The Good, Bad, Ugly and Undone

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Thursday, April 9, 2020. I’m stuck. My offer letter from the home improvement  arrived yesterday – I’m scheduled to begin the so-called onboarding Monday 10am-1pm but what concerns me, what has me held up in my head (and heart) is the damn offer letter which indicates I’m full-time seasonal temporary, “not to exceed six months” and otherwise “normally scheduled to work at least 39 hours per week.” Um, that is NOT what I signed up for, it wasn’t the conversation I had with the hiring manger – part-time midnight to 5am was what we talked about – although I suspected there was a certain bait-and-switch, slave ship type of bum’s rush into their preferred schedule of seasonal servitude. That, or they just hire you in seasonally full-time and the hours get worked out later. So that now I have to make a decision I wasn’t prepared to make. And on top of that the unemployment windfall seems to have fallen through – the agency “rejected” and “discarded” – whatever that means – my reply to their “late certifying” accusation. What the fuck was I supposed to know about all this Covid craziness? I recall deleting a couple emails from the agency as I assumed they were spam nonsense – in all my days on the dole did I ever get any sense that once your weeks are up they’d deem you eligible for extra hand out. So when I checked the response “I didn’t understand the requirement to certify” or what have you they apparently didn’t want to hear that. Well fuck you, I’m just being honest and given the unusual (I will not stoop to using the term “unprecedented”) circumstances it seems reasonable to just waive the timeliness adjudications just as they’re waiving every other tedious, ticky-tack hoop you always had to jump through to get paid. And then there’s some notice of yet more money coming your way from the agency and an indication I had to reopen my old claim so as to start getting my five weeks-plus money just as I’m supposed to start this damn nuisance of a job. In short, I could apparently make more on unemployment than I could goddamn working. Which is nonsense and enough to make me crazy.

And this is what a handout does to people: it makes them, including me, temporarily insane. My sense of what’s right and wrong and appropriate and intelligent and stupid and irresponsible goes haywire. I’m not looking for yet another fucking career. I just want to pay for the damn audiobook. Yet here I am entangled – wrapped around the axle, as they say – in a rattletrap soapbox derby of legislative wackiness. What to do? Gaming the system isn’t my nature. That is, I can’t rightly dump the new job in favor of accepting the dole. Besides amounting to fraud it’s just weak and wrong. A day ago the agency was going to pay me for five weeks, four of which were before my start date and I feel justified in accepting those weeks because I damn well wasn’t employed. But with the snafu regarding when to certify, the bullshit “fact-finding” the agency required on behalf of my situation, I find myself gypped out of significant cash – compensation as I see it for my authorpreneur work and what would have jumpstarted me towards covering the costs of the audiobook.

Now I’m stuck with a decision between the following frustrating options:

  • Surrender to fate and go dark (neither reading nor writing) for the five weeks or so it would take me at $600/week full-time to earn out the audiobook expenses and then quit (a vaguely unsavory, more than slightly disingenuous but nevertheless economically efficient option).
  • Keeping the full-time, supposedly seasonal work until they lay me off, supposedly within six months and using all the cash towards TC2 editing and book design (meanwhile never reading or writing anything because as history demonstrates I can’t do both).
  • Pestering the hiring manager to recall or otherwise honor our verbal agreement of part-time – permanent or seasonal, days or nights, I don’t give a flying fuck – stocking or whatever they have available. And meanwhile trying my best to keep up my writing and reading and active authorpreneurship.

It’s part of my nature to eschew making myself a nuisance or a special case on the job – somehow I like to think of myself as a reliable, nose-to-the-grindstone, go-getter type that deserves to be well-regarded. However, my lifelong attempt at surrendering to this personal quirk has always rather backfired – I end up immersed in workaday misery, vocationally fraught, frustrated and doomed to either quit or get myself fired while having wasted months or years of energy and opportunity that I ought to have applied to the deliberate practice of my vocation, my right livelihood. All because my right livelihood has yet to become a livelihood. If I had the money, that is, to be a full-time authorpreneur the idea of traditional employment wouldn’t enter my head with a crowbar. But life, as they say, is messy. And the money has to come from somewhere.

