Jim Varagona

Category: work

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).

Progress

The so-so Space Needle

The so-so Space Needle

I managed to find employment. Okay, so it’s only for a couple of weeks. I did manage to get a few days in Seattle out of it for training, and on top of that of course is that any job is good because money is involved. We’re getting to that point of being stretched too thin, so money is a very very good thing that we need right now and I am thankful for every bit I can get.

Quick notes on Seattle: yes, it rains a lot. The Space Needle isn’t as impressive as I expected. I did enjoy the architecture especially near the water. There wasn’t much of a nightlife during the week, but I did manage to get fries with gravy after midnight at The Hurricane Cafe.

Fries and Sausage Gravy, which I read about in a review of The Hurricane Cafe but sadly they had no idea what I was talking about. They did scrape these together for me though.

Fries and Sausage Gravy, which I read about in a review of The Hurricane Cafe but sadly they had no idea what I was talking about. They did scrape these together for me though.

My last post did discuss my eating habits and that last sentence did mention me eating fries with gravy, however, I have made some good small steps to improve my lifestyle. Since that post, I have not consumed any carbonated beverages except for some beers (mainly very tasty Coffee Stout from St. Louis’s own Schlafly). My wife and I watched Food, Inc. which is an interesting look at the dark side of how our food is made with some semi-graphic imagery of animals in the slaughtering process. Since then my wife has gone vegetarian. She even has committed to Tofurky for Thanksgiving. I just need to switch her from 2% to Skim Milk now or just buy a 3rd milk variety for the home, since we already have Whole for our son.

We are trying to walk more regularly, getting in at least 3 walks of 1.5-3.5 miles in each week. I need more activity if I want to see some weight loss out of this. In the two and a half weeks since my last post, I have lost a measly 3 pounds. With my wife’s new diet and the purging of most unhealthy foods from our home, I should see more progress on this front.

My birthday is tomorrow, on Thanksgiving, so after I devour my cajun injected turkey stuffed with cake, this plan will be back on track. I was kidding about some of that.

3ZQQ77BQ4XDM

Searching

In the past month since I’ve been unemployed, I’ve developed routines and become used to things following those. I have no problem getting out of those, but it’s weird how fast one can get accustomed to a new way of life. It never seems to be how you think it will be, good or bad.

Considering I was previously working for a floundering company, business was very slow and we accomplished the necessary work each day within a small amount of time. I am hanging out with my 1 year old son now, which keeps me much busier, but without a paycheck. Of course this is much more enjoyable, however the money is a must and it becomes more necessary everyday as some bills go late or unpaid.

I haven’t slacked at seeking employment despite this busier life. I just have to try apply for jobs during Dylan’s naps. Most of that time though is used for keeping the house in order, which leads to late night job seeking. After my son goes to sleep, and after my wife hits the hay or goes to work, the magic happens. Well, who am I kidding? There’s no magic. No interviews. No calls, except for silly insurance and financial advising companies wanting me to take a job without a safety net and a lot of the times without credibility. While InkStop was falling face first into the ground during the past, well, year, I occasionally had bursts of job hunting, but it was an easy, decent paying gig and I enjoyed seeing and talking to my regular clientele. There was no rush. This is a frustrating process especially when you see the same jobs and types of jobs out there. Searching everyday on multiple job sites sadly doesn’t produce more or different results very often.

What to do? I’ve considered going it alone, but I’m not sure what I’d do. I do have a sickly CafePress shop that breaks even every month and may do better if I put something into it, but it wouldn’t be that much of a difference in income. During political seasons, I really cleaned up with it. I do have some interesting ideas on what can be done with pizza, but have no real experience starting or running a restaurant, so if anyone wants to talk about it, drop me a line.

I could sell myself. I mean not prostitution, well not in its usual sense. There are those folks that tattoo themselves with a company logo, wear the same branded clothes for a year, drive a car plastered with ads, and much crazier things for companies to make a buck. So come on Knorks and Chock Full o’Nuts Coffee, gimme all you got. More folks need to know about those products and I’m the guy to tattoo them on.

Or maybe I just need sleep.

