Monday, September 10, 2012

Over Rated Water Coolers

After all is said and done, 10,000 jobs and counting, I have some how ended up here – communication / training / marketing specialist for a big wig financial organization. I’ll go back and describe the impacting steps that got me to where I am but let’s just talk today’s environment for now.
My role, to communicate and document mundane and drool corporate updates on technology. There are 3 levels of bureaucracy approvals before any thing gets sent out. Really? Because at this level in my career I need someone to oversee my spelling errors. And honestly, they correct things that don’t need correcting, like when I put a phone number in an email for the UK and some ditz corrects it because they thought I formatted the 01-888-xxx incorrectly. Um, no, that’s how you dial country codes – you’re in communications right – get a clue! Had you actually read the message and subject line as well as the To: field you would have seen that this is an EMEA only message. Oh, right you did all that and still thought I was wrong, so you really are that stupid but yet you’re checking MY work – perfect!
The best and worst part of corporate today – the remote commuter aka telecommuters who never leave the house, works from their computer desk in PJs all day or sometimes like me in their underwear with a towel on their head. The pros and cons list are pretty much equal in that – pro; I get to work in my underwear and con; I get to work in my underwear. Yes it’s a pro when you only have half an hour between conference calls and you need to squeeze in a 5 minute shower but con because you are shut off from the world except for your internet, email and IM all day, every day. It can get monotonous. While my 100+ pairs of shoes and countless pair of black pants get dusty and my makeup dries out I guess I save a little on wardrobe expense. Who am I kidding? I love shoes!
Don’t get me wrong, I take my liberties working from home.  But what have I given up – human interaction for a keyboard and flannels?
So, my water cooler these days is a few padded steps away located at the corner of family room and foyer called my kitchen. The refrigerator has it’s own ability to make ice and filtered water – without finding someone’s lunch in the ice maker! No more waiting on line for a cup of coffee only to find out that the turd in front of you took the last cup and didn’t bother to remake. I have no one to blame but myself if I skip lunch or don’t get a cigarette break. The water coolers are far removed from my world as is human interactivity and maybe all it was was starched white shirts talking about the latest episode of some nightly sitcom or sharing insightful blather on political views but now it’s text talk and emoticons. So has the corporate water cooler been officially replaced or only in my work world?

It's All About the Shoes!

Circa 1980. . .something.  Cue the eighties big hair and bedroom pumps, throw on a leopard dress and a smile, in walks me.  I’m on another interview for a temp job.  The position would be to fill in for an executive secretary while she takes maternity leave.  She has 3 or 4 ‘senior’ executives that she caters to.  I only had to meet one.
I’m greeted by what I would consider (at the time) to be an older, more distinguished handsome man (he was 37).  I guess I should tell you that I’m about 20 so anything over 25 was ‘older’.  Wearing classic 80′s attire, black leather pumps with a leopard design around the heel that put me at about 5’8 maybe even 9 (when you factor in the hair height), I follow him through a maze of people and partitions.   The interview is on and he starts rambling about word processing; I start spinning.  Not sure how he missed the glazed over deer in headlights look on my face.  Out of my element but looking fabulous what else could I do but play up the charm.  We’ve all been there so don’t judge, have you ever gotten out of a ticket in your life, then you know what I’m talking about.  Plus charm I was good at, I had that down – typing, filing, answering phones (other than my own), not so much.
It didn’t even take until the end of the day when I got the call.  Job was mine, I start Monday.  Happy dance!  Woohoo!  I would be making  $365/week – that’s a lot of shoes!
So I show up Monday morning – being punctual was never really my thing, especially on a Monday.  So I’m late, my first day, as a temp – you with me?  I was wearing a red mini dress, black stockings and 4″ patent leather pumps (this is important).  Prego is a total flake, worse than me but I guess she knew some stuff (office stuff – I don’t know).  I’m in a ‘cubicle’ outside the offices of the ‘executives’ – whatever!  I am bored out of my freakin’ mind and decide this sucks, time for a bitch session and weekend recap with my girlfriends. Five minutes into the conversation (cue the girly giggly chatter) and great, now there’s someone standing at my desk – I think they want to say something to me but I’m on the phone so. . .
Day two, I show up and am apparently flying solo (some pre-term labor issue with the prego)  Fantastic!    What is it I’m supposed to do again?? (By the way, I was wearing a long flowy skirt with sling back pumps.)  I was a mess, when it came to doing any actual work – but I looked marvelous (geez I feel like that gum commercial)!  Different day, new shoes; the days rolled into weeks and months and by some miracle I was still employed.
With very detailed instructions from OCD  Joe, I learned how to format a letter properly and get the Wang thang to print it out.  I can’t remember who shook their head more, me because really another friggin’ correction or him because really another friggin’ correction!  We were perfect together!  I spent a lot of time walking back and forth into his office – hmmmm.  Seriously I had no skills and he was basically teaching me how to be a secretary.  (Which by the way I had decided I did NOT want to be!).  He made up his own filing system, clearly the big heap on the end of my desk wasn’t really working for him.  He did his own expense reports, I made the copies.  He mostly wrote his own letters on a sheet of lined white paper and I would just type and print them out – I didn’t know how to take long or short hand.  By this time he had hired me full time as his personal secretary because I was so incredibly reliable and efficient.  Right!  I had already earned the pet name ‘psycho bitch from hell’ and had the t-shirt to prove it in case anyone was confused.  Among others I was also referred to as ‘subtle as a sledgehammer’ and my favorite ‘killer’.  I drove this man completely insane so why for the love of God did he hire me.
And there it was, the answer my friend came blowing in the wind when I worked one Saturday, it was just me and Mister OCD.  I actually worked one Saturday every month and it always seemed to be the same Saturday that I had my period so I was extra miserable, psycho and bitchy.  But this Saturday, I call Joe and say ‘I’m not coming – surprised?’  It was only two hours passed the time I should have been there anyway.  ’What you have a flat tire, I’ll come pick you up’.  Lucky freakin’ me!  Because I didn’t tell him that I had cramps or was sporting a hangover because I knew that wouldn’t score me any points, I lied and said flat tire – like Prince friggin’ Charming he was on his way.
I’m still wondering if I hadn’t shown up, if he hadn’t picked me up how this would have ever come up.  On the elevator he asks me if I knew why he had hired me.  Completely dumbfounded myself over why he ever did and kind of caught off guard I’m thinking oh shit, is he going to fire me!   I say ‘Nope’, and he says simply, ‘It was the shoes’.
Now I can go on and tell you the stuff I’m not so proud of that may or may not have happened in the span of a year and half between me and Mister OCD but why go there.  The point is I have always said this and still do to this day, it is actually something I learned from my mother. . . It is all about the shoes!
They can make you or break you!

