Part 5- “Death”(maybe there should be a content-warning for when I start talking about the “entity” dying and death in general later on?)
So, I know we're pretty full-steam-ahead at this point, but I want to double-back for a minute on something that I just talked about at the end of my last blog for just a *wee* bit more. Having to sit here and take stock enough of what happened to the point where I can condense the most of what happened has made me realize how AMAZINGLY INANE some things were to a degree I hadn't even been able to process initially. Namely, DA not paying me for the entire month of November.
Like, I *need* to vent about this a bit harder. Just a bit.
Don't worry, you'll have an entire bevy of juicy-bits to chew on afterwards. Promise.
So, just to reiterate, after spending half-a-year at our “temporary” location, we move into our “final” location in November 2016, and then DA proceeds to not pay me for November. They do write me a check at the beginning of December when I confront them about this, and the accountant does eventually get me the rest of my “back pay”(did you catch it?) by the middle of January. Now, it's very important to mention that when we did FINALLY move, the clinic was not at ALL ready to “get going” with all of its new spa-bullshit. Like I'd mentioned, there was still at least two-and-a-half months' worth of work, and I spent the first two weeks of November pulling nonstop eight to ten hour
days(with actual breaks in any capacity maybe a few times throughout those fourteen days?). And, admittedly, for the first half of a couple of those days my time may have only amounted to showing up early and not doing anything for a few hours on account of DA not showing up at all when they said they would.
Still, the place needed to be cleaned following the construction crew just finishing up days before we got there, none of the tanks were working(and one couldn't get into its room), the sauna hadn't even arrived yet, the Unecessarily Expensive heating pads weren't there yet, and I don't think the scheduler was even all-the-way ready to handle patients between all of our “services” yet. It took until December to get the tanks working, and it wasn't until January 1st that clients were finally run through them.
Why I contend this was the WORST time to not pay their employee(as if there's ever somehow a “good” time to not pay your employees?), was that if I actually had better boundaries and more self-esteem at the time I may have just walked away altogether after getting that check. If I had, DA would have been COMPLETELY up the creek without a paddle; a creek made of lava, full of lava-resistant bears swimming in it.
If I had quit later after everything was up and running, DA might've been in deep, but at least they would've had a shot at making it all work since everyting would've been “live”. If I had quit sooner, everything was in limbo for so long, they probably could've just weaseled-out before they would've crossed into “Sunk Cost Fallacy” territory.
But, no, instead they elected to not pay me EXACTLY as they were absolutely in the hole with a big, empty, not-even-close to opened clinic. While I was working the hardest for them, and while their clinic was most vulnerable, they just lost track of whether or not their employee was actually being paid for their work.
Oh, and yeah, DA spent close to TWO-HUNDRED THOUSAND dollars in total for the equipment and buildout at this new location. They said they cashed out their 401k(WOWOWOWOW) for this. And, they had absolutely NO buisness plan at all when they did it!
So, yeah, No Big Deal, or anything.
(Oh, and, yes, you DID read that correctly; BOTH times.)
But before we dig into that, I want to bring things back around to a more serious note. I want to talk about the moment I felt the entity of the clinic die.
After those first two weeks of literally doing DA's dirty work(a lot of which was in practice following DA around like a toady so they could have a niffle(Read- item a young child carries around with them to feel safe in the Big Scary World) on hand to make them feel better while they bungled around trying to find out how to work the $100K worth of fancy equipment that wasn't working. CA obviously got set up first and the fastest, as all we had to do was to wait on a fleet of ten brand-new recliners(with what I assume was only faux-leather, but I never really figured out because a person has to have limits) to get in.
The acupuncture room, which was about twenty-five feet wide, and about seventy-feet long. The acupuncture room was lined with windows along two sides of it. So, with my desk and some chairs, and the place “generally” cleaned up enough, DA let the needling start up again. DA's idea in terms of prices for the acupuncture was to keep the $15-$35 sliding scale for existing patients, and all new patients would come in at a flat $35, with packages that brough the price down to $25 a treatment for three treatments, $20 a treatment for five treatments, and $15 a treatment for ten treatments. In DA's words, “Anybody could afford $150 when they needed it(LLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLL)”. After April, however, all acupuncture patients, existing or otherwise, were to be brought over to the $35-a-treatment- plus-packages rate.
