Tag Archives: misadventures

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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Filed under Depression, fml, Home Life, jerks, writing

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

But how are you getting by?

How are you getting by?

I get asked this a lot and I don’t know how to answer. I don’t know what kind of an answer people expect.

I suppose people think I’ll say something like “Oh, I’m just living on savings until I find something new” or “I’m getting unemployment” or “My husband/parents/in-laws are helping out.”

No one has ever asked me this question when I had a regular job. I find that strange because I wasn’t “getting by” even when I was working. There is a misconception that if you have a job, you can “get by.” My car was repossessed when I was working. My electricity was cut off when I was working. When I was working, I had to eat with the homeless people in the park because I had no food and made too much money for food stamps.

I had health insurance at two of my last three temp jobs. Unfortunately, I had so little money that I couldn’t afford the copays to see my doctor. It’s good that I had insurance in case I got into an accident, but what good was this insurance if I couldn’t use it when I needed it for less catastrophic times? I had health insurance when I was coughing up blood, but I didn’t have $10 to see the doctor. I couldn’t go to work like that, and my job did not provide sick days, so I would either get more poor or more sick.

Since early 2006, my rent has increased 27% while my income (until I quit) had decreased 29%. I was barely able to pay my rent when it was at its lowest, so it just seems impossible now. I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t. Right now I just can’t deal with working at a horrible job that I hate and am not good at where I’m likely to get reprimanded. I am hyperaware every second of every day that I still will not be able to pay my rent on time. This isn’t a money management problem. I really wish it were a money management problem. I can fix my budget, but this goes so much deeper than that. To quote a friend of mine: “If your boss gives you 60 hours of work to do and only 40 hours to do it, you have a time problem, not a time management problem. If you only get $400 for a week of work, but your basic expenses cost $500 a week, it’s not a reflection of your ability to stick to a budget just because you can’t make it work!”

When I was a receptionist, the company I worked for invited a personal finance counselor to come in and speak to us individually by appointment. I was struggling in a dead-end job and I was barely able to make ends meet, so I was glad for the opportunity to talk to a professional. He gave me a worksheet with a list of items on it and asked me to tell him how much I spent on each. He asked me about my utilities, groceries, my medical bills, credit card bills, and rates on car and renter’s insurance. I gave up my telephone land line years ago, and my cell phone plan is reasonable. I have not had cable since 2003. I did not even own a computer, let alone pay for Internet. I spent very little on groceries. I had the cheapest car insurance policy I could find. I spent about $200 a year on clothing and shoes combined (I spend far less than that now). I had already lumped several accounts into a debt consolidation plan that had reduced my interest rates by half. I do not buy music, go to bars, or go to movies, and I attend only a couple of concerts a year. At the time, my only consistent “luxury” was a $20/month Netflix account. My expenses were all bills I was struggling to pay off from my first two years of unemployment. After buying the basic essentials and making minimum payments, I was left with about $40 each month. It was not enough extra to see a significant change in credit card balances and the like. Also, $20 of that went to Netflix. Almost all of my money was spent playing catch-up.

The personal finance counselor told me that I had cut out all I could, and that the only solution to my problem was to make more money. He told me that nothing was wrong with my budget. I began looking for a second job, but I never found one. I was eventually fired from that receptionist position for “being unhappy.” I was only unemployed for about three weeks, but my next job paid nearly $10,000 a year less and I was laid off in less than six months. It did not occur to me that my next job would pay so much less, especially since it was technically at a higher level. It was a big pay cut, and it hurt. It hurt more when I got laid off.

So, how am I getting by? I sell some of my belongings online. When I get money from that, I put a little gas in my car, I buy cat food, rat food, or kitty litter. I eat food-bank food almost exclusively. I steal my neighbor’s wi-fi. I stopped taking all 7 of my prescription medications. I revel in the fact that the electric company won’t cut me off again for a very long time. I let my phone get cut off until I can scrounge enough money to pay my past-due balances. I think deeply. I worry. I go to a lot of used bookstores to sell my collection. I look around at the disarray and panic because I don’t have the energy to box it all up and I don’t know where I’m going or how I’m going get there. I sleep a lot. I mope. I don’t answer my phone. I wait for the sheriff to force me to leave. I jump at every noise. I don’t get out much.

