadn’t been such foot draggers about repairs, I wouldn’t think twice about the $100.

However, since my old land lady had yet to rent my old unit, I thought about reaching out to her. I was curious about her plans for the unit. I thought maybe losing $20,400 over the year versus dropping my rent $200/month might have put her in a mood to negotiate.

Plus, the board president had let slip that her HOAs were in arrears. Oops.

I figured, get past the New Year holiday and see how she felt about a March move-in.

Then a BBQ showed up on my old balcony.

Eight months after I moved out, she put my old unit on the market for $50 more than what I last paid.

Remember how rents went down 3%?

Yeah, she didn’t get the memo.

Two months later, she drops the rent to what I wanted to pay before I moved out. It still took a month to rent and the new tenant moved in this month.

The BBQ was disappointing enough to see show up – our building doesn’t allow them. But now I’m wishing it was just a BBQ.

He’s gonna be one of those neighbors.

So, here I am, thinking of moving out of a building and area that I really love living in. I don’t have much else to do besides think – ok, obsess – go to the gym and write. This was a good lil back burner thought exercise.

Then, out of the blue, I get an email from MudBay about a job. It is a position I applied for in mid-November at the urging of an old colleague of mine. She works for them in Seattle and thinks of me every time there’s an open position.

I applied a couple of years ago, but nothing happened.

This time around, she not only insisted I apply, she arranged a drop-in with a former manager of hers who had moved down here to Portland to open a store for them.

Alright, alright…I’ll go!

The District Manager just happens to be there the day of the drop-in and we all talk for 45 minutes in what felt less like a drop-in conversation and more like a full-on interview. It also felt like they were trying to talk me out of the position. They both kept reiterating how hard it was for people to come from outside retailers because their culture is so different.

Well, at the end of that conversation, I offered to send the DM my resume and asked for her card or contact info.

Oh, that’s ok. If you applied, I’ll find your resume.

“But you said that hundreds of people applied…”, I say, not adding that the job has been posted for five months.

Oh, I’ll be able to find you.

“But you don’t know my last name…” Yeah, this is sounding like the end of a bad date.

But you were referred, so that’ll narrow it down!

She sounds so peppy and sure of herself. Still, I’m thinking for a company that’s so different from other retailers, this feels the same as a lot of other “don’t call us, we’ll call you” interviews I’ve had.

Ah, the joys of the great job hunt.

Whatever, happy-fucking-holidays.

To say I was surprised to get an email requesting a phone interview…well, that would be an understatement. Nowhere in my mind was the thought that she had actually liked me as a candidate. Or even a person.

That she forgot who I was, well…that was firmly planted at the front of my mind.

I debated reminding her, but then as the conversation began

Before we start, you read the job description – and that’s just the framework of the responsibilities of the role – but do you have any questions about it before we start?

…it really became obvious that she didn’t remember me. At the second question, I was really feeling like we were covering redundant territory.

So, I stopped her and asked, “Just out of curiosity, you aren’t the same person I spoke with in November at the store on Hawthorne, are you?”

I don’t think so…no.

– she says, sounding rather uncertain.

There are two District Managers for Portland.

I was thinking she was worried about stepping on someone else’s toes. But the way she said it made me reconsider.

She doesn’t like her counterpart. I was pretty damn sure I was right, but resisted sharing my experience to suss out my suspicion. Frankly, I found that to be a plus for me.

Sure enough, we went on to have a fantastic hour-long conversation. I think my only obstacle as a candidate for her is my salary; my floor is $2k over their max.

That could be a sticking point.

However, the landlord story above? Yeah…I live in one of the most expensive parts of town. If I get further into the interview process and she/they begin to understand where their openings will be…I could move closer to my assigned store and save a couple hundred bucks a month. That puts me back in the salary/expense ballpark I want to be in.

The Silver Fox would hate that plan – not that I’d be wild about losing the spontaneous nature of our neighborly friendship. But for a job with a company I want to work for? Maybe it would be the right thing to do.

To that, I say

C’mon, 2019!

So, It’s Gonna Be Like That…

Bad Influences

Have you been bombarded by so-called Influencers lately? Speaking from personal experience; I have and it’s been tedious.

When I was a kid…no, that’s not right. Earlier this century, back in the aughts, being an influencer was kind of a rare thing. Usually, it was someone from the media or a local personality. I encountered a lot of them when I was opening the “don’t call it a flagship” Sur la Table in Bellevue, Washington in ’09.

Thank gawd it was a rare thing back then.

They.

Were.

Precious.

Most of them were women, maybe a step or two above a debutante or socialite. Mostly by a decade or more in age and a tenuous claim to a job. Most of those jobs amounted to being a blogger, back before everyone had one.

But there were a couple of published lifestyle authors and an occasional morning show host that came with some gravitas. They were important to be able to connect with and talk to because they had an audience and they knew that connecting with me was about promoting the brand I represented versus a vested interest in their own self-promotion.

Unlike the other dilettantes and poseurs.

But today, it seems like dilettantes and poseurs are all that’s left of the once almost illustrious title of influencer.

What’s more, just like one doesn’t call it a comeback or refer to oneself as hot or cool…maybe true influencers don’t call themselves influencers.

I started thinking about this just before Christmas while visiting with the ‘phew. He’s in the middle of his freshman year of college and we were just catching up on his quick trip to SoCal to attend a music festival called Rolling Loud. He’d gone with some of his high school classmates. When we came around to next year and whether upgrading to the VIP experience would be worth the extra $100/ticket – he thinks it will be, so why not? – money in general came up.

Tickets: $250-350

Airfare: $250? I’m guessing, but it’s in between the Thanksgiving and Christmas peak travel season, so I bet they aren’t giving away plane seats.

Hotel: $150/night for three nights, and this is for a hotel room near USC so it could be more!

Plus Ubers everywhere and food.

So, yeah. Money came up.

That segued into a classmate of his who he said was an influencer for he didn’t know what, but she got around $3k a couple times a month for whatever she did.

For the first time this holiday season, I was able to maintain a neutral expression while inside I was doing my best Gilbert Gottfried and disbelief was spewing out of my figurative mouth while I mentally debunked everything.

My immediate thoughts, when I began turning this over in my head later that night, was all of the self-proclaimed influencers in my Instagram feed. Don’t be surprised, but I follow a lot of random gay guys.

Ok, fine…take a moment to regroup.

Better?

Off we go, then.

There’s a guy I follow named Ben Something. By all initial accounts, he was just this cute lil college kid in NYC that liked showing off his dimples and nice butt on his Instagram feed.

Then it turns out that he’s dating a fairly well known gay porn performer. Ok, I know the porn star is a bottom, and the Ben kid sure pinged as a bottom, so I wasn’t surprised to see them both post “single again” Insta-stories within a couple hours of one another.

Kids. So cute.

I wasn’t even surprised when Ben was dating someone else less than a week later.

Lost Boys. But this is part of finding oneself, right? And he’s an appropriate age for it.

<Looking at you, PNW guys in your 30s…>

Then I started seeing him post “paid partnership” pics on behalf of Pure for Men, which is a supplement for men who engage in receptive anal sex. I’ve never looked into it, but I’m assuming it’s basically a $20 solution for a $5 problem.

I actually dug around the Amazon for a bit and proved my own theory without disproving my own hyperbole: psyllium supplement is $.17/dose and Pure for Men is $.85/dose.

Then I got to watch a trip to Paris, that turned out to be a meet up with his ex…and several other actors for CockyBoys. I’m sure you can figure out what the trip was actually for. Seriously, though…who flies porn “stars” into Paris to make a movie?

What a time to be alive.

I mean, getting by on your looks.

To recap: Pure for Men mouthpiece, CockyBoys actor…and all this time I thought he was a ballet student. Yeah. Regardless, there’s a life plan full of intent.

Then there’s the 19 y/o Aussie bodybuilder…I started following him after seeing a before/after pic of his struggle with acne.

