Thursday, November 21, 2013

Congressman Trey Radel Self-Professed Public Enemy Fan! Is He High?

Florida Congressman Trey Radel thinks he's a huge Public Enemy fan. Seriously, dude, do you even listen to the lyrics? According to Radel in an interview on Now This is News he suggested the message of the song "Fight the Power" reflects the "conservative message of having a heavy handed government." Well, that certainly is fucking news to me because when I first listened to Fear of a Black Planet back in 1989, I didn't hear any of that shit! Are you sure we were listening to the same album? I'll bet when Spike Lee read how hip hop black Radel thinks he is, he turned white. Pontificate as you will on your love of hip hop music and listening to Tupac in your car but I think you might be just another one of those suburban posers, too much money without a clue, blasting an alien beat because it makes you feel cool. But don't take my word for it. Let's look at the lyrics themselves and find those conservative principals....shall we, Mr. Congressman?

We can wait until you get out or rehab, or what Public Enemy would probably call,  "Rich White Man's Prison". Hey, think that might make a good hip-hop song?

"Fight the Power" by Public Enemy from Fear of a Black Planet

By my calculation the congressman was only 14 when this song came out. Maybe Mr. Radel had a blown speaker or something and THIS is what he thought he heard:.

"It's time! All aboard the crazy train, booouyyyysss!"
"White in Power" by Public Enema from Fear of a Wacked Planet

$1989: my account balance number, another summer (get down)
I'll buy a hummer
in '92 when the first one gets sold
(Brothers and sisters hey)
Listen who you're dissing' y'all
Clingin while I'm singin'
Not sure whatcha gettin'
Not knowin' who you pollin'!
While the Black man's sweatin'
and you wannabes bowling!
We got to give you what you want!
Gotta give you real good weed!
Our freedom of speech is wasting our breath.
You got to keep the power from me.
Lemme hear you say
Keep the power! Keep the power from me.

The lyrics are designed to bounce.
But what counts to you is the beat.
Designed to blow your mind
Before you've realized the cops have arrived.
You've got the stuff , but your sentence ain't tough.
You old fart! It's a start, a work of art
To watch you get a misdemeanor ain't really that strange.
People, people we are the same
But we don't get sentenced the same!
Cause we don't know the game.
What we need is awareness, we can't get careless
You say "what is this?"
"It ain't mine. Let's get down to business."
Legal self defensive fitness
(Yo) bum rush the blow.
You gotta go with what you know!
Make everybody see, how you keep the power from me.
Lemme hear you say...
Keep the Power.

That's how you keep the power from me.


Elvis was a hero to most

(I Said)  Elvis is a hero and ghost.
But he never meant bo diddly to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was, simple and plain
Mothergroper him and John Wayne!
 I'm Black and I'm proud.
You're drunk and you're amped.
But, I need a drug test to get fucking food stamps!
Sample a look back, you look civil but rights is a wreck
Nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check
But you yuppies are be happy
Buy your way out a jam
Damn if I walk wrong I'm thrown in the slam.
(Get it) lets get this party started right
Right on, c'mon
What we got to say
Power only to people who can afford to pay.
Let everybody see
How you keep the power from me.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Confessions 4: Oil Can Harry's Grease Emporium

"Clean up on aisle three!"
God only knows, God makes his plan
The information's unavailable to the mortal man
We're workin' our jobs, collect our pay
Believe we're gliding down the highway, when in fact we're slip sliding away...

Paul Simon

Unlike my eventual departure a few months down the timeline, I initially washed up on the shore of Oil Can Harry's Grease Emporium after being adrift for months at sea. I first came upon a businessman, a proprietor of toil who sold...I mean placed people into mutually agreed upon servitude.  However, unappealing the surroundings, she did get me a tidy sum at Oil Can Harry's, who was just looking for a person with my kind of skills. Oil Can Harry was the owner of a broad-based lubricants company started by his father, a legend in his own right during the time of Henry Ford. And as exemplified by the old oil cans from the past, including one with a swastika on it in the front office,  Henry Ford wasn't the only U.S. industrialist that was a Nazi sympathizer back then. Granted, it was an impressive 100 year history business...the facility, not so much. But beggars can't be choosy!

Once again, the true nature of my eventual tasks there were veiled by subterfuge designed to ensnare me in the task before I knew what hit me. They hired me officially on a Friday as a QC manager since the one they had 'didn't work out.' Note the past tense. So imagine my surprise when I arrived that Monday only to be informed, "Oh, by way, you'll be working with the guy we intended to fire this weekend. Until we eventually actually do fire him, that is." Awkward.

The QC lab was at the end of a railroad spur clear on the other end of the facility, so they hooked me up with the operations manager and we made the trek to meet Colonel Kurtz, the renegade ruler of this backwater QC kingdom. He was also the repository of all pertinent knowledge and master of  his domain... and definitely not happy to see me at all. Despite the upper management's assurance that Kurtz was not aware of his impending doom, I could instantly tell that was bullshit! So this was not only awkward, it was potentially hazardous. Then I met the rest of the comedic cast.

Kurtz had two loyal techs who believed he hung the moon: Barney Bear and Cartman. Naturally  both were hostile to me from the time I walked in the door. Barney was more passive aggressive about it but Cartman was definitely overt. Barney was a long term employee, former in the plant, with vast insider knowledge of how the processes worked...actually worked, not just on paper. He would answer my questions, but only the ones asked, not any permutations implicit with the question itself. I could live with that. Cartman, on the other hand, was a whiny, overcritical little bitch of a man whose snide comments and intentional misdirection got on my nerves from the first second he opened his big mouth. Feeling like a hired gun that had ridden into a dusty town to kill the beloved sheriff, I sought to deflect the sniper bullets by pretending to be just another chemist there to take some of the oppressive workload off of Kurtz. And oppressive it was. Not only was Kurtz expected to handle all QC duties, he was also responsible for product development, product licensing, MSDS editing, product information sheets, and basically anything   technical on the lubricants side of things. Oil Can Harry's first email to me was a cc to Kurtz, berating him for absolutely everything, embarrassing and definitely unprofessional. Thus began my immediate sympathy for the man I was sent to kill. If it were sympathy for the Devil remained to be seen.

Kurtz had been there for a decade and knew the processes inside and out. Naturally ambitious, he relished in the role of being the only manager who knew jack shit everything that mattered. He performed operations manager duties since the operations manager, Wimpy, was apparently only there for the free lunches. With a belly that looked like he was birthing a baby, he basically drove me down the tracks and left me there in this hostile territory for three weeks before even bothering to check on my corpse. It was a tough time, but I was a tough guy. This wasn't my first rodeo. I'd survived without his or any other management help for three weeks before he took me to lunch, apologized for not "getting together with me" and debriefed me on how I was doing. My immediate response was to casually give him an overview of the personalities at work...which I knew he already knew...without being inflammatory or degrading. after all, it was clear that i was on my own with these people in the prison block, and the last thing i needed was anything I said getting back to any of the parties. Hell, they were already trying to shank me on a daily basis.

I made some inroads with Kurtz, taking some of the tasks off his plate so he could ride a  forklift like a white horse under the guise of of being the tireless champion of the poor huddled masses working in the hellish conditions of the plant. While being willing and able to jump into the manual side of things was admirable, I quickly found it trite and self-aggrandizing.  He was smart, but not THAT smart when it came to practical things, I found. Being smarter than the average bear in this backwoods place left him with an exaggerated sense of  worth. While he was the undisputed expert on all things in this particular set of operations, it didn't exactly qualify him to swim with killer whales. I'd swum in cold water with killer whales many, many times before, but, I wasn't out to make that point. I decided the best way for us to survive...both of us...was to divide this jungle up between us. While he initially warmed to the idea, he quietly drifted away, and it wasn't hard to see that he intended nothing less than to outlast me and keep it all for himself. He was vague, he was passively resistant to my learning process. Plus, he had minions to watch his back and stab me in mine, so I finally realized the futility of it all. While I had mad skills in ferreting out information and  working around obstacles, I saw the advantage of keeping him around. Basically, so I wouldn't have to do all the work they expected him to do. Not that I was anxious to either save or depose him, but his continued survival suited me, nothing more.

Oil Can Harry owned this and one other plant but it was the general manager who actually ran Bartertown.
With 40 years experience in this very plant, Quagmire ran things.  He was Harry's right-hand man and confidant who appeared to like his semi-autonomy over what he considered his personal playground. A divorced bachelor old enough to be the grandfather of the women he pursued, his bachelor pad and hot tub were the gossip of the plant, as was his predisposition to hire sweet young things and chase them around the office. Anyone caught breathing a word of it was gone in 60 seconds. That wasn't my business, so my neutral stanch kept me off his hit list for the duration. But he failed to provide me with any of the 3 P's I needed: "Praise, Protection and Profit." My best chance of survival were with Kurtz and the support of the rest of the plant. Against great resistance, I began to make in-roads.