So, again, what to do? If nothing else I think I ought to hold to the idea of not making the same mistake twice. Because I fully agree that’s an indication of insanity. Make a different mistake if that’s all that I can manage. I made a different mistake at Blasco, for example. If I must fuck up yet again then how to go about it? My gut tells me to commit to what I want, the way I want it, damn the torpedoes. I know what working full-time does to my body and soul, how it systematically destroys who I am and all that I long for, how it crushes my dreams, wrecks my guts and diminishes me such that I would frankly rather die. Working for the man full-time is a last resort, an animal way of life tied to survival, sex and security that leaves the heart, to say nothing of one’s intellectual aspirations, starved to the point of inevitable psychological and physical disintegration. I’m not trying to overdramatize it, either. I’ve lived it. More than once as the devoted reader may be capable of discerning. I don’t ask for sympathy or even understanding; rather, I merely aspire to be who I am so as to get out of my way and everybody else’s too.

Writing this out, writing my way through the anxiety, allowed me to simply text the hiring manager noting the full-time offer and asking if part-time was still possible. “Absolutely; that position is categorized as full-time so that we CAN schedule up to 40 hours if desired but it is not required.” Having some experience with these seasonal part-time, full-time, otherwise flexible, get-the-bodies-any-way-you-can environments, I get it. And of course I immediately imagined myself getting in there and, immersed in the inevitable rush-rush drive to get the job done, volunteering to work a whole shift. So that I could learn the whole routine of the work, so as to, what? – make a career of the job? This is me, my anxiety over shit like this and my drive to own the process, my learner talent going over the edge and leading my directly into my weakness for embroiling myself in learning shit I don’t even really care about.

Now, having worked this little mental challenge out, this anxiety-attack-driven stuck-ness test, the reader may be wondering why I would embarrass myself by posting this. Write your way through it, yes, but why publicize it? Keep it to yourself. Well, that’s not what the DOP has ever been. And I’m convinced that the day I start super-editing this thing to make myself look good is the day it backfires and no longer serves its purpose. Most of us endure things that others would find silly and vice versa. It’s part of life to fret. It sucks. But you can just continue to fret and endure unpleasant, vocationally tangent, self-created miseries, like I have for a lot of my life, or do something to change it. Experiment if nothing else, like I said, with making a different mistake. It might so happen that you accidentally get what you want.

The DOP, then, at this point, having transformed into a blog, contains the potential for adding value to somebody else’s life at least by way of example. Perhaps I’m really unusual but I doubt it. My experience rather tells me that most of us suffer similar anxieties that can be assuaged if not cured by way of benefitting from somebody else’s similar experience. How did they get through it? First you have to come clean with your weaknesses, which is a form of shameless self-awareness that some of the folks I’ve come across aren’t at all comfortable with. So be it, analytical style self-work isn’t for everyone. Buddhism, for instance, suggests a billion doors to enlightenment.

Okay, then, I’ve got the new part-time job set for next week, the little stream of brainless cash coming in for as long as I can tolerate it and perhaps, as Angie agrees, it will lead to other things, be it a permanent, part-time day shift position, for example, that would help finance my authorpreneurship long-term. Compromise is inevitable but the trick is to keep it manageable, workable, functional in personal mythological terms. After all, I may tire of the painfully sparse return on my investment, financially and psychologically, so far required by this indie author life I’m experimenting with and having a foothold in something that pays, even just a little, may come in handy. And this way I can discard the idea of getting or not getting additional dole money – who fucking cares as long as I’m moving forward with things? That said, the writing and indie publishing remains paramount and I’m keen to protect that energy, to continue to nurture my talents as a writer and entrepreneur step-by-step, as best I can, until I come up against another vanishing point or, against all odds, actually manage to fucking succeed!

All this in the face of being reminded, on behalf of the vintage DOP entries, of the spectacularly brisk rise, fall and disappearance of the food cart. Humble Hogs in 2011 is dying an unmerciful, unsightly death and I will never fully be capable of forgetting how emotionally devasting it was to flop, publicly, in plain sight, like I did. After the giddy rush of the beginning, the thrilling early victories, being too busy to even appreciate my fifteen minutes of minor fame, came the precipitous fall, death and dismemberment (in mythological terms) of my big dream. So crazily quickly. But there it is, recorded for posterity. So that perhaps it has some value now beyond a record of failure, I don’t know. On the one hand it’s its own worthy story and on the other it’s an all too doomed, dismal and brief adventure to even register as such, let alone hold any appeal for a reader. The boulevard of broken dreams is always in a condition of overcapacity.

