[Warning sign] DANGER: Coarse language below! (Gasp!) The following is a recounting of my job experience, from my humble beginnings as a dishwasher onward to (when I get that part finished) my current position as a systems administrator. Most of the companies I have worked for have been pretty flaky (a big understatement in some cases), and the words I use and the situations I describe might offend some of the more sensitive readers. The language is not as bad as quite a few movies I could name, but it's only fair to give warning. If this proves to be too much, you way wish to go back to the main page.

Jobs That Sucked

Labor, n. One of the processes by which A acquires property for B.
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

Table of Contents
  1. Intro
  2. College Greasepit
  3. Temporary Work, Chronic Hunger
  4. Burger Hell (a/k/a Lord of the Fries)
  5. College Greasepit 2
  6. The Summer of Pain
  7. Transcendental Corporate Asininity
  8. Soviet Information Providers
  9. Perfidias Corporation
  10. Stay tuned, kiddies...
  11. Conclusion
Other features at Voices From The Right:
Serious stuff: The Clinton/Lewinsky "Fornigate" scandal | Why I am Not a New Ager
Fun stuff: Parody of "Make Money Fast" scam | Parody of classic Dave Rhodes style "Make Money Fast" scam | Parody of St. Jude chain letter | Stuff that Sucks | Spoof of Clinton's 4Q98 State of the Union address | The Ruthenians: a people without a holiday
Other stuff: Voices from the Right home page | My REAL résumé: Jobs that Sucked | Introduction to the Internet: be sure you have the latest browser | Brief bio about the Webmeister, and my Mailbox: write me... if you dare

One of my old buddies from college, while on an LSD trip, had a revelation -- all work involves moving stuff. I can see his point: construction workers shlep bricks, cement, and wood from place to place; bus drivers move their bus on its route throughout the day; bureaucrats push their pencils; acid dealers hand out little pieces of paper with LSD (or, more likely, rat poison) on them in exchange for larger ones with pictures of dead Presidents on them, etc. I guess his point was that work, with its ubiquitous activity of moving stuff, is pretty silly. Granted, but where did it all begin?

For the last half million years, humanity spent its days in activities such as searching for fruit, nuts, and tubers; throwing spears at antelopes; and banging rocks together to produce more spear heads. (Folks in some parts of the world still do that; but if you're reading this on the Internet, chances are you don't.) If they were successful, then they would bang different rocks together to start a cookfire and the tribe would get to eat. But if they were unsuccessful that day, that meant nobody ate, and that sucked. About nine thousand years ago, some enterprising fellow in the Middle East discovered that wheat could be grown and cultivated on a large scale, and around that time someone else figured out how to bake clay into bricks and then stack them together. Later on, technology developed and there came to be more and more specialties. One of them was metal working. Bronze was nice and useful, and easy to melt and pound into shape.

But there was another metal -- it was brighter and shinier, didn't corrode, and it was considerably rarer. It didn't take long to discover the economic principle that scarcity adds to the value of things beyond their utility. That's the reason why people are willing to pay exorbitant prices for brand name fads such as Rolex watches, Beanie Babies, Air Jordan sneakers, Tickle Me Elmo dolls, etc. For another example, carbon which comes out of the ground with an irregular molecular structure and some other elements is called coal, and that averages for about US$20 per short ton. Carbon which comes out of the ground in a certain crystalline structure is called diamond, and that commands a higher price. Carbon synthetically manufactured to have the same crystalline structure as a diamond costs a lot less. The only difference between the two is that, when seen under magnification, a synthetic diamond will not have any flaws. The difference in price has nothing to do with quality; it's just that diamonds from mines are scarcer than manufactured diamonds, especially since most of the world's stock is being hoarded by a cartel.

Sooner or later, someone decided to make little discs out of that hard-to-find yellow metal, and these discs could be traded for other needed items -- and then things really started to suck. Undoubtedly, it didn't take long for people who had accumulated lots of those discs to achieve high social status, and be able to throw around their weight more than their muscle power would give them the ability to do. History doesn't record the event, but sooner or later the day came when someone ended up receiving those discs not for producing anything, but for telling a lot of other people to work faster.

These days, that lustrous, yellow metal is still considered valuable, but we have far more sophisticated means of commerce. Stocks, bonds, and pork belly futures are being traded electronically as you read this -- a far cry from two burly, unwashed fellows arguing about how many pelts a gold coin would buy. Labor conditions have improved over time -- there's no more slavery, nine year olds don't work sixteen hour shifts in coal mines, and people don't get thrown in jail for trying to organize a union. (At least not here in the USA -- that only happens elsewhere, like some countries on Clinton's "Most Favored Nation" list.) But, by and large, work still sucks, and that's a basic fact of life because money and power go hand in hand. In the effort to do something about it, the eldest Marx brother invented Communism, but that sucked much more. Just about everyone can identify with Dilbert -- a large proportion of my fellow citizens have worked in places like that, and that's why the comic strip is so funny; nobody would "get it" if it wasn't relevant. I'm one of the many folks who wondered if Scott Adams, the comic artist for Dilbert, might actually be working for the same salt mill as me. (It turns out, though, that he got most of his inspiration from PacBell.) Things always could be worse -- after all, if not for the grace of the Gods and a decent education, I could be a chicken eviscerator, a male prostitute, or the guy who mops the vomit off the bathroom floor at the bus station. But, nonetheless, most places I worked sucked pretty badly. The scary part is, the following stories are true.

The first job I had was at my college cafeteria. It wasn't so bad; we made fifty seven cents more than the hourly minimum wage at the time -- way cool! There were many positions there, from scanning ID cards at the front of the cafeteria to doling out the ice cream. I ended up getting put on the trough. In the dining area, there are two conveyor belts where the diners deposit their trays. The trays go down the belt and disappear behind a curtain of hanging plastic strips, nice and neat. Inside the dishroom, the trays march in, one after another. Four people (two per conveyor) stack the trays, dump the dishes and glasses into the trough, rinse them, and pile them up for the dish washing machine. In the beginning of the shift, the volume of dishes is easily handled. But when rush hour comes along, the trays begin jamming up like the Santa Monica Freeway during rush hour. With luck, a third person (per trough) becomes available to stand ahead of the other two to grab glasses and silverware, but even then, things get mighty wooly.

The first few days after I was hired, we were still understaffed. When two geological plates collide, one plate ends up pushing under another, and mountains form. Well, that's about what happened to us. The trays began to pile up so high that the glasses were rolling off and smashing on the floor. That made for quite an ambiance. Next time your work gets boring and sedate, try smashing a few glasses -- that'll perk things up in no time. We worked frantically against the onslaught of dishes. But, in the end we triumphed, for there was a finite number of diners. I questioned my wisdom those days (and most other days, for that matter, but especially for the first few), however I kept coming back to work.

Lots of fun things happen on the trough. A steady stream of water comes in from several jets into each trough, and the output of both troughs goes to an enormous garbage disposal. They use a plate to dam up the troughs, and every so often the person closest to the disposal has to lift the plate, and at the same time put a hand in the muck to keep dishes from falling into the disposal as all the soggy pieces of chicken, waterlogged slices of cake, dissolving hunks of mashed potatoes, and the like sail past into Wasted Food Nirvana. But, every now and then a dish gets by, or a piece of silverware. The dishes smash percussively and make a grinding sound as they are being destroyed, a noise reminiscent of the gates of Hell opening to greet the new arrivals. The silverware gets caught in the teeth and sounds like a jet engine revving for takeoff. Then someone has to shut off the disposal and fish about in the maw of the beast for the remaining chunks of jagged ceramic or the mangled piece of metal which once had been a fork or something.

And, sometimes the garbage disposal just quits working. That is always neat, because the dishes keep coming in whether or not the trough drudges can process them. If the disposal is down and clogged, and they keep on trying to wash dishes, then there would be scenes reminiscent of Battleship Potemkin -- rotting meat, rioting, and lots of water. And sometimes the dish washing machine itself breaks down. Those things are behemoths -- during the Luby's massacre in Killeen, one of the workers hid inside of a dish machine. Repairing one of those puppies isn't quite as simple as fixing a jammed stapler. Often, when the machine breaks down, it is down all day. But that doesn't stop the dishes from rolling in.

Sure, someone could turn off the conveyor belt, but then the students rapidly would run out of room upon which to pile their trays. Thereupon they would become indignant. Their Marxist economics professors assured them that when the Communist state was established, when someone needed something, it would become available just as freely as breathing air. (Given that economics is the science of how scarce resources are distributed, such an outlook blithely denies the very issue of economics. And economies existed long before there was anyone around to study them -- nobody had to teach those two Mesopotamians I wrote about earlier how to argue about how many pelts a gold piece would buy; they figured it out themselves. Which goes to show you, none of those clever, tenured economics professors ever experienced having to wait three hours in line to get some rationed toilet paper. It don't work, Jane Fonda, gedoudaheah!) The parents of these children help add to this expectation -- all they have to do is write or call Daddy Warbucks, and a few days later a check would appear in the mail, just like magic. And when they'd get the credit cards from all the pre-approved offers they got in the mail, they could buy Bon Jovi CDs to their heart's content with that magic piece of plastic, with nary a twenty dollar bill or even a gold piece. Of course, the day comes when the piper has to be paid. The bill arrives, stating that they are over the credit limit -- but that's where Daddy Warbucks comes in, a fact which the bloodsuckers running the credit card companies know very well. In any case, can you imagine the indignation and utter disbelief that would ensue when these students, without a care in the world, would experience when they suddenly found that there was no place to put their trays full of dirty dishes and food they got but didn't eat? For once, something wasn't going their way... They would just pile the trays to the avalanche point, and then start leaving the trays on the floor for someone else -- to be specific, one of us cafeteria proles -- to deal with later. So, a conveyor is rarely turned off, and then only for short periods of time. Because when it starts up again, the heap of trays piled on the belt suddenly start to move. The trays piled up on the ledge in front of the conveyor move, too... right onto the floor along with the uneaten beans, the wasted spuds, the untouched macaroni and cheese, the leftover pudding, the undrunken beverages... And then the students get indignant that there's a mess on the floor.

The experience of seeing so much wasted food floating in the trough, 2.5 hours per day, 5 days per week, leaves an impression. It was a buffet, paid for along with the dorm fees. Perhaps if the students had to pay for each item, they wouldn't waste so much. It rather ticked me off, given that people die of starvation on a daily basis. (The underlying problem in most starving countries is because the people keep having more children than they can feed, and the day comes when they have bred more citizens than their country's carrying capacity, but still it gets on my nerves to see people wasting food.) From that, you might think that I disliked all students. No, many of my co-workers in fact were students. We had jobs, albeit crappy ones, and that builds character and counts for something. Since we were part-time workers, though, we had less status than the full-time workers. Some of them were great folks, but many others made for a pretty motley bunch. In the basement, I noticed an award to the cafeteria from the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. (I wonder why they didn't put the award in public view... perhaps because it would be a conversation piece for the whole campus?) Well, it's not their fault, and it's good that someone hires them, but that just doesn't change the fact that it isn't much fun having to work with some of those guys.

One of my co-workers was a retarded man who just didn't take baths. Quite literally, the guy smelt like a barrel of rotten fish. One could detect his presence a dozen feet away in an environment already rich with the odors of detergent, food beginning to decompose, and an overpowering lemon scent disbursed to mask the former. Fortunately, I rarely had to work next to him on the trough, but when I did, his body odor had the stopping power of a .45 caliber pistol. On more than one occasion, I very nearly vomited in the trough. I guess my discomfort must have shown; a few days later, someone (who apparently worked at his halfway house) showed up on the job asking why I had been trying to avoid him. I explained that I had nothing against him personally, but that he just smelt awful. She told me that in the future if he smelt that way I should remind him to take baths. And that's what I did. (But I admit that I had fantasies about throwing him into the dish washing machine so that the scalding water and detergent would make up for the neglect. I didn't, because that probably would have gotten me arrested.) I wonder, though, why they don't teach things like regular bathing and showering in halfway houses. Now to the more sensitive, "PC" reader, all this may seem unreasonable, but would you want to spend a couple of hours next to someone who probably hadn't bathed or showered in at least a couple of weeks? And when one dines at a restaurant or a cafeteria, isn't it a resonable expectation that the people working in the kitchen observe at least an acceptable minimum standard of hygiene?