The Letter

Yesterday I received a call from the lawyer representing our class action group against InkStop (see How It Went Down at InkStop). Someone from the Fox affiliate here in St. Louis wanted to talk to somebody in town about our story. I told him I’d be willing to do it, especially since I had been in 2 other pieces for NBC and CBS here.

Sean Conroy of KTVI gave me a call and we agreed to meet in front of my old store. Both he and his cameraman were very nice and expressed their sympathy for our situation. Conroy explained that he was eating lunch next door at the San Sai restaurant and noticed the sign that I put on our door, which was in essence, a letter to our customers apologizing for the lack of notice that we were shutting down. I can only imagine how many customers missed out on returning the substandard private label ink we sold. Anyway, I put the sign up a couple of weeks ago. The wording was mainly written by the manager of one of the Pennsylvania stores, with a few tweaks.

It reads:

To our Loyal Customers…

The Employees of InkStop would like to apologize for the misdeeds of our Corporate Management.

On October 1st, after store hours, and one day before our own payday, the Corporate Board announced through an email to us that they were closing all store effective immediately, and that they would not be paying their employees for a total of the last 3 weeks worked. They also informed us in this email that they had not paid the medical coverage for employees since August 2009, even though this money had been withdrawn from our paychecks.

Since then, most contacts with the corporate offices have since been terminated, including the 877 Information Number and all online services for both customers and employees.

Again, we the employees would like to apologize for any inconvenience this has created. For more information, or to keep up with our lawsuit against the owners of this company, please Google “InkStop.” There’s plenty out there.

The letter to the customers of InkStop in Maplewood, MO. The door also is decorated with two eviction notices for non-payment of rent.

The letter to the customers of InkStop in Maplewood, MO. The door also is decorated with two eviction notices for non-payment of rent.

The reporter was impressed by the grassroots effort to hold the corporate goons responsible and not walk away from this. Even though our case is pretty good, these people are dastardly and will do whatever they can to avoid paying everybody they owe money to. By staying in the eye of the media, we are letting folks know who the people are that are responsible and what they did to affect so many. Dirk Kettlewell, that means you.

I thought the piece turned out pretty good. I look a bit rough, but this was on short notice, and at least I got my point across.

Here’s the link: InkStop Stores Close With Little Notice (KTVI)

How It Went Down at InkStop

I saw this coming. I am unemployed now, and I saw it coming. The signs were all there. I tried to tell others. My comments and information were scoffed at. Surely the company would find their way through this they would say. A higher up told me to stop talking shit. I have learned from this situation to trust my gut, because I was right all along. And it was probably worse than what I assumed.

The night of Thursday, October 1st, 2009, was cold and rainy. I had just finished working a full 12 hour shift at the InkStop store I managed. On my way home, a co-worker from another location called me. He had heard from his co-worker who heard from her boyfriend that worked at another location from his boss that we were not to show up for work the next day because we were all out of jobs and we were not going to be paid. I told him that nothing that the company did surprised me anymore. We had listened to lie after lie about product shipments that never came, about eviction notices that simply meant the company was tactfully renegotiating leases, and that overall everything would be okay.

My boss, who had only been on the job for several weeks, was ringing in. I told the guy I was talking to that I would let him know what was going on, and then I clicked over.

“Well I guess you’ve heard the news,” he said.

Let’s back up here. We were told repeatedly not to gossip or listen to rumor during these mysterious times. Boss man himself told us exactly a week prior that no stores were going to close, that the company would give advance notice if anything like that would happen, that product would be coming soon for our big 4th quarter, and that our many investors would take care of us. I couldn’t blame him for believing what this company ran by con-artists had told him. Why would they hire someone and open a few new stores in other parts of the country in that past month only to shut it all down? Nothing really ever made much sense, but I wasn’t about to believe the lies he was passing to us from headquarters, and I’m sure he had his suspicions as well. He was going into stores where employees told him that they haven’t seen any substantial shipments for the past nine months, where they told him about receiving visits from sheriff’s deputies for non-payment of rent and visits from utility providers saying we had 24 hours to pay up to continue service. Unless you drank some pretty tasty Kool-Aid or were sporting some nice rose-colored specs, you would be concerned with the hand you had just been dealt.

