Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Marshall Plan: Two Creators


In 2009 I asked my sister if she might know of any places that could be good for earning extra money, and she pointed me toward Uncle Sam’s, a sandwich bar in the Robinson Township area of Pittsburgh. I started working there about a week later, and stayed for seven years. I have too many stories to share about that amazing place–that is something I will trickle out in savory dollops. Today, I would like to write about Stacie and Chay Marshall, two real-horrorshow Troma-watching lovebirds who tied the knot this year. They just celebrated the Stacie and I bonded over 400-degree Vulcan flat-top grills and ridiculous customers. We passed the time on our shifts by referencing (non-stop) any and all pop culture, including guilty-pleasure TV binge-watching, indie films and indie artists, and, my favorite of all, satellite-delivered college or alternative rock (at this very moment, this unexpectedly addictive gem is playing for you, Stace). Stacie’s theories about upcoming Game of Thrones episodes often brought me to a standstill, and I’m positive that I overcooked my already-overcooked cheese steaks.

One of Stacie’s creative pursuits materializes on Etsy, where you can find her wares. I never was much of a hands-on creator, and I have watched Stacie’s work for years with an extreme interest in the thousands of hours she spends to do what she wants to do, and what she should be doing full-time: creating. Click here to visit her shop.

Chay is Stacie’s co-swashbuckler. I met Chay not long after I met Stacie, and although we have never slung sandwiches together, Chay’s channeling of Master P “unnnnhhhh!” is not something to be taken lightly. Part post-punk and post-art, and all pre-Revelations, I haven’t seen Chay’s final form, but I have seem glimpses of his power, and I think his digital art is otherwordly. You can sample some of his work here.

 

 

Hate Your Job?

This morning I woke up with a sore throat, a headache, and a weird, slight phlegm rattle when I take deep breaths. Obviously the change in weather (finally) has brought other changes with it. I took a sick day today. Since not everybody understands that there is an important protocol that you must establish and follow in the event that you take a sick day from school, work, or regular life in general, let me help you out: there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Thus, then, you are joining my morning in progress.

I brought something like eighty sick days with me when I transferred classrooms. I didn’t even know something like that was possible, but in more than ten years in education, I am still not fond of taking a sick day, as it invariably creates more work in a field where the last thing needed is something more to do. Regardless, here I am, typing away, hair super-trendily unkempt, clad in an old white t-shirt and blue basketball shorts. It is unlikely I will shower for many hours. I’ve taken the first of many Alka-Seltzer daytime remedies. It goes down like hot, grainy lemonade. My classroom is the last thing on my mind.

Next to me on this desk is a DIY CompTIA A+ Certification book, a package of lemon Oreos, and an Xbox One. My mind has been wandering all morning, and now that I have opened my eleventh tab in Firefox, it’s time to write something.

Dear friends and readers, I hate my job.

This is nothing new. I have hated many jobs over the years, for a variety of reasons. “Hate” is an interesting word, and perhaps it is inaccurate. None of us probably want to work, but at some point, we find it necessary to subscribe to lifestyles, and that usually costs something, depending on the categories involved. When I got all noble-like and decided I wanted to “make a difference” by entering the education industry, one of the categories that comes with it is, has been, and (most likely) will always be: lack of pay. I knew it going in, so I’m not going to go on and on about it. Until this year, I have had extra jobs to supplement my pay. It’s not a big deal.

Let’s agree that “hate” is kind of a ridiculous term. I experience personal mental and emotional discomfort in my current position. My discomfort stems from a very real and long-running knowledge that I want to do something else. So I am.

I want to share a couple of obvious things with you, and maybe some of it will resonate. Maybe we can all be together on this one. Most of us are not doing what we want to be doing.

“You’re not your fucking khakis,” says Tyler Durden, psychic and physical manifestation of the Narrator’s real wants and desires. Fight Club is Palahniuk’s best work for a reason. Don’t take Tyler’s word for it, though. Especially if you don’t wear khakis. I Googled “change jobs every ten years” and had some interesting hits. I vaguely remember some statistic from when I was in high school or just entering college.

“You Are Not Your Job” by Alyson Madrigan is an interesting article about the author’s failed startup, which she details. Alyson had a fantastic idea that didn’t work out, and she put her all into it. Read about it Joyo and life after Joyo here. Ray Williams’ “You Are Not Your Job” for Psychology Today (posted May 2009) extends the theme, but there is one line early in the article that drops like an 808: “When your job defines you, your world becomes very narrow.” If you need confirmation of what you already suspect, head here.

