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Category Archives: In the Hunt – Work

The Near-Juror

The Near-Juror

I’m not an anarchist, but I’m damn near. My problems with the idea of overly large and restrictive governments and unregulated corporations (which I consider nothing but governments with money) started with the law when Bush Junior made a national fiasco out of arresting a group of my friends and then turning them into case point A for why Iraq needed FREEDOM! I’m not sure if we can safely say that the legal system in the United States itself is a given. What IS a given is the fact that everyone thinks it’s totally fucked up. The precise WAY in which it’s fucked up depends entirely on who you ask, but it’s a given mess. The strange thing is that for all the complaining people like to do about it, no one seems to want to have any part of trying to clean it all up. I’m not going to haughtily declare myself above the knaves right now and go around shaming everyone. I am, in fact, not that much different. After returning from my holiday visit to my family in California, I wasn’t exactly enthused when I saw a jury summons from the district court of Lynnwood sitting on my bed.

My first thought was the same as everyone else’s when they get summoned for jury duty: Whoever’s on trial, I will see them fucking hang!!! My second thought was also the same as everyone else’s: What excuse to get out of this gives me the perfect balance between plausibility and inarguability? Finally, the rational part of my brain managed to break through. It reminded me of something: If anything, I was getting a chance to be an insider in this system I was always griping about. If I wasn’t able to get out of it, why not embrace the opportunity as a chance to keep a wrong from possibly happening?

And I did want to get out of it. Missing two days of work was going to force me to delay a trip overseas I’ve been dying to make as it was, and if that wasn’t enough, I had also just started looking for a new place to live. (The circumstances surrounding this situation were very unique, and will probably show up here sooner or later.) Yes, the courts promise compensation for jurors, but that compensation is rightfully regarded as a joke. It’s about $20 a day. In other words, it’s lunch money for whatever nice cafe or teriyaki joint happens to be across the street. When weighed against my travel plans and the money I was losing, that just wouldn’t do. So I made a couple of cursory calls to the local justice department, only to find out that I had called the wrong number. I was looking for the city court, not the county court, and I had lost the city court’s number. So, having informed my supervisor – who made sure to photocopy my summons – I sucked it up and went in to Lynnwood court.

Going into the court, I first filled out my information. Then I was hauled into the back, where I was placed in a room with about 17 other people. Looking around, I started mentally practicing my Henry Fonda juror speech as I sat there doing nothing else. I think the court wanted to make sure the jury was free of possible outside influence, because there weren’t even any courtesy magazines. Me and all the others waited for what felt like an eternity, and I tried to ebb the flow of self-doubt questions going through my head: Would I be able to do the right thing if I thought everybody else was wrong? Would I tell a few inadvertent lies when questioned in order to make a last ditch effort to get out of it? Id I really want to involve myself in a case for someone I never knew existed, and would never see again?

When it was time to do the movie and television show thing where we all answered whether or not we had the stuff to be a juror, everyone was taken into the courtroom at the same time. The case was explained to us, and the folks who invented this system clearly weren’t idiots; they’re not going to ask us why we think we’d be good jurors, because probably a few too many people regaled them with that handy line about being able to tell if someone is guilty just by looking at them. So what they did was give us the skinny on the situation and ask the entire group questions at the same time. Answers were a few words, tops. The Judge seemed to be a pretty cool guy. He had a sense of humor about his field, explaining that we weren’t jurors just yet. We were merely members of the veneer, and six jurors would be chosen depending on the way we answered the questions they asked. “Leave it to lawyers to invent a fancy French term for a phrase,” he said. The lawyers weren’t quite as endearing, and I got the feeling that one of them was trying to make his entire case right on the spot.

After the little getting-to-know-you/questioning session, we were all placed into the back room again, and I sat there and soaked up the scenery. The most incredible thing was how prevalent the people who wanted to escape were, and how open they were about wanting to get the hell out. During my second visit to Lynnwood court, there was an old guy there who was griping about the fact that he was asked to show up at all. All the times he had been summoned to the court, and he had never been needed before because all the cases he had been summoned for were settled out of court. There was another, slightly younger than me, who was bragging about the subtle missteps he had taken on purpose in order to get everyone to see him as an unfit juror. He didn’t seem satisfied that they would let him off for sure.