I'll get into how bad April was later, gotta try and finish this point I'm trying to make here. So, amidst all of this, morale was low. I think it was by the first week of December, a long-time patient came in, and after I put their needles in and asked if they wanted a blanket, a bit nervously they replied, “No, it's…something doesn't feel right,”
Sitting here putting this all together, I feel like it would somehow be more logical and coherent to say that my first thought was that we didn't have the music set up yet prompting said observation, but it wasn't. I'd had a “sense” of something being really “off” about the space since I first walked into it, but couldn't really put my finger on it.
I should say that I'm not a big “Woo” kind of a person. Back in college(pre- ack-skool), I remember reading a quote meant to describe early Behavioral Psychology that went, “What see is what we know, and all we need to know is what we can see,” and that fits me pretty well at the end of the day. Now, I'm by no means at all “Anti” people thinking and acting differently than me, I will always be the first to clarify this is only me speaking strictly for me, and I completely respect other people making their own decisions.
Needless to say, I did very much in the moment the patient brought it up notice a distinct *absence* of something that I had felt before when I needled people. I felt it at the original location of the clinic, and I felt it at the “temporary” clinic, but no-more at the “final” location. It was like when you walk off from the middle of a big group of people having some kind of social gathering outside, going from a breathing mass of energy to “loneliness” away from the group. You can “feel” the transition to loneliness, having been surrounded by people just moments before, and the patient pointing it out made that vague sense become more tangible in my mind. It didn't feeling like a “CA” clinic anymore, it just felt like an “office” of some kind, something physical and utilitarian. The heartbeat was gone. I felt the last moments of the entity die, it's final expiration. I'll never forget that feeling, and I'm not trying to “show off”, but I had to pause a beat at the end of that last paragraph because my eyes got a little misty.
A clinic, in my opinion, is MORE than just its structures and systems. The body runs on more than just bones and nerves, there's *something* that switches on after a certain point of growing in the womb, and then swithes back off when certain conditions are met.
After that point, I tried my best to re-create that “feeling” for patients by my own effort and presence, and that was a lot of what contributed to the burn-out that had really started to set-in by the time we got to the new location. I was like a set-designer in film or theatre, expending a lot of energy and effort to make something look and give off the feeling of being “lived-in” to anyone that would stand in the middle of it, but from a distance is patently artifical. When that “presence” is coming from a “live” entity, I believe that is what helps enable patients to become so comfortable doing this weird thing called acupuncture enough to fall asleep in their chairs as easily as they seem to. It's not ridiculously hard to maintain in a proper enviroment with a healthy entity, but without those things, placing the building and maintenance on that kind of “set” all on the presence of a single person is going to inherently be a difficult, draining
Working at the clinic I'm at now, which is absolutely a healthy, functioning entity able to handle the challenges that CA clinics face, treating three-times as many patients as I did at my last job doesn't even feel like it comes close to the energy expenditure I had to put out to make needling at said last job work. It's literally not comparable. And, yeah, eventually having to shoulder just about ALL of the day-to-day operations at DA's clinic entirely by my F&^%ing self because of their incompetence exacerbated how much energy that took to keep the right “feel” going for the CA space, but still. Setting all of that aside, even when I was ONLY focused on needling at DA's clinic, it still felt like I worked a LOT harder at that job than my current one.
Now, there may be the thought, “Oh wow, Mike, I bet you appreciated getting this incredibly valuable object-lesson about what it really takes to work at a POCA clinic, huh?” and, no, not really. There's not so much the sense at all of being “lucky” enough to get what could be considered in some ways a uniquely exclusive access to something which could be valuable, so much as the awareness something had to die for me to be able to get that. “Responsibility” comes more to mind, and I'm really not trying to be fancy or hokey, here. I mean this.
That's what it felt like to be there the moment when an entity died. Perhaps unsurprisingly, shortly thereafter just about everything else started to get much worse and desperate from there. When the Con-Flaging tanks finally Flim-Shmottingly all worked by about mid-December(and that one that refused to go to its room had been finally properly coerced to go there), and the sauna was all hooked up, and the Needlessly Expensive Heating Pads Full of Dumb Expensive Rocks were all up and running, we were FINALLY able to get going after January 1st. During the New Year's holiday, DA had run a “Sorta-Grand Opening” special on floats, and I think about ten people passed through them. In celebration of the milestone, my schedule was jumped from about thirty-hours of needling to fifty-plus hours a week of running literally just about everything else at the damn place.
