Imagine your feet in these shoes: Shiny black, size ten-wide, worn-out soles, walking across the carpet of the lobby of an Albany law firm. Your job title for the past two months has been Legal Secretary. Christmas is coming...
And you've just met the boss. He's exiting a boardroom, wearing athletic sweats. You look at him, he looks at you, and you introduce yourself. You express your thanks to be working in a fast-growing firm, your respect for the man who built up the business, and appreciation of the rewarding challenges thrown your way. You extend your hand to shake his...
Now imagine your boss's response is to turn his back on you after asking you:
"You're not afraid of guns are you? A lot of us carry guns around here."
In this weeks' edition of Soundpolitic Sundays, I'm telling this story for the last time as my excuse for missing last two weeks. The rest of the story and its moral lies below the fold...
(Cross-posted on the front page of The Albany Project and to the diaries section of DailyKos)
But first, in the interest of suspense and explanation, I'll clue you in as to why I'm choosing to write this confessional heap. A fellow front-pager on The Albany Project, Dan Jacoby, recently published a front-page post regarding anonymity on the blogs. While the issue certainly is not new to our sphere, the thread of comments revealed it has yet to turn stale.
Never one to keep my mouth shut (this is a key point) I added my voice to the discussion. In my mid-thread comment, I made note of how I make my Christian name known on the blogs. This included a vignette on how I’ve outed anonymous bloggers on principle, what those principles were, and alluded to instances in my offline life where the decision to not remain anonymous while making my views clear resulted in exactly the kind of repercussions that usually serve as the incentive for anonymity.
Well, I'd gotten Dan's attention. He inquired via personal e-mail as two what my story was to get down to the real action. By the end of my reply, I'd resolved to make this personally painful subject the theme of my return to writing this Sunday column on TAP, DailyKos, and my Blogspot page. Truth be told, this blogging business may just be keeping my wrists together. I haven’t been at it in a week thanks to difficulty getting to a computer with an internet connection (I have neither at home) and because, sometimes, after being out of work so long, you tend to get pretty down in the dumps.
Make that ugly down in the dumps...
See, being in your mid-twenties and out of work for well over a year in America, circa the first turn of the decade this millennium, is about as down in the dumps a millenial can get. Recent reports show that my age group is nearly fifty percent unemployed. The news media has tended to frame this recession in terms of the housing crisis for Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers as well as the squandering of retirement savings of the latter and the Greatest Generation.
Personal experience has me thinking that my generation is now experiencing a nightmarish rude awakening from the American Dream. Here we are, at the age where we should be getting started in the career for which we've just studied hard (and borrowed heavily), when we should be moving out and perhaps establishing a young family of our own. This economy has left us behind, condemning us to the proverbial parents' basement.
With the economy being nothing more than the collective actions of the American people, this represents a vast misconception and epic failure on the part of those economic actors most responsible for running this economy. This cuts to the heart of why so many Americans choose to remain practically anonymous and silent. In such harsh economic times, nobody wants to be called out for anything. In other words, nobody wants to give The Boss any excuse, warranted or otherwise, for cutting off the life support.
Now I come to it. This is the hard part: reliving the times where I have lost my job for either speaking up or, in the most recent case, simply looking the part of somebody who's political opinions may be disagreeable with the holy employer.
The first time it happened, though, it was a boon to my existence. You might say that the fact I got into blogging in the first place had a lot to do with the following
After dropping out of SUNY Oswego in 2003 as a pipe dream, junior music major, I bounced around a couple of dead end jobs before being hired by a former elementary English teacher of mine. God bless her, she was one of the best employers I ever had. But God damn if she didn't surprise me when she turned out to be as conservative as the bastard child stuck in a custody battle with sire Limbaugh and step-dad Savage.
And fuck her for not responding to an outrageous situation the way a truly good employer should have. See, in the one-square-mile village of Altamont where this little gas station was located, there was an overtly overzealous Police Department. Ever since I was a wee boy, it was known that you must drive 29 miles an hour because if you go a fraction over 30, you are going to get pulled over. And you'd better have your inspection, plates, etcetera in order or you will get a ticket. I always thought it was ridiculous, but never really said anything...
