Thursday, June 28, 2012

a blip on the resume

i would say that the experience really started in november. i was at a friend's house party in the upper-haight when i overheard a greek buddhist mention to a recent import that he knew of an available position.

" yeah i think they are looking for something seasonal but it's possible that it could turn into something more long term..."

like a cartoon great-dane grabbing the scent of a double-decker sandwich in between ghost hunts, my ears perked and i floated across the room towards the conversation.

"did you happen to say that you knew of an available position?" i interjected with a seriousness i didn't know i had, "because i'm very interested. i can start tomorrow."

after working for a non-profit and a brief foray into Black Rock City i found myself in a state of unemployment with limited ins to available work. having heard suggestions that my applications for employment were too focused on my interests, i challenged myself to be more available to any opportunity that i heard of. i knew i was sending out several applications a day to anything and everything i could see myself fitting into, but so were hundreds of other millennials desperately trying to enter the post-recession work force and not wind up another casualty in what i like to refer to as San Francisco: America's Swankiest and Most Cutthroat Cruise Ship City

allow me to explain -

a while back i had a budding career in City Hall where i documented the Great Recession's forceful nature towards a community that once highlighted the city's progressive and tolerant reputation. while i was interviewing prominent figures in the community who spoke of their struggles, my office was similarly struggling to keep my income afloat, so i understood their desperation. many of the interviewees complimented me for my work and commitment to helping others. compliments didn't pay the rent, so i would thank them for their time with a 'thank you' email and an 'in case you hear of anything available here is my resume' email. i felt the desperation that non-profit, religious and community representatives were feeling and they had been here for 20 to 30 years. their lives were firmly rooted here and they were facing the reality that it was growing more and more difficult to remain active in this city. the more i told them about my personal struggles the more i would hear the same thing, "well that's why San Francisco is called a Cruise Ship City these days..."

i couldn't agree more. students, upstarts, transients, dreamers and the like all come to this city knowing its history of alternative upstarts and beatniks from decades past that made successful livings for themselves with only a suitcase and a dream. these days the dreamer can only last four or five years before they're left penniless and back at their respective starting points. they get to float around, see what all of the commotion is about in each little neighborhood but can't ever seem to drop anchor. so they come, they stare, they enjoy and they leave. and the city hasn't exactly been helping the dreaming sailors these days. just to show some perspective for a sailor who is entering his fourth year on deck - when i arrived in the city in August of 2008 a monthly pass for the Ship's mass transit system was $45 a month. Next month it will raise another $2 to $64 for MUNI only and $74 for MUNI and city-only BART access with fewer available lines and frequent delays. the one-bedroom apartment i share with a friend that we found two years ago was manageable because we were able to split the cost of what was meant for one person. a couple moved into the room upstairs a few months ago and are paying $700 a month more for the same space. it makes me question how much of the raised rates around here are due to inflation and how much is raised for other having this 'Cruise Ship' mentality has encouraged me to be more financially conscious, meaning i don't use money for anything for fear of becoming a 'man overboard.'

back to the greek buddhist

he said he knew of a holiday gig at a gallery in the marina. the marina?! sure! why not? what could possibly go wrong there? selling fancy art to fancy people sounds like a helluva grand way to spend the holiday season. it actually sounded like hell, but as i said earlier, i was in no position to deny an opportunity with both feet wobbling on the ship's ever-shrinking plank.

he set up the interview and i was ready to make a name for myself in the gallery world when my father surprised me with a trip back home for the holidays. i let the store manager know in person that i couldn't start until after the holidays and she said to contact her upon my return which i was sure to do as my quick view of the art, statues and furniture looked grand and impressive. all the while id be sending out resume after resume, cover letter after cover letter, in hopes of getting a bite.

a month went by and failed interview after failed interview led me back into the grasp of the gallerina whose name shall remain elusive for legal purposes. i went back for a second interview and gallerina 1 offered me the job part-time and with extensive training. art, fancy salesmanship and a bus ride away. what could possibly go wrong?

well, pretty much everything. i learned that i was the sole employee that wasn't a manager so everyone instructed me to handle things differently. they were a motley crew at best:

gallerina 1 (g1) was the newly appointed store manager that wasn't particularly warm and cuddly but made up for an absent cheery disposition with frequent reminders of their AA membership and constant use of the phrase 'as you know' when making corrections.

for example - "when you answer the phone, as you know, it should be with more of a happier tone, as you know"

it had gotten so jarring to hear 'as you know' that every time g1 used the condescending phrase i developed a facial tick where i would scrunch my nose as if i were adjusting an invisible pair of glasses. g1 didn't seem to notice.

gallerina 2 (g2) was a short, self absorbed, jaded shift manager that was hired a year ago from los angeles. g2 was the kind of gay man that made me question my faith in mankind.

for example - while thumbing through an old gossip magazine he asked "do i look like a younger tom cruise? i've heard it a few times before but im like, almost 34 so i don't know if i've still got it. godddd im getting old".

sometimes i wouldn't respond to his questions because i wasn't entirely sure whether he was asking me or just saying it out loud to hear himself talk.

