Time To Succumb And Jack In The Cubicle…?

I’ve been unemployed a good long while now. Being unemployed as a married man with commitments is different to when I was in the same circumstances as a young twenty-something, still living at home with Mum. Being unemployed as a married man is depressing.

Sorry. That’s the truth of it.

In 2007, I was desperately looking around for another job whilst working out the remaining time with a company in a position they had had the great idea of outsourcing to an Asian country. For once, I lucked out. I went in for aptitude testing and an interview for an administrative-based job with a company closer to home, (literally a five minute drive away), and came out with a second interview date for a position completely not related to general clerical work, which eventually lead to a great offer, which I accepted. I finally felt things were going my way, but then the crash of 2008 hit and eventually our team was pared down like so many other in the company had been before us, and I was gone.

I took the opportunity to be an SAHD, but the blow to my career ego and self belief was huge. Almost two years later, I eventually found a temporary position on a project with the company I had left in 2007 and my self belief was so low I was very nervous. To overcome these jitters, I took to wearing a shirt and tie to the job, instead of the business casual the company allows. I jokingly told everyone it was because I was aiming to be taken back as a permanent employee with the corner office and important meetings.

“Dress for the job you want!” I would say, managing to force a twinkle in my eye.

The reality was different. Once we were in our cubicles I felt a strange juxtaposition. I found myself loath to standing up, for whatever reason, thus enabling me to see across the tundra of the powder blue cubicle tops, yet it took no time at all for the cubicle walls to feel stifling. I remember one time standing there, during our designated break time, watching the people scurry from their 6’x6′ pieces of corporate real estate and thinking, “This is it?”. It wasn’t what I wanted for myself. I was missing my family every hour I was away from them and the special needs of our eldest made me nervous about being so far from home…

Maybe the day I first stood there with these thoughts in my head was the day I sabotaged myself, because as soon as the project was winding down and they were looking around for the dead wood to drop from the project, I was front and center, apparently.

I was a SAHD, once more and, for a while, things were good. But then the money started to run out and soon we were living moment to moment, staggering the payments of utility bills, and eeking out every last cent when grocery shopping – Manager’s Special is the name of the farm we get all our meats from!

I’m starting to get a few nibbles, so maybe the economy is finally turning around, like they say, but its all been very depressing. The damage from 2009 cracked the very foundations of how I perceived myself and the walls have just crumbled these last couple of years. Even just the mere thought that someone might want me to go for an interview makes me short of breath, the thought of being in a cubicle, once more tightens my throat, and the thought of answering ‘phones makes me want to find a dark corner and assume a fetal position, complete with soft sobs.

Through all these five years of despair, there have been plenty of people I’ve thrown the blame at – the managers, the bosses, the politicians – but I also accepted my own role early on.

Maybe, as an immigrant, maybe I don’t have that American “gene” – my Naturalization papers apparently didn’t come with a free course of “Kick Ass” injections or free sessions with a “Go Get ‘Em” counselor that Americans apparently get from birth!

Maybe I’m built differently. It seems many Americans people the world over accept their lot in life and do what’s needed to keep it going or improve it, but all I found myself doing was wallowing in a vicious circle of inner self loathing and unbelief.

About thirty years ago, I started cooking in my mother’s kitchen. I was always a little adventurous out there, and remember that early on I was reaching for the recipes my Mum wouldn’t bother with – like most mothers, at least when I was a kid, she could cook great tasting food, but its variance and adventurousness was minimal – and I remember pulling souffles, gingerbread loaves and trays of very sticky treacle toffee out of her oven. I still love cooking. I burst with pride that someone I love has told me that the dish or cake I just cooked was awesome. It doesn’t have to be fancy and most always never has a recipe, after the first couple of attempts.

Before I left the UK in 2000 one of the most popular tv shows was on in the mid-afternoon, aimed squarely at the SAHMs whose darling little angels would soon be home from school, ready to empty the pantry and refrigerator. Ready, Steady… Cook! took two “celebrity” chefs, two audience members with about ten quids’ worth of groceries and twenty minutes to knock out a meal. The first time I saw it, I loved the show, used its formula of “groceries + ((basics + staples)on hand)” from then on and I still mostly cook like that.