Frankly, the before pic was the stuff of teenage nightmares. I felt awful for him. But his story was impressive. He’d managed his acne with a combination of medicine and diet.

It was very Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, so I was drawn to it. Plus, the FS&ND guy was also an Aussie, which I found to be an interesting coincidence.

Turned out, the Aussie kid was only 18. He’d not only managed to overcome his acne through his dive into nutrition. Following diet up with exercise, he’d transformed himself from a 98 lb weakling – sorry, I’m not converting that empirical expression into metric – into a buff bodybuilder.

He competes now.

Frankly, he’s rather overworked, in my opinion. Then again, that’s kind of the end goal for a bodybuilder: keep building body, right?

But his journey was inspirational. Until I tried listening to him talk. It was painful. Then again, teenagers are usually still learning their own voices, so I just hit mute and watched his sometimes fun beach antics with his friends and his impressive gym videos.

What I did learn from him, though, was he wanted to create a fitness culture on YouTube to help others find what he found through fitness and nutrition.

Not a bad goal.

Somewhere in there, he also created a clothing line of fitness apparel. Mostly sleeveless tops, but I assume he was going for a specific audience.

This past week, I saw a story of his that was captioned “last day at one of my three jobs”. That made me pay a little more attention to what had been going on with him. Working three jobs and about 50 hours a week is a lot with his fitness regimen-slash-gym time. Factor in commute time between jobs and it’s not just a 50 hour commitment, either.

Until

Later that day – the same damn day – he posted on his story that we should all follow his “private account” because he was starting an Only Fans page.

Where to start?

Ok. Only Fans is a feature that you can enable on Instagram that allows you to charge a monthly subscription for selfie porn.

Seriously.

I’ve seen many of these random gays I casually follow start Only Fans and then embarrassingly promote themselves to gain subscribers. They seem to charge $2.99-9.99 a month for the privilege of seeing their exclusive content.

I’ve actually found this internet secret that allows me to get free porn, so I’ve never once been tempted by this Only Fans nonsense. However, I remembered my nephew’s classmate and her alleged twice monthly $3000 payday.

That’s only 600 subscribers at $9.99/month. Plus, straight guys are way dumber about porn than gay guys. Maybe a hot co-ed can get more than another gay gym bunny.

Speaking of straight guys being idiots about porn? This Aussie kid is straight. Too narcissistic to stay that way in my opinion/experience, but he’s 19. He’ll probably figure it out. For now, he’s starting his Only Fans for $19.99/month!

Marketing to a gay audience at twice the market rate is a pretty bold marketing decision. We’ll see how that works out for him.

For now, I see him starting to pop up in the stories of guys around the world, whose sole purpose on Instagram is to help one another build their follower-ship into the tens of thousands.

Fine. I get that. We’re in the Me Generation on Crack. It’s all about the likes and follows.

For my part, these random people Instagram thinks I should follow? I do. Sometimes…if they don’t engage with me, then I unfollow them.

I’m sticking to social media being a social experiment versus playing into the likes and follows culture. If I wanted empty socialization, I’d hang out on hookup apps, aka: asocial media.

I figure if some guy in Brazil can post in Portuguese and engage with me in English, Australians, Brits and even Americans can be bothered to interact occasionally with their followers in their native language. It’s how I virtually separate good folks from pretty trash on line.

I know, I set a high bar for people. <eyeroll>

Anyway…this Aussie kid. Flash forward a few more days and he’s slashed his Only Fans to $9.99/month. Looks like he’s learning something. Nothing important, in my opinion…

But then he posts a pic of one of his bros and says they are going to be creating some “hot content” together for his Only Fans subscribers…maybe he’s learning something about himself that is important.

Or, not

Back in my day, cute young guys knew how to behave. Straight guys slept with as many people as possible, like it was their right. Gay guys acted like they were too good to deign settling for a lesser human as a sex partner, 10s Only was the attitude.

Now it’s Fans Only.

Noted.

Regardless, the meme makers have these guys covered.

See ya around, Influencers. When I see shit like this clogging up my corner of the internet

…I swipe and unfollow. I don’t know either of those guys. I guess I’m – surprisingly – not under the influence.

Bad Influences

Tse Tse & Me

Isn’t that lil bugger adorable? Not sure what’s going on with the tail end condensation there…maybe he got ahold of some olean products.

Cute, anal leaking or not, this guy has been in my mind the last couple of days as I’ve found myself succumbing to spontaneous involuntary bouts of unconsciousness. I’d guess that I’ve slept 34 out of the last 48 hours.

Realistically, since I am sleeping at night, turning in around my normal midnight bedtime and easily sleeping through until ten AM, when Myrtle’s hungry, bitching meows finally succeed in waking me, I know it’s not Sleeping Sickness. The Tse Tse Fly bite generally causes nighttime wakefulness, prompting daytime slumber.

I’m only suffering from that last part.

On Sunday, I woke at 6 AM after heading to bed at 10 the night before. I was unusually relaxed after three beers at Tanner Creek Tavern next door to my house. A couple of months ago, they stopped ordering Breakside IPA, a favorite of The Fox and me as well as a top draw for us to belly up. The staff is fantastic and pretty easy on the eyes, but y’know…what I can drink up with my eyes is a minor part of my bar allegiance decision making process. Discovering that Tanner Creek had brought in a Barley Brown IPA to placate our Breakside Boycott – an act of resistance that included the Silver Fox and I walking into the bar with 22 ounce bottles of Breakside that we purchased from the Brodega across the street – lured us back.

That the new addition was also an 8.5% ABV promoted a nice, early bedtime after three doses.

I didn’t think much of my early rise, since it was a legitimate eight hours of sleep. Still, I managed to procrastinate my way through the morning until I had to get ready for a noon:30 meet up with Jortis and Little Buddy for our semi-regular theater going at Portland Center Stage.

The show was at 2:00, but we were meeting for…brunch, yeah…brunch at 12:30. I sat down on the couch to kill time while my hair dried and woke up at 1:30. I’d fallen asleep in a seated position.

Ridiculous.

I rarely nap. I want to say “never”, but when I’m sick, it happens. Or when I’m getting sick. Confused from my unconsciousness, I texted my apologies to Jortis who had sent me a text when I was 10 minutes late, which is kind of unlike me. Not that I’m not usually the last one there, since I live closest and usually head out on the four block walk at our designating meeting time…

A couple hours later I awoke to a response text reminding me that the show started at 2:00 and at the time it landed there was still 30 minutes before showtime.

It was 3:30.

Having failed at making my only plans for the day, I put on a movie and promptly fell asleep again on the couch.

When my excessive sleep followed me into a second day, I began to shift my neurotic hypochondria to more realistic sources – having not been to the Congo recently.

I spent some of my few waking hours wondering if the teenage dream disease-slash-excuse for doing nothing for an entire school year had actually caught up with me.

Out of all of the symptoms listed, I was only experiencing malaise and fatigue. I for sure wasn’t experiencing any loss of appetite, having made a pound of pasta and 18 meatballs on Sunday night, finishing it for breakfast on Monday morning.

The Fox posited that my symptoms might have been a result of my return to exercise greatness last week. I was experiencing some good delayed onset muscle soreness, but was reluctant to chalk my excessive sleep up to exercise. Knowing me and my tendency to procrastinate at the drop of a hat, it was a problematic diagnosis.

Having successfully not only remained awake for a solid three hours straight but also cleaned myself up and dragged myself out of the house, I’m beginning to accept the notion that what had me down the last two days was something much simpler.

Last week was the end of Portland’s first real week of Fall weather. Lots of rainy afternoons. That, plus 4 PM nightfall could easily trigger a little SAD in the most diehard PNW natives.

And I’m not much of a diehard…I even use an umbrella! But only when it really rains.

Pair that basic root cause with what is likely to be my last attempt at dating for the year – if not ever – and I can see where my defenses against a torpor spiral could have failed me. Especially when I think of how my persistent seeming unhireability contributed to weakening those defenses.

Ugh, and then there’s the holiday.