"time for the gym!" he'd announce to no one.

g2 would only address me when i was doing something wrong, when he wanted me to do some work he was supposed to do or when he was fishing for compliments. i rarely replied with words to anything he said to me for fear that id actually have to have a conversation with him.

i got along with him the least, so of course every time i broke something worth hundreds of dollars it was under his watch. i broke well over $1000 worth of sculptures and glassware but rarely was it ever on purpose.

gallerina 3 (g3) was a delightfully gentle giant that wanted to get the hell out of there but couldn't get to his dream job of selling glass bongs and pipes on haight street because he wasn't "a pretty underage girl with a size zero waist". we got along based on the simple fact that we both didn't want to be there. we had nothing else in common outside of wanting to leave the gallery.

we would spend our time when the gallery was empty discussing g3's hobbies: medieval weaponry, terrariums, violent video games, pitbulls and glass blowing. i was quite fascinated by him as i knew nothing about all of those things. g3 liked when i would talk to him about my latest hobby of hiding behind things to avoid talking to customers while working at the gallery. g3 also used "drat!" a lot to express frustration so i like to think g3 was secretly a wizard from another century on a mission to sell tacky art to the rich and obnoxious.

gallerina 4 (g4) was a manager that had been with the gallery since its inception. g4 was someone i could count on to pass any sales to as they were very talented at their job but also incredibly competitive about closing the big sales of the day. you see, at this gallery each employee was required to sell a certain amount of money (without commission i might add) or else face consequences (unemployment). i had a grace period of a few months before my sales numbers mattered, so towards the end of my time i used my grace period as an excuse to hide from as many customers behind opulent furniture and tall sculptures. i spoke to g4 the least so i don't really have any particularly interesting quotes. i will say that g4 was a hoarder and had subscriptions to every magazine publication available. the break table consisted mostly of gossip rags and magazines about things happening in cities that we didn't live in. i took my homemade sandwiches to the corner of the basement and hid most of the time.

before i start to receive a tremendous amount of backlash for ultimately hiding from obligations at this position i must explain my disdain for the clientele. perhaps then i will receive a bit more sympathy. the gallery was located in a special place in san francisco where cow hollow, the marina and pacific heights all intersected, a place i like to refer to as 'the perfect storm of pretension'

the residents of this area were the kind of people i thought id see all throughout california before i actually moved to california. they were the shiny, pristine and well-coiffed california postcard families that knew the managers at all the best wineries and were close friends with the herbal acupuncturists and colonic hydrotherapists to the stars. they would share stories of solar panel investments and maria shriver's diet secrets on their uncle's sailboat over hybrid cheeses and locally produced onion crackers. they were unaware of what the 99% were complaining about and couldn't frown because of how tight their faces have been since their first facelifts back in '96. the wives that were my age would push their newborns in a stroller that most likely cost a month's rent in my world and match it with a ring that was most likely a year's paycheck in my world. their mothers would tag along with a perpetual grimace from botox/general disillusionment and sport the same tracksuit as the daughters. the men all shared a mixed look of self-satisfaction and glossy confusion. a millenial aged man got the look after years of positive reinforcement from their parents labeling them "the smartest, most talented and most important man in the world" and a baby-boomer era man simply thought that about himself from the sprouting of his first chest hair. everyone appeared to be en route to or from a low-level fitness center sporting "active wear" a body hugging collection of work-out clothing their 'close personal friend' heidi klum had recommended.

they would all come in to "find a little something to put on that empty space in our new apartment/new addition/guest house/for a backyard party celebrating the latest business merger". i'd just ignore their requests and ponder why people gave up on finding themselves and settle for a life that seemed so very limited. so predetermined. so bland. so white bread. none of them looked particularly happy, but they had money so they could bark at the lesser-than's like myself and demand discounted rates on $120 pillows in exchange for buying in bulk. it wasn't like they were one-of-a-kind pillows. the more i trained, the more i learned that the gallery was in fact a chain of galleries that provided cheaper knock-offs of incredibly expensive designer furniture and one-of-a-kind paintings. gallery my ass. it was really a place where the slightly well-off in the bay area could save money but still have expensive looking pieces hanging on their walls.

