Miller Genuine Draft: The Messiah Complex At Work, Part III

March 30, 2012

This is the third in a series of posts I’ve done about my experiences with a former supervisor during my years with the New Voices Fellowship Program at the Academy for Educational Development (see my earlier posts, “The Messiah Complex At Work, Part I” and “Breakdown: The Messiah Complex At Work, Part II” for more). This one is a bit out-of-order, but it’s also both funny and sad at the same time.

It was the last Friday in March ’03 that the powers that were at the Ford Foundation had requested a meeting with Ken about the program up in New York. Not me and Ken, not “Driving Miss Daisy” Sandra and Ken, and not Yvonne and Ken. Just Ken. I knew immediately that this was a bad sign when I learned of the meeting. But Ken said, “No, no, this could be good. We’ve done everything they’ve asked of us.”

With Alan Jenkins now the head of the Human Rights and International Cooperation unit — Anthony Romero having left more than a year before for the ACLU — and with Yvonne about to retire, there really wasn’t anyone on either side of the AED-Ford Foundation relationship that would ensure the continuing, intact funding of our little program. If I could figure this out, I figured anyone could. At least, anyone with any experience working with foundations.

So around 5:30 on March 28, as I was cleaning up my office and preparing for the much-needed weekend with my five-months’ pregnant wife, my phone rang. I half-expected it to be Angelia making some requests for stuff to pick up from CVS or the grocery store on my way from the Silver Spring Metro, so I left the music running, which happened to be Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus.”

As soon as I picked up and said my name and “New Voices,” Ken began to talk. He asked me,”Are you sitting down?,” and then continued about the main event at 320 East 43rd. Despite the efforts of Ken, me and the rest of the staff to attract new kinds of fellows to New Voices, the various successes of those Fellows and their organizations, that a couple of program officers were unhappy with the amount of investment it took to attract these highly qualified individuals. That, and an overall change in priorities — which could have been seen from Mount Everest looking down on New York once Ford had launched its International Fellowship program at the end of ’01 — meant that there was a decreasing interest in New Voices.

Two things occurred at this meeting. One, the Human Rights and International Cooperation unit would now only renew funding for New Voices on an annual basis — it was funded in two-year chunks up until that day. And two, starting in ’04, Ford would reduce their overall funding effort by fifteen percent across all aspects of the New Voices budget.

“Well, at least they didn’t cancel the program,” I thought. Ken, though, seemed distraught. Then I noticed

Depressed Forty Year Old Man Drinking Alone, May 6, 2010. (http://istockphoto.com).

that he was slurring his words, a bunch of voices, and the clinking of glasses.

“Ken, where are you?,” I asked.

“Oh, I’m at a bar, drinking a Miller Genuine Draft,” he said.

“Really, you’re drinking?,” I responded, with a gasp as a substitute for laughter.

“I have to drown my sorrows somehow,” Ken said.

“Oh geez,” I thought. He continued talking about the good fight, about parts of the program that we’d have to curtail immediately, about looking for new funding streams for New Voices (the last one I had suggested two years earlier).

“Given where you are, I don’t think that this is a good time or place for us to discuss these issues. Plus, I can barely hear you,” I said.

“You’re right. Well, have a good weekend,” Ken said with his worried, crazy laugh.

I got off the telephone, and turned off the music from my computer’s Windows Media system. Two songs had played since Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” but it was pounding in my head. It was now mixed up with the image of Ken looking disheveled post-Ford meeting, downing a bottle of Miller Genuine Draft while sitting on a bar stool, then ordering another. All by himself. All the while, everyone else around Park Avenue and Grand Central having themselves a good time. I realized at that moment that I wouldn’t see or hear “Personal Jesus” the same way again.

I felt sorry for him, but knowing what I’d gone through with Ken two years earlier, I couldn’t trust his judgment either (see my “Working At AED: Alternate Sources of Fear” post from June ’11). It was the first evening of the end of my time at New Voices, as well as the first day of Ken’s ten-month spiral that led to Georgetown University Hospital’s psychiatric ward. Apparently, a bottle of MGD’s hardly strong enough to take the weight of mental illness off. Nor did it make Ken wise enough to recognize that when a messiah has failed to deliver, that it would be a good time to rethink how one sees himself and the world.


The Washington Post Publishing Drivel on College Costs

March 27, 2012

David C. Levy, President CIG Education Group, March 27, 2012. (http://cig.com).

