Friday, May 18, 2012

On being ostracized...

In the past I have worked in the IT industry on contract, meaning that I'm not a permanent employee.  I'm only on site until the job gets done or someone fires me, whereupon I shake the dust from my heels and go find another job.  My very first job as a contractor was at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station, where I learned that I wasn't just a contractor; I was a scum-sucking contractor.  I learned a lot of other things as well, in particular that if you actually worked and took on extra responsibility people would think that you're valuable and keep you around while other people would take an instant dislike to you for no discernible reason.

I also learned that scum-sucking contractors generally enjoyed their jobs a lot more than the salaried direct employees, in spite of a lack of company paid benefits, holidays and perquisites.  Not to mention the little things in life like being treated as a fellow human being instead of a shop-vac.

The directs at Davis-Besse were always looking down their collective noses at the contractors and never missed a chance to make life a little more difficult anytime they could.  For instance, scum-sucking contractors had to park in the parking lot furthest away from the building, were forced to sit at the back of the shuttle bus and were not allowed to use the third floor lunch room.  There were isolated instances of profiling and discrimination as well, but the scum-sucking contractors learned to cope quite nicely. 

For instance, when there was a parking problem at Davis-Besse people started parking on the lawn.  This irritated some middle management yahoo who whined to upper-middle-lower management until a memo was issued the week before Labor Day, stating that:

All visitors, employees, lower life forms and scum-sucking contractors who park on the lawn will be penalized.  The first violation will result in a warning, said warning to be a part of the person's personnel file.  The second violation will result in a one day suspension from work without pay.  The third violation will result in a one week suspension without pay.
The scum-sucking contractors wanted to know if there was a way to skip right to the third violation, maybe by getting three in one day or something.  Then there was the badge directive which dictated that every person's identification badge must be worn on the outside of the clothing in a conspicuous place.  Two scum-sucking contractors from Philly, Lou Lonza and Ken Bagdon, immediately attached their badges to their shoes.

A little over two years ago I landed a nice contract in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.   The client company was in the health industry, so the budget was ample and the project was pretty easy.  The thing they didn't get around to telling me before I reported for work was that I was regarded as a lower life form, and as such was banished to a place across town called bon car - pronounced like bon voyage.  This irritated me a little as I'd just rented a nice apartment less than a quarter mile from what I was told was the office.  Oh well.

What the company did was banish all the scum-sucking contractors to Siberia in an effort to make the directs feel better about their own situation.  This turned out to be a mistake.  The new digs turned out to be a shopping mall that couldn't support a shoe store.  Rather than succumb to the wrecking ball and urban renewal, the owners decided to do the sane thing: Turn it into office space.

What was once a shoe store became 'the overflow' office space for Health Care Central.  There were about a dozen contractors on site.  Here's what we saw when we walked into work every morning.

Good Morning at Bon Carré
Kind of spooky, but what could we do?  The other tenants were the local police (who didn't associate with anyone else - too damned good for the rest of us, I would guess), some kind of obscure government agency who used to position an official government supervisor at their door who would record the time everyone came to work, a nameless company that specialized in sound systems and had very little activity during the day, a catering company called Catering 2 You, a Subway and us - Health Care Central.  In keeping with our status, we didn't have cubes but rather one large area that afforded no privacy to the inhabitants.  As I recall, the front door was secured via a magnetic card swipe system and the glass was obscured by old newspaper glued to the glass.  Here's what you'd see once you could get the reader to accept your ID card or you tailgated a fellow worker through the door.

The Office at Bon Carré
No cubes and no partitions, except one in the very back that separated the lunch room from the work space.  Health Care Central would send over a single employee every day to keep an eye on the scum-sucking contractors and make sure we had our collective noses to the grindstone, our shoulders to the wheel and our minds on business.  Instead of, say, setting up a Quake server and amusing ourselves by playing Quake.  The employee with the short straw would typically ignore us as being well beneath His notice, but there were a few exceptions.  Mr. Secret Stuff, a stocky fellow who would set up his laptop in the center of the room and hammer away at the keyboard until someone came too close to him, at which point he'd quickly close the lid and wait for the contractor to either leave or pose a question.  I have no idea what he was typing, but one day we all took turns walking too closely to him until he left the building for parts unknown.  Another fellow was Mister Happy-Happy, who used to sit next to me and sniff constantly, as if he had a head cold and poor mannerisms.  He'd produce a juicy sniff about once every three breaths.  When the ladies offered him a box of Kleenex he refused to use it, laughing and making some sort of inane joke about allergies.  He was a good fellow and all, he just had allergies.  Then there was Mister Roo-wallz, who sat next to me and kept making obscure references to the employee handbook and the dress code policy.  He finally told me to button the top button of my shirt, as he found my chest hair offensive.  Why me?  My favorite short straw employee was an older fellow in his 30s who quietly went to work and made it very clear he didn't care what we did so long as the work got done and we left him alone.