We spent between 30 and 45 minutes sitting there, in all our awkwardness, thinking about whether or not we’d be picked to be on the jury. There wasn’t any discussion about who did what, or any discussion of the case at all, although we did take points away from one of the lawyers for trying to make the case for his client right during the selection process. During my second visit, one of the other possible jurors talked about his experience being a juror previously. It hadn’t been so bad, he said. The entire case was settled in maybe and hour and a half. Of course, a short resolution was expected in a small civil court like Lynnwood’s. The first case I was summoned for was a case of reckless driving. The second was driving while intoxicated. The first was civil, the second criminal. But it didn’t change the fact that no one was going to be acting as a so-called peer in a major murder trial.

After being taken back out into the courtroom, the Judge started making his announcements: Six people were called forward and told to take their seats in the jury’s section. I missed out both times. One of the jurors called the second time was a man who said he had been called up once before, and he ended up serving on both juries. I was waiting with some form of anticipation during the second trial, as I thought I gave an answer which would have shooed me right in, but my name was never called, and I was free to head out. That was really the part of the entire adventure that everyone was dreading the most. I didn’t spot or speak to a single person who was interested in being a part of the jury, and most of them took offense to the fact that they had even been required to show up in the first place.

The look on the old man’s face during my second visit to the courtroom was one I’ll never forget. He had gotten called up as a juror, and lord, did he look pissed.



Night Moves

Night Moves

There’s no controlling it. At some point, your zombie switch just flips. Your body wants to sleep, you’re never sure if your brain is asleep or awake, and in general it starts to feel like you’re on some sort of unpleasant drug. Actually, there is a drug involved: Caffeine. You’ve been sucking it down since dinner, and on every break, because it’s closing in on 3 AM – which makes it the seventh hour of a ten-hour shift – and you can’t help but think of that warm, wonderful bed you have back home that you should be in!

Hell, thy name is night shift.

One of the strangest things about working a night shift is how many people you meet who don’t believe they’re talking to someone who works a night shift. Sure, they’ve heard of such a concept, but it seemed so faraway and alien that they quickly disregarded it as the make-believe of JK Rowling or George RR Martin. To meet someone who has to work this mythological concept is the equivalent of receiving an Owl Post acceptance letter from Hogwarts. There’s no possible way this could exist. Night shift! Didn’t those things go extinct when the governor of Peoria passed the work act of 1569 or something like that?

Well, they’re there. And for awhile, I worked on one. It wasn’t something I was looking to specifically do, but my transportation circumstances resulted in my asking for the night shift over the day shift. I’m not sure my body has been able to forgive me just yet. I know every night shift worker acts according to this idea that your body will adjust to working on the night shift, but for me that just didn’t happen. Then again, most of the people who told me about adjusting my body weren’t factoring in the schedule I was working. See, not only was I working a night shift, but that night shift happened to be a 4-10 shift: Ten hours per shift, four nights a week. And when we factor in my commute – which was two and a half hours for one way – I was basically working a 60-hour week which was crammed into four days.

I rode the bus and overshot my stop more than once because I caught myself sleeping. That was the primary issue with me: I was that kind of person who read about how Navy Seals in training go through Hell Week – a week in which trainees get four hours of sleep, total – and thought to myself, “Four hours a week. Must be nice.” My sleep on weeknights was nothing more than a series of extended naps, then travel naps while riding the bus back and forth. At one point, I took to buying coffee for the bus ride home to be awake enough to not overshoot my stop, but that never kept me from falling asleep. Once, I spilled coffee on myself because I could’t stay awake and keep my hand upright long enough to make the trip back home.

Being up and at ’em all night has a weird effect: It doesn’t seem to stop or alter the onset of night aches. The only difference between night shift and bed in this regard is that night shifters get some extra pain in their feet because they have to spend the night running around in a frozen warehouse. (Well, I did. That’s where I was working.) By the time I was let out of my shift, I usually felt like I was one of the damned, doomed to walk for all eternity.

