Friday

HOW TO GET FIRED AND LIKE IT.


The great Highland conspiracy happened 40 years ago this month- it took many weeks of planning and diligent effort. On May 20, 1977 the fruits of all that labor came to pass; I got fired by the Highland Appliance Company. As a result I suffered through having the entire summer off before leaving for college and getting paid for it. Here’s how it all happened…

 It actually began on the day that I got hired at Highland Appliance. The local district manager, fellow by the name of Stan, had interviewed me specifically as their TV and stereo "road technician." I was to replace a guy named Arnold who, I suspect, the character of Les Nessman from the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati had been patterned after by the show's writers. The job was essentially little more than that of a TV repair man- I drove around in a Highland van, went into people's homes and fixed their brand-new TVs while little kids in catsup-stained T-shirts tried to steal my tools. It was a crummy job but the pay was great and as a 19-year-old bachelor looking toward college I thought I had it pretty good. The service manager, however, disagreed with Stan's choice and hated me from the very beginning. Just for the record I won't use his real name, we'll just call him "Doink.”


From the very beginning Doink was on my case. You see the company headquarters in Taylor, Michigan had set up what they called “a required completion rate.” In other words, there was a specific number of calls where I was supposed to arrive, completely fix what was wrong and move on to the next call. When it was not possible to fix whatever device it was that Highland had sold the customer that was defective right out-of-the-box, I had to bring it into the shop; such things were called "shop pulls" and did not count as a "complete." According to the home office figures I was required to get 8.6 completes per day. The problem was that the home office had based their figures on service calls being performed in the densely populated suburban Detroit area. Not only were sales greater in those areas but calls were closer together. In my area of operation, which was Saginaw, Michigan, my calls were often in rural areas that required a good deal of driving to and from the call. Additionally sales were far lower than they were in the Detroit area. To make matters worse, I vary rarely had more than 8 calls, so getting an 8.6 average was almost impossible. To Doink it made no difference, my daily completes had to come up to the home office's average; no excuses.


As the months went on through the winter my job became more and more of a pain in the ass. Then came that magical day when I got my letter of acceptance to the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach Florida. My final letter of enrollment arrived on April 25, 1977 for a class that was supposed to begin on the first day of September. When Doink found out that I would be leaving in four months he decided to try and get rid of me more quickly by really turning the screws to see if I would quit. However, the other technicians that worked in the shop, who hated Doink perhaps more than I did, had a different idea. Ken, who is the shop lead, did little bit of homework. He discovered that under the Michigan Employment Security Commission’s (MESC)schedule, my wage level was the lowest that would provide maximum benefit. Meaning that if I made any higher wage, I would still get the same benefit, but if I made any less I would be in a lower benefit category. Also under that same commission, if I were to be fired without having provided any damage to the company, such as theft, damage to facilities, or punching my boss in the mouth, I was entitled to collect unemployment benefits immediately. But, if I were to quit, it would be six weeks before my benefits would kick in. Together with his friend Gary, who was our "white goods technician" or the guy who fixed the stoves, dryers and dishwashers, they hatched a plan that would allow me to depart Highland Appliance and get the summer off with pay. All I had to do was be so crappy at my job that Doink would just have to fire me. It was a diabolical scheme that I bought into immediately.

Suddenly while out on the road I acted as if I just couldn't figure out how to fix the most simple problems. At nearly every call I would have to phone back into the office and ask Doink what I should do about this broken piece of equipment. I took extra long lunch hours, in fact, I even took a few occasions to throw my hockey bag into the back of my van and go to the ice arena at noon and spend a couple hours playing pickup hockey. One of the girls in the office told me that Doink was positive that I was hanging out in a bar somewhere. She giggled at the fact that Doink didn't know me well enough to know that I'm a non-drinker. My average of completes soon dropped to about one per day and Doink was slowly going out of his mind as the home office pestered him to do something about me other than firing me.


I have to admit here that I was not the stereotypical TV repair guy that some of you reading this may remember from the days when people actually got their TVs repaired in their homes. I didn't walk around wearing a jacket with a white oval patch that had my name on it. I didn't lug around a big giant tube caddy and I didn't spend a lot of time counseling customers on what was wrong with their television. Instead of the horn-rimmed glasses wearing repair nerd that they were expecting to come into their home carrying a giant case filled with assorted electronic tubes, which we didn't use anymore, what they got was a 19-year-old kid in blue jeans with a nut driver in his back pocket, a clipboard in one hand and a module to fix the TV in the other hand. For example, we had a rash of Admiral TVs that always seem to blow their sound cards. I'd look on the dispatch, see it was an admiral, see it was a sound issue, grab the module, enter the house, pull back of the TV, swap out the module, replace the back of the TV and have the entire repair done before the customer was finished bitching about the problem. I made it in and out of one call in just 11 minutes- and then scooted over to the ice rink to spend an hour or so playing shinny. That was all it really took to get the job done. At one point they had one of the technicians from in the shop ride with me to ensure that I carried my tube caddy around, "because that's what the customers expected to see." Needless to say nothing worked- they were going to have to fire me for "inability to perform job function" which was exactly what Ken and Gary had planned.

