Wednesday, August 19, 2015

An Open Letter To WalMart

Let me start by saying that I love to explore. Whether it's the terrain around the next curve, some topic under the letter K in the encyclopedia, or the source of that creaking sound emanating from some unseen portion of my home at 4:47 AM, I want to know what it's about.

It was that passion for exploration which led me to apply for work at WalMart online recently. Well, that, plus I'd like to earn a little more money.

Online job applications are typically straightforward. Questions such as, "Where have you worked most recently?", "What skills do you have which best suit you for the position you seek?", or even "How many years has it been since that last bottle rocket incident led to four thousand hours of community service?" are pretty routine. In fact, the sense of exploration has long since evaporated regarding filling out applications for Barney's Jigsaw Emporium's stockroom.

And then there's WalMart.

Allow me to correct and qualify that. And then there was WalMart. My application experience was, in a word, traumatic.

First of all, WalMart assumed, on page two of the process, that I'm a woman. Not that I'd necessarily mind, assuming that the company's sales associates get employee discounts on clothing which must surely be inexpensive, if of a very low quality. And it would have to be expensive since I'd need a whole new wardrobe to cover up my huge, hairy back.

Then there's the issue regarding my numerical identity. Having finally convinced WalMart Online that I am, in fact, a man, the next step involved contorting myself in order to enter my oh-so-lengthy social security number. My electric bill's account number is even longer than that. WalMart, apparently, has questionable bandwidth issues for any number exceeding 1. In a mere fifteen minutes I was finally able to sway WalMart into believing that, as a US citizen, I do in fact have a social security number. Thank you, WalMart. I appreciate your willingness to accept the obvious.

The next step in this exploration trip was to list my work experience. Specifically, this step didn't include glitches, frustration, and wasted time listing my employment history. Within mere moments of having entered Habitat For Humanity as my most recent employer, WalMart rewarded my efforts with "WalMart web page expired during application process". Having shared this on WalMart's Facebook page, someone in IT was kind enough to issue a "so sorry" response which fell on the deaf ears of perhaps a thousand or so disgruntled customers, which equates to approximately two thousand ears if my public education hasn't completely failed me.

In the end, I have a little more fodder to include in an upcoming column. For that I'd like to thank WalMart for providing me with some very rich material. My frustration with WalMart will likely lead to rewards for me later. I look forward to that.

When you're finished reading this, WalMart, please press the forward button at the bottom of the screen.

Thank you for reading.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Which Way Is Out?

I'm frustrated.

Let me qualify that. I'm frustrated because I have writer's block. Not in the sense that I can't think of anything to write about, but because there's too much.

There seems to be an overload of topics, issues, observations, and experiences -a veritable glut of potential conversation fodder. I could prattle on about politicians' proclivities regarding balanced budgets, snarky debate comments, and toupees. I could expound on how "if I were elected, I'd..." is tired old speculation best reserved for the young who have yet to hear empty promises of lowered taxes, world peace, and global prosperity in our lifetime.

Then again, I could write an entire column about those nifty small shopping carts they have at Kroger -the ones which are the metaphorical equivalent to Smart cars -those nerdy little golf cart-looking commuters which look like something you'd actually enjoy slapping while feeling grumpy. I'd delve into how maneuverable they are, slaloming deftly around those Hummer-sized carts which were apparently designed to accommodate enough groceries to feed Houston. Heaven knows the thirty dollars' worth of groceries I cram into my polite little cart gives me a smug sense of satisfaction, especially when I see those bulky Hummer types slam into one another at the ends of the aisles. This is usually followed by the requisite "excuse me, didn't see you" and the bag of Doritos which comes dislodged from Gladys' cart and nearly takes out a stock clerk rotating cans of green beans.

One topic I've considered is what it's like sitting in the waiting room at the veterinarian's office, but since I don't have a pet I'd probably look kind of creepy sitting there with a pad and paper. "Nice St. Bernard. What's his name, and where are you going?" would make for an entirely discomfiting read. Even so, the potential for the chaos theory to unfold as Rugby the Boxer chased Fluffy the Persian cat around the room, creating special forces-level havoc and terrifying toy poodles could provide some rather satisfying afternoon news.