“Breathe” by Telepopmusik just switched to “Hey Now” by Odesza on Pandora’s Chill Out radio station. I don’t need any more open tabs. Here is my declaration of purpose: I am returning to Imagination Land. I am sorry I ever left it. I am hoping to see some of you out there, in whatever form you wish to take. It’s going to take a while to Create, but that is all I want to do. I think we can do it together.

 

Prognostication

Ashley sent me a text mid-afternoon: “Let’s have a little adventure tonight” which is code for “let’s eat and drink somewhere interesting.” Tonight’s winner was Stickyz Rock’n’Roll Chicken Shack, a fantastic place in downtown Little Rock’s River Market District. See, the South doesn’t know how to make wings for shit, and as that is a dietary staple, Ashley and I can’t get anything close to what we loved in the Ohio Valley. (Looking at you, Basil’s.) Believe me–a bite to eat on a weeknight is more important than it appears. It can change the direction of your week–something I need after today.

Eclectic is a great word for non-franchise places. Corporate can’t always get the job done, so it’s a big deal when you find a cool place with good people. Such was the case tonight.

We sat at the small bar on the restaurant side and ordered local craft beer to start. Anna was our bartender. She was last week as well. While we settled in, Ashley overheard her say that tonight was her last night. Anna’s undergrad is in freshwater ecology, and a road trip to Washington state awaits when she clocks out tonight. A new start? I’m jealous.

We made small talk with her in between bouts of customer service. In the meantime, Hunter has come in and has taken a seat next to us at the bar. He’s in a state of flux: 25, in between jobs, a few years of mistakes behind him, which he shares with eyes downcast, as though we give a damn. He’s come from Tulsa and stopped at Little Rock en route to Tuscaloosa, where he has a helping hand. Hunter is tall and lanky, with a southern accent–not Gulf, not swamp. Texas-by-way-of-Oklahoma, if I had to guess. We chat. Ashley tells him the story of how she escaped her classroom, and he seems to brighten at that. I like the way she tells it–we have lived it for two months, so it’s enlightening to see someone else’s take on it. A quick trip into the past: Hunter went to boarding school in Virginia and played basketball and football, so we talk about Richmond and Charlottesville, among others. He regrets not finishing college, but while he spent time in food service, he figured out what he really wants to aim toward. I take swigs of my beer, and remember 25 for a few minutes. It’s a long time ago. Hunter checks his phone a lot; his dinner party is assembling nearby, and soon.

While he’s occupied, I ask Anna if we can pay for a shot, if he wants another one. Hunter seems genuinely surprised by this, but there is no way for him to know that this is my favorite thing in life: meeting random souls at crossroads in their lives and the horizon in their eyes. Gods willing, if I ever don’t actually have to work for the Man (any Man), I’ll build a Waystation where all that happens is stories telling stories, on the way to more stories. Hunter chooses bourbon, but he’s humbled and says, “Oh, uh, well–whatever’s cheap,” to which I object. “Have him try Bulleit,” I suggest to Anna.

“To the future and new beginnings,” I say as we raise glasses. Hunter finishes his bourbon, looks at the glass, and shakes our hand on the way out the door. He is more than gracious, but the pleasure was ours. I’m happy for him, in a very deep way. “Follow your heart, sir,” I offer, and we shake hands one more time as he leaves and the live music from the bar side starts to supply the soundtrack for the rest of our night. He’ll do just fine.

Sources of Ambiguity


Because I’m a tool and I make bad decisions at times, I waited many years to start grad school. Honestly, I’m glad I did. It was the best academic experience of my life. No, the conditions were not ideal. I was overworked and emotionally and mentally exhausted at that point in my life. Years of bad habits continued to encourage non-productive and non-progressive habits. However, something had shifted in those long years after my undergrad degree and later “degree enhancement” of adding teaching credentials. I was pretty pissed at myself and ready to put money toward something substantial–something that would lift me academically, if nothing else. Good God Almighty, I found it. The seven-point checklist you see above is but one of the many gems lurking in the Leadership Studies pathway I took as a specialization. You may say, “But Vince, are you going to be a principal or an administrator? Why Leadership Studies? That doesn’t make any sense.” On one hand, you’re right. On the other hand, who cares what you think? I rocked 33 hours in eleven months, put myself through hell, and got more out of that than my previous thirty years of education combined.