DOP1 (2010-11) VINTAGE POST:

September 27,2011. Tuesday. I used to dread Tuesdays like nothing else when I worked at the refinery. It was the weekly “safety” meeting where I had to try to prepare a half-hour’s worth of worthwhile shit that wasn’t a total waste of everybody’s time. So, my being more interested in operations than bullshit H&S, I’d skew it that way. I always thought my meetings were at least serviceable examples of H&S focus while sometimes inspired versions of team-building. I put a lot of myself into them; all I had really. That they took place at 6AM, requiring me to wake up at 4:30AM so that I had enough time to drive to the plant, set up the conference room A/V, move chairs and tables, etc., and otherwise get my shit together. I wanted a comfortable, professional experience for everyone. Despite that, I suspected that most everyone hated them. I probably would have. Who likes anything about weekly meetings, especially about H&S? In the end, they were probably neither good H&S meetings nor good operations meetings, let alone great team-building meetings. So, I was accomplishing neither of my goals while trying to do my very best at the same time. I was giving my all, but my all was hopelessly out-of-context. I gave those employees my very best and I believe they recognized that, but the prepping for and delivering the meetings wore me the fuck out. I was trying to provide some leadership, JCI-style, to counterbalance the southern gospel of BP-style bullshit the BP assholes were always trying to deliver. I was trying desperately to fill the leadership hole that I saw as plaguing the entire account. But who cared?

I’m contemplating how, as bad as things may get going into the kitchen on a Tuesday morning – maybe I’ll be running behind, or the weather will suck or I’m not confident in the food or I think I’m fucking nuts to be doing this – it’s not one tenth as bad of a feeling as I’d have every Monday night and Tuesday morning at that shit-ass refinery. Yeah, I was making some decent money, but I was paying too heavy of a price for it. I paid with my health, my sense of self and my marriage. I almost paid with my life. But here’s to all the guys – I was thinking about some of them this morning for some reason. Harrington, Big Country, Roy, Javier, Paul, Darrel, I’ve forgotten so many of the names. But those were good guys, who understood intuitively that I didn’t belong there yet treated me with respect, dignity, compassion and friendship anyway. I don’t regret any of those times with those guys. In fact, if it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I’d have lasted as long as I did.

Are we here to learn life lessons, for some life yet to come? Or are we here just to be here, and maybe be happy? Things are as they should be – Eastern spirituality – or everything’s fucked up and needs to be fixed – Occidental or Western spirituality. Either way, I sure get tired of myself. I make things so fucking difficult. I’m trying to learn to enjoy work. I’m trying to find a vocation and not just a job. Right now, it doesn’t seem to be working so well. Yes, I’m not as miserable in the food service biz, but it doesn’t make a buck and making a buck is part of right livelihood, part of a vocation. Otherwise what you have is a hobby. Or a job that doesn’t pay. Maybe I’m saying that a vocation has to be sustainable. I don’t mean survivable – it doesn’t take a whole lot of money to survive – I’m talking about sustaining a way of life worth living and tending towards thriving. I want to be neck deep in super-thriving – I want so much thriving that I have extra to give away. I have to believe and hope that it’s just around the corner….

September 27, 2011. Bogey tapped. Splash verified. I win. My question appears at the end of this “string” and it essentially ends the conversation with the young EIAO person who has been stonewalling my Grant of Inspection. I say stonewalling only because he seemed to get such pleasure in shutting down the issuing of my conditional Grant during the last USDA visit. It may be that this guy is just too young and inexperienced to deal with this and that’s okay perhaps but in these circumstances leadership needs to step in and fix it and my titties have been in a knot lately because I’m having to fix it – same old story. So I think I did. This division of USDA makes policy and what they say goes. So this kid is fucked with his continued, bull-headed request for analytical for my post-lethality ingredients. I’ve apparently, per this new information, been giving him more than he needs ALREADY. I’m going to agree that I needed a smack to get in line with the seriousness and reality of salmonella in spice and veg, but risk minimization is what this is all about, not risk elimination. I think this is what sent me spiralling into such a funk since getting postponed for my Grant: it’s the same thing I always ran into at my corporate EH&S jobs – nobody I worked for or with ever seemed to grasp RISK MANAGEMENT versus risk elimination. You can’t eliminate risk. Either on the job, or regarding the losing of your job. Assholes all who fucked with me on this stuff. So this kid, sorry buddy, but I’ve been around the block more than twice on this shit and I even contacted legal counsel and was prepared to engage it to break this wall down. I got so sick and fucking tired of dumb-fucks at work ASSuming their fucking job was to act as a roadblock to any and all progress. Idiots. Stupid fucking mind-numbingly dumb and cowardly blockheads. IT’S ABOUT GETTING THINGS DONE, WHILE MINIMIZING RISK TO PEOPLE AND THE ENVIRONMENT. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOUR FUCKING PUNY LITTLE NOTHING-ASS PATHETIC JOB OR CAREER YOU FUCKING COWARDS! STOP TRYING TO PROTECT YOUR FUCKING LITTLE TINY POSITION IN LIFE AND WAKE. THE. FUCK. UP!

