Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Not My Job

My work involves chemicals. I've spent nearly two decades in the industry in various positions. Even though I've never worked in sales or marketing, and my job description has never involved a cash register or name tag, one thing I've learned is that every job is a customer service job.

My current position involves an occasional phone call from a tech rep, distributor, or sometimes a customer, requesting documents related to the caller's compliance, usually with some government agency. What they actually purchase isn't supplied by my department, not even close, but they need the information we provide in order to stay in business (legally, anyway).

Sometimes, the customer calls don't make any sense. Because our company is pretty huge, it has dozens or hundreds of brand names just in my business area alone, not to mention thousands of products. The company's main way of growing is by acquiring other businesses and their brands/products, and therefore also their customers. There's just no way I could become familiar with all the relevant products I might be called about. That is why, like most companies, we rely so heavily on our IT and data systems. But that is another post entirely.

Today, the call didn't make any sense. This guy rattles off several strings of numbers and text that may or may not indicate a product code, industry specification, batch number, product name, or anything else that might help me figure out what he's got on his shelf. He doesn't know, either, where that information is or what it might even look like. This is not a surprise to me: his job is not to actually use the products anyway, but to ensure his employer isn't sued or fined. He needs a document to do that.

Since none of the tidbits of info he gave me made sense, and also since my job title isn't Human Product Database, I forwarded this information to another department, at a location that used to manufacture the brand name on the product the customer was inquiring about, to get help, or at least get closer to the information I needed. What I got in response was essentially an eloquent (but bordering on rude) version of this: Not My Job (NMJ).

I loathe this phrase, and while I can appreciate its usefulness in keeping healthy professional boundaries and doing my own best work first, it is not something I'll declare with ease or pride. I think it is too often used (at worst) as an excuse to ignore the needs of others or avoid taking responsibility, or (at best) to refuse to learn something new.

Now, I realize that the person from whom I asked the help also doesn't have the title Human Product Database (but she does have the title Customer Service Manager). And just to be clear, I didn't necessarily ask her to identify the product based on the scraps of information I provided: I only asked that, if she couldn't help me, she pass on the information to someone who might. I guess I may as well have asked that she cut off her own arms while doing a handstand.

When I replied to her email, I was (again) cheerful and cordial and thankful "for whatever assistance you can offer," I also CC'd both my managers. I was shut down again; her response was "As I mentioned... I cannot provide you any information." To make matters worse, my own manager also replied, making a much more polite version (she used the word "unfortunately") of the same response. So again, I got two more "NMJ"s.

So let's recount the facts:

  •  We have (had; the product is almost 20 years old) a customer who paid money for one of our very specialized, industry-specific, and often overpriced products. 
  •  The product was made by our company (or a predecessor, albeit not at the facility where the person whose help I requested works. This was the one piece of useful information she was able to provide.)
  •  This customer now wishes to responsibly dispose of the product, but can't do it legally without the documentation it's my company's responsibility to provide.
  •  Because of other areas of my business, and my own management, I am now forced to give the following response to the customer: NMJ.

Which leaves this poor guy in the dust, with a potentially dangerous chemical in his facility. If it falls down and spills, or someone opens it by mistake and gets hurt, or injects it into their veins, or sprinkles it on their toast, no one will know the hazards or exposure risks, and it's his ass on the line. Is that how Salt Mine, Inc. takes care of its customers? That's not what they keep on telling me.

Of course, it could also mean he throws the product into a garbage can, it ends up in a landfill and/or busts open somewhere, and (because it has my company name on it), the next call for information on this product won't come from the customer himself, but the US EPA. And they'll fine us up the wazoo. And do you know who'll have to take that call? Possibly the Customer Service Manager. Eventually my supervisor.

All I know is this: it won't be me, because those calls are... NMJ.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Birthday Dinner

Tonight I hosted a dinner in honor of what would have been my dad's 69th birthday. My household family was there, of course, as well as my mom, sister, and father-in-law. The way I wrote it in the 55 is pretty spot-on; I do like things to be just so, especially since my dad can't actually be here, and though all intention that falls short of execution will go completely unnoticed by the living attendees, it will not go unexcused by myself.

Of course I know my dad was here today. It didn't take much more than my almost involuntary reaction to the Lions' awful performance today against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for me to realize that. And I've been on an emotional edge today for other reasons. So needless to say the dinner tonight was pulled off almost exactly as if my dad was trying to hide his smoking in my basement (which is to say, with much tenuousness and crabbiness on my part).

I do miss my dad. Terribly. I miss his sense of humor and his laugh, and his seriousness. I miss the things he was passionate about that almost always surprised me (except football and politics). I even miss his short temper and often too-quick reactions to things that weren't really that big a deal. It's a convenient side effect of his passing that I no longer have to deal with some things, but I miss them nonetheless.

I wanted to make a grand toast tonight at my dinner table, but I decided it'd taken so damned long to get everyone around the table in the first place, and on top of that the steaks were getting cold, that I just plunged into the dinner. There was still a toast, but no speech. So here is the meager edited version of what might have been a spectacular (though likely very long-winded) impromptu oration.