A day after boss man told us about the great things that would happen, he was told he had to go close a store 4 hours away. So much for advance notice. I scrambled to find out more if I could. Some employees in other markets were tweeting about stores closing in their markets. Jobvent.com, which had been a haven for folks concerned about the way the company was being run, had a few posts discussing store closures in more markets. I used sources I had along with this information to calculate that in several days, 10-15% of the company was suddenly being closed down. From what we knew, the district and regional managers were as blindsided by this as we were.

I could only expect a store closer to me would close. Sure, it makes sense to close lowest performing stores, but you also have to figure that many of these stores had received judgments against them in the courts and had run the course of appeals and dragging ass as much as they could to “renegotiate leases.” It makes sense in an economy as uncertain as it is during this time with a company that was struggling to try to lower rent, but is not paying the best way to accomplish this? Maybe to get to the bargaining table, but once your ass is taken to court, you would think the relationship with your landlord would be soured. After poring over court dockets, it seems that InkStop may have been able to settle some of these cases, but after paying up something, they went right back to not paying. Again, you’d assume that would tick a landlord off even more. For the store we ended up closing, that was the case as they had recently lost an unlawful detainer case, which spelled the end of the line. I tried to be as optimistic as possible when I told my findings to that store’s manager after they received a default judgment against them weeks before. Would they close? I am no legal expert, but since I had been looking into the long list of lawsuits against the company I worked for, losing an unlawful detainer case means you’re gone. I said maybe they could drag it out, but 45 days seemed like the maximum amount of time they’d be able to drag out. My optimism was giving it 45 days.

So the day before it all shut down, a group of us had to gut this store that received the judgment. 1500 square feet filled with product, which we loaded into a rented trailer and unloaded into another store. We then had to dismantle all of the fixtures, load them up, and then empty those into a storage facility. It was the most work I had done in one day for this company. We had opened stores in the past for them, but never worked with such a deadline and so much physical work crammed in to meet it–all for naught.

And now back to our program.

“Well sir, I’ve only heard rumors, so why don’t you clear that up for me?,” I replied to my boss.

He went on to explain the conference call he was on an hour before our conversation. The CEO, Dirk Kettlewell, explained that they needed more funding to keep InkStop going, but temporarily all 150 some odd stores were shutting down, effective immediately. I knew that meant for good. We all knew that any hint of optimism was all part of the long trail of lies. Boss man added that we weren’t going to get paid the next day. How convenient! Take your workers to the absolute last day before they find out they will not get paid, therefore getting an extra week out of them on top of that. It sounded genius, in an evil kind of way. We were (and still are) fucked.

I could tell that my superior was just as surprised by all of this. We could only blame those at the top for not being able to pay our bills the next day and having to juggle our remaining funds for the foreseeable future somehow. I frantically, mid-conversation popped a u-turn in traffic, in the rain, to get back my coffee maker and other personal effects like a magnet with my son’s photo on it or the personalized mug I got for my first Father’s Day with a picture of us on it. As I drove back, I called my one associate multiple times. Of course this would be the time she doesn’t pick up her phone. I left several screaming voice mails, getting progressively louder like it would summon her to pick up her cell phone. And I called my wife telling her what we feared would happen, but weren’t entirely surprised by.

I zipped to the back of the store to grab my personal items and sped off in my car back home.

Finally my associate called me back. I told her the news and she cried and screamed in disbelief. We had talked about this happening though. It’s that damn how and when that sneak up on you. We had even had specific “What will we do when we’re unemployed?,” half-joking conversations. The time had come.

We couldn’t have stopped this. It was almost destined to happen with the long line of mistakes that we saw being made. Some were lucky to get away before it went down. I had looked for other work, but given the sad state of our economy, I came up empty. As things got worse, I grew my beard out and said I would stick with the company to see how it all would end, thinking we had several more months. I didn’t really figure it would rob me and countless others from substantial amounts of money that we worked for or that it would happen so abruptly.

Update 10/27/09

Here are some links of press coverage. I went on a media blitz in St. Louis getting the following coverage.

KSDK: Ex-InkStop employees say they are laid off and unpaid

KMOV: InkStop employees left out of work, unpaid

St. Louis Post Dispatch/STLToday.com: InkStop runs dry leaving ex-employees unpaid and unhappy

Special thanks to Casey Nolen of KSDK, Chris Nagus of KMOV, and Steve Giegerich of the Post Dispatch for those pieces.

