Jim Varagona

Month: December, 2009

Oh Aughts, You Were Something

The past 10 years for me have been bookended by two life changing events on complete opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. My brother, Matt, passed away on February 21, 2000. That was shortly after the high of seeing our St. Louis Rams win the Super Bowl with The Greatest Show On Turf on January 30, 2000. I hit rock bottom after Matt died. It made me experience emotions I didn’t think were possible. I quit school, started chain smoking, and amassed credit card debt that I still have remnants of today.

To make something positive of it and get out of a funk, I thought up and helped organize a dinner/silent auction/rock concert in his memory on March 30, 2001 (video here and here). We raised $19,000 towards research through what is now the Vasculitis Foundation. I consider it my greatest accomplishment aside from my son.

Shortly after, in May of ’01, I met my wife, well, she was just some chick at the time that I lapdanced for, later my wife. She straightened me up, making me quit smoking and go back to school if I wanted to get any closer to her. It worked. I graduated in May of ’05. And I asked her to marry me that night by singing a version of “That’s Amore” accompanied by my friend Dan on accordion surrounded by friends, family, and rose petals. We tied the knot in May of ’06.

Together we had adventures with a shitty landlord and mice. I was laid off from a job in the Italian Retail Service shortly after we were wed. What doesn’t kill you only makes you bitter, or something. We survived though.

I went on to be a traveling baby photographer exposing me to a wide variety of people. My days took me from trailer parks to mansions. At least the jobs I get keep me entertained.

From there I ended up at InkStop, a great opportunity, so I was told. It did pay well and helped us get our first home. We actually moved in days before my son was born. Things were going great, but I saw signs that this employer would go down horribly, and it did. I’ve been unemployed for about 3 months now except for a gig promoting phones for a few weeks. The nice thing is I’ve been able to spend time with my son and he can get to know me more, because I was working a pretty hefty schedule since January.

I’ve had to grow a lot during this decade. Some of that came a lot sooner than I thought it would. You roll with the punches though. This decade has been a learning experience and except for the whole job thing, I feel like I’m heading in the right direction now thanks to my wife, son, family, and friends. I’m hoping the teens go easy on me though.

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Merry Christmas To Most

As the year winds down and we are in the midst of the holidays, I count my blessings. My son made it through a scary Craniosynostosis surgery without any complications. We spent our first year in our first home without any huge issues. I may have lost my job, but we have survived, no thanks to those that put us and countless others in this hairy position.

I wonder if InkStop CEO, Dirk Kettlewell and his wife Dawn, who was a VP in the company, sleep well at night knowing of all the lives they affected by yanking employment from people and the money owed for their last 3 weeks worked as well as various vacation and expenses. This was not a sign of the times. This was not a product of the economy. Do not give me your bullshit lines of how the poor economy has hit many hard and blame the government for this group of unemployed, like I see so many times as I read through comments on articles about what happened at InkStop.

As a store manager in one of their stores, I saw otherwise that points to pure ignorance in terms of running a business and/or a great scheme for a handful of folks to make their money not caring what vendors, landlords, or employees they rip off along the way. A little over a year ago, managers were gathered to preview the upcoming holiday season. We saw merchandise that never came around and some that did, but a couple of weeks before Christmas. We were told that the company would turn a profit and we could expect great things. From there, we had ads in Sunday papers that showed products that we had small quantities of or none of at all. We were given orders to presell items on the first day they were advertised. i myself have never been to a retail establishment that offered to presell anything beyond upcoming video game releases, but we did this week after week. Hell, we needed some profit, and sometimes most of it was from items that did not exist in our stores yet. We had anticipated dates that would fluctuate. We would not only presell, but if you didn’t want to pay ahead, we’d still put you on a list and call you if we ever got what you wanted in. Most phone calls I would receive around this time were having to with when the product would be coming in that someone paid for or was put on a list for. Our binder of people that had prepaid or were waiting for product was pretty lengthy. This is not how retail usually operates folks.