My Dad would call me “Tony Stopani”, after a local West Country tv “celebrity” chef from the 60’s & 70’s. I would happily sit for an hour or more, thumbing through Mum’s cookbooks, whether a modern offering from the OXO stock cube company, a Reader’s Digest recipe card collection from the late 60’s or the Mrs. Beeton’s book from 1926 that Mum got when her Mother-in-Law passed away. When the all-boys school I attended for my secondary education decided to offer a CSE level Catering course, I jumped at the chance and was in one of the first two classes in our school.

Catering was always a suggestion on peoples’ lips around the time it came to choose career paths. I was more interested in the sciences, though being the poor scholar I am, I failed them. Miserably. By the end of Sixth Form, all I needed was any passing grade in my Biology “A” level – my last remaining course, and a subject I still love to read about, to this day – but it wasn’t to be. My train of thought was that if I didn’t know it by the time of the exam, “swotting” for two weeks beforehand wouldn’t help. Besides, spending free Summer days on the town’s beach, eyeing the girls and splashing around like kids seemed much preferable. A classic example of youth wasted on the young…

Anyway… catering…

All I could see when I heard the word catering or chef was long hours in a hot kitchen, getting rude customers whining about the food you just spent hours preparing and cooking. My reticence to go into this field was probably helped, too, by my “work experience” for my CSE which consisted of two weeks – or maybe it was one week that just felt like two! – in the increasingly dilapidated, soon-after-that-closed holiday camp – Billy Butlin had had the sense to get out of there before the place finally died – in the touristy part of town, where my jobs were running the dishwashers and using the kitchen scissors to cut up roasted chickens into the ubiquitous quarters so beloved in British “cafes”. In contrast, the only other work experience I had provided for me, as part of my studies, was a week in the local Dow Chemicals plant, using x-ray spectroscopes and gas chromometers and all other manner of cool toys. Catering? Nah… a mugs game. Science it was for me.

The bravado and self-assurance of youth rode roughshod over commonsense and perspective.

Of course, now I live “Stateside”, I miss good old British cooking, on occasion. Fare like steak & kidney pie, faggots & peas – if the name of that dish offends you I suggest you Google it – bara brith, Dundee cake and bangers & mash aren’t very likely to be on the menu at your nearest Denny’s or pre-prepared and sat in the freezer section at your local Wal-Mart.

Over the years I’ve had many business ideas. If I were to guesstimate, about one-third have been based around food. I think it is time I looked over them all, pick one and take the plunge, finally listen to the decades old advice of my family and start regaining that self-worth I’ve been missing for so long…


Some Truths About Obamacare Hit Home

Earlier this week, a FaceBook post was put up by a local restaurant, concerning some information the business owner picked up when they “went to every single class on the Affordable Healthcare Act and how it will effect our/every industry…”, this past weekend, at the National Restaurant Association’s convention in Chicago, (got to love that irony!).

Their summary: “pretty overwhelming”, “it’s a tough, confusing road ahead” and “I’m just a little freaked out about some of the responsibilities and potential outcomes for our community”. What follows is an edited version of the points they provided in their post. Words in ALL CAPS were kept from the original post; italicised words are my own emphasis.

If you own a business and have ANY employees (even just one) there are things you need to find out ASAP. In October employers will become solely responsible for educating employees (in writing) on how the whole process works whether you are mandated to offer health care or not! Employers can be fined for not taking the proper steps to educate employees, whether existing or a new hire. Get the information you have provided signed and date by the employee as there are lawyers already setting up shop to represent employees that will feel cheated or miss out on opting in to plans because the employer didn’t explain it well enough.

There is a very detailed matrix for defining if you have 50 full time employees and it’s not about the number of people, it’s about the number of hours worked by all your employees. Seasonal (to a degree), holidays, vacation, and over-time are all added in. Full time is now 30 hours, so all employees who work over 29 hours will now be counted as full time.

How you schedule your employees THIS year will decide your business’ obligations for next year, so if you plan to make adjustments, you need to make them now.

The number of employees of all your business are combined, (not separated by EINs), so if you are considered to own  any other business, all employees must be added to the matrix, (‘they’ are saying all LLCs with common owners will be combined). You are required to figure this out for yourself and submit your unit calculation, you will not be notified of your obligation and since the IRS is the watchdog on this program, you’ll want to stay ahead of the curve on knowing your obligations to lessen full audit possibilities. There is monthly reporting required with this!