After a few months, I graduated up to the silverware station. Two people per floor were assigned to the task, which amounted to keeping two detergent-filled pans at each conveyor belt and dealing with all the silverware. As before, it was a little boring as the shift began but things got interesting as time went on. The kiddies were supposed to drop all their silverware into the pans. Most of them did. Some of them left napkins and other crap in the silverware pans -- I really don't know why. Perhaps this would be a good topic for sociological research, right along with how the peculiar mating habits of Bonobo chimps creates a superior model for human societies. In any case, a filled silverware pan got dumped onto a large tray with a latticed bottom and took a trip through the dish machine. Then, they were sorted into little plastic buckets according to their type -- knife, fork, spoon, soup spoon. Sorting one tray after another not only stimulates the mind, it is wonderfully refreshing for the hands. (And if you believe that...) In any case, after a second trip through the dish machine to remove the remaining gunk -- peanut butter is particularly tenacious -- they would be ready to distribute.

At the beginning of the school year, the silverware trays are filled to overflowing. But, the quantities steadily diminish. After about two or three months, silverware becomes scarce. Where did it all go? In Red China, there was once a massive fly infestation problem. Then, the Communist Party issued orders for each person to kill and present eight flies daily -- at first, an easy task. But, that's well over eight billion flies getting swatted on a daily basis. Pretty soon, flies became rare. (Even if Communism has never been able to establish a promised classless society where everyone has a wonderful job and nobody suffers from deprivation, at least it's good for getting rid of the flies.) Thus it was with the silverware -- one such theft would be unnoticeable, but a horde of sticky-fingered kids can clean out the bins. Each student decides that he/she/it has to have a few articles of silverware back at the dorm room, just in case. Well, cooking appliances are forbidden in the dorms -- even microwaves -- supposedly because they are "fire hazards". The real reason is, if students could cook for themselves, they wouldn't pay big bucks for a semester-long meal plan at a cafeteria so crappy that it makes even Ryan's seem like a reasonable place to eat. Given this fact, it seems a little illogical for students to be stealing cafeteria silverware for their dorms. But, they do, and the once-overflowing piles in the silverware trays get to the point where they run out in the middle of dinner. Unfortunately, the silverware levels don't rise at the end of the school year; few (if any) bother to return the purloined utensils. During the shortages I witnessed, the students had the chutzpah to stand by the quickly-emptied trays and cop attitudes at me as I came out of the kitchen ready to deliver what meager amounts of silverware which had thus far escaped theft. Why didn't they just bring the silverware they stole to the cafeteria with them? And so Management has to order large quantities of new silverware once or twice a year.

Last but not least in this chronicle of fun, some rocket scientist created poison gas in the kitchen. The floors get cleaned regularly with bleach. (Once someone swept bleach solution along the floor, splashed it all over my pants, and very shortly thereafter I got white spots on them. "Ssssorry," he said. But, again I digress.) There is also acid cleaner for those tough-to-scrub stains. In any event, some lucky fellow decided that if bleach was good for cleaning, and acid was good for cleaning, then a mixture of the two should be twice as good. Well... there's a reason why warning labels exist on bottles of bleach and acid... the reason is, you're supposed to read them, and bad things happen to people who don't follow the directions. RTFM. I ended up getting a nice whiff of chlorine gas, as did quite a few other people in the kitchen. A little more of that, and he could have gassed the whole place. He kept his job, as I recall.

After a while, I came to the conclusion that anything paying under US$5/hour was a waste of my time. The going pay of $3.92/hour fell into this category. "No! Me take five pelt for gold piece, not four!" So, through nepotism, I got my first real job. It was quite an interesting experience, but I intend to save it all for a novel.
During the very beginning of the Recession, the company where I worked had gone under. The employment listings in town occupied a meager two pages in the city newspaper -- and this was a city of approximately half a million. So, I tried to get a job at a couple of temporary agencies. In case you have never worked for such a business, here's how the game works. You see an ad in the paper about the great job some company has available, which matches your skill set so well that lying is unnecessary. Then, you call and discover (surprise!) that it is through a temporary agency. Full of optimistic naïvité, you make an interview appointment. You arrive, and someone always intones the words, "Temp or perm?" Naturally, you want "temp" since you didn't come to get your hair curled. The cheerful receptionist puts you in a room where you end up spending two hours filling out forms and perhaps taking a typing test. Then you ask about the position spoken of in the paper... and discover that it isn't available after all. Whether or not there really was any such opening, you will never know. They tell you they'll call when something comes up that you can do. See ya.

At first, I actually got a few pieces of bit-work. The first involved packing huge boxes with insurance forms, to be moved between warehouses. Another one was at a defense contractor, where I was supposed to help move stuff from building to building for a couple of days. After I arrived, I finally found the guy I was supposed to be working with. The first thing he did was go to the kitchen whereupon he rustled up some fruit for himself as I watched. After that, we shlepped some boxes and pieces of furniture. The next day, I found out they didn't need me any more. Gosh, that was fun.

 [Mushroom cloud with skull] But the most interesting assignment was where I participated in the decommissioning of a nuclear tools facility. It was near the intersection of two highways, surrounded by weed-choked lots. I got to do fun stuff like run a large magnet over their back parking lot, to pick up stray bits of radioactive cobalt. I just wonder how all that crap got into the parking lot, and how much of it got blown into the other lots. I've included a little calculator below so that you can take a wild guess of how much was on the parking lot and how long it'll take before it's pretty safe. Now, I don't have anything against nuclear power so long as high safety standards are applied, as well they should be. This, however, was more than a little disheartening. And I got to sweep the floors and pressure-spray the light fixtures. They brought in a subcontractor to drill the concrete in places to get at the pipes, because the Geiger counters showed that the previous occupants had been a wee bit careless about what they washed down the sinks. And, I was supposed to hold a wet vacuum to suck up the water used to cool the huge concrete saws. But, I wasn't given any ear protection. As a result, I have a ringing in the ears that never went away. That sucks, especially since I happen to like classical music.

Radioactive decay table, default halflife is for Co60
Could be worse; some isotopes of other elements have
half-lives measured in millions of years!
This only works for Javascript-enabled browsers
Halflife Amount Years

The amount remaining is: or % of the original sample.

I found out from the temporary agency that if I qualified, I could get the coveted $5/hour typing jobs instead of the $4/hour manual labor jobs. Well... I had been typing ever since that high school class, where I have fond memories of Virginia Fussbudget chanting A-S-D-F, A-S-D-F, A-S-D-F... Needless to say, I boogied down there and took the typing test and qualified at 55 words per minute. I would have been able to do 60WPM, if not for the fact that the keyboard sucked. But, alas, that didn't help me get a typing job. And for that matter, I didn't get any further jobs from any temporary agency, but not for lack of trying.

Typing test for Javascript-enabled browsers
Are you a.... Beginner Novice Expert

One other thing I tried doing was plasma donation. I waited for two hours in a lobby with lots of people who could have fit right into the old cafeteria. Then a doctor had to check me out first. His medical skills and professionalism were such that he should have been a taxidermist instead. "Are you sure you don't have sex with men?" he inquired. As if I had lied the first time he asked... Or maybe he thought I was cute and wanted to know if I was his type. Then came the needles: nice big ones. Oh what fun! They would draw the blood, centrifuge it, remove the plasma, give you back the red corpuscles, and repeat the process. Then, after two hours of misery, they would give you $10 (as I recall) in cash. They also applied fluorescent dye to the hands of their victims; there was another plasma shack in town, and they had to mark people lest they donate plasma again in under two days. There was even a bonus program -- five bucks extra for four donations within two weeks, and $10 for eight within a month. A dedicated masochist could have made $95 per month this way. But, I only did this a couple of times before deciding that there were better ways of getting ten bucks. Later, as a friend of mine was stuck in grad school and he was tempted to sell plasma in order to buy books, I warned him in no uncertain terms and advised him instead to stand on a street corner with a sign reading "Disabled Vietnam vet with 3 kids needs help. God bless you."

I had to do something to pay the rent. Since I hadn't been getting anywhere by searching through the meager ads in the paper, I applied for a couple of fast food positions. I had worked at a pizza place the first summer home from school, but that was relatively uneventful (which is why I'm not going to bore you with the details). But, it was very depressing to have to go back to dealing with food after having been in the world of high finance. I got a job at a burger joint; the manager was impressed with my résumé.

All of the managers were pretty decent folks, if one ignores the fact that they shorted us on our hours. That is, other than a certain hothead who (mercifully) didn't last long. But many of the rank-and-file employees were members of various youth gangs. I got to hear the news, as it developed, about how the Crips were moving into town. I also got to learn lots of nice phrases, such as chinga tu madre. Most of these young punks thought they were Bruce Lee, John Holmes, and Pancho Villa all rolled up into one. Nary a one failed to claim expert knowledge of martial arts. And, one of them recently had impregnated a co-worker. I can still recall the workplace discussons: "Just get an abortion," said the father. "It's not like running down jackrabbits on the road," replied the mother. I just wondered why she didn't have the good sense not to have anything to do with him in the first place. From anecdotal evidence, I understand that "macho men" knocking up their female co-workers isn't too uncommon among fast food joints. I fear for the country's gene pool.

The hours were limited, probably to keep us from getting benefits entitled to full-time employees (one of the issues, by the way, in the UPS strike). And, although the minimum wage had been increased a while back, the money men in Congress built in a loophole so that the businesses could still screw many of their minwage workers. That is, there was a three month period in which workers could be paid a "training wage" equal to (surprise!) the old minimum wage. I recall that the debate in Congress was that it would affect mostly "kids with summer jobs" who don't deserve equal pay for their toil. Eeeaaahhh, dem kids don' need no money. [Dismissive wave of hand and sneer.] T'ree fifty's good enough for 'em. The most farcical element of the charade was the notion that it takes people three months to be trained in the sublime art of how to fry a burger. Anyone who can't figure it out within three days ought to be surgically sterilized for the sake of posterity.

So, practically speaking, the fast food joint only brought in four hundred dollars a month. The problem was, my living expenses at their barest amounted to six hundred dollars a month. So, there was a $200 deficit per month. If our hours had been reckoned honestly, the shortfall would have been considerably less. There was a timeclock, but no timecards. So that meant that the manager got to write down how long you had worked. It's rather like assigning a fox to do a physical inventory of the henhouse. I know I got screwed out of a good deal of cash, and so did the other guys. But, the economy was in a shambles, and even burger flipping jobs were damned scarce, so our options were to put up with getting shafted or not work. Does someone suggest I should have consulted a lawyer? Yeah, right.

In any event, sacrifices had to be made. I really didn't feel like adding to the credit millstone on my shoulders for something as frivolous as food. At the end of the day, we were allowed to take home any left-over food. But that ended when one of the little punks (in fact, the one mentioned in the next paragraph) got too greedy. Just about the only thing I had left at home was a bag of rice. But I started finding bugs crawling around in it, and one day I found several of the little chupacabras floating around in the pot after I added water. So... I put the rice in a coffee can, froze the can, thawed it, and then took it to my apartment's porch. I turned my fan on the lowest setting, then slowly poured the rice from the can into a pot, through the blowing air. That separated the rice from the insect corpses, because the rice was denser and therefore didn't blow as far. I was happy, because I had clean rice, and the ants were happy, because they got to eat all the dead rice weevils. At work, there were still opportunities to snatch finger food out of the warming trays. Food stolen from a dishonest employer tastes great. And theoretically, burgers are only supposed to be on the warmer for twenty minutes -- after that, they are trashed. The times I took the bag of wasted food out back to the trash bin, I got to eat. Nonetheless, I lost ten pounds in one month.

All that came to an end when one of the teenage gang punks thought he would make a name for himself by messing with me. I was just trying to do my job and scrape together enough for rent and half the bills, but no, he had to try to prove what a tough guy he was. In the corporate world, people flaunt expensive laptops to demonstrate that they have testicles the size of basketballs; in the blue collar world, though, things work a little differently. Does someone suggest that I should have gone to Management? Well, it would have been nice if the boss had done something when this punk sent one of his friends to rough me up the day before. He knew about that. Does someone suggest that I should have turned all four cheeks? Well, had I done so, that would have sent a signal to the other punks that I was an easy mark, and then anyone could have picked on me with impunity. To make a long story short, a confrontation happened, and the manager on duty fired him on the spot, and the next day he strongly suggested that I should resign. He (and the head manager) sympathized with me, but I guess he was just trying to cover his butt. I took the hint. I had to move back in with my folks for a couple of months.

