Jim Varagona

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.

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.

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Meat and Potatoes Man

I’m not proud of these things, but since I have been home with my son due to my unemployment, I’ve noticed changes. Today, while walking with my wife and son around the park, the conversation was different. We don’t have cable or satellite, so while I play with Dylan, I get a steady diet of talk shows, court shows, and other daytime TV. We talked about a recent Tyra episode, and she tried to get me to catch up on Days of Our Lives for her, but I won’t do Soaps.

I brought up how I was affected by today’s Dr. Oz. There was a 53 year old cowboy by the name of Rocco who was “a meat and potatoes kind of guy.” I consider myself to be the same. I don’t eat many vegetables at all. I have a gag reflex that kicks in if I get a hint of a vegetable near me or my plate. It’s been that way as long as I can remember. My parents used to pay me to try a vegetable (or most fruits for that matter) a couple of times a year, and even that didn’t always work. There are some exceptions. I eat starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, and peas (a strange choice of green, I know). Rocco did seem to consume more saturated fats than me though, taking in two and a half pounds a week!

Dr. Oz convinced Rocco, with scare tactics showing the effects on his body (he had the heart of an 85 year old man because of the plaque buildup), to take a 28 day challenge of a vegan diet. So Rocco does it with dramatic changes to his blood sugar, waist line, and cholesterol. He must’ve been okay with veggies at least a little bit. The adjustment for me would be very difficult considering how I react to anything green. I can sneak by other veggies not listed above by eating salsa or some soups. For some reason, I really dig lentil soup. Progresso’s version has a full serving of vegetables in each serving, so it makes me feel like I’m doing something when I eat that with some brown rice.

Rocco developed Type 2 Diabetes from his eating habits, which older, overweight people tend to get, but can be controlled and even gotten rid of by improving diet and exercise choices. I myself was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when I was 12. The difference being I didn’t cause it, bad genetics did, or at least that’s one of the popular theories. I can, however, help myself out by controlling my habits better than I do though. I also was diagnosed with a fatty liver about a year ago. The main way to get rid of that is stop eating so shitty and lose some weight. Here I am still gradually gaining weight since my high school years. Why just yesterday, I ate 16 hot wings at 11 pm. It’s also worth mentioning I have slightly elevated blood pressure enough that I am on medication for that which should also have a positive effect on the liver.

Not the aforementioned night of 16 wings, but bad enough.

Not the aforementioned night of 16 wings, but bad enough.

So do I go vegan for 28 days? I’m not sure I could. I have tried Boca burgers, and I think I could stand them. I don’t know. Today, I decided no more soda for a while at least. It’s one thing I don’t have to avoid in the house right now. I was only drinking diet sodas, but the carbonation can have some ill effects towards the kidneys and gastrointestinal system. I don’t feel comfortable saying I will keep something out of my diet that is still staring me in the face at my house. I could throw stuff out, but we don’t have much money for more food as it is. Over the next several weeks, I’d like to get something going though.

My wife will surely be supportive if I get this going and actually make progress, but she knows better than any that I have tried things in the past only to stop after two or three weeks. This is an eating disorder that is affecting my Diabetes and I’m sure is dulling my nerves and wreaking other havoc on my body. Hell, I had a scare last winter with not having feeling in my big toe for weeks due to the dulling of the nerves from too many high blood sugars. Yes, it’s silly that a daytime talk show got to me, but there was enough underlying. It’s time. I have a child now that should be motivation enough to improve my lifestyle, so that I can be there for him and see his future. Hopefully putting this out there holds me to this now. There is nothing set in stone as far as goal or how, but I will figure that out in the coming days.

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)

All Clear

Dylan with cake face at his 1st birtday party. The slight bulge on the side of his forehead is a plate that will absorb with time.

Dylan with cake face at his 1st birtday party. The slight bulge on the side of his forehead is a plate that will absorb with time.

Dylan’s follow up appointment with the plastic surgeon regarding his Craniosynostosis went great. The doc pointed out a bulge on each side of Dylan’s forehead and said that those were plates that would absorb within a year. He said that things went very well.

We were able to see the results from the CT scan that was done last week. The doctor showed us the first image of Dylan’s skull from when he was first diagnosed. We observed the ridge in the skull and the resulting bulge in the back. We then segued into images taken last week, which showed a dramatic improvement. The ridge was virtually gone and the head looked so much rounder and normal. He said we shouldn’t have to have any more follow up visits with them. That’s great because no matter how on time we were, we always waited at least a half hour to be seen.