I did something very unethical that I am ashamed to talk about, even here: prior to leaving my job, I found a year-long bus pass that had been dropped by a coworker. There was no one around when I found it, and I waited a long time and no one returned to get it. These bus passes are issued to employees for free, but they probably cost the company over $1000 (I know that they are worth around $1500).  I was a temp and did not get the year-long bus pass — I had to pay $90 a month for my own. The pass was brand new. I found it in July, and it’s good through next July. I fully intended to turn it in to security, but at some point it occurred to me that the pass was worth much more to me than to whoever had lost it. After all, they had a real job and I didn’t. Also, I’ve had so many bad things happen, that maybe this was a break for me. I don’t believe in Karma, but if I did, I’d actually think this was the universe trying to throw me a bone for once. Well, maybe I do believe in Karma after all. I kept the pass. I never heard anything about anyone looking for it, so I ride the bus to save gas, and I don’t pay a penny for it. I won tickets to a movie last night, and that bus pass was the only way I could have gone to the only fun thing I’ve done recently. I could not have paid for parking, and I did not have enough money for bus fare. Keeping the pass was wrong of me, but I’m doing it for survival.

So, that is how I’m “getting by,” if you want to call it that. I don’t even want a job right now because a job will not save me from eviction, and I need to be ready. I’m too depressed to make progress quickly, and I know in my heart that I’d be too distracted at a job, even a simple one. I had enough trouble focusing at my last job. I am using this time to focus on liquidating my belongings and finding a transitional shelter to move into, no matter how frustrating that may be.

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Filed under "In this economy", Depression, Food, Home Life, Materialism, Obstacles, Work

Magnifying glass

Last weekend I left a phone message with my landlord about my failure to pay rent for August or (so far) September. I explained I had been unemployed six weeks, and that unemployment was backed up and they had not yet responded to my claim. I told them that unemployment should respond this week and I would pay immediately.

This morning I missed a phone call from the agency that might place me at the company I used to work for. They left a message, but I cannot retrieve voice  mail because my phone service has finally been cut off for nonpayment.

I went out to my mailbox to check the mail to see if unemployment had finally responded to my claim. This is the magic week, after all. On my way to the mailbox I saw a letter taped to my door. I have received a three day pay rent or vacate notice. I’m getting evicted unless I can come up with $1400.

I walked to my mailbox. It was mostly junk mail, but I got a letter from unemployment. They are still processing my claim. No money. And I can’t even call them, or my landlord, or my recruiter because of my phone.

More nuisance –for the past six or seven years, I have sold used items on Amazon.com. I have done so dozens of times without incident. So, of course, during my most desperate hour, I have my first incident.

I have always made it a point to describe the items I’m selling as accurately as possible. I disclose flaws that most people wouldn’t notice or even care about. I charge very little (compared to other Amazon sellers) because I don’t want to piss anyone off, I want to sell things, and I don’t want to deal with refunds and returns. This isn’t my business; I just use the Internet as a high-priced garage sale. If it were a full-time job, I’d probably have less time to put into each listing. But as it stands I have all the time I need.

I have sold numerous books, DVDs, CDs, and video games. I sold a video game a few weeks ago, and for the first time ever I got an e-mail from the buyer asking about my return policy. I told her politely that I couldn’t really accept refunds. If it was defective or something, we could work something out, but I’d tested the game myself with a friend and had no problems.

She returned with some story about how the game didn’t work. I don’t believe her…not just because I played the game myself, but because she didn’t tell me that when she first e-mailed. If I bought a game that didn’t work, I would write and say “Hey, this game doesn’t work. I keep getting error messages. Can I get my money back?” She just said “What’s your return policy?” I sense buyer’s remorse. The game does suck. It works, but it sucks.

I’m being pestered about $10 I don’t have that I was paid for a used video game by someone who obviously needs the money less than I do. After all, she is the one buying video games, and I’m the one who won’t have a home on Monday.

Strangely, I haven’t started crying yet, but I’m sure it will come. I’m definitely in a state of panic. I don’t even understand how I am coherent right now, if I’m coherent. I can’t call a crisis line, I can’t call for help.

I feel like I have too much to do with life. But I can’t cry and I can’t breathe either.

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You Are Not Your Job (or Awkward Interviews I’ve Had, Part 2)

“You are not your job. You are not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You are not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.” --Tyler Durden

Pardon me for invoking the over-quoted Fight Club.

