Wally World

            By the fall of 2009 it was becoming more and more obvious that I needed a source of income. The last three years, from early 2007 to late 2009, had been quite an adventure. I had started my retirement with a large lump sum of money which we had exhausted by paying taxes on the income, paying off some old debts, taking a vacation to California, buying a house in Arkansas, and generally paying expenses without having an income. This period of time was one of the best in my life but my lump sum retirement money was running out and I needed to find a new way to make money until I was old enough to start my Social Security retirement income.

           Sheila and I had dealt with income problems together previously in Mountain Home. She had gone to nursing school and become a nurse and had a reasonable income in the fall of 2009. I had gone back to get my master’s degree in botany and now I needed a source of income which would allow us to not move halfway across the country for me to find a job. Sheila had hoped to continue working for the same doctor until she retired and I needed what I considered a temporary source of income. I found that source of Wal-mart, a store commonly known as Wally World.

            I had not applied for a job in about 20 years, aside from applying for a variety of Forest Service positions. What I discovered surprised me. I applied for work at Wal-mart and two present-day lumber yards, Lowe's and Home Depot. All three stores used a computerized application system which was, of course, terribly out of date. I spent nearly an hour filling out my electronic application of Lowe's only to have their system lock up on me. I asked one of the store employees about the problem and their response was not helpful. "That happens a lot of the time on this machine. People spend an hour entering their information and then the machine locks up and everything you entered is lost. You'll have to start over. It would probably work better if you found the computer somewhere else and use the internet to fill in your application. That allows you to save your information periodically. But on this machine you'll probably lose about half the time before you finish."

            I was not impressed. In my father's day he would simply walk up to the job site and ask for work. If they had work, he would be hired. If not, he would go look somewhere else. I had used this technique myself. "You show up more than some of the people who work for me," one supervisor once told me. “I'm going to hire you." I like those days when looking for work involved looking for work and not filling out an endless stream of paper applications even when the supervisor knew that no job was available. Even when I started work for the United States Forest Service, I had filled out their long application after I had been given the job. But times change. In my lifetime, I have had people give me paper applications, sat down and filled them out, and then been told that no work was available. I wish they had just told me that before I bothered to fill out the application.

            In today's world, and in the world of 2009, paper applications had become a thing of the past. You couldn't get a job at Wal-mart, Lowe's, or Home Depot without using a computer. Many people of my generation have no computer skills although that is gradually changing over time. Nevertheless, I would guess that somewhere between 25 to 50% of the people in my county did not know how to use a computer. In fact, a small percentage of them did not know how to read. How can you apply for a job if you can't read or use a computer in today's world?

            Of course, times will change. Within 50 years I predict that most people will not know how to use the computers we use today. Instead of typing they will speak to their computers in the same way that I am speaking to my computer right now to write this book. Most people have not used voice recognition software but I use it almost every day. I firmly believe that while future computers may have keyboards for another 50 or 200 years more and more people will find themselves talking to their electronic devices rather than typing with their fingers.

Working in retail

            When Wal-mart called me I was a little surprised. I went in for an interview and within a day or two was hired. To my surprise, I was assigned to the part of the store that I liked the least, the tire shop and automobile service department. The job fit my work desires perfectly in one sense. My assignment was to sit in a booth outside the store and take orders for tires, oil changes or minor car repairs from customers as they drove up to the store. If no one was driving up to the store I basically had nothing to do. I set my booth and waited. With time on my hands I was able to revise the 1991 version of Windsong covering 1952 to 1970. I would bring my flashcards with me and study Chinese words. I was perfectly happy to have a brainless job that allowed me to do what I wanted to do half the time.

My first heart attack

            Lest ye worry, I didn't have a heart attack in 2009. But on the second day I was driving to work at Wal-mart I did experience some fairly severe chest pain. I called the store and told them I was going to turn around and drive to the hospital and on my way there I called Sheila, my wife. Indigestion can cause symptoms very similar to a heart attack and I would spend the night in the hospital under observation. The next day, the doctors put me on a treadmill and gave me a stress test. "I've only seen one person perform better on the stress test than you did," the nurse said. "He was a 24-year-old athlete at the University of Arkansas but he had a known heart problem." I haven't changed my lifestyle much because it's not that bad, but the doctors attributed the chest pain to indigestion.

Working in the garden center

            I had started working at Wal-mart on Halloween 2009 and after learning a lot more about batteries and car tires than I cared to know my manager offered me a transfer to the garden center. Since I have a master’s in botany having me work with plants made a lot more sense than having me work with tires. From April 2010 to August of 2011 I enjoyed the life of a simple employee watering plants in helping customers in the garden center, aside from a few months I spent working in the deli during the winter. I had never worked in food service before, at least from the food counter side of the business, so I enjoyed the variety while I was there.

            Working for Wal-mart and in the garden center was quite enjoyable but I was earning only slightly over minimum wage. We discussed other options such as working in store management or working in China but the store promotes its people slowly and both they and me failed to push the issue. I really didn't want to move to another city so working 24 to 32 hours a week was perfectly fine with me. As usual with life, things change, and in less than two years my time at Wal-mart ended.

Revising Windsong

Tomorrow's story.