I Was Looking for a Job When I Started This One

I didn’t know when I wrote the previous post that I would be fired just three weeks later.

I’d been working at the same place for 19 years, and it ended in a heartbeat. The business was the sale and service of new automobiles, mostly to individuals who didn’t need them or couldn’t afford them. About half way through my time there, the company was acquired by an out of state corporation, newly created for the express purpose of owning several hundred companies like the one I worked at. Since that acquisition, the new parent company (known on this blog as “HugeCorp”) has been calling the shots, growing more and more intrusive as the years passed, despite having no institutional knowledge of the industry it had bought its way into.Vacant Office

After the acquisition, for me, the biggest change was that I was no longer working for people I knew face to face. They were still there, but they were no longer in charge. We were all drones together, management was thousands of miles away, and the goal of HugeCorp was, plain and simple, to increase its stock value. Nothing was more important.

In late 2008, with the U.S. and world economy in a swoon, HugeCorp began laying off workers, a devastating process that struck like an epidemic of malaria. I had been thinking the epidemic was over, but evidently it is still going on. I have the pink slip to prove it. According to the general manager (the seventh one since HugeCorp took over) they had decided to eliminate my position. Naturally, he told me it was not his decision and he felt terrible about it.

That was on a Thursday afternoon. I started cleaning out my office. I kept the news to myself, but apparently the general manager put the word out, because throughout the day, as I tried to tie up all the loose ends that can accumulate in 19 years, coworkers kept calling and coming in and saying how shocked they were. I told all my colleagues I would be fine, although I really didn’t know if that were true. I warned the management types not to call me if they needed my help, unless they were ready to pay me. I said it with a smile, but they knew I meant it. None of them have the authority to authorize paying me, anyway, but I was going to charge them a lot.

I left there for the last time the next day, feeling strangely numb about the whole thing.

To put it mildly, I didn’t like my job. I didn’t like the bureaucracy, the stupid rules and the feeling that I had become a replaceable cog in a giant machine. I signed up to work at a place with a hundred employees, and by the time I left there were over 20,000 of us. The cog syndrome must have been rampant.

No question the operation was “well run.” Everything that happened was measured in terms of the bottom line. Productivity was improved, by firing many employees and shifting their work to those left behind. Those remaining workers didn’t get any more money for doing all the extra work, and it was understood that asking for more money was fruitless at best, dangerous at worst. Periodically another “expendable” employee was cut loose for no apparent reason, adding to the sense of dread.

I felt tainted by the casual cruelty, and guilty like a plane crash survivor who has lived while others died. I should have quit ten years earlier when I started to feel dirty, but I needed the money and the medical insurance. As for the sleazy business we were involved in, I tried to be in it, but not of it. I don’t know if I succeeded at that.

I don’t have to worry about it any more. My issues now involve survival and self image. I am not well prepared. Will anyone hire a cranky old dude like me? Will my money last until then, or until I die? If I accept unemployment benefits am I then a member of the “moocher class?” Is there an honest, decent way to earn enough to take care of myself and my wife?

My new job is finding answers. I have no experience. I hope I can figure things out.

Uncertainty

I posted this as a comment on Narya’s blog today, and since I rarely have the time to write anything new, I thought I’d use it here on my own blog:

In my whole long working life I have never seen as much uncertainty among workers as I see today. At my company, except for the sales staff, who by necessity lead lives of self-delusion, everyone around me is fearful for their jobs. Also, we have half as many people doing five times as much work.

This may not have been the conscious goal of all employers, but it is the end result of the politics of division, the destruction of the labor movement, the redistribution of wealth, economic globalization and the dumbing down of our people. Most of us have now learned to keep our heads down and our mouths shut and take whatever pay our employer wants to give us, along with whatever ration of shit comes our way on the job.

I have found a few things to do at my workplace that seem to be the right combination of “have-to-be-done” and “kind-of-hard-to-do.” In exchange for doing those tasks (and not ever, ever demanding more money) I get to keep my job and my 1976-level salary.

I really think the American worker is demoralized. We have seen our homes taken away, our pensions converted to “retirement accounts” and then wiped out, our friends fired from their jobs, our loved ones get sick and sometimes die for lack of medical insurance and our so-called leaders either clueless or collaborating, while the richest people and corporations continue to get richer and call all the shots, both in business and in public policy.

If you came here to visit me from Mars, you’d think I have a stable, secure life. It may look that way, but I am very uncertain about the future, and that includes tomorrow morning.

So, if you’re a little spooked these days, or going through the motions in a state of shock, you’re not alone.