All too often we’re judged not by our potential or our abilities, but by our status. Two of the worst job interviews I have had have been the result of cocky executives deciding that I must be stupid, incompetent, or worthless just because of the assortment of bad jobs I have held. My longest stint of full-time employment was at the most boring receptionist job ever. Prior to my years of poverty, I had been an instructor at a technical college. I taught basic math classes, computer skills, and medical terminology to aspiring medical and dental assistants. I quit this position to go back to school to get my dream job, but my plan completely backfired and I ended up poor. I have not had a higher-level or higher-paying job since. My career peaked when I was 24 years old.

By 27, I’d become resentful of having low-level low-pay jobs I hated. Especially since I had been job-hunting almost nonstop for three years. I am good at writing and editing, and I wanted to work in corporate communications. No one would hire me, so I saved as much money as I could and I enrolled in a yearlong certificate program for editors. I felt that this would make up for my lack of experience.

I received word that the administrative assistant in my company’s corporate communications department was quitting. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to get my foot in the door. First of all, it was an admin position, so it was barely a step up from what I had been doing. Also, it paid more. Best of all, it was in the department I wanted to work in, and I knew that once they saw me at work, they’d realize my potential and I would actually get a job on my chosen career path.  I spoke to the director of the department about it, and she encouraged me to apply and said that I would be a good fit. Unfortunately, she stepped down from her position before the hiring process was completely underway.

As the receptionist, I knew everything about every department at the company. I knew everyone’s names, I knew everyone’s jobs. I was generally among the first to find out company news because a lot of information crossed my desk each day. I thought that this would work to my advantage in applying for a corporate communications position.

I was wrong. The stink of reception work takes years to wash away.

I spoke with the admin who was quitting, and she told me a lot about the job. She was annoyed that it was strictly an admin position, and she did not have much corporate communication work to do. She told me that she had to do things like attach files to the VP’s e-mails, because he just couldn’t figure out how to do it himself.

The VP would pass by the reception desk and give me random tasks, which I assume were just to test me. He asked me to find the phone number for the CEO of a rival company. Thank you, Google. He asked me to compose a press release based on a laboratory study of one of our products. I’m comfortable with medical and scientific jargon, so this was a relatively easy task once I found information about press-release formatting. I did find the VP’s request strange because the admin said that she never once had to write a press release; the most she had to do was proofread.

After a couple of weeks of catering to his arbitrary whims, I was called in for an interview. I was so excited. I dressed up, I studied, and I printed copies of my current resume on ivory resume paper. I had worked so hard to get my resume to highlight my skills rather than my experience. One of my best friends (who is an accountant with an MBA) had helped me get my resume into a better format for highlighting relevant experience.

I walked into his office, sat down, and handed him my resume.

“So,” he said. “What is it about handing out people’s paystubs and bus passes makes you think you’re qualified for a career in corporate communications?”

Ouch.

I laughed –probably because I was nervous and offended, but I tried to play it off as casual. I mustered up some answer about how I had tutored writing for years, written and designed workshops about writing, was a talented editor, and really wanted a more challenging position.

“If you’re so interested in communications, why didn’t you get a job in the field when you were finished with college?”

Sigh. When friends ask me that question, I can answer it honestly, but I had no idea what to say in such a formal setting. How is that even a valid interview question? I don’t even remember what I said. I think I just babbled on about how I was versatile or something.

“When did you graduate college?”

“2003.”

“So I guess you’ve just been screwing around for four years.” He had that “ha-ha-I’m-making-a-joke-but-not-really” tone. I did my best to laugh it off.

Towards the end of the interview, I asked him how he got his job. He told me that he worked at a store that sold stereo equipment, and after college he got some job at a small-time newspaper and he worked his way up. He was in his early 50s, and he’d been in communications for over 30 years. He was coming from a completely different place, and he didn’t understand why I hadn’t done the same thing.

Then he dealt the final blow: “When I look at you and your resume, I think ‘this girl would make a good receptionist.'”

Triple ouch.

I was not offered the administrative assistant job. An HR representative came out and told me that I just didn’t have enough experience, and then she told me about another department in our company that needed “someone to do some filing.” I burst into tears. Later that week, the corporate communications department hired a random temp from an agency, and they paid her more than I got paid at the front desk.

I felt I had been wronged. It was as though they felt it was “cute” that the receptionist wanted a big-girl job. I was more hurt than anything else. It wasn’t even the job rejection. It was that I’d never had a chance.

