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Howard from Puget Sound region, Washington State, USA
  • Greetings, all!

    My friend David introduced me to OSE.  He and I and some others have long thought/dreamt about forming our own commune where we can look after each other and be a self-sufficient community, as whether someone is making a decent wage or not, we're all feeling lost to greedy corporate titans.

    David's a smart guy ... I've unfortunately lost some of my own marbles to the corporate insanity.  My first job was in a pizzeria, where I wound up making the dough which I enjoyed because I did so at my own schedule and pace and just needed to make sure I got the job done before the shop opened (I worked out a deal to get paid by the unit instead of per-hour).  My first 'real' job was a lucky break; after temping a few times at an aerospace factory, mostly doing data entry, they hired me on a longer-term job to do technical writing ... it was Precision Aerospace + Composites, a Boeing supplier of some 400 workers at the time I was working there, and I really enjoyed the work I did (I love writing!) but most especially the verbal gratitude I got when I completed their quality control technical documentation and it passed a Boeing quality control audit with flying colors.  I knew all the company vice presidents by name, and did things for each of them in my spare time amid completing the documentation, such as putting together reports and presentations for the vice president of marketing and helping their lonely I.T. guy catch up on backlogged data entry projects.  Unfortunately, aerospace took a nosedive that year and being one of the most recently hired, I was the first to get laid off; I actually had to train my boss to do my job ... he told me he was very upset with the owner's decision to axe my job and was considering resigning himself because of it.  Anyhow, I jumped ship to move in with my first lover who had a job "waiting for me" in Texas that, unfortunately, never surfaced ... I gave up after awhile, took a job filling in for a barista who was on maternity leave for a few weeks in the building (skyscraper -- Greenway Plaza for those familiar with Houston), and the owner of the coffee stand was so impressed with how I related to customers, she said she had a friend who owned a plush restaurant and could get me in easily.  My lover at the time was a bit of a wage-chaser and scoffed, told me I was better than some food service job, so I declined ... I certainly regret having done so.

    My next job was for two brothers, sons of oil tycoons who had inherited a number of oil wells and gas stations in Texas.  They liked booze and liked to chase women ... in fact, they insisting on having my interview in a bar and entertained themselves getting me to try a stiff drink (I didn't really like to drink).  They gave me a fancy schmancy title -- "Executive of Website Development" and promised a lot of things once their website idea got going, a website to serve as a hub for the oil and gas industry.  I would have to spend months developing the website and was promised a % of the company's gross profits padded to my paychecks for sales made through the website, etc.  Without forewarning me, they hired an underling for me who lived with them (I commuted to their home and worked in their home office).  I would certainly never have hired the guy ... I had to commute 30 miles to get there, but I was always on time; some days it took him hours after my arrival to get out of bed.  His "web experience" was making warez pages laden with flash ads which he proudly showed off (I was not impressed).  I had no real professional experience myself, but my HTML and CSS coding (and ability to spell and use grammar, unlike my underling) did impress my bosses.  I was laid off, though, because (according to them) one of their oil wells incurred a huge disaster, blew up, and their funding for developing the website had to go toward recovering from the explosion.  Some time later, though, they told me they had 'invested' in a warehouse full of comic books and asked for my help trying to sell them on e-bay ... I managed to make a few sales, but only a few per day and my cut was not even enough to pay for my gas to commute there.  They then came up with another business idea, a porn site, and ... well ... I'm not a prude, mind you, but my ideas clashed with theirs a bit in that if I was going to do a 'porn' site, it would be 'clean' ... no, not a non-porn porn site, but a site run without using mass spam advertising and the like, using trustworthy payment processors, etc.  They didn't really value this; between that difference in values, and the fact they had become unreliable in their businesses actually working out, I decided I'd be better off searching for work elsewhere.

    The job my lover had promised did eventually materialize, my first I.T. job, imaging and physically setting up workstations for new employees ... but three weeks after I started, the company (Parsons Engineering Group) merged with Perot Systems (the company run by, yes, Ross Perot) and they downsized their entire I.T. department.  Great, wonderful job that lasted all of 3 weeks!