Maybe Portland’s first Fall Storm was just the icing on the perfect emotional storm cake that’s been baking in my psyche these past few months. But at least my response was to simply ride it out with a nap, I’m pretty sure that could have been worse.

Like I said earlier, I’m out and about today, which is a good change of pace. I’m looking at other changes in behavior that I can stop/start/continue to maintain an upward emotional trajectory.

I think dating can easily fall into the stop bucket.

Enough of that emotional mayhem.

I know, emotionally exhausting as it is, that I must continue my job search. I need the sense of purpose work provides. However, I’m kind of battling the whole mentality of the pursuit. I want a job that aligns with my interests and values. Jobs like those pay me every day versus every two weeks. But my phone – and the job search alerts it sends me – seems to be pointing me in a different direction.

Really, LinkedIn? Three decades of retail management work experience and you’ve managed to scrounge up an open position at 7-Eleven? They also like to throw a management job at a local gas station/convenience store chainlet at me once or twice a week. That job has been open for six months!

Talk about a red flag.

The struggle for me now in my job search is not applying for jobs like that out of a desperate mindset. While they pay 1/3 of what I’m realistically worth, and half of what I accepted when I embarked on my last professional misadventure, the last thing I need is to be rejected for a position for which I’m grossly overqualified.

So, unfortunately, job search falls into the continue bucket. I just need to silence the voice in my head that is chanting the definition of insanity.

Maybe the start I need in my career search is developing new skills. I’ve been low-key exploring getting a professional certification in Human Resources after my last job. Generally, I hold an organization’s HR department in fairly low esteem, having experienced the execution of their dual responsibilities – the best interests of the employees and protecting the organization they serve – manifest as pencil whipping their job description. I’m not eager to sign up for professional impotence. If I want a poor return on my efforts, I could keep dating.

Then again, it pays well…even if the pay off isn’t professional satisfaction.

Alright. So I’ve got some vague marching orders. The local cafe has chosen to not play music today and the corner I’ve tucked into to enjoy my coffee while I write my way out of my torpor has now been surrounded by cubicle dwellers escaping for lunch.

All of those misophonia triggers have positioned themselves close enough to me for me to smack them, as their poor table manners require…so I should GTFO of here before I end up accidentally assaulting someone with my empty mug.

Off to the gym!

Plus, I just farted.

Tse Tse & Me

No Regrets

Writing about my good old times at The Old and The New Old Lompocs yesterday reminded me of this little nugget of a story languishing in draft-land from waaaaay back.

I’d like to say it was from a few months back, when I was working at the airport – PDX…maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s the best airport in the universe, at least according to travelers in the United States.

Six years running…no big deal.

They’ve got, like, carpet…and a clock.

Anyway, today – because this is my life and this is the way it always “just so happens” in my life – just so happens to be my 7 month anniversary of telling the company I worked for at PDX that it wasn’t me, it was them. So, this story probably starts a full year back.

Well, the draft starts a year back. The story itself? Yup, a century ago.

You see, when I wasn’t hanging out, wiling away my free time lusting over Richard, I was usually hanging out with my buddy No Regrets. Even then, I was a social prowler versus staying home. I didn’t even have a health hazard of a cat to keep me away from home. It’s kind of just how I’m built.

No Regrets was the manager of the store next to mine, so we became acquainted fairly easily. Eventually, we bonded over shared stories of I-5 shoplifting rings and after that, became friends.

Well, last year, I was in the B concourse store doing something – something that was likely Captain Can’t’s responsibility…but he, y’know…couldn’t – and who should happen by but my old pal!

Why do I call him No Regrets? Well, it’s a riff on his last name, mainly. But also, this guy was idling through or just out of so many programs when we met. These programs have a great benefit for participants – many, obviously – but for No Regrets, the main takeaway seemed to be overcoming the shame and stigma around his various struggles and being able to normalize the impulses he experienced in recovery.

Y’know, he had no regrets. Without the problems he’d overcome, he wouldn’t have become the fuller functioning person I met.

I know. Anyone in recovery hates how I just short handed that, but…here we are.

The result for me was bearing witness to private thoughts – or what many people would keep private – and stories of how he got to where he got before entering recovery. Oddly, they were rather entertaining, in a cautionary tale type of way. No Regrets’ story telling style was just rather engaging, too. He had a story teller’s voice.

Anyway, we chatted at the airport for a few, just caught up ever so briefly before he had to catch his plane. But that brief download was still so chockablock full of nostalgia for our time together a couple decades ago.

Because when I wasn’t at The Old Lompoc swilling beer, I was probably with No Regrets a few blocks away for some totally unneeded late night caffeine. Let’s see, if Lompoc was at 23rd and Savior, our hangout – CoffeeTime – was at…21st and Irving?

Yeah. 21st and Irving. I just remembered that my crashpad after moving back to PDX was right around the corner at 19th and Irving…that was a nice, warm welcome home! So when I say these hangouts were a few blocks away, 8 over, 2 up…yeah, not too far at all. Gotta love how small town-y Portland can feel!

One of his many Anons being the big A, we met at his favorite nighttime hangout. It was new to me and reminded me of the subterranean Catskeller below the student union in college, so many little twisty corners that created books for a small study table or old sofa for reading and chatting in semi-soon-to-be-necking privacy.

I loved it immediately.

Plus, there were a lot of cute, young, student body types. Guy Candy, if you will. Of course, one of No Regrets’ other Anons was S – Sex, if you didn’t get that one – he openly commented on the guy candy we were immersed in.

Look at that guy. You know he’s not wearing any underwear under his sweats, when he gets up again you can totally see his big dick flipping around.

Or,

Check out the size of those Chucks. You know that scrawny guy is packing a big, floppy dick.

A lot of his therapeutic appreciations involved genitals of the big, floppy type.

Like I complained. He amused me.

Anyway, it was here, at this time in my life – these late night chats with No Regrets – that I really learned to be self reflective. It was pre-Sacha – because he shut friendship with other gay guys down right quick – and I was new to town, not dating.

The way he talked about his struggles led me to ask questions like, “How does Sex Addiction work with dating?”

Poorly, mostly.

Was his humorous response to let me know I didn’t have to be scared to ask personal questions.

No, but seriously…not that well. But once you get into the program, they don’t want you dating anyone for at least the first year. No distractions. After the first steps are accomplished, the guideline is “If you can keep a plant alive for a year, you can date”.

“Oooh…I’m not sure I get the plant thing, but you’re…”

On my second plant.

He was only kidding, but this self-effacing wit definitely resonated with me. It was similar to my own style.

So one night, I whacked him over the head with the big, floppy part of a passerby and buried him in Forest Park.

I just love that place.

I joke.

If I recall the details of the program correctly, keeping a plant alive for a year served the dual purpose of putting someone else’s needs above your own and not letting your personal issues derail a relationship and actually being able to provide the essential support they need to thrive.

Dead plant = fail, right?

But it made sense. It got that it was a big leap from watering and fertilizing a plant to having a relationship, but the whole focus on knowing yourself before you get to know someone else and become a part of their well being was quite a takeaway from these talks.

Again, making enemies of any reader that is in any recovery program.

But thinking on these inadvertent nuggets of wisdom he brought to CoffeeTime helped me to formulate my own code when it came to dating. Namely: taking time between relationships.

I’d moved to Portland with only two relationships of any length under my belt – at 28…how pathetic, right? Let’s ignore the fact that I’ve only doubled that result in the next half-ish of my life, shall we? But I had a natural reluctance to just swing from one relationship to the next, as a monkey does with tree branches.

This helped me to define that habit or ritual of mine.

For the record, not all of his stories were about shoplifters or his life in Whatever Anonymous. Sometimes he’d tell stories about his completely strange family and growing up surrounded by mentally unwell or abusive people.

His brother was textbook crazy…I want to say schizophrenia+. But the poor kid was terrified from the inside everyday. It had to be hell being him and it didn’t sound like being around him was any picnic, either.

