Category Archives: jerks

A Heart Two Sizes Too Small

I think it’s safe to say that I don’t “do” Christmas. My lack of participation has nothing to do with religion or any anti-corporate political sentiment. Christmas just never seems to work out for me, but I have no hard feelings. I don’t have any children to disappoint, and traditional Christmas activities don’t hold my interest, so I prefer to just take the day and relax and do what I want. I don’t even know why I should care or feel guilty about it. Most Americans (myself included) have too much stuff anyway, so I’m less inclined to feel guilty about not shopping. Our attics, garages, landfills, and thrift stores are full of crap no one needs. Why contribute? My mother and I used to hit the Indian casino on Christmas –before she was injured, I mean. She was blind in one eye and almost blind in the other, but she could still kind of manage certain electronic slot machines. Me? I’m a blackjack girl.

I actually love shopping. I love buying gifts. I get quite a rush when I find something interesting that reminds me of someone I love. I wouldn’t say that I have expensive taste, but my taste is at least a solid middle-class. At the moment, I am not middle class. I was thankful that I was able to give (and sell) my BFF some things that she enjoys, so I could at least give her something even if I can’t really afford to buy anything. I have mentioned this before, but I was almost certainly a compulsive shopper for many years before I experienced the events that led to my poverty. That’s really the only reason why I’ve been living like this so long and I still had so many things to sell and give away. I am still making sales online. I found a designer purse at a local Goodwill, and if it’s still there this weekend, I may buy it with sale proceeds and try to make a profit. At least I’m considering it.

Christmas was set aside this year because with my current jobless state combined with preparations for an overseas move. Last year I was unemployed and stressed. The year before that my whole team was laid off 11 days before Christmas when our jobs were outsourced. The year before that I spent a large part of Christmas in the hospital after major surgery. The year before that, I had a low-wage receptionist job and I had spent every penny and maxed every line of credit in moving expenses to get my last apartment and away from the apartment with gross people and no hot water.

Being estranged from my family makes any major holiday complicated. I’m completely okay with being estranged from them. In fact, I wish there were more distance. Estrangement –at least in my case– is a very good thing, but being “the orphan” has its downsides. It’s awkward when acquaintances ask me if I’ll be visiting my “parents” for the holiday. It’s even more awkward when acquaintances invite me to visit their parents. I went to my drunk cokehead roommate’s family Christmas celebration in 2004. Her family was very nice to me, but I was out of place. I’d never met them, but they bought me presents. I appreciated it (and still have and use many of the gifts I received) but I felt so guilty. I was stunned by how unappreciative my ex-roommate was of her parents. I had gone to her parents’ house expecting no more than a family dinner and I nearly wept when I saw that they prepared a stocking for me. They filled the stocking  with cute novelty socks, scented lotions, lip balms, and a bottle of wine. My ex-roommate received the same stocking stuffer gifts that I received and all she did was complain about them not being to her taste.

I’m uncomfortable when anyone puts out any effort for my sake, especially if they don’t even know me. Especially if I can’t reciprocate.

My current roommate invited me to spend Christmas with her family but I declined. The last time I spent a holiday with her and family members, there was hitting, slapping, and ultimately police intervention. Oh, and the phone used to call police was smashed to bits. And there was dog poop thrown at my roommate’s car — and this was all after an argument about how often to feed a cat! My family is crazy, but they aren’t that kind of crazy. I thought that things like that only happened in sitcoms. Having the house to myself for a couple of days is far better than any gathering with someone else’s family. Tomorrow or the next day, I will spend time with another friend who hates her family. That’s really the best way to spend Christmas, in my opinion.

Now that I live in a house with cable, I will watch A Christmas Story, which I don’t believe I’ve seen in full since I was maybe nine years old. Such a shame that Flick ended up a porn star.

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Filed under Home Life, jerks, Materialism

Oh, the Guilt

I knew that I was entering a toxic living situation, but did not know what to do about it. I was in a similar situation last time I had a roommate. I had two part-time temp jobs and had to get out of my mold-ridden apartment. A woman I used to hang out with was losing the house that she rented because the owner was putting it up for sale, so we both needed a place to live at the same time. I knew better, but I had very little income, a lot of bills, and nowhere to go. I used to hang out with this woman a few times a week, but I’m reluctant to call her a friend. She was very bossy about where we would go and what we would do and she had a very obvious drinking problem. We would make plans to go to a concert or a movie, and she would invariably say “Let’s have a couple of drinks first.” Then once she had “a couple of drinks” she wouldn’t feel like doing what we had originally planned, and she would sit and have at least eight more drinks (no exaggeration) and argue with people or act like an idiot. I have no idea why I put up with that nearly every weekend for almost two years. We had been friends back in college, but then lost touch for several years then started hanging out again. She had a steady (but low-income) job, and with our incomes combined we could afford a 2-bedroom apartment in the small town we lived in at the time. We rented the top floor of a small house that had been divided into three apartments. I knew it was a bad idea, but I really did not know what to do. The roommate I had before that had moved to Seattle and I was stuck in a small town with no steady income.

We made a deal before we looked at the new apartment — we didn’t have to make a decision right away. If we liked it, then we’d take it, and if we didn’t like it, we had other places to look at. Unfortunately, she liked it and I hated it. I can look back on many times in my life where I needed to be more assertive, and this was one of those times. I thought the apartment was too small for the price and just weird. It was painted strangely and the staircase that led up to our unit was obviously thrown together as an afterthought once the house had been turned into apartments. The staircase was tall, steep, visibly lopsided, and it looked dangerous. Once I saw the place, I was fully prepared to just make some noncommittal comments like “Oh, we’ll get back to you, we have some more places to look at” but the ex-roomie liked it and wanted to take it right away. And because that’s what she wanted, that’s what we did. She was always more willing to fight, and I was always more willing to step back to avoid a fight.

