Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Goodbye, Louisiana

The first time I visited Louisiana, it was for my sister's wedding in Saint Martinville. I got weird looks for bringing my dog into the church, but whatever.

At the wedding reception, I was asked how I liked Louisiana. I replied that it was a place that was fun to visit, but I would never want to live there. Ironically, if you can call it that, I ended up there not long after in my quest to support my children.

I waited tables at Landry's, got a job at AT&T, bought a house, had the longest relationship of my life...only to nearly lose everything but the house and the kids who I now have full custody of.

I'm going back to Florida now. Make all the jokes you want, but Florida is so much better than Louisiana. I have my first love waiting for me, and we want to spend the rest of our lives together. This isn't a defeat, by any stretch of the imagination. I know some people are rejoicing at my departure. They think they won, but I'm the one getting out of here. Living in Louisiana for 10 years was never in the plans, and now it is time to move back to beaches that are clean and aren't polluted as hell.

I fought a lot of battles, often on the behalf of people who didn't have my back. I've learned that I'll be much better off in a place that doesn't have shitty roads and people who complain about infrastructure, but don't want to pay for it. I'll miss the food, but I've learned how to cook the best stuff.

I'll divulge a lot more about myself once I am safely out of the state where my congressman, Clay Higgins, doesn't hate my guts.

Friday, February 15, 2019

AT&T: Where You Can Be Fired For Using The Internet, But Not For Sexual Harassment or Retaliation

In 2011, after a respite in the restaurant industry from the grind of working for Sprint for almost 5 years, I accepted a job working in AT&T's business department here in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Other than a brief warning for attendance in early 2012, I had an otherwise stellar career going on. By all former reviews by every manager I had worked for, I was a stellar employee who learned all facets of the business side of wireless, working in sales support. I handled multi-million dollar accounts like IBM, Levi Strauss, and JP Morgan Chase. I even helped work on the contract they got to provide numbers for the 2012 Obama reelection campaign phone banks across the country.

In 2013, I was promoted to what is known as AT&T's "resolution team" which is the group you want to talk to if nothing else goes right dealing with the company's multiple errors and incompetent overseas call centers. These are the same centers who were implicated in the 2015 data breach, that AT&T settled for a $25 million fine. Those centers in are still in business, and still processing your transactions and personal data, FYI. If you didn't want to talk to a rep in Makati, we were the group that would take your call.

During my tenure at AT&T, I even found a variation of the same sales fraud that had gone on at Sprint, and worked with our corporate asset protection team to shut the whole thing down. These fraudulent accounts knew how to manipulate our systems, likely with the help of sales managers, to the tune of millions of dollars a month. I got zero recognition for this effort, which was outside the scope of my daily functions. It didn't even get added to my yearly evaluation, but our area manager certainly was happy to take credit for it.

Fast forward to 2016. A manager named Frank, who is gay, had been making subtle passes and invitations to me to come hang out with him and his friends. I turned him down a number of times, politely. I identify as pansexual, but he was slovenly and in no way attractive to me. In fact, I found him utterly repulsive - as well as totally incompetent as a supervisor. I was not the only male employee he made advances towards. Even some fellow employees, as well as a couple of managers, noticed his behavior.

One day in March of 2016, he approached me, pulled down the back of my shirt, and commented on the large tattoo on my back. At that point, I had had enough. I asked my manager, Annette, to report it to her area manager, Denise Thornhill.

I was tired of his unwanted advances, and this incident was the straw that broke the camel's back. Nothing came of it, and the next time our shift changes came around, I suddenly found myself removed from this specialty team that I was on, with the explanation that I was not helpful enough, which was complete nonsense. This cost me nearly $300 a month in extra salary.

I was a top performer on an elite team, and when I asked Denise for an explanation, I was given a different answer which was that they wanted to "give other employees a chance." This was obviously not correct as one employee who had previously been on the team and left, was allowed to return some months after I was removed.