    My next job was call center technical support for tax software.  The company (can't even remember the name, I think it was 'Tax Refund Express' or somesuch) did not provide tax software to the general public; instead, their software was bought and used by tax preparers on behalf of their clients, so our customers were tax preparation business owners.  Given its nature, it was seasonal ... I did okay, even caught a fraud (an employee of one of our clients kept needing security codes reset; I got suspicious, checked it out, and discovered this person was actually an ex-employee fraudulently trying to setup her own business using her former employer's business license and security codes with us), but given it revolves around tax software, it was seasonal work.

    I did a few more odd jobs as my relationship with that lover crashed, eventually I gave up on it all and moved back in with my folks when I was 24, did more temping, went through a couple more relationships and an I.T. job for an Intel call center contractor called Sykes Enterprises in the small city of Klamath Falls, Oregon, supporting various Intel consumer products such as their "Create & Share" web cameras they temporarily dabbled in (we didn't realize, of course, it was only a temporary dabbling).  Intel sold off their web cameras to another company who overseas-ed their tech support, closing down our contracted call center and laying me off after just 6 months of working there.  My next job was with J&W Walker Farms, a huge potato farm operation in a small town south of Klamath Falls.  I used an analyzer to run biochemical analysis on their potatoes, as needed by some of their customers (such as Frito-Lay), measuring the sucrose, dextrose and other nutrient levels in the potatoes, and also doing tests for disease, bruising and other problems.  It sounds a bit glorious, but I worked the same insane farmer's hours everyone else did, several weeks more than 90 hours.  I had done a lot of overtime previously at Sykes (80+ hours for 3 weeks straight), but the harvest season at J&W was really pushing me to my limit ... the work was very physical, huffing two 50-lb samples of potatoes at a time across a large warehouse floor, up a flight of stairs and running a lot of tests.  Some days were more than 16 hours long ... by the end of the days, I was barely able to hobble around, twisted up like a pretzel ... I endured it for 6 weeks, but my lover at the time (not the same one I had in Texas) had quietly told friends how much they hated the hours I was working and that I could do little but crash after getting home most days, with only a single day off during the 6 weeks I did linger (and only that day because it was too cold to harvest potatoes; harvesting potatoes at below freezing temperatures causes damage to the potatoes).  I was otherwise willing to keep going, because we needed the income, but when I heard that, I did reluctantly decide to quit.

    Unfortunately, I was unable to find work again, even though Sykes was hiring and promised because I was laid off that I was a "priority re-hire."  I went through the process, called in every day and kept being told "we aren't sure why you haven't been called back yet, will check" day after day.  They eventually told me I was on a "do not rehire" list, which shocked me ... I trudged in and asked if I could get an explanation.  It took them three weeks to say "oops, our mistake, you were supposed to be priority re-hire, but we put your paperwork on the wrong stack!"  By that point, all the jobs they were hiring for had already been filled, so I was out of luck. :/

    I was unable to find employment again, and eventually that lover and I (the last one I've had) parted ways.  I wound up moving back with my folks again; this was around 2002.  I did a few temp jobs, including a year-long temp job at an Intel SMSE plant in DuPont, Washington, assembling and shipping out computers sent to Intel OEM customers as testbeds for their newest chips.  Some of the experimental chips were insured for several million dollars (for a single chip!).

    I eventually found permanent (but part-time) work with Frito-Lay as a merchandiser/detailer, essentially starting my day driving to one grocery store to another in a sales route, restocking Frito-Lay snacks (for those that don't know ... more than 1/2 of the snack chips isle are Frito-Lay chips -- Lay's, Fritos, Cheetos, Ruffles, Doritos, Tostitos, Santitas, Oh Boy Oberto just to name a few of their brands), ensuring the stock on the shelves was rotated (so that oldest product is in front where it will get bought first; occasionally some had expired, in which case I pulled it from the shelf where the Route Sales Rep who actually delivered Frito-Lay stock to the stores was supposed to buy it back from the store as a credit).  I was the only merchandiser they tried as temp that they decided to hire permanently.  I was not fast, but I was thorough, finding a lot of stales (past-expiration product) that had been buried on the shelves for months and often emptying almost all the backstock to the shelf and displays.  I was also meticulous in noticing problems with the displays and reporting them.  It was only part-time work, but I was able to make enough to save up to eventually move out from my parents (but that meant leaving my job with Frito-Lay).

