Fri 10 Feb 2006
Awhile back I had a temporary summer job as a consultant. Basically it meant shuttlecocking back and forth between some deeply dubious govt. agency people and some deeply disinterested software developers.
This work entailed hand-patting, nodding, cluck-clucking, and translating hyperbole into logic statements. Then I’d try to persuade the developers that it would be a very interesting problem for them to tackle on my behalf. My madd skillz at literary interpretation really came in handy.
Made-up example: “This is impossible! It will never work unless the BPCs come up blue when you input the LBRs! We have to know they are invalid and destined for hell!”
So I go back to my desk and write, “If LBR= null, then BPC is red and active. If LBR > 0, then BPC is blue and inactive.” Sometimes I put in random if/then statements to see if anybody is paying attention. “If LBR= banana, then your boss will tango.”
Then I take it to the developers. “This is an interesting update. They want flashing colors, which is cool from a design perspective, don’t you think?”"We had flashing colors before and they didn’t like them.”
“That was for the QPXs. This is for the BPCs so it’s totally different.”
I was supposed to be filling in while they hired some flashy more qualified person. That fell through, and at the end of the summer the head honcho called me into his office.
He was a nice guy but I had never talked to him in person before; he tended to stick with his own sphere if you know what I mean. He said several nice things (someone who actually knew me had obviously prepped him ahead of time) and offered me the job on a permanent basis.
I was tempted for about second, but I had already signed a contract for a fellowship at the university where I’d recently received my degree.
“Perhaps you could spread the word to your former classmates. This job requires a Master’s and I’m sure you must know several good people.”
“I’ll do that if you wish, but to be frank, I don’t think many poets and fiction writers would be interested.”
He goes pale. “What is your degree in, exactly?”
“Oh. Oh! I see. I wish you the best of luck!” I could see his thought, Narrow Escape, blinking in boldface above his head. He ushered me out as if he knew there was only so much air left in the office and it wasn’t enough for both of us. Politely, of course.
Sometimes I think about the money I would have earned at that job. Is a 1/3 lower salary worth the pleasure of having no one blanch when I mention poems? I also get the occasional flurry of emails in which my department members try to write the opening lines of hard-boiled fiction novels using mixed drinks as character names. Or try to fit ten unrelated words in the same sentence. Or laugh at puns that nobody who hasn’t read Great Expectations could get.
Big bucks: out there for the taking, I suppose. Putting aside, for awhile, my perpetual status as Office Weirdo: priceless.