Monday, January 21, 2019

Apartment #13: 2973 Fir St., San Diego CA 2002 - 2003

I didn't realize it at the time, but this would be the 11th and final apartment I would have in San Diego. This meant I averaged one apartment for each year I lived there.

I was getting at the end of my rope in looking for a roommate to move in with. Abed and Pesd had already found their own place and were getting ready to move in at the end of February. After going through roommate ads and dealing with possible rents that started at $350 and then went all the way up to about $450, I decided my best course of action, if I was going to spend that much money every month, was to find my own place, probably a studio apartment.

I managed to find a listing at a property management company I had dealt with before. They had a studio for $500 a month in the South Park area. I went to check it out. It was part of a building that had been a duplex. It was renovated and split up into five units. there were two units downstairs and three upstairs. One unit had stairs leading up to it indoors from the front. The other two upper level units had external stairs.

When I first visited the apartment, I found the stairs were rather rickety at the top. There were two doors at the time, right next to each other. One door lead to the living room and the other to the kitchen, but they were right next to each other. (The photograph above shows that they replaced the kitchen door with a wall and a window. Also, the gate in the photo that leads to the stairs was not there before.) Inside, I saw there were two refrigerators, a large one and a small one. I wondered why anyone in a studio apartment would need two refrigerators.

The apartment had a rather large bathroom with a full tub. The tub had eagle claws on the bottom. But there was a large metal ring where I would need to put two shower curtains. That wasn't really a problem, but I knew it wasn't going to be very spacious in the shower.

I went back to the property management company and asked a couple of questions. I asked if they were going to fix the stairs. He said they would. I also asked about the two refrigerators. He said he had just been informed about that. I told him I only needed one and he could take the large one away. He said it would be gone before I moved in. I still had to go through the credit check process and provide him with my latest two pay stubs. My monthly pay needed to be three times the amount of the rent. Fortunately, I had worked four forty-hour weeks in a row, so my paystubs actually reflected that amount. I would also need to pay the $500 rent and the $500 deposit. I had just received the cashout of my 401(k) plan from my old job, so I had the funds for that. This was one of the few times in my life that things went my way.

I moved in about a week later. They had indeed fixed the stairs, but there there still two refrigerators in the kitchen. I would have to wait another two weeks before they finally came and took the big one away.

When Fraz came to see the apartment for the first time, she saw the eagle claws and thought the place was too cool for me. She also chastised my description of the area as South Park. She said, "Fayd! You live in Golden Hill! Stop trying to sound like you live someplace hip!" However, there were banners on the next street over indicating that this was indeed South Park. I'd always expected to find the South Park signs with bumper stickers of the TV show characters on them, but I guess that was a joke that got old real quick at the time.

This was one of the best locations I'd lived in during my time in San Diego. Even though there were three liquor stores in the area, I was across the street from a church, so I wasn't concerned about crime. I actually felt like my car was safe on the street. There were also a lot of cool places to eat, including a Mexican restaurant and a couple of pizza restaurants, one of which sold giants slices for $1 each. I ate there quite often. There was also a 7-Eleven and a laundromat close-by. In addition, I was just around the corner from the famed Big Kitchen.

I only ever met two of the other residents. I recognized the woman who lived below me as an employee of the Ken Cinema. She had a boyfriend who lived around the area where my postal mailbox was. He didn't have a car and would ride the bus. I would frequently see him at her place and then over by the postal convenience center. That was always awkward. The other guy I just saw one time, but he demonstrated how the garbage and recycling cans were supposed to be put in the street. It was no one's official duty, but someone had to do it. It usually wound up being me.

One interesting thing was that I had been warned by the property management company that the apartments had a tendency to have the main breaker switch shut down electricity to all the units. When that happened, someone just needed to go to the breaker box and turn it back on. But the whole time I lived there, that never happened. I'll bet it was because of the second refrigerator that had been in my unit.

Sometimes you just don't know that you can make a positive impact just by moving in.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Apink for another year!