Underwear Model?

I’m smiling, walking; people are staring at my ass.  Smiling, one foot in front of the other, crap is that a nipple!  Smiling, don’t look directly at them, head up, tits out, hands – have to find something to do with my hands.  Does this thong come with pockets?
I’m a non-model who’s modeling lingerie in front of hordes of strangers. Oh and  I’m not sure if that’s a pube poking through my seamless, crotchless panyhose. I blame my friend Maria and her aunt Maryanne for this.  I met my friend Maria at one of my countless jobs (shoe guy ‘OCD Joe’ – read my previous blog).  She was or is an engineer, I was an executive secretary (do they even have those anymore?).
Maria had other interests outside of our day jobs.  One was opening her own boutique and she was good at getting me to do things I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do.  Not because she had such a persuasive way about her but because she was commanding and when she asked you to do something it wasn’t really a question so much as ‘you are doing this.’  So when she asked me to model clothes for her in a local fashion show to promote her newly opened boutique I really didn’t have a choice.  It was more, ‘you are going to model clothes for me in my local fashion show. . .’  But when she introduced me to Aunt Maryann and the fashion became lingerie I had my reservations. Yeah, I still did it – whore!
My first fashion show was with real clothes, I had never modeled anything before but I knew how to put my pants on and work it.  I was an 80’s girl in my 20’s – you worked it every night at the disco.  Yes I said ‘disco’ it was the 80’s, get on my level!  The fashion show requirements were – fit a size, any size, because she didn’t want women to think it was a skinny girl kind of shop, if you had big hair you made it bigger, red lips you made them redder and plaster a smile on your face regardless of what you’re wearing.  I supported all of her local high school shows for the PTA, fund raiser type of events, clad yet smashing in the latest hideous.  Yes those were the days and I didn’t think they could be topped, I was wrong.
Aunt Maryann was also in the clothing / fashion business.  I use the term fashion extremely loosely because I’m not sure that underwear and house coats are really considered fashion.  This time I don’t even think there was a question, the plan was hatched, and I was part of it, there would be scantily clad me on a runway somewhere in Queens or was it the Bronx showing off the latest in bedtime boudoir apparel.  I figured what the hell; I’ll never see these people again.
When we arrived at the civic center in Co-Op City, a series of high rise apartment buildings in the Bronx, the people were waiting for a ‘show’.   There were rows of chairs setup theatre style, a podium in the front with Aunt Maryann at the helm.  A civic center, really?  No runway, no backstage or dressing room.  Just a big room with bad fluorescent lighting and a dirty floor.  This place made backstage high school auditoriums look like a Broadway production.   This was no ladies auxiliary crowd.   These people were here to see a bunch of women in their underwear parade around the room.  The show must go on right, fabulous!
The clothes racks had been setup in the back of the room and situated in such a way to keep us hidden from the audience.  Some creative positioning of the men’s bathroom door that we had wedged opened with our rolling racks of underwear, baby dolls and house coats kept us from view while we disrobed.    For three women, of varying size and weight hiding behind a rolling clothes rack with an open bathroom door on our left and a friggin urinal on our right it was a make it work moment.
We pushed and shoved and leaned over and on each other to get ourselves into wardrobe, awfully aware of our surroundings and frantically dressing while sleeves and panty hose hit the urinal cake trying not to let our feet hit the floor.  Imagine the scene from the other side of that clothes rack!  Loud out of control laughing – the kind that makes your belly hurt, the kind that leaves you breathless and the kind that gets you going again at the mere thought of what started it in the first place (urinal cake).  Three falling over broads who were about to come out and put on a show for the ‘audience’.  All I could think was “Do I really want to do this?”  Oh, yeah we’re doing this.
And then began the fifteen minute walk of ‘fame’ shame.  I kept my eyes unfocused toward the podium and Aunt Maryann.  She would give subtle signals that you needed to remove something as she described the pieces you were wearing to the crowd.  I tried to listen to what she said so I would stay on cue but the voices in my head were louder than she was.  ”It’s almost over, only 4 more outfits to go, keep your head up, tits out, these pants are way too short for me, am I wearing polyester blend, I hope my heel does not get caught in this robe, did I forget to shave my left arm pit, hands what do I do with my hands, damn I wish there were pockets, how ridiculous do I look right now in patent leather come fuck me pumps and a teddy bear one size fits all sleep shirt, is this the sleeve that hit the urinal cake, I have an itch, am I getting paid for this!”
At the end of the day, we all kicked Victoria’s ass and it was no secret!  Truth is I was pretty damn good at doing things Maria told me to do.  And if she had asked I never would have done half of them.   I kept an open mind, said yes and ended up with a great story. Next time anyone should ask (seriously no one’s asking for anything anymore) I’ll be ready to find my inner whore and work that bitch to death!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Retail: Behind the Rack