Whew, that felt fucking great. It also feels great to put the ball through the uprights and get this game going again. If this EIAO punk thinks he’s gonna fight THIS, then I’m driving to Omaha (where they make the policy and deal with appeals) tomorrow:

Subject
Ingredients added post-lethality to RTE headcheese (ref. Steve Butler)
 
 Discussion Thread
 Response Via Email (PDD Staff Officer)09/27/2011 03:15 PM
Keith,

Thank you for submitting your HACCP situation and request for assistance through ask FSIS. In response to your question regarding the scenario you have described, and based on our phone conversation this morning, there are several issues that need to be addressed.

1) First, there are no regulatory requirements for an establishment to acquire a letter of guaranty (LOG) for spices or dry ingredients. While it is a good idea to obtain a LOG as a mechanism to ensure food safety regarding the use of that ingredient, it is not required by regulation. There is however, concern when ingredients such as yours is used on a ready-to-eat (RTE) product that has already been subjected to a lethality process and the additional ingredients are then added to the surface of that product, prior to packaging.

2) In regards to the EIAO requesting analytical data for each lot of product, there is no regulatory requirement that a Certificate of Analysis (COA) be received for any ingredient (meat or non-meat) received by an FSIS inspected establishment. The EIAO’s request is not supported by any regulation and you may wish to discuss this issue with the Frontline Supervisor or District Office.

3) The last sentence in Section II, C, of FSIS Notice 1-11 states “Establishments that produce meat or poultry products that are exposed to the environment after processing or to which ingredients or spices are added after the lethality step need to ensure that all possible hazards have been eliminated.” The key words here are “need to ensure”. It is up to the establishment to evaluate their operation in accordance with 9 CFR 417.2(a) and make decisions about whether or not there are food safety hazards associated with what your are doing. If you can support that there is no food safety hazard (e.g., based on the information you have gathered so far) associated with the exposure of the cooked product to the fresh lemon juice, fresh parsley, black pepper & salt, then you have met the regulatory requirements of 9 CFR 417.5(a)(1).

4) While PDD can not make “acceptability” determination regarding HACCP support or HACCP operation because our staff has no first hand knowledge of your food safety system (i.e., HACCP plan, SSOP, any prerequisite programs, etc.), based on the information you have provided, it appears that your approach to ensure food safety (i.e., the LOG’s and the written ppm low-chlorine protocol from the FDA, in addition to your voluntarily submission of the parsley & lemon chlorine treated product for analysis), may serve to support your food safety decisions. You may wish to share the information you have obtained with a processing authority so they can evaluate how / what you are doing will affect food safety. In addition, you may wish to contact the International HACCP Alliance (an organization that provides assistance to small and very small meat and poultry establishments) at 1-979-862-3643 for guidance. Or their e-mail URL is: [deleted]

I hope this response has addressed your concerns. Should you have additional questions regarding this issue, or if I have misunderstood your question, feel free to update this incident to provide any information you feel is relevant to the subject and PDD will be glad to provide an updated response.
 Auto-Response09/27/2011 09:23 AM
Your message has been received at the FSIS Policy Development Division (PDD) and will be assigned to a staff specialist for response.

Our goal is to provide an accurate response as quickly as possible—in most instances, this will be within two working days. Some questions, however, require extensive research and will take longer to answer. If you would like to know the status of your question, you can telephone PDD for additional discussion at 1-800-233-3935 between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. CT, Monday through Friday. Please refer to the incident reference number below when calling for clarification.

