Chapter 27: Pole Inspecting with the Devil
Jobs 80 – 81
I’ve been dreading the moment when I would have to sit down and deal with Osmosis – the worst job I’ve ever had. This period was a dark one for me and my family. Osmosis definitely contributed greatly to the difficulties, but there were other unfortunate things which happened to us during this period.
Yesterday I sat down and re-read all the 35 or so pages I had already written about Osmosis years ago. It was not a comfortable experience. What’s even more uncomfortable is I still haven’t quite figured out why I left Lear Memorial Chapel. It was probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made.
My wage at Lear was pretty decent. Also, Mrs. R returned to the work force. Our youngest was now old enough that she didn’t need her mom around the all the time. J’s health was stable enough to allow her to contemplate employment. Through our family friend Sue, she got a job at a small social service organization. This program provided perinatal support services to low-income families. When J and I got together, she had been an eligibility worker at the county welfare office, but she left there after she got pregnant with Rimpy Jr. Her education and experience in social services put her in good stead for this new job.
J has great organizational and people skills, and her new boss loved her work. J kept getting raises, and was soon making more than I did, which made me a little envious. It was also the first time in our marriage that we achieved something like a middle-class income. For a little while we had enough money that life didn’t feel like quite such a struggle to pay for rent, bills, food, and all those other necessities of life.
However, having both parents working created a situation we had not encountered before: who was going to do the cooking? We hadn’t intended that our family roles should be divided along such traditional lines; it just worked out that way. J already knew how to cook, and fantastically. I didn’t. Since I was working, it only made sense that she would take care of feeding us.
Now that she was also working, it wasn’t fair to expect her to also be responsible for all the cooking. Unfortunately, I never had been any kind of cook, and certainly hadn’t had any reason to learn in the nearly two decades of our marriage. I was at a loss as to how we were going to handle this situation. We ended up eating out a lot, and sometimes it seemed like the financial gains we were getting from our new two-person income were being negated by all the food from restaurants. It was obvious to me that I was somehow going to have to learn how to cook so we could at least split that chore.
As I write this, it’s occurring to me that it’s just possible that this dilemma may have played into my decision to try my fortunes with a new job. I hope that’s not true, but if it is I will accept the blame for being a wanker. Another bit of wankerishness which probably factored into that decision, has to do with my ADHD. As I mentioned before, up to this point I’d only had a couple of jobs that lasted for a couple of years: paratransit driving and mortuary transportation. If you don’t count the time I returned to the paratransit job after my first departure, both of those jobs, in fact, lasted EXACTLY two years.
In both of those jobs, I had noticed that as I approached the two-year mark, I started getting restless, especially with the paratransit, which was full-time, as opposed to the part-time, on-call nature of mortuary transportation. I became bored with the routine, and the pride I felt in doing a good job tended to decline. When I became aware of this feeling of boredom and frustration in paratransit, I also attributed it to another realization. My dad had always trumpeted the twin ideals of “finding something and sticking to it”, and that work was the only thing that defined a person. I thought that if I just kept working, everything would be fine. After close to two years, I realized I was still struggling to make ends meet. I thought steady work was the cure for such ills. Of course, my dad made much more than I had, and my parents had good credit, and owned their homes, and all the other yardsticks of middle-class “success”, which helped them have a comfortable existence on a one-person. I had not achieved anything close to that.
Also, after long enough in a job, even if it gave me a lot of strokes for being a good worker, I would start to feel like I didn’t want to just be known as good receptionist, or a good paratransit driver, or a good hauler of stiffs. I wanted more, somehow, but I was too scared to attempt anything creative. It’s too bad I couldn’t just learn to accept the fate of so many of us who just have to work to live, and tried to find happiness with in that. I think the “two-year itch” was starting to hit me at Lear, and that may have contributed to my asinine decision to depart.
