Molt Be Blog

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


My company sets up goals for everyone each quarter. A measure for each goal is also set up, as well as scorers who rate me on my ability to meet the measure. Ten percent of my pay is contingent on my overall score on these goals. This payment can be made in the form of cash or vacation time as decided by me.

One goal is always a Quality Assurance goal, wherein one or more of the clients I've worked with for more than 40 hours is randomly selected and asked to fill out a survey. Another is a billing goal, which asks for me to meet a dollar amount that works out to about 5.5 billable hours per day. Given vacations and the number of non-billable meetings I'm in, this isn't actually the easiest goal to meet (especially since everyone leaves the office by 6pm at the latest). After those goals, everyone is supposed to set up some personal goals that address what we do outside of work. These don't count for much of a percentage of the entire score, but are a great motivator. In my case, the goal for the 2nd quarter was to enroll in a writing class and the goal for the 3rd quarter is to actually complete the homework for said class, which is the 30 minutes of writing that I've been neglecting to do every day. The goal started scoring on Monday and I've been doing pretty well since.

On Sunday afternoon, the Mac Book Pro, which I've been sorely disappointed with, decided to die. I went to open iTunes and the laptop threw an error dialog box that contained a glowing button and no text. I didn't click the button (that would just be stupid); instead, I decided that it was time for a reboot. Upon reboot, I was presented with a "do not enter sign". I googled "Do Not Enter Sign" in various configurations for at least half an hour before calling tech support. I would later learn that the "do not enter sign" or "prohibitory sign" was the old "broken folder icon" from OS X 10.2, which has been upgraded in its lingo, but not fixed with some kind of written explanation in OS X 10.4. (Macs are great and all, but they could really just shut the hell up with the awesome design elements when it comes to the symbols that show you you're going to lose all your data.)

On the phone with tech support, I learned that the prohibitory sign is a symbol of "massive kernel failure" and it was recommended that I try to get what data I could off of the computer by firewire-ing to my other mac and copying. This proved fruitless as I could only connect to it through the terminal (you know, the text interface) and even then couldn't get a directory listing of any of the folders.

I don't keep a lot of permanent information on the laptop as a rule. I've had one stolen before and realized that keeping the data on an external drive at home was a safer bet. In the case of the Mac Book, the only thing that I had on it that I hadn't saved was the folder full of daily writings for the class I'm taking. All gone! It's OK, though. There wasn't much there to speak of. The whole exercise is about getting words on a page, not actually reading them later (hence the fantastic term "crap-draft" to refer to the first things you right down... like this!).

So here I am.... no daily musings to speak of before this one and only ten minutes into my total writing time for today.

On Monday I counted writing time as time spent retyping the first five pages of one of the pieces I'd been working on for class that only exists now as a fifteen page print-out that's the combination of the two-and-a-half blog entries that I wrote after R and I went to India. It's actually a lot more fun to write it when it's not in a public forum since I get to use R's real name and generally not consider what others are seeing. Then again, paper may be even more permanent than the internet as it isn't subject to power outages.

On Tuesday I had class and counted all of the exercises that we did as my writing assignments. We had a few interesting exercises assigned, but the one that really brought forth some interesting stories asked everyone to close their eyes and try to remember a summer job through all their senses. Aurally, Visually, Nose-umm... -ally (Olfactorily?).

The most fantastic part about the whole exercise was listening to what everyone had come up with after fifteen minutes of scribbling and realizing that everyone had really loved their summer jobs. Whether it was cutting grass out next to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, working landscaping in Vermont or the iced cream parlor in Michigan; each speaker's face lit up when they were allowed to spin their yarn.

I had the same feeling when I was sitting there describing my own summer job.

Coming up on the summer after my Freshman year of college, I started looking for a job out where my grandparents lived in Estes Park, Colorado. Besides getting to see them, which I rarely did on account of how far away they lived, the weather there was a hell of a lot better than Maryland and I really wanted to drive out there to see what a road trip on my own was like.

I had Grandpa look around in the local papers to see if there were any jobs and he sent me back one that asked for a roofer's assistant. Having helped my dad roof two houses previously, I knew a thing or two about tar-paper and shingling and called them up. They were happy to have me; I was willing to work for beans because I was living with my grandparents and wasn't attached to a contracting company.

After the spring semester ended, I went home to visit my Mom and Dad in New York. My Dad was excited about me doing a summer job that involved manual labor. Given my tendency towards all things computer-related, I can't help but blame him when I think back on it now. He made a point of taking me out to buy a pair of "good boots".

"You want good boots that won't let a nail go through your sole. Have I ever told you about the time that I stepped on a nail? Yyyyow!" He said, crossing his eyes.

