03 May 2005

We want information. Information. Information!

"You won't get it."

"By hook, or by crook, we will."

Somehow this has been a consistent theme throught my life.
I never seem to possess, or have at hand, the information that I need to properly proceed in my duties and responsibilities. There were some early occurrances in my childhood, but the amount of repetition in my "professional life" (it iss a stretch to call it that) is staggering.

When I worked at a Hazardous Waste facility, I was the lead man on night shift. For the most part I was (unwittingly) the man to talk to if you needed anything, but I still didn't have all the answers. It became clear after a time that the boss was talking about new developments/procedures with the guys on day shift, and somehow thinking that by telling them, he was communicating with me, too. This was never more obvious than the day the EPA raided us. They popped in about 5am and gathered us all into one building so they could conduct some interviews without anyone leaving. They asked to speak to "crazy Carl". That was apparently a reference to me. [I typically wore a camoflage bandana, and I presume that this was one of the reasons that the operators were calling me "Jeffery Dahmer". It is germane to mention that these operators were the "general labor" of hazardous materials, culled from the finest that East Chicago, Indiana had to offer. Naturally,
these poor lads were any oblivious to any serial killers that didn't make headlines during their lifetime. It also doesn't take a huge leap of intuition to realize that it was a former operator that called the EPA. Anyway...] The EPA guys asked me about places that seemed of great importance to them, yet that I had never, ever heard of. What was really unfortunate about the episode was that we would have loved to toss the whole company "under the bus" (as my boss was fond of saying), but the EPA guys weren't interested in how poorly we were treated. Those issues were not within their jurisdiction, and we didn't know anything damning that was.

Then there was the time I worked at an oil refinery. Due to the predisposition of most materials contained within to go "boom", there is a significant amount of safety training required. Also, everyone's outer layer of clothing MUST be flame-retardant Nomex. Someone conveniently didn't tell me that last one. They issued me a Nomex jumpsuit for the duration, and when it got cold I wore a coat over it. I had at least three VERY confusing conversations that in retrospect were adressing the Nomex issue, but it was not until later that someone explicitly told me what the problem was. (This leads me to a corollory that I'll mention in a bit.)

That was when I came up with the most appropriate way to describe it: "discovered check".
I can not act without discovering that I am doing something wrong.

The corollory to "discovered check" is a related phenomena that I don't have a catchy name for... yet. I also become party to conversations that make absolutely zero sense to me, but ultimately turn out to be related to "discovered check".

I was entering the refinery and this guy Julian stoped me and talked to me. I remember his name, and that he asked about the jacket I was wearing, and that something seemed important to him, but to this day I haven't the slightest idea what he wanted. Apparently he was concerned about the Nomex issue. One would think he would SAY that to me.

After driving for hours on Michigan state highways on a moonless night I arrived in Lansing. I already had a hotel room reserved, so my first errand was to locate a liquor store. It was not at all obvious that the first one was closed until I had gotten out of the car, so I got back in and resumed my search. I was then pulled over by a police car. This is a direct quote of the first thing the officer said:
"Isn't it kind of dark out?" (expectant pause)

You might possibly begin to grasp at how utterly dumbfounded I felt at that moment. It turned out that I had failed to turn on my headlamps when I returned to the car. That corner of Lansing was positively lit up like the sun compared to the roads that I had been driving on less than an hour before, so it's not at all unreasonable that my brain did not grasp the current need for illumination. The punch line for that story is that the officer then obliged me by directing me to the nearest liquor store.

Those are just shining examples. This sort of thing happens altogether too often. Yes, yet again today it occurred. "Discovered check" reared its ugly head at work. Yet again what I've been doing for a year now was wrong. Or I was under-informed. Whatever. I think what actually happened was this: a clash of realities. On the one hand, its likely that I was trying to enact what my boss proscribed, which in reality conflicted with what the operators and the company lab guys were doing (I'm a contractor here). I had been aware of only one instance of such a conflict before, and didn't really expect that the schizm was more pervasive. I am of the mind that I am not prepared to continue with this: being caught between what the boss says and what the techs/operators do when I am the one without any job security.

However, lacking information, it appears that I was not prepared at all.

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