This past weekend, The Washington Post was dumb enough to published an article by the former New School University chancellor David C. Levy titled “Do College Professors Work Hard Enough?” It was in their Outlook/Close to Home section. The editors there didn’t do any due diligence to fact check Levy’s biased and grossly incorrect article on a topic in which a high school student could have found accurate facts in five or ten minutes.

This article is incredibly disingenuous, as if university professors are living the lives of the Top 1%, and all without having to work a full-time gig. Most folks in the college teaching profession (somewhere in the 60-70% range) — yours truly included — are part-time professors (known as adjuncts) or are graduate students. The idea that there are legions of tenured faculty members making high-five figure and six-figure incomes and that they represent today’s standard teaching faculty is ridiculous. It’s as absurd as thinking that folks who believe President Obama wasn’t born in the US don’t use this irrationality as a proxy for their racial bias.

The fact is, most of the dwindling tenured faculty who are lucky enough to earn these salaries have two things going for them. One, they teach at places where their job may be teaching, but their career is based on their research and publishing their research. Period. Until those in leadership (like this article’s writer) decide that the publish-or-perish system of granting tenure runs contrary to the mission of the professorship — to be teachers first, in other words — we can count on tenured faculty not spending 40 hours or more per week in their role as teachers.

Two, those most successful faculty often make their own money beyond the classroom. These folks usually draw additional money to their universities through research grants, fellowships and private donations. Some of these highly paid professors have enough panache to draw more students to their universities, a pretty good justification for a higher salary.

Finally, the biggest single reason for the rise in costs at universities isn’t faculty — adjunct or tenured. It’s administration. The size and salaries of administration has grown in concert with the increases in tuition over the past 30 or so years. Some of these costs are justified, as universities have needed more staff to handle recruitment, admission, academic support and services, the need to build a diverse student body and to provide supports to retain students so that they will be successful in college and graduate. But between billion-dollar capital campaigns, the building out of universities to gargantuan proportions, the bringing in of business executives as chief academic officers, university administration really is the largest non-student related cost here.

David C. Levy should know better, and probably does. He obviously has an ax to grind, for whatever reason, against faculty, and picked a completely wrong approach to reducing costs. Levy should ask himself the question, “Did I as a former university president work hard enough on my Washington Post article?,” and then answer the question, “Heck, no!” And as a former university president and chancellor, he should look himself in the mirror, as people like him are most responsible for the high-cost system we have now.


Almost Doesn’t Count

March 24, 2012

LA Lakers Shannon Brown's missed dunk in Game 1 of NBA Western Conference Finals vs. Phoenix Suns, May 17, 2010. (Getty Images).

The title for this post could also be “It Was Never Almost.” I had one of my best chances at publishing my dissertation on multiculturalism and mid-twentieth century Black Washington, DC (now the book Fear of a “Black” America) in March ’97. But not knowing the publishing world, combined with PTDD (post-traumatic dissertation disorder) from the past year of surviving Joe Trotter and my dissertation committee (see my “’It Is Done’” – 15 Years Later” post from November ’11 and “Letter of Recommendation (or “Wreck-o-Mendation)” post from September ’10) made this three-week period of negotiations a total communications mash-up.

I was in an “I’ll show them” mode in the months after my committee approved my dissertation “‘A Substance of Things Hoped For’: Multiculturalism, Desegregation, and Identity in African American Washington, DC, 1930-1960″ at the end of November ’96. Within a month, I made some minor revisions to the 505-page tome, and worked on some query letters for academic publishing houses about turning the dissertation into a book.

I contacted Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Princeton University Press and a few others. I also sent a query to New York University Press. Their acquisitions editor responded enthusiastically, and asked for a copy of the manuscript, which I dutifully sent their way in mid-February ’97.

And that’s when the communications about converting my doctoral thesis into a book went haywire. What was unknown to me was that Steven Schlossman, the chair of the history department at Carnegie Mellon, had been in contact with Niko Pfund, the then head of NYU Press (now president of Oxford University Press), about my dissertation. Three weeks after sending out my manuscript, I received a rejection letter from NYU Press, saying that while my manuscript was worthy of publication, that my “anachronistic use” of multiculturalism to describe the ideas and activities of Black intellectuals and educators in Washington, DC didn’t fly for them.

That same week, I received a telephone call from Schlossman asking me to meet about the dissertation. At his office, I not only learned that he had been in contact with Pfund and NYU Press. I also found out that he had sent them the first fifty pages or so of my dissertation without my permission. I told Schlossman about the fact that I’d already been in contact with NYU Press and that they had rejected the manuscript. But he insisted that his way of going through this process was the best way to go.