Also Janet Cho of the Cleveland Plain Dealer has done an excellent job of keeping up with this story with the several pieces she has written. Here is a link to the tagged InkStop content that she has done.

>Riding in Cars with Diabolical Rapists

>

Before tossing out an unread newspaper a week or two ago, I browsed through, making sure I didn’t miss out on a celebrity scandal, a relative’s death, or a new way that the President has devised to screw this country. While I didn’t find anything like that, one headline did catch my eye: Rapist Gets Life Plus 25 Years. Granted, it is kind of vague but you wonder what kind of brutality could lead to such a sentence, so I read on.

Rapist gets life plus 25 years
By
Robert Patrick
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
02/10/2008

St. Louis — A man who brutally raped a woman in her Dogtown home and beat her with a baseball bat — then called her boyfriend to gloat— was sentenced Friday evening to life plus 25 years in prison.

James Thomas Fujimoto, 26, broke into the home of the woman, then 23, in the 6300 block of Berthold Avenue on Sept. 1, 2002, struck her repeatedly in the head with a bat, then sodomized and raped her for three hours. At one point he said, “Tell me you love me,” Assistant Circuit Attorney Mary Pat Benninger told St. Louis Circuit Judge Philip Heagney.

After Fujimoto left the woman’s apartment, he called her boyfriend. “He wanted him to see it,” Benninger said. “He wanted him to know what he’d done.”

Fujimoto pleaded guilty last month to forcible rape, forcible sodomy, assault and robbery charges on the day his trial was supposed to begin.

The attack was so violent that the woman had to have about one-third of her face reconstructed. She still suffers vertigo from crushed ear canals, officials said, and has since moved.

Benninger called Fujimoto a predator and a sadist and said he was excited by violence and fueled by control. He had stalked the victim and was also stalking other women, she said, and was “beyond rehabilitation.”

Fujimoto apologized for the “horrible thing” he’d done and told Heagney that he had broken into the woman’s apartment to burglarize it, not to rape her.

Fujimoto was arrested in 2005 after a DNA sample from the crime scene matched a sample collected from him as he was being paroled from prison on other charges.

I immediately recognized the name. I went to high school with this nut job for 3 years. I sat at the same lunch table as this cocky S.O.B. with this the chess team and computer club, neither of which I was a member of, yet they were one of the few groups I felt comfortable around. He didn’t fit in with them either, but if how I felt about him was any indication, he was too annoying for any others to deal with him. He wasn’t complete reject though. He tried to have his way with the ladies, and I’m sure he did at times.

Did anyone see this coming though? I certainly didn’t think too much of him, but hardly ever do you consider people around you to be capable of such psychotic episodes. I mean, I now know of someone that is in prison for life for some heinous things.

When I saw Jim’s name though, I thought back to around 2005, when I was working as a fertilizer merchandiser, such a respectable profession. I was having lunch at a nearby Burger King with a coworker. As we left, I noticed Jim on a pay phone outside, so I mumbled “Hey Jim” as I passed him. He screamed back some name that wasn’t my own, but that got us talking about high school.

Now I try not to hold how folks were in high school against him, so I was congenial with the guy. He told me that he didn’t have a car and that his sick grandmother was not answering the phone. He proceeded to ask me for a ride home, which was about 15 minutes away. Since my job didn’t necessarily require my presence, I agreed. He told me he’d give me some gas money once we got there. My coworker didn’t have much of a choice and tagged along.

I don’t remember too much of the conversation. I’m sure it was your typical small talk about the good ol’ days. Who do you still talk to? Have you heard about or have you seen so-and-so? And of course, he still rubbed me the wrong way.

When we arrived at his destination, he left his orange windbreaker in my car and ran inside. He left the front entrance open and left us waiting. We proceeded to wait for at least 10 minutes. After some discussion with my coworker, we decided to take off. We couldn’t figure out what was going on. He obviously wasn’t in a hurry to give me gas money and if something was wrong with grandma, I would assume he would run back out to us for assistance.

After reading the article, which deals with an incident that happened before this occassion, I wonder if that was his house, if there was a grandma, and even if that windbreaker was his, which I gave away to a friend of mine.

I researched further on his crime.

