Business at Explorer Micro was booming. People were ordering PII’s and PIII’s from us faster than we could build them. There was a stack of paper 3 feet thick underneath the printer of unfulfilled customer orders. People were flocking to the internet to find the best prices on computers and we had them. What we were losing on margins, we were making up for with volume. It was time to hire some more employees to catch up.
Of course, the best and easiest way to find a new hire is to ask your current employees if they know of anyone who could work on computers. Of course any high-school age kid knows far more about computers than 99% of the “old” CEOs out there.
First off the block was Justin. He was Mark’s neighbor. Justin’s mom liked to yell out to him, “Justin, I need to talk to you!” with her lips pursed and voice coming from the back of her throat. So, this became Justin’s tagline…the phrase we would all yell out (in faux mom-voice) whenever he walked in the door.
So, after Justin came Dave. Dave was living with Justin for the summer (his parents lived in Canton). Dave and Justin were inseparable. They hung out together, drank together, passed out in the back of trucks together…they were best buds. Tony of course got the brilliant idea to put Justin on the phone for customer service. He would answer the phone in a different accent every time – usually Chinese: “Exploha Mahcwo, how may I help you?” He would carry the accent for a while and then immediately switch back to a standard midwestern accent to see if the customer would notice.
Dave on the other hand liked to build computers. He sure had a temper though. If he stripped a screw or his screwdriver slipped, he would pick something up and throw it. And so began the infamous battle of the screws between Dave and Allen.
“You have two options”, I heard as I walked entered the now familiar store. “You can turn around and leave right now, or you can stay and face the consequences.” “What are you talking about?”, I asked Mark. “What do you think I’m talking about?”, he replied. “I had to redo your last two orders and you’re just not building them as fast as we need.”
I had been working here for about three weeks now, so things were just now starting to feel comfortable. I thought I was starting to get the hang of building these computers, but apparently others were not of that same opinion. “Hey”, said Mark, it doesn’t matter to me, but it was Tony who was upset. “Well, I’m not leaving”, I told him. “I didn’t mess those up on purpose.”
I worked the rest of the afternoon with a cloud over my head and my thoughts in another world. Sean came over and tried to start joking around, but I was not amused. He left a few minutes later saying, “What’s your problem, Zeidner?” Just then, I heard a voice yelling at me…”Come here and take a look at this computer…see if you can figure out why it keeps locking up!” With my head hung low, I dragged my feet over to the repair table. Mark was standing there with a big long pipe in his hands. “Whatcha got there?”, I asked. “Oh this? This is my whoop-ass stick” he replied. Suddenly, he and Tony were laughing. I got more and more worried about what the whoop-ass stick was going to be used for. Was that how they punished their bad employees? However, the more I stood there listening to those two cackle on, the more I began to wonder how big of a deal it really was that I had made a mistake. After all, aren’t we supposed to learn from our mistakes and not sulk about them? Little did I know that this would be the beginning of a life-long series of lessons in this area. This was just the first of many incidents that would serve to remind me that I am not and don’t have to be perfect in every area of life.
As I stood there wondering what could be wrong with this computer, Tony began to try and lift the pipe with one arm. “I can get it up, but I can’t keep it up”, he said. “Sounds like a personal problem to me.” Soon, I couldn’t help myself and began to join in the laughter. I decided to go home that evening and watch The Waterboy open up his can of whoop-ass on Colonel Sanders.
It was hard to concentrate in class that next day. When I wasn’t sleeping through the history lesson, I was thinking about going back to work once school was over. What was it about that place that made me feel like I was working at empire records? The laid-back atmosphere? The boss who wanted to be a friend…a peer even though he was 15 years older? “Stephen”, the voice pierced my thoughts like nails on a chalkboard. “What year was the Declaration of Independence adopted?” “Uh, 1776?” I mumbled. “What?”, shouted Mr. Crace, making me wonder why they had ever hired a deaf history teacher at this school. “SEVENTEEN-SEVENTY-SIX” I shouted back. “Good”, said Crace as he walked back to the chalkboard adjusting his hearing aide. Only a few more hours I told myself.
Finally school was over and I zipped out of the parking lot in my 1987 Chrysler LeBaron. Mark was already working on a new computer build when I arrived. “Where the f*** have you been”, he shouted as I walked in. “School isn’t over until 3”, I replied timidly. “I was just messing with you, man”, said Mark. “Anyway, have you met Carol yet?” “No”, I replied. “I heard she would be in today, though.” I looked over to my left where I was surprised to see a woman quietly soldering wires onto what appeared to be a serial connector of some sort. To my young eyes, she appeared to be ancient. At least as old as my grandmother. Then again, everyone that was over 40 looked as old as Grandma to me. “Hi”, said Carol as she looked up and sighed. “You must be the new guy?” “Sure am”, I replied. “I’m guessing you’re Carol, then?” *Hack* *Cough* *Cough* *Cough*, “yeah” she replied.
Tony walked over just then and said, “Carol, I think you left your lung on the bathroom floor. I almost tripped over it.”
At that age, I took everything that people said literally. Well, that’s not completely true. It wasn’t just at that age. I still take everything literally to this day.
Carol ignored the question and just kept working. She worked and coughed the rest of the afternoon while I got two computers built. I thought that it wasn’t too bad for my first day building on my own. However, I wasn’t too sad to get away from Carol and whatever disease she had picked up that made her lung actually come out of her throat.
My first day of work was a beautiful sunny day. I drove over right after school and arrived feeling good about life and confident about this new venture. After doing a quick glance over the building in which I would be spending my future afternoons 5 days a week, I opened the door and walked. “Zeidner, is that you?” yelled a voice from the back of the building. “Yeah”, I answered. “C’mere and I’ll show you how to build a computer” Tony bellowed back. Now, Jeff and Tony both owned and ran the business together, but Tony was the more creative and passionate of the two. Jeff on the other hand liked to stick to the business side of things and was not really a people person. Well, Tony really wasn’t much of a people person either, but he sure had a dynamic personality regardless.