I lived there for six months, and in that time we had exactly one day that the hot water worked. It wasn’t even the whole day, but I was able to enjoy a warmish shower for maybe 10 minutes. I complained about the lack of hot water to the landlord a lot, but nothing was done. The basement of the house served as a laundry room, and often it was flooded at least ankle-high. The landlord wouldn’t do anything about that either. The basement was always trashed, but it wasn’t clear who was supposed to maintain it. We had messy neighbors who would just throw trash in there and no one cleaned it up. Garbage would float in the floodwater. I avoided bathing as much as possible because the shower water was ice-cold. We had to use a landromat because of the flooding. Sometimes, when it wasn’t flooded that badly, I would just do my laundry in the basement, anyway.

My drunk roommate lost her job very shortly after we moved in together. That’s when it got really bad. Around the same time, I got a full-time job just outside Seattle. It didn’t pay much, and I had to drive over 50 miles one way to get there. It was the worst job I have ever had (which is saying a lot) and I was under extreme stress every day. Every day I would just get into my car and scream. If I was lucky, my roommate wouldn’t stagger home drunk and coked-up until I was just leaving for work (or after I had gone for the day). When I was less lucky, she would stagger home drunk and coked-up with several other drunk, coked-up people while I was trying to sleep or just relax by myself in the living room after being yelled at and publicly humiliated all day. There were often creepy strangers milling around our place when I got up in the morning. After dealing with an extremely hostile work environment, living like that wore on my sanity. I still hung out with the roommate on occasion, but she got me into a couple of dangerous situations and I moved out and never spoke to her again. I’ve seen her a couple of times randomly. She looks sick and awful and I don’t feel sorry for her. She’s 32 but could pass for almost 50.

While my current situation isn’t nearly that bad, there are some big problems. I was very nervous about staying with this particular friend because she is such a negative person. She has an ability to take everyday situations and turn them info full-on disasters. Even completely neutral situations that have nothing to do with her somehow become huge crises in her world. I’m beyond thankful that she’s offered to let me stay here, but I just knew I’d spend the whole time walking on broken eggshells.

Weeks ago she asked me where I wanted to sleep when I stay with her. I told her that I just wanted to sleep wherever it was convenient for her and I wouldn’t interfere with her daily routine.

“Oh, it’s your house. I’ll sleep anywhere! Feel free to just boss me around tell me where to put my stuff. I’m not picky.” I laughed, and said it in the tone I use when I’m telling a funny story or making a joke.

Two hours later she called me sobbing because she thought that when I said “boss me around” that I had been calling her bossy.

“Is that what you really think of me?!”

I had said it so casually that I didn’t even remember that I had used those words, and I would have used the same words with anyone else I considered a friend. This is the level of sensitivity I’m dealing with.

I thought that perhaps things might change a bit because a week or two ago, one of her best friends “broke up” with her because of her negative attitude. She asked me to give her honest feedback about her personality and actions. I did, though reluctantly. I named a few occasions where she has shot herself in the foot by being so negative. I also reminded her of another incident –when I lost my keys last June and was stranded and freaked out at 4am, she was angry that I did not call her. She yelled at me over the phone and said “Obviously you don’t think of me as a good enough friend.” I was the one who had had the bad experience, but she was the one who got personally offended. It is textbook emotional manipulation. If I had called her, she would have moaned and groaned all week about how I threw off her sleep schedule. Also, I didn’t call anyone, so it’s not like I called everyone except her. It was a very strange argument, and she actually cried and turned it into her own problem when it didn’t affect her at all. The goal of all of this is to inspire guilt or possibly pity.

I don’t respond well to such theatrics, if I respond at all. The new roomie keeps starting drama, in particular with my cat. She already has a cat, so I don’t understand it. I don’t even want to write about it because it is so incredibly stupid that it hurts to think about. She has said things to me that no sane person would ever say ever. She locks my cat in the freezing basement, then gets mad at me when my cat meows at the door. The obvious solution would be to not lock my cat in the freezing basement, which only became a factor long after she offered me a place here. I don’t even want to get into what she says will happen if she doesn’t lock the cat in the basement, or worse –what she says will happen if the cat doesn’t quit meowing. It’s too stupid to document. I said in my last post that she was worried about the neighbors complaining if the cats fought. That is a true but much less dramatic account of what she actually said. She thinks the letting my cat in will trigger an apocalypse and her life and livelihood will be in danger. I wish I were kidding.

My mother used to do similar things, but only after she had brain damage. That’s probably part of why this makes me so angry at her irrational behavior. My mother’s brain-damaged guilt trips wore me down physically and mentally. I was young and trying to establish my own life, but I got sucked into my mother’s illnesses and divorce on top of her excessive dramatics and manipulative behavior. My new roomie is paranoid about things that will never happen and every day some new drama comes into being. I can’t stand illogical behavior. I found another place to stay, but they don’t take cats. Dogs, yes; cats, no. Every dog I’ve ever known has caused way more damage to their home than my cat, so I don’t get it. Heck, I cause more damage to my home than my cat is likely to. Also, she’s declawed (not my choice, my parents declawed her as soon as I went away to college and wasn’t around to protest). I’ve started the Pet Travel Scheme for my cat and don’t want to leave her anywhere else for a while because I need access to her so I can get her to her vet appointments at the appropriate times.

My cat has actually broken out of the basement a few times, and the results were as uneventful as any sane person would expect. The two cats saw each other, but didn’t fight. Because I’m (generally) respectful, I put my cat back in the freezing basement. She sleeps on top of me every night, and I think it was upsetting to her that I was upstairs sleeping on the sofa. I got a little air mattress from someone on Craigslist so I’ll sleep on that. It’s still very cold down there, even with the space heater.