I Hate It When That Happens

You know how when you’re going to work, driving on the freeway?

You’re running a little late, so most of the worker bees are already off the road, at their jobs, so traffic is a little congested, but not too bad and you’re rolling along at maybe 45 MPH, and you’re trying to do the right thing, driving safely and leaving four or five car lengths between you and the car in front of you and you’ve got Delbert McClinton playing on the CD player and he”s givin’ it up for your love and you’re cruisin’ and groovin’ and suddenly from the next lane over and without any warning or signal somebody pulls into that safe zone and cuts you off in a great big SUV. Now you have to slow down but if you do, maybe somebody else will pull the same stunt and you’ll be the chump again, so maybe you’ll just tailgate him for a while, that’ll show him, but then you realize that just as his huge pigmobile has completely blocked your view down the road so you no longer have any idea what’s up ahead, whatever selfish roadhog is driving that big Personal Global Warming Device probably can’t see you, either and so what’s the point, you might as well just choke on it and back off, the Big Guys rule everything anyway. So you back off and keep driving and the big SUV gets smaller and smaller in front of you until you can’t see it or even remember it anymore and then through some miracle you find yourself in another lane that’s moving along close to the speed limit and you and Delbert are grinnin’ and rockin’ down the highway and you get cut off again by the same SUV.

Doesn’t that chap your hide?

And then you get to work and you have to make an important phone call to another office and it’s really kind of urgent that you talk to this certain person at the other office and they have a switchboard operator and when you ask for your intended party by name she says “One moment” and then you get the Muzak in your ear. While you wait you wonder how long a “moment” will be, but it doesn’t matter because you’re going to be getting on with your important call pretty soon. You smile as you think of that operator at that other company you call a lot, who, no matter who you ask for or what you say to her, always responds by saying “My pleasure.” Ha! Is she getting pleasure from being a telephone operator? You think of her squirming a little in her chair and this fantasy is just starting to get interesting when the voicemail comes on in your ear. Oh no! You have to talk to this person, because you need an answer on a very important matter and you need it by noon or preferably right now. You don’t mind leaving a message, but what if he doesn’t check his voicemail, or what if he gets your urgent message but doesn’t get how urgent it is? While you’re pondering this you hear the beep so you go ahead and leave your important message and hang up but then back in your own office you’re doing stuff and time is passing and you’re not getting any calls and it’s like an hour later and you’ve only got until noon to settle this matter so you call again and before you can stop her and ask if your party is even at work today she says “One moment” and the Muzak starts again. This is not what you wanted but maybe the guy will actually answer this time so you stay on the line and you hear a ring, a hopeful sign, and your spirits rise but no, it’s voicemail again. You don’t want to antagonize your intended party by leaving another message so soon after the first one so you quickly press “0” on your phone to get back to the operator but the system switches you not to the operator but to some woman in the mail room who has no idea why you’re calling her if you want to talk to him and she can’t or won’t transfer you to the operator so you hang up and call back and this time you don’t start by mentioning your intended party’s name but you say “I’ve already left a message today but I was wondering if Mister So-and-So is in the office today” and the operator, who is the receptionist, says she doesn’t know, and you want to say “Why don’t you go back into the office and look?” but you don’t say that because she has that same power over you that servers in restaurants have — you never know who’s spitting in your chicken piccata or letting you sit on terminal hold while your professional life trickles down the toilet, and so you meekly ask her to put you back into your intended party’s voicemail again and you realize you may never get to have your very important conversation, or at least not in time for it to do you any good.

That really planes my shins.

And you know how you have a blog and you write stuff for like five years, almost as long as a car loan, and for a long time you have a bunch of imaginary friends and you read their blogs and they read your blog and you comment on their posts and they comment back to you and you have some fun and some lively “discussions” and once in a while you actually meet one of your blog friends in person and it’s not always that great but sometimes it is, but you love all your fake friends so much and then you start making an occasional inappropriate remark on your blog and little by little your fake friends drop off and finally one day you write a post from your heart and it’s like totally politically incorrect and for the first time in five years no one comments and you realize you have no more fake friends at all?

I hate it when that happens.

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UPDATE: Thanks to Bains, who rescued the previous post while I was writing this one. I love you, man.

Desperation

What have I done with my life?

Or maybe I should ask what has become of my life, because it seems to have slipped away. Oh, I’m healthy, but that’s just a technical matter. I’m not talking about the strength of my body, but the condition of my soul. I have made a lot of compromises, and I am trapped in the consequences, and now I look around and I wonder if it has been worth it. It’s gotten to the point that I’m afraid even to say what I want in my life, afraid that I will seem foolish, impractical, a dreamer. I’m running like the fox in a hunt, and the hounds are closing in. Will it end with me in a tree, paralyzed, or will I find an escape?

