Unspeakably Stupid Story #24:
Rocket Science

(Names have been changed for the usual reasons.)

Just when I thought I'd seen it all in regards to weird jobs, along came this assignment. It was a "3 to 6 month temp position" with Lockheed Martin. Yes, the same Lockheed Martin that is widely known as a defense contractor, created when aircraft manufacturer Lockheed bought Martin Marietta, the company whose ineptness caused the Challenger space shuttle disaster.

These days, in addition to designing space shuttle prototypes that don't work, Lockheed has a division called Integrated Business Solutions. They provide information services to large corporations all over the world. The particular "data center" I worked at had but one customer, sports apparel manufacturer Nike. Two hundred people work for Lockheed just providing support for Nike's Intranet, which is known as "Zero."

This job included an absolutely horrible commute, over an hour in each direction. But it paid more than any other job I'd ever had at that time. My title at Lockheed was "Web Support Analyst." My main task was to provide support for the boneheads at Nike who were responsible for their Intranet. Someone at Nike would call our help desk and, depending on the nature of the problem, a "trouble ticket" would be routed to our group, known as IAS, which stood for Infrastructure Application Support.

My supervisor, whom we'll call "Will", was the manager of IAS. He supervised about 8 of us, mostly temps. A 20-year-old shithead we'll call Snotty Eddie and I were responsible for trouble tickets having to do with Zero. A typical call would work like this: Some idiot over at Nike would be having trouble with the counter on his web page within the Nike Intranet. He'd call the help desk, the ticket would be routed to Eddie or myself, and we would call up the moron, figure out the nature of the problem, and fix his stupid counter, usually by resetting the permissions in Front Page. For this, Nike paid something like $55 per call.

Now, you would probably presume that we dealt with hundreds of calls per week. After all, there were two of us just to work these tickets. Well, you'd presume wrong. In my entire time there, the average was maybe two tickets per day. You'd rarely spend more than a half hour on any ticket, and some were as simple as calling the "customer" and letting them know the change or fix they requested had already been done.

Snotty Eddie, in the cubicle next to mine, was responsible for training me. This was rather difficult as there was almost no work to do, so there was little opportunity for training.

Now, Snotty Eddie was a typical young computer geek. His dad had owned a local information company that employed over 1000 people, which he had recently sold. Puzzlingly, he wouldn't pay for Eddie's college. Eddie's dad had been in the military most of his life, so maybe he was some sort of hard-core military asshole with a crew cut and a shitty attitude toward young people, even his own dipshit offspring. Eddie was living with his parents, a long way away from Lockheed, giving him a commute of perhaps 90 minutes each way in a trashed Volkswagen with no air conditioning. He was here to earn money to go back to the local university, where he had been attending but had to drop out due to lack of money.

Poor Snotty Eddie had no social skills, no girlfriend, and no life outside the building, and was incredibly moody. He grew tired of "training" me after a week or so, and began refusing to answer questions or respond to my e-mails.

My co-workers were all hard-core coders, with the usual social problems among geeks. A fat jerk with a sloppy beard named Lemon (damn close to his real name), who was not a temp but a full time employee, fancied himself to be the den mother of the group, and was Will's personal cocksucker. I remember at one point, he threw a fit because I apparently asked him one question too many via e-mail. He came over to my cubicle and put on his little act, which basically consisted of "me full-time, you temp." Lemon was the poster child for passive-aggressive behavior. Like most of the IAS people, he had it made here at Lockheed, but if he ever lost his job, his pretty Brazilian girlfriend would undoubtedly dump his fat ass like a hot potato.

So, thanks to the refusal of my co-workers to share information, I rarely knew what I was doing. The trick was to pretend I knew what I was doing while on the phone to the customer. Often, the problem would be a temporary "glitch" in a server, and would take care of itself. Despite not knowing anything about the network or how to fix much of anything, I got by.

The equipment there was strangely ancient. There were no new computers. Everyone did their work on ancient Compaqs containing old, slow Pentiums and Pentium IIs, as if Lockheed made one or two major buys of Compaq desktop computers about three years earlier, and never bought another computer. Some people had two, three or four of them in their cubicle. It was obvious that everyone in the place had been scavenging computers for years, grabbing the equipment of anyone who left to form new systems. Those who had been there the longest had the largest monitors, sometimes two or three of them.

Software was another strange story. This was Lockheed, but everyone in the place had bootlegged software by the ton. There was a server set aside just for illegal software for the group. Apparently Lockheed's last major software purchase came back when they bought the now-ancient computers.