My days went like this: While your own lazy ass is just rolling out of bed in the early AM – I mean about 8:30 here, just so there’s no confusion – I was unlocking the front door of my sublet from the outside. See, it was at that time that I was just getting back home from a hard night in the pits. So I would walk in, maybe head upstairs to the kitchen for a ludicrously light breakfast, shower, and be in bed between 9 and 9:30 AM. Up again somewhere between 12:30 and 1:30 PM for a quick workout, then two or three hours of free time before heading off to my next shift. Now, I had to leave early because of the way the public transit runs, and factor in a walk of about a half hour to the first bus stop I need. Bus came, I got on, and rode close to another half hour before getting off for a five-to-ten-minute wait for an altogether lesser bus ride to my NEXT bus stop. This one was the biggie: Almost an hour to get to the next county. Get off, wait a few more minutes for, YES! ANOTHER BUS! That one was a short ride to the sport where I got off and walked another three blocks.

At work, I quenched my hunger with a light dinner which was take out-bought more often than I prefer to admit. I didn’t want to get too loaded up because there was still a ten-hour monster in front of me that I didn’t want to tackle with a full stomach. I clocked in and started work. After the first hour and a half, there was a short break so I could get some of the free coffee generously provided by the corporation. Then came three hours of more work, followed by lunch, two and a half more hours and a break, and finally punch out after a three-hour final leg. My feet were throbbing by then, so walking the three blocks back to the bus stop was never exactly comfortable. At the transit center, I would try to grab a coffee and maybe a light breakfast – usually something from Specialty’s, but I made the switch to Blazing Bagels after Specialty’s apparently got tired of never being quite prepared for their opening with an oder I was looking for. The ride home wasn’t quite as trying as the ride in, because there was a more direct route home available. This was my nightly routine for four nights a week.

It’s easy to go crazy trying to keep a routine like that up. This was something I doubt I would have been able to pull in my 20’s, let alone right now. Fortunately, there was always that extra weekend day there to rescue my sanity. The extra sleep alone made me appreciate sleep more than ever before, and three days of doing whatever I wanted may have kept me from the sauce – if, that is, I had had time to get on it.

The great irony of this was that this job wasn’t a bad one, and the corporation is generally in excellent standing with the people who work for it. I was a temp while working there, which is how at least half the people who work permanently for the corporation are hired. I applied for conversion, and all my co-workers and supervisors expected me to be a shoe-in. My only complaint – besides the insane hours – was that I wasn’t included in the task rotation nearly as often as I should have been. And that’s a serious complaint, so when, on my last night, I was told by one of my supervisors that the corporate offices had waffled for so long about conversion that my contract simply ran out, I felt a bit of relief.

You Know What’s Worse than Working?

You Know What’s Worse than Working?

We take employment for granted in this country. We’re apparently under the impression left in our heads by all those Warner Bros. cartoons we watched as kids, that finding work is as easy as walking into the first store with a “hiring” sign, yanking it out of the window, telling the manager “Here I am!” and getting put on the job immediately. Every job has a single applicant, and employers are so desperate for help, they don’t even bother with an interview.

To what little credit I can offer this overly simplistic viewpoint, I have seen – and even worked – jobs which have operated in this very same fashion. Unfortunately, the only jobs that work in such a way are commission-based, door-to-door sales jobs which force you to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, on the hope that the mathematical law of averages swings into your favor. In other words, they’re scam jobs where the returns on your investments are practically nonexistent. Any real job, in which you can make an actual wage and maybe have a few benefits, requires going out and doing the legwork – filling out applications and hoping you get called for an interview, after which you’ll be made to wait a week or two for your potential employer to give you any kind of word. I regularly read job-hunt books, and most of them say the same thing about that scenario – if the employer says he’s got a bunch more interviews, you’re on the backburner; he’s already hired his guy, and he just wants a few people as backups in case the person he hired decides not to show.

