Memory Loss

  During my short time as an expert framer at Hell’s art store there were many negatives.  One of the positives that I never mentioned was the perks – the perks being that I could take home whatever was to be thrown away.  I picked up a nifty shot glass display case that was to be trashed because it was missing the glass on the front.  Hey, that’s ok with me – it makes them easier to access!  I also snagged two shadow boxes that are currently residing in the back of our closet.  Whatever was damaged out what fair game.

   One day I was in the frame shop when my manager (the one I actually liked) walked in carrying an envelope that is sent out after a piece of art has been left at the store for more than 90 days.  The letter informs the customer that if they don’t pick up their framed piece, it will be destroyed.

“Well, we know now why Mr. So-and-so didn’t come pick up his picture.”

  I looked up as she held out the envelope.  In big letters scrawled in pen on the side it read, “DECEASED”.

“Damn,” I said, “That’s depressing.”

The picture was pulled from the rack and put on a table to be thrown out.  I looked at the receipt.  He had payed over 300 dollars for this piece to be framed.

“Is there someway we can contact the next-of-kin or something?” I asked.

“Do you know how many (common surname here)’s there are in Baltimore county?”

  She was right.  We had called and sent letters.  There wasn’t much else we could do.  curiosity getting the better of us, we unwrapped the brown paper to see what the piece was before its date with the compactor.  It was an original watercolor of a woman holding her baby.

  I looked a little closer under the signature and noticed a date.

1914.  This thing was almost 100 years old.  Who knows how long this piece had been in the customer’s family.  I was informed that any of us were more than welcome to take it, otherwise it would be chucked in the bin.  Despite the offer, we all declined because of how morbid it seemed.  It’s like robbing a grave or something.

  A few days went by and the picture stayed on that table.  It seemed no one wanted to escort it to the execution chamber.  It was the elephant in the room.  Everyone saw it, but just ignored it in hopes that it would just go away.  Late one night I strangely found myself thinking about it without even realizing it.

  This was one of the last things an old man did before passing into the aether.  He had brought the painting down to the shop, picked out the frame, had it double matted and picked out the very best glass.  It was important to him… and as soon as someone got the balls enough to do it, it was going to be lost forever.  I refused to let that happen.

  I took it home the next day.

  I often find myself staring at it, wondering who the mother and child is.  I also wonder who the old man was and what significance the picture had to him.  It’s strange that I think so much about someone I never even met, but it seems… I don’t know, important somehow.  It’s a legacy.  It’s a small part of what he left behind – a part that his family can’t enjoy.  I felt obligated to share it here.

  In the off-chance that anyone reading this recognizes the art and can give me the name of the gentleman, I will gladly send the piece to you for free.  Until then, the mystery fascinates me.

Advertisements

Power Struggle

  So, due to some rather intense lightning storms, we were one of the millions of people to lose power on the east coast.

  The outage happened for us while I was in the middle of a shower.  I thought, “Ok, a couple of hours and it will be back on.”  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

  It turns out we were 2 out of millions that had lost power, and restoration was not in our near future.  Unfortunately, the next day was a day that featured triple-digit temperatures.  Unfortunately, as well, I had recently come down with a fierce cold (one that I have since recovered from, and passed on to my dear wife.)  Fortunately, (or so I thought) I had to work, and planned on taking advantage of the walk-in cooler in order to cool off after baking for hours in my apartment.  I was gravely mistaken.