As I mentioned, I have a good ability to find out stuff. The first thing I found out was why some people of great work skills or knowledge were laboring for low wages under harsh conditions. What I discovered is that many of the employees were ex-cons of some sort, trapped here by past transgressions. But, what about Kurtz? The owner and upper management obviously despised him. He was capable and knowledgeable. Why was he here? Then I found it: his record. It's not the kind of record that you can escape, and while everyone can make a youthful mistake and change, some offenses carry more stigma than others. That explained his mule-like stubbornness to staying here. He'd have to explain to any future employer things that might be too sensitive to discuss. My first thought was to perhaps "leak" this newly found information to his loyal subordinates.  'So, he walks on water, eh?  Well, did you know he did time for THIS?" But, that's not how I roll, so I kept it to myself. Didn't even use it as leverage against him personally. This wasn't personal, it was survival. But other information began percolating up from Barney, as he warmed to my presence there after a couple of months.

Apparently, Kurtz was a tireless whipping boy for Harry, Wimpy and Quagmire  (for reasons I now knew)
for years, working long hours because he had no personal life anymore.  Jail will do that to you. The concept of endless redemption was used against him because, frankly, he had the personality for it, and I'm sure they used it against him. But Barney provided the final clue as to when his relationship with management went south. Kurtz got married. Suddenly, he wasn't willing to devote 18 hours a day to hair-brained schemes and arbitrary brain-farts. According to Barney, 'That pissed them off". Bullying didn't work. He was too well entrenched into their operations. He was indispensable and he thought he knew it. In reality, no one is indispensable. He didn't know that. While it was admirable how he resisted management's bad judgements, dragged his feet on questionable implementations and passively gave them the finger, it was leading to his demise, if not by me, then some young gun looking for a reputation. In my mind, his ONLY chance for survival was with me. But he was too stupid or arrogantly misguided to see that. A smarter than average bear swimming in cold arctic waters is just as dead as a slow seal.

While remaining coolly civil, Kurtz passively avoided giving me too much information about anything that really mattered. This forced me to become a sleuth of sorts since neither Cartman nor Barney were giving away much either. In fact, the only thing Cartman was giving me was criticism and grief. Being thick skinned, it didn't emotionally or intellectually bother me as much as just slightly annoy me. His approval meant only two things to me: jack shit.  But, I recognized the need to stay on slightly less belligerent terms so I held my tongue. For now. But there were a few times his big mouth almost resulted in a thermonuclear strike. But, I was trying to get out of the nuclear war business, so I hunkered down....which I suspect he mistook as intimidation. Bad assumption, but then again he was a complete idiot. That's what he referred to everyone else as, of course, but i found him seldom right about anything that mattered in real life. Sure, he was very competent as an analyst in this podunk laboratory, but little more.  I could smell his insecurity. But, I was existing in a complete vacuum emanating from both sides of the fence. Management never checked my pulse and simply used my still warm corpse in the pits to toss down unfinished projects Kurtz refused to do. The Devil, as always, was in the details, and those were hard to come by. But little by little I was starting to see that many of Kurtz's descriptions of  "dumb-ass management" were not all posturing. As time went on, I began to realize that these were indeed some ignorant motherfuckers.

The status quo persisted for another three months. The uneasy detente held...barely..and I gradually got a grip on the most basic routines of the lab. The more technical details were held closely to the chests of Kurtz and his lackeys like the black cards they were. No matter. Ii was gradually eroding the wall they hide them behind like acid eating  through a steel vault. I'm good at that. No need for them to know the talents I possessed since  they were steadfast in their efforts to deprive me of any useful information. the uppr management was of no consequence. Oil Can Harry shunted tasks down the vacuum tubes form oblivion without the faintest regard of my situation in the cell block, so I had come to understand that in any important matter, they would be absolutely no help. But I was accustomed to flying solo so having no expectations meant I similarly had no disappointments. I even wondered if they had any idea any idea about the mechanisms that went on in the bowels of their "Big Picture" as obviously distorted as it was. I began to question if they had reconsidered the fate of Kurtz, which would have been fine with me. As weak a leader as Kurtz was, I was content to be the bench researcher and let him have the rest of this menagerie. But the day finally came. I saw Quagmiere's grim face as he beckoned Kurtz out of a meeting we were having with vendors. By the time I got out of the meeting, I saw Kurtz making a lap through the plant, shaking  hands and bidding his subjects in this busted ass kingdom adieu. Summoned to Quagmeire's office, I was told, "It's all yours." And that was it. I  returned laboratory to a ull of the sulfuric stench of an entirely new level of hostility.

As if to toss another 50 pound weight on my leaking life preserver, Quagmeire and Harry threw me another curve. There was a professional certification that persons in this industry coveted and next week there was a 3 day course followed by a certification test. Many had tried and failed in spite of  many years in the industry, including Kurtz. It was a hard motherfucker! Just to qualify to take the test required a minimum of 3 years in the industry. I understood taking the school to bring me up to speed more quickly in the fundamentals of  lubrication. But my additional task: talk my way into the test and take a run at it. Needless to say there was some resistance by me, but at their insistence, I made an attempt at getting into the school. I was relieved when they refused me entry. "You don't have the minimum experience required to qualify to take the test."
Passing this information forward, I thought it was all over, but Harry summoned me to his office the next time he was in town. "You've changed the oil in your car, haven't you? THAT'S lubrication experience." I begged to differ, but what are you going to say to the mad king who just executed your predecessor?  Besides, with the parade of women Quagmiere had marching in and out of his hot tub, seemed to me he would be a bigger expert on lubrication issues. Why didn't HE take the fucking test and become the certified lubrication specialist for the company? That apparently wasn't an option, so I shut the hell up and nodded.

Thus, I looked at my long career of varied chemical applications and laboratory duties and pieced together three years of combined lubrication experience like a Frankenstein monster. I thought it was deceitful but what could i do with a gun to my head like that? Surely they'd just laugh their asses off and tell me to just go away.  I confidently waited for the final rejection, hoping to put an end to this misadventure certain to end in failure, but it never came. I was fucking accepted for the goddamned  test!  It was almost like they were gleefully opening a door to a torture chamber saying, "C'mon in, sucker!" Well, as much as I hated tests, at least the multi-hundred dollar fee for the school and the test wasn't coming out of my budget. What's the worst that could happen besides dismal failure on a test requiring three years, failed by people with 30 years when I had only 3 months?  That shoe dropped once I was accepted when Quagmiere informed me of Harry's part of the deal. "Pass the test, and we pay for the school and the test. Fail it...and it's all on you." As the door slammed shut of this maze, I realized why Kurtz had only attempted it once. Oil Can Harry was every bit the crazy motherfucker Kurtz made him out to be and now that trap door had been sprung behind me.

There was no preparation. The school was supposed to be a fast-paced prep course for "experienced" lubrication professionals to be able to pass the rigorous certification test, no a basic course to introduce a novice to the area. Sure, I was a chemist, and a damned good one, but the specifics of any tangential  field with chemistry at its core...along with engineering and physics...can be overwhelming. To make matters worst...Kurtz was there, trying to earn a certification on his own dime! He stared silently until the first break when we exchanged uneasy greetings. The rest of the time he spent telling his colleagues about the raw deal he got from Oil Can Harry.  There are several different ways to tell someone how you got fucked.  His was the most mundane of many methodologies, a pathetic, self-serving,  pity-soliciting scheme. He became less god-like than his former co-workers imagined him and more of a whiny, wimpy victim. He reminded me of Marvin the depressed robot in " Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", using almost the same tone of voice. Of course, to prove he had a "brain the size of a planet"...and since he'd taken the course before, he was the first to raise his hand to answer the obscure questions the instructor presented as examples. A cheap ploy that deserved much less respect than I had for him before. The instructor, a well-renown expert in the field, played right into it, probably because he was privy to the tale going around. But, I certainly didn't like the looks he was giving me, the interloped that stole this good man's job. I was fucked every way to Sunday
because I could tell the instructor didn't like me one bit .

What he didn't count on was the fact that most of my college professors never liked me either. This was familiar territory. He was simply taking my money with all expectations that I'd die a slow agonizing death in three days of classes, drowning in a subject matter that was clearly over my head. He was partially right. Except I wasn't actually drowning, I was barely treading water using my experience, education and keen skills of concentration as crude floatation devices. As Kurtz grew more comfortable his belief I was gulping down water and my resolve grew to wipe that smug look right off his over-confident face. But first, Id have to memorize enough material to cover both 25 years of experience as well as professionally edited trick questions sufficient to flunk even the most savvy experts in this area. However, the daily practice tests weren't exactly reassuring me....or anyone else that I'd be that endeavor. This obviously made Kurtz very happy, and the instructor's smirks made it more and more apparent that was was sadistically enjoying putting my smart ass in its place. And that's when I got pissed off.

After days immersed in technical trivia of which 99.9% would not even be applicable to my current job, I knew I had to pass this thing. I spent the evenings in my hotel room going over the previous day's facts and figures while my class counterparts partied in the college town this class was held in. Having gone to the rival school, I was neither familiar nor interested in the nightlife this town had to offer.  I restudied the practice test questions I got wrong, developed associations between long lists of gear types and lubrication issues and sweep the loose bits and pieces of factoids into more distinguishable piles of useless bullshit knowledge. When the morning of the test finally came, I was no more confident of passing this test, but comfortable in the fact that I was much more knowledgeable than I was when in walked into this circus. Using virtually all the time allotted rechecking my answers using the old college board test advice: "Guess if you absolutely don't know, but don't change any reasoned answers unless you are pretty damned sure." Most changed answers are....wrong. Kurtz finished in half the allotted tme and confidently turned in his test. That didn't matter to me. Whether he passed or not had nothing to do with me, and I did not give a fuck.