I’ve given up my car, so I’m going to be stuck here a lot. Also, it’s very likely that I have gout, which would explain my freaky joint pain. The doctor ordered blood tests and X-rays because something was visibly (and painfully) affecting the joint on one of my toes. More news about that on Monday.

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Filed under fml, health, Home Life, jerks, Obstacles

Bloodletting

I really don't.

From PostSecret

I’ve spent most of the past few days working intensely on my NaNoWriMo “novel.” It is going to be much, much longer than the 50,000-word goal I set for myself. I initially planned  to write a memoirs in the vein of this blog, cataloging the past several years of my life and events that led to me losing pretty much everything. But it’s not about that at all. I haven’t even touched on that. I’ve written a fair amount about my bizarre upbringing, childhood bullies, the beginnings of my health problems, my mother’s illnesses, and her drastic change in personality after years of emotional abuse and physical disability. My NaNo profile is linked to in the right sidebar; just click on my Rebel badge. If you’re doing NaNo, you should be my writing buddy. I should hit 16,000 words before I go to bed tonight.

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s death, by the way. I’m trying to ignore it. Last year, I was quite sad because it was also election day, and she had only become an American citizen about three years before her death, and I remember helping her vote and how excited she was about getting to vote in the States for the first time.

I joined a small writing group for motivation to finish my book. The more I write, the more I’m terrified of having anyone I know read it. I’m realizing a number of things: my father is mentally ill. Very seriously mentally ill. I suspected this, but I never thought about it much. Every once in a while someone will say something, usually about someone they suspect to be mentally ill, and I will have a glimmer of a memory but I squelch it. As I write down the details of incidents that occurred in my household, I have to face them and admit what was going on. I have heard through only semi-reliable sources that two of my father’s siblings and his nephew (my cousin) were diagnosed with schizophrenia. That cousin lived with us briefly when I was about four years old (he was about 15) and there was definitely something wrong with him. He kept removing the batteries in my battery-operated toys and putting them in backwards. He told me repeatedly “This is the right way to put the batteries in” and would act bewildered when I told him he was wrong. If it was a joke, it went on a really long time, because he stayed with us at least a month, and this happened almost every day. He would sneak into my room while I was at preschool and move all my batteries around. That’s my only memory of him. He used a lot of cocaine and was in an institution for a long time and for all I know he still is. In addition to the two siblings that are rumored to be schizophrenic, another one of my father’s siblings changed her name and fled to South America. She abandoned her children and no one knows what became of her. Except for my cousin, these were all deceptively functional people: a doctor, a dentist, a real estate mogul.

My father’s mental illness doesn’t make him less of an abusive prick. I cut all ties with him over seven years ago. There is nothing that could go wrong in my life that he wouldn’t make abysmally worse.

So, the memories are flooding back and I wonder how I turned out semi-reasonable. I also have many of my high school journals (though I destroyed the ones I wrote before age 15) and it’s quite appalling the number of times I was punished for reacting logically to his bad behavior. A lot of this has altered the way I react to social situations and professional situations, the way I interact with strangers, and the ways that men scare me make me nervous.

I am rereading Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, which is part of my inspiration. I read it for the first time when I was about 18. It is the memoirs of a woman who had a rare form of cancer as a child and the surgery she had as a result left her disfigured. Lucy Grealy died of a heroin overdose in 2002. While I did not have cancer as a child, I had other illnesses that altered my appearance and I went through many of the same experiences. Some of her experiences are so similar to mine that it drains me to read. I was so engrossed in the book last night that I missed my bus stop on the way home from my writer’s group. Unfortunately, that also meant that I missed the last bus, so I could not transfer and had to walk over two miles through the ghetto, doing my best to ignore all the guys who called me “Shawty” and tried to chat me up. Two miles in my uncomfortable shoes with the soles half-off. It took me over an hour because a lot it was uphill, my shoes are in disrepair, and I have very short legs.

But enough of that. It is time for me to cuddle with my cat, crank some David Bowie, and get to 16,000 words.

I'm also kinda jealous of Mr. Bowie. That's a snuggly kitty.

I admit it --I'm jealous of this cat.

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Stop This Rain (or Poverty-Induced Nightmares, Part 2

The repo incident, continued from here.

I don’t know how I fell asleep after that, but I did. Sleep is my escape. On the morning of April 6, I woke up earlier than usual because I had to take the bus all the way to work without using the Park & Ride like normal. Not having my car added an extra 30 minutes to my commute each way. I was already a partial bus commuter, so I didn’t have to make too big a change, but I still spent well over three hours each day on buses. Ghetto buses. I used my breaks at work to call the car loan company to figure out what to do.

When I first called, they told me that I would have to pay off the entire remaining balance on the car in order to get it back. That’s on top of about $400 in repossession fees and more in late fees. There was no way for me to get that kind of money in the time they allotted me. I reminded them that I had told them at least twice in advance that I would pay them in full on or before April 7. I also told them that I had tried to pay on April 3, both online and over the phone. I had tried to contact them at a reasonable hour, but I was thwarted by their business hours and my time zone. I reminded them that I had been unemployed for 15 months and that I had still managed to pay them on time every month for more than a year, but I’d had some additional difficulties and I fell behind after a long struggle.

The representative was sympathetic, and said she would see if they would make an exception for me. She was unable to tell me immediately the exact amount I needed to pay to get my car back.

