Emptiness Is Not a Container

August 4, 2012 at 1:40 PM | Posted in The Corporate World | Leave a comment
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I thought I would take a quick break from whatever the hell it is that I’m doing and try to catch you up on things.  I look at the empty folders of my blog and wonder if it’s a metaphor for my ridiculous life.  What do I write a blog for, anyway?
Before you answer that, let me give you some context–
–And who are “you”, anyway?  Sometimes I feel like I am writing to…the world.  My base of loyal fans, or future generations, or maybe God, asking for a detailed appraisal of my life because it’s in appeal whether or not I can get into heaven.  If so, I’m in trouble.
And sometimes I feel like I’m writing to my kids.  I don’t get to see them often enough now, and I know I am missing out on things going on in their lives, and they are missing out on mine as well.  I want them to know me.  It’s part of knowing themselves.
So maybe it’s for future generations after all…
And back to context:  I have said (and I still maintain) that anyone who writes poetry is whacked in the head.  I give as an example my own poetry, and my emotional state when I wrote it.
Likewise, when I started writing this blog–my journal, my life–I had some things going on, but I didn’t realize it.
Since I first started writing–maybe 2004?–this some of what has happened:
My mother had just recently passed away
We bought a house and moved
I left my wife
I met someone new
My father passed away
I moved again–a total of five more times
Divorce and so forth
Changed part time jobs numerous times
And those are the big things.  Lots of little things happened, too.  I wrote about most of them.  And some point I wasn’t writing regularly because not enough was happening that was interesting.  Maybe that’s a good thing.  An old Chinese curse is “May you live in interesting times.”  I understand that whole-heartedly.  My life has been less interesting in the last two years, and for that I’m grateful.
Of course, some things have happened and I don’t even know if I wrote about them because they were fairly painful and traumatic for me.  Maybe I should have, because I would remember them better.  Detroit ended up in the hospital a few times between December and January, and in January she had surgery, where they did a bowel resection and removed about a foot of intestine–remember, she has Crohn’s Disease.

So here’s what is happening lately:
Well, I’m grateful except for the part about Detroit, my lovely fiance, being out of work since Labor Day of last year.  Irony, anyone?  We have struggled to get by on my one and sometimes two incomes, her unemployment, food stamps, and creative juggling of the bills.
Twice I’ve made the New Year’s Resolution to not have any utilities shut off…and broken it by February.
Detroit has been actively looking for job.  I didn’t see it because I was at work, but I trust that she was.  And besides, I saw proof of it.  Last year in November she took a test that was required if you wanted to apply for any government jobs with the state.  By December she had the results–she passed and did well–and by January she started getting letters informing her of job openings for which she could interview.  I don’t know how many interviews she has been on–hell, she might not even know–but it’s been a fucking lot of them.
Just this week, after she got back from an interview, she got a call from someone who had interviewed her two weeks prior and offered the job.  What do you do when you get a job offer after being unemployed for 11 months?
You take the fucking job, that’s what you do.
She did.  She starts in two weeks.  Of course, just as there are hoops to jump for an interview, there are hoops to jump prior to starting a job.
Whenever she got a letter indicating there was a job opening, she had to either a) let them know she would go to the interview or b) let them know *WHY* she wasn’t going.  Otherwise, the letters would stop.
After she let them know she would, she generally had to fill out an application, get copies of her reference letters, and send them in either by fax or email or snail mail, depending on what each one required.  Then also bring that stuff to the interviews.
She traveled widely over the city and county and once to the neighboring county for interviews.
So it made sense that when she got this call, after she accepted she had to ask, “I’m sorry, but I have been on so many interviews–who are you with and where am I going?”
Her job is going to be near where her job with the Jennings school district was.  There’s a government building in a shopping center (now called Westfall Center after former County Executive Buzz Westfall, but I know the place as Northland Plaza) at the corner of West Florissant and Lucas and Hunt.
Her job will be with the division of family services, I guess.  In the same building they also do Probation and Parole, and she has interviewed for those jobs as well.  It is just a clerical/secretarial position–she won’t have to solve anyone’s life problems.
Now that she has the job offer, and a start time in two weeks, she has to do things like get fingerprinted and photographed and get an FBI background check.
A job with the state doesn’t necessarily pay that well, but of all of our hopes and dreams, being rich fell off a long, long time ago.  What a state job does offer is excellent benefits and pretty good job security:  she’d pretty much have to kill someone on the job and then lose the appeal process with the union backing her up to lose her job.
It’s good news.  We celebrated the other night and went out for steak.  However, Detroit does have some concerns, mostly about her health.  Is she going to be able to do the job?
Well, it’s not strenuous physical activity.  It’s office work.  For the state.  You have to not be a vegetable to do that job.  I think she’ll be okay.

