Monday, June 04, 2007


When I was working for the City of Portland Bureau of Buildings, I used to collect all the information I needed for my job: not just internal stuff but also the answers to questions from the public and entities that might be able to answer questions and even offer help. I’d get it all organized in three-ring binders and sometimes other people would ask for a copy. I always made one quickly because it beat having my own reference binder wandering around the room. One boss, a squatty little woman who enforced an arcane system no one else could understand which was how she kept her job, collected all the binders as soon as I transferred to another department and dumped them in the trash -- making sure that I saw her do it. Of course, some others saw what she was doing and quickly hid their binders. As soon as she was out sick, they made enough for everyone again.

On the new job, of course, I immediately started a new binder. One of the early things I always included was “the rhythm of the day.” One of the plans examiners, looking over my shoulder, exclaimed, “The rhythm of the day? How poetic! I thought we just sat here, went for lunch and came back to sit here some more.” Well, that was typical engineer mentality.

The idea of the rhythm wasn’t just poetic -- it was entirely practical for a job where one spends one’s time responding rather than initiating. That way, a person can be braced to clear the deck or on the other hand can take a few minutes for a breather. Working with inspectors meant that the first hour or so was chaos: high energy guys bouncing off each other, people wanting files, the phone ringing as the citizenry tried to get in their bids for time, coffee going back and forth.

One inspector (black) used to stop by my desk every morning to use my hand cream. (Shuffling paper sucks the moisture right out of hands.) We’d visit a few minutes. Finally, I got a little bugged and gave him a tube of Intensive Care for his own. It was a mistake -- he was stopping for the talk, not for the hand stuff, and he interpreted the gift as a “go away -- don’t bother me” rejection. I guess it was, but nothing personal -- it was just a busy time of day.

When the inspectors were all out -- a little later than they were really supposed to leave -- the clerical specialists (ahem) were left with a pile of work so we’d make a first cut and get the most important stuff out of the way. By this time the management was running into problems -- “Someone wrote on my white board with a Sharpie!” or “I’m out of quarter-inch document clamps and no I can’t use half-inch.” Sometimes they were more major: “Where could I find out...” or “Who might know...”

In the time period I was there we were still struggling with major computer glitches. The City was forever trying to save money by getting some home genius to cobble up repairs to big fancy systems that charged mucho dinero to solve problems. Of course, local genius generally ended up doing about as much damage as an overoptimistic home plumber. You’d think building inspectors would know better.

Coffee breaks meant a bit of time to network though the smarter among us networked with people from other bureaus. Job opportunities, new ideas, escape from the incestuous and constant politics. I tried to walk a block or several to get my coffee. Other people hated to leave the building. There was a little cafe in the basement that was always leased by some struggling minority family and which always gave us all belly aches until the health department closed them down. Starbucks abounded. My only problem there was that the girls who worked the counter found it impossible to even SEE older fat women in non-flashy clothes. They waited on handsome young men in suits as much as they could, evidently hoping that someone being handed his cappuccinno would propose. Or at least proposition.

Lunchers were split between those who went shopping and those who tried to catch a nap. Women tended to shop, young family men tended to nap. When we got back, we were all a little dazed. If someone bought something really good, there would be rustling all afternoon as visitors came to see. Then the torpor began to set in.

The building was designed by a famous architect who was paid (he says) peanuts so it was basically a plain warehouse with a lot of fancy festoons and statuary on the outside. The air intakes were grossly inefficient -- some said full of mold anyway. By midafternoon we were all staggering with hypoxia and the keyboarding was not very accurate.

Then the inspectors began to come back, wet with rain in winter, wet with sweat in summer. They stank, they shouted, they stirred the air, the phones danced on the desks, and we all woke up again. Lots to do before time to go home.

Things are not so different here in retirement except that instead of inspectors I have cats. (They inspect everything but never read about Codes.) Up at 4AM, maybe a little after, my blood sugar meter indicates a snack, and the NYTimes headlines are posted on my email. If there’s enough interesting stuff, I may still be up when the Great Falls Tribune is tucked into my porch box. I might make coffee and read it before I go back to sleep.

Up at 9AM again, I used to go directly to the post office, but they finally told me that I was getting there before the packages were put up, so now I wait around until 10AM. YPRadio plays classical music all morning so I sit and read. Maybe write.

Noon means a smallish meal -- leftovers, a salad, low-sugar peanut butter sandwich (check the grams of sugar on PB -- you’ll be amazed!). Maybe some outside stuff now or even some housework. Might clean up the dishes accumulated for several days. (I have a system. The cat dishes are kept separate.) By now I’ve got an idea for my blog and post it. Three in the afternoon and Crackers checks to see whether I’m napping so she can join me, but this is about the time Squibbie, who sleeps in cat nests outside, wakes up for a snack, so things can go either way.

Supper is entwined with the news. The rest of the evening is books or Netflix. Bed at 10PM when the London news comes on, but I generally think until 11PM. We rouse a little when the bar and hospital shifts end after midnight and there’s a bit of traffic. Dreams. If I don’t wake up at the right time, Squibbie begins to slam doors. She likes to slam the bathroom door best -- it has a jingly little hook on it. Once she goofed and slammed it from the wrong side so she was trapped.

This is how work gets done, a day at a time. And I still make binders: decorating ideas, books to get, contacts, and outlines of books. For naps I don’t need a binder. The Neilsen people called to see what TV programs I watch. I told them I don't watch TV. I had to tell them three times before they believed me.

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