But, lemonade, right?

No Regrets told me about this conversation he’d had with his brother one day. He’d asked him how his day was. Surprisingly, the day had been relatively uneventful, which was a rare occasion for his brother.

Until I was walking home from the bus and the man across the street started shooting his Sex Rays at me.

…and then he just calmly continued on with telling the events of his day.

No Regrets sees my eyebrows shoot up and my mouth form a tight little circle. In response, he pulls his head down and to the left as he raises that shoulder to meet it in his version of a shrug, mimics my eyebrow rockets and half lets out a guffaw as if to say, “That’s bound to happen if you walk around long enough”.

Sex Rays?!?”, I demand.

Yup. I mean, what are ya gonna do? And it didn’t even register as more than a nuisance!

“Like a footnote in his day?”

Basically. I mean, this kid loses it over toilet paper being hung the wrong way,

“Shut up.”

but Sex Rays don’t bother him at all.

We chuckled at that for quite a while that night while I grilled him on details, knowing that he’d want to make sure his bro was truly ok. I wish I could remember the conversation better, suffice it to say, there was some frustration on his bother’s part, I just can’t remember it.

But we did get some miles out of that turned phrase. Instead of worrying about what was big and/or floppy, we’d say something like,

I’d like to shoot my Sex Rays at that!

Y’know, lighthearted nonsense.

Anyway, flash forward a year or two, Sacha is in the picture, No Regrets is out. We’d still managed occasional coffees while we worked next door to each other, but eventually, I got transferred across town and then he moved to NorCal and we completely lost touch in the pre-LinkedIn world we were trapped in.

Flash forward another few years and Sacha took off on me. I fell apart and then I fell back on the introspection I had learned from No Regrets and settled in to figuring out who I was as a single person again so that I didn’t subject a potential new mate to the damage of Sacha.

I’m sorry, not damage. Trauma? Scars? It’s just not quite right…ideally, anything that makes him sound the least bit responsible for his actions in a relationship makes him want to burn the world down, so let’s give his “At Least I Have A Friggin Glass” Google alert a treat and call it the Wrath of Sacha.

Anyway, I didn’t want to subject a new boyfriend to that particular STD, so I was single for a long damn time.

So long that I was living in Seattle the next time I found myself dating. Either work transferred me or I was single so long, the subduction zone I live in has crushed the distance between Portland and Seattle.

Who’s to really say for sure?

But a funny thing happened in between relationships.

My one job moved me to Seattle and then ended altogether a year-ish later. I’d gone to work in a crashpad of a job at Bed, Bath and Beyond. About 18 months later, I was recruited away by a customer who worked for Sur la Table.

When I was talking to some of my team about where I was going to, one of my associates – who never said anything – chimes in with,

Oh, yeah…my uncle is a District Manager for them in California.

Foreshadowing

“Well, there’s a big manager’s meeting here in Seattle (the company’s corporate HQ) so maybe I’ll meet him!”

Yup.

His uncle was No friggin Regrets.

I’m on the left, obviously.

It had been ten years since we’d first met. But we fell into an amazing and immediately comfortable rapport.

Turns out that was a good thing, since a couple years later, he got promoted and became my boss’ boss. I liked him, her…I was gonna enjoy watching this. In his many Anon learning experiences, he’d become a fan of being his genuine self. My boss…a jackhammer couldn’t reach an authentic level in her.

She was so bad that when I was with her and she’d introduce me to someone, she’d always work in an, “Oh, I love your scarf!” type compliment. I’d just stand behind her and make these little gestures

So, that was therapeutic to watch, but eventually I got recruited away and at some point – after our company sold itself into a Venture Capital form of sex slavery – he got sacrificed and we lost touch again.

Let’s see…this started in ’96. We met up again in ’06 and this last airport meeting was either in late ’16 or ’17…I really think it was ’17, but now that I type that out, I really hope this draft was older than I think.

I think it was actually. It was waaaaay down there.

But it’s funny, regardless. People come into your life for a reason. You may never know what that reason is, or that reason might simply be some low grade companionship.

But every now and then – especially if you’re an introspective S.O.B. like me that can go down for days on the couch – you realize that people you met 20 years ago and lost touch with long ago are still informing your decisions today with the fingerprint they left on you.

OK, see? I tried to just organically wrap this up with something uplifting and I typed that “.” and my inner lech whispered, “Yeah, you tell us about the fingerprint that Sex Addict left on you…”

I swear, Hannibal Lecter must have been my nanny.

Now that I realize my mistake, I know I should have tried to throw my introspection about No Regrets back to my Highlander reference earlier…because

Nonetheless, fingerprint analogy notwithstanding, you just never know who you’re going to meet that going to give you strength or joy later in life. When they show up – mentally or physically – it’s a fantastic leveling device against the daily onslaught of crushing minutia. You gotta take a second to enjoy that and toss out a thank you to the mysterious universe that keeps these people drifting through your consciousness.

Actually, now that I think about it, maybe I should reach out and see where he landed after Sur la Table. Maybe this time I could intentionally hitch my work wagon to him.

Hmmm…standby.

No Regrets

*Not* Sleeping With The Enemy

Well, I’ve been sitting on this for a couple of months now.

Not that I’m pals with Julia Roberts, that would not be news I kept to myself. I’m totally that guy who would have a celebrity friend and always refer to them by their full name just to make sure no one forgot.

But let’s take a moment to acknowledge that this movie grossed $175 million back in 1991…on a film about escaping domestic abuse! That’s not Gone Girl money, but it’s about half of Gone Girl’s box office and I’m really not sure how you adjust that for inflation over almost a quarter century.

Anyhoo…that was quite a sidebar.

So, in August, I took a part time/seasonal job to get my ass off the couch. This was after watching all of the Marvel movies – except the Captain America movies – that I could get my hands on on Amazon over the course of two days.

This was after packing on 20 lbs in three months.

This was after my crisis of confidence that I’d ever be comfortable or capable of returning to work in retail management after trying – and largely failing – to cope with the feeling of betrayal my last job left me with for four months. I really think that this disease I carried with me when discussing my last job was a bigger part of why I kept finishing second in interviews than I’d been admitting to myself.

Maybe I was imagining that.

Maybe it was actually happening.

Who knows?

But what I did know was that something had to change. Doubting I would succeed in finding a company I trusted enough to risk going to work again, I opened up craigslist and just started scrolling through the jobs page.

No filters.

Everything.

Hell, anything.

I needed to change things up. Occupy my time. Jump start my confidence in myself and a future employer so I could let go of these feelings of distrust and worthlessness.

That’s the first connection that this experience had to Sleeping With The Enemy. I felt abused and devalued by my last job. Like Julia, I was going to have to overcome my fear in order to succeed – unlike her, I’d already escaped, but couldn’t let go of the trauma. She only had to learn how to swim – well, and then hide forever – I wasn’t entirely sure that I knew or could articulate exactly what I needed to overcome.

The second…correlation? Sure, let’s go with that – that this entry has to Sleeping With The Enemy is that I went to work for Amazon.

Escandoloso!

Literally, the company that has been the feared enemy of my brick and mortar retail career.

But, in reading the craigslist post, this was a seemingly win/win situation for old Xtopher:

There was no interview at all. Take a few aptitude tests on line, pick a schedule, go to work.

In.

Sane.

The job was at night. I took the 9-430 shift Friday night through Monday night. Why is this a win? Because it took me out of commission for the prime drinking days…something I needed to get away from.

Lastly, the job is crazy physical. It’s fast paced, too. Well, it’s set your own damn pace because there’s very little oversight…I choose fast because I expect myself to exceed expectations, so Bob’s your uncle.

Oh, here…

Anyway, I anticipated riding my bike to work since the busses don’t run until 5-ish in the morning and waiting a half hour when I could be home and in the shower in 15 minutes seemed stupid. So there’s basically four lunchtime spin classes a week just in the commute, which was a good start. But this job just kicks my ass on the daily whether I ride the bike or the bus.