Since there was hardly any real work to do, Will assigned little projects to everyone on the team. These usually consisted of websites that we would use ourselves. Not only was this completely self-serving and an incredible waste of Nike money, but when designing a website for our own use, everything was a moving target. What was asked for last week would bear no resemblance to what was asked for this week. This kept everyone perpetually busy building sites that would never be finished, which I suppose was the goal.

Everyone knew that building the sites was nothing but busy work, so everyone screwed around instead. I once spent pretty much an entire week discussing Monty Python with a couple guys from another group, a few cubicles down.

Will himself was a puzzle. He was an affable Mormon man who got along well with his "team", at least on a superficial level. We had weekly meetings in which he would discuss all sorts of crap with the other team members that I had no clue about. I'd nod and go along with whatever was said, pretend to take notes, and wait for the meeting to end. Other than that, I rarely saw him.

Will's approach to his job seemed strange. I never received any feedback from him the entire time I worked there, either positive or negative. Not a single word.

He had some strange "rules", too. I was called in for jury duty during my time there, and asked if I could get a letter from him, stating that I was needed at work. He wouldn't do it. His reason was "I don't do that." So I had to make up some bullshit myself in order to avoid jury duty. One could assume that Will, being a Mormon and head of the company's "Ethics Committee", was too honest to do so. But that theory didn't really wash. Will knew damn good and well about the entire server loaded with bootleg software, which his department would be fucked without. So he had some pretty damn big holes in his "ethical" practices, similar to the damn big holes in his religion.

Now, those who have read many of the stories on this website know that I pick on Mormons some. It's all been in fun, mostly. But let me rant a little bit about Mormons here.

WARNING: THE MORMON RANT

I'm not fond of organized religion of any kind, and even less fond of the religious. I won't defend any religion. But the Mormons must have the most crazy, ass-backwards religion I've ever seen close up. As is well known, they used to condone and even encourage bigamy. Naturally, they deny this now, and claim that Mormons who still practice it are "on the fringe." They used to explicitly exclude black people, which they hate to talk about. These are "changes" made to their wacky little religion over time when it became politically incorrect, thus getting in the way of growing their flock, which seems to be their main goal. I think it's funny -- and remarkably hypocritical -- that "deeply held religious beliefs" suddenly fall by the wayside when they get in the way of taking over the world, which they apparently hope to accomplish in two ways: Making everyone a missionary, and sending them off to another continent to shove their wacky bullshit down the throat of the locals for a couple of years; and the method that really bugs me, which is covering the earth with as many of their fucking robotic, wire-rimmed-glasses-wearing children as possible. And in order to make sure of this, they often push their poor fucking kids into ill-conceived marriages while they're still teenagers, disapproving of any form of birth control. I used to have a boss named Mike (see Unspeakably Stupid Story #2) who was forced into a really awful marriage at age 18 by his Mormon family. It's an asinine, nonsensical religion, even more so than most religions.

Every major environmental problem on this entire planet can be traced to overpopulation. How incredibly fucking irresponsible is it, then, to discourage birth control and encourage large families? This concept is as immoral as any I've ever heard in a so-called religion. It's obvious to almost everyone that this planet is choking under the weight of humanity, and here's some fucking group of nuts out to make the problem worse for their own selfish, wack-ass cause.

There's a word for wacky religions based upon the idea that god visited a New York farmboy a long time ago, and which calls on its members to wear "magic underwear." That word is CULT.

Now, before I get any flame-mail from Mormons who deny that they believe in magic underwear, let me say that I saw the 60 Minutes piece in which Mike Wallace interviewed the CEO of a major hotel chain who wears the magic underwear himself, believing it "protects" him in a karmic sense. Sorry, but the unexplainable way the undies "protect" him (and other Mormons) qualifies as magic, if you believe in it. Period. So, as derisive a term as it may seem to be, it's unarguably Magic Underwear. Therefore, if you're a Mormon and are embarrassed about your Magic Underwear, that's your problem, not mine.

I guess I should mention that I have had many Mormon friends over the years, and I still have a close friend, a Native American girl who converted to Mormon, that I see sometimes. But she has never had any kids and as far as I know, doesn't wear the magic underwear. She's going to fucking kill me when she reads this.

(End of rant)

Anyway, not everyone at Lockheed was a total asshole. There was Roger, a gifted coder and genuinely nice person, despite many physical problems. Although just in his 20s, he was in the process of having all his teeth pulled and replaced with dentures. His teeth were just defective somehow, and had always been, and he usually couldn't eat solid food. He also had the worst case of "lazy eye" I've ever seen, was a frighteningly terrible driver, and was anorexically thin. But at least he would talk to me, and even help me out occasionally.

