allstaractivist note: I had intended to write more personal stories about myself when I first started this blog, but so many important things were going on that I never got around to it. Well, it looks as though people may finally be starting to wake up if not by choice, by necessity, and I figure now might be a good time to reflect. Although all of this Gang Stalking crap and learning just how messed up the world really is has caused me to shelve some of my humanity (again, by necessity), I am still human and did have a life at one time. So, here it is, me in all of my ignominious glory…
The year was 1993 and I had just been de facto fired as a House Cleaner in a “co-operative” janitorial company based in Berkeley California. I secured that job by answering an ad in the newspaper and for the life of me I still can’t believe their standards were low enough to hire me. Well, actually I think that is exactly why they did, I was probably a tad bit overqualified than the rest of their workforce so what the heck, they decided to give me a chance. My co-workers were all teenage Punk Rockers who for the most part, were pretty cool. I was probably the oldest person working there at twenty six but I looked much younger and fit right in appearance wise if not in actual age. Eventually, they tired of hauling me around like a fifth wheel since I was not into the Punk scene and could not relate to most of the things they did nor talked about. It got a little weird. My hours were cut until I was finally only working 2-3 hours each day, not worth the time to even make the trip. I began to search for new employment and found it one month later at a new Home Depot (store #643) that was opening up in El Cerrito, California. Hallelujah!
I could finally bring out that freshly printed Locksmith certificate and put it to productive use. My girlfriend at the time had been thoroughly underwhelmed that I had taken a job as a house cleaner and was now proud to have a boyfriend who was getting a “real” job, sort of. I think it was also kind of a shock to her that I could go so drastically from one employment extreme to another but, that’s me, I’ve always been versatile. Her parents were definitely pleased and hoped that my newfound upward mobility would result in a marriage proposal, they were a traditional Christian couple from the south and did not approve of our fornicatin outside the institution. We did a lot of that. I routinely got rudely invited to leave the home when the clock struck twelve by the loud pronouncement of “Ya’ll not married!” shouted up the stairs, just as we had begun basking in the afterglow…
Ah, memories. Anyway, the interviews were a three step elimination process. Yes, I know, three interviews just to work at the Home Depot?? Let me just explain that back at that time real estate and home remodeling were going like gangbusters, it really was a big thing to be a part of that industry in some form or fashion. Back then when a store opened, the mayor as well as local luminaries would show up and the media did all sorts of announcements and stories. Seems silly now but back then that is the way it was. Corporations were still riding the highs of the go-go eighties and were not thought of as the evil entities we know them to be today, they were respectable engines of Capitalism, good neighbors and quite patriotic. Had something to do with America being the “greatest country in the world” and such. Who knows, maybe back then we were. China and trade agreements were soon to change that however. As part of my on the job retail training I remember being instructed to push products that were made in America, but as time passed that became harder and harder to do. More and more of our inventory began sporting made in China etc. That campaign lasted about three months after which, the customer didn’t care anymore. Most of the competing hardware stores both big and small shut their doors when “The Depot” came to town, our bosses would brag about that. There was a store in San Pablo called Home Base that closed it’s doors soon after ours opened, the only other store to survive was called Yard Birds. Home Depot bought that family owned chain of excellent stores in 2006, shortly before the 2008 economic collapse. They renamed them Home Depot Yard Birds. All sixteen stores permanently shut their doors in 2010. Ha, that’s what Home Depot gets.
The first interview was to submit your application and resume. The second interview was just fluff and the third was to negotiate your salary. Negotiate my salary? I had never even thought of anything like that before, usually they just told me what I was going to be paid and I said “Ok”. I had no idea what I might be worth so I just said “Ok” as usual to the first number that came out of the manager’s mouth, $7.35 an hour. This is the kind of thing that can happen when you only have one parent in the household who never held a real job in life before, you have no experience to benefit from. I found out that I could have asked for three times as much due to my Locksmithing qualifications. Poor me…
The day that the store opened was like a big party, there were balloons, TV cameras and a radio station present. The mayor of El Cerrito was there and a lot of activity in the parking lot. Food had been catered I think, my girlfriend was really impressed and more than a little intimidated. Everybody was feeling festive and high spirited, I just walked around and took it all in. Most of my co-workers had much more work experience than I did and knew had to conduct themselves at these workplace events, it was kind of like an office party. I even saw a girl that I had previously dated who was now with one of my new co-workers. My current girlfriend and the ex spent entirely too much time talking with each other for my comfort, but apparently the report came back good. The store was brand new and full of an enthusiastic workforce.