I called back day after day. The silliest thing about it was that if they had actually listened to me, they would have already had their money, but because of their own haste, I was just sitting on it. Towards the end of the week, the representative at the car loan company told me that I could have my car back if I paid $1500. I was initially about $700 behind, and my third car payment had been due on April 12. They wanted the three full car payments and $450 in late fees and repossession fees. I hadn’t spent much money from my student loans, and I was working, so I was able to come up with $1500 on my next payday (during the week of April 13). I would have had to ignore other bills, but I could do it. I was also unable to buy books for school, which is what a large portion of that money was for. Technically, it was illegal to use a federal student loan to pay for something completely unrelated to school. I just wanted the car back so I could put the ugly mess behind me, and that was the only money I had.

After a repossession, they will not allow you to pay with a check or credit card, and the representative told me that the fastest way to pay would be through Western Union. There was a Western Union kiosk at a grocery store that was a ten-minute walk from my office, so I went there during my lunch break.

Prior to wiring the money at the main counter, I had to call Western Union on a phone at the customer service desk. When a customer picks it up, the phone calls Western Union automatically. It’s like the Bat-Phone only it connects you to the depths of customer service hell.

As soon as I picked up the phone, I was given a long list of automated warnings and instructions. I was told not to send money to any Nigerian princes or to anyone who may have informed me that I won a foreign lottery I had never entered. The message went on a long time, describing various ways that I could be scammed and warning me not to send money if I was in a situation that resembled any of their examples. After all of that, I finally got to speak to a customer service representative.

I asked the representative if I could give her my bank account information and wire the money that way. She said that there was no problem with that. She asked all of her questions (which took about 15-20 minutes), and then she gave me some kind of confirmation number. I went to the main desk with my confirmation number, and they told me that they only take cash. I did not have $1500 plus fees in cash. I couldn’t withdraw that much from my account in one day. I wanted to have the money wired directly from my account. I called back on the Bat-Phone. I’m not sure why. I guess I wanted to plead.

I listened to the automated warning about Nigerian princes again. I answered all the ridiculous questions again. I told the customer service representative what I wanted, and she said that she had to transfer me to a different department. She did –and I had to answer all of the questions and listen to the stupid message a third time. I had been doing this for about an hour at this point, I was supposed to be at work, and I had initially predicted it would take no more than twenty minutes.

I gave the next representative all of my bank account information, but then the bank refused to authorize the transaction. I realized that $1500 (actually $1564 with the fees) was an uncharacteristically large amount for me to withdraw at once. I begged the representative to stay on the line just a few minutes until I could call my bank on my cell phone because I was really pressed for time and I simply did not have 20 more minutes to call back and answer all those questions again. She agreed.

I called my bank and they verified my identity and lifted the hold. I was free to spend $1564. I spoke again to the Western Union representative and said “Okay, the bank lifted the hold! Can you run it again?” She said “no.”

“What?!”

“I’m sorry, your transaction declined, please call back another time.”

“But there was just a simple hold because it’s a large amount of money! It’s fine now!”

Again, she refused to process my transaction. I was pissed. I told her that I had just spoken with my bank. In fact, she probably heard me on the phone with my bank because she was just sitting there while I was talking on my cell phone. She continued to refuse to request the wire. I got very angry at this point and demanded to talk to her supervisor. Her supervisor came on the line and immediately started asking me the same questions I had already answered multiple times. Once she got to the Nigerian prince stuff, I just hung up.

I picked up the phone again and once the automated message started again I just hit zero zero zero zero zero zero zero until the zero button just stuck. I slammed the phone down so hard I think I broke it.

I stormed out of the store and walked towards my office. I glanced at my cell phone to see what time it was, and I saw that I had missed a call and had a voice mail. The voice mail message was from a man at Western Union. He asked me to return his call in regards to some money I had just transferred. I called back at the number he gave me, and I got through to someone right away. I gave them some basic information, and they told me to disregard the call because no money had gone through.

There was a payday loan establishment close to my office, and they had a sign out front that said that they would send money. I figured it was worth a shot. I was already late in returning from my lunch break and probably going to get in trouble at my brand new job. Might as well be shot for a sheep as a lamb, as my mother would always say.

I was a bit dismayed that the payday loan office also used Western Union, but I really just wanted to send the money off. I never knew it would be so difficult to give money away.

The process at the payday loan place was simpler, but once again the transaction was denied — this time for insufficient funds. I knew the money was there. It had been there when I had the other representative on the phone, and I had just lifted the hold, so what now?

I called the bank again. My bank gives account balance once you enter in your account number, before you ask to speak to a representative. There was over $1500 missing from my account.

I called Western Union customer service to tell them that they had somehow wired my money after telling me that they hadn’t, and I wanted a confirmation number so that I could give it to the car loan company. They asked me some questions and went through their records, and told me that they had not sent any money on my behalf. I even gave them the original confirmation number I was given the first time I called. They said that my original transaction had been canceled and that they absolutely had not wired any money from my bank account.

“But clearly you have. My money has vanished.

They told me over and over again that they had not sent my money. I called the bank again. They verified that Western Union had definitely sent my money, and they gave me a transaction number. The number did not help me deal with Western Union, but was good for my own verification. I called Western Union again and told them that my bank had verified the transaction and gave me a transaction number. This may be obvious, but my bank’s transaction number did nothing to prove or disprove any of Western Union’s claims. The bank’s transaction number could not double as Western Union’s confirmation number, and was no good to my car loan company.

I called the car loan company. They told me that they had not received any money from me, and actually could not claim the money from Western Union until I provided them with a Western Union confirmation number. I called Western Union again. And again. And again. A few times, I got disconnected. A few times I hung up to call either the bank or the car loan company again. Several times, Western Union would transfer me to an automated system that would ask me to enter my confirmation number — which was what I was calling to get from them. If I pressed zero, the call would be disconnected. If I just waited and didn’t enter anything, the call would be disconnected. I was then forced to start over. Every single time I had to start over, I would have to answer the same set of questions and tell them my name, the spelling of my name, my address, my phone number, the name of my bank, and my account number. I did this over and over and over for three hours.