Meanwhile, back at Eats–
A little about my job now.  In March, I had my seven-year anniversary at the bank.  One thing I earn at seven years is an increase in PTO.  I was getting 11.25 hours accrued per month, and it increased to 14.25.  That means that I went from three weeks to four weeks of time off, essentially.  If you do the math it’s a little more.
It’s a hell of a thing to bitch about, but 4 weeks is too much time off.  I can only roll over 40 hours into the new year; the rest of it doesn’t get lost but gets “banked” as something for use as, like…I don’t know, time I can use for family leave for extended illness or something like that.  I don’t want to have to find out.
Also, there is a rule–a federal law, actually, and most of what we do at a bank is controlled by federal guidelines–that all employees must take off five business days in a row during a calendar year.  They must take a week off.
The philosophy is not to guard our well-being.  It’s because they (the government) knows that people can’t be trusted.  Therefore, if you are up to some shit, it has a better chance of being uncovered if they can get you away from your desk for a week.
So when I started at the bank, I took quite a leap.  I realize that I never fully engaged the…I don’t know, the corporate culture or the mortgage culture.  People who are in it say mortgage is a different animal.  I’ve been witness to it over the past few years.
When I started, I was just scanning.  Essentially data entry, and the date I was entering was images of pages.  Documents.
But I did it well and I wasn’t promoted because that would be stupid–I had no idea what I was doing.  But I was given raises.
So for five years I did pretty much nothing except scanning.  I did take on other duties related to the equipment–I’m still the peripheral wrangler on my floor.  We had some shake-ups, and I did write about those.  There was a day when several loan officers quit and took a lot of their loyal support people with them to go to a competitor.  Over 40 people quit in one day.
About two years ago, I had some slack in my day and went looking for something to do.  I’m willing to learn and I’m fairly smart, but no one wanted to teach me anything.  I had a friend in department that was swamped, and she suggested I help them out.  I did, and I learned some new stuff.  I was pretty happy.  I managed to be in one department, be scanning for another, and be auditing FHA files for Lender Insuring–yet another department.
My boss noticed this–and there were other things going on as well–so I got moved to another department where my work could actually be measured.  I was moved to shipping.
I liked it, but I wasn’t doing very well.  I still don’t understand why.  But it was the first time I had time constraints and deadlines to deal with since coming to the bank.  It was quite an adjustment.  I loved the rush of…well, the rush.  It was like the old days at Domino’s when we had a thirty-minute guarantee.
And then there was the day about a year ago when about 20 people where laid off.  That was a hard, scary day as well.
After that, I started a new position:  I was in Final Documents.  It was like the finishing touches for our relationship with the investor.  I liked final docs.  I was doing it by myself, and then I had some help, and then by myself again.  Then they gave me some actual help, a stern but nice lady named Melba.  It went well with Melba for a few months.  In January, she went on vacation, and I started to get behind.  She got sick and stayed out longer, and I got behinder.  Then she came back.  Then she put in for her retirement, and was gone in less than a week, this time for good.  I got behinder and behinder.
They moved a temp over to help me.  I liked Janine, but honestly–
She lasted about a month with me, and I was grateful for the help.  She acted like I was her boss, and that was cool.  She left when she got an offer for a permanent job.  Good for her.  I was cleaning up her mistakes for the next two months.
I just started yet another new gig.  Now I do “Investor Accounting.”  My boss, Bunny, is trying to solve a lot of high-end problems with the mortgage pipeline, and she thinks if she can control the wires she can fix the pricing discrepancies.  I’m not going to go into any more detail because I don’t understand much of it, but I understand enough of it to know that it’s not very interesting unless you’re in the middle of it.
But she wanted to move me into a position where I can communicate with the investors, charm them, and get them to do things her way.  First I have to learn it.
So that’s what I did last week.  I learned this new thing.  I learned so much that my head hurts.  I am done learning new things for several days.  I guess until Monday.  I learned so much that I had this conversation with another manager:
She:  Are you okay?
Me: (surprised)  Sure–why?
She:  You just seem…you’ve had a scowl on your face all day.
Me:  Oh, that.  I’m just…very deep in thought.
And I was, too.  Trying to process everything I was learning, with knowing that Bunny was expecting me to learn it, know it, excell at it, and then make improvements.  It’s only been a week.
Yeah, it’s only been a week, and I’ve already made one improvement, and I have a plan for making another major one.  The one improvement I did make?
Here’s the old way:  I get these emails, print the PA (Purchase Advice) from the investor.  I go into a program and print the Pay History for that loan.  Using those two docs, I go into another program and fill out the funding sheet and then print that.  A three-page doc for each file.  The funding sheet I would scan in and send accross the street so that Dianna could process that part and make the wire transfers go through.  Not my thing.
Then I would take the three page doc and scan it into PowerFlow, our file system.  I would wait until the next day, in the morning, and do all of them together.  Then shred the paper.
You know…back in the 80s, we were promised paperless computer world.  We have computers *Everywhere*, and I see more paper than I’ve ever seen before.  At the bank they’ve tried to embark on this philosophy called “Paperless.”  I think I need to step up and champion the cause.
Friday, I didn’t print a single piece of paper.
I set my computer’s default printer to a program that prints to PDF.  When it does this, it creates a file and you have to name it.  I made a folder with Friday’s date and everything went there.  I quickly came up with a scheme to name the pages to keep track of them.
I emailed Dianna the attachements instead of faxing over copies of printoffs.  She noticed that they were so much easier to read.
I use a spreadsheet to track them all.  At the end of the day I called her to see if I had the same number of files that she had.  I could hear her rifling through papers as she counted–
Yeah, I think I can fix some of this.
Later I had time to do some of my old job.  Because, yeah, I still have my old job doing final docs.  I’m a one-man department doing that job, and I was understaffed when I was doing it full-time.  I had to drop off a doc at the title company, and Mary axed me could I clean her scanner for her?
I said yeah, remind me again on Monday.  I told her briefly about my new job, and how I still had my old one.
“Oh–did you get a promotion?  Or is it a sideways move, or…?”
“I don’t know.  What’s it called when you’re holding a bucket of poisonous spiders, and they hand you bucket of poisonous snakes and say, here, take care of this too?  Yeah, I got a promotion.”


