Organizational Chaos Explained - Poorly

Many have expressed confusion, concern and apathy towards the events surrounding my alleged first day of work. I say "alleged" because I have done such a fine job of blocking out the emotional trauma that I now refuse to believe it actually happened.

But in the days since, I have come to better understand the type of environment where such a clusterhug is possible. It doesn't explain why a situation would arise where I find myself asking three different people "Are you my boss?" and all respond "I don't think so... maybe?" Maybe I shouldn't ask it with tears in my eyes and pain in my heart as if I were asking "Are you my real Daddy?"

Allow me to elaborate on what I have figured out so far. In my 10+ years of professional work experience, I have come to expect a certain organizational structure in professional settings. Typically, the lowest level employees are hired by and report to a manager. Managers, in turn, report to Directors. Often, Directors report to Vice Presidents or other "C level" officers. And at the top of the phallic overcompensation pyramid is the CEO. I made this simplified chart to explain the words I am using.

If you learn complex concepts better through visualization and/or you are illiterate, here is a pretty picture for you.

However, my new environment is something entirely different. You see, I was hired by the research group associated with the School of Medicine for a public university. But I don't work for any of those groups. I work for the IT department of the hospital that is affiliated with said educational institution. At this point you're probably thinking, "Wow. Healthcare and education are pretty disorganized. Way to go on finding a job that is at the epicenter of the two." But you're forgetting the "public" part of the university. That means this cloud of chaos sits comfortably in the black hole of government bureaucracy. For The Win!

Essentially, I am being paid by the research group to not work for them. But they figured that as long as I would be hanging around, I might as well see if the hospital needs anything done. So far, that is the extent of my goal planning for this year.

The hierarchy in these organizations is completely unintuitive in that there isn't one. The person who hires you isn't necessarily your boss. And the people on your team could all have a different boss because they may be a hospital employee. Or a university employee. Or a state employee. The guy that sits 6 feet away from you may do the same job, work on the same projects and go to the same meetings as you do. But you will most definitely have different managers, both of whom have little to no experience with the work you do as if it were merely the answer to a trivia question. Like how people only know two Pink Floyd albums by name. "You're asking me what you should be doing? Hmm... that's a good one. I feel like I used to know this. Something something data... server... connections? Oh well. Have a nice day."

They give it a fancy buzz name like "matrix management." But really it just means that your boss is everyone and no one. Which begs the existential question, if you don't have a boss, are you really an employee? What is this place other than a collection of animated shells exerting common effort to a support a larger, yet equally vague entity in exchange for a piece of paper that represents other pieces of paper. Heavy stuff.

At this point, here is my understanding of how everything works out. The only thing I know is what direction money is being thrown. And that it is all overseen by a shadowy puppet master whose unquestioned supremacy is sealed by a blood oath. Or so the legend goes.

Five Guys isn't part of the org structure. I just list it here because there is one about 75 yards from my desk, so I spend a lot of time there - which explains where a lot of my money is going and where these extra pounds are coming from.


Dodger Stadium

Part of my cross-country tour of baseball stadiums. An experience I am calling 'The Baseball Diaries'.

The day started at 5am in San Francisco, finding us casually preparing for our 7am flight and thinking aloud,"How busy could a major airport be at this time of day?" It was meant to be a rhetorical question but Fate decided to amuse herself by giving us an answer. We learned that answer when we arrived at 6:30am to see a 60-75 minute line through security. Merde.

With much shame and persuasion, we pleaded with multiple TSA agents to show us some undeserved special treatment and push us through the line. And it worked. Twice. By 6:40, we were one person away from the ID check and the metal detectors were within arm's reach.

We didn't move for another 5 minutes because the couple in front of us decided this would be the ideal moment to share a dramatic, tear-soaked and drawn-out farewell scene, complete with emotional wailing and hyperventilated breathing. Is this what you humans call love?

She wept like he was being shipped off to the front lines without a gun. But his appearance suggested he was just going to a video game convention for the weekend. Set him free, lady. This bird will return.

It was romantic. It was touching. It was obnoxious and it had to stop. I went for a passive aggressive coughing fit. Ajay opted for the 'speak loud enough so they can overhear you talking about them' with his "Are you kidding me with this? Who cries at the airport?" Classic Philly.

We made it through the metal detectors at 6:48, grabbed our belongings, threw on our shoes and took off on a sprint through the terminal. A bag on my back, belt in my left hand and sagging pants in my right, I was determined to make this plane.

We arrived to find the terminal empty and no plane in sight. Merde. De nouveau.

"The plane isn't here yet," a smirking gate agent informed us.