I wanted to die. Or kill someone. Or both. I had been trying to send money (or at least find the money I may or may not have sent) for three hours, all the while missing work and (possibly worse) missing pay and annoying my new boss.

I called Western Union one last time. I don’t know what the problem had been the other many times I had called, but the woman I spoke to was finally able to give me the confirmation number to give to the car loan office. I asked her why it was such a huge ordeal to get such a simple thing, and she had no idea. Before I got in touch with her, I had spoken to at least 13 different Western Union employees who had no clue about anything.

I called the car loan office to give them the number –and once again it was after 5pm their time, and they were closed.

That night when I got home, I checked my e-mail with my stolen wi-fi to find out that my job had cut benefits for temporary employees.


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Filed under Depression, fml, Home Life, jerks, Materialism, Obstacles

I Blame Society (or Poverty-Induced Nightmares, Part 1)

I hope they send Emilio Estevez next time.

I hope they send Emilio Estevez next time.

Even though my troubles have persisted for several years now, I remained generally positive about it all until last April. I have often been told that I’m “upbeat” and that I can “see the humor in anything.” That all changed when I had my car repossessed. I can’t even think about it without clenching every muscle in my upper body.

The repossession was worse than I imagine my impending eviction will be…not because of the loss involved, but because of the way I was treated throughout the repossession process. For years, my bad luck has been somewhat of a running joke in my social circle, but in an instant it just stopped being funny. The repossession was the single most degrading, humiliating, terrifying, and frustrating injustice I have experienced. It was the first time through all of this that I felt like I could never, ever win.

I’d been unemployed for 15 months, and my unemployment benefits had run out about nine months prior. I’d been applying for at least three jobs a week, but to no avail. I was still in grad school and living on student loans, and I had $1100-$1300 a month to live on. My rent was $700 a month (hiked up from $550 — the average for a 1-bedroom apartment in my county is $812 per month), my car payment was $350 (go ahead and groan, I could afford it when I bought the car), my car insurance was about $70 a month, my cell phone about $50-60 a month and I spent over $60 a month on prescription drugs –after about $150 a month for health insurance. I also had one credit card bill, a debt consolidation plan, and numerous medical bills that I had to pay the University Medical Center lest I get kicked out of school. I also needed a car because there were no buses that would have taken me home from campus late at night when my classes got out. I had to pay for gas and sometimes parking, too. Do that math and you can guess how well I was “getting by.” At least I had food stamps for a few months. I couldn’t find a cheaper place to live, at least not much cheaper. Even if I had moved, I couldn’t afford moving expenses and deposits, so I was stuck. I have my reasons for not having a roommate at the moment. After some childhood trauma irrelevant to this blog entry, having a roommate is strictly a last resort.

Because of my medical bills and my determination to finish graduate school, I fell behind on my car payments. I was a little over two months behind. I had not stopped answering the phone at this point, and I actually spoke to the vehicle loan people when they called me. I was offered my last job at the beginning of March. Unfortunately, the job did not start until the last week of March. I told them every time they called that I was about to begin a new job, and that my student loans for the next quarter would be coming in the first week of April. I was not sure what day in April, but no later than April 7 for sure. I told them that I could pay them off with my student loans, and would be able to continue paying them with the income from my new job. They would be paid in full on or before April 7.

We didn’t have anything in writing, but they were well aware of the situation. I was late in my payments, yes, but I had been reliable in my payments (even when unemployed) until those last two months. I had been reliable for over two years, and all I wanted was a chance to catch up and make good on my word.

My student loan money came in on April 3. I hadn’t been thinking about it that day, and I did not check my bank balance until my afternoon break. Once I saw the money was there, I went online to make a payment. I received a notice that said that I would have to call their customer service line to discuss my payment with a representative because my payment was so late. I called the phone number they gave me, but it was after 3pm Pacific time, and the office (which is located in Chicago) had already closed for the day. They were closed all weekend, too. I was annoyed but I wasn’t worried. Monday was April 6, and I had told them I would pay in full by April 7.

I went to bed at 10:30 Sunday night. I’d set reminders on my Google calendar to remind me to call them as soon as I got up. I never had the chance. At 1am I was awakened by knocking at my door. Not regular knocking, oh no. The knocking shook my walls and woke my neighbors. I don’t know what he was hitting my door with, but my doorknocker does not make a sound like this. And I have a doorbell. I ignored it at first, but it went on and on and didn’t stop. A couple of years ago, a man who lives on my street got shot on his doorstep after he answered the door in the middle of the night. This isn’t a good neighborhood. I thought that if I ignored it, it would go away. Minutes passed, and the knocking continued.

I was furious. I have an intercom and I yelled through it. I was groggy, but I believe my exact words were “It’s 1 in the morning! What the hell are you doing?!” It was too dark to see well through my peephole, but there was a man out there and he told me he was there to take my car.  My car was already chained up and attached to the tow truck. I was stunned. I told the man that I had already talked to the bank and told them I would pay by April 7, that I actually had the money, that I’d already tried to pay but the bank had been closed and that they had been closed since Friday evening. That got me nowhere, which I understand. I’m sure he hears that every day. I probably would have said something similar even if it weren’t true. But it was true.

