Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"If you yell 'PLAY FREEBIRD!' one more time, I'm gonna punch you in the neck!" - Part I

Top 'o the marnin' to ye, Relentless Reader.

So, the Sherlock Holmes-types amongst you may have already puzzled out that I'm kind of a music geek.

Ergo, I'm also a fan of live music.  Having just experienced the second-best concert-going experience of my entire life at the ripe old age of forty a mere few days ago, I thought it time to explore my history with bands in the flesh.

Wow, I  totally just made myself sound like Pam Des Barres there.  Oh well, it's a fair cop... 

It kinda sucks being a music nut growing up in a small town.  You may have found something that you're passionate about, you may even encounter a couple of similarly-minded people to hang out with but the chance of your rock idols playing anywhere close to you live is pretty friggin' remote.

Especially if you live on an isolated spike of rock in the middle of the Atlantic. Remote, indeed.

My penchant for metal saw me hanging out in High School with some guys that were in a band.  We were all identifiable as so-called "Bangers" by our distinctive uniform:

(Preferably Maiden, Ozzy, Zeppelin or Crue)

My first experience with live music was actually courtesy of our school's unofficial metal/rawk mascot band.  I can't even remember what they called themselves; all I remember is being in awe at their bravery and inherent coolness while they played Journey's "Stone In Love" like clockwork at every High School variety show.  

The reality is, they were probably just trying their best not to look and sound too much like Degrassi Jr. High's "Zit Remedy":

When I got to university in the beautiful city of Halifax I completely snapped on live music.  Within the first week my concert-going cherry was broken at one of the Saint Mary's "Bashes" at the Tower,  courtesy of Canadian New-Wave outfit "The Spoons":

I have to confess that I spent most of the show making goo-goo eyes at the impossibly hot Sandy Horne.  Mutter, mutter...stupid restraining order...

I was in lurve.  Not just with a hot professional chick bassist but with the experience.  I began to see concerts, like sporting events or live theater, as a set of particularly unique circumstances that will never happen again.  The memories you generate from events like this become little amber-frozen moments that are precious and timeless.   

Before I grow too maudlin, let me prove my point.  As a fourteen year old squirt growing up in Stephenville, Newfoundland I would never in a million years thought I'd ever see Iron Maiden live in concert.  But on January 13'th, 1991, a young metal-head's dream came true.

Before the show we went to drink over at friend's house.  He'd moved off-campus to a place on Robie Street (affectionately dubbed "The Swamp") to swill a bit of moonshine before the show.  After one blast of this high-octaine space-shuttle fuel I remember thinking to myself:

"Hey, dumbass!  Stop drinking!  You're about to fulfill the dream of a lifetime by seeing Maiden live and what?!...you're gonna get so drunk you won't even remember it?  That's f#@$&^* stupid!"

No amount of coaxing, torment or peer pressure could needle me into another drink.  To this day I never drink before concerts.  Why pay a hundred bucks only to stand around swaying in place, mouth agape, not even noticing when someone hits you in the face with a frisbee?

Anthrax opened up for Iron Maiden and put on a phenomenal show.  I wasn't a fan of theirs at the time because I'd gotten out of metal when it became "thrashy" but Anthrax was flawlessly tight, high-energy and didn't take themselves seriously.  I'm still a fan of theirs because of that night.  I thought my buddy Mike was going to have a conniption during their performance of "Indians".

I myself went totally bat-s$#^ nuts when Maiden finally took the stage.  This was during the "No Prayer On The Road" tour and rumor had it that the show would be very stripped compared to, say, the "Powerslave" tour.  When the stage was revealed I realized they weren't kidding.  All we got was a curtain with the album art back-projected, a modest stage arrangement which still allowed frontman Bruce Dickenson to indulge his penchant for acrobatics and a cameo by mascot/inspiration to all career-minded zombies "Eddie" (The 'Ed).

I spent the entire show balanced precariously on the backs of two chairs so I could see everything on stage.  During the infrequent song breaks Bruce Dickenson apologized for a head cold that was wreaking havoc with his usually operatic pipes and for a more sparse stage set than normal.  At the time he claimed that a cargo ship which was carrying a ton of their gear as ballast had sunk a few days prior while en route to Halifax.

Over the years I'd come to think of this as total bulls#$! until I "Googled" this just minutes ago:


Regardless of the crazy circumstances (and the lack of Adrian Smith's presence) I have nothing but fond memories of the show.  By the end of it I'd screamed my voice into oblivion while belting out such trachea-rending faves as "Wrathchild", "Hallowed Be Thy Name", and "The Number of the Beast".   

Here's l'il sampling.  TURN IT UP!

I was now completely addicted to the live music experience, which was further intensified by seeing bands in smaller venues.  Diverse, exciting and eager-to-please domestic acts like The Barenaked Ladies (detailed here: http://emblogificationcapturedevice.blogspot.com/2010/07/clothes-make-man.html...yer humble host), The Doughboys, The Grapes of Wrath, The Pursuit of Happiness, Sloan and The Watchmen all impressed me to an extent.  

The amazing Leslie Spit Tree-O, for example, did a series of very wild and interactive shows.  I remember standing by the stage quite often with Mike and lead vocalist/free spirit/interpretive dancer Laura Hubert who often would humor our requests for songs.  

Well, here's a request I'll expect to have honored when I become Emperor of Canada: I decree that Leslie Spit Tree-O will promptly drop everything their doing right now, re-unite and perform the song "Falling Star" live on a constant loop until I demand otherwise!

*Hurm*, I couldn't find "Falling Star" but this will nicely exhibit their prodigious harmonic talents:

To drive home how important it is not to drink too much before a concert, I must tell the sorrowful tale of my friend Mike.  In the early Nineties, we were all collectively (and somewhat inexplicably) fans of "Bootsauce", Canada's answer to the "Red Hot Chili Peppers".  In fact, if memory serves, it was actually Mike who first introduced us to them.  Here's a sample from the "Much Music" video archives: 

Anyway, every member of my inner circle just loved these guys to death and it took forever for them to come to Halifax.  When the announcement came that they were to finally going to pay a visit to the late, lamented "Misty Moon" on Barrington Street, we were on the cusp of major upheaval.  

This came at the end of a school year and just before we all moved out of the house we shared together.  This was to be more than a mere concert.  It was a signpost, an exclamation point, a sure omen that a glorious era was coming to a close.  There was no better time nor occasion for one last big group hootenanny.

We counted down the days before the show.  Finally the big night came and most of us got psyched by playing the band's albums incessantly.  Mike, however, decided to prepare for this auspicious event by getting completely obliviated drunk.  

Even to this day we still struggle to convince Mike that he was even at the show.

"Dude, trust me!  You were there!  You had the time of your life!"

"Nope!  Didn't happen!  Never saw 'em!"