When I returned to school for my senior year, the economy still sucked just as badly. And I ended up getting a job at -- you guessed it -- the college cafeteria. This time, I did various things like dole out chicken, hamburgers, and ice cream. But I ended up getting a more permanent position as a "runner". That meant that I would keep the trays filled at the main line, which involved two hours of changing pans of slop over the warmers and getting steam-burnt fingers in the process. There were two people on my side of the line -- Beauty and the Beast. The former was a really cute Polish-American coed. I wish I had the chance to get to know her better, but initiating work romances was pretty awkward then (and well nigh impossible now). The latter was a wrinkled, toothless hag who, after twenty years in Merica, couldn't carry on a conversation beyond "Gimme nudder pen de nooders, boy!" I really don't get it -- I can speak four languages fairly well, not including the archaic ones, and if I moved to a new country I would try to learn the local language as well and as quickly as I could. But, I digress. To the hag, every male student who worked in the cafeteria was boy -- including a thirty five year old grad student. And the way she would cluck at us was really annoying. If you don't believe me, imagine how work would be like with the nearest person clucking at you all day long. When she would get upset, she would start chattering in Spanish. She would get even more upset when I responded in Icelandic (usually with something like Þegi þú, bikkjan þín).

Unfortunately, cleanliness had taken a turn for the worse in the last couple of years. It never had been that stellar to begin with -- for example, one day I saw someone in the kitchen drop a sausage. Then she picked the sausage off the floor, placed it back into the pan, and gave me a look which basically said, "Gonna do something about it?" But, things had been better. When I first went to work at the cafeteria, it was rare to see roaches. But, lately, it was usual to see a roach every day. The students were complaining about it too -- which I feel is a legitimate grievance. One day, I did some overtime by cleaning up a drink station after the shift. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I cleaned it by the book. Apparently I had been the first person to do so in quite some time, because I discovered a colony of algæ thriving in the water dispenser which was burgeoning far more fruitfully than even the most thoroughly encrusted slime colony I had seen in untended swimming pools.

I understand, though, that conditions also had been even more abyssmal in the years before they remodeled the cafeteria, which was before my time. My aunt told me stories about how caterpillars often would be found helping themselves to some salad. Once a mouse was discovered baked into the meatloaf. And one evening, a diner stood up, screamed, and fainted. On his fork was found half a roach.

At the wise advice of a former girlfriend of mine, I quit the job to save myself from the ravages of stress. I shouldn't have listened to her, or for that matter even asked her phone number from the git-go. But that's another story entirely... I tried delivering pizza, but I didn't last for one work-week due to my lack of knowledge of the local geography and the fact that my car's transmission was having problems. After a couple months, I ended up going back to the cafeteria; my credit card balance wasn't going down by my not working.

I got one of the silverware handling jobs again, and once more I got to marvel at how mind-numbing the act of sorting piles and piles of silverware can be. As I stated earlier, two people were assigned to do the silverware per floor. Well, after a while, the other person who was supposed to do silverware started coming to work less and less frequently, and after a while, not at all. Because of a hiring freeze, they couldn't get another person to take her place. Having to do the work of two for the pay of one didn't exactly make my day. This was the same university that shelled out half a million dollars for a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, and has enough money to fund courses in such vital topics as gender studies and the history of rock & roll. Hey, the Gutenberg Bible looks nice in its glass display case, and the faculty can teach pretentious leftist dyspepsia and Mickey Mouse classes if that's what floats their boat, but what's the point if they are skimping elsewhere in their budget? I am happy to say, that was the last job I had involving food. But, it wasn't the worst by any means.

During my one last summer semester, I got so depressed that I would have jumped off a bridge were it not for my sense of political purpose. The credit card beast had its fangs firmly embedded into my neck. Plus, I had to pass a couple of really dumb courses in order to graduate. The college bureaucracy made the IRS seem user-friendly by comparison. But, that's another story for another time. In any event, the only cash I was able to pick up was from doing some bit work for Steve Jackson Games -- as I recall, this consisted of five hours of assembling and shrink-wrapping Car Wars packages. By the way, this was about a year after the infamous Secret Service raid. It's really nice to see that my tax dollars have been spent so well by these bumbling, gun-toting bureaucrats.

I returned home. It was the middle of the Recession, and the economy was the worst it had been since the 1920s. I wrote a résumé and shelled out $650 I didn't have (at 19.98% interest) to get my car's air conditioner fixed so I wouldn't be dripping with sweat as I went job-hunting in the summer heat which approached triple digits Fahrenheit. (The AC blew out four months later, and I haven't gotten it fixed since.)

In desperation, I tried the temporary agencies again, and found that they weren't a damned bit of good -- just as I already should have known. Clearly I was grasping at straws.

One time, I walked into an office and made the usual inquiry as to the available jobs, and the first thing the receptionist said was, "Are you afraid of making money?" (For the record, I am not afraid of making money, but I am afraid of people who ask me if I am afraid of making money.) Thereupon she proceeded to shine me up about a great position I could have selling signs. She gave a pitch which had the same weird blend of snake oil and phony go-getter entrepreneurial enthusiasm as the typical pyramid scheme. She suggested that I should get my shirt "pressed up" and return in a couple of hours to meet the boss. I decided to pass on it, not wishing to be subjected to what I just knew was going to be an hours-long psych rant from a cross between a tent revival preacher and a used car salesman. I also got shined up by an Amway representative who posted an advertisement in the paper in which, no doubt due to an honest oversight (wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more), he failed to mention the fact that it was a solicitation to become an Amway down-liner. He wasted my time with a really slick video presentation. The problem is, I have seen this sort of thing before, and just like the last time, I could see behind the smoke and mirrors. I just wanted to find a real job, not play stupid games. Those who waste the time and money of millions of desperate job seekers, stringing them along with false promises and misleading want ads, may hereby kiss my grits and go fornicate themselves. (I normally would put it a little differently, but the Geocities terms of service are a bit restrictive.)

I got a possible lead at an IRS facility. I took the civil service test, at their direction, and scored in the 95th percentile. Had I been a military veteran, I would have gotten a 5% bonus on it. As it happens, the toughest part of the math section was multiplying a couple of two digit numbers. That was no big deal; I learnt how to do that in third grade. The verbal section had several questions which could be summarized as, "Pick the one sentence out of four which was not written by Huckleberry Finn." There was a section about alphabetization too, which was no biggie for me since I knew enough about the subject to write sorting algorithms. Then, I got an interview and was told -- to my shock, horror, and utter astonishment, that I was overqualified. After the interview, I asked their candid opinion about how I did. One of them said that I didn't seem serious about wanting the job. Gr-r-r-r...

Throughout this time, my mother and stepfather were really understanding -- they constantly talked about my inability to get a job, which for me was about as much fun as a fat person being around parents who speak incessantly about dieting. (And since my love of junk food had caused me to put on weight, I know from first-hand experience how much fun it is to be reminded of this fact.) One time, as I was checking the answering machine to see if any prospective employer had seen a job application and was inspired to call, I heard a long message between my mother and stepfather in which Mommy Dearest said something like, "I don't know what he's doing all day long." Now, that was a terrific vote of confidence after days of driving from one office building to another amidst blistering summer heat, passing out my résumé to people who don't care, filling out one fruitless form after another, and hearing "We'll call you if there's an opening" until I wanted to scream.

My father decided to get his house levelled. I offered to fix the cracks and paint the interior for $1,000. He accepted. It was a bad idea, because the completion of the levelling took far longer than he thought, owing to the fact that the contractor had this little problem with disappearing for days on end. So, basically, I fixed the cracks and painted nearly the entire interior. Then they finished the levelling, and cracks re-appeared. As for me, it was a nightmare. I found out, after we shook on it, that the scope was larger than I thought -- Dad wanted me to paint all the ceilings too. Now isn't that special? I should have got in writing exactly what was expected. And he was so cranky that I finally ended up forgiving my mother for dumping him. By the end of the ordeal, it became very clear to me why.

In the mean time, one of my résumés had attracted attention. Would that I had never returned the call. The person who interviewed me was a really likable, intelligent guy. But after he started his own company and began to rake in the big bucks, the love of money rotted his soul. It wasn't a pretty sight. But, more on that later. Let's call him Benedict Iscariot <spit>. (Yes, I'm changing the names to protect the guilty.) Anyway, Ben <spit> was a middle manager in the company. The Big Cheese is a disgusting nematode who we'll call Eromenos Harkonnen <spit>. He has a good-looking wife, but still he got his secretary pregnant (and fired her when his illegitimate daughter was about two), and he was hitting on me. But, more on that later.

I was so excited to be working a real desk job again, with a computer even. After being jobless during the summer, any employment which didn't involve food and/or radioactive waste seemed pretty darn good. It was rainfall after a long dry spell. But little did I know that the metaphoric rain had been contaminated by metaphoric hydrogen sulfide. But, as the starving man does not notice if the bread is stale and the butter rancid, I thought I had a good deal at first. It took a couple of months for the shine on the new job to wear off. I forget what exactly caused the first cracks in the illusion -- perhaps I began to get the picture while editing a fourth draft of a revision to an asinine dress code; maybe it was the constant ambiance of fear and the lickspittle deference which Eromenos Harkonnen <spit> inculcated; or it could have been the utter cheapness of the entire operation. But, in any event, I became disillusioned before the second month went by.

Because I don't want to be bothered with nuisance lawsuits, I am not even going to say what nature of business Eromenos Harkonnen <spit> was in. (All that I'm writing here is completely the truth, but I don't want to have to prove it in court, so I'll take measures to make the parties involved unrecognizable.) A main part of my job involved fielding calls from irate people, many of whom are stupid. In fact, some of them were so stupid that, if the eugenics movement were to be revived, they would make excellent poster children for the cause. Often I would pick up the phone and immediately be assaulted with screamed obscenities. Being a phone sex operator would have been better -- same words, but without an angry inflection. Other times, the callers wanted me to give them information about their accounts. I wasn't in any position to do so; the company was too cheap to buy me my own computer terminal, and I had to figure out who was supposed to deal with them and then transfer the calls. This wasn't easy, since the callers wanted to duke it out with the first person they spoke to and often the employees who could answer their questions were already on the phone.

As time went on, things began to get weirder. As I was going to fax a document, I couldn't help but notice a letter from the insurance company on the secretary's desk. Nobody was around, and curiosity got the better of me. I took a look and discovered that everyone's insurance policies had been cancelled because the company had been delinquent in paying them. I knew it wasn't (officially speaking) my business, but I asked Benedict Iscariot <spit> about it. Lo and behold, he didn't know! The second highest officer of the company was unaware of this dirty little secret. Had anyone in the company been injured and needed hospitalization at the time, then that person would be up Shinola creek without a paddle.

