Sunday, December 01, 2002

Peerless Paging Purgatory

Republished from prior, online version

For those who weren’t aware, I’ve taken on another shit job (in what promises to be a long line of shit jobs). I am a Point of Sale Help Desk Representative for Calendar Club LLC. Calendar Club LLC owns calendar selling kiosks that spring up in malls across America around the holidays. When a minimum wage earning cashier, working in one of those kiosks can’t figure out why the Curious Kittens: 2003 Wall Calendar isn’t showing up on the register when she scans it, she calls me and mumbles monosyllabically. I then ask her to make sure the scanner is plugged into register. In short, just what I had in mind when I decided to get and MBA from a top tier school.

Haiku summary of a theme in the preceding paragraph:
Yay, shit job again!
Will TJ kill someone there?
That would be funny.

Social ineptness doesn’t necessarily translate into technical savvy. However, the average tech support specialist fancies him/herself a technological wizard/geek such as those glorified by the tech boom of the late 1990’s. The thought process must go like this: “Gee, I don’t have many friends, I often feel awkward in social situations…I must be a computer expert!” (feverish typing ensues) These pseudo-geeks are very eager to demonstrate their “knowledge”. When receiving training from a person of real technical savvy, the tech support pseudo-geek often interjects what they think is helpful, factual information. This usually leads to an awkward pause on the part of the instructor followed by “Well, actually, no…” Whereas the average IRS worker was a person utterly beaten down by the system (old men, grossly obese minority women, the chronically underemployed, etc.), seasonal tech supporters clearly think they’re on track to big, big things and in a few years, with a few lucky breaks, they’ll be a CTO (chief technology officer, for you non-business readers). Actual coworker statement: “Yeah, I’m just doing this to make a little extra money while I take a couple classes at ACC (Austin Community College) plus I just got some new rims (some sort of car accessory, perhaps hubcaps?) that I need to payoff.” Car issues/problems are common with the tech support crowd. In just 5 ½ days of work, I’ve already overheard car related mini-dramas from three of my immediate coworkers. As recently as today, the guy quoted above couldn’t make it in to work because his car caught on fire on I-35 this morning. I couldn’t ascertain whether or not it was his new rims that burst into flames.

Haiku summary of a theme in the preceding paragraph:
I know lots of stuff.
Gonna buy me a…Oh, shit
My car is on fire.

A sure sign that a company existed outside the euphoria of the tech bubble is crappy office furniture. Lost among the widely reported wacky perks at dot-coms (e.g. foosball tables, slides, free soft drinks and junk food) were expensive, Scandinavian-designed office chairs. My Netpliance chair was one of the best sits I’ve ever encountered. When they canned my sorry ass, I considered using my desk chair as a makeshift dolly for transporting my boxes of personal effects as an excuse to get the chair outside and into my truck. I decided against this course of action for several reasons. Given their high cost, the chair theft wouldn’t likely go unnoticed (all the office furniture was bar-coded). I then considered swiping an identical chair from an empty, adjacent cubical that had never had its bar code assigned to an employee. This plan was ultimately abandoned when I took inventory of my “personal effects” and realized that they consisted of a handful of other stolen office supplies so meager as to not require a dolly or makeshift dolly. By contrast, every chair at Calendar Club LLC (by the way, I always add the LLC, whether in writing, in speech or in thought) is broken. All are stuck in the lowest position. If I put my feet flat on the floor and keep my calves perpendicular to the floor, my knees are about 10 inches higher than my waist. Everyone seems to accept this as a normal sitting position. We all resemble Hispanic teenagers cruising in Honda Civics tricked out with itty bitty tires (perhaps with expensive rims?). In addition, most of the chairs also have the backrest thrusting aggressively either forward or backward. Best of all, I’ve encountered three different chairs with stains in the crotch area of the seat.

Haiku summary of a theme in the preceding paragraph:
Oompa loompa land.
I’m tall. I need a real chair.
Is that stain feces?

Last week, in between training sessions, I spent time at my desk, getting acquainted with the network and phone system, as well as killing time surfing the Web (Yep, Internet access. Man, this gig sure is sweet. F_ck you, IRS). In the neighboring cubical, one of the other new hires (I haven’t settled on a name yet, but Nasal Buckingtooth is the current frontrunner) kept herself busy by creating a resume for her boyfriend, a recent recipient of a welding certificate. Apparently, she’d never used a word processor before. She’d used some crazy system of tabbing and spacing to get the text to the middle of the page. She asked me to help her get all the information onto one page. I told her to change the page margins. Not only did she not know how to change the page margins, she didn’t understand the concept of page margins. After explaining to her how to change them (How to explain what a page margin is eluded me. I’d have had an easier time explaining the color blue without analogies.), she had to re-tab and re-space to keep with her crazy scheme. (I also corrected some of her atrocious spelling. Some, because I didn’t have the heart to point out all of the misspellings.)