And I’ve dropped at least 20 pounds since I started work there.

Technically, I guess this is a win/win/win…and I’ll take it!

Ok, so how does this job kick my ass?

I’m glad you aksed.

(Is it racist if I type in Ebonics? I’m going with “nope” because I friggin’ love that word.)

Its a warehouse job. This particular warehouse is a Sort Center, which is where the Fulfillment Centers route locally bound packages to be sorted for delivery. There’s three basic functions my role can be assigned to:

Unload: semis come into this Sort Center from Fulfillment Centers throughout the PNW and California. Hell, maybe even from other regions, too. No one tells me anything until 3 seconds after I need to know it. Trucks either need to be manually unloaded onto a belt or come palletized, then my job is to move the boxes from the pallets to the belt.

Puller: boxes travel down the belt, past 68 aisles on either side. Pullers look at each label as it goes by and pull packages for their assigned aisles – usually a group of 3, if we’re staffed up and we usually aren’t – and put it on a shelf.

Sorter: each Sorter is assigned two aisles – same caveat as above – that are about 21 feet long and are separated into six sections on each side, each section has three shelves. Four of these sections are divided into six totes representing different delivery areas, the other two are just shelves for oversized packages. The Sorter looks at each package and then scans it to log it into the correct delivery bin.

It sounds pretty easy until you think about how many semis it takes to deliver the 40-50k packages to our Sort Center each night.

There’s generally 8-10 people on Unload, so figure each of them will touch 5000 packages per night, that’s a lot of bending, twisting and lifting.

Pullers are the area that seems to get the least amount of compromising, it is a job that runs short as a last resort, so figure there’s about 45 people doing this job during a shift.

Then there’s the Sorters. Ideally, there are 34 in order to keep it manageable.

What usually happens is not that. If there aren’t enough Sorters, a set of aisles will be allowed to build up until its shelves reach critical mass. At that point someone will be pulled from their aisles and conscripted to put out the fire.

You can probably see where the disadvantage of having too little supervision and allowing people to set their own pace. Likewise, the extreme disadvantage of being a fast worker. Frequently, I’ll be asked to go take care of one of these orphan aisles, only to return to my own to find them in chaos.

Sorting is what I do most nights, and it’s a lot of fast paced walking, lifting, carrying, squatting and then more of all that. The aisles are about 20 feet long and I usually walk between 8-10 miles per shift, wearing a rut in the concrete floor.

Carrying stuff.

The pace goal for Sorters is to scan ~170 packages per hour into their respective delivery totes. That’s three packages a minute, which sounds easy enough.

Then you have to factor in things like scanner issues – believe me, holding the scan button tighter does not make it more likely to read a barcode – and replacing full totes with empty ones throughout the night.

I’m usually in the mid to high 200/hr range. That number will go up dramatically on nights where I hear things like, “We only have 5 Sorters on this side of the belt!”

FML.

There should be 16.

But somehow, at 430 in the morning, things still seem to have gotten done. Whether that’s because we managed to actually finish everything because we were staffed up or because the managers decided to pause the Unload team and push packages to the following day – which is never a good option – is not always clear to me. But at some point in the night – for whatever reason – the Unloaders will become Sorters, which always helps us get to the finish line.

Or close.

The culture of minimal supervision means that at 430, people walk away from their assigned areas and just leave.

I’ll cross the finish line in my aisles – clothes completely soaked through with sweat – and head toward the front to turn in my scanning equipment only to realize the silence coming from the aisles around me didn’t mean the aisles were done, just that the Sorters were gone.

Nice teamwork, right?

The latest I’ve ever had to stay is about 515, and that’s only been a few times. Generally, I’m on the road by 445, pedaling toward home.

But, what’s with all this minimal supervision, you ask?

Well…to run a shift, we need about 85 people, right? Call it 10 Unloaders, 45 Pullers and 34 Sorters.

We feel lucky if 75 people show up.

There’s days when you look around at the start of shift meeting – called a Stand Up – and it doesn’t look like there’s even 50 people there.

So, Amazon basically falls into the same staffing terror trap that my airport employer experienced. And they kind of deal with it the same way: unenforced expectations.

The only real hardline I hear people talk about is attendance, which at least puts them a step ahead of the airport. That’s pretty much out of their control, since points automatically accrue with missed shifts and tardiness. You hit the point threshold and you’re out. Beyond anyone’s control beside the individual.

I love systems like that.

But for the rest of the rules, enforcement is phoned in.

I hate systems like that.

There’s usually two shift managers who have maybe a dozen junior managers – called Ambassadors – to help keep things running in the different zones of the warehouse. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of expectations on the Ambassadors other than get the packages ready to deliver. Nor is there much development that I can see. I rarely see the shift managers away from their station at the front desk. Occasionally, I’ll see them with the Unload team or at the front of the belt, helping. Anything beyond that is pretty much run by Ambassadors.

The sad thing is that with the Ambassadors usually being self-directed, if someone doesn’t pull their weight, everyone else just has to work harder. Most of the time, I see Ambassadors strolling around in pairs, talking. Since most Ambassadors started as Sorters, they will occasionally hang out with their Sorting buddies from before they were promoted and talk.

I think the main criteria for being an Ambassador is “just be there longest” when an opening comes up. Fine, if that’s how you wanna do it, but it would be a lot better if there was a formal or better yet, executed training program for these junior managers.

But, remember what I said about my own development…it’s usually three seconds too late. My first night on the job was spent being shown safe working habits and how to Sort. Every role I’ve learned since then has been learned in the moment. Not optimal, but I can roll with it, I’ll care enough to figure it out. It’s just difficult to do what’s encouraged if I have a question – “ask an Ambassador” – since the vast majority of them rarely make eye contact and usually offer barely a grunt in response if you greet them.

Despite those obstacles and bad people habits, there’s still about a half dozen Ambassadors that I would call good. They got good because of their own drive and luck I’d guess.

Luck is never a good quality in a workplace…it always runs out.

If there was more of a drive to manage performance versus simply achieve results, night’s where we have fewer than 75 associates would be nights where we had everything we need rather than a crisis.

However, with the balance of the Ambassadors demonstrating bad habits to the associates, it’s no wonder we have the results we do. I’ve seen people just walk away from their aisles and be gone for 20-30 minutes. I’ve seen Pullers have an Ambassador cover their zone so they can go to the bathroom five minutes after returning from break. There is more than one associate who moves at a pace that suggests they are terrified their shoes will burst into flames if they walk too fast.

I’ve witnessed conversations that are completely not appropriate for work taking place. I thought long and hard about saying something about them – the favorite topic is speculating whether a small, heavy box has a dildo or other sex toy in it. Ultimately, I decided to just keep my head down and my focus on my work…this is a good strategy, since people’s hands move rather slowly while their jaws are flapping.

Anyway, it’s unfortunate that these issues are not addressed simply because people might quit. The adverse effect here is that the bad behaviors travel up the chain of command like a contagion, just lowering the performance bar. I even overheard one of our Shift Managers engaging in a dildo conversation with four other people. I was working across the belt from the other Shift Manager, a woman, and I looked up at her and her face registered absolutely no offense.

This bothered me…

The hell with that.

I sold myself on taking a job – any job – just to get off my couch. The emotional/mental benefits I mentioned above. The physical aspect of the job that I simply love…even though I feel broken for days after my four day work week ends.

The fact that it was a job at Amazon was an added benefit, maybe the exposure would allow me to stand out and be promoted or help out if another job I was qualified opened up. I think I’m at that level, now. I hear my name come up in positive sidebars. However, I don’t want to be an Ambassador if it means most of my peers suck at their job. I’ve been there and done that. Ain’t for me.

But the last benefit is likely going to be the most useful for me. When I left my last job, it was with what I considered good reason. The State of Oregon disagreed, so I’ve been denied unemployment benefits, which were part of my financial planning for my time off and job search. That disqualification is lifted once I’ve earned 4x my weekly unemployment benefit and then I can begin drawing unemployment bennies.