But the customers! They had something to say about this! Day in and day out, the best thing I loved about working as a lowly convenience store clerk was the sort of episodic, extended conversations you strike up with the nicest of customers. A diverse constituency of my most beloved patrons made the Altamont Police Department topic number one. Let me tell you, they ranged from the consistently perturbed to the constantly pissed. I got a feel for whom the cops were blatantly fucking with in a completely out-of-line manner. Not content to just say "Thank you, come again," like a Quickie Mart robot, I would engage in the conversation, see what was bothering them, and console my customers that what was going on just was not right.
See where this is going? One day, only a few months into my service, in walks a rotund, beady-eyed officer. For nearly as long as I have presently been out of work, this pig’s conduct toward me escalated to the point of absurdity. Foul language is something I am not usually frazzled by, but in the context this officer of the law would use it with me while first telling me to "watch out" or to "stop running my mouth" just got to be too much. So, too, did the multitude of times this buzzard would pull me over for the absolutely no reason. He even began to cut me off on the roadways. It got to the point where this guy was seriously threatening to write me speeding tickets while I was behind the cash register, my keys snug in my pants pocket!
One day, he came in and told me I had several tickets waiting for me at the courthouse. How could this be when I had not been stopped in weeks? Eventually I conceded that I'd go in and pay the fines. As soon as I did, the fat ass promptly told me there were no tickets and that he was trying to teach me "a lesson" about "who holds the upper hand" and that I'd better watch out.
Like a good boy, I tried to dissuade this harassment through the proper channels. First, I tried my boss, but she did nothing. Then the Commissioner of Public Safety brushed me off by paraphrasing the culprit. It got worse and worse until one day it came to a head. The cop simply would not leave me alone, I discovered that my co-workers, relatives of the boss, were whispering in the pig's ear to egg him on, and I did the only respectable thing left to do.
I walked out. And my plan of action was to seek a little something called justice. This entailed composing about 1,000 words and submitting it to the local newspaper, the Altamont Enterprise. You should have seen the look on the new Commish's face when they called him to verify my allegations as I went in to file a formal complaint. A quick investigation corroborated my claims and the tub o' lard was suspended. I rather liked the penalty of being forced to take a five-week "human relations" training course more than his two weeks’ suspension.
But the big lesson I learned was taught to me by the people of the village. That is, after the paper published my letter and corresponding headline story, I could not walk through or show my face in the village of Altamont without residents hailing me as a hero. It turns out that somebody had to face up to The Fear of retaliation or even make the sacrifice of one's own livelihood to put a stop to this menace.
By the way, a few months later, somebody else spoke out about this guy...regarding the blowjobs he was getting from underage girls while on patrol. Last I heard, the slug is a security guard at Macy's.
Nothing else in my life has turned me on to the power and necessity of the written word for the defense of freedom and liberty in this great country.
Now that's a warm and fuzzy feeling, but being out work wasn't. I bounced around a couple odd jobs until about 2007. Honestly, I wasn't getting anywhere. So a buddy inspired me to get my ass back into college, get a degree, and get a real job - but not a haircut quite yet. For three semesters I attended Schenectady County Community College. I was sold on the idea of entering the exciting, challenging, and financial rewarding field of law as a paralegal.
My newfound interest in progressive politics might have had something to do with this.. It was then that I first started blogging. I wasn't too active at first, but by the time 2008 rolled around and as it progressed, I got into the thick of a wide-open democracy primary in NY-21. My days were spent studying law and government, getting great grades; my nights were spent sifting through the press releases and news items on a maximum of eight Democratic politicians. I added on to this weekend volunteer efforts for my favored candidate. And once a week, I'd participate in an internship with the New York State Assembly
By mid-year 2008, this hard work was rewarded with an Associates in Applied Sciences in Paralegal Studies from the only upstate community college with an American Bar Association approved program. I had also earned the right to post my little blogs directly to the front page of The Albany Project, the best and biggest progressive blog in the New York 'sphere.