I like to believe most people in this country are aware of this, at least on some level. Unfortunately, even then, the Warner Bros. version of the typical job search tends to prevail in the American imagination. Even in the job search books I’ve read, almost every author makes one of two assumptions: Either that the reader is already working and just looking for an improvement, or that a part-time job is growing on a nearby jobby tree to be easily plucked. Since I returned to Buffalo, I’ve been forced to say no to three jobs I was offered that were totally in the bag, offering reasonable pay and benefits, due to distance. Now that I’m a student, such packages don’t come along every day, but I’m still in the hunt for a part-time position because I want to pursue my career schooling full time. I’m having a difficult time finding a proper part-time position which can get me an income and help me pay off my debts.

I find something a little disturbing in the fact that finding a position like this is so difficult. Finding part-time work shouldn’t be hard. There are people, after all, who are able to find long-term employment after being out of the workforce for years. I managed to go to plenty of interviews, but they all ended with the same message: “We’ll call you back no matter what.” In other words, they’ve made their desired hire and I’m never going to hear from them again.

There has to be some kind of trick to getting whatever job you happen to be interviewing for at the moment, and the people I envy the most are the people who have managed to figure that trick out. You know those people: They’re the ones who are able to hop from job to job, staying on whatever job they’re working for two or three months, then quitting, then, when you talk to them, tell you about how they didn’t like this or that store policy or how their manager was a major douche, so they quit their job and found work someplace else literally the very next day. The jobs they’re constantly drifting in and out of aren’t even skill jobs which require training or education, either; they’re regular, ordinary part-time jobs with a wide glut of people competing with each other to get into. I don’t know what’s more amazing about the people who are able to do that; the fact that they’re able to so callously go in and out of work so easily, or the fact that employers, even after presumably looking at their work history and seeing there’s a better-than-even chance they won’t be around for a very long time, still hire them, apparently convinced they’re the magic employers who have found the secret formula to taming the common job players.

Meanwhile, there’s me, and I plan on staying wherever I get hired for at least the next couple of years so I can finish educating myself. I’ll stay on for longer if I find a job in a media industry – which encompasses my old degree – or the health industry, which is what I’m currently pursuing. I work very hard and haven’t been properly fired since 2006. I’m perfectly capable of leaving my nonconformist tendencies at home whenever I’m on the job. I’ve been praised for being friendly and professional nearly everywhere I’ve been, and the ultimate testament to friendliness and professionalism is that I managed to reel in over $7000 while working to solicit donations from people who watch PBS in Buffalo. These were phone solicitations too, which basically meant I was working as a telemarketer to take these donations. I’ve been able to fit in and get along with every co-worker I’ve ever had, so it isn’t like there are any major issues that anyone should be worried about.

I’ve pinpointed interviewing as my trouble spot, and that’s partly because I’ve received so much conflicting advice over how to deal with interviews that, at one point, I tried following all of it. As you can probably imagine, that didn’t work out very well. So I recently ditched around, oh, say, probably 90 percent of the interviewing advice I’ve ever received and started just going strictly by the basics: Keep my personal life out of it, research the company, avoid asking about salary or benefits, things of that nature. Still, I want to be one of those people who can get any job on the planet and hop from one to another with no trouble. I’m not saying I would hop from job to job at the slightest inconvenience. I’m just saying I hate not having an income and am in search of any infallible secrets which could help me attain one. I have a life I really want to get back to living, you know.

Advanced School Life Experience

Advanced School Life Experience

So, apparently I didn’t mess up on my taxes TOO badly. I got one hell of a refund, and I’m going to be using it. I have my college applications filled out, and now I can send them in. The big one in my little paper arsenal is the one to Buffalo State, and I’ve also got one for D’Youville. Buffalo State won’t be a problem. D’Youville, being a private college, is giving me an addendum: I have to write one of those application essays.