2019 is officially off to a great start, now that I have gotten my Apink calendars in. Like I did two years ago, I purchased two for this year. The first one I received will be good for this year and 2020!

I also ordered the Season's Greeting "Eternal Jewels" calendar. I found out ahead of time that there was some sort of delay in getting them shipped, so I wasn't caught off guard when it took almost two weeks of the new year before I finally received it. It made me glad I ordered the other calendar.

The bad thing is knowing that Apink's contract expires in 2020, so I may only get one more Season's Greetings calendar. I hope that isn't the case.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Searching for a new roommate

Early in 2002, after I had become a lot more secure in my job at Walmart, Abed and Pesd decided they wanted to move into a new apartment. We had been having issues with mold and she felt like it was affecting her health. They wanted to get their own place. This meant I was going to have to find a new living situation.

I didn't think I was making enough money to get my own place, so I figured I would have to find a roommate situation. I remember how relatively easy it was to find roommates a little more than seven years earlier. However, that was when I was in my 20s. I would soon discover that it would be more difficult in my 30s. Making it more difficult was my work hours. At the time, I appeared to be on a permanent 4pm to 1am schedule. After work, I would come home and watch TV until 4am before falling asleep. I don't know how I got into that routine, but I didn't seem to be disturbing Abed and Pesd.

I combed through the roommate ads in the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Reader. I found a few prospects. I came across a couple of residences that catered to renting rooms to college students. I really felt like I didn't belong there and the vibe that I got from the current residents was that they felt uncomfortable having me there because I wasn't taking classes. I wasn't going through the same things they were going through. I was working and would be spending free time watching TV in my room. They were all (supposedly) going to be studying during their free time.

I recall one woman who had one rule: You could not go into the room of another resident, even if they invited you. I don't know what happened before that she had to pass that edict, but I'll bet there had been property damage.

I really didn't want to move in with a female roommate, but my options were becoming rather limited. I talked to this one woman who was 49 years old. She was an artist. (And I was surprised I'd never met her in my dealings with other artists that I knew in San Diego.) She had one room in a two-bedroom apartment that she used as a studio, but was going to have to rent it out because money had suddenly become tight for her. I thought we connected rather well and she even called Abed for a recommendation. He told her that they hardly ever saw me and that they never heard me coming home in the middle of the night. They also never heard me watching TV until 4am. He thought he talked me up pretty well. But she decided to go with someone else.

I went to another multi-room apartment to see about moving in. I met this woman. There were four bedrooms in this apartment that happened to be about a half-mile away from the Walmart where I worked. She appeared to be in her late 40s/early 50s. She was wearing a black and white uniform. It looked like she worked the front desk at a hotel. She appeared to be rather humorless and was all business. I really couldn't get a read on whether she could even tolerate me. But she told me that she called me in because I was 37 years old and they were looking for older roommates. However, I don't think she liked the part where I would be coming in the apartment in the middle of the night. I never did hear back from her. But a few months later, she came through my line at Walmart. I said to her, "Hey! I tried to become your roommate." She had a rather disturbed look on her face, similar to how she looked when I told her my hours. The man she was with said, "Well, it's a good thing you didn't start living wit us, because we had to move out of there!" I never saw them again.

And as my deadline for finding a roommate was getting closer, I met with another woman in a four-bedroom apartment. She was in her late 40s and seemed rather friendly She didn't initially appear to have an issue with my hours. One of the other roommates called me up to have a chat to see if I would be suitable for living with them. He told me that he had applied for Walmart, too. He'd also recent lost a good-paying job and he was just looking for any kind of job.

The only problem was that it took a long time for them to get back to me. In the meantime, I had found my own apartment to move into. (I'll have an article about that on Monday.) After I had paid my deposit and rent, I left her a voice mail message telling her I'd found my own living arrangements and they no longer needed to consider me to be a roommate. It felt good to be the one making the rejection.

However, a few days later, she called me up to tell me that they had decided not to choose me to be the new roommate. "What? I left a message telling you I'd found my own place." "Oh, I guess I never got that message." This made me mad. I wound up getting rejected anyway!

