Timing

If you were to do a Google search using the words “bad career timing” I’m 64% sure my name would appear somewhere near the top of the list.  I don’t think I could be much worse at it.  The funny thing is (not ha-ha funny, more like what-the-crap! funny) that the choices aren’t foolishly made, and in every case have seemed to everyone I sought counsel and opinion from to be the right deciscion.  Its not like I decided to start a crop-dusting business right after 9/11 or took a job at Lehman Brothers three weeks ago.  These appeared to be wise, or at least sensible, career choices.  The evidence:

Scenario #1.  Left job as a custodial services engineer to get in on the ground floor of a new and exciting local telecom startup as the tech bubble was still expanding.  Visions of IPO’s and thirty-something retirement.  People I know, and who are in the know, stop me on the street and tell me how great it is I got in there so early and ask, “Are they still hiring?”  I report for work November 20th…the year 2000.

Reality – Tech bubble goes burst, company goes through several layoffs, which I avoid, but I lose thousands of dollars on purchased stock options which are not even worth the paper they’re printed on.  Spend the next seven years with an ok job, but its on a ship that is constantly springing leaks and the rats are constantly jumping off, at the end of my tenure my career prospects are no better than when I started.

Scenario #2.  Get job with the county government.  Its not glamorous work, but its cake and the benefits are great, which was the number one draw.

Reality – About a year after working there, union contract expires and bitter labor dispute materializes.  Benefits likely to be slashed and working conditions are tense since I don’t really care for the union or the county board of supervisors.

Scenario #3.  Decide to pursue a career in law enforcement.  Local agencies have been hiring non-stop for the past several years, so its just a matter of passing the tests.  Pay is good, benefits are great, and I can do some good.

Reality – Tough economic times put the hurt on both the city police department and the county sheriff’s department.  Both agencies put a halt to trainee hires indefintiely.

And it isn’t just limited to jobs.  We bought our tiny house, if not at the peak of the real estate craze, then not too far down the mountain from it, and if we had taken the money from the sale of our condo where we lived before–which we used as a down payment on our tiny house–and buried it in a coffee can in the backyard then dug it up now, we could have twice the house for the same money or even less.  But instead we feel a bit like these people.

On top of all of that I am the world’s worst grocery store chekcout line picker.  Inevitably I choose the line with the old woman who writes a check which the cashier then has to hand carry to the manager for approval, since they have never had someone pay with a check before, who then has to call the regional head of finance to see if they can cash a check with pictures of kitty cats on it.  Meanwhile the 347 people who were in longer lines are already home enjoying their Stouffers french bread pizza’s and watching America’s Next Top Model.  Or, if they prefer, Project Runway.

So, timing does not appear to be on my short list of strong suits and things have never gone quite as I expected.  Now, in these trying economic times, some poor jobless soul might read this and say, “Save your sob story you greedy ingrate.  You’ve worked steadily for ten years and I lost my job at the [insert factory/plant/mine/mill/investment bank/etc.] years ago and I’ve used my food stamps to buy enough ramen to rebuild the Great Wall of China.”  To those I say, touche’.  And that’s the point I want to make.

Things may have not gone as I hoped, but the fact is I haven’t been foreclosed on, I’ve never had to look for a job out of desperation, and putting food on the table and paying the bills have never really been a concern.  I’m not wealthy and don’t have a lot of extra bread lying around, but Jen and I are certainly better off than a lot of people, especially these days.

While my career and wealth management goals may have been adversely affected by my poor timing, to say that those years have been completely fruitless would be a lie.  Maybe I couldn’t retire thirty years early (I feel like an utter moron for even having that thought enter my brain at any point in my life), but taking that telecom job did a lot for getting me out into the world and out of my little Fortress Christendom that I had lived in most of my life.  Maybe I won’t have the super health coverage I was expecting when I signed on with the county, but I’m learning to trust God and rely on Him more in difficult circumstances.  Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a police officer, but that story is still unfolding, so maybe if I sit back and let God do the work and trust Him to know what’s best for me and when, then maybe that door will open again in the future.