 The final straw came when on May 18th when Doink handed out a series of blue-and-white patches made in the form of the Highland logo. They were intended for us to sew on a jacket or a shirt. That night I sewed mine onto the ass of my blue jeans, and wore them to work the next day. As I was bending over filling out my trip sheet for the day Doink walked by, stopped and asked, "is that all you think of the company you work for?" Glancing over my shoulder I simply said, "Yep." Doink stormed off to his office and slammed the door. I walked back into the shop, glanced at Ken, who had watched the entire thing, and said, "I think I'm all done here." We both snickered- our plan had apparently worked. He asked if I was gonna enjoy having the summer off with pay?
 
The following morning I showed up at work and only had four calls on my list with a note saying, "return to shop after last call." Again I walked back into the shop, showed the guys the message and we all quietly celebrated. Gleefully I ran my last four calls telling every single customer that this was my last day and I was going away to college in Florida to learn to become a professional pilot. Every one of them congratulated me and a couple of them said that they wished they could go with me.

Returning to the shop I walked in with the same feeling I had when they open the penalty box door and let you in after you've just won a fight. Doink beckoned me into his office and sat me down as morose as an undertaker. He gave me a long-winded explanation about how I was unable to come up to the company standards and they were going to have to "let me go." I tried to act a bit stunned and somewhat sad when in fact I felt like I’d just scored a goal. It was all I could do to not raise my hands in the air and shout "Wahoooo!” Then, being the completely inept manager that Doink was, he made a critical mistake. He asked me if I wanted to wait while he inventoried my truck or if I just wanted one of the guys to take my truck and drive me home? It was similar to him having asked, "do you want to stay here and talk me out of hanging myself, or do you just want to leave and let me do it." For a moment I thought of that scene in the movie "Silver Streak" where the state trooper asks Richard Pryor if he'd like to chase the bad guys, or just go home and he hangs his head pretending to weep and says, "this is been a terrible ordeal I just want to go home." Although I didn't pretend to weep I acted glum and said, “I just wanna go home.”


The reason why I was so eager to not hang around while he "inventoried" my van was the fact that I knew full well that once I left the van in his charge without having it inventoried in front of me I was no longer responsible for anything that may be missing from the van. But, Doink thought that this was his big opportunity to really hang me. When I showed up at the unemployment office to file my claim they told me that Highland was withholding my paperwork as well as my final check which, by the way, under Michigan law he was required to give to me at the moment that he fired me. Now I had to go back to Highland and face-off with Doink to get my check and my paperwork. When I got there he accused me of major theft of items from the van. Of course I hadn't stolen a thing. My whole goal was to get cleanly fired so I could collect my unemployment right away.

One thing that I've always learned in life is that when you're going up against a company and an idiot  such as Doink the best thing that you can do to ensure that you win is to go up as high as you possibly can and dump a large load of shit down toward them. Because shit travels downhill and increases in velocity as it does so. In this case it was actually my dad who came up with a very unique idea. He advised me to call my local state congressional representative and complain about Highland’s antics with my unemployment. Believe it or not the congressman was actually in his office and took my call. He listened intently and then simply said, "We'll take care of this immediately." Within an hour I got a call from Stan my former district manager. He said, "I have just one question for you. Were you present when Doink inventoried the van?" Of course I said "no" and then he went on to read to me the list of items that Doink had submitted to the company of things missing from the van. About 90% of those items were things that I did not carry in the van at all, nor did any of the other drivers in the company. I brought up that point with Stan and he simply said, "I know." Stan then told me to wait about 45 minutes, go to Highland, pick up my final paycheck and then proceed to the unemployment office where my paperwork will be waiting.