"But you and Colin sang 'Love Monkey #9' with the lead singer, for f#@$%'s sake!"

Word to the wise, kids: heed me on this one!

And now I'm gonna contradict myself a bit.  One time drink saved my life, but it wasn't because I drank before the show so much as during and immediately after.

We'd seen Toronto Ontario's King Apparatus before and had a blast with their quintessential brand of punk, ska, energy and witty lyrics.  When we learned of their return to our fair city at the late, lamented (I grow weary of writing that) "Double Deuce" our presence was not so much suggested it was required.  

There was just one little thing standing in the way: the weather reports were reporting b-a-a-a-a-a-d s#!%  that evening and threatened to derail our fun.  Well, it almost did for about five minutes, but we quickly decided "f#@% it" and went anyway.

Undaunted by the weather warnings and doomsayers we grabbed our long-sleeve shirts (jackets were a pain in the ass to check in, sometimes costing half the price of a drink, fugedabouddit!) and made our way to the "Deuce" during blizzard conditions.  Despite the terrible weather, a rabid little crowd had gathered to watch the band bounce through their modest catalog of grooves like "Hangin' On", "Five Good Reasons", "Made for T.V." and this appropriate ditty:

The show was a blast.  Me, Mike and our unlikely-but-stalwart ally Colin sang, drank, bounced, shouted and danced (read flailed, moshed and pogo-ed about spasmodically) until the end of the set, totally oblivious to the dangerous, whiteout conditions just outside the door.  After the show I bought a concert shirt (likely where my penchant for such things first started) and settled in for an evening of heavy libations.

Eventually we closed the place down and got kicked out into what has since become known as:

That's right, folks, we staggered home during the gale that sunk George Clooney's boat.  Mercifully it did grow relatively mild somewhere along the trek, but it left two or three feet of packed slush to swim through, since we could all barely walk. 

I'm not exaggerating here, Incredulous Reader, we swam most of the way home.  Which is pretty incredible since I really can't swim.   With my blood steam awash with enough alcohol content to paralyze a gazelle, I was well insulated against the elements but I seem to recall that Colin prevented me from drowning a few times by hauling me to my feet using my belt.  At one point in time Mike picked up my t-shirt which I'd lost and was now adrift a few yards back.

I still remember us crawling up the steps of our rented townhouse on Lucknow like exhausted survivors on a desert island and a housemate slowly opening the door to appraise as if we were nuts.

Good judge of character, that one. 

Another seminal act that we took in without fail was Saskatoon, Saskatchewan's Northern Pikes. You may laugh now, but back in the Early Nineties, these guys could do no wrong.  Their song "Girl With A Problem" was like the de facto theme song for half the girl on our sister floor in residence:

I recall nearly dying of heat prostration when we illegally packed like lemmings into the "Misty Moon" to see these guys entertain about a hojillion crazed fans.  The crowd was sweating, the band was sweating, the glass work in the place was sweating.  I'm sure I lost four pounds on average during every one of their shows.

Sadly nothing stays the same, which proves the old adage: see your favorite bands now, folks!  Don't wait 'til it's too late.

We now know that internal strife within the band soon caused trouble in paradise for the "Pikes".  The last Saint Mary's "Bash" we saw them perform was pretty mournful.  It's as if all the life and joy had been sucked right out of them.  Things hit rock bottom years later, when in 2001, I saw them play a spirited but slightly pitiable show at "Key Largo's" in Lower Sackville for a small handful of fans, slack-jawed yokels and overweight families too distracted by their chicken wings to even pay attention.

Also during this time Metallica's self-titled "Black" album was swiftly becoming one of our soundtrack discs.  I had the privilege of witnessing them destroy our Metro Center on February 10, 1993 with the following unrelenting set:

    Enter Sandman
    Creeping Death
    Harvester of Sorrow
    Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
    Sad But True
    Of Wolf & Man
    The Unforgiven
    Justice Medley
    Through the Never
    For Whom the Bell Tolls
    Fade to Black
    Master of Puppets
    Seek & Destroy
    Nothing Else Matters
    Wherever I May Roam
    Am I Evil?
    Last Caress

I still remember just how flawless their sound and presentation was.   They used their diamond-configured stage to entertain the audience of ten-thousand as deftly as if they were playing a small club.  They were like perfectly programmed metal monster machines who's only function was to blast your face off and leave you bludgeoned, pantless, deafened and whimpering for your mommy. The pyro alone was enough to ensure your head was completely devoid of eyebrows by the end of the show.

Here's some proof:

Ahhhh, I long for the days when Metallica didn't suck.  

I also had the privilege of seeing my life-time favorites "The Tragically Hip" go from cultish club darlings to consistent arena-packers.  Their tour in support of the "Fully Completely" album was riveting.  The band used beautiful and evocative back-screen projected art to keep the audience wired.  At one point during the song "Courage (For Hugh McClennan)" the band threw up the house lights and I distinctly remember entering some sort of weird concert nirvana.  I looked up and for one amazing moment it seemed as if  I could clearly see the faces of every one of  my fellow revelers around me, bullet-time style.  It was a fantastically communal and borderline tribal moment.

Alright, I know what you're thinking: (best read in voice of Phil Hartman as Frank Sinatra)  "You may not have a meetin' with the minds with Jack Daniels before a show, but you're smokin' somethin'!  Lay off the funny stuff, Ringo!"

You can think this all you want but I maintain: it's all natural baby!  That's concert magic in action!  Or it could have been a contact high...

The experience with "The Hip" was also aided considerably by Gord Downie's constant stream-of consciousness ramblings.  I still remember his first words to me as an audience member.  At one point in time between songs he just looked down at the roiling sea of humanity below and calmly observed:

"I like to think of all of you as the sperm and I'm the ovum."

One of my favorite concerts to this very day also occurred during this era.  It was Dread Zeppelin at the "Misty Moon".  For you poor uncultured bastards out there who don't know who Dread Zeppelin is, here is their Wikipedia entry:

"Dread Zeppelin is an American band best known for performing the songs of Led Zeppelin in a reggae style as sung by a 300 pound Vegas Elvis impersonator." 

And let me tell ya, baby, this is just as awesome as it sounds.  Here's a vid:  

We got ready for the show by renting dread lock wigs from "Boutilier's Costume Shop" in Dartmouth, which was kind of an unfortunate choice for me because the black wig with the red bows I got stuck with sorta made me a dead ringer for comic book scamp Little Lulu.

We also procured some "Rick's Fine Foods" pre-cooked hermetically sealed hamburgers using our meal cards as a gift for lead singer Tortelvis, who had a penchant for munching on such offerings mid-concert.

The place was packed and we managed to weasel our way next to the stage.  We were nearly crushed by the throng of Zep/reggae/Elvis crazed lunatics.  At one point one of our numbers got up on stage, flailed around a bit like Kermit the Frog on crystal meth and than promptly dived back into the audience, which promptly parted like the Red Sea.  He was nearly killed in the process.    