I turned in my test, and had one last conversation with Kurtz outside where I expressed my polite yet sincere sympathy for what had happened to him at Oil Can Harry's hands.  He advised me to watch my back, and went our separate ways. i immediately informed management that the credit card they'd give me to rent the hotel room for three days was inactive and what they owed me. I accepted their tepid disavowal of any knowledge that the card was bogus. My other expenses of food and fuel were trivial in comparison. Now came the three week wait for results as I plunged back into the job amid the hostility of those that Kurtz left behind,. It was hell. I needed a posses, some allies, someone to tell me when to duck around here,, but offerings were slim. What I did have were Ringo, Paul and George, three disinfranchised employees who among other things could use my help.

George was a operator and truck loader who'd developed the disdain of  Wimpy the operations manager by being, well, too verbally critical of his lack of involvement and bad decision making which made George's job more difficult. There was little I could do to help, but what I could do, I did for him. I also put up with his nonstop discussions about his paintball hobby. Small price to pay for insight into the internal workings of this outfit, though. Paul was a relatively new production manager who was learning on the job, kind of like me. Unlike me, he had no anchor points from which to construct a reasonable framework within to operate. He was totally out of his element. What his operators fucked up in hooking up wrong hoses and making bad blends we could fix in the lab. Well, I could fix in the lab...Cartman adamantly refused to help remarking, "He should know how to do that by now," was his opinion on everything.

But, I found out quickly that Cartman's timeline of coming up to speed was a sheer vertical climb for everyone else except him and Kurtz. His mutterring of what dumbasses everyone else was, including me, hit a flash point about three weeks into my tenure as manager. Fixing yet another problem from production while trying to manage an unwieldy, cumbersome program that was more art than science, I asked Cartman for help. He refused...and i snapped in a controlled manner. "So what good are you? You either help or shut the fuck up so I can concentrate!" I told him in no uncertain terms. His response was like those of most big talking wimps...he shut the hell up. Oh sure, there were muttering, but none that I could hear. Plus, he actually tried to be ore helpful. But nothing lasts forever at Oil Can Harry's and he was back to undermining...a little less no time. But, I had a better handle on the situation then. Barney Bear was helpful in fixing production problems, having spent years there. His problem was attendance. He was out "sick" at least three days every week. I hit my first 'wall" when I went to management about totally getting rid of Cartman and putting Bear on part-time while i hire someone new. I was denied. In fact, Harry called Barney up to his office and gasve him a blanket statement of infinite security. Barney triumphantly returned to the lab to tell me, "Harry says I have a job for life!" Well, talk about cutting me off at the knees! There were two things wrong with that bullshit. One, there should be NO jobs for life, it only encourages the bad behavior. Which it did. This guy was hardly ever there after that. And secondly, it would have been proper to tell that to the manager, motherfucker!" i needed some people that had my back, and fast.

My final member of posse was Ringo, the new environmental manager they hired the same day as  me.
He was lured away from a contract environmental services with promises of his own title, section and a house by the lake owned by Oil Can Harry that he could occupy all summer long until he found his own place. What he got was a shitload of problems he knew nothing about at the plant, a mouse and snake ridden, run-down lakefront house that may have been livable in the 1970's and all the environmental and safety responsibility for a problem plagued plant with no resources. He became part of my posse for the same reason as George and Paul else: I could help him. He quickly realized that Oil Can's Harry's lucrative offer came with strings and issues. Having left the consulting company Harry used on a contract basis, ringo found himself without the resources he'd come to rely on at the consulting firm. And so did Harry. He'd have to create all those databases, subscribe to the vast number of data sites that he relied on to give him the information he needed. Quite simply, his youthful ambition exceeded his ability to spin straw into gold. His only choices were to re-create a system of resources like the one he took for granted when he left the consulting firm, or to overlook the piles of environmental issues he uncovered on a daily basis. Being highly ethical, he couldn't do that in good conscience. So he did what anyone else like him does in that situation. He lost sleep.

I had environmental experience, so I helped out and fit his issues into my already overloaded schedule. He in turn took on some of my pending product specification issues...which were jointly assigned to us anyway, being as we were the only two technically competent people in the plant. That's the way it rolled around here, with competence being rewarded with more responsibilities, whether those responsibilities fell within your area or not. Between Harry calling down to the lab with a laundry list of specifications and physical properties he wanted a product "created" to 10:00 today, or the bitchy contract companies we did blending for...who hadn't actually paid us for previous work yet, I found out, it was a chaotic and dangerous environment. Though I was coming up to speed on all things, it didn't help the rampant rat fucks that gave me headaches every goddamned day that I was responsible for in spite of having absolutely no control over any aspect except "testing". These contracted blending folks were starting to be a maor pain in my ass.
First of all...they absolutely LOVED Kurtz. He NEVER was late, he NEVER experienced a delay. Bullshit, I found out. Kurtz moved around resources he wasn't authorized to move around to accommodate their fucked up shipping schedules in favor of our own. Plus, I found out he never even billed them. Upper management was too busy taking free lunches and fixing their hot tubs on the company dime to notice that Kurtz was basically expediting their work at our expense....for free. After one late afternoon chewing from someone who was not even my boss or the owner of my company, but somehow had the blessing of this brain-dead son-of-a-bitch, I decided to hit back.

Digging through Kurtz's computer, I located all the work that had been performed in the previous six months, but never invoiced, and I spent an entire weekend on my couch hand invoicing them for the work we had done up to this point. You'd think they had an invoicing program but no...Oil Can Harry's was an archaic mess in many departments. I went in Monday morning and tossed 20 grand worth of charges on the General Manager's desk, which he cheerfully turned over to his clerk for billing. But, not even a "Thank you" or "Good job" or even a "Holy shit, where did you find all that/" after all the bitching about what Kurtz WASN'T doing, not even an acknowledgement of getting it done. Of course, the shit hit the fan quickly once they got that bill. first, the vice president of the contracting company called me and left a nasty message. I called him back and calmly but firmly informed him that this was work they contracted and indicated that we were a business, not a charity. When he brought up Kurtz, I cut him off and said, "Kurtz never charged you and I'm not sure management is happy with that. But, I could look further." He shut the hell up and got polite.

Not yet invoiced work was not all I found in Kurtz's work computer. He had a pile of personal stuff in there, from personal taxes, salaries, house purchase information, wedding info, pictures, emails from old girlfriends, complaints from Cartman made years ago (I realized then what a whiny wimp he really was despite that nasty front) and incriminating stuff. Despite the genius intelligence his followers bestowed on him, Kurtz was really a dumb-ass using a work computer as a repository for personal stuff of that nature, using it like his own home computer. and when I discovered what his background was in, his criminal offenses, his savings, and salary....I got really pissed off. You pay a guy you HATE this much money and you try and dick me as manager by paying me on the low end of the chemist scale? That was before Ringo quit and fled the scene stage right. Suddenly, I was environmental manager, too.  But then something fortuitous happened. I got my notification that I had PASSED my certification test! I was a Certified Lubrication Specialist!  The instructor had promised to call each and every one of us to see what we thought of the test, and to express a personal congratulations if we passed it. For me, he did neither. Having that certification can add $20,000-$25,000 to one's salary, however, that still wouldn't put me up to Kurtz's salary. I knew to to try and jump to that in one bound, so I presented Quagmiere with a copy of the certification and a dollar figure on it. He laughed out loud at the certification, surprised, and promised to pass my salary request on to Harry. Afterall, he was the owner. I thought myself as diplomatically patient. The dollar figure was to just the top of my hired in bracket, not including environmental duties, CLS or QC manager responsibilities. Didn't want them to get hit with 'sticker shock" right up front. I figured, I'd ask for a big raise next year on my anniversary since, in all actuality, I had only been in this entire business sector for four months. I had to respect the industry, at least a little bit and put in some time.

Kurtz I found out passed it too, but it was about time. Having a CLS on your staff adds industrial cred, which is good for business, even if it doesn't exactly translate into any real concrete changes on the basic operational level. What I didn't expect was that it would piss Harry off! I didn't get it. I'd taken his challenge, got the piece of paper, asked for only a modest bump up which i should have had upfront based on my vast chemical experience and HE'S pissed? Quagmiere sudden began ducking my questions about the status, saying only that he's 'talk to him' when he came to town next week. Next week, always next week. But the biggest insult came when Harry and some dickweed salesman came into the lab and Harry lead off with something snarky about my "Little CLS", spat out with disdain in an effort to belittle the entire thing. But, this wasn't my first rodeo, I caught the drift and intent and refused to be baited into a pissing contest with the owner of this half-ass company, so I kept working until he phrased something in the form of a question. But he didn't, he just kept needling then grew red in the face when I didn't respond to his taunts or accept the diminished value he was suddenly trying to place on something he clearly coveted. That old man should never play poke. Then his little yappy lap dog of a salesman told me in a smart-ass manner how he'd taken the class numerous times, and he just "takes a nap".  I responded, "Oh really," but it came out more like, "Well that's probably why you don't have a CLS, motherfucker!". They moved on, but the resentment lingered in the air for days after that. that's when i realized my long range plans for this place were probably misguided. My long game became a short game of getting the hell out. so i sent out resumes, while still negotiating for better salary, titles and some goddamned respect.

