~Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Clip-Drunk Love

One nice thing about Scott is that he's fairly good about following directions. So when I looked up the qualifications for food stamps, squealed when I discovered he qualified, printed out the directions to our local DFCS, slapped him on the butt and sent him on his merry way, he was happy to oblige.

He returned home with a debit card that covers roughly 2/3rds of the monthly food budget. Taxes aren't taken out with a food stamp purchase, so he's already saving an additional 8% on the grocery bill. Sunday morning we dug through the couch cushions until I found a dollar in change, and I walked to the corner to get the paper. I spent the next hour clipping coupons.

"You can't use food stamps and coupons," Scott mocked.

"Yes, you absolutely can." I tried to explain, "Manufacturer's redeem the store for the coupon. It's the manufacturer's money, not the government's, and the store will accept anybody's money."

Not believing me, he called DFCS to double check. The lady handling his case laughed at him when he asked if he could also use coupons.

Next I opened the local grocery store ads and matched them up with the coupons.

"You can't use both a sale and a coupon!" Scott protested. "What about that whole 'cannot be combined with any other offer?'"

I rolled my eyes. "Manufacturer's pay the store to accept their coupons. The store isn't losing any money, because the manufacturer will reimburse them," I explained again. "It's the store's decision to have the sale, and they won't be out any more profits than the sale."

This time Scott called his mother, because I can't possible be right. She laughed and confirmed my strategy.

When I told him that the store will even double a 50-cent coupon, he wouldn't believe me until I showed him the store's website stating so.

He played along when we got into my car with my organized list of grocery stores and coupons to use at each store. We filled an entire grocery cart at Kroger, and when the bill came up, it was $90.

"We can't afford that," Scott nervously whispered. "This money has to last all month and this is only like 3 weeks worth of food."

"Just watch," I calmly replied. I handed over my store discount card, and then the stack of coupons. It seemed to take forever for the checkout girl to swipe each scrap of paper, but when she was done, the bill was now $44.

"You're the first person all day to get your coupons right!" she exclaimed.

Scott's eyes bugged out of his head when he saw the total. "We're getting $90 worth of food for half-price?" he asked incredulously.

I smiled. Maybe now he would believe me.

From that moment forward, Scott was a changed man. We now had more food in the house than we ever had, and moreover, it was name-brand food. No more Family Value dented cans. When he finished stuffing the cabinets, he stepped back to admire his organizational skills. Then he pulled out the remaining coupons from the trash. "Why did you throw these out? We need these!" he shouted.

"That's stuff we don't buy!" I protested.

"What? You've go to be kidding me! This is a coupon for 25 cents off of Trix yogurt. We could have Trix yogurt!" he hollered in excitement.

"We're not six! And I've never seen you eat yogurt!" I cried.

The boy is drunk off coupons.

~Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Yeah, I'm okay. I'm still here

The rumor of layoffs had been circulating for about a month. I'd get a phone call from my friend in IT and he'd whisper any new information in hushed tones. We exchanged anything we knew about secret meetings in which all the managers suspiciously had the same time blocked off their Outlook calendars. More than once, he called to tell me it was happening tomorrow, when in reality it never did.

But the last time he called, I had the feeling. This was it.

At 7 a.m. the next morning, I sat at my desk reading the morning news and any e-mail. A new e-mail from Mike popped on my screen, with a link to MSN Money. It detailed the company's third quarter outcome and announced plans to lay off 20% of the staff. I was stunned that I had to read it off the Internet before my manager said anything to us personally.

Within the hour the sheriff's department showed up. They guarded the exits and paced the hallways. The communication between Mike and me ceased. We were too busy focusing on ourselves and most likely just sitting in fear. I looked at my calendar, searching for signs that they planned to keep me. I had a training in the morning, but no meetings scheduled after that. I had no meetings scheduled for the rest of the week, nor the rest of the month. As if fate heard me sigh, at that moment I received a meeting request for that afternoon. I sighed again, this time with relief, and accepted it. Then I looked over the other members in the meeting and saw that it was my boss, my boss's boss, and my boss's boss's boss. My imagination told me it was the meeting where they would let me go. I frowned and sank in my swivel chair.

My boss came to get me for the training we had scheduled, as we walked to his car I knew I couldn't keep my anxiety in anymore. "Am I being fired?!" I blurted.

"No, you're safe," he laughed. "Unless I'm being misled, most of our department is safe. He listed off the particular people, and I noticed he didn't include everyone, but I kept that thought to myself. He started the car and pulled down the road, past IT's building.