If I weren't worried about being perceived as a whiner (with my nasality, it's a given), I could talk about how my former upstairs neighbor threw a foot stool through her living room window at three in the morning, but since we all have our own problems to deal with, no one would want to read about that. But if I did bring it up, I'd expound on the broken glass still laying in my window well along with an entirely bizarre-looking toy frog which stares at me in utter disbelief whenever I open my blinds. (Apparently, she really needed to vent that night.)

An interesting thing to write about is my slow learning curve when it comes to exploring my Motorola Android Turbo. I'm pretty sure that I'm a poor student of the thing, taking into account that calling a friend who lives exactly 4.6 miles from me frequently leads to "international rates don't apply to your calling plan" being intoned from a computer in Verizon's basement in Passaic New Jersey.

In all, there's an entire universe of discussion points waiting to be discovered, explored, ablated, analyzed, and even laughed about. I intend to write about all of them. Either that, or I'm going to write about writing about them. Or would that be redundant considering the point of this article?

I'd better get started. The earth alone has exactly 3.7 trillion topics, not counting any life forms which may somehow be able to survive and hide in the Marianas Trench and my high school GPA.

This must be the way out.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Waxing Frustrated

I was at my wit's end.

My home has the usual amount of clutter. A few newspapers, some dirty clothes piled up, conveniently enough, in the corner next to the clothes hamper, and a microwave oven which should probably be wiped down soon. In general, I keep my home clean.

And that's what had me in a snit.

You see, I've been a fan of a certain furniture polish which smells like lemons. It's a nice fragrance, reminding me of warmer days when it's snowing outside and the world seems to turn in early. In the summer, however, it isn't such a pleasant thing to use the polish.

That's because the polish had attracted fruit flies. Not a few, mind you. Enough to make me realize that a full scale invasion has occurred.

I killed perhaps two hundred, not that I kept a body count tally. No matter how many I wiped out, more seemed to have flown in to replace them. It had become entirely frustrating, knowing that they had such air superiority early on. I swatted. I batted. Once, in an act of desperation, I even chased one around the coffee table with a can of Right Guard Sport Scent. At the end of the first campaign the fruit flies had increased their numbers exponentially.

Then I decided that, if spider spray could kill spiders it would virtually dissolve fruit flies. Dumping pesticides into the air of my home was an act of desperation for me; the thought of achieving a pyrrhic victory over the pesky things at the cost of my lungs' healthy functioning wasn't something I was willing to leave to chance. Not that it made any sense, but in order to ventilate my home for my own safety, I opened the front door.

You can see where this is going.

Did I mention that the fruit fly population had become exponential? It was like the insect version of the big bang theory as untold numbers of fruit flies exploded in to the cause of their brethren courtesy of my involuntary open door policy. In a last ditch effort, I set aside the furniture polish. I had had a somewhat radical thought: spider spray is kind of greasy. Furniture polish is also kind of greasy. Therefore,...

I opened the front door again, spraying the doorway with spider spray in two-minute intervals -long enough to keep the fruit fly national guard at bay long enough to set up a protective barrier on my furniture. Stepping back and forth between the front doorway and the living room furniture brought to mind the footwork which fighters learn early on in their careers. Either that, or I was discovering the Samba.

It worked. The few surviving fruit flies retreated, preferring to take their chances with the birds. The furniture was nicely dusted, even if somewhat toxic (not that I lick my furniture). In the days that passed, I resumed using the furniture polish; the insecticide had long since gassed out, and was no longer present on the end table or the TV stand. The fruit flies' leaders must have had a joint chiefs meeting to examine cost-benefit analyses regarding whether or not to mount a counterattack. The decision was that they preferred to move on and breed an entirely new invasion force against a neighbor. Victory had been accomplished, peace of mind, achieved.