Good times.

Stay tuned folks, more concert tales are a-comin'...

Live After DeathUn-Led-EdLive Between UsLive Shit: Binge & Purge (CD & DVD)King ApparatusHits & Secrets

FAIL: http://annistonotr.blogspot.com/2007/09/worst-concerts-ever.html

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Yeah, I got yer 'Softer Side' Right HERE, pal!" - Part V - Requiem

Hey, folks.

Have you ever witnessed a corporate theme day?  They usually happen when your company's HR department gets tired of fielding complaints from staff that they're being driven like Camptown racehorses so they put a bit of heat on the management department to do something special for the serfs.

The powers that be usually views this as the best idea since sloped theater floors but are often waaaaaay too cheap to see it though properly.  Given only a few shekels to work with (and often subsidized by money out of their own moth-eaten wallets) your immediate managers gamely take a run out to "Costco" and pick up an industrial-sized brick pack of beef-flavored wi-i-i-i-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-ners ("Now with 20% less badger knuckles!") and a flat of "hamburgers" made from pure Canadian meef (a synthetic beef-like substance).

With the remaining scratch they usually rent a BBQ, set up a dunk tank, invite you to wear jeans and a cowboy hat in lieu of the usual monkey suit and graciously give you the last half-hour of your shift to revel in the wild, bacchanalian, "Carnival'-esque festivities.

The first of many of such event I attended was a bit of a system shock for me.  It left me so damaged that I was compelled to write a poem at the time to try and help me process what I'd witnessed.  Here it is...

Requiem for a Theme Day   by T.S. Representative

The promise of early liberation provided.
      Swiftly crushed by swipe sentries intent on sharing their misery.

You run, but the guilt of others left behind cannot be waylaid.

Creep.  Sneak.  Crawl.  Sit.

Force yourself to witness the dark spectacle.
          The vicious cabaret.
                                        The sights of the blind.

Drink the liquid, the flavor of your own mortality.
Feast on flesh that tastes of sponge soaked in vinegar.

Our collective Passion Play is truly at hand.

"Why, oh, why has all hope forsaken us?"

The pool of wonder offers sights both kind and horrid.
The harpy invites the gathered to a danse macabre but there are no takers.

And when the elements fly, there comes an unspoken alibi.  

But long after time should heal and miles should give distance.
I still wake up to the choir of screams.
July 12, 1996.
EPIC: Here's the best "Company" theme there is..."The Electric Company"! (Bonus points if you can spot a ridiculously young, self-conscious lip-syncing  Morgan Freeman!)

100% BONUS IN THE EPIC DEPARTMENT:  Here's a company theme day we can all really get "behind" (cue chorus of groans).  It is slyly subversive, however... 

FAIL:  Seriously, this kinda s#!% gives me nightmares...http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3154/2984527303_14c9f37e6c.jpg

Friday, July 23, 2010


Hello, Returning Reader.

I recently endured the half-real, half imagined ignominy that only a birthday at my advanced age can provide.  This time out, though, I'm not nearly as depressed as usual.  That's because something is happening tomorrow that may as well be an all-expenses paid trip to the fountain of yoot. 

Nothing can leave you feeling more like a goofy sixteen-year-old fanboy then going to a concert featuring one of your favorite bands of all time.

I can't stress this enough, folks.  This is bucket-list territory for me.

I'm finally gonna see Weezer live.

They've been on my radar since 1994 and that's a long friggin' time.  Like most fans, their Spike Jonze-directed video for "Buddy Holly" really caught my eye around then. Of course this was back in the day when "Much Music", y'know, actually played videos.  Now when I watch "Videoflow" the video is tucked into the upper right hand corner of the screen while "jigga4evah" texts "sweeetteats93" pearls of wisdom like "OMGILUSFM IW2FYFBO".


Now for some reason I didn't rush out and buy Weezer's debut album right away.  Frankly, at the time, I didn't have two dimes to rub together and I couldn't drop $15+ bucks on a CD based on the strength of one (admittedly) awesome single.

Fast-forward a few years and I'm at "Future Shop".  I spy Weezer's self-titled disc (now known as the Blue Album) on an impulse.  The $10.00 price tag didn't hurt either.

During my multi-part blog series about music (Part I provided right here for your clicking convenience: http://emblogificationcapturedevice.blogspot.com/2010/05/dude-soundtrack-for-your-biopic-sucks.html)
I made reference to what makes great music for me.  It's typically under-produced, stripped down, raw, honest, passionate, guitar-heavy tunes with intriguing lyrics.

Aaaaaaaand I just described Weezer to a "T".

The Blue Album kicks off with "My Name is Jonas", an awesome contrast between driving guitars and jangly acoustic bits.  Towards the end of the song it turns into a relentless assault of frenetic drumming and tasty riffs.  Rating:  Five =W= =W= =W= =W==W='s out o' five.

The momentum continues with "No One Else", a ludicrously melodic and tight little ditty that serves as an ode to male insecurity:

I want a girl who will laugh for no one else
When I'm away she puts her makeup on the shelf
When I'm away she never leaves the house
I want a girl who laughs for no one else

These lyrics may seem kinda harsh at first, but I think they're just brutally honest.  It's clearly written by a dude who's been cheated on umpteen times and desires nothing more than a partner who's worthy of some semblance of trust.  This one also gets five =W= =W= =W= =W==W='s out o' five.

"The World Has Turned and Left Me Here" almost justifies it's predecessor single-handedly.  The band takes it down a notch with this lament about lost love.  A juicy little solo and great harmonies close out this well-crafted little ditty.  When Rivers begins the pleading mantra: "Do you believe what I sing now?" the answer is invariably: "Yes, yes I do."    A solid four =W= =W= =W==W='s out o' five.

I warn you right now: "Buddy Holly" is the ultimate ear worm.  Hear this once and you'll be humming this f#@$%^ for days!  The dorky eponymous narrator tells a tale of confusion and commitment as he's forced to defend his "Mary Tyler Moore" look-alike girlfriend's honor.  It's sweetly earnest and musically it just chugs along like a well oiled machine forged from awesomantium.  Rivers, Brian and Matt create some phenomenal harmonies and Pat's propulsive drums are sure to cause spontaneous outbreaks of head-bobbery. Five =W= =W= =W= =W==W='s out o' five.  D'uh.

Here's the vid:

"Undone (The Sweater Song)" never fails to crack me up.  It features a meandering musical intro with a hilarious conversation overlay.  A relentlessly "stoked" dude prattles on endlessly to a completely disinterested and monosyllabic "friend" who is clearly weary of the vapid monologue.  It's easy to relate to.  Out of nowhere the song suddenly kicks a dent in your head with unstoppable strumming and great back-up vocals.  I suspect that the multiple lulls and crests in the song would make for a great ride for an audience when performed live.  Hopefully I'll find out soon.  Four =W= =W= =W= =W==W='s out o' five.