Guess which one I'm most proud of nowadays?
After a less-than-satisfying temporary assignment right out of school, I decided that perhaps I might be able to turn some heads with this blogging thing. I also wanted to talk to ask many Albany County voters as possible about another primary going on, this one for our coterminous 46th State Senate District for a fellow Helderberg resident named David Weiss. In August and September of 2008, I knocked on thousands of doors and wrote thousands more words about this race and the Congressional one. I loved every second of it, not even looking for work. It was my post-collegiate trip to Europe in my own backyard.
After both my candidates lost the September primary, I figured the holiday was over. I was going to take my long hair and goatee, dress it up in a suit, and get myself a salary and benefits. Thanks to some great references from some respected local politicos I'd impressed with the blogging and studying, I went two for two in my second paralegal interview and was hired at a firm that you should never, ever, under any circumstances, hire out as your attorneys. Here's their nice little commercial:
Him. That's the guy in the introduction. Matt Tully. In his office lobby, there’s a picture of him in full military garb arm and arm with former Vice President Dick Cheney. I wish I could find it online. It’s easily worth the two thousand words I've spent getting up to this point. And it's the one I should have looked at and said, "On second thought..." and declined the job offer.
But I was eager to work, and I got right down to it. I worked in the Employment Law division, assisting three attorneys as legal secretary. Honestly, the best part of the job was the rest of the support staff. These young ladies were on the top of their game, hard-working, incredibly good-natured, and if left out the fact that they were all beautiful I wouldn't be doing them the justice they deserve.
That's because only one or two of them are still left at the firm today. Oh, and my entire department resigned about a year after I was fired. Go figure…
I had a fantastic first couple of months. I was getting things done, wasn't getting any complaints that wouldn't be expected of a green legal secretary. I was staying late and learning the ropes, filing suits and coordinating service of process. In all due course, I was feeling on top of the world and envisioning myself saving up and moving out.
This whole time, Mr. Lawyer for Life was away for an extended vacation. Space camp. The "You're not afraid of guns, are you?" incident happened to me the same day he returned.
We now pick up where we started. After that, everything changed. Suddenly I was being called into the office to defend completely unfounded allegations of professional misconduct, nothing the attorneys I was directly responsible for had brought to my attention. After defending myself successfully in letter format, I was called back into the office to face the beast. He told me I'd been on his shit list for a while, his exact words, even though he'd been back for about a week. Behind me were two flat-screen TVs, both tuned to Fox News. He simply refused to explain why I was on his "shit list" and moved me to a different department...where nobody told me anything about what was going on half of the time. Within days, I began to feel like I was done for no matter what I did, was being called into the office for minor infractions that would have been let slide for any other employee. He has an infomercial on the local right-wing big media radio, and I even began to hear him talk about firing all sorts of people, naming my position specifically!
What he had done is put The Fear in me. That "afraid of guns" line says everything. These conservative hot shots work that way. It's how they build their corporate empires for their own selfish gain and how they toss away the unworthy liberals they sometimes hire for their egotistical power trip. And Matt Tully is the worst of the worst of this parasitic species.
It all came crashing down on January 28, 2009. I left for work an hour and a half early because we knew a massive blizzard was coming. I lived several miles farther out from the office than 90% of my colleagues. I had told them the night before that if conditions were exceptionally dangerous (and they certainly were) that I'd still come in to work but might be slightly delayed. I was, in fact, fifteen minutes late. Co-workers who lived a stone's throw from the office had yet to show up; I beat out half the staff from twice the distance...
...and what do I get in my inbox but a so-called verbal warning that my job is in jeopardy because of this.
I snapped. I recalled the way I'd shown that damn Altamont cop what for with my frank writing. In about twenty minutes, I brewed a gallon of vinegar for Mr. Tully and sent it off to him and my other superiors. I told them that I believed the man was going to continue making work hell for me, that he just plain didn't like me because of my perceived opposing political views. So if they were going to fire me for no damn good reason, I'd give them a reason with the proudest fuck-you act of workplace insubordination I'd ever managed. I still feel its some of my best work and it's too bad New Yorkers have no right to request their personnel files.
