In 1999 I took a job I expected to last about three months at best. It wasn't that I planned to leave it for greener pastures. It was just that the entire operation was so poorly organized and run I expected we'd be forced to close up shop and hit the highway in the very near future.
We were a third party operating within the confines of our client's extensive property, that client being a theme park in Central Florida. We were expected to handle the purchasing and warehousing for the technical services division of their company and to save them substantial amounts of money compared to what it cost them to do these things themselves. So, since we were a division of a large corporation and this was a very important contract for them, you'd think they would bring in their top people and set up an impressive operation. No, no, this is America. They sent a manager to oversee the operation whose resume mostly consisted of bullshitting to the point where you couldn't believe he was actually saying what he was saying or doing what he was doing. This was a man who had been removed from his last three positions in management with the company for reasons closely tied to his, well, insistence on stretching truth to new limits.
An example of his truth stretching was his hiring practices to staff the site. He hired over 80 people when he had been instructed to hire no more than 25 to operate the site. As he sent payroll in each week and they called to ask why the company was being asked to pay the salaries of 80 employees when he was instructed to hire more than 25, his answer was a complex and confusing list of numbers and statistics that proved 25 and 80 were pretty much the same thing.
For legal purposes I shall refer to this gentleman as Jim from this point on.
Jim was pretty much the reason we figured we would get kicked out of the old theme park in the fairly near future. There were other reasons as well. Most of the eighty odd people were, well, pretty odd. Almost none had any real qualifications or abilities for the jobs they had been hired for. I was hired as a purchasing agent and my interview consisted of two questions. The first was, "Are you comfortable around computers?" The second was, "Do you prefer a high stress environment or are you more comfortable working in a low stress environment?" I took the second question as a trick question, the kind interviewers tend to use when trying to figure out how lazy you really are, and said I preferred the excitement of the high stress environment. This answer caused my hiring to be delayed for six week while he waited for a spot to open on first shift, since the reason he asked the question was to determine whether I would be better on first shift when the office was a mad rush of insanity or on second shift when work actually got done.
Well, "work actually got done" was pretty relative at that point. I ended up taking a spot on second shift, where we processed actual purchase orders for well over a million dollars in our first month there. All we did was correct prices, enter them into two computer systems (one for the client, one for our company) and fax them to vendors. What first shift was supposed to do was verify prices, negotiate for lower prices (the whole money saving angle) and give us everything we needed to do in order to be good little button pushers. Of course, given that no one had any idea what they were doing, our information was never right.
There were seven of us on second shift. One was Don, who we later came to call "Our elderly British friend," the shift supervisor. He was laid back and tended towards bouts of narcolepsy, so in stepped a woman named Linda, who was quite asexual and fancied herself a Marine drill sargeant. She would give us orders in a stern, manly voice and then walk around the office all night giving us animal crackers as a reward for doing good work.
It was during all this that I came to be good friends with someone I still remain quite close with to this day. We had come to realize the insanity of everything around us and believed we had come to exist in some kind of of demented purgatory, which was capped off by his puppetry career being all but destroyed by Elmo (or his handlers, anyway) and there being a photograph of an Elmo-themed birthday cake on the bulletin board for no reason whatsoever.
The two of us took to lampooning the entire operation, Mark in cartoons he drew while I wrote stories and one liners Mark could deliver with perfect timing. The crazier we got, the more applause we received, and eventually this led to Jim the Manager asking us if we would write a satirical newsletter for the site, on company time, giving us both four hours a week on the clock in which to put it together as a bi-weekly publication. Now, not only was the site paying three times as many people as the corporation wanted working at the place, they were now paying two lunatics to produce a newsletter that made fun of it all.
We actually managed four issues over the course of two months before Jim was canned and they brought two new managers in, a married couple, to clean house.