These can be hard lessons to learn, especially during times of uncertainty.  But I know I’ll be the better for it.  The Bible tells us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways aren’t our ways.  I think its safe to say that applies to timing also.  While I may not give myself a gold star for career choices, I know God will open up that door for me when the time is right.

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The Only Good Ant is a Dead Ant: Tales of a Killer

ant.jpgI kill ants.  With extreme prejudice.  I hate ants, not that anybody really likes them.  As a small child I once had the misfortune of mistakenly choosing an ant hill for a good place to play in the dirt.  After that scarring episode, my life’s mission has been the eradication of the species.  I’m sure in the natural order of things ants serve a greater purpose than to ruin picnics, but in the wilds only, not the civilized, concrete society of the West.  They have no place in our world and therefore must be destroyed.  There will be some, well, one anyway, who will call into question my dedication to the cause due to the Peanut Butter Knife Incident, but heed not his claims.  Even George S. Patton made a tactical mistake now and again.

One of my duties as de facto assistant building super at my job is the interdiction of ant incursions.  I relished the opportunity to further the fight against these vile Formicidae on another front.  However, I was disappointed to learn that my arsenal of available weapons was significantly limited.  Due to an office policy of non-fragrance, traditional, and most effective, ant control agents were forbidden:  no ant sprays.  My options were thus limited to a mostly static defense of ant traps.  However, I did have at my disposal a secret weapon of sorts.  Imported from the Chinese, it looked like a harmless stick of blackboard chalk but was supposedly a poison deadly against ants, but relatively harmless to humans (though the instructions cautioned to keep it away from “baby and old man.”  No, that is not a typo.).  The idea was to draw a chalk line across known ant invasion routes or around their “hidden lying place” which the armies would then not cross, thus cutting off their points of entry into the facility.  I’ll admit I was skeptical at first, but others in the office praised it and I did in fact witness ant scouts approaching the chalk lines and then turning back around and heading the other direction.

Besides this import, I had a few other non-standard implements on hand.  A few tricks I learned from my days as a custodial services engineer.  Most standard hard surface cleaners–Windex, 409, and such–act as a nerve agent on ant columns, killing any sprayed directly.  However, unlike conventional chemical weapons which will continue to kill ants who come into contact with a sprayed surface weeks, sometimes even months later, the cleaners are only effective against ants who are directly exposed.

There were a few instances when it became necessary to breach protocol and resort to conventional, contraband chemicals.  Large scale invasions, usually occurring during times of extremely hot or wet weather, required this drastic step, but even then the sprays could only be implemented on the outside of the building or in remote and unoccupied spaces inside, such as utility closets.

For the most part, the combination of traditional traps, hard surface cleaners, and the Chinese made chalk seemed to do a good job of keeping the enemy at bay.  After a time, it became necessary to restock the chalk magazine and the only place to find it was the local Asian grocery.  Unfortunately our supplier had recently gone out of business.  I turned to the Internet to find a new source and discovered some upsetting information.  On a number of pest control forums I learned that the ant chalk was in fact illegal in this country, as it was not inspected nor approved by the FDA or any other agency, and was in fact relatively toxic to more than just “baby and old man.”  My most effective weapon was snatched away from me.  I was defeated.  Once again, the bureaucracy had taken away a useful tool to combat evil because it “wasn’t safe.” 

Disillusioned, I didn’t know where to turn.  I was getting calls on a weekly basis that the ants were massing on the frontiers, no doubt acutely aware that we were virtually powerless to stop them, waiting only for an ironclad casus belli to invade.  And so they got it.  The winter rains came and the floods of water and insect invaders began to stream into the building.  I futilly tried to stem the tide by placing new and more effective traps in strategic locations, but like the marauding Nazi hordes of 1940 bypassing the fortified, bristling, but stationary Maginot Line, the black armies of six legged sugar seekers simply ignored them.