    My next job was for a lawn service outfit, "Smith Lawn Services" run by a husband and wife out of Fall City, Washington (a small town just below Snoqualmie Falls, the infamous falls featured in the short-lived 'Twin Peaks' series).  It was hard work, and occasionally ran 10-20 hours overtime per week, but I was able to keep up with it.  The wife was a fiesty corporate type, loved to throw "pep rally" type meetings or yelling at me over the phone because the written directions to customers were faulty and I didn't know the area very well to otherwise deal with it.  They did not really allow us to take 30 minute lunches, even though they put it on paper (knowing their schedules were way short on how much time it actually took to get to and service a client).  They had a high turnover rate, but I endured.  I started having problems with their beloved manager, though ... I guess the first notable incident was when the husband and wife had left for vacation, leaving that manager to run things ... I was a helper to a brand new employee, and several of the customers listed on our page did not even have house numbers (to say nothing of directions on getting there).  Frustrated, I made a remark along the lines of, 'Gee, addresses would be nice,' to which the manager actually raised his fist and threatened to hit me for being so snide.  At another point, two customer payments were late, causing the company bank account to overdraw, which in turn caused the paycheck I and a couple other employees to bounce.  They did pay me in cash, including for the bounced check fee I incurred (you get a fee from your bank if you deposit a check that bounces) ... but the next day, the wife threw another pep talk insisting the company was in great shape and business was fantastic (gee, two late customer payments and paychecks bounce ... doesn't sound like that to me, sounds more like their balance is thin and they hadn't kept a proper savings to handle such contingencies though they had enough to take a vacation to the Bahamas about once every two months). Things just got worse from there ... despite stating an unequivocable "no smoking" policy, including in the work trucks and, of course, on the customer sites, the manager decided as more of the day to day operations were given over to him, that he could ignore that policy and he started smoking in the trucks.  I happen to be sensitive to cigarette smoke ... occasionally, the husband of the husband/wife co-owners had special projects he did on the weekends and let me help out for overtime.  Several times he commented "why does this truck smell like cigarettes?" and several times I told him their manager was smoking in the trucks, and I didn't like it.  Apparently, however, he never communicated this to his wife ... and, also apparently, his wife was the only 'owner' I should talk to about such matters despite the fact I rarely saw her, as I was out all day in the trucks (sometimes with her husband who was the only one of the two who actually did the physical lawn service).  I did pick a helluva day to talk to her about it (and by talk to ... okay, yeah, I was sick and upset at that point and basically said 'if you don't get the manager to stop smoking in the trucks, I'll quit in 2 weeks') ... she told me it was ridiculous for me to put an ultimatum on her and that in me versus the manager, she didn't care what he was doing, I was out on my ass.  She told me my timing, for me, sucked, because she had been about to give me a raise, but because I gave her an ultimatum, she was gonna fire me instead.

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  • (... cont'd ... sorry I'm so long-winded!)

    I really love animals, and I leapt at an opportunity to work at a dog kennel called Cardiff Lodge (she tended to name her dogs after places she had great vacation; in that case, a resort town ... unfortunately by the time I worked for her, her dog named Cardiff had passed away).  At first it was okay; I did a little bit of everything -- fence repair, attending her own horses (she ran the kennel out of her own ranch where she had 3 horses of her own, including a 44-year old gelding ... older than me!), carrying the bags of dog poop to the garbage can, mowing the fields, planting stuff.  Actually, I loved the job, and I developed a good report with my boss.  She was really impressed with how much I loved dogs and got along with them; I was the only guy she had ever seen who did get along with most of her clients' dogs (all her regular kennel attendants were females).  Unfortunately, my lack of mechanical aptitude limited my handyman usefulness, and the lawnmowing and other work wasn't enough hours to pay my bills, so I had to start hunting around for a second job.  I went through a few, including night janitor at an organic farm, eventually a random mistaken call from my former boss at Frito-Lay lead to him telling me he had been moved to a distribution center/office near where I lived.  One thing came to another, and I went back to working for Frito-Lay as a second job.

    That worked great ... Frito-Lay was higher wage, and occasionally even had overtime, especially following a winter storm when a lot of their Route Sales Representative (deliver truck drivers) were injured and officially on light duty; that meant they needed people who knew the basics to ride along in the trucks and do the heavy lifting of hauling stock into the stores and stocking the shelves.  I wound up with weekly paychecks bigger than some entire months working for them!  Unfortunately, I myself became injured ... I noticed a lump growing in my wrist.

