What the Fuck is Wrong With Corporate America?

One of the reasons I initially abandoned architecture and went into Technology Support full time was that it afforded a bit of fun and wild west freedom in the corporate world. (Plus I was totally burnt out on architecture.) Though the pay scale didn’t always reflect it, we were often regarded by our coworkers as jean-clad gods. But something happened over the last twenty years, and instead of Corporate America being assimilated by the freedom of the personal computer, it was the other way around.

Technology was taken over by the same tired stuffed suits and number crunchers that have always ruled corporations. And even so we still aren’t remunerated commensurate with the fact that the entire global economy now rests upon tech workers. But even worse, we are now expected to conform—and this has never been so clear to me as it has been over the last five years.

Of course I got an inkling of what was coming for years prior to that, but I never thought it would spread so virulently.

After the horrible professional experiences I had in Denver, my main goal upon returning to Phoenix was was to get back into healthcare I.T. support. While it wasn’t always smooth sailing when I worked at Abrazo, the camaraderie of my team and the good times we shared far outweighed the bad often enough that I stayed eight years, leaving only when Ben and I moved to Denver. Over the past four years, the various times we’d landed in the Emergency Room for one reason or another made me realize just how much I missed the hospital environment. After two years at DISH, supporting a television provider with delusions of grandeur and personalities acting like they were brain surgeons operating on Heads of State—I wanted to get back to doing what I love in an arena that actually benefited people instead of just allowing the CEO to buy another home in Aspen.

Be careful what you ask for. You may get it.

Well, a few weeks ago that healthcare matador appeared, waving his red cape in front of my eyes, and I took off charging. To be clear, this wasn’t a direct hire; it was an open-ended contract, “but people generally go perm after about three months.” It sounded too good to be true. My interview went well; I came away thinking that I might’ve found a place I could land for the next several years.

Little did I know the matador was Bugs Bunny, and he had hidden a huge anvil behind that red cape and this poor bull went crashing headlong into it.

It was immediately obvious that I would not be working in the hospitals at all. I was told to report to the  Network Service and Support Center my first day; the same dank, 60s era building where I interviewed. When I first entered the Desktop Support area that morning, my heart sank. No cubes. Just long, open desks built end-to-end with absolutely no privacy whatsoever.

The physical environment was unpleasant, but the technological environment was a disaster. The company had recently formed from a merger of two disparate entities, and the two separate systems did not speak to each other—at least not easily. Adding insult to injury, there was no company-wide IM system in place. One company had used Lync and the other Microsoft Communicator. And even then—unlike DISH (I can’t believe I’m saying something positive about that place)—not every employee had access to it. So every single service call involved emails (because no one ever answered their phones), and many fruitless trips to desks because the user had stepped away.

I told the department manager that I’d be more than happy to be based at one of the hospitals. His response, “I already have someone else in mind for that.” So I was stuck at the Service Center. Not what I was expecting from the interview.

Not ideal, but still…the commute was a breeze and the money was good. The biggest problem were the half hour lunches. (This is something that’s pretty standard in healthcare, and not an issue if you’re at a hospital with its own onsite cafeteria, but this place lacked that amenity.) And even though there were a plethora of places to eat just on the other side of the freeway, there was still no way you could go, eat, and get back in half an hour. “Oh, we usually go get our food, come back, clock out and eat at our desks.”

Uh, no. I’m not eating at my desk! So—since I didn’t have to physically clock in and out being a contractor—for the last week my lunches have been averaging 45 minutes and I either ignored the 30 minute rule or stayed late to make up the difference. No one’s said a word—probably because they’re all guilty of cheating the system.

Then, a few days ago—as if to add insult to injury—they took our chairs away. Those desks were sitting at were only to be used as charging stations for our laptops. We were now field techs and expected to be mobile and on our feet for the duration of the day.

Excuse me?

Where do we catch up on those emails, close tickets, and perform the myriad other tasks that my particular profession entails? Apparently standing up somewhere out on the floor.

And then I saw this hanging over the boss man’s desk:

I was so aghast I had to take this photo. Yes, it’s real. And it explains so much.

How this has allowed to remain is anyone’s guess. Obviously H.R. doesn’t make it into the inner sanctum very often.

Anyhow, the desk/chair thing slid by until this morning, when the boss man realized that we had moved our chairs back into position and steam started coming out his ears. “We’ll have a meeting after lunch to discuss how I expect you to work your tickets.”

By this time, I was at my wit’s end. Every day had been a struggle to do tasks that have been second nature to me for the last two decades, simply because the systems didn’t talk to each other and no one had answers for anything.