Apparently given the good results of the surgery and my son’s good looks, which he obviously got from me, they asked us to send them photos, so that he could be considered for advertising for the hospital. Since my career as a model didn’t take off, I have the highest hopes for my son now. I promise not to become a stage dad.

From my unsuccessful modeling years (1997-98).

From my unsuccessful modeling years (1997-98).

My Cranio Kid

A few months into my 1 year old son Dylan’s life, the pediatrician commented that his head shape looked odd. He had us take Dylan to a plastic surgeon at the children’s hospital, who confirmed that our son had Sagittal Craniosynostosis. In simple terms, it meant Dylan’s soft spot was virtually closed up early on rather than taking its course over a year.

From WebMD:

More than half of all cases involve the sagittal suture. The sagittal suture runs across the top of a baby’s head from front to back. The baby’s brain usually develops normally in these cases, but the head becomes abnormally shaped. The skull may become long and narrow or very flat and broad in front or back or on the sides. This depends on which suture closes prematurely.

So most likely, Dylan would have been fine if we left this alone, but doctors told us his already large (over the 90th percentile for his age and compare that to his height and weight which are under the 15th percentile) and abnormally shaped head would continue at that rate. To give our son a normal shaped head while we had the opportunity was a difficult decision given in involved cutting a piece out of his skull and that the surgery would take 5-8 hours. We decided to do it, but had to wait until he could better handle the anesthesia around the suggested 9 month range.

Dylan, right before his surgery. Notice the bulge in his forehead.

Dylan, right before his surgery. Notice the bulge in his forehead.

On June 29, 2009, Dylan went in for surgery. He was so happy in the morning even though we had to get him up at 5 in the AM and he hadn’t eaten since midnight. He was smiling at his nurses and doctors not knowing what lay ahead.

We were told that during most of the 5-8 hours that Dylan would be out, he would be resting on the operating table while the work would be done on the piece of his skull on a separate table. The piece would be taken out and have slits cut into it like venetian blinds. It would then be reinserted with those slits giving the skull room to grow normally. The incision had a zig-zag to it to help hair grow in better to mask the scarring. He would look fairly normal immediately after surgery except for being on drugs and having a large bandage wrapped around his head. After the first hour or so, the swelling would set in, swelling his eyes shut, which compounded with any pain felt despite the drugs would be the most traumatic for our son.

Before surgery, during blood draws. Notice the indentation halfway back on his elongated head.

Before surgery, during blood draws. Notice the indentation halfway back on his elongated head.

When it came time to hand Dylan over to the medical professionals for the procedure, I became very emotional. It was the most emotional I’ve been since my brother passed away. It was a definite moment of realization in my short time as a parent so far of the extent of my love for the little guy.  We had all of the assurances from the doctors that they do these things fairly often, but they were cutting into my son’s friggin’ head.

To pass the time, my wife and our parents sat around talking and using the hospital’s wifi. I kept folks abreast of developments through my Twitter account.

Dylan 1 day post-op w/ me.

Dylan 1 day post-op w/ me.

We actually received the call sooner than we expected that they had finished. I hoped that was a good sign, and it was. Everything went well and according to how it was explained to us. It was very difficult to see him so swollen and the whine he had during his time in the hospital will stick with me. It was kind of drawn out and drugged up. He spent a day and a half in the PICU and another day for observation. By then he was off the major painkillers and opening his eyes again.

When we got home, he received lots of Tylenol. He seemed more annoyed than in pain. He not only had a bandage wrapped around his head, but the itchiness of the stitches, which dissolved and fell out over time. Luckily or not, he also had his first teeth coming in the week this was all going on, so he seemed to focus on the pain of his teething more than anything.

It has been about three and a half months since the surgery. We went for one successful follow up a month after. A few days ago, Dylan had a CT scan to check things out to make sure everything looked good. If it does, we shouldn’t need anymore follow-ups.  Dylan has turned 1 and since his procedure, his hair has grown in well to cover up the scarring. His head has a great shape to it now, which seems like a weird thing to say, but that was the goal of this, which should make his life easier. No one wants to be that guy with the odd shaped head.

Dylan maxin & relaxin

Dylan maxin & relaxin

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.

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