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Monday, April 24, 2017

A lesson of unintended consequences.

Time, the final frontier.  Time is a device used to give order to events, it is a means of measuring duration. It gives added meaning to certain accomplishments, a forty yard dash is not so impressive if it takes 25 minutes, maybe it isn't a dash at all. Beyond that, time has become an integral part of life, it has permeated society to an extent that is a little exasperating.

Myself, I need a watch, I have to wear one or my day is ruined.  It will be a wasted day of looking at
a wrist, wondering how much time has passed since I last glanced at my naked, lonely, wrist. I need to know what time it is, and I don't know why. Time is a tool, an addiction, and it can be a weapon.

For a time I managed a small production department in a small company. One of my employees was an older lady from West Virginia, Mary Maxine. She had been there a long time, had a profound understanding of her job, was stable, steady, and productive, and had a mistrust of management that bordered on paranoia.

We developed a working relationship based on mutual suspicion. She was sure I was trying to get her to work harder without paying her more, and I was sure she could probably work harder. But, she had been there a long time, supervisors had come and gone and she had seen her share of crap, brother, she could tell you. And if you thought she was going to let some kid tell her to speed up, well then you had another think coming. Thinking the first time is not all that pleasant, and I avoid conflict so we just acted like we were both happy.

Then one day the unthinkable happened, the plant manager told me the parent company was sending a time management specialist to study procedures and practices. Since Maxine was the most senior employee in my little department she was the target. It was my curse as a manager to tell her.

"He is not here to make you go faster, he just wants to see if they are charging enough, and if we can do anything to make your job easier. They are going to study every job, in every department." I tried to explain.

Her husband was suffering from a coal mining related ailment. they had been shuttled from doctor to clinic to nurse practicioner without resolution. The company who had employed him would not take his calls after promising to take care of things. They were living on a meager disability income and her wages. You could watch her deflate when I told her, shoulders slumping forward, head drooping, the weight was unbearable. She almost cried, thinking this was a trap. I almost cried looking at her holding back the tears.

It was only two hours, a little man with a yellow shirt, a brown knit tie (fashionable at the time) and brown synthetic pants carried a clipboard, a stop watch and several pencils followed Maxine around, noting movement, steps. She was trying to hurry without much luck, the shaking and worrying, and fear was an anchor, holding her down. She was never fast, but now she seemed to be working in thick mud.

He finished his work, thanked her for her help, and moved on without saying anything to me. She came into my cluttered, dusty office and asked if he should take the rest of the day off.

"Yes, I will see you tomorrow." She was so shaken, it seemed possible to me she would not come back, ever. We had quite a few people not come back from lunch, just leave and never return. She needed the money, so she came back the next day and asked what he said.

"Nothing," She didn't believe me, but I never heard anything. Weeks went by and Mary Maxine returned to her normal, suspicious, combative self. Our working relationship returned to a low level battle of wills, which normally ended in her favor.

Weeks later and there was still no word. Much ado about nothing. To a short, round grandma hiding behind thick lenses and gaudy, rhinestone covered frames, from West Virginia who was forced to face an innocent, nameless, corporate terror she couldn't understand it was awful.

I think about Mary Maxine occasionally, we weren't close, we weren't friends, but we were coworkers. In a way we took care of each other, and that was good enough.