  Turns out, our restaurant was one of the only ones in the area that still had power.  Being that most people still didn’t have power, everyone was eating out that night.  I have never worked harder in my life than I did that night.  The line was consistently out of the front door and before too long, we were running out of prepped food.  Being I was the only person from the prep crew working, the responsibility fell on me to keep us from running out of supplies.  First we needed diced onions for salsa, something I had never been taught how to prep according to the strict restaurant standards.  I was given a crash-course lesson and told that my speed wasn’t important as long as I was consistent.  Next to run out was the guacamole.  Having made many batches of it, I was pretty confident whipping up a couple of batches on the fly.  Then we ran out of ingredients to make the onions for fajitas.  I had never been taught how to slice onions for fajitas and was given a half-assed lesson.  Then I was told the exact opposite of what I had heard before.  Instead of consistency over speed, I was told speed over consistency.  It was chaos and it was beautiful.  With everyone struggling to keep up with the customers, we formed a bond with each other.  We were all part of some deranged family, having to deal with the same nightmare at the same time.  We were all in the trenches together and everyone knew what they had to do to get the job done.  It was sink or swim, and everyone was struggling to keep up.  I’ve never worked so fast, I’ve never washed so many dishes, I’ve never sweated so hard.  My shirt was drenched with the sweat that can only come from a sick belly trying to expunge illness and my sinuses tried their best to drain.  Before I knew it, 8 hours had passed and I had not taken a break.  I mentioned it to my manager and he was shocked.

“You go on break, NOW!”

I finished the night out and went home…. still no power.  Vess and I had picked up a few board games and the last Coleman LED lantern available at Target.  I was tired, and despite the 100% humidity and 90+ degree temps despite it being night, I was able to sleep.

  The next morning, I had to work again… and again, we were slammed.  This day was worse, sickness-wise.  I was constantly breaking out in cold sweats and even felt faint a few times.  Nevertheless, we got through another intense service and I headed back to yet another dark home.  At this point I was getting annoyed at the apartments across the parking lot which had never lost power.  The hum of their air-conditioners taunted me, but also provided background noise for me to sleep.  A cold shower provided temporary relief.  My cell phone battery was almost dead.  I feared for the contents of my fridge.  We had bought groceries the day before the outage.  At this point, I wasn’t sure if any of it was going to be salvageable.

  Day 2 of the blackout, we got power back.  We were one of the lucky ones.  As of this post, there are still people at work that are without power.  The only casualty of our fridge were some beautiful pork chops that I questioned the safety of after 2 days of not being refrigerated.  Yes, I was feverish and constantly sweating… but the occasional cold showers were enough to keep it at bay.  Thankfully, the managers at my restaurant promised free food to those that were still without power.

  Afterall, we are family at this point.  We have to look out for each other.

 

Declaration of Independence

  Happy 4th of July to everyone! – and while people are gearing up for a huge celebration and fireworks display in Baltimore’s inner harbor, I, too recently struck a blow for freedom.

 Previously a mandatory meeting was called where we had the opportunity to be told how we should pretend we care about a customer in order to upsell as much as possible.  We were then subjected to a carefully instructed lesson in insincere ass-kissery.  We were then informed how the customers were just begging to be separated from their money.  Again, it was revealed to me how little of a shit this “Wal-Mart of the arts and crafts world” cares about the customer and it’s employees.  There were doughnuts and bagel sandwiches brought in for us, but I found it hard to eat with such a foul smell lingering in the air.  I felt dirty and embarrassed of who I worked for.  I had sold my soul to pay the rent.  Being desperate for money, I had compromised my beliefs to work for a company that absolutely disgusted me.

  We got our new schedules for the upcoming week and, as I suspected, there was no consideration for my job at the restaurant.  I had weeks before updated my availability online, talked to 2 of my manager’s four times, and given them plenty of hours I could work.  My restaurant job had even been posting schedules late just to work around how much of a bitch the art store was being to me.  They didn’t want to share with the restaurant, but they didn’t want to work me full-time either.  It was more than a coincidence that most weeks I would work one hour less than what was considered full-time so no benefits would have to be thrown my way.  Also, they liked to give me five and a half hour work days because at six hours they were required to give me a thirty minute lunch.  The bastards were playing a game with my other job, and there was no way they were going to win.

