I don't talk much about my own personal life online. Not even on Facebook. There are many reasons for that. Because I tend to be so politically outspoken giving up personal details can - and have - been used as partisan weapons against me. Especially on Twitter. It also could impact future employment, or otherwise come back to bite me in various ways - so I generally don't do it.
Now I think I have to speak out considering the events of this week after the CBO has reported that some people would choose to work less because of ObamaCare which has prompted a fresh rash of right-wing outrage such Rep Paul Ryan who recently called ObamCare a "Poverty Trap".
“I guess I understand ‘better off’ in the context of healthcare. But ‘better off’ in inducing a person not to work who is on the low-income scale, not to get on the ladder of life, to begin working, getting the dignity of work, getting more opportunities, rising their income, joining the middle class, this means fewer people will do that,” Ryan told Elmendorf. In other words, Obamacare will create more “takers” not “makers,” in Ryan’s worldview.In October my wife and I applied for SNAP (aka Food Stamps), we began receiving them in November. Just before Christmas in December, after years of frustration and verbal abuse, I finally Quit the just over Burger-Flip Paying Job that had been Financially Trapped In for nearly a decade.
I've worked in the IT field for over 30 years. My first regular paying job for a large firm was with Northrop Corporation (now Northrop Grumman) starting a summer gig the Monday following my High School Graduation the previous Friday. I remained with that company for 14 years, going from Printer Operator (yes, there used to be such a thing as a full-time job running a computer printer - feeding it paper and selecting which output to print on a unit that was about the size of a Cadillac) eventually moving to Console Operator, then Computer Operations Analyst involved in developing software and hardware automation solutions working with a wide-array of languages (from SAS to Rexx Script & JCL) and platforms (OS-360, HP-UX, OS/2, WinNT).
After this in the mid 90's I became a software and program management consultant for the state of California, first documenting the database and system for the California Department of Consumer Affairs, later handling requirements analysis to create a process to daily merge and reformat that system to be available on the web via a Sun Server running Oracle. Which is still online just as it was back in 1998 - Right Here. I then moved on developing a (Lotus Notes) software application for Kaiser Permanente Compensation which allowed the Chief of each Medical Department to calculate and balance the raises for each of the physicians in their group based on customer ratings and other factors.
In 2000 my Consultant work dried up, almost overnight. I had been on a job with California's Transportation Department on making corrections and fixes to their systems which the previous set of Y2K consultants had failed to complete. On Jan 4th, 2000, the engagement ended. I didn't have another gig for months. We filed for bankruptcy that year and were evicted. And then again after two weeks stint doing programming for the Sacramento County Court House (PC based Cobol for the web which was just plain weird) I was again without work until nearly the end of the year where I joined a start-up dot com building a online Content Management System for the Convention Industry written in Cold Fusion on WinNT servers running MS/SQL.
That particular job ended about one week after one of our largest upcoming Conventions, which had been scheduled for the World Trade Center Marriot, was cancelled after Tower 2 Landed on and crushed that building. That was the last time I had employer provided health care. Also the last time I had Stock Options.
We struggled on for another few years trying to find computer based consulting work in the Sacramento Area, but this was in the years of the California budget crisis after Enron had fleeced the state in their Energy Scam. It was rough going. Eventually after being evicted for the third time and being rendered homeless, we bit the bullet and moved back to Southern California with family.
I'd always known how to do graphics so my mom suggested that I work with a local company doing that, and eventually I gave it a try. To be honest it took nearly a year and a half of persistence to finally get in the door, and although I'd been promised that I be making "Great Money in No Time" doing graphics, that's not even close to what happened. Instead of even doing graphics work, they had me working retail in a little outlet store that was an offshoot of their main business. So now instead of being an IT Consultant where I had been making between $55-65/hour I'm hawking cheap, fake knock-off Louis Vitton purses & Air-Jordan shoes on a street corner in front of this store, literally having to stand outside and wave the wares at the passing traffic for 8 hours a day and $8/hour.
Ever seen that scene from the first season of Breaking Bad where Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) is trying to get back into the straight life, so he gets an interview at a bank where he thinks he's going to be in "Sales" and the banker tells him "Not Exactly". Then you realize what he means as you see outside the window that there's one of those guys in an obnoxious costume dancing with a giant sign trying to get passing traffic to notice the bank?
Jesse Pinkman - the barely literate junkie/Meth Dealer/wannabe drug lord - refuses to put up with that humiliation because it's beneath him, gives up on "going straight" and heads back to working with Walter White. In fact he eventually hires the sign-guy to work for him dealing drugs, because that has more dignity that what he was doing. But yeah, for too long a time I was that guy on the street corner. Fortunately without the costume, but that didn't make me feel any better about it. The cover image of my first solo CD was shot from inside that store, the street where I waved phony name-brand purses and shoes at the traffic is behind me over my shoulder. McDonald's beyond the dingy discolored front door is across the street, the sad irony of it all was never lost on me. That image is also my avatar here.