My furniture positively glistens now. Interestingly, the wax buildup on the end table had been corrected. Best of all, it isn't covered with hundreds of little winged casualties.

It was good to return to the great scent of lemons.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Breakfast: Story of A Cereal Killer

The other night I was hit, nay slapped across my psyche, with a craving for cereal.

For the past couple of years I've contended myself with that oh-so-grownup oatmeal. Flavor? Save that for the kids. Cereal is serious business. None of that "magically delicious" with leprecahuans would do. No sir. Oatmeal is one of the healthiest foods you can shovel down your gullet. Want flavor? Slice up a banana, Jerry. We're talking hardcore fiber here.

I've been on a diet for the past fifteen months, and you can tell it's tough on me because I'm counting by the month, as though that sounds like more of an accomplishment than a year and three months.

It was with that in mind that my mind began to wander while I trudged up the grocery side of the behemoth retail store. Walking past the pizza, cracker, and candy aisles (it's best to leave past love interests in the past), I began first to ruminate, and then to rationalize, about happier times. "Why shouldn't I enjoy the occasional sweet flavor of Cap'n Crunch?" echoed through the predominant prefrontal cortex of my cerebrum as I recalled spooning through two bowls of that marvelous cereal (part of a complete breakfast, if diabetes and heart murmurs count) while watching the latest goings-on with Scooby Doo before Dad admonished me to go rinse out the bowl and mow the lawn. "And clean up after the dogs" invariably followed while my ten year old version of me was at work digesting high fructose corn syrup, vitamins B6 and B12, and, for all I know, formaldehyde 97%.

It was almost a homecoming, looking at the Cap'n's mug itself spread over Quaker Oat's most colorful breakfast carton. I remember the early commercials -the Cap'n had a nervous laugh, as though he feared a mutiny occurring on his ship and his crew sailing the commander up Battle Creek to Kellogg for interrogation. Those commercials somehow made me crave the product that I'd yell upstairs. "Mooomm! If you're going to the grocery store, can you get me some Cap'n Crunch?" It was as if I had hit the jackpot when she returned, triumphantly, not only with the Crunch, with Crunch Berries.

Admittedly it was an impulse purchase. I craved the comfort of something sweet, though I felt like an idiot watching Scooby Doo reruns on YouTube while articulating the spoon around the Crunch Berries, saving them for last. For that matter, I felt like an idiot letting my OCD lead me to eat first the red berries, then the dark blue (Black?) berries, and finally the red ones. Should it take forty-five minutes to consume a bowl of cereal?

I'm still on a diet. I diverted from the course to take a mini vacation along memory lane. The cereal wasn't the healthiest thing I've eaten for the past, well, more than a year. It did serve as a "cheat" day on my diet. Considering that most of the contents are still in the box, I have a choice: I can eat another bowl in a couple of days and stretch out the elapsed time necessary to finish the box until August 6, or I can toss it out for the birds with the hope that they don't grow too fat to fly. The last thing I need is for birds to give me the evil eye for making them so obese that they have to walk.

I can't do that to the birds, even though I should considering what they did to my newly-washed car last Tuesday. No, I think I'll eat another bowl tomorrow.

Even if they don't stay crunchy even in milk these days.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Out of The Closet

One day a couple of years ago I decided to clean out and reorganize all of the stuff which I had tossed in my walk-in closet for four years.

That's kind of like saying I decided to join the Army so I could learn a trade, and somewhere along the line ended up in Special Forces. Not that I've ever been in the Army, unless taking a wrong turn while looking for an interstate on-ramp and ending up in Fort Bliss counts.

"Deciding to clean out and reorganize" my possessions is an understatement; among the dangers and other perils awaiting me, it's something of a God-Given miracle that I'm alive and writing this, albeit with a substantial does of nervousness while recollecting the events of the evening. First of all, for some reason  a television cable had become inextricably woven around the legs of a chair, a plastic milk crate, and an old vanity light. Since these items were closest to the closet door, they'd have to be moved out of the way first.