So, WAY back when we had just moved into this Final Location, I was told pretty explicitly that I would NOT have to worry about running all of the other spa-crap. I was told this was because there is no way that I could conceivably effectively do so while simultaneously running CA at the volume I needed(oh yeah, DA was so sure that the 150-200(!!!) treatments a week we would need to break even(!!!) were TOTALLY going to happen, because I did about thrity-five people in a single shift on a free day months ago) to keep acupuncture afloat(be a real waste if I didn't shoe-horn that pun in at some point). Point of fact, DA named about three people who would be brought on to do that, and I met them in-person because they helped us when we moved in(DA even talked to them about, “Making sure you get paid for this[helping move stuff in],” and I can only assume now that DA meant that they didn't forget their Monopoly Money on the way out). However, when everything mattered, it seemed it was only DA and myself left to actually run things. In a rash effort to not risk my schedule extending to 11pm every night, I volunteered myself for all of the early time-slots for the other services(which started at 10am every day, and floats were scheduled every two-hours) in addition to my usual acupuncture hours(which generally started at about 1pm every day and ended at 8pm, exceptions being Fridays and Saturdays which started earlier).
Let me tell you, those early floats were REAL popular. Oh, and DA also took ALL the floats/scheduling for services on the two days a week I wasn't there, because otherwise they said they didn't want to overwork me(HAHAHAHA!!!)
For a while, we were still getting some old regulars coming in for acupuncture, even though one by one they were all spooked by how “ritzy” everything had become. Newsflash- patients AREN'T stupid, they're actually really smart, and they KNOW when they're charity. They know how conditional “charity” is, and they know when they don't “belong” at a certain place, and this has the entirely opposite effect of “endearing” them to your operation. And, no, you are never as clever at “spinning” it as you think you are.
For a while, the patients and I were all just trying to make the best of it. Here-and-there I'd get close to six or eight patients going at once, and that actually felt kinda good; even though I was always too harried to enjoy it. Impressively, all the way until the end, the reputation the previous punks and owners had built for the clinic persisted. We kept getting walk-ins for acupuncture who looked a little shocked upon entering that *this* was the clinic they had heard such glowing reports about. They pushed through anyway, though, even if they couldn't really afford at the new prices we offered the amount of acupuncture they'd actually need. For a while, at least, I tried to foucs on at least turning people on to what acupuncture was at all, and what community acupuncture *could* be. While giving the regulars and a couple of the previous volunteers who had poured so much into the clinic over the years a chance to get a few more treatments.
By the time April rolled around though, everything went dark. Not, as in the patients all dried up(to my surprise, honestly. I guess people really WILL give actupuncture a try if a practitioner can make even a platry effort at making it to available to them, who knew?), but dark as in I found myself having much, much more trouble getting out of bed every morning. Again, April was when *all* patients had to start paying on the $35-plus-packages rates, and we lost all but a few of whatever regulars we had left. The patients all knew that said change was not all by my design, and most thanked me for holding the line like I had been for as long as I did. I thanked them, too. More than a few of them I sent to a place across town that had started doing CA here-and-there, and which other independent sources confirmed wasn't too bad an operation. Kindly, all of the patients I referred honored my request that they not tell anyone at this other location how they would have heard about them.
In general, the whole switch-over to being more of a “spa” acupuncture setup, even at comparably “affordable” rates made my job much, much harder. The price change was, again, in effect for new-patients since November, and between November 2016 and 2 July 2017(the day I left), the amount of new-regulars we picked up under these new structures wouldn't even require all of the fingers on one hand to be counted.
Patient-bases are not SOLELY built on what your charging, they're based on the look, feel, and culture of your operation. It's in the MIghty CA Wiki in a numbr of places, it's in the books, it's hard to miss even casually browsing the POCA website. And, it is ABSOLUTELY that way for very, very specific reasons.
After the switch happened, our patients(aside from a handful of regulars who hung-on by the $150-for- ten-treatments package) switched to- 1) people who needed a LOT of acupuncture but for whom we no longer had the flexibility to find a way to offer it to them, and 2) “Acu-Tourists”(people who don't have any pressing “need” for acupuncture, but mostly just want to try it because it's a “Thing”) who never really came back more than three times total, if at all. “Tourists”, no matter how good of a job you do of resolving any issues they may have, and no matter how wonderful an experience you provide, will NEVER get as excited about what you do like actual CA patients will. Tourists won't bring their family, friends, or spouses. They won't tell all of their coworkers, or the people they see at the library, or who does their hair for them about you. All they'll do is stop by once or twice, thank you and tell you in a rather lukewarm kind-of-a-way what a nice time they had, before dissappearing back into the fog.