A little down on our luck I found myself driving 70+ miles one way to a retail job for slightly over minimum wage - the pay just about covered my commuting expense but at least I was working right?  I went from  $150 an hour as a consultant to $10.25 an hour and worked 100x harder.  There is something so wrong with that.   What I learned from this experience is that retail is almost as bad as the restaurant business in that it is extremely hard work with little to no benefits, the pay sucks and the people, employees and customers, are miserable human beings.  And they (employees) have good reason to be, like the fact they are not making $150/hour!  I know it made me miserable.

Understand for barely above minimum wage the un-glorified role I played as a sales person. . .cleaning, selling, counting, ringing (cashier), inventorying, merchandising, ordering, stocking, hanging, fitting, fixing, reporting, banking, financials, budgets, scheduling, managing, and smiling, while standing for four, six, eight or 12 hours a day.  To be clear this was a higher end women's retail store so I'm not talking about Kohl's where the sales people don't even know they sell shoes.  Obviously my fashion passion has an arbitrary line in the sand.

You're probably thinking, cleaning, you had to clean. . .yup!  And let me ask; do you seriously vacuum, dust, wash windows, wipe down shelves and mirrors every night at home - hell no, but all of sudden there I was doing it for someone else and I'm not even going to justify it by saying they were paying me because clearly the meager pay did not compensate for the responsibilities.

Selling and up-selling, OK it is retail so this part I sort of get.  But there is no incentive to up-sell to anyone.  I didn't get paid more if I managed to convince someone to spend more.  I still got what I got so who cares if the store makes more money - what's in it for me?  Nothing.

Inventory sucks.  If you had twelve shirts and didn't sell any you should still have twelve shirts. . .it's when you don't still have twelve that it's a problem.  And of course there is the annual New Years inventory bash that is mandatory for everyone to attend that starts after the store closes and lasts several hours into the night/next morning.  I'm not in college so I don't do all nighters anymore.  You got a shift differential for working but it didn't matter, I'm not sure how much money it would take to make it tolerable but what they offered wasn't enough.

Working the fitting room was probably the most degrading.  Women would try on countless items, fling them at you when they were done and demand to see something else or alternate sizes.  When they were finished more than half bought nothing and you were left to clean up their mess.  Let me  be honest, I do not do laundry, I don't fold, iron, hang up or put away - that goes for my own wardrobe, husband and three kids.  So why the hell am I standing here putting away some strangers shit - again, you could say it was my 'job' and I was being 'paid' to do it - whatever, I don't want to keep repeating myself but you can't really call it being paid when you consider what the job really was.

The odd twist in all of this is that believe it or not I actually enjoyed part of it - I know, you didn't see that coming because this has literally been a rant of what a horrible experience retail work is.  What I liked about it was that at the end of my day it was done.  There were no 'to do' lists left for the next day.  When I was there I was 'all in' and the clock restarted the next day.  Having worked in corporate America for the last 20 years or so it was some what of a nice mental break to get away from the office bureaucracy and political bullshit.  However if you ever find yourself in this situation do not tell your fellow co-workers you were a VP at some bank and were settling for this until something better came along.  It was in very bad taste for me to do that and I didn't win anyone over.  But when it came to customers I could have won the academy award for acting like a kind, knowledgeable, helpful, fashionista, I even had regular repeats that came in to see me.  Sure I was exhausted and broke but I wasn't panicked or stressed. 

They offered me a full time assistant store manager position at a different location, the pay was ridiculous, the hours longer and the commute just as bad.  I accepted and then that something better came along so I never showed up for my first day.  To this day I have not stepped foot back in that store.