I complained to my supervisor about how frustrated I was with my experience trying to get out of my stifling job. I was literally and figuratively trapped behind that desk –I wasn’t even allowed to get up and move away from the desk at any time.  I made an offhand comment that “in an ideal world, I wouldn’t be a receptionist another minute.” Two hours later I received a random voice mail from the woman at the temp agency who had placed me at that job. Three hours after that, I was fired. I was unaware at the time that I had already been replaced with a temp, hence the random call from the temp agency.

I was fired for being “unhappy.” They said that it was “risky” for the company to have someone answer the phone and greet visitors when they were so “unhappy.”

They knew I was trying to get a job in another department, and they knew why. I was bored and I never hid that fact. I was there about a year and a half, and I had been told repeatedly that I was the first receptionist to last more than six months. The boredom was excruciating; had I not been so desperate, I wouldn’t have lasted there nearly that long.

I was so bored that I invented games to play with the postage meter. I was so bored that I read the spam faxes just to look busy.

They had known for months, but when I spoke up about the way I was treated, I was “too unhappy.” They were okay with me being unhappy –just not too unhappy.

I was not unemployed for long that time around, and my next job was one that I loved. After about four weeks of unemployment, I got my very first editorial job at a big company. I was getting paid less than I had been as a receptionist, but I loved the work. Unfortunately, I got laid off.

When I found out that I was getting laid off from my first editorial job, I was understandably upset. My pay was terrible, but at least I made it through each day without wanting to bang my head through a windowpane. To avoid a lapse in employment, I applied for an associate editor job at the same company. The company had a very specific hierarchy, and the job I was applying for was one step above the position I had.

I requested an informational interview with the woman who would have been my supervisor if I were chosen for the job. I e-mailed her my resume and she sent me a meeting request for that afternoon to talk to her about the position. I wasn’t dressed for an interview because I had only heard about the position after I had arrived at work that morning, but since it was an informational interview, I was less concerned. I created a list of questions to ask and I brought them with me.

I didn’t ask a single question. The minute I walked in the door, she started grilling me job-interview style. Even though this was a job within the company where I already worked, she was completely unaware of what I was talking about when I tried to explain my job. I had signed an NDA and was not sure if I was allowed to discuss certain details outside of my department. She kept pressing it, and I answered as best as I could, though I admit I remained vague about specifics. If I was going to violate my NDA, I sure as hell wasn’t going to do it in a way that could come back to haunt me.

I failed to answer her questions about my current position to her liking. She then began to tell me that she was looking for someone with a lot of technical writing experience. The job was not a writer position, let alone a technical writer position. It was an editor position, and the job listing did not mention technical writing at all. The job listing also mentioned that all applicants would be given an editing exam. I asked her if I could take the exam. She said “we’re just evaluating people by their experience.”

I told her about my editing certificate program, and she asked me to describe specific assignments I had done. Again, I was expecting an informational interview, so I was not prepared to answer questions about classes I had taken several months or a year before.

We talked a few more minutes, and then she said “I’m not going to lead you on and pretend that we’re interested.” Direct quote.

Hanging on to whatever composure I had left, I asked her if she could think of any departments where my skills would be useful.

“No,” she said. “We don’t hire beginners here. Maybe you should try to get a job at a newspaper.”

I left. I was either going to say something vulgar or cry, so I walked out. I’m completely baffled as to why she requested this interview with me if she saw my resume beforehand. If I wasn’t what she was looking for, why did she choose to waste her time and mine? Her “we don’t hire beginners here” statement stung the most. After all, I already worked there and she knew that.

The following day I went out to lunch with a coworker, and I told him about my ordeal.

“That’s so weird!” he said. “I interviewed with her last week and she was totally nice to me.”

“What?!”

“Yeah.”

“How come she didn’t know what my job was if she interviewed you first?”

“I don’t know. She didn’t ask me too much about it.”

What. The. Hell. He and I had the exact same job on the exact same team. We were hired two months apart, and we were at a similar level of experience.

“Maybe she’s one of those women who just doesn’t like other women.”

Whatever. I’m glad I’m not working for her.  I’d have gone crazy looking at her scowly face all day. My coworker didn’t get the job either.

I’m not sure what I learned from all this, except that people can be jerks. Unfortunately, I already knew that.