My memory of the exact timeline of events for this period is a little fuzzy, but in many ways the new problems inherent with a working couple got resolved in an unfortunate way. Poor J’s health took another downturn, and before long she had to leave her job at the perinatal agency. But that didn’t mean I was off the hook about learning to cook. She was so sick, that she couldn’t really do many of her former domestic roles, either. It still causes her great sadness that she can’t do a lot of things she used to do. A sad practical effect of her not working was that now our income had been reduced by more than half (since she made more than me), but we were still spending a goodly amount of money eating out, since there was still no in-home cook.
I got it into my head that somehow I could do better than I was doing at Lear, where I got an annual raise of one dollar, which I viewed as being rather stagnant. I figured I was going to have to do something bold in order to increase my earnings. I wanted to go against tradition and truly apply myself in some job where my income could increase with the more time and industry I put into it, as opposed to a flat hourly wage.
But what kind of job? Incredibly, I began to think about trucking again. The fact that Rimpyette was now old enough for J to work played a part. There were no long any little children who needed a daddy around all the time, as well. But there is another problem with my brain in that I often feel a need to return to things I regarded as failures in an effort to correct the past. I viewed my past experience with trucking as one of those failures and I wanted another shot at being good at it.
And here’s the final, dirty little secret: I was probably running away again. I wasn’t handling J’s illness very well. My dad had been an asshole about people being sick, and it was hard for me to shake that modeling. I think I wanted to distance myself from it, physically as well as emotionally. So, there it is: a whole bunch of poor excuses for a terrible decision. I began to put my redonkulous plan into action.
Job #81: Truck Driver-in-Training (again!)
My commercial license had long ago lapsed, so I was going to have to find a company other than Turkey that provided training. I found one, and applied and was accepted. I gave my notice at Lear. I then traveled by Greyhound to somewhere in southern California (where is immaterial, since it’s all horrible), and checked into the company-provided motel. I didn’t even last a week. I quickly realized it was one of the worst decisions of my life. It wasn’t a problem with the company - I wasn’t there long enough to even find out if they were bad, although I was already having some trepidation about their strange team-driving set-up. No. The real problem was that I had left a very sick wife back home. Poor J was just falling apart. What had I been thinking? So I quietly slipped out of the motel one night with my bags and took a transit bus to the Greyhound station and bought a ticket home. I never did hear anything from that company regarding the money they had already spent on me. I guess they considered it too small a loss to fuss over.
So once again I was back home in O-Town and unemployed. I had been warned that anyone who left Lear was never welcomed back, but I tried anyway, with predictable results. Great. I needed work fast. In addition to any job, I also started trying to again find something in geospatial. I didn’t have much hope for success there. Geospatial skills go stale quickly, given the ever-evolving nature of the technology. I hadn’t been able to get a job immediately after graduating, so my chances three years hence were even more dismal.
I put my meager geospatial resume on Monster.com. To my surprise, I was contacted by a company called (and here I shudder involuntarily) Osmosis. If you haven’t read my lengthy history with Osmosis in this blog, I’ll briefly recap. Osmosis started life back in the 1930s as a company that made wood preservatives. Soon they began specializing in applying the preservatives to wood that’s currently in use, such as railroad trestles and utility poles.
Now Osmosis is a leader in inspecting and treating utility poles. They have a small GIS division at their headquarters in New York, which is what brought my resume to their attention. However, they weren’t really interested in me for my questionable GIS skills. They just needed warm bodies to fill their ranks of foremen for their pole inspection and treatment crews.
I talked to a recruiter from Osmosis, which should have warned me away right from the get-go. Way back when I was in the army, there was a common joke – more commonly attributed to lawyers – that circulated among the enlisted ranks and went like this: “How can you tell a recruiter is lying? His mouth is moving.” After my experience with Turkey, which also has recruiters, I realized that same folksy wisdom applied to them as well. I was slow to realize that any job which has to have people who talk other people into working there is not a good job.