A Scanner Darkly

June 3, 2011 at 9:21 PM | Posted in The Corporate World | Leave a comment
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First came the mass email reminder to turn in our timesheets.
Then came the angst over filling out the time sheet.
The next day came the email reminder to our whole department from Bunny that timesheets need to be filled out accurately.  That was at 10:27.
At 10:28 I got an email that no one else got, also from Bunny:
“Please see me in my office at 10:30 about your timesheet.”
That’s essentially…right now.

She was waiting in her office, and so was Melissa, my immediate manager.  I’ve written about her before, but I’m not sure it was entirely accurate.  But then, I’ve never worked for her before.
Originally, I thought she reminded me of my ex, The Storm.  But that’s not her.  The Storm is an F-5.  Melissa is an F-2, tops.  But I don’t fuck her, so I can’t be sure.
But here’s what I do know, in all honesty:  I can read people.  Some people I can’t read well, while others wear it on the outside.  Her aura says “BITCH” in a  shiny, glittery, script font.
The thing is, she’s never done anything to me, but I can tell.  Among all the other little things, she has a…fake little laugh–this tittering that she does, a forced laugh to show that she’s easy-going.  Hell, maybe she’s in a 12-step program to overcome being a bitch for all I know.  And she just has the look on her face like she is disgusted all the time.  She has potential; I suppose she could go either way.
So I come in, and Bunny is professionally friendly, beckoning me to come in and sit.  I guess I paused–and she caught it.  Damn it, she can read me.  On to the meeting.
Melissa was mostly quiet.  I’ve been in these before; when I was written up, Erica had Carrie sit in on the meeting as a witness.  So I’m in trouble.
Bunny asks about the timesheet.  She’s not pointing to this week, she’s pointing to last week.  *This* week we had Memorial Day, and others my group reasoned that going “overtime” would be okay because it wasn’t overtime pay–we had only four days.  I had 8 holiday hours, but instead of 32 regular hours I had 36.
But she was pointing at last week, where I dutifully (I really don’t know how else to describe it–is “stupidly” a synonym for that?) wrote in 40 hours.  I arrive at 8am, take a half hour lunch, and leave at 430.  Eight hours a day, 40 for the week.
“Melissa said she knows that on more than one occasion last week, you were here at least until 515.  Were you just hanging around, doing some personal things–”
I can see she was trying to give me an out.  I didn’t want it.
“–Or were you working?”
Time for honesty.  Finally.  What had been brewing in me for weeks, I could finally express.  “Oh, I was working.”
I really don’t remember how she phrased the question, and the writer in me is struggling to create with fiction what she said in reality.  The gist of her question had to do with *why*?  Why was I doing this?  Why was I working for free when we just had a meeting expressly about this topic?  Why was I fudging my time?
The question was phrased perfectly so that this was the perfect answer:
“Because I–we–all of us in Shipping are scared to death that we’re going to lose our fucking jobs.”
I hope I kept my voice and tone under control.  I said it as calmly as I could manage.  Christ, I was close to crying, from the sheer emotional release because I could finally tell her.
She looked shocked, but not as shocked as she should have been if she didn’t know anything at all.  Bunny’s a smart girl.  She can put things together.  I continued, controlling the cracking in my voice.  “We are scared to death that if we don’t do everything that you want–all of this that you pushed on us–that you’ll fire us and replace us.”
She said a few soothing things, but I don’t remember what order they were in.  Things like:
She reminded me that she told us that it was going to be hell for us in shipping as they made these changes, and that eventually it would get easier.  I’m not buying that, but that comes later.
She also said that they–she–wasn’t looking to get rid of anyone in shipping.  She added that last as a caveat…was she looking to get rid of people elsewhere?  I guess they always were…
Also, doing this was not making it better.  If it took longer than they anticipated (which to me means they had pie in the sky dreams about this stuff being completely automatic and could be done in seconds but now the reality is starting to come home) then she needs to know to adjust her projections and expectations.  They need to know accurately how much can be done.
Melissa spoke up at this point, saying something about, oh, not being able to get the work done is not as serious as fudging your timesheet.  Well, okay.  In the cage match of the lesser of two evils, I bet on the wrong pony.
After that we talked about specifics.