At this moment, I don’t know. And this is all before the real darkness of winter has set in.

Happy Exclamation

I even bore myself.

Don’t even start reading my previous post about saving the court unless you have a full pot of strong coffee by your side, and don’t blame me if you fall asleep anyway and bump your head on your keyboard. I always start out with good intentions — I think I have an important topic to discuss, and I want to be pithy and punchy and quick and easy. You know: impactful, so as to actually have some effect on the reader. Alas, I don’t have that gift, and I end up meandering around the subject, bringing in side issues and going off on tangents. By the time I’m done I have to drag my thesis kicking and screaming back to center stage and make up some conclusion — which now seems artificial and forced and unsupported by all the stuff I’ve gotten into.

But there is one writerly thing I’ve figured out here at my crummy job in the past few months: how to sign an email to your fellow employees.

As I’ve reported here numerous times, I work for HugeCorp, a giant, heartless, marginally criminal organization. I wish I could be more specific, but they are probably logging my keystrokes, so I have to be vague. Someday I’ll start a new blog, anonymously, and really expose the doings of this company. But I digress, as always.

Because operational orders in a company this size (Fortune 100, you know) usually come from people you don’t know who work in some other state and don’t, in fact, know what you are doing or what they are talking about, you have to sort of make up your own work plan. This involves a certain amount of grudging cooperation between you and the other drones at your workplace. HugeCorp hires from the outside to fill the high-paying jobs, so nobody really cares at all about the good of the company, or doing things efficiently, or in any way trying to help anybody else with their daily drudgery, because it’s all about the paycheck and then going out to par-tay on Friday night.

Every now and then I think of some perfectly easy thing that one of my colleagues can do, some way they can file a report or make a journal entry or some damn thing that will cost them nothing in effort or time but might save me hours of spinning my wheels trying to get the same thing done two days later, after all the original data has been forgotten or filed away. To this end I have to sidle up to the colleague in question, open a “friendly” conversation, get down on the floor and roll onto my back, showing my belly in a display of submission, and make the gentlest possible suggestion that they might want to try doing this certain task this way instead of that way.

It’s just coincidence, of course, but most of the time my suggestions turn out to be for the good of the company. I couldn’t care less about that, but three months later, when no one has complied with my request and they are denying to the controller that I ever even mentioned it, I really wish I had made my request in an email instead in the humiliating groveling way described above. That way I could prove that I was a good employee with only the good of the company at heart, and get somebody else in trouble, to boot. Win-win, I say.

So now I email, and here’s (finally!) the insight I set out to tell you about.

Email can be impersonal, and folks can easily get an attitude about your email telling them how to do their job. Not that I am doing that, but that’s how it’s interpreted by my one-track nose-to-the-grindstone worker bee drone colleagues. I was getting nowhere at first with my emails. Sure, I was generating the evidence I’d need down the road when it was time to get people in trouble, but I wasn’t getting anything done right now, because, you know, that ‘tude thing.

Then I started signing my emails with an exclamation point! All of a sudden my garden of happy cooperation is flowering! I have no more affection for these people or enthusiasm for my crummy job than I ever did, but when I add that exclamation point, everything just warms up! People want to help me!

Dear Obnoxious Fellow Worker,

I know you’re so self-absorbed that you barely even know I work here with you, but I was wondering if for once in your life you could think of someone else and let me know right away when HugeCorp sends you a new Field Bulletin, so I can begin my compliance effort.

Thanks!
Larry Jones

You see how that works? No matter what tone I take, that friendly little “Thanks!” at the end makes everything all right. I admit, this example is a little extreme, but for the average email that I send around here, I find that if I just say “Thanks!” at the end nobody comes storming into my office to tell me that they just don’t have enough goddamned time to add one more task to their daily routine, no matter how much it would improve the workflow, or (more likely) just passive/aggressively ignores my email.

So I get action, and I get the documentation I’ll need in the personnel investigation when I’m accused of not being a team player. As I said, win-win!

Big Noise, Big Fun, Big Changes

Hope I still have some friends here.

Krazy-Eyed Killer

I know what happens to bloggers who don’t post often. Most of us say we’re only doing it for ourselves, but of course what we want — what I want — is to be read, to be understood, to have a chance to explain myself, to demonstrate to the universe that I’m a good person.