Ms. Buckingtooth then proceeded to call several local businesses on behalf of her boyfriend to see about getting him a job. Surprise surprise, he’s having some sort of car problem, so he can’t work anywhere that isn’t close to where they live. Because they just moved here from Las Vegas, Nasal doesn’t have a grasp on Austin streets, so her attempts to elucidate locations were maddeningly fruitless. She kept asking '”what major cross streets are near you” as soon as someone answered the phone (no “Hello”, no “Hi, I wonder if you could tell me...”). However, she apparently only knows I-35, Ben White, and Highway 183, so any directions that didn't incorporate one of those as a cross street baffled her and made her mad at the person to whom she was talking (For being unable to articulate the directions in terms of the streets she knows? For not locating their business on one the streets she knows?). The few times she found a compatible business, she then asked if she could fax them her boyfriend’s resume (which he himself has never seen) over email.

This goes on everyday now. Anytime she has free time (And we have lots right now. I’ve never been so well informed about upcoming movies, Notre Dame football and opinions of sociobiologist Robert Wright), she makes calls all over Austin, looking for suitable jobs for her boyfriend while he sits in front of a Playstation and drinks Cherry Pepsi. He does have enough initiative to periodically call her and complain about her lack of progress in finding him a job. I can hear the hair gel and pencil thin jaw-line beard from the muffled snippets of his voice (I shall call him Jimmy Greasy-Thinbeard. No relation to the Downers Grove Greasy-Thinbeards.). Apparently, no one is looking for an employee whose idea of job searching is having his 19-year-old, speech-impeded girlfriend call and demand directions. These are the type of people who spawn children that end up getting trapped and suffocated in abandoned refrigerators. The topper: Last Friday, she brought in a radio and had it tuned to a station that played the quintessential song for someone of her socioeconomic status: Round and Round, by Ratt. (sigh) I laughed to keep from crying.

Haiku summary of a theme in the preceding paragraphs:
Just back in Austin.
Boyfriend welds, soon he beats me.
Thank goodness for Ratt.

Haiku summary of another theme in the preceding paragraphs:
Can’t work there, car broke.
I know only a few streets.
Is that near Oltorf?

How do I know so much about the dramatic lives of my fellow workers? Everyone in this office uses speakerphone all the time. And if you’re going to use speaker phone, well then, there’s certainly no reason to have your mouth near the phone or to modulate your voice in any way. This practice is a fine compliment to the other annoying phone practice of this office. Someone is constantly being paged over the loudspeakers. Anyone not at their desk when they get a call will be paged. No “leave a voice mail”. No “try back later”. No “send an email”. No “try his/her cell number”. If the operator rings your desk phone and you aren’t there, she’s going to announce it to the company. I don’t know who Michael Parker is, but he must have to crap constantly because he never answers his desk phone. The main operator who does this looks like an anorexic Susan Sarandon on methamphetamines.

By far the most mind-numbing experience thus far was enduring a marathon session of cash register technical support training from a full time employee apparently suffering from tuberculosis. For the entire four-hour session his voice warbled and gurgled like the audio track on a melted film reel. This guy can best be summed up by his three interests: Mothra (the giant moth of Japanese monster movies), Vespa scooters and Jerry Garcia. Everything on, in and around his office incorporates one of these three themes.

Haiku summary of a theme in the preceding paragraph:
Eclectic by rote.
Why not Rhodan, Honda, Weir?
I gotta be me.

Haiku summary of another theme in the preceding paragraph:
Dear God…consumption.
Must finish…your training…soon.
I sound like Yoda.

Cerebral Moment of the Week: “I didn’t like A Beautiful Mind. It was too fucking slow, dude. They should have told you he was crazy in the beginning.”

Several Weeks Later…
Danny Soulpatch-Burningcar witnessed a public altercation between Nasal Buckingtooth and Jimmy Greasy-Thinbeard in early October. Danny was on his way to “engage in the lunch process” at 1:00 in the afternoon and spotted Nasal screaming at Jimmy at the corner of Montopolis and Burleson, as they walked from the bus stop to Calendar Club LLC. Danny’s explanation for the cause of the argument: “You shouldn’t bring Vegas people to Texas.” Many of my coworkers nodded at this cryptic statement, it being a truism from within their realm of experience.

