Friday, October 29, 2010

Tums, or Rolaids, or Whatever...

My first full time job (40-hour week) was at a company called Raytheon (the very plant pictured above). I was hired as a clerk. It was the beginning of the year as I had recently failed out of college after a miserable first semester in the pre-med program at my state university. My highest grade was, I think, a "C" in my psychology course - calculus, physiology, chemistry, and physics didn't fare so well. (My misguided plan was to eventually become a psychiatrist.) Orientation and registration at the university had been a whirlwind and I was "advised" to take all these classes merely because they fit into a weekly schedule (two additional slots were needed for chemistry and physiology labs). Anyway, that experience was, as they say, an epic fail.

Despite the "epic fail," I admit to having been pretty relieved. I hated college. My only motivation for even attending college in the first place was that everyone had expected me to go. To make things worse, near the end of the semester my girlfriend had dumped me (pre-email days = letter). Well actually, to be accurate, she'd dumped me LONG before then, it was just that she didn't let me know until about this time. Anyway, just after the holidays, an official letter arrived inviting me not return to school. Once the family shock and disappointment in me waned, I was able to settle into a pretty happy contentment. The future and all its untapped opportunities lay before me!

My dad already worked at Raytheon, so that probably helped to get me that clerk position. Maybe, maybe not. But I recall the human resources lady doing my entry interview and finishing up with, "Be sure that you do a good job, Stephen." To which I sincerely and honestly replied, "I'll do my best." Apparently that wasn't a satisfactory response as she got a little huffy and said, "I expect that you will do better than that!"

Being young and accustomed to submitting to authority (i.e., anyone older than me), I didn't "talk back" or anything, but I did leave with an uncomfortable feeling that I'd screwed something up, AND that the woman I'd just spoken to was a blazing idiot. How can I do better than my best? Was I supposed to have LIED and said I'd give 110% or something? Cripes, it's impossible to do either! Although I didn't recognize it at the time, this was the first little hairline crack in my perfect post-college eggshell bubble I was trying to settle into.

Other fractures to my world were soon to follow (all of which finally got me the proper motivation to go to college again). Basically, my mind was too active for the job I was placed into. Exceptional pay and benefits are not enough to compensate for sitting nine hours a day (one for lunch) doing a stupid, inane, job. My job was to keep files on the parts that were stored in a cage next to my open-floor office and submit reorder requests when appropriate. That's it. It was a position that would be easily replaced by a computer program if anyone wanted to spend four hours to write it.

All the records were on stiff manila cards filed in rows of cabinets. Reaching into these day after day gave me endless paper cuts and bright red and bloody cuticles. I could finish my work in less than six hours. So I had to learn to take my time or I'd be bored silly looking for stuff to do.

Anyway, two embarrassing things happened to me on this job. I will tell you about the lesser of the two. The other one I still haven't fully recovered from yet.

The office area that I worked in contained about six or so desks. My desk was next to an old World War II vet's desk. He was in a wheelchair and had been a paratrooper during the war. Then there was the desk my boss (Sal) used. Then behind me were desks for the three ladies to work at (no idea what their jobs were). I only remember two of their names, Mona and Vickie. Let's call the other one, Sheila. Anyway, I flirted madly with Sheila and Vickie who were both married, but flirted and teased with me as good as I gave. Anyway, one day Sheila wasn't feeling well. She complained that her stomach was bothering her. Well, I told her to go to the nurse's office. You have to understand that this Raytheon was (is) HUGE. People got around on little carts that looked like motorized skateboards as well as golf carts. There was an actual little hospital area in there that had a nurse 24-7 and probably a doctor for some set times.

Ok, so I told her simply to go see the nurse and get some Tums or Rolaids or something. Amazingly, she said, "No way!" You see, she was afraid of hospitals and any of the related trappings thereof. I'd never met someone with such a strange thing to be afraid of, so naturally, I teased the crap out of her about it. That didn't last long because it isn't really much fun to tease people who are sick. They just don't give very good reactions, nor do they play back very well (or very nicely). She wouldn't smile whatsoever. So I gave up and went -slowly- back to my work.

After a while of listening to her little sighs and uncomfortable chair shuffle noises, I started feeling a little guilty which then turned to a little bit of sympathy. Maybe I could do something to cheer her up? So, I asked if she'd be willing to got to the nurse's office if I went with her?