There was also Paul, who sat across from Snotty Eddie and was assigned to the help system. He was a hardware expert and an easygoing fellow. He wired my house for Ethernet one weekend, for which I paid him well.

It was Paul who told me that I had been hired for one reason: To fill a chair, in order to make it easier for Will to hire more people if they landed a customer besides Nike (they had been courting Johnson Controls, without success). It was really kind of a relief, knowing that nobody was counting on me.

After I had been working there a little over two months, something odd happened. In the weekly meetings, the little website project I had been working on suddenly never came up anymore. At first I thought it was because we were running out of time during the meetings, which sometimes ran three hours. It was damn hard to stay awake during those meetings, and now my turn wasn't coming up anyway.

I knew that my contract ended on Halloween, but since I never got any feedback, I had no way of even guessing whether my contract would be renewed for another three months or not.

On Halloween, I still hadn't heard anything. I arrived at work that day thinking that if I could just get through to the end of the day without any contact from the recruiter, I would be okay.

I happened to be staring at my Outlook in-box when it came. An "urgent" e-mail from the recruiter. I already knew what it was. The recruiter, Kay, said to call her right away. Sure as shit, they canned me with seven hours notice. Will had undoubtedly been planning on dumping me for a month, but felt no guilt whatsoever over not telling me until my last day. What an asshole.

I started swearing out loud about being canned with diddly shit for notice. I turned to see the Microsoft employee in the cubicle across from mine hunkered down over his computer, pretending not to hear, looking frightened. I threw the contents of my water bottle all over the outside of my cubicle and went about planning the rest of my day.

Another recruiter happened to call shortly afterwards, as I had started searching for another job a month earlier. She needed a reference, and I gave her Paul's number.

But Paul, upon finding out that I had been canned, would never return her calls. I also requested from Paul a tiny jumper for a hard drive, and I gave him a stamped, self-addressed envelope to send it to me in. But he never did. Apparently, the minute I was canned, I didn't exist anymore to Paul, period. I know now that Paul, who had eaten dinner with my family during the Ethernet installation a week earlier, was at heart an asshole too. I'm sure he wouldn't have shown up to do the installation if we had scheduled it after I got dumped, so at least my timing was good. I never talked to him again, not so much as a goodbye.

I asked Will if he would be a reference for me. He stiffened and said, "I can only acknowledge that you worked here, including the dates. Nothing more." Apparently, being a reference was against his fucking wacky "rules" also. But I wonder if the same rules applied to my co-workers. What an incredible fucking hypocrite. He had a scam going, and he knew it, and nobody was going to fuck with it in any way. He was too much of a coward to even evaluate my work.

I drove home and updated my resume in the middle of the day. If I had lived closer, I could have gone home for hours every day, and nobody would ever have known.

After returning to work, I left a few surprises in the website I had been working on, including a link to this site. I nuked all my personal info from my ancient computer, then nuked the OS itself.

Next, I called my buddy Popeye-X in San Antonio and we talked for over 100 minutes on Lockheed's dime. It is now a tradition for me to do this on the last day of any job I get.

I walked out at 4:45 without a word to anyone, very happy not to be working for Lockheed anymore, and even happier not having to deal with the hypocrites and assholes that worked there.

After collecting unemployment for two months, I landed a one-month temp position, then three months later I found a job that paid more than Lockheed, with a much shorter commute.

The whole Lockheed experience was as close to a scam as I've ever been involved with. If the whole building burned down one night, I really wonder if Nike would even notice.

Extra: Brush with Basketball Greatness!

Early in my brief contract with Lockheed, I went to lunch at Nike World Headquarters with my fellow team members. As custodians of Nike's Intranet, we had access to their campus and employee store. We were there to enjoy the Nike cafeteria on a day when they were serving Mexican food.

Nike's World headquarters is an amazing place. It's nicer and better maintained than the nicest resort you've ever seen. Even the cafeteria sits on the edge of a large man-made lake, with circular tables with umbrellas everywhere.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, perfect for eating outdoors. The food was, as company cafeterias go, excellent. After returning my tray, I turned to see another guy returning his tray also, just a couple feet away. Only... this guy was holding his tray at about my eye level. And he was holding it at his waist! I looked up at this guy as you would look up at a tall building and got a second surprise. Not only was this guy about seven and a half feet tall, but he was ASIAN!

Everyone in the vicinity was staring too. People just weren't ready to see a Chinese guy that tall, and with a crew cut too.

Three years later, I was watching a sportscaster interviewing a promising NBA rookie. "How has it been for you this year, adjusting to the language?"

The player replied, "I've been in the United States for four years."

Yao Ming.

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