Harry could no longer discombobulate me with his random tasks. I was on top of them. Cartman's rude remarks were now met with meaner ones from me because i no longer gave a fuck if he liked me or not. Being the pussy he really was, he finally shut the hell up, but I  still had to keep an eye on his sabotage. He watched me watching and it made it more difficult for him, but not impossible i discovered. Plus being sabotaged was old hat for people like me (and would be into the foreseeable future I was to find out later). Most of my career, I'd dealt with sabotage and would continue to do so.  Since he wasn't well liked by the owner like Barney Bear (or anybody else for that matter), he knew he had NO recourse should I push the button on him. They kept him for his knowledge of analysis, and i was nibbling away on the edges there. As long as he knew it, we had an uneasy truce until I learned the "Model T" class analytical instrument he kick started on a daily basis. Then, he would be dead to me...and he knew it, thus his efforts to keep the precise operation of the instrument vague and the devil in the details hidden. But, I was gaining on that.  The work level and requirement was still high. The unfinished tasks of Kurtz were steadily piling up, pushing up against annual deadlines. and while he hadn't removed a shitload of personal information from the computer, that someone savvy and devious could use to personally exploit him, he HAD deleted anything that would help in completing work related times. He was an idiot, but I digress. So I had to reinvent the wheel time and time again while keeping up with the daily chaos and anarchy. Then there were my environmental reporting duties.

Then one cold late October morning, I was attending a spill by a friend of Harry's who occupied a small portion of the property with a railroad spur. That's where the spill occurred. Any spill larger than a certain amount is reportable....but I imagine the old routine was to just allow them to clean it up and say nothing to authorities. But, if you read the regulations, that can put YOU in jail bullshit like that and this wasn't the mob; I wasn't going to take jail time for anybody here.  Had they promptly jumped on the issue, maybe...just maybe I'd have not gotten pissed off.  I'd have put in some preventative methods, made the process better. But, in this case, I just reported it.  We were obligated to reported smaller spills for a 6 month interval after the initial spill...and we had those all the time. As a result, I started the reporting the smaller ones (against their preferences but what could they do about it?) happening nearly every day. That's when they got off their asses and started cleaning that shit up better because agency inspectors were coming to visit. It was my job. They gave it to me at no additional salary. I was going to do it. Fuck 'em!

I had them more 'captive' than Kurtz ever did, by doing something rather than doing nothing. and I didn't even want this backwater kingdom anymore. The biggest thing I could do to them was leave and deny them my talents. That's when I got the call...from the ThunderDome. I didn't jump rashly, still pondering 'sticking it out" until things got better. But not only was Harry holding my salary hostage, he was holding my health benefits, which had been COBRAed in and were running out of time. Plus, there were licensing issues with our products I felt that were bordering on fraud. My professional reputation and ass were on the line in several diverse places. The negligence by management was on-going even though some of the hostility in the trenches was starting to diminish. But not Harry's. The person who needed me the most was acting like some senile old man in a pissing contest his prostate wouldn't let him win. All for what? Being successful against all odds?  Enduring awful conditions and overt hostility? Working with a man you couldn't fire in a timely manner? Made no sense. To me, it was a lost effort with no win. I called StrangeLove back and accepted what seemed like a good deal: same salary, singular responsibility, plus immediate benefits.

By now, you know how THAT turned out, but you also realize where I came from. Before I came to Oil Can Harry's however, I had a good job, with a nice office on the 13th floor of a great building. All the amenities one could want were only an elevator ride away. My salary and benefits were top-notch and I was the singular point of contact for my task in that division. Seems secure? It was, until the objectives of MY job collided with the objectives of the core business that made the money. These things could have been easily worked through....but they first made it personal and eventually nasty. A lot happened on that StarShip that lead me here, but not all bad. I will have to delay my revisiting of this period of time, this place, until later, however, as I'm still dealing with a lot of the issues that oozed out of there. It was an emotional period, starting with me turning 50 and learning not only that racism is NOT dead but a few more "isms" have raised their ugly little heads. Then things got worst....but then again, you already know that by now.

One day, I'll tell that story...or then again, maybe not. All that happened prior to the past 7 years are but moot points that have nothing in common with my current reality. Not in whom I've become or what I feel, that is.  All that I was before is only a marginal portion of the culmination of decades of experiences; and what I am now has been refined by the last three years of my life, redefined by the environment that made me this way. Now, I'm due back on the NightShift. After all, those floors ain't gonna fucking clean themselves....

Kinda like a cloud I was up way up in the sky.
And I was feeling some feelings you wouldn't believe.
Sometimes I don't believe them myself,

And I decided I was never coming down.

Just then a tiny little dot caught my eye.
It was just about too small to see.
But I watched it way too long.
That dot was pulling me down.

I was up above I'm down in it!

"Down in It" from Pretty Hate Machine 

Coming Soon--Confessions 5: "The Raft of Con"

"Whoa! Nice kitty! Niiiiice kitty!"

Friday, October 25, 2013

Confessions 3-The Blunderdome

"This fucking arm has safety issues!"
 In this place it seems like such a shame. Though it all looks different now, I know it's still the same. Everywhere I look you're all I see. Just a fading fucking reminder of who I used to be.

"Something I Can Never Have" from Pretty Hate Machine

Unlike the Salt Mine I'd yet to encounter, I didn't have to wander around in the desert 7 months to get here. I walked directly across from an overworked realm of career stagnation and ethical doom to this wild west of pilot plant research. I was overworked, underpaid and taking on additional responsibilities each time I proved myself capable and I'd had enough; so I jumped ship to The Blunderdome for the same salary. Pretty shrewd, I thought.  It was called sponsored research, which means roughly private companies pay university departments to do potentially dangerous experiments that would make their company safety managers shit a brick. Clear and present dangers involved with the experiments must be addressed of course, but unknown unknowns however are a different story. It's amazing the lack of due diligence that occurs when someone is waving money in your face. Oh excuse me...not OUR faces, those of us who tote bucket the or turn the valve don't see to cent of that. Ours is a fixed salary, no matter what the risk, known or unknown. Only the University gets the real bucks, but it's Dr. Strangelove  who names the price. He runs Bartertown...and he hired me so who am I to argue?
Strangelove made more money for the university as head of Sponsored Research than their entire mediocre sports program. At least that's what Sgt. Rock said.

Sgt Rock was a former marine from the Vietnam era and the man who built the Blunderdome. At least the core money-maker, a huge belching mock up of a specific refinery unit which shall remain unnamed. Most of his sentences began and ended with the word, "Fuck". If there weren't at least half a dozen "fucks" in his explanation of how to do something, he just wasn't being detailed enough.  Rock was digging a ditch at another location on campus when Strangelove approached him and made him a proposition. Taking him to the empty warehouse that would become Blunderdome, Strangelove showed him piece of archaic equipment from a refinery and asked Rock, "Can you make that work?"  Possessing  mad engineering skills coupled with the  endurance of  a mad-man, Rock did just that.  Soon, there were research dollars pouring in from diverse corporate sources interested only in being privy to anything approaching a breakthrough in the industry; they mostly settled for the mundane. Where Stranglelove was the architect, Rock was the muscle. For years, Rock and Stranglelove ran the Blunderdome like the fictional Master-Blaster. It was long hours of dirty, dangerous work, done dirt cheap considering the risk. But, the nature of academic research, no matter how practical, is that the timeline to completion is nebulous. It worked for a while until the workload obliterated the number of hours in a day. Finally, Rock requested some help. That's when they hired Moon.

Moon was a self-professed hillbilly, as if that were a compliment. Some people spend a lifetime trying to get away from where they came from. Others simply never forget. But there are some who embrace their origins to the point of vanity, as if humble beginnings are the only dignity they have left. Moon clung to tightly to the perception of a humble past whereas I perceived it as resource rich compared to mine. But I never mentioned it. He'd been rather successful in sales management, at least according to him. But he quietly bemoaned his lack of a college diploma. I was never one to equate a person's intelligence with a piece of paper, but the feeling that people were judging him on that single basis was a self-imposed illusion that Moon used to torment himself.  Sure, in academia, the doctorate was king, so Stranglelove ran this rodeo. My relatively modest education was absolutely no threat to anyone in this domain. Except to Moon.

Moon had the constant need to prove himself  "smart". He was intelligent, anyone could see that. Even clever, sneaky and insidious, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  But smart is something totally different. He told me the story of his father-in-law challenging the notion that Moon could do anything he set his mind to."I'll bet you can't get to the moon," he told...Moon. Moon assured him that with the proper information that he could find on the internet coupled his innate hillbilly ability to construct post-apocalyptic looking equipment that technically could do the job, he was fairly certain that he could indeed get to the moon. I never doubt the ingenuity and perseverance of a person, but I do question the wisdom of anyone who truly believes they can accumulate the sum total knowledge of dozens of life-long experts in their profession in the blink of an eye. To me, it shows a lack of pragmatism and experience. While I feigned interest through-out the long winded details of how he could really get to the moon, I couldn't help but imagine Tom Cullen, a dim character from Stephen King's The Stand who thought everything was spelled "M-O-O-N". True, that wasn't very nice, but it kept me amused.