Man pleads guilty to brutal rape in Dogtown
By
Robert Patrick
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
01/08/2008

St. Louis — James Thomas Fujimoto, 26, admitted Monday that he was responsible for the violent rape and baseball-bat beating of a woman in her Dogtown neighborhood home in 2002.

Fujimoto, of St. Louis County, acknowledged that he broke into her home in the 6300 block of Berthold Avenue on Sept. 1, 2002.

He beat the then-23-year-old woman in the head with an aluminum baseball bat, then sodomized and repeatedly raped her for three hours.

Fujimoto’s trial was supposed to begin Monday, but he pleaded guilty of forcible rape, forcible sodomy, first-degree assault and first-degree robbery rather than face a jury.

Assistant Circuit Attorney Mary Pat Benninger told Circuit Judge Philip Heagney that she plans to ask for two consecutive life terms for the crime.

Fujimoto had the victim try to bathe away any physical evidence and then raped her again, Benninger said in court. He stole money from her piggy bank and took the keys to her car before leaving.

Fujimoto was not the first man arrested in connection with the crime. A drifter found near the crime scene confessed to the attack but was released after his DNA did not match semen found at the scene.

Fujimoto was arrested in 2005 based on a DNA match. His DNA was in the Missouri database because of a recently changed state law that expanded DNA taking to all convicted felons in Missouri, not just the violent ones.

He was serving time on second-degree burglary and attempted burglary convictions from 1999. He also has been convicted of tampering with a motor vehicle in Franklin County, and fraudulent use of a credit device in St. Louis County.

Fujimoto, who dropped out of school in the 11th grade but later got his high school equivalency certificate and attended some college classes, still faces a stealing charge in St. Louis County.

The victim sat about 10 feet from him during Monday’s plea hearing, at times staring at him and at times crying. The attack was so violent that she had to have about one-third of her face reconstructed, and she still suffers vertigo from crushed ear canals, officials said.

She has since moved.

So to make it creepier, he was originally arrested for this incident the year I gave him that ride and probably not too long after, considering that was during the summer that I did him the favor. You never know with people, but you should probably follow that intuition. I didn’t have the intuition that he was a brutal rapist, but that he was generally a loser, and perhaps that should have been good enough.

When I broke this story to those I went to school with, I received quite a few messages from shocked females, some even stating that they had crushes on him back in the day. It’s fortunate that they left it at that, but makes me wonder what else he may have done out there.

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>Lead Me Not Into Temptation

>I’ve been pushing ink lately. It certainly beats baby photography. It keeps me closer to home and doesn’t involve monotonous driving.

Nearby my place of work is a massive Wally Mart, which I recently stopped at to grab some gear to fight the winter weather. While looking for the supplies, I passed someone that looked eerily familiar. He was a bit worn since the last time I saw him about ten years ago, but I knew who it was. It was none other than Michael McGrath, my favorite molester priest, “the most sued former priest in St. Louis”, and also considered “the most dangerous St. Louis priest”. Needless to say I was in the presence of a local celebrity.

It felt good to see that he looked pretty rough. It is safe to say he’s packed on a few and his sneer looks more crooked than ever.

that sneer

After I passed the sick excuse for a human being, I thought about going back and confronting him. It actually made me recall the homeless man that molested my dogter. Are worthless people like these even worth confronting? He certainly hasn’t suffered much because of his behavior. He may be the most sued former priest here, but he’s yet to serve time or pay up as far as I know. That’s where the Catholic Church comes in to save the day.

I only wish he’d suffer a worse fate than obesity and aging. And I’m not even a victim or related to a victim of his. I only came close and that was close enough to piss me off. May his ills grow worse in the new year.

In other news dealing with abusive priests, the San Diego diocese is asking priests to donate a month’s salary to go towards the recent $198.1 million sexual abuse settlement. That dwarfs in comparison to the $600+ million settlement the Los Angeles diocese made in July, the largest ever by a diocese so far. The sad thing is that the San Diego Diocese is reaching out to its church goers and asking them to contribute to righting their wrongs.

The donation request is part of a new campaign called “Embracing Our Mission”
and will be used to help “cover the expense involved in compassionate outreach
to our brothers and sisters who suffered sexual abuse within the family of the
church,” the memo said.