Here's der bideo:

At first glance "Surf Wax America" may seem like a empty-headed ode to surfing but it's still a very focused nugget of power pop.  It also presages today's trends toward bein' green and pokes fun at our automotive slavery:

You take your car to work, I'll take my board
And when you're out of fuel, I'm still afloat  

This one scores three  =W= =W==W='s out o' five.
Fans of the interactive music video game "Rock Band" are already familiar with "Say It Ain't So".  The personal lyrics pre-sage even greater heights to come from Weezer on their next album.  The tune is rife with  alternating slow burns, omens of feedback and acerbic blasts of pure rock bliss.   

Here's a clip:

"Holiday" is a bit "fillerish" but it's still very sing-songy and musically petulant.  It scores bonus points for it's funky "Barbershop" style vocal breakdown towards the end.   Three =W= =W==W='s out of five!

Closing out the Blue Album is the stellar "Only In Dreams".  I nearly had to restrain myself from homicide a few years ago when the company I was working for at the time crassly co-opted this beautiful, epic song about unrequited love for a sales conference to a tub-thump their greedy projected earnings for the following year.  Pretty nauseating.

Anyhoo, characteristic of Weezer's signature sound, "Only in Dreams" is quiet and delicate one moment then sounds like a blast of raw metal the next.  The build-up and climax of this tune is one of the best orchestrated in rock history.  This song gives me chills every time I hear it.       

I'd give this sucker six =W= =W= =W= =W==W==W='s out o' five but that would be insanity, so I'll settle for five =W= =W= =W==W==W='s out o' five.

And so you have it.  With one critical album, Weezer had me as a lifelong fan.  Hopefully in subsequent segments I'll continue to chart the band's anything-but-traditional career path and the amazing body of work they're produced over the years.

Until then, stay fit and have fun, folks.


BONUS EPIC: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAt0l5nxoxo&feature=related

ICING ON THE CAKE EPIC: I also get to see another band at this gig that I've been following for the past seven years: Victoria B.C.'s very own Hot Hot Heat.  Here are two hearty recommendations from them:
ElevatorMake Up the Breakdown

FAIL: Wow.  If you watch the previous videos and then immediately watch the link below the suck differential is jarring.  You can almost get suck whiplash from it!  What kind of world do we live in when a talented band like Weezer opens up for these a$$-h@!&*?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"Yeah, I got yer 'Softer Side' Right HERE, pal!" - Part IV - Exploitation

Greetings, Fans of the Persistently Ludicrous.

The strategies that "Sears" adopted in the mid-Nineties worked like gangbusters (or Ghostbusters if you're under thirty).  Customers who had grown up trusting the "Sears" name implicitly but had since grown disillusioned with the company's lack of modern appeal and organization embraced these excuses to return and they did so in droves.

The venerable but neglected catalog division became the retail equivalent of Lazarus rising from the dead.  The retail stores learned to maximize it's profits in terms of floor space (constructing a series of "Whole Home" furniture and appliance stores as a result), refurbished their presentation and began to stock popular brand names. 

It could be argued that the revival of the retail half of "Sears" was a foregone conclusion.  What no-one could have foreseen was just how dramatically the catalog division turned around.

As I detailed in a previous entry, Telephone Sales Representatives with the catalog call centers were expected to perform non-commission add-on sales when customers called to place their orders.  New staff, eager to please, often sold in excess of $10.00 of extra sales PER HOUR, effectively paying their own wages in the process.  They were also asked to promote the "Sears Charge Card" as well and were rewarded with a small dividend if they successfully signed a customer up.  It's been alleged that raw profits from the interest generated by "Sears Cards" alone was a major factor in the company's relative stability during the worst days of the recession.

"Sears" began announcing quarterly profits instead of losses again.  In 1994, the Liberal government in Nova Scotia offered an additional $700,000 in grants to "Sears" keep the operation locked in place for the time being.  Staff, bolstered by their own success, began to think of work at the call center as long-term.  This was still before the arrival of competing call centers like "Matrix" and "Convergys" and many of us were heartened somewhat by that old Maritime mantra:

"Don't complain, you're lucky to have a job at all!"

People working at "Sears" part-time, with their incomes supplemented by other negligible gigs, began investing in their futures.  They bought homes, cars, started families and pursued other avenues usually afforded to the average industrious employee.

The winning streak continued.  In time "Sears" stock peaked at $30.00 a share.  Quarter after quarter of record profits were recorded.  In 1998, Paul Walters collected a $2.84 million dollar paycheck for his insight.

For the employees that had so successfully helped to execute Walter's plans, the rewards were considerably more humble.  Very few TSR's that started with the call center eight years prior saw their hours increase beyond twenty-five a week and fewer still saw their rate of pay climb above the $8.00 mark.  The company health plan through Clarica/Sun Life was still impractical for many, often costing monthly premiums in excess of $40.00 for even the most rudimentary coverage.  

These sort of jobs led to media to christian a new segment of the population in the mid-Nineties: "The Working Poor."

Personally, I was financially afloat but little else.  A more immediate concern was nagging at me.  I was becoming increasingly bored taking one identical "Sears" catalog order after another or having bizarre interactions with customers like this one:

ME:  "Sears, David, how can I help you?


ME: "Uh, yes, sir...I can help you with that.  I just need your..."

Suddenly I hear a *SLAM* as the phone receiver crashed down on the cradle.

I sat there stunned for a moment.  This clown had called me, freaking out over what I presumed was a pick-up issue but didn't give me so much as a name, phone number or any piece of identification to bring up his file to help him.  Little wonder no-one did anything the past three times he called!  Did he think we could see him automatically with some sort of magical phone-cam or omniscient database?   

I was beginning to resent people.  Or more accurately I was beginning to resent their misplaced rage over inconsequential stuff.  I would take umbrage at their ignorance.  I was beginning to despise their propensity to haggle over the price of things I had no control over:

This was underscored in the fall of 1995 when I made the mistake of agreeing to participate in a "pilot project".  Just for the record, kiddies, "pilot project" is often code for "crap your employer can't pawn off on smarter people".  But with my Dad screaming "TAKE EVERY SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT YOUR BOSS ASKS YOU TO DO AND YOU'LL BE SURE TO GET AHEAD" in my ear I offered my assistance.  

Well, as it turned out the fly-by-night outfit that held the contract to do residential and commercial carpet cleaning for "Sears" in the United States decided to close their doors overnight.  That left thousands of royally pissed-off Americans in the lurch and without a place to call to vent their Herculean levels of pent-up rage.

Sooooo, the General Manager of "Sears Catalog Atlantic" graciously offered us polite but dim Canadian heifers up for the sacrifice. 

