Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The things that make us who we are

When I was in high school, my main motivation was to stay out of trouble. Well to be a little more accurate, it was to cause as much trouble as humanly possible without getting caught. Really the difference is very slight, but it can become less slight when it is from the perspective of police officers, teachers and parents, as opposed to the young and not so innocent "victim". In the early days when I was 15 I really went wild because I knew enough about the legal system to know that a juvenile offender would never do time over a non-violent crime, so long as it was the first offence. So I was a bold young blade and went through probably a 6 month period of intense kleptomania, culminating in a felony, which I might describe at another juncture.

I give this preface so that you will understand that as a junior, the fact that I was smoking pot and drinking beer will not seem so bad. In fact I kind of got too lazy for most things except the occasional vandalism. The most amazing thing was that during my junior year I had actually become interested in school, albeit welding class, before which we tried to get as stoned as possible. For readers who are upset by this, please let me state that I am not endorsing this, merely stating facts of life. And these facts can sometimes be a painful reality. Well the truth be told, during these classes I started to realize that I had skills. I had skills that were seen as valuable in the outside world. I could make things out of metal that the greater majority of people could not. For the first time in my life I had something that I enjoyed which set me apart (I did not count the fact that I could read faster than most people as something of great value). By my senior year I was excited about the possibility of graduating and working in some kind of fabrication shop.

So in the spring of 1997, I walked down the aisle of the local community college, received my diploma from my begrudging arch-nemesis Vice Principal Mike Bacigalupi, and never looked back. I wanted to be as far away as possible from high school, a place I will forever associate with feelings of insecurity and few real friendships (at least the early years). I had been hired as the deburring tech at a shop called Universal Sheet Metal in Woodinville Washington. I had a truck, a stereo, and I was eager to go. Of course I was still listening to a lot of rap music back then so my playlists were really weird. I would go from Neil Young to the Wu Tang Clan and not even think anything of it. Oh yes, I should talk about my job!

The work I did was interesting to me at the time. When Sheldon the press operator punched out the pieces (steel, aluminum, and stainless), he sent them to me. I had to break the pieces out of the frame, take the set of pieces, and grind off the burrs left from the punching process. I wore a lab coat, like some kind of nerd grinderman. I was proud of my job, and proud of how fast I could deburr. Occasionally I got to substitute on the timesaver for Stuart, the king of grime. He was a big seemingly dumb giant, who for the entire time I worked there called me "Eon". It never bothered me and I never corrected him. I also got to help Justin the long hair, whose job it was to use a hydraulic press to punch hardware into preexisting holes, so the customer would have threaded nuts to attach things to. One of the things we made at Universal consisted of some huge pieces of heavy gauge material. I finally asked my boss Steve what they were, and in a hushed voice, so that no passersby might hear, he explained that they were the boxes that housed the automated telemarketing systems. The ones which call you during dinner time, and when you pick up say "Please hold, we would like you to take our automated survey about how to better improve our customer service" or some nonsense. Anyway, I felt pretty bad about that. It was almost like being told that we were building nukes. But I needed the money so I soldiered on.

During this time I was taking night welding classes with my good friend Joel, we were the two youngsters in the class, and I think at the time we both knew pretty much everything. So we sat in the back and acted cool. It was during this class that I dropped a 4x8 sheet of steel on my toe, causing an ingrown toenail which I fight to this day. It was fun working hard in the daytime and staying up late doing more work, but for what it is worth, I have had much harder jobs since then.

I will close with a funny story. We used to have meetings every other week or so at Universal, team meetings of sorts to improve productivity etc. Personally I thought they were great because it was a break from work. I tried to participate because I like to discuss things, and I did want to help improve the company. Well, at one meeting somebody brought up the fact that the soap in the bathroom was sliding all over the counter, which made the bathroom look terrible to customers. I kept quiet. But when the topic had been brought up again, the next time in a company wide meeting, I could not hold back. So towards the end of the team meeting, I raised my hand and asked if the soap on the counter was still a problem. It was I was told. So I said, "Then why don't we get a soap dish?". I was greeted by stunned looks. And bless my soul, if we did not have new soap dishes the very next day!


  1. the soap dish revelation was indeed the most stunning of all

  2. Well put, my favorite nephew.