Frank's behavior continued and since I could not get Denise to resolve the issue, I went to her manager, Jason Iwasko. After our discussion, he informed me that she had never informed him of this incident - and she had to call me into her office (with my union rep) to apologize, claiming that she had handled the "issue in house." According to my sources, this was just another case of misconduct he had been involved in, but the company once again refused to terminate him, or his manager who had covered it up.

After all of this happened, I started finding myself the subject of various investigations or alleged violations of call handling policies, but only under certain managers. My home address, work schedule, and everything else were posted on various forums - information that only a manager would have access to. One former employee even went so far as to post false accusations about me on the company's Facebook page.

In September of 2017, I was slapped with the harshest penalty of all, short of being fired, despite having no previous disciplines or even discussions on the matter.

What was my crime? I had the internet up in the background during a couple of calls. Yes, replying to a comment on Reddit or pulling up the weather during Hurricane Harvey while a sales rep had me on hold was considered a most grievous violation of AT&T's COBC (Code of Business Conduct), even though nobody had ever said anything to me in the past about the issue.

I grievanced the discipline through our union, and at the state level. AT&T refused to reduce the level of punishment. However, they did agree to knock 3 months off the one year sentence, which was supposed to expire at the end of June 2018, after being adjusted back from September 2018.

In June, with less than a month to go before I was back in the clear, I was slapped with not one, but two, supposed violations of the COBC policy in one week, which set me up for termination. My "mistake" was standing up for myself, as well as a co-worker (since I was also a union steward) who was being bullied by a manager named Debbra Warren. This employee had been injured in the office parking lot during an ice storm, and had been told to come in to work, despite the weather conditions. Rather than accept responsibility, the company tried to force her to quit and use that against her should she file a lawsuit.

When Denise lost the confidence of her subordinates, I was one of the only people who would dare to speak out, and as far as I know, I was the only one who would go over her head to right the wrongs.

On June 7th, around 430 CST, I was called to a side office, and terminated. The real rub was that it was my own manager, Kathy Vallot, who had been praising my good work to my face, and putting together a case against me at the same time. AT&T's policy for termination normally requires that a supervisor and area manager both sit in on a termination in the AM's office. I know this because I used to be a union steward for the CWA, and I sat in on a number of disciplines, interrogations, and terminations.

I also had my picture placed at the front desk as if I was a threat to the building, a move that has only been done a couple times in the history of the call center.

Coincidentally, at the same time my manager had been building her case against me for her buddy manager Frank Rochel, I had been in touch with corporate HR regarding the retaliation, and the previous instances of sexual harassment - which HR had corroborated. I do have copies of those emails, which I BCC'd my personal email on, knowing that there was a good chance I would need them later on. I may upload those to this blog at some later date if necessary.

My union (CWA) at the local, state, and regional levels haven't been able to get the company to change their minds.

I am now in a position where I will have to probably sell my home and move to another state to find employment. And so it goes...

Friday, June 8, 2018

A Eulogy For Anthony Bourdain

From the time I was 16, into my early 30s, I worked off and on in the restaurant industry. These jobs included an original drive-in joint in Virginia, a Bulgarian 3-star place that attracted political celebrities trying to escape Washington, and a few national casual dining chains.

I loved working in the dish pit. It was fun in college to put my headphones on, listen to Rancid, and skitter back and forth from washing dishes to seating guests.

During this time, I've seen the best, and worst of humanity. In case you're wondering, Waffle House is usually safe to eat at, and if the cook appears to be stoned, chances are good your $5 meal after last call is going to be outstanding.

The service industry isn't for the faint of heart. Like it or not, drug abuse, sexual harassment, and all sorts of awful things go on behind that $25 plate of blackened shrimp Landry's is selling you that was farmed in Indonesia - despite the "Gulf Seafood" tag.

If you can work in the industry and come out with minimal damage, you did great. Most people don't.