As I slowly made my way through the maze of cable ends and racks of spare parts lining the entry area, I began think about building my first computer. I was in the 8th grade and had never opened up a computer before, but I read in a magazine about a kid who was younger than me that had started building his own computers without having any prior knowledge of electronics. I figured if he could do it, so could I. I picked up a motherboard and some RAM at my school’s local “fun-fair” where they were trying to get rid of old computer inventory. With the help of a couple friends, we successfully upgraded our parent’s old computers.
As my thoughts snapped back to the present moment, I realized I had finally made it to the back of the building where all of the tools and computer parts were lying around in carefully marked bins. Mark and Tony were standing back there holding a parts list and a screwdriver out for me. “Let’s get moving”, said Mark. That day, I learned the proper way to insert RAM, put thermal paste on the processor and anything else that goes into successfully building a computer. The hours flew by so fast that before I knew it, it was time to go home.
“See you guys tomorrow. Same time. Same place.”, I said as I was leaving. “Later.” replied Tony. “Oh, and tomorrow, you’ll get to meet Carol.”
The door swung open with a distinctive bing-bong. An electronic chime reminiscent of the early ninety’s warns Jeff that someone has just entered his domain. “Halloran, please come into my office” bellows a commanding voice over the phone PA system. Mark leans over to me and says, “I’ll be right back”. I’m standing in the front of this brick and mortar Internet startup wondering why I came here. However, I’m reminded of the monotony of my current job where I shred paper for three hours a day. This opportunity, well any opportunity, would be a step up from that. Mark comes back out and says, “Your turn”. I’m 16 and this is my first official job interview. I got into my current job by being good friends with the CEO’s son. The best jobs are found by knowing someone else in the business. I heard about this opening at Explorer Micro through my computer instructor in high school. He was a friend of Sean, the general manager. I have a slight knot in my stomach as I turn the corner to Jeff’s office, but at the same time, I don’t really care about this job as I still have one to fall back on. Just as I am thinking this, the sound of the shredder pierces my thoughts and pulls me back to reality. Focus. “Hi Jeff, what’s happening”. “Mark tells me you are looking for a job.” Well yes, why else would I be randomly coming to see you? “Yes, I hear you are looking for someone to help build computers.” Jeff stands. He is 6’4″ and fills every inch of it. That and the fact that he yells each word in an annoyed tone is enough to make a person feel at least a little bit intimidated. “Well, Mark seems to think you’re pretty good with these computer things. We’ll give you a call if we’re interested.” Now, I thought the job was a sure thing, that I wouldn’t really need much consideration. “When do you want me to start?”, I asked. “I’ll need to give my current employer two weeks notice”. What was I thinking? Why bring Team America into this? “Oh, you have a job already?” “Yes, but I’m ready to start something new.” “Well, we’ll give you a call soon. Thanks for stopping by”.
Two weeks later, I would be entering into a world that operated outside of all normal social boundaries. A world in which I would spend the next two years of my life.
So, I’m thinking about writing a short story. It will be based on a job I had in high school that was strange. Well, the job was not so strange, it was more the people and the business itself that was strange. OK, so I had a strange job…stop judging me. I’m going to start brainstorming some of the characters on here. Since nobody reads this blog anyway, it really doesn’t matter:
Carol Carol makes cables. She is about 60 years old but looked to me to be about 10 years older. She has put up with so much crap at the job from all these high school/college guys that she has turned bitter and hard. Carol does not like loud music. She may be old, but she can joke around – and not always clean jokes either. She always appears to be on her last nerve and does not take much mouthing off from people.
Jake Jake is a senior in high school. He is full of life and a charmer to everyone except his parents. He recently got his tongue pierced, but that was the last straw for his parents. They have just kicked him out of their house. So, he is staying with friends and has just bought an old Toyota pickup. Jake is quickly discovering his sexuality and how much he enjoys the attention he gets from sex…and the opposite sex. Jake is one of Tony’s favorites and will do anything to please him.
Sean Sean did steroids in high school. He was a major jock in his day and made his teachers and even the coach afraid by how powerful he and his friends were physically. That was 20 years and 60 pounds ago. He drank too much beer in his college days and now has flab where there was once muscle. He still thinks he is intimidating, but others really see him as a big teddy bear. Sean wants God to want him, but he thinks that he has done too much wrong in his life for that to happen.
Jeff Jeff is the stereo-typical boss. Everyone just feels a little bit more uncomfortable and on edge when he is around. He tries to instill some amount of fear in his employees in the hope that they will work harder, but he only causes them to feel less motivated as he pushes them away. Jeff’s business tactics are very short term and he only considers what he can get for himself.
Tony Tony is the other boss that wants everyone to like him. He really is intimidating to some employees, yet has a low self-esteem. Tony lives vicariously through Jake and often recounts how wonderful his high school days were. His obsession with Jake is almost enough to make his other employees believe that Tony is gay. However, he objectifies women to the point that no one can really be sure of his sexual orientation. Tony has some Catholic background which confuses his world view. He is a geek at heart, but only wants to let other geeks see that.
Winnie Winnie is one crazy old woman. She is definitely in a different social class than any one else at the job. Winnie is a very private woman and will try to hide any non-good emotion as much as possible. She has an obsession with beanie babies – she buys and sells them all day long at work believing that this is her ticket to a better life (more money).
Me No one really knows what to do with me. I am not extremely skilled in building computers or troubleshooting them. I have ended up somehow as the web programmer even though I have very little programming experience. My nickname is the Pope because I am a Christian.