Saturday, August 28, 2010

Brain Work

I got another new job in July. To catch one up, I lost my employment of 27 years to "economic cut-backs" on May 25, 2009. Since that time, my medical insurance has cost me a fortune, and my bill-paying has been colorful and creative, at best. Barring the amount of cash that the company paid me to not sue, I would be one of the people who had lost their home and moved into public housing. I don't want that, not because I look down on public housing, but because, philosophically, I am against the concept, government agencies be damned.

How's that for immediate digression?

Last autumn, I got a job through ResourceMFG -- a division of Staffing Solutions -- at a company called Emerachem, which manufactures catalytic converters for industrial application. It was one of the easiest jobs I've ever had, and the shift was all daytime activity, a concept with which I have been unfamiliar since 1986. The pay was less than stellar, but it was enough for us to survive and move forward in the space/time continuum. However, it was a temp position, as opposed to a temp-to hire gig. The owner of the company, his second-in-command and the facility manager all expressed that they would like to hire me as a full-time employee, but the business they had simply didn't justify the expense. I understand this concept, though it isn't exactly happy news when one is in my position.

I worked there from late September until the end of 2009; then again from late February to April, as well as a couple of other short stints. I had an interview for a lab position at Fuji Hunt chemicals in Dayton, Tennessee, but they went with someone who had a chemistry degree. I took four weeks' worth of classes (pronounced "indoctrination") in professionalism from a company that is an hour-and-fifteen-minute drive from home, then was rejected because I used what turned out to be a questionable term in my interview, and the interviewer stopped listening to me. I was, I believed, a shoe-in for employment at the DDCE ethanol research plant, in nearby Vonore, Tennessee. I had people there lobbying for me, and did well in the testing and group exercises. Then I had a telephone interview with the facility coordinator, and completely buggered that from A to Z. Hopefully, I learned a few things from these adversities, however.

When all of this began last year, I never believed I would be one of those people who was jobless for this amount of time. I searched for a logical reason for my lack of employment, and the only explanation was me. I began to question my nature, my core philosophies, my work ethic, and my ability to communicate. I believe I am difficult to live with in good times, but this roller-coaster ride has had to be worse for my co-habitants, and -- maybe -- people simply find working with me unpleasant.

Then, in mid-July, another temp agency -- Aerotek -- came calling. They are a tech staffing company who provide folks -- who have scientific aptitude -- for employers who don't have the time or money for the search. A Knoxville employer was seeking a lab analyst, and they -- Aerotek -- were proposing that, considering my résumé, I may be a fit. The temp agent gave me the URL of the potential employer so that I could learn something about them, and said that he would get back to me about a possible interview.

The next day, I Googled the company, and here is what I learned. Galbraith Laboratories is an independent testing facility that does all kinds of laboratory work for all kinds of industries. The company was begun sixty years ago by Dr. Harry Galbraith (a UT graduate) and they have been a fixture in Knoxville, TN ever since. On the website under the "Careers" link, I found their solicitation for a lab analyst, and the e-mail address attached, so I sent them my résumé, my references and an introductory letter explaining my experience and the instrumentation (and corresponding software) with which I am familiar. That was on a Saturday morning. About an hour after I sent the e-mail, I received a reply from the lab manager, observing that I was obviously a motivated person and he would contact Aerotek post-haste to schedule an interview.

I had that interview in the middle of the next week. The day before, I was contacted by one of the Aerotek folks and given directions and some advice. When I quizzed him about how to dress, I was told that: "the lab manager wears a shirt and tie every day, so dress appropriately." Enter my fear that my one suit that fits, doesn't anymore.

However, my labor at Emerachem having been very physical in nature, I had gone from around the 208 lb. range down into the low 190s, and my pants actually fit. Somewhat snugly, yes, but not inappropriately so. So, on the appointed day, I donned my one suit and set out for another interview. I was worried, but hopeful.

During the interview, I was given a tour of the facility, and -- well -- it's a big ol' laboratory, and appropriately, a maze. I recognized many of the instruments, and made certain that the manager saw my familiarity. I was also interviewed by the production manager, who started at Galbraith through Aerotek, so he knows whence I cometh. I asked about the shift, and learned that people come and go from 5:00 AM to 10:00 PM. The only real requirement is that one clock in and out at the correct times, and put in the time necessary to complete the job. So, for me, it would be day shift.

A few years ago, I was mishandling a bout of mild depression, and in total denial. When I finally acquiesced to my young bride's begging me to seek counsel, I found Dr. Connie Cole, a doctor of psychology. The first thing we established is that she does not treat patients by throwing pharmaceuticals at a problem, she tries to find the origination, and help change the perception of it. At one point, during our first session, she asked me why I worked swing shift, the idea being that a day shift job would be easier, with my high blood pressure, diabetes, et al. I replied that I had a twelfth grade education, and made $XX,XXX per year (it was not an exorbitant amount, but I was squirreling 18% of my base pay into a 401k, and paying cash for vacations), and she said, "Ah," and that was the end of that series of quizzes.

Had I heard of Galbraith then, things might be different today.

Be that as it may, when all of the festivities were done, the Lab Manager asked me about my availability, and I told him that, if he would allow me to leave my jacket in his office, I'd go to work in my dress pants, shirt and tie. He laughed, but -- trust me -- I was serious. He told me that he would make a decision early the next week, but he had several more interviews through which to slog. I'm guessing that many of the possibilities were adorned with multiple degrees, so I had slim hopes.

Apparently, however, my one suit helped; in fact, may have been a deciding factor, for all I know. I have now been there for a couple of months, and the work is intriguing and enjoyable. I like puzzles, and this job is full of them. My young bride always points out that, "they hired you for your brain," which is a nice idea to hold close.

Again, the pay is not stellar, and -- having run out of my severance -- I'm going to have to cut back on some stuff, Like eating out and HBO. But, let's face it, when the forefathers spoke of our "inalienable rights," the movie channels weren't one of them. I am hoping that, at the end of my six-month obligation, they hire me full-time and I can get some damned medical insurance, without which it will be very hard to pay for all of my stupid maintenance medications.

And it's day shift -- who knew?

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