After a couple years of that, I finally got to move up to the "Big Time" and actually do Graphics Work for a whopping $10/hour. Sometimes. Other times I'd have to run and do errands for the boss. These would range widely from picking up merchandize from one of our vendors, or delivering finished product to customers to giving one of his stripper or porn-star girl-friends a ride to work at the local strip club - or to the clinic for their annual HIV test. No, I'm not kidding, not even a little bit.
The working conditions were frankly, horrible. Toxic chemicals were in constant use ranging from acetone to paint thinner with no ventilation. Chemical run-off would just be allowed to drip into the storm drains. There was No W2. No 1099. No Health Care. No Vacations. There were no breaks or lunches allowed in an 8 hour day, which could easily run-on into 9-10 hours if I had to wait for a customer to pick up their items and they were running late. There was no overtime for doing so, in fact those extra 1-2 hours were effectively without pay. Once I had my copies of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop at home I was constantly on call, effectively 24-hours-a-day up to 6 days a week. Other than the shift from $8 to $10 when I went from the running that cheesy-ass thrift store to finally actually doing graphics at the main branch - which is what I applied for in the first place - I never got a raise. In fact, when they eventually opened a new store in a new location - my pay Went Back Down to $8 whenever I was at the old store, and up to $10 when I was at the new one which could shift back and forth from day to day.
Worst of all was, for me, that there was no organization.
While at Northrop I'd received training on Program Management and Time Management and at this point I had Two Decades of Computer Programming and Applications Development Experience. I'd even previously created order organization applications from scratch, one in Lotus and another in Coldfusion/MS-SQL specifically designed to help track an order through it's entire life-cycle, from initial idea to completion. I knew how to organize, but at this job any suggestions I had on this were ignored, even considered insubordinate. All of our orders were taken on paper, using cheap pens that frequently failed, markers that were constantly left without their tops so they dried out and $1 Store calculators - but the idea of putting all our orders online where they could be searched, sorted, tracked and organized was just simply out of the question.
The boss actually once Forbid Me to Use Excel to create a quick list of outstanding orders, because it "bothered" him. He just never saw the value of being able to click and re-sort a list of orders by date, or client name or processing status. This is the 21st Freaking Century, and he only started eventually using Quickbooks two years after his daughter had been paying for it. Even with that system, which is really about billing and not about order processing he still insisted on printing every order and working off the PAPER not from the online data. He kept track of the status of orders by physically moving the paper order around the office from place to place. This of course, led to confusion, lost and missing orders or missing information that might have been on this printed order but not the online version, or on the online order but not printed. Some orders, or course, were then done incorrectly and had to replaced - and oh yes - the cost of replacing an incorrect order came out of the pay of the worker who could be blamed for not somehow avoiding it. Replacing a single order could easily be far more than a weeks take home pay. Or double that.
And I'm not claiming I was a model employee. After several years of this, I was depressed. Probably to a clinical degree. And angry. Really angry. And I really didn't care to hide it, not with the customers or the boss. I was downright surly. Fuck All Y'All was my motto. Just trying to be conversationally polite was physically painful because I had to restrain how pissed off I was, at everyone. Oh and I drank. A lot. Suicide was not exactly that far from my thoughts on more than a few occasions I'm sad to admit, but fortunately never a serious consideration. I spent quite a bit of that time wondering to myself who in the world did I ever WRONG so horribly that I should be punished with this FUCKED UP SHIT day in and day out?
I really honestly couldn't figure it out. I just couldn't. I didn't know what in the world I had done to deserve this. I couldn't think of anyone I had every FUCKED OVER this badly. I just didn't make sense. I was in a bad mood, a bad place mentally and emotionally. It was not good.
Eventually I stopped thinking about it that way. I realized I was in a shame-spiral. I learned to stop trying to hold in the anger like an intestinal hand-grenade. I learned to let it go. I stopped blaming myself and frankly hating myself for ending up in this position. I realized my problem wasn't that I was a drinking too much, no - my addiction was this damn job. That's what I needed to go Cold Turkey on. My entire family said I should quit, that I was far better off without that job - but I wouldn't do it. I couldn't. Oh, it's not like I wasn't looking for other work and didn't have my resume out but now by this time we were deep into the Bush recession. ANY JOB was pretty hard to come by.