But at the eleventh hour I made a serendipitous discovery.  At the local Home Depot to buy more traps, I happened upon a new product that just might make the difference.  An ant spray in a non-aerosol spray bottle, that is truly odorless and stain-free.  It’s called Hot Shot.  With little time for a full battery of battlefield tests, I ran a quick odor experiment and convinced of its nasal neutrality, I put it into immediate action.  That was last week.  So far it has proved effective.  For those responsible for protecting fragrance-free offices, this could be our silver bullet.  The ants thought they had the upper hand, that they could not be defeated, and while the war is far over, it is as Winston Churchill once said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

In Disguise

This year for National Dress Up Like Something And Eat Lots Of Junk Food Day I actually had two costumes.  Jen and I went to a costume party last Saturday, and there I dressed as a fisherman and Jen incorporated her growing stomach into her costume by going as an out of shape personal trainer.  Here’s a picture:

fisher.jpg

Today being the actual NDULSAELOJF Day I decided to wear a costume to work, something I have never done before.  So I went as a storekeeper.  That probably sounds pretty lame, but my job title is storekeeper, so it was a funny little joke and people seemed to get a kick out of it.  I think I even got a few votes in the best costume contest.  Somehow pushing around a hand truck while wearing this get-up just felt right.  Here’s picture:

storekeeper.jpg

It’s too bad you can’t see my shoes in this picture as they really made it work and got the most comments.  Try to visualize, blue and white two tone wingtips.  They are pretty awesome.  So there you go, Ando’s Hallowe–I mean National Dress Up Like Something And Eat Lots Of Junk Food Day fun.

Rush Hour

alarm-clock.jpgWhen I hit the snooze this morning, I felt rested and refreshed–usually a problem on a week day, because usually that means I’ve already hit the snooze several times and I now  have approximately zero minutes to get myself out of bed, de-stinkified, and out the door.  On most days this would not have worried me too much.   But today is court day and I was very worried.

Most days I make a couple of stops on the way to the office.  I stop at a satellite office for my department to pick up some files, then I go to the post office to get the mail, and then I head for the main office.  On days where I’m running a little behind its not usually a big deal because the satellite office is about ten minutes closer to my house than the main office, and once I get there I can clock in rather getting to the main office at what would be ten minutes late.  On most Monday’s and Tuesday’s however, my routine is slightly different.  On those days I’m responsible for brining our attorney’s files to court, which begins at 8:30.  On those days I go to the main office first to pick up the court files, drop them off at court, and then make my other stops.  In order to get the files to court on time, I try to get to work about 15 minutes early, or at 7:45.  This morning, when I hit that snooze button, feeling so rested and refreshed, it was 7:45.  As quickly as I could I got out of bed and brushed my teeth.  No time for a shower (apologies to any of you I may run into today) I threw on some deodorant, washed my face and ran out the door.

As I climbed in my car and sped toward work, I tried to reassure myself that I was in the clear.  Not every Monday or Tuesday is a court day, so the only thing that kept panic from becoming full blown hysteria was the thought that maybe this wasn’t a court day.  I tried to visualize my calendar in my head, hoping for some cerebral hint that everything was going to be OK.  “It can’t be a court day.  I always remember court days.  Yeah, I always remember.  Everything is fine.”  I didn’t truly believe this of course.  The only thing I could visualize was me walking into a courtroom full of angry attorneys, T.O.’d judge, and a scary baliff.  Without those files, they can’t really do much of anything.  I was already practicing my courtroom apology.  “Yes, your honor.  I’m sorry your honor.  You’re absolutely right your honor.”