Almost nothing had been documented; and the few things I did find documented were so hopelessly out of date as to be useless.

Yeah, I did make a few people happy by solving their problems, but it was only because I said fuck it, and did what I knew would the resolve the issue. “Oh! You need local admin rights on this machine to fix this. Let me take care of that.”

Over the course of the last two weeks, because of the stress, I’d returned to my DISH habit of waking up between 3:45 and 4:15 every morning and being completely unable to fall back asleep.

Adding to this mix today, it was announced that all the technicians were to start wearing ties. Yes, we who crawl under your desks and pull cable and deal with your dirt on a daily basis are expected to dress as if we’re going to a job interview. And oh yeah, no cargo pants.

Seriously? Cargo pants have been acceptable “business casual” attire for PC techs everywhere I’ve worked for the last twenty years, with DISH even going so far as to supply them for us. (Branded, of course.)

So after the boss man had his little meltdown over the chairs being moved back and he’d stormed out, I walked over to my immediate supervisor and said, “I don’t think I am a good match for this environment.” She apologized profusely and told me she understood completely. “Do you need to call your agency?” I told her I did.

So I walked outside and first called Ben, because I wasn’t going to do anything without first consulting him.

Then I called the agency. It didn’t come as a complete surprise because I’d emailed my recruiter yesterday basically saying the same thing about this place not being a good fit. “That’s the beauty of contracting,” I said. “You know if it’s a good fit or not without a huge commitment.”

I went back inside, retrieved my backpack and went to lunch.

When I returned from lunch, the boss man took me aside and told me he understood why I was leaving, but tried to backpedal and tell me that he had made it clear in our interview that this was a field service position.

Uh, no. No you didn’t. If I’d known that I’d be expected to be mobile 8 hours a day I would never have agreed to come on board.

“I need guys who can hit the ground running after a week of hands-on training and go.”

IN THIS ENVIRONMENT? ONE WEEK OF TRAINING WITH NO DOCUMENTATION?

He then signed my time card, and after retrieving my badge, escorted me out of the building—confirming everything I’d suspected about this place.

What have I learned from this? Well, for starters I am reminded that if someone is willing to pay substantially more than the going rate for my job description, there’s a reason, and usually because the place is fucked and can’t keep people. Secondly, I have a slew of new questions I’ll be asking in all future interviews: hours, length of lunch breaks, acceptable attire, and just how messed up is your infrastructure, anyway?

Another agency is scheduling an interview for me next week at a non-healthcare company.

“Daddy, What Was Life Like Before the Internet?”

That is a question I will never have to answer because Mike Huckabee’s chances of becoming the next President of the United States are far greater than me being a father—although not a Daddy (wink, wink)—at this stage in my life.

But it’s still a valid question. While science has proven that our perception of the passage of time changes as we get older, it still seems I had more free time than I knew what do with before the arrival of ubiquitous devices into my life. I remember pre-PC Revolution not having to make time to see a movie, or go to a mall, or go to the beach (the first casualty of life in San Francisco after a computer arrived in my apartment), or when I lived in Tucson, drive out to Reddington Pass, take a hike and expose my totally bare bits to nature.

You were expecting to see my exposed bits? Not a chance.

I used to paint, and while there were periods prior to devices that I went years without creating anything, the last time I picked up a brush was nearly eight years ago—and that’s rapidly closing in on a record. I’m not that concerned about that particular activity because my Muses have always been fickle bitches, but it seems I just can’t find time to do a lot of the other things I used to enjoy and always had time for—like wandering around downtown taking photos. That was something I did almost every weekend—if not more often—and now it seems to be a special occasion when I actually can get around to doing it.

And how did we live without Google and Wikipedia? It seems funny now, but once upon a time I was actually able to do my job with just the knowledge I had in my head. I also used to know what every single file in Windows (okay, it was version 3.1, but still) did. Now the whole tech field has become so…complicated…knowing everything about everything is simply no longer possible, and it seems a day doesn’t go by that I don’t have to refer to the Google for the solution some obscure problem (both Microsoft and Apple related).

Part of me really wants to just unplug, but on the other hand, so much of my life is wrapped up on these machines now it’s all but impossible unless I print out everything and keep hard copies. Do I know anyone’s phone numbers beyond Ben and my sister? Don’t be ridiculous. Do I know what I have scheduled for next week, or next month? Not a clue unless I bring it up. Some birthdays I remember, but I still need to double-check my phone when we’re out shopping to make sure I don’t neglect to buy cards. Do I know any of my bank account or credit card numbers? I used to possess that knowledge prior to being online, but now I can remember maybe the last four digits of one or two accounts. And now with all my ridiculously complicated passwords safely stored away in a secure vault program, do I even know more than a smattering of those? Ha ha! That’s funny!