They could at least have their own Bingo Night in America or something to rile up the troops.

The priests have also been taking things out on the nuns. I’m the last guy to stand up for the nuns, but the L.A. Archdiocese sold a convent that was still being occupied and had been for 40 years in order to raise funds for their record settlement.

Sister Angela has it right when she said “what hurts the most is what the money will be used for, to help pay for the pedophile priests. We have to sacrifice our home for that?”

How can Catholics support this nonsense? I know the priests must accept responsibility and make these settlements, but their methods are a bit ridiculous. Then again, I’m not sure how I’d raise hundreds of millions of dollars either…except for making a blockbuster motion picture. That may be their next move. Pay close attention to the producer credits of the movies you see at the multiplex in the future. It might include a Father or two.

>Hasta La Vista Babies

>Well, my time as a baby photographer has come to an end. I realize I may jump from job to job a bit too much, but I have my reasons. Driving 500+ miles every week with little compensation was my biggest beef. It gives you a lot of time to think about life and gas prices.

It also was getting to be against my morals and ethics to continue. I was working for a company that considers itself one of the largest in home baby and family photography companies in the country. They do not screen employees at all for drugs or anything else fishy in their background. In fact, it is the only job I’ve had without a pre-employment drug screen. If only the parents knew this. There are carpet cleaning companies in the area that boast that their employees that enter your home have been thoroughly checked, yet folks that get near your babies are not held to those standards.

Furthermore, the business practices were a bit shady. For as large as they claimed to be, there was no printed employee handbook or standards to go by. Rules were made up as we went along and policies changed week to week. It really made me feel comfortable with the company I was representing. This was on top of sales pitches based on lies, and I don’t use that term lightly. I know sales can be dirty, but I was selling sitting plans for visits that would be completely free if the customer approached the company for them. It was pitched as a deal they couldn’t pass up, because we would charge an expensive sitting fee otherwise, but by discussing this with other employees in different parts of the company, we realized that was a sham. The future sitting plans were pure profit and by selling those, we helped the company pay our salary without that money being tied to anything else. Genius, but ruthless. I felt horrible selling with this knowledge, but we all have to make a living. Sometimes I avoided the selling, which made me look bad to those in charge, but I made my money from taking the photos anyway, so I wasn’t too concerned.

Funny thing is, I was called on my lies by some customers, and what do you do in such a situation? A father called me “a fucking liar” for telling him that I had no idea what our prices were and I liked just doing my job as a photographer. That line sounds like a load of crap anyway, but it was fed to me, and he called me on it. “How can you work for a company and have no idea what they sell your product for?,” he asked. I had no response, but to “have a nice day”.

It’s a drain knowing more and more of the dark side of a company you represent; a company you work for without much gas compensation, with no paid vacation or holidays, yet still pushes you further to not tell the customer much, because that would scare them away before the salespeople get to them.

When those henchmen arrive, we get more of their money through packages that are pitched from the most expensive down to wet their appetites. Again, genius, but sick. Even the lowest priced packages are too much for even me, but these are their kids, right? I had to consider the places I was working in. I was shooting in trailers, in rundown ghetto housing and apartments, and in places without ceilings and with huge insect problems. We were going after their money? I understand that those people make the choice to spend, but how can one feel completely comfortable knowing that you’re helping contribute to that lifestyle. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on photos, go to Wal-Mart, spend $10 for 85 pictures, and put the rest towards fixing that leaky ceiling, having the Orkin man swing by, or getting some much needed dental work.

To illustrate my point, I shall elaborate. This goes for the family that had baby roaches crawling through their trailer, most noticeably in the kitchen, all over the stovetop surrounding the thawing pounds of raw meat. (See image below) In addition, the young daughter ate a Happy Meal, which she dumped on the floor first and proceeded to munch on. It was as if they were trying to rub it in, but no one said anything about the critters. I simply cancelled the rest of my day to shower myself and hope for no further contamination.


click to enlarge, but you should get the idea

This goes for the family with the dad that casually showed us his ankle bracelet monitor, which was to keep him from doing bad things. Or the house without a lamp with a shade and a drop ceiling without drop tiles, with the insulation hanging down and water dripping onto my equipment and paperwork.