Here's my desk at Bon Carré.  I have a company owned laptop, but the external keyboard is my own personal property.  The large monitor was loaned to me by another scum-sucking contractor who bought a half dozen of them from the local Best Buy at a significant discount - he was buying one on sale and offered to take the rest of the stock out of the store if he could get a nice price.  They offered, he countered, they accepted.  Nice of him to share.

My Desk on Monday Morning
While the company was trying to discriminate against the scum-sucking contractors, they failed to understand what being a contractor was all about.  Contractors are gregarious and meet new people easily.  Like the man who sat behind me, Manuel.

Manuel is from Mexico City and is here on an H-1B visa.  I liked Manuel immediately, and while I was in town he showed me all the Latin clubs to go dancing at, including the underground clubs that you'd never find unless you knew where the club was.  I was a little surprised to find out that a lot of the contractors at  Health Care Central liked to go out dancing, and I'd see them all the time at the Latin clubs. 

Manuel has the right attitude about things.  The first time he saw me dancing at the Latin club his compliments were effusive.  I responded that I wasn't bad for a mere gringo.  At work, whenever Manuel finished a job he'd say 'Not bad for a wet back.'

When I related these conversations to Main Lady's little darlings, they were horrified.  How could a man like Manuel refer to himself as a wet back?  Horrors!  Racial profiling!  Uncle Tom Foolery!

Oh well.

Manuel confided that he'd like to get a green card so he can open his own business.  Getting a green card isn't easy and takes years, which is pretty stupid on the part of the United States, as Manuel is exactly the sort of person I would presume we want in the US - an entrepreneur who is tax paying and law abiding, who takes responsibility for himself and his family, votes the Republican ticket... okay, maybe the Moonbats don't want him, but the rest of us will take him.

Then I read Study the Mentality - Part III from Charleston Thug Life, and I wonder just why in the world Manuel can't have a green card or become a citizen of the United States right now, today.  That goes for other people just like Manuel who have excellent moral standards, a superb work ethic and are bilingual (English and Spanish).  There wasn't any question in Manuel's mind that he would learn English in order to come to the US, and not just some patois.  Real, straight money English.

I don't know what Manuel would say if he heard Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail comments on our racially charged conversation, but I think he'd smile quietly and accept the fact that they don't understand and likely never will.  Manuel has first hand experience in a world that lacks social services and government handouts like welfare, section 8 housing and food stamps.  Manuel never had those luxuries and doesn't need them.

Sure, keep out the Mexican gangsters and the thugs, but why on Earth are we supporting Angel Adams and her 15 kids when she has no intention of ever working for a living and at the same time prohibiting people like Manuel from becoming a citizen?  Truly, it takes a nation to screw something up this badly.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I agree. I feel the same about a lot of the Indian contractors I work with. Usually their temperment and sense of humor is far better than the US citizens I work with.

Great story: while in college, one of my Indian friends was in the dorm room of his resident advisor (RA) - another student who sort of manages the hall they lived on. The RA was a true arrogant d-bag, and was constantly harrassing my friend and the other guys who lived down the hall. On this occasion, the RA was berating my friend, while sucking from a fifth of whiskey. The RA left the room for a few minutes, and my friend took the opportunity to "refill" the whiskey bottle with a fluid that was a little more..tangy, and a little more yellow. When the RA came back, my friend patiently listened to his harassment, while watching the RA drink heartily from the refilled and slightly warmer bottle.

Indians. Hilarious, great sense of humor. But don't cross 'em.

Mad Jack said...

Oh, man... that's nasty. Of course being able to watch this fool drink from the bottle while 'patiently' listening to some college age pinhead with diarrhea of the mouth is truly priceless.

I wonder if the Indian was silent the entire time or if he asked the d-bag to clarify a few things? Me, I'd have asked.

Just sayin'.