I was incensed at the idea that folks were working to publish my dissertation without my input. Especially someone like Schlossman, whom I knew didn’t understand why or how I had planned to use multiculturalism from a historical perspective for a book. I didn’t understand what I planned to do yet, but Schlossman could explain it? I left his office, upset and confused about the lack of communication between me and my department, and within NYU Press itself.

NYU Press-Niko Pfund Letter from March 1997, March 24, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins).

A few days later, I received a letter and then a telephone call from Niko Pfund. In the letter, he expressed interest in my manuscript, and wanted me to send in the whole thing. But his assistant had already done an extensive review of the partial manuscript they had received from Schlossman. It was one that was mixed, but it leaned slightly toward rejection because they didn’t get the term “multiculturalism” in the context of “Black history.”

I complained that I was getting mixed signals from Pfund and NYU Press. I’d been rejected, yet this was the second time I’d been invited to submit the same manuscript. The folks there didn’t understand why I used the term multiculturalism in my dissertation, yet never discussed the issue with me directly, just with Schlossman. Someone did a decidedly thorough yet biased review of a portion of my manuscript, yet never had the chapter in hand that was specifically about why multiculturalism has a history.

All I heard from Pfund were excuses, that Schlossman sought them out, that I was being offered an opportunity here for review, but certainly not for publication, because the NYU Press has “high standards.” I rejected him and his unapologetic bull crap on the spot. I decided that I couldn’t work with a place where the director didn’t even know that his acquisitions editor had rejected my manuscript, nor had the common sense to contact a potential author directly to clear up contradictory communications.

It turned out that Pfund and NYU Press weren’t my best opportunities for publishing my first book. But it would’ve been the best time to publish it, within months of completing the dissertation. It would’ve remained a timely topic, with President Bill Clinton’s Commission on Race commencing the following year.

It just wouldn’t have been the best time for me. I was pissed with the world, and burned out to boot. There really wasn’t anyone in my life who could’ve given me sage advice about the publishing process, and I certainly didn’t and couldn’t trust anyone in Carnegie Mellon’s history department to play that role. That much, I was certain about.


Why Black Men Carry A Public Anger

March 21, 2012

Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. arrested by Cambridge Police, Cambridge, MA, July 22, 2009. (http://assets.nydailynews.com/img/2009/07/22/alg_henry-louis.jpg via Wikipedia). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws because of historical significance of photo and topic and its poor resolution.

I hadn’t planned on posting this piece until June, when it will be twenty-five and fifteen years since my shopping while Black incidents literally a block apart on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. But in light of the Trayvon Martin murder — and that’s what this is, a murder — at the hands of the racist vigilante George Zimmerman more than three weeks ago, it makes sense to do this post now.

Tower Records, 1961 Broadway (NW corner of 66th and Broadway, Lincoln Square), New York City, November 22, 2006. (Stuart Johnson via Flickr.com). In public domain.

Tower Records, Friday afternoon, June 19th, ’87, the day after I graduated from Mount Vernon High School (see more from my “The Day After” post from June ’08). With high school now over, I was in a celebratory mood. I took the 2 train from 241st to 72nd and walked the six short blocks to the great Tower Records on 66th. I had my latest Walkman, my first Sony Walkman, actually, and my book bag with my recent tape investments, including a few I’d bought at Tower Records the previous Friday. Investments like Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night, Genesis’ Invisible Touch, and Glass Tiger (yes, Glass Tiger — absolutely terrible).

I went into the store and began to browse the R&B and Pop/Rock sections for tapes. There I noticed some plastic wrapping on the floor, as if someone had taken a tape out of its case and stolen it. While I thought about the wrapper on the floor, three White security guards came out of nowhere, grabbed me and dragged me to a storage room downstairs.

“We got you for stealing,” one of them said, presumably the store’s head of security.

“You don’t have me for anything. Is this because I’m Black?”

“Well, how do you explain the wrappers we found on the floor and the tapes in your bag?”

“The wrappers were on the floor when I got there and the tapes . . .”

“You’re going to jail, asshole, when we bring the cops in here!”

“First of all, I’m not going anywhere. The tapes are all mine, and some of them I bought in this store last Friday. I have the receipt at home. Don’t you have ways to verify my purchases?”

“We don’t believe you!”

“It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe me. I’m under eighteen. You can’t hold me or turn me over to police without calling my parents. I’m not even from here, I’m from Westchester County, and my receipts are back home there.”

“If we were outside instead of in here, I’d slap you around, wise-ass!”