You would think this wouldn’t be much of a problem. I’m a writer and hell, this isn’t even my first experience with college essays – ECC had me write up two of the damn things. Nick at 19 was a much different person than Nick at 31, though. Nick at 19 thought he knew everything and had no problem sitting still for two hours vomiting his idiot thoughts by pen, with the absolute certainty that he was providing the argumentative deathblow for everything he believed. Nick at 31 knows he’s a dumbass. If there’s a super-secret Adult Superbook that’s given out at the age of 30 which contains all the secrets of life, he didn’t receive his copy, and so he knows he’s doomed for eternity to keep making everything up as he goes. I’m being dumb enough even trying to get into my choice major. Lord knows, my choice – dietetics – is something I have a huge interest in. It’s invading many aspects of my life, and in doing so, its taken on a kind of pragmatism I wasn’t expecting ten years ago, or even five years ago, when I started thinking seriously about returning to school. With my interest in the working of my innards at an all-time high, I’d be dumb to NOT turn it into a career! Anyway, D’Youville is basically asking me about my life experiences and how they factored into my decision.

The long-perpetuated myth with things like application essays and job interviews is that there are no wrong answers. The day this country quits teaching those ideas and starts telling the truth, it will suddenly become a lot stronger. Essays and interviews aren’t like auditions for actors or musicians. They’re carefully treading through a semantic minefield while not trying to come off as flat and rehearsed. It’s real between-lines reading, and screwing up in the slightest way causes you to lose the entire thing. You better go in knowing full well there are right and wrong answers. Of course, I don’t even have to say that – it’s what’s known as a public secret.

While it’s true that I’m masterful with words, that’s not because I have an ability to make a journey to the local 7-11 sound epic and meaningful. So upon writing an essay like this, I doubt I would be able to fill it with saccharine sappiness veiled in layered metaphor. My life’s journey so far hasn’t been filled with mystery and wonder. I was a churlish, snarling social outcast until my early 20’s, and for those who have never been outcasts, I can tell you that being one makes it very difficult to have profound, life-changing experiences. What I excel in is pissed-off firebranding, and the few online readers I have who actually follow my work all seem to believe the appeal of my style is street-level bluntness. My half-serious joke is that most writers will tell other people that what they do heals the human soul. I prefer to bludgeon it to death. Yeah, it’s harsh, but writing is my way of both venting and making sense of a world which didn’t let me discover it until my teenage years had ended.

And so the big question has arisen: How the hell do I appeal to D’Youville? Do I pile on all the years I spent being a starving artist in Chicago and try to make them sound profound and soul-cleansing? Tell them the absolute, unfiltered truth, which is that I’m just a wannabe writer who get fed up with not being able to make rent? Do I mention that my motivations come in thirds – a third education, another third a chance to go abroad for a few months, and the final third to transfer the hell out of Buffalo? (Call it growing, people.) My counselor gave me her reassurance of my abilities as a writer. A few years ago, when I first applied for the University of Wisconsin (and couldn’t because I didn’t have any money), my good friend Katy – an alumnus who had also worked there in some capacity – said she was curious about what I came up with for an application essay because I have more life experience. Right now, it seems like the best thing I can hope for my D’Youville essay is to not disappoint her.

I just wrote my damned autobiography! Somehow, though, I don’t think my life story as told through a video game prism will get me very far at D’Youville.

Gonna Make a Resolution

Gonna Make a Resolution

Usually I’m not privy to saying very much about my New Year’s Resolutions because so many people don’t take them seriously, and until a few years ago I was one of those people who was doing the mocking. I made a lot of phony resolutions which, to say the least, were kept easily and didn’t require very much work on my own part. If it wasn’t that, I would resolve to do something totally outlandish and absurd which I didn’t stand a chance in hell of accomplishing. When my resolution to quit drinking so much soda at the start of 2010 became an unexpected success, though, I decided to think through the idea from that point out a bit more.

I thought about resolutions this year and came to these, mostly because I don’t see any other good ones. Much of my endeavoring this year is going to the goal of getting me back out of Buffalo, either soon or in due time. I expect it will be the latter, and I’m not sure where I’ll wind up. Chicago would be the ideal, but I can’t say I’m so dead set on it that I’m going to blind myself to opportunities in other places.