The two new managers, who I will call Mitchell and Stephanie, for reasons that personally amuse me, had one hell of a task in front of them. Everything that could possibly be wrong with this site was going wrong and they had to fire fifty people as quickly as possible. Luckily for them, the majority of people on staff either had no idea what they were doing, or in some cases, did not actually do anything. There were actually two women in an office on the second floor whose job it was to call and verify lead times on various items... and there was no telephone in their office.
After Mitchell informed us that the newsletter was no longer going to be part of the operation in any way shape or form, we figured our days were numbered. As staff was slowly but surely trimmed down (imagine coming in to work each day and finding two people gone every time), we figured they would be getting around to us. One Friday it was announced that internet access for non-business purposes was being monitored and would be reviewed. Mark tended to visit a lot of strange sites at night, stranger than you might imagine, as most of it related to his interest in puppets and action figures. And although this was prior to my discovery of this website, I tended to do a lot of recreational surfing myself.
Mark has far less patience than I do. We went out drinking the Saturday night after the internet announcement and Mark tracked down Mitchell and Stephanie's home phone number and decided to place a drunken, angry telephone call. They hung up on him several times, but he continued, getting less and less coherent with each call. It eventually ended up at the point where he began bellowing in a deep voice, "This is the devil, Mitchell! You will pay in Hell for what you are doing!"
We weren't fired. Stephanie came on the telephone and began asking Mark if he was really from Indiana and if he was a Hoosier. Then she asked him to hand me the telephone and once I came on the line, she asked me why Mark was making these insane telephone calls. I told her Mark had decided we were going to be getting fired and was quite upset about it all. She told me, "You guys aren't going to get fired, but these calls aren't really helping at all."
I'm actually generally more coherent when I've been drinking than when I am sober, unless I pass that thin red line into madness. So, when Mitchell came on the line and told me that he had identified us as two of the people who they actually wanted to keep, and how most of the staff was managing to fire themselves and save him the work, and how I had to convince Mark to stop the calls so we did not join that club, I managed to settle it all down and we all laughed. The following Monday, Mark spent some time in Mitchell's office so he could make Mark twitch as much as possible, but other than that, the two of us just kept looking back and forth at each other and nodding.
Time passed and the staff was pared down. Shifts were moved around and a lot of changes were made. Eventually, Mark, British Don and myself were settled in with a group that worked in a seperate office. We went to work for a supervisor who thought she was Katharine Hepburn, but was much closer to Pippi Longstocking with a serious head injury. She had her own weird way of running things, and her first order of business was trying to fire Don for his narcolepsy.
Don's response was to tell me, "Let that bitch know I can milk my illnesses for a very long time." Which was how he came to be known as Captain Nemo. He called in sick the next day and never returned.
After Don's passing, we found ourselves more or less at the mercy of Pippi and her organization, which was something of a splinter cell within the organization at large. As if we did not have enough problems at this point keeping the client happy, satisfied and convinced we weren't a collection of completely insane lunatics (which we, of course, were), we were about to undergo an internal revolution. The revolution would not be led by Pippi. She was just a pawn.
The revolution would be led by Black Mole Death Lady.
Black Mole Death Lady had been the woman in charge of payroll, accounts payable, accounts receivable and everything in between. She was the assistant of Jim the original manager and since she was actually quite skilled at her job, she then became Mitchell's right hand woman. And then, for reasons that remain unclear, Black Mole Death Lady and Mitchell had a major falling out. She requested a transfer to the office run by Pippi and a change in her job description, all of which she received.
And then the madness began.
Black Mole Death Lady formed a strange alliance with Pippi, The Black Swede (a rather robust African American woman who insisted she was Swedish) and a rather slow witted character we came to call Brickhead. They decided that instead of working they would start doing puzzles together in the office.
This puzzle business was all part of a master plan by Black Mole Death Lady and her cohorts. It was part of an effort to depose Mitchell and put Pippi in command of the operation. You see, Black Mole Death Lady was quite familiar with the rules and regulations of the corporation proper and married persons and/or direct relations cannot work together unless seperated by two levels of management. And we had a married couple operating as the two managers of the site. When Black Mole Death Lady decided to make her case, it involved her being so upset by inequity at the job site because when she had a problem with one manager, she could not turn to the other because they were sleeping together.