Bunny admitted that she’s never really worked in shipping–but she’s done all the other jobs that lead to it.  She does know that Shipping has gotten shit on in the past, because anything the other departments couldn’t do or wouldn’t do correctly had to be fixed in shipping.  She wants to change that.
Starting with this stacking order project of hers.  How to gently burst this bubble?  We had 2 dozen stacking orders, one for each investor, because that’s how we did it five years ago.  Requirements have changed, and even the investors don’t necessarily need it that way.  So we were going to switch to a single stacking order that would start with the LOA, and stay with the file all the way through the process and everyone would be responsible for keeping it in that order so we wouldn’t have to stack the files any more.  It seems ridiculous to tear the file apart completely and put it back together–
Nonetheless, that’s what we do in shipping.  However, I had to tell her this point about three times before she heard me:
“Stacking the file is not the problem.  Stacking doesn’t take that much time.  Stacking is not the issue.”
“Most files we can stack in less than ten minutes.  That’s not the problem.  The problem is all the other things that keep getting thrown onto us and added on to our work.  It turns a 15-minute project into a 35-minute ordeal.”
“Like what?”
Exactly.  She didn’t know.  “Everything else we have to do to the file, some of which is investor-specific, but it doesn’t matter.  We have to fill out forms, look things up, check numbers, and now fill out the insurance letter as well.  We have to make sure we have our lock and our appraisal early, so we have time to track them down.  We have to update Avista with the information.  Everything we do, in fact.”
I felt like I was pleading our case.  “Even after the file is stacked, it’s not the end of our day.  We have two hours or more of work *after* they are stacked.  They have to be scanned–it takes time, even if we’re doing something else, then it slows down the other things we are doing.  After it is scanned, they have to be imported–and these big files take time.  And then we have to convert them to PDF–and that takes time–much more time.  Just, please–understand–all of these things take time to do.  They really do.  We have been busting our ass over there–to please you.  All for you.  We have come up with every shortcut we can think of to make it quicker for us.  Every day we are fighting the clock.  Every day.”
Bunny had new information.  I could see she was processing it.  So now, the problem was out in the open.  Let’s talk solutions.  And we did, a variety of them.  I finally got out my idea about the tax sheet, which is brilliant and so I won’t get credit for it.  But it also led to the insurance letter discussion as well.  The bottom line is, these are both things we have to fill out manually but we have the software capability to have them generated and populated automatically, saving time and aggravation.
Judy, who is Bunny’s boss, poked her head in, apologized, and had to take Kim away for two minutes.  In the corporate world that is anywhere from 7 minutes to three weeks, but Bunny was back in ten.
While she was gone, Melissa and I shared some awkward silence.  Finally I had to tell her something that I couldn’t tell Bunny.  “You know, it wasn’t you, but when you were out for a few days and we had to go to Bunny to sign off on our files–”
“Sign off on them” is our office lingo for when they give us 12 gallons of shit to stuff into 2 5-gallon buckets and we know we can’t get it all done, but we give it our level best and then later in the day we return some of the unpacked shit so that it can be initialed and okayed by the manager to push off for the next day–they sign off on them.
“–she gave us all kinds of grief about it, not accepting any excuses for not getting the impossible done.  After that, it’s just been hard to bring them back because we don’t want to catch hell for it.”
We discussed that briefly.  Melissa conceded that as long as it was reasonable, go ahead and bring them back.  For instance, if you have 12 and can only do 10, that’s fine.  However, if you have ten and then only get 4 of them done, you have some explaining to do.  That’s logical, in theory.
I did ask for an allowance to make sure Serena and I can take care of the ordering, and she agreed.  Cool.
After Bunny came back, we discussed some particulars, and she said that they have been neglecting shipping, and now they need to get in there pay attention to it.  I’m honestly not sure if I want that.
But I feel better.  I feel I was finally able to tell her our side.  I went to bat for my team, and told her all of our concerns, and she listened, and even agreed to be reasonable.
Catharsis, like happiness, is relative.

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