Number one is something I’ve been trying to do for a few years. I’ve been wanting to get back into college for some time, but just when I was starting to get off the ground back when I decided I wanted to do it, it would get tangled up in some other thing I wanted to do. Or I wouldn’t be able to afford the application fee. Or, back during my messenger days, my debts would get in the way; I was poor enough as it was when the economy went to hell because my income was entirely commission, and there was no work for me to do. Right now there isn’t much of an excuse for me to not be able to focus on this goal, and I’ve also finally narrowed down something I want to specialize in. I knew I was interested in a medical-based field and gave serious thought to therapy, but then an out-of-nowhere candidate came in and took the top spot: Nutrition. My sudden interest in nutrition was sparked by my body’s apparent inability to stay at the nutrient levels required by blood donors, and I began being more careful about what I eat. (Well, more so.) It also had to do with my next resolution.

After years of doing just enough to stay in the decent shape I’m in, I’ve decided to try to build real muscle. Although I normally eat and act in healthy ways, this is going to require a much greater commitment on my own part. Watching food portions and exercising every day are great starts, but actually going out and – well, dare I actually use this term? – bodybuilding will be putting my body through an ultimate challenge it hasn’t been through before, and certainly my mutation will add an extra dimension to finding a reasonably workable program which can get me off the ground. The ruling logic behind this radical idea is the same logic which caused me to make my pop-quitting resolution back in 2010: I’ve tried to do it on a more gradual basis, and kept blowing it. So I decided that, in an instant, that would be that and I was going to go all the way with it or it wasn’t going to happen at all.

I’m going to finish my book and start trying to submit more writing samples. My book is actually almost finished as it is. As for general writing, I’ve been stuck for far too many occasions, and to a point I’ve been afraid of sending queries because it seems like all the publications I want to send them to use regular staff members to do their writing instead of contributors. Although I’ve tried to get published in the past, I’m kicking myself for not doing this sooner, because what’s the worst that can happen? It isn’t as if I haven’t been rejected from anything before. The only difficult part is finding a unique and interesting topic to write about.

I’ve been wanting to try stand-up, since I’ve been listening to it since I was about six or seven years old. I used to tell stories at slams in Chicago, and a few years ago, with a little encouragement (actually it was more like a challenge) from my friend Dana, I began writing an act. I would like to have the chance to finally try it, and to learn what works and what doesn’t work for me. I’m also going to continue writing for it more. Speaking of writing, I will maybe get a bit more serious about journal-keeping, because there are some thoughts that I just shouldn’t say out loud or on a computer, or really in public at all.

What’s the point of living if you’re not expanding your list of interests, after all? Hell, ten years ago I didn’t know anything about global politics or alcohol, but I learned a bit about those subjects in short order. Ten years ago, I never had never seen a full baseball game, and now baseball is one of the sports whose teams I have genuine emotional attachments to, plus a little internet fame as a baseball book reviewer. Unless it can be proven otherwise, I’m still convinced that we’re here to learn and grow as much as we can. First, though, I have a little stop to make in Chicago!

Adventures in Stadium Cleaning

Adventures in Stadium Cleaning

Someone remind me who’s coming to town for the NFL regular season finale this Sunday? Shit, it’s the goddamn New York Jets. As the Football turns, The Tebow Show, The Best Damn Soap Opera in the AFC East, call them whatever you please. When the Jets collide with the Buffalo Bills, it will cause a commotion across the nation with all the force of one of Buffalo’s…. Well, the way both teams have been playing over the last year, it will be the force of a gentle breeze on one of Buffalo’s warm, sunny summer days. Even though these two teams have a fierce divisional rivalry which stretches back to the days of OJ Simpson and Joe Namath, I’m not getting the sense that fans are throwing themselves into full-on hate mode for this one. After all, the usual story of the AFC East didn’t involve any Hitchcockian twists or surprise endings. The New England Patriots remain the model of division, conference, and league as they use the Bills, Jets, and Miami Dolphins as their personal stepladder.

