Friday, May 7, 2010

Day 130 - Beautiful Chaos

         I hold on to the glimmer of hope, in the midst of getting ready to part with my home and much of the stuff that fills it, that there will be a last minute reprieve in the form of a job. There is a point beyond which it won’t make any sense to keep looking the way I have been because I will be committed on many fronts to moving away from here and redistributing my possessions all over the state. Undoing some of that beyond this point of no return will be impossible, or at least more costly than it’s worth. The closer we get, the more time and effort I put into moving and the less effort I put into getting a job.
          My feeling is that once we’re installed in my father-in-law, Nelson’s, place, we’re committed to staying there for awhile. From the moment we’re absolutely locked in to this course, from the ‘drop dead’ date, I will have to limit my job search to employers within driving distance from Nelson’s house. I haven’t managed to find a job within the whole state of Florida so far. I’m thinking the two counties around Port Saint Lucie are not likely to have anything at all in the foreseeable future. There is no large population center, no industrial base, no concentration of tourism, no technology hub in the area. My best hope is probably finding something as a fishing guide. I’d better learn to fish, steal a boat, and figure out how to get over being seasick.
* * * * *
          Rod Chandler was an odd duck in a stereotypically accounting nerd kind of way. He was fastidious and precise. He thrived in an environment where our software calculated mere estimates out to 6 decimal places. He liked a lot of color coding and visual cross-referencing in his working papers and reports. His desk and credenza were always pristine.
Rod’s clothes were another matter. He wasn’t slovenly, but his shirts seemed always slightly ill fitted and poorly pressed. His pants were always a tad too long and droopy at the knees. This may have been his wife’s fault.
I’m not suggesting that I think it was her responsibility to see that Rod’s dress matched the meticulous spruceness of his office. I am suggesting that Rod may have thought so. For one thing he had his life well compartmentalized. All work was organized with clear chains of command and responsibility. Rod’s function was purely managerial. Rod didn’t do any work. I suspect that this penchant for organization carried over into his family life.
For another thing, Rod’s car sported a bumper sticker that proclaimed his belief that the Bible provides husbands a clear mandate to rule their wives. I never met Rod’s wife, so I don’t know how she felt about this. She may indeed have bought in, and I would not judge her if she did. The fact remains, however, If she was responsible in their happy household for the care of Rod’s clothes, either she was woefully lacking in the requisite housekeeping skills or she was exacting a slow and deliberate revenge on Rod for being the imperious, anal bastard that he was. I’m betting on the latter for the simple fact that they had been married a long time, certainly long enough for her to learn how to do laundry and iron shirts.
Soon after Rod and I were installed in our new positions he called me into his office. He wanted me to start providing our production managers with a report he had developed at the North Alabama plant. He showed me a copy of the report and sent me an e-mail with a sample attached so I could open it and follow the logic and formatting. I spent hours with it and never did quite figure out its logic or its purpose. The information it provided was already readily available in our systems. The production managers were familiar and adept at accessing it in the course of their daily tracking of job starts and completions. Rod was taking information out of the system and loading it into a spreadsheet. He had taken some pains to make it pretty, but, as I pointed out in Budget Burlesque, pretty does not mean accurate or useful.
I know a lot about spreadsheets. I have been building and using them since the early 1980s. I taught a course in Microsoft Excel at a community college when I was in Arkansas. I love spreadsheets. They are the quintessential tool of accountants. Spreadsheets to accountants are like high-powered rifles to bear hunters. What used to be done with spears and knives at close quarters can now be done from far away, behind a rock. What used to be done with pencil and paper and multiple erasures can now be done on a computer and corrected or changed at will with no more effort than a few keystrokes.
Still, with my long experience and in-depth knowledge of the inner workings of electronic spreadsheets, I couldn’t figure Rod’s out for the life of me. There was no discernable logic. There was no obvious utility. There was no organization to it. It was the antithesis of Rod’s otherwise structured work life, and yet he seemed very proud of it. The proliferation of colors, while quite striking to behold, only further obfuscated the purpose of the thing. In the end it was as enigmatic to me as a Jackson Pollock painting—a beautiful chaos that was impossible to duplicate.

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