I’ve always been interested in tech, so it’s no surprise I was a fish to water when this stuff first started arriving on the scene, but I wish I knew how to regain some of that free time that I used to enjoy without having to purposely carve it out.

I…I Just Can’t

Today is a “Mark ALL as Read” day in RSS land, because I just can’t. I’m done with stupid.

I started a new (contract) job today, and while I know it’s probably not fair to make a judgment after only 8 hours, I feel like I’ve reached the point in my life where I will never be happy in my work life ever again.

You never really know what you’re getting into when you take a new job until you actually get into it and overturn that stone to see all the squiggling unpleasantness that had been living underneath hidden from your initial [inter]view.

Don’t get me wrong; the people in the department seem nice. They’re dealing with a lot of the technical shit that comes from the merger of two separate companies, and my supervisor, while friendly and more than pleasant didn’t mince words in describing what they’re facing and how a multitude of things are broken and not getting fixed any time soon. I console myself by thinking, “There may be lifelong friendships waiting to happen somewhere out on that floor.”

I went into this thinking I was going to be working in a hospital again, so I was not overly concerned when the email arrived Friday telling me to report to the Network Service and Support Center this morning. I started out at Corporate when I worked at Abrazo (albeit at that time Corporate and the I.T. Department were based in one of the hospitals) so this didn’t seem out of line. However, it turns out I’m only working there until their ticket count goes down and then I may be one of the traveling technicians who drives to the multitude of clinics around the valley—while the as-yet-to-arrive second tech they hired will probably be assigned to the hospital on this side of town. (A possibility that was never communicated to me during the interview.) None of this is cast in stone however, and frankly I’m hoping that my immediate supervisor (who doesn’t even make the decision) was simply talking out her ass.

So when my friends and family have asked how it went today, I tell them it’s a job. It’s a decent income. It’s not DISH. That’s really about it.

And oh yeah, only seven more years (more or less) until I can retire. (Unless we happen to win the lottery between now and then. Stranger things have happened!)

Ghosts

A curious and unexpected effect of being back in Phoenix has been the appearance of ghosts. Not the horror movie variety, but rather memories of persons, places and things long gone. I’m not talking about memories of my life in Phoenix post San Francisco and pre Denver, but stuff from my 20s!

I had to run out to my new employer’s occupational health office to get screened and vaccinated prior to starting work several times over the past couple weeks, and the route takes me past the locations of three of my favorite gay bars from the late 70s and early 80s: Bullwinkle, The Forum, and Hotbods. Of course, none of those places are still in business, but the mere act of driving past conjures up so many good memories of the evenings I spent in them. Driving past The Forum, I am reminded of meeting friends Mike and Michael (and running into an acquaintance from high school whom I previously hadn’t a clue that we played on the same team), and the DJ George, who I often bumped into at lunch at the McDonalds (that used to be on the northeast corner of 16th Street and Camelback vs. its current location on the southeast) where we’d discuss the week’s latest disco releases over our fries and Big Macs. The Forum was where—to the strains of St. Tropez’s Violation,  I first slow-danced with another man.

Bullwinkle, and later Hotbods were where my friend Steve worked. I remember many evenings spent at the latter venue in the DJ booth with him (at least until the pharmaceuticals started flowing). It was the place where Dennis (my first partner) and I would drive two hours from Tucson to spend a Saturday night dancing—and then turn around and drive two hours back home after they turned the lights up.

Ah, youth.

Then there are the two audio equipment stores where I used to hang out: Jerry’s and Bruce’s—neither of which are still open, and in fact haven’t been in years—but nonetheless elicit memories of my first major purchase on credit and where I went every six months to get my stylus examined under a microscope for signs of wear. (No, not that stylus, you bitches!)

There are plenty of other examples of these 30 year old memories being dredged up, but I won’t bore you. The question I have to ask however is why? Why here, why now? I don’t remember this happening when I moved back from San Francisco in ’02…

A Curious Phenomenon

From my old blog, courtesy The Wayback Machine:

I have been blogging for close to two years now. What I’ve noticed during that time is while I’ve made new friends through the endeavor, several of my long-time fellow travelers in life’s journey have drifted away. One of whom in particular—a guy I’ve known nearly a quarter century—has all but vanished, and I’m starting to wonder if it’s because of something I’ve written along the way. Blogging’s semi-anonymity has allowed me to voice thoughts that even my closest confidants may not have known I was mulling.

This raises a fundamental question. Isn’t it better to have people love you for who you really are, other than for who they think you are?