I certainly do not discriminate. I never judged folks until I soaked them in first. There are lots of fine people out there in bad situations, hell, lots of good kids out there in bad situations, like having to sleep with rodents, insects, or no air conditioning in ninety degree heat. As I have said before in this blog, I felt like a government spy of sorts, but I couldn’t do much about it but take it all in.

Despite the company being a joke, I enjoyed taking pictures and being around the babies. Driving takes its toll on you though. It gives you time to ponder how messed up things are, and that can get to be depressing.

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>Snagged

>Today I had a shoot in quite possibly the smallest trailer I’ve been in. I pride myself in being able to pull it off though. It amazes the locals like one of those David Copperfield specials or the old Circus of the Stars shows.

I set up in a kitchen bordering the living space. It went from tile to carpet. As I shot the baby, my shorts kept snagging on the floor as I went back and forth from kneeling to standing. I paid no mind to it as I progressed. When the shoot had commenced though, I began to pack up and noticed the culprit.

It was a giant, nasty, pointed toenail embedded in the carpet.

More fun with toenails!

FootSmart_FreeFootGift_11.20.06

>Under Their Thumb

>It’s been an odd week for me.

Yesterday, I began my day by traveling an hour from home into parts unknown in Jesusland. My mission was to take baby pictures. I know, it’s very exciting.

The first stop involved two siblings. One of course, being a newborn. The other, a talkative three year old. We hit it off pretty well. I let the kids talk their gibberish, that I hardly ever can comprehend and then respond with:

“Oh yeah?”

or “Really?”

or “That’s pretty cool.”

As long as you acknowledge them, they appreciate it. For the most part. One, early on in my baby photography career, even began hugging my leg and calling me “Daddy”, which mom went along with, but I digress.

It was a different story though with this young boy. We started off with small talk. He asked about my light stands and backdrop. He pointed out a monstrous mosquito on the wall, which I helped him annihilate. Then, out of nowhere, the demon came forth.

“Fuck you boh.” (Boh being my attempt to convey the accent he purposely put on “boy” like he was imitating something he had heard before.)

“Oh yeah?”, I replied, trying to play it off.

He then got in my face, or as close as a boy of his stature could, and poked at me repeatedly saying “Boh” over and over. It sounded a bit like Yosemite Sam.

“I’ll break your ass boh.”

“Really? I think it already is.”

“Fuck you boh.”

It was a battle I couldn’t win. Mom was tending to the little one and wouldn’t do more than give verbal reprimands. I was beginning to think that she had experienced this before anyway, but from a different source. He even retorted to her calls to cease the behavior.

“Fuck you bitch.” He even repeated several more times with feeling that she was a female dog.

Reinforcements were called in, in the form of Grandma. His cursing stopped, but his attitude only increased. He proceeded to taunt me as I photographed his baby brother and when he was told to leave the room, he went to his room and trashed it a la Mark Wahlberg at a hotel during his days with The Funky Bunch.

Shame, shame.

Today, when I arrived home after another day on the road, I received a call, which I ignored. I then realized it was from a client from earlier in the day. She was a younger mother who lived with her parents. As we took the photos of the baby, I asked her to lean into a few for “Mommy and Me” photos, which is standard procedure. Even if they are hesitant, we usually pull it off, and everyone stays happy. Well, she was reluctant, but I convinced her to take a few.

Anyway, when I called this number back, I got her man, who wasn’t present at the shoot. I’m assuming he was calling numbers on her phone to keep tabs, since he said he called because I was a missed call on her phone. He asked me why I made his girl get in the pictures. I told him it was standard, but he told me that he specifically asked her not to get in the photos since they were to get family pictures later. I told him he was under no obligation to pay for those pictures, but we take a wide variety to give folks a choice.

“But I told her not to and she said you made her.”

Another losing battle.

Was he saying I did it for kicks? While her parents and elders were there? Is the whole world going insane?

Why can’t everyone have a good time with me, like the guy that got out of the pen two weeks prior to seeing a shoot with his infant son?

I once heard a piece on NPR about how chimney sweeps in Russia are government issued. You can’t use independent sweeps. The people there then fear that the men are spies for the government to see how they are at home and if they are using the system in any illegal way. I wish I could think of myself that way. People don’t fear me though. They let it all hang out, but that’s a different story.

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