Let me break down the brilliant simplicity of the Sources of Ambiguity. They’re everywhere. They’re in every organization that isn’t airtight. Guess what? Few organizations are airtight. Are you ready to try something with me? Apply those seven principles to everyday life. Frightening, isn’t it? What we have here is a framework, my lords and ladies. And it applies to everything. A little bit of honesty, and a lone resource, and you may be on your way to drawing a line through those ambiguities. That’s what I try to do, one day at a time, in all kinds of situations. After my current contract comes to a close, I’ll share with you all the ways this checklist helped me laugh through an entire year of suffering. For now, give it a try in whatever context you would like. While you’re at it, search something like “solutions for” paired with your specific industry or application, and see if smarter people haven’t already written about what we could be doing.

Special shout-out to Bolman and Deal’s Reframing Organizations and all of the inherent truths in the 4th edition.

Slots of Fun: The Cashier Cage in the Early Days

Image result for video lottery

This is it! This is your lucky machine!

After a few weeks of staring out of my cancer booth, I had a chance to become a full-fledged video lottery cashier, which came with a pay raise and a ridiculous amount more in tips. Something important to remember about casino life in the early 2000s, at least in West Virginia: our tips were “gifts” from patrons. Translation? We didn’t claim them. Here’s the scenario: if you make, say, $8/hr for a base pay and you have even the smallest amount of the Gift of Gab, you will easily make another $8/hr per hour in tips, which effectively doubles your take. Any cashier with an actual personality made more than $100 per day in tips, which, when combined with his or her take-home pay after health care, insurance, and $100 more worth of random deductions came out, made for pretty impressive earnings. For being a cashier. In a place where customers weren’t actually buying anything. The shit was unbelievable.

I’d like to take a moment to explain something to those of you who might happen upon this post but have not worked a customer service job…the seemingly friendly folks on the other side of your transaction hate you. Maybe not in a permanent, they-actually-hope-you-go-to-Hell kind of hate, but it’s not too far from it. No, it isn’t your fault, unless you’re an asshole. See, there is a dynamic at play, dear guest, and it can be reduced to this: you’re spending money, and the facilitator of your transaction would also like to spend money. However, he or she cannot, as the balance at that moment is that you are the consumer, and he or she is part of the pleasure of the provided service or product. And dear God, what a sickening display. Forget about regular, even necessary transactions, like buying something at the grocery store, or pumping gas, or even copping that skunk weed from your hillbilly dealerI’m talking about an entirely different form of consumption, and people outside of casino life may not be able to fathom this, so strap in for a minute.

The rules of commerce, polite societal exchanges, and the underlying principles of behavior governing otherwise decent human beings go right out the window when it comes to money transactions in a casino. Gamblers are junkies. There is no other way to describe it. The American Psychiatric Association updated the DSM-5 to classify gambling as an addiction, as opposed to its previous designation as a compulsion. Now, before you offer some ridiculous opinion on how gambling is okay, stop. The APA is smarter than you. It is smarter than I am. No excuses here. Neuroscience wins.

 

Image result for gambling brain damage

Dopamine feels good, Fam! Lemme get some more! Just one more win, so I can get break even! And some lucky bills!

Those of you who have been in customer service know. It’s just one of those things. Kevin Smith covered it in Clerks, and the staff in Ryan Reynold’s Waiting are amazingly accurate. It doesn’t make any sense, but if we have to wait on you, there is contempt. I’m sure all of us know one customer service provider who is genuinely happy with his or her life, but I’m not writing about those kind of people. They are deranged. Who could be happy running coins through a machine and fingering Cleveland sweaty bra money all day? Oh, sure. Load up on that hand sanitizer. Won’t make any damn difference. You’ll forget and rub your nose, or maybe even use the back of your hand for an itch near your eye. Mucous membranes, jagoff. Casino SARS for you. I can’t tell you how many times someone in that damn cage had whooping cough or some other shit from the 1800s. On top of that, for some unknown reason, most of the cashiers smoked the same shit cigarettes they also inhaled secondhand from the doomed customers! It was unreal. My blood pressure is skyrocketing as I relive it. Okay, let’s focus. Here’s a typical cashier transaction, mid-shift:

Where the hell did these guests come from? Is this a Cleveland bus?

Cleveland? You mean Cleeland?

Oh, right. Yeah. Cleeland.

The girls in the Players’ Club said they watched six buses unload this morning.

Jeezus, dude. That’s it, then. They’ll be with us most of our shift. There goes my tips.

Shhh. Here comes one.

HI, Mrs. Wallace! How is your day? How are the machines treating you?