While not nearly as political as I am, I know my buddy has no love for George Bush, so I doubt that’s the source of his withdrawl. The only other thing that may have caused this apparent chilling of our friendship are the writings about my increasing agnosticism. He’s not a religious guy, but a very spiritually oriented one; something that initially drew us together and that we’d shared these many years. I still respect his New Age beliefs, but at this point in my life I’m just finding it impossible to ascribe to a philosophy that’s become as rigid and entrenched as any other faith-based doctrine and offers no more proof of its validity than the fairy tales of traditional organized religion.

Before I started blogging, we’d chat or email each other several times a week, and I always felt welcome visiting. But over the last year or so (along with my posts examining my crumbling faith in New Age thought), all my emails seem to vanish into a black hole, never to be answered. (His excuse is that he gets so much spam he doesn’t even bother opening his email, despite my attempts to show him how to filter it out at his ISP before it ever reaches Outlook). So I’ve just given up emailing him altogether. At some point you just reach the point where you think, “Why bother?”

I no longer feel like I can just call and come down for the weekend like I’d been doing for years. It seems he always has houseguests, or previous plans, or the planets aren’t in proper alignment. The last time I was in the neighborhood, the ex and I just dropped in on him (we did call first), and neither of us exactly got the warm fuzzies while we were there. And don’t get me started on him coming here. It’s been over a year and a half since he’s been up to Phoenix. His excuse is that his back bothers him. It’s not like going to San Francisco, for Chrissake.

So I’m kind of at a loss. I have a feeling he’s dealing with some demons of his own, but he hasn’t shared any of it with me, and when I’ve asked if everything was okay he said it was. I’m not losing sleep over it, but it concerns me that a friendship I thought I would take to the grave with me may be coming to an end after having survived and flourished nearly twenty-five years.

Amazingly, nothing has changed with this particular friend since I wrote this eight years ago. During the years Ben and I were in Denver, my friend and I spoke once on the phone—and I was the one who initiated the call.

Still, I’ve kept him up to date via a change of address card regarding our return to Phoenix, and have thought many times about calling him, but as I wrote initially, I’m really starting to wonder, “Why bother?”

Not Yet Feeling It

I mean, look at that. Already there’s fan-inspired art from a film that hasn’t even been released yet.

Seeing those AT-AT walkers looming on the horizon should send my heart fluttering the way they did on that Cinemascope screen in 1980. But they just aren’t. And it’s all George Lucas’s fault.

I turned 19 shortly after Star Wars originally hit the theaters in May 1977. (You do the math. I’m old.) So while I wasn’t a child per se, it nonetheless fired my imagination in a way that was to carry well into my adulthood. Surprisingly, initially I had no real desire to see the film, but a friend from high school dragged me to it one hot summer afternoon a couple weeks after its release, telling me it might just change my life. And it did.

As I’m sure I’ve written before, I came out of the theater that afternoon high, and it wasn’t from any pharmaceuticals. Star Wars set me on what I refer to now as nothing less than a spiritual quest. While I know this isn’t even close to being a record for total number of screenings, during the next year that it was parked at the old Cine Capri in Phoenix, I saw the film 30 more times. (I remember being outraged when they raised the price of a ticket from $2.75 to $3.00!)

When The Empire Strikes Back opened (again, at the Cine Capri) three years later, I wasn’t about to be caught with my pants down as I had been with its predecessor. I was in line opening night, rushing over immediately after work to join the crowd of other fans in line wanting to get their first glimpse at that galaxy far, far away.

I didn’t see Empire nearly as many times as Star Wars. Thinking back, it was probably only a dozen or so, but it wasn’t because I didn’t like the film. Quite the contrary, I loved how the story was progressing.

Three years later, I was now living in Tucson so I didn’t get to see Return of the Jedi at my preferred venue in Phoenix, but I was still there opening day. Anticipating more huge lines, I called out sick that morning and dragged my friend Lee along (who, by the way, found it appalling that I would play hookie for a movie). As it turned out, there was a line, but nowhere near as long as what I’d been expecting, and we were actually able to get into the first showing without any difficulty.

My reaction? Meh. Jedi was okay, but I overall I came away from it disappointed. Even then I thought it was the weakest of the three films. And the Ewoks were abominable. I should’ve seen the writing on the wall that Lucas had become more concerned with merchandising than actually telling a good story. Yes, it wrapped up the Skywalker-Vader saga and the rebels scored a significant victory against the Empire, but what next?