    Since I was part time with Frito-Lay, they did not provide me with medical insurance, and I put off doing anything about it until it became bad, painful, and so weak that I actually couldn't do my job (I needed to lift stacks of cases of product using thumb-holes, very much needing to be able to use my wrists).  I went to a medical clinic, had to cough up $200 ... the diagnosis was quick though:  ganglion cyst.  According to the doctor, she really felt this was a repetitive strain injury given the stacks of cases I was routinely lifting ... unfortunately it had never been proven, and she told me I was unlikely to get an L&I case.  She gave me a wrist brace and medically prescribed week off to allow my wrist to heal.  Unfortunately, ganglion cysts are incurable; they can go away, but could recur at any time and while they could do surgery to take a particularly painful one away, chances are it would eventually recur even with the surgery, so when she gave me another note to clear me to return to work, it advised that I may need to use a wrist brace from time to time if I start to feel weakness again to stave off a full recurrence.  Frito-Lay rebuffed me, saying that if I ever needed to wear a wrist brace again, that I was not healed and unable to do my job (even though the actual employees in many of the grocery stores had ganglion cysts; in fact, I bought my wrist brace at such a store with an employee herself who was suffering from ganglion cysts and wearing a wrist brace while stocking shelves).  They refused to re-authorize me to return to work, leaving me in limbo.  This was in early 2009, as the ranks of the unemployed were really skyrocketting fast, and the unemployment offices were swamped and badly backlogged.  I nonetheless started the process and reported in weekly, but it took them four months before reaching the decision they could not pay me unemployment because Frito-Lay had reported to them that I was still an 'active employee' even though Frito-Lay had told me I was not authorized to return to work.

    I probably should have fought it, but I was badly dis-spirited.  I had already tried to search for pro-bono attorneys when a friend pointed out that Frito-Lay had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by denying me work because of a perceived disability when reasonable accommodations (allowing me to wear a wrist brace as needed) could easily be made.  Unfortunately, I found no pro-bono attorneys, nor could I even find one who would only collect payment as a portion of winnings if they won my case ... the only ones I found insisted on being paid in full, up front, along the lines of $300/hour.  With no unemployment checks, and paying more in rent than I was earning at the dog kennel, I had absolutely no means of paying for that.  My savings ran out, and regrettably I had to quit the kennel and move back yet again to live with my parents in the Summer of 2009.

    And I am still stuck here despite thousands of job apps, phone calls resulting in a scant 20 or so interviews since then.

    I'm obviously not a big fan of corporate America.  I hate feeling like a beggar in asking for jobs ... and I don't trust employers to boot, after my experiences.  I've been more and more entertaining the notion of forming a commune with my good friend David ... I could just wake up in the morning, do work to help my community and not have to worry about my job getting outsourced or my paycheck getting bounced, corporate mergers or other shenanigans.  Just ... work, to make food or make the other necessities of life for my comrades.

    Before finding OSE, though, my friend and I realized trying to create such a commune would not be easy.  We'd have to buy the land, buy expensive tractors and figure out how to actually build and make the stuff to make ourselves self-sufficient.  It has felt like a far-off dream.  I'm not sure when Dave got involved with the project, but ... it definitely makes it a lot closer to reality.  I hope I can become a part of it, learn to actually do stuff that Dave and I could eventually use to get our own community started when the 50 machines are prototyped and finished and all ready for prime time.  I already enjoy using open source software, such as OpenOffice, and embrace the idea.  I am also friends with an animator who has made his own short animated movie as a proof-of-concept to show others they can do the same, and don't need to make their stories to appeal to hollywood executives to bring their stories to life in a movie, though I have yet to really sink my teeth into animation myself (I look forward to giving it a go with Blender someday ... if I could just kick my own butt into learning it).

    I hope I can help out at the Factor E Farm as they develop and prototype these machines.  I am, essentially, penniless unfortunately, but my friend David has offered to cover my moving expenses should I be accepted to help out.  I am a bit excited and nervous at the same time ... are my skills at all useful?  I can't help but be in doubt of myself.  I hope I can get on with clearing the rust off of my technical writing knowledge, but I would be thrilled just to be there to handle the domestic chores -- cleaning, cooking, groundskeeping, etc.  I've perused a few of the profiles, and a lot of really talented people seem eager to help out, and I know accommodations are limited, but ... I still hope!

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