Well, when I took this temporary seasonal job, I didn’t know how long my assignment would last, because: no interview. What I found out is that I could be a seasonal employee for up to 11 months.

That’s a lot of seasons.

But if I quit once I reach my disqualification threshold, I’d be right back at square one with the great state again ruling that I quit for no good reason.

Oooh, conundrum.

I knew after a month that this job, four nights a week was too physically demanding for me to do long term. I wasn’t as sore as I’d been my first week, but my soreness was in my joints – from my fingers to my knees – and not in my muscles.

That’s no bueno.

Fortune smiled upon me when corporate decided to standardize work shifts. Instead of our station’s four day/9-430 shift, we were being moved to a three day/815-515 shift.

Three days…I could do three days.

Or…

We would be moved into a four hour shift, five days a week. There was going to be an 815-1215 shift and a 115-515 shift.

Out of those three possibilities, I got the absolute worst possible shift for me: 815-1215.

This was bad for me because, why?

Because we are always short staffed. I could easily see the, “Hey, can you extend to a full shift today?” conversation happening every. damn. shift.

This shift was also bad for mine, truly because I didn’t see getting home at 1230 as a benefit. A) I’d probably stop and close a dive bar at least once a week, which is counterproductive to my fitness goals; but, B) I also knew that I’d still need a shower before going to bed and that’s gonna put my bedtime closer to 2 in the morning after letting my hair dry. Two hours of prep time – between my 40 minute round trip bike commute and pre-bedtime shower – was half of the time I’d actually be getting paid to work.

Bad ROI.

Icing this scheduling cake was that it wasn’t sustainable when I return to work, which – despite my plotting against the fine folks at the unemployment office – I was/am hoping to do sooner, rather than later.

So, I told my dildo-talking boss that I couldn’t do the new schedule, even though I was taking the choice of shift assignment as a compliment.

He asked if I could do the three day rotation.

No.

How about on-call?

Hmmm…maybe!

I liked that idea. As summer weather gave way to less bike commuter friendly fall and winter weather, I could pick up as few as one shift a month and still remain on-call. That could work.

Added bonus, I can re-open my unemployment claim from the world of the underemployed versus unemployed. Also a good thing.

So, I decided to do that. My goal was to try and pick up three shifts a week until I go back to working full time and then at least two shifts per month after that.

We’ll see how it goes. And quickly, too…my last two days as a seasonal associate are this Friday and Saturday, then I switch to on-call.

If anyone wants to go play Sunday, let me know…I’ll have a weekend day off again!

And maybe – just maybe – I’ll be in the mood to celebrate a new job. I was one of only three people interviewed last weekend for a job with Columbia Sportswear. Here’s hoping that I finally break my Second Place streak.

I’ll know before Friday. Fingers crossed that I can celebrate a new job, successful transition to on-call at Amazon and not even needing my Machiavelli-esque earned unemployment.

Another win/win/win!

*Not* Sleeping With The Enemy

I know, I know…

A good chunk of my frustration in witnessing others’ ineptitude as they work is based on my frustration in landing interviews or – not to be greedy – even getting a job. Still, beneath that unusual and temporary layer of frustration is the normal level of service level expectations that aren’t being met by these seemingly over-employed folks that keep catapulting themselves into my path.

Phew. Still with me?

So, I’m gonna do some therapeutic writing. But I want to get a disclaimer out there up front: this all didn’t just happen this morning. I’m not that “Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” type that encounters a slight inconvenience and demands to speak to the manager.

Sidebar: OMG, they made a musical out of this camp classic movie!

Nor am I a “Sleeping With The Enemy” type customer who lets his own OCD overwhelm transactional encounters in my life.

That said…I probably need this tee shirt

Hey, I know my shit.

I felt my usual simmering frustrations starting to boil a couple weeks back, hell…maybe even a month ago when I wrote about Penzey’s Spices and then my trip to Darcelle’s after that.

Darcelle’s and Penzey’s are two businesses that are worried about more than just their bottom line. Actually, maybe it’s that their bottom line is people instead of dollars. I’ve always believed that in a service industry, if you put people first – be them customers or your employees – that the dollars will come.

So, there…a couple of disclaimers before I rail against some companies that should just. do. better. to demonstrate that I know what good service and business looks like and that I know I’m just a grump sometimes.

Anyway, I tried to recycle my cans this morning and everything went to hell.

This should be pretty simple, right? I live in a state that has a bottle and can deposit. I always recycled and I was fine paying a nickel a can for my entire life as an Oregonian without redeeming my recyclables for my nickel…back. I figured it was an income stream for industrious homeless people. But, when we triggered a deposit increase to a dime a can…I started redeeming those aluminum and glass bastards myself.

I hated it.

The reverse vending machines that grocery stores use to refund bottle deposits were dependably gross, crowded and usually broke down. It was a hassle. So when some industrious individual came up with the idea to lease the machines to grocery stores while also offering the service extension of a concierge type recycling program, I was in.

Welcome to the show, BottleDrop!

Ok, well, first I grumbled about the fact that it was gonna cost me a penny per can to drop my recyclables off and have someone else count them, because: grumpy. Then I came around.

But in contracting with a company to drop off a bag of recyclables in a secure area, have them counted for me and then have my redemption refund credited to my account within five days, well I had expectations that BottleDrop would fulfill their service commitment.

See? That’s not really too much to expect, right?

It started off small, little inconveniences like the drop area not being open when I tried to drop off my bag on my way to work. That’s on me for not knowing the hours of operation. That evolved into their 3-5 day credit window becoming a 3-5 – no, just 5 – day window before my dropped bag was acknowledged as received and then another 3-5 days before my deposit refund was credited. Then drop off centers started opening erratically or being closed because both the reverse vending recycling machines and the secure bag drop doors were broken…it’s a door.

Still, I was surprisingly ok.

Then a bag went missing.

I emailed their customer service and a few days later got a response apologizing and letting me know that they credited my account for my Average Bag Value.

That seemed pretty fair and still convenient, so I felt whole and cared for as a customer.

Then my next bag went missing. It was disturbing because my first six months with them, no issues. Suddenly, two consecutive bags from the same drop location disappear.

They credited me once again for my ABV – which sadly is not Alcohol By Volume. My next bag was credited as expected, so I chalked my two missing bags up to weird coincidence.

Flash forward to August and I can say that out of the 12 bags I’ve dropped this year – don’t look at me like that, a lot of the cans are La Croix or Diet Coke – only four have been credited as expected. I’m beginning to wonder what consistently receiving my ABV versus the actual value of my redeemables does to my ABV. Something in the back of my mind keeps reminding me that averaging averages is bad math.

I began debating just using the reverse vending machines and doing it myself. At this point in my relationship with BottleDrop, they weren’t earning their keep. So I head out with that in mind this morning.

I walk a quarter mile to the Safeway: there’s a sign posted saying the drop center is opening at 9 instead of the usual 7.

Ugh.

The struggle is real…annoying.

It’s only a little more than 30 minutes away. I consider going across the street to Nossa for a coffee but there’s already a line of dirty dudes with shopping carts so it’ll be a 30 minute plus a significant chunk of time while these recycling professionals make it look hard. Plus, as I told the Silver Fox afterward, I didn’t want everyone at Nossa feeling bad because I was rocking the Recycle Fabulous look with my green bag of cans while they sat there with their engineered pooches or in their clip in cycling shoes looking lame by comparison…

Instead, I set off on the alleged half mile to Freddy’s, still not sure whether I’ll drop the bag or recycle it manually. Turns out, it’s 8/10 of a mile. Close, Google…but no cigar.

When I arrive, there’s three employees standing around talking. I think two BottleDrop and one Freddy’s, based on polo colors. They’re talking about hot flashes. Specifically, the male is talking about how uncomfortable it is to sleep with his wife when it’s “80 degrees at 11 o’clock and my wife has a hot flash in bed” – a fact neither of his two female coworkers need to be told.