And it was baaaaad.   Really bad.  We knew it was going to be bad when two dodgy characters from Canway/Continental (the local Canadian wing of "Sears Carpet Cleaning") came in to try and co-ordinate the thing.  They made carnival workers look like cast members from "The Apprentice".   

And they were completely disorganized.  Essentially all we did was fill out one complaint sheet after another all day long.  I have no idea what became of the paperwork since it just sat there until the end of the day when "Boris and Natasha" finally decided to pile it all up on a rolling cart and tote it away in the freight elevator.  We had absolutely no power as "Sears" representatives to take action or promise anything to the poor, frustrated bastards that called us. 

We had three possible forms to fill out: one for people calling who were upset but coherent, one form for clients who were spittin' nails and one form for callers who were threatening to "go public" with the media or claimed to know Oprah Winfrey on a personal level.

I'm telling you right now, this is no word of a lie.  You can't make this s#!@ up.

Some of these people were justifiably angry.  For example, I might be calling because I had an appointment Saturday for "Sears Carpet Cleaning" to come out and do my rugs because my house is going on the market Monday morning and I have a whole week's worth of viewings scheduled .  Now it's Sunday night, no-one showed up, and I've called what I think is the U.S. division of "Sears Carpet Cleaning" but no-one can give me the slightest idea as to when my carpets will be cleaned or if I'll get any compensation at all for the delay.

All we could do was apologize incessantly, take threats seriously and reach for form number three when the customer was calling from Chicago, Illinois mere moments away from "Harpo Studios".   

"Excuse me, ma'am, I'm just going to grab my pen and a form here.  Continue berating me with the same sort of creativity you've already exhibited and also feel free to tell me that you personally know Oprah and that Stedman used to be in the Army and he will kill me with his bare hands if he catches up to me."

It was so bad that, months later, the same General Manager that suckered into the debacle in the first place wrote what amounts to a letter of apology:

"Just a short note to thank you for your participation in the 'Sears Carpet Cleaning' insourcing project.  

"Both call volumes and Project duration were badly underestimated and some of the commitments we made to customers, in good faith, were not deliverable by Canway/Continental, and this was disappointing.  What was not disappointing, however, was Sears Associate performance.  Upon short notice and limited training, you and your team displayed your customer service skills, in handling many difficult inquiries as well as your selling skills in completing sales for Canway/Continental.

"Your performance reinforces our strong belief that we have the team that is flexible and capable to handle other insourcing opportunities in the future."

Hmmmmm, threat or promise?  

I soon resolved myself get away from the phones as much as possible, if only for my mental health.  In the Fall of 1997 I was recommended for an instruction program which would allow me to help train new hires once completed.

As soon as I participated in my first training class all of a sudden the clouds parted and the angels began to sing.  I was in heaven.

I'd found my calling.  This was reflected in an "Associate Recognition" comment card from my managers:

"David, the job you did during training was super.  Your knowledge and helpfulness will benefit all.  Thanks so much." 

In 1997 here's what they wrote in the comments section in one of my typically-stellar performance appraisals: (*Toot!  Toot!*)

"Another outstanding effort in '97, David.  Huge increase in 43's (That's Media 43's, or our add-one sales - your humble narrator) from last year and accounts are well above call center average!  David, you've proven to be a great asset to 'Sears' with super customer service skills as well as aiding in the training of new TSA's.  Thanks, David, for a super year."

Despite the head-swelling praise, my reply to this in the "Associate Comments" field clearly exhibits growing frustration with the added duties and very little in the way of compensation to show for it: 

"My part-time hours at 'Sears' are not supplemented by any other income.  I'm not living on student loans, I'm not living at home and I don't have another part-time job.  The money I make here goes to bills, rent and student loan payments.

"After three years at 'Sears', my financial prospects look discouraging.  The cost of living continues to increase and my salary remains relatively fixed.  I would like like to be afforded the same prospects as most people.  I would like to own a car some time in the future, consider living in a better place, possibly travel.

"Right now, however, this doesn't seem possible.  Having said that, I would hope that these goals are achievable here at 'Sears'.  It's still the best place I've ever worked and I love the people I work with.

"I would also like to thank those responsible to suggesting my name for training new TSA's.  This was the single most enjoyable time I've had here at 'Sears'.  I would love to be considered for future assignments and would like to take this opportunity to thank my coaches for their trust.

"Hopefully the results of my recent review will display my commitment to this company as well as show my value as an employee.  I remain hopeful and positive about the future and my prospects here."      

But it was not to be.  Training was over for the time being so I was back on the phones for every shift.

Make the best of it, in July of 1997 I received a slip of paper signed by the call center manager that read "effective June 29'th 1997 your hourly rate will be adjusted from $7.40 to $7.62."

Wow.  Now I could buy that newspaper I always wanted...

Realizing that I couldn't survive financially much longer on my current hours and wages I resigned myself to the same inevitable action that every young, upwardly-mobile company drone was expected to do. 

I would take my first tentative step up the corporate ladder.  I would be one with the "Sears".

I would become a manager. 

EPIC: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/bestcompanies/2010/

FAIL:  Contrary to the title, I don't think this is very funny.  On the contrary, for anyone who's been on the receiving end of customer abuse this will surely chill you to the bone, cause you to tuck into a fetal position and/or result in profuse cold sweats...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Yeah, I got yer 'Softer Side' Right HERE, pal!" - Part III - Feliz Negatividad

Hello, Recurring Visitor!

Do you know how many pre-internet hours I spent as a child staring at pages in the "Sears Christmas Wish Book"?  When they said "Wish Book", they weren't just whistlin' Dixie, folks.  As a kid of the late 70's/Early 80's, this magical tome (which was left on your doorstep increasingly earlier every year) represented childhood dreams incarnate in a slick, glossy, full-color package.

As a Telephone Sales Representative at "Sears" I was now part of that proud tradition.  I was the guy behind this:


*WOOF!*   Sorry, 'bout that folks!  Let's pick something a tad less creepy.  Like this:

Awwwwwww, puppy!  Everybody loves puppies, right?

Going into my first Holiday season with "Sears", I thought that my brief time spent at "Zellers" (http://emblogificationcapturedevice.blogspot.com/2010/04/travails-in-retail.html) had adequately prepared me for what was to come.  I also assumed that being on the other end of a phone line would insulate me somewhat from the worst of frontline abuse heaped upon the heads of the average retail drone.   

I would be proven tragically wrong.

Before the coming of the storm I was distracted somewhat by my success on the job and the increased shift frequency that resulted.  At the apex of the holiday season I thought it rather interesting that I was getting close to full-time hours but (curiously) none of the benefits and perks that usually comes from being a full-time employee.  Wow, sounds like the sort of mystery that might precipitate a few Horatio Cane one-liners, furrowed brows, hands on hips and possible eye wear placement, n'est pas?  