This was by far not the only example of cheapness. The following are a sample of some of the more telling examples:

  • They had the same copy of Lotus 1-2-3 and the same copy of Microsoft Word for DOS on their four PCs. The Lotus splash screens all showed the name of a different company. Chances are, the copy of MS Word was ripped off from another company too. Warez d00dz certainly don't have a monopoly on software piracy.
  • Benedict Iscariot <spit> later revealed to me that they regularly asked him to wait on depositing his paycheck, because they usually shorted their budget and didn't have enough funds in the bank account on payday to cover everyone's check.
  • Charlotte Manson <spit>, their programmer, went on vacation for a week and I was covering for her. Problems beyond my ability to remedy happened. Fortunately, my girlfriend is a computer consultant who is highly skilled with that type of system. I brought her in during the evening, and she had the problems under control in five hours. The next payday, I found to my horror that Eromenos Harkonnen <spit> denied me the five hours overtime, despite the fact that I brought with me a consultant who normally would charge $80/hour for that work (before even considering that it was after hours).
  • My girlfriend knew their hardware vendor and told me that once they had been a day from getting their enterprise server repossessed. As one of Stephen King's characters might have put it, "M-O-O-N, that spells Writ of Replevin! Laws yes!"
  • They had their 800 service disconnected once or twice because they didn't pay the phone company on time.
  • Later, they bought a product from my girlfriend. She offered to sell them a support contract with it, but they didn't because they wanted to save money. Very soon thereafter, Charlotte Manson <spit> was pestering my girlfriend for free support and got irate when she didn't get it. This was a tense time for me, one of many more to come.
  • Rather than getting a somewhat exotic network adapter for one of the PCs, they saved a little money by getting a modem for the enterprise server to communicate with the PC. As any network technician (such as myself) can tell you, that's pretty stupid. The response was sluggish (duh!), and worse yet, they got a cheapo modem (are you starting to see a pattern yet?) which didn't support the necessary protocols and therefore took an average of six tries to connect.
  • Eromenos Harkonnen <spit> got a really great deal on some paper stock for mass mailings. He got a deep discount by buying a huge volume at one time. The only problem was, every third piece of paper (on the average) jammed in the laser printer. That means that I had to spend all day un-jamming the printer and re-sending print jobs. Eventually, Eromenos Harkonnen <spit> raised hell and got the paper returned.
  • Some of the paper stock had the pre-printed signature of an employee who had left the company nearly a year ago. We had to use up all the old stock before switching to the new stock.
  • Once, we were printing test pages and ran three over what we had intended. Eromenos Harkonnen <spit> gasped and cried out, "We're wasting paper!" This, from someone who lives in a very exclusive residential subdivision and could afford a pimpmobile for himself and a shiny new Jeep for his brat.
  • They planned to get a mainframe computer to supplement their operations, but they didn't do so until a few months after I was gone. (My girlfriend, who is in a position to know, said it probably wouldn't perform up to snuff anyway.) However, they did buy a cabinet for it much earlier, so they could brag to their clients that their mainframe was already in place. To some people, appearance is just as real as substance. Incidentally, a friend of a friend bought a very similar model for $50 at a college auction sale. He ended up giving it to me, and the antique is sitting in my closet. (Maybe I'll write a vignette about that some day.)
  • The music played to callers while they were on "hold" was pirated from a local easy-listening-music station, despite the fact that re-broadcasting without paying royalties is illegal. This went on for the year I was there, and may well still be happening.

The overall stinginess was by no means the worst part of it. Several of our employees were ex-convicts. I know, someone needs to hire them, but still it made life rather (ahem...) interesting. Some of the ex-convicts were pretty decent folks, despite their past, but Roman Polanski would make a better babysitter than some of the others I saw working there. One of them was an arrogant little twerp who got interrogated by the FBI at work one day for impersonating a Federal agent. (No, I'm not making this up.) Luckily for him, they (apparently) let him off with only a warning. After that, we called him "Agent 86", much to his displeasure.

One of the most disgusting aspects of the job was the way that Eromenos Harkonnen <spit> liked to hug on me from time to time. Once, the son of a coelenterate rubbed his hand in my hair. Fortunately, that was the furthest it went. I did nothing to encourage this behavior, but neither did I tell him to keep his hands to himself, as I would now. I just sat stiffly and didn't say anything. Given that he had been sued for sexual harrassment (and at least once more after I left), one would think that he should know that the best policy would be to keep Shorty in his pants. Benedict Iscariot <spit> hinted that this guy was into incest -- I wouldn't put it past him exactly, but to be fair to the creep, I have to say that was an unsubstantiated report. Given that it was still the middle of the Recession, and I was shackled to a credit card millstone, I didn't quit. But it did make me think about sexual harrassment. Afterwards, I have made sure that my own conduct is completely above reproach. Acting like that slug is the last thing I would want to do.

I had it pretty easy, though. My girlfriend's boss often called employees into his office for long, irrelevant discussions. During these "checkpoints" (as he called them), he would often reach into his pants and leisurely stroke his testicles as he spoke. He continued his manustupration as he droned on and on, in plain view, seeming to give no more thought to it than someone who casually draws geometric figures on a notepad while in a meeting. He would also dig in his buttocks. The only mitigating factor is that he may very well have been suffering from alcoholic dementia. He had the red, veiny nose of a drunken bum, and this wasn't the only irrational action of his. If his brain was, in fact, well on its way to transmuting from sponge cake to Swiss cheese, then he was no more culpable than a two year old boy who hasn't learnt that one shouldn't play with onesself in front of company. But still, that didn't make it any less unpleasant to watch. Had the economy not sucked as much as it did, she would have done what I wanted to do: quit. And she did so at the next good opportunity. Gladly, she reported her boss for embezzling and got him fired before she left. Unfortunately, two other people got fired as well -- for other reasons, and they didn't deserve it.

The company kept falling short of the goals its clients set. And, Eromenos Harkonnen <spit> did what so many incompetent CEOs do in similar situations -- blame the officers. As one might be able to guess, he goes through middle managers as fast as most folks go through socks. I know of at least five who got the ax -- and this in a small company which had a directory that fit on one 14" page in the best of times and after a typical firing spree wouldn't fill an 11" page. But the first time I saw it happen was the most memorable. Benedict Iscariot <spit> became the target of an escalating memo war. I know; I wrote the responses. One time, Eromenos Harkonnen's <spit> sole response was to scribble an irrelevant comment about the margins on the memo. We got a kick out of that. Such a repartee, I believe, is known as an ignoratio elenchi. But, the day came when Benedict Iscariot <spit> got the boot. As he left, I paraphrased to him the parting words of President Van Buren ("The two happiest days of my life were when I took office and left office.") and of President Nixon ("You won't have me to kick around any more.") This brought work to a halt, since Benedict Iscariot <spit> was very popular amongst the workers. Then, Launcelot Milquetoast <spit>, the new second in command, delivered a speech to calm the grumbling proles. It wasn't too well received, but afterwards the employees went back to work.

Did productivity improve after Benedict Iscariot <spit> was replaced? Nope. I should know; I ran the statistics. The fact that Benedict Iscariot <spit> took away some of their business on the way out didn't help either. Launcelot Milquetoast <spit> sure did a great job setting things right. Not that he was evil or anything; he was just a bumbling fool whose indiscretion would seal my fate.

After Benedict Iscariot <spit> was gone, I began programming for the company. The good news was that I no longer had to answer irate, often screaming callers all day long while I ran production statistics and analysis on a creaky '286 computer. The bad news was, I had to work for Charlotte Manson <spit> and listen to her toilet mouth all day long while I ran a creaky but more powerful computer. Before this, I liked her, and I considered her to be a friend. But then she blew it. If only I had known that deep down she was three hundred pounds of manure in a one hundred and fifty pound bag, I would never have agreed to work for her.

As one might be able to guess, working for that miserable excuse for a company causes stress for everyone from the Second In Command of the Month down to the rank and file proles. Well, there are appropriate ways to deal with stress, and there are inappropriate ways. Charlotte Manson <spit> dealt with stress by taking it out on her co-workers, which is completely unacceptable. Since I worked under her, that meant that she could push me around with impunity. Like so many despotic pinheads in corporate America, she was of the opinion that having a little authority gives one the right to act like a petty tyrant. I tried kissing up and being nice, and thereby I learnt one of life's valuable lessons: never suck up to a bully; it doesn't work and that makes them think they think they can walk all over you.

Perhaps she was intimidated by the fact that my girlfriend was vastly more knowledgeable than she was (the difference is about as much as a seasoned network administrator compared to an eight year old kid with a WebTV account) and I was always talking about things she didn't understand. I don't claim to be a guru on the company's system, nor would I want to be. It uses an arcane operating system and depends on an obsolete (though widely used) programming language which was, until quite recently, pretty much the only one commonly available for that platform. And the reference manuals for the system make Unix documentation read like James Bond thrillers. I don't list experience with that system on my résumé since I've forgotten most of what I know about it and I'd rather not deal with those dinosaurs anyway.

As a small example of Charlotte Manson's <spit> ineptitude, the company frequently runs a data entry program which loads records from a particular client. But first it is necessary to edit the source file, change a constant, and recompile the code before running it. Any programmer who reads this will wonder, why not just add an input routine that asks for the number at run time? Well, that's because Charlotte Manson <spit> didn't have the brains to add an input routine. That's right -- a lead programmer who doesn't know how to write a simple input routine. I didn't feel like asking my girlfriend how to do it, nor was I inspired to RTFM, since Eromenos Harkonnen <spit> didn't feel like paying my overtime when I brought her in to help. They probably still edit and recompile the program every time they want to run it. Gee, wow.

Furthermore, she rarely made any effort to document the code, which is completely unacceptable in a business environment. As any real programmer knows, commenting becomes very necessary when someone else has to modify the code. For that matter, a few months later the original programmer will forget how he or she made it work and therefore would benefit greatly by documentation.

As an example of the typical crap I had to put up with, one time Charlotte Manson <spit> decided that I should write a program to predict what a certain metric figure was going to be the next day. It wasn't terribly important; just something nice to know. I created the software, and it worked, but she didn't like it. However, she couldn't tell me why she didn't like it, and had no explanation of what she did want. She spent a great deal of time rambling on about how it wasn't what she had in mind. But when I asked repeatedly what I could do to change it, she couldn't mention even one specific thing, other than she didn't like the "philosophy" of it (whatever that means). How was I supposed to do something if I couldn't figure out what it was she wanted?

Incidents like this were hardly isolated. Whenever I suggested getting some piece of hardware or software which would have been useful, she would react just as if I was rifling through her purse. Another day I had to stay late to run some stupid reports which Eromenos Harkonnen <spit> wanted. And no, I didn't get overtime. Charlotte Manson <spit> then informed me that it was missing some detail (of which she should have informed me in the first place, given that I am not telepathic). I was planning to meet someone in the evening, so I asked if I could go. She said yes. The next day, she called me into her office and had a conniption fit because I didn't stay. Something less obnoxious, though quite paradoxical, was her feelings about Eromenos Harkonnen <spit>. Sometimes she openly derided his greed and mismanagement. Other times, she would defend the little monster to the hilt and chide me with the words "You don't have any idea all the things we're planning." (I never implied that I knew all the schemes they were up to anyway, and for what it's worth I was probably happier not knowing, so I hardly see how that had anything to do with the price of pork bellies in Poland.)

Charlotte Manson <spit> was getting progressively battier. It went in cycles; for a few days, she would behave almost normally, and then there would be a few days in which she was as unstable as nitrogen triiodide. It began to occur to me that perhaps she was a few French fries short of a Happy Meal, or maybe she was into popping pills. To me, this isn't exculpatory; people like that should be seeking professional help, and not working in an office where other people have to deal with their problems. Or perhaps the best thing for her would be a frontal lobotomy. My attitude wasn't improving, especially since my friends were getting fired on a regular basis, and it was getting lonely. I wasn't openly rebelling, but I wasn't going to bust my buns for these ingrates any more. I tried to be as nice as I could, but that strategy doesn't calm down people with chips on their shoulders. Whoever said "It takes two to start a fight" obviously wasn't acquainted with many bullies and irrational people.

I can imagine that there are some people who would say that I was completely unjustified in feeling this way, and that these stories about the insane greed and asininity just can't be true. All I have to say is, anyone who thinks that way probably believes that Management is always right no matter what. Once upon a time, people like that thought that there was nothing wrong with using nine year old kids to push coal carts up mine shafts. After all, if those brats didn't like it, they could just find another job; it's a free market and all... And one hundred and fifty years ago, Eromenos Haronnen <spit> probably would have been running a cotton plantation.

I knew that it was only a matter of time before I was going to get fired. Once more I began passing out résumés, but to no avail. I would have quit months ago, if not for the fact that the economy still sucked. I wanted to get my unemployment bennies, especially since they're supposed to be paid by the former employer. My rock-bottom wages had, in a year's time, chipped off much of the credit card millstone, just as a slow drip of water eventually will bore through rock. But the usurers were still sucking my blood, and I was very nervous about what would happen if I couldn't pay the vampires. I could have used a log-rolling scheme, but they gouge even more with cash advances, and one day someone has to pay the piper. All in all, waiting for the ax to fall was as much fun as having a theological discussion with Torquemada. Much to my surprise, I survived to my first anniversary there. They even got a cake. Way cool! One may wonder why they got a cake if they were so notoriously cheap. Given that I was only the sixth person, including the secretary who had Eromenos Harkonnen's <spit> baby, to last more than a year, they probably don't blow too much of their budget on cakes anyway.

A fateful day arrived. Charlotte Manson <spit> picked a fight with me. She said that she was upset that I had failed to greet her that morning with proper enthusiasm. She threw a classic grand mal temper tantrum. The force of her halitosis was enough to part my hair. If she had been a man, I would have invited him to step outside the office, whereupon I would have beaten the shaving cream out of him. The last time someone pushed my buttons like that was in high school, and the guy who provoked me was on the floor within two seconds. For the first time, I yelled back since I no longer had much desire to work there. Had I quit, I would have been ineligible for unemployment benefits. It took a Liddylike act of will to restrain myself from slapping that bag of excrement into the "Potemkin" mainframe.

