Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Lord lives in Livonia

My office must be smack dab in the middle of the most Catholic spot on earth outside the Vatican. Within a mile of the building there's a Madonna University, a Ladywood High School, a St. Mary's Hospital with attached Marian Office Building, and an Our Lady Day Care Center. Oh, and a freaking convent. No, seriously, there's totally a nunnery right by my off-ramp. No self-respecting citizen in Livonia would be caught dead without a BVM in his flower bed. Apparently the Lord lives there too, judging by the high concentration of "Follow Me to Jesus" bumper stickers.

The new job is going well. Seven days in, I've actually done less work than in any two hour stretch on my last job. Everybody's usually laid back and nobody's in a hurry to do anything; your basic den of slack. Of course, the product we support is just being released commercially tomorrow. I predict it'll be utter pandemonium there for a couple of weeks, then taper off to a steady work pace.

Most of my coworkers are in their fifties and most don't seem terribly accomplished at what they do. All the oldtimers (hired in January) on the help desk have a secondary role to perform. For instance Frank is meant to be our in-house IT man, although the basic network functions he's supposed to preside over seem utterly beyond his grasp. A retired military man and classic daddy bear type, Frank has some control issues. More about this shortly.

Dick is the resident Cliff Clavin, a pompous windbag who will hold forth at length on any subject, usually revealing his complete ignorance of it. He is struggling with the shipping tasks he's been assigned- apparently mail merge is reeeally complicated (whatever, dude)- and scrambling not to let the boss see he's in over his head. Since he's kind of a prick, it's entertaining to watch him sweat. Dick gives horrible phone, dripping with sarcasm and using all manner of profanity and coarse expressions with customers. I may cuss like a sailor and sass like Florence Johnston in my down time, but I am all business on the phones, and Dick really ought to know better.

Lois is a wee, dotty, high-strung lady given to fits of inappropriate laughter. In the movie about my office, she would be played by Dody Goodman circa 1978. Lois has an unsettling habit of hovering at your shoulder longer than necessary when she comes by to ask something. She's so pedantic about making sure everyone understands their jobs that she prints and distributes reams of documents and old emails every day that she knows we can all access on a shared drive. And she'd be happy to go over it with you again, if you need. (Thanks, I don't.) She's obsessed with my work hours and asks me how late I'm staying every day. She also enjoys monitoring my web surfing whenever possible, and likes to "warn" me, in a stage whisper intended for everyone to hear, not to let the boss catch me looking at that. She's annoying and a little odd, but at least she's capable of handling her job managing our phone system.

Kurt is the wildcard, a bit hard to figure out. He was hired a few days after me. The first thing you notice about Kurt is his clothing. His sweaters are so garish Bill Cosby would recoil in horror. Today his socks said NOEL, spelled out in little holly leaves. Kurt comes off like an aging hippie who scrubs up well. His car has all the requisite lefty signifiers on its bumper- peace sign, Darwin fish. Probably the one about bake sales and bombers; I wasn't looking that closely. He's flaky as hell and has to be told everything two or three times at a minimum before he gets it. I bet he did too much of that antacid back in the seventies. Kurt wants to be my friend, of course. The lefties always have to gravitate to the one out queer in the office like hogs to the slop; it's in the Bible or something. As soon as he found out I was a music fanatic he started wooing me with CDs of his favorite jazz pianist. But he's a dumbass, a slightly creepy one at that, and I'm not interested in his friendship. Maybe I should just let him blow me and get it over with.

The general level of incompetence in the office is reassuring. In that environment anyone can look like a superstar achiever with minimal effort and brainpower. This is my first job where almost everyone was older than me, and that's still kind of odd. Both Dick and Kurt have worked for companies I worked for in the past, but at different times and in different departments.

In a meeting on Monday, our boss said someone needed to develop instructions for installing our software for our customers. Nobody wanted to do it so I volunteered. I created the documents and saved them to the network drive. Later Frank, the self-appointed master of every document saved on the company computers, informed me that he'd looked them over and made some changes. His edits were cringeworthy: misspellings, clumsy wording, grammatical errors and cutesy phrases like, "This field will be populated automagically." I told him I was correcting the grammar, then I went ahead and corrected everything else. I didn't want to make an issue out of it, but I also can't have a document I'm responsible for going out to thousands of customers full of mistakes. I guess he felt I stepped on his toes, because he acted all pissy the rest of the day and a lot of control freakery ensued over where the documents should be saved and in what format. But hey, I don't tell him how to run his network (although God knows somebody should), so why should he take it upon himself to edit, nay, butcher work that was assigned to me?

I reckon some territorial pissing comes with any workplace. Overall it was a minor event but it taught me a lot about Frank. Apparently all was forgiven, because the next day he presented me with a copy of Microsoft's style guide for technical writers. Would you believe the word automagically isn't in there?