X Marks His Spot
©2017, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.

In addition to being a savvy shopper for home electronics and a co-conspirator in what became known as the infamous scandal called "Tubescam," X was also a well-trained employee of Union Shop. What "well-trained" meant depended on whether one was Management or Rank and File, however. X was very, very good at repairing and overhauling machines, in fact just about anything that they could throw at him. Not literally, I mean, although sometimes they wanted to do just that.

X wasn't alone in that respect. He had several similarly talented co-conspirators, whom we'll call Y and Z, who also had their own ways of needling management. Which is not in anyway suggesting that this particular management didn't deserve some needling. X could tell you some stories... but that would take all day. X, Y and Z were not above some general mischief making, for example the time when they sprayed release agent on all of the glue-based mouse traps. While that made the mice happy, we presume, that didn't gladden the hearts of leadership. It's debatable whether that act was a good idea; rats are not exactly the least disease-bearing animals out there.

But then there were some incidents which were completely justified. With Y and Z standing by in polite observation, X was directed to perform a specific job in no uncertain terms.

"Get over to that assembly," a member of management demanded, "and service the doubletalk generator." After a pause for effect, X was further ordered, "Right now, and don't give me any lip."

X looked at Y and Z, who could hardly contain their laughter, and without giving any lip, smartly and silently saluted. He picked up his tool box, paused on the way to the assembly to pick up a folding chair, continued to the machinery in question, unfolded the chair, put down the tool box and sat down in the chair directly in front of the assembly.

"WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?!?" bellowed the Person In Charge.

X calmly replied, "I'm waiting for you to install a doubletalk generator in this assembly so that I can service it."

At that point, Y and Z could not hold it in any longer. Neither could about another two dozen mechanics who had heard the proceedings.

Meanwhile, Upper Management had their own ideas about how to handle both Lower Management and the rank and file. They called an all-hands meeting to announce a new program, which they called "Quality Today." "We are all one team," it was proclaimed. The premise that was being conveyed was that everyone was equal when it came to getting work done. It was immediately apparent that, as on a certain Animal Farm, some were more equal that others.

For example, cell phones were no longer allowed on "the floor." "The floor" did not include management offices. Most of the supervisors were observed during this announcement paying more attention to their cell phones than to the actual discourse. At least one was "swiping left" the entire time and at least two others were apparently "liking" something. Thumbs were busy on no less than four other managers' hands.

That was outrageous enough, but then it got sillier.

"We are all professionals here, and as such we need to look the part. Therefore, beginning next week, there will be a Dress Code instituted. All employees will wear shirts with collars. We would strongly prefer button-down shirts."

Y raised his hand and was recognized. "We get filthy working on equipment. There is oil and dirt and grease all over the place, and it gets on us."

Z cut in without being acknowledged by leadership. "Do you own a detergent company on the side?"

"This is all about quality. Dress with quality, work with quality." Upper Management abruptly ended the meeting.

X, Y, Z and numerous other Union Shop employees commiserated. "Dress with quality, huh?" X repeated. "You know that's not going to be in our clothing allowance."

Y replied, "And where are we going to get collared shirts without going broke? They don't sell them at dollar stores."

Z agreed. "We're going to have to be really thrifty."

X's eyes gave that look that indicated an evil plot. "Well, I know a place that probably has lots of quality shirts for cheap."

And so immediately after their shift ended, the team of X, Y and Z took a trip over to a nearby thrift shop. They left with some of the most non-quality looking collared shirts available, much to the pleasure and relief of the shop's staff, which had been wondering what to do with them. Z scored a few designer-name knockoff knit polo shirts, in various shades of brown, gray, and yellow. Y purchased several out-of-season Christmas-themed button-down shirts, with stripes that were not only the wrong shades of red and green for the season, but were also diagonal. He topped that off with a shirt that looked like it had once been a stereotypical pizza parlor tablecloth.

But X did them one better. He found a mother lode of positively tasteless Hawaiian shirts, each one more tacky than the previous one.

"Oh, these are awful!" Z complimented. "They look like they got stopped at the harbor and turned around to go back!"

The worst of the worst was not only in a where-do-the-batteries-go-for-this lime green, but featured a politically incorrect pattern of scantily-clad hula girls. Another one looked as if a coconut tree had exploded. For some inexplicable reason, one was covered with depictions of slices of pizza.

"You wear that and I'll wear my tablecloth," Y offered.

"Yeah, we'll be coordinated," X agreed.

On the first day of the new Dress Code, the troops walked in, not only X, Y and Z, but most of the rest of the shop floor team. They conformed to the letter of the law but certainly not the spirit. Upper Management had neglected one important detail... that there was no guidance as to what else the employees had to wear. So most of the staff simply put on their required collared shirt over what they usually put on to go to work. One of them came in a welding suit, over which was loosely buttoned a bowling shirt that was three sizes too large.

The Dress Code lasted one shift.

"Well, they had Quality Today," X quipped.

The cell phone ban was much harder to undo. There were some legitimate reasons for that; work on the floor was hazardous at times and the distraction of a call coming in at the wrong time could have potentially disasterous results. Especially given some of the ringtones that the Union Shoppers had loaded: One consisted of an alarm buzzer with the words, "Warning! It's the Wife!" There was also the Perry Mason theme, the Get Smart theme, the Muppet Show theme, Vincent Price's evil-sounding laugh from "Thriller," several clips of music from The Benny Hill Show, four variations of Darth Vader's entrance music, and two different dogs barking. X's choice of ringtone, a snippet from "Yellow Submarine," seemed positively normal by comparison.

However, while the cell phones of the rank and file were relgated to their lockers except during breaks and lunchtimes, Lower Management had empowered themselves to reinterpret the Upper Management restriction to mean "those who worked on the floor," not "on the floor." And so they carried around and used their devices anywhere they pleased. They made no attempt to conceal their behavior.