Now, sure, in reality some people in any given major metropolitan area can get lucky enough to find a way to make “tourists” work. If you're following the statistics out of the NCCAOM in terms of actual *numbers* around the Acupuncture Profession(blegh), though, you may notice that “some” may be to generous a descriptor for the number of actual practitioners who reliably(keyword) succeed at this In Reality.
In fewer words, it got real lonely after April. There's not a whole lot of “warmth” from people for whom you're just a technician, and it surprised me how much those interactions from long-term patients were sustaining me. Losing that felt like a life-line being cut, and it felt like the worst time for that to happen.
Like I said a bit / up there / , I started working a LOT more hours all at once. Like I mentioned a blog or two ago, I was salaried, and my pay was $30K/year. Can you guess what my additional compensation for my hours-worked per week nearly doubling was?
Got something in mind?
That's right! My compensation increased by, ZERO dollars(USD)!
I mean, yeah, I guess it was my own fault for accepting a salaried position, but still. Despite acupuncture beginning to drop off sharply(again), the sherf-garmicking float-tanks were absolutely hoppin'.
You see, DA decided that the way to build up the necessary clientele to make rent each month, and get people to check out this “new” thing called “floating”, was to run a Groupon for the floatation services. To anyone that has ever interacted with Groupon before, or even just knows anything about it knows what a horrible,
idea that is. It wasn't DA's first idea, though. That was actually to offer an incomprehensible set of possible package-deals for floating by itself, or in some combination with the other three services we offered(packages which made those offered by people trying to provide a Modern take on acupuncture seem downright intuitive by comparison, if you're pickin' up what I'm putting down here). After Groupon, though, Sunk-Cost(put this pun in the “maybe” pile?) Fallacy was in FULL effect, and DA became literally obssessed with “converting” the Groupon Tourists into full customers.
To put a little of this in perspective for people who are fortunate enough to be able to live their lives without needing to know these things, the “market rate” for most floats settles around what the higher- end is for market-rate acupuncture, between $100-$150(circa 2017, of course). I would wager that at least eighty-five percent of our float clients, from when we opened the service to when I left, came in on groupons that maybe net the clinic around $25.
I think we must've started the Groupon around late February or early March, and immediately after we did, the schedule booked solid. Every day, in addition to acupuncture and the occasional interloper looking for the sauna, I was handling up to sixteen float clients a day(I should mention of our three tanks total, one was large enough to fit two people at once, the “couples tank”, for when one or both people couldn't find a better way to inspire the other to want to break-up with them). The tanks generally kept their “interiors” clean via all the filtering, but take a moment to imagine how mucky those rooms got constantly getting splashed by water that is 1,000:1 salt-to-water ratio. After every float, I had to run in and mop the floors, clean the showers(so people could wash the salty-water off of them), change out towels, and make certain the ear-picks and wax ear-plugs were adequately refreshed so people didn't get exceptionally-salinated water deep in their ear-canals.
In theory, people were supposed to spend a few minutes before getting in the tank getting ready to get in the tank, and then spend sixty minutes(but that could be up to 90 minutes) in the tank, get out and take a few minutes to clean up, and then be out in time for the person minding the tanks to clean everything up by next-call. At this point in everything, I'd be dissapointed if you wouldn't have guessed that said theory RARELY survived in practice. When we were booked out for a day, “Success” was just keeping the damn trains on the tracks at all, regardless of when they actually arrived anywhere near on time.
And, again, imagine all of this while treating a handful of acupuncture clients(the majority of whom were tourists) at the other end of the shop, recepting and answering the phones, and still having a sauna and Needlessly Expensive Heating Pads Full Of Dumb Rocks to worry about. “Ragged” was a good day. We don't talk about the bad days.
Oh, and if you're wondering where DA was in all this, imagine them alert, active, and…Working from home.