I've seen people working off the clock due to management pressure. I've seen chefs violently drunk and high on pills, racism, sexual assault. What Bourdain described in "Kitchen Confidential" was just the tip of the industry iceberg.

Anthony Bourdain was the guy on TV who reminded us that we are more alike than the clickbait media wants you to believe, and that food brings us together. He was the counter to our hyper-partisan political environment, hanging out with Ted Nugent, and President Obama.

Tony came to Louisiana multiple times, and he loved it here. For all of our faults, he loved our cooking and the one remaining Popeye's buffet in the country. He wasn't an elitist chef, he was one of us.

He struggled with addiction and depression, and it finally became too much for him. I'm not going to judge him for his decision to end his life. Until you walk a mile in his kitchen clogs, you have no idea what that business will do to you.

His punk rock sneer and working-class mentality will live on. Tony ignored class systems, he stuck up for the little guy.

I hope he found his peace, and I have nothing but the utmost empathy for his family. I'll miss him more than he could have ever imagined. With his death, a part of me has died as well.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Live Through This And You Won't Look Back

Nearly 7 years ago, I left Florida, the place of my dreams. I moved there because I was in love with sunrises over Sebastian Inlet, catching snook under the lights at nights, and the Orlando nightlife. I was very happy there, and I had no intention of ever leaving, but life decided otherwise.

In 2006, after a series of failed relationships, I met my ex-wife while working at Sprint in Orlando. It was a good job, not one that I was excited about, but it paid the bills. Very quickly, she moved in and promised me that she would be the best thing I would ever have. Within no time at all, thanks to her, I was in two car accidents in three days.

In a fog of pain pills, I agreed to marry her. I never planned on having kids, but she did, and made sure that she was pregnant before I slipped the ring on her finger, even though I didn't know.

It wasn't long before we hit financial issues. Once she realized that she couldn't stay unemployed, she took off and I didn't see my children for nearly a year after they were born. An old Navy girlfriend and I lived together for a couple more years in Florida, but I wasn't happy and decided to set off for greener pastures somewhere else. My job at Sprint had hit a dead end because I blew the whistle on fraud after 4 years of service.

A family member told me they could help me start a new life in San Francisco. I didn't want to leave my kids behind and Florida was where I was happy. Unfortunately, due to the poor job prospects and the threat of Florida's government to throw me in jail for being in arrears on child support, which I was paying, I hopped on a plane to California.

That quickly fell apart. Within two weeks, I was on a bus to Lafayette, Louisiana with just enough money to hit the dollar menu at the various McDonald's the Greyhound bus stopped at.

My luggage was stolen or lost in Houston. The only things I had left was a few t-shirts and some underwear when I was finally rescued by my mother in Lafayette. There was no money, no car, no job - but it was time to start all over again.

For the first few weeks, I had nothing. I picked pecans from the yard to buy some cheap beers from the store that was a mile away. I eventually landed a job back in the restaurant industry that I had hoped to never work in again. When I got my tax return the following spring, I was able to buy an old Honda and started looking for work elsewhere.

I finally found a niche job in the tech industry here and started rebuilding my credit. In 2014, I was in a horrific car accident where I was hit by a drunk driver, and the settlement allowed me to purchase a new vehicle and pay off some old debts. I then moved into an apartment, then purchased my own home. I've eaten some tremendous Cajun food and put on a few pounds, then trolled the ever-loving fuck out of our local bigots on our news channels.

Through all of this, I supported my kids. Not long after I moved here, I went on a blind date to a hockey game, and we've been together ever since. Her son is like my own. When we first got together, he associated my visits with a trip to the local crawfish joint, which is the cutest thing ever in my mind.

I purchased my home in the hopes that someday I would have custody of my children who were still in Florida. Their mother has an ongoing drug problem and had the kids removed from her custody multiple times before. Back in March, DCF finally stepped in again, and eventually released them into my custody on June 20th at the New Orleans airport.