To let you know just how popular Doink was at that Highland store, there was a day when one of the salesmen approached me in the parking lot and seriously told me that he would give me the biggest TV set of my choice if I would kill Doink. I thought it was a joke but he went on to tell me that he thought I was one of the few people he knew of who had the temperament to do such a thing and was savvy enough to dispose of the body! The attitude of almost everybody else that I met at that company was the same when it came to Doink. When I showed up to get my final paycheck Doink was in and out of the office several times while I waited on the sales floor. Ken came out, took me aside and said that Stan was on his way up from the home office and Ken had been told to be ready to take over Doink’s job. The salesman were all giddy with delight. One told me he's never seen Doink this nervous and they’re loving every second of it. Before long Doink showed up and reached through the service window with an envelope. I took it and then pointing it right back at him said, "You had no right to hold this from me." Standing just behind me, my dad placed his hand firmly on my shoulder; perhaps sensing that I wanted to ask Doink if he remembered birth and then pull him through that window. As we left the store and got into the parking lot I threw my hands in the air shouted out aloud "Wahoo! He shoots- he scores!” Dad laughed and just shook his head.

Indeed I got the entire summer of 1977 off with pay. I spent my time between camping up north and going down south to Plymouth and hanging out with my girlfriend. Highland Appliance was the only job from which I was fired in my entire life. Although I have been furloughed from three flying jobs, in aviation we don't consider that as being fired. I had a lot of managers who were idiots, but none who were as inept as Doink. So, I needed a summer vacation- with pay.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: All of my typos belong to Dragon.

Tuesday

A DAY I WOULD NEVER REGRET


April 18th, 1977... exactly 40 years ago today, as of this writing... it was a day I'll NEVER regret. It was a spring Monday in mid-Michigan and it seemed as if winter had finally released its dark grip as the sun was out and the robins were singing. I headed off to another crappy day of work in my Highland Appliance company service van. My job was that of the now extinct TV and stereo repair man. I motored around the tri-cities, went into people's homes and fixed their new TVs and stereos that they'd just purchased, brought home and discovered that the damned things didn't work. That meant that I got to meet a lot of pissed off people. My boss was a total asshole who hated my guts almost as much as everyone at the store hated him. It was an insufferable situation that paid quite well as at the age of 19 I was making good money. This was the result of my attending a local career center in the 11th and 12th grades and taking both basic and later advanced courses in electronics. Now I had a job in electronics that I hated. Although I never had planned to remain in that job for more than a single year, I now could hardly stand it for a single week.

My routine was always the same; drive the van to the store, pick up my "calls" for the day, get nagged by the asshole boss, head out on the road and go into assorted homes to kneel behind TV sets while little kids in ketchup-stained pajamas tried to steal my tools. About the only solace that I had was the fact that my home town professional hockey team, the Saginaw Gears, were ripping their way through the playoffs and headed toward their first Turner Cup. So it was that I put my key into the van's ignition with it's Gears key-chain and headed off to every call and every TV.

After my day's suffering I returned home to Mom and Dad's house figuring to hunker down in my basement bedroom, draw some cartoons and call my girlfriend... just like every other day. As I walked into the house, my Mom pointed toward a large manila envelope on the kitchen table. It had arrived in that day's mail. It was addressed to me. It was from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, "ERAU." I had applied to the university in the autumn of 1976 and was looking for an Air Force ROTC scholarship in Aeronautical Science... which is a fancy name for "pilot." The university, however, notified me that the Air Force was no longer doing Aero. Sci. scholarships and required all candidates to be in the engineering department. I wanted to do engineering about as bad as I wanted to keep working for Highland Appliance, so I decided to change my option, drop the ROTC and go in as a civilian in the flight department. That decision was made way back in February and I had been waiting since then to hear back from ERAU.

Oddly, I'd wanted to go to ERAU since the 8th grade. It was then that I was working in the counselor's office at Webber Jr. High School when a stack of assorted college fliers were mistakenly delivered to the Jr. high school rather than the high school. Looking at them I asked Mr. Barris, the counselor, what he wanted me to do with the stuff? He told me to just throw them away and as I went to toss them into the waste basket I saw that one pamphlet had an airplane on it. I kept that one and later studied it. It was a school that taught all about airplanes and, for the crazed space-buff that I was, the place was in Florida just north of "The Cape." Being anywhere near Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center was enough to fill my space-crazed imagination and learning to fly airplanes too was a sure winner in my book. This was the place for me and even though college seemed to be a lifetime into the future, THAT was where I wanted to go. When it finally came time for me to apply for college, ERAU was my first and ONLY choice. My high school guidance counselor tried to warn me off of that choice saying that he felt I didn't have the math background for it and perhaps I should go to the local community college instead. This was the same guy who, when I decided to take electronics at the career center in the 11th grade tried to warn me off of that too for the exact same reason. He said he thought I'd be better off taking sheet metal instead. I told him that I was going into electronics and if I wasn't carrying at least a "B" by Christmas, he could put me into sheet metal or even janitorial if he wanted. He just smirked and agreed. At the Christmas break I was carrying an "A" and he couldn't touch me. Out of the 24 of us who started Basic Electronics, only 3 of us made it to the advanced class for our senior year and only two of us graduated with a job in electronics. Now that same idiot was trying to warn me away from ERAU. The situation speaks for itself. Thus, on that Monday in April of 1977 I had an envelope from ERAU waiting at the table and countless implications waiting inside.