Sure, when/if something happened(because I was NOT properly trained how to manage those grungly-zerzees tanks beyond, “Hey, put some of this stuff in every day, but not ncessarily every day. It's also got to be the right amount. Yeah, that amount looks right. For now. I'm going to get angry and shouty at you for putting that much in at some point later, though, because it's far more stressful for you if I contradict my own directions arbitrarily now and again. You're welcome.”) they'd show up closer to 12pm, but most of my days were flying solo until 4-6pm. Even when DA did get there, they *might* recept a little bit, but mostly just go back and hide in their office. The only real difference between them there and not there, is when they weren't, I was nervous about what they might call me out for having screwed up that I genuinely didn't know I should have been doing when they got there. When they were there, I was still nervous, because then I had to worry about them “catching” me screwing-up in-process in front of clients.
Oh, and I was doing all of the laundry, which was plentiful given the consistent need for fresh towels all the time, and mopping the floors for the greater clinic, and cleaning off all of the surfaces as bathrooms.
In the last three months before I left, I developed a bit of a habit of not sleeping and driving in to the clinic(because the final location happened to be only about five minutes from my apartment) at 2am to mop, because at least then I'd definitely know that DA couldn't pop in at random and assign me a bunch of extra chores to do all at once, and I could actually finish someting(also, you know, I wasn't very “well” by this point).
Yeah, DA had pretty poor boundaries(SHOCKER!). A couple of times I had the really stupid idea to try and creep in on my days off to do or check something at the clinic early in the morning, *thinking* that DA's chronic tardniess would give me a window to get in and get out, but NOPE. The absolute nadir of this was one day where my total hours worked amounted to close to seventy, because on a holiday I popped in to try and mop the floors real quick, and JUST as I finished, DA sauntered in and enlisted me to help him(mostly just stand there being emotional support) while they tried to figure out why a certain tank room was smelly(it was because he hadn't been changing the filters for the pumpsnearly as often as he should have been(EEWWW!!!!)). I probably should have started believing in a god after that, because I don't know what else could have prevented me that day from trying to run over DA with my car, backing up into them with my car, and then driving back over them one more time(because something that irredeemable and vile is the sorta thing you have to make certain to double-tap).
I know I'm describing a comparatively short period of time(again, around sometime in February/early March things started to pick up, and I was gone by July 2nd), but I assure you I it was all getting just that bizarre. As is probably pretty obvious, DA had no actual business plan, sunk a HUGE amount of money into this, and the vast majority of their customers were coming in on deeply discounted Groupons. Which is to say, all of the debt-collectors started calling in force. Definitely by June, I think we were up to about four(it could have been five, I can't remember exactly) different phone numbers I had to remember because they were debt collectors. Because I lived in the same “neighborhood”, my utilities were through the same utility companies, and so I knew that things had to be bad given how much scarier the notices for the clinic's utility bills looked than mine(because, you know, I was paying my bills). I mean, paying
bills on time and DA didn't seem to mix much anyways, given what happened in the middle of winter back at the original location, but still.
Oh yeah, did I mention that? In the MIDDLE OF WINTER, DA just *forgot* to pay the gas bill, it got shut off, and so myself and OP had to punk while the heat wasn't working in the clinic. IN. THE. MIDDLE. OF. WINTER.
I mean, winters weren't *quite* as intense as in the state where the clinic was as in my home state of Illinois, but still.
So, yeah, DA was starting to get a bit unhinged. Everything started to feel like it was coming undone, I called my punk mentor(really, thanks SO much, Jim, I don't know what I would've done otherwise) once or twice genuinely concerned that I'd show up to work and there'd be a lock with chains on the door, and there'd be some really big guy in a crisp suit and sunglasses named Vinny would keep telling everybody to, “Fuggedaboudit” if they walked to close to the clinic. DA had finally started admitting that their wealth of “business” experience practically amounted to something closer to pushing papers in some cushy upper-management position at a big company as opposed to anything even coming close to actually “running” a small business. Or, ANY business, for that matter.
I think it's pretty obvious at this point, too, that I could keep going on. In those five months between things going bannanas to me leaving in July, so much just went so, so WRONG. Trying to total it all up and condense it into a coherent narrative, even having been there myself, it's all just feels stunning. If someone had told me this around the time I'd started, I'd have probably agreed there were some rough patches up ahead, but ALL of this? No, they HAVE to be exaggerating, and more than just a little bit.
As I've already mentioned, the only real reason I was sticking it out through all of this for as long as I did, hoping I wouldn't get caught in whatever cosmic justice was coming in reaction to DA's arrogance, was the lease I was in for my apartment. I was grateful that said justice waited until after I left.