With a few spare moments, I was able to recognize what we had achieved in getting through security in miraculous fashion. Note that the aforementioned "we" who artfully navigated us through was really "Ajay only." I was too busy not throwing a tantrum, which took quite a bit of effort.

With some time to spare, we grabbed a coffee and caught our breath. As we sat back, relaxed and sipped some hot java, I noticed a number of people pass by, staring at us with looks of hated recognition. No idea what that was about.

Once we arrived in Los Angeles, we had a whole new set of obstacles. For weeks prior and the days during our trip, we scoured the Internet for the quickest and cheapest route from LAX airport to Dodger Stadium. According to the sites for LAX, La Metro, Google Transit and multiple iPhone apps, the most efficient route consists of no less than 2 buses and 3 trains. That's not "OR", it's "AND". Five different transport devices. To get from the major LA airport to the central public transit station to one of its most popular tourist destinations.

What none of those websites mention is that the routes go through some of the worst neighborhoods in Los Angeles. I felt like we were living through every rap song that isn't about being rich.

We arrived at the stadium two hours prior to game time and headed in after purchasing the cheapest tickets in the house: outfield bleachers. Here's the thing about the bleachers at Dodger Stadium: they are completely in the sun for the entire game with absolutely no shade; they are a separate structure from the rest of the stadium. In fact, you can't even go from left field to right field. For a trip whose sole purpose was to tour and explore baseball's great stadiums, this was not ideal.

Ajay spotted Philly ace Doc Halladay warming up in right field - one of many sections we were not in. Well, rules be damned, we were moving to right field.

We went back under the left field stands and made our way towards center, led by curiosity. Ajay spotted an open gate, a padlock dangling uselessly from it's handle. We poked our heads in and saw the stadium audio panels and scoreboard controls. Also, this area led directly onto the field, as the center field gate was wide open.

Smarter men know a "Do Not Enter" situation when they see one. Smarter men turn back when they see "Authorized Personnel Only" signs. Smarter men also get stuck baking in the sun of the left field bleachers. F that.

With no hesitation, we walked right through the gate, casually observed the inner workings of the stadium that fans are not supposed to see, unlatched the gate on the other side and headed up to the bleachers.

Say what you will about the LAPD, but they have incredible response time. I had only a moment's rest for my weary legs and Ajay had barely managed a wave in Doc's direction by the time the fuzz put the heat on.

Ajay: Hi, officer! (always good to take the initiative in this type of situation)
Officer: What do you guys think you're doing?
Joe: Waiting for batting practice?
Officer: Uh-huh. That's interesting because the right field bleachers don't open for another half hour.
Ajay & Joe: Oh...

This guy was good. Unfortunately for him, this was not our first rodeo. Ajay and I have been bending trespassing rules since before this cat was in the academy. We knew that there was a good chance we would get ejected from the stadium. Our only chance at reprieve was to play dumb. To our credit, I don't think we've ever looked dumber. We played the part of the ignorant tourists perfectly. We stared open-mouthed and wide-eyed at every Dodger logo, fascinated by every support column we passed. I resisted the urge to pull out a pile of crumpled-up bills and ask, "How much is this in LA money"?

As the police officer led us to the head of security waiting for us at the exit, Ajay went on the offensive and used a little verbal sleight of hand.

"Hi, we were wondering if you could help us. We are clueless how to find our way around. We're trying to get over near home plate so we can get some pictures. See we're doing this baseball stadium tour - we're not doing all the stadiums, just the really great ones. So how do we get over by the infield? We got here extra early so we could check everything out. - Oh, you can't get over there with these tickets? Shoot, we messed that up, huh? Do you think it would be possible for us to trade out our tickets so we can sit over there? See, we didn't realize how the stadium is set up. It's really unique."

It was a thing of genius. And it worked.

Security: Oh, um, right. Let me see what I can do.

And like that, we had tickets on the first base side. At least, I think that's where they were. We don't really go for that whole assigned seat thing.

Keeping with our theme of needlessly doing the same thing multiple times, we mistakenly went through and then had to exit four different security checkpoints because even with the right tickets, the stadium makes no sense. Four times I had the following exchange:

Security: Open the school bag, please. What's in the plastic bag?
Me: Umm, dirty laundry.
Security: Do I have your permission to inspect the bag, sir?
Me: Permission? Sure. Recommendation? No way.
(opens bag, looks in, quickly closes it)
Security: Oh... yikes. Enjoy the game.

Once we finally made into the real stadium, we headed to the most important location of any public venue: the concession stands.

Joe: Double cheeseburger, a beer - no, the big one, and... another double cheeseburger.
Food dude: That will be $7.