After that was over, I realized the futility of working in a professional manner with that sorry excuse for a human being. So, I went to Launcelot Milquetoast <spit> and asked him for a transfer to another position -- any one would suit me. Since they had ex-convicts working for them whose highest academic achievement was a GED, that wasn't so bloody hard to do. He talked me into waiting another day, so I could cool off and decide if that was what I really wanted to do. I asked him not to discuss it with Charlotte Manson <spit>.

But that little Schweinhund probably did. The next day, I came into work, and Charlotte Manson <spit> asked me to come into her personal headquarters and shut the door. As all corporate flunkies know, the act of closing the door often is a prelude to something shameful that must be hidden from the eyes of the other employees. That usually means that the supervisor either is going to make a sexual proposition, or is going to act like a berserk chimpanzee on PCP. She had done the chimp shtick the previous morning, and was eerily calm this time, neither raising her voice nor using her ubiquitous profanity. She explained that we were having "communication problems" and she had to "let me go". Given that she wasn't of the same rank as the person who hired me, she was overstepping her authority, but I didn't feel like arguing the point. She explained that "he" felt that since my going to work for her was a promotion, I couldn't go back. It was ambiguous who the pronoun "he" referred to -- Eromenos Harkonnen <spit>, Launcelot Milquetoast <spit>, or one of the voices in her head. I wouldn't be surprised if all of them got together to talk about it. After one year, one week, and five minutes of service, I had to hit the door.

In a conciliatory fashion, perhaps to alleviate the guilt she felt about screwing over someone who once was her friend, she promised to give good reviews about my technical expertise to any prospective employers. Well, isn't that special. I was about as ready to let her recommend me as I was ready to recommend Jack Kevorkian to my grandparents as a family physician. I trust Charlotte Manson's <spit> word far less than Richard Nixon's (and he's dead). If she had told me that gravity causes objects to fall earthward, I would have grabbed ahold of something lest I float off into the sky.

As I got off the elevator, I saw Launcelot Milquetoast <spit>. I said, "It's been nice knowing you," with just a wee inflection of irony. He replied, "Huh?" Here was the guy who had told me a few months back that shortly I would have about six or seven programmers working under me (I've heard that one before), and apparently just caused the proverbial prima donna to sing because he couldn't keep his damn mouth shut, and all he had to say was "Huh?"

I was upset not to have a job any more, but I was equally glad to be free from that miserable dump. As Uncle Remus would put it, I'se bawn an' bred in de brier patch, Bre'r Fox... I went to the unemployment office with all the due haste I could muster. Thereupon, I waited in line for a couple of very depressing hours and filled out a bunch of dumb red tape. In order to help relieve the stress, I went with my girlfriend to an encounter group. That turned out to be a big mistake, but that's another story. Perhaps it would have been more therapeutic to ride on a rickshaw, prodding my old supervisor forward with a quirt and spurs. "Mush!" The group mindf%&* didn't help my girlfriend relieve her stress either, because she freaked out about the fact that I was unemployed. Fortunately, she knows me better now.

So, it was time to pass out résumés full time again. "We'll call you if there are any openings..." Ah, such music to my ears. One suit said that I seemed despondent, and gave me the "helpful" advice that I should be more Stoic about being unemployed -- after all, the Japanese would never show emotion. I was tempted to inform him that Japan has the world's highest suicide rate. One crochety old rich snot who ran a small employment agency asked how my last job had ended. I told him the truth (how foolish of me), namely that I had been fired. He basically told me -- though not in so many words -- that I was damaged goods, and thereupon went into a long ramble about Quattro spreadsheet software. Gosh, wasn't that special. After putting up with a year of stupidity, greed, and bullying, I ended up getting spat out like used chewing gum, and it really warmed my heart that this eccentric little jerk was of the opinion there was something wrong with me because I had been fired.

As it happened, one of my résumés quickly attracted attention. The head of the Geek Department at Soviet Information Providers was looking for a PC nerd, and I fit the bill. I interviewed, and accepted the position. It paid slightly better than the last one, even. My joblessness lasted only a week, so I didn't get any unemployment benefits.

I was quite happy to be working again. But, the shine on the new job wore off quickly. Captain Queeg, my new boss, wasn't a couple cans shy of a six pack like the last one, but nonetheless he was given to screaming and using profanity. That is simply not civilized behavior. But it was quite an improvement; when I suggested buying hardware or software to accomplish a task, he listened to the costs and benefits and made a rational decision based on the facts; whereas Charlotte Manson <spit> would have started screaming hysterically before I finished the first sentence.

The corporate culture left something to be desired. Talking behind people's backs was the norm. The first time something like this happened to me was when the two people in the Payroll Department called me on a problem -- every so often, when the Print Screen button was pressed while a certain application was running, it would lock up the computer. The people who wrote the software blamed our hardware. So, if you were a techie, you'd simply load the application on a different brand of computer and see if it works, right?... Sounds simple? Since the Mgmt. at Soviet Information Providers doesn't like to spend any money, typically they acquire computers by a very arcane procedure. I can't go into details, lest this shed some light on the identity of the company I am writing about (and that wouldn't be nice), so suffice it to say that new equipment was hard to come by, and getting what you wanted was even harder. One of our luckiest finds was some Dell '486-50 machines designed for CADD use; we also got a few IBM PS/1 models for the home market; and once we got a bunch of refurbished '386es and half of them didn't work. Up to the time I left, they still had a few original PS/2 Model 30 computers in service. These had 8086 processors, 512K RAM (expandable to a whole 4MB on board!), and proprietary 30MB hard drives which couldn't be replaced by generic industry-standard units. There were plenty of Micro Channel based IBM boxes which were quite expensive to upgrade. And then there were some German-manufactured '386es which were fine machines except for this little problem which cropped up every now and then, involving exploding capacitors on the motherboard. Fortunately, most applications weren't too demanding.

Needless to say, the Payroll folks didn't get a second computer. But, they kept fussing about the lockup problem. It's something which could be classified as a classic case of "Don't Do That". I truly would be surprised if there weren't a way to get the data they wanted out of some sort of custom query. But, I tried to work the issue with the software vendor's tech support guy. He suggested taking a line out of AUTOEXEC.BAT, which was supposed to solve the problem, though it disabled another printing function. I asked Hippopotamus Ankles, one of the Payroll crew, to try it that way and see if it helped, and to contact me if they needed it back the way it was before. A couple of days later, Captain Queeg summoned me into his office. "You f%&*ed up their computer!" he screamed. After a good deal of ranting, it became clear that Hippopotamus Ankles had chosen to go to my boss and tell an extremely distorted story, rather than simply ask me to undo the change. Worse yet, she had bottled it up for a couple of days so that she could claim that a crisis had developed because of what I did. After much melodrama, Captain Queeg agreed to let me restore AUTOEXEC.BAT to its original state by removing the REM statement I had placed there (which, as any 14-year-old who knows DOS can tell you, is a way to keep a device driver from loading, as one might want to do for debugging purposes). But, he said, another person from the Geek Department had to watch me do this since the Payroll people didn't trust me any more. So, I brought a co-worker with me, and they debated for half an hour over whether they would let me fix it. They also insinuated that I was responsible for other minor (and completely unrelated) quirks in the system. I suppose every techie gets that, though. Finally, they let me take out the REM statement, which takes well under two minutes to fix. Oh, boy. And they still wanted a new computer. Later, I overcame my repugnance and went to their department and asked what the minimum specs on a new system should be. One of them said she would, but didn't. So I asked another. I got back a baffling set of specifications:

     RAMs:  11 or 14 megahertz
     hard disk:  any
     memory:  524 kilobytes

Then, I was told to change out the file server at the site of a company owned by Soviet Information Providers. I explained to Captain Queeg that I didn't know Netware. "But that's what we hired you for," he said after giving me a portentious look. I found what manuals we had left -- of the entire set, I recall we had about three, which illuminated some of the more obscure aspects of Netware 2, but didn't do much to explain anything relevant to the task at hand. The rest of the manuals had disappeared into the mist... Don't they always do that?

I checked out the situation, and the file server was (sit down in case you faint from laughter) a '286 CPU running at 10MHz, with 4MB RAM. It had a dust-choked 5.25" floppy drive. Most of the clients were 8088-based PCs which booted from floppies since they had no hard drives. There were about twenty clients, connected with Arcnet, and their main application was a word processor about as advanced as WordStar. These days, I'd just do an over-the-wire upgrade, or at least transfer the hard drive and Arcnet card to a more advanced machine and beat on it until it worked. But, since I wasn't nearly the hacker then as I am now, I didn't know what to do with it. Moe Einstein, a helpful member of the Engineering Department who was always full of advice, suggested using LapLink over a serial cable. In utter ignorance, I tried it and ended up locking up the server. It's not much of an exaggeration to say I nearly had a heart attack. It didn't take long for me to learn to take Moe Einstein's advice with a grain of salt. And, since Novell tech support wanted $100 up front just to talk (an unfortunate habit which other manufacturers such as Microsoft have picked up), that wasn't going to happen either. We didn't have Internet access then (but I'll be discussing that at great length a little later), so Web-based support wasn't a possibility. In any event, the subsidiary company got sold, it became an obscure shadow of its former self, and the server never got upgraded. In the process, though, all the anxiety gave me a network phobia which took me a few years to properly overcome. Netware's arcane syntax still gives me the willies -- fortunately, I don't have to deal with it much any more. I'll take NT any day.

In case you haven't guessed by now, Soviet Information Providers was (and probably still is) a rather screwy company. The chieftain, Baron Ebenezer Vanderbilt, according to all accounts, was a rather odd fellow. He probably started out as a fairly normal guy, but all the money and power associated therewith ended up having their usual corrosive effect on the personality. Everyone else, especially Captain Queeg, was terrified of him. I look with disgust at the slavish deference which people give to their bosses -- if everyone treated them like normal people and not like Middle Eastern despots, perhaps the money and power wouldn't be so likely go to their heads. Regretfully, I have done my share of kissing up over the years, but I won't any more. In any case, Baron Ebenezer Vanderbilt never caused me any problems. He was orders of magnitude better than Eromenos Harkonnen <spit>, but still, some of the things he did were a little odd.

  • He lived in a posh mansion in the most exclusive part of town, complete with servants. But the servants lived in a smaller house out back. As I mentioned earlier, the summers where I live are particularly brutal, even at night. But the servants' quarters don't have air conditioning because they don't need it. Got to keep the peasants in their place, after all...
  • He bought a new juke box for (as I recall) $17,000 and had one of the company's engineers install the thing. The engineer's salary, though much better than mine, was two juke boxes a year. The boss was bitterly disappointed to discover that it couldn't be programmed to play sequences of songs on various themes. "I paid $17,000 for that!" he kept saying. (As if the engineer could do something about the fact that it lacked that feature?) He had the engineer load the CDs and program the track titles -- an activity which took him all day to finish.
  • He owned a personal ski retreat in Vail, Colorado and disguised it on paper as an office so he could write it off on his taxes as a business expense.
  • One day, he got brand new chairs -- nicer ones I have never had at work -- for the whole office and let his employees take the old ones home. In fact, I am sitting in a used Soviet Information Providers chair as I write this. But all the curtains on the windows were yellowed and tattered. Nice paintings and tapestries hung on walls which had some sort of a plastic finish which went out in the 1970s.

Later, I got to have more fun with file servers and the Payroll Department. Captain Queeg told me to order a network for them as fast as possible. The idea had been kicking around probably long before I was there, and had been "handled" by several people already. But, unlike the other folks who had sat on it for months, I got a bid within a day. Following another day, the brontosaurus-like bureaucracy approved it. It cost 300,000 pennies -- for any other department, such an outlay would have been unthinkable (remember, I said they didn't believe in spending money), but Payroll Departments tend to get their way for obvious reasons. Fortunately, this solved their lock-up problems as well, and they were happy campers for quite some time thereafter. Unfortunately, they were still too cheap to get a backup device. I did warn them, though... I heard that the server croaked a month or two after I left -- glad I wasn't there to deal with it. Oops.