“Then I guess I’m the lucky one. Why don’t we check the receipts from your cash registers up front for my purchases from last Friday? I know they’ll show that I’m right and you’re wrong!”

The hotheaded White man who did all of the talking got up and made a threatening slap gesture with the back of his left hand before the other ones grabbed him and told him to calm down. They let me go. On my way out, I said, “I hope you learned that not every Black person coming in your store is a thief!” It would be ten years before I went into Tower Records again (of course, Tower Records went out of business in ’06).

That next time was May 12, ’97, and I had just finished a day-long interview for an assistant professor

Barnes & Noble, 1972 Broadway (NE corner of 66th and Broadway), New York City, December 30, 2010, three days before it closed. (Jim In Times Square via Flickr.com). In public domain.

position at Teacher College (Columbia University’s school of education). I had no problems as I browsed Tower Records for about twenty minutes. It was my first time there since the ’87 incident. Then I went across the street to the Barnes & Noble mega-store. From the moment I walked in the door until I left a half-hour later, a Latino security guard tailed me as I perused books in the African American nonfiction, Cultural Studies and Music sections of the store, across three floors. As I walked out, I walked up to the guard and said

“While you were stalking me, you probably let half a dozen White folks slip out of here with books and CDs. Did you learn anything while you were watching me?”

“I was just doing my job,” the dumb-ass security guard said in response.

“Well, if following a Black guy around for thirty minutes is part of your job, you deserve to lose your job,” I said as I walked out, not to return until Christmas ’02.

Over the years, I have been stopped by police in Mount Vernon, Pittsburgh, DC and L.A., followed by police in Maryland, Pittsburgh and L.A., patted down by police at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, and followed by more security guards — including ones guarding those precious gated communities — than I’d ever care to count. My only crime was being a Black male in America’s public sphere.

Trayvon Martin in hoodie, March 19, 2012. (http://media.metronews.topscms.com/). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws because photo is an illustration of one of the subjects of this post.

Like so many others, I could’ve easily been Trayvon Martin twenty-five, fifteen and even five years ago. This constant tightrope dance that we must do to make old White ladies and scared White guys and ig’nit Black folks feel comfortable. So that I’m not arrested, or maimed, or killed. So that I can go about the business of being me and making myself and the people in my life better. As Nathan McCall would say, it “makes me wanna holler.”

Short of moving to a nation not built on the imperialism and fear of Black males in particular, all I can do, for better and for worse, is to prepare my son for this very racial America in which we still live. And yes, that makes me angry.

Me at 16 (with torn gray hoodie), Mount Vernon High School ID, Mount Vernon, NY, November 1985, March 21, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins).


Ivy League Dilemma – Addendum

March 18, 2012

My addendum to the “Ivy League Dilemma” post, as there are several lessons to learn from my stumbling successfully into college at the University of Pittsburgh:

1. Always do your homework regarding the kinds of schools you want to attend. Easier said than done when you’re sixteen, the Internet didn’t exist, and your family doesn’t have the money to take you to visit schools prior to applying. Even with the disadvantage of poverty and lack of knowledge, I certainly had enough money for the $1.25 fare to catch the 2 to 110th Street and transfer to the 1 to get off at 116th, then walk up the step to find myself on Columbia University’s campus in ’86 or early ’87. That I didn’t see Columbia’s campus until ’90 is inexcusable.

2. Never allow the slights and ridicule of others determine where you should and shouldn’t go to school. I assumed that because my affluent and White (and some Black) Humanities classmates were snobbish, cliquish and entitled that I would see the exact same patterns at places like Columbia and Yale, making me more likely to see the University of Pittsburgh as an oasis from that side of human nature. It turned out that I was right and wrong. Pitt was so big, with so many different kinds of students, that there wasn’t this exaggerated sense of academic entitlement that I’d been a part of in the six years prior to attending. Over the years, I’ve learned that even truly talented and affluent students could be and often are wonderful human beings.

3. Don’t become intimidated by competition just because of the pressures and failures of the past. I don’t think that I was intimidated per se, but I do think that I wanted to not make a fool of myself among other high academic achievers either. My mix of the schools in which I applied in the fall of ’86 reflects this middle-of-the-road and contradictory thinking:

University of Pittsburgh                Columbia University
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute  Rochester Institute of Technology
Hobart & William Smith Colleges  SUNY Buffalo
Yale University                              University of Rochester

I simply didn’t know enough — or knew anyone who knew enough — about me, my potential, and about the kinds of schools I’d been looking for to apply to the best mix of schools back then. Today, knowing what I was like then, but also knowing what I know now, I can reasonably assume that the list below would’ve been the best one for me to work from a quarter-century ago:

University of Pittsburgh                University of Pennsylvania
Cornell University                         Brown University
University of Toronto                    University of North Carolina
Georgetown University                 New York University

Of course, hindsight in my case is 20/10. This list just means I have a ten-year head start in helping my son figure out his higher education plans.