Now, obviously Mrs. Wallace is an alias. Mrs. Wallace represents anyone who comes to the cashier window. All cashiers working a window are like Amsterdam whores. We want you to like what you see, so you’ll give us some money. We’ll even give you a little conversation and pretend like we’re not praying for a giant meteor to crash through the ceiling and seal everyone’s fate at that exact second. And it’s all for an extra buck. Every transaction, for the entire shift. Do you know what kind of psychological fortitude it takes to pretend to be interested in some gambler’s winnings? It’s sickening. And we all did it. For months. Many did it for years and years. Anyway, I can’t describe to you the potentials level of self-loathing that can grow in such customer service positions. Towards the end, I couldn’t tell what I hated worse: the fact that I allowed myself to get accustomed to such bullshit to make a rather obscene amount of money, or the fact that I can recall what it feels like so easily. Moving on…

Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that, Mrs. Wallace. Here, let me give you some lucky fives. (Insert a signature customer service move, the most popular of which is a hearty flick or bizarre and meaningless charlatan hand gesture on the filthy bills)

Now get back out there and make some money! HA HA HA (Mrs. Wallace leaves, smiling)

Dude…that was kind of sickening.

Yup, it was. And she gave me a five. Now kill yourself.

Image result for gamblers

No, Mrs. Wallace. Those weren’t really lucky fives. And those machines are programmed to take your money. But I’ll smile just the same and grovel to you every time you come back to the window. For a dollar. Every time. Ugh.

In high school, I worked in fast food. More than once. I used to think those were the worst jobs. They’re not. At least some fat ass is getting a fix on the horsemeat Whopper I hand him through the window. In the drive-thru window, we either wore a headset or stayed hunched over a microphone, droning orders to the sandwich preppers. Always with a Diet Coke, too. The noise of those shitty drive-thru communication systems sounds like Vivaldi when compared to the CLINGETY-CLING-JINGLEY-JANGLE of a coin hopper. Modern casinos utilize ticket systems. Coin hoppers have been gone from machines like those in the picture above for a long, long time. But they were alive and well when I was a cashier. We stood there in our little vesties, and we smiled, and we loathed the sight of almost everyone on the other side of that cage. And it got so much worse.

Slots of Fun: The Beginning

Long before I graduated college, I was working at a local casino–specifically, the exact same casino we all said we would never work for when we were still in high school nearby. Then some of us turned eighteen, then nineteen, and decent-paying jobs were scarce in that part of the Ohio Valley. Most of use were drawn into that awful vortex and were making more money than we thought we would. And o, how the years passed.

Now, before I kick off this series, let me be clear: who I was then is not who I am now. I wasn’t a good person, and I am not saying I am now, but look, friend: some of us have to try to hit bottom before we even remotely understand what bottom really is…and those were my years in the casino.

Here’s a little bit of background for you, arranged neatly into three categories. After that, you’re ready.

I. My friends/coworkers at the casino: some of the most ridiculous characters you could ever meet. To this day, several of them are my closest friends. What we endured there together in those years is hard to gather in one volume. We’ll do our best.

II. The casino itself is still operational. Ownership has changed many times since my last shift, but the constants are still there: addiction, death, and a never-ending Level 5 Space Hurricane of unbelievable subpar top-down management and operational horseshit. The tales we share here will come mostly from the video lottery side, as I got the hell out of there before tables arrived. Also, I have never had a head for cards, and thus, I don’t give a shit about anything that goes on outside of video lottery…unless I make money doing so.

III. There is no actual product in the casino business. It’s filed under “entertainment,” but what that means is that patrons piss away more money than they can often afford, and everyone is looking to cash in on chance, that marvel that isn’t the kind of math you can study. At some point, you still have to be at the right place at the right time, with the right kind of money. Good luck with that.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/82/Las_Vegas_slot_machines.jpg

This image is labeled for reuse, so don’t try any bullshit. Coincidentally, these also happened to be my favorite machines on which to work when I eventually left the cashier cage and became a floor attendant. More on that later.

Time to Live: An Invitation

One of my chief regrets is not following my energies earlier in life. Looking back across the Void, I see that habits affected most of my efforts. For three decades, I have entertained bursts of ideas, but I have never spent time cultivating. I fell into the trap. I ran up debt, drank myself silly, stayed in jobs longer than I wanted, and every once in a great while, I had a moment of clarity. My plan is simple: create. That’s it. That’s my one word.

In the coming days, I have some ideas I’d like to bounce off of you, but mostly, I would really like all creatives to get back to doing what they would like to do. I’d like us to really be honest about where we are and where we are going.

As I return to this site with a re-imagined view of what I need to do, I extend an invitation to any and all of you. Let’s write. Let’s draw. Let’s paint. Let’s explore.

For heaven’s sake, let’s do anything other than just pay bills until we die.