Home Depot has all kinds of training programs for cashiering, PK (product knowledge), SHRINK and so on. They were being offered all the time. Our first day on the job we were given orientation at a special location somewhere in Hayward where we learned all about these training programs and which ones that we were expected to attend. The orientation was given by an old pot-bellied white guy who for all the world looked like a building contractor. He was assisted by a young and wiry Caucasian manager. It’s at this point that I should probably point out that much later after I had left, Home Depot got into serious trouble over both racial and sexual discrimination. I must say that I didn’t really see any of that but as these things go, the indicators are very subtle. At that time in life I was probably too stupid to see it anyway, even if it had been overt. It did seem rather odd however that all of the store managers were white, very few blacks in positions of authority. Very few women either. Now that I think about it they definitely did deserve to get sued. Most of this orientation was really just a pep-rally instructing us about the Home Depot mascot “Homer” and how hallowed Depot culture was. The motto was to bleed orange.
The folks who worked in the Interior Design Department were conspicuously absent from any such mandatory meetings for us lesser mortals. I was soon to find out that the Interior Designers were the most valued employees in the company and were excused from participating in anything they didn’t want to. Eventually, they became so snobbish and rude that you didn’t even want to talk to them, they knew they were better than the rest of us. The cashiers while being much nicer people, also shared the special privileged of not having to comply with otherwise mandatory stuff, they were always absent as well. Many of my black brother’s and sister’s more experienced that me could see my wide-eyed wonder and would frequently admonish me gently to “not believe the hype”. About half of them left for better employment elsewhere within a month or two. That was shocking to me.
I was really looking forward to attending the “mandatory” Forklift certification class, I had never operated any equipment before. Not only was the class taught by the Teamsters, it included instruction in operating both the Electric Pallet Jack and “Cherry Picker” too. I was giddy with anticipation. Our orientation guides had explained to us that although we did not have to actually get this certification, we would be limited on the retail floor if we didn’t. The Home Depot is after all, a giant warehouse, not knowing how to move merchandise around safely is a handicap. It was also explained that one could never hope to be promoted to any supervisory position if one didn’t at least know how to operate all of the equipment. Ha, what a load of bullshit. I only saw one cashier ever operate any of the equipment and only one interior design guy on a Cherry Picker. As a matter of fact, they would refuse if asked. Those guys and gals were sage in their advice to “not believe the hype”, they told us so much bullshit that turned out not to be true. I guess I was the only dumb one that believed it all.
When we showed up at the Teamster Certification Facility the first thing we did was sit in a meeting room and watch a video, I think there may have been either coffee or snacks. The video was very informative and entertaining, it pointed out both how to operate the equipment and safety no no’s. Primary points were to always wear seat belts on a “sit down”, always step out of a “stand up” that is falling over, never use the forks to lift anyone and never operate broken equipment etc., etc., etc… All of it new and fascinating to me. After the video, we were led out onto the floor by the instructor (female) along with one of the companies forklift mechanics. We were then toured around a forklift and shown what each individual part did and it’s name, how to adjust the forks and use attachments, how to change the propane tanks and to never use gasoline driven trucks indoors. We then had a question and answer session where she told us that one of her mechanics had actually fallen off the forks of a truck from an elevation of twenty feet. Miraculously he survived with only a broken wrist but we probably wouldn’t be so lucky. The mechanic present (old black guy) told us that he had broken his fingers on four separate occasions while repairing trucks due to the forks coming down on them. Ouch, we all grimace in horror but he didn’t seem to think anything repulsive about it, just another day at the office. After the Q&A we were placed on the equipment and our knowledge tested much like they do at the DMV. I missed one point by not putting the brake on after shutting down. We also got a little time with the pallet jacks but they told us that Home Depot would show us how to operate those back at the store, which they did. I will always be grateful for the training I received from the Depot about how to use warehouse equipment, it has been invaluable throughout my working life. There were a few places that I worked where I was the only person who knew how to operate an industrial truck. On other temp jobs, it was my sole job description. Thanks for that Home Depot and you too Teamsters.
First day on the actual floor was spent getting oriented to our positions, signage, more product knowledge and who our superiors were. There was another class in the back of the store where we learned how to make the signs that you see plastered all over in Home Depot, or at least used to. Since I had a background in drafting, my ability to print uniformly was recognized and I was tapped to make most of the signs for my department. It was in these first few days that the supervisors and managers were evaluating just who actually knew what and exploiting their knowledge. I being stupid, showcased all of my abilities and was consequently chosen to perform much of the beginning work, much to the subtle derision of my co-workers. I really do only have one speed, that being pedal to the metal. Just wish I had negotiated a much higher salary. Store managers are responsible for erecting all of the pallet racking, we were responsible for filling it. More classes about how to deal with customers, punching your time card, operating the cardboard bailer etc., etc.