The Bills started with high hopes, having signed Mario Williams to one of the highest contracts in the history of the league. Last year, they locked up quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as their franchise guy while Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller emerged as one of the most dangerous running tandems in football. The Bills – the only team in the NFL to miss the playoffs every season during the millennium – were looking to break their drought and at least challenge for the division crown. Instead, they earned a comparison to the classic sci-fi show Firefly for failing in spite of having everything necessary to succeed. They failed in a spectacular manner, too; their bleeding defense is poised to set a new team record for points surrendered in a single season. It looks like the only way the Bills won’t give up a new record is if the Jets offense fails, which might actually happen because their quarterback problems have been even worse than Buffalo’s. Then again, the Bills also made the Jets’ starting quarterback, Mark Sanchez, look like Joe Montana in the first game of the season.

Buffalo football fans decided they have better things to do. The game sold 16,000 tickets beneath the capacity of Ralph Wilson Stadium, blacking it out. Why does this matter to me? I’ve spent the season working there, that’s why.

My seasonal vantage point has given me a newfound view of the NFL which contrasts starkly with my view as a fan. As a fan, I always hope for a well-played game with exciting offensive theatrics, thrilling defensive stops, dramatic end zone battles, five or six lead switches, and the league’s best and brightest rising to the clutch. As an employee, my hopes are always for blackouts and blowouts. I want a very undersold game that is out of control at halftime so people start leaving in the third quarter. If it’s late in the season, I only hope for the Bills to win so they placed at the fifth seed or better in the playoffs, which would result in extra money for extra home games. If they fall into the sixth seed or out of the race, I don’t care anymore.

The actual gameday work isn’t so bad. My work during games is to make sure the suites are fully stocked and running. I’m not allowed into the suites themselves, so my work mostly entails the back hall and bathrooms. Through most games, there isn’t a lot to do. Most gamedays are divided into three distinct parts: The first part is before the game, when spectators are trickling into the stadium and finding their seats. There’s very little to do for those couple of hours, so I walk back and forth through my section constantly and periodically check in the bathrooms just to be sure. Occasionally I glance out the doors to see how the bowl is filling up. The second part is the game itself, when I’m kept busy with a steady stream of work. Although I’m able to glance an occasional play or two on the TV screen at the concierge desk (the rich really know how to attend football games), I’m not allowed to watch because watching prevents me from getting the work done. Not that it’s a heartbreaker, though; I consider it an act of mercy on the team’s part, since the Bills have been unwatchable this season. The final act is after the game, which is a short, quick cleanup and garbage removal before I leave.

The real fun starts the next day, when cleanup begins. There is no greater testament to first world country excesses than an NFL football game. As I walk through the many rows of bleachers at Ralph Wilson Stadium, I’m often left to pontificate the finer points of what it must be like to have enough money to buy an eight-dollar plate of nachos and cheese which gets left totally untouched. It seems like a valid question because it’s the kind of thing I’m forced to pick up and throw into an oversized trash bag, no matter how disgusting the weather rendered the original contents. A lot of beer and pop cups contain the remains of chewing tobacco wads. I believed tobacco chewing was something that went out of style when the frontier disappeared, but an NFL game somehow manages to gather every tobacco chewer to the same place every week.

When the trash big enough to be picked up by hand has been liberated from the stands, it’s time to break out the brooms. A separate crew will use leaf blowers to push all the small debris, like confetti and peanut shells, up to the front wall of a section before we sweep it all into bags. After that, we’re finished. The whole process usually runs a few days, and it differs depending on how many people were at the game. At a Thursday night game against the Miami Dolphins, we had all the makings of a bad crowd and a terrible cleaning experience. We picked trash for three days, and at the end of those three days we still weren’t finished hand picking. The following home game was against the Jacksonville Jaguars; this was a case of two very bad teams fighting it out in torrential rain. People didn’t want to sit through the game, and the subsequent cleanup only took two days. The 300 section, which is the highest seating level at the stadium, was so sparsely populated that Sunday that it was picked clean in maybe half an hour on Monday.