At least, that was the hypothesis. A hypothesis which failed as unwinding the cable required tugging on it, resulting in an old floor lamp falling over and beaning me on the forehead as I continued freeing the chair from Cox Cable's wiring amidst some eyebrow-raising epithets. After enduring hand-to-leg combat with the chair, I was able to liberate the torchiere which had moments prior been a mortal enemy. Old car magazines, suitcases, cans of spray paint, and clothes hangers had conspired to create a second line of defense against anyone brave enough to step in and reach for a tee shirt.  My foot never bled despite having stepped on something which I couldn't see due to the shadows caused by metric tons of stored junk. I have a high threshold for pain. Stepping on what turned out to be a dulled hobby knife didn't phase me.

What did phase me was noticing something moving on the wall to my right. While I never saw it again that night, I took in the fine detail of the eight legs, the glossy body, and the red hour glass of a spider which to this day has successfully played a mind game with me. It didn't help that the spider was approximately six inches from my face and scuttling into a cardboard box filled with documents which suddenly became unimportant as they were tossed, immediately, into the dumpster on the other side of the building.

That may be the only time I ever sprinted with a container of old bank statements to a dumpster in my boxer shorts.

Eventually, I began to restore some semblance of order as shirts were rehung, car magazines were organized by title, painting supplies were relocated to a different closet, and my beloved Steelers memorabilia was placed in a more prominent position among my other things. It was around the time I began to wonder if all of that work would ever pay off that I noticed a few pennies clustered near the back of the closet. Initially I meant to throw them away -nine pennies can't buy anything.

On the other hand, loose change amounting to one-hundred twenty-seven dollars can.

That's the amount of loose change which I had absentmindedly tossed through the doorway whenever I returned from a Taco Bell foray. It had become a part of my routine. From my observation later, the change-taking machine at Kroger jammed up more disastrously, from the sheer volume of coins which I fed it, than the Pacific Coast highway during an 8.6 magnitude earthquake. The assistant manager was very helpful, digging the thousands of coins free with a screwdriver so the machine could tally the rough equivalent of my next payments to Verizon and Geico.

It was a hard-won victory that night. I had literally turned trash into gold. My creditors would be paid. My FICO score would rise. My possessions were finally accessible.

I was no longer ashamed of the mess in the small storage area. I had attained peace of mind.

I was finally out of the closet.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

It Applies

I'm looking for work.

I'll qualify that. I'm looking for a simple, part time minimum wage job which doesn't involve scraping dried cheese from dishes while a stressed-out manager badgers me to stack, wash, and return approximately four-hundred plates within .03 seconds lest his restaurant go out of business for the denizens of customers who wouldn't have starved to death in that massive time span.

I'm also giving serious consideration to returning to grad school, if only to indulge in my favorite hobby: seeing how high I can  take my student loan debt. The last time I did that, I rivaled Paraguay's gross national product and the value of the US dollar plunged by fifteen percent.

Why, then, do I keep shooting myself in the foot? By now I'm pretty sure that neither Kmart nor WalMart would hire me, not that I blame them for feeling that way after the messages I left their customer dissatisfaction escalation teams -comments which likely induced post-traumatic stress disorder in the unfortunate souls who answer the phones at corporate. Seriously, being carded simply for attempting to purchase household glue was ridiculous. I should never have mentioned to the cashier that it was for my Poodle. "Yeah, I can't get him to stay in the living room. Maybe Gorilla Glue will work. Perchance is it hypoallergenic? Because Dexter sheds very easily."

I had no idea a cashier's eyebrows could shoot so high.

I also want to stay away from any position involving cash registers. Not that I can't figure out how to operate one of those (I set speed records at the now-defunct Hill's Department Stores back in the 80s with nary a penny over- or undercharged), but because the thought of being chained in one small spot for an entire shift seems like being the corporate equivalent of a Wagyu cow. I'm a free range kind of employee. I worked at Habitat For Humanity's store for seven years. There were some things which I didn't like about the store, but at least I had the freedom to monitor the various departments and organize the merchandise. I walked three miles every day, approximately, while doing my job. There was something nice about getting to choose where in the store to work, even when that meant being stopped by customers who first observed the pricing gun in my hand and then asked if I worked there.