  A few days later I walked into work and found my framing manager at her wit’s end.  Our new store manager (the devil that had taking a liking to talking down to people) had brought in a regional manager to tell us how to rearrange our shop and how we were doing everything wrong.  Constantly being in the way, they effectively slowed our production that day to a snail’s pace.  After working on a piece, I went to the restroom only to return and find the regional manager critiquing my work.  After receiving a healthy dose of unwarranted advice, it was decided I had to take the frame completely apart and start again.  Constantly I heard, “I swear I’m not picking on you, but….”  I was getting pissed.

“Framer’s tape should be applied around the edge of every frame.”

  This was the exact opposite of what I had been told previously.

“You really should use a black spacer and not a clear one.”

  I slowly found myself caring less and less.  I walked over to the cardboard tube and grabbed a black spacer.  She hovered over my shoulder like an annoying troll.

“Now make sure you grab a black spacer… oh, you did.  Perfect.”

I subtly let her know of my annoyance with her condescension.

“Yeah, I catch on.”

  It was at this time I knew I wouldn’t stand for this much longer.  Next came the framing manager’s turn to be ridiculed.

“Would you mind terribly if we moved the filing cabinet over here?”

 A spot where the cabinet was guaranteed to be bumped into at least a million times a day was picked out.

“Do you really need all of these assembly stations?”

There were four.  On days when more than four framers worked, I had to share tools and assemble on top of a cabinet.

“Would you like me to show you how to cut a fillet in two chops?”

 My framing manager’s eyes rolled.  She had been cutting wooden fillets for 14 years and needed no such instruction. Regardless, she conceded.

“Sure.”

  By the end of the day the shop was in shambles and everyone’s spirit was broken.  The regional manager thanked us and left.  I didn’t acknowledge her existence.  Shortly thereafter, the store manager came back and said that we hurt the regional manager’s feelings by not thanking her.  Apparently I should have thanked her for making me redo a piece I had worked on and for talking to me like I was an idiot.  I felt nothing.  I knew what I had to do, but told no one.

  My framing manager came to the end of her shift before I did and I noticed she was lingering.  Over the past month she had become a great friend and excellent teacher.  She was one of those people who I had hit it off with immediately.  Our personalities had just instantly clicked since the moment we met, and I was going to miss her terribly.  She came up behind me and put her arm around my shoulder.

“I just wanted to let you know that I appreciated all of the hard work you did.  I really don’t want you to quit.”

  She knew.  I don’t know how but she knew.  I had not let on in any way but she could read me like a book.  I didn’t have the heart to look her in the eyes.  She had told me things were going to get better a few days before.  Her prediction was not coming true.

“I don’t think I have a choice.  Things aren’t getting better.  They’re getting worse – and they’re refusing to work with my schedule even after I’ve given them plenty of notice.”

“I know, Hun.  I know.”

She turned around and left.  This was a week and a half ago.  I haven’t seen or heard from her since.

  The next day was to be my last.  I was in a good mood and whistled some stupid tune as I walked into work.  When I was asked how I was doing by a coworker that I often talked to I informed her that I was fantastic.  She commented that my reply sounded genuinely sincere considering our place of employ.  I opened the frame shop single-handedly and called a customer whom I had promised to have a piece finished ahead of schedule for.  She was excited and even remembered my name.  She promised to be there in minutes and thanked me profusely.  She was there shortly after I hung up the phone.

  The piece I had finished for her was a needlepoint picture that her now departed mother had stitched.  She said she had others to frame and that she was going to make sure that she had me work on them.  She was going to give it too her 35-year-old son and his wife that were expecting their first baby.  She went on to talk about where they were living and what they did for a living and all the intricacies of their lives.  Before I realized it, 45 minutes had passed before she started to wrap up her story.  One of my many managers was walking by at the time.

“Are you his manager?  I just want you to know what a blessing he is and that he went totally above and beyond for me.  I couldn’t be happier.”