#ThemToo

The two recycling machines are propped open slightly. Even though they’ve been open almost two hours, I assume they are still just being prepared for the days recycling. Feeling like I won the lottery – since there are no ne’er do well millionaires in line – I ask if I can be the first.

“Oh, we don’t do that anymore! But if you have an account, you can just drop your bag right through that door!”

I don’t know if the BottleDrop lady’s enthusiasm is because she’s new on the job and showing her pride or if she’s just that happy to get away from her basic white guy coworker. I do know that I’ve kinda had it at this point as she keeps yammering away. When I open the door, it’s packed with green bags of recyclables.

Ok, BottleDrop…I’m gonna give you credit: you created jobs with your business. Ostensibly – based strictly off the two employees I saw today where normally there would be one – you’ve doubled your work force by eliminating the self-serve recycling machines.

But!

Both of your employees were standing around like they were waiting for the valet to fetch their Maserati when I arrived. They were looking fresh while I – after walking about a mile and a half in my thwarted recycling attempt – was dripping sweat.

To me, it looks like you’re wasting payroll. Not to mention my time…I want my penny back.

So, BottleDrop has a pretty big shitshow on their hands. It’s like the great idea was primarily a money grab and instead of having operational processes in place to ensure good service, they just throw money at the problem – be it in ABV credits or added payroll – to make it go away.

I’ve had two interactions with other companies this year that seemed to want to do better. That’s great, knowing your limits is admirable – like me avoiding large groups of people…it’s just not something I’m armed for and willing to deal with. Maybe I should acknowledge that using a weapons analogy when discussing large groups of people was a bad idea there…oops.

Starbucks.

Charbucks.

“Where self-hating coffee lovers go for coffee” is my unofficial slogan for them.

Outside of their Reserve Roastery that opened a few blocks from my place in Seattle, I can count the number of times I’ve been in a Charbucks in the last decade on one hand. Even if I’d had a fireworks accident as a child.

However, earlier this year – February, to be precise – I’d been forced by circumstance into one of their cafes. It was at the height of the second harassment allegation against my co-worker at my last job.

By the way, pretty sure that my last employer – Paradies – exists solely to make companies like BottleDrop look effective.

Anyway, I was on my way in to work on the day that two of the senior field managers were in town to conduct a formal investigation. I was fully expecting my peer to be terminated and was feeling a strange brew of empathy and relief for him and dread about the void his position’s vacancy would create in our operation because my boss absolutely sucked at people development…meaning their was a lot of shit only he knew how to do. So I was stressed.

But, speaking of shit…my stress manifested as an urgent liquification – Why is that not a word? – of my insides while I was heading into work. Seriously, I left the house feeling 100% ready to face the day. Twenty minutes later and two stops into my commute, I was running off the train looking for a bathroom.

Yup, Charbucks was the only place.

Now, being somewhat responsible and understanding that businesses do not have restrooms just to provide their employees with cleaning tasks during downtime, I resigned myself to buying a drink to fulfill my end of the “restrooms are for customer use” contract.

However, I had to go.

Unfortunately, I had entered from one door while an elderly couple was entering from another door, closer to the counter. We were the only customers in the store.

There were three employees behind the counter. One was making something against the rear counter with her back toward me. The other two were intently focused on this older couple as said couple stared at the menu above the counter.

I stood at the register, being ignored, clenching so hard that I was sweating.

“Let me know if I can answer any questions for you!” the cashier says to the couple.

“Can I order while they decide?” I ask, getting an “I’ll be with you in a moment” from the cashier. Her coworker is standing on the other side of her grinning at this old couple like they’re…I. Don’t. Know.

Optimistic and desperate, I go check the bathrooms. Locked.

I go back to the counter and ask too-happy-guy for the code, emanating distress.

“The code will be on your receipt!”, cheerily.

“Can I order now?”, I ask as the old couple asks something about whether they can get their breakfast sandwich open-faced. I’m afraid I’m about to make a gravy for their open-faced sandwich.

The too-happy-guy pries his attention away from the look-how-cute-they-are-ordering-sandwiches couple to tell me the cashier will be right with me.

She wasn’t.

But, having finally ordered my 16 ounce cold brew, I’m seeing a light at the end of my <ahem> tunnel.

“Did you want the nitro cold brew?”

Sure, whatever.

“And we don’t have 16 ounce cups, do you want a Tall or a Grande?”

Ok, lady…I don’t have the time to educate you on the fact that the entire world outside your cafe doors has 16 ounce cups and that they are just magically transformed into Talls and et als once they cross your threshold.

I’ll.

Take.

A.

Tall.

I pay and tip and then she starts to spin on her heel to walk away. “Hold on, can I get my receipt, please!”

“Oh, sure…I’m so used to it being in people’s app! I don’t think I’ve ever printed one!”

“That’s ok, I just really need it for the bathroom code!”

She takes a piece of scrap paper off the printer and then stamps it with the bathroom code.

Really? I’m disgusted by the unwillingness of too-happy-guy to stamp a fucking piece of paper to help a customer, but I don’t have time to go into that with him now.

I frantically make my way to the bathroom, unclenching as few muscles as possible to still be able to walk. Pretty sure that it’s just four muscles, legs are locked up and arms are contorted into claws as I do a zombie style shit stumble to the door.

You know, it could have been worse. Even success at that point would have cost 100% of my dignity, based on how desperate I surely looked trying to wait out the petty toilet tyrants working at Charbucks that day. Let’s just call the near-success Nicklecrap, since that was really all the evidence of my failure that left the cafe with me. It’s also a great riff of the way most people feel about Nickleback as a band.

I promise, that’s my last Nickleback joke.

I walked out of the cafe, briefly considering grabbing my tip back from the tip jar and leaving my coffee on the counter. I actually did try to leave my order there, but the third employee suddenly decided to be – pardon the entendres – worth a shit and reminded me not to forget. I took my drink, smiled and went home to change.

Of course, I tried the coffee before throwing it away.

Still crap.

Less than two months later, I’ve quit my shit company and the whole Starbucks Bathroom Debacle unfolds and I’m just sitting there reading about it and thinking, “Really, Charbucks? Really?!?”

I have some time to kill on my way home and then back to work.

I invest that time in distracting myself from the stressful day ahead by emailing my complaint to Charbucks. It’s a…sanitized version of what I just wrote. By the time I’m headed back to work, they’ve responded.

Ok, this is kind of impressive.

They are – of course – sorry. Not as sorry as they’ll end up being a couple months later. They want to give me a $15 gift card. Since I don’t have a rewards card with them – the only one they found for my email address hasn’t been used in years – so can they get my mailing address and they’ll just send a physical card.

That’s really nice of them, but really, just let the district manager know so that the bathroom Nazis at this store can be addressed.

They insist.

I give them my address and ask if they can send three $5 cards so I can use them as incentives for my employees, pointing out that my rewards account hasn’t been used in years.

The response was that they were super sorry, but the order had already been put through.

Ok, now that’s a fucked up reply. My request came through with my mailing address, so how could the order be “put through” before getting the information needed for the putting through?!?

You know what?

I let it lie and just say thank you. I’m not going to bitch about a company doing something nice for me.

You just thought to yourself, “Yet here he is, bitching about it”, didn’t you?

It’s okay. The same thought would have popped into my head, too.

But you know what else?

The cards never came.

Swing and a miss, SBUX.

My last story is similar yet hopefully quicker. I’m including it in the Grumpopotamus Diaries because this company did something over the top different in their pursuit of good customer service and good PR.

I was using my Kuhn Rikon peppermill to add pepper to my lunch back in June when the grinding mechanism dropped completely out of the bottom, adding not only whole peppercorns to my lunch but also some gears, springs and washers.

Ok. It was probably six years old. It had a good life. Ironically, I had a back up. I like the spicier peppercorns, which is what was in my now dead peppermill. My spare had regular tellicherry peppercorns in it for when I had company.

Basically, it’s lightly used.