We'd abused the system quite a bit today and in my cynical viewpoint, so many things going right is like daring Karma to F with your S.

I didn't say anything to the guy but I also made no move to get my wallet. I just stared back awkwardly, trying to figure out what numerical system he was communicating in. Since I can't convert hexadecimal in my head, I innocently responded, "Uhh..."

Food dude: It's Throwback Day today. Throwback uniforms, throwback prices.
Joe: Oh! That would explain all the Sinatra.

A blank, 20-year old face stared back at me as I realized that this kid had no clue what a Sinatra was. "$7, please," he repeated.

Three hours later, the game was over and we were exhausted. We boarded the Dodger Express and headed back to Union Station. As we got off the bus, Ajay spotted a sign that read "LAX shuttle." That's right. There is a bus that goes directly between the airport and train station, with no intermediate stops. Also, it's route exclusively consists of the very safe and very scenic 110 highway. All those neighborhoods we traveled through and stopped at during the bus, train, train, train and bus rides? They are on the other side of a concrete divide blocking them from highway view like they never existed. Only in my nightmares from now on.

We checked it. There is no mention of this shuttle on any of the websites we checked beforehand. The lesson? The Internet is full of shit. Don't believe anything you read on it. Err, except this.

I can't imagine anyone is still reading at this point (even I have been skimming for the past 12 paragraphs) but if you are, then you are way too good of a friend. I will buy you dinner for making it this far. You name the time and place and it's on me. And yes, soup does count as a meal.


Okay, if you really want to know about the stadium I'll put in my two cents. If you've been in 3 or more baseball stadiums in your life, you would immediately get the feeling that Dodger Stadium is of a different era as soon as you walked in. Maybe it was the classic uniforms and 1940s music but the place just had a different feel to it. It's difficult to articulate other than by describing what it isn't.

Opening in 1962, it looks nothing like Fenway (1911) or Wrigley (1914) which seem like buildings that traveled through time and were awkwardly placed in the middle urban neighborhoods. It predates the boring, uniform concrete bowls that came of out of the multi-purpose craze of the 70s (Veterans Stadium, Riverfront and Three Rivers were practically indistinguishable). But with Dodger Stadium, you can see that's where they were headed. The seats behind home plate and along the bases hint at those designs. But once you reach the foul polls, the three levels come to an abrupt stop. It's just plain bleachers like many of the stadiums around at the time it was built. You can see in the design itself, that it is a bridge between eras.

Spoiled by modern stadiums, I found the seats uncomfortable and the layout completely confusing. There were no crazy distractions like most of the stadiums have today (ahem, AT&T Park). It was the bare essentials to enjoy a game of baseball. Somewhere to sit. A beer, a hotdog and keeping score with an iPhone app. Just like in the old days.


First Day at Work (Maybe)

Yesterday I started a new job. I think.

The reason I say "I think" is because I received a job offer in verbal, electronic and written forms, accepted said offers and subsequently quit my previous job - and yet no one in my new organization seems to know why I am there.

The job I think I have is working in the Information Services department for a university hospital. Actually, it's a bit more complicated than that, but I'll explain it later.

My first day started out simple enough. A four hour orientation explaining the only things I really cared about: when I get paid, free health benefits and the added bonus of paid leave for federal holidays. Frickin sweet. I am going to love working for The Man.

After the orientation, my first stop was to swing by the ID card office. As the human resources rep instructed during orientation, they call it the "OneCard" because it is the only card you'll ever need. Okay. Sounds good.

All that was left was to go to my office, meet my coworkers and maybe be productive for a half hour. I arrived and greeted the receptionist. "I'm Joe. It's my first day," I beamed like it was some special achievement to accept a job offer.

"Hi Joe. We've been expecting you. Here is your packet of information. You're going to meet with the office admin. Here she is now." Smooth sailing so far.

"Joe, so good to see you again. Welcome. We're glad to have you here. First thing, I'm going to need your badge to get you access to the building."

"Sure thing. Here you go. Hot off the press."

"What is this?"

"That's my OneCard. The only card I'll ever need?"

"Oh. I've never seen one of these before."

"..." (I may have actually said the word "ellipsis")

"No, I don't think this is going to work. You need a badge."

"That's not a badge?"

"No. It's an ID. Well, just give me your employee number and I can put the request in."

"Sure. I've got that somewhere in my folder. Ah, okay: 610... 19064."

"That's not an employee number."

"It's not?"

"It's not. That is a personal identification number. Those are for University employees."

"Right. I'm a University employee."

"No, we're all hospital employees here."

"Uh-huh. So how do I go about getting an employee number, and that - what did you call it - badges?"