Fortunately, Hippopotamus Ankles left the company within a few months, and then the Payroll Department was jerk-free. Later, I found out that Hippopotamus Ankles had destroyed a '486-33 (top of the line and quite expensive, in those days) by repeatedly flicking on and off the power switch. It didn't solve whatever problem there was, but it did fry the computer. Oops. Perhaps she thought that was the electronic equivalent of kicking a washing machine that won't start. Don't try this at home, kiddies. Remember, wait a few seconds before cycling power on again, just like your manual says, and if one coldstart reboot won't fix the problem, fifty more times probably ain't gonna help. Don't be like Hippopotamus Ankles.

I got moved about here and there. For quite some time, there was no room for me with the rest of my department. For the first few days, I didn't even have a place to sit. Then, I got a cube next to some suits. And later, I got moved into their junk room -- a large, hemispherical chamber behind their reception area filled with trash and assorted items such as enormous foam slabs. Finally, after months, I got moved into a room next to the Geek Department. There were broken tiles in the ceiling, which was insulated with asbestos: if I ever get lung cancer, I know who to sue. The room was large enough for two people, and I had to share it with the shipping & receiving guy who I considered to be a crass, overbearing jerk. (Once, after he had concluded a cordial conversation with a female co-worker, he turned to me and said, smirking, "She's got VD all over her face." Yes, that's really what he said. Needless to say, I proceeded to give him a verbal attitude adjustment.) Later (may the Gods be thanked) he moved to Eleanor von Schmuck's <spit> department. After that, the next box shlepper was a kid I'll refer to as Fuzzyboy. He was a sneaky little backbiting tattletale, but he's too clueless to hate. He, too, graduated to Eleanor von Schmuck's <spit> department. The next guy was considerably better. But, he aroused the wrath of Captain Queeg and his underling, Igor Lugosi. Igor was speaking with Queeg on the phone, telling him that he was "having some problems" with the new shipping & receiving dude, who happened to be in the area as Igor Lugosi was backbiting him. He turned to Igor and asked him what sort of problems he was having. Igor never forgave him for catching him in the act of talking behind his back. Eventually, Queeg "let him go" for some asinine infraction. The last shipping & receiving dude was also a decent person who didn't indulge in being a tattletale. He kept his radio tuned to Rush Limbaugh, and Igor Lugosi was always tuned into Pacifica. So going from one room to another was like crossing the demilitarized zone between South Korea and North Korea.

As I said before, getting computers was a very arcane procedure. For quite some time, that job was handled by Moe Einstein. Then, through some corporate infighting, Captain Queeg wrested control of that function from him. (He had a fierce professional rivalry with Moe Einstein which had been going on for years. When face to face with him, Captain Queeg was always nice and courteous, but behind his back he complained bitterly about him in typical Queegian fashion, usually berating him for being a know-it-all. This rivalry had caused the department they were in to be split in two, one headed by each, because one department wasn't big enough for the both of them.) But Captain Queeg found that he had bit off more than he could chew, and Ebenezer Vanderbuilt soon lifted the cross from his shoulders. For several months, another suit ran the procurement process. I suspect that something weird was going on, since computers kept coming in but not a single one was deployed for actual use at corporate headquarters. He left the company (under what circumstances I do not know), and procurement was taken over by a charming individual who we'll call Eleanor von Schmuck <spit>.

I had a nice little run-in with her one day. She summoned me to her office, wanting me to do something about the fact that we got seven computers from a manufacturer which didn't have video cards in them. (This may be completely beside the point, but I believe that this California facility would have been able to improve the quality of its products by instituting a mandatory drug testing program.) This was a Big Emergency, since the computers were supposed to go out to an Important Client. I went to get a copy of the purchase order, because I knew that would be the first thing they asked for, owing to prior experience with that vendor. I waited for a considerable time as Eleanor von Schmuck <spit> carried on a rambling, irrelevant, personal phone call and pretended that I wasn't there. After she was done with that urgent phone call, I found out that she didn't have the purchase order. I asked where it was. She showed me a jumbled pile of papers (what a great filing system). I asked if I could look through it. She said I could. Then I started looking for the purchase order, and a few minutes later she informed me that I had no business looking through those papers. A couple of days later, Captain Queeg informed me that "certain people" had been complaining about me "hovering" over their desks and prying into confidential documents. As fate would have it, that scheming little mandavoshka came back to me in a couple of weeks, nice as can be -- she urgently needed my technical help on another Big Emergency. It is tragic that well-dressed, immaculately coiffed muttonheads like Eleanor von Schmuck <spit> find their way into highly paid positions.

Dealing with a great variety of different computers with mutually incompatible hardware, was tough enough. Their oftentimes difficult users made life pure joy, especially given that backbiting was so ingrained in the corporate culture. Some of them persistently kept calling a computer a "hard drive", which is somewhat like calling a person a "lung" or a "kidney". Others would refer to 3.5" floppy disks as "hard drives" -- after all, since the case isn't flexible like a 5.25" disk, it can't be a floppy, right? Ah, semantics... I have nothing against inexperienced users, but I do have something against inexperienced users who humbly say they are inexperienced but in the next breath try to tell me how to do my job, and then talk to the boss behind my back if I can't fix it as easily as Scotty fixes the warp drive. In fact, I seriously think that Star Trek has set unrealistic expectations for technicians. Here's how the typical Trek TOS show goes:

  1. Introduction & credits
  2. Commercial plug
  3. The Klingons approach and the warp drive, most inconveniently, breaks down
  4. Commercial plug
  5. The plot thickens, and Scotty gets busy trying to fix the warp drive
  6. Commercial plug
  7. Kirk attempts negotiations, but to no avail -- things start looking pretty bad for the intrepid crew of the Enterprise, and probably a few of the extras wearing red uniforms have gotten killed off by now
  8. Commercial plug
  9. Scotty manages to get the warp drive working, just in the nick of time
  10. Commercial plug
  11. Dénouement, veiled political message, & credits
So, the time between when the warp drive breaks down and when Scotty fixes it is no more than 45 minutes. Would that it were that simple in real life.

All this blaming and backstabbing gave me an idea for an allegorical story, of the <IRONY> ever-popular dystopian magical realism genre </IRONY>. In it, I am in Russia during the early Khrushchev administration, and my job is to fix magic items. "Comrade, this magic wand operates on vril power, not manna. If I were to put in a replacement manna gem, it would not work, and could possibly damage it. Unfortunately, there's this little waiting list for spare vril gems. As soon as we get a new gem rated at 12.5 Crowleys, I'll replace the burnt-out one and say the magic spell to make it work." "Manna, vril, what's the difference? It's all magic, right? What kind of magician are you, if you can't fix the damn magic wand? You must be a Trotskyist or something. I'll have you reported." "No! Please! I'll fix it!" "You better, or you'll be fixing wands in Siberia!"

The pettiness of it all was astounding. Try as I might, I didn't know how to get off the bottom of the pecking order in a corporate environment, especially one in which a bunch of overpaid suits were embedded into the power structure like bloated ticks on a shaggy dog. It certainly wasn't as bad as it was at the old job, but it was threatening to get that way. All the posturing from the rich executives, and the sycophancy extracted from the rest of us, was really getting to me. I made the mistake of kissing up to Captain Queeg. This was a big mistake; he interpreted that as weakness, and he got the idea that I would be his pincushion.

Queeg wanted to know what I was doing at all times, and didn't want me to do anything he didn't know about. I'm not sure what he had against me being pro-active -- perhaps he felt it threatened his role as master of his departmental fiefdom. One day, he was really incensed to find that I was trying to get a poorly-designed cubicle apart enough to route a power cable down the back. He immediately called a departmental meeting to humiliate me, in which he forced me to confess to "moving furniture". One day, he was steamed that it had taken me "all day" to change out three computers. It took six hours (and no, six does not equal eight, at least last time I checked), and that included bridging all the data through a null modem serial cable (rather like draining a bathtub using a straw), making sure that everything worked just as well as before, and filling out lots of those silly asset transfer forms. And he kept reminding me that he had fired my predecessor because he had been caught changing light bulbs. Gosh, such subtlety. I discovered that my predecessor probably stole a dozen copies of Lotus 1-2-3 v3.1, and yet a trivial peccadillo was what cost him his job.

As it happened, I was involved in some pretty exciting stuff. I wrote a database system for the Payroll Department. (And it was Y2K compliant years before people started worrying about that.) I created some microcontroller-based software for data filtering. That was rather difficult, since I had to get around two bugs, one of which involved a problem of which there was only the barest hint in the manual. The second resulted because the manufacturer switched to another UART chip (which controls serial port communications) for a while due to supply constraints. I coded a hack in assembly language to get around that problem. I was also prototyping a microcontroller-based solution which would allow them to stop having to use Apple ][ GS computers (which had been discontinued for a few years by then) in a critical area of their operations.

I also wired up much of our floor with a network. We were using Localtalk wiring, which runs about twice as fast as garden-variety modems do today. That's not too impressive when two dozen computers are using the same network segment. I did upgrade the Geek Corner to Ethernet, and put in a quirky router to connect to the Localtalk segments. I couldn't wire the whole building with Ethernet, because (as I mentioned previously) there was asbestos in the ceilings, and getting a contractor qualified to deal with it would have cost about $20,000 or so. Some of the guys had been busted by the building's management for doing unauthorized wiring through the ceiling, and nobody wanted to risk ticking off the landlady again. Worse yet, the Procurement Department was on another floor. Since we couldn't do any creative wiring, I had to use a couple of 28,800 baud modems to bridge the data between floors. That was cute, especially since in the name of saving money we were using modems which weren't designed to stay dialed up continuously. It worked for about a month, and then for some reason the connection kept dropping, and of course that was a Big Emergency.

During my last summer there, I devised a way to wire the whole building with Ethernet. This would have involved a couple of short-distance microwave repeaters. My plan would have saved the cost of getting an asbestos contractor to wire the ceiling. But no, it was not to be.

Then, Clinton came to power. Due largely to his running mate, Forrest Gore, there was considerable talk about the "Information Superhighway", and it soon became the gotta-have for our company along with a great many others. I was assigned the task of getting Soviet Information Providers connected to the Internet. And that's when the manure really hit the fan...

We already had some sort of Internet e-mail gateway, which would dial up to our providers every other hour. Since the providers we had weren't giving stellar performance, we decided to go with another provider for domain registration and full-time connection. Unfortunately, the new providers sucked just as much. It took several weeks to get in a digital circuit (don't laugh, but it was a 56K leased line). During this time, Captain Queeg was as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. He's the sort of person who expects things to happen immediately. Eventually, we did get our Internet connection in three weeks. But, during the waiting period, Captain Queeg's impatience manifested itself on my eardrums since I was the go-between. I told a techie at our ISP that Captain Queeg had been in the Vietnam War and ended up with a steel plate in his skull, and therefore acted a little funny sometimes. But, alas, my fib didn't get things moving any faster.

Despite all that I was doing for the company, he was still swearing and yelling at me quite frequently. The previous pattern was that he would throw a temper tantrum and derive pleasure from humiliating his underlings, usually me. Since I'm the sort of person who reads Nietzsche, I don't exactly care for being bellowed at like a galleon slave. But, after a few weeks, I might convince myself that deep down he's probably a decent human being. Then he'd erupt again and spoil my conciliatory mood... However, this time was different. I would be on the receiving end of oral diarrhea from one day to the next, and I couldn't see the end of it. As I wrote to a friend,

What is it about having money and authority that turns a person into an overbearing, cantankerous pipsqueak? I hope that never happens to me. In fact, I hope to God (I do not use these words lightly) that wealth and power would not corrupt me so. I can hardly wait until I get a burst of oðr and enough free time to start writing a satire about the little dipshit.

Then, some local contractor made a business proposal to our suits. They wanted to provide networking services for us. The suits didn't tell the people in the Geek Department, since communication simply doesn't take place in Soviet Information Providers, and in fact the Geek Department didn't find out about this until they were about to run networking wire through the ceiling. As it happens, my PC was the only one in the Geek Corner which they planned to make a network drop for, because the rest of the Geeks were using Macintoshes and whoever dreamed up their wiring plan didn't think that Macs counted.