The envelope was fat, and squishy as if something was padded inside. As I held it the thought occurred to me that if this was an acceptance letter, opening it would likely change my whole life. I had no idea just how true that instinct actually was as I squished the envelope and stuck my finger in it to rip it open.

Inside that envelope was not only my letter of approval for admission to ERAU, but also a T-shirt with the ERAU crest. Unseen by me at the time the envelope also contained failures, struggles, frustration, poverty, discouragement, success, accomplishment, pride, glee, victory, new friends for life and a wife that I could never have imagined.

Suddenly I felt as if I was seated aboard a Saturn V moon rocket and the hold-down clamps had just released- I was on my way! Frankly, it's a good metaphor- because that thing had millions of parts that could fail and it launched to do the impossible. Now, I had to overcome countless problems, any one of which could lead to failure and I was setting out to do the impossible. "Impossible?" you may ask. Yes- think about it, I was a workin' class kid from the wrong side of the Saginaw River whose parents had both dropped out of high school (and so they both insisted that all three of their kids must finish school and go to college). I came from a place where the norm. was that you go to work in "the shop" or some other outlet that supported the auto industry. ERAU was, and still is, "the Harvard of the skies" (although it is my opinion that comparing ERAU to Harvard somehow degrades ERAU a bit), there was no way that I could afford to go there and I knew it. I was told over and over by the relatives and neighbors and assorted know-it-all blow hards "that's not for people like us," and NO ONE other than my cousin Tony believed I could do it.

I couldn't wait to get started.

I called into work the following day and just told them I wasn't going to be coming in. I took my bicycle for a long ride on the country roads of Michigan and just felt free. It was 79 degrees outside and the sun felt great. I got a money order for $100, which was the deposit fee that the university required and I mailed it gleefully off to Daytona. That evening I went with my Dad to the hockey game. Dad was the Zamboni driver and so we got there several hours before game time. He always let me go out and skate before he started doing the game ice. I took my stick, gloves and a half dozen pucks and hit the ice. It had been about a month since my final game playing in the juniors so it felt great to be back on the ice. I screamed around the rink, deep into the corners and blasting back out again firing shots. I had the whole of Wendler Arena all to myself and enough adrenaline pumping to bottle it and sell it in pharmacies. Under my ever-present hockey jacket I wore my new ERAU T-shirt. It was the only time that I wore it until I got my official letter of enrollment- I didn't wanna jinx myself. Dad was watching somewhat proud, yet probably deeply worried that I was setting myself up for a huge failure. He told me later that while I was out there one of the Gears players came through the arena's back door and stood watching. The professional hockey player mentioned that I was, "a real skater." Dad said something to the effect that it's too bad I didn't skate like that when I played and explained that I was blowing off steam because I'd just gotten into college. The player asked if I was "gonna play" there. Dad said no, I was going to Florida and gonna be a professional pilot. The player's comment was "Great!" I didn't even see the exchange- I was too busy ripping up the rink.

On April 25th, 1977, just one week after I'd gotten my approval letter, my admission letter from ERAU arrived. Four months and one day later, on August 26th, 1977 I said goodbye to my girlfriend Debbie, the state of Michigan, hockey and my life as it had been for the previous two decades and I headed off to ERAU.



I'm not at all shy about saying that it it took me a full decade to work my way through that place- in fact I'm quite proud to say that. My goal from the start was not some seat in an airline cockpit... my goal, my focus, was simply and directly to finish- to do the impossible, to take every doubter, critic and smug tit feeder and show them that a kid from the wrong side of the river CAN do this. Along the way I gained so much beyond my degree that today, 40 years later, I feel like the richest man on Earth. I have no regrets- NONE, and I especially will never regret opening that envelope... 40 years ago today.


Friday

YOU NEVER KNOW WHO'S GONNA BE ABOARD

On January 12, 1999 I had a trip aboard N225CC, a Falcon 100, from ESN-MTN-LEX-MTN-ESN and our prime customer was Senator Mitch McConnell. This was an insane time for Senate travel because it was at the peak of the Clinton impeachment trial. Senators had obligations after the hearing adjourned for the day, but had to be back in chambers by the next morning. So, they had to leave the chamber, hustle to an airport, board a private jet, make their appearance and then hustle back to DC. DCA was slammed every night so Senator McConnell and his aids limo'ed to Martian State airport just north of Baltimore where we picked them up and headed for Lexington, KY.