But I wasn't complaining at the time.  With the money I was making from all the extra hours I could give my girlfriend and family more than just a card and a hearty handshake for Christmas.

Regardless of my relative financial stability, it was soon eclipsed by the true horror of Holiday retail sales.  This can best be summed up by the following cartoon courtesy of Jerry and Mike at "Penny Arcade":


Gabe isn't exaggerating when he says "Holiday retail is WAR", folks.  I'm a survivor and sometime I still wake up screaming.

The Holiday season has now become an exhibition for just how out of whack our society has become.  Every year it's the same friggin' thing and every year we fall for it like lemmings with a credit limit.

Manufacturers hold focus groups amongst kids to determine what this year's "dream toy" will be.  Once decided, they advertise the crap out of it on "YTV" months prior to Christmas, under produce the thing in some Malaysian sweat shop and then short-ship them to retailers.

When L'il Joanie and/or Johnny are suitably brainwashed by the potent combination of direct-delivery adverts and peer pressure they begin to irrationally desire this completely impractical "thing".  This typically kicks off a two-to-three month campaign of dedicated whining.  After all, if the child doesn't get what it wants it may be left out of this grotesque groupthink experiment.

Combine this with an entire generation of overcompensating parents who are absent from their children's lives either because both of them are forced to work to make ends meet or they had kids merely because it was the next thing on the unwavering "things to do list".

Mix all these ingredients together and bake during the high-pressure Holiday season and you'll end up with the sort of rampant, unchecked consumerism that makes life in the western world borderline shameful.  To prove my point, does anyone really care now about the following "Main Offenders":

Remember these eerie l'il f#@%$ from 1998?  No?  Probably for good reason.  People went positively bat- shit insane over "Furby's".  They'd step over the body of their own mother to acquire one of these things for their petulant, spoiled larvae.  If I had a dime for every time I had to explain to a customer that the manufacturer (Tiger Electronics, I'm looking in your direction...) only made a small handful of these hairy abortions to meet the demand I'd likely have a thousand dimes.

We as front-line sales people bore the brunt of some major wrath when these blinking electronic retards flew off the shelves.  To our collective amazement this resulted in parental in-store death matches and enterprising chaps snatching them up and selling them for profit on the internets to complete morons.

And where are these now?  I'll tell ya where.  Sitting deep in the attic someplace, slowly turning into a dust bunny the size of a tumbleweed, rocking back and forth and muttering incoherent gibberish like "U-Nye-Way-Loh-Nee-Way!"

Yeah, I'll help you "go to sleep now" you little Tribble-bitch Mogwai wanna-be f#@$!  

*Ahem*.  Sorry 'bout that.  Let's move onto this inexplicably appealing chronic seizure victim:

In 1996 this crimson, spastic bastard caused us a huge lungful of grief and misery.  I actually had a woman tell me that I personally ruined her Christmas because "Sears" wouldn't sell her a "Tickle-Me-Elmo" for her kid.  Do you think I could make it logical in her thick skull that "Sears" would have liked nothing better than to sell millions of these creepy, molestation-craving muppets to every brain-damaged soccer mom on the planet so they could easily bribe love from their afterthought child?  Damn right we did!

Finally, there's this jaundiced, morphine-drunk polyp:

Just like "Elmo", they made a talking version of this as well, which made no sense to me at all since all the perky mutant would ever say is variations of his own name over and over again.

My opinion of "Pokemon" can be best described by the following "Robot Chicken" sketch:

My point is, what did we really go through all that misery for?  For zeitgeist-flavored pop culture sugar bombs that have barely any value a mere few months after the mania subsides?

Think about it people!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to appraise my collection of "Star Wars" action figures...

EPIC: http://www.wishbookweb.com/

EPIC TOO: http://www.sprword.com/videos/consumingkids/ 


Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Yeah, I got yer 'Softer Side' Right HERE, pal!" - Part II - Malaise

Despite the dearth of training I was quickly flushed with immediate success in my (admittedly) simple new role as a Telephone Sales Representative for "Sears Canada Catalog".  Early monitoring reports came back with "Aw, shucks"-inducing praise like "Excellent TSA!  Very good with customers!"

But the job quickly became repetitive.  I'd say that about 90% of the inbound calls to our toll-free number were to place an order.  The structure of the call rarely deviated from this:

TSR: "'Sears', this is Shekie, how can I help you?"

CUSTOMER: (in heavy Newfoundland accent)  "Yes, my dear, listen...I wants to place a horder on me budget."

TSR: "You mean your 'Sears Card'?"

CUSTOMER:  "Yes, me 'Sears Card, 'das what I said."

TSR: "Okay, could I get the card number, please?"

CUSTOMER: "Okay, 'old on now while I gets it..."

(Sound of the phone receiver being set down on table then slowly sliding off from the weight of the cord.  The TSR's hermetically headset-sealed ear is assaulted with a horrible 'THUNK!' as the receiver hits the floor.  Slipper sounds can be heard scuffing across the floor.  The distinctive sound of a purse being unzipped can be detected amidst the random mutterings.  This is eclipsed by scratch muffled noises as the receiver is picked back up)

CUSTOMER: "Oh my dear Lard, I dropped the foam!  You still there, Bucky?!"

TSR: "Yes, Ma'am, I'm still here.  Take your time, there's no rush"

CUSTOMER: "Okay, I got's the number for you right 'ere!" 

TSR: "Anytime you're ready then."

CUSTOMER: "Alright, d'number is...far, one, tree..."

(fast forward)

CUSTOMER: "Hate, six, seven..."

(fast forward)

CUSTOMER: "...seven, far, two."

TSR: "Okay, and can I get your name, please?"

CUSTOMER: "FUDGE!   Mrs Wavey Fudge.."

TSR: "And your address, Mrs. Fudge?"

CUSTOMER: "Yes, 'by, i's R.R.Two, Box Farty-Far, Jerry's Nose, and the hairea code is 'Hay-two-hen, far dubya far!"

TSR: "Thanks, Mrs. Fudge.  So, just to confirm this will be going out on your Sears Card to the catalog pick up desk in 'Budgell's Convenience and Bait Shop'?"

CUSTOMER: "Yes, me lover."

TSR: (shuddering from 'lover' reference) "Okay, I just need your first nine-digit catalog item number."

CUSTOMER: "Right on!  I's tree, nine, tree..."

(fast forward)

CUSTOMER: "...two, tree, two."

TSR: "Ooooooo, I'm sorry, Mrs. Fudge.  It appears as if that item is currently not available."

CUSTOMER: "Oh, s#!%!  Any clue as to when yer gonna get mar of 'em?"

TSR: "I'm sorry, Mrs. Fudge.  If our buyers know when we're going to get more they usually give us a back order date, but it's just saying 'not available' I'm afraid."

CUSTOMER: "Jasus!  I just got the friggin' catalog 'de udder day!"