When it came to Black Friday, I asked for assurances from people above me that we would have sufficient quantities, since we had previously had issues with that, especially items on the front page of our ad. I asked if we should hold items back for that day. I received mixed messages on that so we held back what we could and of course were still left in a bind. We had pink Kodak cameras advertised that we originally were told we would get no more of in for our Black Friday ad, which is crazy, but we ended up getting a couple last minute. It was still quite frightening explaining we had one less than advertised to the line of people that had braved the cold weather at 4:30 in the morning outside of an ink store. They should’ve known better.

Okay, so mistakes are made, but in my time in retail, I had never seen anything like this, and I’m sure the majority of consumers can say they haven’t either. Some have said, that’s the pain of being a startup. Well at that point, we were 3 Christmases in with this company. A company with “a management team that’s done it before” (a quote directly from Mr. Kettlewell) should know not to advertise product that they can’t meet demand on and to be opening the majority of its new locations during the month of November, which eats up funds and existing inventory when both of those are already in short supply.

As time went by, we entered the new year with all print advertising suspended and any shipments virtually non-existent. Obviously something was wrong, yet money was spent on canvassing brochures and coupons that we were to treat like gold. Instead that money could have been spent on keeping ink on our shelves, since we were, say it with me now, INK-Stop. We turned more and more customers away each day giving new excuses as we went along, because we were in the dark as much as they were. Sure, vendors would not give us product. You cannot receive what you do not pay for.

By spring, many vendors were suing InkStop already for non-payment and before summer began, landlords got on board. We were told not paying landlords would help them renegotiate leases. If I were the landlord, I would sue the piss out of them and go on my way, since they obviously were not good for anything. Traffic at my location was down to under 5 paying customers most days, since we were turning many away that we did not have ink for. They began advertising on the radio here, which seemed odd considering you are inviting people into a store that already is an embarrassment and instead of getting your act together and filling shelves with needed product, you waste money on another venue to bring people into our store and get ticked off. I only hope this management team that has done this before doesn’t get the chance to do this again. If they do, I can only blame the company that decides to hire them, not the economy or whatever else is convenient.

Just in case you don't see one sign, there are many...and a guy wearing one waving more signs.

Now my former store is finishing liquidating product as part of the bankruptcy of InkStop. Hopefully some money comes from that. I am owed over $3000 in wages and vacation pay. I imagine most of the 400+ that were screwed over in this mess are missing out on $2-3K that they rightfully earned. I wonder if the Kettlewell’s are having a Christmas at all. I’m sure they are, but it’s a shame if you figure all of the Christmases they’ve affected. I’m sure others on the board of InkStop, which include Dale Fuller, John Bulgarella, Mark Race, B. Charles Ames, Norbert “Nobby” Lewandowski, Richard Ames, Michael A. Clegg, James J. Hummer, James Mastrian, Michael Shaughnessy, Norman “Boomer” Esiason, William Heinzerling, and Harvey Sanders will have a wonderful holiday with their families. Even if they didn’t make most consequential decisions in this company, their hands were in the pot. If they paid more attention, this could have ended sooner with a warning so that folks could leave on a brighter note with all of their money. Good thing that towards the end (from “InkStop Started With a Bang and Ended With a Bust” by Janet Cho in the Cleveland Plain Dealer 12/21/09):

…even as revenue streams from investors were dwindling, the company issued nearly $5.3 million worth of checks and wire transfers to its directors and senior managers, according to court documents. Directors were repaid for their previously issued notes: $1.7 million to Richard Ames; $1.2 million to James Hummer’s Luxemburg Capital; $369,000 to B. Charles Ames; $350,000 to James Mastrian; and $109,268 to Norman “Boomer” Esiason.

Company executives were reimbursed for their expenses, including $143,495 to Dirk Kettlewell and $80,328 to Mark Race, vice president of real estate; and $10,451 to Dawn Kettlewell.