After he was done informing me of the fucking steps he would take to build a fucking rocket to get to the fucking moon, and how he'd solve all the major fucking issues, I realized that this was a person who would never be satisfied with just being intelligent. He had to constantly prove it. Problem was with no degree to wave around for bragging rights, he was left only with bragging about the clever things he had built or done. I'd been down the "degree envy" road many times before. In fact, I'd learned to hide some shit I'd accomplished.  In many jobs you can be either resented for a degree or disdained for a lower or no degree depending on which pissing contest you happen to walk in on. In some industries, it's not the degree itself, it's the discipline. Degree snobs never really work out well for me, so I tried to mollify his need to self-edify by giving him the respect for his brain right up front. It usually works, but not in this case. No matter how I tried to reassure him that a degree is not the entire measure of a person's smarts, he thought otherwise...and apparently projected those assumptions onto me. Yes, he was intelligent, but he wasn't smart, or right. Oh, and did I mention he was my supervisor and Dr. StrangeLove's "right-hand man"?

I knew I had to convince him quickly  that I wanted neither his academic admiration nor his jacked up  job. I just wanted to do my little task of rocking a Bomb.  That's right...I'll get to that later. Moon had a tendency to surround himself with familiar people. So the rest of the crew who ran Blunderdome were largely either his friends from the same neck of the woods or childhood friends of his son. But as Rock muttered under his breath during a frustrating attempt to stop Moon and the crew from short-cutting yet another project, "He thinks those boys respect him. But, they've seen him drunk and naked, they don't respect him at all. They just need a job."That was the first inkling I had of just how damned doomed I was.

There were quite a few pilot plant apparatuses operating at any one time in the Blunderdome, all manned by crews supervised by Moon. This way too much territory to be on top of to the degree one needed to be. But  Moon's massive ego told him differently.The crew that did the back-breaking work that fueled the primary money-maker consisted of Baby Huey, a classmate of Moon's son, Madhatter who ran and fixed the instrumentation, Rock, myself and Big Bertha, a bombastic six foot tall woman with the screeching, high-pitched voice of a Munchkin.  In the beginning, these social  dynamics were not hand-picked by Moon. Only one of Moon's "homies" was part of this particular team, but that balance would change drastically in a few short months.

Bertha was a chemist like myself and similarly doomed for the very same reasons. Unlike many in a similar situation she at least knew it. Plus, the rest of the crews did not like her at all.  They all suspected her of nefarious schemes involving lawsuits and walked on egg-shells around her in legal fear. I didn't believe it.  While she was somewhat talkative with a voice that could crack glass after first getting on it's fucking nerves, I really didn't mind her that much. I can't hear that well anyway and her voice range was well within my dead zone. She was an odd duck, but then again so were most of the people in this fucked up place. She was also a bit too anal retentive for the professional environment but that did not bother me either. But, it certainly bothered the shit out of everyone else. I tried to maintain good relations with her as well as the rest of our core crew, not to mention all the other crews. My motto: be on good terms with all and maybe they won't want to kill you. It was a good plan however it didn't take everything into consideration, like rocking a bomb.

The Bomb was a  part of a proposed research project for which I was hired. It consisted of a 50 year old piece of equipment found in the back of some old warehouse on which some of the original research of this kind was done. Problem was, the original research was performed in a reinforced bunker.  Where this piece of crap of a pressure vessel had been for the past 50 years living under an alias was not really known by anybody. This thing had "I will fucking kill you!" written all over it. Plus, no construction  integrity analysis had been done on it at all by any of the parties involved. The "client company" just expected us to "hook it up" and run it.

The process were were testing was archaic and abandoned years ago, but for some reason it had been resurrected by a new generation of young chemical engineers lead by the industry equivalent of Yoda. In actuality, it had been last used BEFORE Yoda's time so even he didn't know anything  about it,. In a nutshell, we were to take some refinery poop, combine it with a mixture of highly volatile gases (in the proper proportion), heat and pressurize, then rock the Bomb back and forth in 4/4 time to mix the contents. All without blowing the damned thing up. While we were rocking the Bomb just to make sure it was balanced and the pivots not rusted into immobility, a couple of Phd's from India stopped by to observe. After briefly shooting the technological parody on their smart phones, one of  two Docs remarked comically, "In our country, we use a mule for that!"  Of course, that made me feel even safer about it all.

It took a few more weeks to hook up sensors,  replace valves, tie in fluid circulation, pressure and heater controls and everything else to "make it work". What was missing from the master plan were a few small things like an exhaust fan in the small 'closet' that housed the device, grounding the device so that transferring the volatile contents didn't cause an explosion from static electricity and a gas sensor to detect when concentrations in the room reached explosive limits. I'm no engineer, but I do know a thing or two about safety. And they might have considered that the operator might require a gas mask when sampling unless he could hold his breath for 15 or 20 minutes. Long story short, safety was never part of the plan at all. That would even make a mule nervous. After failing to elicit ANY interest in these issues among others, I solicited the help of Rock. And he was appalled at what he saw.

His first suggestion was that I express my concerns to Moon and if necessary directly to StrangleLove. Cutting to the chase, neither option worked. StrangleLove didn't really talk to the minions unless there were accusations to be made. Moon was too busy making it work to worry about making it safe. After all, he wouldn't be running it. That was short-sighted and almost deadly decision as he would discover. Rock took it upon himself to redesign a few issues, grounding the damned thing first of all. He agreed with my reasoning that moving a vessel full of volatile gases and liquids through a hose, standing on concrete in the dry, cold winter air just might just be an explosion hazard. Truckers ground their hoses when transferring flammable materials, so I wasn't being totally paranoid. But I certainly was made to feel that way by Moon. One by one, Rock helped me make the safer. It would never be entirely safe, and he gave me some advice: "If you don't feel safe doing something, don't!" Truth be told, I didn't feel safe coming to work in this toxic, smoke filled man-made cave of  Mad Max technology. But, I needed the money. Still, it should have bothered me more a little that even in this hazardous environment, they put ME and my Bomb...outside.

The rest of the crew was similarly concerned about my isolation with such a dangerous contraption. "Try not to kill yourself," Baby Huey once joked. "We'll have to send your wife flowers and it'll just be sad and awkward!"  Madhatter likewise cracked wise about it. "If something goes wrong, you WON'T be the first to know about it," he remarked. His running joke was to say, "BOOM!" whenever I expressed some concern about the integrity of the vessel. But he was equally serious at times. "Moon and StrangeLove do not care about your safety. Only YOU care about your safety." Like Rock he advised, "If you don't feel safe about it, don't do it."  Big Bertha told me she would simply flat refuse to do it. "What kind of a boss expects someone to rock a bomb for 4 hours a day?" But, here's the catch: doing this particular project is what I got paid for. It wasn't what I thought I was signing on for, but it was too late now. The best I could do is make it as safe as possible by hook or by crook. So that's what I did. I didn't rely on Moon getting back to me to approve purchasing another bit of safety equipment or sensor. I asked twice, then I bought it. If a design issue vexed me, I asked Rock for help. Which meant Rock did it most times...but he let me help, trained me so I could fix it if necessary. He also explained what could go wrong, and how wrong it could go. I considered this entire process taking care of the issues rather than taking up the precious time of my superiors. However, it began to dawn on me that all this was stating to piss them off. And I couldn't figure out why.

As the assembly stage of the task neared completion, StrangeLove pushed Moon to have it ready to run actual tests, yesterday if possible. Meanwhile, I was shooting for a slightly more prolonged testing cycle to make sure this son-of-a-bitch didn't fail catastrophically. I suggested we fill it something less explosive and flammable and run an entire cycle, so we could "shake down" any issues in a safe manner. But Moon wasn't having any of that shit. He'd read...on-line..about a ratio of one toxic and flammable solvent coupled with another that when mixed with the refinery goo and shaken, not stirred, for several hours yielded a product that they were after. He volunteered to take the first shaking shift. He wasn't even positive we had any of the solvents at the facility, at least in the volumes we needed. Thus ensued the the wild goose chase through several other locations in the BlunderDome in search of process materials. After spending the morning locating and hauling the 5 gallon buckets to the test "closet". we...I mean I reluctantly loaded the materials. I distinctly recall asking, "Do we really want to fill this thing completely up? I mean, we may want to give it some room to expand." Moon poo-pooed my concern with all the confidence he did everything else...totally misplaced and unsubstantiated. "Fill it up,' he said. But, once again, this was their log-ride and I had no reason to doubt their expertise in these areas. Yet. So, I went to lunch and left it to him. I heard about the near explosion when I returned from MadHatter, who informed me it was good I wasn't anywhere around or involved. After recklessly heating highly flammable and expandable solvents, a drastic and "'unexpected' spike in the pressure sent the pressure gauge spinning like a top. Moon almost got his trip into space, it appeared. "B-O-O-M", that spells ill-thought out.