But I was glad to have my own place, so it was still worth it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Walmart: How to Be an Employee

One interesting aspect of starting to work at Walmart is the training. There are two types of training: One that you receive on the floor while you're doing the job and the other is Computer-Based Learning (CBL) modules.

As I mentioned before, there were a few things missing from my training that I later learned were wrong. In a perfect world, I would have taken the CBLs first and then started my floor training. However, Black Friday was a little more than a week away, so they needed all the new cashiers up to speed. They'd probably had experiences with some employees taking longer than expected on the CBLs. I counted about ten that I had to do. At the end of each one, you had to take a test. If you didn't pass the test, you had to start the CBL over and take the test again. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that there were a number of new employees who would fail the CBLs on purpose so they could delay their floor training as long as possible.

The CBLs often included video clips of what things should be like on the job. In addition to the modules on how to be a cashier, they showed you how to work the sales floor, zone, be the door greeter, etc. There were also the legally-required safety and sexual harassment videos.

The funny thing about the videos is that they rarely showed things taking place with any customers around. If you weren't familiar with shopping at Walmart and watched these videos first, you would get the idea that nothing really happens in the stores except the employees interacting with each other. It looked like everyone was able to go about their business without frequent interruptions by customers.

Reality was never like that. Our store opened up at 7am every day. There were always around 30 people waiting outside at that time to come inside the store. This meant that once the doors opened, the customers already outnumbered the sales floor and cashier associates. If you were working the floor, there was going to be a customer looking for you. And as a cashier, you would be surprised at how quickly you could wind up with lines at your register.

There were other times that the videos did not reflect reality. In a cashiering video You were instructed to take the merchandise from the belt, one at a time, in the order. You were not to reach back on the belt to get other items. This was a safety issue. It could cause strain and repetitive motion syndrome. However, you were also instructed to put the merchandise in the bags in a certain order. You had to put the larger box items on the sides and then fill the middle with smaller items. However, you almost NEVER got the merchandise in this order and you'd have to switch back and forth between bags. Maybe they should have gotten the customers to take the CBLs so they know what order to put their stuff on the belt.

I remember getting scolded by a CBL that trained me how to enter currency. The total came to $10.26. It was a $10, a quarter and a penny. I was instructed to touch the buttons to complete the transaction. I manually entered in 1026 and "Cash." The next screen came back: "WRONG!" I was supposed to hit the "Cash" button because it was exact change. I didn't put in an incorrect response. It would have worked either way. Can you imagine checking out, giving exact change and hearing the register yell, "WRONG" at the cashier?

The sexual harassment module was amusing. I've never been subjected to sexual harassment at work and I would hope that no woman ever thought I was behaving in a harassing manner. But the examples they gave in the videos were so blatant, it made me wonder what the world used to be like before there were laws in place to try to prevent that. If anything, the modules sort of indicated that you needed to be subtle if you were going to engage in that type of thing. And there was only one example of same-gender harassment. They said that back massages were not allowed anywhere in the store. The image they showed was of one woman massaging another. But the photo didn't look like anyone was being forced to give or receive the massage as a form of harassment.

There was a module about inappropriate behavior that dealt with being sensitive to diversity and cultures. It was informative, but included a segment on telling jokes in the workplace. The example they showed was of some telling a lawyer joke. You were then asked if the joke was inappropriate. If you answered yes, you got a screen that said, "Let's not get carried away. It is okay to make fun of a profession." I thought, "Great, that means I can make Assistant Manager and Store Manager jokes." (But I never did that.)

Some modules didn't properly train you. There was a fishing license module you had to take if you worked in the Sporting Goods department. There were a lot of details. The only problem was that there was so much to know, I couldn't retain what I learned. The only way I learned how to sell licenses was by actually doing it a few times.