Cleanup hours aren’t consistent, and they’re not even fixed until the moment we walk out of the stadium and back to the crew hut to call it a wrap for the day. We were once actually thrown out of the stadium because the Bills wanted to use the real field for practice instead of the fieldhouse. I’ve since then been joking about Bill Belichick offering me ten bucks to tell him about maneuvers the Bills were going over in practice that his secret cameras haven’t picked up on. The work isn’t organized all that well, and it often takes a toll on my back. I did make a couple of new friends in my time at the stadium, but what gets me through the day is constantly thinking a mantra: Never again… Never again… Never again… It’s a sentiment echoed by my friends. On the upside, though, I made more money than I expected, and can afford to take a short return trip to Chicago.

The Lockout: Now More than Just the Bazillionaires

You don’t have to tell any hockey fans that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is a cabana boy straight from the pits of Hell. We figured that out around the time of the first Wayne Gretzky trade, which sent The Great One to the Los Angeles Kings, catapulting the Kings into their first-ever Stanley Cup Final and creating a very large segment of hockey fans in southern California in the process, people who had started out as curious and onlooking sports fans there because word spread from up north about the athletic prowess of a guy named “Wayne” who was being compared to Michael Jordan in a sport called “hockey.” That fan creation was important; it gave Bettman all the proof he needed to try to expand the league into parts of the United States with no connections to hockey culture, in some cases even removing them from their natural homes in Canada.

There’s no point in going down Bettman’s whole list of offenses. All you need to know about the disaster that is the Bettman NHL is that the most agreed-upon culmination from a fan’s perspective would be three. That’s the number of work stoppages the Bettman Error has turned up. Three times, there ceased to be any hockey. The first time was in the 1995 season, which resulted in a 48-game year. The second was the nasty lockout of 2005, when Bettman became the first league commissioner to ever cancel an entire season. We are currently mired in his third, with one of Bettman’s positive contributions – the Winter Classic – now a victim. That may be the most meaningful casualty because the Winter Classic had actually succeeded in growing the sport and creating a base of casual fans, and even stealing some of college football’s vaunted New Year’s Day thunder.

One of the side effects we don’t hear about very often is the fact that this lockout also appears to have created a hiring freeze. This makes sense; why bring a new body aboard when the money to pay them isn’t rolling in? This apparently doesn’t keep the NHL and various teams from taking applicants and giving interviews anyway.

On Mondays, I attend a networking group, trying to promote myself and my newly-created freelancer business. One of the members of the group said she recently went through a series of interviews for a position which is, at the very least, related to the NHL. She got the call, and was told that she’s the front-running candidate and has all but gotten the position. Unfortunately, for her to actually begin work, the NHL has to have a season first.

That set off a round of disgusted noises which circulated throughout the room. Most of us, being natives and longtime residents among one of the most famously devoted fanbases in the league, were already pissed at Gary Bettman and his cronies for allowing the lockout to happen. For Buffalo, the cancellation of the Sabres is close to a personal issue as it stands. Now the lockout had hit too close to home for comfort. We all let that sink in for a few minutes: One of the people in our group wasn’t being allowed to go to work because her official hiring was being delayed, because the NHL is having another lockout season! To lighten up the situation a little bit, we suggested out groupmate make a quick drop into Toronto and beat up Gary Bettman. She’d probably be safe in doing that, too; if she was caught before making it back across the Peace Bridge, I doubt any jury in Canada would ever convict her.

The 1994 strike in MLB was famously called a case of millionaires against billionaires without the fans mattering. No matter how many times our professional leagues try to cram sports economics down our throats, every league and every players’ association has yet to figure out the common fans all see them as pampered rich people. In their own crossfire, I now learned personally that these greedy people are actually destroying the everyday employees of their organizations. If there aren’t any games, there are a lot of people not getting paid. People whose’ salaries don’t permit them the difference between that new theater wing on their mansion or their monthlong cruise down the South American coast. This lockout how now smacked someone I know. At the very least, I can now cross the league off my potential client list.