I drove down to Sacramento to meet with an Osmosis supervisor, a pleasant Canadian named Jason. We met at a McDonald’s because due to the highly mobile nature of their business, Osmosis doesn’t really have offices, except at their headquarters in New York. I think Jason had a desk in the SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utilities District) building, but it wasn’t conducive to job interviews.
After talking with Jason for a bit, I rode with him to where one of the crews was working. I met a foreman named Peter, who later became my trainer. Peter looked a little harried, but he had time to shake my hand and say hello. We watched Pete and his crew work for a while, then Jason drove me back to my vehicle. The work looked a bit rougher than what I had been used to in my comfy job as a funeral director, but I hadn’t seen anything to frighten me away. I told Jason I was interested, and I drove back to O-Town.
Jason must have given a favorable report of our interview to his superiors, for a couple of days later the recruiter called me with a job offer, at the handsome fee of approximately 18 dollars an hour (the exact wage varied depending upon the contracts with the utility clients). That was the highest wage I had ever been offered. There was also the potential for extra income (so they said) from “production bonuses” if I exceeded my daily quotas. That sounded like a fine way to make good on my earlier idea of earning more money for more effort. Too bad it didn’t work out that way.
My only qualm about the job was being away from home. Everyone I had spoken to at Osmosis had openly admitted that the job involved a lot of travel. As with trucking recruiters, however, they weren’t entirely honest about exactly HOW long I would be gone at a time. I talked it over with J. After all, I had just come back from the trucking school because she was sick. She said that for 18 dollars an hour, she could put up with anything. So I signed with the devil.
Job #81: Utility Pole Inspection and Treatment Foreman
2005 - 2006
Around mid-December Osmosis flew me down to Ventura, California to begin my on-the-job training. That was a couple of weeks before Christmas. Osmosis took a break during the winter holidays, and when I returned to training it was in Sacramento. First I stayed in a flea-bag motel in West Sacramento at Osmosis’ expense. Then I stayed in a room over my brother’s garage in Sacto proper. Osmosis gave me a 600 dollar stipend for my own lodging. My brother wasn’t charging me rent, so I got to pocket that money.
I trained with Pete for a few weeks during the rainy northern California winter. Our district manager was a psychotic hillbilly with moldy teeth named Rick. When I finished training, I got my own Osmosis truck and a crew. I even hired Step-Rimpyette for my crew, whom Rick fell head over heels in lust with.
Step-Rimpyette and I were transferred to Turlock. Then things started getting shitty. I had a new district manager in Turlock, so at least I was rid of Rick, but already I was starting to realize that Osmosis and I weren’t a good fit. I was having a hard time finding my groove as a foreman. I had trouble making quota, let alone making any production bonuses for exceeding it. I did one day manage to exceed quota. My production bonus for that day? Five cents. No, really – a freaking nickle. Wow.
Basically working for Osmosis was like living with my father again: I constantly had a critical authority figure telling me I wasn’t good enough. I began to take my feelings of frustration and worthlessness out on those I loved. I actually fired my beloved Step-Rimpyette because she was sick with vague symptoms one day and couldn’t work. Little did I know then that her occasional mysterious illnesses were an early sign of her own future health problems. We now know that she has Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and panhypopituitarism. She’s a very sick puppy, much like her poor mother. But all I understood then was that my father was a dick about sick people, but he was a successful, hardworking man. If I was going to be a successful, hardworking man like my dad, then I had to be a dick with sick people.
And that dickishness extended to my ailing wife. From the faraway places I was working, I thought of my sick wife at home and instead of seeing a person who needed sympathy and support, I saw a weakling, a slacker. Just like Daddy would have done. And J was going through more than just her own illness. Her mother was dying of congestive heart failure.
But I just kept spinning away into more anger and resentment. Meanwhile, Osmosis was sending me to such charming places as Las Vegas (where I nearly died more than once on Mt. Charleston) and Reno. And now I feel that if this memoir is to be any kind of honest history, I must admit to my lowest of lows from this dark time. If I didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell my readers, some of whom probably wouldn’t think it was that big a deal. But I care what my family thinks of me, and that’s why I haven’t admitted this in previous tellings of the whole sordid Osmosis saga.