And I had bills. Internet, Cable, Phone and Food. Nearly every dime that came in was accounted for. Eventually I gave up on paying for my cell phone. An optional luxury. Then we gave up on Cable TV. (And the early cancellation fees were murder, oh well - good bye good credit!) Then we gave up on the house phone, switching to Vonage. Then switched to ChromeCast with an Antenna Converter Box for local stations. Netflix for movies is only $6.99, but I had to give up on Hulu for $7.99 - too expensive.
We had to prioritize, and the very largest expense on our plate every week - was food. it wasn't avoidable, it's wasn't an option. You can't just turn it off and go without it, you have to have food.
So last October we finally broke down and applied for SNAP. It took a couple months but we were approved, and I mean why not? We we're effectively living in Poverty even though I was working the entire time. It breaks down to about $70 a week for two people - my wife and myself - or $35/week per person. It's not much, and not exactly enough to feed my appetite for Fresh Sushi, Lobster and Shrimp but I'd given up on that long ago. It's enough to get by with. Barely.
In the end though, the biggest difference it made was that it took the weight off my back of feeling I had no choice but to continue putting up with what I had been putting up with for years with this so-called "job".
Look nobodies perfect, anyone can make an occasional mistake, but the thing that really stuck in my craw was the fact that this particular boss seemed to feel that he was ENTITLED to maintain a double-standard for what was expected of him compared to everyone else. "Because I'm the Owner" he would use as his excuse. I mean technically I wasn't an "Employee" because he wasn't paying SSI, or Unemployment insurance or anything. As far as I'm concerned that didn't really make him my "Boss", I was a service provider, he was a client - just like I was a plumber and he was a home-owner. But how this played out in his mind was that he thought he was some kind of King of All the Land while everyone else his servants, and when his lack of organization caused a problem - this megalomania turned Epic!.
Sure, if you mess up - it's on You. That's fine, that's obvious, it should be like that - but if he has the information you needed and didn't bother to give it to you, it's your fault for not figuring it out on your own somehow, not his for not giving you correct information. And if HE messes up - and you don't happen to catch and correct him - it's still on YOU for not finding a way to stop him, even if you did tell him and he just didn't listen, or simply failed to understand. Not that he was much of a listener or sharer of vital information for that matter anyway. Having a system where you essentially do everything yourself, a one-man shop, this lack of communication and accountability works fine, but as you expand to having more workers with more responsibility you have to delegate and properly inform everyone of what is going on. I spent years trying to make him see that because it was a major vulnerability to the ability to scale what he doing into anything bigger without it all unraveling - but he never really got it. He didn't want it.
That was frankly, crazy making.
More than once this issue had turned into a screaming argument. Sometimes it had nearly come to blows, although not on my part, but the threat of the probability of things getting physical were made quite clear to me.
That's what happened in early December.
I mean, in the end the difference in the argument was only $25, but to me it wasn't about the money, there was the issue of basic principle and common sense. Facts are facts. It's not about being "right", it was about having the capacity to admit and realize when you're wrong - without that you can never learn, you never progress and never get it "right". Even with that small amount of money involved there was screaming. There was shouting. He even had the nerve to call me "Ungrateful". Yeah, It was pathetic. And if I tried to move closer so we I could lower my voice into a normal conversation, there was a threat of impending violence.
Only this time I didn't have to grin, bear and swallow the belittling snide remarks, threats and intimidation anymore because I didn't have to worry about not having food on the table for the foreseeable future if I stood my ground. This time I had the protection of a safety net beneath me to finally allow me to escape this abusive, exploitative, dangerous TRAP of a so-called "Job".
Finally I hit the FUCK IT wall. "Fuck YOU, I'm done!"
So I did it. I finally walked away, now without the nagging worry that I wouldn't be able to survive until I found some newer, better option. And I'm never going back.
So am I now jobless? Am I know in an even worse "Trap" as Paul Ryan would allege?
What i am now, is Free. In the last couple months I've started looking at going back to school and it looks like I might be eligible for the maximum in Federal Benefits for doing so. I had long before this began my own independent Graphics, Web Design and Applications Development Company, which is currently supporting about 40 different E-Commerce, CMS and Blog Enabled Websites which I have organized into a Virtual Online Mall. I can have a customized fully featured website up and running without any HTML coding within hours, and with more features at a fraction of cost of what you can get from comparable services like WordPress, Drupal, BigCartel or Shopify all rolled into one. I have pretty much no budget to advertise, but I use Craiglist where I can, and my existing clients have kept me going so far.
In fact, I'm even looking to hire Sale Reps to help build my client base. Now I'm going to be the Boss, and I'll tell you I've certainly learned what kind of boss I'm not going to be like. Now I have a chance to climb back up on the "Ladder of Success." I'm re-joining the MAKER class, not the Takers.
And I'll finally have Health Care again too. No thanks to Paul Ryan.