Confessions Part 1
CONFESSIONS OF A METALWORKING FLUID MANAGER
PART 1 - WHY ME?
Writing this reminds me of the first time I had to undress in gym class for Junior High School. I didn’t have anything to be especially embarrassed about, but I was nervous anyway. So here it is. This is the tale of how I was granted, awarded, cursed, and punished with the full responsibility for all metalworking fluids at a major manufacturing facility. May you pity me for what follows. This tale is low-tech, but might provide you with a snapshot of history in industrial America, insight into the process, and reasons to be happy this didn’t happen to you.
The story you are about to read is not true. I made it all up. The names have been changed to protect me from the fictitious people in the story. Finally, no one depicted in this story is intended to resemble anyone alive or dead, especially me. For those of you who work in the oilfield – “Now this ain’t no shit.” For those of you who work for OSHA, EPA, or the D.A.’s Office, - “Once upon a time, in a land far away” Either way, it never happened.
For any of this to make sense, you need some picture of who I am. Make that, who I was. People do change. Some do. So ‘bare’ with me.
My story begins with receipt of a interoffice envelope from the VP of Human Resources. Inside was newspaper clipping with a Post-it note attached. The scribbling on the Post-it read "Anonymous, where's your good side?" Under the note, I could see the article title: "Handling Genius Jerks; Find Their Good Side." I took out a pen and scribbled back, ‘Left side cheek of my ass - next to my wallet.’ I stuck it back in the envelope and returned it to the VP.
Yup, that was just me. To say I was a little rough around the edges was like saying Death Valley gets a tad dry now and then. In my defense, I was the most productive and innovative engineer in the building. OK, so I was the most determined and positively the most tenacious. I had recently managed the building of a new factory, to use processes I designed, on equipment I designed, to build products I designed. It was a hugh success. I was moving fast in a dying company, in a dying industry, surrounded by people who were something less than obviously alive. It was like being an ambitious landscaper in a filled cemetary. Nobody there really cared. It was at this place I first heard the term “In-Plant Retirement” and it applied to a large portion of the workforce. They made the Post Office look like an Olympic training facility. Good men had worked here in the past. Great engineeres had built this place into a real moneymaker, but the current CEO was slowly sucking the life out of it (the cash).
In a strange turn of events, we got a bargain on a larger, older, and less efficient facility competitive to mine that the Justice Department had ordered a competitor to unload. We didn’t need two factories like the one I built, so they moved my equipment, processes, methods, and people to the older factory hundreds of miles away. Everybody but me. I couldn’t move. My divorce decree allowed me 50-50 custody of my 6-year-old daughter so long as I lived within 50 miles of the courthouse. She was, and still is, the absolute love of my life. A move was never considered. But what pissed me off was that I was never invited. Have you ever wanted to be invited to something you didn’t want to go to? I have. I knew something was wrong the first time I visited the big plant. The folks there didn’t exactly greet me with a hula dance. Years later I heard their manager, afraid of being replaced by me, had organized a paranoia pizza party long before I got there.
I had another issue I wasn’t even aware of. I was a modestly successful bodybuilder, taking vacations to travel for competitions. Losing 30-35 lbs in the month and a half before each contest just seemed to make me that much more ornery. If this description fits anyone reading this, take note and believe: In business, it is OK to be smart, and it is OK to be big, but you can’t be big and smart. That is not allowed. It’s Pamela Anderson with brains. You intimidate your co-workers every time you say hello. I would step up to the urinal and they would pack and zip midstream, like I was going to make a disparaging remark about their slide rule or something. They must have figured if that guy is going to use both of those big arms to pull something out of his pants, they didn’t want to be anywhere near him. I swear I didn’t mean to intimidate anyone. I didn’t even realize this was going on, but men are very fragile animals. I was never a bully. I hate bullies. I was just innocently oversized. I also had lots of friends of every shape, size, color, and style. Years later I realized there was one thing they all had in common; my friends were very secure people. That’s more than I can say for all of the insecure ingrates there that didn’t like me.
One day, pizza party manager broke down near to tears and told me he didn’t like me because I intimidated him. This was the first time the problem ever even occurred to me. Coincidentally perhaps, on this one occasion, I was seriously contemplating beating the crap out of him. He had privately told the legal department to abandon my patent application for a mathematical process I had developed that solved a decades old problem in design that no one else had been able to solve. The first time I told him I had solved it, neither he nor any of his other engineers believed me. They said it couldn’t be done. It was the best work of my career and this A-hole was going to deprive me of the recognition, and the company of the valuable intellectual property rights, because he didn’t understand how it worked, and was really uncomfortable with that.
Well anyone with any real life corporate experience can figure out what eventually happened to this guy. He got promoted. In college physics, engineers learn why we can’t pull ourselves up by our shoelaces no matter how hard we try. In business school, they teach people how to do it effortlessly with their lips, and this guy was the mother of all ass-suckers.
Seeing that he and I weren’t going to be taking showers together anytime soon created a real problem for the company president. The only thing they didn’t want was for me to go to a competitor. I was hitting the classifieds hard for anything within 50 miles of the Courthouse, but all of the ads in 1991 were for Environmental Engineers. Who are these guys anyway, landscape designers?
Meanwhile, back at the Presidential Suite, somebody had a great idea. The company needed somebody to handle environmental stuff. The maintenance guy handling it didn’t know what the hell he was doing and the previous year our sister plant in Louisiana was fined millions of dollars for environmental violations. Nobody wanted anything to do with it. Whoever had the job would probably end up in jail for all of the lies he would have to tell on the reports to the government and the various inspectors. The company needed a “DHS for EHS” - a Designated Human Sacrifice for Environmental, Health & Safety. “Maybe we can give it to Anonymous. Do you think he’ll take it?”
They must have drawn straws for this one. The VP of Human Resources was barely one step inside my office when he asked in a soft voice if I would like to be the plant Environmental Engineer. The newspaper was still open on my desk. I thought about all of those ads and said ‘Sure. I’ve always wanted to be an Environmental Engineer.’ I was thinking 3-4 months of this and I can get a job anywhere. The VP could barely contain himself as he hurried away. The next day, two cardboard boxes full of mixed-up greasy papers were on my desk. “Just ask Bill if you have any questions. He can show you what to do.” That was it. When I called Bill, he was quick to advise me he didn’t know anything about it. By the way, I would also have to move out of my second floor window office to what was effectively a first floor storage area with asbestos tile flooring. Great. I had finally hit bottom, and it was contaminated.
OK, here I am. The immediate problem was, that even though I had already ordered business cards reflecting my fancy new title, I didn’t know anything, anything at all, about Environmental Engineering. “No problem” I was told, “Neither does anybody else.” That was more obvious than reassuring. So how bad could it really be?
Next Month; Part 2: Welcome to my Nightmare.