My house is full now. We have three kids, two cats, and a dog who sleeps between us every night. We aren't rich financially, but we are comfortable in a house we own. We can afford the things we need and we have family that cares about us. I work for the local union and fight for worker's rights, writing some satire for The Red Shtick, along with running the website and the progressive Facebook pages I own. On days that I'm not at work, I whip up meals from my imagination and years of restaurant experience for my family - which gives me incredible joy.

All of those years ago, a friend introduced me to this song and said it would help me get through. He said that one day I would live through this, and I would look back one last time. How right he was.

Friday, April 14, 2017

My Five Favorite Cajun Dishes

I know that most of the stuff I have posted over the years has been political in nature. That's not what I originally started out to do, but here we are. Since I have been living in Louisiana for over six years now, I have eaten a ton of Cajun food, and gained about 35 pounds to show for it.

I certainly have my issues with Louisiana. Lousy infrastructure, anti-union politicians and assaults on reproductive rights. However, sometimes you just have to put the politics aside, and sit down for a meal with people you disagree with.

If you haven't been to Louisiana, or if you've just visited New Orleans, there is a lot you're missing in the culinary scene. The northern part of the state has some Cajun-influenced food, but it is more of a Southern food scene that is as much Cajun as Trump is a legitimate president. The southern part of state from Alexandria on down to the Gulf is a region divided by Cajun and Creole styles of food.

There is a difference between Cajun and Creole, even though there are similarities which aren't obvious to Louisiana food novices. New Orleans is predominately Creole, while Lafayette and areas west of the Mississippi are mostly Cajun. Creole is influenced by the Carribean, Africa, France, Spain, Italy and other places. Cajun is predominately...well...Cajun.

New Orleans has seen wave after wave of various influences on the culinary scene over the centuries. Cajun food in the Acadiana region has some Spanish and Native American additions, and it is also divided into "prairie Cajun" versus "swamp Cajun" subsets, as I like to refer to them as. An example of this is gumbo. In areas in the northern region of Acadiana, gumbo is primarly chicken and sausage based. As you go further towards Houma and the Gulf of Mexico, seafood-based gumbo is more common due to the proximity to the ocean.

It took me a little while to learn about these differences, and to choose which styles I liked the most. In case you're wondering, I settled on Creole, due to the fact they use more vegetables in their dishes, something Cajuns seem to be hesitant about.

With that explanation of local foods out of the way, here are my five favorite foods in Louisiana, specifically in Cajun country.

5. Gumbo: Gumbo is not an easy dish to make from scratch, and my years in the restaurant industry didn't prepare me for making the Louisiana version of roux. When I make it myself now, I make my own which requires constant stirring to keep it from burning. Many people here use roux out of a jar, or use vegetable oil and flour to make it, which isn't ideal to me. I use butter or bacon fat instead of oil, and my roux isn't the color of used motor oil either.

I prefer seafood gumbo, but you can make a good sausage and chicken gumbo with andouille sausage, and a rotissere chicken from a deli if you want to cut corners. The best gumbo has shrimp, crab and oysters - and I think mixing sausage with seafood overpowers the delicate taste of the ocean.

4. Boudin: There are many sources for boudin around Louisiana. My favorite comes from Charlie T's in Breaux Bridge, especially if they are served their smoked boudin. Some places load their boudin down with cayenne pepper and liver, which is just nasty in my opinion. On a cold winter morning, a link from your local gas station and a cup of coffee will make your day right.

3. Etouffee: Crawfish etouffee is a Louisana staple. It is a tomato-based sauce usually with crawfish or shrimp, and I prefer mine spicy. I make a roux, add a can of Rotel, as well as some ghost pepper, and a little bit of fish sauce. That's my little Asian flair to the dish, and most people here love that version of it. I also add my favorite Cajun seasoning, Beazell's, which is lower in sodium and has spices other local seasonings do not.