"Oh, I don't know. I guess we'll have your manager straighten that out. Who are you supposed to be meeting with today?"

"I don't really know. My manager, I assume."

"And who is that?"

"Carl. Carl Lassnim."

"No, no, no. I don't believe he is in this office."

"Oh, okay. Which building is he in?"

"I have no idea. I don't really know him."

"Well... he told me to come here. Today. For work."

"I see. Well, let's just get you to your desk." She smiled kindly but began walking with an anti-social pace. No conversation, just leading me to a destination.

When we arrived, her smile returned. "Here you go. Name plate and everything. Here is your phone. And computer. You'll probably need to get a computer account to use it."

"How do I get one of those?"

"That's a good question. Who did you say you were supposed to meet with?"

"I have no idea. Carl just said - "

" - Well, you'll probably be working with Roger. Or Barry. Have a nice day." She was 15 feet away by the time "nice day" reached my ears.

"Uh, hold up! I don't know either of those people. Can you show me where I can find them?"

"Of course" she smiled, full of hate. I know, I'm being unreasonably difficult. I'm awful. "Let's go see Roger."

Wouldn't you just know it, Roger had already gone to lunch.

"Oh. It doesn't... look... like... he's... around. Now." Between each word, she swiveled her head around, as if Roger would magically appear and make everything okay. He didn't.

"Well why don't you head back to your desk and I'm sure he'll be back soon." Awesome.

Back at my desk, I met my cube mate. She doesn't know anything about my job, my team or any of the people I've mentioned. But she is very sweet. Though I admit the following exchange may not be the best example:

Sally: So, do you have any plans for lunch?

Joe: Nope. None at all.

Sally: Well, we all pretty much just head out on our own around here. There are plenty of places nearby. Here are 17 menus. I'm sure you'll find something. See you later!

I thought that this would be a good time to get in touch with my alleged supervisor, so I rang up the number I had for him. Without a single ring, it went straight to voicemail:

"The cellular customer you are trying to reach is not availible. Please leave a message."

Funny, I don't remember Carl having a robotic female voice. But who am I to judge? I leave a panicked voicemail with lots of "uhs" and "errs", just to communicate an exaggerated level of urgency.

With nothing to do but wait for Roger, I made up a new game. I call it "Sit at desk. Get up. Yawn. Ride elevator down. Ride up. Meander by Roger's office. Sit at desk. Get up. Yawn." Rinse and repeat.

As I ventured around the office, I casually poked my head into cubes it didn't belong and noticed something unusual. Mirrors. Lots of them. Most people have an array of mirrors posted around their monitors, on their desks and hung on their walls. I've never seen anything like it. Do they all have an irrational fear of someone sneaking behind them and jacking them up? Maybe they are just incredibly vain. In either case, I'm glad to finally be working with people I can relate to.

I also noticed that everyone in the office seems to have mastered use of their "inside voices." Everyone speaks in whispers as though they were discussing their role in a covert, Soviet conspiracy or that creepy new guy who keeps walking by. I'm not used to hearing hushed tones in the workplace unless some serious shit is about to go down. As an outside observer, I would think that this behavior could create a sense of paranoia - at least in the more anxiety-ridden, crazy person types in the office. Bless their hearts, whoever they may be.

One thing they are not quiet about is throwing up. On one of my laps around the cube farm, I saw a guy, typing at his computer, pause, vomit loudly into the trash bin placed on his desk, and then resume typing. I grew up in Philly. So I have plenty of experience to know that one should never stop, ask questions or make eye contact when a stranger regurgitates like a newborn. Empathy is often misunderstood as a sign of aggression. So I just kept on strolling and pretended that my life wasn't as random as a David Lynch project.

On the fourth round of my new game (S.A.D.G.U.Y.R.E.D.R.U.M.B.R.O.S.A.D.G.U.Y., in case you forgot) Roger was back. Yay! I win!

Roger is an older gentleman, somewhere in his 60s. He's soft-spoken but very kind and has an arsenal of corny jokes that probably play very well in the toddler grandchild demographic. Early on in our conversation...

Roger: It's okay if you don't know all the programs we use. I'm new here myself, so we'll be learning a lot together.

Joe: Oh yeah? You're new too? How long have you been here?

Roger: (awkward pause) About five years.


I patiently waited for a "Gotcha!", a laugh, even a hinting smirk. But he changed the subject so quickly, I realized it was no joke.

At the three hour mark, Roger had exhausted every piece of information he knew about the organization, the hospital, the university and outboard motors. Not sure what else to say, I just stared out his office door. It was at this moment that I spotted a familiar face. An Asian woman walked by carrying a large box stuffed with papers and picture frames and then quickly disappeared into the hall.

