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My month in the high-tech industry

This is a follow-up to a previous article of the same name
Follow-up to "My month in the high-tech industry"

In the summer of 2005, I posted the article, "My month in the high-tech industry," which was a kind of essay journalism piece about a month-long temp job I had with an HP contractor. In the article, I only captured part of the experience of working at the job. I left some things out, perhaps just to keep the article shorter and more readable. Here are some more details that pertain to the story.

--In August 2005, I posted an article to Portland indymedia titled, "Washington case brings 'stop and identify' laws into focus." (This article, and "My month in the high-tech industry," were featured articles). I briefly described an incident in which two Vancouver police came to my apartment looking for a previous tenant who hadn't lived there for nearly a year. The incident was on the night of February 17th.

That was the day I got my first paycheck from the HP contractor. In fact, I had just come back from depositing the check at the bank when I met one of the two officers on the side of my apartment.

It was the first significant paycheck I'd received since the previous August, and I was happy about that. I was looking forward to a relaxing four-day weekend, (the following Monday was President's Day), in which I wouldn't be too worried about finances.

The police encounter changed all that. After the encounter, I had trouble sleeping for a couple nights, as I replayed the scene over and over in my head.

As noted, the police came over looking for a guy who hadn't lived at my apartment for nearly a year. It was this fact, combined with the timing and the cops' behavior, that led to sleeplessness and a ruined weekend.

--In the first article, I take note of a couple cases of pre-suggestiveness in regard to my dismissal from the job. I mentioned seeing the ABM Janitorial van in the back alley of my apartments on the morning of my last day of work. ABM is a company I used to work for, so seeing the van in the back alley that day turned out to be pre-suggestive of my dismissal from work—the suggestion being that maybe I should go back to working for ABM. (I'd never seen the van in the back alley before that morning). I also noted the HP employee who casually asked, "Is it Friday yet?" on my last day of work, which was a Tuesday.

Another example of what might be pre-suggestiveness came only about a week or two after the job began. I got a call from the company's HR person. She asked me about a criminal conviction from March 1998. This was February 2005, and in another month the conviction would have been 7 years old, and under WA state law it's not required to list misdemeanor crimes that are seven years old or older, (or presumably, to have to speak about them). When the HR person called about this, I wanted to mention this law, but of course, it was one month before my conviction would've been seven years old.

So when I was fired after a month, this phone call seemed more significant. My conviction was only a misdemeanor, and a victimless one at that, (trespassing), so maybe the HR person's inquiry didn't make much of a difference. In regard to the WA state non-disclosure law, it's possible that employers ignore such laws, or find loopholes in them, and go ahead and ask employees or applicants about their past, in which case the nearby seven year anniversary of my conviction may not have been significant.

But if this was significant at all, aside from being an odd coincidence, it would lead to the question of why I was hired when I was.

--In the first article, I often made mention of a supervisor who I referred to as "Susan." In addition to what I wrote about our interaction, there was one other brief moment between us that seemed to presage my firing. One day, she gave me a simple quiz, which I believe was five questions, that pertained to the job. I believe I got two out of the five questions right, thus failing the quiz. It was a fairly simple quiz, and one question in particular was deceptively simple, asking how to get to a certain database. The answer: by clicking on the Internet Explorer icon. So simple, yet if I remember, the database in question needed to be accessed only once a week, meaning that I'd accessed it maybe twice up to that point, and so with all the other things to memorize, this had slipped my mind, at least momentarily.

This didn't exactly qualify as a reason for my firing, but along with the other things that I described in the first article, it came to be suggestive of why I was ultimately fired.

--I note a conversation that went on around me at lunchtime, on my last day at the company. Some HP employees had gathered around me and began a fishing conversation in which fishing seemed to be, in part, a metaphor for virginity. Thus the conversation was skirting aspects of my personal life. (I'd written about celibacy on Portland indymedia before then, but not virginity specifically). Needless to say, the implications of such an occurrence are disturbing. At the least, these kinds of things are annoying.

There was another cafeteria conversation that skirted the edges of my personal life. In the article I mention that I hung out with my trainer, "Simon" and his friends for my first couple of weeks on the job. At breakfast or lunch one day in the cafeteria, the topic of conversation came around to the virginity of one of Simon's friends, a young man. In the conversation, it was noted that the young man was 19 years old. To paraphrase another young man in the group: "I'll bet it'll be...10 years before he loses it [his virginity]" This came close to my own situation—I was 28 then. I didn't join this conversation, even though the specifics of the topic were very relevant to me, and even though the conversation would have naturally struck a chord with me. It's this specificity, (not to mention the sensitivity of the topic), that led me to question the complete authenticity of the scenario.

--In the first article, I noted that I reapplied for unemployment benefits in March 2005, after I'd been "laid-off" by the company, (laid off, but not officially fired, though I often refer to my last day there as the day I was fired). The day after I reapplied for unemployment benefits, I got the letter from the company that announced my official firing, (effective the previous day). In the first article I didn't note that it was about 10:00 am when I reapplied for unemployment benefits, (online).

--Positive aspects of the month-long work experience?

There were some positive aspects of my month-long job for the HP contractor. It got me out of the apartment, and into a social situation, which is a positive thing. It was a desperately needed job—as noted, it had been August of the previous year since I'd had a job. And thus, it was the first job I'd had since September 2004, a month that was very trying for me, as I came to recognize a kind of surveillance bubble around me. I had no idea what to expect from my next job assignment—for instance, if there would be any carry-over into a new job from the shadowy surveillance world.

It was a learning experience in that regard, and probably more of a neutral than a positive thing. But it gave me some encouragement to know that, after recognizing the bubble around me, I was still able to check into work and act like nothing was going on, (because of course, it wasn't).

The job required more sociability than most of my previous jobs, and that was challenging, but I think the experience was ultimately positive. Also, I was able to observe a little bit of what goes on inside a top high-tech company, which was a good learning experience.

It was a nice thing to have breakfast in the glass-encased cafeteria as the sun was rising on a cold and dewy morning. You really know you're in the Northwest when you see such a sunrise—you can almost see the air, heavy and wet, and oppressive.

--Why write a follow-up to the previous article?

The first article was kind of essay journalism, not clearly a record of strange things happening to someone (apparently) in response to political writing.

Filling in the details makes the account more of a record of a time and place in history. This is a small part of the history that will be written about the Bush Years. Obviously, I see the account as more than just a story about losing a job.

In regard to writing here about my own sexuality, it's a difficult thing, and might seem masochistic, but it's in the name of journalism and social inquiry.

"My month in the high-tech industry" (first article)
"Washington case brings 'stop and identify' laws into focus"