So, it was back to the drawing board. All the members of the Geek Department were there, along with Moe Einstein and (as best as I recall) a superfluous suit or two. The big talking heads had a grand, heated, passionate discussion about the wiring, which lasted for considerable time and accomplished nothing. It was really surreal; only the Senate could generate more hot air than that. It was decided to put in twice as many cable drops as were really needed, since it cost well over $10,000 just to have asbestos contractors come out and get into the ceiling, and (so it was assumed) the cost of adding extra network drops would be miniscule compared to the huge up-front cost of opening up the ceiling. But, when this plan was decided on and we conveyed it to one of the contractors, the suit gave us a price which was twice what was expected. The assumption had been dead wrong. Captain Queeg promptly said something on the order of "to hell with it, I've got a plane to catch". Our fearless leader having departed us, it was up to the lesser Geeks to figure out the next day. This time, I invited only two others: Moe Einstein, and Igor Lugosi. Shortly into the meeting, Moe Einstein started waxing eloquent. I mentioned that we were just talking about 10Base-T wire, nothing to get all worked up about, and the previous day's meeting accomplished nothing because the rhetoric got so highfalutin. He saw the wisdom of this, and together we worked out a plan.

Altogether, it cost about $37,000, including the servers. If my plan had been taken seriously, it would have cost less than half of that.

One big concern that Captain Queeg had was that the Geek Department's Mac network would have nothing to do with the PC network of the other departments. It wasn't enough that the network would be multiply segmented with a network adapter for each segment in the server. Most likely, he didn't want the Appletalk and the IPX on the same wire. Undoubtedly, he was afraid that people would always be blaming his department for every little thing which happened to their own computers. And to be fair, in that company there were lots of non-geekful people who always tried to tell us Geeks our business. (As Plato said, there are two kinds of ignorance: the first kind consists of not knowing the facts; and the second, which is worse, consists of not knowing the facts but thinking that one does.) I tried to assure him that heterogenous networks were perfectly normal; that's what the Open Datalink Interface shtick is all about. At one meeting, I was reduced to exhorting him just to trust me on that, but Pharaoh's heart was hardened and my entreaties fell on deaf ears. But, keeping the two separate was a silly, unrealistic idea: for e-mail to get from our Mac-based mail server to the PC-based clients, then somewhere there had to be a connection. In response to these concerns, our contractors assembled a big meeting, consisting of about a dozen: some members of the Geek Department, some contractor suits, some big-name Mac consultants and some suits from Intel (the manufacturers of the network interface cards which were going to be installed). These weren't just ordinary executive clones; they were wearing suits which probably cost a couple months of my salary. In any case, Captain Queeg made his case about how he was worried about all the different network signals being on the same wire. If he really were the same Captain Queeg from Wouk's The Caine Mutiny, he would undoubtedly be rolling a couple of steel bearings in his palm. As for the Intel suits, their eyes rolled so hard it's a wonder that they didn't escape their sockets. After over two hours of bullcorn, it was decided that I was right.

The next crisis, the last for me, happened when Captain Queeg decided that we needed Usenet access. This was before the days of Deja News. I found a free provider, but that wasn't good enough since we couldn't post and the list of groups was, in the immortal words of our Great Leader, "severely restricted". Well, duh -- you gets what you pays for. (I do recall, however, that they hosted I'm not sure which newsgroups it was so vital for us to read. (In correspondence with a friend of mine, I opined that he wanted to read alt.curmudgeon, alt.tightwad, and at Ethernet speed.) Most likely, somebody asked a question about it off-handedly in a meeting, and Captain Queeg thereupon decided that it was of vital importance that he get Usenet access and that his competence would be in question if we didn't get it. So, I got assigned this lovely task. Unfortunately, Windows NT 4 Server and MS Exchange weren't around at the time, so the expectation of running that service on relatively inexpensive PC hardware, running a relatively easy to use OS, was just a wee bit quixotic. Despite the fact that our ISP's marketing guy said we could have access to this service (and basically everything else), they wouldn't grant us access to their NNTP server. They said that in a few months, they were going to start granting access to their leased-line customers, but Captain Queeg wanted it done Right Now. One of their nerds suggested that I get a low-end Sun workstation. This would have cost us about $5,000. Since we were still running 8086-based IBM PS/2 Model 30 desktop computers which were probably eight years old, this idea would have gone over like a lead balloon. There were no Macintosh-based NNTP servers, so the only possible solution was Linux. The end was near for me...

The best computer we had was a Dell 486-50 with 4MB RAM. Since Soviet Information Providers is a pennypinching operation, a new Pentium-based PC was out of the question. So, I ordered a Linux disk and a manual. I put a 500MB SCSI drive in it, a 2X CD ROM, and one of the few EISA SCSI adapters listed on the Linux hardware compatibility list at the time. 500MB isn't very much for an NNTP server, but Captain Queeg assurred me that it would be enough if we cut out all the non-English newsgroups and the sex newsgroups. (This may have been a more reasonable expectation back then, a few years before spam washed over the newsgroups like a tidal wave.) The Linux disk came in, but the manual was on back order for a week. Nevertheless, I managed to get Linux bootable on the computer from the meager instructions printed on the CD ROM's jewel case. Unfortunately, the Linux binaries were still being accessed on the CD ROM, and since I didn't have a manual to tell me how to get the operating system on the hard drive, it was dog slow. Well, we po'-boyed the server, and this is what we got. How slow was it? It took ten minutes to launch a text editor such as emacs or vi. I got into X Windows, and there was (hallelujah!) an option to load an NNTP server program. But, I tried to run it, and after about twenty minutes of the CD ROM chirping away like a mouse on amphetamines, it crashed because of some scripting error. No matter what I did, it wouldn't go any further.

And finally, I got an ultimatum. I had to get the NNTP server going within a day, or I would be relieved of my Internet duties. Given that Linux (or any other form of UNIX for that matter) is an incredibly arcane, text-based operating system, it's not exactly reasonable to expect somebody to do that without a manual. Support? Nope. Linux is freeware, and in fact it can be downloaded from an FTP site. So, normal support is nonexistent. Twice I called the help desk of the company that sold me the CD ROM, and both times the kid tried to get rid of me.

In any event, I had been itching to leave the company for quite some time, especially during recent days. As I wrote to my friend Val,

I can't wait to see the look on that insignificant little pipsqueak's face when I hand in my resignation. I'd love to see the rest of the department try miserably to do the stuff I've been doing. It gets real interesting, especially when our host's DNS server goes south; and everyone thinks I messed up something.
So, things weren't looking very good for Your Humble Narrator. I felt that if Captain Queeg carried out his threat to get somebody else to do the Internet projects, that it could be the first step of my job going into a fatal tailspin. If I actually got fired, which the petty tyrant liked to threaten every now and then, this could ruin my career. For the ax to fall on me twice in a row would likely be construed by any future employment recruiters as a sure sign that I was unsuitable, despite the rotten circumstances I had endured. Additionally, my career there was going nowhere; my plan to install a network had been ignored, and another company sold us a plan which cost thousands more. There was no glory in it for me, and I would not have the opportunity to put the hallowed words "Network Administrator" on my rez-you-may. And, last but not least, it wasn't easy working for someone who goaded me so much on a nearly daily basis that I wanted to give him the Dr. Marten's Dental Plan. I'm just not cut out to be servile.

Thereupon I did something which turned out to be a big mistake. I called Benedict Iscariot <spit>. He had been stringing me along for years, telling me that soon he would be able to hire me. I gave him an ultimatum: now or never. He managed to find some time, two hours from then, to see me.

I printed out three copies of the resignation letter I had prepared: one for payroll, one for Igor Lugosi, and one for Captain Queeg. I delivered them in that order. As it happens, Queeg was utterly astonished. He had no idea that I had been pushed to the limit. He implored with me for quite some time to stay. He bitterly berated himself for bringing me to this point, and also tried to appeal to the insecurity of the job market. He noted that he had gotten the impression that a previous supervisor had hurt me badly. I found this comment rather interesting: he had chosen to be a bully and a petty tyrant, in full light of the knowledge that I had suffered from this treatment before. He promised that he would change, and spoke rather convincingly. And I would have liked to believe him, but I felt that after a person has been a manager as long as he had been, it is unlikely that there could be a dramatic change of a lasting nature. So, I quit.

I had expected something of a sense of triumph. Actually, there wasn't much glory; it felt rather like I was kicking a mean old dog into submission. In any event, although I had been on the receiving end of screaming, profanity, and neurotic behavior for over two years, I don't hate Captain Queeg. As difficult to work with as he may be, he does have sufficient redeeming characteristics, which is why I don't <spit> when I mention his name. I was kind enough to give Captain Queeg and a couple of the other Geeks some technical information on what I had been doing, which would allow them to carry on my work. But, as a final prank, I had one of my associates put a satirical logo I had created on the wallpaper for my PC, which was running a beta version of Win95.

 [Soviet Information Providers - The Evil Empire - We Will Bury the Competition]

I feel quite justified in quitting when I did. I was but the first in a wave of defections. Captain Queeg hired someone else in my place (whose first task was to get rid of the logo), and then one more soon followed. It turns out that no further work was ever done to the vital NNTP server, and nobody had even bothered to power it down in the space of several months, wasting a steady stream of electricity all the while. I am told that Queeg's behavior mellowed out considerably.

However, if this was a come-to-Jesus moment for Captain Queeg, the conversion didn't take. Many moons later, somebody started stealing RAM modules out of the computers overnight. In an effort to "do something", Queeg fired my two successors in the heat of paranoia, without any evidence that they were the thieves. If there is equipment stolen out of computers, it has to be the computer technicians, n'est ce que pas, Inspector Clouseau? And it has to be the two new guys, non? But, lo and behold, the thefts went on after the techies were fired. Considering how much respect I had there, I probably would have gotten the blame (and the ax) if I were still around. Firing people for crimes they didn't commit is as wrong as two boys fornicating. I can just imagine what they have to go through at interviews now:

"Hmmm. From your application, I see you've got lots of experience and a good education. So, how did your job at Soviet Information Providers end?"
"I, uhm, was dismissed."
"And what was the reason for that?"
"There were some, uh, thefts in the company. I wasn't involved, but --"
"Okay, then, I'll call you if we have any positions.
"But --"
"Have a nice day. Oh, and don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out."

So, then, it came to pass that I got to speak with Benedict Iscariot <spit>. I repeated my ultimatum: now or never. He decided to hire me. We compromised on a salary that was a few thousand higher than my last one, though unfortunately still less than I was worth. Just a few hours after I had walked out of Soviet Information Providers, I was now an employee of Perfidias Corp. All seemed well and good. Little did I know what was in store for me...

Things started out fairly slowly. I was working on a rather creaky (but functional) 386SX-16 computer, creating financial reports in some early version of Excel. I also did a little data entry. But, lo, my destiny was about to cross paths with a she-ogre who I'll call Sunshine <spit> on account of her perpetually cheerful attitude. Actually, she is a decent human being, if one overlooks the fact that she is a paranoiac, overbearing, petty, jealous, incompetent, obnoxious religious hypocrite with a foot-long chip on her shoulder.

We had met before: she had worked for Eromenos Harkonnen <spit> while I was there. But one day, it happened that the little monster was about to go on a business trip. In the afternoon, just before he left, he ordered her to load up a slide machine for a presentation with a Big Important Client. They had told him that they didn't care about seeing slides, but he got it into his head that his dog and pony show wouldn't be complete without a few slides whether or not they wanted it. But, lo, owing to the extreme haste in which she was ordered to load the slides, she didn't get the chance to do a test run. So, at the meeting with the Big Important Client, the vital slides were upside down... And for this peccadillo, he fired her. Some time thereafter, Sunshine <spit> became the first employee in Perfidias Corp (other than the boss, of course). She was the single IT person in the company, and she guarded her fiefdom jealously. Like Charlotte Manson <spit> before her, I thought she was my friend.

One day, a client of ours was going to start sending us data via modem. They faxed over a copy of a communication script to download their files. I was called in to help. Sunshine <spit> isn't a programmer (like me), so she didn't realize that she had to compile the source code first. Even so, since the fax machine chewed up some lines at the top and bottom of the pages, the script didn't work the way Sunshine <spit> transcribed it. (As it happens, they could have saved the trouble by transferring the script by modem, but that's not how they did it.) Although I had never before seen the obscure (and rather odd) scripting language, I figured out what was wrong, deduced what was missing, and solved the problem rather quickly. It may have been at that point that Sunshine <spit> began to fear that her fiefdom might be encroached.

