What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The laws of the register

So I am going through training on the cash register for my new job. Wow. I don't ever want to be behind the register. I am scared to death of the draconian rigidity of the terms and rules, and how quickly the slightest slip – like not having all the bills facing the right direction – can lead to getting warned and fired.

They work on a system of a written warning, a final warning, and discharge.  In terms of being absent or tardy if you are:

  • 3 times in 30 days, 
  • 4 times in 90 days, 
  • 5 in 6 months or, 
  • 10 in a year,
you will be given a written warning that lasts for a year.  This includes sick days (though back-to-back days only count as one "incident").  If this happens you are on written warning for a year.  If in that time this or any other issue happens again (see below), you get a final warning (which last six months).  If in this time anything else happens you are "discharged" (i.e. fired).

So what is included in this?  Well with the register you are accountable to balancing your till.  If you are a penny off one way or the other 5 times in 30 days its a written warning.  Meaning no take a penny leave a penny, and if you're off by more than $5 on any one occasion it is an immediate written warning.  This means that you count wrong once, accept a counterfeit bill, whatever... you're on warning.  But it gets worse.  If within a 30 day period you have 5 instances of any of the below issues:

  • excessive coins or cash
  • bills not facing the right direction
  • missing a coupon
  • missing an EBT slip
  • missing voided transaction slip
  • miss entering a product code
  • improperly filling out a traveler's check
  • talking to the cashier next to you
  • not asking to go to the bathroom
  • coming back even a minute late on a break
  • looking at someone the wrong way....... breathing.... ok, so I made that one up.
But really?!  You don't place the bills face up and all in the same direction!?!?!? or give someone a penny!?!?! and your in trouble!?  Enter the wrong code, give back the wrong change and in trouble you get!!!  No sir, not me.  Keep me off of that register.  My dyslexic, hypoglycemic ass would be done in a week.  I mean hypothetically speaking (and keep in mind schedules only come out Wednesday for the next week), if someone is late or sick more than 5 times in 6 months (keep in mind NYC subways, doctors, dentists, kids), and they don't put their bills all face up a few times and then take a counterfeit bill by accident, they're done.  No flexibility, only a lashing with the whip.  Amazing.    

Monday, January 7, 2013

Blue Collar State of Mind

So one thing that I did want to bring attention to with my new job is my inherent regression into ethnography.  I am working as a delivery boy.  This is of course not commensurate with my place in society - as an educated white man.  When I am out and about as a "white man" of seemingly respectable capacity, I am treated a certain way.  This became incredibly evident to me throughout my involvement with Occupy and the daily awareness of my place of power in the socio-economic system.  In those circles I am constantly reminded of it every day.  This is why it was so eye-opening - and dare I say refreshing - to be treated as just another blue collar worker once I donned my delivery apron and hat.

There are of course two aspects to this.  There is the way random people and the people you are delivering to treat you, and the way you are treated by other workers such as doormen.  No one really wants to be talked down to, or have assumptions made about them that aren't nice, but we all know this is bound to happen though.  The interesting thing for me is that knocking on doors as a delivery person immediately places you in a category that I am not in otherwise given the general demographic makeup of the delivery profession.  For example there was a woman the other day in a penthouse apartment that when I knocked on the door was very deliberately trying to not let me see in her apartment.  She came out and closed the door behind her, overtly showing an apprehension to me and what I might see on quick glimpse in corner penthouse apartment on the 40 something floor.  Now obviously there is a large amount of speculation here as to her motives.  But having been in the situation and reading it, I can only say that this was the way I felt and my interpretation given the visual and verbal cues I received, and coupled with my own place in society and thoughts.  Yet still, I felt that she did not want me to see in her apartment and also an apprehension towards me.  But hey, for all I know she had a cat in there or a naked man!  lol.

Anyway, my point is that if I was someone living in the building, or someone (eg. the person I am when I don't have my delivery hat on) that was not presumptively of lower income, but stereotypically of higher need/propensity to be "casing" the place, would she have acted to skeptically and with such reprehension?  My suspicion - however prejudiced it may be - is no she probably would not have.  Apprehensive of a stranger yes I'm sure, but if I came with a suit on and a handshake, versus an apron and an eye towards a tip, responses would be different.

Regardless though, this incident was not so much my main point as the way I am treated by other workers.  At pretty much every door thus far people have been friendly and good to me, offering both smiles and often enough tips.  But the big thing for me is the acceptance as a worker that I receive.  When I walk around my neighborhood - which is predominantly black - I am a white guy.  To the average person I am just another gentrifier.  I have to open my mouth and hope that my words sell me and allow me entry into "their club".  And my words do around here, hence my relationship with my bar and others.  However, always at first glimpse I am what I look like.

This is the same throughout the rest of my life.  When I walk into a high rise/rent building in midtown Manhattan when I'm not working, I look like I "should" live there (and yes, these people are pre-ju-dice). Door men treat me a certain way with lots of yes sirs.  And when I walk in to a upscale supermarket like where I now work I am treated the same, like just another wealthy enough white shopper.  But the minute I don that delivery apron and name tag, its like I am transformed into just another guy.  A guy that can be joked with, cursed with, and that other workers of similar stature can let their guard down with.