Doesn’t it give you that warm feeling? If you figure an average of $3K for each of the 456 employees that lost jobs when it all went sour, that would only make $1.37 million. I’m sure these multi-millionaires could afford to toss some money our way, but we’ll have to fight tooth and nail for whatever we can get instead in the courts. It’s a shame how these things work. All of these big wigs can go put their money into something else without paying much attention to it.

More signs. Hopefully something good comes from this ugliness.

Yes, I’m ranting here, and that isn’t what the holidays are about, but I only wish some couldn’t have any enjoyment out of this at all and others could have a much better holiday with all of their bills caught up on and being able to give their children and grandchildren everything they want for Christmas.

I have realized through all of this that the gifting does not matter. The fact that we all have friends and family and are thankful for each and every moment we can spend with them, even through those dramatic times, is great and is what this is all about. No matter if there is deep religious meaning to this holiday or not for you, it is about being with our personal support groups and eating a crapload of food. Enjoy that. And Merry Christmas to all most, and to most a good night (may the other crooks have horrible gut wrenching nightmares of their money evaporating).

Murder Was the Case

The other night we celebrated my wife’s birthday. We hit up Boogooloo in Maplewood then capped the night off at a friend’s place. We were feeling good when we arrived home around 4 a.m. As we approached the front door, a middle aged, rough looking, white guy asked if we had a cell phone for him to use. I tried to blow him off by saying “not on us right now, sorry.” However the birthday girl decided to ask him what he needed it for.

“The cops questioned me and dropped me off over there, and I don’t even live around here. I just need to make a call and get a ride.”

My wife was intrigued. “They questioned you? For what?”

“Murder.”

We gasped. And he tried to explain.

“Well, I found a body and they just wanted to ask me about it. I just need to get out of here.”

At that point we went inside, but he was expecting to make his call after giving us his story. We argued a bit over why she even said anything more to him. I said my plan of blowing him off would have worked enough to get him away from our house. She argued that he would only leave if we essentially took part in his leaving. She went back out.

“So what’s the number? You stay down there (at the bottom of our steps) and I’ll call. I don’t know you and you’ve been questioned for murder.”

He proceeded to give his mother’s number and my wife called. She told the woman on the line that her son was questioned for murder, dropped off near our home, and needed a ride. My wife suggested a cab, but the woman was quite discombobulated by the situation, especially at her age and at 4 a.m. She said my wife should call the hospital and apparently a man in the background seconded that suggestion. My wife said either a cab would be called or the cops and after some more back and forth without any progress, she hung up. She called the police and told them the situation. They asked if he was armed, but we saw nothing–we just wanted him gone, because the longer this went on, the more he stared at our house waving his arms.

We went upstairs where my mother-in-law was sleeping. She had watched our son for the evening. She was planning on going home, but I told her to sit tight as I cocked a prop gun I had from one of my high school videos. I kept it to help myself feel like a hard ass in situations like this. I looked out the window and our new pal was looking right at me and waving frantically, wanting an answer from our conversation with his mommy.

The police arrived shortly thereafter. Two cars pulled right up to him and got out. They asked him if he was armed and what was going on. As he tried to tel his story, which stayed consistent, they had him put his hands on the hood of the cruiser. I tried to listen out the upstairs window while the ladies bickered behind me about what would happen. The cops put him in the car and an officer rang our doorbell.

I ran down to answer and as I did, I had a huge grin on my face. I was asked what happened and gave our account as well as what his own mother suggested we do with him.

“So like he’s crazy?,” the officer said.

Well put. She walked back to the car and we watched on. The paddy wagon pulled up as well as another cruiser. This was great excitement, like watching COPS at some strange hour of the night except in front of our own home. I doubt the guy’s story. If you find a body and the police question you, would they really drop you off somewhere? And why nowhere near your home? And why tell people that story, true or not? I should’ve just pistol whipped the dude with my fake piece.

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