Nasal Buckingtooth has managed to find Jimmy Greasy-Thinbeard gainful employment…at Calendar Club LLC, probably because it’s one of the few local businesses of which she’s certain of the location. Since my second week of work, Ms. Buckingtooth has worked the night shift, so I only see her from two until five on Mondays through Wednesdays. That time together has afforded me with a chance to reevaluate the balance of power in the Buckingtooth/Greasy-Thinbeard relationship. This is mainly because I’ve now seen Jimmy Greasy-Thinbeard. During my second week of work, Jimmy dropped by several times and sat in Nasal’s cubicle (really just a desk with a tall partition) like a lump while she made further calls to area businesses demanding addresses and directions and offering to “fax you a resume over email.” Strangely, Jimmy Greasy-Thinbeard lacked a pencil thin, jaw-line beard. Otherwise, he looked exactly as I’d imagined: sloped forehead, prominent brow ridge, gelled buzz cut and a perpetually half-opened mouth that looks like he’s always about to say “huh?” or “wha…?” (In short, a mouth-breather. What is it about this class of people that makes them unable to breathe through their fųcking noses? What aspect of the redneck lifestyle obstructs their breathing passages?). Upon closer inspection, I realize that Jimmy Greasy-Thinbeard resembles a puny, retarded, Neanderthal version of Chris Shields. This in no way is a disparagement of Chris, who is recognized by all as an intelligent, handsome man. This merely confirms a theory formulated by me in the mid-1990s, that everyone has a puny, retarded, Neanderthal simulacrum.

I believe that Jimmy lacked a pencil-thin, jaw-line beard because Nasal made him shave it recently. He was, after all, looking for a job (My own, ill-advised, handle-bar mustache did me no favors in the job market). Far from my image of him as a lazy redneck who was forcing Nasal to find him a job, Jimmy turned out to be rather pathetic. He doesn’t seem capable of stringing together more than a few words at a time. Nasal is very bossy and condescending to him, as she should be, since Jimmy couldn’t muster enough initiative on his own to get a job bagging groceries. (If he did work as a bagger, upon seeing him in action, you’d likely think “I’m glad his kind can find gainful employment”.) Jimmy works in the Calendar Club LLC warehouse as a picker. Essentially, he pulls calendars out of large boxes and puts them into smaller boxes traveling down a conveyor belt. I predict he loses a finger in the conveyor belt before the end of the season.

Nasal Buckingtooth’s crankiness toward Jimmy Greasy-Thinbeard probably stems, in part, from one of their ongoing dramas. Nasal can’t seem to find local phone service to her liking. Southwestern Bell and AT&T have apparently wronged her in the past. She spent the better part of an afternoon, searching the Internet for phone service providers and complaining bitterly whenever one would tell her that they didn’t offer residential service in her area. “Should have told me that at the start, dummy,” was a typical refrain. After calling at least ten companies, Nasal asked me if I knew of any local phone service providers.

“Southwestern Bell? AT&T?”
“I can’t use them. You don’t know of no others?”
“There probably aren’t too many, it’s not really a profitable business.”
“Why not?”
I considered trying to explain the 1996 Telecommunications Act to her, but stopped short and said, “It just isn’t.”
Apparently used to getting that type of answer, Nasal didn’t pester me anymore on that issue.

A few days later, Nasal’s Internet-search-du-jour was for tenant advocates. The apartment she shares with Jimmy suffered from a number of problems including no air conditioning, bugs and a partially collapsed shower, so she wanted to find a way to get out of her lease. She was incredulous that none of us knew, off hand, any tenant rights groups for her to contact.

Nasal spends a lot of time online, pricing new and used pickup trucks. That will be money well spent. In fact, she thinks of all monetary amounts in terms of pickup truck down payments. For example, her apartment security deposit was ½ pickup truck down payment. A friend’s weekly earnings were the equivalent of a pickup truck down payment. Should the Nasal Millennium somehow usurp and displace the TJ Millennium, expect the PTDP (or “PuTDiP”) to be the official unit of currency.

Nasal lacks the ability to read simple social cues. No matter how mean I look, no matter how much I scowl, no matter how much I fume, Nasal still tries to begin conversations with me. Even with my back to her, she’ll launch into some inanity. Example: A few days ago, I hear Nasal ask, “Am I doing this right?” I turned around to find her steeping a tea bag in hot water. “Do what right?”, I asked, thinking I was missing something. “Dipping this thing right?”, she responded. “Apparently,” I said. Nasal’s behavior also resembles that of my dog, in that sometimes, neither of them cares whether they are getting the good attention or the bad attention. Example: Nasal loudly sucked and slurped on a lime wedge from her Sonic Limeade until the glares of her coworkers forced her to stop and say, “Is that bothering y’all?”