According to the rumor mill, Moon had only been this frightened once in his life. I thought this might slow things down, but it didn't. All it got me, I discovered months later, was accused behind closed doors of NOT being aware of the potential risk for such as pressure spike from completely filling up the reaction chamber leaving the materials nowhere to expand into, the literal definition of the word bomb. Moon's cockiness became my fault, his miscalculation made me a dumb-ass because as I would later learn, that's exactly how he rolls. By not being in that particular meeting with StrangeLove, naturally I was assigned all the blame for the oversight without opportunity to retort, "Oh, no, I told you that and you still made the call." Deep down, I was simply happy it was Moon and not me. I didn't even know at the time where the water hose was he'd used to cool down the reaction vessel to sub-explosive levels. But the real professional damage was done. From this time on out, the seeds of my lack of chemical prowess were firmly planted in StrangeLove's brain like kuru, while Moon set about a longer term strategy of proving me less than worthy as a chemist. And he was winning the game since I wasn't even aware that we were playing.

Rock and MadHatter maintained their advisory status, warning me about taking Moon's frequently hasty and often incomplete direct instructions as gospel without double-checking and asking for verification. I did go around him at times when it came to safety equipment. Despite his contention that a gas mask and gas monitor was not required, I bought them anyway. When it came to my safety, I found it more expedient to apologize later than to ask permission. The only thing running full steam ahead was the time table for running of the apparatus, not the safety of the operator. The mask embarrassed them since it presented the image of imminent danger involved with the process.  Even the grad students called me "DangerMan" when they saw me in that get up. When the engineers from the client company showed up to observe a run, I lost even more confident in the wisdom of this collective carnival of carelessness.

I began to question the preceding months of misguided trust I'd put in ANY of these individuals after their assumptions on one basic issue: they did not seem to grasp the practical concept that a gas existing as a liquid under pressure could not be collected as a liquid at atmospheric pressure once the pressure dropped during sampling. I'm no chemical engineer, but it was apparent to me that even if you collected the product under pressure, once the pressure was gone, so was the thrill. Without the capacity to test a pressurized sample, all was for naught. The material you want is a mixture of liquid AND gases so it off-gases upon reaching atmospheric. They, however, expected only a highly refined liquid stable at atmospheric. Sure, the goo might give up some refined liquid, but the gas was still gonna be gas at the end. And it had to go somewhere, i.e. into the test closet with me. Only then did they seem to comprehend my use of mask and monitor. Hell, I needed a spark-less vent fan to keep the fumes below explosive limits and they couldn't even get that done!  That's when  I got scared, because if they were having trouble with THAT concept, they didn't give a fuck about me as far as exactly how dangerous this process really was. In  fact, I don't think they gave a tinker's damn about safety at all. "M-O-O-N" that spells safety.

I was a fool but no HUGE fool, just a minor one for not quitting right then. But under the misconception that I could fix this situation, I stubbornly persisted.  I brought the safety issues up in a polite manner and got Rock to help with them as I discovered them. I set up my own procedure protocols to add safety into each step as best I could. Mind you, the original procedure document we received from the client was 15 single line steps on a half a page. Cliffs Notes of Cliff's Notes would have been longer. Once I was finished, we had a multiple page procedure, a spreadsheet giving theoretical pressure to be expected and other things including percent gas in air/concentration explosive thresholds. But, I also saw the con the client was running on these business amateurs. Mentioning to Bertha that this was a process the client safety department probably wouldn't let then get away with on their own sites, we deduced they could indeed farm it all out to a place like this where such restrictions are unknown and not their responsibility in case anything went wrong. I also mentioned that I thought we were being suckered. Sure enough, once the half dozen free tests were done, they evaluated the results...and ceased the project. Net profit to the university: zero. And that's when things got really hard on me at the Blunderdome. Hired for a dangerous project no one else would do, I suddenly found myself in limbo now that it was gone. Soft money gone even more flaccid, I had to go. And the their tool of choice: making me look unsafe and incompetent before I did it to them. The ejection seat was set.

This wasn't my first rodeo in the area of co-workers and/or supervisors trying to make me look bad so they could ride me out of town on a rail. I had another set of duties that involved testing samples coming off the primary pilot unit, the real money making operation. No issues arose until the last Bomb pilot run was completed. Silently, a bad sample slipped into my GC analysis. But I actually caught it because I pay  a-fucking-ttention to the results, not just run the samples. The analysis and posting of results was a total rat fuck due to the frequently breaking down old equipment and the crappy semi-functional spreadsheets we posted results into. MadHatter had warned me months ago to back up results on thumb-drive because they can just disappear at anytime. These weren't gremlins, these were motherfuckers at work. I had that happen a few times, but thanks to his heads up, I was prepared. Then they apparently shifted tactics.  MadHatter had told me the results are NEVER really reviewed, simply made available. "No one even looks at the results, so why are we even doing them?" he questioned more than once. Well,  on April 22, a green-wienie of a sample came through my analysis stream. After rerunning several times, it was apparent that what was in the test vial was NOT my proper sample. So, I resampled and reran with success. Then I updated the data on-line and moved on. End of problem, right?

Three weeks later, Moon and StrangeLove "questioned" my testing, suggesting that the data for a particular sample "did not look right".  And out of the dozens of analyses with multiple samples each, they zoned in on only one: the problem child sample I'd discovered. I was ready. Like I said, I'd been through this bullshit before. Generally, when you prove yourself more than capable, people quit fucking with you. But not in the BlunderDome. After showing them that not only did I catch that bad sample, I re-ran it several times to verify before re-sampling. The data they were questioning, I informed them, had been corrected weeks ago. But, I wondered to myself, WHY exactly would you be so on top of THIS one particular sample, yet not notice it was corrected, unless you were in on it at the exact time of the infraction? A mere point in a vast sea of good data that you could find was most likely because you put it there. I knew the truth but Moon was actually too stupid to just drop it all after presented with the new information. So I let it be known that I knew by remarking candidly, "If you'd checked the data before coming over here, you would have seen it was good. Why bother with good data that was bad three weeks ago?"

Then Moon struggled to find a hole in the records, but with MadHatter as witness, I showed him the records which showed several retests, subsequent renaming of the test result as per proper protocol, reflecting the day and batch that was run, as well as notations that followed the retesting. An airtight paper trail even an idiot could follow. MadHatter laughed out loud. "He wrote it all down!' he proclaimed to Moon, who couldn't hide the disappointment on his face. MadHatter's punishment for his jocularity was retesting all the GC runs I'd performed in the past 5 months. My punishment was Moon having an unwitting Baby Huey toss some of StrangeLove's customer samples during a cleanup only a week later. I witnessed it and thought nothing of it, assuming that Moon knew StrangeLove's wishes better than I. But when StrangeLove came down a few weeks later looking for them, the mere suggestion that someone had accidentally tossed them was not acceptable. How could I tell him that my supervisor, his toady Moon had allowed them to be trashed.

It was suicide to make that accusation, so I took the ass chewing rather than tell a truth Moon would certainly deny. Remarking only when asked repeatedly why I did not know where the samples were that, "They were not under my constant observation." Then he asked me in a nasty manner, 'Do you think this good chemistry?" The question threw me, as the context made no sense. What exactly did losing some samples have to do with chemical technique? Why would you even ask this in such a accusatory manner? Yes, it pissed me off. I'd finally had enough and answered, "Actually, I don't consider this chemistry at all!" He finally gave up with the interrogation. I'd won the battle of this very public trial but a week later I lost the war after they wrote me up as if nothing I'd said mattered. But the write up betrayed a false assumption carefully inserted, using a inflammatory language I'd heard a few times in the past year, casting doubt as to me actually having a chemistry degree. And those accusers were ALWAYS without degree, and like a painting that's not completely dried, apt to smear.

The light suddenly went on in brilliant luminescence. A person I'd known from a previous employment had recently told me recently that she'd overheard a problem employee I'd once had telling someone on the phone, "I don't even think he has a chemistry degree."  Words to that effect were in now my review and at that point, I knew I was fighting the illusion of illegitimacy. With my supervisor cutting me off at the knees in front of the king whose ear he had exclusive rights to, I had no chance to undo the damage  StrangeLove had made up his mind and there was no turning back his stubborn false assumptions. They apparently wanted me to cut and run like a guilty person, to quit and in effect give the impression that my "degree con" had been discovered.  Instead I dug in. And that's when the environment got intentionally dangerous.

It started with me being assigned to some of the most mundane, dirty work in the Blunderdome, maintaining, operating, repairing another hot, pressurized piece-of-shit contraption used for grad student research. The grad students were supposed to learn by operating and getting results from this ugly little thing, but as it was, we, the operators, did the lion's share of any work. I guess personal lab assistants came with their high tuition package.  There was more than a little discontentment among the other denizens of the Blunderdome about this practice. They get the Phd, and we get the satisfaction of being the first mule to carry their crap up the mountain. Welcome to the modern higher education system where the financially endowed    get to buy their credentials. "So this is where Phd's learn that don't have to do any fucking manual labor," I reflected silently to myself, weighing the arrogant behavior some "baby docs" exhibit upon graduation into the real work of industry. But, it all paid the same in the Blunderdome as far as I was concerned. We were paid for a task that made us some form of educational mercenary hired out by the university.