That turned into me suggesting that we could go and she would brief me on her symptoms and I would pretend it was MY tummy ache? She wouldn't have to say anything, and I would just sneak her the Tums or Rolaids or whatever when I got them.


It wasn't much of a stretch to finally just say that I would go myself and get her something and bring it back.


Fine. I had plenty of free time anyway. We briefed Sal about the plan so I could get permission to leave. He gave us a crooked look, but said fine-whatever. Off I went on my 15 minute walk to the nurse's station. My position was too lowly to allow the use of a motorized sled. I had to hike the full distance despite my tummy ache. It was actually a good thing to walk because I needed to get into character. How should I walk in? Holding my stomach while barely dragging myself in? No, don't over-act, Steve. What should I say? Should I try to cry? No, again, I had to remind myself not to over play the role.

I finally got there and the place was deserted. It looked like a chunk of a hospital plunked into the middle of a factory. After a bit, the nurse showed up and was very professional looking (white dress and hat and everything). This intimidated me a bit. I almost chickened out because I thought for sure she would know I was fibbing about my tummy pains. So I had to be sure to sell it. Holding my belly and bending a bit at the waist, I explained the terrible pain and how I knew everything would be ok if I could just have some Tums or Rolaids or something.

She escorted me to a small examination room and checked me out (blood pressure, etc.) and asked how long it had been hurting. Only this morning. Really, I think I just had a bad bit of breakfast. Tums… Rolaids, whatever you have, then I'll go. Please, I really have to get back to work, I barely have enough time to finish it all.

The nurse left me in the little examination room for a bit. Just enough time for me to start to feel a little guilty - maybe she knew I was fibbing. She'd gotten all my information, name, what department I worked in, the name of my boss. Gulp. Maybe she was talking on the phone reporting me right now! I was on the verge of sneaking out, but she already knew who I was and exactly where I worked, so I couldn't really get away.

When I had originally volunteered for this mission, I'd felt like a hero: A secret agent off to scam the "enemy" out of needed medical supplies. But now! Right now I was feeling like a naughty little boy who was waiting outside of the principal's office for my parents to show up so we could all talk about what a perfect criminal I was going to turn out to be.

Eventually she returned with a little paper cup in her hand! Yay! Success! The tablets must be in that little cup! My spirits soared a bit because I wasn't in trouble! I could get back into my spy fantasy!

Then the other hand came up with a very medicinal-looking bottle. Umm…?!

She poured from this bottle a murky watery greenish swampy juice. It plopped and dribbled from the mouth of this ominous brown bottle to fill the cup about a third of the way up. I literally had stopped breathing for the moment in order to let the consequences of my lies finally catch up with me.

So… umm, what is that?

It's called Tincture of Belladonna.

I was a college flunky, but I knew that Belladonna was the less scary term for Deadly Nightshade, a very toxic (extremely poisonous, hence the name) plant. As absurd as it may have been, I thought that I had actually been caught out in my lies and the company was going to kill me; make an example of me. I could keep my spy fantasy because I was like a spy about to be defeated unexpectedly by a beautiful woman (anyone get the joke there?).

Seeing my trepidation, the nurse assured me that it was a TINCTURE of belladonna. Not strong enough to poison me. Just enough to numb the tummy. Give me some relief to the obvious discomfort I was in. So, go ahead and drink it up! You'll feel better in no time!

Actually, I just wanted some Tums… or Rolaids… or something like that.

This is something like that, only better. Go ahead, drink.



ok…. Gulp. Choke. Gag. Thanks… Gotta go back to work… feel better already… thanks… cough… see ya…

I staggered back to my work station. I have no memory of the walk back. Just a memory of leaving the nurse's station then next arriving back at my work area. I felt really sick. The partially strained swamp juice I'd allowed to drop into my stomach was having the exact opposite effect than described. Of course, I never had a tummy ache to begin with.

I went straight to my desk and Sheila asked where the Tums or Rolaids or whatever was. I explained that the nurse had made me drink the whatever. That was the only thing that made her smile that day. Actually, I don't remember that she actually smiled. It was more like she was laughing hysterically the rest of the day along with everyone else in the area she could tell it to. I had inadvertently made her feel better even in my failure to secure Tums or Rolaids, or whatever.

For the rest of my employ, there would be occasional mysterious deliveries of Tums or Rolaids to my desk when I wasn't looking. Nice.