I have a friend who is an attorney, and I had talked to him about repossession a month or so before. I told my friend that I was worried about finding a job and that if I didn’t find a job quickly, I would lose my car. He told me that if I caught the repo man in the act that I could legally stop them by protesting. I didn’t believe him, so I did some research. In most states, and certainly Washington, if the owner protests, they legally can’t take whatever it is they’re repossessing. This information is available through the office of the Attorney General. I thought it was worth a try. The man asked me through the intercom if I wanted to take anything out of my car, and I told him I would be out in a minute. I grabbed my cell phone and my purse. My brilliant plan was to stall them until about 6am so I could call the loan office as soon as it opened. I was willing to sit in my car for a few hours if I could get this mess straightened out. When I went outside I saw that there wasn’t just one repo man but three repo men. I am 5’1″ in shoes if I stand up as straight as possible. These were three tall, large, muscular, rough-around-the-edges men. The kind of dudes who wear backwards baseball caps, only talk to hot girls, and still listen to Limp Bizkit. I was a bit unnerved that there were three men banging on the door of a single woman at 1:00 in the morning. I told them that they couldn’t take my car, I wouldn’t let them. They said they were taking it no matter what. “Well,” I said. “I guess I’m sleeping in it.” I walked towards the car and unlocked the door with the remote on my keychain. The next thing I saw was the inside of the man’s elbow as he reached around my neck.

I hadn’t seen him coming until it was too late. He wrapped his right arm across my chest and then my neck while he grabbed at my keys with his left hand. I screamed and tried to shove him away from me.  He said “You just threatened my life.” For about half a second, I didn’t know what he meant, but then I realized that in my panic I had yelled “Get your hands off me, I swear I’ll fucking kill you.” I didn’t even realize that I had said that. I yelled “Who cares? You assaulted me! You grabbed me! What the hell is wrong with you?!” I backed away from him, got in my car and sat in the driver’s seat. The guy who grabbed me ran up and grabbed the car door before I could shut it. He stood between me and the car door to make sure I couldn’t close it. I don’t know why he bothered. My car was blocked in and chained up. I cried and trembled and called 911 while Repo Man leaned on my car and lit a cigarette. While I was on the phone with 911 he said “We’re going to cause a lot of damage to your car, you know,” and he blew smoke at me. Smug bastard.

Three police officers arrived and the repo men stepped away from my car. The first officer came up and asked me if I was okay. I was probably incoherent. He asked me to get out of the car and I did. My knees were knocking together and I was shaking from head to toe. It was cold, I was in my pajamas, and I had just been grabbed at 1 in the morning by this slimy bastard when I had already discussed my situation with the loan company and had already made two attempts to pay my debt. I was shaking so much I could barely stand. I have never felt such an intense physical reaction to my emotions. Once when I was in sixth grade, a bully and his friend beat me and pulled a knife on me. The repo men scared me more.

The officer asked me what had happened and I said that one of the men put me in a chokehold. Of course I meant headlock, but I was frazzled and I mis-spoke. I corrected myself after a minute or so once I realized I had said the wrong thing. I learned something about myself — I babble when I’m terrified. I sat in the car again and they questioned the three men. Of course the three repo men stuck together. It was them against me.

The repo man who grabbed me told the cops that we “just accidentally ran into each other” when he reached for my keys. The officer believed him, even though we “ran into each other” while my back was to him and I was walking away from him. One of the officers (I’ll call him Officer Asshat) asked me if I had lost consciousness. I told him that I hadn’t. He asked if I’d had any bruising. I said that none was visible at that point. He said, “Then there’s nothing to complain about.”

Officer Asshat spoke to the repo men some more, and I walked towards him because I wanted to ask him a question. “Get over there!” he barked at me. I didn’t know where he was telling me to go, or why he was telling me to go there. I just looked at him and said “What?” He yelled at me again to “Get over there!” I asked him why he wanted me to move. He said “I’m talking to this guy over here. Jeez, if you’re this annoying now, I can only imagine how bad you were when they were trying to take your car!” He laughed. Yes, Officer Asshat laughed at me and called me “annoying.”

The cops looked at me and saw a girl in the ghetto who didn’t pay her bills and was just being pouty when forced to face the consequences. I told them that the man had grabbed me, and they made it clear that they didn’t believe me. Officer Asshat interrogated me about why I had been sitting in my car. I actually lied to him, because he tried to make it sound like I was doing something illegal even though I had every right to defend my car at that point. He also asked really patronizing questions such as “Now, do you really think that these young gentlemen would come out here to hurt you?” I was wearing a sweatshirt for my university, and he actually tried to make small talk and ask what classes I was taking. I do not grant small-talk privileges to someone who calls me annoying, yells at me, or tells me that I have nothing to complain about because I wasn’t knocked unconscious when a huge guy grabbed me around the neck.

The officers ordered me to empty my car and hand over my keys. One of the repo men drove off in my car, while the other two took off in the tow truck. I saw my neighbors had turned lights on, but no one came out.

For weeks –maybe even months– I was afraid to stand in a position where someone could walk up behind me. I rode the bus a lot (for obvious reasons) and I always made sure that my back was against the wall of the bus stop shelter. I have never been a police basher, but twice in my life I have called the police when I’ve been faced with a violent situation, and both times I have been belittled, laughed at, and ignored. Strangely, I’ve twice been treated like a criminal when I wasn’t doing anything illegal.

The repo men could have taken my car and towed it away, but they felt it necessary to confront me. I still don’t understand why. I understand that actually driving the car is easier than towing, but is it worth the hassle of a late-night confrontation?

I have reason to believe that this is the same company I had my ordeal with. I’m dividing this into three posts because it’s such a long, long story. It gets worse before it gets better. Then it gets worse again. Stay tuned for Part 2.

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Filed under "In this economy", Depression, fml, jerks, Materialism, Obstacles

A heart that was full and unbroken

I’ve been going about it all wrong.

In high school, I was strange and artsy. I played music (viola, piano, saxophone, and guitar), I painted, and I wrote stories. I was better at writing stories than I was at painting or playing music. Although I was interested in biology (genetics in particular), I figured I would be doing something artistic when I grew up.  At some point my teenage rebellion waned and I began listening to people.