“I’ll make sure the right people know.”  I couldn’t tell if the manager was being sincere or not.  I did know she was in for a hell of a surprise.

  I continued to go about the day as if nothing was wrong.  I sold a little over a thousand dollars in custom frames that day – a feat that benefits me in no way whatsoever, besides the fact that we avoid having read ink scrawled across our publicly posted sales records and we get to avoid being bitched at for one day.

  The end of my shift came and it was time to end this farce.  I found the store manager in an aisle helping a customer.  I listened to her faking interest in him while at the same time trying to get him to spend as much money as possible.  This pathetic display was making the deed easier for me.  After she was done she walked over to me looking curious.

“What is it?”

“I’m not coming back.  I’m done.  This job is not for me.”

Her smugness disappeared.  She was shocked.

“Oooookay.”

“I’ve talked to you about my schedule and It still hasn’t been resolved even though it’s been weeks.”

“It’s not in the computer yet!”  I knew this was bullshit since it was in the computer before I even mentioned it to her.  A fellow coworker has been working two jobs for over a year and they still won’t schedule her times right.  I ignored the excuse.  I had already made up my mind and wasn’t going to give an opportunity for them to get a minute more of my time.

“I like my other job better and the pay is the same, plus they are willing to give me more hours.”

Her expression changed to anger.  It was time for her to save face.

“Well, if you’re not happy with your job then we don’t need you!”

“Exactly.” I agreed.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that every single person in that frame shop was miserable and absolutely hated their job.

“Are you going to give any notice?”  She was looking for a chance for me to train a new associate.

“This is it.” I responded, wanting to fuck her over as hard as I possibly could.  It was a dick move, I suppose, but she had no reservations about being a dick to me.  If she wasn’t willing to work with me, I wasn’t willing to work with her.  She was powerless over me now, and she couldn’t stand knowing it.  She tried to threaten me for one last power-grab.

“Well just know: If you don’t give proper notice, you will be banned from working at any *******’s location in the world forever!”

I tried to stifle a laugh.  This was the most empty threat I had ever heard in my life.  With what I knew, I had vowed never to even shop at another one of their locations, much less work for one.  This store had single-handedly convinced me to only shop at family owned art stores from now on.

“That’s fine.” I said.

“Fine!” she huffed and walked off first.  Maybe it made her feel better to have the last word and end the conversation.  I didn’t care.  I was happy knowing that it was hopefully the last time I would ever see her.  I begin to walk out of the cursed store for the last time.  A shit-eating grin that I couldn’t control begin forming on my face.

  As I was walking to the exit, I immediately saw a few of my many managers clutching their earpieces with a look of shock on their face.  They were getting quite the earful.  The demon was letting them know that I was walking and probably had a few expletives thrown in for good measure.  The manager who had heard what a good employee I was earlier that day couldn’t even look at me.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I was banned from the store entirely.

  Immediately, I went to the restaurant to update them on my availability.  I told them that I had grown tired of the scheduling games and refusal to work with me.  I was met with smiles and handshakes all around.  I told them that I would open, close, work weekends…. use me wherever they needed me.  Within seconds, they had doubled the time I was scheduled to work and had given me more hours than the art store ever did on my best week.  I was free, and I couldn’t have been happier.

  I sleep so much better at night now.  I used to lie awake thinking about going into work the next day and how much I dreaded it.  Now I sleep like a baby.  I miss my newfound friends, but that was to be expected.  I left a heartfelt voicemail on my framing manager’s phone apologizing and asking her to give me a call, but it’s been 12 days and she still hasn’t.  Abandoning her is truly the only thing I feel bad about doing.  It was a selfish thing for me to do, but it was for the better.  With their admirable ethics and humane and natural meat practices, I am proud of who I work for now.  I can also focus all of my attention on a food career and the atmosphere is overwhelmingly positive.  Instead of dreading the next day, I actually look forward to it.

  It makes a huge difference when you love what you do.