Miraculously I didn’t hit a single red light on my drive and I arrived at the office at about 8:12 only to be confronted with another horrible realization.  In my rush to leave the house, I’d forgotten all my work related paraphernalia.  No keys, no badges, no phone.  Crap.  The keys shouldn’t be an issue.  I had an extra key to the van I use to transport the files in my office.  The phone wasn’t a big deal either.  No one ever calls me anyway.  But the badges, the badges, I needed those stinking badges!  One gets me into my office, but that one I could get around.  I can just go to the front door and they’ll let me in because they know me.  But the badge to courthouse, not having that is a problem.  When I bring the files to court, I get to use a special elevator to get to the second floor that can only be accessed if you have a courthouse badge.  Without that I’d have to go through security and the metal detectors with my big cart and buckets of files and a briefcase.  I could try to sweet-talk my way through, but since I didn’t have my normal ID badge all the rent-a-cops would have to go on that I am indeed a County employee is my word.  Somehow I didn’t think that would go over too well.

 

As I started to walk around the office to the front door and all this stuff is going through my mind, I spoted the head attorney making her way to the back door.  She obligingly let me in the building and didn’t say anything about the files.  I thought, ah, maybe it isn’t a court day.  But then I thought, well, she’s just getting here so how would she know if the files have been delivered or not.  Not real reassuring.  I walked into the room that contains my office and the offices of two other coworkers and made a beeline for my court calendar.  Before I could get there one of my office mates greeted me with, “Good morning Andy.  They’ve been asking about you, something about court files?”  Crap.  Sure enough, today is a court day.  I dropped my lunch in my office and speed walked down to legal to grab the files, where I meet one of the legal secretary’s, no doubt on her way to find me.  “Oh, good. You’re here.” she said, in a pleasant tone.

As I gathered up the buckets, I noticed every legal secretary was on the phone.  As I passed each ones cubicle they were all saying something like, “Oh, here he is.” or “Ok, he should be there shortly now.” into the receiver.  I get the files in the van and I’m finally on my way.  Its about 8:20 at this point.  I’d like to think I can make it to the courthouse in ten minutes, but there’s no way I’m going to get pulled over for speeding in a county vehicle, and the way  this day has gone so far that’s exactly what would happen if I were to speed.  At this point I relax a little because I’m making good time, but then I remember that I don’t have my badge.  How am I going to get in in a timely fashion.  I was cursing myself for not calling one of the attorney’s to have them send down the law clerk to meet me out front while I was still at the office.  Now I had no way to contact anyone.  The whole drive I was praying, “Lord, please let there be someone with a badge who just happens to be sauntering by at the moment I arrive.”  Even if there was, that was no guarantee because, again, I have no identification!  They might think I’m some crazy courthouse bomber with a cart full of explosives beneath all those files.  I mean, I did put on deodorant but I hadn’t showered and might smell a little funky.

When I got to the courthouse I moved as fast without running as I could.  The room that has the special elevator has glass doors and also requires a badge to access.  When I turned the corner to head toward the room, the walkway was deserted.  No one in sight who might be able to let me in.  Just as I was about to pass the room, someone came out of the door on the other side, inside the room, and then out of the door I needed to enter.  As she came out, I turned my cart to head inside, she held the door for me.  “OK.” I thought, “try to look like you belong here.”

“Do you have a badge to this elevator?” [flash winning smile]

“Sure.”

“Thanks.” [breath sigh of relief]

 “And you are…?”

 

[Oh no.  Try to sound authoritative] “I’m Andy, DCSS, I need to take these files up to court.”

 

“Oh, OK.”

Its hard to look authoritative when you’re wearing shorts and a hat that says Bubba on it, but I guess I pulled it off.

When I finally got to the courtroom it was 8:38, which, all things considered, I think is pretty darn good.  No one was angry—the judge wasn’t even in the room yet—and my apologies for tardiness were accepted and the whole thing quickly forgotten.  I hadn’t in fact held up the entire American judicial system.  I suppose the good thing about imagining the worst case scenario is that that is what is probably least likely.  However, I will be turning up the volume on my alarm clock.