They would update the modules from time to time and I would HAVE to take them. (This stunk. We were required to do these modules, but we were also so busy in the store that it was always inconvenient to take time off the floor to do them.) A new module showed a typical day in the life of a cashier. You would see everything from the cashier's perspective, including interactions with the Customer Service Manager and customers. You had to make a series of choices in certain scenarios. If you made the correct choice, you would continue. If not, you'd get a strike. Three strikes and you had to do the module over. I remember one scenario in which a woman was buying groceries and mentioned that she was going to be paying with food stamps. Then she motioned toward a toy she'd placed on a belt, indicating that her daughter was going to love it. If you chose the option "Inform the customer that food stamps can't be used to buy the toy," you'd wind up with the woman getting on your case. "I KNOW THAT! HOW DARE YOU!" (I don't remember what the other options were, probably one to ring up without making any comments.) But I have to wonder why the woman would bring up the food stamps and then talk about the toy in the same breath.

Another choice you had to make came after the CSM told you to take your break. A woman walks up, says she's got only one item and asks you to ring it up. The correct choice was to go ahead and ring her up. But just as you're starting the transaction, a customer nearby slips and falls. You're then given options on how to take action. From my view, even though you made the correct choice in ringing up just "one more item," making that choice resulted in you having to deal with an injured customer. Even worse is that you're not going to be able to ring up that customer because you're tending to the injured one. It was like a no-win situation.

But in the end, me working at Walmart was a no-win situation.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Walmart: The Christmas Shopping Season

I was aware that we were entering the busiest time of the year for Walmart in the weeks leading up to Christmas. We had survived Blitz, but that was just a steep hill we had to climb before reaching a brief summit. We had a much higher hill to climb, although the incline was a lot less severe.

While the lines never got to be as long as they were on Black Friday, there were very few times that I wasn't ringing up customers. It was a very steady flow that continued to get heavier as we got close to Christmas Eve.

When I looked at my schedule for the 24th, I saw that I was working 11am - 8pm. I thought, "Good! That means I won't be here when the store closes." A couple of days before, I found out that the store would close at 6pm. That meant I would be there at the close and have to stay two more hours having to help clean everything up. I was not looking forward to that.

6pm came around and I still had a long line of customers at my register. The line was almost as long as the one for Blitz, but I could see the end this time. I was close to the front door, which had been closed. I could see people outside banging on the door, begging to be let inside. This was one of the few times I didn't see any Door Greeters nearby. I wondered how many people would have rushed in if I had opened that door.

Around 6:30pm, I rang up my last customer and watched her walk out the door. I started putting the money from my till into a zipper bag. Suddenly, I realized that my last customer had left a lot of merchandise at the register. It was about ten items and one of them was a mop. (Who was she going to give that to for Christmas?)

When customers leave items at the register, we have to take them over to customer service and log them in. We have to enter in the bar code from each item. (This is so they can be matched to the receipt when the customer comes back.) I was going to have to spend the next 15 minutes logging this stuff in. I really didn't mind. That just meant 15 minutes less I would have to work on helping to clean up other departments.

In the middle of this, the customer returned to the front door. Fortunately, no other people were outside banging to be let in. I was able to give her the merchandise and send her on her way. I'll bet someone was glad to get that mop for Christmas.

I went to the back to find out which area I was going to have to go to. There were a crowd of other employees back there asking the Assistant Manager if we could go ahead and go home. I guess this was something they did every year. They would schedule everyone to stay until 8pm, but let them go home early in case it took more than an hour to clear the lines out. The Assistant Manager agreed, and we all got to go home. It was rather nice. I didn't mind losing an hour's wages not to clean up someone else's mess.

The day after Christmas was also very interesting. Because this is when we get people returning stuff. In fact, there are so many returns, we had to use half the front end registers for returns. This meant that we couldn't use those registers for ring up customers buying new things. And those customers did not reduce by 50% just because it was the day after Christmas. This resulted in long lines AGAIN!

And I was looking forward to the whole shopping season being over. I expected that after January 1st, things would calm down and be a lot less stressful. I eventually found out how WRONG I WAS! It never really slowed down, at least at the store where I worked. We were consistently busy ALL THE TIME! It was not at the level it was at before Christmas, but there were very few times that I would reach a point in which I had cleared all my customers.