For me this is truly refreshing.  I do not feel comfortable in wealthier settings or with people of means and "proper" decor   I am much happier sitting around talking with people living real lives, with real struggles, that can just let themselves be free of some of those decorum things.  When I went to Binghamton and was sitting at a table of graduate students I had to be "educated", "intelligent", "on".  With "regular" people I can just be me.  I don't have to sell myself, I don't have to exude skill, competence  or confidence.  I can just relax.

The amazing thing about this is that as regular Tim Weldon I have to prove myself and work to get to this level of dialog with people, but as a delivery boy, I seem to innately already be there.  I can talk how I want, am talked to how they want, and talk about whatever any one of us wants.  There is also an inherent understanding and seeming bond through the unspoken struggle with power that is innately understood amongst "workers".  Statements about the people living there, the way they treat people, the way we are treated.  Mechanics, doormen, shop workers, janitors, whatever.  It is an ease of mentality and a welcome place of respite from the rest of the world that somehow thinks that because I am a white man that I should both be a certain way and be treated a certain way.  I like being a delivery boy, it lets me - if even just for a moment - be me with the people most like me.  

Visiting the future

In the last several weeks I have started visiting schools in an effort to assist my chances of getting in to a PhD program.  I have an extensive list of schools I am applying to and the costs of which are absurd.  But I'm all in - I MUST get in to a program - so I'm going to go sell myself to each one.  The dyslexic football player I am does not seem to look as good on paper as I do in person - as Rutgers reaffirmed to me last year.

So I have been to visit UCONN, York, and Binghamton thus far and will visit Boston College and hopefully Northeastern tomorrow, then Stony Brook on Thursday if anyone is around there.  Rutgers is having an open house on the 29th as well that I will go to.  The only schools left really then would be the west coast schools which I am hoping I can get to, or at least UC Santa Cruz and Davis in the first week in February.  Santa Barbara and Hawaii are a bit too far afield for my current means and time schedule so will have to be left to their own accord.

As it is, I am very happy with the meetings thus far.  (You can read more about UCONN here).  I almost feel like I'm back getting recruited for football again.  The schools have all gone out of their way to show me around and put out the red carpet.  After three visits, York in Toronto is head and shoulders above the rest.  It seems like an ideal program for me.  I met with the closest possible supervisor for me and got on well.  I have some reservations about a few methodology/theoretical issues, but with more information these may be completely resolved.  The fact is that she is an activist and scholar along my mold, just further advanced in her study.  I met with the head of the graduate program as well, and the admin person, and they were wonderful.  Not sure if its because they are Canadian or just that they are nice, but they were great.

I also was up there at the behest of one of my best friends who is doing a PhD in their program and that I know from Central European University in Budapest.  We are now working on very similar things, and frankly I may just want to go there to work with him, nevermind the eleven other faculty members with similar interests.  The program there is shorter - as they value my masters - there is six years of funding, and a flexible core structure that would fit perfectly into my skillset and dyslexic parameters.  Just one method and theory requirement of your choice - quite different from UCONN's two Quants and two Quals plus their courses.

Then of course there is Toronto, which at first glimpse left quite a bit to be desired.  But I as coming from Montreal - which was AMAZING, even under two feet of snow and a wind chill of -14 degrees Fahrenheit - so Toronto could just but subjectively leaving things to be desired.  I mean it wasn't bad, it just looked discombobulated and eclectic, like there was no zoning regulations and you could build anything anywhere not matter what it looked like compared to the thing next to it.  But we had good food, and the rents seem cheep.  I would do just fine there.

From there I went to Binghamton, NY.  I was just in and out and met with some grad students (I'd met with one prof in NYC last week).  They have a really good program for me.  It is very flexible, and you get to set much of it up as per your liking.  But there seems to be some difficulty within the faculty.  I mean the program is completely left and the right vantage point for me, but the faculty seems to struggle at times to work together.  The funding is also an issue.  The give three years of funding and it seems to be causing serious problems with students (I'm hearing the same things I hear from New School students).  The funding is supposed to cover through your comprehensive exams, but it doesn't  seem that anyone finishes them in less than four years.  And it also seems that a really "leftist" program as they describe it does not bode well in grant applications.  One person said grant fund organizations and the government just simply don't fund Binghamton projects and the types of projects coming out of there.  It's tough to hear as well, because Binghamton's core courses would be my electives elsewhere.  Basically, global capitalism, how much it sucks, how unequal it is, and then theories on how to critique it, and the problems with social science's methods.  lol.  So needless to say, it is a great program for me.  But my visit left only more questions and maybe even some reservations.

But, all told, I would do really well there.  They basically said that if you are proactive and assertive that you can get the things done you need to and in a timely manner.  No one has ever accused me of not standing up for and pushing for what I want.  I would do fine there, and intellectually rather well.  Better funding would probably be the trump card.  But we shall see.

Off to Boston tomorrow....