I've given serious consideration to doing volunteer work in the hopes that it might open a few doors. I can see it now: "Hey Rob, I love how you stacked those four thousand bags of oil dry compound. Very neat and precise. But next time, please use the stockroom. I can't get to my desk!" If nothing else, I'm known for my work ethic -when I work.

The next time I fill out an application, and the question "What type of experience do you have?" pops up, I'm going to reply with a couple of questions of my own. "Exactly how much experience should a successful candidate have regarding stocking merchandise so that the labels on those cans of green beans faces the customer?" and "Although I didn't declare a shelf-stocking major while pursuing my undergraduate degree, do you offer a nationally accredited testing program so that I can prove I know which way the DelMonte label goes?"

All of the above speaks of my experiences and, I'm sure, of tens of millions of other people who share similar plights. It's only a matter of when I find that job.

When I do, it'll apply.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Hungry For Success

The other day I dropped by a local restaurant to place a to-go order. As is my weekly habit, I opted for a steak fajita salad. (I'm a firm believer in eating any meal which comes in an edible bowl.) They always cook the steak strips to perfection, and the salad does to the taste buds what Jackson Pollack did to canvasses amidst drinking bouts and fits of rage. The toppings included tomato chunks (which I toss due to citric acid waging war with an old ulcer), olives, and a couple of different kinds of cheese. All of these are chopped, shredded, and diced as though choreographed for the Broadway hit "A Chorus Line". The meal is, in a word, unbelievable.

And then there's the silverware. Or, as is often the case with takeout, plastic ware.

Plastic spoons, forks, and knives seem to have changed over the years as their manufacturers seek ways to cut material costs. Recently this seems to have led to thinner (and less reliable) utensils.

That isn't so bad until one tries to slice a strip of steak which apparently missed the chef's personal Wustoff Ikon steak knife. I tried, at first, cutting into it with a plastic knife which was likely sold in a thousand-for-a-dollar bulk. I've seen some weird things in my life. I've never seen a piece of beef wear down the serrated edge of a knife until this past Thursday.

"Ah, well", I thought to myself. I'll have a bite of some of this fantastic-

That's when the fork "wonked". That is, it bent approximately forty-five degrees, looking eerily similar to a spoon after an evening with Uri Geller, immediately before pitching back and showering my freshly-laundered shirt with Italian dressing and croutons, and the latter of which likely won't be discovered until five years after I begin collecting social security checks. I was eating in my car, enjoying a beautiful afternoon at a public park. After the culinary rebound inside of my sedan, it occurred to me that my only remaining option would have to include the use of the spoon.

This turned out to be a metaphorical "strike three" as the spoon, molded in an inappropriately thin plastic, torqued so much that I punctured not only the tortilla bowl but also the Styrofoam container. Laundry day would prove to be that very afternoon as an ocean of salad dressing, grated cheese, and several other ingredients oozed through a hole seemingly smaller than a grain of sand. Amidst sharing more than a few rather rude epithets (and thereby startling an entire flock of birds), I quickly inverted the container in a desperate attempt to avoid having to include my Accord in laundry day. Having regained control over my rebellious meal, it occurred that using chunks of the bowl as scoops might save the day.

Alas, the plan betrayed me, as had every previous attempt to gain sustenance. Shards of fried tortilla shell showered me in an explosion. The headliner, the dashboard, my clothes -everything not associated directly with my digestive system- was now going to be triaged at the local car wash while I'd amuse myself with the rumblings of my now very hungry stomach.

As for my car and my clothes, both turned out clean enough to pass boot camp inspection. I settled on microwave spaghetti a few hours later. A stainless steel fork ensured me that the meal would be safe from any disasters attributed to tension, torque, or torsion. I had spent the entire day for that meal, and I had finally conquered it.

I was hungry for success.