TSR: (exhaling a pronounced sigh) "Well, our catalogs are sometimes made up six months to a year in advance and sometimes it takes a little bit of time to get the inventory from the..."

CUSTOMER: (interrupting) "Sure, 'das alright, me love.  I'll try 'dis one now...six, hate, one..."

(repeat previous conversation two more times until...)

TSR: "Alright!  Finally!  That's a vista blue mica-colored wool, um...dickey.  Uh-huh.  Whatever that is, it's available and it's scheduled to arrive in, um...Jerry's Nose October the 16'th."

CUSTOMER: "Alright then.  It's not the friggin' color I wants, but I'll take it."

TSR: "And your next catalog item number, ple...'

CUSTOMER: "No, by, das all fer now since das the only friggin' thing you got dat I wanted."

TSR: "And would you like to hear about our exclusive phone sales today?"

CUSTOMER: "No, 'by, I already gots a foam."

TSR: "No, Ma'am, it's not a phone on sale, these are sales we have on various items available only to our telephone customers."

CUSTOMER: "Ohhhhhhhh!   I sees.   I never 'eard about dat before, whattaya got?"

TSR: "Well, we've got a 'Shinsonic' brand piston engine on sale, normally seven-hundred and ninety-nine dollars down to forty-nine, ninety nine..."

CUSTOMER: "Oh my Dear Lard!  Why the frig would I want dat for?"

TSR: "Well, it would make a great centerpiece if you ever wanted to build a replica of an ancient Roman sawmill, or if you wanted to power a torpedo, for example.  Plus, just look at that deal!  It was normally eight hundred dollars now it's under fifty bucks!"

(momentary silence save for a horde of hitherto unheard youngsters in the background who all start crying on cue chorus-style in for attention)

CUSTOMER: "Yes, 'by, dat's a good deal, iddin it?  T'row one of them on the horder dere, Bucky!"

TSR: "Okay, Mrs. Fudge, with the piston engine on there, your order total is eighty-three fifty-two."

CUSTOMER'S KIDS: "MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA! MA! MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA! MA! MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA! MA! MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA! MA! MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA! MA! MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA! MA! MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA! MA! MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA!  MA! MA!"

CUSTOMER:  "SHUT UP!!!" (Customer makes vain attempt to cover phone receiver as an afterthought.  TSR is startled by the unexpected burst of rage and dribbles water down his shirt.  Customer turns attention back to TSR)  "Sorry about 'dat, my dear, it's a friggin' nut 'ouse 'ere.  EMMELINE!  Pass me dat pen and a tablet before I gives you a dallar."  (sound of customer snatching pen from pad from hands of confused child) "Alright, 'ow much was 'dat total again?"

TSR: "Eighty-three fifty-two."

CUSTOMER: "And when is it comin' in?"

TSR: "October the 16'th."

CUSTOMER: "Right on, Cocky!  'Tanks for yer time!  Bye, bye!"

TSR: "Good bye, Mrs. Fudge and thanks for calling... "

(Cue "click" sound as receiver is hung up, drowned out by sound of TSR banging head on desk)

TSR: "...Sears'!"

Okay, so I've exaggerated a bit for comedic effect, but believe me when I tell you that I'm not very far off the mark here.

In order to stave off the sort of unique madness that can only come from taking one nigh-identical catalog order after another, you had to be creative to amuse yourself.  Now, you weren't allowed to read a book (other than a catalog) because "Sears" obviously had no interest in paying you if you deriving any sort of self-enrichment or pleasure while you worked.

Now this didn't stop you from trying to stow a book under the sliding keyboard tray like a copy of "Barely Legal Asians", which allowed you to read a paragraph or two on the sly between calls.  In doing so, you ran the terrible risk of being caught.  If one particular manager (who, rumor had it, used to work at a woman's prison) caught you reading she'd publicly debase you as if she'd caught you playing with yourself.   Eventually I began to refer to her as "Ilsa: She-Wolf of the S.S" (the "S.S." stood for "Sears Seniors").

So, naturally, because you couldn't read quietly at your station, you'd end up speaking boisterously to a co-worker.  In fact, your peers became your greatest source of entertainment.  One game we used to play to keep ourselves sane was to challenge someone to shoe-horn a certain word into a conversation with a customer.  Some words (like "lantern", for example) might be easy because it was an item in our list of sales, but I'd always try to nail my buddy Jason with real crazy shit like "hovercraft".

And the fool would manage to do it somehow.  During an inevitable lull in the conversation (say when the customer was looking up an item number), Jason would ask how things were in Calgary or wherever the client was calling from.  He did so, knowing full well that the customer would say something like "Good...where are you at?"

Then my boy would go to work:

"Oh, I'm here in Halifax.  Have you ever been to Halifax?  It's beautiful, especially down around the waterfront.  I was down there the other day, and you wouldn't believe it, some crazy guy was piloting a hovercraft in and around the ferry until the harbor police told him to stop."

Just like on "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" as soon as one of us said the secret word it would be complete and total bedlam in our isle until a manager was dispatched down to shush us!  I'm sure the customer's heard us and thought we were all nuts.   

One aspect of the job that I embraced to try and stave off the mental cobwebbery was the add-on and credit card sales.  Most sensible and ethical souls steered clear of this like latrine duty, but, oh no, not this good little soldier. 

I excelled at it.  I wasn't a pushy f#@$, I just did it well because it was the only part of the job I thought was creative.  I'm actually looking at my old stats here, and they're actually pretty friggin' impressive: http://emblogificationcapturedevice.blogspot.com/2010/04/i-am-jacks-blog-entry.html.

So basically, in averaging $19.55 in add-on sales per hour, I was likely paying my own sweat-shop wage of $7.40 an hour (and this was actually up slightly from the starting rate.)

And that's nothing!  I have a document here which shows years later that one of the women on the team I was coaching at the time was selling $70.00 extra per hour.  Let me say that again: $70.00 extra per hour!  Sweet Jezum crow! 

We were also asked to promote the Sears Credit Card as well, and usually got a $5.00 kicker for each suck...er, customer's neck we managed to hang this dead albatross of interest around.  I don't know exactly what the interest rate was when I was flogging it but in 2006 it was a criminally high 28.74%!

Now I did these things in good conscience because:
  •   My parents beat a near-fanatical work ethic into my head that told me to do what your employers asked of you without question.  Historians could have a field day correlating this sort of attitude to Germany in the 1930's. 
  • I was soon totally bored with the mechanical, by-rote nature of only taking catalog orders
  • Since "Sears" had been so kind as to hire my ass after so many terrible and borderline abusive situations I was quick to ask "how high" when my employment "Big Brother" ordered me to jump.  
In other words, I was mindlessly swilling the "Sears" kool-aid like it was rum and coke.