Once I started listening to “reason,” I never stopped. I became convinced that I would be unable to live on less than $60,000 a year. To settle for less would have been unfathomable. I also got the idea that if it was fun and I enjoyed it, that I’d never make any money doing it. I never pursued anything I really wanted.

Thus my fallback career choice became my primary career choice. Biology seemed to be more lucrative because I lacked the confidence to get by on my artistic merits. It’s not so much that I felt I was particularly talented as a scientist, but I didn’t trust myself in a career that required me to determine its structure. I felt like I needed a job that I would show up to, get paid for, and then leave to go home. It seemed (and still seems) far too nerve-wracking to worry about getting published or selling artwork or a booking performances or anything like that. I don’t want to pour my heart and my life into something just to find out that it’s worthless. I value stability.

My senior year of college I took a class about rhetoric. I’d taken many writing courses in college, so I’m not entirely sure why this one meant so much more to me. For class we were assigned to read Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams. I have always had a fondness for grammar texts, but I had not thought much about sentence structure as its own entity until I read this book. I was very excited about the class, and I did very well with little effort. For once in my life, my abilities did not go unnoticed, and my professor recommended me for a tutoring position in our campus writing center. I worked there for three full years, staying on part-time after I graduated until I got kicked out due to statewide budget cuts.

I became quite excited about academic writing. Academic writing has little use outside of an academic setting, but it came so naturally to me that I wanted to do something with it. I wrote a grammar column in our weekly newsletter. I wrote and performed workshops on sentence structure. I was happy to go to work every single day. The pay was low and I only worked part-time. I was poor, but I loved my job. During this time I began writing a book about the various levels of structure in college-level papers. I abandoned the book rather quickly because I did not see that I had nothing new to offer on the subject. Go to any bookstore and there is sure to be a shelf (or several rows of shelves) dedicated to books about writing. Aside from a few minor contradictions that can be attributed to either the author’s personal preference or the evolution of language, most of those books say essentially the same thing. Some do it dryly, some use humor. Some are very strict, and others more lenient. The truth is (or so I thought) that if you bought three or four particular books about writing, you would have access to every last iota of information you could ever possibly need about writing. Language changes, but it doesn’t change quickly enough to warrant the vast selection of books about writing that are available at any given time. If I were to create a version of what I felt should be in one volume, then it would probably alienate one group of writers or another. I thought about this a lot, and abandoned the project. And along came Mignon Fogarty.

I admit that I am bitter. If you don’t know who Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl) is, she’s a woman who has made a lucrative  career out of stating the obvious. Now, I am 100% in favor of improving bad grammar skills, but this woman is ubiquitous and she hasn’t brought anything new to the table. How does this happen? How do people do it? Why don’t I do it? She has roots in Seattle and one day I heard her doing a radio commercial spot for a local grocery store, explaining the difference between affect and effect for the back-to-school season. She gets paid to reiterate what one can find in a dictionary. Or even what one could have seen during her appearance on Oprah. She’s everywhere, mocking me, and I can’t escape. And dammit, I would do so much of a better job. But I didn’t write a book–she did.

Good for her, though. I feel about Mignon Fogarty the same way I feel about my friend who packed up and move to New York City on a whim, then very quickly got a managerial job. She’s several years younger than I am with less experience and less education. While I am glad when good things happen to other people, it’s difficult for me to take myself out of the equation. I feel childish even admitting that. Every time I take a risk it comes back to hurt me. As a result of conditioning, I always play it safe. But playing it safe never gets me anywhere either. I have no more risks to take.

From Postsecret. I once sent a secret in and it made it onto the site that week. This isn't my secret, but I saved it because it spoke to me.

There’s also Frank Warren of PostSecret. PostSecret is a fantastic site based on a brilliant idea, and I know that Mr. Warren puts in many hours reading secrets, selecting secrets, making appearances, and speaking with publishers. But he doesn’t create anything aside from one secret per book (or so I’ve heard). He’s a well-known middleman.

I don’t mean to be dismissive. I know he puts a lot of work into it, and he really did contribute something new and great to the world. He also provides fantastic support for HopeLine and gives many depressed and troubled individuals an outlet to express themselves anonymously. I just become bothered when I see that it’s actually possible to be down-to-earth and live an unconventional life. If only I had figured that out earlier.

So I have come to the conclusion that I have been going about it all wrong. Perhaps I’m not cut out for a “real job” in the “real world.” I’m not inferior –just different. I know where I’m not wanted, and I’m not wanted in the cubicle down the hall from you. I’m not wanted in the corner office either. I don’t need to be rich and I don’t need to be famous but I need to be able to take care of myself.

The problem is that I never follow through on anything except my own self-doubt. Self-help gurus often advise people not to tell themselves that they “should have done this” or “should have done that.” I have ideas and I should stick to them, when all this time I’ve been sticking to my regrets.

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Filed under Depression, fml, jerks, Obstacles, Work

Going through the motions (or Awkward Interviews I’ve Had, Part 3)

I have noticed an unsettling trend in job interview techniques as of late. It appears that potential employers are straying from typical interview questions in order to ask questions that are…different. Bad-different.

I’m not one to fear change, but I do not always deal well with unpredictability. That said, I do my best to be prepared for a multitude of situations, especially when I’m preparing for a job interview.