So that's why I was fired. "Insubordination" and "insulting lack of professionalism." When I got home, I snapped again. Here I was, not two months removed from taking all these exceptional steps to turn my life around from a going-nowhere-fast hippy musician to a rising-star professional, only to once again be shot down for no good damned reason by an ultra right-wing power figure who decided, arbitrarily, capriciously, and maliciously that they just didn't like me.
And this was supposed to be the United States of America. Where hard work pays off and opportunity is available for all, regardless of how you look and with protections against what you say or might say.
Not if the conservatives have anything to say about it. As I said, my generation is still the hardest hit in this recession. Add to that these two facts: that we Millenials are probably the most liberal next generation to experience the gift of life...and that research shows that when a man loses his job, his civic participation drops about 75%. I’m an exception; I actually ran a write-in campaign for Town Supervisor last fall because it was, after all, a job opening. I really have applied to everything. In only three weeks of campaigning that served as a nice pick-me-up from being depressed and jobless, I managed to get 8.5% of the vote…
But I'm still fighting that down-and-outness with every click of the alphanumeric keyboard. I’ve also developed a little conspiracy theory. It's not really a theory of any great organized conspiracy, just a little observation that all these experiences have given me about the nature of mankind and the reality of the devastation that conservative wreaks on their fellow citizens and nation as a whole:
The conservatives all wanted to fire as many of us young liberals as possible. It’s retribution for voting for a President with an Unamerican name and skin color and ideology. Why? To ensure that our civic participation went down to the point where their guy (or gal, as it may be) could oust Obama in 2012, no sweat. With a lower voter base and perhaps with some of us Millenial progressives discontented enough to switch sides, it seems to me the perfect way for those fat cats at the top to keep more money for themselves and get a vindictive dig in against their most recent bogeyman's supporters. All of this with no regard for the economy, which needs young workers to establish roots to keep things moving, or their community, which needs a strong economy in order to be a good place to raise families.
If it sounds crazy, then perhaps I've gone crazy. Applying to over a thousand jobs might do that to a young man who was promised that America would work for him...but now, America won't let him work. I've gone not only to law firms but any position that's open, from fast food joints to everything in between. No takers. I have had less than ten interviews in the past 15 months. It's enough to make one start to consider that all one is doing is wasting oxygen and adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. With no hope or end in sight, a body might consider that the only true solution to this problem is to stop breathing...
...but thankfully, I still am. What I'm most thankful for is that I'm no longer going to take it. I am not going to let The Fear destroy my hope. I refuse to let the power-mad conservative authority figures of this world beat me into submission. I object to the idea that we must keep our mouths shut and our faces in accordance with the clean cut capitalist grind. That is the opposite of what this nation was founded on, the antithesis of what is healthy and moral in a free society.
And the way I do that is to write about it and let my name, Colin Abele, be attached to the words I say. After I lost my job, I stopped blogging for nearly a year and I felt already dead as a doornail. When I finally came back by posting the first edition of Soundpolitic Sundays, I felt suddenly more alive. It wasn't brining in any cash, but it was bringing my life meaning. That is why I refuse to remain anonymous, both online and offline, to both kill The Fear and keep my life worth living.
Today, I attended the campaign announcement of a State Senate candidate in Albany County. Tomorrow I will blog about it as part of my continuing coverage.
I also plan to stop by the office of admissions at the State University of New York at Albany to see about getting an undergraduate degree in English and journalism. If I can’t get a proper job, them perhaps it’s time to turn this affinity for writing into one. And perhaps increase my vocabulary while decreasing my word count.
And next week, I hope you tune in for the next edition of Soundpolitic Sundays. Thank you all for reading; this has been the most painful post I've ever written. I promise to be a little more light-hearted next week.
May all beings be free from suffering. And may God, as you understand him, bless the United State of America.