Thank you for contacting the FSIS Policy Development Division.
 Customer By Web Form (Keith Ewing)09/27/2011 09:23 AM
I produce RTE headcheese by cooking pig heads, spice, herbs, and vegetable, then separating cooked pork from skulls and adding fresh lemon juice, fresh parsley, black pepper (I crush whole peppercorn) & salt post-lethality. For pepper, I have “letters of guaranty” from supplier (ACH) specifying EtO or steam treatment with lot sampling plan and FDA compliance. For salt, I have a “letter of guaranty” specifying compliance with Food Chemicals Codex & 23CFR Part 110 Good Manufacturing Practices & sampling plan from supplier (Cargill). For parsley + lemon, I have copy of “food warehouse” license, State of Michigan Dept. of Agriculture and a copy of recent Food Safety HACCP Audit. EIAO is requesting analytical for each lot of product I receive (pepper, salt, parsley, lemon) and uses USDA-FSIS Notice 01-11 as reference – I am unable to obtain this info from vendors. For parsley & lemons, I am suggesting low ppm chlorine pre-wash (50-200ppm) followed by potable water rinse and initial sampling for salmonella (in addtion to established Lm program sampling). The low-ppm chlorine pre-wash is supported by FDA “Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.” Despite my support documentation, pre-wash, voluntary sampling suggestion and Notice 01-11 reference to “other forms of documentation” in section III-B, EIAO continues to request COA or other analysis data from vendors. I am unable to obtain this analytical information. I believe my procedures to minimize microbial contamination risk are sufficiently documented within my HACCP and supported in my production process as described. My reserved estblishment number is 989. Please advise on how to move forward, thank you.
USDA-FSIS communication

So, yeah, I’m right as rain. ‘Told ya punk. You fucking lose, I fucking win, now get the FUCK out of my way. I’m hot about this. Obviously. It’s really fucking brought me down having to deal with this shit again from some know-nothing punk when it means the difference between me driving my biz forward and me having to get a fucking fucked-up job like the one this EIAO punk has. I need to cool down and quit mouthing off I know, but just the feeling of pressure relief I’m experiencing and the purge it’s engendering is a significant indicator that I’ve learned a lot from this. So thanks punk. It’s showed me that I’m not into schmucking sandwiches, like I said earlier, which anybody can do. I’m into the creation and marketing of something artisanal. I’m also into using my intellect and drive to create, build, change and influence destiny – to solve problems and overcome biophycomythological schism. To realize my destiny as I see it. So yes, the food cart scene has done its job and I can enjoy the end of it now and ride it out for what it’s worth and for what it’s done for me. HH rides on. HH rocks on. These are my true skills. This is what I do. So let’s take this challenge and ride it into something that pays and I’m talking multiple streams of income, not just the headcheese. I need to get paid to do work that keeps me engaged with this type of challenging stuff and I believe I can do all of this:

Craft artisanal headcheese and sell it at a reasonable profit to folks who love the experience. Engage all my strengths, viz. input, strategic, futuristic, learner, intellection. Cook, Write, Trek, Phycomythologize, Audiophile and maybe, (though this one is probably the most squirrely right now): “Gastrofarm.”

I can and will do all these things and also not be a financial deadbeat. I’m not on this earth to live off my wife. But I have things to do, miles to go so to say. HH can take me there. To others, it might look dead. This is referencing some quote I think I read in one of Ari’s essays; from one of his anarchists. That an idea or vision can, in some point in history, when the timing isn’t right, the moon’s in the wrong phase, whatever, “appear dead.” As if it’s time never came and the idea is worthless and should be tossed on the dustbin of bad ideas, wrong thinking or worthless concepts, whatever. It’s at these times, that I know you can lose the support of everyone who knows you, even your wife or brother or mother and father. Let alone the rest of humanity. But if your heart is still talking to you, pushing you, and giving you the spinning nut, the twisting nadi, the feeling in your gut, and if the world hasn’t yet completely crushed you; if you’re still alive, then keep the idea alive any way you can. You may have to go underground. You may have to lose things you love. You may test the people who love you to their breaking point. Regardless, it must be done. Your myth must be lived out. You must engage your heart, no matter how long and often the world’s machinations appear to be working against you, or ignoring you. I’m not talking about failure experiences that are justified because you had your biophycomythology fucked up – you can mis-communicate with your heart and indeed betray it like we’ve talked about. But if you take the time and do the work to really listen and then look to the results in your world to verify your progress, being as honest as you can be, (and this often takes patience and time believe me – the kind which you often don’t think you have or can afford) – you can make progress towards your dreams and purpose. Sometimes it’s slo fucking slow it hurts. Take a step, listen. Yes, that’s what I’m doing. Step by fucking painfully slow step forward. That there is so often no directly applicable reference, no example for what you’re trying to do, what you’re dreaming to do, can wash away your momentum. But for now, I can breathe again.