But I don’t have time for that right now, so here’s the short version quick catch-up:

  • The new band is now called Big Noise, and it took up most of my free time for the last two months. We’re doing a few songs that I wrote, but mostly it’s a party band, so we’re doing fun covers that you can drink to. I don’t like to sound like everybody else, so I’ve spent a lot of time finding obscure music to play, learning it, transcribing it, arranging it and teaching it to the band. This has been hard for me, but exhilarating at the same time. All the pressure of trying to showcase at The Roxy and get a record deal is off, and what’s left is pure, sweaty, rockin’ fun. Still, it’s time-consuming work, so, no time to blog. (I’m not apologizing, just sayin’.)
  • Now I find out that even the cheesiest dive in town (yes, I’ve checked) wants an audition CD before they will talk to me about booking. I guess I’ve been out of circulation too long, but I thought I’d be able to go and talk myself in at some neighborhood bar, and they’d be grateful to have me. But no: now I have to book a recording studio and record a demo. Rehearsing for parties is different than getting ready to record, so now I have to start a new phase with Big Noise, wherein I try to hear if the bass and the kick are working well together, if the harmony intervals are as they should be, etc. This is because if you make a mistake at a party, someone may hear it, but no one will really care as long as there’s dancing and an adequate liquor supply. But if you release a recording with a mistake on it, people will be able to play back your bad playing or singing as many times as they want, and sooner or later any lame-o will detect the errors and from that day forward they will hear nothing else, just the mistakes. Not conducive to getting booked.
  • The strutting, loudmouth egomaniac about whom I have previously written, the executive who has ruined all my fun for the past year at my day job, was fired. Actually, sources tell me he sneaked into the building on Friday morning before we opened and cleaned out his office, sneaking away again without speaking to anyone. I know he was fired, because if he had left voluntarily he’s the kind of jerk who would have called a meeting and given a speech, a speech in which he would have talked about himself for an hour or so, then told us that he loved us and he hoped that the things he’d taught us would serve us well, but he was moving on to a higher calling. In fact, he practically killed our business, decimated our staff and destroyed the morale of everyone who didn’t resign. He wore a suit like nobody’s business, but he had no idea how to run our operation, or, I suspect, any commercial venture. I guess I shouldn’t be, but I continue to get amazed that a big, fancy corporation like HugeCorp still gets taken in by con artists like this guy. I could tell he was jive as soon as I spoke to him. Why can’t they? Anyway, leading up to this blessed event, pressure at the office had been building to an exquisitely high pitch, as I and the few professionals too stupid to leave tried to hold everything together. Once again, not much time to spend with you, my precious few bloggin’ buddies, although if you would pay my rent I’d blow off the job in a minute.

I compose blog posts in my mind all day, and — also in my mind — I email all of you with love and good cheer at least once a week. I hope you’re getting it all. More soon.

Deal or No Deal?

I need some philosophical advice.Devil

Here’s the sitch: My latest boss (eight months now) is a smug, obnoxious, strutting, self-involved and ruthless stuffed shirt. Of course it goes without saying that he’s also incompetent. And, I have to assume he knows I don’t like him. He was hired from outside as the top executive at our location, and since he joined the “team,” the team has disintegrated, with more than half the staff walking out or — even worse for him — transferring to other locations within the company, which is like saying “I’m OK with the company, I just don’t want to work for you.” During his short tenure, profitability and morale have plummeted. So in addition to being an asshole, his job is probably on the line. Trust me, I’m doing all I can to expedite his departure, but that’s another story.

All of a sudden, HugeCorp has decided to restart a program they abandoned a few years ago, and here’s where the fun begins. The program is called ESI, or Employee Satisfaction Index. Yes my friends, Hugecorp now says it wants to be an “employer of choice” within the industry, and to that end they are going to survey the current employees regarding their experiences and attitudes about their jobs, and their supervisors. They want to find out what we all think about our bosses and how the place is being run, so they can keep us satisfied. This may or may not be bullshit. Certainly they have shown no inclination in the past to care about what anybody thinks, but that doesn’t matter, does it, because now I am going to get a chance to have my say, and I will surely poke a sharp stick into his puffed-up ego.

So the day after we all find out there’s going to be these ESI surveys (the week after next, by the way), Mr. Potato Head calls me over to his desk and lets me watch him fill out my own Employee Evaluation form. Without even reading it, he gives me the top score in every category straight down the page, and then writes a nice complimentary note at the bottom (even if I did have to spell “meticulous” for him). So I am now the perfect, model employee (as if I weren’t already!).