I walked out of a work-boot store somewhere near Carmel, New York the proud owner of a pair of $80 steel-soled, steel-toed boots that where the most expensive footwear I'd ever worn before that day and I still have almost ten years later. These things were amazing. Nothing hurt. I spent an afternoon kicking rocks with my toes and showing my mom that I could drop heavy objects on them. Looking back, I'd say it was childish, but I'm still just as excited about them today and might write the rest of this while wearing them... Nope. Too lazy.

On a Tuesday, I started the drive from New York to Colorado in my four door, 1987 Toyota Camry Hatchback. Years before, a girlfriend had nicknamed the car "the noisy cricket" due to the on-off squealing sound that the engine made. I never liked the nickname, but never thought of my own so it stuck. Other than some boring nights in low-budget motels, a cracked oil pan and my window falling into the door in the middle of Kansas while it was raining (it rains in Kansas in June?) the trip was uneventful and three days later I pulled into my grandparents' driveway with exactly 2,001 miles on the trip-odometer.

I arrived on a Friday afternoon with the roofing gig starting on Monday. I spent Saturday and Sunday chatting with Grandpa, reading any of the two dozen magazines lying around the house and getting my stuff moved into the basement next to the grow-lamps for grandpa's Colorado Tomatoes. Grandpa and Grandma have been retired in Estes park since 1965. They were both the children of farmers in Illinois, both taught high-school (Grandpa Physics, Grandma English) and both retired at 50 to move to the place they'd always gone on vacation. They're both still kicking and have now been retired longer than they ever worked a job.

While they may not seem old in their independence, the grandparents' age shows in their eating times. Breakfast is at 5am, lunch is at 11am and dinner starts promptly at 5. Due to their lack of a dish washing machine, each meal is followed by a wash and dry session. Luckily, the air is so dry in the mountains of Estes Park that drying can be accomplished by lightly waving a dish or a glass in the air for thirty seconds.

At 5:30pm on my first Sunday there, a phone call interrupted dinner. It was Cindy from the developer's office of the company I'd been hired by to roof. The project that I'd been scheduled to work on had been canceled.

"I drove two thousand miles for this job," I told Cindy.

"I'm sorry. I understand. I think that there might be some jobs at the gas station at the bottom of the hill.

I stammered a bit, but didn't have any kind of comeback. In fact, being me, I probably ended up saying something like "I understand. It's not your fault. Thanks anyway." and then promised myself to write them a nasty letter that I never sent. How passive-aggressive can you get.

I spent the next week looking in papers for other jobs. Being a bit new to the job market (my previous jobs had been found through friends) an ad caught my eye that read "GREAT PAY. NO OFFICE. MAKE YOUR OWN HOURS." After a forty-five minute drive down the valley from Estes and another forty-five North I found myself in a tiny conference room of an office in a building of an office park straight out of Office Space being sold on the idea of selling knives. Again, being young, I don't think I recognized that knife-selling was a pyramid scheme immediately, but I did recognize that it wasn't something I wanted to do. The selling strategy was to start demonstrating the amazing cutting power of these knives to friends of your parents and other relatives and to then get the names of their friends so that you could demonstrate the amazing cutting power to them. The salesman, Steve, demonstrated the cutting power for us by easily slicing through a piece of rope with one of the knives from his case. If we wanted to sell knives, we would have to make a $220 deposit on our own demonstration case. I grew skeptical. Steve said we should take a break and asked me if I would walk outside with him.

"I could tell by the look on your face that you might not be into this, and that's OK."

"OK," I said. "Can I go?"

"You probably should," he said.

I walked out to the parking lot with a feeling like I'd done something wrong. It wasn't that I'd been denied a job or anything - who wants to sell knives - it was that I wasn't able to conceal my emotions during the demonstration of cutting power. I should never have felt that way. My emotional candor released me from could have been at least another hour of listening to Steve prattle on about how great knives are or, even worse, a career selling knives to my grandparents friends.

Later, Grandpa shook his head as I told him the story.

"Why couldn't they just tell you that it was a job selling knives before having you drive all the way down to Fort Collins?" He asked.

If I'd been smarter then, I would have said: "I guess they just don't have enough faith in their own product to tell people what it is."

But instead I probably said something like: "I don't know."

In any case, They were glad that I wasn't going to try to sell them or their friends knives.

A few days later, I found a job waiting tables at a restaurant at the bottom of the mountain that grandpa and grandma lived halfway up and ended up working there the rest of the summer.

What reminded me of the whole experience and why I bothered to write this all down, was when I recalled how I felt physically while I was working at the restaurant and my first immediate thought was how much much feet and knees hurt. I realized, thinking back, that the uniform for the restaurant had require brown shoes and that I'd only brought one pair that were steel-toed and steel-soled. Despite weighing five pounds apiece, I wore those boots every day of work that summer and only now wonder if it was just sour grapes at having lost a job that I traveled 2,000 miles for the day before I started.