Still, I’m a considerate enough host, right?

I take a self-congratulatory pic and post it to Instagram, pleased with myself for having a back up. I’m a regular boy scout in the kitchen.

Here’s the impressive part: Kuhn Rikon actually has a PR company that looks out for crap like this on social media. They reached out to me that day to offer a replacement.

I mean, I’m no fool…I said hell, yes!

They told me they would set it up and get me a new grinder. This was happening over a weekend, too!

Guess what?

Yup, never came.

It’s been two months. That’s probably a reasonable timeframe to expect fulfillment, right?

Here’s the deal, though. I’m pretty whole as far as this pepper grinder situation goes. I had my back up – which, truth be told, I got for free back when I worked for Sur la Table. I’m good.

What rubs me the wrong way is the overpromise/underdeliver aspect of this – and SBUX – customer service. I think any company worth a crap wants their customer experience to be the exact opposite. They want to overdeliver on customer expectations.

If they know enough to say that they need to farm these extraordinary types of customer service out so they don’t drop the ball, great! Do it! But don’t go snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by failing to follow through once your customer service team or your agency has made a commitment.

You lose all the points.

And then some bitter crank bitches about it in his blog.

Luckily, I don’t work for Bon Appetit or Business Insider, so no real jeopardy of my experiences going viral here…but if you know someone who does, feel free to let them know that I can write without cursing. J/S. End shameless plug.

Nope, wait…don’t forget to like and/or share! Now, end shameless plug.

Also, if you’re ever bored, google Bon Appetit Memes. So…disappointingly hilarious.

I know, I know…

Spice Force

Well, Portland shut down its OccupyICE camp last week.

It was time. Actually, it was over-time. I’d been watching from the sidelines, as is my style, for the last couple of months while Little Beirut did what it does.

Protest.

In many ways, we did good things that made me nod in appreciation. Then there was the OccupyICE movement which started out fine, taking our protests from the streets and parks to the front door of those we protested.

In past years, this has led to marches that shut down freeways and damaged property. That was avoided this time, but I was still disappointed in the evolution of this protest. When I would watch video, the protesters were not behaving in a way that made me proud to be associated with their message. While their actions were not violent or destructive, their words still were.

Shocking no one, words are important to me. Maybe we’ve learned as protesters that actions speak louder than words, but I think our next evolution needs to ensure that our words are matching our non-violent and non-destructive actions.

This was not the case with the OccupyICE protest at the ICE facility in southwest Portland for the last several weeks. Just like the Occupy Wall Street movement from years ago, what started out as a hive of like minded social activists morphed into a homeless camp.

Ironically, the Garden Party I attended over the weekend had two radio hosts at it whose offices were right in the thick of the OccupyICE imbroglio. They echoed my relief that the camp had been shut down. However, while I was relieved that it was shut down and would no longer be a threat to our collective credibility, they were relieved that it was no longer a threat to their personal safety.

We come by our Little Beirut nickname pretty honestly here in Portland…unfortunately.

Meanwhile, though, elsewhere in the city we were staging protests in a much more constructive fashion.

The Silver Fox and I had occasion to mix with folks in our collective front yard last month as they held a rally in the park to protest the separation of immigrant families.

It was extremely peaceful.

It was organized.

It was huge.

The rally was set to take place in front of the former US Customs House on the park block just diagonally across the street from The Fox’s and my homes. It ended up spilling over and filling half of the park block in front of our houses as well as on the other side.

It was a simple enough affair with a good mix of the usual local politicians and activists speaking as well as former military people and just parents spreading their heartfelt message of resistance. There were roving petitioners circulating to garner support for whatever ballot measures they were advocating for and even someone there with resources to help get voters registered…just in case.

But in addition to the words spoken, what was left behind has peacefully influenced passers by in the park blocks for weeks after the rally.

Sidewalk Protests.

The sidewalks around the park blocks as well as the brick paths through the park blocks themselves are covered in chalk. Literally hundreds of messages scribbled out to remind us every day that our government has committed these horrifying acts against immigrant families.

Committed.

Not supported or ignored, committed.

And that’s not ok.

But what’s even heartened my heart more than Portland getting its protest act together has been the activity of a certain business – and namesake inspiration for this post – in recent months.

Penzey’s Spices.

If you talk to business leaders about mixing politics or religion with their businesses, I’m sure you’d get a high 90% of them saying that it’s a bad idea. Indeed, when it comes to politics, most businesses usually play both sides of the fence by donating within the mandated maximums equally to political campaigns.

Then Citizens United happened.

That decision resulted in limitless spending by corporations to advance their agendas and support their interests. Obviously, this benefits Oil and Pharma more than retail business interests. Corporate spending follows those same divisions with retailers having little to no interest in changing their political spending, for the most part.

However, Penzey’s has done better than just doing what they’ve always done. They went out on a branch and literally risked putting their money where their mouth is. In recent months, their email marketing – written by Bill Penzey himself – has flat out declared its opposition to the actions of our government. Specifically calling out the Republican – Ratpublican – Party for its continued endorsement of Trump’s actions, whether it’s open approval or tacit through lack of condemnation.

Their stance is simple. They are a spice company and spices are used in the most basic demonstration of familial bonding – meal prep. Therefore, it follows that keeping families together would be a natural interest for them to endorse.

Boy, howdy…have they ever!

The picture above is a giveaway they did back in April. It was a shareable promotion for their email followers. Sallory – who lives way out of town- asked The Fox to pick hers up. He then signed up for their email list and invited me to go with him. Of course, if I’m walking four blocks, I want the free gift, too!

I’ve shopped at Penzey’s off and on for the last decade or so since they opened their Seattle store. I was living with a culinary student and working at Sur la Table, of course I’m going to a spice store! When I moved back to Portland, I just happened to end up living practically around the corner from their store. When I need something for my turn cooking for Monday Night Supper Club, I hustle over to Penzey’s. When it’s not my turn for MNSC, I usually go over to buy something to sprinkle on my popcorn…I cook for other people, not myself.

But I’d never signed up for their email list.

Boy, was I missing out!

Not only do they have great promotions, the free giveaway actually had laminated recipe cards in it with ideas for using the free spices, but the emails themselves are inspirational.

Bill’s words have actually motivated me to nurture my own spirit through cooking…just for me. As a person who famously hates leftovers, that’s really something. I have always enjoyed comfort food leftovers. Lately I’ve been reminded that all food can be a comfort.

In today’s US of Hey, How The Hell Did This Happen we can use all the comfort we can get.

And for Penzey’s their stance is paying off. Their words encourage resistance with a reminder of what values are core and important…people are important. We are urged to take care of people versus interests through their occasional emails. I can only imagine that their subscription list has swollen considerably in the first quarters of this year. They ran out of the April giveaway within hours of opening and their online fulfillment wasn’t far behind in being depleted.

Instead of pulling out the whole “while supplies last” chestnut, they fulfilled every last online order and store raincheck they had. The same thing happened earlier this month, even though they had significantly increased their on hands for their next promotion. I think they even put a minimal purchase requirement on the second promotion…like $5.

After both events you didn’t hear from them for several weeks while they caught up with orders. Sure, that’s what it’s all about, right? They’re a business. Marketing – especially with a giveaway – costs money.

But I can’t tell you how happy I am to get an email from a company that bravely stands up and says “This Is Wrong” to its customers that reinforces the fact that Americans vote.

Even if it’s just with their dollars. I’m glad that the rewards justify the risk and horrified that I just acknowledged that a company supporting an obvious truth – families should not be separated by government – was a risk. Their business has increased 80-fold.

That’s not 80%, it’s 80 times better year over year.

To illustrate:

An 80% increase on $100 in sales equates to $180.

An 80-fold increase on $100 in sales results in $8000 in sales.

Nurturing people is good business.

Facilitating a place – mealtime in this case – where people and families can come together to discuss what’s happening in life and the world is good for people, regardless of culture. But right now, America needs that safe place to talk.

Spice Force