Madhatter added context to that peculiar reality. "No matter what you do, how little or how much, it's never enough for StrangeLove. Everybody here makes the same," he said. He went on to explain how he'd accidentally come across a spreadsheet that StrangeLove had accidentally attached instead of data to an email. 'What a dumbass!' he remarked. I didn't know whether to take that with a grain of salt or not but months later, snooping in a public database of legal filings, I came across definitive evidence that he was not telling the entire truth. MadHatter actually made more than me. That was certainly a revelation, but it didn't bend me out of shape despite what I considered my advanced education and experience. First of all, I'd ALWAYS been underpaid. Secondly, it verified to me that the pay scale at universities is just fucking arbitrary below Phd level. And last but not least, MadHatter understood the social dynamics in the BlunderDome better than I ever would. In that vein, he was a lot smarter than me.

I endured a final season of working for the university AND a half dozen grad students who shall remain nameless due to the fact they hadn't earned one in the real world yet. But here I was running the tedious experiments while they collected the data for their thesis. There was always a goat grad student who got stuck doing the lion's share of any physical work and I got to know them well. One of them, a diminutive Malaysian female hauled heavy loads while her stocky Nigerian male counterpart spent the time playing on his iPhone. Some worked directly with me and not all of them were bad. But some were utter assholes! Being inexperienced in real world politics, I could smell their complicity in the grand design of my demise. But as a grad student, you are a slave to the whims of the professor responsible for the piece of paper you are spending so much time working...or just waiting on, so I understood the professional dynamics and pressure. I just did not know if the open valves, broken reactors and other malfunctions and hindrances I was experiencing daily were by their active involvement or only their passive enabling of someone else. But then there was more than one perpetual student who was in school not to graduate, just to be in school. school is a lot of fun when you have no responsibilities or financial worries. Some were in absolutely no hurry and actually did little more than sit through an experimental run and jot down some data. This certainly wasn't  what I imagined as doctorate level research, but in this game preserve of society, how much work you did depended more on how rich you were rather than how hard you worked. I suppose some were so rich they didn't do shit or even pretend to.

Plagued by open valves, bad apparatus assemblies and other malfunctions that repeatedly delayed runs, I found myself increasingly under the gun and taking all the blame. I knew what was happening to me but  I still thought I could endure the back-breaking tasks and outrun the harassment. In a hostile environment , the main mistake one makes is suspecting anyone in particular. That lead to a whirlpool of suspion and paranoia only to discover later you chose the wrong antagonist. It's a waste of time that drains mental resources, so I refused to be lured in by the sleights of hand that cast the blame to others. Making Moon and StrangeLove aware of the problems provided neither remedy nor remote interest from them,  so I reluctantly realized I could not win a game rigged from the top down. Still, the possibility of 500 degree F tar under pressure spewing out of an open valve created much more of a menace to me than lack of job security, and the closer the calls, the more I understood the need for me to get the hell out. I had already figured out that projected funding for my job was based on pilot runs on the Bomb, which no one was buying research time on. They could have just told me that and the parting would have been a bit more....civilized. But the duplicitous can never just tell it like it is. Not in their nature. Lacking the mechanical skills at 7 months to put together random configurations of equipment as well as a person who had worked on rebuilding four-wheelers or centrifugal pumps for two decades, I was trapped, pinched between at a "weak point" I couldn't excel in at the moment and the deep blue sea. I'd tenaciously held my ground against the initial onslaught, selectively targeting my professional reputation as an organized profession scientist, but the mechanical demands were starting to eat my lunch. And time was running out.

In addition, I had no really good instruction in my weakest area anymore. No second set of eyes keeping me safe. Rock had been forced into retirement shortly after my confrontation with StrangeLove, reportedly for asking him why he allowed a relatively new and untrained person to build and rock a haphazard Bomb with absolutely no supervision. When StrangeLove replied he thought everything was safe and didn't know Moon was being negligent and leaving me alone like that, Rock replied, "Why didn't you know?" eerily identical to what Strangelove asked me about those goddamned samples he had to have known his own goon Moon had tossed. Catching him off guard with no real reply, Rock was suddenly a short-timer...after building the whole damned place. As if on cue, a well placed howitzer shell from Bertha in the form of a hostile workplace complaint landed in his bunker. The incident stemmed from Rock working late one night and the unexpected appearance of Bertha with her shrill, unnerving voice suddenly shaking him from the illusion of being absolutely alone in a quiet warehouse. Yes, that would unnerve anyone, but no one could match Rock's  descriptive string of profanity when startled. Before he was allowed to retire, he gave me one last set of instructions, including, "Always be safe. If it's not safe, walk away." With that, he walked away and I never saw him again.

That day for me came in early September. I saw crystal clear than any safety issues I had with the reckless way they were conducting sponsored research were in part ignorance, in part willful negligence...and in part purposeful.  By allowing Moon  (now operating without Rock's experience and pragmatic wisdom) to run amok with dangerous fixes and solutions to problems with issues he did not completely understand,  Strangelove was only one bad day from a major incident. I realized that was meant for me. Of course, without Rock, I was left high and dry, captive only to Moon's rapid fire, incomplete and on more than one occasion completely misleading instructions.  He wasn't even hiding he had it in for me anymore. One day, sitting at the computer console that operated the newest dirty little pilot test, I was testing the pressurization of the vessel. I felt a drop or two of warm water hit my face and tracked down the culprit: a valve had been removed and no plug inserted, leaving that portion of the apparatus open and aimed directly at the operator. Very fucking dangerous if we had been running. So, I fixed the problem and left the valve off  (assuming any number of people with complete access to this unit had a real REASON for removing the valve) but inserted a plug.

A day later....even the plug was removed. It could have been a grad student, it COULD have been anyone. I had no way to find out and the only person with access to the vast array of cameras situated all around the warehouse certainly wasn't interested. No reason for that little "equipment alteration" other than to cause injury, I decided, so a week later, I resigned. All the efforts to make me appear "unsafe', I took head on. All efforts to make me look incompetent, I took head on. I took on every dirty task, every mechanical challenge on an increasingly steep learning curve, plus every effort to make me quit. I'd experienced these sorts of things before, but an effort to inflict bodily harm? That was unknown territory for me. I knew no one had my back anymore and the wiser option was to hit the dusty road. Not because I was defeated, but because I was smart enough not to make a pissing contest the reason I was horribly injured.There are many hands that can open the many valves of a monster machine like this, but only one set of eyes to spot them. I was outnumbered and no one man can win every battle alone. All it took was one small oversight to leave me permanently scarred or worst.  I thought the employment interlude might be short...but it ended up being a resource draining 9 month journey in the darkest intergalactic space before I crash landed in the Salt Mines.

In leaving the previous job for this one, it now occurred to me that I chose badly in seeking to escape being responsible for everything to end up labeled irresponsible in all things. It was a career blunder that landed me here in the BlunderDome. But being responsible for everything was the only thing Moon aspired to. It was his mental bling, a solitary adornment on an obviously blank slate of self accomplishments. As Rock put it, all he needed was a sign around his neck that said, "I R smart!"  Sadly, that is the mark of a smart person...who truly doesn't believe it. And smart people will sometimes do heinous things and tell terrible lies to hide their insecurity. I, on the other hand only wanted to be,  "The best at what I do," no matter what it is, and left the fuck alone. I didn't care who knew it as long as the job was done at the highest level possible. That didn't work out in the Blunderdome.  I'm not sure if a little more ego would have gotten me through, but it certainly would have gotten me more fucking respect! Moon remarked as I was packing up to leave, "It takes a big man to admit when they just can't win." Yeah, well it takes a small man to gloat after winning a rigged game.
"M-O-O-N" that spells prick!  Thus, I was driven out of yet another job on  a horse with no name, wearing a clown head i didn't deserve. But, in a previous job, I was increasingly responsible for everything and miraculously became certified as an expert in the field after only 3 months on the job. And no one was more surprised than me....

Epilog: A parody of "Beat It" I might have overheard on Moon's iPod.
Then again, it could have just been the fumes.

Hey, chemist don't you come around here!
It's my single goal to make you disappear.
It's your college education that I definitely fear,
So beat it, just beat it.
I've lost so many brain cells I'm not thinking really clear.
I'm on so many meds, can't even drink a beer (Oooo).
I can make it tough, and make you really sad,
So beat it, and I don't care if you get mad!
Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it
 I'll cheat rather than be defeated.
I don't wanna hurt you, then again I just might.
It doesn't matter a rat's ass it's not fuckin' right.
Just beat it!

I'm out to get you, better run while you can.
Make your mind up now or I'll give you a hand.
If you want to stay alive, you' ll be safer if you ran!
So beat it, just beat it
I'll have to show you that you're really not smart.
And if you prove me wrong, I'll tear your world apart.
I'll  embarrass and harass you, 
and make you look bad,
So beat it. Yeah, I'm crazy...just a tad!
Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it.
I've come too far to be unseated.
I'm the head honcho, so screw your damned degree.
I can get StrangleLove to agree only with me,
So beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it!

What? You still here?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Confessions 2--Prisoners of War

"In a salt mine,  no one can hear you scream. They're all screaming, too."
God money's not looking for the cure. God money's not concerned about the sick among the pure.
God money let's go dancing on the backs of the bruised. God money's not one to choose .