I was assigned to work in the same room as her, a job which consisted of loading and retrieving files to and from our clients. We worked alongside each other, and things began to get frosty almost immediately. I got good at slinging bytes, despite the facts that her directions stank like a garbage dump and that she reacted angrily if I ever made the mistake of asking something twice. Often I tried to make light conversation, but cold silence was my answer. Everybody knew about her behavior. One time, the Vice President asked me if I wanted him to give her an attitude adjustment. I declined, because I figured that she would retaliate against me. Later, as a section of the wall was being removed to put in a window, he made a comment about the hole being there to let the hot air out of the room. The joke was dead-on, but the harridan answered with stony silence, and I didn't care to comment.

Sunshine <spit> developed the mistaken impression that she was my supervisor. The fact was, we were both on the same rung of the totem pole. She was the MIS Manager of an MIS department consisting of one person: herself. As for me, I didn't have a title. I asked Benedict Iscariot <spit> for a title, but he said indirectly that I couldn't have one because it would make Sunshine <spit> jealous. It was several months before some silly little bureaucratic initiative necessitated that everyone have a title, so then I had to come up with something oblique and inoffensive. Our brilliant "MIS manager" wouldn't have known how to edit a DOS text file if not for the fact that I showed her how one day.

And she wasn't too brilliant at her job. One time while I was away for a couple of days, she made a mistake which would have put the books a couple hundred of dollars out of kilter if I hadn't caught it. (The accounting was in pretty flaky shape anyway, despite the fact that we had two full fledged bean counters.) So Sunshine <spit> screwed the pooch, but I magnanimously fixed the problem without bringing it to her attention -- which would have upset her fragile ego -- much less bringing it to my boss' attention. In another typical mistake, she closed down three perfectly good accounts because she misinterpreted something. Did I report any of this to Benedict Iscariot <spit>? No, I passed up these perfectly legitimate backstabbing opportunities because I wanted to play it cool. Sometimes I'm too nice for my own good, believe it or not.

I worked hard, sometimes spending twelve hours a day in the office. It was difficult to endure, since enough exposure to the mind-numbing Muzak pumped into the office sets me on edge after a while. Even just six hours of elevator music is ENOUGH. And while I was putting my nose to the grindstone, often she would take the time to play several hands of computer solitaire. Isn't that special. (She angled the screen so that I couldn't see what she was doing, but I caught her at it on more than one occasion.)

One time, the Vice President suggested that I ought to assert myself to her, like he would. (I'm cleaning up his language here.) I replied something to the effect that he wasn't the one who has to work beside her all day. The three payment processing clerks busted up laughing for a long time about that one. Another time, he referred to Sunshine <spit> as my "girlfriend". I had to bite my tongue hard; I would have replied that I'd rather go to bed with another man, but I was afraid that the laughter from the data entry clerks would be so thunderous that it would raise Sunshine <spit>'s suspicions (not that such a thing is particularly hard to do).

I could have made life so much simpler if Sunshine <spit> simply would have taken my advice. Once, she downloaded a file of (as I recall) over 20 megabytes. She had to get it from one computer to another. We didn't have a network quite yet (though I had some plans in the works), so her idea was to transfer it via 9600 baud modems. She tried this overnight, and found that the carrier had dropped some time in the evening. Doh! I told her that I knew of a way it could be transferred, using floppies. "Oh? And how would you do that?" she asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm. I suggested using PKZIP to create an archive, using the feature which allows spanning over several floppies. She was convinced that since the file was already in .ZIP format, ZIPping the file again would damage it. I could have demonstrated that PKZIPping a PKZIPped file doesn't hurt it (one simply needs to use PKUNZIP twice), or failing that I could have suggested unpacking it and then re-compressing it over several floppies. However, I decided to leave her to the consequences of her own stupidity, lest she discover some unrelated problem with the data and then blame me for it.

And for some reason, that miserable excuse for a human being didn't want me to examine the data files or the configuration files. Using EDIT or Notepad does not change a file in any way, so long as one does not mess with it and then save the file over itself. But I couldn't convince her that reading a file is not the same as writing over it. Anyone with any computing experience knows that such an erroneous notion is benighted superstition. But that wasn't the real issue anyway; the thing that was getting her panties all in a bunch was the fact that she didn't know how to do what I was doing. She wouldn't ask me how; that would wound her fragile ego. So, this made it rather tricky to diagnose the problems that inevitably came down the pipe. Many times, I had to look at the data and then endure her kvetching over the fact that I was doing whatever any other competent computer geek would do. Since she most definitely was not my boss, despite whatever erroneous notions filled her pea-sized brain, she didn't have the authority to forbid me from doing my job as best as I knew how.

The situation was a grim one...

Since I've had so much fun with my job experiences over the last several years, it is difficult for me to finish my account in one sitting, or even half a dozen. So, I'll have to leave this off in 1995 for a while and get back to it later, and for now mark it To be continued... Stay tuned, kids.

The more I get to know rich people, the more I wonder if Socialism might deserve a second chance. That statement might come as a shock, given that I am a self-described Conservative, but I can't help but wonder if there isn't a better way. To be more specific, I am Conservative in social matters, but as far as economic issues go, I'm actually pretty moderate -- perhaps even (shudder) a lefty. There is no real reason why Conservative social policy must go hand in hand with the sorts of economic policies which benefit the wealthy. I'll bet if even Rush Limbaugh had to figure out how to get the bugs out of his last ten pounds of rice, he'd see things the same way as I do.

If the Republicans wonder why they lost the last two elections to Clinton, I have an answer. Communism is far less of a threat than it once was. The Republicans lately, especially on their Presidential platforms, have been much less ardent about the so-called moral issues, for fear of turning off voters who might not agree -- rather than trying to convince the electorate of what is right for the country, they wiggle, waffle, and waver. And when the Republicans of the 1990s no longer needed a strong military policy to stand up to the Sovok Empire, in contrast to the Democrats, who to this day are soft on Communism; and now that the Republicans are too chicken to stand firm on the social issues for fear of alienating people who weren't going to vote for them anyway -- then all that remained of their platform were the economic practices of sucking up to the rich, embodied in "trickle-down" and "supply side" economics. High-flown phrases aside, that basically amounts to the rationalization that giving tax breaks to the rich will make everyone better off, because they'll invest it and spread the wealth. After all, the rich wouldn't do anything like hoard it all to themselves... Certainly they wouldn't squeeze blood, sweat, and tears out of the working people of this country so they could flaunt their yachts, mansions, ostentatious cars, and other stupid status symbols in front of the very people whose hard work had enriched them, now would they? The Invisible Hand may be slow, but eventually it will come around to smack a company which gets rid of large numbers of productive employees in the hopes of pumping up short term dividends.

One may well point out that there are alternatives to the Republicans. Unfortunately, the Democrats are no different, except they pay lip service to the common man while happily accepting hoards of soft money and PAC contributions just like the Republicans do. And then they advocate Liberal social policies -- some of these may be well-meaning and occasionally even effective, but mostly their result is anywhere from silly to catastrophic. (Yes, that's a pretty hasty dismissal, but political theory is extensive enough to deserve its own essay -- so stay tuned.) In any event, I can't expect the Democrats to be of much help. There aren't likely to be any viable alternatives to Tweedledum and Tweedledee any time soon, because the mass media is made up of an oligopoly of multibillion dollar corporations, and people can't get their voices heard unless they have lots of cash to spend. It costs fifteen million dollars to fund a Presidential race which has any serious aspirations of winning. The last likely dark horse was Ross Perot, and although I feel he had some good ideas, let's just say that I trust billionaires even less than I trust millionaires.

In the end, it's all about money. I guess this is a rather depressing conclusion, but I'm neither cluelessly innocent nor dishonest enough to try to put a cheerful spin on the rotten status quo. My only consolation is that one day, someone is going to realize that peasants can't afford durable goods. Henry Ford had the good sense to realize that his workers should be able to afford the products they were building. The only things which keep me from wholeheartedly embracing a moderate form of Socialism are the historical examples of so many Socialist states which got hopelessly mired in corruption from the ground up, and the suspicion that the rich bastards who are sucking the country dry would find a way to keep their noses in the public trough, an ending much like that of Orwell's Animal Farm. As the song says, "Meet the new boss -- same as the old boss."

It is counterproductive to tear a system down if one doesn't have a realistic plan to build something that works better, or perhaps do away with the need for any such system. (And if there is no need, then getting rid of a useless self-perpetuating bureacracy is a service to humanity.) The other options are either reform, or leaving things as they are. Applying this principle to our economic system, I would say that until someone conceives of something that really works better and doesn't involve starving tens of millions of people in collective farms and labor camps, then perhaps what we should work toward is (to coin a phrase) "capitalism with a human face". I have no catchy slogan to summarize how to make this work, no magic sound bite that I would claim to be a cure-all for the nation's ills if only I could get everyone to follow it. And I would disbelieve anyone who says he or she does. But, I do have some practical ideas which people may implement.

  • Don't suck up to your boss. Treat him/her/it like any other professional, but not like royalty. Excessive deference usually gives people inflated egoes, and it helps perpetuate a corporate culture of sycophancy.
  • When you hear about companies "downsizing" thousands of people, then don't buy their products. If they treat their workers like expendable machinery, then they don't deserve the business of people who work for a living. If you own stocks, then don't invest in exploitation. Also, consider that the value of stocks is determined by the demand of stockbrokers who are as jumpy as a herd of cattle in a thunderstorm. Mass layoffs will usually send up the value of a stock in the short term, because someone will get the idea that reduced "overhead" will increase profitability, and then all the other stockbrokers will jump on the bandwagon, which artificially inflates the demand and hence the price. What they fail to realize is that the company just bled off a good portion of the people who actually got the job done, and it probably kept all the suits, and almost certainly gave the CEO a big fat raise for increasing "efficiency". Furthermore, cutting out people in areas such as customer service and research/development will result in products that suck. Products that suck don't sell for very long. When these companies realize their mistake, then they have to go to the expense of hiring and training people to take the place of the workers they just tossed out like garbage.
  • If you are looking at buying into mutual funds, then find out what you're buying. If you happen to be one of the gnomes of Zurich who manages mutual funds, this applies doubly.
  • Don't buy the products of companies which export jobs to foreign sweatshops. If you want to buy into an overseas mutual fund, then do the research it takes to find out whether or not your money will be used to perpetuate a system of low wages, long hours, and hazardous working conditions.
  • Do what you can to discourage special privileges for suits. Why do people really need reserved parking spaces, special bathrooms, and offices with windows simply because they have higher rank? If Management's answer is "Because we can get away with it", then something is wrong with the picture. The rank and file workers are the ones who produce and do things which generate revenue; the suits just keep things organized (and don't always do a very good job of that).
  • Do what you can to encourage the adoption of sensible dress codes. Being able to dress like real people on Fridays isn't enough. The only purpose of panty hose is to provide a market for obligatory single-use flimsy stockings which go all the way up the leg. Ankles haven't been considered erotic since the 1920s, and since they're transparent, it doesn't fool anyone anyway. The only purpose of neckties is to restrict oxygen to the brain. (Well, Sigmund Freud might be able to come up with a better explanation for neckties.)
  • If you are in management, then don't act like some of the cretins I have described. You're not better than anyone else simply because you have a higher salary, a fancy title, or you play golf with the "right" people. If you act like a decent human being, then others will give their genuine appreciation. If you act like a petty tyrant, then people will talk about you behind your back. If you cheat your workers, they will get back at you by not working as hard, stealing supplies, and even outright sabotage. If you treat them fairly, then they will be willing to go the extra mile. Getting people to kiss up is worthless -- real respect is something which must be earned. Take the time every now and then to look at how you interact with people. Remember what it was like when you were a flunky. (But if you were a rich kid who got your job through connections and never had the experience of hard work, there may be no hope for you.)
  • If things get bad enough at work, then organize.

I can't expect these measures to accomplish wonders overnight. They won't solve all problems. But at least it's a step in the right direction.

Other features at Voices From The Right:
Serious stuff: The Clinton/Lewinsky "Fornigate" scandal | Why I am Not a New Ager
Fun stuff: Parody of "Make Money Fast" scam | Parody of classic Dave Rhodes style "Make Money Fast" scam | Parody of St. Jude chain letter | Stuff that Sucks | Spoof of Clinton's 4Q98 State of the Union address | The Ruthenians: a people without a holiday
Other stuff: Voices from the Right home page | My REAL résumé: Jobs that Sucked | Introduction to the Internet: be sure you have the latest browser | Brief bio about the Webmeister, and my Mailbox: write me... if you dare
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