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— Crystelle Love, 22, is on her way to a job interview. Sporting a black leather jacket, gray miniskirt, and black nylons, Love looks defiant. She lost her job three weeks ago and describes the event with a tone that seems to suggest that she doesn't get mad, just even.

"I was working for a cleaning service, and he fired me. I worked for them for about four months here. Before I moved to San Diego a year ago, I worked for them in Sacramento for almost a year."

The "he" Love refers to is the owner of a local housecleaning franchise. "He brought me into his office and told me that I had an attitude problem and that he had heard some rumors about me. I found out later that he told the EDD [Employment Development Department] that he didn't fire me but that I voluntarily quit my job. At first I thought it was funny. He never fires anybody, then he fires me and he tells everybody I quit. I live in Chula Vista and he had me drive all the way to El Cajon, an hour drive, to tell me that he didn't want me to work there anymore. I was angry at him too. He didn't have any right to fire me! I didn't do anything."

The firing was especially surprising because Love believes she got along well with her boss before her termination. "I have friends who work there, and they said that they heard he didn't want me to go back to school -- I had to drop out of school earlier this year when I had my baby. But he told me a whole different story, that he was firing me on the basis of a rumor, and he wouldn't let me defend myself. Then he told everybody else that I was more interested in going to school than working, so I took a leave of absence to go to school, and I would come back in October.

"Overall, I think he tried to treat me fairly, but he failed miserably. I think he's money-hungry. He just wants to make so much money so that he can retire, and he pushes people. He's concerned that his customers are happy, but if your employees aren't happy, you're never going to get ahead. You can't be miserable and go to a job every day. I was working five, sometimes six days a week. I'd like to work 25, maybe 30 hours per week."

Fortunately, Love's husband, an E-4 in the Navy, helps pay the bills. He recently returned from a three-year assignment in Japan. "He doesn't make much money! He just reenlisted. I lived in Sacramento while he was in Japan. I didn't want to live in Japan, but he'd come home for visits."

Unlike Love, her husband didn't find anything funny in her being fired. "He wanted to go beat up my old boss. They didn't get along very well because he had me doing crazy stuff at, like, nine o'clock at night. And we just recently went to a company picnic -- that was on a Saturday and he fired me the following Tuesday. My husband called up and asked, 'Where's my wife? She was supposed to be home three hours ago.' And they'd just tell him, 'Oh, she's out.' There were also a few instances when my son was sick and they never contacted me to let me know that I needed to go pick him up."

Love misses her salary. "The pay was okay -- at least better than fast food. I made about $300 to $350 a week." She and her husband have no savings, and she estimates that their bills run about $1100 a month. "We just bought a new car, and we owe about $22,000 on it. I'll have my old car paid off by next year."

Working at the cleaning service was not Love's idea of a long-term career but a necessity to sustain her family while she attends school. "So far, I've had to work full-time and go to school part-time. I'm four units away from an A.A. degree in journalism at Southwestern. After that I want to go to UCSD and major in communications. I already have my career in mind. I just need a job to finish toward my career. I'd like to write, write stories. I'd probably like to work in public relations.

"Since I've had my son, I can only go to school part-time. If I look four or five years down the road, I'll probably still be in school or possibly just finishing." Love's son was in day care, but the high cost has left him under the care of Love's brother while she looks for work.

Since her old boss reported Love as leaving on her own, she is ineligible for unemployment benefits. "I think I can last about five days if I don't find a job. My job took care of our car payments and insurance, so my payment is due on the 17th, his is due on the 22nd, and our insurance is due on the 27th."

This is the first time Love has ever lost a job, and the new terrain of searching for work is leading her to look at some unusual options. "I have a job interview this morning -- I found this one in the paper. It's a sales position, but it's supposed to be more flexible so I can go back to school. It's just impossible to go to school without a job. I'm interviewing with the Greenview Funeral Parlor.

"Usually I look on the Internet at various job sites, then I go to the paper every Sunday. I try to call the jobs that offer phone numbers, but in most cases I send in my résumé first so they can know exactly what I'm about and say either yea or nay instead of stalling me."

Also keeping Love busy is the business of settling the score with her former employer. "I'm in the process of trying to prove that he fired me for unjust reasons. I've gone through the Navy law center and discussed it with them. They said there is a possible case, considering that I never signed anything to indicate I was taking a leave of absence. They are currently looking to see if he has ever made anyone take a leave of absence and sign something. If he usually does, then me not signing anything would be good evidence against him."

Love is convinced San Diego's job market is difficult to crack. "It's harder to find work [here] than in Sacramento. Here, they all want you to be bilingual. I took four years of Spanish in high school, but I just don't speak it well. I can read it and understand it, but I can't speak it to save my life. If worse comes to worst, I'll go work at Taco Bell."

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