Adventures in H.R. (in four parts)


In the early days, Cavendish Junior College was a big, happy family. Everyone was local, friendly, easygoing. Enthusiastic. Your basic Yoopers. At contract negotiation time, the leader of our little maintenance field group would be summoned into the Personnel Director’s office. (Yes, they used to call that department “Personnel” in those unenlightened days. Forgive them, they didn’t know any better. Now, in these more enlightened days, we call it Human Resources, to better distinguish the responsibilities from Energy Resources, Land Resources, Animal Resources, whatever. Apparently “personnel” was a vague word without meaning.)

Our group leader would sit down with the director and they’d shoot the bull for a while, talking about huntin’, da Bears, where the best fishin’ holes could be found, and at some point the director would slide a piece of paper across the desk, on which he’d written his contract offers. Our group leader would look at it, nod and say, “Yah, this looks good.” And it was. They shook hands and negotiations were concluded.

In later years, contract negotiations became a war. Weeks and months would be spent in battle. Tempers flared, vile language spewed, veiled (and a few naked) threats delivered. The Administration would spend tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers (hired guns expert in negotiation, confrontation, intimidation and humiliation) to beat down the employees. In those days the then-President motivated employees by urging that “You shall never reject any ideas by saying ‘we’ve never done it that way.’ Those words are forbidden!” Needless to say, one time a creative suggestion proposed by the employee group to streamline our health care was rejected by the Administration’s pitbull lawyer. Asked why, he said, “Because we’ve never done it this way.”

We sensed a disconnect there.


We all know the guidelines for people applying for a job. Do your homework. Know the prospective employer. Have a list of things you can do for them. (Some good examples here.)

So we had an opening for a custodian. Basic skills and duties. Sweep, mop, straighten up the place, clean toilets, change light bulbs. Keep the buildings clean and safe. Applications were accepted and reviewed, interviews were scheduled. One guy came in and did it right. He’d spent two days walking around the Cavendish Junior College campus with a clipboard, making copious notes on any deficiencies he saw, and what he could suggest and would do to make it all better. He was sharp, qualified, on time, polite, dressed for success, literate. At the end of the interview, he was thanked and ushered out of the room. Everyone on the committee was impressed. Stunned. This guy had nailed it. He did everything right. (I’ve told this story to people who’ve been on hiring committees; their eyes would light up and they’d glow with delight just hearing this.) But the committee was chaired by our Maintenance Department boss, Ed Posen. Ed glared around the table, and said, “That guy’s gonna be trouble.” Needless to say, he did not get hired.


Motivation is usually always a good thing. People work better when they’re motivated. Our employee reps would met with the President occasionally to discuss various issues. One time a big issue at CJC was rumors of early retirement buyouts. When the president was asked what were the chances of that, he replied, “Why should I pay people to go away when I can just fire them?” That was certainly motivating.

In contrast to the bad old days of the Personnel Department, the new Human Resources Department often doesn’t know what they’re doing, or who even anybody in their employ is.

After one round of firings (also called “personnel reductions,” “downsizing” (or “right-sizing”)) some top level positions were left vacant. Like Director of Public Safety. Things got tense and confused in the Public Safety office. Critical duties went undone. People who’d had no training were held responsible, of course. It got ugly. But the kicker was when H.R. called one of the survivors of the cutbacks some time later, demanding to know where the (former) director was, and why wasn’t he answering his phone or replying to their urgent emails? “Um,” the new director said cautiously, “you fired him six months ago.”

“Oh!” the H.R. person said, clearly surprised. “Um, well, nevermind, then.”


When  I retired from CJC, I got no direction from H.R. I had to go ask questions, which got me incomplete answers. It was a long, frustrating process of chasing down people who knew anything at all about the process—how to apply, who to tell, what forms to fill out, where to file them, what to do with my keys, phone, computer, etc. Like no one had ever retired from there before. Long afterward, I talked with business friends who described things like “exit interviews.” Huh? I had to have this explained to me. I didn’t know what they were talking about. Apparently, someone from H.R. should, ideally, in a perfect world, sit down with you and discuss your experiences with the employer, the good, the bad, the work, the environment, the processes. I would have loved to share my experiences. But I certainly didn’t get an exit interview. What I got instead was a generic survey on a website. The first question was “Why did you decide to leave the college and seek employment elsewhere?” Um, I retired?  It was obvious that after 19 years, they didn’t know me, or care. I don’t remember if I finished the survey. I don’t know, and I don’t care.