Finally at ease and relaxed for the first time in weeks, I opened up, "Well it's pretty scary that they bring the police in to fire people."

"Yeah, they like to be official about this kind of stuff," he explained. This wasn't his first mass layoff experience at the company. "They go through the buildings and finish up by lunch. After lunch we'll have a departmental meeting where they announce who was let go and how we'll proceed."

I chewed on my lip and thought of the press release from the Internet. It said that the most of the employees being let go were people who didn't interact with the customers. I don't interact with any customers, neither does Mike in IT. Although I knew I was safe, I was still worried for him.

After the hour-long training, my boss and I exited the main building. It just happened to be raining that day, harder than it had in months. I zipped up my raincoat and pulled the hoodie strings tight. It was such a miserable day. Ahead of me, an older woman was walking through the parking lot with a single cardboard box. I didn't think anything of it until I saw the collage of her gray tabby poking out the opened top. There must have been six different pictures of her cat in various impromptu moments. I studied the woman's face: it was stone cold with red-rimmed eyes. I swatted my boss with my training materials.

"Oh, I didn't even notice," he whispered.

I buckled the seat belt in his car, and then turned around to inspect the front door. Three more people followed out, rolling their oversized briefcases behind them. "We're so far away from everyone else, I bet they're going to do our building last," I supposed.

"No," he corrected. "They're already done with our building."

I came back to my desk with the news that our small team of five was one person lighter. 20% lighter. Our department of 40 was 6 people lighter in total. I was told we were lucky to lose so few people. Entire operations shut down in other states. It was 10:30 a.m. and the local newspaper already picked up on the layoffs and covered it on their home page.

Mike sent me an e-mail titled "MY TEAM IS SAFE," but it detailed how he witnessed groups of 15 and 20 going into conference rooms and afterwards only 2-3 people would go back to their desks. I picked up the phone and called him, "How are they doing this, like American Idol? If I read your name, take a step forward. The rest of you can go."

"I don't know, but I nearly had a heart attack when one of the head boss's secretary came over with a clipboard and declared, "You're not supposed to be here anymore! Apparently we're moving cubicles, but the way she said it, I thought they lied and were letting us go."

That morning, there was a lot of walking up and down the hallway outside my cubicle. I couldn't decipher if it was people nervously pacing, people rushing to the bathroom to gossip, or people carrying their things to their cars. I was afraid to leave my desk.

We took an early and long lunch. We really didn't have a whole lot to say to each other, but we couldn't stand being in the office anymore. The environment was eerily silent as the remainders reflected on what just happened. I wish they had let us go home early after the uncomfortable afternoon meeting where they read the list of people fired. They should have let us regroup and come in fresh the next morning, but instead we sat at our desks. No one worked as personal calls were made: Yeah, I'm okay. I'm still here. I think the bosses knew we weren't working, but as long as we pretended to, it was good enough for the afternoon.

At home, Scott jumped up and down when he heard I made it through unscathed. Because we're one income family, we couldn't have made it if I had gotten laid off. But I couldn't share his jubilance. Inwardly I was relieved, but I couldn't be happy. It was such a miserable, long, oppressive day that I just wanted it to be over. "I'll be happy tomorrow," I told him, "But for now, I'm going to bed."

~Monday, October 06, 2008

Bad, Good, Ugly

"We found a few benign cells," the doctor tells me over the phone, but before I can breathe a sigh of relief, he quickly finishes, "but not enough to rule it as benign."

"So it's inconclusive again?" I ask, thinking about the inconclusive statistic which means imminent surgery.

"No, not inconclusive, just... not benign."

So, not cancer, but not benign.

In my flow chart of hypothesized outcomes, this wasn't one of them. He then looked over my blood work to see if I was eligible for medication to shrink the tumors. "No," he tsked. "Your levels are high, so any medication would not only be useless to you, but it would also throw your body into hyperthyroidism."

"Hyper? As in rapid weight loss?" I asked.

"Yes, as in eyes bugging out of your head," he corrected.


He gently encouraged me to have the surgery to remove my thyroid and "put this behind [me] and move on with [my] life." When I told him I was not ready to have surgery yet, he then gave me the option of waiting another six months and having a third biopsy to see if there are any changes. I greedily accepted and promised him that if I felt any pain in my neck, or noticed it larger in size, I would have it out immediately.

In other news, I had to have a different biopsy on a very scary part of my body, but that came back all clear with nothing wrong. The relief of a benign biopsy made me giddy.

In other other news, they are laying off 20% of my company tomorrow. The shit keeps a commin'.


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