Friday, July 17, 2009

17 JUL 09: After the Anvil Fell

Who says you have to wait until September for a fair in Columbus? We went to one Thursday on Hamilton Road. But admittedly it was a lot smaller. It had no rides for the children. And instead of funnel cakes, there were miniature Tootsie Rolls for the visitors.

A job fair at the University of Phoenix office has become a summer tradition in Columbus. But that's created some challenges. For one thing, the Rivertown School of Beauty next door had roped-off parking for its customers. For another thing, filling out registration cards outside on a humid day can lead to sweat drops on the card from your nose.

Much as we did two years ago [20 Jul 07], we filled out the registration card to walk inside the University of Phoenix job fair. During the 11:00 a.m. hour, the crowd didn't seem that large. But then, maybe most of the unemployment people in Columbus rushed inside at 9:00 and took all the good jobs.

The promotional announcements promised more than 40 local firms would have job openings and be looking for workers Thursday. That turned out to be misleading. Several tables were taken by colleges - and the only "recruiting" they were doing was to pad the fall semester enrollment.

The number of employers at the University of Phoenix Thursday was down noticeably from two years ago. Clear Channel Radio was missing. So were a few area police departments. And what does it say about the job market when Best Buy has a classroom all to itself?

(By the way: the University of Phoenix called it a "job fair" this year. Two years ago, it was a "career fair." Most people nowadays simply are thankful for the former, and realize there's no guarantee of the latter.)

"What we're looking for right now," one man at a job fair table told me, "is experienced cooks."

"Define experienced," I said.

"Industrial cooks," the man answered. So much for the single guy who follows the Hamburger Helper directions in his kitchen.

We left the University of Phoenix job fair after only about 30 minutes of browsing. The number of options seemed disappointing. Even the businesses holding giveaways didn't offer thrilling prizes. After all, supermarkets sell mesh bags for about a dollar now.

The job fair was disappointing to me for another reason - and this is where today's writing gets challenging. You see, it's time for your blogger to make a confession. I went to the University of Phoenix seeking a job. No, I didn't go "hat in hand" - because my hats wouldn't have looked right with a dress shirt and tie.

Today marks six weeks since I joined the ranks of the unemployed. My long-time employer fired me -- officially and ostensibly for not double-checking an address. And this is NOT like Pizza Hut, where at least you could try to sell the pizza to neighbors....

The steps leading to my dismissal actually go back to late March. I was suspended from my workplace for the way I handled a phone call from an angry member of the public. My supervisor wanted me to write down the complaint and pass it on. But when the woman seems to have a point and part of the complaint is fixable at that moment -- well, the Jimmy Carter peacemaking side of me tends to come out

My supervisor suspended me from work for one day. I accepted that, and actually didn't mind since it allowed extra time for spring cleaning....

....yet when I picked up a carry-out pizza for dinner, this sales slip was a stunning reminder of the day. And it seemed more fitting for my personnel file.

Then came a Wednesday evening in early June. A caller told me of a law enforcement search in progress, and even gave the exact location. A co-worker who went to check confirmed something was happening, and never told me the address was incorrect. It's OK to tell me if I'm wrong - since e-mails from Hurtsboro have done it often.

(I later learned the co-worker neglected to tell me something else. A drug bust suggested by the caller really was a hunt for stolen property -- and officers at the scene told the co-worker they "struck out" in that search. Their strikeout plus my kick-out made it a double play.)

The address of the investigation went public that night - and mere minutes later, people affected were on the phone complaining about it. One call suggested social workers hurried to the location within minutes, and seized custody of children. My own check afterward determined that was false - and the night after that discovery was my best night of sleep in a week.

As I worked on a project the next day, a co-worker made a comment which I feared might be prophetic: "There are few things I like better than a good firing." She did NOT say this about me. But then, she hasn't contacted me since she said that....

At my Thursday night poker game hours later, I explained some of what I knew to another player. I told her I felt like Wile E. Coyote in the cartoons - that I had a feeling an anvil was about to fall on my head, and the only question was how hard it would hit. And there wasn't even time to mail-order an Acme crash helmet.

I was at home the next afternoon when the phone rang. The supervisor from work wanted me to come in as soon as I could. I dropped to my knees to pray about what was coming, then changed clothes for the trip. As I liked to tell the employer during emergencies, I "slipped into something less comfortable."

(As it happened, the phone call that Friday occurred as I browsed around employment web sites. In the race to find a new job, there's no law against jumping the gun.)

I prayed for mercy -- perhaps a one-week suspension this time. But the outcome was the worst, as the supervisor said it was time for us to "part company." Give the supervisor some credit - she couldn't bring herself to use the "F-word." Firing, I mean....

The supervisor ended our final discussion with one last stunning phrase: "Rock Chalk Jayhawk." A mutual interest in Kansas basketball only gets you so far - and in this case, I felt like the team had just been embarrassed in a tournament by Bucknell.

Why have I waited six weeks to tell you this? The reason is money. Unemployment checks could have been at stake - and the appeal clock ran out this week, after the state found in my favor. To quote from the claim examiner's report: "The facts show that you did NOT fail to follow employer's rules, orders or instructions." And besides, I drove to the scene of the search - and it actually was right.

If I wanted to do it, I probably could try to regain my old job. But I don't want to cause difficulty or dissension there, so I'm willing to let it go. And I leave with no real hard feelings, because I spent several years trying to do the best job I could. Of course, Bill Heard probably felt the same way about selling cars....

So I went to the University of Phoenix Thursday looking for more than a blog topic. I was looking for employment, like so many other people are these days. Before you ask - yes, I checked NCR right away. It has no openings posted for humor bloggers.

What does this change in my life mean for you? It means this blog now is more independent than ever - and your donations to the blog are more welcome than ever. I could go into more detail about how you can help. But Google has rules about how much I can mention those recent "ad-ditions" at the top of the page....

Thank you for being patient through this confession time - and now let's check other Thursday news:

+ The Columbus Chamber of Commerce insisted the city is eligible for federal stimulus money, to build the new NCR plant. Vice President Biden told two Ohio lawmakers Columbus would be turned down, if it's taking jobs from another state. Chamber employees need to stop convincing TV viewers, and fly to Washington for some lobbying.

+ Chattahoochee Valley Community College confirmed its nursing program has lost part of its accreditation. The decision came from the "National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission." So?! The American League won the baseball All-Star Game, so what do they know?

+ WXTX "News at Ten" went to the Lee County Jail, where solar panels now are being used to provide electricity. Hmmmm -- have you noticed Alabama Power isn't offering that sort of thing for home air conditioning yet?

+ Instant Message to the Columbus.... uh, er.... well, I think you're the Columbus Times: After seeing the front page of this week's issue, have you changed your name? I know times are tough, but to take the word "Times" out of your masthead is a serious budget-cutting step.

The number of unique visitors to our blog in the first half of 2009 was up 11.1 percent! To advertise to them, offer a story tip, make a PayPal donation or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post your e-mail comment and offer a reply.

BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: 641 (+ 16, 2.6%)

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.

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