Communication Breakdown

So. Many, many years ago, we the field crew of the maintenance department of Cavendish Junior College (not its real name) were promised cell phones. We’d been carrying pagers for many years, which no one liked, so we were all looking forward to carrying cell phones. After all, when a pager goes off twenty times a day and you’re in the middle of five jobs and two calls and all you can do is scream impotently to the heavens, then you have to drop everything and search for a phone so you can call the office back– and by then you might have cooled off and been civil.

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A Ride in the Country

We live in the country. Such as it is. You know: overrun with dirt and insects and vile nature and stuff. When it comes to the Green Acres dilemma of Fresh Air v. Times Square and The Chores v. The Stores, I’m ready to side with Mrs. Douglas. We got critters everywhere, even in the attic and the walls. Seriously, I’m ready for a condo.

We now have a pesky woodchuck who’s determined to move into our garden shed and set up housekeeping. I’ve evicted it twice, the second time after it got locked in and had second thoughts about the shabby accommodations and mice, and nearly tore the siding off trying to get out. So I set out the live trap and baited it with soon-to-expire sushi. That should be high living for a lowly woodchuck. I thought.

Got up this morning to find a small possum in the trap. Okay, I try to be humane and relocate them. (Don’t tell the DNR, I’m sure they have rules against this, and fines, licensing requirements, background checks, multiple fees, etc.) But anyway. My process involves putting down a thick layer of newspapers in my trunk and giving him a ride in the country.

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Ghosties in the Night

Every biennial year or so I go on a private, personal writing retreat to Wayne’s World, my cousins’ camp on Lake Arfelin roughly 10 rough, brutal miles north of Champion. The seclusion is delightful. On a good year I can spend a week without any human interaction at all, just the occasional revelers out on the lake or partying out of sight somewhere beyond the trees.

I’m not a Nervous Nellie, more of a Cautious Kelly. I guess. But the nights are very dark and very quiet, and I’m all alone at the end of the trail in a three-bedroom ranch. Despite the quiet, I prefer to wear earplugs when I sleep. Otherwise the least little noise would pop me awake—whether small animals rustling in the leaves, or bears tearing into the trash can. So far nothing and no one has bothered me.

There was one interesting late night incident, however.

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They Call Me MISTER Boomer!

This is a reprint from a post on my more obscure web blog, from November 1, 2008, in memory of Boomer (1992 – July 5, 2009)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy cat Mr. Boomer has been with us for nearly 16 years now. He came to us in November of 1992 as a stray: starved, insecure, needy, stinking, and full of worms. We took him to our vet, Dr. P–, of the P– Veterinary Clinic, and got him checked out and patched up. He’d already been declawed and fixed. I named him and he moved in and took over us and the house, even though my wife would have gladly had him put to sleep. He was loud, annoying, always hungry, constantly under foot, and every couple of days he’d have a poop like a St. Bernard that would fill the litter box and peel the paint off the walls.

Even so, he was my Mr. Boomer, my Big Guy, my Mr. Cat, my Mr. Boom Boom Guy, a real guy’s cat, a cat who met me at the door when I came home and coaxed me to the living room floor every day to roughhouse and play-fight with me. As Calvin said of Hobbes, “It’s hard to stay mad at someone who misses you when you’re asleep.”

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Slow Carb Diet

I was reminiscing about all the cars (and three pickups) I’ve owned and ruined over the years. I didn’t ruin any of them intentionally. I’m a victim of the Law of Unintended Consequences. (That’s the same law that says if you raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour it will lift many low wage workers out of poverty, but the consequence is that now a donut at the local convenience store is going to cost $5 and nobody will buy a $5 donut so the store closes and the national economy eventually plunges into recession.)

We could talk about the ’66 Mustang that suffered low oil pressure and blew head gaskets after I rebuilt the engine. (I blame this on the torque wrench I bought that I thought made me a master mechanic, able to fix anything. Never buy a torque wrench. That’s a prescription for disaster.) Or the ’75 Trans Am that… well, I don’t want to talk about it.

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