Head like a hole. Black as your soul. I'd rather die than give you control.

"Head Like a Hole" from Pretty Hate Machine

In one week, it will be the 6 month anniversary of my arriving at a small, privately owned chemical business I'll call the Salt Mine. This labor camp is run by the attention impaired owner I prefer to call The Warden along with a VP he captured a couple of decades ago I'll call The Orck. The Warden was the cheap son of  a dead rich man and a scatter-brained entrepreneur who ironically had the air of being a know-it-all. Unfortunately, he frequently was a don't-know-at-all type, making arbitrary decisions based not on what was, but what should be. Constantly chasing new ventures while his old ones burned, he was the distracted captain of a slowly sinking ship. He was also a liar. I came to know that a week or two into the job when I walked out of the lab for less than a minute. When I returned, he told me I'd l overflowed a vessel and flooded the floor while in plain sight, the reservoir in question wasn't even full yet. Pragmatically I reasoned that he was just trying to reinforce the need to keep an eye on that little issue. But, it nagged me inside the ease with which he overtly lied and then cruelly chastised over a minor issue.

The Orck had good attention to detail depending which side of the bi-polar imbalance she was on but also had a nasty habit of allowing things to go wrong so she could bite your head off and eat your brain. And perhaps I should say she had good attention to detail but not perfect, which really pisses off a person with a nazi like sense of perfection. Then, there are the four other people who run the place: The POWs. I hired in as one of those. Gollum ran the plant operations, i.e. did all the work. I call him Gollum not because of his appearance or any unnatural obsession with anything the plant had to offer. It's only because he was small and wiry and knew his way around the forest. "You are in an unsafe workplace," he advised me as he leaped from tank top to tank top like Spiderman. The Warden and The Orck worked him 7 days a week under the mistaken notion that their last minute whims were the flawless decrees of a Pharaoh. If there were any problems, any at all, then Gollum took all the blame.  If Gollum were fortunate enough to have a that lasted more than a week, that is...then shit ran downhill. Let's say rather it "rolled down a gentle incline".

There was an office manager, Persephone. Persephone was highly skilled and captive, occasionally escaping only to be dragged back into this madhouse of misshapen egos. Like a good prisoner of war, she bestowed savvy advice to the new forced labor between repeated escape attempts. One day, she finally got away. Ironically, they tried to lure her back into her cell by promising her more freedom. She politely declined and disappeared over the hill in a cloud of dust.

Then there was my cellmate, Skywalker. Actually, he was anything but. However, in his mind, he was the final hope of mankind, a genius of unparallelled intellect and defender against injustice. What he was was an inept, deluded, egotistical megalomaniac. Only two types of people exhibit that level of confidence: experienced employees and arrogant assholes. Skywalker fell into the later category, and I met him at the Gates of Hell one morning in April.

I was standing beside my car at the front gate of the plant as I was repeatedly pressing the "Call" button trying to get in. I briefly wondered if maybe I should have called ahead, afterall, what kind of an idiot would forget a new employee just might be arriving at 8:00 a.m. and either be on the lookout, or at least leave the gates open. Ah, but if you leave the gates open, someone might escape. That should have been my clue.
After a few minutes of inane button pushing up drove Skywalker in his TIE-Fighter.  He certainly looked the part: Hollywood hair, sunglasses and an arrogant attitude that permeated out of his vehicle like a scent. Thinking he was one of the regular minions I approached his car, asking if he knew the code. His solution was to call someone. Genius! So what was the phone number? Riiiiight, we're both new, we know nothing.
But suddenly, in the eerie fashion of a a haunted house movie, the gates suddenly opened. I returned to my car and entered, Skywalker following closely behind as the gates slammed shut.This began my first day in the Salt Mines. Many had entered those gates before us, but few had survived.

The Orck cheerfully escorted us to our cells. I barely heard the cell door lock behind us in the lab. We were given our inmate numbers. Our inmate duties had me as he-who-is-responsible-for-absolutely-everything and SkyWalker, Lord of Ego and ill-defined research, responsible for nothing. I admit, it irked me that this inexperienced narcissist son-of-a-bitch was making the same money as me. But as if to add insult to injury, we were both making only as much as the college intern who came and went at will like a trustee. But this was the only circus in town, so I had to travel with it, at least for a while. They told me they wanted a juggler but they put me in a trapeze act. And what they really needed was a mind reader.

So I performed all three acts, walking an emotional tight-wire while juggling an increasing number of responsibilities and trying to read the mind of an Orck. It's hard to read the mind of an Orck...there's just not a lot there. And what is there is dark and twisted. All of this while trying to tunnel out of this cell and into a holding cell on higher ground lest I drown my career in the rising tide of despair flooding the place.I was the only one digging, though. Skywalker was actually happy to be in the cell despite the rising water. He did provide support in the form of endless chatter about his favorite subject: himself. It wasn't easy trying to keep a dozen balls in the air while being chided as being unable to juggle if I ever dropped just one. On top of that, walking the tightrope of keeping a job in such a harsh environment was complicated by someone constantly trying to knock me off thhe tightrope. And it didn't take a mind-reader to figure out who.

Skywalker and his personal troubles were the center of his own fucked up universe, an ever expanding black hole of delusion and woe that threatened to encompass the entire lab. I curtailed that shit at every oppotuniity. What I couldn't control was the sadistically odd Warden and his bi-polar Orck who alternated between sycophantic pandering and wailing rage. The outbursts occurred in situations where time resources were inadequate for the magnitude of tasks. This translates to the majority of the population as every fucking day. On top of all that, hidden elements in the environment had a perchance for trickery and sabotage. Having existed in such a dangerous universe before, I determined to nip it in the bud.

The problem with sabotage is the culprit likes to leave clues implicating others. I learned long ago not to play that game. You'll find yourself self-guessing yourself about everyone. You'll diminish your resources chasing phantoms. Instead, I took away the means for mischief. Valve left open flooding lab? I turned the water off at the source. Sampling irregularities? I got them myself. Salting an internal audit with fabricated nonconformities?  I'd seen that trick. This was not my first rodeo.

So how do you catch a rat while not looking for them? Generally, every time you fail to fall into a trap, whomever screams loudest is the likely culprit. Or maybe only a culprit. Doesn't matter. The bottom line is you don't really give a fuck who it happens to be. All you want is to annihilate their ability to affect you negatively. But what if you discover the saboteur in question is the very person or the people busting your balls to achieve more and more in return for your meager intern salary? Awkward.

Imagine being in a prison run by maniac, in a cell with a lunatic, tormented by a sadistic guard.
Then add a dash of collective illusion colored with the pretense of business ethics. Couple with the soundtrack of mock indignation timed to play in an endless loop at the smallest of errors. If that doesn't get inside your head then endure the complete mental collapse of your manager and witness the vile exhortations that spew forth about all who came before you. The worthless, useless others who produced nothing. According to this manager, only they really do anything around here. All the while, you're buried under a steaming pile of their previously neglected issues. The bitter flavor of hypocrisy was never an acquired taste but it was a taste I'd come to know well over the next few months.

Five months and  four batshit crazy breakdowns later, my time there was up. Skywalker never accomplished a damned thing other than pissing off some Sith Lords in the legal system and talking non-stop. The Orck led him from the cell for execution a mere two weeks before they shot me at dawn. Even with a noose around his fucking neck the poor deluded fool was expressing how fortunate he was to be there. He was still babbling when they finally dropped the trap-door. I heard the snap and the Salt Mine went silent. I sat in my cell juggling, watching my time slip away like sand through an hour-glass, no possible parole and no escape. They actually gave me a hammer and attempted to get me to construct my own gallows, but executing my right as condemned man, I requested, 'Shoot me, motherfucker!" As they scrambled around, cussing and trying to find a bullet, I watched the final two weeks of my employment trickle away. It bought me two weeks but it wasn't enough.

When they finally came for me, they forced a sign around my neck that proclaimed, "Cannot Juggle". That's the thanks I got. For a few months, I'd briefly held the world upon my shoulders while The Warden and The Orck stumbled blindly in search of golden apples I already had in my back pocket. I had witnessed the insanity and ineptitude of management, endured the babbling of a madman and managed organizational dysfunction with duct tape. For this I was banished into the desert of unemployment.  Again. It had taken me nine months to get here in the first place and only five to leave. But, I proved to be a hard act to follow. Going through three more chemists in only 6 weeks, I shot the sheriff and I shot the deputy right in their puny ass bottom line.

But, the damage to me was already done. I divested myself of my most precious items in return for some stale bread and water, making plans to cross the night.  At this age, my wife and I were forced to take only what we could carry on our backs and disappear into the darkness. But, I wasn't always just a chump chemist for a couple of trolls running a salt mine. Once upon a time, I did university research....

"What do you mean you expect me to juggle, too?"

Epilog: What's On The Warden's Playlist

1. "With Orck, Without You!"  by FU2
2. "I Get Money 4 Nothing (U Get Shit 4 Free)"  by Dire Poverty
3. "Welcome to the Bungle"  by Huns and Moses
4. "Smells Like Broken Spirit" by Delirium
5. "Welcome to Your Nightmare" by All Us Cooped Up