You can opt to offer health care, even if you are not required to, for a tax credit (average 35% of cost). The standard is being estimated at $5-6K per employee, per year, with the employee contributing a maximum of 9.5% of their yearly income towards that amount and the employer paying the rest. The policy has dictated that at max, 9.5% of an employee’s total earnings is affordable.

Any employee refusing to take part in either an employer or State level exchange plan will pay an additional “tax”, which will go up quickly over the next few years.

Any business not providing good enough insurance at an ‘affordable’ rate will receive stiff fines, (up to $3,000 per employee that ‘affordable’ insurance was not offered to), and if you offer better insurance than most, you’ll pay a special tax for that too, which is a way to encourage everyone to keep it ‘standard for all’.

Starting next year, if you have that over 50 employees matrix, you must offer insurance to ALL full time employees by 90 days of service, no matter what your policy is now. No 6 month waiting period and no managers only. And if that employee quits, they lose their coverage with you, have to go to COBRA insurance [Anyone who has been in the position of receiving COBRA applications will tell you, affordable, COBRA ain’t!] and start the whole thing over with their new employer. The paperwork will be big on this one… no way around it!

Let’s look at the trickle down if I, personally, decided to voluntarily, (or was mandated to,) offer the NHC Act Insurance for all the employees at my two businesses:

~ I’ll have direct costs in the range of $37,000 (for two businesses combined) ABOVE what I pay now with what we currently offer our full time employees, PLUS we’ll have to add all the time in increased paperwork and CPA help with payroll calculations and determinations (ballparking $58,000 total direct cost/fees if 85% of my full time staff opt in). So where is that money going to come from? That’s quite a bit more than I brought home last year from both combined since most of our profits went straight back into the businesses.

~ Many of the businesses we deal with, (e.g. suppliers, grocers, repairmen, gas station owners, anyone employing over 50 people, or franchised stores, hotels, big lawn care companies, bank, etc.), will all be looking at similar cost increases, so they’re going to raise their prices, which will raise my purchasing/maintenance/fuel costs as a direct result. And their suppliers will raise their prices, ad infinity OR they will employ a mostly part time workforce (29 hours or less) and the quality of their service may deteriorate even though they’ll be charging me more for it, since their indirect costs will still be up.

~ Theoretically, suddenly many, many folks around us will have up to 9.5% less discretionary income, as that will be withheld from their paycheck, (or collected by the State Level Exchange), for the insurance OR many more may find themselves working two-three part time jobs, with little time to go out to dine or shop or find their schedules cut down to 27 hours from 32 or 33, (which in restaurants is a whole tipped shift gone!), AND almost everywhere they shop will raise their prices and so now the community’s discretionary funds will be lowered again. We’ll all get used to it, (or fold trying, or they’ll re-vamp the whole thing again), and folks that couldn’t even get past the application stage for insurance will finally be able to, which could be amazing for them, but IS it actually going to be affordable when you take into account all the trickle down expenses? I don’t know… I’m disappointed it’s not easier and doesn’t seem quite right, (who am I kidding? I was swearing like a sailor once I realized how complicated it all is and how much a burden it could put on so many, instead of being an option I could offer my staff reasonably… mandated or not), but I’m going to get ready, because it’s coming and I want to be responsible to the needs of my employees AND keep my businesses open and the jobs they provide viable.

The meat of the post finished there. The person posting this then provided a link to a whitepaper PDF from ADP and to the Government’s website, you can sign up for updates.

I have been to the restaurant and love their philosophy of using local, in season, organic produce, and the owner provide great customer service and “get” social media, but I have to admit to a little schadenfruede, when I read the original post, since their politics, which they are only occasionally vocal about, definitely leans to the left.

As someone who has been unemployed a while, reading stuff like this is scary. I mean, I knew Obamacare was a dog of a law, but to see this. Its just going to screw people. And hard.

@MittRomney Don’t Repeal #Obamacare, Repeal The Waivers.

The left are dissing Papa John’s over the 14c/pizza costs, they’ll change tune when everything starts having its own equivalent of 14c tacked on its price. It doesn’t sound like.much, but all those cents soon become dollars…

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