Around this time, Brickhead left her husband and began sleeping with Jim the former manager, who despite having being relieved of his job continued to show up at the site and work. He was still employed by the corporation, but in another capacity completely and was supposed to avoid all contact with our client and our people. So, he figured this meant he could spend most of his time at the site talking to the client, our employees and using our computers and telephones.
Through a lot of wrangling and legal mumbo-jumbo, Mitchell ended up stepping down. Pippi was not promoted. Instead, the company brought in another manager, a confused man who looked a little too much like Ed Harris. His entire job, unbeknownst to him, was to find reason to fire the entire revolutionary front. Being incompetent in his own special way, he was able to accomplish this in the most remarkable feat of "I didn't even know that was what I was supposed to do so how did I do it?" ever seen. They simply couldn't have the spouse of the person who had to resign fire the revolution, Black Mole Death Lady was expecting that card to be played. Stephanie became the sole manager for the site and the regional manager, who I'll call Joe, started spending more time at the site. Ed Harris was told his services was no longer needed and moved to Arizona to collect money from pay phones. No, really. Mitchell was the wife and Stephanie was the husband, but otherwise this is quite a factual account.
Mitchell often went on about checking internet access records and firing people who used the internet for non-business reasons. As you may recall, this led to the "This is the devil" telephone calls at one point. Just before she left, she gave me a present. It still sits on my desk. It is a grim reaper figurine. She gave it to me just before Halloween and said, "Here you go, dead guy." Later on, as we came to be good friends with Mitchell and Stephanie, I asked her about this. She had no idea.
Black Mole Death Lady resigned under pressure, but continued to pull her strings from behind the velvet curtain. For the next year or so she fed information to the client company about things that were going on with our operation, leading them to often know what we were doing when we didn't expect them to. Her information, combined with two other factors, led to our site being closed down five years after the operation began.
And really, we were terribly lucky to have five years.
The first of the other two factors was Jim's continued presence at the site despite being asked by our company and the client company to leave. He was like some kind of weird cockroach you could not get rid of. The second was Joe, the infamous regional manager who was supposed to solve everything, spending most of his time at the site playing internet games and eating chocolate. It was actually much like the last season of WKRP in Cincinnati when it is revealed that the station is supposed to be losing money. They wanted to tank. The site was too expensive and they could only get out of their perpetual contract by seriously screwing up. So, they did.
However, some people just did not get it.
We had two months to settle all invoices and receivables, and to clean the slate before the theme park took over things themselves. Jim continued to try to sign deals for accounts with vendors, to the point where Stephanie (who was actually the husband), normally always calm and in control, finally lost his mind and began screaming and swearing at Jim.
"WHAT are you even DOING here? You DO NOT work here! You haven't worked here for FOUR YEARS! What the fuck is wrong with you??? WHY are you HERE? Why don't you just LEAVE? None of us work here any more! LEAVE! FUCKING LEAVE!"
And my friend Mark calmly walked over to Jim and slowly poured an entire cup of coffee onto his lap.
Joe got promoted. Jim left the company (finally) and currently claims to work for the aerospace industry, although I have seen evidence he has been involved in low grade porn with his girlfriend Brickhead. "Ed Harris" has been showing up in Godsmack videos for no good reason. Mitchell was working for the company in a capacity that involved her padding around her home in pajamas all day. Stephanie started a Bible reading group in their home, meeting on Wednesday nights. British Don is still dead. Mark is still trying to kick start his puppetry career with me as his writer. And Black Mole Death Lady is currently interviewing for a position at a second tier theme park near you. Oh, and these events had a rather bizarre side effect, a chain reaction that led to a certain NASCAR driver losing his sponsorship from the corporation we worked for.