I've had this journal with me for months, carrying it to and from work and school every single day. I have it with me more often then I have my cell phone. I've written in it sporadically over the years and never really gone back to see what's in there. Tonight, for a completely unrelated reason than today's tangent, I pulled it out and opened it to the first page, dated 8 December 1997. It reads:
    "Well, today we found out for sure that N is pregnant. We already knew as of Saturday, but the doctor made it official today. Congratulations, to me.

    "I feel as if I should be doing something, becoming something. I mentioned it to N and she feels that way also. Of course, it's exciting. Of course, I wanted a baby. Then why do I not feel so full of joy, so excited at the prospect of becoming (being?) a father? I hope I will not ruin these first days of discovery for myself, or especially N. It would be a shame to remember our first days of knowing we'd conceived our first born as confused and troubled.

    [And here I discuss possible reasons that seem trivial after all this time.]

    "My deepest fear is that it's simply because N's pregnant. I want so badly to be a provider, a man of morality and integrity, worthy of greeting my first child and leading him/her through life. I want to be strong, responsible, intelligent, improvisational, reasonable, funny--I want to be what I think the perfect MAN should be. But then, I've always wanted that.

    "Maybe this is about all of a sudden not being all those things when, in 9 months, someone will arrive into this world who will expect and need me to be nothing less. Can I be a good, decent father if I am not all those things? Sure there are lots of scumbags who can pass along their DNA, but I want to be something special. Will I be? My fear is that I will not."
That child I worried so much about being a father to turned 15 this summer, and I still have the same worries on an almost daily basis. I love this kid more than any words can express. He has a younger brother and sister now, too, so the worries have only compounded. My inability to be a good enough man has left for them potholes they won't know how to navigate around, because their mother and I haven't learned ourselves. I have watched them fail in detestable ways and seen only a reflection of myself. But I have also seen a miracle occur: I have seen them succeed in ways I never could have imagined for either myself or them.

I didn't get to know my dad very well before he was killed by cancer and chemotherapy, but I knew him well enough to understand that he also lived with these same fears every day of my life. He was a bastard sometimes, truly. He was an alcoholic and an abuser. And I don't make excuses for him. But I understand him, because from an emotional perspective, I have become him. He was in pain his entire life. He was ill equipped for manhood and fatherhood, because despite what society demonstrates, men are taught to be Men; it's not automatic, and the expectation that it could be is a Great Bullshit Lie. After learning some things about my dad later, things he would certainly have been loathe to share with any other human being, let alone those who called him Dad, I think his performance as a father was nothing short of a miracle.

Tonight I honor my dad, not just with a meal or company, but with the weight I carry in my heart. He died was taken away before he could fully become himself, and we were all therefore deprived of an even more amazing person. Every year since his passing, I realize how much like him I'm becoming, and that I'm on the same painful journey of self-discovery he never really started in earnest. He and I have the same unfinished business.

I'm not taking on his burdens; I have my own aplenty. But I will still carry with me memories of his painful nights, his addictive fits, his simple loves and pleasures. I will consult his life's laboratory notebook while doing my own painful experiment in Happiness, and as I complete my own, I'll jot down a few solutions for his benefit as I work though them. He wanted happiness for me, and my siblings, without having a clue how to find it himself. This I understand very painfully as a parent myself. But in his nobility as a sufferer, he did so much of the footwork for us ahead of time. He could never have known this; in fact I'm certain it was a point of shame for him, but it's something for which I will always be grateful. I truly think he knows it now, and it may even be satisfying, though he no doubt still carries great regrets over the man he wanted to be while he lived.

As for me, I will try to become a good and decent enough Man for the both of us. Happy birthday, dad. I will always, always love you, and miss you forever.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

55: Birthday

Image credit
The day of his birthday, I always stressed a little. I wanted everything right: dinner, card, dessert, and family around the table. I grilled steaks, and we ate like kings.

Later that night, I put the sealed envelope into my drawer, next to five unopened birthday and Father’s Day cards.

I really miss my dad.
* * * * *
FFF-55 Vol. LXIV. Tell a story in exactly fifty-five words. Go see G-ManIn honor of my dad, who would have been 69 today.

Friday, November 15, 2013

55: Anonymity Not Included

(Republished 6 January 2016)

I was in town on business and we’d met in a bar. Her perfume and eyes were intoxicating. “Gotta go; work tomorrow,” she said while dressing.

Next morning, I waited for the plant manager. I heard the click of shoes behind me, caught a familiar scent, and turned to look into those familiar blue eyes.
* * * * *
FFF-55 Vol. LXIII. Tell a story in exactly fifty-five words. Go see G-Man.

Friday, November 1, 2013

55: First Love

Image Source
The first time I saw her, I was atop the geodesic dome. Her perfect caramel skin and flowing black hair enthralled me, even across the playground. An unfamiliar lightness swirled in my stomach. I turned to my friend to inquire, “Who’s that new kid?”

Her name was Sonora. Suddenly the wood-chip air turned lovely sweet.
* * * * *
FFF-55 Vol. LXII. Tell a story in exactly fifty-five words. Go see G-Man.