As we flew out, we could hear them talking in the back of the aircraft, but could not get all of the conversation because much of it seemed to be about the closed-door evidence so it was in hushed tones. What we could pick out was something about tiger stripe panties and it was apparently quite funny.

Before we left LEX they told us that we had one additional passenger. Didn't matter to us, we had 3 empty seats and no weight issues. The young blond lady extra passenger said that her airline reservation back to DC had gotten screwed up and she was about to get stuck in LEX. When the senator heard that, he told her she could hitch a ride back with us. I immediately recognized her as one of the news show "talkin' heads" that I'd seen on all of the networks, but I couldn't remember her name. We got them back to MTN and they caught their limo back to DC without as much as a bump. It was a an easy trip with good weather and we re-positioned back to ESN.

About a week later I was channel surfing the news and there she was! I read her name it was Kellyann Conway. Today, January 20th, 2017... 18 years later... the man whose campaign she brilliantly managed was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States and she became the first woman in history to successfully manage the election of a United States president... and I transported her when the airlines couldn't... thanks to Senator McConnell, or course. Congratulations Kellyann, even though you never knew who I was, you are now in my file of fun pilot's stories.

Thursday

"The Program" cartoon strip is BACK... again.


Yes after being idle through Obama's entire second term after it was repressed by censors of the administration for looking too much like the real thing... "The Program" cartoon strip has now been re-started.

Those of you who actually work on black projects or who work in aerospace can now revisit the place where ants really fly in space... or at least they try.


Constant training is required to not get turned into a smoking hole in the ground, yet most of the side characters have the the life expectancy of one of the red shirt guys in Star Trek (we use the red shirt joke a lot). Of course no corner is too sharp to cut and penny pinching is always a way of life in the training department.


You, however, can safely enjoy the work of Sims, Twik-O and Dr. Zooch as they challenge the unknown as well as management.


Lord willing and the creek don't rise I should be able to have this up once a week as my writing schedule gets back to normal after having just written 8 books in the past 4 years.


Now you can catch up on the adventures in the insanity known as "The Program" and never mind about those Russians- it's those gosh darned Dorrillians you gotta watch out for.





Wednesday

WHAT'S IN A NAME

At a recent doctor's visit the office staff were shuffling my paperwork around and the new office manager looked at mine and asked her co-worker, "What'll we do with Mr. Oleszewski's?"

That caught my ear because she pronounced my name exactly RIGHT! That's VERY rare and so I exclaimed, "You said my name correctly! How in the heck did you do that?"

"I'm from Ukraine." she replied with a smile and slight accent.

Growing up on the East Side of Saginaw, Michigan names such as mine were like "Jones" they were so common. Yet, out in the real world I found that many people have a real tongue-twister with names that are not actually Jones... especially flight attendants, or "FAs" as they are often called.

At one of my airlines, in the days prior to 9/11 when civilization actually existed in air travel, the company required that the FA making the pre-takeoff announcements had to greet the occupants of the fart thrones in the back of the aircraft by saying the cockpit crew's full names. This led to a lot of comedy in the cockpit as we listened in on the PA waiting to hear how they scrambled my last name. For the poor FA's, however, it was a frustrating and somewhat embarrassing way to start a flight. One FA actually had me spell it phonetically and then she sat in ops. and practiced it, yet still got it wrong as we taxied out, much to our giggles in the cockpit.

In order to help fix the problem I did a bit of research in the company manuals and found that nowhere did it state that the FAs had to give the passengers your ACTUAL name. So, from then on when the crew card that they read from was handed to us in the cockpit before the flight, I'd give them easier and more fun names in the "First Officer" blank:

"Roy Flemming"
"Frank Gifford"
"Max Peck"
"Anson Harris"
"Joe Patroni"
"Dan Roman"
"John Sullivan"
"Luther Higgs"
"Carl Griffin"

and so on.

Often the FAs would come back into the cockpit with the card and say, "This isn't your real name."

To which I'd reply, "No, but you can pronounce it."

They'd just sigh, or snicker, shake their head and return to their duties.

Then one day after a perfectly smooth and uneventful flight into MSP, the passengers were de-plane-ifying and I had my head down in paperwork when one of them stuck his head into to the cockpit, looked right at me and said,

"Please tell me that your name is NOT really Ted Striker,"