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Filed under Awkward Interviews I've Had, Obstacles, Soapbox, Work

Priorities

When I was a sophomore in college, I was hanging out with my roommates one December day shortly before Winter Break. One of my roommates was planning to travel home for Christmas, and was trying to figure out the best way to get to the airport over 50 miles away. She didn’t own a car. I did own a car, but I couldn’t drive her for whatever reason (or perhaps I didn’t want to –I couldn’t stand this girl.) She told me, quite excitedly, that she could take the bus all the way to airport and it would take over four hours but it only cost $4. “That’s crazy,” I said. “Why would you do that when you can hire a shuttle to take you there for $20 in just an hour?”

Bewildered, she asked me “Why would I spend $20 traveling to the airport when I can get there for only $4?” Then she laughed at me as if I’d suggested she flap her arms and fly to the airport.

These days, I’m not sure what I would do if I were in the same situation. Frankly, I could go either way. There is still a pampered part of me that values my time, comfort, and safety more than money, and a part of me that is willing to spend rent money frivolously in order to avoid an uncomfortable situation.

My paycheck was unusually small this week; my health insurance premium is subsidized by my employment agency, and since I was very sick and barely worked for two weeks, I had far more taken out of my paycheck than I would have on a normal week–nearly $200 more. I was left with $280 for a whole week, during the course of which I am expected to pay $700 for rent and $90 for a bus pass.

There is a group of people I hang out with a couple of times a month. We drink beer or coffee and play boardgames. This is very important to me at this time because I need to do all I can to hang on to my sanity. Unfortunately, I live far away from anywhere we meet regularly, and my car is still out of commission. We met up last Wednesday night and I completely lost track of time during a discussion with a friend about video games, one of my favorite topics. The next thing I knew it was after midnight, and that’s trouble for someone who lives in an isolated area such as my neighborhood. I couldn’t get the wifi to work, so I couldn’t look at the bus schedule online. I took the next bus downtown only to find that I’d missed the last transfer by about 10 minutes. There were no buses traveling to my neighborhood at all. Not one. There was one bus that stopped in the ghetto two miles from my apartment, and it left at 2:14 a.m. I decided I would just wait an hour and a half and then walk two miles home.

I had approximately $180 left after buying a bus pass and some food. I was determined to wait for the bus.

I guess I’m not as strong as I give myself credit. I was alone at 1 a.m. in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, which is not a nice place to be alone and stranded when the bars are closing. The people on the street were not too threatening in general, at least they aren’t if they don’t talk to you. When the streets are quiet, however, there are fewer people to talk to, and anyone at a bus stop is a captive audience. A man was sitting across the street from me and staring in my direction. He just stared straight at me for at least ten minutes. Then he crossed the street, sat next to me, and continued staring. I got nervous and decided to call a taxi.

Yeah. Well get you there. Maybe. If we feel like it.

Yeah. We'll get you there. Maybe. If we feel like it.

I knew that the $180 I had left was more than enough to get me home, but I knew I shouldn’t spend any money. I was worried that it would cost $40 or so because I’ve had terrible luck with cabs in the past. The cab arrived quickly, in less than five minutes. It cost $22.50 to take me home. I feel fortunate that for once in my life I actually had access to some money, as opposed to other times recently when I’ve been stranded with nothing.

Had this been any other night, I may have been stuck waiting for the late, late bus and taking a two-mile stroll through the closest thing King County has to a real ghetto. Or I would have slept in an alley or something until the buses resumed service in the morning. And I would have been screwed if anyone took my backpack or anything like that.

I have resigned to the fact that I cannot pay my rent on time this month. I will not even be able to pay it next week because even if I hadn’t spent any of my $280 paycheck, I would be $40 short next week, at best.

My rent was hiked up last February, and it’s been absolutely hellish ever since. I simply can’t afford it, but I already live in the cheapest place I can find. I have health issues that make me not entirely willing to share my living space at this time, but I will commence a search for a sympathetic (or at least somewhat sane) roommate. I will once again have to unload most of my belongings, which should bring in some money. It’s difficult to have a yard or garage sale when you have neither a yard nor a garage. At least summer is here, so I can maybe hone in on community sales.

But what roommate would want me? I have pets, bad credit, I’m antisocial, and I’m messy. I’m really not made to share living spaces. I have done it before, and I have even done it successfully, but my health has declined so much and it has led me to seek out more and more solitude. I am reluctant to live with friends because I imagine major clashes. Perhaps the best situation would be some sort of group home. And I must make arrangements before I get myself evicted.

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