The Ivy League Dilemma

March 17, 2012

Columbia University's Butler Library at night, New York City, October 13, 2008. (Andrew Chen via Wikipedia). Permission granted via GNU Free Documentation License.

A quarter-century ago this weekend, I made the decision to attend the University of Pittsburgh over Columbia University. Given that I lived in Mount Vernon, New York, this was a decidedly weird decision. So much so that I didn’t tell my mother of my plans for nearly two weeks, and waited until April to tell my classmates. But there’s a well marbled story here, of bad Ivy League practices, not to mention my need to get away from family and classmates alike.

I applied to eight schools in all, including Yale, Columbia and Pitt. If it weren’t for Pitt’s brochure of pizza and students having a good time, I wouldn’t have applied there to begin with. The only rejection I received was from Yale, in early February ’87. Oh well!

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh, December 20, 2010. (http://www.photohome.com). In public domain.

Over the next five weeks, I received one acceptance and packet of materials after another, including Columbia and the University of Pittsburgh. All but Columbia gave me a full financial aid package of one kind or another. All offered either a partial or a full-tuition scholarship for four years except for Columbia. Pitt had offered me one of their inaugural half-tuition academic scholarships that they called the Challenge Scholarship, meant to attract low-income students and students of color from across the country.

I called Columbia’s financial aid office in mid-March to ask why they hadn’t offered me any kind of academic scholarship. They called me back to tell me that they wanted to “make sure” that I really couldn’t afford to go their West Harlem, er, Morningside Heights school.

“But you have my Mom’s financial paperwork,” I said.

“Well, we could send out a private investigator to track down your father and take a look at his finances. If everything checks out, either he can cover part of your tuition or we can offer you a scholarship,” the man on the other end of the phone said.

I was floored by the smug arrogance coming out of the phone. “My dad hasn’t paid child support in eight years,” I said, ready for an argument.

“We want to make sure that he doesn’t have money for your tuition,” was the creditor’s response.

“Thanks but no thanks. You either trust me or you don’t,” I said with conviction, and hung up the phone.

I was torn between having some idiot private investigator digging through my father Jimme’s pitiful life and finances and saying “Go to Hell!” to Columbia. I didn’t want to see the worst case scenario occur, which was that some fool would go back to Columbia and say that Jimme could afford to pay $3,000 of my tuition per year. In the three years up to March ’87, Jimme had given me $3,500 total.

Then I thought of other pros and cons, and as I thought of them, I wrote them out. Columbia was an Ivy League school, the University of Pittsburgh wasn’t. Yet, Columbia was more expensive than Pitt by more than two dollars to one ($18,000 per year versus $7,500) and the students at Columbia would likely be similar in education, socioeconomic background and attitudes to my Humanities classmates.

But the most important factor in saying “No” to Columbia besides their financial aid sleaziness was 616 and Mount Vernon. If I went to school there, where would I live and where would I study? Home? You got to be kidding! Mount Vernon Public Library? They only stayed open until nine pm, and were never open on Sundays. On campus? That would only work if I were able to get a decent paying part-time job on campus. After sorting through this, I knew that Columbia was out.

The look on my mother’s face when I told her said it all. She was as shocked as I’d ever seen her. She kept

Low Memorial Library, Columbia University, New York City, August 25, 2006. (Wikipedia). Permission granted via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic.

trying to convince me to go upstate to Hobart and William Smith, to see about going to Columbia for their private investigator. This after a year of her telling me that applying to West Point would “make me a man” because “women love men in uniform” and applying to HBCUs made sense because she’d given $25 to the United Negro College Fund.

My classmates spent the next couple of months asking me where Pittsburgh was and why I wanted to go there. All I knew was that I needed to get away from the New York area for a while and that the University of Pittsburgh’s tuition was cheaper than almost anything I would’ve faced in New York. I knew that they had a decent computer science program — this was to be my first major. But I also knew that I wasn’t stuck if I wanted to change majors or study something other that computer science.