My deepest shame is that my twisted psyche actually made me go to a couple of strip clubs and get lap dances. I have heard that some married men do this routinely, and their wives tolerate it. One guy I worked with claimed he did so, and that his wife sometimes went to male strip shows and fondled the dancers’ wieners. When I’m in my right mind, this sounds all wrong to me. When I was a single guy, I went to a few strip clubs, but lap dances didn’t exist back then. I guess I could understand a married man going and looking at strange women’s naked bodies, but anything more intimate doesn’t seem right.
When I went to the first strip club while working for Osmosis, I just wanted to see boobs. I was angry and lonesome, and wanted to do something that I knew would hurt J, if she knew it – which I didn’t intend that she should. I wasn’t expecting to encounter lap dances. I had heard of them, but didn’t know they had become a common feature of such clubs. I gave into the temptation of one (the dancers are persuasive salespersons, because that’s how they make more money), and ended up spending way more money than I had intended for my dirty little secret night out. Of course, I couldn’t tell my wife that I had run out of my weekly budget early without coming up with some elaborate lie to explain it, so I basically starved until my next payday.
On my second foray to look at naked women, I was so far gone with seething resentment that I think my psyche was actually splitting. One part of my brain was completely in opposition to another part. The “better” part said, “I’m just going to go and pay only enough to see some boobs, nothing more. I can’t afford a lap dance”, but the worse part was saying, “Fuck it. I’m going to get a lap dance, no matter the expense. That will show my wife!” When I got to the strip club, I tried at first to just look, but the worse part won out, and I paid for another lap dance. I went back to my motel, ashamed but defiant. J called, and we ended up getting into an argument that ended with me slamming the motel phone down so hard I broke it.
In early July J’s mom passed away. I went home and officiated at her funeral (as she had requested), which was hard, because I had loved my mother-in-law, and I was crazed by Osmosis. While I was home, I got a phone call from Pete, the Osmosis foreman who had trained me. He had moved on to a job with a company called which provided merchandising services in the electrical departments of a popular chain of home improvement stores. He needed someone for the Butt County stores. He knew I lived in the area, and that I was a good worker. He also figured that I – being a relatively normal and intelligent person – probably hated Osmosis as much as he had. He said it was only part-time work to begin with, and my wage would be 15 dollars, which was less than Osmosis was paying. The main reason I had stuck with Osmosis for as long as I had (other than trying to work out my daddy issues) was because I couldn’t afford to just quit and start looking for work again. Going down in pay and hours was risky, but it was better than nothing for the chance to be free from those fuckers. I told Pete “YES!”
I dutifully returned to Osmosis, but immediately gave them two weeks’ notice. Going to that hateful job for those two weeks was one of the hardest things I ever did, but at least there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I had barely been with them for 7 months, but it had felt like years.
Sadly, my mental health did not immediately return just because I was no longer with Osmosis. There were some difficult times in the ensuing weeks while I transitioned to my new job. J and I still fought about money. I revealed my secret tryst with strippers, and there were some ugly scenes. I wasn’t done being an angry fuckhead. I discovered social media, in the form of Myspace, and became a little too friendly with a lady I met there. I wouldn’t call it an on-line affair, but it was definitely a heavy flirtation, and not the sort of thing a married man should be doing. There were more horrible fights when J found out. I cut off my relationship with my cyber-friend, but J and I almost separated. All told, my reaction to my time with Osmosis nearly cost me my sanity, my marriage and my family. I sunk so very low, and I am still inexpressibly grateful to my family for not giving up on me.
And that, I think, is enough about that rotten stuff. In the next chapter, we get to the best job ever, and then it’s a short hop (with a brief stumble) to my current job. Bye for now.