After a couple of weeks of this, Z had had it. "What makes you think you're so special?" he complained to one of the younger supervisors.

"I'm management, and you're not. We earned this privilege."

Y couldn't resist this. "And just how did you earn it?"

"Because I have proven that I am superior to the ordinary workforce, and that justifies my rank at the shop."

"You mean you think you're better than everyone else?" Z retorted.

"I don't think so... I know so."

"You are not better than everyone else here, you..." Y said in a menacing, growling tone.

The two of them stared at each other for a few threatening moments.

Until X broke the tension.

"Anything you can do, I can do better..." he began to sing.

Z chimed in on cue and on key: "I can do anything better than you..."

"No you can't," Y added.

"Yes I can," X replied.

"No you can't," Y responded.

"Yes I can," X, Z and another six or seven employees joined in, "Yes I can, yes I can, yes I caaaaaaaaan!"

And so the floor of Union Shop turned in an impromptu performance of a signature song from Annie Get Your Gun. Younger Supervisor retreated to his office. Slowly but surely, the cell phones returned to the shop floor, but with reasonable cautions for safety's sake.

As this particular Union Shop was task-oriented, there were peaks and valleys of activity. Sometimes, X told me, the "money truck" would roll in as everyone would be put on mandatory overtime. This was lucrative but sometimes wreaked havoc on personal schedules, if not personal health. Lugging around and using the tools needed to fix heavy machinery was not easy, nor was disassembling them and dragging large parts around to be recalibrated, ground down, or otherwise adjusted. That work was exhausting and twelve hours of it for seven days straight was not X's idea of a good time. Balancing that out, though, were days in which there was very little to do. Since Idle Hands were the Devil's Workshop (not just an old saying, but an actual sign posted prominently in the management office, X told me), management did ther best to ensure that those who they were obligated to bring in and pay under the terms of the Union Shop contract were always kept busy, even on tasks which were questionable in value. "If it doesn't make sense, do it," X once complained.

During those slack periods, a non-trivial percentage of the Union Shop staff were not above napping on the job. I mean this literally: find a comfortable place to park oneself, do so, and catch some z's. This practice was absolutely, positively infuriating to Those In Charge. However, as management got more and more obsessed with catching and reporting out on people who were catching forty winks during their forty hours, the practice went farther and farther underground. In other words, the Union Shop denizens found better places to hide. And the Powers That Be found more creative ways of finding them.

And then the team realized that what was actually needed was a diversionary tactic. They just weren't sure what.

X had actually become a bit fond of Tacky Hawaiian Shirts, and as such the team of X, Y and Z returned to the nearby thrift shop to see if there were any others to be found. No luck there, but Z did spot something very interesting.

A mannequin for sale.

"You know, we could do something with this," X thought.

About an hour after lunch break on the following day's shift at Union Shop, there could be heard a hubbub among the Lower Level Management Team. X, Y and Z, and their bretheren, noticed supervisors, at a high level of agitation, pointing in the direction of a imposingly large and tall piece of equipment, which had atop it a workman's cab. In that cab appeared to be a figure, with its legs, clad in work boots, up on the console. A newspaper was in front of the figure, as if to hide something. But it was clear that the figure's head, wearing a sports cap down over the front, was down. As if asleep. Worse, the figure appeared to have a pipe in its mouth, in blatent violation of the No Smoking Anywhere policy.

The Lower Level Management was aghast. Someone was clearly taking unauthorized rest! And right in front of everyone! They could only stop pointing long enough at the figure, and at each other (as if to say, "This is one of your men, not one of mine!") to call in a member of Middle Management, who immediately summoned all of their peers; who then looked up at the figure, pointed at it and each other (as if to say, "Not one of my guys, must be yours!"), which then led to an urgent request to Upper Management to come down to the floor to witness this spectacle.

And by that time, Leadership wasn't the only witness to the spectacle. Work had come to a complete halt across Union Shop, as word got around that there was a major issue on the floor. The Shop Steward was present, to ensure that there were no actions in violation of the Union Contract taken.

Presently the Top Dog of Upper Management, the one who had professed "Quality Today" just a few weeks prior, arrived on the scene, assessed the situation, and took charge.

"Somebody wake that guy up already! We have work to do!"

This resulted in more discussion among Lower and Middle Management, as well as more general finger pointing at each other (as if to say, "I'm not going to do it, you do it!").

Top Dog growled something under his breath, and decided to take matters into his own hands. Suit, tie, dress shoes and all, he headed in the direction of the not entirely squeaky clean piece of equipment.

"Not so fast," the Shop Steward declared. "This looks like a rules issue. I have to come with you."

And still the figure was motionless, seemingly oblivious to the goings-on all around, out like a light.

The Shop Steward insisted that he needed to be first up the ladder to the cab. Top Dog followed as close behind as he wanted, which wasn't very close.

The Shop Steward reached the cab, gently opened the door...

...and out tumbled the mannequin, attired in hat, work boots, unlit bubble-blowing pipe, and electric orange polo shirt, newspaper fastened tightly to its hands. On its way down off the cab and onto the shop floor below, it just missed Top Dog, who in response shrieked a note several octaves above High C.

Opon reaching the reinforced concrete floor, the mannequin shattered, and the assemblage of rank and file erupted into a chorus of guffaws that broke all previous records for reaction to practical jokes perpetrated at Union Shop. Both Middle and Lower Management turned all manner of shades of red, and, flustered beyond words, continued to point at each other as they stormed away from the piece of equipment. Meanwhile, Top Dog, apparently having ruined a perfectly good suit, clung to dear life on the ladder until the Shop Steward could help him down.

"Take that, dummy," X concluded.