id often play this song on the long rides home in an attempt to restore my faith in humanity

i wasn't enjoying myself for several months in this environment and it was wearing on my health. one particular 6am shift after 3 full shifts where i was sent up and down several flights of stairs left my body so drained that i literally threw up two hours into unpacking new knock-offs. g1 politely asked if i was ready to get back to work after throwing up what little i had in my belly and i replied, "i just threw up and i have 5 hours left here requiring a lot of physical work. im going home"

it was that moment where i knew i had to get out of there, but i needed a better excuse than my body shutting down to quit. something with more meat.

enter 'martin'

it was a surprisingly busy sunday morning and i wasn't able to locate a proper place to hide as there were just too many customers. i found myself chatting to a woman about my mother's affinity for candles when i noticed a man crouched on the ground and stuffing some opulent candelabras in a bag. as much as i didn't care for the gallery i was pretty sure id get in trouble for allowing someone to steal on my clock.

i walked over and asked if he was finding everything ok and he said with an eastern european twang, "im buying things for new house so i'll be taking many things. i can bring to your register?"

"uh yeah, sure"

an hour went by and martin and i had littered the register with roughly 10% of the the entire store.

"do you have more of these? yes? i can take all of them. all of them, please. what was your name? michael, yes? michael i am buying many things here today. many things."

at this point i went to g3 and asked if i should start ringing things up as g4 was ignoring this chaos in an effort to make more traditional sales with the rest of the shoppers.

"yeah sure. ill go downstairs to storage and bring up the rest of his belongings...hey do you think this french guy is on some sort of drug? he's very...uppity." - g3

"he's not french, he's turkish. and yes, he has a white substance in his left nostril." -me without hesitation.

for a moment i was rather pleased that id be selling so many materials in one sale. i'd probably reach my quota with this wealthy party boy.

for the next two hours i was ringing up belongings and he continued to rip apart areas in the store and approach the already destroyed register area with new baubles and revelations:

"i will take all of these crystals for my daughter. i will take all of these shelves and things for my wife. i will take all of these sculptures for my mistress. this house in miami is so shiny, so new, michael. i will fly you down for the party we throw, michael. think of the girls, man. so many girls in my new house."


at this point the other customers were growing frustrated with the long wait for service, my managers were concerned with how big this operation had become and the store was a complete disaster. i had rung up roughly $20,000 in small sculptures, baubles and gifts when g3 informed me to go on a break as it was close to the end of the day and it was illegal for non-managers to not have a break. i could finally eat my breakfast.

before heading down into the basement martin approached me to use the employee only restroom. i let him know it was for employees only but g3 let him use it. martin looked at me with disgust and threatened, "ohhhh michael, you are so rude! how can i fly you to miami now! i will be right back - hey can i borrow, like, $50 cash for lunch? i will pay you back tomorrow?"

"martin i haven't had $50 cash on me in years"

martin quickly exited the employee restroom with powder in both nostrils this time. my banana was delicious.

when he came back from his cigarette break he went back to bringing even more things to the register and demanding to get all items on sale. g3 had had enough and demanded that they needed to come to some sort of agreement on how we were to take care of this purchase.

"oh. i come back tomorrow with truck to pick all of this up," martin said before stepping out for lunch.

"okay, well, you do realize that we now have to cancel this entire order and put everything on hold for you then," g3 shouted.

"yeahyeahyeahhhhh! it's ok! i come tomorrow with truck. i go to lunch now and come back for more. i will come back and bring home the gifts for my girls."

i believe i felt tears well up in my eyes while this exchange took place. i had been sorting and packaging thousands of dollars worth of household art and furnishings and the entire days work was suddenly worthless and had to be put away. he left us a credit card and license to prove he would be back and left for lunch. the store was in complete disarray on all levels and now everything had to be labeled for a future purchase and put back where it came from. closing was in an hour. neither manager was able to take a break and martin never came back. there was to be no purchase and the license's credibility for a return visit from martin was no longer believable. it was a disaster. at least g4 made his quota for the day. i sold nothing and destroyed the store. at closing time at the gallery we were allotted one additional hour to tidy up the store before we were paid extra, but we were never paid overtime, so we had to be out as quickly as possible. this was deemed impossible by g3, so he let me leave to refresh myself for tomorrow's cleanup.

upon opening the front door with his keys he politely asked, "so what time are you in tomorrow?"

without hesitation i replied, "never. i think im done." after a hug and a friendly handshake, i walked away from the gallery and felt $20,000 worth of frustration and bodily discomfort lift from my shoulders and had the biggest grin i've had in years.

I just can't help believing
though believing sees me cursed
For belief ignores the heathen's
day by day sigh 'even worse'
But for all we are receiving
there's an evens key to turn
You are the generation that bought more shoes and you get what you deserve

i don't think im meant to work in sales.