"Wait! Her. That lady. She was in my interview. She's, uh... what's her name? Why is she carrying that box?"

"That's Sunee. She just quit this morning. Nobody's really sure why. Who did you say you are working for?"

"Supposedly Carl Lassnim."

"Who? I've never heard of him. And you say he works in this building?"

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

"Hmph. What team are you on?"

"I have no idea."

Roger furrows his brow, studies me for a few moments. Then says, "Well. Computers. Right? It's all about computers. Let's set you up with the HelpDesk so they can get you on that fangled doohickey of yours." Oh, Roger.

He shuffles around some papers, finds a pen. Writes something on a piece of paper. "Here you go. Call these people. They'll be able to help you get started."

"Started on what?"

"Ha! I like you. I think we're going to get along just fine, Mr. Joe."

I could have pressed harder, but hey - I'll take a laugh where I can get it. Best to go out on a high note. That's just good showmanship.

Back at my desk, I call the number. Because at this point, this task is my only responsibility.

"Help desk."

"Hi. I'm Joe. I need to get a computer account, email. I just started today, so... I need... that."

"Okay, sure. Let me just get to the right screen. And... okay. New employee. University. Next. Email. Network access. Who did you say is setting up your account?"

"Oh. Well, no. I need it created. I'm new. No one."

"Oh. That's not good. Well. Let's see if I can look you up. What's your employee number?"

Five heads pop up from their cubes like curious gophers when they hear how loudly I smack my own face.

An hour later, I had an account. Access. Awesome. Time to do stuff. Oh yeah, this might be a good time to get in touch with my HR facilitator like they told us in orientation. Let's just pull up the web page they gave us. Type in my last name. Hey! There I am. It worked! And there is my facilitator's name and email address. Easy. Just type up a quick email, ask for next steps.

Within 5 minutes, I have a response that reads...

I'm not sure how you got my name, but I am not able to assist you with any of your questions. I believe you are mistaken. You should talk to your supervisor.

Oh, but if it were only that easy. You see, my "supervisor" is a figment of my imagination. I was bored with my old job so I imagined an entire "interview" and a series of phone calls where the "hiring manager" offered me the position and even made a counter offer against other job prospects I had hallucinated. I was so dedicated to this charade that I even filled out the necessary requisitions and paperwork so that I had a desk. And a phone. And some questionable identification materials. Then I subsequently forgot everything I had done, so as not to ruin the surprise. Obviously, I missed a few steps because I don't understand the complexities of the state employment process. But I did a pretty good job for a first time schizophrenic.

I'm going to fast forward past the part where I cry in the bathroom. But only because I'm ashamed to admit I hung out in the handicapped stall for a solid 30 minutes. Better left unsaid.

It was then that a miracle happened.

It was 5:30. Time to go home. Huzzah! It can wait until tomorrow!

Despite the anxiety of this bizarre day, I had no trouble falling asleep that night. I don't normally remember my dreams, but the one I had that night is still clear in my memory because it so accurately summarizes my feelings from the day.

It's World War II. I find myself in an underground bunker, explosions above rocking the ceiling, shaking dust particles to the floor. The walls are covered in maps; circles and lines scratched into them. The room is filled with people running around, shouting in phones, furiously handing stacks of paper to each other.

"Um, excuse me? Hello?" I nervously try to get someone - anyone's attention. A man rushing past looks at me, confused. He is wearing fatigues and has dirt on his face.

"Who are you?"

"I, uh... I'm new."

"Finally! We need some new blood in here. Okay, you're going to be working the phone. Ah, here's one. You'll need this rotary phone. Real simple. You see, it has numbers 0 through 9 on it." He starts walking away.

"Oh. Okay. Great. But! Wait! What do I do with it?"

"Press the triangle button."

I look at the phone. There is no triangle button. I look up and he is gone. I grab the sleeve of the first person I can find. "Excuse me! I'm new here. And - and I have this phone..."

"This is a GOD DAMN WAR, Mac! Can't you see?! People are dying all around and you're asking me about a GOD DAMN PHONE! FIGURE IT OUT!!"

Yup. That about sums it up nicely.


The next morning, I had a voicemail on my office phone from my boss' cell number:
Hey! Just wanted to call and to tell you don't sweat the small stuff. Enjoy the honeymoon period!"
Or maybe it was "Enjoy the honeymoon. Period." I don't know. I'm not sure he knows who I am. It nearly confirms my suspicion that my employment is the result of a clerical error and I'll be out of a job as soon as they fix the glitch.



And now, the highly anticipated continuation of our tale: Part 2 - The Puppet Master