Next up I'll tell you what it was like working working at "Sears" when that accursed "Wish Book" landed every year.  Here's a sneak preview: it sucked

EPIC: http://www.raesmith.com/funny_computer_help_desk_conversations.htm

FAIL: http://www.cardoffers.com/Credit-Card-Commentaries/Sears-Card/ 

And here's this week's totally unrelated comic:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Yeah, I got yer 'Softer Side' Right HERE, pal!" - Part I - Mirage

Hello, Loyal Reader.

Needless to say, after the events detailed in my "Lowered Expectations" series I was getting pretty desperate for work.  My parents were helping me financially as best they could but if I didn't get a job soon I'd be destitute.  Student loan payments were coming due.  Unbeknown to me, my girlfriend was paying her part of the rent with cash advances from her "Canadian Tire" Mastercard.  If we didn't score some paying gigs soon, we'd be buried under an insurmountable weight of debt that would see us smothered even before we had a chance to breathe.

Then something miraculous happened.  One of my resumes and subsequent interviews actually paid off.  In August of 1994 I was offered a part-time job with "Sears Canada Catalog" as a Telephone Sales Associate (TSA to try and avoid the carpel tunnel).  I leapt at it like "TMZ" on a Miley Cyrus sighting.

Too bad I didn't know the back story to my hiring until much, much later.

In the late Eighties, "Sears Canada" was heading down that same grim path that would eventually consume it's massive retail brethren "Eatons".  The signs were undeniable.  Yearly reports of profit loss.  The price of shares plummeting below the ten dollar mark.  The massive infrastructure that had evolved to drive the venerable catalog enterprise had become antiquated and inefficient.  It's employees were still writing up customer ord student loansers on paper whereas other organizations had embraced computer technology to link directly into warehouses to expedite availability, ETA, packing and shipping.

To make matters worse, the early Nineties brought recession.  Unemployment was rife, wages were low and "Sears", with its comparatively weak buying power, high costs and dramatic mark-up's found itself unable to compete with unethical discount giants like "Wal-Mart".

In order to survive, "Sears" was forced to embrace the purveying climate at the time and begin the process of downsizing.  At once, rumors began to swirl in outlying warehouses like the highly lauded facility in Halifax, that such locations might close in lieu of a new ultra-modern structure being built in Belleville, Ontario.  Management was quick to quell the talk of the time, insisting that because of it's exemplary service record, the Halifax site would undoubtedly be spared.

But that was not to be.  In 1992 the rumors were confirmed.  Seven-hundred plus veteran warehouse staff were told that everything that had been whispered about was true.  A promise came from the company to offer something new to those disenfranchised staff members caught flat-footed by the announcement.  A new venture was in the works for Halifax, a high-tech in-bound call center on par with other modern operations.

This direction was the brainchild of a new generation of "Sears"-brand Chief Executive Officers, led by the newly appointed Paul Walters.  Young, aggressive, and undeniably visionary, Walters promised a cadre of still-eager investors that Sears would return to it's former prominence in the Canadian retain battlefield.  The keystone of the recovery would be a thorough trimming of wasteful departments, refurbishing and modernizing the still-strong retain market and an aggressive embrace of new technology and add-on sales.  The call centers would become the flagship for this last venture.

With existing retail space still idle in Halifax, "Sears" courted the Nova Scotia government for incentives to construct the largest of several proposedin-bound call centers designed to assist customer with catalog ordering.  Starved to provide the public news of job creation instead of loss, the Tory government at the time offered "Sears" a $100,000 grant to get the operation started.  Tax breaks are alleged as well, a six-figure sum for each year of operation.  In fact, then-Economic Minister Gordon Balser confirmed in May of 2000 that the province gave Sears "roughly one million dollars between 1992 and 1994".

There was another resource at the company's disposal as well.  Hundreds of unemployed Nova Scotians, including the displaced warehouse staff, flocked to the job postings.  Despite vague promises of how many part-time hours would be available and offering a benefits package so costly it was impractical, applicants were lured by the slightly-above average starting wage and the call center's willingness to schedule for those people forced to work two, sometimes three other part-time jobs in order to make ends meet.  

It was into this I unwittingly walked.  I didn't know anything about this at the time.  All I could think was: 'Wow, for the first time ever I'm working for a real company, not for some dubious, fly-by night, pack of snake oil salesmen.'  As a Newfoundlander, working for "Sears" was like working for "Microsoft".  Almost everything I owned as a kid came from Sears since we really didn't have many physical stores where I lived.  

My role as a TSA would be to process in-bound sales orders, address customer service inquiries, and preform add-on promotional sales.  Training was a very brief affair, but even at the tender age of twenty-four I'd already figured out that this was going to be par for the course for the rest of my working days.  One odd and creepy thing did occur during training which I should have considered to be a sign of things to come.

As part-time workers we would normally only be working four or six-hour shifts at a time with one fifteen-minute break.  Now, I'm not sure what the exact rule was back then but it wasn't dissimilar to the current Labor Standards Code which dictates that "employees that work more than five consecutive hours are entitled to a half-hour lunch break."  In a surreptitious move during training, we desperate and impressionable trainees were asked to sign a document waiving our rights to this.  So, in other words, we'd only have fifteen minutes of total break time for a six-hour shift.

I remember a creeping chill come over me as I looked at this curious document.  It stunk to high heaven.  It was crushingly disappointing to me that a major corporation like "Sears Canada" would engage in the sort of greasy, cost-cutting chicanery  more nominal outfits were passing off as an attempt to be "globally competitive during this time of recession."

But I'd been hired by this company with an otherwise stellar reputation and I would reward their trust with unwavering, unquestioning loyalty.  I unwittingly signed my rights away with a song in my heart.  I took my little orientation binder home like a good little doobie and bragged to all my friends that I was gonna be working for "Sears".

I was pretty nervous my first day on the phone, but the trainers took good care of us.  Pretty soon I was processing orders, helping customers and putting my best foot forward for the GREAT PROVIDER.

And then I got my first schedule and I was completely aghast.  I was scheduled to work eight hours my first week and twelve the next!

What was I going to do?  I couldn't live on that, pay off my student loans and try to advance my life such as considering home ownership or kids, especially while earning only about $7.00 an hour!

What would happen to me?  *Dun-dun-duuuuun!*

Tune in next time for another thrilling episode of "You Can't Get There From Here" featuring:
  • The horrors of Christmas retail are eased somewhat by my first decent paycheck.
  • "Sears" bounces back financially, thanks in part to some hard-working Haligonians
  • I begin to realize that I'm actually paying my own wages!
  • I find myself amidst a loving and supportive working family all united against a greater evil.  
  • I become a leader of men!  Actually a leader of a lot of women, which I think is actually a lot cooler.
EPIC:  http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3836296181471292925#

FAIL: http://work911.com/planningmaster/planningarticles/busfailure8traps.htm