Nasal’s uncle, Jack Sprat Buckingtooth (age 40), moved in with her and Jimmy. When asked why the uncle moved in with them, Nasal responded cryptically, “Because he had to.” Upon hearing of this development, I predicted to some of you that this would end badly, perhaps in a hail of gunfire or in a televised police chase (though the latter was unlikely, given the dearth of functioning automobiles among the players.) One reason to expect the worst in this situation: Nasal complained that Uncle Buckingtooth’s stuff was where the Christmas tree was to be placed. Awwwww.

Friday, April 12, 2002

Catharsis, Epiphany, and Life’s Small Victories

Republished from prior, online version
This will be the first week in over a month in which I will work all five days. Please, I implore one of you to make arrangements to have me killed.

Fatface-Ratface, who occupies the desk (well, half of a desk, the other half is for day shift) across the row from me, now engages me in conversation with impunity. Among the unsolicited opinions/observations offered by Fatface-Ratface:

1. The first hit in rap music history was by Run-DMC the late 1980’s.
2. Electric guitars started to see widespread use around 1969.
3. Jimi Hendrix was a Motown artist.
4. Chris Simms threw for over 300 yards only once in 10 starts last year, while Major Applewhite threw for over 400 yards in his only 2 starts for the Longhorns.
5. He doesn’t think he should be assessed errors from Quality Review because someone further up the pipeline wasn’t doing their job. He shouldn’t be required to tape a return together on his production time because the mail-opening machine mangled it and Receiving let it go through like that and they aren’t even on production and if he sees another one like that, he still isn’t going to tape it together, he’ll just risk getting another error.
6. A lot of people wouldn’t notice, as he did, that this particular return had a Form 8863 (Advanced Education Credits) from a prior year attached. However, as you can see, last year’s 8863 was sequence number 51 and thus, not transcribable, while this year’s 8863 is sequence number 50, and so it is transcribed. He caught it…most people wouldn’t have.

No matter what Fatface-Ratface says, I hear it 3 to 5 times because after delivering the comment/joke to me, he then goes two desks back and delivers it to the guy sitting there, then he goes two desks over and one desk back and tells that guy, then he goes back to the front-left and tells the unit manager. Sometimes, the process is repeated with members of the adjacent unit. Each telling is loud enough for everyone to hear, so by the third telling, I’m mouthing the comment/joke along with him while cringing (No exaggeration, I actually cringe as this is going on. The feeling is similar to the feeling I had at the cattle-call interview where the fat girl still had a large manufacture’s tag sticking out of her frumpy sweater). My only reprieve from conversing with Fatface-Ratface comes when he listens to comedy or music CDs. At those times, I merely have to listen to him laughing out loud, singing out loud, or tapping his foot against the metal desk (loudly). Also, somehow, until this week it had escaped my notice that Fatface-Ratface perpetually carries one of two expressions on his face: demented, ear-to-ear, maniacal grin or protruding-tongue Mongoloid.

Not all has been bad at work this week, however. Yesterday, I was a big winner when a stack of returns I was working (Program Code 38110, refund returns) contained a secret red prize ticket, placed there by management. I took the winning ticket and raced to Melba’s (the section manager) cubicle (covered in no less than 10 posters of tigers and tiger cubs) to collect my reward. The brown paper bag, with white ribbon included:

1. A tiny ball-in-maze toy with Made in China displayed prominently on the back which broke as soon as I touched it and,
2. a keychain with a tiny baseball with Made in China displayed prominently on the bottom which also broke as soon as I touched it and,
3. a Twix bar that later proved to be stale and,
4. (drum roll please), a certificate for 30 minutes of 990 58250 time (administrative, meeting, misc. time) that I can use on this week’s time sheet!!!

Highlights from actual tax returns:

Last Names:
The Blands
The Borings
The Dulls
The Leisures

Wonka-esque Names:
The Tweedles
The McBeaths
The Schladweilers
The Spitznagles
The Vrooms
The Torblaas
The Flandorfers

The Crapsters
The Overdungs
The Poococks

crime fighter
rod buster

My New Favorite Thing to Say When I See a Morbidly Obese, Walking Ashtray Coworker:
Well…at least she’s wearing stretch pants.

Today I encountered the day-shifter who shares my desk. She’s a cute Mexican girl around 19 or 20. I’m now hoping that the pubic hairs in the unused, middle desk drawer belong to her.