I have been job-hunting on-and-off (more on than off) since December 2003. I have had many job interviews. Some interviews have been great, some have been horrible, some have been just okay. I have completely nailed interviews and then found out that I did too well and I come off as overqualified. I have had interviews I didn’t prepare for, and interviews I studied for over the course of many days. I have read numerous books on job interview technique. My favorite is Fearless Interviewing by Marky Stein, which is (in part) responsible for the ritual I complete prior to any interview. First I read and reread the job description. I apply for so many jobs that it can be difficult to remember which job my interview is for, especially if I’m being interviewed for a job I haven’t thought about in weeks or months. I make lists of the items in the job requirements and then lists of corresponding skills or experience I possess. I come up with anecdotal details about previous jobs I have had that illustrate my skills. I maintain a list of my proudest achievements, even though some of them aren’t directly relevant to any jobs I currently seek. I attend each interview with approximately five questions to ask the interviewer. Three questions would generally suffice, but often they end up answering one or two of my questions during the interview.

On top of preparing to answer questions about myself, I research all I can about the company. There are a few companies I would genuinely like to work at, and I know a fair amount about all of them. That said, after nearly six years of active interviewing, perhaps my skills are waning. At times I feel I’m just going through the motions, and my interview skills aren’t up to snuff. I know what to do, but sometimes I fall a bit short.

I had a phone interview on Thursday, once again with the company that laid me off in 2007. Not the same job I interviewed for a week ago –this one was different. I have worked there twice before, and even if I had never worked there I would be familiar with their philosophies and practices because I am a fan of their products and services. So how did I completely bomb a phone interview?

I interviewed for my old job and I never heard a word about it, even after following up with both the recruiter and the interviewer. I assume that I’ve been rejected because I was then solicited to interview for this new job within the same company. Since June, I have interviewed for three different positions at this company. At this point, I think they’re just messing with me.

Everything was going well until I was asked this question:
“From a usability standpoint, what areas of our website do you think need improvement?”

Frankly, I’m puzzled. I have no idea what they were looking for. I am a writer and editor. Twice recently I have been asked this exact same question at two different companies. Both of these jobs were editorial jobs where I would have been doing some web content writing and editing. I have NO idea what they’re getting at, and I’ve fumbled both times. I am not a web designer. I am not applying for web designer jobs. While I do know a bit about usability (and I know how to conduct a usability study), I find it difficult to answer that question without a lot of research. More research than I have the resources to complete.

While in both cases I had carefully examined the website in question, I hadn’t evaluated their sites for usability. I looked through the sections and tabs to get a sense of their voice and the products and services they offered, but since I was not shopping, it hadn’t occurred to me to think of it that way.

Now, the company that I’ve worked at twice — not only do I have a fair amount of experience working there, but I have been a customer there for over 10 years. I have had no serious problems. Even the minor issues I have had were completely unrelated to the content on their web pages. To answer the interviewer’s question, I ended up mentioning things I liked about their site, which is of course not a good answer. Strike one for me.

Next, the interviewer asked me what companies I thought have a good customer focus and which have a bad customer focus. Once again, I fumbled. I’ve been living in poverty so long that I never go shopping. My clothes are little more than rags, I don’t buy books or music, I haven’t changed my cell phone plan nor have I recently subscribed to cable. Despite Alan Greenspan’s theory that the recession does not affect women’s lingerie sales to the extent that it affects men’s underwear sales, my underwear drawer looks like that of a pauper.

Now, I have had customer service issues: I have had problems with the electric company when I needed assistance with my bill, I have needed assistance from the employment security office, I have been frustrated with the Department of Social and Health Services because of their treatment of my food stamps application –but none of these involves information I care to divulge in a job interview. There is a stigma of poverty. Poor people are often seen to be at fault in their situations. Sure, sometimes that’s true, but it’s not always true. And while I will take some of the blame, I will not put myself forward to be judged.

What could I have said?

  • “Well, when I had my electricity cut off, Seattle City Light’s customer assistance program is the worst I’ve ever encountered.”
  • “I’m trying to sign up for food stamps, but they require me to ask my former employer to fill out a big form explaining why I should get food stamps, and that’s just embarrassing. They don’t even realize what their clients may be going through.”
  • “The food bank has mostly good customer focus, but I wish they had more vegetarian options.”
  • “I had my car repossessed by a bunch of thugs who assaulted me in my parking lot at 1:00 a.m. after I had made a payment arrangement with the car loan company to pay them a day later. And I had the money.”

That’s all I could think of. Obviously I didn’t say any of that.

I didn’t say much of anything. I named a company that I thought had good customer focus (I don’t even remember which company I mentioned), but I just couldn’t come up with anything for the “bad customer focus” part of the question. I couldn’t. Fine.

I knew I didn’t get the job, but I was very surprised when I received a phone call from the placement agency the following day. I spoke to my recruiter, and he said “Hello, I got some feedback about your phone interview yesterday.”

Over time I have noticed that the phrase “I got some feedback about your interview” is code for “You didn’t get the job, but…”

He paused then said: “She said you weren’t prepared at all.”

I immediately went into defensive mode. I did prepare and I told him so. I told him specifically which questions I had difficulty with and (to some extent) why I had difficulty with them. What disturbs me most of all about this is that “You weren’t prepared at all” is probably a watered-down version of what she actually told him. If that’s what he repeated to me, I can only imagine what she actually said. He ended the conversation abruptly, before I even finished telling him about the questions I had difficulty with. I predict that he will never contact me about another position again.

I had an in-person interview on Friday, for a job that actually seemed pretty fun at a really large company with a better reputation than the one I have worked at before. The interview went mostly well, but again I fumbled. I got nervous and blame myself. They asked me to format-edit a document, but I had to do so while two people were staring at me. Also, the document was in Swedish. And they didn’t specify how much time I had, so I felt rushed. I missed two things which I never would have missed if I had been calmer. I really hope I get this job, though. It doesn’t pay as much as I would like, but it pays enough for me to get by.

No more word on my eviction. I’m still exhausted. My 31st birthday is on Tuesday, and this may be the worst ever.

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Filed under Awkward Interviews I've Had, fml, jerks, Obstacles