2. Fried pork chops: Pork chops are good, but have you ever eaten one fried and put on a sandwich? I don't eat this very often because of all the fat and cholesterol, but it is magically delicious. Take a pork chop, bread it and fry it, then remove the bone and put it on a sandwich bun with pickles, mustard and tomato slices. Eat one of these at breakfast and you won't be hungry until dinner.

1. Oyster Bar Trash: This is a dish I encountered when I worked at Landry's. It's shrimp and lump crab meat blackened on a grill, then served over rice with lemon butter. I like to add mushrooms, and you can also add scallops if you're feeling fancy.

These are just five of my favorite things to eat down here. There's is also fried alligator and crawfish boils, but you'll just have to come down here to try them for yourself. Bon appetit!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Racism Isn't Just A Southern Thing

The common stereotype of the South involves racism, the KKK, and segregation. It is a well-deserved piece of our history, and racism still exists across the South, including here in Louisiana. In the rural areas surrounding Lafayette, blacks and whites still go to separate churches, and willingly segregate themselves in various social settings.

In a national restaurant chain I once worked for, managers often sent black customers to the back of the restaurant, and were flabbergasted when I pointed that out. They would sometimes assign black servers to those sections, along with white servers they thought they could punish by making them wait on black guests.

That kind of prejudice is common across the South, but it isn't confined solely to the humid Bible Belt. I know that blue state liberals love to pretend the presumed progressive strongholds they live in are above that sort of thing, even though other forms of discrimination exist right in their backyards.

Portland has gentrification that is driving remaining black residents out, to be replaced by hipsters. San Francisco is pricing poor people, especially minorities, out of the area in favor of tech workers which tend to be white. New York has policing that unfairly targets minorities to meet police quotas, and Boston is known for its racism.

Obviously, I am not trying to apologize for racism in the South. My family's history on my mother's side includes people who fought for the Confederacy, slave owners, and even slave traders. The Montgomery family fled to Texas with their slaves when Union forces closed in, and the men enlisted in the Texas divisions to fight for their "states' rights" to own slaves.

Racism in many fashions continues to manifest itself across our country. We saw it with the hatred towards President Obama, and with the election of Donald Trump by voters in places like Ohio and Wisconsin.

Yes, the South is the easy target for accusations of racism, and it is well deserved. But let's not pretend it is a problem solely confined to the South.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Virginian Ends Up In Louisiana

My adult life has been a long, strange trip. I was born in Virginia into a very conservative Catholic family, and ended up in Louisiana where I've been since 2010. Most of my new writing is now on Modern Liberals, but I wanted to put this here on the original blog where all of this began. This is a brief overview of the past decade since I moved to Florida, and then to Louisiana from Florida. It has been an interesting few years, and I'm glad that so many people have supported my writing since I began ranting online to save money on therapy. After getting divorced and wavering on the edge of bankruptcy nearly a decade ago, I've spent that time trying to rebuild everything I lost because of my ex-wife. Right now, I am better off financially than I have ever been, and I'm on the verge of getting full custody of my nine year old twins after years of fighting for them. I thought Louisiana would be a short layover in life. I figured that I could go back to working in restaurants get caught up on my bills, and then I would move on to bigger and better things in another state that wasn't as backwards as Louisiana. Writing started as a way to get out to the world the corruption that went on during my years working at Sprint, and it snowballed from there into politics and taking down political candidates like David Vitter. Obviously, the best-laid plans of mice and men don't always go the way we think they would. It wasn't long after I moved here that I found an unexpected love, and I'm not just talking about hockey or beer. Now we are on the verge of buying a house, combining our families, and I'm considering running for office as a progressive in an area that elected a wanna-be "street cop" to Congress last year. I want to thank everyone who has supported me in a variety of ways ever since I ended up in the last place I expected to be. All of this wouldn't have happened without you. There is no plan to quit political commentary or close any of my Facebook pages. I planned to take a break after the November elections, but Russian interference changed all of that. Maybe one day we will have a government that truly represents us, but until that time comes, I will be in the trenches.