But we had good news as we entered the new year. All of the cashiers they had hired for Christmas were being retained and receiving raises because the California minimum wage had gone up. In a way, this was good. I didn't have to continue looking for a job for awhile. It looked like I was settling in.

But I did find out that the tree lot job I had been offered during the application process was the shaft position. The person I knew who had been hired for that was not asked to return as a regular employee. That could have been me.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Walmart: The Blitz

So all my training for the previous week was all leading up to this day: Black Friday. At Walmart, they call it "Blitz." And all the employees were buzzing about it. One of the things that helped with the hype was that we got the newspaper supplements that showed what all our specials were going to be that day. Everyone was pointing out what items were going to cause people to line up as early as midnight. The main item was a 26" TV. I can't remember the price, but it wasn't one of the main brands. I recalled that a year earlier, I had purchased a 19" TV at Walmart before Christmas because I had gotten a DVD. I saw a lot of the off-brand TVs, but decided to pay extra money for a name brand. It looked like those off-brand TVs were the Blitz item from the year before.

Up to this point, I'd never been shopping on a Black Friday before. I knew that people tended to rush the front door and tear each other apart trying to get to bargains, but I never felt the need to do my Christmas shopping that way. In my past jobs, I usually had to work that day anyway. So I was shocked at the number of people waiting in line outside the store.

In 2001, the Walmart store where I worked opened up at 5am, two hours earlier than normal. We were scheduled to arrive for our shifts at 4:45am. I didn't think that 15 minutes really gave us much time to prepare, but it looks like Ms. E was bound and determined to get the most amount of work out of us that day, and 15 minutes was being awful generous.

I walked around inside before I had to go to the front end. I saw that there were HUNDREDS of the 26" TVs. They were stacked up all over the store. I knew that every person in line who wanted one of these TVs was going to get one and there would be several left over like the 19" TVs the year before.

Just before the store opened, they had all the cashiers go up to the "red line" in front of the registers. This is something you're only going to see at the beginning of Black Friday and when a new Walmart store opens: All of the cashiers are lined up at attention and ready to take customers. Most people probably don't even notice this as they all rush to the Electronics and Toy departments, but it's a nice little touch everyone should try to appreciate.

Things did not go completely crazy when they started letting the customers in. There was a lot of noise from the crowd, but everyone appeared to act civilized. But I also didn't get to see what was happening in Electronics or any other departments with a limited supply of special items. All I had to worry about was ringing up customers.

I wound up getting the first customers. He just came in to buy a TV and was ready to leave. He was NOT going to stick around to shop some more. Years later, I would hear about people who make plans to hit up several retail stores on Black Friday and strategize to get the best deals. He must have been one of them. He was probably going to head out to another store that opened a little bit later.

Fairly soon, we started getting a steady stream of customers. For me, the day was a complete blur of customer after customer buying TVs and other merchandise. I remember looking up fairly regularly to see how far back my line stretched. Sometimes, I couldn't see the end.

But I do remember one unusual thing that happened. We had been told ahead of time that lunch would be provided for us. But when the first set of employees took their lunches, they found that there was no food available. This was because sandwiches had been ordered ahead of time at the Sam's Club in Lemon Grove. However, when the people picking up the food arrived at Sam's Club, they discovered that they hadn't made the sandwiches yet. They had to wait for them to make the sandwiches. It took almost an hour for them to get the food back to the store. This would mean that we would have employees who hadn't eaten because they didn't bring lunch since they were expecting to be fed. So the Store Manager decreed that everyone who didn't get food on their lunch could clock back in and eat while on the clock. This was even though they were needed on the floor to assist customers. Fortunately, I only had to wait 30 minutes for my lunch, so I wasn't impacted.

At the end of my shift, I was glad my part was over. But it didn't mean the end of the Christmas shopping season.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Action in the living room!

Sometimes, it's fun to just turn off all the lights and let the toys do their thing:

No real people were harmed during this scene, but there was a lot of yelling.