Over the past week he’s been stopping by my office periodically, to make sure I have everything I need, shoot the breeze for a moment, see if if I’ve had lunch and just generally schmooze me. Remember, he knows I don’t like him, and our relationship to date has been, shall we say, cool. So the obvious conclusion is he knows he’s a jerk and he’s got about a week and a half to get on my good side so I don’t torpedo his ass in the survey. Of course I will torpedo his ass anyway, because he royally deserves it, but here’s what I need help with:

I could ask for a raise.

I brought the subject up several months ago, and never got an answer (which means “no,” I guess). But he’s now somewhat more motivated to make me happy these days. My dilemma is that this kind of extortion would be wrong, even if I do royally deserve a lot more money. Also, this walking sack of rhinoceros dung should be fired for the mess he has made of our operation. He should have to wait in the unemployment line in hell for all eternity, and if I make the kind of diabolical bargain he wants me to make he will get a reprieve from HugeCorp, or maybe even a promotion (yes, they are that clueless).

Plus, whatever money I got out of the deal would be Satan’s money, rotting and putrefying in my pockets and stinking up my soul. I already feel like I need to sponge off after every one of his glad-handing visits to my office. Could I stand to be in bed with this arrogant shithead?

Of course there’s a chance I wouldn’t be able to get the money anyway (HugeCorp might decide to block it, for example), but assuming I could, should I? I mean, I have had to enter into a suicide pact with a coworker, because I hate the job so much. I don’t know if I could stand closing ranks with management and becoming the “right” kind of person.

So that’s my dilemma. What do you think? The Devil’s Bargain, or The High Road to A Squalid Death?

But Will I Be Impacted?

If anyone is wondering whether I work for a stoopid company…HugeCorp Building

…check this out. HugeCorp issues “General Field Bulletins” from time to time, to keep us all alerted to the latest wacky plans they come up with. I downloaded one at random this morning, just for a laugh:

Purpose

To communicate to all users that the Log report section has been re-architected. Instructions will be provided to guide the user through the training and implementation of the new reports.

Background

The Log was re-architected primarily to speed the running of the reports and to provide a more user-friendly interface. Additionally, a need was identified to provide dynamic reporting to better serve the requirements of all users.

That’s right. They’ve “re-architected” the Log. Because, apparently, “…a need was identified…”

Does this give any of you a headache? Because it does me. I’ve spent my whole life trying to save the world by making my bed every morning, keeping the nouns and the verbs in their separate pens and sending the intransitive constructions to the Parts of Speech Rest Home.

And now this. And I’ll bet the people who did the re-architecting don’t even know what’s in the Log.

Running

My main computer at home is farkled, so I have to work on that when I can, instead of blogging.

It has been a rough couple of months at my crummy job, and I am worn out from the stress. I don’t feel like fixing this computer. I feel like going out and buying a new one, but the screws have been tightening at work, and now it’s a close call as to whether I will get fired or quit pretty soon. So I have to conserve my money, which means I will have to geek around with the computer until I get it working again, which means I may not be writing for a little while.Under Stress

Being in this position at my job makes me feel like a loser. I’m smart and educated and I’ve worked all my life, a much longer time frame than I even want to admit right now, and all I have to show for it is a crummy job from which I will never have the wherewithal to retire, part of a corporation that doesn’t have a clue, in an industry that makes most of its’ money doing things that would be illegal in a just world, under the thumb of a swaggering, big-mouthed egomaniac who in a battle of wits would be unarmed.

I try to let the shit roll off me, and considering my underlying attitude I guess I’ve been doing that pretty well. I try to tell myself that being there is like going through the looking glass into an upside down world, and that my real life starts when I walk out each day, but the corporation is so in my face lately that it’s getting too difficult to forget about it when I’m not there.

I wish I were earning my living doing something I loved. I have said that I would play blues in a corner bar for hot dogs, but I really can’t do that. I don’t want to go into the whole mess right now, but I have responsibilities and as bad as the crummy job is, it gives me a regular — albeit minimal — paycheck and health benefits.

So I have become the gray, plodding, broken man that I mocked when I was a brash youth, and I owned the world. Sorry, Dad. I didn’t know how life can beat you down, how you can get hooked on the money, trapped into doing things you loathe, running as fast as you can just to stay in the same place.

And feeling the knot of fear in your stomach when you realize you’re not even staying in the same place. You are slipping behind.

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I’m OK. Maybe what I wanted to say is that, while I’ll be busy working on the hardware for a bit, 2007 will be a big year for revision99, so stay tuned. As always, my heart skips only for you.