What came next—at least for me personally—was a relocation to San Francisco. When the tenth anniversary of the first film came around in 1987, one of the theaters in the North Bay threw a party and showed all three films at one sitting. I went because there were rumors that stars from the films would be in attendance, and even ten years later I still had a tremendous crush on Mark Hamill. Sadly, those rumors proved false, but it was still interesting to see all three films at one time, and while I didn’t leave with a Hamill autograph, I did walk away from the experience with a cool Tenth Anniversary sweatshirt.

Sidebar: I actually did run into Mr. Hamill—and his wife and son—on the F-Line in San Francisco many years later. We locked eyes, and I nodded as if to say, “I know who you are but I will respect your privacy and leave you alone,” and exchanged smiles. It was kind of an anti-climactic encounter considering I’d known since he first appeared on that screen in 1977 that eventually our paths would cross.

Flash forward to May 1999 and what I now refer to as “George Lucas’s ass-raping of my young adulthood” or as the rest of the world calls it, “The arrival of the Star Wars prequels.”

I’m not going to say much about these three films (or Lucas’s tinkering and reissue of the original trilogy) since so many words have been spilled over the last decade regarding the casting, acting, directing, make-your-eyes-bleed use of CGI, and all that midichlorian nonsense, but I will say they soured me to the idea of ever seeing another new Star Wars film lest the few remaining vestiges of my wide-eyed youth get ground into a bloody pulp.

That being said, I am curious about Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Curious. Not champing-at-the-bit I-can’t-wait-to-see it level of excitement as might’ve been the case if Episodes 1-3 had never happened, but curious. I haven’t kept up with any of the Star Wars spin-off stories, books, or animated series; I have no idea who any of these new characters are, but with only minimal Lucas involvement and J.J. Abrams at the helm—and the use of practical effects vs. CGI—I’m at least a little hopeful that it won’t be the giant steaming pile of Banta poodoo that the Prequels were.

Reshaping Phoenix

I’ve often remarked—half jokingly—how my dad’s tenure at Hallcraft Homes in the 1970s reshaped the look of  mass-produced residential architecture in Phoenix. Driving around town this afternoon, I realize I’m probably not far off the mark for saying that. You can’t go fifteen minutes in any direction without running into a house, townhouse or fourplex that my dad designed. But while driving around, I’m also reminded of the other builders who left their own unique mark on the Valley: John F. Long and Cavalier Homes are two that come to mind.

In my memory, it always seemed to be a bit of an arms race between the big builders at that time. Every year there’d be a slew of new floor plans (or at least new exteriors), with everyone “borrowing” design clues from everyone else; some more successfully than others.

I recall how as a family we used to tour the competition under the pretense of simply being potential homebuyers, and even then I remember remarking (sometimes to the point where I had to be shushed by my folks (because the model homes often did conceal hidden microphones) about how so-and-so blatantly ripped off one of Hallcraft’s design ideas from the previous year.

I wasn’t totally biased however. When dad’s designs stumbled I wasn’t afraid to say so. His response? “They put food on your table.” While he was the lead and chief architect, there were other designers in the mix, and I could tell without asking whether something was dad’s design or one of the juniors’.  Perhaps not surprisingly, while they weren’t as good as what my dad did, I didn’t find their designs nearly as terrible as he did.

At one point I had a 3-ring binder that contained floor plans of everything Hallcraft built in the 1970s. (I seem to remember giving it to my dad for safekeeping in the 80s when we both lived in California and it was only many years later when I asked for its return that I learned he’d thrown it out before moving back to Arizona, thinking I no longer wanted it.) I now have only a few sheets remaining that were duplicates of what was in the notebooks, but they don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what was lost and after scanning and posting to a website would’ve made an excellent online resource for the new generations buying these homes now.

Squee!

As a child who grew up in the 1960s and being enthralled with the Apollo moon landings even then, I think I just orgasmed.

NASA has made their entire raw, unprocessed Hasselblad Apollo image archive available to Flickr. Conspiracy theorists and alien artifact hunters are undoubtedly going to have a field day. As for me, I just think they’re beautiful.

A small sampling of the hundreds of photos posted (warning: some of them are quite large so be patient while they load):

Autumn Finally Arrives

I am cautiously optimistic that we are finally done with the triple-digit temperatures for the year. Just as I remember the change of seasons in Phoenix from all my past years here, it was as if someone flipped a switch the other day and it was suddenly autumn. There’s a change in the air; a change in the light. While we’re not out of air conditioning season completely yet (another few weeks, if memory serves), it’s positively chilly in the mornings when I take the dogs out, and as I sit at the coffee house writing this tonight, they have the big rolling door up, letting in the glorious cool evening breeze.

And the mosquitos also seem to have departed. Even better, because I’ve grown very weary of being a walking buffet table.