In the end, I obviously made the right decision for me at the time. If I had to do it again, maybe I would’ve applied to the University of Pennsylvania or Georgetown. I certainly would’ve been better off in terms of immediate career options and income. But given the friendships that I formed, the degrees I earned and the wife that I have, I’m not sure if another good choice like the ones above would’ve been any better than going to Pitt. At least for my rather fragile psyche and near nonexistent social life.


Half Truths, Whole Foods

March 15, 2012

Whole Foods entrance, Downtown Silver Spring, MD, March 14, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins).

Well, at least as far as the Silver Spring Whole Foods store is concerned. After eleven and a half years, I’ve decided to no longer shop at this Whole Foods location.

Now, knowing me, you might think it’s because of Whole Foods’ neo-con founder, who somehow doesn’t believe in universal health care or worker’s rights. Or maybe it’s because Whole Foods’ distribution practices of shipping in coffee from Colombia and olive oil from Lebanon, Greece and Italy isn’t exactly good for the workers in those countries, not to mention the environment and my wallet. Or it’s because I see the ways in which the Silver Spring Chamber (of Secrets) of Commerce has warped Downtown Silver Spring into a pedestrian’s nightmare, of national chain businesses with primacy over downtown residents.

Parking lot area for Whole Foods-Silver Spring, St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, Strosnider's, CVS, about 80% full, March 14, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins).

But it’s none of those important and oft-thought-about issues for me. I still plan to shop at other Whole Foods stores in the DC area, albeit much more rarely than before. It comes down to two simple issues: inconvenience and customer service. We live three blocks away from the Silver Spring Whole Foods, and so it’s actually easier to walk there to shop than to drive there. But if I happen to be doing a combination shop, where I often hit two or three stores to buy about $120 in groceries on a Saturday or Sunday, that means using the Honda Element, which also means that there’s no way for me to park anywhere near the store.

This isn’t just on the weekends. Even on the days I’ve walked over, whether after work, after dropping Noah off at school, or at the end of the day, the parking area looks as if folks are preparing for a Nor’easter. I’ve actually seen customers get into actual fights over a parking space. It’s that crowded and chaotic there.

The store itself often has looked like the parking lot over the years. Lots of entitled people walking lazily down aisles, as if Whole Foods rented the space out to them for the afternoon, all while stepping in front of you for an item on the shelf without saying “Excuse me,” stepping on my foot for good measure. Or of beleaguered Whole Foods staff members in the meat, fish, deli and bakery departments, often with the weary look of waiters working at some country club, all while attempting to meet the whimsical expectations of the privileged class of customers before them.

But it’s the actual responses of the folks who work there now that’s been most disgusting.Two months ago, a cashier with name tag “Tai” rang up my groceries at the Silver Spring Whole Foods. I was left with my reusable bags while quickly trying to slide my debit card, enter my information and pay for groceries. When I had a second to try to hand Tai my grocery bags, she didn’t take them, and started with another customer as she handed me my receipt, bags in hand and no groceries bagged.

When I asked, “Are you gonna help me bag?,” Tai said “You holding the bag.”

“What, do I have to ask for you to bag?,” I then asked.

“Duh!,” Tai said with a pause. All while begrudgingly bagging the last of my groceries.

“This kind of treatment is ridiculous, and your attitude’s unacceptable,” I said, ready to beat her up in an alternate universe.

I tweeted this incident to Whole Foods Montgomery County that same day. No response. I emailed the Silver Spring Whole Foods management about the incident the following day. No response. So I boycotted the store for over a month. Only to shop there last week and have some cashier tell me to take my headphones off after I had already said no to giving money to a Whole Foods charity. Headphones, by the way, which were never on to begin with.

Side of Whole Foods-Silver Spring adjacent to Courtyard by Marriott on Fenton, March 14, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins).

This was hardly what the Silver Spring Whole Foods was like when it opened on September 6, ’00. Then, the management and the staff seemed overjoyed to provide their services. Now, it’s as if they believe that they are the only game in town, as if my money has to go into their cash registers. In other words, it’s like shopping at a really expensive version of CVS.

I’ve been to Whole Foods’ from the Union Square one in New York to others in the DC area, in Atlanta, in other parts of the country. I’ve never been treated as if I didn’t matter except at the Silver Spring store. Apparently the smugness of the corporation that is Whole Foods and the entitlement that is the Whole Foods shopper has also infected the Whole Foods staff at the Silver Spring location. The truth is, I had put up with a bit of the first two for years, but the truth is, I should’ve never put up with any of it. So, I’m out and I’m gone.


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