After most of the racks were stocked and the signs were up we had our grand opening first day for customers. That was weird. l remember standing at the front of my isle being completely underwhelmed and disappointed. It was no longer a coddling party focused on us the employees, it was just a regular old job now. My co-workers and I would help customers and then confer with each other about how we had done. Other than that, it was a complete let down. While the store was being readied and we were taking all these classes and going to all these meetings it was really fun but now that the doors had finally opened it was nothing. We had all been congratulating each other on how nice our signs looked, how we had done in training, having fun getting to know each other in our own little club and then all of a sudden, these invaders called customers were walking through our store. I felt incensed, violated and wondered if I had made the right decision to work here. I had never worked in retail before. That first week was a total let down emotionally. I guess it showed on my face because most of the other more experienced workers smirked at me now that my enthusiasm was gone. It was like they were treating me like a child. Things got better later on though.
My station was in the very front of the store in the hardware isle, we got most of the customers. Up until that first day my co-workers (who were older than me) were saying that they were going to be in charge of the key machine. I just listened to them patiently, apparently they had been told that even though I was a certified locksmith the position was still open for the taking. Of course, I knew from my training just how much knowledge was required to deal with keys, locks, security advise etc. but they did not. I didn’t take offense that they were trying to take my job, I just wondered how in the world they thought that they were going to do it knowing so little as compared to me. Three days after opening, the store manager himself held an impromptu meeting with everyone in my department, right in front of the key machine. there were four other guys I worked with in Hardware including our super, all of whom were present. My supervisor of course, was the only one aware of what was really going on, the rest of us were clueless that this was an exercise in workplace psychology. The store manager had talked to me previously before the store even opened and had tested my knowledge then, so I was baffled when he asked us a question about some technical aspect of locksmithing. I was so dumb back then. When he asked the question, I immediately knew the solution but was so baffled as to what the heck he was doing. I felt no compulsion to answer and felt slightly embarrassed, I almost wanted to walk away. I knew that none of these guys would be able to answer and that any answer they gave would be intuitive and sound stupid once the actual answer was given. It was the type of question only someone with experience would even have a hope of getting right. Tim asked each of my co-workers in succession leaving me and my super to the last. After my supervisor gave his answer it was my turn. Of course I gave the correct, highly technical answer but it killed me to say it. It was like I was proving my co-workers stupid and I liked them, I didn’t want to be put in that position. When I answered, all the hopes of my co-workers being in charge of the key machine were dashed, they all looked extremely dejected and turned their backs to me. My supervisor started laughing as he instantly recognized how wrong they all had been. The store manager Tim just stood there for a moment and glared with a smirk at all the guys, then walked over to me and announced to them all that I would be in charge of the key machine. It was like I had been knighted or something. I felt terrible for them, like I had done something to them. That being settled, the next day was back to being as usual.
The two years that followed were full of many experiences and fun, most everybody liked me. Some came and others went. Of the more notable events were the occasional shoplifter, dissatisfied customers, appreciative customers, accidents, medical emergencies, robbery false alarms with attenuate police squads guns drawn and a custom of employees carrying guns. There were hook ups and breakups, flirting with both customers and co-workers, workplace romances and scandals. Nothing really steamy, just the usual. One fun thing was asking for help over the PA system, it would seem I had a voice for radio. The women would look all googoo eyed at me for a time after getting on the speaker system. That was fun.
At some point an office picnic was held, everyone was having fun but I hated it.
Finally, I began to hate my boss and missing days. I was put on probation and eventually fired. By the time I left most of the original people I had started with were gone and at $7 an hour, it wasn’t a real job anyway. What I missed most was the customer contact, you get used to talking to people and miss the interaction a lot after it’s gone. I wasn’t ready for that and kind of grieved over it for a while, one of the few times in my life that I’ve experienced loneliness.
All in all, I’m glad that I worked at the Depot, I learned a lot about hardware, retail, customer service and warehouse equipment there. A couple of people stayed on for years to come, something I could never fathom. I tried to go back a few years later but they wouldn’t rehire me. Just as well, I was all done with the Home Depot anyway.
Repeal all gun laws, put no restrictions on ownership. Let people protect themselves and preserve individual liberty. Criminals won’t last long in such a place…